SHORT STORY | SOMEWHERE IN LA
Won honorable mention in the ALIBI Magazine Annual Short Short
Somewhere In LA
"Just kissing you was like a telephone call from God!
Why then did you go away and ride to hounds?"
……Lawrence Durrell, "Quinx", Penguin Books, USA, 1985
After heading to the grocery store to pick up a quart of milk and a box of animal crackers, Jade must have had a little trouble navigating the three block return trip home to the falling down shack of a house we shared, because it was a week later that she called me collect from Paris. Three days later she waltzed through the door and collapsed in my arms without saying a word. No hello, no excuses, no suitcase, nothing, just a pile of obscure French novels in a blue violin case and a fake suntan. When she kissed me, I tasted a sudden sweetness sticking to the roof of my mouth and my teeth rattled from just saying her name. But for the life of me, I couldn't recall her ever looking so frightened and lost before. It was as if she'd spent the last few months in Tanzania looking for that Dr. Livingston guy. Judging by the way she clung to me for dear life, I thought she just might die right there from loneliness, and sure enough, she wasted no time steering me into the bedroom and holding on to me so tenderly I thought if I so much as kissed her I might break her. And when she arched her back and collapsed in a quivering heap beside me, I thought maybe I had. But by the time I realized how wrong I was, there was nothing much else for me to do but lay back and stare in rapt wonder as she began ripping my buttons off, one by one, with her teeth.
For Jade, making love had always seemed as natural as butterflies floating in the wind. She seemed born to it: a natural, her nakedness a gift or a sacrifice. It was hard to tell back then. Making love had always come so easily for her, even the first time. And her not fully understanding that she had that kind of sexual power only intensified the pleasure I took in getting sucked into the mystery of all that ferocious beauty.
Being cornered like that, my body staggered and strained against the inevitable chains that always seemed to come with that kind of seductive control, but I was no match for her. Even as I penetrated the deepest center of her I couldn't be sure I'd really moved her in any genuine way. It wasn't physical, it was darker than that, as if she'd risen above it all, looking down, as determined as a suicidal moth, diving towards the candlelight, her breath so hot it bleached my bones. Then suddenly, she twisted her broiling body over on top of mine and drove me down into the soaked sheets, clawing her way through whatever token resistance I had left, taking anything she could find in me worth taking. And when she was done, she stopped dead, leaving me breathless, gagging for air, unsure if she'd even been there at all, or rather had been nothing but a sweet dream gone deliciously haywire, all that furious beauty wasted.
After surviving an hour of desperate, bone chilling "love making" (or whatever it is two over-sexed otters in heat do), I still wasn't entirely certain whether or not we'd actually been fucking or fighting for our lives. My lips had already turned blue and I'd begun to shudder in dread, knowing that for some reason I could never quite fathom, the perverse fiend hiding inside of her would soon be making its usual plans to rip my heart out. And as if on queue, with a slow agonizing moan, she folded herself up against me like a shattered accordion, the wind all knocked out of her, and she said, "I love the hole in your socks where your toe goes, I love the skeletons in your closet and the places inside your heart where you hide everything, and I'll even love your dry white bones when you're dead. Jesus, I'd even kill for you. I wouldn't even think twice about it. Why is it you can't love me like that, hmm?"
She had no idea what I'd do for her, or for that matter, what I'd already done for her. But what difference did it make really? She'd asked me that question a thousand times and I never could come up with an answer that seemed to satisfy her. Oh, I knew what she wanted to hear. The words were there, trapped like caged birds in my throat, but I knew damned well what would happen if I told her how much I needed her. Or loved her. Even the words seemed to know how manipulative a ghoul she'd become if I ever gave her that kind of control, and they stayed hidden like the shrewd little cowards they were. Then, aching inside her skin, she crawled up against my silence and whispered, "Fine. I get the picture."
But she didn't get the picture at all. Right from the start I knew Jade was the kind of woman men killed each other over. But I didn't mind. I knew a lot of people that needed killing. It wouldn't be long before she'd find out just how far I'd go to keep her safe, but she wasn't listening back then. She had convinced her insecure little elf of a self that I didn't love her: That nobody loved her, believing instead she was doomed, about to keel over and die at any given second, deserted, stabbed seventy-two times, wrapped up neat and tidy in Saran wrap at the bottom of a polluted trash dump pond. So I thought the least I could do was give her some hope. Make her feel special. So I told her, "If you croak and Brigitte Bardot takes off another ten pounds, dyes her hair purple, gets herself a farmer tan, starts smoking weed and pouring cocaine on her Sugar Pops for breakfast, she can play you in the movie version of your misbegotten life."
That didn't exactly come out quite as special as I had planned, but I thought she might take it as a compliment. I should be so lucky;
"Did you say misbegotten?" she snapped.
Too late for an official retraction I stood my shaky ground, "Yes I did, and I'm sticking with it."
"My Lord, what's become of you? You've been watching those artsy-fartsy, sob sister, Upstairs, Downstairs flicks behind my back again, haven't you? I wish you'd stop doing that."
And that's about how it usually went. Normally I had about a three day window between her bouncing like an epileptic jack rabbit off the walls and my eating crow after she left town, so I had to get in whatever crack I could whenever I got the chance. Was it any wonder we spent half our time fucking each other's lights out? Nobody had to say anything. Even the snatches of conversation I could remember in my rare moments of sobriety were fractured and disconnected somehow, playing over and over in my head like old scratchy phonograph records. It was always like that. Talking nice to her never got me anywhere. So I thought I'd change my tact, throw her off a bit. Maybe tell her something profound. So I said, "I think you must have tried on sadness when you were a little kid, like it was a suit of armor or something, because it obviously melted to your bones when you weren't looking, and just look at you now, walking around like Don Quixote, swinging at windmills with a two hundred pound lead lance, and falling on your face all the time. Why is that?"
Apparently she didn't think that was very profound at all and shot back at me, "Don Quixote? Why can't you just read Playboy like all the other over-educated pecker heads in this trailer trash town? As if you could read a stop sign in your normal state of inebriation. I can think of a lot better things you could be doing with your time. Saving me from myself would be a good place to start."
"Are you kidding me? In my condition I couldn't save stamps."
"Well at least you could try to do something besides drinking yourself into oblivion and walking around angry at everybody all the time. Why are you so mad at me for anyway? What did I ever do to you?"
"You mean besides smashing my Elvis Presley "Hound Dog" 45?"
"You played that thing twenty-six times in a row. And what's with that 'ain't nothin' but a hound dog' bullshit anyway? Jesus, what's that supposed to mean?"
"It's about a hound dog with rabbit issues, Jade."
"Never caught a rabbit, my ass! It's about a self-centered, limp-dicked misogynist who doesn't want to be friends with his girlfriend anymore because he thinks she doesn't have any class and won't chase rabbits for him and all she does is cry about it all the time. Who writes that crap anyway?"
"It's only a rock and roll record, Jade."
"Not anymore it's not. It's a thousand pieces of black vinyl shit lying at the bottom of a landfill where it belongs. That's what it is."
Sensing that our macabre conversation was headed nowhere, Jade made her first official declaration of the day:
"Well, you're on your own tonight, Bubba. I just got a new job bar tendering at the Hawk in Coralville and I've gotta run. The pay sucks but the booze is free. What's not to like?" With a shrug she jumped into a pair of jeans and one of my T-shirts, flipped her purse across her shoulder, and as cool as a Siamese cat, wagged her pretty tail at me and slithered off into the treacherous night. Trying to hide my obviously transparent desperation, I shouted after her, "When will I see you again?"
"In your dreams, Slick, in your dreams."
And that was that. Not exactly Romeo and Juliet but one can always hope. I was too tired to hang myself so I just lay there on the porch, watching a star falling out of the black sky, wishing it would fall on me. It's no wonder I drank so much. Who wouldn't? I gave it all I had, trying to get through to her. Like the time I tiptoed over to the couch where was taking a nap, thinking I'd try to open her up to the possibility of there being a life out there for her somewhere, in spite of her having barely survived a childhood from hell. But even asleep, she looked as uncomfortably unpredictable as a teething baby lion, and I should have known better, but I thought, unwisely, what the hell, why not give it a shot? So when she awoke, I said: "You must have dreams, Jade, something to hold on to. Something you believe in. God knows I dream about you all the time."
She replied sardonically, "Is there nothing you won't say to get laid? Even if I did ever have any dreams, they all died before I was six, so what's the point? Why bother?"
"Jade, I swear, you better track down that wounded beast you've got chained up inside your head and shoot the son-of-a-bitch before it breeds. Why is it that you choose to keep torturing that innocent little girl inside of you instead? What did she ever do to you?"
"She died. She was just another accident waiting to happen, lying around all the time like road kill. There were so many tire tracks across her body by the time she was twelve she just thought it was her job to get run over. So I ran her over."
I thought to myself about all the horrifying terror that hid inside the sweet child I'd once played "hide and seek" with in my father's haymow, and I just had to ask her, "How can you think so little of yourself to think like that? There isn't one boy in all of Johnson County who wouldn't cut his balls off for you."
"Then why the fuck don't they? It would sure save me a lot of trouble."
"They would. All of us would. Well, maybe my left one. But I'm serious Jade, there's still time to pull yourself out of that tar pit you've got yourself trapped in."
"I don’t think so," she uncharacteristically stammered. Time ran out on me the day I was born. What did I ever do to deserve a life like that?" And in a little girl's voice she mumbled, " I would have given up and cashed it in years ago, but I think I was just too far gone by then to go."
That was one of the only times Jade had ever alluded verbally to her wretched childhood and all that pain inflicted on her by her hog shit father, Oscar. I could see the narrow, salty river that wandered down through the black and blue makeup around her eyes. A lazy little river of tears. I couldn't stop them anymore. I could only hold on to her like she was a sand bag leaking all over my shoes and stick my finger in the dike, holding back a terrifying, Mississippi flood. And just when I thought I had her calmed down, she shuddered beside me, and whispered, "You know that light at the end of the tunnel that they always talk about? The one you're supposed to see when you die? Well, I see that light every night, right before I go to sleep."
Sure enough by morning Jade's Librium, or whatever her drug du jour was, must have worn off, because, after finding out one of the art galleries that sold my work in New York wanted me to come out for a one man show and that I wasn't taking her with me due to her new job, she nearly blew a gasket. Holding back the fireworks, she said maybe it's time she shuffled off south and get away for awhile: somewhere warm. You know, suck up a little sunshine and maybe teach me a lesson about my fear of commitment while she was at it. So, after strapping herself into my newly acquired, 1970 SS/Z28 Camaro, she headed for Mexico. With a pathetic, last gasp goodbye I pleaded shamelessly with her, “What about your job? What about me? You can't go, I love you. I always will. I swear to Jesus, I’m a dead man without you!”
Fortunately, I wasn't psychotic enough yet to actually say that out loud, and the words just lay there dying in my throat like all the others she chose to ignore. I couldn't bare watching her wrap the orange scarf I gave for Christmas around her neck like the Panamanian National Flag and sail away south beneath the rotten peach colored sky.
Three weeks later I got a letter from somewhere in LA that she may as well have written in invisible ink for all I could make of it. Holding it out away from my nose like a rotting fish, I read all about her tango dancer from Argentina, her Spanish bullfighter from Pamplona, the two Brazilian lesbians she'd spent the weekend with seducing fourteen year old Mormon ballerinas from Salt Lake City, and how pretty LA is when you’re stoned on coke, until that is, the night comes down like a hopped up house thief and knifes you in the eyes. In the dying twilight I shook myself awake, so sick at heart I gagged down half a bottle Old Granddad and then sank into an angry nightmare I didn’t wake up from for two days.
It was a long time before my little prodigal angel from hell drifted back home. She stepped down from the train like Greta Garbo herself, and as steam nearly swallowed her whole, she glided into my arms so fast I thought it was myself I was holding. "Where you been?" she moaned, like it was me who'd gone missing. A golden swirl of starlight sat on her head like a French poet’s beret, cocked to the side, perched rusted and broken on her beautiful raven curls. And as she maneuvered me into the bedroom, she growled, "Fasten your seat belt, Bubba, this is going to be one hell of a bumpy ride."
Somewhere during our unexpectedly frenzied reverie, it suddenly came to me that Jade had always fallen for guys with records and tattoos and that dirty kind of down in the mouth, cowboy look. Criminals mostly. Safecrackers, grifters, car thieves, wife beaters, baby snatchers, you name it. Then there was me, no priors, no record, nothing, clean as a born again Boy Scout. I never stole anything worth stealing. And after we'd spent the next six days mostly in bed, I woke up one blurry May morning to find Jade looking through my high school year book, reading what her best friend Gwendolyn Nesbitt had written under my class picture. Shit! I thought I'd burned that damned thing with all the others years ago, but I must have missed that one. Good ole Gwen had a way with words. She was positively gifted. I never knew there were so many words you could use to describe somebody's dick. After Jade finished her luridly graphic anatomy lesson, she quietly packed a grocery bag with Fruit Loops, bananas, a half eaten bag of Oreos, and all of my Dylan 8-tracks, climbed up behind a convicted arsonist driving a silver Suzuki crotch rocket, and yelled back over her shoulder, “Call me if you get arrested, sweetie.”
And that was all she wrote. Except for the fact her biker boy toy treated her like dirt. I mean, he treated her just like compost, and after awhile he ended up back in Attica, which is where he belonged in the first place as far as I was concerned.
Sure enough, about a month later, Jade stumbled back up the lane, all bandaged up and crying, looking like a snow white barn owl with two black eyes. As fed up as I've ever seen her, she whimpered forlornly, "Ok, you win. I give up. Take me back, I've had enough."
After screwing up my last remaining semblance of courage, I said, “Uh, sure, ok, no problem. But first, I've got this job to do for this guy I know downtown. This connected guy named Guido, and like, could I borrow a car, and a blow torch, and some duct tape. And a gun. And maybe a pair of panty hose?”
"Well, screw me black and blue and kiss my butt too while you're at it "was all Jade had to say.
That very next morning I made the first unwise decision of the day and decided to tell her I was going to East Lansing to visit my buddy, Dallas Quick, who was on a full ride rodeo scholarship at Iowa State, the same one I should have been on if I hadn't gotten drunk one morning and got my leg chewed up by a pissed off mama hog that I had accidentally cornered in the barn. And off Jade stomped in a furious huff and locked herself in a closet with a box of Frosted Flakes, a bottle of milk, a spoon, and the telephone. Needless to say, she wasn't exactly fond of most of my friends. She called them all redneck cow trash sheep fuckers and wouldn't get caught dead being seen with any one of them in the light of day. I had to admit, most of them were juicers to the core and they all hated dopers, and God knows Dallas was the worst of the lot. One morning he and I pounded down a six pack of Schlitz before ninth grade civics class and after a month or two of that, the teacher kicked us both out school for a week.
Jade heard about that sordid affair and when Dallas started preaching on and on one day about her little pharmaceutical problem, she called him a hypocritical asshole cracker lush bastard and then lit into him with her purse like he was a piñata. I don't know how Dallas took the beating she gave him. There ought to be some kind of law requiring a person to get a permit to carry a purse like that.
In about twenty minutes, right on queue, some sorry sack of shit, mobster want-a-be numbers runner who was obviously wired so tight on black beauties that he was foaming at the mouth, came howling up the lane in a blood red, custom chopped Harley Softail Deuce, squishing half a flock of Guinea hens under his tires, and holding on to those handlebars like they were welded to his fingers. What it was about Jade and those virus incubators on wheels is beyond me. He must have thought he was Roy Rogers on Trigger saving Dale Evans from a prairie fire the way he grabbed Jade's arm, dragged her up behind him, and shot straight into the flat black April dawn faster than an out of control bottle rocket. I shouted at Jade through the half opened kitchen window, actually getting the words out this time, "I won't be here when you come back, Goddamnit."
And as she disappeared down the lane in a cloud of bloody gravel and bird feathers, cocky as a rooster she shouted back over her shoulder, "Yes you will!"
If she looked back again before she disappeared, I must have missed it. I was busy pouring gasoline on my wounds and burning every bridge she'd ever crossed.