“Is this a dream?” Jess asked. It was early morning and the train station lobby was empty. A thick fog obscured the world outside so she couldn’t even see the Masonic temple across the street. They were sitting on a wooden bench underneath black metal letters fused to the wall that spelled out “Colored Entrance”. A black arrow pointed to the left.
“Isn’t everything?” Henry replied. He was wearing the royal blue suit from Las Vegas, much too put-together for the early hour. Jess was wearing the same gray hoodie and black leggings from the basement futon. Her converse were planted on the black and white tile floor, her elbows on her knees as she stared out into the fog. Henry tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. The waves created by her tight braids made it flow down the side of her face like a red waterfall.
“I don’t even know anymore.” Jess whispered. She rubbed her eyes. Henry mimicked her posture.
“Me too.” Henry patted her shoulder. “All I know is I know nothing.”
“Don’t quote Socrates to me.” Jess looked at his sweet, concerned face and her heart melted as always. She gave him a half-smile. “I have no fucking clue where to go from here and I’m terrified. I wish…” Henry froze, hopefully expectant. “You were here… I wish I could talk to the real you and figure all this out.”
“Who says I’m not real?” Henry asked, offering up his empty hands.
“Nobody. I’m nobody too.” Jess drew her feet up on the bench and wrapped her arms around her knees.
“Well, if I’m not real then that makes three of us?” Henry said, hoping for a smile. Jess gave him a look of painful longing.
“Your name is something. Your voice is real. Your art means something… to me. All I have is this story everyone’s pretending not to read.” Jess rested her chin on her knee as she stared into the fog.
“Well, you are giving it away for free.” Henry reminded.
“I don’t know how to get people to pay for it. The system is full of catch 22’s. I have to keep writing regardless of how much it’s killing me. I don’t know if it’s going to make anything better, but I’m trying…” Jess leaned closer to him without noticing.
“There is no try…” Henry said in his own voice. Jess was a little sad he didn’t say it as Yoda.
“I feel like it’s not happening because I don’t deserve it. I work hard for all the wrong things. I’ve done bad things. I’ve hurt people. I didn’t want to…”
“Are you sure about that?” Henry said, raising a skeptical eyebrow. Jess tried not to look at him. The sight of his face, the close proximity, the sound of his voice so near to her ear… was overwhelming. She loves him so much.
“Yeah… I always feel bad when someone else is hurting, even if I don’t like them.” Jess was defensive.
“Even if they hurt you?” Henry’s gaze was soft, coaxing. Jess gave him a guilty look, turned back to the fog.
“Okay, you’re right… I’ve lashed out at people. But I always feel bad after.”
“Do you feel bad because they’re hurt or because lashing out makes you look bad?”
“Ugh… It’s way too early for this conversation. I haven’t even had any coffee!” Jess rubbed her eyes again. Henry gently touched her wrist and moved her hands away from her face.
“Listen, Jess. It’s very human… and very real… to make mistakes. You don’t think I’ve fucked up occasionally? You’re my biggest fan and even you hate me sometimes.” Henry put an arm around her shoulder. Jess leaned her head against his neck and inhaled his smell, willing her brain to make it real.
“I’ve never hated you for one second. I’ve been angry at you, frustrated with you, disagreed with your choices… But, I love you.” Jess put her arms around him and pulled him close.
“Same here.” Henry kissed the top of her head so he could smell her hair. “Wherever you’re going, you’ll get there when you get there. Just enjoy the ride…” Jess’s green eyes met his molten chocolate eyes. Anger, fear, and intense desire emanated from her being.
“Why does it have to be such a fucking roller coaster?” Hopeless tears rolled down her cheeks. Henry held her tighter, dried her tears with a light blue handkerchief from his pocket.
“I don’t know. It’s chaos… Be kind to yourself.” They held each other and stared at the thick wall of fog surrounding the train station. The sun started to burn through…
“Justh put a little under your nose and inhale like thish.” Leena explained through plastic vampire teeth. She held up a key with a small pile of cocaine on the end of it under Jess’s nose. Jess put her index finger over her other nostril and inhaled. The powder surged directly to her brain and dripped down the back of her throat. She put her head back against the graffiti-covered wall of the bathroom, the red and gold scarf tied around her head acted like a pillow.
“More, please!” Jess shouted at the bare light bulb in the ceiling. Leena scooped out a bump from the tiny plastic bag and inhaled it with a little shiver.
“Whew! Thish is gonna be a fun night!” Leena was about to take a second hit when Jess grabbed her wrist. An infinitesimal sprinkle fell from the key onto the dirty black and white tile floor. Leena appeared deeply offended.
“Hey! I paid for that stuff, don’t be greedy!” Jess took the bag and the key, scooped out a much larger amount for her other nostril. Leena ran her tongue over her fake vampire teeth and rubbed her nose. Jess breathed in through her nose. “I HATE THIS DRUG, WHY AM I DOING THIS?!” She yelled at the ceiling.
“Because ish Halloween in NYThee, baby! Time to party!” Leena took the bag from Jess and dipped in her finger, took out her vampire teeth and rubbed the cocaine on her gums. Jess rolled up what was left and hid the bag in the bodice of her DIY gypsy costume. They exited the bathroom in the east village lesbian bar and no one noticed their pinhole pupils. Everyone was wasted. Leena’s girlfriend Maxine was sitting at the bar wearing a sparkly witch hat and a flowy black lace dress with a neckline that plunged past her small breasts almost to her navel. She had blue eyes and waist-length black hair which may or may not have been a wig. Leena threw back her plastic cape to reveal a tight black Asian-style dress. Maxine kissed Leena through her plastic fangs.
“Look at you my thexy witchy woman…” Leena said, taking Maxine’s hand and introducing her to Jess. “This is my little cousin Jess, the writer I was telling you about…”
“Oh! You’re the one who wrote that funny story about that guy… What was his name?” Maxine took Leena by the waist and sat her down on her lap. Leena wrapped her arms around Maxine, still maintaining her charm school composure as she stole her girlfriend’s chardonnay from the bar.
“Henry O’Connor…” Jess felt twitchy and awkward, her eyes darted around the room full of costumed lesbians. More than one of them wore orange jumpsuits. There were at least three Björks in swan costumes. It was all a little surreal. Maxine looked around the bar and back at Jess in her thrift store approximation of a fortune teller.
“You’re gay?” Maxine asked, stealing her wine back from Leena.
“Not really.” Jess responded. How do you explain being in love with a celebrity? Leena gave her a condescending simper.
“Give it time, ya silly goose! Maxine, my love… Did you bring my treats?” Leena brushed her hand under Maxine’s chin and gazed into her eyes. Lightning crashed outside. Maxine smiled and pulled a small cellophane package out of her bra. Leena unwrapped the package, which contained three small green gummy frogs. They both popped one in each other’s mouths and chewed while rubbing their noses together.
“Here, do you want one?” Maxine offered the frog in her palm to Jess.
“What’s in it?” Jess asked, already almost too high to care.
“Just a little magic…” Leena said. Jess ate the frog.
“…who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated, who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war, who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull, who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall, who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York, who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls…”
Jess read “Howl” by Alan Ginsberg with barely a pause between her words. They were on the roof of Leena’s apartment building near the bar. Several of Leena’s cool artist friends sat around a charcoal-grill fire, watching her perform the poem for the first time. The drugs made her think she understood the words she roared into the impending storm gathering on the edges of the patch of sky above them. An unpleasantly familiar face appeared at the top of the stairs. Jess paused and bared her teeth in an miserable, drug-addled sneer.
John had a mop of unruly light brown hair and icy blue eyes. He was slightly younger than Jess, rail-thin, wearing a white t-shirt and ripped jeans. When she first moved up to NYC to sleep on Leena’s couch while trying to wrestle a writing career down from nothing, John was sleeping on the other couch. Leena had a habit of taking in young artists and John claimed to be a stand up comedian. At the end of one drunken night, he had talked Jess into giving him a blowjob and did not reciprocate. He stood with his arms crossed by the door, staring at her with a smug look on his face. The drugs made Jess feel powerful. She continued the poem using the full force of her voice.
“a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills off Empire State out of the moon, yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars…”
Lightning and thunder rocked the sky above them.
Jess’s gypsy costume became tangled in the several tattered Afghan blankets that made up the couch-nest on which she slept. Her drug crazed dreams merged with hallucinations of the apocalypse, beat poets offering deadly treats, cartoon swans canoodling on rooftops in black lakes of fire and the blood-drenched teeth of people who loved her. A hurricane raged outside. The power was out. A single white candle illuminated the tiny two-room Manhattan apartment. The walls were covered in avant garde art, thrown into startling, grotesque relief by the candlelight and occasional lightning.
A snake hissed in her dream, swimming down a river of blood on which the couch floated. The snake’s jaws clamped on her wrist, Jess tried to shake it off. She twisted her hand around and managed to grab the snake by the neck, tried to strangle it. The jaws held on to her wrist and jerked her hand back and forth. Still asleep and hallucinating, Jess opened her eyes, saw John standing over, a taunting grin on his face. Relieved that her dream-snake wasn’t real, she laughed, then looked down and gasped. His hand was around her wrist, making her hand stroke his hard dick through his jeans. Jess snatched her hand away, rolled over on the couch, and wrapped herself up tight in the blankets.
“And then he just went away…” Jess looked down at her pumpkin pancakes in the diner across from Leena and Maxine. Their Halloween makeup was raccoon-ed around their eyes, which were shocked at Jess’s recount of the night before. Maxine’s wig was gone, revealing her short brown pixie cut. She had on a black and white checked flannel shirt. Leena had her hair back in a ponytail and she wore a black Pat Benatar t-shirt and jeans. Jess was wearing her gray depression hoodie, sipping a mimosa with tears streaming down her cheeks. Rage contorted Leena’s face into a mask of fury.
“That little BITCH!” She growled. “How DARE he!? In MY house!? With MY FAMILY!? I’LL KILL THAT LITTLE MOTHERFUCKER!” Leena slammed her fists on the table, making a fork flip off onto the floor. Maxine tried to quell the righteous vehemence which was sure to land her girlfriend in jail.
“Calm down, Leena. Jess, you need to go to the cops.” Maxine said, handing Jess her fork so she could continue eating her pancakes.
“Yes, and then we’ll bribe THEM to kill John…” Leena plotted in a haze of rage.
“No, Jesus Leena! I don’t want him dead, I just want him gone. Out of the apartment and away from me.” Jess said, sipping water from a bendy straw.
“Your damn right he’s out of the apartment! I’m gonna go throw his shit out on the street right the fuck now… ‘SCUSE ME!” Leena screamed at a diner with his chair pulled out too far in her way out the door. Maxine and Jess looked at each other.
“You should still report it.” Maxine told Jess. Her western omelette sat untouched in front of her.
“Come on, Maxine. You know as well as I do, they won’t believe me. There’s no evidence, no witnesses, just this horrible experience that I have to live with the rest of my life. I don’t want to go through all that just to teach that little shit a lesson. Hopefully getting kicked out of a free place to stay in Manhattan will make him realize his behavior is inappropriate.” Jess poked at her pancakes with Maxine’s fork.
“Sweetie, it’s your right to deal with this however you feel you need to… but some motherfuckers never learn. The least we can do is make some noise in the criminal justice system so they know we’re not letting them get away with this shit anymore.” Maxine clasped her large hands in front of her on the table.
“I’m just not strong enough to handle all that, Max. I want it to be over…” Jess put down her fork and drank more water. She wasn’t hungry anymore.
“That’s understandable… but, Jess… What if he does it to someone else?” Maxine’s brown eyebrows knit together in concern. Jess pushed her pancakes away.
“Fuck.” Jess put her head in her arms.
Outside of Leena’s apartment, piles of jeans and t-shirts were strewn around under the fire escape. Leena was screaming obscenities as she tossed clothes out of the window. John was gathering up his clothes and shoving them into a green canvas duffel bag. Maxine walked between Jess and John, imposing and protective as they walked inside.
“AND IF YOU EVER SHOW YOUR FACE AROUND HERE AGAIN, WE’RE CALLING ALL OF OUR UNCLES AND TELLIN’ EM TO BRING ALL THE BASEBALL BATS, YOU MOTHERFUCKING PIECE OF LYING MONKEY SHIT! GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE AND STAY OUT!” Leena screamed from above. Jess never loved her more than she did at that moment. Maxine glared at John as if her dark eyes could murder him on the spot. John’s blue eyes met Jess’s green eyes with a fleeting look of anger. Jess stared him down. He looked away.
To be continued 10/3/18