i was homesick and i was high…

I left Las Vegas with the wind in my hair and an empty head. The morning that followed the evening with Billy was painful and short-lived, with little discussion, no bad coffee or goodbye kisses. Sonia didn’t have much to say either, which comforted me. Billy held me tightly for a long moment, holding the back of my head, whispering in my ear to keep in touch. I had no urge to cry, and I was thankful and proud for that.

We got in the car and I let her play the music loud and it forced me to think. I thought about the bar at home, I thought about my mother and Man Ray and Vincent and all the things I did have waiting for me. Most days I seemed to focus on the things I didn’t have—a functional relationship, a good job, a circle of friends that I could just call and talk to or spend time with when I wanted to. I was always on the hunt for these things, but not actively. I spent a lot of energy complaining, moping, feeling sorry for myself. I kept my eyes open but I never really saw anything.

It was then, during those hours of agonizing punk music and clouds of marijuana, that I decided I didn’t want Drew, I didn’t want James, Johnny or even Billy, no matter how much I still loved him. I didn’t need a man to complete my life, and moreover, one never really would. If I wanted to improve my situation, I had to act myself, for myself. I couldn’t just spin the wheel o’ boys and expect whoever I landed on to be the answer to my problems. Maybe I had used them all as a means to my end, a selfish answer to boredom and my own feelings of inadequacy and overinflated ego as the result.

I started imagining reinventing my life in whatever ways I could, I considered moving, getting another job, saying goodbye to anyone that happened to still be around. Maybe I wouldn’t need something so drastic, but then again, maybe I would. I could feel the chemicals still pulsing through my blood but I wasn’t adding to them, so it was liberating and made me feel like I was detoxing.

I looked over at Sonia, whose eyes were nearly closed from the high, smiling, singing, in her own world. I wondered if we would remain friends or if this trip would just fade away in both of our memories. Had I been using her as well? I wanted friends but never really cared enough to do the work required in finding ones I wanted to keep or use the energy even trying.

I chewed on my hair and picked my nails, finding new ways to fidget, thinking, thinking, thinking. I wanted to tell Vincent how I felt myself growing, but upon deliberation I decided he was growing himself, in a completely different way, away from me and I wondered how good or bad a thing that was. I knew he was in love with me, and the parts of me that knew he knew me best wanted to feel that way but never fully could. At times, when my mind was at its darkest and most weak, I thought about his wrinkled hands on my body, his warm, scratchy chin in my neck and it gave me the shivers. So it was unfair of me to love him in a half-ass sense, unfair of me to expect from him seamless, unfettered loyalty, unfair of me to resent him for loving someone who loved him back.

I was going home with my convictions and for the first time ever, I was excited to meet my demons.


growing pains

I awoke from a dull pain in my backside, and could see nothing. It was almost as if I hadn’t opened my eyes. I felt around me in the dark, my hands making contact with some thin quilts and fluffy pillows. I rubbed my legs and felt the familiar denim; I had indeed slept in my clothes. I couldn’t find Sonia in the darkness, and suddenly my stomach filled with a foggy, familiar dread.

I didn’t remember much about the evening. I won a little money playing blackjack; we were doing shots of Jack. Billy was wearing sunglasses even though it had been night.

Other than that, my mind was pretty much blank, which didn’t happen often. I thought hard, deciding if I was the one that passed out, imagining Sonia and Billy carrying on in the living room, smoking bowl after bowl, listening to records she would pretend to be impressed with; Patti Smith and Frank Zappa. Perhaps he had become attracted to her strangeness the same way I had, maybe he kissed her, and then they had ended up in his room. My throat barely contained the capacity to groan.

The room smelled odd. It reminded me of being a child at my grandmother’s house, the room I was forced to sleep in bringing this same kind of strange, intense darkness due to the heavy drapes. When the lights were on, it was worse however. There were two uncomfortable couches that turned into cot-like beds, covered in ugly orange striping that scraped at bare legs when not careful. In between the two couches, in the corner, there was a large end table which may have been lovely on its own, but its contents, about twelve urns with small framed photos of dogs, mostly Great Danes, in front of each, was enough to make the entire room much less than charming.

I was convinced that the ghosts of the dogs only inhabited that room and would surely devour me in my sleep. Somehow, I always survived. But the musky smell, probably from the heavy drapes or the ancient couches, I blamed on the ashes. I remembered crying to my mother that I didn’t want to sleep in the dead dog room. But there had been no other place for me.

I felt trapped in this room, like I had felt trapped in the dead dog room, and I finally found the strength to sit up and eventually stand, arms outstretched, trying to find a light switch or a door or anything that would explain anything about my whereabouts.

Not four steps later, my knee made loud (and painful) contact with the hollow metal of a futon frame, and Sonia apparently awoke. “What the fuck!?”

I burst into laughter and collapsed onto the futon, right on top of her legs. “Jesus!”

The sound of her voice made me exponentially happier, and the laughter became mutual and continued. “You crazy bitch,” she said, moving over, allowing me to join her.

I realized I still may have been drunk at that point.

The door swung open, releasing a formidable light that filled the room, blinding us. “What the hell are you girls doing?”

We laughed again. “I couldn’t see?” I offered.

“What the hell time is it, anyway?”

Sonia glanced at her watch. “8:16.”

He rubbed his head. “That’s unearthly.” We nodded in agreement. “Alright,” he continued, “come on girls.”

We looked at each other, confused, but we abandoned the futon and followed him into his room. It was much bigger than I had expected, a bit on the messy side but cool nonetheless. A desk with a bong and sheet music, a mural covering the entire far wall of what seemed to be some kind of face, the two coinciding windows conveniently placed as eyes. My eyes grazed over a decent-sized bookcase that my mind was very interested in, but my eyes were too fuzzy too make book titles out. A queen-sized bed with a massive forest green comforter lay against the other wall, a 27-inch television sitting very matter-of-factly at the end of it. He wiped his eyes, grabbed a disc off of a shelf of the bookcase and crouched down at the front of the TV.

“What’s up?” I queried. He turned around and motioned for us to lie down. Sonia turned to me, eyes filled with incredulousness first, intimidation second.

He chuckled. “Oh god, come on, we’re all adults here. Jolie, you can be in the middle.” He waved his hand.

Sonia went first, lying against the wall, the covers up to her neck. I followed. Billy turned the light off, joined us and the movie soon started. Army of Darkness. There was a warm feeling fighting my hangover, which was flushing through my body, starting from my stomach, out to my fingers and toes.

I don’t think we got through twenty minutes of it. And although unconventional, it was certainly a more pleasant sleeping arrangement.

We woke up almost forgetting what had happened. Sonia awoke, seemingly very surprised to be in Billy’s bed rather than the futon she had originated in. Billy finally sat up, scratched his head, looked over at us and smiled in a vile way. “Good morning, ladies.”

I whacked him in the arm. “Oh so you don’t remember being the gentleman do you?”

He chuckled. “Gentleman?” He looked around the room. “Where?”

I didn’t feel like myself again until I was in the shower. The pale green bathroom was calming and surprising; a little cluttered but nowhere near as messy as I had anticipated for a bachelor in Vegas. It made me wonder if there was a lady that stayed over often, who wiped the mirror and cleaned the sink. I imagined small pale hands scooping the litter into a plastic bag, cooing at the kitten that was present somewhere in the house, but had still eluded us.

As the hot water penetrated my skin, I thought of the woman who might prove worthy of Billy. I imagined a slender woman with fiery auburn hair and horn-rimmed glasses. Minimal makeup, but bright, adventurous nail polish, like silver or blue. Maybe she would be a singer in some nightclub downtown, or on the strip somewhere.

My stomach was growling. I needed a cup of strong coffee and something fattening to keep my hangover busy. Soon enough, I was dressed and ready, my hair wet on the back of my neck, sitting on the couch, making eyes with Billy and his phantom kitten, at last.

“Jolie, this is Syphilis.” The cat was tiny, white fuzz emanating all over the place, round blue eyes blinking.

“Syphilis?” I couldn’t even bring myself to laugh. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

He nodded, not surprised at all by my reaction, but looking a little disappointed. “It’s a pretty name.”

I was at a loss for words. The cat looked up from the floor and meowed at me. I pet her, and she began purring violently. She seemed sweet, and I found myself feeling bad for questioning her name at all. I remembered when Man Ray was just a kitten, how small he felt in my hands, and I lifted her up into my lap, where she seemed content.

I looked at Billy. He was picking dirt out from under his fingernails. Finally, his eyes met mine again. “You ready for some breakfast?”

“Amen, brother.”

Sonia took her sweet time getting ready, and I felt my stomach shapeshifting within me, bellowing at me. The weak coffee Billy had offered had merely stifled my nerves, and then I became this wired, desperate mess, petting the cat, staring off into space while the records played, and they all sounded the same, starving, starving, starving.

By the time we reached the Peppermill, it was 1 pm. I ordered more coffee and ice water. It was better than Billy’s coffee, hot and familiar, fulfilling my soul in a way that made me remember James and his beautiful black bean soup that had rescued me, once, long time ago. I wondered if this was growing, if I had started to learn how to rescue myself.

The biscuits and gravy were overflowing my plate and the taste overwhelmed me with milky, rich goodness. And although I was at a table with one nearly perfect stranger and a close friend from days gone by, I still felt like I was at my family’s table.

It had been a long time since I sat there. My father never sat at the table, always preferring the soft indented cushions of the couch to enjoy his meals, far from the rest of us and any bother of conversation. And my mother, she never seemed to really sit down either; her hands were always too busy, refilling my milk glass, flipping the pancakes, checking the eggs, serving my father. I was always alone at such a large table, so as time went by, more things began to be placed there, because only one or two people would sit there at any given time. I remembered candles, fruit baskets, birthday presents, mail, eventually even a computer sat where my father would be sitting if he were to participate in a family meal.

Then my mind traveled over to the present; my father, hunched over, sickly, alone in a dingy apartment, watching old westerns, not knowing, not even forgetting, just never knowing, just quite how to use the phone or the DVD player. The walker that rested against the door. How he used to be able to lift me on his shoulders, even just a few years ago. A laugh that came from someplace unworldly, a blazing cacophony; irreverent and infectious, and no longer in existence. I didn’t remember the last time I heard him genuinely laugh.

I discreetly caught the eye of our waitress. “Need something honey?”

I swallowed quickly, wiped my eye and nodded. “I’ll take a Mimosa. Please.”

Funny what champagne and orange juice can multiply into. I barely remembered seeing the lights of the strip in the background, hearing the tinkling of the ice, or feeling the warmth in my chest. I don’t even remember what I was drinking. What I do remember was watching the mascara and eyeliner bleed down the sides of my face in a bright bathroom mirror of some dark bar, the young women in expensive, revealing dresses checking their overdone makeup and staring, staring, staring, with their big empty eyes, not yet knowing what pain felt like, only knowing the feel of their long island iced teas and black lace underwear. After that, the only thing I remember is that on that epic walk coming back to Billy’s, he was holding my hand. Maybe it was just to keep me from falling over, maybe it was because he was feeling sorry for me. Maybe it was because he knew my plight, because he was stuck somewhere, just as I was, in between nothing and nothing else, stuck on the drink, stuck on himself.

Before I knew it, it was there, like a mythical beast one only reads about. The pink serpent was loose and I was its prey. Given our circumstances, I was almost amazed to find that he had anything there at all. I imagined the smooth skin of Ken doll plastic, the childhood intentions I had been familiar with. The sight of it was quick; he spit on his hand, tweaked away and worked it in, and it hurt like a holy drill. And I knew he wasn’t picturing me hanging ornaments, watching Alf on syndicated cable, having an overbite I didn’t know what to do with. I wasn’t young and innocent, like how we started. I wondered if he remembered my middle name or my birthday. I wondered if I would regret this decision as soon as it all was over. It was becoming more normal for me.

But it was in and out, and vigorously so, like in the movies. It was over soon enough and I laid there, naked, my lips cracked over in thirst and in desperation. I didn’t know if I should slither off to the next room, join the drunken comatose Sonia who I had already abandoned in spirit, or close my eyes and drift off. In silence, I waited for words I hoped I would not hear.

But instead, he rolled me over on my side, his slim pale wrist closing around my waist. “You’re a pain in the ass.”

I cried then, too. But I was sort of smiling.


gee thanks

The dream was long and weighty. He was there with something one could call courage although I didn’t consider it so. He was wearing sunglasses on top of his nerd-style glasses, and together, they looked like some gnarly, Dame Edna old lady style of eyeglasses. He was calling me baby, but that wasn’t particularly peculiar. But yes, oh Jesus yes, he was singing Spinal Tap. “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight.”

It wasn’t sexy. But it was silly. It was something he might have actually done in real life, although I was never around if and when it happened.

But it made me think of him. And, feeling rather detached from Drew and the others, the thoughts were sweet and satisfying. There I was all over again, on my back in heady green grasses, his kisses intoxicating me. He certainly didn’t feel a state away.

I woke up, alone, with a hangover from hash and Mickeys malt liquor. I noticed my smart wardrobe; an oversized Rolling Stones t-shirt and grandma panties. I only had myself to blame. “What the hell am I doing?”

I said it again and again.

I was right about Sonia. Only a couple of weeks later and there she was again, sitting at the bar, in the midst of a typical Friday night rush, half past ten or so. I spotted her tattered jeans right away, paid special attention to the bulge of flesh that spilled from a particular hole on her lower thigh.

“Goldschlager?” I asked, grinning, setting a shot glass in front of her.

“Not today,” she said, laughing. “I’m ready to try something new.”

“Alright, some experimentation! Well, you want a shot or a cocktail?”

“Don’t matter. I just don’t want a pussy drink.”

I thought about that for a minute. Although many could very well argue that Goldschlager, a cinnamon-flavored liqueur could be categorized as a pussy drink, she did have a few shots that night, so I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

“Yes ma’am.” I wanted to give her simple, but strong and tasty, but that was subjective. I didn’t think she would go for bourbon. I didn’t want to underestimate her either. So I made her a Long Island iced tea. She watched me, wide-eyed, as I carefully poured all the different alcohols into the tall glass.

“You trying to kill me or what?”

I laughed. “Maybe.”

She gave me a stern look, something I hadn’t expected. “Right on,” she said, and gulped it down fervently.

I focused on her; let my eyes take in all of Sonia and all of her disproportionate characteristics. She seemed almost foreign, some flavor of ignorant or another. Perhaps she was young, but her eyes didn’t tell me that. She was ugly in an interesting, almost musical way. It was not normal for women.

It was only then that I wondered if she contained any depth, if this perverse love/hate relationship I had going in my own apocalyptic brain had any merit to it at all. “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

“Avoiding people.” She was looking me in the eye, and in all her vulgarity, I could have kissed her.

Instantly my mind ricocheted back to last year, how I could hardly stand the thought of being around the elders with their pregnant words and their overwhelming expectations, my brain heady with the idea of consequences for not continuing my education, finding a more proper venue for my “talents” as they would say.

I envisioned my mother, sounding Jewish although she was not; “Why don’t you just become a teacher already? You have so much patience.”

Patience wasn’t something I learned in college, it was something that spilled over me, over most, through disappointment throughout my formidable years. It was the hair in my hairbrush. Nothing more.

And it was true that I longed for someone, another lonely soul to inhabit my universe, someone that wasn’t worldly, someone that didn’t have it all figured out, not a Vincent type that pretended he was lost when he really wasn’t.

Dirty clothes and speeches couldn’t conceal those kinds of things. You could see it in their eyes, like politicians. That’s why it was all so much easier back then, less of a clean fight but more of a victory.

I nodded, the grin growing hot across my face, obtuse in design only. “Sonia, darling… how do you feel about Vegas?”

She had never been.

Sonia seemed to warm up to me rather quickly over her string of Long Islands, and came home with me that night after my shift. She had a thing for Stanley Kubrick and didn’t own a television, so we had a bit of a marathon starting with A Clockwork Orange.

I fell asleep with a bottle of dark rum in between my thighs and woke to the sun shining through the miniblinds and her, wide-eyed, fixated on Sue Lyon’s form behind fuzzy glass.

“Did you not sleep?” I asked, rubbing my head. There was one Bud Light bottle on her side of the table.

“I don’t really sleep much.” It had only now just dawned on me that she could be high on other things, which could explain her newfound interest in alcohol. But I’ve never been one to sugarcoat.

“Are you a tweaker, Sonia?”

She covered her mouth and laughed and laughed. It made me feel younger. I laughed too.

And I didn’t know her mother nor did she know the car I drove, but I was adamant about our trip together. Neither of us wanted to be around for the holiday and that was going to be an easy sell with the boss, since we were slower than usual and he was looking to cut hours anywhere he could.

Half of me thought it was going to be a fight to do this, with my family and hers, but by my mother’s reaction, it was obvious I was just the black sheep now, the one that was expected to bolt at any chance of a holiday gathering. And as much as I didn’t appreciate having a reputation, I was relieved that the start of my journey wasn’t going to be a difficult task.

Sonia had also informed me that her parents had just recently bought her a new car for her birthday and that she would rather make the trip in her car, another nice surprise. My car was okay and all, but all the way to Vegas and back would definitely do some damage.

Soon enough, the day was upon us. We got on the road while the sky was still purple.

If I had known I was going to be going to be having to put up with about 8 hours of weed clouds and pop-punk, I might have just decided to take my car after all. It was relentless. Her Ipod Nano hung awkwardly alongside my face as it was plugged into an fm transmitter at a station we could only get successfully that high in the air. And whereas I do enjoy listening to music while I drive, I generally enjoy conversation also. And this trip was very little of that.

I couldn’t believe how much pot this girl had on her. It looked like she had brought an ounce when she opened the glove compartment and smiled. “Road trip!”

I wondered if I had made the right decision about all this, if my spontaneous attitude was ill-fitted for this debacle. She had really seemed like someone I could possibly connect to, but I was honestly struggling. And it was true, I often struggled with people, trying to squeeze some kind of commentary in between their long-winded, pretentious speeches about their little jobs or big dreams. Though most people I didn’t give the opportunity to disappoint me. I had to wade through the oceans of women in big boots and men in sandals in jeans, Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews Band concertgoers, the beginning of a new age and the agonizing end of another.

I almost felt like this was worse than that.

The high pitched voices, the heavy, dry drums, the 3 same power chords. They were defying the emo kids, although they might have been worse than that, too.

About halfway through, when we stopped at McDonalds (gag!) I had to say something. My head was throbbing, and my mind was completely blank. I could honestly say it was impossible to think while the noise continued. “Can we take a break on the music for a bit?”

She was shoveling fries into her mouth. “Oh yeah,” she laughed. “Sorry about that. I was just in the moment, you know.”

Apparently, it had been a very long moment.

She went on. “It’s just, those bands, they’re amazing, they’re so inspiring. They make me feel like I can just do anything.”

I nodded, looked around, sipped on my Coke. “Oh yeah.” I could tell she wanted me to say something about the music, some sort of gratitude for the opening of my mind. Well she was out of her fucking mind. I just hoped that the remaining four hours wouldn’t drive me to suicide.

I slept. She started to nudge me when we were getting close. “What’s the exit?” It took me a minute to compose myself and read the Mapquest directions.

He didn’t live in a very nice neighborhood. It was kind of a glorified ghetto, actually, but I was sure the rent was cheap, and Billy wasn’t picky. He was probably one of the only people I knew that could live on the streets. He probably wouldn’t even mind living in his car, a big, boaty ’65 Cadillac.

We stepped out of the car into the wicked heat and stretched our legs.

It’s interesting what you don’t remember about a person until you are reminded, in the flesh. Upon sight, I said his name with a breath like cotton candy, the threads dancing on my tongue, melting, lingering. “Billy.”

He had these dull, gray eyes that looked sort of painted on, like a cheap porcelain doll whose makers did not splurge on glass orbs for the likeness. I would call them uninteresting if I could try to convince myself I was uninterested.

Physically, he hadn’t changed much. He was slender, of average height, but with a deliberate slouch that made him look shorter than he was. He walked slowly and carefully, as if he was wearing shoelaces that were untied. I remember bringing him out once, in high school, my bright eyed and bushy tailed friends much too young and closed minded for his taste, deeming him ‘permastoned.’ Perhaps he was. I don’t remember minding much.

That had been one of the best summers of my life, that sweet sixteenth. Driving around in that old Cadillac with the top down, drinking shitty beer and bum wine, chasing the stars. It felt like I was gone for weeks at a time.

He would sneak me into the Cardiff Lounge, back when it was not ridden with colored lights and DJs, when it opened at 6am and if you went in there at noon you’d know everyone. There were old men that held their scotch and old ladies that couldn’t handle their wine. And sometimes there was music, when people didn’t converse amongst themselves. It was there that I discovered the deliciousness of Guinness and black and tans. We would drink and drink and never eat, malnourishing ourselves to deliriousness.

We would nap and cuddle in his waterbed until the sun disappeared and I had to return home to my otherwise boring teenage existence. My mother would smell beer and cigarettes on me and scream and cry, then go through my things, looking for condoms and drugs. She would apologize when the report card came.

And everything was grand until they weren’t, the age difference mattering more by passing of time, as it always seems to. He was 21, five years my senior, and I wasn’t ready for all the things a mature relationship entailed. I worshipped many parts of him, just not the way he desired and probably was accustomed to.

But it was true; I was terrified of the cock. The thing had always looked unearthly, a pink serpent with utmost purpose. It bolted in and out of my hands and mouth too quickly, too violently. I was worried about my tender flesh being broken. I didn’t know how appealing that could be.

“Tough love, kid,” he had said, giving me a quick kiss goodbye on the forehead (a bit of a cliché move but it was remembered). He got into his car and slammed the door and I turned around so I wouldn’t have to watch him drive away. I was dramatic then, insult added to injury, weeping for weeks. I was sure that I would never love anyone again like I loved Billy.

And sure, I had seen him now and again since then; a crowded New Year’s Eve party, one of his band’s shows at my coffee shop, a doozy of a double blind date, and my graduation. But for the most part, he had disappeared.

He seemed only mildly surprised upon our arrival, though I hadn’t mentioned we were coming. He was clad in a worn white t-shirt and dark jeans. I noted that he was barefoot, which I found odd. I heard Coltrane playing faintly, coming from deep within the apartment. The overwhelming stench of cigarette smoke was imminent and I braced myself.

“I know you live alone now,” was the comment I made after he opened the screen door. It didn’t seem particularly impressive, which wasn’t quite normal for me. I was used to the fantastic approaches I’d specialized in. And for Billy, a dramatic number seemed at the very least, called for.

“You look well,” he said, motioning us in, casting a doubtful eye over the relic I had brought with me on my journey.

“Billy, Sonia. Sonia, Billy.” There were no hands that shook or touched, barely glances thrown. I was wondering if Sonia was quietly agonizing over the size of her legs, the birthmarks that dotted her neckline like a Dalmatian, the curious color she had speckled her eyes with that morning.

All I could do was hope that he was then, as amazing as he had ever been, and not in all those ways women deem slobbish, undeserving men. I had always put him on a pedestal and was worried that my romanticism went back further than I thought it did.

He wasn’t Drew, with a few cool quips and recycled dirty jokes. And he wasn’t Johnny or Rabbit, fickle and weak, both emasculated and turned on by dumb, domineering females.

It was Billy; Ween and Ginsberg and David Lynch. He was everything anyone of my or any proper mindset could and eventually would fall for, if only to say it was a dream, a horrible, splendid dream. He was some kind of game show, a twisted, torturous game show where all you would leave with was your pride.

I remembered watching Blue Velvet, crying when Dennis Hopper was screaming and hitting Isabella Rossalini. “No, no,” he had said, batting away at my tissue, “this isn’t the sad part.”

He was the kind of person you wished would kill you, when you were all tired of the charade, just for the story to be told.

I watched her thighs move like two hefty loaves of bread across his living room and make a thick, warm noise upon the meeting of them to the leather couch that had made its presence in the very middle of the room. Where there would normally be a television, a turntable stood, with various speakers littered around it of different sizes, shapes, and qualities. It looked like he had robbed a store.

I gave him a wet, noisy kiss on his cheek. “Happy fucking Thanksgiving, Billy. What the hell do you have to drink?”

“Oh hell, Jo. Tell me how you really feel.” It was one of his many jokes, the popular response to everything, using it where it would never fit.

The “Jo” struck me though, like an arrow in the chest, like when my mother said it. I wanted to tell him he never called me Jo, because he didn’t. Maybe my guest made him feel like he could construe alternate realities, because she was part of one herself.

“I feel like a drink!” I laughed, and he followed after. I hoped this wouldn’t be harder than I already anticipated that it would be.

He set a six pack of Stella Artois on the table. For me, it was tasty, but disappointing. Maybe he hadn’t remembered the voracity with which I consumed alcohol or with which alcohol consumed me.

But it was all his fault and I was there to remind him.

“Have you gone soft in your old age?” I said, nastily, spiting him.

The thing about Billy was that there was no fire inside. And I would often push the envelope to see if I could ever instill any. But it appeared that he was, at the very least, flame-resistant.

“No, not really, but I don’t spend a lot of time drinking at home by myself.” His stance wasn’t unreasonable. There was no last call in Las Vegas. And booze was cheap, like everything else.

“Well then, should we hit the streets?” His smile was answer enough. He threw on a black and white western-style shirt and shoes.

As we walked, Sonia’s breathing became labored.

“So, uh, how are we going to handle the sleeping arrangements?” Sonia was the one to ask, which was odd. I didn’t really care if we were going to have to sleep on the floor or in the yard, or in his car. We were going to be so wasted at the end of the night we would be lucky to have a place to lie down.

Billy stopped for a moment and scratched his head. “Well, I’ve got the studio… there’s a futon in there.” But his gaze lingered on me and I wondered if I was going to be sleeping in there as well.

“Oh,” she responded quickly, satisfied.

Suddenly, my mind shot back to 2000, sideways in the back of the Cadillac, my breasts pulsing against a red racerback tank. We were nursing 40s of MGD, and his hands were cold against my flesh. “Wanna cuddle?”

Soon enough his tongue was in my mouth and my nipples were screaming.

I broke away from my memories and stumbled into the bright lights of the strip. He spoke again. “Alright, since you ladies have never been here, I’ll go along with you for awhile here. But I don’t want to be here all night.’

It was his way. I didn’t mind. I was happy to be away from home, away from the stigma of family and people I intentionally avoided all year long.

Sonia looked at me and smiled. I was thankful.


one more cup of coffee ‘fore i go

Halloween came and went, as if often does, inconsequential and uninspiring. I put on a cheap blue wig and went to a show that was formidable in its unentertaining chaos, affording me only the inspiration to drink until I stumbled out into a parking lot I hadn’t parked in, bumming cigarettes to keep me from picking an odd scab I had on my bottom lip that kept returning.

My mind flowed around the taste of the blood that settled there, that wept and seeped onto my tongue, graced my top lip and contrasted the pale white of the cigarette upon its touch like a smear of lipstick. Had I taken a clumsy bite of my burrito at Iguana’s? Had I bitten it while engrossed in some melody?

I didn’t have the answer, but the music excuse didn’t seem all that likely. There is much music out and about here, but not much that catches my interest these days, and certainly none that evening. I have recently been going to more shows, attempting to find a separate reason to be in the company of barflies, something to make me feel and think and want to get back to playing myself. To weakly attempt to network.

I was lying on a car, an older model of a Mercedes Benz, laughing at my luck, singing the Janis Joplin song. ‘Oh Lord, won’tcha buy me a Mercedes Benz…’ It was then that my luck changed, at the sight of Johnny and the pink girl again, dressed in unsurprising costumes… John McCain and Sarah Palin. Her hair had gotten longer, but her cheeks were still that rosy, hectic color. Girl Scout cookies flooded my brain. Thin Mints.

They sounded good just then. I thought they would make an interesting flavor combination with the blood I still tasted.

“Are you okay?” He seemed genuinely concerned.

“Don’t I look okay?”

He didn’t laugh. The pink girl kind of chuckled into her palm. I couldn’t see her teeth.

“Is this yours?” He gestured toward the car I had gotten friendly with.

I burst into laughter. “Do you think I could afford it?”

He said nothing but helped me off of the car. I could tell my wig was becoming crooked, and I lifted my hands to remedy the problem, but by the look of Pinky, it must have only gotten worse.

“I’m sure you remember Alexis.” He motioned to her, but he was mistaken. We had never met. I had only seen her in the bar and this particular moment, and now there was finally a name to the pudgy face.

I said her name out loud, to the night, my arms flailing. It wasn’t interesting, as I knew it wouldn’t be. I didn’t introduce myself, but I was sure she had known who I was.

Suddenly, I was in the back of Johnny’s Bronco, being jostled up and down over speedbumps, with ‘Dead Man’s Party’ blasting, Alexis’ voice trying to be small. “What are we going to do with her?”

“We’re going to take her home like a decent person would.”

“But we have PLANS! Can’t we just leave her in the car?”

He scoffed. “We can come back.”

Lying on those familiar beige seats, feeling the folds of her white peacoat beneath me, I smiled. I remembered rescuing Vincent on a night very much like this one all those years ago, but I had forgotten the feeling of being rescued myself. And it wasn’t like he couldn’t have called me a cab; it wasn’t like I couldn’t have done it myself. But I didn’t even have to. It wasn’t even up for debate. And I didn’t have Drew’s feeble sensibilities or Rabbit’s awkward opposition to confrontation to compromise with—it was just blood, booze, Johnny and me. Alexis was there too, but only by circumstance.

I was in bed before 12. I thanked Johnny and wished him the best of luck for the rest of the evening. By then, I’m sure, she was stomping out by the car, picking blue hairs from her jacket. I could only imagine the color of her face then.

I woke up alone and hungover, a myriad of missed telephone calls. Halloween often seemed like a pseudo New Year’s Eve, the night where the exes call, regardless of having dates for costume parties; they want to know where you are, what you’re doing, if you’re single. Halloween was a night for people like me, and I had missed it. I had cradled it in my arms last year and dropped it carelessly this one.

I kicked myself for not becoming more of a wedge between Johnny and Alexis, forcing my way through their evening, becoming part of their plans and ruining them simultaneously. I wondered in what way Alexis was beautiful to Johnny, if her pale freckly body with neon pink lips and nipples was erotic under a blacklight, if the hair on her cunt frosted the area like the thorns on Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

My thoughts traveled to a silk green dress that had, with the aid of an acoustic guitar, inched up Meredith Edgar’s thigh a week previously. I had never seen the woman before that night but she had enchanted me with her haunting voice and comfort in her own skin. She had been all alone on that stage, room dark save for the light that shone on her; and yet, she wasn’t fidgeting or seemingly nervous. But she didn’t have that jaded quality, that ‘been doing this for years’ kind of arrogance or ambivalence. She was charming without any sign of effort, and that was probably one of the hardest things to do as a musician, as a woman, as a human being.

Alexis did not carry this quality and neither did I. I have been called beautiful before and sure I will be again, but there has always been an awkward, uncomfortable presence; a bitten nail here, an ill-advised comment there. Sharp tongue, short nails. I didn’t care what most people thought, but for those I did, I cared exquisitely so. It didn’t seem that way with the singer.

Distortion must always be considered, however. My good friend Dixon had been working the bar that evening, slipping me secret elixirs now and then. I hadn’t seen him much since the City days, where we would drink absinthe and stumble through the streets. I wasn’t even of drinking age then, but he would bring me around, taking me to his local haunts, swearing I had lost my license.

I wished he could have been sitting with me. The place seemed lonely, and every man that came up to me oozed of the smell of beer and desperation. There were lots of fedora-styled hats and shiny shirts. I noticed a couple of women in business-fetish attire, flaunting short, mannish hairstyles and smart plaids, dancing together, dancing with other women that seemed to think their image was something to be admired.

The drinks helped neutralize my disappointment with humanity. I felt desperately alive in that bar, regardless of the clientele. I didn’t know if I wanted to work with her or kiss her, but I watched the woman for the rest of the evening, on and off stage. I never said one word to her.

But I had finally been inspired.

There are no poets anymore; that’s what everyone says. Everyone is a cynic and everyone is an asshole. I say that’s bullshit. I say that’s blasphemy. Everything comes back around, even the vilest things, like disco, like potpourri, like folk music.

And I love folk music. The vile things are what we need to implement the new generation of poetry. Assassinate the disbelievers. Disassemble the appropriation. I wanted to sleep with everyone, absorb their knowledge. I wanted to sleep with myself and regain my humility.

I felt like a crook, a shambles, a fraud in my own skin. This pale body longed to belong, if that makes any sense. I wanted to feel important, I wanted to make things right. I wanted to walk alongside our newfound President, but not sing his praises. People were only people; it should be our thoughts alone that make us different.

I found a lizard in my apartment the other night. Man Ray did not kill it, only played with it, stirred it into frenzy. And now, the damned thing sort of shows up everywhere; this morning I found it wrapped around my coffeemaker, taunting me, daring me to finish it off. I decided to name it, because I do not have the urge to kill it nor the desire to cast it out of my small apartment. I called it Mary, because beautiful things are often called that, with or without Biblical connotation.

I do my best to accept chaos. I can only hope it accepts me.

(Yes that is a Bob Dylan reference.)


she’s a rich girl

I met a girl yesterday. For some reason I found her interesting. There were two seats free at either end of the bar, and one in the very middle. She took a moment deciding in the doorway and then chose the one inbetween a heavyset rockabilly chick with curly blonde hair and a red bandana and an old man in a Dodger’s hat.

She had short black hair with a few scattered streaks of bright blue. I was surprised by her order; Goldschlager, straight up, and she sipped it casually. My heart instantly warmed thinking of Rabbit and his affinity for cinnamon schnapps.

So I paid closer attention to her brown skin, her ears stretched with emerald green plugs. She seemed rather apathetic and quiet, neither particularly enthused nor upset, just, I guess, at peace with the goings on of her world. I envied it. I could not remember the last time I felt that way.

I decided that she wasn’t pretty. When she got up to go to the bathroom I noticed the excess weight in her hips and backside, significantly more so than what flattered her small frame. She walked more like a man than a woman, her hips not really swaying as much as they rigidly moved from side to side, like some sort of exaggerated cowboy dance. I suspected it was the heaviness of her legs that afforded her the uncomfortable-looking walk.

It had been a boring shift. I wasn’t particularly busy, although the house was nearly full. People had been ordering easy things, like shots and bottled beers; it was practically like I wasn’t working, merely hanging out at a bar. I absentmindedly washed glasses, stared off into space until she returned.

“Howsit goin?” I asked, drying the pint glass I had previously been washing.

She seemed surprised that I was talking to her. She turned around and looked back at me as if to ask, “are you talking to me?” Once her answer was confirmed, she nodded and replied.

“Not bad.”

It wasn’t my last attempt, but the ones that followed got similar results. She wasn’t easy to talk to. I was getting annoyed, but it provided a challenge that I was attracted to.

I wasn’t trying to take her home and I wasn’t trying to be her friend; I just wanted to talk to her. The other people I had been waiting on weren’t talking much, mostly watching sports on television or kissing and cuddling. I knew some people went to bars to be alone, hell, I did it all the time.

In my head, I made her much more interesting than she probably was. She was from out of town, someone that had left her whole life behind her in a small town she didn’t quite fit into; perhaps she had killed her best friend, a virgin with stringy red hair and freckles, just to say she did it, to save something so pure from being corrupted. Maybe she was a musician who was going to write a song about it that nobody would listen to.

“I’m Jolie.”

The girl was starting to look annoyed, but she smiled then, for some reason. I felt accomplished.

“I’m Sonia.”

I went to school with a girl named Sonia, many years ago, before I had lost my mind, before I was completely ruined. I remember her having glasses and a long nose. Shy eyes, when you could see them. She laughed in her palm every time, which was a shame because I remember thinking she had nice teeth. Besides, there was something so sexy about a laugh that wasn’t hidden. Well, I guess that Sonia hadn’t been sexy.

And neither was this one. This was not her, but the thought was still, warm and inviting and I wondered why. I wanted to ask her about herself; what movies she liked and didn’t like, what music made her dance, what made her angry. But I didn’t.

She finished her drink. “I’ll have another, Miss Jolie.” It was said in an affectionate way, but there were undertones of mocking. I didn’t care.

I poured us both one and clinked glasses. She took hers as a shot this time, like me. “I haven’t seen you in here before,” I said, grimacing from the heat of the drink.

She nodded. “That would make sense.”

“You just move here or something?”


I was growing tired of the charade. I wasn’t getting anywhere. She wasn’t even proving herself the least bit interesting yet and I was mad at myself for still being so interested. I thought of her like a rock I was attempting to squeeze water from.

I began to talk to other patrons, new men that had come and sat at the bar. I had to make a few drinks, mostly kamikazes and Jager bombs. I was getting tipped relatively well for the small amount of work I was doing. I tried to find things to do. I swept, texted James out of boredom, put some songs on the jukebox.

When ‘I Can’t Go For That’ came on, she spoke again. “Great song.”

I laughed. I had played it. “Oh yeah?”

She nodded. “I’m a sucker for Hall and Oates.”

“Oh yeah,” I agreed. “Classic.”

“I don’t drink much,” she confessed, pushing the glass around the bar with her palms. “I just needed to think.”

I nodded. “Don’t like the taste?” I wanted to avoid the second part of her statement. It was personal; those kinds of things would come out if she wanted them to. Bartenders never have to pry to get that.

“I don’t know, it’s just not my thing.”

I shrugged. “Different strokes.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment, then pushed the shot back to me. “Another.”

“Not your thing huh?” I asked. It was cheekier than I wagered I would get away with.

“No, ma’am.” She ran her hand through the ebony layers, let them fall back into place. I noticed a birthmark on her cheek.

I had another one with her and decided it was my last.

“You know if it is the taste that bothers you, I can understand why,” I said, shaking my head, getting shivers. “The cinnamon thing, I have to admit, I have never understood.”

Sure it was good for gum, apple pie and Valentine’s Day. But booze?

“This is really all I’ve had,” she retorted, shrugging.

We didn’t really talk much after that; I got back to work and she had one more drink and waddled to the bathroom. She tipped nicely.

I didn’t notice her leave. But somehow I knew she would be back.


a bird in the hand…

Some people never remember their dreams. I find this to be very strange. I, for one, almost always remember the main dream of the evening, or morning, as it happened today.

I was sitting on the toilet at my mother’s house, mind blank, eyes zoning out on the contrasting vermillion of the towels and the black and white photos hung with varying silver frames. I could hear the Frente version of Bizarre Love Triangle (an odd choice for my mother) playing in the living room, when suddenly the ground began to shake and the walls began to come down and collapse. And all I could think, jeans and panties around my ankles, was, ‘But I haven’t seen Barbados, so I must get out of this…”

I don’t know how the dream would have ended in its natural progression, because it was broken into by the sound of a rooster crowing. Upon consciousness I thought I must have been dreaming, sort of a dream within a dream. I checked my trusty alarm clock; the sterile, red digital numbers shining from the black box on my nightstand read 7:00. My day had started three hours earlier than it should have, and there was nothing that could be done, save for finding the noisy animal and taking it out of its misery. The crowing continued, mercilessly, testing my limits with its cacophonies.

My head hurt. I was up late drinking dirty martinis with Vincent, watching foreign films. He had fallen asleep on the couch to the menu of Jules et Jim, and as I made my way into the living room, now the music accompanied the crowing. But he had been my savior, thankfully making quite a few appearances in the past month. Ever since Rabbit’s wedding, I had been particularly reclusive, only going out to work, mostly staying in, cooking, reading, trying to write and hating everything I had been producing. He goaded me to be patient, let the worries run off of me. Drink less whiskey and more wine. That part I wasn’t so sure about.

Drew had no doubt been scared off since Rabbit’s wedding also; although he chose to ignore it, the history in my eyes had been very apparent. That night we had slept together, and it was very different than it had ever been. There was a miserable, bitter quality that came from me, him, or the combination of the both of us. It could have quite possibly been our collective sorrow; perhaps he was fucking me out of him and I was fucking him out of me.

Maybe we needed to lose each other in order to move forward. Although he always swore up and down that all we were doing was passing time.

We hadn’t spoken much since then. We jammed together, if you could call it that; but the chemistry between us had been off and little to none was useable. We had come together in a blues-type way, sort of helpless and erratic, but deep. Melancholy. It fit us. We didn’t have any real future plans for the project, other than attempting to find a drummer who could deal with our dipsomaniac manners. It wasn’t going to be easy. But we were in no hurry.

The rooster wouldn’t stop crowing. I was smirking at Vincent, who had been unfazed by the sound. I tugged on his trouser leg, and he snapped to, wiping a bit of spittle from the corner of his lips.

“Why hello, darling.” A bright, greasy smile spread across his lips until the light (or lack thereof) became apparent to him through the miniblinds. “What the hell time is it?”

For a moment, I felt bad that I had awoken him, since the rooster hadn’t. Soon enough, however, the serenade continued.

“And what the HELL is that?”

I laughed. “I suspect it’s a rooster.”

He took a long time to sit up. He held his head and in a gravelly voice mumbled, “Goddamn. Who the hell has a rooster in an apartment complex?”

It reminded me of Rain Dogs, side one, track two, “Clap Hands.”

It wasn’t only what he said; it was the combination of what he said and what was really happening. The irony of this farm animal strutting around the courtyard of an apartment building, doing only what came naturally but waking up all the people who deserved to be awoken, the ones who had successfully avoided the grind. It all tickled me, constructed a laugh within me that came out with a heartiness that hadn’t been present in quite a while. It made me want music playing, billowing throughout the confines of my home, thick and heady like clouds of foam. It made me want a bloody mary.

“I don’t know,” I finally responded.

He lifted a Parliaments box from his jacket pocket, retrieved a cigarette with his lips. He was in slow motion, as I could hardly remember a day he was up this early, at least with me. We went to bed past three, as most evenings we spent together. Most days, should this awkward awakening have happened, we would talk a bit before deciding to go back to our respective slumbers. But with the rooster on the loose, we knew such things weren’t possible.

We walked to the kitchen while he lit the cigarette with a faded black metal Zippo.

“You make drinks, I’ll get the vinyl going.” It was as if he had read my mind.

His choice wasn’t as such. Soon enough, Cat Stevens filled my living room while we sipped on tomato vodka goodness—extra spicy for Vincent. His tastebuds, I was sure, had long since been burned away.

“I don’t know about that film,” he said finally, crossing his arms.

“I can’t believe you don’t know about that film,” I retorted, taking a drag from his second cigarette.

“The end is just so, tacked on, or something. Very Harold and Maude meets Romeo and Juliet.”

I gave him my sideways smirk, the one I have become famous for, if only on a small scale. “The curse of those A + B titles, eh?”

He laughed. “Indeed.”

I took another drag from his cigarette, if only to pair it with the drink as medicine I severely needed. I sighed, taking a look around the apartment. I hadn’t accomplished much in the past month. The things I had collected from the Arab’s garage hadn’t yet been put away, but rather, strewn around my living and bedroom in a chaotic, unruly manner.

“I just don’t understand why it’s so commonplace to off yourself in the name of love.”

We each took long swigs, avoiding the straw. “Fuckin A.”

The crowing continued, but the alcohol was softening the blows. We hadn’t spoken in a while but eventually it came out of Vincent. “We oughta kill that bird.”

I giggled again, this time probably more because of the vodka than anything else. “Coq au vin anyone?”

We were both in our night before clothes, I in a turquoise halter and faded jeans, he in his standard garb, sans the ugly green jacket, which was, as usual, slung over my chair. I thought about last year and our absence from each other; remembering the jacket slung over the chair, how I had slept in it one night I felt very far away from myself, how it smelled like tobacco and green olives, how it broke my heart.

My body was growing warm inside, in a pleasant way, even though the look of my apartment was causing my empty stomach to churn. Vincent being here was important. I felt important because he was here.

“Should we investigate?” he finally queried, and I agreed. We stood up and carefully exited the apartment, our eyes scrutinizing the grounds, looking for our noisy suspect.

It didn’t take us long to figure out where the crowing was coming from. The animal was tied to a bush that was directly underneath the mailbox, and he looked mad as hell. I laughed at the silly sight of him. “Well I’ll be goddamned. Why do you suppose someone would tie him up to the mailbox like that?” Vincent looked confused, but I was beyond that point.

Suddenly, inspiration hit me. “We should release him!”

Vincent gave me a sideways look. “I don’t know about all that, Jo. That little thing looks evil.”

I was taken aback by his reaction. He didn’t call me Jo often. My mom called me Jo. He only called me that in dire circumstances, when he meant business. He couldn’t have meant business about releasing the rooster; it seemed a rather organic idea, something we would have done when we were ruffian kids in the neighborhood, chasing each other through sprinklers.

But I suppose that wasn’t something that ever could have happened; the age difference was much greater as such and he didn’t seem the sprinkler-running-through type. But joy did still live within him, it just generally came through within a bottle or a dress.

I was giggling, teasing the rooster. Vincent seemed almost scared or worried, which made me giggle more. I turned my backside to him, let him chew and peck at my jeans. “Oh come on!” I said, baiting him, teasing him also.

“I’ve got a pocket knife, I’ll do it.” I went inside to retrieve it. But it wasn’t as easy as I’d suspected; the liquor was tickling me, making it hard for me to handle things sharply. I was wondering why I’d become buzzed so quickly, then realized we had eaten little (and early) last night and my stomach was probably as empty as it’s been.

I found myself knocking a myriad of things off of the coffee table. The red clay coasters I disturbed added to my hysterics, thinking of the glass Rabbit ones, the ones that claimed forever, the ones that made me gag. I wondered what he was doing at such an ungodly hour; no doubt he was engaging in pillow talk or helping make the bed, a coffee or underclothes commercial in itself, the billowy down comforter going up and down in the air, pearly white teeth to match.

In a split second, a real moment where I felt as if I had stepped outside of myself to watch myself, I threw one of those coasters across the room, chipping the paint on the accent wall.

Vincent stepped back into the apartment to ask me if I was okay. I was on my knees and glanced back to see Vincent’s battered Doc Martens. They broke me back into reality, my quest to find this pocketknife, this tiny step to the rooster’s liberation.

Soon enough, I found the trusty pocketknife. Interestingly enough, I had forgotten it was originally Johnny’s, wooden on the outside, his initials engraved. I instantly remembered it as a groomsmen’s gift, for my aunt of sorts, one of those women you swear you were related to but couldn’t quite explain it. She had been a bit of a spinster, a little nuttier than the rest of my family (which was saying something), but eventually in the later half of her forties, had found love.

It had been cheesy and overbearing but I had no realistic alternative. I had been forced to wear a chocolate colored, long-sleeved velvet dress, in the dead of summer. He had to wear a green and brown suit, and it had been quite humorous. I remembered him and the dumb look he had to offer, standing alongside people he had met merely once or twice. I loved him then, for his unaffected loyalty, his sweet gestures. I remembered thinking he would have done anything for me. And yet here, this token of when we were better than we probably ever were, was in my hands and not his own. I wondered when I had inherited it, if he had slipped it in a drawer of mine back on our old street, perhaps when the beginning of the end had begun.

I felt like John Cusack in High Fidelity. I wanted to go back and ask questions. But for the present, the answers would be of no consequence.

The knife was mine now.

Vincent followed me out the door slowly if not somewhat apprehensively. I tiptoed toward the mailbox, blade out and ready to go. The challenge before me had more to do with the rooster not thinking I was going to injure him; if I had released him and he was still in a state of panic or fear, an attack very well seemed possible. And birds had always made me nervous.

I remember going to a fancy hotel in San Francisco as a child once with my parents. The lobby was almost entirely brass in décor, shiny, almost electric with its luminescence. While they spoke to the man and woman over the desk, my eyes were caught by a large brass cage with a parrot inside, probably half the size of myself at the time. A bellman spotted me peering into the cage and came over to say hello and show off the bird’s talents. “Say hello, Mariah.”

The creature had turned its head to me in an Exorcist-esque manner, its black beady eyes staring through me. “HELLO MARIAH!” It was like it was screaming. It literally caused me to step backwards and fall. My father had sprung to my aid, helping me up, giving the gentleman who had been talking to me a stern look. But it hadn’t been his fault. I supposed some children were entertained by the shrill screaming of big, ugly scary-looking birds. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the feathered thing, cloaked in conventionally pretty blues and greens, imprisoned by gold bars. I had been thankful for those bars.

By the look of Vincent’s face, I could tell he was wishing for those bars now. It hit me that I didn’t understand why the release of this bird was meaning so much to me. Perhaps it was because I didn’t like to see animals locked up, which was why I never went to zoos or aquariums. But I had come this far and couldn’t get out of it now. I defied Vincent to do so, it would be done.

It was a quick, stealthy twist of my wrist, and the twine was cut. It took the rooster a moment to discover its freedom, and then it was there, charging toward us, crowing angrily. We ran back to the apartment, taking a few cautious looks behind us. However, in our panic, we were so concerned about making it back safely within the apartment that we didn’t slam the door behind us before the rooster entered.

Vincent screamed like I never heard him scream before, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed him jump up on the couch. I couldn’t help but laugh but I was also alarmed. I thought of my furniture being destroyed by this tiny thing, and it angered me. I looked around the living room, wondering where Man Ray was. I grabbed a Salvador Dali coffee table book (that, luckily, was resting on the dining room table), and held it out in front of me, gesturing toward the bird, toward the door. He was crowing louder and louder, screaming like Mariah.

Then there Man Ray was. Coming from the bathroom, walking nonchalantly into the living room, hissing. The rooster stopped crowing for a moment and made eye contact. Now no doubt my cat is a badass, but I had no idea how he would fare against the animal. He had no fighting experience, had never even roughed it outside. I came toward the rooster with the book again, pushing him back, toward the door. He pecked at my hand, at the book, tearing the cover. I noticed that my hand had started bleeding.

He was trying to get around me, back to Man Ray. Vincent got off the couch and started rummaging through things to help my quest.

I started shouting back at the despicable thing, getting braver with the book, getting closer to the door. Just then, Man Ray jumped up on the couch, right within eyeshot of the rooster, and it practically exploded in rage, screaming again, getting past me and heading toward the couch.

Just then, POP. The crow that had been in the rooster’s mouth sort of caterwauled down to a low pitch and ended. He keeled over at my feet, Man Ray frozen, staring.

Vincent was holding a BB gun, yet another thing I had retrieved from the Arab’s garage. I looked at him.

“I didn’t mean to kill it.”

I didn’t say anything, but looked at the rooster again. “Maybe it’s just wounded.”

It wasn’t.

Man Ray was still hissing.


You’re welcome

I wore a black dress to the wedding. Rabbit didn’t seem particularly surprised.

The place was beautiful, if only in that ‘I spent thirty thousand dollars on this’-type way, high in the Los Gatos hills, the sun in its climax, musky, hot. The aisle was manufactured on a steep grassy hill, which seemed to me an interesting risk.

What would stop Beth, with her long train and pearly shoes, from tripping and falling down the aisle? The thought caused the sides of my mouth to upturn evilly. Drew asked me what I had been thinking of. I lied quickly. “Champagne.”

Yes, I took Drew. I don’t really know what I was thinking when I asked him, but I didn’t want to bring Vincent, for fear of looking like my date was old enough to be my father. Not that I was being particularly shallow or anything, it’s just that we hadn’t spoken much lately and had I gotten drunk at the wedding (like there was any other way for it to go down), it would be nice to have someone to dance with who I wouldn’t mind cuddling and kissing.

Perhaps I wanted to make Rabbit jealous. The nerve! The audacity! As if my bringing a gentlemen fellow to his wedding would really have made a difference. I could just imagine at the point in the ceremony when they ask if anyone had any reasons for the couple to not be married (try NOT to think of one), he would halt the music and point to me—“Jolie Porter! I love her!”

It was not to be. Drew and I had been quite the pair—both wearing black, smug looks on our faces, double-fisting glasses of red table wine (they must have blown the budget on the venue), looking bored. I found myself yawning in a shot a photographer took at my table. It hadn’t even been on purpose.

I imagined the two of them, on the cutting room floor, deciding which ones to keep and toss, Beth holding up the negative, a foul grimace on her face. ‘Oh look, it’s your alcoholic friend again! Wearing black and yawning, what a winner! I mean really, who wears black at a wedding?!’

And Rabbit would smirk and say nothing, perhaps he would shrug. She would find solace in the fact that in her provincial mind, the wedding, the union would force us to never spend time together anymore. He was now doomed to a life of picking out candles and conservative china. The only drinking he would do would be social, when there would be a dinner party, Ry Cooder and Sergio Mendes to thank for the soundtrack, and that would be on a good day.

The ceremony, during which we snuck our wine, was relatively short and uninspired, the female speaker’s small voice hardly filling the first two rows and, without the aid of a microphone or speakers, was barely heard. Not that I expected to learn or be enlightened to any degree from the words being spoken. But it seemed like something that would have been important to the wedding party. The woman might as well have been saying ‘These people like each other enough to never sleep with anyone again, at least until one of them gains weight.’ None of us would be the wiser, that’s for sure.

It made me wonder, what did they pay all this money for? I wondered how much of it was Rabbit’s winnings of poker games and pool hustling. He made a good living doing that, more than some working stiffs I knew. Plus, there was no taxing.

I thought of all the interesting things he could have done with that money. We could have gone and played the horses every week (which could have possibly brought more money in); he could have restored a classic automobile. He could have opened a cardhouse! Perhaps James could have catered and I could have tended bar. We would call it the House of Yes, and give it a big red door. Sexy drinks, sexy food and sexy people, all putting their money on the green felt tables, the house getting a decent rake every hand. He and I would smoke cigars and feel important.

I became distracted from my distraction by Drew’s hand sliding up my skirt. What was sexy about people getting married? If I wasn’t busy thinking about the anti-wedding, I probably would be crying, and not that mother-father-of-the-bride-little-girl-grown-up-now-what-are-we-going-to-do kind of crying, and not the typical-girl-it’s-all-so-beautiful-love-is-real kind of crying either. I was wearing a black dress on purpose; this was a fucking funeral.

He was tickling me at first, to which I responded with a burst of laughter, which was more or less embarrassing. The people around me were already disapproving of my wine sneaking, and then apparently getting fresh and giggling loudly was just the topper. But at that point in time I didn’t much care; Rabbit was far from my respective back row, the head of the party in a penguin suit, eyes no doubt sparkling into Beth’s own, creating memories that would last forever, serve as inspiration to bridal ads and commercials everywhere. I didn’t know any of the people around me nor would I ever see them again except for perhaps in line at the buffet, where they would give me dirty looks for licking my fingers, for my wine-stained lips, for my foul mouth.

Then his fingers wandered deliberately, no longer barely grazing the black lace at my thighs, tickling them, but probing, caressing. I let my thighs part slightly and his hand disappeared between them as my breathing became a tad more labored. He knew how to touch me. But did I dare indulge in these sins of the flesh in front of all these people clad in florals, beiges and grays? It was sweetly vindicating, my farewell to Rabbit.

A few moments later it became too much for me. I removed his hand and wiped my brow, just as the music commenced. Rabbit had kissed the bride. It was over. There was no turning back.

The line of people made their way up the grassy hill like ants. I kicked off my shoes and sat down, gesturing for Drew to sit with me.

He spoke. “So Squirrel finally did it.” I laughed, but it was fake. We sat there while the sun beat down on us and didn’t speak much. I liked it that way. We sat there, avoiding the masses as long as we could.

A few minutes later, we walked up the hill and found spots at a big round table full of strangers. Our wine glasses were empty, so we ended up at the bar again. Drew had gotten stuck talking to a bridesmaid (so he said!) so as most desperate women at weddings, I began flirting with the bartender. He seemed rather green on things; taking a long time to open a bottle of wine, stumbling with the jigger. I mentioned where I worked and told him I’d make him a drink sometime. He didn’t seem particularly interested, but he wasn’t particularly attractive either.

But it bothered me, watching Drew flirt with the bridesmaid, who was pretty in a conventional way, curly blonde hair, big eyes, small waist. Her yellow dress was distracting, however, in a farmer’s daughter kind of way. I wondered if Drew liked it. I knew he would soon leave her and come back to me, playing the role of cynical drunk because it was what I needed, but now and then I wondered if he was a social chameleon, if every woman he admired he would magnetize toward in the way they required.

But that was all nonsense, he was a cynical drunk when I met him in the bar, drinking PBR drafts, playing sad bastard music on the jukebox. I was just choosing to be forlorn; it was the kind of day for it.

Finally, after the hour or so of photographs, Rabbit showed his face among the crowd. He made eyes with me almost instantly, and gave me a large, swooping hug, the kind where your feet leave the ground and you spin around in the air. It was very Fred Astaire.

Drew’s eyes were telltale, and I didn’t mind it one bit. But this moment was not about Drew. Enough wine in me, I melted into Rabbit’s arms like I was the one that had married him, like I belonged there. He kissed my cheek and I could smell his cologne mingling with his nervous pre or post-wedding sweat. But he seemed calm now, with or without me.

“Thanks for coming.” It was the same thing he had said at his birthday party, as we swilled back Corona’s and split the bourbon in his flask, thinking of different things, thinking of each other. It came off like a private joke and made me laugh uneasily, wondering when I would hear it next; a twentieth anniversary party, a dinner party, Rabbit’s funeral. I imagined Beth’s dumb eyes under the black lace veil: ‘Thanks for coming.’

I didn’t want to let go of him. I was proud of myself for keeping the tears from streaming down my face. Since the Johnny incident, I had practiced the art. Soon enough he was gone, mingling with the masses. I was alone again, with Drew, but I still felt alone. Drew didn’t say anything, but put an arm around me in a sympathetic fashion.

The dinner wasn’t extraordinary. Basic fare; less than interesting, and quite less than delicious. Caesar salad, fruit salad, some vegetarian pasta mess, and a lightly curried chicken cream dish. I drank more than I ate. I was happy they had the budget for an open bar.

By the time ‘dinner’ was over, Drew and I had probably taken down a few bottles of wine each, and my judgment was wavering, as it often does. The speeches hadn’t come yet, another mistake in my opinion, and when they did come, we couldn’t hear those either. The wedding all seemed a thrown-together mess, a very amateur plan dressed up with lots of expensive frills, probably so they wouldn’t notice. A pretty buffet, but lousy food, a lot of booze but nothing top shelf, a beautiful setup but a silent ceremony.

I wondered what Rabbit had been thinking. Was he stepping into these shoes like males often do, not caring about much but getting it all over with, dreaming about the sun baking him and his new bride on the beach for a week and a half, thinking about her tight pussy and her non-existent ass. Was he thinking about me at all?

The House of Yes appeared in my mind again, a fat red door and my shining eyes behind the bar. It would never happen. Such fantastic things were not meant to be. I lived a life not unlike surrealism—all the good in my life was manufactured, fabricated. I was a fraud, hiding behind someone else’s eyes, someone else’s life. Had I been Beth I would live a beautiful life, but only to Beth; I was doomed to never find my preferred life because it did not exist.

We didn’t stay to dance or cut the cake. I feigned a migraine and then soon we were down the hill, back to our little people cars and cares, the thirty-thousand dollar travesty far behind us. In my mind I saw Rabbit’s face, no longer stricken with confusion, no longer in love with me, his lips echoing the words over and over and over again, “Thanks for coming.”