- sunday morning
- captain black
- the consummate pageant
- cold calling
- coffin nails
- slaves of glory
- black triangles
- the elitist
- gentle ben
- rehab doll
- the dogs of kamari
- the true season
13 STORIES HIGH
COPYRIGHT 1998 DANIEL B. DERMOND
For Troy and Joseph
Disclaimer: Any resemblance
of any character or incident in these stories to any persons living or dead is
-THE CONSUMMATE PAGEANT
-SLAVES OF GLORY
-THE DOGS OF KAMARI
-THE TRUE SEASON
Childhood has killed all the faith I may have had in my own immortality…
father hated life and, being his son, I was on the receiving end of his
emotions on a daily basis. He was my first model of perfection, strange as
that may seem. The fact that he, who I held in unquestioning esteem, chose
to treat me like garbage led directly to my low self-opinion. The alcoholism
that developed in my teenage years and the self-destructive death-trip that followed was a result of his
abuse. Had I been taught early on to
value myself, it would’ve saved years (and pages) of pain. Sadly, this was not the case. My father would reduce me to a
walking void not long after my first
conscious memory, a hole that could take a lifetime to fill (maybe,
if I’m lucky).
house I grew up in was a dead-end ranch in an anonymous stretch of the suburbs constructed
of dim bricks and wood shingles. Inside, the walls were yellow and smoky,
covered with disease and nicotine instead of sunshine. Death hung in the air
along with cigar smoke and tension. My father
smoked green Optimo cigars and drank Scotch. He drank everything, but I think he preferred his drinks
mixed with White Label Scotch. He could tell you he loved you, and in an
instant turn your warm tears to blood.
He was a cop in the town of
Millwood before opting for an early retirement that enabled him to drink around
the clock. His hair was short, cut in a military buzz. Blues veins bulged from
his temples when he was in a rage. He was quite tall with big fists and
terrible black eyes. My mother was
his lap dog and I was his scorn. I could never figure out exactly what it
was about me that disappointed him, but for him to show me any kindness, let alone love, was impossible.
I was trapped in a vicious
cycle. The more he’d beat and berate me, the more withdrawn I became. The more withdrawn I became, the more he’d attack
me for not being normal By the age of nine I had an ulcer, and a considerable amount of self-hatred. I was, however,
incapable of hating him. To me, it
would’ve been like hating God– an impossibility for a young child.
Saturday nights were an
exercise in terror: It was my father’s one day off, so he usually began
drinking around noon. There was one memory from my childhood that so scarred my brain, I imagine I’ll recall it on
my deathbed, when I am unable to
remember my name. It is probably such a vivid memory because it was the first
time I ever entertained the notion of killing
myself, just to get away from it all.
around 5PM, and a solemn fire was licking the brick. My father’s dinner
was cold, so he went off on a tear — smashing things and swearing. I remember
he cornered my mother in the kitchen and I watched as he pounded
her skull into the wall, breaking her glasses. I watched in helpless
fear as the tears from her eyes were smacked across the room, splashing
my cheeks. Her face was dead and bloodied, all terror and fear had been
beaten out and replaced with an empty acceptance. He grabbed the
receiver of the phone and pummeled until it exploded into piercing shards
that gouged her face unmercifully.
If you’d like to make a
call, please hang up and dial again…
The anonymous voice was
like a lifeline from the outside world, a place where I imagined people laughing occasionally.
“What are you looking at? Go get your mother a cold cloth,” he screamed at me.
I ran into the bathroom
and poured some chilling water into a face cloth. Tears ran uncontrollably from my unbelieving eyes. I handed him the rag.
“Get the fuck out of here and go to your
he sank back into his throne and began to inhale the Bloody Marys that my
bruised and beaten mother brought to him. At that point, it could’ve
gone one of two ways: He’d just mumble himself to death until he finally
passed out, or he’d find some reason to beat on me before that occurred.
That night I was badly beaten.
I went to bed with blood running down my back.
I couldn’t sleep at all. I hadn’t had dinner, and my back was
so sore I couldn’t escape the pain. I just
laid there listening to the cold rain smack the roof. I felt dead inside, trapped in the mugging darkness with the feeling that I’d never escape, laugh or be free. I
would scream soundlessly into the
emptiness of my bedroom and cry until dehydrated. The furniture glowed in the golden braids of moonlight
that sliced through the blinds into
the vague spaces of my bedroom. I felt completely exiled from my own heart.
The church spoke a lot
about death, and my unsleeping thoughts had turned to this, knowing my father and I would be attending mass in the morning.
sound that had accompanied the first ray of sunlight to lance my eyes was my
father vomiting into the bathroom toilet. Sunday morning.
I’d have to say my father
was a religious man– in love with dogma and commandments.
church scared me– eternal damnation, the angry godhead and all that. What made it worse was
the fact that I was made to believe I was evil by a man who seemed to me so
close to God. I just knew he had stitched up a deal with the heavenly Father, and that my continued punishment in Hell had all been prearranged.
From across the hall, I
watched him get into his charcoal blue suit with the cross on the lapel. I
remember dressing carefully, so I didn’t reopen the back lashings and bleed
into my pressed white shirt. My shoulder blades ached. I was starving, but
wasn’t allowed to eat before visiting the Lord. That, my father had told me, was sinful. I guessed hunger made you
We drove along the ocean
as though the night before had never happened.
My father’s cigar smoke choked me as I stared through the car window into the unceasing
green of the sea that seemed to be painted in divinity. Lime trees beheld the sun’s rosy glow.
I want you to keep quiet in church… No goddamned noise, hear? You listening
The car purred quietly into
the church parking lot and hissed to a halt near a dying holly bush. The church
was a large and stoic looking cathedral with large weathered shingles whitened
by salt. The cross on top blasted like a glowing dagger thrust into the
heavens. The stained glass windows
glittered with religion, depicting our frail human conceptions of goodness.
I entered the church holding
my father’s rough hand. We were greeted by a pair of dour looking ushers, one
of whom took us to our pew. The church was
very dark, the only light being the white vestments of the priests and a
deacon. The odor of incense was dizzying. I began to feel nauseous as I inhaled
the consecrated vapors that vilely smoked from the ornamental altar. Two tall
tapers glowed in elongated yellow tears that melted into my reeling vision.
Along the side isles, huge ivory carvings were hung that enacted the stations
of the cross. The pain on the face of the
victim terrified me. The expressions of cruelty on the lifeless faces of his
torturers evoked the emotions of last night. I knew those faces well.
It was a long and dull
service, full of archaic scripture and uncertain salvation. I was becoming uncomfortably sick to my stomach as I watched
my father take his first drink of the day at the communion rail. My head was
spinning as my father sat back down next to me, the stale taste of Jesus on his lips. As the procession of redeemed
parishioners filed back to their seats, Reverend Hulse went to the pulpit and
cracked open the big book. His
sermons were heavy in tone and had an eloquence that could only penetrate the existence of an invisible world
that was occupied with illusions.
From Deuteronomy, he read:
and the Lord released us from bondage and set light upon our living spirit, the image of ourselves created in Him.
And for this, his commandments we are to keep. For the Lord, your
God, is a jealous God and he shall inflict eternal punishment upon the
children of the wicked…
no longer able to focus. The two candle flames melted into a blur of
constricting blackness. I was slipping into sightlessness.
…so that you and your son may fear the Lord, and keep
going blind, and was absolutely terrified! What was happening? I couldn’t
small boy who’d had the fist of God rammed down his throat, I assumed
I was being punished by the Almighty. I didn’t know what was happening–
I was losing my sight in the presence of a vengeful god.
… as an instruction to the children,
God said to teach all of his commandments. To
do what is right with unfaltering sight, and observe all the statutes of the
Lord in fear…
watched the Reverend’s face recede into the flame of blinding whiteness that was slowly
swallowed up in a hollow that spread like a liquid
stain into the minuscule pindrop of vision that disappeared just before I passed out.
I wasn’t blind, and I knew
it wasn’t a dream. The next thing I remember
after losing my vision in church was being in my bed at home, overhearing my father cursing to my mother about
how he had to leave with me before
the sermon was over. It was years later, as an older alcoholic Atheist, when I realized that low blood
sugar due to lack of food had caused
me to lose consciousness.
Nonetheless, it seems I was
couldn’t shake the vision of my father’s fist spinning into my face.
“Val, you just can’t piss your father off
like that,” my mother said.
walked outside. It was cold, but I didn’t feel like going back in until it was
absolutely necessary. I lit a cigarette I had filched from my mother’s purse
earlier that day. The smoke burned my lungs in a way that can only be
described as enlivening. The ground was covered in a down of gorgeous snow. I
stretched out on the frozen ground, my bones trembling in the mortal shadow of
the moment. I drew melting circles in the heat-thieving snow, clothed in
a cloud of fire brought on by a shot of blackberry brandy I took from
my father’s liquor cabinet earlier in the day. My hands trembled slightly, my
body partially buried in the motionless snow. The huge grey sky stretched
tightly over my eyes like a defiant caul shrouding my anger and despair.
like a human wound, opened by a blade from my father’s sheath of rage.
“Val… it’s time for us to go, “my mother called out into the yard.
I was around eleven years
old when I began seeing the child psychologist. My father thought it would help
me to become a good soldier, I think. My relentless depression had done nothing
to arouse my father’s concern, but
when he discovered I’d been going into his liquor cabinet, he felt I needed dealing with. It seemed
that beating me senseless was
getting him nowhere, though not for lack of trying.
Dr. Karac was a greyish
man, with tortoise-shell specs and an expression
that changed like a flame as he spoke. He seemed to offer little advice, but
rather, listened attentively to what I’d choose to share. I’d tell him what I
wanted from life, and he’d tell me what I could expect. Nothing he told me made me want to live, so I gradually became less verbal as the therapy went on.
I focused on my father’s
mistreatment of me in vague terms only. The depression I felt was something I neither understood nor could begin to explain. I began to sense, not hostility, but a
bit of frustration on his part during our last private session.
Due to a lack of results in my individual therapy, Dr. Karac
had finally decided that a family meeting was in order. He sensed my pain, but
I’d never let him in. He felt he needed to
examine the family dynamic in order to give himself a fuller picture of
what was happening at home. After a good deal of haranguing, my mother had
convinced my father to take part in an encounter
session. Of course, my father
wasn’t concerned with helping me, I
think he just wanted to clear his name, so to speak.
The family drove in
silence for most of the
ride over to the doctor’s office. My
mother was filing her nails in the passenger seat, and I was in the back gagging on my father’s pipe smoke. I
watched the light of the sun carve
angles on the passing landscape. The simple matter of existence consumed my thoughts in some nebulous memory that
mingled with the attar of roses. If I
could just get out of here, I thought.
“Do you have to file
your fuckin’ nails now? Jesus Christ!” my father screamed at my mother.
Occasionally, my father
would yell an obscenity at one of the other drivers on the road. They couldn’t hear it, but I figured it made hint
Then he asked me,
“Well, how did your last session end … what did the man say?”
I realized my father was
preparing his fallacious presentation– getting ready to handle the situation as though he were going into battle.
answered slowly, “He said, ‘With an attitude like yours, I’m afraid I find it
impossible to help you. “‘
the hell did you say to the guy, for chrissakes!” His ebony-eyed glare
stared back at me, his teeth gritting on the stem of his pipe. “I
just told him I wanted to be happy.”
wonder you’re not improving in there with a bunch of esoteric bullshit
“I just told him
the truth,” I replied with foolish honesty.
“Why the hell aren’t you happy? I didn’t
have shit when I was your age, you
“I know,” I said, not wanting to get him
let’s save this for the doctor, can we?” my mother said. “You interrupting me, huh?” my
father yelled, staring over at her. “No, I just thought it…”
some goddamned doctor ain’t gonna tell me how to run my house. I’m only seeing this guy
to find out what can be done with Val-�what the fuck I should do with him. Do you think some asshole
going to intimidate me?”
My mother sunk into the seat as we continued on
our way. My father noticed the
redness around my right eye, as he looked into the rearview.
“Can you do something with that goddamned
kid’s eye? It looks like someone belted him or something.”
My mother cautiously said, “Someone did… you
punched him last night.”
“Like hell I did!”
“Honey, you did. Don’t you remember?”
telling me I did something when I say I didn’t? He paused for a few
moments and seemed to consider the possibility, then said, “Well, keep
your goddamned mouths shut in there. I’m not coming here for any problems.” I found thatinteresting.
My father had pummeled me in one of his blackouts.
I had trouble believing he had no
memory of the one thing I couldn’t seem to get out of my head. I really don’t
think the reality of his own brutish behavior ever concerned him. It just seemed normal somehow.
Being a cop on the force, he was probably lauded for it.
Our car pulled in front of the building which
looked dark and hollow, with marbled
steps and smoked glass. My father wore a state police T-shirt– dressed to impress. I believed he
actually thought it would somehow garner immediate respect from the doctor.
waited in the outer office for a short while. The room had a strange smell,
like recycled air that had once occupied the lungs of every person who had
entered the building since it was built. I picked up a copy of The New
Yorker, and laughed at the poetry inside. I heard the lady at the
desk whisper something to my parents.
“This is goddamned bullshit. Who the fuck
does she think she…” “Please, honey, it’s O.K….. They
just don’t allow it here. We’ll be home soon.”
mother had to calm the beast when the receptionist informed him there
was no smoking allowed inside the building.
Miss, I don’t wanna be a pain in the ass, but is the doctor coming
out soon? I’m on the force; working the three to eleven shift, you know.”
should just be a few moments; he’s finishing up with a patient now,” she answered in an even tone that betrayed her annoyance with my father’s
“Dumb cunt; don’t
know shit,” he whispered to my mother. My mother just nodded in agreement. As I tossed the magazine
down on the table, I couldn’t help
wondering if my parents knew how fucked up they were.
A young woman, who I
figured to be about twenty five, emerged from the doctor’s office and stood filling out a form of some kind at the receptionist’s desk. She had long wavy blond hair
and appeared to have been crying.
Her green eyes sparkled sadly across the waiting room as she searched her mind for the correct date to put on
My father again whispered to my mother, “There’s a nice
ass on that.”
“Hello. I’m Doctor Karac,” the doctor said as he
came into the light of the waiting room.
“I’m so pleased to meet all of you. Please, follow me in and take a seat wherever you’d like… Hi Val,
how’re you doing today, son?”
are you doing there, doc? I managed to get a few moments to come
over before going over to the station. I’m on the P.D. over in Millwood.”
yes, Mr. Daniels… I believe Val had mentioned that fact to me… Now,
before we begin, let me just say that I think Val is a fine young man and
I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know him these past few months. I thought perhaps
I could be of greater benefit to Val in his therapy, were I to know some
of the details regarding his home life.”
grey light of day was like a sterile gauze that bound the three of us together.
The office was rather dark except for a solitary band of light that
played on my father’s tense head. My mother sat next to him, clutching
her purse in an expression of tolerant denial that only she could make
endearing. The doctor sat facing us, poised and professional behind a bulky
mother began to speak, “Well, we want to do all we can to help Val…” My father cut her sentence off in mid-pitch, “Listen,” he
said, “whatever goes on in here between you and this kid
is confidential, I understand that. But, the way I run my house is my
“Mr. Daniels, I wasn’t…”
“I know what you’re
doing. You’re interested in finding some explanation
for Val’s unusual behavior by looking at the parents. They call it blame
displacement, you know; we may not do everything right but…”
Daniels, I’d simply like to get some background information here in order
to help Val.”
“You know, in my line
of work I have to deal with social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. I’m a certified counselor on the
substance control board down at the department.”
“Well, I’m just
saying that I know the ropes. I mean, when some spook holds up a store, I don’t go and arrest his
The doctor let a moment
pass, just to let the fumes clear. It was obvious that he had not expected what he was getting in
this session. I just sat there
quietly, knowing that whatever happened, I’d be blamed.
“Mrs. Daniels, what’s a normal day like
around the house?”
“Um, well, Val
usually gets home from school around 3:30 or so, and plays until dinnertime.”
“I don’t see how this matters,” my
father jumped in.
“Please… Mrs. Daniels, continue,” said
Doctor Karac, wincing a bit.
“Well, depending on the shift my husband is
“If you can, give me an example of a day
where you’d be spending the
most time together interacting.”
and I sit in the kitchen and have our dinner. His father likes to have dinner
alone in front of the television. After supper, I do the dishes and prepare my
husband some coffee along with his brandy.”
“Is your husband with your son during this
can ask me the question. I mean, what the hell did I come here for,” my father interrupted.
Daniels, I’ll have plenty of things to ask you in a matter of moments.
I’m just trying to hear from everyone… Please continue, Mrs. Daniels.”
“Where were we?”
asked you if your son and husband were able to spend some time together
while you’re out in the kitchen.”
“Oh… No, Val usually goes to his room so his father can
quietly relax.” “Really?” the doctor queried, his
clinical disposition fading into a thinly
veiled expression of disbelief.
I bring him his Manhattan. That’s a drink with whiskey, bitters and…”
“Yes, I know the drink. Where is Val during
in his room either reading books or listening to those goddamned
records. That fucking shit he reads is probably…” my father interrupted.
Val come out of his room at all during the evening?” the doctor
asked my mother, patiently trying to ignore my
“Sure, if I need to take a piss I’m allowed
out,” I said, smiling into the
“You’re full of
shit, sonny. You’re not locked in that room.”
“Well, where the hell
am I going to go without disturbing you?”
how you’re talking to me. I don’t care where the fuck we are!” my
Mom, where are we? On the Manhattans now, or the Scotch that
follows? Maybe the gin he finally passes out with?” I asked, trying to sound
“You little son of a bitch, I’ll…”
“No. Now Mr.
Daniels, we’re here to speak openly and without fear… You wanted to speak before, and now I have
something to ask you. Do you think
you have a problem with alcohol?”
“That does seem like
a considerable amount of intake in the course of an evening. Did you ever consider…”
“Listen, save the
psycho-babble. I have to listen to this kind of bullshit all day long on the job.”
“It also seems to me
that you have a bit of a problem controlling your anger. I’ve seen you glare at your son a number of
times since you’ve been here. How do
you think that might make him feel?”
“I don’t really give a shit how he
“Then why are you here?”
“To find out what’s wrong
my private meetings with Val are confidential, I can tell you that he
looks up to you quite a lot… You have a good son. Aren’t you just a bit
worried that your persistent anger aimed at him could cause him some distress?”
distressed alright. I don’t know what the hell his problem is.”
need to ask one other thing.”
“What is it, aren’t we done yet?” my
“No, not quite yet. We haven’t even heard
from Val… But before we do, I have
one more matter that concerns me.”
“And that is?”
“I’m concerned about the bruises I’ve noticed
on his forehead at various times. And
it appears that there may be a bruise around his eye as we speak. What’s going on?”
The room grew silent. I noticed my mother
clutching her bag and wincing a bit.
My father’s face grew chalky and slack. He looked nervous. I was terrified.
“Just what the hell are you saying?” my
father asked, gritting his teeth .
“I haven’t said anything, I’m asking a question.” “Don’t play word games with me! I don’t
appreciate this sort of third
degree for chrissakes.”
“Val?” The doctors words hung over me like a black cloud. Karac had really
gotten to my father. I felt like the bait he was dangling into the black cage
of my father’s soul, trying to get him to strike. I’d gone to school
with cuts and bruises on my face before, but I don’t think it was ever
questioned because my father was a cop in the town– a pillar of the community
and all. I stammered momentarily, and then said the only thing
you mean to imply that my father hits me, it’s not true. I’ve never told
you that in our private sessions and I don’t know why you say it now…
I slipped on the ice outside the house this morning and went down face first.
My father ignores me, but that’s all…”
I felt the tension slowly lift out of my pores as
I said what needed to be said.
“Alright Val… Well,
our time’s up for this session. I’ll see Val for our usual meeting next week. If we can have another family discussion again soon, I think it’d be helpful.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. You accuse me of
battering my son, and expect me to
come back for more. You better have the facts before you go around accusing someone…”
accusing you Mr. Daniels, but the question had to be asked.” “Thank you doctor,” my mother said
extending her hand to him. “Union, let’s get the hell out of
here,” my father said lighting his pipe and
father got home very late that night after working the evening shift–
angry at the world. I remember lying in bed, shivering into the sullen
darkness. My bed was slightly illuminated in a powdered moonlight
that misted through the curling drapes. I felt entirely numb in the chilly
haze, noticing only the black pang of expectant terror clawing my insides.
Like a shot in the dark, my
father landed on me. His hands were like bombs dropped repeatedly into my
stomach. My eyes burst open as all the air
in my body was sucked into the vicious onslaught of his fists.
“What are you going to
do now, tough guy, now that your faggot doctor isn’t here, huh?” myfather screamed, the smell of liquor on his breath
filling my lungs with disease.
He cursed his way out of
the room, his black shadow smearing into the hallway like a cloud of tar.
only lay there, wrecked and broken among the twisted pile of blankets, with my pink ribs
burning and a face untouched.
THE CONSUMMATE PAGEANT
She stood like black smoke, all eyes and airy
darkness, like a pink rose dyed black, retaining but a trace of the April
sunset. When she spoke, it was real.
You knew you were alive as each syllable pried the mind awake from the slumber
of routine consciousness into something more akin to what God had intended. Her
arabesque gestures lashed magically into the unabashed nothingness of all that surrounded her. We walked together in a world enlarged, armed only with the passionate clarity
of our momentary intentions as we sought some new form of self expression.
was up for grabs.
I remember that afternoon, like so many others we’d
spent together over the few years
that I knew her. She had introduced me to drugs, anal sex, mysticism, theft, dumb love– all the
meaningless things I’d dreamt of.
This was all long before I’d become a ritual alcoholic, when I�d pass my years alone and broken. I watched her fade from my
daily experience the more I retreated into booze, but secondhand stories
of her always got back to me. I’d grin
knowingly, as people told me of her continuing antics and her savage attempts to be herself– whoever that
were the rumors too. Talk that she had joined a cult, idle gossip of a nagging
heroin addiction, topless jobs and petty prostitution.
was believable and everything was possible in Carla’s world because nothing was
limited by necessity. Nothing had to be, it just could happen. Back then it seemed to me like an
interesting way to live– a one way
ticket to freedom. It always scared me though. I was always more comfortable with the familiar roads of escape
rather than such unexplored escapades. I was afraid to risk and really live.
I remember the morning I
met her. I was creeping down Main Street in my old brown convertible, a
wheezing beast of a machine, on my way back
from the liquor store with a fresh pint of 4 Roses on the passenger seat. The clouds were barely
visible in the wakening sky, like tearless sachets of azure. The spring sun splashed the smoked glass of my windshield with a rough suddenness as the draping
trees drowned lilies in my rearview.
My mind was still reeling
from the alcohol I’d consumed the night before– I remember that vividly. As I think back upon our meeting, I
can actually feel my head begin to
throb as it did that morning, after a long night of heavy lager and a half bottle of tequila. I had come home from
the corner tavern close to midnight,
vomited in the toilet and curled up like a frozen embryo in my hollow apartment.
Every bump in the road made
me queasy, as did the smell of overbaked bagels that fumed toxically in
the early morning breeze. The only relief for
me was silently contained in a brown paper bag on the passenger seat beside me, or so I thought.
corner three blocks ahead, she appeared– a minor pile of scarlet and
black rags flailing wildly in the blood-coral airs. A slack mass of black
tangles fell from beneath a grey military beret that was tilted to one side,
concealing her artful features and black-magnet eyes. A sloppy violet pinafore
moved with a life of its own beneath a ripped black cardigan, and scuffed
leather combat boots grew halfway up her calves, kicking and screaming
in the newborn heat.
I immediately pulled over. As the car approach
her, she flicked what was left of her cigarette into the oily streets. The girl
jumped right in and swiftly made
herself at home. She smelled of sweat and patchouli, or some such exotic oils.
I remember her having a clear see-through purse in
which gum, tampons, a lighter, black licorice, a few bloody tissues, 3 joints,
some spare change, a rubber spider and crumpled papers could be seen. It hung loosely off her shoulder like a bland
afterthought. I watched her sway lightly with a slight smile, her dress sliding
high upon her thighs as the oversized
boots scuffed my dash. She pulled my bottle from its brown paper bag and her shy smile grew into a shining
I know you from somewhere?” she said, as she lit another cig.
“Nope… Don’t think so … Well, I
mean … I don’t know. I don’t know you, if that’s what you
the car radio on at a barely audible volume. A Clapton song was wailing its dumbstruck heart
out on one of the classic rock stations–Layla, I think it was– as broken fragments of conversation, sirens, whistles and sounds from other cars rushed past
our brown bomber.
turned off Main Street, a warm and liquid mass of ecstatic human content.
ya goin’?” I asked.
just over to the beach I think …. You goin’ that way?”
was a question, but it sounded like a command. Maybe it was the beret. I
watched her squirm in the seat, break the seal on the whiskey bottle and take a hearty swig of its mind numbing
contents. Suddenly, as though she were
squashing an insect, her left boot came down violently on the station selector and purged poor Eric from the
airwaves. Amused, I looked over…
are awful.” I heard her say in what I imagined to be ‘the Bronx accent
“What do you mean?” I inquired earnestly,
always anxious to learn something, entirely awake and wondering.
shit … That stupid shit on your speakers,” as though I were the program director
of my chintzy car radio. ” People
whining about themselves as if any of
it actually mattered.”
paused for a moment, a bit lost between ‘how do you do,’ and any meaningful conclusion to the abrupt metaphysical knot
she was slyly tying around our throats, around any and all shared human
understanding. So much fury about a damn
I was without adequate
comment. This would become a familiar feeling in the years that followed. She was the one and only person who ever left me groping for words, for any
meaningful reply that seemed worthy of her ears.
“Uh …. Well,
why are you going to the beach?” I stammered unconvincingly, trying to figure out just where
she was. I didn’t realize at the time
that she could not be found.
“What do you
mean?” she said, her voice a tad indignant. “I like the ocean. It’s this deep writhing thing that’s
completely empty. The ultimate blankness.”
“See… there’s something. Something that matters. You see
possibility when you look at
the ocean. That’s good. It’s important. You keep talking like this and you’ll be writing songs.”
My joke didn’t go over. We
were never able to connect, which made her a mystery to me, more an object of
intense interest than a close friend. I glanced over to find her staring into space, intent on what seemed to be
some private obsession of momentary
not? It’s all lies anyway…. Don’t listen to me– I’m a miserable fuck.” She said it simply, as a matter of fact, snapping back from her whiskey trance beneath the
silent blue wreathes of cigarette smoke that threw haloes over her secret
“Oh, I don’t know…”
“Good answer … Carla.”
“I’m Val,” I replied, a bit unsure.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes … For
today I’ll be Val. Val Daniels.”
“Uhuh… nice initials.”
“Yeah, I suppose…It’s good nothing matters.”
words rolled off her tongue that afternoon like a drunken actor’s tragic lines. It was as
though she spoke in some strange new theater, my car becoming the dishonored monument of her discontent and dreaming. Her voice was grounded in embladed parables and
other veiled transparencies that
enabled her to enact the purest creations of mind. What she said, no matter how
sibylline and distant, was always extremely revealing to me. Despite all the outpouring of soul that we engaged in
that afternoon, and in the coming
years, I still felt that I never truly found Carla. Nevertheless, I was pleased to be a stagehand for her great play.
back on it, the conversation seems unreal– impossible. But then, all of our
moments together were these unforeseen instances where we
skated along the precipice of the real and unreal, our young souls struggling
to be seen in the blindspot between the meaningful and absurd. This was the
first of many such conversations we would have over the years, and she left me
strangely elevated in the great spaces we shared.
her hair full of shadows and took unfair advantage of the grace
of light. I watched her lean out of the car inhaling deeply to feel the full
effect of the wind. She spit straight up, her sleek ass mounted on the top of
the car door. She’d gobbed high enough so that the car could pass under
before it kissed the pavement.
I could sense the ocean approaching. You’d feel it
first, before the smell of the hot
asphalt began to commingle with the salty air and lusty refrains of the sea. Finally, the ocean rush was
all we could hear. The motor gave up
as a clashing of waves overtook our senses.
At this point I noticed Carla was a quarter of the
way through my whiskey. Her lips slid
on the neck of the bottle as though she were giving head. A simple exchange of pleasure, I thought. It
was nice to see as we parked and
stared into the Atlantic.
Her knees were scraped and bruised and I could
make out a long straight scar that cleared a whitely elevated path just
above her ankle. She sat there, without
getting out, holding onto the bottle like a Baptist clutching her prayer book.
It was glorious. The ocean
looked grand in her eyes.
Handing me the whiskey, she dove suddenly onto the
floor of the car. I looked up to find a restless town cop approaching. I
couldn’t help wondering what she had
done, or why she was hiding.
“You got a
registration for this piece of shit, son?”
had started biting my ankles and licking my leg in order to get me to
laugh in the guy’s face, or simply twitching around enough to arouse
his suspicion. The biting turned into these warm and tender kisses that I
imagined placed elsewhere.
it’s a fucking eyesore for chrissakes. Get the goddamned thing washed
or get it out of my town.”
officer.” By now she was reaching up and squeezing my crotch. “Absolutely,
I’ll drive it right into the fucking ocean if I have to.”
ignored me, turning on his heel to continue down the boardwalk looking
for other innocents to harass.
popped up from the depths laughing excitedly. “Let’s go,” she said
pulling my hand in her direction. We ran onto the beach, kicking the grit into a swallowing sun.
She did handstands in the sand as I watched with
amazement. Suddenly, with a pair of olive colored panties down around
her shoes, she got close to the earth to dispense an endless stream of piss. I looked up to make sure no other cops
“Do you got to do
“What the fuck– am I
supposed to mess up the ocean?”
She dried herself with the hem of her dress and hiked up the
panties, which I noticed had a
large worn hole over the crotch.
She began to dance around with her arms stretched into the
heavens as it rained white miracles around us. It was as if all beauty had
chosen to converge upon us, a surreal light
pouring into the random union of our two
“C’mon in…” she yelled to me, an inheld assumption in her
voice that I would follow her wherever she chose to take me– here, now and
forever. I stood near the edge, watching her disappear into the
swarming void of the sea.
glad I never got the story– I didn’t want to know. People wondered if it
was suicide, an overdose or some other sordid demise. I’d never met a more
purposeful person who never did anything deliberately, if that makes
any sense. I figured it didn’t have to. It simply didn’t matter and shed no
light on what finally became of Carla.
slipped a small bottle of whiskey back in my coat pocket and pulled the curtain
on her memory, morning light beating into the forgotten green.
pulled up my collar and walked over to Harper’s Ale
Jack Paterson was speaking,
a savage brute of a man all dolled up in a Brooks
Brothers suit, green suspenders and cheap cologne.
in a conference room receiving his dull tones with ten men and women from
our department. It was like a sweaty coed locker room, and the
coach was giving us our pre-game pep talk. Paterson’s ruddy complexion
and greased crewcut made him look efficient. His voice was loud
and overconfident. His best technique was fear. A former high school all-star
on the football field, he now endeavored to break any and all sales records in
the insurance field. He always made sure I knew lie was our division’s
“Heyasshole, get on that phone and
start dialing. You haven’t made a sale all week,” he’d said earlier that
I lasted little more than a month selling life insurance.
I hated the job. It seemed to me like one step above generating business for a funeral parlor.
Todd Hartman was there. He
was a new salesman who had started the same
week I did. I remembered him from high school, a toad stoned on dope. At that time, he was the most unmotivated
person I’d ever met. Chewing pot
seeds in health class would’ve been the only activity that the yearbook committee could’ve honestly placed beneath
his silly grinning picture. These days
he was overly enthusiastic about everything, a weird guy who probably wished for nothing more than a
shiny new BMW in which to play his Grateful Dead tapes.
‘…Perhaps of all the human needs we try to merchandise, the selling
of immortality is the most astounding
of all efforts.”
voice tilted nimbly in the curling shadows of the compact conference room, his
spit-driven syllables drowning in the stale air as salty
spears coursed down his porous forehead. One could only comprehend
the full impact of his aching speech by seeing the veins bulge
on his neck to the rhythm of every over enunciated word.
“One of the most serious problems we face calls for creative
thinking… a new plan of action!
Ladies and gentlemen, how do we increase our market share of new policies to a population of aging adults without reminding them of the inevitable?”
pewter coned mesh of the microphone glistened, a grey globe floating
along with Paterson’s monotone illuminations. His question just hung there,
dead in the air that smothered a tired assemblage who were intent on
nothing other than going to lunch, reading the sports page or taking a shit.
He just stood there, silently waiting for a reply while the microphone hummed to the peach-toned bricks. His figure was a flexless
hinge slightly stooped in adamantine conformity and his fingers tapped in
clipped friction against the broken
Everyone noticed it had
begun to rain outside. Lights from the street glared through the black needle-streaked windows, fluctuating in crimped
cinders upon Jack’s sweaty and pleading brow. Cluttered with dead enthusiasms, he finished his pitch. “So, we
must remember that in this youth
culture of ours, we must be sensitive to the needs of the older adults who are
our bread and butter. We have to think as they do and attempt to supply them with peace of mind.. Now let’s go out
there and knock ’em dead… “
My collapsed cornea
elevated slightly as his words began to fade. The clock was already ten minutes into my lunch hour–
the blessed escape that I’d usually
begin to envision each morning upon entering the building. The conference room door hung half open like a sulking boundary of overdesigned drama. I practically ran
at full clip, bumping shoulders with
the All-American on the way out. I rushed the outer doors of the building,
intent only on leaving their dead souls in the dust.
The rain’s tinsel fingers
froze my swollen head as I scuffed down the pebble capped escarpment to my car. “Goddamned rain,” I
muttered uselessly. There was no time to head over to the Marriott for
my usual orgy of gin. I remembered that I
had a potentially profitable client meeting
with some old broad in twenty minutes, so lunch was blown.
An iridescent mist was
painting my windows as the thickest steel key on
my ring pinched the grooved tunnel in the side of my old brown car. The inside smelled damp and claustrophobic as I lit
a cig and exhaled into the rearview. I
retrieved an airplane bottle of vodka from the glove compartment and poured her love into me. Ah… that
kiss was as close to paradise as I’d
been that day.
Silently driving in the
rain, my isolated high beams were like raining haloes in the cold and dripping
glare. The marble folly of a cemetery unfolded
past me, my mortal soul stretching ahead into the eternity of the sizzling
pavement. It was like a christening. The lights in the houses lining the grove glowed like sculptured diamonds,
almost motionless beside the
refractive action of the sea. The ceramic moons threw themselves into my driving windshield, blank
yellow pebbles cast from a grey fist
I remember pulling up in front of the house
feeling cold, heartless.
Weiss,” I mumbled glancing over my phone notes. I wondered if her old man had left her a bundle, if
there’d be any reason why she’d want
to carry life insurance. Did she have children to think of, mortgage insurance or so much money that it didn’t
leather heels clicked up the slippery flagstones as I approached her home. It
loomed before me like a ghost, a cold and glowering apparition. The
porch was littered with wicker and other unused remnants of Americana.
Huge black shutters huddled around the large medieval windows that stared
lifelessly upon the sea.
clanked the gothic door latch, rocking in my oxfords. There was no answer. I
turned the knob and pushed the door open listening to it swing ajar on rusted
tin pins that were fastened to decorative hinges of silver. I stared in…
home was like an uninterrupted vision from an opium dream. Everything was silk
and smoke. I followed the red carpets that rolled endlessly
beneath the crystal constellations that hung from high ceilings, freighted
with light. “Mrs. Weiss?”
Mrs. Weiss?” I approached a matronly Etruscan vase that languished
in the oblivion of her living room. “Mr. Daniels here to discuss
was no answer. A pristine sofa spun paisleys into the shadow and I could
hear nothing other than the cold rain on the roof and an uneven buzz
that seemed to travel in circles.
continued through the dining room calling her name and ducking around
artifacts. My eyes wandered over the black blotched contours of glowing China
cabinet doors, above a mirrored counter flooded in the ensuing
lacquers of a newly polished floor. The dull buzz continued to hum in
my head as I hunched in my woolen clothes and turned and leave.
What caught my eye was her
nail polish. I could see the fiery pink from down the long dark corridor that
separated the dining room from an indoor
patio. “Hello?” Her nails seemed to be slightly buried in the wooden
arm of the chair she was slumped in. I moved forward and called softly, afraid
to abruptly awaken her…
And I stood frozen, her soft grey face materializing
before me as the obscene fly that had been buzzing drunkenly landed in the
center of her unblinking eye.
There was nothing to do
now that I was jobless, except sit around my apartment and pop pills. The huge grey divan that swallowed up the livingroom held me like a velvet tongue as I stared
into the useless TV set, a bottle of
Valiums and a glass of gin beside me. I was just killing time until the bar
I drove over to the bar,
semi-comatose. All that the morning’s gin and Valium had managed to do was
revive me from the dead. I felt numb, but there was no pleasure running through
me. I parked in the gravel parking
lot of Harry’s Roadhouse. I’d decided
to go there rather than Harper’s,
since it served dollar drafts and cheap shots.
The bar glowed in
immaculate illumination. The room was loaded with smoke even though there were few smokers there.
Empty tables of light glowed in the unwatered darkness of the bar dining room.
Cheap mirrors with beer advertisements lined the walls. The bar itself was a
large oval made of old stained wood–
a roundtable for the loser’s club. Only a few diehards or truckers ever bothered to come in so soon after opening.
Lonely women, not Friday night party girls, sat alone nursing a scotch cocktail or vodka mixture. I took a stool away
from the television and reached into my pocket for some money.
ooooooh, what a lucky lean, he was…
rock rolled generically from the huge speakers on each of the four walls. I had
to lift the shake off of my bones– the hangover. There was
only one way to get rid of the sickness, and that was with another dose.
My hands trembled as I lit a cigarette. What a fucking mess I am, I thought, as I ordered a vodka
baybreeze from Wally, the bartender.
was probably about thirty-five and slightly balding. He had a paunch
that he was barely able to conceal with his Mets jersey. He knew all the
sports statistics, and was probably the coolest kid in high school. His
skin was smooth and pasty, slightly sweaty as he moved with lazy ease around
the room. I liked him.
brought my Valium prescription with me, and popped a couple more V-10s
with the first sip of my gorgeous pink drink. I needed a sweet drink–
scotch right off the bat would’ve made me puke. I had to work up to the
downed 4 vodkas in the space of a half hour. I listened as Wally, and a few
cronies argued about sports scores and Earned Run Averages. I tried to
remember back to when I played Little League to figure out exactly what those were.
strange existence the rest of the world was living. It seemed as though no one
other than myself seemed to notice. Everyone seemed so damned pleased
with themselves, and I could never understand why.
‘Set the Controls for the
Heart of the Sun,’ by Pink Floyd came over the radio. That’s getting closer, I remember thinking as the Valiums and vodka had
begun to work their magic. The booze lit my face on fire and I loved the effect– that first moment when I’d
begin to notice the alcohol bringing
me back from the dead.
“Two more when you have a chance,
walked over to the mixer and then brought two luscious pink vodkas over to me.
of these is on the young lady across the bar,” Wally said, giving me his
I hadn’t even noticed anyone across the bar.
“Who is it Wally… do you know her?” I
whispered, a bit suspect.
“Never saw her before. Maybe you should go
over and find out.”
impulse was immediately met with the resistance of my paralyzing shyness.
However, the booze was beginning to lift that veil, and I was
starting to feel as though there’d be nothing to lose.
over to the girl, who seemed very young. She was not thin, but hid her weight
well in a denim skirt and loose fitting sweater. She had a pretty face, and
sorrel swirls of tangled hair that hid her eyes which were the color of opals.
The air around her was like a dim penumbra that softened her shape. She
seemed a bit shy, like a seductive child, with a dark pink mouth and breath that was cool and
antiseptic. I looked at the distant image of
her face in the mirror across the bar. She peered at me through pink neon and
“Hi,” I said looking
at her in the mirror, “my name’s Val.” “Hey, how’re you doing. I’m Jennifer.”
“Wally… a shot of bourbon please, and… what is it, you’re
drinking?” I whispered in her ear.
“A Golden Marguerita, please. “
apartment was like a cavernous hollow of velvet and lace. I walked
in behind her as she hit the light switch. Dust hung in the subtle lighting of her livingroom.
Her kitchen smelled like potpourri and spaghetti.
She pulled out a couple of beers and handed me one.
“All you have is light beer?” I asked.
“Yeah, I ran out of the other stuff.”
“But, you don’t drink beer…”
answer. I swilled down the light beer as though it were water and
grabbed another one. I took 2 more Valiums out of my pocket and washed
them down while Jennifer’s back was turned. I drank the beer down
effortlessly and walked over to the couch where she was sitting. I could
smell the whiskey coming out of her pores.
I began to lick her neck tenderly, but my mouth
was terribly dry, so I stopped. I
noticed a picture of her on top of the television set.
“College graduation picture,” she had told me before I could ask.
“How old are you?” I softly asked.
“Did you just graduate?”
“Yeah, I’ve been out
for the last half a year looking for a job.” “How do you afford this place?”
“My father owns it. That’s his house out front.”
“Oh. Well, I can think
of one job opening. You wanna sell life insurance?”
my hand around her waist and pulled her close, cradling the softness
of her stomach. She responded as though it were routine, as though
it was a daily thing to be fondled on the sofa by a drunken stranger.
She knew the score, it seemed.
We were frantically undressing as I jammed my
tongue down her throat. Her mouth was
like a sweaty cave, the teeth like stalactites or something. Her tight blue skirt was the last thing
to come off, along with pink cotton
didn’t know how to kiss. Her lips did nothing. She had a large pair of
tits that jiggled lifelessly beneath me. Her nails dug into my back with each
violent and sweaty thrust. I pulled out and began to lick her vagina as she
moaned quietly into the empty air of her apartment. After it seemed as
though she had come, I crawled back in, exploding faintly, before passing out
in the middle of her two sweaty nipples.
We passed out together.
I woke up, trying to
remember where I was. I looked down at the girl I’d been using as a bed for the last couple of hours. Her face was
suffused in the shadowy light and her mouth bore an expression of compassionate
sadness. I arose into the vacant
darkness and stumbled naked into the sleepy
silence of the kitchen.
I took the remainder of my
Valium and swished them down with another
beer. I grabbed the last two cans out of her fridge and walked over to the couch and began to get dressed. I looked
down at the sleeping girl, whose closed eyes had bestowed a serene
virtue upon the blandness of her face. I
pulled a blue afghan off a chair in the corner, tucked it around her naked
torso, and left.
alone into the mugging blackness, trees casting morbid complexions into my
hollow carriage. I held one of the beer cans over my left eye
to keep from seeing double. The Valiums were really screwing up my
equilibrium, and making it impossible for me to steer straight. It seemed
as though I was driving in circles, spinning endlessly– out of control.
I could see nothing– all sound was a distant memory, as though I’d
been swallowed up. I turned left and vanished into oblivion.
I had disappeared– spinning and spinning.
I spun, my heart throbbing out of my chest as my
eyes shot open. I reached desperately to grab hold of the steering wheel, and
there was nothing. The room was
spinning around me, nothing but the closet door of my bedroom hurling before me.
I was home, alone in bed.
Sweaty, and trying to regain the ability to focus–
I wondered just how the hell I’d ended up here. Like an axe, the pain
sliced down the center of my forehead. I was shaking uncontrollably, and my
mouth was Sahara arid.
I rolled out of bed naked, with nothing on but my
muddy boots. I still wasn’t completely sure where I was or how I’d gotten
there. I remembered the bar, and some chick named Jennifer’s big tits–
but after that, nothing…
pulled on a silk robe. I walked, like a victim of the twilight zone, through the stale haze of my
sunlight outside was cruel. I walked out into the parking lot, not quite
able to control my shaking body. I’d found my brown car parked jaggedly
over a concrete abutment at the end of the lot. A huge scrape ran along
the length of the driver’s side, and the side-mirror was dangling off and
cracked down the middle.
What the fuck?
I pulled the loose chrome strip off the side and
walked back toward the apartment. The
skies were bleeding indigo into my murky brain. The sun was like a brilliant
bullion– blinding. It burned my eyes. The newspaper was on the ground outside
of my door. It’s blurry print was swimming inside the plastic bag making me nauseous. I wondered what I had smashed into last night, as I picked up the paper
and walked back into my coffin.
I pulled out the local section of the paper, and
scanned the police blotter to make sure that I wasn’t wanted, or that an old brown convertible wasn’t involved in a hit and run last night. A
wave of relief slowly washed over me,
when it seemed as though I hadn’t killed anyone during my night in the void.
I threw down the paper and
looked at my watch, wondering if I’d be able to make it until the bars opened again.
SLAVES OF GLORY
just taken some Demerol, and was lolling in the warm effluvia of my own
thoughts, the ocean injecting my pupils with a silence of tears as he spoke.
a death-trip played backwards,” said Eliot Gilman, propped up on one elbow in the moonlit sands. The apartment
where I lived was $100 a week from September to May, at which time I left due
to a ten-fold increase in rent. It
was truly an isolated castle by the sea, to use Gil’s words. He did have quite a way with the language,
hurling it gracefully into the
building’s lonely alabaster. He looked particularly brilliant that evening, in a double-breasted crushed velour
waistcoat, lavender ascot and red day-glo shoes. He had an insane glare at all
Carla had introduced me to Gil back in college.
He was a poet-philosopher and, at the
time, I would’ve had no problem pledging testament to his grinning idiocy.
However, when I read his poetry, I knew I had found a rare individual, a spark that burned like no other, who
would burst into a raging flame that was ignited in a spectrum of delicate
light of a youthful willingness, all of our passions were brought to
bear upon whatever routine and ordinary acts came to our minds. He always spoke
of the scorch his words would leave upon the souls of all who’d
dare live to the fullest, the eternal brand of his tortured paradise scarring
miracles into human hearts everywhere. Every so often, he’d come
down to my apartment to light the night alive, just as he had on this particular
“The sunset’s got a bloody nose,” he said, staring into the sea.
“Nah, she’s just on her period,” I said
slurring… It must’ve been the Demerol.
It was starting to get cold out on the beach. We
were sharing a pint of Christian Brothers brandy and hurling our celestial
mediations into the raging sea.
Sometimes, when we spoke, it was as though we were shouting slogans at each other.
ever get the feeling, Gil, that the whole world came into existence at the moment of your birth, upon your first
conscious memory… I sometimes do.”
“Reality is not dependent upon my cognizance for its uninterrupted flow.”
I felt like the loneliest person in the world as
I stared into the ocean’s speckling
glow, and although I always enjoyed Gil’s visits, nothing seemed able to change my isolated mood. The
Victorian apartments loomed
like a tomb before us. I got up, brushing the sand off my jet-black jeans.
Gil jumped up and carved a huge heart in the sand with the bloody red
chisel of his foot.
“My heart’s a budding flower…”
“You’re drunk. C’mon, let’s go inside and get some more. You want some Deal?”
“No, I’d rather inject myself with a love of the soul. Besides, I’ll be driving.”
“Where we goin’?”
“Who the fuck cares, let’s just get out and go.”
Two souls, high on the tranced endeavor of living and our ingestion of
cheap booze, we stepped inside my apartment.
“How’s that new girl you were telling me about, Val?”
“Oh, Melissa? She’s
great. I have to plan my drinking bouts between the times I see her though.”
“Yeah?” Gil said
laughing. “You have to get your shit together.”
walked over to the fridge, pulled out two ice-cold Molsens, and tossed one to
Gil. The house felt empty and cold. I took a deep and loving swig on the lovely
“Gil… Do you think I drink too much.” I could take
hearing it from him easier than I could from myself.
yes, you choose to make your body a graveyard. What the fuck?” Gil
said, laughing. It was all amusing to him, the train wreck of my spirit.
“And once the body goes, the soul follows.”
“You sound like a fucking preacher.”
you asked me. Besides, Christ is nothing more than the supreme model of an individual
“Yeah, maligned and crucified. C’mon, let’s get going.”
We walked outside into the cool Atlantic air as
if pulled by the lure of rapid contemplation, the horrifying and glorious
thoughts that enraptured us. I handed
Gil the keys to my bruised and battered old car and dove into the passenger
side. Gil was a very bad driver.
“Hang on, we’ll both be dead in a
minute!” Gil laughed. He was always laughing at things I never seemed
to understand, the clown-prince of poetry. The car gargled and lurched forward.
“Hit reverse for chrissakes, Gil.”
Any moment that required anything other than a
pure operation of mind left him a bit awkward and confused. He more than made
up for his mental agility with an
unsubtle lack of bodily coordination. He managed to get us out of the lot in one piece as we tore up the hollow ocean
road. Bits of glass shone from the
pavement like glistening jewels winking out of velvet.
still drinking the Molsen and not saying much. ‘Pill Shovel’ by Monster Magnet exhaled narcotically
from the tape deck as Gil went off on one of his endless rants.
All of his lofty concerns and demented enthusiasms always seemed to
require a great deal of elocution.
is no eternity: Eternity is a dead relic of the past. The void is an infinite
concept though, ain’t it? There can be no resolution, only unending
“Yeah… so what’s
the point in doing anything,” I said. Not that I cared.
is the only thing that matters– the reason for doing anything and everything. C’mon, you know that’s true…
Creation is how you come completely in touch with beauty… like in the
Oedipus trilogy, where his awareness of beauty becomes so intense he enters
heaven an equal with all that he sees. I’m working on a new version of Antigone.”
I’ve decided to do, you know, is… Well, I’ve always loved the story.
I just want to give the characters the best poetry I can.”
rewrites usually wind up being different plays entirely when I’m
“How could they not?”
Gil was swerving a bit, and driving into the rough pavement of the shoulder.
“Watch out for that
tree, Gilly!” He regained his focus, and tightened his grip on the wheel.
Nothing could stop him.
“Beauty is truth and
truth beauty, what the fuck else is there besides our restless imaginings? “
heart is old,” I mumbled drunkenly, just not giving a fuck.
“You are an individual in a universe of voids. Man, I
wish you could see that.”
Stars pulsed like sequins and the moon had an
expression of dissension imprinted on
its face. The road stretched endlessly into the darkness that swallowed up the
dirty brown hood of the car, the haloed lights of our highbeams sucked into the
blackness. Blowing sand smacked into
the side of the car as we flew by, no job to go to and nowhere to be.
“Pull over here, Gil. Let’s get some Gin.”
“Are you fucking nuts?”
“Yeah, a soul straining to achieve that void
you seek to escape. Motherfucker, it
doesn’t get better than this… We’re in a handicap zone, but I suppose you
“Thanks a lot,” Gil said laughing.
We got out of the car. Gil’s head had the color of
an over-ripe grapefruit, swollen in
the splendorous moonlight. It was a small seedy bar, with a store for packaged goods
in the front. The neon glowed dully in the window, illuminating a few
loose paint chips and dead flies.
“You got ten bucks?”
Gil reached into his trousers and pulled out a crisp twenty.
“I’d like a quart of Beefeater.”
got some I.D.?” said the old coot behind the counter peering
over a pair of rimless specs. My balance wasn’t good and Gil had to grab my arm to
steady me as I reached into my wallet to show him my license.
“You got anything else?”
“Alright then, $13.50.”
I handed him the cash, took the bottle and proceeded
to take a swig in front of him, wiping my mouth on my sleeve.
“You’ll have to get out of here now.”
I stared at him and let some of the warm burning
liquid run down my chin and into the open collar of my shirt. I must say, he
seemed unimpressed. Gil was cracking up just like he always did when
I made a complete spectacle of myself.
We got back in the car and tossed up some gravel
on the row of parked cars. I was behind the wheel this time. I gave the bottle
back to Gil who was swigging
liberally from the brown paper bag. We talked, as we always did when we were together, the big talk. It was as
though there was not a moment to waste and we could not leave one thing that
mattered unsaid. Gil always did more
of the talking than me. He was either completely convinced of his own
revelations, or else was trying to convince himself along the way. Either way,
“Beauty is the flower of morality, you know.”
“Yes,” I said, the silver dashes on the pavement melting into the windshield,
my eyes blurring horribly.
“…beauty demands nothing of an individual,
other than his or her own individuality. My girlfriend and I were
talking about the role of consciousness as
it relates to creative endeavor.”
“Oh yeah? How’s your girlfriend these days?”
Gil just rolled his eyes, and turned to look out
the window, “We were talking about feminist literature, actually.”
“I still want somebody to tell me what that is!”
an incomplete sentence,” Gil said, laughing into the dash. ”
We were talking about how every kind of speech, art
or expression is the invention of convention, you know.”
“Well, the question is, how aware of that invention is one?” I said.
If you’re doing it unconsciously, that’s a different level of art than doing it self-consciously. The least
self-conscious of all are the people
who say certain words or specific modes of idiomatic expression are theirs by
right, by virtue of certain life experiences or cultural identities that render
“Privilege based on deprivation, eh?”
“Yes… I am a black woman… You can
never know my experience… therefore, you
are alienated from it. Poets have sort of been cashing in on that for
years. However, none of the great poets said, ‘These are my views or
experiences, and you may not share in them.”‘
“To exist wholly in the world, means that
everything I am has to exist for the whole world.”
A light rain began to fall and the road suddenly
looked like a sheet of mirrors. My distorted gaze rendered me helpless as
simmering leaves leapt wildly from the pavement, throwing themselves into my
blind and bloated eyes.
over,” Gil said, handing me the bottle. I lurched over to the guardrail
that was hidden among the weeds and watched him hurl his newest creation into the
void. Disgusting pink chunks that looked like stomach lining shot from his throat in a vile chorus of
revolting heaves. I watched tiredly, wiping the neck of the bottle with my
shirt and taking another swill.
prepared to continue our misdirected journey, I noticed the whirl and
howl of a police car’s lights, flashing spasmodically in my rearview. Fucked.
I shoved the gin beneath the seat and propped Gilman in the passenger seat and
told him to look straight. He passed out on the spot, his head cracking
into the passenger side window.
next thing I remember was the intense glare of the cop’s spotlight exploding
into my face. It was as if by automatic impulse that I slammed the car
door into the cop and managed to land a left-handed punch into his
unflinching jaw. He cracked me twice with his stick and cuffed me. He went
back to his car and, I assume, called for backup, since two more cars arrived
shortly thereafter. They pulled Gil out, who was still unconscious, and
threw him in the back seat of one of the cars. We were on our way to prison.
My father, who was a retired cop himself, knew the
pig I’d punched and came down to bail us out. I had apparently passed out not
long after refusing to take their Breathalyzer test. When I came to, it was
like someone had stuck a knife in my
brain and massaged broken glass into my
itching skin. I remember thinking that when I got old, I’d sure have a shit-sack of memories to dote on.
The walls of the cell were cold. A puddle in the
middle of the floor had a rainwater and piss mixture that was enough to
make one’s nostrils bleed. I wrapped my
leather jacket around Gil. My companion had an innocent grin as he drowsed in unconscious delirium. I
pulled a torn piece of paper from his shirt pocket that said:
O heart of nothing:
where hast thou been sister, killing swine?
Ecstasy is indifferent to tune,
but memory gives the poet
his lasting line…
The streets glistened in the distance as the whole
of creation seized my sacred
vacancies. Completely alone, I shot along the river on my way to Harper’s. The
waters pulsed like an enflamed vein as trees hung in the sky like charred skeletons; longing effigies that
were reaching for heaven. Leaves,
like silver prophets, were descending upon the earth in abundant tongues–
foretelling the end of color as the earth and all that aches and breathes bared
no divinity, only a hollow longing. The trick of addiction is to cradle
the small glass tit of hope, trying to milk a dream from nothing,
I remember thinking.
The river held a tentative resonance– hushed by
the silky wings of the grieving
willows that lined the water’s edge, swirling in jade minuets. My spirit was
composed of orisoned air and the sky folded into the closing rose of itself as
if the whole world was preparing for a long sleep, a reprieve from breathing.
Capes of light licked the bitters.
stepped in rhythm with my thoughts as I approached the bar. The
shiny cars of the cocktail crowd were gleaming in the late light while the
pickup trucks of the guzzlers grew rustier under the sun’s unstrung yellow.
A chill entered my head as I ascended the steps that seemed to rise without
end toward a liquid salvation just beyond my grasp.
my church, the place of confession and forgiveness-�somewhere to wash away the
sins of the world.
The regulars prayed over the bar, sipping
sacraments and telling lies. I crept
like smoke to an empty spot over on the river side of the place. Naomi was
running around with a pint glass in one hand and a shaker in the other,
a ratty bar towel about her waist. She had a round face, made more so by silver spectacles that inflated her
milky eyes to saucers in the dim haze.
“Hi Val! How’ve you
been?” I remember her asking.
“Calculus is killing my spirit! Please get me
something ice cold in a green bottle
and a shot to kill the pain.”
She hustled quickly over to the beer chest and
pulled out a fine Heineken, popped the red star, and slid it on a
coaster in front of me. I watched her
retrieve a dusty bottle of Canadian whiskey from somewhere on the bottom shelf, near the dirty glasses. She
poured it slowly before my eyes. I
watched the thick liquid hang and steam, clinging to the side of the glass.
“Hey, you still
working that insurance job?”
had to give up that sick gig. It got in the way of my drinking.” “Yeah,
you know… I could never imagine you in that job anyway.”
no. I lost my license pretty soon after I quit the job, so I’m not working
anywhere at the moment.”
“Shit… were you drunk? What
happened?” she seemed genuinely concerned.
“Of course I was drunk, but they got me for
refusing to blow. Hell, had I blown
into their machine, it would’ve
Naomi was a single girl, about 22 I figured. Like
me, she seemed to be searching for something beyond herself. I liked to
listen to her when she complained how there
were no decent men to take her out. I never broached the subject since I was sure I didn’t qualify. But, she was
cute and began to look downright
irresistible as nights such as these progressed. Yes… I’d definitely take her out, I thought.
“You take care of yourself. Please… you
scare me sometimes… I mean, you…”
“I know what you mean. I’ll be alright. Can I
get another beer along with a side
glass of brother Jack?”
felt good to be there, parked at the bar. Naomi brought me the drinks and I
noticed my heart begin to quicken in jagged repetition. The final embers
of the retiring light grew more furious through the huge windows that
watched over the tides, throwing the last of her roses into the darkening
hoisted the bottle to my lips and drowned in the cool pleasure it brought.
I downed the shot in the same manner in which one pulls a tooth–
quick and painless. I began to feel my memory arranging itself in images
of innocence. The moment burned in my brain like an eternity, and I
was floating in the warm lymph of my own soul– too beautiful to die.
With the empty beer bottle and shot before me, I
asked Naomi to bring me some gin. I
watched her eyes roll in honest admonishment as she poured some Bombay into the
I loved her so much that
I lit up a cigarette, chuffing nic into the brick.
Then an old guy asked me, “Hey
buddy, you got a light?” I was close to salvation, and getting there…
The gin passed my lips and all was purified. I
looked outside into the silver
glades, and reclaimed a grace that had been lost on the other side of the wall of glass that saw through me. Drowning in
a sea of reprieve, I shoved my glass
to the edge of the bar and said nothing. I flicked some spilt beer off the bar and splashed Naomi’s ass.
“O.K.., just give me a second.” I stared into myself and the image was holy.
I watched her pour me a
double this time.
vermouth,” I said staring into a shroud of whiteness. I watched her pour the beautiful
liquid that looked like spring water with a ghost floating in it. She threw a
green blob on top and said, “On the house.” The sun was gone, nothing but a crimson slash
outlining the horizon. My mind unearthed
from its shell in the warm liquid embrace of ecstasy. The drink was so strong, I shuddered with each irrevocable
sip– my senses perfected.
He is risen, indeed…
staggered off my stool with a nod to the executioner and burst upon the cool night air. Marbled stars smoked the sky
as I stared into the sullen dusts.
The heart-shaped leaves were falling as before. I moved among these black triangles, a longingless alone of motion among the peerless swirls. I struck into the blacks of the night like
some enduring corpse– an aspiring eternal ember.
The trees whispered, ‘go lovingly… �
autumn, I used to take an all-day excursion into the city.
I remember the sky from one particular morning,
floating before my half-dreaming
eyes like a silver page, the unscarred parchment of some great book yet to be opened and inscribed. A thin
mist of autumn dust clung in
desperation to my unflushed throat. As I walked, I remembered a warm and liquid tension clinging to my knees.
Lightness licked my spirit with the
tenderness of a coital kiss, skyscrapers throwing smiles into the liquid breeze.
The sun was high, like a burning pellet flung from
a god (or goddess, I should say). With the simplicity of a wish, I stepped off
the curb into the street’s rich ink
wondering what my verse would be on that gently turning day.
strode in the enflamed possibility of the moment. There was the feeling
of some newborn dream waiting around each untraveled corner. Continuing
down Second Avenue until the bustle and emotion of midtown was safely imparted
to memory, I spiraled in the vast freedom that seemed to
tumble out of the blackness of all that surrounded me. It was like being in a
tunnel, the buildings denying the sky. Finally, I realized I had reached
Greenwich Village from the few trees that lined the sidewalks.
Mark’s Place had a few old bookstores that were always worth checking out, and
I was not above doing so on this particular occasion.
the street I saw an old thrift outlet. I watched a young girl carrying three
large boutique bags move with the warm air into the shop. I’ll look at books later, I thought
as I followed her in, riding the same unburdened tide. As I stood
behind a ratty row of men’s suits that hung in disuse, the girl’s face
moved among more agile raiments, a blooming rose among the moth-eaten
appurtenances. I secretly watched her subtle silhouette poise against
the plush hollowness of the store as a golden light from the street kicked in,
illuminating a solid shaft of swirling dust that pierced her throat. She
plucked a purple rag from the clothes rack and walked along the Edenic
flame of sunlight that poured through the heavy glass. A man
dressed in shadows stood behind the counter. The girl handed five dollars
into the darkness before drowning in the light of the street. I moved
over to the door to watch her disappear silently up the street like an ivory
figurine into the sightless ease of memory. I couldn’t help feeling some
strange loss of potential that the day had held only moments ago.
the shop and emerged into a leering glare that flared to the darkest
corners of the street. I passed storefronts blazing neon and alternative
culture. I stopped to read a ripped CBGB’s flyer announcing
The Existential Moped & Mystrons, Sat.
November 3rd. There was
beneath of a starving child with the face of a Rolex watch superimposed
into his forehead like a brainbomb. I walked on.
down West Third, past languid voices and rows of cars. I caught a glimpse
of a bald man smashing a woman’s head into the crimson hood of a Jaguar down
one of the side-alleys. A few joggers and bicyclists slashed past me as I
headed into Washington Square Park. Now all I had to do was walk, I thought. It wouldn’t take long…
with dogs, chirping birds, falling leaves, laughing children– I was immune to them all. A man approached me
talking on a cell-phone.
“Hey, man… Yo there, man… you
smoke?” A young man with dreadlocks
and perfect black skin whispered as he swiftly approached me. His eyes were
black and yellow and his breath smelled like shit. I saw him signal to his man with an orange crewcut who was
standing near the dog run.
emerged from the haze and said, “No, I don’t… I want tens…
V-tens.” “I can get dat shit. How many?”
“Aw’ight man, shit,
50? But you owe me for dat.”
right… I’m gonna be over at The Vault. Real close. It’s a gin mill over on MacDougal, a few blocks away. When I
see you come in, I’ll follow you to
the last stall, quick and painless.”
“Ha… young out of
town white boy telling me how’s it done.”
“O.K..?” I asked.
“Aw’ight brud, you got
it dis time,” he said smiling.
began to walk out of the park beneath the sedate clouds that lightly cottoned
the afternoon sky. I moved in hurried footsteps that scuffed the uneven slabs
of sidewalk until I arrived before a charred tavern door– the place.
entering, I observed a row of desolate souls drowning in reality. I
always stopped at this bar long and last when I visited the city.
without substance is bullshit, or so said some model turned whore
who made good on her claim last night,” I laughed.
“Val? Is that you?
Where’ve you been?”
good to hear Katie’s familiar voice emerge from behind the bar. I first met her about five
years earlier after seeing the False Prophets at the A7 club. She stood before
me in her pale composure, the lined climate of her face like rings in
stone-skipped lake. Rail thin, she was one of those older women who never let
an ounce of fat compound the problems of her face.
well, it’s been a while.”
“Shot and a
“You know it.”
brought me a steaming draught with a double shot of cheap whiskey.
“Is there any greater
glory than one’s mind completely dripping in alcohol?” I could really talk bullshit in a bar.
“You know I don’t
drink. Don’t you remember? You’ve asked me this before.”
Off to the chopping block. We must get you a new head!”
Katie laughed unconvincingly, probably wondering
just what the hell I meant. People never got it. The place felt warns.
Something sharp poked my ribs. I looked up
from my spoils to see the orange-haired guy heading for the men’s room on the far side of the bar. I
downed my shot and took a swig of
beer before staggering off after him.
“That’s a Grant, my man.”
“What, a buck a
“Yeah, well there’s a delivery charge. This
is a special order, we don’t usually
run this uptown shit, man.”
Who cared. I peeled a fifty bucks off my money clip
as he handed me an anonymous vial of dry yellow pills. I shook the container to
take a crude count– he left without saying another word. I walked over to the
sink and dropped three beans along with a handful of water, then placed the vial into the inner pocket of my worn black
I walked back into the bar, an angel. The bar was
made of knotted pine, ring- stained
from the whiskey glasses of years gone by. I stared into the gleaming bottles
that lined the shelf and saw more majesty in their power to rise than I saw that morning in the New York
I was hooked.
It was the way I saw things,
and it was my curse.
scrawled ‘Tranquillity, as long as it’s convenient,’ on a bar napkin and ordered another beer as a blessing for the
poet who was about to rearrange the universe– making nothing better than
something, and momentary cessation the
most glorious verse…
drove through the black hole of night, away from the ocean’s clear shadows
toward the empty town. I had my window on the passenger side rolled
completely down to let the dark atmospheres bleed over me. Tim was
driving high on nembies. He had miraculously managed not to lose his
license yet, so he became my chauffeur on nights such as these. Our car
pulled out from the silence of a side street onto the main drag.
I held a cold bottle of beer on my black eye. I’d
challenged some young Spaniard to a
brawl at the Hess station
where I was waiting for Tim to pick me
up. I gave it my best swing, missing completely, before he smacked me into the pavement. I remember staring into the
men’s room mirror inside the station
toilet. A bruised and bloody face stared back at the that I did not recognize. I spit cold water into the shiny
The road spilled out before us like a flowing tap
of Guinness Stout, the golden street
lamps liquefying the tar in amber pools of light. As we rode through the burnt-out remnants of buildings, my
eye throbbed in unison with the white dashes we passed that divided the street.
We rolled like royalty through a
hollow shell– the heart of town. Tim drove cautiously. I
think he was too messed up, though I was too far gone to really notice.The Red Devil was a revamped old
warehouse off the main strip, a few blocks from the ocean. There was always a
cop car or two parked in front of the club. The cops probably liked hanging out
there, since it was near the ocean and gave them their easiest busts. They
seemed to steer clear from the real shit happening on the west side of Main
I opened my door and
stumbled into a puddle along the curb, bashing my knee on the car door.
the hell are you doing?” Tim wondered. “Fucking spilling my
beer,” I said.
that shit under the seat, this fucking place is full of hungry pigs,” Tim said, in an angry whisper.
tossed the can, half-full, into his back seat and walked across Ninth Avenue.
The cops glared at us from behind their mustaches, oozing lazy authority.
There were a lot of people
in front, hanging out. Most of them were clad in black rags of some sort. The
salty air was strong, but the hot air and huge sound of the club seemed
to suck us through the doors like a magnet.
The walls of the club were painted blood red, and the ceiling was gold. A funhouse mirror lined the wall behind the
band, casting huge distorted shadows that hung over the club like smoke.
narcotic strains of Acid Reich crawled like paraquat-laced
chaos off of the stage. It was like Satanic carnival music
echoing into the darkness. I noticed Nikki in a leopard spotted miniskirt
talking to Gilman. Gilman was dressed in roaring reds, his hair
dyed an emerald day-glo.
as though she were made of porcelain– untouchable. “Hey, how’re you guys
doing,” I called across the boot-scuffed floor. “Hey man!” Gilman laughed enthusiastically. “You guys know Tim, right?” I said
by way of an introduction. “Yeah, I know Tim. I threw up a belly of Vodka
on you last time,” Gil said, drowning
out the band with his laugh.
“I remember,” Tim said, feigning amusement.
Nikki was swigging from a bottle of port wine.
When she licked her lips, it was as
though she was sodomizing the air. Nikki moved her body with an illegible elegance of self.
“So what happened to your eye– your
girlfriend smack you for drinking too
much?” Each syllable dripping from her mouth in gorgeous cynicism.
“Fuck you! Hey… how’d you know I have a
girlfriend?” I laughingly wondered.
“Gil was telling me…
just gave her a gram of coke to bring her around. She was all fucked up.” Nikki’s cigarette dangled like a silver swizzle-stick. “Really?”
She’ll be O.K. She’s probably still in the bathroom getting her shit together.”
This next song is called ‘Diesel Freak.’
did she take?” I asked, wondering if I could still get some. “A
black balloon… sniffed a full quarter T.”
“Quarter teaspoon of
“A drug condom? That
sounds like fun,” I said.
“I’m gonna get a beer,” said Tim, walking
disinterestedly over to the bar.
“With all the
fucking shit you’ve been swillin’, you probably won’t even notice it,” Gil said laughing.
“Hey Tim!” I yelled across the room, past the
whirling madness of broken children who
danced like heroes under the white stage lights. Tim was slumped on the barstool, his head bobbing
slightly to the bass-heavy throb of
“Two shots of tequila
“That fuckin’ girl is
weird, man– gives me the creeps,” Tim confided.
“She’s so goddamned
I couldn’t help but laugh as I downed my shot, “C’mon,
don’t be a fucking hermit,” I said to Tim, trying to get him into it.
“Nah, I’m just gonna
hang here and check out the band. Those two are a couple of art fags.”
that they are,” I slurred, a silver current of ecstasy burning up my spine
as I set the emptied shot-glass on the bar. “I’m going back over.”
As I approached Gil and
Nikki, I could tell that they were contemplating
some rough-cut facet of the existential dilemma. I picked up the end of one of
Nikki’s confessions, her words ringing in affected indifference.
Neither my tears, nor the sound of my cries belong to me.” “That’s
because you’re removed from the nourishment of your elemental
consciousness,” Gil grinned.
I noticed Veronica across
the dislocated assemblage, sitting along the wall smoking a cigarette. I waved over, but she didn’t see me.
Gil continued, “I
must inspect the meaning of my own flesh, you know. That’s the poet’s burden! C’mon, Nikki… You know that’s true.”
for me is a black emission, and poetry’s the oldest joke. Creation is only the
destruction of everything that forbids a projection of self.”
more do you fucking want!” Gil said, tearing a green shank of hair from
his head. “A creative engagement of your mind is the only intoxication
that matters,” he continued, as Nikki dropped a tab.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“… when the spaces of consciousness are consumed
with a true
impression of freedom, and pure possibility,” Gil
“That sounds good to
me. I’m gonna go hang with Veronica for
“I said true, Val!” Gil yelled into the back of my ear.
looked like a lost angel adorning the lonely wall. She wore tight
black jeans and an old Grateful
Dead T-shirt, on which she’d placed a halo
of safety pins above the iron-on skull. Her hair seemed to float in an aureate
swirl of silk. With flawless skin, the red of her lips was the only thing
that seemed to bring any color to her stare.
“What’re you doing
stuck over here?” I asked, in place of a greeting.
“I just feel a
shit, let’s not bother, and I’ll promise not to ask you about your eye.”
So, do you have any left?” I said, letting nothing go. “Just
a bit… ain’t shit though.”
are you, a fucking’ junkhead too, now?” she asked with motherly incredulity.
“Nah, I never did it before. I just want to get
“Like you’re not already… Alright. C’mon. What the
fuck?” She said, sounding somewhat
We entered the murky haze
of the ladies room. One thinned bulb strained over a sink. We pulled open the
yellow plastic door on the last stall, and Veronica dumped some clumpy greyish-brown
powder on the lid of the toilet. With
her nail file, she chopped it up into a fine grain, her ass swiveling with each tiny stroke. She used the
blade to divide the shit into four
Veronica erased one of
the lines with an agile swipe of her nose along the lid.
“How’d you do
“You have a big
enough nose, you figure it out,” she said, radiating in the confines of the porcelain palace.
“The rest is
yours,” she said.
The booze was swimming in
my limbs, throwing me off balance a bit. Veronica’s eyes were closed lightly as
she leaned into the plastic wall rubbing her tits tenderly.
snorted the lines sloppily, and licked the remainder. “Ain’t I supposed
to puke, or something?”
“You might, but you aren’t entirely normal,
Val.” I took it as a compliment
as I threw the lid up and spewed my guts into the shit-stained bowl.
I stood up, and leaned
into the rusted yellow wall of the stall. I was sweating into the piss-soaked
air as a warm flood of comfort folded over my soul. The tiles had slowly turned to shadow and the ceiling became a sky of jeweled blue. Purple stars exploded behind
my eyelids as I poured into a smooth
vapor of pure soul that hovered slightly above my body. I could feel myself just drifting there in this
perfect womb, inspired textures and a
celestial grace enacting the symbolic drama of my spirit just beneath my eyelids.
I had made the connection–
the violent pleasure of my body the only thing keeping me on the ground. I pulled Veronica over toward me and kissed her cheek lightly. She began to suck my
tongue rhythmically as though she were working a cock. I shoved my hand
down the front of her jeans, my palm full of
thick sweaty curls and a fingertip dipped in bliss.
Her face melted into my neck– the last image I
have of the night that wasn’t lost forever.
I remember nothing more than the sounds of a siren.
My vision was blurred and I was incapable of noticing anything other than the
shadows that rolled like fog over the
white metal roof that I stared helplessly into. It was the dead of night.
Two EMT workers dressed in white squatted beside
me. I was slowly able to focus on the
two huge bandages that were bound tightly around each of my wrists. My brain was swimming in a godless amount of alcohol.
My mouth felt like a graveyard. I
tried to speak but was unable to form words.
I felt the ambulance pull jaggedly into the parking lot of a hospital. I knew where I was headed: I was being taken to the
only place that would have me. I
managed to get a peek out the back window of the van. The moon hung in
the sky like an oracle as we passed the terminal tower, a high rise luxury hotel for the diseased and dying,
and pulled in front of the ER.
Somewhere along the line, between the parking lot
and the white waiting room they’d
apparently wheeled me into, I had lost consciousness.
waking up,” I remember hearing someone say.
shadows smoked like devils on the white lacquered walls hurting my eyes. People
rushed around me, tending to patients and pushing medical trays and I.V. poles.
A large black security guard stood out of the way, near the door
beside a shiny fire extinguisher. The smudged tone of his patient face
momentarily soothed my nerves. I stared at him, wondering what the hell he
thought of a fucked up white boy like me.
My mother, who I noticed had been standing beside
the gurney I was sprawled out on,
asked me how I was feeling. Her eyes were as wide as saucers and she was shaking.
the fuck happened?” I wondered aloud, finally able to produce syllables.
soaked her cheeks upon hearing the words escape my throat. My voice
was rusty. The dry heat of the room was choking. A needle dripped a little
into my arm. None of this made me want to live.
mother told me I had called the house the night before, hysterical and
incoherent. After we had hung up, she dialed 911 and then could do nothing but lie there and
wait beside her man, my father, who had gone back to sleep– still pissed that
I’d ever think of waking him with my psychodramatic horseshit. The hospital had
called my parents back to let them know I
was alive. The call probably awoke my enraged father again, who was no doubt trying to do nothing other than
sleep off the gin he drowned himself
in each evening.
It hurt me to see my mother looking down at me,
but I knew it hurt her more to be
seeing the pitiful wreck of a son who lay damaged and bandaged before her.
really blew it this time, Val.”
that she was right; I had. I’d figured out where I was and how I’d gotten
there. Huge portions of the preceding night were washed away forever in the
gallons of alcohol I’d consumed, but the essentials– the realities that could
generate the most pain-filled shame– began to smother me quite soon after
In addition to the booze, I was taking Valium
tens, Placidyls, Percodan, even some
Xanax– all the colors of the rainbow. It had gotten past an attempt to escape and transcend– I needed
anything I could find to blot out the
existence of myself. By the end of a solid week of non-stop toxic intake, I couldn’t live another minute. I had to
leave this place, a world that could
make me hate myself so unrelentingly.
hanging up on my mother, slurring my intentions of self�extermination, I
stumbled into the bathroom and stared helplessly into the mirror. I could
barely move; my eyeballs ached. I crashed to the floor, unable to stand the sight of myself. Opening the cabinets under the sink,
I began to root through rolls of toilet paper, soap and other amenities of ablution
until I found an old straight razor that my father had given me. It dawned on me how he’d truly given me everything I’d
need in life, right down to the end.
I sliced twice, a kiss on
each wrist. I went as deep as I could go without passing out on the spot. A pale red mixture began to clot among the watery
beads that clung in uselessness to the sink basin. I hung along with them, dreaming angels, until I’d finally found
myself staring into the glaring roof
of an ambulance.
I remember laying there in the ER , the
minutes burning like slow tapers into eternity. The nurse would come in every
so often to drain my blood. My blood
alcohol level needed to come way down so I could legally admit myself to the psychiatric ward, the cage on
the thirteenth floor enclosing all sordid human misfortunes– kept out of
sight, and just too painful to look at. I believe I was on that stretcher for
close to ten hours, dying inside. Sick
and reeling, I still wanted out.
Finally my blood alcohol level was below .01. It
was almost evening again, I think.
They brought me down the hall and into a small brown office with a back-lit
black desk and reams of medical books. The room smelled like witch hazel and
dust. Bruised and cut, I pleaded to the psychiatrist, who sat glowing in sanity, limed in the cool light of contentment. He was intent on convincing me to
join his deranged cast of mad souls
upstairs. For reasons I no longer remember nor care to imagine, he got me to sign the paper.
I was wheeled along by a short thin nurse with big tits and
long fingernails. She smelled like oatmeal
and blood. An odor of sterility hung like gauze over the stench of puke
and human defeat that consumed me. Young
black orderlies pushed shaky old ladies to the toilet. Inmates screamed in terror. The unbearable lights grew dim
and out of focus as the nurse and I
rolled out of an elevator and into the top floor hallway. Most of all, I remember the feeling that none of it
was real. It just couldn’t be, I thought. It was simply too much for one
human soul, who was actually quite sane when sober, to reckon with.
We came through the large glass double-doors into
the heart of it all-�the ward. She
pushed me to the front desk and I was introduced to the on�duty nurse. He was covered in white and obviously
couldn’t care less about the new piece of debris that was wheeled before him.
“Here’s his papers. The patient’s name is
Val… And this is Terry, and he is
the nurse on duty. If you need anything you can see him.”
“How’s it goin’?” Terry asked. I had
nothing to say. He had Greek features
and a squeaky voice, high-pitched and irritating. His manner was sharp and sarcastic. He probably just wanted to be
home with his family enjoying a normal life. Terry was about my age, but it was
as though working this ward had reduced
any compassion that may’ve existed in him
to sneering contempt. I had regained a good deal of self-possession by this point and was able to pick up quickly on
his smug fucking attitude.
thought I was shit, but at that time I wasn’t arguing. Every time I’d see him, I couldn’t help but wonder what the
hell was wrong with me-�why couldn’t I
have made a life of success and contentment for myself. What was wrong with me?
placed on temporary suicide alert; at least until morning, I was told.
Val,” said Terry, “you have to take off your belt and remove your
shoe laces… You’ll get them back, don’t worry…”
“Here,” I said, “don’t hurt yourself with these,” as I placed my killer apparel
into Terry’s sweaty hand.
The short nurse and Terry walked over with me to
my room. The ward was horrible. Terry
barked out admonishments like an animal trainer. “Horace, stop grabbing her body…. because she doesn’t want you to… No,
you’ve got to leave her alone. Why
don’t you go into the pantry and see if there’s some Jell-O… I thought I saw some lemon stuff in there…
yeah, go ‘head.” My only thought
was that Terry should’ve been glad they were paying him to be there, unlike the rest of us who seemingly had no
choice. Aside from a few certified fucking nuts, most of the inmates were
My room was small and blue. Two grey beds were
slightly illuminated, white sheets
appearing from beneath the spreads like ghosts in the moonlight that poured through the window. Maybe
they were hospital lights, I’m not sure. There were also two small bureaus
against the wall. On top of one of them was a box of chocolates,
Snickers bars, a chess set and an unopened package of underwear. Next to one of
the beds, I noticed two worn out brown
shoes that had no laces in them.
mother came up to see me one last time. She’d brought me a few clothes
from my apartment along with a couple of other things I would need for
my unfortunate stay. She kissed me goodbye as I stood-frozen and I
watched her leave. Images of Little League games and Christmas morning came
uninvited into my brain, along with other warm memories of the
love she had tried to fill my life with over the years. She took most of the
hard hits for me, like a shield against the hammer of my father’s hatred.
I looked around, regaining focus. Everyone looked
disgusting. The night nurse had given
me some Librium an hour earlier which was not nearly strong enough to return me to human form. I was an animal. Everything hurt– the overbearing light, the
cotton of my clothes on my skin, my
guts, my heart and the like.
I tried calling my girlfriend. She’d left me a
week ago, unable to stomach another
minute of my death trip. I missed her perfect smell, the feeling she could produce in my body simply by
speaking. I loved to be swallowed up in her heart, the rose of her soul.
I never got to speak to her because her
fucking mother decided to hang up in my face, and I’ll never forget that.
walked over to Sheila, the night nurse. She was almost five feet tall and
shaped like a tear. Wide kind eyes warmed her face, making it the only human
thing in the ward. I begged her for another pill which she slipped
me without noting it. Maybe she had kids my age or something, but I
was grateful for whatever it was that made her feel sorry for me.
stumbled into my room, barely noticing my new roommate kissing his mother goodnight near
the bed. I noticed she’d brought him–some more
snacks and cigarettes, which were forbidden on the floor. Aside from the usual no-smoking regulations that go along
with hospitals, the loons had set the
wing on fire a year earlier, so the rules were even stricter. They embraced one last time. “Now you take
care, Benji,” I think I heard his
mother say. She bobbled out into the crude light as he rolled into bed and doused the room lights. I didn’t even get a
look at him, but didn’t care.
I stared into the blackness around me. I remember
trying to discern the strange
patterns that appeared in my unseeing eyes, the strange swirling images that a mind sees when there’s no
light to entertain it. Visions
appeared like skulls, glowing white and eyeless in the infinite void.
“Want a cigarette?” His voice was gruff,
but tender in the broken silence that
moved in warm rings to the corners of the room.
“Yeah. Sure, I just don’t want that nurse to
come in,” I replied.
worry. I’ve been here before. My name’s Ben.”
Great, I was rooming with a regular. His voice
sounded sane enough, but who knew
what sort of shit they had him loaded on to keep him even.
“Thanks. How’s it going? I’m Val.” It took every ounce of effort just for me to lie about caring how he was. I lit the cigarette and exhaled into blackest space.
alright. That was my mom in here earlier. She brought me the cigarettes.”
Who gives a shit, I thought.
“Oh really… good,” I said instead. “There’s some
candy over there that my mother brought earlier,” I offered.
We were like babies away on retreat.
remember us just laying there, blowing smoke into the airs that devoured
our individual thoughts. There was some noise outside, so we began
to blow our smoke into the air vents so as not to tip off the night nurse.
Then I spoke.
are cruel. Without cruelty, they don’t exist.”
only crime is being sensitive in a world that isn’t,” Ben said. “That’s
not my only crime, but it is what makes me a criminal.” “You
miss that girlfriend of yours, doncha?” “How’d ya know I had
“I was in the pantry. I
heard you trying to call her. No luck?”
“No…The worst thing about this is the double pain. The need to have other
people in your life in order to feel complete, while knowing at the same
time that you are the cause of all the incompleteness you feel. It’s a co-dependent
thing… It’s the type of shit that a father like mine indoctrinates
you with from your earliest memory. The feeling that you are
unworthy of happiness… the feeling that you are the shit that other people
scrape from their shoes until they get tired of it and buy a new
You know? You’d rather get rid of yourself, fuck things up– throw yourself
out for them if for no other reason than to retain some sort of familiarity
seemed amazing how a cigarette between two strangers could unleash
“In my entire life, I have never seen a
person resist the opportunity to do
something selfish and cruel, something that is completely their own and entirely themselves,” I continued.
never been able to resist that impulse,” Ben said. “C’mon… I’m
serious. I mean, people seem to find this need irresistible.”
“Yes…. They do.”
“And even knowing this to be true, I find it
utterly unbearable when I realize
how much I’ve hurt people close to me. It’s like I’m shrugging off second hand pain. I can only do it drunk. It feels
so good to rid yourself of the filth
that has been poured into you by others, but I’ve found no way to do it without hurting myself and others. If I
was stronger, and didn’t provide people like my father with the opportunity to
abuse me, there’d be no garbage to
dump on anyone else. I’d probably be complete– on an island beach right now, nursing an umbrella
just a little mixed up. You’ll be fine. You’ll go home and hook back up with that nice girlfriend of yours, and…”
“Do you want to see a picture of her?”
extended a piece of laminated plastic that contained Melissa’s picture.
Ben lit a match and stared long at it. I couldn’t make out his face from
the tiny flickering glow of the match, but his head looked huge and furrowed.
“She’s a beautiful girl..”
I silently began to cry, knowing that he was
right, and that I was entirely
responsible for removing the one thing from my life that was pure.
“You’ll be alright.. You’re a good man. You’ve
got a good heart,” he said.
“Thanks,Ben…” His words had a remarkable gentleness to them, a healing
quality that I’d never found. Perhaps I was never in need of such vast
healing before, but he was able to cradle my heart with only a few true words.
“Why’re you in here, Ben? You should be a
fucking analyst or something,” I asked, genuinely curious and trying to
lighten my own mood a bit.
was a bit of silence followed by his creaking bedsprings. I listened
to him speak with an unearthly tension in his voice. It was the sound of a
single human soul being poured through the strainer of some unimaginable
“I belong here. I need to be here.”
do? How come?”
I’m a bad man. You, you probably just drank a little too much last
night… but I’m a drunk.”
“Why, what’s the matter?”
began to sob lightly in the sterile air. The sound of it was terrifying.
you see my mother before?” Ben asked. “Yes.. I did.”
“My mother takes care of me.. but when I
drink I do bad things.
I sometimes can’t remember… Things…”
“I know, you’re like me… It hurts you to hurt others… you’re just too
“No… Val. I’m not.”
He raised his voice in a way that horrified. The
first rays were coming through my window and I tried not to look over at him,
afraid of making him feel emotionally over exposed.
“What’s the matter, Ben?” I asked, not
really sure if I wanted to know anymore.
“No, I should be here. This is where I need
to be. Somewhere I can’t get drunk.
Somewhere I can’t rape my mother.”
The words were more chilling than I knew any
words could be. I remember thinking in horror that I’d traded my angel to sleep
next to this animal. I was thinking of myself.
“Ben… you what?“
I get drunk, I rape my mother. I don’t remember doing it, but I do.
I poured boiling water on her the last time and listened to her scream
while fucking her in the bathtub.”
I flicked the light on
and stared at a sullen, malformed gargoyle that writhed on the other bed. His head was completely shaven and covered with scars. His 300 pound carcass sunk defeatedly
into the bedsheets. His wrists were
covered in deep purple wounds. He looked at me with the gentle expression of a child.
It was morning as I sat
on the edge of my bed staring in disbelief, unable to speak. I’m still not sure how long I sat there. 1 watched Ben
get dressed, covering his fat hairless
body in cheap dime-store garb. He hid his
cigarettes under a broken tile in the floor that I assumed he’d probably loosened on a previous visit.
“Do you want to go to breakfast with me
“Uh…No, no… I think I’m just gonna rest here a while.” “You’re still thinking
about her,aren’t you Val?” “Who?”
“No… not at the moment, actually. I was just thinking
about how many times I’ve blacked out
in my life.”
was a light tap on the door. Ben’s mother popped her head in.
had a red wig on, along with a warm smile. She was dressed in a royal blue
church dress and was holding a prayer book. A small hat that was probably
fashionable in the thirties hid her eyes. I realized it was Sunday.
“Hi Benji… How’d you do last night. I brought some
more things from home that I thought you
Mom. You sure you don’t want to come with us to breakfast Val?”
As Ben strolled out next to his mother, nurse
Terry came in.
“Good morning. I’m glad to see you made it through the
night,” he said. Sarcasm
at sun up. I could tell by the
tone of his voice that nothing would’ve
made him happier than if we all had jumped out of the windows last night.
“Yes… I made it. Barely.”
Here’s your belt and shoelaces. By this time tomorrow, you’ll be good
Rehab was a blast.
I took a cab from the
hospital, the passing trees casting blue shadows into my staggering brain. The driver was good, and kept silent during
the entire ride. The psychiatric counselors
back at the bin had convinced me that
if I didn’t admit myself to a rehabilitation facility, my chances of survival were next to nil. Either I was crazy or
beginning to get healthy, depending on your perspective, but I strangely found
myself wanting to live. So, I gave
rehab a shot.
Actually, I felt
privileged. I wasn’t on my way to the dead end job I had lost, or jail– this was supposed to be an
isolated country club for bored cork
sniffers. The cab rolled ominously through the dense black trees that lined the winding driveway of Merrion Clinic. It
was almost dark as I paid the cab
driver and walked into the admitting office. I removed the necessary insurance
information from my wallet and proceeded to the front desk. A young woman with jet black hair and heavy grey eyes
entered my policy numbers and other assorted data of identification into a
little white computer and then had me take a seat in the outer lounge.
There was a video playing to the empty room
about families recovering from addiction.
I sat in blandness until my forms were processed, and then was escorted upstairs by a brawny male nurse.
patient rooms were large and dark. Two full-sized beds stretched dead
into the room like toppled headstones. I was told to go into the bathroom
and strip. The edge of the sink felt cold against my thighs as the nurse
examined my ass for smuggled substances.
“O.K., there’s a meeting down the hall in the auditorium
before lights out. You’ll go to
“Sure,” I said, pulling up my jeans. “But aren’t you gonna fuck me now?”
thought I’d see if the guy had a sense of humor.
“Listen, you fucking
piece of shit. There’s a meeting in the auditorium in fifteen minutes, which
wouldn’t give me enough time to do you right. But don’t worry, by the time you’re through with your term here, you’ll
be fucked so many ways, you won’t know
whose cock is coming at you next.”
My mouth shut. I emptied
the contents of a small plastic shoe bag I’d brought from the hospital. I threw my toothpaste and shampoo in the bathroom, and any clothes I had in the bureau
closest to the window. I was happy
there was no one else in my room.
halls were dimly lit as I left for the auditorium. I could see a few stray
souls lagging ahead of me. A sign stuck out from one of the doors in front of
me that had an embossed cross on it. I ducked into a small chapel room. A
huge Wurlitzer clung to
a wall beneath a picture of God. the Son. The beige and gold painting was
the only light in the room, a haloed Jesus with his arms outstretched
exposing bloodied wrists and a skull full of light. I looked at my own
wrist scars, which were now uncovered and scabbed over. I stared down into
the church organ, clicked the red on button, and hit a few low
who are you?”
door stood a slightly mangy red-haired girl with nice knockers. She
wore frayed and faded black hip huggers with an orange tank top. She looked
I guess I’m on my way to the auditorium. What is it down there?”
“NA and a few AA speakers, the evening liturgy around
here.” I walked toward her slowly, a bit unsteady on my feet. “What’s
your name?” I asked.
We only go by first names around here, you know, as part of the AA
“Oh..I’m Val Daniels.”
She smiled like Satan,
“Jana Sabin. C’mon, let’s get a seat in the back so we can breathe a little bit amongst all the
always dug a girl with a good attitude. As we walked down the hall, I noticed
the building’s overly cool air conditioning vents had produced a pair of perfect
nipples budding into Jana’s bright cotton shirt. She walked like she had
nothing more to lose, with purity and a looseness of motion. Her eyes
were green and glinting, her teeth beautifully crooked. Her looks were
pure fucking evil.
The auditorium was large,
an oversized amphitheater of sorts. We found
seats near the exit sign, away from all the other human refuse sadly deposited in that place of defeat, and slouched
in an unlit corner.
“Alright… testing … testing…
Do we have everyone here yet? Dr. Felton, will any patients be brought over
from detox who are about to go to
level one?… No? This is it then… Hi, my name is Dick, and
I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi Dick,” said
his crisp and cheery entourage of born-agains. The inmates were silent. Dick proceeded to go into a
long and unconvincing recap of his
own years as an alcoholic. I looked over at Jana. She’d sunk into the shadows, a bead of spittle poised like a
pearl upon the edge of her sleeping
lips. When the speech was over, we were free. I woke Jana up and asked what was next on the schedule.
yeah, we get an hour to do nothing now before lights out. There’s a movie in
the TV room, or you can go outside and hang.” I told
her I’d meet her outside.
The nurse on duty at the
night station was an obvious old whore. She glowered at me with hatred.
“Who is my doctor?” I asked.
“And your name is?”
“Val Daniels. Room 6.”
Daniels, Doctor McKinnon is assigned to your care.”
has he prescribed any medications for me? I mean, I’ve been here
for two hours, and aside from some clod staring up my ass, I’ve gotten no
young man, you are scheduled for an appointment with the Doctor
at LOAM tomorrow. If you’re feeling sick or sleepless, I can beep the physician
in detox to see if he has something for you.”
“Yes… Do that. I’ll be outside.”
I walked outside into the gorgeous air. It was
intoxicating. Jana handed
me a stick of Marlboro and I lit up. There were
approximately six picnic
benches littered with drunks and druggies. A
plump brown haired boy
down at the bench seating Jana and I, and began talking. “How’re
you’all doin’? I’m Theodius. I just got here from detox.” “The-who-dius?” I asked.
“Theodius. Theodious Goode.”
“Really?” asked Jana, mockingly.
“Yeah, I mean are you sure? You look like a Bill,” I said.
“Val…is there a Val out here? Val. There’s someone on the phone for someone
“Alright…” I said to the short wiry black guy at the door scanning the substance
hurried in expecting a nervous call from my mother. “Hello?”
“…Val,Val is that you? It’s Melissa.”
“Melissa,” I said melting into the tiny phone holes. It was the first time I had
heard my girlfriend’s voice with a sober ear in nearly two weeks. “Val… Are you alright?”
“I’m O.K., are you?”
can’t stand being here with my mother. She’s the biggest asshole. Are you gonna
get better in there?”
don’t know, but I am going to try and get better.” “Val?”
you can get better, I’ll be here for you.” “Really?” I was
“I have to go now.”
“I miss you.”
“Me too. Goodbye.”
I really still love you.” Click, she hung up.
walked back outside, floating a bit, ready for another cigarette. “Thanks
Jana, I’ll have my mother bring you a carton on visitor’s day.” “No
warm air smelled like lilac and dandelion. My allergies brought a cool
itch to my eyes that were enflamed from a lack of rest and the airborne
nicotine. Crickets and other sounds buzzed in the fields. I had no idea
where the fuck I was.
did you do to your wrists?” Jana asked cautiously. “A futile cry for help
that obviously went unheard.”
last call for
cancer folks… We’ve got ten minutes ’til lights out,” said this afternoon’s
ass grabber. What a swell guy, I remember thinking. Mr. Complete.
I hate lights out,” Jana said staring up at me from behind a wisp of
gentle red that caressed the edge of her glistening lips. “I hate to go tobed alone.”
a hard comment to ignore, but I tried. I remember thinking that if Mel hadn’t
called, things at rehab would’ve been different, but she had, and
“So Theo, what do
they got you in here for?” I asked, still looking at Jana with a slightly uncomfortable smile.
shifted his position to face Jana and me. “I got caught selling dope on
“Ha… Fucking rock dot com,” Jana laughed.
“Yeah, pop it, shoot it, sniff it, drop it– I had it
all. I was so fucking wasted in court I
could barely stand up. The judge remanded me to a rehab and I’ll have 180 hours
of community service, but I thought my fucking
ass was up river.”
your community service?” Jana asked. “Free fucking dope for the masses!” I
I’ll probably just have to be a shit picker on the parkway.”
*������������� ��������������� *������������� ��������������� *
second day in Shangri-La was much like the first– group therapy, physical
reconditioning, as it was called, some AA lectures, cigarette smoking,
Jana’s wise ass come-ons, and of course, my initial meeting with the
doctor. McKinnon was a nervous and frail old tart. He prescribed Tofranil to
ease my depression. It also caused my mouth to become severely
dry and inhibited my natural ability to piss. This didn’t really bother
me at first, but when you are not rife with talent in the first place, losing
this skill is a bit demoralizing.
night, there was another strange outdoor smokefest between Jana, Theo
you in here, Jana,” Theo asked while lighting a menthol. “Cause
my mom hates my heroin.”
“The unfeeling fiend,” I remarked.
Jana laughed saying,
“Yeah, the stupid bitch keeps saying I leave needles laying around on the
sofa when company comes over.”
do you do when you’re not getting high, Theo?” I asked.
“You don’t have a job?”
I’m a software analyst for a computer company.”
“And you, do you have a job, Val?” Theo
“Not any more. I
sold life insurance for a while. I was the shut off guy for the water company too. Turned off all the
assholes who didn’t pay their
wonder you�re a fucking drunk,” Jana said. “So, you have a girlfriend,
“How could you tell?”
“Well, it was either that, or you are a
never occurred to you that I just might not be attracted?” “Are
“Hey Jana, I’ll let you give me a blow
job,” Theo said.
asshole,” Jana said flicking the fiery end of her cig into his forehead.
We were all laughing.
“Christ Val, I can’t believe you’re a week away from the blade, and you’re still hung up on a
social convention as contrived as the love- girlfriend- ownership thing.
Weren’t you at least a little liberated staring� at death in the mirror?” Jana said, searching into my eyes.
in bed that night staring up at the ceiling, unable to sleep, thinking
of Jana and her words. She cut straight into me. Her words had no
bullshit in them.
third day, I rose again. I had to sit on the toilet in order to relax my
bladder enough to piss. Barely any urine came out and my stomach hurt. My
mouth was dry and coated with a white foam. I rinsed with Listerine
and brushed my teeth while the shower water warmed. I stepped in the
shower a bit weak from a loss of appetite that was produced by the medication
I was taking. The shit was making my mood worse in the bargain.
The water felt good on my body and I ran it hot to open my pores,
trying to detox from the wretched shit I’d been prescribed.
As I turned around and
reached for the shampoo, I noticed Jana standing there watching with the shower curtain pulled back. She wasn’t
looking in my eyes when she said, “C’mon, let’s go to breakfast.” She
had a red shirt with a hole over the belly button that said, Pussy
What the fuck, I thought. “O.K., hand me that towel over there on the chair.” I stepped out of the stall and stood
there drying off as she watched with
obvious enjoyment. She began to root through my clothes drawer and pulled out a few things she liked.
“You don’t have much here, Val.”
“I mean in your clothes drawer, of
As I finished dressing, the nurse stopped in with my morning meds. She gave us a strange look, noting what I thought to be my
dosage on a small pad, and left.
the fuck’s her problem?” Jana wondered.
“Who cares.” I
said, flushing the Tofranil into the sewer along with a few of last night’s illegal cigarette butts.
After breakfast, Jana and
I went to group therapy. Some social worker named Sherilyn ran the group in the
manner of one who has learned things
from books, rather than hard knocks. She was an odd bitch.
“Jana, Val– you
know, you two aren’t really doing yourselves any good by isolating yourselves over in the corner. Would
either of you like to share
I shook my head and Jana laughed.
“I’ve got something
to say,” said a heavy set guy with a red tongue on his T-shirt. He was nervous and twitchy.
“Yes, Joe?” said the group counselor.
saw Keith Richard’s at the Meadowlands.” “And?”
“And… and that’s it. Boy, that motherfucker can play.
Man, I love The Stones.”
threw some paper at Joe’s head. He was strung out on Haldol, which
is some sort of anti-psychotic medication. It kept him placid, dreaming
Sherilyn came back to the problem of Jana and I.
two really ought to try to mingle with some of the other-folks in this
They’re just as fucked up as us,” Jana said.
“Yeah, I mean there’s
nothing to learn here. I’ve never seen a more uncaring and callous group of
people in my life who purport to call themselves health care specialists. All
this is, is a fucking lock-up to keep us
away from the bar for awhile.”
“To you, we’re
nothing but a bunch of sewer babies,” Jana’s voice was shaking.
“Now wait a minute,” Sherilyn said, her
eyes tearing up a bit.
“I mean, if your only
solution here is to treat us like garbage and call it tough love, then there’s no point in any of us
being here. To find a higher power? That doesn’t really help when you have a
father who rapes you– or is the
point of all this to simply find a safer crutch,” Jana
“I care deeply about each and every patient
“No you don’t. You
like to think you do. It helps you sleep, and gives you something to do with that expensive graduate
school degree your daddy paid
be nineteen again, I thought
upon hearing Jana’s words.
I remember lying on my
bed shortly after group, when a young blond haired nurse came in.
for your test.”
just need a urine sample.”
“Oh, alright… I’ll
try. You know, I told the nurse at the front station that the drug McKinnon has me on makes it
impossible to piss.” “Here’s
“O.K., I’ll be right out.”
“No… I have to stand here and monitor.”
really? That’s interesting… I know… I left any and all rights as a human
being at the doors when I came here. Can I at least turn my back, or
would that give you a reason to believe I was slipping you the Pope’s piss.”
“No… that’ll be fine,” she said,
looking a bit annoyed.
I strained, producing only
a few golden milliliters into the bottom of the specimen cup.
“That’s all I can do. Sorry.”
not enough here to test. Are you sure?” “Yes… Get
No sooner had my head hit
the pillow, an inch away from my first sleep
in over a week, when the day station nurse came in. She told me I would have to take the drug test again.
fucking way. Where’s Doctor McKinnon?” “I believe he’s in
session with a patient.”
that’s nice. It’s good to know he sees someone around here. I’m going
to his office.”
I rushed down the freezing hall, past the lounge,
gym and the open
courtyard. I made it to the doctor’s wing and
passed Joe coming out of
office with a new script for some Haldol. “I got some Haldol,
I knight thee Haldol Man. Is McKinnon in there?” “Sure
man. Go in.”
Daniels. I don’t believe we have an appointment.”
course we don’t, you don’t even have me down on the schedule. These pills you
are feeding me have a lot of unpleasant side-effects,” I tried to
“Perhaps if you just
chew a few lemon wafers, your mouth won’t seem so dry.”
“Listen… These fucking pills keep me from pissing. And
now they’re shoving a cup at me every five
minutes and ordering me to produce.”
“Oh yes… and I
have been apprised of the situation. It seems you’ve been spending time with a Jana S. No? And it seems
there is some suspicion that you are taking substances of some kind, things
that she is giving you.”
“Yes, the nurses have been observing you.
Jana is a girl with a lot of� problems. She’s been here quite often in the
past, and we’ve caught her
medications or having things brought in for her. It would explain
you are unable to urinate at this moment, wouldn’t you say?” “This
whole thing is obscene. Are you accusing me of…” “It certainly
seems obvious to the staff what…” “Well, I’ll take a blood
test then… Can I do that?” “No, I think we are
“Fuck you. I can’t believe you’d treat
anyone like this.”
rushed down to the central nursing station and filled out an immediate release form.
“I need to call my girlfriend,” I said to Nurse Piss-Cup.
know that we don’t allow calls here until between 8 and 8:15 PM. Besides
we just called your Melissa,is that it? And she won’t be coming.” “What?”
we had to fill her in on your recent relapse and certain objectionable
activities with one of the female patients.” “Is
this for real?”
yes, she told us to call her with a progress report as soon as we knew
“You dirty motherfuckers.”
grabbed the phone from the nursing desk and dialed my mother. “Hello?”
come get me out of here now!” Click.
I ran into my room and I
noticed a newcomer on the bed closest to the door, fresh from detox.
“The room’s yours,” I said, gathering my
“Oh, I know… I’ve been here eight times
I threw a few of my
clothes in a bag and walked down the hall. I walked into Jana’s room intending
to leave her a note. I heard the shower water running in the bathroom. I peaked in grinning. She was wearing nothing but some suds and a slice of cherry pie.
“So now it’s my
turn, Jana… Hey, why are you in here in the middle of the afternoon?”
“I’ve lost my grounds… Yeah, apparently for supplying
you with pills. Well that’s what they told me, and they implied other things
too.” “Yeah, I just went through all that with those assholes. I’m
leaving.” “You are?”
I can’t take this place. You take care of yourself. You were the only
good thing here,” I said, kissing her lightly on the cheek. “You
too. And get rid of that girlfriend.”
don’t think I’ll have to. See ya.”
*������������� ��������������� *������������� ��������������� *
I stood alone in front of
the grey building, waiting for my ride, as the sun strobed behind the glowing oaks. I had no idea when my mother would get there. It was starting to get a bit
cold as I stood holding my shoe bag
So this is recovery, I remember thinking.
THE DOGS OF KAMARI
One thing I learned in AA that
actually made sense to me was the idea of
changing one’s scenery– new places, new people and a new life. Since the insurance wasn’t going to cover any of my
medical costs, I was heavily in debt. With nothing more to lose, I took
out a cash advance on my Visa for another
$3000 and booked a trip to Greece. I figured if Melissa and I were going to
have any chance of salvaging our relationship, we might as well do it in the theater of the gods.
The eleven hour flight was
a breeze. Melissa, who suffered from chronic
insomnia, unwisely brought a 3/4 full bottle of white Xanax. I figured it wasn’t booze, so what the hell. 35,000
feet above ground, and feeling no
pain– every pill was gone by the time she got back from the toilet. Even though they were white, the weakest
dosage, there were enough pills to
relieve me– heart and soul.
We landed in Athens. The air was hot and arid as
the sky assumed the shape of infinity in the radiant expansion of the
afternoon. The cleansing smell of salt permeated the busy city. We had a 3 hour
layover before our flight to the island of Santorini, so we went to the ruins.
It wouldn’t have been much for most I
suppose, but upon entering those hallowed grounds my spirit came alive for the first time after a
long and unyielding death.
Above us was The Parthenon, caged in scaffolding.
With a running start, I burst upon
her and set the world free. The air seemed to be composed of old souls. Oblivious and swirling in my private orb of
glory-�a chorus of poets rejoicing
in my ear. I suddenly became aware of security whistles being blown from every direction.
“Val… You better get down. I don’t want you
locked up in some foreign jail.”
Mel was right, there were Parthenon park guards
ordering me off of the sacred
monument. It seemed to me that, for my small contribution to the unaging muse,
I was slightly entitled. I jumped down and the whistles stopped. Melissa and I
embraced under the glorious sun. I must say, it was certainly well worth it.
By the time we landed on the island it was dark.
We traveled to our hotel by cab. The
buildings were all white, some festooned with leafy vines that gleamed in the
The hotel room was huge. It was actually like a
small apartment with a loft for the
bed and dressers. There was a balcony, a large downstairs kitchen and wash
room. We loved it.
Melissa, what do you think of the room?” “I think it’s grand,
begun to kiss slowly. I had to be gentle. I’d put her through so much
with my wretched disease.
“Let me shower,” Melissa said.
on the bed and slacked out. The walls were mostly bare except for a few
woven wall hangings and a built-in radio. “Honey?”
“What is it?”
you happen to see my sleeping pills? I had them in the small travel bag.”
“Uh… No, no I haven’t.”
“Where the hell did
they go,” she mumbled to herself. “Could
they have rolled out of the bag on the plane?” “No, I don’t think so… Maybe.”
me to fool her, but the truth would’ve been the worst thing for us, I
thought. I wanted us to get away from the things of the past– to make a new
start. How was I supposed to do that with a bottle of the pills along for
the entire trip? I did it for the both of us, I remember rationalizing.
she came out from her shower, it was time for us. Our perfect embrace
carried us into elevations we’d never known together. I called her my ‘precious
peanut butter fudge angel of love,’ and undid her bra. In no time at all, I had
my face buried in her and was going for the gold. It was the
first time I’d had sex in quite some time. I’d forgotten her silky skin, the
simple joy of being so close to another beating heart– all the things that
alcohol had erased from my life. We fell asleep in each other’s arms. Finally,
after so much defeat, I felt complete.
next morning, the sun hung brightly in the sky like an ancient coin.
The air had a quality that was unlike anything I’d experienced before.
An atmosphere composed of some sort of purifying substance overwhelmed
my lungs and fortified my soul. I walked out on the balcony and
found a bread and juice breakfast that had been delivered by the hotel staff.
Melissa joined me soon after wearing nothing but her sheer white
“Well, what do you think
of this place. Is it unreal or what?”
“It’s beyond words that
this simple poet can find for it,” I replied. “How’d you sleep?”
a rock for the first few hours. Then I was restless. I think we have to
get used to the time change. We’re six or seven hours ahead over here, I
I didn’t do too bad. Still wish I had my pills though, just in case.”
Val, can you feel the beautiful wind on your skin? This is what it means to
could feel it. It was a pleasant contrast to my body’s normal ache–
the ache of recovery.
know, we’ve been through so much these past few months. I think this was a great idea. I think we both just needed
to get away.”
She was right. I knew I needed to get away and it
made me feel good that she seemed happy. It almost came close to
absorbing an ounce or two of the guilt I
felt for running her through the ringer. Melissa was the only girl that I could
honestly say I ever loved (or who ever loved me). The sunlight made the pores of her skin sparkle. Her
hair danced in the gentle breezes. I
watched her breasts loll beneath the silky toga-like nightgown that seemed to float upon her body.
The white light of the horizon poured over us like
a silk cupola as we walked out into
the flooding sun and exchanged our American traveler’s checks for Greek cash. If I remember right, a
dollar was worth about two hundred drachmae. It took some getting used to.
Buying a bottle of spring water and hearing the man behind the counter
say ‘400 please,’ can throw you off. Anyway,
we walked down to the beach, which was composed of glistening black ash. Being
a volcanic island, these crushed volcanic pebbles washed in with the tides. The
sea cast silvery specters of rain on the
blackness of the beach. I noticed that the women were topless. It seemed like
too much– beaches in my favorite color and nude women! Melissa looked over at me for my reaction, which I
downplayed for her benefit. She wasn’t
fooled, and whipped off her bikini top right in front of me.
“What are you
do you mean? I’m getting into the spirit of it.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but went along
with it. It’s a strange feeling,
rubbing tanning lotion on your girlfriend’s breasts in public.
After the beach, we went back to the room and
fucked. I mean, if last night had been lovemaking, then this was a fucking. We
thrashed around until we passed out, sweaty and satisfied in the warm
After lunch, we decided to take a hike around the
town and countryside. The
architecture was predominantly white. The houses were like ivory boxes jutting from hills, each adorned
with simple windows and clean porches.
The sun sweated the leafy green palms as the charred land crusted our shoes in
shards of steely grey. The air was so pure and clear it made me high. Rehab
seemed a million miles away as loose dogs gently roamed the countryside, stray
and unloved, looking for scraps. It was sad to see, and Mel wanted to
take them all home with her.
We climbed a large hill until the beach below
looked like a black fuse ignited by
the omnipresent blast of the sun. We could see the cliffs and peaks of
the surrounding Greek isles. We could hear the faint strains of a Greek band playing in the streets below.
can’t believe you agreed to do this,” Melissa said, clutching my hand.
“Why not. I love to walk when there’s something to see,
somewhere to go.“
that looks so high. Maybe we should’ve rented a moped or something.”
watched as a moped, carrying two of my own sloppy countrymen, farted past us up
the side of Mount Kamari. I pulled my shirt off and wiped my face before
shoving it into the rear pocket of my shorts. Dark rocks
lined the path like broken rosaries as the hills rolled out beneath us in
antique folds and ruddy hues. The root-veined paths etched solemn incursions
into cliffs of red ochre. The light carved sharp angles on the landscape
as the shadows of clouds left islets of crimson on the rough sketch
of creation unfolding before us.
said, “you look good, but maybe I should learn to cook to fatten you
“You look pretty edible
yourself,” I said as I licked the sweat off her neck.
“C’mon Private Pyle…
Push yourself… Glory cannot wait,” I said grabbing her ass.
“I like it better when
you call me your angel of love.”
I’m going to climb out on that cliff,” I said with a grin. “On
that cliff? No, you’re not.”
be right back.” I crawled out onto a rocky overhang that hovered above
the valley. The view was more intense than opium. Trees hovered on the rim of
my vision like transparent spirals that were burning into foam above the pale
“You’re gonna get
hurt. That’s stupid.”
the King of Kamari,” I said in mock heroics. “Very
funny. I suppose that was worth doing, right?” “Yes,
come out on the edge with me.”
“No way. I’m not going
began to walk up the winding path of dust to the peak. As we approached
the summit, Mel spoke.
do you think you’ll ever drink again?” The question was almost pleading.
“What? No… No I won’t drink… I’ll try.”
“I couldn’t take it,
“I’ve never known
“You’re lucky, I
“I’m glad I decided to
come. It’s great to see you so happy,” her hair like a halo of honeysuckle.
“You too,” I
I can really believe you about that rehab? They told me all kinds of…”
“Yes, you can.” I wasn’t lying on this one.
I really want to,” Mel said, pausing in a perfect silhouette against
the thinning azure of the elevated sky.
“I know… Do you
wanna rest a minute?”
“Yeah.” Melissa sat on a large boulder
in a small alcove near the top of the
“What are you
doing?” She asked.
“Come and see.” She smiled into my arms
as we looked at our initials that I’d
just carved in a small blossoming tree.
We went to dinner later that night and it was
wonderful. We dined for two hours.
The people at every table applauded as the sun threw its last exquisite kiss of light from beyond the distant
cliffs. I toasted our lasting happiness with a 6 ounce bottle of Perrier,
clinking Mel’s crystal goblet of homemade
is almost as good as getting toxified,” I said, slipping into an unintended moment of brutal candor.
just kidding. This is the best…” She held my gaze until I was forced
to look down at the tablecloth to avoid her harsh glare.
We went home soon after
and threw our clothes on the floor.
“I’m tired. I’m just
going to shower and hit the rack,” Mel said.
followed her into the bathroom, kissing and fondling. I watched the warm
water flow down her skin as I sat on the edge of the sink.
hope we get to do a lot of new things tomorrow. I love this place.” “I
dig a girl with hope in her soul,” I said grinning. “Haha… hand me the towel Val.”
“You’re not mad, are
“No, I’m just tired,” she said as I watched her dry between her legs.
We got into bed. The smell of warm air
commingling with Melissa’s skin was
irresistible. I kissed her as she squiggled into the sheets.
After about an hour, I realized I wasn’t going to
be able to sleep. Visions of rehab
danced in my head, along with worries of the life waiting for me at home. I was without a job, had huge
medical debts, and an empty bank
“Honey… I think I’m
going to take a night walk.” “What?
“I know. I just can’t
get used to this time change. I’ll be back soon.”
can’t believe you’re not tired after that hike,” Melissa said groggily. “Be careful.”
I kissed her cheek and headed out the door. My
head was slightly sore and my mouth
dry. I strolled along the glistening ash like a self-anointed lord under the glowing moon, a pink bouquet
flowering light upon the evening sea.
walked into the sacred initiation of night, beneath the ardent stars that paved
the sky with light. Kamari was buzzing– parties roared from the gorgeous
cocktail bars and promenades that lined the leafless, stone roads. I walked
past the chalky buildings and balustrades, seeing sophisticated
Europeans sipping martinis and laughing freely into the cool
night airs. It all seemed quite life-affirming to me.
It got to me.
It was as though I’d discovered paradise here on
this island, and it was not quite
good enough. If I could just shake the shame I was still feeling from my
misfortunes back home, I’d be free. The warm air, the rushing music, the people– I had to become a part of the
sinister beauty of it all, one last time.
I found the grungiest pub in Greece rotting in an
unlit alley on the far end of the island. Roadhouse
Blues poured like melodic water
into the dusty streets, and I was
hooked. Dionysus kissed my cheek, drawing blood. I stepped inside.
The place was like a black cave that smelled of
clogged keg lines and stale whiskey.
The walls were mirrored in some spots, and the tables glowed in neon. It looked like a low-rent biker
hang-out from back home, filthy and dank. Whiskey bottles littered the back
wall along with a few shot glasses
and black-light posters. It was a mean, drinking place. I was
home– ready for one last
drink with the gods.
out some money and laid it on the bar, which was as cold as marble.
I began drinking shots of VO with
tap beer, and after about an hour, I was lit. My glance strayed in a vague blur
of spinning images as the blood of the pub flowed in my veins.
noticed that the bartender spoke perfect English and that the table scrubbers
only knew Greek. This was the way it was. Since the island was basically
surviving on the tourist dollar, Greeks who knew English got the preferred jobs (if you call
bartending a preferred job). I was tipping liberally
that night, anyway.
bartender! Do you know that Breton said that the only divinity is
temptation?”Ibellowed, enjoying the bitter
aftertaste of the vitreous liquids I’d just
swilled. He only smiled patiently, and brought me another beer.
A girl in a light blue shirt came up and started
talking about something I no longer
remember. She let me pour cold beer on her tits. I stared at her nipples and bought her a shot. I know that
somewhere in my inebriated brain, I
must’ve wondered whether I could get away with fucking her before the night was
I probably could’ve, but didn’t.
A guy in a black doo-rag and leather vest came up
to me and threw 20,000 drachmae on
the bar and said, “I can drink you a mile under the bar, brother.” I noticed an angel in his ear
made of tarnished silver and a strange
accent in his voice. The girl moved off to the side with her drink,
looking wistfully around
on,” I said as I dug the rest of my money from my pocket and tossed it up alongside his.
“Fine… But, we
drink tequila, you see.”
That’s for fags! Alright, I don’t give a shit what it is.”
your name, huh?”
“I’m Jurgen. I’m
traveling across the world from the Netherlands.” “United States. I’m here with my girlfriend,” accidentally
exhaling a lungful of smoke in the
guy’s smiling face.
land of cash and cows. I’m visiting New York this fall. Maybe we can hook
“Sure, why the hell
not… Now let’s get going.”
bartender poured two gorgeous shots of Cuervo. I raised my glass and
said, “to the glorious beaches of Greece.” The shot went down like gasoline.
My head spun a little, as the liquor grazed my mind. I tried to focus on the
bartender’s tattoo, which I remembered being a bloody dagger
protruding from an electrified skull.
Jurgen drank his down,
reeling a bit with his hand over his heart.
I wiped my mouth with the
back of my hand, “let’s go motherfucker…
Hey bartender, my man,
two more Cuervos– pronto!”
“Hold on there Val…
We’ve got all night.”
“I don’t. There’s no
time to waste in this place,” I said reverently. We each gulped our shots. As I downed mine, I fell back into the bar,
but Jurgen’s drink sent him flying over a table of young
women with umbrella drinks.
hurt from laughing. “Dumb fuck,” I hollered drunkenly. The girls
were at a loss, not sure whether to be pissed off or help him up. Jurgen
walked back over, looking sheepishly.
this mean I am the new king? I’m ready for more.” “No
way! Are you nuts?”
“Then I’ll drink your shot as well. A victory
drink for the righteous.” I threw
all of my money across the bar and told the bartender to give me what was left of the bottle. I drank the rest in
a few violent swigs. Sweat was
pouring from my brow as I emptied the rest of my beer glass as well. The mirror
behind the bar turned red, as though blood was spilling over the image of myself, before everything faded to
black. There was no sound. I was
It seemed there was some passage of time, though
how much, I couldn’t be sure. I came to consciousness in some back-alley weeds behind the bar. I was immediately aware of
someone’s shit-stinking breath and
the sound of my shirt ripping. A huge bluish blur sharpened into focus before
my opening eyes, and I realized that I was staring into Jurgen’s blue and paisley covered head.
“What the fuck are
you doing? Jurgen!”
“FUCK–” I smacked his head, knocking the doo-rag into the weeds, “Jesus
Christ, I told you I was here with my fucking girlfriend…” Jurgen
just sat there on the ground, his face filling with tears.
“What the fuck? I gotta go man. See you
around.” I walked away with a vague
sense of passion and a gentle melancholy. I was a bit sad that Jurgen and I would not be hooking up in New York
that fall. The first stunning purple
ray of the sun prowled over the water. I walked into a grocery store, half stumbling, and bought a
Heineken with the loose change I’d discovered buried in the bottom of my
pocket. I sat on the beach and stared into the whispering waves. When I’d
finished, I tossed the bottle into a
bin and headed back to the hotel room.
I opened the door gently. Melissa was sitting on
the edge of the bed. I’d been there
for no longer than a few seconds…
“Fuck you! How could
you? After all…”
All excuses died on my tongue. I walked out the
door into the convulsive silence–
the simple matter of existence. I couldn’t bear to watch her leave me. It just hurt too much. I
didn’t want to see her in pain. I
knew it was my fault. The sun sparkled over the Aegean. There was no applause.
The sea was speechless, and I was composed only of regret. I knew I’d never see her again.
One of the stray dogs that had been hanging around
the hotel followed me into the
streets. It was a little black and white spotted thing with missing fur. I knelt down to pet the poor bastard.
walked alone, the sound of the sea beating violently over my heart.
THE TRUE SEASON
apartment is like an empty chest. It’s completely stripped bare, my hollow
heartbeat echoing inside the four empty walls. I stand and gaze into the
absence, imagining Melissa’s doll cabinet glistening in the space it once
occupied. I listen in the silence and hear the absent kewpie’s voice…‘it’ll be alright Val, just
take a rest and the world will be right in the light of morning…’
days fade into each other, the murk of routines taking hold in the absence
of expectation. I’ve managed to land a job running a forklift at the paper
plant and each day I walk to the local convenience store before work.
I’ve gotten into this routine of morning coffee, I suppose, to replace the
vodka and orange juice that had usually begun my earlier workdays.
into the store, which is brightly lit and mirrorlike. I notice a strange
man stocking shelves, his face dissolving into the silver tangle of a beard.
He’s muttering something unintelligible.
‘Butterfinger, butterfinger… That’s not correct… We go back down to
zero… Butterfinger, butterfinger– I’ll take 600 Jack… That is not correct.
I fasten the lid on my 20
ounce cup and walk to the cashier. I hand a bill through the artificial light to a rotund lady with spiky hennaed hair.
Cheap earrings hang lank from her
sagging ears as she stares blankly from
behind her purple makeup. She looks like an exotic animal.
The streets are covered
with orange blossoms, brightly undulating in the warm breeze. I can think of nothing other than the fact that I’ll be
wasting the day loading paper. The
coffee burns my lips. I don’t entirely dislike
the sensation. The asphalt shines black through the resonant petals
blazing like treasures in
my eyes. I must learn not to be a slave of my crippling desires, I ponder,
as I walk away from the golden ball of the sun
into the black shadows of
the factory. Everything seems muted and slow. Blue shadowed faces lined in defeat walk past me without smiling and everything is filtered through a dense craving for
perform the dull task of loading and unloading paper, I dream only of
sleeping in the lonely nook of my empty apartment, the white flowers
of dream pouring into my head under a necklace of stars. The factory
is a mirror of my heart– huge and empty. Everything strikes my
blandly, without the impressed boldness of palpitating urgency that alcohol
maintains. Impressions slide over me into an endless parade of memory, the
colors of time. I dream of walking along the ocean-at dusk, when I feel
the most free, the tides my faithful companions. It is only by allowing my mind
to unwind in the cold spaces of the factory, that I make it
through these impossible days.
I call a cab from work.
Tonight I have an appointment with Doctor Maxson, who I’ve been seeing twice a week since chucking the hooch. His office is a small and anonymous-looking building
just outside of town.
I walk into the outer room
and am struck immediately by the smell of pipe tobacco. It’s the same
brand my father smoked. I suppose it gets me in
the proper mood to unleash the sickness that has created my life. Most of the time, I’m acutely aware of a dull pressure
in my cheeks, just below my lower
eyelids, as though the pain of many years seeks to pour out of me in a
torrent of tears. No matter what I do, I can find no way to shed these rains and bring myself some relief.
A man who appears to be in
his late fifties and out of shape, files past the couch that I’m sitting on and walks into the parking lot. I look up
from a magazine, bad easy-listening music polluting my ears, and notice Dr. Maxson looking from his office.
“With you in a moment,” he says to me,
before going back in.
I go to the bathroom to
piss and stare into the mirror before closing my eyes to concentrate on the simple and immediate pleasure of evacuating my
bladder. I wipe the few amber beads that have misfired on the porcelain rim,
wash my hands, and leave.
I knock on the open office door.
“Yes… Come in, Val… c’mon. How’ve you been?”
feel a bit stranded.”
“What are you now, a
month or two into your new job? How is it, the least of many possible evils?”
It’s just nothing. I spend all day driving for miles in little circles inside those four grey walls, but
at the end of the day I’m still taking
Doctor Maxson laughs and
nods in affirmation. I take a seat in the red leather armchair facing the doctor. His face is brightly seasoned and
bears the expression of having
experienced a life well lived. A light blue suit jacket that doesn’t match his tan trousers lends an air of placid benevolence to his relaxed movements. He draws
upon a large black pipe at distant intervals, exhaling a light grey mist that
hangs in liquid circles in the soft spaces of his office.
“My mother’s in the
hospital again,” I say. “She’s smoking to the point where she’s completely unable to breathe. Quite
heartening. They dose her with pills and fill her with oxygen until the
symptoms subside, then she’s back
off, sucking on death. I suppose I should quit myself, but figure I’ll deal with one crisis at a time.”
Dr. M strokes his chin,
nodding slightly as he listens attentively to what I’m saying.
find it really hard to be around it at all. Things seem to have gotten sicker
in that house since my dearly departed father divorced her and fled to
what do you make of that?”
don’t know… I did get a note from him last week, believe it or not. He
actually admitted that he had messed up my life in many ways.” “Now,
I find that absolutely fascinating… It’s the first acknowledgment of any
responsibility for his own behavior that you’ve ever told me about.”
“Either that, or it’s
another grand manipulation on his part to arouse some sort of guilt in me, or
sympathy for him to accompany his self-imposed
“Well, he would never acknowledge any
wrong-doing for your benefit alone.
It seems to be more about making himself feel better rather than making you feel anything.”
“Of course, manipulation with him is old
art, because you allowed it to work for
so many years and allowed the way he made you feel to control you. But, it is my belief that he was never
thinking about you. It was always
what I am allowing his note to do is to make me question whether I could’ve
done anything more for him as a son. Could I have made things work?”
“There’s no way, I think you know that. But
you’re manipulating yourself with his
words… words he wrote to make himself feel better about his own situation.”
short change yourself… In a very short time, you’ve broken away
from this sort of dependent need for his approval, the need to always rescue
yourself from the horror of his world. The fact that he acknowledges some sort
of complicity in the demise of your family in general, and your own
downfalls specifically, may be all well and good for him.
You should only take it for what it’s worth.”
“Ands what’s that?”
“The first time your father may’ve ever
spoken to you rather than at you– the first time he may’ve truly communicated something
he feels to you other than rage, assuming it is real.”
suppose I must take that on faith, like a good Christian, eh?” “So,
have you made it sober through your ninety days?” “Yeah,
so far I’ve made it…”
“That’s just great. Well, maybe those meetings
that you were initially resistant to
attending are helping. You’re maintaining the job, no matter how rotten it is, and you’re starting to piece
your life back together.”
“I’ve been thinking about drinking quite a
bit this past week. It lands on me like an animal. I sometimes spend the
whole day trying to toss off the urge.”
what do you do?” Doctor M asks, genuinely curious as he huffs a little smoke from his nostrils.
“I just get through it.”
“It doesn’t seem like a
yearning for the good old days?”
days are not that old, and are starting to seem less and less good.
The filth comes flooding into my mind pretty soon after contemplating
a drink. The immersion in those old memories is what I think
stops me most of the time.”
“Distance, only if
it’s ninety days down the road, often brings objectivity. When your laying in the hole detoxing, wishing you weren’t
there, the temptation to blot out
those feelings by any means necessary is often strong, although the memory of what landed you there is as well.
The further you get away from that, the more you can look at the overall picture rationally.”
the recovery process continues, feelings of wanting to enhance the good
in your life will become more prevalent and the feelings of wanting to blot
everything out will subside.”
may have to do what the cavemen did.” “What’s that?”
“Well, back before
artificial methods of altering consciousness were discovered, they’d just go out and bang their
heads on rocks or spin around ’til
they got dizzy, threw up and said ‘Hey, that was pretty cool.”‘
He gets me laughing for the
first time that day. The good doctor always
manages this miracle at least once a session. I make an� appointment
for next week, shake his warm hand, and head out into the cool night air.
The moon glows like a
benevolent oval over the cobalt waves that roll over my vision. It feels good
to be going home, a place where I have nothing to be other than myself. I
inhale deeply the sweet smell of nectar, blossoms tingeing the salty air with a seeded possibility. The smell is
intoxicating– a true pleasure for me. I can’t help wondering why I’m cursed with allergies as I sneeze into the silent
streets. Why is my joy always spoiled
with some opposing reality that renders it an impossibility for me?
I grab hold of the rusted
stair railing and jump up the cracked stained steps outside the apartments where I live. A few empty crushed cans of
cheap domestic beer litter the carpeted steps that rise to my apartment door. The animals below just toss their garbage
wherever they please. The stairs have
the dank odor of wet carpets. The halls are well lit, but I’m too tired to find it irritating. As I open the
apartment door, my eyes slide down a
solitary shaft of light that sparks into the inceptive hold of Melissa’s