Category Archives: Fiction Fall 2014

Ramblin’ On

“We got it,” came Casey’s voice over my work phone, interrupting my answering spiel. She skipped right over a greeting, instead speaking with the firm resolution of a person who had spent days begging for something thought to be nearly impossible.

“Tim said yes?” I asked. I glared as a customer dared to approach me at my station at the register, box of shoes clutched in hand.

“Of course he did. I owe him some giant tattoo now as payment, but whatever. Operation is a go.”

I perceived that my reaction should swing upwards, somewhere in the vicinity of “noticeable excitement,” so I corrected my tone. “Fan-fucking-tastic,” I said. The impatient customer gaped at my vulgarity. I ignored her as I hung up the phone and wiped my eyes, escaping to the break room with the knowledge that someone would pick up my slack on the sales floor. Maybe they’d even apologize for my behavior.

It didn’t matter – the customer, the job, any of it. The Live Music Capital of the World suddenly felt closer than its fourteen-hundred miles.

***

Tim, the delightful little redneck that he was, had a very sketchy-looking CD player hooked up to the stereo inside the ’89 Rambler he had begrudgingly lent us. Casey and I, in the beginning stages of prepping for our trip to Austin, Texas, had decided against any “sad music” being brought along. “Nothing newer than the eighties,” I had said. “In honor of the dear Rambler.” But it wasn’t a foolproof plan, merely denying the Band of Horses and City and Colour albums access to our luggage. Little singles like “Patience” by Guns ‘n’ Roses and “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Zeppelin can easily bring a person to tears when the circumstances are just right.

And, god, were they ever right.

We had each broken down twice before we even made it out of the state, the Michigan trees zipping by in a blur of green and brown obscured behind the tears we were attempting not to excrete for fear of causing the other distress.

Somehow, it was easier to smile as I cranked up “Fred Bear” when we entered Indiana.

It made me wonder how state borders could have such an effect on us. After crossing it I was still the same person, with the same problems, with the same vibrant loss shooting through me with every beat of my stuttering heart. But I could tell with a glance into the driver’s seat, where Casey sat with her brow relaxed, hands at a casual noon and five grasp on the steering wheel, that she was feeling the same way.

We felt lighter than we had in weeks.

***

We belted out “Love is a Battlefield” too many times to count as we cruised through Kentucky, neither of us particularly interested in what the state had to offer.

Feeling safe with so much space between us and Michigan, I spoke. “Do you think the boys are pissed that we didn’t wait for them?”

“No,” Casey answered immediately. “They have their own ways of dealing with this. You know, crying into their beers and passing out in their own vomit.”

“That isn’t what our plan is?” I asked, eyes wide.

She snorted. “Of course it is. But we’re on a road-trip; it’s classier. Besides, we can play a couple acoustic shows, the two of us, earn some beer money.”

“I like where your head’s at.”

“Well, I’m glad one of us does. Are we almost to Tennessee?”

I glanced at the iPhone in my hand and watched as the little blue dot progressed across the screen, moving further and further into the unknown, away from our problems. I wasn’t so sure we were going to outrun them, but I was positive that the Tennessee border was a scant half hour away.

***

We stopped in Nashville for dinner, parking the Rambler and mocking the tourists wearing cowboy hats while we weaved through them to find something that didn’t resemble a chain restaurant. Eventually we found ourselves in a suspiciously dark pub. Nearly empty at the early evening hour, it had only a few patrons scattered across wooden booths and stools.

Casey smirked and ran a hand through her dyed red hair while she squinted in the dim light. “Their food must be so spectacular that you aren’t required to view it to bask in its excellence,” she decided.

I grinned as I slid into a booth. My tights snagged on the old wood beneath me, and I jerked them free with a sort of vicious pleasure. A part of me wished the wood had splintered right into my leg, wished for that little pinprick of pain and the small welling of blood, just to show that it happened. That I felt something.

But it didn’t, and my tights were ruined anyway.

After I inhaled an obscene amount of chicken tenders and a few more rum and Cokes than necessarily proper, Casey and I went on our way, looking out over Cumberland River as we drove the creaking Rambler into the growing evening.

“I don’t think Chelsea would have liked that place, even with her godawful appreciation for country music,” I said while we merged onto the highway, band equipment rattling as we accelerated with the traffic.

“No,” Casey agreed. “And Dusty would have fucking hated it.”

As we laughed neither of us noticed the city of Nashville fading from our side mirrors.

***

Casey made it another hundred miles before she abruptly slammed on the brakes and swerved the top-heavy camper to the shoulder of the road. She was gasping wildly – the sort that precede sobbing – and her hands were clutching the steering wheel, immobile.

“Case?” I turned down the stereo and studied my friend’s profile in the faint light from the expressway cars, but I couldn’t see much.

Gradually her breathing slowed, but she kept her gaze rooted straight ahead. The only noises heard in the Rambler were Casey’s harsh breathing and the intense thrum of the traffic a mere few feet to our left.

“I’m okay… just,” she glanced down at her lap, then began smacking the wheel with the heel of both hands. “Fuck! Just fucking… fuck.

I flailed for the right thing – or anything – to say, to help bring her back. “That Halloween show at the Pub, you remember that?” I asked.

A long silence passed and I feared that she was slipping away from me, falling down into the abyss we had tried so hard to avoid. She finally spoke. “The one where Tim rode in the trailer with the equipment because he was too pissed at Dusty to ride in the truck with everyone else?” Her voice was strained, but whole.

I laughed. “Yeah, and when we got to the Pub, he flew out of the trailer and accused Dusty of taking corners too sharp on purpose-”

“He got his ass kicked by his own drum-set,” Casey cut in as she scrubbed at her eyes, grimacing as her grief and laughter fought across her face. “Why anyone would sit in a trailer full of loose musical instruments, I’ll never know.”

“Because he’s Tim,” I replied. “You sang great that night, though. Fucking nailed that ‘Crazy on You’ cover.”

Casey shrugged, and despite her puffy eyes and blotchy face, she still had that sense of front-woman pride about her. Stroking a singer’s ego was never the wrong way to go. “And almost nailed that blond guy, too, till Dusty went all apeshit over me trying to hook up with a guy wearing a Romney shirt. He didn’t believe that the dude was dressed as a Republican for Halloween.”

“I agreed with Dusty,” I said. “He looked like a Nazi.”

Casey huffed out a laugh.

“You good?”

“Yeah,” Casey replied. She rubbed her eyes one final time and sniffed hard before throwing the Rambler back into drive. “I’m good.”

“No, you’re not,” I said.

Casey flashed me a weak grin. “No, I’m not. But don’t tell anybody.”

***

Despite the desire to move forward, Casey and I decided to stop after midnight on the outskirts of Memphis. She had been driving all day since she claimed her experience at drunkenly carting around our friends at sixteen in her family’s Astro van had qualified her as the “Rambler Operator.” I hadn’t argued for two reasons; Casey was absolute shit at directions while I was spectacular, and I loved being able to strum my guitar in the passenger seat, playing along with whatever we had blaring on the stereo, letting Casey’s rich alto sweep together with my chords.

It worked well, me playing the Chewbacca to her Han.

Casey jerked the Rambler to a stop near a few semis parked at the edge of the Walmart parking lot we had chosen to crash in for the night, gypsy-style.

There wasn’t a single person wandering the parking lot; that particular Walmart had operating hours, and twelve AM didn’t happen to be one.

Both of us scrambled out of the motor-home, desperate to stretch and pee. With the amenities locked up within Walmart, and the toilet in the Rambler out of commission (somewhere around 1991, I guessed), we made do in the field next to America’s grocery store as we listened to the crickets and the faint hum of traffic through the woods.

Abruptly, I burst into laughter and stood to pull my pants back up. “I really hope all of those truckers are actually asleep. I’d rather not have my bare ass enter their spank banks.”

“Hmm, I like the way you piss in that field, girl,” Casey said, morphing her voice into a poor resemblance to that of a gruff-spoken trucker.

“Shut up!” I laughed and raced back to the Rambler, but had to wait for Casey anyway, as she held the keys and it was locked.

Once inside, I dug through a bag until I uncovered a pint of rum – the expensive coffee one that Dusty had favored when he wanted something other than a Bud Light. I swiped the blanket off of the bed as I walked past, climbing back into the passenger seat. Casey was already seated behind the steering wheel, legs pulled up on the seat, chin rested on her knees. She was staring out at the field, into the impermeable darkness that the parking lot lights couldn’t dampen.

I threw the blanket over both of our laps, stretching it awkwardly across the center console. As I twisted open the rum bottle and heard the distinct crack of the seal breaking, I asked, “Not ready for sleep?”

She shook her head, wordlessly taking the pint when I offered it to her.

“Don’t hog it,” I said, fiddling with the CD player until “Wild Horses” started winding its way out of the ancient speakers.

“You had a shit-ton of drinks at dinner!” Defiantly, she took another swallow.

I smiled at her and pried the bottle from her chilly hands to take a burning swig for myself. “And I plan on having several more.”

Before the next drink, Casey paused and let her eyes focus on the darkness outside of the windshield. “To Dusty,” she murmured, and drank.

I took the bottle and mimicked her. “To Chelsea.”

After a while I pulled my guitar back into my lap and began the chords to “Lonely is the Night” while Casey sang along, tapping her fingers along the steering wheel at all the right places.

“Lonely is the night when you find yourself alone. Your demons come to light and your mind is not your own. Lonely is the night when there’s no one left to call…”

Casey’s voice broke off, and I wordlessly handed her the pint.

***

We woke up in the Walmart parking lot sprawled haphazardly in the same seats we left Michigan in the previous morning, with the addition of a mild hangover and the unfortunate desire to rid our bladders of the night’s rum.

“I’m not pissin’ in that field in broad daylight,” I mumbled, squinting at the offensive sun. I scrabbled for my fake Raybans in the cup-holder and slid them onto my face with a sigh.

“I’m fairly sure Walmart is open now,” said Casey as she cracked her neck and shifted the driver’s seat back into an upright position.

“Ugh.” I glared at the offensive building in the distance. “It’s fucking far.”

“Let’s get breakfast,” Casey decided as she turned the ignition. The Rambler roared to life. “Something greasy. Where’s the nearest McDonald’s?”

“It better be within not-pissing-my-pants-distance,” I said, typing into the GPS on my phone.

Casey slid a mock glare my way. “What did Tim say before we left, Liz? No pissing, puking, shitting, pop music, or fucking in my goddamn motor-home.'”

“Hundreds of miles away and that guy is still ruining my good time. Turn left outta here.”

With a squealing of tires, we left Walmart behind in favor of America’s favorite restaurant, Tim’s drum-set banging noisily above the music.

***

Led Zeppelin coaxed us into Arkansas and influenced us to leave the highway. We followed Route 7 through what people from Michigan would call mountains. The curving road took us near a lake, so I urged Casey towards it. She glared at me, annoyed at taking the Rambler through the excessively winding roads.

De Gray Lake turned out to be incredibly worth it.

We parked as far out on the peninsula as we could and stumbled from the Rambler, ignoring the stiffness in our legs to wander towards the long strip of beach. All around us was the lake – dark, shining blue, reflecting the late morning sun like a million jewels on the surface of the water. And across from the lake – as far as we could see in any direction – was lush, green forest.

There wasn’t a single person utilizing the park on that fine Tuesday morning, other than ourselves. It felt like a gift – something precious.

“Who knew Arkansas had something like this, huh?” I asked, stripping off my shoes and socks before they got too sandy.

Casey was already down to her underwear next to me, her face lit up like a flower that had been away from the sun far too long.

I wasn’t sure if my own expression differed much.

We raced one another across the sand, splashing into the lake with a lack or reservation usually only existent in our drunkest moments. Casey squeaked as she tripped over a rock, landing awkwardly in the water on her knees. I followed her down, laughing and breathless, sunglasses halfway down my nose.

After a moment the only sound for miles, seemingly, was the lapping of the water against the shore. And for the first time since a car accident in Saginaw, Michigan took two people away from us, the silence wasn’t unbearable.

It was refreshing.

“Remember,” I started, but had to pause and swallow, “When we were all at Dusty’s grandparents’ house, on the beach, and Randy Akers was teaching Chelsea how to shotgun a beer?”

Casey’s eyes widened with glee. “And,” she laughed, “and she turned out better than him, despite being, like, half his size! That’s when I finally accepted her as good enough for Dusty.”

I rolled over in the shallow water and floated on my back, eyes closed against the glaring sun, hearing dulled from the water caressing my ears. “It’s better that it was both of them,” I said, my own words echoing strangely in my head.

Casey didn’t disagree; she merely tilted her face up to the sky and closed her eyes against the sun and tears.

***

We arrived in Austin, Texas later that night, as the sun was beginning its descent. I rolled down my window as the outskirts rolled into sight and took a deep breath of the air surrounding the Music Capital of the World. I remembered all of Dusty’s rants about this place and how we had to get there, and there I was. It felt a bit like victory.

I checked my phone, flicking through text messages quickly. “Tim and Mike’s flight will be here on Thursday.”

“They should have just came with us,” Casey griped good-naturedly. “Barely making it in time for the weekend.”

“Summer classes!” I reminded her.

Casey waved her hand in a manner to seemingly dismiss Tim and Mike’s lack of brilliance when it came to their dedication to furthering their education. (Music would always trump college with Casey.) “Hope these crowds don’t mind our lack of bass player.”

I sucked in a breath, wincing as I glanced out the window. “They won’t mind it as much as we do, I’m sure.”

Casey sighed. “I cannot wait to eat some food and go to fucking sleep.”

“Wait – I have somewhere to go first,” I said, stressing the importance as best I could to someone who had been trapped in a motor-home with me for two straight days. “Believe me, you’ll wanna see this.”

I directed a quickly-flagging Casey through a series of annoying stops and turns, winding our way through a neighborhood in northeast Austin. The homes were of the southwestern flavor; charming and modern all at once. We admired them despite our exhaustion. It felt like Michigan was a million miles away.

“Up here on the right,” I finally said, indicating the row of cars parked neatly on the side of the road. “Just park.”

Casey did so, too tired and too curious to worry about the girth of the Rambler hanging out into the narrow incline of the street. “This better be good, Liz.”

“Just,” I glanced around, noticing an older Asian couple as they mounted the stairs ahead, “up the stairs.”

Ignoring the glare Casey shot my way, I grabbed her hand, pulling her along with an energy reserve that surprised even me.

“What is this place?”

“Mount Bonnell,” I replied, breathing heavily as we trotted up the stairs, urgency thrumming under my skin. I didn’t want to miss it. “The highest point in Austin.”

“What’s so… special about… the highest point?” Casey panted next to me.

“That,” I said as we reached the top, joining a small group of people scattered across the rock platform.

I took in the expanse of the sky, all shades of darkening blue faded to a bright orange at the horizon, and the silver of the Colorado River winding beneath it, glittering with the lights that inhabited both banks.

“Holy shit.”

A sharp breeze blew across my face, warm and fresh. The people around us murmured and took pictures and exclaimed how beautiful it was. But Casey and I stood stock still, as close to the edge of the rock that we could, and thought of everything that took us to that place.

I remembered the flyers littering the walls of Dusty’s apartment, boasting of venues mere miles from the very ground we stood on. Shows that he had never seen, but consisted of music that Dusty had known as well as his own.

“Dusty would have loved to play here,” Casey said, her voice quiet but firm, like something had just been proven to her. “He always wanted to.”

“That’s why we’re going to,” I said, taking in the expanse of everything Dusty had striven to get to, the goal Chelsea had supported from the start. My hands twitched at my sides, longing to clutch at Dusty, or throw an arm around petite Chelsea and revel in this moment. Instead, Casey stepped towards me and slipped her hand in my own shaking fingers. I squeezed her hand. “I think I’ll stay,” I said, staring straight ahead.

“Okay,” Casey said. I wasn’t sure if she meant it to be pacifying or patronizing, but then she said it again. “Okay,” and it sounded like agreement.

 

Kayla Shifter

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Filed under Fall 2014, Fiction Fall 2014

Curtains

The line outside of the mall was large. It was larger than what William Durant wanted. Fans of his were lined up, waiting in the hot California sun to get their hands on a copy of his newest selfhelp book. William was a pro at writing these books. He’s written five of them so far, each one making it onto The New York Times’s bestseller list, but not in the spot that he wanted them to be. He wanted to be number one. At a whopping fifty-five, William considered himself to have “one foot in the grave.” His aid, however, thought he was just scratching the surface.

“William,” Rebecca Lewis said to him, guiding him to his car. “Right this way, sir. That’s it.”

His taps on the ground with his cane went unnoticed due to the sound of people applauding as he exited the mall. He wasn’t a big shot, but these book signings made him feel like he was. It made him feel less of a freak. It made him feel normal. At the age of eight, William had gone blind. No one knew the cause of it. His parents didn’t have the money needed for the operation to potentially save his vision.

“They love me, doll.” William smiled. “They really love me.”

He waved his hand in the air while tapping his cane with the other hand, saying goodbye to his adoring fans. He’s touched many lives with his books, mainly the older crowd. He had done his time and the signing went okay—so he’s told. Rebecca opened the door for him and helped him into the backseat. William was having the time of his life. He’d always been the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. Some would even say that people took it “easy” on him because of his blindness.

“You did awesome, Bill,” his publicist, Martin Weston, said from the passenger’s seat.

Martin was made to be a publicist. He’d helped a lot of authors make it to the top of the writing world. He and William had been a team for five months now and Martin had promised him major success. Martin had ridden the coattails of many authors in the past. He saw something special in William’s writing and his ability to connect with people.

“All right, Bill, we need to continue this wave of momentum!” Martin said.

“You have no idea how I feel right now, Marty. I feel amazing!” William folded his cane in half.

On the other side of the backseat, behind the driver’s side, Rebecca got in and sat next to William. William felt the seat slightly sink and a big smile crept on his face. Martin told the driver to head back to William’s house. Rebecca took her long black hair out of the ponytail that it was in and shook her head. Her slick, long, black hair fell from her head, around her ears, and face like a beautiful silk curtain.

This had been a long day for everyone involved. Rebecca was twenty-three years old. William found her through some living aid agency that his doctor recommended. They’ve been together for two years now—professionally and romantically.

“So, what did you think?” William asked.

After every meet and greet, he always asked what she thought. He cared about what she thought. He cared a lot more about what she thought than what Martin thought.

“I’m telling you, you did great!” Martin laughed.

It was a good thing that this vehicle came with a divider. Rebecca pressed a button on the door’s handle, separating them from Martin and the driver. They wanted some privacy, and, to get away from Martin’s prying ears and eyes.

“It was fine, Will. You did excellent,” Rebecca tugged at her name-tag, bringing it out a long string before snapping it back. “William, I think we need to talk.”

William couldn’t see her face but he could hear her somewhat cheerful tone fade away and become almost monotonous. He’s heard this tone before—way more than he probably should have.
“Go ahead. I’m listening.” William tapped his fingers lightly on the seat. He was trying to find her leg to place a reassuring hand on it. He didn’t want her to feel like he was going to be upset and become angry.

“It’s about this. It’s about us.”

Rebecca noticed his hand getting closer and closer to her thigh. She scooted away from him, almost pinning herself against the door of the car. She regretted what she was going to tell him, but this was a perfect time to tell him because they were alone and not being smothered by Martin or William’s fans.

“This can’t go on anymore. We can’t keep this up…”

William gave up the search for her almost instantly after feeling the seat shift away from him. They discussed their secret romance and the fact that she’s still young, vibrant, and looking for adventure—adventure William couldn’t provide. She explained to him that he was becoming a hermit. Today’s outing was the first time William had left the house in over two months. He sat on the decent money he’d made off his five books instead of reaping the fruit of his labor, enjoying life.

They pulled up to William’s red, decent-sized home. The house was surrounded by large trees to provide him with privacy, to provide him seclusion from the “wicked, two-faced world” as he once said. The two cars in the driveway belonged to Martin and Rebecca. The long driveway was put in place to tire people out and make them want to turn back. This was a house built off disability checks and book royalties.

Nobody knew where William lived. He stopped talking to what was left of his family some years ago because of their habit of asking for this and needing that. It was he, Martin, and Rebecca, the only people he would allow “in” to his life—into his world.

They stopped in front of William’s front porch. William fumbled around, trying to find the door handle. He whipped his cane out first, extending it before tapping around to make sure he was on solid grounds. Martin got out and bid the driver farewell.

“Ah, this has been quite a day,” Martin stretched with a big smile. He loosened his purple tie, letting it hang from his neck.

He was the only one happy about today. William’s happiness was ripped out from underneath him, much like his heart, during the car ride.

“What’s wrong with you two?” Martin asked.

“Nothing. Everything is fine,” Rebecca lied. “I—I need to go.”

Rebecca walked up to William and stood on her toes. Her scent traveled with her and William found himself engulfed by the perfume that he’d bought her back around her birthday in May.

She planted a kiss on his forehead. “Take care of yourself, William.”

Rebecca walked with her head down to her dark blue Ford Focus. She started it up and drove off, leaving them in her dust.

“What’s wrong, Billy?” Martin asked.

Behind his dark shades, Martin could see that William had been crying. It’s something that hasn’t gone away with his vision. He’d spent many nights wondering why and pleading to a higher power to put an end to his misery. That’s when he knew his life was more meaningful, because he was still alive, still living his “miserable life.” His decision to write—or have someone write for him— was based on his still being alive after numerous attempted pill overdoses.

“I’m fine, Martin. Can you lead me to the door?” William asked.

“Well, wasn’t that chick supposed to be doing this?”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Martin.”

Martin took him by the arm, and they walked up to the big white door. William reached into his sports coat and brought out his keys, handing them to Martin. The door opened and William stormed in without saying excuse me after nudging Martin against the door’s frame. He threw his cane to the ground, and it bounced off the laminate wood floor.

“Come on, Bill, something is wrong.” Martin said, closing the door.

“I said NOTHING is wrong!”

Martin threw his hands up before placing the keys on the stand by the door. William used his hands to guide his way into the kitchen. He waved around for the bottle of Jack Daniels that he kept on the counter. The Jack was for the celebration he’d planned to have after today’s signing. The celebration he planned to have with Rebecca and not with Martin.
He took a big gulp of the brown liquid. It burned going down, but it was a good burn. He let out a groan before slamming the bottle down on the ceramic tiled counter. “Son of a bitch,” William said. “I hate this. I hate all of this.”

“What? What do you hate?” Martin picked up William’s cane from the floor.

Martin was curious as to what happened in the backseat. He could hear their conversation faintly but he wasn’t able to make out what was going on.

“What happened back there?”

“Marty, I’m sick of letting people in. I’m sick of these…these floozies coming into my life and taking away from me.”

“What did she do? I don’t understand.” He placed the cane on the counter next to William.

“As usual, Martin, you don’t understand. The only thing you understand is green and how much of it you have. All you understand is how much you can make off of me with these ridiculous signings that YOU KNOW I despise.” William took another swig from the bottle, slamming it down again.

“I think you need to slow down,” Martin said. “I think you need to slow down and tell me what happened. I’m trying to be a friend here.”

William scoffed. This would be the first time that Martin has ever wanted to genuinely know what’s going on in William’s life. Before, Martin would only call or stop by every so often to find out how far along William was with his book and if he was ready to make a public appearance. If it were up to William, he wouldn’t ever come out of the house to meet with people and shake hands and listen to them explain how his books changed their outlook on life.

“Nothing is going on, Marty. Nothing is going on…”

They stood there in silence for a moment. William wasn’t sure if he could trust him. For his entire life, he’s been left in the cold by plenty of women but this time, this time was different.

Rebecca wasn’t just another woman; she was the woman for him. Their age difference didn’t mean a damn thing to him because he fell in love with her for who she was. And she loved him—so he thought.

“She’s moving back to Minnesota in two weeks,” William placed both hands on the counter, dropping his cane to the floor. “She’s quitting her job here and she’s leaving me, Martin. She’s gone.”

Martin leaned against the brown leather couch. “That Rebecca chick?”

“Don’t say it like that, Martin.”

Martin let out a nasally chuckle.

“And don’t laugh at me either,” William said.

“I’m not laughing at you, Bill. I’m laughing at the situation. That girl is YOUNG! She’s still full of it.”

“That’s what she said to me in the car. She said she wanted an adventure… an adventure I can’t provide,” William pounded his fist on the counter. “She wants to ‘spice her life up’ and I can’t do that for her.”

“Listen, Billy, I think you should forget about that. Forget about all of that and let’s not allow today go to waste. We had a good turn-out and everything’s going to be all right!”

An unseen mischievous smile broke out over Martin’s face.

“I have some girls we could call and everything will be just fine. Don’t worry about it!”

“You say that now,” William said under his breath.

Martin reached into his sports coat and brought out his cell phone. Going in and searching for numbers, he walked outside with the device pressed to his ear. He was going to make sure that his “friend” had a good time tonight despite having his heart broken by “the one.” Martin was always looking to have a good time in spite of William’s recluse and sociopathic personality.

William stood at the counter; tears rolled down his face as he tried to fight the feeling of being alone. This would be the first time in two years that he’s truly felt alone. This had been a feeling he’d had all his life because nobody understood him or they took advantage of him because of his disability. He’d always felt alone, and it had never been an issue for him. But once he met Rebecca, he unintentionally forgot how to be alone.

Rebecca spent days, nights, weeks, and even months with him. She would even spend time off the job with him. She got to know him and she fell in love with him despite of his disability— or so it seemed. But her love for him was just a playful and curious phase of her wanting to be with an older man. It gave her something to talk about with her girlfriends whenever they’d go out on the town. Her mission was accomplished. She no longer found enjoyment out of being with him and listening to his wild stories about high school and college. She no longer found it interesting to know what he thought.

She would often be bored with the stories and tried to make it seem like she was interested by saying “yeah” every few words. She knew that he wasn’t able to see her face and how uninterested she was at dinner dates. He wasn’t able to see her wandering eyes lock on to other guys as they passed them in public settings. If William could see, he would notice that she wasn’t into his stories or into him anymore.

He reached around the counter, feeling with his hand for a glass. His fingers touched the book that he had placed on the counter earlier in the day. Everything on the cover was in braille. It was one of his self-help books titled Riding the Tornado: How to Control Your Spiraling Life. He shouted in anger, frustrated with the life he’d built for himself and the lies. He knocked the book from the counter and it smacked on the floor. He took another swig of Jack Daniels and let out another grunt before drying his face with his sleeve.

**

The night went by in a flash. The house smelled of pot, booze, and sweat. The living room and kitchen were trashed from the wild gathering. Red cups, beer cans, and napkins littered the floor. The ceramic counter-top was cluttered with pizza boxes and potato chip bags. William partied like he was young again. Martin invited some of his friends in the industry to William’s house for the party. William didn’t want to party. He just wanted to be alone, but Martin suggested that this party would be “good for him” and that he needed to “live a little.” While he was partying and having fun with people he’d met once or never met at all, the one thing he could think about was Rebecca.

Everyone—including Martin—had left as soon as he passed out in the middle of the night on the couch. He had one foot planted firmly on the floor to balance on the small couch. The house was silent and the birds were chirping faintly outside. From the kitchen, he heard someone fumbling around with a trash bag.

“Hello?” William coughed. It tasted like nicotine and booze.

“Oh, hi,” a female voice said. “Everyone left. I figured I would stay to help you out.”

William sat up from the couch, his shirt riddled with remnants of last night. He was still wearing his “nice” shirt. Some of the buttons had been ripped off but it still managed to stay on his body. He felt around for his cane.

“Here, let me help you,” the woman said.

This woman wasn’t Rebecca as he hoped for.

“I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing,” he tried to adjust his shirt. “But you need to go. Get out of here.”

“I’m trying to pick up the trash that everyone left behind,” the woman said.

William tapped on the floor, making his way into the kitchen. He could feel the woman’s body heat as he got closer and closer. She stood there, unafraid, as he put his hands on her face in order to make a mental image of who this mysterious lady was. She could feel his cold finger tips run up and down her cheeks, nose, and mouth.

“I’m sorry,” William said.

“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I understand!” “Who are you?” He let go of her face.

“Sara, Sara Ames,” the tall, older blonde said with a smile. “Some people call me ‘Kitty Defoe.’”

William’s mouth hung open. He looked down at the ground, shaking his head in disgust with himself. He could remember how he wanted to sleep with one of the guests at the party and how they kept persuading him to settle down and just talk—talk like civilized people—and not how he and Rebecca would.

“We—we didn’t have…sex… did we?” William asked.

His mind was racing as well as his heart. Rebecca may have ended the relationship with him, but he felt that they were still together, and he cheated on her.

“No, William, we didn’t have sex. In fact, you kept me much needed company last night.” William blushed, and a smile came over his face.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t like these types of parties, too many people and too much going on. But Martin was very pushy about me coming here,” she said.

Sara picked up some of the trash from the counter, dumping it into the black trash bag.

“Where are you from?” William leaned against the wall.

“I’m from Cali. Martin called the agency I worked for.”

William swallowed hard. All he could taste was alcohol and tobacco from a cigarette that he smoked.

“Umm… where’s that?”

She continued to pick up the trash from last night. She felt bad that everyone ditched William and left him with a mess he was going to have to try to clean up by himself.

“It’s here. Just know that I work for a very popular and demanding agency.

Nothing special or important, just the clientele are very choosy.”

William let out a slight smile. “Why’s that?”

“They just want me for one thing.” Sara tossed the pizza box into the bag. “I don’t like it anymore.”

“I can imagine.” William said. “I have a very demanding clientele also.”

William walked over to the counter. Sara opened the half-filled bag up for him to throw some of the trash away. He missed the first couple of times, but she laughed is off, picking it up for him and throwing it away. Sara was a relief. She was someone that William oddly felt comfortable around.

“Yes, I know. We talked last night,” Sara said.

They had spent a majority of the night together in the corner of the living room, secluded from everyone. They talked about their lives and what they both wanted to do with it, seeing as they’ve both come to a recent crossroads. She’s looking to move away from the field she works in just like William. She was getting older, and she wanted to find someone to settle down with— someone like William—someone who’s easy to please and doesn’t want much.

They talked about William’s recent breakup with Rebecca and how they had dreamt of moving to a beach home. Rebecca loved the beach and so did Sara. It was the only thing that Sara had in common with Rebecca besides her attraction for William. Even her attraction to William was much more real than Rebecca’s. Sara actually cared to hear William’s stories about his life. She didn’t spend the night with him like William hoped for during his drunken stupor. She just wanted to get to know him.

“Thank you for the help,” William said.

They spent an hour and a half talking and cleaning up his house. Sara threw the full bags out to the back of his house and put them into the trash cans.

“No problem, William.” Sara said.

“Here,” William went walking back to his room. He came back from the short walk with his wallet in hand. “I want you to take this.”

“No, I can’t.” Sara said. “I didn’t do this for your money.”

William heard the sliding door to the back patio lock as Sara slid it shut.

“But, I feel bad that you had to clean all of this nonsense up. I really appreciate it. Have it!” “No, I don’t want your money. I don’t need it,” Sara said.

She put on her shoes at the front door. Her blonde hair was in a messy ponytail. William could hear her keys jingle as she wrestled with the shoe to put it on.

“Well, is there anything I can do for you?” William asked. “I really appreciate the help. It kind of pisses me off that Martin didn’t help. That sorry piece of…”

“Maybe later today we can go to dinner? To get to know one another… sober.” Sara asked.

William chuckled. “You plan on coming back here?” “Sure!” Sara smiled.

“Okay, something is up. This isn’t usual behavior for someone who you’ve just met.”

“Nothing is up, William. I think you’re… interesting. And I really felt bad that your friend…”

William corrected her, “Publicist!”

“Well, publicist didn’t help you clean up the mess. All of this was his idea in the first place.” “Yeah,” William nodded his head.

Sara slipped her shoe on. “So, what time should I come back to cook?”

William laughed. This is something new for him. Rebecca didn’t cook for him when they would have their dinner dates at his house. It was refreshing to hear that.

“We both know that you aren’t kitchen qualified,” Sara joked.

“But I am take-out qualified; how about some Chinese?” William said.

“That’s fine. I will be back at eight o’ clock then, yeah?” Sara opened the door.

“Eight is fine!”

“I will see you at eight.” Sara shut the door behind her, locking it on her way out.

William stood in the front of the door. He heard Sara’s engine start and her car fade off into the distance. He walked up to the door, checking the locks. He was amazed with how she took the time to make sure he was safe inside of his home. That was something that Rebecca forgot to do from time to time. She would just leave him there exposed to the weirdoes that live out in southern California. He couldn’t stop thinking about Sara and how helpful and genuine she sounded when they talked. But the more he thought about her, the less he was interested. He’s had his heart broken one too many times.

**

It was going on midnight, and their dinner date went great. Sara even bought the Chinese that was delivered to the house. William was grateful to be in the company of somebody like that— somebody who wasn’t so needy and dependent. They spent a great deal of the night making each other laugh and sharing embarrassing stories from their past.

From their date, William learned that Sara wasn’t a dumb blonde type. She had her ambitions and dreams. He also learned that she was going into her fifties in two weeks and was afraid of being alone. She was the polar opposite of William. While she feared dying alone, William accepted that as his fate. He also learned what her job was—she was an escort. California, especially southern Cali, was filled with those types of agencies along with other adult-themed entertainments. It was advertised freely almost without a conscience or care.

“Tonight was nice,” Sara said.

They both sat on the couch in front of the large coffee table and empty boxes of Chinese food. They cupped their coffee in their hands, watching the fire that played on William’s large television. He couldn’t afford a real fire place, so he would often sit and listen to a recording from the Internet of one. It was how he managed to get through rough days and how he managed to write five books.

“Yes, thank you for the company.” William felt the warmth of the coffee in his hands and lifted the mug at her. “Oh, and the coffee, too!”

Sara laughed. “It wasn’t a problem.”

They both took sips, blowing it before placing it to their lips, listening to the calming effect that the fire had on them.

“Sara, can I ask you something?” William asked.

She took another sip of her coffee. “Sure.”

William was nervous. He didn’t want to offend her and ward off his newfound friend.

“The escort agency… how long have you been doing that?” She blew at her mug, creating ripples in the brown liquid.

“I’ve been doing it for twenty-five years,” she said.

“Do you like it?”

“Not anymore.”

“Why?”

Sara got quiet. She went into deep thought.

“Because I got sick of the people that are into that kind of stuff, the people like Martin who see me as nothing but meat and just a ‘good time’ and not even a person.”

William laughed.

“How often does the little pervert spend his time there?” William smiled.

“More often than he should,” Sara smiled. “Oh! And no, we didn’t have anything. He didn’t like me because of my age. He wanted someone with ‘some youth’ behind her.”

William shook his head. He could believe how sleazy Martin was. He could also believe that Martin did spend a lot of time with escorts and spend all of his money there. Why else would he be pushy about William hosting meet and greets despite William’s feelings about them?

“Now, can I ask you something?” Sara asked.

“Shoot.”

“Do you like it?”

“Do I like what?” William took another drink from his mug.

“Do you like all of this, the books, meeting people, and being their hero?”

William pondered for a second.

“I hope I didn’t offend you or anything,” Sara said.

“No, no, you didn’t. It’s just that nobody has ever asked me that before.”

William thought for a second. They both listened to the sound of the fire crackling and popping all around them. It was soothing. It was relaxing and calming.

“No.” William said. “No, I don’t like it. I’m no hero. I’m just a man who’s been through some things, who’s been through some emotions that I decided to share with the world and how I got over it… sort of.”

Sara nodded her head. She could connect with him. She turned to him and looked him into his brown eyes. He looked very deep in thought as he looked at the monitor in front of them.

“Sometimes, I wish I could see moments like this, moments where you have revelations, just to see the other person’s expression.” William said. “That’s my one wish in life—to see an expression. I may be able to hear the tones change and sense well, but I would give it all up to see an expression, to see some joy, to see something beautiful like you, Sara.”

Sara smiled and got closer to him. This was the first time in a long time that anyone hadn’t touched her physically but emotionally.

“I wish you could, too, William. I wish you could, too…”

The crackling of the fire got louder. William didn’t want to feel like a charity case and that was far from what Sara thought of him. Sara knew that he would give up everything just to see a smile on somebody’s face. That’s just the type of person he was. Deep down inside, past all of the anger, frustration, and guilt, William was a happy guy with simple needs. It was something that Rebecca never got to know about him.

“Have you ever seen a sunset?” William asked. “Of course that’s a weird question to ask.”

“No, it’s not weird. I have. I sometimes find myself looking at them alone—alone and cold despite how hot it is outside.” Sara said.

“Why’s that?”

“Because…” Sara paused. “Because I don’t have anybody I can share the beautiful sight with.”

“Well,” William said. “I can watch it with you. Well, you might have to describe it to me. But I can watch it with you.” He smiled.
Sara smiled back at him. She looked down at her half-drunken mug of coffee and back at the television. She admired his will to commit and will to do what he had to in order to make the other person feel good about themselves. It was no wonder he was a good author. It was no wonder she’d read testimonies as to how he’s changed somebody’s life without ever coming in contact with him—just through his words.

They both finished their coffee before snuggling in for the night. Sara didn’t want to leave. She wanted to stay there and explore William’s mind some more. She felt comfortable with him; she felt whole. This was the happiest she’d been in a long time.

**

“I think we need to see other people,” Sara said, picking at her plate with her fork.

It had been a year and a month that they had been together.

“We can be friends still,” Sara said. “I just don’t think you’re ready for this—ready to commit like I am. I’m ready for ‘til death do us part.’”

“I am ready for this!” William pounded on the dining room table that they bought for his house. “I’m ready!”

There he was, back at square one. He finally found somebody that he fell in love with again and once again, but they ripped his heart out like always. William couldn’t believe that he’d put himself back into the same situation.

“It’s obvious you still care about Rebecca,” Sara said.

“I do, but I don’t love her. I love you, Sara!”

It had been three months of him backpedaling whenever a postcard would come in the mail from Rebecca from Minnesota. It had been three months of him pushing everything aside, everything that made him happy, to go back to his reclusive state whenever those postcards would come in the mail.

“William, I love you, too. But this needs to move on. I want us to move on to another level.” “We are fine at this level!” William yelled.

“You are, maybe, but I’m not!” Sara yelled back. “I told you before that I didn’t want to go through just the motions of it. I wanted to settle in!”

William got up from the table and the chair slid against the laminate floor. He threw it down to the ground before searching for his cane.

“So, this is the end?” William asked as he walked into the kitchen.

“It doesn’t have to be, honey. It doesn’t. I just want more, William.” Sara followed him into the kitchen.

“Like always.” William fished into the cupboards for his trusty bottle of Jack Daniels. “Like always, all you people do is take from me instead of letting me be happy with the way things are.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Sara pounded on the ceramic topped tile. “I don’t want anything from you but a commitment and your love!”

William took a big swig from the bottle. His bottle was one thing that had never tried to make him change, and it was the one thing he had committed himself to.

“I don’t want to be married right now, Sara!”

“It doesn’t have to be right at this second, William. But we need to talk about it!”

William waved her off and walked out of the kitchen without his cane. He stumbled around and back into the living room with the bottle in hand, taking big gulps of it with every step.

“Why do we have to be married in order to prove that we love each other?” William asked.

“Because that’s what normal people do, William. They get married when they find the one. I want more than just coming here every other weekend because you have book signings. I want more than just spending time with you other than eating dinner and listening to a fucking Internet fire!”

“What do you want from me!?” William screamed.

Sara took a step back. She didn’t like how he became when he got angry. She didn’t like how aggressive and demanding he got when he became drunk. That was a demon she’d been fighting with him for a year, and he seemed to be back on the wagon. William could hear her feet stepping away from him.

“You know I don’t like to raise my voice, and I’m sorry, but you have put me in between a rock and a hard place!”

Sara walked to his bedroom and got her coat. She shook her head, trying not to cry, as she passed him and his opened arms.

“Sara, come on. Please. Don’t go.” William pleaded.

“I’m done with this. I’m done with the way you want to hermit yourself from the world. I’m done with trying with you,” Sara cried. “I’m gone.”

“Sara, don’t go!” William pleaded again.

The front door slammed shut. The house became quiet with only the sound of the television playing the sounds of a fire. The cackling and popping engulfed him, and tears fell down his face. He tried chasing after her, but couldn’t get to her in time due to stumbling over furniture. He was helpless without his cane and without her. Tears fell down his face, and he threw the bottle of Jack against the television. It exploded and the brown liquid went everywhere.

William plopped down on the sofa, listening to the sound of the fire cackling and popping, crying that he had lost someone else in his life due to his behavior, crying that he lost Rebecca, crying that he stopped writing, and crying that he lost Sara. His life was spiraling out of control like his relationships. In a year, Martin stopped being his publicist and moved on to another author that took him to number one on the charts. William’s books sales weren’t going anywhere, and he gave up on writing, focusing his time, love, and attention to Sara, and Rebecca has been writing him letters, letters that Sara had to read to him, about how she misses him and wished it could’ve worked out.

If anyone else was in this predicament, William would’ve been able to give them advice. He would’ve been able to touch them and make them realized that there’s more out there for them.
Advice that he wished he could take himself.

**

It had been two months. William had finally achieved the level of loneliness that he once dreamed for. The last letter he got from Rebecca mentioned how she’s found someone who loved her, that it would be the last time she was writing him. Of course, Sara had to read it to him. She always had to deal with his behavior after letters from Rebecca. She had to deal with what happened after he found out the news. It was the last time that he interacted with Sara aside from a couple of phone calls here and there that were filled with throat clearings and short answers.
William wasn’t able to care for himself, so he got a new aid per doctor’s orders. Cody Fulton didn’t last long. They didn’t connect at all. Cody was very talkative about politics and economics. He was everything William hated. William then settled on a seeing eye dog named Buck. Buck was loyal, compassionate, and he didn’t want much. He was William’s eyes, but more importantly he was all ears when William needed him.

“I guess it’s just me and you, Buck, old man,” William tugged at Buck’s collar.

The golden retriever stopped and wagged its tail.

They went to spend a day on the beach—a much needed day to relax—as William came to the realization that he was going to be alone on his fifty-sixth birthday. He was going to be alone for the first time in a long time on his birthday.

Buck led him to the beach, and William could feel the warm sand on his feet. He took his sandals off. He could hear the chatter and feel the stares of the people on the beach as he walked his dog down to the sound of the ocean. William inhaled deeply and exhaled. This was relaxing, a lot more relaxing than sitting at home in front of a fake fire. William loved the beach. It was where he and Sara spent a lot of their time. It was where he felt happy with himself.

The day came and went, and he had time to reflect to himself about where he was going and where he wanted to end up. Buck had the more fun out of the two of them. William would throw a tennis ball and Buck would go and retrieve it from the water, coming back and shaking his wet fur off and onto William. It got late, and the sun began to set. The beach cleared out, aside from couples looking for a romantic retreat. The beach became a lot calmer as the screaming children and yelling vanished. Couples were scattered all over the place, kissing and holding onto one another.

The sound of the ocean roaring and splashing against the sand was more relaxing than any fire William has been to—any bonfire that he and Sara had been to.
He could feel the sun’s heavy rays beginning to fade away, much like Rebecca and Sara’s love for him. A tear rolled down his face, as he thought back to how he and Sara spent many nights just talking about nothing important. And how they shared a lot more than he and Rebecca ever did.

“I love you so much, Sara,” William cried. “I wish you were here with me. I wish I was a better man.”

The ocean roared against the beach again.

“I’m sorry. I fucked up and I’m sorry,” William said.

William pushed off his cane from the hole he made in the sand. He stood up and continued to cry. No one noticed him crying; no one cared that he was crying. Everyone around him was into their own world to notice that this man had finally broken.

“This is how it ends, ol’ boy,” William said.

William walked down to the shore. He stumbled over sand castles as he tapped around with his cane to make sure nobody was to get stepped on. Buck followed along the side of him, wagging his tail, happy to be there just as much as everybody else.

William continued to cry as he got closer and closer to the shore. He could feel the temperature drop a little and the water splashing against his legs. He kept his face at the sky, at the sun.

William wanted to see a sunset and would do anything to see it. The waves were rapid. The current was becoming faster as the sun started to settle on the horizon.

“Buck, stay…sit!” William commanded.

William stepped into the water, slowly, one foot at a time. He didn’t want to make any sudden movements and fall into the water because he didn’t really know how to swim. The water was cold. It was refreshing. As he stepped in further, he thought back to how he wanted to see a sunset with Sara. He thought back to how she’s always wanted to see a sunset with somebody. It was a moment that they shared a couple of times in their relationships on that very beach.

“I love you so much, Sara,” William cried.

A wave hit him and his cane fell out of his hand. The wave was so powerful that he fell into the water. He flapped and flailed around for a couple of seconds, shocked by the coldness of the water. But he wasn’t afraid. People on the beach were beginning to notice that William, the blind self-help author, was in trouble. Some people actually went to the shore to try to call him back but William was determined.

He doggy-paddled his way into the ocean. He kept his eyes and face fixated on the sun as the waves took him under. He could hear the muffled shouting from the shore as he bobbed underwater. He kept swimming. The warmth of the sun was fading away. Buck barked furiously from the shore as people jumped into the water to save him. As he swam away from them, he started to cry. He may not be able to see the sunset but he could feel it. He could feel its warmth and feel its beauty, the same warm and beauty he felt being with Sara. The more he swam and fought the current, the brighter the light became.

The light became brighter as the waves became more overwhelming. William kept swimming. The bright light he saw was beautiful. It was more beautiful than it was described. He kept swimming towards the sunset.

“I love you, Sara. I want to commit.”

Dominic Arthur

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Filed under Fall 2014, Fiction Fall 2014, Uncategorized

Puncture

Fire, in my opinion, has always been an enchanting element. Fire is such a lovely mistress, always able to seize my attention, flickering freely in any direction it so chooses, grasping onto whatever it can attach its sticky flames to, adding a spark of beauty to any object it consumes before devouring that very same object whole, leaving behind ashes of despair.

The flame that held my gaze shot vertically out of a Bunsen burner. The Bunsen-Burner was brand new, and my pretty much only real friend, Jackson, was fiddling with it. It was a purchase that he insisted I make; “It will make our lives easier” was his reasoning. Currently the apparatus which honestly should be inside a lab, made me anxious because Jackson had it burning so hot the flame was blue, almost transparent. I imagined the fire catching onto the hose it was hooked to causing the source of the flame’s energy, a natural-gas tank, to explode, leading to the destruction of our top floor loft, which would then lead to the collapse of the building we lived in. It would be too powerful to stop and would tear through the entire town of Royal Oak, Michigan. What would our reputation be at that point? Would we be considered legendary terrorists, or miscreants that couldn’t control their actions? Suddenly, a playing card was dropped into the flame of the burner and quickly surrendered itself into grey and black ribbons, withering and dropping onto our glass coffee table.

“JESUS FUCKIN’ CHRIST MAN!” I reeled back in fear, hitting my head on the wall behind the couch I was positioned on. The two girls sitting on either side of me squealed playfully.

“Chill man, I got this shit under control.” Jackson said laughing, twisting the nozzle on the side of the burner and reducing the flame to an orange-red color.

“Hurry up and get started then.” I nursed the back of my head. It didn’t actually hurt, but it was swelling up into a decent sized goose-egg. I was on edge. My body had that prickling sensation akin to when your foot falls asleep. My blood was at a boil and I could feel the sweat in my hairline. My stomach was in ropes, and there was a hurricane taking place inside of me. I wanted to feel good again. The worst feeling of all was the guilt, why did I have to feel so guilty…

“What does it feel like?” The girl to my left asked, Hannah or Savannah? I couldn’t recall. A blonde and one of the most beautiful people I have ever met, she’d also made it all but clear that she wanted me.

“Take the best orgasm you ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you’re still nowhere near it,” Jackson said confidently, as if he hadn’t blatantly stolen the quote from the movie Trainspotting, reusing the same line on every couple of girls that we brought over. I was going to object and mock his plagiarism jokingly, but suddenly my mouth felt far too dry and speechless as he finally poured the stuff out onto a paper plate.

The stuff? It was smack, dope, skag, junk, whatever slang you wanted to call it. Jackson and I simply liked to call it “H” short for heroin. Jackson was filling four syringes with water to correctly measure out “safe” portions of dope; we had built up quite the tolerance so our doses would be roughly twice the amount that the girls would get. Also we didn’t want to waste our finite goods on first timers. Jackson beat the H until it was a fine powder, and then lined it up onto four spoons. He released the water out of the syringe four separate times, onto the spoons with separate portions of dope. He must have felt the Bunsen burner was too hot; he turned it down until the flame was equivalent to what would come out of a gas-station lighter. Nobody was breathing as Jackson heated the first spoon to just the lightest boil, dropping a cotton ball onto the liquid to absorb it, and act as filler. I couldn’t watch anymore… he was taking too long; sweat was rolling off of my brow and into my eyes. I got up off of the couch and walked into the kitchen to get bottled water. I opened the fridge; my mind reminded me how my dad, long after being diagnosed with cancer, was in the hospital, and I, the worst son in the world, had yet to visit him. I shook the thought, closed the fridge, and turned around. I wasn’t alone in the kitchen. Hannah or Savannah (neither seemed correct) was with me. I looked at her from the feet up; the shorts she had on allowed me to see her long, tan, and athletic legs.

“I’m nerv… I’m scared,” she said, pitiful and innocent as an individual can sound. I turned to look at her. Jesus, she was stunning. Her eyes were a large and a glistening jade, and I say jade because green isn’t a pretty enough word to describe them. Her lips, perfect lips were complemented by the fact that she was chewing on the bottom one nervously with her fluorescent white teeth.

“You have nothing to worry about. It’s going to be amazing.” I smiled at her, locked my eyes onto hers before gently putting my hands on her hips, and pulling her towards me. Another word formed in her mouth but I replaced it with my tongue. She let out a sigh of relief, her tongue tangled itself around mine.

“Julian, this shit is all ready!” Jackson yelled from the living room.

I pecked Hannah/Savannah one time as I released her, grabbed four waters out of the fridge, handing one to her. She took it along with my hand and we walked back into the living room holding hands.

“Hurry up ya lovebirds,” Jackson handed me a prepared syringe, and I snatched it out of his hands.

Letting go of the blonde girl’s hand I plopped on the couch. The girls didn’t know what they were in for, and how could they? Heroin is cruel: it treats you so gently at first making you feel so divine, and little do you know it’s a parasite just waiting to hook its talons onto your innermost desires and overtake each and every one of your other interests. Sure I still loved to watch movies, play games, read books. I still loved to sin, smoke pot, have sex, party, and drink, but these are all buffers that allow you to get through the sleepless nights until you obtained your next fix. My conscience was no longer bothered. Jackson and I had become vampires and dope was our blood. Indirectly our intentions were to turn these girls into vampires as well because shooting up with just another guy becomes tiresome.

“Here, I’ll help you,” I said to Hannah/Savannah. She smiled at me but said nothing. The nerves were getting to her; Jackson was already helping the other girl. I picked up the last needle on the table meant for Hannah/Savannah and pulled off my leather belt so I could make a tourniquet for her. I then laid her arm across my thighs. “Relax.”

“Is it going to hurt?”

“No more than a shot.” I tied my belt around her upper arm, right below her shoulder muscle. I could overhear Jackson sweet talking his girl; he had the tongue of a poet in comparison to me.

“Are you ready?” I gazed into her eyes.

“Mmmhmm,” she nodded, her eyes filling with liquid. I was starting to feel like I was committing a crime, oh wait…

“Relax,” I reminded her. I quickly grabbed rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball off the table and sanitized her arm, before flicking the needle, insuring that the dope would come out properly. I began pushing the needle into the vein inside of her elbow. She let out a small squeak, didn’t move. I drew back the plunger, the syringe filled with her blood, success! Picture the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen, take that sunset and insert it inside of a syringe, and now imagine that you’re about to inject that sunset into yourself. I don’t mean to romanticize heroin, but that is exactly the experience that you get when you are shooting up with an open mind for the very first time, putting the powerful, ambient, bright pink beauty of the sun’s final moments during the day into your arm and absorbing its very calmness. I shot the sunset into her arm.

“What’s your name?”

“Amy.” She whispered as her body relaxed and accepted the heroin. Wow. I was way off.

Next was my turn, and it was a no brainer. I shot up without acknowledging the motions. I was high. An earthy flavor filled my mouth. Euphoria rose from my torso and pulsated out into my fingertips, and then returned to my body. I felt so fucking satisfied; a man who walked through the desert for days and finally found his oasis. I wish I could explain the feeling. It’s like explaining a rainbow to a blind man.

“Oh my god I feel so… so… good,” Amy said right outside my realm of focus.

Warmth and comfort pulsated through my body; it was like the touch from a mother, a heroin rush. A return to where I wanted to be. No wonder so many people let heroin tear through their life. If you have to choose between feeling this good and being a sober drone, is it even a choice? I began to stand up, and that was when I noticed that Amy had her head rested on my lap. I ran my hands through her hair and then kissed her on her forehead; it felt good to have the company of a female, specifically one this gorgeous.

“Come with me, Amy,” I said out loud. I felt so quiet. Could she even hear me?

“Whatever you want.” She spoke as if she was hypnotized and sat up.

“Bro…” Jackson’s confirmation that he was indeed high.

I panned my eye cameras at Jackson, and smiled, he smiled back. Fuck. Jackson’s girl was bobbing back and forth like a buoy on the couch. I was already dizzy; she made me nauseous. I grabbed Amy by the hand, and we walked to the bathroom. As soon as we got in there I shut the door behind us. Amy was on the toilet peeing before I could flick on the light. I didn’t expect that. I pulled out my phone, 11:45. I sat my phone on the sink. My reflection disappointed me. All the sweating I did from being excited had messed up my hair, and instead of being held up by my styling cream, it had fallen down partially to lie on my forehead.

“I feel itchy… am I supposed to be this itchy?” Amy.

“Yeah,” I combined my word with an exhale.

Besides the bags below them, my eyes were looking gaunt. How much weight had I lost since I started heroin? Ten or maybe fifteen pounds, the occasional entire day without a scrap of appetite added up.

“I should start reading Kafka.” I said out loud.

“What?” Even her voice was beautiful, gentle, but not so high-pitched that it hurt your ears.

My phone began vibrating. It was my mom. I should hit decline.

It vibrated again. My face was numb; I probably couldn’t even speak with her.

A third vibration, this would all be easier if I weren’t alive…wait, what was I thinking? I answered the phone, and I put it on speaker. “Mom…” Why did I even answer it? I didn’t feel ready to hear what she had to say.

“Julian, thank god you finally answered. Listen, your father is on his last legs and you haven’t been to see him. You need to come see him immediately, tomorrow morning. Julian, if you don’t come see your father, your trust fund is getting cut off, I’m not going to spend your father’s money on a son that didn’t come see him in his last moments.” Her Jersey accent was out of control. She was usually great at hiding it, but not now. This was really hard to comprehend right now.

“Mom… I’m sorry.” I was beginning to lose control of my emotions. The rush had peaked and I felt exhausted, physically annihilated.

“You better be fuckin’ sorry Julian, your father wants to see his only fuckin’ son and you’re being a fuckin’ piece of shit. You need to be here at Beaumont Hospital. Fuckin’ nine o’clock in the morning sharp. Room 334, or I swear to god you’re getting cut off. You hear me!” She hung up the phone.

“Fuck, god damn it.” My voice was raspy. It surprised me, but what alerted me even more were the salty tears that were suddenly going into my mouth. I touched my face. I was crying. I glanced at Amy; she looked absolutely baffled. Amy hadn’t left the toilet. She was handling the heroin well, and I was surprised she was even looking at me. She should have been floating away by now. I grabbed her by the hand and led her to my room.

When we made it to my room I shut the door behind us and we crawled into my bed. We did not even bother removing our clothes. I wish I could say that I was going to have sex with her, but the reality of it was more disappointing. You see I could barely have sex on heroin, anyway. With all the shit that was suddenly bursting into my perspective it was impossible. The truth of the matter, I realized it now; I had an addiction. The epiphany bludgeoned me in the head with merciless certainty. I was an addict; getting high had become more important to me than anything else. I had to show some responsibility. I set my alarm to wake me up at eight.

“You’ll be okay,” whispered Amy. She cuddled herself up against me and seemed to lose consciousness. With most girls this would be cloying, but for some reason she brought me back to the world of drug-induced comfort. I fell asleep.

When my alarm awoke me, Amy was still asleep and cuddled tightly to me. Her hot breathe left condensation on my neck. She was an accolade of my angst, an antidote to my acrimony. Although we met under circumstances meant to induce a high, perhaps the beginning our relationship was a harbinger marking the end of my hedonism. I didn’t want to wake her, so I grabbed a permanent marker off of my desk and wrote on her arm. “Meet me here tonight –Julian.”

Standing up off the bed both dehydrated and hungry proved to be a trial; at least my head didn’t hurt. I needed a moment to regain my land legs. After my composure returned, it was a mad dash to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. I had no idea how bad my father’s condition really was until I arrived.

“Wow! You made it and earlier than I asked you, what a surprise,” my mother said to me aggressively as soon as I arrived. She was sitting in a chair outside of my father’s room smoking an e-cigarette. My dad’s sister Tammy was sitting by her side.

“Yeah… sorry,” I was unable to make eye contact with either of them.

“Julian, you don’t look so good, have you been eating right?” My Aunt Tammy asked, sounding concerned.

“Yeah, I just haven’t been myself lately.”

“Well go in and see your father, Julian. He wants to see you.” My mother’s Jersey accent was hidden today.

When I finally got into see my father, looking at him in his weak state was one of the most difficult things that I have ever done; his eyes were closed and his breathing was weak. I wasn’t sure if he was sleeping or not.

“Dad,” I said, just quiet enough that if he were sleeping, it would not wake him. For a moment he didn’t respond.

“Oh hey there son, you finally made it.” The rasp of his voice sounded eerily similar to mine when I got off the phone last night with my mother.

“Yeah dad, I’m sorry that it took so long… it was.” My father was pulling himself up into a sitting posture, and I wasn’t sure if I should help him or not. The way he wobbled awkwardly as he sat up was reminiscent of a shaky-handed puppeteer controlling his puppet.

“I know, it must be hard to see me this way. Cancer is a hell of a disease. Listen, you’re the man now and you’re gonna have to take care of your mother, make sure she don’t forget about me.” My dad knew that his strings were about to be cut.

I spent most of the day with my father returning to my childhood, discussing my glory days playing football and then matching them with his own. We talked about old friends that neither of us spoke with anymore; we talked about the law firm that he could no longer be on the board of because of his health, and how futile all the years he spent in law school felt because he couldn’t even live a full life. When I walked away from my dad that day, I remembered how important he was to me and promised him that I would come back tomorrow.

On my way home night was starting to fall. I was craving a high; tonight would be the last night I told myself. I texted Jackson to “Get two needles ready.” He didn’t text me back. I stopped briefly by my dealer’s house and picked up an 8-ball of coke. Before I left, he did some lines with me as a motion of goodwill.

With the coke in my system and more heroin on my mind I drove home. I couldn’t wait to see Amy again. I wasn’t sure what I craved more, her or the H. I was feeling fucking invincible; if a cop tried to pull me over, I would probably run.

When I finally arrived home I was disappointed to see that Amy hadn’t come. Jackson was sitting on the couch with the Bunsen burner; he’d just finished the second needle and sat it on the table beside the first.

“Did Amy stop by?”

“The girl from last night?”

“Yeah man, I told her to stop by.” I really wanted to see her; she made me feel great.

“Shit man… I hope you’re not mad… she did stop by.”

“Oh, you didn’t tell her to stay?” I felt relieved she actually came by to see me again; the coke had me pacing the living room.

“Actually man, don’t get mad, but when she came by she said you guys didn’t end up fucking. So we ended up doing it.” Was he joking?

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, FUCK YOU MAN WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT!” I yelled at him. I couldn’t control myself.

“Dude, calm down. I didn’t think you would get this mad.”

Jackson reached forward to turn off the Bunsen burner. Before he could turn it off, my left had clenched into a fist connected with his face. I wasn’t sure what I was doing when my right hand followed behind it. I wasn’t sure what I was doing when my fists continued to strike Jackson until I felt my left hand crack and fall limp. He was sobbing on the couch, his face was a visage of what it once was, his teeth on his upper jaw were half gone, and I wasn’t even sure where they went. Blood bubbled out of Jackson’s mouth. I felt despair. Fuck. I reached forward and grabbed the first needle off the table, flicked it, and jammed it into my elbow. I missed the vein on the first try, but got it on the second and emptied the needle into my vein. A familiar earthy flavor filled my mouth as my heartbeat slowed to a thump. I felt good, but it wasn’t enough. I reached for the second needle and almost burned my hand on the Bunsen burner; it wobbled when I hit, but I didn’t even know how to turn it off. Carelessly, I grabbed the second needle and put it into the vein on my right elbow, a vein that I never used. As I felt the needle puncture my skin, I realized that I was in a meadow. The sun shined brightly over me, a breeze rolled in and ruffled my hair. Lying in the grass brought me nothing but joy; I was one with the earth. In a catatonic state I enjoyed the warmth of the sun as it consumed the earth.

 

Joshua Tithof

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Filed under Fall 2014, Fiction Fall 2014