A Stranger Returns
Traipsing Main Street Doll Town, swirling Coca-Cola shop, bear statue, junior hippie skirt rainbows, antiques-are-us, bear statue, ball cards and old men, the clover pub, teahouse 1, bear statue, the yuppie theatre, cigars, teahouse 2, barber shop, nostalgia land, and suddenly Hustle and I have entered a forest of little girls: seven years old each one, every shrub identically pink-faced, blonde-locked, bouncy white jackets bound tight, this way, that way, looking round, bumping each other, a twirling snow-forest of little girls. "Watch these two dirty coats," you can hear the adult herders slant-eyed thinking to each other. Hustle scurries, head down, darting through brief passages confused open by the tee-tottering cherubs. From the other side, he looks back at me, eyes a-goggle. I stand in the forest middle, hands raised, laughter streaming. Hustle: paranoia eyes. I make my way, careful not to smudge, and we duck into teahouse 3.
Three Dates with Demeter:
- Atop Sam Hall Mountain, a brambly walk to a private rock face, with Long Legs, Hustle (leading the way), Intense Friend (comfortable in the outdoors), Borges (uncomfortable with the drug thing; ended up on his own rock face, away from us, for some quiet moments with self), but they would all disappear. It was February, cold rock, bruised with ice. Sitting on some cold damp moss, close to Long Legs, everyone huddled, sides of our heads looking out for visitors. We all minus Borges dipped into the sandwich bag and inhaled a train through a glass finger, but I was the only one smacked by glitter death, the rock face becomes a grandfather clock in Toon Land, shattering into howl laughter, my heart, my eyes shattering, the clown intimates that this is merely the entrance: my choice: in or fling back home. Home. I toppled onto the moss, word BROKEN dropping from my mouth, letter by letter, chunks of ice.
- On Red Couch, house made light again by presence of supporters: Hustle (he'd soon be gone to SF), Long Legs, Intense Friend (made gentler by new presence of Gentle Lady), and Twenty Bags out the Caddy who was looking at me with laughter and white-tooth concern, saying, like, anything you smoke out of a meth pipe has gotta be bad news. Blammo. Euphoria. Birthed from every cell, Big Bang Bang Big, as easily ecstasy as being seven in front of Sega Sonic the Hedgehog: in my fingers a world where stars wink and spin and the faces in the wall are friendly zip zap zoop. The milky way amusement park is seven seconds old.
- These two are wizards. This guy's pipe is as unwieldy and seductive as an elephant trunk nosing toward my kiss. We stumbled into their lair and are now given The Treatment: Here's a glass of water with lemon, lamplight is best, here: put this quilt over your lap, my grandmother quilted it, here: this music is lung-smoke and reedy, tapped to life by a laptop kid in Siberia. Soothing-voiced, coaching me how to breathe. Okay, the jaw of the sea monster un-hinges, knew this was gonna happen, I'm down, all right, swallow me deeper.
By the pond, the sky wavers uneasily, like a really fat guy trying to move through a crowded mall. Hustle says, "Yep. It's coming up. And that means you are too." The trees have windows.
We moved to Doll Town when I was ten. I had no friends in the new place and I called my old friend from Other Town who we used to sneak into Rated R's together and cut up in class and I thought this on the phone thing is awkward and probably my life is brand new now. Maybe it will be happy. It wasn't. Just confusing and lonely and insomniac, and a storm of wanting to be. It really wasn't very interesting. But I remember standing in the street with an older girl outside her house and she had just "gotten it on" with a thug military cut guy and she held out her fingers and smiled and asked me, "Kid, do you wanna know what sex smells like?"
High school happened and all that shit.
And then out of Doll Town. Germany and school and almost married and then alone again. And then bad breaks and unsane living and back to living nowhere, soon to drop into the middle of the desert to lie on the sand and think sand thoughts.
But before that I was visiting Doll Town, a few nights in Borges's garage, and maybe trying to grab a free sandwich at Subway and get laid by way of the sandwich girl.
Hustle shows up Greyhounded from SF packing sixty beams of light.
For Hustle: Tea sips are your skies trailed through once. The morning stilled like a dream-jam. We peered through the branches and saw ourselves as infinite. At Oasis we spent our last money on tea and played chess. "I like how you speak," you told our visitor. "I like how you think," she replied. Everyone in on it. The motherly barista gave us bowls of her own soup.
For Tea Mother: I want you to eat my soup. Here, let me warm it for you and find you a bowl. I made it in my kitchen with vegetables and stock. I made it with my hands. Here is your soup. It has rutabagas and the tastes of coriander and pumpkin. Isn't it good? Is it warm enough? I made it in my kitchen while you were standing close by, approving of my hands, and my hums, my sighs.
"I have to tell you something," Hustle tells me. We walk past Doll Town High School, heads down, careful not to make eyes with passersby. "I have to tell you something, but we have to find somewhere to be alone." Eyes blue suede skittering around the thrush of his candy hair. I tell him, "We're alone. The street is empty. You're whispering. No one can hear you but me." School Street, Church Street, putt-putt course, Bed&Breakfast Lane, past the bear sentry, past where we used to live in demented loving poverty, down the hill, entering Doll Town Park, past the diamond and the hoops and the jungle gyms, dirt trail, the woods, alone but for the leaves on the trees. Hustle's face an inch from mine: "I have to tell you something. I was sitting on the beach, staring into immensity. People barely know how beautiful fire is...."
The leaves are listening. Hustle grabs my arm, yanks me along.
My last night in Doll Town there was a sale at Exxon on forty ounces of Miller High Life. I drank a couple with Borges in the kitchen talking about when the government puts microchips in our heads, and drank another in the November perfect chill on the front step waiting for Sandwich Girl to get off work. She came over and we sat on the step looking sideways at each other, trading starlight, talking about Doll Town shit and my impending trip to the desert. She had a boyfriend in Asheville. "It's serious I guess. He wants me to move in with him." "Do you want to move in with him?" "I have to get out of my parents' house somehow." We went into the garage and sat on the mattress I had spread blankets over. I was storing my shit in there and it surrounded me, my old clothes collecting mold. We didn't have any way to play music and the size of our breathing frightened me. She asked, "Are you afraid to go? Do you dread it?" She was soft and small in my hands. I said, "It will be good to sleep. I think I'll be able to sleep there." I dreamed I was in a black wet pit dragging chains with other chain-draggers fighting bloody for scraps of whatever;
curled up shivering;
a body crawls against mine from behind, presses its heat against me, wraps its arms around me, whispers into the back of my neck, "Friend."
Jeremy Rice received an MFA from Queen's University of Charlotte. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon.