As he neared the wharf dock, he could tell his uncle would be free. He didn’t know what time it was, but he guessed he’d got up sometime past noon and the market had by now wound down completely. He hoped his uncle was still there, as the only people who usually stuck around were the fishermen who daily drank away their catch payment at the docks, sleeping in their boats until the night when they’d get up and out into the open ocean to do it all over again. The boy couldn’t understand that way of life. He couldn’t think about working that hard every day just to waste it all getting drunk. True he’d never worked that hard, but even still he couldn’t understand it.
He liked to bank up money when he could. Not recently, but a year or so before he’d managed to put away a fair sum while he was working at a nightclub. He was fit for the job because he was there all day, cleaning when things needed to be cleaned, sleeping on the floor of the office when everyone left, and getting up in the morning to do it all over again. He wanted to be a bartender because they made money, but he liked being the back, the cleaner, the one to make all the machinery go. He was there when the party left, alone with the open stink of the place, the absent olfactory memory of bodies in motion. He used to like turning on all the stage lighting at night when no one was around. Not the fluorescents with their mean glare that the bartender would flip on when closing time came and they wished to oust everyone out of the bar, into the night. The colored lights were best, the blue and red, with their soft glow that made all the seedy couches and Formica tables look classy.
He felt good when he had saved up some money during that year. He knew it wasn’t all on his own; they fed him and he had the place to sleep. Still, he felt independent and in the end, when he thought about it again, they didn’t help him at all really. He had done it on his own. His mother had kicked him out after he got picked up for robbing that store and she came and bailed him out after pawning some old necklace his grandmother had given her. Sometimes, he’d break in there when she was off at work and raid the fridge, cooking whatever there was and at the best getting a coke or beer she left. After a while, she stopped keeping stuff like that. Maybe she had it somewhere else and she drank it warm, but it wasn’t in the fridge. He didn’t blame her. His dad left her, he thought, so maybe she’s the one who drives men off. It wasn’t his problem to worry about her. He had his problems.
When he was working at the bar, saving money, he felt he’d truly put the past behind him. He dreamt about finding a girlfriend and having a kid, and some of the waitresses even liked him. I want a nice girl, he thought, I’d never marry a puta. Still, he’d talk to a few of them, and when there was nothing much going on a couple of them were nice to look at. Once, when they were talking about a party he’d asked them what club, trying to sound like he’d know places in the city. They all looked at him and laughed. He thought they were joking, but when they all stopped suddenly, this time looking at him with pity, he wasn’t so sure. In the next moment, though, they brightened saying, let’s take him out with us. They all agreed.
He needed all the money he’d been saving. To party with them, he’d have to come through big. He wasn’t planning on doing anything with the money really; he’d only felt good about saving it up as if it was a noble act in and of itself. He’d kept it in the wall of the stairwell behind the stage. The frame of one window was loose, and when he’d pried it off accidentally, he’d discovered a brick was missing behind it. He wasn’t afraid someone would find it. No one used that stairwell anyways. They’d teased him before, asking where he keeps his money, but the one waitress with the dyed hair had said he probably spends it on drugs so it doesn’t matter. He went to it the day they invited him, after the bar closed, counting all of it again. It was enough, he thought. It was enough to go where he thought they’d go.
The night came faster than he thought possible. Never had a week sped by like that one, blending days altogether flurried until he was cleaning the bar when the head bartender came up to him and said to meet them all at an address over in Pancho Villa in a couple hours. Pancho, he asked, who did they know who lived in Pancho? Why would you even ask that, smirked the bartender rhetorically.
He got off the bus with the wad he’d saved bundled in his jacket pocket. As he was walking into the neighborhood, he stopped at a hotdog stand, killed one there and got another for the walk. You have to eat if you’re going to party, he thought. His cousin taught him that. His cousin taught him how to party when he went and stayed with him up north, on those nights after he’d get home from work with his friends and they would watch the games and get steamed. The first night he threw up in the backyard next to where he tied up the dog, which started barking and straining at the lead as the boy was doubled over heaving. One of his cousin’s friends came out and took a leek, laughing at the boy as he shook himself and buttoned up his fly.
He was through with the second dog before he realized he’d been zoned out walking and didn’t know where he was. I’m close, he told himself, trying to remember the address the bartender had given him. Don’t mess this up, he chided. If you do anything right in your worthless life, make it this. Find the house. Find the nerve and find the source of the fire. He thought of the early humans, whoever they were. Searching the horizon for lightning and then bee lining for the source of the heavenly flame. There were fights between groups over fire, and elected individuals whose job it was to keep the small flame going inside a basket or horn made of hide, feeding it small bits of pitch or peat as it sputtered and gutted in the wind. That’s who he was now, the keeper of the flame. He thought himself the last bastion against the dark of loneliness. He needed to summon some of that luck he always never had. He had to find it.
He wouldn’t have had the luck, but then he saw one of the waitress’ cars out front of a lit up place with music emanating from behind the walls. He unconsciously took his hands out of his pockets where they had been jammed while he’d been rambling through the neighborhood. This was it. He listened to the music, feeling the rhythm as best he could. He imagined syncing up in the party just as he entered the door, his steps coordinated to the movement of bodies and in crossing the space, all would realize his presence with an awe and interest. He felt the wad in his pocket, felt embarrassed as he realized he wasn’t bringing anything to drink. That’s ok, he assured himself, you’ll get an opportunity to show what you’re made of. Let them serve you for once.
The door of the house stood open and a young woman, quite small, stood framed by the inside light, holding up a lighter to a cigarette dangling from her mouth. Her hair was cropped close and the boy stopped dead in his tracks, mesmerized by the cool handed grace with which she moved. Frozen thus, he wasn’t ready for when the girl finished lighting the smoke and turning to him said, “hey! This is a private party!” Her eyes flashed and he was struck, doubly frozen. She was wearing some kind of contacts that made her eyes ice blue. He’d seen stupid ones before that made cat or snake eyes, and even some prieta girls who really wanted green or something, but these were different. Her eyes, not just the iris’, were ice blue, entirely so that you wouldn’t even see the separate parts. He cringed, as if struck, and made to turn and leave when he heard another voice.
“Hey squeak, where are you going?”
“Um, hey man. I thought, I thought I had the wrong house.”
“Yeah right, get in here.” He passed again to the front of the door and the girl moved aside for him, blowing a column of smoke into his face as he did.
Inside, he caught a glimpse of fantasy, of desire for something he’d thought bout often and had as of yet left unaccomplished, inexperienced. The immediacy of the staircase let you know there were two floors to this place, and the spaciousness of the first floor, the living room, kitchen, and dining room unobstructed by walls, let you in on the size of the place without having to see it. However, he had a feeling that the second floor would be partitioned, and this difference led him into a vision of closed off spaces, intimate portals to special false memories, and hands gliding down the separation between cloth and flesh. Around the circumference two long, identically tan couches seated some two-dozen forms in various poses, states, and interactions. A haze of gun blue smoke hung somewhere between people’s heads and the ceiling, with the plumes escaping from lips constantly adding to the cover. The ceiling itself was a caved in drop, the tiles missing, but the skeletal aluminum structure still intact, creating a strange matrix with which one could partition the space below.
“So, you’re just going to stand there, or are you going to get a drink?”
“What? Oh yeah, sorry.”
“Why the fuck’re you sorry?”
“No. no, I just couldn’t…”
“Couldn’t what? You need a road map to the kitchen or something? This your first time sneaking out of your parent’s place?”
“Yeah. Something like that…”he trailed off. He wasn’t listening or seeing him really. He was rapt in a certain view that had appeared to him. It seemed as if a path had cleared to the kitchen which only he could see. Stranger still, there seemed to be some source of illumination, though from the looks of the worn in shag carpeting, he wondered if it probably should come from the ceiling or something, but he couldn’t tell. He took a step forward half expecting to fall on his face or something to solidify his position as ass clown of the party, but no. He felt as if on winged feet, and as he inched closer to the door frame, the light grew more and more intense. Soon, he was at the threshold and he could barely stand its brilliance. ‘what the…” but his thoughts and speech trailed off, caught and took in by the light.
“Want a drink?”
“I don’t think he speaks. Look at him, he’s staring like half crazy stupid or something.”
“Shut up. He’s not a retard. Want a drink?”
“What?” he could hear the voices as if down a long tunnel, and still his vision was blotted out by the shining light.
“See. Told you. Completely shit for brains. He’s probably a Foco-head burn out. Come on, let’s go upstairs and I’ll play that new Lifetime Lounge disk I got for you.” He still couldn’t see, but he heard some kind of commotion between the two voices talking to him.
“Fuck off, don’t grab me like that. I told you I’m not going upstairs with you. Why would you think would? Eeew.”
“Oh, you bitch. You think you’re so fucking cool, just because your daddy’s a rich motherfucker and you got to go to school and take vacations and shit. Fuck you. I’ll take you up there anyways later. You’ll see, I’ll…”
“Sure. I’ll take drink.”
“What?” The guy’s voice shifted now, closer to him. Angrier than when he’d been yelling at the girl, tinged with a different kind of rage.
“I said I’d take a drink.” And just as he mumbled this, certain that in the next moment he’d feel a fist crash into his face and though he’d continue on being blind, the shade would go from white to black and he might even take a nap there on the kitchen floor. But no, the words were like magic, pulling his vision up from behind whatever screen it sat, clearing away the blinding whiteness and light to reveal the kitchen as it was, the people as they stood, all at once, everything clear and correct.
He saw a table directly n front of him. On this table were three large, plastic five-gallon water jugs filled with some cloudy liquid in which floated many ice cubes, and some kind of green leaf. Underneath this table was a cooler and besides it a keg of beer resting in a trashcan. There was a large stack of green plastic cups sticking out of a cellophane wrapper leaning awkwardly next to the water jugs and he made to go for one of these, happy that he could see and focusing on keeping this good momentum going, momentarily forgetting the rest of the room. This lapse may have been because the rest of the kitchen was very unremarkable, like a thousand others he had seen. Or maybe it was because he didn’t so much like the meanness of the guy’s conversation with the girl, harsh words like the overhead fluorescents. He’d forgot them momentarily, but now he paused in getting the cup from the cellophane and turned to see what they looked like.
At first, he couldn’t see the girl behind the wall of her bangs, but her clothes hung well. The guy, however, was already busy staring him in the face. He was reckless youth with a penciled in mustache and a smashed nose. He had a mop of curly dark hair and eyes that’d make better sense sunk into the carapace of a deep-sea creature. He grinned at him then, asked “so, you do want a drink, eh retard? Have you regained your faculties? Here, let me get that for you.” He reached backwards without taking his eyes off him and grabbed at the cups standing on the table.
“Um, well, I’d rather if I could…” Too late. He came back around, not with an empty cup, but with his own full one at he had sighted on the table and swooped up without breaking his gaze. The foamy beer hit him in the face, went up his nose, in is hair and started soaking down the back and front of his carefully picked out party shirt.
“You dick.” Screamed the girl. “Get out of here, now!”
“Oh yeah baby. Now you want to leave with me. Well ok, lets go.”
“Fuck you,” she tore away from his grip. “Hey, get in here and get this fucking guy out of here!” she called back into the other room, and in turning away the boy finally got a good look at her. He and the girl looked at each other and then the bouncer from the club came into the kitchen and grabbed the guy around the neck with one bear paw, the other hung relaxed at his side loosely clutching a beer bottle neck.
The guy spat, looking up into the bouncer’s face, carefully, hitting the big man dead in the eye. Too much, too soon, the boy thought. The bouncer, in tossing him aside and wiping his eye at the same time, looked almost like a large baby who had just been giving something to eat that disagreed with his juvenile palate. The guy however, as the bouncer threw him against the counter top, well he was all rag doll and not pretty at all as he tried to catch himself but the force bent back the fingers on one of his hands and his head hit the stone edge with a sickening thud. He dropped down and there was already blood left there where he’d struck. “That motherfucker spit on me,” whined the bouncer, whose work and short temper the boy knew well from experience. Poor guy, he thought, even if he’s a dick, he’ll be lucky to have a functioning one after the nights done. The bouncer leaned over and easily picked up the guy one handed, and started off with him through the hall behind the kitchen to the back of the house and whatever semblance of a yard would serve as the whipping grounds.
The boy turned his attention to the large plastic jugs, and grabbing a cup, turned aside to the pretty girl and asked “what’s in these?”
“They’re mojitos. Are you all right?”
“Oh yeah, nothing happened. I’m wet,” he said finally, as if he was just realizing it then.
“Yeah, you are. That guy was being an asshole since he got here. No one even knows him here. I think he showed up with someone that left already and he’s just been creeping out the place since. I hope he gets fucked up.”
“Oh, I think its safe to assume that’s going to happen.”Tags: chapter 2, fiction, party, prose, trapzine, violence, youth, Zev Gottdiener