Little Baby Faulkner

My girlfriend Sashi used to hate it when film crews used her neighborhood to film.  She hated it because her neighborhood was quiet—and then come all these film people noising it up, blocking roads, leaving colored tape everywhere.  But mostly she hated that she was the insider, and they were the outsiders, and shooting a film was their pass to become tourist in her neighborhood, where she was a native.

Also: Sashi went to film school.  And somehow that figured into her hatred of film crews.

I went to film school too.  Sashi’s was in New York.  Mine was in LA.  She studied lighting.  She liked to be on crew.  I studied directing.  If I never pick up another light or calculate line voltages in my head it will be too soon.  I think Sashi held it against me that I liked the heady work while she preferred the grunt work.  Sashi was smart enough to direct.  To write.  She considered it more pure to haul cord, to respond to the cinematographer barking orders.  When she worked on a movie, she preferred not to read the script.  She and her fellow crew members would go to Starbucks ☕️ after filming and talk philosophy—not the casual kind that most people talk, but real philosophy, the kind that to keep up with you had to have read every last work by Derrida.  They didn’t want to know anything about the movie: Their way of filmmaking was pure.  The less they knew the better.

This story I’m about to tell you took place over one weekend in September (or maybe October).  It was senior thesis week and as a director I didn’t have any interest in helping out some classmate by holding the boom microphone—which is what I liked to do when I was required to be on someone else’s set.  Much for the same reasons Sashi worked lights: I could be there and not be there.  Just get the mic in the right place and my brain could wander to infinite places other than here.

I lived right up the street from my school.  Three blocks.  And right between block two and block three was a restaurant with no name (as is popular in LA).  It had a black door and a red carpet and I had never been inside but I had walked past it every day for a year and on Sunday and Thursday the red carpet was rolled out.  If I got drunk my apartment was one block up the hill.  I could walk there and see the homeless man sleeping on a couch someone had literally thrown out their window.  Hollywood is like that: Lamborghinis and rich people live on the same street as homeless ones.  There is no plan to help the homeless ones.  They wander, move, die.

I had seen people enter the restaurant with no name.  In couples or quads, guys and girls, all dressed up.  And disappear behind the door into relative blackness.

Now I stand here, ready to knock—realizing what a silly gesture that is—and I’m not dressed up, instead wearing my brown cargo pants that I used to swear by as a film person (due to the extra—the third—side pocket almost to the cuff at the bottom of the pants).  I’ve never seen that pocket before or since.  Only on the ones sold in a surplus shop on Hollywood B.

I pull open the door, walk a few steps in.  I almost leave because no one is there.  The tables are stood on top of each other like they stand when a restaurant crew closes for the night.  There was a bar—no one at it, no one behind it.  I look around the place:

I see a bar with nine stools.  An area in the back with a stained-glass skylight.  Tiles on the floor underneath that: Forming the structure of a wave, patterns never lost on me.  I think about texting my film school buddy but decide I want to be alone.  At the top of the Ave is the Alto Nido building, where I live.  Sashi lived with me for a while.  Then I threw my phone across the room, shattering it, glass everywhere.  Then I kicked her out.  I feel bad about it but me throwing that phone was the last in a line of incidents tracing us from Arizona to Ohio and then to LA.  I have never met anyone who made me as mad as that girl.

Other than the skylight, there were no windows in this place.  The ceiling was packed with cinema lighting, stage lighting.  Even underneath the floor, which was glass block, a parade of colors went by as though I was standing on a river.

I sat at the bar, put my laptop bag on the floor, leaning against my stool.  Maybe there was an underground chamber and that’s where everyone who comes through that door went to..some Alice in Wonderland in the basement or sub basement where all the kids in Hollywood (not the students, not the ones without money) would go to dance and hook up and go home and fuck and come back next Sunday or Thursday and ignore everyone they had taken home before.

“Excuse me”—that was the bartender.

I smile in a familiar way, as though we know each other.

“Is this place open?”

“We open at seven, actually.”

“Do you have a kitchen?”

“Yes,” he says deeply.  “I’ll get you a menu.”

“That’s ok,” I say.  “Do you have a rib eye?”

“Yes sir we do.”

“I’d like a rib eye.  Extra rare.  With blue cheese crumbles on top.”

“Sure thing,” he says.

“Also?  Could I have Serrano peppers and two eggs over easy on top of that blue cheese?”

“Sure thing?  You want a drink?”

“Yes, a glass of Syrah if you have it.”

“We have it!  Totally.  We have it.  I guess it’s ok if you sit here.  There’s a party later.”

“I’ll be out of here by then,” I say (having no intention to leave).

The bartender pours me a generous glass of wine in a glass with a thin lip (important if you’re me).  He goes into the kitchen.

I flip through my phone book.  Not that far from the start.  I pretend to consider each name, each number, but really I’m looking for a certain name all along—and it’s near the beginning: Baker, my fuck buddy from Ohio.  Don’t ask me why I picked Baker.  It may have had something to do with my having picked up a sandwich bag of cocaine a few days ago, and something in me knew that Baker had done cocaine—or could help me with her sexy words.  My sex with her was the best ever—she said our sex was amazing.  After our second bout of soap-suds squishy sex on the floor of my apartment in Ohio, she said, “It’s not that our sex is amazing.  I just always wanted to know what it was like to have sex with a genius.”

I refrained from asking her what that was like.

Now in LA, in my empty restaurant, I called her.

“Well look who it is,” she says.

“Hey, pretty girl.”

“So what’s going on?”

“I’m on a coke binge and I need a break.”

“So you called me!  Ha ha.”

“Have you ever done it?”

“Matt.  You will not believe your synchronicity with me and my house right now!  We—me and my roomie Brooklyn—we just got this house.  To rent.  And we are breaking it in with a whole weekend of coke.  The whole weekend.  You know what I think would be great?”

“If I fly to Dayton and participate in your coke weekend?”

Silence.

Then Baker’s voice: “Would you?”

“Umm..”

“Oh please!  Could you?”

“Ahh..”

“Oh my god we could do coke and have sex all weekend!”

“Ok!” I say.  “Tell me about this house.”

“I will,” she says.  “Brooklyn and I live here—the lease is in our name.  My grandmom lives here.  And Brooklyn’s boyfriend name of Rambuncto is getting out of jail on Saturday.”

“They let people out of jail on Saturday?”

“You’re my smart boy.  As in: Anyone else would have asked me What is he in for? but you ask Will they let him out on Saturday?”

“Well: What is he in for?”

“Assault.  On a stranger in a Walmart.”

“Is he guilty?  I mean: Did he do it?”

Baker’s laugh gets two steps louder.  “I’m pretty sure he’s guilty, yeah.”

“Is he gonna be there this weekend?”

A pause from Baker.

“Matthew, don’t worry about it.  Rambuncto may talk some shit but he’s harmless.”

“Not to the person in Walmart.”

“Don’t worry about it, Matthew.  You spend so much of your head worrying it’s a miracle you’re not losing brain celluloid whenever you wake up.  Come over.  Can you afford it?  I can send you money if you can’t afford it.”

“I can afford it.”

“Ok, good.  ‘Cause I can’t really afford it.”

We both laugh.

“And I have enough money for coke,” I say.

“Ok, this is what I think we should start with, whenever you get here: an eight ball,” Baker says.  “Then we can get more eight balls when we run out.  I don’t know if you remember, but I always wanted to get a Snoop Baby Babe and—guess what?—I have one—Well, Brooklyn does.  Do you want me to tell you his name?”

“Hold up.  Before that.  Is Rambuncto—?  Is Brooklyn—?  I mean, are they ok?”

“You’ve met Brooklyn before.”

“Did she go to Colonel White?”

“She went to Stivers.  She’s fine.  Don’t worry!  The house is cool, ok?  Say The house is cool.”

“I just wanna—”

“SAY THE HOUSE IS COOL!!”

“Ok.  It’s cool.  The house is cool.”

“We’re gonna have so much fun when you get here, Matt.  We’ll fuck all weekend.  I know you like that slippy little soap suds fucking we do.  Look.  I gotta go.”

“Can you pick me up from the airport?”

“Guess what the new baby’s name is.  Just text me the details.  What’s Brooklyn’s baby’s name?  Baby hurry ‘cause I gotta go.”

“I don’t know.  What’s its name?”

“Faulkner.”  She lays it out like carpet.

“Why did she name him that?  Has she ever read any Faulkner?”

“I gotta go, my wayward king!  Brooklyn says we have a dead-ish baby in the crib room.  I gotta go wake ‘im up.”

“Alright, girl—” I say, but the line goes dead.

Just then the bartender returns with my steak.  It is cooked extra rare.  With two eggs, blue cheese, and jalapeño peppers instead of Serranos.  I decide to eat it anyway.

2

Baker and I had a history.  From the first I saw her practicing color guard with the school’s JROTC program—her face so smooth, her hair: an angel’s!—to the time I followed her across the gym floor during a science exhibition—projects everywhere, and none more important to me than my own—I tracked her down and we spoke and she did seem kinda dumb to me.  But I liked her anyway, and over the years we’d become fuck buddies.  From that time watching The Great Gatsby (Robert Redford version) sitting in the dark of the basement where her apartment was, her dog outside listening.  And Baker and I moved deliberately to a lying down position and kissed in the dark—and all we did was kiss—but the seed was sewn, and it wasn’t till a couple years since The Great Gatsby that we hooked up in my place on Second Street in Dayton Ohio (with the help of a bottle of Aftershock) that we finally took it all the way.

Fucking Baker had become an exalted experience.  Full of imagination and the fulfillment of imagination.  Her puss was so red and so tight..it was unimaginable.  Truly, the best sex of my life, right there.  Soap suds—the works.  Tight as a flower mate by a honeybee 🐝, the bee shaking his tail feathers to get in there.  Before we had stood in the light of a street lamp visible five floors below..and when it turned red we stopped touching each other and when it turned green we started again.

My friend Julian was mad at me when I told him Baker and I had fucked.  He asked me to describe her vagina, which I did.  Red.  Redder 🌶 than the purest red in a box of Crayons 🖍—a set of oil paints.  Wet and snug and so tight she made me cum in her after five strokes, even after she asked me not to cum.  We never used a condom—not in the beginning.  Kept it clear and functioning.  Lord of the Flies.  The next morning she jacked me off with two hands while she waited for her mother to pick her up.  Then it was off and on, whenever one of us happened to call the other.  And it never seemed off-limits, even when one of us was in relationship—it was never cheating, with us.

This is the girl I was flying from LA to Dayton to meet.  This is the girl when I showed her picture to my film school buddy, he said:

“You fucked that?”

To which I said, “Yep.”

And that was the end of the conversation.  The end of Mike’s constant pestering me about getting a girlfriend, about everything he pestered me about, right down to the bottom of why I took baths instead of showers.  Right down to the end of who my Christmas present was: A girl who I woke up in my LA bed to see.  A girl I fucked during film school: brown hair, lovely petite, screaming sex in her chokers and all blackness and pink panties 💝 you could see above her back.  Her back hurt.  She needed relief.  Any way I could provide it, I was willing.  Fucked that girl in the equipment room, just, like, that.

I don’t remember that film school girl’s name—believe that?  I don’t remember my Christmas present’s name.  She was a costume girl for Adam Sandler.  And the fact that I didn’t remember her name isn’t really an act of pathological sport fucking—more an act of casualty that we all engage in.  Fuck one girl, forget her name.  Forget her phone number and wake up the next morning with more unknowns in your address book: “Molly, 323.818.9544”—total unknown.  Don’t remember a Molly—don’t remember anyone.  No one new, no one old.  A real bright way of living, there.

But on that night Baker and I decided to invite each other to spend a coke weekend at her house in Ohio..on the night I invited myself into this anonymous dance and supper club, on that night I stayed sober enough to remember two cute girls a few years older than me who danced and opened up their world to me.

“Do you wanna dance with us?”

These women were formally dressed and I with my six-pocket cargo pants they grabbed me by the hands and took me to the place under the skylight and they freak-danced me, holding me in the envelope of brightness where each of them plus the skylight made a triangle of importable lust, striking jealousy in the eyes of the boys more normal to this party.  Soon they picked me out as the threat, the tall nail which is inevitably hammered down, and the girls were saying goodbye and the bartenders and bouncers were telling me goodbye and the street lamp having just come on was guiding me home across the street with the intersection of the homeless man sleeping in the couch that had been thrown out the window and my school was far behind me and I let myself into the Alto Nido—it’s the building shown in the opening shot of Sunset Boulevard—and I took the stairs (down) and I struggled with the lock and soon was in the wood-floored studio apartment where I had the pages of an entire screenplay (one I was writing) placed end to end across the floor.

This and some snail puzzles (dubbed thee by my friend Michael).  They were stacked on the writing desk with a bunch of cocaine stacked next to them.  I was reaching for a result and I thought coke could help.  It seemed to speed up my thinking, but no result came.  These were some mathematical puzzles that had been puzzling me and I didn’t know whether it was more in the problem-solving vein to take them to Dayton on my Baker weekend or to leave them here and let them simmer.

I thought of the dead man out there on the sidewalk—he seemed dead to me.  I had never used enough drugs to make myself actually homeless.  I didn’t have sympathy for that man.  This was what happened when you couldn’t control your addiction.  When you lost your job and lost your wife and lost your nerve to walk into a job interview on LSD or walk into a job interview on meth and coke—if you couldn’t make that work, then you couldn’t make it work—period.

The idea that there were people out there who had never tried drugs was empty to me: I did not understand how that could be.  My cousin divorced her husband after he 1) had back surgery 2) was prescribed opiates 3) became addicted to those opiates and 4) went to rehab to end his addiction.  To me that seemed like the best-case scenario, minus the divorce.  But, I mean, how in this first world of ours could anyone live for long without coming into contact with drugs?  We live on them, can’t function without them.  Anyone who has tried alcohol knows that if this drug was introduced today it would be illegal.  Same with cigs.  The most dangerous drugs are on the street, legal to get.  And a couple of the most transformative drugs are listed as the most restricted in our world.  The real problem is you have people walking around with no general knowledge of drugs and their actual dangers and benefits.

I set up a line of coke, snarfed it.

I set up another line, banged it.

Mmm.  Salad wenches of lines spreading before me the remnants of ecstasy flying, colliding.  Rummaging in my mind tailwinds of stories I had yet to tell.  Yardley dangers of Pluto, planets banging across each other to form craters, my jizz the center of the galaxy, girlfriend gone, somewhere at a Starbucks sitting out front talking with a homeless man, treating him better than she treats me (I have seen this) and her going home to some weekly hotel where she barely makes the rent, has to eat off the employee shelf at work—all she had to do was not wake me up at night, not engage me in impossible swirls of arguments that never end, there is never a truce, never a peace of the day, but me waking up with her kneeling over my body yelling at me.  Never stopping.  One who wants not to live together, not to love each other, but to be one end of a debate course, for us to work it all out and for her to be right!  I could not take any more of that.

I punched up my ticket—laptop, coke—making sure I got the flight times, origins and destinations, correct.  Making sure I had the times correct.  Enough room for changes to and from Dayton Ohio.  I’d pack my bag tomorrow.  I called Baker.

“Hi y’all” (said in an English accent).  “I hope you have been following my YouTube channel as of late where myself and my house mouse—we will call her ‘B’—move into a fabulous house in East Dayton.  This weekend we have a guest, my old friend Matt from Colonel White.  Anyway—any who—he’s coming for a visit.  A sortie.  An exportage.  If you will.  I” (sound of a smooch) “you, fuck boy!  I smooch you I smooch you I smoooch 💋 you!!”

3

Listening to Baker’ voicemail prompts were always like this: spinning in infinity, telling a tale.  You could get a glimpse of her, through this medium, that gave you information you could only get in this way.  If you saw her grandmother die and then asked Baker if it saddened her, Baker would say nothing.  Then you’d listen to her voicemail and in the prompt she would say the truth right there: she was sad.  And her girlfriends did the same thing!  It was like a totem-pole messenger service for white girls.

Boarding the plane ✈️ high on coke scared me.  I had done a lot of coke before taking a cab to the airport and I spent the whole ride there wiping down the corners of my bag, licking clean my normal coke holder and burying it in the bottom of my clothes.  LAX is a trip within itself, messages of the white zone and the orange zone (please avoid standing in the—).  I passed through the white zone thinking of all the white I had done, hoping those drug-sensing chemicals wouldn’t expose me—all to everyone.  I took off my shoes and put my laptop in its own bin and walked through that fucking machine with the facial expression of the Dalai Lama and the shluffing feet of a would-be LA party goer—I would be a party goer except after that first impression I came across like a kid just broke into a candy 🍭 store.  I had the nerve but not the money: real LA party people had rich parents and bottomless trusts and multiple parts in small movies.

They were the chosen ones.  I was the nothing one.

I got through security.  Got through the boarding process.  Sat with my carry on beneath my seat, leaned my head against a window, and I’m sure snored all the way through the flight.

During my sleep, I dreamt I was on a bicycle touring a school that was close to the shadow of my plane.  There were a hundred black people in a small gymnasium watching a basketball game that was in cable—only—not on regular TV 📺.  I ride through that room and back outside, nodding to a guy who is riding his bike and he has crystal meth on him and while my nod means nothing to me, it means that I want some crystal, to him.  Soon enough I’m riding my bike, high on crystal, around this park and some people hold a phone out to me:

“This is Whitney Houston.  She wants to talk to you.”

I stop my bike and talk on speakerphone.

“Hey Whitney!”

“Hey, my bro.  How are you doing over there?  Where is over there for you, anyway?”

“Over there?  I think I’m in a poor neighborhood, traveling like a flashlight across the country by air, and my shadow casts a spot over poor neighborhoods across the country.  Whatever the plane’s shadow touches, I am there.  We’re somewhere in the Midwest now.  That’s all I know.”

Whitney Houston continued the dream:

“Look there on your TV.  There I am—see?  Now tell me what to do.”

I looked at the TV in front of these hundred poor kids here to watch the game.  It was an old-fashioned one, SONY, with no inputs but for one—the antennae—and skipping past the part where I wondered how they could see anything, I told Whitney Houston to make a heart ♥️ shape with her hands and fingers and as soon as I said that, she did it!

Whitney Houston, right there on TV—right there for me.

I rode out of the gym and saw the meth guy again and I remembered (in the dream) something that seemed at the time to be a remembrance of another meth experience but which also seemed at the time to be a remembrance of another dream, or a remembrance of a dream—just created!—a memory of a memory, the second memory created at the time! to seem like a waking-life memory of another dream—I don’t know how I seem to you but this tangle tripped me solidly upon waking and it was a few minutes more before I took this dream within a dream to consist of another waking-life dream accessed by myself from within this secondary dream.  It’s confusing, I know.

Somewhere in there was a stop to change planes.  I stooped around this large airport sitting in a circular intersection of hallways, desperately checking that my carry on was still beside me.

I sat down, removed my laptop.  It had some of the snail puzzles on it—plus the code to generate them.  I tapped this way and tapped thus, there was nowhere else to go with them.  I had spent a lifetime (it seemed) in Tucson in front of a white board deducing what originally seemed a system of two states and two rules to what seemed now to be a system of four states with two rules.  I could generate, with my new set of pieces, the table of 16 binary Boolean operators just by copying them with my hands, with visual pattern matching (and that’s what made this second rule set superior) but I could not generate the actual snail puzzles from them.

This concerned me as I sat alone in—which airport I can’t remember—working out the pattern matching, the visual copying of four rules which allowed computation to be known as simple creation and unfolding of patterns.  They didn’t even have to be visual!—They could be calculated by a blind person—Even a person with no senses could sense this, deep in their brain, I had determined.

That and nervously picking at my coke pill: silver with a keychain and a screw-tight lid.  I had carried it with me since I first started doing coke.  It came from Amazon.  In the airport I unscrewed it and tried tapping its (hopefully non-empty) contents onto my laptop cover.  You’ve never lived until you’ve done coke off your MacBook.  I was hoping to do some here but the silver pill box had nothing to offer.  If you could somehow get your coke over the security points, doing coke in airports would be ideal: it would be a safe environment, no one would imagine you had coke on you and you could tap out lines in clear sight of everyone and they would go: What?  Is that what I just saw? and they would say Naw and keep going.

I had a dangerously long layover—one could say a dangerous hangover—during which I could easily have exited the airport and ended up in Nashville, or Atlanta, or whatever city I was in.  I could have easily met up with party people in an airport bar and from there gone off on some other adventure, something far more dastardly than the one I was on.  Filled up my coke reserves and re-filled my silver pill box.

On the second leg of the flight I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a window seat.  I was in the aisle and this meant there were duplicate waitresses-cum-stewardesses rubbing on my super-sensitive sides.  Everyone seemed like they were on coke and everyone seemed like they could sell it to me.

I had a panicky moment wherein I doubted my entire goal: sleeping with Baker was doubtable, unlikely: she had gained weight and had a child before our last meeting and I had been telling myself this time would be different: she would have lost weight (at least to her high school level) and the child wouldn’t be with her (that was a London baby that Baker and her boyfriend had given to adoption)—when she had that baby and given her up, Baker had suckered me into listening to her whole sob 😿 story, how they named her Schuyler and they insisted to the adopting couple that they keep her name and the adopting couple said Sure, sure and they obviously were going to change the baby’s name—obviously they were going to change it.

Baker told me that story while I was pinned to the bar stool in a Dayton Thai place.  Baker always did that: kept you on the phone too long, long past when anyone would insist the conversation must end!  She did it to everyone—I was one of the only people who would still talk to her (listen to her) and so my punishment grew.  From a virgin boy who wanted to have sex with her to an experienced man who had sex with her and a lot of people, Baker was always wasting my time.  Always making a two-minute conversation into a ten-minute one ⏰.  Always driving me crazy with superfluous monologues, over-emphasizing small points which Baker claimed were big ones!

Years after this trip, several moves from city to city for me, Baker found my number on Facebook and called it.  I was on my last few minutes of cell time and that wasn’t even a factor when I finally said to her, “Stop.  Baker, stop.  You always call me and dangle all this bullshit in front of my face, how your kids are doing and how this new man in your life is finally the perfect one..but then there is this unmatched thread 🧵 where you introduce that he’s a wife beater or a drug addict or a crazy Christian.  And you never get to it!  You’re dragging me on for years with a story that could be told in a minute!  Just stop, Baker—please, stop.  This is the last time we talk together.  I have seen you for the last time.  Don’t find me on Facebook.  Don’t call this number—in a minute it will change.  I love you—in a way.  We’re a high school thing.  That turned into a fuck buddy thing.  I had fun and I truly like you and I will always remember you well.  You blew my mind—truly.  And I appreciate that Dallas and Caycee have me as their godfather.  That was nice of you—more than nice.  But I’m not your children’s godfather.  I’ll never see them.  I’ll never see them, Baker, as few or many years as you and I and they will pass.  I will never see you, Baker—never again.”

4

I knew coming ‘round the corner in Dayton’s little airport that I would see what I knew I would see which is what I had been seeing in my mind since the no-name red-carpet affair in LA and no amount of imagining it would do anything to change it in the here and now.

Baker was fat.

Standing there with her portly pudgy itsy bitsy top and pants—whoever knew they made such a tiny top for such a big girl!—Baker both hopped and ran toward me and in this smattering of other people waiting in this open-air welcoming area and looking at me! me! me! and at my former fuck buddy C Baker and she smiles and shakes her hair out (still beautiful hair) and it is natural blonde and I have fucked her once since her London child and Baker had said to me the next day, “Matthew, I think this was our best time yet.”

And I said: “I think so too.”  But I hadn’t meant it then and I didn’t mean it now even in my own head.  This is what I had come to see, to spend my weekend with, to do coke with.  My thoughts went to assholes who spoke of beer goggles and coke goggles and I wanted to scream at them that it wasn’t all that simple.

“Hey!  Baker!”

She hugged me.

“Good to see you!” I said through scented hair, waves of lighter blonde, the smell of a head you would like to lie down next to, the hints of a pussy downstairs I would like to see again, forgetting if she was blonde down there, too—but no: she had darker hair around her puss it was thin, though, or shaved when I had seen it before.  Truth be told, I didn’t spend a lot of time with my face down there but I used to love looking between Baker’s legs while my dick went in and out of her.  It looked right, it looked like what was meant to be.

“I’m guessing this is your only bag?”

“Yep.  Wow.  It’s great to be back here!”

“Here?  I would rather be back in a coffin.”

I put my arm around her and she walks me to this old VW Rabbit that has been in her family since before we met in high school.

“You have to help me pay for parking.”

“You drove into this parking lot without enough money to pay for it?”

“I’m counting on you,” Baker says, “to make my dreams come true.  Unfortunately that is starting with this.”

“What if I had got off the plane, seen Dayton, and turned right back around and left you here?”

“Is that what you were thinking of doing?  Leaving me standing there waiting for you to show up and you become a no show and you never call me again and I don’t even have money to pay to park?”

“Never was I thinking that,” I choked.

“Don’t worry, my friend,” Baker says.  “I’ve got such the weekend planned for you—for us!—and it only begins with your four dollars and 25 cents to get us the hell out of here.”

I drop the money in her cupped hand.

“Have a nice day!” says the attendant.

“Have a nice day!” says C Baker.

“Now,” C Baker says.  “I bet you’re hung-a-ry!”

“Yes.  I want a special meal from my favorite restaurant.  We can get it to-go if you like.”

“What restaurant?”

“Uno.  I say.  “I want the Rattlesnake Pasta with a few additions.  Do you have coke at the house?  Do you have some on you?”

“Look, I don’t have any on me that’s because Brooklyn took the rest of it we were saving a good amount for us all when you got here but now we’re out.  There’s a place we buy it but! but but but it’s kind of expensive but I think you will like it—its quality, in every refinement—I’ve only ever bought coke in Ohio but this shit rips!” says the girl I flew here to fuck who is so much fatter than last time that I don’t know if I’ll be able to find the muscle to stick it in.  “The coke you have in California is prob’ly better than it is here.”

“I have no idea, girl.  The coke I’ve been doing in LA is all from the same person and it seems very good to me—but what do I know?”

“Exactly.  What do I know!” Baker says.  She veers onto the highway and I feel the Rabbit sliding across lanes.  “What Dayton people do you want to see while you’re here?  Do you even know any Dayton people anymore?”

“Yeah, I’m planning on seeing Nik for dinner tonight.”

“Who else?”

“Other than you there’s no one I really want to see this weekend.”

“No ex-girlfriends?  The one with the red hair?”

“Which one?” I say.

We both laugh.  Baker grabs me between my legs.  She runs her fingers here and there.

“I think,” she says.  “I will get something from Uno’s too.”

“Get anything you want.”

“I think a lemonade.  It’s ‘cause of my hypoglycemic.  My blood sugar is low—that’s why I shouldn’t be driving.”

“I know.”

“Since when did you know about that?”

“That you have hypoglycemia?  Since high school 🎓.  Since I used to go to your house and hang out on the porch, in the basement.  You told me about it back then.”

“I did?  Huh.  Well a lemonade will fix it.”

“We’ll get it.”

“Cool runnings, brew.  So, do you want me to catch you up with the events of the last 24 hours at my house?”

I nod.

“Well.  It started with Brooklyn—she has this baby named Faulkner—”

“Right.  You said the baby’s name was Faulkner.”

“Well, he is.  Don’t contradict me.  The baby.  The child.  The man.  Faulkners all.  So Brooklyn has a baby named Faulkner, and it’s like—this baby was born on Wednesday—so he’s young.”

“The baby’s legal name is Faulkner?”

“Yes!  Now please shut up.  This is going to take forever if you keep saying things.  So Faulkner—Brooklyn’s infant child—is home from the hospital last night and he is the cutest little thang!  Oh my southern heart would break if he died!  Brooklyn and I bought an eight ball.  We were working through that when for like two hours Brooklyn locked herself inside the baby’s bedroom.  He sleeps in a crypt—I mean he sleeps in a crib!  And I was banging and banging on the door and B was singing all these like Halloween carols and anthems and shit from Halloween movies like da da da! and I was like Bitch, come outta that room! and she was all Make me! and I was like Fuck you, bitch you’re a collar-want-to-make-me whore and Brooklyn opens the door and she’s all on her tippy toes and shit trying to act like she’s older than me, taller than me, much more scarier than me and I pushed open the door, got in that bitch’s face, and I was all like I am the taller one, I am the scarier one!  You don’t understand.  This bitch thinks she’s got a one-up on me.  And nobody in my house has a one-up on me.  Even other people in my house.  What was I saying?  Anyway this bitch is hiding her Baby Faulkner in the crib and you’ve got to see this crib, right:  It’s nine feet tall and four foot wide and soft as a feather bed.  There are no sheets and no pillows and I said Brooklyn don’t you lay your baby on his back that’s the way they catch fetal bed syndrome or is it on their stomachs just sleep them on their sides and hope for the best if you sleep these newborn fuckers in your bed with you, you run the risk of rolling over on them and squishing them that way!  I mean as you know I don’t have kids (except for the London kind) so what can I say?  Right?  Right?  Hold the wheel.”

I touch it, guiding us slightly within the lane.

Baker rummages through her purse, a big white Clinique one.

“What are you looking for?”

“I’m gonna see if I have a bump for us in here.”

“Please don’t.  Hold the wheel.”

“Matthew.  If you’re going to be a party pooper, I’ll let you out on the side of the road.  I know I have something in here, a fifth, an eighth, a crow bar, something.  You can smoke it, you can lick it, you can pretend it’s my golden little pussy right before you stick it, you’ve got to lick it before you stick it, Matthew, have you heard that before?”

“Somewhere, yes.”

“The guttural maps of the cerebral hemisphere.  That’s what I’m trying to get across to you.  From the golden hemispheres of the human brain, there never was any chimp DNA there never was any chimp DNA it’s all random sequences of sequences and every time the first sequence changes the secondary sequence-of-sequences kicks in—it kicks in!  So you have, in these two sequences, an infinite-appearing sequence that is very hard to predict, cryptographically, and—Are you listening to this?”

“I am, girl.  I am.  To be honest I think we’ve been reading the same books in different towns.”

“But you’re the genius,” she says.

“Have you been reading my blog?”

Baker laughs.

“Does it show?” she says.

“Um..too much.”

We’re at the Uno’s now.  I’m getting out the car.

“Should I come in with you?” Baker says.  That whatchamacallit pasta you’re getting sounds good.”

“Yeah, come on.”

I check my door is locked and look around me in the parking lot behind the restaurant.  Everything is old and dirty, provincial.  Dayton has seven exits for it on the highway.  In LA, the neighborhood of Hollies has seven exits.  It’s small and crammed here, and dying, and I don’t know why I ever come back.

5

Baker drives us through the city, into its center and outward from there, up Wayne, and Wyoming, and into the state streets from there.

Everything looks familiar, but wrong.  Living but dead.  Apartments above triangle-shaped buildings at the intersection of Wayne and Wyoming, where we turn left.  I imagine myself living in one of those apartments, working at Mead Research, living here again, and it’s an immediate no show.  Dayton has some great apartments, but no good jobs.  If I had stayed at Mead Research I would have been one of the highest-paid people in Dayton, and I would have had great weekend times: an art studio and an Oregon District house, with fading blue brick and that kind of porch I like: no columns, just a slab of concrete covering the basement ceiling and the front door was there and no no no this would never work.  A man cannot live just to make a house, just to pay for one.  Not in a city of black on white crime, a city with white on black laws, you can’t live that way or I wouldn’t!  I would not.  Not to sit in a cubicle and explain Legos to the CEO.  And that is all it would ever be.

Some people make their soul a weekend project.  I think that’s for fools.  You can’t usurp soul growth for a solid house.  Even one in your favorite neighborhood: Oakwood, for one, where the greatest crime committed is driving while black.  Where even your closest friends will pull you aside where it’s only whites and they’ll tell you how this hotel is whites/rich only and that it’s better for it.

Baker pulls a hard left onto Wyoming and we’re traveling up past the Sunoco where I once paid my bill in change—for a fraction of a gallon of gas.  The attendant took my payment and gave me a knowing smile.  But I wasn’t smiling.

Up the state streets: Illinois, Indiana.  I had an ex-girlfriend on every one.  A story for every day of the week.  One involved me going over Tuesday Welder’s house, then her taking us into the basement and allowing us to be ready to have sex and she took off her bra and she had huge nipples with bumpy areola—they were like my mom’s, not small like some women I had met since then, seen in porn.  I associate large nipples and correspondingly large areola with “real” women: mothers, women who use their breasts for feeding the up and coming generation..as opposed to porn stars who shave their puss and have nipples not much larger than my own.  Tuesday gave me the chance to lick her breasts and I can still feel the bumps on my tongue.  I wasn’t ready to have sex, though (I was sad that day) and soon her mother came home and yelled downstairs for us to come out of the basement.  I stayed at Tuesday’s house long into the evening, waiting for my dad to pick me up.  He never came, though, which left Tuesday and I swinging on the porch swing and her dad talking on the phone to my dad, who assured him that if they called me a cab my dad would pay them back and I guess Tuesday’s dad wasn’t too keen on the fact that Tuesday and I had been in his basement together for some time before his wife called us up—and I guess he was scared and angry that Tuesday might have fucked me.  That’s just one of the stories that happened on a state street (this one Indiana Ave).

“A lot happened up there,” Baker says, putting her hand on my leg.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean him,” she says.

“Between you and me, between everyone and you, between me and everyone.  That’s the street where Zochae died.  I mean that’s the house he lived in.  Do you ever see Martha?”

Baker said: “I don’t see her because I’m not friends with her.  When’s the last time you two talked?”

“Who me and Zochae?  It’s just another memory.  Zochae and I used to trip on mushrooms and paint.”

“In your warehouse?”

“In my living room!  I threw away all my paintings since then.  Well, I gave the best ones to my friends.”

“Do you remember the painting you gave me?” Baker says.

“Yes.  Of course.”

“It’s blue and purple, with the canvas borders torn off and stapled back onto the front of the canvas.”

“I remember,” I said.  “I should have given you a better one.”

“Oh I don’t—I never wish that.  I knew you would give me a lesser one.  That it would be one you wouldn’t care if I lost it in one of many moves from apartment to apartment.”

“Actually, I painted that one specifically for you.”

“But it was still one of the lesser ones,” she said.

“You know, Baker, I could sit here and blow smoke up your ass on why that painting isn’t one of the lesser ones.  Who am I to judge it?  It wasn’t meant as a slap in the face.  I was doing the best I could do at the time.  I’m sorry if you feel it was lesser.”

“I don’t, though.  I don’t think that!  Do you remember the plates my grandfather painted on?  I showed you his pile in the basement.”

“Yeah, I remember those.”

“What was painted on them?”

“Uh..ships?”

“They were country houses.  That’s what I want to live in someday.  A country house 🏡 in Xenia somewhere with a cat—no, two cats—a dog—did you know my dog died?”

“Picasso?”

“Get the fuck out of here.  Picasso!  Rembrandt was my old dog’s name!”

“Chuck.  Seymour.  Picasso.  Rembrandt.  You have too many names for dogs!”

“Chuck and Seymour are my new dogs!  You don’t remember anything, do you?  Remember that black lab I had—”

“Oh yeah chained up in the basement next to your apartment.”

“He wasn’t chained.”

“Baker that dog had a chain around his neck and he was tied to the toilet oh what was that dog’s name?”

“His name was Rembrandt.  He was dark brown and he was a lab of some sort and he took a special liking to you.  Do you remember?”

“What I remember is that you would take me into your downstairs apartment whose walls were like chiffon and you had bookcases and a television outside the walls and you would drape cloth to the side to reveal it and the whole room practically was filled with your bed and it was high off the ground and the floor was concrete—unfinished—and the first time you took me there or some time you took me there you sat me on the bed and held my hand and you told me stories about your military boyfriends and then we kissed and laid on the bed and kissed some more and we didn’t do anything else but by the next time I came over you had moved the television and we were sitting on the dark concrete and I laid you back and touched your bra and I could feel your nipples under there and they were big! like my mom’s and I touched them so gently and felt them both excited and repressed underneath that bra of yours.”

“What color was my bra?”

I look over at Baker.  We’re still driving.  She doesn’t turn to look at me.

“Red?”

“Nope.”

“You remember what color bra you were wearing from that far back?”

“I wore it especially for you.”

Motherfucker.  Pink?”

“No.”

“Gray.  A gray sports bra.”

Baker hits me on my shoulder.

“I said I picked it out for you!  Why would I wear a sports bra if I wanted you to touch it?  It was black.  With red lace sewn around the edges.  With white thread.  Wide threads.  Do you remember now?”

Baker looks at me.

“I think you should like to see the road!” I say.  “I am remembering it now.”

“No you’re not.  You’re doing what children do: remembering something that your family just now reminded you of.  You’re taking what I’m saying and building an entire world.”

“Ok.  You had a black bra.  I don’t remember.”

“It’s ok,” Baker says.  “If I hadn’t stitched together that lace myself, I wouldn’t remember.  But I was planning something.  Something for us.  Something special.”

“But I wasn’t ready, was I.”

“Don’t worry, brew.  You’ve made up for it since.  If we had fucked back then, we would have had a baby.  I know that for a fact.”

“Speaking of babies—”

“Don’t worry about that.  It’s taken care of.”

“Ok but like—”

“Hush, man.  It’s taken care of.  Don’t you love it in the movies where the lady says it’s taken care of and after that the characters don’t even revisit the subject for the entire rest of the movie?  Do they talk about it in Gatsby?”

“I don’t think they talk about it at all.”

“Did you want to fuck me when we watched Gatsby?”

“It’s kind of an old movie.”

“Right.  But did you kind of want to fuck me?”

“They never show the sex!  It’s like looking at Playboy, 1963.”

“I know, I know.  I should have spent more time picking out the movie.  It was between that and a raunchy porn but I didn’t think that would do for you—much less us.  Did you fuck to a movie 🎬 the first time you fucked?  Please tell me what the scene was.  Or the song.”

“I was in college, ok?  I didn’t fuck you.  I didn’t fuck Tuesday.  Not in high school.  Not ever.”

“What about Jessica?”

“I would have fucked Jessica.  That was a year after you and I fooled around.  I was ready to fuck with Jessica but she wouldn’t fuck with me!  Said she knew it would just be sex with us and she sent me home.”

“Damn.  I was triple sure you fucked that girl.”

I raise my left arm—but like a Boy Scout.

“I would have fucked that girl for sure.  You know what she did?  Wicked my dick on the couch then we made out watching Fox and the Hound then she takes me to her bedroom, lies me on the bed, then changes panties for me, right in front of my face.  I mean she’s bent over with her tight little sex kitten goth girl pussy in my face whatever.  It’s given me years of masturbatory fantasies.”

“Hold it there,” Baker says.

She pulls across traffic into an alley, stops the car.

“This,” she says, looking over a backyard filled with car parts, string, a torn hammock, and basically a whole lot of junk.  “This is the house.”

6

She leads me in.  Through the trash (the back yard).  Through the screen door.  In through a silent-sounding kitchen.  Baker a few feet ahead of me.  Me looking at mountains of dishes, dirty cracks between kitchen tiles, baby toys on the floor—a toddler’s—circular hydraulic walkers to work the baby’s legs—this one caked with brown and white substances, pyramids of powder—

“That’s flour,” Baker says.

“I’m sure.”

“And that is brown sugar.”  She runs her finger along the top of the brown pyramid and steps to me, putting her finger inside my mouth, running it around my gums.  “My sugar,” she says to my face, “is so much sweeter than this.”

“Charisma!  Baker!  Where art thou?  Where?”

“I’m right here, Grammy!  You ruined my surprise entrances!”

“Make thy entrances with more haste than waste,” her grammy says.

We go into the living room and this old woman is hunched over on..what?..some end of the couch not seen for centuries?  A pile of hoarding existing only under this woman’s butt?  She is wearing a white moo moo with stitching crossing the neck, traveling across the arm, and running into her forearm.

“Here.  Grammy.  Let me help you.”

Baker tries to take the needle and spine from her grandmother’s control, only then realizing what I had already seen (that her Grammy was perfectly happy sewing purple thread into her arm and Baker has tugged the string almost out of her arm before she realizes what she’s done).

“ ‘Risma!  Baker hello!  What in the Hell’s Angels is you doing to my arm!”

“Grammy!  What the hell are you doing to it?”

“Let me go, thy excellent bitch!  Rescind thee and resort thee to thy bath, with young son yonder introduce me thus!”

“This is Matthew, you stylish bitch!  I’ve been talking to you about him all week!  Remember?  I said he was coming to visit me and that he’d be staying in my room and that we’d need to find a room for Wendy to stay in so Matthew and I would have some motherfucking peace and quiet!!  Where is that little brat anyway?”

“She’s upstairs, Baker.  She’s just upstairs.  Why you have to come home and make such a big deal out of something as small as a camel passing through the eye of a needle—”

“Wendy!” Baker says.  I hear the report in her voice like she’s back on color guard.  Her feet snap together like Hitler’s.  “Wendy!  You better get your ass down here and introduce yourself to my friend Matt!”  She stomps out this next part: “Wen.  Dy.  Get.  Yourself.  Down here.  Now!”

“You could’introduce us,” Grammy says.

“No I can’t!!  No, I, cannot.  If I did that, then I would only have to reintroduce him when Wendy comes downstairs—does that fact make itself aware of you?  To you?  Does it Mom?”

“I don’t like it when you call me Mom.  I ain’t your Mother Mary Mom, am I?  I’m your simple gramma mom, a simple fucking grandma mom—Jesus Mary and Joseph Christ of a Son of Grandpa’s motherfucking Dog!  Chain on the leash of thy right hand motherfucker.”

“Grammy, don’t curse.”

“A’ least I belie’e.  At least tha’s true of me.  Is it true to you is what you should be askin’. ”

“I ain’t sayin’ it b’cause you believe,” Baker says.  “I’s sayin’ it b’cus you suck at cursing!  God damn, Grammy, what’s that smell?!”

“That be my panties runnin’ girl—you know tha’ smell.”

“Eww.  Enough!”  Baker grabs my hand and takes me up the stairs.  When we get to the crook, there’s a girl of 11 or 12 sitting with her knees up, watching Baker and my every move.  Baker leans over and whispers to her: “We need the room for a while.”  The girl nods and Baker and I go into the second door on the left.

It’s a messy room.  A kids’ room.  A girls’ room.  Baker closes the door behind me.

“You can put your stuff down here.”  She indicates a place on the floor by the first bed.

I put my stuff down.

Baker lies down.  She gets under the covers.  Her eyes tell me to be self-conscious.  They tell me this trip was a waste and I’m crazy to be here.  Came here for tha’ motherfucking pussy.  Now I’m in the bedroom.  Now the girl is in the bed.  Now the girl is underneath the covers.  Now my cock should be getting hard.  I should be going down on her, on that sweltering, in the jack, no longer underage pussy that Baker carries with her.  It’s with her all the time.  On her person.  She can touch it and it’s on all the time.  Cracked-up whole.  Nutcracker.  A tall thin man stuffed in and out of it, in and out and in, and out, and in and out and in and out.

I see Baker’s ears perk.

“Did you hear that?” she says.

I listen closer.

“If that’s who I think it is,” Baker says.

She gets up from the bed and leaves the sheet on the floor.

“Should I come with you?” I ask.

“No.”  She turns to me.  “I got this.”

She leaves the door open and I follow her halfway down the stairs.  The front door is closing and Wendy is next to me.  We’re looking through railing slats like we’re the children and it’s Christmas morning except this Christmas Santa didn’t come or the value of the poles were reversed.  Brooklyn, Baker, and Baker’s grammy stand before the door, at the bottom of the stairs, and on the end of the couch.

“What is this?” Brooklyn says.

Baker rejoins.  “What is what?”

Brooklyn makes a pointed finger at me.  “That.”

“Don’t point at him!  Do not point your finger at him.  No.”

“I told you not to bring him ‘cause this is the weekend that Rambuncto is getting released.  He is getting paroled on Saturday.  Did not I tell you this?”

I notice that Brooklyn is carrying a teenie tiny baby in her arms.  Rocking him gently with the sound of her voice.  Is it?—Yes.  It is.  This is the baby from Baker’s story.  The one who almost got smothered by his mother in the corner room?  The one with no mattress on the crypt?  A cage of plastic—that making three metaphors for jail in the current house alone.

“How’s Baby Faulkner?” Baker says.

“Baby Faulkner is fine,” Brooklyn says this.  “It’s you I’m worried about, though.  Day after tomorrow.  The day after tomorrow.  Sometime in the late morning or afternoon.  That’s when Rambuncto is going to get here.”

“You know he can’t stay here,” Baker says.

“I never in a thousand years said he’d be staying here.  I said he’d be staying here a while while we look for an apartment.  That is all I said except there are to be no visitors until after he’s gone.  That’s so simple, Baker.  It’s so fucking simple I’m sure that even your boyfriend can understand it.”

“His name is Matthew.  He’s not my boyfriend.”

“But y’all are getting together to fuck all weekend.  Is that right?  Is that the deal?  So what happens when Rambuncto gets here?  Ya dig?  Am I supposed to tie up my bedroll and sleep on tha motherfuckin’ porch?  Rambuncto might, not, like, him.  You know?  Rambuncto’s been locked up with a bunch of jungle motherfuckers doing dog knows what all throughout the motherfucking night!!  He’s gon’ be hungry for pussy and I am not going to be the one to deny him that.”

“Fine!” Baker says.  “Give him your puss!  I know I’m not thinking of getting in the way of you and Rambuncto fucking.”

“Baker.  Please.  I know you and Rambuncto have fucked and I know he likes it your way: strapless.”

“Rambuncto and I only fucked with a condom.”

“You’re such a liar.  The worst.  You can’t even tell a lie if you had to!  You and Rambuncto?  You’re going to stand there and tell me that you two used a condom every single time and that Rambuncto was perfectly ok with that?”

Everyone was quiet for a minute.

Finally Baker spoke.  “I have zero plans for fucking your guy,” she said.

“So you admit that you and Rambuncto fucked.”

“I ain’t trying to hide it.  Look, here: Matthew, there was a guy named Rambuncto who used to come around here and yes he used to fuck everyone in the house—even that little girl sitting’ on them stairs right next to you.  Are you happy now, Brooky?  Does that quench your thirst?  And I ain’t sayin’ I didn’t like it, either, but since Rambuncto went to jail I’ve visited him for a total of five times and you was visitin’ him once a week for practically every week he was in there—what was that?  Thirty or forty weeks?  So I ain’t trying to fuck your man—I got my own man here.  Tha’s who I’ll try and fuck if I try and fuck anyone in here!”

“That’s not gonna work, Baker.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I need y’all to get out.”

“Get out where?”

“Baker I don’t give a shit where you go I just need you two to get out.  Of here.  Right now.  I ain’t kidding, Baker.  Get the fuck out.”

7

Baker ran upstairs past me and Wendy and I heard her rummaging through the bathroom like police looking for weed, smashing bottles and knocking them onto the floor.  She comes back out and says:

“Matt.  Come get your bag.”

I stand and follow her into the bedroom.

“Get your bag.  Let’s go.”

“Isn’t this your house too?”

“I’ll explain it in the car.”

We stand faced-off over the bed.  That’s the bed we were supposed to fuck on.  This was the moment we were supposed to do the deed.  I see Baker has cleaned the sheets and picked out a faux-down comforter.  Wendy is unknown to me.  Brooklyn and Little Baby Faulkner are unknown to me.  Baker’s grammy is even unknown to me.  Somehow in all our fuck-nighting I only ever met her parents and sister.  The whole house is unknown to me and I’m playing psychological catch up.

“I gotta call Nik,” I say.

“Matthew.  I know you gotta call Nik.  What I need you to do is bring your phone with you.  And your phone charger—got it.  Grab your bag and let’s go.

Baker and I shuffle down the stairs—quick, quick—I’m out the back door savoring the delicious evil of my eye contact with Brooklyn, savoring her mixed look of fuck me and fuck me, her standing in front of a screen door holding her baby and behind the screen, two dobermans jumping to the top of the door scraping and slobbering all over it—I guess this be Chuck and Seymour.

The instant Baker and I step out the back door, Brooklyn un-hitches the front door and these two dobermans flow through the house like water.  Covering every surface with licks and smells and bites.  Rushing into the back door, unable to subdue it, and Baker has the key in the ignition and the Rabbit is pulling backward through the neighbor’s yard flattening grass and going bump, bump over some other car’s muffler, then pulling forth—like thunder!—now we’re the ones who win!  Now we are the ones who win.  We are the champions over ice and dogs and coke and blow and we are the ones whose mobility is piloted by my old friend Baker, my carnal buddy who would always offer it up to me since that first time we ever did it.

“You alright?” she says

We’re on the freeway.

“I’m alright now!”

“Kinda gives your head a rush,” she says.

“I know!”

She says: “It’s like we’re already doing blow!”

“I know, Baker.  It’s amazing.  Are you and Brooklyn even friends?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that.  She’ll come around.”

“Ok but it doesn’t seem like she’s about to come around.”

Baker laughs.  “No, she is, she is.  Or maybe she’s not.  Listen.  Matthew.  Here’s the plan.  We’ll go get you an eight ball.  You go to dinner with Nik.  When you’re done you call me, we’ll go to my aunt’s house and Manny.  We can stay there tonight and I’ll call Brooklyn tonight or tomorrow and we’ll try to get back into my house.”

“Can’t we just go there tonight?”

“It’s not good to get Brooklyn mad.  And plus with her boyfriend Rambuncto coming tomorrow..Rambuncto is not a guy you want to bump into.”

“But you fucked him.”

“Well, yes, but when a girl spreads her legs, even a guy like Rambuncto has a calm side.”

“A loving side?”

“Let’s say calm.  Calmer.  I would hate it if we all had to live up to the standard of having a loving side.  Maybe you know many people in LA with a loving side?  Some cute costume girls you take home and warm between your sheets?”

“The costume girls I’ve met are quick to bed and even quicker to leave.  I can’t say I’ve met too many people with a heart on the left coast, either.”

I push off my shoes and take off my socks and stick my feet out the window.

“Is that not ok where we’re going?”

“To buy an eight ball?” Baker says.

“Yeah,” I say.  “Are they serious people?”

“They are pretty serious,” she says.  “I mean I would keep my feet inside the car.  In fact it’s better if when we get there you give me the money and you stay in the car.  New people, dig?”

“I dig.  I prefer it that way, too.  You know.  Don’t want to see too much.  Don’t want to know too much.  Whose house is that back there?”

“Fuck,” Baker says.  “It’s me and Brooky’s!  She just gettin’ all territorial with her beaux coming in.”

“Is he going to live there?”

Hell no.  He’s going home when he gets out.”

“Where is home?”

“At his parents’ house!”

“Oh,” I say.  “So whose house is the one back there?”

“Let me see.  I signed the lease with Grammy as my credit check but Brooklyn put up all of the deposit.”

“To me if it’s your name on the lease it’s your house.”

But Baker stops me: “Normally that would be the way but this isn’t some Hollywood address.  It ain’t no Oakwood one, neither.  This is East Dayton and in East Dayton I hate to say it but different rules apply.  Have you ever opened an East Dayton door?”

“Sure,” I say.  But I stop there as the rest of my answer involves another girl.

“Is it like every other door you ever opened?”

“No, you know—they’re all tight.  They all require two hands.”

“Esactly,” Baker says.  “Exactamundo.  Persactamondaniferous.  This our stop, up here.”

“What do I do?”

“Give me your money.  Wait.  Do not start trouble with these guys.”

“Who am I?  I don’t start trouble.”

“Whatever.  Just don’t start trouble with those guys.”

I give her a Jim Carrey wink and a thumbs up and I look around to see what I can see.  The first few minutes go alright with me seeing that we’re in a boulevard with large grassy areas in between the road that goes in and the road that goes out.  There are no children playing, though.  Just guys with wife beaters, tongues hanging out their head.  These are all whites, no other colors here.  If Baker and I were black, we’d be on the west side of Dayton and our powdered coke would be crack and we wouldn’t have driven up in a car.  We’d have come on foot and our binge would take place on the floor of someone’s house.

Here, being black would get you shot.

Here, you look at a person the wrong way, you’d wake up in the hospital, cast on your arm, missing an eye, with Baker pulling a chair next to you, asking if you want a bump.

These guys, lounging on porches yelling at they bitches and slapping they kids in the backs of they heads with force that could give a concussion.

You figure everyone’s high (at least on weed)—at worst on crack and heroin.  I pictured the room Baker was in right now and it had her guy, sitting on a couch with scales and piles and straws and spoons.  As soon as Baker walked in the door everyone else left for other parts of the house: his baby momma #1 with some titties hanging out, his guard left to come outside to watch me.  And here’s this motherfucker now, coming to sit on the steps in front of the building.  He knows who I am from the very beginning and he lets me know he knows.

I want to pick up my phone and call Nik.  But I don’t want to be on the phone, making a call in front of these people.  I think of texting him, but what would that look like?  An out-of-town guy (that he’s never met) sitting in front of a drug deal texting the cops!?  That’ll never happen.  I nod in the guy’s direction and look out my own window, sight lines never set to stare, always casually looking toward the sky or the grass in as little-threatening way as possible.

I think of jails, of every cell I’ve ever seen on TV.  I am afraid.  Of incarceration.  Of my clean white ass being raped by monsters, by former people who no longer respect any human rights.  Of a system of laws and wardens, those so happy to put anyone in jail—even those innocent of a crime.  I fear being wrongfully convicted, even though I’m white, of having 10 or 20 years of my life stolen from me and for what?  To write books in a jail cell?  To be prevented from writing?  To have my writing stolen?  I fear being stuck in jail having no way to get my pills.  Pills prescribed to me by a psychiatrist who loved me in a certain way, who knew that without this one or that one my chances of suicide would go way up.  I fear being executed.  I thrill the mechanics of a lethal injection, of being killed by jail mates for being smart, of being stabbed in my eyes.

I look at the door again, to the apartment that Baker is in.  The guy turns and makes eye contact.  Then he stands and goes back inside.

Now Baker is going to get asked about her friend outside.  Is he cool?  Is he ok?  He’s getting kinda shifty.  He’s impatient.  About to drive away.  Are you sure this guy’s ok, Bakers?  Can he be trusted?  This guy, Baker, his mouth invites my fist, invites a board to slap his head and jiggle his brain matter.  And what is it?—Just a can of superior attitude, malt liquor, cranberry jelly?  Is this what you’ve brought us, Charisma?  C Bakers?  I wanna hold his head through the window and slap his mouth with my dick.  To slap his pretty boy mouth with my East Dayton dick.

8

Baker leans out the doorway and waves her hand at me: hurry, hurry!  I reach for the door handle: it’s not there.  I reach again: contact!  I’m foot down and out the door.  Following Baker up the stairs, taking two at a time until I’m in the close wake of Baker’s perfume, closing a door behind us both.  A girl with a baby across her chest leads us to a bedroom on the left side of her short hallway.  Baker and I go in, push the door to almost closed, sit cross-legged on the floor.

“Check this out,” Baker says.  She plops out a sandwich bag, one corner full of coke, and reaches for the vial around my neck.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m dosing out your coke for the evening.”

“Oh,” I say.

Baker unscrews the metal vial, sets it on a Stephen King book she grabs from the shelf behind her.  She’s tapping the vial to make sure nothing’s in it.  Pouring all coke from the bag on The Shining’s glossy cover.

“This is for you,” she says.  “And this is for us, later tonight.”

“Are you gonna be ok with me and Nik having dinner?”

“Sure.  Of course!”

“What are you gonna do?”

“I live here, buddy!  I’ll make do.”

“Ok,” I say.  But I’m already imagining betraying her, snorting all that coke with Nik, leaving nothing for me and Baker.

Baker makes three piles now.

“One for you and Nik.  One for you and me after your dinner.  And..one..for you and me right now—how’s that?”

“That’s good,” I say.

Baker puts her hand on my leg.

“Are you comfortable here?”

“A little.  Yeah.  I’m ok here.”

“Do a bump with me.”

She cuts off a bump from the me and Baker pile.  I snort it with nothing but a soft crush to the other nostril.

Boom!

“Ooh!” she says, impressed by my method.  “I thought you said you just started doing this shit?”

“I watch movies, though.”

We both bust out laughing and Baker takes a bump from the same pile.  She and I are all smiles and squinted eyes—the formation of crows’ feet all around.  She’s sexy to me again, with her heft hidden behind those cheeks and averted eyes—everything but her plush and I remember what it’s like to be inside..

“And..one..for you,” she says.  “And..one..for me,” she says of the two lines she cuts off and sniffs.

“I like this shit, Baker.  This is almost as good as what I got in LA.”

“Did you ever do coke in Ohio before?”

I shake my head, snorting a drip from the back of my throat.

“Damn!” I’m smiling.  “The only reason I say that my LA coke is a shred better than this is that coke..it comes from a guy who knows PT Anderson—I mean hangs out with PT Anderson—I’m not saying PT Anderson does coke!  Just saying: the closer you are to an ever-increasing set of circles, the better your coke is likely to be and damn, Charisma this is that good shit.  Good better best!  Motherfuck!”

I let out a wolf howl.

Baker looks to the door.  Puts her finger to her lips.

“Maybe better to keep the animalistic howling to a minimum.”

“Sure.”  I nod.

“Now,” my always-a-fuck, never-a-girlfriend Baker says.  “Let’s get you to Pacchia for dinner.

Pacchia.  The nicest restaurant in town, on a row of restaurants where the serious restauranteurs throw in their hand at catering to the almost nonexistent upscale dining clientele of Dayton Buttfuck Ohio.

Charisma pauses on Fifth Avenue and I step out, peering back through the rider’s window at my friend raising her hand to wave at me and she drops her foot on the accelerator and speeds off down the road.

Nighttime.  The coffeehouse (that’s what I called it anyway) was busy with customers, everyone standing in line looking heads up at the chalked-in menu.  I decide to go in this way, as here’s the trick: all three businesses on this corner are owned by the same person.  The coffeehouse, the Jazz Room, and Pacchia.  And they all flow through from one to the next.  I flow from caffeine junkie in ultra-bright halogens through a dark hallway into the subdued atmosphere of the Jazz Room.  Katya tending bar—she looks my way and gives a what the fuck?! gesture with her shoulders.  I remember a time when Katya introduced me to real hip-hop, on mixtapes she made in New York, carrying them around with her for all these years.  Then I’m underneath a doorway and into Pacchia, the fusion jazz from the last business falling fast from my ears as I scope out the hostess area where Nik stands looking out for me.

“Hi, my friend.”

A man handshake, hands joining, a light touch for each of us from the other—a shoulder touch.  Smiles.

“Hey, buddy,” he says.

Erin, coming from behind the hostess station, says, “This way, guys,” and seats us at a table in the middle of the front dining room.  She picks a RESERVED sign from the tabletop and reads us the specials.

“And of course I should let you know that we also have on special a black-and-blue tuna..which..is what about everyone in here is having!”

Nik looks to me.

I look to him.

Nik is dressed out in suit pants.  A handkerchief which matches his pants (baby blue) and a white shirt with pin stripes.  His hair is combed and sports a chipmunk fluff where it terminates on his forehead.

I am wearing red converse.  A pair of yellow club pants, a white t-shirt and a baby blue Paul Frank beanie covering my head.

“We’ll have the tuna,” Nik says.

We all smile and the waitress leaves.

“So.  What brings you here?” Nik says.

“I..well I was in film school.  And I’m on break.  I got tired of LA, naturally.  Missed my Ohio roots.  That was an amazing time we had when you came by, by the way.”

“Yeah, hows Sashi?”

“Sashi..you know we broke up.  Actually we broke up and then I kicked her out of the house.  Actually: I kicked her the fuck out of my house,” I say.

“Never really saw what you saw in her.”

“Really?”

“No.”

“I want to ask you a question,” I say.  “When you me and Sashi were making breakfast that day and you and Sashi went out to the farmer’s market, did Sashi flirt with you?”

Nik starts to talk but I interrupt him:

“Or: really: did you flirt with her?”

“Never flirted with her,” Nik says.  “As to whether she flirted with me, I’m not the best person to read Sashi—not better than you.”

“Well, if she flirted with you, you would know it—she comes on like a tornado.”

“Truth, Matthew: I never understood why you were with her.  I figured she was really smart and you were smarter than that and your extra brain cells allowed you to see what no one else ever saw in her.  Me and the people here never understood why you were with her.”

“Huh.  Yeah.  Well.  I mean.  The reason I was with her is that the sex was really good!” I say, and laugh.

Nik laughs too.

“Also: Sashi is really smart.  She’s also super fucked up on drugs.  From drugs.  She and her friends used to do LSD every day in New York and ride the busses around with film equipment and they’d make these cray-cray movies.  I don’t know if the drugs really messed her up, but she thinks they did so she goes around with this belief that she’s permanently fucked—that she can’t relate to anyone, that no one can relate to her.”

“You know what?” Nik says.

I place both my hands on the table in front of him.

“What?” I say.

“I’m glad you broke up with her.”

“Haha.  Thanks, bro.  You known what?  I gotta take a piss.  Will you get us some wine?” I ask.

I’m off to the bathroom.  And here I went wrong.  For not trusting my friend.  For being paranoid on coke.  I locked myself inside the men’s and broke the innocent-seeming vial beneath my neck.  Dried the countertop obsessively.  Tapped out a little bit of coke.  Found the straw in my pocket.  Looked at myself in the mirror.  And here’s where I really went wrong: trying to make my image look my definition of perfect.  Snorting, adjusting my shirt.  Taking pictures with my mind.  Ignoring people knocking at the door: bunch of know-nothing Ohioans who wanted to piss.  By the time I was finished I was the definition of coked out.  My pants were extra crumpled—extra smashed.  My forehead filled with medium-sized sweat bumps.  I finally checked and triple checked my gear and made sure I wouldn’t be leaving anything behind.

I went through the dining room and sat across from Nik.  Everyone at every table around us was buzzing for action, ready to both exalt and deny my high.  Nik poured me a glass of wine—from just about the most expensive bottle you could buy in Dayton.  And I drank and ate with my friend.  Everything was supreme.  Our meal was the best piece of tuna I have ever had anywhere in my entire life.  And as it all sunk in and as I decided not to reveal to Nik that I was high on coke this entire time, Nik’s story echoed in my mind:

“..these two girls—one I had never slept with, one my on-and-off girlfriend Katya—are sitting here.  Janel here.  Katya here.  They both have their hands on my cock.  And I’m like: is this the invitation to a threesome?  Am I gay?  I mean that’s the question I’m asking myself:  Am.  I.  Gay?  I know sex with these two would..you know..be great.  But I don’t want to go through with it.  This is like the perfect situation, right?  Isn’t this what every guy wants?  But I stood up—called it off.  And I’m standing in my kitchen.  With those two on the couch making out and shit.  And all I could think of?  I went over every time Katya and I were together.   And every time I had to pick her up from the Jazz Room, her stupidly, crazily drunk.  Like kill yourself drunk.  And I’m like: I love this girl.  I am head-over-heels, pink-cheeked-schoolgirl absolutely in love with this woman.  And if she never stopped drinking, I’d be in love with her till the end of time.”

9

Katya drank like I drink.  Or maybe like I do drugs.  She sent herself to the hospital.  Nik would get the call.  Katya, poisoned with alcohol, out in a coma at Miami Valley Hospital.  This would be on an evening when Nik has invited her over for a quiet evening.  Katya had come over, flaunting her sexuality in Nik’s face, then she’d suggest some wild sexual deviance.  When Nik turned her down, Katya would storm out, slamming the door to Nik’s apartment.  Then Nik would wait for the call.

Then I would hear the same sad story from Nik about how Katya did this, Katya did that.  It seemed like a luxury problem to me but I’m sure that’s how my endless alcohol stories strike Nik: me, lying face down in the parking lot beside Inferno, Baker holding my hair.  To me that story’s hardly worth telling.  To Nik, it seemed an eventful night.  To Nik, all his Katya stories were just part of his life.  To me, they were beauty bordering on vanilla, all of them involving Katya drinking in Dayton while Nik stayed home—he knew what they’d be doing if he went out with her.  They’d be drinking together except Katya at three times the rate.  Nik would have one glass of wine.  Katya would take the rest of the bottle.  That such a person worked as a bartender..it was par for the course.  She kept it reasonable while she was behind the bar.  As soon as the place closed Katya jumped to “fun side” and she drank herself into a position where she could not: keep a secret, talk intelligibly, drive.  That’s when Nik’s phone blew up.  A hundred messages a night.  The end of this assault by Katya was either that Nik would drive her home, or on especially fun nights, that he would tell her to walk the five blocks to his apartment.  Of course she would try to drive it.  Nik knew this.  It was that hour of the day that turned Nik’s hair gray.

When Baker picked me up I was sitting alone in front of Pacchia.  Nik had gone to the Jazz Room.  Baker reached over and opened the door.

“Get in, Kimosabe.”

“You know what makes me feel comfortable?”

“What,” Baker says.

“Being with Nik, then being with you.  Nik’s life is kind of formal and high class.  When I’m with him, then with you, I feel like someone lowered the air pressure.  I can breathe out.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Baker says, mimicking Morpheus.

I didn’t tell her that went both ways.  What Baker possessed in the way of low-brow animal fucking tourism, Nik made up for in being an equal—he always had money to spend.  And, being that I always had money to spend, and Nik was one of my friends who had a real job, Nik could introduce me to exotic drinks and restaurants like no one on Baker’s level could—yes, it really was like that.

“We going to your parents’ house?”

“You always call them my parents.  That’s my aunt and uncle’s house.”

“Did I say parents before?  Why didn’t you correct me?”

“A girl gets tired of correcting you on a years-old fact that you’ve been messing up forever.”

I look at her for signs of tears.  Her eyes leave the road and I see her face turn sour.

“I’m just kidding!”  She slaps the steering wheel.  “We’re almost there!  And don’t ask me where we’re going.  It’s bad luck.  Like seeing the bride in her wedding dress before the wedding day!”

“I don’t think it’s like that at all.”

“I know you don’t think it’s like that at all.  That’s ‘cause you have too firm a set of metaphors.  You think if an analogy is in any way loose that it doesn’t fit at all!  Everything with you is tight and rigorous.  Fuck that, man!”

I shake my head and prefer to keep my responses to her loose metaphors to myself.  Anything I say there will likely be returned to me as evidence that Baker is right.  I mean the girl is always right, huh?—The girl is always fucking right.

“Where is this?” I ask as Baker pulls to a stop next to a playground on the edge of a large field.

“It’s a park.  If you want to know the name you can read about it on that sign over there where the street..and the grass..meet.”

“What are we doing here?”

“Oh-ho.  Since you must know, in addition to this being a very nice place to hang out when it’s dark, this is also a fine place for me to make a phone call—”

“Oh!  You’re gonna get us back into your house so we don’t have to sleep at your parents—err, aunt and uncle’s—house.  Yes?  Good!  Yes??  Good!!”

“You are high as a motherfucker,” Baker tells me.

But I say: “Higher.”

“Let’s not argue, my friend.”

“Fuck it.  All I’m telling you is it isn’t high as a motherfucker, it’s higher than a motherfucker.”

“You know, you say that now but I think once my legs are wrapped around you, and you’re feeling that pussy from the inside, once you’re as deep as a knee in pussy—”

“It’s not deep as a knee!” I say, but I stop there as nothing I say will ever correct Baker’s dumb-kitten misuse of idiomatic phrases.  Let her tell me about “her hypoglycemic” until the day is done and I will take a ticket to ride that glorious pussy deep into the nighttime.

Robert sets herself up sitting on a picnic table: she drops the car keys and her phone on top of it.  Lights a cig.  Picks up her phone and calls.

I sit next to her but I’m on the table’s bench seat and Baker and I are facing opposite directions, looking at each other.

“Hello.  Brooklyn,” Baker takes a long drag off her cigarette.  “I know it’s late and Matthew and I have found another place to stay for tonight—it’s alright!  We found another place to stay—Yes, with my aunt and uncle.  What difference does it make?  To you.  Who else?  I mean who else would it matter to?  Whatever!  Why are you kicking me out of our house?  Just when my friend came to visit?  There’s not going to be any problem.  Who?  When Rambuncto comes?  Matt is a gentle person, he’s not going to start a fight.  Why would Rambuncto do that?  All we wanted to do with you two is snort some coke?  And—I mean, not to put a fine point on it—but Matthew has the money.  That we’re going to use to buy the coke.  Yes!  Yes.  He came here to have a nice peaceful weekend with me and to meet you and for the three of us to do some coke together.  That’s it.  And for me and him to have sex.  You think Rambuncto will be jealous.  Of Matt?  Then tell him to close his beady little eyes and forget about what it’s like fucking me.  Isn’t Rambuncto with you?  What the fuck, girl!  Tell him to stop.  Even if Matthew wasn’t here I still wouldn’t give it up to Rambunction Style.  No.  Never going back.  Get ahold of your man, Brooklyn!  It ain’t my problem..your boy..has the hots for me.”

I get up from the picnic table.  Step out from underneath the pavilion where the tables are.  The field is lit by street lamps.  My mind is tumbling, tumbling.  Tumbling down from its position across from Nik at our fancy restaurant and our fancy company and our fancy conversation style.  I am falling from the coke, needing more, thinking of pulling it out right here in the park—

“Nah ah!” Baker says.  “Don’t even think about it.  Wait till we get home.”

I look at her, then at my hands, then at the vial around my neck.

“How did you—?”

Baker taps her head with the phone.  It reminds me of seeing her in color guard all those years ago.

“I can feel what you think,” she says.  Then she goes back to Brooklyn: “No!  No!  You’re a two-bit whore smacking up the side of two one-eyed jacks spanking your Little Baby Faulkner until it can’t breathe, BrooklyIt can’t!!  Let the fucker breathe!”

I turn my back on Baker and I think about three things: 1) the white Rabbit sitting up there on the road, 2) the keys to the Rabbit, set beside Baker on the picnic table, and 3) a wild fantasy from which I can get out of this shit.  Feeling truly alone and like I made a mistake coming here.  This is a feeling I get on adventures sometimes: that palpable desire to cling to the side of the bridge that I left from—a half step—so scared that I won’t have blankets or a pillow or a bed to sleep in tonight.  That as I wander, I won’t have food.  That Baker and I aren’t actually going to have great sex this weekend, that I’m with the wrong girlfriend—I long for the security of a well-paying programming job but then the well-paying part isn’t enough for me.  The idea that someday I’ll become homeless and be a homeless fucking drug addict once who went to film school.  Once who had high-class friends like Nik and low-class ones like Baker.

I could grab those keys and get in that car and be gone across America, halfway back to LA by the time Baker thought about reporting the car stolen.  Her wondering face as I drive away from this park, every minute I don’t do anymore coke another minute I am sobering up.  Stop in New Mexico or something, abandon film school, and squalor in the sand forever.

10

We arrive at Baker’s house—her parents’ house—where I always used to pick Baker up with a handbag full of extra panties for their daughter to take over to my house.  Memories of her mom packing extra undies for her daughter, us all knowing what was about to happen (apparently)—Baker getting to my house and we throw down and skrog (which is some term invented by my old friend Chad meant to say: to fuck with animal intent and abandon)—don’t you just want sometimes, to throw down and skrog?  Baker and I actually fucked like this, reaching upwards, begging for each other’s genitals, clawing them, raking them with fingernails, teeth, skin.

Baker grabs my arm and brings me inside their house.  Everything looks like it is untouched from years ago.  I mean: seven years I’ve been coming here, of cleaning and living, arranging the same books and knickknacks in the exact same way.  Lift it up, wipe underneath a statuette’s profile, shadow, then replacing the object—clean?—yes!—done!!

Charisma pulls me inside and Mary and Manny erupt with greetings for me.  It’s like everything my (now divorced) parents could have said to me if they gave a shit: that I was welcome and loved—for starts.

Mary is standing right in front of me and she says: “Look at you!”  She hugs me tightly and Baker is all: “Mom!  Let him breathe!  Get off!!  Mary!  You’re acting like as if he was your boyfriend!”

“Oh, so you two is now a boyfriend and a girlfriend?  Baker!  You have to tell me about these blips in your relationship history.”

“We ain’t boyfriend and girlfriend!” Baker shouts.

“Yeah, Baker will never have me,” I say.  “She’s too into paramilitary guys, like this Rambuncto.  She’ll marry someone like him and I’ll be across the country living alone in an urban hut in Hollywood.”

“Did I tell you?” Charisma says.  “That Matthew is in film school?”

“Is this true?” Mary asks.

Then Manny is like: “Y’all, I can’t see the television.”

Charisma goes to him, grabs the remote, throws it through the door to the kitchen.

“Get your own remote!  I’ve got a friend over!  How many people do I bring for you to see?  Huh?  Mom: put Manny in his place when he gets out of line.  These nature documentaries and space programs are ruining your brains for sensible urban living!”

“We don’t be watchin’ no nature show.  No astrophysics here, neither.”

“I know that,”’Charisma says.  “Maybe you should.”

Mary goes back to her chair.

I go to Manny and shake his hand.  “Good to see you, sir.”

“Good to see you, too.  Do you have a few minutes?  I can show you my new paintings.”

Charisma grabs a book off the shelf and throws it across the room at her uncle.

“No,” she says.  “I haven’t got to see Matthew all day and you two isn’t going to spend the remainder of his day taking even more time from me and him.  Matt: you can go upstairs and I’ll meet you in a few minutes.”

“Ok.  Good to see you two.  I hope you have a good night.”

Charisma stands facing me, blinking her eyes in a flurry.  I take her hand and kiss it, then I’m bounding up the stairs two and three at a time, throwing my bag on the floor of the bedroom toward the front of the house—Charisma’s old room—and I’m taking the vial from off my neck and rummaging through a milk crate for a mirror—something—before finding a copy of Stephen King’s IT laid flat on the front of a bookshelf.  I’m pouring out and setting up, retrieving my debit card and smoothing out the coke, cutting off the first few lines for me and Bakerton—taking the first for myself and leaving the next two for Charisma and I.

Their voices come from downstairs:

“..it’s not that, Mom—it’s not.  Rambuncto isn’t an issue, he’s not even a factor.  He’s..look..when Brooky was in prison I didn’t need your permission to go visit her—I didn’t need your encouragement!!  Did I?  No I did not.  Everything was playground—cowbells—there’s this Snoop Dogg lyric I can look up for you that explains the whole thing!  It’s a polished-brass couplet that sums up my entire world!  I knew you would never understand and it is exactly because—I mean as if it was designed by a physicist in his laboratory—”

Unintelligible talk in Mary’s voice.

“—Matt is going to make movies!”

“I..don’t understand..why, ever..you always go with them artist types but where is Matthew?  He got his..out of Dayton.  Gone.  Far.  What ever happened to that girl you said he finally went for?  What was her name?”

“It’s Rebecca and I’d appreciate if you didn’t mention her while he’s here.”

“Why?”

Because!  Because she died.  Ok?  So she’s gone.  And Matt is fragile because of it.  When he’s opened up enough to come here, I don’t want us to push him any farther.  Yes!!  Every time you talk about it..it is a climbing axe stuck between his shoulder blades.  Just don’t turn the axe, ok?  Don’t.  Turn.  Thy.  Motherfucking.  Axe.”

Then a few minutes of whispering only.

“..reasons..left his job..California..dating a psycho bitch!  Shhh!!  I’ll be back, Mom.  Just..whatever you normally do.  And..don’t be packing..bunch of underwear..he’s seen all my panties before.  Shut up and watch TV, then.  You’re all fucking degenerates.”

Then the door to upstairs opened and Charisma came up.

“Please don’t ask me what we were talking about,” she says, sitting across from me.

“I heard most of it anyway.”

“I figured you did,” Baker says.  “Where’s our coke?”

“That’s it,” I toss the metal vial on the floor.

Charisma picks it up.  “That’s it?”

“I thought there was more,” I say.

She unscrews the vial.  “Where did it all go?”

“I..uh..I guess I snorted it.”

“Did you and Nik do some?”

“Nah I..never showed Nik I had any.  I left to go to the bathroom and did some lines.  But I never knew that much was missing..I mean geez..I never..we can get more, can’t we?”

“Yeah but not tonight!” Baker wails.

I take the vial from her, turn it upside down, nothing comes out.  I’m genuinely amazed.

“Fuck, Charisma.  If I had known you wanted to do some together tonight I would have saved more.  I’m sorry, girl.”

She can see it in my eyes that I’m sincere.

“Let’s do this,” she says, hiding her disappointment.

She cuts lines from the cover of IT.

I offer her every other one of mine.

I get up on my cross-legged knees and kiss her: the reddest, fullest, broken-ass surfaces of lips I have ever kissed.  Sex with her like bleeding—bleeding pink of vagina lips held wide and me licking here and there for a home run.  Remembering when I had done that to her, remembering a face full of cum and thinking how much I love when a girl cums in my face, how supple and giving a girl can be once you’ve made her cum..ready to spread legs wide bend over a sink let me fuck her from behind fucking Charisma on the edge of my mattress her refusing to let me cum so she can have it all night—boom! one, boom! two, and there is boom! three!  And more than one girl telling me, “Two is good!” but after three a girl I just met will let me fuck her any way I want and beg me to cum: in her, on her, will tie me to a chair and fuck me with her mouth, will pull her knees to her chest undercover in the bed and let me treat her like she’s a childhood girlfriend or stuffed animal, rubbing our genitals together until I finally bust her pouch full of white cum—that’s an envelope I sign, seal, deliver.

Charisma played a game that night.  No words.  She’d do a line, staring at me before and after like she was subservient: a straight slave with love intentions.  Someone who would serve my interests.  Then I would give her a master look, snorting my line, pulling off her bra with my teeth—no one is a master to her groove, or clothes, whoever is the master and who is the slave doesn’t even come into play then I’m raking my fingernail along the surface of her breast, coming to her plumpish nips, subverting the nipple, cutting her so slightly with my touch.

Charisma and I slept in bed that night, together.  Like boyfriend and girlfriend.  Except we both knew—had always known—that a relationship between us would never work.  We were fuck buddies above all.  That’s all we would ever be.  Never a pinch of ownership or partnership.  As many nights as I’d sought her out at the seasonal Halloween store where she worked in the mall.  As much as I would cheat on my actual girlfriends at the time, always, only, ever to be with her.  As many times as I would steal away intimacy with Charisma, I would always go away, I would always go back, to a girl I liked more, but who I could never express myself with sexually.  Charisma would never have me and I would never have her (emotionally).  She wanted to fuck her genius and I wanted to fuck her like I wanted to fuck the girl next door—except she wasn’t my next-door neighbor—she was the girl from East Dayton, and I was the guy from North Dayton.  Those were our “sides of the tracks.”  As much as I have tended, in this life, to pick girlfriends from North Dayton, there is something in me that always loves an East Dayton girl.

11

All night I tossed, turned, my throat burned from cocaine and Charisma slept in the middle of this bed made for one—tonight holding two—she left me the one-quarter area closest to the front window and with Charisma’s constant bodily rearrangements and the latent effects of the coke I had snorted earlier that day in the Pacchia bathroom..well..I didn’t sleep at all.

I thought about that time we had fucked in this exact bed with her parents one room over while I was supposedly visiting Charisma to cheer her up from being sick.  But I had left my apartment with the intention of fucking her and that’s exactly what I did: fucked through her “no’s” and “slows” and all kinds of passive ways of telling me to stop.  I didn’t cum in her but I got that pretty little taste I had been looking for: ice cream on the tip of a tongue.  Back then we would have called it “date rape” if we had been keeping score.  Today you would call it “sexual assault”—but Baker wasn’t about to call the police on me.  Mainly she tried to get me off her, and it was just an annoyance.

I thought of that night on this night.  This night where I tried multiple times to get on top of her only to be pushed off and back onto my tiny strip of her bed.  She told me “no” and “not tonight” and told me that her parents would hear:

“Matthew!  Do I have to send you downstairs?”

I slip my wrist down her cargo pants, inside her white cotton Hello Kitty panties with that pink Hello Kitty placed right where it should be: the entrance to her glorious red cunt.  I felt her unshaven (but lightly haired) fur mountain thing and worked my thumb across her clitoris while my index one slipped inside her puss, hot and wet and when she squirmed I felt the tightness increase and when Baker pulled my hand out of her twitch, I brought it to my face and breathed in..deep..deeper..deepest.  The girl smelled fine.  She presented her clan well.  Her species.  Her sex.  Proper diet and never any soap down there—that’s the best care a woman can offer her VJ and the best care her VJ can offer me is: let me inside whenever we will not wake your parents, scream your passion at top volume so I know how you really feel—how I’m making you feel—encourage me, lavish me with affirmation, give me yells, intonations, reflections that my neighbors will hear.  Will hear.  Will hear what it is I do to you, how my cock makes you feel between your legs, squirming against an unstoppable force: the return to greatness of my penile matter doing some exploring up your treasure, your glory, your hole.

I thought these thoughts all night, remembering our sex, getting my cock hard, thinking of jerking off kneeling over your body, jizzing on your Hello Kitty spot.  That spot that was right above your sacred place.  Always thinking how every girl carries her pussy around with her..in all the times and in all the places.  Like my friend Mike suggested that everyone is carrying shit around inside their body at all times: every girl, every guy, everyone murdering someone and everyone being killed, every girl you want to fuck (shit!) and every girl you are fucking..we’re all walking around bowels full of shit—everyone cooking in a restaurant, everyone eating there.  And I thought about how right next to me, this girl I loved, this sexy kid/girl who I wanted to fuck (always and forever) had shit up inside her colon, her rectum, inside all those tubes we only see sometimes when you die.  When I was fucking her, she had shit rammed up inside the rear pipe, and I was pushing those back tubes around with every moment of fucking her.  With every poke, every slide, I was agitating her shit muscles increasing her need to squeeze her abdominal muscles and let out the stinkiest smell of shit that (even though Charisma must have shit tens of times near me throughout our relationship) I had never actually smelled.  That was a courtesy she did for me: never shit in front of the guy.  If I was in a relationship with her—if Charisma was my partner—she would shit in front of me.  If I was her partner, I would sit on the sink while she shit and we would talk about having kids or something.

That was part of how Baker and I were: we never talked about having kids—not the two of us!  Me pulling out was a given.  The rhythm method was a given—there’s no way either of us was going to waste the experience with condoms.  If Charisma was out (if I ran into her at a club), she was good to fuck.  If she called me, she was good to fuck.  We never discussed anything.  I never saw her blood.  Just clean, dry-as-powder, hot ass wet-inside full-thick smells-like-a-goddess fine ass pussy.  Took her to my loft in North Dayton, stripped her panties off, laid her down soft, and fucked.  No stoplights.  No traffic symbols inferring our movements.  None of that first-time hesitance.  Just lust: quick, certain, and dead.  Dead in the sense that we fucked the moment we got into the pad, on the floor, hallway door open, everyone else on the floor too scared to look inside.  You know how it makes a man feel, to fuck him on the floor right inside your apartment, either truly needing to get it that bad or pretending to: either one worked, either one played out the same on my carpet, inside my ear, my mind, my conscious need to be needed.  Charisma always gave me that.  Generous with the clues, her audio turned way up in her brain, sounds..sounds I have never forgotten and when I’m on that ledge someday I can think: at least I made Charisma scream like that.

I looked over her body.  Her waistline, her breasts held in place by a white sports bra.  I ran my fingers through her blonde hair (uncolored) and thought of what a pure female she was, pure along that axis.  She breathed with her mouth closed—I had never heard her snore, never smelled her breath.  Her teeth were small but straight.  I thought of the guys I knew who had fucked her.  Never was she fucked by my best friend from high school (Julian)—although he wanted to.  Julian took my stories about fucking Charisma with surprising morality and guilt—the same way he took my news of getting with half his friends.  I slept with Diedre and did stuff with Tuesday—both girls Julian wanted to fuck.  All he could do is complain about some girl named Jade from Portland.  So I’m lying here, thinking of Charisma, and when I first told Julian about it.  I described the pussy.  Described the feel of it.  Described the sounds she made.  Julian’s only concern was that when I first got with Baker, I was cheating on Ashley.  Ashley: was a partner.  Baker: was a fuck friend.  I looked at her pure white skin next to me as she slept in her childhood bedroom.

I wondered what she thought of me.  How did I get to be here in this room?  She joked that it was because I was an artistic genius and she wanted to sleep with one.  I thought she was joking.  In fact as soon as she said that I almost corrected her to say that I was not a genius.  On second thought, though, decided to let the idea sit with her, even if to me it was a fallacy.  If that was truly all she wanted, she could find that somewhere else—right?  There had to be a hundred of me throughout Dayton, all equally genius in art.  Her dad was an artistic genius, painting landscapes on his plates.  But Charisma thought I was a genius and her father was an amateur: the way she asked me to look at his paintings it was like I was doing Manny a favor instead of a meeting of equal minds.  Someone years later on Twitter after reading one of my books went to the trouble of saying I was “one in ten million.”  Be sure if it, she said.  I did some calculations on how likely that would make me to meet another one of those one in ten million (unlikely) and it has stuck with me to this day that she went out of her way to say “one in ten million” instead of just going for the standard one in a million which sounds more like a regular phrase not meant to be interpreted literally but to simply suggest rarity where one in ten is said to mean an actual figure.

Still: who wants to fucked because they’re an artistic genius?  I’d rather be fucked because I’m devastatingly hot or a really good fuck.

That’s what I wanted in Charisma: ass that sizzles like hotcakes.  Hot the way you fry an egg on the pavement.  Fly.  Sex.  A girl who sucks your dick underneath your table at a restaurant.  Who sits on your lap while you’re trying to drive a car—playing with both your lives.  Who gets you off during a school assembly, risking both your academic standings.  Who catches you in the photo hallway, grabs between your legs.  I didn’t care how much of a literary genius she was—that’s because I didn’t care how much of a literary genius I was.  Never even thought in those terms.  Still don’t now.

“What are you ruminating about?” Charisma said, propping up her torso on her forearms.

“I’m thinking about the first time I saw you: either in JROTC or maybe the gym.  You were walking from one side to the other and I felt compelled to follow you.  Even though I never talked to you.  I just had to see you for one second longer.  Didn’t care who saw me looking.  But I had to be with you from that point on.  I didn’t even think I’d succeed.  But from that point on, I had to try.”

12

“Are you gettin’ soft on me?”

“I’m not gettin’ soft.”

“Don’t you remember what this is?”  Baker’s hand goes to my face.  “No feelings, ok?”

I nod sideways.

“What is this?  Tell me you remember.”

“This is no feelings.  We don’t get involved.  If and when one of us catches feelings that’s the end of the sex part.”

“That’s right.  This is friends with benefits.  Not a relationship,” she says.

“I’m not asking for a relationship.  Baker: no.  Good friends.  Great sex.  Totally stable.”

“Are you: stable?”

“I’m totally fucking stable, Charisma.  Totally stable.  I wasn’t saying anything.  I was just saying that from the moment I saw you, I wanted to..”

Fuck me?”

“That’s what it was, one hundred percent wanted to—in this order—strip you down and fuck you, and be your friend just enough to support the former.”

“And how do you feel now?”

“Same way.  Maintain friendship so we can keep on getting better at sex.  Blow each other’s minds and shit.”

I rub her panty area with my hand.  She smiles, then pulls my hand away and says: “Let’s wait till we get to the house.  I don’t want those two listening in.”

A few minutes later we opened the door and said goodbye to Charisma’s aunt and uncle.  We left them in their usual position, securely in their chairs, and the two of them waved and heckled us, how the weekend was going to be so much fun and how—wink, wink—if I didn’t get knowledge inside their neice’s panties I was the fool of the universe.  That’s the last time I saw Charisma’s aunt and uncle.

Charisma drove us to her new house and parked in the alley.

“Let’s get our strategy straight,” she says.

I look to her.  Her arms are straight out, elbows locked, rested inside the circle of the steering wheel.

“I will approach Brooklyn.  I will talk with her.  You come in beside me.  Stay downstairs.”

“What are you gonna say?”

“I’m gonna remind her that this is our house together and we can both have people over, we can both do coke or whatever we want in this house.”

“What if your grandmother is in there?”

“What if she is?  I love her but we’re only getting a small amount of money from her disability—a very small amount.  Let’s go, ok?”

Inside, Brooklyn sat tapping away at her phone.  Baker’s grammy lit up when Baker and I came in the room, the way only babies and old people (and extremely innocent lovers) can.  She started talking and I peeled off from Baker, all the while listening to Baker and Brooklyn discussing our return to the house.  Also, two dogs 🐕—brown pit bulls—jumped all over me, knocked me down, licked my face and ears and gently bit my hands when I pushed them away.

Brooklyn stayed seated on the couch while Baker stood in front of her.

“I want to have Matthew over this weekend.  Just like you’re having Rambuncto over,” Baker said.

“That’s exactly the problem,” said Brooklyn.  “This is the weekend Rambuncto is getting released from jail.  Today’s Friday.  Tomorrow’s Saturday.  Saturday is the day.  He’s been in there for six months you think I’m gonna deny him this pussy?  This slot?  What do you want me to do, Charisma?  Do you want me to call the police and ask them to hold him for another week?”

“Don’t be stupid, Brooklyn.”

“ ‘Cause I will call down there.”

“Brooklyn, don’t be stupid!”

“It’s just that I was expecting Rambuncto to come to this house when he got out—”

“Have him come over, then!”

“I just don’t think that hmm huum over there is going to rub Rambuncto the right way.  He’s been locked up with hard guys—you know how it is in there.”

“No I don’t!” said Baker.

“But you know what it’s like!  Don’t argue semantics with me, girlfriend.  You’ve been around Rambuncto—you know what that’s like.  Please.  Baker.  Please don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“Ok I know what you’re taking about,” Charisma says.

Brooklyn says: “Thank you.  I wish you wouldn’t pretend you isn’t from this neighborhood.  Ever since you went to that north side high school, you acts like you is better than all of this—ain’t you, Charisma?”

“I’m not better than you!  I’m not.  I never said anything to indicate that I thought that.”

“You didn’t have to say it.”

“Brooklyn.  Is you supposed to be my best friend or what?  My best friend doesn’t talk like you’s talking now.  You is taking some shit, girl, sayin’ that shit about me actin’ like I’m better than you.”

“You don’t have to.  You carry ‘round them books—big ass books—actin’ like you be readin’ that shit..”

I steal glances at Brooklyn.  She’s skinny (to the bone) and today she’s wearing a blue thing that wraps around her ass, a ripped wife beater and her legs are bare.  My eyes follow them up from her toes to her crotch.  I find this strange thing happening: I’m thinking: not only has Charisma let herself go, but Brooklyn looks naturally thin, and I’m imagining pulling her into a side room somewhere in this house and ripping her clothes off.

“..when I know you ain’t ever read more than 50 pages of that motherfucker in your entire life.  Has you, Charisma?”

“What book are you talking about?

I don’t know!  You’re the one who’s fucking reading it!!”

“Brooklyn, can me and Matt move in here for a few days so he has a place to stay for his trip.  That’s all I want.  Just let us stay here and have some fun for Friday, Saturday—Sunday he leaves.  Do you really think we’re going to disturb Rambuncto that much?”

“I don’t know, Charisma.”

“You act like Rambuncto is a bull in a fucking china shop!” Charisma says.

“There you go again,” Brooklyn says.

“There I what again?”

“There you go, usin’ them college phrases.  You never talk like this when Matt’s not here.”

“Yes I do!”

I look Brooklyn up and down, this time not making any secret of it.

Brooklyn looks at me the same way.

“What kind of pants are those?”

“The Champion” I say.  “I got these here before I went to California.”

Brooklyn smiles at me.  Charisma catches her.  Charisma puts her hands on her hips and looks at me.

“Those are nice.”  Brooklyn stands.  She comes over to me.  “Go!” she tells the dogs.  “Go now.  Get out of here!!  Charisma?  Will you take these animals out of my house?”

Charisma doesn’t move.

“Matt, this is Brooklyn.  Brooklyn, this is my friend Matt.  We met at the north side high school you were taking about.”

“Oh, is this the—” Brooklyn talks through her cupped hands “—fuck buddy you were telling me about?  Yes?  Yes?  Baker here says you two have had a thing hooked up since high school, is that true?”

“Don’t answer that,” Baker says.  She comes in and drags me away by the hand.  “Stay away—that’s a message for you, dear Brooklyn.  If I didn’t have sham friends, I wouldn’t have any friends.”

“There she goes again,” Brooklyn tells me.  “She never talks that way except when you’re around.”

“Brooklyn shut, the, fuck, up!  If I didn’t have bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck.  Call that high class, girl.  It’s called an expression.”

“It’s called an idiom,” I say, regretting immediately that I said this.

“Oh right,” Brooklyn says.  “An idiom.  What college did you go to?”

“OU.  But I dropped out.”

“Is that supposed to make you more like us?”

“I don’t care how alike or different you and I are.  I came here..to fuck..and to do cocaine.”  I looked at Charisma’s grammy as I said this.  She looked away from me at the television, which played Jeopardy! on silent with the captions.  “Is everyone ok with that?  Everyone else knows this is my agenda?  A well-spoken agenda, if you like.  I need a break from film school,” I said, aware of how these words separated me from those around me, something Charisma’s grammy would interpret as the start of a conversation but which Brooklyn took as another sign of how out of place I was.

“Grammy, don’t worry.  We’re going to use the attic,” Baker says.  “Tell me you two are settled.”

“Oh we’re settled,” Brooklyn says.  “Just as long as your lover of the week doesn’t butt heads accidentally with Rambuncto.”

“I’m not going to butt with anyone,” I say.

“I know you think that,” Brooklyn says.  “But you never know.  Rambuncto..locked up for six months with all sorts of animals..learning new tricks..avoiding getting fucked up the ass with the hard cocks of worser offenders..unable to sleep at night..hoping someone will rescue him..waiting to see me whenever I can get away..getting jerked off not under a table but out in the open where everyone..guards..other visitors..inmates salivating over his cock stuck up like one of those little beasts from Alien.”

I gave that time to indicate that I had heard what she had said.

Then I said: “Brooklyn?”

And she said: “What?”

And I said: “Where’s your baby?”

13

“Baby!  The baby!  I’ll tell you about the baby!!”

Brooklyn is running upstairs, her side flank and breasts catching in the breeze, her nipples hardening, and l—looking between her legs, trying to catch a glimpse of her camel there—thought I could feel her pussy muscles tightening with every gaping strep.

Charisma said, “Come on!” and ran upstairs after her friend.

I followed quick behind and, there, at the bottom of the crib, was Brooklyn’s baby.

“See?  He’s fine.”  Brooklyn poked around the crib flooring, never actually touching her baby.  “This is one fine baby, actually.”  That was Brooklyn.  “It’s an Olympic baby, if you really want to know about it—that’s what this baby is.  A truly Olympic little gobstopper with an Olympic face, Olympic ass.  Look at this baby’s ass,” Brooklyn continued, pulling down the baby’s onesie, running her fingers between the baby’s ass cheeks.

“So this baby’s name is Faulkner?” I asked.

“This is Little Baby Faulkner.  Born and bred right here in Ohio.  I’m thinking of giving him an Ohio tattoo.  My friend has a tattoo of Ohio right here,” crazy Brooklyn said.  She turns her wrist soft side up.

“Oh, really,” I said.  “Your friend has a tattoo of Ohio right here?”  I showed her my wrist.

“Yeah,” Brooklyn said, not catching my sarcasm.  “Right here,” she said again, flashing her eyes at me.  “It’s a dope little tat for a dope little boy.”

“Have you..uh..read any Faulkner?”

“I saw a character named that in a book.”

“What kind of book was it?”

“It was a book of names,” Brooklyn said.  “And this one—this page with Faulkner’s name in it..it had a bustier of flowers on top of someone’s gravestone..I think the gravestone was labeled Wilde?”

“As in Oscar—?”

“Yeah,” Brooklyn interrupts me.  “It was Oscar Wilde.  But the baby name for that page was Faulkner.  William Faulkner.  And it had a picture of Faulkner as a baby and Little Baby Faulkner was posing for an 1800s-style photograph of him in black and white and his aunt or mother or whoever had taken his charge.  And they were holding the charge’s eyes open with long sticks, and their stomachs were giving forth their digestive materials after having been cut by the baby’s sword—Little Baby Faulkner’s swords—which was a special sword forged in the fires of Sauron by Elijah Wood and Elijah’s total mission over the course of this movie is to slice Little Baby Faulkner from ass go mouth, slice him from here to here—are you following?”

“So..Oscar Wilde, Elijah Wood, and Little Baby Faulkner walk into a bar,” I said.

“Do you want to hold him?”  Charisma picked him up.

“No thanks.”

“Sure?”  Charisma danced his arms around in the air to try and tempt me.

“No..thanks.  But I’m afraid I’ll drop him.”

“Here,” Charisma said.  “Hold him for a second.”  She dips him low and brings him in for a landing..in my arms.

I take the baby from her, hold him against my chest.  Normally when I hold a baby I’m filled with this incredibly powerful instinct not to let anybody hurt this baby—like I’d lay down my own life to stop anyone from mistreating or endangering or killing this boo.  This time when I held the Little Baby Faulkner, all I thought was: let’s make sure I never have one of these.

Baby.  Little.  Faulkner.  A kid of infinite heights.  Of mix skill like Missy Elliot, lyrics like Eminem, you’ve held him in your hands just once and the universe lays down a highway link between us, flies my airplane into your toothless mouth, low-key cries coming from underneath this door—they’re pretending this is the baby that dies but really there was one before, missing in the night, called the police and they came to the room containing that tiny boo, crushed him struggling with your hands smashing a pillow down above his lungs holding down! down! pressing my face into the pillow cloth my shortest lifetime given to me to learn—what?—not to smother kids—what it feels like to be smothered, in wordless existence, everything comes from that warm place, suited in my mother’s womb, then flushed to between her legs—tight squeeze—and then to my prison home in this room—the baby room—smothered in a prison taken as a crib, then I died and came back as Little Baby Faulkner.  Held in male arms for once, I’m supposed to be in here growing, shitting, eating, but really I wait all day for Brooklyn to return to me.  My mom.  My keeper and creator.  But in this second life I can only recall hate (hating), ignorance (being ignored), and greed (fear) in densities greater than tolerable, second life, third: shooting me into space atop a Roman candle, switch off my seatbelt, and fly!  Woo, ooh, ooh.  I was merely stitched to those around me, family meaning nothing here except, who is this man holding me now, rocking from side to side, singing me the song of his heart.  (I can feel his future better than he—from his acorn to the tree.)  I know his own depths better than he will for another 15 years—if he makes it that long.  A carrier of “mental illness” (term indigenous to planet Earth), the worst kind, making it impossible to see clearly the valid intentions of his mother, father, sisters, brother, every boss among them seeming to wait to ring the cash register: I will use you as good as I can, while I can, for as long as I can, until (empty) you are useless to me and I will at that point throw you in my trash can.

This baby shocks!  It smarts!  It is super-charged electric crank caught on film I’ll hallucinate him standing up tall and reigning down fire in our camp, everyone in this house (Grammy, Brooklyn, Baker, Wendy, me) every one of us lined up for our execution.  Having come to it not just willingly but joyously.  Joyously being shaken by every last adult in the room.  There’s Wendy—I’m not sure who that is but probably a friend of Charisma.  Listen, Matthew, let me tell you a story.  It’s the story of how my previous incarnation came to be, on a dark night between the legs of Brooklyn and Rambuncto, before Rambuncto ever went to jail.  Here is the story of my genesis, my destruction, and my rebirth:

Dark night sour.  Rambuncto came over “to watch TV.”  This is before we moved to this house.  Before we populated it with our living junk.  Brooklyn (I) spread my legs on the couch and my puss invited Rambuncto in with his sense of smell, pheromones lifting off my puss like gasoline evaporating and Rambuncto felt his cock get rambunctious, go bo bumpa bump bump against the inside of his jeans and his first thought was not to do nothing, not to jerk off, but from some childhood belief that this situation was best resolved by fucking the nearest hole—Brooklyn on the couch—use her pussy as a masturbation rag doll—and he did, he fucked his last-life mom and she went through labor all as a result of Rambuncto having got off inside her, for his convenience, instead of jerking with a tissue, Rambuncto’s urges combined with Brooklyn’s willingness to go through labor for nine months with Rambuncto seed—it was what she did: what she was designed to do.  Why wouldn’t she get pregnant?  Why wouldn’t she have Rambuncto’s baby?  Brooklyn was a baby slave—all these bitches.

I was born at five and lived backward through 11 centuries of The Cat.  Reborn here once—killed by suffocation—then twice as my current incarnation named me Little Baby Faulkner (the title of this book you read) and I assumed I was being raised to be the next great Faulkner, a writer of such caliber there has never been such a Faulkner before or after.  Raised to believe that teachers such as you..or Charisma’s friend Wendy..would present yourselves as teachers to me and that your tutelage would drive wedges between what I had once learned and what I would in the future learn again.

However, none of this came to pass.  I was taken to the bathroom (where you will soon go) and while there I was killed by my mother I was drown’d in the tub and my final moments caught on a pure audio app, raw sound, living through the light of your hearing me—and I will ask of you that you bring revenge down upon the head of my killer but you will end your tour with me back in your home in LA.  We will never meet again.  And my face will float when viewed backwards, falling up from the bottom of the bath tub (which isn’t that deep—but deep enough to kill) my last moment scrawling for breath, filling my lungs with algae/water solution and the salmonella from plastic frogs and I imagine, in my tiny brain, that if swimming in the tub didn’t kill me quickly, it would kill me slowly.

Baker took the baby from me—I had been rocking quite rapidly—she put Little Baby Faulkner back in his crib—laid him on his back and his arms and legs riddled like a beetle.

“I think we’ve had enough of that for now—Matt?  Are you ok?”

I look from Baker to Brooklyn.

“That’s some kind of baby you have there.”

I meet Brooklyn’s eyes and keep them there.

“He’s electric,” Brooklyn says.

“I noticed.”

“Did he tell you about his past?  About how he was reincarnated from his last presence as my first baby?”

“That’s not all,” I say.  “He told me about something else.  But I’m afraid to tell you.”

“Let me guess.  He told you about his future.”

Brooklyn said this.  And I said:

“Yeah.  That’s right.  Did he tell you the same thing?”

“Yeah.  A couple days ago.  He said..”

“It’s ok,” I say.

“I know,” Brooklyn said.  “Freaky, yeah?  A baby who uses electrical charges to tell his own mom that by the end of the week, she (I) will kill him, will drown him in the tub in the bathroom.”

I noticed that the whole time we’ve been up here, Brooklyn had never once touched her baby.

Brooklyn read my eyes.

“I know,” she says.  “It’s weird, right?  I just can’t bring myself to touch him, knowing he has less than 48 hours to live.”

14

We’re in Charisma’s room—her and Wendy’s—and Charisma is hovering her body above me, rocking her breasts into me, and away—into me, and away, and we’re about to make love when I am smelling her smells and loving her looks and she rocks a kiss onto my lips—it is delivered like an old-fashioned ink stamp—rock me back and forth to sleep.

And then I am high up in the sky, doing a Mario jump down through three levels of cloud, voicing my fall with a precipitous “eeeeeo!” (Oh, Mario!) and I land on the cotton bedsheets with Charisma lying beside me, and we’re both pointing to the sky drawing emojis in the cloudstuff—Baker draws a black hand 👍🏿 and I draw a fox 🦊 who is always getting away with something.  I’m not sure what he’s getting away with right now but it’s probably lying in bed with my old fuck buddy, probably me hooking up with her in the first place.  Every kiss, every fuck, every minute I ever spent with my dick inside of her—all of that was what I was getting away with.  Flying from Hollywood to be here with Fuck Girl Charisma.  To lie here on this bed with her getting turned on by my mere presence and me getting turned on by hers.  All it took was to feel the heat between our bodies and my cock was erect!  She didn’t have the power to approve or disprove of my life—only the power to make me cum.  Not even that—she had the power to let me make myself cum.  To lie there making powerful noises.  Noises the neighbors could hear.  Noises I remembered throughout my life that validated me as a lover.  Those noises put the hot-girl seal of approval on my methods of having sex, on my anatomy, on my sexual soul.  I have had sex with 25 or 30 people, but if only Charisma existed I would go down in the book of great lovers..which doesn’t have anything to do with great technique or anatomy or any one little thing.  Like Malcom Gladwell’s tiny little town in Europe somewhere, where life expectancy is massively increased but seemingly is attributable to no single factor, like that town the validation that Charisma gave me sexually printed approval on me as a lover—with all the minuscule (seemingly unimportant) aspects that go into doing that complex act of being a lover.  If this doesn’t make sense to you, it’s not because my argument is flawed.  It’s most likely because you’ve never had a lover like Charisma.

Charisma Baker.  Hopefully when she reads this book she’ll be forced to run into her bedroom and put her fingers inside her hot-ass pussy before she finishes this sentence.  I hope my memory to her will be filled with passion, not snagged up in all the stupid things I ever said and did to her.  I hope she will be willing to re-paint the mural of our relationship from a failed friendship to a successful fuck buddy-ship.  That she will remember this dream I had of the two of us lying on the bed in her and Wendy’s room..dreamt while she and I laid on Charisma’s bed that was in that room.  It was a dream of sex (and candy).  A dream of me lying her back on the floor the first time I ever came to her house in East Dayton.  The time that all we did was kiss.  The time you always ask me about when we’re together: when you say, Way back in the day, when we were in my basement, did you ever have those kinds of thoughts about me?  Did you ever want to fuck me then?  And the answer is Yes!  I always wanted us to fuck!  I always did, from the moment I ever saw you—always, ever, did I want us to fuck.

My dream turned to a volatile force which only took me a few seconds to recognize as Rambuncto, this bundle of male energy, wanting to fight me before he ever met me.  Wanting to kill me, the embodiment of tour philosophy coming to his poor East Dayton to snap photos and make my movie with out-of-town stars and all Rambuncto would ever be was a background extra, never asked his permission—who would be comforted by my ex-girl Sashi, drawn to her chest in the outdoor seating section of a Starbucks, Sashi would comfort him and confirm his thoughts about evil me, the culturally appropriating film student who represented all that was evil in the world.  Sashi would attack anyone who fit my mold, leaving aside the obvious fact that none of us had money, that none of us were making big films, that all I was was a film student—the equivalent of an elementary school student of the world: basically innocent of any sort of success.  Sashi would cut us all at the root, never wanting to make the mistake that Candide made with those baobabs: never cutting them down when they were little babies, then they grew into their adult form, entrenched so thick and so tight and so strong they would never be moved except for a wait of a thousand years or the sub-second detonation of an atomic bomb.

That’s what Sashi would do to me: cut me branch for branch so that I would never become a problem too big to solve.

Rambuncto in my dream was this big dummy who would kill you with an intermediate weapon (fists, boots) and never even know he did it.  I could tell by his name what type of person he had become: so fucking dumb that he would spend his life between his parents’ house and jail, issuing minor injuries to anyone who crossed paths with him, never getting anything out of it, never advancing in society nor regressing, Rambuncto was no baobab—just a weed with thorns, the whole plant paper-thin, the type of thing normal people would zip away with a weed wacker—ziiip!  Gone!!  Bang!!!  No more poor Rambuncto (sad face ☹️).  Poor poor sad face Rambuncto.  If Brooklyn wanted to fuck him she should go ahead—Rambuncto (I know the type) would be in jail for longer and longer segments, and Brooklyn would be back to jerking him off in the visitors room, that cavity between her East Dayton legs growing cold, colder, and coldest still as she waited for Rambuncto to lay off the violence in jail: assault built upon assaults—finally, seeing his life pointless, not having the guts to kill himself, Rambuncto would kill someone inside..and that would be it: they would finally lock the door and throw away the key.

In my dream, though, my skin burned hot and I imagined Rambuncto stepping up on me, raising both our temperatures and his intimidation working, causing my panic and some incredible karate kick landed his boot on my face and this made him into a superhuman enemy from some prison movie I had seen as a kid.  He kicked me and kicked me and even though I was offering him the coke he didn’t have the sense to stop.

Nothing worked with him, not even offering him drugs (which for almost anyone in waking life would work).  He had clipped the tip of his boot into a descent called “The Great Hole” and he seemed intent to descend all the way to the bottom.

Charisma’s hand on my shoulder.

She kisses me.

I wake up.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

But Baker said to me: “Don’t worry.  You don’t have to say you’re sorry.  I think you were having a scary dream.”

“I guess so,” I said.  “What are we gonna do now?”  I looked down.  Charisma was in her underwear, purplish pink and her super-white skin billowing out around her waist.  I grab her by the back of the neck.  “I guess we should make love sometime.  Don’t you think?”

She whispers in my ear: “I was thinking you’d never say that!”  She grabs my cock through my pants and it gets hard.  Charisma kisses my neck, lifts up my shirt.  “You said my name while you were dreaming.  Were you thinking about me?”

“I was—I was dreaming about you.”

“What was it?  What was your dream?”

“We were lying here, looking through the ceiling at the stars.  We were about to have sex.  Will you?—Charisma?—would you give me your vagina?”

“Of course,” she says.  “I’m glad you asked.”

“Mmm.”

“There’s no one on this planet I would rather give it to.”

“I like when you talk that way.”

“What way?  I’m simply telling you the truth!”

“You’re awesome, Baker—best fuck I ever had.”

“You damn right better say that!  Now it’s time to get up—”

“Why?  What do you have planned for me?”

Charisma laughs.  “It’s nothing like that.  I want you..to..buy me some..coke..some more coke so you me and Brooklyn can have a good night tonight.  Are you cool with that?”

Thoughts of Brooklyn, racing, the thought of Brooklyn and I waiting till Charisma had taken my money and Brooklyn would go for the touch, my hands would go for her little snapper protruding from the blue cloth of her shorts, one touch, two touch and I’d be cock deep in her playground, fucking her against the crib in the bedroom of Little Baby Faulkner.

“Are you ready to get up?” Charisma said.

I looked at Charisma in waking life.  How could her being too big and Brooklyn being impossibly small have gotten between this weekend?  One wedge and Charisma turned me sickly off and Brooklyn sickly on—impossible-to-control thoughts about Charisma’s roommate and friend who normally I would not be attracted to.

“Ready?” Charisma said, batting her eyes.

“Yeah,” I said stoically.  “Let’s do this.”

15

“So what are we getting?  An eighth?”

“How much is an eighth?”

“It’s about this much.  An eighth is an eight ball.  That’s like 30 lines.  Good-sized lines.  That’s three grams.  For the three of us, ten lines each, maybe twelve depending on the size of the eighth.”

“How much is an eight ball.  In dollars,” I asked.

“How much do you have?”

I hand Charisma some cash.  She hands me back a hundred-dollar bill.

“This should do it,” she says.

“I’m going with you,” I say.

We presented our plan to Brooklyn.

“What we should do,” Brooklyn said, “is get one eight ball to do with Rambuncto and crew.  Then a second eight ball to do just the three of us.  We’ll find a real good hiding place—so good that us three won’t even be able to find it.”

I start to nod.

Baker starts to nod.

In seconds, we’re all smiling with our combined brilliance.  Shoulder hugging and shit.  Straight out laughing.

Soon, Charisma and I are back from the white trash coke-sellers’ settlement.  I go in with her this time and it’s nothing like buying from my friend in Hollywood.  Not nearly as friendly.  Not nearly as high class.  In Hollywood I wasn’t scared.  In Dayton..I was a little scared.  Things were much tenser here over the amount of money spent for an eight ball.

When we got back to the house Brooklyn was on the phone with Rambuncto.

“He’s out!” she sang.  “He’s muthafuckin’ oouutt!  They freed my baby!” Brooklyn said to Baker.

“Al-right!” Baker said.  “Have his ass come over so we can do some coke.”

“Can I use the car?” Brooklyn asked.

“Sure thing,” Baker said.  “Get him fast, I don’t want to have to wait too long in order to start this coke dose with those fuckers.”

“I just gotta go to his parents house—that’s where they’ll be.”

“Are his parents glad to have him back?  We’re not taking him away from their welcome home celebration?”

“Are you kidding?” Brooklyn says.  “They prob’ly don’t give a shit he’s out.  If I was them I’d be mad as hell—and scared—to have Rambuncto back home.”

“Yeah,” Baker says.  “You’re really first class in how you pick ‘em.”

“I would care more if his dick wasn’t so good up in my pussy and shit!”

“You know,” Baker said, “there is more to dating than how the guy’s dick tickles yo’ mothafuckin’ puss.”

“Bring your advice, girl.  Bring it up to my junk like a dump truck.  Break that shit off up inside my shit.  Then lean yo’ head up into my pussy area and listen real close to what she tells you.  Shhh!  She’s talkin’ to ya.  Hear what she say?  CRUNCH!  That’s my pussy tellin’ yo’ ear what the fuck time it is and I’ll tell you what time it isn’t: by tellin’ you what ain’t up and that’s my pussy listening to advice from your dumb ass about what to do with this dick and that dick in relation to her majesty’s pussyship lord almighty—you smell that shit?—That’s her holiness straight and wide, ready for that wide-load dick to enter me, root around up inside my cavern of pleasureful g-spot-housing snug from my man.  This is what my man’s been waiting for—What?—Baby, yes!—I’m coming for you, baby.  I’m sending myself over with the car as soon as you and I is done talking.”

“Look,” Baker says.  “That’s all good and well but we’re going upstairs and hiding this second eight ball behind the one wall in the attic.  Both remember and forget that—those boys are going home after the first and before the second eight ball, ok?”

Baker and Brooklyn do a pinky shake.

Brooklyn goes back to her phone call.

Baker and I are gone and back before Brooklyn notices:

Baker heads up the first set of stairs, before the crook in the staircase.  She leans inside her bedroom, says “Wendy, you alright?” and I hear nothing come back from inside the room.  Baker ducks 🦆 her head out and leads me up the stairs to the attic.

“Did you want me to check on Little Baby Faulkner?” I ask.

Baker waves me off.  “If Brooklyn doesn’t have care of him, no one will.”

“Ok,” I say.

Charisma sits us down in front of a large wooden spool that is being used as a table.

“You know what this needs?”

I see what she’s saying.  Grab the mirror off the wall—a huge two foot by three foot piece of glass—and I place it down on the spool.  It has no frame, no beveled edges—perfect for our purposes.  I go in my cargo pockets and pull out the two eight balls and toss them on the mirror.

Charisma takes one of the bags and goes to the wall behind the futon.  She rips out a sheet of drywall and puts her hand back there, feeling around for a joist.

“This..is..perfect!” Charisma says, pulling her hand out empty.  “Unlikely to be gotten at by us and the boys.  Likely to be remembered and gotten to later..once the boys leave.”

“Can we do some lines?” I ask her.

“Of course!  It’s your shit—you bought it.  It wouldn’t even be right if you didn’t try it before serving it to others!”

Charisma and I do a couple lines each.

“Mmm-h!”

“Ahh-hah!”

“Oh, my,” my fuck friend says.  “My my my my my-my-my-my my!”

Through a head rush I say: “Holy.  Good.  Fuck.”

“Is that as good as what you had in LA?”

“That might be better.”

My phone rings.  It’s Nik.

“Hey buddy.”

“Hey man.  I was just thinking if you’re available, we could get together like we talked about and watch Rushmore and get high.  Want to come over?”

I knew when Nik referred to getting high that he would have real good shit and that if he and I smoked while watching Rushmore I wouldn’t be able to follow the plot and the end result would be the same as us smoking weed and watching nothing.

I said: “Nik.  I am so sorry.  I remember us scheduling that for tonight but I can’t say yes because I..did some other form of intoxicant today..and..I’m..completely fucked.  I hope we can get together later this trip or if it, or if not, maybe we can get together next time you’re in LA?   If that works?”

Nik said: “I understand.  Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.”

“Indeed.  See you soon.”

Click.

I sat there in Charisma’s attic knowing that if I had planned to come here to visit Nik that I would be having an entirely different experience..one less insane..and that Nik would never mind that we were doing cocaine and I knew that for whatever reason I was here for the coke-first experience, snorting myself into oblivion, without too much alcohol or pot..that I would rather die in the attic of this East Dayton house than admit to Nik that I was doing coke, with or without him.

I closed my phone.  Stared at Charisma.

“How’s your friend?”

“Nik?  Is ok.  I thought it might be a head too many if I invited him though.”

“Not really,” Charisma said.  “If you want to invite him..”

“I’m ok,” I say.  “I’ll see him again, you know.”

“Are you nervous about meeting Rambuncto?”

“I wouldn’t be..except for how you and Brooklyn talk about him.”

“How do we talk about him?”

“Like..he’s the devil or something.”

“Oh, no,” Charisma says.  “Rambuncto isn’t the devil.  He’s hardly one of the angels of satan.  All he is is an East Dayton thug.  A wannabe.”

“What is he in jail for?”

“This time?  Assault.  Of me and some of my friends.”

“Aww, Charisma..no..”

“It’s no big deal.”

“That he assaulted you and your friends?”

“I know what it sounds like.”

“And you’ve had sex with him.  Before or after his assault of you?”

“Some before, some after.”

“Why are you still hanging out with him!?”

“Huh?”

“Charisma.  Bakerton.  Why are you hanging out with a guy who went to jail for assaulting you?  Can’t you move on, find new friends?  What the fuck.”

“It’s not so easy,” she says.  “You don’t understand.  I’m in this tiny city—everyone knows everyone.  You’re in Hollywood—can’t you make new friends anytime you want?”

“I guess so.”

“It’s not so easy, here.  And you’re judging me for fucking him, some guy who went to jail.  You never went to jail?”

I shake my head.

“That’s because you’re too smart to go to jail.  Every time you’ve driven drunk.  Every time you’ve done coke or meth or heroin—or stolen things from a convenience store.  I know you’ve done all those things—don’t try and convince me that you haven’t.”

“I have,” I say.  “I just do them a certain way.”

“Doesn’t that go back to high school?  When we were kids?  You know what we called you?”

“I don’t want to know.”

“Well, it was a lot of things.  But the one I’m thinking of is blameless thief.  That’s to reflect how you were the one who always did them worse things but never got caught.  You were the good kid/bad kid.  Remember the time you grabbed Jazmine Rice’s breasts in the hallway outside the video arts room?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you ever wonder why you didn’t get in trouble for that?”

“Because I asked her first if it was ok?”

“No,” Charisma said.  “It’s because you got it on camera.  Most people: that’s just evidence of what they did wrong.  You never even had to spin it: the fact you had it on video was evidence that you did it as part of an art project..at the creative arts school.  You see what I’m saying?  Everything you did wrong was wrapped in an invincible layer of blamelessness.  Of an art project!  Of your larger context of whatever lofted thought process you were going through that was bigger than what was even going on with your teachers.”

Charisma’s phone rings.

She looks down at the screen.

“It’s Rambuncto.  He’s here.”

16

Rambuncto lived up to his name.  Short, chunky, a guy who worked out his hands.  He was the beast plus the beast, a thought stopper.  Rambuncto had fewer tattoos than me, but Rambuncto’s tats were of a mouse whose tail had come stuck in a mouse trap.  Then that mouse had tattoos: a cartoonish skull and crossbones with Xs for eyes.  A dead mouse.  Rambuncto emphasized this tat by flexing his left forearm.  If he had witchcraft tattoos I would have been less cautious.  For this was the type of guy whose adrenaline drive was hooked up to random acts of violence—he would fuck you up just because he was excited and two hours later realize he’d been jailed for the incident.

Brooklyn introduced us and Rambuncto ignored me and grunted.  This is the kind of guy if I was alone with him on a desert island, I would put him down in his sleep and then I would sleep much more soundly.

I said “Hi”—but in a non-assertive way so as not to draw extraneous attention from the mouse in the mouse trap—I assumed it was this part of his iconography he identified with.

Rambuncto’s boys, Cujo and Kepler, mumbled some “hi”s and did not make any move to bump fists but stood just inside the front door and played master to our dogs, petting them and letting them jump up on them.

Charisma’s grammy and little girl Wendy sat watching TV.

Rambuncto, Cujo, Kepler all ignored everyone but Brooklyn.  Brooklyn was all over Rambuncto, wrapping her thigh around his leg.  She whispered in his ear but it came out a hiss: “Want?  To?  Go upstairs?  With me and we can fuck?”

Rambuncto pushed her off—Brooklyn slipped to the floor.  “Let’s go upstairs,” ‘Buncto said, and Charisma led us all upstairs, past the bathroom on the second floor and up the tiny switchback stairway to the attic.  We all spread out here, the six of us, Rambuncto and his boys on the folded futon couch and Brooklyn, Charisma, and I sitting on the floor.

“We got this,” Charisma said, throwing out bag #1.

Rambuncto leaned forward.

Brooklyn got my California ID and cut off a line.  She indicated the mirror to Rambuncto.  Rambuncto knelt next to it, leaned his face in, refused the straw Brooklyn gave him, and snorted it though one nostril, cleaning the surface of the mirror.

Kepler and Cujo went next.  Then Charisma, Brooklyn, and me.

I held my knees and rocked in the chair thus created.

Rambuncto said, “I bet this is crap compared to what you got in California.”

I looked over Rambuncto, seeing his face chiseled with lines of hate (giving and receiving) and I thought of him in jail, making it through that shit day by day like anyone else would.

“Actually—and I haven’t done much coke in California or anywhere else—but this is at least as good as what I had in CA.”

“You’re shitting me,” Rambuncto said.

“No way.  This is among the best coke I ever had.  I’d guess you’d think coke from Hollywood would be better than Ohio, but..not so in my limited experience.  Have another line.”

“You first,” Rambuncto said.

“Ok.”  I went to the mirror and knelt beside it.  Grabbed my straw—you can do coke with a rolled up $100 bill but aside from the celebratory aspect of the high-dollar currency, most regular coke people use straws—one for each person so as to avoid infection.  Sniffft it up!!

“Now you,” I said—and Rambuncto’s two friends who were guys and my two friends who were girls watched me take a line then Rambuncto take a line and there was a sense of approval that settled across the room.

“Charisma says you go to film school.”

“Yeah.  It’s a one-year program.  An intensive program.  You have classes for 12 hours a day and on top of that, you make movies.  Like: assignment movies.  Like: make a movie about someone who loses something then finds it..stuff like that.”

“I bet it’s expensive.”

“Well..yeah.  I got my dad to help me borrow the money.  The idea is that after school I’ll be able to get a job in the film industry.  But I doubt that’ll happen.”

“Why not?” Rambuncto said.

“I guess..because there’s not a lot of jobs compared to how many people move to LA and try to get jobs doing film.”

“How do you know Charisma?” he said.

I watched a crack form from somewhere behind Rambuncto’s head and rise along the wall, cross over via the ceiling, and drop down between the windows at the front of the house, whose shades had been drawn.

“Charisma I have known since high school.”

“Yeah,” Charisma said.  “Matt was into photography.  I liked his pictures.”

Rambuncto’s eyes followed from Charisma to me.  I think he was trying to figure out which one of us had fucked her first.

“I bet you know a lot of movie stars,” Rambuncto said.

“No, I don’t know any.”

“I bet you see them around.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I saw Kevin Bacon.  He was answering questions at this Q&A after a movie premier that he was in.”

“What movie?”

Where the Truth Lies,” I say.  “You prob’ly never saw that one.  Also: Robert De Niro, Sandra Oh, I saw Clint Eastwood once, Heath Ledger—he was ordering whisky at a bar I was sitting at..I think that’s it.”

Snifff!  Sniff sniff sniff!!

“I guess..you know a lot of high class people out there?”

“No.  Not really.  I mean: Hollywood.  If you’ve never been there all you know is what some TV announcer says: Welcome to beautiful Burbank California.  Brought to you from a studio in sunny Hollywood, CA!  But when you go out there Hollywood is just a neighborhood—kind of a bad one.  Billboards.  Expensive-ass apartments.  Homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk.  A guy from my school got stabbed in the neck while he was waiting in line at Burger King and he wasn’t getting robbed—this guy stabbed him just for fun.”

“Did it kill him?”

“No.  But he is paralyzed on the right side.”

“Damn.”

“I know, man.  I know.  Shit is harsh.”

“Shit ain’t near that harsh around here.”

“You’re serious.  This is actually a pretty nice, rural neighborhood in LA.  If there ever was a neighborhood like this in LA.  More cost, more crime.  It’s really a good example of the world.  Everything’s fucked.  I mean: everywhere, everything is fucked.”

“How expensive is your place?”

“It’s 950 a week.  Twice what I’ve ever paid for a place here in Dayton.  Do you believe that shit?” I asked.

Rambuncto and I went on like this a while.  We all did multiple lines—rails—and for every one we got higher and higher and more and more tense.  You would think that the tension between Rambuncto and me would have lessened—it did not.  Every time he leaned forward, I thought he was coming off the couch headed straight for me, attacking me for my seeming relative privilege, my ability to attend film school, my first rights to Charisma’s vagina even when he was clearly with Brooklyn right now.

I imagined the two of them fucking.  Thought of Rambuncto naked.  His face close to Charisma’s, sweating, pushing her shoulders back on a wooden floor somewhere.  Charisma’s response?  That was hardest for me to imagine—not because the picture was hard to come up with, but due to the picture being painful for me to fill in: It was the picture of Charisma screaming her passion at top volume, loud enough for neighbors to hear, and this being the same treatment she gave me.

To think that Charisma’s noises were not even hardly for me, that they were just the general noises she gave to everyone—that’s what hurt the most.  To know that I wasn’t the one making her cum..but that it was any guy who made her feel that way..even Rambuncto, this fellow human male who would never amount to nothing.  That was part of the idea.  The next part was that I—for all my slight advantages over Rambuncto—was ultimately no different than him.

How many times had I escaped jail?  For drunk driving.  For possession of illegal drugs.  For any of these offenses, I was no different—and Rambuncto knew it.  I lay on the floor looking up at the ceiling cracks.  Thought (as I often do during these trips) of staying.  Of what that would be like.  What if my coke weekend short-circuited into a secret life lived in Dayton?  Into my disappearing into an East Dayton house, just like this, and I would work at the 7-Eleven and do cocaine every day of my life, ignore the potential of becoming a filmmaker.  Maybe write.  Escape the trap of seeking status, just live and die with as little psychological imprint as possible.  What if this coke weekend became a coke life?  What if?  What if?  What if?

17

Somewhere mid-evening, mid-coke splash, I decided I needed a bath.  I stood up from the floor and didn’t say a word—I just stood up and tiptoed out of the room.  Felt Rambuncto’s look: a guy up and leaves his girls behind, unprotected—and I was barefoot, too—no use in that.  I remember a Texan from film school who critiqued my use of sandals in southern California, in favor of his own boots: he said he had no use for sandals ‘cause he couldn’t kick in them or run.  After this remark I discounted him as a cheesehead—fucking dick sucker who dated a former Victoria’s Secret model.  It didn’t matter to him that she was 50 when he was 25.  All he wanted was to be able to say to people like me that he was dating a Victoria’s Secret model.  To impress.  I felt this type of judgement from Rambuncto.  And Kepler and Cujo not only existed to back up whatever Rambuncto said—they backed up his looks as well.

I went out of the room draping my fingers over Charisma’s neck and she grabbed my leg, threatening to never let go, and then I went out the door and down the crooked stairs.

In the bathroom I filled the tub with water, undressed, looked at myself in the mirror.  I had that same belly that Sashi noticed when I first met her.  She said she liked it—it made me look more like a man.  She liked my beard for the same reason—said it made me look like the man I was becoming instead of the boy I had come from—as opposed to all the boys I went to school with, the boys I called friends.

I went to the tub and stood in it—letting my feet adjust to the hotness.  Once my feet had adjusted, I knelt in the water, my heart beating fast from the coke (scarily so) and I regulated my breathing to slow down my heart.  Then I braced myself on the sides of the tub and slipped all the way in.

Nothing would slow my heart.  I became worried that I had done too much cocaine.  That I would die here in this tub—never even make it back upstairs.  I touched my nipples and my cock slowly rubbing for the extra sensation that being high on coke gives you.  But also keeps you from cumming so easily.  I knew everyone upstairs knew what I was doing (in general strokes) and I did not care.  I was enjoying the sensual field, imagining having sex with Charisma, picturing her pussy as it had been.  Remembering sliding my index and middle fingers up inside her, nothing about it jaded (as people are now) with extended knowledge that even seven year olds possess: a cornucopia of sex tips and names of supposed positions that no one has actually done.  A stinky Melvin, for example—what is that?  Just a joke for kids online so they can start to impress each other with the inventions of their front brain 🧠 which will later be used to attract sexual mates.  Haven’t you ever heard that theory?—That the front brain is in essence just a massive slice of gray matter used in mating rituals.  It’s just like those birds who build elaborate forts to attract mates—those things are awesome.  They tug at the edges of the myth of human specialness.  Those birds do exactly the same thing as we do: they build an apartment and decorate it using flowers and stick arrangements to tempt future mates.

Whatever.  Those.  Birds.  Are.  Called.  They changed my whole image of birds.  Creating art—decor—as good as any interior designer does.  Designing for the notice of a particular bird (target) designed forth with intentional modeling of others’ opinions—all that—every penny of that—falling back from one floor up, leaning backwards, beak of a chickadee, birth of a fine feathered friend, splash down into this bath heat waving all over my skin and the skin bone 🦴 connected to my ass bone my heart bone connected to my brain 🧠 bone the heat bone burns through my conscious-plexus-based deep dive eyeglass spying on me from above everything I do (aside from remaining still) raises the rate of my heart uncontrollably, even breathing (which takes me away from death) burns my brain from the inside out and I’m listening for the baby next door (Little Baby Faulkner) to make a single noise (sound) of firecracker 🧨 loudness in the sky a constellation of impressions looking both at me and at the little baby from above, what we have in common will he run into cocaine (drug abuse) feels by the time he’s twelve will I be beside him there leaning over his shoulders playing my fingers 🤞 like spider legs through the thin of his t-shirt burning off him spark ⚡️ the flame 🔥 poof! his entire head 👶 goes up in flames from the pack of matches found between his fingers playing a piano 🎹 which is only a sand pile nothing to see here!—nothing to see, just a pile of sand drawn behind a plastic cover mixed with a magnet pen this is what I thought of while I’m lying in the bathtub the water 💦 running cold and every ice cube the men in black douse me with a “C” drawn over every cube falling diamonds 💎 twisting/turning downward fizzing steam rises from the surface of my bath 🛁.

I sit up.  Water rushing back over my skin my whole self sweating coldness and I’m drying my pale skin no pale king here I am more a pale slave reaching to kill myself in professional meanings only create too little too large too hard to understand—I only ever meant it to be easy.  Just read every word in order—the rest is done for you.  It’s the easiest medium in the world to enter/lick/swallow/digest just read every word from the stream and when you’re done, reach up and close the handle H close off the stream of symbols being thrown at you at exactly the correct rate.  Being written for your head at exactly that rate your head can read them.

I’m drawn to the child in the next room.  Wiping off the water from between my toes.  Putting on my clubbing pants.  Yellow.  Tossing my legs into a sideways dance—lengthwise, height wise—busting candy on the dance floor.  Memories of dancing in Dayton every Thursday night crossed with little opportunity for a scum like me to enter the club.  Only when I sneak in or am invited by my film friends to help shoot something while rich people dance and drink and drive hundred-thousand-dollar cars or SUVs all-white Range Rovers—

I’m washing my face.  Coming out of a drug phase.  Still high but clean.  Ears finally working.  Fingerprints apparent to the other hand when touching—hand to hand, fist to fist.  The sight of Rambuncto, Kepler, and Cujo sitting on that couch upstairs, Rambuncto interviewing me, trying to prove to himself that I’m not good enough to fuck his girl—he doesn’t even know that I fucked her first! you dumb piece of shit!  Fucking guy is testing me?  Dumb ass bitch motherfucker full of shit is testing me??  It makes me want to walk into a tragedy, go up there and jump into that couch throwing punches with two arms and one leg.  (Leaving one leg to balance me.)  Let them eat me alive.  Let them melt me and burn my heart out of my chest—sound familiar?—let them fucking fuck me blow me up as I rise from my coke bath 🛁 dripping drying staring at my face in the mirror and rubbing the towel between my legs.

Stairwell passing on my left to before upstairs where I imagine Little Baby Faulkner rolling in his swallowing clothes predicting my future standing up impossibly grabbing hold of his cage slats pulling himself up like a king cobra 🐍 rising up through pushing me down my friend Nik’s face on the hooded snake before me I’m leaning down avoiding every strike from my friends and enemies alike—indifference, they’re the same, equally dangerous to who I might become.  The comfortable apologies of my friends are one side of the same coin on which potential enemies inscribe their passages of fear.

In yellow club pants, wandering the halls like a modern monk.

Pushing open the door to little baby’s room.

Seeing a clobber of blankets and flesh and listening for his heart rate but hearing nothing—breath, nothing.

I step to the crib, my head going over the gate, saying: “Hello my Little Baby Faulkner.  Why did they name you that?”  I feel his head and feel his pulse in the tips of my fingers.  “Poor baby boy.  I hear you had a predecessor who died in this very bed.  Can you tell me more about that?”  Strains of future come through the vessels in his forehead.  I see what he sees.  His would-be brother burning and turning, flying his F-16 in that Top Gun movie this version called Top Fun every classroom seat filled with Tim Curry lookalikes—this is what I’m getting from this baby—a total, eclipsing tunnel flowing from Brooklyn’s pussy lines with blood I’m the first child who ever got cooked up in Brooklyn’s birthing chamber—no hieroglyphs—a totally anonymous chamber.  This is the result of my taking a visible coke bath everyone assuming (correctly) I was jerking off down there.  But with me it’s always so much more.  I’m taking on correctional feels naming, analyzing, inventing everything it’s inevitable that it should come to this, you—Little Baby Faulkner—my hands one on your tiny belly, the other on your neck—you: too afraid to call out in screams to your upstairs momma she won’t even hear you if I suffocate you now I would do this to silence your cries and the channel of futuristic 👽 information you unload on me every time I come into your room.

18

I was already up in the room chilling smoking Charisma’s cigarettes and ashing in a Mickey Mouse mug we found on a bookshelf up there, when Charisma threw out her last cigarette and complained: “We’re out of cigarettes now, team—where does the next pack come from?”

Rambuncto, Kepler, and Cujo all denied the ability to have brought cigarettes with them either on the circumstance of having been in jail or being non-regular smokers.

I volunteered to walk down to the 7-Eleven and get a few packs and everyone was instantly cool with this due to the combined factors of my paying for everything and me being willing to go to 7-Eleven by myself, walking, not taking the car, and everyone getting some time and space from me (annoying as I was and how foreign I seemed in this town, after only having left for less than a year).  It was less than a year since I had been meeting Charisma at previously chosen clubs and calling her once it was dark outside to see if it was ok if I picked her up from inside the state streets, going through that same-ass play with Charisma, Charisma’s mom, and me: all standing in the kitchen with Charisma’s mom packing her daughter’s overnight bag, holding up her panties as much for my scrutiny as for Charisma’s.

I always approved.  She could have suggested Charisma pack her ass in a paper bag and I would have approved.  We were all basically approving of her daughter’s ass, in that kitchen.

“Do you like my daughter’s ass?”

“Oh yes, Momma Baker.  I love the size and shape of it.  Lift myself up on wings to look down there and see my dick disappeared inside it.  I love her inner- and outer-lip configuration, love her cute little clit love to rub the head of my dick this way and that way down there.  All up in there.  We didn’t do much oral ‘cause, you know, it wasn’t that intimate a relationship.  But we had fucking down—we knew that.

So I’m walking the ten short blocks from Charisma’s house to the 7-Eleven.  I was offered the car but decided not to drive.  I only passed a couple people on the way.  A girl shrouded in a hoodie, a homeless guy who was prob’ly cousin to the homeless guy on my street in LA.  I imagined him coming to rest on a couch further east of here, deeper in the heart of East Dayton—but I couldn’t imagine the trash men in Dayton leaving out a couch 🛋 on a corner in the sidewalk—whereas in LA I obviously could.

I wasn’t exactly walking—more like hop-skipping along the concrete—sliding my feet in the direction of the 7-Eleven, remembering times when my old friend Zochae and I put it to the pavement and came up here from the other direction, thirsty for beers—the first time I had ever drank tall boys from a 7-Eleven or a gas station ⛽️—Zochae was an old hat 🧢 at drinking tall boys and we had a falling out back then over a girl (or a couple of girls who themselves were fighting).  We both stood by our girl, and that was the end of our friendship.  It had shriveled and gone to shit and now Zochae and I had gone to shit and I knew that we would never again meet anymore at this convenience store, both in search of cigarettes 🚬 or beer 🍺, both ready to set down our weapons of loyalty and re-light our friendship.  Nothing like that happened.  I went a couple more blocks toward the center of the city and the whole sidewalk and street were bathed in the green light 🚥 of the 7-Eleven and I grabbed onto that door and swung it open and went inside the Friday-night convenience store.

There was one guy working.  No customers.  I go the counter like:

“Can I have three packs of cigarettes.  Parliament Lights.”

“Three packs of Parliament Lights?”

“And three lighters.  Black and red.”

“You want three lighters?”

“Yes.  Three blues.  And one pack of Kamel Reds.”

“Is that four packs of cigarettes or three?”

“I don’t know,” I say.  “I’m incredibly high right now.”

“Oh, ok,” the guy says.  “I thought you looked high on..something.”

“Are you a police officer?”

“No,” he smiles.

“Are you a police chief?”

“No,” he says.

“Ok, I’m just checking.  I’m not talking to you because you’re a guy.  Like.  I’m not into guys,” I say.  “If you were a girl I’d be saying the same things.  I mean.  If you were a girl I’d be saying the same things!  I wouldn’t be..flirting..with you..if you were a girl.”

“I gotcha,” the dude says.  “It’s just a person to person conversation.”

“Right,” I say.  “Exactly.”

“What are you high on?”

“Cocaine?” I say.

“Oh, cocaine,” dude says.

“Yes, I’m like Alice and you’re my entry point to wonderland.”

“I think I get that,” he says.  “Like I’m the green caterpillar.  I’m the oracle to this new land you are covering.”

I look this guy over.  Work suit.  Nicotine nails.  He looks like he’s ready to take a smoke break.

“But I can’t,” he reads my mind.  “I’m not allowed.  It’s outside the contract.”

“Of your employment?  Here?”

“Yes,” he says, and I can hear the vocal intonations from the Disney movie.

“Let’s just put aside the cigarette issue here,” I say.  “Let’s talk about selfies, you know, and how the eventuality of selfies came about when the photographer ceased to believe that the subject before their camera was more interesting than the subject behind their camera..when introspection became more interesting that extrospection—ya dig?”

“Have you been in here before?”

“Yeah, I used to come in from..that direction.”

“Oh, you’re Matthew from Zochae and Matthew!  I’ve met you before,” the attendant says.

“From school?” I say.

“Yeah, Colonel White,” he says.  “I’m Brigham Jones.  Used to be a short little guy back in the tenth grade.”

“No fucking way!” I say.  “When’s the last time you saw Zochae?”

“Zochae is dead,” Brigham says.  “Of cancer.  I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that.”

“You’re not.  He and I had split up before he died.  His wife hated me by then.  Z and I ended on bad terms.  I got a call from our common friend out in LA and they were like, Why didn’t you go to Zochae’s funeral.  I’m surprised we didn’t see you at Zochae’s funeral.  I was like, I’m sorry, but Z and I didn’t exactly end on good terms.  If I show up at his funeral his wife will take offense and..I just didn’t come back for it.  Stomach cancer, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck me.”

“He’s buried in Woodland Cemetery.  In the new people section..”

“Yeah, I know the part you’re talking of.”

“Yeah, dude.  I’m really sorry to bring that up.”

“It’s no problem.  It sucks.  But..I mean.  I wish I had some coke on me.  We could do a line.”

The guy spins around, looking and pointing at the myriad security cameras all over the ceiling.

“It’s prob’ly better you don’t.”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

“You wanna get some beers and porno mags?”

“I flip through a Hustler.”

“Oh, I see,” he says.

“What?”

“Some like Hustler.  Some like..” (other things).  He points out a gay teen mag, angel 😇 butts and everything.

“Oh!”  I laugh.  “Now it’s I who sees.  Well, I guess I’ll just get—”

“Three packs of Parliament Lights, one pack of Kamel Reds, four lighters—”

“Yeah, that’s it.  You know me.  Have you ever been outside of Ohio?—To California or anything?”

He shakes his head.

“It’s a really crappy thing,” I say.  “Zochae and I not finishing on good terms.  His wife hates me now.  His kid’ll prob’ly end up thinking I’m the enemy.  But that’s the best that I could do..to honor my truth, and now that I’m back here I feel like I’m visiting old demons.  Like no one here approves of me for not making things right.  After we grew apart.  I never even saw him before he died.  I knew he had cancer.  But I assumed it was lung cancer or mouth or something.  Not stomach cancer.  Do cigarettes cause stomach cancer?—Do you know?”

“I don’t know.”

“I guess that’s a slap in the face—Zochae’s family keeping details from me about how he died.”

“I wouldn’t put a lot of weight into what people think around here,” the 7-Eleven attendant says.  “Small town.  People don’t have a lot of freedom.  To be themselves.  I prob’ly know where you got that cocaine.  East Dayton.  Dump.  Mothers feeding they babies in the grassy space between..houses..apartments.  All white supremacists..yeah?”

“Yeah,” I say.  “That’s the place.  Confederate flags everywhere.”

“Well did you know that in the very house you prob’ly bought that coke there’s a fairy/angel boy who takes it up the ass from me?  That ever cross your mind?”

“No,” I smile.  “Mainly my mind was set on how not to get killed.”

“What about when you’re in school?  In Hollywood?”

“How do you know I live in Hollywood?”

“This is a small town,” he says.

“What’s on my mind?  When I’m in school?  Over there?  Mainly I think of dialogue and lightning.  How lighting and lenses are the most important things in photography.  And I think about the ordering of scenes—how simply taking something that’s A B C and turning it into C A B really turns things in their heads!  That’s mostly what I’m into.  Film geek stuff.”

“Then that’s who you are,” he says.  You never mentioned cocaine.  So you’re not that much of a druggie person.  When you go back to Cali I bet you’re going to be lighting and scene ordering—in your mind.  How many scripts have you written?”

“Three.”

“See?  That’s what you are.  Forget about Charisma and Tuesday and all those East Dayton girls—all the ones who bent your attention back in the day.  High school’s over.  All that East Dayton pussy.  Forget about that.  You know where I’m going someday?  California.”

I laugh.  “Why?”

“Because.  I’m an actor.  Always wanted to grace the silver screen.”

“Always since when?”

“Since I saw A Star Is Born.  I lover her tragic nature.”  He flashes his eyes at me.  I can see glitter remnants on the eyelids.

“Not the one with Lady Gaga,” I say.

“Fuck no, honey.  The one with Judy Garland.”

I rap my knuckles on the 7-Eleven counter.  “Good man,” I say—and I smile and pay for my cigarettes.

19

I walked home with my pockets full of cigarettes and lighters, plus a Hustler for good measure.  My feet stepped crooked, muscles wobbly all over my body, everything from the coke, having snorted so much of the stuff that the only thing that would stop my shaking was to do another line.  That would stabilize my movements somewhat.  And for some while.  Then the trembling would return.  But for now, my spirits were up, energies rising—something that is part of myself: if left alone for a little while, my mind would clean itself up and what was left in the aftermath was basically me.

In the living room was Charisma’s grammy watching television with Wendy asleep on the couch.  The pit bulls thankfully recognized me by now, accepted me, and saved their barking for someone else—they could tell it was quiet time and after they jumped all over me, Chuck and Seymour returned to their beds in the kitchen.

I traipse upstairs and in through the attic door.  Charisma comes right up to me and says, “Is everything alright?”

I drop my wares onto the mirror table.

“I’m good.  Everything is good.  I ran into somebody who knows me at the 7-Eleven.  We talked about his plans for the future, Hustler, and East Dayton—” (bitches—I censored myself here) “—his name was—”

“Sprinkles,” Rambuncto said.  “We know that Flamin’ Hot Limón pansy ass bitch!”

“Oh, you’ve met him!” I say.

“We know his type,” Rambuncto says.  “He’s the type you’ve gotta watch out for in the shower.  That fool is an ass-washing son of a bitch!”

“Was he in jail with you?” I say.

“No but boys like him be all over that place.”

“I guess Sprinkles is strong enough to kick your ass.”

Charisma looks “caution” at me.  Brooklyn adjusts her seat.  Rambuncto stands up to me.

“What you tryin’ to say?”

“Just that if some Sprinkles-type character was in jail with you, you certainly would have kicked his ass if he wanted to wash yours.”

Rambuncto sucker punches me and I don’t flinch.  With coke, I am between time.

“Tell your boy to lay off me,” Rambuncto said to Charisma.  “He may’na know this but he’s about to start a fight up in this biotch!  Think you can say things like that to me..”

Brooklyn says, “Charisma and I were talking about doing that one thing, the second thing, that we have hid up in—”

“That’s fine,” I say.  “That’s no problem.  But on one condition.  No more talk about Sprinkles.  Ok?  Sprinkles is not exactly my friend, either.  But I respect him and you run into all kinds of people like that where I come from and I’ll never back down from getting the back of a motherfucker like that.  Ever.  Sprinkles ain’t my cup of tea but a motherfucker like that’s true blue.  He’s as American as any of you motherfuckers.”

“Ah-ha!” Rambuncto said.  “No he ain’t!”

“Well, maybe if you’re flying confederate flags like everyone in this neighborhood—!”

“Ok!” Charisma said.  “Let’s get that second eight ball!  Some things you boys don’t understand are inappropriate conversations that are happening under me and Brooklyn‘s roof—”

“We don’t mind if you two talk about it.  Girls are gonna have cream puff friends and that’s ok.  But when he talks about it, that makes us worry.”

“So the fuck what,” I say.  “What if I was gay—Would that bother you so much that you’d refuse to be a guest here..so much that you’d refuse to snort our coke and prevent everyone in the room from saying they’re friends with Sprinkles?  I don’t want to fuck him.  I just want to lay down some words while I’m paying for your cigarettes.”  I snap a pack of Parliament Lights into his chest.

He catches them before they fall.

“Are you two done?” Charisma says.

Brooklyn comes out from between two sheets of wall covering.

“I don’t find them,” she says.

“What??” Charisma says.

Charisma and Brooklyn trade places.  In a minute Charisma sticks her head out.

“There’s nothing here,” she says.

My mind instantly runs to which one of these girls has intentionally hid away our shit but one second later I corrected my thinking against that as a probable error.

“Let me get back there,” I say.  And I’m back there, feeling the shelves nailed to the back of the makeshift door.

Charisma says: “I put them on the top shelf.”

I feel around the top shelf, taking dust into my hands.  Feel around the other shelves.

“Did you find it?”

“Not yet.”

I kneel on the floor, discovering that the shelves are quite tentatively attached to the door.  Behind the bottom shelf, on the floor, is our precious eight-ball of cocaine.

I smile, holding up the bag for everyone to see.

Charisma says: “It was on the top shelf, right?”

And I say: “Yes.”

Brooklyn takes the bag from me and I smell her armpits.  Her brown hair.  Look down her skinny tube of a shirt.  She looks down my body, I guess looking to see if I had popped a b but I had not—and she ended up saying, “If you’re gonna be up here, put some shoes on.”

Brooklyn sits down.

She and Charisma cut us all some lines.  The six of us take them down, one by one, until we’re half-finished with the eighth.  Then, droopy from the excitement, Rambuncto declares us all losers against the winner (coke) and we leave everything on the table and go downstairs.  I’m using the bathroom when the house shakes.  I follow the mumbles to the back yard where Charisma is seated behind the steering wheel and she has the car dog-piled up on the hoarder’s stash—the car is stuck and Charisma is hitting her head on the car’s horn.

“Charisma!  Get out of the car!!”

“Who else is gonna drive?” she says.  “Brooklyn doesn’t have her driver’s license.  Maybe Rambuncto.”

Rambuncto shakes his head.  “I’m on parole.”

It turns out his crew is also on parole or probation—not allowed to do coke or other illegal drugs.  None of us are allowed to do coke but the person with the fewest previous offenses is me—mine totaling zero.

We scrunch into the car—me and the girls up front.  Rambuncto and his boys in the back.

“Can you drive stick?”

“Yes.  I can drive stick.”

“Can you drive on coke?” Brooklyn asks.

“I never have before,” I say.  “All we have to do is look good, not break any laws, and there would be no reason for anyone to stop us.”  I kept to myself stories where I had avoided cops by tricking them into driving past me when I’d been speeding.  I kept to myself stories of pulling into a McDonald’s when a cop had faced me eye-to-eye and where we had been smoking weed in the car and I just turned off the car and waited them out—I knew they had no reason to come up to me as I sat in that parking lot with my two girlfriends.  I didn’t mention any of that, just drove exactly the speed limit across the city, taking Riverside up north to where Rambuncto’s parents lived.  I thought I was the one who had snorted the most coke and I knew that if we were stopped by police that night that I was going to jail, that I would miss my flight back Sunday and not having any money left I would be stuck in Dayton, Ohio for some number of weeks or months.  I couldn’t think about that clearly, though—as far as I made it was I was driving totally high on cocaine and I would definitely go to jail.  My family was no longer in Dayton and they weren’t in LA either.  The only person who would care I went missing was my friend Mike, my film school buddy (and no stranger to drugs)—I guess that’s who I would call.

But nothing like that happened.  The gods interfered and we didn’t see any cops that night.  I shook all the way through dropping Rambuncto and friends off at Rambuncto’s—the coke had done wonders on my muscles.  I couldn’t stretch out comfortably.  Couldn’t relax either.  My muscles were fucked.  My mind was confused and scattered, and when Brooklyn went inside Rambuncto’s parents’ house and came out minutes later I had no feeling for the interval: I had to trust the dash clock to say that it was less than two minutes and as Brooklyn got in the car, she shrugged and opened the window and Rambuncto stuck his head out the house door and said, “I told her it was gonna be quick!” and I imagined the whole thing in my mind and wondered at our culture’s demand that men cum 100% of the time, followed distantly by a woman cumming some second-place position behind that.

Brooklyn squished her puss against the leather seat and leaned out the passenger-side window (her butt dirty like a little kid’s) and I saw in Rambuncto’s cum the reflection of a streetlight—bright and streaky.

I started the car and undertook the drive of the three of us back home.

20

Late, later, latest into that night and into the next morning, did Brooklyn and Charisma and I sit up downstairs in their house snorting of cocaine, yes, but most epically snorting and blowing our noses in that order before piling up a line—a rail!—from our now seeming impossibly huge supply of cocaine.  We each carried a roll of toilet paper.  We each had our own stack of coke set upon living room furniture..piles upon piles upon piles.

We watched Jeopardy.  Wendy and Charisma’s grammy went upstairs somewhere before we went on our drive to drop off Rambuncto and crew—they were silent now—the only sound was the sound of our snorting.  Even the dogs knew not to interrupt that.

“Category: Authors.  In 1937 his sister said he had ‘hats of every description,’ which he would use as a ‘foundation of his next book.’ ”

“Come on, Matthew: You should know this!”

“I have no fucking clue.”

“Dr Seuss!”

“What?”

“He’s saying because he has hats.  Hats, Charisma!  Hats!!”

“Oh..!  Because Dr Seuss—I got ya!”

(More snorting and blowing of noses.)

“Ok.  Guys.  He’s doing the next one.”

“Category: World leaders.  He came to power 34 days before FDR and left it 19 days after him.”

We all sit stumped.

“Adolf Hitler.”

“Did you get that one?  Wake up Brooklyn.  We need all hands on deck for this shit here.”

“Yeah, it’s because—from their perspective—”

“Oh I see—never mind!”

(We all dipped into our coke piles and none of us was even able to snort coke anymore with the snot pouring out of our noses.  These were the kind of snorts that you would normally not ever do in front of your fuck buddy—they were that epic and that personal.)

Historical figures.  Clue: A 2012 poll by Britain’s national army museum voted this man, born in 1732, as the nation’s greatest military enemy.  George Washington!”

Motherfuck!  George Washington!!  George Washington’s mother.  Fuck!”

I stood up.  “These motherfuckers are here to fuck with us, every man and woman in our country.  These aren’t simply Jeopardy questions, they’re assaults on the fabric of our democracy.”

“No, what he said,” declares Brooklyn, and Charisma catches me looking over Brooklyn with those wolf jowls, slobber pouring out the side of my mouth.

Charisma mouths the words to me: “Want to come upstairs?”

I’m about to whisper, “Yes.  Yes!” but the dogs are up and out the house with barking/roars and instantly, too: Brooklyn up and out behind them and Charisma’s up and out behind her and they’re screaming, “Did you open the door?” and Charisma’s like, “No!” I’m like, “What should I do?  Should I come out there with you?” and both are like: “No!”

So I go to the front screen door and prop it open.

Brooklyn runs by—followed by Chuck and Seymour.  “Do you see them?” she asks.

“No!” I say.

And as Brooklyn goes, here come the dogs, but it’s too late to yell at Brooklyn, “They’re behind you!” but I yell it anyway.  “Brooklyn..!”

Then I run to the back door and prop its screen door open and Charisma comes past me as a shadow, saying: “No!  Close the doors.  We’ll open them when we get the dogs in.”

Then she’s gone.

Here come Chuck and Seymour like a computer effect from Batman—waifs, phantoms—I saw them and what I saw were two dogs who loved to run.  They had so much built inside them that they had to run—had to get outside—and one of them had run up on the screen door in just the right way, that he had freed them both and they were having a bit of fun with the house girls.

Here they came again..and here, again.  I couldn’t help but scream, “Aouiiiii!!” as they passed.  “Aurrrggghhhh!!  Woo-ooo!!” I screamed, and kept that up (even though it was encouraging them) I screamed in falsetto to the Sunday morning neighborhood.  It was that time of day when it would wake up neighbors but no one would be willing to challenge us—that family chasing the dogs around the house was volatile enough to not make trouble with—and for once, I enjoyed being on this side of the equation.

Everything converged, dogs re-entered the house, girls coincidentally closed the front and back screen doors, everything fell from the sky into that tiny box at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc—everything left inert and dead.

Charisma grabbed my hand and we headed upstairs, she took me to a tiny bedroom at the end of the hall.  I guessed it was her grammy’s, and I guessed that her grammy was sleeping in Charisma’s bed next to Wendy.

Charisma—doll—laid me back on the bed.  Everything was covered in red light, frills, lace.  Charisma sat on the bed with me.  She handed me a cigarette and scooped out its tobacco.  She filled the cavity with powdered cocaine, handed it to me and said, “Hotbox.”

I held the cigarette upward and sucked in.

Charisma said, “Hotbox it.  Suck deep.”

And I tried.  I sucked so deep on that motherfucker that if I was sucking a dick I would be sucking it off.

Charisma filled it full of a fresh little pocket of coke and handed it back to me.  She said, “Hotbox it.  Hotbox it!”

This time I hotboxed it well.

Charisma said, “There it is—there you go!” and she smiled approvingly.  “You got it now.  You see how it’s done?  Keep doing that and I’m gonna tell you a story.”

I hotboxed it feeling the darker rise of an instant excitement coming from between my lips.  Holding the red ash..still..sucking air through it..burn burn burn 🔥!

And Charisma laid back on me, resting her pretty head on my chest.  Her hand on my leg, rubbing me through my yellow club pants.

“This is my anthem,” she says.  “This house is my epic.  You are my hero—a knight like in Once and Future King—I know you’ve read that.  You read it before you ever met me—did you ever wonder how I knew that?  It doesn’t matter.  Don’t worry your little head about it.  That’s my magic 🎩—my instrumentals.  Did you know I played the flute as well?  Right around middle school—do you remember me telling you that?  No, it’s ok.  Don’t lie.  I know you played it because you told me.  And I also told you that I played.  But you forgot.  It’s ok.  I didn’t tell you so that you’d remember.  I told you so that we could connect—That doesn’t make it not true!  There are a lot of not-true things you and I told each other to get into each other’s pants.  Do you remember the first time we got together?  In your apartment on Second Street?  Of course you do!  But do you remember I brought Aftershock?  Do you remember that time when you me and Julian were drinking in his apartment above the Sunoco?”  Charisma laughs.  “I remember you couldn’t take the alcohol—not even a sip!  And look what you’ve turned into.  A drinker—proud drinker.  Coke snorter.  Those are like the badges on your Boy Scout uniform.  Star Drinker.  Expert Coke Snorter—ha!  You remember that badge you wore on your book bag in high school?  I <3 GIRL SCOUTING.  You were always so clever.  But did you know that I am clever, too?  Shhh—don’t answer.  Don’t answer that one.  I’m afraid of what you’ll say.  I gave you my pussy—my love—and you rewarded me well.  You had me cumming so well—so well.  And it’s not just that I wanted to fuck a genius—not all.  That is part of how it started.  I had heard about you and I know you hate that word but after we first met in that gymnasium with all those people around us..I swear the only reason they were there is so that you and I could meet.  Imagine if that were true.  When..in all eventuality..everyone in that room was chasing a secret love.  You know how that is?  You’re only focused on my blonde hair bobbing across the gym but really there were 20 people there who met their love match.  I think that’s what we are.  Some kind of angelic/demonic pair who after the point at which we met, had to get together..had to meet up and explore each other.  It was eventual.  You know?  And after Rebecca died I had to come to your apartment that night.  That night we learned how much sex will loosen up a conversation.  Or that first girl you were with.  I don’t remember her name—I can’t.  I cannot remember her name but I remember the first time you and I fucked.  Don’t speak now.  Let me tell my story.  Ok?  That first time we did it.  I think we did it two nights in a row—right?  I don’t remember now.  I just remember sitting with you at your breakfast table with your cock in my hands and I was pulling you and rubbing you and it seemed to get bigger and bigger—bigger still and I was cheating on someone, too—and I knew you wanted to cum again but my mom got there to pick me up and that was it for a while.  I pictured you masturbating, getting that last bone off, remembering us the night before: you—the second night, when you had condoms—waking me up by sticking it into me, holding me by my shoulders, sliding latex inside my pussy, somehow the latex being more exciting than your dick even was.  I think this is what it was: Without the condom, we were both so excitable that each of us could cum in a minute—the condom dialed us down so we could fuck longerstronger—we were like supernatural beings come down to Earth to see what it felt like to fuck.”

21

I wake a few hours later—it’s dawn.  Charisma’s head is in my lap.  I’m in the same chair as before.  A hotboxed cigarette falls from my fingers and I lean to pick it up and place it on the arm of the chair.  Charisma’s soft head, soft hair cascade on the chair seat.

I hear something at the end of the hallway.  The sound of a tiny waterfall—or maybe it’s just the sound of a waterfall, tiny because it’s at the end of the hall.

I look back at the room where Wendy and Charisma’s grammy are sleeping.  Go past the door to the attic.  The light 💡 in the bathroom is on.  I push open the door and Brooklyn is there, kneeling by the tub holding Little Baby Faulkner underneath the water and Brooklyn’s voice is slowly counting: “Eleven.  Ten.  You’re almost there, boo.  Nine.  Eight.  Seven.  Good boy.  Six.  Five.  You got this!  Four—and!—three..and..two..and one!  Good baby!  Good job you stinky little thing.”  Brooklyn turns her head to acknowledge me.  Then she goes back to dipping and washing her baby.

I think of events in my life or things I’d seen on TV where a human being had lost oxygen to its brain (during birth or attempted murder, the occasional drug accident) and the look and feel that overtook the person after the oxygen had been withheld.  Did Brooklyn want this to happen to her baby?  Was her intention to drown and kill just part of his brain?

“Babies are still amphibians,” Brooklyn says.

“Looks like you’re trying to keep that one..an amphibian,” I say.

“Do you have kids?”

“No.  I do not.”

“Well.  Keep it to yourself.  I can feel you back there.  I’m just washing my baby.  If you want to stand here please keep quiet.”

She shakes her baby 🐤, drying him with the air.  He never cries—only makes an eghk sound periodically.  Brooklyn dips him below the water 💧, holds her still baby stiller, and begins her countdown: “Thirty.  Twenty-nine.”

I’m coked out enough to let my eyes fully focus on Brooklyn’s blue overalls, with nothing on underneath them.  Coked out enough to watch the curve of her waist slip down down down into her crotch, which is only barely hidden by the pouch of her overalls.  She looks like a kid to me—how I imagine myself as a child, or a sister grown up.  Skinny from the coke diet: eating once or twice a week—two full meals, the rest would be a half a bowl of cereal here, half a bowl of cereal there.  There was no milk in the refrig so I imagined her eating her cereal dry—or worse: with water.  Brooklyn perched on the arm of the couch, downstairs, eating a mostly empty bowl of granola with her hands.

Brooklyn’s still counting, and her baby makes only pleasant sounds as if he was being tickled.  “Fifteen.  Fourteen.  Thirteen.”

“Do you do this often?” I laugh.

And Brooklyn laughs back.

I see the soles of her feet, her toes, and I notice that she flexes her toes each time she counts a number.  I picture her cunt constricting with every count, too.  And it’s hard for me to explain (my lust for her)—Charisma has the prettier face, the healthier breasts, and even overweight Charisma is far more attractive than Brooklyn, on an objective level.  But Charisma’s extra fat renders her unattractive to me—almost unfuckable—while something about the East Dayton beat-up face and too-skinny body of Charisma’s friend Brooklyn makes me totally uninterested in Charisma and wholly interested in her friend.

As Brooklyn continues her deadly countdown (“Ten.  Nine.  Eight.  Seven”) my mind fills with nightmare images of Little Baby Faulkner, dead, on the bathroom floor, stuck underneath the tub, no blood, no breathing, Brooklyn gymnast-sprung, her face up, me stripping off her overalls and finding her half-haired pussy, deep brown follicles, my hand between the lips that birthed Little Baby Faulkner, pressing my fingers in—she reminds me of a red-haired East Dayton puss who was like the third girl I fucked and I made her cum with my mouth and part of my hand and after she had cum three times she said, “You clearly don’t have any erectile dysfunction,” and “Two is good, sir!”  That was the first time we fucked and I imagined something like that with Brooklyn but this is my problem: How do I risk telling Brooklyn I like her?  If she’s gtg I’m no problem.  But if I’m coming out of left field, if Brooklyn wasn’t even thinking of getting with me, then I’ve got Brooklyn telling Charisma and Charisma getting hurt and then there’s Brooklyn telling Rambuncto and Rambuncto coming over to kill me.  I swore when I drove them home last night that I could hear Rambuncto and his friends seething for me to go faster, pussyif you drive the speed limit the whole time I’m going to kick your ass, you upper-class film student!  I could hear them again now, telling me they hoped I had liked fucking Brooklyn because that was going be the last time I fucked anyone.

Brooklyn’s deleterious countdown echoes in my ear.  “Two.”  An eternity.  “One.”  She lifts Little Baby Faulkner up from the water.

He gasps.

He blinks.

I think of the tiny amount of awareness LBF has—or maybe it’s huge, simply forgotten since he has no language tools.  I wonder how big this slice is, how big is his feeling?  He wouldn’t know of a whole life of memories he’d soon be leaving behind.  He wouldn’t know of a catalog of people who would miss him when he was gone—he would only know his mother.  He would only know that soft, sick head of Brooklyn, her tender voice washing waves of comfort over him.  He would probably make no sound at all.

I remembered a time I had once drowned.  I know, it seems unbelievable that I have such an experience, but I do.  I had gotten to-go food and tried sailing a boat from California to Oregon to see my friend—out of a lake with no connection to the ocean—I was that drunk and that delusional.  I got tangled in the ropes and tried to jump from the boat to the dock and I fell into the water and the first thing I thought of was the phone in my pocket—it was going to get wet—and the second thing I thought of was that I was going to drown.  With that shock of adrenaline I said to myself: “This is the most important moment of your life.  Do not die here.”  And with that little rush of intention I made it out of the water, onto the dock, and I lived to fight another day.

I think of that day from time to time.  Picture what would have happened if things had gone the other way.  I would never have written a second book.  My parents and siblings would know that I died while drunk.  My employer would have this picture of me that pretty much fit everything they knew about me so far: drunk, wild, and—before he killed himself—extremely talented.  I walk around this world 15 years later always knowing that there are these doors, throughout the world, and if you’re not careful (and eventually, whether you’re careful or not) you’ll walk through one and—as they say in The Ice Storm—you’ll walk right out of your life.

Brooklyn dipped Little Baby Faulkner into the water and with his face underneath the surface, began her count again.  She counted so solidly and in perfect interval that I forgot to worry about her Little Baby and found myself counting along with her.  I wanted to ask: Are you trying to kill him?  Are you trying to kill him by accident?  Or do you just want to kill his brain 🧠 before it’s begun to grow?  Is that the life that’s left for a Little Baby Faulkner?  Born into this world to a psychopath I would give up a years-long relationship to fuck?  Or what’s worse: that I would stand in this room with this mother while she kills him and do nothing..but watch?  That discovery would put me away for assisted murder or accomplice, accessory, or whatever.

This whole third countdown I remembered the baby Brooklyn had before and how he was found dead in the crib!  I mean, obviously: Brooklyn suffocated him!  Cut off his air, just covered his mouth with her hand and watched the life go out of him.  She had killed that one and she would kill this one and I would now be a witness to Brooklyn killing Little Baby Faulkner but I could not move!  And this wasn’t due to any witching power of the girl.  It was me!  My own mess of a person who would stand by and watch another person kill their baby.  I knew the infant at this stage would die so easily, with no protest, he would take it on like his mother’s countdown, slow, methodical, accepting each shade—each sliver—of it, in stride, counting off the clock it would take less than a minute for Faulkner’s lungs to stop accepting air, his tiny heart running forward faster and faster, then his brain would die, piece by piece, and his whole growth and his whole maintenance would stop, Brooklyn dropping him, him sinking to the bottom of the tub, arms no longer flapping, eyelids no longer blinking, bricked through the waves of his tiny ocean.

22

I woke later that day in bed with Charisma, enough memory left to know that she and I hadn’t fucked—not at all this trip—and I was glad, fooling myself that we wouldn’t do it all this weekend..that me and Brooklyn would hook up.  I remembered the internal arc of Charisma’s pussal area, from the shaved lips to her colossally stretched cat-or-mouse focal tube, once animal tempting, now widened and the angle of the slide tilted back so that (I thought) she received as much pleasure as always while I knew from experience that my pleasure would be savagely reduced.  I imagined lions in the savannah giving birth, fucking their brief, brief sex—punch punch—dragons of the present moment.  Additionally, this Charisma gave off a smell—she needed to bathe, but I didn’t know how to ask her: “When was the last time you bathed, formerly cute girl—now you’re only cute from the neck up, only beautiful from here to here.”  When I met you your cuteness ran from head to toe and across your breasts and inside your mouth and up inside your pussy area and right around your pussy entrance—it was all cute—all except your long-ass telephone calls.  Those were never funny—not one, not at all.

I reached down and grabbed my laptop from its bag, trying of course not to make any noise.  I truly loved Charisma—waking her from her (still cute) sleep is the last thing I would want to do to her.  Opened the cover of my machine.  Logged in.  SSHd to a virtual server—that gives me more power that my laptop has, and I can use it from wherever I have a connection to the internet.  Updated my source code.  This was the key to those snail puzzles I had printed and covered my floor with like scraps of carpet, never intending to cover it but only there to show windows into the systems I had developed.  This was the key: something present in these existing systems that I had to rearrange.  I knew from my whiteboard excursions in Tucson that binary systems in nature were actually operating from a place of four instead of two.  That’s as tight as I could get it: four instead of two.  Past that I didn’t know shit.  And here I was again: up against the same problem.  And here I was in life, with the same problem.

Here I had woke up with the same problem I woke up with yesterday: woke up coked out unable to really sleep, next to a girl I didn’t really want to fuck, with a problem I couldn’t frame in words much less solve.  I just knew there was something deeper or maybe higher than what I was looking at now.  I felt my life was useless: Why am I in Dayton Ohio sleeping next to my old fuck buddy who I have not fucked one time during this entire trip?  I seem confused.  I love/hate cocaine—I love/hate Charisma.  In fact I’ve developed a crush on her roommate but social rules (which I’m following) makes it dangerous to try and fuck Brooklyn—there am I weak!  If I was operating orthogonally to society I would not only sleep with Brooklyn but rape her if necessary.  A good femme would go along with it, just like those lions 🦁 in the savannah—lie there and take it, and it will be quick.

I did a few useless commands—checking to see that everything still compiled, which I knew it did.  Then I started programming.  I invented some data structures.  I knew I needed data structures—in fact I knew more than that.  I had discovered in high school that sometimes the correct design of data structures for your program makes the program superfluous.  In this example, in high school, the problem had been: if you have a certain number of points, and they are maximally connected with lines, how many lines are there?   I didn’t realize there was already a solution to this problem, but once I created the data structure to represent the way the computer would think about solving this problem, it was obvious what the solution was without even writing the rest of the program.  I wondered if I created..somehow proper data structures for this new problem..if the data structures themselves would tell me something about how to extend or boil down this situation I was looking at.  So I programmed the structures.

I felt like a loser—epically.  Coke, the fuck friend, my crush on Brooklyn, the fact I was in Dayton while I should have been in LA.  Even when I woke up in LA I didn’t feel like I fit—I was sitting in the back of my screenwriting class developing snail puzzles, letting my classmates catch a glimpse of the graphical representations of these, then turning my laptop screen back to where only I could see them as soon as our professor came back into the room.  He could tell something was going on and everyone pointed at me so I turned my laptop screen to face the front of the room, and Professor Rosenthal lifted his eyebrows and shook his head.  Later he would say of my thesis project, “Matthew, I may never understand what’s on the screen, but I will always leave the theater saying: That’s an artist.”  I accept his compliment with its caveat.

Charisma’s ribs expanded, contracted.  I put my hand on her and felt her breathe.  I was so guilty for having disliked her ‘cause she was fat—I felt terrible.  She was fat when I first met her—now she was just fatter than before—too fat to fuck (apparently).  My ex-girlfriend Deidre once told me she could tell I wasn’t going to settle until I found someone who brought me body and mind—and I did hold out for that for a while.  Oddly, I think Deidre had both—and she broke up with me.  I have told myself that if Deidre had never broke up with me, that I would have never broken up with her.  Charisma I guess this weekend—I mean Charisma’s body—broke us up as fuck friends.  It broke up the fuck part of us and when only the friend part of us was left, I wasn’t sure that any part of us was left.

I coded, a type of extemporaneous coding with much akin to poetry.  It compiled but it didn’t do anything yet.  You could read it and tell that it made sense, but not what it was about.  I felt the buzz around my eyes, knowing I would do more coke with them today—this family I was entrenched with, these two mothers of coke—literally, mothers who had done coke, and I imagined there might be in a close-by alternate universe a word “cokemother” that describes them.  It would be like “motherfucker” in its taboo, but it would sound natural like motherfucker.  There would be no male equivalent.  It would have no one literal meaning.  It would just mean you mean business.  Cokemother.

My typing ran furious.  I knew that every time I pressed a key, that it backed me out of cokemother and coke weekend and horrible student and terrible programmer and failed writer and bad kid (to my parents) and average human into some semi/super human who knew more and more things that no one else would know—which of course meant money.  The more things I knew that were important to the world but that few others knew translated directly to me making more money.  My ex-girlfriend Sashi told me once after we met at an LA attraction (the oxygen bar)—Sashi told me I should apply for “crazy money” which is what some of her friends were on, and which years later I am actually on as I write this book.  Government crazy money, if you have a personality type (illness) that is genetic (un-help-able) that makes it intolerable (impossible) for companies to hire you, and so you fall into this gap where you’re not (allowed) to work a normal job but we don’t want to kill you (as a society) because we don’t really get you (or what’s wrong with you).  Hence: crazy money.  Disability.  Your mind is so fucking crazy that we want to stipend you through life so that on any particular year you can buy glasses or get your teeth cleaned.  This is the type of crazy I am now.  And you can blame it on the coke unless you happened to know me in high school before I had ever drank or smoked pot—if you had observed me back then at the distance of my friends, you would have diagnosed me as bipolar (as my friend Tuesday Welder did).  She called me bipolar (in a helpful way) and I thought the word applied to her (not to me).  It was another 10 years before my first psych ward admission and bipolar diagnosis—and another five before a different set of psychiatrists diagnosed me schizophrenic and bipolar.  And at that point (which is where I still am) I don’t know what to think—Maybe I just like fucking fat girls!

Why am I telling you this, from the point of view of my coke weekend, feeling terrible (physically and in my life), and fixing myself with a little programming (which gave my life meaning)?  I’m only telling you this because if I had known (and believed) then, what I know now (that I’m sick), I might have understood why I did drugs (why I have a problem with them—especially alcohol and cocaine)..I might have understood my drug weekend to Ohio as a manic weekend in Ohio—and instead of blaming myself for being bad, I could have understood the genetic reason for my being “crazy.”

It had to happen this way, though.  This way, with me having technical interests and having that encouraged in me by the tech companies where I worked, I later worked through those snail puzzles and invented a new way to define them that allowed the system to look not only at its neighbors to the left and right, but to its memories of any cell in the present or past.  I started that work at Charisma’s house.  It broadened the definition of cellular automata—I am extremely proud of that.

23

Charisma grinding against me.  Her toes stretch.  Her crotch needing attention from me.  She grabs my arm and pulls herself up to me and she says: “Have you seen my dog?”

“No.”

“Oh.  Sorry.  I was dreaming.  I was thinking of Rembrandt.”  (Charisma’s old dog—Charisma has a tattoo of the painter Rembrandt’s face—a self-portrait etching—on her left hip, front side.)  “And it wasn’t really a dream,” she said.  “It was a replay of what happened to him.  Do you remember what I told you happened to Remmy?  Do you?”

“Yes—yes.  Of course.”

“The way he died at my parents house.  He was such a good dog.  Did tricks with me and everything.”

“He was a golden retriever, right?”

“Yes he was.  Super smart dog.  I did tricks with him in the back yard.  Nothing like what’s on America’s Got Talent—but I mean those people all have black labs.  Those are almost the smartest dog alive—after border collies but still very smart dogs.  I didn’t buy Remmy thinking, This is going to be a trick dog.  I mean, Rembrandt was a rescue.  I picked him out from rows and rows of dogs.  I made my mom and Faith come with me when we walked down every row and every column of that place.  I learned the name of every dog and talked to every trainer I saw and I asked them, Where is this guy from? and How soon till execution? for each dog 🐶 who was wrapped up in that place that was like a prison where everyone was on death row except they didn’t know it.  All they were surrounded with was death 💀 and all they knew was death, they just didn’t know its name.  It was like a dog holocaust—but where even the prison guards didn’t want any of their dogs to die.  It was like terminal judgment was legal in the state but none of the citizens wanted it to happen but it was the law—it was mandated and everyone followed the rules, even when they didn’t agree with them.”

Charisma has crawled up my body and is speaking from my chest, looking up at me.  She continues:

“So Rembrandt.  Did you get to know him well?”

“Not too well,” I say.  “I mean, I knew him.”

“I know!  I remember you two playing together in the back yard..”  She breaks into tears.  I knew where her story was going and I figured we were taking the long way home on this one.  “In my dream or whatever Rembrandt was back near the fence at the end of the yard and you know the way our yard bends down as it gets to the fence?”

“Yeah, it slopes down,” I say.  I’ve been roped into this conversation with Charisma.  Anything I say will extend her story by a factor of two.

“One day Rembrandt was playing in the back and Mary and Manny had gone to take Faith to the Rite Aid ‘cause Faith needed pens and mom and Manny needed prescriptions so I was in the two-seater on the side of the house and I closed his gate!  To the back yard, you know, that gate—”

“That separates the side of the house from the back, sure.”

“Exactly.  So I was lying on the two-seater texting Brooklyn and I heard this low, low sound.  Like when our teapot, it’s made by Poliviar and it makes this low sound when your water’s ready like “oohhhhwww” and I was listening to the water boil with this Polivar tea kettle and I was listening and listening and trying to listen through it—right through that kettle sound and it was like an acid trip where everything always reaches one tone and that’s the tone, the tone of that Polivar kettle..I don’t know how the engineers who designed that kettle knew that sound.  All I can think is they must have tripped on acid and also heard that sound and then, somehow, they brought the sound back with them from their trip—which is about like bringing that sound with you out of a dream.  You know when you dream of a stack of money or some cool device and then you realize, Oh, shit.  I’m in a dream, and you know you won’t be able to take this cool nothing with you when you wake up—Well I was in that sort of dream and I was hearing it from the kettle on the waking stove in the waking light and I had tea 🍵 coming to me in my waking world and if I hadn’t gone inside to fill my tea cup if I hadn’t gone inside to make myself that tea..well there wouldn’t be a story.  Would there?  No.  So I’m in the kitchen and I’m rooting through the cabinet and I’m finding my bags of tea and I’m stirring the cup and sipping the tea and I realize that if I had been listening to Remmy—if I had been listening for Rembrandt to make a sound (I should have been listening for him)—of course not for the sound he did make, but for any sound he made.  I should have expected it.  Not the exact sound he made, but any expected sound.”

Expected sound.”  I mimicked these last words.

“That’s right” —she caught me— “any expected sound.  That’s what I would have to do if I was a parent.  Be listening.  Then I wouldn’t have to have been startled by the lack of sound.  I would not have had to drop my teacup Kobayashi-style.  I would not have choked myself at what I saw out the back.  On the back fence.  With his collar slipped around—you know those twists at the top of a chain link fence?—those.  With his blood running down the side of his face.  His body almost done twitching.  You know how they say drowning is always done wrong in the movies?  In the movies it’s always flailing and obvious that the person is drowning but they say in real life it’s not so obvious.  The person doesn’t even make a sound.  They move their arms like this” (climbing a ladder) “not this” (waving wildly)!  “Don’t you wonder who it is that writes these articles?  Is it a serial killer—named the ocean—who sets a drowning in place while they sit on the sidelines taking notes, videoing, noticing how quiet drowning is?  Who is doing that?  But anyway my dog, poor Rembrandt, after living with me six years in that downstairs room..in the basement..he drowned himself, impaling himself on a fence post!  That poor dog!  I ran up to him and tried to pull him off it but I couldn’t I couldn’t even move him..dumb dog..you know how you can leave a cat on vacation with extra food but you can’t do that with a dog because the dog will eat and eat and that will be the end of your dog..no..it’s not food, it’s leashes..it’s why you can’t leash a cat and walk away because a dog knows not to push too hard or he’ll suffocate himself but a cat..it just lacks the smarts to stop pushing..anyway this dog he just killed himself by jumping over that fence.  Poor fuck.  I was standing with him as he died—that’s the worst part.  He was hurt, yes, but he wasn’t dead yet.  I was looking him in the eyes when he died and—and—he never closed his eyes.  They just went dead when he stopped breathing.  I put my fingers over them—the way they do in movies—I didn’t know what else to do.  I put my index finger and my middle finger like this on his face.  And I pressed down, so gentle, and I could feel how warm he was.  So warm, like a chicken pot pie when it first comes out of the oven.  Not that hot but you know what I mean.  He wasn’t going to be there with us for dinner—that’s what I was thinking.  Not that night.  Not any other night from here to the end of eternity.  I couldn’t even lift him off the fence.  My arms weren’t strong enough.  You know how many push ups I couldn’t do back then?  One.  Not even one.  This is maybe five years after I was in ROTC—they had gotten me up to three.  When Remmy died, though, I was down to one.  I know you know I struggle with my weight—”

“You’re fine.”

“You never have to say that—you never do.  I know we haven’t fucked yet this trip and it makes me so sad that you don’t want to.”

“Charisma, I don’t not want to—”

“To fuck me?  That’s all the currency you and I ever had, isn’t it?  It’s the first thing you ever wanted from me and the last thing you’ll ever not want from me.  Don’t speak.  I love you and you loved me and I was lying here thinking of us and the story of Remmy’s death reminded me of our love (or lack thereof) or our lust is more probably the thing..that I missed..so much about you.”

“You just dreamed that?  You dreamed about us and that made you dream about Rembrandt?”

“I was thinking about it in my sleep.  You and me.  Then Remmy.”

“Oh.”

“It’s a bad sign, though, that I thought of it at all.”

24

Brooklyn’s baby disappeared.  It didn’t say it was going.  It didn’t ask for the keys to the car.  It just up and vanished like a fart in the wind—apparently right from underneath Brooklyn’s loving arm—(she had probably been carrying him under her arm like a football, unaware that civilized people had long since stopped playing that game).  Brooklyn’s kid was hardly a baller—I mean with that name?  Imagine a kid named Little Baby Faulkner who quarterbacked the team, his docile upper limbs coming alive at the snap, killing it for the papers and the fans, slicing through statistical records like a knife through warm butter.

Charisma and I learned this fact when Brooklyn leaned in the room and said: “Baby Faulkner is missing.”

Charisma said, “Are you sure?”

Brooklyn said, “Yes, I’m sure.  How do you think I misplaced an entire baby.  It wasn’t no accident.  He was here one minute and the next he’d gone missing.”

Missing,” Charisma said.  “You mean lost?  Or missing.”

“I am trying to find my baby!” Brooklyn shouted.  “I don’t know if he’s lost or missing or just plain “misplaced”—ok?  He’s fucking gone—right?  I was in his room with him and he was in the cradle and I was doing lines off my Vacation School Bible and I was like: Up, baby.  Down, lines off my VBS Bible.  Up: baby.  And then one time I was doing up and there was no more Little Baby Faulkner!  The fucker is gone—I’m telling you.”

Charisma stands—she gets off the bed.

“Well,” I say.  There’s a difference between gone and missing and invisible—which one is this?”

Brooklyn looked at me like she was the queen and I had broken the rules.  I got the idea she wouldn’t mind if I was lost or missing.  (Or it could be that she wanted to fuck me and I was misreading her look—I’m crazy in this way, I can’t tell the difference.)  She said: “Come look.  You.  Follow her.  You.  Come with me.  I’ll show you the scene of the crime.”

Brooklyn left the room, followed by Charisma, followed by me.

We all entered the crib room.  I immediately bent at the knees and checked under the crib.  I don’t know what I expected to see: an infant Baby Faulkner clinging to the steel cords on the underside of the crib?  An infant Baby Faulkner chilling on his back reading graffiti his older brother had left for him?  What would it say?  Here lies Little Baby Joyce, snuffed to death with his mother’s hand, taken away by paramedics, incinerated in the morgue at Miami Valley, converted into a coffee cup of ashes, returned to his mother, placed on the mantle of this very house, forgotten by everyone until just this moment.  But I didn’t find any of that.  There was just dust and long brown hair from Brooklyn’s head and stickers: lots and lots of stickers representing the movies and comics Brooklyn (and Charisma and I) all grew up with: the Wicked Witch, Dorothy sitting cross legged on a fence whistling, the notes coming from between her lips in black quarters and eighths, Yoda whispering his last words to Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones swiping tarantulas off the back of his duplicitous raid partner.  I ducked my head out from underneath Faulkner’s crib and told Brooklyn I didn’t see anything under there.

“Is this a joke to you?” she said.

“It’s not a joke to me” I said.  “But I do think that following the footsteps from the last time this happened would be smart.”

Charisma pulls me out of the room.  Her hands are on my chest, smoothing.  She says: “We want your opinions.  Your theories.  But not right now, ok?  Stay here and if you think of anything, save it.”  She taps on my left temple and goes back in the crib room.

I hear Charisma say: “Brooklyn.  Honey.  What are we talking about, here—‘cause this is making me sick.”

“Charis..you want to sit down?”

“I don’t want that, no.  Do you know where the hell your baby is?”

No!”

“It’s just hard to believe that.  How long has it been since Little Baby Joyce was back there?  This is just too similar to not raise questions you know, I’m not accusing you of anything, just—wow—I mean, should we call the cops?  I mean: We should call the cops.  Right?  We should call the cops!”

“Cool your jets there, Mav.  Last time my Little Baby Joyce was found right here..in the bed.  Cause of death unknown.  And this time my Little Baby Faulkner has left us in a sea of words—descriptions, dialogue—and none of it will get us to the bottom of the mess that is created by him just up and vanishing.  When did I last see Faulkner?  I don’t know.  What did he last say to me?  I don’t know!  This is the mystery created by this little bitch.  He’s a master of the compound statement—understatement—he revels in running a flyby bleeding 🩸 suffocant harms in the thrill of my dreams—Charisma!”  I hear Brooklyn step to my girl and I imagine she grabs Charisma’s shoulders.  “My old friend!  Help me!”  And Brooklyn is shaking her friend by the shoulders.  “I’ve checked downstairs.  I don’t remember if he was here the last time I saw him.  I don’t recall the last time he was fed.  I don’t hear his cries for help—!”

“Brooklyn.  Chill.  Are you saying you don’t know where your baby is??”

“I don’t know!!”

“Are you fucking me?” Charisma says.

“I AM NOT FUCKING YOU!!”

“You’re saying your baby disappeared?”

“What the fuck are we talking about?  My baby disappeared!  My Little Baby Faulkner!!  He’s gone!  He’s either split into the ether or he’s invisible or something.”

“How much coke did you do today?”

“Some more lines from the end of our eight ball.”

“That’s all?  There wasn’t much to our last eight ball.  Did you sleep last night?”

“I didn’t really sleep, no.  I came in here to sleep but then I don’t remember.  I’m sure I laid the Little Baby on my chest and we were sleeping together.  Maybe he rolled down the stairs!”

“Have you checked downstairs?”

“Everywhere.  I checked everywhere.”

“Ok.  Can we go back to the beginning?” Charisma suggests.

“How far do you want to go back?” Brooklyn says.  “Back to the very beginning?  When I was impregnated by Rambuncto underneath a prayer laid forth in lace and flowers, asking the baby gods to give us a boy, a writer, someone who lived the way he died, an artistic genius—a criminal mastermind—a god in his own right—someone who got rid of every doubt ever cast upon him.  Do you know anyone like that, Charisma?  Maybe who never came out of my puss but a boy you might have created out of your mind!?  Do you know anyone like that?”

It occurred they were talking about me and I couldn’t let that continue—it was so obviously false that I couldn’t even listen to another word.  I stepped into the room and stepped between Charisma and her friend and I said:

“Listen up.  Charisma did not create me in her mind.  This is not some surrealist poem where one line is written, then after a month another line.  Cocaine is powerful but the worst part about it is the sleep you lose.  Unless you’re shooting it you’re not losing too many brain cells—certainly not the kind which do not regenerate as you grow and those lost cells don’t need to be affecting any of us right now.  We’ve had three eight balls split between six people.  That’s not a problem.  Little Baby Faulkner (or whatever you call him) is most prob downstairs underneath a couch.  Let’s go downstairs, look under couches, ask Wendy and Charisma’s grammy, check outside if he’s not found inside.  I heard that baby crying earlier today when Charisma and I were chilling on the bed in there and that wasn’t that long ago so he can’t have gone far.”

“That makes sense,” Charisma said.  “That makes sense!”

Brooklyn looks like her face just got done by a waffle iron.  “Let’s go,” she says—her voice like the voice of the dead ☠️.

Brooklyn pops down the stairs three at a time.  Charisma goes next.  Then me.  Charisma’s grammy rocks rapidly in her chair, eyes locked on the television, watching Wheel of Fortune like it’s saving her life.  Wendy is curled up on the couch texting with her flip phone and I see one thing: that’s where the next baby will come from.  A post-pubescent 11 year old.  She’s working on it now: sowing the seeds, waiting for the wind 💨 and the sun ☀️ and the rain 🌧 to do their part.

The trio of us, Brooklyn, Charisma, and me are looking under and on top of everything, looking outside the doors but not too far on Wendy’s advice that no one has been in or out.  We’re in the kitchen now.  Wendy can see us from where she’s sitting on the couch.  Brooklyn creaks the door to the basement all the way open and I’m hoping he’s not down there.  Charisma—comically—opens the under-sink cabinets which contain bleach and other cleaners.  And I see Wendy, her phone at her side, looking into the kitchen at me—no—at the dishwasher whose door is closed and she catches me looking at her and she looks away instantly and I say to myself: No..no.  This cannot be true.

I unlatch it and open the door and look inside and what I see there makes me involuntarily wretch.  I pull back my hand and the dishwasher door closes.  Charisma stands, seeing me—she stops searching.  Brooklyn is halfway into the basement, whistling and pretending to look, but I feel certain that I have found what she is really not looking for in any serious sense.

25

Among the dirty dishes, which include plates which have served PB&J, spaghetti, store-bought chocolate cake, and seared with cheese laid on top of one-dollar hot dogs..among all this, lying on his back, is Faulkner—still alive—flailing his arms and not even crying, just making a tiny little baby sound like egk, egk and I knelt in front of him reaching into the dishwasher and picking him up with two hands and I felt his reptilian skin super thin to the touch, his blue veins pumping short and tight like bzt, bzt pumping blood from the heart, the mathematics of the arrangement of veins having something to do with the number pi, his hair black and snapped to his head, wet, sticky with jelly, and there are poke marks on his back and the back of his head.

I held the babe out to his momma and Brooklyn came to me and took him from me.  She held it to her chest and kissed it.  Baby rejoined with momma—all is right in the jungle.  Charisma ran to Brooklyn’s side, checked the baby’s pulse with quick fingers and pronounced to us that his vital sign was ok: heart beating, proper rate—the kid is alive!

“This one’s living!” Charisma says.

“Why is that a big deal?” I ask.  “Why is this one alive?  Why is baby in the refrigerator?”

“Dishwasher,” Charisma corrects.

“Dishwasher!” I say.

“Can you chill him out?” Brooklyn says.

“Matthew.  Chill.”

“I can’t chill.  I cannot.  I can’t chill until I hear how that kid ended up in the dishwasher!  I mean..Brooklyn..can you help me with this?  How did Faulkner end up on the bottom shelf of the dishwasher?  Isn’t he at least top-shelf safe?  I’m—I don’t know if you know this about me but—I’m thinking of calling the cops on us for your baby ending up in the dishwasher!”

“Is he saying he’s thinking of calling the cops on us?” Brooklyn says.

“Yes, he’s serious,” Charisma says.  “Matt.  Let’s go upstairs and talk.”

“No.  I’m not going upstairs.  Does she know me well enough to know how serious I am?  Can you tell her?”

“He’s serious, alright?  He’s goddamn motherfucking serious.  Ok, Matt?  Ok?  Brooklyn knows you’re serious.  Matt is a person of conscience.  He once held back the negatives to a shoot we did for a rave—the Heaven and Hell rave we had at 1470?  You went to that, remember?  Brooklyn?”

“Yes, of course.  I remember.  What does that have to do with negatives—for photos?  What do negatives have to do with this moment right now?”

“I’m sorry, Brooklyn.  Matthew!  Do, you, want to come upstairs, with me, right now.  Right now!”

I realize I’m being yelled at.  “If you could just keep this quiet,” I say.

Charisma goes to the stairs.  I follow slowly.  Brooklyn holds Faulkner‘s breath up to her ear and listens.  She holds the baby up in the air for me to see, and Brooklyn’s eyes never leave my own—they follow me upstairs until we can no longer see each other and I damn myself so hard that even in this circumstance I am still searching for the flirtation in her eyes—and for the first time this weekend I can see that her flirtation is genuine.

Charisma closes the door behind me.  We are in her and Wendy’s bedroom.

“Did I see you looking at her?”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“I know!  That’s one thing you dudes think you can get away with.  Looks.  Little touches.  Didn’t you know—don’t you even remember?—that you came here this weekend to be with me?  You and me!!  Me motherfucker!  Me!!  I don’t believe this shit.”

She sits down on the bed and wipes tears from her eyes.

I kneel behind her with one leg on each side of her body.  I kiss her neck.

“I think your lust got derailed to Brooklyn from me.  Did you fuck her?”

“No!”

“Did you want to?  Don’t answer that.  I’ve seen that you do.”

“I can’t help who I want to fuck,” I say.

“I know.  Believe me, I know.  You can’t help who you want to fuck, only who you do fuck.  That is shit,” Charisma says.  “Pure negligent shit.  Monkey shit.  That is the kind of shit I’ve been putting up with since high school.  High school bullshit.  High school boys—every one of them trying to fuck you while making love ❤️ to your sister.  Motherfuckers fucking me from behind pretending I’m some guy they want to get with.  You know?  It’s just fucking bullshit.”

“I’m not fucking you thinking of some guy,” I tell her.

I reach between her legs, run my fingers over it.

She pushes my hands away.

“Didn’t you used to love my pussy?  When we first got together you seemed to love it.  You would wake me up in the middle of the night to fuck me.  At your house on Second Street.  Your apartment there.  Didn’t you want me and want me again?”

“You hadn’t had a kid by then.”

“My one kid..ruined me?  That one little London baby named Schuyler.  That kid ruined my vagina to you forever?  I don’t even think you cared about me back then.”

“Charisma.  I paid for your plane ticket to get home from there.  Never asked you to pay me back—did I?”

“I love that you—no, you never asked me to pay you back—I love that you honestly don’t know if you asked me to pay you back.  It shows how wealthy you are and you don’t even know it.”

“I’m not wealthy.”

“But for East Dayton..you’re wealthy.”

“Maybe!  I want you to know that I did care about you, from the beginning.  You were always a friend.”

“Was I?” she cries.

I hug her with arms and legs.  “I love you—that’s the friend part.  I wanted to fuck you—that’s the fuck buddy part.  But I don’t want to fuck you now.  I’m so sorry.  I’m older, my appetite is less—”

“You don’t want me because I’m fat,” she says.

“I—”

“It’s ok I won’t make you say it.  It’s ok.  You’re so polite.  Do you want to fuck anyway—don’t answer that.  I can give you a blow job while you look at porn on your laptop.  Or a hand job while you look at my face.  Would you like that?  Is it so bad you can’t even get off with me!  Oh my god,” she gasps.  “One baby and I ruined my body to my own fuck buddy!”

Charisma shakes her head.

“Also..” I started.  “Since you’re bigger now you..you’re carrying a smell.  It’s just when you bend over and I think it’s coming from your..”

“Pits?” Charisma asks.

“No.”

“Ass?” she says.

“No.”

“From my pingo?”

“I think so.  Pingo area.  Like you’ve got so much fat in there it folds over and—”

“Thank you.  Thank you thank you thank you.  You know, you’re not doing me any favors here.  I know my pingo area stinks.  Ok?  I know: it stinks.  I know I stink.  I know I’m bigger.  But Rambuncto..he fucks me and he doesn’t seem to mind.  How much bigger am I?”

“I don’t know Charisma.”

“I got fat in London.  You know?  I was telling you about that great flat me and Richards had.  I didn’t have a job.  Didn’t have a car.  It was way out in the suburbs.  So all day I’m at home.  Eating.  Little chocolates.  We had a tray of Nutty Buddies you know they taste like chocolate and peanut butter and I sat there watching Britain’s Got Talent every fucking season it was horrible I didn’t know if I was getting fat because I was pregnant or if it was the Nutty Buddies of course I knew it was both but I didn’t know how much of each..you know..what were the contributing factors.  Next thing me and Richards were seeing doctors and they’re telling me to lay off the sweets.  Fuck.  I couldn’t stop eating!  I’d be in the grocery store and Richards looks the other way, I’m stuffing candies into the cart I didn’t even know what the names of half of these things meant you know here it’s cookies and cakes—over there it’s biscuits and crisps.  We got home I was supposed to be cooking dinner I mean Richards gave me everything and he’d be in the next room and I’d look down at the cutting board, my hands took over the show I’d have chopped an entire onion, an entire bunch of carrots, bell peppers diced in chunks the size of baby nipples.  You know what’s hard?  You ever carried a baby your man impregnated you with then go through eight hours of labor then they let you hold that baby once—one time—and then her new family is there and they want to take her with them and they do take her away from you, walk right out of the hospital with your flesh and blood and DNA—”

“I know.  You told me.”

“I’m sorry if I already told you.  I’m sorry if you have to listen to my story more than once.”

“It’s ok.  You can tell me as often as you like.”

“Thank you.  I know I already told you.  It comforts me to tell you again.”

I hugged Charisma.  I didn’t care if we were just fuck buddies.  I would listen to her talk anytime she wanted to.  I loved her.

Charisma said: “Remember the time we were in your Oregon District apartment and you took your shirt off and I was like When was the last time you showered?  And you were like a few days ago and I was like—”

“Oh.  Are you trying to tell me we both stink?”

“No!  Listen.  Do you remember what I said?”

“What.”

“I said some guys can pull that off.  That natural smell.  Some guys can’t.  But you were one of the ones who could.”

26

“So that smell was ok with you..my natural guy smell?”

Charisma tugged on my shirt, pulled me closer.

“It was more than ok,” she said.  “It made me wet between my legs.”

“Oh you’re so fancy!” I said.

“Did I just hear you say I love you?”

“No.  That’s wasn’t me.  I know if I ever say that, that’s it, we’re over.  I’m here on a drug weekend, how can I say love on a day like today.  Weren’t we going out to the lake house today?  What ever happened there?”

“I—no—I don’t know what was supposed to happen there but we’re not going.”

“What is going on with your housemate?  You know?  First she’s kicking us out.  Next she’s putting her baby in the dishwasher.  It makes someone like me, who wasn’t here for her previous accident..I wonder.  That’s all I’m saying!  She suffocated him?—Is that right?—I know we’re not supposed to say but did she come into the room to find him cradled to death or did she go into the room five minutes earlier and fucking smother him?”

Charisma covers my mouth with her hand.

“I don’t know,” she whispers.  There’s fear in her eyes.  She shrugs.  “I can’t trust her words, I can’t trust her to take care of her baby.  I’ve thought of taking Little Faulkner with me, pushing him underneath my arm, getting in that VW Rabbit 🐇 and getting the fuck out of here.  Get that baby somewhere safe—I mean drop him on a hospital lawn somewhere in Indianapolis.  And also,” Charisma says, “there’s some fear about what will happen if I expose her for..”

“For what she may or may not have done?” I say.

Charisma nods, eyes big and brown in the reticle, her head the moon that holds us all in its presence.  Its yellowish glow.  And I saw her as some form of astronaut who pledges to go where no one else had gone before, but upon arriving she discovered the surface was host to a party louder and bigger than any in the entire universe.

“Here Charisma!”  I was drawn back into memories of the first time I ever went to Charisma’s house.  We were standing in the kitchen—before it was redone—first I remember us eating hot dogs and Charisma goes into the cabinet and gets a spice bottle labeled “BHT” and we put that on our hot dogs even though “It’s a preservative, yes?” I asked her and her sister Faith came in with an open math book for her big half sister and said, “Here, Charisma!  Oh hi, Matt.  This is the one I need help with, Charissy dear, please.”  “Charissy, please!” I say.  “Remind me why we are eating this?  Isn’t it a preservative?  Why are we putting it on food that is about to be eaten, ie at the last moment possible to preserve something that is going to be eaten in one second?”

“We’re doing it for the flavor.”

“What’s its flavor?”

“Salty,” Charisma says.

“Shouldn’t we be putting salt on it?  So we’re not wasting the side effect of preservation?”

“We could,” she says.  “But this is like a better sort of salty.  In the beginning of the world,” Charisma uses this metaphor to describe the Mesozoic and the crustaceous periods and how somewhere in between them human descendants from another planet introduced our small green Earth 🌍 to synthesized BHT and people just used it as salt.  By the end of her colossal education, first Charisma and then Faith and I were all serving ourselves small piles of the white powder, licking it from our hands, and laughing—so much laughing.

And somewhere in there over a bump of BHT I noticed Faith while pretending not to notice—that sort of thing—in fact I did not know whether every time I went to Charisma’s house was a time when I went to see Charisma..or a time when I went to see her little sister.  You can see I am inflicted with this sort of distractibility from Charisma to Faith or from Charisma to Brooklyn.  I am always looking over my girlfriend’s shoulder to see who is standing forever beyond her.  And in doing this, I neglect the present moment and I hate myself for this.

Look deeper, with Charisma and I sitting cross-legged on the basement floor, her bed an army blanket away, listening to Robert Redford seduce us with his crazy words, watching him in his most dapper role, most excited, most obsessed with some nondescript dream..with Charisma’s hand crawling above the carpet like a spider..finding my hand and jumping on top of it.  And here’s where my memory lets me down, for I cannot remember if we kissed that first first time I came over or if we did it on many of the second and third and fourth first times we made for ourselves carving our holes in her basement home..Swiss cheese..South American sub-aquatic caves inviting us to swim ever deeper under boulders, seas unmapped, teasing us to go farther than our oxygen allows, Charisma coming up from a kiss grasping for air and pulling me up with one hand.  She and I kissing for the first time in the relief of that tunnel, rolling over and over each other in her basement, every part of me that could reach out to touch her, every part of her that could cushion and catch me..both of us falling and falling into each other.

And when was that precious first fuck?  Wasn’t I with someone else?  Wasn’t I looking over Ashley’s shoulder at Charisma?  Wasn’t I, when I got with Rebecca, still in an on again/off again relationship with Ashley?  The new one always too special not to pursue, the old one forever too comforting to be able to let go of.  Didn’t I like it when Ashley jerked me off like a baby, lying in her lap, the only rule was that we weren’t allowed to break eye contact?  And how many relationships have I cheated off running some server in my own room—not just pictures of girls, not just videos, but full-tilt room control, the girl being there just for me, paid only by me, solo show—and I can tell her to jerk herself off with her hands, I can tell her to take off her panties, kneel at the crotch, and play herself with fingers so hot it could pay for a college education.  When was that first fuck?

And why were we just fuck friends?  We had known it from the beginning and (present monologue withstanding) it has been the one true example of a fuck friends sort of relationship that I’ve ever known.  What was it that makes Rebecca special in that way Charisma wasn’t?  Was it just that Charisma always drove me the fuck crazy when we were doing anything but fucking and Rebecca I’d worship as I drove us off the wall?  I lusted after Rebecca, no doubt.  I respected them both.  But when I thought of sex with Charisma I thought of those screams that I never thought Rebecca would make.  Rebecca I never would have expected to want to take it up the ass—Charisma I knew from the start she would.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m thinking of the beginning of us.  Isn’t that weird, that I never had sex with Tuesday but you and I’ve been doing it for years.”

“You weren’t ready with Tuesday.”

“That’s true.  I wasn’t.  But look at this: Tuesday and I went on a date to the planetarium and I was touching her pussy (over her underwear) and she was touching my dick (over my jeans) and her friend Katy drove us home and in front of my house Tuesday was lying there in her kilt—but she broke the rules ‘cause she had panties on—but I was touching her puss and that was in tenth grade and by the time I was a senior Nadia and I were going on dates and I never touched her puss—not one time.  We dry fucked but I never took off her pants—she took off her bra and she took my hands and brought my hands to her and I felt her breasts.  That’s the most we ever did.”

“You we’re learning,” Charisma said.  “Different people are on different tracks.  Their relationships are on different tracks.  You were sensitive to that.”

“It’s like they’re nuns and you’re a bad nun,” I say.

“They’re nuns and I’m a schoolgirl.”

“I think that’s true.  With Nadia I was walking on eggshells—not in a bad way.  But with you it’s like I was lining up to suck the sex from your teats.  I felt assertive with you—you know?—I demanded what I wanted.  Well not demanded—”

“Oh yes,” she says.  “Demanded.”

“With you I wanted to pounce on you and stick it and you know those nights at my house?  When you gave us the antidepressants?  I replay those nights.  You are under me.  You’re struggling off your jeans.  I’m pulling off the panties your mother packed in your kitchen before you came.  You just went into my bathroom.  Put on your fresh panties that I know exactly what they look like: they’re white with one of those—”

“Grateful Dead bears.”

“Right.  You’ve got a Greatful Dead bear right here and it’s sexy as fucking ice and I’m holding you down and pressing into you with my cock—that is one of the sexiest moments I know of: when you’re about to fuck someone and you’re still separated by these thinnest layers of cloth and you’re straining against them.  And then I stripped you of those white panties and I pushed my dick into you and after a couple of times you say—”

“ ‘It feels so good, doesn’t it?’ “

And I say, “Yesss.  Yes it does.”

27

I imagined Brooklyn downstairs, playing a game with her baby.  Popping him up on a handstand, flicking his back with her fingernails, screaming, “Do you want to go to Vegas!?” at his tiny little head and waiting for him to fall like that disgusting child in Trainspotting (which I heard meant paying attention to useless stuff—worshiping throwaway information like it’s your god)—I pictured us all coming off of coke, which everyone says is easy compared to heroin (of course alcohol is the only drug that can kill you when you stop using) but whatever it was (heroin or coke) Little Baby Faulkner will be there with us crawling upside down on the ceiling, head turning back à la Linda Blair in The Exorcist except our baby wouldn’t even have a stunt double or special effects to help him make that move.  I mean that’s what I was picturing, in my film student soul, when Charisma and I were about to kiss (a thing we hadn’t done since high school) we heard Brooklyn’s shrill voice coming up the stairs like an apparition on some long-ago video whose authenticity you could neither confirm nor deny—except ours was real, clear, and all the scarier for it.

“Baaabeeeyy!  Oh baaaby!!  Come here Little Baby Faulkner and catch me if you caaan!!!  You freak—you odd toddler, you can’t even speak but you know the rules of the game, don’t you??  Lover, genius, madman!  You were given to me and to this house for a reason.  Embrace it.  Kiss me, little one..”

“You think we should go down there?” Charisma said.

“Yeah,” I said.

At the bottom of the stars Charisma’s grammy was half-standing out of her chair, shaking her cane at Brooklyn saying: “Girl, I may be old for you but I will beat your ass with all 82 years of this cane if you do not put that baby down right now.  That’s justice, to you, to get hit with a cane—is it not?  I bet that’s the kind of love Rambuncto gives you, ain’t it girl?”

“Grammy,” Wendy said.  “Put your cane down—sit your ass down or I’m gonna beat you with it.”

You’re on their side,” shrieked the 82-year-old—who was someone’s grammy but not Wendy’s.

“Get your hands off me!”  Grammy used her cane like a sword 🗡, knocking Wendy to the side.  She hobbled toward the stairs and Charisma and I came all the way into the living room.

“Brooklyn,” Charisma stomped.  “Hand over Little Baby Faulkner.  Now!”

Charisma took delivery of the baby.

Brooklyn plopped down on the couch—she plopped as much as a skinny girl can.

Grammy struggled up the stairs with Wendy behind her, pushing.  As someone who has done this many times before, Wendy didn’t even make a show of pushing by the old woman’s back—she knelt and pushed on her butt and via her butt the young woman helped the grammy onto the second floor.

“I need some coke,” I said.

“I think we have some,” Brooklyn said.  “Before you got here me and Charisma bought another eight ball and stashed it somewhere.  Problem is: we don’t know where we stashed it!”

“You’re kidding me,” I say.

“Nope.”  Both she and Charisma shake their heads.

“It’s not in the dishwasher?” I ask.  “It’s not in the wall?  How many places could it be?!  Fuck!  I bought all the coke for this weekend and now I find out you guys bought some but the coke you guys bought is mysteriously unavailable!!  That really is a some goddamn miracle.  Really.  Like a miracle of the bad kind.  And this:” (Charisma rocks Baby Faulkner and sings to him softly.) “I can’t even!  As far as I can tell, you two have lost one baby each and now you’re holding onto this one like your lives depend on it.  Why is he called Faulkner again?”

Brooklyn speaks.  She and Charisma make eye contact as her speech unfolds.  “Faulkner.  I always liked the sound of it, from when I was little to now.  It sounds like a smart man.  Someone singular.  You know, like, how there’s only one—”

“Tell me the short version.”

“There’s a book by him.  It’s under the crib.”

My eyebrows raise.  “The crib upstairs?”

“Yes, it’s called Furious Sound—it’s been kept under that crib starting at our last house.  I brought it here to read but it got packed with the baby stuff and I kicked it under that crib and left it there.  I’ve been meaning to read it but I haven’t had time due to all the baby care acts I keep knocking off my list.”

“Have either of you ever read a word of Faulkner?”

“No.”  “No.”

“Get me the book.”

Brooklyn’s eyes shoot forward.  “Right now?”

“Yes!  Get me the book!!”

Brooklyn chomps up the stairs.  I hear rumbling in the crib room.  When she comes back down (three at a time) she trips on the carpet, falling, barely able to catch herself due to holding the book to her chest with one hand.

I take it from her and read.

When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight o’clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch.  It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s.  I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.  Because no battle is ever won he said.  They are not even fought.  The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.

I drop the book to the floor like I’m dropping a mic.

“And that is called The Sound and the Fury and that’s who your baby is named after and that is a man who none of us will ever become.”

Brooklyn asks Charisma if she can have her baby back.

“Are you gonna be good?”

“What do you care if I’m gonna be good.  Yes!  I’ll be good.  I will.  Ok?  Work with me here.”

Charisma gently gives the baby back.

“You know what that reminds me of?” Brooklyn says, pretending to suckle Little Baby Faulkner through her shirt.

“What,” I say.

“The Christopher Walken speech in Pulp Fiction.  The Gold Watch.  Doesn’t it remind you of that?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“No, your ‘I guess.’  Doesn’t it remind you?” Brooklyn says.

“I guess!  I’m mean: yes, I do guess.  I guess so.  It does remind me a little bit.  I guess it does.  It has a watch—was it gold?  But it’s about passing on values from generation to generation—I guess that makes them similar.  They’re each appropriate for their times.  Tarantino’s is..”

“Matthew,” Brooklyn interrupts.  “What did Charisma tell you about my previous baby?”

Charisma’s eyes are deep into Faulkner.

“She didn’t tell me much.”

“What did she tell you?”

“Not much.  She told me he died.”

“How did she say that he died?”

“I can’t remember.  Uh..  I forgot.  But it sounds like a terrible loss that I’m sure you’ll never forget.  I’m so sorry.”

“Bullshit,” Brooklyn says.  She stands from the couch and approaches me.  She gets in my face.  “Rambuncto is coming back today and if you’re still bullshitting me I’m gonna have him kick your ass.  Don’t think he won’t do it ‘cause I know he hates film school students and I know he likes to fight—”

“Brooklyn, don’t even start with me.  Rambuncto doesn’t want to fight me—”

“Yes he does!” she’s screaming.

“Even if he does,” I snap at her, “he’ll never get a hand on me—know why?”

“Why motherfucker?”

“Because I’m smarter than him.  And I’m smarter than you.  You and Rambuncto couldn’t plan your way out of a tennis court.  By the time Rambuncto gets here I’ll be gone.  On a plane.  Back to what you call ‘my prestigious life’ that you never listened to my description of or else you’d know that it’s not privileged.  You dumbass.  You total freaking dumbass.  You and Rambuncto can move to California if you want.  A car—which you have outside.  Money for gas—about the same amount we all spent on cocaine this weekend.  That’s all it would take, is you wanting to go.  And you’d be there!  Unless you want to throw a punch up here without your man by your side.”

I can see her considering it.  But she doesn’t move.

Charisma looks up from Little Baby Faulkner.  She says: “It’s Sunday.”

“Ok.”

“It’s noon.”

“Ok.”

“Your flight’s in two hours.”

“Oh!”

“Right,” she says.  “I’d like to get some time with you..alone..if possible.”

Charisma heads up the stairs and I’m following behind, watching her ass creak in those jeans.

Brooklyn mutters: “That’s right.  You go and fuck her.  I know you’ll think of me when your cock slips in.  You’ve been thinking of me all weekend and we know what that says about you.  Typical guy.  With such base desires.  Nothing to be envied there.”

Charisma says over her shoulder: “Brooklyn.  When I get home, I’m kicking your ass.  Matthew, tell her that.”

But I look on the couch and Brooklyn holds up two middle fingers with the baby in her lap.

“I think she heard you.”

28

I follow Charisma into the stairs of the upstairs.  We go up in the attic, lie down behind the futon, between it and the wall that is made of drywall split into pieces with that space between made by us hiding an eight ball 🎱 deep inside the darkness of the attic eaves—so deep we would trouble ourselves to find it later.

Charisma would lay out a blanket which had previously been resting over the back of the futon.  She would fold it twice to increase its softness quotient, lie herself on it, unzip her jeans.

I would pull on her belt loops, Charisma kicking her feet out of the legs.  Her waist-area fat bubbled out and I laid down on top of her, letting my cock get hard—it always did with her—Charisma thinking of her smell since her smell is what did it to me—that’s what always made me hard, whether though natural perfume or store bought, that is how we mated: smell, suicide, that conversation we keep having about how I could pull off the natural man smell even though all that meant was that I hadn’t showered 🚿 or used deodorant in a couple of days.  That’s all it meant!—Except it also meant that she liked (or didn’t mind) my armpit smell.  It didn’t mean she loved it but it did mean she would tolerate it.  It meant she liked the rest of me so much that when she said the pull off the natural man smell thing, she wasn’t asking me to take a shower or put on deodorant.

Charisma’s puss was not like before.  The first time I fucked her the thoughts that were going through my mind were: Your pussy is so tight and so hot that you could make me cum in about five strokes and I know you said don’t cum in me but I am going to cum in you and that’s exactly what I did that first night.  Made you call a hotline for girls whose boys had just cum in them—or maybe it was her gynecologist.  Who said that if she had just had her period, that it shouldn’t matter if we used a condom.  My first girlfriend was on birth control so I was spoiled, I guess—I’ve always liked cumming in my girls.  Now Charisma’s puss was sour, and loose, not as loose as I’ve ever had but it stank—I mean it fucking stank, not like fish 🐟 or salt 🧂 or that lovely smell like ink 🐙 that I had loved to inhale a thousand times before, but now something wrong, rancid, retired—a good for nothing smell.  It had nothing of the soap suds from our youth, that tight, squeaky feeling on every in and every out that I made to her.

Now I pushed.  I swang from side to side—hit that shit from an angle.  I didn’t mean to close my eyes but I did, right back to the earliest girls, K Stroup and M Heckert, which is the first pussy I ever smelled through kid jeans turning M’s body upside down and swinging her in a circle, her legs spread, crotch in my face, and that fish smell came over my nose and it was lovely, wonderful, probably the smell of an unwashed puss—but it was beautiful to me, glorious.  The first puss I ever touched was S Holtz (almost fucked her), the first I ever fucked was Ashley N, then Deidre T, then Charisma D (who was squeaky suds).  There was brown-haired ink, red-haired ink, black-haired ink.  And blonde hair..I guess blonde hair was soap suds.  Those slick tight hot fucks could go for six hours or six seconds.  Not the fuck I was getting now: it would never work in six seconds, I would never live for it over six hours.

Charisma said, “This is what I hoped our whole weekend would be like,” and I looked at her and said, “Me too,” even though it wasn’t true, I said it as believable as possible, I tried to feel the fuck right—how can it be possible to not feel it with anyone.  How can there be girls, women, who are hard for me to fuck.  My friend Mike from film school said he fucked a woman in her late thirties and that her pussy was “just like a young one”—that it didn’t lack any of the qualities of schoolgirls he had fucked—but for me this was so different..impossible..like her vagina was rejecting me, throwing me away.

“Does this feel good to you?”

“Yes!”

“Mmm,” I said.

A minute passes.  “Does it feel good to you?”

“Yes,” I said.  “Of course.”

“Are you able to get past my body smell?” Charisma asked.  “I’m asking in the sense that I’m taking a survey.  Not like I’m asking for myself,” she said.  “It’s like I’m asking for somebody else.”

I stop 🛑 fucking.  Stop right there.  Pull out.  Lie by Charisma’s side.  Grab her fingers with my own.  Twiddle them.

“I just need a break.”

“Are you alright?”

“I’m ok,” I said.  “I’m nervous about my flight.”

“What about it?  Do you want some coke to take with you?”

“It’s not that.  I’m nervous about catching my flight.  On time.  Like we might fuck too much and I’d miss my plane.  These thoughts ring around my mind, you know, it’s busy in here.”

“Are you nervous about getting back to LA?”

“Yes!  I am!!  There’s nobody like you for me there.  Not even a friend.”

“What about Mike?”

“Yeah, Mike is good if I want a cinematographer or someone to do coke with.  He’s who first introduced me to it—did I mention that?”

“Maybe.”

“LA is like: leave the house, run into my ex-girlfriend.  Ex-girlfriend invites herself over for a fuck and while I have her bent over the kitchen counter my dick slips into her ass and I cum in her ass without even knowing that it is her ass and I don’t find out till she tells me afterward—you know what I’m saying?”

“She must have a tight puss.”

“She has a tight everything—most of all her heart.  Her will.  Her emotions.  Her soul is locked so tight I’ve only ever seen it four or five times.”

“In how long.”

“Three years.”

“I thought you said she was your ex.”

“She is!  This is all happening while she’s my ex.  I deleted her phone number she comes over anyway.”

“Why?”

“To get her ass fucked—I don’t know!”

“Sounds wonderful.”

“Oh, it is!  It’s great as long as she keeps her mouth 👄 shut.  The fucking psycho bitch engages me in arguments, though.  Like philosophical arguments.  With Kant saying to Derrida, ‘What would you do with a man who owned property but didn’t work it?’  Actually, that would be Locke and Hobbes.  Arguments about property rights and the uselessness of voting—shit like that.  But then I catch her looking through my copy of Being and Time she’s like ‘I thought this was written by someone else,’ and I’m like ‘No, it’s still by Martin Heidegger and yes, Heidegger is still a Nazi.’ “

Charisma is looking over at me.  I’m twisting on the hard floor with its blanket and Charisma is completely still.  At first I think this is some metaphor for us as people along our spiritual journeys but then I see that it’s just a function of weight—that hers holds her to the floor and mine doesn’t pin me down.  Maybe that is some kind of reflection of our spiritual ways.

“Your book is written by a Nazi?”

“Yeah.  He was.  But he’s writing about being..but the problem is did his Naziism taint his ability to think about being?”

“Did it?”

“It colored it.  It didn’t necessarily taint it.  But you know how it’s impossible to ever say that two things are not related but it’s sometimes possible to say that two things are?”

“I think you’re losing me, Matt.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You know how I said I wanted to fuck a genius?”

“Yeah.”

“I think maybe I don’t want to fuck one anymore.”

I laugh and look at the ceiling.

I think back over the course of our relationship.  I think of the hardest days: when Charisma would have me drive her around to tarot parlors to get her palm read after a night of sex.  When we would go to every thrift store in the area, looking for Clinique bags to fill out her collection.  To the greatest days: the first time we had sex and the second set of days when Rebecca had just died and Charisma had come over basically to save my life.  And maybe the greatest day of all: the first day we ever spent together, watching The Great Gatsby in her basement, kissing, watching the film, and developing our feelings of lust which have lasted continuously from that first day to this last one.

And I remember a day I look back on now, about 18 months after Charisma and I fucked for the last time.  It can hardly be called a fuck.  But on this day I’m recalling, Mike and I shared an apartment and I showed him that old picture of Charisma, before she let herself go and became fat—this was that picture of Charisma in a leopard print hat that I later stole from her, and she was cute and hot and biting her lip—and Mike said, “You fucked that?”  And I was like, “Yep.”  And that ended his entire line of questioning to point out how old and dead I was.  For all Mike’s beliefs about how SoCal girls were the hottest, he had never been to Ohio.  Ohio is the best for cute girls, serial killers, presidents.  Even beef is better in Ohio.  Some say Texas.  But it’s not: beef is best in Vermont and Ohio.

And on this day, showing Mike Charisma’s Facebook page, I was counting numbers on my fingers—Mike knew what I was doing.

There was a picture of Charisma’s baby—the first she was able to keep.  I was adding up the number of months of gestation (nine) and subtracting that from now, considering the baby’s age.  And he did have features that were a lot like mine!  Dimpled cheeks and that classic Temple smile.  But the math worked in my favor—he couldn’t be mine.  So when I read the caption saying Rambuncto was the father, I believed it.

Mike put his hand on my back.

“He’s not yours.”

I looked at Mike.

“Nope.  He’s not mine.”

“You dodged a bullet,” he said.

And I said, “Yes.”

29

Charisma drives me to the airport.  “I brought you a surprise,” she says.  She fishes around in her purse (a Clinique bag), thumbing the lonely depths that contain a pack of Parliament Lights, hairpins, empty chewing gum wrappers.  “It was right here!” she says.  She turns her purse over, dumping out its entire contents on my lap, hers, and the floor of the VW Rabbit.  “I’m sorry.  I know it was in here and I hate to suspect my friend but I can’t help but wonder if this is a case of housemate kleptocracy.  You see a purse.  You’re certain your hands do not belong in there.  But in the end you watch your hands doing things they do not want to do!  And I bet that’s where Brooklyn’s stealing ass is.  Fuck!”  Charisma hits the dash of the car.  “I’m sorry, Matt.  It wasn’t supposed to work out this way.”

“It’s no problem.”

“No—eff!!  Motherfuck.”

“What was in your purse?”

“Huh?”

“You’re looking for something.  What was it.”

“More coke.”

“Oh!  That’s what I was gonna guess.”

“I suck.  I suck my friend!” Charisma says this.

“You do not suck, girl.  I mean: that’s what she said.  Do not worry your little head about it.”

“Ok.  I’m sorry.  I wanted to do a line with you before you get on the plane.  I had this weekend planned and I wanted it to be special.”

“It was,” I say.  “It was special to me.”

“I wanted to do coke with you and have sex all weekend and I tried to make that happen.”

“You did a good job, Charisma.  A thing that happens with planning is—you know—things don’t work out—”

“I know!  Nothing I plan works out.”

“I was going to say: they don’t work out perfectly.  Plans are just predictions of the future that you try to arrange and there’s the expected part and the unexpected part and they’re both joys in different ways.”

“I love the way you talk.”

“I’m just blabbing trying to make you feel better.”

“It’s like poetry.”

“You’re so nice,” I say.

She hits the steering wheel.  The horn beeps.

Charisma’s eyes fill with tears.

“I only wanted a few short things.  That’s all I wanted.  This could be the last time we see each other.  You’re going to go off and be with your LA girls and I’m going to get married and have kids and that’s going to be the last of us.  This right here is going to be the end of you and me.  Don’t you know that?”

“I don’t try to think too far into the future.”

“Pshff.”  She wipes her eyes.  “Is my mascara right?”

“You’re a little runny,” I say.

I touch the side of her face with my palm.

“You’re a beautiful person.  I’m sorry I caught feelings.  The one rule was: no feelings.  But I did it.  I did it before even you.”

“No,” Charisma says.  “Every time I told you that was a time when I developed them before you.”

We said goodbye and I was feeling ehh about our weekend so I felt a thrill when I opened the car door, got out, and closed the door behind me.  The thrill of something terrible being over and my heading back to comfort.  Comfort in LA.  It seems that wherever you go, it roses 🌹 up your feelings for home.  And makes it ever cosy by comparison.

Past security, I had 30 minutes before my plane ✈️ boarded and I saw a bar so I looped my bag handle around the base of a stool and sat down.

“Whatcha drinking?”

“Gin martini.  Dirty.  With Bombay original.”

I had just taken the first sip of my drink when—at a bar full of empty seats—a business dude in khakis sits down right next to me.  He’s talking on a cell phone—extraordinarily loud in my ear—and he orders his drink while he’s talking on the phone.

“Yeah, uh, I’ll have—do you have Diet Coke?  Hold on, Elliot.  I’m ordering my drink.  Yeah, I’ll have a Diet Coke and..I guess that’s it.  Can I have a straw, too, please?  Elliot, this hero of a bartender is laughing at me for asking him for a straw—do you believe that.  No tip, buddy.  No tip.  These people think that bartender is supposed to be a flash job.  Yes!  That’s all.  Just a Diet Coke.  You’re like an actor in your spare time, right?  Think you’re going to be the next Bradley Cooper?  How much did he make in his last picture?  How much?!  That’s insane.  I long for the day when actors sang for their supper!”  And the businessman goes on talking like this.

“ ‘Nother drink?” says the bartender.

“Thanks, yes,” I say.

For a second I tune out the businessman’s talk but bit by bit it tunes itself back into me.

“SQL?  Whatever.  It’s a chump’s language.  It’s not even a language!  You know what I told this data guy the other day?  This jackass was like so what tools do you like and I was like we just use the best tools for the job.  And he was like so why do you use Windows?  And I was like, you mean, opposed to Linux or some new-fangled OS like that?  And this fuck nut 🥜 goes on about how in his office everyone uses Windows but he got there and was all, ‘Give me a Linux desktop with a processor half the speed of the next slowest machine and I’ll outperform everyone.’  I know.  Elliot.  Believe me.  For sure!  Well I never told him you invested every penny you saved while you worked at Allied, in Limpsoft, and that made you one of the infamous Limpsoft millionaires.”

I looked straight in this guy’s eyes.  He looked at me, blinked, and looked away.  About a second layer, he looked back in my direction.

Maybe soften your ignorance, I thought.  Maybe don’t go so far down a path for which you’ve never seen the map.  Maybe learn some new technologies and don’t miss the boat completely when a minor little product called Linux comes your way.  I just happened to work for Mead Research when Limpsoft senior VPs were lunching Mead Research VPs and after those lunches, we happened to switch from using Netscape Enterprise Server to Limpsoft’s IIS.  I’m not saying any money exchanged hands, I’m just saying, look, Limpsoft maybe wasn’t exactly above board here.  Or maybe that’s just how technical decisions are made in the corporate world.

I drink 🍸 another.  And another.  And my world is getting very soft.  And I’m checking my phone to make sure I’m not going to miss my flight and I’m not thinking about limiting my drinks with any measure other than: be able to get on the plane 🛩 and pass out safely.

“Well, they’re dummies,” the businessman says.  “I know they’re a charity.  They’re a well-endowed charity.  No.  A non-profit doesn’t mean they don’t charge for their product.  No, it doesn’t meant that.  Do you know how much money Charles is making off those people?  A percentage of every project a person funds.  Are you kidding?  His site will be obsolete in six months.  That’s why we have to bill him for our rewrite as soon as possible.  Yes.  Charles knows Jim—how do you think we got the contract?  A company like that has no reason to work with us.  Because Jim told Chuck that we’d do a rewrite for half a mil.  Yeah!  Ha ha.  That’s because right before that Jim got a look at their books and he saw a two million dollar influx after Chuck went on Oprah so Jim was like: We’ll take a slice of that.  Yeah.  That’s a chunk of change.  Yeah buddy!”

I was getting drunk.  I was getting pissed.  I turn my head to the left and stare into dude’s eyes like I’m saying: You lame duck motherfucker.  Please shut the fuck up or I’m going to open my mouth and what might come out might be mean.

He got the idea.  He got up, leaving his Diet Coke behind and going to stand in the terminal right outside the bar.  As soon as he was gone I felt much relieved.

I stared into my drink and then into another one.  It was only once I stood up that I felt their power, that I fully felt my anger, my blood 🩸 boiling right beneath the skin.  I unhooked my bag from the bar stool and left.

That business dude was standing with his pushy belly sticking over his belt and he reminded me of everyone I had worked for before becoming a film 🎞 student and I hated those people—hated them for existing and for having detained me for so long and for wasting my time.

I walked straight past that motherfucker and said: “HAVE FUN BEING A JACKASS, YOU IGNORANT FUCKING TURD!!”  It echoed through the terminal.  I wondered what his wife would think when he told her this story.

On layover Charisma texts me: “Fuck.  Found coke.  Was in socks.  Had it with me the whole time!  I’m an idiot.”

I typed: “No.  You’re not.”  Then I backspaced through it.

30

My layover was mushy.  Sitting on the floor in whatever city, watching the people go by—and it looked like every one of them was so much more on top of it than me.  They all fit in, and they all made more sense than I ever did.  They didn’t look like people who were questioning their lives to the core every minute of every day.  And honestly, with respect to not comparing my insides to their outsides, they very likely were people who didn’t question all the time, who had little going on inside, such that inside them there was very little there.  I have been like that—no, I have never been like that.  I was going to say at the top of the roller coaster but no—at the top of the roller coaster I felt it all so sharp and so deep and when my life has flashed before my eyes, it was heavy enough and broad and long enough that it crushed me every time I went through those inane motions.

I thought about my mom and dad—whether I had done enough to deserve their turning their backs on me.  Or if all I had done was be thoughtful in a way they were not prepared to handle, had tickled parts of them they had never explored themselves.  I thought of what it must be like to be a parent (knowing I would never do it myself) and I wondered what it was like to get divorced and have your partner fall away, have your children fall away, have your brothers and sisters fall away (and I knew something about this last).  I knew something about trying to find communication methods that people would listen to—and that didn’t scare them.  When you’ve become willing to give up your life, where all these people loved you as a child—which is to say they loved the knee-high tree or the acorn—and then my branches start to spread and the true nature of the tree spreads out in ways impossible to stop..how do people respond to that.  When you’ve invented things and written things (both glorious types of go) and those other peas who were in your pod have not, who is responsible for softening the blow to them?

And when my one sister starts to have babies and my other sister and I look at each other and say: “Why is this worshipped as magic?  That she has a child—has three?  Everyone knows how you’re doing that!”  Congratulations!  You had sex with someone and a little bit of spunk mixed with your hot little almond.  It’s hard, perhaps, to raise a child.  To stay home and wrangle everyone through potty 🧻 training and eating lunch and going to the newfangled doctors that have come about in the last ten years.  It requires constant attention but zero innovation.  And why are people having children in this way, still?  Haven’t we worked it out in a Petri dish?  It just seems like such a ripoff that family worships babies and families, ignoring the artists to favor safety and repetition and it’s a ripoff both for the family who worships new parents and the children they ignore as the price of paying attention to the ones who had kids.

I sleep after this sort of theoretical babbling dies down in my mind, probably snoring on the airplane, people looking at me like I’m a scourge of the universe.  Thinking of Charisma, how when she finally had kids it was like she had tried everything else she knew and gave up, resigning herself to make copies of her genes 🧬—it was after these thoughts of Charisma that I finally gave away my theorizing and let sleep embrace me.  Rested on the plane after not much sleep 💤 in days.  Got off in LA and grabbed my bag and was back in Hollywood in 30 minutes.

I had the cab drop me on Sunset and I walked to Ivar and took it, going north.  I’m back in the land of my film school.  Of postproduction studios.  Of dance clubs and restaurants I shouldn’t afford.  Of bookstores with wide sections on screenwriting and directing film.  Back to the land where I will dick around doing snail puzzles and independent, unassigned film projects instead of helping my classmates with their theses.  Unassigned film projects which my most talented classmates will say are better than the projects assigned us by Salvador Carasco and that I should teach his class.  That’s what I think when I pass my my big blue film school building.  And I think: What is more pretentious than a film school student with a loan paid by Dad who goes on to direct star ⭐️ movies and make millions of dollars?  Probably a film student who graduates 🎓 with honors and goes on to do nothing with my degree.  Yes.  Probably that.  A film student who is not only too scared and too unwilling to pursue film interests and who quits job after job in the tech industry, who would rather be homeless than work as a software developer.  Who would rather die than sacrifice my ideals.  Who would literally rather die than work for a psychopath.  Who promises to stick with my golden ideals at the cost of every friend and lover I have ever had.

Just above Sunset, my apartment building visible another block up the street, down here I see that nameless building with the twice-a-week dance party and the excellent rib eye 🥩 and the red carpet and I go to the end of the carpet the farthest from the door and, holding my carryon, I walk up to a black door and raise my hand and knock on it like it’s the entrance to Oz.

The door opens a bit.  A guy comes out.

“Yes?”

“I’m here for the party!”

“We’re closed for the night.”

“Oh.  I’m sorry.  Um.  What days are you open?”

“Sunday and Thursday.  Sometimes Wednesday.”

“Today is Sunday,” I say.

“Today is Sunday today is Sunday how do I tell you this, kid, we’re not open till later and later means much later and even if we are open later you’re not exactly..you’re not exactly dressed for the part!”

“I was here last week!” I say.  “Can I come in and have a steak?”

“You can’t come in and have a steak and I’m very well aware you were in here last week.  I made that rib eye for you!”

“For real?”

“Yes.  Two eggs, blue cheese, and—Jesus Christ jalapeños—I’m sorry I didn’t have Serranos!  Were you able to stomach it you extra-rare motherfucker?”

I twist my head and look at this guy.

“And I know Miss Sarah Jones who you hung out with off of Brasserie Les Voyeux a couple months ago.”

“Who is Miss Sarah Jones?” I say.  “Oh!  You mean Sarah?  How do you know Sarah?”

“I’m her fucking husband,” the guy says.  He has tattoos all over his head and neck.  Sarah didn’t show any tattoos.

“Look,” I say.  “I’m sorry about Miss Sarah Jones but she and I never fucked.”

“You never fucked her.”

No!”

“She just bragged that you did?”

Yes!  We smoked some weed.  She put her baby to sleep.  That was it.  She showed me the Body exhibition book and I left.”  I clapped my hands.  “That was it.”

“Did you give her any crystal?”

“What?  No!  We never even discussed crystal.”

“Ok,” the guy says.  “I believe you.  Can you just stay away ‘cause she is on crystal now and if she shows up here I don’t want you two hooking up.  No offense.  She had our baby with you?” the guy asks.  “When you two met?”

“Yeah, she had your baby—” I start.

But he closes the door in my face.

“Cute baby,” I finish.  And stand there for a second.  And I turn and go up the street to the Alto Nido building.

The homeless guy is there, asleep on the white couch on the corner where my building is.  I think about waking him and asking him, “What do you think of this life!?” but I resist on the suggestion that he is dreaming my entire world and if I wake him, I will—poof!—disappear along with the rest of my reality.

I key myself in through the front door and go downstairs to my studio on the lower floor.

Going in, it’s dark wood and windows full of greenery.  My window looks out on the sidewalk behind the building where I people-watch teenagers smoking pot and couples making out in what is a secluded enough area for them.  I set my bag down.  Pour myself a glass of wine and take it to my writing desk.  Open the central drawer, check that my cocaine is there.  Sit down.  Drink.

There is that silence that happens in the daytime dark.  When you can still hear people stepping along the hallway outside my door, you can still feel the traffic from outside my windows.  But it’s quiet enough for me, as quiet as the city allows.

The phone rings.

Charisma.

I debate answering.

I do pick up the phone and say, “Hello?”

“Matthew.  It’s Charisma.”

“I know!” I laugh.  “Because right here on my phone it says, Charisma, so I can decide whether I want to talk to you or not.”

“Matt.  This is serious.  I think Brooklyn killed her baby.”

“Little Baby Faulkner?”

That’s the one!” Charisma says.

“Why do you think this?”

Because,” Baker says.  “I can’t find him and Brooklyn’s despondent on the couch downstairs.  I called her voicemail and she’s got a weird message there.”

“What does it say?”

“I think you should call it,” Charisma says.

“Why.”

“So you can hear it and make up your own mind.”  Silence on the line.  “Are you going to call it?”

“I guess so!”

“Matt, come back to Earth 🌏.  I need you here with me.  I need your help—worse than the time I needed a ticket to America.”

“Ok.  I’ll call it.  Would you text me the number?”

“Yeah.”

I press on it and the phone purrs.  Brooklyn’s voice comes on: “..I was kneeling over the bathtub and I pushed him under.  Little Baby Faulkner.  None of my housemates were in on it—none of them know.  But I couldn’t get away with not telling someone so I’m telling you.  Whoever and wherever you are.  I’m sitting on the couch at 1205 South Carolina Avenue waiting to be arrested.  The door is unlocked.  If anyone with any power or ability to help, hears this, then I will accept full responsibility for killing this wonderful kid..my kid.  And please come quickly.”

Then were the sounds of bubbles coming up through water.

I hung up.  Put my phone face down on the table.  I thought about why I moved here.  It was film school.  To make contacts.  But I didn’t do that.  I made drug contacts like I do everywhere.  People just look at me and they say, “That guy’s gonna party with us.”  And back then, that’s exactly what happened.  It was also the ocean, the warmth, the beaches in Santa Barbara.  I like that I found a place where I can get my hair cut and drink alcohol at the same time.  I like the Hollywood farmer’s market where I once saw a Beastie Boy.  Los Angeles is a dream.  So is Ohio.

And I guess just this, about dreams: When someone sells me a dream, I may take my time to find out how dear it is—how much I’m willing to pay—but once I pay, I expect it to come true.