Tag Archives: Appalachia

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…

When The Big Bag of Blood is Desired


Endless

There are endless cigarettes
and empty bottles
reigning over my precious head.

There is something on fire,
but my eyes are busted close,
burning over my boiling blood.

Slipping over me like gasoline,
slick and wailing,
howling angry insults at the others.

I couldn’t forget the warmth of sunshine,
but I’ve stopped all illusions.
The days run together
in massive amounts of time.

It’s almost Halloween,
and I thought it was August.
Soul shivers in my seat.

I couldn’t forget the warmth of sunshine,
cleansing me like hellfire,
everything endlessly endless.

When The Big Bag of Blood is Desired

1

Defiant. That word is used to describe someone who is either stubborn or religious. People say I’m defiant because of how I dress and the music I listen to. I am defiant because I’m a girl with only guy friends. I am defiant because I prefer jeans to a skirt and I prefer black to pink.

My skin is as pale and cold as a corpse. My eyes are neither soulful nor beautiful. They are made of warmed earth and salt water. My hair falls in the blackest of curls down my back and over my shoulders. My nose is too large, I have more scars than I could count, and it seems that my weeping makes men tremble. My bloodline is impure. I’m no blue-blooded anything. I’m a wailer, a failure, an unfocused girl called art in motion.

I’m fourteen. Is this how it’s supposed to go?

But I am not defiant sitting on my bathroom floor smoking weed behind the safety of a locked door. It’s expected of teenagers to experiment with so called drugs but only if we dress this way and act that way akin to the West Port whores. Only then will I be considered tame.

I shake my head tapping off some ash of a joint I’m halfway through and my mind zones out to the Jean Ritchie song coming from the radio. I’ve heard it a million times before this moment. Still, I turn it up because it’s Hamhock radio and the pirate station’s been off air since last Tuesday. It reflects from it’s perch on the toilet lid and fills the small four walled room with the soothing sound of the dulcimer.

Leaning back against the bathtub, I stretch my legs outward across the floor. The tips of my shoes almost touch the door at this angle.

The obituaries rest beside my free hand sitting there one next to the other neatly. The editors had chosen their school photos. In the first clipping, Audie’s is almost too dark to see except for his expressionless face and bleak, stringy hair. Merri is smiling, but they misspelled her name by adding an extra ‘t’ in Martings.

Those wounds, though deep, feel so much older now than they used to. I will never forget them. I’ll always remember how it felt when we three held each other. How it was when we kissed and danced to David Leonard records. No one can measure love. I don’t think it can be gathered and weighed. When you love, when it’s true and to the bone and you feel like you’re falling in a terrifying wonderland, then your heart will miss them and cry for them long after death.

But the other clipping…the death I never expected.

Ajay might’ve been fucked up, but I could have helped him. I was halfway through those defenses he’d put up. Those walls he’d built up around his soul reinforced with concrete and bars.

All of them. Audie, Merrilee, and Ajay…they’d all been defiant and now they’re all dead.

I still may inspire painters, poets, writers, and some singers. Not always in the way I may always wish, but my name could be there and that’s what counts, right? Just one stroke of the brush in thought of me makes it mine. But I’m no one’s eccentric muse. I’m not an alpha, beta, or even a fucking omega. I could have been a lady when called in for question.

But no, it wasn’t meant to be. My love breeds death.

“What a joke.” I laugh out, but I’m crying on the inside. The tears just don’t want to come out.

I toke the last of the joint until it burns my fingers and butt it out in the ashtray. I wrap the papers around it and gently place it in my back jeans pocket. A cigarette finds itself to my lips to which I light it without consultation of my lungs. It’s so smoky in here that I have to rub my eyes and I notice the overhead fan roaring louder than the music. It’s too cloudy and that fan is ear-splitting.

“You’re listening to WRSL 99.2, Hamhock Radio, your local station for the Appalachian. This is Gary Powers here introducing that new soul cat, Johnny Checkers and his new hit I Took Out That Waitress Like Motherfucking Tay Sachs Disease. And not only did it reach number 19 on the charts, but it showed the Country Western fans that Johnny L.B. Checkers was a formidable foe. And his next hit All The Women In My Life Have Disappeared, it went all the way up to number 7 which cemented his new Country Western sound.

“After the trial and wedding to his first wife, Miss. Martha Gaye Johnson, whom he killed, his ultra platinum I Kill With The Best Of ‘Em came out and BOY! It was such a hit that even Jack Quarter said, ‘That’s one nigger I won’t even play for behind bars.’”

I switch it off and stand up, “No sleep for the heretics.” I mutter as I spray some air freshener until I can barely think straight. The radio goes back on the shelf above the toilet and I contemplate if any of them had thought of me before they’d been taken by the forever darkness.

No tears. Not right now.

Shit, they probably were thinking they didn’t wanna fucking die.

I find myself staggering down the hallway like a predator of all the lonely men in the world, preying on the weakest. Nosferatu of the worst kind. A dope fiend.

Mom sits in her rocking chair with the fat, bluebonnet cushions watching the news as usual. She shudders, “Those liberals aren’t making the Republicans love them very much. They’re trying to mold this country into the latest Hell. They’ll fall, like Ron Paul. War on drugs over, my ass…” She spits it out like a curse.

My hand is almost on the doorknob when Raeann leers at me with contempt, “Where are you going? It’s not a date looking like that.”

Inside, I am crying and screaming, “My spirit can not be contained! I AM FREEDOM!” But I bristle with a shoulder shrug, “Jus’ takin’ a walk.”

“To where?” She laughs, “The sign post?”

I am only what she wants me to be, she’s just manipulating me so I’ll get in trouble. She just wants to capture me and shove me in a jar to put on the mantle so she and her little friends can laugh at me.

I do the only sane thing and wait until Mom turns her head to light another cigarette and flip my little sister the bird.

“MOM!” She whines.

“What, sweetie?” Her voice is as sticky as honey.

“Sally flipped me off.”

Mom looks me over without fellowship, her nostrils flaring with disdain, “I tried raisin’ a lady. What I got was a heathen. Apologize.”

I stare at Raeann with barren eyes. The way her dark auburn ringlets hang down past her round, tanned face. Her eyes so narrow and shallow. I make her, them, wait. Watching her nose crinkle with impatience. I wait until I no longer feel like she’s winning, that I am a trophy with a cost. I wait until I feel the dust nearly settle before I say, “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t accept it.” Her nose turns up and away from me.

“Raeann!” Mom’s tone is low, but sharp.

She purses those fat worm lips together, “Fine, I accept, but I’m still mad at ‘er.”

“Still spoiled you mean.” I whisper.

“What was that?”

“Nothin’.” I try to appear as innocent as I can.

“Alright. Make sure you’re back for dinner.”

For fuck’s sake…it’s one in the afternoon. What am I gonna do in hundred degree weather for six hours?

I don’t argue or smart back. I am a goddamned rainbow of randomized thoughts and deliberate movements and I’m too focused on getting the hell up outta here.

When my sneakers hit the shoddy black pavement, I know I’m heading for the abandoned tobacco barn over on Willoughby Creek Run. I could go the hill route, but there’s too many snakes, wild dogs, and pot fields where I could get shot for trespassing. It’ll take a bit longer if I walk along the highway, but I’m sure I’ll fair worse before this life is over.

I feel like I’m the glow that is basked within. My inner light, my inner child. Judgmental assholes. It’s okay to be emotional every once in a while, I know that. It’s okay to cry and play and laugh and celebrate life because I’ll suffocate if I’m not allowed out and about anymore. How can people exist without smiling or listening to music? No life. No life at all.

2

FUCK

I shouldn’t have stepped outta the house. It’s sweltering out here and the highway is directly beneath the sun. My tank top and jeans are soaked. My whole self is drenched and I know I should turn around. I could get high, relax on my bed and sketch in the air conditioning.

Defiance.

I am my lovers’ lover after all.

My tennis shoes are shuffling along and I feel like I can’t breath. Heat stroke? Heart attack?

I don’t know. My mind is a misting swirl of devolutions as I sit calmly down in this corn field, sliding down the metal road sign on the corner of Willoughby Creek. I wipe the streams of sweat from my hot skin. The stalks grow and stretch before and above me. It is a never ending menagerie of vibrancy and the freshly rotted corn husks of the season in which they had not been picked. Forgotten, maybe used for cattle, but relatively the purpose is unknown to me

I close my eyes while the cars whiz past. I sit and listen to the wind ripping through the tops of the leaves and I feel very much at peace. My mind settled in recognition of the splendor of all that’s around me. The air smells of fresh earth and heated tar with a hint of stalled river stink.

I wish I could say the sun feeds me. That the rays that rain down in ethereal glow nourish my body in ways nothing else could, but that would be a stone cold lie. Fuck the sun. Fuck it’s orbit, fuck it’s usefulness, fuck it up it’s fiery asshole.

Lowly here in this dry muck, I feel more beautiful than any other. I am forever youthful and silent and completely infected by liberty in every sense of the word. I am my own individual, not dictated by the incompetence of those around me. I am no one’s child, no one’s daughter, or sister. I am a stunted sunflower soaking up this godforsaken sunlight which pollutes the trees as even they seem despondent and ill.

I wonder how many people driving past think I’m strung out on dennies and that I just passed out here?

“HEYYO BITCH!”

I open my eyes to feverish slits and see The Beast rolling up with crunching tires stirring between the rows of my make believe castle. Clay hangs out the window. He has the most luxurious golden hippie hair I’ve ever seen. He waves to me with a goofy, stoned grin.

The little girl inside of me wills my rescue to be a fluttering fairy to steal me away to their mound and make me one of them forever. My shoulder blades could sprout wings reflecting all light and blinding others with their sheer magnificence.

Or a robber wearing his buttoned up jumpsuit trekking out into the wilderness and I, so blindly, sitting on the very spot he must dig.

But sometimes, reality is sweeter than fantasy. Never in my case, but I hear sometimes its sweeter.

“You don’t look so hot.” Pax says.

“Fuck you.” I rasp as Patrick gets out of the car and helps me up.

“Suzy Lee?” My name is spoken with concern uneasily, “What are you thinking, girl? Coming out in this heat? You’re a psycho.”

“Well, girls think you’re mysterious…wait until they’re disappointed.” I notice a spot of something liquid next to the car door and speak while I climb in beside Clay, “I think The Beast is leaking.”

“We’d smell it if it was gas, wouldn’t we?” Clay rolls a lit joint between his fingers in thought.

Patrick slides in the passenger seat so cool wearing an olive green wife beater and cargo shorts, “Only way to find out is to throw a cigarette on it.”

A chuckle is shared much to my irritation, “Get this thing movin’, man. I’m dying back here!”

Pax gets The Beast chugging along and I lean heavy on the window. The breeze is warm, but it moves through my hair like nirvana, “Can a bitch get a smoke or a toke?” I sit back against the ripped leather seats as Clay hands me the joint, “Thanks.”

“Were you trying to walk to town?” His voice so stern it pains me.

“No.” I flick some ash out the window which comes back to settle on my legs, “You know I couldn’t do that if I tried.”

“Remind me to show you the short cut sometime.” Clay offers.

One of these days I’ll get around to having him show me, but not today. It’s too fucking hot to care. “What brings ya’ll out this way?” I ask after exhaling a cloud of the sweet, skunky smoke.

“Coming to pick you up actually.” Pax answers making an illegal u-turn.

Patrick swivels in his seat, “We got something.” A pear shaped vile falls loosely from his grip unto my lap. It’s about the size of a green bean and skinny as a Virginia Slim, but it’s the liquid inside that intrigues me. A bright orange with streaks of neon yellow.

“What the fuck is this? I’ve never seen anything like this before, it’s like fire.”

“It’s called Number 9. Dutchie told me it’s like acid, only stronger. Like, way stronger.”

And here I thought I’d remain innocent.

I look at him and I smile as kindly as I can muster. His eyes are so piercing that I can’t gaze longer than a breath, “Are we…?”

He nods in silence. He’s an iceberg, so chilled and clear. I hold my hand out to offer the vile and I graze his bare shoulder. He takes the it back, but moves so swiftly away from me like I’m diseased. I slump back into tinges of sadness, “You act like I’d hurt you.”

“No, it’s just too hot to touch each other.” He turns around, “We got something else too.”

“What?”

“Tell her, beautiful.” He snickers.

Clay clears his throat, “My uncle started growing weed in his attic. It was growing real good for a while, but then he got paranoid that the cops were gonna bust in so he took the lab apart and gave, like, seventy percent of it to me. We hid it in my room, but I got a good amount on me.”

“There’s half a stalk in the trunk, but it’s pretty good shit.” Pax flings a menthol out into rushing air and I can tell he’s stressed out.

“Farmer’s Fresh, baby!” Clay laughs.

I can’t imagine Dutchie giving anyone drugs without him being present, “Are we gonna pick up Dutch or what?”

“Eventually. He had some shit to do so he asked us to go pick up a hookah.”

Hmm…that means we’re going to Steelton and that’s a twenty-thirty minute trip, “Someone’s gonna have to stay with The Beast at Remy’s with that weed in the trunk.”

“I will.” Clay volunteers himself.

I shake my head, “I don’t understand. Where’d all the money come from? The hookah, the gasoline?”

“Don’t worry your manic little head about it, Suzy Lee. It’s all taken care of and you were the one who said it’d be a good time to buy a hookah…last week, I think it was.” Patrick props his legs on the dashboard.

Guys with overly muscular legs are too weird for me. They seem like the types that listen to Tom Waits when they have sex, but Patrick isn’t built that way. While Pax is farm boy strong and Clay is simply intimidating, Patrick is purely toned.

And here…we are still considered children.

I feel a prickle of tears, but I am the face of unbroken composure.

3

Remy’s Gifts and Dolls is a front for stoners. It’s divided into two rooms connected only by a large glass counter where Remy sits by the register reading the newspaper. The Beast is kicking top soil with flashes of overheated anger in the parking lot, but I don’t need to be inside the squat building to know I’m right. If Remy is anything, he’s predictable.

“I can’t fucking do this anymore! I can’t!” Pax hits the steering column and the car settles and shuts down with a cloud of smoke coming from the hood. We sit and wait until his temper calms and he gets out the car, “I’ll see if Remy’s got a water jug or something, fucking piece of shit car.” He holds the door open and I’m the first one to smell the incense and faint hint of marijuana mingling together in the air conditioning. My shoes squeak along the freshly waxed tiles.

It feels like Grandma’s house at Christmas. Tony Montana and Bobby Womack posters are nailed to the wood paneled walls. Bongs, pictures, pipes, jewelry, hookahs, hemp clothing and handbags, and knick-knacks galore. And it’s all handcrafted with each piece completely unique from the other.

Remy folds his paper and sets it aside, “How can I help you’ns?” His short, wavy brown hair has a hint of gray as does his trimmed goatee. His white shirt is crisp and clashes with the unopened leather vest. An aging biker if you ever saw one and he’s staring directly at my tits.

“We’re just looking for a hookah for about four to five people.” Pax shimmies around me.

“Ya’ll came to the rat place fur that. We got em in all sizes.”

“Do you have any for less than…”

I don’t care about their dealings and haggling so I make my way around the shop. I want to absorb all that I see. No, I really want to buy one of everything.

My fingers caress a life sized statue of the Greek goddess Artemis. There are smaller ones ranging from Ancient Rome to African fetish art surrounding her. I step back because they’re knee high and I don’t want any fucked up bruises.

The jewelry is unimpressive with it’s cheap nickel plating and sparkling gems. Cute red cherry belly rings and star shaped nose studs. All useless to a fourteen year old girl without holes to stick them through.

I wander towards the clothing racks. So many pretty blouses in the style of 1970’s peasants. I covet them all.

Patrick and Pax are looking at bongs commenting on shapes and colors. I shake my head, “It’s about how deep the bowl is and how good it hits, you fools. It being nice lookin’ is just a side effect.”

“Indeed.” Pax agrees.

I venture to the counter where Remy has taken his paper back, skimming it with bottle cap glasses. Pipes laid out for what seems like forever made of glass, aluminum, brass, stone, steel, clay, wood, and whatever other material one could think of. However, one catches my eye. Bigger than a one-hitter, but discreet enough to fit in the palm of my hand. Beautifully polished steel with a black spiral engraved around the stem similar to Celtic knot work.

“See anything you like?” Patrick asks moving up beside me. He smells like sweet chilies and off brand laundry detergent.

“I do. That metal pipe there.” I point.

“One by the blue glass?” I nod and he questions, “Hey, Remy? How much is this little steel pipe?”

“$16.50 after tax.” He speaks under low rum soaked breath.

“You want it?” He smiles at me with those green eyes.

“I don’t know…”

He shrugs, “I can’t if I don’t have to.”

“Will not is more the appropriate term.”

He crosses his arms over his chest, “What I can’t do and what I won’t do are two different things and you know why this is.”

“You’re so normal and you have to be…”

“It’s no biggie, really. If you want it all you have to do is say so.”

I bite my lips, “Alright, as long as I don’t have to owe you.”

“You owe me everything already, baby cakes.” He slaps me with a stupid grin, “We’ll take that one too.”

I clap my hands in girlish excitement and hug him, “Thank you, Patrick!” He doesn’t embrace me. He never has. He seems sociable and warm, but in him sings the song of the sociopath, “We really are gonna get fucked up tonight.”

“I’d fuck you.”

I playfully tap his arm, “Don’t be a do-rag douche bag, Paddy.”

“Ahhh….and I thought I thought of everything.”

“You forgot the condom.”

“Or did I?”

I laugh at his absurdity, “I love you.”

“Suck my dick, bitch.” He whispers close to my ear.

Pax lumbers over and puts a five tubed hookah on the counter as Patrick admires it. Standing two feet tall, it’s bottom is curved with the intermingling skeletons and bones akin Jolly Rogers. The tubes are lime and black thread twisted together in a spiraled design with mouth pieces resembling tiny silver bells, “It’s very masculine.”

“Did yah think it’d be pink covered in hearts and bloody vaginas?” Pax jeers.

Remy rings the items up, “Corruption first takes seed not in cash, but a kiss.”

“Who said that?” I ask.

“Me, just then.”

“I like it. You should put it on a sign or a t-shirt or something.”

He wraps the hookah and the pipe up in a brown paper bag and winks, “For you girl, anything.”

4

“My family’s old. Like, real old. When they first washed up shore in Virginia they were called Prussians. How many of them do you see walkin’ around? None, ‘cause we don’t exist anymore. What was it for, huh? To go through all those centuries to just…whoosh…be gone?” Dutchie sits in the Queen Anne’s chair like an upstart sitting on a stolen throne; comfortable and very much aware.

I’m standing by the doorway watching him entertain his guests if that’s what the proper term for criminals who buy massive amounts of product from are called. I give a little wave that catches his eye, “I gotta get goin’, gents. The girls will see ya up.”

“You’re not joinin’ in?” A man with a shaved head and scar over his left eye seems so disheartened.

“Nah, Abel, I got my own thang goin’ on.” Dutchie points a long finger at me which draws the attention of the entire room and suddenly there are six pairs of eyes scrutinizing my body with delicious appeal.

I am me. I want to scream, but I refrain. I am who I am, who I will ever be and that is someone they will never have. My serenity, if I ever had any, is shattered when the scarred man slaps Dutch on the back and proclaims, “Damn, boy! She looks wild!”

Dutchie’s laugh sounds fanciful, “Oh, yeah, she’s something else.” He comes and puts an arm over me with slivers of hope lingering on, “And she’s all mine. Come on, Suzy, something I gotta get.”

As we exit the living room a couple of girls walk past us. I’ve seen them before, but I don’t know where, “What’s that about, Dutch?”

“Trade.”

I glance behind me to see one of the girls has a flat, flabby ass, “I hope it’s worth it.”

I follow him upstairs to his bedroom. For such a competent and flamboyant trader, his personal space is drab. A lone psychedelic poster hangs crooked amongst bulging cracked beige walls. A twin mattress without a sheet and crumpled blankets lays on the floor, “Jesus Christ, it’s so sad in here.”

He shrugs his long monkey arms, “Suits my needs.”

I don’t know why I said that. I’ve seen his room a million times. We’ve partied this house down, but for some reason I’ve never seen it look so pathetic, “You haven’t been gettin’ laid?”

He smirks as he retrieves a beaten red leather pouch hidden inside an old heating vent, “Not as much as I’d like.” He stands and the light coming from his window touches the soft auburn highlights of his black hair, “Suzy…”

“What’s in there?” I quickly cut him off.

His lips are large and turn in a slick snarl, “You’ll see. Come on, it’s time to go.”

Why does everyone say that to me?

5

“Woke up this morning and got myself gun
My wife wouldn’t shut up
I knew what had to be done
Woke up this morning
and I felt evil times three
By the end of the evening
I’ll be on WDBZ…”

The radio coos along as Pax pulls into the empty gravel parking area of Painted Face Creek.

The sun is going down and the heat is almost tolerable. It’s so peaceful here with only the sounds of chirping birds and rushing water. Most people don’t come here since it’s a Wood People burial plot. There’s a lot of superstition in this area of Ohio. Pax’s Catholic guilt is cinched on his face when he gets out of The Beast.

“I don’t, Suzy, you’re the only girl. It’s obvious you’d be Dorothy.” Clay says following me to the edge of the creek.

I slip my shoes and socks off, “But I like the Wicked Witch, she’s got green skin.”

“Bitch, if anybody’s the Wicked Witch, it’s me.” Dutchie exclaims sitting down on the grassy knoll beside me.

I concede, “That makes sense.”

“Oh shit, Suzy, you know who the Tin Man is, don’t you?” Patrick questions me taking off his shirt.

“Who? You?”

“No. Your pipe.” He grabs it from his pocket and hands it to me.

“Hey! That’s awesome! The Tin Man, I love it.”

We sit down and Clay reaches inside one of the big brown paper bags he got from the trunk and pulls out a bud, “Wanna break in the Tin Man?”

I flutter my eyelashes and feign a southern drawl, “I’d love to, Sir, just love to.” I take the plump bud Clay offers me and tear it into bits, “Dang, this shit’s moist.”

“Yeah, I didn’t want to dry it out in the oven.”

“Who would I be in your Wizard of Oz scheme?” Pax asks.

“Toto.”

“The dog?!”

That dog is loyal to Dorothy through the entire thing.”

“Yeah, but you’re not Dorothy, Suzy Lee. You’re the fucking Wizard.”

I tilt my head back with a laugh, “You’re probably right and Clay’s the cowardly lion and Patrick is Dorothy.”

“Oh, I’d kill that fucking dress.” Patrick imitates a feminine voice.

“It’s got a built in screen.” I say as I pack the pot in the bowl, “Thank you so much for this. I get so tired of asking you guys to roll me joints. Shall I take the first hit?”

They egg me on and I comply with glee. Farmer’s Fresh is hard to hit due to the moisture, but I get a couple of good tokes in there before passing it off, “I say we smoke that bowl, a hookah, and then I wanna try Number 9.”

“It’s not to be taken lightly, now. This is serious shit, you know? It’s like concentrated peyote.” That’s Dutchie’s rhetorical tone, “This shit’s potent. It lasts a long time. It’s not like acid where you see some stuff here and there. This is, like, you’re in a different place, time. Abel told me today that he tripped balls thinking he was walking around Jerusalem with Jesus.”

“Yeah…okay…” I mumble as the bowl gets cashed, “Are ya gonna show me how to smoke out of the hookah?”

“You’re such a newbie.” Dutchie sneers.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I haven’t been doing drugs since I popped out of my mom’s nasty cunt.”

“Bitch…” He laughs out trying to be serious, “Don’t talk about my mama or her nasty pussy. Her stank ain’t none of your concern.”

Pax prepares the water pipe and soon it’s my turn. I watched everyone suck and hold and smile at each other like they just lost their virginities. I roll my eyes while Clay passes it to me. He can’t keep the smoke down and coughs all over the place, “I am the state!”

What the fuck? Where’d that come from?

I’ve no time to think more about it. It’s my turn and I do exactly what they do, “It’s not hittin’ right.”

“It’s ‘cause yah doing it wrong.” Pax accuses.

“I am not. I’m doing it just the way ya’ll did it.”

“No, yah got to breath it in.”

I try again with the same result, “I don’t like this. It sucks.”

“You’re not doing it right.”

“Pax.” I say coolly rising, “You say that to me one more time, I’m going to steal any children you may have and put them in a Salvation Army Hostel.”

“Oh, snap.” Dutchie giggles.

I wade a little in the creek, “How many snakes do you think are in here?”

“A shit bunch.” Dutchie takes off his shirt and begins messing with the leather pouch, “I had to buy these off Aaija today.” He points to a bundle of needles, “All clean.”

“Of course.” I say, but still…?

“Gather ‘round.” Dutchie motions and the boys make a circle saving a space for me between Pax and Patrick.

My heart flutters as a warning, but I quiet it down. I am going to do this and no one is going to stop me. I smile and take my place like a good little girl.

“Everybody’s on Facebook.” Dutchie likes talks when he does something intensive or constructive. Right now he’s pouring Number 9 into a bent spoon, “Everybody’s on Facebook, including prisoners. And you know they’re calling their mamma like, ‘So, what’s going on, Mom’?” He puts a lighter to the bottom of the spoon, occasionally stirring, “And she’ll be like, ‘Two people liked your picture of the old horse in front of the old barn in eighteen hundred and eighty. Uhhh…Dick Sergeant replied, ‘White power, brother, can’t wait til ya get out nicca. Keep your head up nicca’.” Carefully, he pulls the needle’s caps off and fill them with an extremely small amount. Five in total and he makes the rounds just like a junkie doctor.

Clay’s face turns red as Dutchie tightens the tourniquet around his arm. I don’t think he breaths until the needle’s done it’s business and the rubber band comes off. But his face is still red and he looks like he either needs to cry, fight, or fuck.

Patrick handles himself like a popsicle, stiff and silent.

“Yah all know now how I feel about needles…” Pax croaks out.

I grab his hand and rub his palm with my fingernails, “I’m right there with ya, but I’m still wilin’ to try. I’ll be right here beside you. Honest.”

He looks to Patrick and then gives a curt not towards Dutchie. He winces and for a second squeezes my hand into numbness. He gets through it looking shaken, but intact.

It’s my turn. I close my eyes, stick out my arm and say, “Think of England.”

“Fuck England. Think of Canada.” Clay calls.

First the band and I hate it instantly and squirm. Dutchie holds my arm and taps the crook of my elbow a couple of times, “Just breath…” And there’s the sting, but I try not to move until the rubber is gone.

6

I’m a little girl standing at the top of a grated metal porch connected to a dingy trailer in the middle of a wheat field. I know this place, I think.

I’m wearing a baggy white shirt and I’m staring down in the trunk of a shabby car. There’s a dead deer inside. A big buck with beautiful ivory antlers. Blood all gathered at his neck, bright but clotting.

Chris and Walty are standing on one side of its corpse while Dad is on the other side. They’re smiling with pride, Walty seems more jealous of Chris. Salty even being near him.

Mom is praising them. She’s shielding her eyes from the sun and she’s just so happy.

I’m not. I want to lick the deer’s blood and cry. I curl my small hands into fists, but I stay there staring at it.

Lick the blood, smear it over my fingers. Lick the blood, lick it. Laugh. Laugh really, really hard.

LAUGH

LAUGH

LAUGH

7

My skin is in flames when the water touches me. My heart is thumping so loudly that it could crack open my chest if I just flicked my fingertip the right way. I am overcome by the stillness over the creek. I could faint. Drown.

The sun is going to sleep leaving all us animals to howl and eat out here in the wilderness. The last rays of sunlight seem to be sitting on the leaves like small beams in the shape of fairies. Sharp eared creatures made of mini-infernos.

But this feels like purgatory. Doldrums…?

“Come on!” Patrick is waving to me as everyone is running into the woods, “The braves are waiting!”

This urge, the pull comes over me and I feel like I’m being led to heaven. I’m running, splashing, and forcing myself at full pace towards him. He turns around and we are wild. We run through the woods with our hearts beating to one rhythm that spins in our souls.

I hear the call of our ancestors and we are in an empty valley. The hills seem so familiar, but I don’t recognize them. Clay is standing by a vibrant tree eating a juicy apple. I want one, I want to go to him, but I can’t. The pull is too strong and I start running again.

Patrick and Pax are hooting and hollering with Wood indian warriors screaming out in joy with them. All around us they sing in a language I’ve never heard. I don’t understand them, or my friends, it’s irrelevant. Nothing matters now. Nothing except the pull and the run…

8

“It’s a 1950’s family friendly coming of age story about deep family incest and Johnny Checkers does the whole soundtrack and makes a cameo appearance. It’s Family Style Number Two.”

Why do they keep going on about Johnny fucking Checkers?

My head is killing me as I weakly open my eyes. I can’t even grunt. My cheek peels away from the leather upholstery of The Beast’s backseat with SLURTCH. I untangle my legs from Pax’s and my arms I yank from beneath Patrick’s torso. Dutchie and Clay are cuddled on the front seat. It’s so fucking hot and the air is so sticky. The whole thing is nauseous.

I root around in Pax’s jeans and fetch and cigarette and matchbox. I light one with wobbly arms and faltering wrists, “Where the fuck are we?”

Patrick peeks over the window with heavy lids, “A parking lot.”

“But where?”

Dutchie and Clay shift positions and Clay clears his throat, “Gramps’ Adult Film Store.” He reads the white board sign with the huge red letters, “I feel like a hammer came down on my head.” He sounds tired, wasted.

“This is a sleazy shit hole, we need to get out of here.” Patrick grumbles, curling under his shirt as if it were a blanket.

I nudge Pax and he slowly rolls over with a booming, “Fuck!” And he and Dutchie switch seats by climbing over the driver’s side.

The Beast roars to life like a kitten with emphysema. Everyone starts smoking except Patrick. He only smokes weed and speaking of, he’s rolling a jay up right now, “I saw some fucked up shit.” His voice is a shadow of it’s former strength.

No one says anything. No one needs to. The radio, which had woken me up, is still droning on about some weird ass movie, but we all seem so worn out. Bags are under every eye, including mine I’m sure. Our skin somehow sour like spoiled milk. Our eyes darker, but passioned all the same. We’re different now.

I glance out the window long enough to see a stand of some kind and blurt out, “Go back! Go back…back there!”

Pax finds a place off road and turns around. I feel frantic as he approaches the little wooden bench. A young Wood indian man sits on a stool surrounded by blandly weaved blankets. He smiles at us and nods as The Beast comes to a halt.

I get out having to pace myself. On further inspection, I see he also sells jewelry, but I don’t care for it. I look at the blankets instead. I want to say something, but I can’t think of anything.

I am lovingly, choking, smothered by his scent. It’s something ancient, sickly sweet and covering every inch of my being. I’ve become infected by him. Addicted. Is there any such thing as a healthy narcotic?

I see it already, but like most distasteful things it is ignored.

“Holy shit, you guys.” Dutchie has his serious tone on.

“What?” We ask in creepy unison.

“We’ve been out here for four days.”

“What?” I’m shocked.

“I just checked my phone, for real. We’ve been out here four days.” He’s laughing.

“I don’t believe you. Let me see your phone.” I demand.

“Okay, but you’ll just see what I did. No joke.”

I see it for myself, “Jesus Christ, he’s right. We have! We’ve been out here for days!”

“What did we do?” Clay is completely bewildered.

“You know,” the blanket and jewelry salesman speaks up in a pleasantly wavering voice, “You should never buy blankets off my people. You never know when we might strike back.”

And with that said, the man and his stand and his blankets are gone. I look to my boys, but they’re as closed and freaked out as I am. With the only sound of rustling clothes, we gather ourselves into The Beast and leave Painted Face Creek and even I, as curious as I always am, don’t look back.

Pray The Day Ain’t Poison


Leaving

By Myandra Wolfthorn

I’m running away
leaving this place
for fucking good
I’m done with
people
places
things
washing
drying

Everything.

No more
eco babble
bed times
helping hands
hurting hands
no more
no more

No more.

Pray The Day Ain’t Poison

1

Bear’s phone doesn’t ring. Instead, it sings out a valkyrie like tune and for a moment I actually thought I was on a World War II battlefield somewhere in Europe. Bastogne! I was dreaming of course, however, now that I’m awake I don’t want to move. My body is so sore and I know there’s a crick in my neck. I know it before I even shift.

I’m lying on my back with a flat pillow beneath my head. The ceiling fan is barely scraping the staled party air around. Bear’s Pappy looks down on me from his war portrait with an all-knowing smile as if to say, “I told yah not to drink so much.” But he didn’t tell me anything. He’s been dead now fifteen years and even if he had advised me not to drink too much, I wouldn’t have listened and I think that’s why he smiles at me now in that way that I’ve never noticed before.

Am I on the sofa or the floor? Move your arm, Suzy Lee, and find out.

I flick my finger and even that hurts, but I feel the soft suede of couch. At least my back won’t be killing me for days. As many drugs as I’ve been taking recently, I don’t think I’d feel anything anyway.

Jesus, I’m tired. I think I passed out about four in the morning. Bear and Clay were still watching some Vietnam movie and Earle had been sitting in the corner hand rolling cigarettes in that ever present toboggan of his.

I need to know what time it is.

I blink my eyes hard and lean up. My head is spinning like a record and I have to stop and look down at my skirt before forcing my eyes to meet the clock. Dang, it’s only five-thirty in the morning.

Who the fuck was calling? Probably, Casey, that crazy bastard. He calls Bear a minimum of five times throughout the night. Oh well, at least I know I’ve been asleep for about an hour and a half and Clay told me that shortcut between Port Alex and West Port, so I can walk back home in less than an hour. Taxis are for queers, don’t ya know?

I carefully step over Earle who’s curled in a ball on the floor cuddling a pillow. I stumble on the other side of the sofa. Oh my God, I’m still so drunk. I can’t tell if it’s my head or the room, but one of us is circling nearly out of control. I close my eyes and focus on my aching body and blink until I feel secure in opening them. My little black backpack has found it’s way in my hand. Maybe it was there the entire time?

All the dogs are in the pin out back, so I don’t feel the need to hurry out the door once it’s opened. Which is good, because the brightening morning sun and mist make my entire body hurl backward like a vampire. I want to hiss and snarl, curl back on the couch as previously positioned, but no, I can’t be so trepidatious.

I step out and meet the sunup with a stupefied glaze and half eaten wit. Last night, I looked fine. My mini-skirt was tight in all the right places. As Marilyn Monroe once said, “Your clothes should be tight enough to show you’re a woman, but loose enough to show you’re a lady.” I like that. I’ve never cared for Marilyn Monroe. I’m a Mae West sort of person, but hey, when you’re right you’re fucking too right.

Now, with that said, let’s get back to the problem at hand. I know I was looking pretty decent last night, but now I look like a semi-homeless crackhead hooker in downtown L.A. who just come in from a rough night with a guy in the back of a butcher’s shop and I’ve got to walk (in heels) all the way to my apartment in Port Alex.

The short cut is along the highway so, somehow I’ve got to get back to that white slum without being picked up by a cop or worse. Funny thing is, I didn’t smoke crack and I know for sure I’m not a prostitute, but cops just want to fill their quotas so tra la la, here an honest stoner who just wanted to dress up might be charged with prostitution.

Half an hour? I can do this. I don’t have the money for a cab, I’m out of smokes, except for a joint tucked in my bra, and a smeared look of drunken disdain. This might be fun.

I walk down Mainstrasse Corner, away from Bear’s beige and burgundy two-story All-American and stumble a little by the turn in the road. Why does it have to be so curvy out here? We should have straighter roads. West Port is like a mini suburb until the wilderness, cut off by deep hills.

I pass the Saint Appollonia Holy Catholic Church and wince-smile. The siding is a perfect alabaster, but the shutters to the otherwise unnoticed building are this fluorescent red with matching roof.

There was this guy named Lawrence Welk who lived down the street from Bear who went here every single day of his life. Then, his doctor told him he had cancer. So, he got a loan from the bank for like fifty thousand, I think, and got them that roof and those shutters and even then he bought a whole bunch of guns and died.

He’s kinda become our hero, a mantra we say before we drink, “And this is for Lawrence Welk for his fuck you to the man! And for all the bubbles!”

Because what’s a Lawrence Welk show without some bubbles?

I walk past the opening of Crooked Creek Holler and down a small patch of backroad that opens up to the highway. Not very busy compared to most cities, but the drivers go fast enough to give me a heart attack. Whizzing on by in their broken down steamers, fucking boys hanging off tractors, and primer grey pieces of shit and some even hoot and holler which scares me too. Even worse than cops are college guys.

Murdered? Maybe. Raped? For true. College guys are the worst. They come here because their rich mommies and daddies don’t want to spend the extra for their lower level classes at Harvard or Stanford. So, they just show up for a few years to get trashed and addicted to whatever is big at the moment and then leave. They cause total insanity every year.

However, there are the track guys running past my house every summer and that’s a pretty good pro.

Tottering down the highway. The sun is almost out and it’ll be a thousand and one degrees, but right now I’m shivering. My teeth hurt from the sharp seizing shivering crossing from my hands. Maybe the college guys will leave me alone. I kind of look like I been gang raped already.

I try to clean my face as best as I can. But really, I’m just smearing the eyeliner and mascara all around. I smoked all my cigarettes there. The silver plated cigarette holder tucked in the waistband of my shirt says so. Empty and my lighter’s fucking gone.

The heat is slow to come on, but by mid-journey it’s enough to make me get in my own bed before it gets any worse.

But, there on the corner of the highway where it cuts into immediate town is a bench with some Chinese advertisement pasted on except a few letters are scratched out and it says something about cumming from a penis. Whatever, I’m sitting down on that bitch.

My feet take rest as I look around on the ground. Cigarette butts line the place, but none of them are long enough. This fresh air is killing my lungs and the cars are rushing past me in hurried ways to get to jobs they hate. That reminds me, I need to get back to work soon. Ah, I will in a few days.

There’s a rumble from the small patch of back country and a man gets up from a pile of newspapers and leaves. He’s older with a bit of salt and pepper in his sandy colored hair and there is still some youth with his hallowed air superiority blue eyes. His clothes are baggy and don’t fit him at all. His pants are a faded Navy and hang from his frame like loose skin on the elderly.

He sits down beside me and smells like weed, piss, and cat food. Silently, he takes a crumpled pack of cigarettes from the inner pocket of his heavy coat and offers me one. I take one out, “Thanks, man. Who are you, the smokes fairy?”

He lights a cigarette and holds his lighter out for my own. We take a collective toke as he looks out over the highway, “I wanna be outta here by 2015. I mean no lie, I wanna be outta here by 2015. ‘Cause you know you got all these people and fucking retard weirdos from the eighties that were calm and shit. Well look, three generations are coming up, dude. These motherfuckin’ guys’ kids went on to college and had kids and did a good job, but the third generation are gonna pop out just like their grandparents and they’re gonna be like ‘I wanna DRINK and SMOKE SOME METH’ and it’ll be total fucking chaos. I can’t handle that shit. Like cicadas, man, they’ll come back ‘round, like every fifteen years and it’s right now and you know they ripe fast. It’s kinda like American Gypsy in way, like the AMERICAN MO-NARCH. Like a big fucking, like…Dio…fucking, like a big fucking Dio butterfly with fucking whiskey bottles and a fucking machine gun. You see what I’m sayin’? Smoking meth out of a motherucking tailpipe from a ’63 fucking Cornotto. Feel me?”

I’m about to die from laughter, “Yes.”

Fuck it. It needs to be said. Society is fucking unmanned. The fucking bridge is fucking open. Nobody’s driving the Enterprise. It’s going into the fucking moon. Fuck it.”

I nod and take a hit from my slightly bent cigarette, “And they’re all uncouth, low-crust, no tact motherfuckers.”

He agrees with a curt nod and gets up, “Nice talkin’ to you. Name’s Ford, Edward Ford.”

I shake his hand, “Suzy Lee. It was nice meetin’ you, Edward.”

He smiles with rotted teeth, but at least it’s pleasant, “Most people jus’ call me E.L., lil darlin’.”

2

My apartment door is made of heavy walnut. The finish is chipping away to reveal it’s all natural beauty beneath and if I touch it so-so I get splinters. The eight is crooked hanging only by a tack I put up there a few months ago, but to look upon it’s plastic molded over by silver is a welcome to me and my body.

My keys are inside on my dinning room table and I get my cigarette holder out from the band and slyly retrieve the pin which holds the clasps together. I wiggle the pin inside my lock until I hear it click. If I remember right, through all the weed haze, this is the third time I’ve broken into my place this week.

The door is barely closed before the heels come off. I fix my smokes holder and strip down all which traps me. My bed is calling my name. A kingsize on the floor smothered with thick blankets and fat pillows waiting for my head to settle upon them.

I collapse into them as my eyes swim still drunk.

3

Jesus God Almighty…” I roll over with a stiff body and a desperate need to shower. I smell like pot and vomit. My hair is hard from sweat and spilt bourbon and finished off with all the soot which collects between stoners and smokers at a small get together.

I sit up with a puffy feeling face and look over at the clock on my dinning table. The arrows over the inlaid peace sign tell me it’s around three. If I don’t get up and about now there will be no more early days and it’ll throw my entire schedule off track for work. Which I still can’t believe I’m not fired from, but then again it’s a sex shop. It’s not like it’s that big of a deal to not get your jerk off video that day and besides, we’re the only one in town. They can fucking deal or blow off.

I toss the covers aside and make my way to my cigarettes. I light the one I always make way ahead of time for my mornings after. I sit down with bare ass to cold chair and begin making smokes for my pilgrimage ahead. I put the tobacco from a small bag I carry in a piece of folded paper. I roll, lick, roll, lick. Such a process and you’d think I’d be good at this by now, but I’m not and most likely never will be. At best they look like flatworms. However, I have a regular cigarette rolling machine which I also use. I don’t want to run out like last time so I make two packs. One goes inside an old menthol pack of smokes from one of Pax’s visits and the other twenty go inside my special holder.

You can easily tell the difference between people who can afford pre-made cigarettes and ones who roll their own. Those who have money keep their cigs in their original pack. The ones who roll keep their’s in a case. Bear’s has a picture of Elvis Presley singing, Clay’s is black with a Spanish coin embedded on the clasp, and mine is silver with a fairy holding the moon. Mine is bent from lack of proper care, but America has taught me that these kinds of things represent who I am. So, I guess I’m pretty and a bit worked out of shape, but I can still hold what the world gives me within my bosom.

I rub my hands of any excess tobacco crumblings and walk to the bathroom. Almost as soon as I turn the water on, the phone rings a loud obnoxious volume and of course my apartment would be shitty because there is only one telephone jack and it’s in my bathroom.

It’ll take a minute to get scolding, so I open the trunk beneath my sink and there lays the phone vibrating a message to me wrapped in a black blanket. I just hate phones. I would much have my friends accidentally walking in on me naked or shitting than to hear this fucking thing, “Hello?”

Click

Bastards hung up on me. I close the trunk, “Well, I’ve got better things to do anyway.”

4

The walk back is unceremonious. I didn’t dress up again, opting for jeans and a Hank Williams shirt I found at the Charity Store for two bucks and no heels either. It’s the fake Chuck Taylor’s for this girl. I wear my hair in pigtails with a bright red Irish cap sitting on top of my head.

HIPSTER!”

I look up as a group of college guys yell at me. What the fuck is a hipster? Are they like teamsters from the ’60’s? Are they the kind of jeans I’m wearing? I hate that! I hate when people call me things I don’t know. I’ll ask Clay when I get back. He seems to know everything.

I light a cigarette and kick a can from my path, but stop dead in my tracks, “What the…”

There, not two inches from the tips of my toes is a heroin rig. Someone must of used it and then just chucked it out the window. Laid out in a small leather satchel open for the world to see. A needle, a spoon, a lighter, and some other miniscule odds and ends I wouldn’t be able to begin to know what they’re used for. One looks like a crooked swizzle stick used to stir coffee. I hover over it, amazed. I am truly in awe of such filth. The first time I saw one of these was at the lake about three years ago. They pop up every now and again, but it never surprises me. It just encourages my hatred against people and also makes me want to get high. Yes, let me show my anger by smoking pot and doing nothing. I’m a real harm, aren’t I? And I drink and I don’t even drive. What a parasite to society I am. Working, paying taxes, single, no kids, filling my lonesome with booze and weed with my best friends. How. Fucking. Awful.

This affirms I could be doing so much worse. I could be injecting homemade chemicals in my veins, driving around on the highways at two a.m. on a Tuesday, being burdened by some other kinds of demons. And then to throw my rig right there in the road. You know, every pothead has the tools they’ve fashioned themselves for whatever their equipment is. I have my pipe, The Tinman, and whatever I’ve found to clean that bitch called resin. A pair of nail clippers, a piece cut from a wire hanger, and a pen drained of ink with an extremely fine pointed end and it is all kept safely tucked away in a box with wolves howling at the moon printed on the wood. I call it The Howl, and I be damned if I tossed it out of a moving car. I spend hours manufacturing these items. Countless tries and miscalculations of what works and what doesn’t. Fuck that, junkies are a menace. An impolite menace at that. No care. They have no care, pride, or shame.

I take the path up past Crooked Creek and then turn the wide corner. I hear the neighbors across the way arguing and I know instantly where Bear and them are.

5

I climb up the steps of Bear’s front porch where he sits in the recliner known as the Throne of Bloody Bill. It is the most apprehensive of reds and the helmet he wore during the war sits beside him on top of the headrest. His tags are around his neck, but I’ve seen them up close.

BEAUREGARD

BARRETT C

272-48-

Protestant

A bullet hole makes the rest of his numbers unreadable, but he knows them by heart.

There is a table on his right with a seashell shaped ashtray filled to the teeth of cigarette butts and roaches and a Muddy Waters commemorative plate full of utensils used solely for the purpose of getting high. Which is how Muddy would have wanted I’d think.

Clay sits on the other side of the table holding his ever present cigarette. I swear, the man must smoke three packs a day. It amazes me how smooth his voice still is, but he’s hitting the ranks of Tom Waits and Mark Lanegan when he sings these days.

I take up the seat next to Earle who is rolling a hog leg sized joint as I ask, “When did they start arguin’?” Because it just sounds like babble flowing through the airwaves at the moment.

Clay adjusts himself in the seat, “Well, I come out here for a smoke break and Yolanda just screamed out all you want is MONEY and I was like ‘all hell, gotta get Bear’.”

We stop talking and listen and we hear Yolanda slam the backdoor and Kizzy starts, “I told you she’d say that! Didn’t I tell you?”

How’s I spost know you’re keeping it!” Chris retorts in his all too odd accent.

Of course I’m a keep the baby! I can’t keep nothin’ while you go ‘round sticking your dick in everything!”

I told you, that was just a one night stand, baby.”

We laugh at their misery, but really…they’re the ones hooked on pills. HA! Hooked on Phonics….Shawnee County is Hooked on Pills!

Kizzy’s pregnant?” I ask in disbelief, “I didn’t think that was possible anymore.”

Bear shrugs his shoulders, “I guess so.”

Clay taps his ash out in his cigarette, “I guess her womb wasn’t polluted.”

I get the joke, but no, “You’ve seen that bitch right? Her womb is definably polluted. She’s like a fucking misshapen rug someone bought out of pity and it sits in the back hallway that no one goes down unless they need blankets from the utility closet. She’s not used very much, but the bitch is abused.”

More like the abuser.”

For sure, Bear.”

There is a pause in the conversation before Earle says, “Yeah, we thought you’d gone off and died somewhere.”

What?” I ask.

Well, we woke up and you were gone. I had Clay look around in the yard see if you passed out there.” Bear answers.

Nah, I walked back home.”

Earle lights up the joint, caressing it like a woman he’d long for to have, “This is some good shit, brother. Guy who sold this to me called it Long Tall Sally.”

He passes it to Bear who grins a plastic fantastic face, “Starting the day off right with Long Tall Sally in your pocket, no woman will be able to resist you…” He hits it nice and clean, “Long Tall Sally. That shit’s bushy, call it Barbara Bush.”

I hit it a couple of times and feel the world falling back into place, “God, I woke up so drunk this morning. I might still be a little drunk.”

Well, I got more liquor here…” Earle holds up a two gallon sized jug of moonshine.

Yeah, yeah, here, take a cup Suzy Lee. We’ll get you set up nice and pretty.” Bear hands me a cup and Earle just sloshes it in there.

You guys are gonna kill me before I’m thirty, but it’ll be a damn fine way to go.” I take a huge gulp and pass the joint to Clay, “For Lawrence Welk and his fuck you to the MAN!”

I HOPE I’M THE REASON YOU’RE SHOOTING UP, BITCH!” Chris screams as we watch Kizzy walk down the road with her hood up to cover her face.

Clay leans over to Bear with a nonchalant gaze, “That could be a Hallmark card.”

6

Earle Rogers is a weird guy. I have to say out of all the freaks I’ve met, he’s in the top ten. He’s an older now retired male stripper who has become a traveling-true-rambling man. The lines now upon his face detail experience, but he carries looks resembling of Sean Connery. For being in his mid-fifties, he’s pretty hot. BUT, he hardly ever speaks to me. For real, it’s like prying a pearl from a shell, hard as fuck. He comes over here to Bear’s and smokes us out, pours huge drinks for everyone until every bottle he’s got is bone diddly dry, and then leaves. He talks to Bear and Clay, but not so much to me.

I think the man either hates me and puts up with me because I hang out here a lot and he’s too lonely to say anything or he’s got a crazy fucking crush on me. Either way, I don’t care because it’s all free and that kicks ass, but I felt that should be stated.

And the alcohol is knowing no limits tonight. He has three of those two gallon moonshine killers tucked by his legs. I think I’ve had three, God maybe four, of those big summer cups you get for ice tea at the Dollar Deal. I roll my head around and my neck feels nothing.

NOTHING! And it’s never felt so good.

A car rolls slowly past us and pulls into the driveway next door. Like a clown car, people pile out. Kelly Ann waves over to Bear, “Can you come get these groceries? I got to help Guy with his homework.”

Sure enough, baby. Consider it done.”

Hey, Suzy Lee…” Kelly Ann is all smiles and cheeks.

Hey, Kelly Ann, what’s been going on?”

Ah, nothing much…as usual.”

Virginia gets out of the car and shakes her butt towards us to which Bear yells, “Quit it ya old bitch, no one wants to see that shit!”

Maybe they do! You don’t know!” She’s laughing, cackling old lady style.

Well, go ahead, but we ain’t paying you!”

Virginia is Bear’s mom and she lives next door with Guy who is Bear’s nephew. Mark, Guy’s dad, got arrested for distributing meth and is spending the next seven years behind bars. And Sandi, Mark’s wife, was just too busy to look after her own son. So, Guy, being a fourteen year old lil shit got a twenty year old chick pregnant. Now, they all live over there like happy little bees.

Kelly Ann helps Guy out and I guess it would be a good thing if your aunt was a school teacher.

Ciara, Guy’s girlfriend, waddles over to us in her flip-flops, “Hey, Bubba Bear.”

Hey there, Ciara. What you been doin’?”

She stands closest to him and clicks her tongue with her mouth, “Well, it’s been a rough day, let me tell you…first I woke up and there was no pop left in the fridge and then we went to the prison to tell Mark about the baby and he told Guy to have me abort it and I was like no-that’s-not-happening. And your mom said you and he wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for her getting pregnant at sixteen and that Guy wouldn’t be here if him and Sandi hadn’t had him when they were seventeen. And then they stripped search us and Guy had to squat while some guard had a hold of his balls. I felt like we were on NCIS or something.”

They had a female guard on you, right?” Bear asks.

Oh yeah.”

And she didn’t touch you or anything….right?”

No, God, no.”

Well….did you enjoy it?”

A burst of smoke comes from me laughing. I hold up my hand to excuse myself, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” But they’re all laughing too.

Well, is there anything else I can do for you?”

Yeah, I was wondering if you knew were I could get a joint?” Her nose is all scrunched and it’s obvious he’s her last chance at getting high today.

But he looks at that round belly of her’s and we all see it in his face. Through a series of events unknown to most, Bear can’t have kids. He shoots blanks which he thinks has to do some gas they experimented with over in the middle east, but he doesn’t know for sure. All he knows is that he was in perfect condition when he went there and when he came back to retire and start a family with his woman (and Kelly Ann waited a long time for her man to come back) they couldn’t have babies.

And every time he looks at Ciara and she says this stupid shit he knows he’s got to be nice because that’s his great nephew or niece in there. He sees life yet to be lived, a being in need of protection from the one person needing to care for it the most, “No, darlin’, we ain’t got nuthin’. Just smoked our last bowl.”

Oh, well, that’s okay.” She gives a little wave to everyone, “See ya.” And trots off next door.

When she’s inside, Bear shakes his head at me, “We got like forty-forty-five. Uncle Earle’s got seventy.”

And don’t forget the moonshine…”

7

My keeping up skills are slagging behind. I’m on my seventh cup and I honestly don’t know how much we’ve smoked. I tap a cigarette on my case, “If the next time I go to the bathroom and I talk to myself in the mirror, I’ll know I’m drunk.”

Holla, holla, holla…praise be to Allah.” Clay laughs out behind a cloud of smoke.

You know, if the Taliban came here in the hills to kill everybody calling them infidels, nobody would have any idea of what they’d be talking about. Fidel? Fidel who? We don’t know no Fidel Castro here.” Bear says as he puffs on a regular 100.

Or they’d be like no nigga, we in Ohio…not Fidel.” Earle mumbles. Why does he do that?

Clay hits a blunt that Bear rolled, “This is epic, Bear. We should worship it, like at Mecca.” He passes it to me, “I played guitar at Mecca. I rocked Mecca the fuck out! Then, Mecca tried to rock me out…by trying to stone me to death.”

Oh, Jesus! That’s mad negram!”

Which reminds me…” Clay brings out his phone and is quickly absorbed into Skynet, or at least that’s how it feels to me.

I don’t know why no one is reading that parody I posted.” He says.

Probably because it’s written like a poem.” I answer which is surprising because I can’t feel my tongue.

I don’t wanna read them fag words!” Bear yells out. It echoes into the night, “Hey, Suzy Lee, how did Michael Jackson die?”

How?”

He chocked on Blanket.”

OOOooohhhh…..” Is all Earle can say.

Clay shakes his head with a smile, “Thy penis shall not spring to life unless ye has plentiful buttocks.”

Oh, fuck. We gotta go inside.” Earle says.

What?” Bear asks.

Look, there’s Viney.”

Oh, you and her on the outs again?”

Earle nods as we retreat as quickly as we can which is too close because Viney pitches herself in front of Bear’s house, “I know yer in there, Earle!” We’re peeking through the curtains at her. She’s a hideously withered thing with loose crocodile skin mauled by meth and sunbathing, “I just wanted to spend Christmas with you, motherfucker!” She’s crying, but she looks way more pissed than sad, “I know yer in there! I just wanted to spend Christmas with you! You fucking asshole!”

Earle is rocking back and forth on the sofa rolling another fatty. He mumbles something I can’t make out.

Viney moves on down the street yelling all the way, “I spent Christmas alone! Bluegrass music, motherfucker! BLUEGRASS! And don’t worry ‘bout me telling anyone you like your asshole licked! WHORE! Selfish asshole!”

I turn around and flop down on the sofa while Earle says, “I hate that twangy bluegrass shit she listens to. I woke up there in a camper and I stepped out and I was at a bluegrass festival. What if that’s what hell’s like? You wake up at a bluegrass festival with no shoes and it’s just never-fucking-ending?”

Clay?” I ask.

What’s up?”

What’s a hipster? Someone yelled that at me today.”

He shrugs, “They wear thick glasses and drink shitty beer. You’re not one. You’re an original, Suzy Lee. No one is like you at all.”

8

Eleven.

As my head hits the back of the sofa, I think of that number. Eleven. What was it for? Do I have eleven cigarettes left? No, I’ve got less than that. Two, maybe three. Eleven what?

My eyes open one at a time as I look out to Bear and Clay, “What does eleven mean to ya?”

Nothing to me.” Bear says.

You said you’d had eleven cups of drank.” Clay answers.

I laugh and point at them while my brain pulsates, “You’re all covered in black fuzzy dots.”

Eleven glasses of that swill. I lean back again, the television fading from one war scene to another. Why am I not dead? Am I immortal? What am I doing here? Why did I even come over? I could have stayed home and slept and watch television. That’s what I’ll do tomorrow. I’ll watch some TV and do a little painting. Sounds like a good plan.

9

It’s the valkyrie song again. I’m laying on the sofa with my eyes staring straight at the slowly revolving fan. I hear the answering machine click on and Casey’s voice fills the air, “Ay. You, Barry, gunna fuck my mom? You say you gonna fuck my mom? Piss on you, mu’fukka. I fuck you up. Those kitchen girls got fat asses, you stu’ mu’fukka.” He hangs up.

I close my eyes again wishing Casey wasn’t such a reclusive drunk bastard and then I wouldn’t have to wake up to his singularly ranting tones. But he can’t help himself, I know. He hates being out of his house, hates seeing people, hates everything about there is to hate. So, he sits in there getting drunk listening to (not even good) rap from the early 90’s and randomly calls people up…though it’s mostly Bear. I bet most of his brain is eaten up with booze, but who am I to judge?

I lunge myself forward and make the crawl of the Wondering Jew over Earle and to the door. I glance back at the clock noting the time. Around five, give or take. My shoes shuffle loudly over the cement porch.

I’m already shivering half to death as I reach the end of the path to the highway. The end of my nose is like an ice pop. It’s gonna be hot again by the time I get back, God, I hate this shit. Fucking hate it.

Halfway down, I see the bench. A woman wearing black jeans with chains criss-crossing in a complicated pattern. Her fire engine red hair is piled on her head in a long winding ponytail and the ends which are a sunburst clashing against her deep violet belly-sweater. Her eyeshadow is a rainbow of glitter, but her lips are pin-up style red. Classic.

I sit down next to her and light a cigarette. I turn to look at her and she’s reading a book. A large heavy looking thing with a swishing depiction of a southern mansion on the front, “I love your pants.”

She looks up at me with a squat, ruddy face, “Thanks. I don’t think it’s girly. It’s like oh pink bra then on to I wanna FUCK YOUR FACE.”

The vibration of her voice takes me back. I flick my ashes, “I get that. Sometimes, when I look at people I want to rape them with punji sticks until they’re almost out of breath. Other times, when I see a hot guy I just wanna bend him over and fuck him like a man. I’ve heard people call it penis envy, but I don’t believe in that. I think some women are just more in tune with both masculine and feminine sides.” I’ve got half a smoke left, “Ya smoke?”

Sometimes. Mostly cloves.”

Ya want this?”

She eyes it suspiciously, “Okay. Sure.”

I pass it to her and get up, “It was nice meeting ya. Enjoy your book.”

She places it near her small braless tits and giggles, “Oh, I will.”

I only look back once as she awkwardly puffs the cigarette. She’s like Popeye trying to be sexy. I shake my head and continue down the crusty old road. I feel worse than I did yesterday, but at least my tennis shoes keep my feet on clouds of less than demanding Heaven.

Home is coming up soon. I’m dragging ass, man. I’m fucking drunk and I think at some point during this little journey I discreetly smoked a jay heading east on Parallelo Road. Fucking madness. I’m drunk and high walking around at dawn like a fucking zombie doing a walk of shame. I’m embarrassed and my face is as red as beets. What is wrong with me?

My door, but ah! I remembered my keys this time so I won’t get any weird looks from my neighbors. They’re like all night gas station people with beards and nineteen years olds wearing pearl necklaces. Multi-flavored condom eyes a sheen of sexually repressed loins and latex lined wallets with just enough cash for a hot sandwich and a bottle of liquid speed. And they always stare whenever I come around.

I’m taking off my top as I close my door and before I take two more steps I’m naked, standing in my bathrobe, smoking a cigarette. Drunken skill, baby. Some of us have it, some of us don’t, but really no one wants it.

Asleep I shall be, tightly tucked beneath cheap silks and hard labor, maybe masturbate, but try and mostly sleep with an exciting night of lazy television watching ahead of me.

Happy thoughts I think until I see nothing but darkness.

10

I am a weak, dull, and pained creature. I feel like my entire body has been supplanted with roots now wrapping myself to my bed. Hurtful to every muscle, to the bone. I adjust my robe and stand up.

I wobble over to my bookshelf and peruse a printing of The Satanic Witch and my heart beats a little faster. Anton LaVey can make any woman feel good about herself if they just got over the whole Satan thing. It’s not about Satan, people! It’s an empowerment. It’s a real man’s statement on women and it’s beautiful.

I don’t get orgasms cleaning the kitchen floor!” I heard this once in a Quantum Leap episode, I think it’s a quote from The Feminine Mystique.

I carry it to the sofa and turn on the TV. I listen to mindless dribble while I read a couple of chapters, but eventually I hunger for tobacco and this means I must roll some.

I flip channels as I make smokes and this is what I get;

A commercial for The High Chaparral

A show exploiting obese people for sleazy primetime entertainment

Some British mystery show

Commercials for hair care and coloring

HEAD-ON!

Commercial for women’s weight loss

Another British mystery show

Some lady trying to prove herself in the boy’s club

Commercials for old people

A cop show with tons of one liners

Nine o’ clock news at three in the afternoon

An old black woman and a male cheerleader doing something I don’t understand

Seafood commercials

Women selling turtlenecks and open knitted vests

Possibly gay men selling electronics

Carlotta Tom-Whitmore, D-Chairman of the Clean and Safety Coalition

A male prostitute and an insecure, flat chested woman in a romantic comedy

Life after Hurricane Katrina

Shawnee County Storm Chasers, Severe Weather Warning Sirens If you hear thunder, seek shelter

A bulletin for the River Grace Baptist Church

Reality show about editing reality shows

An in depth discussion on the Eucharist and Christ’s crucifixion

Mostly clear tonight

Guns and Spanish guitar shot old school 70’s style

Port Alexandria Junior High School Choir which could make dogs bark

Commercial for cell phones

Infomercial about cleaning out unwanted ear wax

Oh my God! TV has totally gone to shit! Not even anything on the public tube, nothing! Nothing! No wonder I go out and about.

After rolling twenty something cigarettes, I move a couple of small stacks of books and find a tiny baggy of weed. Maybe a pipeful, but it’ll be delicious. I pack the crumbles and red hairs in tightly. I take a few hits and I feel my eyes start to bead slightly, “I can not believe this shit.”

With the pipe and lighter in one hand, I turn off the TV and walk over to my records sitting in the corner. I flip through the many names and faces. They’re like old familiar friends, my friends. Singing out advice on love, life, addiction, and everything else under the sun. I take a few more puffs before I settle on playing the record that’s already in the player. The calming yet neurotic tunes of the Velvet Underground comes on like the last death clap of thunder. I turn it up, put the Tinman on the coffee table, and head to the bathroom.

I’m humming the song as I pull my curls up in a high ponytail. A long ribbon for decoration. A pair of snuggly fitted jeans, a lilac peasant top, and some more innocent appearing makeup. Anything to look younger especially these days. I’m nineteen and I’ve heard people think I’m twenty-seven. I think it’s my body; big boobs, small waist, the whole child bearing hips-hourglass figure. Men look at me and want me to be older because the guilt of me being younger would be too much for them, but I’m no stranger to filling the position of Lolita. I’m just an aging one now.

I look out the bay window to the street. Jeez, it looks pretty hot out there. Sweltering streets and the branches hang low from the humidity. My legs are restless and my tongue licks my lips. Great Uncle Earle’ll be there with the rest of the moonshine and I’ll be here with my measly amount of manager’s special wine.

I throw the curtain back, “Fuck this.”

I grab my cigarettes, my keys, and put on my shoes before my body goes through detox or withdrawal or whatever could happen. I’m out the door in under thirty seconds flat.

11

Halfway there, I double over on the side of the highway. I lean over the metal bump checker and puke my brains out at the beginning edge of the wilderness. The first upchuck was chunky, now it’s all clear with that distinct taste of bile biting the back of my throat with astringency. I don’t even know what I could be puking. I think, maybe Kelly Ann had made orange and vanilla ice cream sandwiches, but I don’t think they’d be so chunky coming back up.

I lean against the metal and wipe my mouth with the bottom hem of my shirt. I light a cigarette to calm my belly down. I feel green under the gills, my stomach sloshing back and forth. I’ve got to keep going or else I’m going to pass out here on the side of the road and God knows who or what would do with my unconscious body.

The sweats are coming on and pouring down my forehead. I have got to keep going. I have to. My heart is thumping and pumping like I’m about to have a fucking heart attack. No panic, no real pain, just pure death. Straight up like a shot of whiskey. I rub my stomach over and over and over again until I’m able to move on.

12

Bear, Clay, and Earle are sitting on the porch again along with Jason Brant, but he goes by his surname only. By the sound of it, he’s on a pretty good rant so I lean back by the steps, “People in the Hill call heroin boy. What if somebody went up to buy some drugs and the guy sellin’ never heard that before? Hey, can I get some boy, man? What the fuck? What are you comin’ here tryin’ to buy a kid? You some kind o’ child rapist? Get outta here you motherfucker!”

Everyone laughs and then Bear says, “Come on, Lady Long! Pull up a chair.”

I drag a chair from the other side of the porch and come to sit in between him and Brant. Earle is the furthest away, but he looks up at me from the jay he’s rolling, “Thought you went off and died somewhere.”

I own an ailing smile, “I think I did.”

Coming over late today.” Bear notes aloud.

Yeah, well. Sick is as sick does, I’m guessin’.” I look to Brant, a skeleton of his former self, “What ya doing ‘round these parts?”

Looking for pussy. Find any?”

I got some, but I’m not giving it out to crackheads today.”

Brant’s reptile tongue licks the paper of a blunt, “Give me a call tomorrow, ‘kay?”

Want some aloe with that burn, Suzy Lee?” Clay asks through the laughter.

I stare at him, “Ya look just like that movie Reefer Madness. Faster! Faster! Faster!”

Brant coughs a grin as he begins the blunt. He looks at me sideways through the stalling slits of his eyes, “You wan’ in on this?”

I rub my palms over my knees, “Hell yes.”

Pass that down to ‘er.” Earle hands one of those tall cups to Brant who then hands it to me.

I don’t have to smell it to know what it is. I hold it up in Earle’s direction, “For Great Uncle Earle, GG Allin, and Townes Van Zandt.”

And Lawrence Welk!” Clay screams.

The last of cowboy country.” Bear nods and holds his own cup for respect.

I take a swig and I don’t feel it until it wants to come back up. Heat blistering my already feverish skin. I am a snake lying out in the sun as most Appalachians feel because fire breathing dragons reside south. Deeper and brighter, past Tennessee. Somewhere in bayous, lingering on hefty tree limbs and around ancient poisons. There are no myths down there, only the truths we don’t need to see.

Here we have the truths we don’t want to see, but we force ourselves to watch because we’re too fucking bored not to.

Brant passes the blunt off to me and it’s green apple glory, “Mmm, that tastes so good.”

Clay coughs so hard, what comes out of him is lung butter. Real dirty butter. I can’t look at it as he apologizes and cleans it up. Bear has just come back from inside and he covers it up with a New Orleans’ Saints towel and everything goes back to normal. Well, stoned normal.

Do ya guys ever wonder if Anne Frank would get mad at everyone reading her diary? Or do you think she’d understand it’s importance?” I ask.

I don’t know. I guess if she never died we wouldn’t have the book in the first place.” Clay responds taking another drink of moonshine.

Maybe she would’ve released it when she was old.”

Or burn it from the memories.” Bear whispers.

I would’ve kept it, if I’d been her and had survived.”

Brant passes me the joint and looks at me with his deeply sunken shadowed eyes, “Who’s Anne Frank?”

13

The night wears on and does so thinly. Brant goes on and on and fucking on about how Larissa left him for Jimmy Applegate and how Caleb is calling Jimmy Applegate daddy and not him, even though everyone except Brant is pretty sure Celeb isn’t his son, but whatever. People live in their own fantasies and addicts live in alternate realities. It is the parallel of our nature.

I heard she’s been doing shake and bake meth out her car.” Clay says.

I lean back in the chair and pass the cup down to Earle for my third refill, “I swear to God, someone needs to punch that bitch in the cunt. She’s so fucking nasty. Just another gross woman here to ruin men and women alike.”

But you know, in the end she’ll only destroy herself.” Bear points out.

But I counter him, “Yeah, and Caleb. A mother is the most crucial figure in a young boy’s life. She is the one who has to kiss away all the boo-boos and scare the monsters out of the closest. She’s the maker or breaker of a child and if she even falters once, you’ll be able to tell through the kid. No offense, Brant, but Caleb is probably going to grow up jaded and hating women and then he’ll get with chicks just like his mom, just like Larissa, and they will use and abuse him and he’ll die without ever once having a normal relationship. Larissa needs her fucking uterus scooped out before she has anymore.”

Brant wipes a tear from his eye and pats me on the knee, “You’re right…”

I cross my legs so he’s no longer touching me, “That still don’t mean I’ll fuck ya, Brant. I just hate her and everything she stands for.”

I think we need to toast to that!” Bear cheers and we all tink our cups together. Mine newly refilled spills over on a waterproof matt, “Don’t worry, babes, it’ll go to Tupac.”

For Tupac!”

We drink and guzzle and are hedonists to the best of our abilities. Pantera comes wafting out through the screened window. Brant refuses to listen to Bear’s music and Bear has the sense of curiosity when it comes to Brant’s tastes, which is mostly rap and metal.

As much as I love our metal music, it will never be as hard as that metal from the Netherlands.” I hit a pipe unknown to me and hand it to Bear, but he passes and I move on to Clay who agrees, “That’s true.”

They have cults…”

Real life Satanic cults that burn down churches.” Clay hits it and his face takes on a ruddy hue.

And all we have is the Westboro Baptists.” That’s so sad.

He laughs, “We should hire a Norwegian horde of black metal church burners to burn down the Westboro Baptist church.”

The Scourge of Topeka, Kansas!” Pax says as he walks up to the porch, pulling up a chair. I give him a sideways hug.

Brant shakes his shaved head, “We’d being screwing our’selfs though. We’d have no corn, but from Mexico. My kid’d come to me and as’ why we have this great famine and I’d say…Vengeance.”

Oh my God, I’ve got to stop hanging out with you crazy ass people. You fucks.” I say that, but this is what they hear, “OUAh!” cough, cough, “me gawd”, deep breathing followed by laughing then coughing, “I’vegotto…” cough, cough, cough, “stop…hanging out…withyou…crazyass…people. Fucks.” I clear my throat and take a drink of moonshine.

Awww….oh no.” Bear whispers, “What’s he doing here?”

Oh, he called me earlier said he wanted to smoke with us. Said he had some killer shit.” Clay says suddenly surprised.

We’re drinking, dude. No way. I don’t get drunk with teenagers anywhere around me. No, sir.”

I look over to the field across the street and see Torchia and Farmer Matt walking over. Bear takes a deep breath, “Hey, Raven! No do tonight! I’m drinking, we’re drinking, you understand, brah?”

Torchia waves and they turn right around, but Bear fills with grief, “Fuck, I hate doin’ that. I love that boy, but I just don’t drink around kids. Not after that one night when I had that…episode and he stole the whiskey. He got sick right on that corner of the house. I had to pick him up and carry him in the house. I had a bruise the size of my canteen where he fucking accidentally kicked it into me. No, fuck that.”

Except us.” Pax quips.

14

We’re inside. I’m slouching on a sofa, my head coiling. Shit, man, I am drunk…I think. Brant’s gone, Clay is almost asleep beside me and Bear has his war helmut on and holding a machine gun. He’s grinning broadly at the television. It’s a war documentary. He’s having an episode right now…god, my neck hurts so bad. My teeth are aching.

OH YEAH? Well, it’s BOXING Day, motherfucker!” Bear screams. He’s in, full blown.

I roll my head over to look at Clay, “Hey, ya were talkin’ about Tyreeka…”

His eyes slightly open, “Oh yeah. Yeah, we thought Tyreeka Bitch was pregnant. Her titties were getting bigger, but I don’t know…they stopped.”

I’m too tired to even smile, “Ya should never say that out loud again.”

Blackness.

15

I. Am. Alive. Exactly my first thoughts. I feel great, like beyond awesome. I’m half drunk and half headache, but I’m amazing. I wipe my eyes of excess makeup and gather my things trying to be as quiet as a waiting alligator.

I am out the door and breathing in the crisp river air. It’s beautiful out here. No course air just wonderful. Everything is peachy keen.

I feel like a million bucks and the crazy thing is that I make it back home without stop or hassle. Yes, I collapse on my bed, but it is more out of laziness. I hope I feel this good when I wake up.

16

I’m up not wanting to let go of the last wonders of my dream. An orgy of delights. A wanton spectacle, a resurgence of my beauty as a woman. I roll over letting the sunlight warm my face, “I need a nice big dick.”

I giggle and get out of bed heading towards the record player. I put on an Elliott Smith vinyl and get prepared for the day. A day that will not be like any other.

I’m in the shower shaving my legs and covered in slithering good smelling stuff. Washing my hair, my curls are a little warped today, but ah well.

I wear my skinny jeans and a wife beater. Socks, paisley button up rolled to the elbow, and the boots. Tall powerful shit kickers, Army surplus style. As they were a gift from Bear, I’ve named them Beauregard and Bugleboy Panzram. Black and faded, but reinforced darlings.

I get the jar on top of the refrigerator and hold forty bucks in fives to tuck politely in my pocket. Well, it’s relatively forty. I just want enough. I turn the player off and lock the door.

Out on the street, I stop at the corner store for a pack of Georgians and a lighter. The cashier is super hot with an all American look about him. So blonde and tan, I could eat him alive. And I want to and he’d want to, but this is the only moment there is in store for us. I pay for the cigarettes with a smile and batt of eyelashes, and say, “Thanks.” But I’m really thinking, ‘I could eat you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.’ Succulent man, corn fed for sure.

I’m on the highway when I see a buss full of college guys just coming back from God knows where. A few of ‘em whistle and shout, but I get worried when I hear the sudden stop. Fuck.

I turn around and see them hanging out the windows, “Hey, come ride with us!”

I wave at them nervously, but begin taking steps away from them, “I can’t. I gotta get going…”

Come on! We won’t hurt you!” One of them yells from his frat house insignia on his sweatshirt.

A clunking smoking car pulls up beside me and I hear a rough voice come coughing, “Get in, I’ll give ya ride home.”

I lean down to the window and see that it’s Ford dressed in those baggy clothes with a bottle of vodka between his legs and a cigarette between his lips, “Are ya gonna rape me and chop up into pieces while you’re dressed up like Lucille Ball?”

He starts with a smirk, but after he pulls the cigarette from his mouth, he looks as smooth and awe striking as a shark, “Get your cracker ass in the car before some fucking apple baby decides you look good for the eatin’, little fish.”

My jaw drops, “What the fuck?!”

He pats the seat, “Come on, get it. I’m not gonna wait here all day. It’s either adventure or a gutter, throat cut or no. I’m a fucking gentleman, ya know? I’ll drive you straight home.”

I hold up my hands in defense, “Fine. Let’s go.” I open the door and climb in. I close it and look over at him with an inquisitive look, “Let’s go?”

He pulls back into traffic and we are on the road heading to West Port, “What if I stalked you? Would that be a buzzkill?”

First of all, no man who stalks me is gonna say words like buzzkill.”

Note taken. I can tell I’m going to like coming back to Port Alex.”

Ya don’t live here?”

No.” He unscrews the cap of the bottle.

Where do ya live?”

Everywhere. I like to travel. My ole ladies live here, I come see ‘em every once a while. Just driftin’.”

Ya seem very strange.” I light a cigarette.

Yeah, well, you’re the one who got into a stranger’s car and didn’t tell him where to go first.”

I glance in front of me, “Get in the left lane. You’ll make a left coming up.” He drives so confidently, “Ya drive a lot?”

Whenever I got a car.”

Is this one stolen?” I flick some ashes out the window.

It hasn’t been reported yet, so no.” He takes a huge drink of gas station vodka that stinks up the entire car, “You ever heard of Benny Hill?”

Yeah, my dad used to watch him all the time. He’s pretty funny.”

You know what killed him?”

What?” I ask.

Political correctness.”

I smile big and roll the window all the way down and scream, “Being politically correct murdered Benny Hill! Fuck ya censored swine!”

I sit back down and we’ve come to a stop, “Left or right, lil one?”

You’ll go right then turn at the pharmacy.”

You a workin’ girl?” He doesn’t sound hopeful, more interested in chit-chat.

No, I’m getting some weed.”

You must be gettin’ weed a lot as many times I see you walk this strip of town.” He laughs.

I know, I just smoke a lot. Drink a lot too. It’s not very lady like…”

But it’s human. To drink and smoke is to be human. People who do it are hurting, people like us, the pros…we’ve got scars too deep and breathing to not be treated. People say go to doctors, I say FUCK doctors. Ain’t nothing in this world can’t be cured by a fucking rainbow serpent looking bud and some vodka.”

I’m a whiskey girl, myself.”

I like it all. Just happen to be drinking vodka right now.” He snickers and messes with a decrepit looking tape deck, “You like the blues, Suzy Lee?”

Hell yes, I do! And not that whimpy white bread BLUES-BOY shit most people listen to. I like actual blues. Poverty, woman done gone, the devil…it’s beautiful.”

He nods, “This is Memphis Minnie, Hoodoo Lady Blues. It speaks to me.”

I examine him closer than I have before and he looks so much younger than he did the other day when he was The Green Man coming up from the earth. His sandy hair is loose and wavy at the ends and while I can tell he’s naturally fair skinned, he has almost a sun drenched quality about him. His clothes all touched by pure rays faded at the shoulders and his eyes are a watery blue as if he’s on a constant urge of wrath or sadness. I see a chain hanging around his neck and ask, “What’s on your necklace? One of those male fertility symbols?”

He lefts it out form the folds of cloth, “Dog tags.”

You’re in the army?”

I was a Marine in the Gulf War.”

I have a friend who was in Iraq. He’s got mad PTSD now.”

I ain’t scared of PTSD. PTSD’s scared of me.” He slows the car, “This pharmacy?”

Yeah. I can go ahead and walk from here.”

You sure?” His eyes look worried for me, “Young girls like you shouldn’t be walking around? You know, this town’ll eat you alive and spit out your bones.”

I smile, comforted, “I ain’t scared of this town. This town is scared of me.”

17

As I walk up the path and can see Bear’s house from afar I have one of those epiphanies. Everyday is the same. I already know what’s going to happen before it happens. I bet Jheremy and Ayana are there now getting high with Bear, Clay, and Earle on some super shit. Ninjette flitting around in her bone stretched skin and everyone is laughing and somebody will say they thought I wondered off to die like I’m a wounded dog.

How long has it been since I worked on my paintings? How long has been since I haven’t craved wine alone in my apartment to pain and get high all by myself? How long has it been since I got drunk? How long has it been since I haven’t woken up drunk?

I’ve drowned enough for this month. I’ll spend the next couple at home and put the phone back in the box.

Past Crooked Creek and Lawrence Welk’s church, I spot Jheremy and Ayana sitting on the porch. Ninjette holds the bong she named Black Lung Betty and true enough there’s laughter wafting over the clouds.

I stride up with my hands in my pockets and Clay pulls an empty chair beside him, “Hey, we thought you went off and died somewhere this morning.”

My simper is feeble, “I just met the coolest guy. He said his name was Ford. Really weird.”

Did he try to touch your naughty bits, Lady Long?” Bear asks as he light up a joint.

No.” I laugh out, “He was just cool, ya know?”

Jheremy sits tiny with a Civil War cap on his head. He leers like there’s a cynical old man within his twenty-two year old body. There might be, he could be possessed, “Hey, Suzy.”

Hey, man. How ya guys been?”

Before he can answer, Ayana shoves her huge tits in the conversation, “We moved.”

Oh, where?”

Up in Sundown. It’s pretty nice.”

I look to Ninjette who hands Black Lung to me, “What about you? Any new news?”

She tucks a piece of silky blonde hair behind her ear, “I moved in with them.”

Your mom hassling ya about guys being over again?”

Yeah…” Her voice contrasts so much with her giant skinny body, I sometimes think I’m talking to a dude.

DID you hear that The Misfits are gunna be in Toledo?” Jheremy asks.

Bear shakes his head, “Not my style. I just can’t get into it.”

How much?” Clay asks.

Fifty and get this it’s, like, two hundred and fifty for some po’ dunk Christmas Carol in Port Alex.” Ayana tokes the apple flavored blunt being passed around.

That’s idiotic.” Clay brushes ash from his Misfits shirt.

Hey, Clay?” I say after hitting the bong and hand it to Bear, “Could ya run up to Russ’ for a twenty sack for me? I’m thinking of taking a break for a while. Work on some pieces.”

Sure.” He gets up and adjusts himself, “Oh, I saw that one painting you did, uh, A Portrait of Darnell Cuntington on the internets.”

I shift uneasily in the chair, “I, yeah, it sold in Cambodia. Meeting with Eric went up to fifty in Serbia.” I don’t like talking about my work around Ayana and them. They don’t even like me that well. Except for Ninjette who’s so burnt I don’t think she knows who she’s with half the time and by the blank expression she has covering her flawless girl next door face, I don’t think she knows anyone is talking either.

Clay holds out his hand, “I need the money before I go.”

Duh, Suzy Lee. Stop staring at Ninjette and give him the money. I dig in my pocket and give him a bill in which I find that I must have grabbed sixty ‘cause I’ve got an extra twenty, “Get forty, but two different sacks, eh?”

Sure thang, boss-lady.”

Bear eyes me in dubiety, “You know you don’t have to buy anything.”

Oh, I know, I know. I’ve got to start working on some of my projects. I’ve been flaking off too much. One twenty is for me and the other is for you and Earle for all the free shit and then I’m a buy me some wine.”

Bear listens to me and nods, “Well, you know, it is all appreciated. You know we love having Lady Long in our presence.”

I bow my head, “As it is honoring to be here, brother.”

18

Clay comes back and hands me a hefty feeling bag. I say my goodbyes and give Bear and Clay hugs and then I’m on my way.

It’s such a nice day. I feel like I haven’t been sober or drunk in a long time. I light a cigarette and stop at Bernard’s on the way home. With twenty, I get four giant bottles of manager’s special wine. Two of them are spiced fruit flavored, one is a mango twist, and the third is blackberry which is my favorite, but they only had one.

Walking down the street carrying a large weighty bag full of self-abuse and imposed debauchery, knowing I am reluctant to work, but I must. The scenes, the brush bang on my brain with a hammer like thud, “HELLO? Are you even listening to US?” I hear what needs to be sketched and done, I just feel that my steps are getting heavier as of late.

The Way of the Resin


Drug Deal Behind The Church

by Myandra Wolfthorn

He likes to do it in public.
old man,
don’t be slithering up on me.
I ain’t your baby, lil girl, or sweet thang…

old man,
don’t be laughing at my innocence,
or I’ll stop shopping here.
I fucking mean it…

old man,
hand me that baggy there in your hand.
I ain’t got no time for jokes,
for real motherfucker…

very funny old man,
now,
make me happy
with that sticky green bag…

He is very proud of his long hair.
old man,
I don’t give a shit,
but I’ll give you my money…

Step One – Drive Away
Step Two – Unroll Baggy
Step Three – Inspect Product

….

“Shit! Old man screwed me again!”

The Way of The Resin

1

I heard that fucking phone ringing earlier, but I didn’t get up. I still haven’t gotten up. I need to get this day started. I need to get out of this bed, get dressed, and get on with it. Think of England, that kind of shit. What I really need is a cigarette.

Sweet nicotine sucking between my lips, seeping down my throat. Inhaling, exhaling, and the scent carried on my clothes.

That’s it!

I toss the blankets aside and I shiver when my feet touch the chilled wooden planks. I rub my eyes while I hear the faint sound of an audience clapping, “Clay, what the hell are ya watching?”

He’s sitting on the threadbare love-seat lighting one cigarette with the butt of another to conserve his lighter fluid, “Ice skating.”

“Jesus, isn’t there something better on? Like, something on that Public Access Channel?” I fluff my bed-head and walk over to him. I lean beside him on the sofa and steal his cigarette and watch the images on the screen.

“This is the Public Access Channel.”

The static lines caress the figures more than their skates touch ice. There are flashes of periwinkle and flourishes of frills, “God, how can ya watch this shit?”

“It’s soothing.”

I give back his cigarette and walk towards the bathroom, “It’s gay.”

“Hey, don’t be using words you don’t understand, Suzy Lee. You know how many hoes’ numbers I got on my cell?”

“I don’t think they like to be called hoes anymore, Clay.” I say, heading into the bathroom.

“They may not, but that doesn’t stop you from being a bitch, does it?”

“No. It does not.” I whisper.

I change from my elongated nightshirt to a pair of jeans and a tee that proclaims my Irishness with its limerick hue. There’s been a heatwave going through recently so I make sure to put my hair up in a super tight green ribbon, “Hey, Clay? What time is it?”

“Time to go. We got twelve minutes ‘till we meet Dutchie.”

With practice, the wingtip eyeliner trick can be done within seconds. Not so much for me. It takes minutes, and I can barely get it right. Makeup is just another reason why I hate (and love) being a girl. Some plum shadow, some blush, and dab of lip gloss. I stop hassling myself to take a look…well, I look better than before.

I grab my purse off the hook by the door, “I’m good. Ready to go?”

He butts out a cigarette and gets up with humph. Tapping his jean pockets and looks around on the coffee table, “Yeah, I’m good.”

“I can’t believe ya were able to sleep on that couch.”

“It was a squeeze, that’s for sure.”

“That’s what she said.”

Clay laughs and we head out the door to midday, which is the worst time of day. Then again, all daylight is the worst time for me. I usually don’t get my shit together until eight.

2

The Port Alexandria Public Library looks like a mansion and smaller than it did when I saw a child. I stopped going here when I was twelve because I owe, like, a hundred and eighty plus for some Clive Hulse and RJ Major novels. 18th century philosophy and modern transgressive crime, respectively.

It’s kind of a misery to look at now. Their Dewey Decimal system is fucked anyway these days and with all the state cutbacks, they can only run the air-conditioning two days a week.

And we live in a valley by a river, so only the true and dedicated go here which narrows the public library clientele to the elderly wanting serial killer books and housewives who touch themselves over romance covers. All those lean, hard muscled hunks are too much to handle sometimes.

I sit down on the bench further from the road, closer to the building. The other bench has been taken over by three guys joking about some shit that’s no consequence to me. Clay doesn’t sit down beside me, “I’m a go inside, see if he’s in there.”

“Don’t fib to me, big brother. You’re gonna take a shit.”

“A har har har.” His sarcasm amazes me.

I sit and I smoke cigarettes and wait. Life is all about waiting. Waiting for dinner to be done, waiting for a ride, waiting for a friend. It’s all we ever fucking do.

“I ain’t got nowhere to live, man. Shit’s been rough. Ain’t got no house, no woman no more, not even a fucking toilet to dump in, man.” One of the guys says as he pushes a grocery cart full of clothes back and forth.

A fourth guy walks up to them wearing baggy, black shorts and a huge black t-shirt with skulls all over it. His hat is backwards with a straight bill, “Was up, g’s?”

Jesus Christ, now I have to listen to white guy pretending to be something he’s not. This is Ohio, we don’t have gangsta. We’ve got hillbillies, pill poppers, hookers with scars and guns, movers, shakers, smack takers. But we don’t have any gangstas. Oh wait, my bad we do….here they’re called The Police.

“‘Ey, you hungry, man?”

“Yea, I’m starvin’.”

“Yeh wanna doughnut?”

“Yea, yea.”

“Take one, dude.”

“Not that big one! That ones mine.”

“Okay…”

“But have a couple.”

The wigger takes the offered doughnuts and crouches down in front of them, “I can’t wait ‘till the first. I’m a smoke some crack, get high, smoke some kush.”

“I ain’t got no place to live.”

“Me neither, brother, me neither…but we’ll get some shit to make us forget all that.”

I lean over and look at them with humored eyes, “Hey, guys…now, I’m not sayin’ I am, but if I was a cop, I could bust ya’ll right now. I’m not against anyone gettin’ high, Lord knows I’m not, but keep that shit to yourselves. There’s little kids ‘bout to get outta school. Know what I’m sayin’?”

The wigger who has tear drops tattooed down both of his eyes nods to me, “Sorry, Ma’am.”

Ma’am? Ma’am? I’m nineteen years old, at most I’m a Ms. Fuck it, fuck it all, “It’s alright…I was just saying you might not want to spread that around.”

The one with dulled, outlined crack tats starts talking to his friends, “Hey, ya’ll got fifty cents? I need to make a call.” When they refuse him, he walks over to with a hand out, “You got fifty cents I could have, Ma’am? I’m stranded out here in town and I’d really ‘preciate it.”

Silently, I dig in my pocket and hand over some dimes and nickels. I don’t know if that’ll add up to what he’s wanting, but I’ll be damned if I’m handing over my quarters. Our economy has never been what used to be, if it ever was in the first place. Whatever, I still don’t get equal pay no matter what century we’re living in. I guess I should be happy I get paid at all. I mean, I could be some syphilitic whore being gutted by Jack the Ripper.

Clay hasn’t come out of the library and so gets no experience of the local delights. I laugh to myself as I watch them leave. The one with the change jingling in his pocket goes on to the payphone in front of Monkee Doughnuts while the others walk down the sidewalk. I can still hear the bump and thump of the cart as they venture out of sight.

That was great. I always feel so good when I get to be apart of something priceless. Doughnuts and Crack….that could be my next painting.

All around me people begin to come and sit on the steps of the library and on benches waiting for their kids to get out of school. Everyone is smoking and scratching their legs or cackling with thick, barfly voices. I am in a paradise. They’re so real and undiluted and I feel so different from them. Not above them like I’m high class, just separate like I was born to observe rather than be.

As I have been; A Born Observer.

Clay pushes himself out of the bulky double doors and comes to sit beside me, “I miss anything?”

3

There is an explosion of children spilling out unto the streets, getting into cars, and on buses. Little kids stalk over from the elementary school and find their moms in the crowd which we’re in the midst of. Teenagers making out and breaking up are strewn about the place like dirty clothes.

Is that weed I smell? God, I’d love to have some smoke right about now, “Do you smell that?”

“Dutchie, probably.” Clay answers, “He gets ‘em high on his good shit for free, then sells them his shake for the same price, saving all that crystalized bud for the real buyers which goes to them for double. He makes twice the profits and nobody knows the difference.”

“Natural born swindler. God, you’d think these kids would know better. We always knew better.”

“Yeah, but that’s West Port. We’ve got country out there where they can really grow the stuff. So, we knew. These kids? They don’t know shit from apple butter and then there’s the fact that everyone, including the cops, are scared shitless of him.” He takes a long drag from his home rolled cigarette, “You know that thrity-two percent of high school graduates don’t know where America is on the map?”

“What the fuck? I quit school and I know that! What dumb asses. I bet it don’t help we live in the most underdeveloped part of the goddamned country.”

“I think I see him.” Clay rises and leaves me once again. The guy can’t seem to stay anywhere longer than an hour. I bet a dollar he’ll find some girl to go home with by today’s end.

A boy no older than seventeen comes to sit next to me on the bench. A white, little goth thing with nervous eyes, “I haven’t seen you before.”

“That’s because I don’t go to school.”

“Where do you go? West Port? Forest Green?”

“I don’t go at all.”

“Oh, that’s cool. That’s really cool.” He licks his lips and scratches his face below the blood red eyeliner, “Um, could I, uh, could I get your number?”

Is this bitch for real? I am not about to be someone’s Mrs. Robinson, “I have a boyfriend.”

“Oh…”

“Wasn’t him.” Clay stops by the arm of the bench and stoops over the boy. He casts a long shadow, “You’re in my seat.”

The boy is about to crap himself, “I’m sorry. Sorry…” He practically runs away.

Clay drops down with laughter as I tap his arm with my knuckles, “That wasn’t very nice.”

“Nice is a relative term. What’d he want anyway?”

“My number. Could you imagine?”

“Dutchie would like him.” He snickers.

My boyfriend, Dutch Allen Mossberger, is well known for dealing, pimping, and loving the young boys. I don’t think he can help it either, but it’s not like he’s gonna suddenly start wearing a clip-on tie and go to church and I wouldn’t want him to. I would like it if he stopped fucking boys when we’re not together, but he wouldn’t and he won’t.

Together, Clay and I wait and smoke cigarettes while all the people around us disappear one, two, three at a time. Some go home to well prepared meals and video games, others to soggy bowls of cereal and busted down swings at public parks. Some don’t even go home, they go to the homeless shelter or worse.

There’s a rustling of leaves by me and I look over to see a man standing up. He steps leisurely out of the shrubbery and quickly walks away like he’s got a stick up his ass, “Clay, did you see that?”

“It’s true what they say, creepers really hide in the bushes.” Dutchie startles us as we look up towards him standing over Clay counting a huge wad of cash, “Let’s go get high.”

4

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“I don’t know.” Dutchie shrugs.

“Okay, stop. Let’s figure out what we’re doing.” I say as we stop dead on the sidewalk, “We can’t go to Russ’ ‘cause we don’t have a car and Pax is MIA right now.”

“Yeah, what’s he doing?”

“He’s mixing tracks for the band over in Marcusville.” Clay answers.

Dutchie gives him a high five, “Hell yeah, bro.”

“Yeah, awesome. Now, can we focus? I wanna get high before midnight. Where are we going?”

“We can’t smoke my stash. It’s being sold tomorrow night.” Dutchie lights a cigarette, “We could go to hippie Rodney’s…”

“That’s in Cardinalville.” Clay’s beau blue eyes are wide, “We might as well walk to Capitol Hill.”

“It’s not that far away and you told me last night Russ is out.” Dutchie defends.

“Let me have a smoke, baby.” I hold out my hand and Dutchie roughly places a hard pack of regular cigarettes and a blue-violet lighter on my palm. I light a cigarette and bite my lip, “Fuck…let’s go to hippie Rodney’s. I heard he’s got a connection with some killer shit. What do you think, Clay?”

He shrugs, “Do I really have a choice?”

“Not really.”

“Can we at least pick up a couple of forty’s on the way there?”

5

Ashford Ridge…why does it have to be out in the middle of nowhere? Times like this make me wish I had the want to drive. My legs don’t ache thanks to the forties and wine we’re carrying and sharing between us. With a full on guzzle by Dutchie on to my infamous three-gulp and then to Clay with a sip that would make a dainty Satan blush.

Back and forth, back and forth…our demons are thirsty.

Hippie Rodney’s house is just up ahead. A flattened wood square painted a disgusting bole brown with a rusted white tin roof. The outside is splendidly landscaped with trimmed bushes of yellow and red begonias, a manicured lawn outstretching beyond all sides of the home, and unblemished apple trees.

I am not fooled. I know what’s inside that little house of horrors.

I stay behind Dutchie and Clay. I hate going in this place. I hate how Rodney’s wife, Ula Mae, decorates. My skin is unsettling at the thought, “Clay, sit with me and let Dutchie go in.”

“Suck it up, Suzy Lee.”

Dutchie knocks on the door and I suddenly feel like everyone’s eyes are on me even though we are technically in the middle of nowhere. The door swings open and there’s hippie Rodney with his straight gray beard and white hair all fully braided in a lengthy plait hanging over his left shoulder down his tattooed chest. He’s tiny eyes are slits of cloudy blue, “Well, hell, how ya’ll doin’?”

“Good, good…”

“Come on in, Ula Mae jus’ made some of her cheddar an’ beer soup.” Rodney widens the door and we file in. I more slowly than my two compatriots.

Oh, Jesus, she has the display lights on.

See, Ula Mae collects porcelain clowns. They sit on homemade pedestals painted blizzard blue and blond and they hang from the ceiling on small swings, and their glass eyes follow me…I swear it. I fucking hate them. I hate clowns, their baggy suits, and their blank eyes. Everything has their faces on it; throw pillows, paintings, and even some are painted along the brick of the fireplace. It’s so gross and I feel my stomach lurch at the scent of her soup.

We sit on the sofa and a clown pillow touches my arm. I try not to flinch. I just try not to look at any of them, but it’s so hard.

Rodney takes his bronze cloth throne in front of us, “What brings ya’ll the way out here?”

“We were wondering if you had any pot for sale.” Dutchie lights a cigarette.

Rodney clicks his teeth, “I had some good shit ‘bout two days ‘go, but I am tapped out, brother. I got some new bud comin’ in, but it’ll be, at least, another three, maybe four, weeks ‘fore it’ll be ready, know wha’ I’m sayin’?”

“Shit, man. That really sucks, but you know we’ll be back in a couple of weeks.” Dutchie says.

Ula Mae comes wobbling in on her funky Igor leg, “Haaaay you guys! Soup’s ready, you’uns gonna stay fer it? I got some fried maters. Yeah, buddy, we’re gonna have a big ole eatin’.”

I stand up trying to hide my nerves, “Nah, Ula Mae, we’ve gotta get going. We have to walk all the way back to town.”

The fat in her cheeks sag and bring out all her fifty-three years. Her frown sincere, “Wayl, shi-at, I’s hopin’ of ya trying out may soup. I hadn’t made it since last fall.”

“Sorry, Ula Mae.” I have a sense my smile is more of a snarl.

Dutchie shakes Rodney’s hand, “It was nice seeing you. Now, hold us back a bag when your bud’s done.”

“Oh, he will.” She says with a playful wag of her finger, “It’s gonna be a good, strong bud too. It’s already starting to crystalize.”

“Mmm…that sounds awesome.” Clay moans.

“I’m a call it White Soul. I know she’s gonna be a good toke, I tell yeh.” He laughs in chuckles and escorts us out the door.

6

We stop at the corner of Ashford Edge beside it’s two foot tall sign with. I lean against the flowery, amaranth pink scrawled E in Edge, “I feel as heavy as sorghum syrup.” My breathing is heavy and I feel like I’m gonna pass out because of this ridiculous heat.

Clay’s usually ivory face is bright red and sweat drips from the hairline of his mohawk, “My legs are cramping.”

“Get off it, you pussies.” Dutchie makes us continue.

“Where are we going now?” I ask as I follow up behind him.

“Ole Man Harry’s.”

“Oh, come on. Let’s just go back to your house and smoke some of your shit.”

“No. We’re going to his house.”

“But that’s all the way over on Second Street!”

He looks back at me with a hard, but humored gaze, “I don’t care. That’s where we’re heading. He owes me a fifty. I was planning on getting it later tonight, but fuck it. Let’s go get high.”

God, I really hate him sometimes. He is such a fucking asshole. Now, we’ve got to go all the way on the other side of Port Alex to the ultimate last resort. Dutchie has dealings with him, but neither me nor my boys have had any dealings with him since we were fifteen.

I hear a squeal of tires coming to an immediate stop. I look behind me and see the glitter of bright ube and see Brittany Knappenberger’s head stick out of the jeep’s window, “You guys need a ride?!” Her fairy like voice carries over the intense rustle of cars along the highway.

I hop over there and give her hug through the window, “Man, am I glad to see you!” I go around and sit in the passenger’s seat. The boys climb in the back of this pussy wagon. The old trusty, Lavender Lee; the fancy cousin of Robert E. Lee. That’s what she’s told people anytime they call her a dyke for the jeep’s rainbow stickers, rainbow crystals hanging from her windshield, and it’s intense purple hue.

“Where am I taking you?” She asks as she bats her lashes over us. Her long, maroon hair makes her ruddy cheeks and cerulean frost eyes prominent. She’s always reminded me of a classical German pin-up, but with some extra padding.

“Second Street.” I reply as she pulls her car back on the pavement, “How are things with you and Rickey?”

She rolls her eyes with indignation, “He came over yesterday on my day off…again. He brought me batteries and potted meat and I asked him if he liked shitting in a can for me. Then, he tried to kiss me. I don’t want him to touch me, let alone kiss me!”

“What’s his fucking problem? Didn’t you break up with him?” Dutchie asks.

“Yeah! But he just doesn’t get it. He’s a fucking moron!”

“What a jackass.” I shake my head, turning in my seat to face Clay, “The other day, when Britt went home, Rickey was outside in his car. He’d been out there for four hours!”

“Why?”

“He was waiting for me to get off work…for four freaking hours. I tell him that I want to be left alone, I don’t want to be touched, and I don’t want him coming around every single time I have a day off.”

“I’ll make him disappear if you want me to.” Dutchie smiles darkly.

“Be my guest.” She laughs.

7

Ole Man Harry Coakley never changes, no matter the season, no matter the reason or year. He’s sitting in a broken down lawn chair on the front porch in cut off denim shorts and a fake gold chain. The medallion is embedded within a bare, white haired chest. And the closer we get, the worst his smell is. Like old bisexual man sex on a dirty floor covered in a light film of shit.

He’s overseeing a small get together with the Pyles family from the apartment below him. I hope we don’t stay very long.

Harry’s Columbia blues are eagling us, “What you want around these parts, huh?” His lips contract tartly as to allow his gloss to glisten beneath the sunlight, “You’re looking pretty good, Dutch. Your jeans fitting in all the right places. Who’s your friend?”

“That’s Brittany. She’s cool.”

Siblings, Brook and Timmy Pyles give her a wave and he says, “Nice to meet you.”

Ole Man Harry nods and extends his hand, “If I give you some gas money, could you run Ladonna for a beer run, Miss Brittany?”

She shrugs, but I can tell she really doesn’t want to, “Shuure…”

Dutchie leans to her, “I’ll go with you.”

Ladonna Pickard has to be one of the nastiest women in Shawnee County. Sometimes, she’s a hooker, but she’s a druggie and drunk all the time. Her fifty plus ass walks down the cement steps wearing a pair of cut off denims and a greasy tube-top. She’s rubbing her pregnant looking gut with an icky looking hand. Usually when she does this, she says, “I’m so sexy, the sexiest piece o’ ass in the state.” But not today. She shakes Brittany’s hand, “Niz ta meaht yer.”

“You too.” Damn, Brittany can play it sweet to a fault!

Ole Man Harry hands Dutchie a fiver and everyone except Clay piles back into the Lavender Lee. I’m back in the passenger’s while Dutchie and Ladonna are in the back. Once we’re on the road, she starts running her toothless, floppy lipped mouth, “I luv ‘Arry do mutch. Yer know ‘ow loang we ben dogedder? Twenty yers.”

“Congrats, Ladonna.” I say through a forced smile.

“Yea, we meaht fifteen yers ‘go and we ben dogedder e’er since. An’ we daded first two, fi’ yers ‘go. We geddin’ merr’d.” Her seeping cinereous eyes idly look over to Dutchie, “You a ‘andsum yun’ thang, Dutch. An’one e’er tell you dat?”

He nods with a smug smile, “My girl does, every day. Now, how long you and Ole Man been together again?”

Her nasty hand rubs his upper leg through the denims, “I ben dow’ de streets fer a long time. I a dime piece o’ ass…”

Brittany and I both have our hands covering our mouths, suppressing the laughter. She somehow swallows a cackle enough to ask, “Where do you want to get the beer, Ladonna?”

“Hi-Low.”

It’s a quick trip and Ladonna nearly jumps out of the jeep when she pulls in the parking lot. We watch her moseying around the store. Dutchie leans forward between the seats, “Did you see that bitch rubbing up on my leg?”

We can’t hold it in any longer and we laugh like maddened hyenas. Dutchie taps our shoulders, “Shut up, here she comes.”

8

Ladonna struggles with carrying the twenty-four pack of the cheapest beer she could’ve possibly bought while we walk over to the porch and take our seats here and there. Clay is happily talking to Ole Man Harry about the different types of marijuana when Ole Man interrupts him in mid-sentence, “I got this for you, Dutch.” His fat hand with it’s withered skin hands him a full fifty sack.

“Thanks, man.”

“Roll that shit up, babe.” I call.

“Don’t be a greedy bitch, Suzy Lee.” Clay laughs.

“Now, that’s some OG Kush.” Ole Man Harry smiles proudly.

“You always say it’s OG Kush and it never is.” Dutchie is rolling one up while he talks, “But that’s alright, man. There’s only two types of pot; shit that gets you high and shit that don’t.”

“Amen, brother.” Timmy pops up and scoots closer to us.

The Pyles family of 5715 Second Street Apt. 2 are some of the most inbred motherfuckers Appalachia has ever seen. Dinah, their mom is religious and takes that ten percent tithing to heart. No matter if her bills go unpaid or if they go without groceries. Likewise, the church doesn’t care if she and her two adults kids go without food or electricity. Just as long as she keeps handing over her ten percent.

Oh yeah, I don’t think anyone knows who their father is, but what we do know (and something they don’t talk about except with a few trusted people) is that Dinah found Brook molesting Timmy when they were all teens, and she didn’t stop it. In fact, she joined in.

Dutchie lights and passes around two hefty blunts and the real world has begun. Beers are flowing and the smoke stays around us like a paste.

Timmy is tall and would have a decent build if he wasn’t all tied up in his momma’s apron strings. His long, auburn hair is slicked back in a tight ponytail with the sides and back shaved. He wears all green because he knows it highlights the red in his hair and he doesn’t call himself an Appalachian of Irish descent. Oh no, he’s an Irishman, full blooded. He even learned Gaelic, as if that would convince anyone. I’d love to see a real Irish guy kick Timmy’s posing ass.

Brook is mousy with greasy black hair and dark blue eyes. Her yellowed skin is marked by deep set pimples and blackheads. God, I want to get the fuck out of here.

“Yer a big boy, ain’t ya?” Ladonna coasts over to Clay, “You know, I culd suck yer…”

“Suzy Lee, if I was just five years younger…” Ole Man is looking down at me from his chair.

“What, Harry?” I ask.

“I was just saying you and your friend, Brittany…whew! I’d love to be smothered by some black and red snatch. Call it a koi-way.” He chuckles as his belly bounces tightly up and down.

I look over to Dutchie and I see Timmy’s hand moving down his back to his ass crack. Dutchie jumps off the porch before Timmy can touch anything, “Hey, Harry, it was nice hanging out with you, but we gotta get going, you know?”

“I understand. You have a good night with that girl of yours, girl looks wild.”

When we four get into Lavender Lee and all the doors are shut, I shake my head, “What a bunch of fucking freaks!”

“Agreed.” Brittany says with a wide eye.

“Hey, are you spending the night, Dutchie?” I ask.

He leans forward and kisses me awkwardly between the seats, “Course, baby, but do you mind stopping at Bernard’s, Britt? I want to get some bourbon.”

“Sure.” She makes a wild turn and heads down Petite Rouge Street.

“Turn that shit up, babe.” Dutchie says to me.

I twist the knob and realize that it’s the new Shartruse song all hip-hop techno. It makes me sick, “I don’t know what you hear in this shit.”

“Makes me wanna get drunk and rave and she’s so fucking hot. I’d fuck her on a bed of glass, let her beat me with a TV Guide.”

Clay laughs out, “Who’d be on the glass? You or her?”

“We’ll roll around and bleed together.”

“You’d get GRIDS.” I say.

“Not just GRIDS, that bitch is nasty. You’d get, like, Tron-GRIDS.” Clay is rolling a blunt masterfully with Britt’s insane driving skills going on, “Did you hear what Ladonna said to me?”

Oh, I can’t wait for this, “What?”

“She said she’d suck me off for free, that’s how good looking I am.” He licks the paper, “And that her mouth was the closest thing to heaven since she didn’t have no teeth.”

9

Bernard’s Grocery Store is a conglomerate federation and their chain or brand is seen along the Mason-Dixon Line as well as the Bible Belt. Both we straddle and they cater to our needs. Liquor is between soda pop and frozen pies. Bam, stoner-drunk isle.

Clay looks at the neatly labeled moonshine, Brittany is absorbed in the pretty colors they make alcohol these days (neon green, blues, and purples), but Dutch and I are hounds for the bourbon. We’re like witches sniffing out damned souls.

“Do ya think Venus Blue is about how we treat the earth?”

“Who? What the fuck are talking about?”

Damn it, no one ever listens to Acid Bath. Why do I keep forgetting that I’m the only one?

“Wait, are you talking about music again? Is it David Leonard?”

“No, never mind.” I frown.

David Leonard doesn’t even sound like Acid Bath. I shake my head and then we are there. The bourbon section. Choices, choices! What decisions we have before us! The manager’s special wine we passed was foreplay, but this was the real deal. Seventy-one proof and higher, oh holy be.

“Which one ya gettin’?” I ask.

“The cheapest one.”

“I knew that, stupid. There’s seven different ones at fifteen bucks. Which one?”

“The highest proof.”

Jesus, sometimes I think he thinks I’m still a little kid, “Get the Evangeline brand. It makes you taste carmel when you belch.”

“It’s only forty proof.” He picks up a giant plastic bottle, “Looks like Ole Elijah won out again.”

“Well, let’s get it and go. I wanna get drunk.”

He bats his long, dark lashes, “Why, Sally Long, are we running from something traumatic? Or are we just weak?”

My hands go instantly to my hips, “Both, dickweed. Now, let’s get the booze and get outta here before their 80’s ballads give me the HIV.”

10

“That guy was really cute.” Dutchie says as we get into Lavender Lee.

“You think every guy is cute.”

“Shut up.” He taps my shoulder playfully.

As Brittany starts the engine, Clay light up the blunt he so carefully created. He hits it, “I made it with grape flavored papers this time.”

Now, some information for the reader. While grape is delicious and all that jazz, it is not…REPEAT, is not as good as green apple. Green apple leaves a taste on your lips that is both sweet and sour and it makes you lick your lips repeatedly. Aside from Ladonna’s half toothless mouth (apparently) is the next thing to heaven. You know when people eat something good and they say, “It’s like an orgy for your mouth!” Well, it’s like that, but for your lips and still working taste buds. You know, because smoking makes you taste things at a more benign level.

Grape is tied at cherry. Cherry is decent, but it doesn’t have that sour taste which makes your tongue go gaga. Grape is great, but always seemingly dry for some unknown reason. Though, I’ve heard that it’s first rate among some circles.

And now you know….and knowing is half the battle. So they say on cartoon reruns.

Brittany rolls down her window because of three reasons;

First (and Second); she believes that weed should only be smoked when one is terminally ill and has a hard time eating or keeping food down or one is going on a spiritual journey.

Third; She believes it to be harmful drug that zonks people’s brains until they’re zombies. In fact, I’ve only seen her smoke pot once when she first started college. She was already pretty wasted and just sat there and smiled like a goblin prepared to kill.

We whiz past high schools and through narrow streets and it does no good for her. She’s giggling like a girl, despite herself. Clam bake, baby. This is how it’s done.

“You think Muddy Waters was really a ho?” Clay asks as he passes me the blunt for the second time around.

“What is with you guys? Can’t you fuckers just get high without talking all intellectual?” Dutchie is exasperated and smiling.

“No.” I respond quickly, “Fuck you for wanting to be stupid.”

“Hey, bitch. I’m not stupid. I like to control stupid people.”

“Then, why ya with me?” I pose a question that I’ve never received an answer since tenth grade and pass half a blunt to him.

“I fucking love your brain. You being hot as fuck is just a perk and you know I wouldn’t date anyone ugly.”

“God forbid it. Your ego would shoot itself.” I take a fast sip of the now open bourbon, “Are you staying over, Clay? Shit, I don’t even know how you got in this morning.”

I can see him thinking there in the darkened corner of the jeep before he answers, “No, I’m thinking of going with Brittany…and you left your door unlocked. Again.”

I stare at her with an open mouth, “Go on and get yourself some, girl. You deserve it with all that grief what’s his face been giving you.”

She giggles which makes me giggle and that makes the boys laugh. And for no reason we simply stop talking and laugh.

I caress my lips, “I taste honey.”

“You’re high.”

“Hey, no one ever answered my question! Suzy Lee, do you think Muddy was a man-slut?”

11

I open my door with staggering laughter. Dutchie is behind me holding the bottle for all public view. No brown paper bag for this fellow, oh no.

We stumble into my apartment like we’ve done a thousand times before. It’s the reason why I don’t have anything within five feet of the door, “I bet Clay’ll fuck Britt looking in her eyes.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

I shrug, tossing my key down on the table, “I don’t know. I’m drunk.”

Dutchie cruises past me and sits on the love-seat still holding the bottle, “Let’s watch some Public Access.”

I remember how long the night was when we first had sex. I think we both came eight or nine times, “Why don’t we jus’ fuck?” In my head I call it making love, but he won’t abide by that kind of language. Not even after this long of knowing each other.

“Stop being paranoid and sit down here.” He pats the seat beside him and I adhere to his commend because I am weak for good dick.

And no, I don’t give a shit if that’s lady like. Women shit, piss, sweat, have casual sex, have periods, and there are some things to pregnancy that makes even us sick to our stomachs. Anyone who denies these truths do not live in reality. We are all animals ruled by our basic desires. We can pretend we are enlightened because we’re higher on the food chain, but that’s all we are…higher on the food chain. We are no better than the lions, hyenas, toads, and muck we live amongst. No better and no worse.

We watch a half an hour of a donkey farm before he says, “Ha, brings a whole new meaning to being donkey punched.”

I take the bottle from him, “You’re a hog.”

“I’m a drunk and you know this.”

“Stop being so honest.” I take a drink, “How come we don’t do it like we used to?”

“‘Cause we don’t need to do it all the time.”

“But we did.”

He moves around in his seat with a strong grimace, “I don’t know, Suzy Lee.”

“Are you screwing someone else?”

He doesn’t look at me. His eyes are glued insecurely to the television screen which illuminates my apartment, “I’ve been fooling around with Marty Beckett.”

I want to scream, but remain a jovial, almost laughing tone, “The little twink at Zandt Burgers?”

“Yeah…”

“You know people say he’s got diseases. That’s why he’s a clerk and doesn’t work with the food.”

“Shut up. Don’t say things like that.”

“Do you want to date him too?” I’ve been dreading this. When he’d get tired of just pussy and he’d get that craving for something more. I know, I know we’d decided on an open relationship because he likes guys and I like girls, but can I help that I’m jealous?

I do think we are primitive beings lost in a technological world, but can I for real help my jealousy?

He shrugs, “I dunno. Maybe.”

I hate him and everything he stands for. All the we stand for. If Merrilee and Audie were here this would never happen. None of this would be happening. I want to peel my face off and scream and bleed all over him, but I don’t. I don’t do anything except turn my face to the mule being milked and say, “Every guy I know is a whore.”

The Modern Youth


Sweet Sadists

by Myandra Wolfthorn

Lips turn twisted blue
as the sun bent to touch
We didn’t cry
or show any remorse
There was a sadist
in that romance
and it never fit right
We didn’t take chase
We didn’t run away
A sweet love turned sour
and I died inside that day

The Modern Youth

1

Well, it’s raining outside. The droplets explode on the safety glass of the school bus window. This fall seems wetter than the other ones. I can’t even enjoy the leaves. They’re all brown and they blend with the mud while the pale, beige stems stick up here and there in the muck and gravel.

I wish I could’ve skipped school today, but Mom made that big wail about how it’s too early in the year for the truancy officer to be called to the house, “This is high school, Suzy Lee. You can’t be as lazy as you’ve been.” I guess my freshman year is supposed to have special meaning or something.

I think life is life and so far it’s pretty much shit.

Sure, I’ve got friends, but they’re all good looking oddballs and I get called a slut for hanging out with them. I’ve never even been kissed, but I’m a total gutter whore. Go figure.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys. It’s just that all the guys think I’m too easy to ask out and no other girl, besides Merrilee Martings, talks to me with any decency. Clay, Pax, Patrick, and Dutchie all have other friends. Of both sexes, I might add, but all I have is them.

Merrilee is called a slut too. When we were in seventh grade, there was a rumor that she let guys gangbang her behind Bernard’s Grocery Store for a cupcake. Then again, there was a rumor that I had Elton John’s baby. Tall tales know no boundaries.

In the mornings riding the bus, everyone is too groggy to bully and antagonize. It’s in the evenings when all the girls are full of gossip and other nasty things on their tongues and the boys are riled up something foul that it becomes the usual nightmare. I’ll say one thing for these baboon assed idiots, they have consistency. I can always rely on a ‘muff diver’ behind my back or a note in nice, curvy handwriting spelling ‘dyke in large print. Thinking about all the wasted paper just to write one insult makes my stomach flip-flop. Poor Amazon.

It’s gloomy out so it’s quiet. Only my thoughts and the roar of the bus engine keep me alert until we roll up to the front of the school.

West Port Alexandria High School looks like a prison. A tall, wide square of flat beige bricks with white mortar. The teachers guard it like a jailhouse too. They stand around outside in their khaki/polo uniforms in the dew riddled grass along the path watching all the kids march themselves inside, like we’re a herd of oxen and this is where we’re forced to graze. Mind numbingly pasturing while the sun rises high and we waste away over Revolutionary War facts I’ve known since I was nine. Isn’t repetition a component of brainwashing?

The driver opens the doors with a screech and we all stand up. I wait. I’m in no rush to get inside. Besides, no one likes me enough to cut in front of them.

I am the last to step off. The scent of scared anticipation is something I hope I never forget. Wet sod, the varying sweetness of the cheerleader’s perfume, the old brown leather of the bus seats. I am the last to smell the beginning of this dreary Thursday as the twilight stays strong against the flags rippling up there on the pole. The bright red, white, and blue of Old Glory and the Ohio state flag slightly bigger beneath it.

I find it’s best to keep my head down on the walk from the bus to the double glass doors. I wish I had time for a cigarette, but then I hear that first bell and the hair on my arms stand straight up despite the dampening weather. It’s the warning bell which means I’ve got five minutes to hang out with my friends before we have to separate…and graze.

Have you ever noticed how great and awful girls look in the mornings? They all have perfectly moused hair, defining their makeup better as they sit lining the hallways. Each have a different nose and chin. One might have chestnut eyes and another may have gray eyes, but they pretty much look the same, don’t they? They shop at the same malls and watch the same shows. Not one of them is without a favored tanning salon, blond hair dye, or style of French tipped fingernails.

They all look the same, but at least it’s a good look….right?

I rush up the stairs to see my boys in the far corner opposite of me with all the popular jocks and rich boys leaning against the lockers in between. My eyes stick to the tan and lime tiles as I make my way through the crowd. I hear them laugh about pussy and mimicking something funny from TV. when Hadrian Journey bashes into my shoulder, “Hey, sexy.”

They never call me the more crueler names in front of my boys. My guys are too tall, too broad, too handsome, and too frightening to be fucked with.

I shrug off Hadrian the jackass and with a grin across my face, I practically jump on Clay with a hug, “Heyyo bitch!”

He laughs, “Heyyo bitch.” Lovely Clay; he’s the one with the most muscle which tends to put people ill at ease and that’s funny because no one knows he’s the quiet one who is less likely to hurt anybody.

I lean against the wall and notice Merrilee sitting by my feet. She is like a little goth rag doll. She looks up at me with dark aquamarine eyes lined with heavy red makeup. Her smile is soft and her words are warm, “Good morning, Suzy Lee.”

I slide down and sit beside her, “I’m diggin’ the corset. What’d ya make this one out of?”

She blushes an orange hue giving new meaning to the term peachy keen, “You remember that red skirt I made a couple of weeks ago?”

“Ya made it from a curtain, right?”

Her cheeks deepen, “Yeah, well, it’s out of that material and this top lace I got from the Charity Store. I think it was a widow’s veil.”

“That’s awesome. I wish I was that crafty. I can barely fix the seam in my backpack.”

She nudges me and I see the black rose in her hair, “Whatever. You got body like decks have aces. I’m like Audrey Hepburn and you’re like Jane Russell.”

I peer down at my chipped, black nail polish, “I don’t think Jane Russell would appreciate the comparison.” The bells rings and the air I breath becomes a bustle, but we sit still, “Can I walk with you to class?”

She crinkles her nose with a giggle, “We have the same class.”

Now I’m blushing, “Yeah, I…”

Merrilee and I walk downstairs in tandem with Patrick and Dutchie behind us. Patrick, lean like a Roman legionnaire, a musical man not prone to fantasy and Dutchie, the tallest of us all and I think that everyone knows by now that he was born a sadist. They don’t like each other much, but they make do because I’m their friend and we understand one another in this strange land called life, and it’s hard to find someone who gets you…let alone four someones.

God, I love how my bell-bottoms feel against my skin. Tight in all the right places. I know they’re looking, I can feel their collective stare burning my ass, but I don’t care. Being this close to Merrilee gives me a skip in my step.

I don’t feel that confused about this. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how confused they get when they have these kinds of feelings. What I mean by that euphemism is that they get scared when they want to fuck someone with the same genitals as them. I am not afraid. I’ve known I liked other girls when I first saw Merrilee Martings.

We were ten when she first walked into my world. We both were so small and timid, but she never spoke a word to me. I knew I liked guys when I saw Brad Pitt in a vampire movie, just in case you were wondering.

There is one thing I’m not sure about. You see, whenever I’ve seen two chicks making it on television they’re always so…well, one looks like a girl and the other looks like a guy with a vagina. The only time I’ve ever seen two girls who dress and act like girls, it’s a porn.

Merrilee and I are both females. If we are too similar, will it even work? This is making me nervous. I feel sweaty and I want to go home. I mean, I’m not saying she’s a girly-girl, neither am I, but Dutchie told me that lipstick lesbians don’t really exist and that they’re just used as straight guy bait.

My head is a whirl of thoughts when we sit down in Mrs. Wright’s class. Patrick is on my left, Dutchie is in front of me, and Merrilee is behind me. Dutchies worn out t-shirt has holes in it, but he smells delicious. He smells like how a man should.

Mrs. Wright is a blond bombshell and goes on to explain iambic pentameter to the class, but I am somewhere else.

I never really noticed it before, but Dutchie has facial hair. Jesus, it’s hot. I bite my lip and imagine him fucking me from behind with a pristine bed made before me covered in with rose petals, but that’s wishful thinking on my part. He’s been with almost forty people now and I have no doubt he’d think it’d be hot to take my virginity in the backseat right outside the Hi-Low Rest Stop and somehow he’d make it classy, get me to giggle, and convince me to run in and get him a sandwich.

A note suddenly drops on my desk. I glance around to make sure no one is looking and open it. Merrilee’s handwriting to unique and the ink is heavy and pressed firmly into the paper. The letters are small, tightly packed together cursive loops.

I want your number. We should go out.

My heart is pounding. My blood is pounding, pulsing. I feel a cold sweat come over me, I write;

Like a date?

I flip the note over my shoulder while Mrs. Wright is reading over our new summery papers.

I’ve never been on a date before. I wonder what Mom will think? No, best not tell her. Maybe Merrilee’s family are more understanding. If not, we’ll have to keep it a secret. Except for my boys. They know more about myself than I do.

The paper flops down on my desk another time like slowly rolling thunder. I feel like I’m going to be sick. Through my panic, I open it and it says;

YES

Oh my God, I want to get up and dance. Shit this is our only class together. I weigh my options and ideas and ask her if she’ll meet me behind the school after the last bell. My eyes just read her confirmation when this interrupts my cloud-fucking-nine, “Suzy Lee, are you passing notes?”

“No, Mrs. Wright.”

“I saw you get a note. Now, get up and read it.” She has thick lips smothered in rose colored gloss. It’s a shame, really. She could’ve been another Jayne Mansfield look-a-like, but instead she gets to hear and put up with shit head kids like me.

I stand up straight and proud like my momma taught me, “It says, ‘Mrs. Wright is a fat cunt.”

2

“Why do you say the things you do?”

I’m in the counselor’s office again. I’m not sent to Principle Leadingham’s office, or even Vice Principle Basil’s office anymore. They think I’ve got mental problems or something. I mean, I probably do, but does that mean I have to come here? I can’t decide which is worse; Being considered a slutty bitch or a slutty basket case? Girls gotta have options, they say.

I look at the two pairs of eyes staring back at me and I wonder if I am crazy. Mrs. Bending sits behind her desk dressed in a orange tan and snazzy pantsuit too young for her. Her French tipped fingernails tap the stack of manila folders which has been insinuated as my file. Mr. Horn sits on the corner of her desk in pleated cream trousers and apprehensive mustache. He’s twirling a ballpoint pen between his skinny, blanched fingers.

I imagine snatching it, jumping on top of him, and stabbing him in the neck until no more blood could possibly come from his body. Mrs. Bending would scream, looking down at us in terror standing in the corner by her filing cabinet. I wouldn’t use the pen on her. No. I’d get that counselor’s diploma off the wall and bash her face in with the heavy metal frame. I’m sick and fucking tired of seeing her raccoon eyes and poorly implanted button nose. I want to cave her in like a weak mineshaft until I’m out of breath and red in the face.

I grip the arms of the veneer and plastic chair and lick my lips. I’m insane, but they have all the certificates.

“Did you even hear me, Sally?” Mr. Horn asks in his effeminate manner.

I hate when people call me that. Sally SueLee Long may be the name on my Social Security card, but I’ve gone by Suzy Lee since I was little. Why do they insist on pissing me off?

‘No, I didn’t. I was just mulling over your possible murder. I foresee brutality in your very near future.’ I think one thing, but say, “I don’t see the problem.”

They look at each other with shocked laughter. It froths up in her throat like a rabid bubble as she reads a paper slip, “You called Mrs. Wright a…a…I can’t even say that word.”

“And you were passing a note around that said that and you know as well as I do that’s not right.” Mr. Horn adds.

I take a deep breath, “But it was my note and I didn’t want to share it. It’s my personal business and Mrs. Wright stuck her nose in and got hurt. I don’t care about her feelings. I’ve got rights that protect my privacy.”

“Not in this school! When you are in this building you adhere to the rules and you, you most of all, know the rules. You’re such a smart girl, Sally. Why do you always shoot yourself in the foot?” She asks as she opens my file, “You get excellent grades, far above average…”

I shake my head, “So what? I don’t want to go to college. I want to live a normal, anonymous life working on my paintings, smoking cigarettes, and hanging out with my friends. Maybe I don’t want to get married and maybe I don’t want kids. I’ll start drinking. I don’t know what I’ll do, maybe ride the rails and learn how to read hobo signs. What leaves tonight?” I look up at them, “This is an invasion of my privacy.”

“You’re on school grounds.” Mr. Horn reminds me.

“This is going around in circles.”

“You’re trivializing. Why do you think you do that?”

Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood gushing and pouring blood. I hate being analyzed, especially by idiots like these two. I’m not sure if it’s an act or if they are genuine, but I know that neither of them could possibly understand what it’s like to be me. Just like I wouldn’t know where to begin understanding them. We’re all strangers in this place, some of us are just more violent than others.

“I don’t know. I’ll try harder. I won’t pass notes in class anymore.” I clinch my jaw, “But, if it’s anyone’s time I’m wasting, it’s mine. Mrs. Wright is paid to spend her time here, like ya’ll and I’m supposed to come here willingly or by the threat of a truancy officer. In the end, it’s your paycheck, but my life. It’s mine and if she didn’t want to hear something bad, she shoulda kept her nose out of it. I’m being violated here. Trust that while I’m adhering to your rules, know that it’s a kind of rape…I just don’t know what kind.”

“You are not being…raped. Rules are rules. If people didn’t follow rules or laws, the world would be chaos.” Mr. Horn sounds like he’s making a point, but he just comes off as tired.

“Yes, there are rules we should follow as people, but the world is chaos already. Children kill each other in the streets, police kill the elderly, half a country has AIDS, and everyone is medicated to make ‘em forget it all. And we’re gonna sit here and debate a single word?”

Mrs. Bending smoothes down the right side of her honey brown hair, “Notes can carry answers to tests.”

By God, before I die, I will choke this woman, “But we weren’t taking a test. We weren’t doing anything.”

“That’s beside the point.”

No. I think it is the point, but I’m never going to get out of here at this rate. It’s like a freshly redecorated hell every fucking time I walk into this place. I rub my forehead, “I’m getting a headache.”

Mr. Horn shuffles smugly as if he’s won a the prize at the bottom of the cereal box, “Go on to class.”

Mrs. Bending passes a note to me, “Give this to your teacher so you won’t get in trouble.”

“Thanks.” I say.

I traipse from their office to the side door on the opposite side of the building. I prop the door open and smoke cigarettes until I hear the bell for lunch.

3

Lunch is nerve wracking. It’s loud, crowded, and my only friends that share my lunch period are Dutchie and Merrilee. Neither is of much solace. All the people make her feel paranoid and she retreats into her trey. Dutchie spends two minutes to pick at his food then hops from table to table to chat and flirt with all his customers. He may be young, but he hustles like an old pro.

Dutchie and I stand in line like cattle, “Ya know where Merrilee’s at?”

His wide, somber eyes scope the room, “I don’t know, but there’s Chris…bitch owes me ten bucks. I’ll be back in a sec.”

I pick up a plastic green trey containing a sloppy joe, corn, and apple sauce and slide it along until it comes to the lunch lady at the cash register. I’ve seen her everyday since the beginning of the year, but I don’t know her name. I punch in my four digit code and she looks at me with her hand out, “That’ll be two-seventy-five, Sally.”

I wish Sally was dead, “I’ll have to charge it.”

Her brows come together to pull an ugly look, “That’ll be twelve dollars you’ll owe.”

Jesus, “I don’t have any money on me.” I’ve got twenty dollars in my pocket and it took me three months to save it up for new David Leonard album and I’ll be damned if I have to wait any longer for it.

She rolls her eyes in annoyance and thumbs for me to go on somewhere. I’m not even worth words.

I sit at the usual table isolated between the corner wall and the tables where the stoners sit. I am tucked away, alone and hidden. I eat my sandwich and drink the chocolate milk. I try a bite of the corn, half of the kernels fall off the spork. The half that remains tastes like plastic. I spit it into a napkin and I’m done. The clock tells me that I have another twenty-six minutes to sit here by myself and listen to everyone’s laughter until another bell rings.

I close my eyes and pretend I’m mowing all my lovely peers down with a tommy gun.

4

I look forward to my last class. Pax, Patrick, Dutchie, and Clay are all there with me. They sit in that formation in front of blank computer screens. I sit at the end by Clay because he’s my personal tech support. Poor guy. Technology can suck my phantom dick.

The room is filled with the clicking of keys. I’m the slowest one. My fingers push the buttons with an unsure force.

A greatly satisfied woman went with a truly white dense spade through the hat of my good little well-fattened pig 

Before Kate-Una left the Iona cattle auction with hops

Mister Jack, you type much better than your friend Wolf

By the seventh page, I’m  typing;

A greatly unsatisfied woman went with an untruly black shovel through the head of my bloody cock

Before Kate-Una left the cattle auction with big mugs of beer and tits

Mister-sister Jackie, you type much better however tacky

Everyone is done and talking and I still have six more pages left to fill. Fuck! Patrick looks down the line to me, “You done, yet?”

“No. Obviously.”

“Just print it out and give it to her. She won’t know the difference.” He always sounds so confident and the more confidence he has the more trouble I get into.

I click all the buttons and I hear the printer rumble to life. I swallow hard and walk across the room. I feel like all their eyes are on me. It’s as if they get quieter as I pass them. My black corduroys make a swish swish with every movement of my legs. I don’t know why I’m so nervous, but I want to go to the bathroom and scream.

I pick up my papers and hand them to Mrs. Levi. She smiles at me with a touch of crow’s. Her hair is a vibrant red and she rides this badass motorcycle that’s in the reserved parking out front, “Sally, I’ve got to make some copies. Make sure they don’t get too loud, ‘kay?”

I nod and have become numb inside. I watch her walk out the door in frozen fear. I look to my seat and it seems so far away and I’ve got to walk all that way unprotected. It’s five minutes until the bell rings and I meet Merrilee outside.

My eyes are to the stiff navy carpet and drudge through the path where Hadrian and goons sit laughing. I can see them throwing waded paper balls at each other. Jordan Roof taps him on the arm and points to me. I pretend not to notice because I’m almost past them and around the corner. Just a couple more steps…

There is a quick roll of chair wheels across the carpet. Hands grab my hips and I’m down on someone’s lap. I squirm, “What the fuck? Let me go!”

“Aren’t you a sexy button?” Hadrian Journey. I should’ve guessed.

“What the fuck does that mean?” They’re laughing like hyenas at me.

Before I know what, my boys are standing in front of me with flared nostrils of anger. Dutchie is shrieking, “I’m gonna shove my foot so far up your ass, you’ll taste my athlete’s foot!”

“You’ll be brushin’ your teeth with Preparation H.” Clay quips.

“You’d know all ‘bout that, faggots.” Jordan’s fat mouth sneers.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute. This is stupid. Let her go…” Patrick says, “Before anything crazy happens.”

Hadrian’s strong football playing hands loosen and I’m free. I get up awkwardly and Jordan trips me and my cheek burns across the carpet.

“Oh, that’s it! Yah meet me in the parking lot, motherfucker.” Pax’s face is red dripped rage.

Clay helps me up as Patrick says, “He let her go. Just drop it.”

“No, fuck that. I hear them sayin’ their shit in the halls. I don’t care if yah play ball with them on the weekends or what-the-fuck-ever yah do, this is shit-all and yah know it.”

Patrick steps back with defensive hands raised, “Alright. Your call.”

Dutchie gets closer to Hadrian and Jordan laughs, “I will slit your throat and cum in the hole while you drown in it.”

The room is as silent as a cemetery. Everyone looks scared and excited. A pack of preppy girls in the corner are anxiously smiling. People get off on violence. Gladiator games, boxing, mixed marital arts. It’s all the same. People try to blame it on video games and some say it’s neglectful parents. I think it’s all bullshit. We have the violence in us, it’s been with us throughout the ages from the beginning of time and it’s going to come out rather it be through our fists or our creations. It’s there riding the tide in our veins and everyone in this room can hear it deafening their ears.

The bell rings and I can see the hallway filling up with the day’s hearsay and raunchy jokes. Slowly, the class files out, but we’re still here. Hadrian stands and Pax pushes him back down in the chair. Jordan pops up like he’s gonna punch him, but Patrick steps forward, “Outside.”

All the guys walk out puffed up and I stand alone. I get my backpack and run so hard and so fast that I don’t see people. They are blurs to a single-minded blindness.

5

It’s muggy wet and the sun is high beating the cement, echoing the heat back to the group encircling Pax, Dutchie, Hadrian, and Jordan. I force my way through the crowd and the fever from the fighting strikes me and takes my breath away.

Pax has Hadrian down on the ground beating on his face, his knuckles painted with blood. Hadrian looks like unprocessed hamburger; a raw, bloody rag puppet, “Don’t touch her ‘gain! I’ll kill yah, fucking kill yah!” That fight was over before it began.

Jordan is swaying on two feet. Dutchie’s nose is oozing bright gore, but he’s laughing. He’s enjoying it with every beat of his gray, spiky heart. He pounds his chest like a caveman, “Ya’ll wanna fuck wit my friends, huh, motherfucker?” Jordan wipes his forehead and Dutchie sends him on the ground with a hard left followed by a surprise uppercut. His heavy, black boot stomp with bone crunching effect, “Dumb fat bitch!”

“What’s going on here?!” Vice Principle Basil pushes his way through with a swollen angry face. Mr. Horn, Mr. Copas, and Mr. Liles follow him. Bas the Spaz and Mr. Liles get a hold of Dutchie while Mr. Horn and Mr. Copas get Pax off the ground.

“Back off! Back off!”

“It’s over now!”

“BACK…OFF!”

Mr. Horn checks on Hadrian and on to Jordan, “They’re out cold.”

Mr. Basil points to my boys, “You’re suspended. Two weeks. Now, get outta here.”

The crowd disperses as Hadrian and Jordan’s unconscious bodies are carried back into the school. They won’t be playing football for some time. Patrick, Clay, and I got up to the bloody messes that are Paxton Howell and Dutch Mossberger. They’re both sweaty and scarlet and clapping each other on the backs for kicking ass.

I hug them both and give a kiss on each cheek, “I gotta go, but I’ll see ya’ll later, right?”

“Wait. Where the fuck are yah goin’?” Pax is pissed.

“I got business.” I scurry from them. My backpack is bouncing and I feel the bruising forming on my hip already.

6

My mind is a spinning, torrid wind. My skin is sweating from all these black clothes and I keep running and running.

She’s gone home. She’s not going to be there. She got tired of waiting and went home.

I stop short of the corner. My heart feels like it’s gonna thump right out of my chest. If I turn and she isn’t there…

I shake my head and walk around the sharpened edges of the bricks. She’s leaning against the building smoking a cigarette. She’s so pale and calm like a pretty corpse. She’s always so together.

“I, I didn’t see ya at lunch.” I say. God, I feel stupid.

She butts her cigarette out beneath a big, black boot, “I wasn’t hungry.”

Her back is straight as she turns to me. Her green eyes are deep and slanted, like the very demon of temptation. Those ruby lips and cold skin. My backpack falls from my shoulder to my feet. I can’t take my eyes off of her. She’s beautiful. She’s perfection. She is the breath I need.

We step to each other in unison and she nearly breaks my arm as we embrace. Her lips part and her cigarette and soda flavored tongue slips into my mouth and makes me explode throughout every inch of my body. I push her against the building and our hands roam over each other. I’ve never kissed anyone before and I’m probably fucking it up, but I’ve heard it’s best when it’s messy.

Merrilee surprises me and pins me. Her long, burgundy nails tug my curls, she bites my lip, and begins kissing my neck. Her soft exhales along my skin give me goosebumps. She kisses me again before she stares up at me with devilish glee, “Do you want to come home with me?”

I can’t speak. I’m nothing but heartbeat and tension. I nod and she takes me by the hand.

7

It’s been two weeks in something better than Heaven. A bliss better than anything I’ve known to exist. She is like looking at the moon, staring there and dreaming upon her. Better than the sun because I’ll never go blind.

Her dad, John Paul, is a drunk. Completely wasteful and is hardly ever home. Clare, her mom, died a long time ago. Merrilee doesn’t talk about either of them much, but there is a cherry hutch covered in pictures of Clare. This gives us plenty of time to be alone.

Mom loves the fact that I’ve got a friend that isn’t a guy so she’s let me stay these past couple of weeks with my Merri. She’s so glad that I’m acting less wanton, but I don’t have to heart to tell her my newfound happiness.

“We’re too young and live in a hillbilly town. Let’s save ourselves the trouble and stay low until we’re in college somewhere far, far away.” She tells me.

We sit together in the trailer she lives in and listen to David Leonard albums as we chain smoke. She has long, thin fingers that always find a way in my hair, “You’re so beautiful, Suzy Lee. I’ll tell you everyday until I’m dead.” This is how we spend our time.

We’re walking towards school, our hands intertwined. She’s wearing a black, velvet skirt and purple corset. Her makeup has a flare for the dramatic with heavy liner and dark eyeshadow. I’ve seen her fresh from the shower and she’s more better looking without all that shit on her face.

“I can’t wait until it’s winter.” She says with glee.

“Why? We’d have to walk in the snow…I’ll get pneumonia.”

“Yeah, but it would look romantic and that’s what matters.”

I almost let her hand slid from mine, “All that matters?”

She rubs my arm and smiles, “Not like that, Suzy Lee.”

We walk in the quiet early morning. We spend most of our time in silence. I know it sounds weird, but she speaks to me with her eyes. No words. It’s as if everything is understood.

It’s a long walk from Merrilee’s trailer to the school. The air is chilly and the echoes of barking dogs and morning shifters through the hills. Once out of Woodland Holler, we walk down the road which leads to Saint Malverde Corner. There is something eerie about this land. The fields surrounding are abandoned, neither cow nor wild dog have ever roamed here. The grass is a deadened yellow and the fence keeping the wilderness from engulfing us goes on forever. A mile and a half of old wooden posts and chicken wire. By the road sign there seems to be some fencing that used to be painted white, but it’s all peeling away.

We stop beneath the St. Malverde sign and take a breath. Merrilee looks at the pocket watch strapped to her bag, “We’ve got fifteen minutes.”

“How long we got ‘til we go again?”

She lights up a dark tubed cigarette, “We have time.”

I sit on the patch of cement and light myself a cigarette. I watch her as she smokes. I don’t think many would think she’s good looking. Her white heart-shaped face and narrow features lean her towards the exotic. Her thick lips and slender, slightly upturned nose gives her a natural duck-ish face. Her features are classical and understated. Her pitch, straight hair tousles and moves like silk with every flick of ash.

I look up to the sky and the clouds are starting to disperse, “I bet Mays is up in Heaven partying like it’s $19.95. Plus tax.”

“Of course.” She stumps her cigarette out and we’re on the move again.

We come upon the the stirred speed of the school and we stop holding hands. We arrive with an extra nine minutes.

We walk up the stairs as Pax finishes saying, “I don’t know. I just like a nice, big, juicy ass.”

I run up to him, “Shit! I forgot ya’ll were coming back today!”

Pax opens his arms with a smug smile to display himself, “New and improved, baby.”

I playfully hit his chest as Merrilee comes to stand beside me. I notice Dutchie whispering to Clay and giving me the cold shoulder, “Hey, big D.”

He turns with a scowl and pursed lips. His almond colored eyes bore into me then to Merrilee and then back to me, “You dating her now?” I nod and I can see the hatred seethe. He pushes his way between us and stomps down the hall.

“Fag.” Hadrian coughs out and everyone laughs, but their glee is cut short. You would think that jock prick would’ve learned his lesson.

Dutchie picks Hadrian up by his throat and pushes him against the locker. His eyes are flaming and a deviant smile twitches over his lips as he watches Hadrian choke and turn purple. I run over to them, “He’s not worth it, Dutch. Come on…let him go, please.”

It takes him a thoughtful second before he releases him. He friend hugs me tightly, “You do what you want to do.”

I soak in his arms and when he lets go of me, I feel a sort of emptiness. His heavy cologne and the scent of his semi-basement molded jeans trail away from me. What the fuck was that about?

8

Autumn comes on full force with chilling vengeance and Merrilee warned me that she always gets sick when the seasons change which is why I’m sitting alone with Clay in the cafeteria watching him eat a microwaved doughnut and chocolate milk.

“Garson!” I slap the table, “I want my coffee now…Now. Now, you bitch motherfucker, I said now!”

A gulp of milk spews from his nose as he laughs and snorts. I scrunch up my nose, “Ew, gross, dude.” His face turns beet red as he scurries off to the restroom. Milk is all over the table so I casually move to another table and lay my head down on my backpack waiting for the bell to ring.

I hear a group of girls two tables in front of me giggling. With one eye open, I see the kind of chicks they are. They all have blond highlights and are in a constant state of muffin top. The name brand whores who are too fat to be popular. I bet they used to have individual names, but now they’re all Katie, Kayla, or Kassie. Will I begrudge them when I’m out of this place?

A refreshed Clay sits down across from me, “There’s a new guy.”

“So?”

“I have him in a couple of classes. I think you’d like him. He’s, uh, your type.”

“I doubt it.”

The bell rings and we go our separate ways. Mrs. Wright’s class is spent passing notes between Dutchie and Patrick and they too inform me of the newest addition of West Port High. By the writing I can tell Dutchie’s gay side is crushing and Patrick is ambivalent. Just one class in and I’m ready for this day to be over.

I’m walking through the hall when Jordan hits me in the shoulder, “Dyke!”

“Fuck you!”

“Hey!” Mrs. Voorhees points and bids me to her. I do as I’m told and see Jordan and his cronies laughing just beyond the corner, “Sally Long, you are a lady and ladies do not use that kind of language.” Her pinched face is as stoic as a ferret and her skin is peeling from her weekend cancer treatments.

“But he called me a dyke.”

“I didn’t hear that, but I did hear you and if I hear is again I’ll send you to Mrs. Bending for Wednesday detention.”

I shake my head, pissed off again, “Are we done here?”

“Yes.” Her voice is drenched in disappointment. Disappointment in me. Well, fuck her.

This is all a popularity contest. A caste system, but I won’t lay down and take it like some Untouchable. I’m gonna defend myself to the max because no one else is going to.

The image of me blowing up the school plays over and over as I start going down the stairs when I see an unfamiliar pair of shoes coming up them step by step. It’s only a second that he and I make eye contact, but it’s enough. It’s all I need to memorize everything about him.

Thick hair lying black waves past his shoulders framing an angular face with heavy-lidded eyes as dark as volcanic ash. He has a build for basketball, tall and muscularly thin. He’s got to be taller than Dutchie and he’s six foot two.

A pair of flat-footed, doodled on sneakers point out from the frayed cuffs of his worn out jeans. His denim shirt is mostly hidden by a faded flannel rolled up to his elbows. Multi-colored bracelets made of fabric and flexible rubber are clasped around his wrists.

He must be a bohemian god if there is such a thing, but then our second is over and we continue on our paths.

He’s too hot for someone like me.

9

A freak storm has hit us in the middle of October. I can’t believe this shit. Snow is a blanket covering the entire county.

“Global Warming.” I’d said as I watched the morning weather report.

“There’s no such thing, Suzy Lee.” Mom said. I ignored her and got ready for school.

That was this morning and this is now. Merrilee and I are drudging our way through three feet of virgin snow to get to her house. We hold hands, she sniffles, and I pretend my feet aren’t numb.

We approach the corner and I see a couple of guys sitting on the fence by the St. Malverde sign. She knows I don’t feel right about this place. She squeezes my hand to tame my fear. I shuffle my backpack more securely on my shoulder and keep my head low. We live out in the sticks and that means there are a lot more places to hide the bodies.

I’ve been thinking of reworking my idea of God to Aries or Ulf. They’re gods of war and to live is this constant, nagging bitch of a battle. Up hill, both ways. I could do that, worship war. Maybe that’s all the hormones flowing through me. Researchers say, shit my momma would say, is that teenagers are violently indecisive.

God, I mean Ulf, I need a cigarette.

We walk closer and with a glance I see that one of the guys is that new boy sitting pretty in patched jeans and tight fitted leather coat with zippers and patches of zombies safety pinned on. I can see a Cult shirt peeking between the open flaps. I nudge Merrilee, “That’s the guy…”

“Shit a brick, son.” Yeah, she thinks he’s hot too.

They stop talking while we pass them, “Nice ass.”

Merrilee’s eyes grow huge as she whips around, “Excuse me?”

He hops off the fence and fist bumps the other dude a silent goodbye. His friend gets off the fence and starts walking the opposite direction.

This pale boy with the chiseled cheekbones turns to us with a small grin, “I was speakin’ collectively, of course. I guess I shouldda said nice asses.” His boots crunch in the snow as he slithers slowly to us, “Would that’ve been more politically correct?”

“We don’t mind being lumped together.” I say.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” He smirks, “So, ya gonna let me carry your books and shit for ya?”

I bite my lip and look to Merrilee, “It’s a long way…”

“I don’t mind, really. I’d like to.” He’s holding out his hand. Merrilee looks at me with a nod and we give him our things, “The name’s Audie, Audie Atwater.”

“Good to know.” I smile sweetly as Merrilee leads us onward.

“Aren’t ya gonna tell me your names?”

She looks back with fluttering eyes, “We might. It’s too soon to tell.” Damn, she’s smooth.

The three of us go on in our wayward trek in silence. Early winter has made the fall leaves die, but some say death is rebirth. The trees will return after sleep is done with them. I glimpse to Merrilee and I see a spring in her step and I know she can see my own. I can feel his stare sizzling through my clothes and unto my skin. I blush as the wind blows snow dust in the air.

We stop at Merrilee’s red mailbox at 127 Woodland Holler and Audie shuffles the bags, “This your place?”

“You wanna listen to some records?” I ask.

There is a shine in his cloudy eyes, “Ya wanna get high?”

“I’ve never…”

“Let’s finish this inside, I’m freezing my titties off.” She interrupts, “It’s starting to snow…again.”

We walk along the driveway. I think there’s another foot of snow. The trees lean with the weight of crystallization. Merrilee looks so graceful in all this white with her inky black clothes. I’d scream my love for her, but I fear I would start an avalanche.

Inside it’s warm and smells of strange mildew and cigarettes. Audie does not wait for any more politeness and plops all the school stuff on the floor. He takes off his coat and sits on the sofa, “Ya want me to help you girls outta those wet clothes? I got nimble, talented fingers.”

“I bet you do.” She says as we take off our shoes and and socks.

We sit on pillows on the floor where the record/c.d. player rests in the middle with a heavy gold ashtray beside it. We light our mutual cigarettes and she puts on the new David Leonard record.

Audie digs in his pocket and gets out a cigar and slides down unto the pillow between us, “So, this’ll be the first time smoking, huh?”

“Merrilee has before, I haven’t.”

“Merrilee? Well then, you’re in for a treat. This is my best shit.” He says as he lights it up.

“Why’s it look like a cigar?” I ask.

He hits it a couple times and hands it to Merrilee, “Is called a blunt.”

Merrilee coughs some and gives it to me. They look at me like grinning goons, “Like a cigarette, right?”

“Hold the smoke in as long as ya can.” He advises.

I toke it and immediately cough until my face is red. They’re both laughing at me like I’m a clown. I try to pass back to him, but he refuses, “Try again.” I do, and I hold the smoke in just like he told me to.

We pass the blunt until it’s a puny nub of a thing and I lay back on the floor and watch the ceiling fan whirl round and round while I smoke a cigarette. I can feel the smoke pass through my teeth. It snakes from me and I swear it takes the shape of David Leonard riding a dragon. I am numb and laughing at the same time.

“The best song to fuck to is The Decline by NOFX.” Audie muses through slits for eyes.

“If this were a story, they might sue us for infringement or some shit.” I say.

Merrilee butts out her cigarette in the ashtray, “Good thing we’re real, huh?”

I feel her soft hands massaging my legs and she comes to lay beside me. She’s licking on my ear when Audie lays on my other side. He strokes my hair gently and nibbles at my neck. My heart would be pounding and my skin sweating if I could feel. I kiss Merrilee before Audie grabs me up. His lips feel like fire and his taste is sweet and harsh. I watch, as if I’m someone else, as he and Merrilee kiss and then we stop touching and stare at each other with all knowing looks.

“I bet you’ve never dated two people at the same time either?” Audie questions. He brushes a curl back behind my ear, “Tell me the names of my loves.”

“Suzy Lee.” I point to her, “Merrilee.”

He licks his lips, “The Lees…my Lees.” And we are his. Just like that.

10

Audie owns his house and he owns it for real. He’s not just some boy who lives with his family, oh no, his family lives with him. He started hustling women and peddling drugs when he was ten and he saved every dime to buy a house so his grandma could live the rest of her life somewhere decent for once. Not just some decrepit nursing home or government approved elderly apartment suite towering above the city where she can’t get anywhere without more help from government nurses. Nor was some shit downtown apartment going to work for his mother. He worked hard and spent his money well.

The house is a yellow brick two-story on the corner lot of 2111 Tampa Avenue with a large cement slab porch and columns. The windows are thin and were put in rather oddly so freezing winds come through constantly and the rooms are large and airy anyway. The rooms hold the bare minimum of mismatched furniture from antique stores and bare walls with random posters and old family photos tacked here and there.

Tammi Rose Campbell, Audie’s grammaw, who he calls ‘my favorite turd I’ll never flush’, stays hooked to an oxygen machine in the living room cut off by the rest of the house by an Iroquois blanket for a door. She sits in there with pruned skin watching by-gone science fiction reruns and smoking weed to keep her food down. The couple times Merrilee and I went inside, she didn’t speak, but she smiled and Audie told me that was something.

There are three other ladies who reside within the second story and they are a strange troop. Lorena is Audie’s mom. She is very dark with skin, hair, and eyes all the same shade of the deepest brown. She is a heavy drinker and she slouches most days at the kitchen table smoking crack through a glass pipe and listening to old country ballads.

Raelene is his aunt, Lorena’s older sister. She is taller than her sister, but twice as grotesque. Audie told me she’s got six or seven kids, but no one knows where they are or where they were placed when Children’s Protection Investigators took them. She walks around the house in clothes much too tight and short for her, showing legs streaked with dirt and scabby knees. I still don’t know why, but she walks barefoot everywhere.

Vicky Davis, from what I’ve been told, isn’t related to anyone except being a loyal friend to Raelene and Lorena. She’s short, mousy, and her blonde hair is cut straight to the line of her jaw. She barely talks and even when she does I can’t understand a single fucking word she says. Not that she’s foreign, well…unless you count the deep south as foreign.

A lot of men, and some women, come and visit them upstairs, and money is then placed in Audie’s hands for rent or his cut. And by God, when Audie speaks…all listen to him. He lectures and they listen. He breathes and they listen. Audie is not a leader, but a lone tyrant. A complete ruler unto his keep.

He is ruling his small kingdom while I attempt my homework. He is standing in front of the coffee table smoking a blunt. His bare chest is pale and muscular with a skull and crossbones tattoo between his nipples. His belt hangs low with three inch studded spikes holding up his tightened leather pants, “It’s nothing new, you know? Making up shit to start a war, the Romans were just good at it. Artists, man. They painted masterpieces with bullshit and we modern people still cling to it. The way they handled politics is still the way governments, states, countries, counties are run. Lined with shit, paved with shit, and always stained with innocent blood. Write that down in your little essay.”

“I don’t think Mrs. Wright would like the language.” I giggle.

“Well, fuck her then.” He takes a long toke and hands it to me.

I take smoke it with greed, “I wish Merri was here.” Instead of being with us, she had to stay at her house and watch after her dad. She’d said he was on another one of his benders and she’d have to clean up after him.

He nods, but says nothing as he walks over to his desk. A large oak creature with papers neatly stacked two feet high across all open areas. He sits lazily in a tired looking patio chair. He shuffles through some papers. I lift the blunt up, “You forgot about something.”

He brushes it off with a careless hand, “Take it. I don’t think I could get higher.” His bloodshot eyes scan the papers and he makes some marks in a small booklet from the desk drawer.

“You told me there was no such thing. You can always get higher.”

He looks at me with a smile, “You know me too well, babe.” He skulks from his chair in languid movements. Like a sly animal he comes to me, never breaking eye contact, and takes the weed from me. He sits on top of my homework with shimmering eyes, “If I could, I’d clone you so I could love two of you.”

“Merri and I aren’t enough?”

He cups my chin with a strong, cold hand, “The Lees are all I need.”

tap

tap

tap

I tilt my head, “Is that somebody at the door?”

He shrugs and passes me the joint, “For the hoes, I assume.”

I hear the door open and then a scream, “AUDIE!”

He’s is up in a flash of white and black. I follow him into the foyer beyond the rainbow blanket-door and I see something that rips my heart in two.

Merrilee is puddle of white skin and dried blood in Vicky’s arms. I fall to the floor and take her into my hold. Her left eye is already bruising a royal purple and black and her clothes are torn from her, “What happened? Merrilee! Who did this?”

Her pout lips are white and dried, “Lay…me…down…” Her voice is so small.

Audie helps me carry her to his bedroom, back through the rainbow blanket and we lay her down on the bed by the back wall. She rests her head under my lap as I caress her ringlets, “Please, tell us what’s happened?”

“Dad broke a window and I didn’t get all the glass up before he stepped in it. He cut his foot and went berserker on me. He…” Mascara laced tears stains her already streaked cheeks, “He…”

Audie gently lifts her ripped skirt and we both see what she’s trying to say. Massive bruises of black and violet with cuts in her flesh tell us what her father’s done.

Audie’s face is stone, “Vicky, tell Mom and Aunt Raelene to get the car warmed up. We’re going for a ride.” He turns to me with a softer gaze, “Come on, Suzy Lee.”

I rise and lie her head kindly on an old pillow. My eyes are burning from the tears, “I can’t leave her, Audie. She needs a bath, something to eat…” I choke on my own words.

He hugs me, stroking my hair, “Shush, it’s okay, my dove. Vicky’ll take care of her, won’t you Vick?”

Vicky nods and then runs off to do what he’s told her. I bury my face in his chest and cry until he whispers airily, “Come on. It’s time to go.” He takes me by the hand and leads me outside. It’s cold, but I can barely feel anything. He doesn’t have a shirt and he doesn’t even shiver. Shock and anger keep us warm against the snow coming down.

Lorena and Raelene are sitting in the boat of a car of primer and rust. We call it Shawnee County Gray. It rattles and shakes just sitting there in the driveway without a muffler and a cloud of smoke piles around it as we get in the backseat.

The ride is quiet and bitter. He holds me close and looks out the window to the night. It takes only fifteen minutes in a car from Tampa Avenue to Woodland Hollor, but she had walked and that took two hours. The thought of my doll stumbling in the darkness makes knots in my belly.

Lorena drives the car down the path of 127 Woodland where it clinks and clanks to a halt. I can hear music blaring out from the trailer before we get out of the car. Even louder than the music are the sounds of a madman. The windows are broken out and half a table comes flying out the one looking into the kitchen. Audie is walking behind the car and he gets a baseball bat from the trunk, but he doesn’t close it. Maybe the sound would be heard? I doubt it with all John Paul’s shit going on though.

Audie leads us up the stairs and he tests the lock and nods to us. He opens the door and we are in hot pursuit. Audie is on John Paul hammering away at him before I can even see him. They’re on the floor and there’s blood seeping across the kitchen linoleum. There are pieces of pink mush and chips of skull are splintering with the sharp bashes Audie is giving him.

Lorena and Raelene search the house. Raelene in a gingerly pace past Audie and Lorena like she’s in some sort of secret agent movie. She turns the stereo off and there is silence. Then I hear Audie grunting. My heart is pounding and I move closer to him, “Audie. Come on, Audie.”

He stops still like a caught deer, not a muscle moving. He backs away and lights a cigarette with a small sigh. I look over and it’s not John Paul at all. It’s a woman with a black skirt and white blouse lying on the floor and then there’s all the blood. Jesus, her head…

My stomach pumps and I retch, fucking weed has me all dry. Audie catches me by my arms, tossing his cigarette, and puts his hand under my chin. He forces me to look at him and I think I’m going to be sick, “Suzy Lee, you look here. You’re not gonna vomit. You’re gonna be fine, you’re stomach is fine. You’ve seen this a thousand times before, in every movie you watch and every book you read. Remember that show we watched the other day? What was it? It was about killin’ babies an’ fuckin’ sisters and we watched ev’er second of it. It’s just like that…calm down. Ease down. You can hit me if you like…”

I sit down. There’s blood in the air, but I have to breath. I’ve got to keep it together.

“Audie, there’s a guy in here, in the bathroom, I think it’s her dad.” Lorena calls in her raspy barfly voice.

“Bring ‘im out here.” His eyes never leave me with this infernal leveling way.

John Paul comes down the hall with his hands up. Lorena shuffling behind him, “I’ll shoot you, mah’ fucker, don’t you think I won’t.”

Guns? Oh my God, Lorena has a gun. Raelene comes in carrying one and I thought they just had clubs. What the fuck is going on with me? I’m high as fuck and this, this can not be happening.

John Paul is as tall as Audie, but more stout. His black hair is disheveled and his mouth is bleeding. Scratches down his face still fresh, he’s stumbling on his feet and brings with him the smell of stale strawberry wine. My belly lurches, but I hold it back.

Lorena scoots past him, holding the gun at him with a flat unflappable stare. Her eyes are bulging so much they look like they’ll pop, “That girl dead, Audie?”

“Yeah, she’s died.” There’s almost a laugh in his voice. He moves closer while Lorena backs towards me. Audie points the big end of the bat to Merrilee’s dad, “You know what this for, so take it like a man.”

John Paul wipes his snarling, foamy mouth, “Fuck you, kid.”

THUNK

I saw the ferocity with my own eyes. The bat hit him and he’s down on the floor in a heap. There was some blood, but not much and he starts moaning and moving around. His hand grasping for something, anything. Audie just stands over him, watching him, “Suzy Lee, take Mom and Aunt Raelene in the back and get her shit.”

I nod and we go about the task. Raelene has the grocery bags from a hook in the kitchen. We fly about stuffing Merrilee’s clothes in bags, her records, her makeup, her towels, the red shampoo and black conditioner, and her jewelry. Down to the nitty gritty, we collect everything and carry it all out to the car. Every task is weighed heavier by John Paul’s screams. I scurry back and forth, never glancing over there. Audie is on top of it and I thought I saw a knife, but I just can’t…I’d rather be ignorant than puke and leave my D.N.A. all over this tin piece of shit.

I ruffle the snow from my hair as I come back in. John Paul is screaming so loud that Raelene put the music back on to cover it, but I can still hear it. The low grunt-scream of a man who has blood on his soul. A sputtering wail spewing slaughter from his mouth.

I carefully walk to the cherry hutch and take down the picture of Clare Martings. Lorena and Raelene are outside waiting for us. Waiting for this to be over like bored housewives smoking cigarettes by the car and making small jokes.

The fact that John Paul isn’t making a sound hits me ruthlessly. My fingers and toes turn numb as I switch off the stereo, “Audie?” My voice comes out small as a mouse, “Baby?”

He turns around with red splatters on his face and holds something up that covers his hand in blood. I move closer to him, clutching the picture of the smiling, carefree woman, “What is that?”

“His dick.”

I feel my face flush as he stands up. He takes me by the hand, tossing the gross thing down, and leads me to the door. In a flash, I see that John Paul’s nose is gone, only protruding bone. A fierce white sticking out past peeled back skin. Audie ushers me to the car and holds me like a babe, “I don’t want you to tell Merri what happened. I’ll talk to her when she’s feeling better.”

“What about the cops? Won’t they take her away from us?” I ask.

“No, no, baby. They’ll think she’s dead.”

“How?”

“You don’t need to worry about that.”

“What about school?” I’m so confused.

“She won’t be needin’ to go anymore.”

“My friends?”

“They’ll understand.” He says, and I know that they will. People’s feelings are pretty straightforward when it comes to rape, and this is sick rape. Even I understand that.

11

Mom’s sitting in the overstuffed blue chair watching television. Her Arthritic fingers grip a long, white cigarette. Her nails are like pink taffy colored talons ready to strike. She looks onto the Republican news channel with a gracefully blank face. Her short, strawberry blonde hair is curled and radiant while her brown eyes glisten to the rhetoric.

Raeann sits on the sofa twirling a basketball on her fingertip, and failing. She thinks she’s so athletic being on the junior high softball and volley ball teams, and she’s been talking about adding badminton and track to her achievements too. Her black gaze handles me with suspicion when I walk further into the living room. I sit down beside her and she playfully kicks me, “What’r you wantin’?”

“Nothing.” I say.

“…and now breaking news, we’re just learning twenty two American soldiers and over seventy civilians have been killed by a surprise attack by Al-Qaeda outside of Baghdad this morning. Leeann Yaeger is with us…Leeann?” The newscaster asks.

It goes to a split screen and a demure blond is standing in front of a desert, but I think it’s a green screen, “Yes, hello, James.”

“How is it looking there?”

“Well, the place has been in chaos since the attack. We’ve learned since then that Adnan Ibn Al’alim was an elite member of Al-Qaeda and this seems like a gesture of extremes. General Caindale has said…quote “We have ‘em on the run”.”

What the fuck is this? We have them on the run? We’ve had them on the run, they’re gorilla warfare fighters coming in blitz attacks. These news people are idiots, “Mom, I was wonderin’ if I could talk to ya.”

She turns down the television with a shake of her head, “It’s like these people don’t even want freedom. They want to keep living in mud huts, shooting each other with AK’s. You know, I was watching a drive the other day on the Light-Works station and they were talking about how oppressed these people are. It was so sad. The kids were barely clothed, little girls sold into marriages by the time they’re six. Jesus Christ needs to be working in their hearts. They need God over in that place.”

If anyone in the Middle East is oppressed it’s the women. And is six any worse than the fourteen year olds pregnant with their second kid walking around about to pop in isle 5 at Bernard’s Grocery Store? I don’t know. I don’t know what’s worse, but I do know we shouldn’t judge another culture without first evaluating our own, and ours isn’t that fucking great. Not that terrorism is good, but I think we teeter on the line of the definition of what terrorism is, “Mom?”

“What’s it, Suzy Lee? They’re about to list all the dead soldiers.”

They’ll list the soldiers and pick one with the most heart wrenching story and he’ll be this week’s poster child on the war of Democracy versus Terrorism versus Who Has The Most Oil. Female soldiers die too, but I haven’t heard of one yet, “I was wonderin’ since it’s a few weeks until school is over that I could stay with my friend Audilynn? I mean, it’s almost summer time, school’s almost over…”

“Audilynn? She was friends with Mary, right?”

“Merrilee.” I corrected with a fake a sad, pouty face when she was mentioned. Everyone thinks she’s dead, so I have to pretend to be so depressed. I’ve become a master at it after three hours with the school counselors.

Mom nods in thought. After Mrs. Bending called her with the report of my best friend’s death, she was being a lot more careful with me, “I, I think that’ll be very nice for you. Just make sure to give me her number so I can get a hold of you, okay?”

As I’m thanking her, she turns up the news to drown everything else out. I walk over to her and give her a kiss on the cheek anyway.

12

It’s freezing outside and the rain taps the roof in almost musical notes. Audie is lying the middle of the bed with Merrilee on one side and me on the other. My fingertips trail imaginary lines down his chest in the dark. All is silent except the sharp intact of breath as Merrilee and I rub him and nibble at his skin.

I run a curious finger lightly over his ear, down his neck, “What are you thinking about in that big head of yours?”

I can hear the sideways grin in the blackness of the room, “You have ESP, don’t you Lees?”

“Only with you.” Merrilee says.

He sits up and leans against the wooden headboard. He turns on the bedside light and grabs a matchbox and a pack of cigarettes, “I have been thinking about something.”

I steal away his cigarette, “What is it?”

He’s sly as he brushes a strand of silky hair behind his ear, “You know how I’ve been moving massive product to get the money so we can leave town? So Merrilee is safe and doesn’t have to stay cooped up in the house all day?”

I sit up a little, leaning on him, “Mmm, down south where it’s warm all year round. Beaches and barbecues in the fall. We could decorate palm trees for Christmas.”

I hand back his cigarette and he looks back and forth between us, “I thought of a way we could speed up the process.”

“How?” She asks, trying to sound interested, but we’re not interested in his words right now.

“We could, uh, could rob somebody or something.”

“We’re not master thieves, Audie.” She says.

“Who would we rob anyway?”

He shrugs, butting out the cigarette and enveloping an arm around each of us, “I don’t know…I don’t know.”

“I think you’ve been drinking too much, lovie.”

I sneak down beneath the powder blue sheet and kiss the outside of his burgundy and black stripped boxers. He moans, but it’s cut short by Merrilee’s kiss. He’s long and thick, difficult to fit in my mouth, but his hand grabs my hair in reassurance. He breaks the kiss with her and slides down to lay flat on the bed to press his lips against mine. His tongue softly licks at my own and his hand find it’s way between my legs. I love him, God as my witness, I love him and I love Merrilee. I never, ever want to be without them.

I kiss him and writhe against his touch. He understands my waiting which is why our love making (and yes, no matter what you say, we make love) has never gone past oral sex. Neither of them are virgins, but they wait for me. They love me.

“Audie…” I’m breathless, “Merrilee…”

Their eyes are so heated and their hearts echo the imprint of my picture through them. She traces my cheek and jawline with a black painted fingernail. Down and further down to my breast.

I hold down my wanting and my lust enough to say, “I’m ready.”

“Are you sure, my love?” She asks with an excited smile.

I nod, biting my lip, “Very, truly sure.” Audie kisses me and we three drown together between the sheets.

13

I am so stupid. I should’ve taken Pax’s offer for a ride to Audie’s house after school, but I said no because I wanted some time to myself and of course it would start snowing in the middle of my thinking. Now, I’m holding my backpack over my head to protect myself from the flurries of snow and freezing rain. My hands are practically comatose and my knees are getting wobbly and off course without my permission.

My boys were going there anyway. They hooted and howled at me as they passed, but that was before the weather changed. I bet they’re there now getting high and drinking whiskey from the bottle with the blinds rolled down oblivious to the fact that I’m in need a rescue. Fuck it, I’ll call this my walk of stupidity.

I run some, and then strut in quick stride. I want to get back as soon as possible. I can almost smell whatever delicious thing Merrilee has on the stove. And you know, I don’t mind Lorena and Raelene’s country music anymore. I want to hear it. I even miss it all, from my loves to the strange mold that’s developed in the bathroom. They’re all I think about in school. Even my boys have warmed to them, but I think it’s the fact they get free pot and booze.

I sigh relief when I see the Tampa Avenue street sign. I turn the corner and wish that the house was closer to the beginning of the street. The tip of my nose might actually come off and then I’ll stay inside with Merrilee.

I hear a commotion, some raised voices, and someone saying, “No, please, stop!”

Before I know it, I’m running to where I hear it and I see a boy in the grade above me named Huey Eifort kicking another boy I’ve never seen before. They’re down a little gravel half road between a couple of houses, “Hey, what are you doing?!” I carefully step forward.

Huey’s fair eyes meet mine, “Get outta here, dyke bitch.”

I rush him with my back pack out in front of me. We fall down, me on top of him and he yells out. I’m sure the gravel poking up feels real good on his back. I hop off him and jab his nose with the heavy end of my bag. I kick him as he scrambles to his feet and he takes off.

I turn around to the lump of scared boy behind him and hold my hand out to him, “Come on, man.”

He takes it and I’m astounded at how huge he is when he gets to his feet. He’s just as tall as Clay, but not muscular. He’s a honking piglet in a blue shirt with moth holes at the bottom and faded shorts, “Where’s your coat? Don’t ya know it’s snowing outside?”

His nose is blooded and running down his lips and chin. He looks at me with naturally squinted eyes, but then bows his head, “Thank you for helping me.” His words are slurred and slow. He takes his time with deliberating each syllable. He’s mentally ill, I see it now.

I shrug my backpack on, “What’s your name?”

“Daniel Porter.”

“Well, I’m Suzy Lee. Ya wanna come hang out with me and my friends for a little bit? We’ll get your nose cleaned up, get ya warm, huh?”

He nods quickly and follows me down the road. We go through the back to and walk into the kitchen. The scent of Merrilee’s chicken and dumplings make my stomach gurgle in hunger. She turns around, the wounds John Paul gave her are healing well. By the end, she’ll only have a small scar running across her nose, “Who’s this?”

“My friend, Daniel. Daniel, this is my girlfriend, Merrilee.”

“Hello.”

“Hi.” Her brows knit together, “What happened to you, Daniel?”

His head shrinks lower in his shoulders and he starts rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, “Beat up again.”

I touch his arm, “Hey, it’s okay. Are ya hungry? Ya want something to eat?”

He nods and sits down at the table. I look to Merrilee, “I’m gonna go get a rag to clean him up.”

I’m walking down the hall when I hear the boys hollering in the living room. I go in and they’re playing video games and throwing popcorn at each other. Audie sees me, “Hey, baby! Where’ve ya been?”

“I found Huey Eifort beating up a…well, a slow kid.” I say, “I have him in the kitchen. He didn’t even have a coat on.”

“Is he real big with, uh, shortish, kinda blonde hair?”

“Yeah.”

“Daniel.”

“Daniel Porter.” I say.

“Yeah, he walks around a lot. I don’t know where he lives, he just kind of…is.” He looks down to the carpet in thought, “Tell him to come in ‘ere, ‘kay?”

I agree and go about my business. When I’m back in the kitchen, Daniel is eating one dumpling at a time and slurping the soup loudly. Merrilee is pouring a glass of milk. She looks so beautiful, her skirt flowing around her slender legs, “I already cleaned him up.”

I sit down, “I went through all that work for nothing.” I say, “Is it good, Daniel?”

“Yes, good.” He smiles and two of his front teeth are missing and the rest are a strong yellow.

Merrilee and I chat a little until he’s done and has drunk the milk down in one gulp, “Hey Daniel, you wanna come meet my other friends?”

“Yes.”

We go into the living room and there is layer upon layer of smoke. I make the introductions, but Daniel doesn’t leave my side.

“Do you have a place to stay, Daniel?” Audie asks.

“No.” He starts rocking again.

“Well, how about you come and hang out with us and maybe you can stay here.” Audie says with a friendly grin.

Daniel sits next to him on the sofa. I lean on the wooden trim in the doorway, the rainbow blanket being up releases some of the smoke out of the room, “We’re a brothel and a homeless shelter.”

“I prefer cathouse and hobo town.” He replies in a fun loving manner, but Audie does nothing without meaning. He loves me, he loves Merrilee, I know, but deviousness never leaves the bones…especially when one is born to it.

14

Two weeks until school, and my freshman year, is over! Then it’s a three month stretch of laying around (no more fucking homework!) and getting high with my loves and my boys and I just know it’s gonna be freaking awesome. Audie says by the start of next year, we can disappear down south. Heaven’s never been so close.

And ya know, we’ve really gone to another level in our relationship. The other day, we walked up into the woods and tied Audie up to a tree. We ate him alive and we three loved every second of it.

Since the weather’s gotten warmer, Audie and Daniel have been doing repair and upkeep on the outside of the house. And now that Pax has a car, we’ve all been cruising up and down the streets like true blue hoodlums. Even the previously asexual Clay got blown at a party…now he knows his real calling. I foresee man-slut in his future. Though, the girl did have a mustache, but oh well. He said her mouth was like a Hoover. Way to go sex!

Sexy sex. Outdoor sex, indoor sex, everywhere, all the time. It’s taken, like thirty times with Audie before it felt as great as it did for Merrilee the first time, and I’m pretty sure Merrilee knows every inch of me these days. The boys don’t even flinch when they see us entangled, all limbs on the sofa. Dutchie jokes he wants to join, but I can tell he wants to. He wants me still, but Audie would sooner dump him in the river than let him touch me. It’s just Merrilee, Audie, and me. Audie Atwater and The Lees…we could be a band.

Speaking of bands; Pax, Patrick, and some other guys have started jamming out back which has inspired Clay to learn how to play the bass, but he’s not there yet. At least he’s trying and that’s more than most do in their whole lives.

I’m standing on the small cement slab of a back porch in bare feet and my hand shields my eyes from the sun, “No, Daniel…you need to chase him! Chase Pax!” Everyone’s laughing while I give the big lug directions in playing tag.

“Daniel! Lees! Come ‘ere!” Audie shouts from the window.

“Come on, Daniel.” I wave him to follow me and we meet Merrilee in the living room, “What’s going on?”

There is no smoke in the room and all the windows are open letting the air flow through. Audie is biting his nails pacing throughout the room in the deepest concentration I’ve ever seen. On the coffee table, there are two maps. I look to Merrilee and she shakes her head and I know that we are in unknown territory, but at least we’re together. She takes a hold of my hand as we move near.

I’ve never seen his gray eyes so dangerous, not even when I saw him do what he did, “I’ve figured it out. Flawless, fucking flawless.”

“What’s flawless?” I ask.

He sits down and taps the maps so hard I imagine his fingers breaking, “This, Suzy Lee. This. I’ve figured it out.” Merrilee and I sit on either side of him and Daniel goes to the desk chair with bricked feet.

“What are we looking at, baby?” Merrilee strokes his hair.

He pushes it away and begins, “Okay this here is a map of Shawnee County and this is the blueprints of West Port high. There are over thirty abandoned buildings in or around the main part of town that are taller than two stories. If someone puts bombs in three of them, timed to go off ten minutes between, that’ll give us twenty minutes to get in and get out. The perfect distraction. No one’ll get hurt because they’re abandoned, but the blasts will be loud enough to get the attention of the cops.”

“Get in and get out where?” I think I know where this is going, but I really don’t want it to. He’s sober, and I don’t like it when he’s sober. I want my love high or drunk or tripping, but not this. He thinks and over-thinks.

He surveys me with an almost icy stare, “The school, Suzy, the school.”

“What? Why?”

He takes a deep breath and licks those full lips of his, “It’s the end of the school year, that means all the funds for every choir or band trip raised for the summer will be piled up with all the money raised for the football team during this past year. It’ll be counted and put in a lockbox and then placed in the room where the band keeps the extra instruments and uniforms. I’m pretty sure they’ll keep it there until the very last day when they have the school council meeting after school. I’m estimating about five, maybe six g’s, but that’s…stretchin’ it.”

“Audie, what are you fucking talkin’ about? Seriously, what are you talkin’ about?” My mouth is open in shock.

“I’m talkin’ ‘bout our dream, Suzy. Remember that? I’ve got some cash stashed away, all the work I’ve been doin’…I’ve been savin’. This extra could let us leave that day.”

“How are you gonna get in? Are you…are you gonna use a gun?”

“We’ll all use guns.”

I stand up and shake my head, “No, I won’t do this. I love you, but I won’t do this. I don’t want any part of it.”

He sits as still as stone for a long time. I can barely feel his heart beating, “Fine.” There’s a tick in his jaw, but all he says is, “Fine. You’ll hear no more of it then.”

I go outside and the sun doesn’t feel as warm as it did. My boys don’t look so strong anymore. I don’t feel so good.

15

Little Miss Patty Perfect plays at house well, but we do it better. Audie does his business in the living room while Merrilee cleans and cooks. I go to school, do my homework, and we spend our nights getting high and listening to music with my boys. Patrick and Dutchie have united in their mutual dislike of Audie. Pax doesn’t much care for him either, but for once everyone loves me. No one makes fun of me or ignores me.

Merrilee is stirring some homemade soup on the stove while I sit at the table with my history book open. I haven’t written anything the past fifteen minutes because I’ve been laughing so hard, “Clay, you’re secretly a xenophobe.”

“No, I’m not. I’m just careful of internet scams. Some bitch from Nigeria can hack into my shit and then all the sudden I own a speedboat and have to file bankruptcy.”

“Do they have a lot of speedboats in Nigeria?” Pax asks as he passes me a joint.

“Where there is water, there are douchebags with speedboats.” Clay defends with bloodshot eyes, “They could even get my baby pictures and then all the sudden I’m stuck on some perv’s wall as their favorite jerkoff.”

“I’ve seen your baby pictures and I don’t think pedophiles are into bowl cuts and fucked up Jewel teeth.” Patrick says.

I pass Clay the joint, “That’s cruel Patrick. Considering half your baby pics have handlebar mustaches drawn on them.”

He smiles, “It’s my sicko prevention.”

I laugh and close my book, “I’m not getting any of this done tonight. I’ll finish it Sunday.” I look to Pax, “I can’t believe you quit school, man.”

“Fuck it.” He shrugs, “Bas the Spaz told my mom that it’d be better if I transferred to another school. Screw that. I don’t want to go to Port Alex.”

“They’re not so Irish friendly there, you know?” Patrick tells me.

“What the heck do you know about being Irish, Patrick? Your last name’s Louder and that’s German last time I checked.” I grin and the joint rotates back to me. I hit it and hold it in then give it back to Clay, “But whatever, we’re all Irish. Well, Scotch-Irish.”

“I’m just glad that I got the money for the car before I told Mom and Dad I was quitting.”

“Yeah, Pax, your car needs a cool name.” I say.

“Like Big Beulah or Ugly Helga. That thing’s a monster.” Patrick laughs.

“Yes!” I say, “The Beast!”

Clay nods, “Perfect.”

“Suzy Lee? Come ‘ere a sec, baby.” Audie yells from the living room.

I roll my yes with a smile, “Always on the job.” I look at Merrilee who takes over my seat. I kiss her cheek, heated from the stove’s steam.

She been more fragile since the incident. She stares off into nothing and I don’t even think that she knows what she’s doing. Sometimes, she’ll blurt something out and excuses herself, “I thought we were talking.” She’ll say, but no one was talking. It’s all in her head.

I go to the living room where Audie is lying the sofa. He grins up at me through sunglasses and a stoned glaze, “Come here you beautiful girl.” His arms are outward and I bend down to be enveloped. I snuggle him and realize that Brick Linak is sitting in a chair across the coffee table.

Audie lets me go and sits up, “Come on, sit down. Brick brought us some primo.”

“What’s that?”

Brick’s smirk is full of mockery, “You’ll find out, lil lady.” His lips are thin and curl back as he speaks.

“Okay…”

Brick lights a joint up and already I can tell it’s different. There’s a smell that I can’t place, but it reminds me of funeral homes. He is a rude smoker. He smokes half of it before he passes it to Audie. Oh well, he’s a good, maybe rough, but good costumer.

I hit and there’s a burning in the paper and a taste that is stronger than normal weed. I cough until my face is red while Brick laughs at me, “Jesus, what’s in this?”

My head is spinning as I hand the roach to Brick, “Coke sprinkled on top.”

“It’s fucking…jarring.”

“Damn right it is.”

Audie pats my leg, “Just give it a sec.”

I don’t have to. My head feels like a balloon ready to fly off. My arms start twitching, but the rest of body is instantly tired. I lean back, “I don’t like it.”

“What do you mean you don’t like it?” Brick is incensed.

“I mean, I don’t like the smell, the taste, and I don’t like feeling like this. I’m gonna puke. It’s gross.”

His teeth grind, “Audie, this is my best shit.”

“I know, I know. She’s just not used to this kind of stuff.” He takes off his glasses and his eyes are slits, “You want something to drink? Pop, whiskey?”

“A double.”

“Right.” Audie leaves and the room falls quiet.

Brick looks at me and starts pacing the room. He’s muscles, his body is moving involuntary, “You can’t say this shit’s bad.” He’s shaking his head, “I don’t need those rumors goin’ round.”

I lean forward and light a cigarette, “Look, dude, I didn’t mean to piss ya off. It’s just not my thing, okay?”

“Yeah, but you better not go ‘round town talkin’ shit ‘bout me. You listenin’?”

What the fuck is his problem? I roll my eyes in annoyance, “I’m not.”

“No, for real. If I hear my shit being talked ‘bout, I’ll know where it come from.”

“Dude, I already told you I wouldn’t and by the way, who the fuck you think you are coming in here telling what I can and cannot say, huh?”

He stops dead in his tracks, “Listen, bitch, you might be Audie’s slut, but you ain’t shit to me! I could call the Russians and have ‘em chop you up and tossed in the river!”

Oh, that is it.

I stand up and over turn the coffee table, “You get the fuck outta here, you stupid motherfucker. Crackhead looking asshole. You don’t tell me what to do and you don’t come in here and call me a slut. You’re nothing but another fucking druggie, and your drugs aren’t even that good!”

He steps up to my face, screaming to the top of his voice, “I’ll fucking cut you open and fuck the hole, you lil cunt!” He lifts his hand back and I prepare for the smack because there’s nowhere I can move, but it never comes.

Audie grabs it in mid-air and breaks his arm bending it backward. I hear the bone snap and Brick wails in pain. Audie twists it until Brick is on the floor, “Did you touch her? Did…you…touch…her?”

“I never touched the bitch, but I will. I’ll fuck her, give her to my buddies over in Brownton…” He has the audacity to laugh.

My boys are filing into the room and Audie lets Brick’s arm go, “Get this piece of shit outta here. Dutchie, I don’t want to see him again, clear?”

“Crystal.”

Pax kicks him in the head and knocks him out. Patrick and Dutchie pick him up and take him out. I hear The Beast cry to life and go down the road. Clay comes in and sees the mess, “What happened?”

Audie takes me by the hand and Merrilee comes and hugs me, “Nothing. Nothing.”

Merrilee cups my hands, “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?” Her worry is etched in her porcelain face, contorting it.

“No, no. He just yelled at me. Called me a slut.”

Audie laughs, “If he only knew…”

16

I should’ve stayed at Audie’s house with Merrilee like she asked me to, “No one goes the last day anyway.”

But no, I wanted to go. I had to see it out. Besides, Mom called me and told me that if I didn’t go and see Mrs. Bending one last time for this school year, she was going to have me come back home. Which, technically, is still in her power for the next three months…until I suddenly go missing.

I strut into her office and kick back in that plastic-not-plastic chair and pop a cherry in my mouth from a fruit cup I stole from the cafeteria, “How ya doin’, Mrs. Bending?”

“You seem happy today, Sally. That’s a nice change.” Her mouth twists in a strange smile. I think she’s actually relieved.

“Yeah, well, it’s the last day. Aren’t we all happy? Except you lot…you still work in the summer time, don’t ya? Summer school, meetings…a teacher’s job is never done. My bad, counselor’s job in your case.”

“So, I’m assuming things between you and your boyfriend are going pretty well then?” I agree and she asks, “He was that boy, came to school not very long if I remember. What was his name again?”

“Audie Atwater.”

“Is he attending Port Alexandria?”

He doesn’t attend anything, “He’s home schooled. None of the schools around would let him keep his lip piercing.” And he doesn’t even wear the ring anymore.

I see the grimace she tries to hide, “Dress codes are rules, and rules are rules.”

I’m sure the Nazi soldiers, the terrorists, and the Ottoman Empire all said similar things.

She stares at me with a glimmer of hope in her eye. She’s gonna make me sick, “I’m so glad things are going better for you, Sally. After what happened with Merrilee, I was so worried about you.”

Acting time!

I bow my head slightly and my hair hides my face from her, “They never caught the person who did it…”

“Oh, they will, I’m sure of it. Police officers work twenty-four hours a day and they solve all sorts of crimes.”

Fat, doughnut munching morons. They couldn’t even tell the difference between a fourteen year old girl and John Paul’s girlfriend, and she’d been in her thirties. Fucking idiots. In the newspaper, the sheriff said, ‘At this point in time, it seems to have been a mutual suicide.’ What the fuck is that about? Yeah, Merrilee beat herself in the head repeatedly and her dad peeled his own face off. I don’t know where they get these incompetent fools from, but I’m pretty sure it’s just left of Mars.

BAP-BAP-BAP

BAP-BAP

BAP-BAP-BAP

I sit straight in the chair and look at Mrs. Bending. She gets up from her chair and moves to the door, “Stay here, Sally.” Se opens it and peeks out. BAP-BAP She closes it quickly. Her face is alabaster, “Oh, my sweet Christ.”

I stand up, “What is it? What’s going on?”

Very quietly, and very carefully, she says, “There are people with masks and guns. I saw them shoot a boy, I don’t know who…I, I think he might be dead.”

Oh. My. God. This is not happening. This can’t be happening, “Are you sure?”

She nods furiously, “We need to barricade the door.”

“Do the windows open?”

“No…”

I take down the diploma from her wall and whack her outside the head. She falls down with an omph and glass flies in little pieces everywhere, “I’m sorry it’s better this way. If they think you’re dead then they’ve no reason to shoot you.” I nudge her leg with my foot, “Mrs. Bending…Mrs. Bending?”

She isn’t moving. She isn’t breathing. I bow down and shake her shoulder, but there’s nothing. I roll her over and I see a large piece of glass jutting from her forehead. A heavy pit forms in my stomach as I jump away from her, “Oh, my God. Oh, God.”

There is a burst of screaming and crying as Joni Leona Montague and two cheerleaders I don’t know come in followed by a junior grade boy. They’re trying to block the door, but someone is pushing in. Joni Leona is terrified, “Oh-me-god, is Mrs. Bending dead?!”

I get up from the floor, “Yes, I…” I don’t even know what I’m going to say.

She covers her hand with her mouth, mascara stained tears falling down her chipmunk cheeks, “They killed her! They killed her!” Snot bubbles are beginning to foam.

The boy is pushing on the door with strained features, “Somebody help me!”

The cheerleaders try, but it’s no use. The door erupts to reveal a hulking mass of human wearing a black ski mask and holding a long silvery looking gun. He shoots the boy in the shoulder and everyone gets down on the floor. My ears are ringing. I see the huddled girls and I see that they’re screaming, but I can’t make anything out. The masked beast grabs me by the arm and I feel like it’s gonna break. He holds me in front of him and points the gun to my head, “No moving, no talking.”

We make our way out, meeting with another masked intruder holding a large bag. We’re running out the door with the heated butt of the gun still pressed against my skull and I’m so afraid I’m going to trip and fall and be shot. Somehow…Jesus, somehow, I’m shoved in the backseat of a jeep that smells like rotting potatoes and my head held down by the carpet with my ass end up. My hip hits the metal side of the driver’s seat and we’re on the move. Hot and fast like dirty sex, we’re outta there.

There is no talking, not even heavy breathing. Something similar to a calm hysteria settles over the car. My head is petted and soothed like I’m a dog while the engine shrieks down a graded road until there is a slow, drawn out turn onto gravel. The tires gnaw and grind against the crushed rock and there is a stop. I’m pulled from the jeep and pushed into another car where my head is bowed down, but the feeling this time something less labored.

“We’re on Route 55.” A whisper of a whisper says.

“Let her up.”

I’m pulled up and let go to sit back behind the passenger side. I keep my eyes closed, “I haven’t seen ya’ll…you can let me go anytime, ‘kay?”

“Suzy Lee, cut that shit out and open your eyes.”

I bite my lips and open my eyes. Daniel is sitting beside me in a manner all too calm, Audie is driving almost below the speed limit, and Merrilee is in front of me with a arrow straight back. The smoke from their cigarettes are flowing beautifully out the windows, “It was you?”

“Who’d you expect it was?” He asks.

“You motherfucker!” I kick his seat and he swerves off road, but bounces back rapidly.

“What the fuck, Suzy?!”

“You killed people, Audie! You shot everyone! What the fuck were you thinkin’?” I kick the seat again, but he stays steady, “You’re evil! A demon! You’re a fuckin’ demon!”

He flicks his cigarette out the window, “Baby, you need to calm the fuck down. Not nobody was killed.”

“What the fuck are you talkin’ about, Audie? I saw Daniel shoot that guy!”

“In the arm.” Daniel reminds me, as if I couldn’t recall every detail.

“Shut up, Daniel! This is out of control. Merrilee, what the fuck?”

She turns around and pours into me with just a flash. She lays a soft hand on my leg, “Baby, everything is going to be fine. Just breath.”

I take a solid intake of air, but it tastes sour, “Give me that cigarette.” She does and I toke it until it burns down to my skin. I butt it out in the carpet of the cramped vehicle, “Why did he put a gun to my head? Why did ya’ll keep me down? What the fuck?”

“Don’t you watch any a’ those cop movies? You’re our hostage.” Audie sneers.

“I can not believe this is happening. Why didn’t you guys tell me?”

“You said you didn’t want any thing to do with it.”

“That didn’t mean you shouldn’t have told me.”

“I asked you not to go to today.” Merrilee interrupts sharply.

My heart, that muscle deep within the layers of tissue and veins, is starting to ease into a pace more suitable. Not so heart attack-ish, “I’m sorry I kicked ya.” I lean and rub Audie’s shoulder.

He touches is gently, “Is alright, babe. Everything’s gonna be alright now.”

17

Audie pulls into a field beyond some wilderness along the highway. An old barn sits far back from the dirt path and Audie bumps the car and we go across the overgrown grass and weeds making a trail through the field. The barn is covered in peeling black paint with faded white letters marking it a Post Poke Tobacco Co. which, to me, dates it turn of the century. The roof all red tin and rusted.

Audie parks on the other side between the barn and a line of trees, “Daniel, get the bag. Lees, go inside and get in those clothes.”

“You were gonna snatch me up any which way, weren’t you?” I am a glass vile on the edge of a table.

“You are my baby girl. You really think we was gonna leave you behind?”

Merrilee is at the now open door and holding her hand out to me, “Come on, Suzy Lee. Everything is fine now.”

“Hurry it up, people. We gotta get this show on the road, loves!”

Merrilee ushers me inside the barn. She’s rubbing my hand like I’m a child, “In less than twelve hours we’ll be down south and all this will just be another memory.”

“But it’s a bad memory, Merri.”

“Right now it is, but it’ll be one nonetheless.”

Inside, there are folding picnic tables with packs, elastic bands, and clothes piled on top, “We have to get these on. We’ve got to be quick, you know that, don’t you?”

I nod and we strip them off. I feel like they’ve been stuck on me for ages. Drowning in black to put on more black, to appear in constant mourning. I am mourning, aren’t I?

Merrilee helps put the bands around my thighs and waist. She helps me while I stand there like a dumb manikin. Audie and Daniel walk in and they’re smiling, laughing about something I don’t care much about.

“The other car is gassed up, waiting.” Audie changes his outfit and walks to me. He nuzzles my neck, “I am so sorry. I am.”

“I know, I know. I just…why couldn’t we’ve waited? It was only three months.”

He doesn’t answer me and they all dance around me in obscure clouds of themselves. One is fixing money to bands, one is fixing a short, red wig on, while the other does heavy lifting. I keep my feet planted still in the earth beneath my boots. All that money is there and it’s ours and we’re gonna be gone.

I’ll never have to see Mom and be ignored or pushed around. We’ll have our own place and we’ll have run of the streets. They’ll be our streets. The night will be our home and the grass is where we’ll lay our heads.

Anticipation fills me up like fear to a soon to be slaughtered lamb and I hear, “ATTENTION! This is the police! We have you surrounded! Let the hostage go, come out with your hands up.”

18

“Get down!” Audie has his gun in hand and we hit the ground. A rock hits my chin, but I’ve no time to think of that now. Merrilee and I crawl to him as he peeks out between the wood.

“It is true?” I ask.

He is stern, but never frightened, “Yes, they’re about twenty yards out, but I’ve got a plan.”

“No.” Daniel speaks lowly, “I go out, you take Lees and run.”

I look at him with tears in my eyes, “There’s gotta be something else.”

Audie’s nostrils flare in anger, but he knows. We all know, “Okay.” He takes us by the wrists and we crouch-walk to the furthest point of the barn. He kicks out a small section and I take a peek. No police, just trees.

Audie nods to Daniel and he heads out the front shooting like an old western. We creep out the back and before we can run, uniforms come from the trees. Merrilee holds up her gun and shots sing out through the field.

I fall back to the ground and I watch her fall down with a spray of blood coming from her chest. Audie has me around the waist, but I’m screaming, clawing my way to her, “Merri! Merri! You sons a’ bitches!”

I don’t know how, but we’re inside the barn again and Audie is rocking me. I try to hit him, but I just can’t. No anger can come to me, “Audie…please, Audie…”

“Baby girl, I love you. I love you so much. Don’t forget that…I love you.”

I stare at him and his eyes are as clear as dust, unclouded and tear smeared, “What are you gonna do?”

“Let the girl go and come with us, son.” A megaphone echoes.

He snorts back a cry and hugs me again, “I’ve gotta let you go, Suzy Lee.”

My throat is so dry and cutting that I can’t speak. No words are coming, but I form them…they just won’t come. My arms fit around him tighter. Don’t leave me. You can’t leave me. No, no, no. no. A million times no.

Audie takes my head in his hands and he kisses me. I climb on him, grab his hair with my hands. He breathes into my neck, “Baby, I love you.” I know what he’s going to do. I can’t let go of him. I can’t do this and I can’t let this happen. Please, don’t do this, Audie.

He grabs my arms, “Baby, it’s time. We’ve got to go, okay? We’ve gotta go.” I shake my head, but he refuses my quieted pleas, “No, it’s time to go.” He cradles me and yells out a crack of the wood, “We’re comin’ out! No guns a’ight?!”

“Alright! Put ‘em down, boys.”

He stands up and helps me to my feet, “You look awful.”

I try to smile, but all I can do hold his shirt in my fists. He brushes my hair down, “It’s okay, baby. Everything’s fine. You and me and Merrilee…we’re all okay.”

“I…I, I love you, Audie. I love you…”

“I love you. Let’s go now, baby. We gotta go out there and you’ve gotta go home.”

“But I don’t…”

He turns me around faster than I can think and his body is pressed against mine. The gun is by my temple and we steadily walk out and it’s like I haven’t seen the sunlight in a hundred years. It’s searing against my skin and my eyes don’t adjust. All the movements are vague shapes encircled with light.

“Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot. Alright, boy, now let the girl go.”

Gently, Audie lets the gun fall from me, “Go on now, baby. Go on home.” He nudges me forward, but I don’t move.

“Come on, girl, come on to us.”

Merrilee is in front of them lying in the grass. Her body is loose and settled there like she’ll grow roots. Her skirt is hiked up to her knees and her eyes look to the sky. The unblinking, unmoving, unfeeling green gazing at a world I have yet to see. She doesn’t look peaceful like in the movies. There’s no music, no slow motion, or poetry being read. Just her lying there like the dead being she really she is. I rush into tears and cover my mouth from the lament I know would scare all around me.

“Just walk towards me, girl. Come on.”

I look back to Audie, “Go on, Suzy Lee.”

‘I don’t want you to die.’ I mouth to him, but he tells me to walk and I do.

An officer grabs me up and someone covers me with a blanket. I’m led away from all I know and past the back end of the barn. I see Daniel laying in the grass, a puddle of blood seeping from his head. I’m pushed inside a polished jeep and locked within.

I’m helpless even as I hear gunshots and I know all my loves are dead. Helpless and I can’t even cry.

19

Mom is sitting on the front porch with a cigarette ready to be lit in her mouth when the entourage of cops pull into the driveway. All my brothers and my sisters lounge around her like the lackeys they are. The lead officer, I haven’t gotten his name, takes me up the steps and begins talking as if I’m not even there, “Mrs. Arlotte Long? I think she’s a bit…scared from the incident. I believe she was witness to several violent crimes, so I will come by personally tomorrow and question her, but I really think right now she’s needing some…motherly attendance, if you know what I’m saying?”

“I understand.” Mom says. She’s so simple. So fucking simple.

They leave. Everyone leaves. My brothers and sisters are obviously let down by the not so happening happenings. I’m still standing here with this horribly itchy blanket draped over my shoulders and Mom is looking at me with conjecture, “Are you…” She can’t even finish the question. I don’t know if she’s scared or if she doesn’t care, but she can’t finish her own fucking question.

I drop the blanket to the oak wood planks and walk into the house. Raeann and Erica are sitting on the sofa tossing a baseball back and forth. Erica glances up at me with a bemused look, “Have fun, Suzy Lee? How you like your boyfriend being a murderer?”

I say nothing. I feel nothing. I am nothing.

I walk to the back of the trailer and into the utility closet where all the tools are kept. They would be in the shed, but there are too many thieves on Poe Creek Road. I retrieve the shovel and head out and up. Out the door and up the hill behind the house. Why bother to see if anyone’s following me? They ain’t got no interest in anything to do with me anyway.

I strip naked. Bare, until only the elastic bands holding every cent Audie earned is showing. Ten thousand plus in stacks from small to large. I take the white bands down from my waist and thighs and begin digging a hole. I dig for as long as I can and push all that money in the hovel. I cover it, dress, and I go back down the hill and into my rudimentary house.

When I lay down in bed, I curl under the covers and wonder if life will always be this goddamn depressing.

A Day To Forget The Earth


Buyer’s Remorse

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
overheating
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
God
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

1

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.”

“Okay…”

“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 Chuck Taylor’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…

2

“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.”

3

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;

CHEROKEE FOREST

NOW

ENTERING

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.

4

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.”

5

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;

ACCIDENT AHEAD

“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.’

6

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.

Gulp.

Gulp.

Gulp.

7

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?”

“Yeah.”

“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!”

“Heyyo bitch.”

“You still don’t have a phone?” Clay asks.

“No.”

“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.”

“Ohhh…?”

“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.”

“Alright.”

“Bye.”

“Mhm, bye.”

Raven.

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?”

“Yeppie.”

“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?”

“What?”

“Mussolini.”

Ring!

Ring!

Ring!

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.”

8

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.”

“Right.”

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.”

“That’s life.”

“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.

9

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…”

“But what?”

“The car just died.”

“What? But we’re still moving.”

“We’re coasting.”

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?”

“Jed here?”

“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.”

(Gross.)

“Alright, thanks.”

“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.”

“What?”

I stand up straight and smile, “Nothing.”

10

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.”

“I’d say.”

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?

11

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.”

“Who?’

“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?”

“Yeah.”

“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.”