Psst! Yeah, over here. Do you want to read something REALLY disgusting? Of course you do, you little scamp. Well, read what we got below and tell all your friends where you got it, all right? And don’t say nuthin to your parents!”
Since my retirement from the force, I make my weekly pilgrimage to the supermarket and pick up eggs, bread, cheese for my wife, and one copy of each of the supermarket tabloids. I’m not much into the weight loss miracles or reports of Tony Curtis’ brave final days, but the last case I ever handled is one that’s haunted me ever since I slapped the cuffs on Hubert Hubert as he lay buck naked in bed and took his young companion away from him six years ago.
Every week since then I scour the Weekly World News, the Sun, the Star, the Globe, all of them, for some trace of the life I destroyed, some sign that I can make things right.
But today, after giving Marie a sponge bath and getting her down for her morning nap, I found it.
Hubert Hubert had a life envied by many—a comfortable tenure-track position in biology at the local university, a beautiful daughter, a nice house. But he was haunted by one screaming demon: Elsa, his 340-pound wife of 17 years. Her morning-time bellows resonated in his head even as he taught his last class of the day; the constant stench of garlic and Velveeta that emanated from her pores each night forced him to sleep on the couch and throw the bedsheets out every other week; her humorless affect ruined every social occasion, even those held by her side of the family or by her coworkers at the fabric shop.
He immersed himself in his work on glandular disorders, sometimes putting in 18-hour days just to avoid his wife. Even then she would shatter his tranquillity by calling ten, twenty times a day.
“There was a time you loved me,” she’d say in her guttural snarl when he picked up the phone at the lab. “What happened to that man?”
“Elsa, I love you still. I’m just busy.”
“Busy, shit. Man like you’s afraid to spend time at home. Makes you scared your family’ll realize what a cunt you are.”
Hubert stiffened, then forced his bunched shoulders down. “There was a time when I loved you? There was a time when you didn’t talk to me like that. You make me feel like a wet kitten.”
“No, just a pussy,” Elsa said, and hung up.
Hubert thought about disconnecting the lab phone more than once, but that would only bring down the wrath of Elsa even stronger. He’d endure the calls from the woman he once would have moved mountains for, before she became a mountain herself, immobile and sullen.
Five minutes after he hung up the phone, it rang again. Sullenly.
Hubert sighed and picked it up. “Yes, Elsa.”
A call the next week was more than the usual back-and-forth of abuse and hurtful accusation.
The phone rang excitedly, shaking in its cradle with an expectant grin.
“Hubert, I’m gonna be thin again!” Elsa barked from across the line. “The doctor’s gonna take it out of me.”
“Take what out of you, sunshine?”
Big sigh. “The cyst, dipshit. I got a cyst, and that’s what’s making me fat.”
Hubert leaned against the cool metal of his filing cabinet. “Honey, no offense, but you only weigh 460 pounds—”
“I went to the doctor this morning, ‘cause I had all that phlegm? He took an X-ray of my chest and tummy and there it was.”
“There it was?”
“I got a 320-pound cyst in my gut, Hubert. Pure protein, eatin’ up all my vital needs and systems,” Elsa said, sounding like she was reciting the careful memory. “I get it out tomorrow
morning—8 on the dot they’re gonna put me under.”
“Eight tomorrow? I’ve got a class at 8:30.”
He could hear her draw a huge breath, the better to fuel her yelling at him. “It’s canceled, okay? Your wife is getting her cyst removed. I am going to be thin. They can hear you blather on 320 pounds from now.”
Hubert’s fingers wrapped white around the receiver as he strained for control. “I’m filling in for Dr. Dietrich; it’s a good chance to—”
“Eight a.m., Hubert. This could be a medical record, y’understand? I need you to drive me there and then drive me and the cyst back.”
“The cyst is coming home with you?”
“Didn’t you hear me, Junior? It could be a record. We’re keeping the cyst so the tabloid people can get their pictures. Guinness, too.”
Choking back a gag—a 320-pound cyst was coming to stay with them?—Hubert reminded himself to get a plastic sheet to cover the back seat of the car. “From a biological standpoint, this must practically unprece—”
“Thrilling, Hube, great. See you when you get back. Get some plastic for the bed on your way home.”
“For the bed?”
“Gotta keep a cyst warm once it’s been removed from the body or it loses its shine. You’re a couch jockey for the next couple nights.” With that, she hung up.
He kept the phone off the hook for the rest of the day. It kept its electronic eyes on him, hurt and dismayed at the lost opportunity.
Driving home nauseated by the newness of everything, Hubert realized he had only the barest idea how Elsa could have one that weighed 320 pounds, more than the rest of her? How would they remove something of that size—was there a crane in the operating room? Did this cyst serve any purpose, facilitate any biological function? Would it cause Elsa’s system any damage by its sudden absence?
He remembered how he and Elsa were in the early years: laughing, teasing, happy. With the onset of her mysterious—now not-so-mysterious—weight gain over the past ten years, the life force seemed to be gradually drained from her. No, not drained —fermented, the fluid turning sour until only a bitter, sarcastic fat-lady nugget remained.
Driving home, the setting sun forcing his eyes into slits as he traveled west, Hubert banged his fist against the steering wheel and barked a mirthless laugh. The cyst was poison; it had poisoned her system, ruined her; and now he would see it removed. Fuck the 8:30 class, fuck everything—he was getting back the woman he loved.
He continued west, his eyes almost completely shut.
Hubert had taught biology at the university for fifteen years and in that time had watched weeks of dissections, pored over tons of textbooks with close-up photos of the nastiest malformations nature had to offer. But nothing in his professional life had prepared him for the spectacle he viewed from the observation window above the operating room as the team of green-wrapped surgeons cut his wife open like whale-hunters gutting their catch.
Viewed from twenty feet up, Elsa’s slack, pallid face looked like a sculpture carved out of pork fat, the rolls of flesh drooping, puddling onto the table. They had her belly brushed with orange, and a single black line noted where they would enter to remove the poisonous stranger. The cyst. The cause of all this pain, all this trouble. Wrapped into one 320-pound package and yanked out like a massive bad tooth.
Hubert rubbed his hands together and watched his sleeping wife’s face. The head surgeon lowered the scalpel and carved.
Nature is a wonderful thing, Hubert said to himself. The doctors had her open now, and the cyst was impossible to miss, since it filled her entire stomach cavity. It really was giant—round, fibrous, filled with jelly coagulated from all the resources it had stolen from Elsa’s system.
It was magnificent.
They scooped it out, its fibrous sheen jiggling as the orderlies handled it, and placed it immediately in an orange garbage bag marked “Biohazard.” A nurse scurried off with it, banging urgently through the OR’s double doors like she had a newborn in need of oxygen.
Now they slashed off huge ribbons of flesh from his wife’s emptied body, the better to sew her together again and fashion her body into something tightly wrapped, her old self, her old happy self, before the weight, before the cruelty seeped in, before the poison cyst leaked into her and made her Elsa the Hateful Bitch.
An hour later, while Hubert stood by her side and held her hand, she awoke. Her first words: “Where the fuck is it?”
Fuck? “Um … they removed it, honey. They got rid of it.”
She tried to sit bolt upright, but her stomach muscles had just been cut, so she flailed like a tuna on the deck of a boat. “Hubert, goddamnit, this is one of the largest cysts ever taken from the human body—the Weekly World News was gonna pay us $25,000 just for the pictures!”
“It’s a biohazard,” Hubert offered weakly.
“I want my cyst back. I want to sleep next to it tonight, keep it warm and shiny for the photographers.”
Hubert swallowed. “But they’re keeping you tonight for observation.”
Elsa’s right eye twitched and her hands trembled as she slammed her thumb down on the nurse-call button. “Then you’re sleeping with it. I want my cyst back. You low-down dirty dog fucker, I want my cyst back!”
The nurse rushed into the room and swept the vinyl curtain around Hubert’s wife. “This is the recovery ward, Mr. Hubert. You’re upsetting Mrs. Hubert—loudly—so I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
Hubert nodded, his chin ending up buried in his chest. As he turned and took the first of four steps toward the door, his wife bellowed, “Get me my cyst back, Hubert Hubert, or I’ll make you wish they had thrown you away!”
He collected his hat and coat and, ducking as he dashed, made for the elevator to the basement.
On the way down, his heart sank as he bit his lip in frustration at himself. She hadn’t changed at all! How could he have thought she’d be cured of her nastiness just by pulling a 320-pound ball of poison out of her? It was just a cyst. In fact, if anything, she was worse, nastier, bitchier, now that it was gone. It was almost as if—
The elevator doors opened onto the basement level, where, he knew from his time studying pathogens in corpses, the hospital kept its medical waste and biohazardous material to be collected and destroyed.
He stepped off the elevator and the huge orange bag caught his eye immediately. It seemed happy to see him, shaking a bit as he stepped towards it. He stared at the bag, mesmerized, before he completed his thought:
It was almost as if … as if the cyst had contained all that was good about Elsa.
Checking to see that no one was watching, he stripped open the top of the “Biohazard” bag and reached a hand inside. The stench was horrid at first, but subsided as soon as he made contact. He felt the glistening fibrous ball shudder as he stroked it. It was still warm. He could keep it warm at night, just as Elsa had requested—demanded. Maybe it could keep him warm as well.
“Be right back,” he said softly, and gently resealed the bag. He got his Honda, threw on his white lab coat, popped the hatchback, and stealthily slipped down to the basement and grabbed and placed her—it, it, the cyst—inside.
As he guided the Honda out of the hospital parking lot, he thought he could hear the cyst coo in gratitude. This is crazy, he said to himself. Cysts don’t coo or shudder. Cysts are balls of fucking waste material. He’d keep it warm like Elsa had … requested … and they’d get the money from the tabloids. Cysts didn’t have personalities, couldn’t love or coo in gratitude. He congratulated himself on his clear thinking.
He gunned the accelerator. The Honda revved in appreciation and took off.
This is where I come in. I had five days to go on the force, less than a week till retirement. My work in the larceny/robbery division could have raised me to Major if I wanted the job, but life in the trenches still appealed to me. Working with people. Solving problems. So when I got the report from the hospital that a bag of medical waste had been stolen—biohazardous material—I wasn’t chained to a desk; I was able to put the bubble on my car and pop on out there, get names, get addresses, get leads. What was stolen wasn’t hazardous like nuclear material, but it was a potential disease hazard if anyone with low immune response came into contact with it.
It was a cyst. A giant cyst. The hospital called me and told me someone had stolen a garbage bag filled with 320 pounds of material removed from a patient earlier that day. A Major would ask, “Why the hell would somebody steal a giant cyst?“
But I wasn’t a Major. For five more days, I was a detective. Why didn’t concern me—I only cared about who. By six the next morning, I’d have my answer, the thief would be in jail, and the biohazard would be incinerated.
Hubert Hubert had never seen anything like it. Removed from its orange cradle and placed
on Elsa’s side of their full-size bed, the cyst shimmered in the halogen light of the bedroom lamp. He could see clearly now that it was making a sound of some sort, as its wet fibers contracted and expanded.
Like it was breathing.
Hubert watched in amazement, his eyes narrowing to slits as he tried to limit the amount of unbelievable information pouring into his brain. A grin—an actual grin, how long had it been since he’d had one of those at home?—spread over his face as he reached out, reached over, across the shag rug and the leopard bedspread, to place his biologist’s hand on something his biologist’s mind could not comprehend.
As the warm palm of his hand pressed against the cool flesh of the cyst, the fibers pushed outward and Hubert could hear the air being sucked in. It was a deep breath, the kind of breath you take when you touch a lover for the first t—
Hubert yanked his hand back. The cyst let out a plaintive wail and contracted, letting its air out with a disappointed whoosh. The huge ball shuddered and moved ever so slightly towards him. It moved …
Hubert stood from the place on the bed where he had been kneeling and dimmed the halogen light. The cyst gave off a low buttery glow, guiding him to it. To her.
“You are all that was good about Elsa,” he whispered.
The cyst pulsed, the glow growing stronger.
A dreamy smile on his face, Hubert stepped toward the cyst. When he touched it again, it was not with the hand of a biologist, but the hand of a man in love.
Husbands and wives are always the start of an investigation; the games they play with and against each other oftentimes lead to criminal action, so we know to start casting the web there. Since it was Elsa Hubert’s cyst that was stolen from the basement, she was the first person we questioned.
“Fuck if I know where it’s at,” she said, lighting a cigarette that had to be handed to her because she couldn’t turn in bed. She was all crust and no pie, it seemed to me, and I quickly became impatient to get away from her. “The thing’s worth $25,000 to whoever lets the goddamn National Enquirer take a picture of it. I’d start with the orderlies, those pieces of shit.”
“Where would your husband be right now, Mrs. Hubert?”
“Husband?” She slipped the cigarette out of her mouth and gaped at me and my two uniformed officers. “Whaddya want him for? He’s—he’s out of town.”
“Really? While his wife is in the hospital?”
“Ain’t much of a man.” She hacked violently. “I wouldn’t check the house for him. He’s not there.”
I wrote in my notebook: Check house ASAP. “Thank you, Mrs. Hubert.”
“Whatever,” she said, and waved us off. I watched her out of the corner of my eye as we exited; her eyes never left us. There was a cold husk of a woman in that body, hardly seemed to be living except to curse and bitch. I already felt sympathy for the husband I was trying to find.
On the morning I took Hubert Hubert into custody, I had four days left in my law enforcement career. I had been with the force 32 years, 18 of those as a detective who saw almost exclusively the most sordid side of human nature. But nothing I or the two veteran officers I brought with me had ever seen could have prepared us for what we saw when we banged open the Huberts’ bedroom door and flicked on the light switch.
Mr. Hubert lay naked beside a giant pulsating ball of fibrous, mucose jelly. He was partially inside of it, one leg and his groin disappearing totally within the cyst. As the light hit his eyes, he yelped—and the cyst …
He yelped. That was all I could process. The officer who had not succumbed to vomiting
bolted to the bed and pulled Hubert out of the cyst, breaking their conjugal bond. He put the cuffs on Hubert, then hurled brown vomit all over the nightstand and the lamp beside the bed. The stench was unbearable. The cyst cried.
Yes, it cried. It shrank back from the lights as Hubert yelped and howled in sorrow. Then it stopped moving entirely, its coagulated sobs filling the room. That’s when the stench began, the smell of rotting flesh.
“Mr. Hubert, you are under arrest for the unauthorized transport of biohazardous medical waste,” I told him, although using the word “waste” now seemed inappropriate and cruel. “You have the right to remain silent …”
He did remain silent, his eyes never leaving the giant cyst, which had contracted into a corner of the bed and was already losing much of its shine. He remained silent until we got to the station, and then he spilled the whole story to me, the story I’ve just related to you. I interrogated him—alone—for over three hours, during which time the cyst was taken from the house and incinerated.
The telephone in the interrogation room rang, and Hubert’s red eyes shot to it immediately.
“It’s bad news,” he said. “The ring sounds so sad.”
I took the call. The cyst had been destroyed.
I put my hand on Hubert’s, on the hand of the man I had taken happiness from with just four days left as a cop. I had never had a case which kept me up nights wondering if I did the right thing…and now I would take this one into retirement, into the twilight of my life. I would always wonder if I could make things right. This would be the end of my restful nights.
“Bad news,” I told him.
Hubert got thirty days in the pokey. I collected my gold watch the day before he was sentenced. Today, six years later, is the first day I’ve ever worn it. I’ve got a special impression to
In the tabloids I picked up during my weekly run into town this morning was a story about a woman who had a 350-pound cyst removed from her stomach cavity, the largest cyst ever documented. The headline read “Second Giant Tumor Removed From Woman.” They showed a picture of it in the paper, with the former Elsa Hubert (now Pickerel) holding a $25,000 check presented to her by the tabloid. She had a sour smile on her face, like a grin painted on a gargoyle.
But the cyst. The cyst looked different … it looked happy. I swear to God it glowed.
You see, in most cases, the removal of a large cyst is not the end of the story. Unless the patient makes major lifestyle changes—changes which most often are accompanied by a switch in demeanor—cysts grow back. They grow back and continue to leach from the patient whatever nutrients and life force—or personality traits—they took originally.
I called the hospital and made sure the cyst was still there, ready to be picked up for disposal. I told them a representative of the police would make sure it got where it needed to go—in this case, the biology department of the local university, kept at temperature. To be presented directly to their department head: Dr. Hubert Hubert.
I still had my formal uniform from my police days for official functions and the like. I slipped into it and checked my old self in the vanity mirror, the gold watch shimmering like it was thrilled we were reuniting the lovers, making right at last.
I had never thought of any watch—or any thing—in that way. I liked it.
My watch beeped cheerfully. Time to go.