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.

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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.

THG 3 – Ch 9 – Johnson

This chapter was used as a short and originally posted here:

Or in the event the embedded link fails, here –

https://philh52.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/the-roommate/

THG 3- Ch 8 – White Buffalo

Talk about draft – I caught myself in the middle of a bunch of tell not show placeholders here. Any thoughts on what’s superfluous will be openly considered. 

Punting on the River Cam Back College / Sunday February 11, 1979

“Fuck off.” Cat’s glare wasn’t anything to ignore. But the asshole who’d rammed their punt was well drunk and shirtless, in February. His three friends were at least as drunk but opted for rugby striped polos and beanies.

“Fuck off yourself.” He shifted his gaze and leer to Deanna. “You’re the new one at Newnham. From the States. Everyone’s on about you. A looker and a brain.” He adopted a sculptural poetic muse, one arm across his chest, the other hand under his chin, face tilted up. “So fair her skin rivals the Queen’s China…Her hair…a tousled frame for eyes and lips that call my name —”

“She said fuck off. So just do it, asshole. Fuck. Off.” Deanna was too tired to get fiery, but totally able to be really, really pissed. Her wet, muddy punting pole hit just behind his knees, from the back by way of the side, and he crumpled onto his friends.

“Bitch…” The laughter from the boat subsided. “It was a fucking joke…” The loud bumper-car punter stayed splayed on his friends, in spite of their shoving, briskly rubbed the back of his leg. “What the fuck…” the laughter kicked back in when he stood, “You hate men or what?”

“Since you asked, yes. We’re lesbians. Very lesbian.” She tried to channel Amanda and Alix. “And very devoted.”

Cat’s face went blank, but without giveaway. Deanna had stepped down into the punt to swat the guy and it was yawing back and forth, her feet spread did no good to steady it.

“Todger dodgers!” the guy yelled, holding his punt staff between his legs. “All for naught no matter what you’ve got!” He had found a cheering section from the other punts, from the bank and a nearby bridge. “Drown like the cats you are!” He bumped Deanna and Cat’s punt again, hard, and Deanna went in the River Cam face first, lengthways, to explosions of laughter from the gallery. When she pulled herself up the punt’s side Cat kissed her, quickly, resisted the urge to spit and helped her back in the punt before she gave the shirtless punter the two fingered salute.

“Here.” Cat pulled her coat and wrapped it around Deanna. “Pull everything under topside”

“I can’t move around in here enough to —”

“Take it off. We’ll not have a pneumonia patient to deal with on top of all the other shit you bring on when you’re healthy.”

“But —”

Off.”

Deanna shed the coat, pulled her sweater, shirt, undershirt and bra over her head in a single, wet mass. The cheers went up again, followed by boos as she wriggled her way back into Cat’s coat. Cat, in stone silence, poled them back to the hire where her punt-by-the month resided.

The roller crew dragged Cat’s boat up, she signed form that disappeared with the roller crew. “I usually go for a drink, after.” She looked at Deanna’s shivering legs flip water from her jeans like a wet spaniel, put a finger on her lips. “The trousers could go as well.” The finger tilted toward Deanna. “The coat’s twice long enough.”

“Jesus, Cat. Maybe for y’all’s Twiggy, Fifteen years ago. So no way. Dealing with that, that, complete drunk shitspeck and all of that American Girl junk like I’m some kind of exotic prize, some magical white fucking buffalo, and the cold river, and I’m cold, so no. Just no. I thought I got rid of all that a long time ago.”

“Could I have my coat back, then?” Cat chuckled to herself, watched Deanna walk away.

“Godammit…” Deanna’s breath fogged while she talked over her shoulder, hands jabbed deep in the borrowed coat’s pockets. “Wasn’t flashing half of Cambridge and making us lesbians enough for one day?”

A thin smile crossed Cat’s face. “I suppose.” Under her breath she mumbled. “All we need is Merriam up to her mischief with Uncle Johnson when we arrive and it more than will be.”

***

Turning gay, even superficially, was the blessing Deanna had sought for breathing room from the gender game distractions under a crushing academic load. She could study and do her work. Be a lifeless, academic automaton. There were still the study advisors, study supervisors, study groups. Study. Day in and day out. Too busy to notice she was lonely. And beside the gay punting on the Cam day it seemed like it was going to rain, off and on, forever.

In rare moments of inactivity she’d feel the cold drafts of loneliness, colder even that the one by the kitchen sink. She knew she’d beaten the guy bullshit in high school with Jackson. He had been so perfect, she’d been so googly eye brain dead nutso for him since the A&W lunch and never quite got around to telling him that. Most of it, yeah, but not the googly eyed nutso. Now he was gone. Not outside or downstairs in his apartment gone, or playing in some awful restaurant or bar somewhere, or on his way home from a class or a practice room, or even in a fine arts studio with his neighbor the scarf wrapped dance major whore Audrey. He was gone. Unfindable gone. Along with the heart no one said she had without him. Well, that wasn’t true, exactly. Her heart was there, it was just, well…What would he think if he really knew she had sold him a lie…

Well, maybe she had made a giant head in her ass episode when she left him out of her decision, pushed him out of her life. Because her last college marathon, the one getting to Cambridge, was nothing compared to Cambridge kicking her “academic marathon stratagy” into the Olympics realm. She could use a warm leg to put her feet on, a leg attached to someone who could read her mind, listen, take her out of it for a Sunday afternoon and make it stop for awhile.

She’d tried it in a study group on the guy from Australia who was too young for the crinkles around his puppy dog eyes, but a week later two girls in their group had Syph. He claimed he got from the cosmetic counter girl at Boots, so he was out for good. Spending half an hour washing her feet didn’t help. Fucking creep. One of the girls had a boyfriend, off on a geology mountain scraping trip. What would he think? No wonder Jax thought her vacation escapades were “jive on the order of politics.”

***

On two consecutive sleep deprived mornings she wrote Jackson letters. One asking him to wait for her. To wait and let her explain everything, polite and apologetic. The other demanded he wait. It was full of sexy innuendo, for her, and hopefully seductive. Both mailed on the same day. The Post Office could find him. Her dad had said nobody could hide from the IRS or the Post Office.

Amanda was gone, too. That lady, God…She’d been more like her mother sometimes than her own. She was strong. Smart. Decisive. Beautiful and fearless and a real lesbian but who cares and major sailor mouth. Everything Deanna wished she was, except a lesbian, and she had and now might never be. Well, potty mouth she had in the bag, but the rest?

They’d walked or shown her the door just because she couldn’t let them know who she was? They knew, they had to. She just wanted to be better. The best, because that would erase it all, wouldn’t it? Didn’t they understand?
They were always pushing her to open up and she didn’t want to, ever, about all that. The only person she’d talked to about it, who understood, was dead. So what was their real problem? So she didn’t tell anybody about some things. She was just going to school, they could get over it. So they canceled a few things. So what? And no heart? Hot girl flunky? They were so full of it. Everything would be fine when she got home. They’d see.

The rain came again and stayed. Even the raindrops and rivulets that ran down the old windows like on her first almost date with Jax had company. Three years started to look like a long time…A loooooong time.

***

West Central New Mexico / Monday February 12, 1979

Jackson worked with Tony two days shy of a month. The evening he took off Tony gave him a heavy woven coat that was too small but fit Jackson like his pajama tux, a pair of fur-lined moccasins his aunt had given him that might have fit Tony when he was twelve but fit Jackson fine, and a hundred dollars folded around what looked like an over-sized business card.

Jackson pulled the card out of the bills, held it up.

“Found it in your pocket when I picked you up. It’s an English-ized Navajo prayer. You must have talked to one of the old Navajo women who makes them or the nun who gives them to walking casualties like you were.” He paused, looked at his recovering friend. “Before you were done for conversation and flat on your face breathing sand. You think you’re past seeing white buffalo?”

“Yeah.” Jackson chased that with a sardonic smile, stuffed the bills and the prayer card in his used-to-be-madras-covered wallet with the only other things in it, his one picture of Deanna and an about to expire driver’s license.

“Tell me again where you end up, star gazer?”

“Where the interstate hits the ocean by fall. I’m accepted probationary at USC until I get the rest of my transcripts in. Those places like test scores, they don’t care who I am.”

“Hardly anyone does these days. L.A. huh? Stay put a minute.” Tony disappeared into the hogan and came out with an address written on the back of a gas receipt, passed it through Jackson’s passenger window. “My daughter. Name’s Opie. She’s with her mother out there around L.A. Someplace called Ontario, but not Canada. If you see her, tell her that her dad worries about her.”

“I’ll try, man. And I mean it, about the money.”

“If you mean it, I’ll see it. If you don’t, that’s our story. Between the stripes, little brother.” He looked off down the rutted dirt road with a small snort. “Best stay in the ruts till you get to where they are.”

Jackson bent down to look out the passenger window. “You saved my life, Tony. Thanks. For real.”

“Don’t make me regret it.” Tony popped the top of Jackson’s car with his open hand and watched him roll away, kicking up a little dust in the New Mexico twilight.

Tony hadn’t had a beer since he’d put Jackson in his truck up in Taos. It was strange he hadn’t wanted one since. Almost every night, on horseback and bundled up against the cold, he and the kid would ride out under the big New Mexico sky. Tony would tell him the Navajo stories his grandfather had made him learn, and Jackson would tell him what woman of the wind had shown him in the desert outside of Taos. Tony looked up, thought about counting Jackson’s stars, but it was still early. They had wondered together on the cloudless nights what the Angels might all be watching on television that lit up their living rooms. He lifted his blanket and saddle off the porch, whistled for a horse. He was going to miss the kid. Spacey little fucker.

***

Deanna’s flat  / Valentine’s Day, 1979

Deanna walked in out of the rain and before her coat was off her flat mates indicated she’d gotten a delivery, it was in her room. More sweaters from mom? No, mom was still maximum pissed. Another Miami Dolphins jersey from her loser brother who couldn’t have gone to help out the Niners? She opened the door to a single red rose in a small, delicate light blue floral Victorian-ish vase, listing to the right on top of her dresser. A transcribed message in a clean, longhand script on the standard florist’s card from FTD was tied around the neck of the vase with a thin, red ribbon.

D,
Rose is for Valentine’s one. Missed CA enrollment deadline. I’m a New Mexican mess. New Messican? Florist cards too small. Next year has to be better. Hope you’re OK. – J

Deanna held the card for a long time before she took it to the kitchen to pin to the wall she and her flat mates used for a bulletin board. She hadn’t been there long enough to clutter it with new memories. The rose was unexpected, but he’d said they had five Valentine’s, let him know by then or before, and now in just over a month the first one was gone. She’d called her mom collect last week. Mom said Jax’s mom didn’t know where he was, didn’t know if he had a forwarding order on the apartment. All anyone knew was he’d called his mother from a pay phone in the desert somewhere a couple of weeks ago. A New Messican. Come on, Jax…

She stared at the nearly empty wall. The card was small but it would help. When she felt the pin push into the plaster she realized that in the midst of all her anger and defiance and justifications she’d missed the fact that her left-behind world wasn’t going to stay orderly, stashed like old pictures in a box that she could open when she returned to show them all what she’d done without them.

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.”