Rage of Entellus
After they shot my tires out and patted me about the neck and face with their night sticks the CHiPs took me in for questioning.
“What are you doing in the great state of California?”
I glared bleary at the neatly trimmed mustache curled above me and rose a broken Lucky to my lips, blowing smoke into his Aryan blue smirk.
“Maybe you didn't hear me. What the fuck are you doing in the great goddamn state of California running my border check with a bottle of speed and no money?”
I spat a bicuspid on the table and said,
“I told ya already...”
“Yeah? Well tell me again and tell me right this time, and I don't wanna hear shit about MTV.”
I cast my eyes down at the table where my shackled hands rested by my bloody tooth and started singing in a slow baritone:
“We can live beside the ocean, leave the fire behind, swim out past the breakers, watch the world...”
Easter Sunday, 1996. I attended church for the last time with my mother and brother before setting out from parts unknown to destinations certain, at least in my mind. I stood in the wet grass outside Land Harbor Baptist Church smoking with the wind in my hair, staring blankly at my brother who looked pained, worrisome, and disgusted. My mother, with a gaze fashioned from fear and trembling said only two words, “Don't go”, but her eyes said, “get some help for God sakes.” I crushed my spent cig in the turf and sped out of the parking lot in my red Toyota, headed west with a bullet.
I woke up in a filthy blue recliner, my left eye glued shut with blood. I tried to stand but my bad shoulder was out so I just surveyed the room with my good eye and felt my head pound in quick, dense throbs.
A large, ponytailed hippy of an orderly threw a ham sandwich in my lap and said,
“If you wanna smoke, they're headed out to the patio now. Better get a move on. Julio doesn't like stragglers, dude.”
I rose and cocked my shoulder back in with a growl and a wince. The handcuffs were gone so I fished through my jean pockets for a cig but the orderly said,
“Up front dude. Nobody gets lighters or cigarettes in here. Julio's got what you need.”
I stumbled down the long columned, industrial carpet hallway till I saw sunlight and cracked the heavy steel and plexiglass door to the patio where a chubby Hispanic male nurse sat reclining in a plastic lawn chair surrounded by several patients smoking feverishly.
“Jew want a smoke?”
“Hokay baby. Take two, they're leettle.”
Julio flipped two honey colored offbrands deftly to the top of his soft pack and I took them as he winked at me, coquettish as a school girl. He lit the first with a manicured hand and the remains of his Cool Water lingered in the gray ash.
I hobbled to the side of the patio shielded by palms from the sun and felt my battered face with my dirty fingers as smoke burned my eye snaking up towards the invincible blue.
I felt a hand rest gently on my shoulder and I turned to my right to see a short, pretty Latina curling her reddish hair round her index and sizing me up.
“Gary! Shhhh...come over here where he can't see us...”
I wondered who Gary was as she grabbed my cig free hand and pulled me into the shadows created by the dense palm fronds.
“I ain't seen you so long! I knew you'd come back Papi. I knew you'd come back to Mona. Pull your dick out and I'll suck it!”
I stood smoking, glaring at "Mona" through my non-wounded eye as she reached for my zipper just as Julio rounded the slim cover of fronds. He cursed something in Spanglish and dragged Mona away by the hand. She pivoted on her thick ham and winked. I followed them after a couple more quick drags into the air conditioning where a shot of Lithium and two orange pills awaited me at the nurse's station.
After the Thorazine kicked in, I laid semi-comatose in the day room on a hard, dingy sofa while a large, blind Chicano man in a Raiders cap rapped on about how “they” were filming a porn in his room, and how he'd come down here to get away from the noise.
I hated Thorazine, but at the moment its deep chemical waters kept me from thinking too much about how I had ended up here, and how I was going to get back home. I felt, under the thick quilt of immobilization, the itch for that bottle of Benzedrine the ChiP's had confiscated, and for the first time in a long time a tear slid out of my busted eye and down my cheek.
I rolled over and towards the television, where Mona now sat flipping through daytime drivel. I breathed a curse, turned back over, and enjoyed the bands of my chemical straight jacket.
A week before I split town I stole a copy of Load by Metallica. I'd been a church goer for years and wasn't hip to the fact that Metallica wasn't cool anymore so I dug it largely. I played that tape, running up and down the roads with my hair on fire collecting money from anyone and everyone I knew because, well, I was going to be a rock star. Two months out of teaching Sunday school, living in the hood, busking with a guitar part-time and committing myself to petty thievery full time, the drugs in my system and my own peculiar brand of body chemistry had confirmed me in the belief that the doors of Heaven might be closed to an apostate, but the slick road to Hell lay wide open as the Interstate. I sought Freedom, and to me the name Los Angeles was synonymous with everything in my narrow, ecclesiastic Southern paradigm that reeked of sin. I was bound and determined to find out or die trying. I thought I had nothing left to lose.
I knelt in a bathroom, full of stale piss and the scent of toilet cakes, while the raucous Jesus fest muffled in through the closed door.
God, save me. Please. I used to feel your presence, but you've gone. I can't go on without you, and I feel that my heart would cease beating if you don't come back into my life. I've given everything to you. Everything. I can't give any more. Please, please, please...*tears*
Nothing. The same gurgling toilets, the same fluorescent glow. Fake. It's all a fake. I'm dying. In ten minutes I'll be kindling for the judgment.
I flushed the urinal I was kneeling at to save face and exited the way I'd come, back to the show, that soft hued carnival of emotionalism, where I thrust my hands in the air in praise to a deaf god, blending in, hiding the sin of my unbelief as best I could from the prying eyes of those about me. My Christian mentor, Gerald, slapped me on the back and said, “God is good, ALL THE TIME.”
I did ninety through the Western hills, my heart beating I don't even know how fast, smoking, feeling the fresh, free air on my face through the open window. The blasting sun seemed brighter with every mile. I remember looking back through my rearview at the retreating green. It was all soon to be forgotten, in a land unknown to anhedonia and slow drawling assholes. I turned the Metallica up to full volume and popped another Benny.
I raced between cars, daring the best law dogs Tennessee had to hand. I remember distinctly the absence of fear from my heart. Some say that if you're not afraid of death you can accomplish anything. I was afraid of nothing—no man, angel, or tiger could have tickled that emotion within my breast. The Resurrection sun warmed my pursuit of the horizon.
I recalled a cool October day in my childhood, sitting in a creaky, wooden swing with my grandmother while she sang me a lullaby. I briefly weakened, lowering the now stale cigarette from my lips and glancing at my eyes in the rearview.
Hardness, a furrowed brow. I bent back to the wheel and pressed the accelerator, my RPM's rising steadily with the return of my resolve.
Midnight. I'm on my knees beside my bed praying and reciting the litany of self-deprecations I was accustomed to since conversion. Utter blank void surrounded me, the new moon outside my basement story window an ever blackening malice in the dark night of my soul. My knees scraped the cheap, outdoor carpet and I felt the sick comfort of the flagellant. Musty paint, acrid fag smoke and the remains of a Meximelt—a cheap, sulphurous, tenement gloom. I twisted the red flannel sheets round my hand as I drove my face deeper into the mattress. Somewhere in the house a thin wall creaked causing terror to rivet me fast to supplication. Exhaustion overtook my haggard strivings and I returned to the sheets with reluctance, taking a comfortless sip of watery, flat Coke from a bedside cup. I lay with my heartbeat a witness to my mortality, a futile rounding of blood through youth weary veins. Sleep came and with it, release from the manacles of desolation.
Mona sat her thick hips down beside me on a tartan couch in the day room. In the background, a charlatan channeled Tolstoy on daytime t.v.
“Gary...my love, my little pobrecito...”
I leaned between the bars of my chemical cage and slid my tongue down her throat. My face melted into soft cinnamon and she ran her hand up my hospital gown until Chuck, the ponytailed orderly, snatched me by the scruff and escorted me to my room. I heard Mona flailing and wailing Aztec curses at the gringo staff until a loud crash came barreling down the hall and an alarm rang security to attention on the floor.
I sat on my bed with a raging boner, flipping through a Gideon Bible until I came to a passage in Isaiah I had frequently read when the gas in my tank was naught but fumes. The old magic was gone, the pages ash and bones so I slammed the Word against the wall while the bells rang, the anguish of schizos contrapuntal to the blaring racket.
A Mennonite girl I was paired with on a Habitat for Humanity project once asked me if I cared for the fates of men on earth, as well as heaven.
I answered that as long as they were saved from the Pit, any amount of misery might suffice.
She asked me, “Are you miserable?”
I rebuked her in the name of Jesus and returned to nailing a rafter to its adjoining beam.
Two weeks before I burned the road up I sat in a sub-Southern hood bound dealer's house while he counted out plastic wraps of twenty rocks and twisted them up with bread bag ties methodically, and with patience. I had a bottle of rye whiskey between my legs while the seven or eight blue rag thug bangers in the room passed a fat hog and fingered their automatics. They bored exit wound sized holes through me, a narc suspect drinking while dope was the center attraction so I took that fatty and inhaled deep to leave no doubt as to the nature of my devils.
In twenty or thirty seconds the entire room became lit with a green phosphorescent glow, and the faces of my compadres began to take on the cast of a pack of wererats. I played it cool and excused myself to the toilet where I saw my face melt in the bathroom mirror and slide down the drain, a fleshy goo disclosing a white skull set with a pair of ruby torches which engulfed the bathroom, now become a nest of creeping horrors. Swastikas, spade aces, and dime store junk visions dogged me onto the small, cinderblock landing outside the seafoam trailer where I couldn't manage to light a fag for staring blankly into my Bic flame.
I vaguely remember the voice of a pubescent girl giggling as she fished through my pockets, and a small hour ride through the damp, hot swamp to an iron gray shack where a grizzled crone sawed upon a fiddle. She licked her toothless gums and spat a vile substance into a copper bucket, cackling as she massacred some proto-slave titty reel and then all was fog and madness.
We played volleyball on Saturdays in the sand lot beside the church, and I'd rush over from my second job running a pro shop to beat it out with the Youth crowd and drink Sunkist. Gerald was a master baller and he'd spike it down our throats and laugh, nostrils distended and impious at our weakness. Of course, he'd always end our sand lot sessions with a prayer for all those suffering vagabonds making a way without The Master and adjure us to rekindle our lust for evangelism.
Gerald and I would sit in our tanktops on the edge of the lot and trade jolly, false-bottomed anecdotes about the week—how we'd done our best for the Lord, but were always able to do just a little more than we thought we were able, and how we'd give it a better shot come Monday. Gerald was always smiling. He was one of the happiest men I'd ever known. When I found him masturbating in the Youth Hall with a contraband magazine he immediately dropped his dick back in his pants and we knelt together in repentance. He meant well, I know. He was my age now and I know the loneliness of thankless service, the roil of flesh against spirit. His ecclesiastic burden overrode his ability as a showman at times and his deep, profound frustration wore through. He had an inexhaustible mania for the expansion of The Kingdom of Heaven as if he were one of its primary stockholders and all the world a vast, laissez-faire marketplace rich with the capital of souls. Land Harbor was the best shot he'd ever had at a life outside the textile mills, and he was genuinely interested in my development as a believer.
Once I asked him, off the record, if he really believed everything the Bible said.
He told me he honestly didn't know, but that all his chips were riding on Jesus. Then he smacked my back with a shout and said, “God is good, ALL THE TIME.”
Gerald was the son of a recently redeemed, forklift operating drunken abuser. In fact, Gerald had led the man to Christ, his father kneeling on the hardwood of the parsonage, Gerald above him with his rough hand clenched in his Daddy's fading hair, a Norman Rockwell in monotype, the two reciting a passage from Romans together and the whole scene ending in a teary, if melodramatic, union of Christian brotherhood. Gerald cleansed his father's house of whiskey bottles and Swank mags, and in due season the old man surrendered to the mission field to become a worker in the global harvest. Gerald grew a goatee for street cred and the two began doing prison ministry together at the county jail.
Gerald once told me that he'd begun his ministry as a street preacher, heaving a large REPENT sign around town and screaming at the bums and attorneys. He said the demons were thick on the street and many times he'd been either accosted or beaten down by the ungodly dope peddlers who couldn't take the medicine he was prescribing. Gerald was a thick set, muscular man of more than average height and I'm sure he could have held his own had he not turned the other cheek. I did see him once arm wrestle a college fullback and lose only through exhaustion. His blue eyes shined for glory and his crew cut red hair suggested a barely concealed fascist tendency towards violence. He was a friend of convicts and cops, but no one ever questioned on which side of the cell his loyalties lay. In another time he would have been a mace wielding battle cleric, a shield buckling antinomian Templar braining heretics into belief. I can see him on the field at Tannenberg stretching his neck to Nevsky's sword rather than relent or swear fealty to a pagan. Gerald Spivey was a true blue, white, and red Scotch Irish fanatic, but he carried himself loosely and his charisma was undeniable.
I cruised through the Tennessee flats on the far side of Appalachia near dusk, a land of low, barren hills, daisy-studded hummocks rendered Flemish by the D.O.T., a little hungry now so I skidded into a Hardees and flicked a dead stub in the yarrow. The air smelled of fry grease and gasoline, and my stomach churned in speed frenzy, my legs a little wobbly already in my Caballeroes.
I ordered a Frisco burger and a Coke through my Gargoyles, and sat near the back with my eyes peeled on the vanishing point. My elation numbed a little from the meat, so I shit canned the remains, stretched my bones in the parking lot, and headed back down to the Interstate.
I switched tapes for the night drive to Dirt by Alice in Chains and popped another go-getter. The Coke was sweet, cold, and didn't harsh my buzz so I sat it in the holder and sped west.
The rumbly flatlands rustled green, violet, and titian before me, the sky slowly dimming as the sun sank closer to my goal. Cow downs and far church yards, three crosses splendrous on a vermillion hillside, fat handlebar faced truckers slurping coffee and Stoic behind cheap stop Ray Bans, families in low Buicks tucked softly on feathers as father took the capstan, slim hipsters on Asian rockets strapped in red leather and flying toward their deaths, America the Beautiful arrayed in chrome, steel, and concrete with myriad ant travelers winding tires to the tick of the road seams.
Group session began with me being called out by the slim hag of a therapist for having my dick exposed through the slit in my gown. She refused to begin the session until Mr. Hanky Pank was rendered invisible so I obliged and closed my legs.
Ten wounded soldiers of the post modern sat in a half circle round Ms. Traxler as she went clockwise and asked us to “get current” for the day. Mr. Sparks, a large, balding sociologist who was locked up for pedophilia pleaded the fifth except to remind Ms. Traxler that she had promised us a viewing of The Little Mermaid on Friday evening after meditation.
“Thank you for your input, Mr. Sparks. Now, Mona, how are you feeling today?”
Mona sat twirling her red curls round a finger done up in a bloody bandage. She pouted her fleshy lips in childish disdain and refused further questioning. Sparks had his eyes peeled on her pink toes and a woody on until Traxler snapped her fingers with a hmph and he returned halfheartedly to the present.
It was me, Ali, and Shawn cruising down to Hickory in my red Toyota, me behind the wheel, Ali in the back rolling a blunt crumbled with crack rocks, his blue black lips and thick tongue spit licking the Philly closed tenderly, lingering on a stray clitoris and then passing it forward.
Tupac's thick caramel baritone cranked ghetto rich through the smoke heavy cab, two, three long puffs cherry red with Ali's Hi C slickness tasting, flexing now with the onset of Central Intelligence Agency grade slavery. The light turned red with us in the middle, horns blaring as we three cool blasted on into the night, 70, 80, and gone.
They said I was the white devil when I changed lanes oblivious of the road. They called me Satan when I walked through gunfire and shaking fat hips unfazed, continent, a foe to the heresy of giving a fuck. I became thinner, a sinner, a slave and just as much a negro as Jim Crow crack fiend.
Wasted beyond recognition, a hood crazed white ghost in Vans I relinquished wheel duties to Shawn who was only fourteen but could drive high better than a Senator. He would steal us Newports and Taquitos, enough to survive on—-days and nights melted together in a velvet and hieroglyphic morass. I couldn't tell the difference between Me, Them, or It anymore.
Ali had three baby mamas in two states and we'd make the rounds. I played Magi to his Nativities, bearing the myrrh of transport and my ever dwindling bones. The boys dragged me around like a sack for my service, feeding me enough dope and West Coast thug shit to prop me up for ever renewed and constantly darker forays out of mind and into the heart of desperation.
Why none of us went to jail, I'll never know. Quite possibly the Id contains a more potent magic than conscience. One day I simply broke out of my haze in a Circle K parking lot, grabbed the reins and spun black tar leaving them running along behind, waving fists full of stolen Slim Jims and menthol cigarettes not in anger, but in bewilderment at the loss of their hero.
Mona smashed right through that glass partition with a dayroom chair and went to the hole spurting from the wrist and screaming like a witch for her sin. It took five orderlies and a nurse with a fat Thorazine needle to still her demons. She said she did it out of love for me. For me, her beggar wastrel whom she'd waited on to return from Tijuana with a thick wad of cash and a bag of dope for nigh on two years. Me, Gary, her wandering piece of shit ex with a hard dick for every ten cent Baja hooker with a fat ass and crabs. Ronaldo The Blind told me she'd had an abortion and the stress of her latent Catholicism cut with impending judgment had tweaked her psyche into overload.
California hospitality. That no bullshit brand of come as you are, but just cum baby and leave your past at the border check with the moldy fruits and the outlanders. Tires shot out? Low on speed? Come right in and sign up for a government administered blowjob and a packet of food stamps, because it's I10 to Hell in a land known baldly for sodomy and surf rock. It's all good. Just ask the doorman with the twelve gauge.
El Paso. The gas gauge read E and I had a dollar seventy five in my pocket in assorted change, along with several pennies resting in the console caked with green copper slime and spilt Coke syrup. I coasted into a truck stop with a tremendous, brown fake rancher's hat riveted onto the complex and Devil Woman crackling through the PA. Early morning, just before sunrise and the complimentary colors of the new day made a palette rich with carrot and beryl.
I stood by the gas pump, smoking, my truck idling on fumes as I waited for the husky Navajo attendant to switch the go lever so I could drain my remaining life savings into the tank. I cast my eyes to heaven, and when the numbers began rattling past one eighty I prayed that justice would relent for me, a mendicant. With a Jackson full of swiped store credit from the Gas and Go I quickly returned the nozzle to the rack and spun out, my still smoldering Pall Mall wallowing in a sheen of dripped motor oil the only down payment made on the continuance of my vision quest.
The air of the desert is free of the humid pall of the greenlands, an ever fresh and dead ocean of chestnut and tangerine, an expanse where the spirit may breathe unhindered by creeping viridian plush—dry lichened crags eternally parched, sandformed phalluses and ocher stonescapes, slim tattered jack dogs salivating rabbit flesh, needle pink, milk sap cacti shadowing scorpion zaps, winding anhydrous serpents, dessicance, murder, and the sky abiding sapphire—an incessant reminder of the riches of a niggard god.
Gerald and I sat reverently side by pin-striped side as an aged deacon passed a tray full of the blood of Christ through our outstretched hands and on down the palatial red aisle to the end, where the Patriarch sat, a smallish former meth junkie and biker tough, a rounder who had broken heads readily at the Sloop and Castle for paydirt, salt pepper whiskers and a fanged wolf under his blacksuit, a twinkle in his uplifted eye, as if he were an insider on the Heavenly Board of Directors, chairman of a select and diamond crusted milieu, privy to a Bull market and heir to a baronial estate in East Gloryland. We three drank the veins of the Master and lowered our heads in obeisance to His desire, before they rose to finish the service. Three, then ten, then innumerable tears ran down my cheeks as I felt the power of the Spirit course through me in raptures blessed and profound. Long after the last hymn had been hammered out and the crowd dispersed to discuss elections over hog gravy, I sat crying on the end of a darkening pew clutching a glass cup empty of grape juice. There had been much rejoicing that day, hands raised and voices uplifted in exultation, but for me, the friendly Ghost always brought a chastened melancholy. I was an unwitting papist at Pentecost, a medieval mystic in the company of door clapping fire insurance salesmen.
From my vantage on the twilit pew I gazed up at a gilt and glassed, yet cheap representation of our Lord and Savior hanging above the baptismal. He lifted eyes to heaven, pious, epicene, a little worried seeming but certainly not in the agonies of the garden. Serene, complacent, yet merciful and friendly he watched over his sanctuary night and day with unremitting vigilance. I had a key to one of the lower exits of the church so I decided to remain there, in the moonlight trickling in through the blue glass, and see what the Lord saw when all and sundry were at home watching Late Night.
Painted pink toes on the dingy linoleum, one foot done up in a fist behind the other flat, she's itching an Achilles scratch wearing a faded through blue satin gown draped loosely over her abundant hips. The scent of garlic, capers, and rich meat smokes around her and colors the air—a sensuous and Mediterranean olive. The last sad rays of sunlight peer through the chenille and explode into aureate and honey strands through her mousse brown bob tied back in a knot with a stray garter.
I stalk silent and bare chested behind her, massaging first the thick of her fry busy arms, feeling the softness slick with oil, sweat, and the infinitesimal hairs lining her pink cream flanks. I breathe deep of sautee and apple blossom shampoo, as I nibble at yielding lobes tasting girlflesh and slide her garment above her waist, blood and lust rushing down to a rigid denouement.
I came to with a start, the night full dark and Jesus of Nazareth once again admonishing a disciple for failing his watch. His eyes still probed the heavens, so He didn't see me leave through the basement of the church sporting an ironclad erection. I drove home and crashed into bed, hoping unsuccessfully for a return of my comfortable dream.
“Dog, I'm starting to BELIEVE him.”
Ali sat with a blunt tilted from his thick gum with Shawn in the chair opposite, chewing violently a slice of cold frozen pizza and pushing buttons on a remote with no batteries towards a television with no cable.
“Nah Dawwg, I really am starting to BELIEVE him...”
Ali said this through partially clenched lips as I stared holes through his eyes and on out the other side into gak fantasy. He wasn't intimidated, but I held sway over his slim cognizance with ironclad extrasensory perception and a sense of my own invincibility.
I strove to possess him, hypnotize him into righteousness and glory where he might walk in unforeseen bliss amidst the dew drips and gold stemmed flora. In the corner atop a pile of spent pizza boxes a skinny white girl sat with her arms hugged up to her flanks with a burnt, broken light bulb resting between her shivering feet.
The static from the television kept Shawn's attention snowbound until he suddenly rose and smashed the dead remote against the paneling, inaugurating a burst of hammer fists on the wall of the apartment opposite and a loud, gurlged “SHUT THE FUCK UP NIGGERS!"
Ali: thin, androgynous, glassy and translucent, a Moorish caliph wrapped in silk ducking a five fingered cheroot, a teen blonde bent into his lap, sucking on his flaccid cock while smoke poured through his fangs, he sipped blue raspberry slush through a McDonald's straw, the wall unit humming, the clock over the sink ticking, ticking, unbelievably loud, he passed me the limp Philly and offered up his bitch for my amusement.
I declined, reached across a trash bag full of taco detritus and remnants from Circle K foraging to grasp my Bible. I opened it randomly to Matthew 7 and read the bold, red text at the top of the page:
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Hang my head
Drown my fear
Till you all just disappear.
I hang between two thieves, bleeding, my eyes cast to earth as my arms break incrementally and my lungs burn, my mouth a furnace gaping grinding gnashed in pain, circling black winged scavengers above and below anticipatory and jubilant. Junkies, tweakers, crack fiends, myriad clown masked freaks, tall, ungainly and gaunt specters volitionless and void, a bloody dog day maypole, Aeneas Rex Subhuman Martyr suspended between terror and fate, seven seals broken, stripped of plastic wrap and foil paper, a fresh pack of Marlboros and creased Levis, bat country, sex, an orange child resistant bottle of chalk and determination, the road, a Metallicat loping bandy legged across the iron waste, APOCALYPSE, childhood fantasia, delirium, my eyes red dead in the rest stop mirror, APOCALYPSE, a drop D bottom dive naked in the cold sun, a skinny blond King Dog crowned gap tooth hippy jangling a tambourine by the roadside, heat wave lucidity, an archangel thirsty for violence, APOCALYPSE...
Mona peeled a lemon in the fresh morning while the patients sat grim with their nicotine and their demons, their heads full of suspended wirehum from callers whereabouts unknown. She sucked the citrus from her fingers and dropped the rind on the concrete.
“Jew better pick that up seester”
Julio eyed her hawklike through his mascara as Mona sat, popping each juicy slice into her cavernous mouth and then wincing with the onset of the bitters.
“Girl, you craaaazzzeeeeee”
Mona sucked the remaining juice from her nails and rose to go, flipping Julio a ham and a hmpph with ruthless, assured braggadocio.
I gazed off into the ever blue day and began to hum The Waltons theme song, rocking my plastic lawn chair back on its legs until they bent with the weight. Mona returned in five with two lemons in each hand. She sat side saddle on a concrete planter and began to peel the first methodically, and with relish.
“Girl, you craaaazzzeeee.”
I shifted my stare to Julio and exhaled a cloud of blue smoke through my nose, my tongue lingering over my missing teeth as a line of the other patients began to ferry lemons in slow mo from the kitchen and peel them, contorting their faces and licking their gums as the bitters jolted them from their respective daydreams while the wild dry thirsty palm fronds clicked against the pane glass in protest to an exorcism.
The metallic taste of fear. Sweat, and a thousand phantoms. The Benzedrine was wearing off so I popped another two and washed them with spit. My eyes...locomotives blistering through the cold night on tracks hammered of fate.
My mother's voice on the line ragged from tears whispered, “Come home. Can't you just come home?”
I stood in that booth grinding my teeth, greasy hair plaited against glass. I lifted a crumpled fag end from the bottom of the box and rolled it between my fingers. My filthy t-shirt bore no consolation against the chill.
I don't know how long she cried into that line hanging dead in the west Texas night, but I was gone again, rushing from love, sped on by a vacuum.
I'm in a bar. Smoke and bad Southern Rock, bedazzled and wanting to hang my head down on the cool table. I've had six whiskeys and God knows how many beers. I stumble to the restroom and lean my elbow against the pen scrawled sheet rock and piss away forty or fifty bucks I didn't earn and can't replace. My arm rests directly below, “I Fuck Asses.” The room spins toplike and I sway over to the line of sinks to vomit. I vaguely consider the double chin of the queen who bought me those drinks and I vomit some more.
I'm so thin. In the mirror I don't recognize at first the frail ghost with the shoulder length hair and the six day beard. Then it hits me: I'm already dead, and this bar is hell. A .38 Special cover sees me to the double doors where the air is fresh and the ground levels out. Someone is calling to me from the exit, but I make it to my truck and crash behind the wheel.
Two blocks away blue lights flicker in my rearview as I sit stone gone staring at nothing but a green light.
“How much have you had to drink sir?”
“Just a couple. Maybe five or fist teen.”
“Please exit the vehicle.”
As I blow into the breathalyzer I watch a fly crawling on a manila envelope and wish to God I could trade places. I say a prayer and lean back to look at the .02 registering red on the dial by my head.
“Let's try that again. Please blow into the tube, sir.”
Same thing. Point zero two. He has to let me go, and I'm so excited by the miracle I've just witnessed I tell the cop I'll pray for him as I thread my way through the cruisers parked near the dog lot. He looks pissed and a little perplexed so I hightail it back through town to my truck, only stopping to shoplift a sixer of Becks at the Crown Mart.
I think to myself: I'm a god. This is my universe. You'd better watch the fuck out.
The VCT tiles were filthy and piss spotted as I lay on the floor, looking up into the dead eyes of the four Haldolitic tormentors above me.
“Get up, Markoooo!”
“Get up and make ussss go away!”
My bones cringed and my teeth grated as I spun in a half circle on the floor, my dirty nails clasped in my greasy, short long hair, seven hells below help, my eyes rolled back in my head, inaudible syllables dribbling from my mouth. Willy G kicked me in the ribs once, lightly, to test my incapacity. Three days before I put a cigarette butt out on his shoulder as he stood in the chicken wire cage smoking area, rubbing shit through his fingers and cackling like a hag. Nobody fucked with me after that, especially after I put one out on my tongue without flinching after Mikey Hodge threatened to stick me with a shank when the orderly wasn't looking. They thought I was the devil. Some said it, and the rest were afraid to. No one would look me in the eyes, not even for a second. But since I was on the mat, laid prostrate, a victim of hungry ghosts, they inflicted their cold served revenge.
I awakened in a pool of cold sweat grasping the red nylon coverlet to my chest and heaving smoke thick breaths, my head full of pig shit and my teeth chattering, the air conditioner wheezing moisture and frigid air. I rose and stumbled down the hall, my Jnco shorts draped round my ankles, dragging the bedspread, where the night nurse sat reviewing a multicolored chart.
“Can I have an Ambien?”
After swallowing my pink savior with a gulp of Tang I turned and scurried back down the hall, my beltless cutoff jeans shortening my paces till I pulled them up and crashed down backwards on the twin bed. I counted fuzzy sheep over fences, my eyes shut against the glare from the open doorway, and drifted off to dream three thousand miles from home, thirteen days from freedom, and an eternity from the sort of peace found among the guiltless and those who know they are forgiven.