capricorn, cold open.

bender

Almost nonstop until eight in the morning, no turning back, bathed in interstate, because New Orleans had a special place for someone like me.

Goodbye Carolina. Down through its southern counterpart, then Georgia. Interstate dipping into the valley of Atlanta, barely beating rush hour traffic as the sun turned the sky a desktop grey. Buildings on either side of the divide showed off rectangular windows with lights on or off in random patterns. Traffic banners, spelled out in dotted tangerines, warned of future congestion. Apart from a state trooper flashing its blues for some unfortunate motorist, the prediction turned out as most do. Easy going into the dawn that was Alabama. Possibly the most boring stretch of road I had ever encountered. Good a place as any to stop, refuel. Motions on automatic. Card, press, pump. Watch the numbers climb. Squint through the brilliance of an accustomed sunshine. Wait for the snap. Step back into my rental, maybe take a moment to marvel that a compact mini was all it took to house all I had left. On ramp taking me back on track. Toying with presets on the radio, just to see what random frequencies might have to tell me. Landed on a Christian dial. Flat spectrum of shame and humiliation, sin and dirty deeds. Hard to disagree with the end of the world, only difference was, I didn’t believe in enemies. Nobody to blame. I floored the accelerator and gave 100 mph a taste. All the way down to Mississippi. Sensing the approaching coast on the shoulder, roadside presenting miniature seashells, shiny particles of sand that had me reaching up and pulling at the visor. Weather report warning of an oncoming storm that was supposed to absolutely drench southern Louisiana. By the time I crossed the state line, some several bridges bringing me closer, the narrative had changed. Scattered raindrops falling from pallid skies. Hitting the windshield, punctuating a rapid approach. I picked up the printed directions, reminding me that I just might make it out of this world without ever owning a smartphone. Something else to be thankful for, I-10 West elevating me to the point where I could see the downtown skyline. Making swift maneuvers between lanes. Eyes darting between paper pinned to my steering wheel and 3pm motorists who seemed unwilling to use their turn signals. Traffic slowing for a brief second, and I figured it would be worth the risk to switch from present first, and call Zipper.

Flipped my phone.

Found his number.

Hit SEND.

Just a few rings before he answered.

“Hey, man.” His voice was flat, almost, but not quite entirely, as I remembered it from our younger years. “You close?”

“Yeah,” I managed, avoiding an incorrect deviation and remained on course. “Should be at your place soon.”

He replied with a muffled kind of nothing.

“You ok?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m ok,” I thought I heard him say. “Just have a cold.”

“Sorry.”

“Text me when you get here.”

Didn’t feel like telling him I didn’t have a text plan, each one sent coming in at 20 cents. Nodded into the phone and pretended it was some kind of oral contract. Hung up and focused on where these directions were taking me.

And didn’t know it at the time, but I was taken down a mercifully simple path. Exit (number). Right turn on City Park Avenue. Keep right. Wild wilderness of cemetery headstones on either side, marble statues staring me down, reminding me. Took another right onto Canal Street. Passed another cemetery on my right, enough to get me smiling, All right, I know, I get it, this is where it will be. Came to the crossroads real quick, a right on St. Patrick. Slalomed my way past a couple of potholes. Still drunk on the movement of 12 hours on the road when I turned left on Palmyra. Inched my way forward until I caught the address. Right half of a split shotgun. Took a moment to notice all cars were parked with half their tires up on slanted curbs;  more like speedbumps that lost their train of thought. I followed suit.

Hopped out.

Felt my legs laugh at me, make fun.

I ignored them and wandered over to the house.

Perfect symmetry. Two stets of stairs, painted green, leading up to a shared porch of the same color. I walked past the first set of steps, cautiously took the second up towards a red door. Rectangular windows on either side, stained glass. Didn’t want to knock. Figured I’d waste a couple of cents. Sent Zipper a text: on the porch, i think. Sat on the steps. Lit a cigarette. Looked out over the neighborhood. Quiet. Almost serene. Across the street, another house stared back at me. Beyond that, clouds at a family reunion gathered to wish me a mediocre hello.
October wind humid, crisp, all contradiction, and I heard a meow of protest.

Turned and saw a black cat on the porch. Wandering over. A little disgruntled at how his day was going. Eyes and expression that led me to believe it would be any moment now before he opened his mouth to actually talk. Tell me what he had to say.

“Hi.”

He collapsed alongside me and let my hand rub his belly.

I smoked,  and watched myself from a distance.

Absolutely empty.

Thinking I would do anything at that moment, for a shot of absolutely anything.

Heard some kind of sound from behind me.

Heard a very specific one one second later.

Chipper voice, draped in pink-lipped caution: “Hi.”

So I turned. Saw that the window to the left had opened, stained plates replaced with a round face. Pale and pronounced. Dirty blond curls, incompatible traces of gray for her age. Blue eyes bordering on the grey that led me here, crisp, assuming, wondering, sizing me up, and I was never happier to know there was nothing for them to see. She tilted her head and let one of her arms hang loose from that muppet window. “I see you’ve met David.”

I took a leap of faith, “This your cat?”

“Yes.”

“We’ve been talking.”

“He likes you.”

“Had to happen someday.” I paused. “Sorry, I’m Lucky. Am I at the right place?”

“Yeah,” she motioned with her head, to the door. Just inches away. “Come on in.”

I stood as she remained, reached, opened the door. There was Zipper; bony body, gingery hair and once goatee turned to a full fledged facial mask. Wild eyes magnified by a pair of lenses. Hobbling towards me on a set of crutches. Right foot trapped in a boot. Grinning as he came in close for a hug.

I allowed it.

Waiting. Letting go.

Glanced down at his foot. “That’s one hell of a cold you got.”

Zipper glanced down at his leg. “Cycling accident.”

“Unicycle?”

“Bi.”

“You’re on a bicycle now?”

“Yeah.”

I took the half second it usually took to take anyone in. Undershirt. Draped in a Hawaiian, pale blue and red hibiscus. Cargo shorts. Rolled cigarette behind his ear in place of a Newport, New York days so clearly a thing of the past.

“Who are you?” I asked.

He ignored the question. “Come on in.”

One step, closed door.

“Is David not joining us?” I asked.

“Kiki’s allergic,” he replied.

I turned, had to presume this was Kiki.

Did my thing. Gave Kiki her moment; about five-five barefoot. Thick legs under denim spent from one two many spin cycles, natural tares revealing bruised knees. Unapologetic figure. Curves under a gray t-shirt displaying a flapper girl pole dancing along what appeared to be a Styrofoam cup. Letters reading: New Orleans Daiquiri Fest. Carnation lips closed in an ever present frown, eyes lazily indicating that she wasn’t easily impressed.

Good thing I hadn’t easily impressed in a good long while,

“Hey,” I said.

“Kiki,” she said.

“Lucky.”

We shook hands in a clinical moment under Zipper’s watchful eye.

Zipper gave my shoulder a slap. “Want to unload your stuff, or…?”

“I have a bottle of nice scotch in the car, if you’re willing to have a drink with me.”

Zipper laughed. “Welcome to New Orleans.”

I caught a smile from Kiki. “Lets get some glasses, Lucky.”

I nodded, let myself out.

There, on the porch, David looked up at me with pensive eyes. I reached down to give his head a scratch. His ears went perpendicular to his head. Could feel the purr radiating through his black fur, all the way along my fingertips.

“Don’t get to used to anything, David,” I said.

From behind me, the window popped open. “Lucky?”

I turned to find Kiki’s face in the frame, actual grin on her face. “We doing ice, or straight up?”

“Straight up,” I said.

She nodded, “David loves you.”

Closed the window.

I looked down. Caught a tooth protruding from David’s feline grin.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said.

Down the steps and out to the compact mini. Pulled out the key chain, bleeped it open.

Reached into the passengers for my bookbag, bottle of Scotch secured inside.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said to myself.

Walked back towards the house.

Straight up, on the rocks, David or no David, Kiki or no Kiki, new Zipper or old Zipper, the fact that a lethal storm had taken the opportunity to pass over this city, all the same, song, dance, what have you, me, and that bird I noticed in the tree.

Come a few months from now, I’d be committing suicide anyway.

I walked past David, wiped my feet on the mat, opened the door and made myself at home.

red meat.

red meat

Kiki Capri kissed my cheek with lips painted an emergency red. Smiled at me, bright eyes you could ice skate across, and assured me she would be right back. I smiled along, ten times over in love, and nodded. Watched her hips make change with the world, stray locks of hair playing with bared shoulders, everything that should have been perfect with the world.

But I went back to my whiskey and soda. Arms crossed over the bar of the Valiant Theater and Lounge. Stomach tensing. What few muscles I had all bound up in a secret. Brain stuck on an endless paragraph. Terrified. Remounting the same production in my head. Staring straight ahead at a litany of high-end bottles, half of which I couldn’t name because I was still stuck in the well, such a familiar sight that it felt this familiar feeling wasn’t just an accident.

“Hey, Lucky.”

Hobbes was at my side. Wavy hair, handsome features. Wiry body of close-knit, well-maintained muscle. Healthy cheekbones, trimmed beard a russet red. Eyes dark, perusing the bar he owned, nurtured. Fought for on a nightly basis.

Brought me back to the what was now. Details of my brain scenario replaced for what passed as reality. Slow night. Empty couches and low-riding cocktail tables. Dim light. Walls painted a wandering gray. Music on a steady jazz kick, bartender on an old-school swing. Candles. Crystal-cut dessert bowls filled to the brim with multicolored mints.

“Hey, Hobbes,” I managed.

“Hey, me…” He paused over his beer. Dark bottle of craft, something I would have probably found repugnant. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

Hobbes didn’t have any immediate male friends. Then again, he was a mover, shaker, carnival barker. People who work the room don’t always have real friends anyway, so I wasn’t sure whether his reasons for lack of male companionship had anything to do with mine.

I hated sports. I hated beer. I hated talking about high-end whiskey, unless it was in my mouth, in which case, why bother opening it?

I still didn’t know Hobbes very well, but I sensed. Had a notion.

So oddly enough, it felt as though I had been waiting for this moment to say

I can’t shake this daydream from my head. It’s been with me for a few weeks now. And it won’t leave. Hangs in, hand in hand with two things that happened two years ago.

And maybe Hobbes paused before saying, Oh yeah?

Bit of a back story. I moved down here with originally, the reason I moved down here – wait. I moved down here with the intention to kill myself.

And maybe he nodded.

Second thing. I’m a vegetarian.

And maybe he said, I know. It’s a fucking shame. Go on.

A few months before I moved, still living in NC and a few days after deciding that New Orleans would be where it would all end… I ordered a hamburger.

And maybe he asked, and I hoped his voice would dip with a certain concern: What did you get on it?

Answer is in the details. I met two idiot friends of mine for a half-off wine special at bar nearby. I was living paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have all that much to spend. Wasn’t feeling much of anything. That empty sort of sense you get from watching a bad play. And I thought, why not? When the waitress came up to take our order, I asked for a burger with bacon, bleu cheese, red onions, because, let’s face it, nobody on this planet would be kissing my face anytime soon. Also, cooked medium rare. Closer to red. No lettuce. Mayo, tomato, all the rest was fine.

My dinner companions cheered, figuring I’d turned a corner, or some such shit. Finally enjoying life, or some other such even more shit. Truth was, I thought maybe biting into a dead cow, topped with two strips of dead Babe might release the right endorphins. Make me feel something.

And maybe Hobbes took an understanding pull of his beer and asked, Did it?

No. They forgot the bacon, the bleu cheese. The burger was done well, past well, made me wonder who this cow had to fuck to even get into the business, and the bun was torn down the middle. Didn’t complain because it didn’t matter. Every bite was like what kale or broccoli must taste like to someone like you. It was nothing. A Hail Mary with with no reciever.

And maybe Hobbes took a sip of his beer, eyes deepening, and motioned with the bottle.

I’ve been getting this projection. In my head, this vivid daydream… I’m in a restaurant. A fancy one. The kind with cloth napkins, black ties at your table. White dishes set to the side for your bread and butter… I’m at a round table for two. But set only for one. Because it’s just me. Next to a floor-to-ceiling window. And it’s midday outside, color of spent charcoal. I can see the people walking by, in my head. The ambient noise is so lush, I can isolate every sound. Silverware scraping. Ice cubes popping in fresh water glasses. Twist of a pepper mill some two tables down. Every last moron who thinks others care for their conversations, amplified. Every goddamn commentary, the goddamn problems they have with their domestics, the fucking Peterson account, enough to make me vomit in my mouth, only there’s nothing left in there, but soon

in front of me is a plate with a burger. Cooked to just, just, just right. The kind you see on billboards. Cheese that hugs the patty, but still keeps consistency. Bacon that you barely have to chew because the fat is going to dissolve in your mouth the moment it makes contact with your tongue. One of those twenty-one dollar hamburgers, meal-before-an-execution level of perfection, it is so nice… So great to be alone with just a fucking burger, and such a happy feeling to know it’s there because I have just, frankly, and to be clear, just given up… I’ve given up.

And maybe Hobbes wouldn’t say anything.

I’ve been thinking about it, I might say, swallow hard, …and this vision won’t. go. away.

But maybe Hobbes never would ask the question, and so I said then instead

“I don’t have anything to say for myself.” Downed my whiskey soda just to add: “I am an intensely uninteresting person.”

Hobbes gave me a Fuck you kind of look.

He licked his thumb and pressed it against my cheek. “Got some Kiki Capri still stuck on you.”

He went about his business and left. Me to my own, I brought my fingers together. Intertwined. Terrified. The bartender asked if he could get me anything.

I asked for a burger with bacon, bleu cheese, and no lettuce. Cooked medium rare. Closer to red.

He laughed and served me another whiskey soda.

I didn’t laugh, but took what I was given.

Drank deep and crossed my fingers that this chapter would melt along with the ice beneath a New Orleans rebirth, and maybe – shit, fuck, Goddamn, look at those bottles behind the bar – that it wasn’t all just starting up again.

 

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his was named sandy.

IMG_20171204_113457656

The bright side of a five hour stretch at the bar was that you never knew when you’d find yourself side by side with a secret. The downside was what to do with all that you’d just learned.

I had taken this seat in a bar. In the middle of the day. Down in New Orleans. Hopes of a shot if life were so fortunate, a sentence or two if my muse would still have anything to do with me. Back turned to the windows, through which cars emptied themselves from Fairground gates. Even with races done for the day, I could still hear the hooves. Clumps of fresh turf and mud shooting up between legs like pistons, flanks numbered like take-a-number tickets at the butcher shop. Loudspeaker giving everyone a reason to rave. The 20 I lost on 5, the 40 I won off 6 to place, the 100 or so I blew on a pony who took a shit in his paddock, so running a little lighter than the rest, but come that actual stretch I guess he didn’t have it in him.

“Cats,” the drunk told me. Stocky, freckled white face with a hat of red hair. Nobody you’d remember, unless you were unfortunate enough to start paying attention. He drew his pint in close. Favored himself with an Irish accent as he leaned into his stout. Drank. Drew back. “A true thief knows his nuts. What you might call casing a joint. You want to get authentic? Go with a home invasion. It’s the worst, Lucky.”

Shit, he knew my name.

And I knew his secret.

Had to act fast, and signaled for a couple of shots. Jameson.

We took them down, ignoring the proud smile of an empty stage across the room.

He wiped his mouth. “So here’s the secret to a good one. Here’s the way you want to work it. Anybody with a cat. Cat wants to be let in, cat paws at the door. Their owner opens the door. That’s it.”

I had a cat. Two cats. Evenly distributed between myself and current lover, Kiki. Before then, another cat named Tricky. Brought into my life while living with my ex, a cat she brought in from the cold to replace Hank – another black shorthair courtesy of another ex-girlfriend – scooped from the streets and placed next to my pillow while I slept.

“Here’s what it is, Lucky,” the drunk said.

Got me motioning for another round of shots; still knew my name.

“I love my cat. Her name –” He hiccupped. “Is Sandy. She likes to swim. I know, strange thing for a cat to do. Every time, though, that I let her out, I have to hold my piece…” He gave the waistband of his jeans a pat to prove he was packing. Too big for a .22, too small for a .45. “The bright side to figuring an angle, Lucky, is you get to exploit it. The downside is what to do, knowing someone else might be playing it as well.”

I received another pair of brown bullets.

We took them down gracefully and I was starting to ponder, stop-gap, band-aid, how long could I keep listening and not be complicit…

“You hang around outside a person’s house long enough, you know they have to let their cat in. She lets her cat in, you can watch. She lets her cat in, people let their cat inside their homes. So what next? All you have to do is wait. Having a cat scratch at the front door is like a Tinder alert that it’s about to be on, son.”

Son was a good sign. Very least, not a bad start.

Asked him if I had remembered to introduce myself, got a solid shake to the contrary. The Jameson had done its job: erasure. I kept relief in check, swallowed that sigh with a tug of Bud and shook his hand. “Sebastian Montero.”

“Liam Fitzpatrick.”

No doubt he was slinging a name as fake as the one I had served. But that was best left for phase two. Phase one had one last step. I called for another full round. Pint, bottle, two Irish whiskeys for the big spenders. Excused myself to the little idiot’s room. Marched into the stall, no time to lose my nerve, so closing the door would have to wait. Kneeled. Opened wide. Two fingers down my throat. Inhaling a ripe ipecac of piss and yesterday’s shit stains. Sent a ballistic missile of brine into the toilet. Two pumps of my stomach, one final retch. The bright side of forgetting to eat was no bits and pieces rattling in the back of your throat. The downside was that it gave the drink a playground with no sandbox, and if I was going to get him to give me his real name, this toilet was looking at two, maybe three more visits from me.

I shuddered. Flushed.

Wiped my tears from the bathroom mirror and stayed frosty.

Ready for phase two, only to stride back to my seat and find an empty barstool where Liam once sat. Twenty dollar tip left in his wake. I asked the bartender if Liam had stepped outside for a smoke. Bartender shrugged and told me Liam was just plain done. For the evening.

“Took care of the drinks,” bartender said, knuckle digging into the corner of his left eye. “Said he’d be seeing you again.”

I nodded. Took a seat, felt the evening air forcing its way in through the open door. Noticed there was still one pint, one bottle, and two shots to contend with.

Swallowed the Jameson whole and set to work on my beer.

Finished the beer and set to work on a plan.

The bright side to years spent parked in a bar is that it prepares you to deal with anything. The downside to anything is when that wheel stops, anything becomes something, and finally lands on your number.

 

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lottery.

lottery]

occasion has it, take a moment to remind the universe. have a comet collide with another, simple seconds before that first sip of Jack, make that sun go supernova just seconds before celebrating with a glass of cheap Champagne or another shot from the well. You’re a guest in any particular moment, courtesy of the rest, and if the galaxy insists it’s your friend, just imagine the person sitting directly to your left.

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wish i was her.

tyler

woke up with the taste of her lips on my mine. a swell sense of divine, same as the 9.45 sunshine. blanket on the floor. both of us intertwined in a white sheet that went under her leg, over her thigh, over mind, down, under and all around. red hair flowing along all of that, and how to reach for a half glass of red wine without awaking the imagination next to me?

she took care of it herself, slid out of bed and walked in a naked bee line for the bathroom. i was left with the ceiling, fan, all that could fit though the shutters. had myself a glass. caught the lipstick stain from last night.

she was back within two more sips, kissed my lips. fully dressed, somehow.

“you said some funny shit last night, Lucky,” she told me.

i gave her a smile, “that explains the laughter.”

“you feel free to tell the story some day,” she said.

one more kiss, leading to the door, and she closed it behind her with a sound that brought this room into completion. walls, windows. even the floor beneath the bed, where the cat spent its time breathing in and out.

outside, the sound of a saxophone. practice on the way to a second line, and i couldn’t see them.

listening. thinking about thinking about last night for every last night, and day, and future sunrise until maybe i would say something funny again.

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monday.

stairs.jpg

i’ll take you up and along this this staircase if you’re willing to take the steps. we’ll call first and second as left and right foot, for either one of us. depending. on whether third and fourth have anything to say about our legs, calves, upward thighs, maybe one not quite as present as the other,  resting on one or the other’s shoulder, but we’ll leave that up to the fifth: someone’s hip to how this ass is going to bruise in the shape of lower lips come monday morning. so maybe the lower back gets saved between that and sixth, and the upper levels might use the leverage to arch, unless we’ve switched. so maybe seventh serves knees, pressed, and all four palms plant roots on eighth or ninth, a perfect tenth responding to a spiral, and who’s on their back now, renaming the ride, one of us leaning back, betting that gravity won’t bite quite like we do, this guardrail, less of a safety word than a wild card, and. i’ll take you up and along this staircase, until no top or bottom, and the nails that put this whole contraption together, from first to beyond, dig in, until beyond is the first, and the first sends this stairway into collapsible, i am absolutely willing to bet, if you’re willing to take the steps.

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just under midnight.

bird

that’s just it, i said. everything tastes. and that’s what makes the best of memories unbearable. sent two strokes down along her arm, back up.  your pillow. the bench where we used to laugh, loaded, over loaded drinks. the tree i once climbed without any exit plan, the bark, leaves, roots, dirt under my fingernails. separated our lips for one thousandth of a moment to marvel at the wild carnival attractions, skylines in each others eyes. not just the grass, tickle of green leaf, but the silent drift of clouds, cautious moons, metallic taste of a penny after it’s left your hand, sidewalk crack on a summer meant for someone else, salt water shores, the sight of a cork on the floor, sprained tendons, elastic naps together, alarm clocks, notepads, first drafts, salt along seven years past the shoreline. fingers through her hair, texture of tongue on either/or, both of us pointed in opposite directions, mouths full, so you know this must just be me thinking, everything tastes. pop of an ice cube in a solid pour of poison, stomach cramp, ash, cigarette smoke, an overheard fight on the crosstown bus, underwater, scratches on my back, ripples, cat paws, ecstatic raindrops, this choreographed moment. felt her buck up against me hard enough to send us to the floor, hands at the ready to bring a knee close to my lips, hand behind her neck. Gutters, candlelight, halfway through a book you’ll never finish, the raw affection of teeth along your upper back, highways, sundogs, dead friends on your mind, everything tastes, these graphic moments, your arms propped back along my thighs, and then back down around to distract us from what came before, knees, up against, staring at our compensation in a mirror that winks back at us through drawn shades, we can let wet describe our only way out from the fact that everything, everything, old spoons, white streetlights, signs insisting we KEEP OUT, double knots, locked doors, just sitting outside, tasting the winter, branches and brambles as we make a meal out of this, against a wall that tastes, chair, once again collapsing into the everything, that everything, we know that everything, this is our last time, with screams in our mouths in place of everything, everything, everything tastes.

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