18 (rough draft)
With October exiting the school, Casey came alongside. They shared a quick kiss as they walked hand-in-hand. “Long day,” October moaned.
“Came to school, got through the day. I just saw her.”
“Sounds like she’s getting into drinking, just not telling you.”
“Of course not. A teenager drinking herself sick. That’s unheard of.”
October gave Casey a sideward glance. “Sarcasm doesn’t become you. You’re not good at it. Leave it to Apple.”
“Just how do you know she wasn’t drinking?”
“She doesn’t now, nor will she ever drink. If you don’t buy that, her vomit didn’t stink of liquor when I was on my hands and knees scrubbing her rug.”
“No biggie. You may walk me home, but you can’t hang. Mom and I have to do something, something important.”
He took his hand back, adjusting his backpack. “Sure, okay.”
“Don’t want my hand now?”
Stopping short, he looked to the concrete. “I just remembered, I should get home. I got a mess of homework dumped on me that I really need to get on top of.”
“Okay,” she agreed reluctantly. “A kiss?”
With a quickly delivered kiss, Casey moved off at a slow jog.
“Short honeymoon,” October said aloud. She would rather sit with Casey in the park or on her sofa, making eyes at him, holding his hand, listening to him tell stories of his life or from books he’s read than wade in the pool of issues between her and her mother.
“Or scrub vomit from a rug.”
October waited, watching until she lost sight of Casey. “My doing for mine is the scar on my face.”
Casey wondered what October was really up to. “Important stuff with her mother?” They lived together, could spend time doing important stuff anytime they wanted without cutting into his time. He started the day angry with October, robbed of the few minutes with her by Amaretto calling her away to attend Candice, who turned out not to be sick at all.
Casey shoved a random smaller child in the back, delivering him to the sidewalk. “Don’t call me Frankenstein!” he yelled, running off.
Amaretto dodged cars, hurrying across the street, going to her knees beside the crying child, narrowing her eyes to the distance. “That was weird.” With a handful of arm, she righted the child. “You look okay. Are you okay?” The only damage visible was a scrape on his forehead.
He sucked hard on the air, looking through tear-coated eyes. “You are beautiful!”
“Everything is beautiful when you’re looking through a tear.” She worked her black handkerchief on his face. And, nothing is as it seems when you’re looking through a tear.
“My name is Apple, what’s yours?” Amaretto said, lifting the child, a good head shorter than her, to his feet.
With a couple more runs of the handkerchief and a couple more deep sniffs, the child seemed back to average-child-mode. “Apple is a silly name!”
Amaretto giggled down at him. “Yes, it is. But, Apples are sweet, just like me.”
He put a hand over his mouth, both stooping to gather books. “You need a book bag, like mine.” Standing, Amaretto showed off her dark Hello Kitty bag.
“If I got a bag like that, kids would really beat me up all the time!”
With a scrunch of the face and a knuckle down his cheek, she asked, “Do kids beat you up all the time?”
“Nah. They don’t like my red hair.”
She put a finger to her lips. “I’ll tell you a secret. My hair is red, redder than yours.”
“Real-ly,” he answered with wide eyes.
“I’d prove it to you, but I’d have to show you a place you should not be looking at, at your age.”
Again, the hand covered his mouth, a giggle dancing in the air, his face going a wonderful crimsoned. “How come it’s black?”
“Since I was a baby, my mom wanted me to look like her.”
“I don’t believe you. Show me.”
“Oh-my-fucking-god! How old are you?”
“I’m almost eleven! Can’t knock a kid for trying.”
“No, I can’t. Almost well-played, young man.”
He held a hand forward. “Mason Lauferty, and no, I won’t replace your sidewalk.”
“You’re a brat.” She took the hand. “Apple Stayman.”
“You’re repeating yourself.”
“Fuck! You are a brat!”
“Mom says I’m precocious, but I’m too young to know what that means.”
Amaretto leaned back with narrow eyes. “This is prepared material, isn’t it?”
He shrugged. “Pretty much.”
She nodded, eyes wide. “You okay now?”
He pointed to the scrap on his forehead. “I have a booboo. Mom always kisses my booboos to make them better.”
Shaking her head, Amaretto took his cheeks and planted her lips on his forehead. “Very well played, Mason. You earned that one.”
“Not going to prove your hair color?”
“I feel a little dizzy from that smack on the sidewalk. You’d better walk me home. It’s not far.”
Amaretto giggled. “Sure, Mason.”
“I’m still a little scared. You’d better hold my hand.”
With a laugh, she took his hand.
Twenty yards later, Mason said, “This is it. Nice house, huh? How about Saturday afternoon. You come over, play video games or something.”
“I know it’s not just me. There’s something going on here. We can sneak up to my room, you can prove you have red hair.”
“No, Mason, not going to happen.”
“We can go anywhere you want.”
“Mason, no, we are not going out!”
“It’s the red hair, isn’t it? You’re one of those self-hating bigots my dad is always rambling on about.”
“My sister says my superpower is that I have no fear of embarrassing myself.”
“That, Mason, is the red hair.”
With Amaretto about fifteen feet down the sidewalk, Mason called out, “If she turns around one last time, I know I have a chance.”
Amaretto shook her head, not glancing back. “Sweet kid,” she said to herself. “I’m not sure you’ll still like me after I fuck your sister up.”
Amaretto went dark in the drug community, given recent events. She avoided the parking lot, staking out an out-of-the-way place in the park, far from where the other kids hung, sitting cross-legged under a weeping willow on a rise. Kids from school, and others, would come and go, many visitors with vague questions about who, or maybe what she was, given her appearance.
Amused by what she learned Casey’s father said of October, with a wink, a nod and finger to her lips, she’d whisper, “I’m a witch,” insisting on secrecy. She felt like the Buddha, people coming to her little rise to get answers to questions Amaretto could not possibly answer. She stayed safe with vague and general.
“Is my boyfriend cheating on me?”
“Men are of the flesh, women are of the spirit,” she’d answer, drawing on a wealth of information from her reading of mythology.
The question of pot would come up. “Aren’t you the girl that had the pot in the parking lot?”
“Mistake me not for a person that sells pot. For a simple donation to safeguard the earth, I provide not pot, but an experience. One joint, suggested donation of only $5.00.”
Rare, but not unheard of, a kid would offer more than the suggested donation, to help save the planet.
More often, she’d get, “That’s way high.”
“The donation is high because the pot is worth it. I provide only AppleBright marijuana, grown for only me. The experience is so grand, I simply had to share it with others. If you would rather settle for the cheap high of RatWeed, I do not care. AppleBright or RatWeed. The choice is yours, but keep in mind. I do not sell pot. For a donation, I provide an experience you cannot get anywhere else.”
It’s all about the marketing.
Amaretto estimated with little effort she could move two ounces a week broken down to individual joints, which was plenty for her simple needs.
“Old Granddad 100 proof?” October asked, picking up the bottle by the neck, examining the label and content, about one-third of the .75 liter gone. “Rocket fuel?”
“Hi, Ockie,” Carol said from the kitchen table. “How’s Abby?”
“Good, she’ll live.” She narrowed her eyes. “Rocket fuel?”
“Sometimes, you know.”
“I really don’t.”
“You were good to call me, and the school.”
“Jumping out ahead of the nonsense, I call it. In a crisis, I list all the things that need to be done and in what order, then execute.”
“So much like your father.”
“Who is he?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Because he’s famous and notable.”
“No. That was a lie.”
“You implied that much at Abby’s.”
“You pretty much said everything you told me was a lie.”
“A story that’s not real.”
“Why in the world would you do that?”
“I didn’t want you walking away from me. It’s all I had to keep you at the table.”
“If I walk away from you, it’d never be for long. I’ve learned when I get mad, I can say stupid things. Better to walk away and come back later.” October rolled her eyes. “Sure, just like my father. Here’s a question you might answer. I’m going to wait for you to kill more of this bottle before getting back to Dad. When Casey went running out of here and you came after us, you pulled an October. Did you get that from me, or me from you?”
“Oh, that. It was a variation of what you did in the meeting at school.”
Again, the rolled eyes. “You got it from me?”
“So much like Dad, huh?”
“The polar opposite of your father.”
October filled a tumbler with ice, pouring bourbon.
“I don’t think you want to do that, Ockie,” her mother warned.
“You got that right. This is for you.” She sipped, scrunched her face and replaced the glass with her mother’s. “It’s all yours.”
“You father was an alcoholic,” October stated with certainty.
Carol’s initial shock washed away. “I bet you know what he drank, too.”
“I should have never shared my tricks with you. Is he still alive?”
“I hear both my parents are still alive, yes.”
“He could be. I learned early to say out of his way.”
“Are you an alcoholic?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Carol shrugged, weary of the struggle.
“How long have you been sober?”
“About fourteen years.”
“Are we going to have a problem now?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I won’t fight you. I’m just a kid. One sign of trouble, I’m shipping you off to rehab.”
“Just a kid.”
“That’s what I said. I learned enough from Apple and the people hanging out at her house, that I’m no match for an addict, and if you decide to be a drunk, all I can be is your puppet.”
“An addict only has one lover, and that’s not you.”
“Something your father said to me.”
October sat, taking her mother’s hand, seeing the moment she was waiting for. “How did you meet?”
“Dad threw me out of his house when I was eighteen. Imagine any dark reasons you wish, the details don’t matter. In hindsight, I guess I should have filed charges or put a bullet in his brain. Unlike you, I didn’t make friends easily and the few I did have, couldn’t help me. I got some romantic idea of fame and fortune, I guess. I was barely not a kid, you know.
“I hitchhiked to Atlantic City, figuring I could get a job as a dancer or something. The second ride worked me over pretty good. Again, details aren’t important. Bruised, penniless and a little bloody, I sat on the boardwalk with a cup of ice to my face. Just ten years before, I sat on the same bench watching the ocean, back before the world went terribly wrong.”
Carol shook her glass. October filled it. “More ice?”
“No,” Carol answered. “Here comes Lenny with his $2000 suit and million dollar smile. I didn’t know it at the time, but he trolled the boardwalk and casinos for me.”
“Women he could mold to his liking?”
“Oh, Ockie, I was so ready for any man to smile at me and tell me I was okay.”
“I can understand that.”
“Lenny introduced me to bourbon, fine clothes and good dining. It wasn’t like My Fair Lady. I had an education and knew what was expected of me. It’s not like I was in love with Lenny, but it’s not like I wasn’t in love with Lenny.”
“I can understand that, too. So, did he turn you out?”
“Make you a prostitute. I watch a cop show now and then.”
“If you call it something else, you’re not a prostitute?”
“I’m really glad to learn you don’t actually know everything. We played a con, which included me having sex with strangers, sometimes.”
October drew a deep breath. You did ask to hear this.
“The con was simple, with no imagination. We’d find a mark with money and take it. We looked for married guys from out of town. They were reluctant to come forward with a complaint. Sure, it was abuse but no more or less than the abuse I grew up with. We made pretty good money. I spent most of my time drunk.”
October deflated. “So, you don’t know who my father is?”
Half the bottle was gone.
“I was drunk, not stupid. I’ve known where babies come from since I was eight, and how to prevent babies from happening. You do know, don’t you?”
“One tablet held firmly between my knees. Yes, Mom, as Apple says: In the age of Google, ignorance is a choice. I know to stay away from the bees and not throw rocks at the birds.”
“I need to tell you something off-the-record.”
“No. I won’t be held responsible to have information I may or may not need to use. Drink up.”
Carol emptied the glass. “We did a guy pretty good. Since this isn’t off-the-record, I will not give you his name or where he was from. We did him pretty good.”
“We fucked him with a phone pole,” Carol said flatly.
“That’s pretty fucked.”
“It is. Two weeks later, Lenny has this newspaper. He’s laughing, pointing. The guy’s mug’s on the front page, below the fold. Because of what we did, he ate his gun. You know what that means, right?”
“Yes, Mom, I know that means he took his own life.”
“Messed up the curtains!”
“A couple weeks after that, I’m dead away in a drunk sleep. A pop wakes me up. I look up into this face. A guy in a trench coat and black hat has a gun in one hand, a pillow in the other. I choke on the stench of brimstone. The pillow moves toward my face, then stops. I watch his eyes, tortured eyes, a light brown, like yours.
“He puts the gun away, the pillow down. A voice like cold lemonade on a hot summer day says, It’s not personal. I’m doing a job. He crossed the wrong person.”
“What about me? I asked, in my drunken stupor, meaning what was I supposed to do. He misunderstood, saying, I cannot kill you. I wondered at the time what kind of code that was, but learned later that he could not kill me, the person I am.”
“What the fuck, Mom? His soul mate?”
“That’s what he said. He told me to take a shower, which I did. Naked, he put his trench coat around me and we left. I left that room with even less than I left my childhood home with, not even the proverbial shirt on my back. I was reborn.”
“He said he could not be with me. I said okay. He said I was to have his baby. I said okay. He said I was never to speak of him to anyone. I said okay. He said I was never to drink again. I said okay. I kind of expect him to kick the door in any second and put a bullet in the center of my forehead.”
October watched the front door.
“He said that for my entire life, I shall want for nothing, other than maybe his company and companionship. Someday, Ockie, he may come home. I don’t know what has to happen for that to happen, but it could happen.”
October sat back, watching her mother, Carol’s head falling onto folded arms. “Fucking wow, Mom. Fucking wow. You’re my new fucking hero. Fucking wow,” she whispered.
October was quick enough to get behind her mother, holding her mother’s hair back as Carol emptied the contents of her stomach onto the kitchen table. “I love you, Mom. Thanks.”
Carol erupted twice more.
October understood why her mother’s lovers didn’t last long, yet she passionately engaged. Carol held and lost her soul mate. “There can be no other,” October said, cleaning the kitchen table into the sink. She was thankful the door didn’t burst open, a tall, dark man shooting them both. With the bucket of hot, soapy water on the table and an odd feeling of synchronicity, October put her phone on her shoulder. “Hey, Apple.”
“Hey. What’s up?”
“Mom’s a fucking superhero.”
“Oh, do tell?”
“Not over the phone. What are you doing?”
“Bestowing wisdom upon the unclean masses.”
“Not over the phone.”
“Abby,” October said.
“What do you think?”
“Allergic reaction, poisoning, something like that. How about gluten?”
“How about gluten?”
“Eh, well, what are the symptoms?”
“Tin fold hat.”
“Ockie, before checking for a supernatural boogieman under Abby’s bed, check the parent’s bedroom for a flesh and blood asshole.”
“I trolled Howell pretty hard and didn’t get a glance.”
“You’re a type, Ockie, not an every-guy-wants-to-fuck girl like Abby was born and I put on.”
“Troll him for me?”
“How far? You want me to fuck him?”
“I’m kidding you. I wouldn’t fuck Howell with Nard’s dick.”
“Troll him, give me impression as to how immoral you think he is. I don’t know what’s happening to Abby at night, but it’s not the flu.”
“Nothing does my self esteem better than to have some old fuck’s slobber dripping on my face.”
“That’s what I was trying to tell Case.”
“You want him to slobber on you?”
“No! He tried being sarcastic. I told him to leave sarcasm to you. He just can’t pull it off.”
“I saw your boy, Case, shove a little kid to the ground today.”
October bit her lip. “Soon after school?”
“I think I know what happened. I’ll handle it. Is the kid okay?”
“Now, Ockie, how in the world do you know I got involved? Yes, he got a scrape on this forehead. I kissed it and made it all better.”
“Our old school.”
“So you have two boyfriends, now. One gets paid to babysit, the other you get paid.”
“Two stalkers, maybe.”
“I need a favor.”
“Solids, I got them.”
“Google up some area rehabs.”
“Poison of choice?”
“Alcohol.” “Good. I thought you were planning on an intervention for me.”