Stories

It Won’t Stop Bleeding – Wyatt Noble

It is 6am and I am walking toward the far end of the lawn behind my house. Thinning fog moves over every inch of the property. Lingering, phantom fingertips gripping to this world after the sun decided to lay the spirit of dawn to rest for the day. I am walking to the pool.
A woman is standing in the water with her back to me. She is pale and her hair shoulder length, wet, dark. Indiscernible between brown and black. Beyond the pool there is a tree line. The trees are selfish, though. They hold the light for themselves as long as they can. Gripping so tightly to it that only small strings of warmth make it through and onto the lawn below. Today, I don’t remember ever knowing what lay beyond the trees. Although, as I listen, there is a sound like waves whispering behind them and birds call from what seems like miles away. The woman in the pool is swaying from side to side. I haven’t seen anyone in the pool in years. Not since my wife. Whether or not I ever had a wife, I don’t know anymore. If so, she left. Maybe she got tired of the greedy forest and the ghosts in the fog. I am five feet away from the “5’” painted in fading blue on the old concrete at the edge of the water now. The grass brushing dew across the bottoms and sides of my feet, gently splashing up onto my ankles as I take my last step and stop. The woman in the water stops swaying. No chills are visible on her spine. Only the slight and faded freckles that decorate her back. Quiet points of pigment in her otherwise whitewashed skin. No ripples form in the water embracing her hips.
“Can you fix it?” Her voice is the sound of what I can only assume to be at least a decade of Virginia Slims and martinis to the throat. The shape of the rib cage etched into her sides hints at a life of a more gentle sin than my own. The kind that preserves one’s exterior in order to distract from the pit that is growing within. “Fix what?” I ask, mesmerized. Unable to keep myself from counting each of her vertebrae. A porcelain ladder climbing from the depths of the turquoise, chlorine cove.
The trees begin to whisper as the last morning breeze drags itself across their branches and I look up, distracted by their hushed conversations above. Trying to stay quiet for the last moments of the forest’s sleep, my attention is drawn back towards the water when I feel a gentle pressure begin to rest on my knee. I look down to find the woman looking up at me. Although I didn’t see her move toward me or hear the water, I am strangely unsurprised by her sudden closeness.
She is younger than I’d expected. No wrinkles outline her eyes or the corners of her mouth. The freckles that were spattered across her back now splash onto the bridge of her nose and onto her cheeks. Dissipating as they get closer to the darkness below her bright eyes.
“Fix what?” I ask again, unable to take my eyes from her. She begins to raise both hands gently. One from my leg and one from the surface of the water. As she does so, my surroundings go dark. The birds that had begun to call go quiet and the waves crashing in the distance are instantly quelled. It is as though midnight could not stand to miss this moment so it jumped forward, strangled the sun and took its place, just moments after letting it rise. Her face is now lit by a toxic blue-green light shining from within the pool. Shadows sharpening her features and burning her outline into the night. Her wrists come to a halt in front of me, framing her face. Then I feel my own facial features contort. Spilling into horror as I look closer at her arms. Deep lacerations are carved six inches down the wrist, razor wounds tracing her veins in detail, the gentle streams of blood beginning to change the water’s tones to something darker than it once was. As I claw my way backwards into the lawn and the sudden night, I can hear her voice stuttering. Shaky whispers following me in my retreat. Just before I fall backward into darkness, her eyes meet mine and I hear her clearly for the first time. “Make it stop — Please. It won’t stop bleeding.”
Something is making a low buzzing sound beneath my head. Like a swarm of anxious bees had just lost their hive and their only hope for survival was to find refuge within my skull. I open my eyes and am instantly greeted by what I can only assume to be the rusty blowtorch that is the sky above Los Angeles. Light and heat screaming at me until I finally give in and throw my hands in front of my face to quiet their yells. Buzz. A young woman with freckles is painted on the other side of my eyelids. Buzz. Sadness kicks me in the gut and I taste whiskey as I take my first breath through my mouth of the day. Buzz.
Finally, through the sound of my brain caught in a vice grip, I recognize the source of my rapidly expanding frustration. Where the fuck is my phone? I shove my hand under my “pillow,” which I now realize is an old couch cushion, just in time to catch the words — MISSED CALL and a phone number that I don’t recognize.
Beneath the words, there is an out of focus photograph of a Samurai clad in red and gold armor decorating my phone’s background. I wonder for a moment what had prompted the sudden change in digital wallpaper. I stare at the unfamiliar ten digit phone number through the fingerprints vandalizing the glass then look up again. This time at my surroundings. I don’t recognize the house either, or the people I now find laying around me on the floor. Each with a couch cushion under their head. The old couch that the cushions seem to belong to lays bare in the middle of the of the small living room, facing a coffee table covered in empty bottles and a small television sitting on top of some half-broken, leaning piece of Ikea furniture. The main menu of a 1980’s Breakfast Club-esque coming-of-age film stuck on its screen. I decide quickly that I do not want to wait for my newly discovered companions to wake up. Conversations between people who don’t remember one another are hardly ever anything but awkward. Standing slowly, I feel my pockets one by one and let out a sigh of relief as I count each of my personal possessions. A sound stirs from a bedroom down a dim hallway glaring, open mouthed from behind me. I see my jacket thrown across a pile of others on a chair by the door, grab it, and slip out the front as quickly as my still drunken reflexes will allow.
After ten minutes of trying to find my way out of a labyrinth of brick and broken banisters, I find myself on a loud and bright street somewhere in Downtown Los Angeles. The immediate odor of urine and garbage surrounds me. I throw my jacket on as quickly as I can, as though it might keep the decaying aura of the neighborhood from seeping through my pores. It is early morning and only slightly too cold. I will have to enjoy the breeze and the shade while it lasts though. The sun is climbing its way into the dirty blue sky, breathing heat into the world with every step it takes. I reluctantly decide to redial the number still waiting in my pocket. The ring comes loud as the line connects. The relentless tone, punching me repeatedly in the ear drum. I hate my phone, I hate that I need a phone. I learned the other day that there were Star Fish in the Arctic that could survive off of decomposing pieces of a dead seal every ten years. Yet somehow, I can’t survive without my fucking iPhone for 5 minutes. The ring comes in hard again before I am met with a sound like rushing water at the side of my head. I pull back as though slapped across the face while my head tries to readjust.
“Hey!” a voice yells through the phone. An engine roaring now accompanies the emphatic white noise that can only be wind in the background. “Where did you end up last night? Are you ready to get going?” The words are loud and thick with an accent. I explain that I’m still trying to figure out where exactly I’ve ended up. I find myself yelling back even though I am walking down a mostly quiet side street. The voice on the other end of the line I’ll call John. For simplicity’s sake. Not that simplicity is something that I’ve ever really been exceptionally gifted with, mind you. John has become a close friend to me in the last year. Something of an entrepreneur and artist or — as so many from our generation, something that calls for both equally. John moved from France to LA to pursue his own version of the American Dream. Something that most of us actually born in America don’t seem to have much of any more. One night, while I drunkenly tried to explain my writing to him, I noticed something through my kitchen window in the parking lot below. Stark white, with black racing stripes slicing down the middle. A Camaro. 1970. The smell of gasoline and leather immediately swimming back to me as I remembered long days watching drag races in Las Vegas with my parents. The earliest memories I have that spurred my yearning for a racing machine of my own. Seeing my expression, he began to tell me about his passion for the classic American muscle Car.
“There is nothing like it!” He would exclaim, watching me pour another glass of wine. Excitement visibly biting at his ankles as he described the cars that he had bought, built, and sold to the highest bidder. I told him that I had been in need of a car, and that I wanted something I could learn from. Not just mechanically. I had come to realize that I desperately needed some kind of discipline in my life. Nights were days and days were — whatever the fuck comes in between. I have always been strangely gifted in the art of self-destruction. I needed something to build. It seemed like an intoxicating experience, reviving something. I had worked on cars and motorcycles as a kid with my step-father but had never rebuilt one. I would effervesce with eagerness, begging to learn if he was willing to teach me. So, we decided to go to the desert. To see if we could find a car that we could buy. A car that could teach me.
Standing over a curb, staring onto what looks to be Spring Street, I can remember grabbing cash to cover my half of the day’s endeavors before immediately starting to drink yesterday afternoon. That would have been at around 5:00 pm. Maybe 8:00. I try to explain to John where in the city I think he’d be able to find me. Looking a few blocks West I can see the faded brown and orange sign for a paid parking lot with what looks to be a convenience store next door. I tell him I’ll send him the exact address once I manage to walk my already aching body down to it. He reminds me that he has my things with him from the night before and since we were already running late, we would have no time for me to go home and change or clean up. Maybe better that way. The small gang in my neighborhood was acting up and it’s usually best to avoid them drunk in the middle of the day. Though I know its for the best, this is still hard news to take considering I can feel the remnants of last night’s booze and various other bad decisions scratching and tugging at my insides and outsides alike. Playing my veins like an out of tune instrument waiting to be pawned. The three blocks is a surprisingly brutal journey in the ever rising sun reflected off the windows of downtown. My sunglasses locked away with my things in John’s car, I begin to close my eyes every few steps to keep the sun bouncing off of the stained and cracked concrete from strengthening the pulse behind my eye sockets. Each time my eyes close, the girl in the pool and her forest are there waiting for me. Waking up from nightmares in strange places is something I’ve been trying to remind myself to avoid. I finally make it into the small parking lot and take a seat up against a wall outside in the shade next to a homeless man shaking and tapping a cup with a few coins in it. A kind of haunted, miniature steel-drum creating a beat for my hangover to dance to while I try to rest. I close my eyes and lean my head back onto the piles of porous brick behind me. Five minutes pass. Just as sleep has its fingers around my throat, I hear a roaring and the squeak of old metal on old metal. I look up just in time to catch the mass of matte, white paint and roaring V8 engine rip across the asphalt of the old lot and come to a halt six feet in front of me, growling for my attention as the passenger door swings open. All I can see in the shady recesses of the tan leather interior of the Camaro is a pair of sunglasses glinting through a plume of cigarette smoke.
“You look like shit!” John shouts after a drag from his Marlboro and a gulp of iced tea. I can smell the gasoline and leather drifting from the vibrating, white war-horse in front of me and let out a sigh of relief. Until I stand and the bad blood comes rushing back into my head.
“I’ve never felt better!” I struggle to shout to no avail as I pull myself to my feet. My voice gets stuck in my throat in a kind of sad croak, sending John into a small fit of laughter as he hefts a tan briefcase from the seat behind him and sets it in the passenger seat before opening his own door and climbing out. John is tall and clad in a white tee shirt and grey Dickies littered with spots of paint and oil that cascade down onto the boots he has unlaced at their base. He walks around the hood of the car and meets me with a handshake that tightens my muscles as though I stuck my hand in a light socket.
“It’s fucking hot today, you going to wear that?” He gestures at my black long sleeve button-up shirt still tucked in from last night. “I have a shirt in there.” I wipe the sweat off of my face and point to the worn brief case, still sitting patiently in the passenger’s seat. He laughs and drops what used to be his cigarette. Stepping on it as though it were an escaping cockroach before turning and telling me over his shoulder that he’s going to see if they sell cigarettes or coffee inside. I turn to my things. Flipping open the rusty locks on the briefcase as quickly as I can to finally get something on my eyes to block the intruding sun. I open it and slam the $10 sunglasses I bought at a gas station in Mississippi a few months ago onto my face. Almost losing an eye to my own haste. Then pull out the somewhat fresh T-Shirt I’d thrown in yesterday before I’d left the house. The envelope of cash that reads “CAR” in messy Sharpie falls onto the floor in front of the passenger seat. All that’s left at the bottom of the case is a small, empty bottle of Jameson rolling back and forth, pushing a nearly empty pack of Camel Filters, pens, a knife, and a pile of crumpled paper ranging from sticky notes to legal pad pages and napkins. All littered with words that would probably never be seen by another human being. I lay the envelope back in its place, over the printed label on the inside of the case reading “Detroit News” and think about what my great grandfather would think of the contents now inhabiting his old briefcase. Or the breed of “news” that I carried within it. I tuck my shirt in behind my partially ripped, black leather belt as I walk out of the lot and into the convenience store adjacent. Its windows littered with Bollywood stars and multiple neon signs expressing that it was indeed open. I walk to the small coffee bar they have built there to fill a styrofoam cup with the dregs from the bottom of a pot of what I hope was at least coffee at one point. The only cash to my name in the car outside, John covers the cost of the caffeinated mud in my cup. We look at lighters shaped like shot guns in a glass case in front of a cardboard box of crack pipes while waiting for the shop keep’s cash drawer to open so we can get change. John tells me a story about a man he had argued with in line at Home Depot earlier that morning and laughs at me some more for being in such poor shape before taking the change and motioning to me to lead the way back to the car. Before I can tell my brain to respond, I am trying to buckle the old, heavy metallic seatbelt across my lap. John informs me that our first stop is somewhere outside of Lancaster, a collector that owns an old lot. Next time I look out the window, the road is moving underneath us, and LA is behind us.
The exhaustion has found its way out of the depths of my gut and everything seems to be out of focus again. The quiet, financial institutions that make up the LA skyline give no glimmer or reflection from their oblate surfaces as I watch them in the rear view mirror. The smog is too thick and the color has dried out. Grey giants, gathering in the middle of their fool’s gold kingdom, growing larger every day. The heart of the evil empire in plain sight. I am surrounded by the rushing, hot, seemingly incandescent wind from the open, Southern California desert. None of it any less than one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit. The cold of the morning nothing but a happy memory now. I keep my window open, tapping my cigarette on the chipped, white and slightly browning paint of the door frame reminding me of looking through the skeleton of a great beast, reanimated and running down some purgatorial highway. John’s voice grips me by the back of my ears and pulls me back into the car.
“You finally won’t need to bum rides off of everyone!” He’s yelling now, a strong gust of wind picking up, hitting us from the east. Or at least what I think is east. “Knowing my luck, it’ll probably fall apart as soon as the cash leaves my hand.” My voice shakes as I try to manually crank the window back into place. “It probably will. But that’s the whole point isn’t it?” The inside of the car is still not what I would call quiet, but the whistle of the wind and the rumbling of the engine dip into a bearable whisper. Finally having somewhat of a chance to collect myself, I ask John to recount what he knows about the night prior. “Well, I wasn’t with you for very long. We met at the H—–. After about a half an hour you disappeared.” I try to pull out imagery from out of the dirty well-water that makes up my thought process. All at once, it comes back to me. The smell of beer and liquor on the floor. Music. Or something that resembles it. Then— I am back in the night.
I am staring at a piece of broken glass underneath the barstool nearest the door to an old sport’s bar somewhere downtown that I’d never been before. I hear clapping so I tap my glass of whiskey against the ATM as if to applaud the performance that I hadn’t really heard. Sam looks at me and waves his hand in front of my face.
“Hello? Still with us?” He’s wearing black slacks, stopping just above black, worn loafers. An untucked white T shirt hangs loosely out from under a black sweater. Sam and I have known each other for a while now but neither of us can really remember how. Another friendship based and feeding upon bad habits and incredibly long nights. I blink and look back at him just as he pulls the cash out of the machine.
“Where’s your shit?” He’s looking at the money now, licking his fingers and counting bill by bill. “I put it in John’s car. Did you just lick your fingers after touching that ATM?” I ask while trying not to look at him in a way that was downright offensive.
“Shut up. Should be enough, right? Eighty? I literally can’t get this asshole to deliver for anything less than a hundred so we’ll take what we can get. Do you think John will pitch?” I tell him I doubt it, distracted by a group of girls trying to pile into a photo booth. My surroundings almost completely darken aside from the shapes of their shifting bodies against the glowing crimson curtain and I notice that the whiskey has begun to fade into my peripheral vision. In the other room, old westerns are playing on a projector while drunk Dodgers fans dance to trap remixes of old disco and a band breaks down the small stage. I tell Sam I need another drink and turn towards the bar. I make it over to the barstool and the broken glass beneath it and press my way in between the two groups on either side while trying not to spill my drink. I should have eaten earlier today but the Adderall makes it difficult. I’ve only been drinking for a couple of hours and I’m starting to slow down. Using the puddle of melted ice and sweat from eager palms on the bar, I slick my hair back and try not to think about the bar-filth Palmade leaking through my hair as I attempt to order a drink. The bartender is young and pretty. She takes my order with a smile and a wink that convinces me that I’ll have my drink presently. I feel fingers on my shoulder as I hand her my card and turn to find one of those acquaintances that you really only ever see while you’re out. Not someone that you ever make an effort to see, but still do so consistently. So consistently in fact, that times, while still drunk on early mornings, you wonder if they might actually be a figment of your imagination. Another face in the crowd to keep you company. Another face you just create to make upper the fact that you are drinking alone, again. It seems this one has already been here for a while.
“Hey motherfucker! How’ve ya been?” His eyes had become those of a dead fish. Unfocused and ugly. His head bobbing in and out of my personal space as a pigeon that’s had a stroke might while trying to find food. All the while still attempting conversation. I look for Sam and John but they are nowhere to be seen.
Again, the fish in front of me asks me how I’ve been. I try to tell him that I’ve been fine and pat him on the back. As though looking for an off-switch one might find on something out of a 1996 Happy Meal. Before I can finish my sentence, he’s begun telling me about his recent endeavors as a young clothing designer. His line is growing. He’s fitting rappers and celebrities now, and everything is on the up and up. And of course — He’s “never gotten more pussy in his life.” I’m sure this is all deserving of a congratulations of some kind but I am having a hard time listening now that there is a man at the end of the bar, barking like a dog into an empty glass while his friends laugh and applaud. I turn my attention back to the bartender who (despite the time I had just taken to listen to someone’s entire life story) hadn’t quite made it back to making me my drink yet. A handsome, seemingly quite older man had distracted her. I watch as she puts my card down in order to write down her phone number on a napkin and hand it to him. Tonight would be long.
Finally I get my drink and my card back safely in front of me. I down it and head for the door. This entire situation has made me needing a cigarette and in the amount of time it took me to get my drink, the bar has filled immensely. Mass and sound are now squeezing the air from the room and I’d rather breath smoke than the suffocating, booze and body-fueled bar heat.