Part One is Here
The Convenience of Guilt
My wide eyes scanned the interior of my apartment and it seemed foreign to me. Everything in it was filled with a witch’s scorn. It was like seeing the woods at night for the first time. The shapes of the trees, flowers and bushes were the same but the shadows twisted and deformed things. What looked so placid or functional in the bright sunshine turned into a coiled spider in the darkness.
The compressor on my refrigerator twisted on and the appliance burped into life. I felt my body tense momentarily and I got a dull pain behind my right eye. The wind blew leaves outside and I heard that ball skip across the driveway outside. The sound of glass breaking in the street and a little girl giggling made my stomach churn. The autumn breeze carried the laughter further down the block and I was alone with my thoughts.
“The world seems less crazy when I’m drunk,” I reasoned aloud to myself. I said things like this often to justify drinking instead of reading a book, swimming some laps at the Y, visiting loving relatives or hanging out with the friends I had grown up with.
The sound of an incoming text rang like a funeral bell in a horror movie. I rubbed my eyes and walked over to my chair and ottoman. I could see my smartphone, black and lifeless, lying next to a half empty bottle of beer. The alcohol had spilled all over the fabric and there were chunks of some deep fried meat scattered about like morbid chess pieces.
The message was from Kara. I closed my eyes and a pained grunt escaped my constricting throat. This couldn’t be good.
“Might as well get this over with,” I said and read the message.
Well, you certainly made the happy hour interesting. Could have done without you telling me your fetishes with dirty cute feet. Feet are fucking gross and so were you. The women around the office are going to look at you differently, for however much time you have left there. I like you Gus. I really do. You need to learn that drinking and the truth don’t mix. I tried talking to Jerry from HR, but don’t know if it did any good. He was kind of pissed. Fuck him, he’s a bitch. He got lucky that the pig he dates has the right daddy. However, he can cause trouble for you. I hope you got home ok. I will txt you later. A few of us came back to Justin’s place in Oyster Bay. God, it’s huge. I will give you a shout later in the afternoon, once I get home and get some rest.
I let the smartphone slide out of my hand like it was a knife I had just plunged into my own chest. I tried to dig into the recesses of my mind to find out what I might have done to piss that asshole, Jerry, off. My imagination thought of everything from spilling a drink on his designer shirt to trying to suck his dick at the bar. I believed I might try anything for a laugh when I was plastered.
And Kara was at Justin’s house in Oyster Bay? It was almost three thirty in the morning. That rich motherfucker was living in a mansion up on the North Shore and I was stuck in a studio down in fucking Baldwin, about three blocks from the Freeport border. I may as well have been languishing in some third world jail cell.
And that self-involved douchebag was still in his twenties.
“Fucking Justin Duckworth?” I whined through gritted teeth that had a nasty tasting film forming on them. I felt the need to go on a diatribe. “She fell for that sociopath’s rap? He’s drinking watered down white wine while everyone else is getting stupid. Always angling for the edge to be able to manipulate someone and control them. And I’ll be the one on the unemployment line. You just had to slam back those shots, didn’t you, Gus? Act like a big man in front of the little ladies? Tullamore Dew should’ve been Tullamore Don’t.”
I felt that I needed to drink my way through this malaise. A few drinks to figure out my play at work on Monday. A few drinks to get the stones to ask Kara what the fuck I had done. A few drinks to like being with myself again. A few drinks to understand why the air felt so spoiled and if those were eyes staring in at me from outside my windows?
I thought I heard someone coughing outside. The ghosts of October?
A few drinks to figure out if that little girl had written on my door, or someone I had been with earlier? A few drinks to figure out where that little girl came from? A few drinks to figure out what that little girl was?
I felt like I was in hell, or maybe just a really vile prison. It was a feeling I would need to get used to. I should have tried to fall back asleep on my damp bed and wake up with soggy pride and a clearer mind. Piss washes off with soap and water and embarrassment fades like the playoff hopes of the New York Jets come November.
I was about to face off against eternal damnation.
I was starting to smell the urine on my clothes as I made my way to the fridge. Next to it on the counter was a stack of mail. There was an ornate envelope on the messy pile of unpaid bills and red light tickets. I picked it up and studied it like a one hundred dollar bill. It was from my best friend, Pierre Luzerne. I hadn’t seen him in almost a year. I had been ducking his calls, emails, and texts like a scrawny boxer dodging haymakers from the heavyweight champ. It looked like an invitation.
It was unopened.
Like everything else in my life that I didn’t want to deal with, I buried it under the rest of the shit on that mound. I opened the fridge and saw that I had no beer. I also had no milk, eggs, vegetables, meat or water. I had all the fucking condiments in the world, however. There was also a boneless rib sandwich from the convenience store on Atlantic Avenue. When did I get that?
I let the door close, making a mental note that I would need to pick up cash and beer from the all night mart. Depending on how much I felt I needed to start pounding back some pumpkin ale, I would either take a cab to get my car today or tomorrow. My brain reminded me that eventually I would have to stop drinking and my problems would still be there.
“Fuck you,” I said to my stupid brain as I got ready to shower. If it was so smart why was I living the way that I was?
I brushed my teeth and showered. My teeth were as sensitive as a flat-chested feminist with acne. I made sure I washed my nether regions as much as I could. As usual, I was disappointed in the size of my dick, but on my list of flaws, being hung like a field mouse was way down near the bottom. The hot water felt great and I momentarily forgot about the disaster that the previous ten hours probably was.
As I stepped out and toweled off, I actually began to think I was overreacting and all would be fine. In September of 2009, I predicted the Yankees would win the World Series so I had some kind of foresight into the way shit was.
I threw on some comfortable jeans, sneakers and a long sleeve black t-shirt. To top off my wardrobe, I grabbed an overpriced navy blue vest from a company named after the southern region of South America and a black flat cap. At least when I was shit faced on a bar stool at noon, maybe I would look like a writer or an off duty cop. They both told stories so they could get into women’s panties.
As I walked towards the door I heard the coughing again from outside. I stopped and tilted my head to listen. Someone shuffled their feet on my welcome mat on the other side of the door. With frustration crawling under my skin like venomous beetles, I lunged at the door and swung it open.
My landlady was standing there. She had a look on her face like I had backed over her dog in the driveway. Good thing I took a cab home. Her blond hair was messy from sleep. She took a drag of her cigarette.
“What the hell are you doing, Gus?” she wanted to know. Her breath smelled of cigarettes and chocolate ice cream. Her teeth were in pretty good shape, however. Mine were still ringing, like someone had smacked me upside the head with a baseball bat. I needed to find another dentist.
My current one was from Argentina and had a German last name.
“Hey Anna,” I managed to get out. “What do you mean?”
“You having some kind of party out here?” she asked, her voice shrill like a phone operator in an old comedy movie. “Or a black mass meeting?”
I could only shake my head silently. My eyes fixated on her large tits under her NY Mets tee-shirt. She was probably a looker in her heyday, in that biker bitch barmaid way. I felt myself getting excited, but I looked back up in her piercing eyes as I had never heard her mad at me. I didn’t need a cigarette getting stamped out in one of my eyes.
“Look at all the lawn furniture,” she continued and did a half turn and I saw that all her rusty chairs and tables had been knocked over. “I just woke up and heard people walking around out here and talking. It sounded like they were prayin’ or reciting incoherent nonsense. What did you go to some Halloween Party or something? What time did you get home?”
That was a good question.
“I went out with some people from work and I came home and went to bed,” I mumbled, trying to sound like I knew what the fuck I had been doing for the last several hours. “I couldn’t sleep so I got up and I am going to get some coffee.”
“What the hell happened to the door?” Anna squawked, pointing at it in a motion that reminded me of a karate chop. “You have a kid that you didn’t tell me about? I told you no kids. I hate kids. It looks like a kid wrote that!! Is that fucking lipstick?? Lipstick is for whores and has no business being near kids.”
I managed to shrug and open my mouth slowly, like a recovering stroke victim.
“I like you Gus,” Anna said, her voice calming down. She coughed up some phlegm and spit it on the ground right near my left foot. “You pay the rent when it’s due at least half the time, you’re quiet and you don’t complain. I can’t have this kind of nonsense going on out here, though. I need you to clean this door up before Monday and then we should have a talk. I’m going back to bed, I have to work tomorrow.”
I watched her walk away and scratch her pleasantly ample ass. She had maybe thirty years on me, but I always fantasized sitting at her kitchen table—with the antique tea set and napkin holder in the middle—drinking Wild Turkey until we would violently fuck in every room of her house. Maybe she would have a heart attack and die from the pleasure and I could live rent free for a while?
I thought about apologizing, but left it alone. I didn’t even know if I had a reason to be sorry? That fucking lawn furniture wasn’t knocked over the first time I was outside. Shit was getting weird. Everything was just a little off, a facsimile created from pictures and not tangible experience. It was like writing about a place you had never been in a rudimentary way. Just the general stuff, no details. Maybe I had just punished my internal organs so much and the poison was eating away at my brain?
Drinking is the demon of changed body chemistry.
The night was chilly, but humid. The air didn’t want to push down into my lungs and I couldn’t catch a deep breath. Annoying, like everything else in my life. Checking that I had my wallet and house keys, I walked down the driveway and opened the gate. I closed it behind me and turned around. I took one step on the sidewalk and stopped dead in my tracks.
My car was sitting at the curb.
“Oh, shit.” I muttered.
I felt like I was standing on a remote beach, watching an armada of gunships bust through the horizon on their way towards me. The horrible possibilities of what may have happened on the drive home taunted me like characters in a Dali painting. I would have remembered something really horrible happening. I always did.
The orange streetlamp illuminated my black 2001 Honda Accord—the two door six cylinder one—in a sickly light. It looked like one of those mystery meat sandwiches dying under the hot lamp at a concession stand. I looked at the headlight on the passenger side and noticed something was askew. I walked slowly closer to my car, bending over and holding out my right arm as I got close.
I fucking hit something.
The bumper just under the head light was cracked off. The headlight was busted down the middle. I followed the damage with my eyes and saw that the fender panel was badly dented and the wheel well was now deformed. I shined the flashlight from my smartphone on it to better inspect the damage. Luckily there was no debris from the wheel well that could rub against the tire, which also seemed to be intact.
“Holy shit,” I said. It felt like someone was holding a lit match under my chin.
I momentarily thought about heading back inside and trying to find sleep again. I could wake up later and face my mistakes like an adult. And sober. I looked at the empty church across the street. Inside, there was a red light that shone through the darkness of one of the stained glass windows. It was probably from an exit sign or something, but it always freaked me out a little. I doubted that all the ghosts in church were of the “Holy” variety.
“Nah,” I reasoned with the nighttime air, “I won’t be able to fall asleep unless I am drinking anyway.”
I started the ten minute walk to the 24 hour convenience store on Atlantic Avenue on the Freeport/Baldwin border. By the time I had crossed that bridge right before the all night mart, I was making a descent into hell.
As I made my way over the bridge I looked at the murky water below, wondering if I jumped in, would my waterlogged corpse be found before my eyeballs were plucked by eels or adventurous bluefish? A couple of cars whizzed by me on either side of the bridge, hurrying to get home from a night of partying or making the early Saturday shift at work.
I was on a narrow sidewalk walking against the traffic and when a truck roared by me like a lumbering dinosaur, I wondered how painless getting busted into a dozen pieces by it would be. Definitely messy, but I probably wouldn’t know what happened. And I wouldn’t have to clean up the mess. Lately, I seemed to be thinking more and more about suicide when I was hungover, but I wouldn’t have the guts to kill myself unless I was drunk. And I liked myself when I was drinking. It was a lifesaving Catch-22.
Another car bounced over the bridge and in the headlight’s glare I saw the remnants of flares being burned on the street. The displaced air from the passing auto twisted a three foot section of yellow tape into the air until it rested back down on the curb.
My left knee started to throb again and my heartbeat picked up the pace. I saw the smeared mounds of the white powder residue from the flares and began to calculate the possibility I had something to do with the accident. Did I smash my left knee on the dashboard or steering column? What did that damage to my car? Some kid’s beloved mutt? A prized cat from an old woman’s feline harem?
It had been too dark to see any possible blood embedded into my car’s paint job.
I saw a police cruiser pull out of the parking lot of the convenience store and it felt like someone stuck a railroad spike in my sternum. The squad car hooked a right turn and slowly passed me on Atlantic Avenue. That motherfucker was driving about seventeen miles an hour. I thought my face was going to fucking melt.
The cop gave me his pig stare when he passed me. He needed to show me he owned the streets at 430am. You can have them and their horrific silence, Bub. I listened for the sound of squealing tires, signaling he was doubling back on me like a hungry shark. I closed my eyes for about seven seconds as I continued to walk.
The cop sped away.
I walked cautiously into the convenience store, as if a sharpshooter had his sights set on me. The clerk was deep in a serious conversation with a tall and thin elderly man. The old dude looked like he was dressed to go hunting. As I made my way to the rear of the store, their gazes followed me like I was some suspicious character from an old Dickens’ story.
Feeling somewhat self-conscious, I grabbed a six pack of beer. I walked to the counter and I caught the clerk’s eye. He was about twenty-two. He looked like a surfer. His greasy blond hair and acne had a sickening shine under the fluorescent lighting in the store. He looked at my face for a moment and his eyes focused on the brews. I couldn’t tell if it was indifference or disdain that washed over his face.
The clerk turned his attention back to the old man, who was chattering away like an old teletype machine. He held a large thermos in a frail hand that looked like bruised meat wrapped in cellophane. It sounded like they were talking about an accident outside on the bridge on Atlantic Avenue.
My gut tensed up again.
“I sure hope that kid is going to be ok,” the old man said in a strong voice, “it doesn’t look too good.”
The clerk scratched at the purplish bumps on his chin. “Not only do some people not deserve to be driving, they don’t deserve to be living.”
“I got my rifle in my truck,” the old dude explained, “I felt like grabbing it and dispensing some of the Lord’s vengeance.”
“Seriously, bro.” The clerk agreed. He winced in pain and pressed a finger on the acne on his chin.
“What happened?” I asked weakly. As if I didn’t already know.
“Some asshole ran a little boy over. Right up on the bridge,” the clerk mentioned, aggravated that I was not up to date on the details. “Then the piece of shit drove away. The kid’s in really bad shape.”
“It’s in God’s hands now,” the old man said solemnly. “I need two packs of Parliament’s.”
Something was blocking my windpipe. I couldn’t breathe or talk. I suddenly wished death would take me as its lover for the night. I wanted to drown in a see of mushy cadavers so I would never have to see the sun or moon again.
The clerk turned around, grabbed two packs of smokes and tossed them on the counter. The old man grabbed them and shoved them in his red and black checkered hunting jacket.
“Twenty two bucks,” the clerk informed the old man, “You see that fucking Jeep you make sure you shoot first and call 911 later. Probably some rich piece of shit that will get off with a slap on the wrist. And it will be the wrist that doesn’t have the Rolex on it.”
“The guy was driving a Jeep?” I asked. I was beginning to feel like I had won the lottery.
“You know someone with a Jeep?” the clerk wanted to know. “You drive a Jeep? I see you in here every once in a while when you buy your beer.”
The clerk sounded like he really didn’t like me.
“No Jeep,” I said smiling. I felt good. “An old Honda.”
The old man looked at me and my beers with piercing blue eyes. He looked like he may have killed some people in a war. “A little early to be drinking, ain’t it sonny?”
“He’s just continuing the party,” the clerk said, smiling and nodding his head slowly. He seemed to understand.
“Going fishing,” I said. I don’t know why I lied. It was nobody’s business what I did with my life.
“What you fishing for?” the old man pried.
“Excuses mostly,” I mentioned, smiling in an exaggerated way. I was trying to let them know they were encroaching on my privacy.
The old man turned back to the clerk. “That mess out there reminds me of little Anabella Da Silva back in ’85. That was horrible. God stepped away from Baldwin that day I can tell you.”
He made a sign of the cross with his right hand.
Yeah, I had to know. “Who’s Anabella Da Silva.”
“You live around here, dontcha’ Bro?” the clerk asked incredulously.
“Been here six months,” I returned. “I live on Hayes, right near the church.”
“Ahh interesting,” the old man said. “Anabella DaSilva was killed by a drunk driver as she was crossing the street going to that church. She was the cutest little thing. She had curly blond hair and called everybody fartbag. It was really endearing. You know how kid’s are with their scatological vernacular.”
The wind was completely taken out of my sails.
“A real shame,” the old man continued, “she had gone back to the house to bring her mother lipstick. Her mother liked to look her best at church. Not for Jesus, mind you. The mother was always looking for a husband. The little girl’s father took off after she was born. The mother was a real looker. Blond hair, big tits. Could make a priest forget his vows. She still lives around here. Last name is Carpenter.”
My landlady’s last name was Carpenter. I suddenly felt the need to leave town for the day, get drunk and not be alone. With a shaky hand, I got onto the internet on my smartphone and went to the site that had a listing of all the female escorts on Long Island.
Hell hath no fury and all that good shit.
TO BE CONTINUED………………….