by H. Wayne Nix
Reece was just tired. Not physically, and he wasn’t old. He was just emotionally, spiritually, and mentally drained. He felt like he had already used up all the energy, all the hope, he had as a child. He was thinking about his childhood. Thinking about the state fair when he was kid. Looking forward to it for weeks. Getting excited when he saw the billboards go up. Watching the double Ferris wheel go up through the windows of his parents car as they drove down Highway 43. Weeks of anticipation building up to the point he couldn’t take it any more. Then, finally, the big night came.
At first it was as great as he thought it would be. The neon lights. The games where you could win huge stuffed animals for just a quarter. It was better than heaven could ever be. But, then, after awhile, it just started getting old. His Reece’s feet hurt from walking too much. Cotton candy, funnel cakes, and the twirling rides made him want to puke. All the lights and blasting music made him want to puke. His Mama and Daddy always started fighting. Everything became a blur of pain.
That’s when he started looking around. For the first time you noticed the carnival workers missing teeth. You could see how the younger carnies, the ones who ran the rides, looked at the high school cheerleader girls out on dates. The crowd, the workers, everyone started to look evil and greedy and stupid.
Yeah, Reece’s life had turned out to be a lot like the state fair. Sex: just endless hours of mind games which ended in a few minutes of dark, wet fumbling in a strangers bedroom. Drugs: there was just no surprise left in drugs anymore. Reece knew exactly how that snort of cocaine would make him feel, and how long the rush would last before the jitters set in. He knew what liquor would make him do, and exactly how he would feel the next morning. All the magic, all the romance he had expected from life just couldn’t hold up to close scrutiny. Everything always ended in a sleepless night and a cold gray dawn.
There was just one thing he had found. Just one little piece of magic in the entire world. I only happened once a year, and Reece didn’t understand it at all.
He stopped thinking about his troubles for a while. He got out of his car and walked into the bar. He gave Melanie, a bartender he had slept with, a big hug. He put on as much of a smile as he could summon and answered her questions as best he could.
Everything all slurred together in a wall of meaningless babble. He liked Melanie, they were still on good terms, but every time he saw her it was like reopening an old wound. Every old flame was a missed chance at . . . something. Every one was THE one, and when they couldn’t live up to the image in his head he had left. He knew it wasn’t their fault, it was his. He left them as politely as possible, and with no hard feelings. But still, it hurt every time.
But tonight, that was different. This was THE night. He carried his Jack and Coke to his table by the back door, and watched the bugs crash into the neon beer signs. He watched and waited.
Reece met her at the first big keg party his fraternity threw that year. It was Viking week, which meant that everyone got drunk and went to the football game dressed in furs and helmets. Afterward they all went back to the house and got drunk again.
Reece walked into a room and there was this girl passed out on the floor with a quoin of brothers standing over her. Todd, the president, was bent over her, trying to wake her up. Everyone else stood around and watched and made stupid comments.
“You think she’s really drunk, or just faking it,” someone said. This was a problem they often had. Some dumb shit little freshmen girls would fake getting drunk, hoping to get molested. Or maybe they just thought it was cool to pass out on beer stained couches with their skirts raised over their heads. Some of
them didn’t even bother to wear underwear.
“Well,” Todd said, “she certainly smells like she’s been drinking.”
The girl on the floor was beautiful. She had dark hair, and catlike, almond shaped eyes. She was black jeans, black calf high leather boots, and a black leather jacket. A sweater that stopped short of her midriff showed her belly button. Some of the guys were starting to look at her. Sort of the way a lion sizes up a gazelle.
“Hey,” said one of the jocks. A really stupid one from somewhere in the swamps of Georgia. “Hey, is she a chink?”. He was so drunk that his eyes were crossed.
“No, her mom’s Vietnamese and her dad’s American.” One of the pledges said.
“Damn, you can tell all that just by looking at her?” said the redneck.
“No, she’s in my freshman comp class. Her name is Kat.”
“Well, they’s all chinks to me.”
Todd glared at the redneck, “I told you not to say chink. Never say chink or any of those other words. How many times do I have to tell you?”
“Reece, help me carry her to your room.” Todd said. He knew she would be safe from the rest of the brothers in there.
“My room’s closer” The redneck said.
“Yeah, but my room’s cleaner.”
The redneck didn’t have an answer for that. Todd grabbed her arms and Reece grabbed her feet, and between them they took her upstairs to Reece’s room.
After the party was over Reece helped clean up. This mostly consisted of drinking more beer and pointing out the spots that the pledges missed. He stumbled up the stairs to bed. As he got to the top he heard a pounding noise coming from his room.
“Ghosts” he said to himself. Then he remembered the girl in his room.
Thump. “Let me out!” Thump. “C’mon, this isn’t funny.” Thump. “C’mon guys, please? I promise I’ll be good.”
Reece unlocked the door. She was lying on her side, up against the door. Reece had to push her away from it to get in.
He helped her to stand. She hugged him. “Oh, thank you, thank you. I was about to piss in my pants. Is this your room? It’s nice. Love the posters. Where’s the bathroom?” She took off down the hall, holding her crotch. Reece was about to discover a guiding principle behind their relationship. He never got to talk much, and he was never in control. Actually, he hardly ever knew what was going on. And, one more thing, she always got to use the bathroom first.
She found the bathroom, and for some reason, Reece followed her. Maybe because he just knew that’s what she wanted him to do. As he stood outside the door he heard a lot of bumping and crashing going on inside. She broke something, sounded like a beer bottle, on the tile floor. Finally she came out. “Sweetheart,” she drawled, “Come in here for a second.”
When he got inside she said, ” Could you unbutton my pants for me? I’m too drunk, and I can’t reach the buttons. They’re on the side, honey.” After he had them unbuttoned she made him stay in the bathroom with her. She did make him turn his head, though. She was always doing things like that. Things that would make him uncomfortable, but that he couldn’t quite say no to. When she was through he buttoned her pants back up. This wasn’t easy. They were both drunk. There was a lot of fumbling and crashing, and more broken beer bottles. Somewhere in the middle of all this she kissed him. It lasted a long time. The inside of her mouth was warm and wet. She tasted of beer and strawberry bubble gum.
When it was over she looked him deep in the eyes. She said, “I think I could fall in love with you.” Then she puked. Fortunately most of it hit the toilet. Reece spent the rest of the night with her. He wiped her mouth, brought her water, and held back her hair as she dry-heaved.
The first time she walked through the door of the bar Reece was surprised, to say the least. Kat came bouncing in like her dad owned the place and she could do whatever the hell she wanted to. She kissed him on the cheek, leaving a dark red lipstick mark, and ordered a whiskey sour.
“So, did you miss me?” Kat said.
“Well, uh, yeah. . . I mean, where have you been? I thought you were dead.
Where?” Reece stammered.
The waitress brought the whiskey sour and Kat took a long drink out of it. She said to the waitress, “Just go ahead and bring me another one of these, honey, I don’t think this one’s gonna Last long.”
During this Reece had a few moments to collect his thoughts. He said, “Where have you been for the past year?”
She just looked at him. Then she leaned over and kissed him. As she did this she reached into his front pocket and slid a cigarette out. He lit it for her.
They just sat there for awhile, staring at each other. It was and old game they played, whoever looked away first was the loser. Kat usually won. The waitress came back and interrupted the competition. After more drinks were ordered Kat said, “Didn’t you miss me?”
“Yeah, of course I did. What happened that night?”
“I want to tell you, but I can’t, ” She said, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You already have.”
“Don’t be like that. I came back to see you. You have no idea how hard that was. I had to move heaven and earth just to spend a few minutes with you.” They were silent. Both were afraid of saying too much, going to far.
“Kat, I’m sorry. It’s just . . . you disappeared, or whatever. . . . I haven’t been doing very well. Where? . . . I love you. I don’t care where you’ve been. Just come back.”
“I can’t answer any of your questions, and I can’t come back. I love you, too. I have to go soon, but you can come with me.”
“Where?” Reece said.
“I can’t tell you that. Just think about it. Please? I’m going now.” She picked up a napkin and wiped the lipstick off his face. He let her do it, even though later he wished he had been able to see it in a mirror. It would have been proof that she had really been there.
He stood and grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to him. She melted against him. He had forgotten how good it felt when she did that. “Meet me here next year on the same day.” Kat said. Then she turned around and was gone.
Reece smoked an entire pack of cigarettes while he tried to figure out what had happened.
When Reece met Kat he was in his sophomore year. He was flunking out of most of his classes. Algebra was a joke, he couldn’t count to 21 without unzipping his fly. He just stopped showing up for English altogether. He hadn’t done very well last semester either. If his grades didn’t improve he would be put on academic suspension.
Reece’s dad wouldn’t be very happy about that. His dad was an Alabama state senator. Reece was expected to follow in his footsteps. That meant a pre-law degree. Then Cumberland University law school (if his dad couldn’t’ pull a few ivy coated strings). Then Reece would take his rightful place in the family
Reece had all the contacts, all the money, everything should have been going his way. It wasn’t. He drank too much. Not that drinking was a bad thing in itself. His father and mother both drank more than he did, but even when he was sober Reece couldn’t seem to get his shit together. He had no ambition. A black cloud seemed to float above him.
When he wasn’t at the fraternity he was at the bar. One night, at the bar, Reece was out back listening to the rain. There were huge bags of aluminum cans waiting to be recycled. They made the patio smell of rotting garbage, but the rain falling down on them made a sound that Reece liked. It reminded him of being a kid, listening to the rain fall on his great-grandparents tin roof. The house leaked a little, but it was warm and it always smelled like cinnamon and nutmeg. Both his great-grandparents had died when he was young. After Pawpaw died Memaw just didn’t have much reason to go on.
He was thinking about this when Kat sneaked up behind him, and took a cig out of his pocket. “Hey, you sexy thing, what are you doing out here all by yourself?” she said.
“Just thinking about my life.”
“Well, you need to quit that shit. It’s bad for you. I never think. I just do stuff.”
“I’ve noticed.” She laughs at Reece. She was wearing a black leather jacket. She took it off and underneath she was wearing a see-through blouse. Her nipples were dark brown. They kissed for a few minutes, but then she broke it off and walked away. She finished the last of her cig and said, “I love the rain.”
There was a broken gutter on the roof which was pouring down a waterfall. Kat held out her arms to her sides and stood under it. She closed her eyes and danced to the music only she could hear. Reece watched her for a long time. Her mascara ran and her hair, long and black with magenta streaks dyed in, plastered down her dark cat shaped eyes. She was beautiful. Reece stood transfixed. “So?” was all she said.
He went to her. They fucked under the broken gutter. In the rain with the smell of the garbage surrounding them.
They were both on some sort of downward spiral. It became a race to see who would hit bottom first. When she drank she didn’t stop until all the liquor was gone, or until she passed out. He started doing more drugs, ganja, coke, valium. Whatever it took. They both stopped going to classes, not that they had ever went that much in the first place. They got a roach infested apartment for 200 a month. they both cared more about clothes than furniture. They were immaculately dressed, but in the bedroom there was just a mattress on the floor and heaps of dirty laundry. When Reece’s dad cut him off he started dealing drugs. Somehow there was always just enough money to get by.
Believe it or not, they were happy. There was love in the filthy little apartment, and that’s all they really cared about. Well, that and the drugs. Sometimes they fought. Threw things. She’d sleep with other guys. He’d hide all the money and drugs, but they truly did love each other.
Everything was fine, until she got pregnant. She had an abortion. Reece tried to talk her out of it, but not very hard. They both knew they would be horrible parents. Kat got worse after this. She drank more. She wasn’t looking for good times in the bottle anymore, now she wanted to pass out as soon as possible. She just wanted a way out. She found it.
One night, before Kat came home from work, the cops called. Reece was so stoned he thought he was being arrested over the phone. “They’re has been and accident” the voice on the phone said. The vehicle was registered to you. Can you come down to the hospital?”
He went. He identified the body. She was cut to pieces, covered in blood and glass, but yeah, it was Kat.
It was raining, but he walked home anyway. Ten miles in a world that was swimming in blood. Here’s the part that Reece really didn’t understand, never would. When he got home and took off his wet clothes, he went into the bedroom. There she was.
There she was, like the first day he saw her. Not the blood drained little thing he had just walked away from. Not he unhealthy looking drunk she had become, but the girl he had first met. Before he could even ask a question she put a finger to his lips. When she pulled the finger away it was stained with his blood. They made love, and in the morning she was gone. There was nothing but a cold gray dawn, and cold gray, empty sheets. . . And a really big hole in his life.
Blood calls to blood, and Reece could feel Kat calling him after that. he was haunted by her. He thought of her constantly, couldn’t get her out of his head.
By the time of her fourth visit Reece had gotten used to her. He didn’t ask questions, he was just happy to be with her. Mostly they just drank a lot and talked about old times. Sometimes they were just silent and held hands over the table.
In the fourth year after her death there just wasn’t much left to say anymore. She couldn’t answer questions, and his life depressed him so much he couldn’t talk about that either. Neither of them had ever been good at small talk. The were just sitting there, not speaking, and the silence kept. Growing and growing. Reece could feel all the questions, unasked, piled up in the back of his head. He had a drink in his hand and his fingers and Knuckles were turning white from the amount of pressure he was gripping it with. His whole body was shaking.
“What’s wrong?” Kat said.
“Goddamnit you know what’s wrong.” He slammed the drink down on the table, shattering the glass and cutting his hand.
At first Kat just stared at the blood. Then she took his hand into hers. The blood was running down his hand onto the floor. She picked out the shards of glass. She said, “OK, I can answer some questions, but. . . ”
She licked his blood from her hands, and then from his. She sucked at the open wound. When she was finished she said, “I need the blood. It gives me strength. When I died there was so much blood. I was covered with it. It was all over the car, the street was slick with my blood. It gave me the strength to come back. It’s just one of those things, ghosts need blood to interact
with this world.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I would have cut myself sooner.” Reece said.
“I couldn’t. There are rules we have to follow. We can’t answer questions and we can’t volunteer information. Not without blood.
“What’s death like?”
“It’s nothing like you’ve heard. Its better than coke, better than liquor. It’s like hitting the main source, but it’s warm and soft at the same time. I would never have come back to the earth, if it wasn’t for you.” She said. “There are still some things I can’t tell you. They just won’t fit into human words. But I can tell you this. I want you there with me. Without you it doesn’t mean anything. I can feel myself slipping away, forgetting you, moving on. I need you there now. I don’t know if I can wait for you. Come with me.”
“There’s a way. Just trust me.”
“I don’t know . . . I’m afraid to die.”
“But you are more afraid to live. You just drift along, like you always did. the only thing you live for are these visits with me.”
Reece couldn’t argue with that, so he didn’t say anything.
“I am so tired. Just this much talk has taken a lot of strength. Just think about it. Maybe I can come back next year. I don’t know.”
He thought about this for a whole year. He thought about it sitting in the bar that night. He waited for her to show, but she never did. He waited at the bar until closing. The bouncers had to throw him out. They called him a cab and sent him home. “Just go home and sleep it off, Reece. No hard feelings.”
He went home, poured a drink, took off his clothes. He stared at himself in the mirror for a long time. He was getting old. His once handsome body was just starting to fall apart. Lines around his eyes. Blond hair thinning. Gin blossoms starting to show on his nose and cheeks. It was the same apartment he had been living in with Kat. Same piles of dirty laundry on the floor. Same mattress.
She was waiting for him in the bedroom. Long black hair spread against the pillow. Full lips, dark brown nipples, just the slightest trace of hair at her crotch.
“Have you decided?” She asked.
“Yes. I want to be with you, wherever you are.”
Those were the last words he ever spoke. She took him in his arms and kissed him. Clung to him as he entered her. Everywhere she touched him, he bled. Every part of his body erupted in fountains of blood. It covered the room, and the taste of it filled his mouth. He breathed it in, drowning in it. It hurt. It was an orgasm of pain. It wracked his whole body with spasms.
But then, when it was over, he could taste her. She still tasted of beer and strawberry gum. Then he was with her. Death was everything she said it would be, and more. It was warm and soft, sweet.
At dawn the ugly sun of this world rose through the clouds. It was ugly and lifeless. It shone down on his dead body, but somewhere, they were happy.
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