The Hot Girl III – Special Instance Backstory 2.5

Someone posted recently about “can you write on demand?” I answered “yes” because as a professional in another industry I have known editors and performance critics and art directors who throw things out, or back, with the expectation that something “creative” will be done, or enhanced, by their feedback. Since I was young. Two Hundred years ago. There was no followup to flowers in the sink. But LP posed a question of sorts, that made sense. Loose ends. Talk about draft mode…

Jackson’s Apartment – Wednesday, February 15, 1978

Jackson opened the door of his apartment, found Deanna studying in the same chair as always at his fake slate topped dining table, only she was behind a vase full of crazily arranged yesterday’s sink toss flowers and a stack of three books. Plus an open one and an open notebook, all facing the right direction to be used and useful.

“Card’s on the bed, Jax. Sorry.” She pushed her glasses up into a hair band for her wet hair. “I came back and fixed the flowers last night. Once a year, you know?” She tapped the vase with her pencil. “I don’t do very good. Where’d you go?”

“The city.” The vase got a glance and very tight smile. Deanna perpetuated her mom’s ‘no dead flowers except Valentine’s and anniversaries’ rule, only without Mom Jean’s eye for composition. “I dropped a load at Next Time Around. Went to Glenn’s. He made me smoke something with a name that sounded like a Mexican resort, then made me listen to Reggae all night like I’d never heard it and didn’t know how easy the guitar solos were until I passed out on the couch. I woke up with a cat that Stacey talked him into keeping rubbing its ass on my nose, bashed my leg on his coffee table, beat the speed trap south of town and made it to my eight-thirty.” He checked the clock on the stove. “Two-forty and everything still smells like cat butt, mixed with shampoo.”

“He didn’t make you do anything.” She closed a book and notebook, opened another of each. “Why do you hang out with people like that?”

“Glenn’s okay. You don’t like him, but Stacey does. Now that he’s finally got his accounting degree.” He rubbed his eyes, yawned. “She’ll be a VP at Morisé when Amanda finally puts all her Dad’s shit in one bucket. Amanda likes him, too, so he can’t be that bad.”

“He is that bad, they just can’t see it. He’s way older than you are, and he may be an accountant, like finally after forever, but he’s still that fake-y charm guitar player guy he always has been. And you could say ‘when Amanda completes her father’s partnership acquisitions’, not when her dad’s shit’s in a bucket.”

“He’s eight years older than we are. The same age as Stacey and Amber and Bev.” He pulled his sweater over his head, sniffed it, backhanded it into the bedroom. “How about, ‘Little and much will change, my love, quand la merde est réunie, oui’?”

“You do that to everybody, Jax. Yesterday I was stealing your stuff in a country song and now you’re making up fake French like Alix said something about shit in a bucket. She wouldn’t do that. Alix is like a legal and business genius who went to five or six colleges in four countries. And lady geniuses don’t talk like that. Really, they don’t.” She absently tapped a women’s world lit anthology without looking at it. “I know.”

“What she said, in French, was ‘when the shit is joined together, yes?’ If cussing is the barricade against genius you’re sunk down here in Dumbassville with the rest of us, D.” He laughed, headed for the bedroom, pulled off his t-shirt on the way. “I need a shower. How long have you been out?”

“A while. Asshole.” She leaned over the table, tried to follow him with her eyes. “Aren’t you going to read your card first?”

“It waited a day. It can wait till I don’t stink.” He knew she wanted to throw something, grab her books and slam the door again but she was entrenched in her studies, with wet hair, in one of his shirts and probably nothing else. He’d take a shower, bust on her for re-using the only Valentine’s card she’d ever bought him with an added line, and he’d ask why, and she’d say she couldn’t buy him cards “because, alright?” Happy recycled Valentine’s Day. Yesterday. Sorry.

If this Wednesday turned out like all the Wednesday’s lately, Deanna would take over his bathroom for half an hour bitching and dialing in her hair and be in her advisor’s office from four-thirty until the regally tall, twig thin, nasally, outright hostile distaste for him Dr. ‘Cruella DeVille’ Eckden cut her loose, starved, at almost ten. Deanna, her head full of whatever they were putting together, would drive past the Feathers and Fins drive-through, walk in the door of his apartment, drop her books on the floor, fall on the couch and tell him what an angel he’d be if he’d go get her a chicken sandwich, no mayo or mustard or any of that. From Feathers and Fins.

He’d go. Get a fish sandwich for himself and some extra fries, stop at the 7-11 on the way back and buy a nearly frozen beer from the pink, bulbous blonde woman who talked with an accent full of “echhh” and “awkkk” like she was trying to clear a wad of snot from her throat. He stuck his hand in the shower to check the temp. Still cold. Dammit, D‘A while’? Three minutes? He dropped his forehead into the crook of the arm that held him to the wall, the wet hand dripped cold water on his foot. What had fucking happened?

 

 

 

The Hot Girl III – Backstory 2

The Date Header will tell you this is three years downstream from the last one. Deanna and Jackson are living together in college, with two apartments. Raise your hand if you’ve been there. Deanna has grown, but feels caged by who she wants to be and the perceived control exerted over her by her mentors and even her boyfriend. All of whom are as confused as she is. Welcome to the 1970s.

October 4th, 1977

Deanna licked the big brown envelope full of papers, including a forged letter of recommendation from Amanda Morisé, on October fourth. She drove to the post office and watched as they put the express postage for England on it that she paid for with change from the over-sized mason jar on Jackson’s kitchen counter. Followed the envelope with her eyes and bit the tip of her tongue when the clerk tossed it offhandedly into the international bin.

“It’ll be okay, right?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I mean that address is kind of weird. You know where it is and everything? Even in England?”

“Yes ma’am. England has been doing this longer than we have.” The post office lady swept the last of the counted change into her drawer.

“Well, they forget stuff. Like who built Stonehenge and all that. And that was enough, you know, to make it sure it gets there by the fourteenth?”

“Yes ma’am.” The counter lady dusted her hands from the change counting. “Plenty enough.”

Deanna stood, nervously chewing her lower lip, unable to leave the counter.
“Sure? I mean it. Really. Cross your heart?”

Counter lady gave Deanna a “beat it, little girl” look and said, “Next in line, please.”

November 2nd, 1977 – C.A. Morisé

A letter from the office of Student Records, Newnham College, Cambridge University arrived in the mail bin at Seventeen Hundred Oilman’s Bank Tower, addressed to Celeste A. Morisé. Amanda had never gone by Celeste as far as anyone knew, and never touched mail outside of legal, project management or finance that a department head hadn’t found worthy of her attention. The intern working in Public Relations and Marketing made a judgement call and pencil punched her boss’s extension.

“Hey, Stace. Cambridge wants to know if Ms. Morisé really knows Collings.”

“Cambridge, as in Ye Old-y-ier than moss and Collings as in Deanna?”

“Yeah, her. Deanna Christine, Not D.C., not Diva, not Bit —”

“Valerie?”

“‘Check the box and sign for verification. Please update your Alumni profile.’”

“Sounds like something Amanda set up. Check it, signature stamp it, pull Amanda’s latest headshot and bio. Send them a slick, not a Xerox. Impress them, overnight it. ”

November 11th, 1977

Another letter with English postage landed in Deanna’s flimsy apartment complex mailbox with her Cambridge conditions enclosed. Cambridge wouldn’t accept Deanna’s accumulated credit hours as transfer, but as a distinguished and generous alumnus had given her a reference letter, as well as many of her professors, and with consideration of her excellent academic and public service service and performance thus far, if she wanted a first undergraduate with Cambridge on it she could obtain an affiliate student second under-graduate degree in two years or less with summer terms and working her ass off. She could then apply for specialized Masters of Philosophy degrees that ran full time nine month terms. She needed to graduate where she was before any of those conditions were valid. Which meant that she had to graduate by the middle of her junior year.

Already a full semester plus five hours ahead, she would meet with her professors, take exactly what she needed and whatever fluff she could get away with for elective hours. Her speech presentations at the national academic level carried a lot of weight, and the horny congressman she’d met at one of them would have his cute but uninterested aide write her a letter. And all the other people she’d met on the academic presentation circuit would write her more letters. Her counselor had said she knew a way to make those speeches and presentations eat up more credit hours on paper. She crossed her fingers. She’d start on Cambridge’s conditions in January of her sophomore year, a week after her annual vacation with her parents ended. She dove headfirst into academic Supergirl and tuned everyone out, including Jackson, unless she needed them for something.

It became evident to everyone involved in the inner circle of the “it could and should be a women’s world” presentations by D.C. Collings that the D.C. Collings project had hit a wall. Deanna refused to spend time on research and only spit out well formed, perfunctory, passionless essays from material fed to her by Amanda and Alix, then proofed and assembled by Stacey. If they were they foolish enough to suggest an edit she argued with them like changing a word would throw the planet off its axis. Because done was done, she had other things on her mind. And the threat of going mega bitch kept them out of her way.

Except for Jackson, who claimed to be genetically mega-bitch proof and still rehearsed her like it mattered. If she tried to hide he’d find her. She’d scream at him when he stopped her, made her think about what she was doing, and he’d open the door while they waited for the cops because the old lady across the hall would call them every time. Deanna would finally acquiesce because Jackson might be an asshole for doing it, but when they were done she got that incredible high she always got when he’d helped her find the center of her voice.

Otherwise it didn’t matter that she had no life. Jackson had been a total asshole since the scuba instructor incident after Christmas their freshman year, and just shut her out after she’d set off the fire alarm to escape a porn loving perv masquerading as a ski instructor’s “fuck shack.” The timing couldn’t have been better, really. No extended “boyfriend” duties except sex when she felt like it. He helped her study and took care of her daily reality details and played on weekends while they passed each other in his apartment like strangers and she built her stacks of credit hours.

***

Jackson’s apartment, Tuesday, Valentine’s Day 1978

Deanna had daydreamed her way through most of the day. The latest letter from Cambridge agreed to her academic plan, asked her to please submita  final semester schedule when available, Newnham College was looking forward to being her new scholastic home. She heard Jackson unlock the door and panicked. Valentine’s Day. No card. She dropped a medium sized anthology on top of the Cambridge envelope and pretended to read.

Jackson tossed a card on the round, fake woodgrain Formica table in the “dining nook” of his rented-it-furnished, one-bedroom college apartment. The card skidded under an upside down open book Deanna was pretending to read that partially covered a manila envelope.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.” He set the wet waxed paper cone wrap full of flowers beside her. “You never take a vase to your place so you can pull one you like from under the sink. That a good book?”

“Mmm hmm. Multiplicity. English Renaissance.”

“Cool. ‘For thee watch I, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,
From me far off, with others all too near.’

“Where did you get that?”

“Willy’s Sonnet Sixty-one. I go to college, too.” He tapped his temple with his index finger. “Reminded me of your vacations, so I stored it.” He leaned against the kitchen counter, folded his arms. “Are you going to tell me where you’re going, what’s going on? Or will it be like some country song where I wake up one morning with a hangover and you and my truck and my stereo and my dog are gone?”

“Nothing is ‘going on.’ You shouldn’t quote Shakespeare out of context and then make up things about me stealing stuff in some gross country song. Anyway, I don’t understand your stereo and you don’t have a truck or a dog. I told you, the ski instructor was a horny old man and I had no idea that his idea of training films were really gross porn. And all of your shit about the huge bed I told you about is way old. Old, old. He was showing me his house, that’s all. At first, anyway. That bed was so cool, Jax, and I thought if you had one we…Never mind.”

“Must have been a pretty ‘hot’ bed. That ‘tour’ cost your dad two hundred bucks for you setting off a false fire alarm.”

“Shut up. They shouldn’t have done that. That asshole tried to show me butt sex movies instead of skiing movies and I couldn’t get out and I was scared and that was the only way. Can I study now? Please?”

“I heard it helps if you turn your glasses over if you want to read an upside down book.”

He took two steps, reached out, yanked on the Pier One beaded curtain that separated the “dining nook” from the “living area” and it came down, brought the staples he’d put it up with and bits of popcorn ceiling with it.

“Dammit, Jax. What was that all about?”

“About time.”

“You’re being really stupid. About what time?”

“About time to take this place back to neutral. Too much of me in here.”

“It’s your apartment, Jackson.”

“Yeah? Tell me again why you have one?”

“Why are you being such a dick? I really need to study. Keeping my apartment keeps mom out of my shit. You know that, so, okay?”

He stuffed the beaded curtain in a paper bag, rolled the top down. “I thought it was so you had someplace to go when all the secrets and lies start stinking this place up like forgotten broccoli.”

“Fuck. You.” She slapped the upside down book closed, picked it up along with her unopened card and her letter, threw her empty Seven-Up can at the sink. “It wasn’t my fault, alright? I’ve told you a hundred times, I didn’t go to his stupid ‘fuck shack’ to be his little ‘fuck bunny’ no matter what you think or say. He was supposed to teach me how to ski. Ski. S-K-I. That’s all. I didn’t know about the rest. Thanks for fucking up another afternoon with all that.” She slammed his door behind her.

“Forgot your flowers.” He leaned against the kitchen counter, heels of his hands on the counter top. He hadn’t said a word about the horn dog ski instructor until she decided that was the conversation they were having. It didn’t matter. She would have picked one from the half dozen or so she had banked instead of having one of any consequence. He tossed her flowers in the sink beside the green can, pushed the stopper down and ran some water in the sink. If they were still there in the morning he’d toss them.

In just over an hour he’d pulled all of his posters and tapestries and gathered up all of his other college guy junk off the walls, shelves and counters of his apartment, rolled and rubber banded or folded them and tossed them in the trunk of his car. The hippie chick at the used jeans and old hippie funk place in the city could sell them again. To somebody just like he’d been. A guy who thought he knew who he was, and knew what he thought was funny or important, what kind of music he liked. Who knew what he wanted to be just before he grew up a little and found out it wasn’t a fairy tale after all, and nobody really gave a shit one way or the other. Including the girl who was supposed to.

Mescaline Blue – 2 -Baby, You are Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And?”

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

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

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

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

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

“There it is.”

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

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

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

“Will there be a room for that?”

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

“Pool table?”

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

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

“Sir? Where are you going?”

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

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

Mescaline Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Phone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #7

Personal Accountability and THG III

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Chungwipff makes a good point about using WordPress for personal accountability in the comments of Adieu For Now.  A point I had mislaid somewhere in the Social Media wasteland. Create something. Put it up. Own it. Do it again. Forget what anyone else is doing, or not doing, or how what you do is received. Give it your best shot, be accountable to yourself. Get out of your own way, write your story. Your way. My Mantra had gone walkabout. Thank you, Chungwipff.

I bailed on my personal accountability based on what I perceived as a landscape largely without a threshold knob for the noise floor. No gate/expander, wide open. Foolishness, vagaries, rampant narcissism. Which are none of my damn business. I control the threshold of my personal noise gate. I hereby revoke my tantrum and resultant self-exile. I do not revoke my opinion(s) on the root cause. This started as a methodology for personal creative accountability, and so it continues. Nothing else matters.

I have been guilty of accusing others of things I once tried. Looking for the equation, the silver bullet that would make me a “writer.” I once took a Tony Hillerman novel apart. Because they read like glass and drop you right into the environment without travelogue. How much scene vs. dialogue vs. narration vs. internal dialogue. Seriously. I bark at people now because it was a waste of time. Timing of events for formula writing is important. The rest is all storytelling. I was fortunate enough that my father was friends with Tony’s father. He was older than my dad. My dad, like me, hung around places he wanted to be with his hobby. I turned my hanging into a career. My dad made side money. As a photographer and short story writer. Saturdays we’d go downtown and hang out at Hillerman’s Photography. When he had a large job, like team pictures, my dad would borrow the Hillerman drum dryer for his prints. Tony the author, a man who taught English in missionary schools for Native Americans and in Mexico, said there was no secret. He sat down in a room with his characters and an idea for a story, and off they went. He committed little hash to the page, and then he came back with wax on – wax off. He wrote a story, did the work. No magic. Except, I think, for listening to his own stories.

There is no Silver Bullet. There are formulas. For arcs, for story driving events. But there is no substitute for a well drawn yarn. What sets the really good like Hillerman and Vonnegut and Steinbeck and Hiassen and King, David Foster Wallace, and true genius like Virginia Wolff apart is their stories. And their style. Perhaps there are only X number of conflicts and plots. But stories? Stories are everything, and they deserve our best shot. Stories and their telling deserve our respect because they are a gift. Not everyone has the mindset to escape, to dream, to see the mirage that is an untold story. Respect your stories. Your loss if you don’t. All I’m sayin’.

THG III

Starting in a day or two, I will begin publishing The Hot Girl III – Cambridge. It is draft mode. I cranked it out and it has languished on my hard drive for three years. Once upon a time there was an editor who knew an editor who thought it was a good idea. Both of them are dead. Must have been a killer idea.

Unless you beta read The Hot Girl, you don’t know these people, and this is the only synopsis/player scorecard you’ll see –

The Hot Girl is a social commentary fairy tale. Feminism, gender role confusion and rock n roll from the late Seventies through the mid-Eigthies. A bit like the taming of the shrew, who doesn’t need taming along with self-discovery, the perception of abuse, coming of age, true love and destiny all wrapped in fairy tale.

For starters, two star crossed kids, like any good fairy tale. Angry ex cheerleader (Deanna) looking for a cause and Rock n Roll Prince Charming (Jackson), looking for a Princess. Deanna hears someone describe Jackson’s mother, before she knows the woman is his mother, as “An elegant hell in high heels.” And sets out to discover feminism, because elegant hell in high heels sounds like the best gig since head cheerleader turned out to be a bust. But she’s at a superficial level. Until Jackson introduces her to a pair of rich, over educated lesbian feminist fairy godmothers, Amanda and Alix Morisé, who can be found here. The Morisé’s own a huge real estate development company inherited from Amanda’s father. They run their empire from the 17th floor of an office building in middle America. 1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower. And more than anything, they want women’s issues front and center, and they need a cheerleader. No one better qualified than an a very attractive, angry high school ex-cheerleader and overachiever with man issues, a sterling academic record and a temper. How Amanda meets Jackson in The Hot Girl I is an exercise in feminism kicking sexism’s ass, and listening to a woman. Deanna wants to know a real feminist, and Jackson, reluctantly, introduces them.

Think of a classic like Captain Blood. I wanted to write that, in different context, only I always wanted to know what the girl was up to while Errol Flynn was off pirating. I asked some women and they told me they didn’t know, but they’d be damned if she sat in her room reading poetry, sniffing roses and pining away while the non Pirate Prince Charmings of the world plied her with party invitations and gifts and scams and offers of wedding rings.

Some of THG is already up here, as short story. Here they will be presented in context. If you meet someone you don’t know, don’t worry, they won’t bite. Just climb in and take the ride.

THG III begins several years into Jackson and Deanna’s relationship and who she has become with his help. She is tired, again, of being told what to do. Tired of her mistakes in personal judgement dulling the sheen of her brilliant performances on the academic debate circuit where she takes feminism and throws it straight into the face of patriarchal strongholds and comes out with medals for both skill and humanitarianism. I will drop us all into what I call the “between narrative.” Between the bliss of young love and the glow of success, her mentor’s frustrations, and her need to run. Stay tuned.

Personal Accountability – Defined

I read an interview with Jeff Beck. He was asked why it takes a while between records.

“I’m the sort of bloke that’s like a ton of bricks, you know? I won’t be moved until I hear something that really sends me up in the air, then I’ll be around pestering everybody, playing for them. I can’t see the point in putting out an album, kidding yourself that it’s great, if you don’t believe it. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing—and then you can take all the crummy reports that are going to come, and you can say, ‘Well, sod you, I like it.’ And that’s the main thing.”

Fried Hog Poop – No Charge For The Fold

Another “The Hot Girl -part 3” writing exercise casualty. Dialogue vs Narrative for backstory. Investment Alert – Long Read- almost 3k. Coffee or wine may be required.

Las Vegas – Mid-Summer 1979

Jackson unbuttoned the top button of his collarless shirt and tried to clear his head of the endless piano bar requests for “After the Love Has Gone” before he stepped out the back door of the hotel kitchen with a couple of waiters. One male, one female, the three of them on their daily post-lunch-rush burn one and chill in the heat retreat.

The girl, Missy, was close to his age. Everyone called the guy Five-Oh because he dyed his hair, combed two-thirds of it back in a duck’s butt to cover the tanned or spray painted bald spot, left the front hanging greasy like Jack Lord from Hawaii Five-O. He could have been thirty or sixty. His sun spotted hands looked ancient covered in wiry, salt and pepper hair and they shook, wide and slow like a lazy blues vibrato when he passed the flat joints he carried in his wallet. He was weird, too thin and jumpy, probably a speed freak, but he knew somebody who grew killer, lime green hydroponic weed and he was loose with it.

Missy was too thin herself, wouldn’t talk to anyone but her customers. After her shift she changed into the same long, hippie-print tapestry skirt and a slightly dingy white, cap sleeve t-shirt, hit the joint with them and headed out the alley and west on foot. After a week of everything he said to her running into a wall, Jackson followed her. It felt like she was going to walk them to where the west side of Vegas met the desert if he didn’t stop her.

He caught up at an intersection, pulled out the first conversation starter he could find. “Nice bracelet. Indian?”

“I knew you were back there, space man. I missed the ‘walk’ light on purpose and waited up so we could bale this and stack it in the barn. I don’t need a boyfriend or a new savior or a better job or a better way or better sex or Avon or Amway or the New York City Sunday paper or anything you’re selling. Leave me alone.”

“I asked about the bracelet.” It was thin leather covered) in beads and more of a cuff, almost like lightweight Indian biker wear, and laced on with orange yarn.

“Indian, yeah. I don’t know what kind. It was wide enough for what I needed, and the bead pattern was cool.” He thought she was going to bite a hole in her lip. “I lace it on and forget it. Thanks for caring. Gotta go.” She took off across the street without the walk light, dodged a couple of cars and kept on west. He watched for a minute, jogged in the heat all the way back to his car and drove west on Flamingo. He crossed under the interstate, saw her a quarter mile ahead. He rolled up in front of her, stopped and got out.

“This is stupid. Missy’s not your name, nobody’s really named Missy and nobody in Vegas nicked you with it.”

“I’m not from Vegas and it’s not your problem, is it?”

“I’m from bale it and put in the barn country myself. You don’t talk through your nose, and Missy is still bullshit.” He could see her frustration with him ramping up.

“Do you get away with this, wherever you’re from, talking to girls like we need to talk back and telling us it’s bullshit if we don’t? I told you —”

“You didn’t tell me anything, it’s hot as hell and you aren’t walking like you’re going anywhere. You can ride in the back with the tire iron like the last girl that got in my car, but get off your feet and outta the heat, tell me where you need to go.” They stared at each other for a few seconds. He drummed on the top of his car with his fingers while she fidgeted with the leather cuff. “Hey, I liked that one. Feet, heat.” She still wasn’t sold, but she let a quick, faint smile get out. He was gaining ground.

“What, now you’re some kind of prairie poet or something? I heard twang. Texas? Not tin can enough to be Okie.”

“Okie born and raised. But I’ve spent a lot of time getting it out of my nose and down into a drawl.”

“You’re not there yet.” She gave up another faint smile, crawled into the back seat. “Wow, baa-ad. The air conditioner in this thing works!”

He pulled away from the curb, had no choice but silence since his radio had been stolen, idled them out Flamingo in third.

“Nice hole you have in your dash.” She opened his back window a crack, lit a long, white filtered cigarette and blew “Kansas” out with the smoke.

“No Kansas without a tape player.”

“Me, you Okie clown. I’m from Kansas. Though where I lived? I could almost throw a rock and hit Oklahoma if I wanted.”

In the mirror he watched her make a face while she leaned, twisted, pulled a seatbelt buckle out from under her backside. “Now I’m living across town the other way in a runaway shelter, so you aren’t taking me ‘home’ anywhere around here, if that was your big ‘help Missy out’ idea.”

“Little old for that shelter, aren’t you? Twenty-two?”

She slapped the side of his headrest. “Good guess! Twenty-three. Twenty-four in August. They don’t check ID there, I don’t do hard drugs, and I wash my face with Noxzema to keep up my girlish looks. There’s girls in there not even fourteen look a lot worse than me. I hate the place, but it’s not coed, so it’s safe. Horny mixed up chicks I can handle. It’s horny, mixed up dudes I can do without.”

He checked her taking his temperature over that in the rear-view. “I’m starving. The no feed us rule at work sucks.”

“So does the food, space man. So really it’s like a benefit, you know? Them not feeding us.” She continued to watch him, his eyes keeping time between the road and her in the mirror. “They weigh that shit is why we don’t get to eat it. Every ticket gets a weight and they check it once a week to see who’s skimming. They even weigh those pans under the counter where they throw the fuckups away. The Mafia runs a way tighter ship than the Navy, that’s for sure.” She let the smoke and her mind drift a little, ashed her cig out the window. “I don’t eat much so it doesn’t matter to me. I walk all afternoon, drink a lot of water. My car’s broken, so I walk back to the shelter after dinner shift. They usually have some kind of chunks in macaroni. It’s slimy, but nice of them. And it keeps me from blowing away. But me and food. It’s just…” She watched the smoke curl, dropped the butt out the window, sighed and stared after it.

“I live on this end of town,” Jackson said to the mirror. “Out where they’re building houses. Not many restaurants yet. Not much of anything yet but apartments, stick framed houses not getting finished. The economy is what I heard. I was going to fix something easy. You can bring the lug wrench in with you.”

“You’re not dangerous, I picked up on that. Okie weird, maybe. I’ll come in ‘cause it’s hot, but I’m just gonna watch.”

***

Jackson made quickie stir fried rice with two Uncle Ben’s boil-in-bags, a bag of frozen veg, a couple of scrambled eggs and pepper. He set two bowls on the counter, grabbed Tabasco and soy sauce from the fridge. He splashed a bowl with some of both, forked the rice, shrugged approval. “I gotta do some laundry this afternoon.” He pointed to the main bedroom with his fork. “There’s all kinds of robes in the front bedroom. Take the tire iron when you’re done with the rice, toss your clothes out. No charge for the fold.”

All she could do was snort with her mouth full because he’d let that go without seeing it as a fantastic jest. “I can’t get stuck out here looking at a dinner shift with no clothes and some crazy Okie weirdo who hates radio. It’s not ever going to happen.” She spooned some more of the rice, shot the bowl of it with a generous dose of soy sauce and took it to the big front bedroom, yelled for him from inside. He ambled in with his bowl, watched her through the open double door on the closet while she slowly fanned through several dozen silk robes on plush hangers. She held a simple, long pink one under her chin, took three steps sideways to the full length mirror and whistled soft and low.

“Wowzer…” She hit the light switch that handled the atmospheric indirects, not the overhead “work” lights. “Will you look at that…How the hell do you live here on the piano bar, space man?” She leaned forward, slowly turning her head to take it all in. “Just being in this bathroom has to be a sin. What’s with all the clothes?” She caught a glimpse of both of them in the wall to wall mirror, blushed. “And the perfume and all these lotions and make up?”

“Office supplies.”

“Yeah?” She hung the robe on a brass hook by the door, gave it a loving pat. “Too much. Too-oo much.” He followed her back to the kitchen where she went straight to the skillet and spooned the remainder of his simple chef Chinese into her bowl.

“I’m only eating because this is the first time any man has ever cooked for me. And I can’t let that one get by, you know? Truly. Never happened before.” She talked around a mouth full of rice and veg, gestured with her bowl. “This could be a bowl of fried hog poop, but knowing a man cooked it for me makes it great, whatever it is.” She swallowed the last of her rice and veg, balled up her paper napkin and dropped it in the bowl. “Seriously. Lay it out, space man. What’s up with the bathroom and the silk robes and everything?”

“This place belongs to seven non-affiliated, free lance hookers. They rented the place right after it was built because it was in the furthest out burbs, no one is looking for hookers out here, and they don’t do business or live in the apartment. They pull up, come inside and prep, walk out dressed up in expensive, real world clothes, climb back in their cars and hit their appointments. Town and Johns are east, desert and construction are west, they live wherever they live. I make sandwiches or omelets, do their laundry, keep the place clean, gas up their cars, glue heels back on shoes, fix stuff. C’mere.”  He set their bowls in the sink, tossed their napkins in a can under it and walked her back into the master bath in the front bedroom.

“See that?” Jackson pointed through the glass surround on a garden tub at a shiny brass shower head the size of a dinner plate. “I put that in for them last week. A hundred and twenty bucks, no shit. From Italy, I think. That paddle thing on the side goes all the way around. From standing in the rain to that little circle of holes in the middle that will beat your ass. It’s —”

She pushed him out of the room and locked the door. Less than a minute later her clothes flew out and the door locked again.

He waited until he heard the bathwater stop before starting the load of hooker office wear and Missy’s clothes. He sat on the couch and watched a video tape of a guy with a foreign accent explain beginner guitar and music theory. He couldn’t keep up with the guy on guitar, yet, but it was good for his brain to stay on top of even simple theory. And the only other tape, the sensual massage lesson, would have primed him to climb, uninvited, into the bathtub with his nameless guest.

***

“Massey, not Missy? Ferguson? Like the tractor?” He leaned his head on the back of the couch in mock shock. “Jesus. Alice Chalmers would at least have been more chick sounding.”

“Hey,” she kicked him on the shin with a bare foot, “there’s nothing wrong with Massey. I just stay away from all of that except for government forms because I have to tell it all, like now. I only told you ’cause nobody else has cooked for me or washed my clothes since mama died.” She pulled he robe tighter, eyed him for a moment with hopeful intensity. “Tell me you didn’t do it ‘cause you’re a panty sniffer, space man. I could use a friend.”

“I only sniff to check for clean or dirty.” He grinned, held up the red can. “More Coke?”

“No. I like to crunch the ice chunks that still have some taste of it. I’ve never, ever seen anybody beat up ice with a hammer before.”

“I don’t like cubes. Don’t know why, just never have. My mom indulged me, so it’s a habit now. When did your mom die?”

“When my dad ran over her with a combine ‘cause she was fucking Nueller down in the air conditioned garage of the Esso. I was twelve then? Yeah, twelve, and just a couple of days before it happened my brother’d pulled a shotgun on dad when he went off on mom, told him not to touch her again, ever. I didn’t blame her when it all came out. Dad’s about a pig and a fucking half. Fat, drunk mostly, showers when he remembers. Nueller was always shiny clean, smelled like Old Spice even on a hot day, always had a crease in his pants and was fucking every woman in three or four counties in two states who had a guy like dad for a husband.”

“Nice work if you can get it.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Not really. He’s dead now, too, Nueller is. The man who owned the Ford lot from over in Anthony waited for him to step out from behind the pumps and ran him down. He was going about twenty-five, nailed Nuellie with the dead center of a brand-new Ford. Backed up over him, ran over him some more. The paper said Nueller was smiling. The Ford lot man’s wife looked a lot like Marilyn Monroe, some kind of hot girl everybody said. I didn’t know her. Nueller probably thought it was her coming for him, not her husband. Happy to dead. Boom.” She covered her knees again with the slippery, oversized pink silk robe. She went thoughtful for a moment, set her glass of ice on the coffee table, looked at him and was surprised he was listening.

“I guess that’s the best way to go, you know, looking forward to something. Mama was miserable and said all the time she only stayed for me. I know she had to have heard that combine, had to know what was coming, and didn’t try to run or anything. Miserable to dead. Boom.” She pulled the sleeve of the robe down over her left wrist where the wide, beaded Indian bracelet lived when she wasn’t fresh out of the tub. “I think that’s why I’m still here. Some days I feel too miserable to die. If I get happy someday? Lightning will strike me, I know it.”

Jackson pulled the sleeve back, looked at all the small, white scars on her wrist. Nothing deadly, just knicks. Manifested frustration. He got up, set his Coke can on the counter. She turned, chin in the crook of her arm, watched him unload the clothes from a dryer in a closet by the kitchen.

“The Indian bracelet you like? I only got it because it stops me. I know it’s crazy, but sometimes I’ll even pinch myself with a roach clip if I’m bummed. I’m right-handed and if I tried any of that with my left hand I’m so retarded I’d cut my arm off. I really sort of need my right one or I couldn’t do anything and then I’d be more miserable and not dead.”

“Cutting your arm off might be a good start on dead.” He dumped the basket of dryer friendly panties, teddies, slips, nothing but lace and hooks bras, a couple of nylon halter top with hot pants onesies along with Massey’s clothes on the big, square coffee table and started sorting. He was almost done, folded her panties, dropped them on top of her skirt and t-shirt.

“How’d you know?”

He held up a small piece of v-shaped lace draped over his finger and her tired at the seams tiger-striped bikinis, raised his eyebrows. He also held up what had once been a bra and was now a lot of stringy elastic and shapeless nylon and cotton. “Your bra is shot. You oughta toss it.”

“And wear what?”

“Go liberated or get in the top drawer in the big bedroom. Probably forty in there. Two of the ladies are about your size. Find one you like that fits. They’ll never miss it, and if they do I’ll tell them the dryer ate it.”

She came back dressed, with an obviously lacy bra under the t-shirt. “You’re a weird sort of guy, space man. You cook a little, do laundry like a Chinaman. You’ll look at my legs and show me the shower but not to make me feel creeped. Where’d you learn to be a house boy?”

“Lived with a girl who failed home-ec. The rest was mom went to work. Simple survival.”

“Same here on the survival. Only my mama was murdered and he got away with it.”

Meyers – Like a Violinist

She pulled the curtain back, watched him as he walked away. Slowly. So slowly in the fog. What a wonderful man.

The fog. Everywhere. Always. She’d given up blaming the staff for smearing her glasses. That was the look of it. Vaseline. On the lens of her life. He’d said it was the medication. That was when his sadness came. Kind. Sad. Strong. Enough to carry the sadness. And so kind. Had she said that? They said he’d visited before, but…The fog…

She glimpsed her finger. The curtain. How the white bloomed in the fog when the lights were up. He’d held her fingers. Four. Her thumb dropped away. The dead sister she’d joked. He hadn’t laughed. Why not? What did he know the fog kept away? He knew her fingers…

Fine fingers. Long. He’d known a violinist with fine, long fingers. She had the fingers of an artist, he’d said. A neurosurgeon. Harpsichordist. Potter. He checked her nails. Another one obsessed with her nails…

***

Fine, long fingers, he’d said. Like a violinist. Daddy wouldn’t hear of it. NO! Sausage is a living, Daddy said. Sausage is my life! Sausage is the life for you!

Life? For me? No! I could be…Her fine, long fingers. Daddy! There is no music in kneading fresh, ground death…Fresh. Ground. Daddy? Death had to be fresh for sausage. No violin. No potter’s wheel. Fresh death. Sausage…

Fresh. When the ‘fridge died, the sausage died, and everyone knew her sausage had gone off. My sausage! Daddy!

Sausage is death, Daddy…Death is sausage.

***

Uniforms and labcoats. Not my nails! Her hands. Plastic bags. Tape. NO! Her nails. Her lovely, long, blood red…NO!

They’d scattered for him then. And he sat with her. Calm. He seemed. Sad. Kind. Meyers, is it? He’d nodded. Waited.

Please, Meyers? He’d held her hands. Firm. Warm. Kind. She remembered that about him always. Kindness. Firm. Warm. While the labcoats and their scissors….Lovely, long fingers don’t need long red nails. Like a violinist, he’d said…

***

Detective Myers? Describe as best you can within the boundaries of good taste –

Good taste? They were fresh! Until –

Madam, please

Victims. Disemboweled.

By these?

Oh God…Her lovely, long, red, nails…They had them. Bagged like Cheetos bound for a lunch box.

Sharp as scalpels, he’d told them.

How could they be otherwise? Daddy preached. Dull is Dangerous. Daddy. Sharp. Piercing the thin, abdominal wall. Intestines. Fresh. Intestines were the key.

How long?

Her nails or the intestines?

Laughter and the gavel.

Long enough, he’d said.

He understood. Little ones were useless. Nails. And intestines. But to hold them? Let them drape through her fingers while they pulsed? The smell. Tasting the air, what they’d become…Fresh was the magic of good sausage.

Wine. Spices. Onions…an exquisite composition…almost orchestral in design

How delightful it sounded when he said it! What a wonderful man…

Detective Myers this is a court of law. We’ve no need of culinary instruction –

Human Andouillette? Detective Myers – You find the ‘sausage of death’ appropriate? Judge would you instruct –

Leave him, fool! He knows sausage. It’s all in the intestine. The big one. Where the shit lives. Like the French, not bastardized –

Madam! No more!

Victim’s DNA was found among this ‘orchestrally exquisite’ assortment of spice and vegetables that you were led to by a strong fecal – Yes, ‘fecal’, please, Detective Meyers, not –

Say shit, you worm! Go on. Say it! Shit! The best bags of doom reek of it! Shit! And death! He knows. Tell them, Myers! How fabulously pungent it was! Organic. Single sourced! Tell them, Meyers! Tell. Them!

Remove her…

her…

her…

her…

***

He was gone. Slipped too far into the fog. She smiled, released the curtain, slowly gyrated her hands. Fine, long fingers. Proper clipped nails. Befitting a lady, she’d said. He’d smiled then, held them. Cold against his warmth until she felt them glow. Like a violinist, he’d said. Not a butcher. Meyers understood.

She spread her fingers. Long, wide. Like a violinist. What a wonderful man.

God Bless the Child

Harper dropped into a stool at the late-night-empty bar in JG’s Pub. The white shirt with tails out under his unbuttoned vest bartender was lost in space listening to Pandora Jacuzzi jazz while he pretended to clean a spotless back bar. Harper almost hated to bring him back. Almost.

“Hey, man.” He waited for the easy greeting to land. “You still have those badass onion rings?”

“Yeah. Same old black woman comes in early every morning when no one’s here.” He hadn’t turned away from the back bar. “Makes her own batter like it’s some kind of NASA secret. With my beer. Cuts the onions too fat. They’re usually gone after lunch.” He glanced up at the clock and over to Harper. “We still got some time to kill on a dead Wednesday night. I’ll go look for you.” He stopped about two thirds of the way down the bar. “Beer?”

“Negra Modelo. Ice cold, no glass.”

The beer slid down the bar and stopped in front of Harper just before the bartender banged through the flapping, spring loaded kitchen doors. A minute later he banged back, wiped the water and ice bits trail from the Modelo off the bar on his way.

“Found some. Dropped them in the fryer for you. Kinda late in the day for rings, bro.”

“Yeah, well…Women. Never a good time, you know?”

“Hell yeah, I know. Everything with a dick and a heartbeat knows.” Open vest and tails out measured Harper for possible pity-me or breakdown potential conversation, couldn’t find any of either. “Not sure what onion rings have to do with that.”

“She’d eat them. Most of them. Like I wasn’t paying attention. All loaded with peppered up ketchup…”

“I get it. Habits. Things you did together. I can’t do carousels. Same reason, mostly.”

“That might be a good thing. Grown men could get arrested riding too many carousels.”

The bartender snorted. “Man, the carousel thing? Goes back a looooong ways. High school long ways.”

“Yeah? Same with the rings. Not that I haven’t eaten my share since then. Ghosts shouldn’t keep you from eating onion rings.” Harper took a long pull on the beer that was so cold it made his teeth scream and scrunched up his face. “I guess we all keep those memory casualties in a jar somewhere, in here.” He tapped the side of his head with his index finger. “Like whatever those things are they bury memories in.”

The bartender knitted his brows, put his hands on the bar.

“Coffins?”

“No, no. Not those. The cans they can dig up with old newspapers and records and –”

“Time capsules?”

“There it is. You dig them up and you think, well, that now maybe you have all the answers about what you’ve kept in that capsule thing. The people. The times. But since you buried it you find out you’ve invented all kinds of shit about everything in there. Built yourself castles out of pieces of dreams.” Harper looked up, found the bartender’s face. “In truth? There they are, real people. With a million stories of their own. But they’re locked up. All that life shit, locked up inside them, just as bad as the time capsule. And here you are, you know, looking for a key to unlock either one and let them out.”

“You talkin’ the pucker-butt people? Because I see enough of that shit every day. Sold off their kid selves and the grownup dreams fucked them?”

“Nope. Talkin’ about the ones who forgot the fairy tale goes on and on, even after the dragons and the pirates and being shipwrecked and heartbroken all left them for dead on a desert island. It’s on and on, man. Till it’s done.”

“They had a choice, bro. Sounds like ‘Little Pink Houses’ advice.” He leaned against the back bar, folded his arms. “You’re on the wrong damn side of the bar for that. Besides, what you’re sayin’? Could be almost everybody.”

“It doesn’t have to be.” A high school kid in a dirty apron set the plate of rings and a ketchup bottle in front of Harper like he was the biggest piece of shit in his universe for getting a dish and the fryer dirty this close to closing, huffed off and banged back through the kitchen doors.

The bartender frowned in the direction of the kitchen, shoved his towel in a glass, set it on the back bar. “So you’re saying ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ has an extra verse nobody’s heard?”

“Like that, yeah. The dragons go on, good and bad. Sometimes you have to put on Sinatra even if you know it’ll make you cry.” Harper deferred on the steaming rings, lazily turned his beer bottle on the bar. “You got Sinatra on Pandora or whatever you’re piping through here?”

“Sinatra’s on the jukebox. That’s my gimmick for this place, jazz standards on the box. If nobody plays it then the overhead shifts back to random shit jazz on Pandora.”

Harper walked over to the fake digital Seeburg, pulled a dollar from the front pocket of his jeans, fed it and punched some buttons.

The bartender waited for him to get comfortable on the stool again. “Choice. Except You’re flyin’ solo, bro. Nobody here for you to dance with.”

“I brought a few ghosts with me.” Harper dunked a fat onion ring in a mound of ketchup, took a bite. “You have any pepper?”

The bartender rolled the lights down to where the table candles that hadn’t died yet, under bar lights and the neon jukebox were all that lit the room. A pepper shaker appeared in his hand from somewhere, landed on the bar with a knowing nod. “God bless the child that’s got his own,” he said.

“Pepper?”

“Ghosts.”

Bobby B – Gator Bait

Carrie Louise screamed a split second before the shotgun blast. Birds exploded from the cypress canopy, the surface of the water boiled with leaping frogs, crickets, surprised fish and a lone gator. The sound and accompanying activity rolled away across the bayou in an expanding halo. Bobby couldn’t look down where he hoped his feet still were, saw the look of sheer panic in Carrie Louise’s eyes, steeled himself and waited for the blast from the second barrel. CL was shaking so hard she couldn’t pull the hammer back. Bobby took a second, glanced down to see the snake that had dropped into the boat from the tree branches overhead slither through the new hole in his dad’s old, flat bottom swamp skiff. CL screamed bloody murder again when she couldn’t make the sawed-off shotgun work, started to launch it into the swamp after the snake when Bobby snatched it away.

The silence in the aftermath bordered on church-like except for the soft gurgle of the swamp slowly filling the boat.

“Dayum, girl.”

“Dayum yourself, Bobby B.” CL, white as a ghost, held her legs out straight in front of her above the encroaching water, narrowed her eyes. “It was a, a…A snake. You saw it. I…And…You know how much I hate fuh, fuh, snakes.”

“Do for a fact.” He wiggled his feet to prove they were still there, whistled softly. “Dayyy-um.”

Bobby had no idea how deep the water was, but he dumped what had drifted into his dad’s waders, pulled them on and tied a knot in the shoulder straps while the boat slowly settled toward the water line. Carrie Louise cussed a blue streak of randomly constructed profanity under her breath, her heels now resting on the rusty oarlocks, the water closing in on her cutoffs.

He stepped out into water waist-deep on his average to a little tall, twelve-year-old frame, let the breath he’d been holding go. His dad’s waders were up to his chin, so unless a snake slopped over the top they were good. He sloshed the few steps to Carrie Louise.

“When I turn around, climb on my shoulders. Baby style, not piggyback.” He handed back the shotgun. “You see a gator, CL? Or another snake? Holler and let me shoot. Got it?”

“Okay. But you can’t drop me in, in there. In this…You can’t.” She looked over her shoulder in the direction the snake had taken off, climbed on his shoulders. She wrapped her arms around his forehead, her legs tucked under his arms, heels almost touching the base of his neck. “How far is it?”

“As far as it is.”

“Big help. Do NOT drop me.” She shivered involuntarily. “Please.”

“No need to get all polite, CL. You have the shotgun.”

Bobby took a minute to get his bearings, knowing how his dad was gonna raise all sorts of hell about the trolling motor. Once dad knew he could find it and the water wasn’t very deep they’d be back to get the motor, take it home, dry it out and rebuild it on the garage floor. He’d rebuild it, dad would drink beer and give bad advice, mom would put some vodka in her iced coffee or tea and read the latest and greatest from the library where she worked. And pretend to watch them like she cared while whatever was in the oven turned black.

***

Carrie Louise climbed off his shoulders on to dry ground and started screaming again when Bobby waded out. Another snake had hitched a ride, its fangs embedded in the thick rubber heel of the waders. Bobby saw CL point the shotgun at his foot and screamed with her. She shoved the shotgun into his chest, took off down the finger of two-lane ruts that cut through the swamp. Bobby picked up the shotgun, put the barrel against the snake’s head and pushed until the snake lost its grip and recoiled away. He had one shell in the sawed-off swamp boat gun, and he might need it for more than a snake dumb enough to hit waders.

***

Sheriff Sheridan Wylie, a little overweight in a uniform and life vest that fit a couple of years ago, swung Terrebonne Parish Swamp Patrol Boat number 2 alongside the finger of dry land and waited for the two stragglers in the shimmering heat haze headed his way, a .40 caliber pistol, safety off, behind his back.

“Well, I do declare. Carrie Louise Roche and Bobby Buisson. You might crack that shotgun open and hand it to me, young Mister Bobby. Go a looooong ways toward keepin’ my blood pressure under control.”

“Yes sir.” Bobby broke the sawed-off open, offered it butt first. “Sorry.”

“Think nothin’ of it.” Wylie took the sawed-off, holstered his pistol. “What’s a coupla lethal weapons between friends? Now, y’know, when I got the call about two kids with a shotgun wandering the Mauvais Bois, I thought maybe I had me some lost poachers or the next Bonnie and Clyde. Hell no, ain’t nothin’ to it but Houma’s own double trouble.”

The Sheriff unloaded both shells from the shotgun, dropped them in his life vest pocket, set the shotgun on top of the instrument and radio cluster. “You can give that sawed off I don’t know is the wrong side of legal back to your daddy after I’ve carried you two home. And you done told me about the spent shell.”

He helped them step off into the boat, handed them both life vests. Bobby told him about CL and snakes and the new hole in his dad’s old skiff while they cinched themselves into the vests. The sheriff and Bobby laughed, Carrie Louise moped. Satisfied with their vests Sheriff Wylie idled the boat around and out into the swamp in no kind of hurry.

“Either a you two been gone long enough anybody’d be worried? No? Best news I’ve had all day.” He squeezed the trigger on the mic. “Wylie. Armed poachers turned into a shallow water equipment failure rescue. No casualties, no prisoners, no medical required. Swamp rats name of Buisson and Roche need deliverin’. May take me a while.”

He hung up the radio mic, turned and leaned against the instrument panel where he could keep one eye on the swamp and one on CL and Bobby, held the boat on course with his forearm on the wheel. “I’m in no big hurry ‘cause I need y’all to spin me one hell of a good stow-ree about that spent shell. Tellin’ you now it better have a 15, maybe 20 foot gator and a witch and a toothless coon-ass pervert or two in it, ‘cause bein’ as we’re out here and it’s hotter’n hell an all? I’m stoppin’ at the marina for a ring-of-fire hot link, some of Louella’s fried shrimp bites and an Abita Amber just this side of ice. On the Parish dime. And I’ll need to write me up a nice report when I get back to justify burning a couple of hours and a bunch of Parish gas rescuing two born on the bayou kids who should know better than to blow a damn hole in the bottom of a boat.” He turned back, idled the boat up a little. “There’s water in the ice chest if you need some. Go easy, Carrie Louise. Ain’t nowhere for a girl to pee for a good forty minutes.”

***

An hour and a half later Sheriff Wylie dropped them at a makeshift dock on Bayou Black across the street from Bobby’s house. Bobby went home carrying the unloaded sawed off and his dad’s waders, Carrie Louise huffed off to her house next door carrying a greasy paper bag of leftover spicy shrimp bites.

Fifteen minutes passed before she banged on the screen door to Bobby’s kitchen. She’d been having an angry cry, most likely from a Momma Roche ass chewing. He toed the door open and she shoved a plate with a huge slice of peach pie and rapidly losing form in the heat whipped cream at him.

“Momma says she guesses thanks for saving me from bein’ gator bait. I told her it was snakes, but she said thanks anyway, even though a Houma girl dumb enough to blow a hole in a boat mighta been justifiably left behind. And to say I’m sorry about your dad’s boat and scaring you shitless with the shotgun and almost blowing your foot off.” She heaved a big sigh. “She’ll see that we make it right, when we can.”

Bobby could feel the sadness coming off her, along with leftover steam from how mad she’d gotten when he and the Sheriff laughed about her blowing a hole in the boat and not killing the snake, then Momma R piling on.

“I’m figurin’ I’ll tell Daddy I did it, CL. You tell Momma R not to worry.” He shrugged one shoulder, took the pie plate. “Dad’ll drop a couple M-80s to run the snakes off so I can fish the motor out pretty easy. And it won’t be near as bad a ‘Bobby you dumb ass’ sermon as telling him I let a girl beat me to the snake-and-gator gun.” He grinned, held the door open for her. “Come on. Pie this size needs two forks.”

“You sure? About the boat and all?”

“Yep.”

Sure sure?”

“Yep.”

“Like certain sure?”

“C’mon CL, do I look like I’m standin’ here air conditionin’ the back yard changin’ my mind?”

“No…” She stepped past him into the kitchen, opened his fridge. “So I guess that means you have a couple of new shots of Cool Whip or maybe some ice cream in here to go with that extra fork and this big ol’ piece of my momma’s blue-ribbon peach pie?”

True Value

Lamar pulled the creamy bean dip his way across the Formica imitating black shale table top, waited for Upjohn’s woman radar to make the entire room and come to rest across from him.

“Damn, Lamar, which of our asses you think they picked for those nachos?”

“I’m thinking yours. You have the broad beam of success, not me.”

“Shit, you just don’t eat right, don’t go out with the right women.” Upjohn took the restaurant fatigued spoon and fork out of a rolled up paper napkin and lifted a heap of nachos onto his plate. He picked up and sniffed all four of the small salsa bowls, sneezed after the roasted verde sauce. He set it down, tapped it with his fork. “Best give that shit some respect, Lamar. Set your ass on fire just knowin’ about it. You figure we could get Marshon through that door?”

“Marshon?” Lamar picked up a chip that was half a flash fried tortilla covered in all things chicken nachos, cracked it in half when he leveraged it to his plate, covered it with creamy, spicy bean dip.

“Marshon Lewellyn. Big ol’ gal.” Old Upjohn held his hands out a foot from his chest. “You’ll recall she worked at the Buick parts counter? Had to wear a man’s 3XL golf shirt to be part of the Buick parts team.”

“Wouldn’t know her. Never owned a Buick. You checked out that shirt for size, did you?”

“I did. Never know if a woman might need a gift of casual clothing to set her at ease. What I’m sayin’ is there was never even a Buick made for her backside. Thing needed two lanes and a couple of double-wide escort trucks were she to get out on the road. I’m thinkin’ we get her through the front door and these people are good to their word, we be eatin’ nachos till the Good Lord calls one of us home.”

“You think she’d come out from behind that Buick parts counter with you, knowing you were going to use her that way?”

“No tellin’ what a woman might do to be out with a handsome man for an all-you-can-eat ‘till you die Mexican hors d’oeuvre dinner,. You plan on stakin’ a claim on that bean dip, Lamar? Goddam. You gonna start spittin’ shit when you laugh you best ask that girl in the cut-offs running up her crack for another napkin.”

“You thinking about the size of her nacho plate?”

“Man could starve to death eatin’ that girl’s nachos, Lamar, and turn his mind to pudding trying to talk to her. Man needs to know a woman’s true value. She’s good for the napkin and a cup of coffee and a lonely man’s prayer she bends over facin’ the other way.”

“That’s awful close to sexist, Upjohn.”

“I start lyin’, stop me.”

“So there’s a woman in your world for just about anything? Barely legal eye candy waitresses in illegal cutoffs for napkins and coffee, and a woman with a backside bigger than a Buick for when you need more nachos than you can eat?”

“You find a problem with my logic?”

“No. I’m sure the ladies would.”

“That’s part of bein’ female, findin’ fault with how we think. Now there’s men out there will tell you a man should learn to figure women. I’m tellin’ you, a man should learn to appreciate the figure of a woman, and leave it be. Sexism comes down to natural selection.”

“Natural selection? How the hell do you ‘figure’ that?”

“The manager naturally selects skinny young girls who don’t know no better to stand around in push-up bras and short cut-offs so tight they crush their cell phones against butt cheeks they don’t have, just to keep us coming back. And naturally I select Marshon to keep me in nachos that let me sit here longer so I can watch, and she naturally selects to join me because her fat ass ain’t doin’ nothin’ but sittin’ around watchin’ Dr.Phil on the DVR. Ain’t never gonna fix sexism till both sides stop participatin’. And this place comes up with another gimmick that don’t involve asses in any way, shape or form. You ask that girl for some more bean dip when she brings the napkin. When she does, tell her you dropped somethin’ and your back’s out.”

“No way, Upjohn. You keep it up you’re gonna have every woman in the world down on us.”

Upjohn looked up from doctoring his nachos, raised a bushy gray eyebrow and flashed the store-bought smile. “Why God invented fat bottom girls and the blues, Lamar. So you have somethin’ to sing about, something to do, you think nobody loves you.” He shook with silent laughter. “And to keep you from starvin’ when you come in a place like this.”