You know the sound that air brakes make on a big truck? They kind of go ‘chit-chisss’ when the truck stops. That don’t relate to much, unless you’re a truck driver and the sound brings a sentimental tear to your eye. But there was this guy I knew once who took a liking to the sound of air brakes.
You see, I knew this guy called Stewy Mendelssohn back in 1955. He was a genuine bughouse nut job. I catch him one day out front of the Balmoral Hotel where he has a room, and he’s dipping cotton swabs into rubbing alcohol and sticking them up his nose. Says he’s trying to purge himself of malevolent spirits. He got one of those cotton balls caught so far up his nose that he spent a week trying to blow it out. Swear to God.
Another time there’s this pile of lumber shows up over night out front of the hotel, and quality stuff too. It’s all this real thin plywood and two by twos and one by ones without any knots. It’s in the loading zone and the hotel management gets all bent out of shape. They say, “Hey, what chump left the lumber out front?” And it turns out to be Stewy. He’s got plans from the Popular Mechanics for an airplane. The engine and the propeller were coming on order from somewhere in Ontario. He bought the whole shebang on credit, which he didn’t really have. So, the lumber got picked up next day and the engine and prop never arrived. Stewy wore a football helmet steady for a couple of months, all the same. He said it was what he would’ve worn flying had he been able to realise his dream of owning his airplane.
Anyway, so Stewy Mendelssohn inherits this money when his mother dies of skin cancer. Man, was she a wreck by the time she checked out. And now crazy Stewy Mendelssohn’s got all this cash. Not much, but enough for us to get real drunk for about a week. After that, I kind of saw what would happen to the rest if Stewy didn’t invest it in something longer lasting than a tavern table full of beer.
So I say, “Hey Stewy, what’s a thing you always wanted but couldn’t buy until now?”
“An airplane,” he says.
“No no,” I say. “Think practical for once. Something you can use and enjoy everyday.”
“A Cadillac,” he tells me.
“Well,” says I. “A car might be a good idea, but a Cady’s out. You only got X amount. So be realistic. If you want a car, there’re cheaper models. How about a Ford or a Chevy?”
“I really just want an airplane,” he says. And that was it. He got all quiet for a month, like a kid having a fit. He even started wearing his football helmet again and walked all over town with it on.
Then one day in the late spring, he buys this brand new red 1955 Messerschmitt KR200. Swear to God, it’s a plastic bubble on three wheels powered by lawnmower engine. A woman’s car I told him. No self respecting guy would be seen driving it.
“But it’s a Messerschmitt,” says Stewy sitting in the driver’s seat with his football helmet on. “They made fighter planes. They made jet fighters.”
“For the Nazis,” I remind him. “And they lost the war.”
“Not ‘cause of Messerschmitt, they didn’t.”
I had to admit, Stewy got some real enjoyment out of driving that car. Besides that, it was cheap on gas and it fit into parking spaces bigger cars couldn’t.
But before you know it, he’s asking me to go for a ride. He’s like, oh let’s go for a ride. Let’s show off my brand new red 1955 Messerschmitt KR200. And I just say no. I mean, Stewy can hardly shoehorn himself into it. But he keeps it up. Oh come on. You’re my only friend – which was true. Who else can I take for a ride? So I relent and consent. And we go for a ride.
It was a beautiful June day in 1955. Not a cloud in the sky, maybe 70 degrees. We wedge ourselves into the car and Stewy, still wearing his football helmet, announces that we’re going to drive around Stanley Park. That’s good, I think, because I don’t know no one in that part of town. So, no one’s gonna see me in this creepy little quail car. That’s why I arrange that he should pick me up from under the Birk’s clock. Guaranteed, I don’t know no one round there.
Anyway, we’re driving along and the first red light we come to Stewy puts on the brakes real calm and gentle like. We come to a nice stop. But when we do Stewy makes this little noise with his tongue – “chit-chisss,” he goes. Then he says, “Airbrakes.” He didn’t miss a beat. What a card, I think. I laugh a little ‘cause it’s funny. A 1955 Messerschmitt KR200 with airbrakes. It’s ironical. It’s like an Ernie Kovacs bit. The light changes, and we go.
Then there’s another red, and we stop. Stewy does it again – chit-chisss, airbrakes. This time I smile. Okay, I say. I get it, I get it. You can quit now. But as we drive through downtown towards the park, every red light or stop sign we come to, Stewy goes chit-chisss, airbrakes. And it’s starting to wear on me. Give it up, I say. It was funny once. Now it’s starting to piss me off.
But you think he stops? No. All the way into the park, all around the park, all the way home. He keeps doin’ it. At every stop – chit-chisss, airbrakes. I’m stuck in the backseat and can’t get out. I’m beginning to clench my fists, and I’m gritting my teeth. How did I ever get into the backseat of a 1955 Messerschmitt KR200 with bughouse Stewy Mendelssohn at the wheel?
Finally we make it back to his place, and Stewy parks in front of the Balmoral. When he lifts the canopy so we can get out, he makes this buzzzzz sound and says, “Spaceship.” That’s when I lose it. I stand up and step out of the car. I say, “Stewy, you’re not only crazy, but you’re also the most fucking annoying son of a bitch I know.” I point at the car and say, “It ain’t a spaceship and it ain’t got no airbrakes. It’s nothing but a shitty little 1955 Messerschmitt KR200. Why didn’t you buy a Ford or a Chevy like a regular guy?”
I felt bad after that because he looked real hurt. I mean, his lower lip quivered and there were tears in his eyes. And he says, “I guess I never thought of buying a Ford or a Chevy. You see, they don’t got no ejector seat.” Then he throws this switch on the dash and says, “Woooosh, ejector seat.”
Nothing happens, of course. I just roll my eyes and hope no one’s watching. Hang on, he tells me and fiddles with the switch. But still nothing happens. He sighs. And then he lightens up and says, “Oh yeah, I forgot about the redundancy switch.” So, he reaches under the dash and says, “Click, redundancy switch.”
“Oh man,” I say.
But then there’s this rumbling sound under Stewy’s seat, and he just blasts off. I mean, right up into the stratosphere. There really was an ejection seat. Who knew? He rocketed skyward at the speed of sound out of that 1955 Messerschmitt KR200. And he just kept goin’ until I couldn’t see him no more. And no one else ever did, either.
Next day, Stewy’s 1955 Messerschmitt KR200 got towed for lack of plates.
the tide is out at
English Bay so far that
the water looks like a
distant strange continent where
I’ve walked here from home
just a few blocks through the tourists
with their bicycles and their vapour trails how
odd are the locals with their deadpan
there used to be shells at the beach
ones to put to one’s ear and
hear creation brawl and blame they
have chosen other beaches now to
convene like bombs waiting for a child’s ear
tonight poets will abandon the sea a
slogan on an envelope the
tides too predictable its
how can it be infinite so
close to a sidewalk where
a man with his radio
They found a ghost sign. Out on the highway past an abandoned suicide motel, painted on the side of a ruined roadside café. A wrecking crew had moved in and bulldozed an adjacent building, and there it was. Sixty or seventy years old. Hand painted. A woman’s weathered smiling face. Elegant slogan poetry. Its discovery made the news. People arrived from all over to see.
From a mile out, it was like speeding toward a postage stamp on the envelope of the Badlands. Blues, yellows and pinks. Close up, it creaked of neglect. Split and dry in the night, dressed in stars and whispers. Broken windows and the dead wires off of the highway.
The photographer had driven for two days, sleeping in her car in a parking lot along the way. Eating truck stop chilli and orchard apples. Drinking from gas station water hoses. She did this sort of thing. She was a photographer. Drawn in by the gravity of subjects. Assembling planets out of images, whose place in space created a gravity of their own.
She pulled up to the ruined café at 6 a.m. and sat on a fender smoking for a half hour. Watching the light change.
The ghost sign faced away from the sunrise and the café produced a long shadow. A globular cloister of hoodoos and gullies behind it. Only deserted highways thrive here, she spoke softly. Highways and roadside calamity.
Slipping of the fender, she held her Nikon DSLR out at arms length, closed her eyes, and turned in a slow circle. She did this while holding down the shutter release. Nine frames per second. Bang, bang, bang, bang…. A ritual. An arbitrary capture of lost optimism, poorly balanced on the thin surface of creation. Then she opened her eyes, faced the subject, and began.
By 9:30 a.m., the light had become harsh and she was done. Arms at her side. Her hair in the wind. The eyes of the sign staring back at her, as though the faded woman knew something.
In Drumheller, she took a motel room and sat looking out through the plate glass window. All pickups and semis. She heard their hiss as they passed. When she slept, the citizens of her dreams believed everything and looked away.
Two days later, she was home in the city. The rain. She tacked the proofs to a wall, exposing them to northern light. It was then that she saw the faint image of a woman’s face. It appeared in multiple shots. A look of anxiety and pain, fear. Looking out of different windows in different locations of the building. Photos taken in quick succession. Impossible for the woman to move from one place to another in a fraction of a second. She went to search for a magnifying glass, to see the images close up. When she returned, the woman in the windows was gone. She looked at them on her laptop again. But no woman.
A travel magazine wanted the photos. “I know your work,” the editor said. “This isn’t your usual stuff. No crack pipes. No bodies.”
“Catastrophic, all the same.” There was a long pause. “You could taste the grief in the air. You could hear the footsteps of people walking away for the last time.”
“I wonder,” the editor said. “What do photographers do on vacation? I’ve never gotten a straight answer. Where do they go? Do they bring their camera?”
Another long pause. The sound of a cigarette being lit. “Vacations are for bankers and high school teachers.”
She rang off and looked down at the phone.
It’s never quiet in the wasteland, she whispered.
August, 1951. He stood out on the highway thumbing, but there was no traffic. Who’d be travelling that highway, anyway? So far from water and radio. He walked off the road and took a seat at the empty roadside café. Dime for a coffee, he had that.
She poured it the way she’d seen a starlet pour coffee in a Hollywood movie. He appreciated it. They had the café to themselves and spoke into the evening.
“A fella come through here once,” she said. “He was a sad sort of guy. Said he wrote love songs for a living. Sold ‘em to big bands and crooners. Said he’d write me one, but he drove off the same night about 2 a.m. I watched him go from my kitchen window. He never left no love song behind.”
“Maybe he remembered you in a song he wrote later,” he said. “Maybe millions of dames hear it everyday on the radio everyday. Maybe each one thinks it’s about her, but it’s really about you.”
“Yeah, maybe,” she said, wiping down the counter. Then neither one said much for a while. Just listened to the crickets start up as the sky darkened and the neon over the driveway began to buzz and glow.
He stirred his coffee, looking into his cup.
“Too late to thumb anywhere now,” she said, removing her apron.
“Cook’s gone. No point me staying open. My place is out back.”
“You inviting me?”
“Guess I am.”
The length of the path between the back of the café and her small house was marked with once painted stones and dead marigolds. The wind whirled weeds and sand into eddies. The stairs up to the porch were slanted. The paint cracked and peeled.
“Ain’t much,” she said. “The bank and me own it.”
“Needs some work,” he said, looking at a small broken pane of glass in the door.
“You handy or something?”
“Nah, just observant.”
“You see that sign selling coffee painted on the side of the café,” she said.
“I saw it from the road. Looks new.”
“Yeah. A suit from the city paid me some dough to put it there. Sent out a sign painter from Calgary. Took him four days to finish. I’m gonna use the money to fix the place up a bit. Get a coat of paint, some new curtains.”
They stepped off the porch and into the kitchen with the yellow tile and the rooster wall clock. He saw dishes in the sink.
“Maid’s day off,” she said, as she went to a cupboard for a bottle of rye. “Ain’t got no mix. Just some hard well water.”
“I’ll take it straight.”
“Thought so,” she said. She took two glasses from the sink and poured.
“Got no man?” he said.
“Never met one worth a damn.”
“Maybe I ain’t neither.”
“I can pretty much guarantee you aren’t,” she said.
She lit some candles, and they drank and smoked at the kitchen table in the quiet that came in through the open door. Then she said, “Come out with me and we’ll look at the sky.” And they walked back out onto the porch.
It was dark now as they stared up. There were millions of stars, clouds of them waiting to rain.
“Don’t get this dark in the city,” he said. He finished the whiskey in his glass. “You never see this many stars.”
“Sure is pretty.”
“Maybe I oughtn’t be here,” he said. “Maybe I should get going.”
“It’s so lonely, though,” she said, still looking at the sky. “Just truck drivers and folks who end up here by mistake.” She took his hand and held it nicely. “I don’t mind if you stay.”
Then he heard a small commotion behind them in the house and a woman’s quiet laughter. He spun around to look through the door.
“Ignore it, baby. It ain’t nothing.”
As they walked back into the house, she gave the naked light bulb hanging from a cord over the porch a push. It moved to and fro.
“Sometimes I like to see what a swinging bulb will attract off the desert,” she said.
The walls, ceiling and windows of her bedroom were papered with pages of movie magazines, some with the corners peeling. He stopped at the door and stared wide-eyed.
“Wasn’t me,” she said. “My cousin Edith done it. Some of ‘em go back to the twenties.”
“Where’s she,” he said.
“She still comes round sometimes. But mostly she’s dead. Sat in a hot tub full of that hard well water, and slashed up her wrists. They found her when the café didn’t open for breakfast next morning. A trucker from Drumheller wanting his ham and eggs broke down the door, let himself in. Searched the place and found her in the tub.”
“She still comes round,” he said. “Like a ghost?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. You hear things out on the desert when you’re alone. See things too. Sometimes you so badly don’t want to be alone that all kinds of unwelcome shit invites itself up through the floorboards. You could call ‘em ghosts, I suppose.”
“Hell, I don’t know. I’ve seen her, I guess. Even talked to her, though she’s a quiet little thing and don’t often reply. If you was to die alone of suicide in a house behind a badlands café, maybe you’d have no other place to go either.”
“Haunted. And she left it all to you,” he said.
“Wasn’t no one else to leave it to. She pinned her good-byes to the bathroom door. The letter said she was opening her wrists to let loose the stars. The ones that’d been orbiting round inside of her since she was small. Said the stars had been cuttin’ her up from the inside out with their billions of razor sharp points. Said the pain was somethin’ horrible. She just couldn’t stand it no more.”
He stepped into the bedroom, to the farthest corner, and scanned the pages glued to the wall. 1933, Edward G. Robinson and Mary Astor in The Little Giant. 1941, Orson Welles and Agnes Moorehead in Citizen Kane.
“The place has been in your family for a while?”
“Since the beginning. My Uncle Roy, Edith’s daddy, built it back in ’22. There was some traffic then, believe it or not. The place made enough for a family to live. Then things went to hell in ’28, got worse in ‘29. Even worse after that. That was when Uncle Roy gave up. He just sat and waited on the apocalypse. There was a town preacher said the Depression was a judgement, that Jesus was coming and He was some pissed off. You know how those people talk. Roy believed it and waited. Waited ‘til he died of the diabetes in 1936.”
“That’s kind of sad.”
“I’ll say. It’s a cheap thing, waiting on the apocalypse. It cheapens a life, and makes a waste of a man’s accomplishments. Makes him lazy too. Why get up in the morning if Jesus is coming to smite your enemies and take you home? Roy took to reading the Bible on the porch in the summer when the shade came round. In winter, he sat at the kitchen table. He read it ‘til he could quote it by heart at Sunday meetin’. He left running the gas and café to my Aunt Tillie, his wife and Edith’s momma. When Tillie died in ‘42, Edith got the place.”
She stopped the narrative, and stepped closer to him. Putting her hands around his waste. “We come back here to discuss my family history, or what?”
It was awkward at first. He held her down on the bed knowing he was unwashed. There was badlands grit on him, in the creases and folds of his body. She looked up at him, though. In the eye, not caring. Outside, on the porch, moths bounced against a light bulb. Sometimes I like to see what a swinging bulb will attract off the desert. There were things he was desperate for, but couldn’t ask. They tore way at each other. Each looking for what they’d never find. The night refused to cool.
She kept her eyes closed, and pretended to sleep as he carefully got out of bed before dawn. The back door closing quietly. She got up and watched him walk away from her kitchen window.
The photographer had thought about the photographs and the old café. The pained woman’s face in the windows. She called the editor. “It has to be respected like a ruin,” she told him. “It’s a historical treasure. Somewhere in the text it has to say this.”
“It’s wasn’t dug up at some ancient site,” the editor said. “It’s just some wreck at the side of the road. Now it’s going to be torn down for a golf course and Travelodge. Time marches on.”
“Get your researchers to find out about its past. This is a much bigger story than a ghost sign.”
“Researchers? What are we, Mother Jones? We haven’t got researchers. This is a small apolitical travel magazine. Hotels give it away to their guests, compliments of the house. We publish little stories about insignificant places and trivial events. That’s what we do. You got paid. Now go find another assignment.”
That night, a public lecture at SFU Woodward’s. Gabor Mate on Hungry Ghosts. Then jazz and too much to drink. She sat on a bench in Gastown. 3 a.m. The rain had ended.
An assignment had come up. Syria. One week. In and out. Try to get to a pocket of non-combatants that the NGOs couldn’t. Photograph the misery for western readers. It was a pay cheque with big syndication possibilities. Probably get your ass shot off, someone had said. She’d signed on immediately, and bought a new SLR body.
But there were still rooms full of days somewhere out on an Alberta highway. The coarse wind eroding them. Contractors and bulldozers waiting. She lit a joint. Could the spirit standing invisible in a corner exist without being seen? Could it be immune and enduring?
The clouds had thinned and parted above the city. She looked up at the meagre number of stars. Only the bright ones were there, forming enchanted animals and fairy-tale humans.
He’d been trying and failing to fight off an opening line to a story.
Ringing at the other end of the line. Clicks and long distance ghosts. A faint far away voice, perhaps in time, saying the name Agnes three times. Then the hollow plastic sound of hanging up. Vera answered on the forth ring.
“Hello, Vera. It’s Nathaniel.”
“Nathaniel. Where are you? What’s 604? We’re all so worried.”
“It’s Vancouver, 604. I’m in Vancouver at a motel.”
“No. Canada. Vancouver Canada.”
“Canada? My God that’s so far away.”
“Only a few miles from Washington. “
“Why there? When are you coming home?”
“It was the first flight out, so I took it. It’s nice here. Kind of like Disneyland. The streets are clean. I’m on a street called Kingsway. It’s raining.”
“Get to the airport. They have one don’t they? Get to the airport, and get a ticket home. Call me when you get it, and tell me your arrival time. I’ll be waiting for you.”
“No, Vera. I like it here, for the moment. People say thank you like they mean it. The air doesn’t smell like anything. It’s just air. There’re mountains with trees. I’m looking at them. I mean I can’t really see them right now because of the clouds and rain, but the girl at the desk assured me that they’re there. Maybe I’ll be able to write something here.”
“Do you have your medication? You have to have your medication. You know what happens when….”
“I have to go.”
“No. That’s not fair. These things you do to us….”
“You’re speaking in sentence fragments, Vera. That means it’s time to hang up.”
Nathaniel hung up.
When he came into the suite, a little stucco cabin really, he was drawn to the picture window. It provided a view of a wet off season parking lot. True inspiration.
“So, I’m Roger, Mr Reed,” the porter had said putting the suit cases down. “I’m a big fan. When’s the next one coming out? They just keep getting better and better. You’re about due, aren’t you? I belong to a discussion group online. We’re rereading your old titles now, but it sure would be great if you wrote another. Anything you need to make your time with us more enjoyable, just track me down on the phone. I’ll get it for you. Have a nice stay.”
Nathaniel placed the shoulder bag containing his laptop on the table near the window. The laptop with five half written stories occupying a fragment of its drive. Five half developed ideas. Products of his medicated mind. Sedate characters living uninteresting lives completely devoid of incongruity.
“What’s this shit,” Angela, his publisher, had said when he presented her with three of the five as teasers. “Where’re the crack pipe swallowers and paranoids howling at the moon? Where’s the kink? You write about whack jobs, psychos and abhorrent sexual desire, Nathaniel. That’s what your readers want.”
“I can’t anymore. I’ve done it for ten years. I deserve to move on. I’m on some decent meds for the first time in my life. The voices have stopped. I’m clean, and I haven’t had a drink in more than a year. I think I’m feeling normal. I want to try to write something normal.”
“Fuck normal, Nate. This is a money making gig here, and we publish pulp. The freak shows you write that we pass off as novels make dough. For all of us including you. Your readers pay to live like junkies, raging schizoids and hermaphrodite nymphomaniacs three hundred pages at a time. It’s how they convince themselves they’ve got street cred as they drive their beamers to Amway meetings.”
“I read Atonement while I was in rehab,” Nathaniel said.
“Oh boy, here it comes.”
“I want to write my Atonement.”
“We all want to write Atonement, Nate. Some of us want to write Lolita. But if we all could do it, McEwan and Nabokov would be fry cooks. You owe us two books, sport. You’re a year late because of this rehab stunt you pulled. So be a player and stick to addicts biting off their own toes and obeying their command hallucinations.”
That had been the last word, in a 24 hour submarine sandwich shop at midnight. And he knew she was right. He hadn’t written anything worth a damn since he’d started the medication and the idiotic 12 steps.
For this trip, he’d left the meds at home. The pink ones and the tiny white ones. Their small orange bottles stood impressively labelled in the cabinet over his sink. He’d resisted pouring them down the toilet. They weren’t worthy of such ceremony. They were just prescriptions. Did they really make him feel normal? What were the terms of reference? Was Vera normal with her nail biting and nervous life long insomnia? Was Angela, chain smoking on coke and absinthe and running out of body parts to pierce and tattoo?
He unzipped his shoulder bag, pulled out his laptop and placed it back on the table. An expensive bit of plastic housing some circuitry. And five unfinished, unwanted stories. He closed his eyes tight and tried to feel the absence of the psych meds. It had only been two days since he took the last dose. The ones that stabilised his mood; the ones that quieted the voices. He knew they were still present in his body, stabilising and quieting. It might take weeks or months to flush them out. He was detoxing all over again.
He’d been trying and failing to fight off an opening line to a story. It kept coming back like a ball thrown against a wall, like the urge to use and drink again. It wasn’t the opening line to a normal story. It wasn’t the sort of opening line seen in a Michael Crichton novel. It was pure pulp. But an opening line to a perfectly marketable story in an age that had resurrected burlesque and the roller derby.
She was a screamer on a bed of squeaky springs.
That was it. From it a novel could grow.
Definitely not Michael Crichton. But then, Michael Crichton didn’t really write novels anyway. Just exhausting overwritten outlines for soon-to-be exhausting overwritten Hollywood scripts. A script adaptation would be nice right now. It would take some of the heat off money wise. But Angela was right. Stories of reconstituted dinosaurs and courageous missionary position medical practitioners weren’t in him.
But what of McEwan. Full of irony and passion. Passion for the little things as much as for the large. Atonement, what was the opening line? He’d memorized it while in his room at the recovery house, repeating it in his head while others said the serenity prayer.
The play – for Which Briony had designed the posters, programs and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crêpe paper – was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.
He paused to compare his recurring opening line, the one that was haunting him, to McEwan’s.
She was a screamer on a bed of squeaky springs.
Perhaps it wasn’t a fair comparison.
He lifted one of his suitcases onto the bed, opened it and retrieved a faded tee shirt and a pair of gym shorts. As he changed, he noticed the mini-bar. It was oddly placed next to the king sized bed like a nightstand. It hummed a cool invitation. As a writer, recovering drunk and generally curious individual, he was fascinated by the phenomena of the mini-bar. Nothing in the hotel/motel world was so closely monitored and inventoried. You could get away with stealing towels, the soap, the little bottles of shampoo. But you could never get away with pinching mini-bar items. Not even the shitty little bags of peanuts.
He crouched and opened the small refrigerator door, and saw the neat rows of little bottles and snack items. It reminded him of Hunter S Thompson’s drug inventory from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls.
Here was five vodka, five gin, five rye, five scotch, five rum, five tequila, three Jack Daniel’s, six beer and four half sized bottles of wine, along with mixer. Ice was outside and round the corner.
He poured five tiny bottles of vodka into a glass and gulped it back. More than a year since his last. But why was he drinking from a glass, not directly from the bottle? What had he become? There was a long way to go to get back. To return to that magical, moneyed and celebrated place. It was those crappy little bottles. Man had evolved to become obsessed with portion control. Could he get crack in this sterile city?
He returned to the laptop, plugged it in and turned it on. As it booted, he made a call and tracked Roger down. The vodka was gone, and he was now drinking scotch.
“Yes, Mr Reed?”
“I need Smirnoff. Red label. A couple of monster bottles. You got those in this country?”
“Yes, Mr Reed?”
“And, umm, Roger?”
“Yes, Mister Reed?”
“I’m not sure how to ask.”
After an appropriate pause, Roger said, “I’m the motel porter and handyman, Mr Reed. What could you possibly ask for that those before you haven’t?”
There was a soiled logic to that. Nathaniel hesitated and then spit it out, “Rock, pipe, brillo.” He said it like rock, paper, scissors. What was the hand gesture for brillo, he wondered.
“Not instantly available, and a bit pricy under the circumstances.”
“And a word of caution, Mr Reed.”
“Yes, what is it?”
“You’re in a non-smoking suite. If consuming the latter requested item indoors, I’d turn on the bathroom fan.”
“Yes. Sound advice. I’m running out of mini-bar choices, Roger. Please hurry.”
He panicked at first, after he’d hung up and sat at the computer, facing the blinking cursor on the blank screen. Then he looked out the window and knew he must give in. To remove the demon from the mind, it must be written down.
I am Parsifal in the night
beneath the lamp of voices
held down on wet sidewalks
shouting at midnight in a room of slums
drawing the unknowable on its walls
there is a treasure lost in this world of things
sagas of lobes and basal ganglia
to confront the mortuary silence
do we still die from grief
now when a city is the moment
only here is this magic called psychosis
and stitched with pills to
hush essential inner worlds
bottles of punctuation and duty to
massacre the raging protagonists
please, I remind you
do not applaud my first act
the morning after Elvis died
the wind had blown the patio umbrellas
out onto the lake where they
floated like an amusement the
stock car drivers
hummed sadly Blue Suede Shoes like a
quiet Handel chorus the
King was dead and there were
only Cigarettes and Whiskey left
that and the blush of numbered cars waiting
for a weekend fame and the
coloured flags of speedway semaphore
there was gunfire from the highway
there were claimers on trailers
we were the poor kids
black and white
spooky on Kodak paper
our bodies fixed and angled
our eyes engines of impulse
the child algorithms
of our prejudiced neighbourhood
our clocks ticked then
stupidly the time
and we studied
its three hundred and sixty degree passing
the radio active glow
isotopes like bullets
to our innocent nightmare minds
we were the future of violence and escape
legend and Harley headlines
handguns without knowing it
doing what was expected
of boys and learning to tie our shoes
shaking up the NPH
I think about demanding more from words
even the single syllabled ones
standing at the end of sentences
wanting to jump the period
I think about what words would say
caught talking and smoking cigarettes
when a book has been closed
neutral protamine Hagedorn
is an intermediate acting insulin
created in1936, the vial is a snow globe of zinc
but for the pyramids of my blood
and the deserted cities of my heart
no words live