“Not at all. I’m not here to condemn you, or criticize you, or to judge you in any way. Mind you, I’m not saying that I condone your actions either, I’m just saying that I may be able to relate to certain things. But if we’re ever going to get at whatever it is that’s troubling you, you have to get in touch with your emotions and share them with me. Don’t keep yourself so bottled up.”
Geez. That again. “OK. Well, I hiked the leg of my jeans up, pulled my bag outta my sock.”
“Look’s like he got some Columbian this week, man. Check it out.” I unrolled the sack, held it open across the seat at Swade. It was practically all buds. Not half shake like that Mexican shit.
“Cool, man. You done good. Real good. Now, check this out.” Swade reached under his seat, pulled out a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag.
“Well, well, well. Whadda we got here?” I rolled my bag up, licked it, sealed it, worked it into my pocket, took the bottle from Swade and pulled it out far enough to see the label. “What the— Four Roses? What’s this shit?”
“Yeah, right.” I wrapped the bottle back up, handed it to Swade. “Where the hell’dya get it?”
He slid it back under the seat. “You remember Monk? From the apartments?”
“Yeah. Old Yeller.”
“Yeah. He’s home this weekend. From school. Ran into ’im at the mall last night. Gave ’im what cash I had, asked ’im to get me a fifth. Said to come by today and pick it up. That’s it.”
“Shit, he coulda got some rum or somethin’.”
“Hell, that’s what he got, and that’s what we’re drinkin’. Quit bitchin’. It’s not like I can take the shit back. Jesus. Why you gotta be such an asshole about everything?”
“Just my way, I guess. Why do you gotta be such a pussy?”
“Fuck you.” Swade made like he was gonna slap my arm again, but I balled up my fist at him, so he didn’t. He just shook his head, looked out his window. When he turned back, he had that fuckin’ grin going. “Yeah, um, by the way . . . .” He wanted something. “You got any cash? For chaser?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Hell, it’s Friday ain’t it? Didn’tcha get that big fiver?” The grin got even bigger. He could hit his folks up anytime, tell ’em he needed something for lunch, or he wanted it for the mall, the arcade there, Pied Piper’s. But he’d only get an ice cream sandwich in the cafeteria, and they’re just fifteen cents. The good ones too, with a foil wrapper instead of a paper one. And pizza day, he’d get a slice. A square. Rectangle. Thirty-five cents. Swade usually had money. If he didn’t drink it or spend it on smokes, he’d blow it on foosball. Fuckin’ waste. I’d have been buying some herb. Since Don started busing tables, he’s usually got something I can dip into, but I’d rather buy my own. Hell, at the very least, it’d be nice not to ever have to bum a smoke.
“Yeah, it’s fuckin’ Friday. Maybe I do got a five. Sounds like more’n you got.”
“Can you get us some chaser or not?”
“I guess I can get somethin’. I gotta get smokes. Give this thing some gas, get us the hell outta here.”
“Swade drove to the Kwickie Mart two blocks from the house. The one next to the carwash?”
“Yes, I know it.”
“Where they got those stalls with the wands that have a handle on ’em?”
“Yes, I know it.”
“That look kinda like real long pistols?”
“I’m familiar with the place, Jim, yes.”
“Yeah, well, he pulled in, parked right in fronta the store.”
“Hey, I could use some weeds myself, man. But, like I said, I’m outta cash. I spent it on the booze. You cover me for a pack?”
“Why didn’tcha ask that old man of yours for some money? It’s not like I’m rollin’ in jack you know. Didn’t he give you somethin’ to get in the game with?”
“Hell, I hit him up twice earlier this week, and then again last night, man. And the old lady’d already filled up the tank, so I couldn’t ask for gas money. They’d wanna know why I was broke already if I asked for more. What am I supposed to say? ‘Sorry, Dad, but I got drunk every night this week, and beer ain’t cheap, you know.’ Hell, you can spare me a pack. Do it, and I won’t charge ya for gas.”
“Jesus, you’re a fuckin’ prince.” I climbed out of the car, pulled my smokes from the pocket of my jacket, fished the last one out of the pack, straightened it, stuck it in the side of my mouth while I dug my Bic out of my jeans. Swade opened his door while I was lighting the Mule. I couldn’t help wondering what he was gonna hit me up for next, but he didn’t say anything. He just got out, pulled his leather flight jacket from the back seat, put it on, shoved his hands in the pockets. He came up behind me when I opened the door.
“Hold it, man. I’m goin’ in too.” He cut in front of me, walked over to the aisle where they got medicine and shit. I went to the coolers in the back. I was looking through the glass, pricing what they had on the shelves, when I saw a sign on the far door: “Ginger ale: 2 for 1.” It was the cheap shit, in plastic bottles, not the good stuff that comes in glass. I grabbed a couple quarts, carried ’em to the counter, asked the guy for a couple Marlboro Reds, soft pack.
“How much are these Tums?” Swade was holding a roll over his head. I didn’t know why the hell he wanted to know, ’cause I sure as hell wasn’t gonna pay for ’em. He put the roll back when he heard the price. The man rang me up. Swade walked out while I was pocketing my change and the guy was bagging the drinks and smokes. I picked the bag up, went out to the car.
“Ready for action, Swa— Shit, I mean, Wade. Let’s have at that bottle.”
“Hang on a second, man. We can at least get outta the fuckin’ parkin’ lot first.”
After he’d turned back onto Main, Swade pulled a bottle of Visine, still in its box, out of the pocket of his jacket. “Hey, man. Look what I found.”
“Shit! You stole it?”
“Nah, man. I used the five-finger discount.”
“Shit! What if you got caught?”
“Fuck it. I didn’t get caught, did I? The shit costs two-fifty. You afford that? We’ll need it ’fore we go home.”
“Maybe, but what if you had got caught? What the fuck would you’a done then? Where the hell’d that leave me?”
“Hey, I didn’t get caught. If I had, I guess I’da run. Maybe you’da had’ta walk home. But that didn’t happen, so lighten the fuck up. Besides, I never pay for this shit. I always rip it off. Ain’t been caught yet. I’m too smooth.”
“Smooth as suede?”
“Watch it, man.”
“Yeah, right.” I shook my head. Then, with my best Spanish accent, “I say, Swade,” I rubbed my palm on the seat. “I say you are as smooth as this fine Corinthian leather.”
“Fuck you, Ricardo.”
“You seen that commercial?”
Doc quits writing, starts swinging his foot. “Yes I have, Jim. Clever. Now, what happened next?”
Well hell, I thought it was funny. Maybe humor isn’t one of your better emotions, Doc. “Um, I reached in the bag, flipped a pack of cigarettes at Swade, put the other one in the pocket of my jacket. I guess it’s not really a jacket. It’s one of those dark blue sweatshirts with a hood. Not a pullover, but with a zipper. I zip it halfway. It’s got a hole in the front I burned in it with a cigarette. I guess that’s what happened anyway. I mean, I don’t really remember doin’ it. I sewed a piece of an old dress sock in—”
“Jim. About that night. You were leaving the Kwickie Mart.”
“Oh yeah. Well, I gave Swade a pack of smokes, took out one of the quarts, handed it over.”
“What the hell’s this? Ginger ale?”
“Hell yeah. Brown liquor, light chaser. Besides, it was the cheapest thing they had.” I stuck the other bottle between my legs. Swade turned off of Main. He drove down Ketchum Street, past the City Park, turned onto Waverly Way. That’s not normally a place we’d tool around in, ’cause there’s usually cops keeping an eye on things. There’s a lot of money living over in that neck of the woods. All the houses are big as hell and sitting in the middle of a big yard, not right on top of each other. It’s good that there’s not much traffic, but not good that the only other car you’d see would probably have a set of rollers on the roof. Last thing we needed was to see blue lights behind us. But with the game on the other side of town, Swade figured the streets’d be empty, and they were. Everybody was over at Cummings. We cruised around for a while, passing the liquor back and forth, swigging shots and washing ’em down with the chaser.
One Step Ahead Of The Law
Bumper to bumper
She’s one bad sled
She got some miles
She brought some smiles
Law’s on her trail
Gonna track her straight to hell
Settin’ the pace
Laws will follow
One helluva race
Too dry to swallow
It ain’t gonna end
Can’t park her, my friend
Keep up the beat
Keep eatin’ up street
I’m one step ahead of the law
The man is hot on my ass
I gots to be quick on the draw
Can’t let him head me off at the pass
“Man, this stuff is rank.” I shook my head, but I couldn’t shake that taste out. “I wish Monk’d had better sense.”
“Quit bitchin’. It does the trick.”
“Yeah, and then some.” I took another shot. “Whoo! Jesus H. Christ!” I took a long pull on the ginger ale, tried to put out the fire. “This shit might be good for the burn, but that don’t quite cut it. I need somethin’ to get that taste outta my mouth.” I pulled the baggie from one pocket and my brass pipe from the other, packed the bowl, lit it, took a deep toke, handed it over to Swade. We took turns hitting it ’til it was spent. We both fired up a cigarette.
I wish I could burn a Mule now, but Doc doesn’t let you smoke in here. Guess you’d better just keep going. “Let’s see . . . . Oh yeah. We were listenin’ to the Boston album. Well, the cassette. I don’t know if you’ve heard it or not, but if you ever listen to the radio, you probably have. At least “Long Time.” They play that a lot.”
“Sorry, Jim. I listen to classical music.”
“Oh.” Geez. What kinda weird fuck are you, Doc? “Well, uh, the Cordoba’s got one of those new in-dash jobs. Real sharp. Swade’s only got—he only had—that one tape that I ever knew of. Played it all the time. I turned up the volume when ‘Peace Of Mind’ came on. That’s a pretty good tune. Even better, it blocked out the sound of Swade breathin’ through his nose, which was really startin’ to get on my nerves just then.” I remember easing back in the seat, leaning up against the headrest. I was starting to feel pretty damn good. I was out of the house, catching a buzz, even if it was with Swade. At least he had some wheels. And that was one fine car. Especially if you’re used to riding around in an old station wagon. I remember me and Don riding in the back of the old man’s one time when he had the tailgate window down a little. When he put it up, my hair got caught. He must not’ve been giving us crew cuts then. I didn’t have the guts to tell him I was stuck in the damn thing, even though I couldn’t pull my hair out and it hurt like hell. Stayed there ’til we got home. Don asked him to put the window back down so I could get it out. The old man gave me one hell of a whipping for not telling him about it soon—
“Jim, please. Can we continue?”
“Sorry.” I remember this other time I was riding in the back of the station wagon—it might’ve been the old lady’s—and I tried to get a truck driver to blow his horn for me. Holding my hand up and acting like I was pulling on one myself. We were out on the highway. Can’t remember where the hell we were going though. The fucker just gave me the finger. “Sorry. Where was I?”
“Suede was breathing through his nose.”
“Suede was breathing through his nose.”
“Oh. Yeah. Let’s see. Uh, we . . . I guess that’s when we headed over to Circle Drive. That’s that one-way, four-block loop over—”
“I know exactly where it is.”
“I know, Jim.”
“Right. Well, Swade drove around it once doin’ the speed limit. Then a squirrel ran out in front of us. I kinda yelled.”
“Yeah, man. I see it.”
Geez. It’s cloudy as hell. If it’s gonna rain, why the hell doesn’t it just go ahead and do it?
Tap, tap, tap. “Jim? You warned Suede about the squirrel?”
“Then? Then . . . . Well . . . the squirrel’d run right out in front of us. But . . . Swade, he . . . he didn’t try to miss it. He aimed for it. There was a thump under the floorboard, so I knew he’d scored a hit. I mean, it was . . . just a squirrel, but it still kinda pissed me off.”
“What did you do?”
“Do? Nothin’. I mean, I asked him what the hell he wanted to do that for.”
“And what was his response?”
“He didn’t answer. He just sped up a little and went back around Circle.”
When the headlights hit it, I could see the tail twitching back and forth. Swade drove at the squirrel again. This time, there was a bump under the front tire. He went around a third time, a fourth time, a fifth time, speeding up a little and flattening the squirrel a little more onto the pavement with each pass. He was laughing like hell.
I was laughing too, but only ’cause I was getting dizzy from the ride. I was laughing so hard I had trouble catching my breath. “Stop it, man. I can’t take it anymore. You gotta get off this road before I lose it.”
Swade turned off of Circle, pulled over to the curb and stopped. We both laughed a little while longer. I packed another bowl. He slapped me on the arm again. “Where to now?”
“Hell, I don’t care. Anywhere’s fine with me.” I lit the bowl and passed it.
“Remind me to drive over to the game later and get the score. Dad’s gonna ask who won.” Swade got back on the road. “How’s the liquor holdin’ out?”
I pulled the bottle from between my legs, slipped it out of the bag. It was half empty.
Swade held the bowl with one hand and steered with the other. “Check it out, man. More leaves. I just love this time of year!” He aimed for the pile, pushed the pedal down. “Hot damn!” Leaves flew up over the hood and covered the windshield for a split second before blowing over the roof. “Goddamn, that shit’s fun!”
“Jesus, you’re easy to amuse.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t get your panties in a wad, shit-for-brains.”
I don’t know. I guess it was better than sitting at home. Swing those tassels, Doc. Beats tapping.
“What next, Jim?”
“Oh, we just kept drivin’ around.”
“Hey, man. You gonna bogart that bowl all night?”
“Fuck. I forgot I had it.” Swade took a toke, handed the pipe back.
“Hey, don’t look now, man, but there’s a big pile.” It was spread out kind of low and wide, like it’d been there a while and the wind’d flattened it. The edge was damn near halfway into our lane. “Wouldn’t want you to miss out.” I hit the bowl hard, held the toke in.
“Fuckin’ A, man.” Swade headed for the leaves.
I blew out, then hit the bowl hard again. I wanted him to say something about me double toking, but he didn’t. God, that shit would really stretch your lungs out when it got in there. It was great.
“Hey, man. Check this out.” Swade slowed down and eased into the leaves. He stopped dead when just the tail end of the car was still in the pile. “Watch the speedometer, man.” He punched the pedal to the floor. The needle shot up to eighty-five as the back tire spun. When we hit pavement, the tire squealed. The back end whipped around. Swade hit the brakes.
“Watch it, man! I almost dropped the fuckin’ bottle!”
“Hey, ‘almost’ don’t mean shit, man. Gimme another hit.”
“Of what? The bottle or the bowl?”
“Both. I’m just gettin’ started.”
I took another shot and held the bottle across the seat. I looked over when Swade didn’t take it. He looked kind of green in the dashboard light, was kind of just gazing ahead with his mouth hanging open. “Hey, wuss. You fucked up? I thought you wanted a shot.”
He jerked his head around. “Huh? Yeah, cool.” He took the bottle, but he didn’t hit it. He just put it between his legs.
I put my lighter to the bowl. “This one’s dead already.” That pipe isn’t very big. “How’s about I pack another?” Swade didn’t answer. I packed one anyway. “Hey, why don’t we go on over to the game, man? We been raisin’ hell around here too much anyway. Somebody mighta called the law.”
“Huh? Oh yeah. Yeah. Hell, you’re a nervous son of a bitch ain’tcha?”
“Who you callin’ a bitch?”
“Your old lady, man.”
“Yeah, well, if the shoe fits . . . shove it up your ass.”
“Yeah, right.” I shook my head. “Let’s head to the game, man. Who knows, we might see some chicks there or somethin’.”
“Maybe.” Swade twisted his hands on the wheel, farted the leather grip. “Hey, if we don’t see any chicks, maybe we could pick a fight. I’d love to kick somebody’s ass.”
“You could kiss my ass.”
“Fuck you. You heard me. We could get in a fight. Kick some Cummings ass.”
“I’d rather get some pussy.”
“Well, if we can’t, we could kick some ass.”
“I don’t see where one’s as good as the other. I’d rather have some pussy.”
“Shit, man. You are a pussy.”
“Well, you are what you eat . . . dick.”
“Fuck you. Pussy.”
“This pussy’d kick yer ass any day. I just don’t see how one’s as good as the other.”
“I’m just sayin’ . . . . Ah, fuck it. Whatever.” Swade passed the bottle back. “Put a lid on that for a while, man. I’m headin’ for Scummings.”
“So the two of you did go to the game after all?”
“Well, we drove over there, but we—” Ding! Yes! Finally. I thought that timer’d never go off.
“All right, Jim. That’s it for today. But I must say, once again I’m disappointed with the way you continue to avoid the issue, whatever the issue may be.” Doc doesn’t sound too happy. Kind of pissed even. Must be getting in touch with his emotions.
“Sorry, I guess I just—”
“‘Sorry’ doesn’t cut it, Jim. I . . . I . . . . I didn’t want to have to say this, but I don’t think you should come back until you’re willing to get down to the heart of the matter. There’s no point to it if you don’t tell me what it is that’s bothering you.”
“No ‘buts,’ Jim. Now, I’m sorry, our time is up.”
Doc walks to his desk, starts shuffling papers again. I get up from the couch, head for the door, grab the knob. Don’t turn it though. Feel kind of bad about pissing him off. Now I let him down too. Maybe I should’ve told him. Maybe I still can. Nah. You can’t do it, man. You just can’t. You’ll just have to try and live with it. Doc’s going through his drawers again. Turn the knob, pull the door.
“Hang on, Jim. One more thing. You haven’t seen my pencil have you?”
I shove my hand in my pocket, feel what he’s looking for. “Nah. Haven’t seen it.”
I don’t know how the old lady does it. She comes swooping in to pick me up just as I get out. Every time. Never have seen her lurking in the parking lot. Bet she leaves the house a little early, parks across the street at the hospital or something, watching and waiting, all ducked down in the seat, peeking over the dash. I walk out, head down the sidewalk, and BOOM, there’s the station wagon pulling up before I even get to the end. She always stops so that her door is even with the sidewalk though, instead of stopping short of it. I could just walk straight out in front of the car and on over to the passenger side, but no, I got to walk all the goddamn way around the front end first. Adds nine, ten steps. Ah, shit. Forgot to slam the door. No puff. Puff the puffin’ puffer, puffs and she puffs.
The Christian station. What are the fuckin’ odds? Could get her to turn it down, at least a little, but that would mean having to talk to her. What the hell about? Wait. “Doc says I don’t haf’ta come back anymore.”
“Really? He said that?”
Damn, you don’t have to sound so surprised. “Well, he said I don’t haf’ta come back if I don’t wanna.” That’s kind of what he said anyway.
“Well, good. I’m glad.”
Yeah. I bet you are. I just bet you are. Not gonna turn that radio down though, are you? Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. Goddamn. Don’t you ever get tired of listening to that shit? And how’d you know about my dreams? It had to be Don.
There’s a place in the shadows of my mind . . . . Finally worked out those lyrics or whatever. A first verse anyway. It sucks, but at least it’s out of your head. Or it was ’til now. Maybe I’ll work on it some more. If I have time.
There’s a place in the shadows of my mind
Where dark thoughts gather and pull me in
When I’m walking the ledge and doing so blind
I slip and I find I’ve been drawn in again
With one in the chamber and the hammer drawn
A hair trigger away from ending it all
Catch myself with my hand wrapped around the problem solver