It took who knows how long to find the last few hits strewn amidst the mess of junk in the top drawer of my desk—three large chunks of dirty white-on-white paper split evenly between Ira and myself—but we ate what we had and went to Perkin’s for breakfast. It was cold that night, fall had begun. The restaurant was close enough to walk to but we had to cross Route 59 to get there. On the way over we jumped deep-set irrigation ditches running parallel to the highway. At a point where the ditch runs beneath a road crossing over, there’s a tunnel.
“How long do you think it’d take them to find a body in there?” Ira asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “A day, maybe.”
“Yeah, about a day,” he said. “It wouldn’t buy you much time.”
Inside the restaurant, people were dressed in costumes with painted faces and it smelled like unwashed feet. For a moment we considered getting the food to go, but neither of us felt like walking home again. Ira looked good that night, a real Larry Ladyslipper. He was wearing a pinstriped suit jacket over a cozy sweater-vest and spiffy slacks. He’s a foot shorter than I am and Japanese. When we go out to nice restaurants and drink wine together people eye us like we’re gay. We play into it, limping our wrists, acting flamboyant. We only do this in the city, though. Not out here in the stix where it could cost us.
The waitress asked what we wanted to drink and I tried to order fast. I wanted to eat while I still had an appetite but Ira was taking his time making a decision. I told her, “A Coke and a sampler for me,” because I don’t trust cooks, not after midnight.
Ira ordered a Sunshine Special and a cup of coffee. When the waitress walked away he said, “This place is weird. There are a lot of different kinds of people here.”
We were seated in the far end of the restaurant and I was positioned with my back to the place. This made me uneasy, I like to see everything.
“I can’t really turn to see,” I told him. “Or it would be peculiar.”
“That’s true. There are a lot of different types of people, though,” he said again, as if to help me visualize it. He fiddled with the dessert menu. “Pumpkin pie sounds good right now.”
“Listen. I’m not comfortable sitting like this,” I said. “I want to be able to see what’s going on.”
He regarded me for a moment with what I felt was fear in his eyes. “You could sit next to me,” he said. “But it might look strange.”
“It’ll only confirm what everyone is already thinking.”
“That’s true,” he said. “Who cares? You shouldn’t miss out on watching the people.”
“That’s half the reason you come to a Perkin’s. It’s not for the food or the service.”
“Or the ambiance,” he said. “It smells like a locker room.”
“Try not to think about it,” I said, scooting out of the booth and moving in to sit next to him. “Is this weird?” I asked, once I got settled.
“Not for me. But those people over there gave a double take when they looked up and saw you switching.” He pointed with his eyes at a table on the other side of the restaurant where three twenty-something men in ball caps and Carhartt jackets winced at the sight of us.
“At this point I’m committed. I can’t move back now.”
“No, that would be even stranger than moving over here in the first place.”
“Do you suppose our waitress is pretty?”
“I was trying to figure out if she was,” he said. “And I decided that she probably is if you’re from around here, but I think to people like us she wouldn’t appeal.”
“She reminds me of a girl I saw in a movie who was pretty in a fucked up sort of way, like she’ll never amount to anything other than a waitress—though the girl in this movie was a housekeeper, and Venezuelan or something like that—but she was pretty if you don’t mind mediocrity.”
“Mediocrity’s the name of the game,” he said.
The waitress came back with our drinks. She smiled at our seating arrangement and said our food would be ready soon. She didn’t seem to mind the fact that she was working at a Perkin’s in Podunk at three in the morning on a Saturday night. I could tell because she really seemed to care, smiling sincerely, humming as she walked.
After she left I said, “Have you ever thought about fucking one of your students?”
He considered it for a moment. “Not really,” he said, messing with the sugar packets next to the dessert menu. “Splenda,” he said.
“Me either. Why is that?”
He tore the corner from a pink packet and poured the contents in. “I think it’s because they’re immature,” he said. “At least for me that’s what it is. I can see that they’re pretty, you know, but I can’t have a conversation with them.”
“Good point,” I said. “They’re few and far between, the ones you can talk to. I guess after a while they become something like your cousin. Because you can see that they’re attractive, but you don’t necessarily desire them.”
“Yeah,” he said.
The people dressed in costumes suddenly struck me as strange: women with low cut shirts and slim-fitting shorts, blood-like streaks on their backs and arms, their faces painted as skeletons or ghouls, one of them a hook for a hand. There were men with them, too, dressed casually. Also: the place was wild with people coming and going. Rednecks, geriatrics, a young couple who looked like they just stepped out of a martini lounge in the Loop. One of the waiters looked like he could get us a gram of blow if we asked him nice.
“These people are ridiculous,” Ira said.
A table of black people nearby had one of the girls pushing a guy into an empty booth adjacent, smothering him with her weight. Outside, teenagers hung around pick-up trucks with their engines running, the exhaust fumes milky white in the crisp, fall air.
“I bought three or four pounds of Honey crisp apples today at the grocery store,” I said.
“That’s seasonal, isn’t it?”
The waitress approached with a platter of food but walked past us to serve it to another table. People came and went, plates clinked, silverware clanked, the pointless drone of late night conversation blurred around us and I could taste it. Ira sneezed and blew his nose into a napkin.
“I think I might go to the bathroom,” he said.
I got up and sat across from him so he could get out, but then he added, “Or maybe I’ll wait until after my food comes.”
I realized that maybe he didn’t want to be sitting there with me anymore and for a while I was offended. “The bathroom could be a dangerous place for someone like you,” I said.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean, what happens if one of these rednecks follows you in so they can teach you a lesson about gallivanting around here with your boyfriend? They might wrestle you down and drown you in the toilet water.”
“That’s true,” he said. “I’ve got the shits, though.”
“I bet you do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I got the shits, too. This acid’s dirty, remember?”
The waitress came by with our food and set it down in front of us. She carefully organized the sauces for my chicken strips and cheese curds so I wouldn’t accidentally set my sleeve into one of them. She refilled our water glasses and smiled at us. “Anything else I can get you guys?”
“How about Tabasco sauce,” Ira said. “For my eggs.”
“You don’t have to say ‘For my eggs,’” I told him. “She knows it’s for your eggs.”
The waitress laughed. “Sure thing, hon,” she said.
After she was out of earshot Ira said, “Don’t call me hon.” It was vicious, the way he said it. Riddled with malice. She returned and set it down near my ranch sauce. “Thank you,” Ira said.
We ate our food in silence, trying not to listen to anything specific, but enjoying the ambiance for what it was. A group of older kids came in and sat near us: nerds with Mohawks and large, brimmed hats a la Indiana Jones. “These guys just finished a hardcore evening of Magic: The Gathering,” Ira said, cackling as he forked American fries into his mouth.
“Yeah,” he said.
I watched them out of the corner of my eye. I couldn’t taste the food anymore—not like I’d wanted. “Try this sauce here,” I said. “Does it taste like barbecue to you?”
He picked it up and smelled it. “It’s marinara,” he said.
Time passed and I waited for him to ask me why I wanted him to test it, but he never did. I admired the way he went about eating his food, though. I noticed he had a deliberate method. Eggs, bacon, hash browns, coffee, repeat; no deviation whatsoever.
“Bill Pullman over here could probably get us a gram of coke if we went about asking him the right way,” I said.
“Who?” Ira asked.
“Bill Pullman,” I said. “This guy. Right here,” pointing with my thumb at the waiter in the nineties haircut and deep-set, chiseled features.
“He doesn’t look like Bill Pullman,” Ira said. “Jerry O’Connell I could see, but not Bill Pullman.”
“How much cash do you have?”
“I don’t know,” he said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of crumpled bills: fives, tens, a twenty or so. He unwrinkled them and set them carefully on the table in order of their denomination.
“Seventy-three,” he said.
“So about sixty after we pay.”
“I might try to get a gram from him, then.”
Ira considered it for a moment. “Okay,” he said. “How much do you have?”
“Forty, after breakfast.”
“Okay. How are you going to ask him?”
“Directly, without any sort of confusion,” I said. I took a sip from my Coke and rose from the booth when the waiter neared us. He was wiping down a recently abandoned table.
“You seem hip,” I told him.
“Do what, now?” he asked.
“It’s late, I don’t want to bother you. Where’s the blow?”
He looked to the kitchen and frowned. “What do you mean?” He dropped the rag on the table and stared at me.
“This time of night, up here at Perkin’s, you know, just looking for some blow. I got enough for a gram, depending on how much you’re asking.”
“Uh,” he said. “You got the wrong guy, or something.”
“Except you fit the profile, don’t you?”
“Do what, now?” he asked. He was trying to get back to wiping, but I was too far into the proposition to simply recede to my table and let him forget all about it. I had to get something out of him.
“Listen man, someone around here has some blow and I think you might be able to point me in the right direction. That’s all I’m saying.”
He was ignoring me now, lifting the sugar holders and condiments off the table as he wiped it down. He didn’t answer for a moment, but then he said, “Well, Raechel’s boyfriend is a bouncer at Diamond’s. He picks her up most nights at four and has an omelet while he waits. Maybe when he gets here you can ask him.”
“That’s perfect. Will you point him out to me when he comes in?”
“I’ll try to remember,” he said. “But I can’t make any promises. We’re busy, it’s Saturday.”
“Of course. I’m over here with the Asian.”
I gestured toward Ira who was playing with his food in oblivion.
“Right. I’ll let you know, if I can remember.”
When I got back to the table I noticed Ira didn’t care to ask me how it went. I waited a while before I said, “What do you suppose that was all about?”
“What, he doesn’t have anything?”
“He was coy about it.”
“Weird . . . . ”
He emptied a packet of cream into the center of his cup, stirring it with his spoon and watching it mix. Clockwise, counter-clockwise, back again. “Coalesce,” he whispered. “Actually, my favorite two words together are Manifest Destiny.”
That struck me as a very human thing to say. “I’ve always been fond of bereavement,” I said. “Or Matt Abbatacola.”
“Technically that’s not a word, though. It’s a name.”
“No, it’s a term in baseball now that means ‘broken bat base hit.’”
A table of people near the cash register suddenly began to applaud. It caught on slowly, spreading toward the back of the restaurant. In a moment everyone was cheering and pumping their fists in the air. A chant broke out. “USA! USA!” they shouted. Ira was pale with fear and my own heart was racing. I’d lost my appetite long before, but I looked down at the untouched plate of food in front of me and felt disgusted. I noticed that even Ira’s was only partially eaten. The noise continued until it swelled above us and for a moment I could see it hanging in the air like static in my peripheral vision. But then it died down to a dull trickle of excitement neither Ira nor myself could contain.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” he whispered.
“Be cool. We can’t just get up and leave now, they’ll think we’re fucking socialists and lynch us for sure.”
“No, no. Don’t say that,” he said.
The place was buzzing; everyone was smiling but us. Even the cooks in the kitchen had grins on their faces.
“Patriotism is an abstract concept I will never understand,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Alright. Let’s go. Just get up, toss a twenty on the table, and act natural.”
We each reached into our pockets and laid the bills down. On the way out we passed our waitress.
I said, “Listen, we left enough money to pay our bill on the table there. Just keep the change and tell Raechel I’ll see her & her boo some time next week.”
She looked at me funny. “I’m Raechel,” she said, her nametag confirming it was true. Ira lingered awkwardly, balancing on his toes toward the exit.
“Haha, I know,” I said. “It was a joke.”
She appeased me with a closed-mouth smile and said, “Take care, drive safely.”
As we approached the highway outside Ira paused, walking in place and holding his oblique’s. “I have to shit,” he said. “I think I’ll shit down there in the ditch.”
I went along to help shield him from the highway. He pulled his slacks to his ankles and squatted.
I said, “Before you shit, find something to wipe your ass with. You don’t want to have to look for something when you got shit on your ass to wipe.”
“I’ve already started,” he grunted. “Can you find something for me?”
I found a few maple leaves scattered near the opening to the tunnel. I grabbed them and brought them over to him. He finished up and wiped, stood and refastened his belt. We waited there for a moment looking at the little piece of shit he’d left on the downward sloping side of the ditch.
“Do you think they’ll know a man made this shit?” He asked. “Or do you suppose they’ll think it was some other animal?”
“It’s rather small for man shit,” I said. “I think you’ll be okay.”
“Let’s hope so,” he said.
The orange-glow of the lights along the highway made us feel ghastly as we crossed. The early morning wind picked up and I could all but see my house from down the windswept street—bristled leaves tossed across the pavement, gumball seeds gathering along the curbside. The trajectory of one particular leaf garnered my attention and I followed it, Ira walking briskly ahead, every so often looking back to slow his pace. Moments later we were jogging. I could still hear the people chanting in my head, had taken to repeating it over and over, a patriotic mantra of sorts. Ira said something about shin splints and stopped to itch his leg. My front yard had recently been dug up by the city to repair a broken street lamp illuminating the driveway.
“When we get to the street lamp I want you to tell me what color it smells like,” I said.
He brooded for a moment, his lips taut as he considered the question. I could tell he was having a difficult time dealing with the affect of the drug in the way he twisted up his face. Taking note of this, I felt a little uneasy myself.
“Are you talking about synesthesia?” he asked, but I pretended not to hear him.
“It’s probably good there aren’t any cars out right now, otherwise I might be tempted to hitch a ride with one, see how far it could take me. You know what I mean?”
“I’m not sure I do,” he said.
Soon we were standing beneath the streetlamp. “Okay. Take a deep breath. What color does it smell like? I have a very specific color in mind and I want to see if you pick the same one.”
He drew in through his nose. It whistled.
“Fuscia,” he said.
“Interesting. But purple is what we were looking for there. The correct answer was ‘purple.’”
“Can we go inside? I’m sweating.”
I noticed someone left the lights on—the kitchen light, two lamps in the living room, even the light above the stove. Further examination revealed that the bathroom light, the bedroom light, and the lamp on my desk were also left illuminated. Strange how foreign and unnerving it was to see my house so brightly lit. I asked Ira, “Why do you suppose these lights are on?” forgetting that before we left for Perkin’s we’d been searching every inch of space for the blotter I’d stored absent-mindedly. It all came back to me as he explained it.
“You couldn’t remember where you put the LSD,” he said angrily, his hair matted and disheveled from wearing his winter cap. He was having trouble speaking and breathing at the same time. I could tell he was flustered. “God damn, don’t you remember? We were searching for an hour.” He paced the room so that he wouldn’t have to look me in the eye, fanning himself by pulling at the collar of his shirt. “Christ, is the heat on?” he asked.
“Maybe we should smoke some pot,” I said. “That might make us feel a little better, take things down a notch.” I figured it was a good idea to roll something up, too, while I still had control of my hands.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said. He went and grabbed the darts down from the dart board. While I rolled the blunt he cast them from his fingers, walking urgently to collect them from where they’d landed, and repeating the motion. I used a cigarette rolling machine. The blunt paper, flavored PURPLE in this instance, was too large to fit within the confines of the plastic roller. I found the scissors and tried cutting the wrap evenly on all sides to make it fit. The task took several minutes to complete; I think it had something to do with my coaching Ira as he threw the darts.
Licking the paper, I said, “Your toe crossed the line on that last throw, Ira. Look—you’re standing tip-toe, reaching for it. Lean back on the balls of your feet. Relax. Throw confidently, follow through.”
He nodded, muttered something, ignored me for the most part. I finished rolling the blunt and lit the tip, allowing it to burn for a moment so it wouldn’t go out. I lit a stick of nag champa, too, and let that burn. I could see the individual smoke created by each combining in both smell and taste to form what I thought was an extraordinary sound—something like ice breaking free from a plastic tray. Ira came to sit beside me, looking down at the floor, breathing irregularly, though I wouldn’t say that to his face.
He hit the blunt and started to cough—a wretched, hacking cough I could feel in the meat of my cheek. When I hit it I started coughing too and pretty soon we were sitting with our hands on our knees, our tongues hanging from our mouths, coughing violently, listening as the vibration of our cough bounced, not only from the walls of the room, but also from within our chest where I could feel the sound more clearly than I could the room. And then we were outside—we’d ran to get there—bent over beneath the street lamp spitting phlegm onto the driveway and checking it for blood. Ira said, “I don’t want to say it,” trailing off.
“That’s okay,” I told him, because I didn’t want to hear what he didn’t want to say, although I think, for a moment, we communicated our feelings without having to say anything at all. It was brief and then it was gone and then the wind took up the frills of Ira’s jacket and we realized we were standing beneath the streetlamp outside my house at five in the morning.
“We’re like moths under this street lamp,” I told him. “Have you realized we’re outside standing under a street lamp right now?”
“We needed the fresh air, what the fuck?” he said, because I think he realized too how identifiable we’d made ourselves to greater society as villains. I saw in his face the fear of that notion take hold, because his lip twitched and then he hummed to himself, glancing each direction of the street as if to spot the outside forces coming to get us.
“It’s cold,” he said. “Should we go back in?”
I wondered. “Are we done coughing yet?”
And then we were coughing again, or was it that we never actually stopped coughing? It’s difficult to say, but I know we couldn’t stop coughing and then I said, “How is it we’re both coughing so much?” though when I said it we were inside again, having come to the conclusion that part of what was making us cough was the cold air we weren’t accustomed to.
“What was in that weed?” Ira asked, holding his hand near his Adams apple in the shape of a claw. “Was it laced with something, do you know?”
“I think it was the cigar wrap, it must have tobacco in it.”
“What the fuck. Are you sure?”
“Let’s not talk about it, it’s no big deal,” I said, only halfway able to finish the sentence on account I couldn’t help but cough as I said it.
“You’re not making sense. I have to use the bathroom,” he said.
Soon he was in there alone, coughing up phlegm, spitting it into the bathtub. I could hear the splat of the saliva echoing from the walls of my bathroom. Did I go to my bedroom so I could pass the bathroom door to listen to what he was doing? I was lying in bed listening as a car drove by outside, its tires rushing against the pavement of the street. It dragged a chain from what I imagined to be the hitch of a truck, a blue-collar worker, perhaps a locksmith of some sort, on his way to unlock a drunk’s car door down at the strip.
As Ira turned the ventilator on in the bathroom, sucking out the vile air he’d created, I convinced myself, if only for a moment, that the house was funneling the stench into my bedroom. In all actuality, I imagined that the culprit of the phenomenon was the architect, or at the very least someone in charge of the construction crew who thought it would be funny to do such a thing.
The ventilator turned off and all was quiet. I needed to hear something—I needed sound. I went to my closet, pulled out my space heater, plugged it in, turned the lights off, turned the space heater on, listened to the hum, smelled the dust burning as the coils grew hot, watched from behind my eyes the swirling images cast in transparent green light, red light, puce. The door to the bathroom opened and Ira stepped out. I heard him walk across the hardwood floor and felt the house shift as he opened the front door to peer outside. The screen door whined and slammed shut a moment later. My heart was pounding with excitement. I waited for him to reenter, figuring he would check beneath the streetlamp and return to where it was safe, but time passed and I couldn’t hear him.
Humming from the bottom of my throat, I allowed the vibration of my voice to travel through the sinew of my face and neck, feeling it in my chest especially, and onward toward the outer reaches of my body. A fan secured to the wall just above the place I lay my head was dormant. I turned it on, but the sound was too much, so I shut it off and pictured Ira outside instead, lying in the grass behind the old oak in the yard, making angels in the leaves that had fallen from the limbs.
Then I heard him coughing from outside my bedroom window. I figured he was standing under the streetlamp again, catching his breath. He was coughing up phlegm still, but I didn’t want to get up and see.
The coughing drew nearer. He was walking now. One last sputter and the screen door opened, his boots falling on the hardwood floor, slowly but surely, headed across the room toward the kitchen. I heard the vibration of his voice, more coughing, and the vibration of his voice again—however not in search of me: his tone was too formal and I couldn’t place the words, couldn’t tell you who he was talking to, exactly. I wondered if he’d taken to talking to himself in my absence. The darkness of the room danced at the corners of my eyes with each syllable that struck a higher decibel of sound. I rose from bed, went to the door, and listened:
“Oh, I’m sorry. What time is it there?—no, no, no emergency at all. I just wanted to call to catch up, see how you’ve been.” More coughing. “Good, good. Yeah, I’m out here in the stix, you know, educating the youth.” He laughed anxiously. “Yes, yes. It’s been too long. Yes, of course. Indeed. I will. Thank you. You too. Sorry to wake you.”
Tensely I waited for something more to happen, for him to come to my room and find me, but after a short amount of time he moved and sat on the couch, the springs squeaking beneath him. He continued to cough, and I heard him slam his hand against the cushion in frustration. “What the fuck?” he called out.
He walked into the kitchen, the linoleum floor emanating a different kind of echo from the fall of his boots. He opened the freezer and as time passed I wondered what he thought I was doing, where I’d gone, if he even cared. And then, without my knowing it, he opened the door to the bedroom and flipped on the overhead light. Exposed beneath it, I squinted long enough at him to feel ashamed, tried focusing my eyes on his, and when I did, I saw that they were fearful—that the top of his forehead was covered in sweat dripping down his sideburns.
“I’ve got my head in the fucking freezer out here,” he said. “Do you realize it’s only been an hour and a half since we took that stuff? What do you think is wrong with us? Come here, look.”
I followed him to the kitchen. Still, all the lights in the house were on, and for some reason it surprised me—I had imagined they were off.
“Look,” he said. He opened the door to the freezer and stuck his head inside. He held it there and then pulled it out again. “See?” he asked. “See what I’ve been reduced to?”
All the while he was coughing. He went to the sink and spit into the basin, running the water to wash away the spot in which it landed.
“Is there blood in your saliva?” I asked.
The question unnerved him. “Why?” he asked, pale-faced.
I didn’t have an appropriate answer.
“I think we need to call the hospital,” he said. “They’ll know what to do. We need help.”
“No, no,” I said. “Let’s go to church and pray. We can sneak in to one of the early bird services. They’ll accept us there, won’t they? Isn’t that better than the bright lights of a hospital?”
He walked past me into the living room shaking his head. He pulled his phone out and held it in the air, turning to face me as I stood in the doorway of the kitchen.
“Fuck no,” he said. “I’m calling an ambulance. Who’s going to drive? Neither of us are capable of driving right now.”
“I’m capable. I’m fine. See? All this coughing is psychosomatic. You’re not dying, I didn’t mean what I said before about the blood.”
“It’s not psychosomatic,” he said. “It’s real. I was looking at my mouth in the mirror and I saw that it was black at the base. It’s like my insides are decaying.”
“Let me take a look,” I said.
We were in the bathroom with the bathwater running as hot as we could get it so the steam would fill the room and act as a sauna. I had a mini-mag light in my hand, Ira was sitting on the toilet seat with his mouth open, tilting his head back so I could look deep inside. Difficult now to express the sensation I felt peering with that flashlight into my friend’s throat, the sound of the water filling the tub, the smell of the water mixed with halitosis—.
The base of his tongue became a gray sort of purple as it descended toward the back of his throat, but it surely wasn’t decay. I could see old silver fillings turning black in the cores of his teeth and off-white enamel peeking through pea-sized holes in his gums where his wisdom teeth should be.
“Looks like your wisdom teeth are coming in. I think they’re impacted.”
“Are you serious?” he asked. “What else?”
“How often do you floss?”
“Me too. I hope it doesn’t come back to bite me.”
I set the mag-light on the sink and grabbed a bottle of body wash from a shelf in the shower. I emptied a healthy amount into the water of the tub, which had filled a quarter of the way. A sharp scent filled the room—described on the exterior of the bottle as Ocean Breeze.
We had taken our shoes and socks off and were sitting with our feet in the tub. Ira’s coughing had subsided. I got out and turned off the light, grabbing the mag-light again and turning it on instead, shining it into the suds of the bathwater. Ira was “Ooing” and “Ahhing” and I too was impressed by what the light was doing to the soap. We were seeing numbers and letters in the suds. Ira pointed out a word to me, but I couldn’t see it. “Disparate,” he said. “The soap there spells ‘disparate.’”
It could’ve been that it did, but often times we see what we want to see. I was seeing numbers—59, 17, 2031. Forming where the faucet water clashed with the water in the tub was the phrase, ‘Cowabunga,’ but it quickly deteriorated into a slovenly lion, misshapen and depressed by a sense of his own mortality. I was telling the story to Ira who interrupted to demand the light be shone in certain places. “There!” he said, pointing. “You missed it. It said, ‘See you next Wednesday.’”
“I’m good enough to drive to a church,” I said. “Wouldn’t it be nice?”
He thought about it so long I figured he had chosen to ignore the question. But then he said, “I’m ripe with original sin.”
I didn’t know exactly how to respond to that other than to say that it was probably true, so I shined the light on his face and saw his nose was streaking blood.
“Stop shining the light in my face,” he said.
“Except I think your nose is bleeding,” I said.
He lifted his feet out of the water so fast he splashed some into my lap. At first I wanted to curse him for it, but then I understood that if I had a bloody nose I wouldn’t concern myself with wetting someone by jumping out of the bathtub too fast.
“Fuck, man, are you joking?” he said.
“I don’t think I’m joking,” I said, and when the light came on it confirmed that I wasn’t. His nose had been bleeding down his shirt and chin and around his mouth now for quite some time.
He slapped at the toilet paper roll and unwound a long piece. Balling it up he held it to his face, his hand shaking. “Call the ambulance,” he said, coughing again. He spit into the sink and peered at it. “Blood in my saliva now, too,” he said.
I don’t know why I wasn’t more alarmed, but my placidness under pressure only seemed to make things worse.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal, Ira. It’s only bleeding because it’s dry. It’s colder outside today than it has been in months. Don’t you remember how cold and dry it was?”
He was yelling at me now. “Will you fucking drive me to the emergency room? Please, man, I need to see someone as soon as possible or I’m calling 9-1-1.”
Probably because I didn’t want to deal with emergency personnel, I decided to drive him to the hospital. The whole scene was difficult for me to grasp, though. I felt near-sighted. Things were blurry in places they weren’t usually, and at other times I could see my surroundings with perfect clarity. I think I took too long getting out of the tub, putting my socks on because Ira held his cell phone out at me threatening to call the ambulance every time I got distracted by something. Soon we were sitting in my car. We had stuffed our pockets with paper towels. He was tapping his foot against the plastic floor mat and I remember starting the ignition, thinking, ‘This whole thing. I wonder why I do this to myself,’ allowing the car to idle before putting it into drive. This, though, was wrong. We moved forward and knocked over the mini-Weber grill in front of us.
“Fuck, man. Are you cool, or no?” he asked.
“I’m cool,” I said calmly.
The hospital wasn’t far from where I lived, but it required us to drive down the main highway that ran through town. At almost six in the morning I felt we would look suspicious if we went the speed limit, so I drove ten over. Initially, I felt I’d have a difficult go driving, but I found myself calm and almost peaceful with the process. I was hoping Ira would feel the same and come to the realization that all was well, but instead I think the trip made him even more upset.
“Fuck, man, you need to slow down, seriously. What the hell are you driving so fast for?”
I considered explaining why I was driving so fast, but I didn’t. Instead I turned the radio on and hit the scan button. Nothing but talk, talk, talk. We found some classical music but it was violent—rushing past us as we drove. Ira hit the power button and leaned his head back.
“How’s your nose?” I said. “Still bleeding?”
He’d stopped coughing, at least. I noticed that much. And then, almost shamefully, he said, “It’s not bleeding anymore. It stopped.”
We were already to the entrance of the hospital, though, so I turned in. There was a series of speed bumps and I maneuvered them carefully so as to not upset Ira. Despite my lackadaisical attitude I felt sorry for him. We parked in the lot where brightly lit letters were illuminated over a pair of sliding glass doors. EMERGENCY, they said.
“Okay, Ira. Go on inside and tell them you took too much acid. Your brain is bleeding and there’s cancer in your lungs.”
“Why are you saying this? Why are you telling this to me?”
“We’re outside a hospital, Ira. You’re going to be okay.”
“Sometimes it doesn’t matter how close you are to the hospital,” he said. “Death will find you if it wants to.”
That made sense to me, and I felt bad for saying what I did. “Like getting run over by an ambulance,” I added.
“That’s exactly right,” he said.
An attractive man with blonde, spiked hair stepped out of the doors and lit a cigarette, shaking in the cold.
“What do you think his name is?” I asked. Ira turned the music on and found a station playing soft-core trance. “Good ambiance,” he said. “This is music you can sleep to.”
He pulled the lever on his seat and leaned it back so he could rest his eyes. I put mine back a little, too. I’ll admit we went wrong not playing music to calm ourselves in the first place. What’s an acid trip without music? I asked myself, or maybe I said it out loud, I can’t remember.
I started to get paranoid though. After all, the car was running and the lights were on, but only because I didn’t want to be left in a position where I couldn’t escape quickly if I needed to.
“What now, Ira?” I asked. He sat up.
“I’m feeling better,” he said. “But I don’t want to leave yet.”
“I’m feeling paranoid just sitting here like this,” I said.
“Well I don’t want to leave until I know for sure I’m okay.”
“Alright, Ira. Some time more here, but I want to go for a little drive out west so we can watch the sun rise.”
The birds were chirping in the trees and the sky was a pale grayish hue. The music stopped and suddenly the car was filled with silence. We waited for it to return again but the station must have quit its feed.
“What the fuck?” Ira asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Maybe we’ll have to find something else to listen to,” I said. “Here. Fiddle with it while I drive. Okay? We’re going now, I know just the spot.”
He tried to complain but I told him I was making an executive decision. “You’re fine,” I said. “No one’s ever died from an acid trip.”
On the road out of town we passed the Perkin’s. Now the place was filled with Oldsmobiles, Cadillacs, Towncars. The early morning church crowd. Ira’s spirits lowered just seeing it and I told him not to think about it. “We’re safe now, they can’t hurt us.”
There’s a park outside of town called Leroy Oaks with a spot deep in the Nicolai where a boulder overlooks a drop-off dipping down into a canyon. Off in the distance you can watch the sunrise from the east. I’d watched it once with a girlfriend a few months before but hadn’t made it back. When we got to the park the gates were closed.
“What now?” he asked.
To my credit, I hadn’t considered it might not be open yet so early in the morning.
“Well,” I said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to go back to my house.”
We parked the car outside the gate and locked it up. Half-way to the spot I mentioned, we lost our spark and grew frightened of the silence around us. Sure, there were trees rustling and they looked digital as they fluttered in the wind, but it wasn’t enough to keep us going.
“Shit, we’re out in the middle of nowhere, man.”
“I know, I just realized we shouldn’t have done this.”
Instead of leaving though we laid in the grass together with our hands behind our heads, our backs wet with early morning dew. I was flying. I asked, Ira, “How are you feeling now?”
“Perfect,” he said. “Never better.”
Some time later we must have fallen asleep because I woke with a start from a dream of someone shining a flashlight onto my bedroom ceiling. They were twisting the bulb so that it expanded and contracted into itself—the miracle of life. Someone said, “This is God’s eye peering down at us.”
I woke Ira and told him we had to run. Our car was locked outside the gate—a telltale sign of the presence of junkies when they come to open it. The sun hadn’t yet cleared the tops of the trees.
Stiff from the hard, wet ground, we made our way to the gate where the car was left unharmed. No one was waiting to see who we were.
“I’m thinking of a number between one and ten,” I said, buckling my seatbelt and starting the car. I pulled out onto the road and drove back toward town.
Ira thought about it for a moment. “You’re thinking of the number eleven,” he said.
I turned the radio to a religious station. “That’s exactly right,” I told him. “The answer we were looking for there was eleven.”