Corn Belt 2

He dozed some, head against the window, watching the slowly flattening earth roll away beside him like a song. He figured they'd be in the corn belt sometime soon.

“I'm pretty sure I'll be able to drive soon.” he said.

“Okay. I'm good for now.” she said

“How much was the hotel room?” he asked, mostly just to make conversation

“You don't want to know.”

“Huh? Why not?”

She turned to him “You were asleep for two days.”

“Wow.” he said, nodding. “Yeah, you're right, I don't want to know.”

“Who's Selene?” she asked.

A spear of grief shot through his chest. “Fiance.” he said. “Why do you ask?”

“You moaned her name a few times in your sleep.” she said “I think you had a fever, I got pretty freaked out, couldn't wake you up.”

“Damn,” said Billie Joe

“Yeah, I wiped you down with a cold washcloth wrapped around some ice. That's what my momma always did for us.”

Billie Joe considered this. “Wow. Thank you.” he said

“I guess it didn't work out with you and Selene?”

The image of her in the high window, breasts barely covered by her thin white shirt crossed his mind.

“No. It didn't.” he said. More crippling grief and remorse. He could tell this one would hurt for a good long while. They were quiet again for a bit.

“So what about you, who are you on the run from?”

“Nobody,” she said, then after a long pause, “A guy. I guess he was my boyfriend.”

“Is he the one who did that to your face?” There was a grim, determined anger set in this voice.

Without turning to look at him, she said “Yes. That was him.”

“You saw it before and didn't say anything about it?” she asked.

“Figured it wasn't any of my business.” Billie Joe said.

“What's changed between then and now, white-boy?” she asked. She looked him dead in the eye, but he could see the tears behind the anger.

“Well, I figured we're partners, now.” he said. He laid his head against the door and fell asleep.

When he awoke, it was hours later and the world had been made anew, made of corn. He blinked himself awake and realized for the first time in weeks he was actually hungry.

“Well, I guess I'm up.” she nodded at him, looking tired.

They ate at a roadside diner and ignored the onlookers. They drove a little longer while the sun dove in a flaming wreck behind a wall of corn. She thought he handled the big machine better than most anyone else who'd driven it. She had taken the boots off and was curled under the blanket. She regarded his face, still a little gaunt but handsome. His eyes had softened considerably, they no longer pulsed with insanity. It was still warm enough outside for them to have the windows down.

“You gonna be okay?” she asked. “You know, without..”

“Without my shit?” he chuckled. “Yeah, I think so.”

“I mean, I was gonna say, if you needed to score some, I think I would be okay with it.” she said. “As long as you didn't get too weird on me.”

“Naw. I think I've got it by the tail this time. I feel different.” he said. “Thank you though.”

“Besides” he continued, “this is friggin Oklahoma or some shit. I got no idea where I'd cop anything, except maybe some high grade cow patties, and I swore I'd never do that again.”

She laughed at this, and he was suddenly amazed. Her laugh was loud and clear and piercing as the wind itself. Hearing her laugh, he believed things might actually be okay for once.

Instead of getting a room, just after dusk, they killed the lights and pulled off onto a dirt road. There was just enough light to see down the long corn alley. She admitted she was nervous about all of this.

“Naw, it's too soon to harvest. See those, silos up there? We can camp over there tonight, nobody will bother us. Goddam farmers all go to bed around sundown anyway.”

The big machine glided easily over the rutted tracks as no washboard could slow her. The silos rose like twin guardians against the dusk, and the Toronado crept like a fugitive under them. There was a grain house adjacent, stretching long and away, a well used loading dock stood waiting for the next generation of boys to come before and after school to work along it's ragged spine. Billie Joe pulled alongside this, slowed and threw her into park, shutting off the lights. Without the low roar of the motor and the wind to buffet them, the place seemed suddenly and ominously quiet. They said nothing in the near dark and listened to the engine block ticking off heat and the low chatter of millions of katydids spread across hundreds of acres. Sadie immediately went into high alert.

“Boy, I don't know if I can handle this out here.” she said, “I've been in the city too long, and this shit is too quiet.”

Billie Joe laughed at her and spilled out the driver's side. He jumped up on the dock, stretched big and wide and proceed to march his boots up and down it, strutting almost. He kicked an empty sardine can and shook his head. Spat to the side once and laughed bitterly.

Sadie got out tentatively, rubbing her arms against the cool and looking around wide eyed. All the elements of farm-work might as well have been from Mars. “What are you laughing about?” she asked.

“Fucking hayseeds. I hate em.” he said, “I got sent out to a work farm for boys when I was younger. As you can see it did a fuck lot of good.” He jumped up on an iron-wheeled railroad cart and surfed it down the line. It bounced noisily across the worn out boards that made up the decking, clattering over exposed nail heads worn shiny and bright by many feet.

“Whiteboy you get your ass down from there!” she hissed, “Somebody gonna hear us and come out here.”

He fell off the cart at half a run and stopped. He gave her a sidelong look, and let his chin fall to his chest. She thought he looked stranger than ever. Was the man about to cry? Then throwing his head back, went into a loud staccato yip, yip, yip coyote bark which finally let loose into a wild, lonely howl. It was ragged and hoarse and rebounded against the walls of the stone silos and flew out over the corn. Sadie shook her head and ran back to the car, “I guess you must be feeling better then!” she hollered. 

The temperature plummeted not long after dark wrapped slow around them. Not far off a pack of coyotes came through the corn, ghosts rustling through memory. They barked and whined at each other. The noise of them finally sent Sadie into a panic.

“Oh Lord Jesus, we gotta go. Like right now.” she said, “I ain't about to get eaten up by a bunch of wild ass dogs just for sleepin in a fuckin corn field.”

She was under blankets in the back seat, nestled into the corner. Ever the gentleman, Billie Joe had opted for the front seat. They had been getting comfortable and talking to each other.

“Babe, those are coyotes and they ain't gonna bother us, I swear. They get one smell of people, they'll haul ass.”

“You probably drew em close with your carrying on.” she hissed in a hateful whisper, “Stupid ass. Dumb fucking cracker mother fucker.”

As he knew it was only out of fear, he decided to go ahead and let her cuss him. He lay his head on the seat and pulled his leater jacket up to his neck and listened to her voice. He noted that she had a definite talent for cussing out a man. For her, profanity was almost an art form, and she unloaded on him with almost surgical precision. With it, she lulled him to sleep almost immediately.

He woke, sometime later by the same sound of her voice. Whispering but without any hard edges.

“White-boy.” she said “White-boy, you awake?”

“My momma gave me a good Christian name you know.” he said, and turned over. He noticed the car was shaking ever so slightly, thought for a second maybe it was a big diesel back on the road, then realized she was in the back seat trembling hard enough to move the car.

“Hey you okay back there?” he asked.

“Yes.” she said. “No. I'm freezing. I can't stop shaking.”

He thought about this for a minute. It was not as if her body was unfamiliar territory for him. They'd lain together for what apparently had been two days. This was different thought. They were different. Ah screw it, he said to himself.

“Sadie, you want me to come back there and warm you up?” he asked.

There was a long pause, it seemed to him as though she may have even been holding her breath, because it sounded like an exhale when she finally said Yes.

Years later, if either of them tried to recount that night to themselves, there never seemed to be any clear moment when it started. He came over the back of the seat and almost fell into her open arms. Ias blurry as that time was to them both, if you were to ask them about it, they'd both say, no, it did not take long at all.

It was not fast, nor rough really. After that many days that close together, it was like two old friends, one welcoming the other, after having been gone away for a long while. He knew exactly how she would smell, how she would kiss. She knew what his hands would do, how they would feel on her.

There was frenzy as well as passion, as they continued long into the night, but it ended not unlike how it stared: two souls clinging desperately to one another for warmth, set adrift and rolling over the vast prairie in each others arms.


Corn Belt

Even though it was a brisk fall day, Billie Joe staggered out of the hotel room with sunglasses on and blanket wrapped over his shoulders like a Soviet refugee staggering from a gulag. He straightened up as much as he could and looked around. Sadie was settling up their tab with his money, per his suggestion. The trees that lined whatever highway they were on were bursting apart with color. Billie Joe wasn't fooled, in a month, the leaves would be down and the whole thing would reveal itself to be cold grey apocalypse it really was. Him and his Nubian queen needed to get on the road before the fucking Klan showed up. He looked down the row of rooms left and right and caught a tiny housekeeper next to her cart staring at him, mouth agape. He brought a hand out from under his makeshift poncho, waved and said “Hidey.” She wasn't having any of it and hauled ass back into the room she was changing.

Sadie crunched over the parking lot briskly, the heels of the cowboy boots he'd loaned her digging into the gravel. He'd given them to her because they were much warmer than anything she'd brought along and even though her foot was at least three sizes smaller than his, they seemed to fit perfectly. Good cowboy boots were like that, he thought. He also thought she looked mighty fine in them.

“Okay let's go,” she said “You think people around here never saw a black woman before.”

“Uh, you don't exactly carry yourself like most women, black or not.” he said

“I guess I'll take that as a compliment.” she said, opening up her side of the Toronado. “You ready?”

“Yes ma'am.” and climbed aboard. The Toronado roared immediately to life as if it had been waiting impatiently to eat up the road again. She had already loaded his duffle in the trunk. He thought the smell of the car was comforting, and slid down the seat into it, creating a cocoon with the blanket between him and reality. Behind the wheel, she had her chin up like she always, maybe a little more than usual, half a sneer in place, slid it into drive and they poured back onto the highway like a fast moving oil slick, leaving crush and run somewhat airborne behind them.

He dozed some, head against the window, watching the slowly flattening earth roll away beside him like a song. He figured they'd be wading through the corn belt before too long.

“Pretty sure I'll be able to drive soon.” he said.

“Okay. I'm good for now.” she said

“How much was the hotel room?” he asked, mostly just to make conversation

“You don't want to know.”

“Huh? Why not?”

She turned to him “You were asleep for two days.”

“Wow.” he said, nodding. “Yeah, you're right, I don't want to know.”

“Who's Selene?” she asked.

A spear of grief shot through his chest. “Fiance.” he said. “Why do you ask?”

“You moaned her name a few times in your sleep.” she said “I think you had a fever, I got pretty freaked out, couldn't wake you up.”

“Damn,” said Billie Joe

“Yeah, I wiped you down with a cold washcloth wrapped around some ice. That's what my momma always did for us.”

Billie Joe considered this. “Wow. Thank you.” he said

“I guess it didn't work out with you and Selene?”

The image of her in the high window, breasts barely covered by her thin white shirt crossed his mind.

“No. It didn't.” he said. More crippling grief and remorse. He could tell this one would hurt for a good long while. They were quiet again for a bit.


O shaped dent

When he woke up the next morning the bed next to him was empty and she was gone. He got up, a little less shaky this morning, went into the bathroom and washed his face. Looking out the heavy wool blinds over the window revealed the Toronado was gone. He couldn't remember if she brought any bags in or not, there were none of her's there now. He put on his jeans and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Okay,” he said, “This is an interesting development.”

He thought about the money, checked his empty pockets, then the jacket. Nothing. He couldn't remember if he'd given her his roll to hang on to or not. He rummaged through his dad's army bag, diggin through it's ragged assortment of contents. His pistol was still there. He picked it up and held it. The weight of it made him feel a little more secure.

“Okay, do not freak out. She's gone and she might have robbed you on the way out the door.”

Billie Joe did not freak out. However he did stand up and pace around the room, talking to himself for the next ten minutes gesturing occasionally with his firearm. Eventually he fell into the leather chair by the desk. The minutes ticked by as he kept to keep his breathing calm. After thirty minutes his mind began to turn on him, the storm clouds in his head gathered into the black swirling vortex of fuck. He was strung out in the middle of Pennsylvania with no money, a pistol and a half empty bottle of Early Times. It was not a good look.

Something had to be done, he decided. Before long the panic would win and this quaint little room would be four hellish cinderblock walls that was only slightly better than whatever fresh hell would be waiting outside. He'd been in this room before, but with a little money, drugs and no gun. No, he hadn't been this far out, this alone. Before long the barrel end of the gun would find itself to his temple and make a small “o” shaped dent there like it had before. Something had to be done, he decided, before things got to that point. He stood up again and walked to the mirror, simply because it was one of the few places in the room he hadn't walked to yet. The emaciated frame in the mirror didn't seem like it belonged to him. It was frighteningly gaunt. He couldn't bring himself to look that mirror-person in the eye. All he could see was the gun in his hand. Why even was he still carrying it?

Deciding the mirror was fraught with treacherous possibility, he walked back to the door. He would have to start moving soon. Why the fuck had he let that girl know about his money? All his panic converted easily into a murderous rage framing the image in his mind of Sadie Chantelle Johnson, even though he was unable to recall exactly what her name was. There was the noise of a key inserted in the door and as if he'd summoned her, she turned the handle and came in the room.

She stopped short when she saw him. Half naked, wild eyed and armed, he was breathing heavily, muscles taught to the point you could make out all the veins in his arms and neck. He looked as if he meant to kill her.

“Okay, easy there, cowboy.” she said, holding her hands up. In her left there was a large bag that said “Valley Dairy Restaurant;” it had a grinning cow on it that winked at him. “You don't want any eggs, that's fine, I'll eat em.”

It took him a second to put it all together. Nothing fit the scenario he'd painted in his head. He felt so confused, and tired. When he got something that made sense figured out, he threw the pistol back into his bag and slumped down onto the carpeted floor.

“Ah, Christ. I'm sorry.” he said. “I was convinced you'd robbed me.”

“Nope.” she said, “Still here for some reason.”

She went over to the desk and began unloading covered aluminum to-go plates from the paper bag. A heady breakfast smell filled the room, and that made them both feel a little better. The smell was the embodiment of wholesome.


Robin Heart Revisited

Sadie was sitting at the foot of the bed when he came out. Daniel Tiger was afraid of going to school and Lady Aberlin was there at the clock-house reassuring him. She looked up at her companion. He was naked except for a small towel around his waist. His musculature was toned and looked strong but stretched thin. She could see most of his ribs.

 “and Jesus threw aside the rock and shouted Lazarus, come out!” she said.

“Heh. Sorry, couldn't manage to get clothes back on.” he said. His back seemed to be forever hunched and he peered through his wet hair. The shaking had subsided somewhat. He drank the shot, regarded the candy bar for a minute but turned it away and poured himself another half glass. She looked him over once more, tattoos scattered across his back, a couple were jail-house blue. He shuffled over to the bed and sat down next to her.

“Is this what we're watching?” he asked.

She turned and looked at him. “Yes,” she said “Yes it is. You got a problem with Daniel Tiger or something?”

“No ma'am, not at all.”

On the television Daniel Tiger was at his clock house. He asked “But what if the other children don't like me?” to which Lady Aberlin replied “I will go with you on the first day. Would that help you not be afraid?” Daniel Tiger said “Yes.”

Billie Joe laid back and, with drink still in hand, began the arduous process of climbing under the covers. He somehow managed to keep from exposing himself. Sadie spent this time examining the relationship between Daniel Tiger and Lady Aberlin.

“When I was sick, I would stay home from school and me and my mom would get up on the couch and watch this show.” Billie Joe said.

“Yeah,” Sadie said, “Me and my momma did that too. I can remember being really happy then.”

Billie Joe slumped down under the covers. “I'm sorry.” he said

“Don't worry about it. I needed a couple days vacation anyhow.”

He felt like crying again, but stifled it. “Thanks.”

“How long does this usually take?” she asked.

He lay there thinking for a second, then sat up “Look at me.” he said, and opened his mouth wide and stuck out his tongue.

“Say what?” she said

“My tongue.” he said somewhat garbled. “How bad is it shaking?”

All she could think was that he had pretty good teeth for a drug addict. The man's tongue trembled, but not too terribly, she thought. “I think you're doing pretty good?” she said

“Are my pupils really dilated?”

“Not as bad as earlier.” she said “You seem better than then. I thought I was gonna have to find a hospital.”

He chuckled “Yeah that or take my money and leave me in a ditch.”

“The thought crossed my mind. Yeah.” she said.

“Do you wanna take off?” he said.

“Do you still need a ride?”

“Well yeah, but I got thumbs too, if need be.”

“I think I can stick around for a while longer.” she said

“I know I'm slowing you down, I'll make it up to you.” he said

“I know you will. You're driving us through Oklahoma or Nebraska or whatever. We start running across corn fields? I'm taking some of your pills and sleeping through that mess.”

“Deal” he said and got under the covers again, shivering still. “I'm not a bad guy, I promise.”

She didn't say anything to this. “You can sleep in the bed, too. I won't try anything.”

“Yeah, because I will whip your shakey white ass if you do.” she said.

He chuckled at this and was soon fast asleep.

Much late he woke next to her, covered in sweat and shaking violently. His mind had been turning in on itself. Sadie woke up, “You okay there, soldier?”

“No.” he said “No, I'm not.”

“What can I do?”

“I don't need you to trust me. That's fine. Really” he said “I mean, I'll be okay in a little while. I swear.”

“Billie Joe, what do you need from me?” she said

“Just, I dunno. If you could just...hold me.” he said “Please.”

“Yeah.” she said “I can do that.”

She put her arms around him and pulled him close. He was clammy and wet and trembling all over again. As she fell back to sleep she worried he might fade away completely on her. Then another dream, or memory really. One spring, when she was a little girl, she found a baby robin once that had fallen from it's nest. She held it in one hand and climbed up the tree to return him. After the wings had stopped fluttering, she could feel the quick breathing and even the heartbeat of the creature in her hand. She thought the man in her arms felt exactly like that.



She woke up in the chair to the sound of him retching in the bathroom behind the sound of the shower running. It had gotten dark. She stood up and went to the door and put her head against it.

“Hey, you okay in there, soldier?” she said

“Yeah babe, peachy keen.” he said

“You need anything?”

“Candy bar and a shot of whiskey.” he said, “Just leave em out there, I'll get it in a second.”

She went to the table and dug through the paper bag marked Rexall. She hollered back to him.

“You want another Snickers?”

“Three Musketeers, please.” he said, voice muffled slightly.

She got it out of the bag, grabbed the bottle on the way back to the sink counter outside the bathroom door and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked better rested. The swelling had almost gone away entirely. The fuzz sprouting on her head made her look slightly less severe, she thought.

“You've done this before, I take it.” she said

“Well, two cowboys got me clean one time this way. I was holed up in a place outside Oklahoma City called the Roadhouse. Somebody must have called em. Never got their names. The other time was at rehab and I don't remember so well.”

“Rehab. Great.” she said and shook her head. She peeled the plastic off the complimentary glass, set it down and poured two fingers. “You want ice?”

“Naw. Hot please.”

She went and sat on the bed, reached over and turned on the television. It took a second to warm and finally came on black and white. Mr. Rodgers had just come in singing and was busy with the process of changing his shoes and sweater. “Sure. Why not.” she said to herself.

Billie Joe had crawled out of the shower just long enough to throw up and, having accomplished this monumental feat, crawled back into the warmth and curled up in a ball on the porcelain. The stream pelted him along one side. He was shaking all over. Trembling, he thought, like what? Like a man about to go into shock from the D.T.s. He couldn't remember if he left the door unlocked in case she needed to get to him. He realized he had no idea where the closest hospital was. The panic started to rise again and he forced it back down. Focus on the agony, he told himself, it was familiar. Anguish he could handle. Selene's smiling face, that he'd never see again. Tears.Yes, that was more like it. Kissing her fluttering stomach in a shower not unlike this one. The taste of salt mixed with the water flowing in streams down her. Yes, cry, he told himself. Cry, you stupid fuck.

His head swum in the heat. What was it, the black girl called him? Soldier? He was a soldier on a beach. Where? Outside Troy. The water beating down on him was rain, no, a volley of arrows. Pierced a thousand times. Each one was a blessing. He thanked God for these gifts, and writhed in agony.

via Luke Shumko



Sadie opened her eyes on the passenger side of the Toronado. She hadn't meant to sleep that long or that hard. Blinking awake she looked around, realizing she had no idea where she was or where her whiteboy had wondered off to. She noticed he'd had the good sense to take the keys with him. She figured they were in some rural pissant Pennsylvania township. She knew the look. She ran her hands over her face, slapping it slightly to wake up. He head had begun to sprout some peach fuzz, it felt soothing to rub on it.

She heard boots crunching over gravel and looked up to see Billie Joe walking back from the drugstore.
She looked him over and thought to herself the term “walking” was perhaps a bit too generous. It was a stiff sort of stagger, he had a paper bag and his eyes were wide open, as though they'd been peeled of their eyelids.

“You okay there?” she said out the window. “You look like the walking dead.”

Billie Joe smiled weakly “Good morning” he said “I think I'm ready for you to drive now.”

Sadie slid over and Billie Joe got in the passenger side with his bag of whatever goodies he'd picked up from the druggist. “What's in the bag, cowboy?”

“Provisions.” he said, “They either didn't have what I needed or it wasn't over the counter. Mostly antihistamines. You want a candy bar?” and offered her a snickers.

“Sure.” she said and taking it, opened it up and had breakfast.

“It's okay, I got plenty more.” he dug around and opened up a box of pills, swallowed two or three of them dry. His hands were shaking almost violently and he seemed to be perspiring all over the entirety of his body. “I'm surprised the old man behind the pharmacy didn't call the cops. They didn't like me one bit.”

“Okay, you want to tell me what the fuck you got going on, son?” she looked him dead in the eye, mouth full of candy bar and noticed his pupils were huge and didn't seem to be able to focus on her too well.

“I'm not high, if that's what you're thinking.” he said. He was almost stuttering. “I mean, goddam I wish I was. I just need to get off the road for a while.”

Her hard look subsided not at all. She chewed slowly. He thought she looked like a lioness about to devour him.

“It's okay, they told me there's a motel right down the road here. You can drop me there. I need to stop in the package store first. That's right by there as well.”

“Okay.” she said but continued to glare at him. He did his best to meet her gaze. He felt as if he would wither under it.

“Look I'm sorry, I'll explain in a little bit. I just don't wanna talk about it right now.”

“No.” she said “You got the keys.”

Billie Joe managed a chuckle and fished the keys out of his jeans pocket. She took them and jammed one into the ignition. She roared to life. “I hate Pennsylvania.” she said, slid it into drive and rocketed onto the highway gravel flying behind her.

By the time they reached the roadside motor inn, Billie Joe seemed unconscious. He had the blanket wrapped around himself and his head buried under his leather jacket. The lodge consisted of tiny cabins, each with a few flowers out front. Paint had peeled some since it's 60's heyday but the sign still stood proclaiming “Love Nest” to have the cleanest rooms around.

“This gonna work for you?” Sadie asked.

“Yeah, great.” Billie Joe said underneath the pile. He rose. “As long as it has a roof, a toilet and a bed, I'm good to go.” He winced at the sunlight, and produced his roll of bills

“You think you could get me checked in? Last favor, I swear.”

She took the money and grimacing, obliged to go in the door marked Office. It was cheap enough, the old woman behind the desk had kind eyes, even to a hard, beat up, black woman as she was. Sadie got the key and the green machine backed up to the appropriate spot and helped Billie Joe inside, hunched, clutching the blanket around him, his hair greasy and hanging in his face.There was only the one bed, which he collapsed onto immediately, and kicked his boots off. Sadie lugged in his huge duffel bag, as well as whatever else of his he could find. She dropped the bag on the floor, set the fresh bottle of Jack they'd purchased at a package store two miles back on the small desk. She looked around the cabin, arms crosses, it was indeed much cleaner than she'd anticipated. Billie Joe was breathing heavily out of his mouth, and watched her with the one eye that wasn't smooshed onto the plaid quilted comforter.

“Thank you so much for everything.” he said. “Take some of the money, you know, for gas and all the trouble.”

She sat down at the desk and opening the bottle, took a shot and looked at him. “I ain't leaving.”

“Oh.” he said. She offered him the bottle, which he waved away.

“Thank you.” he said, breathing heavy. She nodded and gave him a grim smile.

They stayed there for a while, silently looking around the room and at each other, him on the bed and her in the small oak chair; while the sun sank outside the plate glass window and drew long shadows through the trees onto the walls of their tiny room, the cleanest around.



What Time and How Burnt

The Toronado glided easily over the iron bridge into Queens. The pace of the street life picked up a bit, the lights sped by, bodegas as colorful as they were filthy, trash everywhere. They rode for a while and killed the bottle. Sadie was feeling happy, but not so much as to worry. She knew what her cut-off was and they hadn't even come close. The Toronado tended to work the whole lane but was easy enough to keep on a generally straight course regardless whatever was going on with the driver.

“Where we headed anyway?” she asked

“Flushing.” he said. “Hey let me fill up the tank okay?”

“Sure.” she said, and found a station a couple blocks later.

Billie Joe got out, located the gas cap, got the pump turned on and managed to hand attendant some cash all in pretty reasonable order. Sadie thought he held it together pretty well, considering the joint and half a bottle of jack plus whatever else he had downed before she picked him up. He locked the handle on full blast and let her rip. Then he came back into the car and grabbed the empty whisky bottle from the floor board. She heard him take the nozzle out of the opening and looking over the seat saw him kneel down behind the car for a minute. Then he stood back up and looking around, finished off the tank. Her eyes narrowed. He got in, and set the bottle, full now, back in the floorboard. It was wet and smelled of gas.

“What the hell you doing?” she asked

“Science experiment.” he said, and smiled at her. “Trust me, it's gonna be fun.”

He guided her, turn by turn, through the back end of Queens, the blocks getting progressively more industrial, the Saturday night foot traffic thinning out substantially. Finally they hit a massive chain link fence that seemed to go on forever. Tall lights were blazoning by the front gate which was covered in blue NYPD signs dictating all manner of instruction.

“Quick go right.” he said.

She turned before the gate and went on along down one side of the massive yard. Inside were all manner of vehicles. There were massive lights spread throughout the yard. Lines of cars spilled into lines of trucks which faded into lines of motorcycles.

“Okay, slow up.” he said “Riight.... here.” She stopped.

He leaned over the bench seat and produced a dirty old t-shirt from the duffle bag. He grabbed the bottle and opened the door. “Hold up here okay. Just ten minutes. If I ain't back in twenty, haul ass and hock my gear.”

The black woman regarded him, pale orange light coming through the windshield made her face glow. She about had the situation figured, but asked anyway.

“And what is it we're doing here?”

“Crime.” he laughed “Hell what did you think?” Then he was gone into the shadows.

Billie Joe ran at a crouch up to the fence, the bottle of gasoline under one arm. He felt around left and right, just above ground level, then, locating the rift he was searching for, climbed inside.

He guessed the dogs would be up near the front of the yard, if they were even out of their cages yet. It was still early. His head looked back and forth, searching, searching, and he crept fast and low, til finally he saw her.

He had wrenched this bike together over the course of a summer, cannibalizing parts from at least three other motorcycles, including the frame of one belonging to his dead father. He walked up fast and trying to not begin taking in all the lines and details, began emptying the bottle all over his machine.

“Sorry, girl,” he whispered, “but if I can't have you, ain't nobody gonna have you.”

He produced matches from his jacket pocket and lit her up.

Sadie, back at the car, glanced again at the clock on the dash, thinking she should have offered to hold on to his bank roll too. She had begun to grow tired of the particular graffitti on this part of the yard. Suddenly the door opened and Billie Joe slid in, out of breath.

“Okay, we're good. Let's go.” he said

It was then that Sadie noticed the rising light of the blaze, even though she couldn't see it, coming from Billie Joe's burning chopper. The yard started to light up with that unmistakeable color that accompanies a good size fire, shadows rising and flitting, running wild across the other bikes and cars. Neither Billie Joe nor Sadie said anything as they drove away slowly, the sound of dogs barking far behind them.

Crashing Sucks

At last he had done it. After working at in all day, Billie Joe was very nearly obliterated. He looked out at the world as more of a passenger than a pilot. The pack across his shoulder was just heavy enough to have his listing to starboard a bit, but he found if he squinted his right eye, that accounted for any discrepancy and he could maintain a nearly fair course. Thus he staggered and chuckled his way towards God knew where. He shifted his bag to the other shoulder and the weight caused him to veer heavily to port. He thought to himself, Okay then, I'll go this way for a minute. His course took him between two parked cars, into the street and almost immediately onto the hood of Sadie Johnson's Toronado.

He rolled up the vast expanse of the hood, his pack fortunately absorbing most of the blow. His instinct was to roll with it, similar to letting a wave crash one's body against a beach. If he had a thought in his brain besides amusement it was, Whoops not again, as this was not the first time he'd been struck by a moving vehicle.

Billie Joe had always heard about the angels who look over drunks and wreckless children but had never before tonight believed in them. The large car screeched to a halt and Sadie got out, leaving the door open and ran up to the man she'd hit who was still lying in the middle of the street.

“God almight man, the fuck are you doing?” she yelled at him

Billie Joe rolled over onto his back and looking up at her said “Oh, hey. How ya doin?”

“Motherfucker you walked right the fuck out in front of me! I could have killed your stupid white ass!”

“Oh,” Billie Joe said, “That was you? Far fuckin out.”

She pulled him up by his hand, he stood up slowly, looking around like a man waking from a dream.

“Are you alright?” she asked

“I don't know.” he said, brushing gravel off himself. He looked around and checked all his parts. “I think I am, actually.”

“We gotta get you outta the street man,” she said “A cop's likely to come up here any minute.”

This got him to perk up quite a bit, “Yeah, let's not have any police. Hey, can I get a ride?”

They looked at each other, there in the middle of twelfth avenue as the sun settled into New Jersey and the wind came up from the Hudson signalling the death of whatever was left of summer. The exchange was not without misgiving, but there also seemed a glimmer of something like recognition in each other.

“Yeah.” she said “Get in.” He threw his pack into the back seat and settled into the enormous expanse of green that made up the front and they pulled off.

“Holy shit, this is nice.” he said.

“Thanks. What's your name?”

“Billie Joe. What's yours?”

“Sadie.” she said. “Where you headed?”

“Nowhere. Anywhere. It doesn't matter.” he said. He realized with some irritation that the impact had knocked some sobriety back into him. Couldn't have that. “Hey, you want a drink?” he asked “I'm buying.”

“Okay.” she said, “Where you got in mind?”

“Right up here at the next intersection.” he said, “just park next to the hydrant.”

She did as he requested, he jumped out, wavered slightly and then ran into what looked to be an Italian place two doors down from the corner. The thought occurred to her that she should ditch his bags and haul ass. He was obviously wasted. She had the sap under the seat in case he got squirrelly, but she decided he didn't scare her none. She figured on maybe getting him drunk and robbing him, depending on how things played out. He came back down the block quickly, a brown package under his arm, got in the door and they pulled off.

“Oh, a nice red wine to go with dinner?” she asked.

“No ma'am.” he said and pulled out a liter bottle of Jack Daniels. “Tennessee's finest.” he said, and cracked open the seal. “Got a friend named Julio back there that owed me a favor.”

He pulled hard on it, winced and yelped and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, breathing fire.

“Shit, I wasn't thinking. You want me to get a coke for you?”

She narrowed her eyes at him, took the bottle and tipped it up, let that old familiar heat hit her nose and throat like a fond memory.

“Damn, girl.” Billie Joe said. “You might just be my kind of woman.”

She drove and he sank way down deep in the seat and in this way they drank their way around town.

“So Sadie, might I inquire where you are headed to this fine evening?” Billie Joe asked.

“California.” she said, “Oakland.” The car bobbed and weaved through traffic, dodging potholes.

“Far fucking out.” he said. He pondered this for a minute, then hit the bottle, wincing afterwards.

She reached for it, and looking around first, tipped it to her lips, then handed it back. She caught herself in the rear view mirror, her bald head was finally looking normal. She caught another glimpse, trying to be inconspicuous. The swelling around her eye had gone down but the color had gotten worse, if anything. If the whiteboy noticed, he didn't say anything. He might be too wasted to have even seen it, she thought.

She made a mental inventory of the man. He seemed okay, she got a good feeling from her. The booze cleared her head a bit, slowed the thoughts from racing just enough to be able to prioritize. Where she was, what she was doing and where she was going seemed a little more real, more tangible. She looked at Billie Joe again.

“You wanna come?” she asked.

He thought about this, one leg crossed over the other and regarded his boot. He unscrewed the cap of the bottle in his lap and took a drink, put it back in his lap and put the cap back on.

“Yes. Yes I do.” he said, and smiled. She glanced over but didn't smile back at him.

“You got any money?” she asked.

He produced the roll of cash he had in his boot.

“Yes, ma'am. I do.” he said. He looked at her hard and steadily. She couldn't tell if he was being overly serious or merely drunk.”And if this old girl gives you any trouble along the way, I can most definitely help out in that department.“ and patted the dashboard lovingly.

Sadie thought to herself And if you give me any trouble I'll just take that roll of cash and kick your monkey ass out the door going about thirty miles an hour.


Billie Joe #1

Billie Joe had cashed his check, met his dealer and walked the whole way home to the Lower East side feeling no pain. Fuck that job. He'd go back later maybe. Maybe not. He had a pile of money in his pocket, along with a bag of his shit and could do whatever in the fuck he wanted. He had a big big smile. What was next- getting laid? Hm might not be the best time for that. Getting drunk, now that was a given. He noticed he was still carrying his hard hat. Now why would he still have this thing? He handed it to the next person he made eye contact with, an elderly gentleman who did not care for the cut of Billie Joe's jib, not one bit. The old man took the hard hat and shaking his head, watched Billie Joe walk down the sidewalk.

It wasn't until he got to his girlfriend's building that he noticed he'd lost his keys. The good-time buzz had worn off slightly. He rang the bell. Her voice came on immediately, “Hello”

“Hey baby, I left my keys at work I think” he said, leaning his head against the call box “can you buzz me in?” There was no response. He waited a minute, looked around at the people walking past and buzzed again. Then his stuff started landing on the sidewalk all around him.

“Whoa whoa whoa!!” he yelled and backed out onto the curb, looking up to her window. The mistake in this was that he gave her a clear target. One of his boots nearly connected with his face. She shrieked , long hair waving widly in the wind all around her face. He was high enough to think she looked even more beautiful than ever.

“Selene, baby come on!” he shouted up to her

“Why don't you take your shit and go stay with your little Peurto Rican friend in Queens, you stupid wacked out fuck?”

“Man, all me and Sofia did was make out that one time.” he shouted

“Sofia?” the woman responded, incredulous “Who said anything about Sofia? I was talking...about Marta...you motherfucker!” She took breaks in screaming at him to throw more of his clothes at him.

“Ah God.” he said and held his head, pacing. Man he had fucked up now.

Foot traffic had halted on both sides of the block to watch the scene. Billie Joe looked around at the little old Polish ladies in their head scarves who looked at him scornfully. He smiled and waved to them, chuckling slightly. They weren't buying it in the least.

“Baby, just let me in so we can talk this thing out.” he pleaded as more of his possesions rained down from her window.

“What is there to talk about that we haven't talked about a hundred times before?” she said, “Where you been all afternoon? You got off at three.” It was at least six o'clock, and he realized he didn't have an answer in the world for this one. He shrugged and decided to raise both his hands in an attempt to beg mercy.

“Marty called looking for you,” she said. Marty was his best jobsite buddy, an electrician. “He was worried on account of you getting fired today. He was afraid you might get into something stupid.”

“Man, fuck Marty!” Billie Joe called, “It's no big deal, honey, I can make some calls, I'll get right back to work come Monday.”

“Billie Joe that's what you always say.” she said, almost mournfully. Her face softened and she looked as though she were about to cry. Mostly she just looked tired and beautiful. Her white shirt was unbuttoned midway down and hung open so that he could see her small white breasts. As he held his hands up to her, he realized he would never touch those breasts again.

“Selene, you gotta realize this is such a cliche'd breakup technique.” he said. Laughter might not be the best option, but he tried a chuckle. She ignored it.

“How many jobs has it been now?” she asked “How many even this year, Billie Joe?”

He puzzled about this for a minute. Looking up at the sky past the building and doing the math, he realized he didn't know the answer.

The girl in the high window shook her head mournfully and finally tossed down a battered leather jacket.

“Good-bye, Billy Joe.” she said, and closed the window.

Stunned, he looked around at his belongings strewn all over the sidewalk. Foot traffic had re-commenced, with a collective sighing and shaking of heads. Woeful comments were muttered just under breath but loud enough to hear about the sad state of the neighborhood as Billie Joe Maynard tried to prioritize which parts of his life should be slavaged from the sidewalk.


Sadie #1

The tears were dry by the time Sadie got inside the front door to her apartment building. She had kept her head bowed and to one side in an attempt at the tiny dreadlocks that made up her hair would cover the bruise she was sure must be getting worse. However, even if the noticed, nobody on the A train seemed to care about her face, thankfully. At least not obviously. Nobody in the city seemed to care about anything, it seemed. At least once a week, whenever she felt down, or tired, or the least little bit scared the city would bare it's teeth; the panhandlers would get more aggressive, the drunk guys in suits coming up from downtown would leer at her on the train a little harder as she went to class. She picked up the mail, a couple days worth, from her mailbox and did the slow march up the several flights of stairs. The windows in the stairwell were still open even though it had gotten colder and the pigeons seemed to have multiplied in the small canyon made by the two adjoining buildings. The huge granite stairs were worn, the window sills on the other side of the chainlink screens were thick with pigeon shit. She got up the several flights and wearily made it to her door. As usual the keys had to get wiggled in each of the various locks, but she got inside the heavy steel door.

The place was tiny and dusty and smelled like food that had recently turned. There was a grey light coming from the window that overlooked the “courtyard.” It was cool and dim, reflected by the bricks across the way. The two pigeons that presided ove her sill were there, one in the nest and one beside, and were not bothered by her coming home. She went into the tiny kitchen and fetched an ice pack from the freezer, walked back into the living room, kicking her shoes off. She fell onto the ragged couch and threw the mail onto the scratched up coffee table that attended it. She put the pack to her face and let her head fall back. She looked at the ceiling as the cold of the ice pack crept over her face like a lacework construct built out of coldness. Her left hand ran over the endention left by the dog that had died not more than two months earlier. More tears, this time rolling down her temples into her ears and into her hair. She sat there and cried and thought about the growing wetness along the sides and back of her scalp. She cried for a while more and then sat up, rubbing her eyes with her shirt, picked up the mail and went through it. Utilities threatenening cut-off as usual. There was one in a crisp white envelope mailed from Columbia university. She threw it back down on the table and groaned. Wiped her eyes some more and picked it up and opened it. It was heavy with paper that she unfolded and scanned one by one until she found the word she knew she would find: “Explusion.” Yep she chuckled; New York was simply not working out.

She got up and crossed the room once more, the pigeons watching her passage, she went into the bathroom, turned on a mix of cold and hot water to wash her face. She looked at her face, the swelling was not as bad as she thought it'd be, but her eye would nearly be closed shut by early evening. She marveled at the purples and dull reds that had risen to the surface, even some yellows and even green. It was pretty, she thought and she'd made that motherfucker work for it. She looked again at her face, her neck, her hairline. No bruises where he grabbed her by the throat. Her expression turned hard and she turned off the water, reached for the scissors and started cutting the small tight dreads from her head, letting them fall on the floor.

When she was done she had a shower. Afterward she dried off and looked at her head again. Completely bald now, she had gone through two razors cleaning it up in the shower, but there was no blood. The chocolate brown skin covering her skull shone, and she managed a grim smile.

She walked around the apartment naked eating some lentil leftover soup she'd found in the fridge. She ate slowly, her lips close to the paper container as she spooned it into her mouth.
Her body rippled with small tight muscles and she moved elegantly as the dancer she'd come to New York to become. If the pigeons objected to her nakedness, they didn't bring it up.

The phone rang on the small table next to the couch. She sat and answered it. It was her mother. There were more tears. Later, all she could remember was saying “Momma, I messed it all up” and her mother replying “It's alright, baby,just come on home.”


Three Weeks Now

No Facebook, and Yet No Writing Either.

Lulz Lulz Lulz Lulz

Bell Witch

--Lyrics from Rows (of Endless Waves)

-the last bit anyway

"if they would beach-you these waves of destruction-would only collapse you-and leave you to lie-on peasant tread landing-where you'd have a hand in-the death of a million-for only a lie-where strengthened you'd try-to torture the masses and sink them in chains to-this river enslaving that never runs dry-death wielding reach of re-humanized fingers-that grasp as they bludgeon-the helpless that writhe-if only to cry

if they would reach you-the stain of destruction-would flow on as endless from landing so wide-and battles would rage you-and war would not fail to-drain blood from the masses-and leave to lie where-death circles high-where plundered the buildings-and burning the forests-you'd rage drunk with power-and cripple the wise-so here we will leave you-on waves far from shore-fleshless and barren-these waves to enslave you-so your victims can rise"

Currently memorizing these so that I can sing them at the top of my lungs to my cat.

Prayer Obliterate

This morning I am only calling down the snow. I refuse to murmur anything else.

Hardheaded I guess. Also a reprisal to Bell Witch seems the only logical solution to listening to too much Bongripper.

Good Morning, Vietnam.


You goddam right

I hope it still hurts.

I hope it hurts a good, long while.