Garrison Hodge sat in the doctor’s waiting room wearing his best suit – a used teabag colour with various historic holes and stains – and a nicotine coloured shirt, mostly tucked in, with an unnoticed tomato sauce spot accompanying the second button down. This was okay though, because he was wearing a matching tie, which would have covered the tomato blob up, had it been straight, and had the last three buttons of his shirt not been left undone so that the bulging neck of Garrison Hodge could expand fully. The amalgamating neck-a-chin, thick with unbothered stubble of differing lengths, met his huge wobbly mouth within which sat remnants of last weeks’ meals. This was overseen by a substantial nose and bulging eyes with lids eager to get that bit closer to the sagging under-face, consistent in its gravitational pull. His rhythmic heavy breathing and unusual odour had detracted a small child’s attention away from the sticky wooden train he was once so enamoured with. The child’s curious concentration abruptly snapped into a wailing cry, and his mother lifted him to her comfortable jumper.
Doctor Blissmeed called Garrison into her room via the digital patient management system. He wasn’t a frequent visitor, but he was certainly a memorable one, and Doctor Blissmeed had prepared her room in advance by switching the Glade Plug-in from II to III.
“And what can I do for you today, Mr Hodge?” Doctor Blissmeed said in her usual well-practiced caring voice, while Garrison adjusted his mass in the armless, wipe-clean patient chair.
“Oh, I don’t know, Doctor,” said Garrison mournfully, “I’m just feeling sort of out of sorts, sorta thing. You know?”
“Hmmmm?” the doctor said, while clicking through the short medical record in front of her. “Feeling a bit down are we?”
“I suppose so, aye,” agreed Hodge.
Doctor Blissmeed contemplated Garrison’s form, which could be described as wobbly in general from his bulbous lips to his comfortably round bottom end, the swollen appendages about his torso grappling for purchase on the inadequate chair.
“Are you getting much exercise, Mr Hodge?”
“Well, I move about, if that’s what you mean. Always in and out of the garden, answering the call of nature, that type-a-thing.” The globular face contorted into puzzlement. “Why waste time moving about more?”
“It’s very good for mental health issues is all. Even a ten minute walk every day would be a start.” Doctor Blissmeed held an imploring look in her eye as she very competently stared with compassion.
“Takes ten minutes to walk to the off license and back, so obviously that’s not working for my particular ‘mental issues’, is it?” said Garrison.
“And have you been managing to bathe regularly,” continued the doctor, passing her eye over the grime covered skin. “Those fingernails could do with a scrub, couldn’t they?” With that, Doctor Blissmeed filled the room with flowery laughter, sweeter than a honey bee’s foot.
Garrison’s lips quivered to a large uncommitted smile, taking in his grey haired sausage fingers which were the centre of attention. “I s’pose, aye. But I has to look after me Fudge, don’t I? No getting away from dirty fingernails there.”
“Me worm. Fudge is his name. Lives in me pocket. Here, you wanna see?” The great mass of Garrison Hodge attempted to shift, but before it could muster enough motivation Doctor Blissmeed let out another slightly weeping flowery laugh. “No, no, that’s fine,” she managed, “honestly.” Not quite sure what to do next, apart from making a phone call to an appropriate authority, she ventured, “And have you had a worm in your jacket pocket for long, Mr Hodge?”
“Oh no,” he laughed, “of course not.” They both laughed, one with honest humour and one with relief. “No, no. I don’t wear me suit all the time. Had to make his home up special this morning for the trip out. Put some soil from me trackie bottoms in there, and he’s got a few beech leaves to keep ‘im goin’.” Garrison pulled at a yellowing leaf protruding from his right hand pocket. “Seems okay though. Settled in now, han’t you lad?”
If the doctor’s bottom lip could have screamed at its owner then it would have, it being the pained outlet for controlled worry. Finally it received respite in the form of a question of which neither the lip nor the rest of Doctor Blissmeed really wanted to know the answer. “So you usually keep ‘Fudge’ in your tracksuit bottoms then?”
“Usually, yes. He’s been there all me life, right from when I was a small boy.”
“Uh-huh.” The bottom lip once again took the brunt.
“Me mam was of the Dr Spock school of child rearing. From a very young baby I was put outside on account of making too much noise. I discovered my love of mess at the age of 18 months. My mother continued to send me outside to keep the inside clean, and during one of these moments I discovered soil, beautiful soil, and its uncanny ability to clump together when mixed with pond water.” Garrison’s face held the delight of the moment as firmly as its overwhelmed muscles could. “It clogged up so nice I got obsessed with squishing it into this and that, including the exhaust pipe of my dad’s car.” The muscles gave up. “They still don’t know it was me. That’s what caused the accident that made mam not care about mess anymore.” Garrison paused a moment as if about to relive a bad childhood memory, but pulled himself out in an experienced way and continued. “It was around then I found Fudge here, didn’t I lad?” He pulled his jacket pocket open an inch and smiled into the darkness.
Doctor Blissmeed decided to stick with the immediate issues, clasping her hands tightly as if they were her only hope of keeping on track with this unusual man and his worm.
“Bit unhygienic, don’t you think? All that dirt. Hmm?”
“Keeps him warm. Keeps us both warm really.” With his generous lips pulled tight in a grin, an affectionate chuckle spread through the ripples of Garrison Hodge. He gulped in a deep breath. Then another. But the ripples kept rippling. Like multiple tsunamis they enveloped and spat out the considerable excess flesh at its disposal. Hodge’s face flattened. His rolled pork-belly neck pulled at his eyelids, which had a ripple all of their own.
“Mr Hodge!” The doctor scrambled round the desk, failing to decide which part of the rippling mass would be safe to touch. She went for the left eyelid, but the tip of her dewdrop finger barely touched an eyelash before Garrison Hodge stood straight as a lamp post and opened his vast mouth.
“HOOOOORRRAAAARRRSSSSPPPFFFTTTtttsthpth..ph…tth…ftpsss,” said the gaping hole, without moving a lip.
“Cleanliness is what’s killing you all! Stupid fools.”
The voice was soft and swaying, the words took their time to form as it spoke.
“Everything is too clean, too neat. Tidy houses, tidy gardens, tidy minds.”
The voice rose into a frustrated growl that vibrated through Doctor Blissmeed and her consultation room like a thunder storm on a washboard.
“Ignorant species! Everyone needs mess. It’s the only way the really important things stand out.”
Garrison, still stupefied, didn’t move an inch while the voice of his possession oozed from him like warm caramel.
“Life IS mess. Life IS dirt. To live is to allow others to live, other creatures, other beings, that of which you humans do not wish to be aware. The creatures of the cycle of life, death, and resurrection.”
Doctor Blissmeed, stunted in speech and movement, beheld the starched body of Mr Hodge and the resonating voice that came from it with a terror that prevented any thought seeing progress to action. The voice had ceased, and a wet, splattering sound had taken over, as if it was gargling soil. It stopped suddenly, then whispered…
“You will see the way.”
A unfavourable bile based slopping sound came from Garrison Hodge’s gut. His eyes seemed to widen slightly, but it was hard to tell underneath the swollen, fleshy lids. Then, reaching from deep within, he belched, throwing a cloud of dense and slightly moist dust into the air. The dust indiscriminately covered the room, including the wipe-clean chair, the Glade Plug-In, and Doctor Blissmeed’s trembling body.
That night, Garrison tucked into his favourite tinned delight. He delved through the wriggly spaghetti mess to find the sacred meatball, which he ate whole, saving some on his chin for later. He opened the pocket of his tracksuit bottoms and carefully held a decaying leaf just within the small gap. “Here you go lad, sommit for you too.” The worm snatched the leaf from the sausage fingers, pulling it into the mulchy abyss, and Garrison grinned generously.
Christine Blissmeed was glad to get home. She couldn’t have wished away the hours of surgery and note-writing much more than that particular afternoon, and she certainly wasn’t going to stay there until 8pm as usual. She dumped her handbag on the shiny laminate floor, not on the first hook of the coat rack, and made her way out to the garden. Neglecting the steppingstone pathway that went neatly through the large back garden, she struggled with her polished black heels piercing the greener-than-green-has-ever-been grass. Without her Briers Lady gardening gloves (pink), she crouched unsteadily within the perfectly spaced bedding plants and collected a handful of soil and some decaying leaves and stuffed it gently but firmly into her tailored jacket pocket.
“There you go William, nice warm home, nice yummy food. Good lad.”
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