ABBA, Jesus & My 1974 Ford Pinto (RW)
by dm gillis
This morning He was here again. Jesus, sitting in the lotus position on my nightstand where my clock radio is supposed to be. I don’t know how I know it’s Jesus. I just do. He doesn’t look like any of the pictures you see. Instead, He has a kind of Taliban or Al-Qaeda look about him. He rarely speaks, just stares ahead at empty space. Sometimes he hums little tunes. He has a fondness for ABBA tunes. When he does speak, it’s cryptic, mysterious, usually a single word like butterfly or cyclamate or microfiche. This morning, though, He said a little more. He looked at me and said, “Watch your head.” Then He vanished, leaving my clock radio unplugged on the floor. When the Lord our Saviour says things out of context that routinely defy understanding, I guess it’s easy to see why humanity is in such a desperate state.
The peephole in my apartment door provides me with a fisheye view of things. I don’t have a TV. So, I watch through the peephole as people walk down the hall, past my place, as they get bigger and bigger then smaller and smaller. Then they disappear as mysteriously as they appeared. I stand there looking out with my forehead and cheek hard against the door, drinking warm beer through a straw, wondering from whence and to where. Usually there’s a clue, the sound of the elevator or the stairwell door opening. Sometimes though, there’s just silence. They go missing, like Jesus from my nightstand.
There’s a woman who walks past my door every day. She’s younger than me, maybe by twenty years. She’s blonde and has a yoga sort of body, pleasantly soft yet defined. The weather’s been cold lately so she’s been wearing sweatpants a lot, and a kangaroo jacket. They call kangaroo jackets hoodies now since everyone wants their clothing to sound dangerous. Hoodie doesn’t sound that dangerous, I admit, but it does have a meaner, race riot ring to it than kangaroo jacket. People’s lives are blessed, but their fashion has become hopelessly inner-city. Poverty and desperation have become dernier cri for the privileged, and now even yoga girls are gangstas.
I know when the woman in the hoodie is coming even before I see her. Hers is a rapid step, and she comes down hard on her heels. When she comes from the right—bigger bigger bigger, smaller smaller smaller—she’s coming from the elevator. That’s when she’ll have groceries, a backpack with a rolled up yoga mat or she’s carrying a satchel and is dressed in business clothes. It’s when she comes from the left – bigger bigger bigger, smaller smaller smaller—that she’s more likely to be wearing more casual tough-chick clothes. That’s when she has her trash or a bag of laundry. She’s heading for the basement. That’s where the laundry room is. It’s also where the trash is stored until garbage day so poor people can’t steal it. Our building manager has very strict rules about who may and who may not lay their hands on our garbage.
The hoodie woman’s name is Jessica. I found out by accident once when I was getting my mail. Sometimes she’ll put out return mail for the mail carrier to pick up. It’s stuff that was meant for other people who lived in her apartment before her. I take it to read later if no one is around to see. It’s mostly LL Bean and Victoria’s Secret catalogues. Sometimes, though, there’s a birthday card. Once there was a fifty dollar bill in one from someone’s mother. I bought some beer and KFC.
But that’s not how I found out her name. One day she was at her mailbox, a few feet away from mine. I kind of know when to be in certain places so I can see her up close, not just through my peephole. Like once or twice a month, not too many times so she doesn’t think I planned it or anything, I go down to the laundry room a few minutes after she passes by with her laundry bag. Sometimes I glance at her putting things into the washer. Her dirty laundry is very clean. Then sometimes she sits on a bench across the street from the building and reads. She reads weird shit. Titles like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. I got them both from the library; they were crap. At least the first three or four pages were. Anyway, when she does that I occasionally go out there and sit nearby and pretend to read something, like one of the tracts I get in the mail from Christians in American or the latest Awake Magazine. I figure, maybe if she sees me reading that stuff she’ll know I’m okay.
So, when I first heard her name it was from this guy I see in the building sometimes who thinks he’s something real special. He comes up to her one day at her mailbox and says, “Hey, Jessica. How you doing?” Real soft and casual like you’re not supposed to get what he’s up to. The neighbourhood’s gotten real gay lately, so I figure he’s trying to sound queer so she gets this false sense of security. But he ain’t gay. I think he’s stalking her. His name is Randy. I wonder how many women he gets that way, pretending not to be interested. Inviting them up to his place to trade recipes and then jumping their bones. Pervert. Meanwhile, good guys like me go through life ridiculed and alone, watching endless reruns of X-Files. Mulder’s such a dick.
So, the other day something different happens. I watch through the peephole and see Jessica wheel a new bike down the hall. It’s a yellow, modified 70s vintage Peugeot with the single speed high torque gears. Terribly hip, I guess. But you have to be a tri-athlete to pump one up a hill. After she passes by, and I hear the elevator doors close, I put on my jacket and follow her out. On the street, there she is talking to Randy who has a similar bike, only his is a purple Apollo. It’s five degrees centigrade, and he’s wearing cut offs. If that doesn’t prove that he’s trying to pretend to be gay, I don’t know what does. And he’s wearing a tee-shirt under this obviously real expensive lightweight micro fibre jacket and a pair of pricy riding shoes with the metal cleats. But what’s really made obvious by its absence is his helmet. Randy is clearly too cool to bother with head protection, and so, apparently, is Jessica who is also without a helmet.
For a moment I think that they may just be talking and not planning to ride, after all. But then it happens. Randy throws his head back and laughs at something Jessica has said. It’s this real phoney laugh. What a fraud. Then he bends over both bikes and kisses Jessica on the cheek. Then, after polluting Jessica’s pure pink cheek with his perverted lips, they mount their bikes and ride off toward the park—helmetless.
I have a 1975 Ford Pinto. It’s a beautiful dark mossy green colour that doesn’t show the dirt, but the hubcaps are gone. It’s a good car, a combustible classic, a legend. I got it real cheap at an estate sale along with a toaster that lowers the bread automatically into the slots. It happens kind of slow and makes this calming mechanical buzz. It makes toasting bread real fun. Sometimes if I get bored, I make a lot of toast just to listen to it hum and watch it lower the bread.
Anyway, my Ford Pinto is parked nearby on the street. You need a special pass to park in my neighbourhood so people from other crappier neighbourhoods don’t take over. But it costs $15 a year, which is like way too much in my opinion. I never buy one which means I have to move my car every two hours. Sometimes I end up parking it a long ways away. But this time the Pinto’s right there, so I get in, start it up and follow them.
I stay back about half a block. My Pinto wants to go fast. It’s in its nature to perform. But I drive real slow because they’re riding real slow and talking and Randy keeps throwing his head back and laughing that real fake laugh of his. My hands grasp the steering wheel real tight. I’m thinking bad thoughts.
Off to the right, through the trees, is the lagoon. It’s a pond really, a small lake. But some poet chick from the cowboy days tagged it Lost Lagoon, and it stuck. I guess it does sound better than Lost Pond or Lost Lake. It ain’t an accurate description, though. But whatever, I figure that’s where I’ll dump Randy when I’m finished with him. I have chains in the trunk in case it snows, but I’ll gladly sacrifice them to weigh his body down.
“Watch your head”, Jesus said. Maybe He was trying to warn me about something. Maybe I’ll have to be real careful dealing with this creep.
I accelerate and pass them and drive ahead about half a click. Then I pull over, get out and pull up the hood. I don’t really have a plan, except that I think I’ll stab him with a screwdriver. I have a nice long skinny one that I bought at Walmart. It looks more like an ice pick. Only problem is that Jessica will see, and it might be hard to convince her I’m okay after she sees me stab Randy with a Walmart screwdriver. I’m just starting to think that I should maybe wait until I get him alone when the two of them come into view. My right hand grips the screwdriver.
When they ride up to my Pinto, they’re all like, “Oh, hello. Don’t you live in our building? Having car troubles? Is that really a Pinto?” “No,” I say. “It’s a fucking Porsche.” I can’t help it. It just comes out like that. I’m confused for a moment, and then bend over the engine and pretend to be adjusting something. Meanwhile Jessica and Randy look at each other kind of surprised. Then Randy pipes up, “Can I help?” Oh sure, I think. First he’s trying to be all gay and now he wants to fix my car. I figure this is it, time to stab the little prick. Jessica will just have to learn to love me in spite of it.
I move fast. Suddenly I’m a natural born killer. But I stand up too fast and slam my head into that hook shaped thing that hangs down from the hood and locks everything into place when you close it, and now my head’s stuck. I’ve hit the hook so hard that it’s embedded in my skull. It feels weird, but there’s almost no pain. “Holy shit,” Randy says, as I twist my head this way and that, trying to dislodge. “I’m calling an ambulance,” Jessica says. “No,” I shout. A trickle of blood finds its way down my forehead, between my eyes and drips off the tip of my nose. There’s a dark red splat on the radiator cap, then another. Meanwhile, Jessica’s calling 911. Shit! Fire and ambulance. Probably the cops, too. If I want to waste this Randy bastard and have time to get away, it has to be now.
I swing the screwdriver in a horizontal arc. Randy jumps out of the way just in time and says something brilliant like, “Hey!” with a real stunned look on his face. Finally I twist and yank the hook out of my head with a sloppy wet popping sound, step away from the Pinto and quickly reassess the situation. “It went in about eight or nine centimetres,” Jessica is saying on the phone. Suddenly I feel dizzy. “Yes, a lot of blood. And he’s starting to act kind of violent.” I spread my legs a little further apart and get my bearings. Then giving my head a shake, I spray blood everywhere. “God damn,” Randy says, wiping it off of his face. “You don’t have anything blood-born, I hope.” I know what he means, like I would have some communicable disease. The lippy little s.o.b. That makes me attack him with everything I’ve got, but miss again. Randy’s a slippery character, I’ll give him that. Then he says, “What’s your problem, pal?” How come people you’re trying to murder always call you pal?
And now’s when I stumble forward and fall onto the road just as this fat black Escalade with its stereo on full blast playing rap music rumbles out of nowhere, clearly exceeding the speed limit. I remember looking up and thinking how clean it was, even underneath, as it ran over me like I was a speed bump. Fuck I hate rap music.
Anyway, the hospital’s a dump. This is where people come to die, and I don’t want to die. But the Escalade messed me up, bad. Besides that, they tell me that I sustained a severe brain injury when the Pinto’s hood hook penetrated my grey matter. It’s the brain injury that they say accounts for my irrational and violent behaviour toward Randy. So, there’ll be no charges. I’ve been forgiven. Even Randy, whose throat I’ll cut next time I get a chance, has given me a pass. Jessica visits me every evening after work. She sneaks in KFC even though she says it’s poison. I’m building up the courage to ask her out. There’s a second run movie theatre in the east end that’s having a Dirty Harry marathon.
Jesus has taken up residence in the bed next to mine. “‘Watch your head.’ Good one,” I say. He’s on a respirator and plugged into a dozen machines. Angels surround him 24/7 singing ABBA songs. I like their renditions of Mamma Mia and Knowing You Knowing Me. They kind of sound like this album of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir I bought at an estate sale once. Sometimes He speaks, but the respirator makes it difficult to understand what He’s trying to say.