THG 3 – Ch 7 – Outside the Lines

Deanna’s flat, Cambridge U.K. / Saturday morning January 13, 1979

After a nasty cup of Merriam’s black tea and a warm toilet seat over water putting off ripe refrigerated air and no air freshener to be found, Deanna, on her first morning in Cambridge, eyed her shoulder high dresser with marked contempt. Like the house, it had to be over a hundred years old. It smelled like disinfectant, dirty underwear and mold, and was bolted to the floor just enough off level so that anything round rolled off the top. Her bed frame was bolted to the floor as well, not close enough to the wall to keep her from getting wedged between it and the bed, and not far enough to walk behind. The mattress, on slats with no box spring, was slightly smaller than a twin, in width, not length. Cat said it had been new when she’d brought it down with her and it “hadn’t seen even the shadow of a shag,” so Deanna was free to break it in as soon, and often, as she pleased. So long as she kept her volume down and told them all about every one of them.

There were two sets of cream colored sheets that fit the bed, a tiny lumpy pillow and a maroon, satin-look nylon comforter. Her own pillows, too-big sheets and the double comforter Jackson had given her as a gift her freshman year were in one of the boxes already in her room. She knew half of her clothes would never get worn, her sheets would never fit, or fit in the dresser or the wardrobe. At least the comforter could be folded double for warmth. She repacked a ship-home box from her excess, a process that would result, eventually, in another joyous conversation with mom about head in the clouds lack of preparation that ended in an expense.

She unpacked her few kitchen items from box number 2, found where things like them were stored and emptied most of her cosmetic case on the dresser and the also attached to the floor night stand. Her final touch was a two-year old picture of Jackson on top of her dresser with what was left of the perfume he’d bought her back when he surprised her with girly gifts. Back before she started building her wall. She pulled the picture down, ran her thumbs down the side of the frame.

He was happy, smiling. They were happy. The picture a souvenir from a road trip to the Texas State Fair their freshman year. Just to prove they could disappear for a weekend. Not ask anyone and just go somewhere, spend the night in a LaQuinta, “bone like bunny rabbits” and give their parents the finger. Their romantic teenage getaway went downhill when they’d both barfed out the window of his car after eating greasy yuk fair food all day in the heat and chased it drinking trunk-of-the-car temperature liquor store beer they’d bought on the way in. Beer twice as potent as the watery Okie beer they were used to. By the time they got to the motel they both had the trots and he’d had to make a toilet paper run at midnight because they were too embarrassed to call the front desk. In the bag with the ten pack of toilet paper was a can of Lysol air freshener. Jax didn’t say anything, but used half the can. The next morning they were over it, took a long, soapy shower together and made love until checkout time.

As they pulled out of the motel parking lot he’d said, “You know, before last night, I backed off laying cable until you were out of my apartment. Like you weren’t supposed to know I took a dump or something. Well, that’s over and now we know more than we ever wanted to about each other. We catch the flu together and we can tell everybody we’ve been to for real live-together boot camp, huh?”

This morning, though desperately needed, there was no air freshener. No Jackson, no hot soapy shower. Definitely no sex. She’d made it to Cambridge, the hard part was over. She could relax, be herself again. She set the picture back, wanted to cry, and scream, and kick the dresser. Goddammit he should be here. She should have told him, should have…

“Shit.” She looked around the gloomy room. “Shit, shit, shit.”

Merriam popped her head in the door. “All’s right, love?”

“Yeah…No, it’s not, really.” She held her hands out, fingers spread, interlocked them. “Is there ever a time,” she moved her locked hands in and away, slowly, “when it all comes together and just fucking works and makes sense?”

“I’m chemistry. That sounds like physics. Or theology. I know a few of both lot, if you’d fancy a go at them. Eggs are up as well.”

“In a minute.” Deanna touched the glass on the picture again, said, under her breath. “Just wait. I’ll be back.”

She had no idea when she’d boarded her plane yesterday that “wait” was the last thing on Jackson’s mind as he wandered the northern New Mexico desert outside of Taos, his brain somewhere out on the rings of Saturn, the rest of him on the way to dying of exposure. Nor did she have any idea that the promise of her, the future of her, the hope of her, everything she’d been since she was seventeen had been canceled, boxed, sealed and archived before she even left the country.


Central New Mexico / Saturday January 13, 1979

Tony Nakata walked away from the drug dealing “jewelry” girls, their vocal and gestured profanity in his wake, fired up his truck, filled it with a “pay you when I get paid” tank of gas and took the two-lane 503 out of Santa Fe. He picked up the narrow ridge of 76 to Taos at Chimayo. Just in case the kid had gone mission wandering, looking for God. You never knew what someone might go looking for on peyote. Late afternoon he rolled up on Taos, cruised in diminishing circles from the outer perimeter of town for an hour. He turned right on the north edge of old downtown as the sun was going down and spotted his target in an unpaved alley, leaned up against a run down, empty clapboard house not far from Kit Carson’s.

Jackson was incoherent but mumble quality responsive. And filthy. Covered in dried vomit caked with dust. No telling what he’d taken voluntarily, or what the psycho dope girls had done just to fuck with him after they’d emptied his pockets. Pushing into three days was a touch long for him to still be gone from a peyote party. The kid’s body temperature was down from exposure, he was gray from dehydration and shock-ish. Tony grabbed a rolled up blanket out of the rotting plywood-lined bed of his truck, wrapped it around Jackson tight as a body cast, belted him into the passenger side. He tried to get some luke-warm coffee down Jackson’s throat but he started to choke and drool, the coffee running down inside the blanket adding another layer of funk to his barf crust.

Tony took a hit of the coffee, tossed the remains from the thermos cap out his window. “You’re not much good for conversation,” he scoped the mumbly mess of head and hair poked out of the blanket next to him, “but you know your coffee.”

Tony drove back to Santa Fe with the heater cranked and a bandanna over his nose against Jackson’s stink. He pulled up at a pay phone in front of the grocery store where the kid’s car was parked, dropped a quarter, punched in all the numbers Sheffield had given him and pressed the freezing handset to his ear. It rang half of once.

“Nakata, Shef. Got your kid.”

“Breathing or bagged?”

“Breathing. Some chicks dealing on the square got ahold of him. He’s one fucked up filthy-assed pup.”

“Sure it’s him?”

“Yeah. Keys in his pocket fit the car. Found ID in the trunk in what’s left of a wallet. It’s him. Next?”

“Move his car before they tow it, put him in a cheap motel, stay with him till he comes back. If it takes more than a couple of days, drop him at a hospital, call me.”

Tony stared at the receiver for a few, hung it up. No way. He was broke until the money for finding this stinky little fucker showed up. A couple of days worth of babysitting a trashed by choice long haired white kid in a Motel 6 wasn’t Tony Nakata’s idea of a good time, even at Sheffield’s day rate that was more than he’d see in two months doing as little as possible on the rez.

He called his brother to come get the kid’s ride, re-wrapped Jackson’s blanket and drove out to his hogan. He threw Jackson over his shoulder, carried him inside, put him on a cot in one of the two rooms. Tony forced two bottles of water into him then sat down in a worn-out leather chair covered in heirloom quality Navajo blankets to keep the springs out of his butt. His feet went up on a red plastic milk crate, he wiggled the coat hanger attached to a small black and white tv on another milk crate next to his knee, and waited. The night man at the Motel 6 in Albuquerque would comp him a voucher for a week so he could claim the expense for Jackson’s recovery or hospital drop. Then he could buy some beer and maybe a steak that somebody else cooked. Six month’s easy money and dinner on the town for a week’s work.


Central-West New Mexico / Sunday evening January 14th, 1979

Jackson came back, mostly, in just under twenty-four hours, and proceeded to eat everything edible in Tony’s cabin. When he started on some six-month-old frozen tamales like they were Popsicles Tony made him stop, threw him in a lukewarm shower, bundled him up and took him to his aunt’s where she fed him a hot, spicy stew full of unknown things, fresh tamales and coffee that would jump start the heart of a dead buffalo.

Tony’s brother-in-law had driven Jackson’s car over from Santa Fe while they were gone, left a note that said it was running fine, minus a tape player and radio.

Jackson, wrapped in his rescue blanket because his jacket still reeked of vomit, stood under the night sky on Tony’s rough, dusty, warped plank porch,and stared at his car for maybe ten silent minutes. Tony put his hand on Jackson’s shoulder.

“There’s a month of work, more or less, needs doing around here. I’ll blow it off, waste time, won’t get around to it without help. Some of it, like the roof and the stock tank, I won’t ever do by myself, even if they both give out.” He stared off at something in the mountains for a couple of heartbeats, kicked a tumbleweed off the porch. “Might be a good idea to make sure you’re hitting on all cylinders before you take off. Whatever’s waiting will keep. The shape you’re in?” His gaze returned to the black against midnight blue mountains. “The only thing waiting for you out there right now is Coyote.”

Jackson knew he was wobbly, had maybe enough gas to get to the Exxon station on I-40. The forty dollars he kept under the insole of his boot didn’t look as big as it used to without the four hundred he used to have in front of it. He wasn’t interested in meeting or being eaten by a coyote, in spirit or flesh, and was in no shape to talk to anyone in admissions at USC. Something he was already two days late for. He was screwed, and baked, and knew it.

“It’s cool? If I hang?”

Tony’s big, gloved hand that had landed on his shoulder earlier gave him a healthy squeeze. “You don’t mind doing a little work, we’re cool.”

Tony Nakata and the new kid, both wrapped in blankets, sat on the dusty porch, stared at the starry sky and talked for hours.

After four days, just to total out that week he was going to bill for the Motel 6, Tony drove to the gas station pay phone in Crownpoint, started talking when he heard the half ring stop.

“Your kid’s back.”

“He still there?”

“Yeah. He’s hanging, helping me out till his shit’s stirred straight.”

“How is he?”

“Little fucker works his ass off and kicks mine is how he is. For my aunt’s tamales.”

“Client needs a little more than he’s industrious and how he feels about your aunt’s tamales, Nakata.”

“Make something up ’cause there’s not much else to it. We work too hard, talk a little, tell some jokes. At night he stares at the sky. Told me he’s never seen so many stars, makes me look at them with him, and tells me the angels must love my place because they can see their way home from here. Says the wind can talk. I can’t tell yet if he’s all there and outside the lines sometimes is who he is, or if he lost a few steps in Taos.”

“The client says he’s that way. She won’t say he’s spaced out, but she says things like sweet, kind, intuitive. Just took a heartbreak hit earlier than expected. He’s not a pussy, can play himself some rock n roll and he’s got the stones to get up in a full grown, powerful, rich woman’s shit. Aside from the space cadet bullshit he makes sense the rest of the time, handles tools okay?”

“Yeah, like a pro. He laid the roof out in the dirt three times before we bought anything, saved me a hundred and twenty bucks. Said he learned it from an All American center. He’s not a pussy. ‘Sweet and kind’ I don’t know. He gets too sweet or kind or intuitively orders me flowers I’ll run his ass off.”

Published by

Phil Huston

11 thoughts on “THG 3 – Ch 7 – Outside the Lines”

  1. Nice:
    “At night he stares at the sky. Told me he’s never seen so many stars, makes me look at them with him, and tells me the angels must love my place because they can see their way home from here. Says the wind can talk.”

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The flat description was a bit much. Thanks though. When Jackson meets the Navarte? fellow, and stuff gets done/happens, that’s when I get interested.
        I still believe events occurring with people proacting/reacting is where story comes alive. Their dialog while shit comes undone/together is what makes a story engaging.
        I’ll never forget the shotgun shell through the bottom of the boat, and the boy sacrificing himself to tote the girl out of the bayou. I don’t know what they said, but I as hell remember the incident and the visualization I had.
        Maybe that’s it. When a reader is forced to visualize an momentous event within a memorable setting that includes engaging dialog — bingo — they remember it; it sticks in their mind.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Sorry about the barf and the air freshener. You’ve seen the high desert at night. I’m working on being there, minus the travelogue. I didn’t put contents in the barf crust or get deep into projectile expulsions from either end. On purpose. Yuk, you know?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The air freshener made me laugh out loud. We’ve had an exchange student for a month (goes home today). Once he goes, I can put the air freshener away. Given another month, I’d have his gut sorted—just needs a diet that always includes vegetables and pulses.


  2. Emotive and great dialogue/description. Coffee that can kick start the heart of a dead buffalo, just the kind I brewed this morning, hah! Just love the story. You’re right about the description of Deanna’s flat: now we got it and when you write “Deanna’s flat” we can visualize it. This is good stuff. By the way, beats the hell out of H. G.’s Invisible Man… 🙂


  3. Love it more every chapter. Got catching up to do though. Deanna’s flat sounds a lot like my first little apartment in little Saco, Maine. What a lonely place.

    Liked by 1 person

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