“That all?” I started to twist Angela’s arm, real slow and soft, to bring her closer.
“Yeah, that’s all,” she said, but she giggled. I was still twisting her arm and she had to turn with it and let her ass rest against my knee. She was small and I could move her easily. It was fun in bed with her, I remembered, tossing her all around. I swiveled my seat until she was leaning up against the bar, pinned with her back to me. I had her arm twisted up over her shoulder, almost but not quite to where it would hurt, and I pressed my knee right up under her box.
“You sure that’s all?” I whispered in her ear.
She pushed her ass against my leg, sliding it up and down a little, and said, “No. That’s not all.”
I said, “Okay then,” and pinned her a little tighter for a second before I let her go. I watched her leave, and she made her backside work.
I ordered another draft and took it in small sips, just breathing and thinking. In the past, whenever I had trouble with a girlfriend, I fooled around on her, a few times it was even with Angela. I tried to think of something that would stop me from wanting to go over to Angela’s place I thought of Kim still tied up, but that only made it worse, I thought of the way Kim had looked at me from the crowd that first night but I couldn’t help picturing myself in Angela’s dark bedroom, her tan little ass naked in front of me.
I thought of a time the year before when Kim and I drove out to a state park, a time I liked to think about sometimes when I was feeling good about things. A time when things were less complicated. We had been together for about two months. The park was so far outside the city that we started losing reception on the radio stations we liked, and we ended up listening to a country station. We took turns singing loud over the real lyrics and making up our own verses about dogs dying and pick-up trucks breaking down and wives leaving and crops withering. We made it into a little contest, which I won. When we got to the park we walked around on hiking trails through the woods and along a lake, and we had a picnic on a rock by the water. We took pictures of each other. Kim took one of me hanging upside down from a tree branch with my hair brushing the ground. I put my sunglasses on my chin and frowned so it would look like a smile upside down. We found a little playground near the parking lot and I pushed her on the swings for a while. Then she stopped swinging back and forth and I stepped back to take a picture of her. She tied her dreads back and pulled an apple out of her jacket pocket and put it next to her face. It was a red apple, and she looked like Eve in the Garden of Eden with the forest behind her. I told her that. I took a few pictures of her with the apple up against her face and one with her kissing it. I held out my hand and said toss it to me. She tossed it over and I took a big bite out of it, and the juice ran down my chin. She came over and licked the juice off my face. Then she took a bite of the apple. I remember thinking that whatever happened would happen to both of us. I wanted to lay her down on the grass and leaves right there between the swing set and the monkey bars, but we went to the car instead.
Thinking about that time was hard because I wanted to go back to it, the way you would always like to with a time like that. I imagined myself a few years down the line after breaking up with Kim, finding those pictures in some old box when I was moving, and looking at them, and how they would get to me. I guess it was then that I started to face up to what it was I felt for her. Oh fuck, I thought. Kim and I had been together for almost a year, longer than I had ever been with anyone before. I hadn’t fucked anyone else all that time, and as far as I know neither had she. This was a different kind of situation than I was used to.
I finished the third beer. I looked at the clock above the bar. I’d been gone forty minutes. The thrill wasn’t so thrilling anymore. It felt more like something wet and rotten had grown inside my chest, sending its roots down into my guts. Forty minutes was way too long. I needed to go upstairs.
I talked Rafe into selling me a six-pack, thinking maybe that might soften Kim up a little, a peace offering, but really I wasn’t fooling myself. I stepped out of the bar and was surprised the sun was still up, though it wouldn’t be for long. I stood for a few seconds in front of the door to our apartment. The six-pack dangled from my fingers and I felt like I’d been robbed and it was the one thing I’d managed to escape with. I thought maybe Kim had already found a way to untie herself. By now she might be dressed and sitting in a chair in the living room, waiting for me to get back so she could lay into me, and every second I stood there I felt just how much I deserved it.
I put my key in the lock and turned it slowly so it wouldn’t make any noise. On the stairs, I walked on the outside edges of my Doc Martens to keep them from clunking. The door at the top led straight into the living room. I opened it carefully, but fast enough to seem normal if she was sitting in there. She wasn’t. The acid-jazz CD we’d been playing was still going in the bedroom. I left the six-pack on the landing and stalked across the living room. I was glad the floor was covered in shag. The bedroom door was open the way I had left it. Right before I peeked around the corner, I shut my eyes for a second. I don’t know what I was more scared of, that she’d still be there, or that she wouldn’t be.
She was there. Still tied up, but now she had turned onto her side and her ass was lying on the bed pointed towards me instead of sticking up in the air. She was facing away from me and I couldn’t tell whether she still had the blindfold on, so I stepped quickly out of the doorway. Maybe it’s not too late, I thought. Maybe if I go in there she’ll still want to fuck and it’ll be okay. I stuck my head back into the doorway and stared at her, my eyes all over her body, from her round white shoulder down into the valley and then the slope at her hip, the dark sliver of her ass-crack. She looked so helpless right then, and I felt like I loved her.
Maybe I could play it off somehow, like it was nothing.
But it was way beyond that point and I knew it. I needed a good excuse. I stood there for a minute, but I couldn’t come up with anything. This had to be the granddaddy of all lies. I was close to just walking in and saying whatever came into my head breaking down and sobbing that I was sorry, maybe or not saying anything and hoping she’d let it go, but I couldn’t. I cared too much. The truth? I was scared to walk in there, I’ll admit, not just of what Kim would say or do, but of something else, something that had to do with what might be expected of me. I snuck back across the living room.
Just as I was opening the door to the landing, the CD ended. It was suddenly so quiet my ears rang. The door was open wide enough that I could slip through, and I did, but my foot hit the six-pack and the cans made a sound against each other. I froze, holding my breath.
“Louis? Is that you?”
I made two fists and let my breath out through my mouth slowly and silently and didn’t move. This is it, I thought. I have to go in there now. But then the CD started at the beginning again, covering me, and she didn’t say anything else. I closed the door, picked up the six-pack and went down the stairs. I stepped outside and locked the door and only then let myself breath heavily the oxygen soaking in and giving me an amazing rush. I felt like I could put my fist right through a brick wall and feel no pain. I could picture the shattered bricks flying in all directions, a whole wall coming down like when a comic-book superhero throws a fist. It was a wild feeling. I wanted to smash something, anything, even my own head.
I walked down Twenty-sixth Street heading east, my hands still shaking, breathing hard. The low sun made long shadows from all the tree trunks and houses, and my shadow was long too, moving through them. It made me think of the line from that old song: Our shadows taller than our souls. I started to calm down a little. I’ve always loved walking around neighborhoods, especially on summer evenings. It clears my head. The house I grew up in, before we moved and then moved again, was in a beautiful neighborhood outside Minneapolis. There was space between the houses, even some little patches of woods between some of them, and at the end of the street there was a huge park with woods and two streams and playing fields. In spring and summer kids played baseball and Frisbee in the fields; in fall they would play football. Walking by myself on an evening like this always made me think of heading for the park, strolling slowly with my mitt or football, alone because I was late for the game, but not really caring until I heard the shouts of the other kids, then I would have to run.
Eight years ago, when I was nineteen, I dropped out of college and moved back here to Minneapolis on my own.
Walking along Twenty-sixth, I realized that there were people all around me in the buildings and houses, regular folks living their lives. I saw two women sitting at a red picnic table outside an apartment building keeping an eye on some kids. As I passed I heard the women talking about movies, which ones they had seen and which ones they wanted to see. They looked up at me, and one of them smiled a friendly little smile. They had no idea. I almost turned around and ran home because I suddenly thought that Kim might have struggled and tightened the knots and maybe her circulation was being cut off. But she was too smart for that.
Jason, the bass player in the band, lived a few blocks away from Kim and me, in a second floor apartment on Pleasant that had stairs going up the side of a house to the little porch where his door was. The apartment was tiny, but the porch had a good view and was a cool place to hang out. I was almost there anyway. Jason used to be a Deadhead, but now he was a junkie, and we got along okay. The other guys in the band got pissed whenever they found out that he was strung out, but he knew I didn’t really care. Not that I didn’t care about him, but I just figure people are going to do what they want. It’s not like he missed many practices.
Jason was inside when I got there. He pulled back the little curtain that hung over the window on his door and I could tell right away from his pinprick pupils that he was doing smack. His hair was dirty, all knotted around his head. His face was scruffy with a few days worth of blond stubble. I held up the six-pack so he could see it. He closed his eyes and gave me that weak smile of his, like maybe he was sleepwalking and having a pleasant dream. He unlocked the door and let me in.
“How you doing? Want to toss back a few?” I asked.
“I’ll have one I guess.” Jason didn’t drink much when he was on smack. He said it stepped on the high.
I yanked two cans from the pack and put the rest in his little refrigerator. He sat on the couch and I sat in the chair next to it and handed him a beer. His apartment was messy. There were clothes everywhere. The sink was full of dishes, like it always was. He didn’t have a TV. He was always reading books, and there were a few of them lying around, and some more in stacks near the couch.
“Listen Louis, man,” Jason said, “you caught me right in the middle of a session. So I hope you don’t mind me getting high.” He was already pulling his works back out from under a cloth on the table.
“No. Go ahead.”
While Jason was fixing up his shot I explained my problem to him.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. “She’s tied to the bed right now?”
The thing I didn’t tell him about was going back and then leaving again.
“Well, yeah. But I need to come up with something, a good reason for not coming back. That way she’ll be pissed that I left, but she’ll see there was nothing I could do after a certain point. You know?”
Jason shook his head. “I don’t know, bro.” His shot was ready and I watched him put it in. It gave me the creeps to see that needle in his arm, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it. He had a belt looped around his left arm up high, the loose end bitten in his teeth, and he flexed and poked the needle in under his bicep. The skin there was bright white, and I could see a couple of fresh marks like bee stings.
After he shot up he wasn’t too conversational. I finished my beer and cracked the one I’d given to him, which he’d just left sitting on the table. Trying to think up an excuse, my head was a blank. I kept seeing myself in Angela’s bedroom, pounding that little body. Her place was close by, too, on Blaisdell and Twenty-fourth. I thought, Fuck it, and picked up the phone and called home. It rang. It rang again. Three rings. Then the fourth, and the machine picked up, my own voice telling me to leave a message.
“Baby,” I said. “It’s me. I know I should never have gone out, it was just a joke, kind of. But now I’m in jail, some kind of old warrant or something. They said I’ll get out tonight with no bail, but I have to wait for the judge or something. I can’t believe this. It’s like a nightmare. I’m sorry, babe, but I’ll be home later tonight. Bye.” And I hung up. I bit the knuckles of my left hand hard enough to hurt and break the skin. There’s no taking back an answering machine message. That was a pretty good excuse, though, I hoped. I could iron out the details before I got home. But I couldn’t go home right away because that would look funny. I had to wait a little bit. I had a picture in my head of Kim tied to the bed, listening to me leave the message I was freaked out, breathing too fast and getting dizzy, and I tasted blood on my teeth, but it was kind of a pretty picture.
After a while Jason came out of his nod and looked around for his beer. When he didn’t see it he must have figured he already drank it. “Can I have another beer?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure,” I said. I got up and got us two more beers from the fridge. I handed one to him and said, “Let’s go out on the porch.”
We went out on the tiny deck and sat in the two blue plastic chairs he kept there. Jason lit a cigarette and so did I, and we sat there drinking and smoking for a little while. I didn’t want to talk about things with Kim, so I asked him, “What’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
“You know, smack.”
Jason gave a big long sigh and looked away and took a drag off his cigarette. “It’s not like anything, really,” he said. “It just is what it is.”
“Do you really like it?”
“What do you think? Why do you think I do it?”
I nodded like I understood, and maybe I did. Something was happening, and whatever it was there was no way to control it. I decided not to be afraid of it. Fuck everything, I thought. That made me feel a little better.
I can’t explain it, but underneath all that, there was a part of me that wanted to tell Jason about Mr. Jeter, to have somebody else know. Kim knew, but that didn’t count right then, maybe because she was tied up. Oh, Jesus, I thought. I tried to think of a way to tell him, of words to use, but I wasn’t coming up with anything.
Jason shook his head and smiled. “Like it,” he said. “Hell, I love it.” And he seemed a little annoyed.
I said, “When I was a kid . . . ” Jason was watching a beetle crawl past his foot. He put his toe behind it and flicked it off the edge of the porch.
“So long, sucker,” he said, but it spread its wings and flew off, buzzing, before it hit the ground. “Yeah?” he said, still not looking at me.
I dragged on my cigarette and saw it was a stupid thing to do anyway. It would just give everyone the wrong idea. I wasn’t one of those whining bitches on Oprah talking about how the world’s fucked them over and they deserve better. What you get is what you get. Deal with it. For a second I was glad Kim was still tied up, it felt good in a different way than it had at the beginning.
Jason was staring at the porch planks like they were a TV set on a boring channel. He wasn’t interested anymore.
Some kids rode by on bikes, yelling and popping wheelies. Angela’s body swam into my mind and I wrestled with it. It was still close by. I tried to remember how long they had held me a couple of years earlier when I’d been arrested. It seemed like at least three or four hours. Plenty of time.
Jason’s head was hanging down and he stared at the cigarette in his hand. He took a drag. “I’ve got it,” he said, looking up. He was slurring a little, and smoke came out with the words, like everything inside him was burned and melted. “You can tell her you got hassled by the cops.”
“I already did,” I said. “I called while you were nodding out and left a message.”
“Oh. I thought I dreamed that.” His face went blank for a second, his eyelids sank halfway down, and I thought he was going out again, but they opened back up. He seemed nervous suddenly. “Shouldn’t you be heading home?”
The shouts of more kids playing somewhere came floating over the rooftops. I wanted to run while there was still time. “In a bit,” I said. I wondered how long I could hold out. I wondered if everything was ruined yet. Something tried to squeeze through a pinhole inside me. I scratched the whiskers on my neck, leaned back in my chair and squinted and took a big drag. The smoke hurt, but felt good in my lungs, like iodine on a cut.
Max Ludington and Nerve.com