Wilson Street – Derek Maine
August 23, 2020
Tim sat by the pool of an incidental apartment complex, smoking. He didn’t see it, but he heard it. A crack, then a scream. Then a whole cacophony of screams and feet rushing towards the original cry. On the other side of the shallow end streaks of new blood appeared, some of it pooling on the concrete and some of it rushing towards the water. The girl was six or twelve and after that first scream, she lay silent next to her blood. The lower half of her body would go into convulsions every thirty seconds. Her skull. You could see brain matter from across the pool. Tim didn’t know if she was dying right there or if it only looked horrific but he wasn’t trying to find out. He cleaned up his little area and walked out just as the sirens started wailing.
That was before Noon. Almost every one of his roommates at Wilson Street would still be in bed. He had 7 or 8 or fifteen roommates at any given time. He didn’t know. It really didn’t matter.
Tim went straight to the fridge after he walked in, pulled a 40-ounce Miller High Life out and sat on the front porch to wait for something to happen. He tried not to think about the girl at the pool. He just drank quickly and thought about Eva who was coming home later that afternoon. He was excited to get laid. Eva wasn’t his girlfriend anymore, she made that clear and had even added that she never had been, but in her last letter from Seattle she promised to fuck him when she got back. He hadn’t gotten laid since she left with a group of Anarchists, most of them Swedish, a few of them local, for some WTO thing. Tim had no idea what any of it meant. It hadn’t interested him. He had learned the day she left that she was leaving and that was the day he also learned that Eva, who he shared a room with at Wilson Street and fucked pretty much every day, was never his girlfriend. She left her 1986 green Subaru hatchback parked in the grass. He threw a concrete cinder block through the front window after he got off the phone with her that morning. He didn’t even know the house had a phone. Someone, he thinks it was Steve, came and woke him up and said there was a phone call for him. He was led down the stairs and then into the back, in an area of the house he had never been to, and someone put a cordless phone in his hand.
Nate was sleeping on the floor. Lauren was sitting cross-legged next to him eating canned green beans right out of the can with a spork. She had on a bikini bottom and nothing else and just kept aggressively purring at Tim while he listened in shock to Eva break it all down to him on the other end of the line. He hung up on her. That’s when he went outside and lifted the cinder block.
So, she was coming back today, six months later, and he was going to get laid. The window had either been fixed or the car wasn’t there. He couldn’t remember but had a vague notion that it was not an issue anymore.
Tim finished his forty. He stuffed his pockets with brown plastic grocery bags, found a set of keys to the most accessible car and headed off to Harris Teeter.
Inside he followed the rules: no booze and no ice cream. Booze aroused suspicion. Ice Cream melted.
When he had finished shopping, he waited until he found himself in an aisle alone. He pulled the plastic grocery bags from his pockets, quickly bagged everything up, and casually walked out the front door with his cart.
It is a few hours later. Tim is sleeping on a couch in the living room when Brian wakes him up excitedly.
“Did you hear about Nate?”
“No.” Tim was annoyed. It had become more and more common for people to fill up the house with backbiting.
☐ Roommates were always moving in or moving out or fighting,
☐ getting arrested,
☐ waving a gun,
☐ being accused of something by Linda down at Boxcar (usually stealing money out of the tip jar, but sometimes using the pool cues as a threat of force),
☐ stealing someone drugs or boyfriend or girlfriend or last beer,
☐ or eating the whole case of Stouffer’s Chicken Pot Pies in the basement freezer that some poor bastard’s lovely Mother had left on the front porch as an invitation to “come back home anytime” and was not supposed to actually be eaten but instead understood as an a kind of private art installation dealing with themes of nostalgia, loss, and pain.
But jesus fucking christ sometimes Tim just wanted everyone to keep to themselves for a couple of days, let things die down, and not always have to be chatting towards mutual destruction.
“He freaked the fuck out and left this morning,” Brian snapped him out of it.
Tim lit a cigarette and pretended to be uninterested.
“They were playing with the Ouija Board in one of the back rooms last night. The one with the ugly ass flower curtains. They’re smoking something. I don’t know what they were smoking. So, Nate starts asking the Ouija Board about his Uncle who I guess is dead? And the Uncle fucking answers him. Tells him to get the fuck out. That motherfucker packed everything up last night. Left this morning. He’s going to go live with his Grandparents, some farm somewhere, and give himself to God. That’s what he wrote in the note! He said he was giving himself to God!”
Tim kept on pretending Brian’s words were just air. Tim had grown up with Nate. He was sure none of the other roommates knew that. It wasn’t clear if Nate even knew it anymore. But it was true. Before all of this, years and years before, they were in Boy Scouts together. They saw the Titanic together in the movie theater one New Years’ Eve and cried and swore to each other they would never tell anyone, and Tim had seen Nate’s father beat the shit out of him. He was worried about his friend, even if he was pretty sure his friend didn’t know who he was anymore.
Nate had grown up in the church. His Dad was a Deacon. So that part checked out. Tim hadn’t ever heard about any dead uncles but the world’s full of dead uncles. Could be. He dismissed Brian by blowing some smoke in his face and lying back down.
Just before he left Tim in peace he added, “we’re having a show tonight in this room. One of the Swedish bands Eva went with are staying here for a few days and they’re going to do a CD release thing here tonight.” Brian walked away unable to bury his smirk.
Hours later, but while it was still light out, another one stopped by. James.
James standing over Tim, towering over him, eating a peanut butter sandwich. The sandwich also has psilocybin mushrooms in it. Steve had driven a white Honda accord 6 hours and forty-four minutes straight down to a town on the Georgia/Florida border and spent a weekend harvesting mushrooms. Tim had gone with Steve to the North Carolina School of the Arts as soon he got back, with James & Eva and the four of them tried unsuccessfully to sell the drugs. Now the Wilson Street house was crawling with the things. They had taken over the past few weeks. Some of them were growing offshoots in the laundry room; several roommates were swearing these were at least 7x as potent. James was working on an industrial sized teabag, made out of old bedsheets, with some idea about infiltrating the house’s water supply.
Tim had steered clear for the most part. He took a small dose a few nights before. An out-of-town speed metal band was playing in the living room. Tim wanted to skip in time. Steve convinced him the mushrooms were what he needed. It didn’t work. He threw up immediately. He kept drinking. It was a small dose. He doesn’t think he tripped or had an experience.
“I asked if you were excited,” Tim was in a fog and had forgotten James was there.
“Yeah. Can’t wait.”
James shuffled off stage. Something was happening. The house had stopped being a space and turned into a series of events months ago. Now something was happening to Tim.
She looked the same. He heard her when she opened the screen door out front. Fifty people came in and out of that door every day but as soon as he heard the way the screen opened, he sat up and he knew.
She looked the same. Why had he thought she would look different? He thought she would be tired.
She didn’t see him because of the way the couch faced the kitchen, where she was headed. He watched her open the fridge. She had black jeans on. She always had black jeans on. Her ass looked so good. She pulled two forties out of the fridge. Someone probably named something came over and hugged her, welcoming her home.
She walked straight to Tim, not looking at him. She sat right next to him, not looking at him. She handed him the other forty, not looking at him. She took a sip of hers, after twisting the cap with her white t-shirt which she always had rolled up to make a little knotted ball by her bellybutton. Her bellybutton was super adorable too.
Finally, she stopped the game, turned and smiled such an enormous, full-toothed smile.
“I missed you,” she kissed him for several seconds.
“Can we go somewhere and talk?”
She slapped his knee, “No, I want to drink a beer first.”
This time Steve walked in, probably high on those mushrooms we they couldn’t sell. He sat down next to Eva and gave her his own kiss, also lasting several seconds. The collective spirit of the anarchists extended, naturally, to sex. Tim never accepted this. He was unable to shed his “patriarchal tendencies towards ownership of the female body,” as Eva told him, sweetly, once.
Instead he saw colors. While others felt sublime liberation at shedding societal expectations around sex and bodies, Tim saw and felt the colors of fury. He had become more guarded, less fun. The house kept adding floors, rooms continued to expand and open up. New rooms were discovered weekly now. They appeared out of nowhere. Everyone else seemed to embrace this clinging, climbing architecture. Tim felt claustrophobic. The accretion of bodies strewn about were squeezing in on him. At one time he governed with them. At one time he ate with them. Now he reeled from them.
Steve teased him in front of Eva, “Has this guy told you about his personal Heart of Darkness yet? It’s a good one,” he laughed.
After grunting a kind of “no,” Tim went somewhere else in his mind while Steve relayed the story. Steve got very few of the facts correct. He increased his own role when it suited his carefully curated image; He retreated in the story when any ugliness shone on him. He told his story.
We were at College Hill shooting pool. Some girl we’ve never seen before is playing at the table next to us. Doing pretty good. Tim starts sliding his stool a little closer and works up the nerve to start talking to her.
Eva smiles at Tim.
She pulls a thesis paper out of her bag. All printed up. Stapled. Title page! The whole deal. It’s on Herman Melville’s Heart of Darkness. You know they made Apocalypse Now about that.
It was Joseph Conrad.
Yeah, yeah, and Brando got so fat and fucked up they couldn’t shoot any of his scenes. He’s supposed to be this badass marine beret and they have to film in the shadows so you can’t tell how gross he is.
Eva is still beaming at Tim. Now she has his hand in hers, interlocked and placed under her thigh. She is running her thumb slowly back and forth over Tim’s smooth palm, reassuring him while also laughing with Steve & egging him on to tell the story.
So Tim gets her all excited. He tells her he’s getting his MFA in Melville and she’s dying for him to read this thing. Tim takes it. We leave. Just Tim and me.
Steve had already gotten her number and would spend the next week in bed with her, clowning Tim and fucking her in the ass but these details didn’t make it in his story for some reason.
We stop at Charlie’s and smoked. Tim, you thought it was Opium!
“I thought it was something. I don’t know if it was Opium.”
Steve, uproarious, Well it was just good weed. Anyway, we start to walk back here and you know there’s that shortcut that goes right past student parking. Tim, fucking psycho, starts running and trying to open up all the car doors. Everyone was locked!
Eva interrupted him and turned to Tim, “What were you doing, honey?”
I don’t know. I felt really weird.
So no shit we get pulled over by a cop. We’re running on foot and this cop car throws his lights on and pulls us over like we’re fucking speeding!
“Tim, did you hear me? What were you trying to do?”
“I don’t know. I just didn’t feel ok.” It felt like my brain was going to hurt me if I didn’t do something bad for it.
Anyway we go through the whole thing, lying about where we live obviously and they keep us all fucking night in separate little interview rooms asking about James and Eric and do we know anything about the fire at the Patterson Avenue warehouse and the whole time Tim just has this little thesis paper, all stapled, all crisp just printed white paper, and he’s clutching it the whole time.
Eva asked Steve if he’d seen the girl since or if Tim had returned the paper. Steve said he hadn’t, said he didn’t think we’d run into her again.
Tim threw up all over Eva’s black jeans and a little bit even got on Steve.
Sometime later Tim and Eva were in another part of the house. It was a narrow room. It has a twin mattress with no bedding on it. There is a boombox. Disc 2 of 69 Love Songs is playing. Something happened, a tear in the fabric, and this thing that happened twenty years ago is happening now and my name is Tim.
I see Eva from above; I am a drone flying over. Tim is thrusting, gripping Eva’s hips from behind. He looks pained. I am scared of this and everything that happens next. I run my fingers over the textured bed sheets in this place and watch the other place with so much fucking fear. And I know what happens next.
I look so young. She looks so young. She’ll be dead in eight years. I won’t find out until two years after that. I’ll have nothing to do with that loss, if you can even call it that. I’ll swell with grief and horniness for stained, plain mattresses. The luckiest guy on the Lower East Side. Just flecks of memories floating above me. You could name them meaningless dust particles.
Where do you put it? I’m not setting up a big finish. I don’t know the answer. This isn’t a riddle or a thing where I’m in control and you can idly sit back and read where this takes us and what it might imply for character development within the story or your own life or the life of an imaginary author. This part should get edited out.
Where do you put it though for real? Is this why people have health insurance? Nate is probably waking up every morning at 5:00 a.m., pouring his coffee in the dark, kissing his little kids on the forehead and then heading off to work his ass off. He always worked his ass off. These things won’t matter in five, ten, fifteen years. They don’t matter now. But where do you put it all? You can’t just say the past because it is also happening right now, I’m watching it, and Tim is outside of her body now and she’s crying; he’s hurt her.