I stood there looking forward into what might as well have been the abyss. Some great, cavernous reality that was speeding forward at a rate that felt forever faster. It met me with beams of light that shifted from dimes to nickels to quarters to plates to a wall of yellow-white – a sprawling canvas of termination that was stretching out and away, reading itself for the paint of finality.
All the while, the world trembled and shook. Reality itself in the throes of a great, growing earthquake. The ground went from the slow oscillations of a giant’s hand steadily drumming upon a hollow drum of broken earth and grew in waves into a cauldron of storms that lashed out and through my mind – like a star gone supernova.
I clenched my hands, felt the wince of pain from where knuckles were still bruised, cuts were still fresh. I waited patiently. My other hand held the picture like a man of unwavering faith with a cross while he looked upon the growing visage of demons rising from the charred remains of a now-desolate church.
And I thought about how I’d gotten here…
I sat across from James while I picked at scabs while simultaneously worrying about making them bleed. My knuckles were bruised, and I could tell by the looks I was getting that the black eye that I’d previously believed “wouldn’t be that noticeable” was anything but.
“The fuck you get into, man?” he said while he turned his tumbler around on the table as he was wont to do. The glass stuttered along as it turned back and forth – a noise that I always found somewhat grating. I found it even more so now.
In the distance, the TV was on but inaudible over the sound of other patrons.
I looked at it for a minute before looking back. “Got into a fight,” I said with the tone and timbre of a man who says such a thing nonchalantly, knowing I was anything but.
“And?” he said, eyes widening.
“We came here to drink, Jimmy. Can we just do that?” And who the fuck goes by Jimmy at your age? I thought to myself.
“No…I mean…” he shied back a bit, “Yeah…no, man. I’m not trying to pry…”
Yes, the fuck you are…
“I just…You know. I mean…”
“I mean, if someone’s fucking with you, man…”
“No. No one’s fucking with me,” I said with little finger quotes. “I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been.” I took a small drink of beer. “Lesson learned.”
James nodded, looked around a bit. “Where at?”
I gave a sigh the size of Texas and said, “Allensville.”
His face said plenty that his mouth didn’t. “Look, man, I know that shit’s been rough since…”
Don’t say her name…
“Well…since…well, you know.”
“I’m just saying, man…”
“I…” I paused, “Wait. Are you saying…”
“Hey,” he said, his hands raise, “no judgment, man. I mean, hey, I know guys who pay for it. But, shit, man, you know. Just like…be careful.”
“You think I went there for a hooker?”
“You went there for not-a-hooker?”
I ran the words through my head. I thought about the truth. I thought about the lie. I thought about the lesser of evils.
“I mean, either that or you put a hood with bat ears on and go fighting crime,” he said with a laugh.
“Yeah, not really my skill set,” I said.
Silence stretched for a moment while the noise of the small bar moved to fill in the gaps.
“Just don’t tell anyone,” I said.
“Hey, no big deal, man,” he replied. “Who the fuck would I tell anyway, right?” he offered with a smile.
Literally anyone you talk to…
Yeah…no big deal, I thought while I picked at the scabs on my hand while trying not to make them start bleeding.
On the TV, I saw the news unfolding. I recognized the face I was seeing, even if I didn’t recognize the story that was circling around it. She’d been standing on a corner not far from where it had happened.
It was one of the only things I remembered clearly. Well…that and how much it hurt.
“How much did it cost you?” James asked playfully.
“More than it should have,” I answered.