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.”