Catherine Davis

Reeling

Myrtle Beach, the Grand Strand, hot fun in the sum­mer time.  Welcome Canadians!  in the fall.  The International Parade of Corvettes in the spring.  Nine golf cours­es, six water slides and three go-cart tracks.  Five radio sta­tions all ded­i­cat­ed to oldies.  Go ride the Swamp Fox, the some­thingest roller coast­er in the coun­try!  Run over some ani­mals on the way.

At some point, I real­ized that my per­son­al­i­ty was dis­in­te­grat­ing.  Is that what they call it?  It hap­pens on Law & Order a lot.

Whatever it is, the con­se­quences are not good.

A few drinks wiped that lit­tle epiphany right out of my mind.

•     •     •

Hello?  Earth to Sharon.”  He actu­al­ly said that, Frank, the cer­ti­fied shrink.  To whom the coun­ty was pay­ing good tax dol­lars, on my behalf.  DUI bought you six months of AA, or two of this, plus com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice.  Good thing I’d got­ten that shiny new license, and that old junker, the one now crust­ing over in space num­ber two.  The deal was a no brain­er, the math was easy, even to my soused brain.  “If you don’t talk about it, you’re not going to make any progress.  You do want your license back, don’t you?”  In my brave new world, if you didn’t talk about it, it didn’t exist.  Frank made a tent of his fin­gers and rest­ed them under his nose.  Uh-huh, he did.

I don’t want to.  I don’t find it to be a par­tic­u­lar­ly fas­ci­nat­ing line of inquiry.”  Always a curve on what I said around this guy, try­ing to sound smart.  God knows why; but fit in fine with all the rest of the inex­plic­a­bles.

I have the sense that there is a snake’s nest of unre­solved issues here.”  Dan called him Dr. Hollyweird.  The guy said he was from LA.  I had my doubts, but what was the dif­fer­ence?  I just sat, look­ing out at the guys going into the surf shop next door.  “So you left a lucra­tive career in the adver­tis­ing busi­ness in New York, oh, and,” he swiveled around to his desk to check the notes.  He ran his index fin­ger down the yel­low pad, tapped when he found the item.  “And, a fiancé, and moved down here to Myrtle Beach to work at, uh, Molly’s Flapjacks, from where you were fired, um, last month?  Have I got all that right?”  Deadpan didn’t suit him.  He had a squeaky voice.

I was on my way to Miami.”

Yes?”  I turned my atten­tion back from the surfers to Frank, his eyes, and real­ized only then that he didn’t believe me.  I was inclined to let him just stay with his sense, there.  Nobody here knew any­thing about where I came from, my choice.  Robbie said I float­ed in on a half-shell.  Acne scars and all, was my stan­dard response.  But even though I didn’t want to think or tell about it, it was a strain at times.  I bit.

Sick of it.”  I shrugged.  Enough said, far as I was con­cerned.

It?”  He had a lit­tle egg head and baby-cheeks.

The fab­u­lous­ness.”

Fabulousness?”  He wrote it down.  It looked like it would crack more eas­i­ly than most.  Heads, it turned out, were sur­pris­ing­ly tough to crack.

Yeah.  Everything, every­body, every place was… so fuck­ing fab­u­lous.  Never-end­ing game of one-upman­ship.  Never get away from it, not at the bode­ga, the laun­dry, the post office, the toi­let.”

So–”

Hey, if you want me to tell it, Frank, just lis­ten and let me, okay.”

I am chas­tised.”  He raised his soft pink palms at me.  Fucker.

I was lug­ging five or so shop­ping bags – I’d been Christmas shop­ping all after­noon.  I had made this dis­cov­ery that lots of shops actu­al­ly will cut the price if you lay out cash.  I used to do big Christmases, and I had five thou­sand dol­lars on me that day.  There were no cabs up by Barneys, yeah, I’m sure you do know it, yeah, isn’t it just.”  I want­ed to set Frank’s perky red hair on fire.

Anyway, I took the E train, and there was a delay on the tracks.  I was at my lim­it with peo­ple jostling and bump­ing, so I got off at Port Authority.  The Salvation Army Santa out­side was ring­ing his bell.  Fabulous Santa, nat­u­ral­ly.”  I stole a glance at Frank.  Blank.  “So I gave SA Santa sev­en­ty-five cents and a token.  However, no cabs down here either.  Why the dri­vers change shifts dur­ing rush hour in New York City is one of the great mys­ter­ies of the ages.

I start­ed down Ninth, walk­ing.  Kept my eyes open for a cab – but nada.  It was begin­ning to snow – won­der­ful Christmastime treat.  Some car­ol­ers down Thirty-eighth street singing ‘Tidings of com­fort and joy.’  Midway down the block, I was pass­ing those emp­ty park­ing lots when this Puerto Rican guy starts bounc­ing and skip­ping all around me, ask­ing for spare change.  That always made me ner­vous, and I always felt guilty about stereo­typ­ing at the same time.  He seemed a lit­tle brain-dam­aged or some­thing, and he was hor­ri­bly skin­ny.  And it was Christmas, so I opened my purse and pulled out a twen­ty.  He blessed me, and went on and on about the mir­a­cles that were going to hap­pen to me for a minute or so.  I felt so hap­py about it, and pleased with myself, I blessed him back, and told him to stay warm.  He heads across towards a din­er on the far cor­ner, ecsta­t­ic.  I was think­ing about get­ting home and telling my fiancé what I’d done, and enjoy­ing how appalled he’d be.  I was real­ly impressed with myself.

Frank, I need a cig­a­rette here.  Really I do.”  For once he nod­ded, and I lit up.  “So, after the home­less guy bounces away, only a cou­ple of sec­onds and a nice look­ing guy, well-dressed, swing­ing his brief­case and all, is pass­ing me on the left.  Turns his head and says, in this British accent, ‘You got­ta love New York.’  Lips like Jude Law, so I smile at him, and then I’m sud­den­ly down on the side­walk, and he’s on top of me, yank­ing at my purse.  ‘Just let go,’ he says.  ‘Give it up, stu­pid cow.’  I was fight­ing him, of course––”

Why––”

Shush, Frank.  You want to hear it or not?  One time offer, no ques­tions.  Okay then.  After that, the businessman’s drag­ging me, and it’s dark, and he cracks my head on the pave­ment, and that’s it.”  It was fun to watch Frank fid­get.  I wait­ed just until it looked like he was get­ting ready to pipe up again, and flicked ash on the car­pet.

Oops.  Then this kid, a lit­tle boy, is shak­ing my shoul­der and say­ing, ‘Lady, lady are you dead?’  Scared the shit out of me, I thought I was being mugged again, and, now, with impec­ca­ble sense of tim­ing, I final­ly scream for the first time.  And I don’t shut up.  Kid freaks and runs away.”  Frank start­ed to say some­thing here, but I held up my hand.

My dime, Frank.  And only three min­utes accord­ing to your trusty clock.  Yeah, the nice home­less guy was Puerto Rican, the mug­ger was white, ‘kay?  So after I find that I can move, I sit up and check my head.  Bloody and dirty, but not bro­ken, I don’t think.  I get to my feet, though I’m wob­bly.  Still no cabs.  Our apart­ment is only fif­teen blocks south, and I try to fig­ure if I can make it.  But I turn around and keep star­ing at the lights up at Port Authority instead.  Honey will freak if bun­ny comes home like this.  So, I’m just gonna go up and wash in a restroom there.  Do as much dam­age con­trol as I can.  The weird thing is, I feel embar­rassed, humil­i­at­ed.”  I looked up to see Hollyweird nod­ding sage­ly, with his eyes closed, like he was in deep inner pain.  Then his lip budged.

Can it, Frank, I know all about it.  Forty-five sec­onds, and I’m out­ta here.  Good.  I’m unen­cum­bered now, so mov­ing around is much eas­i­er than it might have been.  People are star­ing at me in the sta­tion, and three even ask if I’m all right or need help.  Gotta love it, New York.  But I’m in a zone, and I wave them off.  I go into the Ladies’, not feel­ing like much of one.  Fact is, haven’t felt like much of one since.  Down, boy.  God’s sake, Frank.

I’m a hor­ror show in the restroom mir­ror.  A cou­ple of my teeth are loose, but still attached.  I wash out my hair – blood and park­ing lot shit, as best I can in a sink there, then look down at my clothes, and notice that I still have my fan­ny-pack.  It was under my coat.  I unzip and my cash is still there – looks like all of it.  A mir­a­cle, I got an incom­pe­tent mug­ger.  I feel light-head­ed, gid­dy.  So much mon­ey, it seems to me now.  So much more than it was an hour ago.

I look at myself again, check to see if I’m fit to go home.  Presentable.  Watch myself star­ing at myself.  See some­thing in those mir­ror-eyes.  Something is wrong with this pic­ture, I think, and it’s not my fucked–up face.

I sud­den­ly have a rag­ing com­pul­sion for a cig­a­rette – no I don’t smoke, didn’t, yes now, not then, Christ almighty!  While I’m buy­ing a pack at the news­stand, I hear an announce­ment for the Greyhound bus line.  That moment I know I’m not going back to the apart­ment on Twenty-sec­ond Street.  Back to the fiancé, back to the firm.  Clear as a bell.

I light up, cough a lot, but keep my cool, while I cross over and buy a tick­et to Miami.  I remem­ber some­one say­ing that it’s the clos­est you can come to being an ex-patri­ot with­out leav­ing the coun­try, and I’m there.  I also decide to start drink­ing heav­i­ly as soon as pos­si­ble.  I have a fam­i­ly des­tiny out there call­ing on me, I tell myself.  Miami would be the per­fect place to ful­fill it.  Why fight?  By the time the bus hits South Carolina, though, I’m get­ting real­ly tired, and sick of the smell.  We’re trolling through Myrtle Beach, and I see the giant roller­coast­er, and Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not, lots of neon, and swarms of tourists.  Unreal, almost as good as Miami.  Good enough.  What the hell, I get off.”  I stop-sign him with my hand again, and glance at the wall clock.

Oh, would you look at that Frank, it’s five o’clock, we’re ten min­utes over!  I for­got all about the full fifty.  Damn.  So sor­ry.  But, got to dash!  No, real­ly.  There is all kinds of alco­hol wait­ing for me around this car­ni­val town.”

Frank moved to hold the door open for me, then gave me this sick­ly smile and asked if I’d like to go have mar­ti­nis at his con­do-by-the-sea.  I pushed my face right up into his and said, “You’re not real­ly real, are you?”  He was fired.  I didn’t go back.

Never hap­pened to me in New York, this guys-hit­ting-on-me left and right.  Not when I was mak­ing the big dol­lars.  When I was sober and my hair was always clean, except, of course, for those last cou­ple of hours.  Now I was a reg­u­lar mag­net, for flies.

•     •     •

The Sea Dip Motel, turquoise fifties dream.  Room num­ber two.  I walked right in, flung off my shoes, dubbed it home and walked back out, bare­foot, over to the QuikStop for a six-pack.  I took it out onto the beach, twist­ed my ass into the sand, and watched the life guards pack up, last strollers of the day with their long dim shad­ows, a cou­ple of kamikaze kids shriek­ing to split their moth­ers’ brains.  Three beers down, I walked through the clam­my sand up to the Pavilion and watched the col­ored lights spin in the amuse­ment park across the way as I forked over two bucks for a corn­dog with mus­tard.

•     •     •

What I couldn’t get used to were the flat­tened squir­rels, stray or not-stray cats and dogs, birds, frogs or pos­sums lit­ter­ing the back roads.  I racked my brain for a New York equiv­a­lent of road kill – but there just weren’t too many dead dogs lying in the mid­dle of Broadway – the city’s own hor­rors notwith­stand­ing.  I couldn’t stop won­der­ing why so many peo­ple mowed down liv­ing crea­tures for the sake of thir­ty sec­onds off their trip to Wal-Mart or the QuikStop, or, more like­ly, just to the next red light.  My per­vad­ing con­cern.

•     •     •

Cast it out, reel it in.  Cast it out, reel it in.”

This long-legged guy was rock­ing back and forth on a barstool, mim­ing the action while he and his side­kick laughed their ass­es off at what­ev­er the sto­ry was.  The fish­er guy’s long curls shook when he laughed.  Beautiful.  The Blue Marlin was my first true find, about ten blocks from the Sea Dip.  I’d been here two weeks, hadn’t got­ten a car yet, so it was con­ve­nient.  The music was great, too: blues-jazz stuff most­ly.  Tonight J.J. Cale was the main menu.  And I hadn’t real­ly struck up any acquain­tances yet, either, so I thought I’d take my chances here.  More promis­ing than a lone­ly corn­dog on the board­walk up at the pavil­ion every night.

Hey, fel­las, that’s not the way I learned to do it.  I’d stick to cane poles any day, in that case.”

Well, hel­lo lady, what’s your name?”  Said the lanky one with curls.

Depends on who’s ask­ing,” I answered, per script.

I’m Dan,” Dan said.

Sharon, I’m sure,” I said, extend­ing my arm.  He brought it towards his face, then stopped short and looked at me.  I glanced at my wrist and the angle of my hand, and real­ized I hadn’t offered it so as to shake.  My neck and ears flushed hot.

This here’s Rob.  He’s a cop, now, so you bet­ter watch out.”  Yeah, and how.  The side­kick was short­er, stouter, with a blond crew.  I turned my atten­tion back to Dan.

Note tak­en.  And, you’re what, let me guess, a fish­er­man!”  My hand was moist, I wiped it on the back of my jeans.

Well, yeah, in between gigs,” Dan shrugged and laughed.

Shit man, you lie to the woman!  The only gig you had in the last ten years is hang­ing paper,” Rob said.

Shut up, bud, you’re blow­ing the impres­sion all to hell.  You know I’m the ‘Guitar Man.’ Which was play­ing on the sound sys­tem just then.  I pursed my lips in acknowl­edge­ment of his hokum.  “Gotta excuse my friend, here, that ol’ jeal­ousy thang run­ning back to high school days,” he shout­ed in Robbie’s face.  This cracked them both up.  “You know how drum­mers are.  So.  What’re you drink­ing there, Shar-one?”

Vodka ton­ic.”  I rat­tled the twist of lime at the bot­tom of my glass.

Got that, Chop?  Chop here is my broth­er.”  He dropped his head back and looked at the mas­sive bar­tender side­ways.  The guy must’ve been six-three and no less than three hun­dred pounds.  Like a white Sumo, but with foot long dread­locks, gray­ing, for an extra eth­nic spin.  Not a lit­er­al broth­er.  “Make mine the same.”  Dan’s fin­gers lin­gered in the ‘two’ for­ma­tion like a wilt­ed peace sign.

While I was intro­duc­ing myself to Chop, Dan elbowed Robbie in the chest.  “Reel it in,” he said one more time, and they cracked up again.

Well, I don’t think I’ve seen you around, Sharon.  You down here beachin’ it this week?  She doesn’t look like she’s from around here, does she, Rob?”  Dan said, and mock-looked me over.  He passed me one of the vod­ka ton­ics.  “So what do you think it is, the way she walks?”  A sul­try num­ber, slow under­cur­rent, had just come on, and I couldn’t help swing­ing my hips: Cale’s “Same Old Blues.”  Dan sipped and nod­ded, point­ing.  “Yup, I think… maybe so.”  He cocked his head, squint­ing at me, then hand­ed his drink off to Robbie.  “What say I take her out on the dance floor and you check, huh?”

Hey man, watch your mouth.  Don’t be rude to the lady, now–” But Robbie’s voice was fad­ing as Dan pulled me by both hands.  This was between me and him.

He had great arms to go with the legs, was a ter­rif­ic dancer.  I hadn’t been out danc­ing in for­ev­er, and it was a blast.  We stayed out on the floor for the next sev­er­al songs, and even­tu­al­ly peo­ple start­ed hang­ing at the edge of the floor, drink­ing and watch­ing us.  Nothing like it as an aphro­disi­ac.  Robbie left some­time around “Boilin’ Pot,” and we kept on danc­ing ‘til I can’t remem­ber.

One two three, hooked.  The low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor, but I’d been get­ting stu­pid and stu­pid­er since I got off the bus.

•     •     •

He took me out to the Gulf Stream in his father’s twen­ty-five-foot Bertram over the first cou­ple of months.  Out in the salt wind with the shim­mer com­ing off the waves, way out beyond the sight of land, I thought I was in heav­en.  Getting brown, col­or in my skin was a nov­el­ty.  And mak­ing a haul with the mack­er­el along with a few amber­jack.

Robbie went two or three times.  Nice enough guy, qui­eter than Dan, but who wasn’t?  He was a gung-ho fish­er­man, though.  By the last, back to just me and Dan by then, I was doing most of the fish­ing by myself.  Dropping a line into the water and the rod into the hold­er had got­ten to be a waste of effort in Dan’s view – he liked to just cruise around out there.  He was into mel­low­ing out on his days off – Percodan did it for him real well.  And I liked to drink.  Beer was the tick­et for catch­ing fish– Budweiser, “the King of beers,” my father ‘s recipe for suc­cess.  The fam­i­ly code.  What a beau­ti­ful body, though, my god.  A slight­ly slen­der Michaelangelo-per­fect.  Those calves and thighs.  The image of one of those del­toids slop­ing down to meet its bicep almost made me lose my good sense.

•     •     •

On the oth­er hand, we didn’t have much sex, me and Dan, most­ly for the same rea­son he stopped fish­ing.  Love of the drug, his.  Or not what I would per­son­al­ly like to think of as sex.  Turn over, what?  Oh, okay, arf, arf.  All in all: not much.  After four months, I was drink­ing enough that I didn’t much care one way or the oth­er.  I did notice that I didn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly care for the smell of Percodan seep­ing through his pores, how­ev­er.  The smell of wall­pa­per paste had been much nicer.

He lived in his par­ents’ beach house at Surfside.  Said I couldn’t move in because they could show up at any time.

I hadn’t asked.

•     •     •

A typ­i­cal date with Dan.  Today’s vari­a­tion went like this.

Bracing my arms against the dash of his old MG, scream­ing “Shit!” and “Watch out!”  Then I felt the slight, sick bump.

What the fuck!” he yelled back at me.  He slammed on the brakes, jolt­ing us both.

A squir­rel, Dan, a squir­rel.  Right in the mid­dle of the road.  Are you blind or what?  Plain as day – right in the mid­dle.  The mid­dle!  What is wrong with you?”

Goddamn.  Don’t ever do that again.  Hear me!  The squir­rel was dead, Sharon!  Already deader’n shit.”

It could have been alive!”

Well, it fuck­ing wasn’t!”

It doesn’t mat­ter!  Don’t you have any respect?”  The scream­ing was shred­ding my vocal cords.  “You are a mon­ster.  Why did you have to run over it like that, like it’s a piece of garbage?  You, just like any of the rest of them.”  I burst into tears, scald­ing hot, and fum­bled with the door han­dle.  “I hate you, I just fuck­ing hate you.”

So you gonna take your week­ly stomp to the Marlin from all the way out here, this after­noon?  It’s fur­ther than you think, Sharon.”  He revved the engine.  It sound­ed tin­ny.  I don’t know if he would have let me back in the car even if I’d been will­ing.  “See you around mid­night, if you walk fast.”  I kicked the door closed and then his fend­er, before he squealed off, leav­ing me with a cloud of exhaust and plen­ty of weep­ing Spanish moss.

•     •     •

Cast it out, reel it in.  Irregardless of the weath­er.”  Three guess­es who, at Chop’s house over on Sandy Island.  The line almost made me sad, remem­ber­ing back, but not quite.

Now hear, this!  There is no such word.  As irre­gard­less.  Hello!”  I stepped in from the dock, meet­ing the door­frame for a quick pas de deux on the way.  “Just so you all are all clear on that fine point of the lan­guage.”  I took a bow to the crowd.  Francine, with the big tits, from Conway, was sit­ting on the floor near Dan – bar­ca-loung­ing in Chop’s beat-up reclin­er.  How gen­er­ous of her.

Well, Miss She-she, what do you know?  Roused from the deep.”  Dan drawled at me.  Me, She-she.  “Hand me anoth­er one of them Millers there, Rob.”

Get your own damn Miller for a change, Dan-dan.”  I pulled one out of the ice buck­et for myself, fuck him.  “In case you hadn’t noticed Rob’s not in here, he’s out on the dock, fish­ing.  Fishing, Dan.  That’s Francine there beside you.  Franci, meet Dan.  Hello, Franci.  Why, hel­lo, Dan-dan.”  Chop hand­ed me my beer back, top off, and pat­ted me soft­ly on the back.  Huh?  Oh, good boy bar­tender, Chop.  Beer on, beer, on… whiskey!  Beer on whiskey.  What was the rest?  I swayed against the screen door.

Oh, fish­ing!  Well, speak­ing of fish­ing, oh shit!”  I spilled beer all over my best orange tee shirt swiped from I don’t know who.  “Well, nev­er mind.  But fish­ing!  Awful lot of advice about fish­ing, for some­one who hasn’t had a rod in months, don’t you think, Dan?  Why don’t you try it?  Why don’t you take Franci there,” I indi­cat­ed Francine with the mouth of my half-emp­ty bot­tle, “Francine there, FISHING and show her your daddy’s big BOAT?”  I cracked myself up, then fell back­wards through the screen door.

Don’t wor­ry about ol’ She-she, she’s in a head­space,” Dan might have said then.

Yeah, well with a mas­ter, past mas­ter-mas­ter of the King’s English lan­guage for a boyfriend, what’re ya gonna do?”  I told Robbie, who was pick­ing me up.  “Go fish­ing?”  I wagged my head.  “Wrong.”  Stage whis­per: “Hey!  Robbie!  Do you think Franci knows, yet.  YET!” gig­gling and hic­cough­ing now, “that he has noth­ing to cast?”

•     •     •

My dream, how­ev­er, wasn’t.  Either turquoise, or pret­ty.

Face stuck to the plas­tic mat­tress cov­er when I woke.  Sweat pool­ing at the cor­ners of my eyes, around my mouth; dry as sand inside.  Hot salt air through the win­dow, where the wedge of light was too bright.  The ocean was too loud, waves crash­ing with the vol­ume turned up to max.  The pink awning flag-flap­ping in the wind next door.  Jeans cut­ting into my hips, twist­ed up damp behind the knees.  Bile at the back of my throat, and though I felt like puk­ing, I was pret­ty sure there was noth­ing left.  Wasn’t going to be a beach day today.  I fell back under.

Next time I woke up, it was only worse, so I dragged my way towards the open win­dow, feel­ing a bruise where the brass zip­per had pressed into my pubic bone all night.  Or some­thing.  The pulse throbbed in my ears.

After I’d shut out the nox­ious heat, I strained to switch on the AC. Nothing.  I slammed it with the flat of my hand until my palm rang and tried the switch again.  Dead.  Shoved the win­dow sash back up, and jerked the roller-shade the rest of the way down.  It fell out of its brack­ets and crashed down on my wrist before I could move.

Fuck!”  I punched the air con­di­tion­er with my foot, a few times I guess, before the vent cracked, as my heel went through the plas­tic, and then I kept on kick­ing, final­ly with both feet, until the pound­ing on the door got through to me.

Hello!  Hello!  What’s going on in there!  Hello!  Ms. Shealy, are you all right?  Hey!  Answer the door!”  The man­ag­er guy.  Pretty great voice, deep and smooth.  He was a sub­sti­tute DJ at one of the local oldies sta­tions.  Who would have thought he looked like he did, lis­ten­ing to him?

Yeah, yeah.”  Clearing my throat, aim­ing now toward the door.  “Yes.  Yes!  Yes!”  I rolled off the bed and groped my way over.

The door caught on its chain, luck­i­ly, before I real­ized that I had on no shirt, no bra.  Why jeans?  And that dinky chain was all that had been between me and the whole cir­cus out there – the door was unlocked.  A weak pull to remem­ber how I wound up in this con­di­tion flick­ered and dis­ap­peared.

Hold on, hold on.”  I snatched an orange tee shirt that I didn’t rec­og­nize off the back of the chair – and swam my way into it, about five sizes too big.  Now off with the chain.

The guy’s face was strained.  John, Bill, Andy?  Never could remem­ber.  “I heard all this noise back here, and I was wor­ried whether you were all right.”  He glanced into the room behind me but I inched into the door­way and nar­rowed the gap.

Oh, that’s so sweet.  I was watch­ing, um, you know, a com­e­dy show, and got a lit­tle car­ried away.”  I rubbed my fore­head.  “Those guys kill me, you know?”  He didn’t both­er to acknowl­edge my bull­shit.  I des­per­ate­ly want­ed him to fix the air con­di­tion­er, but it would be sure evic­tion to let him in the room now.  The place was trashed.

Well, good thing you got it off now.”  He tried to see into the room again.  “I was just about to come up here any­way.  Your car is the only one left in the park­ing lot.  You ready to leave now, I’m hop­ing?  You do know there’s a hur­ri­cane com­ing?”  I raised my fore­arm to block out the light but end­ed up press­ing it across my brow.  Something.  Anything.  It was awful­ly bright out con­sid­er­ing how over­cast it was.  The sky looked odd.  “Um, are you sick or some­thing?”  Good guess, fish-lips.  And my car had been in that spot for two months.

He reached towards my face and I jerked back­wards.

I was only–– um, you have a hair in your mouth, Sharon.”

Sharon, now.  What’s that Ms. Shealy shit any­way?  New com­pa­ny pol­i­cy of the Sea Dip?”  He kept mov­ing his hands in and out of his pock­ets.  Back front, right left.  “Hey, have you got a cig­a­rette?”  Beyond his beefy shoul­der, on Ocean Boulevard, I vague­ly reg­is­tered some­thing like a traf­fic jam, bumper to bumper.

They’re back in the office.”  He hitched his thumb behind him.  “I’ll go get you one while you get your stuff togeth­er, and then I’ll give you a hand putting it in your car.  You are just about ready to take off, aren’t you?”  His eyes hung on the orange tee shirt.  Well, no bra.

Uh, yeah, sure.  In a jiffy, skip­per.”  My mouth had a life of its own.  Much less effort for me that way.  Fish-lips gave me a stub­by thumbs-up and turned away.  One ugly set of thumbs.  I col­lapsed against the door, clos­ing it.  No clue.  Maybe I was get­ting evict­ed for the trashed room any­way, or maybe it was non-pay­ment.  Cut-off and kicked-out had got­ten famil­iar.  I couldn’t exact­ly remem­ber where I was on the room charges, but my crafty jun­gle instinct advised me just to nod, or bet­ter yet, stone-face ‘em, but nev­er let on that you don’t know what’s what, which you rarely do any­more.

I picked up the phone and punched in Dan’s num­ber.  So what if I had no pride.

•     •     •

No, not the way it was.  A lit­tle back-track­ing in order.  New details drift­ing up from the muck.

Stinging sand blow­ing in through the screen – a fine lay­er col­lect­ing on every sur­face, my face includ­ed.  These things I noticed after the sticky plas­tic sheet, with a trail of vom­it beside the sweat.  Then the angry ocean, real­ly real­ly pissed.

When I final­ly stum­bled my way to it, the door wasn’t mere­ly unlocked on the chain – it wasn’t fas­tened at all.  I’d lunged for the orange tee and yanked it on.  So what, a lit­tle flash.  The glare from the street­light hurt my eyes.  Yeah, night, I guess.  Too much trou­ble to stand up at the door, so I slumped into the chair to talk to fish-lips, wind­ing damp, greasy strands of hair around my index fin­ger, pick­ing bits of vom­it out.  He said the elec­tric­i­ty was down, pre­dictably, and shoved a warm can of Coke my way.  He laid his fat hand on my shoul­der and told me to wake up and get a move on.

When he trun­dled off, I picked up the phone to call Dan, but there was no dial tone.  Somebody had yanked the cord out of the wall.  Me, most like­ly.  I couldn’t fig­ure out how to go plug it back in.  Somewhere out­side a woman was screech­ing at Jason to hur­ry up, and a kid start­ed to bawl.

The wind was ter­rif­ic, shit was bang­ing all around.  Lot of car horns from the Boulevard.  It seemed like there was some­thing real­ly impor­tant that I need­ed to do, but I couldn’t quite get a han­dle on it.  Then I passed out again.

My father’s moth­er always said, “Accidents will hap­pen to those who are not pay­ing atten­tion.”

First time I remem­ber her telling me that it was when I tripped and fell on the front steps, reach­ing for a but­ter­fly.  Tough love, Grandmother.  She should have said it a few thou­sand more times to her son.  His biggest acci­dent was a fatal stroke, alco­hol-induced, at the age of fifty-three.  To be fair, my acci­dents had tak­en on an unsa­vory pat­tern of their own.

•     •     •

Hey!  You can keep the tee shirt.  Orange looks real fine on you,” Gary, the fish-lipped motel man­ag­er said as I flip-flopped my way from the ice machine back to my room, some morn­ing or oth­er.  Too much to con­tem­plate.

Real fine,” he DJ–crooned.  Lucky for me, that time I did throw up.  I bare­ly had time to make it to the toi­let, so there was none left over for think­ing.

In semi-con­scious states, I mused on the kinds of things that hap­pen, ones that you couldn’t see.  Ants strolling into elec­tric out­lets and fry­ing them­selves.  Germs on handrails and coun­ters, lurk­ing for an unsus­pect­ing hand.  Sharks prowl­ing in the ocean mere­ly three yards from a juicy swim­mer.

Motel man­agers crawl­ing into unlocked rooms and fuck­ing women who were tem­porar­i­ly dis­con­nect­ed from their bod­ies.  Women who had for­got­ten to mind the store.

Things that might be hap­pen­ing, or might not.

•     •     •

New data.

I didn’t get up to answer the pound­ing door at all, because I couldn’t get off the mat­tress.  I’d been float­ing in and out, hear­ing all kinds of bizarre shit out­side.  Hammers pound­ing.  Waves crash­ing.  Tires squeal­ing.  Wind whip­ping and whistling.  People shout­ing.  Running steps on the con­crete.  Car horns.  I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t.

After the door pound­ing waked me, I passed out again.  Besides the puke sand and sweat, there was blood on the plas­tic sheet.  My kick­ing foot.  I’d kicked in the air con­di­tion­er all right, but some­time ear­li­er, dur­ing the night.

Also, some­time dur­ing the night, anoth­er night, I’d had an unex­pect­ed vis­i­tor.  Time had begun to run togeth­er.  That was the night with the unlocked door.  Or was it?

I was way too fucked up to man­age some­thing as tricky as a phone.

The imme­di­ate clam­or moved from the door to the win­dow.

What’s a pil­low doing jammed up in your win­dow?”  (Good way to close it when you can’t han­dle the nor­mal mechan­ics.)  “C’mon Sharon, let me in!  We’ve got to get mov­ing.”  Dan.  No, Robbie.  Dan’s side­kick, the cop.  Robbie?

I man­aged to catch hold of the pillow’s cor­ner, just enough to tum­ble it down.  I saw blur­ry Robbie lean­ing into the screen, shad­ing his eyes to see inside.  So far away.  But look­ing lots bet­ter than I’d ever noticed.

Hey, I was wor­ried about you after Chop’s yes­ter­day after­noon.  You were, uh, well, you near­ly fell off the fer­ry into the riv­er com­ing back over.  And I couldn’t track down Dan either, so I thought I should swing by.  Sharon?  Get up.  This storm is some seri­ous shit.  The waves are up to the dunes already.”

Hurricane.

Deep inside, that sound­ed famil­iar.  Meant some­thing, dim­ly.  Dozens of hur­ri­cane sto­ries, with evac­u­a­tions, from my father.  My own first hur­ri­cane, and I was going to miss it.  Other peo­ple would have to have it with­out me.

Go away, Robbie, I can’t.”  I couldn’t man­age more than a weak whiny moan.

Sharon, what the hell are you doing, babe?  We got to get your ass out of here.”

Hm?”  I tried to raise my head.

They’re say­ing it’s going to be a cat­e­go­ry five.”

My ears were ring­ing, and every­thing was grey around the edges.  Speeding heart rate, uneven.  I tried to breathe even­ly, plead­ing with my heart to slow down.  But there was not much air in the cab­in.

Chest pain.  Chest pain.  Chest pain.  Numbness in the extrem­i­ties.

I think…  I think…” Too hard to say.  Whisper, then: “Robbie, I’m real­ly sor­ry, but I think I’m hav­ing a heart attack.”  I couldn’t feel my face.  “Could you come hold me, please?”

It occurred to me that maybe I should make promis­es – to some­body – that I would be good, very, very good, if only I could make it through, not die here in my puke.

•     •     •

What Robbie did was slap me hard, on the face.  I remem­ber that.  And then we were mov­ing, or some­thing was mov­ing me.  Him, after he slit the win­dow screen and climbed through.  Very incon­ve­nient, but the unlocked door was a dif­fer­ent dream.

In the end, it turned out to be only was an anx­i­ety attack, or some­thing like that, but I spent days in the coun­ty hos­pi­tal any­way.  For good mea­sure.  And for some rea­son they kept alco­hol off my diet.  I was very sick.

It rained and stormed fero­cious­ly for three days straight, I hear, but the hur­ri­cane didn’t hit us head-on.  Thank God it moved on up the coast to rip up some North Carolina town, where the peo­ple were strangers.

When I walked out of Ocean General, Robbie was there at the front doors in his patrol car.  I tum­bled in, bit­ing and tear­ing at the white plas­tic hos­pi­tal bracelet, and he lift­ed my wrist and cut it off with­out a word.  In the back seat sat a box and a cou­ple of milk-crates.  My stuff.

It seems I had final­ly got­ten thrown out of the Sea Dip.  I might have coun­tered, but, like Daddy always said, you get what you pay for.  Later on, I burned the orange tee.  I wasn’t call­ing it even, but I was call­ing it a day.

•     •     •

Robbie said I could crash at his place for the time being.  Seems that Francine had moved in with Dan over the week­end, not that my feel­ings were hurt.

So it was that we head­ed out to Robbie’s trail­er park.  Bumping down the dirt road in his patrol car, we passed all man­ner of yard art, notably a con­crete alli­ga­tor, day-glo plas­tic pin­wheel flow­ers, appli­ances both in use and out, a minia­ture white pick­et fence with coral ros­es, a con­fed­er­ate flag paint­ed and peel­ing on ply­wood.  My hopes lift­ed when we round­ed a bend in the dirt dri­ve and head­ed toward an Airstream, with bright yel­low awnings, shin­ing in the sun­light.  Robbie drove on past.  He stopped at a stan­dard issue beige-with-wood­grain cor­ru­gat­ed job.  I had just about made up my mind that I wasn’t going to give it up if I didn’t get to do it in an Airstream.  Of course there’d be a price, why not?  This guy, though – I had to hand it to him – had made some spec­tac­u­lar improve­ments on his piece of turf: a stone-wall foun­da­tion, flower box­es with gar­de­nias, no less, and hum­ming­bird feed­ers.  Plus a paper man-tar­get hang­ing inside the screen door.  When I got up close, I saw a ring of bul­let holes cir­cling the cen­ter, where the heart was sup­posed to be.  NRA, here I come.  The new lev­els of low I could plumb impressed even me.

Like that, huh?  That’s my bur­glar alarm.”

Yeah?”

Uh-huh, when the bur­glar sees that, he gets very alarmed.”  He grinned at me, heed­less.  Nice teeth, though.  Hazel eyes, too.  Wondered why I nev­er noticed.

I’ll just bet.  Only Dan could have thought up some­thing that bad.”  Guy’s face fell six inch­es.  As house­guest who hadn’t even made through the front door, I was off to a roar­ing start.

The trail­er wasn’t so bad inside.  Beat the hell out of my room for house­keep­ing.  Furniture was pret­ty decent – some of it I even liked.  And it had a spare bed­room.

Robbie made din­ner: he pulled a cou­ple of bass out of the freez­er and threw them on the grill out back, from our fish­ing expe­di­tion out at Chop’s.  Pretty fuzzy, and almost impos­si­ble to fath­om that it’d been less than a week ago.

After din­ner, we watched Law and Order and ate pop­corn.

You just don’t get it, do you?”  Briscoe was brac­ing a sus­pect.

Do you guys ever say that?  Nuh-uh.  No, does any­body ever say that?”

And here, at least once an episode.”

Exactly.”

I was going to write them a let­ter and tell them to get some new dia­logue.  You, know, advice from a real life cop and all.”

You should.  Get it out of moth­balls, jeez.  Next he’s going to say–”

Take it down­town,” we said togeth­er.  It was amaz­ing sim­ply to laugh an hon­est laugh, stu­pid as it was.

Still, I admit I watch the show every week.  Most of the guys do,” Robbie said.  “Gotta love Law & Order.”

Gotta.”  Filmed all over my neigh­bor­hood in Chelsea, not that I was men­tion­ing it. “You know, I’ll take anoth­er beer.”

You know, I’m all out.”  The nice teeth again.

They showed Briscoe and Green walk­ing past The Port Authority Terminal.  I threw a hand­ful of pop­corn at the build­ing on the screen.  I was, for a change, real­ly hav­ing a good time.

Robbie point­ed to the screen.  “You ever been there?

What, Port Authority,” I snapped.  I watched him for a sec­ond, then set­tled down.  “Okay, I guess a vod­ka will be fine.”  No thun­der­clouds on my mood that night.

That too.”  He made the inter­na­tion­al cupboard–is–bare sign with his hands.  “No, I mean New York City.  Ever been?”

Hasn’t every­body?”  I lit a cig­a­rette, shook the match out, and then some.  Looked around towards the kitchen.  “So what do you–” Just a fin­ger, across my lips.  Then a kiss.

•     •     •

At the QuikStop, Robbie bought rub­bers and I checked out all the dif­fer­ent fla­vors of Life-Savers.  We hadn’t done it yet.  He thought I should have my “own space” for a while.  Different, for sure.  I’d been at the trail­er for two weeks.  But we’d decid­ed on it now.

I nicked a roll of cher­ry fla­vored, slipped it in my pock­et, because I was in that kind of a mood.  On the way out, I stopped to pick up a BargainFinder and asked how much.  “Free dol­lars,” the guy said.  I slapped the paper back onto the rack.  “What!  That’s insane!”  “  FReeee dol­lars,” he said, press­ing his bel­ly against the counter.  What’s with the guys around here – they all look preg­nant.  Not Robbie, but I was begin­ning to get cold feet and I wasn’t at all sure those rub­bers were going to come into play, after all, that after­noon.

It’s free, Sharon,” Robbie said.  “No charge, a gift from the nice folks.  Take it, and come on.”  I looked back at Paunch-o the Magical QuikStop Cashier, who beamed, or leered, back at me.  Comedian, hilar­i­ous.  Robbie wrapped his hand around my elbow to steer me out of the store, and it was all I could do not to jab him in the stom­ach with my oth­er one.  Such a rush to get laid.  I was get­ting a lit­tle cranky.

In the end, though, I let myself be per­suad­ed.  Love in a trail­er park by the salt marsh.  God knows, it took piti­ful lit­tle to per­suade me of any­thing.  But if I’d had any clue how good it was going to be, I wouldn’t have wast­ed pre­cious sec­onds in the QuikStop, stalling around with the stu­pid BargainFinder.

Good, good, good.

I liked the tex­ture of his skin; it made my hands feel alive.  Nice, after so much numb­ness.  And look, ma, no chem­i­cal smells.  I’d for­got­ten.  Perhaps when you’re drunk nine­ty-nine per­cent of the time, not to men­tion, with a guy who can’t – but then, why both­er with that line of thought?

Here and now, ami­gos.

•     •     •

I final­ly got my license back.  It was – it is – my first day dri­ving again, on the back road to Robbie’s.  It has just start­ed to driz­zle; but I am feel­ing fine.  Christmas in just two days, and I’m look­ing for­ward to it.  I’ve cut way down on the booze, too, with no ill effects, aside from a peri­od­ic han­ker­ing.  So far.

The cat comes out of the road­side scrub, moves into the road toward the cen­ter yel­low line.  I see it from five or so hous­es away, plen­ty far.  I brake, but my car doesn’t slow like it should.  I press hard­er, and swerve.  Oil has risen to the top of the bare­ly wet road – it’s slick as hell.  I am close enough to the cat now to see that some­thing is wrong with the cat, in its move­ment, but it isn’t stop­ping either.  It is a cal­i­co, I see.

I pound on the horn, short bursts, and this time press firm and steady on the brake – but both cat and car are main­tain­ing their cours­es.

Me.  My course.  I am the one dri­ving.  Veering direct­ly towards this lame cal­i­co cat.  Contrary to the rules of the road, because I sim­ply can­not bear it, I close my eyes.  And for the first time in God knows how long, and regard­less of the improb­a­bil­i­ty, I make promis­es.

~

Catherine Davis’s work has appeared at 52|250 A Year of Flashkaffe in kat­man­duBlue Print Review, and else­where, and has received the Joan Johnson Award in Fiction. She is an Assistant Professor teach­ing writ­ing at a small col­lege in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. In anoth­er life, she cre­at­ed sets for a bunch of films, from Blue Velvet to Brokeback Mountain. She is a once and future gyp­sy.