three stories in a trunk,
one made of paper,
the other of Maker's,
the other of ammonium-isobutane-acteldahyde vapor.
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I could be in a bottomless pit except for a bitty streak of Shell Oasis neon from the window. I peak out and all I can see are the power lines and the corner of the pumps’ overhang. A lot of times I look out that window and all I want is to be is fucking out there.
Where the fuck is Dickie? I’m stranded in these corridors without him. I just want to go to bed. Dickie, Dickie, where the fuck are you? How about I just sleep in the fucking hallway and wait until the warden comes by in the morning and explain to him how you let me out of my cell for a fucking eight ball? Jesus, I can’t believe I talked him down to that. Let me out of my cell to kill somebody and I’ll give you an eight ball. Jesus, what do I get for a half a key, your soul in a cake box? That’s the kind of idiot should be in jail and they make him a guard. Like this world ever made any fucking sense at fucking all.
Now I can’t even find him. Jesus, just put me back in my cell. Dick, Dick, Dickie. Where the fuck is he? What am I supposed to do?
“Dickie,” I whisper. “Dickie.”
“What?” he says, not even whispering. Fucking idiot is gonna end up in here one day and I’ll laugh when the MS13s fucking chew him up and spit out the bones.
“What you mean what? Put me back in my cell.”
“How’d it go?”
“It went fine.”
“Yes. Where the fuck were you?”
“Texting this girl I met at Moe’s. I could tell she wasn’t 21 so I flash my badge like I’m a police and she buys it. Take her outside the bar like I’m gonna arrest her but do her the kindness of letting her off just this once so long as she does me a favor.” “That’s great, Dickie. My cell is this way.”
“I’m gonna snort some of that shit and get with her all night. Bet you miss that, huh?”
He finally starts following me down the corridor. I wait outside my cell door and he’s not even reaching for his keys. Just having a lazy Sunday stroll over there.
“So Quirino’s dead. That’s got to be an improvement for him, huh?”
“What do you care whether it’s an improvement or not? You got your blow.”
“Can you get me any more?”
I look at my cell lock, then back at him. “Later, yeah.”
“Cool. You know, it’s funny seeing you outside of your cell at this hour. You look so natural.”
“I guess you better get in your cell.”
He finally opens the cell and I shuffle in faster than I ever have before.
“Night, Jackie. Thanks for the shit,” he says and locks the door.
It’s cold in here and I suddenly I realize that my breath is haywire. I can’t even think about what the fuck just happened.
“Rob,” I say. “Rob, are you fucking awake? Rob? Rob, wake the fuck up.”
“What?” he says. “What?”
I don’t know. “Fucking imbecile guard is gonna keep me in here another twenty years.”
“I should cut his throat before he fucking derails me.”
He clears the sleep out of his throat. “What are you talking about?”
“Nothing you’d fucking understand. Get down here.”
He hops down and he’s next to me in about ten seconds. I want to throw him into the wall and instead I put my arm around him.
“You ever see a ghost?” I say.
“I don’t think so. My ma used to see her ma, she thought. Grandma used to bleach her teeth so much they’d glow in the dark and after she died my ma would see them sometimes in the middle of the night.”
“Well, that weren’t no fucking ghost. A ghost is everything, face and eyes and hands and clothes, a watch even. Glowing teeth could just as easily be some rouse of the mind. A person popping out of nowhere, what the fuck else could that be but a ghost?”
“Yeah,” he says like he knows what the fuck I’m talking about.
“I saw it with my own eyes. A man walked out of nothing.”
“Three minutes ago. I paid off Dickless and went into the medical ward to take care of that business with Paulo.”
“Yeah. Just like that crazy note of Paulo’s said, eleven o’clock on the dot I was standing over his hospital bed, holding a scalpel to his throat. I watched the artery in his neck twitch and I took a breath and said to myself, next twitch is the last. So it twitched again and then Paulo’s eyes opened. He fucking woke up just like that. And this black ball the size of a dime bounces off his chest, hard like it slammed him into the bed, even though it was just a little ball.”
It was all black in this cell at first but now I guess my eyes are adjusted because I can see Rob there, his curly head hanging, not even looking at me while I’m talking, afraid if he says the wrong thing I’ll sock him. Is he even listening?
“The ball bounces up and then it fucking unfolds midair like a spring-loaded kite, into a shadow of something that isn’t there, a man’s shadow, and then the shadow fills in and turns into the man it was a shadow of. He was a real man, dressed like he just walked right off the street. He had combed blond hair, sort of Californian-seeming, a pink dress shirt, a nice watch. He took shape so fast it knocked me back and I tripped over the life support system. I cut the back of my head falling down.”
I run my finger over the cut. It’s already stopped bleeding. Rob leans behind me and kisses the back of my head. It feels nice.
“I was trapped in a corner by this Californian guy, ready to cut him but he doesn’t even look at me. He stares down Paulo and Paulo looks scared shitless. He closes his eyes tight like he’s gonna shut himself back into his fucking coma. The California guy leans over Paulo and says, ‘If you leave again, I won’t slam you back into your body like I just did. I’ll drag you into the middle of the black sludge and leave you there.’
“Paulo opens his eyes at that and stares at the California guy like he’s a fucking oncoming car. ‘You’ll lose your mind,’ the guy says to Paulo. ‘You’ll lose yourself, you’ll forget why you ever wanted to leave your body in the first place, maybe the fact that you even have a body, and if you ever get what you want, you won’t know what to do with it because your mind will be gone.’
“Whatever the fuck that means, Paulo takes it seriously and he gets real defensive. He says, all pissy, “I crossed the world. I went through the village and I saw gods and I did what no man has ever done so I could be like you. It’s not fair for you to keep me out.’
“California guy says, “No one’s like me and I don’t care what it is you want, I’m just here to make sure you don’t get it. That girl you went through on your trip, you ripped her right out of the world and that’s why you’re staying in it.’
“Paulo looked like he was gonna cry. He says, ‘There’s nothing for me here.’
“California guy says, “I’ll be standing just outside this world, making sure that the life you’re living right now is your last. Stay here, find a life. There’s a lot more of it here than out there, anyway.’
“Paulo thinks for a moment and then he shuts his eyes again, starts chanting to himself like a fucking witch or something and the California guy gives him one more chance, says, ‘I’m telling you. I will do it and you don’t want that.’ Paulo just chants faster, shuts his eyes tighter and a second later, he just cuts out, like someone pulled the plug on him.
“California guy shakes his head and then he looks at me for the first time. He says to me, ‘Lucky you,’ and then he kind of jumps and he turns back into that little black ball and it shrinks until it’s a speck of dust and I can’t even see it but I’m sure it goes right into Paulo and then I’m alone again.
“I didn’t know what to do so I checked Paulo’s pulse, he was still alive, so I did like he asked me to, I went ahead and slit his throat and then I stumbled back into the hallway like I was in a fucking dream. All I could think was that I wanted to get back in this cell, get away from all that craziness.”
I lie down and Rob lies down next to me, holding me. Just a little line of yellow from the Shell sign outside and everything is okay, maybe even good. A fucking ghost, a fucking ghost, I want to say, but I don’t and then I don’t even want to say it anymore. I feel him against me and that’s enough. I can’t believe it, but I think I’m about to fall asleep. Someplace I can’t see, there’s a convict and a ghost from California fighting it out in a world of black sludge. I can almost see it. Maybe I can’t. I don’t know. No reason to fucking think on it now. Fucking morning’s only four hours away.
Thank you everybody for reading this. Since it is kind of long, I feel justified in writing some more specific thank-yous. Thank you to Bethany, Kristen, Nathan, Nick, and especially Mary. Thank you to ERA and WMSE for radio insights, Michael Conway and the UWM Chemistry Department, and Jim Wafer for writing the book The Taste of Blood: Spirit Possession in Brazilian Candomble. And Dirt, of course. That's all, mama.