by Adam Haynes
illustrations by Dave Dawson
“It was so horrible, I just can’t tell you how horrible it was.”
“Wa-wa-wa-why dee-DEE-didn’t you tELLL me BEfore?”
“Because I was so ashamed. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I was just so ashamed.” Mildred’s head was down and she was crying softly into her lap, finding it not very difficult to conjure up the tears.
They were at their usual booth at Denny’s, smoking and drinking coffee. Tonight, however, Mildred also had a plate of Denny’s famous Deluxe Chili Fries in front of her because she didn’t feel at all interested in suppressing the enormous appetite she’d suddenly acquired.
She’d called Marcy right after she’d hitchhiked back to Portland. She was still wearing the pair of Bruce’s jeans she’d found in the farmhouse. They were way too big on her and made her look like a new school skate punk with the beefy plaid flannel that had also very recently belonged to Bruce. This was the first time she’d worn colors since she’d hit puberty, and doing so made her feel fresh and silly, two things she’d long ago thought she was incapable of. And it wasn’t just color from her clothes – now she felt in color as well. A myriad of rainbows sizzled in her head.
Mildred lifted her head so she could look at her friend, feeling the tears still rolling down her cheeks. “And the worst part is…” she looked away for a second, “I think my teacher might have impregnated me.”
Marcy looked horrified, absolutely horrified. Her eyes bulged out of her head and she dropped her cigarette onto the table. “EH! EH! EH!-”
Mildred pulled out her notebook and Marcy grabbed it along with her pen and wrote:
-he- neither of you were using protection???
Which wasn’t the brightest thing to ask since Mildred had told Marcy a hundred times how when she’d taken the pill when she was fifteen it had given her horrible acne and she’d started growing hair between her boobs and she’d said no way to birth control and always made whoever she fucked put on a rubber.
That dork photography teacher had worn a rubber, for his protection he’d told her, like she was just some scummy disease hole or something. Bruce, on the other hand, had not. It hadn’t even occurred to her until she’d started hitchhiking.
Some would say that several hours was too soon to start predicting a pregnancy, and Mildred would’ve believed them. She wasn’t sure she if she was pregnant or not, but she was afraid Marcy wouldn’t help her get the hell out of Portland unless the story was compelling enough. That afternoon, as she hitchhiked through the snow, it became very clear to her that she, under no circumstances, could stay in Portland. Not even another day. And not just because of the Bruce thing – there was a whole wide world out there that was probably a dump, but it certainly couldn’t be any worse than the one she had created for herself over the years here. And fuck that, the world was not a dump, the world was alive and exciting and it didn’t matter where she went, she’d still know exactly where she was and who she didn’t want to be. But she had to leave now. She couldn’t wait and run the risk of having a change of heart, having the window that was currently open close again, possibly forever.
She would’ve tried explaining all this to Marcy, but then she’d have to bring up Bruce in some way, and she didn’t want to do that at all. From her time at SLAA, plus the experiences of the last few days, she had learned that it is good and important to be open and communicate and share with others. But even so, there are still some things that, for better or worse, a person just has to keep to themselves. The Bruce experience was something very personal. Maybe sometime in the future she’d be forced to share it with someone, but right now it was private. Right now it was sacred.
“I begged him to, but he wouldn’t. He just laughed at me.”
-you could prosecute!!!
“Oh come on. It would be my word against his, and all he has to do is talk about my history, which wouldn’t be hard.” She shook her head, forcing more tears to come. “And my parents will kick me out of the house if they know, and I didn’t show up for work today which means I’m fired for sure. I feel like this whole city is just caving in on me. I’ve just gotta get out. I’ve gotta start over somewhere.”
Marcy sat there, deep in thought.
Then she started writing, with a look of deliberation on her face. When she was done, she slid the pad over to Mildred.
-when I was your age, I got pregnant too. I had a little girl and the state took her away from me and… the experience of losing… was so bad, I can’t see the cycle repeat itself.
“Oh my God,” Mildred said. “Yes, I want to keep the child.” Of course. Now she was sure that she was pregnant. She had to be.
-You could live with me…
“MARCY YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND – I HAVE TO LEAVE THIS FUCKING TOWN. I HAVE TO LEAVE IT.”
Marcy had her arms crossed defiantly against the tears that were filling up in her eyes.
-I understand Mildred, she finally wrote. I have a sister out in L.A., you could stay with her… I just don’t want to lose you again…
“Yes! Yes!” This was so much more than the bus ticket she’d been hoping for. She didn’t know what to say.
“No, please,” Mildred was saying, crying for real now, her face getting hot.
“Eh-eh-EH! I j-j-j-JA-JUst doooon’t want y-y-YOU to say EH, eh-I ne-VEH! de-de-DE-DE-DID anythIIIINg fffff-for you. Forrr you.”
What was she talking about? Marcy had done more for her than anyone in her entire life ever had. Mildred couldn’t believe what she was hearing and it made her cry even harder, thawing out and releasing some of the many pains she’d frozen up and thrown down the mine shaft inside of her all these years. Marcy was the most wonderful, kind person she’d ever met. She was the mother she felt she never had…
She was going to go to L.A.. She was going to leave soon. Yes, it was going to happen. L.A.. She’d never thought about it before. L.A. was just a place, somewhere with lots of pollution and TV shows and movies. L.A. – she was really going to go there because she loved Marcy more than anyone else alive and wanted to meet her sister and have the baby, the baby that had to be forming inside her. She was going to love it, and no matter what she did with her life, she was going to love that too, just because she wouldn’t be doing it here. There was still the sex problem, she felt it even now, stirring around at the bottom of her stomach. But she’d deal with it, she’d find meetings out there and continue to take it one step at a time.
-let’s go to my house and we can keep talking about this.
Outside Denny’s, the temperature had gone down into the teens and the snow was falling much harder, almost as if whoever made the weather heard about her escape plan and was trying their best to stop her – not that they would succeed or even come close.
Mildred shivered ecstatically. Back at Bruce’s place, when she was dressing, she’d noticed some brown blotches on her legs and arms which were probably frostbite, which she tried to ignore.
Manic, she was so manic right now, like she was on speed, so fucking manic. Don’t worry, trust yourself, you are all you have and you have to TRUST YOURSELF!
“Hey Marcy,” she called out. “Go stand next to that little pine tree!”
Not exactly sure what was going on, Marcy waded through the snow on the little strip of land behind the parking lot to the small ornamental pine.
From Bruce’s pack, Mildred dug past the bottle of hydrochloric acid and pulled out an expensive Nikon camera that had a fancy flash connected to it. Mildred checked the speed and aperture settings.
“Smile like crazy, baby! I wanna see you smile!”
Something had come over her just now. It was overwhelming. The picture that she was already seeing clear and glossy in her head, she had to take it. Taking it would help her breathe. She was so excited she was having trouble breathing. That fucking dork photography teacher hadn’t known what the fuck he was talking about. He’d been jealous, only at the time, she’d been too insecure to see it. At the time, she’d thought he’d taken her soul away from her, but now she knew it had never left, she’d just been blind to it.
Marcy was shivering next to the tree, giving her something that almost approximated a smile, and that was good enough. Mildred understood it was best she could give. With the flash, the lighting would be just right. With all the fallen and still falling snow, everything would come out grey on the black and white film, beautifully grey. And her best friend would be smiling right there in the middle of it. It would be grey and her friend would be smiling. Mildred put the camera to her eye and adjusted the focus.
* * *
It was daylight. It had to be daylight, Will’s room wasn’t dark anymore. His back and knees ached – how long had he been kneeling like this? Moving like a weary old man, still with a burning anus, he got off the floor and went over to his window. Outside, there was the brick wall of the building next door and the empty street, just like always. The sky was big, juicy and grey. “It’s going to snow,” Will murmured to himself, licking the corners of his dry lips and staring up into all that grey. If it did snow, it would be the first snow of the winter. So far this season it had just been freezing rain, slush and ice.
As he had taken off his jeans last night, he thought about how very soon he was going to be making love to Temptation. The truth. She was not who he thought she was. He’d always thought she was cool, but never in a million years had he suspected how cool she actually was. Now he knew who she was. Apparently, the spiritual bond that existed between him and Winona was much, much stronger than he had thought. From the force of her love for him, or just the powers of the universe reacting to the supreme rightness of their needing to be together, Temptation had been created. She was an angel that would link him with Winona. To get out of Portland, he had to make a sacrifice and give Temptation a child. When she had asked if he was a virgin, she was really saying that the forces demanded the last piece of his innocence. It would be Portland’s child, the piece of him that stayed behind.
Moving slowly, breathing hard and moaning softly to herself, she’d begun to crawl over him. When they were head to head, he found himself at a loss for what to do next. How exactly do you make it with an angel? Sweat from her loins was dripping onto his thigh, increasing the awkwardness of the moment. Should he kiss her, or just plunge right in? Then he realized that she could see him. Winona was in this room right now, and she’d been there all along. He’d gotten it all wrong before. Temptation wasn’t an angel, she was a creature of Portland, she was an agent sent by Winona to see what sort of lover he’d make. After his homosexual experience, Winona wasn’t convinced he was the right boyfriend for her after all.
She was in the room somewhere right now looking at them with those large, sad eyes of hers. Waiting to see, waiting to see and then judge. He peeked around the darkened room. He couldn’t see her, and that was because she was appearing in this room as a transparent ghost. That’s what was going on.
…Her hand was on his dick… Fingers wrapped around his dick… Those weren’t fingers, they were talons! He stared at Temptation above him. Her teeth were glowing in the dark. Glowing electric blue. In a terrifying second, he understood that he’d been wrong about everything again. Wrong again. Wrong wrong wrong… This was nothing more than a huge elaborate trick. It always had been. It was still a test, yes, this was still a test, but the truth was that Winona wanted to see how well he fucked because she was actually a man. Could he see her now in the corner of the room, no, it was just her shadow that was visible against the wall, complete with the outline of a large, hairy penis that went from between her thighs down to her feet. It was penis and a tail – one in the same. An arrowhead penis tail. She was a demon. No, she wasn’t a demon, she was the devil. She was the devil and she wanted to take over this world and she knew that in order to do it, she’d have find the perfect man to consummate with and bear a child that would be her ultimate war machine. And the best way to do that was by becoming a famous actress and letting the man find her. And now, she was having him fuck this lesser demon, this hideous creature of Portland, because since she was actually a man and she wanted a baby… She couldn’t make one herself.
He wasn’t on the bed anymore. Trying to act casual, he slowly put his clothes on so the fat demon with the blue teeth wouldn’t get alarmed and rip him apart. Nodding to the blue teeth and disregarding her strange expression, he opened the door and stepped out of the room. Someone was screaming. Accidentally opening the bathroom door, he saw two more demons – HEWASRIGHTHEWASRIGHTHEWASRIGHTHEWASRIGHT – sitting in a bathtub, drinking each other’s blood. Just need to go somewhere safe and sleep, just gotta sleep. Moving very slowly and acting cool, he let the various demons run up to him and get in his face, knowing if he kept moving slowly, somehow they couldn’t stop him. Screaming, he was the one who was screaming. Very, very slowly he opened the door, not looking back, no, don’t look back. Through the door into the grimy stairwell where everything was glowing green. Down the stairs faster and faster – don’t fall, don’t fall – not looking back. Were they chasing him?
Then he was outside, free. Keep running, he was free. He was in his room. He stripped off all his clothes and, falling onto his knees, crawled over to Winona’s picture. “Please,” he moaned to it, assuming a formal prayer position. “I didn’t know… I was taken by surprise. I still love you, even if you are Satan. I accept that. But why all the tricks and games and demons? Why are you doing this, Oh Great Black Mistress/Master, to the one who adores and loves you most? Why? Why? Why? Why?”
Will opened his eyes and was still for a very long time. His lips were dry so he went into his kitchenette and got a glass of water from the tap, drinking the cool, slightly metallic liquid down. Clearly, the plan of getting a fake boyfriend had been botched completely. Since time had almost totally run out, he had no choice but to go with plan B, which was basically exactly like plan A except without the boyfriend: he’d just have to go to Brooksville by himself and try to convince his father even though he didn’t have any real proof. It might work. And it wasn’t like he had anything to lose.
Since he didn’t have money for transportation, Will put on his entire wardrobe – all the clothes he’d acquired from Goodwill these last nine months – to better ward off the unfriendly elements.
Outside wasn’t cold at all, which was how it sometimes was when there was snow on the horizon. Will walked up Park St., feeling more than a little constricted by his apparel, but aware that he still might need it after the sun went down, whenever that might happen.
Portland was deserted and he couldn’t figure out why. The sidewalks were vacant of foot traffic and there were hardly any cars, reminding him a lot of the way it had been with Jonah last night. It was giving him vertigo. What day was it? Was it Sunday? If it was Sunday, that explained everything. Everyone stayed inside on Sundays in Portland. But it couldn’t be Sunday, could it? Hadn’t Sunday just happened? All he could remember was that tomorrow was his birthday.
When he got to Forest Ave., he took a left and another pedestrian appeared, walking toward him – the only other human being on Forest Ave. The guy was dressed in a black t-shirt, a mohair green cardigan sweater, beat-up jeans and pink Chuck Taylers and had filthy, over-dyed blond hair that went down to his neck. Basically, the spitting image of Kurt Cobain.
Will shook his head and spit. This was the reason he had to get the hell out of Portland, the town was filled with nothing but posers. Everyone was trying to be someone else, and people weren’t even tasteful about it. Look at this loser… It was one thing to dig a band, but did you have to make it your whole identity? Did dressing like this guy somehow magically change your life? Did it suddenly give you an identity? The whole thing was about as invalid as you could get. What a waste…
It was only after they passed each other that Will remembered what Byron had told him and realized the guy wasn’t a poser. He was Kurt Cobain.
Will turned around and stared, too star-struck to care that he was acting so star-struck. He wondered if he should say anything. He didn’t like Nirvana, but he had to admit that deep down inside there had always been something about the lead singer’s complete and total alienation that he, well… identified with. He could go up to him and show that he wasn’t like all the other losers in this cold and worthless nothing town, maybe even make a little bond, just a very casual little bond. It wasn’t like he was trying to prove anything, he just wanted to maybe make some sort of connection.
Then Cobain looked back at him. For the millisecond during that eye contact, Will saw anger and self-hatred on a level that made himself look like an absolute beginner. Less than that… The look burned into him and the message was clear: Leave me alone, everyone just leave me alone. And that was enough of an exchange for Will. The connection had been made.
Will continued to walk down Forest Ave, past the USM library, past the Super Shop & Save, past the strip malls and fast food restaurants and convenience stores and more strip malls and more fast food restaurants and crumbling little retail buildings and chain drug stores and chain hardware stores and gas station after gas station. He continued to walk with his hands stuffed deep into his pockets until he became tired and unsure of how long he’d been walking.
This was no good. Forest Ave was going to go on forever, and at the rate he was going, he was going to be hard-pressed to make it to Brooksville in time to meet with his father by his birthday. It was possible that this wasn’t even the right direction.
It had started snowing, making everything look even more anonymous and vacant. Small hard flakes, a lot like the Styrofoam beans in bean bag chairs, bounced off his skin and hair and rolled around when they hit the ground.
This place was turning into a white-on-grey desert. What he needed was a boost, even just a small boost, just something to get him out of this sand trap, something to remind him that he was actually making progress.
A cab drove by and he hailed it. After he’d stepped inside and shut the door, the cabby half-turned and said, “Where to?”
“I’m going to Brooksville,” Will said.
The cabby nodded. “You mean the hospital? The one in South Portland?”
“Yeah,” Will said, “But here’s the thing… I recently ran out of money and I only have a dollar on me.” This was true – he’d found a crumpled up dollar in the back pocket of a pair of pants he’d put on. “So I was hoping you could take me in that direction for a dollar’s worth.”
The cabby put the cab in park. Turning around, he gave Will the once over. “Are you kidding me?” His face was calm and serious.
“No,” Will said. “I just need a little boost, you know? It feels like I’ve been walking down Forest Ave for years and I’ve got to get to Brooksville before tomorrow.”
“Uh huh.” The cabby continued to check him out. Will figured he was probably wondering why he was wearing so many layers of clothes and was about to explain everything to him when the cabby spoke first.
“I’ll take you,” the cabby said, turning around again and putting the cab in gear. “All the way, free of charge.”
And that was when Will understood that even though Winona Ryder was not the devil like he’d thought last night, and Temptation was not a demon or an angel, there were still angels in the world.
“So did you get laid off from work or something?” the cabby asked him a few minutes later, peeking through the rear view mirror. The snow had gotten worse, thicker, heavier, and the cab’s wipers were on high.
“Actually, I had an accident.”
“Oh yeah, no kidding…”
“Yeah, and right now I’m getting SSI checks until I get back on my feet.”
The cabby whistled. “Man, I have this brother in law… One morning he started putting sugar in his coffee and he couldn’t stop. He just couldn’t stop putting the sugar in. It was weird stuff. Anyway, he got diagnosed with something and got hooked up with that SSI program.” He whistled again. “We’re not talking about very much money there.”
“Tell me about it,” said Will. “I’ve got this plan though. If I can just raise the starting capital, I’ll be all set.”
The cabby checked him out through the mirror again. “You want some advice?” he said.
“You want to get yourself a car.”
“A car?” Will had lost him.
“Yeah, because if you get yourself a car, at the very least you can always deliver pizzas.” The expression in the mirror was dead serious. “I came up here from Florida and I was flat-out, just like you. No place to stay, didn’t know anyone, nothing… But I had my car so I delivered pizzas and I slept in the car until I had enough to set myself up.”
Will nodded. It made a lot of sense. Of course, if he wanted to do something like that, first he’d have to get a driver’s license.
The cabby nodded back calmly. “Uh huh, that’s right. Thank the Lord for pizzas.”
Will nodded again, this time reverently.
to be continued…