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South of No North   Pg. 89-92

- Charles Bukowski


About the book:

South of No North is a collection of short stories written by Charles Bukowski, the so-called "Poet Laureate of Skid Row" that explore loneliness and struggles on the fringes of society. ...(more)

Excerpt 1:    (Excerpt 2)  (Excerpt 3)

I was shacked with another one. We were on the 2nd floor of a court and I was working. That's what almost killed me, drinking all night and working all day. I kept throwing a bottle through the same window. I used to take that window down to a glass place at the corner and get it fixed, get a pane of glass put in. Once a week I did this. The man looked at me very strangely but he always took my money which looked all right to him. I'd been drinking heavily, steadily for 15 years, and one morning I woke up and there it was: blood streaming out of my mouth and ass. Black turds. Blood, blood, waterfalls of blood. Blood stinks worse than shit. She called a doctor and the ambulance came after me. The attendants said I was too big to carry down the steps and asked me to walk down.

"O.k., men," I said. "Glad to oblige -- don't want you to work too hard."

Outside I got onto the stretcher; they opened it for me and I climbed on like a wilted flower. One hell of a flower. The neighbors had their heads out the windows, they stood on their steps as I went by. They saw me drunk most of the time. "Look, Mabel," one of them said, "there goes that horrible man!" "God have mercy on his soul!" the answer came. Good old Mabel. I let go a mouthful of red over the edge of the stretcher and somebody went OOOOOhhh-hhhooooh.

Even though I was working I didn't have any money so it was back to the charity ward. The ambulance was packed. They had shelves in the ambulance and everybody was everywhere. "Full house," said the driver, "let's go." It was a bad ride. We swayed, we tilted. I made every effort to hold the blood in as I didn't want to get anybody stinking. "Oh," I heard a Negro woman's voice, "I can't believe this is happening to me, I can't believe it, oh God help me!"

God gets pretty popular in places like that.

They put me in a dark basement and somebody gave me something in a glass of water and that was that. Every now and then I would vomit some blood into the bedpan. There were four or five of us down there. One of the men was drunk and insane - but he seemed strong. He got off his cot and wandered around, stumbled around, falling across the other men, knocking things over, "Wa wa was, I am wawa the joba, I am juba I am jumma jubba wasta, I am juba."

I grabbed the water pitcher to hit him with but he never came near me. He finally fell down in a corner and passed out. I was in the basement all night and until noon the next day. Then they moved me upstairs. The ward was overloaded. They put me in a dark corner.

"Ooh, he's gonna die in that dark corner," one of the nurses said.

"Yeah," said the other one.

I got up one night and couldn't make it to the can. I heaved blood all over the middle of the floor. I fell down and was too weak to get up. I called for a nurse but the doors to the ward were covered with tin and three to six inches thick and they couldn't hear. A nurse came by about once every two hours to check for corpses. They rolled a lot of dead out at night. I couldn't sleep and used to watch them. Slip a guy off the bed and pull him onto the roller and pull the sheet over his head. Those rollers were well-oiled.

I hollered, "Nurse!" not knowing especially why. "Shut up!" one of the old men told me, "we want to sleep." I passed out.

When I came to my senses all the lights were on. Two nurses were trying to pick me up. "I told you not to get out of bed," one of them said. I couldn't talk. Drums were in my head. I felt hollowed out. It seemed as if I could hear everything, but I couldn't see, only flares of light, it seemed. But no panic, fear; only a sense of waiting, waiting for anything and not caring.

"You're too big," one of them said, "get in this chair."

They put me in the chair and slid me along the floor. I didn't feel like more than six pounds.

Then they were around me: people. I remember a doctor in a green gown, an operating gown. He seemed angry. He was talking to the head nurse.

"Why hasn't this man had a transfusion? He's down to ... c.c.'s."

"His papers passed through downstairs while I was upstairs and then they were filed before I saw them. And, besides Doctor, he doesn't have any blood credit."

"I want some blood up here and I want it up here NOW!"

"Who the hell is this guy," I thought, "very odd. Very strange for a doctor."

They started the transfusions -- nine pints of blood and eight of glucose.

A nurse tried to feed me roast beef with potatoes and peas and carrots for my first meal. She put the tray before me.

"Hell, I can't eat this," I told her, "this would kill me!"

"Eat it," she said, "it's on your list, it's on your diet."

"Bring me some milk," I said.

"You eat that," she said, and walked away.

I left it there.

Five minutes later she came running into the ward.

"Don't EAT THAT!" she screamed, "you can't HAVE THAT!! There's been a mistake on the list!"

She carried it away and came back with a glass of milk.

As soon as the first bottle of blood emptied into me they sat me up on a roller and took me down to the x-ray room. The doctor told me to stand up. I kept falling over backwards.


I tried but I couldn't stand up. I fell over backwards.

"Oh shit," he said to the nurse, "take him away."

Easter Sunday the Salvation Army band played right under our window at 5 a.m. They played horrible religious music, played it badly and loudly, and it swamped me, ran through me, almost murdered me. I felt as close to death that morning as I have ever felt. It was an inch away, a hair away. Finally they left for another part of the grounds and I began to climb back toward life. I would say that that morning they probably killed a half dozen captives with their music.

Then my father showed with my whore. She was drunk and I knew he had given her money for drink and deliberately brought her before me drunk in order to make me unhappy. The old man and I were enemies of long standing -- everything I believed in he disbelieved and the other way around. She swayed over my bed, red-faced and drunk.

"Why did you bring her like that?" I asked. "Why didn't you wait until another day?"

"I told you she was no good! I always told you she was no good!"

"You got her drunk and then brought her here. Why do you keep knifing me?"

"I told you she was no good, I told you, I told you!"

"You son of a bitch, one more word out of you and I'm going to take this needle out of my arm and get up and whip the shit out of you!"

He took her by the arm and they left.

I guess they had phoned them that I was going to die. I was continuing to hemorrhage. That night the priest came.

"Father," I said, "no offense, but please, I'd like to die without any rites, without any words."

I was surprised then because he swayed and rocked in disbelief; it was almost as if I had hit him. I say I was surprised because I thought those boys had more cool than that. But then, they wipe their asses too.

"Father, talk to me," an old man said, "you can talk to me."

The priest went over to the old man and everybody was happy.

Thirteen days from the night I entered I was driving a truck and lifting packages weighing up to 50 pounds. A week later I had my first drink -- the one they said would kill me.

I guess someday I'll die in that goddamned charity ward. I just can't seem to get away.

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More from South of No North:    Excerpt 2    Excerpt 3

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