I was feeling apprehensive about making any statements, so I essayed a few questions into the highest lights.
“Christ on a bulldozer, Darling. Can you keep that stuff in your head?”
“It’ll be about time if I ever do.”
She had something in her bootstrap that got me dizzy and then kept me feeling alright. I wasn’t going to lose my voice from talking to her before that, but after a few belts? I figured I’d be spending my Sabbath training on a quart of gin. We wined but rarely dined. We got plastered on old jokes and expensive chartreuse. Pleases never felt so improper. The sun did its best disappearing act as we spied on it from The Top of the Mark, observing the etiquette of stiff yet agile martini drinkers. I traded her a toothpick for an olive, and we cussed out the piano player before the bathroom was calling our names.
The parry and thrust of the everyday. Stillness frees itself at a price. All circumstances with no pomp. People who don’t want it to seem like they’re just posing for a picture. Lower your right hand. Do not salute. The line cutters have taken over the show. Run a yellow light.
“Don’t you see? As an extrovert you feed off the sustenance of other people. And most people are boring absolute morons who’ve got nothing much substantial to give.”
Ripped, hightailing it in for a doozy. Thump the wet grounds from these coffee makers. We’ll rip the pasties from our eyes and dole out checkers to any under-the-weather constituents in our water district. And if they ask us we’ll tell them what the mules kick around here for a donkey’s chance at getting a little something out of all this nothing.
The alert and amenable waiter’s on his tiptoes for me, for once, which is grand timing because my glass has lost its sustenance. There are miracles of setting sunlight making serious faces in the windows, and my view’s as lost and abstract as my mood never gets. Rounded down and subtracted from the longest division in the world, and here I stay and go on and on in the pity of the unkindest women.
A girl like that. Whelmed in the grizzliest of ways, taken out to dwindle away. Some cordwood soul with a gently used quality. Apt to say things like, “That’s quite not enough out of you.”
There was a day when the soundtrack to my despondency was cutting her hair in a cheap hotel room, the strands of lopped off slivers and clumps all over the bathroom tiles: sea-colored squares littered with swirls of black curls. I was wounded with worry over insubstantial mania, and it was all cinders and ash to me, but I was clamming up, sorting out what purpose I might have in the keel of my existence, speculating, ordering takeout from supermarket deli counters, and finishing her sentences for her. I got used to saying in my head, “Just another one of my numerous doomed romances.” Talking about the weather was reserved for phone calls. I had to use other-tinted motivation to corral her attention. Grilled bananas and rice over refried beans. That was more like it.
A put-up-with-it attitude was getting me nowhere. The night’s feature presentation was going to start soon. I fiddled with the radio dials. She held her breath and puffed out her cheeks. Her eyes were bulging. I said, “Welcome to your life. There’s no turning back.” I’m not sure if I said it out loud. I’m not sure it would’ve mattered. She had a fingertip in each ear. The walls turned into wind.
I was bullying myself. The hotel room’s carpet was all creamy contours of burlap, and my hair smelled like misunderstood electricity. Out the window, between the thick pulled curtains, over the parking lot, in the light of the freeway, I spotted a waiter. He was shaggy and green, and he was smoking a clove cigarette, and he had on rhinestone-studded wingtips. As a passing semi flashed its brights on his gray face this waiter snarled at me. I grew furious with all waiters and all things waiters do and don’t do. The faucet made the sound of a weed-whackered sprinkler. She let her breath out.
Somewhere between the corroded pipes of a dream, in the corner of charred cemetery leaves, beyond losing and leaving, in the farewell of an all-aboard, last times come up in footprints, in the water gone from bathtubs, in made-up names and the sound of clacking wooden spoons, in the waiting for trains on bar stools and inking in the squares of crossword puzzles on the bar. Call me all the names in the book; I’ll only change mine and become someone different before dawn.
There’s a heart painted on a gas station’s bathroom wall. It’s bloated and pink and riddled with holes. Can it. A toilet flushes. It’s a Hobson’s choice, and then the stall door slams leaving you cleaner than a frog’s armpit. Everything goes mushy because everything’s gone Katy-bar-the-door. Helped out by long-in-the-tooth tiles that don’t listen too well anymore. Think. Think. Damn it. I’m going to go and ruin everything.
“Help the shower run. It’s strolling on low. Some powder bugs got in the dynamite.”
“There’s pleasure and drama lurking in and behind my funniest faces.”
“Come Valentine’s day they’ll be hunting us down. The blades of helicopters and brightness of search lights will find us out.”
“We’ll be lazy. We’ll kidnap ourselves.”
“Moving around won’t take up our time.”
“Keep your voice.”
“Make pajamas my uniform. There.”
“Oh. There. There. There.”
“We have faces so people can recognize us.”
‘Just like the old days,’ I thought. Then I stopped thinking.
Remember the jangle of my sputtering Buick? That almost cackling rattle it would make as it idled on the curb by your place? You’d call it a jangle, of course. I’d never say that kind of stuff — couldn’t get away with it like you could. Blasted. That too. Another sign of hidden shortcomings surfacing at the most inopportune moments. Kissed gummy with heaping draws of breath. Elemental sighs. We played the moonlight like a Casio. Every flaw distinct. More maple leaves to sweep away. Who were we to rest and assure all of it the gradual somnolent way we did? Just pluckers of petals and thorns. Just horticultural bums. Heavy on the sap, please. This motion’s going forever unheard.
The meanness, shattered to splinters, deeply undone, gasoline on the tongue, madness in the genes. Values packed through snowed-in starlight. She said don’t betray me, don’t delay me, get the music to move in time with me. She said she’s opening a restaurant in a tree. Hairpieces caught in branches, she said, floating on a sea of leaves. Sporks stuck in the trunk. Patrons wearing hardhats while they dine. She said hold your head against my hand, she said, she said, she said things like trace my shadow on the sidewalk outside. Crawl through pine needles. Never enough time in the morning, and we covet the lives that detectives lead. Brown my sugar and twinkle them eyes. Valor is not the rarest ingredient, but this batch of remorse has grown cranky underneath the bloodshot moon.
Accountable? I’m purveying other circumstances beyond whatever I either do or do not control. Like Sid who flew the rat trap and got lost in an Albuquerque bar with a Machine Gun Kelly pinball machine. We were both the lost art of keeping track of time gone by. You. You who couldn’t spell the second month of the year without cracking your toes. You who believed in the warmth of wet firewood. You who danced with just the right shoes and a crisp dollar bill in your hip pocket. You who burnt toast just for the smell. You who put on her evening clothes before venturing out into the twilight. You who made artichoke cocktails with Parfait d’Amour and snake venom for dessert. You. You. You. We really were something together, weren’t we? Weren’t we?
Sometimes you’ve just got to put your sunglasses on and say goodbye.