Like many writers, I feel centered when I write, or it might be better to say, when I don’t write, when I can’t write for whatever reason, I feel, frankly, de-stabilized. It’s dangerous for me not to write.
We were cheap-ass perverts, Beezer and me. We’d go down to Nogales and get tanked on fifty-cent Mexican beer outside the liquor stores, sitting at rickety, tin card tables set up on the sidewalk. The blanket-and-sombrero-toting tourists would stroll by us: new walking shoes, far-away college sweatshirts, windbreakers, cameras. Their eager-eyed kids would clutch illegal fireworks that they’d stuff in their tube socks to sneak over the border. They all looked too clean and bright for the brown, humid smudge of Nogales.
After we got good and drunk, we’d saunter over to the strip places—¡Ladies Bars!—in La Zona Roja where they sold the same Pacifico beer for three dollars a bottle. We’d buy one each, and sit and gawk at the women on stage like any other run-of-the-mill lechers; only we were in Mexico and inebriated, so it seemed like being there at the Ladies Bars was almost required, and somehow the most natural thing in the world.
That night, the strippers were sad-eyed, like mothers of troubled children—and one of them was a mother because when she squished around her doughy breasts, she shot milk in my friend Beezer’s eye. The same woman snatched my John Deere cap right off my head, and danced around with it like it was all hers, rubbing it seductively over her body, and finally putting it on top of her sprayed-up, crispy bangs. A cowboy turned to me and said, “That was a good hat,” like he understood my loss. It was a good hat: shaped to fit my big skull, perfectly molded bill, and it smelled right—like minty dandruff shampoo and sweaty wool.
The milk-squirting hat-grabber left the stage, and I sat there, convinced that my hat was gone for good, tossed on the floor of the dancers’ cramped changing room, hidden under a crusty velvet pull-away skirt next to some forlorn go-go boots.
“It’s a good way to lose a hat,” Beezer said to me, taking a fake sip from his beer, sniffing, and wiping his nose on his sleeve. He had snorted a little mound of crude speed he’d bought for five bones from a shakey street kid as soon as we crossed the border. A stoner we knew from high school—Flynn—had gotten Beezer into that shit while I was back East at college. Beezer didn’t have a brother or parents like mine, so he didn’t know any better. Beezer was 30, but he sometimes looked 15, especially when he was drunk and wired. That night, his face was ruddy and stupid.
I had serious hat-head, so I ran my fingers through my hair and fluffed it up. I knew Becky, my girlfriend at the time, would be happy that my hat was gone. She hated that hat, said it made me look like a Billy Bob.
A less enthusiastic woman trudged out on stage, dancing off-beat to an obnoxious techno version of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and looking into space with her tired, wide-set eyes. At first she was dressed like a cowgirl, but soon her breasts were sagging out for us, swaying loosely in our faces. Beezer was into her. He kissed one of those breasts and stuffed a dollar in her white boot. At the end of her routine, she was a nasty bandita, shooting cap guns into the audience, wearing nothing but a vinyl holster.
We each ordered another beer, mollifying the grumpy waiter. It was around 1:00 in the morning, and the place was stinky with dusty ranchers and locals who had finished selling their wares to gringos. I wanted to leave, but then I saw my hat again, this time on a different stripper. She rode a dingy white donkey onto the stage, and the whole crowd started howling, whooping it up. I was wondering, Am I really so pathetic that I’ll sit here and watch a woman fuck around with a donkey in the slight chance that I’ll get my cap back? I decided, No, I’m not, and I tapped Beezer on the shoulder.
He turned around. “Your hat,” he said. Then he looked back to the stripper. She was lying under the donkey, pulling on its pink dingus, getting it ready.
“Let’s go,” I yelled in Beezer’s ear. “Now, man!”
Beezer was usually good that way. He would listen most of the time. He was dense, but he knew it, so he paid attention to me. I’d saved his ass on way too many occasions.
But that night he didn’t listen—he was all speeded up and fidgety. He stumbled over guys and chairs and hopped on stage, and as he squatted down to grab my hat off the stripper’s head, the donkey reared back and kicked him in the temple.
The way Beezer’s eyes looked, loose and rolled white as cue-balls, I thought he was dead. The stripper sprang out from under the donkey, and jumped up, her hands glistening with oil in the pulsating stage lights. She laughed vengefully above the sexy, jazzy foreplay music when she saw Beezer on his back. The donkey remained unaffected by the whole thing, not even snorting or moving his cruel, cloudy eyes, just twitching his ass muscles and shaking his tail a little.
As I pushed through whores and slobs and tables to get to the stage, Beezer stood up. “I got your hat, man,” he said, clutching it in victory like he had just captured the flag. His left eye was still stuck white. It didn’t roll back to normal.
The customs officer at the border looked twice at Beezer and that eye. “You all right?”
“Fine,” Beezer said. “I’m an American citizen and I have nothing to declare except that I’m drunk, and so is Sam here.”
“Shut the hell up,” I told Beezer. Border cops had scared me since I was a kid and my brother Brian made me smuggle a dime bag of Mexican ditch weed in my underpants. I was pegged in a second—I was too nervous, and before I knew it, a short, fat officer with thick hairs sprouting from his nostrils was sticking his stubby fingers up my eight-year-old ass. The whole ordeal cost my parents $1200, but they thought it was funny. It was something to tell their Jacuzzi friends at the club.
I started to worry about Beezer. The damn eye was still rolled back, only now his whole face was glazed over with a sudden flow of moisture. No bruise or cut from the hoof in the head—just the weeping, white eye. I told him to blink as we walked to my truck, which was parked a few blocks in on the Arizona side.
“Why?” he said.
“Your eye, man. Blink for God’s sake.”
It was tough to drive that dull stretch of I-19 back to Tucson at night, drunkish, with Beezer sitting next to me. That eye—I couldn’t help glancing over at it. Its moistness caught all the lights, twinkled even. It looked like a zombie’s eye. “Beezer, we have to get that eye fixed,” I said.
“I don’t have insurance anymore,” he said. “It won’t be stuck tomorrow.”
“I hope not.”
“I’ve been kicked in the head much harder,” he said before he clicked on the radio: I saw the sign. I opened up my eyes, I saw the sign …
“What the hell?” I said. “Turn that off now.”
I could see through the kitchen window that Becky was still up, sitting at the table, angrily smoking with a stack of glossy art books spread out in front of her. “Let me guess,” she said when I pushed open the screen door, “you were out with Beezer, you’re drunk, and you smell like seedy bars.”
“Sorry,” I said. “All three are true.” I took off my hat and looked at it so I didn’t have to look at her. There was a small stain on the top, which caused me to wonder why I had been so hasty to put it on my head after getting it back from the strippers.
“Beezer’s a dirt-eating hick,” she said. “Why don’t you just live with him? You obviously prefer his company.”
“Look, I said I was sorry.”
“He’s trash.” She sucked hard on her cigarette and flipped a page in her book. She spread her fingers over a Botero painting of a round boy in a sailor suit. The boy carried a Bible and a candle, and there were two little devils flying over his shoulder. I knew Botero too well—Becky was writing her dissertation on him: The Sensuality of Plump. She had been working on it for three years. “The thing I don’t get,” she continued, “is how you can stand being around such a cretin.”
“He’s a good guy,” I said. “Always has been.”
I went over and lifted her hair from her neck and tried to kiss her. She had the kind of hair you could hide in: long and thick, and always clean despite her smoking. She pulled away and nearly burned my chin with her cigarette before I could even get a whiff of the familiar citrus fragrance of her shampoo.
“You’re sweating out your beer, and you stink,” she said. “But I guess I’m lucky tonight. You decided to actually come home.”
“Beezer hurt his eye real bad.”
“Good.” She slammed the book shut and went into the bedroom.
That night I woke up humping an afghan—acrylic, kind of fuzzy. Becky didn’t stir even though I was rocking the bed pretty hard. I could have stopped if I’d been coherent enough to want to—I was about three pumps away from coming—but I didn’t, I had already reached that electric part, and I came all over the bed, not even knowing what I had been dreaming.
I wasn’t sure how much later it was, but Becky was screaming at me and swatting my head. She was crying, and looked like a sea monster with her bugged eyes, her arms flailing, and her light-brown hair mussed and suffused with the early yellow light.
“I can’t control wet dreams,” I told her. “That’s impossible.”
“You can’t control anything.”
I first met Becky at Dirtbag’s, a self-consciously preppy bar near the U of A—walls crammed with black and white photos of old baseball teams, and oars even though there was nowhere to row within a 300 mile radius. As soon as Becky found out that I had graduated from Williams College, she clung to me like a chigger. I tried to tell her that the only reason I went there was because I sacked quarterbacks better than the average smart person. I tried to tell her how I had to earn almost half my college credits at Arizona during the summers because taking a full load at Williams was too much for me, but she wouldn’t listen. She pegged me for a smart guy, and that was that. When I said I worked construction, she claimed she knew the type: blue collar worker by day, poet and philosopher by night.
Beezer was with me at Dirtbag’s that night, and after Becky squeezed her way into our booth, she asked him where he had gone to college.
“I didn’t,” he said. “I barely made it out of high school.”
She ignored him for the rest of the night. If I’d been wearing my John Deere cap, she never would have spoken to me in the first place, never would have misjudged me as a poet or a philosopher.
Even back then when we were first dating, Becky hated it when I went out with Beezer. For revenge, she’d go to the bars she knew Beezer and I frequented—the Round-Up, the Buffet, Bill Tester’s Bushwhacker Lounge—and she’d find some slob to make-out with. I’d walk in, and there she’d be, tongue-wrestling with the guy in that drunken, slow-motion way, like she knew people were watching. I’d ignore her, sit down at the bar, and pound Coors with Beezer, keeping him out of trouble. She’d leave with her catch, making sure to swagger by me and squeeze his ass. I made a point not to give a shit most of the time.
So the morning after Beezer got kicked in the head and his eye got stuck, I found this note from Becky:
Sam—Throw the sheets and blankets in the washing machine. Please don’t go out with Beezer tonight. We really need to talk about a few things. I’ll be home early.
The few things she wanted to talk about were the same few things she always wanted to talk about: my drinking, and Beezer’s being a bad influence. I should have cleaned the house like a madman, gone out and bought her some wine and flowers, and had dinner ready for her when she got home. She would have forgiven me, and probably wouldn’t have brought up those few things for another week. But I didn’t want to be forgiven at that point, and I was too hung-over and lazy to clean the house or do anything productive except throw the bedding into the washing machine.
I had forgotten how funny and cool she could be, and how she only wanted me to make something of myself. She was the one who coached me through my contractor’s exam for months, sitting at the kitchen table flipping through stacks of flash cards. I flunked the exam twice, but she kept helping me.
The night before my third try, she said, “The real world is not multiple choice. That test is a travesty.”
“I have to pass.”
“You’ll pass. Three’s a charm.”
I flunked again—another eighty-dollar testing fee down the tubes. She knew I was depressed and feeling stupid, so she brought me photocopies of articles about multiple intelligences and learning styles. “You’re a kinesthetic learner,” she said. “Your kinesthetic IQ is genius-level. You’ll be an excellent contractor someday.” I was slumped over the table, and she started working my back like a masseuse, rolling her knuckles along my shoulders and giving me karate chops every once in a while.
“Two of Beezer’s brothers passed it, and one of them was in special-ed classes in high school,” I mumbled.”
“That just proves how stupid the test is,” she said. “You have a degree from one the best colleges in the country. You have to remember that.”
She taught me a lot—mostly about Botero, but I loved listening to her. One night she gave me a whole lecture about fat people in art. “Rubens,” she said, “he revered corpulence for reasons much different from Botero’s.”
“I like Rubens,” I said. “Sometimes I want to stick my hand in his paintings and poke the fat ladies.”
“I don’t think that was the kind of aesthetic appreciation Rubens was after,” she said, smiling like she knew I had really thought about Rubens’s fat beauties. “But I do think Botero would love that sort of response to his paintings. Honest. He has a sense of humor … “
She should have gone to Williams, not me.
I moved over to Beezer’s place the morning I got the note. I thought I’d only stay a few days, give Becky a chance to miss me and me to miss her. I scrawled back in three or four days on the bottom of the note she left for me. When I returned, I’d tell her I’d go back to Dr. Kilbinski or another shrink if she wanted.
I realized I had forgotten my hat when I pulled into Beezer’s driveway and dripping sweat stung my eye. There was no way I was going back for it—Becky was probably home from school, having a conniption about my note and about my forgetting to hang the blankets and sheets out on the line. I was scared for a second, thinking it was Becky’s big chance to get rid of my hat. I imagined her cutting it up with garden sheers, and tossing the shreds in the trash. Becky destroying my hat, I thought, was a bad way of retiring it. A stripper stealing it would have been much better.
Beezer lived in a crumbling adobe place way out west of town on a dirt road in a forest of saguaros. His grandmother left it to him when she died; she chose to leave it to him over his three brothers, and his brothers were pissed. It was a creepy place because Beezer never disposed of his grandmother’s gewgaws: collectors’ plates, figurines, faded velvet paintings of clowns and kittens. But I roomed there because he let me, sleeping up in a little square loft on a musty Navajo rug, squeezed between boxes of Christmas ornaments.
It had stayed rolled back, his eye, for days after he was kicked, so he wore big aviator sunglasses everywhere—looked like a cop with something to prove. I had called “Ask a Nurse” as soon as I saw his eye was still stuck, and the woman told me he needed medical attention right away. I told Beezer, and he told me to shut up. “I got this,” he said, holding up a tube of eye ointment. “It won’t get infected with this shit in it, and I thought it might help it slide back to normal.”
“That’s not for eye problems like yours.”
“Just give it a few more days,” he said. “Like I said, I’ve been kicked much harder before.”
For money, Beezer broke broncs or taught vacationers from the East how to ride and rope. He was good. He could rope calves in competition like he was plucking weeds from sand—easily, methodically, with a stony face. The problem was that his work wasn’t steady, especially with a bad eye, so he spent too much time in front of Ricki Lake or the Spice sex channel with a Coors in his hand—at least he did when I was staying at his place. I’d wake up at 5:00 or so to get to the site, and I’d find him passed out in the orange glow of some third-rate porno. His head would be tilted sideways, and his shirt would be wet with drool, and in the background there’d be exaggerated erotic moans and slurps from the TV. Sometimes his left lid would be peeled back, and I’d see his white eye drying out. I’d go over there and push the lid down, but it would snap back up like it was made of rubber. I’d scramble around for the damn ointment, even though I knew it didn’t help any, then I’d squirt a blob on my finger and dab it into that eye. I had to. It was my hat he had saved.
It was one of those shit-hot July afternoons when the birds fly around with their mouths open, and I found Beezer sitting on his ass at the end of his dirt driveway like he had just fallen from the heavens and didn’t have a clue where he was. When I saw Flynn’s matte gray VW parked up by the house, I knew Beezer was whacked on something stronger than Coors. Flynn was always figuring some way to get high: harvesting peyote buttons, boiling out the opium tar from highway poppies, smoking the dried insides of banana peels. Like Beezer, Flynn had too much time on his hands, only, unlike Beezer, he didn’t have a house, so he was always sponging off someone.
“Beezer, buddy,” I said, “what’s your problem?” I got out of my truck and nudged him on the shoulder.
He just swayed catatonically and grinned. He wasn’t wearing his sunglasses, and his one good eye was dilated black like a hockey puck, even out there in the afternoon’s white light. The fresh, pink sun damage was practically throbbing off his face, and I knew I had to take him inside.
“Get up, man,” I said. “What’d Flynn give you?”
No answer, so I hefted him to the house and plopped him on the couch. Flynn was in there, his skinny, half-naked body curled into a pale, twitching ball under the kitchen table. Flynn, I didn’t give a shit about. There were no pipes, no funny smells, no needles, nothing to indicate how they had gotten wasted.
“Close your eyes, Beezer,” I said. “I’ll get you some water.” I was used to it, but every time Beezer got fucked up, especially when Flynn was involved, it scared me.
My brother Brian would come home trashed like that all the time when I was a kid. He’d stumble into my room, laughing or puking or just looking around at all my toys and books with big, amazed eyes. He was seven years older, and the first few times he chose to sober up in my room, I was scared, thinking that when I got into junior high and high school, I’d have to get wasted, too; thinking that it was part of it all, required.
My parents were no help. They blossomed socially in their late thirties around when Brian started ninth grade. My father sported a tight perm and a three-inch-wide watchband. My mother’s hair was feathered and her over-tanned skin was like canned gravy. They were part of the Tucson Racquet Club scene: new pre-fab homes in the foothills, racy parties with swinging couples and cocaine, roller disco at Skate Country, chiropractors. They were cool and they wallowed in it all. They mellowed after Brian died. My father read more, and my mother let her skin heal.
Caring for my brother was almost a nightly ritual—I knew to get him water and how to keep him quiet. I was good at it until near the end. About a week before he died, I awoke at two or three in the morning with his tongue squirming around in my mouth, warm and fatty feeling, and his sparse whiskers scraping my chin and nose. As it was happening, I was dreaming there was a wild animal in my mouth that I couldn’t spit out. I finally woke up because I was suffocating. I shoved him off with my arms and legs, and he hit the floor.
“My own brother,” Brian said, crying, squatting next to my bed. “My own brother kissing me like that.”
“I didn’t,” I said.
“For a six-year-old, you’re a fucking pervert.”
“I’m ten, and I didn’t do anything.”
He wasn’t listening. He stood up and staggered over to my fish tank. He flicked on the purple light and stared in. He was glowing, casting jittery shadows all over my room.
“Want water?” I asked him. “I’ll get you water.” I sat up and wiped my mouth on my pajama sleeve.
“You did it,” he said. “Not me. You frenched me.”
“I was asleep. How could I?”
“You’re really fucked in the head.” He flicked off the tank light and lumbered down the hall.
I went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth until the toothpaste foam plopping from my mouth was pink with blood. I worried that night, nauseated, my mind racing. Had I kissed him first? I was asleep, I reasoned, I couldn’t have.
The coyotes, they kept me awake for hours with their distressed, squealing frenzy of yips—even with my window closed and my pillow wrapped around my head. Police sirens would get the coyotes rolling. Sometimes I couldn’t distinguish between sirens and coyotes, they’d mix, and I’d feel the noise in my stomach with another spurt of adrenaline each time the pitch got higher.
When my parents went to Vegas that next week more than 20 of Brian’s wasted friends invaded the house. They all looked older than Brian, the guys with thick, mutton-chop sideburns they could chew on; the ladies, big-hipped, clog-wearing types, shimmying around the place in their cut-offs and halter tops. They had a hookah bubbling in the living room, five of them sucking hash through snaky tubes, sitting on my mother’s Oriental rug. There was a keg out back near the pool in a Rubbermaid trash can full of ice. I remember my dad emptying that keg into the bushes a few weeks later; the rancid, yeasty stench crept all the way up to my room on the other end of the house.
I tried to watch things at the party, but there were too many people to keep track of, so I ended up only following Brian who was capering around, indulging in a little bit of everything, adjusting his stereo until Robert Plant’s high, dangerous voice was just right: You need coolin’. Baby I’m not foolin’. I’m gonna send you back to schoolin’ …
I tried to be stealthy, but Brian noticed me on the stairs above the family room as he painted a rocker chick’s belly with my poster paints. The chick was sprawled across the coffee table, her head dangling off the end, Styx baseball shirt hiked up to her breasts, and lace-up jeans untied a little. He smeared all the colors together into rude shades of green and brown, fingering in swirls, and making a flower around her navel. When he spotted me up there, he yelled, “Want something, pervert?” and flicked his tongue at me like Gene Simmons. The rocker chick laughed, and sat up, spilling the paint into her jeans.
I knew jumping into the pool from the roof was risky, but I didn’t protest. I just watched it all from the kitchen window, pressing my face against the screen, hearing the thuds from their footsteps above me. Some guys were doing flips or cannonballs, barely missing the side of the pool. The girls were in the water cheering them on, naked, with their white breasts floating in front of them.
Brian tripped up there, and when I heard the dull thunk of his head on the cement deck below, I knew he was dead. He had peeled away most of his back on the way down, scraping it on the red, Mexican roof tiles. Someone rolled him over as I got out there, and Brian’s dazed face looked towards the Catalina Mountains.
They all stood around, dripping, naked, dumbfounded, some of the girls screaming, turning away, stomping their feet in distress. One guy leaned over and blew in Brian’s mouth. Dark blood drained from his ear.
With Beezer moaning on the couch, and Flynn still quivering under the table, Becky pulled up in her brown Toyota. I was thinking she was there to take me back, to deliver me from my responsibilities with Beezer. I almost went in the other room to gather my stuff, but she was quick to the door, running up the path from the driveway.
Staring at drugged Beezer, but talking to me, she said, “I brought this. I know how much it means to you.” She pulled my hat out of her knapsack and tossed it at me. “It was on top of the fridge. I just kept forgetting about it.” She had gotten her hair cut, not much, but she looked younger, neater.
“I finished my dissertation—for real this time. It’s been officially submitted.”
“Congratulations,” I said, thinking she was probably both sad and psyched that she never had to look at Botero’s distorted fat people again. “A lot happens in a week.”
“Fun afternoon at Beezer’s?”
“No,” I said. “It’s not that fun.”
She turned on her way out and said, “By the way, your truck’s at the end of the driveway. The door’s still open and the radio’s on, tuned to a hick station.”
It clouded up black that afternoon. The doors stuck with humidity, and the swamp cooler offered no relief. All I could do for Beezer was aim an electric fan at him, and pat his forehead with a wet washcloth. I even wiped Flynn’s forehead a few times.
When Beezer woke up that night, his rolled eye was back to normal, looked fine, even when I closely examined it with a flashlight, watching his pupil constrict. “It feels a little funny,” he said, thumbing it. “Like I just got a haircut or had a cast removed. It feels new.”
We sat on a old pine bench on his front porch, staring out into the purple-dark desert, plugging down Coors and breathing in the creosote smell released by the quick monsoon that had plowed through the sky a few hours after Becky left. Beezer and Flynn had swallowed jimsom seeds that morning, and Beezer said he had seen everything in two dimensions. I didn’t know what it was like for Flynn who was still sleeping under the kitchen table, but Beezer said it was cool. He had stopped at the end of his driveway and sat in the dirt because he thought he was going to bump into the mountains.
“They were right there in front of me, only they were waist-high,” he said.
“Oh,” I said, “You were like Godzilla.”
“I like Mothra,” he said. He kicked a crumbled can off the porch. “You know, Sam, we should hit Nogales on Friday. I can drive now that my eye’s fixed. I’ll find that donkey and kick his ass.”
I ignored Beezer and tried to imagine everything in 2-D, people sliding around like paper dolls, houses and cacti flat, but still standing, all pressed together like a collage of cut-out magazine photos. I couldn’t get it right in my mind because legions of Botero’s fatties—round, jiggling, about to explode with plumpness—they invaded my image and brought the third dimension with them. Then I gazed across the desert for the headlights from Becky’s car, hoping she’d be pulling into the muddy driveway any minute, but knowing she wouldn’t.
I looked over at Beezer who was still jabbering about the donkey in Nogales, and wondered why the hell he was out on his front porch getting drunk after a day like he had. Why was he so excited to get back down to that depressing strip club?
To see Beezer on a horse was an amazing thing. The horse—practically any horse—was an extension of him. On a horse, he didn’t look dumb, he looked right, at ease with no stupid grin. At the guest ranch where he used to work, people practically rallied around him. Tourists from New York or Boston in stiff new Wranglers would insist on Beezer being their teacher. So why was he out there on the porch, belching now and then, with seven or eight empty Coors cans scattered at his bare feet?
I stepped away from Brian and sat on the diving board. I pulled my knees up to my chest, and watched all his stoned friends try to deal with the situation. One commanding woman wearing an Aunt Jemima bandanna on her head kept warning everyone that she was about to call an ambulance, and ambulance means cops. They all scattered like ants, grabbing their shoes and bags, running around the pool area through dangerously slippery puddles. One fat guy, shirtless, with breasts resting on top of his woolly stomach, wasn’t moving like the rest. He looked around nervously—eyes moving like rubber balls—as he shot his cup full of beer from the keg. He chugged that beer, took a deep breath, and filled his cup again, all while people dashed by him, running like they were all about to be bombed. When the fat guy saw me looking at him, his shoulders dropped. He tossed his cup and moved like the rest. A few guys said they couldn’t just leave Brian like that. One of them grabbed a giant beach towel with a pink flamingo emblazoned on it, and draped it over Brian so we could no longer see his dead eyes.
Those fucking sirens drove me crazy—ripping through my head—and then this insincere paramedic woman came over to me on the diving board and started blowing standard questions my way.
“Can you turn those sirens off?” I said to her. “Please.” I watched over her meaty shoulder as a few other paramedics went to work on Brian, covering his face with a plastic breathing device, looking at his eyes with a pen light, sticking their fingers then a tube in his mouth. One guy said, “No way,” and then they started loading Brian onto a stretcher—and all this time the paramedic lady was in my face, asking her dumb obvious shit: “There was a party here? … He fell from the roof? … He hit his head pretty hard?” She didn’t do anything about the sirens which got louder and faster.
Then instantly all the energy drained from me; my arms and legs felt like bags of dirt, and my eyelids were closing me off. I walked away from the woman, by about ten cops and paramedics all scribbling into little note pads, by our neighbor Mrs. Parsons who told me she’d stay until my parents got back from Vegas, and on up to my room.
I thought it was Brian who woke me later, and I stood up about ready to get him water. It was either dusk or dawn; the dirty brown light was seeping through my curtains and filling my room. I had either been sleeping for one hour or twelve—I couldn’t tell. When I determined the figure standing at my door wasn’t Brian, I sat back down on my bed and switched on my lamp.
I knew who it was before my eyes completely adjusted—I saw the dried paint splotches on her jeans. Her hair was matted-up on one side, and she was shoeless. “What the fuck?” she said blankly.
“What?” I said.
“Where is everyone?” She looked at her jeans and shirt like she was surprised to see they were smeared with colors. She raked her fingers through her hair, then shook her hand like she had touched something nasty. “I went downstairs and there was an old lady watching TV, but I can’t find anyone else.”
“That was Mrs. Parsons, I bet,” I told her. “You didn’t hear the sirens?”
She tottered over to my bed, and sat down next to me, staring straight ahead at my fish tank. “Why does your brother call you a pervert?” she said, grinning drowsily. I could smell the dried puke in her hair, like Parmesan cheese.
“I don’t know,” I said.
She seemed disappointed. She had expected a good story like Brian catching me masturbating with a dirty magazine or discovering me rifling through my mother’s panties and bras. She wanted me to divulge a sickening secret. She sighed, tried to blow her clumpy bangs out of her eyes. “When did the party get busted, anyway?”
“That’s not really what happened,” I told her.
Mark Jude Poirier is a graduate of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins. He is currently in his second year at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where he’s finishing a novel and a short story collection. His stories have appeared in recent issues of Cimarron Review, Gulf Coast, Green Mountains Review and other magazines.
Like many writers, I feel centered when I write, or it might be better to say, when I don’t write, when I can’t write for whatever reason, I feel, frankly, de-stabilized. It’s dangerous for me not to write.