MotherFUCKERS! Who are they anyway? Buncha pigs and pussies. Fuck ‘em all!
He staggered down the cement ramp to the parking lot.
The sun was gone but the merciless heat still filled the night. Christ. He didn’t feel like going home yet, didn’t feel like facing Donna’s bruised, miserable face.
He walked around to the back of the bar.
The sweet smell of marijuana greeted him on the other side. Two young couples were hanging around the basement bulkhead, passing a joint. They turned away and got quiet when they noticed Roland coming around the corner.
He’d seen them in the Cellar a few times before. They were too young to get served so they just came in to play pool and listen to the jukebox. They ordered cokes and spiked them with smuggled-in nips of whiskey or vodka.
“Yo, gimme a hit of that, willya...” Roland said, lurching toward them.
A longhaired kid named Dennis looked helplessly at his friends then shrugged and handed the joint to Roland.
“Hey, thanks, man.” Roland sucked in a deep drag.
The back parking lot was a crumbling asphalt trapezoid illuminated from above by a bright yellow floodlight snarled with orbiting moths. The edge of the asphalt marked the start of the woods. In the fall, a lot of guys drinking in the Tornado Cellar were dressed in camouflage and bright orange vests and smelled like deer piss and the woods echoed with gunshots. Roland wasn’t a hunter (too much work) but last spring he shot a deer that had wandered into Donna’s yard with his Beretta 40 caliber pistol. If it was on your property, you could kill it without a license, he was pretty sure. Anyway, the deer ran off before it died. Roland tried to track it but gave up after a few minutes in the swampy tangle behind Donna’s house.
Roland released a cloud of smoke, and then plugged the joint back into his mouth.
When he exhaled again, Dennis stuck out his hand.
Roland ignored him. “So, what you guys up to tonight?” he said, before taking another long hit.
One of the girls said, “Nothing,” in an annoyed tone. She was a short, stocky girl named Dawn. She wore a white beret perched above her long blond hair.
Roland helped himself to another hit.
“Yo, dude, you gonna pass that back or what?” said the other boy, a thin, shirtless kid named Maynard. He smacked a mosquito off his back, scratched at the blossoming itch.
Roland croaked, “Of course,” holding the smoke, but he didn’t give up the joint.
A female voice behind him: “Mind if I try some of that?”
He turned. A young girl had appeared from nowhere.
She was small and thin, wearing a blue satin gown. She looked like she was dressed for a prom or as a bridesmaid, but the dress was grimy and worn and ripped in several places. Her hair had been dyed a bright cartoon red and radiated from her head in stiff spikes. Her mouth was smeared with dark lipstick, her large eyes masked with blue eye-shadow, false lashes and thick mascara. Her face seemed to glow under the floodlight. She smiled at him and that was when Roland noticed that her left cheek had been pierced with what looked like a loop of razor wire. Jesus. He was so startled by her appearance that he coughed out the smoke in his lungs, gasping and hacking, and thick strands of snot and spit arced from his face. He wiped his mouth and chin and then wiped his hand on the seat of his jeans.
The girl was still smiling. She had big white teeth. “Yes?”
Roland said, “Huh?” still taking her in, wondering what it would be like to fuck her. A tattoo of a black snake slithered around her porcelain throat.
“May I?” She extended her hand. Her nails were painted green and bitten to the quick.
“Oh, yeah, sure.” He passed her the joint, igniting weak, muttered protests from the kids behind him.
“Hey, shut up. Let the lady have a hit,” he said. “Where’s your manners?”
“Thanks,” she said.
“Hey, you wanna see something?” she asked him.
“It’s neat, come on.” She reached out and took his hand. She felt soft and cool and she gently tugged him toward the woods.
“Tell me who you are,” she said.
It took him a few seconds to decipher her demand. The dope had lifted his brain into the cloudy troposphere. “Uh, Roland...”
“Nice to meet you, Uh-Roland. I’m Isabel.” She gave his hand a quick double-pump.
“Where we going?”
“Just come on. You’ll see.”
They left the parking lot and moved under the pine trees, knee-deep in dry, dying ferns.
“You live around here?” he asked her, wading blindly through the ferns, holding her hand for guidance.
“No, just passing through.”
Roland felt a pinprick on his cheek and brushed away a mosquito. “Where the fuck we going? I’m getting eaten alive out here.”
“Relax, we’re here.” She released him and sat down, Indian-style. The ferns swallowed her up to her chest.
“What is this?”
The light from the bar spilled hazy golden shafts into the woods.
“What the fuck is this?”
“Here.” She held out the joint, now reduced to a smoldering roach.
Roland sat down, took it from her.
“I like your tattoo,” he said.
“Thanks. You got any?”
“Just one.” He pulled up his sleeve, revealing the naked, big- titted blond on his shoulder. She stood on red high-heels and wore a blue flower in her hair. She was holding a huge key and there was a heart-shaped padlock over her crotch, and a scroll beneath her inscribed with the legend: The Key to My Heart. It was the same tattoo his grandfather had gotten in the Navy. Roland had always admired it as a kid.
“You probably can’t see it,” he said.
“I can see it fine. Cute.”
“Yeah.” He lowered his sleeve, took a last long drag on the roach, then flicked it into the ferns.
“You look like you lift weights,” she said.
“Fuck yeah. Well, I used to. Two hours a day, at least. I kinda slacked off lately, but I’m gonna start again. I don’t wanna get all fat, start showin’ my age...”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty-five, unfortunately. What about you?”
“How old do you think I am?”
“I don’t know. Just tell me.” A mosquito stabbed into his arm and he slapped it, splat, and wiped the crud off on his jeans.
“Sixteen,” she said.
“Huh.” He moved his head to the right, then the left, trying to center her in the light. “Hey, does that wire go all the way through your cheek, for real?”
She nodded. “M-hmmm.”
“Did it hurt when they did it?”
“M-hmmm. Only there was no `They.’ I did it myself.”
Bullshit, he thought. “No shit?”
“Aren’t you afraid somebody might rip it out? I mean, that’d really tear up your face.”
She laughed - a bright, lilting laugh. “Why? You thinking of ripping it out?”
“Who me? No, I just, I don’t know, thought...” The rest of the sentence he’d planned evaporated and he laughed. “Whoa, that weed’s starting to catch up on me.”
“You want to touch it?”
“Yeah, go ahead.” She leaned forward.
He gently hooked his fingers under the wire, fighting the urge to yank it like a parachute cord. The skin around the wire was tough puckered scar tissue. He slid his fingers over the metal. “Ow!” He jerked his hand away and stuck his bleeding index finger into his mouth. “It’s real,” he said.
“Why would you want to do something like that? To your face?”
“You really want to know?”
“Kiss me first.”
“Don’t you want to kiss me?”
He did. Suddenly, he did. “Yeah.”
She was beautiful. Even that ring of painful, self-inflicted ugliness excited him. Her eyes, which had looked dark and empty under the floodlight now seemed to shine with a piercing fire. She licked her lips. “So kiss me.”
“What about that thing?”
“Don’t worry, it doesn’t get in the way.”
“Yeah, but...” He held up his bleeding finger.
“If it was dangerous, I wouldn’t have much of a tongue left, would I?”
“I guess not...”
Her tongue was indeed intact and as soon as their mouths met he tasted it – smooth and slick and flavored with a sweet, medicinal liqueur that reminded him of the fevers he’d suffered as a child - sweating and shivering under damp blankets, his mama tipping Nyquil and cough syrup into his mouth.
He closed his eyes and a dizzy rush of blood hissed into his head. For a moment he thought he might faint – pass-out in mid-kiss. That was powerful weed those kids had and he wondered if it might have been laced with something.
She broke the embrace and he felt her moist tongue glide down his chin, under his jaw, to his Adam’s apple. She sucked at his neck, pressing on him, her hands squeezing his biceps. She seemed to have gotten heavier, leaden against him.
She pushed him down on his back, sliding her hands down his chest, stomach, finally converging on his belt buckle. She undid his pants, slid them down.
He tried to open his eyes but his lids were sealed with warm wax. He felt her mouth around him and remembered the wire, but God, it felt too good to worry about that now and he seemed to dissolve in her warm mouth, melting down her throat, gentle enzymes in her saliva breaking him down, absorbing his molecules, swallowing his liquefied flesh. He could feel himself disappearing, floating into her, floating away...
“You passed-out. Come on, wake up.”
He opened his eyes. The girl. What was her name again? Isabel? Yeah, Isabel was leaning over him. He was flat on his back, still in the ferns.
It was still night. He felt as if he’d been asleep for hours. He tried to sit up, but felt too weak, too heavy to make the trip. “I’m awake,” he said.
“You sure you’re okay?”
“You scared me there for a minute.”
“No, I’m fine. Just needed to rest my eyes.”
He reached down and yanked up his pants, zipped up. He could feel semen drying on his legs but didn’t remember coming.
“You want to get high?” she asked.
Isabel produced a syringe from her pocket.
“Oh shit, you’re a junkie?”
She laughed - that soft, musical laugh. “No, I just like to experiment.”
“Yeah, sure...” He closed his eyes again, felt himself sinking back to sleep.
Isabel jabbed the needle into her arm as casually as a kid flicking a dart in the dirt. She pulled back the plunger, filling the barrel with blood.
She plucked the needle out, licked a drop of blood from her forearm, then smiled down at Roland. “Don’t you want to be awake for this, sweetie?”
“I am awake...” he assured her with a thick, tired tongue.
She squeezed his right arm and slapped his wrist a few times to raise a vein. “Hey, knock it off,” he said, coming alert again.
“Relax, sweetheart, we’re almost there.”
Sweetheart, he thought. He felt the stab of the needle and flinched. “Ow!”
“Hush, baby. It’s okay.” Isabel pushed the plunger and her blood disappeared into his body.
She yanked out the needle and stuck it in her mouth, sucking out the remaining few drops.
Roland sat up, still groggy but scared now. “What the fuck did you just shoot me with?”
“Me,” she said just before Roland fell back into the ferns, unconscious.