The sirens color my car purple. I only know one cop dumb enough to shoot radar behind Wal-Mart. Yes, there in my rearview is the crew cut with a uniform.
“Where’s the fire?”
Chuck flashes his light in my car and can probably see the handcuffs in the passenger seat. I’ve been drinking and as soon as I respond to his rhetorical observation he’ll be able to smell the Abita Strawberry Beer and cheap Red Wine.
“Hey, Chuck. I’m just, you know, in a rush to get back. It’s my anniversary today.”
“How many years is it now?”
“Sounds like one too many to me.”
I never get tired of this inbred small town wit.
“Wick’s still burning.”
Chuck turns off his flashlight and puts his hands on the roof of my car. He’s getting prints all over it. You know a full service wash at the Quick Lube is 38 bucks now?
“Waiting for me at home.”
Chuck has this forced mid-western affect where he over pronounces each syllable and takes about two breaths before he draws out the next word.
“What’s not adding up to me, Jay, is why you’re out alone on your anniversary. Seems strange to go out for drinks alone.”
“I never said anything about drinks.”
There’s a bang from the back of my car. The beating’s as slow as my pulse. He puts the flashlight back on me.
“So, late at night, on your anniversary with a mouthful of alcohol and bullshit you decide to veer off take the long way home and speed?”
The beating continues. The frame of my Mercedes is so thin the banging starts to sound like a snare drum.
“You want to open the trunk for me or does this have to get complicated?”
I pull the keys out of the ignition leaving my left hand raised and in sight.
Chuck opens my door then guides me over to the trunk.
My hands are shaking. They never shake. I put the key in upside down first. I put the key in sideways and drop them under the car. I can barely turn the damn thing when I do it the right way.
“Jesus fucking Christ Jay. Do you know what would happen if it was any other cop pulling you over right now?”
I think Chuck is going to laugh. Either that or the guy is scarred for life. He keeps his hand over his mouth and the flashlight on my wife. She’s hogtied and gagged in the trunk.
“Listen, I didn’t mean to speed Chuck. I was trying to get back quicker because I was worried she was going to run out of air back there. We were just doing some role-playing. You know, spicing things up.”
“I’ve seen some strange shit around this town you wouldn’t believe but this, this is some nonsense.”
I take the gag off of Jess’s mouth and begin to untie her.
“Hey, Chuck, how are you?”
Jess is this insane compound of sex and adorable that turns men to wax. I’m sure the emerald dress she’s wearing can’t hurt our case either. Her pack a day diet has matured her voice beyond middle age.
“Jess, nice to see you.”
Our discomfort is colored red and blue.
“Listen, guys, what you do in your home is your business but when you take it out to the streets like this…What the hell are you even role playing? Is this supposed to be like some rape thing? I don’t want to know.”
“So you just sit here waiting for an ass hole like my husband to come speeding through.”
I finally undo the last knot and help Jess out of the trunk.
“How the hell did you even tie her up and get in her in the trunk without anyone noticing?”
“We just parked behind the dumpster at Archie’s.”
The dumpster was fuming with rotting bacon wrapped meatloaf and jalapeno nachos. I felt a little bad gagging her before putting her in the trunk. Snorting that decomposing mess was all she could do to live.
Chuck licks his lips like our little trip gave him cottonmouth. He hands me a yellow slip.
“Here’s a speeding ticket and be grateful for it. Jess, how about taking the passenger seat home? Oh and congratulations on 15 years guys.”
“Smooth driving, honey. How fast were you going?”
“Doesn’t matter. The fuck is he doing back here anyways?”
“I think he told you.”
“He told me why he isn’t out on Route 5, never said why the fuck he hangs out behind Wal-Mart.”
“Whatever, let’s just get home.”
“You sure? You still in the mood?”
She got that glacial look in her eyes. The stare already dressed her in sweat pants and tied her hair up in a bun.
“I don’t have to be in any mood to go home. Just drive and drive slow.”
“I mean are you mad? I’m sorry I got pulled over but it’s nothing to ruin our night over”
“Just kind of killed the scene for me.”
“I was sort of hoping we could try something tonight?”
“What’s left to try?”
After nearly two decades I figured an awkward moment was impossible to have with my wife. But here I am pulling hairs from the back of my head trying to figure out the most decent way to ask her a question.
That wasn’t it.
“I was just thinking that…”
“Hey Jason how about we just shut the fuck up for the rest of the ride?”
“You’ll let me throw you in a trunk with a gag but…”
“The. Fuck. Up.”
What I’m thinking is if the anal sucked we might appreciate the Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday night routine a little bit more. What I’m thinking is maybe it would be a pleasure to fuck without having to see the other’s face. I’m thinking the silence is kind of welcome because I have been on a Shins binge and need to hear Phantom Limb right now.
So, when they tap our Monday heads and Zombie walk in our stead. This town seems hardly worth our time.
I get three quarters of the song in my head before Jess has a revelation.
“Shit. We need milk, trash bags and toilet paper.”
“We can talk now?”
“Turn around, I don’t feel like coming back down here tomorrow.”
I love all these goddamn neon Halloween Lights and demented pumpkins. The conscious effort to piss your money away on things some asshole kid is going to vandalize in the first place gives off that aroma of communal desperation. This one house I’m driving by right now has two fucking purple flags with black cats on them. I’m 38 and I’m still tempted to throw eggs at their vanilla siding. Actually that siding looks nice. I need that for my house. I wonder if they left some kind of number or sign for whoever did it.
Jess’s tension shoots into me like Adderall. She pinches my arm and gestures for me to turn the car around. I feel like we’re always going back to Wal-Mart.
If ever a child needs inspiration to go to school, study hard, and suck dick to get a mid-level job all they need to do is come to Wal-Mart past 9 at night. All the white trash serfs of the northeast come out of their condos to bundle up on 15-inch flat screens and pre-paid phones. We’re getting out of the car now and a guy in grey sweatpants, an old New York Mets shirt with what I hope is a mustard stain and shower sandals pushes past us. His cart is filled with hostess cupcakes, PBR, cartoon boxers and razors. This list just came to him tonight. So I guess he’s as crazy as my wife. Maybe his wife’s as crazy as mine.
“Grab a cart.”
Jess makes the demand without looking at me.
“We’re getting 3 things do we really need a cart?”
“Can you just do what I ask you?”
She gets like this sometimes, when she’s not bound and gagged or being fucked on our kitchen counter. I bet it’s the Gin. She drinks Gin and I wake up with scars.
“I should have left the gag on.”
I try to inject my voice with as much cute sarcasm as possible.
“You should have just taken Route 5 home.”
“Where do you even get trash bags?”
“Just follow me.”
She’s pissed and I’m sure I hear a, “fucking asshole”, under her breath. We don’t want to make a scene in front of everyone though; not in front of the Wal-Mart strange.
There’s a chorus of scanners as we enter Wal-Mart through the exit doors; they go off in a beep and double beep, beep and a double beep. An obese woman on a scooter is picking out a flannel shirt for her husband who is holding himself up on the shoe racks. I hope Jess never gets fat. There is an aisle of Legos, then bike racks, next to them are car coolants and funnels, beyond that are Fishing rods and sub woofers. Then we find the trash bags in a section next to paint supplies.
“What size bag do we usually get?”
Jess says this as if it matters what bag holds our yogurt cups and pizza crusts.
“Well I don’t know what normal is.”
“Just grab one, they’re only garbage bags.”
I’m trying to humor her but I’ve become distracted by the tower of tie-dye bouncy balls in the center of the store.
“For 11.99 a box I’m not getting the wrong ones.”
“Fine. It’s the hefty ones with the blue straps that pop out. Every time I take the trash out I sing that commercial jingle in my head. You know the one Hefty, Hefty, Hefty.”
She’s grinding her teeth; I can see the muscles in her jaw sprout and contract. In her head I imagine she sees herself standing on a wooden stool with a rope tied around her neck waiting for someone to kick out a leg. But no one ever comes. Not even in her fantasies. Her Mom told me Jess tried it once back in high school. She swallowed like twenty Advil’s after school one day. Instead of dying she woke up with tube down her throat and a weak stomach.
She grabs two boxes of the Hefty bags and tosses them in the cart without looking.
“I’m gonna grab the milk can you get the toilet paper?”
Jess says this rhetorically but I respond as if I have a choice.
“You know what kind to get?”
Does it matter? Shut up.
“Does it matter?”
My sarcasm has turned to bored frustration. Jess just ignores me and moves on.
“You want 2% or skim?”
“Whatever you want.”
These are the big decisions for the week. What kind of milk, what kind of trash bag, what paper we’re going to use to wipe our ass with and what kind of sex to have.
I find the toilet paper in the aisle with coat hangers, air fresheners and themed towels. The Red Sox one looks kind of nice though. It would look nicer if this miserable looking motherfucker in untied boots and jean shorts wasn’t putting his hands all over them.
I don’t know what toilet paper to get so I’m just going with the one that has that cute teddy bear on the front.
First we get stuck in the express line because no one has any regard for the 10 items or less rule. We’re stuck in line, a tailored suit and its emerald dress. We don’t say a damn word or make eye contact. I stare at the tabloids and Jess studies the Lifesavers.
The car ride home is comprised of the same kind of angst. No song seems to fit the mood; I shuffle through The National, Circa Survive, The Antlers, Bayside and Radiohead before our song comes on. "I’ll Be Seeing You" by Billie Holiday; I know she won’t show it right now but there’s something about Billie’s voice that exhausts her breath and runs her nails down her neck soft enough just to leave dashes on her throat. A headlight illuminates her face and I’m sure there’s a smile under her makeup.
Eventually the decorated houses end and we pass the private school that’s about 3 times the size of SUNY who gives a shit, where I got my degree in Business Administration and Marketing. I work at a tree nursery. I work above no one.
Goodbye neighborhoods and streetlights and sidewalks. We live in the boonies and our house is caged at the bottom of a gravel slope surrounded by woods. Now all I can notice is the chipped paint and my uneven landscaping job. I hate mowing the lawn but it gives me a reason to drink at noon.
“Did you leave the garage door open?”
“No, Jason, you were the last one out. I remember because you forgot the keys.”
I’m her special little guy.
We walk through the front door and everything is exposed brick wall and brown floorboards. Our living room and kitchen look like the blueprints for an espresso café. I do love the wine bottle candles we never light though. Before Jess got a new Job at Triumph Insurance Corp.-I honestly don’t know what the hell she does all day-she used to make all kinds of nonsense like wine bottle candles and Ozark landscapes she’d hang above our bed. She actually put a chalkboard wall in my study. She wrote the lyrics to "Famous Blue Raincoat" on it but I’ve since erased every lyric from the board except one line:
Well I see you there with the Rose in your teeth.
All of my doodles, outlines, web diagrams and insane grid patterns make an effort to avoid that line. I’ve been with Jess for so long I figured I wouldn’t still be able to smell her anymore. I didn’t think after all this time I’d still be able to taste her spit and everything that comes off of her tongue. She never wears perfume but she smells like the waiting room in an optometrist’s office. That kind of clean you can only get from Lysol and rubbing alcohol. Her mouth is always Sweet Tarts; the green that leaves this fresh burning on the roof of your mouth.
I could hear heels clicking in the back of the house before the back door slid open.
“Jason, come outside.”
I followed her voice and slid the door shut behind me. She wasn’t on the porch or in the hot tub. Her emerald dress was sitting in the ashes of our fire pit.
“Come down here.”
I looked over the railing; there she was on the trampoline. Pale, naked and holding herself by the shoulders.
“Leave your clothes on the porch.”
Mid October doesn’t become my naked body. I keep my socks on. They get ripped and covered in dirt as I make my way down to her.
“What are we doing out here babe?”
“What you wanted.”
“What did I want?”
I crawl on the trampoline and put my hands around her neck to kiss her.
“No kissing, Jason.”
She turns over. Jess puts her arm out between her legs and grabs my penis. She inserts me into her ass. It contracts and flexes itself and the pressure is suffocating and tight and new.
“Does that feel okay?”
I’m treating this with the timid ceremony of an after prom post wine cooler hookup.
I go in deeper.
I go in slow.
I move my hips, gently.
I push as far as I can go. Every muscle inside of her contorts and clenches. I’m about to cum blood.
Her arms are shaking. Her breath comes out in fits over a quivering lip.
“You still okay?”
“Don’t stop. Harder.”
I’m deep enough to feel her lungs. My hipbones are stabbing her ass cheeks and our sweat runs down the back of her thighs.
“Do you want me…”
“Just shut up. Fuck.”
I can’t hold it any longer. I stay inside her until I’m completely flaccid. I can see blood spots framing her rim and mixing with our sweat in a pool on the back of her knees.
“Jess, you’re bleeding.”
“It’s normal. It’s just fissures or something. Heals like a scab.”
“How do you know?”
“General anatomical knowledge. Hold me for a while.”
She seems fragile now, vulnerable after the fact. She feels cold in my arms.
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Would you spank me?”
Her voice returns to the girlish pitch of a high school cheerleader.
“But you’re still bleeding. It’s not even dry on me yet.”
“Please spank me.”
I give her tap and I can hear that moan.
I tap her again and the moan goes longer.
I clench my hand into a fist so that each knuckles cracks. I spank her now and it sounds like a strained leather belt connecting on a concrete surface. It stings my hand and leaves a print on her right cheek.
She moans so I can hear it. She moans so Chuck and Wal-Mart can hear her.
Sweat flows off her nose. I don’t know how her body found heat. I can hear the drip on the trampoline but she’s demanding more.
The moan. I can’t take it. The moan. My body forgets I fucked at all tonight. I go in her again harder and thrusting as if there is no blood. She’s pulling her hair as I dig my nails down her spine and across her ribs. I have her rust on me.
I have no cum left and a dry patch of blood frames her ass hole. She holds my hand again and asks if we can sleep on the trampoline. I don’t know how to say no to this woman. I close my eyes, ignore the cold and pretend her neck on my bicep isn’t putting my arm to sleep. The morning will come soon enough.
I wake up alone on the trampoline with my Grandmother’s quilt laid over me. I hold it around myself and walk inside. The kitchen is caramelized with the smell of banana bread and nutmeg. In the corner of the kitchen Jess is cutting strawberries and dropping them in sugar. She is naked. I can see the bruises.
She turns to me with strawberry water staining her abdomen. She smiles with a closed mouth.
“You’re finally up.”
“Do they hurt?”
Jess is disturbed by my question.
I gesture towards the bruises and scars. I take a seat at the counter dropping the quilt to the floor.
“Oh, wow I didn’t even notice them.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“I thought I’d make you breakfast.”
“It smells great but I don’t consider anything after noon to be breakfast.”
She puts the loaf of banana bread on the cutting board.
“You want a piece smartass?”
I nod. The knife crashes against the glass board. The kitchen doesn’t smell like smoke or burning and I can’t figure out why she would be so forceful with the bread.
Jess drops the slice on a plate and slides it over the counter keeping her back to me.
“Jess, there’s blood on the bread.”
She goes to the sink and runs water on her palms.
“Yea, sorry I must’ve cut myself. I didn’t notice.”
Her hands are shaking. She rubs her palms together in spastic manner.
“You didn’t notice a gash on your hand?”
“You know how quick I slice. I’m going to take a shower.”
She walks out of the kitchen and goes upstairs. I should follow her. I should ask her what the hell has changed in the last ten hours between butt sex, baking, cutting herself and a shower. But I don’t, not yet anyway. I get up, throw out the bloody slice and cut myself a new piece. The first bite is bits of moist banana and chocolate chip. The second bite is void of both.
When I finally make it upstairs into the bathroom everything is covered by steam. Jess is showering with the curtain open. The tiles are flooded. I can already see the hot water scum forming between each marble square.
Her body is facing the showerhead but when the door opens she turns to me. There is something unbecoming about her naked body; the way her tits sag and fall lopsided just before her ribs end and the light brown freckle above her belly button with that pale, porcelain skin. I used to crave every inch of her but this morning Jess appears like spreadsheets and blue curtains. She’s not nude anymore, not with me.
Andrew Thomas Harlan. Bud Young is his spirit animal. He came from a tar pit in Southern Connecticut and lives in deadwood coop in Florida.
Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece?
A: What started as a late night "kill your darlings" moment quickly became a bare knuckle massacre of subplots consisting of decrepit fast food chains, cross dressers and a dead deer on the hood of an olive green Saturn. I knew it was about a relationship in turmoil, what I didn't know was that relationship and the characters were beyond redemption.
Q: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received? Did you follow it? Why, or why not?
A: Write the first draft feverishly, burn it and then rewrite the miserable bastard from memory. Repeat this process until all the extraneous and otherwise unimportant details have quietly, and with dignity, filtered their way out of the narrative. I followed it once but when you have a memory like mine it's hard to tell if it was lost due to insignificance or bottom shelf whiskey.
Q: What three to five authors and/or books have inspired your journey as a writer?
A: The Devil All The Time by Don Pollock, Crimes Of Southern Indiana by Donnybrook by Frank Bill, Big Machine by Victor Lavalle, Vampires In The Lemon Grove by Karen Russell, The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
Q: Describe your writing space for us. Are you someone who finds the muse in a public space such as a café, or in a cave of one’s own?
A: I'll write anywhere that's got the scent of mulch, wet cement, lilacs and stain. I have to be alone. I have to have a Paul Thomas Anderson film or a Steve McQueen film playing on mute. I hate habit, but I guess I'm sort of composed of vices.