Well, boys.’ Granddad dropped his cane and placed his hands on a shoulder of each. His demeanor suddenly took on a somber tone. ‘Truth be tol’, I brung you both in here for more ‘an just a-gift givin’ an’ a-grabbassin’. An’ don’t backtalk me durin’ what I’m ’bout to say or I’ll fight the both of ya. Ya may have youth an’ size on your side, but I got two things y’ain’t got’ a sharp pair of dentures an’ proximity to death.’ Granddad took a deep sigh, during which he carefully contemplated his words. ‘In talkin’ to your mother, Jay, I’m tol’ you been up to no good. That ya been drinkin’ yerself stupid and smokin’ sea grass, amongst other things. Lord knows, I did ma share of both in ma younger days. But, you’re on a sinful an’ dangerous path, boy. An’ there’s nothin’ good gonna come to ya once ya reach the logical conclusion of that there route. You gotta cut down on all that shit or cut it loose if ya can’t handle it. An’ if ah hear once more ’bout you layin’ hands on your mother, King Jehovah hath given me the green light to smite thee backside with the steel wrath of ma’ boot toe. I’ll grant you, she’s no shinin’ gem of a mother, but she’s the only one you got and the only daughter I got and you need to obey and respect her. And, Richie, I’m hearin’ you don’t come around near as much as ya used to. I understand you got yourself a new bride. An’ just in bein’ around her, I can sense she’s a good woman. She’s a Sagittarius, ain’t she?’ Rich nodded his head, impressed. ‘Ah knew it. She’s an aura ’bout ‘er’a good-hearted woman, ah can tell that; and a great set of birthin’ hips and a glorious rear end fit for slappin’, truth be told.’ Granddad stuck his tongue out and made a slapping motion with his free hand. Rich smiled. ‘Any rate, I’m happier ‘an a pig in shit for ya; ah truly am.’ Granddad grabbed Jason by the scruff of his neck and shook him firmly. ‘But, you got responsibilities you can’t neglect, son. This boy may not be yer flesh an’ blood. Hell, sometimes I can’t hardly believe he’s mine. But he needs somebody ta look after him, ta show ‘im, when he fucks up, how the cow ate the cabbage, ta be there with a hug and a kiss when he’s wounded, ta cheer him onward and upward God’s divine path. This is part of your callin’, son, and you will be scrutinized by His judgment when the day comes to answer for your success or failure in these missions much as any t’others that are your charge. Now join me boys.’ Granddad drew Rich and Jason’s heads close to his. He began to pray in a murmur the two could not make out. They held the old man. A tear fell from Granddad’s cheek and was absorbed into the carpet. Rich drew the two in tighter.
* * *
Jason stood in front of the inner-half of the front door, directing an entranced stare at the peephole before him as he prepared for his first day of community service. Several consecutive nights of gawking at the ceiling in an insomniatic haze had left his brain anesthetized and body limp. The portal returned an icy glare to the 17 year-old, scrutinizing him with its warped vision. The skinny, almost gaunt youth slouched in a humble stance. He wore a turquoise mohawk which splayed out like a stegosaurus fin, a metal barbell through his lower lip, a Black Flag tee-shirt, and black-and-red Nike Air Jordan sneakers, a Christmas gift from his mother. He slipped on thick brown leather gloves, pulled over a dense down coat, and drew heavy rubber boots over double layers of socks. He smoothed back the springy fluorescent protuberances with a sweeping motion of his hand and tucked them beneath a wool skullcap.
Jason reached for the doorknob, twisted it, cradled his face in his left glove, jolted the door forward and slammed it shut behind him. Immediately, his sinuses met with the acrid sting of the bitter winter atmosphere, a sensation like walking into an icy pole in a dark basement. Stepping onto the porch, he saw that another two feet of snow had been dumped on the ground during the night and that the roads had been cleared and salted, leaving hulking gray banks along the margins.
Jason ambled to his ’89 maroon Toyota Camry. The house he exited, bought for his mother by her new computer engineer husband, Hank, and shared with their four year old, Brent, was a stark contrast to the stained trailer in Charles County in which he had spent most of his existence; where the odor of stale cigarette smoke, duct-taped windows and a gutted Cammaro, which lay like rotting carrion on cinder blocks, testified to his mother’s capitulation. The neighborhood in which it was situated was also nothing like the community of his childhood, where torn screen doors and weather-beaten sofas on porches cried out like festering wounds.
Rather, it was like the others of its neighborhood, Hickory Hills, a community of well-maintained station wagons, well-groomed gardens, and pressure-treated pinewood decks, located in the heart of St. Mary’s county. Inhabitants and guests emptying their bladders and/or bowels in the first floor bathroom were whisked away to the coast of Maine by wallpaper patterned with an infinite army of lobsters marching lock-step in neat diagonal rows, two miniature gold-colored lobster idols situated on opposite sides of a ceramic soap dish, and framed photographs of light houses and weathered beach houses and rowboats. Skylights opened above the kitchen and living room like huge portholes on a cruise ship. On particularly bright days, they flooded the house with sun; at night, they permitted languid passage through the galaxy.
When he arrived at the house that was his destination for the afternoon, two miles away, Jason sluggishly stepped out of his car and approached the front door, walking in short, choppy strides. The house, a diminutive ranch house, was colored in a faint lavendar with faded puce shutters, but whispered of a once vibrant shade that stood proudly against the neighborhood’s beiges and off-whites.
An open garage was attached to the right side of the house, sheltering a tarp-covered car. Taking notice of the shrouded vehicle, Jason altered his course toward it and lifted the tarp. Beneath, he found a black Cadillac with chipped paint all about its body, worn black leather upholstery, and a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror. Jason left the garage, approaching the house’s front door, rapped lightly on it, and waited for a response. There was none. He waited several more seconds. ‘Goddamnit.’ Another burst of wind came and Jason lost his patience. He turned the knob of the door and, noticing it was open, pushed it forward, leaning his head inward.
‘Hello?,’ he half shouted, trying to locate the resident. Receiving no response, he walked down the house’s entrance hallway. His eyes’ attention was first hooked by a velvet Elvis painting’middle-aged, ballooning, white leather jacket and bell bottoms Elvis; not young, trim Jailhouse Rock Elvis. Reaching the end of the short hallway, his attention was wrested by an expansive, swirling abstract mural standing flush across the entirety of the opposite wall of the modest-sized living room.
Jason walked toward the painting and investigated it. Within its focus was a bright flourish of colors which, when reflected against the sunlight arriving through the window, almost made Jason wince. All about the center, the pigments swam and blended together in a churning, chaotic, fluorescent flurry. The still vista drew Jason closer, beckoning him with its curious static frenzy. He walked toward it in measured paces and scrutinized the canvas from inches away, following the bubbling texture with his eyes across its tiny rivers and swirling sinkholes. Stepping away, he felt dizzy and swooned slightly as his eyes squinted and refocused.
Below the painting lay a tarp caked in paint and a set of paint tubes and dried brushes that appeared to have lay dormant for quite some time. Jason now walked back toward the hall, noticing a room to his left. He poked his head in. There was a woman laying seemingly unconscious on her back in a bed with IVs running out of her arm and tubes stuck in her nose. Next to her bed was a nightstand packed with photographs of young, smiling, vibrant people with their arms around one another’s shoulders, making silly faces and posturing for the camera. One was of a blonde woman toasting with a Martini glass to the camera. Another was of the same woman standing on a beach in a revealing bikini, navel pierced, wearing a snorkel and flippers.
Jason approached the bed, hovering over the figure’s face like a coroner over a corpse. He noted a vague resemblance between this woman and the blonde in the pictures. The person before him, however, more closely resembled a marionette lying in a box, limp and wooden. Her face had the complexion of a melon drained of its juices and she wore a pink bandana that stood out starkly against black sheets. A jagged pink scar peaked out from beneath a yellow tee-shirt that just barely revealed a part of her stomach and side. Against her almost translucent skin, blue veins stood out starkly, feebly pumping poisoned blood. Jason drew his face closer to hers to examine their paths along her temple.
‘You know what they say,’ came from the woman’s mouth, her eyes still shut.
Jason jumped back; his jaw clenched.
‘You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose” The woman opened her eyes, which were revealed to be the shade of Caribbean waters. She moved her hands backward and pulled herself into a seated position. ”but you can’t pick a cadaver’s nose.’
‘Uh…I was just…uh’, fumbled Jason.
‘It’s okay, kid. Everybody has at least a little fascination with death. It’s a natural thing.’
‘I’m real sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it.’
‘Look, kid, I said it’s okay. Now, life’s too short for sorry’s so get over it, or I will unhook myself from these tubes and kick your scrawny ass. Now tell me, what’s your name?’
‘My name is Jason.’
‘Hi, Jason, I’m Jackie. Good to meet ya.’ Jackie extended her hand. Jason received it carefully, as though it were a porcelain statuette. He was surprised that far from fragile, her grip was confident, almost forceful; though he could tell she had to exert significant energy to make it so.
‘Now, Jason, how does this work? You’re supposed to read me bedtime stories and give me sponge baths?’
‘Uh…I don’t know. I’ve never done this before.’
‘Never done this before?! You mean you’re, what, seventeen years old and you’ve never taken care of a dying cancer patient? Have you ever met a person with cancer before?’
‘Well, yeah, my great grandma died about two years ago’ brain cancer.’
Jackie’s voice turned subdued. ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘It wasn’t that bad really. If anything, I think it improved her life.’
‘Really? How so?’
Jason felt the tension in his face dissipate. He thought Jackie’s tone oddly familiar, yet he felt strangely at ease. ‘Nobody could stand her before she got cancer. She was a miserable old bag before it.’
‘You know how old people are’they live to complain. They’ve outlived their usefulness and they just sit around.’
‘So, anybody without a purpose should just die?’
‘It’s not so much that’. It’s just, some of them sit around waiting to die, hoping to die, really.’
‘You’re great grandma was like that?’
‘I see you’re a man of few words, Jason.’
‘Well, ya know’yeah, she was a mean old bag of bones, always starting fights in the family and talking behind people’s backs and shit.’
‘She talked about you?’
‘No, but she pretty much made my grandpa her personal punching bag to vent her frustrations on account of her having such a miserable and lonely life.’
‘Yeah, she used to call him a worthless son-of-a-bitch right to his face, which always made me laugh because, you know, seeing as how he was her son and all.’
‘So, cancer made her see things from a different perspective?’
‘No, not so much that. It just pretty much just ate her brain away until it changed her personality. She was suddenly happy all the time and she quit bitching and moaning and ragging on everybody. Of course it screwed up her mind royally’after a while, it got so bad she started carrying on conversations with friends of hers that weren’t there, friends that’d been dead for years, friends that never existed.’
‘Really? She changed that much?’
‘Yeah, she got real, real weird all of a sudden. I remember my cousin’s wedding reception about a month before the doctors diagnosed her. She kept calling me Toby all day long. Then, during the garter-tossing, she calls me over, grabs my ear real tight, twists it, pulls me in, licks her dentures and, says, ‘Toby, I have this plantation-owner’s debutante daughter/slave fantasy.’ She then slips me a hundred dollar bill and whispers in my ear, ‘room 211 at the Ramada; bring two of your biggest, chocolate-iest friends with you and you can split my social security check.’
‘That’s pretty far gone,’ observed Jackie, smiling bemusedly and nodding her head.
Jason smirked and laughed aloud, recalling an image he hadn’t thought of for some time. ‘Yeah, later in the reception, she joined in on a conga line, artificial hip, walker and all. Everybody thought that was kind of weird, but, you had to hand it to the old broad, she was pretty much keeping time with the beat. But, it went downhill from there. Two songs into it, she gets out in the middle of the floor and drops to the ground, stomach-first in the middle of the crowd. Everybody rushes to her side, thinking, ‘oh my god, grandma’s having a heart attack or something’she’s gonna die, you know, this is it.’ So, they’re crowded around her and somebody sprints off to call 911. While they’re hovering over her, she starts convulsing a little, so everybody thinks, ‘oh shit!, she’s having a seizure’, ‘fucking hell, she’s gonna croak right here on the fucking dance floor’. Well, all this time the DJ is standing in the crowd with the rest of the gawkers, and the CD changer switches to RUN DMC’s ‘Walk this Way.’ Well, all of a sudden, she starts convulsing in time with the beat. She keeps at it and breaks into the worm’
Jackie laughed raucously, coughing up phlegm midway through. ‘Was she any good?’
‘No, she took break dancing to the literal level that day. She shattered her hip right there on the dance floor in the middle of the song.’ Jason’s laughter reached a higher pitch. ‘She died of complications from hip replacement surgery two days later!’ His eyes now shut and watering from hysterical laughter, Jason doubled over, facing the ground until his guffaws petered out. He breathed deeply, looked up, and saw that Jackie’s face had turned semi-stoic. A hush overcame the room and Jason looked around, embarrassed.
Calmly, Jackie broke the silence. ‘Well, it’ll be awhile before the cancer eats my brain that thoroughly, but, I hope I get to be half as entertaining as your grandmother before I check out.’
Jason looked down at his shoes. ‘I’m sorry, I should think about what I say. It wasn’t funny,’ replied Jason sheepishly.
‘That’s okay, you’re a kid. To you, it was funny. Besides, you’re honest. All else being equal, I like that.’ Jackie paused for a moment. ‘So, I’m gonna assume that you really don’t want to be here.’
‘I’m told that’s the best policy.’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘I can understand that. Look at it this way, though. You have to get this over with to get on with the rest of your life, and I’m pretty much gonna go loonier than a geriatric breakdancer here without any human companionship besides my visits from the hospice nurses and doctors for the remaining months of my existence. So what say we make the best of this here bad situation? Seems like you’re a decent enough kid, so let’s muddle through this the best we can, ‘kay?’
Jason smiled. ‘Sounds good by me.’
‘Right now I’m kind of tired, though, so why don’t you go home and I’ll see you in a couple of days.’
Jason nodded and walked out of the room.
* * *
Sheba lay on the floor of her cage, thoroughly licking the backs of her hulking, razored paws, periodically rubbing them over her immense orange and white, black-striped face. Down the hall, she could hear the practiced chaos of roaring motorcycle engines, booming cannon shots, and exploding fireworks, which, while strange and terrifying the first few months after her relocation from the Indian jungle, had become routine. She let out a rumbling purr’like an idling formula-one race car at the starting line’that coursed along the cage’s floor and pulsed up its bars. Her leviathan jade eyes soberly scrutinized through squinting eyelids the wheat-haired, pink-scalped man slumped in a metal folding chair opposite here a few feet, a cigarette drooping from his wiry lips. His rhinestone-encrusted white leather pants clung intently to his legs; a matching vest hung loosely from pasty, hairless arms. Gaudy rhinestones spelled out ‘Deiter’ on his back and sparkled in the fluorescent lights as he breathed shallowly. He lifted a black leather whip from the ground and flicked his wrist repeatedly so as to tap the tiger’s face with its tongue. Sheba flinched each time, prompting girlish giggles from the man, but she did not so much as growl. The man glanced at his watch, stood from his chair and stood over the cage. ‘You stupid, mangy animal.’ He leaned down and stared into the cat’s eyes, drawing deeply from his cigarette, then flicked it into the tiger’s eye, causing her to flinch again. ‘Alright, you stupid bitch, show-time.’ Sheba continued licking her paws, massaging her face, soberly scrutinizing.
* * *
Awoken from a deep sleep by the rising sun, Warren peered out of his glass-encased prison from his rocky bed. The familiar world outside his four walls stood, as always, tantalizingly close, yet impossibly distant from his webbed grasp. He dove headlong into the brackish water below, swam to the far end of the tank and butted his smooth, green and yellow face, repeatedly searching multiple spots on the wall, hoping against hope that this time the glass would finally surrender freedom. Still no luck. He tried another wall, butting and straining over and again, legs paddling intently, still unable to comprehend after years of trying why he could see through to the mysterious and expansive world around him but was continually denied the ability to feel it. Exhausted now, he finally surrendered and buoyed to the water’s surface, peaking his head above the surface to take his short reptilian breaths as he bobbed. He then slowly paddled back to his rock, perched himself upon it and stared into the outer space again. His attention was caught by the movement of an enormous edifice at the outermost reaches. Dim light poured in and a large figure entered. Warren shrunk his head and legs into his shell, observing from its safety.
By the time Rich had walked into the modest one bedroom condominium he shared with his wife, the sun had completely emerged from the horizon and had begun the slow work of loosening the tight earth. He quietly and carefully approached her so as not to wake her, then squatted on his hams beside her. Rich liked to examine his wife in her sleep, when her curly, graying auburn hair, carefully brushed during the day, was matted with sweat to her cheek and temple, when her eyelids and cheeks twitched with dreams and her teeth ground softly against the plastic retainer she wore to sleep.
Suddenly, Reggie inhaled a gulp of air, shot her arms out to stretch and struck Rich in the nose in the process, knocking him backwards, whereupon he struck his head against the dresser. Startled, Reggie got out of bed and rushed to her husband’s side. ‘Are you okay, baby?’, she asked. Embarrassed, Rich replied, ‘Yes.’
‘What were you doing there?’
‘Just admiring my peaceful, yet apparently dangerous wife.’ He got up, walked to the side of the bed, and knelt down before the bed.
‘Well that’s what you get for being so sneaky, I guess,’ Reggie said, slyly
‘I guess so,’ Rich replied, smiling.
‘So, what’s up?’
‘Not much, just getting off work.’
‘Alrighty, master of the art of conversation, so how was your day?’
‘Same old shit, different day.’
‘You know every day’s the same for me. I set some traps on Route 5 and 235, caught a couple of early morning Mario Andretti’s, gave a sobriety test to one. He failed so I booked him and he cussed me up and down the whole way to Leonardtown, spitting on the window and the floor, and himself. That’s about it.’
‘Good job, now was that so darn hard?,’ Reggie asked as Rich lay in bed beside her.
Rich kissed her on the forehead and embraced her. ‘No it wasn’t,’ he said into her ear as he tickled her sides. Reggie let out a squealing laugh. Rich continued until she could take no more and punched him in the gut. Rich grabbed his stomach and let out an exaggerated moan.
‘Oh, please, you little pussy.’
Rich laughed at the revealing of his thinly veiled ruse, then embraced Reggie who jokingly tried to wriggle free.
Rich now buried his face in his wife’s hair. They sat in silence a few moments and their minds wandered. Rich ended the quiet. ‘So whaddaya say we start lookin’ at adopting?’
‘What was that for?’
‘You know damn well what that’s for, Rich.’
‘No, I don’t.’ Rich took his arms from around Reggie and got up from the bed slowly.
‘You know I’m not meant to have kids,’ she responded, still facing away from her husband.
‘Why? Just because you can’t physically have them? That’s a blessing in disguise. This way we can adopt some kid that’s never known real parents, that needs somebody to take care of them.’
“I know baby, but we’ve been over this and over this. I don’t want the responsibility. Not now. It’s too much.’
‘But the responsibility’s the whole thing.’
‘I don’t wanna talk about it right now.’
‘Tough, I do’ I mean, I’m out there everyday, and this ain’t Baltimore or D.C. or nothing, but I see some shit out there.’
‘When I’m at that courthouse runnin’ security, I see bruised kids whose parents don’t use ’em for the extra welfare. I see drug pushers who sell to third-graders. I see’ I see junkies, these walking zombies who have destroyed their own lives and occasionally destroy those of others driving idiotically high or robbing convenience stores.’
‘I understand that Richie, baby, but there’s nothing you can do ’bout all that stuff. It’s always been there and it always will be there and adopting a kid isn’t gonna stop it all.’
‘I’m not trying to stop it all, Reg. I just wanna help one person. And I know you don’t understand this, but all that shit out there, the people I see destroying; they’re not that way just because they’re that way. It goes much deeper. There’s something missing from some part of them. Somewhere along the way, something in their, you know, their foundation’ something wasn’t laid right that caused ’em to be the way they are; to hate themselves, to hate everything, to hate everybody. We can prevent that for somebody.’
Reggie caressed her husband with her eyes and they began to well up. ‘God, you’re so beautiful and naive that it fills me with wonder and pain just to be near you sometimes.’
Rich slammed his fist onto the night stand. ‘Goddamnit, Reg! That’s not fucking naive. If you’d seen what I’ve seen and what I’ve been through, you’d know how tough it can be for people in shit situations to be decent. You’d see how people can drag you into their little’ their fuckin’ cess pools. You’d also know that no matter what type of shit the world throws their way, people can pull themselves up; they can will themselves into becoming something better. If you knew that, you’d do something.’
Reggie got up and threw her arms around her husband, holding him tightly. ‘Okay, okay, we’ll think about it some more.’ Rich pursed his trembling lips together. He embraced his wife tightly.
* * *
‘What am I doin’, what am I doin’, what am I doin’?,’ Albert whispered inaudibly to himself as he sat on a bench outside Rich’s school, hunching forward with his elbows on his knees, staring at a crack in the sidewalk. He pulled out his pack of Camels and lit one, drawing deeply. As he exhaled, a breeze carried the puff into his eyes. The sting forced them shut immediately. Albert’s now red, watery eyes slowly followed the crack up and down, scrutinizing every bend in its path. He pursed his lips tightly. The bell rang and a flood of students poured out of the scratched-up Plexiglas doors of the brown brick building. Albert searched the crowd until he noticed his son. ‘Hey, there, Richie-boy.’
Rich was puzzled. His father hadn’t picked him up since grade school. ‘What are you doin’ here, Pop?’
Albert put his arm around his son’s neck and smiled. ‘Can’t a father pick up his boy from school? Say, you wanna drive?’ The two walked to Albert’s blue Chevy pickup and got in.
‘What’s goin’ on, Pop?’
‘Nothin’ much. Say, let’s go pick up Donnie in Park Hall.’
‘Donnie? The kid who works for you?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘Why are we gonna hang out with him?’
‘We’re not gonna hang out with him. We’ve got a little project to do with Don.’
‘A little project?’
‘Don’s alerted me to an opportunity.’
‘You’re talkin’ in circles, Pop. What’s going on?’
‘Anybody ever told you you’re a nosy little cuss?’ Albert mussed his son’s hair as he had a thousand times before and rested his arm on the boy’s neck. ‘Just drive, Richard.’
Donnie lived in a red brick duplex with overgrown, patchy grass and mangy shrubs. The carport was littered with engine parts and sawdust and faintly smelled of engine oil and cat urine. The main door was open, so Albert knocked on the frame of the screen door, eliciting an ear-splitting howl from Donnie’s blood hound/beagle mutt, Anne. The dog galloped to the door, a trail of piss following her all the way, then back-pedaled to the center of the kitchen, shuffling her feet frantically and bouncing up and down on her hind legs, howling at the ceiling in nervous excitement.
Donnie walked toward the door. ‘Goddamn it Anne, shut the fucking hell up!’ He booted the dog, knocking her into a side cabinet. She ran whimpering into the bathroom. ‘Rich-eeeeee; how’s it goin’, you little shit?,’ Donnie shouted, like a used car salesman greeting an old customer. ‘What’s it been, like six months since I seen you?’
‘Well, you’re just growin’ like a little weed, ain’t ya?’
‘It’s been six months and you’re two years older than me.’
‘So, you told him about our little project yet, Alby?’
‘Nah, haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.’
‘Well then, let’s just go do it.’
‘Whoa, whoa’back it up a sec,’ Rich interjected. ‘Before we get moving, what exactly are we doing here?’
‘We’re just making a quick drop-off’ don’t sweat it kiddo,’ replied Don.
Albert glared at Donnie, who looked away. ‘Look, Rich, don’t sweat it. We’ll be back home in an hour-and-a-half. It’s no biggie.’
‘I’m not interested. Pop, what are you thinking? I don’t anything to do with this.’
‘You won’t have anything to do with it, Rich.’ He put his arm around his son’s neck again. ‘It’s just a quick drop off. No big deal.’
‘What the hell do you need me there for then?’
‘Relax, Richie. We just need you there to be a lookout. Besides, you know you’re my good luck charm. If nothing else, I need you there for that.’ Albert smiled.
‘If this is gonna be so easy, what do you need luck for?’
Albert sighed. ‘Look, Rich. You’re a big boy. If you don’t want to go, I’ll take you home now.’
Rich stared at his father, biting his bottom lip, then looked out the window. ‘I just’.’
‘What, Rich?… Look, I tell ya what. If you come along, I’m gonna cut you in for $70. All for just standing still and looking. Standin’ and lookin’, that’s all it is.’
Rich rolled his eyes and chewed on his tongue. ‘Alright, fuck it. Let’s go.’
* * *
Jason knocked loudly on Jackie’s door. Waiting for about five seconds for an answer this time around, he turned the knob and it obediently gave way. Whereas in his first visit to Jackie’s room he felt nothing but overwhelming dread, in the several visits since, his steps now were easy.
‘Hey there, Kemosabe. Welcome.’ Jackie was sitting upright in her bed, propped up against a pillow which leaned against the wall. She wore a pair of thin rimmed reading glasses and had in her hands Mother Night.
‘How are you doing?’
‘Pretty good’ Do you always leave your front door open?’
‘Oh, what’s the big fuckin’ deal?,’ she asked smiling. ‘What’s a burglar gonna do? The only thing worth anything in here is that big ass mural out there. And pawn shops don’t exactly pay for sentimental value.’
‘I guess’ So, you painted that out there, I guess.’
‘You sure do a lot of guessing. Yeah, that’s mine.’
‘I suppose it is. Can you do better?’
Jason looked down at his feet. ‘No, I mean’ I mean, I like it, it’s just different. That’s all. What’s it supposed to be?’
‘It’s not really supposed to be anything specifically I guess. It’s just something that grew out of my head.’ Jackie stared out the window and tapped one of the rims on her glasses against her nose pensively. Jason grew uncomfortable with the silence. Finally, Jackie broke the quiet, asking, ‘Do you dream?’
‘Yeah, of course,’ he replied. ‘Everybody does.’
‘What do you dream about?’
‘Depends’ really I dream about all sorts of random, meaningless shit.’
‘I dunno’ Last week I had a dream I was an anchovie on a pizza that was being eaten by a giant. So, yeah, I dream about dumb shit like that.’
‘I dream about a lot of weird stuff, too. But I don’t think it’s totally random, like you put it. I think everything that happens in your mind has some meaning, that it’s all somehow connected to you and to your world.’
‘You think I transform into anchovies a lot?’
‘No, Jason,’ Jackie said, rolling her eyes. ‘I’m just saying that anything that originates in your mind has some sort of basis in your life. Maybe you’re scared of things that are bigger than you, things you can’t control, things that overwhelm you. I have dreams like that. I also have wonderful, peaceful dreams, dreams about places I went when I was a kid, things I did where I felt free and vibrant and alive. That mural out there in my living room takes all those dreams, along with pizza-being-eaten-by-a-giant type dreams and concentrates them into one place.’
Jackie smiled. ‘You crack me up, kiddo. So, what’s new in your life?’
‘Not much, just biding my time, waiting to turn 18.’
‘What happens then?’
‘Maybe enlist in the marines. Whatever I do, I’ll be moving away from my white trash mother and her piece of shit husband and child.’
‘Tell me how you really feel about them.’
‘I hate them.’