Sunday, June 03, 2007

You Can Never Be Sure Of Anything

Here's the last installment of the story. Thanks for reading for the last couple of days!

Saturday at work passes without much time to think about how shitty I feel and by the time I get out, the streets are alive with energy, helicopters already circling as I leave work. Devil’s Night, the only unique Detroit holiday, has now been deemed Angel’s Night, a night where everything is patrolled by all available means. Billboards with halos plead with people to act well and not start fires. Winter will be here soon, and I drive home listening to Billie Holiday sing "I Cover the Waterfront." Maybe I could drive by Kevin’s house, even though I’m nowhere near it. When I do it, which is more often than I’d care to admit, I feel like I’m falling and can’t stop, like a dream that I can’t wake up from.

At the stop light right before I get home, there’s a recovering crack addict named Victor who sells wands of tiny cheap chiclets and party-size M&Ms to support the halfway house in which he lives. Sometimes he falls off and has to come back, but he’s an almost permanent fixture, come rain, come shine, with his bad teeth and his sad smile. I give him a dollar every day and in return get a gum wand, not wanting the calories from the M&Ms. The wands litter my car, making me feel like a low-rent Glenda in some hellish version of "The Wizard of Oz." If I could make anything happen with these, what would it be? Sometimes I open the wands and dump the gum in my mouth, not the highest quality stuff and it loses its sugary flavor in about a minute.

"God bless you, pretty baby," Victor says, handing me a gum wand. "You on your way home?"

"Something like that," I say, still toying with the idea of cruising by Kevin’s.

"Pretty thing like you probably has someone waiting," Victor says. The light changes, and I have to move, but I give him my dollar and wave. He waves back, a little salute, before turning to the next batch of cars that might be interested in what he has to offer.

To my credit, I do not go by Kevin’s. Did you hear that Kevin? I did not even so much as swing by 33 Lochmoor, a street that sounds like a Scottish bog, or the name of a mental ward, not out of goodness or wisdom, but exhaustion. The pointless of it struck me as if I’d been hit hard. I broke his rules, and I’m out forever. These rules were unspoken, of course, as almost everything important is. We relied on subtexts, the words behind the words, the way someone can say I love you and mean don't hate me, I’m never going to be any better than this, the way someone can say, you are beautiful, meaning I could use a blowjob. Well, at least that’s what I think it means. You can never be sure of anything, really.

Coley has changed out of her Jackie Kennedy outfit and into one of mine, a black halter dress, something I haven’t worn since going on a date with Kevin. She looks good, filling it out in all the right places.

"Moving in?" I ask.

"I didn’t feel like driving home," she says. She puts her feet up underneath her, like a kitten, a hateful evil kitten.

"Aren’t you afraid your car is going to be torched tonight?" I ask, setting down my purse, an ugly big black bad that holds way too much shit.

"Going to set me on fire, are you?" she asks.

"Someone needs to," I say. I sit on the couch. "Seriously, you’d better be careful. I only have liability. If anything happens, I’m screwed."

"I’m not afraid," Coley says. "I don’t even have insurance. I only get it when I have to renew my license."

I look around for Josh, but he’s nowhere around, although I hear the sound of water running so I assume he’s in the shower. I should have been a private investigator, quick as I am. Now I know they had sex.

"You know, Josh will always look like that," I say. I motion at the bookcase that holds a bottle of tequila that I’ve cleverly turned into a bar. I’m usually not a fan of the really harsh stuff, but sometimes you need a shot of something that burns.

"No, I’ve had enough," Coley says. "What do you mean, always look like that?"

"His face. It can’t be fixed," I say. I mix the tequila with a little lime juice from the fridge while Coley follows my every movement.

"I assumed that the scars would eventually fade. That or surgery."

"He severed a tendon. He’s always going to be fucked-up looking. Sad, isn’t it?" I take my shot and feel it all the way down.

"But I’m really impressed that you’re a big enough person to see to the real Josh, the person deep within and that you don’t care how people will view you when you go out with him. I bet he’s even ready for marriage now. When you dated him, it was just too early. My parents would be thrilled to see him settled. Of course, they don’t know about the cut, but there are worse things."

Coley doesn’t say anything. Her fake brain is still on the coffee table, like some truly unique centerpiece for a party nobody’s going to attend.

"So why were you crying last night?" I ask. The tequila goes down a little easier with each sip.

"For humanity, Josette. For your sorry fucked-up self. Still seeing Kevin?"

"No," I say. "You still fucking the old lawyer or have you moved on?" I can hear the water stop running. Josh will be out any minute.

"I’m actually lying about Josh. His face will change. It’ll look worse as he ages. That’s what the new shrink says, anyway. She says he’s lucky he’s not dead. Of course, that’s an opinion," I say.

Coley takes her brain and gathers her Jackie Kennedy outfit into a CVS sack. "Maybe you’re right about the car. Being Devil’s Night and all. I should come back another time."

"Feel free to keep the dress," I say. "Feel free to never bring it back." I like it, but I’m willing to part with it if it means not seeing her again. It’s my own little sacrifice for Josh.

Josh steps out of the bathroom, and I’m still shocked by his face. I keep expecting it to go back to normal, despite what I told Coley.

"Where’s Coley?" he asks. "I thought she was going to stay and hang out. We’d ordered pizza from Mama Rosa’s."

"She didn’t look like she felt well," I say. He seems mildly disappointed, but not enough to call her and ask her to come back. "Plus, she didn’t have any insurance. What if something happened to her car? She wouldn’t have any way to get around."

We have a small balcony that we can sit on and so we do. After all, there’s a pizza across the street being made just for us. I can probably stomach whatever Coley chose to put on top of it.

"I wish you hadn’t opened the door last night," Josh said. He’d had about half his drink, and it was almost time to pick up the pizza. The police were thick on the streets, the sky the color of a crack vial. It would be dark soon. Tomorrow would be Halloween, a day where you could be anybody you wanted.

"What else was I supposed to do? She was knocking," I say.

"Do what I always do. Pretend you’re not here."

Josh got up to get the pizza. He would go into the restaurant and wait for the person behind the counter to find which white box was his. People would stare at him, some would assume he had a costume on, that he was going to a party later. No matter what anyone thought, he’d have to pay like everyone else for what he wanted.

I watched him cross the street, hands in his pockets, head against the wind. I wanted to call out to him, to tell him that I’d go in his place, that he didn’t need to face anything else. But I didn’t. The lights from the patrol cars swirled yellow in the impending darkness. For the past two years, the Devil’s Night arsonists had been brought under a lot more control than when I was child and things were really scary. As much as I hate to admit it, I miss the Devil’s nights of old, the entire city on fire and nobody able to stop it from burning.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Place conspires with the artist. We are surrounded by our own story." Eudora Welty

Cocktail Hour

Drinking novel suggestion: Willard and His Bowling Trophies Richard Brautigan

Benedictions and Malediction

Happy Sunday! My beloved Pistons fought the good fight. Next year!


Charles Gramlich said...

Love the "hateful, evil kitten" phrase. The story is well written as always, underlain with a bitter sweetness. I can really feel the abiding sadness in your characters. And I enjoyed the metaphor of devil's night and angel's night.

realbigwings said...

Thanks for the story, Michelle. I like reading the installments. Powerful piece.

K. Kilpatrick said...

I too miss the old Detroit. But now I just wear a Hawaiian shirt and drink Grey Gosse vokda!!! Smoooooooth!

borat said...

I love the way you ended. A night of darkness before transformation into "anyone you wanted". And one must deffinitely look at your wording, of that passage, and all the others--especialy the strong paragraph-ending lines that tie evrything up and make your story flow like it does. I love all the changes you made.
Does Josette want to be Josh?
Will she become Josh, her face perhaps aging with the stresses of her life to resemble a mask?

She's the two for one, I'd have to say. She wants to be both. His strength ebbs and hers flows. She is aware of the danger and actually doesn't care to care about that. She knows what can happen to people, both from others and themselves, but doesn't care. She could picture herself liying in a gutter and sigh and think about how tired she feelsm instead of what that means to her well being or lack of well being. You nailed it exactly, m. She doesn't even carry a gun, does she? She takes thingsd from crackheads and smiles and even uses the color of the viles they sling to compare the sky of concrete claustrophobia of Detroit. You nailed it exactly. She needs to have another conversation or two with one of the many different people--maybe. That's enirely up to you.

Josette is intimately universal to a narrow but widening group of individuals in the margin of society. As a character and our narrator, she is you, she's an ex of mine or three from way back, she's my sister and she's even me. No need to dilute any of that sentance with exceptions and stipulations. Josette is the girl drinking at the end of the bar that I never get to talk to enough before last call. That's a compliment to be sure.

Anyway, it's really nice to have provocative and smart work like this to ponder. Write well.

sports radio morons said...

Joe D might lower the boom on Flip. He is considering it.

Paul said...


eric said...

and maybe she has to find a way let go of someone she loves, without having to stop loving them for who they are in her life, knowing they will always have a place in heart as she struggles in her past, the present and their future.

How beautiful is that. Of course, this is all what I thought of it.

Damn good story.
off to feed the anti-acid industry

the walking man said...

Nothing I can say about it that the story doesn't say for itself.

Charles the Angels/Devils night is not a metaphor but a reality. They still use every running city [under 5 tons] vehicle and neighborhood patrol vehicle on the night before Halloween to spot fires and suspicious (read owners of abandoned property looking for an insurance buy out through arson)folks.

Hell we used to get 1.5 pay to work devils night.

Susan Miller said...

I love the Eudora Welty quote.

And once again, I adore the voice in this story. The catty remarks between the two women in Josh's life. It is pure. Nobody is interested in playing nice.

Then there are those sentences, her thoughts that mean so much more than the words can say themselves. You are so good at this, Michelle. Thank you for sharing it.