Visions from the Coffee Cup (part 2)

Linda had gotten up late that morning and had known that she didn’t have much time to watch in the cup this morning, but she took the chance and was paying for it. She took the stairs because she knew it was faster than the elevator. Even in her best professional heels she was holding the handrails and taking two steps at a time. She passed the man from the floor below her on his way up. He said, “Hey, watch it lady. Why you always in a rush?”

She smiled and said, “Good morning.” And she kept right on at the same pace. The man was always coming up around this time of day. He didn’t look like the in-shape type, but he always took the stairs. She figured he must be sitting all night driving a cab or something, so he takes the stairs to feel like he’s getting some kind of exercise. The truth was they never spoke other than the polite ‘good mornings’ they would exchange when she wasn’t rushing. In fact, that was most of life in The City for her. It was be polite and keep to yourself. The City could be safe if you kept to the good parts of town, but grifters and confidence men were everywhere. Anybody too friendly was either new to The City and hadn’t been ripped off just yet, or they were out to rip you off.

She’d had it happen to her when she had first arrived. He had seen her at the coffee bar. She had gone there a lot before she realized she couldn’t afford it. Finances were already tight without a ten-dollar cup of black coffee in a crowded storefront, and she had been going once or twice a week, sometimes more. Francisco was a handsome older man with slicked back hair thinning on the top. He had paid attention to her despite her simply sitting and watching her coffee.

She was thrilled at first. The man would sit in the table next to her and offer to pay for her cup the next time they were both in the shop together. He seemed to always be there just after she had paid for her cup. After a few times, he would just come and sit at her table and look into her eyes. He would lower his voice and talk about the future they could have. After about a week or so she thought she was falling in love. And that is when he asked for some money.

It was just a hundred dollars at first. He said his mother needed just a little help with her groceries. The next week he had asked for five hundred dollars to get his car looked at. She said, “Francisco, I wish I could, but I don’t have five hundred dollars.”

He said, “Sweetheart, its important.” He had taken to calling her sweetheart although they had never met anywhere besides the coffee bar. He said, “My boss is ready to fire me. It’s really important.” He looked into her eyes and got his lip to quiver.

She said, “I can’t do it this month, Francisco. I barely have enough to pay my rent.”

He said, “I know, sweetheart. It’s just your old Fran-Fran, over here, is in a really tight spot.” He put his hand on hers. He said, “Why don’t you never call me Fran-Fran? You know I like to hear it.” He looked at her for a while then he said, “I know a nice girl like you has got some jewelry. I swear I’ll pay you back.”

She told him that she would try to come up with the money. He said, “Please do, sweetheart. I don’t think you’d respect me anymore if I had to beg you in front of all of these people here.”

That was the only time the man from downstairs had ever stopped her to talk. He said, “I saw you the other day at the coffee bar talking to that old man. Don’t you be giving him no money.”

She said, “Who, Francisco?”

He said, “Is that what he told you? He was Chico to my sister, and Johnathan to my grandmother. I had to threaten him with a knife to get him to leave my Gammy alone.” He spit in the corner under the stair rail against the wall. He said, “I don’t imagine you’d ever get him come here, but if you do, and I see him, I’ll kick him down the fucking stairs.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Look I don’t mean to be rude. You look like a nice girl to me. You’ll find you a nice man. Just this Francisco, or whatever. You tell him you ain’t giving him no more money. I bet he won’t never talk to you again. He’s a thief. He don’t love you.”

The man from downstairs was right. When she told Francisco she wouldn’t give him anymore money, he said, “See that lady over there.” He pointed to a gray-haired woman in a pants suit sitting across the room. “I am going to go over and talk to her. And if you say even a word, I’ll slap you around in front of everyone here. And you will feel too stupid to ever drink another cup of coffee here again.” She had never seen Francisco again.

*** Part 3

At least until she came barreling around that corner. She was walking fast and looking down at her phone to see what time it was. She cut as close as she could to the cement column at the corner of the bank building. There was another half block and she was racing to make it before the morning deadline. And there was Francisco coming around the same corner. At least it was him for a second. Or she thought it was him.

No, no it was him. It was Francisco. She had run into him hard and was knocked onto the sidewalk and her attaché case had fallen and come open. Her papers had gotten wet with what looked, smelled, and felt like hot coffee. Her head was swimming, and her arms were dripping with scalding coffee.

It had been Francisco for. He had looked so much older and worse for wear. It had seemed that the last three years had not been good to him. He had been walking and drinking from a Styrofoam to-go-cup of coffee. In the split second of impact, the coffee cup had come open smashed against Francisco’s face. The coffee splashed up and off his face into the air, and Linda was transfixed by the scattering of the black liquid glittering in the sunlight. The falling globes of coffee all at once revealed the man that she had seen in the coffee before she had left her apartment.

All in that split second, she had seen the young man and his two thousand dollar suit and the boat and the beating and the blood and the woman and the note. All at the same time, and all in vivid detail. She smelled the clean linen smell of the high-end tailor shop. Felt each time he was hit with. Felt the whisper of a woman’s lips on his cheek and her hand in his pocket dropping a note. Felt the draw of the toy boat and the mystery of the business cards. Felt the pain of spending his last dime on that suit. Heard the warning from the man at the deli not to go. Felt the caress of a woman’s hands removing his clothes. Felt the frightened excitement of the door flying opened. Saw three men with cutoff broom handles. Heard them asking him for something, but he gave them his name. Was it Raul? Was it Allen? And she felt his passion, and his youth, and his erection, and its fade, and his death. Most of all, she felt his death. And all in that split second.

And Francisco was gone. He had slammed into her knocking her to the ground, and he was gone but for the coffee on her and her papers and the broken cup and lid being kicked across the ground by the people walking past. Some passersby had hooted their approval at seeing her fall. Others had gasped, but none seemed to know exactly how it happened. Although not many had stuck around to voice their opinions. Most had continued walking past. But one man had offered her a hand up. She had expected it to be the young man with the expensive suit, but it was not. It was just some man she may or may not have seen before. He helped her up, handed her the attaché case and then he was on his way checking his pockets to make sure she had not stolen his wallet.

She had not seen what had happened to Francisco or whatever name he was using these days. It was possible that he had just slipped past in the confusion, but it sure didn’t feel that way. There was so much anger at seeing Francisco and confusion and other emotions in that split second that she was sure that he had simply vanished. She had never sent anyone away through the coffee or knew if it even worked that way. In fact, she didn’t know how any of it worked only that it did. She could suppress it sometimes when she had time to concentrate, but this had all happened so fast.

She walked into the copy editor’s office and said, “Mr. Hutchinson, is there a computer I can use?”

He swiveled around in his chair. Then leaned back in surprise. He said, “Jesus, Mrs. Carla. I’d ask how your morning was, but I think I can tell.” He got up from his chair. “Here, sit down. You can use mine.”

It was a good thing that she was able to access her work remotely because here papers were brown, soggy, and wrinkling by the time she got them to the newspaper building. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she went through the extra effort of actually going down to the building when she could have just emailed the documents in the first place. She felt like she might have to explain something to the Mr. Hutchinson or something like that. But he never did ask. He’d always loved her work and seldom made any changes.

She just thought there was something better about the weight of actual paper. Something you could touch. And it gave her a reason to leave her apartment and interact with real people that weren’t her clients. And she liked seeing Mr. Hutchinson. He was a chubby old man and he kept pictures of his wife and his kids and their kids. And he always had something interesting he had just read while he was getting it ready to go to print. But this morning he was only interested in what had happened to her. And all she could tell him is it all happened so fast.

No, she wouldn’t give up her walks to the paper. She liked The City. There was just something honest about not knowing someone and not being forced to pretend to know them. That is what she liked about living and walking there. The City simply existed. It didn’t care if you didn’t know it. The people simply existed. Most people didn’t care if you didn’t know anything about them. And the majority seemed to prefer that you didn’t know them. When she got back to her apartment, she was tempted to pour herself a cup of coffee from the pot she left on the eye to keep hot. But she decided instead to get herself in the shower and change into clothes that were not stained and smelling of stale coffee.

She nearly screamed when she saw the naked and bleeding man lying in her bed. It was Raul or Allen or whatever she thought his name might be. It was the young man from her vision, but he wasn’t dead. He was beaten and bloody and seemed to be in and out of consciousness. She was sure she had seen him die, but here he was. Alive or just barely. She wet a clean towel from her bathroom and began to clean the blood off him. The thought of the police did cross her mind but didn’t call them. She knew that she had brought him here, and now she owed him something. The police would just take him away, and he would end up broken like Judy. Linda was determined to help him.

*** Part 4

Linda had dressed the young man’s wounds and covered him with clean sheets and found her largest bathrobe folded it and laid it on the bedside table.  He mumbled her name and something about the toy boat she had seen in her vision but nothing particularly intelligible. After a few hours he regained enough consciousness to hold short conversations. She asked him his name, and he wasn’t able to tell her right away. She said, “Your name is Raul or Allen or maybe something close to one of those. You had been handing out business cards in the street. Can you remember any of that?”

He said, “Maybe. I’m not sure. Allen. Not Raul. But I did. But Allen.” She could tell he was straining to remember anything.

She said, “Do you remember the business cards? Could you tell me about those?” She was starting to be embarrassed by how much this resembled giving someone a reading.

He said, “Yes. No. I think Linda has my toy boat.”

She said, “I’m Linda. You’ve been calling my name. Do you know how you know my name?”

He said he didn’t know, and his head hurt too much to talk for now. She agreed to wait and told him where the robe was. She told him, when he was up to it, she would help him put on the robe. When she thought it was safe enough to leave him on his own, she went out and bought some men’s underwear, tee shirts and a couple pairs of sweats. He wouldn’t look as nice as he did is his expensive suit, but he would be covered up.

While she was out, she felt like she was being watched. It was more than likely here imagination, but it seemed like she kept seeing the same two men’s faces in the crowd going down one street and then another. This was The City and with so many people around all the time she was bound to see people who resembled one another, but this felt different than that. It wasn’t the typical I think that guy looks like someone I know. But more like I swear I just saw the same guy two blocks over. She had just called Allen through the coffee, and her head still felt a little funny from that experience. Maybe this was Déjà vu brought on by that experience. She was so young that last time she had brought someone through she couldn’t remember how she had felt afterwards.

When she got back to her apartment Allen was asleep, so she left the clothes on the bedside table and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She thought the visions she saw in the coffee might explain things better. She knew it didn’t work that way, but she wasn’t sure what she knew anymore. And the coffee didn’t give any special enlightenment, it only showed her the things it always did. But it did sooth her, and it eased the strange feeling in her head.

She must have been truly and deeply engaged in what she was watching because she didn’t hear Allen get up. He was dressed and standing in the bedroom doorway. He watched her leaning over the cup of coffee for a while before he spoke. He said, “What do you see in there?” She looked up somewhat surprised. He said, “It’s not just your reflection, is it?” She came up with a few quick excuses, and Allen listened quietly. He said, “Can I see?”

She seldom had anyone over besides clients, and they typically sat on the couch. Even when they did decide they wanted their reading done at the table, none had ever asked to see in her coffee. She knew seeing into the coffee was only her gift, but she held a little hope that under these circumstances, he might see some answers she couldn’t see. She pushed the coffee cup over to the chair beside her. Allen sat and looked into the cup of coffee with a faroff stare like he was concentrating.

For once, Linda was focused on someone with coffee without feeling the pull to look into the coffee itself. His left eye was purple and nearly shut and the bridge of his nose was swollen like it could be broken, but she could see through all that to how handsome he was. That wasn’t just here memories of him from the vision. Besides much of the vividness of her vision that morning had already faded like waking from a nightmare. You know you had it. Your heart is still racing. But you can no longer remember all the details. In a minute you will only remember how you felt. In another few you will even have forgotten you had a nightmare in the first place. Only she had a handsome nightmare, and he was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

Allen frowned and looked a little while longer. Then, he pushed the cup back over to her. He said, “I don’t see anything, but my own stupid face.” He sat beside her and put his head on his hand wincing a little against the pain in his face. He said, “Do you mind if I drink a little of that coffee? It might help to clear my head.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I should have offered. Let me see if I have some cream and sugar.” She got up from the table and started toward the fridge. He told her not to worry about that he could drink it black. She said, “It has been cooking for hours. Why don’t you let me make you a new pot?”

He said, “Don’t go through the trouble. Right now, I don’t think I could taste much of anything.” They sat there and talked for a while. Her coffee sat next to her getting cold, and he drank his one small sip at a time. She was pretty sure he could taste it, and he didn’t really like it. But he drank it, and he never once spoke about their future together which she felt was a nice change.

Markey Monkey the Emperor of Evil (part 3)

The black mirror in the throne room of The Castle of the Burning hammer began to lighten. It sniffed tentatively at first, and then sniffed good and hard. The evil vision’s voice boomed a sing song. “Markey Mark, little monkey.”

Mark jumped and spilled coffee on the floor and table of the castle kitchen. He said loud enough to be heard in the other room. “What, dad.”  He threw the rest of the coffee down the sink.

The evil vision’s voice boomed into the kitchen. “What do I smell in there?”

Mark yelled again from the kitchen. “Nothing, dad. You can’t smell, remember?”

The evil vision boomed his voice into the kitchen. “I can, too. And I think you are hiding something. Mark, get in here.”

Mark thought his dad was getting mad.  He yelled, “No.”

The evil vision said, “Now, son.”

“No.”

“I’m about to start counting.” Mark still did not come. “One…” The evil voice counted loudly.

Mark poked his head out of the kitchen doorway. “No, dad. Don’t spank me.”

“Two…”

Mark walked through the door. Looking at his toes and walking slow.

The evil vision said, “Markey, do I smell coffee?”

Mark looked up and said, “When did you start smelling again?”

The evil vision said, “I don’t know. It just started on and off in the last… Mark, you are too young to drink coffee.”

“I didn’t drink it, dad.” The news that his father was regaining his senses made Mark both happy and sad.

“So, I did smell coffee.”

“No. There isn’t any coffee. You didn’t smell coffee.”

“Don’t lie to me, Mark. I can see it on your face.”

Mark was astonished. “You can see, too?”

“Well, no… Only sometimes. Like when you lie to me.”

“OK, dad. But I didn’t drink the coffee.”

“Mark… Little Markey, I will not have you drinking coffee. It is not good for a growing boy.”

“I won’t.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

The evil vision said, “By the way. I have been sensing spot around here the past couple days.” Mark smiled he really liked spot. The evil vision said, “I thought you sent him back to hell.”

“He came back. I think he just wandered off into the woods for a while.”

“I don’t know, Markey. When I told you it was OK to keep him as pet you told me that you were up to the responsibility.”

“I am, dad. I am very responsible. I clean his cage and everything.”

“The zombies told me that they were the ones picking up his poop.”

“That is the same thing, isn’t it?”

“Well maybe in the eyes of the law… But cleaning it up yourself is supposed to teach you discipline.”

“Dad, it’s gross. It stinks. It has blood and mucus and pieces of bone. And it’s foamy. The zombies like to do it. They told me.”

“The zombies didn’t tell you that. Nobody likes picking up monster poop. Especially not from a black slime.” The mirror started to dim to blackness and Markey turned to walk away. Then, the evil mirror snapped brighter than ever. “Wait a minute, son. Have you been talking to the zombies?” There was almost excitement in the evil vision’s voice.

“You know what I mean, dad. I tell them to do stuff, and they do it.”

“So… You were fibbing?”

“Don’t be mad, dad.”

“Are you sure? You didn’t look like you were fibbing. You know it would be a big day if you could read their minds. You would be growing into a man. You are not scared of growing up, are you? You are still too young for ‘The Talk’ but I sure would be proud of my little man.”

“I wasn’t fibbing… I just don’t like to clean up the poop.”

“I know, but that is part of your responsibilities. And you need to be more careful with him. Have the zombies make sure his pit is sealed. I mean really sealed. A slime can get through even the smallest of cracks.”

“I will, dad.”

“And really watch them. You are the supervisor really make sure they are doing a good job. I don’t you to tell them I said this, but those zombies… I don’t want to say it. They are… Kind of…”

“Dumb, dad?”

“Don’t say it so loud, son. I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

“You don’t want to hurt the zombies’ feelings!?” Mark began to giggle.

“They do have feelings, son. We are not the only ones. Zombies are just the same as you and me. You should respect them.”

Mark looked a little ashamed. “I do respect them, dad.”

“OK, son. You just keep an eye on spot. We don’t need him going around killing people when you are not there to collect the power from their souls. We need everything we can get to power that machine. It seems like the power keeps leaking away little by little every day. I need to recheck the wiring diagram against the way the machine is actually hooked up. There has got to be something leaking to ground that shouldn’t me. I mean we really should have the thing up and running by now.”

Dear Satanists,

I know you get all up in arms about people saying that we live in a Christian country or quoting the Bible to explain why a law exists or should exist. But I think that we can all agree that you don’t need the Bible to explain why eating other people’s babies is against the law. In fact, eating your own babies is probably against the law, too. So, let’s just be fair about all this. You can’t complain… Because it’s only natural. You can’t complain when someone stumbles across you eating a baby, and says, “Jesus Christ! Milly call the cops.”

I know you have your constitutional protection against religious persecution and all, but some things just scare the words right out of you. Now, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it as a hate crime. If I apologize enough for hurting your feelings on this subject, will you please tell the police that you are not going to press charges. I don’t think I would do well in jail. And I didn’t really like little Billy that much anyway. You can go right on ahead and keep on eating on him. Be my guest.

Elmo from Monster Heaven

Old and frail. Balding atop his red furry monster head. Elmo sits bound to a wheelchair. He removes his oxygen mask and in a soft, gravely voice says, “Elmo learn today, children.” He stifles a cough. “Elmo say no smoke.”

He takes a slow breath. “Elmo sorry.” A tear glistens in his eye. “Elmo smoke all Elmo’s life.” He breathes. “Elmo smoke four packs per day. Count with Elmo.” He counts slowly and takes a breath between each number. “By time you see Elmo.” He leans forward shaking. “Elmo be dead.” He leans back in his chair. “Elmo learn word.” He pauses. “Elmo learn emphysema.” He takes a breath. “Children say with Elmo.” He speaks as clear as he can. “Em-fah-see-ma.”

Our ‘Special Time’

Well, Vern and Milly, I got you both here because I need you, Milly. I need ya ta do me a favor of kinda’ a personal nature. I think you know what I’m hintin’ at. That’s why you’re here, Vern. To make sure I ain’t outa’ line askin’ such things of your sweet Milly. I ain’t tryin’ to scandalize either of ya. But… How do I ask this?

Did ya’ll know…. I’m sure you did. I’m sure you did.

Did ya’ll know the world is so mixed up that they had to go and make a law that ya can’t have brother and sister stuff on the internet? Ain’t nobody really interested in none of that barring a few haints and boogers.

Nobody wants it. No son and mom. No dad and daughter. No sister and brother. I bet it woulda’ petered out anyway. ‘Cuase nobody liked it. But they made that there law.

And it worked, kinda. At least at reputable sites like, you know… pardon my sayin’… Vern, you know which ones I’m talking about. Is it OK if I say em? You know in front of Milly?

OK… Ahem! Sorry about this Milly.

Sites like, YouPorn, PornHub, Youjizz. You know, ‘reputable.’ You’ve been to all of em. I mean you, Vern. I wouldn’t presume anything about you Milly. And as you know… Vern, I know you know. Don’t lie to me.

They went and got rid of it all. I mean, it wasn’t real anyway, Milly. It wasn’t real so they just renamed it all. Instead of brother: stepbrother. Instead of sister: stepsister. That kind of thing.

So, they made that law and now peoples is going to try to get around it. And they go and make somethin’ bad worse. Oh, I know step-folks don’t sound that bad, Vern. But that’s what makes it worse. It don’t sound as bad.

 Now, you ain’t feelin’ guilty, until after when you erasin’ your search history. And we knew it wasn’t real before, Milly. And we woulda’ made it quit. Now, it ain’t gonna’ quit.

We knew we knew it wasn’t real before, Milly. And you know that we knew that we knew, Milly. I bet you seen it, too. I mean with Vern an you, and all. If you don’t mind my presumin’ a little.

 We woulda’ made it quit ‘cause there ain’t much worse things in the world that you can do while you are having that ‘special time’ than think of your parents. That’s right you wouldn’t like it.

The only thing worse than a parent: a brother or sister. Imagine. Or don’t. Do yourself a favor.

The only thing worse than a brother or sister: one of your kids. You’ve done it. And it ain’t good.

And for any of you liars who say that you ain’t ever think of your kids at the wrong time, we gonna pretend. Not you, Vern. Not you Milly. I wouldn’t call ya’ll liars.

Imagine them kids walkin’ in on you… only ten times worse! Because them kids, you can kick’em out of the room and lock the door, this time. I don’t know why you didn’t lock it the first time, but ya didn’t. You can do better. I know it. Again, I ain’t talkin’ about ya’ll.

And this happened to me just t’other day. Not the walkin’ in part but you know what I’m sayin.’

Me and my Melba were having our ‘special time’ and I go’d to pick her up, and I couldn’t. I thought in my head… And this is where I went wrong.

I thought she sure is heaver’n my baby boy. You know Cleet ain’t that little, but I can still pick him up. Ya’ see I done picked em up and put em in his bed the night before, and I couldn’t get it outa’ my head. And I couldn’t tell her nothin’ bein’ me and my wife’s ‘special time,’ and all. So, I tried to ignore it and I cain’t.

She see’d it on me an felt it, too. And she said, “Elmer, what in tarnation is wrong with your willy.” And I know’d I been done it. Ain’t nothing Melba like worse than a limp willy. She bein’ thinkin’ it all her fault, and all.

So, I decided I’d go and tell her a joke. Ya’ know, make her feel better. She likes my jokes. I’m known for em. I sometimes like to tell em a little blue. I hope you don’t mind.

And I shoulda’ known better! Every time, with all the ‘lady friends’ I ever had if I made a joke during our ‘special time,’ she’d be madder’n tarnation, all of em. Every one. If it’s her fault, that’s one thing, but I don’t want it to be mine. My Melba, god love her. But I wasn’t thinkin,’ and I shoulda’ been thinkin’…

I said to Melba, the sweetest, most lovin’ woman I ever know’d in my life. I said… And I apologize for talkin’ crass. I said, “Put my cock in your mouth, a hand on my balls, and a finger in my ass. And if that don’t work, nothin’ will.” I know’d it was over.

There wasn’t no coming back from that. No sir. Not with my lovin’ sweet, Melba. There is a fire in her eye. You can see it.

But she didn’t kill me. She cocked her head to the side and had this look on her face. There wasn’t no decipherin’ it. And before I know’d it she had done done it.

She stuck her finger right up my keister. And there I was yowling like a dying alley cat. But for some God-awful reason. I don’t mean to take the Lords name in vain.

But for some God-awful reason there was my willy standin’ straight an hard like I was fifteen years old with an old girly book I found rolled up in the loft.

And now Melba done got ta thinkin’ I like it that way. And every time we are havin’ our ‘special time’ together she’s got me squirming knuckle deep in my keister. And darn it all, my biscuits are burnin.’ My poor arse… Can I say arse? My poor arse is hurtin.’ Its swollen, an I cain’t eat nothin’ spicier than a dern bowl o’ puddin’ without flarin’ it all up.

So, Milly, when ya’ see her, when ya’ talk ta Melba, I’d kindly appreciate it if’n you’d tell er. Say Melba, Melba, do old Elmer a favor. Melba, please, please, just spit on your finger.

The lol Police

Look, of course, I know that ‘lol’ is an abbreviation for ‘laugh out loud.’ I only pronounce it phonetically because it has been part of the mainstream English lexicon at least the last twenty years. I just pronounce it that way because I know that you will understand it, not because I don’t. It is exactly like the abbreviation for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Only squares pronounce the ‘F’ the ‘B’ and the ‘I.’ It’s ‘Fubee.’ That’s how you say it, ‘Fubee.’

My Name is Judy

“No, Judy… You can’t send this letter to your sister. I mean, first of all, you used my real name.”

“I know. I know Yolanda but I tried. I just couldn’t think of any other name.”

“You don’t even have to…. You know, that is not even the point. Like, none of this is anything we even talked about, you know.” She folded the letter back up and put it on the table next to her cup of coffee. It was still full. She said, “Here Judy. Take one of my cigarettes.” She pulled her pack out of her purse and flipped out two cigarettes. She pulled a book of matches from between the box and the cellophane with one long red fingernail. “I don’t know what happens to all my lighters.” She lit both cigarettes with one match and gave one to Judy. Let’s go to the couch where its more comfortable.”

The living room was small but comfortable. The couch was on one end, a coffee table with a large blue ceramic ashtray in the shape of her daughter’s hand at five. Tina was in her twenties now and they never spoke. On the other end, the TV was running with the volume down. They sat. Judy sat as far against the armrest as she could. Yolanda scooted closer to her and put her hand on Judy’s knee. She looked at Judy and took a long puff on her cigarette. Then looked at the TV and pretended to watch. “Judy, you were supposed to be making amends not telling her what she did.”

“I know. I know. I worked so hard on it.”

“I can see…” Yolanda shifted nervously in her seat.

“No. I really did, but…”

“Hey, hey, it’s OK. Relax… No. Fuck it!” She faced Judy this time really looking at her. “You’re using again, aren’t you?”

“What? No! I’m not using.” Judy stood up from the couch and banged her shins against the coffee table. “I would never.”

“We both know that’s a lie.” She stood up, too. “We’d both be using if we could. We’re both stupid enough.”

“I’m not gonna let someone accuse me.” She pulled open the door and knocked the screen opened with her shoulder. She kicked the screen door when it came swinging shut on her.

Yolanda yelled out the door at Judy as she stomped across the lawn. “You better be at the meeting tonight.”

Judy turned around and flipped her off with both fhands. “Fuck you! You stupid bitch.”

“You know I can cuss too. You dumb cunt! You better be at the meeting. I don’t want to hear about you dying on the streets dosed on fentanyl.”

Judy threw the stump of her cigarette and said, “I hope it catches your house on fire.” She stormed down the street not knowing where she was supposed to be going.

She really wasn’t using, but she wasn’t doing well either. She had been offered free meetings with a psychiatrist, and she even went a few times. But he was trying to put her on drugs, and she can’t do that. They say it’s just a pill, but for her one pill is like another, just not as good. And before you know it, she is using again. Tricking again. Stealing again. In jail again. Or worse.

She had been walking for a long time, and when she realized where she was, she was back in her old part of town where she used to score. She was right in front of the U-Pak-It liquor store the same place where she was arrested last year for shoplifting. She could feel people looking at her. She recognized one of the men who had been sitting against the building. And he recognized her and got to his feet.

“Judy! When I hadn’t seen you, I thought you was dead.”

“No, not dead.” She started to feel the old familiar twitch. “Meetings.” It was Romero. He was a sometimes dealer and an all the time user.

 “Meetings? Honey, not you. You don’t do meetings.”

“Yes. I am going to one now.” Judy was trying to think of the quickest way back home without anyone else seeing her.

“What? Before lunch? Out here huh… I know what kinda meetings you looking for. In fact, I looking for one, too.”

“No, Romero. I need to go home. I don’t want people to see me.” She was fidgeting and looking for a chance to get away quietly.

“No. Honey, no. I got my share of the money, today. We just talk to Markus…” There was banging coming from the liquor store window.

The old man that worked the counter was yelling. “You two get out of here. I calling the cops.”

Romero hit the window himself. “You’re an asshole, Mr. Ling. Nobody out here likes you.” He grabbed Judy by the arm. “Come on let’s cut through the alley. We can find a good place to hide before the cops find us.”

Judy tried to pull away. “The cops can’t do nothin. I ain’t done nothin.” But she figured Yolanda had probably called the cops from their earlier dust up. She knew because she had done the same anytime one of her friends had acted like that in her house. But all her friends were addicts weren’t they? Yolanda isn’t… anymore. But she could sure talk like one. Goddamn! Could that bitch scream out the word ‘cunt.’ The whole neighborhood knew when Yolanda was pissed.

Romero had led them through the alley and out to a housing complex. This wasn’t one that she had ever been to, but she knew why he had stopped.

“I don’t remember H as your shit. But that’s all Mopey got, and we ain’t gonna be back by Markus. Not when the cops is around. So… you got money, or you gonna suck his dick? Cause I ain’t gonna suck his dick.”

“Nothin, Romero. Nothin. I don’t want no H. I don’t want nothin.” She had said it, but she wasn’t sure it was true.

“You really are clean, ain’t you?” He gave her a funny look. Then he reached into her pockets. He said, “You got me out here. I gettin my shit.” He pulls his hand out of her pocket. He had a hand full of coins and the pen she had used to sign the letter to her sister. She grabbed it. He let her have it. He said, “Where’s the rest of your money, bitch.”

“I ain’t got none.” She held the pin in front of her with both hands.

“Are you gonna stab me with that, bitch.” He almost looked amused. “Well, stab me then.” He slapped her. He slapped her again, and he punched her. Her nose began to bleed. “Well, bitch you gonna stab me?” He pushed her to the ground hard as he could and kicked her in the ribs. She dropped the pen. He kneeled down with one of his knees on her chest and went through her pockets again. He pulled out her EBT card. “Is this all you got? Huh? How much you got on there?” She looked stunned and didn’t say anything. “OK, bitch. You probably ain’t got nothing on it anyway.”

He dropped the card and it fluttered to the ground. He didn’t know about the twenty that she kept in her shoe, and she wasn’t going to tell him. He began to walk away like he hadn’t just beat the shit out of a helpless old woman on the street in broad daylight. She was gonna use the money. She was gonna got fucked up. He wasn’t gonna get any.

She had never done H. She had never liked the downers, but today was a special day. A good day to try something new. The only problem was she didn’t know Mopey. She didn’t know which one of these doors was his. And knocking on random doors asking for a known drug dealer is a good way to get robbed or shot especially when he doesn’t know you.

She got up and started walking back toward the U-Pak-It Liquor. She knew Marcus. He had the shit she liked, and he might even give her a deal for old time’s sake.

Her head hurt from the getting hit, and she thought she may have hit her head when Romero knocked her to the ground. But she was starting to forget bits and pieces of what had just happened to her. She was swaying as she walked down the alley, and she was squinting. The light seemed so much brighter that it had been earlier. So she wasn’t too surprised when the cops pulled up behind her without her noticing. If she couldn’t concentrate before she sure couldn’t concentrate now.

The cop got out of his car. “If it isn’t Judy. Why am I not surprised? Come on get in the car.”

“Officer Clark, I didn’t do nothin.”

“Oh, come on Judy. A crack head has always done something. And look at the blood on your face. You have been fighting.” He cuffed her hands behind her and put her in the back of his patrol car. “Old Ling called on you earlier. You knew you’d be going down. Are you gonna tell me who did this to you, or are we gonna find out downtown?” When she made it to the station, she called Yolanda to come pick her up.

When she arrived at the station, Yolanda went to the officer in charge of the desk to get them to release Judy. “Look. I’m her sponsor. I just need to know, so I can know what to expect.”

The officer leaned closer to the little metal grate in the glass barrier. “Fine. All we had was a suspicious person report. She didn’t have any drugs on her, and she didn’t consent to a blood test.”

“So you don’t know. And took her in for no reason.”

“Look, she has a history, and I wasn’t the one to pick her up.”

“I don’t care about that. I wanna know about her.”

He sat back down. “I guess you are just going to have to ask her.”

“She’s just gonna lie.” He shrugged his shoulders and motioned for her to sit in the waiting room.

Judy was escorted through the double doors by another officer. He was helping her walk. Her eye had swollen and was starting to turn purple.

Yolanda said, “Oh Judy….” She turned the officer. “Did you do this to her?”

He looked at her with open disdain. “You would like that wouldn’t you?”

“And you didn’t take her to the hospital.” Now she was starting to get angry.

He said, “Take her yourself.”

Judy said, “I’m fine.”

“She refused.”

“They would just give me drugs.”

Yolanda said, “So you’re not using.” There was relief in her voice. “OK. No doctors then.” Yolanda shook her head. “Then you’re sleeping on my couch. You look like you got a concussion.”

Judy said, “And the meeting.”

“You just rest tonight.”

“No, I really need it.”

Yolanda drove them back to her house. She got Judy cleaned up as best as she could and lent her some of her clothes. They were too big, but at least, they didn’t have blood on them. At the meeting that night, Yolanda helped her to her feet. Judy looked at everybody. She said, “My name is Judy. I am a stupid cunt, and within a month, I will be dead dosed on fentanyl.” She saw the looks on their faces. She said, “I ain’t usin, but I fuckin want to.” She had never been this honest with them before.

Making Amends

Dear Jessica,

I have been working on my sobriety. I am in a 12 step program for real this time. I have really been leaning on my sponsor like you always told me that I should. And she thinks… I am not supposed to say her name, so I will call her Yolanda. Yolanda thinks that there are some unresolved issues between you and me. I told her that I am not good about talking about these things with you. That it always ends up in a fight. But a letter. She said that a letter would work. I could say the things that I needed to say to work toward closure and ask you for amends. In a letter I am safe. You can’t get in the way, and I won’t get upset. So here goes.

You were always the pretty one. Your face washed, hair done. You wore all those pretty clothes. Look, I didn’t have all those privileges. My face was always broken out. I cut my hair short so people wouldn’t look at me. I learned to cuss and wear punk rock clothes. And I played my music loud so I didn’t have to hear your face.

Your first boyfriend told me I could be pretty if I tried. I told him to go fuck his mother in her face. And he called me a bitch. Yes, those were the kind of people that you hung around with. You could have stopped it. But you didn’t. But you wouldn’t.

Why do you think I got into the drugs? It was you. It was all you. In and out of all those detoxes and programs and sober living facilities. You weren’t there. Yeah, whatever with your visitations.

What about your husband? You never brought him to see me. Your kids, I didn’t get to see them until they were old enough to invite people to their birthday parties. And then they wanted to spend all their time with their friends. The one day a year I know you will let me see them, and you poison them against me. And their friends, just like yours. They just see me as this horrible toothless person with smelly clothes and slurred speech. I don’t know why I even bother with you except that I need you to love me. You horrible fucking cunt. I hope you die in a fiery crash, and the doctors keep you alive just long enough for me to get to the hospital and shit on your face.

Your loving sister,

Judy

P.S.

I hear you have been coming down with a cold. I hope you get well soon.

That Fucking Monopoly Game

Just my luck. There was a bank error in my favor. The ATM screen stared back at me through the driver side window. There was no way we had that much money in our account. We had been out to dinner. Then, to the store to get groceries and diapers. And the last minute addition of cigarettes. No wonder she had a fit when I mentioned going through the one short line. We had to go through the longest line in Mississippi. The God damn tobacco line. The “I ain’t got enough money to feed my own kids but I’m sure as hell going to fill my lungs with tar” line.

My wife is here looking over my shoulder from the passenger seat. I know she sees the bank balance. She is gonna go fucking crazy with this money that we don’t really have. Real life is not like that fucking Monopoly game. When the bank fucks up, they take that money back. On their terms and not yours. If you don’t have enough money in your account when they notice, they will put your account in the negative and charge your ass an overdraft fee.

I may guilt her into not spending it before we make it back home, but she’ll be back in town with my bank card just as soon as I get to sleep. Maybe life is like Monopoly. You just keep spending until everybody is fucking bankrupt.

Banana Peels and Toothpaste

Josh also told me that he thought he was gonna die the day that I sent him off with a joint of dried banana peels soaked in toothpaste. I told him that it was too harsh to hold in like weed, so he should smoke it as if it were a cigarette. This anecdote is only funny in retrospect, however, because it wasn’t meant as a trick. Money was always in short supply and I had always heard (wrongly) that dried banana peels would get you high.

 

The night before, I ate as many of my mom’s bananas as I could and dried the peels overnight in the oven. The dried peels were so hard that I had to use a knife to cut them into small strips before I could roll them in Joint papers. The peels were hard to get to keep lit and when they were lit they would curl out in a black and red end ripping the end of the paper as sad strands of smoke rose from the diffuse cherry (if you could call it that) making it look like a cigarette load had just blown off the end of your joint. The smoke you sucked out the end tasted bad and burned your throat badly. And to make matters worse, it would not get you high in the slightest. But I had made up a bunch of these bad boys and Josh and his buddy Javier had come over asking me if I had any weed.

 

I told them that all I had were these shitty banana peel joints, but I did know of a trick that actually had worked for me. One night recently when I had been hanging out with my other buddy Josh, we had stopped by Danny’s house and asked him if we could use some toothpaste. This was a gamble because we weren’t sure if Danny or any of the meth smoking adults he lived with even had toothpaste. Lord knows they never used it. But the toothpaste was a sure bet, because this Josh was a little older and he learned about smoking toothpaste when he spent a short stint in rehab. Danny came back out of his house with an unused tube of no name toothpaste. Josh squeezed it out across one side of a Marlboro cigarette making it look like making it look like a long white toothbrush ready for your nightly hygiene rituals. We sent Danny back in with the toothpaste and walked across the street to the dark of the schoolyard hoping that Danny wouldn’t see where we had gone and wouldn’t follow.

 

That toothpaste on that Marlboro had gotten me high as fuck even if I felt like I was going to puke my guts out. So for young Josh and Javier I went to my medicine cabinet and pulled out the Crest Gel and squeezed it across the banana peel joint. It wasn’t the same type of toothpaste but I figured it would work for them.