Sunday, October 23, 2011

stray bullet and a hot meal

[Discovered on the hard drive: fiction, circa 2008.]

It would be great consolation to the world’s estranged if they knew that the surest path to reconciliation was a stray bullet and a hot meal, a .45 crashing through the wall of your fifth-story apartment at midnight followed by a 1 a.m. cold call to your former better half—phat thai at, say, Suzuki’s?—the cold call at 1 a.m. because you know she’s awake, Suzuki’s because they’re always open, phat thai because their phat thai is the best, cheap, but not so cheap that the spices don’t burn your nose hairs, hey, you could have died back there, you didn’t see the other hole in the opposite wall, because before then you were calm when you called the cops, acting all suave and everything, this sort of thing happens in the city!, you were so casual, but they came and found the second hole right between the picture frames of your mother and your brother back in Muskogee, and if you put up a string between the two holes and pulled the string tight you would see that the thing went barely three feet over your chest, three feet lower and they’d be threading that string through your ribs, you stupid Muskogee boy, what are you doing in New York?, but this phat thai is delicious, things haven’t changed much at Suzuki’s, same chef and everything, same awful pictures of downtown on the walls, same awful green plastic frames, this is not the nineties anymore but you wouldn’t know it in this place.

So you called her because you decided your life was too short to not be talking to her, and here she is, wearing those going-out clothes with such disdain, still all arms and legs but one year older, it’s a year that you can see in her face, not from wrinkles, but as if someone had taken all her features and pushed them a millimeter apart, so, here’s reality, you’re both getting older, you’re not kids anymore, this phat thai is delicious, how are you?, I almost died back there, I’m well, thanks for asking. My god, I haven’t been here since the last time I was here with you.

Go ahead, laugh, yuk it up—is that a hair?—but on the inside, you’re shaking a little bit, you’re not sure if it’s because of the bullet thing or because you’re with her, it’s gotta be one or the other, you were always weird like that, always scared of one thing and not the other, as if you didn’t have room for two fears, that’s what made you a good musician when you moved to the city, you used to have stage fright so bad, but you were so miserable in this town that you didn’t give a shit how you played the sax, so you played great, and if you play great in New York, get in with the right people, you can gig whenever you want, which is a great way to make interesting friends if you aren’t kind of busy being in love with somebody. She orders spring rolls and you get crab rangoon. This place is terrible, a mélange of Asia, the menu an archipelago of Pacific cultures, but you love it, you love it in all its begrimed neon late-night glory, a bullet came crashing through your wall, fuck, all you needed was a hot meal and to see somebody who would miss you if you were gone, so you called her to see how she’s doing, to see if she would miss you when you’re gone, and here she is, but that rush of calling her is over now, you were still scared of the bullet when you called her, still feeling the rush—you didn’t think about what you would say when you saw her, all arms and legs, face slightly distorted—so it’s true, it’s her that you’re afraid of, not the bullet, not death. You beat death tonight. Now what?

There are rips in the plastic seats of the booth you’re sitting in, green vinyl torn up by the studs in people’s jeans, these seats make your bare skin itch for some reason, careful not to let your pants slide too low or you’ll be digging at your ass, where did the bullet come from? she asks, and honestly up until this point you had not really considered this, you had not thought out a realistic scenario in which a tiny ugly little shard of homicide would be flying through the sanctuary of your bedroom, so you were more scared of her than you thought, let’s face it, the bullet was just an excuse to have a near-death experience in order for you to call her, you’ve been waiting to get almost shot all year—maybe it was some guys fucking around on the roof across the way, this is the city but not that kind of city, this is still New York, people love their guns here, you dig at your ass and pull up your pants, why does her face look so different?, maybe somebody was drunk and just thought they’d squeeze the trigger, gunshots in this city go unreported all the time, people hear the bang and just chalk it up to a truck backfiring, even though trucks don’t really backfire anymore, it’s just that nobody likes the idea of bullets suddenly complying with the laws of physics, you just came here to play jazz, man, you just showed up, you didn’t ask for all this.

Things could be worse—you’re not dead, but she could be dead, you could be in mourning mode, elegy mode, all of a sudden you’re the fucking Music Man ready to flush some fucking tunes at her funeral, best funeral ever!, but thinking this you realize it would be just like all those screenplays that her freshman roommate used to write at college, always somebody dead, somebody’s wife or somebody’s girlfriend, god, from flipping through his manuscripts you’d think this country was the worst place in the world for a romantic twentysomething to be living in, the mortality rate is outrageous! Not that you could make fun of the kid for wanting to be a writer, for chrissakes, you were a music guy and you have to explain to everybody that they really do teach jazz at the University of Oklahoma, funny as that is, dumb white kids really can swing, when all you Muskogee boys say “swing” it comes out swang. That's just your flavor.

Food’s burned, the place is cheap, fuck America and all her food and all her rooftop gunmen, the Lee Harvey Oswalds of your enclosed little reality, losers all, you sit and you look at her and you think that it could have been the Thai chef, going out on break, sitting up there on top of the building across the street with all those new lofts you can’t afford, hanging out with his brother’s brand new gun, just wanted to hold it in his hands, new and shiny and heavy, whoops! You never know, man.

She’s starts getting twitchy, twisting in her seat, something’s happening in her head, you poor bastard, you already know what it is, it’s like when you get a cold and you feel the first little snot scratching at the back of your throat and you get a glimpse of coming week: well, she’s starting the twelve step program of calling it a night, first, it starts with the recognition that the conversation’s stopped going anywhere, you’ve talked dirt paths into the ground in all the places you keep wanting to go, so she’ll check the time, keep talking, throw the napkin on the table, lean to the side a bit, etc., the middle doesn’t matter, just the beginning and the end, which finishes with her meeting somebody else.

At least she has a sense of decorum.

Fast forward, you both stand, you make like kind of an awkward hug over the table, the A-frame hug, the worst form of personal contact in the universe, it must be what lovers are forced to do when they reach Hell together. You decide this is some kind of hell, there’s so much you want to talk about but no way to transmit it to her, something about your loneliness is a little awkward, spoils the conversation, forces her to talk about what she’s doing at her job when in reality you’re looking for that little thread of magic that winds through your better days, the thread that connected them all to each other but also parceled them together on some little shelf of history, buried beneath some tax receipts, no way to relive the magic, guess you’re just gonna have to keep jamming until something real happens again.

She walks out the door.

Some night. You wish you’d gotten shot in the ass.

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