In the late afternoon of a blistering hot summer, the earth is blowing off some steam. The sun disappears into bruised darkness. The wind comes howling, threatening, pushing, lifting, littering, lifting the skirts of the trees, swinging traffic lanterns on their wires, confusing things. Capillaries and blue varicose veins of lightning bulge on the angry forehead of a thunderous sky. A rush of water floods the flat streets, cleansing them. Storm drains gulp until they choke. Cars become slow moving motor boats leaving foamy white waves of tire tracks in their wake. Motorcycles roll to a stop for shelter beneath the overpass. City birds huddle in their low income city nests. Cicadas go quiet. A hot shot freight train pushes straight through, a storm within a storm, shaking the ground beneath its own rumbling weight with great moaning and screeching and whistled warnings, making quite a show. A tornado siren wails.
The glass window to Room 102 slides open without a screen to ground level. I’m sipping on a Steel Reserve, what I call a crack head beer, and watch as kids are rushed out of the indoor pool by mothers fearing their electrocution. The children, not understanding, are defiant. My dog is barking at another dog crouched mid-shit and trembling from the noise or sudden cold. Half drunk, I stand there thinking about shit. So many piles buzzing with flies just outside of my door. God isn’t bowling or moving furniture, He is flushing the lawn.
We should never tell the children lies.
God answers some prayers but not all of them. I stopped loving wine and started hating whiskey. If I could just eliminate the beer, I’d qualify as a Baptist. Good news though: Gradually, I’m becoming weary of beer as well. I’m tiring of everything. And I hate the smell of weed, it is the scent of failure. I’m wearing a pair of ripped jeans and nothing else. I scratch a long itch on my back and it feels like an orgasm. I turn around to what’s behind me: an unmade bed, more beer, an open computer with a brilliant novel as pregnant and long term as a fucking elephant, a picture of a girl from Ukraine who loves me, and a portrait of me and Kat, dripping wet from a swim in a South Carolina river. We were happy and in love. The kind of story that happened once upon a time. I found a yellow flower. She put it in her hair. We hugged and someone immortalized the moment with a snapshot. I’ve tried to throw this frame in the dumpster several times but can’t bring myself to do, not yet, but I’m getting closer. I guzzle the nasty street beer, embracing the vertigo.
A ding on my laptop. A message.
I choose not to answer. Because my heart is all messed up. (If someone is talking to me, I want to say: Shut up. Please stop talking to me. But when no one is talking to me, I think to myself: Please say something. I’m still here.) As I’ve hinted, I’m totally befuckled, like when a mason jar once slammed down on the top of my head, bruising the former soft spot of my fontanel, I could barely stand to my feet, I was so confused.
I’m standing tall over a moldy toilet bowl, transforming the clear water into yellow lemonade. My reflection in the mirror reveals a strung out seventies hippie emaciated on heroin. A pissing skeleton with chattering teeth.
An hour later, I’m clomping and splashing down the street in my Durango boots. Walking the dog. Letting him pull with all of his mighty Malinois power on the leash, choking himself, injuring his larynx, and I’m fascinated by his strong fight to move forward and further into ignorance. He doesn’t know where the hell he’s going, Jack and me, we’re very much the same in this way. Here I am: the great unpublished author, who has given up everything and everyone, who has inadvertently reduced his life to meaningless words and repetitious phrases. Sadly predictable. I walk the same circles, think the same thoughts, like a human turd circling the drain. I feed the dog, walk the dog, poop the dog, stumbling with a bottle of beer in my hand and a poisoned mind. Addicted to all the wrong opioids in life. The loss of Kat still haunts me. She’s always with the other guy. Writhing beneath him. Making the same sounds. Doing the same things.
I’m shaking my head like I’m cracking up. Crazy will be my final destination if I don’t pull out now.
My soberness is waning with the dying day but, for now, I’m lucid enough to realize with shame that I’m not being fair to Kat and that I’m talking to myself like a schizophrenic–slapping down false visions and snapping back at hissing voices–just as a man who is passing me on the sidewalk makes a wide berth because he fears that I’m some kind of wild eyed lunatic.
“It’sss salllaright.” I say, “It’sss salllaright.”
I remember removing the retina from the eyeball of a cow. Biology 102. My study group was so delighted by the whole procedure. I hated it. That big old Borden Cow, Elsie, staring up at me. Retinas are effervescent, designed for reflection like photography paper, and behind such extremely delicate tissue is the optic nerve, designed for cognitive interpretation and memory.
Bobby Hart’s father, who combed his hair like Elvis, was a hunter. When I was not quite eleven years old, news had come that the King, the real Elvis Presley, had died and Bobby’s mother was rolling on the kitchen floor in hysterics. We boys disappeared into the garage and were staring at the majestic body of a brown eyed doe. Bobby pulled out his pen knife and said, “Watch ‘is.” He stabbed the knife into the eye of the deer. The dark brown iris became a foggy cataract of tears and he laughed like a maniac. “Howdaya like ‘at? Huh? Howdaya like ‘at?” Tears poured from my own eyes. I grabbed his stupid Boy Scout knife and threw it across the room and it clanged somewhere into disappearance just beyond his father’s tools. Hating him at that moment, hating how he pronounced “this” and “that” as ‘is and ‘at in his ugly, lazy South Jersey accent and how he always repeated his sentences twice.
“Why’d ya do “at? Why’d ya do ‘at?”
“You made her cry! You fuck!”
“No, she’s NOT! She ain’t! Not really.”
I never spent the night at Bobby Hart’s house again. It was my first exposure to the awkwardness of broken relationships. Complete with the beautiful blind eyes of a dead female, a sharp stabbing knife, and tears.
I kept stroking the fur of the dead deer, crying like a mofo, repeating, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” over and over again like a mantra, hoping to somehow reverse what had just happened.
All these years later, I’ve finally told on him–but not really–I’ve changed his name to protect the identity of the guilty. And no one reads my shit anyway.
The trees along Lockett Avenue are whispering secrets and the shadows of their long arms are embracing one another beneath the orange glow of the street lamps. Somehow, in this concrete jungle, I have found a line of pink Crape Myrtles and, just beyond that, some newer apartments with yellow light illuminating the windows but always with empty porches and empty chairs. I imagine Kat and me sitting in wicker rockers, sipping something and sharing our dreams on an evening like this. I speak as if she’s still right beside me, “Oh, best friend, what the hell have you done?”
Jack looks up at me. I smile with a dawning realization. “No, boy, you’re not in trouble.”
The dog is my new best friend. I had stabbed Kat in the eye. The damage is done.
Turning away from the silent lifeless apartment, I download Don McLean’s, Empty Chairs, allowing recent history to repeat itself in the beauty and simplicity of folk music. After the rain, the crickets are singing along.
I turn around, as I always do, at an abandoned cream colored motel. I walk that sweet shepherd through the vacant parking lot of the empty building, the stucco walls still splashed at night with blue mood lighting, a pretty sight. The scene feels right tonight. The dog slows his pace as if he knows.
I finish my beer and shove the bottle behind my zipped Levi’s and make a vow under an invisible moon that my cock will rise again along with my heart because both are so intimately connected. A drunken thought, a bit twisted and crude.
Jack is chasing a variety of bugs zipping across the parking lot. His amazing strength is yanking my arm out of socket, adjusting my spine, and testing my patience.
I pass the drainage ditch and see Jack’s trails in the high weeds, how he had earlier disturbed the dew in crazy artistic patterns, and I love him even more. A map of earlier memories. Maybe someone is watching over my trails, too, in much the same way. The paths of a happy dog who doesn’t know any better but to choke himself on a leash while someone else is trying to guide him into a better way.
The storm, though it has distanced itself from me, is still flashing like multiple cameras on the far horizon. Paparazzi over the flotsam streets of the city poor.
Back at the Sleep Inn, I pass through a huddle of people I see every day in the breakfast line and who rarely say two words to me. This time, at this late hour, they’re in the mood to talk. They’re high. It’s alright. I get it.
They want to make a sale.
“Hey, man, you da nurse with dat crazy dog.”
“Yup. How’s it going?”
“Well, I wuz wonder’n if you be need’n sump’n?”
“Yeah, man, thanks, but not tonight. Maybe this weekend.”
“Sum shroom make you go vroom vroom, bruh.”
“Okay,” I say, hoping for a free sample.
Back in my room, the laptop is dinging with passionate messages from a girl I’ve never met who swears that she’s in love with me. “Andryusha! I miss! If you no answer, I bite you.”
Nothing from Kat. She’s sleeping with her new husband whom she never actually dated. She skipped that part.
“Jack, listen to me. Tomorrow after work, we’re walking down Bissonett Street and whatever happens there happens, okay? I need something different to write about. Do you know about that place, boy? Of course not. It’s a red light district, not so blue as here. Beautiful girls there are looking for someone just like you, the mad ones, the kind but crazy ones with wild, sad, poetic eyes. Sometimes people are willing to pay for false love. Just be careful that they’re not packing a pistol of flesh. Not everyone out there is what they seem.”
A rumble of thunder seems to agree.