Dogs – T.J. Larkey
February 4, 2020
It was a time in my life when I had a lot of nightmares about my teeth stretching outward and crumbling to the floor, not being able to walk upright, and falling in love with a person that hated me—just laughing in my face as I tried pleading through my gums.
It was the day of the dog.
Jay was pacing back and forth in my apartment, rambling and sweating. He’d gotten some uppers from a co-worker and was taking them every day to get through. He was heartbroken. Wasn’t sleeping. Highly emotional. And in need of constant company. As I sat there listening to him– my oldest and only friend in this world– I had to ask myself, when was a good time to tell him to fuck off and leave me alone for a while.
“I’m working six nights a week until three in the morning,” Jay said. “So I need these to help me out. I won’t get addicted or anything.”
“Again,” I said. “I didn’t ask.”
“No. I asked if you would please sit down because you’re making me anxious. Then you started explaining why you can’t sit down. Which somehow led to you talking about your newfound social life. Then back to why you can’t sit down.”
Jay pulled out his phone and started scrolling. He’d just gotten an online profile and was thinking about his ex-girlfriend of six years more than he should’ve been. Which meant he was talking to multiple women he’d never met in order to feel better about himself. And also stalking his ex-girlfriend.
“Can I show you something?” he said.
“I’m afraid, but yes.”
He held the phone in front of my face, showing me a picture of his ex and some chubby guy a little older than us wearing a sleeveless t-shirt with the local college sports team logo on it. His arm was around her shoulder.
“You think she’s fucking him?” he said.
I examined it closely.
“Arm around the shoulder,” I said, sucking my teeth. “Could be a tell. But why not around the waist?”
I zoomed in on the picture, specifically the waist.
“We do have clear hip contact however,” I said. “And those khakis he’s wearing strike me as secretive. A slight erection hiding? Perhaps. Or simply a large penis?”
Jay pulled the phone away and started scrolling and tapping again until he found what he was looking for.
“Can I show you something else?” he said, already showing me his phone. “What do you think of this?”
The picture was of a naked woman, from her own point of view, legs spread out on a bed with lime green sheets. I examined it, and came to the conclusion that he shouldn’t show me these kinds of things anymore.
“Why?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It just makes me feel bad.”
“Oh you feel bad?”
“You too good for this?”
“Nope. Look at yourself, bitch.”
I looked down at myself. Spread out on my couch in a similar fashion as the woman. But wearing cum-stained gym shorts and a t-shirt I’d had since I was thirteen. It was a time in my life when I experienced alternating extremes so often I was starting to wonder if I had any real feelings at all. Just spurts of good thoughts and bad. No emotion attached. Flesh dying rapidly. I didn’t see the point of showering.
“Nothing can hurt me,” I said. “Except thinking about a world in which women see you as a suitable sexual partner.”
“Get used to it,” he said. “I work hard and workout harder. My wallet is fat and so is my dick. Women want me.”
“Who did this to you?”
Jay put his hands out, palm down in a fist. Then “revved” them up and down while leaning back and scrunching his face.
“Fuckin’… self-made mah dew.”
After a few hours of complaining and pacing from Jay I agreed to leave my apartment with him. He needed air, more room to move around. And I needed food. There was a burger place down the street that nobody ever went to so I suggested we go there.
“Will there be women present?” Jay said.
“No,” I said. “But there will be peace.”
“You can’t fuck peace.”
On the way to the burger place, Jay moved fast and spoke in sporadic bursts, while I took my time, walking behind him and laughing whenever he yelled, “Come on,” or “You’re a bitch haha,” the whole way there. It was around 8 pm. Still around 90 degrees.
We walked in to the burger joint. The place was empty as usual except for one employee standing behind a counter, a big menu with faded pictures of various styles of burgers displayed over her head. She didn’t notice us at first.
“Hello,” Jay said. “Slow night?”
The girl behind the counter had a high ponytail and pale skin and seemed annoyed by having to put down her phone.
“Uhh yeah,” she said, “What would you like?”
Jay leaned back and put his hands in his pockets.
“I don’t know, what do you recommend?” he said. “I have this feeling about you, like I can trust whatever you tell me.”
She took our order and told us it wouldn’t be long. We sat in the corner of the small dining area, where I could see the food coming out as soon as it was ready, and Jay could stare at the employee. He sat back against the wall, elbow on the table, glancing back at me as he talked.
“She’s cute huh?” he said.
“Yes. Cute is the right word,” I said. “Because she looks like she’s in high school.”
“If there’s mud on the field, dive in.”
“If there’s blood on the walls,” I said. “Finger paint.”
“If there’s TP on the ass, shave the beard.”
“If there are dogs in the street, join em.”
Jay shook his head, “Will you stop with dog stuff?”
The food came out and Jay rushed to get it from the girl who took our order. I couldn’t hear exactly what he said to her but I had an idea. He didn’t vary his lines often. I heard very short sentences, no laughter, and the tone sounded transactional. When Jay sat back down he seemed pleased with the results.
“She’s in,” he said.
“Good. You think she’ll take you home?”
“Nah. She doesn’t seem like a sex on the first night kind of girl.”
“I mean, do you think she’ll take you in so I don’t have to anymore?”
We unwrapped our burgers in silence and Jay started picking off the toppings he didn’t like. Holding them up closely to his face before discarding them on a stack of napkins next to the tray.
“Half the stuff on here looks rotten,” he said. “You want my tomato?”
“You mean, your tomato is rotten and you want to know if I want it?”
“Yes,” Jay said. “Because of your rat-like tendencies and willingness to eat anything to survive, I’m asking if you want my half-rotten tomato?”
I lifted the top bun of my burger.
“Lay it on me slick,” I said.
“You sicken me.”
Jay plucked the tomato off and placed it on my burger. I felt like laughing but couldn’t. He continued picking off the pieces of lettuce stuck to the bun and as he plucked the last one he dragged with it a bit of sauce and cheese and what looked like a very long, very blonde hair. He looked confused and pale. The girl behind the counter’s hair was black.
I said, “Lay it on me slick.”
The burger wasn’t very good but I hadn’t eaten in a while so I demolished every bite as quickly as possible, barely breathing, not looking up once. When I finished Jay was gone. His burger was untouched and wrapped back up shamefully. He was standing at the counter talking to the employee again. I watched as he pulled out his phone and entered her number in, then I cleaned and threw away the carnage I’d left on the table before walking outside to wait in the parking lot.
It was a time in my life where waiting felt comfortable and nothing ever changed. I wasn’t worried about missing out or having to catch up. Convinced I’d die soon, my time was best spent doing what I wanted. Which was just a series of moves that looked like something but were in fact an avoidance of everything. Which means nothing.
A few minutes later Jay walked out.
“Got her number,” he said smiling. “And I think I’m in love.”
“Nice. You want to get drunk?”
At the liquor store, Jay loaded us up on expensive beer and whiskey. He knew what I liked and also knew I couldn’t afford it very often. So he paid for it all, flashing his money around with a big smile on his face, and never asking for anything in return. A classic asshole.
We walked back to my place with our hands full. Two bottles of whiskey. Two twelve packs of strong beer. And a bottle of vodka and a carton of orange juice for the morning. Simply setting them down on my kitchen counter felt good. Just looking at it all I thought, this is my life, and I can’t complain. A classic weakling.
“Drink up,” Jay said, handing me a beer. “I’m sick of your attitude and I need some help with the burger girl.”
“The problem is she keeps asking me all kinds of questions about myself. And she seems really artsy and sad. So I need some artsy-sad-bitch-boy advice.”
“What’s your goal here?”
“Easy,” he said very seriously. “Make her my princess and live happily ever after.”
Jay pulled out his phone and showed me the messages. There were things about shows she’d been to lately. And things about her ex-boyfriend. But mostly questions about Jay’s interests.
“You’re fucked,” I said.
“What? Why? Fuck you.”
“You’re fucked because you don’t have any interests. Unless you count putting your head down and making money. Or ‘pounding girls out’.”
Jay laughed and repeated the phrase under his breath, “Pound em’ out dew.”
“Yes exactly,” I said. “I don’t think that will go over well.”
“Then tell me what to say.”
I opened a beer with my lighter and took a sip. Then pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
I said. “Every time you ask me to do this you don’t take my advice. And even when you do, I feel bad. Like I’m contributing to the big con.”
“You don’t need me. Just remember to not say too much. Don’t obsess. Don’t come in too hot. And you’ll be fine.”
“I was kidding,” Jay said, doing a thumbs down in my face. “What would I need you for? Nerd.”
Jay took one of the bottles and sat on the floor by my couch. He unscrewed the lid. Took a few sips. Started typing on his phone. When a response would came back immediately he looked happy, happier than I’d seen him in months, then he’d type back furiously. On and on and on. His face and arm only moving to take small sips in between.
“What’s Beach House?” Jay said. “She said she’s going to see it this weekend.”
“They’re a band.”
“Do I like them?”
“If you want to be ‘in’ with the Phoenix Youths? Then yes.”
Jay pointed at me and fist pumped, then zoned in on his phone again for a while. The silence was nice. I grabbed a bottle of whiskey and opened my cabinet and pulled a glass down. I looked at the glass and thought of the girl who’d given it to me a few months ago, when she’d noticed I had only two cups in my entire apartment and wanted to help. It was the nicest thing anyone had done for me in years and then she disappeared shortly after. But I didn’t feel much, looking at it.
I poured the drink and sat on the couch. Jay was laying on his back, his forearm over his eyes.
“Fuck,” he said. “I blew it.”
“Did you come in too hot?” I said.
“I came in so fuckin’ hot. I knew I sounded crazy and obsessed even as I was typing. But I feel fucking invincible right now so I did it anyway.”
“Please stop taking those pills,” I said.
“It’s not the pills’ fault.”
“The pills give you that extra-spicy piece-of-shit vibe. And it’s really affecting my ability to tolerate you.”
Jay nodded, sat up, and asked if he could smoke one of my cigarettes. I handed one over along with the lighter. Then he lit it backwards and nearly puked. Spitting into an empty can and cursing. I gave him another.
“It’s not my fault either,” he said. “I’m just off my game.”
“I’m serious. Bonnie texted me back yesterday,” he said. “First time in months. I saw that picture of her and the guy with his arm around her so I sent her this really long angry message.”
“What’d she say?”
“She said fuck off, or you’re telling me to fuck off?”
“She said fuck off.”
Jay took a drag, like someone who doesn’t smoke cigarettes takes a drag, then gave me a strange look. I couldn’t tell what it meant.
I said, “Maybe you should fuck off.”
“I did,” he said. “But if I think about it, like at all, I get angry. She knew me and loved me and then she gave up on me because she thought it was part of her big next step in life. It all seems fake.”
“That makes sense. I never feel less real than when I try to have a conversation with a girl I’m trying to sleep with or have slept with.”
“Shut up,” he said. “I know how you feel about that kind of talk, being dead-inside and also the worst human on the planet and everything, but can you just listen?”
“I’m not trying to sleep around,” he said. “I want one girl, a wifey, but every girl I fuck decides real quick that they don’t like talking to me.”
“Nah,” I said. “Who wouldn’t want you? Lime green sheets definitely wants you.”
“She blocked me three weeks ago.”
I didn’t know what to say so we didn’t say anything for a while. He just looked at the floor and I lit a cigarette, smoking in silence, content.
“Can I tell you what happened with her or what?” Jay said.
“Is that what you were waiting for?”
“Is it depressing because you’re so clueless to these kinds of things? Or is it depressing because you’re my only friend?”
“The friend one.”
Jay settled in and told me the story of lime-green sheets. Her name was Molly. A nineteen-year-old waitress at the restaurant he bartended. They talked for months before she agreed to go out with him. He was excited and she was nervous. He’d been living in that first-relationship-bubble and she had never had a boyfriend. They ate and drank and laughed about it. Then at the end of the night they kissed. He had all the confidence in the world and then he asked her to come back to his house. She said no. She told him she was a virgin and she needed time. Jay thought about this a whole minute before deciding it was a great idea. He couldn’t’ve been more agreeable. He felt this was a good sign. That maybe he could recapture that feeling he had with his first, because he would be Molly’s first real anything. Something about innocence and something about shutting themselves off from any others, for fear of losing something she didn’t even know existed, or would ever find again.
“Plus that tight puss dew,” he said. “Needed it.”
It didn’t take long. They had sex after a few weeks of dating. But Molly went cold shortly after. He thought he’d done something wrong. He begged her to explain. He asked for another chance. All Jay ever got in return was indifference.
“I left it alone,” he said. “But I was nice to her. Didn’t let her see me sweat it. And just when I thought it was working, she told me she was moving away for college.”
“She got it over with, with you.”
“Yeah man,” Jay said wide-eyed. “I said I wanted to be with her no matter what and I begged and said things you would’ve been sickened by. And she responded with—I don’t really like you.”
“She said she didn’t like you. Or she didn’t like you in that way?”
“She literally said—‘I don’t like you as a person. I think you’re handsome but there’s nothing else I like.’”
“Harsh truths. I respect that.”
“Then she added—‘You’re too dumb’—just in case I didn’t get the message.”
“Too much. No respect.”
“It was worth it though,” Jay said, pinching his fingers together and kissing them. “Let me lick her asshole and everything.”
It was a time in my life when I wanted to believe in a world where true love existed, where licking a girl’s asshole meant something. A time when I was more interested in watching a well-edited movie of my possible futures rather than set myself in direction of a good one. A time when I didn’t believe in a future. When every sad thought was embarrassing because of how many times it had already been thought. When every high was spent fearful of the crash. The low-down drunken dog days. A love story.
A few weeks later I was riding in a taxi with Jay. We were heading south toward Old Town Scottsdale, where the wolves wore cologne and the beer ran you seven dollars a bottle and the women danced on tables wearing short dresses and glitter and high heels. You had to wait in line to get in.
“I promise it won’t be bad,” Jay said. “We’ll have a few here and by the time we hit the next place you’ll be drunk enough to have a good time.”
“Sounds good,” I said. “But I think I’m having a panic attack.”
“They have a huge tequila selection here.”
We squeezed through the crowd and found the only open spot at the bar. I looked around as Jay tried to order, and decided I was indeed having a panic attack. It was a time in my life when they felt comfortable. Life affirming. Brief, but powerful. Much like the lifespan of a dog.
“Here you go,” Jay said. “Some top-shelf tequila for the nerves.”
He slid a fancy looking glass in front of me and I poured it down my throat.
“Thank you,” I said. But Jay looked confused. Then angry. Then sad.
“You downed it,” he said.
“You’re not supposed to do that.”
“Because that was a forty-dollar tequila.”
“Why would you order that?”
“Because I’m a good friend,” he said. “And I was trying to show you some of the finer things. Class you up a bit.”
“I now realize that,” Jay said. “You fucking trash-boy you.”
“There’s my Huckleberry.”
We ordered beer next and sipped while watching the girls on top of the bar. They would dance at a designated spot for a while, then walk slowly across the bar-top, inches from your face. It seemed, overall, very bad. The music told us it was the time of our lives and to pop champagne and fuck bitches but I didn’t feel like it was the time for that. The time called for something smaller, where feelings might return to me.
“This is very uncomfortable,” I said. “Are we supposed to look?”
“Of course,” Jay said. “These girls get off on being watched. They live for it. They go home feeling like goddesses. Why else would they do this?”
Behind us was a smoking area. Patio tables with umbrellas. Looking out on to the packed street and the many other clubs that had similar lighting, loud music, and dancing. I saw a couple sitting at one of the tables. They were arguing. The man was standing over the woman and yelling at her but the woman looked as if she was alone, staring into the night and blowing smoke in passersby’s faces.
“You recognize them?” Jay said.
“Yeah. That’s the girl that claims she’s related to the famous writer,” I said. “And that’s the guy that slept with a bunch of Freshman in our Senior year.”
“Oh… You fuck her?”
I grabbed my beer and walked over to the smoking area and lit a cigarette as far away from the couple as possible, but still unable to avoid what the man was yelling about. There had, apparently, been some flirting with some guy that wasn’t him, dancing with another guy that wasn’t him, and then something about her friends being whores. But the woman remained silent.
“Are you even listening?!” the man yelled.
“No,” she said finally.
“Fine, go home with them then, fuck em’ for all care. Anything but giving me that cunt look all night.”
He smacked the cigarette out of her hand and walked out of the bar. Without pause, she lit another and pulled out her phone. The light from the screen illuminated the tears streaming down her face. And she didn’t make a sound.
It was a time in my life when I thought talking with her would have been a perverted thing to do, no matter the intention. A time when heroes didn’t exist. When the wolves wore hair-gel and button-downs while the dogs howled at the sun. I threw my cigarette on the sidewalk and walked back to my seat next to Jay.
At the end of the night we stopped at a pizza place. It was strategically placed amongst the clubs as a last stop for people to sober up, and the line was long and loud, stretching out on to the street. I’d spent far too much on drinks to ruin my drunk. But along the way Jay had found his wife for the night and she needed something to keep her going.
“I know pizza’s like, the worst first date food,” Wifey said. “But I d’fucking care, you know? You want me you get all me.”
She was very tall, wearing lots of makeup, a few of her fake pink nails had been busted off.
“Hold up,” Jay said. “Is this our first date?”
“Hell yeah. I ain’t paying. You want me you get all me.”
We got to the counter and Jay and I stood back as she ordered. The restaurant was full except for a small table in the center so we sat down, close together, and waited for the food in silence for a while. The woman stared at us blankly, back and forth. Jay’s face looked sunken in and white and somehow I looked worse.
“So… d’ya guys live here or what?” Wifey said. “I feel like I’ve seen you on campus before.”
“No we live downtown,” Jay said. “We just come up here cause the women are on another level.”
“Ahh that’s sweet,” she said. “But s’fucking true.”
She flipped her hair and laughed very loudly, drawing looks from others around the packed restaurant.
“Oh shit no,” Jay said. “She’s bad and she knows it.”
“Hell yeah bitch, I know I’m the baddest.”
The woman’s order number was called and she made a whooping noise before jumping out of her seat and jog-walking to the counter. When she was far enough away Jay leaned in and asked me if I could find a way to kindly, and quietly, piss off.
“You drove me here,” I said.
“I know. But you’re a big boy and I believe in you.”
“So you begged me to come here with you, only to strand me here for her?”
I pointed at the woman, who was picking up her large pizza box while raising her arms and bouncing up and down on her toes.
“Yes,” Jay said. “That’s what I’m doing.”
“Okay just wanted to make sure.”
The woman sat down and opened the pizza box. It was still steaming a bit but she started taking huge bites, opening wide and breathing heavily to cool it down inside her mouth.
“Tolcha,” she said. “Want me get all me.”
“Of course I want you,” Jay said rubbing her back. “A girl that eats what she wants is sexy. You’re sexy.”
I pulled out my phone and made myself small. The only other messages I’d gotten that summer, other than Jay’s, were from a girl I’d known since middle school. Lizzy. She lived close by so I sent her a message and then stared at the screen, waiting for a response.
“He okay?” the woman whispered mid-bite. “Looks suicidal.”
“Nah that’s just his face,” Jay said. “Right bud? You good?”
My phone buzzed and it was Lizzy. I hadn’t talked to her in a while, a pattern of mine, but she never mentioned it, even if her feelings had been mishandled. She was a good person, with bad taste in guys. The message said she had a few people over and invited me to join like nothing had happened, like I hadn’t mistreated her very recently. I told Jay, who was as surprised as I was, and he smiled a shit-eating grin.
“Wait,” the woman said. “So, are we invited to the after party?”
I looked at Jay. His expression had melted. He shrugged but couldn’t hide his disappointment in me. Another pattern of mine. Tactless.
“Let me ask,” I said. “It’s not really a party but I’ll ask.”
“Yeah you do that,” she scoffed. “No one tells me when the party stops.”
Lizzy’s house was identical to the rest of the houses on her street, in a neighborhood very close to the state university campus. She shared it with four other students but none of them were there that night. Jay and his one-night wife and I were introduced briefly to Lizzy’s friends, who were sitting in a circle smoking out on her patio, then she led us to the kitchen. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, no shoes.
“I love your place,” Wifey said. “It’s sooo cute.”
Lizzy reached into her fridge and pulled out four beers, handing one to each of us, then opening her own.
“We just moved in a few months ago so, give us time and it won’t be so cute.”
“Oh d’you live with guys?”
“One, yes, but the girls are nastier.”
Jay faked a laugh then moved in closer to his new bride, rubbing her lower back and kissing her shoulder. Lizzy looked horrified.
“How are you by the way?” she said looking at Jay. “I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“Livin’ it up,” Jay said. “Stacking wealth. Studying various things.”
“Really? Cause you look like you’re about to slip into a coma.”
Jay and I laughed. Looking at Lizzy I couldn’t help wondering why it was so hard to keep in consistent contact with her.
“Woah wait,” Wifey said, looking up at Jay. “Why is she talking to you like that?”
“It’s nothing,” Jay said. “We’ve known each other a long time.”
“Okaaay but, if you’re with me you get all of me. And I wouldn’t let anyone talk to you like that.”
“I appreciate that,” Jay said. “My ex never said things like that. It’s shows loyalty. But Lizzy is allowed.”
Lizzy looked over at me and raised her eyebrows. I just shrugged, drank the rest of my beer down. She handed me another.
“I saw Holly last week,” Lizzy said. “I was about to ask how you were but then I realized I’ve never spoken to her.”
Jay shrunk a bit and said, “Bonnie? You mean Bonnie?”
“Yeah, sorry,” Lizzy said. “Good thing I didn’t talk to her. I thought you two were still together.”
“Nah,” Jay said, doing this voice he did when he wanted to sound smart. “I had sex with her long enough to create a chemical addiction to her which I thought was love but turned out to just be she’s a bitch and as a result made it impossible for me to trust anyone.”
There was pause.
“Anyway, do you mind if we look around,” Jay said, gesturing to Wifey. “She needs to use the restroom.”
“Yeah, end of the hall on the left.”
Jay gave me a wink and they disappeared down the hall. I heard a door close and muffled voices. Then silence.
“What are the odds that was the bathroom door?” Lizzy said.
“Great. Where’d he meet her?”
“They have strip clubs there now?”
“No. She’s a sorority girl.”
Lizzy opened her freezer, pulled out a bottle of spicy cinnamon-flavored whiskey. We each took a sip then walked into the living room and sat closely on the couch passing the bottle back and forth. She turned on the TV. An old Humphrey Bogart movie that I’d mention months ago was already queued up.
“I know you hate this stuff,” Lizzy said, looking at the red flames on the bottle’s label. “But I figured if I put on the movie it would balance things out.”
“Is that what you think of me?”
“Just being honest.”
Lizzy handed me the bottle and I took a big gulp, my still eyes on the TV. Humphrey Bogart’s character was getting rough with a young movie director punk who’d insulted his friend.
“Well,” I said. “I’ve actually been working on that.”
“Yeah I figure that if I spend enough time with Jay I’ll be desensitized. And eventually other people won’t affect my mood or make me react.”
“Is that why you hang out with him?”
“That and he’s been through it all with me,” I said. “We joke that he’s actually just a figment of my imagination, keeping me from total isolation and eventual insanity.”
I passed the bottle to her and she spilled a bit onto her chin as she sipped.
She said, “Hmm, I thought you just hung out with him so you can feel better about yourself.”
“Incorrect,” I said. “But I’m pretty sure that’s why you hang around me.”
“It’s possible. Hold on a second.”
Lizzy got up off the couch and ran down the hall. She said she’d be right back and I told her I wasn’t going anywhere. The movie was getting to my favorite part, when HB convinces a hat-check girl to come home with him, but only to read a novel to him that he’s supposed to adapt into a screenplay. On the way up to his apartment, he and the hat-check girl pass by a new tenant, a beautiful blonde, and HB gives her a classic look. I thought, Bogart was a dog, then felt a sense of brotherhood with the dead.
Lizzy plopped back down on the couch. She had a poorly rolled joint in her hand.
“I can’t find my lighter,” she said.
I pulled mine out and lit it.
“And in case you were wondering,” Lizzy said. “The newlyweds did, in fact, go in the bathroom. The back of the toilet’s lid has a really distinct sound when you move it.”
“Love is real.”
“I think the most disturbing part is that the toilet lid was the only sound I heard.”
Lizzy moved a little closer to me and pinched the joint away. She took a hit, then another, and started coughing violently. I’d never seen her smoke and even though she drank often, it looked strange. I saw her as innocent. Good. A person with external issues, who was getting through them without complaint. Someone who’d usually avoid me.
It was time in my life when all my problems came from inside and good people were to be avoided. The days when the house dog caught a glimpse of his reflection and decided he was wild, in no need of master or pack. Destined to unknowingly dig his own grave, looking for the bone.
“Shit, sorry,” Lizzy said, her hand over her chest. “What did I miss? Is he a bad guy?”
I looked at the TV. HB was being questioned by the police because the hat-check girl, after being sent home by him, had been murdered in cold-blood that same night.
“Just watch,” I said. “It’s one of those movies where no one is good or bad.”
“Was that supposed to sound deep?”
“No,” I said. “There are still bad guys and good guys, but no one is all good or all bad. They’re just full of contradictions.”
“Is this what they mean by ‘mansplaining’?” she said.
Just as Lizzy was getting into the movie there was loud laughter coming from the patio. We heard the patio door open and then saw Lizzy’s friends walking toward us and into the living room.
“Sup,” one of them said. “Whatcha watching?”
“Just an old movie,” Lizzy said, pointing at me like I was to blame. “One of his favorites.”
They all nodded and stared blankly at the TV for a second.
“They, like, talked, soooo weird back then right?”
I didn’t get up as they left.
“Okay,” Lizzy said. “You were telling me what I missed.”
“HB is a suspect,” I said.
“I got that part. I mean the part with the woman. What’s her deal?”
“She told the police the truth. She saw the girl leave the apartment unharmed.”
“So why does Bogart look so pissed?”
“He doesn’t like being around people.”
“Oh,” she said rolling her eyes. “I can see why you like this movie.”
“It’s one of the reasons, yes.”
Lizzy took a big hit of the joint and put it out in an ashtray on the coffee table in front of us. She looked annoyed and I didn’t know what to expect. She seemed nervous. I asked her if she was okay and before I could react she picked up one of the couch pillows and started hitting me with it. I didn’t move. The movie was getting to the romance and the sweet talk and the implied sex and I wanted to watch.
“You’re missing the movie,” I said.
“Fuck the movie.”
I caught the pillow mid-swing and we looked at each other. Her face was red and her eyes were red and I let the pillow go and looked away. But she kept hitting me, inching closer.
“I hate you,” she said.
“No, like, I really fucking hate you.”
She jumped on top of me and put her mouth on mine. I laid back and let it happen. Kissing for a long time, drunk and sloppy. After a while she stood up next to the couch and took off her jeans. I just watched.
“Do you need help?” she said.
“Then take your pants off, dummy.”
She straddled me and guided my dick inside her with her hand, closing her eyes as she got further down. Her noises were soft and sobering but I didn’t feel anything. She rocked back and forth once I was all the way inside and then I wrapped my arms around her back and picked her up, putting one foot on the floor and grabbing her hips and fucking her hard but without rhythm or looking at her face.
I still didn’t feel anything. I was cold. And for some reason I started to think of this time, when I was a kid, when my art teacher leaned over to see what I was drawing and her breast touched my back. She’d asked what I was working on and had to repeat herself because I was frozen with guilt. All I could do was think of this picture she kept of her husband and son on her desk.
“You okay,” Lizzy said. “Did you come?”
My dick was slowly going soft inside her.
“No,” I said. “Sorry.”
“No it’s not.”
“Has that happened before?”
I picked my pants off the floor and put them on clumsily, then sat at the opposite end of the couch as she dressed. She was smiling and it made me uncomfortable. We watched the rest of movie in silence. And all I thought of was ways to never see each other again without hurting her.
“That was a horrible ending,” Lizzy said. “What the hell?”
“The sex or the movie?”
“What didn’t you like?”
“The sex or the movie?”
“Bogart has a temper but he didn’t kill the hat-check girl.”
“But they can’t be together?”
“Yes. It’s already lost.”
“I understand that, but what’s the point? Why do you like movies like that?”
“I like stories about people who ruin the things they want most.”
We fell asleep next to each other with the TV still on. Jay and Wifey woke me up briefly as they snuck out the front door and I rolled over eyes-closed, grazing Lizzy’s arm. She laughed and said, “Stop trying to cuddle with me,” then I fell back asleep. There were lots of dreams that included empty gums that led into an empty skull, comical rage, and detachable genitals.
After waking up with Lizzy’s feet on my lap I removed them quietly and walked out her door. It was too hot to open my eyes completely but I had no choice but to walk down the street and into the closest gas station where I spent my last few dollars on a 40 and a shooter of whiskey. A few minutes later Jay called to brag about the night before.
“Anyway, what’re you up to?” he said.
I held the phone away from my mouth and gagged. My eyelids were sticky and my boxers felt drenched and I was pretty sure I could smell my balls through my jeans.
“I’m drinking behind a gas station down the street from Lizzy’s. Off Thomas.”
“Haha,” he said. “You fuckin’ suck.”
“I understand that. But will you pick me up?”
“Yeah of course dude. We’ve got plans.”
“I just want to go home,” I said. “Can you take me home? Can you assist me on that journey?”
“Home. I want to go home and stay there forever.”
Jay parroted me, putting on a whiny half-crying voice, and moaning in between the words.
“That’s you,” he said. “That’s what you sound like, always.”
Jay pulled up shirtless, blasting a bass-heavy hip-hop song about “counting up the deads.” I had just finished the 40 and was throwing it away in the garbage can next to filling station. There were a few people pumping gas and they could the lyrics very clearly. They shook their heads at me as I got in.
“Can you turn it down?” I said.
“Nah,” Jay said. “Running on two hours of sleep. Need the stimulation.”
“Okay then, how about we change it? Something that doesn’t make my body shake?”
We pulled out of the parking lot and headed west back to Phoenix. It was now almost 110 out. No clouds. We passed a homeless man drying his clothes on bus stop bench and a car that had both of its back tires blown out, the driver sitting on a towel he’d placed on the hood to avoid burning himself.
“Why, exactly, didn’t you sleep?” I asked rhetorically. “Remind me.”
“Fucked all night,” Jay said. “First girl that let me go mouth to pussy to ass and back to mouth to pop.”
“I meant, did you take more of those pills?”
“No but I did toss in a few penis pills while we were at the pizza place,” Jay said. “My heart was about to jump out of my throat. Until I came the second time, in her pooper, and felt better.”
“You want her you get all her.”
“Fuuhuuck yeah,” Jay said, almost to himself. “I could tell the way she was eating that pizza dew. I’d found someone special. Someone that asks if she can swallow.”
We stopped at a red light and a woman pulled up next to us. Her window was down and she was trying to place a portable fan on her dashboard. I waved and gave a thumbs up when she’d succeeded, but she didn’t see me.
“How’d it go with you,” Jay said. “You finally fuck Lizzy?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But I couldn’t finish and afterwards I felt awful.”
“I have two choices and both of them end poorly.”
“No,” Jay said. “You have two choices and both of them end in bustin’ a nut.”
“Our lives are not a rap song.”
The light turned and the woman’s fan fell as she hit the gas. I thought, uh-oh, then she swerved into our lane, so close that I could see the iced coffee in her cup holder.
“You better not be a downer today,” Jay said. “I’m serious. Not today. I’ve spread my wings. Now let me fly.”
“I will let you fly,” I said. “But I need to figure out what to do.”
“Just be a man and keep fucking her. Or tell her you don’t want to fuck anymore. It’s easy.”
I lit a cigarette and placed my lighter in a small compartment in the side of the car door, then held the cigartte out the window and flicked the ash off with my thumb.
“If I keep fucking her she’ll develop feelings,” I said. “And if I tell her to leave me alone she’ll be hurt.”
“Possibly,” Jay said. “But I think you overestimate the effect you have on women.”
“I hope. But mostly I hope a third choice will arise.”
“There already is.”
We took a left on 7th Street, heading south toward Roosevelt. The bar we always went to was just about to open and Jay wanted a few before he had to go to work. As we pulled into a small parking lot a few blocks away we saw a group of young women in cut-off jeans shorts, the bottom of their asses hanging out. But Jay didn’t say anything. He just pulled a shirt from the back seat and walked a few steps ahead of me into the bar. There were no employees in sight.
“You know what I’ve been thinking,” Jay said.
“It’s time to find a new bar?”
“I’ve been thinking that the pace I’m setting is all wrong. Like my relationships aren’t starting on a sustainable trajectory.”
“Agreed.” I said. “And I applaud the introspection.”
“I know you do, cupcake.”
I looked around in search of the bartender but only saw an older man sitting at a table in the corner. He was staring at us, hunched over a beer, wearing a faded flower-print button-down that had vomit-like stains on the collar and front pocket.
“He looks like you in ten years,” Jay whispered. “Almost exactly.”
“He’s not a day under fifty,” I said.
“Oh yeah. Never mind. He looks like you in five years.”
A few minutes later the bartender walked out from a door leading to the back. It was a typical downtown bar where all the employees had tattoo sleeves and acted like everything was easy. He quickly snapped into the persona he’d adopted and got into his routine, putting his palms on the bar and leaning in to ask what he could do to help us start the day. Jay ordered for both us.
“I got this,” he said, pulling out his wallet.
“I know you do, cupcake.”
The bartender gave us a smile and after pouring and serving us he called out to the other patron sitting at a table in the corner of the bar. He just shook his head silently, still staring at us.
“If I end up like him,” Jay said. “Will you do me a favor and kill me?”
“Oh yeah. Then you kill yourself after right?”
“I always thought it would be different,” I said. “But I’ve been so long waiting for you to ask.”
After drinking in silence for a while Jay’s phone buzzed and he pulled it out quickly, smiling when he saw who it was, then typing back immediately.
“Who’s that?” I said.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“It’s that awful girl from last night isn’t it?”
Jay raised his arms and flapped them, imitating wings. I had an unusually strong urge to hit him but instead ordered another beer.
“Uh-oh,” Jay said. “She’s in.”
“So you’re on your own tonight.”
Jay picked up his beer and raised it high in the air. The urge to hit him had been replaced with a lively fear that made me sick and in love with how absurd things were. It was a time in my life.
“To us,” he said. “To finding love in a summer bound to be full of it. And to suicide pacts amongst life-long friends.”
I brought my glass up to his and clinked it together. It was a time in my life when I knew I wouldn’t kill myself but thinking about it in the right way felt good, made me laugh. A time when picturing myself jumping out of a plane no-parachute over a deserted island was almost meditative. Peter Pan with cirrhosis. Mindless entertainment the goal and the cure. Dogs with no teeth or claws, tongues too big for their mouths, running fast to keep their feet cool and away from the pavement. When the Jays of the world just wanted to fly away. To places where the weather was in between and the women would fall in love in one night, and again and again every night afterward. The days of the lovesick dog. Summer, 2016.