Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chapter 5 (begun)


The door opened, and a dark face with dark glasses stared out at them.  Johnny didn’t think he’d ever seen Jet without the sunglasses; he wondered idly if the man showered with them on.  Jet was shirtless and barefoot, in black leather pants.  Most of what Jet owned in the clothing department was leather, and nearly all of it was black.

He rubbed his short hair absently.  “Little dudes,” he said softly.  “What’s up?”

Johnny hesitated.  Jet had let them crash at his place before, but it had always been his invitation; Johnny had never actually asked before.  Suddenly he was shy.  “Hey, Jet.  Listen, sorry to bother you ... I ...”  He trailed off.  “Did we wake you up?”

Jet nodded absently.  “Sure.  Played the Grog last night.  Havin’ a bit of a sleep-in.”  They stared at each other for a bit—at least Johnny assumed Jet was staring back ... for all he knew, the drummer might have fallen back asleep.  Jet started a bit, as if he had done just that.  “Listen to me, I’m so rude.  Come in, little dudes.”  He stepped aside and ushered them into the dumpy little apartment.

Johnny and Larissa stepped just inside the door, which Jet closed behind them.  Jet yawned widely, flashing white teeth.  “Ummm ... you guys want some chow?”  Johnny shook his head, not really concentrating on Jet’s words.  Jet turned to Larissa.  “Alice? you?”

She gazed at him soberly for a while.  “Joan of Arc was left-handed,” she said finally.

Jet responded instantly.  “Aide toy, Dieu te aidera.  So was Lenny White.”

Larissa nodded.  “Return to Forever.  Like Jimmy Giuffre, 1961.”

Jet cocked his head and smiled broadly.  “Nice.  But no drummer, so I gotta go pollice verso on that one.”

“Hmm.  Better to say infesto pollice.  Commodus was also left-handed.”

“But not Crixus, I suppose?  A vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire.

“No.  And Crixus spoke Gaulish.  Descended from the god Dis.”

“Uhhh ... ‘Though I am weak on the floor of my basket, There are wonders on my tongue’.”

Larissa arched an eyebrow.  “That’s a stretch.”

Jet shrugged.  “Only Celtic quote I could come up with.”

Larissa nodded.  Apparently she felt the amenities had been observed.  “Just some water.”

Jet ushered them into the kitchen; it was cramped, but clean.  He put some ice in a glass and filled it from the tap.  Handing it to Larissa, he gave another wide yawn.  “So, little dudes, you haven’t yet said how I may be of service this fine day.”

Johnny still hesitated slightly.  He felt this was a big favor, although he wasn’t sure he could have said why.  “We, ah ... we’re looking for ... we need to be out of sight for a bit.”

Johnny saw a dark eyebrow appear above the top of the dark glasses.  “Trouble with the man?”

Johnny shook his head.  “No, no, nothing like that.  We just ... want to lay low for a while.  Ya know?”

“Not particularly.  But mi casa es su casa nonetheless.  You’ll have to step over the Grinch though.”  He gestured back toward the open area which served as both living room and dining room.  Johnny had missed the hot pink mohawk when he first came in, which only showed how distracted he really was.  The big man, one of two guitarists in Jet’s band, was sprawled on the floor, still completely dressed.  Like Jet, he basically only had one style of clothing, and he was wearing it now: principally it consisted of a faded olive green trenchcoat and well worn black Doc Martens.  Still, it was the hair that made the man in this case, and while Grinch experimented with different colors from time to time, it always came back to pink eventually.  A good ten inches long, it was fanned out around his head as he slept on his side.

“Oh,” said Johnny.  “I mean, if you’ve already got people staying here ...”

Jet snorted.  “It ain’t ‘people,’ man, it’s the Grinch.  Just step over him, like I said.  It’s all cool.”  He looked at Larissa again; she gazed calmly back at him.  “You little dudes need to crash?  I was gonna get up anyway.  You can have the bed.  Or Alice can take the bed and Johnny can take the sofa, however you wanna do it.”

Johnny hesitated.  He and Larissa often shared, beds being few and far between in their lives and body heat being precious, but other people sometimes misinterpreted that.  Larissa, practical as ever, simply nodded and murmured “thanks” at Jet, then led Johnny into the tiny bedroom.  They stepped carefully over the big pink mohawk on the way.

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The two-and-a-half-mile walk to Jet’s had been a leisurely stroll along the boundaries of some of the neighborhoods in the heart of the city: Dupont Circle, Shaw, Columbia Heights, Pleasant Plains.  Past the National Geographic Museum and the restaurants and the businesses of 17th Street, then down the more residential New Hampshire and Florida, with their close-set townhouses, up to the Florida Avenue Grill, then down 11th to Harvard, where the neighborhood got just a bit more tired, the paint just a shade more flaky, the old houses, now divided up into apartments, leaned on each other just a bit more stiffly, their architectural joints showing their arthritis.  In such a half-half-house, in the upstairs portion of the left side of what had once been a good-sized dwelling, Jet occupied 3 small rooms, not counting the miniscule bathroom.  It wasn’t new, and it wasn’t tidy, but Jet managed to keep it fairly clean, at least by Johnny’s standards (admittedly much laxer these days), and he knew that this would be considered rather comfortable living by many of the city’s other starving artists.

But of course Jet had money.  Or at least his family did.  This was something Jet didn’t like to talk about, but something that Johnny had known instinctively the first time they had met.  They recognized in each other the subtle signs of the formerly-rich boy slumming it, and they had formed some sort of strange bond over it.  Jet was probably ten years Johnny’s senior—Jet had not only been to college, but graduated, perhaps more than once—but the drummer never talked down to Johnny, or tried to “fix” him.  This counted for a lot in Johnny’s book.

He sat on Jet’s bed.  The dark sheets were tossed wildly about, and no one could accuse them of being entirely clean, but a real bed was such a luxury that the dressing didn’t matter.  Larissa had already snaked the pillow and was curled up on one side of the bed facing the other.  She hadn’t closed her eyes, though.  She was looking at him.  Not staring, not trying to figure out what he was thinking, just looking.  She didn’t even seem like she was wondering.  Johnny wondered if she even did wonder.  Probably she was too practical for that.

Johnny wondered though.  Johnny wondered why he was there, on a bed in a run-down house in a neighborhood where not five years before, he—a skinny white rich boy—might have been scared to go into at night.  Or at least to go into without one of the servants.  Or without Amiira.  By now, Johnny knew a lot of older people, and he was familiar with the combination of nostalgia and despair that leads to the wail “where has my life gone?”  Seemed stupid for him to be bemoaning the same fate at fifteen (or was he sixteen yet?).  Yet that’s the way he felt.  And had never felt before.  There had never been time for self-pity before, and Johnny wouldn’t have indulged in it if there had been.  His attention had always been focused on survival, the simple rhythm of where his next meal was coming from.  But, now, something had slipped ...

He stared out the window.  He knew now that the neighborhood had never been unsafe for him as a white boy, only as a rich boy, and these days he had nothing to fear whatsoever.  He knew now that, like the neighborhood, so much of what he had “known” was just a fantasy that his parents had constructed for him, thinking they were doing him a favor.  He knew that if his parents could hear his thoughts today, they would sit up in their cells, prison and asylum, and shriek what an ungrateful son he was not to appreciate all they given him, all they had done for him.

Of course they had never really done anything for him.  They had given him much, true, but only physical things.  Things that meant nothing, now; things that Johnny no longer owned or even remembered clearly.  The brain-parents in his mind-cells screamed ever more shrilly, about how they had done their best, and it wasn’t fair, and somehow Johnny sensed that “it’s not fair” was a common refrain in both his parents’ present lives, that guards and orderlies were sick of hearing about it and tuned them out, or beat them into silence.  Johnny wondered why he didn’t feel bad about that.  What an awful son he must be.  But he didn’t care, really.  The whole mental exercise ended in clinical detachment, not in any outpouring of emotion.

He turned back to Larissa.  Her eyes still pointed at him, but they were unfocused and he suspected she didn’t really see him.  As he watched, her eyelids snapped closed and her breathing deepened.  Johnny suspected that he had just witnessed the exact moment when another person went from conscious to sleeping.  That was, somehow, far more interesting than thinking about where his parents were.  He watched her sleep for a few minutes, then he went back to staring out the window.  The light in the room faded, although surely it was close to noon outside.  But it continued to get darker and darker, until it was completely dark, and there was a moment of vertigo, and then Johnny opened his eyes and realized that he, too, had fallen asleep.

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