Composed by Kaiter Enless.
Harmon pulled into the parking lot of the northeastern shopping center, its glassy, odd-angling facade shimmering with the solis like molten crystal. He squinted against the glare, put on his sunglasses, checked his wrist watch, exited the vehicle and headed for the pet food store. It loomed a story above every other building, its name, Erma’s Pet Emporium, stood out against the whitewashed and rain-stained walls, glowering from behind illuminated red plastic like the palled embers of an otherworldly fire.
Lyla was finishing her shift when Harmon strode up to her.
“How’ve you been, Bluebird?”
“Why haven’t you called?”
“Harmon, I’ve gotta close up here… can we talk later.”
“You’re making a very serious face.”
“I just need some time alone.”
“By ‘alone’ do you actually mean ‘alone,’ or just ‘away from me?'”
“Harmon, its not like that. Its hard to explain.”
She closed up the register and waved to her manager who waved back and then made for the exit, purse over her shoulder.
“Why I wish you would at least try.”
“I just need some time…”
Lyla paused in the middle of the parking lot and looked down at her shoes, unable to muster a cogent answer. Only one lone car moved against the stillness of that barren field. The wind twined her hair about her supple features like liquid night as her eyes narrowed with sadness and her hands went tight about her purse string.
“I can’t be with you anymore, Harmon.”
“Big difference between can’t and won’t.”
“You don’t understand.”
“You’re right about that. Suppose you won’t explain. Though, one thing I do understand is fidelity.”
“I don’t want to have these awful talks anymore.”
“When you didn’t return my calls I assumed as much. Though I never thought of our conversations as ‘awful.'”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it. I meant… conversations about being together.”
“Do you love me?”
Her wide eyes betrayed considerable surprise. Shortly, they disclosed tears.
“I don’t know.”
Harmon nodded to himself, a confirmation of a long held suspicion. He turned and looked towards the setting sun and spoke flatly.
“I remember when you first told me you loved me. More clearly do I remember when you told me you always would. You know what that makes you?”
Lyla straightened, a new resolve hardening her round and delicate face.
“I’ve got to go.”
“Course you do.”
“You really don’t care, do you?”
“Of course I care.”
Harmon turned full around, hands in his pockets and his eyes dire and incandescent with the stellar sphere’s light.
“Just not about loyalty.”
He could see that it was the last straw for her. She sniffed and wiped her eyes, opened the door of her rental and back out of the lot.
“That’s alright,” Harmon declared to the sky as Lyla’s car melded with the midday rush, “She’ll come to care. I’ll make certain of that.”
The blue sheen swept over Harmon’s pallid skin as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves and clicked on the login screen of Sprawls’ ConneXt account. Harmon still remembered the password from when Sprawls had once asked him to login into his social media via the former’s computer to update his followers on a music event in which he was to play after his phone had accidently been crushed.
Harmon typed in the words ‘Sixstringking’ and pressed ‘ENTER.’
His heart began to beat faster; the ensouled engine driven by the twin oils of gnawing fear and raucous elation.
“Should change your password more often, old friend.”
He scanned the screen; a jpeg of Sprawls, donned in a starchy dollar-store T-shirt, face adorned with a forced smile which Harmon assumed was supposed to be charming. The effect was merely awkward. The man was likely stoned when he took it. The man at the computer scrawled up to Richard’s most recent post, which read, “Sunday funday, niggas!” Harmon clicked ‘NEW POST’ on the upper right and began typing in the small, off-white square and hit ‘SEND’ and then closed Richard’s laptop and set it back on his small unadorned bed beside Richard’s plugged and charging smart phone, then he rose and withdrew the packet of China Town from his pocket, knelt and placed the synthetics beneath the bed, beside and under Richard’s dirty laundry.
Harmon straightened and cast a cautionary gaze around the room, backtracking, looking for fibers. When he found nothing he headed for the door, and paused on the upper landing, shower was still running. Abruptly, it stopped and Richard’s croaky, distinctive voice echoed out from below. He was drunkenly singing a R & B song Harmon didn’t recognize.
The intruder moved swiftly and soundlessly into his own room, thankful to find it unlocked and then pressed himself to the wall as Richard ascended the stairs, paused, and turned to the left, into his room, still singing to himself. Harmon could faintly hear his former roommate’s pacing. He waited until the pacing stopped before peeking out into the hallway, swiftly descending the carpeted stairs and slid out the living room window, shutting it gingerly and then vanishing off down the weather worn pavement.
“Yo. Someone asking bout you at the front.”
Damion turned from the fat man with whom he was sharing a beer to the lanky, bejeweled man before him.
“And he is?”
“Don’t know. Never seen him before. Some white boy.”
“What about me is he asking?”
“Asking to speak to you.”
“Everyone wants a piece of the pie.”
“Not quite everyone,” Harmon declared, striding impassively beside the lanky man who reached swiftly for his gun. Before he could fully unholster the piece, Damion swiftly raised his hands in entreaty.
“Take it easy. Think our boy here is just lost. Ain’t that right?”
“No, Mr. Strake, not lost at all. Came to talk. If you’ve got a moment.”
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
“You don’t look afraid.”
Damion looked to his bodyguard with a raised brow. The lanky man shook his head and turned to Harmon derisively.
“Who the fuck you think you are?”
Harmon ignored the flustered guard, his eyes fixed on Strakes.
“I’d like to speak to Mr. Strake in private.”
“I’d like to be a millionaire.”
“With a mouth like that, I find your prospects doubtful.”
The lanky guard opened his mouth to repost the verbal jab but before he could speak, Damion interrupted, gesturing towards the door.
“Kelly, wait outside please.”
As Kelly and the fatman made their way out the door and sealed the pulsating electronica behind them, Harmon took a seat, upright, eyes level with his host, hands folded upon his lap.
“Thanks for calling off your dog.”
“You’re lucky I did. He bites.”
“I suggest a muzzle,” Harmon replied as he studied Damion’s face and then straightened once more, “You don’t remember me.”
“You don’t look familiar. What is it you want?”
“Does the name Sprawls ring any bells?”
“That ratfuck… yeah. He a friend of yours?”
“Used to be.”
“My condolences. Wait. I’ve seen you before.”
“Yes. We met – what was it – two years ago, at a music festival not far from here. You sold Sprawls something. Were secretive bout it.”
“Just some gas. You know how it is.”
“I don’t. That’s why I’m here.”
Damion rolled his eyes and leaned over the table, pushing a unopened can of beer toward his guest.
“Gas. Pot. Marijuana.”
“He buy other things from you?”
“Maybe. Why you asking? You buying?”
“Maybe. What other things does he buy?”
“Ya know, that’s the kinda question that only really dumb niggers ask. You ain’t no dumb nigger are you?”
Damion assumed an aggressive posture, his bleary eyes narrowed and he leaned out even further over the table, his mouth crinkling into a grimace.
Harmon cracked the beer and raised it to take a sip, responding before he did so.
“Do I look like a dumb nigger to you?”
Damion smiled humorlessly and shook his head.
“I don’t know what you look like. You on some bullshit.”
“Still haven’t answered my question.”
Damion gave the man a wary look before continuing.
“He buy a lot?”
“Woulda if he could afford to. Last I heard that broke ass nigger was scrubbing toilets.”
“He come lately?”
“No. Why the fuck are you so interested?”
“Will you be selling, or not?”
“Depends on if you’re paying.”
“Course. You accept checks?”
Damion paused, furrowing his brow before he spied Harmon’s mocking expression.
“Very funny. You know you fucking lucky Karst ain’t here.”
“Don’t know him.”
“You should, this is his building. He ain’t quite so accommodating as me. Month ago, some dude named Luke Rawel comes up in here, talking shit, bout how much TNT he got and whole buncha bullshit. We tell him he needs to leave. He decides not to and says if we didn’t do business he’d have to have a word with the cops. Karst, well, he calmly told him there was no need for that and that they should talk about it in his office in the basement. Don’t know what happened, but ain’t no one seen Rawel after that…”
“That a threat?”
“Fuck no. I’m just telling you like it is.”
“Your boss’ personal affairs don’t concern me.”
Harmon removed a thick clip of hundred dollar bills from his belt and waved it before the pill merchant enticingly.
“Bring me what Sprawls last bought. Whatever he paid, I’ll pay double.”
Harmon rang up sprawls at the break of dawn, knowing his former roommate would be up for work. In under four seconds, a croaky voice tersely answered.
“I’m stopping by to pick up my things.”
“Things I’d left there.”
“Oh. Those things.”
“Yeah. Just wanted to give you a heads up.”
“What ain’t where?”
“Your things. They ain’t here.”
“They grow legs?”
“I sold that shit, man.”
“You… sold my stuff?”
“All of it?”
“Most of it. Rest we threw ou-”
Harmon snapped the flip-phone shut. The undulations of his breath rising in rapidity. Rage subsumed the edges of the world as his fists tightened like fleshy stones, incisors grinding, eyes widening, muscles straining.
Marla inquired from the corner, where she lounged upon the coach, slurping bottom shelf cereal, bed-headed and pajama’d, TV blaring rapid-fire political commentary: A fire. Elections. Immigrant rapist. Human trafficking. Racial radicals. Should racial slurs be criminalized? Father fined for misgendering son. Military tribunals. Sex scandal. Pedo priest. Revolution in the tropics. Killer droids close to home? Sometimes, the world can be a scary place, that’s why you need Lurch Gold. Mysterious man with white jacket linked to multiple slayings of local drug dealers…
“Andy told me bout him. Sounds like an asshole.”
Harmon didn’t respond.
She was silent a moment and then cast her eyes to the milky bowl between her nicotine stained fingertips, as if expectant of a reply from its viscous, albescent depths.
“I had wanted Andy to take me out tonight, but he said he’d already made plans with one of his friends. Would you want to see a movie?”
Harmon starred out the window as he mulled over the question. A noisy crow flapped down from a telephone pole to the left of the tumbledown and began pecking at some roadkill. The creature’s beak scraped entrails across asphalt in a whirl of feathers the color of pitch.
“Sounds like fun.”
“If you don’t want to… its fine.”
“I said it sounds fun. What movie had you wanted to see?”
“I can’t remember the name. Its this political thriller dystopian type thing. You mighta seen it. Commercials for it, I mean. Bout this young group of survivors in a post apocalyptic wasteland…”
Her words faded into indeterminate babble. When she’d finished Harmon turned from the window.
“We can see that if you want.”
“You sure you’ll like it?”
“Don’t know. Haven’t seen it yet. Can tell you when I do. I’ve gotta go.”
As she opened her mouth and removed her eyes from the cereal bowl, Harmon left out of the house before a utterance could escape her lips and trekked across the yard, paused to watch the crow peel out the dead and bloated racoon’s heart and then seated himself within his car and drove off down the sunbaked band of black that cracked like the scales of an ancient snake.
The last time he saw her with clouded eyes was in front of Andy’s house. She had come over to return a sewing machine she’d borrowed for a school project. Harmon had only to meet her gaze to know she felt nothing for him. They exchanged no words. He had been waiting for something to change. For her to admit what she had done and apologize. To ask for forgiveness and swear never to betray him. To at least acknowledge the truth of the past.
She did nothing of the kind; pretending as if nothing, whatsoever, had occurred.
Do you take me for a fool, Bluebird?
His gaze hardened behind the silent question. He wished one of them perished before they’d drifted apart; in such a eventuality their love would have been immortalized; forever untainted by duplicity and betrayal.
I never lied to you.
Never betrayed you.
Never cast you aside like so much refuse. Without justification. Without explanation. Without concern.
And yet you have done as much to me. Why should I hold myself apart from your selfsame standard when doing so only puts me at a disadvantage? Why should I act like I am above my impulses? I am no more above such sordid emotions than you. Than anyone.
You were mine. Now you give your heart away as if on a whim. The actions of a vulgar whore.
You are mine and mine alone.
And mine alone you shall remain.
Harmon drew the device’s teeth against the wood grain.
The sound of the chainsaw split the tranquility of the placid Sunday afternoon and sent the sparrows spinning from their thorny thrones.
The smell of the wood, the metal, the machine’s furious humming engulfing the grotesque chittering of the wide outer bright.
He stood over a small, felled tree before Andy’s old, creaking house, the species-name escaping his ken, and rolled it with his booted-heel and worked the grinding steel of the mechanical saw against the spindly branches which shivered like insectal limbs with the impact. He paused to behold a group of men walking along the street. Familiar faces all. They were those he had seen so many days before, waiting at the corner just beyond Sprawls’ house. The congregation wore brightly colored and expensive clothing and moved with a languid swaggered, as if the entirety of the sidewalk upon which they walked belonged to them.
A young and scantily-clad woman moved down the side walk, heading straight for Andy’s lot, ass pushed up and out in jeans one size too tight, hair cropped on both sides, long on top and combed wildly to one side, below which a thin, ribbed and sleeveless exercise top girded her wobbling breast, paler than her spray tanned skin. Harmon thought he’d seen her before but could not remember where. She paused and turned and yelled something at him, her round, lacquered face contorting in vexation. He stopped the chainsaw.
“I said why the fuck you gotta make so much fucking racket.”
The gangbangers laughed and muttered jokes concerning the scene.
Harmon furrowed his brow and methodically set the machine down beside the brush pile and dusted off his jeans and turned to the woman with a placid expression.
“Just clearing some brush.”
“Well, clear it somewhere else.”
“Ain’t no other brush to clear. Even if there was, think that would probably be trespassing.”
Her expression softened and she crossed and uncrossed her arms anxiously.
“Harmon nodded fractionally and jerked his thumbed above his shoulder, pointing towards the house.
“He’s inside. Bout to leave though. Better hurry.”
She did so and made he way to the door and and passed therein as Harmon bent to his lent chainsaw and returned to work as the toughs, having lost their source of amusement, ambled along down the street.
A hour passed. The woman hadn’t come out of the house. Bluebird hadn’t called. His anger had ebbed some but he refused to allow placidity to overtake him.
Lessons must be learned, so first, they must be taught.
He surveyed the flat, dying grass of Andy’s diminutive lot, restarted the chainsaw and imagined the tree was Serena’s throat.
“I thought that… maybe I could come over.”
“You can’t come to the house.”
“Because Rich kicked me out.”
“It doesn’t matter, he’s made up his mind. Its good to hear from you, Bluebird,” he replied flatly, unsure if he even believed his own words.
“Wait, what happened? Are you OK?”
“I am doing the same as I always am.”
“Where are you?”
“Andy’s place. For now.”
“Andy? Isn’t he that guy from work, the bald one?”
“He’s a junkie.”
“Used to be. He’s a good man.”
“Aren’t you worried?”
“What happened, Harmon, why would he do this.”
“I wouldn’t give him a cigarette because he wanted me to admit that everyone was a liar. But I’m not. He didn’t believe me. Became prickly about it. So did I. That’s it.”
“But you were going to start a band and…”
“Nothing I can do. I tried talking to him. No use. Some people, no matter what’s done for them, will never reciprocate, will never take the full measure of their relationships until long after they’ve turned to dust.”
He was talking about her as much as Sprawls but he restrained himself from making the fact explicit. She might not come over then.
After a beat the woman responded, her voice shaking a little.
“I think you’re right about that.”
“You know where Andy lives?”
He gave her the directions and they set a time and then she said she had to go but would call later, when she was on her way. He hung up and wondered what he would say to her. What could he say, knowing of her perfidy?
There had been too many words already.
The time had come for acts.
Harmon looked down at the crisp, off-white business card as he switched off the engine of his hatchback in the abandoned grocery store parking lot. He read the name delicately laser etched upon it: Lynder B. Partridge. Below the name was a phone number, address and the word ‘Designer.’ He removed his phone from his pocket and started crunching the keys with his thumb and then stopped. He had only met Partridge once and felt it would be impudent to ask him for help. Partridge might not even be in the town anymore; probably had vacated and returned to the city after the gala. Why would he stick around a crime-riddled and crumbling backwater? There was nothing for him here. The man probably had family matters to attend to as well…
A mellow unease gripped Harmon then.
He was alone and had nothing but his car and a few items he had managed to quickly stuff into ducked-taped boxes in the trunk.
A sudden thought rippled across the torrential ambit of his mind.
There was one other person he could call.
Andy leaned forward in his mother’s wicker rocking chair and waved cordially from his uneven and rotting front porch. Harmon looked up and waved back. Neither smiled. Sun was low and the rural landscape hissed with the eastern gale like a thousand invisible snakes. Harmon moved up to the creaking porch, his laptop case loosely slung over his left shoulder and a ballcap low slung over his sleepless, bloodshot eyes.
“Evening. Need help carrying anything?”
“Nah. I got it. Thanks for this.”
“Its no trouble at all. Caint believe he’d up and kick ya like that. Beats all. Just aint right.”
Harmon nodded as Andy rose and opened the creaking door of his tumble-down two-story and held it for his guest as sirens sounded in the din.
Harmon sat staring at the glowing screen of his laptop, fixated upon the flickering caret and the empty text document that proceeded it. His fists were as flint upon the warm plastic of the machine, its subtle, rhythmic hum, a soothing balm against the ravages of recent memory. He envied the device. Machines knew nothing of betrayal. They were loyal by design in the deepest measure of their essence. He felt as if he had passed into one of his ghastly dreams. He cursed neath his breath, rose and paced. The tumultuous sea of emotion which roiled within him presented no solution and consequently were discarded for ten minutes of pacing and thirty more of strenuous exercise which was abruptly interrupt by the ringing of his small, black cellphone which lay to the immediate left of the computer upon the foldable poker table Andy had furnished him with when he’d let Harmon his spare bedroom. He sprang to the device, flipped it up and held it to his ear.
“This is Harmon.”
Silence a moment. Then a soft and familiar feminine voice.