So there’s this Pyramid in my backyard I started building back in ’96. Built it thinking that if shit goes down New Year’s Eve 1999, and aliens throw some thunder boltsand set the whole world on fire, this Pyramid just might save my life. But after I built it, I kinda forgot about it. Never put anything in it other than a case of beer. New Year’s ‘99 came and I spent it at some party in some kid’s basement, my Pyramid lonely and abandoned. Same thing my ex-wife would tell me several years later: I built the marriage and then abandoned her in it. That’s what she called it—I call it paying bills—but I digress. (Man… back in ’96 though, the idea of marriage had never even took a flying shit on my horizon. I was a free man, and my eye-line stretched from here to the edge of the world.)
So I built the Pyramid and forgot all about it until the other night when I ran out of alcohol. Doesn’t happen much, but my check to the cable company bounced, which made some other shit go deficit, and the proverbial fountainran the fuck dry. No Ancient Aliens and no booze? Damn. It’s enough to make a man a dull boy. But then I remembered: “Oh, there’s a case of beer in the Pyramid that’s about—mmm—twenty years old right now!” Twenty is older than I was when I built the Pyramid, you know. But I was always a sharp hand with laying cement and knocking together boards, and young as I was, I crafted this Pyramid like a veritable fucking temple. Couldn’t really tell you where the idea for it came from; it was like a dream I had. A message to get ready for 1999.
No TV and no booze meant ransacking every single goddamn kitchen drawer—half of them jammed on the tracks or piled with shit so high I couldn’t get ’em shut again. “Eh, fuck it.” I left them sticking out half open. I had more important shit to tend to. Finally, I found the headlamp buried behind a jumble of canned food in the back of the cupboard. Damn cupboard was so deep I had to shove my arm in up to the socket and grope around blind to fish it out. Kinda gross, I gotta admit. The headlamp was stuck to the cracked vinyl my mama had laid down on the shelves all those years ago, and a chunk of it came away with the lamp. Yellow with brown flowers on it, same as the kitchen floor. I peeled it from the strap of the headlamp—must’ve been some old syrup that leaked everywhere or something.
Worked fine though, and that’s all that matters. So, I grabbed the headlamp and went out back to the Pyramid. The shop has kept me pretty well occupied for the last few years, working on my perpetual motion machine (Tesla had something, you know, before those Edison bastards shut him down), so it had been a long time since I’d set foot out there. Used to be, though, I spent more time outside than I did in the house, tending the garden and listening to the trees whispering their celestial secrets. But now, that rickety screen door had to be shoved open against grass and shrubs grown so tall they were up over my head like it was Vietnam or something. The moon was just this tiny sliver, and it was death dark in those tall weeds. Foot caught on the lawnmower rusting abandoned some hundred feet out and I went face-first into a damn rock. Nearly busted my skull. I put on my headlamp (which I had left in my pocket like a goddamned idiot), and looked up to see the Pyramid emerge out of the shadows.
For a moment it was like some majestic thing of the past, the stars rough jewels in the sky behind it. All the Pyramid’s forgotten glory rushed back like a fist to the face.
And I was suddenly sorry that I had ever abandoned the thing and went to that party in that puke basement, and met Shelly, and all the stupid sorry shit that’s happened ever since then, until now.
The Apocalypse didn’t happen, Y2K or whatever, but it was that New Year’s Eve that I met my ex-wife. We didn’t fuck around or anything right then, but after that party Shelly had a thing for me. That was back when I had potential.
This five acres I live on used to be a parcel of one hundred-and-twenty-fucking-acres, starting when it all belonged to my daddy. My dad was a pioneer: he came out West and bought this land when land out here was still cheap—back then most people didn’t see the value in a wild hilltop a few hours outside a small coastal town. But he did. He tamed this land with nothing but spit and ingenuity: dug his own well, laid down PVC for water irrigation, carved out a few acres of garden on the sunny side of the hill. In a few years he had enough capital to build this house and start his family. I was born into this hill, and since I was a kid there’s always been fat bushy ladies covering at least half of it. That’s when the price of marijuana was still worth a damn.
But it all went to hell some years back, not too long after my mom left. And it wasn’t the flooded market, or the Feds, or even some nasty plant-plague that busted it all to hell—it was fucking locusts, man. Whoever heard of locusts in Humboldt County? That’s some biblical shit, like the smiteful hand of God. That was the beginning of the end for my dad. I didn’t know it then but that was the beginning of the end for me, too. Persecution seems to follow poor bastards like us.
Because in the end, it was those locusts that took my damn son.
I saw the Pyramid and ran for the door—desperate—because I hate when I get to thinking about Shelly and Matthew. It doesn’t do any good to dwell. What is done is done. Need a drink to help me remember that. (Now, contrary to what I may have led you to believe, I don’t spend all day hitting the bottle hard. Until 9 pm, it’s strictly beer and I pace myself on those beers, too. Just sip. But after 9, man, if I don’t get some tequila in me, it’s rough times.)
I pulled on that doorknob and it was locked. But it’d been twenty-fucking-years and I was kind of a lazy asshole about installing the door handle to begin with, and lying right there on the ground is a rock. Like a sign from God. I gave the handle a good rap and the door popped right open. But instead of being a case of beer like I expected, it was a bottle of tequila.
Casa Dragones: my favorite and most expensive kind, bathed in the light from my headlamp like some genie-lamp in Aladdin’s cave. I stopped—surprised, you know—but rushed inside and bam! Pyramid door slammed shut behind me.
Shut and locked. (I still don’t get that.) And not a goddamned window in the place, except a few skinny slats in the ceiling for light.
So I had myself some tequila. What else was I supposed to do? Sat down on the bench and took a load off. And if you’re wondering, that was some of the best tequila I’ve ever had. Made every other tequila seem like dick-sweat. Doesn’t age they say; as long as it’s unopened, it’ll last you forever.
Tequila is about the only thing that will love you for as long as you love it.
Used to be, on this spot where the Pyramid is now, was a big old oak. My dad and me built a tree house up in its branches when I was about 10. One day, right when we had laid down the platform, I was fucking around, not listening, and I knocked out the air compressor. It hit the generator down below and there was this zap. Sparks flying. It was dry season, too, the grass gold and crispy. My stupid ass could have burnt the whole hill down. Even so, I jumped away from the back of my daddy’s hand and nearly fell off, knocking the ladder over.
He caught me, and I teetered on the edge of the platform, his hand gripping my arm like a vice. His eyes real big and wide.
But because I was angry and a goddamn idiot, I jerked my arm back. He lurched after me as I fell, but at some point he must’ve let go because although I don’t remember the fall, and I don’t remember hitting the ground, I remember his face looking down on me from the tree, pale like all the blood had drained from it down to me where I lay screaming. It was a sunny day, too, I remember, not a single cloud, the top of the oak’s branches brushing the sky blue.
It was a damned miracle I missed the genny, compressor, and the ladder when I hit, but my snapped shin bone was poking all the way through. My mother was screaming as loud as me when she got there from the house. Screaming at the sky, screaming at my daddy as he carried me to the car, screaming as her slim figure ran along beside us, her blond hair in this sweaty lather around her face, red here and there with my blood transferred from her hands.
I might have spent that whole summer in bed. Don’t remember how long exactly, but I know my dad ended up finishing the tree house without me. I think it was going on winter before I could climb the ladder back up. I got my mileage out of it though; I loved my tree house. It was my own little world up in the sky. I used to pretend I had a king’s eye view up there, that I could look down on the hilltops of these Coast Ranges, even see the ocean an hour or so away. Just the pretend bullshit of children—but sometimes my mom would climb up there and pretend with me. She’d bring some snacks maybe—apple slices with peanut butter, chips, soda—and together we’d look at our imaginary ocean, pointing at the whale spouts or the tankers passing by. She’d talk to me a lot about the nature of truth: a lot of bullshit I’d never understood and no longer remember, but looking back I gotta admit I loved those talks. Sometimes I’d climb up and find her already there, sitting quiet with her knees against her chest.
I was heartbroken when a few years later my dad said the oak was sick and had to be cut down.
That was about the same time my mom abandoned us.
But my dad and I milled the boards from that oak, and a few years later I put them to use building this Pyramid. The oak had this beautiful burl, and it took a lot of time and learning, but I made the extra planks into one damn beautiful bench seat.
It is a shame my mom never got to see what became of that tree. After she got her stuff she never came back to the hill. When she did, she would park just outside the gate. I think my daddy wouldn’t let her come in. Or her new husband. Or maybe she just didn’t want to. We talked on the phone pretty regular for a while; she sent me presents, picked me up for visits, but I never liked her new house in town and her douchebag new husband. And she wouldn’t stop pressing and guilting me to come live with her. Eventually, that shit pissed me off. Fuck her. Ask me to betray my dad. The land. The legacy he built for us. I was better than that. And smart. It was following my dad—not her new husband, with his soft hands and useless college degree—that would me get to where I needed to be.
So I stopped answering her calls. After a while she stopped trying.
Last time we talked was at my dad’s funeral. I wouldn’t let her be nothing but a bystander for that. She tried to offer some of her new husband’s money for the funeral expenses and all, but I told her that as his son it was my honored duty. Not hers.
“I heard,” she said, “you and Michelle have a baby on the way.”
Christ on a fucking skewer. Goddamn small towns.
“That shit is none of your damn concern,” I said, then walked away. Fuck her.
I sat on the bench savoring the old familiar tequila rush, when, behind where the bottle had been, I saw a mirror. Don’t ask me why or how it got there to begin with, but I knew in an instant it had belonged to my mom. She used to use it to pluck all her chin hairs or whatever. One of those convex lens that enlarges your pores into fucking mud puddles. It was a fancy one though, ornate and old-looking, like something from Atlantis. The frame and handle were some of the most beautiful metal work I had ever seen.
And on first sight, I hated the damn thing. I picked it up and chucked it against the wall, hard. Hard enough that it bounced back, but it didn’t break.
I jangled on the door some more, but I had made that hatch door solid and heavy, and the forty-five degree angle it laid at meant all its weight held it firmly shut. “So I spend a night on the floor,” I said to my bottle. Not gonna lie, it was hard, damp, and cold—like all cement—but the tequila had left me nice, warm, and loose. Hell, I didn’t care where I was. My only regret was that I hadn’t brought a joint with me.
I settled against the wall. I had built the Pyramid with two of the opposing interior walls at upright ninety degree angles. I had meant to line ’em with shelves for supplies and bedding and shit, but my stupid fucking ass never got that far.
“Would’ve been nice to have now, huh?” I took a few more sips of my warm, liquid blanket.
That was Day Zero.
Maybe it was because I was out of weed that I ended up dreaming hard that night. For the first time in a decade—maybe more. They were more like memories than dreams, but whatever it was, I fucking hated it. A man deserves quiet, black, thoughtless sleep.
It was 1999 again, and I gotta say that back then, I had some heart. Shit was going south, but I wasn’t gonna give up. I had been on a percentage with the old man for a few years then, and my future was shining bright like a beacon on the next hilltop, just waiting for me. Fuck if I was gonna let the Fates steal my future without a fight. Life hits you, you hit back.
So, when Ricky told me his cousin was here from the Midwest, and that he had a real hot high-priced market—that wasn’t too picky either—I jumped on it. Ricky and I knew each other since middle school. Back then, he was a real solid guy. Scrawny, maybe, but wiry, and hell, was that motherfucker quick. We had each other’s backs, always.
His cousin Corey was there at that New Year’s Eve party. Whoever’s basement it was, it was a real shit-hole. Sublime melodizing on the stereo about Santeria and crystal balls; graffiti-ed drywall punched through with a dozen holes; bed sheet strung up in front of the toilet. Ricky was sitting on the futon and next to him was this real pretty girl. Dark hair, dark eyes, this beautiful golden skin.
They were all staring at this giant blond idiot with a beer bong funneling PBR direct down his throat. Everyone was chanting, probably. Ricky shouting, laughing. The girl staring at him with this light in her eyes, and right away, I remember, I wanted her to shine that light on me.
The last of the forty went down the funnel, and the blond guy pumped his arms up and down, shouting. He belched, and everyone cheered louder.
“This is my cousin, Corey.” Ricky pounded him on his back, and they made a contrast—skinny Ricky with his dark hair next to that ogre so fucking pale he glowed.
“Hey man!” Corey had this voice that boomed out of his stupid giant mouth. He grabbed my hand in one hand and slapped my back with the other. “Ricky told me all about you. Says you’re a real cool dude.”
“Yeah, yeah. Same. Ricky won’t shut up about you either.” I looked at the girl standing at his side. “Who’s this?”
“Ah, her? This is my girlfriend, Michelle.”
She nodded at me with this real shy smile.
“Girlfriend? You bring her all the way out from Detroit?”
“Nah, man.” He smiled at her. “We just met… what babe, a few weeks ago? She’s a hottie, huh? I’m a lucky guy, but what can I say? The ladies love me.” He grinned. “Man, you guys out here are lucky. Beautiful ladies. Beautiful fucking trees. The redwoods? The ocean? These mountains?” He raised his hands and lifted his eyes skyward as if that ugly-ass ceiling was the blue sky itself. “Hallelujah. Detroit is lame, man. I love it out here.”
“Yeah!” Ricky said. That boy had a hard-on to impress his cousin. He looked at me. “We got to take Corey to the swimming hole on your property. Yeah? It’s a sweet private spot, Corey. You haven’t ever been rock-jumping, huh?”
“Nah, cuz. No cliffs in Detroit, you know. Jumped from some tall-ass bridges, though.”
Corey went on some oratory about bridges and shit while I looked him up and down. He didn’t seem too bad, really. Looked like a man in charge. But buyers gotta recognize the farmer is in charge too. A lot of them think because they have the money they have the power, but truth is they’re dependent on you. Without you they ain’t got shit to sell.
“Hey babe,” Corey gave his girl a kiss. Goddamn, she was beautiful. “I’m out. Get me another, would ya?” He pressed his empty beer bottle in her hand.
“So,” Corey turned to me now. He let out another belch. “Ricky says you and I might hook up for some business, huh?”
We had most of the details hammered out by the time the midnight-ball dropped. Promises were made. Finally, a way out of this hell, and I was gonna be the one to force down the gate.
I was pretty fucking proud of myself when I got home. There was my dad, in his Lazyboy, drunk in front of the TV.
“You want me to send off the last of my crop with who? Punk-ass Ricky’s dipshit cousin? Why the fuck would I do that? And on a front, too? You’re stupid. I seen how Ricky works when he’s out here trimming. If you call it working. Thinks he’s some sort of hot shot middle man, but he’s just a lazy-ass punk. Fucking kid too stupid to know he’s gotta start low and work his way up.”
He was short man, my dad (all my height comes from my mother) and going to fat around the middle. But even though I was a head taller than him, he never lost the power to remind me who was in charge. But I was desperate. The land needed saving. My dad needed saving. We needed saving.
“It’s just half a front,” I said. “Corey’s got half the cash now. C’mon, Dad. How many pounds we get this year?”
“Quit fucking worrying.” He took a swig from his can. “I’m handling this.”
“But how many pounds, Dad?”
I had been out there with him the whole season, watering, harvesting, trimming. I knew it wasn’t more than fifty. We usually averaged one hundred and fifty pounds. On a good year, over two hundred. Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a fucking bust if that fifty hadn’t been hit with the mold that swept in with the fall rains and found a real strong foothold in the locust-damaged buds. Nobody around here wanted to buy it. Even now, beginning of dry season, buyers were making offers, but at dirt cheap.
“I keep telling you, we’re fine. We got a good hundred pounds.”
I knew he was lying. I wasn’t a boy anymore; I was eighteen, nineteen, and it fucking angered me that he was patronizing me like that. And he looked so broken in that chair. Skin all wrinkly and quivery; blond hair gone gray. A man going to rot. It’s hard to witness.
“Bullshit!” I was shouting before I knew I was shouting. Stopped a moment but decided, fuck it. Fuck this. “I was out there with you. There’s fifty. And I know fucking fifty pounds at low-ball prices isn’t gonna be enough to pay all the bills, and the trimmers, and get soil and nutrients for next season. Fucking take some risks, old man. Show some fucking balls. Can’t sit here in the safety of your chair and expect it all to fucking fix itself.”
He kept silent for a minute, his eyes on the TV. And then that broken man hopped off his Lazy-boy and popped me in the face. And for the first time, it felt kind of… pathetic. I held my aching jaw and stood my ground. We must have stared at each other like that for a long time.
In the end, Dad decided Corey could take about half from what he and I had salvaged from the crop. It wouldn’t be enough, I knew, but it would be something. He helped pack it all up and then the night of the trade left me to make the hand-off.
I was shocked. The old man had never done that before.
“You mean it?”
“Sure. You’re gonna act like a man and put together a deal, then you see it through. Not gonna sit here and hold your hand.”
“Alright, Dad.” I told him. “I’m going to do it right. You’ll see.”
He threw the truck keys at me, and I caught them, staring as he went to sit back down in his Lazy Boy in front of the TV.
I left. He didn’t say nothing—not even goodbye. Probably didn’t even turn to look at me as I went out the door.
First thing I did when I woke was spend a couple hours yelling and screaming out the hole where the doorknob used to be. But I live at the end of an old mountain road, long-time abandoned. Loggers and farmers got their own roads they use. If any of boys from the local watering hole decided they missed me enough to come check on me—and I only went a couple nights a week, anyways—most of them don’t even know where I live. Eventually, I realized there was no point in screaming my throat bloody, so I quit.
It had been a fucked night of sleep. And the thirst was setting in. The frustration brewing in my belly was threatening to turn into panic, and I needed to take a fucking shit. The need building up in my ass-end was maybe impairing my ability to think clearly, and driving my want to smash shit. So, I dismantled the bench, thinking I could use the leg to bash the door open. I took the pointy end on the mirror handle and wheedled out the screws I put in twenty-some years ago. Imagine my shock when I pulled the leg off and saw scrawled on the back a message:
The magnifying glass will set you free.
You hear that folks? Set you free. Now, I didn’t write that note, I don’t know who did—and I especially don’t know when the fuck they did it either. But I looked down at the convex mirror in my hand, and it certainly seemed like that message was meant for me.
So, I tried the magnifying-mirror handle on the door hinges, but goddamn if those screws weren’t warped and rusted on. Stripped them right up, even though the builder in me knows better, knows that’s the rope-drop on the hangman’s noose, but desperation took over. And wouldn’t stop until it had me all used up, panting and sobbing on the floor.
I laid there staring at the hatch. “No way, no way, no way I fucked myself here. I can get out. I can fix this. I can fix this.”
So then I ended up climbing the walls—literally—hands holding my body wedged in the corner, legs braced diagonally against the wall. Bet you never saw an old guy spider-man like me. Wished I had some video to share with the boys: “Look at what I did this weekend. Bet you can’t beat that.”
But I was just being stupid. None of that mattered. Didn’t matter when I managed to reach the ceiling, either. The acrylic sheeting covering the skylights was tough, and I couldn’t get enough leverage to swing the mirror worth a damn. Most times when I raised my hand up to swing, I fell all the way down to the bottom. Fucking pounded my knees, rolled both ankles, goddamn fire shooting up to my hips.
So, I went back to the original plan. Grabbed the bench leg and smashed. Smashed and smashed. Grabbed another bench leg and smashed. Smashed and smashed until it was all bits and splinters on the ground.
I collapsed on the ground, and stared hard at the door with its broken lock and stripped hinges, feeling a certain amount of fear and self-loathing. But, eventually, I told myself it didn’t matter if I had popped those hinges out, anyways. Because when I put that door on I shimmied it right proper so it wouldn’t ever come off. Aliens, you know.
So, I sat down and drank some more of the tequila. What else was I supposed to do? I was thirsty. So thirsty.
That was Day One.
When I went to sleep that second night, the smell of shit still hadn’t dissipated and it followed my nostrils into my dreams.
Shelly’s family’s house was this shuddering mass of screaming babies and shit fumes. Her dad was a weak man—a deadbeat whose only income contributed to the family was his welfare. Shelly’s mama was forced to support all six of them (her, Shelly’s dad, Shelly, and her three little brothers) on her measly income as one of those daycare mamas. Woman spent her life cleaning up shitty diapers and baby puke. When Shelly got old enough, she went to work as a maid at Blue Lake’s Casino and Hotel, contributing her shit-for-nothing wages to her family’s income. She didn’t get to spend hardly any of it on herself.
But then I came along and made her my Cinderella. She was so pretty, with her tan skin, long black hair, and big dark eyes. (Her family had some Sicilian heritage, and you could see it real strong in Shelly.) You never saw anyone so thrilled when she got to leave her job and family behind. I rescued her, she would always tell me. From her shitty-ass family and her shitty-ass looking future. Her face would just get this glow any time she looked at me. Like sunshine beaming straight out her eyes.
The first time I called her “Shelly” she about slapped me. She was a spitfire, and I fucking loved that about her. Sure, it meant our fights were all-out tempests, but she had a soft side too, and I loved every opportunity to coax it out of her.
“My name is Michelle,” she said. “Only my dad calls me ‘Shelly’, and I hate it. Don’t you dare call me that.”
I always loved a challenge. I let some time pass before I tried it again. Time we spent on the lake in my dad’s boat—water-skiing or fishing. Hot lazy afternoons down by the river. I would dart in a “Shelly” here and there, and she would growl and punch me in the arm. But her growls grew quieter with every dinner of steak or shrimp I grilled, accompanied by some sort of pasta or salad she’d made. And dessert, too. Man, could she bake. Goddamn delicious. We washed it all down with the best beer and the finest smoke.
“Shelly,” I said to her one night. We were in the hammock we kept tied between two tall pines. In the forest canopy above was the perfect clearing for stargazing.
“I know, I know: your dad and all that.” I passed her the spliff. “But that’s over. You’re my Michelle now. My Shelly. And I fucking love you, my Shelly. Love you with all my heart.”
That was the first time I had ever said those words, and her face lit up like a beacon. And that sheen lasted right up until she married, though hell, maybe it had wore off beforehand.
Probably though, if I’m gonna be honest about it, probably that happened the day Matthew was born.
When I woke the next day, I was one pathetic son-of-a-bitch with a headache pounding me flat in the cement ground. And even though I haven’t ever been one to eat much—fuck, I was hungry. You’d be surprised at how much shit still has to come out of you, even if you haven’t eaten for a couple days. And how much puke, too.
Damn tequila. But what’s done is done.
But I was angry. Angry at all the stupid bullshit that had led me to this moment. I heaved the bottle up over my head—
and after a moment, I set it back down. There was still liquid in it—but it was getting harder and harder to deny the truth that drinking it was just making me thirstier. So thirsty I was eyeing my own piss—but even that had died from a hearty stream to a dirty trickle in the middle of dry season. If a man can’t even drink his own piss, what can he do?
Fucking die, I guess.
I gathered all the anger I had left and battered for hours at that bastard door—screaming at Shelly, screaming at locusts—in an awful rage at what must be one of the most impotent and self-loathsome deaths a man could suffer: locked in his own Pyramid all because my piece-of-shit-alcoholic-self couldn’t go one night without a lick of booze—and still that door stood. All four bench legs, though? Those were now splinters. My hands bloody and swollen. Toes feeling like I’d broken each one.
I slid down the wall into a heap on the floor next to the bottle. Stared at the wall, ceiling, the skinny slats I had so carefully encased in that high-impact acrylic. I was hellbent on making this Pyramid so sound nothing would be able to breach it. Never once gave any thought to getting out.
“You’re gonna die in here, you sack of shit. Look at you. You’re pretty much dead already.”
That was Day 2.
Night, day, sleep, wake—it was all the same now, just indecipherable time spent sitting on the cold hard Pyramid floor, hurting, aching, dying, fucking useless dwelling over shit I could no longer change. But goddamn. Those fucking locusts.
Back then, I wasn’t looking for a Michelle to become my Shelly. I was looking for early retirement. My future was shining bright like a beacon on the next hill—all the finer things life makes available to hardworking young men in marijuana country—I just had to work hard enough to reach it. You get what you earn, I always believed. That’s what my daddy did.
But then Shelly came along, and I thought maybe she was what I had been working for all along, and just didn’t know it. The first time I seen her after all that bullshit happened was at the Winco out on the coast. I came off the hill every so often for supplies, and there she was in her scratched-to-shit Honda, rummaging in her purse for something.
“Hey! Hey!” Yeah, I was a little embarrassed to be chasing this girl while pushing a shopping cart full of food, but I knew this might be my only chance.
She looked up at me and I saw her eyes go wide at the sight of my face. Maybe she felt guilty, or maybe it was just all my bruises, purple and yellow like a rotten eggplant.
“I’m sorry,” she blurted.
That might have been the first time I had ever really heard her speak.
She started to roll up the window real quick-like, left handing working the crank while the right hand fumbled in the purse. “I am so, so sorry Corey did that to you. I swear, I didn’t know anything about it, and I didn’t have anything to do with it. I’m not shady like that. And I don’t know where he is now.” She turned the key and the Honda rattled to life.
God, those lashes were just gorgeous: thick and full. She put the cigarette from her purse between soft, shiny lips.
“Yeah? What about Ricky? You know where he went?”
She stopped in surprise, window halfway up. “He ran off, too?” She shook her head. “I’m real sorry those pricks fucked you over like that.” Her big dark eyes softened. “Corey and Ricky do that to your face?”
“Ricky never showed up to the meet. Just Corey. Fucker had a gun but he was too pussy to use it. Don’t worry, I gave him hell. I wasn’t gonna let that thieving motherfucker walk off with our pounds without a fight.”
I didn’t mention that most of those bruises had come from my dad. It was only right; I deserved it.
“Good. That piece of shit left me high and dry, too.” Anger was lighting up her face and damn, it looked good on her.
“Well, he was a fucking fool.” I looked up at the dreary-ass clouds, trying to hide how fucking scared I was. And maybe also how scary my face looked. “You know, you ever wanna go see a movie sometime, I can give you my number. Maybe once it gets warmer you wanna come visit the hill. Got a great swimming hole.”
Shelly became the ambrosia to my hell. And goddamn, that happiness clouded my big-picture view. For the next four, five seasons, maybe. It didn’t matter we were running on credit at a deficit, that a large boulder was building up slowly behind us. That’s how it goes sometimes in marijuana country. We’d fix it. Crops were good now: acres of fat, bushy marijuana ladies, bursting with that sticky shine. Their sweet scent mingled with the smell of campfire and BBQ drifting up through the trees.
But it was almost like I never saw all the beauty of our hill until I had her body wrapped in my arms, swinging in the breeze in the hammock. Shelly’s laughter skipping across the river water. Her eyes reflecting the moonlight. Her fiery nature threatening to light the long, golden grass ablaze. I loved her. Truly. Loved her more than my dreams. I wish I could tell her that maybe I just didn’t know how to do it right. Maybe I made that rookie grower mistake, you know? Pruned her too much, then let her sit dry without water. Maybe she would have been better off planted directly in the earth, wild and free.
God help me, but I drank all that tequila.
It’s almost dark. Feels like its been almost dark for a long time now. Maybe years. I’ve spent most of today slumped against the wall next to my pile of guts. I’m not dead, but I’m not alive either. I can’t even say I’m sleeping, more like drifting in and out of consciousness as though I were in my best drunken stupor.
Probably right now, I look like my dad did in his last days. I had sat at the hospital with him as much as I could stand. It was smoking and drinking that finally took him—cancer didn’t care how strong a man he was. It waited for a weak point then ate him whole. And I can pinpoint when that happened, too. Because that thievery with that devious fucking Corey tore my daddy to pieces. And though I’ve never been able to say this before, I’ve always thought it was my fault.
What I remember is lying on that bile-yellow and shit-brown kitchen floor, ears ringing, nose clogged with blood, the world spinning. And hazy, like the fog had invaded the house. After a while, my dad took the screaming outside, leaving me to stare at the fridge in a long daze, listening to the distant shouts and the crashes of shit hurling across the yard. Mementos my mom left behind. The atomizer, nutrient bottles; just wailing with rage. When I finally came out there, a frozen slab of tri-tip held to my face, he was lying belly-down in the dirt, crying—sobbing real soft-like about the land betraying him. That was tough to see. Worse than him in a rage. I had never seen him cry before, not even when my mom left.
That was it, I knew, even then. I didn’t know what exactly, but in my heart, I thought, “This is the moment.”
I went back to the fridge and popped the cap from the beer bottle before I brought it to him. He didn’t look at me at first, but after a few sips, he met my gaze with red, wet, swollen eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
My dad died as peacefully as the man could, I suppose. Afterwards, I insisted on moving Shelly and me from our house in town back to the mountains and, this time, Shelly fucking hated it. Hated being so isolated in the midst of all these trees and all these hills. She wanted the ocean, crashing and stretching out to the edge of the world, but I didn’t listen. I had a legacy to uphold. And who the fuck wants to spend all their time knocking together boards so they can pay rent on some other man’s house? These hills belonged to me, and here I would be free, cultivating the ladies, making the real money. And saving the land—but for real this time, not like before.
Lawyers had said there was a mountain of outstanding debts against the land. Liens. Mortgages. Refinancing dating back to about 2001 or so.
“Golly gee,” I thought to myself. “I wonder what the fuck could have inspired that.”
So, I hit those gardens with a fucking vengeance.
And yeah, I left Shelly alone in the house with her big fat belly. Wasn’t at most of the doctor’s appointments, neither. She was mad. “Not seeing the bigger picture,” I told her then. I was doing this for us. I was doing this for our son.
I was saving him a legacy.
But I failed. I betrayed my daddy, and I betrayed my son. The day I sold one hundred and fifteen of my dad’s hard-earned one hundred and twenty acres to some ass-hat timber and ag guys who gave me just half of what it was worth, was my moment. That was the day I let weakness into my heart. But there was falling market prices, mold infestations, medical bills, funeral expenses. I couldn’t afford to hire much labor. And in about a month’s time, my son was coming into this world, along with a long list of expenses.
The selling of the land was just added brew to the shit-cauldron-of-life, and I guess I just couldn’t handle the portion ladled out to me. But I still drank it down. The black-outs were frequent; I did some shit that I’m not real proud of, and that I don’t quite remember. Shelly did though. She remembered real good.
Shelly was scheduled for a C-section that day, and I knew that—of course I knew that—but the bottle found me first, so the first time I saw my son was when Shelly found me face-down in the kitchen, three days later. Honestly, I don’t remember anything of those three days. Only their faces, dim in the midst of all that fog lying so thick over the valley it obscured even the tree-line. Matthew’s hazy blue eyes. Behind that, Shelly’s absolute cat-in-water fury.
And the screaming. Shelly screaming, the baby screaming. Shelly grabbing the empties and hurling them across the yard. All I could do was lie there as she screamed. Kicked.
“Get up, motherfucker! Get up, you sack of shit! Say something! Do something! Life didn’t stop the day your daddy died! You have a new life! With Matthew! With us!”
I didn’t. Looking back, it was like I never got off the floor again. Marriage limped along. I guess Shelly stayed with me because she didn’t have anything better to do. That, and, “A boy needs his father!” If ever a boy needed a walking bottle, he had one. We made it another six years somehow and then she left. That was seven years ago, now. Back then I told anyone who would listen that she was a gold-digger who didn’t want me after I lost my funds, but now I understand that maybe she didn’t want me after I lost my soul.
It’s night, and even though the moon ain’t much bigger than it was three days ago, I can see everything. My eyes have adjusted to the darkness, but still, it sure looks like the mirror over there, just out of reach, is glowing. Like a flying saucer in the sky.
“What now, Mirror. Mirror, mirror on the wall?”
Its glow kinda… blinks a little.
You know, maybe it really has been listening this whole time.
“Yeah? Well guess what, Mirror? I’ve been sitting here for three days self-scrutinizing and the only conclusion I come to is I’m gonna die soon. Is that my freedom? Is it? You got a wicked sense of humor, there. I’d laugh, but I think my voice box has shriveled up.”
But you know… maybe Mirror Mirror is right. Maybe this is what I’ve always wanted. Because my life wasn’t much, and I made damn sure to give most of it away. Give it away like a man throwing dirt from his shovel.
And that, Mirror, that’s where I fucked up. Because now I know I want to keep the rest.
It’s glowing even brighter now. I stare at it for a good long time to be sure. Blinking seems to be something I hardly need to do anymore. Feel like a goddamn beached fish: there’s a hard glaze on my eyes—but damn, that mirror is lighting up like a beacon, growing so bright it hurts, and I throw myself at it (to throw it smash it make it stop), my body twitching jerking flopping out of control—but I wrap my hands around the handle, and the light dims from too bright to a soft glow.
Relief. I lie on my belly, hands stretched above my head, lungs gasping and gulping, and coming from my hands, I hear singing. I shit you not: singing. Soft women’s voices. Soothing. Healing. Enticing. I drag the magnifying mirror to my eye, and there’s the ocean. Sand, sunlight, and the mouth of some river, emptying out in the crashing waves. It’s hard to believe I’m not right there on the bank next to it.
But because I’ve always been a skeptical motherfucker and I just want to know, I pull the glass away from my eye and look around. Nope. Still in the Pyramid. Well, fuck this place. I look back through the glass. Reach for the water and my hands are gloriously wet. I don’t care if it’s imaginary death water; I drag myself to the river, and drink from it, and let me tell you, imaginary death water is the most nourishing stuff I’ve ever had. I pour it over my head and face, laughing. It’s pure life! Saturating my veins. Rejuvenating my soul. And next to me on this bank is an apple. The biggest apple I ever saw. Magnificent, shining red. I can smell its sweetness, and see its skin taut with bursting life.
Either I’m dead or I’m free, but this feels like rhapsody. I reach for the apple, feeling the breeze sweep over my skin. Just grinning. Michelle brought me an apple once juice bursting in my mouth, saliva rushing to meet the swallow of life—no, the tiny piece of universe—between my teeth.