He no longer prayed, for himself or others, though it had taken a while to bleed out of him, the desire that is. Then again he knew too he’d never see his own skull held like a puppet head in the hands of his enemies either. Oh well, life flowed on, sometimes around, under or over him but incessantly through him and this realization, this awareness is what really curbed his prayer. For by then he knew heaven no longer awaited him for he was already there: fucking Lori under the picnic table in the backyard of his friend Kenny’s house long after the party ended.
By his accounts he’d been in love with two or three women which was pretty good and all for who he was, what he’d come from and wherever the hell it was he was going. It was only after they were gone, really gone, like months and years gone, that he could truly love them. For they had passed from that awkward physical stage into the realm of pure theory where the fingers of his mind could mold, shape and cast them into any suitable representation available for later utility if at all. It kept the staid day not from advancing but forced it to go around them like mercury divides around a nail driven into a board only to reform itself leaving the cold hard nail clean, fixed into a plank of dead wood.
Wait no there was four, the one at the community college, the one who showed up at the party and they’d made out on Brandon’s back porch before one of them got sick vomiting right after making out. Lori? He’d known her from high school and she was there in the liquor store parking lot, met up like old times that never were, she knew Eileen and Chrissie and then that was that. See? Life could get you somewhere when you thought about it and no place at all either.
Lori wasn’t real bright but had a nice smile, crooked teeth (which he just read were now fashionable in Japan) and an amazing set of tits. Like some girls they have this real nice set of tits but that’s only because they’re fat. They kind of know it, the guys definitely know it, but no one says anything about, just another something to be silent about. Anyway, she had sweet lips and sparkly eyes, a strong mid-Atlantic accent that stretched out her “O”s and sounded like every word spoken had to be pushed up against the roof of the mouth before it was allowed out.
The years had been kind to her and they were both divorced. She was heading back to school, “Should’ve done that years ago” she said extending the last letter, breathing it out her nose down a long round tube. That accent actually made his dick twitch and he stopped and looked into her eyes and thought out loud, “The years have been kind to you.” She batted her eyes, looked at the ground and demurred sighing, for all women no matter what level of wit practice this skill reflexively, “Why, thank you”, scrunched her nose and tickled his chin with her right hand’s index finger to gauge tactilely any romantic potential, another common but latent female talent.
He learned from his divorce that men take women for granted and that a little flattery was essential to getting in their pants. Not fool-proof. But it worked occasionally; at least that’s what his marriage counselor told him one time after running into him when Jack was in the same office seeing another mental health professional. She looked good, too, her dishwater blonde hair still redolent of the ocean, her breasts still abundant and gravity-defying, “Nah, me and Mike didn’t have any kids so these babies are still in good shape if I say so myself” she said cupping her breasts in her hands, seeming exponentially drunker than at the start of the conversation though she had only taken a few sips of her Sea breeze. Ah, he thought, it’s good to be home even if it doesn’t exist anymore.
Just like old times. They had been drinking, a lot of drinking, mostly beer and some wine and some Jack someone or another had found. Playing basketball, grilling burgers, getting loaded; it was just another day in the life. Once, long ago, the girls would come over later, buzzed on wine coolers, already tired of the bar though they were underage. They were girls. Cute girls, too. Girl friends. Sometimes the guys could get in too if Beans was working the door. Funny thing; Beans was younger than all of them but just such a big motherfucker no one thought twice about it. He had to be cool and couldn’t let the guys in all the time since it was draw the LCB and they already had plenty of citations. Sometimes it got to be a drag just trying to get drunk or high let alone laid.
Afterwards they could always crash at someone’s house, sleep outside on a deck in good weather, under the stars, under a picnic table. Hell, someone’s parents would roust up breakfast, too. He had two scars, one on each arm from making Irish soda bread with Brandon’s mom at 3 am one morning so drunk off his ass his singed his eyebrows while lighting a Kool from an electric stove’s burner then took the bread pans out of the oven (he’d remembered oven mitts – did that make him “functioning”?) with his hands facing down, stood up and felt the top of the oven’s interior biting into two both forearms like electric snakes. It didn’t sober him up but damn it sure was funny.
Anyway there they were, under the stars on the back deck, music playing, someone had put Duran Duran in the CD player as a goof, wishing it was that simple to either fully embrace or completely disavow the past. Lori and he had been talking. And drinking. And drinking and talking about all kinds of shit, what they’re going to do, how they were both re- applying themselves to school or Life which was bullshit but he kept nodding his head as people often do when bored to death and their minds somewhere else but not so inconsiderate to stop the person across from them speaking and tell them simply,” Please be quiet, let’s you and I go away and fuck each other, ok?” Her breath dallied on the cusp of rancidness. It blew warmly on his upper lip, her ass insinuated itself into his lap, and he debated whether or not to be embarrassed by the burgeoning hard-on pitching a tent under her left butt cheek. He couldn’t remember when she sat on his lap. He wondered where his car keys were.
Then her tongue was in his mouth; it felt like a greased cable uncoiling into a supple muscle just emerged from the ocean, salty and warm. It was as welcomed as redemption itself and who doesn’t want a little bit of that? His left hand got some tit and he thrust his erection up along her left thigh. She sighed or hummed or something inaudible as his right ear was pressed against her left shoulder and her hand cupped his left ear. They separated and it was like they were the only two in the back yard, on the deck, under the stars, in the world. The words never made out of his mouth but the acrid, acidic spew of cheeseburger and Doritos sautéed in Miller Genuine Draft gurgled in yellowing pulses in the back of his throat briefly blocking his airway. Years earlier she had the inebriated grace to splay her legs just in time to avoid the splash (another cat-like reflex unique to her gender), stand up and pat his and say, “It’s all right honey,” and walk away. But this time he didn’t puke. He didn’t puke. The roiling gastronomical tumult of dubious beef, suspicious orange cheese and assorted chemicals that passed as a strain of tortilla chip somehow congealed into words, “Hey, baby, “he said almost coherently, “Let’s take a look at the stars.”
In the hammock they were able to hold each other in their arms and gaze toward the stars spared of any eye contact. It’s funny how you can be out of touch with shit right in front of you. Like her. But not because she had said that evening how much of a crush she had had on him since 7th grade and he remembered her because he was one of those kids who could see a lot and remember a lot and the only things he didn’t see were because he didn’t think he was worthy of seeing them. And it wasn’t that he didn’t see them clearly but he just never spoke about them, just kept his mouth shut about them and moved on. They always stayed with him, forming this amorphous presence in him, deep down inside him that stood out and away from time; it just always was, always there inside him. So to feel the flesh warmed by the blood of it, her skin warmed by her pulse on a night like this, after all, wasn’t so bad. He only hoped he would remember it in the morning and then decided, fuck it, memory is just an anchor to the past, threw his leg over her hips, put his hand down her shirt and started kissing her back, attacking her with kisses. She sighed and placed her hand on his crotch and the hammock broke, first the cords at their heads snapped one by one in rapid succession as time slowed and the stars streaked across the sky like someone left the shutter open and they toppled over onto the damp ground. Then the tethers at their feet snapped entangling their legs together until they were wrapped cocoon like in the musty canvas of the busted love-nest. He was face down with her breasts warming his neck, her hand still on his tumescent prick. “I don’t think this is gonna work like this,” she said bemusedly.
Kenny and Brandon watched the entire episode from the kitchen window. Both laughed uproariously as the interlude succumbed to gravity. They were glad Jack could find a bit of happiness in it all; he thought too much as it was. They had the decency to avert their eyes after that and return to drinking though Brandon really wanted to see Lori’s tits. He peeked every time he returned to the kitchen to get more beer but to no avail. Jack knew someone would be leering and by then had found them refuge by dragging the ill-fated canvas under the picnic table and spreading pine needles underneath to repurpose it as a “downy bed of sexual repose, that’s BJ Chesterton,” he told her, unable to play this charade all-in, “You’ll probably read about him in school”. She was impressed with his knowledge and began to unbutton her top. He was impressed with how much effort he was exerting for all this.
Her skin was translucent in the moonlight and she had a small tattoo of a dolphin leaping out of the water on her left hip although it may have only been random curlicues of shallow blue veins. He realized then it wouldn’t take long to see through her. Some people were like that though through no fault of their own. One could look upon them, gaze at them, peruse their countenance and what all for something, anything more and all to no avail. But tonight that was fine, it was ok, as fingers of moonlight crept up his back coolly like some assassin’s hand and her warm touch caressed his chest, pinching his nipples with her cracked magenta hued nails, because one could only go so deep on a night like this. Anything else and you’d never make it back to the surface.
It was the standard fumbling and murmured pleas and sighs. Some things never changed, they just moved around a little bit and settled there before dying. A film of sweat developed between their engaged bodies evaporating the ephemeral heat of the moment. The chill hurried each on selfishly as their blood flushed from all their limbs in a valiant, futile effort to empty through the intersection of their union. He knew he would never be a poet because at that moment looking at her face, lips pursed, hair matted to his sweatshirt-pillow, he just wanted to be done and go home and make himself some breakfast.
He climaxed arching his back, raising up on his arms and with a primordial grunt threw back his head into point of a nail that had been driven through the picnic table’s top, “AH FUCK!” he screamed into the whirling, infinite depth of this indiscriminate night. Lori locked her ankles behind his back, clinging to him like some marsupial and bit his neck, she was turned on by pain, “Oh, Mike”, she whispered, “Fuuuuuck me”.
Brandon heard the erotic exclamation as did most of the neighborhood. All heard it except Kenny now asleep, an open bottle of beer about to spill onto his crotch. Brandon turned to him and said “Sounds like our boy knocked one out of the park.” Kenny stirred, mumbled something and turned to stretch out on the couch. Brandon grabbed the bottle quickly. Kenny’s wife would have their balls if it spilled on their new leather sofa. “Fuckin’ Kenny,” said Brandon and drank what was left in the bottle.
Jack dismounted Lori, face-down, his head at angle peeking out from underneath the table. Scars. Now he was going to have one on the back of his head as his alcohol-thickened blood pumped out dully, congealing to a dark ruby red under the waning moonlight, its destiny to become a scab by morning. He couldn’t see it of course but the moon found its twin in the coalescing glob; it looked like a pupil in negative, a third eye on the back of his head.
As he ate a few blades of dew dressed grass he thought of all his scars. The scars were ok since after his mind he tried to live through his body best he could. They were his tattoos, tattoos of love he figured more than anything. There was the blotch just below his belly button from that night in South Carolina when a bourbon experiment went kind of wrong. Another one from a night in Paris was flush across the tip of his right middle finger. In wine-darkened passion he had rummaged through his toiletry bag for a condom only to find his double bladed razor instead and commenced to bleeding like a stuck pig. He tried to convince his future ex-wife that the maid wouldn’t ask any questions about so much blood on the sheets long as the left a few more francs for the tip but there’s no convincing some folks. Ah, at least they got to climb two-thirds of the Eiffel tower when they were there.
When it was over he asked for her number knowing he’d never call for they had already said everything there was to say. She knew, too, but gave it to him anyway. He’d gotten what he needed as much as he wanted and figured she had the same. They both knew that much though precious little beyond it so he just conjectured that’s what kind of kept us going, an impulse and everything else was living in the past. They got dressed and said their goodbyes, “See you in another fifteen years?” one of them said, their back to the other.
Jack wasn’t drunk anymore as much as weightless, his senses fatigued but preparing for the inevitable hangover. He stole a bottle of Gatorade out of Kenny’s fridge in a futile attempt to restore some precious bodily fluids but wasn’t so sure the label referred to the ones he had just squandered. He thought twice about rummaging any breakfast, denying the temptation of the baby biscuits sitting on the kitchen counter. His keys were in his pocket all the time and he split before Tracy woke up. She’d changed so much since college when she was merely annoying; now she was a perfect pain in the ass. He left without saying goodbye to Kenny and Brandon exiting through the garage where he found two cans of Old Milwaukee tall boys which he promptly drank for breakfast.
He wandered in the rain looking for his car. Had he been that drunk? If so the wandering would sober him up. It was like all his friends abandoned him to roam a faintly familiar labyrinth all alone like they had never even existed. So down mud-sluiced alleys and over mold-slick picket fences he meandered scaling back into some dark narrowing journey whose light kept drawing away from him perpetually illuminating only the angle of the rain or the density of the mist when the capricious heavens decided which way to fuck with him. No, maybe he was still just drunk, really fucked up pissing in the middle of Darlington St as the lights changed from green to yellow to red with a wet metallic clicking that echoed off the soused pavement plashing warmth up to his knees then curling away in white foam to meet the gutter at a right angle and twine itself like a rope, a hopeless tether disappearing into the sewer grate. He thought fuck what if a car hit me right now?
He teetered back on his heels and the sky splashed his cheeks with a cool mist which felt like impending sickness. Shit where was she? Ah she never liked being around him with her friends or maybe because he was always high or about to get high that she needed her alone time?
I go to school all week and sometimes just like hanging out with my friends on the weekends.
How did he not see that coming? He wandered north on Neal St. fighting upstream against a ghost legion of drunks but when he got there the deli wasn’t open yet. He thought about sleeping in his car once he found it. He didn’t trust sleeping anymore least not in his car down some unknown alley in a crappy little state-college town slowly reacquiring sobriety on an empty stomach. His jacket and shirt smelled like cigarettes and cheap perfume. Who was that girl, Maggie? Hadn’t he hooked up with her once a few weeks back? Yeah but no one ever talked about it, all part of the bargain of being young and free. 7-11 he remembered that’s where they had left his car. Heading that way realizing that when you loved no one you were finally free to love anyone, anyone at all.
Behind the wheel he looked up at the sky as he often did first thing and saw the morning bleeding up from the east though it felt he was heading north and thought of the word “permeable.” Clouds scarred the horizon where orange gave way to blue; he saw the twin vapor trails of an invisible jet like the eye of a needle and wished he could fly right through its opening not caring what was on the other side, just another daydream of escape, like something inside his head was intermittently switching places with his brain but he couldn’t tell what. Eddie Floyd played on the radio, “Love is a doggone good thing…” He headed home and called in sick to work.
Instead he spent the morning collecting butterflies to feed the crows. When he had enough he laid down in an open field just outside town and perched a butterfly on his index finger one at a time. The crows would mass like night around him. The butterfly strained to keep its purchase on his finger against the torrent of 1,000 crows’ wings flapping in unabated hunger. Waiting their respective turns, the crows would swoop down and each partake of a butterfly, Danaus plexippus, of course, but also Hackberry Emperor Asterocampa celtis, Zebra Swallowtail Eurytides marcellus and Mottled Duskywing Erynnis martialis, too, all gobbled up. It went on like this, one Corvus brachyrhynchos after another until all the butterflies were devoured and the crows sated. Then he stood up. Brushed off his clothes and headed to the bar for happy hour. Chicken wings were $.25 cents apiece and import bottles were $2 each. He could get dinner and shit-faced for under $15. And that included the tip.
He had met her here before, even got a name, Janine, Janice, Tara or something or other. She was either too drunk to remember or care by now as she lit one Marlboro Light after another exhaling with an audible exhaust like she couldn’t empty her lungs fast enough. Nice body though, lean, faint down above her upper lip bejeweled with sweat. Around her eyes and mouth lines were carved in by the drawing on too many cigarettes and squinting into harsh unforgiving daylight. She kept pushing her blonde hair behind her left ear reflexively so the star tattooed on her neck could shine like a solemn, lonely beacon in the bar room air stratified by thin layers of smoke, curses and the viral riff of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”. It beckoned him. He could taste its sweat that wouldn’t slake but only exacerbate his thirst until he no longer was the consumer but the consumed in yet another act of transformation that seemingly plagued every class of life.
“Thomas,” he said leaning into the bar,” What’s her name?”
“Urlene,” he said with a straight face.
“No, c’mon what the fuck is it?”
“Shawna, I think, used to date Billy the line cook, crazy as a shit-house rat”
“Billy or her?” he asked rhetorically.
Thomas answered by bringing another Labatt’s Blue on the house. He took a pull, the foam flushed his mouth and the coolness ran down his throat right into his shoes. “A dozen hot,” he ordered, “with bleu cheese.”
“Shawna, of course”, he said to himself. Why did the name of every woman he ever fucked or wanted to fuck end in a vowel? “Send her one,” he directed Thomas.
“Thanks,” she said toasting him lifting the mojito to her mouth. Her smile and the star pulled him towards her until Thomas came by and took money for their drinks. Was this his 4th, 5th or 6th? His $20 had been winnowed down to a buck and some change and he realized he’d have to hit the ATM to keep the party going.
“Hey I got to step out but I’ll be back in a few minutes. You’ll be here?”
“Oh, yeah. Hey could you get me a pack of smokes? Marlboro lights.”
“Cool,” he said, tapping the bar with his car keys, “Thomas save my spot be, back in a few.”
The air hit him hard but the night had already come and there was nothing to be done about it. He got his bearings and tried to devise the safest way to get to the ATM. There were usually cops around, just driving back and forth it seemed, did he live in that bad of a neighborhood or was the world just like that, full of cops just driving around? He was cool and was just heading down the road and back so he climbed behind the wheel, turned it over and backed out until a light pole’s concrete stanchion inflicted a 6 inch long scratch in his left quarter panel like some dwarf started to paint his car silver then gave up. How the hell would he explain that to anyone? He always thought bottoming out was going to be a histrionic catastrophe, a twisted heap of wreckage, a demise worthy of a good story at least but this? Another scar he’d have to obscure with lies.
Maybe he’d try AA again, meet someone there like himself and build up what he lost or better yet what he never had. The past was always good for a story or two, the truth never getting in the way. But he wasn’t a joiner. What drunk was? Seemed the meetings were always held in a church and you were welcomed unconditionally for the price of a confession. Ah the endless bartering for souls, when did it end if ever?
Lately moments like this were becoming more frequent, when he thought about drinking and what it meant to him and if it was somehow tied up in his destiny. It was when he felt most in control; each step down the hallway to that dimly lit room was a wrestling move with his better conviction, a furtive grope of a self-love so bitter “loathe” was a word written large against the end of each day as to be indiscernible; just a big book he didn’t have the time or desire to read. One you couldn’t read up close and by the time you backed off to get a better perspective you no longer gave a shit what it might mean. It was the way to freedom and he would feel himself falling to and away simultaneously. It didn’t placate his soul as much as fabricated it. The days aren’t really so empty or boring but necessary and therein rested the challenge of finding a new life to work into shape, paint it and roll it off the edge into his own sweet inevitable self-realization. Still he recalled with fondness the time in a NY state college town when exceedingly drunk he threw a phone through a wall. Again and again. He smiled saying to himself out loud “I’ll hit the Food Lion on the way home for a 6 pack. I’ll stop tomorrow.”