Fletcher Cline lives in the Sonoran Desert as a graduate of Arizona State University's School of Creative Writing. Most recently published in Analecta the National Literary and Art Journal of the University of Texas at Austin, he specializes in short stories and novellas that involve recurring characters and each piece reveals more of their person, travelling deeper into this fictitious world.
First of all, I should mention that her name was not Abernathy. Instead it was something completely different, a name that seemed to say, yes, I am a name that directly reflects the tragedy of personage I tend to be linked to, in this case, the brunette, maybe twenty five, skinny and littered with attractive freckles upon her nose.
I was in the middle of a draft beer, or nearing the finish, wondering where my future as an opportunist might lead when I first met her. I doodled in the margins of some ridiculous novel about two men and one woman as they most tend to be (and have no fear, this is not so different, sans the fact that there are really only two in this story, a man, who is of course, myself, and a woman who is Abernathy, or for that matter, the tragedy of personage) until I noticed a commotion at the doorway of a famous thrifting shop from the table set for one outside of The Commodore, a mostly unknown diner that was not nearly the caliber of celebrity of the thrifting shop that seemed to be the catalyst for all of the commotion.
Two men dressed in proper blue black attire, that is the kind with a walkie-talkie attached to the shoulder and a mag light at the waist to insinuate authority, though without the necessary water pistol or .38 J.P. Sauer (that's what the Nazi's used) that denote policemanship, simply security for the celebrity that was the thrifting shop, were pulling a bag away from a brunette, and I'm sure you can guess whether or not she had attractive freckles upon her nose.For some reason, overcome, I finished my beer and struck the King of Hearts into my book and wandered from my table toward the noise.The first of the men was speaking into his walkie-talkie and pointing his flash light at the young woman. The second was pulling the bag away from her, a black oversized bag that seemed more suited for long periods of backpacking through some Colorado county than her supposed thrifting.
She, at the opposing end, a woman (girl), who weighed, possibly, one hundred five (certainly no more than one hundred fifteen), against a man with a gut that could have weighed the same. She had the look of an inmate or of a Burmese tiger (I had seen one in the geographic not long ago) and he the face of a fat man, dimpled and forced, an older version of a fat child's disenchantment as the ice cream truck pulls just out of reach.
On the ground in front of me was a flyer for a local art gallery, a broken pen and cigarette butts, no good use for any of them, but in my right pocket I felt my metal flip lighter and smoothed my thumb against it.
One look at the spectacle (I should note that I was not the only one taking in the scene, a crowd gathered, not only on the outside of the celebrity shop, but also from the inside of the store, a mix like an hourglass, the sand sifting at the point of the handbag's straps) and I pulled the lighter from my pocket, aimed to the window of the shop's door, and threw the damn thing as hard as I could past the head of the fat man.
The window burst and the sound was triumphant, the musical had come to an end; Climax! I shouted, and the guard lost the bag, holding his arms over his head to block the surely oncoming sand, the other on the ground now threw his flash light in my direction, I missed it and it hit a parked car, not staying to see the damage, I ran, as did Abernathy, south down the street past widows and street musicians, turning at a corner, we ran next to one another.
She, a smile like car headlights, me, a wave of cardiovascular despair, it was seven blocks before we slowed.
Hello, she said, between short breaths, Would you like to catch a drink?
We made it to another place that was overlooked, a bar down a series of steps, up to a door painted green with bars over its small window.
She ordered two beers, I paid for them, and she set one in front of me. The music was train wrecked blues and the tables were oil slicks in the Pacific ocean, blue green mixed paint that might have been psychedelic thirty or so years ago. I asked her what was so special in the bag. She asked me what I did for a living. I'm a writer, I said, and we left it to that.
I focused on something near the back wall; a suicide of a piano and a rotted bench. Abernathy told me she needed the bathroom. I drummed a few keys and waited. Two men threw words under their chins and glared at me from the bar, the scattered notes coming from the untuned strings were distracting them.
I went back to the oil slicks, two more beers, and I waited. It became apparent she was not coming back. What a sinister Irish farewell.
It was over two months later that Abernathy returned to my line of sight, October plaguing, she had a worn black pea coat against the rain but no umbrella, her hair hung wet against her neck. She exited a bookstore, one of the fashionable ones without any used or returnable books, and I called to her. She put her finger to her lips and gave me the headlight smile.
I nearly called Abernathy to her, but that wasn't her name, so I didn't, but she came over to me anyway. Once again, she asked if I would like a drink, only this time at her home near the village.
When we got there, we were not the only ones. The room was out of Tennessee Williams head, not like Salinger, not like Plath, and certainly not like Fitzgerald, it was sparse screaming 'Stella' from the moment we arrived. One of the three people in the apartment introduced himself as Rick, he was twenty, maybe twenty one with a full beard that seemed to flow from his scalp instead of his face; he was dressed in plaid and denim. He waved to me as if we were old friends.
Two girls sat next to one another, arms entwined, neither with shirts on, nor brassieres, nor anything covering their full breasts and gave me blank stares, the kind that come from lesbians finished with their due amount of insult from a hateful society and embracing (literally) the flesh of their choice. They looked like pale ghosts.
Abernathy took a bottle from the floor and handed it to me pulling the cap from its neck, and then passed out clothing, books and assorted groceries from out of the black bag. Rick began to read immediately. He nodded his thanks. The two lesbians let go of each other and took a loaf of bread, peanut butter and honey and began to make sandwiches (to my surprise offering the first to me). Abernathy sat in the middle of the room and pat the floor next to her. Scanning, I saw that the only furniture in the room was the small couch that Rick seemed to be fully occupying, and so I sat.
This is Rick, from Mexico (He didn't look Mexican), and that's Lona and Mira.
I smiled to each of them.
I was speaking of you not a week ago, you and the guards, and so I knew I would see you again.
Mira said: Thank you.
I said: Don't worry about it.
Abernathy said: Read us a story.
So I did.
I read a story that I had recently completed about one man and two women and they acted as if they liked it, but stoically. I suggested that since Rick had finished the bottle of whiskey that I may go buy another, the girls laughed, Rick grinned (barely visible from under the smoke of his beard), and Abernathy told me that they didn't pay for anything.
My emotion clearly disjunct, she said, We don't pay for anything, it defeats the purpose of living, but we only take what needs to be taken.
I asked if whiskey needed to be taken and she let her bangs drift in front of her face, Of course it does, this time perhaps only a moon sliver smile. I said, Well, then I should be the one to do it.
Down the street and to the left was a grocer (Jubilee?) and it was Abernathy and I and that black backpacking bag. We moved like water, an osmosis of thievery, and put three bottles, one of whiskey, one of vodka and one of gin in the bag and I picked up three limes and paid for them (though Abernathy was very displeased) to put the owner and clerks off of our trail.
When we returned to the apartment up four flights of stairs (the elevator was out), then twisted like razor wire around invisible corners, we were back in the studio. The lesbians were asleep and Rick was still reading, though I forget what, maybe something about two men and one woman. Abernathy gently woke the sleepers and we began to drink heavily. The first two bottles fast, the whiskey slow and I kissed her.
We kissed several times and she tasted like freshly baked scones with cinnamon. Then she pulled away from me.
It isn't that I don't find you attractive, she said, In fact I find you overly attractive, or drastically or tragically or some other irritating adverb, it's just, you see, that you speak in too many appositives.
She pushed me to the floor and laid her head upon mine.
And you bought the limes.
I promise, I recall saying in my defense, That I will never buy another thing for as long as I live, and that, I hope, I will never again fill my words with appositives, only my writing. She fell asleep, I wondered if that much would suffice. I was sure I would dream about it.
When we awoke in the morning, it was only Abernathy and I (I hope the lesbians put shirts over themselves before they left as it was growing colder outside in the mornings, they might catch chill and that would certainly be noticeable, like railroad spikes coming out of their chests) and she told me Rick must have gone for breakfast. I asked her if I could stay, she said yes. I asked her if I could stay indefinitely, she said no, none of us can stay indefinitely. I asked her if she and I could stay together indefinitely, headlights. I suppose that meant yes, but who could tell behind those freckles that spoke independently, small voices each more intriguing than the next, to each other quoting Byron and Yeats, they spoke in sonnet form or haiku. They embraced, were married, were fathers, mothers and children. They were priests, scientists and socialites, they each lived in mansions and had guest homes with painted fences and English Ivy climbing the gutters and servant's quarters near the stables, and if you listened very carefully you could hear them whisper over the vast landscape: So This Is It!
I wished I had packed my travelling bag, because the guest homes seemed very cozy.
Rick returned with eggs and hamburger meat. They had a hot plate that burned blood orange and used a tuna can to make the eggs and a soup can to prepare the meat. When they were done we had cylindrical breakfast that was more satisfying than novelty, though mostly I wished to eat nothing if only I could watch her, see the small movements in her jaw, down her throat and into the small package of her belly.
Let's go to the park, she said, and so we did.
She stretched her arms and legs in a mighty X to the sky, lay back over thinning grass and I impersonated Hamlet after his mighty duel, falling to the ground, dead and poisoned with an epic thump, next to her. Rick climbed a nearby tree and made binoculars with his hands gazing over the landscape.
Don't get too close to me, she said, so I didn't. Instead I made friends with the ants, one was Horace, the other McMurphy, one Esther, one Rasputin, one Django, and the queen (unavailable for a personal meeting) was Mary Queen of Scotts, reincarnated or moved slightly through invisible power lines and for some reason a bit irritable from what I could hear amongst the workers.
Alright, Abernathy turned to me, You can kiss me again, and so I did. This time, her mouth tasted of maple smoked honey biscuits.
When the sun set, it was time to find food again, but we could not allocate a place that didn't send a teenager to follow us around the store with a green apron concealing his arousal (from the responsibility) poking out like a bird perch. So, as a symbol of our revolution, we went hungry; I didn't mind.
We played cards in candle light and Rick told us stories from Mexico, San Antonio and New Orleans. I read another story from my notebook and then a poem, Abernathy liked the poem; she said it reminded her of Cummings on methamphetamines, I didn't see the resemblance, but it didn't matter. Someone once told me that the carrot in front of a poet's dick are the words he uses to illicit sex, but mine had a funny way of rejecting that notion, sending the clever girls running back to the sun beaten roads of the Midwest or some black mining hills south of Dakota. It is what it is, but she liked it, that was all that mattered to me, so I worked on another while she and Rick played rummy (Abernathy always won in cards).
There was a little whiskey left, so we drank it. The lesbians arrived soon after they finished their game and I, my poem, it was only four words long: So This Is It! I didn't take credit for it, I signed it: Freckles.
The lesbians had a man with them, an old man maybe sixty or seventy or one hundred and eight (hard to discern past the cataracts in his eyes) with them. He said he had been in a war, now he just smoked pot, so we put some pot in a large paper and smoked it and I thought I wanted to write another poem, but the pot slowed me down and I can only write fast, so I dropped my pen and put my head into Abernathy's lap.
She leaned over me until her hair tickled my face. She was like that sometimes, or maybe it was only in my mind, the vibrant headache; a love that fell like her strands of auburn hair over my face like the sprinkling October rain or pin pricks or salt in ocean wind, her love was miniscule though I was constantly affected by it. I can't remember, but I think I fell asleep that way, in the shortage of her crossed legs.
The next day we awoke, again alone, and Abernathy took some coffee mugs from the windowsill near the couch and put something that looked like dust into each of them, then with a newspaper wiped out the soup can used previously for hamburger and boiled some water. She poured it over the dust and we drank it, it tasted how it looked though she assured me it was somehow healthy dust. She suggested we spend the day looking for something to paint with.
Along the road we came to a group of workers doing some kind of construction and I lifted a can of orange spray paint, dayglo and with a tip that shot straight forward to mark arrows on the ground. Just for fun, I drew some arrows that led to nothing in particular.
Then we found a can of paint, yellow gold behind a strip of manufactured homes with brick and basements, in the alley where there was a cat with raccoon eyes.
Later we found a large cutout of someone running for local office, a giant life size cutout just inside the doorway of a bank, so we took it, we ran like three headed dogs, but we got it and took it back to the apartment. We covered it in yellow gold and made it grin dayglo orange and Abernathy said it needed something else, so I took my felt pen from my notebook and we took turns writing, So This Is It! In small, medium and large text all over the yellow man.
I believe she named him, because I could not find the name easily, she called him Orpheus. In smaller letters near his heel I wrote: Don't look back.
That night we slept together. The lesbians were not there. Rick was not there. And we slept as lovers do, against our flesh, two knots on a rope, two moths on a streetlamp, two cigarette burns on a tattered blanket in a forgotten basinet. We slept together as if we would never reappear in daylight, as if our come would, at climax, pull the flesh from our bones and the voice from our throats and the god from our souls. We slept together and it was only the yellow man who looked upon us. His judgment was visible in small, medium and large text.
The next morning I awoke, this time truly alone, to the sound of something striking the window. Struggling, I slipped past the yellow man, over the coffee mug windowsill and pushed the pane open; the stickiness of the old paint causing it trouble. Below me on the street was Abernathy, hand full of rocks, blew a kiss, headlights, and it was the last time that I saw her.
Her quick feet took her into the subway, my own were rigid against the floor, my movement akin to the yellow man, we stood next to each other and I felt the words in small, medium and large text across my face, abdomen and legs. My heel ached. A letter pushed under the door. It said: Eviction, and though I tried, I simply could not recognize the name on the lease, but no matter, it surely belonged to someone with a terrible tragedy of personage.