Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Proverbial Winter

Here's the second part of the story from yesterday. Thanks for reading, dear friends!
Things That Lead To The Other World

“Don’t you have to work?” Josh asks, surveying my denim cut-offs and 313 t-shirt, the area code for the city of Detroit. He’s fixing his tie, making a knot. It’s times like these that I realize he could be someone’s husband, someone’s father. Except that he won’t.
“I’ve put in too much time,” I say. “They’re making me take today off so I don’t cost them as much as last month.” As a Planned Parenthood counselor, I see everything, including the latest syphilis epidemic, caused from two walk-in clinics closing downtown. It’s amazing how the smallest change can wreak havoc.
Since Josh is in my care, I fear sending him off to stand in front of four groups of eleventh graders to teach American literature. I can see Josh as a small child, riding the bus and growing panicky if there was anyone but our regular bus driver, Mrs. Bert, in that very front seat. I tried to convince him that lots of people knew exactly where to stop, but it never worked. I’d have to explain to the substitute bus driver why Josh would not stop crying and that he wouldn’t until the bus did. Now he drives himself, and I want to cry. I can’t anymore, even when I coax myself, thinking of the saddest things imaginable. If I started, who’s to say that I’d even know how to stop?
Without a work day ahead, I feel unmoored by the empty place, a stranger here once Josh leaves. I look out the window onto the border that separates Grosse Pointe Park from Detroit. Across the street there is a strip mall that contains the Perfect Sacrifice of Blood Church. It’s been lots of things, but this is the most interesting incarnation. There’s one street that divides the suburbs from the city more definitively than all others: Alter. It’s not so far from my drug dealer Roman’s upper flat on Courville. He doesn’t pay much to live there because of the location, but the flat has gorgeous moldings and fixtures, something right out of a Woody Allen movie. What is not out of a Woody Allen movie is the fact that he’s lined the walls with terrariums full of tarantulas, the poisonous rare Mexican ones that look like Halloween, Vietnamese centipedes, and snakes, pictures of Tony Soprano on the wall. A relationship with one’s drug dealer rivals a romantic one for difficulty level. As I was out of Vicodin, I wanted to see Roman, but it required the force of will that made me wish I was the kind of person who had the foresight to have saved one pill for the occasion instead of gobbling them down like the fucking cricket in the fairytale who doesn’t give two wits for the proverbial winter.
I considered sending an e-mail to Kevin from Josh’s school-issued laptop which sits in a dusty cocoon. He uses it to download internet porn occasionally although he prefers the old-fashioned magazines route. I’m sure that’s not what the school had in mind when they told him in a memo that he needed to incorporate more technology into his life, thereby enriching his teaching.
Thirty-one years old, and he’s still getting notes sent home. Once my kindergarten teacher sent a note home with me, informing my parents that I had hit my head on the floor. I had been playing house with a boy who pushed me out of a rocking chair. The teacher safety-pinned the note to my turtleneck, and on the bus ride home, I crumpled the note and put it behind the fabric, hiding it the best I could. I don’t know why I didn’t just rip it off, but I made it through dinner until my mother noticed there was something weird with my collar and took a look. You couldn’t hide anything in that house for long. Already I understood one fundamental truth -- whatever happened to you was your fault.
But back to the e-mail -- what would I say? Hello, Kevin, remember me? I’m the bitch who outed our affair to your wife without so much as saying a word. Perhaps I could follow this with a clever e-mail abbreviation like lol. Laughing out loud, indeed. Ever since I had my jaw broken (note the passive tense -- no one need feel bad on that one!), there hasn’t been much laughing out loud at anything without pain. I bled so hard that my chest stained red. Now when I laugh, it’s a small muffled sound that would be easy to mistake for something else.
Roman answers the door, greeting me by Jo, the name my father uses for me, way too Little
Women for my tastes, but there you have it. I had often thought about asking him to use my real name, but that would require volition. I had not sent the e-mail to Kevin, instead opting to clean out my closet this morning, making a bag for the Purple Heart to pick up or I might save the time and leave it for the garbage pickers that frequent my block. What I did manage to do is get dressed and hustle myself here, driving through the city, looking at all the alcohol ads and Jesus Saves!, accessible forms of salvation if you’re willing to be saved.
“You’re looking lovelier than ever,” he says. If only that were true. I have on high platform heels, but I am still short. How I long to be bigger! Josh got all the height in the family for which my parents were grateful, my father often saying, nobody cares if a woman is small. Roman towers over me.
We hug, and he motions for me to sit down on the couch. I scooted as far away from the Vietnamese centipedes as I could. I settled into the cushion, but I was far from relaxed. No matter how many times I’d been to Roman’s, there were still surprising horrible creatures that I’d blocked out from the last time that had the power to shock just by being what they are.
Roman offers me some scotch, Glenlivet, but I decline.
“On the wagon, are we?” he says, pouring some into a shot glass with Elvis on it. Even though I promised I wouldn’t drink with the pills, I decide one shot won’t hurt. He hands me Elvis and takes another shot glass out of his fancy silver bar, an exquisite piece of furniture worthy of the mafia kingpin he imagines himself to be. He look like he could pass for Italian, but I know he’s Chaldean, albeit American-born. The huge crucifix he wears around his neck and the pictures of the Virgin over the door could work with either ethnicity it‘s more convenient for him to be, depending on the customer.
Even though I want to hurry this visit along and get the drugs, I couldn’t take one until I got in my car. It would be the social equivalent of drinking vodka straight out of a bottle at a party. No one wanted to seem like that kind of person, even if it was pretty clear that they were. We talk about the long summer, how annoying the noise is, the standard issue conversation. I put an envelope with money on his table, a signal to wrap things up.
“Jo, I have an extra bottle of Fiorcett that I could let you have,” Roman says, touching a tendril of hair that had escaped from my ponytail. Fiorcett, a secret weakness. Fiorcett made me adorable. I thought I had made it to the end of the visit without giving in, but I thought of the Godfather line -- Just when I thought I was out . . . I weighed the options. A whole bottle would mean sixty days of comfort as opposed to a few minutes of misery.
“Roman,” I say, touching his belt. “You do know how to spoil a girl.”
“I still wonder why we aren’t together,” Roman says. I can’t tell if this sentiment was sincere or his idea of foreplay so that things seemed a little less depressing. Either way, I appreciate it. He’s not a repulsive choice, and so I try to convince myself this is a choice.
“Bad timing,” I say.
With all the windows open, I can hear kids playing outside, the neighbor who looks like Nat King Cole on a bender yelling at his daughter, Bitch, this is your last chance. Someone’s blaring “Hollywood Swingers.”
“If they get out,” he says, pointing at the centipedes, “I’m going to have to move. They’re the meanest things on earth.”
He tells me this every time I’ve been here. Most of our conversation follow the eighty/twenty rule -- eighty percent consist of things we’ve already said, twenty percent new information. He leans in to kiss me, but I decide to get down on my knees to avoid anything too intimate. As I suck him off, I try to think about pleasant things, like the smell of Coppertone and the ocean, the way it goes on forever, a thing that leads to the other world, whatever that one might be like.
When I forget what I’m doing, he comes.
“Jo, that was intense,” he says, pulling up his jeans. We’re both at a loss in that awkward moment between our strange secret intimacy and me leaving.
“Well, I hate to leave so soon, but I promised my brother I’d pick him up from school. His car’s in the shop again,” I say. Roman hands me a paper bag with the Vicodin and Fiorcette.
“How is your brother?” Roman asks, assuming it’s a safe subject. He lights a cigarette and offers me a hit, which I take, even though I don’t smoke. I was with Josh when I met Roman at a club on Mack Avenue called The Double Olive. They have twenty different kinds of martinis and not many places to sit. We caught each other’s eye, both of us having an addict’s instinct for who to seek out for certain desires.
I could say, not well. I could say that I worry about him all the time, that I fear that he’s going to flip the fuck out and end up in a hospital forever and that nobody will be able to cure him. I could say, I am all out of bullets.
“He’s hanging in there,” I say.
Roman walks me to my car as if we’d been on a date, grabbing a light windbreaker that the weather doesn’t demand before he does, a gun in its right pocket. He tells me to say hi to Josh, and I say I will, although we both understand that nobody knows about these visits and never will. If we ever meet in public by chance, we will pretend to have seen each other a couple of times, mere acquaintances, isn’t Detroit just the smallest place on the planet? I drive off, the city fading behind me, the taste of ashes in my mouth, which makes me think about food, what to cook for dinner, even though I never do. Josh deserves something nice for his first day, and we should eat at the kitchen table instead of the television with snacks and junk food and television dinners, the way we do every night.
I take an old water bottle out of my backseat and swallow a Vicodin right away. No telling how long the bottle has been in the car, not that it matters when it comes down to it. The pill will take nearly half an hour to kick in, although on my empty stomach it could happen sooner.
Sometimes the half hour seems longer than all the time that has come before it. I decide to make lasagna, as I have a good recipe for it in a Planned Parenthood cookbook, a fundraising idea that didn’t sell as well as we’d hoped as people still confuse us with an abortion clinic and an abortion clinic cookbook is not something that sells as well as say, Girl Scout cookies. There’s a cemetery I love on the way to the grocery store, so I park the car and walk around, pretending to be looking for a grave so nobody asks what I’m doing. Unnecessary since nobody is around except the men restoring the statue of St. Jude. St. Jude was once beautiful, he will be beautiful again. Too bad the same cannot be said of me, in either direction. In ten years, I will be thirty-nine, a precipice. Which leads me to wonder if I’ll be doing the same things I do now, my life only made more pathetic with time. My parents could be dead by then and I believe I will prefer that hard reality to this odd purgatory. I know that I will visit their graves often, if for nothing else, to make sure they’re still in them.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I was never so rapid in my virtue but my vice kept up with me." Henry David Thoreau
Cocktail Hour
Drinking short story collection: Midnight Magic Bobbie Anne Mason
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Saturday!


Rodney Dangerfield said...

Forget the second installment. I'll go with the photo, if you know what I mean.

Herman Northrop Frye said...

Are you sure the Jo character had the taste of ashes in her mouth?

Deep Throat said...

That's what I call a successful second part.

the walking man said...

Absolutely fascinated by this story...why does Josette care so much for her brother and so little for herself. St. Jude the patron saint of lost causes I believe.

Hurry the morrow.



Tony Soprano said...

It's great to see he had the Soprano posters! Thanks for all your support, Michelle! Don't forget that tomorrow will be the fourth episode in the final season. Don't miss it!

Victoria Pasecret said...

That's a beautiful camisole in the photo, Michelle.

Cardinal Spellman said...

You shouldn't expose Grouchie to graphic sex. By the way, it looks like he's had more than Red Bull.

Captain James E Kirk said...

Good morning, admiral. I see you're dressed to regulations...

I have go and write a captains log. c ya

Andrew Warhola said...

The photo says butt out. She's with Grouchie.

Shatner sauntered by and said...

The story is wonderful--great editing, bla bla. I say that to you all the time... as the truth... is the very best policy in this quadrant, if I may say so.

Shall I say, write on... m?

Having... trouble... writing... clear sentences... today... all weekend... and I don't know why! I even muffed a captain kirk line up above, a standard for spock's sake!

That's bad. Even on a galactic scale.
*smiles goofy, adjusts hairpiece*

Bones, where's my absinthe enema kit? Scotty, get that water bed heated up. A few minutes? WE DON'T HAVE A FEW MINUTES!

funke editor said...

Hey, m I did find one, "he look like he could be italian". It needs to be looks. Arg. Thought that was cleared up. I'm fired.

Later, m. Be well and write much.

Funke editor said...

...But you've done your job to the delight of many, and you deserve a break for it, so don't forget gold stars and chocolate while you drink and watch sopranos.

The man with no name said...

great job paring it down to such a steady flow. The stream is truly the best analogy. And Josette's own stream is beautifully braided in a cascade of knots.

To bad Josh is such a silent partner in their relationship. Under the boiling surface are two scared (scarred, uget2pik) children in adult clothes with adult jobs, taking part in an uncommon comfort--uncommon to say the least.

I was squeamish when reading it the first time a while back. Jim, you aren't alone there. Bitter is the fruit that grows from these wasted fields of dust, and still we dine on its flesh. m's writing lives in the house that shock and awe built. We visit at our own risk, time and again.

Put that in the freakin' times and smoke one.

Sheila said...

great story michelle. I still have "the difference between pluto and goofy" that you handed out in class one time. Love the sequel!

Jane Austen said...

The young lady, Josette, got down on her knees and did ... WHAT?!!!
I am most seriously displeased!

Jane austen's dad, old e-bag said...

...that is not decorum at all. But she did get what she paid for.

st. adam smith in the shores said...

it must be said that head can be a highly unstable form of currency in the drug trade. Too many people get hurt doing that.

animal control said...

I stepped out onto my porch early this morning to escape the hated mailman and the bills he has for me. I was in time to see quite a show: On my front lawn were to dogs doing what I had not had the chance to do in six weeks. forty two days. the sum of hours.

I did what anyone in my worn black work shoes would have done; I broke out the garden hose and laughed hysterically as the numb-hipped dogs stumbled for cover, bucking with each bound.

And I only remember it after you you've thrown your one millionth drink in my face
whatever your name is
and who ever you'll be next
and again on the long walk down mack avenue from the meat market--icy rain stabbing down, a billboard that asked in strident pink letters if I was a lonely detroiter seized my eye.
It promise to connect me with the perfect woman or man in the city.

I wasn't thinking in any specifics at that point--ass being what it is. and so I wrote down the number on the only thing I had--my hand--as a rusted, formerly blue car loaded with girls stopped at the light next to me. One of them stuck her head out the window,
"hey, sexy meat. You want some real digits?" the rest laughed at this and at me but she remained there, head out of the car window.

I stopped writing and smiled
The girl with her head out the window said I could get a ride from them if I was buying. I assumed alcohol and said I'd buy anything they wanted and approached the car, the light above changing but no traffic to worry about. The girl's eyes were shadowed by blonde bangs hanging half across her plain, pale complected face. The cold and rain didn't bother her in the least. She asked me to come closer and I did looking into those shadowed eyes. All I was thinking of was finding the perfect enough woman and this would do it for me. I smiled, checking out her friend at the driver's wheel, and started to ask if she was sure there was enough room for me when her can of mace erupted heaven's flaming wrath into my eyes. The rusted, once blue car sped off, leaving me blinded, stumbling and clawing my face bloody. All I remember was the sensation and of having had something cut off of me forever.

lost sheep said...

good morning, m.