I was out, it was cold, I needed a ride, was shivering in front of the post-office, wasn’t wearing a jacket. It was snowing. Two girls in a Volkswagen, one an old classmate, pull up to the curb, say they will give me a ride.
The car is warm. I begin to thaw. The girls smoke and giggle, say they need to make a quick stop, that I should come along. I come along.
We drove to the outskirts of town, parked behind a fleabag hotel. The classmate, who was driving, bruises all over her body, but mostly on her bare thighs – bruises the shape of beefy fingers, fat hands, night sticks – led me up three trash-strewn flights of stairs, through an unlocked door and into a large room around the perimeter of which marched folding metal chairs and against one wall, a king-sized bed.
No one’s here yet, she said.
Okay, I said. I said, what’s going on?
A party, she said, it’ll be fun. Be patient. She left, was replaced…
…with a little redheaded – a coquette – oozing low-rent sex-appeal; her job: get me to stay. It worked. I kicked off my boots. She preened, clawed the air with red fingernails, hissed. I noticed her teeth were good; she bit the air and I didn’t see any fillings, no gingivitis. And this was important to me at the time. She undressed then disappeared into a back room filled with mattresses, closed the door. She got on the phone. I peeked through a slit in the jamb, tried to listen to the conversation, couldn’t hear. In the meantime, others arrived, shouting, with instruments, handles of Jack Daniels. Many wore Peterbilt hats caked in grease. Their jeans were shiny with motor oil. They carried stereo components, tire irons, bulging plastic grocery bags.
The redhead is still missing, the classmate returns. I say, I gotta go.
No, stay, she says, my brother died. It’s his wake. He was murdered.
I feel like I have heard this story before but don’t say so. I’m sorry, I say, about your brother.
Thanks, she says, and sneers.
Does she think I killed him? I didn’t. More men, rough-looking, unshaven, some too young to shave, all world-worn. They fill the metal folding chairs, pass bottles. Most are already drunk. They are all talking about the murder, that it was payback time. Someone asked me, who’s gonna pay? I didn’t know. Hopefully not me. I’m sorry, I say, you know, about the dead guy, really sorry. Where are my boots? I find them, try to lace them up, can’t. Music erupts from a pair of speakers, mites and dirt exploding from their dust caps. It was Slipknot and it was loud. Someone shouts in my ear, sucks about Paul Gray, don’t it?
Yes, I say, still trying to lace the boots.
Having trouble with your boots, someone else says. They were thrill killers for sure. This was my party. I had to get out. I wondered if I could convince the redhead to come along, go out for coffee. I shouldn’t be thinking about coffee. I said it out loud. Someone grabs me from behind, asks, what’s that about coffee?
Will I be able to run if my boots aren’t laced?