Back Door Dog
“You can do whatever the fuck you want in my house. I judge nobody. I stop nobody. Everything fucking goes! This is my house, my rules and I say, there are no rules!”
Those were the first words I heard Hakim Peck say.
He commanded the room. A small guy sat on an old sofa, in between two girls. The strong smell of urine in the room enveloped him like a cape.
His skin was textured with tattoos. He was covered in them. Head to toe. But one symbol stood out above every other snake, skull, and rat-face ink. And he opted to get that symbol imprinted on his skin more than 20 times, in various sizes: a pentagram. He even had a tiny one above his right eyebrow. On his forehead, he had stamped “Helter Skelter”.
The girls had their hips glued to him and their greedy fingers stroked his arms. Up and down. The two were bothhis girlfriends.
I must admit, I was uncomfortable. Trying to find where to lay my eyes, anywhere but on them.
I was there to score some weed, but something about the guy was equally disturbing and entrancing. My eyes couldn’t help but wander back to his eyes.
Secretly, I was intrigued.
But, you know what they say, curiosity killed the cat.
The seminar ended. I slowly packed the pens and my bent notebook. I threw them all into my backpack. The others quickly packed their things and left the room. Leaving me with the professor. I zipped the backpack shut.
He leaned his hip against the end of the table. I sat closer to the middle of the u-shape table, facing him. Then dropped my bag on the floor and wiped the backs of my palms on my thighs.
“Drew, I wouldn’t usually bring something like this up.”
Then why did you.
“But I have noticed you have been” he paused, searching for the right word “distant, I suppose, the past few weeks. I can’t say I haven’t noticed, because I have. You’ve been like that since the last exams.”
I placed my thumb between my lips and bit at a long hangnail.
He gave me space to say something. I took my thumb out and swallowed the drop of blood that leaked into my mouth.
“I guess I have been a bit distracted.”
“Is there something bothering you?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“I wouldn’t say so, Drew. Your performance this year compared to last year is… different.”
I looked away.
“I’m not saying that I or anyone else expects you to keep on top of your grades every single year.”
What were you saying then.
“But if circumstances have changed, we are here to help you.”
“I don’t want to pry, but it seems like there might be something bothering you, that is keeping your mind off your studies, and it’s clearly affecting you and your grades.”
“Um. I wouldn’t say so. It’s just, I have been working extra shifts at work. You know, to help pay the rent and stuff.”
He peeled his hip from the table and sat on the first chair. He interlaced his hands together on the desk.
“Drew. You are one of the best students I have seen in a long time. I would hate to see you ruin your degree and your potential. Mid-terms are just around the corner, and it seems like you can barely prepare for the weekly seminars. It feels like you are falling a bit behind.”
“If you feel like you need some time off, we could arrange that.”
“Time off to do what?”
“You could use the time to find that drive I saw in you last year.”
“I know college can be tough, but it all goes by so fast. Sometimes too fast, and when you’re busy dealing with other things you might not notice how quickly it’s all going.”
Busy dealing with other things. I wouldn’t have put it that way, but maybe he was right. My mind was… busy.
“Like I said, I would hate for your performance to be ruined by… other things that you clearly need to take care of.”
“I don’t know…”
“Just, think about it.”
The decision I took was not an easy one. I personally didn’t think it was a great idea for me to go back home, but the professor strongly disagreed. Because that’s what people do when they have a hard time, they go back home, where it’s safe. They see their family, friends, they cry about their hard times to them, and it all gets better. Right?
College gave me six months to take off. They took the risk of letting me go, hoping that I would return. I did have intentions to go back. Eventually. In the meantime, I had one simple task: find the drive and motivation I lost along the way, then get back and finish my degree.
It was hard to admit, but I guess I did need a… break. So, I booked a flight and went…
It was strange. I had been gone a while, but as soon as I stepped out of the airport it was like I never left. Everything was the same.
Last time I was at that airport I was excited to leave it all behind. For the longest time I believed I had no place in that town, so I grinded my way out of it. Only to return a year and a half later, longing to see my mother, my bedroom, and my friend.
I… was dying to see Tammy.
Prom queen Tammy. Guys in high school archived the ‘bros before hoes’ code for her. Girls in high school squeezed their boyfriends’ arm in close, whenever her laugh echoed down the hallway. Her hunger to live life to its fullest was intoxicating. We all wanted to be like her or be with her.
She still lived in the same house across the street from me. The house with the creaky net door. They never oiled that bastard, and that used to annoy me. But the old sound made me feel nostalgic when I creaked the net door open and knocked on the faded black door.
I shuffled about while I waited for someone to answer. Tammy’s minuscule mother eventually poked her head out. Her hair was dry and frizzy, scattered in a cloud-like puff around her small face.
I got a whiff of a smell I couldn’t identify straight away. A sweet and pungent smell. Her narrowed wrinkly eyes tried to figure out my intentions. She seemed ready to refuse whatever I had come to sell, but eager to hear the offer first. Her skin sagged around her sharp collarbones and she looked like she might easily be crushed by the weight of the door. Despite all that, she held it open firmly with her left hip.
“Yeah, what do you want?”
I opened my mouth, ready to speak but she beat me to it. It took her a while to play ‘guess who’ in her head. She eventually found me.
“Oh, Drew, well I’ll be damned, I didn’t recognise you there.”
“What the fuck are you doing back here in this ghost town?”
She laughed. She was missing a few front teeth. Her cackle quickly turned into a cough, and she covered her mouth with her hand. Her skin looked leathery and ghostly thin over her bony knuckles. She cleared her throat.
“What do you want?”
“I’ve only dropped by to say hello to Tammy. Haven’t seen her in a while.”
“C’mon in then.”
She beckoned me in with a wave and held the door open. The same smell I got a whiff of was richer inside. My nostrils flared and I inhaled deeply. I realised what it was, weed. Very strong weed.
Tammy and her mother had lived alone since Tammy was three. Her father died in a car accident. He was blind drunk and drove straight into a truck. Her mother had dated various men throughout, but none of them stuck around for very long.
She waddled into the living room, and I saw the back of Tammy’s head. The weed cloud was making my eyes water, and I squinted. Her black hair was longer but kept in the same bob I had last seen her with. She faced an old tv set that was turned off. Her gaze blankly fixated on the black screen.
“Tammy, look who’s here.”
She turned around as she exhaled the smoke she had taken in from a massive bong. When our eyes met, I was transfixed.
“Oh wow, what the fuck! Drew?”
I gave a little wave.
Her mom slumped into the couch next to Tammy and took the bong from her hand.
“How the hell are ya?” Tammy said.
“Oh, you know, good.”
She jumped up and gave me a tight hug. I pressed myself against her and squeezed her into my chest. It ended all too quickly. My hands trailed down her arms as she backed away.
She flattened her hair down with her palms. I sat on a small brown leather couch. The leather flaked as I laid my arms against it.
Her mom sparked a lighter and lit the bong’s bowl. She took a deep inhale and held in the smoke. There was a beer can on the coffee table, her skeletal arm reached to grab it. She took a generous gulp of beer, set it down and then let out the cloud of smoke.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were at college or whatever.” Tammy said.
“Yeah, I was. I’m just back in town for a little while.”
“Did you drop out or somethin’?”
“Oh, no, no. Just took some months off.”
Her eyes scrutinised me. I shifted around.
“No… I… just wanted to spend some time with my parents and take it easy for a while.”
“Huh, weird. I thought I’d never see you again after you left.”
She took the bong from her mom. Her oversized graphic t-shirt danced. Her jeans hugged her thighs, and her feet barely reached the discoloured carpet on the floor.
“Do you want some?”
I looked at it. Getting high with Tammy and her mom was not what I thought I would be doing on my first day back. But I was open to anything that was going to be thrown my way while in town. Anything that would make passing the days easier and faster, was what I was looking for. So, hell yeah, I wanted some.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Have you even done this before? I don’t remember you being into this kind of stuff.”
“College taught me a trick or two.”
I took the bong and the lighter from her. The weed smelt strong and fresh. I sparked the lighter, wrapped my lips around the glass rim and inhaled the thick fragrant vapour. The sweet taste flooded my mouth and the back of my throat tingled. Smoke came rushing out through my nose as I choked.
Tammy cackled as I coughed.
“Easy there. Here, take this.”
She passed me an unopened can of beer from under the coffee table. I cracked the can open and sipped the fizz. It soothed my throat.
“What kind of weed is that?”
“The strong kind. It’s laced with acid, so you might start tripping soon.”
“What the fuck, Tammy?!”
I sat the can on a corner of the table and passed her the bong.
“Don’t worry. The high don’t last long. It’s just fast and furious, then chill and mellow.”
Her mom chuckled and stood up to head into the kitchen.
“You can’t be serious…”
I looked at Tammy in disbelief with my eyebrows raised so high up my forehead, they were about to merge with my hairline.
“I am. It’s only a little bit, but this shit will fuck you up.”
“Welcome back to Caleigh.”
I shook my head. The high was already slowly creeping in. My legs tingled, and I could feel the couch swallowing me up.
I pushed my focus onto Tammy.
“What have you been doing?”
“Pff. A lot of stuff and nothing at all.”
“As you can see, I’ve mainly been here. Doing the same shit I used to do when we were seniors. Party, get high, fuck around.”
She giggled and it was like an indie song. The chorus. The best part of any song. It was short but sweet. I smiled. I missed her.
“How is college?”
“I bet it’s all a dream come true.”
“Well, not really.”
She raised her eyebrows. I looked away and kneaded my hands.
“The first year was great, it’s just gotten a bit flat and boring this year.”
“Flat and boring? Wow, never thought I’d hear those words coming from you about school.”
I shrugged. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
“But, why are you really back? Your mom and dad are fine. There’s nothing left to do or see in this town for you.”
I shook my head.
“Pff, if by fine you mean the usual then, yeah, I guess.”
She gave me a weird look.
“What’d he say when he saw you?”
“He wasn’t happy to see me, that’s for sure.”
“My mom keeps telling her to leave him, you know. I feel she won’t listen just because my mom does drugs.”
“I dunno. She won’t listen to me either. She always kept telling me to get the hell out of this town. Well, I did, but look at me now. I’m back.”
“This town.” she shook her head “Pulls you right back in.”
“How long you gon’ be around for?”
“A little while.”
The room started to sway gently, and I couldn’t smell the stench of the weed anymore. The leather was textured and smooth under my fingertips. I stroked it. Repeatedly.
“So, what’s going on around here anyway?” I said.
She paused. Her gaze was lost somewhere ahead of her, somewhere I couldn’t follow. Her eyelids were about to kiss each other. Then her hand shot up in the air, her index finger touched her nose and she pointed at me.
“Mariah got pregnant.”
I sat up on the edge of the couch.
She nodded, her chin held up high.
“Yeah, she even gave birth. But her kid’s definitely not okay.”
“Damn, I thought after all her miscarriages she’d be fed up with all that.”
“Yup, but this one made it out. It’s a boy.”
“Good for her, I guess. Who’s the dad?”
“Hmm, some guy she met down at the trailer park.”
“But what’d you mean he’s not okay?”
She giggled again. The song of an angel.
“He’s a little special, you know.”
“I get it. I get it. I bet she still loves him all the same.”
“You take what you get, I guess.”
“She’s got no choice now.” she said.
A quick laugh escaped me. She smiled, but then her eyes were lost again.
“Gunner died a couple of months back.” she said softly.
My smile faded.
“Yeah, drug overdose. His girlfriend said he was depressed or somethin’. He got addicted to heroin to get through it. Happened just last month.”
Kid was always miserable at school. Always in a corner by himself. Pinching at his arm until he’d bruise. I knew he’d been dealing with something dark for many years. Damn.
I continued to stroke the couch. Broken specks of leather stuck to my skin. My heart raced.
“Hey, where did you get this weed from?” I said suddenly.
I wanted to take my mind away from Gunner.
I found myself speaking up over the thunder of my heart.
“Hazulu. You might not know him. He moved here like a year ago.”
“Remember that house on the corner out by Cornell Street?”
“Yeah, yeah, where those two crazy people lived. I remember. Fucking weirdos. The guy stole some wood from our fence to put around his yard first month in. My dad was so pissed when I told him I saw our fence out on Cornell’s.”
He was pissed and took it out on my mom. I regretted telling him.
“They’re both dead now. They died a year ago and it turns out they had a son. He came down after the funeral and ended up staying.”
“Where’d he come from?”
“Said he came all the way from California.”
“So, what, he lives there now?”
“Yeah, yeah. He’s crazy.”
“What do you mean?”
She moved in closer.
“When his crackhead parents died, he wasn’t here for the funeral. It took a while for him to find out his folks passed. The two got buried in the cemetery out in the Boons and the house got barred up. It sat like that for about a month until hecame out of nowhere and claimed it.”
“What’s crazy about that?”
“Nah, listen. So, he moves in, right.”
My fingers kept peeling leather chunks from the couch arm.
“He went out to the cemetery a couple of days after he moved in the house. At night, right. He dug up his parent’s graves, swapped their bodies around and put them face down in their coffins.”
“What the fuck?”
“Yeah, Joe down at the church saw that the graves were disturbed and called the cops. They had to dig ‘em up and everything, just to put them back the right way. Creepy stuff. He got questioned about it but denied everything. After that, people started saying shit about him. Kids call him ‘Spawn of Satan’ and stuff.”
“Shit. So does he still live out there?”
“Yeah. He’s actually really cool.”
Her voice lightened up.
“He has this thing going on, where he lets people come and hang out at his place. Has parties there all the time. That’s where I get my weed from. I go out there, have a smoke from time to time, you know.”
“If I needed some weed, could I get some from there?”
“Hell yeah. We can go there right now. It’ll be fun. There’s nothing to do here anyway. I haven’t been round there in a couple of days.”
“Right now? I’m tripping bad and Cornell is quite far from here.”
“I can call Kip. He can give us a ride.”
I couldn’t stop my face from cringing.
“You got a new boyfriend? Thought maybe you were still with that guy, Jim?”
“Nah, not anymore. Kip’s his friend. Me and him kinda liked each other when I was dating Jim. We didn’t get together when I broke up with him though, but we stayed in touch.”
She did a little wiggle. Her hair bounced around playfully.
“I fucked around with this girl for a while, instead. But that’s done now too, so I’m kinda single.”
My heart fluttered and a familiar feeling spread throughout my body.
“I dunno. You never seemed to stay single. You’ve always been with someguy.”
She chuckled. Her smile made the feeling find its nestling place in my stomach.
“Ma, where’s the phone?”
She yelled while searching between the sofa cushions. I blinked, taken aback.
Her mom’s hoarse voice came from the kitchen.
“How the hell would I know?”
“Found it. You gotta stop leaving it around in the sofa.”
Her mom grumbled something as a reply.
The phone had a cracked screen but seemed to work as intended. She dialled the guy’s number. He picked up on the first ring.
“Hello? Yeah, hey, Kip. I’m at my house with a friend and we want to go down to Hazulu’s, but we’re shitfaced high on Spasapam. Can you come and give us a lift? Right, see ya.”
She hung up and slipped the phone into her jeans back pocket.
“Spasapam? Is that what they call it?”
“Fucking crazy, right? Caleigh’s one of a kind.”
It was, and I couldn’t stop laughing.
“It’s called that cos your arms and legs sometimes can start to do stuff on their own and you can’t control them.”
She joined in on my laughing fit, we leaned towards each other in our couches. She was right though, I had been rubbing and peeling the couch leather. My arm felt like it grew its own little brain. I lost complete control over it. Tammy hadn’t notice I had peeled back quite a portion of her couch and had started a pile of discharged leather on the floor. She was too distracted trying to shift herself onto her feet. That, or she simply didn’t care.
“Kip said he’ll be here soon. He doesn’t live far, so we need to make our way to the door.”
I snorted. The door was like twenty steps away. How fast could this Kip drive?
She worked on pushing herself off the couch, and for a while, I thought I was watching her in slow motion.
“Seriously, start getting up, this shit hits like a bitch and slows you down. It’ll be a miracle if you’ll be able to use your legs.”
I sat there. She managed to push herself up completely and all I could do was be sat. I couldn’t feel my arms or my legs. I was just a floating head. My vision was all that I had left. I could turn my head from left to right and aim my eyes at things I wanted to look at, but I had no control over my limbs.
“What the fuck is this shit?”
She went into another laughing fit while I tried to figure out how to make my fingers stop stroking and get my legs to work.
“Here, I’ll help you.”
She staggered towards me and grabbed my hands. It was the weirdest sensation. Her fingers were touching me. I could see it, but at the same time, it was like she wasn’t touching me. She was touching a body my head was attached to.
Still laughing, she dragged my arms out towards her. With the little strength she had left, she hoisted me up. I stood on my feet and the room spun in funky colours. My eyes were drawn to everything around me.
The high was insanity. I could hear her mom in the kitchen bashing pots around and with each clank, my brain responded by vibrating. I was a floating head. My body was just something I could see, and I knew what it was, but I wasn’t feeling a thing.
Tammy guided me to the door. She opened it and then she pushed against the net door. The creaking triggered every memory I had stored in my brain that I associated with that noise. Tammy and I were close for a while when we were fourteen. I used to come to her house early in the morning and wait for her to come out so we could walk to school together. She started wearing shorter skirts and put on mascara at that age. Her breasts were starting to develop, perking up through her t-shirts. All of that came flooding back within seconds.
“You were hot when you were fourteen.”
“That’s creepy, but damn right I was.”
Outside, the wind against my skin felt nice. I was marvelling at the sensations when she pointed at a car.
“There he is.”
She waved at a grey Ford truck pulling up. The guy in the driver’s seat looked familiar. He was older than us and I had seen him at our high school a few times. Between then and now, he had gotten buff. His body filled up half of the front bench and his biceps were bursting through his long-sleeved shirt.
Tammy jumped shotgun and I crawled into the back seat behind her.
He turned around to look at me.
“How’s it hanging?”
“Hey.” I said.
“Kip, this is Drew, we’re ‘cross the street neighbours.”
He gave a nod. Tammy flipped the sun visor and opened the small plastic flap to reveal the mirror. She adjusted her hair. Her eyes were droopy and bloodshot. Then she angled the mirror down and gasped when she saw what she had left the house in.
“I forgot to change my shirt!”
“You’re both fucked up, aren’t ya?”
My eyes were drawn to Kip’s sausage fingers wrapped around the stirring wheel. That couldn’t have been a standard-sized wheel.
He started driving slowly down the road.
“So, you want me to drop you at Hazulu’s?”
“Yeah, are you not going to come in?”
“Not today. I have to stay sober. I might be getting that job I told you about.”
“Look at you. Big shot.”
He chuckled through his throat. It sounded more like a grunt. A heavy manly grunt. How old was this guy supposed to be?
“Yup, you’re lucky I’m not too busy yet to come and pick your ass up whenever you want.”
The car cruised downhill. The road was void of traffic. Faint perfume drifted to the back of the car from the dangling leaf-shaped freshener he had hung around the rear-view mirror. It dangled left to right.
Tammy didn’t fasten her seat belt. It was already wrapped around the seat and clicked into place. So was his. He casually pushed the steering wheel around with one sausage. The other sausage pack he rested in his lap. There was no background music. Just the hum of the engine.
“So, who the fuck is this Hazulu guy?” I said.
Kip gave me a look through the rear-view mirror. The maple leaf dangled. Tammy wrapped around her seat and rolled her eyes at me.
“I told you. He moved here like a year ago.”
“Yeah, but what’s he like?”
“He’s just some Satanist guy. His real name’s Hakim Peck, but people call him Hazulu. After some demon or somethin’ like that.” Kip said.
Tammy chimed over Kip.
“I just go and get weed there. I don’t care for all that satanic bullshit.”
He shook his head and gave her a crooked half-smile as she whipped back. My eyes jumped from one to the other.
“You get more than just weed from there.”
“Shut up, Kip. If you don’t like it, then don’t fuck with me.”
“Don’t pick up then.”
We pulled up at a stoplight. He rested his other sausages on his lap. Tammy leaned her forehead on the window. Her hair swept past her shoulders.
“So, what, this guy believes in Satan?” I asked.
My eyes fixated on the bit of skin visible between her hair and the t-shirt’s collar.
“Yeah, I’ve seen him around town at night doing weird stuff with that other guy, Crackhead Mike.” said Kip “Those two do all sorts of weird fucked up stuff.”
“One time, I saw them cut each other up and lick the blood.” she said.
Kip snorted. His hand back on the wheel. The engine roared as it propelled us forward.
“He sounds… intense. Our town is full of weirdos, but no one does shit like that. Or have I missed something?”
“I guess you’re right. He isn’t from here and he is… different.” Tammy said.
“Different in a bad way.”
“He’s not that bad, Kip.”
Kip shot her a look.
“He drinks human and animal blood, and you think he’s not that bad?”
“He throws good parties.”
“You mean rituals? The guy is fucked up, c’mon, Tammy.”
He shot her another quick look.
Tammy looked out the window and said nothing.
“Sometimes it’s good fun.” she finally said.
“Until it isn’t.”
We continued our drive downtown and then towards Cornell. Hakim’s house was number 46. I hadn’t been on that side of town since I happened to see our missing fence.
There was no fence around the front. Just a big house, bigger than I remembered. The white paint was chipping away all over the building and the roof was missing many shingles. The porch was cluttered with broken chairs, stacked on top of each other.
Kip pulled up. One of the wheels grazed the sidewalk.
“Well, here it is.” he said cranking the handbrake “Have fun.”
“Thanks, Kip, I owe you one.”
Our eyes met in the rear-view mirror.
“See you around, Kip.”
“See you around, Drew.”
Goodbye sausages. I clambered out of the back seat. Tammy took my hand and Kip drove away. Her hand felt rough, but I was happy to hold it.
We approached the stairs leading to the porch. I could make out an A4 note scribbled on with a black sharpie, held in place by black tape on the white front door. The note said
“Those who walk through this door become free. We are being lied to by the Government that we have freedom but we cannot survive unless we abide by their laws. Here there are NO LAWS. You are the law. Chaos is our natural state.
Brothers and sisters, you are welcome here. Anyone that carries a badge, wears the same clothes and calls themselves an AUTHORITY is not welcome.
Welcome to Hell, where you are free.”
I couldn’t read it on that day. The letters danced around on the page while I stared at them, but I did read it on another occasion while I was mildly sober.
That day, Tammy knocked on the door and all hell broke loose inside the house. Dogs furiously barked. One bark more furious than the other. Heavy paws clawed on the other side. I took a step back. Tammy waited eagerly. Even flicked her hair back like she had no care in the world for the beasts on the other side of the door.
A guy appeared at the door. A strong smell of dog shit, piss, and rancid beer followed him outside. The guy was tall and lanky. His dark brown hair was styled into clumped spikes. His face lit up when he saw Tammy.
“Tammy, you bitch, you’re back!”
He looked at me.
“And you brought a friend. Come in, come in.”
The six dogs that were on the other side of the door squeezed past his legs, surrounded us, and sniffed us up. Tammy worked her way through their snouts and confidently stepped into the house. Inside, there was another guy say on a couch with two girls on either side of him.
The room was small and square. There were two old couches in a corner and a tv propped on a makeshift table which was just a cardboard box. They were watching South Park. The guy that let us in, sat on the empty couch. Tammy joined him.
The dogs continued to swarm me. I was unfamiliar, so they had to make sure they retained my scent.
The walls had not been painted in a while. Years maybe. The white that once was, now a pale yellow. Moisture and cigarette smoke-stained yellow.
“This is my friend, Drew.” Tammy said “This is Crackhead Mike.”
She pointed to the guy who let us in, then at the others.
“And that’s Hazulu, Ronni, and Sam.”
With that, he looked up at me. Hakim wasn’t a tall guy. Quite dry and skinny. He was shirtless, wearing just a pair of old dirty black jeans and rubber slippers. He was covered in tattoos. The ‘Helter Skelter’ tattoo stood out, inked on his forehead. His long black hair looked dirty and filled with dandruff flakes. His face was sunken in, and his brown beady eyes pierced right through me. He spoke. His voice secure. Calm. Proud.
“You can do whatever the fuck you want in my house. I judge nobody. I stop nobody. Everything fucking goes! This is my house, my rules and I say, there are no rules!”
The two girls slowly stroked on each of his arms. The one named Sam leaned in and kissed his shoulder. Lovingly. Too intimate for my liking.
“Sit down.” Crackhead Mike said.
I was still standing by the door staring at Hakim and the girls. Trying to understand how the guy had managed to get both of them to be all over him like that.
I moved to the couch and slumped down. The stale air stunk. Dog, mold, old smoke, beer, and other things mixed with that. Smells I didn’t want to identify.
Tammy had drifted into the animated episode. Hakim and his girlfriends didn’t give me much attention, Crackhead Mike on the other hand seemed interested in me.
“You new around here? Never seen you before.” he said.
“Oh, no, I used to live across the street from Tammy. I just haven’t been in town for a while.”
Tammy spoke over me without taking her eyes off the tv.
“We smoked Spasapam before heading down here.”
“Yeah, we did.” I said awkwardly.
“It’s really good shit, right?”
“Crack is better though. The high you get with that is insane.”
“Is that why they call you ‘Crackhead’ Mike?”
Hakim laughed and briefly turned my way. The two girls did the same.
“This kid is funny. I like you, funny kid.”
“Drew, my name is Drew.”
He turned his attention back to the tv.
“What’cha y’all doing?” a voice said.
A girl appeared from beyond the other side of the house, in the door frame. The first thing I saw was her squashed nose. The cartilage was flattened against the left side of her face. That pulled her lips up into a permanent puckered frown. Her eyes fell on me.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Drew.” I said.
I couldn’t stop staring at her nose.
“We’re out of coke.” she said, addressing Mike.
“Stop snorting it, man.”
“Gimme some money so I can go and get more.”
She stretched her hand and wiggled her knees. Mike plunged his hand into his jeans’ pocket and pulled out a wad of dollars. He thumbed out $300 and gave it to the girl, then pushed the rest back into his pocket. She took the money and stuffed it between her breast and the sponge of her bra. Her jeans hung low. Barely clinging to her protruding hip bones. Her skin the same yellow as the walls. My eyes jumped back up to her nose.
“See y’all later then.”
She bounced to the door, turned around, looked at me and said:
“I’m Elle, by the way.”
I nodded, staring at her nose as she spoke. Then she was out the door, on her way to get more cocaine. I turned to Mike.
“Is that your girlfriend?”
He jumped up on the couch. Like the cushion had just bit him.
“Pff, hell no. That’s my sister.”
I wanted to ask about her nose, but I thought better.
“She seemed nice.”
He shook his head.
“The fuck she is. She’s crazy, man. She snorts cocaine by the kilo. That’s how she fucked up her nose.”
“That’s from coke? I didn’t know that could happen.”
My voice went high-pitched. The others paid me no mind. I cleared my throat. Made a delayed attempt to cover my mouth and bit at a hangnail.
“Yeah, the coke burned right through her nose and then it flattened against her face. Nasty shit, man, and the idiot don’t want to slow down with it. Her teeth are starting to look like shit too now, cos she puts the stuff on her gums.”
“I told her to just smoke crack like I do. Stuff’s way better than the powder.”
I nodded. What an idiot.
“Tammy told me you guys have weed. I’m looking to get some, if you’re selling.”
Mike perked up.
“Yeah, we have loads of different types.”
He got off the couch.
“C’mon, I’ll show you.”
I stood up. The high was starting to wear down bit by bit and I wasn’t tripping as much. I followed him into the next room which was a bigger replica of the one before. The dogs were pawing about. A labrador wagged his tail when he saw Mike. There were three couches in the middle of the room and an open-plan kitchen to the right. There were loads of weird pictures and posters plastered all over the walls. Most of them with various sized pentagrams, goats, and death metal groups. The biggest one was a framed mugshot of Charles Manson. B33920.
Mike led me away from the living room, down a corridor, and into a bedroom. It was thrashed in there. The same musty smell floated all around. The discarded clothes on the floor were merging with the murky brown carpet. Beer cans, cardboard, a couple of bent spoons, syringes, needles on the floor and a dog laid on the bed licking its balls. Mike stepped over everything gracefully. His eyes on the dog. Mine on the needles.
He didn’t shun the dog off the bed.
“We got all sorts of flavours. What are you into?”
I caught up with him, made sure I wasn’t going to get pricked, then relaxed my full weight on my feet.
“Something milder than the stuff Tammy gave me. That shit is intense. I don’t want to be tripping like that every time I want a quick buzz, you know.”
He crouched and from under the bed, he pulled out a small dusty black suitcase. He plonked it on the bed, the dog jumped off and left the room. He unzipped it, and flopped the top over, revealing a lot of weed in plastic bags. A collection of varieties. The cocktail of smells tickled my nostrils and I rubbed away a sneeze.
“We have the classic stuff, like you said ‘mild’, we also have the stronger stuff if you want that, Skunk, Amnesia Haze, Triple G, Sour Diesel, we got some type of Kush, Purple Kush I wanna say, Spasapam if you want that, shit laced with crack, meth. I also have acid if you’re interested in that.”
He was pulling out 4oz bags that were labelled with black marker over the plastic. I was familiar with some of the names. I had dabbled.
“Um, I don’t even know that much about weed. Whatever’s gonna chill me out and put me in a good mood, you know.”
He picked up a bag scribbled with ‘Amnesia Haze’.
“This shit’s quite good. How much of it do you want?”
“Like half an oz.”
He fished out a scale from the bottom of the suitcase and placed it on the bed. From the top part of the case, he took out smaller zip-lock bags. He weighed the weed, put it in a bag, zipped it up and passed it to me.
“How much do you want for this?”
“It’s alright. I like you. You can have that one on me, kid.”
I looked at him for a while, trying to figure out if he was really giving me half an oz for free or joking.
He placed the scales back into the case, closed it, zipped it, and slid it back under the bed. My chest puffed up as I squeezed the bag close.
“Well, thank you.”
“Sure. You want to try some?”
“Yeah. Helps to chill you out. Especially from Spasapam. There’s some paper right there.”
There was a dresser in a corner and on it there was a weed tray. There were three lighters, papers and everything one needed to roll a fat one. Or however many one person could smoke.
He brought the tray to the bed and sat down.
“Pass me the bag, I’ll roll us two nice ones.”
I gave him the bag and he started working on rolling us the joints. I gently lowered myself onto the bed.
“Is Spasapam really acid laced weed?”
“Well, Tammy said, it’s, well, weed laced with acid. Is it?”
Now I was the one confused.
“I’ve told Tammy that a few times. She keeps getting it wrong, because if you lace weed with acid it doesn’t really do anything. Burns right off the bud. PCP on the other hand.”
He attempted to whistle but only a short sharp noise managed to escape his lips.
“Some people call it angel dust. It’s easy to press into pills, or if you already got the pills, crush em up and sprinkle some on the bud. I’ve had some amazing trips on Spasapam, man. Mind altering shit.”
“So, what’s up with this place then?”
“Yeah, I remember his parents. They were a bit… weird.”
“Crazy fuckers. His dad used to rob the gas station down Calder Way. Fucking lunatic. I’m not sure how they both went though. Hazulu won’t tell me. My guess, overdose.”
He licked one of the joints shut and passed it to me. I wanted to know more.
“What about him?”
“He’s even crazier, man.” he shook his head while flashing a short smile “He’s into some weird shit. I started hanging out with him since he stepped foot in town. Met him out by the cemetery when he came to check out his parent’s stones. Invited me to come and hang out with him and I’ve been here ever since.”
“You live here?”
“Yeah, this is my room.”
What Tammy told me earlier about him, intrigued me.
“I heard he tried to dig up his parents or something. What’s that about?”
“I was there.”
My eyebrows sprang up.
“He was telling me how upset he was that his parents were buried at the church.”
“Did they both die at the same time?”
“Nothing under ‘suspicious circumstances’ though. That’s why I think it was an overdose. Not surprised. There’s some idiots out here selling poor quality drugs man.”
He took one of the lighters, lit his joint, then passed it to me. I lit mine as he continued talking.
“It took the police a while to figure out if his folks had other family, you know, to let them know they had passed. Organise their funeral and all that. You know. He was doing some time for robbery down in California and was a few days away from getting out when they told him. He hitchhiked down here, so by the time he got here they’d already buried his folks.
I was at the cemetery skulking around, when he came to ask me if I knew where his folks were buried. We found the graves together. He didn’t say anything back there, he just looked at them for a while, then asked me if I wanted to go back to his house and smoke some meth. Weird thing to ask a stranger but I said ‘yeah man, sure’.
We got fucking high, talked about shit for a while. My parents had kicked me out of the house, so he asked me to take one of the rooms. I was living here for like a couple of days and one night he just says he doesn’t like the way his parents were buried on church grounds and that he wanted to do a Satanic ritual or whatever to honour them. I dunno, man. I was high as shit and didn’t think he was being serious, but I said ‘yeah, man, sure, let’s fuck with the graves.’
So, we went and fucked with the graves that night. We got two shovels, dug up the graves.”
He paused to inhale and exhale a big hit. I waited for the rest.
“The smell. I’m a pretty fucked up guy, but that smell, man. It was quite strong. Hazulu didn’t even flinch, he inhaled it all. Deep. The corpses looked awful too. Rotting and swollen. Both of their fingernails were so long, man.
Hazulu started chanting some Satanic shit for like ten minutes. Then he started shifting them out of the coffins. I helped him take his old man out, he took his mom out. Then we swapped them around, face down, and buried them back up. Hazulu pissed on both of their graves and then we were off.
For the next week we just got piss drunk, high, killed some birds and drank their blood. You know, had a good time.”
Weird definition of a good time. I shuddered. Mike laughed while he reminisced.
“One day we got so high on meth he decided to shave off all of his hair and I’m talking everything. Head, armpits, balls, ass. And then tried to eat all of it.”
I scrunched my face in disgust.
“That’s fucked up.”
“We’d blast heavy metal and shit. Good times, man.”
I was melting into the bed. The guy sounded crazy, but was I about to believe all of these blown-up stories about him? Probably not. I had my fair share of going along with what people told me. And then the truth would come out and it never was as impressive as the story I was told.
“That was such a while ago. Now we all just chill, do dump shit and smoke crack every day. Party fucking hard. Fuck harder. Tammy’s down here almost all the time. You can come along too if you want. It’s all good fun.”
My heart skipped a beat.
“Does Tammy smoke crack?”
“Looks like you don’t know Tammy that well, bud.”
“I haven’t been around for over a year and a half. Some things have changed, I guess.”
I fell back and spread my arms out. Where I laid, my head felt wet. I closed my eyes and thought of floating along on the sea. Being carried away by the waves. The wetness smelt faint like piss.
“Why is it wet here?” I said patting the area with the backside of my hand.
“The darn dog pisses there sometimes. I wouldn’t lay there.”
I sprung up.
“Don’t you sleep here?”
He smiled and didn’t reply. He stubbed out the butt of the joint on the side of the tray. I had barely smoked through half of mine.
“Are you going to finish that?”
“Probably not now. I’ll put it out and finish it later.”
I hesitated. Our eyes met. He grabbed the joint from my hand and put it out the same way he did his, then handed it back to me. I slipped the joint into the ziplock bag.
Tammy’s voice came from the hallway.
“What are you two doing?”
She poked her head through the door.
“Are you going to come back or are we moving the party in here? It’s getting pretty boring out there. And we need more beer.”
“We have beers in the basement fridge, I’ll get them.” he said.
I stuffed the bag of weed in my jeans’ pocket as best as I could. The pocket bulged outward. I slapped it flat. Crackhead Mike set the tray back on the dresser and left to get the beers. Tammy smiled at him while he walked past her.
“You alright?” she said.
With each blink, it was harder to separate my eyelids.
“I’m okay. This weed is crazy strong, is all. It’s nothing like the stuff I smoked in college.”
“Told you, it’s great stuff. C’mon.”
Tammy started down the corridor and I followed her back to the small square room.
When we walked into the room, Hakim was making out with one of the girls and the other one was stroking the bulge of his crotch through his jeans. There was a commercial on tv.
“Looks like things are getting steamy in here.” Tammy said.
They didn’t pay attention to us. We sat down on the other couch. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His hair stuck to his cheeks. He was really going at kissing her, if I didn’t know any better, it looked like he was going to swallow her up.
Crackhead Mike walked in with his arms full of bottled beer, two of the beers were already cracked open. He laid eyes on the three, looked at us and smiled. He handed us a beer each, placed the rest on the floor and opened one for himself with his teeth. He squeezed in between me and Tammy. We all watched the three in silence, sipping on our beers.
Hakim didn’t look ‘crazy’ to me. All the things that everyone told me about him, I just couldn’t see him doing any of that stuff. He looked small. Between the two girls he looked like he was being overwhelmed by them. His hands rested on each of the girl’s thighs, squeezing. The guy was starting to build up a boner. Even that didn’t look intimidating. It was barely another bump in the already gathered bulk of his jeans.
He broke away from the lip lock and spoke in our direction. I quickly looked away.
He turned to me.
“What’s your story?”
It was sudden and it caught me off guard. I shifted around before I spoke.
“Dunno, lived in Caleigh most of my life, then I went off to college right after high school. I’m back in town for a little while. Just trying to figure out some… stuff.”
“Are you depressed?”
The room fell silent. I pretended to think about it for a few seconds.
“I dunno, probably not. Just needed a break from things and certain people, you know.”
Hakim pointed his dirty finger at me.
“That is the correct answer.”
He spread his arms wide and continued.
“Depression only comes from being confined. Societyconfines us.
The governmentconfines us. Our brainwashed mind confines us. That’s why I give each one of you the freedom to do whatever the fuck you want here. Be free my brothers and sisters! Anarchy is our natural state.”
He pointed at the tattoo on his forehead.
His girlfriends chimed in and hailed. I was uncomfortable, but at the same time, the idea of freedom was appealing. The satanic shit could fuck right off, but free reign was something I could identify with. I wanted to be high and free.
I was reluctant to enter the house. I could hear my dad yelling from outside. The lights in the kitchen and living room were on. I could make out my mom’s silhouette sat on the la-z-boy. My dad, steps away from her, flailed his arms around, yelling at the top of his lungs.
It was dark out. The moon was hidden behind clouds. The light breeze raised the small hairs on the back of my neck. A shiver ran down my spine. I tried to listen to the gentle rustle of leaves and branches, but the boom of my dad’s voice was hard to ignore.
I didn’t want to go in, but I knew if I didn’t, things could escalate for the worst.
I opened the door and stepped in. As soon as I was in, my dad whipped around. The rage he poured onto my mom, redirected at me.
“The prodigal child finally returns. The failure of the family.”
My muscles stiffened. I was backed into a corner.
“Where the fuck have you been, huh?”
He went on.
“You show up at my door this morning and then you disappear?”
“Why the fuck are you even back here? I thought you going off to fancy pansy school was what you wanted?”
“Racking up all that debt for nothing.”
I kept my mouth shut and let him have his say. I knew it was going to come sooner or later. He had been too quiet when I showed up at the door this morning. I knew I should have lied about why I had come back. But how long was I going to keep the lie up? No one fucks off home in the middle of the semester.
His nostrils flayed open as he inhaled the air between us.
“You smell like shit! You been smoking weed?”
My mom’s eyes looked tired and lost.
“Why the fuck are you smoking weed?” he said.
“Dad, I’m not.”
“You’re not? If you’re not smoking weed, what the fuck am I smelling on you?”
He staggered over. I looked away while he sniffed me. His breath was heavy and putrid.
“Piece of shit.”
He swung his arm at me, and his heavy palm landed on my cheek. The impact threw me off my balance and I backed up against the door, holding my pulsing cheek. My mom watched us.
I kept my gaze averted from him. He stuck his grubby finger on my forehead.
“You ain’t shit. You thought you could go out to college. Well, look at you now. Back where you belong with the rest of us and I’m telling you, you ain’t going nowhere from here. You’re chickenshit.”
He took his finger off my forehead and went to the fridge in the kitchen to pick up a beer. I glanced at my mom. Her eyes were transfixed.
I walked to the stairs, went up to my room and shut the door. My cheek pulsed in my palm. My whole head doubled in size.
I fished out the bag of weed and dropped it in the first drawer of my nightstand. I sat on the bed and closed my eyes.
Coming back was starting to seem like a mistake. My dad was going to use my failures against me like he often did. That depressed me. College was depressing, coming home to Caleigh was depressing. There was nothing but painful misery for me in this town. Or maybe in the world. The world was filled with people like him. People who shit on everything good. Everything worthwhile.
I brought my fist up to my forehead. Hard. What was I thinking coming back. I could have gone anywhere. No one would have known. No one would have cared. I hated being at home. I hated being around him and the stench of his breath. His unkind words and heavy hand. I remembered… The reason why I left in the first place.
I heard my door creak. I looked up and saw my mom coming in. She closed the door and came to sit next to me on the bed. She took my hand in hers.
“Why did you come back?”
How funny, I was asking myself the same thing. I didn’t know what to say to her. There were many reasons and none at all as to why I chose to come home. I came to make sure you were okay. Maybe. Not that I could protect you. I never could. I came back because I was being selfish, distracted.
“I told you to get as far away from here as you could.”
Her expression was eerily calm and emotionless. Her tone was cold.
“I know, mom. But you’re here. I had to come home. Where else could I have gone?”
“Anywhere but here.”
We looked into each other’s eyes in silence for a long time. I wanted to tell her I was sorry that I had come back, but I wasn’t. I needed her to comfort me and not ask why I came back. I was stupid to think that she might understand why I was sat in my room instead of being at college studying for my midterms. Stupid of me to think anyone understood what I was feeling. Even I didn’t know what I was feeling or why.
The light in my room cast awful shadows on her face. She was worn out and old. Small. I had outgrown her long ago.
“Why don’t you leave him?” I asked softly.
She looked away and sighed.
“It’s too late for me to leave him.”
“Why? You could be happier if you left him.”
“Where would I go, Drew? I have nothing. All the money I ever saved up I gave to you for college.”
“All of it?”
She nodded and I saw a faint smile etch at the corners of her mouth. I felt guilt wrap itself around my throat.
“I still think you should leave him before he ends up killing you.”
“If he does, then he’ll go to prison and I’ll rest in peace.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me. When are you going back?”
“I got a month.”
She patted my hand.
“I’m proud of you. We’ve both come a long way.”
I smiled but my eyes remained sad. What was there to be proud for?
“Try and get some sleep, okay? Don’t worry about dad.”
I tried not to worry, but worrying was all I could do. It’s why I was so messed up. Yet she somehow maintained the calm in her voice.
She used to be a much different person. With emotions, hopes and dreams. A bubbly personality.
Things changed gradually with my mom. All her emotions she had neatly tucked them away. I was there when she did it all. I watched her put them away, one at a time, year after year. Her stubbornness was the first to go. She couldn’t continue standing her ground around my dad. It had to go. She tucked it away. Next was her joy. She couldn’t allow herself to be happy, only neutral, always neutral. She tucked it away. A woman must never be sad. She had to be neutral. Not happy, not sad, but neutral. She tucked it away. The last one to go was love. She pretended to tuck that one away. She hesitated. Hoping maybe if she left love out, she one day could untuck everything else. Eventually, she had to set love aside too. There was no room for love anymore. She tucked it away.
Despite that, she persisted through everything he threw her way. She was a constant. A lazy turtle in a windstorm. I envied her ability to do that.
I couldn’t tuck anything away. My emotions were everywhere, and they triggered at the slightest raised hand, voice, or hateful remark. In the last year and a half I forced myself to forget what it all felt like. The yelling. The belittling. The slaps across my cheeks. The anger. My anger. Bubbling to the top. Oozing through every pore of my skin. Oozing, yet, I still felt it remained trapped. Only the steam managing to sip out of me. Sipping out in fragments. The real flaming hot core of my anger did not leave me. It stayed with me for a long time. I carried it around like a tumour.
The fear of something happening to her one day was part of it too. She was all I had that I could truly call family.
She gave me a last dead smile and stood up.
She left my room and I laid back against the wall. My legs dangled on the other side. My dad banged chairs around in the kitchen. Mumbling in a language only the drunk would understand.
I could return to college in a month if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to. There was a dark shadow hanging over me there. It didn’t rumble, it didn’t rain down, it just floated after me in silence. Reminding me that college was not where I belonged. I was never going to make it in life, let alone graduate and get a job.
I let out a loud and dragged sigh.
I wanted to use the time I had in Caleigh to just go crazy. Let loose. Get shitfaced as much as I could. It was probably what I needed to forget about all the emotions and thoughts running through me.
I scoffed to myself and closed my eyes.
Home. I’d come home. Nothing seemed to have changed. Nothing and no one. I was different in a way I couldn’t quite understand. I had changed into someone I didn’t like anymore. Not that I ever liked myself. But when I left, I had this feeling. This determination to get as far away as possible. But gradually that feeling was replaced with another. A stronger feeling, I couldn’t ignore any longer. That feeling pulled me back to Caleigh.
I smiled. It wasn’t all that bad, I told myself. Tammy was here.
Getting to spend time with her at that crazy guy’s house was fun. It was the kind of dumb shit I missed doing and… and Tammy was just as beautiful as I remembered. Her black hair framed her small heart-shaped face. Her dark brown eyes were so alive. They made me feel lucky every time she laid them on me.
She was the first girl I had ever truly liked. The girl I thought about the most.
I jumped out of the bed and went to lock the door. I took off all my clothes and hopped back into bed. I thought of Tammy’s face. Her eyes, her messy eyeliner and runny mascara. The oversized t-shirt she wore. I slipped my hand down and went to work on myself, while thinking about the times she used to wear tight light-coloured t-shirts and her nipples would poke up. I transported myself back to memories I held dear. I thought about the times in winter when she would wear black tights and knee-high boots with short skirts. The times she had her hair up in a short ponytail and she had a loose strand of hair on her neck. Her outrageously loud and bright laugh. I was back there with her, in my memories, where I was safe. I thought about kissing her. I thought about touching her and having her touch me back. I thought about holding her small face between my hands.
I came to how she held my hand earlier that day, guiding me, looking out for me, making sure I was okay.
I turned the lights off and cried myself to sleep.
The next day was a bitch. I had slept for a shameful amount of time. My body was sore, and I woke up feeling like I had been stretched out and left to dry in a desert during a sandstorm. Rough wasn’t even close to describing how I felt. My head was heavy, and I could barely shift it off the pillow. I had to roll myself over to the side of the bed and crawl onto the floor. I groaned. My mouth tasted and felt like the inside of a paper bag, or at least what I thought the inside of a paper bag would feel like. Course, dry, and papery.
The floor didn’t feel as soft and forgiving as the bed, so I had to get onto my feet. Deep groans escaped me as I laboured in hoisting myself up and around. I made my way into the kitchen and chugged down a litre of water. The house was quiet. On the kitchen table, I saw a plate covered with a white cotton napkin and a sticky note stuck to the side of it. I moved closer. The note said ‘Gone to church. Dad at Derrill’s’. It was Sunday and I was going to be home alone for the largest part of the day. I was thankful to my mom for not waking me and dragging me along to church.
I flipped the napkin. On the plate sat two sunny side eggs, three little sausages and a slice of bread. I took the bread over to the toaster and pushed it down. My headache was easing up and by that, I mean my eyeballs weren’t throbbing in their sockets, but my head still felt like lead.
The toast popped up. I took the steaming piece to the plate, sat down and started eating. I sat across the window that overlooked our front lawn and the street. We didn’t own a tv anymore since my dad had smashed it during one of his drunk fits.
I stared at the trees outside as their branches swayed slowly in the warm breeze. It was painfully quiet. I finished the food, took my plate to the sink, washed it, dried it and put it back into the cupboard.
Upstairs, I stole two painkillers from the box my dad kept in his nightstand. I swallowed them dry, brushed my teeth and put some decent clothes on.
The house was quiet. The perfect environment for my brain to start running its marathon of thoughts. I wasn’t in the mood to spend the second day back in Caleigh moping around in an empty house.
I opened my nightstand’s drawer. The leftover joint found its way between my lips. I found an old lighter, cracked my window and had a toke. My gaze was aimless as I smoked.
I felt like going for a walk around town.
The end bit of the joint, I snuffed out and threw it away on my way out of the house. I locked up with the spare key and was off.
I didn’t want to stay sober. Sedated and subdued. That’s the state I wanted to be in. My head was like a minefield. I was bombarded constantly with thoughts that were… hard to just ignore.
Fighting off the constant avalanche of thoughts was a battle I wasn’t equipped to fight successfully. Being high was the weapon I chose to help me keep the avalanche in check. I drew a line in smoke and my thoughts didn’t dare cross. I could easily ignore the humming of ‘You’re worthless. You won’t get a degree. You’re in debt. Your dad is right. Piece of shit. Piece of shit. Piece of shit. Piece. Of. Shit.’
I could strut down the street into town peacefully, entranced by how bright the sky was. Blue. Careless. Thoughtless. Sedated. As far as I was concerned, the thoughts weren’t even there anymore. The weed had squashed them. I had temporarily won. That day I wasn’t worthless or pathetic. I just existed.
The city seemed abandoned. The only living thing I encountered was a cat jumping out of a bush. Both of us equally terrified of one another when we became aware of each other’s presence.
Caleigh was never a city bursting with life anyway. Every now and then we would have the occasional town celebration. To which, everyone went. It brought all of us together. Gave us a chance to see if our numbers were diminishing or getting stronger. It wasn’t always a bad place to live. At least that’s what I remembered from when I was a kid. There were far more kids playing and bullying each other out in the driveways. Playing tag, hide and seek. Pushing each other around. Parents being complete assholes, but they would pull a fold-up chair out on the lawn and have a beer or smoke out in the sun. Catch up with their neighbours.
I guess, then, the drugs slowly started taking over, one generation at a time. Keeping people out of jobs. Forcing them to steal. Kill. Sell everything they had. Overdose in the burger joint toilets. It wasn’t a great place to be, but it was home.
On my way downtown, I noticed that there were more barred up houses than when I left. Houses seized by the banks. Some of them had ‘for sale’ signs up. The grass in front of each house was of different lengths. Dandelions thriving happily around people’s porches.
It was coming up to being past noon. Service was soon to end, and the churchgoers would briefly animate the streets as they walked or drove home. For a second, I thought of me being one of them. A believer. Seeking answers on a Sunday from a guy who reads from a book as thick as he is. Forcing myself to trust the gospel coming out of his mouth, until one day, I would not doubt a single word. I had never asked my mom if she found peace in any of that. Maybe that’s what made her strong and kept her going.
I briefly felt like my old self. Walking the streets. Going past the old cinema. Seeing the familiar red print on either sides of the door and getting a whiff of butter covered popcorn. Feeling a jolt in my heart while I walked past the stone summer fountain. The jets were turned off and the water had long dried out, leaving behind caked limestone. The pair of hangout benches, where we would all gather and hangout. The late-night spots. The old way to school.
Downtown was just as deserted. The first person I encountered was some guy stood outside the hairdressers, smoking. He nodded my way and I nodded back. I let my feet guide me as I continued my walk.
I was heading somewhere, but I didn’t know where until I had arrived there.
I stopped in front of 46 Cornell Street. My feet had carried me all the way across town and onto the front lawn of that house. I didn’t wonder why. I just accepted that I had walked for an hour just to get there for no reason.
Dehydration and fatigue had started to set in. I wasn’t looking forward to the walk back, so I sat down onto the patchy grass in front of the house. It was well past one and the sunshine was making me sleepy. A dog barked inside the house.
I didn’t hear the front door open. Someone called out to me.
“Hey, you okay there?”
The voice sounded familiar. I turned around and shielded my eyes with my hand. Crackhead Mike took two steps off the porch.
He recognised me. He was shirtless, only wearing a pair of black shorts. He walked onto the lawn.
“You were here yesterday, weren’t you?”
“Can’t remember your name but I remember your face.”
“Yeah, I remember now.”
“What are you doing out here? You could have knocked. We’d let you in, you know.”
“I know. I was on a walk and just wondered down this side of town.”
“Finished your weed that fast, huh?”
“Nah, but I am pretty high right now.”
He sat, stretched his legs out. His toenails were painted black.
“I smoked some before setting off from home. It’s some pretty good shit. Chilled me out the right amount. Where do you get it from?”
“We have plants in the basement.” he said.
“We got lamps and everything, all set up down there. The gear you saw in the suitcase was everything we got over the past year. We need to harvest some more this month.”
“How many plants you got down there?”
“Bout ten plants.”
We sat in silence for a while, enjoying the sun.
“Hazulu and I were going to shoot down a few beers, you want one?”
Did I want one? It was either a beer or the walk back, being dehydrated and lonely.
“Yeah, I’ll take one.”
We got off the grass and walked into the house. The front square room smelt stale. Same disgusting smell. I scrunched my nose. One of the dogs came to sniff me. When he realised he’d smelt me before, he quickly lost interest and jumped on one of the couches.
Mike led the way to the kitchen.
“Hazulu’s outside, so I’ll grab us a couple of beers. I’ll meet you there.”
He pointed to a door that led from the living room straight outside. I made my way into the backyard. The space could have easily fit a whole basketball court but instead, the same patchy grass stretched out to the back fence. There were holes that the dogs had started digging and abandoned. There was not a single tree, bush or flower growing in the grass.
Hazulu was labouring away with a shovel in the middle of the stretch of land. I cautiously walked towards him, not particularly sold on the idea I had to be alone with the guy for more than a second. The things I heard about him from Tammy and Mike made me uneasy.
He didn’t realise I was slowly approaching, until I was stood next to him. He barely gave me a nod when he finally noticed me. His bareback shone with sweat. His long greasy locks stuck to his neck and shoulder blades. Every muscle tensed when he pushed the shovel into the dirt and hoisted a clump up. One of the dogs sniffed around and gritty earth stuck to his wet muzzle.
“What’s the pit for?”
He looked at me and shovelled two plonks of dirt out of the pit before answering.
“Wow, a bonfire,” I looked around at the neighbouring house “out here, huh?”
He followed my glance and chuckled.
“I don’t care what they think.”
I bet you don’t care what anyone thinks.
“They always call the pigs out here even when we play loud music.”
“What kind of music?”
“Heavy metal music. The music of our lord Satan.”
“When the pit’s done, we’re going to have a ritual.”
I nodded slowly and watched him shovel another heap of dirt.
“You can come. Maybe you’ll learn something.”
I mean, I didn’t have anything else to do over the next days. Might as well spectate some weird satanic ritual. He shovelled some more. I stared at his forehead tattoo.
“Why Helter Skelter?”
He heaved a big pile of dirt aside, then looked up at me.
His voice was deep, and he recited in a sing-song way:
“Do you, don’t you want me to love you, I'm coming down fast but I’m miles above you, tell me the answer, you may be a lover but you ain't no dancer.” he grinned “Helter Skelter.”
“Here.” Mike appeared with cold beers.
I laughed, trying to shake off the embarrassment. I took the bottle he handed me. Hakim let the shovel fall into the pit and took his.
“I told the kid to come to the ritual.” he said.
Mike’s eyes widened and he immediately nodded.
“Yeah. You should definitely come, man. It’s going to be crazy.”
“I don’t believe in Satan though.”
“Do you believe in God?” Mike asked.
“Then you should be fine.”
The sun was setting. The sky was painted red, yellow and orange. I came down from my high as I sipped on the beer.
“When is this ritual going to be?” I said.
“So, you are interested?” Mike said.
Crackhead Mike laughed while Hakim looked up at the sunset sky.
“Tonight.” he said.
I glanced at Hakim, but he was still looking at the sky.
“Yeah, the wood’s been ready for a couple of days now, what’s left to do is dig this hole. You’re welcome to stick around until midnight when we’re gonna light her up.”
I didn’t have anything better to do or anywhere better to be and curiosity was a bitch.
We sipped on our beers. Hakim finally spoke.
“The sky is piss ugly today.”
Hakim had swapped with Mike on digging the fire pit. He finished it off and we pilled the wood up in it.
The sun had set, and night had crept in. We retreated into the square room. Crackhead Mike offered to roll me a joint while the two of them did some crack and talked about things I didn’t understand. The crack gave them energy I couldn’t match. I was stoned. Every now and again I would catch on to words they were saying. Small words about big concepts.
The dogs had come to sniff me a few times. Hakim said one the dog’s name was Lucifer. He was a seven-year-old Rottweiler. He was a big intimidating dog, and curious of my presence in the house. He didn’t let me pet him, but he liked to sniff my hand every now and again when he came to do the rounds around the house. There was a pair of dogs that seemed to always be together. They were called Trailer and Smash, a great dane and a cane corso. There was also a black labrador called Skins. He was the friendliest out of all the dogs, but barely dragging his bony body around. I got to pet him while we wasted away hours of the evening.
“What do you think then?” one of them said.
I was mindlessly stroking Skins while he laid on the floor next to me. My fingers jumping from one rib to the other like on a xylophone.
Mike threw an empty beer bottle my way. It bounced off the side of the couch and rolled into a corner of the room. I looked up to find them staring at me.
“Didn’t you hear anything we were talking about?”
Hakim watched me. His face was hard to read. Mike on the other hand, had his face scrunched up and hand stretched out, asking me to give up my words to them. He seemed irritated that I was just taking up space in the room and not engaging in the conversation. His eyebrows furrowed.
I leaned back into the couch.
“I heard parts of it.”
I passed my hand through my greasy hair and rubbed some of the oil off on my jeans.
“I’m just not into those kinds of conversations, you know.” I said.
“Pff, I thought you’re a smart college kid.”
“So, you actually dropped out? Shit.”
I didn’t want to talk about college.
“No, I’m on a break. I’ll go back.”
Mike continued to taunt me.
“Nah, you’ve dropped out.”
“It’s called a ‘leave of absence’”.
He looked at me puzzled.
“What did they teach you in collegethen?” Hakim asked.
“You know, the usual stuff.”
They waited for more.
“A lot of philosophy, the constitution, amendments, US history, the criminal justice system. You know, shit like that.”
“Did you cover stuff like crime?”
“That’s criminal law. I wasn’t that far ahead yet but we talked about that sometimes.”
“You know, Hazulu here’s actually got a college degree.”
He has? My eyebrows sprang up and I turned my gaze on him.
“Yup.” Mike said proudly “In psychology.”
Huh. I nodded slowly. I assumed from some shitty community college, but I never would have pegged the Satanic overlord as having gone to college andmade it through to get a degree in the end. I couldn’t decide if I was impressed or surprised by that.
“What happened? You don’t seem so interested in psychology anymore.” I said.
“Oh, I am. Just in different ways. It’s just, the life I live now, is much more… liberating. I realised the world was full of fascists and found that the only way to be free, truly free, was to be my own ruler.”
He leaned forward.
“I’m slowly deciphering the ways of the world. My knowledge in psychology plays a small role in it. You could say.”
“In what way?”
“I am interested in the process of thinking. Thoughts, needs and desires.”
“What do you mean?”
He leaned his elbows on his knees, but kept his head arched back and chin up.
“I think humans have disturbed the natural order of the universe.”
I scoffed. His eyes burned into mine. My lips pressed together sternly.
“If you take a second and think, everything we put out into the universe is energy. Every word, every gesture, even every thought we have. Everything. It goes out there. But, we obviously don’t spend enough time thinking about what we do or say.”
Sure. Whatever. Made no sense to me. I turned and looked at Skins, while I gently ruffled his ears.
“Have you ever thought about something, and it came true?”
My eyes darted up. Not that I was interested in entertaining him, but I was curious where he was going with it all.
“Happened a few times, yeah. But I don’t think much of those things. Coincidences.”
“Coincidences” he repeated and nodded his head slowly “Or, you changed the alignment of the universe with your mind.”
He brought his palm down on the top of his head.
“So, you’re saying that I can change the future just by thinking about it?”
He nodded slowly again.
“Bullshit.” I said.
“He’s right, man.” Mike chimed in “Before I met him, I was homeless and I was wishing for somewhere cool to stay. I live here now.”
“And you think that’s because you thought about it, or wished or whatever?”
“Humans waste the power they have over the universe. They envision the future of humanity wrongly, and then their visions come true. All these wrong thoughts floating aimlessly around. Propaganda is a great way to make a lot of people think about the same thing. That’s why it’s very effective. It can capture people’s attention, and focus their minds on one common thing.”
I wasn’t buying into a single word.
“The universe is us and we are the universe.”
He moved his finger to simulate a line connecting me and him.
“Just imagine what we could all accomplish if we all thought about the same goal at the same time. The same thing. We could all use our common energy to make big changes. Align the insides of our minds and that will align the core of the universe in our favour.”
His eyes twinkled. Mike was about to jump up from the couch and start dancing. It seemed like Hakim’s words were like music to him.
He shook his head.
“We are celebrating.”
“Living a freeing life with Satan as our one true master.”
He spread his arms wide.
And there it was.
“What? Does Satan bother you?”
“No. I just don’t believe in that, is all.”
“What do you believe in then?” he pushed.
What did I believe in. Nothing anymore.
“Do I have to believe in something?”
“No. But everyone holds some form of belief. Even believing in nothing is still believing.”
I shook my head.
“Why do you believe in Satan?”
“Because he is everything the Christians fear.”
“So, you don’t like Christians, is that it?”
He shook his head.
“I love chaos and anarchy, the dark, the macabre, and freedom to be myself.”
“What sense does that make? How is Satan a symbol for all of that?”
His eyes twitched. I continued.
“If you believe in that version of Satan, then you too are believing in the version of Satan that the Christian church believes in. You’re just being selective on who you choose to follow.”
“And is being selective wrong?”
I frowned, as he cut me off.
“I am free, as are you, to choose what you want to believe and how you do that.”
“Isn’t freedom something you want?”
His eyes were intense.
“If I wasn’t free”
“I wouldn’t be here right now. Being here was my choice. Or did one of you wish to the universe I show up here?”
“Maybe your presence here will lead to something unexpected.” he said.
Mike regarded Hakim. He took every word the guy said as gospel. He waited for a response from me. I opened my mouth wanting to say something, when Skins jumped to his feet and let out a halted bark. Two other dogs came running from the living room and huddled by the door. They started slowly barking. In between their barks I could make out loud laughing and chatter coming from the streets. The jumble of voices got closer, and the door burst open.
In walked Elle, Crackhead Mike’s sister. She brought with her a strong smell of alcohol.
“Hey, you motherfuckers, I brought the party!”
Elle pushed past the dogs and jumped on the couch I was sat. She was closely followed by a group of ten people. All gothic-looking individuals with dark clothes, dark make-up, black hair, reeking of cheap beer and cigarettes. They all poured in and seemed like they knew where they were going, because they quickly populated the living room, kitchen and backyard. I guessed these were people that came around often. ‘The Satanic crowd’.
Elle yelled over the clamour of voices.
“Let’s get the party started!”
Ronni and Sam were the last two to walk in. They quickly assumed their places on either side of Hakim when he stood up to welcome them. He kissed both girls hard.
Beer was being drunk in every corner of the house. Someone had started to blast music through some speakers in the kitchen. I was slowly being swallowed by the noise, smells and agitation. I closed my eyes and tried to let it all consume me.
A beer bottle smashed against the wall in the kitchen. People cheered. The music got louder and louder and louder and I got smaller. I loved it. I loved the noise engulfing me. The chaos was comforting. The disarray in the house devoured my own pain and mental numbness.
After many blissful minutes, the music faded out. I opened my eyes. I was alone in the small square room. Lucifer was lying on the floor by the box with the tv on it.
I stood up and saw that almost everyone had moved outside. The fire pit had been lit. It glowed majestically, lighting up the whole backyard. The air smelt like gasoline and smoke. In front of the flames, encircled by everyone, stood Hakim with his arms spread out wide. He had taken off his shirt and shoes.
A drunk guy stood in the kitchen.
“C’mon, you don’t want to miss this.”
He swayed his way through the back door.
I followed him out and found a place in the semicircle. Hakim wasn’t speaking English anymore. He was chanting a language foreign to me. People cheered him on. The smoke and heat from the fire made my eyes water. I wiped them down with the back of my hands.
Hakim fiercely chanted, smashing his fists against his chest. The rivers of sweat on his body splashed into the air, and droplets were briefly lit by the shine of the flames on their way down. People raised their beer bottles.
His girlfriends stood on either side of him, slowly taking off their clothes and tossing them into the fire. They did that until they were stark naked. Their eyes closed, as they danced seductively around him to the rhythms of his chants.
We were all entranced. I had no idea what was being said and I didn’t care. It looked wild. I walked in closer. The heat from the fire warmed my face.
My cheeks burned. It felt like I was on fire. I couldn’t concentrate on Hakim. My mouth fell open and I struggled to breathe. The crackling and sparks that flew from the fire intensified my feelings of paranoia. I kept thinking if I stood too close, my clothes would catch fire, and then I would be ablaze and most likely die in the yard of a mad Satanist, surrounded by a gang of crazy crackheads. Air pumped in and out through my open mouth.
I turned around to move further back, where I thought I would to be at a safe distance. Then I laid eyes on the biggest snake I had ever seen. I froze in my tracks while I watched Crackhead Mike hold a phyton up above his spiked hair. Its tail and head dangled on each side of his arms.
I moved out of his way as he carried the snake closer to the fire pit. Hakim’s chanting and voice grew louder. The girls were doing a strange movement with their arms and torsos. Like they were also slithering snakes.
I watched Mike hold the snake in front of Hakim. He kissed the snake’s head and then Mike tossed it into the fire. My stomach twisted as I watched the snake contort in the air and land in the flames. Some people gasped and some cheered. I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t sure what I had just witnessed. I didn’t want to believe I had just watched a guy hoist a two-metre-long snake into the blazing fire. But then the smell reached my nose, and I could definitely hear sizzle and crackle as the serpent burned alive.
Crackhead Mike hit the floor and bowed his head down into the grass. Some of the others followed. Most of the rest just stood and watched the next scene unfold.
Sam and Ronni approached Hakim and started kissing him at the same time. They rubbed up against him.
I looked over at the neighbour’s house. Their lights were on. I secretly hoped they were not watching. But the massive flaming fire was obscenely visible even from the street, let alone the upstairs window of their house. All they had to do, was glance out the window and they would see a bunch of bowed down idiots, some laughing fools, me and two naked girls engaging in intercourse with a Satanic maniac. They were fully lit by the flames. His jeans were off, and his penis was out.
I couldn’t stop watching. I wanted to turn away, but I didn’t do it. I watched along with everyone else how he inserted himself into Ronni, while Sam was pushing her breasts into his face. It was disturbing. There was a phyton roasting in the flames, but my mind was ignoring that. I was entranced by the rhythmic thrust of his hips.
People cheered as Hakim kept ramming Ronni. Those who had been bowing down were now either back up on their feet or sitting on the grass. Watching. I glanced over at Crackhead Mike and saw him sitting. His legs were spread out in front of him. He was wrestling with the zipper of his jeans. When he finally managed to get it down, he whipped out his erect dick and stroked it with speed and fury. His eyes on Sam. She was still rubbing her breasts in Hakim’s face with the added touch of pleasuring herself.
I didn’t know why I was still there, looking at all of it. There was no intention from my side to leave but I didn’t know if I wanted to watch a bunch of people getting off to what was happening. Things were getting heated in other parts of the semi-circle with people taking their clothes off, tossing them into the fire or pouring beer onto their naked tits. I took a couple of steps back.
The experience was surreal. This town was so boring and dead but the backyard of this Satanic manic was alive with all sorts of mischievous things.
Mike had finished and was laid on his back. His eyes still on Sam. Trailer and Smash had leaped outside through the open kitchen door and started chasing each other around the yard.
I watched some random naked guy kicked Trailer in her muzzle. She let out a yelp. That jolted me from my trance. Hakim was too busy to notice what was happening to his dog and I doubted he would do anything anyway. After all he did say ‘everything goes’. For me, that didn’t go. Trailer zoomed past and back into the house. Smash followed her with his ears low. I went after them.
I found Trailer and Smash huddled together under the kitchen table. I did not attempt to approach them. Her muzzle seemed okay, but she was without a doubt shaken by the kick. Smash comforted her to the best of his ability. His snout resting on her back. Whimpering gently.
“It’s okay, girl.”
Living there meant they weren’t okay. Looking at the shattered look in her small black eyes made me question what they were fed with. The anger started to gurgle in my chest. There was no sign of dog bowls in the kitchen, living room or outside. Where did his eight dogs drink water from? I wanted to ask the two of them. What is this motherfucker doing to you guys? How is he taking care of you? Because he sure didn’t give a fuck when you got kicked in the face. I wanted to kick him in the face too. Right there, while he fucked his girlfriend Ronni. While he was on his knees. And what the fuck was up with throwing a live snake into blazing flames? What a bunch of psychos.
I was overcome with the desperate urge to run. I didn’t want to be there anymore. That was not a place for me. I hightailed it out of there. The walk home was not an easy one, but I got through my paranoia.
My desire to get as far away from that damn house was stronger than my fear of the dark.
I locked myself away in my room. There was a mixture of shame and fear that followed me under the covers where I hid. Shame, because deep down I didn’t feel what I saw in the backyard of that manic was wrong. It was somewhat… thrilling.
That’s what bothered me the most about what happened. That I found it all thrilling. That it made me feel something, it made me feel alive. I needed to stay away. That sickening energy that tangled itself with the smoke, made me excited. I didn’t like the dog getting smacked over the snout, but the rest… I was drawn to it. The chaos was attractive. I also felt fear, because Hakim was indeed a scary guy. He wasn’t scared to say and do anything. And I finally understood how dangerous the guy was. It was one thing listening to others tell me stories about him, and another to witness the madness with my own eyes.
I thought of Tammy. I got the urge to call her and tell her all about what I saw. But I didn’t.
I went around in circles with my thoughts. That guy, Hakim Peck was not like anyone I had ever met. I was trying hard not to think about him. But how could I not? The way the guy carried himself and acted so confidently. He fucked a girl in front of so many people, like it was nothing. Like he did that every day. I was ashamed to think that his neighbours could have seen what happened. I hoped for their sake they hadn’t.
I couldn’t understand what effect it all had on me. How I truly felt about it all. Was I scared? Was I impressed? Disgusted? Excited? I couldn’t… I just didn’t want to think about it at all. But how could I not? It was burned in my mind like footage on film. Every time I closed my eyes I was back there. Looking at it all. Then I would open my eyes and feel the urge to close them again. Just for a bit longer. I didn’t allow myself to do that. What happened was fucked up, too fucked up.
But why couldn’t I stop thinking about it?
The weed I had in my nightstand stayed untouched. I was tempted by it. As I laid on my side in bed, I could smell it sitting in the drawer. But I wanted to stay alert and not be reminded of the bonfire’s smell of smoke, burning snake and the state I was in.
It was well into the middle of the night. My parents were awake. I was awake. My dad had been pushing the chairs around in the kitchen, but he had stopped briefly and a tombstone like silence fell inside the house. A rare moment. I closed my eyes and enjoyed it while it lasted, as it wouldn’t last long.
I was thrust up in my bed by the sound of flesh hitting flesh. That sound was so deeply engraved in my brain, my body reacted to it before I even realised what it was.
I threw the covers against the wall and rushed to the stairs. My heart in my throat. I stopped on the third step down. I couldn’t hear anything but my rushed breath and deafening heartbeat. The lights in the kitchen and the living room were on and I saw my dad’s large shadow. No one made a move. My dad spoke.
“You worthless woman.”
I took a step down.
“All you do is sit in the damn chair. You can’t even get up to give me a damn beer.”
Another step down.
Now I could see his back. He was standing over my mom as she sat in the la-z-boy. Her face was turned away. Her hands rested in her lap, palms up. I took another step down.
My dad swayed slowly from side to side. I took another step and the floorboard creaked as I placed my naked foot down.
My dad swung back.
“Get out of here, this ain’t none of your business.”
He barely looked at me. I didn’t move.
“I said get, you hear me.”
I didn’t get. My hands shook, but I took a step forward.
“Why are you still doing this?”
The words just slipped out from my mind and into the living room.
For a second my dad’s sway stopped, like all his being had to pay attention to my words. He turned around slow and heavy.
I knew he heard me. It was so quiet in the that living room, even the cockroaches in the walls heard what I had said.
My mom looked up and I saw the fear in her eyes.
“Why am I still doing this?”
My brain was sending alerts. Desperately telling me to move away. Back off. Stop. That what I was doing was dangerous.
The booming laugh echoed in the whole living room. It startled me. His cackle was so violent, he swayed and was doing a one two step to steady himself.
“You don’t have to do this, dad.”
His laugh died out. He stared at me.
“Please, leave mom alone.”
It wasn’t the first time I had asked that. But something was different in my tone of voice. I noticed it, my dad picked up on it and so did my mom. It wasn’t the usual voice I had, it sounded like I was a child again. Like I was back to being the seven-year-old who was pulling on my dad’s pants asking him to stop.
I thought my dad would start laughing again, but he didn’t.
“Leave her alone?”
His voice was soft, like he was talking to seven-year-old me.
Then he turned to her.
“I’ll leave her alone, if she brings me a beer.”
Her eyes jumped from me to him.
I didn’t hesitate. I rushed across to the kitchen and opened the fridge. I took out a beer bottle. Then frantically rummaged for the bottle opener and popped the cap off. I took it to him.
He turned back around and stared at the bottle. Was that the first time I had ever handed him a beer bottle. It was. I stared at the bottle too. I was never allowed to touch the bottles. My mom was the one who would hand him his beer. Was that the first time she had refused to give him one.
Our eyes met. He grasped the bottle by the neck and staggered his way past me and out the back door into the garden.
My mom’s fists were clenched in her lap. I sat on the couch next to her.
Tears filled my eyes, and I couldn’t hold them back. I lowered my head into my hands and sobbed. The feeling had come over me suddenly. It overflowed. I shook from within with anger and sadness. I was feeling everything at once and the result was too much for me to handle.
My mom placed her hand on my head and tapped me gently as I let it all out.
Eventually I stopped feeling everything and felt nothing at all. My face was wet with tears that I hadn’t wiped away. My mom next to me, on her chair, had her head back but kept her eyes on me. I rested my still shaking body back against the couch. We looked at each other for the longest time. It felt like it was just us, in the whole world.
“Mom, what is happening?”
“Why do I feel like this?”
Again, there it was. That child voice that was confused, afraid.
“Oh, Drew. I am so sorry.”
I was sorry too.
I had cried many times before. Up in my room, under the covers, with my head tucked away in the corner by the wall. I had cried at school. I even cried in the bathroom at church. But every time I did, I was alone. I never allowed anyone to see me like that. No one, not even my mom. I hid that part of me from others.
She sighed again.
“Mom, you have to. This can’t go on.”
“Maybe he’ll listen to me. Maybe we can get him to stop this. I’m older now, maybe he’ll listen to me.”
He wouldn’t. And would I have the nerve to bring it up again, to face him like that?
“Drew, his problem is with me. Not you. Just ignore us.”
My voice trailed off.
“His problem is with you not me? Not long ago his problem was also with me. Or are we not going to talk about that? Like we don’t talk about anything that goes on.”
“We can’t talk about it, Drew. You know that.”
“Just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening!”
I yelled. On half of the words, I choked. I looked away.
“Fine. I won’t talk about it anymore. I’ll do what I always do, pretend everything is fine. Like this is normal.”
This was not normal. Was it?
I went back up to my room and locked myself in. I crawled into the bed and threw the covers over my head. My arms and legs tingled. I wasn’t cold or warm. I was nothing. I closed my eyes.
Should I go back to college? I thought this was supposed to light that fire I had when I left a year and a half ago. But there was no fire. There was nothing. Nothing at all.
Maybe, there was something. I felt lost. Or was it incomplete? Like I was missing something. My parents took something from me that they weren’t returning.
There were things I wanted to say. I scrunched the covers around my head. With my eyes closed, I furrowed my brows. My arms and legs continued to tingle as the fury in me gurgled.
I wanted to talk.
I remembered the first semester at college, at one of our first seminars very few of the others had prepared for it. The professor practically was begging us to speak and discuss the paper we all had to prepare. I prepared it. I read it four times and had many notes. One of the students started discussing it with the professor, but he wasn’t impressed, just happy someone had read it and the seminar wasn’t completely wasted. But then the guy didn’t have anything else to say. I was dying to talk about it. It was an amazing paper, I had enjoyed reading it. Before I knew it, I joined the discussion and ended up leading it. I was shaking from head to toe, but it was such a rush. I was speaking and people were listening. I was being heard and being seen. So, I kept doing it, week after week. Before I knew it, I was getting better at talking and I loved it. It was the best feeling.
I wanted to talk to my parents. I desperately needed it.
Early in the morning, I was still wide awake. I struggled to fall asleep during the night. I tossed and turned. My thoughts were loud and hard to ignore. My eyes stung and my mouth was dry.
I needed to go to the bathroom, so I crept out of bed. I gently opened my bedroom door and stepped into the hallway. The floor was cool. The skin of my soles and toes stuck softly to the wooden surface. I pitter pattered to the bathroom. The door was ajar and inside it was dark. The house was silent, and I didn’t expect my dad to be sat on the toilet when I turned on the light.
He wasn’t asleep. His head was resting between his big palms. He looked right at me. My jaw fell slightly open.
My hand shot up to turn the light off, but he stopped me. His voice was deflated but firm.
“No. Leave it on. I’ll be done soon.”
I closed the door. I took a step back down the hallway, then changed my mind. He said he was going to be done soon. He didn’t seem as drunk. I leaned against the wall.
I heard him grunt as he stood up. The buckle clanked as he pulled up his jeans. He didn’t flush or wash his hands. The door opened and he stepped out. He smelled like a mouldy beer puddle forgotten at the bottom of an old barrel. I didn’t move. He barely glanced my way as he started down the other side of the corridor towards the master bedroom. He stopped and then turned around.
I held my breathe. His steps were heavy as he leaned on each leg, walking closer to me.
My father wasn’t that much taller than me, although sometimes he seemed like the largest, heaviest, and tallest man I have ever seen. In reality, he was only an inch taller than me. All the beer he had ever drunk sat around his midriff like a jiggly lifebuoy. His stick like legs wobbled under the heftiness of his upper body. His face was drawn in and pale. The circles under his eyes were deeply purple. His hands were as big as his head, and as heavy as bags filled with stones. He shaved his head with the same shaver he used on his beard, and kept everything in short black bristles.
He came close. Smacked his lips at me.
He raised his hand, and I did what I always did when I saw his palm raise, I flinched. Closed my eyes, gathered within myself, and turned to the wall. I waited for the slap. It never came. Instead, his heavy palm gently touched my cheek. I opened my eyes. He was stroking my cheek.
My head slowly turned around. In the fluorescent light oozing from the bathroom, his eyes were damp. Damp with… with tears. He vacuumed his lower lip in. No words came.
A sole tear rolled down. He blinked and like woken up from sleepwalking, he took his hand away. He turned around and stomped down the corridor to the room without saying a single word.
My whole core was like an island being shaken by waves. He stopped but didn’t turn around. I heard him sigh.
I was too weak and engulfed by emotions to say anything more. He resumed his stomp down the corridor.
My head was filled with all sorts of questions that I wished I voiced. What was that for? Why now? Was he sorry? Did he finally realise that everything he’s been doing for years had been hurting me and mom?
Tears welled in my eyes. The man had showed me a glimpse of love. Something I had been craving from him my whole life. I accepted it.
I entered the bathroom and washed my face with cold water. I used the toilet. The seat was still warm.
Back in my room I stared at the ceiling and replayed the moment in my mind. In the days I had spent in my room, I spent them trapped in my head, with echoes of hateful words. Echoes reflecting things he had told me my whole life. How worthless I was, how stupid I was, how I would never make it, but those echoes faded and started to be more like harmless whispers. Confused whispers.
I held my right hand to my cheek and stoked it until I fell asleep.
I woke up with my cheek still resting against my hand. Last night, a distant memory. It was another one of those things that neither of us will ever bring up and just pretend like it never happened. I just had to fall in line and try to forget it.
I didn’t want to get out of bed. I laid there, reeking horribly under the covers. The clock on my phone screen showed it was just past twelve. I opened the music app and set the phone on the nightstand. From under the bed, I fished a battered old copy of ‘Crime and Punishment’ and a battery powered book light. A book that was dear to my heart and that I had read countless times. I had bought myself a new copy at college, when I realised I forgot to take my old copy.
The novel always took my mind off anything that was troubling me. I threw the covers over my head and opened the novel at the first chapter. I clipped the light and switched it on. The batteries were old and the light was dim but I could read the words.
While ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’ played in the background, my bedroom door opened, and Tammy crept in.
“Jesus, Drew, crack a window.”
I heard her sweet voice and jumped from the covers. She was pushing aside my curtain and opening the window. She wore a bright white dress that hugged her figure. The cleavage was generous. The skirt short.
The afternoon light made me shield my eyes. The sweat stench wafting from my armpits made me lower my arm. I hadn’t showered since the night of the bonfire.
“Haven’t seen you in a while so I thought I’d come and see what you’ve been up to.”
“Thanks, but you didn’t have to do that.”
My voice was hoarse.
I cleared my throat. She came and sat on the bed quite close to me and inhaled.
I know I do, Tammy. I didn’t know you were coming so I didn’t have time to shower.
“I like it.”
I shook my head. She smiled playfully.
“Have you been in here the whole time?”
She saw the book peaking from under the covers. She pulled it out.
“Why are you reading this again?”
“I like it. It’s good.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
She placed it on the nightstand by the phone.
“You’re dad’s drunk downstairs.”
“I’m not surprised. Are you?”
“I guess I shouldn’t be, but your mom looks… well not the best. She looks worse every day.”
“You’re starting to look worse too. Are you sure it was a good idea to come back here?”
“I don’t know anymore.”
“Well, I’mhappy you’re here.”
“I heard you were at Hazulu’s a few days back. No one will tell me what happened. Some bullshit about ‘only the people who were there need to know’.”
‘Getting better’ started playing.
“How did you even end up there on your own?”
“Took a walk and wondered onto their lawn. That guy Mike saw me outside.”
“It was a fucking weird night. I don’t even want to think about it.”
“What the fuck happened? No one will tell me.”
She folded her arms. Eyebrows raised, mouth wide open. I sighed and told her how I had ended up high in front of the house, Mike invited me in for a beer. Then we got higher, and Mike’s sister turned up with a bunch of people.
“I don’t like going there on the nights Elle’s friends show up. They all tend to get naked and do wild stuff. It’s all a bit nasty. Nah, that stuff isn’t for me.”
“Well, good thing you weren’t there.”
“Why? What happened this time?”
I hesitated. The vivid memories I had been pushing away, cropped up. The smell of the smoke and gasoline. The sizzling sound. Mike. Ronni. Sam. Him.
“They had a massive bonfire.”
“Oh, damn, that sounds like fun. Did they get naked and dance around the fire or something?”
“Well, that guy Hazulu did this weird Satanic ritual thing and Mike threw a damn phyton into the fire.”
“Jesus Christ! Like an actual snake?”
“Yeah. It was huge. He just hurled it into the damn flames. It smelt weird too.”
She put her hand over her mouth. Her skirt rode up her thighs.
“Then he started fucking his girlfriends.”
“Out in the backyard?”
I nodded. She got up and moved from one leg to the other, pressing her hand over her mouth again.
“In front of everyone?!”
“Fuck. Looks like I missed out on a lot.”
She sat back down.
“I dunno, it was all too fucked up. I mean who does that? I don’t want to go back there again.”
“I’m surprised the neighbours didn’t call the police. Last time he had a big party, police were at his doorstep after five minutes of screamin’ and yellin’.”
I cringed thinking of the neighbours.
‘Fixing a Hole’ played.
“Who else was there?”
“I don’t know the rest, I think they were Elle’s friends. They all looked like they knew each other well. But”
I chuckled remembering a sad sight from that night.
“Mike yanked his meat at Hazulu fucking Ronni though.”
Tammy burst out and her colourful laugh filled the room. I smiled. Seeing her laughing warmed my heart. She wiped tears from the corners of her eyes.
“That bastard. He’s such a wimp. Oh, wow.” she let out another laugh “I wish I was there to see that. Damn, that sounds like a wild night.”
It was. I chuckled lightly.
“So why are you cooped up in here like this?”
The smile faded from my lips. I was tired. No. Exhausted. The bonfire night and things I saw wore me out more than I thought they did. Maybe the smoke got to me. Maybe life got to me.
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing. Can’t I just have some days to just chill out in my room?”
“I dunno. Just don’t get why you look so down.”
I don’t either.
“Just tired, I guess.”
“You’re not like the rest of us, Drew. You’re fucking smart.” she tapped the tip of my nose “You shouldn’t be back here wasting your time in this shitheap of a town.”
I looked out the window. To me being back didn’t feel like wasting away. I wanted to be there. I could have gone anywhere but I chose to be here.
“Have you been smoking that weed?”
“I haven’t smoked any since Sunday.”
“Then what’s gotten into you?”
She stood up from the bed and sat on the floor.
“You were at college and you put this place behind ya. You should have kept it that way. I wish I was smart enough to get into college.”
“You could if you wanted to.”
“Fuck you, I couldn’t. I’m just pretty. There’s nothing good up here.”
She tapped the sides of her temple and I scoffed.
“I thought you were smart when we were in class together.” I said.
“Are you flirting with me?”
“Maybe. But honestly, Tammy if there was anyone I thought would be outta this place, it was you.”
“Well look at me. Still here. Addicted to crack, weed, alcohol and heck, everything. Didn’t get too far, did I?”
It wasn’t too late. If you got clean, you could go anywhere you wanted. And you’d make it big. I wanted to tell her that, but I didn’t. I simply smiled.
“Well anyway, I came to ask you something. Do you want to come to a party with me tonight?”
“At that weirdo’s house?”
“Nah. A normal party. Do you remember Felicity Creak?”
“Do I remember Felicity Creak? Hell yeah, I remember.”
“She’s having a little get-together tonight. Nothing big, just a few close people. Some of the old group from your class are coming. Do you wanna come?”
“Sure, why not. I mean I have nothing better to do. Gives me a reason to have a shower.”
“Awesome. It’s going to be good. Not as crazy and wild as Hazulu’s parties, but you know, fun.”
She jumped to her feet.
“Be ready at six. I’ll meet you out in the street and we can walk over. She lives at the same house down Montgomery.”
“Didn’t expect anything less of her.”
She strutted to the door.
I nodded. She closed the door and I heard her bouncing down the stairs.
I pushed the covers aside, went to close the window, turned off the music, checked the time. One o’clock. I shut the curtains, set an alarm for four and went back to sleep.
At 4 pm I was up. Took a long shower. Got ready while my dad and mom argued downstairs. A glass or a bottle smashed against the kitchen floor. There was a quick silence and then my dad went off again. Their arguing, fighting, and smashing was like a synchronised dance. And I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I was the same cowardly Drew I had always been.
Going downstairs was going to stir my dad, so I mentally prepared myself for anything he was about to throw my way. I knew the dad downstairs was not the same dad who’d stroked my cheek the previous night. ‘Put my shoes on, out the door. Put my shoes on, out the door. Put my shoes on, out the door’, I chanted to myself as I descended.
As soon as he laid eyes on me, his finger shot up.
“And where the fuck are you going?”
“Just out, dad.”
“To get hammered and high? You little shit.”
He held himself steady against the kitchen table. Leaning so far out, I was surprised the table had not shifted from the weight. My mom was picking up broken glass from a puddle of water. I went to help her, but she stopped me and told me to go.
“Yeah, go, we don’t need you here.” he said.
I straightened up. Insignificant Drew. I could feel all my flesh trembling as it got ready. The same cowardly Drew. I felt my spine spasming out of control as I fought to keep my back straight and my chest up. Little shit.
“No. You don’t need me, but mom does.”
I stared at him. The dad that had touched my cheek was not there.
“You need to stop doing this.”
His chest climbed into his chin and his nostrils flared.
“You think, you can tell me what to do?”
His voice was low, but his words penetrated me.
Then it came. Like a hurricane enveloping me. His heavy knees pushed through my mom. She recoiled away holding her nose. My dad’s body came over me, his heavy paws grabbed my shoulders and smashed me aside into the stairs.
I winced from the sharp pain that griped my ribs and hips. He swayed above me, looking down at the pile I was reduced to. I didn’t want to be useless anymore.
Through the pain, I pushed myself up and climbed two stairs, where he had to look up at me.
“You don’t have to do this! We love you. Me and mom, we love you. We just want you to love us back! Why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t we be happy for once? Don’t you see you’re hurting us and treating us like shit?”
I choked with emotion, from the frustration built up inside me. Years and years of oozing pain, discomfort, hatred, and confusion. The words tangled with my tongue, but I forced them out. They had to echo in the house. They had to be said out in the open.
None of my words seemed to get through to him. He swayed, his chest raising with each heavy breath.
“This is why I left and haven’t been back here in so long. Did you even notice I was gone?”
A flash, of something.
“Did you even care?”
Then, he was there. The dad that touched my cheek with affection and care.
“Did you care I was far away? Did it hurt when I was gone?”
His gaze fell to the floor, and I stared at the top of his head. I heard him sigh.
“I can’t stop thinking about what happened while I lived here. All the pain, all the sadness you caused me and mom. You’ve hurt us, do you know that?”
His voice sounded tired. I glanced at my mom. Her face stamped with shock. She was shocked at me. Her eyes and lips wide with surprise. My father raised his damp eyes at me. My body shook with anticipation, I clenched my fists tightly waiting for his fury to pour onto me again. Instead, a calm voice came from him.
“C’mon, get out of here.”
Was that it? What that all I was going to get? ‘I know’ and ‘c’mon, get out of here’. My shoulders deflated.
“You’ve grown, kid.”
He said that sincerely. A realisation that finally hit him. Were we going to continue this later? Was this just the beginning? Were things going to be different?
“Now, c’mon get going to wherever you were going.”
He passed his palm over his face and massaged his cheeks. He swayed out of my way.
I felt it had been too easy. I stood there staring, my heart flipping in my chest. It was a step taken in the right direction. A first piece falling into place. I glanced at my mom and her eyes had fallen back into their usual distance. She was sceptical. She was cautious. But for now, she was safe.
Her dead eyes reassured me she was going to be alright. So, I slipped my shoes on and walked out into the evening. It was still warm. I let out a deep breath as my body stopped shaking.
A light breeze ruffled my hair over my eyes. I brushed it back with my hand and heard Tammy’s door creak. She wore a tight, very short black dress and on top a washed-up denim jacket. She crossed the street. She smelt faintly of weed and cheap perfume.
“She needs to leave him.”
Her eyes were fixed on the kitchen. My dad’s had shuffled to sit at the kitchen table, while my mom was throwing away glass pieces.
“She won’t.” I said with a sigh.
I wanted to tell her all about what had happened, but I only managed:
“I tried, and I think we will someday talk about it with him too. As a family.”
Her eyebrows raised. Though she didn’t pry any further.
“You ready?” she said.
The Montgomery cul-de-sac was a fifteen-minute walk away. We kept a little distance between us as we made our way to Felicity’s house.
“You smell nicer.”
“Thought it might be good to have a shower.”
“That was a good idea.”
A brief silence fell as we turned the corner onto Clements Street.
“Do you think your mom’s going to be okay?” she asked gently.
“I think she will. There’s nothing I can do about it. I used to beg her every day to leave him when I was sixteen. I just wanted it to be me and her, you know. We never needed him, but she just didn’t want to. Said it would affect me more if she did that.”
She didn’t say anything. I looked ahead at the stoplight, waiting for us at the top of the hill. The light changed to red.
“I mean, you know she might have a point.” she paused “I wouldn’t want your piece of shit dad, but I wish my dad was still around. Some of the assholes my mom brought around the house, pffff. And none of them stuck around for too long.”
“I remember some of them.”
“Don’t even get me started.”
“What was that guy’s name? The guy who used to always forget his car on with the keys in.”
We both laughed.
“What a moron. Wasn’t surprised at all when it eventually got stolen. He took it out on my mom though. Asshole. Glad she got rid of him right after that.”
“He used to hit your mom?”
“Nah, it was just that one time. He was the only one who hit my mom. The rest of them were just lowlifes.”
“Is she seeing anyone now?”
“No. The last guy left her a year ago. Apparently, he thought my mom was too much of a drug addict for him. He couldn’t keep up.”
We walked past the stoplight. The red light turned to yellow then green.
“I think we’re better off without the scum my mom brings home. We’ve gotten closer, me and her.”
Her eyes reflected the green of the traffic light.
“You look nice tonight, Tammy.”
She smiled and glanced at me, like she suddenly remembered I was there with her, and she wasn’t just talking to herself. She looked down.
“You know, I was kinda sad when you left after graduation. And I kept thinking, why did we stop being friends?”
She kept her eyes down on the sidewalk.
“We used to be close, but then, I dunno, you were all weird and distant. I only got to see you more in senior year at parties, but even then, it wasn’t like before.”
“Um… I… um, can’t remember why.”
Of course I could remember why. When we were fourteen, the way I saw Tammy changed. I wanted to be around her as much as everyone else did. She wasn’t just pretty. She was fun, outgoing, popular and got along with everyone. Everything I wanted to be, she was. Instead of jealousy, I developed a crush on her. It was easy enough to get close to her since we lived across the street from each other. She was friendly and open with all the kids in the neighbourhood.
I forced things at the beginning, trying to make her notice me, but when she did, we got close. As close as two kids who walked together to school and back could be. She would talk about anything and everything, and I would listen. That was enough for me to get my kicks. Walking with her, being by her side, made me think that I had an advantage no one else had. I thought I got to hear Tammy secrets no one else got to hear.
But she had a secret no one knew about. Not even me. Jed Smith. Her first-ever boyfriend. A fifteen-year-old trailer hick, but Tammy loved the boots off that kid. I never knew why she didn’t tell anyone, even me. It was Tammy’s dirty secret. We all found out, one day at school when Jed turned up to walk Tammy home. He replaced me.
She didn’t see it that way. She even asked me to walk with them. I always made up an excuse, until she stopped asking me.
The shock of finding out the girl I had a big crush on liked someone else, kissed someone else, had her hand held by someone else, was devastating. So, I decided to keep myself away from her. I avoided her because the pain of knowing I had no chance with her was hard to stomach.
She watched me.
“Well, you’ve gone quiet.”
“I was just thinking about stuff.”
She put her finger up in the air.
“Do you hear that?”
We slowed our pace. We were nearing Felicity’s house. There was a lonesome ‘wooo’ that got carried to us through the air. I got excited.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about.”
She started running towards the corner of the road that led up to the cul-de-sac.
Felicity Creak. I forgot how much I despised that girl and how much I loved her barbecue parties.
Tammy rang the doorbell. I caught up with her. We smiled at each other while we waited for the door to open. A small blonde girl opened the door and I recognised her wide smile immediately. Annamae Adams. Inside I got a glimpse of a few other people I had known in high school. There was trashy country music playing in the background.
“Hi, you guys!” she said.
“Annamae, girl, you look gorgeous. How in the hell are you?” Tammy said.
“Could be better, but this is the best I could do.”
They giggled and her eyes moved in my direction.
“Oh, hold on, Drew?”
“In the flesh.”
“Haven’t seen you since prom.”
We stood staring at one another, waiting for the other to say more, but nothing followed.
“Anyway, come in, come in.”
The atmosphere inside was familiar. The house had retained its rustic charm with the old dark wooden beams over the off-white walls.
Tammy walked in confidently and picked up the first beer cup she saw. It was a small gathering. I couldn’t see more than eight people in the room. Tammy and I had added up to ten. Some of the people I didn’t know very well but five of them I knew. Beau Johnson, Holt Curley, Dixie Powell, Annamae Adams and Felicity Creak were what seemed to be left of a big friend group from high school times. The fun group. The wild ones who threw outrageous parties with beer kegs.
Beau and Holt stood straight and tall, with checked shirts and blue jeans. The girls looked girly, with their hair down.
The girls squealed when they saw Tammy heading their way. They looked her up and down and I could see a flash of true jealousy in Dixie’s eyes as she looked at Tammy’s small waist in the black dress.
I walked to a table that was pushed against the living room wall. The cups on the table were all filled with some sort of beer. I picked one up and sipped it. It wasn’t bad.
Holt had acknowledged my presence and walked over. I turned around and was greeted by his wide crooked smile. Beau sipped on his beer in the corner, watching us.
“Hi, Holt. It’s good to see you.”
“Surprised to see you here.”
I don’t doubt that. The smile didn’t disappear, and I was starting to think it wasn’t a welcoming smile, it was somewhat mocking.
“Yeah, I’m visiting. Came to see my folks, you know.”
I took another sip of beer.
“Isn’t it, like, the middle of the college semester?”
Oh, I realised that’s what his smug face, puffed-up chest and demeaning tone were about.
“If you’re asking if I dropped out of college, the answer is no, Holt.”
His shoulders deflated a little.
“I just took some time off, like I said, to come and see my parents. I haven’t really seen them in over a year.”
His indignation returned.
“Does your dad still beat up your mom?”
Behind him, I could see Beau trying to hold back his smile while he stared at me. I sighed.
“Leave Drew alone, Holt.”
Dixie walked over.
“Hi, it’s so nice to see you.”
She put her arm around me and squeezed me tightly. Holt gulped beer and looked at her ass. Dixie pulled out of the hug, her blue eyes warmly took in my appearance.
“You look good.”
“Thanks, Dixie. You look good too.”
She waved her hand in front of her face, trying to brush away the compliment.
“Pff, I so do not.”
She giggled. Holt’s eyes still on her ass.
“How’ve you been?”
She put down her empty cup and picked up another.
“Drew was saying college sucks.” Holt said.
I looked at her.
Dixie shook her head.
“C’mon, Drew, let’s go outside and have a little catch-up.”
She gave Holt a scornful look. We walked past Beau on our way through the living room. I didn’t bother to look his way. I looked back and saw Tammy talking to Felicity and two guys.
We walked out onto the back porch. There was a barbeque and a small plastic table that had been moved out onto the grass. I hoped someone was going to get it going. I was hungry for some good Creak barbecue.
On the deck of the porch, there were the four wicker chairs I remembered. I sat in one and Dixie took the one across from me. She rested her cup on another chair.
“I don’t remember Holt and Beau being such good friends.” I said.
“Oh, don’t even get me started. They are so annoying now. They are like tight buddies or something. They’re both so full of shit. They can’t go a day without picking on someone.”
“I’ve noticed. What the hell happened, they used to be nice.”
“Yeah, well, since Beau’s sister got married and left their shitty home, he’s been pretty mean, and Holt is just an idiot and tags along. But tell me about college, how is it?”
“It’s, you know, fun until it isn’t.”
Her eyebrows sprang up.
“Did you drop out?”
Why did everyone think I dropped out?
“No. Just home to see my parents, you know how it is.”
“Well, I get to see mine every day, so I don’t know.”
I laughed nervously. I wiped my sweaty palms on my thighs.
The door behind opened and Tammy came out onto the porch. Dixie sat up and flicked her long blonde hair back. Tammy was holding a crudely rolled joint between her fingers.
“Here, Drew, thought you might want this.”
Dixie puckered her lips. I took the joint from her fingers.
“I don’t have a lighter.”
“Oh, here, I have two.”
She gave me a faded small blue lighter from her jacket pocket. When she started walking back to the door, I called out to her:
“Do you want to stay and have some?”
From the corner of my eye, I saw Dixie shoot me a look. Tammy caught her.
“Oh, no. I have another one just for myself.”
“Is it that shit noodle-leggin’ stuff you gave me before?”
I took the joint up to my nose and sniffed it.
“No, this one is smooth. You’ll like this one.”
She winked, spun around on her heels, and left me with Dixie.
“I’ll have some.”
She was eager, leaning over from her chair. My eyes narrowed. She smiled and revealed her teeth gap. Dixie looked prettier than I remembered. She used to always hide her face with bangs and pushed her ginger hair over her face, but now she was flicking it back and showing off her round plump cheeks and freckles.
I lit the end of the joint and took the first drag. I passed it to her and watched her inhale a big mouthful of smoke. Some of it seeped out but she caught it and sucked it back in, all the way down to her lungs. We exhaled at the same time.
“Tammy always brings around the good stuff.” she said.
She passed it back to me.
“What have you been doing for the past year and a half, then?” I asked.
“Waitressing down at Mirtle’n’Pie.”
“You work at Mirtle’s?”
“The tips are quite good on some days. Helped me move out of my parent’s place. I ain’t complaining.”
“I worked at a lousy Dunkin Donuts for a while to make some money. Don’t beat Mirtle’s pies though.”
She laughed and her hand wandered up to her neck and down to her collar bone. Her fingers hooked around a thin golden chain then came down to touch a small cross pendant. Below the cross, the top half of her chest was tantalisingly bare. I averted my eyes, but she saw me looking.
“Are you seeing anyone?”
She wagged the cross left and right on the chain.
I placed the joint in my mouth and took a deep inhale, passed it to her and exhaled. I was faded. The sun was setting. The muffled chatter and country music made me glad we were outside in the light sweet breeze and colourful shadows of the sunset.
“Like dating?” I said.
“Not for a while.”
“How long are you going to be in Caleigh for?”
“Couple more months. Then I’ll probably head back out.”
“So are you and Tammy, like, you know.”
I tilted my head to one side, I frowned. I didn’t know.
“C’mon, Drew, you know what I mean.”
“The fuck I know what you’re trying to say, Dix.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“I thought you liked it.”
“Not until Beau and Holt started poking fun. Don’t change the subject. You and Tammy.”
I stretched my arm to grab the joint from her fingers. It was going off. She moved her hand away, I sighed and fell back into the wicker.
“You’re pathetic, you know.”
I inhaled sharply and looked away. I grabbed my beer cup and took two big gulps to soothe my dry mouth. Her eyes watched my every move. Like a snake hunting a mouse.
“Why am I pathetic, Dixie?”
“You like her.”
I growled gently. She sniggered and finally took a toke.
“It’s not that simple.” I said.
She seized the moment to speak her mind sincerely and unfiltered. Puffs of smoke rolled out of her nose and lips as she spoke.
“It’s not complicated at all. I personally don’t know what you see in her, but you guys have been hanging around each other for years, just get in there already. Or have you?”
Her confidence was intriguing. I regarded her. Dixie used to be tucked away in a shell made out of layers and layers of tightly fit bricks. She watched. She was there, at the parties, drinking, smoking, rarely smiling, always saying no to dancing, watching. She did so much watching, I guess she noticed me watching Tammy. Lusting for Tammy.
“Why do you think I even want to get in there?”
“I saw the way you always looked at her. It’s so darn obvious. You still do it. You did it when she came outside to give you this.”
She waved the joint around.
“It’s just not the right time.”
“Now is the right time! What kind of sign do you need to convince you of it?”
“Did you go and see Tammy first thing?”
“What do you mean?”
“When you got to Caleigh, did you call her?”
“Did you just go and see her?”
“I really don’t know what more you need.”
“Because I went to see her? That’s supposed to be some sort of ‘sign’?”
“You must be thick. Thicker than rubber.”
“I don’t know.”
“I do. You didn’t show up at my house first thing. Now, why’d you think that is?”
I couldn’t bring myself to say a word.
“If I still had the hots for someone from high school, they’d be the first person I’d go to see too. Especially after so long.”
“Tammy and I were friends. That’s all. And she lives across the street.”
“You weren’t chain links.”
“You have the same common friends.”
“Well yeah, you, Annamae, Holt and Beau. Felicity on a good day.”
“Like I said, you weren’t rushing to knock on my door.”
She wasn’t wrong.
“Have you told her how you feel?”
“Are you going to?”
“What’s the point? It’s not like I’ll be around much longer.”
“Well make the most of what you got.”
“Christ, Dixie. I don’t know about that.”
“I’m just saying. Plus, it’s hard to believe she doesn’t know there’s something there. She’s either oblivious or she’s blowing you off. But I don’t know, this whole college thing is definitely a turn-on. I think tonight might just be your chance and I think you should take it.”
She took a sip of her beer. A guy came out of the house. He sniffed around and looked our way.
“Alright.” he said and shuffled over “Pixie Dixie, can I have some of that?”
She handed him the rest. He took it happily and made his way down to the barbecue. He smoked it while he got busy trying to get the fire going.
I turned to her.
Her shoulders came up in a little shrug. She rolled her eyes.
“I cut my hair in a pixie cut about a year ago.”
“That’s Josh, Felicity’s boyfriend. Actually no, he’s her fiancée. They got engaged like a week ago. That’s kinda what this party is for, I guess. To celebrate them?”
“Oh. I did not know that. I’ll have to say congratulations to her when I get the chance.”
I looked over at Josh. He already had a decent fire rumbling in the barbecue. The end of the joint he took from Dixie, he tossed into the flames. He looked like a regular guy. Short messy hair, a smooth broad forehead, lazy downturned brown eyes and a square manly jawline. He was svelte but didn’t look like the type who worked out. His demeanour, even while tending the barbecue, was chilled out. Overall, he looked like a nice guy.
I wondered how he decided to get engaged to Felicity. She was one of the most intense people I knew. She was loud, obnoxious and the way I remember her at her best was loose and all around batshit crazy. I caught a quick glimpse of her when I came in and I didn’t notice much physical change. She was the same bony body, dry frizzy hair, wide-mouthed, boring-looking girl I knew in high school.
She always used to hold her cup with two fingers by the brim, instead of the normal way. It was like she was hoping the cup would fall out of her hand and cause a mess, just so she could have all eyes on her even for a brief second. ‘Oops, clumsy me’ she would always say, obviously her clumsiness was carefully crafted.
I bet she got engaged using the same premeditated manipulation and scheming. What a petty bitch.
“How long have they been together then?”
I sipped the last drop of beer from the cup.
“About a year, I think.” she leaned in “He’s really nice, but you know, he actually is Mariah’s baby daddy.”
She seemed proud of giving me that information.
“Tammy told me Mariah had a boy.”
“Yeah, she did. He’s a funny-looking kid.”
She sat back in her chair.
“Yeah, she said that too. What’s wrong with it?”
“The head was bigger than its body and the face was all scrunched up. Nasty business. They’re hoping he grows up normal. I doubt it. Kid’s ugly.”
She snorted a pig-like laugh.
“Josh cheated on Felicity with Mariah. Got her knocked up. Felt guilty when Mariah had the kid and proposed to Felicity. Felicity thinks Mariah’s kid is a punishment for seducing her man.”
I started laughing. Dixie was taken aback by my reaction but joined in. Josh heard us.
“What you two laughing about over there?”
“None of your business.” she said.
“Alright, alright, but if you don’t tell me. You ain’t getting any hot dogs.”
“We’re willing to take the risk.”
He didn’t reply. Dixie and I stared into each other’s eyes. Her smile faded slightly.
“It’s nice to see you, Drew.”
I smiled. She looked past my shoulder.
“The sky looks amazing.”
The sun had completely set and the purple in the sky deepened.
The door burst open, and Felicity walked out, she bounced down the porch. She left the door open. The chatter, laughter and music poured out. Her eyes scrutinised the fire that Josh was working on. She looked him up and down and doubled back into the house. Dixie let out a snort.
“She’s such a bitch.”
I laughed. She was right.
One by one, people started coming outside. The barbecue was being fired up with hot dogs. Felicity turned on the cheap garden lights she put up especially for the get-together. The music changed and so did the atmosphere. Little groups of people huddled around each other, roared with laughter, chugged beer and smoked various funky shit. There was a rich aerial concoction of weed, tobacco and crack in the air. Some people had grabbed a few buns and put together hot dogs squirted with mustard and ketchup. The munchies got to me eventually, and I had a couple of hot dogs. I had downed a serious amount of beer while I lingered around Dixie. Holt and Beau came to poke some more fun at us, but she sent them away quickly.
I was getting bored of Dixie’s company. The conversation had died down and we just sat and watched everyone else. I saw Tammy and Annamae laughing in a corner of the garden. Tammy’s face was lit by the garden lights. She looked so beautiful.
I was about to get up and join them, when Tammy walked away from Annamae, past Beau and Holt, Josh gorging down a hot dog, up the porch and into the house. She didn’t glance my way.
What Dixie said earlier got me thinking. That and the alcohol nudging me. I didn’t have anything to lose. I stood up.
“Are you leaving me?” Dixie said.
She put on a sad face.
“I want to go talk to Tammy while I can still put words together.”
“Get in on that, partner.”
The encouragement was genuine. I gave her a last nod and left her to enjoy her people watching. I made my way into the house. She wasn’t in the living room, but Felicity was. She was pouring beer into cups. I approached her.
Her sour eyes sprung up and she gave a wide smile. Her voice was unnecessarily loud.
“Thank you. Oh my god, Drew, how nice of you! Isn’t Josh the best?”
She didn’t even look at me while she spoke. I watched her pour the beer.
“I know, right? Did you have a hot dog yet? Josh is so good at making them.”
Her tone was dead. There was no excitement about Josh being as great as she said he was.
“Hey, did you happen to see Tammy?”
Her eyes finally turned and there was a wild twinkle in them. Her lips pressed each other into a puckered smile.
“She went to the bathroom.”
I didn’t have time for her bullshit.
I shuffled past her and went upstairs. Spending a lot of time there as a senior, had its perks. I knew the layout of the house as well as my own house. I slowly walked down the corridor leading to the bathroom at the end. The door was closed. There was no one waiting. It was just me. I leaned against the wall. My breath was hot and heavy. I blew a puff into my hand and smelt it. It smelt like beer.
A muffled flush, the fossette ran briefly and the door opened. Tammy shimmied her dress down. She leaned into the door frame.
“Hey. Were you waiting? You can go in.”
I was waiting for you.
“I don’t actually need to go.”
She looked around.
“Why the hell are you all the way up here then?”
“Are you having a good time?”
“Yeah, it’s not too bad. I had a lot of beer though and some crack.”
She leaned on the wall across from me. Her body drooped. Her eyelids were heavy.
“Are you having a good time?”
There was a lull. Music played downstairs. The toilet was still pumping water into its tank.
“Did you want to tell me something?”
I did. I had so much to tell you. Years of words that were never said. No time was the right time to tell you.
This was the chance, and I had to take. I had lived with my crush on Tammy for many years. There were times when I would think of her every night before falling asleep. It was something that had to be said. I wanted her to know, I needed her to know.
“Look, I’ve had a crush on you since we were like thirteen.”
She paused. There was no surprise in her eyes.
“Is that what you wanted to tell me?”
I pushed myself off the wall, reached, put my arm around her waist and pulled myself closer to her. She smelt strongly of beer and hot dogs. She looked as beautiful as I remembered her in high school, out on the stage winning prom queen in her pink mermaid dress.
“So, like, what? You like me?”
“Yeah, why is that hard to believe?”
“Well, I dunno, just is.”
She looked me up and down. She smiled.
“You ain’t too bad looking.”
“Plus, I’m smart.”
“I guess you are.”
“Can I kiss you?”
She pushed away from me, laughing.
“I’m being serious!”
She started walking down the corridor. She held steady onto the wall as she went.
“You. Are. Crazy.”
“Why? Why am I crazy, Tammy? I’ve liked you for years. Even now I like you. What’s so crazy about that?”
She stopped and turned around. She was next to the door of one of the bedrooms.
“Well, are you coming or what?”
It took me a while to realise that she was beckoning me into the room. Was it that easy? All I had to do was tell her and ask for it and I was going to get it? I shook my head and followed her into the bedroom. The lights were on. She closed the door behind me and went to sit on the bed.
The bed was high. Double layered with a softer mattress topper. Old Creaks slept there usually. They weren’t there so it was ours to use for the night.
“What’s happening?” I said.
“You said you wanted to kiss me, so here we are. I mean, we could do more than just kiss.”
“Do you think Felicity would be okay with us being in here?”
“Fuck Felicity.” she said.
“I thought you didn’t want… this. I’ve been chasing you around since we were kids. Why now?” I said.
“Just in the mood, is all. I do have a condition though.”
I approached her and sat on the bed. It was unreal. The girl I had dreamt about and masturbated to countless times was finally going to be mine.
I rested my hand on her thigh.
“You have to get high with me.”
“I’m already high, Tammy.”
“No, I mean you have to smoke crack with me.”
“Tammy, you know I don’t want to do that stuff. It smells like shit.”
“It smells like shit, but you feel like the shit after you smoke it. Trust me!”
A small price to pay.
“C’mon, it’s not that bad, plus the sex will be amazing. You won’t believe it.”
I shook my head.
“You’ll love it, I promise. It’s going to feel so good. Do it for me.”
Her eyes, her lips, inviting me. I couldn’t refuse her.
She took a pipe out of her jacket.
It was only going to be once and it was for a good reason, I thought. I would hit it, enjoy the sex and just forget I ever smoked that shit. Tammy was hot and I craved her. I wanted to be between her thighs so badly. Smoking crack was a small price to pay.
She then took out a lighter, and a clump of yellow crystals. She sat on the bed, closer to me and shoved a small piece into the pipe. She slipped the pipe between her dry cracked lips and lit it. She inhaled the smoke and the pungent smell surrounded us. I scrunched my face as the smell floated around the room. She passed me the pipe and the lighter.
I exhaled sharply, then placed the pipe between my lips.
“It’s the same as taking a hit from a bong.”
I sparked the lighter, brought it close to the bowl and inhaled. The smoke-filled my mouth, slithered down my throat and made its way to my lungs. It was rapid. The high came like an avalanche down on my mind and my whole body. It was bliss.
“Woah” I let out as I slipped the pipe away from my lips.
“Yeah, I know.”
I started giggling like a mad person. Tammy joined me. She leaned in and kissed me, her lips felt rough and dry. I dropped the pipe and the lighter on the floor.
My hands gravitated towards her body. Touching Tammy felt so good. Kissing her felt so satisfying. The build-up that had happened for years in my head, led to this moment. This was everything. I squeezed her closer to me. Our tongues stroked each other. It felt like licking strawberry ice cream on a hot summer day. Her hands cupped my face. My hands were eager. I slipped my left hand under her dress. She wore a spongy bra. I bypassed it, pushed my hand against her breast and pinched her nipple. She moaned into my mouth.
Her skin felt good against mine. Like soft velvet. I used my hands to push her dress up and let it droop over her shoulders. I took her bra off. Her hands wandered under my t-shirt. I moaned as her fingers explored my chest. She tugged at my shirt and we had to push away so she could take it off completely. I took the opportunity to take the dress off. Our clothes flew to the floor. She dragged me to the middle of the bed and continued to kiss me. Her lips worked away against mine, our tongues tangoed furiously to music only I could hear. Her hands worked to drive my jeans down, my hands climbed into her hair.
I pushed her down into the bed. Pulled off her underwear. I inhaled the musty smell that wafted as she spread her legs. I went to kiss her. Slipped two fingers inside her. My fingers worked in and out. Her moans got louder and harder as she couldn’t hold them back anymore.
I was getting lost in it all. I thought about that very moment so many times, it was hard to believe I was bringing Tammy to climax. Me. I was finally getting it.
And I was getting it good.
My eyelids battered open. I was alone in the dark bedroom. Tammy wasn’t there.
When did I fall asleep? My head was a beating drum, each boom pounded at my temples. Fragments came back to me. Tammy’s lips against mine. The warmth of her inside.
I was naked on the bed. The whole house was quiet. Dead. There was no music, no chatter. Did I pass out after the sex?
I rummaged for my clothes on the floor. My phone fell out of my jeans pocket onto the floor and lit up. I had been out for five hours.
I crammed my legs into my jeans and slipped my t-shirt back on. I was dizzy and heavy. I creeped out of the room, into the dark corridor and slowly down the stairs. The garden lights were still lit. It was cracking into dawn.
“What are you still doing here?”
Annamae’s voice made me jump. She was sitting on the living room carpet, in the dark, by the legs of the beer cup table. I squinted and saw her outline.
“I fell asleep.”
My voice was weak and hoarse. My mouth was dry and I was feeling the full effect of a bitching hangover.
“You fell asleep upstairs?”
My eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room. She was holding a beer cup between her raised knees.
“Almost everyone’s left. There’s only me, Dixie, Beau and Holt around.”
I couldn’t see very well but I thought she rolled her eyes.
“Felicity and Josh are upstairs, but they’re here too, I guess.”
So, Tammy went home without me. She ditched me. The first thought that came into my mind was that she was ashamed of what we had done. Maybe. Either way, I was glad she wasn’t there when I woke up. I was ashamed of what I did. I did crack just so I could ‘get in there’.
I walked over to the table, picked up some cups and swirled them around until I found some beer to drink.
“Are you going to stick around?” I asked Annamae, looking at the top of her head.
She looked up and gave a lazy nod.
“Someone’s gotta clean up. It’s always been me who does the clean-up. None of these sons of bitches care.”
She raised the cup to her lips. She was still very drunk. Every word that was coming out of her was slurred.
It was time to go home and get in bed. Rot away with my pounding heartache.
“I’m going to go. It was nice seeing you, Mae. I’ll see you soon. I’ll be around town for a while.”
“Sure. I mean, the season is just starting, ain’t it. Congratulations to me.”
She raised the cup. I waved an awkward goodbye and was out the door.
The morning air bit at my nose. I sluggishly started back home. I tucked my hands deep into my pockets and kept my head down as I walked. It was quiet. That kind of cemetery quiet. My footsteps echoed.
I couldn’t help but wonder if Tammy remembered any of it. We were both very drunk and high. One more than the other. My memory of it all was a little hazy, a puzzle I was afraid of putting together. The sensations I remembered though. That was going to stick with me. Maybe she didn’t enjoy any of it. Moaning doesn’t mean shit, right?
What was I thinking? I had stirred a pot I had been afraid of getting anywhere close to for years. I didn’t want to get burned. Yet, there I was. Returning home on my own. With third-degree burns. This was one less thing I wanted to worry about. I had fucked it all up. I should have been satisfied with just being around her. That’s what kept us afloat. Our friendship. That’s what kept me in her orbit. Things would get awkward, I was sure of it. It was all fucked.
I was sweating and my heartbeat was elevated. I was going downhill. I slowed down. I wasn’t feeling too well. The hangover was hitting me hard. The corner to my house was closing in. I pushed myself. I just wanted to get to my room, my bed. Get under the covers. Disappear.
It was too early, or should I say, late, for my dad to still be awake. Easy creep back in, up to my room and into bed. Sleep it all off for as long as possible. Hoping the bed would swallow me into Hell, where I deserved to be.
I walked up to our front door. It was quiet inside. No arguing, no yelling or banging around the kitchen. I hoped both of my parents were asleep, so I could slip in unnoticed and just lock myself away.
The sun was climbing up in the sky. Birds chirped, hidden between branches of the driveway trees. I unlocked the door with the spare key, tucked it back and walked in. I slowly closed the door behind me. The lights were off, but in the dim morning light I could make out my mom’s figure sitting in the la-z-boy.
“Mom?” I whispered.
My head came down and I tried to get a better look at her.
“Are you sleeping?”
I took a cautious step towards her and heard her sigh. I turned the lights on.
She was sat, covered with a huge splotch of blood on her shirt and pants. One of her eyes was shut and swollen. In her hand, she held the biggest kitchen knife we owned. The blood on the tip of the knife was hardened. There was a trail on the carpet and floor, that she had probably left when she walked to sit in the chair. I followed it and it led my gaze to the body of my dad lying flat, face down in the kitchen, in a pool of his blood.
I didn’t scream. I didn’t say anything. I turned back to look at my mom and she closed her other eye. I stared at her small face, trying desperately to understand what I had walked into. Between the pounding hangover and sweating, I didn’t accept it.
My legs guided me to his body. The blood had pooled under the table and around him. No. I pushed the table with the two other chairs away. The screech echoed. But it wasn’t louder than the beat of my heart. I tried my best to avoid stepping into the blood. My arm stretched out to turn him over, I stopped. I was crouched over his body, my hand hovering inches away, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t touch him. I didn’t want to. The thought of seeing his dead eyes look back at me, terrified me to the core.
I withdrew my hand. As if I had just been stung, I cradled it to my chest. I rubbed it with my other hand. In my attempt to back away, I bumped into one of the chairs and let out a yelp.
I stumbled back onto the living room rug, feet away from my mom. I sat on the floor and cupped my head in my hands.
My mind was empty. I desperately wanted to come up with something. Call the police? Yes, call the police. Call the police. Was floating within my conscious. But what would calling the police help us with?
She had killed him, and I wasn’t there to stop her. I wasn’t there to protect her from him. I was off, getting drunk, high, having sex. She would be taken away, thrown in prison. She didn’t deserve that. She was the last person to deserve to go to prison. He tormented her for years. She shouldn’t to be punished for this.
Why did I go? I should have stayed home. We all should have talked about it. I desperately wanted to talk and now I couldn’t say a word. Not to my mom, not to the body that was my dead dad.
I sat like that for a long time. Sweating. Rambling inside my head. Trying to think of the best way to fix it. My hands started shaking the more I thought about it. But I had to do something. Sitting on the living room floor and being pathetic was not going to cut it.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and called Tammy. The tone rang once, twice and on the third one I was about to hang up when I heard her sweet voice:
“Hey, Drew, sorry I left you at Felicity’s, I”
I wished that’s what I was calling her about.
My voice was small and shaky.
“Hey, are you alright? You sound weird. Are you okay, are you getting withdrawals from the crack?”
“Are you at home?”
“Can you come over?”
“Are you okay, did something happen?”
“Please, just come over.”
Her tone was cautious, but I could sense the panic in it.
“Okay, I’ll be right over.”
I hung up and slipped the phone back into my pocket. I looked at my mom. She was not there. Her gaze was unfocused and staring out godknowswhere. One eye stare.
I stood up, despite my legs wobbling around like there was an earthquake happening. I had to go outside and meet Tammy. I couldn’t just let her walk in and see him lying there on the floor. I couldn’t look at his body on my way out. Every inch of me was shaking but inside I felt strangely calm. I felt like I finally had some control back. Calling Tammy over and not the police felt like the right thing to do. We could both figure out what to do. Together.
Frantically, I chewed on my nails as I waited outside for her. The more I waited the more I regretted my decision. Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to call her.
I heard the creak of her door. She was putting on a zipped hoodie while the door banged shut behind her. She crossed the road. Her eyes carefully analysed me.
“Are you okay? Are you freaking out because of the, you know” when she got closer, she whispered it “crack?”
I smelt the beer from last night on her breath. I shook my head. I wished it was just that.
She gave a brief look towards the house.
“Something happened, but it’s okay. I shouldn’t have called you. It’s okay. You can go back.”
She wrapped the hoodie closer and leaned her head in.
“Is your ma okay? Did your dad do something to her?”
She lowered her voice. I grabbed her hand. I couldn’t keep it to myself.
“It wasn’t her fault, she had to. I don’t know what to do. I’m too freaked out to call the police…”
I thought I had control over myself, but I didn’t. I couldn’t get all the words out before streams of tears ran down my cheeks. I sobbed. She squeezed my hand briefly, then let go as she walked past me and pushed the door in. My arms flopped to my side. I stood there sobbing helplessly. She was silent. Her eyes probably saw my mom first, like I did, she probably saw the knife, followed the bloody trail and looked to her right into the kitchen and saw his body.
I closed my eyes and let the tears flow.
Her arms were around me, not embracing me but shaking me.
“Drew, hey, look at me.”
I slowly opened my eyes and through the blurry veil tried to find her brown eyes.
“Did you call the police?”
I shook my head.
“It’s okay, we can fix this, okay. Let’s go back inside and we can think of what to do. Okay?”
She went around me and gently spun my jittery body towards the door. With a small push, she guided me back in. We walked like that to the couch next to my mom’s la-z-boy. She was still tightly holding the knife. Tammy nudged me to sit on the sofa. She stared at my mom.
“How long has she been like that?”
“I don’t know. I found her like that.”
Tammy bent over in front of her, but there was nothing there. My mom had checked out.
“Should we call the police?” I said.
She tilted her head to one side, still staring at my mom.
“I don’t think we should.”
“What are we going to do, then?”
I wiped the tear tracks from my cheeks.
She turned and looked at my dad’s body. She took her phone out.
“What are you doing?”
She put her hand out to stop me from getting up. Whoever she was calling answered. On the second ring, they answered. She cut right to the chase.
“I need you to not ask me any questions right now. But remember that favour you owed me?” the other person spoke briefly “I need help with something. How fast can you get to where I live? Oh, with a truck, van or a car or something. No, don’t bring anyone else. Just you. Call me when you get here.”
She hung up and looked at me.
“We’re going to have to wrap him in something.”
My eyes opened as wide as they could. I was still in shock. I had harboured feelings of hate for the man but wrapping his body up like a damn burrito, with the intention of dumping him somewhere was not something I could rationalise with.
“I’m calling the police.”
I went for my phone, but she slapped my hand. It didn’t hurt. Nothing hurt anymore. I was numb.
“Look at your mom, Drew!”
I glanced over. She was still clutching the bloody knife to her chest. Lifeless eye.
“She’s suffered enough. Do you want her to go to prison for something she doesn’t deserve to go to fucking prison for?”
Tears started running down my face again. She echoed my thoughts. She let go of my hand.
“I didn’t think so.”
She went and made sure that the kitchen curtains were shut tight, came back into the living room then sat with me on the couch.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. We need some sheets to roll him over on and wrap him in. We’re gonna push away that corner of carpet that’s in the way between the kitchen and the door. So, we can drag him next to the door.”
“Why does it sound like you’ve done this before?”
Her voice went cold and hollow.
“I haven’t, alright. I watched it get done.”
“What the fuck, Tammy.” I whispered.
“Remember when my mom dated Jave?”
“The pimp guy? I remember him, yeah.”
“He took me out on a drive once. My mom said he’d be taking me downtown to get ice cream. On the way there, he got a call from one of his girls. So, we had a little detour. We went to this guy’s trailer. The guy tried to strangle the girl and she ended up slitting his throat. They both wrapped him up in all the towels and bedsheets like a ham, while I watched the whole thing.”
“Then they shoved him in the back of his car and we went and got ice cream.”
She looked down at the floor.
“I was twelve, I think.”
“That’s fucked up. I’m sorry, Tammy.”
I took her hand. Her eyes had lost their shine while she told the story, as I squeezed my fingers between hers, it came back. Not as bright as it usually was, but it was there.
“We have to wrap him. We need all the towels and sheets we can get. They’ll probably get stained with the blood. Do you think you could do it?”
“Drew, we have to move. The longer we wait around, the worst it’ll get. You go and get all the towels you can find, and I’ll go strip the beds.”
“I can’t, Tammy.”
My eyes filled with tears again. She glanced at my mom then sprang up and went to grab all the bedsheets she could get her hands on. I didn’t move. My mom was so silent. Her eye was slowly blinking but looking at nothing. I wanted her to say ‘No, Drew. This was a bad idea. We can’t do that. Let’s call the police.’ But she was frozen in place. I couldn’t let anything happen to her. She was so fragile.
I took all the towels in the house and brought them into the living room. There was a total of seven long-length towels, five medium ones and some kitchen towels. Tammy had brought down the sheets she stripped from my parents’ bed and mine. I watched her, as she dumped them all next to the edge of the blood pool.
She took the big sheet and spread it out.
“We’ll put him on this and then put the towels around that and then wrap him in your sheets.”
Her calm voice made it all sound easy. Simple and straightforward. Our eyes met and she let out a big sigh. She smiled. Everything was going to be okay.
I walked around the table and grabbed his feet. I didn’t want to be anywhere near his face. I wasn’t taking any chances.
I gripped his ankles and Tammy grabbed his wrists.
“I just… don’t flip him over. I don’t want to see his face.”
“You ready?” she said.
I was never going to be ready. We hoisted him with all our power, barely lifting him an inch off the ground. We grunted as we slowly walked him onto the sheet. I stepped through the blood. The whole time I didn’t look directly down at his body. I kept my eyes away, on the wall. Even when we dropped him in the middle of the sheet, I couldn’t look.
Tammy threw some towels on top and wrapped him in the bedsheets. She didn’t ask me to help her. I looked at the wall, biting my lip and wiping my sweaty hands on my jeans. The air smelt of rust, of blood, of my dad’s blood. I was too scared to move.
She threw me a big towel.
It flew onto the kitchen table.
“You’ll need that to help with cleaning the blood.”
“Do you have a bucket?”
“Good. We’re gonna need a lot of bleach to get that cleaned up.”
His body was wrapped up tight. The way I’d seen my mom wrap up ham in string. Firm. Secure.
She wiped her forehead. Her hands were stained with crusty blood.
“I’m going to wash up a bit.”
She went and I stayed, staring at the crudely wrapped sheets. Tracks of sweat were coming down my face. What were we doing?
She came back into the living room.
“Tammy, we can’t do this.” I said ghostly.
“We can’t do this.” I said louder.
She took a step closer. Her feet stopped by his head.
“We have to put him back.”
My voice was pleading. I didn’t want to do it anymore. It wasn’t a good idea.
She spread her arms wide trying to calm me. Palms down. Her voice soft.
“Drew, we can’t do that, okay. We already moved him. We’re halfway there. We’ll get him out of here, clean the blood away and everything will be fine.”
No no no no. Everything was not going to be fine. My dad was dead. My mom killed my dad and now he was dead. And we wrapped him up. We wrapped him up and some guy was going to go and dump him fuck knows where. No. This was not going to be fine. This was not fine.
“Drew, hey listen to me…”
I couldn’t listen to her. My heart was racing, and my breath was wheezing in and out. My throat was closing in on me and my chest was collapsing inward. Tammy didn’t move. I was dying. I was fucking having a heart attack in the kitchen. My sneakers were covered in blood.
“Fuck. Drew, hey, c’mon. It’s going to be okay.”
I couldn’t breathe anymore. I was wheezing. My legs felt like soft butter. I leaned against the wall.
Her phone started ringing.
“Shit. Drew, he’s here. I gotta bring him over.”
I looked at her. I was suffocating. My heart was pounding.
“Fuck.” she said.
She picked up.
“I’m across the street at 14. Pull the car in here. I’ll meet you outside.”
She hung up. I was still wheezing against the wall, but my throat was starting to open.
“It’s going to be okay. Drew. Trust me, okay.”
She ran to the door, and I heard a car pull up. I was trying to calm down. I couldn’t freak out while another person was getting dragged into this whole mess. I was slowly steadying my breathing, my heart still raced. I had no control over that. The guy stepped out of the car, and she frantically said something to him. My eyes were on the door. She walked in.
Crackhead Mike showed up behind her. A pair of car keys on an eight-ball keychain dangled on his finger.
“He’s who you called?!”
“Drew, calm the fuck down. I know, but trust me, he’ll take care of it.”
My throat was closing back up again. No.
His eyes saw the bundle on the floor and then the puddle of blood I was standing in. He whistled.
“Good thing I brought Kennet’s truck.”
“So, are we good?”
He nodded still looking at the blood.
“Yeah, we are.”
He stepped in closer.
“We just need to get him in the truck outside and I’ll take care of it.”
It was bright outside. We couldn’t risk being seen.
“We can still call the cops.” I said breathing heavily.
“No, we can’t. You tampered with the body, kid. Now it’s even worse than before. You can’t say it was self-defence even if we put him back the way he was.”
“He’s right. The first thing the cops are gonna be asking is why no one called them when you first saw him. They probably won’t even ask any questions, they’ll just arrest us all.”
“How come you didn’t know about the self-defence thing? I thought you went to law school.”
“I was in shock, you fucking moron! I didn’t know what to do.”
“And the first thing you do is call her?”
“What else was I supposed to do?”
“We can’t. I won’t let you just take him. He’s my dad. You can’t just…”
“Look, are we doing this or not? I didn’t drive all the way out here for this shit, man.”
“I didn’t ask you to come, she did!”
“Yeah, but now I’m here.”
“Guys stop it!”
Tammy tried to get between us.
My blood was boiling. My heart was about to burst out of my chest, and I could barely breathe between words, but I shut up and so did he.
We all turned around. My mom finally spoke. She was looking at all three of us huddled around, arguing. Mike jumped when she spoke. When he saw her sitting on the couch clutching the knife, he whistled again.
Her voice did not shake or hesitate. She wanted him gone.
Mike pulled the car onto the lawn. As close as he could get it to the door. All three of us carried the bedsheet-wrapped body to the back of the truck. It was warm and the sun made the metal of the car sizzling to the touch. It faintly smelled like blooming flowers. Our foreheads shone with thin layers of sweat. Mike wiped his with the back of his hand.
He masked the bloodstained bundle with a sun cover he had in the back. Then turned around to look at me.
“I’ll get this done, kid, don’t worry.”
I didn’t doubt that.
“Drew, I’ll go with Mike. I want him to drop me off at B&G to pick up some cleaning cloths and bleach. I’ll walk back as fast as I can. I’ll help you clean the kitchen floor, the carpet and that knife. Don’t do anything stupid! I’ll be back in an hour.”
I didn’t say anything. I just stared at the two of them. Mike went around the truck and hopped in the driver’s seat. Tammy lingered and hugged me.
“Go to your ma. I’ll be right back.” she whispered.
She jumped in the passenger’s, and they drove off. I watched the car until I couldn’t see it anymore. And just like that he was gone, hauled away in the back of a truck.
I went in. My mom was pulling back the rug in the living room. The knife rested on the kitchen table. The blood on the blade and handle was dry. My dad’s blood.
I joined her, helping with stripping the rug back. We did it in silence. Synchronised. She didn’t have to tell me what to do next or how to do it.
We moved the clean chairs away and cleared the area that was to be bleached down. My shoes stacked on top of each other, by the edge of the puddle. The right heel riding the left.
When Tammy came back with two big jugs of bleach and brand-new cotton cloths, we had everything ready.
We cleaned the blood. We soaked the cloths up, wrung them into the bucket, wiped again, wrung them, threw the dirty water down the toilet, flushed it away and did it all again until there was a faint crusty stain left. Tammy poured bleach on the floor, and we all scrubbed in silence. The smell stung my eyes and the inside of my nose. I cried and used the stinging from the bleach as an excuse. My mom didn’t shed a single tear. She scrubbed away at the patch with a strong, sure hand.
We cleaned every drop, splash, and trace of blood. The knife, we dropped into the bucket to soak in bleach water. My mom’s clothes, the cotton cloths and anything that had blood on it, we crammed into a plastic bag, to set fire to them out in the backyard. We put the rug back the way it was. Left it to air dry.
The house looked undisturbed apart from the strong stench of bleach in the air and the knife soaking in the bucket under the kitchen table. And the silence. The lack of yelling, swearing, and trashing from my dad. He was gone. He was really gone. I was never going to see him ever again.
I sat down on the couch in the living room. Mom left us and went to take a shower. Tammy finally opened the curtains. She turned off the lights and came to sit with me on the couch.
“I’m sorry, Drew.”
She put her hand on mine.
“Where did he take him?” I asked.
“Where did Mike take him?”
“I don’t… I don’t know, Drew. He dropped me off at the store and left. I didn’t ask where he was planning to take… I’m sorry.”
I closed my eyes. It wasn’t her fault. She helped me. She helped us. She did more than I could do. I once again chose to be a coward and let someone else take the lead.
I opened my eyes and looked at her. Her eyes looked tired. Sad.
“Thank you, Tammy.”
She smiled. Her eyes remained sad.
Outside, the sun dimmed.
“Should we go out back and start the fire?”
We took the plastic bag out to the backyard. The old black bowl barbecue we had, was waiting in a corner of the house under a grimy canopy. There was a small bag of coals under the barbecue. I moved the sticky grill out of the way and poured some coal into the bowl. We got the fire going with some ripped paper from the side of the coal bag. We started dumping the cloths in one by one. My dad had a little petrol canister he would sometimes use to get the fire blazing. I poured some of it on the cloths and we watched them catch fire. The crimson stains glowed in the flames.
We burned every single piece. The fire engulfed everything we threw in. I dumped the sneakers in and poured more petrol. It was relaxing to watch it all burn away. It stunk of scorched bleach and thick smoke. But it wasn’t enough to erase the smell of copper that was stamped on the inside of my nostrils.
“You know” she started “this might sound a bit crazy but if there are things you want to get off your chest, you should write a letter.”
I looked at her. The reflection of the flames danced in her pupils. She looked at the fire like it was an old friend.
“A letter?” I said.
I turned my gaze on the flames.
“There were things I wanted to tell my dad, or my mom, or maybe even myself sometimes, you know. I’d just write it down and then tear it all up.” she paused “other times I’d burn it. I’d write it all and then burn it.”
“Did it help?”
“It kinda did. I still do it. No one will ever read them. But at least the words come out of you. They’re not trapped on the inside.”
I nodded. A letter, huh.
I tossed another rag in and squirted petrol on it.
“Why did Mike owe you such a big favour?”
I watched the flames spark, eating away at my mom’s shirt and a rag.
The fire crackled.
“We don’t have to talk about that. He just did.”
A lonesome spark flew from the barbecue bowl. It died out in the air, halfway from reaching the ground.
“Are you going to be okay?”
Probably not. Ever. I turned to look at her and gave a faint smile.
“Yeah. We should be.”
“I’m going to go. If you need anything, call me. And don’t worry, this is going to stay between us.”
“What about Mike?”
“Don’t worry about him. He won’t talk.”
She came closer and gave me a tight hug.
“I’ll see you soon.”
I watched her walk back into the house. I lingered outside to keep an eye on the fire. I wanted to make sure every fibre of cloth was burned to a crisp.
My mom joined me. We kept some distance between us. We didn’t speak. I had many questions but didn’t know which one to ask first.
Self-defence. The countless times my dad had hit my mom, she decided this time it would be the last one.
We had to adjust to living a life without my dad in the house. It all happened so fast. What were we going to do with all his clothes? Family pictures with him in them? Every piece of him he left behind?
The fire was dying down. There was only ash and coal at the bottom of the bowl. I left it alone.
End of Part I
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