Sideways

Now I was inside Sailor.  I walked around the cabin, rail thin, a ragged T-shirt hanging from my bones, my eyes clouded and gaunt, flesh drawn back under my cheekbones.  Through Sailor’s eyes, I saw myself, also in a T-shirt, no underwear, wearing old sneakers, squatting on the back step of the cabin, huffing gas, fingernails long and dirty on the can.

Later I got cold and sick and took to hiding myself under a blanket on our dingy, battered sofa.  I lay in squalor; I didn’t get up to change rooms at bedtime.  Days and nights blurred together.  I only bathed occasionally.  Our hot water heater failed, but I didn’t care if the water was only luke warm.  Old food stank up the kitchen; dirty pots and pans that had been hidden away in cupboards lay untouched, undiscovered.  We didn’t care.  All we wanted to do was huff gas.

Sometimes Sailor would write notes and pass them to me, but the words she wrote were not words at all.  They barely even had discernible letters.  I would stare for hours at the little loops and jots, trying to understand nothing.  Sometimes we would share cigarettes after huffing…hotboxing and blowbacking until we passed out.  We had no idea how close we came to dying in a gas explosion.  We were oblivious, sleeping at all hours of day or night.  Sometimes we would wake up and have intercourse.  Our sex was carnal, mechanical.  We would eat each other until our private parts stank of gas…then we would squat down and connect, popping our crotches together crudely until one of us hunched up with a stiffening, genital orgasm.  Afterwards we would huff more gas.

We grew afraid to go outside, to feel the sun on our skin.  Even when we ran out of cigarettes, we could not bear to go down to the village anymore; we were afraid to show our faces.  We huddled inside.  My hair began to fall out in clumps.  Sailor’s teeth went bad; I could see them when we would try to talk, our mouths moving, our words coming out like sounds from underwater, far away, as if our lips were connected to some other remote brain in some other place…our consciousness witnessing but not comprehending…the words left meaningless, our bodies’ movements and need for more fumes the only thing we could truly feel.

We’d found a cache of gasoline in an old shed near the cabin…and we thought it would be enough for us…enough to last until we were dead.  But it wasn’t; it didn’t.  We ran out of money.  We thought we’d hid some someplace, our money from the time with Harlin Coke, cash we’d hid in the bed, or under the bed…

We took the bed apart, slowly, weakly, desperately, over the course of 8, 10, 12 hours.  No, maybe it was days.  Later we sat listlessly, strung-out, on the yellow grass outside the back door…in the middle of the day.  We didn’t know how we landed there, or whether it was warm or cold outside; we didn’t care.  Then we were walking down into the village…to steal gas, our self consciousness now gone.  We were numb, poisoned animals, walking skeletons.

We had not been able to steal.  We had run out.  We had failed. We had survived.

 

(Back Door: Enter Sicky, Skinny Haley, Haley Minwood, or Guilty Dirty Jesus into the search bar.)

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We turned

We have to turn and look back.  We have to face it, I thought.

Sailor pulled on my arm, hard.  We lurched to a stop, whipped around.

The streams of light on either side of us poured down the corridor into the eye-holes of a face; the eyes were twin black holes, whirlpools, pulling everything in.  My body froze.  I tried to open my mouth, but no sound would come out.  My throat was paralyzed.  Sailor lifted her hand, pointing.  Her arm trembled.  I did not need to see her to know her terror, to know the courage it took to call out this face with a gesture of her tiny hand.  I forced a scream.  I looked into the wavering eyes and screamed into them until I poured out of my body and in through the eye holes of the ghoul.  Sailor whispered my name inside my head.  I had gone into the body of the ghoul.

 

 

 

Crickets

Sailor climbed with a renewed impetus, searching for the source of the mysterious music. Nightfall approached, and the air grew cold.

I stumbled  in the darkness and fell down into one of the hollows between roots. Sailor turned back.  She stepped down to help me up with a firm forearm grip.  In her frank, practical way, she said, “This shit is insane.  We left under an hour ago.  Now it’s dark.”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Should we turn back?”

“Let’s keep going.  We’ll be going downhill once we turn back.”

Holding hands now, we climbed at a ferocious pace.  The cold air turned to wind, blowing Sailor’s hair back, pressing against our clothes.  The wind howled and moaned over the fading song of the crickets.

We leaned into the wind, climbing for what seemed like an hour.  As the night grew colder, darker, the howl of the wind died slowly away.  The sound of the crickets dissolved entirely.

Presently, a sound something like the soft fuzz of a radio came from high above us.  Rain had begun to fall.  The thick canopy of the giant, primeval trees protected us, but it would only be a matter of time before rain penetrated the canopy.

We were tired now, climbing more slowly, our hands freezing cold, gripped tight.  It was ridiculous to hold hands and climb – it felt as if we could pitch forward and fall with the slightest misstep – and yet somehow it worked…as if the magic of the forest recognized the sweet power we invoked through our contact.

 

The Trail

At first the trail was easy: a soft, narrow bed of humus and broken bark lead us upward.  Then, little by little, roots criss-crossed the trail, grew thicker and more twisted, as if giant, knotted coils of living hemp had slithered across the the forest floor and lain down to sleep, growing old, slowly bristling with bark and moss.  We lost sight of the sky as the trees nourished by these roots crowded out the sun.  The air grew cooler.  The roots grew closer together, with little levels and hollows between them, each hollow higher than the one before, so that the trail formed a sort of elaborate terrace.  We wound our way up the terrace slowly, still smoking our cigarettes, swirls and halos of pale blue smoke trailing behind us as we went.

Then Sailor’s cigarette went out.  I saw it go; it glowed slightly brighter in the gloom, then winked out, as if someone had turned up the power from a tiny battery before switching it off. Mine went out, too, as if someone had blown it out.  I looked around behind me, but saw no one.  I turned back to face the trail ahead.  Sailor looked back, holding out the stump of her cigarette.  I nodded, held out mine, and dropped it in one of the little hollows between the roots.

Realizing we should have brought another layer of clothing to protect us against the cool air, we drew closer, and made our way up side by side.  The sound of crickets filled the spaces between the trees.  Then the sound changed, warping and keening into strange, other-worldly music.  Nervously, we pressed on.

 

(Back Door: Enter “Anticipation” into the search bar.)

 

The Return of Harlin Coke

Maybe it’s corny, but I’ll tell you why we went down to California.  To be free.

There was a writer who said that anything in the continental U.S. not nailed in place slides down into L.A….like the stuff sliding into the corner of your junk drawer when you take it out.  Something like that.  Anyway, our case was no different, Sailor’s and mine.  We slid down into L.A. like a pair of old, dirty pennies.

After Sailor met Harlin in a smoky basement bar called Grog on the Lower East Side, he’d taken her to suck him off in the Chelsea Hotel.  After he’d paid, on the way out the door, he’d dropped a card.  Harlin Coke, filmmaker.  And a number.  Sailor told me that he’d mumbled something on his way out the door, lighting up a cigarette, talking low through the smoke.  “Could use a good indie chick like you.”

When she’d come home from all that, she’d flicked the card down on the kitchen table in front of me, right by my coffee cup.

It’d been right after my breakdown, and I couldn’t sleep.  I’d come out to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee and was just reading and drinking coffee and chainsmoking out there.  As I sat, the first light came through the blinds and fell in pale bars across the kitchen table.

“What do you think about that?”  She’d asked.  “Met him down at Grog.  One john that turned out to be a decent fornicator.  And he dropped his card.”

I didn’t say anything.  Just some asshole who wanted to shoot another cheap home porn with a New York hooker.

“Why do we need some shitty excuse to go down to L.A.?” I asked, “We can just go.”

“Upi owes this guy a favor.”

“I don’t understand.”

“If I just duck out he’ll track me down.  He’ll try to hurt me.”

I took a sip of coffee.

“Upi, I mean.  But if we have a reason to leave, and he knows the guy, owes him…well, maybe it will be different.”

I was still processing.  “He would track you down…across the whole goddamn country?

“He’s crazy.”  She turned away from me.  She was going through a corner cupboard I’d never seen her use before.

“And you think this other guy isn’t.   Harlin Coke?  What kind of name is that anyway?”

CLACK.  Sailor placed an old VHS cassette down on the kitchen table.  “One of his.”

I looked at it for a minute.  “You wanna watch it now…or…you wanna get some sleep?”

“Gimme five minutes.  I’m going to slip into some pee-jays,” she said, “Keep that coffee on for me?”

I pulled on my cigarette and looked at the VHS cassette.  Someone had taken a BIC and scrawled on a post-it note scotch-taped to the plastic.

The Priest    Harlin Coke, dir.

Pricked

1.

What good to wait

When we both know

You’re going to die?

 

2.

You render thousands

Of secret mercies,

Kisses on two soft

Lids.  Dark centers

That lie beneath

Trace their spirals

On your lips’

Soft surface.

 

3.

Pricked with stars,

Our bodies fly upward

Into the fathomless dome.

 

Anticipation

We stayed so long our bedroom in the cabin took on the the mellow odor of skin-and-sweat-soaked sheets, which in turn mixed with the smell of our books…the favorites we’d loaded onto one of the broad window ledges beneath the view of a thicket of skinny pines.

In the mornings Sailor would come in with two mugs of coffee and set them on the lacquered stump of an old tree that was our nightstand.  And we would sit on the sheets, naked, and drink our coffee.

One morning we stared openly at each other’s genitals, and smiled softly, both of us…until I giggled.  Then Sailor tackled me backwards onto the mattress and we had a tussle.

Another morning while I read to Sailor she stared out the window toward the steep hill going up beyond the cluster of pines.  A little winding trail led away from the back deck, up into the big trees, the higher reaches of the mountain.

That same morning, as we sat out back, smoking, and looking up into the woods, Sailor told me that she had longed to take a walk up the trail.

Ordinarily we’d walked down toward the village, where several trail heads met in a small meadow.  But the narrow, difficult trail, beset with heavy, spiraling roots, that wound steeply upward from the back of the cabin…it was  a thing whose distances we’d preferred to imagine.  Until Sailor said something.

“You know that trail…?  I’m imagining something astonishing, beautiful.  But I know I’m going to be disappointed.  I just want to get it overwith.  Fuck it, N.  Let’s just do it.  Let’s go right now.  Let’s not even put out our cigarettes.”

 

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(Back Door:  Enter Mountains into the search bar.)