“Withdrawing allows for something to appear.”
I can’t remember if Odious said this or I read it somewhere. That’s just how they talked, like they were spouting stuff from books. Even back when we hung out, I often asked, what’s that from? and sometimes they’d tell me and sometimes they didn’t, but either way it was a clue. My imagination connected some aspect of truth that ran between them and the books of my past like a black telephone wire stretched between country houses (the ones higher up have floaters on them so the planes don’t get caught). That’s what I do best, I play the part of the conduit, I thought as I breathed in the plastic smell inside the fake Armani cap that was pulled over my face. The sodium vapor streetlights bled through the cheap black fabric. They have yet to move to LED’s out here, with any luck they never will. The lights passed like movie spaceships and I pulled the cap tighter to cheat a little and see if I could see where we were, but all I could make out were the lights and a hundred shades of black.
3 drove but the car led the way. The Escalade was my horse and my horse was an extension of my body. Or maybe it was the other way around. I was a decapitated knight reincarnated as a fast-moving cyborg, an extension of this machine. Whatever the case I had a smooth and radiant feeling, a feeling of calm acceptance buoyed by helpful invisible forces.
But as soon as I thought about it, wondering how it was working and how long it would last, the old self that I loved and hated and tricked me every day with the idea of its permanence tried to come back, flickering around the edges. I focused instead on the hum of the engine. It was like a thick blanket; it made everything soft, muffled.
3 called out to me, wanting to know what to do.
“Hello? Swim? What do we do? Where do we go?”
“Keep straight,” I said.
Withdrawing is a process that moves in a spiral. When I came out from the tent and stood at the lake with everything a shimmer, it seemed right and good to explain it all, but now I’m back to living inside. Folding up like a paper map half melted by the rain. I spend most of the day at the top of the driveway of whatever house The Babies are hanging out at. They ask me if we’re going to leave soon, if I can feel the strange energy here and if I’m aware that I’m almost certainly being filmed in the room that Cyndi gave me in her house, and I just wave my hand in an indistinct way and read out loud the aphorisms I’ve copied from Kafka into my own blue notebook. At night I go inside to watch TV with the younger set of Cyndi’s Boys. They’re all boys even though some of them are technically girls but as they all wear the same basketball shorts and have the same long hair it doesn’t matter. I help them to watch real things. Bonnie and Clyde was on but we missed the first part and couldn’t go back because it was cable, and later I couldn’t pause and wait until the shirtless, vaping, aping boys were done arguing over what and who the word hillbilly meant and whether throwing axes was a real sport, (and what about Poker) but I was still able to concentrate enough to unearth the easter eggs I’d buried. You see it’s not just the director, everyone who watches a movie adds their own parts to it. Like how Lil Mountain and I drove exactly the same way through the same states without even realizing it until we circled back to Joplin and I had a sudden hunch and looked at Google in the sweltering parking lot of the liquor store that had the entire front counter encased in bullet proof glass and had a policy that you couldn’t wear a mask for security reasons and saw that the actual house where the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow hid out was only a few blocks away. We rolled up and that’s all it was–a house you could look at from the outside, no museum, no placard, no hipsters smoking outside and taking pictures of themselves smoking outside. It was just an ordinary place, except it got stuffed with eggs. Eggs filled with a movie glow that ricocheted out and just kept going, until I got somewhere so flat there were no shadows, just light soaked resurfaced concrete pools and trees so bright green against the sky it was like they had been cut out and pasted there. I looked up what parts of the story were real and which were in the movie, and I can’t keep it straight. The eggs transcend linear reality so that while I watched I was also back on those roads, or else climbing over tall grass to get to the river. Or back at the hotel, with grease spreading on paper bags and the rush of the highway rattling the mirror.
“Don’t look at it,” I told Lil Mountain whenever there was one in view of the bed. Sometimes I went as far as covering it with my vintage Chanel scarf or one of the reusable shopping bags I used to carry my stuff.
“A mirror present while fucking is a perversion, as it multiplies the number of people present,” I said, paraphrasing Borges.
Cyndi’s boys had a hard time sitting still but I drew the line at the end sequence and told everyone to shut the fuck up. I’ve seen it a million times but it still gets me. The way all those birds fly up out of nowhere: for a moment it’s an unexplainable thing–a surprise from nature herself.
In 60’s movies the blood doesn’t look very real. Like not even close. It was too thick and bright, like crayon or marker ink before it dries on the paper. But it’s good too because it makes everyone remember that it’s all fake, and it’s this fakeness that allows the healing steam to rise up from the abyss. (It’s funny, actually, because watching movies is one of the things we do to try and fill the abyss and forget about it, but it’s also one of the ways its presence can be made known.) First there’s a little hiss and eventually–it can take hours or years–it builds until there’s a big boom that fills one’s life.
No one ever questions whether an explosion is real or not. Which is to say the opposite of fiction isn’t non-fiction. It’s just another fiction.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve had to sit among those dirty boys and act like nothing they do bothers me because that’s a part of the process of withdrawing. It’s a part of getting to the calm that is so desirable.
“So what’s the deal with Lil Mountain? We think he’s still alive,” they told me. “So does Cyndi.”
“Ok,” I said.
Just like The Babies these boys are enthralled by Lil Mountain, except none of them ever met him.
“Why would he off himself, why wouldn’t he come and find you? It doesn't make any sense.”
“Death is nothing,” I said. “It’s rebirth that sucks.”
Despite our new crowd’s hatred of the government and refusal to take part in any of its infrastructure, it turns out that many of them–including two of Cyndi’s ex husbands and three of her sons–served in the military. Perhaps it’s where they learned how to do things like wire and heat their own houses. Out in the field behind the houses sheep graze between rows of solar panels. Cyndi’s boys come up to me to show me what they drew or painted or carved or baked or sculpted. The way they create without any need for recognition--they just to do it, just to get out the ideas--fills me with sudden longings to quit writing and make something real, but it seems too late to try anything like that.
“They wanted to talk to me about the noise,” Cyndi said, referring to the cops who showed up late one night with weapons drawn. “There were some glampers nearby, and they got disturbed. Isn’t that the shit? The cops wanted to know what I was doing, and I said, what the hell does it matter? I don’t take no water from you, I don’t take no electric. It’s just me and my kids and my dogs and we’re out here, out on this land that you left behind like garbage.”
She stood with her hands on her hips, cameltoe proudly broadcasted in her stretch jeans and her jean jacket covered with bedazzled symbols. An American flag, an eagle, a hand gripping a snake. Toxins radiated out from her freshly permed hair.
“Cyndi going off on them with her warm Tecate breath,” 3 snickered, but I could tell that he was impressed.
I shrugged but it’s scenes like these that make me realize how unprepared I am for whatever might happen when the next part begins. I spent my whole life boxing myself into corners with my high rent and high needs and thought it meant something because I had a fancy education but these folks have shown me that I’m not ready for shit.
All of a sudden, 3 was shaking my arm as we slowed down to a halt.
I pulled the skullcap from my eyes. We were way out, on a street lined with cabins. They looked deserted, but I could hear music. There was a crowd of kids up on the street in front of us. A cloud of blue smoke hung over their heads like a memory that was trying to form. There were parked cars and the flickering lights of smokes and vapes.
“Oh, shit,” MJ said.
I looked back and saw that her eyes were wide with joy. She gave a little chirping sound as she pulled the coin laden sock around her wrist.
“Y’all still with me?” she said.
“You know it,” I said, my heart pounding in my ears.
“Let me do it,” 3 said, holding his hand out for the sock. The violence was right there, blooming in his speech.
“No way,” MJ replied, laughing.
We sat still for a second, and I felt the promise of an immense peace waiting above us, threatening an end to everything we considered important.
“Drive,” I commanded.
We started forward, inching around a battered jeep parked half in a ditch. I could tell that 3 was nervous. The kids were on my side of the car. I looked at a smaller copy of the printout and then looked around. I saw mostly girls, the kind I hadn’t seen yet in this town, with soft faces and well conditioned bangs glistening in the streetlight. The boys were hanging in between, low and slouched. Everything felt very loose. Definitely not the boys or The Babies–just a whole new thing out here in the woods. It was a pleasantly mild evening. The afternoon’s rain had cleansed the air, and my vision was recharged.
The kids felt us approach and stiffened slightly. We were conspicuous in our ride. Eyes flashed as our lights passed over their proud, stricken faces.
I told myself, if one of them has to get hurt it’s better than I’m here, to make sure it doesn’t go too far.
“Do you see him?” I asked.
"No,” MJ said.
“But you will.” I put down the window and stuck my head outside.
"Yo,” I said. My voice sounded like Odious, treating everyone like we were family.
“Can I ask you something for a minute?”
A boy emerged from the crowd. He was not one of Cyndi’s. The more I looked none of these kids seemed to be. He wore a not inexpensive looking blue and red rugby shirt with a bright yellow collar. He had freshly washed ginger hair that appeared very soft. His eyes were red and shiny.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Do you know him?” I said, and gave him a wallet-sized glossy of the picture MJ took.
“This kid from the back here?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “Take a closer look.”
“Are you cops?”
“We’re actually murderers. But not of people. Just of their egos.”
The kid squinted at me and I squinted back. He looked back down at the picture. Then he held it out in front of him.
“This picture is shit. It could be anyone,” he tried to give it back to me, but I refused.
“It could be anyone, but it is only one person.”
“Look,” I said, “He’s white. He has brown hair. Look at those jeans. And those sneakers, which are gigantic. Purposefully oversized and also ugly. Probably expensive. Maybe stolen? Perhaps they’re a commentary about the end of irony? The collapse of high fashion into a service industry for its wealthy consumers?”
“Here,” I handed him a wad of printouts.“Give these out to your friends.”
“Is your number on them or something,” he asked, turning one of them over.
“Nope,” I said. “I just need you to look at the picture...you know, really concentrate on it. There you go...that’s it. Werd.”
I nodded and turned to 3.
"Let's go," I said, and back off we went, into the night.
“So what now?” 3 asked.
“What do you mean?” I said, as I closed the window.
“I mean, what now?”
“We’re going to find this motherfucker and make him sorry, that’s what.”
“How? Can you tell me? How are we going to find him? And don't put that stupid hat over your face either.”
“We’ve got his picture up all over town for everyone to see.”
“So—it’s publicity, man! How many times do I have to explain this to you? Jesus!”
(It wasn’t anger that I felt, but I needed to play a certain part)
“Maybe we should have put a phone number on the back of the glossies,” MJ offered.
“Give me a fucking break that’s not how it works!” I said. I realized I was tired of MJ and her problems.
“Why don’t you let us in on it and tell us how it works,” 3 said. He had taken his hat off—the yellow shock of his hair was like a signal flare.
“Put your hat back on,” I said.
“First tell me how it works.”
“The way it works is you drive the car and I tell you where to go.”
“Yes, Master!” 3 shouted.
“Heil!” He never raised his voice, so hearing him do so gave me no choice but to laugh again.
He slumped back and the car shot forward. It’s one thing for a normal sized car to accelerate quickly but it’s another thing, a totally unnatural one, for a miniature truck with a lovingly hand stitched creamy leather interior to do so. It was fine with me. I liked going fast, I liked our wheels spinning and dust flying and those kids getting left behind. I pressed some buttons on the console, trying and failing to change the music, so that Sweet Jane was still playing (right at the part with the extra lyric, the one that doesn’t appear in all the versions) when I looked back up in time to see someone racing in front of the headlights. They appeared small, too small to be an issue, but 3 slammed the brakes regardless and somehow it was already too late and we hit them head-on. They were thrown across the windshield. For a second all I could see was a pair of bright blue jeans.
MJ screamed. The person bounced off the hood and ended up shoulder rolling onto the pavement.
“Oh, my God,” 3 shouted, and I laughed again as the Caddy came to a halt. There was a large crack in the windshield with an imprint of condensation around it, resembling a large spider web. I didn’t see any blood but we’d find it later.
(heavenly wine and roses, seem to whisper to me, when you smile)
“Are they OK?” MJ asked, and all I could feel was disgust. Her asking such a thing made it all so much worse.
“Look!” I said, as the person on the street stood up. It was a teenage boy—he couldn’t have been more than fifteen, with wavy brown hair and a stained white t-shirt.
I put the window down and stuck out my head.
“Hey!” I shouted. This time I sounded like me. The boy turned and looked back at us. He had a large black mole beneath his right eye.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” he shouted, looking right at me before he turned and broke into a sprint, disappearing into the dark, his brown hair fanning out around his head.
Just like in the photo.
Image: Arvida Byström
I know it's been a while. I had an intense download that I'm still unpacking. I think I'm back though.
Love you all xo
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