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The Whiskey Wagon and the Wild Women

 

The young cadet that skipped town.

The young cadet that skipped town.

* For a brief explanation of this project please click here.

That hazy blurred photograph was all I had to go on. I’d come all the way up, deep into the Valley, onto that vague carpet of suburbia some hack town planner blindly kicked off into the distance, just to get this photograph. I hate it up here. Awful little fauxdobe terracotta topped building blocks as far as the eye can bear to see all lined up waiting for the Big One to come and spare them the shame of their own crass form. Inside these cubes lies a community that all suddenly decided to tune in, get fat, find God, and sit in front of the tube allowing their bodies to congeal and wilt, and their brains to pickle and stew. They want to prune their little lawns and protect them with obnoxious sprinklers that spray onto the sidewalk preventing you from passing. Like they’ve hired some huge drunken dick to piss through a sieve. Going into the San Fernando Valley was like wading up to your knees in the Mid West.

The photograph in question was an amateur portrait of some soldier. Some handsome young military buck who probably knocked up some young thing and left Pasadena under the mask of the evening, leaving his poor old lady behind to fend for herself. Part of me doesn’t blame him. I couldn’t allow myself to recede like a dying house cat into this tragic gorge, and the tone of voice on the message his old lady left me was pretty God damn irritating. Nasal. I can’t stand a nasal woman, particularly when she’s getting on my wick about something. But the other part of me says that you don’t sneak out like some piece of shit coward. You go out like a man, and take whatever scorn she throws at you on your chin.

She’d left a message around 2am last night. I was snuggly incubated by a near quart of some cheap blushed rye that had left a thick film on my tongue and rasp in my throat. I was out. I might’ve appeared dead from ten feet had it not been for the pungent scent of a good, hard second-hand drunk that filled the air. I woke up at 10:15. My mouth tasted like brined old leather and my head felt like it’d been tumble dried with an ashtray full of loose change. After months of little tastes here and there, the odd stumble and slur, there was now a solid case to convict me of falling haplessly from the wagon.

I saw the answer machine blinking its red light at me through a gap in my fingers. I rolled over and slapped the buttons hoping I didn’t hit delete again. Her nasal voice started up like a tiny little leaf blower. I’ll spare you the peas and carrots and get to the meat and potatoes. Her husband was gone and she needed someone to find him. She looked in the phonebook and that ad I told those pig fuckers to remove caught her eye. She called me crying, scared, and explained what she needed me to do.

So here we are. Driving back from her ghastly place with nothing to go on but this blurred image she left for me in an envelope under the plant pot on her porch. No sign of nothing else. I decided to stop in at the liquor store and buy another quart of that rye. I thought it best to go home at once, wonder at the blurred image of this young cadet while I throw out a towel, kick back and marinade in the petri at the base of this here bottle of sweet, sweet rye.

Ahhh, to be back.

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Descriptions – Part Three

You can find part two of this story here.

 

**

“So, you’ve got a skillet and a measuring cup. Anything else?” the lady asked me, looking over her little reading glasses at the receipt she was writing.

“No.”

“Okay, let’s call it $10” she said, smiling.

I smiled too.

***

He sat down on that old chair with his drink. He looked around the dark room. The outlines of things were all around him and frames hung on the wall. In that thick darkness they were just vague descriptions of some faces that could be recalled from memory. There was a single streak of light coming in from the crack in the drapes. Little speckles of dust floated in the light, making their way back to the carpet again. He took a big slow drink. The dust speckles whipped up and around with the path of his arm. He closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose as the oaky liquid sank into him, and the old damp scent that covered the room hung like a heavy leather cloak drying.

Even though he’d been here as long as he had, the scent of age was slightly transparent. The new paint smell now hid a few feet below the surface. Over the years it had drifted out of the little crack in the window, and slowly sank into the old carpet he laid over the varnished pine. Every time he stepped on that old carpet he could feel the hard wood beneath, and smell that old sour scent rising up, leaving the new paint trailing behind it. When he sat on the chair a plume of dust-speckled smoke being pushed up and around him, consuming his body. He would let himself sink into the chair and be embraced by the scent of use. He could faintly smell the people that sat in it before him. He could smell the rooms that it had been in before this one. And I think he could faintly smell himself. Something about those deep breaths said that he was in there, somewhere.

He sat forward in the chair and reached for the old lamp with the watercolor shade. He pulled the dainty little beaded string. Light burst around the room and brought detail to everything. The warm golden hue bathed the faces on the wall, pressing a white ball of light on the glass of the frames.

Noir shadows, exaggerating every expression of the room, pushed up to the ceiling at fierce gradients. The corners of the room remained dark. From that heavy darkness I watched him take another drink and scan the faces on the wall.

He put his hand on the lamp and tilted it, moving it slightly, turning the shadows at their base. He looked at every face on the wall, allowed every detail to sink in again, and moved on. The light came around to the corner in which I sat. I felt its warmth cut across me. I watched his eyes scan across the photograph next to me. His eyeballs twitched onto every feature. They moved to me. I saw his lids widen from behind his glasses. His hand slid into his coat pocket and pulled out two photographs.  He held them up and dropped the light onto them. I fell into darkness. The light lit the photos and reflected back to him. The shadows cut thick black lines across his face. He lifted the light back to me. I saw that a little smile had formed on his tired face.

He stood up and started walking towards me, lifting dust and pungent scent up from the old used carpet. He picked me up off the mantle piece and lay me face down. I felt him unscrew the back of the frame and pull me out. His fingers felt drunk, clumsy, impatient. He took me back to the chair and sat me on his lap. He put down pictures of these two older people. They were new. I hadn’t seen them before. He carefully opened the drawer on the little side table next to the old chair. He took out the picture of that little black and white boy again. He looked at the picture. The corners of the photograph quivered in his hands. A tear formed in the corner of his eye and burst across his lid, before sliding down the contours of his expression.

He placed the little boy down carefully next to me. We looked a little alike. I was a year or two older maybe. We both sat, on a knee each, under the older people. He looked at all of us together. Another tear rolled down his face, caught on the tip of his smile. He threw back the last of the whiskey into his mouth. The rounded edges of the melting ice cubes hit his lips, and slid to the bottom of the glass. He looked to the ceiling and started to weep. We lay on his lap as quiet as tears, together, just transplanted memories that sank like diving bells into the scent that drowned us all.

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Untitled Scene

So who are we waiting on?

It’s not important.

How the fuck ain’t it important?

It just isn’t.

This is bullshit.

Just stop talking.

;

You got any money?

No.

Just give me a dollar.

Where’s your money?

Just gimme a mother fuckin’ dollar.

Will you shut the fuck up if I give you one?

;

You want some?

Get that away from me.

Suit yourself motherfucker.

That fuckin’ stinks. What the hell is that?

Fuckin’ dried squid.

What? Get that the fuck out of my car.

;

So you ain’t gonna tell me who we waiting on?

I already told you.

No you fuckin’ didn’t.

I told you it ain’t important.

That ain’t a person’s name.

It’s this person’s name.

;

That him?

Who the fuck said it was a him?

I did. Just then.

Oh yeah?

Yeah!

Well, it ain’t him.

;

I’m bored man. Can I put some music on?

No. I don’t like music.

Who the fuck don’t like music?

You deaf nigga? I don’t.

Obviously I’m not deaf or I wouldn’t be askin’ to play some music.

Oh you not deaf? Then hear this right here: Shut the fuck up!

;

So are we just gonna-

Hold up, hold up. Did you fart in ma fuckin’ car?

No I fuckin’ didn’t. It’s these stupid leather seats.

Ma seats don’t stink like your fuckin’ asshole!

How do you know it wasn’t you who done fuckin’ farted?

Nigga, what the fuck does that even mean?

;

You an ass man or tittie man?

You’re drivin’ me fuckin’ crazy foo. I’m an ass man! Okay!?!

Ha ha.

Shut the fuck up!

Oh shit, that the nigga we waitin’ on? That nigga a Chinaman!

Man, will you just shut the fuck up and let me do the fuckin’ thinkin’!?!

;

Okay, so what we gonna say?

We ain’t sayin’ shit. I’m sayin’ shit.

I ain’t got a speakin’ part?

No. You an extra.

So who the fuck are you then?

I’m fuckin’ Steve McQueen.

;

Knock Knock Fuckin’ Knock.

;

Can I help you?

Mr. Han, we’re here to talk to you about a man, who saw a man about a dog, sometime ago.

Okay, eh maybe eh, maybe you should come in.

Maybe we fuckin’ should bitch.

Please excuse my business associate Mr. Han. He’s murders people for money.

That’s fuckin’ right. After you, mother fucker.</

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With Love – Prequel – Part Three

I took Esmeralda downstairs. She’d stopped pulling and tugging and was just walking with me, sort of limp. She was still crying and whimpering to herself in Spanish. I tried to ignore her. I tried not to think about what Jolene was doing to her father. I tried to stay cold.

“I need two things from you: I need money and booze” I said as we walked downstairs.

“I don’t know where the money is” she pleaded.

“Bullshit” I said, tightening my grip around her arm. I pushed the gun into her side. I felt her whole body shake and tighten up. “Please,” I looked into her eyes, “Please tell me where the fucking money is.”

“Honestly, I don’t know!”

I dug the gun in a little deeper. I knew she didn’t know though. Just looking at her and that whole situation, I knew that she wouldn’t die for that fat old bastard upstairs.

“I don’t know! He doesn’t trust me!”

She started crying again. I pulled the gun out of her side. She went limp and put her head in her hands. I wanted to console her.

“Come on” I said, walking downstairs towards the kitchen. She sniffed and walked after me. I wanted to just let her go.

I walked into the kitchen and turned the light on. The whole room lit up so bright. The strip lighting that stretched across the ceiling was sterilizing. I could feel it scrubbing my skin clean.

“Jesus! Have you got some candles or something? This light is horrible.”

“What?” she said, looking at me, still terrified.

“Candles, a lamp with a nice shade, anything, Jesus, just do something about this light.”

She went to a drawer and started rummaging around. As I looked around the kitchen and let the light sink into my eyes, I looked at her looking through the drawer. It occurred to me that she could be looking for a gun. I mean, it wasn’t likely, but I wasn’t about to get myself shot. Not under this light. I held my gun up and pointed it at the back of her head. I picked my spot just as her neck faded into her skull. I watched the little marker on the end of the barrel tremble. I wrapped my finger around the trigger. I could feel my heart thumping. I could hear the footsteps of that coke running its final lap around my body.

She turned around holding two candles and a lighter. She shrieked and dropped them onto the floor. I jumped a little but dropped the gun to my side. I breathed out slowly. I felt like an asshole.

“I’m sorry. I’m…I’m sorry. I just thought maybe you were going for a gun or something.”

She was crying again. Her make-up was all but gone. She bent down to pick up the candles, watching me all the way down.

“I’m sorry. Honestly. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

As soon as I heard myself say that, I wondered what the fuck I was doing. It became obvious to me that I wasn’t cut out for this.

“It’s okay” she said. But I knew it wasn’t.

She lit the candles and I turned out the lights from above. The kitchen looked much better. There were two warm glows coming from each side of the worktop, reaching out to each corner. I felt my heart rate slow a little. She stood looking at me, sniffing, shuffling from side to side.

“Sit down, please.” I said, wiping my nose, avoiding her eyes. I couldn’t look at them.

“Where?”

“Just, I don’t know, one of those seats. Just sit down will you? Please.”

She sat down quickly. She kept staring at the gun and I. I moved the gun behind my leg.

We sat quietly for a minute, thawing in candlelight. She was probably thinking of how to save herself. She couldn’t know that I was thinking the same thing.

“Why are you here?” she asked after a minute or so.

I was just about to say that I didn’t know when I heard Jolene shout something at her daddy through the ceiling. We both looked up. She sounded really angry, but completely in control. I looked back at her step-mother. Neither of us said anything. We both knew that this had nothing to do with us. It was just the way things had to be. We were like the kids in the nasty break-up.

I sat down opposite her, sitting the gun on the worktop. I ran my hands through my hair and back down my face. I looked around the room again.

“Do you have anything to drink?” I asked her, suddenly remembering why we were in the kitchen.

“We have wine and tequila” she said, wiping her nose, looking back at the gun.

“Tequila, please.” I sat my head in my hands and exhaled. “It’s been that kind of night.”

She nodded, and started to cry again.

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Beatin’ Blud

It happened at the little paki shop last week man. I was in there right, didn’t have no money obviously. I had a pot to piss but I sold it. Times is hard blud. Hard. But I went in on the blag innit. I was gonna rob some magazines and maybe sell them for a few a quid. Just enough to get a hit. No more than that man. Like I said, times is hard, man.

I frew my hood up as soon as I get in. Pulled ma jeans up and done the belt up one more hole. Laced up my trainers in case I had to run like fuck. I catch maself in that bent mirror they always have the Paki shops. I can see ma lips but not ma eyes. I gave myself a little kiss in the mirror. The bacon sarnie comes out the back room and looks me up and down. I can feel his eyes takin’ it all in. Pickin’ my lips out of a line of boys. I can feel that slash in my pocket, ready to be flicked and waved around, putting that fuckin’ Paki on the floor. I thought, if it comes to that, I ain’t robbin’ no fuckin’ magazines man. I’m goin’ for the pot blud, believe.

“You!” he shouts at me. I know he’s shoutin’ at me. I look around though. Pretend I’m completely innocent man. Cause I am. At dis point the only fing I’m guilty of is intent. Well, that and the blade. “No hood in this shop.”

“You talkin’ to me?” I say back. I’m finkin’, ‘Cool blud! Don’t give him a reason to lose his cool. You’re just in for a magazine man. Men’s Health, FHM, somefin like that. Maybe the till, but we’ll cross that bridge man. In time. In time.’

“Yes, you!” he shouts. He’s holdin’ one of them big French bread stick fings and he’s pointin’ it at me. It’s in a brown a bag. It looks for a minute like he’s robbin’ me. I square up a bit. My hands clench around that blade. I feel the muscles go tight up at the itchy join on my arm. “No hoods up in this shop!”

“I ain’t takin’ off nuffin’” I say, lookin’ back him.

“Then you get the fuck out!” he shouts, not backin’ down, not fuckin’ scared, not fuckin’ knowin’ nuffin’.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere you fuckin’ paki cunt.”

He come stormin’ round to me, past the crisps, past the sweeties. I thumb around for the button on the handle. I pop out the blade. Just as he gets in front of me he looks right into ma eyes. I look at his. His ain’t scared, no way. I don’t have time to look in that little mirror, but I reckon mines was probably shittin’ it man. I could feel the heart poundin’. I knew I was gonna stick him.

I stabbed him. Free times I fink. I remember him hunchin’ over me, grabbin’ at my hood. I was focusin’ on the blade, keepin’ it tight. I could feel it pressin’ against somefin hard. Maybe a rib or somefin. Just as he pulls the hood down I lose it man. He grabs my neck and gets right up in ma face.

“You motherfuck” he says, veins bulgin’ from his head, eyes goin’ well red man.

I pull out the steel and jam it back in him again. Two times. Bang. Bang. I push him back onto the floor. He knocks over a load of postcards as he falls. All dem London Union Jack cards all over the place. Right next to his head is one of them “I heart London” postcards. He’s squimin’ on the floor. I looked down at the blood on my top. It looked well red. I ain’t never seen dat much before. The more there is, the redder it is. That’s what I reckon man. My heart was beatin’ blud. Boom. Boom. Boom. I stood there standin’. Watchin’ him and that blood, all over the floor.

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With Love – Part Six

“Any last words?” she asked.

“I love you more than life.”

“I love you more than death”

The cars screeched to a halt about thirty yards behind us. The helicopter flew over head. The light shot over us and then moved back. The dust whipped up all round us. In that bright light from above I saw how beautiful she looked.

“Drop your weapons and step out of the vehicle!” shouted a cop through his megaphone. We could only just hear him over the music and the helicopter.

She blew me a kiss. I blew her one back.

“Three, two, one” I said.

We pointed the guns at one another, closing our eyes, ending everything, just as it had started. With love.

 

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Under The Wee Bridge – Part Two

I always got on with most people. I’m a decent footballer. I’m fairly smart. I’m always pretty chatty with folk. But the main reason people seemed to like me was because of my connection with Bates. Everyone knew that I was the only person that could calm him down. It was like I was a lighthouse or something. I could guide you to safety when ‘The Mist’ got thick. The times I’d been punched in the head were down to me turning up after the fight started. I’d get in the middle and get clouted. If I was there at the beginning, I could calm him down and pull him away. For the time being at least.

Bates had this swagger about the school that seemed to terrify people. I always used to tell him that he walked like he was carrying a couple of rolled up carpets under each arm. I didn’t hang out with him all the time, but it sounded like he was worse when he wasn’t with me. He would terrorize wee guys. I’d always been able to distract him with something when it looked like he was about to start harassing someone. No one else really seemed to have that sort of control over him. But when I wasn’t there and he was left with those primitive arseholes that followed him around, he could be a bit of a bully. Everybody kind of knew that the way he was wasn’t really his fault. His dad fucked off when he was about six. He left his mum and went off with some slapper. They live in England somewhere now. He hasn’t been in touch with him since he left. My dad stuck around a bit longer granted, but you can’t blame someone for having a heart attack. I never had that rage that Bates had. Like I said, I was just sad.

I remember the day his dad left. I went round to call in for him. His mum, my aunt, was in tears. She looked like she’d been crying for months. That was what I thought at the time. I know now that it was more like years.

“Deo’s gone somewhere Kevin. Can you go and find him?” she asked me. I remember that fag hanging from her lip quivering as she spoke. It’s funny how you remember the little things. I went out looking for him. I checked a few places I thought he might be before I saw someone throwing stones in the river under the wee bridge. I recognized that orange Nike jumper he worn until it fell off him. I climbed down the bank. He had been crying as well. Not as much as his mum. But enough. I gave him a big hug. He didn’t say much. Neither did I. I didn’t know what to say. I just helped him pick some stones to throw.

After that day I sort of acted like his older brother. I used to do his homework for him and take the rap if he ever got in any trouble. That was why mum got so pissed off about me hanging out with him. The police brought me home a bunch of times. I’d always come straight out and tell her what happened though. But after my dad died, he took over as the older brother.

“Nobody is ever going to give us any shit” he said to me. He was ten at the time. We both were. He started swearing before anyone else our age in the village.

He started fighting a lot after that. I saw him take a few beatings from older kids. I didn’t start getting involved until a few years later. My dad had always told me to talk my way out of a fight. His dad taught him to hit the mouthy cunts. We were different like that. I used that mouth of mine to stop his punches. As I said, I was always pretty good at it. But when the boy Jordan came to our school, I was pretty helpless. My lighthouse bulb couldn’t really shine through that mist.

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