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Cigarettes


Five trailers down, lived Bonnie Campbell. She was lame and so walked slowly down the holler with a cane. Small statured, but overweight she had the skin of tanned sunbaked roast beef. And while she wasn’t precisely ancient, she had three strokes brought on by heavy drug use.
She was weak and so was her husband, Will, who for the first two years of my acquintence of them had been faking a broken arm to doctors and Welfare as to achieve an SSI check.
Together they had one child, a mentally handicapped boy named Andie. He and I rode the bus back and forth to school every day for twelve years. He was never picked on, but his sometimes random masturbating was joked about discreetly behind his back. I don’t even think he would have understood being mocked even if it had happened.
But that is a story for another time, this is about the power of nicotine.
And so after her fourth stroke, things went really south for them. Will took advantage of her feeble state and spent her money as he saw fit. They soon lived in that little blue one story shack without electricity and water. After graduating, Andie was home all the time and it isn’t like he could get a job. No one took any special care for looking after him, no teachers or social workers.
So Bonnie would wobble herself the five trailers downhill and knock on our door, “Bishop? Bishop? Bishop?” She would knock tenuously, but sadly with all the strength she could muster, “Bishop?” That is what she called my dad, his surname. I don’t even think she knew my dad’s first name.
And she would knock until someone could answer the door. This disrupted my mother, who slept in the living room where there was enough space for her cancer treatment equipment. She laid in a large overstuffed lift chair she controlled by remote. On the left side was her potty chair and on the right was her wheelchair.
Bonnie just knocking away, “Bishop? Bishop?”
Sometimes Mom would yell, “Bishop is not here!”
“….okay….” Bonnie would say and then go on to the next house.
Other times Mom would get in her wheelchair and answer, “What is it, Bonnie?”
And her answer was always the exact same every single time, “I juz waunted tah know if y’all got any cig-ur-etts?”
And if Mom did, she would give her a couple. If she didn’t, she would say so.
But if no one answered the door, Bonnie would just wait on the porch for someone to come along. Many times we would see her sitting on the porch swing as we pulled into the driveway from a doctor’s appointment.
Then one day, Mom had this genius idea.
We were sitting in the living room watching one of her murder mystery shows. She had it all figured out in under five minutes of watching it, so the mystery element was dead and we were just listening to it for background noise. She was feeling good that day and I sat between her legs on the floor as she braided my hair in a large plait down my back.
Tap Tap Tap
“Bishop?”
Mom sighed in annoyance, “That’s Bonnie.”
“Do we have cigarettes?” I asked as I stood up and straightened my tank top.
“Just rollies.”
“Okay.” I turned to the door and opened it a crack.
Even through all her strokes she managed to frown when she saw me. She always did, “Bishop here?”
“No.”
“His carz ere.” Her oily gray eyes glazed thinking she had tripped me up.
“That’s because his friend picked him up…not that it’s any of your business. Anyway, we don’t have any cigarettes. Bye, Bonnie.” and I closed the door without hearing another word.
I sat back down and Mom started working on my hair. I could hear her thinking, “Penny for your thoughts?”
She sighed again, “I don’t like being rude to her…”
“Well, she’s fucking annoying.”
“Yeah…but….I also don’t like that she walks all the way down here and gets nothing. She’s sick too and I know what it’s like just wanting a cigarette.”
“I guess.”
Mom patted me and I moved to sit on the sofa. She got her remote and her chair whirred back working its little motor, “I think I will give her Bible quotes.”
I laughed, “What?”
“Get me a hat, two pieces of paper, a pen…no wait I got one here….alright and a pair of scissors and the Bible.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Want a little tap dance with that, Missus?” I joked as I went about the room gathering the things she asked for.
“Oh, knock it off.” She said, but she still smiled to herself.
She cut little snips and copied down small versus, folded them, and put them all in a hat. She was really proud of herself. I thought it was hilarious.
A few days later I was making deer chilli for dinner. Mom was complaining it smelled to spicy, “My stomach can’t handle all those seasonings.” She reminded me.
“I know, Mom. I know.”
Tap Tap Tap
“Bishop?”
“Let me get this.” Mom said. She started going down in her chair.
“Bishop?”
“Hold on!” She called out, grunting to pull herself into her wheelchair.
“Bishop?”
“Hold on!” I yelled sharply watching Mom navigate to the door. It isn’t easy having a wheelchair in a mobile home.
Mom had the hat on the stand and picked a verse out. She opened the door just enough and said, “Bishop is taking a nap, we have no cigarettes, go in peace.” And placed the paper in Bonnie’s hand before closing the door.
A couple hours later the phone rang and Dad answered it in his bedroom. He came out with a puzzled look over his face and leaned against the counter top, “Missy, did you give Bonnie a Bible quote like on a piece of paper?”
“Yes.”
I was laughing. Mom was smiling.
“Well…” Dad said, “She just called and wanted to know if she had done something wrong to you?”
“What? No. I’m just tired of not being able to give her nothing.”
“Hmm, well…alright.”
Andie began coming down in her place like her emissary. I could never say no to him and always gave him a cigarette even if it was just a rollie.
Mom didn’t like that one bit, “She should not send that poor boy in the snow for one lousy cigarette. That’s bullshit. He already has to suffer being her son!”
She wouldn’t let me answer the door anymore, but she would give him Biblical quotes as well. I tried to point out that it just makes him have to walk further until he gets what his mom is after, but she didn’t listen.
Andie…poor Andie. When I was about 19-20, he died of a seizure. Now, this is really fucked up, but 100% the truth.
See, the road we live on is called Melody Hollow after some French explorer who settled near the area, but nowadays it is known as Felony Holler. It is at the beginning of the Cherokee Forest so perfect for pot growers/sellers, far away enough from the schools so it’s also pervert friendly. The only four families not ever having legal troubles were the Myrtles, the Shanagoldens, old Mr. Williams, and my own family. Everyone else were nothing but recidivists always in and out of the Marcusville Correctional Facility unless you were a woman in which case you went to Saintsville Women’s in Ribault, Kentucky.
This bad reputation meant two things:
1. That the neighborhood, for the most part was safe, so long as you lived there and wasn’t an ‘outsider’. Like nobody liked Estill Easterday because he was a fat tub of ignorant racist lard and his son, EJ, was a thief…but they were OUR thieves. In a weird sort of way we were like a dysfunctional family.
2. In case of emergency, a sheriff was designated to escort an ambulance when 911 was called. BECAUSE ambulances were easy targets for junkies to hold up for pain medication.
And five days after Andie turned 21, he had a seizure and Bonnie came to our door and asked for the phone. She had no tears in her eyes and spoke in a matter of fact tone into the phone, “My son is having a seizure. We need an ambulance….41 Melody Holler.”
She handed me the phone and asked, “Can Bishop drive me back up the road?”
She didn’t need to ask twice. I rushed into Dad’s room and said, “Get up. Andie has had a seizure. Bonnie just called 911. We got to get her back.”
“….shit….” he mumbled as he got out of bed.
“Andie had a seizure?” Mom asked.
“Is having.” Bonnie corrected.
“Get me my walker!” Mom cried.
And we all piled into Dad’s little white Nissan.
When we arrived, Andie was shivering and flailing around on the floor. Will was watching television seemingly unaffected by his son’s radical behavior. Well, a slight annoyance was visible on his person because he turned the volume up.
Mom’s nursing training had kicked into overdrive as she directed me at what to do. She sat in her chair in the doorway and pointed, “The thing is to let him go and then when he isn’t moving, get down there and hold him. Let him breath…but now…get a cool wash clothe.”
I fetched a semi clean kitchen towelette, but there wasn’t any water. I ran outside and dipped it in the creek. By my return he was still and so I held him in my arms. I cradled him and rocked him. His eyes were moving rapidly behind their lids and small twitches ran over his body every now and again. I soothed him for half an hour when Mom said, “Where is the ambulance?!”
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
Her silent face was in a stone grimace and I could tell whatever her eagle eye saw was not good, “His breathing. His sweating. Does he feel cold?”
I felt his forehead, “Clammy.”
She scowled and cursed.
Will sucked his teeth, “The kid does this. He’ll come out of it.”
“Bill, go call 911 again from the house. Will, turn that t.v. down…I can’t think with all that shooting.”
Dad was zooming in that car.
“I don’t know why I get roped into this shit.” He grumbled but still obeyed her order.
But I snapped, “Oh, be a fucking man.”
“Git outta my house you little bitch.”
“Hey! No one talks to my daughter that way!”
“Mom…” I gasped, “He is having a hard time breathing. I can feel the tension.” His back spasmed with every labored breath.
Dad came back red faced, “The fucking ambulance is waiting at the beginning of the road. They won’t come until a sheriff arrives.”
“Get him to the car. Let’s go! Let’s go!”
He stopped breathing in the car altogether and he died by the time they had gotten onto the highway. Will left Bonnie after the funeral and she lived in a disheveled way until her sister, Kelsie, came to live with her. They do all the drugs together. Just all of them.
Now this catches us up to present day. Mom passed four years ago this coming March. I’m a grown woman, married with two daughters, Antonia and Leighbeth. I don’t live on Felony Holler anymore. We live in a second story apartment in York, Ohio about fifteen minutes outside of Columbus. It’s not the best place to live, but it is far better than what I am used to.
In recent history, we had downstairs neighbors named Jon and Alice. Scandal should have been their last name. Always yelling about some new drama. Him sleeping around while they were broke and her breaking up with him because he cheated. They drank spiked cough syrup for fun and had an infant named Xekondarius.
Thanfully, they were given the boot.
Our new neighbors are a couple, Rex and Lillyanne. They have no kids. She is pretty with long soft brown hair and doe brown eyes. He is slightly off putting. Like an aged wigger with his black curls. When he smokes a cigarette he looks shady.
For the first two weeks of them living beneath us, she has asked me for a cigarette every single day. And borrowed one of my special writing pens. Sometimes twice. Sometimes while I’m in the shower. I heard them arguing yesterday when I was in the shower and when she came bumming I gave her two because hey, who doesn’t have an argument with their spouse?
But it wasn’t until today that I put it all together.
I was lying in bed a bit after noon. Down with a headache. Leighanne was in her playpen watching Willy Wonka. Antonia was in the playroom building a castle with Legos. It seemed pretty calm enough for me to try and have a nap.
But then I heard that familiar knock of Lillyanne’s. And I rubbed my eyes and answered the door. She looked desperate, but not overly emotional, “Hey…can I talk to you a moment?”
‘Oh no…’ I thought to myself.
I stepped outside on the landing, “What’s up?”
“I wanted to know if you or your husband could loan me, personally, five dollars? See, you heard us arguing the other day…well that’s cause he stole my money. He left me, truth be told, stole my money and took off. But I get my SSI check later today. I could pay you back after five. Just five dollars…or even a couple cigarettes?”
“I don’t have any money on me.” I replied, not really wanting to hear this torrid tale of white trash romance I have heard time and time again, “But I do have a couple cigarettes. Stay right here.” She seemed kind of relieved as I went back into the apartment.
Unfortunately, I had not realized that I was in a sorry state myself. Just four crumpled Hi-Lo Lights in a pack. I got one out and handed it to her at the door. She thanked me and said, “I will get you back. I promise.”
I closed the door and pondered at why people go into telling their personal stories. Their inner narratives. I don’t care what has happened or is happening in your life, just get on with what you’re after and depending on my resources I will try to help you. I’m a simple kind of person in that regard and I have a blunt short nature.
However, my second thought made my stomach churn in morbid laughter. I called my husband who was on lunch at work and asked him if he recalled Bonnie Campbell from Melody.
“Oh god. Yes.” He snorted in disgust.
I retold what had just occurred between Lillyanne and I and ended with, “So, I was thinking of giving her Bible quotes, but like, ones serial killers would use. Like the really sick descriptive ones.”
He laughed, “You’re so fucked up.”
“You love me though.”
And as I sit here now nearing one in the morning, she still hasn’t got me back. And she hasn’t returned my sspecial pen I use for writing either. They borrowed one the first day they moved in. So I’m sitting here having to type all of this because I can’t find a pen and I don’t have any cigarettes.
I can practically smell the nicotine wafting up through the floors from their apartment. Now her apartment since he left.
Fuck that, he will probably be back in a couple of days. That is how it always works out.
“Your boyfriend stole all your money and you’re having to wait for your SSI check to buy a pack of smokes? Well, we don’t cover that shit! American Monarch Insurance.”

Cracked, Smashed, and Smeared; A Day in The Life of Suzy Lee Long


1
RING
RING
RING
RING
I am AWAKE. I feel like Godzilla. Every nerve ending is on ice; tingling flurries rowing upwards and downwards over my entire body. My eyes are wide and alert looking around the apartment with a new respect for how confused my life has been recently. There’s sketches and empty bottles of wine strewn about the floor. Some papers are stained violet from spilled drinks in attempts of walking drunk to get to the toilet before puke hit said drawings. A new set of paintings has begun from these doodles, a new project. Maybe I’ll call it Paper Dolls and Meth Filters. Don’t know yet, it’s a working title.
This place…oh, god it’s a travesty of unhappy housekeeping. I drank so much. I touch my head gently. I’m so far gone from a normal hangover that I feel nothing at all. There’s no headache, no nausea, not even the alcohol shits. It must have been all that weed I smoked. What was it called again?
Oh yeah, The Funk.
Jesus God! That had to be the best pot ever. A half a pound and I didn’t stop drinking until the bag was gone. That was three weeks ago. I’ve been binging for little under a month on the most potent weed I have ever smoked…and the wine, of course.
I’ve eaten bologna, I think. Maybe some ravioli? It’s not exactly a blur because I know I spent my time productively. But I’m not all here. Have I ever been?
Damn it, I don’t think so.
Rising from bed I see the sun intruding through the windows. It’s gonna be another hot ass day. Well, as long as I’ve got smokes and a little bit of pot to tide me over I’ll be alright.
RING
RING
RING
Who would dare call right now?! Do they not understand that a living, breathing, albeit lazy person lives here? Or it’s one of those bastard friends of mine wanting me to do something, to go somewhere. Not today. NO! I need twenty-four hours to compose myself. A whole day for me and mine.
I hurry to the bathroom and the beige rotary phone sits in the sink and answered with a rushed, “Yeah-Hello?”
“Sally?”
Shit, it’s Phyllis the apartment manager, “Hi, yeah, it’s me…Suzy Lee.”
“Sooo….I was just calling to let you know that Graham’ll be coming by to pick up the rent.”
I’m relieved. Graham may very well be her husband, but I think he’s been crushing on me for a minute. He’s always really nice and I and I caught him looking at my boobs one time when he came to fix the lights, “Oh, okay. What time you think?”
“Not really sure, he’s working nights now.”
“Right on. I’ll be here all day so he can come by anytime.”
“Uh, no offense, but you can call and tell him that.” She’s growing impatient with me. I can hear her fuchsia nails tapping on her desk right beside the table calendar drawn with neon marker of everyone’s birthdays. Little balloons and party hats in green highlighter ink; It’s enough to make a person sick.
“Okay.” I won’t.
“Bye-E-E.”
“Bye.” I hang up.
Well, that was pleasant.
I feel shaky. My hands are like jittering humming birds. I bristle out of my clothes and stand in the bathtub turning on the cold water. I rejoiced in my hangover-less world a bit too soon.
I sense evil under my skin writhing up my spine. This painful shaking anxiety clasps my brain stem and I’ve seized.
Falling down I bang my knee on the corner of the bathtub. I don’t feel it. I don’t feel anything except the nervous convulsions my muscles twitter to. My arms, my hands, refuse to still and my legs are weak and twitching. It’s the fucking withdrawal. It’s begun.
I shut off the water and slowly climb out of the tub. I’m too fragile to stand on my own and so I fall directly upon the tiled floor. Oh God, I want to die. Rip my skin from the tissue. I realize I’m sweating and covered in freezing water. Some ibuprofen and a nap won’t fix this. I’ve got to get some real deal-BUNG BUNG-Buffalo Sioux medicine. I wobble to lean against the toilet and vomit. It feels so early in the morning. Hurling wine and…oh god…yep, ravioli until bile touches my lips. I wipe them clean…
…whatever I’m doing it’s like a stumble-fall-crawl to the sofa. I must look like a lobster fighting not to be put in the pot of boiling water. I ascend from the floor as my nails dig into the polyester flowers and wiggle unto the cushion. I lay like a dead fish until my head stops buzzing and I can sit normally.
The contents of my coffee table tell any visitor everything they need to know about me:
A long horizontal statue of an African nude made from alabaster. I named her Head Shot. There is my metal pipe the Tin Man, scattered tobacco and empty tubes waiting to be filled. The box in which my weed accouterments rest in. When it’s closed, it looks like a simple wooden box with a wolf howling at the moon depicted on top. Open, one can see a sewing needle, a flexible wire coated in resin, and a credit card that belongs to Clay.
But there’s a surprise for me here. One bottle of blackberry merlot has gone unfinished.
My belly turns over at the thought, but I’ve got to have it. Like old parchment soaks ink, it seems to dissolve in my greedy mouth. My tastebuds scream in delight, but we know the sad truth of it and it’s that I’m going to be sick either way.
Unless I get some weed in me.
As quickly as I can with aching joints, I reach for the box and open it only to be disappointed.
Looks like I’m heading out in this summer heat with D.T.’s. Fan-fucking-tastic.

2
In ancient Egypt, they worshipped the sun under the name of Ra. Well…fuck Ra and fuck the sun. Fuck it’s orbit and everything to do with the whole goddamned operation. We’re all just specks of stardust and bags of salt water walking around on a rock floating in an infinite universe that’s always expanding and with all that going on we still must deal with swamp heat. If there is or ever was a God, he could’ve been like, “They got enough shit going on, let’s make the weather nice at least.” But no, He/She didn’t because gods and goddesses are not made of fluffy sweets and marshmallows. They’re made of FUCK IT ALL LET THEM BURN, DIE, KILL THEMSELVES.
And as I drag my happy ass down Lonesome Maple Lane, I smoke a cigarette in hatred and sweat. It’s so hot that mirages of water puddles have formed in the middle of the road. These houses that surround me are oppressive with their rugged windows and looming, darkened porches. I hate going this way. I don’t even know what made me take this short cut. I could have gone down Jefferson and been at Old Man Harry’s in less than two. But oh no, my laziness dictated we not cross Petite Rouge due to the afternoon traffic. I don’t think I could handle the sound of it anyway.
The air is thicker the closer I walk to the river and my lungs feel like they’ve been poisoned. I do something I very rarely do and stop to squash my cigarette beneath my boot.
RWARRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Before I can think of what’s going on, there’s a dog latched on my ankle. It’s teeth nearly penetrate my jeans when I hear, “HEY! Whad ur duin’ on mah lawn?” The well sized mutt with it’s ill groomed brown fur is going insane as a barrel bellied man swings his ratty screen door open.
“I’m not in your yard! The sidewalk is public fucking domain! Call this little shit off!” I yell. Oh god, I’m going to puke. My heart is thumping and blood is pumping through to my brain in scarlet waves, “SHIT!” The fucker’s teeth cut through my jeans as I tried to shake him off.
Bending down, I do the only thing I can think off. I keep the leg he’s got perfectly still and while he’s busy, I take one of his own legs in my grasp. With the butt of my palm and jab his joint as hard as I can. In a matter of seconds, he’s limping back to the fat man whimpering like a child. I didn’t even hear the bone crack, just that cry.
“You’re paying his vet bill, you bitch!” He screams out from a bloated, wet mouth.
“The hell I am. You’re fucking dog attacked me.”
From the corner of my eye, I see a man in a white button up tucked into khakis running across the street. His green and blue stripped tie is held in place by a gold clip in the shape of Thor’s hammer, “Are you alright, Miss?”
I’m so out of it. I pull up my jeans and see a tiny trickle of blood running down into my boot, “Yeah, I think it’s superficial.”
The well dressed man points a finger at the dog’s owner, “Buford, you’ve been warned numerous times about that monster. You either have it put it down or I’ll do it myself.”
Buford. Of course that would be his name, the slob. He scratches his flabbiness and walks with bowlegs back in the hole from which he crawled from taking his crying canine with him.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah, positive.”
He shifts and reaches in his pocket, “Well, if you find that there’s any permanent damage, give me a call.” He hands me a card.
“Philip Van Der Blud, attorney at law?”
His hand brushes mine, “Call me if you need anything.”
Jesus Christ. Here I am shaking from withdrawal and being burned alive, standing here bleeding and he’s hitting on me, “Uh, yeah…thanks.”
He turns away and I’m left bewildered but in a hurry.

3
Old Man Harry is sitting on his porch in a broken down metal lawn chair in very short denim shorts with ripped fringe. As usual his shirt is draped over the back of the chair and his sunburnt belly bounces as he laughs at a joke I can’t hear. Fake gold chains nestle in his wiry curling white chest hair. His glaucoma eyes spot me as I come walking up through the yard, “Hey, hey there, Suzy Lee. What pleasure brings this siren to my humble domicile?”
I sniffle as I sit on the step below him and lean against the column, “I was wondering if ya had any smoke?”
He frowns, “I’m waiting on my fella now. Should be here in the next couple hours. You want a brew?”
“Sure.” I sigh lighting a cigarette.
“Ladonna, run upstairs and get our most honored guest a beer, huh?” He asks his girlfriend of unknown years.
She stands all to five foot three with a gut that rivals Harry’s and rubs it, “Alright, but you gonna owe me.” She sounds like she’s been smoking since she came from the womb.
Harry snorts, “Be glad I still keep your ass ‘round since I caught you in my pills.” He looks at me with wiggling nose hair, “It’s because I love her so much.”
‘Yeah, and you’re her pimp.’ I think, but I smile big, “That’s so sweet.”
“Sweet ain’t got nothing to do with him, honey tits.” She says as she disappears in the house. I can hear the stairs creaking beneath her weight as she gains higher altitude.
Harry goes straight to staring down my shirt, “So, uh, when you going to be…of age?”
Okay, so I’ve been older than eighteen for some time, but he doesn’t know that and I keep it that way. If he knew my real age he’d start touching me when I come over and a lot of girls are fine with it, but I’d be down one great cannabis connection, “In a couple years.”
“Well, you just come and see me on your birthday. We’ll party, just you and me, yeah?”
I force myself to nod. My grin is vacant, “Sure.”
He adjusts himself and I can see his boner outlined through the denim, “Yeah, it’ll be a great night. Get some beer, a little tye stick. I might even let you watch a couple dirty movies.” He chuckles grossly, “Are you a virgin, Suzy Lee?”
He asks me every single time I come over, “Nope.”
“A bit broken in, huh?”
I shrug, “I guess so, don’t really know what you mean.”
“How many lovers have you had?”
I try not to blush because any girlish habits makes him worse, “A couple.”
“Mhmm, bet you’re dirty.”
“Harry!” Ladonna is there with a hand on her hip, “Ain’t nobody dirtier than me.” She hands me the beer and sits on his lap as if to claim him. Her narrow red ringed eyes scan me, “She wouldn’t even know how to handle a cock like yours.”
No, I couldn’t and neither would I want to. I imagine oozing, puss filled lesions covering his dick and I gag.
“What’s a matter?” He asks.
“Nothing.” I cough out, “I’ve just been feeling a little bad today. Looking for smoke.” I open the can and drink it as quickly as I can. I’ve never been one for beer, but I’ve never been one to refuse free alcohol.
“The county’s practically dry. It’s taken me weeks to get this guy to come off some. In fact, I wouldn’t even sell you the shit he’s bringing. It’s middies at best, know what I mean?”
“Yeah.” I place the drained can beside his flip-flop, “I’ve got to get going. It’s too hot out here.”
“Be careful and, uh, don’t forget what I was talking ‘bout. Your birthday?”
“Yeah, no, I won’t forget.” I never do.

4
E.l. has a real nice little shotgun house off of Dakota Drive. A nice paved path winding up a brick front porch, but from halfway down the block by the Legion I see Lisa Marie standing on the porch yelling and waving her flashy French tips around. E.l. is walking away towards a guy running backward. Shit, man. E.l. has a fucking machete. I bend over with my hands on my knees, “Gah, I need this shit in my life.”
I stroll up on the sly and Lisa Marie waves me in while she’s screaming, “They gonna call the cops, E.l.! They gonna call em!”
“FUCK!” I hear as I sit uncomfortably on their bean bag chair. E.l. comes in sweating like a madman with rage burned in his bulging veins. Lisa Marie follows him in closing the screen door, “How much you need?”
“Ten.”
“You do it, baby.” E.I. is pacing back and forth.
Disappointing, she always shorts me, but fuck it. She sits down and shakes her head while she gets a big plastic bag full of pot from under the couch cushion, “Shit’s been crazy ‘round here. Our electrics out and that guy kept talkin’ while E.I. was on the phone with them tryin’ to straighten it out.”
“That sucks.” I say watching her measure it in a cup on an electronic scale.
E.I. is messing with his phone, “It’s those voice operation bullshit. There’s no real people anymore. Just fucking ‘droids.” He turns on the speaker filling the room with elevator music. Smooooove jazz.
“The day’s been crappy for everyone. I got attacked by a dog on the way over here. It was so fucked.”
“There was a big problem like that in my hometown, Bandieville.” Lisa Marie is tying it up.
“Is that in Chateau County, Virginia?” I laugh, “I watched a documentary about a family that comes from there. The, uh, The Vulnerable, Vile Ventures of Bandieville, Virginia.”
“…please press seven…”
She laughs, “I got the hell outta there the minute those guys came out from Nashville wantin’ to do that video.”
“You’re a Venture?”
“Carli Bo is my mom, Moll Venture is my aunt…”
“…please wait for an available operator to assist you…”
“Finally!”
“Wow, you’re real Appalachian royalty.”
She shrugs, “I don’t want no cameras here lookin’ at what I do, what we do.” I agree with a salute and she tosses the bag on the table, “There’s ten.”
I reach in my pocket and find…lint. My other has my key, “Shit, I forgot my money. Keep this on ice and I’ll be right back.”
She nods.
“…please hold for an available operator to take your call…”

5
I’m dripping revulsion walking all the way across town to Duque Federal Credit Union. It’s only five dollars to keep it open. I haven’t been to the main branch since last week when they fucked me over ten bucks and I had words with the clerk.
I bet I look like a burnt out version of myself, hair wild and loopy eyes. They think I’m a dope fiend, a junkie. I am, but I’ve never been nothing but nice and quiet to them and they screw me because I skirt around their frame of reality. I’ve noticed the repugnance on their unmolested faces. Tellers always act like you’re intruding on their precious time and I hate that shit. You’re in public service, put a smile on your face, and fake it like you do remorse when a celebrity dies.
I open the first glass door and feel the sudden rush of freezing unmoving air-conditioning. It smells like carpet deodorizer and cologne walking through the second door into the lobby. Making my way through the obstacle course of waiting rope and greet a red haired filly with her name typed on her titty tag, “How may I help you today?”
“Yeah, I’d like to get thirty dollars out of my account.” I hand her my I.D. and bank card. She examines them like I’m a criminal.
While she types one button at a time on her keyboard I overhear the girl at the booth next to me talking with a gruff voice, “Yep, ‘most got far’d from work ‘cause sum bitch said I’s snortin’ pills in the bathroom. I was, but she was too with me! So I ratted her out an’ guess who got fired?”
The animosity from that single ramble of inane stupidity makes me snap. My stomach churns and I feel about as strong as a passed out badger, “Your the reason my mother is DEAD!”
All talking and movement stops and all eyes are on me.
“Eh…excuse me?” She’s looking at me. Her junkie panic has set in and her neck retreats a bobbling head.
“You and your goddamn pill heads killed my mother! People die every day in pain because of your fucking selfishness and greed!”
“I…I’m sorry….”
“Is there a problem, here?” My teller has returned with a straighter back.
“No!” I’m so sharp I feel like a razor blade, “Just give me my cash.”
“We can’t have you in the bank if you come in here to make a disturbance to our other patrons.”
“Patrons? That’s a pretty big word for you…Kinzie. They teach you that in training? I want to speak to your manager.”
“I am this regional bank’s manager. Maeve, get Todd out here.” She’s got level eyes on me, “You’re no longer allowed to do transactions in this building. You can go to our secondary location on Myrtlebank Street.” She pushes my I.D., bank card, money, and receipt beneath the glass partition.
I snatch it up and turn around to be greeted by a burly security guard, “Seriously? It’s like, five fucking feet to the door.”
“Job’s a job, Ma’am.” And he follows me and even opens it for me.
I swear to what the hell ever is holy, I better not see that woman ever again. Fucking junkies…
“Wait a second!”
I turn around and I can’t believe what I’m fucking seeing. I see her up close and personal, her black mascara smeared. Even with heels on I didn’t realize how short she was, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean nothing…”
She seemed sincere but my rage was fueled by ignorance and I screamed, “NO! You don’t get to apologize! I wouldn’t even accept if I could.”
She’s bowing like a doe.
“You’re coming with me!”
“Okay.” She says clambering behind me with her stick legs marching along in wedge heels. I take the long way around to Bernard’s by way of crossing St. Germaine Street at the light, the traffic loose and fragmented and her trailing me and with every clank of her heels hitting the pavement seemed make my head throb towards explosion. Bridge View Val-U was playing 108.9 The Classiks a.m. and ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ blared over their speakers.
“I laike this song.” She slurred.
“SHUTUP!”
As we turn down the alley beside Val-U and the furniture rental store, a man runs up to her, “Hey, Crista. Waz up, girl?”
“I’m following her.” She points a short claw to me.
“Who’s she?”
She shrugs heavy faux fur shoulders, “I don’t know, Toad.”
First Bufurd, now Toad.. He’s a not wholly a man with a good ten o’clock shadow and bruised eyes, “I’ll come with yea.”
Here we stroll, the Mistress of Junkies with her two loyal subjects in tow, down Main Street Port Alex, across Pike Street, and land ourselves in Bernard’s parking lot. The sun is so fucking hot and I’ve got sweat rolling down tickling folds I never knew I had and my belly churns over and over. The suburbans hurry along in who are we kidding jogging suits and tennis shoes. Those cougars in brown leather boots and everyone looks pissed as a totally unbothered resting bitch face permeates.
“Would you like a cigarette?” I ask, digging in my back pocket.
“Aw, that’d be great.” Her eyes are shadowed. He smiles toking on his own cigarette.
I take a cigarette out of its pack and light it. I rapture in the essence of smoke and heat and for a moment I’m suspended from my ailments, but the globe always comes crashing down and after one hit I toss it to the ground and smother it with my boot. Moist tobacco sticks to the ground and the entire bottom of my sole, “It’s too bad, I just run out.”
And hell, my mom isn’t even dead.

6
There’s a tan Escalade parked in front of E.I. and Lisa Marie’s house and that bodes ill for me. I always get nervous like I’m about to walk right into a bust or a sting or I’m being recorded. I don’t know. I never know and that’s what gives me the jitters.
I go up ready to knock on the screen but E.I. is there waiting to let me in. The first thing I see is a very dark girl sitting on the floor in short-shorts exposing an entire backside of cellulite. Her black hair is in a spindly ponytail complete with a fine mustache spotting her flat face.
I sit at the end of the table rooting around for ten bucks and lay out a twenty instead. That leaves me five for a bottle of wine and five for a pack of smokes. Lisa Marie recalibrates the bag she pre-made while E.I. does introductions, “This is my friend, Keilly. She’s got some nice lemonade moonshine for sale.”
And I thought they were piss jugs, “Wish I could buy some.”
“How mush you got?” She motions with a head bob and flicker of acrylic nail.
“After this, I got ten, but five is for smokes.”
“I give you jug for five.” She already has it in hand pushing it to me. I take it quickly and it’s heavier than what it looked like all the way over there.
“Thanks!” I dig out a fiver and she takes it shoving it in her bra.
Lisa Marie sends me on my way, “It’s good shit, man. You’ll love it.”

7
It’s dark by the time I reach my trusty apartment with its crooked golden eight swaying back and forth. It’s a bit drafty in the hall for being so warm out and I don’t think the government agency that owns this piece of shit would care much if we had air-conditioning during one hundred and three degree weather.
The sloshing jug of moonshine was so awkward to carry all those blocks and it made it harder to look inconspicuous. Smoking a cigarette lugging around a gallon of what was for sure not any milk known to man.
I unlock my door and heave a sigh of relief as I place the moonshine on the kitchen counter. I close that thick walnut door listening to it latch in the dark silence when I hear a click and light comes flooding the room, “Dutchie, damn it! I told you to stop breaking in!”
“Who’s Dutchie?”
I turn slowly around and see that it’s Graham, the collector. My heart slows down, “Shit, you fucking scared me.”
I can smell his cologne from ten feet away and his jeans are bit snug. His face is a handsome rugged like a forester or a carpenter, “Sorry, but Phyllis was pretty insistent I come by and get the rent and you know how she gets.”
I let out an easy laugh moving towards the counters by the refrigerator (that has barely worked since I first moved in four years ago), “ Yeah, I don’t really like messing with her much.” I flip on the light and stand on my very tip toes to reach the ceramic pig on the top shelf, “Can you fetch this for me?”
“Fetch?” He shortens the distance between us with a chuckle about him, “You’re so cute. How old are you anyway?”
Is he gauging right now?
“I’m old enough.”
“I bet you are.” He winks and gets the piggy bank down and gives it to me and his hand brushes against my breast.
My muscles tense as I unplug the fragile beast and get a random assortment of fives. It’s only twenty dollars for rent here, I shouldn’t bitch so much, “Here you go.”
Graham doesn’t take it. He has a swaggering stance as he looks down at me from a six feet four stature, “You know, you are a damn pretty girl.” He strokes my cheek.
I put on my most sincere smile, “I like it rough you couldn’t handle me.”
His body contorts to that of a demon with such a smug smirk slathering his chin, “I like it kinky.” In a motion so swiftly, he grabs the back of my hair and pulls. I drop the pig and I can hear it break, but I can do nothing. Graham has me in a tight hold kissing me. His tongue invading my mouth tasting like cotton candy of all things. And he’s a smoker too.
A hand roams over my chest as he talks, “You like that? You a dirty girl? Huh? You a dirty girl?” He’s nipping at my neck which prickles at his touch.
“Stop…” I’m completely paralyzed by fear that I can barely get the word out.
He is touching me lower and lower until his calloused fingers finds their target. His grasp isn’t particularly harsh but they’re not graceful either. He’s had practice doing this, controlling women. Which makes me both pleased and frightened.
I squirm away with the money held out. I can’t say anything. My tongue is tied up in knots. I feel like total shit and I just want this creep out of here so I can get drunk and forget today ever happened in the first place!
He’s slick as he goes about it in the silence. He grabs his wallet and cooly sets a fifty on the counter. He takes the money in my hand, kisses my forehead, and says, “Thanks, baby girl. I’m a have a hard on for you for weeks.”
I feel like I’ve been bathed in grease.
I don’t watch him leave. I just see the piggy bank that I’ve had since I was ten scattered in unforgivable pieces. Shattered beyond repair. The face of Ulysses S. Grant staring blankly at me.
I hate with such a hate and blinded by that hate, I don’t even remember opening the moonshine…

The Ole Americans


Male Stripper Moonshine

There was cigarette smoke
smothering the stale moonshine
and the blood ran with sweating stench.

There was a male stripper,
some sort of sideshow freak
with gore running down his arms.
His fresh wounds over many slave scars.
He messed with his hair
and I think of he’s vain.

The couple in the corner:
A red headed harlot
and the virgin pirate
all dressed up,
and shoving the alcohol
down my young throat.

I tell them I’m gonna be a cult leader
when I grow up.
They all think I’m so funny.

We were all laughing
when my white shirt went red.
The blonde girl had a nose bleed
and I carried her up the stairs.
I told her Dave Wyndorf was coming,
but she didn’t believe me.

They love everything I do,
all I say is genius,
and they just eat it fucking up….
…howling at the moon.
I believe it’ll howl back one of these days.

The Ole Americans

1

A broken off commission of the incestuous Wylt clan have moved in across the hall.
All my neighbors are a bunch semi-worthless emotionally deformed flunkies, whores, and relics of years long gone, but I feel this open familiarity between this new family really sends the neighborhood to hell, ya know?
They wrote all their names from oldest to youngest on their mailbox outside. Their middle names included as to dare someone to attempt identity theft.
Matriarch Alicia Erinna Wylt, a small olive woman with a vaguely ethnic look about her wrinkled face. Doesn’t surprise me, I hear the Wylt’s claim dark Welsh ancestry.
Her son, Adam Anthony Wylt, favors her, but his bulky body is twisted and he’s balding obviously with his stringy hair combed over the entire top half of his head. This man snarls a long shadow with grotesque gorilla arms.
Carolina Arizona Wylt looks young for her age from far away, but up close she’s a withered bat-bratt who dresses in greasy leotards. I’ve seen a lot guys roaming these halls with her. None of them are good looking characters, I may add.
There are the twins, James O’Brien and Steven Eric. The oldest girl is Sarah Bayley and she’s screwing them both. Their attempts at discretion has been overruled by their hushed power struggles I’ve seen around the grounds.
The fourth poisoned fruit is AJ BillyJo with his pinched birdlike features. His face sickens me and what a ludicrous name. American Monarch as Ford would say. Straight hillbilly.
The youngest two, Brandon Samuel and Kira Nicole, are around my age and I’m just going to lay it on the line that he’s the hottest one…but they’re all fucking weird. I think AJ has been diddling them both since childhood.
In some way or another they eat pork chop sandwiches, chicken salad, a type of bean soup, potatoes, collard greens, and strawberry ice cream every single day. They dump the leftovers in an open compost beneath their bay window. To leave the premises I’ve got to walk by this odor of decaying matter.
I miss the tranny and her drunk boyfriend. At least he smelled like whiskey and not this chipped beef chuck slush vomit. Flies are always outside now. A small swarm with just enough power to creep me out.
People living this close to squaller are witnesses to each other’s bullshit. They’ve seen a fair share of my oddities. I mean, most of my apartment is made of windows.
Seriously though, I’ve heard about the incest and inbreeding of this family before. Like most of the large Appalachian clans who hold fast to the old ways. Those traveling gypsies like the Wylts, the Milos, the Fords, and the Ventures. Like locusts purging all that’s good around them. So called the Merry Folk, but that’s said in irony.
It’s not just the new people across the hall. I know some Milo’s by way of Dutchie, and I even personally know a Ford. These large government families have become all too frequent. They breed and abuse the system with no remorse of their actions. They’re not the type to care if they’re taking funds from a family who might need them. They claim fake injuries, get crazy checks for their kids, and still they bitch about how Big Brother knocks ‘em around.
Sometimes, I give myself the willies using my foodstamp card.
But I’ve got to get my head in the game. I’ve got to get ready!
I smile to myself as I light a cigarette. Deviated mental conversations are common after toking a pipe. I’m in anticipation for three-thirty. It gives me time to meet my friends early, but still be fashionably late for the show.
The warmth of the electric heater, the pot in my lungs, the smoke in the room, and the bottomless flame from the wine are making me feel so good I don’t wanna move. Comfortable in my skin and in my jeans and gray knitted spaghetti string top. From my messy Grecian style of jet braids down to my scuffed black boots nicely tied. I am fire.

2

“HEYYO BITCH!” I yell as I walk through the narrow glass door, “Give me your wallet so I can make a living!”

“Heyyo bitch! I gave your grammaw up for Lent!” Bear roars over the sweltering little diner.

Four in the morning and the place is packed with KKK members, bikers, and black Hasidic Jews. A strange brew with my friends sitting in the heart of the mixture in a collection of audacity and stoned belligerence.
Clay is first to hug me, then Pax. I fawn over Bear and Kelly Ann while Patrick simply waves as if I’m complete disinterest.

“Forgive me for not getting up.” Alec gestures to his awkward corner seat.

“Don’t forgive me. I’m too lazy and you’re not worth getting up for.”

Dutchie smirks lighting a cigarette.

“Shut the fuck up.” I glare. Rough words, good hearts. Well, for the most part.

I squeeze in between Clay and Pax, “Did anyone happen to order for me?”

“Were we supposed to?” Bear asks.

“Nah, I’s just hopin’ against hope.”

“I did.” Pax says over talking fog, “Steak and eggs. Three shots of vodka.” He motions to his lap where there sits a bottle of liquor wrapped within a brown bag.

“Nice, fill me up, Sir.” I hand him my empty flask.

Kelly Ann crinkles her button nose humorously, “No, you don’t get any, little lady.”

I sprawl my hands on the table and plead, “Oh! Please, Mother? I won’t have too much! Pwetty-pweety-pwease?”

She’s as coy as a sprite, “Alright, but jus’ this once.”

The vodka is carefully poured in my silver and chrome flask as the conversation that had swelled before I’d arrived now continues as I am the last one expected, “How long ’til Richardson goes on?” I whisper to Clay.

He shrugs, “Don’t know. Maybe ‘bout half an hour?”

“Good.” I nod, “That’s enough time to pop out for a ciggy and some adventure.”

3

The steak is unnaturally bloody and I caused a ruckus amongst the table when I put hot sauce on it. Okay, drowned more like, but I don’t care. It’s my food and it’s not like they’re eating it.

Every restaurant in the world has a great dish that’s their signature they serve, but depends on the patron’s willingness to try new things. Those who like beef may not like the signature chicken and those who like chicken may not enjoy the notable beef. However, this does not stop people from hating on the midnight diners.

In my experience, I’ve found that fork and spoon joints like the Ole American have the best food. Every dish is a real home cooked beauty. Maybe it’s because the lack of forced health code regulations or maybe it’s because Big Butch has been slaving in that kitchen since 1949. Whatever it is, they’re working for the benefit of all us insomniacs.

“The other day Brittany and I were comparing the ideals and tactics of the Crusades and Vietnam and I told her I think I’d get some great training if I joined the Army. She said I’d be the first person ever fragged in bootcamp.” I shove a piece of salty, buttery egg in my mouth.

“I don’t know, damn it! Even as parables, what does the Bible teach us, Alec?” Patrick leans back cooly with folded arms, “It was a deal between God and the devil, unfairly, and the whole thing with Lot’s daughters? It should be x-rated not this fluffy t.v. bullshit they’ve got going on now.”

“They’re right, Suzy Lee.” Pax answers me, “You couldn’t hack it in the military.”

“Yeah? I watched Mama Gayle’s Shuffle, Bear sent it to me.” Clay covers his mouth to keep from laughing too hard, “Did you watch the link I sent you, Dutch?”

Dutchie’s dark gleam slants into happiness, “It…it was people fucking in a trailer park, wudn’t it?” He shakes his head, “I sent you a clip from January Joe’s. Gay, gay, gay.”

“They’d have needed soldiers like you in ‘Nam, lil girl. You’d been a fucking MARINE!” Bear buries his face in an artisan breaded meat-cake dripping stains over his gold rings onto the burgundy placemat.

“I can see you taking Hill 471 now.” Kelly Ann agrees as she takes a sip of soda pop, “They would have needed you and another Ronald Spiers.”

“I hate these people who say it wasn’t wine. If course it was wine! Jesus isn’t wasting a miracle to make Welch’s, bitch!” Alec makes the entire table erupt.

I take a couple sips of vodka and ask, “That porn you’re talking about, Clay? Was that the one with the girl who goes up to her neighbor’s and asks for dennies?”

“Yeah!” He’s chuckling.

“Remind me to show you Kamikaze Cocksucker.”

“Is it Japanese?” Bear asks quickly.

I snort laughter, “No, but it’s pretty damn funny.”

“I saw one the other day called Spud Rockers. Fake Irish, bad accents, in a dive pub. Very American.” He answers.

“I bet it was awful-awesome.”

God, fatty steak is so good. Charbroiled? Is that the right term? Whatever it is, this food is sexy.

4

I am Death. I move through this tightened tiled hall towards the backdoor like a breathless dragon. Skulking from door to door in search of the soul that will set us all free of our godly bonds. I lead this conga line on The Mission.

Code: It’s time to pray for washboard Jazz and flea-bottle drugs. It’s time to pray. Pray for things unchanged, for persons unblamed.

Decoded: We’re going out back to get high before the show starts.
The exit is found by the intimidating black letters above a stooping wood door. It swings open at bare touch and the air is bittersweet. A potent combo of sweet pies baking and four day old trash collecting from the surrounding houses.

I lean against the brick wall beneath a dim yellow motion light. Dutchie, Clay, Pax, and Bear crowd about me. Patrick, the ever prepared, lights two blunts at once and hands me the smaller of the two. It’s messier, but it was made with love and a strong mango flavor wrap. His is the Lauder Special which he personally calls the Jack White. A cherry wrap paper with a white strip of regular rolling paper swirling around it like a barber shop sign. It’s held together with blue agave nectar and then dried under a sunlamp. In other words, Patrick’s dick must be bigger then mine, but since I’m a girl that doesn’t say much for him.

“Suzy.” Bear coughs out between thickly smoking tokes, “Have you had a shameful liaison with a Latin lover?”

“Yes, and we had bizarre sexual practices involving voodoo rites and various Maymoran themed rituals.”

“Sounds like ya’ll made Lovecraft, not love.” Pax murmurs through red eyes and a slack jaw.

“No, I’m not into hentai.” I shrug and allow this line of conversation to stall because Patrick is carrying on a much more interesting one with Clay, “You got a new what?”

“Dog.” Patrick replies, “Picked her up from the shelter a couple days ago. Her name used to be Becky, but I changed it to Sonia.”

“Sonia’s name used to be Becky? That’s a weird name for a dog.” Clay tokes the mango blunt.

“We knew a dog named Becky, Becky Leigh Pollack.” Pax quips and we all explode with laughter.

“I’m not in on the joke.” Bear replies with a curious smile.

“She was a nasty bitch we went to school with. She had a crush on me didn’t she, Suzy?” Clay coughs so roughly that we wince collectively.
Pax shakes his head in disgust, “Hit bitch. She used to smile with her gums and little nano-chompers for teeth.”

“Ew!” Clay exclaims, “Did Suzy Lee ever tell you ‘bout when Becky called her?”

“No, but you know I enjoy a good story.” Bear grins.

I taste the Lauder Special feeling put on the spot, “She was dating some guy that worked at the quarry and she called me one time after staying the night with him. Just to chat, ya know? Anyway, Becky Leigh kinda gasped in the middle of something she was saying and I asked her what was wrong, but she didn’t say anything..and then she told me that she’d farted and she thought she shit herself. She put the phone down and I was laughing my ass off! I laughed for five whole minutes ’til she got back on the phone and told me she hadn’t shit. She’d had anal sex with her boyfriend that night and his cum came out when she’d farted.”

Bear’s face distorts into a horrified laugh, Patrick looks like he’s about to throw up, but Clay is composed, “Didn’t you tell me she masturbated using a vodka bottle and some got in her?”

“She doesn’t have red hair, but she was fire crotch that night…on video chat to boot.”

5

Ron Richardson stumbles into smokey spotlight on the small corner stage. His hair is like ink and hangs in oily strands down to the brown and gray flannel shirt. In one hand is clasped a cigarette and he fiddles around on stage making himself comfortable. He places a scotch and water on a stool and grabs the microphone in instant fury, “GO THE FUCK AWAY!”

“Fuck you, motherfucker!” Bear hollers.

He flips his hair only for it fall back in place over his gaunt, pinched face, “I’m sick of this shit, man. Pot needs to be legalized already. People are too violent now.” He’s sweating like a hunted pig and he’s just begun, “We need light and fire. Light to roll a joint and a fire to smoke it. Here man, before you go on your killing spree…pause for the cause.”
The crowd shouts and screams quick praise before he says, “Yeah, I molested that one armed waitress in Tupelo.”

“A douchebag says what?” A man from the back calls.

“Fuck you. I’ll burn your face with a torch and feed your family Zyklon B.” Ron Richardson, threatening hecklers since 1983.

He goes on for a while bitching eloquently about dolphins, drugs, and a myriad of other subjects going through them at a quick pace and in between his most diehard fans. Truly, the man feeds off hecklers. He’s brilliant like that.

He holds up his nearly empty glass, “YouVid, you’re a bunch of cocksuckers. You motherfuckers in the comments. It’s like a sea of mental retardation. It’s a wave of stupidity that flows like it’s a horrible under current of the internet and of the fucking world and you motherfuckers bring it out. You bring it out! It’s like PubTalk. PubTalk is a wasteland. It’s a horrible fucking wasteland! There are no fucking brains! There’s nothing but just shit and fucking rumors. I heard so-and-so sucked dick for an oxy…good for them! They’re a worthless motherfucker anyway!”

“Here, here!” Pax screams.

Standing ovation.

“Someone! Get me another fucking drink.” Ron says walking off the stage.

I tip our waitress’ notice and point to the comedian and then the stocked bar behind her. She tilts her chin in acknowledgement.

6

Unlike some interesting and eccentric people, Ron is a sociable listener. He’s making the rounds being tiny and introspective and walking with shy, hunched shoulders.

It’s six a.m. and a full swing party. Bear takes a bold guzzle from my flask right after taking a shot of bourbon. He pauses making no face whatsoever, “I’m having a heart attack, fucking vodka.”

“BRING DOWN THE SPUD!” Pax smacks the table.

“Like a potato gun to the lungs.” Alec sings out.

I’m out of my mind mumbling, “The CIA base of operations is somewhere in the Marshall Islands. It’s true, I’ve read up on it.”

“Hey! Look what the cat drug in!” Pax hoots.

I look behind me and the mist of my mind parts and there walks Lisette Robertson on the arm of River Tregaron. Members of the local beautiful people. No, they’re not dating. She doesn’t date, she fucks and devours like a black widow.

Lissie is like a stretched white piece of taffy with a long Anne Boleyn neck draped in a blue pearl choker. The Robertson’s are a large old family in these parts. Her dad alone must have a hundred hands for how many pockets they’ve been found in. Some say it’s to restore their grand brick house on the hill top on Gloria Glenn Corner, but anyone who knows her knows he’s just a crooked son of a bitch.

She’s standing in front of my in a skimpy dress that clings to her body formulating a more feminine figure. She’s all up and down, you see. Oh, and she carries a varying degree of daggers she sharpens daily. Long bare legs inside clear platform heels. So much pale skin showing and not one blade noticeable.

The first time I met her, she said, “I don’t give a fuck about anything.” And I doubt that will ever change, but I wouldn’t have her any other way.

River is taller than everyone in the room which is a feat indeed, but he seems almost normal beside Lissie due to her own height.
Ah, he’s classically handsome like Rudolph Valentino. Clean, dapper, and with cold white eyes. He may not be inhuman, but he is striking.
Lissie comes running to me and I’m frightened she’ll fall, but she dances in those suckers so she’s pretty balanced,

“Suzy Lee!”

“Shit! What are ya doing here?” I get up and hug her with more strength then I intended. Turning to River, he’s positively lusting,

“Darling!” He lays on a charming smile.

“We stopped by to get a quick bite to eat ‘fore we do this killer shit called Temple of Dreams.” She whispers so only River and I can hear her.

Pax joins us as everyone else goes back to their own topics of interest,

“What are yah talking about?”

“Temple of Dreams.” I answer unclearly.

Lissie licks her pout lips and smiles from within her sky doe eyes,

“It’s from Kenya.”

“What is it?”

“Well, it’s kinda like a powdered LSD, but it focuses on spirituality. It really opens the mind.”

“Do you shoot it up?” I ask.

River taps his nose, “Snort it, like coke.”

Lissie’s eyes are wider than usual and I feel certain this is something I want to try. When would the opportunity come again?

“What are the effects?” Pax asks.

She carefully mulls over the question before answering, “Like, if opium and acid had a dirty little baby. You feel like you’re floating in heaven, man. A true celestial being.”

“That sounds disturbing.”

Her gaze is shielded and leveling, “It is very disturbing. You might shit yourself and snort pixie dust in an outhouse, but you will only see beauty.”

River unveils a lilac powder within a petite Victorian glass vile in the palm of his hand, “Shakespeare once wrote, ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here’.”

Yep, this is happening.

7

A fog has settled over the hills. Deep and impenetrable like smoke and cigarette ash. There must be a collection of colors to make this gray so detestable to the senses. A large blinding cloud from hell finally opening it’s glass and iron jaws. No arrow would be able to find its target, no sight to be seen but dead trees and dead air. Even the decay of earth is thicker than usual. The dirt lies in heaps of mud and fodder from the leaves and broken roots.

The fog is creeping down to us laying in a field. I attempt to speak, but no words will come. Only a slow, drawn out groan like a dying cow. I want to scream and bang my arms bloody against metal.

POP

Light comes flooding down on me. A light so bright that I use the last of my energy to keep my eyes shut. My sockets ache…
Minutes. Minutes like hours where control becomes deniable. These times when the insanity rushes the open gates of hell and let the cruelty through. Those who think enough can reclaim their place.
I’m fucked for sure, but true….?

8

There are hours unaccounted for. A serious drunken pot binge didn’t prepare me for this Temple of Dreams and I must have blacked out.
But I’ve just woken up with a canvas on my lap with a rough sketch of a landscape. Sketches on old pieces of paper and napkins lay scattered on the floor. Trees, descending hill mist, and melting faces made of mud and sticks.

I feel foolish even through the headache. It would be me to black out and do something boring. Not rioting, not screaming war rants, not even a surly celebration of independence. Trees and hills, that’s what I do.

Maybe I’m a secret? I don’t know.

I rub my eyes as I move forward on the love-seat. A once pretty purple floral pattern now worn down to a dingy sea foam. The seats are still deep and comfortable which I think makes up for the wear and tear.
I sit for a long time slobbering and trying to piece together what happened to me last night. I don’t know. I’m not even sure I want to know. Lisette and River got pretty wild. Sex? Nah, I don’t think so. Just some harmless introspective stargazing on my part, I hope.

Slowly I reach for my cigarette case and find two-thirds of a cancer stick left and the Lauder Special roach. My head is buzzing and it feels like there’s a heavy bass bouncing inside my left ear. The nicotine is to adjust. The blunt roach is to stabilize. The left over wine in the bottle beside me is just a perk.

With lit smoke hanging between my lips and sweat dripping from my hairline, I pack a bowl. It’s haphazard work, but fuck it. I can’t fucking think! I haven’t dared clearing my throat. Not once.
The world tilts gently straight making it safe-ish to get to the bathroom. If I can take a shower I might be a more accurate person.

BOOM
BOOM
BOOM

“What the fuck?!”

I jump wildly and for a second I’m pretty sure my brain sloshed around.

“Arizona! Open the fucking door!”

I’m a deer in headlights.

“Come on you old beggar bitch! Open the goddamn door!” A man screams.

He’s gonna beat my door down. I move towards it while he’s still banging away. The hinges won’t be able to take much more of this,

“Arizona don’t live here! Fuck off!”

BOOM
BOOM
BOOM
BOOM
CRACK
BOOM
BOOM

“I know you’re in there, bitch!”

Looking around I grab the first pointed object I spot. I quickly unlock the door, opening it frightfully,

“You can cry and shit, like the others, but it won’t do any good. I’m one cold hearted motherfucker and I’ll skin ya as fast I’d cut ya.”

The man in front of me with his arm still in the air mid-knock looks down at the long, sharp points protruding from the end of the meat tenderizer. Honestly, I have such a collection of random shit around my place that I don’t know where this thing came from. It was just there waiting for me, but ah…such are the mysteries, right?

“Uh…”

He’s burly with a barreled body and covered in coarse hair.

“If you’re looking for Arizona Wylt, it’s that apartment over there.”

I point to the number nine on the strong walnut door katty-corner from mine,

“Do not ever knock on this door again or I’ll be holding a gun with your name written on every bullet.”

I slam the door in his face, lock it, and head straight to the shower where I puke and clean myself with tears and cold water.
Which is weird because the water should be scolding.

9

It’s amazing how gradual the sound of the day comes on. In the morning, it’s quiet with Cardinals flitting through the Dogwood branches and the early morning rushers.. By lunchtime, there is an abundance of chirping birds and music blaring inaudibly from passing cars. I have to turn the record player up a little after one and that has gotten progressively louder as the hours pass. I’ve got to drown out the knowledge of those bastards across the hall.

I noticed this today while I finished the last chapter of The Helil by Pepper K. Route. I closed it’s pages a few ago with mixed emotions. On one hand, I loved it. The romance was almost terrifying with her notable chaotic writing style, but I’m sad it’s over. There’s something about reading that is so intimate. Like a secret shared between lovers.
The sun is going down with a burning glaze across the sky as if the cosmos paints with blood. The clouds cut the sun making it appear to be a spiraling orange peel on fire.

I should take a walk, do something to get out of this house. The Wylt’s are having a party of some sort and they all snort like hogs when they laugh. Crude giggling pigs wallowing in filth and sexually transmitted MRSA. They’ve got The Grits…hey, that’s what I should start calling them!

The Grits are too loud and there isn’t enough pot in the world that could mute their bullshit.

I hear a couple moving swiftly down the hall. A man sings a drunken ditty as loudly as he can crackle,

“Give me sugar, give me love, baby! Fuck that! I’m a man (inaudible) who I will always be! Give me sugar, baby!”

Jesus God, please give me peace. Some breath. Am I asking too much?
With soft deft hands, I roll a fat blunt to the best of my abilities. I’ll never get better, but I can’t get any worse. When I first started rolling they looked like flatworms. Now, they’re still sorta flat, but chubby little pricks that don’t burn down too quick.

I gather my things and out the door I venture.

10

I gulp down half the wine of my second bottle as I trudge up the hill to the underpass of Bayou Bridge. It’s chilly out here. I should’ve brought a sweater or coat, but there’s not forethought with those people around.

But here in front of the river is peace. I breath in the heavy scent of coal barges and rotting fish. The ripples in the browned water make me wonder how people can’t appreciate this land. I’ve never been proud of my family or the state or the country. I’m not boasting about how my hometown may look, but I’m damn proud of being Appalachian. Outsiders see us as an inferior species of limited intelligence. Like we’re feral children who need to be screamed at over bath time.

No.

We are grain, we are corn, we are the land. We are the water and the hills. We are grown and we have the power to flex our muscles whenever we so see fit.

And by anything that’s holy, we may be a lot of things, but one thing we possess in abundance is our infinite ability to SURVIVE.

Bear always says, “When shit hits the fan, it’ll be Appalachians they’ll try to suppress first because we’ll put up the longest, bloodiest fight.”

I take a couple drinks and turn around. I’ve never been the kind to hang around bridges. Too many cars. Too many hobos and junkies searching for someone to roll.

11

I carefully sit the empty wine bottle outside the doors of the Concord Alley apartment building. I walk up the grated metal stairs to the screen door. Through there, down the hallway, and past two doors, I find myself knocking on the overwhelmingly powerful white door that reflects a curvaceous numeral 3.

“Who is it?! Who’s that?! There!”Comes a high paranoid voice from beyond the door.

“SHH! Calm down, it’s just Satan. He’s come to digest what’s left of your soul.”

“AH FUCK!”

THUNK

I back away when I hear another loud bang and then, “Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Suzy Lee.”

The locks clink and clack and Alec gives me the dead eyes smile, “Long time no see.”

“Did I come at a bad time?” I ask as he lets me through the threshold.

“Oh, no. Jonah’s a little upset.”

I see it as soon as I walk in. Jonah is hanging by his fingernails from the doorway that connects the dinning room and hallway. His body is extended and I never noticed how fit he was before. He uses the frame as a makeshift weight pull by lifting his legs together until they touch his chest. On the fourth go around, he falls right on his hip and laughs…but there’s tears streaming down his cheeks.
Running an ink stained hand through his short brown hair he seems stressed to the max, “Hey there, Suzy.”
I wave a hello and he excuses himself to the bathroom.
I turn to Alec in confusion, “What’s that about?”

“Olivia left him.”

I nod. I can see why he’d be going off the rails, “How long were they together anyway?”

Alec shrugs, “Longer than most I imagine.”

Olivia and Jonah were a serious thing when I was in teenage infancy. I’ve a hundred questions, but I can’t give into curiosity. It’s too soon and good or bad news comes in time.

But whatever the reason, two things are certain:
First, the goth queen of southern Ohio, Olivia St. Jean is single.
Second, the sexiest most sought after local photographer, Jonah Grayson Grimm, is also single.

This could change the dynamic between everyone like a domino effect. Everyone’ll turn into sexual scavengers drooling over art fag scrapes. Men will become coyotes chasing after her. Women will flaunt themselves in full slut machine mode.

“Would you care for some cheese and wine?”

Alec ushers me towards the living room.

“I’d love some.”

I smile, but really I’m blown away by the excellence of his effort. Candlelight glitters on the framed glass paintings and windows. A bottle of rose wine sits in ice on the table with glasses and a cheese platter,

“Did you know I’s coming over or is this for Jonah?”

“Nope, just lunch.”

He slides onto the slick beige leather sofa.

I take a nibble of asiago and settle in the vacant cushion beside him,

“Where’s Shad?”

You see, there are three roommates in this apartment. Alec the Gentleman, Jonah the Artist, and Shad McElvain the Professional.

“Unlike some people, he has a job.”

He thinks he’s so sly,

“Not all of us can be a professional student, Luther.”

“We using Christian names now?”

Jonah swaggers in carrying a big black book. He takes the chair closest to me and tosses the book carelessly down beside the wine with a loud THUNK.
I scoot it towards me, “The Ultimate Tome of Drugs and Effects.” Huh, it’s alphabetical.

“I plan on making my way through it.”

“What letter ya on?”

“H.” He rubs his forehead and winces from pain, “Where is Shad?”
Alec pours three very full cups of wine,
“He and Catlin went to a football game in Steelton.”
“She’s a good woman. He deserves a good woman, there’s not many around these days.”
His bleak eyes stare into me until I feel like a small child. I’m five and in trouble. Alec crosses his legs like an aging queen. He sips in contentment,

“I know you’re hurting right now, Jonah, but there are so many girls in your future.”

He laughs to himself,

“They fall all over you any time you go out the door.”

He snarls,

“I don’t want any of those empty headed barbarian women. I want her.”

He groans lowly,

“It’s not about them or my ego or even my heart. It’s about her. She makes me better, quicker. I’m stronger with her than with anyone else. I feel like a man. A real man, red blooded. With those others…they’re nothing but holes. Seven years…gone for that foreign cocksucker.”

“Jonah, you are so full of shit.”

I say attempting to drink Alec’s offered wine, but it’s too expensive for my taste,

“I understand you’re hurt, but it’s all in your head. You’ll get over her and you’ll find a woman who’ll make ya feel better than a man. She’ll make ya feel human, weak and vulnerable and you’ll be scared, but it’ll be too exhilarating. Olivia will just be another memory. Another one of those girls you’re talking about.”

God, this wine really is fucking terrible. It tastes like bubbly motor oil. I wonder how much this bottle cost? Then again, I don’t want to know. It’s probably half a year’s rent.

Before Jonah can respond to my tirade, the front door slams and Shad comes through holding up a large brown bag,

“It’s time for scotch.”

12

“Working in a coal mine
going down
sliding down
nodding off
hitting drug needles on the way down.
Nodding off
blowing shit up
nodding off
having a collapse on the way up.
Shooting up in a coal mine
going down
nodding off
hitting shit
all around
gonna die…
Jim fell in the bottom
stuck a needle in his eye…”
“There ain’t no lovin’ after the song’s done, bitch!”

Alec howls over the music, his lips wet with alcohol.
Shad’s sitting in his tidy whities typing away on his laptop. I guess he and Catlin had a fight over different views on the Chinese-Japanese policy.

Jonah is like a ball of unfocused energy about to split apart any second. A full crystal glass of scotch and soda he rests against his forehead.
As for me? Well, I’m fucking plastered dancing in the middle of the room with the half full bottle of liquor.

“You’d make an excellent photograph, Suzy Lee.” Alec instigates.

“Better than Shadrach and his personal panty party over there.”

I say as I swivel my feet in a quick two step and this single action makes me grab my stomach. I feel like I’m about to hurl,

“I don’t feel so hot, ya’ll.”

“No puking in the living room.” Shad warns.

“No dying in the house unless it’s Sacrificial Wednesdays.” Alec smirks.

Jonah slips his drink down faster than I can blink and rises from his seat like a doomed Lucifer being driven back to hell,

“I’ll take care of you.”

His fingers lace through mine and he leads me and my drunken belly towards his bedroom.

“No…no…” I slur.

Leaning against the doorframe he grins,

“What? Rape? You wish, you foxy minx.”

I laugh and follow unable to deny my assumption.
His room looks like a Byronic hero jumped the gun with his decorator. Charcoal gray walls with blurred black and white framed pictures hanging with intentionally placed manners. He turns on a sleek black table side lamp to illuminate his personal library of drab literature. Depressing Russian novels, German philosophy, and French pros mixed with medieval history thrown in here and there.
I crawl on top of the circular bed cloaked in red satins and faux furs.
I cradle my abdomen tightly,

“I don’t feel so sick now.”

Jonah curls up beside me. His arms fall over me with more grace than I could’ve imagined given our present state. I gently push a loose brown strand from his hazel eyes. He radiates sticky sweat and booze and a tear slides,

“You know, this isn’t how I wanted to get you in my bed.”

“Hmmm…maybe one day you’ll get lucky.”

“No, no, no.”

His whispers send shivers down my spine,

“Alec was right when he said you’d be an excellent photograph. You’re not a woman to woo, you’re a picture of all that makes women desirable. You’re intelligent, witty, beautiful, and you thrive on art and music. No, a mortal man like myself could never get lucky with something as ethereal as you. A man can not love a photograph, only admire it.”

13

“In other news, Jason Raymond aged 34 from Steelton, Ohio, mowed down three of his neighbor’s dogs in cold blood. In response, the owner of the deceased canines carried their corpses to Raymond’s porch and dumped them…”

I am awake and there’s something delicious drifting through. I climb over Jonah’s fully clothed snoring body and walk to the kitchen as quietly as I can. Alec is standing in front of the counter listening to the local news broadcast as he whisks up some pink tinged batter,

“Morning Miss. Memory Loss. Did you enjoy the roofie I slipped in your drink last night?”

“Don’t tease me, Luther. You know my fetish…”

He chuckles, “You staying for breakfast? Sausage and apple muffins.”

My stomach gurgles at the thought,

“Another day. I gotta get goin’. My weed ain’t gonna smoke itself.”

“You sure?”

My belly flips and flops,

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

14

The walk back to the L. Grey apartments takes a lot longer when not under the influence of drugs and alcohol which means I’m directly miserable. There’s not even a joint hidden in my bra. It was sheer luck that Jonah left his clove cigarettes out. Emo faggot smokes, but good enough to tide me over.

I’ve never missed government housing so much as I do right now. My heart leaps to my throat when those big, beige bricks come into view welcoming me home.

I take the long way around the avoid the Grits’ bay window compost of vomitous substances. Butting out the clove against a fallen brick, I push my way through the most disgusting smell I have ever encountered. I cover my mouth and nose, but it’s too strong. It’s more rancid the closer I get to my trusty number 8.

There!

My brains sees before I can compute. The Wylt’s door is wide open and hanging from a single hinge. Curiosity gets the better of me and I sneak forward until I can peek inside.

The place is literally trashed. It looks like a garbage truck just backed up and dumped the city’s refuse inside. All of the electronics are gone and furniture seems beyond repair.

“Took off last night.”

I jump at the voice and turn to see Bert Adkins of apartment 12 standing behind me. The old man with his shock white crewcut leans heavily on the crooked wooden cane.

“I wonder what happened?” I ask.

His shoulders shake,
“God only knows.”
He takes a shallow breath,
“But turns out they took the radiator. No hot water ’til Tuesday.”
“Oh! For fuck’s sake!”
“And they stolen all the satellite dishes. Nobody’s got cable.”
Well, that doesn’t effect me, but,
“When’s someone gonna take care of that fucking smell?”
“Don’t know. Soon, I hope.”
I move towards my door and wish Bert a good day. Behind my closed and locked fortress I rejoice,
“They’re gone!”
I smoke a bowl in celebration. I can take all the cold showers from here to doomsday so long as I don’t have to live next to them, but no amount of incense is gonna get that stink out of the air. Win-win or win-lose? I don’t know and I don’t care…but then again, hardly anyone does anymore.