(CHAPTER 2 of Novel called Road Trip)
I found Grandma in her rocking chair, cold and limp, her head tossed to the side, resting on the green and orange afghan she knitted herself ages ago. I wasn’t yet shocked. I wasn’t yet sad. I was too pumped up by rage to take it all in. I had just bloodied my knuckles on some guy’s face.
I sat on the steps against the porch and stared at her closed eyes. She must have fallen asleep. And never woke up. I was somehow glad. For her, I mean. I don’t recall a single evening when grandma wasn’t right there in that old chair, staring off into the horizon. At least since grandpa died several years ago. She didn’t read or knit anymore. Just sat and rocked like she had always been there and would always be. Sometimes I would hear her make these strange sounds with her mouth closed, as if she just took a bit of the best banana cream pie. Or else she’d shake her head and sigh once as she folded her hands on her lap. She was content. Even now, she looked content. I couldn’t bear to touch her, let alone move her. I hoped I was lucky enough to die in such a way some day, but I doubted it.
I stretched my fingers out on my right hand in front of me and saw scraped skin peeling off my knuckles, revealing bright red marks as if my real flesh was underneath. My bones ached, but my head hurt worse. Seeing Grandma there calmed me down a bit.
The bastard had managed to clip me once on the side my head, smack against the left ear, and it hurt like hell now even though at the time I didn’t even notice.
I lifted myself up and headed inside. The screen-door still needed fixing, it’s ripped from the frame in several places and Grandma had been on me for weeks to replace it and warned of mosquitos taking over the house. Bounding up the stairs to my room, I grabbed my cheap blue Adidas sports bag, then thought better and headed to my twin sisters’ old room. They’re both out west now. It was used as a general junk room now pretty much. Over the last couple years it had accumulated old pictures and boxes of crap moved from one part of the house, ancient toys and dolls from an era I didn’t recognize, old trophies of my dad’s, all this alongside my twin sisters’ old beds with pink bedspreads that no one had slept on in years. Even the few times they visited since moving out West they had slept in Grandma’s room with a larger bed not accumulated with a 1000 stray memories. Grandma had taken to sleeping on the couch since grandpa had died, despite my sisters’ protests that her back would be hurt. I figured she’s a grown woman, if she wanted to sleep on the couch, let her sleep on the damn couch.
I was looking for luggage that I remember seeing in here once. They were my sisters’ before they got a new set from Uncle Travis and Aunt Ellie when they graduated. Crouching down I felt under the bed and caught the corner of something solid and pulled it out. Aha, a large suitcase, unfortunately pink, but I didn’t care about that now. The lacy doyles that hung down over the bed frame slid over my arms and hands and unevenly over my knuckles. Tiny spots of blood got on the yellow lace. I decided I better get it cleaned up and lugged the suitcase up, dumped out its contents of old clothes, and walked down the hall to the bathroom.
Turning on the faucet, I let water run over my hands. It stung. I didn’t see any band-aids in the medicine cabinet and almost called to grandma to ask, then realized she was not going to answer.
I’m alone. Again.
Band-aids won’t help anyway on these kind of cuts. I looked in the mirror and was startled. Not by my rustled hair, but by how white my face was. It felt hot and flustered but the only color was my left ear which was blood red by comparison. The guy had really pummeled me there, but I had pummeled him everywhere, the asshole. But I regretted doing it, not because he didn’t deserve it but because I jeopardized my job. By the look at my hands, the guy will probably press charges. My eyes burned, like they had salt in them. I kept feeling the need to squint. I splashed some cold water in them.
Olivia would either be calling or expecting me to call. I left her this morning sitting in her mom’s house alone, where she lived, after almost knocking her head off like I did to Mike. I swear I wanted to. She could push my buttons. I never was so angry than when she played her little games.
“I thought we were meeting last night,” I told her. “I waited until 11:00at work.”
“I thought so too, but you didn’t call.”
“I called three times! No one answered!”
“Well it must have been late. I thought you got off at 8:00.”
“That’s Wednesday’s. I’ve told you that a thousand times. I work late on Fridays.”
It was still early, probably about seven or eight. I’d maybe slept a couple hours in my car after leaving Danny’s in the middle of the night. After trying to call Olivia from work a few times I gave up and decided to drive to her house. She was still in her pajamas, grey shorts with High written in pink across the butt and a tank top with thin straps revealing her shoulders.
“Yeah, I noticed your car was gone.”
“So, I went out. Is that a crime now?”
“It is when we had plans!”
“We had tentative plans. I figured since you didn’t call, you had other plans.”
I took a deep breath. “I told you, I had to work late,” I could feel the heartbeat passing from my chest into my head. “Did you ever think to call down there?”
“What, am I supposed to wait around for you? Be on your schedule all the time?” she fired back. “And besides, maybe you shouldn’t just expect things.”
The words echoed, I heard the word ‘expect’ over and over like the smoke after a gun has gone off.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded. “Olivia, what the hell is going on?”
She was too calm. She continued to rummage through her closet for something to wear. A shirt fell off a hanger and she bent down to pick it up. Her shirt stretched up, revealing her lower back just above her shorts. Those little soft hairs drove me crazy. I could tell she wasn’t wearing any underwear.
She didn’t answer. “I said, what’s that supposed to mean?”
She stood up, calmly put the blouse on its hanger and turned sharply around.
“It just means, maybe you take me for granted…Maybe I take you for granted…Maybe….
It occurred to me like a random bubble popping, Where was she last night, anyway?
“Who did you hang out with last night?” I asked.
“Why?” Her nipples were protruding from her shirt.
“Olivia, who’d you hangout with?!” I demanded.
“Different people who?”
“Well, Renee and me went over to Chad’s…”
“You know that weird guy with the geeky car who thinks it’s so cool.”
“Yeah, whatever. And he had some people over.”
“What does it matter?”
“Who was there, Olivia? If it doesn’t matter, why make such a big deal?”
“Fine! Me and Renee, Eric and Brenda and her new guy from Springdale, Danny…”
“Danny, from work?” I worked with this guy Danny who worked out front running Cashier. I never really talked to him much. Whenever Olivia would visit me at work or pick me up when my Chavelle was up on blocks I’d come out and he’d be talking to her. I didn’t think anything of it until she told me in the car he said she was pretty. I’d been pissed, but she said she’d told him about us.
“Yeah, he’s nice.”
“Yeah, I bet he’s nice. So what did you all do at Chad’s?”
“Just hangout. Chad’s dad got a new pool table in the basement so we did that for a while.”
“We made homemade tortillas. They were greasy, but good.”
“You could have called me at home.” I said, even though I know she wouldn’t have got me. Then I recalled something. I scrunched my face.
“When I was leaving work, I saw Renee’s car uptown. You said you guys took her car to Chad’s.”
“We did but she left early because she had to get up early this morning.”
The possibility spring in my mind. “How the hell did you get home then?”
“Danny took me.” She just stood there…
I shook my head and bit my lip. Danny took me. My gut leaped a mile.
“What do you mean Danny took you home? That bastard…”
“Listen Alex, stop it! We drove around for a while and he took me home.” Her eyes narrowed her face hardened.
“I get it! This guy’s ‘nice’ and all of a sudden I take you for granted or whatever! I can’t believe this!” I imagined Danny and Olivia dripping with greasy enchiladas and wiping each other’s mouths and laughing.
“We’re just friends!” She screamed back, “Did you ever think I might like to hang out with someone other than your dummy friends?”
Then in a softer voice… “Maybe we are a figment of our fucking imagination.”
A bolt of energy zapped my brainstem and I jerked my head up. I took a couple steps back. I saw Olivia in the closet doorway, just standing all-too-serenely with an odd, look, something new. Like a CD skipping, my mind fumbled over the words “figment of our imagination”. The heat in my headed exploded in a furry of half-conscious vocalizations.
“Was it my imagination that weekend we went to the lake? Was it a figment when we talked about moving in together? Did I take you for granted when I bought you that ruby ring?”
Then I noticed she wasn’t wearing the ring.
All of a sudden I turned to the door and bounded down the stairs.
“Where are you going? Alex? Don’t you dare!!” She screamed as I punched the door open and jumped in my Chavelle. I have to hand it to her, she knew me well enough to know where I was going.
I hammered the gas, and turned around, smoking the tires, probably leaving a 3 foot black stripe. He was probably on morning shift. All I could think was this asshole trying to be suave with my girl with his slick hair and idiot smile. I knew that guy was trouble. From day one. He’s not going to be smiling much once I put use that cash register as a hat on his head.
Turning the corner onto Jackson, I saw his Jeep out back. The restaurant part wasn’t open yet, but the bakery part was. I could smell the yeast and sugar as I hoped out. I stormed in the back door, which was open. No one was there. I wasn’t thinking. My fists needed a target. I pushed the brown swing doors that opened into the dining area. I saw Danny up front, counting money into the register. He heard the doors and saw me enter and from the look on his face knew why I was there.
“Hey, Alex.” The fucker had the balls to just stand there and say that? I went fast forward and slammed my hands on the counter. “What did you do last night with Olivia?”
He was in terror by the way he backed up and put his hands up. He had a bundle of ones in his right hand.
“We just drove around and I took her home.”
“Around town, to the lake road and back. We talked and that’s all…”
But I didn’t let him finish the sentence…my adrenaline was in control. I leaped over the counter and before my feet landed my fists found his jaw. It hit solid and he keeled to the side. Dollar bills flew around everywhere. To the lake. My instinct said wail him, pound his head senseless, and throw him into the lake.
“We didn’t do anything!” He screamed out. Holding his hand to his jaw. I landed my left fist into his side and heard the air slide out of him. As if just then realizing my intentions, he suddenly stood up straight, but I had him cornered in. He started swinging his arms wildly at me and used his elbows. I pushed him back and pounded on his head and shoulders with my right hand. One landed on his plastic name tag and it busted in two. Everything was slow motion and it felt like I was barely hitting him but for the blood dripping from the side of his mouth.
“What the hell?” I heard from the back and saw Tony, our manager heading towards us. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something towards my head. A roll of quarters landed on the side of my head and rattled my brains.
Figment of our fucking imagination.
I grabbed his head and forced it down on the open drawer. Coins flipped out with a crashing sound and rained over our heads and over the counter.
“Stop it now! Alex! What’s going on here?”
I heard a voice say again. Next thing I felt were hands on both my arms and then around me from behind. I succumbed. I saw Danny’s forehead with a diagonal red gash. He was breathing heavy.
By 9:00 I’d been in a fight. By 9:30, I’d lost my job. By 10:00 my girlfriend Olivia was my ex-girlfriend. And by noon I was on the road.