by Myandra Wolfthorn
Silly busted down
old ugly stupid thing
sitting there all junked up
in my driveway
your dirty white paint
is peeling and you need some gas
But why don’t you fucking work?
Why can’t you just run longer
than two weeks?
I’m starting to hate you
and under cooling
five dollars used to be enough
to satisfy your hunger
I just got you from the lot
not that long ago
and there you are
sputtering and swerving
like some foreign machine
I wish I could drop you
but I’m stuck here without you
how I hate your being there
all empty and not going
you make me sick
I hope that after I use you full
that I see them crush you
between two moving metal blocks
A Day To Forget The Earth
My eyes opened the second the bedroom door unlatched. A loud crack like a firework followed by subsequent snaps of veneer paneling, “Suzy Lee, Feo finally called yah.” Pax is rubbing his sleepy eyes.
When he passed out on his sofa last night, I took advantage of the queen sized mattress in his bedroom. I regret nothing.
I roll over. My brain is spinning and alert, but my body remains slow with stiff joints, “Did ya take a message? Shit, I need to call him back.”
“No. Now. He’s on the phone.”
I rise from the bed. I don’t have time to stretch. I’ve been waiting on this call for three days and that’s three days leaning on Pax’s generous hospitality.
They call him Feodore the Fairy. Not because he’s gay, but because he’s got a wife and three girlfriends all stashed around town. I know what you’re thinking; ‘well, that’s not politically correct’, but that’s how he was introduced to me, it’s what he prefers, and I’m not one to argue with a crack dealer.
I know Pax’s home phone is on the computer stand in the living room, but the whiskey still coursing through my veins is telling me it is further. It feels like it takes forever to walk there and pick it up, “Hello?”
“Hey there, Suzy-baby, how ya doin’?” His thick, low voice comes through spaces of static. I hate cell phones.
“I’m doing fine. I was wonderin’ if I could get that money you owe me. They cut my food card off and I need to get some groceries.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know it’s hard on everybody these days. They’ve been sayin’ it’s a recession on the t.v. box.”
“More like a depression.” I grumble.
“Yeah, I hear ya there.” Whatever, Feo. Anything less than fifty is chump change as far as you’re concerned, “About the money, I got to take my kid to his soccer game, so I won’t be able to run it out to ya, but Judy’s at the house.”
“So,” There’s shuffling on his end of the line, “Judy’ll be there and the money’s there to be picked up. Is that cool?”
“Yeah, it’ll be nice to visit Judy for a few.”
“ ‘Kay, good. I’ve got to go. Be careful, take care.”
“You too, brother.”
He hangs up in a hurry. He’s always in a hurry. It’s either the drugs or the business. Probably both, but it is a nice feeling to have a street pharmacist temporarily in my pocket even if it is by chance.
See, my momma had given me a hundred dollars when she got her first of the month check. It was meant to assist in my late rent, but I went on the riverboat to gamble with my buddies. Dutchie had brought Feo the Fairy along and before midnight, the dealer was five hundred under and I loaned him the cab fare home.
“What’d he say?” Poor Pax. My telephone was shut off two weeks ago and I’ve been having all my calls directed to his place. He says he doesn’t mind, but I think he’s just being kind. It’s no secret among our group that he’s wanted me to be his girl for a while now. We sleep together, we have good times together, but a wild flower can not grow in a cage. Not yet, anyway.
“I have to go all the way out there to get it.” Lord, that’s a twenty mile trip, ten there and ten back, “Shit.” I flop down on the pile of blankets on the sofa and begin putting on my knock off’s.
“Yah can’t walk all the way out there, it’ll take you all day. Let me get ready and I’ll take yah.”
“I can only give ya five in gas.”
“That’s fine.” He goes back to his bedroom and talks as he changes his clothes, “We can take the back way through the forest and up Open Sky Road.”
“Right on.” I say, “I’m gonna use the bathroom ‘fore we go. I’ll meet ya outside.”
The couple who lived here before my friend were horrid decorators. The bathroom is a wretched shade of pink with strips of the wallpaper peeking through from the wear and tear of neglectful tenants. Did I mention the bright tangerine trim? Yes, it really adds to the anxiety riddled, claustrophobic vibe it induces. The six vanity lights hurt my eyes. The room is far too small for such brilliance and they help ease on a panic attack for anybody who enters. This room is a vulgar uterus on display.
I look into the mirror as I wash my hands. The party last night sure took a toll on my eighteen year old complexion. The hip eyeliner from eight hours ago has caked and given me raccoon eyes. I wash it away, fluff up my curly black hair, and dab some scarlet lipstick to my cheeks for a healthier glow. Makeshift blush at its best.
Feeling satisfied with my appearance (you can only do so much with a hungover face) I meet Pax on the tiny stoop of his apartment. It is a door of many in a row in a tall boring building we call The Bounds as its address is 66 Boundary Street. He lives in number 2. Known for being a notorious complex, his is well situated with a row of white dogwood trees blocking the view of the other apartments which means they’re less likely to steal the kids toys in the front yard.
Pax is one of those part-time dads. His little boy, Conner, is a real sweetheart, but no one sees him that much because Pax is always doing something with him. He’ll save up every cent he earns and then blow it on the weekend to insure Conner has a good time. It doesn’t hurt that Pax and his ex-girlfriend, Holli Wolfe, have a good friendship. For having a kid from a one night stand, they handled themselves like adults and they’re both damn good parents.
I’m walking to his rusted jalopy we call The Beast while he locks the door. I smell like booze and cigarettes with a hint of THC. Oddly enough, that is the exact same smell of this whole county. Like a high school dropout dumping ground. It is a depression we’re suffering from and it’s called The Rich White Man’s Greed, but there is no need to start agonizing from Weltschmerz so early in the day.
The Beast has been a derelict car since Pax bought it for three hundred dollars when he was sixteen. He bought it, quit school, and started a band with a couple of friends who are now lost to history.
He lives from the generosity of his soft-hearted mother and welding jobs. Whatever he’s doing, it’s better than what I’m doing.
‘Maybe I should have him work on my budget?’ I smile to myself after that thought. I live day by day. I don’t think I could scrounge enough money to create a budget.
“The times are hard.” They say. But people are always saying that, aren’t they?
Does anyone care that we’re all starving and dying down here in Appalachia or are the past two-three hundred years our hard times we must bare?
My dear Port Alexandria used to be a swinging city resting on the confluence of the Ohio and Scioto rivers. There were jobs and shops. The riverboats weren’t just for gambling and the mining and automobile industries were up and running. There were people and children and the festivals and fairs were bigger and more exciting.
Now, it’s a wasteful hole where indifference and apathy are as high as the hilltops. Crooked cops, bribed officials, journalists on the take. There is no such thing as community anymore because everyone wants their piece of pie. No one cares about all us underthings that languish. I’ve heard it’s because we’re still looked upon as ignorant, inbred, drunk hillbillies. Personally, I’m a little of all those…except inbred, of course. At least…as far as I know…
“I hope we can make it to the gas station.” Pax’s rainbow flecked eyes shift nervously from the gas gauge to the road ahead of us.
I feel pretty bad about only giving him a few bucks, but do I apologize for having bad luck or do I apologize for life being unfair? Yes, it is my fault for not being a hardworking employee of some out of school desk job with mediocre benefits in case I die of old age or boredom. And yes, it is my fault for knowing the value of the twenty-five Feo owes me because I understand the value of a dollar. I understand a penny can make the difference and I know it from poor life choices, but it’s not my fault that it isn’t enough to deliver according to Feo’s high stakes lifestyle.
I don’t know what point I’m saying it for, but I light a cigarette, “Sorry I don’t have more to give ya, but I’ll give ya another five when we get to Feo’s house.”
“We’ll need it.” He smiles at me with reassuring dimples.
I pick up the gold pocket watch he leaves in the car. The Confederate flag is impressed on the front. The curves and precision it took to do this by hand is breathtaking. It opens to an engraving;
For my son, Stonewall 1942
Stonewall Howell is Pax’s father, named after the famed Civil War general. Pax’s pop is a great man indeed. I was in kindergarten when I first met him. Stonewall used to be a Baptist preacher then he became a Navy Seal, but he was well retired by the time I made my appearance. He is one cool customer. He tells these stories of honky tonk brawls, life in the military, and he explains the Bible is such miraculous ways that he temporarily raises my faith.
The masterfully crafted timepiece reads close to eleven-thirty. I’m guessing that by noon it’ll be ninety degrees. I don’t want to stay out in this swamp heat. Luckily, this is about a forty minute trip, so we should be back in comfort before twelve-thirty.
I wish The Beast had air-conditioning.
The old King Co. station is packed. It’s May 3rd and everyone on disability has received their checks. Plus, it’s the first hot day after that cold front went through. That means the fishermen, boatmen, and the hog and crow hunters are all out and about with their red and blue coolers full of red and blue canned beer. Man, traffic is going to suck today.
There is a wait all the way to the highway line of nine cars for full service, but there is only one at the self-service. That is a testament of our laziness as a people, I think. They’d rather leave their cars on and wait fifteen minutes than pay the attendant and pump their own gas. What a bunch of monkeys.
The guy in front of us is sharply dressed for a summer’s day. He looks to be smack dab in the middle of middle age and his tall height adds to his vague youth. On the other hand, his car does not correspond with him. While his tennis shoes are white, the tires are patched and half flat. And while his khakis are pleated and his Alice blue polo is made of something soft and fine, the car is covered in a dry, bubbling coat. The navy paint flakes off some here in the parking lot. Rust has taken over the bumper and is creeping along towards devouring the rest.
He’s just filled his tank, but he’s got two ten gallon drums on the cement slab to be filled.
Pax squeezes the wheel, “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe we’re stuck behind the slowest fuck on the lot. It’s either wait in a line for half an hour or wait one hour behind this fake ass foppish fuck.”
I shrug, “What do I do with my cigarette butt?” It’s burning there between my fingers and The Beast has never had an ashtray nor will he ever remember to replace it.
“Toss it out the window.”
“What? I can’t do that. We’re at a gas station. You can’t even smoke in a gas station parking lot.”
“Nonsense. The pumps are aaalll the way over there and we’re aaalll the way over here. Toss it out the window.”
My eyes weigh the options. If I were a dick, I’d put it out in his freshly opened can of soda. Then again, I could just burn my hand all easy as pie and hard ass like. I flick it out the window and just for a second I think, ‘I hope we don’t blow up.’
The man in front of us rubs sweat from his balding head as he finishes the second drum. Pax lets out an irritated sigh while we watch him pay the underage attendant. He walks calmly to his car and gets in. He sits. We wait. A minute goes by and his back lights flare on then go off. He sits. We wait. The third car in the full service lane is now first. He sits and we wait.
“Oh, come on already!” Pax snarls as he pushes down on the horn, “This kind of shit should be illegal!”
“Maybe he’s God and we’re being taught a lesson in patience. His car is evidence of his humility and piety.”
“Or maybe he’s just another asshole.” He says.
The man pulls out and Pax goes forward, “If I were God come to earth to teach patience to a couple of stoners, I’d have better hair than that guy.”
The quickest way to Marcusville is past West Port Alexandria, through a section of Cherokee Forest, then on to Open Sky Road which is the scenic backroad of West Port. It sounds like a lot, but it shaves off five miles of the journey if you’re driving.
The radio is on WSMP and they’re doing some half hour of a Phil Lynott tribute. It’s good, but it isn’t distracting me from the weather. It’s getting warmer and the air tastes like newly dug earth and heat.
West Port’s a first-class place to live in if you’re into white supremacy. I was born and raised in this ghetto sludge of mountain clan mentality down on Poe Creek Road by Washington Run.
It was uncomfortable to live and attend school here. Words like nigger and jiggaboo and sambo are said often and I’ve just never warmed to that kind of thinking.
My parents faked racism to fit in. I remember the picture of Martin Luther King Jr. on my father’s nightstand. There were biographies on every bookshelf. My dad would even quote him before giving us kids advice or a scolding. There was a great admiration and still he would chuckle, and move in his seat uneasily, at a racist joke.
When I was fifteen, a couple moved in at the beginning of the holler. The husband was African and his wife was Mexican. They had three beautiful daughters. I would see them play in the creek when I went by in the school bus. They all kept to themselves and never bothered anyone.
One day everything was fine. The next day they were gone and the remnants of a burning cross still glowed in their front yard. I never saw those girls play ever again.
What a sickening place. Aren’t we all just people?
I’m thankful when the houses become fewer and farther between. There is one big hill we go up before we see a sign;
The words are large with good scale projection and carved well in a big plank of wood. The letters are painted hunter green and it’s all so fucking lovely, “Pax, you think if trees could talk there would be one cryin’ over that sign, like ‘oh, no…they got Eddie’?”
There is a piece of the forest road which lays in a perpetual Autumn. In the summer, the leaves are brown and brittle like they’re about to fall, but they never do. In the winter, the pleasant shades clash with the blustery, barren days.
Five minutes on a gravel path and we come to a three way country bumpkin cluster fuck of a road. Bales of hay line the fence dividing the farm from the pavement where two stunning auburn mares feast away. Pax turns onto Open Sky Road. It used to be called Aryan Holler, but it was changed when the last of a local clan family member died back in sixty-eight.
The homes out here are made of logs. There are the cabins, the big farm houses, and the occasional tipi style A-frames, but they are all made from good ole fashioned wood.
The most beautiful homes are the giant mansions built for wealthy land owners. They are now all crumbling and falling over from weathered, festering ages of disuse, but if you look with the right eyes you can see the grandiloquence of their active years. The magnificent rose bushes that once lined the houses, the purebred horses, pastel colored dresses moving and dancing holding Mint Juleps and moonshine for their men.
I’m jealous that I can’t have one of these houses to fix up. All this empty land and abandoned homes and all these homeless people with nowhere to go. There’s just something not right with this.
Feodore Carmichael used to live in town back in the day, but he thought the police were too close for comfort. He’s got the perfect setup now. He and his family live in a three bedroom trailer, plain, without a stitch of real care and the crackhouse is at a secondary location and I think only Feo knows where that’s at. They live humbly which is smart. I’d imagine in that line of business you’d want to be as low as possible. They eat well and they dress nicely, but not too nice. His kids have their college educations paid for and he and Judy have a decent retirement. Life will be good for them someday.
I hope I don’t end up in a gutter when I’m old. I’ve seen it happen to those who live too freely. They fly so high that all they can do is fall.
Pax turns down their driveway and parks by Judy’s red van. It’s in so-so condition with a butterfly sticker on the bumper, “I’ll be right back.”
They don’t use their front door so I travel around back. Jesus, it’s hot! I wore a paisley button up shirt last night and now I’m suffocating in it.
The backdoor is wide open, “Judy?”
“Suzy Lee? Come on in.” She calls.
I walk in. It’s dim, but I can see she has her back to me washing the dishes. She dries her hands on a towel and turns to hug me. She welcomes me with a smile on her lips and in her eyes. Judy is a pretty social person, but my grumbling belly must keep focus and not get caught in her flux.
She looks darling in an orange tye-dye shirt and denim peddle pushers, “How have ya been, girrrl?”
“Oh, you know me. I just keep on keepin’ on.” My eyes adjust to the darkness of the room and I see their daughter, Terrie, eating a bowl of cereal on the sofa surrounded by a pack of dogs. They all sit calmly and and stare at me. Their collective eyes don’t shake from me. I gotta get outta here.
Her russet eyes grin with the beginning of crow’s feet, “You’re money is on the table under the basket.” She points behind me then turns away to stir something on her stove. I pick up a ragged twenty and a crisp five and she asks, “Would you like somethin’ to drink?”
“Nah, I gotta get goin’. Someone’s waitin’ on me.”
She circles around strongly and the dogs are fast on the draw. Their nails on hardwood floor makes a sound only reminiscent to Nazi boots clicking at attention, “You brought someone…here?”
Terrie is peeking over the counter. I’ve never seen such coal black eyes. My heart is in my throat, “N-uh, yeah, I don’t drive.”
Her posture eases and the dogs relax. She crinkles her thick, ski slope nose with funny amusement, “Really?”
“Never learned how.” If I ran for it, there would be no way to jump down those stairs and run over the uneven cobblestone walkway. With all the windows down in The Beast, they’d just leap in and tear us to shreds right there in the driveway.
“We’ll, you’ll learn soon enough. My sister didn’t start driving ‘til she was twenty-five.”
“Right on. Well, uh, I’ll be seein’ you ‘round.”
“Wait.” She says. She’s digging in a neon flower printed purse on the table. She hands out a five dollar bill, “For your driver.”
“Thanks.” I smile, “See you later, Judy. Bye, Terrie.” The girl waves, Judy hugs me again, and I ship out of there like a thankful dandy.
I shove all the money in my black cloth backpack except a five. I give that to Pax as I get in, “For gas.”
“It’s a good thing too, ‘cause we’re running out again.”
The Thorny Bush is a gas station, restaurant, and novelty shop out in the middle of nowhere, but it’s still a happening place somehow. People coming for fried chicken and potato wedges, pumping gas, talking on cell phones, all running around like their sheeple heads have been cut off.
All these families smiling and taking pictures and humming little ditties about nothing.
All while one of the biggest pot dealers in the county lives behind it in a government run abyss known as the Hayseed Apartments. They are listed in the telephone book as GHPP Block 48-101. GHPP means Government Housing for Poor Persons. There are a ton of those here. They mark the county landscape like bars and parking lots. I, myself, live in GHPP Block 1-26, apartment 8, but locally my building is called the L. Grey Rooms. It’s kind of confusing, but we members of the social un-elite have a lot of time to consume. In between marrying our cousins and making moonshine, of course.
I utilize the now empty soda can as an ashtray and wait as Pax goes about the business of purchase. There is a man also waiting on the other side of the gas pump. An angular face with blond hair and Air Force blue eyes in a smooth dark pickup. I went to school with him. I can’t place his name, but I remember him on the field during football practices after school. I only being there for detention due to tardiness because the children must suffer for parental ineptitude. Now, doesn’t that make sense?
I hate his face. He’s too good looking, his cheekbones are too sharp. All the days I spent being harassed by his friends. The humiliation I went through. All those nights wasted dreaming of a prince to come rescue me. A savior that is still absent. It’s no wonder I quit when I was sixteen. I was above them and below them at the same time when I really wanted to be in the middle with them. Safe unfeeling, nonthinking faces in cramped hallways. I almost wish I could’ve been like them, all the same.
Now, I can’t even remember his fucking name. I can only remember what he represents.
I wonder if the volume of this guitar solo on the radio is bothering him over there?
The main parts of me don’t care, but there is a little piece in there screaming, “I hope it makes your ears bleed! You garish ape motherfucker!”
But his ears do not bleed. He sits there in the air-conditioned protection of his shiny coated truck staring at the cars on the highway like a automaton.
I see Pax now handling the pump from the side mirror. Sweat rolls from his hairline and I feel so bad for him. On the bright side, he’s looking damn sexy. His strawberry blond curls feather at the ends and his semi-tattooed skin is that bronze farmer boys get when they work with their shirts off. His muscles thick and toned from playing guitar since he was ten. That’s nearly fifteen years of practices, creating bands, breaking bands, and finding his own sound for live shows and the studio work he’s doing now with International Incident.
He’s going to make it out of this dump and I hope I’m still in town to see it.
“That oughtta help.” Pax says as he climbs in behind the wheel.
“Great. Now, let’s get to the store.” My tastebuds are already whimpering for wine.
He turns right out of the parking lot and is heading for the highway that runs through Marcusville. But we stop hard as yellow vested men block off the road with a hulking sign with straight French rose letters;
“I’ll take Mallard Run, it should open up past all this.” Pax decides.
Shit, this means we have we have to make a huge u-turn by Fairy’s house. I get the feeling it would be wise to backtrack on Open Sky Road, “I wonder if anyone got hurt.”
“Eh, probably some dumb ass druggie like it usually is. Nobody around here can drive anyhow and then they go and snort pills…do they expect to drive better?”
All I wanna do is get some food, some wine, and get fueled up. I keep picturing blackberry wine pouring into a cup. Succulent, rich, deep wine. Manager’s special wine. Wine bottles. Aftertaste. Smell. Wine. Wine. Wine. My mouth runs dry and the heat kicks me in the stomach, “Ohgodohgodohgod…”
“Suzy Lee? What wrong?”
“I feel weak. Sick. I feel like I can’t hold my head up.”
Pax lights one of his menthols and hands it to me, “Here, this might help.”
I don’t know if he thinks the mint will calm my stomach down or if the action of smoking will be a distraction tactic. Either way, I’ve never been one to refuse a free cigarette. I take it and the flavor goes smoothly down. It helps, but this torridity is an unstoppable juggernaut of warfare, mentally and physically.
All the houses on Mallard Run look the same. The same faux bricks, the wood porches, and the same two family oriented cars being washed and waxed in their identical driveways. Inside, it’s a man, a woman, and their two children. The ones with at least one son feel superior to the ones with daughters and everyone goes fishing or swimming in the manmade ponds they all have in front of their houses. How a dismal existence is tolerated is beyond me.
We come out the mouth of Mallard Run by the abandoned auto shop, “What the hell is this?”
A couple of fire trucks sit idly while two men in vests wave off all the cars coming their way. A third man is putting up another accident sign. Pax’s anger has soured him, “We’re going to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere! I hope a senior citizen’s bus rolled over.”
“A little old lady was squashed to death today, by her own purse. Apparently, it contained one bag of hard candy and fifty pill bottles.” I pause, “We shouldn’t talk like that. Don’t you know the world is obviously against us? I don’t even see a fire back there…or cars.”
“Fuck ‘em, feed ‘em fish heads. We’ll go to the Sir Save-A-Lot in Marcusville.” He says.
“It’s cleaner than the one in town.” Is what I’ve said, but I’m really thinking, ‘They better have good wine there.’
One pack of garlic bologna.
One loaf of bread.
Three bottles of wine bought so cheap the smell should curl my toes.
We crack one bottle of cherry wine open as we head back towards Cherokee Forest. Pax keeps glancing at his gas gauge, but I don’t care. The day has finally begun. The alcohol sloshing in my mouth and bouncing off my teeth is like sanctuary. If The Beast broke down right now I’m sure we could walk the twenty miles in a drunken daze.
The Beast chugs up and we cruise down. I gulp, Pax sips. I steam when the breeze comes through the windows and he basks, “Oh, doesn’t that feel good?”
“About as good as a bloody eagle.” I mumble.
Back at Pax’s place, we got the blues playing on the box as we cool down.
I puked twice out the passenger window. Pax had said, “That’s what you get for drinking warm wine in the summer time.” But I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now. I take another swig until my stomach is iron.
We relax and I clean out my purse, “Hey, I found another five in here.”
“I have three bills in my wallet. Thinking of calling Clay?”
“That’s another trip to West Port, but I think we can make it.”
I move over and pickup the phone. I dial the number and it rings a few times before a familiar voice rings in my ear, “Heyyo bitch!”
“You still don’t have a phone?” Clay asks.
“I bet you love it.”
“I do. I wish they’d turn my electric off too. I could go back to basics.” I light a cigarette, “I’m wonderin’ if you could go up on Capitol Hill for me. I got a fiver.”
“Yeah, sure. I can later.”
“Raven’s here. I’m burning a c.d. for him. It’s gonna take a while, well, I already downloaded it so it’s not going to be that long. I’ll call you.” He’s high as hell.
I look out between the dirty blinds of Pax’s living room window. It’s getting dark. I don’t want to get stranded in West Port at night, “Okay…don’t forget to call. We’ll be waiting.”
He always shows up at the worst times. Plus, he’s an asshole, but no one can do anything about it because 1.) He’s only sixteen and 2.) my guru, Barrett ‘The Bear’ Beauregard was friends with Raven’s now deceased father. In fact Raven’s real name is Houston Torchia Jr. Bear dubbed him Raven because of his black hair.
Even still, Bear has been pushing him away recently. I guess, he’s been flaking off in school and his aunt/legal guardian has been getting impatient. His aunt being friends with Bear, he gets all the skinny. I think he feels like he’s failing to teach Raven what a boy needs from a father. I’d be failing too if I was trying to teach a snotty, shit head teenager like Torchia to be a man.
And I know what they’re doing over there at Clay’s house. They’re over there sitting in his room cluttered to the ceiling with old electronics getting high listening to crappy rap music. Torchia’s preference as Clay hates it, but he can’t help but be a kind host.
“What’d he say?” Pax asks.
“He said he’d call for us to come over.”
“Aw, man. When is that gonna be?”
I shrug, “I don’t know. Torchia’s over there.” The phone rings and I feel a spurt of excitement, “Maybe that’s him.”
“Hello?” Pax holds the phone to his ear and a large smile crosses his pout lips, “I’m doing real good, man. How are yah?” He listens, he laughs, and says, “Yeah, she’s right here.” He hands me the phone, “Here, it’s Bear.”
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Nuthin’ much, baby girl. I’s callin’ to see what ya’ll doin’ tonight. I’s thinkin’ of comin’ over. See what Clay is doin’, come out.”
“That sounds cool. I know he’s busy right now. Raven’s over there.”
Bear grumbles something I can’t make out, then says, “An old friend of mine invited me out to his house way out in Brownton and I’d forgotten about it. I hate makin’ plans in advance ‘cause I forget ‘em, ya know? But anyways, I’s thinkin’ of comin’ over to the L’grey.”
“Well, I’m gonna be gettin’ some green here soon. It won’t be much, but you know I share what I got when I have it.”
“He’s got green too. It’s so far out there, behind that old Evangelical church, but I’ve never been out there and I wanna enjoy the day. I’m tired of being stuck up in this stuffy house. I wanna get out.”
“I’m sure you’ll have fun, but you should call me before you come over so I have time to walk there.”
“Oookay, I sure will.” His jovial tone is replaced by a stern, but quiet voice, “I stole his girlfriend in eighth grade, hope he doesn’t wanna kick my ass.”
“I doubt he even remembers her name.”
“Well, girly, I’m gonna give a ring to Clay. I’ll do some spyin’ see what Raven’s up to. I’ll call ya later, right, babe?”
“Bye, baby girl.”
I hang up and hand it to Pax, “I’ll give Clay fifteen minutes more then I’ll call him again.”
I need some weed. Running around in the heat, nearly mauled by dogs, stress, waiting, roads…and did I mention it’s HOT?
Pax cracks open a beer from the mini-fridge in the corner, “Why does he even hang out with that kid?”
“Hey, I was that kid once, traveling with the older bohemians. I still am, but I’m old enough to buy the liquor nowadays, even if it’s only ‘cause the cashier too busy looking at my tits and not my i.d.”
“I mean on an intellectual level. You’re smarter than any of us, but Clay and Torchia seem so distant from each other.”
Raven is smart. I’ve heard him speak on philosophy, he debates finely. He’s not like Clay, but then no one is, “I don’t know, he gets Clay high.”
He smiles, “Yah know what Bear calls Torchia?”
Goodnight Louise, that was the longest thirteen minutes of my life, “Hello?”
“Hey…” Clay sounds out of breath, “I was just calling to let you know I can do that thing for you.”
“Very cool. We’ll see you in a few.” I hang up and look to Pax, “Get your keys.”
“Got ‘em. Let’s go.”
Darkness does not creep here as it does over deserts and vast land. These are the hills and in the hills darkness settles like a deep blanket swallowing us whole making our world here displayed in black. The stars, moon, and headlights is what we see by on these country roads. Thistle brush grow by the narrow highways here. The soybean and rice fields stretch beneath the sky along this side of the river. Everything feels bigger and scarier at night. Everything is quiet and waiting.
Pax pulls up in front of the driveway of 42 Crooked Creek Hollow and Clay is already there. He’s cut his long winter locks and now his luscious champagne hair stands in a fluid mohawk. He smooths it back with his hand and puts on his flat cap backwards. His sunglasses, the black and white Drunken Luddites concert tee, black suit coat, jeans, and boots makes him a menacing six foot one statue.
He gets in the back seat, “HEYYO BITCH!”
“Hey!” I turn around in the seat, “It seems so long since I saw you last. What’s it been now, one…two days?”
He laughs. He’s getting a hand rolled cigarette from his case. Pax drives onward, “How should we do this now?”
“Drop me off on the corner of Keechle Street and I’ll meet back up with you at my house.”
Russ lives at the top of Keechle Street in a rundown cabin with his wife, his girlfriend, his son, and his son’s girlfriend. Since Keechle is on a steep hill we say, “I’m gonna spend me a bill up on Capitol Hill.”
But Russ is secretive. For one thing, he’s in the top five distributors of pot in the county and he’s got to keep his business low. For another, he has two jerk neighbors. The one on the right breeds fighting pits (which is horrifically disgusting of you ask me) and the one on the left despises the fact their neighbors are people of dubious intent.
We’ve been buying from Russ since we were fourteen thanks to Clay. Back in the beginning we got it from dirty old man Harry or hippie Rodney, but then Russ started paying Clay to fix his computer or do any other technological upgrade to his entertainment center.
When Clay turned sixteen, he asked Russ to pay him in weed since he usually came back to buy it anyway. That’s how magic is weaved, I suppose.
“Hey, did you hear Bobbie Mullins got arrested?” Clay asks.
“No!” Pax and I say at the same time. Clay is laughing and we’re smiling, “What did he do?”
“He tried to rob his neighbor when they went on vacation. Their house sitter saw him climbing in and out the front window. She called the police on her cell phone. He was trying to get a stack of video games when the cops picked him up.”
“Oh, my God.” I say, “Well, all those Mullins boys have been to jail. They go and come back just to go again three months later.”
“He’s facing some time on this one, though. His aunt told Mom he’s looking at five years.”
Five years in Marcusville State Penitentiary. That’s enough to make a man go mad. He’ll come out of there like Carl Panzram, warped and ready for war and rape. He’ll listen too much and he’ll learn too much. Bobbie Mullins, another boy I went to school with, has gone because he may be going there a boy, but he will come out a hardened criminal.
“How many suicides from our graduating class, Clay?” I ask.
“Um, I think it’s five. Oh, six if you count Franky Jay Collins.”
“I forgot about him.”
“Who’s Franky Jay?” Pax asks.
“A boy we went to school with. He’s a tragedy.” I look to Clay, but he says, “Tell the story, Suzy Lee. You know it better than me.”
“He was a football player, in our grade, and he got Brandie Evans, his girlfriend, pregnant. She was in the grade below us. Anyway, they got married and he got a job with the lumber mill right out of school. And you know you don’t make that much money at that shit hole, they don’t even offer benefits. Well, they couldn’t pay their bills, the baby was sick all the time, and they had to move in with her mom. I guess it got too much because he blew his brains out in their bathroom. Brandie told me she walked in from getting groceries, and all she saw was blood. Like, all over the mirror and walls and ceiling.”
“Jesus.” Pax stops at the corner of Keechle Street, “Wait, how long have you been out of school?”
“One year. Well, one year for Clay who graduated like a good boy. Two years years for me.”
“Six suicides in one year? That’s depressing.”
“I need the money.” Clay has his hand out waiting between the car seats.
“Oh, yeah. I think you’d need that, wouldn’t you?” I give him the five, he gets out, and starts walking to the cabin.
It takes two seconds for Pax to park in Clay’s driveway and I look towards the lights glowing through the windows of his house. I wonder if his parents ever question why we park here? They never come out, they’re too old to shoo off hooligans.
Clay walks quickly and he’s in the backseat within a blink of an eye. He talks as he gives me the weed and I put it in my purse, “Do you want to come over to Pax’s and smoke with us?”
“I do have another joint…”
“Then we’d practically have a ten sack.”
“But I told Bear I’d save it until he got back.”
“Oh, he went to that guy’s house?”
“Yeah, I guess he had a fifty bag. I’m so jealous, but at least Raven came over and smoked with me.”
“Did you use Ole Betsey?” That’s the name of Raven’s gas mask he converted in to smoking weed through.
He smiles and nods and is gone before I can say goodbye.
It’s blacker than ever outside. Pitch, as they say. I can almost see the copperheads slithering around in those dark weeds. The frogs croak for mates on the creek beds. Somewhere there is an echo of a fiddle and a banjo. With every twist and turn we get closer to it then farther away. I can hear from the faint clapping that some people are having themselves a mighty fine time.
“Suzy Lee, I hate to tell yah this, but…”
“The car just died.”
“What? But we’re still moving.”
We come to a complete halt in the middle of the road. I’m thankful there’s no one around, “Are we gonna make it back to your house?”
He shakes his head, “No. I don’t think we are.” He tries to start the car, but it doesn’t turn.
“What are we gonna do?” I take a quick sip of wine from my flask. There are bourbon dregs sharpening the sweet taste.
“Jed just lives right up here. We can park there and use his phone.”
“Couldn’t he take us into town?”
“No. It’s too late for him to be driving around.” He turns the key and The Beast roars back to life. He drives a little further up the holler and turns into Jed’s driveway.
Jed Ferrell. What an old freak. Kindhearted, yes, but a pervert nonetheless. He was a police officer for twelve years and a prison guard for thirty before retiring. He was injured on the job and gets a big prescription of Denaxatrine, but he doesn’t really need them. Instead, his ninety year old tanning bed ass gets the young pillheads to strip for him and they get their hearts desire. If she dances really well, he gives them some cash too.
Now thinking about it, Pax knows Jed through one of his sisters. How did she meet him?
I get out of the car after Pax and we head to the backdoor of Jed’s two-story brick home. It’s a nice prison for a sleaze. He knocks on the door and a girl my age answers. She’s tan with a perfectly teased, highlighted pixie cut and a phone up to one ear, “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Hold on.” She steps away from the door, “Jed! Some guy and some…girl are at the door for you.”
“Who is it?” I can hear the elderly cough in his voice.
“I don’t know.” Her tone is snarly and ungrateful. She scratches at her nose then talks into the phone, “Yeah, I’m still here.”
Jed is short and stocky. His lizard like skin is mauled by suspicious moles and age spots, “Ah, Paxton.” His socks are loose and wiggle two inches from his toes.
“Hey, man, I know it’s late, but my car ran out of gas. Can I leave it here until the morning?”
“Yes, yes. You need a lift home?”
“Oh, man, do we ever?”
“Well, walk up the hill to Joe’s and he’ll give a lift. I would, but Tonia and me are in the middle of something.”
“I’ll call him, let him know you’re coming.”
“Cool, good. Thanks.” Pax says with a wave of his hand.
“Thanks.” I mutter.
“You’re welcome, Suzy.” I know he’s looking at my ass.
I quickly walk to keep up with Pax, “What are we gonna do ‘bout the dogs?” I kind of regret drinking all that wine earlier, but if I get attacked I’ll die fast and I’d rather die in a blur than linger on in pain. No, no, not in this heat.
Pax reaches in The Beast and gets his Colt Python .357 Magnum, “Four inch barrel, nickel platted. It ought to make you feel safer.”
I take it from him, “What about you?”
“I got the .45 here.” He pats his waist, “And the Smith on my ankle.”
“Right on. Let’s go.”
“Get your flashlight out. We have to walk a few.”
I get it from my purse and we walk, “Who’s Joe?”
“Joe is Tonia’s boyfriend. He’s a friend of Ruby’s from way back.” And Ruby is Pax’s sister. One mystery solved.
“Does he know Tonia is at Jed’s?”
“Hell, he probably dropped her off there.”
“That’s sick, Pax.”
“That’s life, baby.”
We have to climb Joe’s driveway. There are huge deep dips and jagged rocks embedded in the clay dirt. I worry about snakes and wild dogs, I curse The Beast, this unbearable heat, and I’m completely out of breath when we reach the top. I fold over with my hands on my thighs, “I want to kill everyone.”
“You usually do.” He’s laughing at me and for a split second I imagine slitting his throat with my pocketknife and flinging his body into the ravine below. Okay, maybe it was longer than a second.
But people have seen us together, “No, too many witnesses.”
I stand up straight and smile, “Nothing.”
Joe lives in a little blue trailer with two expensive cars in his driveway, “What does Joe do?”
“He grows weed out on his property. He doesn’t sell it, he just gets paid by somebody to use the land. Pretty slick deal.”
Another backdoor. Another knock. Joe answers the door in a wife-beater, boxers, and flip-flops. He’s rubbing his eyes, “How ya doin’, brother? I was sleepin’ when Jed called.”
“Aw, I’m sorry, man. But, hey, this is my friend, Suzy Lee.”
He’s tall and looks down on me with dull, stoned eyes, “Suzy Lee? Joe Fritz.” We shake hands, “Come on, let’s go.” He jingles a set of keys and we line up behind him.
We get into a compact silver charmer. The leather seats squeak as I slide in. For once in his life, Pax is the passenger, “Damn, Joe. This is a nice ride.”
Joe chuckles, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool, huh?” I see his long thin legs covered in hair under the dome light, “I call ‘er Africa ‘cause she purrs like a lion.”
Why would a family four door need to purr?
We’re in front of The Bounds. It’s a shame I met scandalous Joe Fritz on such an awkward night. He’s an engaging man.
“I’m sorry I don’t have any gas money for you, but I will get you back.” Pax says with a sad face.
“It’s all cool, man. I’ve run out of gas too. It happens and Tonia’s bringin’ up some money from Jed, so we even out.”
“Alright. Thanks, brother.” Pax gets out.
“It was nice meeting you, Joe, and thanks for the ride.” I say as I hop out. He waves with a slick two finger salute.
Pax turns the air-conditioning on the second we’re inside. He’s in his kitchen fixing a couple of glasses of RotGut Winery Peach Citrus Medley. Seventy proof. I take a comfy seat on the tattered red sofa and get out my notebook, weed, and my pipe from my bag. I grind the weed over the black leather-bound notebook now sitting on my lap, “Oh, fuck.”
Pax comes in and hands me a coffee mug of wine, “What’s wrong?”
“I know this is gonna sound incredible after the day we had, but for the first time ever…Russ screwed us. It’s shit weed.”
Pax falls down in his green plaid recliner, “You can’t win for losing.”
I feel bad for telling him that. I tap his knee, “Cheer up, mistro. We’ll get a little buzz on. I mean, we went on an adventure today. It may seem like just another bad day to you now, but one day you’ll see what I mean. We went on an adventure and no one can take it away from us. No one.”
I pack the bowl I named The Tin-man and it hits me like a bolt of lightening, “Aj Blenkinship.”
“It was a guy at the gas station. We went to school together, but I couldn’t remember his name.”
“And it just came to you?”
“Do you feel better now remembering it?”
I look at him in thought, “No. No, not really. I think it’s a pretty stupid name actually.”
He gives me a sideways grin, “You’re a secret optimist, aren’t you?”
I place my finger to my lips, “Shush, we mustn’t let anyone else know, or I’ll have to kill you.”