This story appeared in The Mississippi Review Online, Post-Modern Pulp.
The situation is me, fresh out of high school, with a few credits still under scrutiny, a week away from my third eviction, and a guy named Roth Wilcox: a fierce round-shouldered son of a retired homicide cop, slumped over my kitchen table in the Common Grounds apartment complex, and thirty hand-squashed cans of Milwaukee’s Best, chain smoking, ruminating on our girlfriend’s being a couple building’s down at the pad of a guy named Guralnick. It’s Tuesday night in this small Florida college town and a week before Roth had called and said swing by his place and didn’t bother to mention he was ass-deep in an empty bathtub with both wrists sliced open, legs hanging over the edge, blood oozing out like Presto sauce and shards of the broken Sprite bottle inches away.
“She’s at the surfer’s house,” he went when I walked into the scene, his chin dangling, eyebrows all fuckin crazy. By the surfer, he meant an Anthropology student named Chance, who had a Ron Jon sticker on the back of his Blazer, and also lived in the Common Grounds. By she, he meant his girlfriend Victoria, who’d moved to Miami from Alabama our senior year, and had now moved on to Chance.
“Don’t tell me you ain’t thought about it too,” he went, squeezing his left arm to increase the blood flow, his voice all fuckin crunchy.
“I’ve thought,” I shrugged, then went for the phone. When I heard the panicked squeaks of blood and sneakers on the basin was when it was clear this was not a cry for help. Roth yanked the cord out of the wall and seconds later had his shotgun pointed at my heart, telling me to write some names down on my hand. I found a pen, had to burn it with my Bic to make it work, then wrote down the names of three guys I was supposed to find and whack on Roth’s behalf after he was gone. He put the Mausberg back in the corner and grabbed a bottle of rat poison he kept on his bedside table.
“Leave,” he went, “and if you call the cops, I’ll haunt your skinny ass.”
I left, the sounds of a swallow, a gag, and Roth coughing up pieces of himself chasing me around the corner of the building. I drove home and called the cops. Baker-Acted his fuckin ass.
A day later, out of the hospital, he picked me up for lunch, said he forgave me and was over Victoria. He said it was just what he needed and suggested I do what I needed to do to forget about the chick who was doing this same shit to me. He only referred to her as that Brazen Hussy. Her real name was Jennifer. Jennifer was also sleeping with a surfer who happened to live with Chance. It was all one big funny coincidence. Yeah. Fuckin hysterical. A year later back in Miami, Jennifer would have her new boyfriend Jimmy start shooting at my car as we were driving down a residential highway in the middle of the day, take out all my windows, then rear-end a Metro cop. He’s still in Glades Correctional far as I know. Twelve years later, Roth would become a two-hundred-dollar-an-hour prosecutor in Jacksonville, with four children, a blue Corvette and a litigation professorship at UWF.
Just so there’s no confusion, I’d also shared my previous apartment with Victoria, and the one before that too. Roth asked me to because Victoria couldn’t afford the rent and didn’t want to live with him. We were evicted the first time when Roth put her TV through the window, and then, after her and Roth split up a week before, when he put his head through all of them. Four days ago, I was at a house party with Victoria. Jennifer was off somewhere with Sage, her surfer, although I was not aware of this. Victoria watched me swallow four tabs of LSD with Hong King Fooey drawn on them then came over and broke it to me. I drove five hours to Miami, sat in my mother’s driveway, paid a visit to one of my boyz with a Z, then turned right around. I listened to Black Sabbath’s self-titled song exactly 458 times. When I got back, Victoria had moved all her shit out and over to Chance’s place and also took my leather jacket with the zippers, my Alpine pullout CD player and my Gibson Flying V, a rare guitar. Let these three items represent an amalgamation of self. In my mind, I was half-redneck, half metal head and half gangsta’, which I know equals more than a whole, but in reality equaled nothing, because I was not anywhere equal to the sum of my parts when who even knew what any of my real parts were? When I say metal head, I mean I could play “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and had just retired my denim jacket with the Judas Priest back patch. By gangsta’, that meant for six months I’d used words like “Flex,” “Dip,” and “Jet,” which were all ways of suggesting that me and my boyz with a Z should leave wherever we were, oftentimes in a hurry. Redneck was my current thing. Roth introduced me to Charlie Daniels, shitty beer and male bonding over food. The real me had grown up with a Jewish mother on a canal behind an expensive private school, which she thankfully couldn’t afford to send me to with my old man holding out on the child-support checks all those years. So, before Victoria dipped, she stole my shit.
But back to that Tuesday at The Common Grounds. Josh Guralnick and me were best friends back in grade school, but it all went sour when he started wearing “Dare: To Keep Kids off Drugs” t-shirts and got head from my tenth-grade girlfriend Kaaren.
“Her car’s right out front the building,” Roth went, meaning Victoria’s Honda. “It’s too obvious if I do it. You gotta do it.” The you meaning me and the it meaning taking the sugar he’d stolen from the Shell Station on his way over and pouring it in her gas tank, which would permanently destroy the engine. He grabbed the stained beer funnel from the top of my fridge.
“Do this and you avenge us both,” he pressed his forehead against mine and grumbled, breathing heavily, like he was blowing up a balloon and that balloon was me doing this thing.
The Honda had no lock on the gas tank, and the bag of sugar went in smooth through the “Beer Bong.” Just for kicks, I tried her door, which was unlocked. For more kicks, I popped the trunk and found my guitar, my jacket and CD player, along with Victoria’s dirty laundry, which I grabbed also, kind of like a Vig. Gurlanick saw me from his second floor balcony. He was leaning over but by then I had all that stuff in my hands and was a good enough distance from the Honda not to get made. He probably thought I was still moving in. He waved at me and I told him yo, the wave and the yo really meaning I hate your fuckin guts. So what if I cried a few years later when I heard about him OD’ing on muscle relaxers and dying all that?
Did I mention I was strapped?
After parking in my mom’s driveway that time, I’d parked down the street from my friend Jeff Cotler’s house. It was just short of six am when he peeked through his bedroom blinds all dog-faced and it took about two seconds to recognize the peaking glare of my acid eyes.
“How much did you take?” he mouthed, then came out the back door, not to wake his folks. Fourteen years later, Jeff still lives with his folks and at thirty years old, finally wrapped up his AA degree in Computer Science. He came out shirtless, his pockmarked face no match for the pillow imprints and hangover jaws.
“You back?” he asked me, lighting up two Camels, handing one over.
Jeff was one of my boyz with a Z from high school.
“Already on my way out,” I told him, then took out three C-notes, stuffed them in his fist and said I needed to be the new owner of his chrome .357. He stared at the money all wide eyed, juggling two ideas: Haven’t seen this guy in four months and he shows up at dawn tanked on acid asking for a gun, and, more importantly, three hundred is hands down a great fuckin deal for a throwaway piece we paid one fifty for. The we being him and Brian, a slit-eyed tank of a guy who apart from his extended gumline, could have had a career as a movie star. Brian was also one our boyz with a Z, our self-proclaimed leader. He’d drown five years later jetskiing through a canal a few blocks from his house, slamming into a protruding branch
Jeff said, “Gotta call B first, but it should be all good.” This because they’d split the cost of the gun, which I knew had never been fired and was sitting right now where it had always sat, under the bucket seat of Jeff’s GTA. “You want some breakfast?” he offered. I told Jeff I didn’t want any breakfast. So he called Brian and we waited on the hood of my Lincoln chain smoking without a word, me staring at the clouds that kept morphing into the faces of old dudes, or vice versa. Brian pulled up, took one look at me, gave us both a disgusted look and said he was going back to bed. Then he drove off. The sale was made. Jeff got the piece from his car, handed it to me wrapped in a plastic Farm Store’s bag and let the cigarette dangle from his crusted lips when he said it was loaded and asked me the fuck I wanted it for.
I told him some kneecaps. He touched my shoulder with his and went back inside. I tucked the piece under my shirt and got back on the interstate.
But back to the sugar. Gainesville PD came by the next afternoon. I gave a good performance, and said tell fuckin Victoria to give back my CD player, leather jacket and guitar, even though it was all in my closet now. I watched AAA tow away the Honda from my bedroom window. Three days later I looked through the same window and saw Jen’s Toyota parked in the same spot. The back-story on Jen is I’d loved her. Or loved her eyes and body. We’d kissed at a few parties in high school but she’d always had a different boyfriend, so it never went any farther. Then Gainesville. College. One night became three months, her meeting my father and grandparents, who lived in the next county, and then the nights with guy’s who weren’t me, including fuckin Sage, and now, shacking up with my enemies. I guess what made me go over there and knock was more than jealousy, but knowing what she didn’t know, that Guralnick was banging her to open old wounds. That’s why I knocked. That’s why I challenged him to a duel. That’s why he called the cops. The same cops, who advised me to leave him and his girlfriend alone.
I blame Victoria. It all fell to shit when she bailed on Roth for Chance. Jen and her were already best buds, and as the weaker will of the two, she followed. Fuckin poser. I spent the rest of the night with the gun to my head, trying to drink my way out of that thick gray line between insecurity and resolve. Resolve fuckin lost.
Then came the eviction notice posted to my door. I was familiar with the language by now. “You are hereby… blah blah…” for scaring the shit out of Guralnick and his girlfriend, your girlfriend, and stalking the halls of his building brandishing a handgun.
Gorgeous. The one thing I didn’t do. I packed my shit and ordered the truck. I could have fought back and won. But I was happy to be out of the lease, out of that city, and all of their lives.
I mentioned my father lived in the next county but not that he was and is a Gainesville defense attorney.
“Did you go over there armed?” he asked me, golf shirt unbuttoned revealing mounds of gray brillo-like hair. We were having lunch at a hotel bar.
“No,” I said, which was true.
“Do you have a piece, son?”
“I have a piece.”
End of conversation. I was seventeen so he didn’t need to ask if it was registered, where I got it and all that. He followed me back to my boxed-up apartment and I handed it over. Then he drove back to work. No lecture. No smacks or warnings. No words. I appreciated the consistency.
But back at the bar, I’d told him about Victoria stealing my shit and since I’d denied the thing about the sugar, it followed that in keeping with this lie, she was still in possession of all of it. The old man said I could file a complaint. So after he left with the gun, I went down to the courthouse. Couple weeks later, back in Miami, I received a counter-complaint and a hearing date. Six weeks later I’m sitting in the judge’s office with my old man and a judge who was wearing a running suit. Victoria never showed, so the judge ruled in my favor. She now owed me twelve hundred dollars, and if she refused to pay, it could be collected by a Writ of Execution or Garnishment, and that meant either siphoning her bank account or paying a small fee to have the Alachua County sheriff seize her Honda and auction it off.
Outside the courthouse, my old man said if I’d perjured myself, I had no right to collect. Then he asked me about my grades. I admitted to attending community college the first day and never returning, not even to drop the classes. He glared for a second then walked back to his office. He didn’t need to mention that the all those fuckin F’s would follow me throughout my pursuit of higher education, the same as he never asked about the fake hick accent, which I did drop forever on my way back to Miami, a few miles south of Yeehaw Junction.