Mescaline Blue – 2 -Baby, You are Mine

What the hell, it’s Friday. I went to the museum with small grandkids, stared at Monets and a late Van Gogh (Paris) and noticed even in their minor work that at least they were brave. So here’s some run-on two people standing around talking ’bout nothin’ ‘cept insecurity, replete with era-accurate cultural sexism backstory and background noise. 

Jade saw the flashing light that these guys used for a studio doorbell, sighed, clipped the tape measure to her tool belt. She’d let herself in at six-fifteen with the key and alarm code Jackson had given her, walked and measured the space a dozen times, made and thrown away as many sketches, and had a lock on what needed to happen. And here was that fricking man shit she always had to get past just to get her job done. Why did they all need to talk about how they knew everything when most of the time they didn’t know shit? She turned the deadbolt and let him in.

Jackson was holding two coffees from the Exxon station and looked reasonably relaxed for a guy who had driven through L.A. at seven-thirty in the morning.

She mumbled “Thank you,” couldn’t look at him, felt her ears start to burn. Dammit. She squatted, set the coffee on the floor and measured a point on the floor from the far wall she’d measured a dozen times, stayed there staring at the tape measure and stood up. She repeated the process several times around the room.

Jackson noted the precise marks where the dust had been cleared, the half wall he’d built had a big X on it, made with the masking tape that was gone from where he’d laid out the small kitchen. All the response he could get from his questions were mono syllables and “Mmm.” He put the tip of his Converse on her tape measure.

“I didn’t hire you to agree with me, or ignore me pretending to measure what’s already measured. I’m just some guy. You have opinions, let it go.”

She stood up, made a note in the small steno pad with “AIR BISCUIT STUDIO” written on it in marker, flipped back to the first few pages.

“There’s no flooring, sir. How do I address that? Guess? A furniture grade ‘removable’ table top for a pool table that will weigh a frickin’ ton? That maybe you can play ping pong on because I have Jade’s secret miracle coating to finish it with? A kitchen laid out in the middle of the room where there’s no plumbing? I’m not selling Feng Shui, but common sense is a good idea.” She squinted, pointed her pencil at the top of the far wall. “You have those nice, high transom windows that could use a cleaning, and nothing. No trim, not even mentioned. The only thing you’ve written down are pipe dreams, and almost everything you’ve done so far that I don’t need to do again is the big bathroom that’s probably been here since Eisenhower drove a Jeep. You actually ate in here?” She pushed the rickety card table with a boot. “This is all men, right?”

“No, but females stayed on the other side of that insulated door unless they needed the genderless powder room that had walls until I took them out. If they wanted to eat we moved the card table into the control room. There was a long, hollow wall right here, all the way to the front door. Before I took it out —”

“It hid all of this dusty air and those beautiful east windows. You also spec’ed ‘A chill and reception guest seating kind of area’ isolated from the rest of the place by a forty-eight-inch-high half-wall. ‘With maybe plants or a planter.’ Why not a fricking aquarium like my dentist’s office or every Chinese place in town that gurgles and makes everyone need to go pee? All you’re missing is giant Legos or Lincoln logs and Tigger on the wall and it’s every pediatrician’s waiting room in California. Is that what you’re after? Little boys waiting for their turn at whatever the real toys are back there?” Uh-oh.

“No…No. Open. I wanted it to all feel open, and multi-use. I read that somewhere, about open, multi-use rooms and —”

“Stop reading or read something besides suburban housewife throw-pillow decorating magazines. For a client with a nice space who says ‘open’ a lot you have sectioned off all your ‘open’ into several smaller one-shot rooms. No walls and chaos isn’t ‘open.’” She made finger quotes every time she said “open.”

“What you’re trying to tell me is whatever I built already is bunk and that you have a better idea for the kitchen and the pool table and all the rest of it?”

“Yes sir. We can re-use most of your’bunk’. At least you kept it to standard lengths and didn’t anchor them or hang sheetrock.”

“I built them like gobos, or room dividers. I was waiting on an electrician to tell me what —”

“Wait a little longer and let me talk to someone who knows the codes. Where are we, Silverlake? East Hollywood? Do you even know?” She bit her lip after that one. Her mouth had gotten her fired before, particularly when she had the plan in her head already, got wound up and in some man’s shit when she’d rather be working than talking.

He snorted, shook his head. “Silverlake, commercial. We’re code correct, except the Fire Marshall inspections bust us for the tape boxes on top of the control room if they get too close to the ceiling. And call me Jackson. Or something besides Client or Sir or Mister anything. You’ll meet a girl on the phone this week who says ‘Yo, boss’ when she talks to me, but she might as well say ‘Hey, fuckhead’ because I’m nobody’s boss.” He waited two beats, went right to it. “I know you’re uncomfortable. About this gig or last Wednesday or something. We have to work together, so tell me what will make that go away.”

She fumbled for a second. He was supposed to be a dick and start all that ‘so what smart ideas do you have, shorty’ crapola, but…

“Sir, I served six years as a lead field mechanic in the Army, and I got attitude. Too much of it. The men wouldn’t do what I needed them to do and I was a bitch because I wouldn’t fuck them. I knew in the field that, they, we…we just couldn’t do sex and do our jobs. Some of them got it, but…Just because you drink a beer with someone doesn’t mean you’re in love or heat, or it’s an invitation to visit the vacation they thought they were going to find between my legs. It’s taken me a long time to get past that and an asshole ex and single momming an eight year old. And when I finally wanted to, with you, I drank too much and…”

She reeled out a couple of feet from the tape measure. “Hold this. Down there, in the middle of the X.” She walked off across two thirds of the empty the space, nodded her head as if agreeing with herself, tugged the tape out of his fingers and took a deep breath while she waited for the clatter to stop.

“I haven’t…Sex…In four years. I wanted to, I told you that, sir, and that was embarrassing enough. And then I woke up in your apartment after we didn’t. Embarrassment number two. I don’t go out to intentionally pick up piano players who listen to me and are a lot younger in the daylight, sir. Honest, I don’t. So embarassment number three. And here we are. You spent time on me and we didn’t do anything and just like the Army that’ll somehow be all my fault and you’re going to question everything I do. And I can’t handle all that attitude now that I’m out from under it, okay? I’m damn good at what I do, but when that shit starts up I want to say ‘fuck you all,’ sir, and stick my middle finger in everyone of your noses like you did to that actress, and I really have to watch it or I’ll starve. Eventually some people listen to me but most people run on about shit that doesn’t matter or won’t work and I say fuck it and do what they want because it’s work and I need the money.” She took another deep, needed breath, let it go but kept her tension.

“That’s all good to know, I think, but you haven’t told me how I can help.”

“Sir, what I’m trying to say is you can’t make me do lame work on the cheap or argue with me about everything because we didn’t have sex. Please. This job, I can see it. I have a chance to do it right in here, on budget, and I have to. Or I can’t stick.”

“I can work with that.” He dumped his cold coffee down the rusty sink, tossed the cup in the galvanized can. “About that non-sex thing? We both made it home, I got my car. I was a dick for working a piano bar like I was sixteen. Every now and then I get tired of my skin and do something stupid, so I’m right there in the middle of that embarrassed business with you. You and I are okay. ” He watched her work her face and take that on.

“As far as this room is concerned, Jade? It’s yours. I threw out some ideas, you threw them back. You know a lot more about this than I do. Air and function is what I, what we all need out of this space. No, now….look at me.” He caught both of her nervous hands on the way to her cutoff’s pockets. They seemed tiny, but still hard as granite. “You’ll meet a French woman this week who says ‘The story completed, my love?’ So finish it.”

“My face is burning, sir, I know it is. The last thing is I didn’t bring your coffee cup back. On purpose. That blue is, I don’t know. Strange and beautiful. Like you said, a blue only mescaline knows. I drink my coffee, set it down and stare at it. I started to lie and say I broke it, that’s how much I like it. That’s what needs to go away, being embarrassed about everything with you. Because I have been so wrong since climbing all over you in Bellacardi’s to ditching you without a car, to thinking of ways to steal your coffee cup. And…”

“And?”

“I need you to mean that, sir, about this room being mine and us being okay. Let me do a good job we can both be proud of and I can take pictures and use you and this project for a reference. I’ll be okay with us and the sex we didn’t have and the embarrassments if we can work that way. Maybe I could buy the coffee cup from you, sir, or you could tell me where to get one.”

“First, and get a hold on this, I’m not a sir. I can get you a whole damn box of those mescaline blue cups and the girl who designed them will be gassed that you like them. Straight up, Jade, last verse. Between you and me? You’re really cute almost naked for a little bitty girl with a killer, squirrelly tan. The white hands and feet? My mom would have named you Socks or Boots if you were a stray that turned up. That’s all there is of our short, sorta funny, didn’t make it to sex story. You and I are cool. And hopefully friends.”

“And as long as I’m in budget, this is my project?”

“Yes ma’am, all yours. C’mon, Boots, stop worrying. Do I need to sign something, get you a check?”

“Both would be good. Neither are required on consultation day. Boots? Oh, don’t. That’s not funny…You mean it, ‘straight up’? We didn’t, I’m weird and kept your Mescaline blue coffee cup, and that’s all okay and there’s no ‘who’s the boss’ weirdness?”

“There it is.”

“Contract and a check and I’m okay? My mouth sometimes…I brought a contract in.” She fished a folded sheet out of her tool belt, handed it to him. “And the check would be good, if it’s alright. Not that I don’t trust you yet, but I could really use it. And as a safety, in case you’re jacking me around because of my tan lines and I’m being happy-carpenter-girl-with-a-job blind and don’t want to see it.” She took a couple of deep breaths. “Shooo-eee.” She dropped her shoulders, shook out both of her hands and finally smiled.

He reached into the fridge in the old bathroom, pulled out the last two cold Cokes, handed her one. “Coffee kind of died on us. Caffeine is caffeine. So we have a deal, Boots?”

“Yes sir. Deal!” She frowned, tapped the old, rusty, spray painted, duct taped fridge. “This has to go, sir. This is a new, unisex restroom with real light and a lady grade vanity setup, not a room where men hang out, eat greasy take out, drink beer and pee.”

“Will there be a room for that?”

“No. I did your kitchen open, half size, with an island. On the other side of the restroom wall that goes where I’m standing.”

“Pool table?”

“Front side of the kitchen, plenty of elbow room. Are you any good, sir? At pool?”

“I can tell by the look in your eye that I need to be careful how I answer that.” He signed the contract, wrote her a check for half the budget, set them both by the rusty, dinged up sink in the old eat and pee and shower room.

“Sir? Where are you going?”

“It’s your room. ‘Ma’am’.” He bowed, deep. “I’m getting the hell out of your way.”

She waited for the door to close, hugged herself and spun all the way around on the ball of her right foot. When her work boot landed she looked up at the high east windows. “Ma’am! Yes Ma’am! Contract. Sold. Check. Boom. Boots? Crap-ola. But…” She turned a slow three-sixty with her arms out. “A ‘kick ass small recording studio front end’? Oh my God, baby. You are mine.”

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Mescaline Blue

In WC#8 I said “just write it.” You see a character, have an encounter, tune in and let it go. In year 3 of THG III the studio Jackson works out of needs a remodel. That’s the short version. It could have been handled with a paragraph or two of narrative, or the story delivered, as it currently stands in the draft, embedded in 400 words of dialogue that contains other elements. But – I needed a character (I thought), let the tape in my head roll and got a 4k full-blown interaction with two characters. Don’t worry, this is the 1.4k part 1. I won’t use it for the book, but what I said about Writer’s Block. It’s a myth. I met this character when she did my car inspection a few years ago, know nothing about her, but I listened and there she was. I think this is how short story collections are born.

Jackson’s Apartment / Long Bach California, July, 1981

Jackson sat on the edge of the bed in his old apartment’s spare bedroom, gave the well rendered lioness’s head an appreciative eye. It lived in a deep Coppertone-colored jungle, surrounded by a ring of flowers he was pretty sure were coloring book versions of petunias or something, not foliage native to sub-Saharan Africa. The tips of the long grass that weaved through it all and poked out around the top half of the picture created a nice, crown-like effect, but they looked out of place as well. Like Palm Sunday palm frond handouts Catholic junior high school girls could fold into religious origami.

A thin, pale line ran straight across the lioness’s nose and the width of the small, tan, muscular back it lived on. It all reminded him of a pastel chalk art project, as if he had run his little finger across her back and smudged the color off down to the paper. Which is how he decided to wake her up. He dragged the tip of his middle finger lightly from the where the pale line and Coppertone met the new bottom sheet on the new bed in Dash’s old bedroom, across her back and the lioness’s nose to the middle of her rib cage on the opposite side.

She pulled the top sheet straight up her back from her waist, bumped his hand out of its Etch-a-Sketch trance. “Unh-uh, Rafe. Fuck off. Show your latest your morning wood ’cause we are so divorced.” She smacked the pillow with a fist, pulled the other one over her head. “Get the kid ready yourself if you’re so frisky.”

“My name’s not Rafe, I don’t think we were ever married and I’m fresh out of kids.” He’d been awake for a while, was already dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. “Coffee?”

He stood, heard the covers being tossed behind him and some low, exclamatory profanity. He turned and glanced. She did have some squirrel-ly tan lines. White feet, white hands, white butt. Not a bikini white butt, but white from waist high to three or four inches past where everything came together. About a minute later, while he was pouring water in the top of the Mr. Coffee, she blew out of the bedroom in her red paisley bikini panties, clothes clutched to her chest.

“Phone?”

“Right in front of you,” he nodded to the small counter that divided his kitchen from living room. “One in both bedrooms if you need some space.”

She disappeared back into Dash’s old bedroom, he heard her bark at someone on the phone, the toilet between the bedrooms flushed, he never heard the door close or open. Jesus. Two minutes later she was standing at the small divider again, dressed in the red and yellow flowered dress that had gotten them into this situation.

“I hate to be a bitch, but I need to go. Now. We can beat the lock on the 405 or run up through…What?”

“You drove, didn’t trust me. We weren’t that far from here when you passed out at the gas station. I didn’t know where else to take you, didn’t want to troll your purse trying to find out.” He waited for her to wake up, but she was absorbing as fast as he laid it out. “Your pickup’s on the street out front. If you have to book we’re cool. I can get to my car.”

“You don’t mind? Crapola, I’m…I have a time window to beat. I bet you think I do this all the time, huh? Not at all…I told you that, didn’t I? That’s why I’m so scattered. I’m…I shouldn’t be here. Did I drink? Did I explain my tan?”

“A couple of drinks too many and a couple of times explaining a lot of things. Just saw the tan a minute ago. Interesting. Are you a trim carpenter for real?”

“Yeah. My hands.” She rubbed her fingers with her thumbs, screwed up her lips. “Rough. Sorry. I’m not the usual Wednesday piano player’s door prize at Bellacardi’s, am I?”

“I doubt it. Leave me a card, or your number?”

“Right. You’re going to call me. After no car, and no sex and…” Damn, he looked like he might be serious. “Okay.” She pulled an overstuffed red patent wallet out of her purse and sifted through a handful of cards, offered him one.
Jaeyden Hammett Carpentry – Serving the Greater Los Angeles Area. Two state license numbers and a phone number.

“You real busy?” He pulled one of his cards out of the second kitchen drawer he opened, set it on the divider. She picked it up, held it with her teeth and talked around it.

“This week, yeah. I have a remodel finishing up in West L.A. They say the bust is coming. Just my luck, right? Nothing next week yet. What am I saying? Nothing anywhere past Friday. I’m state licensed for trim and frame. Oh, and I’m bonded, too. A hundred grand. I think.”

She pulled one of her hands off shoe duty, took the card out of her mouth and dropped it in her purse. She was trying to talk, hang onto the counter with her elbow, stand on one leg and put on some kind of ankle wrap sandals that tied. The sandal wrap was an attempt to hide where her work boots cut off her tan. Women. He reached out, put a hand on the shoe between them.

“Next week’s job just landed, Jade. Solid. I’ll call.” He nodded at the shoe under his hand. “You might want to blow these off and drive barefoot.”

”Right. You need to get rid of me. Heard and understood. Someone is coming and I need to beat it. I feel so stupid…”

She stopped at the door to organize shoes and keys, fumble in her purse. A kicked around some, hard working, deeply tanned, tiny, no make up thirty-ish female carpenter with a mess of sun bleached hair and more of a mess tan lines under a pretty, probably rarely worn dress.

“No reason for stupid, and nobody’s coming. You had to take off the shoes to drive last night, carried them in when I woke you up.”

“I musta forgot that part.” She fidgeted with her dress, small shrugs, twists. “There was some story, right? One name Jackson? If you do call? Never mind, men don’t ever call me that way.” She dropped her shoes, threw her head back, gathered up a fistful of ponytail and popped a band around it. “They find out I was in the Army and I’m divorced with a kid and what I do for a living and think I’m a lez, so if you do call, I’ll know it’s you.” She picked up her nowhere-to-belong shoes, patted her purse. “And I have your card.”

She poked her head back in just before the door closed. “Thanks, you know…For being…And not getting…” She heard the Mr. Coffee gurgle. “Do you have a styrofoam cup, sir? Or a cup I can borrow?”

He reached up into the cabinet and pulled out a tall, translucent blue Morisé coffee cup, loaded it two thirds full for her.

She tied her shoes together and hung them around her neck while he brought the cup, took it with both hands, held it up to the light. “Amazing glaze. What’s the little gold M for?”

“Mescaline. It’s the only place I know where you can find that color of blue.”

“That’s true, you know, about this blue. But I think you’re bullshitting me about the M. Sir. I’ve seen it somewhere.” She gave him a slightly more relaxed look, between gratitude and mild surprise. “Nice cup. Don’t worry, I’ll get it back to you.” She pulled the door as she backed out, stuck her head around again just before it closed. “Because you are going to call me.”

Random NVDT – Vignettes

I’m always harping on do what you do, and do it well. And if there’s something you do well, kick it in the ass. I won’t go in to why we all get sidetracked, but it happens. Whatever it was has hit the road. And now?

I don’t reblog much. But an early days blogging friend has reappeared. And I think everyone should welcome her back. Here’s a classic, damn near perfect, vignette. Sense of place? I can stand on the sidewalk and smell it. We all know it. Few of us would be able to offer it up as magically and effortlessly as this. Watercolor wordsmithing. To me? This is story telling. Cencha, who knows Letti –

 

In the back I could hear the murmuring swell of gossip and repercussions, the rich tide of Spanish swirling like water down a drain.

via Chencha, Who Knows Letti — inksplashstories

Now Where

Tulsa, Early January 1979

Harper stepped over the icy patch on the single step down from the peeling, whitewashed veranda porch, turned right into refrozen, crunchy wheat-colored dead grass and stopped at his van parked in the gravel driveway. Shit. Locked. He shoved the box against the side, held it with his hip while he fumbled with the frozen sliding door latch. She tried to reach around him to get the van door and he elbowed off. The door slid back and when he bent to set the box inside she leaned in, looked over his shoulder.

“Where’re all your cases, Harper?” She was freezing, holding her arms across her body. No cases meant he wasn’t staying.

“In Lando’s garage. Lando’s girlfriend’s garage, down in the city.”

“He better not get in another fight with her.” She smiled. She was trying.

“I thought about that.” His patience was too far gone for any of her commentary on the complexity of living the way she’d set him up. “I asked her not to connect us if she threw his shit in the yard again. You know, as a favor to the homeless.”

He set the not much bigger than a banker’s storage box full of crap on the floor where the middle seat never was, and the keyboards coffin lived. Pathetic. Fucking pathetic. The woodgrain alarm clock with the blown speaker, a couple of pairs of socks, the Avon cologne his mom gave him that he never wore, a small orange ceramic pistol-grip bong he didn’t want. A couple of no reason empty picture frames, his dresser top cookie tin full of single cufflinks and dead watches and mismatched collar stays and guy junk he rarely had a use for. A couple pairs of not too ratty paisley boxers. And the used twice Mr. Coffee that he’d asked for, that his mother had shipped to him in Houston as an early birthday present. It had arrived two days before he found out he had to pack a one bedroom apartment in his van and figure out where he was going to live in twenty-four hours. In Houston. On Halloween weekend. The day after his ex-girlfriend Becca had vanished back to Tulsa with the rent money and thrown it all at three month’s rent on a cheap, refurbed duplex next door to a friend and down the street from crackville.

“You’re not mad, are you, Harper? I just asked about your cases. I thought you might stay for a couple of days. You never brought the rest of your stuff up from Lando’s, so I didn’t know what –”

“Shut up, Becca. Just…Fuck me. Where my cases are is the wrong question. Where all the shit is that should be going where they usually are is the question.” He stared at the box surrounded by beige carpeted emptiness, dropped his head. “So this is Becca’s vision of ‘I’ll keep your stuff safe?’ Where are my Cobra loaded monitors? Where the fuck are my Vega bookshelfs? No shit, really, where’s my amp rack?”

“Archie came over right after you left the first time and took the blue case on wheels. It’s in his living room.” She shivered, looked at him like he should have a hug or a coat she could borrow but all he had on was a flannel shirt and jeans. And the small box of junk had left any remaining hugs out in the cold, just like her. “Tommy.” She stalled. “I gave the monitors, if you mean those big black speakers I guess, I gave them to Tommy. You know, um, he’s –”

“He’s the guy you fucked for the bong I didn’t need that you gave me for my birthday. I know who Bong Builder Tommy is.” He wondered if the fog from his breath was the weather or if he was on fire. He felt like he was. “How does that cretin end up with my monitors?”

“I don’t think he has them anymore. He traded them for…Something. You know…Something. I felt sorry him, and —”

“Sorry? He gets my monitors because you felt sorry for him? You fucked him for a bong last time, what’s that whiny little fuck got going on he gets seven-hundred dollars-worth of monitors I know he traded on down the road for some blow that’s already up both your noses?”

“I didn’t do it for the bong. Tommy has MS, okay, and he’s sick. And that’s why I felt sorry for him the first time, and he just gave me the bong after because he felt sorry for me because he knew you weren’t coming back and I was sad and I…And I gave it to you because…I don’t know…”

“Because it was my birthday? Because I drove back here from Little Rock in the middle of the night so we could figure something out for you because no shit I’m not coming back here to live. Because I got out of the van and the first thing Archie tells me is about you and fucking gap-tooth Ronnie.” He wanted to shove his finger right through her chest. “And then he told me what part of you got stuck between Ronnie’s front teeth in the back bedroom and about you screaming their house down. So, after a midnight run across Arkansas behind a gig I get ‘Oh, we can’t talk or fuck on your birthday because something happened down there and I’m numbed out on Percs. Sorry. Here’s a bong?’” He saw his hands in front of him like he was holding a giant basketball and wished they were shaking the shit out of her, maybe strangling her. “Aww shit, Becca. Jesus.” His hands turned into fists that landed on the top of the van before he turned back and they were face to face again, inches away.

“He felt sorry for you? Why? Because he couldn’t believe you were stupid enough to drop a pity fuck on a seriously wrong line of shit from a guy with a dick, according to you, that was like a rubber fishing worm? For a second time? And MS? Come on. That’s for Master Shitweaver. He’s not sick, he sniffs paint stripper and bong glue all day. You didn’t see that coming? He asked you about my gear, Bec, he didn’t ask you to come back over because he felt sorry for you. And you couldn’t tell me ‘Oh, maybe Tommy has his eye on your shit and he’s trying to work his way through my pussy to get to it? Goddammit, Becca. So they’re gone. Gone, gone. Seven, eight-hundred bucks. Gone.” He flashed his fingers open, opened his hands to the giant basketball again, leaned into her face. “Fucking poof, Becca. Vapor.” He backed off, put his hands in his jean’s pockets to control them. “My Vega bookshelfs?”

She leaned into him, full front, and he backed up more. “I gave them to Rick, B.D.’s brother? Because he wanted to play guitar in the house with the baby, but that big green amp he has set them on fire and that set off the sprinklers and the fire alarm. And then the firemen took what was left outside with them.”

“Rick and a fucking rock take an I.Q. test together and they score a minus two between them. Those were studio monitors, Bec, not guitar cabs. You know better. You didn’t spot that one, either?” He put his arms around her, loosely, felt her shaking. “Is this whole town in some sort of stoned-stupid time warp or is it just around these two houses and anybody who gets near them?” She was probably close to hypothermia. Thirty-one degrees in some new guy’s baggy cutoffs he’d never seen and a yellow tank top. No bra, probably no panties.

“Go inside, Bec. Get warm. Ask Archie for a loan, or find somebody who likes what you’re giving away enough to pay the rent on the first. I can’t help you this time. If you’d watched my gear we could have worked out another month until you got something going on. You could have fucked Tulsa down and moved on to Broken Arrow for all I care and we’d be square. But that didn’t happen. I already picked up three months here I didn’t want off the one month you pocketed in Houston. That routine left me in the slush in Pasadena on New Year’s with a dead van and no options, and now I’m the homeless dude on the couch again. You’re gone, all the real shit I left with you is gone…So am I.”

“I told you Archie has your blue case next door.”

“I’ll go roll that when you go inside or freeze to death standing here.” He dropped his arms, gave her a light shoulder spin back towards the duplex.

She shook him off and turned back. “Is that it? ‘Done’ and that’s it?”

“Becca, before we took off the first time you said, “Done is done. Now is now” There it is. George Riner told me the day I met you not to get caught up with you to the point of getting hurt ‘cause sooner or later you’d get bored for fifteen minutes and be history and off sport fucking again. We had a no strings deal, Becca. We split it and dealt with it. I figured sooner or later you’d fuck me over with someone else and split. But I never saw you fucking me this hard.”

“You’re going to say all that shit about me fucking everybody after I pulled your ‘I’m Harper, and I’m bummed out, so I’m just here to fuck ‘em and forget ‘em’ ass out of here in my car? And I took our money, not just yours, to rent this place so we could get out of that humid hell hole and away from all those crazy, queer, plastic bitches I worked with and back to people we know. You can fuck yourself and your money sermon on that one because I was tired of it. Tired of you and all your too cool, leave me at home alone while you played bullshit. Maybe I gave your shit away, or maybe I sold it, and I did stick it up my nose, but you left it here like you left me. Just another case full of your shit. And now that’s it? That’s all you have to say to me, after two years, ‘I’m done. Go in the house Becca, warm up so you can fuck somebody for your rent?”

He wanted to correct her down to the actual year and five months it had been, and back to people she knew, watched her shiver and try to glare through whatever she was feeling and decided against it.

“‘Thanks, Becca.’ How about that?”

“Thanks? That’s shitty. What for?”

“Thanks for not being, or knowing, a coffee drinker. Wherever I finally end up, I’ll have good coffee and a new waterbed. Because when you went bitch and stuck a fork in the old one? Wiggins got me a new one, in the box, under warranty. I may not be able to piss off the neighbors without my monitors, but I’ll get a good night’s sleep and wake up to a decent cup of coffee. So, ‘Thanks, Becca.’ If I’m ever off somebody’s couch long enough to use either one I’ll be sure and blow a kiss in the direction of your ass.”

“Well, you can forget the direction of my ass now, Harper. Today. ‘I’m Done. Go fuck somebody.’ You sorry asshole. I hope you wake up alone, freezing your horny ass off on your fucking blob of Jell-O bed, by yourself, for-EVER!”

“After you and all this shit that’s gone down right here? I’d call that a gift.” He watched her shivering self-hug take its long-legged stride back into the little yellow 1920’s duplex and slam the door.

He walked next door, wrestled his amp rack down the steps, rolled it across more crusty dead grass and into the van. Becca’s best friend’s husband had seen the “if it pees standing up fuck it and give it presents” train wreck coming and salvaged the most expensive part of Harper’s live rig for him. That had been a cool gesture. But all the rest of them next door…The ones playing pool or on the couch hitting the big bong. The ones in the kitchen debating the way a bag of weed looked as opposed to what the scale said, laughing at each other’s choices of records to play. They hardly looked at him. All of them, they’d been part of the crowd to have seen this shit coming before it got off the ground, and none of them had said a word to him. Maybe they saw him as the big city guy again. Maybe it was out of some hope they had for her that had kept them silent. He’d stepped into their world, briefly, through her, and now he was out again. So, it was hope for her, not hate for him. It had to be. He’d have to believe that because it was the only humane way for him to leave it.

Harper looked over the little yellow duplex while he rubbed his hands together and waited for the van’s heater to come back to life. It was cute. Girly, if a house could be that way. The woman who owned it had done some work when she heard who was moving in. She’d updated the kitchen with a new fridge, put down new vinyl, cleaned up the bathroom. She’d even put lacy curtains in the windows. He could see Bec liking it for what it was, not because of where it was. Could see her making fried egg sandwiches for every guy who stood in her kitchen in his underwear. Becca’s kitchen. The one place in her world where free range man business wasn’t allowed.

Man. Godammit. He hadn’t wanted to be an asshole. He’d expected to load his gear, maybe buy her dinner, drive over and pay her cheap rent for another month so she could get her shit headed for together. She was a nice girl when proximity to staying stoned and guys who would keep her that way for a piece of her weren’t in the mix. She deserved whatever it was going to take to make her happy because she had been right about one thing. She had helped get him gone the first time and had played it straight with him until she broke. As fucked up as it looked from the outside, he was still way better off than he had been.

He looked up, watched the smoke curl from her chimney for a few, knew she was sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace. The van heater finally kicked in, he took a deep breath and tried to let it all go. Seeing the smoke from her fireplace, feeling the heat in the van. He felt a little better for both of them because that was all he could do.

There wasn’t a damn thing he could do about her getting played like a hand crank Mousegetar that had gotten them both ripped off. By a weasely, greasy haired, coke snorting, glue sniffing antique refinishing, bong building half-assed wannabe slick who knew Harper wasn’t going to be there to stop it or do shit about it once it was done. Gone. No trail, never happened, just gone. The little fuck was sniffing bong building glue, banging his old girlfriend, stealing his gear and thumbing his nose at him while he stood in the slush in Pasadena. Happy New Year. He checked the mirror, put the van in reverse, wished life had a gear like that sometimes.

The rusty silver Chevy Luv pickup that slid into the curb as he was pulling away looked like the rent showing up. Or a fried egg sandwich. Either way, she’d be warm and distracted soon enough. Harper grinned, hoped for her sake the guy had grown up knowing a dentist.

He pulled into a U-Totem by the freeway for gas and a travel Pepsi where he chunked the cologne, the woodgrain alarm clock and the pistol grip bong in the big can between the pumps, and adjusted the paisley underwear to keep the coffee pot from rattling. He climbed back into the driver’s seat, sat with his face in his hands, listened to the muffled sounds of life going on around him, and waited for the pump to signal it was done. It was starting to snow again. Like it meant it this time. Damn. He hoped it was blowing in from the north. Almost two hours south to Lando’s place and another night on the floor in a nylon sleeping bag that made him sweat, and then freeze, and sweat again. The homeless Okie freeze and thaw cycle. He rubbed his eyes a few times, pulled down on his cheeks to open them wide, looked at his distorted face in the rearview and scared a couple of high school girls in plaid skirts standing in front of the store who had been checking him out through the windshield.

“Now what? Huh? It just keeps getting crazier, doesn’t it? Crazier by the fucking day.” He let his face go, gave it a few seconds to normalize. “What’s next, huh Harp? Where you gonna go now, bud? Huh?”

He unhooked from the pump, turned the key and let the van roll up in front of the store. He winked at the high schoolers on his way in to buy his Pepsi. They were gone when he came back out. He flipped the switch, knocked the snow back with the wipers, checked himself in the rearview again, lingered for a moment.

“So…Mirror mirror on the glass, tell me. What the hell does start over look like this time?”