LAST DAYS OF MAY
After my last exam, I stopped to see my brother, who’d just invented a holiday that required him to call off work.
“Eponymas?” I said.
“The holy day of self-titled debut albums!”
I sat, enveloped by the smell of marijuana and whatever it was that wafted from his work-friend Mab, who brooded inside a hoodie on the cat-killed couch.
“Today, my brother said, “it’s BOC.”
When I named my favorite song of theirs, Mab cackled. The smell reminded me of roadside decay.
“Seriously? ‘Burning for You?’” My brother palmed off his bandana and shook out lawless hair. “Buck the popular opinions.’” He slid the disc into his hand. “The early stuff’s what’s real. When a band’s still faithful to themselves.”
He dropped the needle. Crack and fizz. Then came the clear, austere lead.
“First verse,” my brother said. “Story’s all there. Naïve dudes, desert landscape, cash for dope, the hint of inevitable betrayal.” He glanced at Mab. “That right?”
While listening, I studied the curtains—a tattered flag with the words “NO SURRENDER” slapped across red and black.
Mab drew the strings of his hoodie before offering me a joint. When I shook my head, he said, “Your loss,” the room blooming again with that corpse-like smell.
“No—his gain.” My brother squeezed my shoulder. “He’s not going to go along with the crowd.”
The boys were now dead, the song nearly done. Eyes flickering, my brother stood to twist the lock on the door. “Trust, faith,” he said. “All’s well and good until someone loses a life.”
Mab passed his stink with the joint. My brother inhaled and held his breath, eyes fixed on the shadow beneath the hood. At the end of the month, hauled in by his boss for theft, he’d let it all out for good.
BREAK ROOM, SMITTY’S ON THE LEVEE
“There oughta be a rule,” Angelica said, jabbing a shoe into the space between his boots. “At least three steps for a dance.”
“You can’t even...” He touched her shoulders, showed her where to put hands before moving her—one-two, one-two. She studied his eyes. He couldn’t believe how little there was between them.
Last week, on his way from break back to Dairy, he’d noticed her in Meats. The next day, she grinned crazily behind the glass, raised a cleaver for effect.
“Follow my lead.”
Yesterday evening, sent to the lot for carts, he gawked at a parade of tight jeans and ten gallons striding toward the Cactus Club next door. Ridiculous or cool? Maybe they could scoot their way into the spree in between?
“You smell like a baby.”
Her bloody apron spoiled the picture he’d conjured of them dressed to the cowpoke nines.
She grinned. “One-two percent.”
Hurt, he stuck thumbs into belt loops. He pantomimed a cheek with chaw.
“But you’ve got a few moves,” Angelica said, sideways punching his arm. “I’ll give you that.”
One, two—such stupid simple math. But she, although sharp, would never add them up.
I’m sipping coffee at a bar in Schöneberg when this man slaps down across from me. Swigging his Kindl, he tells me he’s in Berlin for the year.
“Such history,” I say.
“You a tourist?” He tips his beer toward memorabilia behind me.
“I’m looking for a new start.”
“You and the world. You know Bowie, though?”
“If that’s the best you can do. In the 70s, this was his favorite bar.”
I say I’d just wanted a place to rest.
“He’s coming back, you know.”
“Listen, mate.” He scrapes his chair toward mine. “I bought that wardrobe at an auction. The one from ‘Lazarus.’ Last video he made.”
“Someday, he’ll step back out, dressed in some slick new skin. Not Ziggy, not the Thin White Duke.”
When the coffin closed, I forgot my mother’s face.
“I’ll be front row for something never seen.”
As a teen, attempting to come close, I’d sneak into her closet, slip into dresses and precipitous heels, items she’d saved for occasions that never came. Now, those clothes are gone forever. At Goodwill, some spaced-out guy shrugged and said, “Guess you can chuck ’em on that heap.”