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Henna Tattoos and Trouser Snakes

by Victoria Chavez

Finding a man in New York is not hard. Finding a good man in New York, just like anywhere, is difficult. After enough cheap beer at my favorite bar in the city I decided it was time to make my way home before midnight, when the trains run less frequently. From Rudy’s I have to walk through Times Square to catch my train. Times Square is a spectacle. So many movies set in New York City will have a scene that displays the bright lights and big screens of midtown, but after living here for a while like other New Yorkers, the only reason to go there is to go to a Broadway show or take an out-of-town guest to see its garishness. The reason to avoid it is all the damn tourists. Droves and droves of people. Many of them looking up or standing still or blocking the sidewalk. Just generally there to get on your nerves when you are over the sensation of Times Square. The restaurants and stores there you can find in any suburb in America, but it reels them in.

When I head home from Rudy’s I don’t have to go through the thick of Times Square but on its periphery. There are still plenty of people. Vendors line the sidewalk to sell these tourists a cartoon sketch of their face, henna tattoos, their names painted in Asian-like letters, or their names spray-painted on a cap. The same things you can get at any fair in the country, but where tourists with money go, so do these vendors.  Un commemorativo de Nueva York. As I was walking to the subway station, I caught a henna tattoo vendor’s eyes. He looked up from his customer, I looked at him and smiled and he smiled back. A smile isn’t something you get so easily around these parts so it is noticed.

“Would you like a tattoo?”

“No thanks. I don’t have any money.”

“No problem. It’s on me.”

He asked me what I wanted and where I wanted it. Hell if I know. I’m not cool enough for a permanent tattoo. I thought about it years ago at the beginning of the ubiquitous trend, but it didn’t happen. What means enough to me to put on my body? That would be food and it is on my shirt. Okay, the birth and death dates of my parents? I think it goes without saying that while I love my parents, I don’t want to be a walking tombstone. A meaningful saying to inspire the masses? Don’t feel like being a walking bumper sticker. Don’t we end up hating these people anyway? An ancient symbol never before seen to show how unique I really am that ends up being just as unique as the guy-sitting-next-to-me’s ancient symbol? That’s a non-starter. A Dragon Spitting Flames to outwardly portray the Inner Dragon in me? Get real! Or some barbed wire to go around my bicep and triceps to flag to everyone the aging process of a woman where the arm is least forgiving, but then again it’s likely I’d get a discount on fence material. To be practical, I should get something to camouflage the genetic hump at the base of my neck or to make my stomach look like a six-pack, but that’s not going to happen either. I’m just not cool enough for a tattoo. I told him to decide what and where figuring that he’d go for the top of a boob.  He instead chose my chest just below the collarbone. He gave me a butterfly in flight which later took flight right into my sheets which took a good soaking to get the ink out. He forgot to mention that. He was very quick and it looked good.  He asked my name and gave me his. I thanked him, gave him a peck on the lips (I don’t know what got into me! I guess the tattoo made me instantly more suave), and I walked down into the station. That was it. That was the exchange.

Two weeks or so went by and I was en route from Rudy’s to the subway station again. Did I mention $7 pitchers of beer and free hot dogs? And lo and behold, Efron, the Henna Tattoo Guy is there in the same spot. He was giving a tattoo so I pause to say “Hello.”  He looked up and recognized me. He smiled.

“Victoria?”

“Yes. Efron, right?”

“Yes, you remembered! You want another tattoo.”

“No, I just wanted to say ‘Hello.’”

“No? Stick around. I will be finished in a second.”

I waited for him to finish and he insisted on giving me another tattoo; this time, various stars going across my shin at an angle to my calf. I have to admit something about the tattoos made me feel cooler for a moment. Not quite the Outlaw Josey Wales but something foolishly like that. He finished the tattoo and asked me if I wanted to go for a drink.

“It looks like you’re still working. We can do it some other time.”

He eagerly told me that it was not a problem. Then he and his nephew started packing up his stand and he did his part at a feverish pace. It was flattering to see someone getting excited at the prospect of getting to spend time with me. At least that’s what I was thinking. I wasn’t thinking about in what capacity. He broke down his stand in five minutes flat, handed his nephew money to pay for the cab, hailed one, and loaded his equipment and his nephew into it. He then hailed us a cab and we got inside.

“Wanna go to the Village?”

“Sure.”

“Where do you wanna go?”

“Any place is fine.”

We got out in the Village and went into a bar. I’ve already had a few beers so he decided he needed to catch up to me and ordered a Long Island Ice Tea. I ordered a vodka and soda and while I was still sipping on it, he ordered another. He downed it before I was finished and was ready to move on to a Karaoke bar nearby. We got to the door and the bouncer had the size and looks of Andre the Giant. I had never seen bigger hands before. He checked our IDs and we headed into what appeared to be a college bar. The Henna Tattoo Artist ordered another Long Island and me another vodka and soda. He handed me twenty dollars to pay for the drinks and went to put in his request for karaoke.  He paid the karaoke deejay $5 to get to the top of the list. I paid for the drinks and tip and when he returned I handed him his five dollars in change. He told me to hold on to it. I asked why.

He said, “Just hold on to it!”

Okay. So I put it in my back pocket. He opened up his wallet, took out a fifty, and told me to hold on to that, too.

“Why?”

“Well, you said you were out of work.”

“Well, I am. But that’s not your problem.”

I declined the fifty. I am not used to getting handouts from a stranger, much less a potential romantic interest. Soon, he sang his rendition of “Hotel California” to the pleasure of the young crowd and then returned to the bar to order another drink. He suggested we move to the back of the bar where there was more space and couches and said maybe we could dance later. There were maybe two other people back there.

We sat at the corner of a couch with him on one side of the corner and me on the other. Trying to make conversation, I mentioned something to the effect that I was surprised more people weren’t back here because it was a nice space. We had already covered our basic vital statistics at the first bar so apparently this was just the cue he had been looking for to tell me how big his dick was. Efron is maybe 5’5”, just slightly taller than me. Not that a short man can’t be well-endowed. Nevertheless, I furrowed my brow and tilted my head in disbelief at what I had just heard. Not the fact so much, but that he said it so matter-of-factly.

“I’m serious. It’s really big. Most women can’t handle it.”

I told him that I didn’t care to hear about it. Honestly, it didn’t matter. Now, call me crazy, but personality, that matters. I suppose I should have thought about talking about how nice the weather had been or the NASDAQ markets. Apparently, since I had expressed no interest, he decided to turn in up a notch and things turned decidedly After School Special. I could practically hear the saccharine music playing in the background. He said he had always been like that, that he had been made fun of his entire life. It failed to pull at my heartstrings. Of all the things to be teased about, I’m sorry, a big dick wasn’t registering too high on my sympathy list. I tried looking at the huge TV screen looming above, a tactic to change the subject, but he wouldn’t let it go…literally. He continued to talk about it and told me to look. He pulled his jeans taut around his thigh and there it was! Leaping lizards! But this reptile was not a lizard but rather a trouser snake…or a python I should say, by the looks of it. Erect of flaccid that was the question. I had no idea. Either way it was big! And I was in shock. I don’t know if it was more about the size or that he was putting it on display in a denim showcase. Lord have mercy!

“What are you doing?!”

“See. I told you it was big!”

“I believed you. I don’t need to see it!”

I suppose he thought my loins would quiver with unrestraint, that I would climb up on top of him, lovingly stroked his pant-legged python and beg to see it in person. I didn’t. Luckily no one was around to witness my pathetic attempt at composure. I was embarrassed. He stood up petulantly and told me he was going for a smoke. Five minutes went by and I knew I had been ditched. What the..?! And why didn’t I hold on to that fifty?! I took the train home from the Village and didn’t know what to make of any of it. I chalked it up to another lesson about life in the Big Apple.

A couple of weeks went by and as I was almost at LaGuardia on the bus to meet my sister, I got a mysterious text:

“How are you Victoria?”

“Fine. Sorry, who is this is.”

“Henna tattoo guy.”

I had forgotten that I had given him my number.

“Efron? What happened to you?”

“I got sick and someone put me in a cab. I wanted to apologize for my behavior. I got drunk on an empty stomach and was talking nonsense.”

“Ok. Thanks. That’s nice of you.”

“How did u make out that nite?”

“Went home on subway.”

“U home now? On my way to work.”

“At airport meeting sister.”

“Nice. Was I rude to you? What was I saying?”

“A lil. Just talking about your endowment.”

“Lol. Haha. What did I say?”

“That you were big and then you showed it in your pants.”

“Wow sorry. Did it offend you? —Did I whip it out of my pants?”

I didn’t answer right away and he sent another text.

“Guess that’s the last time you’d go out with me, huh?”

“It was a bit shocking.”

“You sure you want to try it again? I’ll leave my penis out of it this time.”

“Maybe. After my sis leaves. She’s here till Tuesday.”

“Okay. Keep in touch. By the way, I find you very attractive. You have a beautiful smile. I don’t think I told you that.”

I met my sister at baggage claim, told her about the apology and we agreed that it was nice of him to text and try to explain. We hit the town and had a lot of fun. One night she met a bartender who wanted to hook up after he got off work. To avoid being the third wheel, I headed home and again I was in Times Square. Efron was in his usual spot. I figured I had forgiven him and would stop and say hello. We all do stupid shit when we get drunk. I stopped and he smiled at me, told me to hold on. He finished with his customer and asked me if I wanted to go have drink. Again, I said we could do it another time because he was still working. He said it wasn’t a problem. He got three more customers and I waited for him. With a deft hand he painted a dragon on a boy’s arm in less than five minutes; he wiped off a teenager’s stomach and re-did her viney, leafy flower, also under five minutes; he did a tribal print on another little boy’s arms, also under five. Over thirty dollars in fifteen minutes. Not a bad gig. His brother was with him and he and Efron tore his stand down at the same speed as before. Then his brother headed out with the equipment and we got in a cab and head to the Village again.

“I’m really glad you’re here,” he said. “It’s good to see you again.”

Then he laughed in sort of apologetic embarrassment.  He grabbed my hand. It was nice to get attention after feeling like a wallflower with my sister in town.

“Whatever you want to do! I got it! Dinner, drinks…hotel?! I got it.”

“Dinner or drinks are fine with me.”

“You sure you don’t want to go to a hotel?” he laughed.

I didn’t laugh. I told him that I didn’t. We got out in the Village and got a drink at some bar with some über-cool (the kind who use “über”) aloof people. Efron was anxious to leave. The bartender wasn’t very hospitable. We simply weren’t cool enough. I didn’t mind. We were walking around and the crowds were slowly making their ways home. I noticed a store with a line coming out of it and then the smell hit me. The delicious smell of fresh pastries! It was a crepe place.

“Oh. That smells good!” I said.

“You want one? I got it! Whatever you want.”

“Sure!”

I ordered a banana and strawberry crepe with Nutella and vanilla ice cream. Efron paid the cashier and I stood aside for them to prepare it. Efron told me he was going to step outside to smoke.

“You’re not going to disappear again, are you?”

He smiled, said, “What, you think I’m crazy?”

I said, “Okay.”

It took five or so minutes to get my order and it was either shortly before I got it that I had the same feeling from a couple weeks before: I had been ditched…AGAIN! What the fuck?! But it didn’t stop me from enjoying every morsel of that divine crepe. I will not be seeing Efron again, but I have reconsidered my position on getting a tattoo. It might be that of a crepe entwined by a denim-clad snake—akin to the symbol of the American Medical Association—to remind myself not to be such a dumbass.

?

Victoria Chavez is a writer and, like all serious writers, she lives in Brooklyn, Ny. She welcomes your comments on “Henna Tattoos and Trouser Snakes” at chaveztoria[at]hotmail.com.

photo by Kojach.

Free Hits on Ryman Street

by Leonard Crosby

It was a Friday and from my bedroom window I could hear people down on the street, three stories below. I’d got off from my landscaping job two hour before and my soreness from work was fading. Leaning on my desk I could discern women’s voices amongst the others in the alleyway. I was tired, but that need for adventure, for something new, was nervously bouncing around in my chest. Going to the livingroom window I looked down and caught a glimpse of a girl with beautiful olive colored skin and long brown hair walking across Broadway. She was dressed in espadrilles and a tight blue skirt with a white top, holding the arm of her boyfriend as they walked into the Taco Del Sol. That clinched it. I said to myself Fuck it, Josh won’t be here for an hour at least, why not? This is Missoula after all. How many times have I run into people smoking jays in back alleyways, hittin’ onees downtown on the corner of Ryman and Broadway? I mean come on, there’s a dispensary right down the street. Sure you gotta watch out for cops, like anywhere, but this is a college town. Besides it was August and hot as shit in my room. It would be cooler down on the street.

As I left my apartment and followed the dingy hallways around the building to the back elevator, a pang of doubt hit me. Not about getting caught. But just how it would look: Creepy guy in alleyway, smoking reefer, ogling girls. But immediately I shrugged it off. Girls might think I was skeezy, but they would still come up for a hit. I knew the type: the silly nineteen year old cooze, out for drinks with her fake ID, ADD as hell, ready for any man to sweet talk her into bed if he could keep her attention that long. Now I wasn’t that guy and I knew it. I was no pick up artist. Just a landscaper down on his luck. But I had simple needs. Just to be in the presence of a girl, to be in the act of giving her something, having something to hold over her, felt good. To watch them walk by in their skirts and skinny jeans also felt good. So I said fuck it and I left.

The elevator smelled like stale beer. Strange attribute of the Palace Apartments.  Every time you used the elevator it smelled different. Nine times out of ten it smelled like shit, old booze, BO or cigarettes, but once in a while there’d be some HB’s perfume leaving you with that feeling like you’d just missed her, like you could’ve done the movie stereotype, the pickup in the elevator. I loaded my glass pipe on the way down and stuck it in my pocket.

It was just after seven thirty and the sun was already dropping behind the buildings downtown. The air was cool, but still warm enough for T-shirts. My back door opened into an alleyway with a parking garage on one side, the back stoops of bars and shops on the other. Ten steps from my door was the back door to the Badlander, the Golden Rose, and the Palace. They were the drinking holes I lived above, all in the same building connected by hallways. At the moment I stepped out, two aging hipsters were smoking beneath the seventies chic Palace Card Room sign, which hung above the back door.

I nodded at the two, made brief eye contact, then I turned right up the alleyway. I glanced over at the parking garage across the way. Empty of peeps. I walked to the end of the alleyway which opened onto Ryman Street, one of the main drinking arteries of downtown, with bars on both sides. Two unattractive girls were half a block away on my right, standing on the corner of Ryman and Broadway, waiting to cross the street. My left towards Main was empty. So I sparked.

In the middle of the third hit, while I was preoccupied with a fit of coughing, a girl pulled up into the empty parking spot in front of me. She was driving a red 2003 Mustang and came within a half inch of hitting a midnight blue Mazda Tacoma in the next spot. The cries of her tires startled the shit out of me and I damn near dropped my piece.

Recovering, I cupped the piece and looked up. The girl threw her car in gear, then looked right at me, smiled. I was just starting to get high, so I had to force myself not to look away. This is why you’re outside, right? Girls, right? But I couldn’t speak, couldn’t think of anything to say. So I grinned, wide.

“You gonna let me have some of that?”

“What?”

“That piece in your hand.”

I hesitated, looked down at the pipe. “Yeah, sure. If you want.”

I didn’t move. She looked down at her phone, then popped open her passenger door.

“Come sit down. It’s cool.”

Deep down, part of me wanted to say no. Smoking in the alley was one thing, smoking in a topless red mustang on a main street downtown was another. But she just kept on smiling. And the next thing I knew I was in the car.

I waited a moment, expecting her to drive off. But she just sat there, holding her phone, looking at me. So I passed her the piece and the lighter, while looking around for cops and narks. She hit it lightly, didn’t cough.

“Do you usually smoke on the street?”

I shook my head. “Only on Fridays.”

“Really?”

“It’s just so nice outside, you know?”

“Oh, it was gorgeous out today. I just got done floating this afternoon.”

“Nice. Where’d you go?”

“John’s Rood.”

“Mmm. Crowded?”

“A little.”

“You’re lucky. I had to plant trees all day in the sun.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. Where do you work?”

“Cara’s Nursery.”

“Oh cool, my mom goes there all the time.”

“Yeah, it’s all right.” I looked around at the interior of the mustang. “Hey you know this is a really nice car.”

“Thank you.”

It was a nice car. All leather interior, custom sound system (there were Rockford eights in the door, and two three-inchers in the dash) and a ten-inch flat screen in the console hooked up to a PS III. Which made me wonder why the hell she’d invited me in in the first place. It was clear she had not paid for the car herself. But who had then? And, anyway, she wasn’t a ten; more like a six when she was dolled up, like she was now. She looked, I don’t know, maybe nineteen. Maybe daddy had paid for the car.

She had short brown hair and a kind of pudgy figure. Her big cheeks reminded me of a chipmunk’s. Her tits were small, too, maybe a C cup, though it was hard to tell. She had on a tight purple tee, but she wore a plaid yellow long sleeve over it and its rumples hid her breasts. Her knees peeked out from a black skirt below the steering column. Still, pudgy or not, she was definitely fuckable.

She passed back the piece. I racked my brain for something to say as I took a hit. I exhaled. “Do you get the internet on this?” I gestured toward the screen.

She took the piece, lit up, nodded.

“Do you mind?”

She shook her head, exhaled a larger hit this time.

I picked up a controller, went online.

“You ever hear of Pandora?”

“Hm-hmm.”

No shit this girl was nineteen. Everybody had heard of Pandora. I typed in the address.

“What kind of music do you listen to?”

“Hip-hop.”

I typed in Atmosphere’s “Reflections.” It seemed like it might fit the moment. The bass line dropped, hard. It felt like there were twelves in the back. Slug’s voice came on, “Look at your face, when all I could see, was myself looking back at me, re-flec-tion . . .”

She handed the piece back. “This is cashed. It’s good weed, though.”

“Sour diesel.”

She acted like she hadn’t heard me.

“So what’s your name?”

“Michael,” I told her.

She put her hand out. “Tiffany.”

Huh. That figured.

I was now rolling on a huge wave of highness. My brain was firing in fits and starts, my conversation health bar rapidly sinking from green to red. “So, uh, what are you doing out tonight?”

She laughed. “Well, I was supposed to meet my friend Jen here. She said she was at the Central Bar and Grill with her boyfriend.”

“Ever been there before?”

“No.”

“It’s nice.”

There was a long pause. Slug continued, “What would it take to make a women like you, view a wolf like me, for what I really might be…”

“Well—”

She picked up her phone, cut me off. “Hey. No, I’m outside the Badlander. Albertsons? I thought… OK, yeah… no, I’ll come get you.” She turned to me. “You want to come meet my friend?”

Now like I said before, I’m no PUA, but I could count Indicators of Interests as well as anybody. Get in car, one. What’s your name, two. Come with me, three. Plus she was giving me a playful, mischievous version of the doggy dinner bowl look. So it was definitely on. But I couldn’t kiss her yet. The moment wasn’t ripe. Plus, I was too damn high. But it was coming.

“All right,” I said.

She started the car, threw it in reverse. Backing up, she suddenly slammed on the brakes and a little squeak slipped past her lips.

I swung my head around. A girl and a guy had been crossing the street behind us. They were holding hands, the guy leading. Tiffany had almost backed into them. The girl gave Tiffany a disgusted look, but didn’t speak. The boyfriend spit out a profanity, then the couple continued on to the Bodega, one of the bars across the street.

“Oops. I’ve got to get in the habit of checking my blind spot.”

I laughed to cover up my nervousness.

With the same blind acceleration she heaved the car up to the intersection, only halfway stopping as the light turned green. She took a roaring right onto Broadway.

I spoke louder over the traffic and rushing air. “So what’s your girlfriend doing at Albertsons?”

“Her brother’s got a cold. She went to pick up some Nyquil.”

“What a sweet sister.”

“I know, right? But sometimes I think she’s too much of a suck-up to him. He called and she left dinner with her boyfriend to go get his shit. Like he was so sick he couldn’t get it himself.”

“Uh-huh.”

The wind was making my eyes drier than usual and I was getting wicked cottonmouth. But of course I had no gum or mints. I saw she was chewing something. Now I figured it might seem like kind of a D thing to do, but I didn’t want to get all hoarse and shit. “Do you have any more gum?”

“Uh-huh, I think so.”

She began rummaging through her purse which sat on the E-brake, not watching the road. She drifted into the left lane, inching close to a blue minivan next to us. Just as I was about to speak they honked, making me jump. Her head shot up and she overcorrected, almost hitting a parked black Mercedes on the right.

“Oh shit! Fuck, I’m so sorry. I’ve got to be more careful. Well, I can’t find it in my purse. But you can have half of this.” She reached into her mouth, pulled out a white string. Now instinctively I thought, that’s fucking gross. But then I realized, shit man, you were just about to kiss her back there, so what’s the difference? I took the wad.

The saliva started to flow blissfully. “So Tiffany, you go to school here?”

She gave me a “duh” kind of look. I grimaced slightly.

“What, uh… what are you studying?”

“Well this semester I’ve got Chemistry, Intro to Calculus, Improv and Drama II.”

“Calculus, huh? You must be sharp as a tack.”

She snorted. “It’s not what you think. I fuckin’ hate that class. My dad’s making me take it. He says I need to learn math if I’m ever going to get anywhere in business.”

“It sucks though, huh?”

“Yeah, the teacher, Mr. Anderson, he’s such a dick. And he’s always trying to look down all the girl’s shirts.”

“That’s fucked up.”

“I know, right?”

I felt nervous and higher than ever. The street lights were blurring and I couldn’t help but stare at people on the street. I knew it was time for a line, but I didn’t want to push it. It seemed like I was a shoo-in already. But what would Neil Strauss say: “Sometimes, to hook a girl, you’ve got to risk losing her”?

“You know you’re kinda cute, Tiffany. I think I’ll call you some time.”

She wagged her forehead at me. “Is that right?”

“Uh-huh.”

“But you don’t have my number.”

I pulled my phone out. “Hey, your right! What did you say it was? Four Oh Six . . .”

She laughed. “OK. Tell me your number and I’ll call you.”

I hadn’t expected her to actually fall for that kind of bullshit. Maybe I wouldn’t be seeing Josh tonight. Another Atmosphere line ran through my head: “So I’m lookin’ at your carpet like, fuck the permit, I know where I’m a park tonight . . .”

She pulled her phone back out of her purse.

“Two three eight,” I said and she typed it in.

“Six one . . .” I looked up, saw the tailgate of a ‘73 yellow scout approaching rapidly.

“Tiff . . .”

“Six one what?”

“Tiffany.”

She looked up, squeaked again, hit the breaks just in time. The car rocked from front to back, whipping my head forward.

She acted as if nothing had happened. “Sorry. Six one?”

“Four three.”

We crossed the Madison Street intersection, pulled into the Albertsons. Parking, she came around to my side, capering with a silly grin on her face. She stuck an elbow out for me to take. I did, feeling awkward.

The lights of the store were painfully bright. I had trouble dodging a middle-aged fat man while holding onto Tiffany. Suddenly Tiffany saw a short, curly-haired brunette and left my arm.

“Jen!” she screeched, and ran into her friend’s embrace.

“How was dinner?”

“Oh, it was so good. Nick bought me the lobster bisque.”

“Where is he?”

“His dad said he had to come right home after dinner. They have a game tomorrow, so he dropped me off.”

“Ohh, I’m sorry.”

Finally, after a few more minutes of talk she turned.  “Jen this is my friend Michael. We just met.”

I shook her hand and she smiled at me, only slightly suspicious. Then Tiffany half-whispered in her ear, “He has really good weed too. He just smoked me up.”

Tiffany came close, pressed her boobs up against my chest. “Mike, do you have any more? Could we go smoke Jen up?”

Like I was going to say no.

“Sure, you guys want to come up to my place?”

“Where at?” Jen asked.

“The Palace Apartments. They’re right above the Badlander.”

“Those are apartments?”

“Mm-hmm.”

They looked at each other, Tiffany gauging Jen’s impression of me. Jen gave a kind of “I’m cool either way, he seems harmless enough” look and Tiffany finally said, “Yeah, OK.”

As we walked up to the car, Jen called shotgun.

“Let Michael sit up front.”

“Why?”

“Because he doesn’t get to ride in my car all the time like you do.”

“Fine. Whatever.”

Just as I was about to get in, I heard a girl’s voice yell behind me. “Michael!”

It was Josh’s girlfriend, parked a few cars down from us. I walked over. “Sara, hey, fancy meeting you here.”

She hugged me. “What are you doing?” She looked over my shoulder at Tiffany and Jen.

“Nothin’. Hanging out with a couple of friends I met downtown.”

Her face dropped. She grabbed my biceps, looked me seriously in the eyes.

“Michael, do you know how old those girls are?”

“What the fuck are you taking about?”

“Well, do you?”

“How the hell do you know ’em?”

Tiffany and Jen stood by the car, unsure if this was my girlfriend or not, intimidated by an older women so familiar with me.

“They’re sixteen, Michael.”

I let out an embarrassed laugh, smiled. “Nuh-uh.”

“They are. That’s Tiffany Faust and Jen Barker.”

“How the fuck do you know?”

She was whispering now. “Because my little sister threw a party and they tried to hit on Josh. I almost had to smack that Tiffany girl.”

“No shit? All right.” I felt like I was sobering up. “I think it’s about time I got the fuck out of here.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. You want a ride?”

“No, no I think I’ll walk back. I could use the air.”

“Fine,” she said and she started to turn away.

“You coming over with Josh tonight?”

“No. I’m going to a girls’ night, with Michelle and Jess.”

“Oh. Well, have fun.”

“Yeah, you be careful,” she said and then she disappeared into the Albertsons.

I walked back over to Tiffany and Jen.

“Who was that?” Jen asked.

“Sara,” I said. “My buddy’s girlfriend.”

They both looked unconvinced.

I paused, cleared my throat, remembering what I had to say next. “Hey, look girls, uh, it’s been fun, but I can’t smoke you up right now. I’m sorry.”

“Why not?”

“Well, Sara just said her boyfriend got fired from his job. He’s having a shitty night. I should probably go over and cheer him up.”

“Why isn’t she at home with him?”

“She was getting beer.”

They were still incredulous, but not enough to argue any further. “Oh. Well, OK, fine, whatever.” They looked down, kind of shuffled their feet, not sure what to do. Finally, Tiffany said, “Well, maybe later, after you see your friend, you could give us a call?”

“Yeah, of course. I’m sorry this came up. It was nice meeting you two.” I gave Tiffany a half-hearted hug, turned and left.

Crossing the parking lot, I heard the mustang start and thought to myself, Mike you dipshit, this is America. What do they say? If it seems too good to be true it probably is. Jesus Christ, fuckin’ jailbait. Ah well, I thought, at least all I did was give her a hug. If I hadn’t run into Sara who knows what kind of trouble I might have gotten into.

Just then, as I was halfway across Van Buren, I heard a crash, metal on metal. I turned, not really wanting to, and saw that Tiffany had just backed into a cop car. I shook my head. Fuckin’ sixteen. No wonder. Must have just gotten that mustang from daddy a few months ago. I turned and started walking again. Out of habit I tapped my pockets to make sure I had everything. A terrible sinking feeling crept from my balls to my throat. I’d left my piece in the console of Tiffany’s car. And my phone.

Deep shit.

My first instinct, of course, was to run, to get the fuck out of dodge. I’d run from the cops before and got away clean every time. But my phone. Sure, it didn’t have my address in it, but anyone can use a phonebook. What was I going to do now? Just walk over and ask for the piece and the phone back? But if I bailed, no doubt I’d get a knock on my door the next day. Or maybe not. This was Missoula. Cops didn’t have time to give out tickets for paraphernalia. But I’d lose the phone for sure. What was that worth? Fifty dollars? A hundred? What would the ticket be, if there was a ticket? He might not even look in the car. Or Tiffany might have the common sense to throw it under the seat. And even if she didn’t, I could ask Sara’s sister to give me her number later and try to get my phone back that way, if she would give it back. I looked over my shoulder, the cop was at Tiffany’s door, the girls stonily staring straight ahead. I thought, losing a phone: fifty dollars. Not having to talk to police while high: priceless. That clinched it.

The walk home was uneventful, but I had a creeping feeling of urgency. Josh would be calling soon and wouldn’t be able to get a hold of me, but something else started bugging me as I moved up Front Street back towards the Palace. I didn’t want to call that girl again, especially not through roundabout means. Did I really have the intention of sleeping with a sixteen year old girl? Of course I hadn’t known she was sixteen and I hadn’t done anything, but that thought was still coursing through my brain. If I wouldn’t have run into Sara, I probably would have, or would have tried at least. To top it off, I left her in a lurch when I could have done the gentlemanly thing and taken the blame for the piece. Not that that would have got her out of the fender-bender ticket, but still.

Half an hour later, just as I was about to slip into the alleyway off Broadway, I heard a car screech to a stop behind me.

“There’s that mutherfucker!” It was Tiffany’s voice, shrill and loud and it made me panic. I turned. There she was, in a shiny black Dodge Dakota, sitting between two young men, one tall and one short. They all looked pissed. Her brothers, or friends, or cousins.

Deep shit.

I turned and ran, but they were out of the car instantly, the tall one on the passenger side only ten steps behind me. I fumbled for my wallet and my card key; realized, in a wrenching panic, that even if I could get to the door in time they’d still be able to get their foot in after me. I turned, tried to speak between heavy breaths.

“I didn’t even touch—”

But before I could finish the sentence the tall one reared back and socked me square in the forehead. There was a stunning blackness then a white blast of light. I was reminded of a time in junior high football when I’d broken through the line of scrimmage, made for the QB, and was blindsided by the halfback. Every macho tale I’d ever told myself about what I’d do in a fight evaporated. The pain was incapacitating. There was no way I was getting up.

But they weren’t through yet. The other brother came up now. The tall one pulled me up by my hair and the short, fat one socked me right in the nose. My face exploded in pain. My eyes teared up enormously, and I could taste blood on my tongue.

They picked me up. I tried to ward them off, put my arms out weakly like a zombie. They threw me against the concrete wall and the fat one hit me in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me. I collapsed, slid back down to the pavement.

“You ever come near my sister again, I’m gonna cut your fuckin’ balls off.”

The other one shouted, “We will fucking kill you, asshole!”

One of them gave me a kick, which just barely missed my balls. Gasping for breath I heard them walk away, their cowboy boots clicking on the sidewalk. Eventually I stood up, began walking in circles, making little noises, clenching and unclenching my fists, alternately trying to regain my breath and wiping the blood from my nose. I was a mess and I hunched down in the alley and cried.

A few minutes later, I heard footsteps and felt someone’s shadow.

“Hey man, you all right?”

“Ah, fuck!” I yelled. “I’m pretty fuckin’ far from all right.”

“Jesus,” he said, “here, take this.” He held out a handful of napkins. I squinted up and realized it was Josh.

“Holy shit! Mike? What the fuck happened to you?”

“Ahh, fuck. Shit! Asshole!” It hurt to stand. “It’s kind of a fuckin’ long story, man.”

“Let’s get you inside. Jesus, I didn’t even recognize you. Hold up, you got shit all over your back.”

He brushed off the cigarettes butts, broken glass, and dirt, put an arm around me and led me to the back door.

“I’ve been trying to call you for the last half hour. Sara said you were with some fucking jail bate. What the fuck happened?”

I shook my head, not ready to speak yet. Josh didn’t push it.

“Lemme see your wallet, man. You still got your wallet?”

I gave it to him. He opened the door and we stepped inside. As we shuffled to the elevator he asked again, “So what the hell happened, bro?”

“That bitch’s brothers jumped me.”

We stepped into the elevator. Josh’s face darkened. He loosened his arm. I leaned against the wall, still holding my nose. “What the fuck did you do, man?”

“Nothing, nothing,” I said shaking my head. “I didn’t even touch her.”

Josh relaxed a little, pressed the button for the fourth floor. But he still looked a little doubtful. “Why do you think they jumped you?”

“I left my phone and piece in her car, man. After I saw Sara. Then she backed into a fucking cop car. I bailed!”

“Oh shit. Oh fuck, that’s funny.” He grinned and started laughing. “That’s fucking rich, dude.”

“It’s not funny, asshole.” It hurt when I smiled.

“Yeah it is, you dumb ass. She got fucked over for the piece and they came looking for you. Well what the fuck, Mike? You couldn’t tell she was sixteen?”

I didn’t even want to get into it.

“You poor dumb son-of-a-bitch,” he said, still chuckling. “You know you’re never going to live this one down.”

I sighed. “I will if you don’t tell anyone.”

“How could I not tell anyone? This is the funniest shit I’ve heard in weeks.”

“Josh.”

“Anyway, they’ll know something’s up when they see your face.”

“Tell ’em I got jumped for my phone and cash.”

The elevator chimed. The door opened to an empty hallway, brightly lit with fluorescents.

“In Missoula?”

“Fuck man, I don’t know.”

“You walk all right?”

“Yeah, I’m OK.”

“Your nose broken?”

“Fuck Josh, I don’t know!”

He laughed.

“I don’t think so.” I sighed deeply.

Josh opened the door.

“Come on man, let’s get high,” I said and I fell back on the couch.

Josh nodded sympathetically. “Amen to that, bro.”

?

Leonard Crosby is a short story writer and novelist and MFA student at California College of the Arts. He welcomes your comments on “Free Hits on Ryman Street” at lcrosby88[at]gmail.com.

photo by Kynan Tait.


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