The guy upstairs has a swollen prostrate. I know because it takes him ten minutes to piss. He starts out okay, a steady stream, then it becomes short bursts. Bang, long pause, bang, long pause, bang…. The sound comes through my ceiling, in a dim sort of high fidelity. The sticky darkness adhering to it, giving it weight. It’s the curse of whiskey and the gift of insomnia. I hear everything in the dark, and I’m blessed with empty hours to interpret.
The guy upstairs wears a fez, red with a black silk tassel. He reads E.E. Cummings and Aleister Crowley all night, and drinks absinthe. He listens to opera on his Victrola, too. Then, round 5:00 a.m., I hear him fall into his mattress. Like a meteor hitting a desert mesa, obliterating everything.
I’m guessing at some of this, of course. But some of it I know to be fact. I broke into his place a few weeks after he moved in, while he was out doing whatever a guy like that does. There were the Cummings and Crowley books stacked on a side table next to an overstuffed chair, the fez and the absinthe. That and several decks of Fatima Turkish cigarettes. The ashtray was full. I found $83.76 in his sock drawer. I ate okay that week.
Your eyes open but everything is a blur. You feel about you and find the deflated airbag. Your head hurts and so does your neck and you try to remember. Your vision begins to clear and you notice the windscreen is cracked. You check yourself and apart from the pain in your head and neck all seems ok, but panic swells up inside you as your mind offers an image of you trapped in a burning car. You try to open the door but it won’t move, amplifying your fear. You fight your way across to the passenger’s side of the car, mind racing breathing short and fast, you fumble with the release, the door opens and you crawl out in to the cold night air, your breathing calms, there are no flames and the panic subsides. Where is your wife, shouldn’t she be with you?
Part of the car is buried in the hedgerow, tyre marks show the journey from a sharp bend in the road to the hedge. You can hear the distant sound of sirens, they are a welcome sound, somebody must have called an ambulance and you feel relieved that help is on the way. You lean up against the exposed part of the car and try to remember.
I get a phone call from this guy. He asks if he could make an appointment. I say, “What kind of appointment?” and he goes: “Seriously? You want me to spell it out?” So I think about it a bit and say, “Actually, no, I don’t,” and put the phone down.
Five minutes later the phone rings again. This time it’s a different guy, and he doesn’t bother asking a question. He says: “I’d like to make an appointment for ten o’clock this evening,” his voice sounding like he’s done this before.
So I think about it. I could ask him what kind of appointment again, or something like, I’m busy then, but I could pencil you in at, say, eleven o’clock next Tuesday, but I don’t. I say, “Fine, see you then,” and go through to the kitchen and tell Jess, my flatmate, two guys have called asking for appointments.
She says, “And what did you say?” I tell her yes to one, no to the other, and she says, “Do they know where we live?” They don’t. At least I didn’t tell them.
“They probably won’t come.”
You were male. You were 27. You were sad.
All the green Skittles in the bowl were gone. “And it’s raining outside!” you exclaimed to your buddy. “It’s raining, and no one’s here to help us.”
“Why does any one need to ‘help us’?” asked your buddy. Your buddy eyed the bottle in your hand and gently took it out of your grip.
“Because we’re helpless!” You laughed very hard at that one, but then stopped and remembered that you were sad. “And I’m male. And 27.”
“You’ve had too much to drink,” said your buddy, who then removed the second bottle out of your other hand. “Why don’t we just try to enjoy the rain for a bit, hm?”
I doan kno y we callit deer wen u aint got nantlers. N E ways I ben wunnerin wut make an homme get up n out in a morn wif a col always wisprin in yer ear liek a seecurt, only iss securt mean a stik u down ded in a dirt wif all dem hills runnin on down & up & thru liek farflies wen ey catch on yer swet & gloe in a lite a moon. I wunnerd wut appen time allandallalong far & away in loney time wen a time a storeys wuz & all a seecurts a sittys & build ins & all at wuz still roun.
I come 2 a ded homme hangin on nek & purpl as it come. Purpl & wif a eyes liek a pesca all bulgin & poppin & all at. Belly wuz ript open & he sez someum only not wif his mouf dis homme but wif his hed. C dis–lite come on streamnin from thru branches & gloein face rite up liek em farflies & a rope come tite & tite & I seen allis guttywrks & kno at aint 4 seen & I give im a chop on a rope for taken im outta seen so he cud sleep & not b botherd.
On a January morning in 1977 the Illinois flat lands were being transformed into Hell Frozen Over by the worst blizzard it had seen in the past thirty-sum years.
In the midst of this chaos an even greater threat was looming…
At 6:23 AM, a doctor, unwittingly, smacked a child on the ass.
The now, sore assed, thoroughly confused child began to blink wildly over dilated pupils.
He was reeling on the crest of a (first of many) psychedelic trip, brought on by the massive rush of dimethyltryptamine that was surging through his pineal gland, and dealing with the shock of being forced from a cozy cavern of embryonic fluid, where he was free to meditate and explore his genitalia.
When their voices go silent, their bodies take over. Skin on skin on skin; the age-old song of desire. The song of age-old desire; mouth grazing breast grazing hip, hungry for what was imagined, but never expected. A way to say that the three of them are innocent as babes in their want for each other? Something more than lust can embrace.
He sits on the edge of the bed as his wife dresses for dinner; tonight, they’re meeting an old friend. He watches her slide her stockings up her legs, the fishnets she never wears for him when he asks her to; should he be jealous? He doesn’t know, not even when she vamps for him while looking herself over in the mirror, his desire unfocused and speculating. The possibilities she’s opened for tonight, if only as fantasy, and how he wants to take her now, greedily, even before tonight has a chance to unfold.
These are the clothes you wear to disappear; flat shoes with a worn down heel, pants that are loose enough to hide sharpen sticks and throwing stones and shirts that can hold the weight of the night. You know this because somewhere in the back of one of the photo albums that no one looks at anymore is a picture of Ma in her disappearing clothes. It was the only thing you took with you when you left home and she wasn’t around anymore to tell you not to.
In the bad lighting of your closet apartment, you hold the picture up against the bare bulb. You look first, like always, at her feet. This was before she worked the graveyard shift down at the airport, before her feet swelled and her toenails grew thick and crusty. In the picture, she has the feet you imagine Cinderella or Marilyn Monroe having; slim and bony, beautifully outlined in veins so delicate, it’s looks someone painted them on. Ma stands loose, her head crocked to the side and whoever took the picture captured the very moment the disappearing starts; there is a wisp of smoke circling Ma’s left hand and you cannot, no matter how much you squint, see her ears.
Looking at her picture now, all of your doubt turns into a tight little ball you push down past your kidneys to hang in the empty space next to your liver. When you finally will yourself to leave your apartment, you’re careful to unplug every appliance and lock tight the one window near your bed. You painstakingly go through your mini-fridge, stuffing half-full jars and mostly empty take-out containers in a trash bag you find under your bed. You throw away your plants too; it’s okay, all the leaves were starting to turn brown anyway.
Wrinkles sagging with weariness, Gretel June seated her crooked torso on the last clear surface in the house: a padded footstool. The world swam in complete and terrifying circles around her, and closing her eyes only made it worse. She felt a lump in her throat that had nothing whatsoever to do with her heart, and much more to do with her stomach. Everything swirled so fast!
Ancient, knotted hands cupped a steaming mug of hot liquid, which she blew on periodically, but never sipped. Gathering herself, she turned her head slowly toward the photo album lying open beside her. Dust lay thickly over it, as if it hadn’t been touched in years, but – as if by long-accustomed ritual – she went suddenly quite still, staring at the open page. She showed no inclination to turn it, or any sign of life at all for some time.
There on the left was her strong, sad-eyed father – and next to him little Hans, trying to heft one of father’s axes! . . .both dead now. Momentarily, a pinched-faced woman with thin limbs surfaced faintly beside them, then swirled and disappeared back into the fog. Mother. Hans was thin like mother. And smart. That’s what saved him back then. Gretel sighed, then wobbled on her footstool and gulped.
When she walked through the office door, I knew that she had lost something important.
“Mr. Hoe, I’ve lost my husband,” she blurted out before the tears started flowing.
After I quit crying, I decided to use my deductive reasoning to get to the bottom which was just now settling itself into the chair across from my desk.
“So where’s the last place you left him?” I waited for a response by watching her legs cross themselves.
“Well let’s see now. We were in New York, and then San Francisco…”
“So you left him in San Francisco?”
“No, I left my heart in San Francisco. I left him in New York.”
“Then why are you here in L.A.?”
“Because I love L.A.”
Her story checked out so far, but I couldn’t stand another lame song reference. I decided to press further. I had no choice, I had to take in laundry to make ends meet, detective work don’t pay too well.
“Oh, please Mr. Hoe, I’ve searched to the ends of the earth and can’t find him anywhere.”
Now I knew she was lying because the earth doesn’t have any ends. It’s round, like a ball, unless of course Mrs. Palmer from grade school had been lying to me. I put her down as my first suspect, but immediately crossed her off the list remembering the tragic fire that burnt down the whole school. Mrs. Palmer was still serving time in the state pen for that.
“ I have a brother in New York, Melvin Spade, I’ll have him look there. My brother in San Francisco, Melvin Trowel, willl look for us there. He’s familiar with all the bath houses, so if your husband’s dirty, he’ll find him.”
“So you have a brother named Spade and another brother named Trowel, and you’re a Hoe?”
“Watch it, sister, I run a respectable agency.”