Kratom and Eve – Anna Krivolapova
August 2, 2023
“Podsnezhniki. Undersnowlings. Snowdrops and crocuses, the first flowers that appear in late winter. You know what I’m talking about?”
Bella had seen them before. They seemed to crop up overnight in front yards and medians, white and purple with bright orange stamens. Impervious to the frost, like college girls in mini skirts in line for the bar.
“Podsnezhniki is what we call the frozen corpses that appear when the snow melts; the drunk, the lost, the homeless, the ones who fell asleep in a snowbank for the very last time. It’s a wonder he hasn’t become one.”
Olessia pointed her cigarette at the homeless man digging through the trash behind Troika Gastronom, the Ukrainian grocery store that shared an alley with Print Genie. Olessia was wearing an aqua velour tracksuit, ankle socks, and her husband’s Nike slides. She leaned forward and let spit pour out of her mouth after every drag.
“His name’s not actually Leo. He’s never given anyone a name, so we chose one. He reminds Dima of this cat we had in Kharkiv, pure black with yellow eyes and a funny way of howling all day and night.”
“He comes into the print shop all the time.”
“He comes to Troika too. We feed him a little. Does he ever pay you?”
“Rarely. But Mike gave me strict instructions: Don’t piss Leo off, Bella. I don’t have insurance. It’s cheaper to print his little fliers than fix a window.”
“He brought me one of his fliers yesterday, something about vet(erinarians) stealing all the painkillers from vet(erans). It was pretty entertaining. We keep them pinned up in the kitchen. Growing quite a collection.”
Leo got banned from the laundromat again. He wouldn’t stop cheating in their weekly craps game. It didn’t thwart him very far. He set up shop on a median in the strip mall parking lot, stretching out onto a hot pink yoga mat he found in the dumpster. His joint smelled like dryer sheets.
“Lawn, dro, mat. All I need, right here. Lawn, dro, mat.”
“Don’t smoke that Febreze weed, Leo. That smells like that trash bag, roach killer, driveway weed,” Collins warned him. “You know how they grow it? Why it’s all frosty?”
“Explains how I kill 5 roaches a day.” Leo showed him the ones glued to his notebook, all smoked to the quick. Dated and rated. “This blunt gets a two out of five. It was gearing up to be a four until you showed up. I put a hex on thee, B.C.”
Leo held a small compact mirror up to Collins. Maybe something he’d stolen from the thrift store or Walgreens. Collins’ blonde dreadlocks and forearm tattoos stared back at him. He got back into his car.
“Lawn. Dro. Mat.” Leo called out. Every few minutes or so. More often when his proclamation competed with the sounds of cars pulling into the lot, forcing him to repeat himself with all the air left in his roach killer lungs. He came into Print Genie every Friday with new ideas scribbled onto cardboard, receipts, burger wrappers, or whatever paper he could get his hands on. He never ripped pages out of his precious leather-bound notebook.
“Brochure style. Glossy.”
“Who’s gonna pay for it, Leo? You owe me from last time.”
“Is he a monk?”
“None of your business, Bella.”
“Let me see your mockup.”
COPPER LEAD AND MANGANESE
IUD UNDER THE MAILBOX
WABASH AND 23
LOOKING LIKE A TINY ANCHOR
PINK AS A WHITE GIRL’S SHINS
WITH LITTLE RICE MARKS ON HER KNEES
4 ex 2 ex 3 3 3
NECKTIE CONCH SHELL
FOR YOUR BEST FRIEND
KILL HIM FOR HIS LAPTOP SLEEVE
I LOVE THE WHOLE BRADY FAMILY
EVERYTHING THAT’S LEFT OF THEM
ALL 88 OF THEM
OCEANIA ZIP CODE
TIPTOE TO THE NORTH POLE
After he left, Bella zoned out, watching people run through the parking lot, looking up at the sky in disbelief, trying to escape the heavy winter rain. She warmed her hands on the printer as it spat out 200 copies of Leo’s screed.
Two weeks later, Bella came to work to find a padlock around the door handle. Print Genie’s windows were boarded up. Leo came howling around the dumpster, looking for her.
“Chiropractor, good for the bones!
Chiropractor, good for the bones!
Chiropractor, good for the bones!”
He handed her a Wendy’s bag full of paper scraps and clasped his hand over hers. He made the sign of the cross over her palm and disappeared into the alley behind Troika.
Bella went next door to apply to the Planet Aid thrift store. As she filled out her W-2 she watched Leo make his rounds across the strip mall. She wondered about Brother Collins, what kind of brother he was. If he was black, a monk, or of some relation to Lily and Phil. Whoever he was, he never came in to pay Leo’s tab.
She pulled his last mockups out of her pocket:
& LEONARD LAKE
HAD 2 THINGS IN COMMON:
P-HILIPINAS AND P-OKER
LET FREEDOM RING
ING [IN YOUR EARS]
AURORA LITTLETON COLORADO SPRINGS
BLAM BLAM ON YOUR LITTLE KIDS
BROUGHT TO YOU BY
PROZAC, LUVOX, & ELAVIL
BAUMEISTER AND BUNDY
WENT THRU A CAR WASH CALLED
COLGATE, CREST & LISTERINE
SENSODYNE AND ORAL-B
CANT GET TO MY PERFECT TEETH
CANT GET IN MY MOUTH AT ALL
I USE A TOOTHPICK FROM “GREAT WALL”
THE FINEST “CHINESE” RESTAURANT
GET RICH QUICK! ! !
YOU CAN MAKE LOTS OF FRIENDS
LIVE IN A NICE HOUSE
IN STAL LING INCINERATORS
AKA NO REBATES
ASHES TO ASHES
MAKE HERR’S YOURS
CHIP CHIP HURRAY
EASY IN STAL ATION
BECOME A MILLIONAIRE
NOW YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND IS
HOW COME ALL THE FUNERAL HOMES ARE RUN BY
HOW COME THEY GOT A GOLF BALL SHAPED URN FOR $1,899
She crumpled them back up into the Wendy’s bag and left to go enjoy her Friday.
Collins followed Bella into a bar with real antlers glued to the chandeliers and fake beef in the burgers. She was four drinks deep and chatty with her new friends, bearded men in clean shoes. She had a black chin-length haircut and a long neck. Dark circles under her eyes, pale skin and no freckles. Her fake fur coat fell open and he saw her wife beater, probably from a boys’ pack of three. Thin and cheap. He wondered if she’d been priced out of NYC, Portland, and Philly. She was messy. The kind of girl who couldn’t live somewhere small as D.C., Asheville, or Richmond. Maybe she grew up here. Maybe this is her last chance. He knew about Portland, at least. About Sasha, the antifa stripper that attended every single town hall meeting. Bella lived with her for two years before trying to survive Philly for three months, failing, and getting chased deep into central PA.
He tried to place her bone structure. Slender and flawless, blankly exotic. But her black bob could have been throwing him off. He’d have to see her in a ponytail. He’d have to see her hair slicked back, wet. He felt drunker than he’d planned to get and put his book down. He pulled his leatherbound notebook out and started writing a poem:
Watching Bella in the vegan bar
In case my brain
Stopped running the tape
Just in case
The red light is off:
I just read Mysterious Stranger No. 9
(not be confused with engine engine)
I mean the Mark Twain parody of Dante
Where the man gets to paradise and finds there’s no sex
‘There is hunting in heaven-’
But how can there be slaughter up there
All the angels must be iron deficient
Dark circles below their eyes
Long nights of reading our sins without skimming
All women look the same when you take them swimming
Wet mascara, beady eyes
Hair all slicked back
Damp as a sewer rat
Now she takes a towel
Now she’s as tousled as a licked cat
All women look the same
When you get them wet,
You find out they’re all forehead.
That’s how angels must look
Without meat in heaven
The bearded men got up to play pool, leaving Bella swiveling in her chair, watching the door. She sucked down her fifth vodka soda and started to tear her napkin into little pieces. She ran her hands through her hair, showing Collins a peek of forehead before her short black bangs fell back over it. He packed up his notebook and sat next to her.
Two hours later, Bella smashed her glass bowl against the limestone brick of the courthouse.
“I was trying to clean it,” she explained. “Can you take me to buy a new one?”
Collins took her arm and walked her his car. When he parked by the headshop he took a moment to admire the neon green pot leaf sign reflecting against her shiny black hair. She started to shift in her seat and fuss with the mascara that smudged below her eyes. Women love to be looked at, watched, gazed upon, until they get their fill and start to hate it. You can never rub a cat’s belly for too long, no matter how long she presents it to you.
“How did you two meet?” The kratom peddler asked, noticing Bella’s fingers crawling down Collins’ chest.
“We’re long distance. This is our halfway point.” Bella was getting a kick out of lying to the man who smelled like mothballs and patchouli. Collins’ sinuses started to panic.
“Let me guess. Cincinnati and Boston?”
“Portland and DC.”
“Ever seen a map, lady?”
“Pick something, Bella.”
She chose an orange pipe with glass blown horns around the bowl that looked like a sea creature. Expensive borosilicate. Collins pulled three twenty dollar bills out of his wallet. He saw her eyeing his ID and snapped it shut. She grabbed it out of his hands and studied his driver’s license.
“Peter Collins? You owe me!” she said, handing it back. “You’re Leo’s Medici man, his sponsor or something.”
“We can talk about it in the car.”
Bella’s apartment was a mess. She picked up three crumpled fast food bags before finding the one with Leo’s last mockups.
“Why do you need these?”
“Ever heard of echolalia?”
“I’ve heard of glossolalia. Like Cocteau Twins.”
“Leo repeats whatever he hears. I’m trying to find where he goes at night, where he’s getting his information.”
“From here.” Bella tapped her long, painted nails against her new pipe. “Why do you want to know so badly?”
“Ever heard of a numbers station?”
She stumbled onto her bed and started to take her shoes off hands free, struggling to kick them off with her toes. Collins untied her combat boots and set them on her dirty shoe rack. She was falling asleep already. He counted out Leo’s debt and tucked it into her left shoe. He pushed her hair back and kissed her forehead, taking a picture of it in the moonlight before heading back to work at the Pittsburgh branch of the NRO.