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.