Your mom told me write this down, just in case. She worries. Never tells me straight out I should quit, but she thinks it all the time. I know. I see it in those looks. Those big bright eyes make you feel like you better come up with something quick and you find yourself thinking, what?
Andy watched the cars around them puff vapor as his grandfather’s Cadillac slid through the Sunday church traffic on Cheltenham Ave. Pop flicked cigarette ash out the driver’s window. “Lock your doors when you drive through Olney,” he said. “You were born in Olney.”
Andy held his breath to keep the smoke out of his lungs and closed his eyes. His temples throbbed; the backs of his eyes ached. He’d had seven shots of airplane gin the night before, on a flight that landed late in Philly thanks to driving sleet. Four hours of sleep had done nothing to ease the pain.
It was Christmas, the first Christmas after Claire’s wedding, and Deirdre did not seem well. This wasn’t an easy distinction, as Claire’s mother had spent two decades complaining about this pain or that one, her migraines and fevers and swollen feet. But this time she seemed uncharacteristically quiet, weakened on the inside. Every visible feature was frantic, insistent, too bright.
The theory that my life thus far has been a compilation of bad decisions occurs to me as I am darting down 10th Street, in pursuit of my boyfriend who is not actually my boyfriend but in fact a complete stranger who, like me, takes the 7:19 train into Philadelphia every morning. He looks to be all of nineteen years old and I am twenty-eight and therefore far too old to be trailing this boy through the streets of Chinatown , skulking half a block behind him and wondering if that is his girlfriend he is talking to on his cell phone.
Jerome bought a jewel-encrusted scepter at the Army-Navy store. It cost eight dollars.
The scepter was in a special bin—actually; just a cardboard box with the lid cut off—located in a dim corner at the rear of the Army-Navy store, near the rack of Big & Tall Camouflage Fashions. The cardboard box had a wooden paint stirrer stapled to it and stapled to the paint stirrer was a hand-written sign: DISCONTINUED DAMAGED ONE OF A KIND.
The cops were hungry. They had stopped for salads two hours earlier. Now they were hungry again, so hungry that instead of listening to radio calls or watching what streamed across their computer screen, they were daydreaming food, both of them picturing bags stuffed with burgers and onion rings, flipping the lid on a pizza box and smelling that beautiful grease and cheese.
“I want . . .” Nilda said.
Hoffman’s wife, Tookie, died last week. She used to collect loose hair from her brush and comb then burn them in a glass ashtray: this isn’t related to her death, Tookie just had a ritual. She kept the glass ashtray on the porcelain toilet tank under a small Monet.
The bathroom still has a burnt hair stink. Hoffman is touching the ashes; he rubs them between his thumb and forefinger. They feel talcumy.
The summer she and I were twelve, Alexandra Metcalf became my best friend only hours after she moved onto our block. I was sitting on my front stoop, hugging my knees, listening to the bees’ late summer panic as my parents carted sod back and forth. They were planting the evergreen that would eventually tower over the house, and surrounding it with chrysanthemums. Alexandra’s blond head bobbed past our honeysuckle hedge and she stopped to wave at me as if she weren’t thinking twice about it.
He told me about his war wounds. I recounted my masturbation injuries. We bonded.
Then came winter.
“See here, Klugstein,” he said. “There’s no need to raise the thermostat above 45. If the pipes won’t freeze, then neither will you.”
Inspired, I replied, “Righty-O!” and reached for the Echinacea.
The New Year brought the worst ice storm on record. The roads were impassable. The supermarkets closed. He ate my cat.
Why did things have to get all retarded when I came out of The Shepard? Why did I have to be the only bull to see those bulls clocking that bull? One stick! Then two! Popping down on Old Man’s dome like me cutting open melons for dessert. Poor homeless fuck. Punk ass with a Kidd jersey’s kicking him under the alley light but it looked like he was just kicking a bunch of tattered rags. Poor emaciated homeless fuck.