Geri walks into Charlayne’s.
Must have been. I don’t know. Around midnight. Sits at the counter.
This was when we were still open till two. Charlie thought if we stayed
open late we might get a few truckers. Midnight travelers. You know.
Seeing as we were out by the interstate and everything. What we finally
got was two guys with Glock 9s. Locked us all in the walk-in refrigerator.
Customers too. So that was that. Shut at ten ever since. But this night
we’re still open. Just me doing the cooking and the counter. Lucy
on the tables and register. Though she’d take the counter too,
when I was in the kitchen.
So me and Lucy are talking when Geri walks in. She takes a seat just a little down from us. Wants some coffee. I hand her a menu, but I don’t really look at her until I’m pouring the coffee into her cup. And. Well. There’s no other way to say it. She looks a little slutty. You know? Too much make-up, mainly. Eye shadow. And she’s plucked her eyebrows out almost entirely. Just these two little pencil lines of fuzz. I never understand why some girls do that. Makes them look like washed-up boxers to me. All swollen and everything.
The other thing I notice is how, when I’m pouring the coffee, her eyes almost come up to mine, but then they stop. Like they bumped off of something. Then she just looks. I don’t know. Over my shoulder. It’s the same when I take her order. I can see she’s looking at me. My face even. But she never meets my eye. Kind of creeps me out at first. I get this. Like feeling that she actually knows me, but she’s pretending she doesn’t. Hoping I won’t recognize her and shit.
She wants a sloppy joe. So the whole time I’m in the kitchen, I’m watching her through the hot window. I guess it’s because at first I’m thinking she really is a prostitute. Even though she doesn’t dress like one. Just this black. Sort of like priest’s shirt. High collared, I mean. But the longer I look, the more I’m thinking she’s just this girl traveling alone. Driving for hours probably. And sick of her own company. Just stopped in for a little bit of. I don’t know. Distraction. Then, that’s it. Back on the road. Maybe all night.
She’s one of those types holds her coffee cup in the air the whole time she’s drinking from it. You know: With both hands. Elbows on the table. Thoughtful.
She doesn’t put it down until I slide the sloppy joe in front of her.
Thanks, she says.
I see her cup is empty, so I come back with the coffee pot and fill it up.
Thanks, she says again. And this time, for just the tiniest fraction of a second, her eyes sort of meet mine. And I give her this smile. You know: Casual. Like this is just how I treat everybody. Which it is, actually. But she’s already looked away and I don’t think she’s even noticed.
So there I am. Back in the kitchen, watching her through the hot window again. And I have to tell you, there’s nothing like a little dribble of tomato sauce on a girl’s chin to make you realize how beautiful she is. First she’s just eating away. Oblivious. Then. You know. She feels it. A little bit of tongue pokes out to give it a lick. Then finally she has to pick up her napkin off her knee and dab it all around her lips.
And I kid you not. From that moment on, I am in love with her. Hooked. Some girls just do that to me. I don’t exactly know why that is.
She isn’t all that beautiful or anything. A little long and bony for my tastes. Skinny wrists. No tits to speak of. But her hair is the color of saddle leather. You know: That warm kind of brown. And deep. You can look into it. And her eyes are hazel, almost golden. She’s twenty, I guess. Or twenty-one. I’m turning thirty in a month. Which is depressing.
I don’t get to speak to her again until I hand her her check. Where you headed? I say.
She’s got this sort of distracted look on her face. Then she’s like, I don’t know. Cleveland, I guess.
Cleveland! I say. You gonna drive all night?
We’ll probably leave in the morning.
I don’t ask. But after a second she tells me: I’m traveling with some other people. Sort of.
Oh, I say.
This sort of seems like a nice town, she says.
I guess. As long as you weren’t born here.
Were you born here?
This is the one and only time she actually looks me in the eye. You know: Normal. Like a friend would. And then she looks away again. And she never looks at me once after that.
No. But I’ve lived here since I was a baby.
It’s pretty. I like all the old lofts.
Factories. All those old factories.
Oh, we used to get into all kinds of trouble up there. When I was in high school. Believe me, you don’t want to know all the trouble we got into there.
I don’t know why I say that. Cause the truth is we didn’t really do anything up there in those factories. Get high. Drunk. Mostly we just talked about all the things we could do. It was. You know. Just the idea of all the things. Nothing ever actually happened. Well, a bunch of dudes in the grade above me did take a retarded girl up there. But all I ever heard about that were stories. I’m not sure any of it was true.
I’ll bet, she says.
Then she goes to pay her bill. I see her standing at the register, holding this little purse and counting out nickels and dimes. Like an old lady at the supermarket.
She’s back at the counter the next day. Around six in the evening. That’s like our busiest time and everything, so I can’t
pay her much attention. But I do notice she looks tired. Also angry.
And her hair is a mess. She orders a sloppy joe.
A little later I hear Mary. The day waitress. She’s like, Don’t try to pull that crap on me! I wasn’t
So I see it’s Geri she’s talking to. And Geri’s
face is. Like somewhere between irritated and just. You know: What-the-fuck-am-I-gonna-do?
So I’m over there and I’m, What’s
going on here?
And Mary’s like all high up on her horse: She don’t
want to pay!
And Geri’s like, I said I would wash dishes.
What do you think this is? Mary says. The Depression?
What’s the matter? I say to Geri. Don’t
you have any money?
Her mouth just opens and closes a couple of times. But no sound comes out. Like she’s
suddenly lost the power of speech.
Don’t worry about it, I say to Mary. She’s a friend of mine. Whatever she eats, it’s
Mary gives me. Like this look.
Geri doesn’t say anything.
I go over to the coffee pot and refill her cup.
Whatever you want, I say. I mean it.
That’s okay, she says.
You should have a dessert. The apple rhubarb pie.
Or a soup. The split pea is good.
I put a slice of the pie down in front of her.
Thanks, she says. She gives me like this almost-smile.
Anything you want, I say. Just let me know.
This is fine.
Okay. But if you change your mind.
An hour later she’s still there. Things have slowed down, so I have a bit of time to talk to her. Only. The thing is. Not only is her hair a mess. I mean greasy on one side. Stringy. Like she got something in it. Not only that, but she doesn’t smell too good. You know how girls get this anxious smell? But it’s something more than that. Something. I don’t know. Like a garage.
Thanks, she says.
Don’t worry about it, I say.
She looks down at her empty coffee cup.
Want some more? I say.
I’ve had enough already. Too much.
She’s still looking at her cup. She picks it up and puts it back down on the saucer.
You okay? I say.
She shrugs. Sure. Fine.
I thought you were going to Cleveland.
Yeah. Well. She shrugs again. That didn’t happen, I guess.
What? Your friends leave without you?
More or less.
Friends or friend?
Well. Sort of both.
For some reason I don’t want to ask the obvious question. So after a while she says, It’s a long story.
All right, I say. Maybe later.
She squints at me for a bit. You know: Like she’s trying to size me up. Then she makes this little smile. Sure, she says.
Mary’s shouting through the hot window, Your girlfriend’s waiting for you!
Your girlfriend! She wants to talk to you.
Mary makes this sideways jerk with her chin, and I see Geri standing down at the end of the counter. Right where the kitchen door is.
So like a few seconds later I’m standing down there too, wiping my hands on my apron.
Well, she says.
And I’m like, You heading out?
She nods a couple of times. Slowly. Like she’s trying to make this big decision. Then finally she’s just, Yep.
You gonna be all right?
Sure, she says. Fine.
You got any money?
She makes a sort of laugh, but doesn’t say anything.
I can’t believe those friends of yours just dumped you like that. No money, I mean.
She takes this string of hair that was dangling straight down in front of one eye. Pulls it across her forehead and tucks it behind her ear.
It was more complicated than that, she says. No expression on her face.
But the thing is, you got no money?
And she’s still in like this. This no-expression thing. Like somebody turned her off. Except one hand is still fiddling with that string of hair. Up next to her ear.
Here, I say. I take out my wallet. Pull out a twenty. And I’m like holding it in the air. Here. Take it.
For a long time she just looks at that twenty. Then she’s looking me in the eyes. With those golden eyes of hers. Still no expression really. Like a cat’s eyes. And she’s, You don’t have to do that.
And there’s something about the way she says have that makes me feel. I don’t know. Stupid. And I think I should just put that twenty back in my wallet. But I can’t. You know? Too late.
So she takes that twenty out of my fingers. And she’s like, Thanks. Sticks it in the pocket of her jeans.
Then I’m all kind of. I don’t know. All Laurel-and-Hardy for a minute. Then I’m, So what’re you gonna do?
That no-expression thing of hers gets worse. That’s all that happens.
You got a place to stay? I say. Where’d you sleep last night?
She looks up toward the ceiling. And I can tell she’s like. She’s sort of seeing something inside her own mind. Then she smiles.
Didn’t get much sleep last night. I. You know. Started out in one of those lofts. Figured there must be someplace up there. Kind of, nobody can find me and everything. But then I just kept thinking about what you said. Dudes coming up there. Trouble. Kind of made it hard to sleep. Plus that place is fucking filthy.
She lifts up that string of hair again. Like she’s disgusted by it herself.
So mainly I walked, she says. Saw the sun rise. Spent the whole day walking. I walked down every single street in this town. And all out in the country. Just walked and walked.
Shit, I say.
It was. You know. But she doesn’t say anything after that.
You can’t just walk all night long, I say. You got to. Well. Listen, you want me to talk to Lucy? Mary’s this. Like sort of a bitch. But Lucy’s real nice. And her kids are all grown up and everything. I bet she—
That’s all right.
So what’re you gonna do?
That’s when she turns her cat’s eyes on me. Gives me this sort of shit-eater smile. Then she’s, What time do you get off?
And I’m, Uh. Uh. Then finally I get it out. Two.
All right, she says. See ya.
Then that smile of hers gets a little tighter. And a little twisted up on one side. And she’s still looking at me with her golden eyes.
Then she’s gone.
So I’m. You know. Like way out of my league! I mean, I’ve had girlfriends and everything. And. Well, girlfriends. But the thing is, I’ve never been. Like you just meet some girl at a bar and then you just go home with her. You know? Like the player type. For me. I’ve got to get to know the girl. Like her, I mean. For example, I’ve never slept with a girl I didn’t already know for a long time. All of my girlfriends started out as my friends. I don’t know why that is. It’s just the way I am, I guess. The other thing is: my job. I mean, you work six nights a week until two, it’s not exactly easy to meet girls. So for me, it’s been. Well. What you might call this long dry period. Like nothing! You know? Zip! Nada! But the main thing is. I mean: Who the fuck is this girl? Right? I don’t know one single thing about her. Not even her name yet. So: Am I fucking crazy? You know what I mean? I mean this girl is like obvious trouble. But even so. I still can’t help thinking about her all huddled up on the floor of one of those factories. With the wind blowing. Dripping water. Doors creaking. All that horror movie shit. Also, there’s rats up there. Seriously! Big ones. I’ve seen them. And the poor girl’s just fucking terrified because I acted like all this stupid stuff happened that never happened. Got her mind going and everything. But the worst thing is. I mean Christ! You know? I’m standing there over that grill, pushing around the hash browns. Bacon. And this girl’s just getting more beautiful by the second. Like in my mind she’s got. Like this angel face. And it’s like I can even see her lips move. And hear her words. So finally I’m just like this basket case. Fucking burn one side of an omelet black. And Charlie’s looking at me like, What the fuck? You know? What the fuck?
Anyhow, it’s two o’clock. Lucy locks up the door. Turns off the sign out by the road. And I’m thinking, Of course! You know? Of course! What else did you expect? And mostly I’m. Like relieved. All that dumb-ass shit. All that stupid stuff.
I have to clean the grill. Mop up. Take out the garbage. Lucy’s got to count the cash. Lock the register drawer in the safe downstairs. That’s like twenty minutes all told.
So then we’re standing next to our cars. And it’s like, So long. See ya tomorrow. See ya. And I’m following Lucy’s taillights around the side of the building. And soon as we get around to. Like the normal parking lot. Customers’ parking lot. I see this skinny girl standing there in the glow of the Citgo sign. Like she’s this post somebody hammered into the middle of the parking lot. Lucy didn’t even see her, I think.
So, I like slow down my car. Open my window. Stop. And she walks over to me. And she’s like, Hey.
And I’m like, Hey.
So then. You know. There isn’t really anything else to do. So I just lean over. Open the door on the passenger side. She walks around the car. Gets in.
We’re driving along for a bit. And finally I ask her name. She tells me. Then I ask what’s her last name.
You’re kidding me? I say.
Nope, she says.
My father had a sense of humor.
Was he a Jerry Lewis fan?
Man, I say. And then, because I don’t know what else to say, I say it again, Man.
For a long time, she says, I used to try to get everybody to call me Geraldine. But then I sort of gave up.
Do you want me to call you Geraldine?
So then. You know. I’m just driving for a bit. I look over at her. But she’s not looking at me. Just out the windshield. Her lips all thin and straight. Like there’s something she just really doesn’t understand.
Finally I ask her about her story. She just looks at me.
You know, I say. How you got dumped here.
You said it was a long story.
Yeah. Well. But then she doesn’t say anything.
You don’t have to, I say.
It’s all right, she says. And then she says, I was just. You know. Traveling with this group. Sort of like on tour.
You mean like a band?
Like what band?
And I’m like, Whoa! Cause I have one of their CDs and everything. Somebody gave it to me. Although. The truth is that kind of music mainly bores me for some reason. Still, I knew they were playing at the Odeon the night before. They were opening for. Like some other band. I might even have gone if I hadn’t had to work. Maybe.
You know John-John? she says. The bassist?
And I’m like, Yeah. Even though I never actually heard of him.
His real name is Mike. And I’d been. Sort of like going out with him for a while. In New York and everything. And then. Well. The band’s sort of going on tour. This big national tour. And Mike’s like, You want to come along with us? It’ll be cool. And I’m like, Sure. Why not? What else am I going to do? You know? It’ll be cool.
She opens her bag and pulls out a box of cigarettes and a lighter. Do you mind? she says.
And I’m like, No. Go ahead.
So she lights up, takes a big drag, blows out the smoke and doesn’t say anything.
So it wasn’t so cool? I say.
They’re all a bunch of assholes.
John-John too? Mike?
He’s the biggest asshole of all.
So? I say. What happened?
Use your imagination.
Then she doesn’t say anything for a while. Then she says, I mean this is not some rock star tour or anything. There’s just these four guys and me. Nobody’s got any money. We’re all crammed up together 24/7. Sometimes we have to sleep in the van with the equipment. Or we’re in. Like this one motel room with only two beds. Everybody’s drunk all the time. Coked-up.
She stops talking.
Huh, I say. And then, when she doesn’t say anything else, I say, So what happened?
I don’t want to talk about it.
Okay, I say.
She takes another big drag on her cigarette. They could have at least left me my stuff! she says. You know? They fucking dump me by the side of the highway and they drive off with all of my stuff. I don’t even have my wallet. No ID. Nothing.
They took your wallet?
Fucking Patrick. He’s like, Damages! I’m keeping this for fucking damages!
Fuck, I say.
My stuff’s probably halfway to fucking State College, Illinois.
Pennsylvania, I say.
I think State College is in Pennsylvania.
No. Illinois. We were definitely going to Illinois. State College, Illinois.
What about Cleveland? I say.
I mean Cleveland.
I don’t say anything because we’ve just turned into my driveway.
First thing is she takes a shower. Her clothes are. Well. Pretty much disgusting. So I tell her she can borrow some of mine. She can wash hers in the sink and they’ll probably be dry by morning.
Anyhow. She’s in the bathroom. And I finally find some things I think might fit her. Some old basketball shorts. A T-shirt. She’s actually a little taller than me. But she’s real skinny. I’m not.
So she’s just turned the shower on when I knock. I’m thinking I’ll just tell her the stuff’s in a pile outside the door there for her. She can get it when she wants. But the door just pops open. And I can see. Like half a tit. A whole leg. A shoulder. And her eye.
And I’m like, Sorry. And. You know. Holding the clothes out in front of me. My eyes down. Not. Well. Thinking I should look at her.
Thanks, she says. Grabs the clothes and closes the door.
Half hour later I’m sitting at the kitchen table, taking a last toke on a roach, sipping on a beer. That’s what I do every night after work. So I can sleep and everything.
Hey, she says. Poking her head through the door. She’s holding her wet clothes in one hand and the waist of my basketball shorts with the other. There are these tiny dark spots all over my T-shirt where the drops of water on her skin soaked through.
Feeling better? I say.
Oh, man! she says. Then she says, What should I do with these? Her wet clothes, she means.
Over there. I’ve set up one of those folding laundry racks for her. In front of the door to the back steps.
Thanks, she says.
If you want, I say, you can use one of those clothespins. You know: I hold out the waist of my own pants and clip the material between two fingers.
Hold your pants up, I say.
Good idea, she says.
Want one? I hold up my empty beer bottle.
So while she hangs up her clothes, I pull two bottles of beer out of the refrigerator. My last two. And I roll another joint.
It’s strange to see a girl’s clothes hanging in my kitchen. Little shriveled up panties. Bra. I haven’t seen that in such a long time.
It’s been. You know. Kind of a weird night so far. But maybe not so bad, I’m thinking. Maybe not so bad.
Where’d that piece of shit come from? she says, sitting down at the table. She’s pointing at my P. Shift CD.
I was just looking at it, I say. Which one’s Mike?
She points to the bald one. Then she points to the one with the curly blond hair.
That’s Patrick, she says. He’s such a bitch. They all hate his guts.
You know, she says. I’m sorry, but I really can’t stand looking at this.
Throw it in the garbage, I say.
So then. You know: It’s life story time. She tells me she grew up in this suburb of Philadelphia. Her dad’s a pediatrician. Her mom’s a college professor. She runs away from home when she’s sixteen.
How come? I say.
Stuff, she says. And I had a friend in New York.
Somehow she manages to get into NYU. And her dad’s paying for it and everything. But she drops out after the first semester.
Cause by then, she says, I’m hanging out in the music scene. And. I mean, I’m not even getting up until four in the afternoon. Which isn’t exactly compatible with an academic schedule. Plus the stuff I’m doing is just way more interesting than. I don’t know. Shakespeare.
Then she gets this look on her face. Like she just sort of remembered something. Then she says, But I’ll go back. This is just. You know: Eat, drink, and be merry. Seize the day. That kind of thing. Kind of like a vacation.
So she tells me she’s hanging out with all these. Like models and movie stars. Artists. Like she met Paris Hilton once. And Liv Tyler’s her best friend and everything. And she’s always going to. I don’t know. These secret parties. At clubs. And that’s where she meets Patrick and Mike.
But after that she doesn’t want to talk anymore.
So. Of course. By comparison to that, my life’s like the most boring story in the world. Just stayed in one place and all. Probably die here too. Except, I guess, I’m an orphan. My dad committed slow suicide by Jack Daniels. All through my teenage years. As for my mom. Well. You know: pancreatic cancer. Last year. She finds out she’s got it. Then boom: She’s dead. Took a month.
So when I finish telling Geri this she’s just looking at me.
What? I say. I’ve seen her looking at me that way every now and then the whole time we’re talking. Just these sort of. You know. Heavy eyes.
Nothing, she says.
What? I say.
Just. But then she gets this sort of. Like angry mouth. Nothing, she says.
It’s not nothing, I say.
Forget about it, she says.
All right, I say.
She doesn’t say anything.
So I get up and throw our empty bottles in the garbage. The weed bag’s still on the table. But I’ve had about as much of that as. Well. You know. It’s pretty strong.
Want some more? I say.
She still doesn’t say anything. Just those heavy eyes. Her whole face is heavy. Waiting.
Of course I know what she’s waiting for. I’ve known it all night. It’s just that. I don’t know. The time didn’t seem right before. No. That’s not it. The truth is I was afraid. I’m still afraid. But I figure that if I just do it, I won’t be afraid anymore. So I bend over and kiss her.
My lips are on her lips. But it’s like she’s just letting me. I put my hand on her shirt and I can feel. Like her hard little nipple. This little peanut. I kiss her again. But it’s just the same. It’s like I’m kissing a dead mouth.
What’s the matter? I say.
Nothing, she says.
Then why. I just stop there. I can’t ask the question.
You shouldn’t talk about it, she says.
Talk about what?
Forget it! she says. Just forget it! Guys like you give me a headache!
I pull my chair around and I sit down in front of her.
Look, I say. I don’t know what you’re talking about. All I know is that I just kissed you and it was like I was kissing a dead girl in a box.
I feel bad as soon as I say that.
Man! she says. That’s just what I’m talking about! What kind of thing is that to say? You see what I mean? Guys like you are fucking crazy!
She crosses her arms and turns sideways in her chair.
Just forget about it! she says.
Neither of us says anything for a long time. Then all of a sudden I have this feeling like I’m figuring something out.
I know you think I’m a hick, I say. But I been around enough to know when a girl wants me to. You know. Kiss her. And one thing I know is that you didn’t want me to kiss you.
She doesn’t say anything to that. Just looks off toward the wall.
But there’s something else I know. And that’s that I didn’t bring you here to. I mean. Well, take advantage of you. I know that’s what you think. But that’s not what it is.
I’m not exactly telling the truth. So I decide to stop talking. I meant what I said. I meant every word. It just wasn’t exactly it how it happened.
Now she’s looking at me. And it seems like she’s trying to figure out what to say and she hasn’t decided yet.
After a while I’m like, I’m not saying you’re not. I mean. Very pretty and all. And that I’m not. Well, you know. I want to be honest about that. But I’m talking about before. I mean, back there. Then it was only that I knew you had. Well. No place to go.
So then this terrible thing happens. Because I can see that what I said had this. Like powerful effect on Geri. She just sort of relaxes all over. And she’s like this close to a normal smile. But the thing is. As soon as I see all that, I’m. Like looking into those big hazel eyes of hers. And I can see how her lips. They’re small. Thin. But. Like puffy. These two little pink rolls. And my knee is right between her knees. And I can see the places where her nipples are. Like rubbing up and down on the inside of her shirt as she breathes. And I’m just like, Oh, MAN! You know? It’s like I can’t even stand it! It’s like I’ve never been so attracted to a girl in my whole life! But I’ve just made it. Well. Impossible. I mean fucking impossible for me to do anything!
But she never really does get around to that smile. She’s just like. After this very long silence. She’s, Thank you. That’s very nice. It’s just most guys. You know. Most guys aren’t really like that.
I know, I say.
So she stands up. She’s looking all tired and everything. Stretches her arms over her head. And it lifts up her shirt a little. So I can see that clothespin sticking out from her waistband. And this little strip of. You know. Belly. And she makes this. Like grunty yawn.
So where do you want me to sleep? she says.
Then it’s like the middle of the night. She’s asleep in my bed and I’m on the couch. I don’t know why I did that. Sir Galahad, I guess.
Before we went to bed we talked about what she was going to do. Don’t you want to call up somebody? I said. Your parents, maybe? Mike?
And she’s like, Nah. I can’t deal with that.
And I’m like, Maybe in the morning.
But she didn’t say anything to that.
So all right, I’m thinking. So what else is she gonna do? Basically she’s got no choice. Right? No money equals no choice. So in the morning she’ll call someone. Whoever. Then on my way to work, I’ll stop at the bus depot. Buy her a one-way ticket. And that’s. You know. The end of the story. She can pay me back when she gets to where she’s going.
So I’m thinking, She didn’t get any sleep the night before. And it’s only gonna be one night. So fuck it. She can sleep in my bed.
So that’s what I mean: Sir Galahad.
Only I’m lying there for. Like two solid hours. And not only am I not asleep, I am So… Fucking… Awake. Awakeness is just like this electricity going all through me. Like if you shoot me I won’t fall down. That’s how awake I am.
And I guess I don’t have to tell you why.
I mean: Duh.
So finally. After two hours, I’m starting to get really crazy. I’m thinking it’s almost gonna be dawn. And if I don’t get to sleep before dawn, I don’t get to sleep at all. That’s. Like an occupational hazard for me. Working so late, and all. Cause, I guess I’m like ultra sensitive to light. And when I don’t get my sleep, it can take me. Oh, man! Like days to recover.
So I get up and I’m thinking, This is just so I can get to sleep. That’s all it is. Whatever happens. Just so I can sleep.
So I knock on my bedroom door. And then I open it.
And she’s like, Hunh?
And I’m like, Sorry. I just. You know.
And she’s, Wha?
And I’m, Uh. Well. Can I. You know.
And she’s, Fuck!
Sorry, I say. We don’t. You don’t.
Fucking shit, she says.
And then. You know. She just flings back the covers. And she’s. I can see in the streetlight. She’s just. I mean. Lying there. And. Well. With nothing on.
Like the whole time we’re doing it, she might as well. Just. You know: be asleep. Nothing. Just lying there. Letting me.
So, afterward. I’m like, kind of creeped out by what just happened. And we’re just both looking up at the ceiling. Covers all over the floor. Just sort of not saying anything. Sort of just leaking into the mattress.
So finally. After a long time, I work up my courage. And I’m like, Was that. You know. Okay?
And she doesn’t say anything at first. But then she’s, Sure.
And I’m, Really?
And she’s, It was fine.
But I don’t believe her.
But at the same time, I really want to believe her. And all I can think of is I want to ask her, Did any of it feel good for you? Did you. You know. Just get some tiny little bit of pleasure? Because, if she did. Just a tiny bit. That would make it all different. Then I won’t have to think. Or. I mean, feel. Like shit. You know? Like this fucking piece of shit. But how am I going to ask that question? I mean, isn’t that just the sort of question I couldn’t ever ask?
So for a long time I’m just. Like silent. And after a while, the silence starts getting harder and harder. Like it’s becoming like this thing that is so hard, neither of us are going to be able to break it.
Then, all of a sudden, she sits up and she’s like, Don’t worry about it. I owed it to you. It doesn’t matter.
And I’m like, You owed it to me! I’m sitting up too, now.
And then she doesn’t say anything.
So I tell her: You didn’t owe me anything. Isn’t that what I was just telling you before? That’s not why I brought you here. Is that what you believe? Cause it isn’t true.
She swings around and gets up out of the bed. Goes over to the chair in the corner and starts picking things up and putting them down. And while she’s doing that, I grab the sheet off the floor. Cause I’m. I mean. I guess I’m just feeling a little exposed.
She’s holding something up in the air. Do you mind?
And I can just make out. Like this box of cigarettes.
And I’m. In my mind. You know: Fucking shit. Fuck. Shit. Fucking shit.
So I don’t say anything.
She shrugs and comes back to the bed. Sits down. Tap, tap on the box. Click, click with the lighter. Then she flicks the lighter out and it’s just the cigarette glow. But. I mean, she sucks that mother so hard, it’s like the whole front of her body lights up orange. Like she’s some kind of Indian smoking a peace pipe and everything. And there’s all these little crackling noises. Like a tiny brush fire.
Then dark. A big sigh. And the whole room fills up with smoke.
And she still hasn’t answered my question.
So I’m like, You still haven’t answered my question.
And she’s, What?
What I said. You think that’s. You know. Why I brought you here?
I don’t know why you brought me here.
Look, I said. This is important. I need you to know that I didn’t. You know. That I never thought you owed me anything.
Another long, hard drag. She’s lit up orange from her hairline to her knees.
Listen, I said. Why are you acting like this?
So hostile and everything. Like you hate my guts.
Look. I’m lying here asleep. You knock on the door because you want to fuck me. Okay. I let you fuck me. So now you’re the one who’s all hostile and everything. All neurotic and angry. So I just don’t get it. You know. What’s going on here? Why are you acting like that?
This is like a big surprise to me. I mean because she’s right: I am angry. I’m fucking furious, in fact. My hands. They’re all balled up in fists. And I’m like this far from. I don’t know. Something.
So I’m. Like silent.
Her face lights up a couple more times.
Then I’m, Sorry.
Don’t worry about it.
She’s been sitting there Indian style. Now she swings around, sticks out her legs and crosses them at her ankles. Leans up against the wall. But it’s not like she’s comfortable or anything. Kind of bent up.
I’ve got only one pillow, and I’m using it. So I pull it out from behind my back. Here, I say.
That’s okay, she says, and pushes the pillow back. Then she grabs a corner of the sheet. Pulls it across her crotch. Then she flips it off again like it annoys her.
I let the pillow lie there between us for a while. Then I stick it behind my back.
Fuck, she says.
What? I say.
I don’t want to smoke this.
Her cigarette’s about two-thirds done. She flicks the coal off the end of it.
We both watch the coal on my floor. Sort of blinking. Then it goes out.
I hope that you’re happy I don’t have a rug, I say.
You think I would have done that if you had a rug?
She puts what’s left of her cigarette back in the box. Then she’s out of bed again. Over at that chair. Lifting things up and putting things down. This time I can see a little better. It’s. I guess. Getting toward dawn. And her skin sort of glows. Like a birch tree in the fog.
This time when she walks back she’s carrying my bag of weed.
How’d that get there? I say.
I don’t know, she says. I just thought. You know. Just in case I couldn’t sleep. This always helps.
Hunh, I say.
So she’s standing there with. Like one fist on her hip and this sarcastic smile. I wasn’t going the steal it!
She bounces back down on the bed.
If I was going to steal it, I wouldn’t show it to you. Right? I’m not that stupid.
I don’t say anything.
She rolls the joint and lets me take the first hit. Then, after she’s taken her hit, she says, I got to tell you something.
My name’s not Geri Louis.
I didn’t think so, I say. Although, in fact, I hadn’t thought about it.
I mean it is Geri. Just not Louis.
Why did you tell me it was then?
It was just so stupid. You know: The first thing that popped into my head.
No, I say, waving away smoke. Why? I mean, why did you tell me that?
No reason, she says. She gives the joint a long suck. Then she says, I just felt like it.
So what is your real name?
First she doesn’t say anything. Just this stoner smile. Like the top of her head just floated off. Then she says, Gold.
Uh-huh. Another stoner smile. Her eyes all squinty.
Is that really your name?
For some reason, we both think this is. You know. Very funny. And. Like we’re laughing for a long time.
Finally I’m like, What about the rest of what you said?
How much of it is true?
Some of it.
Most of it?
That’s for me to know and you to find out.
Geri laughs at this one. I don’t.
So this is how the story really ends: Next day she doesn’t want to call anyone. Not her parents. Not her friends. Not Mike. Nobody.
Why not? I say.
Because I just don’t.
You have to call somebody.
Why? she says.
And since I don’t. You know. Have a good answer for that one, I say, All right then, I’m just gonna put you on a bus to New York.
But when we’re down there at the depot. And I’m talking to the lady behind the bars, Geri just cuts in on me and says, Where can I go for the same price as a ticket to New York.
The lady looks at me. I look at Geri. And I’m like, What are you talking about?
And she’s like, I don’t want to go to New York.
I just don’t want to.
Well, then I’ll get you a ticket to Philadelphia.
Are you crazy! What would I do in Philadelphia?
So I’m thinking. You know. This is making so little sense that I don’t know what to think.
And the dude behind me’s like, If you’re not gonna buy a ticket . . .
And the lady behind the bars is, Step to one side. Please step to one side.
So we do that.
And it’s like Geri just won’t listen to me. She’s like, I just want to lead my life. That’s all. You know?
And then she tells me, The problem with you is you think too much. It’s like you get these ideas of things, and you think that’s the way they really are. But nothing’s really like that. Everything’s incredibly different. But you’re never going to find out because you’re stuck in this stupid, boring, broken-down, nothing town. You’re trapped here.
And for a second there, I almost ask her if she wants me to come with her. I’m serious. I’m almost that convinced.
But then. Well. Of course. In the end, I just know what she would say.
So, finally I’m just, It’s your life.
We go back to the window, and the lady clicks off all the places Geri can go on her computer. Atlanta. Chicago. Jackson, Mississippi. Saint Louis.
And Geri’s like, Jackson!
Jackson, I say. Why Jackson?
Cause I’ve never been there.
So I buy a ticket to Jackson.
And then. Cause I’m thinking, What’s a girl gonna do when she winds up in Jackson? This strange city. No money. In the middle of the night, probably. Right? I mean: What’s going to happen to a girl in that situation? I really don’t like to think about that.
So we go to an ATM machine and I get her out two hundred dollars.
And she’s like, You really don’t have to do this.
And I’m like, Maybe not. But it’s just. You know. Something I want to do.
And then she’s like, Thanks. You’ve been so generous. Really. It’s not like I even deserve it.
Who deserves anything? I say.
Then she says, No. I mean it. You really shouldn’t do this kind of thing.
Maybe not, I say.
Her bus doesn’t leave for two hours, but I’m already late for work. And the strange thing is. Even though I want to get this weird girl out of my hair. Because she’s just. You know. A big headache. Even with all that, I’m still feeling kind of. Well. Teary. Like I’m going to miss her.
So we have. Like this kiss. And this great big hug. But it isn’t really like a lovers’ hug. It’s more like a brother-sister hug. And that feels all right. That feels just about exactly the way it’s supposed to be. And. I mean, I go to work after that, and I’m not feeling sad at all. I’m feeling happy. All afternoon. Just happy. Full of energy. Even though I did not get one minute’s sleep the whole night through.
And so I’m coasting along just fine until about seven, when I finally get a chance to. You know: Rest. Sit down. And that’s when I feel it. This. Like empty spot in the back of my pants. And then I know: Fuck!
Charlie lets me go home. But. Of course. My wallet’s not there either. Neither is my weed. Even though I’d been keeping a special eye on it.
I call the police and tell them Geri’s on the bus to Jackson. But it turns out she’s not. She traded in her ticket for one to Denver, and paid the difference with my money. But I only find that out. Like a week later. I call my bank and she’s got a hundred more dollars out of my bank account. But that’s all. My card maxes out at three hundred a day, thank God. I call my credit card and she hasn’t managed to get anything yet. Except some magazines and candy and stuff.
So it doesn’t work out so bad. Except for the hassle, mainly.
But that’s not where I like to end the story. Where I like to end the story is we’re still in my room. And it’s after that joint, and we’re just. You know. There’s still this good buzz in our foreheads. And we’re talking about this and that. And then she’s like, Is it just me? Or did something change?
And I’m like, Come here.
So I lead her into the kitchen. And then I’m like shoving aside the laundry rack, so I can open the door to the back steps. And she gives me this look. Cause neither of us has a stitch on. And I’m like, Don’t worry. Nobody can see us. Which is mostly true. Especially at this time of morning.
So she follows me out onto the steps.
And then she’s like, Wow!
Cause my apartment’s on the top floor of my building. And my building’s on the top of this bluff. So, standing there. Leaning our elbows on the railing. We can see right over the whole downtown. Past the roofs of the old factories to where the river goes under the Carter Street Bridge. And it goes all the way to this. Sort of notch in the hills. I mean, it’s actually called the Notch. That’s its real name. And the thing is. Right at that very second we come out onto the steps, the sun is like this little blob of gold just bubbling out of the Notch. Like it came out of the earth right there. And then. You know. Slowly it lifts up and turns into this huge, burning disk. And then there’s. Like orange fire spilling onto the river. And the whole river’s this long wavery puddle of. Just fire. And the buildings are mostly purple, but the edges of their roofs are getting orange. And there are all these. Like tiny gold glimmers in the windows across the valley. But the city’s still completely quiet. No one’s awake yet. Or almost.
And the whole time, me and Geri don’t say anything. We’re just. You know. Watching it all. And feeling these gentle breezes on our bodies.
Then finally she turns to me. And she’s like, This is so beautiful! You know?
And I’m like, Yup. Because what else is there to say?