Black Sabbath was playing over the stereo. On TV, the German 6th Army was surrounded by the Russians, and was freezing to death. I was drinking a beer and looking at the socks on my feet. All was well in the world. The only way it could be better was if there was some female company there to enjoy the perfection of that moment.
There was a knock at my door. Not a cop knock, or a drunk buddy knock, but a tippy-tap chick knock. The Universe. I jumped up and put on some pants. A lost little girl on her way to Grandmother’s? Or… just a cop knocking like a chick, to get me to open up. I paused. If it is the cops, I’ll just have to pay for the lock anyway. I slowly opened the door, hoping for a mystery dream date.
It was the biker chick who moved in next door. It made sense that she’d be the woman The Universe would send. Great sense of humor, The Universe.
I had already decided I didn’t like her when I overheard her jaw at the two hayseed meth addicts that helped her move. “Hey Fucker, watch it! I won that mirror at the fair!” “Where the fuck is my lighter? Did you steal my fucking lighter?” “Dalton! I swear if you break that, I’m gonna break your face!” She was personality-challenged, and she didn’t have the looks to make up for it. Hopefully she’ll want to drink all my beers, too.
“Got a beer?” she asked, taking off her buckskin jacket and throwing it on the chair that served as my hamper. She wore a leather vest, revealing a beef jerky-textured cleavage formed by two flattened and freckled breasts.
“Yeah sure,” I said, “But I’m kinda low, I might have to make a run pretty soon, and that’s going to be iffy since my car doesn’t have any brakes.” This didn’t seem to register. She stood looking around at my apartment. She had straight black hair that hung-down like the Land O Lakes Butter maiden. But unlike the Land O Lakes Butter maiden, who is hot, this woman had rugged features that were probably etched deeper by frequenting smokey and boozy environs. A harsh life had scoured any softness from her face. She looked hard. Prison time and honky-tonk hard. I don’t generally go for chicks that look tougher than me.
She didn’t waste any time getting under my skin. “Wow, this place is thrashed! It smells weird in here. Hey turn the music down. What’s this shit you’re watching?”
I looked at her amazed. Mom, is that you? I wished the cops had come instead. I could turn down the Sabbath, they’d run me for warrants, and then leave. This buzz-kill was going to be a little trickier to get rid of. I went over and gave a token dial-down on the volume.
“To what do I owe the honor of this occasion?” I asked, getting a beer from the fridge, but not before stashing two in the vegetable drawer.
“Oh, I don’t know. I was bored and I heard the music,” she said, taking the beer. She flung back her hair and tilted the bottle. I watched her drain half of it in one pull. Six ounces in three seconds. I figured I should just start walking to the store now.
“My name is Toni, but everyone calls me Tehachapi.” She held out her hand. I shook it. It was a firm handshake. Great. A cornball handle and a manly mitt. Sweet deal, all around.
“Well Tony, would you like to have a seat?” I pulled up a milk crate. “That’s okay, I’d rather lay down here.” She flopped on my mattress and started to kick off her boots. She took out a pack of Marlboro Reds. They were in a tooled leather purse with beaded suede fringe. A swap meet purchase, I imagined. Probably the same vendor that sold her that silver and turquoise lighter holder. “Do you have an ashtray?” she asked, already lighting up.
“Ah yeah, it’s totally cool to smoke in here,” I assured her. I handed her an empty bottle to use.
This is so bad, I thought, on so many levels, I don’t know which one I should fixate on. Maybe I should just focus on the fact there’s some sort of a representation of a woman on my bed. That has traditionally been considered a good start for me. Perhaps if I drink a lot of beers, in a very short time, things will somehow improve. I cracked a fresh one and sat down on the milk crate. I looked over at the TV and watched troops pull a field artillery piece through the snow. This was going to be hard.
“My name is…” Hold it. Real name? Lives next door now. Fake one won’t help. “…Marius.”
“What is it?”
“That’s a weird name.”
“Yep…It sure is.”
I looked over and saw a German soldier running through the rubble. A sniper bullet caught him and he went down dead. If it could only be that easy, I thought. She pointed to my bookshelf.
“Hey, you got Scrabble! I loved playing that with my Grandma.”
“Yeah well, I don’t really play it anymore.”
“I’m not very good with spelling, but I’m good at coming up with words.”
“That’s hard to pull off,” I said, “That’s really awesome.”
She killed off her beer, and set the bottle down on the floor. “That was good. Got another?”
Ok, I need to be called away to some emergency. What kind of emergency happens at 10:30 at night? Loads, but I can’t think of one right now, not one that would need me hanging around. I have eight beers left and that was going to be pushing it even flying solo. Now this thing happens. Well, I can’t let her lap me. I slammed my beer and got up and got two more.
She began telling me about herself, but somehow I already knew it. Alcoholic parents, abusive marriages, kids taken away, some stripping, some prostitution, drugs, county jail, rehab, bartending, carnival gig, transporting meth to Indiana for her biker boyfriend, state prison, rehab again, and now collecting welfare and selling Mary Kay. It was a depressing saga, and I was fairly immune to those by then. Her story curb-kicked anything I had resembling a high into shit-smeared bummer. Oh, and she’d never even been to Tehachapi.
The liquor store was inevitable. I told the Old Maiden of the Iron Horse to kick up her heels while I rolled on down to the store.
The car really didn’t have brakes. I had to rely on the parking brake and my psychic hunches about when lights were going to change. It was a good thing I was an intuitive, or it would’ve been crazy dangerous. I coasted to a stop at Owl Liquors, but I overshot the drive-thru and had to get out of the car to order from the window. The ride back was uneventful, except for the car wreck going on in my mind.
“Where the fuck is your remote?” she asked as I walked through the door. I told her it was a long story, and that reaching up to change the channel was a good ab work-out. I put the beers in the fridge and added two more to the vegetable drawer.
We drank and she talked some more. The drunker she got, the flirtier she became. The flirtier she became, the drunker I needed to get. I prayed for a deus ex machina to descend from the sky and save me. I kept bringing up what an early morning I had ahead, but she kept on yammering and beating her eyelids at me.
“Why don’t you come lay down next to me and make yourself more comfortable? You’re all hunched up,” she says.
My ass had deep x’s imprinted in it from the milk crate, but I wasn’t about to make myself more comfortable. It seemed like I couldn’t impair my judgement fast enough to keep up with events.
“I like being hunched up,” I told her, “I think I was a cathedral gargoyle in a past life.” I started to tell her about how my grandmother spilled an entire pint of cognac in her purse at St. Patrick’s Catherdral, but she interupted with, “Hey, do you want to fuck?”
Oh God. Panic in Detroit. Things around me began to stretch and distort. The lines in the room started to point upwards at crazy angles, like in German Expressionist set design. I couldn’t remember the last time I said no to that question. I didn’t think I knew how. I was going to have to learn fast.
“Yeah I’d love to except that I don’t have any condoms, and I’m having an outbreak, and I’m a little confused about my sexuality these days, and I don’t want to rush things, and I’m too drunk, and I have a girlfriend.”
“Well then scaredy cat, just come over here and cuddle with me for a while.”
Could this really be happening to me? I tried to wake myself up. No, still here. The problem was I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I know. I’m lame like that. Was it time to fake a seizure?
“Oh, if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s cuddle,” I said. I slowly got up. I wanted to be a fly, or a pencil in a cup, or a ball of dryer lint, anything but me right then. I laid down next to her. She burrowed her face into my armpit, and just like that, she was out cold. The Universe. Nothing like adding a little drama with a last-minute save.
I looked down at her. Her face seemed to soften. I pictured what she looked like as a young girl, back when she had no idea how bad things would get. That made me feel even more sorry for her. I found myself feeling bad because I didn’t even want to love her. But, I wanted somebody to love her, eventually. Nobody’s life should be non-stop bullshit, and if it is, they should at least have one partner in crime. Would it kill me to let her pretend for a while? Clearly I’m not averse to doing things that could kill me. Besides, I was drunk. I had the all-purpose excuse already in my back pocket.
I leaned back. I thought about war on the Eastern Front. That was hard. This should be easy, well…easier. You’re just holding another human being. Fucking relax. I listened to my clock tick for a while, and then remembered the beers in the vegetable drawer. I wondered if I could get to them without waking her up. She started to snore as my arm fell asleep.