(Continued from Jake – 1)
The air in the room was a coppery stew of blood, meat, burnt hair, gunpowder and shit. He had to hit the window frame hard with the heel of his hand a few times before it surrendered to his tugging and slid up a few inches.
“You fuckin’ idiot”, he said aloud.
No running his car into an abutment yanking to the left at the last second to deal only a glancing, but totaling, blow. No standing at the bridge rail with an audience waiting to be talked back. No taking a bottle of pills then calling 911. He’s just crying out, they said. Trying to make Mel crazy. This wasn’t that. He wondered what his last thought had been in the nanosecond between clicking the trigger and ending up on the wall. Better off not knowing.
Jake sat on the bloody ruin of the bed and felt it soaking through his jeans, his legs already sticky. He leaned forward and, with his finger, traced a line through the crimson spatter on the yellow wall feeling pieces that were bloody, but more than that. What was in this blood? Were there still traces of the first joint they shared in ninth grade? A taste of the cheap wine they’d shared at the prom a million years before? A whiff of every bottle they’d drained, beer they’d drunk, Quaalude they’d swallowed?
No, those were memories which would now become the reveries of ghosts. This was waste. Jake knew he’d live with one the rest of his life. This other, he needed to get rid of.
You couldn’t call me one more time? When have I not showed up when you called? Or the old man? He could get tiresome, sure, sitting through another story of walking point in the jungle and knowing he wouldn’t die but sure of who would. Did he have this one? Jesus, Bull. Again, he wondered about his last thought: was it a relieved “finally” or a regretful “fuck!”. Better off not…
He got up and headed through the house that he knew as well as his own. He’d been here alone many times, but it was never as empty as it was now. He gathered what he needed and decided this would be it for him. There would be no vigil, no sitting beside a closed casket with Melissa and the kids remembering better times. None of that. This was it. This was his closure, this was his vigil, this was his Song of Bull: Lysol, two buckets, sponges and a mop.
The task was simple. Numbing. On his popping knees, dipping the rag in the clean bucket and rinsing in the foul one. When they were both the same shade of red he’d dump and start again. The smell of the cleaner began to win out as the window fogged. He was half way though, still on his knees in that fouled room, when he heard the heavy, halting tread on the steps. Mel’s brother stepped up to the doorway but not into the room.
“What did you say to her?”
“Not now, Tom…”
“She got the three kids at my house now and she gonna half to…”
Jake pulled himself up in sections to his full height, stretching his back, before pivoting slowly, mechanically, his spine clicking like a rusty weather vane. His eyes were a sick animal’s, too exhausted and pained to attack but too unpredictable to offer any comfort. Tom shied from the baleful stare, but held his chin firm.
“Wasn’t right”, he said.
“Not. Now”, Jake answered and slowly turned back to the wall, almost clean now.
“Put the mattress in the garage. Git it out of here. I’ll burn it at work.” Jake didn’t respond. “It’s good you’re doin’ this”, Tom said sliding toward the stairs, “But you’re still a fuckin’ prick.”
Jake, content to hear but not listen, wiped at the wall-now shiny yellow with only a few wisps of pink.
The mattress, older than the man who’d slept on it, rolled easily. The blood was drying now-gummy-not running down his back but staining him just the same as he shouldered the burden and leaned his way down the stairs, across the yard and into the garage. The bulb on the wire cast a wavering yellow light as it swung above the oil-stained spot where the Caddy usually was. Melissa took it, he knew. Which Bull would have hated.
He dropped the mattress against the wall then stripped off his soiled jeans and underwear, tossing them and his shirt onto the same pile. Burn them all, he thought. He yanked off the light and lumbered haltingly back across the dark yard ignoring the stares that he knew were falling on him from those who would always stare at car wrecks, death houses and accidents, hoping for a sign, a vision, an echo or reverb from beyond.
Back in the room, he opened the dresser drawers and pulled out a pair of jeans. They would be big, but there were belts. A non-descript work shirt from the closet; stained but clean. Then, on a hunch, he pulled open the top drawer and reached under the sweat socks to find a thin plastic bag rolled tight and licked to seal. The weed was mostly thick oily buds and smelled amazing fresh. OK buddy, he thought. Paid in full.
The keys were still in the ignition, his wallet still on the seat. He had locked the house but left all the lights on, so it shined brighter than any other on the street where the living hid in darkness. He drove back to the Porter, watching the streets carefully for changes. He figured without Bull on this block or this earth that something should look somehow different.
The bar was quiet when he walked in, the juke muted, whispering some Jim Croce lost love song. Bad news burns through a small town like a fire in a rowhouse. Bull’s stool at the end was empty, as was the one on either side. There was a shot and a flattening beer on the bar in front of it. Jake sat on the stool he’d left earlier and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bottles. He dropped his eyes.
Dee set the same shot and beer in front of him.
She squeezed his hand. He tossed the shot and remembered. “Shit!” he took the phone out of his pocket and dialed home. Dee refilled the shot. The old man answered on the first ring.
“Pop”, he said.
“I heard” was all he answered. Jake had hoped he had, what with the scanner and Aunt Cil and her sisters all radars for distress and disasters. He didn’t want to break the news though the old man would say he saw it coming. He woulda been right too. They all did.
“Ok. You alright?”
“What else am I gonna be? How ‘bout you?” His answer was silence, Jake again caught staring at the wraith in the mirror. “…You should come home” the old man said.
“I will Pop. I will…I just gotta…”
“I’ll leave the door open. Just come home when you’re done…”
He closed the phone and put it back in his pocket pulling out the bag of weed and tossing it on the bar. “Pipe Up”, he said intoning their collective call to unconsciousness, born a decade earlier when an oldster, long gone now, had told their crew to “Pipe Down!” when they were laughing over his daytime programs.
Dee reached behind the Crown Royal bottle for the stone pipe. Gus, at the end of the bar, got up haltingly and locked the front door then deliberately switched off the sidewalk lights. They were closed for a while.
“I just sold him this last week,” Dee said shaking the bag.
“A wonder there’s any left” Jake said and smiled for the first time in hours. She packed the pipe and handed it over, lighting it. He inhaled deeply, taking the sweet smoke deep into his lungs; closing his eyes from the prying gaze of the ghost in the mirror.
“What you say?” Dee asked as he exhaled.
He didn’t realize he had spoken out loud. “I said,” he repeated, “Fuck tomorrow.”
“That’s up to you”, she said taking a small toke before passing the pipe down the bar. “But whether you do or don’t, tomorrow’s gonna fuck you sure.”
(To be eventually continued…)