Tuesday, December 15, 2009
He Felt Sick
“She’s with my mother.” Hazel took another deep pull on the cigarette and a long stuttering exhale. “It’s best.” I am trying to save up some money so that I can rent our own house. With a yard. Maybe a swing set. She is twenty four months old.”
“Oh, you have a kid?” In Hank’s mind that could have been a statement as well as a question. Hank really didn’t know what to say. He knew there were too many scenarios that could be a part of this story. He was not sure he even wanted to know. Clingy. That was what really went through his mind. He felt he was going to learn more. “And, the dad?” Raul came to mind.
“Lives in Miami, I think. Who knows? I don’t care and I really hope he never comes back into the picture. He wrote the book on flakey. I don’t know why I couldn’t see through him. I don’t know. That is the main story. I moved down here to be with him. He was supposed to have contacts here. We met in Memphis. I grew up most of my years near in Jackson. A couple of months after I found out that I was expecting, he told me he had to go to Miami for a few days. He needed to meet up with some guys on business. That was over two and a half years ago. He called a couple of times, but then stopped. I don’t even know if he is alive. Who the hell cares?” Hank handed her another beer and she turned it up. Hank like the way she drank straight from the bottle.
“What’s his name?”
“Robert. Actually Roberto, but he thought that sounded too foreign. His family was able to get out of Havana a few weeks before Fidel Castro and the rebels took over the government. They had owned a sugar cane plantation but now it is lost to the Castro government. A few relatives such as cousins, aunts and uncles still live there. They would like to come to The States but I don’t know any news since Robert left.” Her empty bottle clattered as it bounced in the bottom of the trash can. Hank opened two more. Both took heavy long drinks from the damp bottles.
“What the hell was he supposed to do while he was in Miami?”
“I don’t know. He talked quite a bit about this guy that he was dealing with. His name was like Billy Ray, over there. He had two names together. I can’t remember. Maybe Jimmy, John, James or something like that. Robert never said what he did, actually. He always had money. In the beginning he was nice enough to be around even though I never really understood his business. It is really strange how you can think you know someone yet, know so little about him.”
Enough, I guess. Billy thought but didn’t speak. I don’t guess I would tell the whole story to a stranger either.
“It must be close to nine o’clock. The band is warming up.”
The wooden floor did very little to dampen the sounds and vibrations that were coming from the bar underneath Hazel’s one room apartment. The drums were doing most of the damage. The electric guitar was accompanied by an acoustic stand up bass. A menagerie of other instruments rounded out the mostly un-electrified combo. Dixieland was still King in New Orleans. The Beatles had recently changed the mask of the American music scene but the southern gulf coast was still heavily influenced by its own ethnic music.
“At least they take long breaks, sometimes over an hour. That is when I get my best sleep.” Hazel snickered. She slapped her hand over her mouth to attempt to catch the forgotten previous swallow of beer. Hank chucked as he finished the last of his. He was tired of the serious talk. The beer was beginning to relax some of his tension. Billy Ray didn’t move a muscle.
Hazel sat up straight and dropped her feet to the floor. “Take the couch. I haven’t heard from Angelique in a day or so, but I don’t want to intrude into here space. I am not interested in any foolishness so I am giving you the benefit of a doubt. Ya’ll can clear out in the morning.” Hazel used her best act of strength. She was fairly sure of her assessment of Hand and Billy Ray but cautiousness was strength within itself.
The day’s events rolled around inside Hank’s head chasing the buzz. It seemed like an old black and white movie to him. He felt he was watching himself instead of being himself. He was ready to get back to Sattersville. The couch was actually comfortable. The beer, the scent of cinnamon candles and the consistent rhythm of the band pushed him into a deep cavern of sleep.
Billy Ray squeeled out bursts, gasping to get his breath. He was lying on his back but didn’t have the strength to get up. The drums from downstairs were deafening. He tried to roll to his side but it was as if he were glued to the floor. The lack of air made him feel faint. The room was awash in a red harsh glow from the neon signs outside. A blue hue would alternate the red accompanied by a soft buzzing sound. Gasping, he reached for his throat. He was sure that something had twined itself around his neck and was cutting off his wind. A steady, consistent cadence was pounding in his head. A figure was crouched over him like a panther. It was swaying from side to side while remaining on its all fours, keeping time to the drums. Its mane was laced into long skinny strings that reminded Billy Ray of the rope quirts that his granddaddy made to train the plow horses. Every now and then he could feel a sting as a beaded end whipped across his face. Its eyes were burning and had pupils of a cat. Elongated instead of round . Billy Ray could recognize the strong aroma of garlic but was unable to understand the gibberish being spewed from its mouth. He could feel the warmth of candles that had been placed on the floor around him. Nothing of this sort was in his memory. He felt sick.