We took trips down to the coast, carefree smoked out day trips with the top down and the breeze coming in from the west. You loved me then. Everything or nothing, that’s what’s you always said. Are you all in? I wanted to be all in but I was all in the wrong places with the wrong people, fucked up out in Barstow with my teenage rebellion theme song playing constantly in the background, blasting away at stop signs, dancing on razorblades, full of shit. You knew it and you loved me anyway. When I disappeared that winter with the Angels you wrote letters to an empty address. Long, distraught Dear Johns full of pathos and laughter, tears and timidity. Your father died that December, taking with him fifty-five years of devotion to a bottle and an easy chair. I know, you wanted to save him like you tried to save me, but some wrecks are unsalvageable.
I looked in the mirror yesterday. Four-day old stubble, maps of the east coast, Texas, Guadalajara, Costa Mesa and my cold, gray eyes lit up again with the night terrors. I took a long drag off something or other in the ashtray and sat, with my back to the motel door, watching a television screen full of static and ghosts. When you told me you were pregnant I ran. Ran like the wind to nothing and nowhere, a belly full of snake oil and a mind full of yesterdays. I haven’t eaten in a week. The red plastic phone next to the Gideon Bible on the nightstand of this two-bit dump keeps talking to me, ESP style. I still remember your number in Sonoma. My son or daughter is 4 now. Gotta be a son. I whiskey wonder a lot of things. Are you married? Is he a suit-clad robot with a fat wallet and a Volvo wagon? Do you love him? No way. Does he know how to make you smile even when you’re so angry you forget you’re a woman? Does he know how to make you cry when all you want to do is hold him? Does my son have sandy blonde hair and a good right cross?
“Hello? Is anyone there? Who is this? (30 second pause) Marko?”
You still sound the same. Sweet high voice full of tenderness and empathy. Crushed a little by years of picking up the pieces of your heart with the broom and dustpan of the hero child, dull around the edges from too many nights spent crying alone in the locked bathroom, but still the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard. The red plastic phone is ringing now. Goddamn call return.
“Who is he?”
“Who is who?” (emotional now)
“The guy whose Volvo is parked in the driveway.”
“He drives a Jeep Cherokee and his name is Warren. Marko, you can’t call here. I went on with my life. What we had is over.”
“Bullshit. Let me talk to my son.”
“I want to talk to my son. He needs to know that his father isn’t a robot.”
“Fuck you, you self-absorbed son of a bitch.” (lower) “Do you know that I waited for three years, three fucking years on your absent ass, your ‘wandering soul’, your ‘I’ll be back when I’ve got a record contract’ no child-support, no phone call, not even a letter from jail fucking worthless promises ass?”
“Do you love him?”
“Your eyes just darted to the left. I can’t see you, but I know they did.”
“That’s how I know you’re lying. That’s how I always knew. That, and your nose just wrinkled.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you’re getting ready to giggle.”
(half-giggle choked with tears)
“You’re an asshole. You know that don’t you?”
“Yes. I am a huge, dirty asshole. I am, however, a human. Unlike Warren, who I’m sure brushes, flosses, and exfoliates his mechanical ass every night before he plugs himself in to your pussy to recharge.”
“You’d better quiet down before Darth Vader puts his light saber in your mouth.”
(Belly laugh followed by scuffling of the phone)
“Who is this? My name is Warren T. Edwards and I won’t stand for you speaking to my fiancee. Who is this? Shall I call the police?”
“Put my son on the phone.”
“Ah. So this is the infamous Marko. I thought you’d have died years ago from syphilis or dysentery or whatever it is you catch in those unsavory locales to which I’m sure you’re accustomed.”
“Fuck you, Warren. Fuck you and your robot ass. I want to speak to my son.”
“Nothing doing, compadre. I am the assistant District Attorney for Mendocino County, and I’ve done my homework. I knew this day would come, and according to my inquiries you have 15 outstanding felony warrants in the state of California alone. I’m sure you know that with a little doing, I could have you extradited here to stand trial for those charges, and I’m sure with my sterling reputation and your obvious disregard for even the most basic elements of human decency, coupled with the fact that you would obviously be represented by a court appointed attorney, I would have no difficulty seeing you put away for the rest of your natural life. However, Julia, for some reason unfathomable to me in the darkest recesses of my mind, still carries a ‘flame’, if you will, for your disgustingly wayward and mendicant person. If she knew where you resided, even if it were in the custody of the State, I would not be able to restrain her from visiting you. That I cannot abide either, sport. So, I would highly recommend that you hang up this phone, mount your ‘hog’ or whatever reprobates such as yourself call your transportation, and vanish into the recesses of Old Mexico, never to be heard from again. Do I make myself clear, or shall I give the number of the flea dormitory where you’re residing to the Federal Bureau of Investigation?”
“Put Julie back on the phone.”
“Or I’ll come back to Mendocino and put a bullet through your fucking metal brain before I go to prison. If I’m going away for life, you can be damn sure you’ll be going away in a bodybag, Warren.”
“I’ll put her on the phone for five minutes and five minutes only, if you give me your solemn word as the father of an abandoned son who I’ve raised as my own that you won’t call here again.”
“Marko. Just leave, just run away. You can’t possibly know the power that Warren wields in this State. He’s running for District Court Judge next year and his father and brother both sit on the Court of Appeals. He’s a good father. He’s a good provider.”
“You don’t love him.”
“I’ve grown to love his ability to be all the things you weren’t. You left us. I worked three jobs until I was too far along in the pregnancy to take it anymore. I had to go on Medicaid, Food Stamps and WIC to make it through the first two years of Johnathon’s life. I met Warren through the temp agency I worked for. I was a secretary at his office temporarily at first, and he noticed me and made me a permanent employee. A year later he asked me to join him for dinner, and the rest is history. He loves Johnathon. He says he loves me. Marko, can’t you see that you could never offer Johnathon and me what Warren has? Please, understand that a part of me will always love you. I have a living piece of you that’s in the back yard with his friends now, playing cops and robbers, never knowing that his father was always the one in the handcuffs instead of the one with the badge. Warren and I are getting married next month. He’s moving us in with him on the Bay. Marko?”
“Yeah, I’m an asshole.”
“We had something once. You threw it away. I don’t blame you, but I have to move on with my life. I have to provide for Johnathon. Warren can do that. If you could promise me that you’d stand by us and be a man, be the man that we’ve always needed you to be, I’d tell Warren it’s over. I really don’t care about the money—what I care about is knowing that when I wake up in the morning, Warren will be there. I know that when I go to bed, Warren will be there. I know that when Johnathon has baseball practice or a spelling bee, Warren will do his damndest to be there. You can’t promise me that, can you? Don’t answer, because I know what you’d say. You’d say hell yeah you can be there, then in six months or a year you’d be gone again. Then where would I be? Where would that leave Johnathon? You’re not ready for us anymore than you were 4 years ago. Please, Marko. Hang up this phone and never call me again. Will you (tears) do that?
“Yes. Please, when Johnathon is old enough, tell him the truth. That’s all I ask. Good luck Jules, and tell Warren that if he ever lays a hand on your precious head, I’ll know. Goodbye.”
I ran. I ran a lot. I never amounted to much because I never stuck with anything or any one place long enough to count for anything. My thirty-eight on the floor by the bed has a thing or two to say about that, but I’m not gonna give her the chance. Tomorrow I might just take off South for awhile and eat beans and smoke some good shit, stay drunk for a month and lay up with Marietta till the pain subsides. Hell, maybe I’ll take off east and make a million dollars, and then show up one day at Warren T. Edwards’s house and take back what I gave away for good five minutes ago. Right now though, I’m gonna smoke the rest of this cigarette, get good and drunk, and try to forget that I’m never really going anywhere that I won’t get there first.