No Bloke Around

First, tomorrow I will post pictures of why I have been the web’s worst digital “friend” lately. More importantly – I got to a place with THG 3 where I found Deanna in placeholder mode, being written around, not about. Sad to find yourself so lame. I knew she needed to know this priest-to-be as he turns up as an aside. And I took the opportunity NOT to write in my normal voice, for exercise. No said. Tightly abbreviated action tags. Direct adverbs once in a while (sorry). A new-ish way, for me, to write internal dialogue without “Thought” or “felt” or any of those. Deanna in Cambridge, as a feminist to be, not as an afterthought. LONG READ – See if it moves along at a decent clip.

Deanna’s flat, Cambridge U.K / Early May, 1979

“Fair Deanna’s this way, Father.” Merriam caught Sheridan Wyckstone by the elbow and turned him away from the living room where a heated discussion on global finance was taking place on Cat’s couch, a discussion accompanied by two large, fresh, fragrant pizzas. “We’re none allowed in there and well for it. Boring lot of shit, theirs.” She shouldered Deanna’s stubborn bedroom door open.

“We’ve heard the same said of Chemistry and Divinity, Meri.” Over his shoulder, “Pizza would be –”

“Aye, it would, and sooner you’re on task, sooner it will be.” To Deanna, pulling on a sweater. “He’s his wee bag of tools and no Bible.” Back to Sheridan, up on him. “Earn your keep, Father, or you’ll be eating pizza here in your dreams.” A slide past him, pat on his shoulder. “Few lads have seen this room, and none gone home a’ smiling.” Merriam pulled the door closed on her way out, they heard her door open and close, continued to hear the heated but muted discussion from the couch.

“Paper walls, these flats.”

Startled, “You don’t seriously think, you and I, that this –”

“No,” rueful smile. “No. Tools out and I’m back in the shed with m’dad. Swearing like a pair of sailors gotten together. I was only eight when I learned the where and when and proper volume of it.” He shrugged out of his long divinity school cassock, saw her door missing a hook to hang it on. She took it from him, in no manner carefully folded, and laid it on the thighs of her crossed, bed sitting legs.

“You were swearing?”

“Right. Eight I was. I came out of my chair, mid evening tea, mum says, ‘And where are you off without a word?’ and I say, pointing to my half-eaten plate, ‘Don’t be daft, woman, I’m not done, just off for a piss.’ I can still feel the blow landed on my ear.” He knelt as if to pray, peered under the dresser.

“Did you have your piss?” She wanted to giggle, the first time in months, caught it.

“I did. And another whack or two and a good solid hellfire sermon. Dad got a scorcher of a ‘talk’ from mum, lasted gone half ten at least. I’ll use the best bits of both for guilting sinners from the pulpit when the time comes. Pass the torch from the bag?”

“Torch?” What the –

“Torch. Batteries. Switch it on, light in the darkness?”

“Divinity gives you an electric Jesus?” Bewildered, rummaging. “Flashlight?”

Under his breath, “Colonists and bloody women, I…shit” His hair caught in a dresser crack on the way up, he spun half around on his knees, dumped the contents of a small, dirty, oiled canvas bag out on the end of the bed. Located the stubby, means business blind you in the dark flashlight, held it up with a thumb and finger. “This is a torch.”

“Flashlight!” Giggled. “Kel-lite. A real flashlight. I’m proud of you. We used those in…” No. No stories yet for the priest to be, even as he’d opened the door. Don’t get comfortable, England’s not forever.

He looked for a face-saving response on chance that she’d heard. Couldn’t find one fitting, smart ass or on the fence, spun back down to the floor, pulled the strands of his hair from the dresser, shined the light around. “Do you have a cleaning woman?”

“We have a dust mop with a long handle that goes flat. I’m sure it has some stupid other English name. Merriam sprays lemon oil on it. I don’t like places where creepies can hide. Shoes, under furniture, I need to know what’s… Why, is there something…AHHHHHHHHH.” She screamed, swatted the hair dangling from his fingers that he’d swung up and into her face. “You asshole.” She flushed, picked up a reloaded from the tap Perrier bottle, drained it. “Ass fucking hole.”

His turn to laugh. He took an adjustable wrench, slip joint pliers and a decent sized flat head screwdriver to the floor.

Deanna shifted elbows to knees, knuckles to chin for a better view of whatever Father Sheri was going to do to unbolt her furniture, a task he claimed wouldn’t ‘take but ten’. He could have been John Lennon’s cousin. The same thin, arching nose, round glasses, perfectly straight near shoulder length dirty blond hair with a small Fifties beach bikini ingenue up-flip around the bottom. A face bordering on fishy from profile, the hair then a cartoonist’s affectation. He wasn’t a priest, yet, but Father had stuck to him from Merriam and Cat, long before Deanna’s arrival.

She found the lurid t-shirt he’d worn under the cassock, adorned with a female in very little shredded clothing along with the names of several bands she didn’t recognize in sharp contrast to his air of floaty equanimity and often mildly arrogant, unbothered and above it all priestliness. Unfair. Most of the males she’d encountered at Cambridge, scholastic and townies, plaids and crests and indies, all wore a small hatful of the same air of superiority for reasons she had yet to discover.

***

“What happened to your hair?” Another question from the floor in a long string of them she had answered vaguely, in monosyllables if possible, if at all. The questions followed a pattern. On the heels of unsuccessful grappling with the aging bolts.

“I cut it.” Curt. Obvious. Uninformative. “Do they teach inquisition in Divinity? To sort out possible heretics?”

“Curiosity. You’re different than when I met you fresh. Hardly a heretic.”

“I’m not. I’m the same me. I’m always the same me, no one understands that. It’s not hair or clothes or ‘pretty’, it’s…” Hardly a heretic…more haughty assholeness. “If it will stop the inquisition, here’s my whole story. I was a feminist. Am a feminist. I, well the only reason I’m here is to be a better one.” Please, that should be enough. The thump on the bottom of the dresser was the loudest one so far. Success?

Shit!” Shocked. “Christ on a fucking stick.

“You’ve never met a feminist? I know the church doesn’t give a damn what women think, as long as they’re obedient, but…” She’d been obedient long enough, learned all the British names for tools while she handed them back and forth, dodged his questions, asked her own, and picked up some new, possibly useful strings of profanity.

“What? Obedience?” Mumbled, his brow furrowed, knuckles of his left hand in his mouth. He pulled the knuckles from his lips, bleeding from the three between thumb and little finger.

“It was just a nick, first time. Even second. Nothing, really. But this,” hand up, concerned, angry. “Bloody piece of shit.” Frustration and shoulder slammed into the dresser, nice bobbling save on Jackson’s picture when it fell. Deanna took it, set it on the bed, assessed Father’s knuckles. Skin scraped up into ridges, white tissue exposed, bleeding.

“No bone showing. You’ll live.”

“Plasters?”

Bandaids. And Bactine.” She was back before he’d had a chance to decide what he thought of her ass inside the slightly to outright baggy jeans she always wore, the picture of the guy she’d snatched away and if there was any heretical disobedience value in ‘feminist’ all jumbled together with a little pain.

He reached for her supplies. “I can do it.” Mildly, on the whimpery side of manly.

“One handed Bandaids on fingers and hands never work. They get wrinkly or stick to themselves and then you’re screwed.” She sat, edge of the bed, dropped the bandaging supplies, pulled him down by the wounded hand he offered, pulled Jackson’s picture out from under his butt with the other before he landed.

“Your brother?”

“Hardly.” Her quick gaze full of confused fondness. “My idiot brother got drafted by the Miami Dolphins.” A pause while she set the picture on her nightstand. “American football. He’s two of… Of this guy. You wouldn’t know it, the way he is around Doug and …” She gathered two pillows and the bandages into her lap, dropped his wounded hand on top. He leaned over, kissed her lightly, got a hard shove in the chest for the effort.

“I didn’t believe you and Cat gay for an instant, known her forever. Why the lesbian act? Him?”

“Jesus.” Eyes huge even after her lips wiped with her wrist. “Why the gay priest act?”

“I could be Episcopalian. Vicars have wives. Mum would like me a Catholic. She doesn’t do well with me and other females. Only child, y’see. Dad wanted a footballer, I never had the size. He says if I do go queer for a career don’t tell him. Act keeps the padre groupies at bay…”

“There is such a thing?”

Again. “The picture?”

Long pause, wiping Bactine overspray from his fingers with a Kleenex. “The thing about Bandaids on knuckles, they need to be tight. But you need to bend your fingers. Too tight and your finger turns blue, not tight enough and one bend, kablooey. Bodine always made our knuckle-buster Bandaids. Sport tape and non-stick gauze, antibiotic cream.” She sighed, squeezed his two good outside fingers with a vice grip he hadn’t expected.

“Bodine?” Incredulous. “You keep a picture of a Bo-Deen on your –”

“Bodine was another jock, like my brother. He got his degree in architecture and design, we worked with him all one summer. Well, Jax for two summers, that’s how we… He married a nurse I didn’t really like. Well, she didn’t like us. Amber and me. Well, not me so much, I was always the kid sister cheerleader around those guys. But Amber’s older, and she’s something. All California cool in that wispy, gauzey way. Blonde hair down to her butt like Lady Godiva. Ballet and piano lessons forever. Every move she makes is graceful and floaty.” She floated her hand up trailing an open Bandaid as demonstration. “Blind as a bat without her glasses or contacts. That’s how she met…her glasses. Jax went for my birthday present and…” Choked off again. “She had prescription work goggles, even. Really, really smart. Spacey, too. If she wasn’t cool and beautiful she’d be the biggest nerd…” an internalized laugh, a dash of smile. “She’s a lawyer now. I bet Amanda let her put the Hendrix picture in her office.” Still, his face full of questions. “Hello? Jimi Hendrix? Guitar? Amber has a picture of her big sister and her on either side of him. He signed it. Some concert. Blondie California girls and Jimi. Pretty cool.” Idly, almost dreamily, in a happier place, wrapping his middle finger with a Bandaid doomed to last an hour, less if he continued to work.

“Him?” Frustrated nod to the yellow metal frame on her nightstand.

“Oh…About him,” she tapped the frame’s glass. “I don’t know where he is. He sort of… vanished, after I… I wish,” drifted to somber, further to an inaudible but obvious spark… “What I do know,” disgusted, “is that he would never use a stupid crescent wrench on a bolt unless he was 12 and the bolt was on a bicycle. He’d have taken one look and found a socket that fit, or a box end wrench with a bunch of teeth, not a Japanese one with just six that strips out. I know because I got the cheap tool lecture so many times that summer from him and Bodine you wouldn’t believe.”

“You know tools, do you?” Slightly arrogant, some disbelief. “Then what would you advise?”

“If this was one of our reclamations, I’d know that dresser for the piece of shit it is, and the floors in this place, a couple of planks trashed, no big deal. I’d take a two-inch cold chisel and a five-pound sledge to that bolt and the hell with it when it tore a hole in the floor coming out. Jackson or Amber, one would be behind me, one would be on the floor below waiting and they’d start to pop the flooring when I’d shoved that fucking dresser down a dumpster chute. But since it isn’t mine to dump, and since the vanished guy in that picture would be laughing his ass off at me because I let a fake gay priest in a sexist trash t-shirt kiss me,” she started loading his assortment of tools into the canvas bag, wiping the sweat that transferred to her hands on her guy’s corduroy jeans, “I’ll have to figure this out myself.”

He caught her hand, not aggressive, enough to stop the tool loading. “Wasn’t much of a kiss. A peck, not a right snog.” The smile was genuine. “I’ll go for pizza,” bowing, “if you’ll forgive the misguided personal intrusion,” upright, “and old Stag-nos ‘round the corner will do. Then you’ll tell us about reclamation, my sexist shirt and the rest.”

***

Pizza box mostly empty, Merriam’s glass of scotch and water and Father Sheri’s Danish beer the same, Cat’s tomorrow’s bankers crew off to the pub, Deanna, mouthful of pizza, explicating.

“No, no, no,” fallen crumbs caught with her left hand. “You don’t see. I was their feminist. Amanda’s and Jackson’s. Well,” a thoughtful and polite long chew. “To be clear, I was Morisé’s feminist. And I’d had it with their attitudes, all of them. Amanda’s ‘you’re a sucker, little girl’ and all Jackson’s looks and ‘you stupid whore’ silent treatment.”

Merriam, unusually quiet, letting her talk, sipped scotch. “Sucker?”

“She said I’d never amount to anything pretending to be a feminist if I let every ‘swinging dick with a vanity tickle’ distract me. That was because in Washington, well…” Well, he had been cute, the aide. No, attractive was the big word for older guys. Too attractive. Too well dressed, his perfect suit, the right cologne, had to have shaved once an hour to stay that fresh and too full of perfect teeth and flattery and hands on her elbows and come to dinner won’t you, the Senator insists you share your insight, entertaining, one so young and bright and beautiful, so much to offer. A Women’s Conference, Jamaica, fact finding, issue quantifying, for prioritizing you see, in a few days. Ms. Morisé hadn’t said? No! How regrettable you weren’t informed, but you must. The Senator, pull some strings, get you in, don’t concern yourself with expense…

“And that wasn’t it, the vanity tickle. At all.” Protested louder than required. “I was curious, that’s all. About politicians. And, and…I had some ideas I wanted to…” She groped for some measure of credibility realized might have been lost, more to herself, possibly, than her audience.

“Politicians?” Contemptuously from not yet priest. “All politicians care about any cause – religion, feminism, anarchy, socialism – is how many voters might believe in them and how much time each gets allotted in a speech, and which are dispensable. How that makes you a, um, ‘sucker’ I don’t know, unless they meant it in the…” There was a word he wanted. Sexual? Yes –

“Not sucker that way. But I went. To Jamaica. There was no conference. Well there was, but it was a year earlier, I didn’t really look at the brochure, I was…” Suckered. Distracted. That goddam aide, drove her to the airport, shook her hand like a limp dish towel, the queer, lightweight lying… “He, uh, the Senator, he was already there when I flew down, and he wanted sucker that way, yeah. He said, out loud, he wanted to fact find how flawless my skin would be if I was completely naked under a glaze of coconut oil on the deck of his yacht. Small yacht, but… And I…I spent three days locked in my hotel room. Crescent rolls, coffee and honey butter. Nobody believed me when I got home and ragged on me non-stop. So…I thought that, well, they could all blow me, you know, go fuck themselves and I’d go here, come here I mean, and get smarter and be my own feminist.”

“Known you but a Lent Term and some, love, but I say more than the one bit of arseward forced you into our hands, and far more to the lad than he’s lost, and you were tired of being his pet feminist.” Cat turned her scotch glass, intent only on Deanna’s response.

“I…Well, shit. Okay. I think I was a bitch about it. Some of it. Maybe. Leaving, I mean. And not saying. But look,” flaring, “they didn’t have to treat me like I was stupid all the time and my ideas were too narrow or too broad or too this or too that. Or I needed constant coaching or refining and editing of everything I wrote all the time or reminding me to be a good girl and try to stay out of trouble when I traveled because I fucked up. Some. Probably a lot, sometimes, okay? But it wasn’t on purpose and it, it –”

“It gave you an excuse to run.”

Perceptive little fuck. Was it Divinity, or was it true? Priests were born, not –

“I’ve discovered dad’s bit of survival tool bag for a clergyman in training isn’t fit for fuck all.” He crossed himself, glanced heavenward. “Yes Sir. Had my swearing for the day.” A foul look at his empty tilted bottle, “I’ll have a bloke around about the dresser.”

“The last thing I want is ‘a bloke around’ about my dresser. Ass cracking plumbers and strangers? No. I told you, I’ll get it done another way. But,” shy, “thanks for the pizza. And for trying. Father.”

“Not all tradesman wear ill-fitting trousers. Know a few wear jumpsuits.” The smile again. “My pleasure. You, Hendrix’s Lady Godiva, the Destruction Giant and the mystery musician whose rib you are that kissed your finger when you needed stitches for following his lead…Can’t get that at the local.” Bandaged fingers splayed out past the pizza box. “When I couldn’t get a kiss for three. The power pull of the vagina, perhaps? Something to be considered, feminism as weapon. Or would that be femininity…” Immobile, his look confused.

“Pushing your luck, even for a pious gambler on righteousness’ side, Father. Black bag under the sink, just there,” Merriam pointed with her chin. He pulled until the bag unfurled above his waist. “Perk, lad.” Dry smile. “Chemistry lab supplies.”

“Cambridge repays in strange ways. I’m told the benefit of Divinity is the betterment of mankind’s spiritual condition.” The table trash disposed, his fingertips glanced under the tap and dried on his black jeans. “What could be the benefit, I wonder, of making of oneself an improved feminist?” A wink at Merriam, her eyes rolled, Deanna’s spring immediately over-wound.

“That right there is about some arrogant, snotty shit from a sexist, patriarchal, gender discriminating glorified altar boy would be heretic busting priest. The betterment of womankind, for a start, Mr. Blames his tools, and…”

Cat pushed Deanna back down into her chair, took the beer out of his hand before he could open it, yanked his cassock from the back of his chair and led him, dragged him to the door, opened it for him. “See what you’ve started?”

“Might be worth a listen.”

“I’ve been down this road with her, and you I’d well charge to hear her go on. Think your lot have a corner on the conversion of heathens rhetoric, think again.”

 

 

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THG 3 – Ch 13 – Don’t Talk to the Whores

Most of this is in here elsewhere, but here it is, straight out of Scivener, unedited for short story consumption –

Jackson had a knack for filling the Taco Bell with people. He changed the Muzak channel to something resembling FM radio, turned it up, jived. Set up impromptu dance and sing along giveaways, made happy customers. But he gave as much Taco Bell away to hungry students with the late night munchies as he sold. A grand humanitarian effort that got him fired in the middle of April, Good Friday the thirteenth.

He stopped to say goodbye to his roomies, left them his second half of the month’s rent. Génene asked why he had to leave, he was such a good listener. He shrugged, told her it was time he put himself closer to L.A. He couldn’t tell her when Carmel walked straight into her bedroom leading a grad instructor at least ten years older than all of them it hit him a lot harder than he expected.

He should have told Carmel thanks, and goodbye, but he couldn’t drop his baggage on her, either, and couldn’t lie. He knew she’d be sitting on the small fenced porch tomorrow afternoon, looking to talk to him about the failure of the educational system for young children while she petted the black lab mix that was fatter, and lived better walking the student housing than most dogs with homes. Thinking of her juxtaposed that way, between the tweedy poser and the bright, tuned-in girl he knew, forced him to look deep for the phenomenon in the first years of college that killed romance. For what made intimacy a string of offhand, often leveraged sexual commerce one-hit wonders. Whatever it was, it seemed to be universal. With Deanna in England, probably doing the same things as his roomies, he’d seen all he needed to see and it was time to change scenery.

***

Jackson rolled into the east side of Vegas on Easter Sunday, and out the corner of his eye caught “Peeno Player Wanted” on the marquee of a shit-hole Turquoise and rust motel called the Sea Wind. He pulled a U-turn on the two lane asphalt and skidded into the parking lot. The same sign, on laminated pink construction paper, was stuck on the window of the motel office. He grabbed it, banged the bent aluminum framed screen door open and offered the sign to a swarthy bearded guy in a sweat stained white shirt who ignored it, and him.

“Peeno player is me.”

“Yeah?” He gave Jackson’s hair a frown. “When this was?”

“I tried it once. Liked it. It’s my destiny.”

“Funny guy. You know songs people like? Last guy want to be Elvis. All time with the rollin rockin and everybody is babb-ee babb-ee babb-ee.”

“I thought being Elvis was mandatory in Las Vegas.”

“Maybe, babb-ee.” He squinted a little tighter at Jackson. “Me? I don’t like so much.”

“This is your lucky day because I don’t sing or do sing along.”

“Is good day for you, too, funny hairy guy because I think I’m liking you more, now. You have better clothes?”

“Like yours?”

Swarthy man raised one eyebrow like he’d practiced it a thousand times. “Peeno player only. Everywhere in Vegas?” He swept a thick, hairy arm in a wide arc, leaned over the counter into Jackson’s face, “I can find asshole who wants to be comedian.”

Swarthy showed Jackson some gold dental work, snatched the sign away from him and stuffed it in a wire basket full of paper. “I show you the place.” He flipped up the hinged counter, grabbed Jackson’s shoulder and turned him around. “First. Don’t talk to the whores. They waste your time to stay inside better air conditioner when should be working. You want to fuck one you pay the same for a room as anybody. If you cheapskate on me don’t fuck in your car where customer can see or they all start to do it. Shit happens that way I go broke in big hurry.” He pointed out the piano in a dim corner of a bar lit with red bulbs. “No blowjobs from under piano. Last guy banged hooker’s head on bottom, cost twelve stitches and too much shit to me and too much talk to cops. Play what you want. Until customers ache their bellies to me and I fire you.” He turned, put a hairy finger almost on Jackson’s nose. “Don’t never play along with jukebox like Elvis guy.” He put on a pained face and silent scream and with both hands over his ears he tilted his head side to side. “Same shit different ways gives me headache,” he held his hands open wide around his head, “this fucking big.”

“When do I start?”

“When you put on long pants. And socks. You can wear bow tie, no shirt, I don’t care. But long pants. And socks.” Swarthy held out a foot clad in a black sock, encased in a Mexican Bazaar tire tread sandal that Jackson figured for a Sea Wind fashion statement.

“Right. Bow tie, long pants. Socks.”

“Good boy! Maybe you get hair cut sometime.” He lumbered back toward the office where two hookers stood in front of the door arguing over a room key that kept changing hands and left Jackson in the doorway between mildewed cool and the desert. From the Regent to the Sea Wind. But it wasn’t Taco Bell, and he wasn’t dead.

The Sea Wind sat right on the east edge of Vegas and the desert, so close the far north end of the parking lot faded into sand. It was a “plus tips” gig, and there weren’t many, and most of those were so he’d stop so someone could play the jukebox. The door was always open because the air conditioner was half-dead, flush the urinal in the men’s room and the plumbing groaned the soundtrack for The Exorcist and finished with a metal pipes thumping a Latin beat on sheetrock.

The housekeepers called it the Hot Wind, Jackson called it the Breaking Wind. The lobby smelled a little like vomit, the tiny casino smelled a lot like cat pee, and he learned there was a stabbing every weekend. Usually on Saturday night. Usually in the doorway to the lobby. Usually about somebody not paying somebody else for something they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. They wanted to charge him more to stay in a room than he was making, so for a week he slept in his car at the end of the lot where the sand started.

***

He drove around on his second Sunday in Vegas, looking for gas. He pulled into the Lucky Lady, an ancient gray brick obil station, because of the giant, metal sign featuring a Nineteen Forties cheesecake pin-up girl sitting on an oil can. He made friends with a guy named Michael who said he ran the ancient rust and cinder block station for his “lost inside his own mind Grampa.” They talked, drank a couple of almost frozen Nehi strawberry sodas from a cooler, moved on to beer.

Michael heard Jackson out, told him he could park his car inside and sleep in the service bay. Jackson took cold showers in the blue and white tiled men’s room with a garden hose and hosed it down when he was done. Every now and then at the Sea Wind he could get into a room before housekeeping and take a hot shower, even though he was a little leery of what might be living in the plumbing. He shaved in the ladies room at the Mobil because it had a real mirror instead of the piece of bent chrome in the men’s room that made him look like one of those pictures of a kid, or a dog, that was all nose. Michael’s hospitality was Spartan but manageable. He was a little older than Jackson and had his own heartbreak story, and he was the first person to ever cast doubt on Jackson’s manhood.

Michael popped the kitchen match to life with his thumbnail. “She just got tired of you, man. She didn’t want to hurt you, you know.” He lit the joint, hit it solid but not too deep. “Didn’t want to call you pencil dick or nothin’. You were probably just a crummy piece of ass, girl had to roam.”

Jackson hadn’t considered that. Didn’t want to, either. “Man, I’ve known girls who knew how to fuck. Crazy ass sex girls that ran me through the Kama Sutra and a couple of other books full of ideas. I never had any complaints before.”

“You ever ask her?”

“No.”

“Should have. Me, too, on that should have. We were engaged. She was a first-year third grade teacher, right here in Vegas. I came home and found a note on a Friday night sayin’ she’d run off with a textbook salesman from Baton Rouge.”

“If it’ll make you feel any better my dad used to say ‘There’s hell, and then there’s Houston. If the devil thinks you’re a miserable son of a bitch, there’s Louisiana.’”

“Never been anywhere but the desert myself. I hope she hates it. I used to hope he beat her, and if she came back? No more Mr. Nice Guy. But I couldn’t, you know, beat her or nothin’. Now I just hope she’s happy. Not too happy. Like his dick falls off and he can’t screw unhappy.”

“She tell you why she left, call you a pencil dick?”

“No. The note was the last of it.”

“‘Later, fool’ is a cold shot. You find a new girlfriend yet?”

“Nah. Hard to find one, even to have time to clean up and go lookin’. They got all the pussy, hold all the cards, man. Maybe Cinderella will pull in here one day, need a tank of unleaded and a self-service grease monkey.” He frowned, killed the joint between his thumb and middle finger. “Snowball’s chance in Vegas of that shit.”

***

Jackson couldn’t stop thinking about what Michael had said. Maybe he was useless, that way. Maybe if he’d tried some things on Deanna. Maybe some of what that girl welder and her Kama Sutra book and waterbed thought was fun, or some of Monica the waitress’s gymnastic sexual circus madness, Deanna might still be around. She made lots of noise all the time, though. The apartment neighbors would complain or beat on the wall, particularly on Sunday afternoons. Maybe it was just this Michael guy’s weed fucking with him. It didn’t work. He pulled the quilt out of his trunk, pulled out the bolt that held his passenger seat up, dropped it and passed out.

He dreamed fitfully of all the things he should have done with Deanna that she had someone else doing now. All of them laughing about him, how inept he was, what kind of pussy whipped idiot he’d been. She’d grabbed both sides of his face and pulled his head up. “Now,” she’d whispered through a kiss, before she pushed his face away to look at him. “Before I give you all of me, promise me you’ll love me forever. Please?” What a load of it.

At three in the morning he gave up on sleep, raised the service bay door and ran tepid water from the hose over his head. For lack of anything better to do he rotated his tires by hand under a sliver of moon that dared the puddles in the drive to last till morning.

THG 3 – Ch 12 – Boxer’s Punchbag

“Bluhhhhhh-uhhhhh…bluh hoo uhhh...” Deanna straddled the commode from the floor like a porcelain saddle, hugged the sides and stared at what been, only moments before, her attempt at breakfast. She dropped her forehead on the rim.

“You’ll not like the water either, love, but you need it.” Cat lifted Deanna’s head, handed her the plastic cup. Deanna rinsed her mouth, spit, felt her stomach churn.“You’re no good for a bit too much drink, are you?”

“No…I um…No. Not. I guess.”

“D’you like the way you’re feeling now?”

“No. No, no, no fucking noooo -ohhhhh shit.”

Cat waited for the heaves to stop. “You’ll go back to never on strong drink?”

“Yes…Whuh hoppen to me? My clothes?”

“Finish the water. Merriam will have that tale while you have the water back and I’ve gone for more.”

Merriam pulled Deanna’s hair out of her face, bunched it loosely on her neck and snapped a hair tie on it. “You were the party for some lads you’d just met, love, a game of kiss and grab. More rough than friendly.”

“That’s uhhh, uhhhhhhhh, UH…all?”

“You shouldn’t trouble yourself to remember. We’ll leave it as lesson learned, eh, and your drinking days are over.” Deanna re-gifted the water two more times before she managed to keep one down.

Merriam straightened, arched her shoulders in a stretch.“You’re on the mend. Cat’s gone to collect some soda biscuits and Seltzer tablets for you. We’ve the pink shite in the cabinet for later if you start out both ends. I’m off for a coffee. Can you manage alone for a bit?”

Deanna lifted her head off the rim, nodded once and put her head back down, heard the door close and lock. There was more to it than what they’d told her. She tried to remember and got as far as the first beer barf outside, and a toothy, shaggy guy in a green jacket and spayed on jeans, that was it. Buttons were missing from her jeans and blouse, her sweater was torn. There were scratches on her back from the table, the bruises and bite marks on her boobs and neck, her stomach and around her belt line. What the hell happened? Back in the kiss and squeeze summer from hell nothing like this had happened. Well, almost, but…Goddammit, no booze, ever? Was there no way for her to have fun except a hit off one of Jackson’s joints once in a while, that made her just as stupid minus the heaves?

Cat had cleaned her double tongue hooked both ways belt with alcohol, called it her life-saver and hung it on the coat rack. Had let her see her jeans, briefly, before she bagged them and threw in them in the bin. She did remember one of the bastards slapping her with his dick and had done something disgusting in her “lovely hair.” No matter what it was, it would never wash out.

She backed away from the toilet, rummaged in the “plasters and odd bits” drawer over her head and grabbed the first pair of scissors she found. Merriam’s pinking shears were heavy but she cut her hair where Merriam had loosely banded it, then held out handfuls between four and six inches long and cut along her knuckles. All the “lads” and their “pretty” bullshit. They could all go look for “pretty” somewhere else and fuck themselves on the way.

She stood, shook the hair from her hands, dropped her bathrobe and stepped inside the glass walls of the shower. Thank God for no tub. The last thing she wanted to do was stew in what they’d gotten on her. Their hot water came from a boiler in the basement, a shower could last for days. It couldn’t last long enough.

***

She knew how close she’d come when the bruises set in. Where they were, how they throbbed. Whoever he was, he’d hammered her. Ten days later, when it still hurt to pee, she climbed over the big mental fence between her and doctors of female anatomy and went to the infirmary.

Like always she was totally embarrassed to have a man, worse a youngish man, put her in the ankles-up chair and sit with his penlights and magnifying eyeglasses, investigating her bruised ‘girl stuff.’ The visit would go on her record and she’d probably have to explain this to every doctor she saw the rest of her life. She wanted back on the pill, she wanted to go home to her own doctor. She wanted a woman she could talk to while the cold, long handled mirrors investigated in silence so deep she could hear him breathe.

He pushed away, pulled the cover down over her knees with one hand and dumped his tools in a white towel lined enameled tray with the other.

“Badly bruised. You should heal normally, with some possible loss of sensation. That will be something only you can determine. And in time? None the worse, we hope.” He smiled a stiff, polished professional smile. “Leave off recreational use for at least a month. If a visit to the loo is still bothersome or painful in ten days, give us a visit.” He toed the small trash can open, peeled and tossed his exam gloves and the mask he’d been holding since he’d finished. “Whatever games you’re getting up to are dangerous, Miss Collings. No need to ruin the good bits to enjoy them. In that area less is often more.”

“I…It wasn’t on purpose. I almost got raped. Or maybe I did. Can you tell me?”

“There was no sign of tearing. No internal damage at all. More as if your labia and vicinity had been made a boxer’s punchbag. The avoidance of dangerous activities applies in any case, and you’d be well advised to take it easier in future.” He turned his back, started writing in her folder on his way out of the exam room. “You may dress.”

How many times was she going to try and make herself a statistic? Jackson wouldn’t even know what to say about this one. Getting her stupid on, being the drunk college girl he’d been warned about in that man school he went to. The stupid college girl he laughed about who woke up with the pussy that hurt and was ready to blame the band guys. Where was he? He had to surface sometime, he had to. He’d promised her when they were seventeen, and a promise was a promise. That night she found him in another dream where he was holding her close, kissing her ear, both of them drowning in a strange, cold, blue and white tiled shower that wouldn’t drain.

THG 3 – Ch 11 – Good Friday

Like Deanna’s first gymnastics class, like her first swim lesson from her brother, Cambridge was another lesson in “Jump!” Totally immersive, pray to land upright or come up for air. She didn’t have time to breathe. An overloaded schedule, overlapping classes. An average week could be between 800 and 1,200 pages, sometimes more. There were no weekends, only days where the food was different. There was no conversation with her classmates or flat mates about anything but what happened in class, was happening in class, what needed doing for class that could be put off and exchanged for sleep. Her personal life had come to a standstill except for the tapes she kept playing in her head of better times.

She’d discovered early that being belligerent or cocky or profane trying to direct the constantly present study advisers, study assistants, monitored discussion groups and peculiar, eccentric lecturers did no good. It wasted time none of them had and pissed everyone off. The only time she could manufacture for herself was when she ditched the inter-college weekend brunch bonding at Newnham. She studied then, too. Between classes and study sessions, between passing out and waking up she wished she’d hear more from Jackson than a rose and a cryptic note. It didn’t matter now how he’d been when she’d told him she was leaving, all that mattered was that he was still there. Maybe she had it coming, being ignored, maybe not. Yeah, it had been wrong, all of it, for a long time, and now every day it felt like what she’d paid for what she’d thrown herself into had come at too high a price.

Her letters from February had told him the truth of how she felt, sort of. And they begged, a lot, for him to understand and not abandon her. To wait for her. The memory of him had become her light at the end of the endless tunnel of Cambridge, his picture on her dresser her lighthouse in the cold, foggy nights.

Both of her letters to Jackson boomeranged back to her letter drop on the same day, Friday the thirteenth. Good Friday. Beat up, torn, dirty, unopened and unread. Undeliverable as Addressed, No Forwarding Order, Addressee Unknown.

After several minutes staring at the cold mist outside the window, the pain in her stomach doubled her over, her head banged on the table. She sat up, arched and leaned her head back against the pain in her stomach before she ransacked her purse for any folding money and ran outside in the drizzle wrapped 43 degree evening. No coat, no scarf. No hope. A perfect target.

She banged the door of “Little Red,” a small, bright red pub that had been stuck on the side of a building at the end of a block as an afterthought a hundred years ago. It’s real name was The Red Door, a nod to the die-hard Rolling Stones fan owner who hoped one day Mick Jagger would drop by and ask him to paint it black.

She walked to the bar hugging herself, dropped the wad of bills and pushed them at the stout, furry barman. “Beer.”

“I’ve one in six of a prop —”

“Strong. A strong one. A boiler whatsit.”

“Boilermaker for the Yank,” came from behind her. Deanna turned, saw a tallish rake handle thin guy. Ridiculously tight, pegged black jeans and and a deep green jacket. He was grinning. He raised his chin at the barman. “Go on, then,” he tilted his head at the wad of bills. “Her money’s good.”

Furry the Barman wiped out a glass, said, “You and that lot with you, take your brand of shit outside.”

“No, he’s right.” Deanna tapped her pile of notes. “Boilermaker. I remember now.”

“Mmm.” The barman pulled her a headless dark ale, splashed a shot glass full of whiskey, set them in front of her.

Deanna rarely drank. It wasn’t that she was opposed, she never developed a tolerance. She stared at the two glasses in front of her. “Jackson used to say I had a two beer projectile return policy. It came standard with anything I’d eaten the same day. Well…Fuck him.” She dropped the shot glass in the thick black ale, slammed it down, coughed and came close to bringing it back up.

“Again,” Green Jacket directed.

Barman eyed Green Jacket off. “Give that one time. As we’ve come to know, you and Cat are…connected, so —”

“Like Velcro.”

“Look,” Furry’s glare went hard, “keep your mates shut or all of you, get out.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Green jacket waved his crew outside.

Barman scooped the beer glass, wiped up the beer displaced by the shot glass. “Maybe you should call her? Yeah? Cat? Get her around –”

“No.” She smacked the pile of bills. “Another. Please?”

“Take your money and go home.” Looking past her he’d taken note of Green Jacket’s sneer. “While you can still walk and find it.”

“Be a mate, Percy. Give her what she wants.” Deanna turned, Green Jacket’s grin was more expansive. Or maybe…The glasses were in front of her again, the beer  short to accommodate the shot glass. She slammed it with less effort and only a slight coughing fit. One more and head spinning she went outside to give them all back to the mist slicked street. Green Jacket and friends watched her stagger and barf and stagger and handed her a bottled beer. Two more bottles appeared and they egged her on to drink and keep them down.

They assisted by heaving her up on the lone picnic table on the tiny pub patio. One held her head down with one hand so she had to choke the beer barf back or drown in it, flailed his dick across her face, in her “lovely” hair with his other. One on either side pulled her sweater and bra up, held her torso down, kissed and bit her in crosshatch motions like eating corn on the cob, another fumbled with her belt while Green Jacket laughed, offered commentary, told her how it would be better for everyone if she’d just calm down. The one on her belt had given up kissing her stomach and pulling her belt with his teeth, pulled his hand from where he’d been randomly squeezing between her legs like what was inside her jeans was a gripe exerciser, and tried to pin her thighs to the end of the table with his elbows while he worked her belt with his hands.

She drunkenly kicked at him and burbled out “no” between bursts of choking beer barf. The two on her upper body laughed and dodged it, Green Jacket upped the pacing to a nervous dance around her, drinking from one bottle and holding another.

“Are ya always this much fun at a party, love? Ohhhh ho, not another.” He’d dodge, laugh and pinch her nose when she coughed up beer.

“Will ya have a shit an’ a piss for us as well, eh?” Green Jacket pinched her nose again, poured more beer down her, all over her face, laughed louder when it came foaming out her nose when he released it.

“Get her bloody belt off, you clumsy fuck.” He poured the end of the beer in her face, hoping more beer might slow her down, or make his drunken friend more agile. “Come on, mate, I want a bit of a scream before she goes.” He handed his remaining beer to the left tit man and reached in to help with the narrow, double tongue belt that was impeding access to what he was after.

***

Cat and Merriam arrived at the flat, found their door unlocked, the returned letters and the contents of Deanna’s purse scattered on the table and floor, her coat still on the rack. Merriam checked her watch, hunched back into the coat she had started to shed.

“Half an hour or less since the post, Cat. These,” she held up the letters, “never made it to the lad on the dresser.”

“We didn’t take her to raise, Meri. She’s not the first or the —”

“No, but if it was one of us she’d come along at a run.”

Cat leaned her head back, stared at the ceiling for a long five seconds. “Get her coat. The Red Door’s all she knows of where to drown a sorrow.” She shrugged back into her coat as well. “Couldn’t have had a mathematician instead of a dreamy-eyed poet, could we.”

They heard the noise from the patio when they rounded the corner, Cat stepped through the metal gate, pepper spray blazing. The party director and his clumsy, hard humping belt klutz and the tit man facing them took the worst of it. They all bolted, screaming, arms over their faces.

With the party boys gone Deanna convulsed onto her side heaving and wheezing. They pulled a her up to seated on the darkened table, yanked her bra and sweater down, arranged their contents as best they could while dodging whatever she was draining from her nose and spitting out. The top button on her jeans was gone, her double tongue belt still intact. It took them a few minutes to find her missing shoe.

Merriam swiped a fistful of paper towels across Deanna’s waist, ran them across the belt line of her jeans. “Look at the bloody mess of her.”

“The belt’s what saved her, him at it that way Couldn’t get to it so in or out he was having his.” Cat made a face, lifted Deanna’s shirt tail with the tips of a finger and thumb. “It’s still all over her belt, her belly. Was it out, did you see?”

“I wasn’t having a look for it but the mess says it was.” Merriam dropped the wad of paper, kicked it away, grabbed another from the table top dispenser she’d found on the ground while looking for the shoe. “I saw the lad was on her other end tucking as he ran.”

“Tempest on the trousers then for the one down here. Lucky for her he couldn’t think through two things at once with his little head. Give us a hand, love.” They each grabbed an arm, slid Deanna off the table and onto her feet. “That’s the girl, up we go. Mind your feet, Deeeee…Oh bloody hell…I’d stay out from in front of her, Merriam.”

THG 3- Ch 10 – Minor Epiphanies

Albuquerque, New Mexico / Thursday February 15, 1979

The Taco Bell sat up on a hillside not far from the University of New Mexico. Jackson gauged the steepness of the hill  and landed on indecision. Six weeks ago he would have popped the clutch, hit the hill hard and hoped all of his wheels came off the ground Smokey and the Bandit style when he cleared the top, landed, drifted and stopped before he hit the retaining wall. All he could see now was his car on its top, sliding back down the hill. He wasn’t alone. The lot was empty except for two Jeeps. The Taco Bell was in overflow, the street so jammed he had to park a block away.

He tried to shake off five weeks in the desert where he’d babbled to the wind before he’d moved up to horses and a big, solemn Navajo. He took a deep breath let it go in a low, slow whoosh. He’d managed to re-acclimate to reality but his social skills were in tatters and there was no place else for him to sit. He could pace around with the plastic cover on his enchirito getting steamy all day or drop into the one vacant chair in front of him, beside her. Long, straight brown hair. A lot of thin abalone, silver and turquoise bracelets and a big leather purse. And an enchirito. He dropped.

“No place else. Sorry.”

“You’re fine.” He smelled like soap, had on goofy moccasins and put out a spacey vibe, didn’t really look at her. She offered him a friendly on the cool side smile. “As long as you watch your elbows, Geronimo.”

“I do a better Tonto. Less pressure, you know?” He thumbed the lid off the enchirito and slid it under the bottom. “‘Yes, Kemosabe. Me go get horses, put out campfire’. No hero stuff required.”

She laughed. “Careful. This is Tonto Central. You must not be from —” She stopped, watched him dip his spork slowly into the enchirito, turn it in measured half-circles, each lower than the turn before until it was loaded to perfection, last turn in the cheesy sauce picking up an olive slice. She continued to watch, transfixed, as the spork traveled in slow motion to his mouth, none of it getting on the beard he needed to shape or get rid of.

“Religious experience?”

“Had one of those.” His eyes and enigmatic smile were momentarily a thousand miles away, the spork suspended in mid air. “Been living in a hogan, doing some work for a Navajo guy. Coffee, fry bread and tamales. Beans once in a while. This is manna.”

“You seriously think God gave Moses enchiritos?”

His second perfectly loaded spork blew into his tray. She immediately reached out with a handful of paper napkins and wiped it down, caught the question in his eyebrows.

“Habit. Student teaching. Primary. They stuck me in kindergarten. None of them can eat without it ending in disaster.” She reached out for round two of the cleanup. “You’re not the usual muttering vision quest vagabond type we get around here. You flunk out, lose your compass and your razor at the same time?”

“I flunked advanced girlfriend. She went to England, I took a drive.” He rubbed the beard he’d forgotten about. “I was supposed to be in school a month ago.” He lifted the reloaded spork around her stewardship of his mess.

“Took a drive?”

“Looking for Los Angeles. I turned right at Albuquerque and got lost for a month, my survival cash got hijacked. Now I need to hang for awhile. Find a job, make some traveling money.”

“Where’re you staying?”

“I just got back a couple of days ago. I can keep doing the cheap motel till I get a job or run out of money. Then I’ll —”

She dropped a roll of papers on the table, slipped the green rubber band off and flattened them into a short stack of Xeroxed ads.

ROOMMATE WANTED
Private Patio Home – Near Campus
Rent Only – Bills Paid
Personal Hygiene a MUST
UNM Preferred

He tapped the address at the bottom like it meant something. “Nice idea, but I’m more U of nowhere headed for USC.”

“Yeah. But you’re clean and not too weird and we eat the same. People call me crazy but I accept things like you landing next to me as minor epiphanies.”

The spork stalled mid flight, he nodded agreement. “I get that.”

“Good. One other girl and a guy and no weirdness ‘cause nobody’s screwing anybody. There’s two guys, actually, but one of them owns the house and he’s never there.” She turned his way, her elbow on the table. “He works construction. Sometimes.” She made the universal for crazy finger rotating by her head move. “He wants to write acid head mysteries. Like Castaneda meets Miss Marple? We pay for his house, he eats ‘shrooms and disappears for a couple of weeks. There are mountains of notebooks in the garage.”

The spork stalled again, his head turned so he could see her. “You read any of it?”

“I tried. It reads like what I think happened to you when you turned right in Quirky the first time and missed USC.”

“Maybe it’s contagious. I’d feel better if it was.”

“Don’t get high on that feeling. It’s more like stupid. The best time to say ‘no’ isn’t the next time.” She stood. “If you’re following me I…We can go to the house and I don’t have to hang these posters.”

“Sure you don’t want to audition more weirdos?”

“Seen one, seen ‘em all, right?” She held out her hand. “Carmel. Or Mel. Or Lita. Don’t ever call me Karma. Education and Philosophy.”

“You have a handful, I have one.” He took her offered hand, light squeeze. “Jackson. Front or back, either way. Story if you want it.”

“Later.” She smiled, shook her hair and picked up a key ring that had at least fifteen keys and a long, fringe-y leather thing with turquoise and silver beads hanging from it. “Lucky for me today was one and done. Génene, the other girl? She has a test tomorrow. What do you know about transportation economics?”

“Nothing.”

“You’ll be an expert by this time tomorrow.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Look at me. I student teach five-year-olds. Last week I learned all about container metrics and Inland Marine insurance and more other kinds of useless information than I thought existed. I can’t believe people get into doing shit like that for a living. What about you?”

“I’m a musician.”

“Yeah?” She raised an eyebrow, shrugged her purse up. “I really can’t believe people try to do that shit for a living.”

***

Jackson moved in, shook hands with the house and got parked on the sofa bed in the living room. The construction worker slash acid casualty mystery writer was on the way out, heard musician and hung around for Jackson to teach him the signature intro to “Light My Fire” on an old Lowrey home organ with pearlized plastic switches and a built in duck farts and click clacks drum machine. The process and patience netted Jackson a Lawrence Welk “Here’s a nice-a waltz” sweeping theater organ rendition of “Foxy Lady” and a sizable stack of unworn clothes, close to his size. Gifts, he learned, from several of Mystical Agatha Christie’s unpopular former girlfriends who all wanted him out of overalls. And to try shirts with sleeves. The girlfriends nor their plans had taken. Their style choices of wheat and chocolate brown doubleknit “jeans” and shiny nylon pimp shirts weren’t a hit with Jackson, either, but to avoid a “karmic shift from refused treasure offerings” he waited a couple of days after Mystical Agatha disappeared before he threw them in an unsupervised Goodwill donation bin.

Jackson found his feet going from desert to town and quickly discovered that That Girl reruns and daytime TV would send his mind straight back to mush. He moved to paging through Mystical Agatha’s notebooks packed with the adventures of a sexually androgynous witch who got high, fought mythical demons and the forces of evil across rivers of time and reincarnation karma debts looking for clues to murders in the here and now. Unfortunately every time it got interesting the pages would fill up with crooked arrows and crazy hieroglyphics and sentences full of words that were letters strung together. And some of it, when it made sense, was way too big a stretch. Because Jackson had been there, and Mystic Agatha’s acid casualty flying lizards and witchy sword fights were nothing compared to the cosmic debris field Jackson had stepped off into. It wasn’t tidy. Or simple. Or anything as child’s play as good and evil sword fighting across eons.

By day eight, in a town full of real Mexican food, but a long-standing hatred for legitimate restaurant gigs, he drove back to the Taco Bell on the hill and got a simple job. Where he deliberately manufactured screw up orders that he carefully wrapped, set aside and diverted to his car on their way to the dumpster and fed them to his roommates when he got home.

***

The house was truly collegiate communal, internally platonic, and laid back smooth. When Jackson wasn’t at work he polished the skills that lapsed during Deanna’s fadeout. Hair dryer holder, study helper, essay proof reader. All things that helped bring him back from the edge.

Most nights they’d sit in the living room on or around Jackson’s iron-bar-in-the-middle bed-couch, pass a long, thin leprechaun pipe while they studied and talked everything from psychology, ancient literature, economics, history, political science and lip service revolution with a soundtrack of mostly late Seventies ballad-slop rock. Weekends Carmel would grill chicken, hand it off and he’d make huge versions of Mom Jean’s chicken salad with the big green peppers that were everywhere and in everything. And on occasion he got to hang out, talk, maybe burn one with and be nice to what his otherwise intelligent female roommates thought passed for a decent guy to sleep with. An equational process he would never understand.