…And Richee Too
It wasn’t the room, the darkness of the curtains pulled shut or the way the waterbed rumbled beneath us, as if California coffee shop sidewalk tremors where the world would vibrate just a bit. A tiny vibration as if a flash into the future then back again. A de-ja-vu. It was the way he fell silent at times, unsure of himself and staring. He had a large forehead. We shouldn’t have but we did. His long leather trench and flat face. It wasn’t a kiss like Scott’s.
He had his own way of knowing something I didn’t. But I slept with him anyway. It was a teary eyed way of breaking up. Mike said he went into a 6 month long depression, married a woman named Stacy, and sold pot out of an ice cream truck. A real Don Juan of the freezer truck. It was the way he kept saying he lived at the YMCA for some time, how excited he became to show me a backpack of 7-inch records.
My grandmother’s record player still worked, still occasionally played old country albums by Hank Williams or Bob Wills, Merle Haggard or strange polka. 25c flea market finds by Ben. He’d passed away ten years ago. Replaced by Betty and Helen on the front porch. The ‘smoking hens’ I called them as they gathered every evening at sunset to drink coffee, smoke a cigarette, and cluck away. Her home became mine temporarily – the furniture yet to be picked through by family members.
Sue to take the table and chairs her ex husband, who died of cancer, made one year twenty years back when the kids were babies. He had a wood working shop in the backyard next to the bird dog pens. The table was solid wood, took three men to carry, and left large indentions in the carpet after they hauled it off.
So Richee put these records on. One by one, old glam metal records. The third was Motley Crue. He grinned big and crazy yet childlike. I made popcorn, talking him into watching Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy. Trying to get him to sit closer to me, he began to appear pale by this point. Minute by minute his skin turned grey. He was shaking.
“So cold,” he says.
I bring him a blanket; ask if he wants to lie in the bedroom. He’d been huddled before the T.V. wrapped in the blanket, and I make more popcorn. My son Zane is staying the night with a Jewish girl from art school on the other side of town. Richee just stared at the glass of the TV, smile gone replaced by fear and shuddering. As I lie next to him, he is terrified to be cradled. Maybe it’s the end of the world. The record machine kept playing the same record as it restarted itself over and over. Merry go round and round.
The cats wander in and out the back door, cracked just enough to squeeze through. The train whistles a yard away, as it wrecks the neighborhood, scratching metal wheels and screams in the night. Like a dark forest tale of box cars and dog howls through the woods. As they ran, as they buried themselves in the dirt, dug holes and caves with their bare hands. To avoid extermination. Freezing to death in morbid winters. Fingers and toes breaking from the body like Kit-Kats.
His inability to show affection towards me became boring by 1 am. So I locked the door, rolled over to dream of polar bear swimming adventures, van life, petrified forests, and the jukebox at a lone bar in the New Mexico desert playing Chris Isaac, ‘ I don’t want to fall in love’. And I ran.
The next morning was fried eggs, made in my grandmother’s black cast iron skillet, the same one she used every Saturday morning for bacon. Fried eggs and cinnamon toast. As I look out the window at the sun rising, I notice my car has a flat tire.
“You’ll have to take me to have my tire repaired and pick up my son.”
He’s shaking again while having juice and I drink coffee. An old white coffee pot stained from years of use, like one you’d find in an old government office with wood paneling in a small town in West Virginia.
“I think he may be a junkie,” my friend texts me, “he’s exhibiting the signs.”
“He is cold and clammy,” I text back.
His skin is sticky like wet stickers, one big cold wet sticker. After fried eggs and coffee we are speeding to Wal-Mart on the other side of town. His late model burgundy-brown Cutlass is low to the ground. A cold front came through overnight, bent several branches and caused the cats fur to puff thicker as if they grew a back up coat at 5 am. His car smells of stale cigarette, old newspaper, and sweet musky cologne.
“Want a cigarette?”
“I quit smoking years ago.”
“Ok, well, I need to make a stop.”
A young tattooed kid, maybe stoned maybe not is pulling a nail from the tire.
“Are you ok?”
“I really like you.”
Uh-huh preoccupied and distant. No high school prom romance on his mind. He’s smoking again, folding and refolding my receipt with rave ticks. A twitchy movement repeated over and over, his head turns sideways and rolls a slight backwards as his arm rotates. He kicks his feet, then again, as if a constant film frame loop. After ten minutes the nail is out and tire back in his trunk.
“Just one stop,” he reminds me.
I attempt to hold his hand, so sticky and cold, like a dead snake. As it felt when I pulled a garden snake from the cat’s mouth. I released him, watching the cars pass on the highway. We drive into a hotel parking lot.
And then I knew. He was there to score.
I look away, out the dusty window of his old car, into the freeway and distant wishes.
When returning home from San Francisco via Greyhound to my grandmother’s house I’d smelt of body odor, cigarettes, and spilt coffee. Musky of crackers, and the ass sweat of others as I sat to wait to board. Sat to ride, and sat in the back of the Metro to the bus stop at the corner of Interstate 10 and Uvalde. Some days I exited the Metro bus at the Shipley’s donuts. The pink strawberry iced (now commonly referred to as ‘The Homer’) and Boston crème were my favorite donuts.
Other days I’d walk beneath the freeway to Payless. Spend a minute or two cheap shoe shopping. She was losing her sight and could only drive the street hovered over her steering wheel. She could squint, smoke, and drive all at once as long as the sun was out.
Richee returns to the car. We drive a couple of miles up the freeway; tire in trunk, Zane is waiting at his school in the Heights.
“Need to get gas,” he tells me.
“I’ll give you a few dollars to help out. Grab me some Cheetos.” The sun is out again, I put my sunshades on, zombie couple parody.
Five, ten minutes go by and he hasn’t come out so I go inside. Rows of chips, candy, and snacks. The sun shines in reflecting off the cooler doors of Red Bull and soda bottles of all colors from blue to orange to brown. No Richee. I get my own Cheetos, check the bathroom, and knock on the door.
“Out in a sec,” his voice low and slow.
I sniff the cracks of the door hoping he’s just taking a poop. Smells like cleaner and Lysol. He sprays something; I hear the hiss of aerosol and go back to the car, an Old brownie. Stale, crusty on the edges, gooey in the middle brownie. Just a minute later he’s leaning to the left as he walks back into the brownie pan.
“Let me drive please,” I beg him.
“It’s fine, everything is fine.”
Both hands on the wheel he glances over, his eyes are yellow and dull like edges of old paperbacks when you flip the pages, a crack of spine from aged glue and brittle pages. For the first time since yesterday he loves, one step away from passionate, similar to the night I asked for his number at the club. He begins to drive away, leaning in on the wheel as my grandmother used to, driving slow, slower, unusually slow. As we course the 610 Loop which circles it’s way around Houston’s inner city, he’s in the fast lane driving 45 mph.
I check the dash, yes, 45, and every other minute 47. Cars honk as they pass, holding their horn. I sink into the seat hoping they won’t see me. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon, who shoots heroin in the middle of the afternoon while driving?
And who slashed my tire?
“Merry go round and round,” I say, “…hope we don’t die.”
Records for sale.