JUST A LITTLE BIT OF LOVE AND MAYBE SOME HAPPINESS
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By: Barrett Cart
Early morning voices and bird operas rendezvous in the cemetery. Toby awakes from the noisy mixture echoing through his sheltered mausoleum. Snatching his tattered book sack, he makes his escape before somebody calls the cops. Toby appreciates the ever-elevating popularity of cell phones about as much as an early autopsy.
Without a single cloud in the sky to clot the sun, Toby can almost feel it bleeding skin cancer into his pores. Still, he searches the open blue above for a hint of reality. Like a vacuum, it inhales the ghosts of last night’s dead dreams from his head.
With his feet heavily stumbling along the railroad tracks beneath a pounding brain, Toby squints through the summer sunbeams as he tries to recall last night. Combing through every rusted vault of his memory bank Toby realizes he is broke. It’s in his gut that he usually finds his answers anyhow. It might have been a dream, but Toby believes that one of his friend’s mothers had kicked him out. It can very well be the same friend whose house on Railroad Ave. he is heading to now. He was never any good at separating his dreams from reality. Never seeing much of a point to when there is hardly a difference between the two. But, getting kicked out last night was probably not a dream.
Toby, being too distant to read the church’s clock tower up ahead, could only guess that it is still early. The ghetto around him is still dead; the crack heads have not taken their position in front of the liquor stores yet.
Couch surfing is one of Toby’s most serious practices. It’s a sport that must be learned when you have no home. Unfortunately you can bust, wipe out, or slip up as well; then you have to stay afloat in graveyards and abandoned buildings until the next wave comes along. He’s taking advantage of this free underworld while he’s still twenty-two, for Toby knows that after you hit thirty things get awkward and you’re considered a bum.
Mark’s house sways with heat waves like television memory. Yes, Toby did come here last night. With any luck Mark’s mother, Mary, won’t be home. Mary is always calling Toby a goon. Derogatory terms don’t bother him; it’s always having to hit the streets soon after the term is spoken.
Toby slows his stride, as the air becomes stickier in his lungs. He wonders what the object clanking in his book sack, as it digs into his back could be. Toby fantasizes a large, ice cold unopened bottle of V8. Flipping the bag over and digging out the prize, he finds that it is an article from last night. A forty-ounce bottle of Old English malt and liquor. Toby chugs the warm backwash and tosses the bottle while holding his empty stomach inside.
Toby cuts through Mark’s yard then knocks and enters his house through the back door. Any more knocking and Mary would certainly hear it from the front of the house. Plus, Mark is sure to be asleep and just needs a good shake.
The dryer halted with a final cough just as Toby is passing by it. Mary jumps at Toby’s presence as she turns the corner in the kitchen. Even being caught off guard Mary reserve’s agitation in her eyes. “Go!” Mary points at the door behind Toby, “it’s too early for one of Mark’s goons to be coming around.”
“I just wanted to see if He’s up yet.” Toby retreats a step, “I had to ask him something.”
“You just let yourself in?”
Toby turns and walks out the door.
“Hey!” Mary calls over Toby’s shoulders.
Toby half expects a broomstick to the back of the cranium but keeps moving in his new direction. Toby is now destined for Ashley’s, his girlfriend’s house. Well, at least about a block away from the house where her parent’s can’t spot him.
Ashley stretches her slender limbs across her feather-stuffed bed, yawning sharply in her upstairs bedroom. Sunlight makes a break through Ashley’s sheers and she resembles a cat. Ashley’s house is quiet except for her mom stirring in the kitchen from time to time. It’s quiet for a Saturday, especially since Ashley’s dad had to go into work early this morning.
Ashley dreamt of Joey last night. Toby hadn’t even entered her skull since Joey gave her that love letter at school on Friday. Joey even wrote her a poem. Toby writes poems but never to her. Most of all Joey has plans. He’s going to follow in his dad’s footsteps and become a rich lawyer. Joey’s the quarterback of their high school’s football team with arms like heavy artillery to prove it.
The phone rings and Ashley answers with out hesitation. Still dwelling in a dream state she assumes it’s Joey without realizing that he doesn’t even have her personal line’s number. “Hello?” Ashley softly moans.
“Hey,” Toby’s hoarse voice almost blends with the sounds of passing cars around the pay phone he is on. “Did I wake you?”
“Oh, well I just wanted to see if you wanted to hang out or something today.”
“Hang out where?”
“I don’t know. Like we can go for a walk or something.”
“All right,” Ashley sighs. “Just give me time to take a shower and I’ll meet you on the corner.”
Not far from where Toby dwells, on Railroad Avenue, little Shanika cries a thousand pleads. Her mom drags Shanika along by a single braid tat a blue plastic airplane binds. In her mom’s other hand is a grocery bag of all the candy Shanika stole from the corner store. Forcing Shanika to return it is a lesson she won’t forget.
Sharing Ashley’s neighborhood is Johnny Wit, who calls to the Live Oaks in his parent’s yard as though he is searching for his lost pet. Johnny’s always telling people that a scary, gigantic cat lives in the trees. He is always being picked on for being in a special education class. When Johnny gets his pet cat monster he is sure that nobody will make fun of him again.
Where this town is eroding, in a trailer park next to the bayou, Mike and Holly lie together naked. Two virgins that taught each other love. As Mike penetrates her virginity the pain squeezes Holly’s tear ducts. “Does it hurt?” Mike asks with sincere concern. To which Holly looks into him with watery eyes, and with a smile she says, “no.”
“Watch the black helicopters!” Ray Raymond spits as he spouts out information on the New World Order amongst other conspiracy theories. He’s on his favorite street corner next to the Sea Wall just a block from where he sleeps under the bridge that split’s the town like a spinal cord with osteoporosis. If their ears were not clogged with wax and lies, people would listen.
Toby grips Ashley’s hand just a little tighter as they walk beneath the Morgan City bridge. On the concrete pillars, Toby can almost hear the graffiti crying for freedom. Most of the graffiti is his.
Ashley holds an expression as though she is pondering something deep, which isn’t very often. Toby takes the opportunity to break the silence, “what?”
“Uh, nothing.” Ashley lies.
“You’re thinking about something.”
“Do you have any plans?”
“Yeah, like for the future. Where you want to settle and what do you want to be, you know?”
“You mean like settle as in family, erosion, dirt, and coffins?” Toby is flabbergasted at the thought of it, “what do you mean, what do I want to be anyway?” Toby feels his blood begin to boil believing that Ashley is leading an attack on his dignity, “I am what I want to be. I wouldn’t allow myself to live if I weren’t. Life doesn’t have a plan. You’re talking about death. Are you trying to say that I am not what you, want me to be?”
“No.” As usual Ashley could think of nothing else to say when Toby goes off like that.
“Well no fucking way sister, I ain’t got no plans.”
“Plans just make me feel secure.” Ashley feels defensive, “it’s just like something I can hold onto, for comfort.”
Hearing the vulnerable tone in Ashley’s voice Toby decides to allow a breather as they turn at the Sea Wall. Toby imagines that if it were any hotter the soles of his shoes would melt onto the steaming asphalt of First Street. After a few strides of wondering Toby asks, “where did you get these ideas of plans anyway?”
“I was just thinking about my friend Joey, and how it seems that he already has his life made out for him.” Ashley gains an offensive position with jealousy on her side.
“Joey Thibedeaux?” Toby remembers Ashley mentioning him yesterday.
“Yeah, he’s a real sweet guy.”
“What makes you say that?” Toby feels a little wounded.
“Are you jealous?”
“Should I be?”
“Well,” Ashley decides to twist the dagger and hands Toby a folded piece of notebook paper. “He did write me a love poem.”
“Oh yeah?” Toby opens the paper skimming through the letter part first. He spots Joey’s phone number and tries to remember it for prank calls. Then getting to Joey’s poem, Toby reads:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight…
“Ha!” Toby laughs as he skips the rest, “that’s pretty fucking funny.”
“You’re just jealous. Are you afraid of competition?” Ashley feels the utmost pride, “worried that maybe he writes better than you?”
“I probably would be, if I thought he wrote it.”
“He ripped off Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is a classic.”
Ashley feels her pride wither as she snatches the letter back and shoves it in her pocket. Ray is at the corner hollering at people passing as they make the first block. “Look, I gotta go,” Ashley cuts in.
“Okay,” Toby agrees that they argued enough for the day.
Toby watches Ashley hook a left at the corner heading back to her house. The sight of her walking away bores him. He takes a seat in the shade of an art shop’s awning directly across from old Ray Raymond. He thought it was odd for any body to name their child after their last name as in Raymond Raymond. Toby always notices him there but never truly listened. Being too early still to do anything else Toby decides to listen. Ray is now sputtering between screaming, “you people created this government and now this government is trying to tear out my eyes! My eyes!”
The puddles left from the late afternoon’s rain glows pumpkin orange on the Russell’s driveway. Sara breaks her daydream away from the puddles and looks to the sky. Everything seems to hold this unique illumination. The air even seems as though it would have a citrus flavor.
Sara patiently sits on the porch knowing that somebody will come by for her. It’s a Saturday night and she’s very friendly. One of the friendliest girls at her high school, Sara is. So friendly, in fact, that there should be a red light bulb above her lawn chairs.
Most important to Toby, is the fact that Sara always has money and beer. Her parents are loaded and don’t give a damn what goes on upstairs. The Russell’s seem to be built on alcohol. An entire household born with intoxicated sperm. This is why Toby is heading up Sara’s driveway now, settling a welcoming smile into her freckled face. “Hey,” Toby begins.
“I heard you were in jail boy.”
“Yeah, I’ve been out for like a month.”
“And you’re just coming see me?” Sara puts on her best hurt face.
Sara’s hurt expression is far from sincere. She only looks horny. To Toby she always looks horny. He just stares at her for a moment, noticing how the summer has made her freckles connect and how her fiery red hair is fitting for such a flaming libido. Finally Toby remembers the last thing that was said, “I’ve been roughing it lately. I stay pretty busy since my parents and I can no longer get along.”
“Do you want to crash here tonight?”
The orange hue seems to have evaporated. In silence Toby feels himself absorbing the twilight. Toby thinks that the air should taste metallic like what he always thought lightning would taste like. Sara grabs his arm and swipes Toby from his thoughts and into her house.
Toby toys with the radio after seeing that all of Sara’s c.d.’s were awful. Working on his eighth beer, Toby settles on an oldies station that suits with “Run Around Sue” playing. “There we go,” Toby sits Indian style on her bedroom floor. “You should listen to these lyrics, I think they’re talking about you.”
“I ran into Mark the other day.” Sara ignores the lyric suggestion.
“Yeah, ya’ll are friends right?”
“He’s my best friend,” Toby slurs. “Sometime my only friend.”
“Is he your best friend or only friend?”
“Well,” Sara twirls a lock of hair. “I was wondering. Does he fuck at all? God knows how many times I tried to get that boy in bed, or wherever.”
“I guess, if it’s necessary.”
“Like necessary how? Does he just want to procreate?”
“No, I’d say that’s one of the reasons that he doesn’t want to fuck.” Toby enjoys attention when he drinks. Feeling slightly jealous, “can we talk about something else?”
The conversation slurred to a stop dropping them in bed. It’s been a long time for Toby, and Sara’s marshmallow like flesh is about to make him lose it prematurely. Holding the back of her hair like reigns Toby fills his head with baseball, cops, and c.d. wrappers amongst other things he hates, in order to slow things down. As he continues his thrusting, “Brown Eyed Girl” dances around Toby’s bitter mind.
Only a few blocks away from where Toby sleeps in Sara’s arms, Ashley pulls away from her house in Joey’s Toyota Camry. It was merely an hour ago that she had called Joey. Ashley’s tone over the phone let Joey know that she meant business. With the popularity Joey has to float his ego, seductive invitations like this are common. “Do you want to go to the cane fields?” Joey offers with an excited brow.
“The cane fields?” Ashley is a little stunned.
“Oh yeah,” Joey pulls his eyes from the dark road to toss Ashley a charming smile. “It’s beautiful in the fields.”
“Beautiful?” Ashley thinks, “is it possible to find beauty within the collage of beer cans and used condoms?”
“Hey,” Joey lifts Ashley’s chin at a graffiti covered stop sign. “How about it?”
“Okay,” Ashley sighs.
There is nothing beautiful in the cane fields just a Ashley had figured. Even the open night sky has just a handful of dim stars and a moon that seems to be moving way to fast. Slamming the trunk, Joey comes around the car and spreads a blanket over the hood. “There,” Joey pats the softer hood. “Nice and comfy.”
“Aren’t you afraid we’ll dent your car?” Ashley turns to Joey and runs a finger down the middle of his mounded chest, “like before this night is over?”
“Never did before.”
“Before? What do you mean.”
“When I bang other girls on it.”
“Oh.” Uncertain at first, but now Ashley is sure that this is the worst insult cast at her. Looking into Joey’s large, almond eyes and his careless honey brown hair she sees that he is like a dumb dog. It’s not that Joey is callous and cold, but that he is just too stupid to realize what he is saying. Ashley does not let her plans be detoured. She came out with Joey to forget about Toby by getting fucked. Joey pulls off his shirt revealing his muscular frame, “are you taking off your clothes are what?”
“Yeah,” Ashley slightly hesitates then unzips her pants.
Joey’s dick is huge. His thickness causes fresh tears to spring out from Ashley’s eyes with every thrust. He is the sloppiest lover she has ever had. After Joey’s second orgasm next to Ashley’s none, he drops his full weight on top of her. As Ashley exhales beneath the sweaty bulk, she searches the sky bit the moon is no longer there.
It is a dreary Sunday, which are few and far between from what Toby recalls. Toby usually enjoys the murky days. Normally finding consolation in the dark, but not today. Today, on this sunless Sunday, Toby feels as though an enormous opaque plastic covering is about to bag earth. This claustrophobic nightmare is not built on guilt, but rather the few hallucinogenic mushrooms Mark had shared with him earlier that morning.
Rounding a corner near Witt’s house, Toby jumps at a vision rushing by in the corner of his eye. After a full hundred and eighty-degree turnaround, Toby finds that he is laughing at himself. Just a moment ago he could have swore that there was some sort of jungle cat sprinting across the street. “Potent shrooms,” Toby thinks. “Usually things just wave around seeming not to have a solid structure.”
Toby had called Ashley earlier to meet with him. He found it peculiar that she didn’t hesitate to agree. Looking up from his shoes, Toby sees Ashley now at the corner. Toby knows that to truly try and believe that he loves her would be like pulling the cork in reality’s funnel.
Opposite of the city, over the Sea Wall Toby and Ashley dangle their bare feet in the Atchafalaya River. “Do you think old Ray Raymond ever speaks a word of truth?” Ashley starts.
“I’m sure of it.” Toby feels overwhelmed to be sure about something. Usually when he trips out nothing is for sure.
“What part of what Ray says is true then?”
“I’m sure that everything he ever said is true or was true at one time or will be true one day.” Toby pauses with a chill as the river sends goose bumps up his legs. “Ray’s honest, like an animal in nature. There is no cause to lie.”
“How can what’s not true now be true some other time?”
“The truth is ever-changing,” Toby dips a single toe in the placid river to form circular, spreading waves. “Just like water. Even people are always changing, when they are being true. That’s why life is ever-changing.”
“I don’t believe that, I’m always going to be Ashley.”
“You’re always going to be a name? If you don’t allow yourself to change, it’s because you’re imprisoned by fear.” Toby feels his patience falling away. “Then you have to protect yourself with an ego. As life changes and moves past you, you’re left behind clinging to this stale ego, dead.”
“Whatever,” Ashley hates his condescending tone. Especially when he is in this pseudo-wise man mode.
Toby decides to give Ashley time to contemplate. Looking out at the horizon, Toby finds the origin of a beautiful daydream. As he turns the landscape into a dreamscape, he can sense the darkness closing in slowly around him like a blanket. After a day that seemed entirely too long Toby anxiously waits for night, as it nears, silencing neighborhoods and closing in distance.
“You daydream too much,” Ashley throws a shallow attack.
“Those who dream by day are more cognizant than those who dream only by night; Edgar Allen Poe.” Toby quotes curly.
“How do you know that you’re not dreaming now smart ass?”
“I don’t,” Toby looks to the plastic sky. “But I think I’m still sleeping in a dream I woke up from.”
Opening her mom’s bedroom door, Shanika spots a cooling crack pipe surrounded by lighters on the bed but only recognizes it as a tiny, glass rose holder. For being such a young girl, Shanika is extremely understanding. She realizes that her mom doesn’t want her to be a waste like most of their neighborhood. To her mom’s surprise, Shanika crosses the bedroom and hugs he snuggly.
Johnny Witt, contrary to what most believe, knows how to read. Unrolling the newspaper, Johnny’s dreams are crushed by the unusual headline. The large, bold lettering reads: Audubon Zoo finds missing leopard in town.
In a weather-bruised trailer, the kitchen sink is filled with juice cups capped with chewed nozzles, chipped dishes, and a dented metal colander. The furniture is furry and the carpet stinks. Mike and Holly continue to make love time and time again.
Ray Raymond lies in a soggy cardboard box under the bridge. Soundly he sleeps without a single budge. The Salvation Army opened and closed twice while Ray remained still. Ray has hollow sockets where he once had eyes.