His boredom had reached a pinnacle. Sitting back in a vomit green arm chair, watching the sun illuminate the dust through the blinds, he considered moving. This particular binge had been a two day marathon, the room had taken on the scent of stagnant alcohol. Bottles strewn haphazardly about the coffee table: green, brown and clear, feminine shapes. He could not recall the face of the girl from the night before, couldn’t remember what color her eyes had been… though, it didn’t matter, not now; he was done with all of it, but even rising from the chair proved to be difficult. He felt as if he were pinned helplessly to the ugly, green upholstery like the milky-eyed science frogs of years past.
Off he came, stumbling through the icy trailer, the cold prickling the rusty hairs of his well defined face.
He shambled to the bathroom in search of a T-shirt and a bottle of aspirin. After running his head under cold water, he caught his reflection in the partially cracked mirror.
He looked terrible
His blue-gray eyes were ringed with a color somewhere between purple and brown. The utter misery in his face; the sickening heat in his skin, the morning, the callousness of living, made him look so much older than twenty-three. He could remember thinking this more than once, on other silent, white mornings.
The man’s soul was in his shoes. Leaking irrevocably out with each shuffling step. Leaving behind him a shiny trail of potential.
What time is it?
Oh shit… do I work today?! no… never mind….
He thought, the words like little ghosts in his head. He felt stuffed with rock salt. His esophagus felt like miles of insufferably dusty tubing. He made his way to the fridge for a deep drink of the first thing he could grab. Nothing… He glanced at the large paper grocery bags between the fridge and the stove. Grouping blindly inside, he found an empty fifth of vodka and some rather flat cola. He downed the bottle, the dark, syrupy sweetness disagreed with his stomach and a hot sea rolled around inside it. He cooked himself a quick breakfast of eggs and hash browns on the orange eye of the gas stove, and ate with no thought other than his nausea and the hot, dry headache that pulsed in his temples. His intestines winced, and his eyes struggled to focus as he seemed to spin like a lazy ceiling fan in his seat; the insalubrious drinking he’d done in the past two days, coupled with a few Xanax or Valium here and there, had wreaked havoc on his equilibrium… and his tolerance for bullshit.
His phone rang.
“Hello…” He rasped.
“What up doe?” Said a dragging, nasally voice.
“Hey Bob…” Bob was clearly high on pills he’d found in his mom’s liquor cabinet again.
“Dude, you sound like shit, where the hell have you been Julius?”
Julius could picture Bob now, his greasy, partially shaved head stuffed under a skull-cap, his eyes halved, sitting in a puddle of wasted flesh on his mom’s couch looking totally unaware of his surroundings.
“Drunk… working. Same as last week.” Julius said, shivering at the thought of alcohol.
“Why don’t you ever hang out with us anymore y’faggot? Me and Will haven’t heard from you in a fucking week.”
Julius sighed and rubbed his brow.
“I don’t know man. I just… I don’t know. I guess it’s the winter… I get really depressed in the winter… and I just kind of feel like…. I don’t fucking know dude, I’m kind of shitty right now.”
Bob was quiet for a moment. Julius presumed he was drooling.
“That sounds gay dude.” Said Bob.
“I don’t know… Hey, I gotta go. I just want to be alone dude. I really don’t feel like doing shit today. I’m hung to the fuck over.”
“Aw, c’mon bro, don’t be a fag like that. It’s your last day off, I’ve got ten vike-o’s, let’s eat those bitches and play some Atari.”
“Naw… I’m good. I need to stop getting drunk and high for a while, I think it’s starting to skew my sense of reality. You know what I did this weekend?” Julius said.
“No.” Bob replied and Julius chuckled mirthlessly.
“Well that makes two of us. All I remember is that I spent my entire pay check at the bar, and there was a girl here last night… and I have no clue who she was or what happened to her. I don’t even know if I had sex with her or what we did. Hell, I might’ve even strangled her to death and buried her next to my trailer for all I know.”
Though Julius spoke solemnly, he had noticed that Bob had begun to giggle halfway through his lament.
“Sounds like a badass weekend. Can you remember if she was fat?” Scoffed Bob.
“Fuck you Bob…”
“C’mon, everyone knows you love fat chicks… “
Julius was silent.
“Seriously, stop being a winey bitch. Eat some Vicodine, it’ll make you feel better.”
Julius promptly hung up the phone and wondered why he had picked up in the first place. At his core, Julius almost kind of hated Bob and also almost greatly disliked Will. They’d been his best friends since 5th grade and so, being that as it was, Julius couldn’t fully disown either of them; they knew him too well. But still, there was never anything to talk about. Every moment since middle-school had needed to be pacified by some kind of substance. Worse still, many times it seemed it wasn’t just Bob and Will. Nobody that Julius had known really knew how to socialize without being in some way intoxicated. Nobody wanted to talk about anything important, nobody read, nobody cared and they seemed almost… proud of it sometimes.
Julius was alone, and no matter how many people surronded him, how intense the party got or how many pretty girls allowed him into their pants or up their shirts; he was a million miles away. Every social situation, at the end of things he always wondered why he had participated, he could almost never remember what had happened and didn’t see much of a point to its remembrance anyhow. It would’ve been the same as the time before that, the party before that, and the fifth before that. In a drunken stupor he would feel the same loneliness that had ran behind him for years creep back into his brain and whisper…
Who are you fooling?
Is this what you wanted for yourself?
Do you even know who you are anymore?
But Julius could never answer these questions. He could only sit and stare in numb impotence at the tobacco stained wallpaper; its tiny blue flowers and vines that snaked up to the ceiling in pinstripes, the edges curling with age. He would remember his mom. She had been the best lady in the world. She was intelligent and understanding and though she had very little to offer financially, she was able to guide Julius through his angst and teenaged confusion at the world with grace and patience. She had gotten cancer when Julius was eighteen. It spread from her throat to her brain, and after a short period of little recognition of her surroundings, she went. Julius had never know his father, his mother had done everything as far as raising him and providing for him. When she died she had left him only this trailer, a small library of poetry, short stories, classic novels, a tiny pittance, and memories of the last real conversations Julius had ever had.
Sometimes he felt like somehow, she was still there, in that trailer that he gave a piece his soul each week to keep. Sometimes he felt like a lighthouse keeper, lighting lamps for ghost ships.
Sometimes it would get to him and he would cry for lengthy periods, until his head hurt and his nose was so packed with snot that he couldn’t breathe. Sometimes he would think of the pistol in his nightstand and wonder…
Why the fuck not?
But no, not even a glance at it. Life would go on as usual and he would want to break the teeth of all the smiling fakes that couldn’t hold a conversation to save their lives… spit in the face of every sad, half crazy girl that needed validation so badly that they would let his numb, tequila soaked self climb on top and use her like tissue paper.
Julius shook away his thoughts and glanced down at his phone; five missed calls. He flung the phone down the hall way, immediately regretting the decision the second the phone had left his hand. It hit his bedroom door and cracked into three pieces, raining down in chips, chunks and splinters onto the carpet. He silently cursed himself and then resolved to think about it later. This was the last day of his vacation, he couldn’t waste it sitting in this trailer or blacking out the next twelve hours with booze and pills. He looked out the window, it was snowing. Maybe a walk would be nice. Maybe he could make time for himself to think if he were moving. He thought for a moment of the trees in the park, of how thick with glittering ice and snow they must’ve been by then…. He pulled his long, black coat around him, gathered his keys, a few of his mother’s books, then he left out the back door.
The forest was silent save the sighing of the wind. The trees bowed and waved as if submerged in frigid water, the feathery snow clung to Julius’s longish, auburn hair like lace. It was nearly dusk. Julius looked up at the darkening sky, wishing that he hadn’t spent the majority of the day hung-over on his arm chair. As he walked, the ice caked leaves crackling under his feet, he could feel the toll of the past two days on his body; it felt like his blood wanted to escape his veins; his head still ached with that terrible heat that only comes from too much alcohol. He paused, relishing the quiet, and took a breath; he could smell something like clove from some far away fireplace and it conjured images of the Halloweens, scarlet falls and blue-grey Michigan Christmases of his boyhood. A rueful smile pulled his lips. He made his way up a hill to The Spot. Crouching, he ducked through the tunnel of foliage; holding his arms out in front of him to guard from the smacking of baby trees and the spines of neon-violet blackberry bushes. After a few scrapes from the sharp little branches he reached the top of the hill and beheld the rusted old crane; The Spot.
The crane itself was massive; a looming metal thing of gears and switches, rusting in the forest since the late 50’s when they had built the surrounding neighborhoods . Julius and Will had stumbled upon it in seventh grade, while skipping the latter half of class one afternoon in late April. Julius gripped the slim rusted handle and pulled himself up onto the massive tread. The neck of the crane lay about thirty feet into the woods, dilapidated, with all manner of sleeping plant life poking through its criss-crossing iron. Carefully, Julius began to climb to the top of the gear box ten feet up. He stepped lightly on the enormous coil of iron cable; rusting so long it had become a solid hunk of metal. He got his footing on a large gear and pulled himself upward and onto the top of the crane; being sure to be cautions of his seating for fear the rusted ceiling would give and he would go tumbling down on top of the stationary levers and gears. Julius surveyed the forest; through the snow it seemed as if the skeletal trees repeated themselves infinitely, like reflections in a room of mirrors. He felt a small relief here. This place had been a large part of his adolescence, and some of the happier moments of his life had passed here. So much undiluted rebellion… smoking pot… prank phone calls to teachers, churches and other enemies… spray painting designs and curse words on the rusted iron… being drunk on Bob’s dad’s vodka; hiding out inside the tiny room of the gear box until he was sober enough to walk home. Everything had been so new then. The experience of intoxication was not yet a ritual, it was something he did because he realized that half of everything an adult, principal, cop, or government official had ever said to him was bullshit and he was angry; there was no one to trust besides punk rock and each other. So Julius, thirteen and mad at the world; dressed in torn thrift-store plaids, a silver and opal cross, black T-shirts and chains, wanted nothing more than to be contrary . Standing there at twenty-three, he could feel the ghost of that self breaking bottles, walking aimlessly through the forest and curling up inside that gear box, writing poetry that would later be stuffed into a shoe box which Julius prayed would never see the light of day. He sighed, and remembered that day in April…
It was third hour, geography, and Mr. Stock’s dry, uninterested voice reverberated information on the Rhine river inside of Julius’s skull; Mr. Stock sounding much like he was boring even himself. Julius glanced at the clock, 10:55, ten more agonizing minutes. Julius turned his face to the window. For a moment, he thought that he could feel the sun on his face and noticed how tantalizingly warm it looked outside in the pale yellow light of spring. He could faintly hear the chattering masses of sparrows in the bush outside and for the remaining five minutes, he chose to listen to the chirping of the little brown birds rather than the apathetic prattling of Mr. Stock.
The bell rang and herds of pubescent students pushed their way into the hallway, clogging it like an old septic pipe. Julius pushed through, someone threw a paper clip at him. Julius laughed.
Duck down the hall, to the locker, deposit books… stay close to the wall… into the gym, the back door is right there….
Julius met up with Will in the hallways adjacent to the locker rooms. As PYS. ED 1 was bombarding the entrance to the gym and the teacher stood cross-armed near the doors, making sure that none of the girls escaped into the hallway with their filthy shoulders bared, Julius and Will slipped past unnoticed. Julius kicked the door open and the two took off into the football field, sprinting past the security cameras. As soon as they got back into the trees, they knew they were safe. The hole in the fence that lead out into the power-line field was only a few yards away. Julius stopped for a moment. Panting, he noticed how warm it was; the sweet smell of new leaves, warm earth and mowed lawns filling his lungs. He paused, snapping from indifference to elation, in awe of the beauty and sweet scented warmth. He let his green army jacket slip off of his back and stood in his T-shirt in the cool wind. He smiled, lit a cigarette and glanced nonchalantly back at the school. It almost felt like summer, but newer, more tender, and he was enthralled.
“Julius, what the fuck are you doing? Let’s go!” Will shouted.
“Hold on man, I’m thinking…” Julius replied.
“Well think on the other side of the fence dumbass!”
Will and Julius walked about a mile through the wet, marshy power-line field before ducking into the sub-division near Julius’s trailer park. The heat of the sun on both their backs had Julius feeling invincible. Will stopped
“Dude, where are we going?” He asked.
Julius turned and began to walk backwards, “Let’s go to the woods, we can hide there until my mom leaves for work.”
Will sneered and began walking again, “That sounds retarded, the mall is like not even a mile that way.” He said, extending a skinny, bare arm west.
“Hell no, I hate that place. Besides, to get there we have to walk on two main roads. Clearly you’re twelve and I’m thirteen and we’re supposed to be in school.”
Will sighed overtly, “You’re such a fag Julius, I seriously don’t even know why I hang out with you, you always want to do the gayest shit. We skip school, you want to go hang out in the woods… sometimes I think the only reason I hang out with is because it’s funny to watch you piss the preppy kids off. Everyone thinks you’re weird, you dress like a goddamn hobo…”
Julius stopped, and tilted his head to look over his shoulder, “Look dude, if you don’t stop being a dick I’m going to leave you here on this street and walk home, my house is right over there. My mom doesn’t give a shit if I leave school if I have a reason, but I’ll leave you here with your thumb in your ass if you don’t stop being a douche-bag.” He said, smooth as silk and surprised at how adult he sounded.
Will was quiet for a second. “I’m just fucking with you Julius… Jesus. Don’t freak out.” He said, and Julius smiled.
The nature of Julius and Will’s relationship always seemed, to Julius at least, like Will secretly hated him. He was always putting him down, always ragging on him for how he dressed, writing poetry, acting like a smartass, or any other thing that Julius did that Will thought was weird, or as he put it “…gay as fuck dude, for real.” Sometimes Will and Bob would both rag on him and it had nearly come to blows a few times. Will always insisted that he was kidding and it was quickly resolved but sometimes Julius wondered… The two boys walked on in silence, the only sound being the whistling birds, the wind and the heels of shoes grazing the pavement. Light conversation resumed again as they entered the park paths and traded asphalt for a deer path. Up a hill, covered in budding Trillium flowers, down into a clearing with little, dead tooth-pick-trees and a small pound. The boys noticed two Painted Turtles sunning themselves on a rotting log, a cheerful sign of the inevitable summer. Julius realized that he hadn’t been this far yet and became excited with the new scenery. Will tossed his shoulder bag across a rain swollen creek and carefully crossed the makeshift plywood and sheet metal bridge. Julius followed, pausing to look up the rock laden slope of the hill. It created a tiny waterfall in the creek, Julius grinned at the happy babbling sound and thought for a moment of his mother’s bedtime stories and wondered if there wasn’t some little hidden city behind the miniature waterfall.
“Hey Julius, look at this!” Will cried. Julius snapped his head up to regard the old crane, looking more massive, mysterious and out of place than it ever would again. Instantly, Will and Julius climbed their way to the top. Will reached in his bag and pulled out a can of pop. He cracked it open and took a deep drink.
“So anyways… I got a surprise for you.” Said Will, wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his flannel.
“What is it?” Julius asked, taking the can from Will’s outstretched arm.
Will leaned over and rummaged for a moment through his bag, he pulled out a weathered cigarette pack and handed it to Julius, a sly smile on his pointy face.
“Did you get me a pack of smokes? ‘Cos if you did, that’s fucking awesome.” Julius laughed.
“No dumbass, look inside.”
So Julius did, and to his delight he found a perfectly rolled joint containing a substance that he had been avidly seeking since sometime in October.
“Is this weed?!” He asked, and Will smiled, handing him a silver Zippo.
“Where’d you get it dude?”
“ My dad’s night stand, I think he got fucked up the other night and forgot to lock it.”
Julius looked down at the deer path ahead, it lead to the other side of the park, across the street was the library… and the police station.
“Hey Will, let’s go inside this thing to smoke, people do walk through here sometimes, the cop shop’s not too far from here either.”
Will agreed and they both climbed down and tucked themselves inside of the gear box.
Julius looked at Will inside the shadows of the gear box, “Have you ever done this before?” He asked, his voice denoting a slight level of the concern he was trying very hard to hide.
Will nodded, “Yeah dude, all time. Just light it, suck it in and hold it for a few seconds.” Julius would later find out in his junior year of high school that Will had been lying. That day had been the first time he had ever even seen marijuana.
Julius lit the end and sucked as hard as he could, Will moved closer; apprehensively watching. Within seconds Julius expelled a stratosphere of smoke and coughed so loud that Will actually looked around to be sure no one had heard. Julius passed the quickly yellowing pinner to Will and the result was the same. Finally, after much hacking and spitting it was finished and a small, shriveled roach sat between the two boys. Will and Julius, sitting cross-legged and looking very much like the children they were, stared wide eyed at one another.
“Do you feel anything?” Will asked, breathlessly.
“I feel kind of dizzy.” Julius replied.
“They say sometimes when you do it the first time, you don’t get high.” Said Will.
Julius screwed up his face in discontent. “Really? Because that would really suck, my lungs kinda hurt, I practically threw up a second ago, and if I don’t get anything out of this, I’m going to be upset.”
“Let’s go walk around dude, maybe that will help .”
So they went, at first feeling a bit dreamy and clouded, but by the time they passed the fifth or sixth tree suddenly the ground felt softer; the singing of the birds was nearly defining and all at once the crane was enchanted with bright colors, rioting inside the buzzing brains of the two boys; and spontaneously, they thought it was all just hilarious…
Will and Julius looked at each other, and laughed… realizing how stupid they both looked they laughed harder still, pointing limp fingers at each other’s drooping red eyes and lips so dry they were sticking to their teeth. Both felt like warm waves of electric light were passing through their bodies much like a static ball. Will said something about his brain itching.
“Oh my God… I’m… This is so awesome… everything’s so pretty…. The colors are…” Julius stammered, looking at the lines in his hands and then at the sky, it looked like paint, like blue and cream water color.
The next 4 hours were spent like this, and around two-thirty that afternoon Julius and Will had walked from one end of the forest to the other. Because both were far too afraid that the whole world knew that they were high, they had stayed away from populated areas until nearly sun down. Julius recalled now the end of that day in April… He and Will, sitting at the top of on the tall, steel bleachers of their future high school, watching the spring sunset streak pink and lavender across the sky… feeling evil and loving it.
Julius leaned back against the steel bench and sighed.
“Today was a good day.”
Will cracked open his fourth can of pop and took a deep drink.
“That it was my friend. We need to do this more often.”
Julius let his head fall backward.
“Yeah…” He stared wistfully up at the darkening sky.
“…I don’t ever want to be like other people Will… it seems like everyone is so miserable after they grow up. I don’t want anyone to own me… I want to live now.”
Will lazily shifted himself to face Julius.
“You’re high.” He said, slowly blinking glassy, brown eyes.
Julius shook his head, still staring into the clouds.
“No dude… really. When you grow up you have to get a shitty job where everyone treats you like crap. You can’t get by unless you chain yourself to some company and let them suck the life out of you. I watch them do it to my mom all the time. They’ll make her work a sixty hour week and just because she’s on salary they won’t pay her anymore than they already do. It’s bullshit… I want to be free… I want to be an artist… I don’t want to have to fill a mold somebody else made for me.”
Will shifted his eyes skyward.
“Is that why you dress like Bozo’s retarded cousin?”
Julius lightly slapped Will’s arm with the back of his hand.
“Shut the fuck up.”
Will laughed quietly. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding…. seriously though. I know you like Punk but is that why you try to stand out so much?”
“I guess… I feel like I have to do something. Everyone is so boring and totally cool with that. I know we’re not even eighth-graders yet but if you think about it… I don’t know. Think about how hard they try to make everyone the same even now. What’s it going to be like later? Is there even going to be a place for people like me?”
Julius and Will were silent for a moment, staring into the creamy endlessness of the orange-lavender sky.
“Well then, let’s never grow up. Suicide pact dude. If we hate our lives by the time we’re 20, we’ll off ourselves.” Will said suddenly.
He and Julius stared at each other for a few seconds. The weight of the idea putting an awkward look on each of their faces. Then they started to laugh. They laughed until the threat of the future faded from their minds and Will’s words transformed into a joke that would go on for years to come.
“Alright dude, suicide pact. Pound it.” Julius laughed. Then he and Will bumped fists and said very little for the rest of the evening. They walked home. Will punched Julius in the arm as a goodbye when they got to his street and Julius thanked Will for getting him high. They waved to each other and Julius began his long walk home, wondering to whole way whither or not Will had been serious.
He remembered that night after dark how he had snuck back into the his trailer, quickly saying hi to his mother and telling her his stomach hurt and scurrying off to bed. The day had been like a beautiful dream. He didn’t know it then. That this new beauty would fade and he and all of his friends would spend the remainder of junior high, and high school years looking for weed… waiting for the weed to get there… smoking weed… waiting for more weed…. and later drinking and smoking weed… It had been no gateway drug, he, himself didn’t go do heroine after the high stopped being interesting, but it wasn’t an act of rebellion anymore… it was conforming to a sub-group, and slowly it became a social crutch… and it got
… so boring…Things are so different now… it seemed like there was a purpose for all that then… but in ten years, nothing’s changed at all. Everyone’s doing the same shit they were doing when we were in high school. Myself included… I’m still sitting on top of this rusty fucking crane wishing I was somewhere else. Tomorrow… I’ll go to work… and watch everyone shuffle around like the corporate brooms they are… no expression in their faces when they ask for the keys or the drawer. Hating their lives, most likely hating me… But god… they don’t even know…I don’t want to be a store manager… I want to tear my skin off… I want to smash every glass case, toss the canned goods through all the windows, take everybody’s name tags and uniforms and make a nice big fire on that sparkling linoleum floor.
But I don’t… and I can’t tell anyone what’s on my mind at all.
Because I’m scared… Because I keep telling myself I need this…
…I wonder if Will really was serious…
Pulling himself from the warmth of his memories and back into the icy wind of the present, something crossed Julius’s mind that hadn’t occurred to him in over a year…
He needed a cigarette.
There was a convenience store a block away from Julius’s trailer park. He felt a slight tinge of guilt because he knew if he smoked a cigarette, he would most likely smoke ten. But he was going to buy a pack regardless, because after all, what the hell did he care? The street and the suddenly uninviting, naked woods behind took on a dark gray complexion as he trudged through the five inches of snow that had accumulated on the ground in the hours that he had slept. The street lights flicked on in the cobalt quiet of a quarter to six, and he stared wistfully at the family diner where the roads diverged and remembered the hot cups of coffee and composition notebooks there in his high school days. This whole day had seemed like a dreaming memorial, and at the moment he felt like crying; it was always the past, and only the past that he ever really wanted. In the moment, he had never really registered anything as special or timeless; it had just passed him by without a single waking thought. When swimming through the sea of memories, everything seemed tender… special, and utterly lost on the speck of human waste that was he. In these moments, Julius so often fell into despair; the longing for those times, those young hopeful faces, unknowing what fate would give them or the wretchedness that life would hand them; those hot, independent summers, and occupied winters… his mom.
The convenience store sign illuminated it’s small, white parking lot in tiny glittering crystals. Julius could see the tracks from a variety of shoes and strides imprinted in the whiteness. He shivered, the cold luminescence a half-hearted comfort, his toes had gone numb and he was happy to get into a building for a few minutes to warm himself before absently walking home to bed. It was dark now, the snow still coming down like tiny shards of glass. He pushed the door open, and the warmth greeted him with a peculiar burning sensation in his face and hands. He ambled to the counter to stand behind a girl wearing a coat more or less similar to his own. It hung around her petite frame, trimmed with fake fur, nearly dragging on the ground. He noticed the sour expression of the young man behind the counter.
“ I’m sorry, but I can’t cash that without a valid I.D, it’s against store policy.” Said the chubby, already balding cashier.
“Look, It’s obviously me in the picture, I don’t understand why you can’t just cash this for me… You can even charge me an extra five dollars if you want to. I desperately need this. I don’t have a car and I really don’t want to walk through a blizzard to get to the next store… please, can I talk to your manager?” Said the girl, her voice high and strained.
“You need a valid I.D. Sorry lady.” Said the cashier, unsympathetically.
The girl sighed and turned, clutching a carefully decorated binder, glancing through a dark fan of eye-lashes at Julius, who watched her every step out the door. He inattentively asked the cashier for a pack of cigarettes as he watched the girl rummage through a purse large enough to be a suitcase. He read the word “fuck” on her painted lips as she stood with an unusually long, thin cigarette between her delicate fingers. Julius threw ten dollars at the man and walked outside. The girl looked up suspiciously at him through her bangs.
Julius smiled, “Hi.”
The girl quickly scanned his face “Hi…” She said, quickly going back to rummaging through her purse.
“Do you need a light?” Julius asked.
Her face softened, and she pressed the strange cigarette between her full, darkly colored lips. Julius, flicked the lighter into a tiny yellow flame, igniting the edge of her cigarette a brilliant orange.
Julius lifted his eyes sheepishly to hers, she was beautiful… Her shoulder length hair hung in soft ringlets of platinum, pinkish, grey-green and periwinkle around a soft, heart-shaped face, thin penciled-in eyebrows, and eyes that were too green to be real. She was petite, about five foot four, she had a light, sweet splash of freckles across a cute, girly, upturned nose which made her face almost cherub-like. But the way she was looking at Julius right now made him think that if he touched her, she would stab him with the knife she had hidden in her coat, leave him to bleed to death in this parking lot and not think a thing of it.
“What happened in there? Is everything… cool? You alright?” He asked, feeling awkward and wondering if he was making her uncomfortable.
And then she smiled.
“ It’s a funny story really…” She said, taking a long drag off her cigarette.
“I have a bus to catch at 2, down at the Greyhound station in Detroit. I need the fare for the Smart Bus and then about sixty bucks or so to get myself some food along the way… it’s going to take about three days.” She said, not looking at Julius, or anything in particular..
Julius lit a cigarette of his own, “Where are you going?”
“Sacramento…” She said. “ My sister is already there. She said she’d put me up until I got on my feet.”
Julius’s eyes widened. “You’re going to California on a bus?”
She looked up at him with stubborn eyes, “Yep.”
Julius was quiet for a moment, considering the fact that this girl might have been totally mad, it only made her more appealing to his lonely, masochistic brain. He found that he wanted to do terrible things to her. In fact, he had been wondering what she looked like naked throughout most of their short conversation. Though, his less id-guided self wanted to help her safely reach her destination; there was no reason a young women should be out at night alone, on an insane quest to get to a bus station for a three day ride to another state.
“Well,” he started “ I have a car and a couple of bucks. I’m not trying to be creepy but, maybe I could give you a ride downtown, and buy you something to eat before you go?”
She stared up at him blankly. “You are creepy… but I’m hungry, so I’ll tolerate it. We’ll see how I feel about you after dinner, as far as the other proposition goes. I’m warning you though, I do have a knife and if you touch me, I’ll fucking stab you…” She said, smiling, but meaning it.
Julius laughed, a little louder than he had anticipated. “My name’s Julius. What’s yours?” He asked.
It was around five-thirty; the little diner was stuffy with the overwhelming scent of fruit pies, burned coffee and onions. A few lone old men and women sat despondently at the booths scattered amongst budding families, and Julius wondered what lives the older ones had lead to end up in this diner; in a nowhere town with no future. Katrina laid her binder on the table and took her coat off. She wore a pretty little light blue slip dress; layered with three different kinds of lace and a thick sash at her waist that accentuated her slim, curvy, incredibly appetizing figure. She wore black and white striped tights and combat boots, and Julius thought for a moment of white rabbits and watches. A tired, indifferent waitress came, took their order and disappeared back into the kitchen. Katrina rested her pretty, ivory face against one hand and sipped coffee, which Julius swore he had seen her dump half a sugar shaker into, with the other. She looked up at him, she looked exhausted.
“Pretty cool looking dress, where’d you get it?” Julius asked, over his cup of coffee.
Katrina smiled, “Thanks man… I made it.”
Julius cocked his head, intrigued. “Did you now?”
“Yeah, actually…” She slid him the thick, blue binder. He noted the hand drawn designs and flipped it open to the first picture. He raised an eyebrow; inside the binder was picture after picture of random men and women wearing extravagant and at times, strange outfits. From full, beautiful dresses, ornate and well constructed, to strange silk-screen T-shirts and men’s dress pants, there were dozens of pictures.
“That’s one, of numerous reasons, why I’m making such great egress from this anus of a state. My sister works in a textile plant. She has a job for me, making fabrics and stuff, so maybe if I work hard and drive to L.A once and a while I’ll be able to get something stated.”
Julius was awed, and sat stupidly in his seat. He gently closed the binder and slid it back to her.
“You’re definitely talented. That stuff you had in there was… pretty fucking amazing to be sure. Who were they? Models?” Julius asked, trying desperately not to sound intimidated.
Katrina smiled dolefully, “No, just some friends… many of which are dead now.”
The unexcited waitress returned, placing a plate in front of both of them.
“Enjoy.” She muttered.
They glanced down at their meals, then back at each other.
“What happened to them?” Julius asked.
Katrina sighed and raised her eyebrows in distaste, “Heroine mostly, one flat out killed himself because he was gay and he couldn’t deal with it. One died in a car wreck, but yeah… most of them are dead… the rest I kind of wish were, because every moment that they live profanes the person that they used to be…”
Julius looked down at his plate, feeling awkward and unsure of what to say.
“Wow…” He muttered, hating himself a bit more. “That’s horrible. I’m sorry. ”
She looked up, her eyes were soft and bright. “It’s ok… people get so bored and disillusioned around here that they’ll do anything to fill the void. That’s why it’s so cool to go hang out at seven mile and pretend you’re a gangster, then at least you have something to do that’s not sitting on your ass playing video games and acknowledging that you’re from the suburbs and never had to do shit for yourself…” She stopped for a moment, starring through Julius. Her lovely brows furrowed. “The really fucked up thing though… about the heroine… One of my really good guy friends used to be on the football team at his school, he hurt his back his senior year… His doctor gave him Oxycontin for a long time , which of course we all ate and snorted, and thought was a grand ‘ol time… until later that year, I found out that not only was he shooting up, but he was selling it to everyone we knew. I think he might’ve gotten off it but I don’t know… He and I had some words after some of his boy’s dope killed my friend Laurie and I’ve pretty much kept to myself since then… and you know what’s really funny… pot is illegal, yet you have medically certified physicians throwing opiates and amphetamines at kids… blows my mind… I’m sorry kid. I’m not trying to dump my emotional baggage on you, it’s just been a really long day… or year rather…”
Julius gazed on at this girl, stupefied. He was at a loss for a response to the very sad story she had just told him; so much to emote to a total stranger. She seemed to notice his discomfort and shifted in her seat.
“I’m sorry. I know you don’t know me and all of this probably makes me sound pretty crazy… Thank you for dinner.” She said, meekly.
Julius shook himself inwardly, and tried to remember what two way conversation felt like.
“No, it’s not that at all. That’s actually one of the sanest things I’ve heard in a long time.” He said.
“I never had a friend overdose. I understand though, about the way people are here. Everyone I know is always looking for a way to change reality. They always have to be on something… not heroine, but booze and pills and weed and shit like that. When I was younger I used to like write… I still write sometimes in the rare moments that I actually feel inspired… poetry and stuff like that, since my mom’s been dead though, I have no one to read it to… nothing to write about except about how much I hate it here and wish this whole fucking city would be engulfed in flames.”
The man and the women looked at each other; studied each other for a few seconds, both weighing the outburst of feelings each had laid on the table, and then got to eating their dinner. Every so often glancing back up at each other.
“I’m sorry about your mom.” Katrina, said, her emerald colored eyes brushed the first true glace into Julius’s blue ones.
Julius took another deep swig of the now rather cold coffee.
“So, are you leaving by yourself? Julius asked.
“I was supposed to have a friend with me… my boyfriend…but he’s been out of the picture for quite a while ….” Katrina replied.
Julius felt the slightest twinge of disappointment, but swiftly he felt stupid. She was leaving anyway, and he didn’t even know her…
They finished their meals, and talked about literature, while still sipping their neglected cups of coffee.
“Let me see what you’ve got.” Katrina asked eagerly, for she too wrote and enjoyed “intelligent, well written pieces”. She flipped curtly through his mother’s leather bound anthology. She stopped abruptly, and smiled into the pages.
“This one is beyond perfect, for right now at least…. Coney Island by Sara Teasdale.” She said, then held the tiny book aloft and proudly read,
why did you bring me here?
The sand is white with snow,
Over the wooden domes
The winter sea-winds blow —
There is no shelter near,
Come, let us go.
With foam of icy lace
The sea creeps up the sand,
The wind is like a hand
That strikes us in the face.
Doors that June set a-swing
Are bolted long ago;
We try them uselessly
Alas, there cannot be
For us a second spring;
Come, let us go.
She handed him back his mother’s book and smiled sweetly, a couple of people in the diner were staring fiercely now and Katrina only giggled with delight. Julius smiled widely and rose to his feet, throwing the two dollar tip on the table.
The short walk was a cold one. It was now nine o’clock and it was nearly three degrees. The pair walked with their heads down under the wind, gritting their teeth and shivering against the biting frost that was seeping into every pore of their faces; clinging to their cheeks and ear lobes like petroleum jelly.
“Thanks again for dinner, I guess you’re not such a creep after all.” Katrina said, lifting her face for a moment from her binder and then burying it once again.
“You’re welcome.” Julius said, through chattering teeth. “It sucks you’re leaving. You’re pretty cool, I’m actually stating to like you… That’s an accomplishment you know… I hate everyone.”
Katrina laughed, the sound warming and pleasant. “Yeah, I like you too Julius. You were definitely a breath of fresh air for me in this shithole. I’ll give you my number. When I get to where I’m going, you can come down sometime.”
Julius smiled, knowing full well that these were arbitrary plans and that once this magical girl got on that bus, he would never see her again. They rounded the corner of the trailer park, talking; joking… it wasn’t for at least a block until Julius noticed the billowing smoke coming from his street and quickened his pace.
“You see all that black smoke right?” Katrina asked.
“Yeah… I do, it’s coming from my street.” Julius replied, again quickening his pace. Katrina gave a small nod and the two practically ran to Julius’s street.
Julius wasn’t even the smallest bit prepared for what he saw. His trailer was on fire. Vermillion waves of dancing flames licked through every window, turning the awning into hot, deformed wax, the air filled with the acrid, un-breathable smell of burning plastic. The trailer shifted violently as its innards burned away, throwing up tiny bright orange embers into the night. At first Julius felt absolutely nothing, he stood in shock next to Katrina who by then was red in the face and looking panicked, her hand clasped over her mouth. But Julius stood, in disbelief looking much like his neighbors; mouths agape, enjoying the entertainment of something out of the ordinary, something to talk about. Then as he watched the fire department arrive, forty-five minutes late from what his neighbors were saying, something began to speak.
Everything physical…. All of it’s gone now.
You left the stove on.
A string of curse words came flying from his lips and then he sank, stunned and disembodied into the snow. Katrina shot to her knees with him. Julius looked up through his tears to see the trailer collapse as the fire trucks continued to pelt it with water to put out the still smoldering remains.
Julius hung his head into the snow.
This house… He was born here, raised here, took care of his dying mother here, given every ounce of sweat and blood to keep it and it was gone… cinders in the night. A few books, that and the cross with the opal in the center that hung around his neck, where all he had left of his mother and the version of himself he had liked once. Katrina cradled him in her tiny arms, oddly enough he noticed the sweetness of her perfume as he gazed up again at the burned out mound of plastic and metal. It looked as if it had been kicked over; recognizable chucks of siding melting into the grass like taffy. Odder still, he started to laugh, as the tears slid fervently down his face. Julius laughed, and wept, as Katrina stroked his back and told him that she was sorry. He was… free, wasn’t he? There was nothing else. The only thing that had ever really kept him here was his mother’s ghost and the need to maintain this tangible past he could reside in.
He hadn’t been happy here in a long, long time, and now it was gone… and in the spiraling insanity he felt now, from the shock or some unexpressed part of his psyche, he was glad of it.
Julius gave his statement to the police officer that in a rather accusing tone, questioned him on the occurrence of the fire. With Katrina’s permission, he gave them her number and told them to contact him if they had any more questions. The street slowly cleared of firemen, police and grotesquely titillated neighbors. It was ten o’clock, and Julius sat numbly in the drivers side of his decrepit conversion van with the heat on full blast.
Katrina looked somberly up from her slumped position on the dashboard.
“Hey… Julius…” She said, nearly whispering.
Julius rolled his head in her direction, his eyes red and glassy.
“Remember when I said that my boyfriend was supposed to come with me?” Katrina said, softly.
Katrina let out a small, breathy chuckle, “Well, I have his ticket… I have two in my bag… my sister is expecting another person… you could… well… come with me Julius… there’s nothing here for either of us.” She said, laying a warm, velvet soft hand on Julius’s back.
Julius felt a pull in his stomach, and he nodded his head.
The drive to the bus station was quiet, Julius had stopped at an ATM and pulled out the meager savings he had procured and thanked Katrina for her kindness. They left Julius’s rundown van in a decaying parking structure near the station; being sure to unscrew the license plate and tuck it neatly into a nearby dumpster. They sat quietly at the station for an hour or so. Katrina describing the city and the Cascade Range wilderness that loomed on the mountains.
“You want to know something really awesome Julius?” Katrina beamed, “Yesterday it was sixty-five degrees. It never goes below forty there. It’s always warm… you never have to deal with this frigid bullshit like we do in Michigan.”
The bus had so many different kinds of people on it; All ages and colors, each wearing different faces… but one thing remained the same about every person he saw bored with a suitcase in hand and sink down into the dirty Greyhound seat; they were about to move on, and everyone had their own secret demons to run from or to. They were all immigrants here.
The bus lurched and sputtered away into the night at one fifty-three a.m but by that time Julius didn’t care. He stared dreamily out the window at the highway as Detroit sank behind him in all its apocalyptic splendor. He poked Katrina gently in the side
“Will you promise me something?” He asked, the fatigue evident in his voice.
“Hmm?” She purred.
“When we get there, can we drive out to San Francisco and go swimming? I’ve never seen the ocean.”
Katrina nodded, and handed him her coat, rolled up into the shape of a pillow. Julius took it and thanked her… for everything. He laid his head down and watched the starless night roll past him like black velvet. Katrina laid her head on his shoulder and instantly began to snore, hushed, tiny little snores. Julius smiled, and enjoyed the scent of her perfume. A million miles from the start of his day or life, he couldn’t figure which. He decided that he would call Bob and Will tomorrow and tell them what had happened and where he was going, but for now he would be blank and allow his mind to conjure the wild possibilities of the journey a head. Was he running from his problems? Sure… but right now, it didn’t matter, there would be new problems, with this girl, with this place, this state of being… but he would face them. He was living his life for himself now, in this moment. The sun would rise when they reached the border of Indiana and Julius would greet it with a new sense of self. He touched the silver cross around his neck, and felt his pockets to be sure the books were still there
Ah yes, they where…
And now Julius would sleep, tucked next to the cold window of a Greyhound, as the faces of childhood and freedom floated, evanescent through his mind.
Perhaps he’d dream there.
My first full-length short story. final draft