On the pillow I knew I would have dreams, but not what kind of dreams. An animal was biting me. Later Tracy and I were kissing for the first time. It was no good. I could not remember my age in the dream.
Another scholastic day wore on like a migraine, then I mowed lawns against my body's wishes. Every muscle in my back seemed to have some sort of complaint. Something had to be done about this.
Liquor was done about it. I went alone to Friday’s and played the trivia game and became cocky in my head because the monitor asked questions like, “Which poet wrote Yes, We Are Going To Suffer?” And I felt the bourbon and did not give a shit about the clawing pain in my back and beamed caustic thoughts from my brain to the guy next to me named Bogey. Bogey knew all about old movies. But then the game asked: “Of the following, which did Simone De Beauvoir espouse?” You’re in trouble Bogey. W.H. Auden wrote about suffering… Bogey ended up beating me, nevertheless. And then I drove home through the fog on Lime Kiln Lane. It was so thick you could eat it.
Tracy flew away today to visit her boyfriend in Texas. His name is Warren. He is on active duty in the Army or the Marines; I never asked for specifics. He has a future. I guess I will have to feed her sheltie this weekend. Maybe, I thought, I would find her key tomorrow, beneath the potted plant. It was 2:00 a.m. How starving you can be, yet how simple it is to disinterest yourself in the thought of food.
* * * * * * * * *
A Friday with enough sun to make your eyes wear out. At the office the keyboard began to swirl around and kind of look like a pillow. I hope I'm not this tired later on, I thought. I wasn't tired later on.
Stopped by Travis’s apartment at seven to play with a dog who loves me. I love him, too, but I do not know why we love each other. Also I toyed with the kitten: aloof, gorgeous kitten. You wonder what keeps the air from breaking through such thin skin. I let Fonzy out into the courtyard so he could take a squirt. He did four times, and he also shat. He sniffed around the yard for a long time in the warm, yellow light, and I told him it was time to go in. He wanted to stay out longer but I had to go. It seemed unfair of me. And Athena, the kitten, has never really been outside. Travis works from three to twelve and Dana, his girl, comes over after ten. I guess the animals have it about as good as any pet can expect. It is really a healthy family.
Then I went by Tracy's apartment to let her miniature collie out and to feed him. I got the key from beneath the potted plant she had left outside. Cody is thirteen, which is remarkable because you could never tell. But he's half a dog compared to Fonzy. That is how I feel about it.
Anyway I petted him and talked with him and let him outside, and then watched him crawl under Tracy's bed like a gigantic furry roach. He will be alone until I come by to see him tomorrow. What else can you expect when you're a dog, or a cat? Fonzy, Athena, Cody. I cannot answer the question, but when I think about it, it causes a burning feeling in my shoulders and my neck.
I went to take a leak and opened Tracy’s medicine cabinet and stood there looking in it. There was some womanly stuff, but nothing that looked like it would fit between herself and someone else. I wondered if a woman would keep that sort of thing in her medicine cabinet anyway. In the living room, I shuffled around some envelopes and receipts littering the coffee table. One receipt was for an oil change, and one for a visit to Maxine’s Spa. I looked at that one for a minute. Maybe there would be notes in that pile of paper that I had left on her door when she was not home. That’s kind of desperate of me, I thought. There were no notes written in my hand on the coffee table.
When I entered Tracy's kitchen, there was a plate wrapped in foil on her counter along with a sheet of legal paper. “She made me cookies,” I said.
Her note said:
"Thanks a million for everything. You're the best – and I mean it. Don't just shrug it off. Oh, and under no circumstances does anyone know I am in Texas – OK?"
A little dizzy, I felt like crumpling the paper up and throwing it in the trash. But I ended up keeping it anyway.
* * * * * * * * *
My neighbors like to fish at their dock on the river. Larry and Deidra are a retired couple. Diedra asked me to help Larry seine for minnows. They wanted to catch bluegill and perch. I do not like to kill minnows. Imagine being the minnow. Taken from the water; impaled by a hook: cast back where you flop and twitch. Then something eats you. But my neighbors had a simple wish. They are human, and very kind to me. Sometimes they give me little pies or lasagna, so they come before the minnows.
As our knees pushed through the green water, the poles deep in the loose sand, I could see Larry’s face and it looked sweaty, and happy. But I thought about the minnows and the pets— loneliness and terror—and I could feel the front of my neck cramping. It is awfully easy to be hardboiled about everything in the daytime… I helped my neighbor in the evening sun.
* * * * * * * * *
Saturday consisted of catching up with the small, illegitimate lawn business. I've never paid taxes. Next door to Mr. Brunbeck’s house I saw a girl, about fourteen, scraping weakly at her grass with an old-fashioned manual lawn clipper. I told her mom I would do the yard for free: it was nothing. And it would probably be easier with my gas-powered mower. The yard was no bigger than a hotel suite. I did it as best I could, trimmed and everything, because I wanted to feel good about myself. That's a way to feel good about yourself: do something for someone not expecting anything in return. It was nothing, but what might be nothing to one person might be quite an ordeal to another. I wanted to feel magnanimous. It was nothing. Even so, the girl's mom did not thank me afterwards.
Saturnight there was a party. Professor Plumm invited me to his house and I took him some red wine and some red beers. His last name really is Plumm, and he is a professor. The party was good. I call Jim Plumm "Dammit Jim." Dammit Jim talked with me a long while about neuroses, and Jerusalem and Atlanta, and how he’d like to meet Meg Ryan, Wynona Judd, and Keifer Sutherland. He gave me plenty of wine and a brownie made out of marijuana. Most of the people at the party had about ten years on me, or more. Some of the men seemed insecure: maybe they were high. The women were very suave, though. Jim too. But then it was time to leave.
I was feeling energetic and a little cockeyed, so I hoofed it a few blocks down to the Ram Bar. The club was packed. In the grip of the wine and the brownie, I became fixated on Lacey, who was with Ed. Lacey lives with Ed nowadays; she and I used to screw one another. I couldn't see straight. I wanted somebody to take me home, to fall asleep with me. Everything smelled clear and sweet, but I could not see past Lacey.
At 3:00 a.m. the bouncers kicked us out. Lisa and Ben Beringley are married, so they went home together. Amanda went home with Weber. Lacey and Ed… I did not get a chance to say goodbye to anyone because a girl stopped me on the way out the door. Her name was Lynette. She was in the same Applied Linguistics Comatose class as me. Her friend had gone off with some guy and she said her car was two blocks away: I told her I'd walk her there. She got into her car and thanked me, and said, "You are so sweet."
Actually, I am quite bitter.
I got lost in Dammit Jim's neighborhood trying to find my own car. I walked around for about two hours. Everything was green, warm, breezy, dark, bright. It reminded me of New Orleans, except more hilly. My feet started to hurt. I thought about laying in somebody's yard to go to sleep. Or, I thought, I could knock on somebody's door and ask for quarter like in the old days. As if I were a soldier from Hillsfar. Then a golden retriever walked up to me so I sat down with him for a while. He was slobbering quite a bit, and seemed content. He smelled like spaghetti. When he left I found my car.
On Eckersol Drive I thought a shooting star flew across my windshield. You only see those by yourself. Then a cop pulled me over and said I was swerving over the white line. I told him I thought I had seen a shooting star; he said he saw it too. I was glad someone else had seen it. He asked me some questions, made me get out, tip my head back and say the alphabet backward. I did that. It wore me out though, because I was very tired. Despite his looking like a redneck, the policeman was reasonable and kind. He told me there was no point in his keeping me out any longer.
The rest of the drive I thought about an e-mail I received from some fool on Wednesday. It was one of those this-Hawaiian-Bobo-Doll-picture-will-bring-you-good-fortune deals. Something good will happen to you within four days, we swear, you will have good luck. Forward this to someone else to further clutter the Net. I did not forward it to anyone.
But there was my good luck: I had just used up my good luck.
* * * * * * * * *
Monday. Went to Ann Arbor, Michigan, five hours away. Weber came with. He drank a twelve pack during the ride, and he was driving. Sherm was our host because he's going to Michigan Law School. Sherm's dormitory was inside a sort of castle: very old, lots of ivy. In the evening we drank more, then we walked over to a symphony orchestra concert hall to see Morrissey perform. Morrissey is not a symphony orchestra conductor.
The seats were in peoples’ way. People hurled themselves onto stage to give Morrissey things: jewelry, letters, flowers. Then the guards would wrestle, drag them to some shadowy exit. I was smashed by tons of bodies. Sweat was everywhere. A young woman was seated in her seat with a cane between her legs. Weber and Sherm and I stood in the aisle, being smushed. We were like cattle, only we knew what was to come (compared to actual cattle). Weber used his belly to make space, but he couldn’t fight back all those swaying bones and all that damp hair. He was pushed into the cane-girl’s personal space and she told him to back off because she was tired of all this: she said so throttling the cane in Weber’s face. He told her: “You’d better sit the fuck down bitch before I make you eat that cane.” The young woman sat down. I had nothing to say about any of this.
Up on the stage, Morrissey looked older, with a constant meanness about his face. He never really smiled but it made him happy to get things from the fans, to watch them crumble at his feet. Somebody with a big elbow elbowed me in the spine. I only wanted to watch.
Actually, I wanted to have a conversation with the man, with Morrissey. So before the final set was done, I told the guys I was going for a last drink and would meet them out front afterward. …I sneaked around back of the concert hall and climbed on top of Morrissey's tour bus using a gutter pipe on the alleyway wall. Someone had been hurt in the concert so there was an ambulance causing a diversion.
On the bus roof, I lay flat, and held on tight to a cleat when it rolled away an hour later. It was chilly, and bumpy. I thought my fingers were going to crack apart like little sticks of ice. The wind made my cheeks get all streaked with tears. After a lot of inertia was dealt with, we pulled into a Hilton downtown. I jumped off the back of the bus and bounced off another alley wall and crunched my ankle pretty bad. I hobbled to the hotel foyer, and waited. First some guy got off the bus, then a blonde lady with a box of Corn Flakes, then Spencer Cobrin.
Spencer Cobrin's sturdy forearms were the first to push the hotel door open. He drums. He kind of skipped when he walked and made hooting noises. Some more people queued from the bus to the hotel, including Boz Boorer wearing a black, double-breasted jacket. Then Alain White, then Steven Morrissey. Morrissey wore a Michigan Swim Team t-shirt, and now a big cashmere-looking scarf. There were four other fellows, one with a lazy eye, all speaking Britishly to one another, all carrying satchels. I followed them to an elevator, and bumped stupidly into a big potted fern or something.
When I approached Steven Morrissey, trying not to limp, some of the fellows got between the two of us and I asked if I could speak to him for a moment.
“Are you a reporter?” he asked grinning, and the fellows kind of stepped out of the way.
“No,” I said, understanding his joke. Morrissey does not like reporters.
“Why are you limping?” he went on: did somebody beat me up? I looked blowzy. The doors of the lift squeaked open.
“No again.” I asked him: “Are you going straight up to bed?” We all bunched on the elevator, and this surprised me.
“Straight to,” he said.
“Well...” I felt stupid because I did not know where to start. Then I asked him, “What are you reading tonight?”
“Juggs magazine,” Cobrin interjected. Alain chuckled: chuckles all around.
Morrissey smirked and gave Cobrin a slow, sidelong glance. “I'm reading Stamboul Train,” he said, “by Graham Greene.” Then he aimed his eyebrows at me again.
“Pardon my language,” I replied, “but you're fucking kidding me.”
“Pardon my language,” I replied, “but you're fucking kidding me.”
The elevator bell dinged, the doors opened. Everyone exited, looking at me for an explanation. I followed, pulling a paperback Brighton Rock from my back pocket. My ankle throbbed. Morrissey liked what he saw.
“Can you sign this for me,” I asked. The paperback was pathetic and ratty. Morrissey stopped and faced me. I held a pen in my hand: the lazy-eyed fellow unlocked a door: an old woman shuffled down the hall with an ice bucket, looking askance at all of us. Morrissey asked my name and I told him. He took the book, the pen, and scratched on its cover:
TO DALLOW, SPICER
His writing looked like a six-year old's, and all in caps, and Cubitt was misspelled. Boz and some other guys went into some rooms speaking Britishly to one another: two waited for Morrissey. He turned because the blonde lady with the Corn Flakes was talking to him. He turned back and I shook his hand saying thank you. I thought it would be good of him to ask me in but he said, “Well goodnight then.”
I wanted to tell him how I rode atop his tour bus, and how I was lost in more ways than just geographically, and how it didn't matter because I understood everything deep deep down.
…I said goodnight—I sort of accidentally whispered it. He went toward his room and I chimed, “Oh one more thing: What does ‘polony’ mean?”
“It’s a damned bitch!” he hollered. Then the door was closed.
I do not think he knows what it means.
The truth is none of that happened: I did not ride atop the tour bus. The truth is: life is unremarkably humdrum.
* * * * * * * * *
Lisa Beringley took me by the hand: she wanted me to follow her to the restrooms. We squeezed through the drunken crowd, the moody orange lights, the blast of techno-drums. We were at the Ram Bar again.
“If I weren't married, you'd be in trouble,” she shouted to me.
Close to divorce, is how she explained it when I asked. After we had peed our money away in the restrooms, I told her I was sorry to hear about her potential divorce. And I reminded her, “You only said what you said to me because you've been drinking.” Lisa has one blue eye, one green.
“No, that's not true,” she smirked. She reminds me of a cat, which I let her know. She owns two dogs.
I went home to four fish in a fishtank. The fish live a paltry existence. Five cubic feet of occasionally fresh water: everyday exactly like the last day: nothing to look forward to but a daily sprinkle of the only food you've ever tasted: no fears and no hopes… me as their god. They are tropical. If I set them free in the river, they would die of climatic shock. Sometimes I hope their memory is so bad they do not remember the previous day.
* * * * * * * * *
To write a thesis: to not discover anything that hasn't already been discovered, or to spend a lot of time doing something that only liars could care about. To be a literary critical theorist: to tediously evaluate a text in scaly laughable terms that only liars could care about. To ruin a text for other people in the world who will either like or dislike it, no matter what you say.
Mondays I am at school for thirteen hours. Today is a Monday; I tried to fall asleep twice during class. I fought sleep when it finally came around during Dr. Gardner's spiel. Dr. Gardner is an exceptional professor. Alexander Pope is no longer even a pile of dust. What I learned today: that I was the only person sitting alone in the food court. Except for two older men in ties, and a plain-looking, angry-looking girl. I wanted to tell them all that it would be okay. There was a daffodil-haired woman I had never seen before: she was with another girl. Her jaw was straight, like a graceful chewing machine. Her eyebrows were also straight and arched, and definite, like graceful eyebrow machines. She had no need to look around the room.
By 11:00 p.m. my voice was hoarse from not using it. I had a headache from thinking I am in the wrong field. This useless field. On the way home, I stopped by Tracy’s to check on her yappy, insect-like dog. At home, I read the Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures, my feet got cold, I watched Discovery Channel until two. The show was about reptiles. There were calm, fiery geckos colored like jewels, and snakes who squeeze monkeys to death, a baby crocodile riding his mother's back with a big wicked smile. I laughed out loud then looked at the dark, half-empty couch. I wondered if Tracy is ever going to call me again: I wondered when she would come back from having sex in Texas. She might want her house key; it is still on my keychain.
* * * * * * * * *
This afternoon I swallowed Excedrin in order to stay awake through Dr. Gardner's class: Excedrin has caffeine. I felt very light, and very fast. Quick bassy music churned in my head as I walked: I could have waded through a wall, I thought. An obese man was in a wheelchair in front of me on the sidewalk. I slowed down. The man had one leg, which he used to propel himself, along with two plump arms on the wheelgrips. The man moved ahead steadily and mechanically like a wind-up toy. He wore a sky blue t-shirt, he had glasses. He looked like a sky blue bowling ball with a mechanical foot, moving down the sidewalk. He goes to college to learn things, maybe to make more money. He only has one leg. Does he have a wife? When did it happen to him? It would be hard for him to lose weight if he wanted to. He is probably a lot smarter than me, I thought. I hoped he had a good, shiny car. I hoped he would laugh with someone tonight across a table, or on a swing. I no longer felt very light, and very fast.
Tracy called at 9:09pm. It had been two weeks. It was as if Someone granted the request I had made earlier, while in the shower. I had made the request silently, into the falling droplets, asking them if she would call me. Tracy sounded nice: her voice was nice, but she sounded terrible. She was not well. She was distracted by something, and then she said she was having an asthma attack.
“Get off the phone then,” I told her.
She did, coughing. Her friend, Rhianna, picked up the receiver. Rhianna and I talked about camping, the way leaves fall in late summer, the distant superiority of spring. We talked about allergies and the effect of airborne rennin and pectin on the bronchial system. Rhianna is in nursing school. I could tell Tracy was somewhere else in the room, suffocating.
“Well I may just have to take this girl to the hospital,” was the last thing Rhianna said.
Fell asleep to Enya, uneasy. “La Sonadora” was playing over and over. I dreamt about being on a wooden raft at night in the river. Strangers were with me. The sky was black and it became crazed with bluish streaks. Meteorites bombarded the planet somewhere far off, and we could feel the hollow thuds. Our eyes became wide, our bones froze. I paddled to shore to find someone. Steven Morrissey was there and he was much younger. We went below ground to a dusty maze of panicked people. Morrissey told me he wanted me to kill someone for him. A man stumbled in through a splintered door, bleeding, coughing. The side of his stomach had a hole in it, like a missing puzzle piece. Like a missing ashtray, constantly oozing wet rubies. Behind him a young girl dragged herself in. Her leg was absent below the knee; she couldn't breathe: she could not beg for help.
Dialed the phone in the dark with Enya still humming. I had awakened Tracy. Her voice was clear and soft with drowsiness, and pretty. I told her to go back to sleep. I hope she went right back to sleep.
* * * * * * * * *
To some people, Friday is just like any other day. Some people spend a lot of money: some get excited, and have fun. In class, Dr. Nealis gave hints to researching, hints on where to look. Some of the students gave obscure names for reference, search engines… I offered nothing. Before I went to class, Tracy called on the phone.
She asked: “Going to meet up with all the eggheads?” Some of their heads are actually shaped like big, hairy eggs.
Yes, I would suffer through, absorbing what I could whilst paying as little attention as possible.
After class, I worked and staffed the Arbitration Committee meeting. A luncheon with expensive food shaped like fruity boats. Five busy, powerful people, and me. I was supposed to be taking minutes. I was wearing an orange tie that turned blue if you crinkled it in different directions. The VIPs were very kind, and respectful. They used terms like "implementation" without saying what was to be implemented. Nate Hedges sat to my left, a retired lawyer. He was wearing tennis shoes. Dr. Mackey was wearing business attire, and Halcyon Swift sat next to her, looking like a practicing lawyer, because he is one. We must denominate the duties of the affirmative action officer, one of them said. Nate was busy digging at his pineapple boat; utensils in both hands, as if digging a hole in the table. He grunted some, burped. Crumbs were caroming off his gut. Yes, but justice is not served when arbitrated by the grievance rules, somebody said. Nate was finished, so he muttered a reply. Then he held his arms out straight and low, touching his thumbnails together, eyeing them. He glowered at his thumbnails like some unsatisfactory answer to the meaning of life was wedged snugly between them. Then he spread his hands on his knees. He went through this procedure six times. Mary Ann, my boss, said, “Let's focus on process.” An hour went by: we were focusing on process. I could drop by the bank and give Tracy a note, I thought. I like wearing this tie.
Leaving the Burbank Club, Nate Hedges said to me: “Thanks for everything, I guess this meeting won't make any difference.” We shook hands; he tottered away with his bones creaking. I stood and smiled.
* * * * * * * * *
After I had showered the fumes of lawndust off my body, I went to Tracy's. She had just finished showering her body too: she hugged me wearing a towel. It had been two weeks. Tracy is the kind of woman who looked like if somebody paid her enough she’d goo your eyes out with a shoehorn. When she walked, her dimensions moved in a kind of slow purposeful thinness. She kind of looked militant when she wasn’t wet-headed and in a towel, when she had clothes on. When you saw her with her hair pulled back, and with tight pants on long legs, it became no big surprise that she beat up one of her ex-boyfriends a few years ago.
I put a bottle of port into her freezer; neither of us has ever tried it. She got dressed. She had trouble with her contacts, allergies maybe. She said she hasn't felt well since she got back.
“I don't know if it's the flu, or if I'm pregnant, or what.”
I did not reply. She took this to mean I was bothered by her statement.
“I'm only joking,” she said, “and look at you—you're all mad.”
I was not mad at all.
We waited some more for Rhianna to show up. There was a bookshelf in her living room. One of the shelves had liquor bottles on it, and a hand-painted Grecian plate, that looked like it was painted by someone who did not know how to paint. Tracy’s diploma was kind of curled on one shelf, lying on its back. It was a Liberal Studies degree from Transylvania: anthropology, sociology, biology. I took a Magic 8-Ball from the bottom shelf and shook it.
“Whatever it says, you have to believe the opposite,” Tracy promised, running a comb through her hair.
Will everyone have a nice time tonight, I wondered. REPLY HAZY, TRY AGAIN LATER. You can't believe the opposite of that. Will Tracy and Rhianna and myself have a nice time? I looked at the ball, and this time I did not ask aloud. ANSWER UNCLEAR AT THIS TIME. There is no opposite of that. I looked out the window: the wind blew a little: Tracy moved around the apartment: the TV made noise and color. After a minute I looked back at the ball. Is Tracy pregnant, I thought, shaking the black ball. The face showed through the glass: DON'T COUNT ON IT. …Hmm, I said.
“What?” Tracy asked…
Rhianna showed up and we left the apartment.
Tracy drove us to Frado’s. In her little tan Corolla, she said, “Rhianna, doesn’t David remind you of Jay?”
“Jay Renfro? Yeah, I guess so.”
“He even dresses like him.” She glanced over her shoulder at my chocolate khakis.
“Except David is better looking than Jay.” Her eyes on mine in the mirror.
“Yeah,” agreed Rhianna.
I was too stupid to know what to do with this information.
At Frado’s, Tracy played pool against a bunch of guys: she won every time. Rhianna and I drank a lot, and talked about things.
“Stop standing there with that pained look on your face,” she told me. I was not aware I had a pained look on my face. Rhianna told me how she loves Justin. Justin screws Beth. In spite of this, Rhianna still has fun on Friday nights.
The jukebox suddenly played I’m Not In Love by 10CC. Tracy put down her pool cue and her cigarette—she only smoked when she drank—and came over to me.
“I haven’t heard this in… a decade!” She was smiling. She hugged me and I could get my arms around her little shoulders nearly twice and did not want to let go. I squeezed her with all my shoulders and chest and smelled her hair. She grunted from my squeezing a bit too much but said, “Oh, I love ‘David hugs’.” We danced in a slow circle, swaying to I’m Not In Love. This felt wonderful, and hopeless.
They took me to The Tornado, where more drinking got done. I refer to The Tornado as The Disaster. The music they played reminded me of a big basement with blacklights and people under 21. Rhianna danced very well to it. Tracy talked to some guy she knew. He was tall and had some hair, but it was covered by a baseball cap. There must have been three hundred baseball caps flouncing around in that building. The guy Tracy was talking to had an earring and a small scar on his left eyebrow. I figured somebody had thrown a golf club at him. His voice jabbed over two tables whenever he said anything. Tracy smiled and kind of cocked her head and laughed a lot at the tall baseball player, and I winced. …I imagined being in England: I wanted to hear music that reminded me of being in England, even though I had never been to England. Sadly, if the DJ started playing music that reminded people of being in England, everyone would have stopped dancing.
I drank some gin, rapidly. I looked around and a theory balled up in my head like a chunk of mist. Heterosexual women are not concerned with the build of a man; they are attracted by size, and height. It does not matter if you do not care what you look like, fill your body with swine, never try to improve in the gym, get a haircut like everyone else and find your own personal mass-produced baseball cap to cover it up. Just be tall: if you have size then women will look at you, they might even bother to talk to you. I thought this, ridiculously, and drank gin. …Rhianna danced well. Tracy probably thinks I am boring, I said to myself. I might have said it out loud: it is hard to tell. I started to compare myself to a lizard trapped in a footlocker, on Benzedrine. But the blood in my veins was too thick to make me move anywhere.
Back at Tracy's place, I felt like falling over. Gravity was extraordinary by now. I sat on her bed, and looked at the floor. The bed had about a thousand goddamn pillows on it; the floor was cluttered with magazines and CDs and clothes. Tracy took out her contacts: smoke bugs her.
“Tracy,” I said, “I’m going to sleep here next to you, okay?”
She moved into her bathroom and mumbled: “I don't think Warren would be too happy about that, but he'll get over it.” My tendons made me stand up.
“No,” I said almost loudly, “it's not like that.” The room blurred and tilted, and something smelled like a watermelon. “It's just, I believe I can draw some sort of energy from—.” Then I walked out of her room.
I think Tracy may have said something else. Rhianna was on the couch looking at the TV. She did not notice me leaving through the door.
It was unusually dark and quiet, and warm outside. The music in my car was dark, too. The music and the words were like anti-matter caking on my shoulders, and I felt kind of like I could throw up. The words in the music had very strong fingers. Looking at the lovers in the litter with my lucky one. I felt like throwing up. My eyes got foggy, and it was hard to see. It became hard to breathe, and to swallow. This is what was looked forward to, the weekend. All life long. This is what energy was spent on because it allured more than academe: the brain-gnashing nights; the enduring of dry, limp nights. I won't share you with the drive and ambition, the zeal I feel… I drove past Evening Valley, where the old forgotten horrified people were sleeping: they had been asleep for hours. My grandfather was in there, and he was asleep. Faint-lit houses smeared by. Dentists and cargo-shippers were sleeping, and probably the sky-blue bowling ball guy in the wheelchair. My eyes and my throat functioned on their own: it was hard to see, and to breathe. I drove west. Tracy would rather have someone hundreds of miles away. I was blocks away, traveling west. I don't care if you're black or blue, me and the stars stayed up for you…
A beagle dashed in front of my tires. I had half a second to react. The tires turned and thudded, the car skidded, then stopped. My throat yelled something, and I opened the car door. A beagle was growling and whimpering and moving sideways into the dark. It fell over: I moved toward it: something shimmered on its body. The dog's collar was ripped and lying in the middle of the street so I kicked it into the grass. My hands made fists and I stumbled toward the dog. He yelped and tried to bark at me. The car stereo played: Even when they fall down, kick them when they fall down... I yelped and moved toward the dog: it spun in lopsided circles, whining. My face was warm and wet, my teeth fought against each other. The dog shimmied into some bushes and disappeared and headlights oozed up the road. …I got in my car and drove west.
As I unlocked the door, I thought about Mr. Brunbeck who is very old and squalid and crumbling. He lives alone. He lives with gobs of dust at his baseboards. I wondered when the last time was that a person touched him on his neck, or at his waist. I thought about this as I entered Travis’s apartment; I have a key to his place. Travis was asleep because it was 4am. Dana was still awake, reading La Peste on the couch. We were surprised to see one another. I did not look into her eyes: I went directly to the bathroom. When I came out she gave me a pillow and asked me what I had done tonight, and I avoided looking into her young and green eyes. I told her I had done nothing worth mentioning. My face felt steamy: I did not look her in the eyes. Fonzy licked me on the face. Fonzy is a dog, capable of getting run over. Dana wished me a goodnight and flittered off to bed. I fell asleep on the couch, and I dreamt tonight had a different ending.
* * * * * * * * *
A month went by and I had not contacted Tracy. Days basically got shorter, and I spent money according to how quickly the sun would set. Some evenings the clouds in the west were calm ribbons of lava, but there was usually just me standing in someone’s back yard looking at them.
It was a Thursday night, and I leaned on a tall round table. It was like a garbage can lid on a stem. I sipped at my sixth rum and Coke.
Tracy spotted me from across the bustling club. She came over to me; the tall baseball player was behind her. He was still wearing the hat. I had to come to terms with myself about something. The way Tracy moved reminded me of a girl from high school, Ashley, who I made love to many times. I did not know what it was then—love—but I’m pretty sure we made it. It is different than what I’ve done to girls in the past few years, and what the girls did to me. Leaning on the garbage can lid table, I remembered the scent along Ashley’s neck and at the bottom of her ear, and the noises she would make. How fragile and silky she would feel. Tracy was similar to Ashley; her jaw was the same, too. Ashley.
Tracy introduced me to the baseball player. “David, this is Kelby.” We were too casual to shake hands. I almost asked Tracy how Warren was doing, but I didn’t.
Tracy’s nose is the same as Ashley’s, and her eyelashes. It has been six years since I last spoke to Ashley.
We were riding in Jeff Saylor's truck, speeding toward a man-made lake. It was summer. Jeff was driving; he was eating a Watchamacallit. It has been six years, and what I had said to Ashley was: “There are no three foot turtles, not where we're going.”
Tracy put her hands in the back pockets of her jeans like she always did, and she remarked, “It’s been a long time, what have you been doing with yourself?”
I said cheerfully, “…I’ve been in India… training to become a hierophant.” Tracy semi-chuckled and told me to shut up, and Kelby looked baffled.
In Jeff Saylor’s truck I had talked to Ashley about three-foot turtles as if I knew for sure, as though Ashley knew nothing.
Tracy said to me: “You’ve been such a stranger… School going okay?”
I said, “Uh huh.”
“Why weren’t you at Staley’s party a few weeks ago?” she asked.
“I was out of town, really,” I lied for no good reason, and took a drink. Tracy was wearing her hair the same as Ashley: I had never seen it all pulled up like that, not on Tracy. She twisted her eyes at me through the clamor and swirling light. She could sense my wall.
She asked me more questions. “What’s the matter with you? Who’d you come with?”
Ashley sat in the middle of the old GMC truck, in very short shorts, a scant shirt: I had the window. The trees were like warped, green , over-inflated balloons.
I answered Tracy. “I’m by myself, even though I’m talking to you.” I smiled at her. Tracy looked at Kelby and reminded him he owed her a drink. Kelby scratched his cap and went to the bar.
The car in front of us halted and swerved, dodging something, its brake lights glaring in the dusk.
Tracy ignored my quip. “Did you know I’m moving soon? I’m doing a master’s in zoology at Granheim starting in spring. Arctic mammalogy… You know, polar bears, arctic foxes.”
Jeff slammed on his brakes at seventy-two and something from the bed of his truck fired through the rear window: it was a piece of lumber.
“I did not know you were going to move,” I said too quietly. “Is Granheim in Alaska?”
“Huh? Uh no. Canada.” Tracy’s eyes reflected a strange purple color from a blacklight somewhere in the big clucking room. Her eyes looked like candy-flavored periapts.
When we were done spinning, I had to turn around from the window to look at my girlfriend, and at my friend. Jeff was not in the truck anymore; his door was shredded off the hinge.
“Canada, huh. …Won’t you get cold as hell? You detest the cold. What are you going up there for?”
Tracy looked at me for about four seconds. “It’s just what I decided, David.” Kelby returned preposterously fast holding two bottles of Killian’s Red. I showed him my perky smile. Tracy added, “I can adapt.”
Mostly, the back of Ashley's head was caved in. Her dark hair was smeared sticky across the dashboard. The right half of her face had an expression on it, as though she were watching an earthquake suck her home into the ground. Ashley's face convulsed, and leaked blood that pattered on the brown seat, and her face made sputtering airless clicks. An immaculate shard of timber rested next to her on the seat. Her palm was face up in her lap, twitching the way a mouse twitches in a sprung trap.
I stared at Tracy in her periapts; I couldn’t help but stare. Nothing could prevent it.
“We’ll see you around, okay,” Tracy said slowly, looking at me almost sideways. She had had enough of me. I could feel my chance to apologize pulling away, a tidal wave tugging at scrambling crabs. There it went, the chance to apologize to Tracy. The apology to Ashley was going away, under the oily oceanic moon. Kelby nodded once at me, and Tracy followed him toward the fray.
Upstairs in the Ram Bar there were bunches of people I know. I wondered why I was there, though. Weber came down to tell me that there was a big skirmish because Ben had clobbered Lisa in the chest when he caught her talking to some guy. I was not shocked by this news. Ben was a real case. Bipolar and manic and volatile, with all the self-security of a 13 year-old girl. Tiny penis, probably. Big fists.
I took my drink and finished it and followed Weber up the stairs through the eager shoulders and leechy eyes. The upstairs of the Ram Bar is all mirrors, so you can’t tell where it stops and starts. I put my hand on the edge of the stage to get bearing. A band was bouncing on top of the stage being noxious to my ears. The people in front of the stage believed that they liked it though. They bounced too.
Weber made his way over to Amanda and they held hands. In one of the slats of mirrors on the far wall I could see Amanda’s friends talking to Lisa. Lisa looked like her face had been doused with saltwater, and I could tell all the women were getting ready to leave. Ben was on the opposite end of the stage looking pissed, and talking to one of his gooney friends. His friend looked stoned because he had Manson eyes, and he smiled even though Ben was so pissed. Ben wore a green plaid shirt that he did not tuck in and a cap from Abercrombie and Fitch, and he had tight-rimmed spectacles. His face was trimmed by sideburns and a short-whiskered black goatee. The throng jumped to the wave of noise coming off the stage in some kind of epileptic cadence. I picked up a half empty drink that was sitting on the edge of the stage and poured it down my throat. I think it was tequila mixed with vodka.
I looked around and saw Lisa and hoped she did not see me. ‘Close to divorce’ is what she had once told me. I squeezed my way over to Ben and stood next to him. He glanced my way then looked back at the goon, who was still grinning.
I asked him: “Hey Ben, why did you just punch your wife?”
“Why don’t you go fuck yourself you faggot,” he growled. His glasses made his eyebrows look more slanted and cruel. Plus he was frowning at me. I am not a faggot.
“I just want to know,” I stated calmly. “Do you think she deserves it?” We had to shout over the screaming tattooed bald guy on the stage.
“Yeah she deserves it—she’s a goddamn slut. She flirts with every cocksucker she knows the name of.” Ben was pretty steamed. But I supposed by this claim that he did not know how Lisa flirted with me like it was her job.
He continued: “I’m starting to thinks she fucks around on me. And go mind your own fucking business.” He spittled when he said this and I dodged it. Then he looked away toward the stage. The goon grinned bigger and his slants-for-eyes disappeared into his face. I think his teeth were filed into points.
I looked over at Lisa then at her husband named Ben. “What would you do if she did fuck around on you?” I wanted to rib him.
His eyes streaked into mine and stayed there.
I went on. “I don’t know if she has, Ben, but I think whatever is in your head is extremely ill.” A girl wearing go-go boots rubbed past me and said “Hi” drunkenly. I added, “Maybe divorce would be a better idea.”
“You are a fucking dick, man,” he informed me, squinting. “I always thought you were a fucking dick.” He cocked his big head and it became a few degrees more ruddy. He was so pissed now he couldn’t make sense. “You,” he shouted, “and that cunt-bitch and her mom, what are you trying to—? What, have you got a cunt down there? Thinking the way Lisa thinks and her mom thinks, like some loose bitch who can go fucking around? I’d beat her ass if—do you mean to…?” His goatee just froze around his opened lips and he looked at me.
I waited for a moment for him to say some more cuss words. Then I said slowly: “Ben, you’re repugnant. It’s impossible for you to see the other side and you’re trapping yourself and Lisa. I don’t much like Lisa, but no one needs abuse from a shitbag like you.”
Ben wasted no time in jamming his fist against my forehead. It hurt a lot. What hurt even more was my wheeling backward into the corner of a countertop partition. Square in the lower spine. I fell over and people started hustling around. Ben was on top of me very quickly, punching me into the floor. His friend decided it would be fun to come over and kick me a few times. I wanted to reach over and grab Ben’s sack and squash its contents. But I couldn’t take my hands from my head because there were all these boot tips flying at my eyes. It seemed Ben could not get his fill of pummeling, but it was soon over because large men in orange shirts and black pants were hauling all of us out by the collars. Amused-looking people moved out of the way casually, still drinking, still undulating to the noise on the stage. The bouncers discarded us through separate exits, and the flat-topped man escorting me explained I was never allowed back. I had on only a grey T-shirt, and jeans. The T-shirt was blackish red now, from the neck down to my navel.
I asked, “Can I go in and get my jacket?” My tongue had a big gash across it; I could feel it in my mouth. But I could also tell no teeth were missing, none loose either.
“No,” he said, like it was a moronic question. “Get the hell out of here.” He slammed the emergency exit door hard, which was unnecessary; I already knew he was a strong guy.
I stood in an alleyway breathing out fog, and I guessed I would never see my jacket again. A warm stream tickled at my lips and chin. It came out of my nose, and spattered lightly on the pavement. The image of brown fissured vinyl came and went, the shard of timber came and went. I looked down at my hands which were all wet and red and put one of them on my nose. It was still there. The asphalt below was pocked and corroded. It needed repaving.
Since Weber had driven me to the Ram Bar, I started walking toward Mr. Brunbeck’s home. It was only about a mile. I could have gone to Dammit Jim’s but that would have been disgraceful. I figured Mr. Brunbeck could use a visit because he never gets visitors besides me, and that was only when I would mow his lawn in the summer. And also, I figured Mr. Brunbeck was the only person whose state of living could proof him against feeling horror at the sight of my condition. It was pretty goddamned cold as I walked but there was alcohol beneath my skin, and my skin had the heat of abrasions all over it, so it was not too bad. The wet shirt, though, was kind of annoying. As I walked through the back streets I passed a dumpster-sized green box, humming, with a DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE sign on it. I touched it to see what would happen. Nothing happened.
I had to spit red about every fifteen paces. It took about twenty minutes to reach Mr. Brunbeck’s chipped front steps. I rattled the sagging screen door. He opened it minutes later with that constantly perplexed look in his brow. The hair over his eyes looked like a couple of albino bats. You could see the vitamin deficiency in his skin, and he looked like at any moment he could soil his pants right in front of you, and fall over dead.
“What in a truckload of cowshit happened to you?” he asked. This was very colorful of him.
I told him, “I fell in a thorny bush.” It felt like glass was shingling around in my mouth when I talked. I kind of regretted using that many syllables, especially since Mr. Brunbeck ignored me anyway.
Brunbeck sighed. “…Come in. Take that rotten shirt off and throw it away.”
I did what he said. I went in and sat in an oak armchair that lacked its left arm, and I was glad to feel the kerosene heater glowing. I used the soggy rag of a shirt to plug at my nose because it still streamed, then I tossed it in a cardboard box full of other rags. The rags reeked of motor oil. But then I feared Mr. Brunbeck would offer me one of his own shirts, and I considered putting mine back on. He reached in a drawer and pulled out an unopened pair of undershirts, still in cellophane. This was not what I expected.
He tore the package open with shaky gnarled hands. He said: “You wanna tell me about it? It doesn’t make any difference to me.” He handed me a folded up wifebeater, and I put it on.
“Nah,” I grunted. My tongue was really swelling. I tipped my head back and pinched my nose. My forehead throbbed. The small of my back had a dent in it.
Brunbeck’s slippered feet creaked on the grainy hardwood floors and he said, “Alright. I’m going back in here.”
The TV was flashing in the next room; I knew he would not be asleep when I showed up because he once told me he stays up almost all night. One of the walls in his TV room was fronted by a very crusty bookcase filled with neatly ordered Beta tapes. Every tape was labeled with reruns of Perry Mason and The Three Stooges or Dick Van Dyke and such. Mr. Brunbeck put in a Gilligan’s Island and sat watching it. I went to his filthy bathroom and came back with wads of toilet paper in my nose.
“You done bleedin’?”
“I guess so.”
“So you started it, eh?”
“You could say that.”
“Went to the doctor today… He told me I had a—a tumor in my gut the size of a football.”
I felt deeply sorry for him, but I didn’t want to alarm him, so I just said, “Oh. They going to take it out?”
“We’ll see.” He said this like a man who truly feels complete ambivalence over the issue. Total indifference. He could take life, or leave it.
“If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know,” I said.
I used his phone and got a cab.
Back in my bedroom I was overly compelled to call Tracy. My tongue was in no shape for a phone call, but I couldn’t resist hearing her voice. It was approaching 3am, and I was surprised she answered.
“Tracy, it’s David.”
“I know,” she said. “What was wrong with you tonight? Did you get in a fight? I heard you got booted out!”
“Yes, but I wanted to say I’m happy for your decision.”
“The arctic foxes and stuff.”
“Oh. Thanks… What is wrong with you?” she chuckled.
“I mean it must be exciting and I know how you love animals, but won’t you have to dissect dead ones?” My tongue felt aflame from the cuts.
“That’s just part of it, David. One day I’ll be saving them. Are you eating something?”
“No. Today is my birthday. I only wanted to fall asleep with one hand on your head.”
She sighed. “I’ve got to go, David.”
“I know you do. Take care of yourself, Tracy. It would be nice, but I doubt that I will see you in far-off places.”
“You—” she began to speak.
And I hung up.