The EZLN posters and smiling Peruvian musicians make me think back to warmer climes, good times in Los Angeles where I had good friends, people I could talk to and the time to talk to them…
The only problem with La Casa Blue is the price of the drinks. It’s expensive, also like LA, but sometimes you have to drink so you spend what you have then you borrow if you can, otherwise you go home and jerk off.
I turn to my girlfriend. We’re here with a bunch of people. Tom, Teresa, a whole bunch of their girlfriends from Unichov with assorted British boyfriends. We’re celebrating my girlfriend’s brother’s birthday. He’s eighteen. Thank god for that.
“How much money do you have? I want to buy your brother some more drinks.”
She looks back at me, worried pale gray eyes, like smoky jewels in a pale plain face, framed by chestnut hair.
“I don’t know Koly.”
For god’s sake don’t be cheap, it’s a hell of a lot less than getting a hooker. I don’t say that. Maybe I should. I definitely should have brought more money. I don’t know why I didn’t.
I go to the bar. The bargirl looks at me. Small girl, dreadlocks, black Spanish eyes, too big nose, cruel mouth like a vulture in the desert.
“You can almost spell promise out of that, you know.”
“What do you say?”
“Do you have any mezcal? I want two shots of mezcal. And two beers.”
I imagine disbelief in expressionless Latin eyes. She does not look away, but barks the order over her shoulder. I stand there still leaning on the bar staring into her eyes, so black, so black I could lose myself in them. I love leaning on bars, sometimes it just feels so f*cking right, like right now… must have been designed by a guy, a fat six-foot-one just like me.
A small skinny guy brings the drinks. I pay him, cheat him on the tip. Waste not, want not. The girl still stares – What? I want to ask, never seen an overweight messiah before? I don’t, coz only a crazy person would say something like that. I just leave.
Give the brother the drinks.
“Mezcal,” I announce.
I explain how it was sacred to the ancient Indians of Mexico. The plumed serpent settled on a cactus and that is where they founded their holy city and from the cactus they extracted the blood of the earth and made from it mezcal, the nectar of the gods. Drink it with reverence, you heathens.
Czechs ask the Brits for translation, Brits don’t understand me either.
We pound the shots, oh that good gasoline smell/taste. I haven’t had it since the Ensenada road trip with Gina and Rob and Susie. Brother is spluttering.
“Drink the beer, you son of a b*tch! Chase it!”
I drain a good portion of the beer, he sips his, Brits are laughing at us, girls are whispering with soft painted lips. “Be careful, something happened today.”
They think I don’t understand because I don’t speak Czech but I understand hushed voices and darting eyes, we’re not all as stupid as we look and act you know. Teresa is nodding, Tom already told her everything he knows because I got the call at the office where we work together and I had to talk/cry to someone.
Mezcal and beer tearing around with all that whiskey from earlier having a big party in my empty stomach. Lining disintegrating under assault by liquor and stomach acid, nothing else for them to go to work on, stomach cries out for reinforcements; potato chips, peanuts, something, anything. I finish the beer.
Take that, you ungrateful b*stard, I’ve fed you for twenty four years you’ll survive one night and like it. I glare at brother, hurry up, we’ve got a long night ahead. His eyes are foolish, spooky, magnified by thick glasses. Nods like a cow going to slaughter. Back to the bar for a round of whatever.
Girlfriend has followed. She grabs my arm, I don’t feel much, a thick flannel protects me from the outside world. Only my head is exposed, an unsatisfactory situation which requires more alcohol to protect this, my most vulnerable extremity.
I turn toward her, inquiringly, eyebrows raised, eyes I know are ice blue, piercing like a diamond saw. I practiced that look too many times in front of the mirror, now I can’t stop it even if I want to. Girlfriend flinches but brings second hand to bear.
“Koly, are you okay?” She is brave to ask.
I stop to consider that one. “I don’t know, do I look okay?”
She peers at me deeply. Difficult diagnosis. Backup may be required. Other Czech girls have upward slanting almond eyes, hers slant down. Sadly. Always, even when she’s laughing. Small pupils floating in pools of gray. I want a girl with upward slanting eyes.
Her lips are trembling. “I don’t know. Are you okay?”
This is not a productive conversation. I shrug and turn back to the bar.
“Nurse!” Nurse comes, girlfriend keeps firm hold on my sleeve, fingernails like thorns in the woods, grasping, unwilling to let go. I want to go back to whiskey. I want to feel the sweet hot taste of bourbon in the back of my mouth.
“Se ledem?” I want to hear the ice crack as the whiskey washes over its hard smooth surface, I want to see those razor thin fractures catch the amber light and throw it back at my hungry eyes. I want to see god frozen in each rough hewn block then released to swim free and give me strength.
“Separate glass, please.”
Tom is there now too. “Hey Colin, how you doing mate?”
“That depends on how long this drink is going to take.” He doesn’t laugh. Laugh you b*stard, that was some funny sh*t. I look at him coolly… pale, balding head mounted loosely on scholeotic back, cool groovy sweater Teresa bought for him draped loosely over a thin frame. Nice guy, real f*cking nice guy, oldest friend still in Prague actually, who would have guessed that two years ago?
“You want something?”
Reach out, grasp chin and back of head, give one sharp yank, snap neck, let body fall twitching to beerstained floor, run laughing out into the cold, cold night. “Cause I’d love to buy you something but I actually don’t have that much money on me, sorry.”
“No, that’s all right, I’ve got a beer.” He is unsure of what to say. Can’t blame him. I lack the strength to help him so I just wait for my drinks. She brings them but she’s already put the f*cking ice in the whiskey, so help me god I can take anything but not this not right now.
“Goddamnit, I asked for the ice in a separate glass!”
Too loud, too, too loud… hushed silence descends over the bar, people staring, nurse blinks in shock mouth open slightly. My fingers are shaking and feel sweet, full of sugar, not like the acid bath in my midsection.
“Sorry,” I say quietly to her. I just wanted to hear the ice crack. You’re doing a good job. Real good job.” I give her the rest of the money in my wallet. Too much, far too much. She tries to give me change, I tell her forget about it, just give me a beer chaser.
In the bar silence reigns almost like church except for the music people still talking in the back, so strange after so much noise a moment before.
The church of booze.
I shall minister from the altar of pretense, I declare grandly to myself. The crowd starts to chat again, softly at first, like faraway ocean surf, then louder and suddenly everything is as it was before, nothing changed, everyone’s having a good time, nice people, cool bar, hot waitresses, cheap drinks if you think how much it costs in London or LA, how long you been here anyway, where are you teaching, how many hours, did they get the work permit for you, girls are f*cking hot aren’t they?
Bring whiskey back to brother.
“Hey man, same sh*t we were drinking earlier; Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey, remember this?”
Theatrical groan, goofy smile, clumsy thin fingers reach for glass, I watch in fear and trembling; oh god don’t spill it, I’ll die if you spill that. He doesn’t.
We touch glasses and sip sweet whiskey. Girlfriend is hunched forward like a cat ready to pounce, other girls talk loudly about nothing but they’re all beautiful; short hair, short skirts, perfect faces, nice tits, great smiles, I love them all. Teresa especially with tits to die for and a tight long skirt wrapped around perfect hips, smooth thighs, bright girl too, doesn’t say much but she’s probably the smartest one there.
I follow Tom into the bathroom. We piss together, next to each other. My dick is long and half hard and it’s tough to pull him out of my pants and it takes a while to start pissing.
“Hey, Tom, want to switch girlfriends for the night?”
He laughs, a good nervous English laugh.
“Whoa-ho-ho, let me think about it!”
I really like him. I’m sorry I broke his neck earlier. Someone has left a beer on the sink beside the stall. I grab it and piss in it for a couple of seconds, then put it back on the sink. “Well?”
His laugh subsides. “I don’t think Teresa would go for it. ” I grunt as I put him back inside.
“She doesn’t like me too much, does she?”
He doesn’t know if I’m serious or not. Doesn’t look at me as he waits behind me to wash his hands.
“Aah… of course she likes you, she…”
I interrupt him. “Why did you let her make you move here? Why didn’t you just stay in England where you’d be happy?” He looks me directly in the eye now, head thrown back, challenging brown eyes stare through thin wire rimmed glasses… harsh… unforgiving in the fluorescent bathroom light.
“What do you mean, I’m happy here.”
I shake my head. “You’re not happy. I see you every day. Don’t try to tell me this is happiness.” He’s angry now. Tragedy does not excuse honesty. Nothing does.
“Well why the f*ck did you move here then?” I shrug. I didn’t know, none of us knew, none of us ever knew, we never even really asked it.
A big bruiser of a guy pushes the door open and looks around searchingly. English guy, tight rugby shirt, stubble, short hair, thick forearms, bright clear eyes which never felt the burden of imagination. He grabs the beer off of the sink and gives me a cheery grin. He brushes but doesn’t floss.
“Forgot me beer!”
I look at him. “That’s not very hygienic, man.”
He pauses halfway out, looks back hard, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Beer in the bathroom,” I reply. “I don’t think it’s very hygienic.”
“Well, it isn’t yer f*ckin beer.”
O’ seer of mysteries, what further wisdom shall you impart this evening?
“Are you going or staying, amigo?”
He looks hard for another minute, then pushes out past the creaking door into the bar, warm music, good people, good times, what’s my f*cking problem? I wish I hadn’t been an asshole to Tom, he doesn’t look at me as we go out so I clap him on the back and say “hey, let’s just get a couple more drinks then go home.”
He doesn’t answer, so I talk to myself, that’s not crazy, not as long as you don’t do it out loud. Just let me get a little drunker so I won’t remember whatever it is I’ll think about before I go to sleep. You can’t stop it, but if you get so drunk that you can’t remember, then it’s almost like it never happened.
Whiskey, sweet whiskey, flow over the raw and blistered wounds of my pain like a river and bury them beneath generations of silt. You are the most yielding of all things, but over time even mountains fall before you. I know this, and I pay homage to your glory. Fill the low places in my soul and tear down my heights, that I may never need fear to fall again. I know you can do this if I place myself in your gentle hands. I shall never question your wisdom so long as I live. Amen.
God knows how we get home, probably by taxi, girlfriend must have borrowed the money from somewhere, someone. Brother covered in piss and puke, my nose crusted in blood, have a nice shiner for work on Monday.
I try to wash off as much as I can, girlfriend tries same with brother, he’s flopping around naked in the bathtub laughing and pissing, still no light working in the bathroom, thank god, hate to think what I must look like. Always better to work under the cover of darkness, less chance of getting picked off by the snipers.
Responsibility. “Okay, I’ve got to go make a phone call.”
Slurred voice unmasked by deliberate enunciation, damn sloppy drunk. Praise heaven no phone in the flat, wouldn’t make this call in front of girlfriend for anything, so much contempt heaped on her for so little, she will not watch me cry like a baby, she will not.
She comes and holds me tight around my waist, buries her head in my thick chest “I’m so sorry Koly.”
Stop that, stop that, but it’s too late the big dry racking sobs come and I can’t breathe and I want to pound on something with my hard fists but there’s just her thin weak back in my arms so I just hold her and she squeezes me harder forcing more sobs out and I want to tell her to stop there’s enough whiskey to drown them, they can’t swim forever, just leave them there for a while and it will be okay, but I can’t get any air to tell her that so they just keep coming and coming.
Outside the snowflakes fall thick and slow, bright white in the glow of the street lamps. It’s very cold but it’s good to walk outside and see my breath, feel it sharp in my lungs, feel the crunch of snow under my shoes, see the snowflakes collect on my eyelashes, try to blink them away but you can’t, they just rest there and slowly melt, cold water, cold air, so nice on bruised face.
Pick up handfuls of snow hold it against face, feel it melt, feel the sting of cold on exposed flesh. There’s the phone booth, wonder what it’s like in Los Angeles now, probably sunny, hot like usual, but maybe raining the cool patter of drops against thirsty concrete.
Go there, put in card, call that number.
I haven’t called in so, so long but still know by heart, one ring, two rings, pick it up you son of a b*tch I know you’re there or maybe you’re not, maybe you killed yourself, god knows I might have if I’d been you but I bet you’re just drunk on gin, somehow you drink gin even though it has that godawful juniper taste. Then the phone picks up and it’s Matt and I say “it’s Colin where’s Rob?”.
“Oh Jesus Colin he’s at the hospital taking care of some paperwork about the body, Jesus I’m so sorry where are you? Nobody had your number, we couldn’t find you, you just disappeared…”
I interrupt, can only find strength for one line “Tell him … I’ll be there soon … give me a week.”
Hang up over protests, pleas for time, commiseration, distraction, something god knows what, but I don’t have it. Sit down in the snow in the darkness, cry, swear, curse god, spit in his face, shoot children, but none of it helps, nothing will bring her back, nothing will make Rob whole again, nothing will fill this hole in my heart, whiskey fills it up for a time but when it drains away the hole is bigger than it was before.
Back to the city of angels.
My destiny is unchanged. Back to the city of my angel, my dead angel with that strange Filipino hair which looks so soft but is so coarse to the touch, which I know Rob touched as her last breath passed through cracked and swollen lips.
Are you flying my angel, high above watching, smiling, or is it true that it is just endless sleep, give me a sign I beg you, for the snow and the whiskey hold no answers for me tonight…
Illustration by Richard Martinez