March 11, 2002
People are creatures of habit. I'm no exception. The routines of my life had
shifted, undoubtedly, since I'd left Boston, but they were still routines.
You can prepare yourself for something traumatic as long as you like,
however you like, but in the end it won't make a goddamn bit of difference.
In the end, we all react to new stimuli in ways that we can't even expect.
I thought all of this as I laughed through my vomit in the hallway next to
the cooler. I'd only seen three dead people, and the first two had been made
up and laid out in a coffin in their best suit--you got the idea from
funerals that death wasn't bad, just uncomfortable. I had never realized
before how much death smells -- even in the bitter dry cold of the walk-in
cooler, I could smell the coppery blood, the bright smell of tissue
beginning to deteriorate and decay. Our bodies work constantly to keep us
the processes of the world from reducing us to dust. When we're no longer
able to keep up, we're overtaken quickly.
I was laughing because of Dave's ridiculous smile, and I had a vision of him
in some dull gray afterlife, serving up beers with a shit-eating grin
plastered on his face, a crescent moon cut into the back of his neck, the
surrounding skin gone blue with time.
When I was done puking up the bit of Mickey's that hadn't been absorbed into
my bloodstream yet, I slumped back against the wall opposite the cooler and
struggled to think. I keep telling myself internally not to panic, that that
was the worst thing I could do, but I quickly realized that I wasn't
panicking -- whether I was just drunk or whether the incident with Kay earlier
had sucked all my adrenaline out of my system, I don't know.
Do something, I kept telling myself. I went to the bar and got a clean towel
and wiped my face. I looked at myself in the Budweiser mirror behind the
bar. Pale, unshaven, but no worse than the packs of Drag rats who walked up
and down the street, so I could blend in. I needed to move fast. Customers
would start coming in, John or Teddy or Susan, and I was determined not to
make this my mess.
From TV, you expect that the minute you see someone dead, you'll have a wave
of nausea and then take a deep breath and go, "Okay, now, let's deal with
this." I took a lot of deep breaths but I never had any clarity, only a
voice inside me screaming at me to leave before I got trapped there. All it
would take is one car to pull up, one person at the door waiting to come in
and that'd be it -- it'd be long hours with Austin's finest getting this one
sorted out, and I knew enough to know that my story raised more questions
than average, and if it's one thing I was not in the mood to do, it was to
provide any answers. I looked at the towel and told myself I should wipe
away any of my fingerprints, but I couldn't remember what I had touched, and
it was a bar, for Christ's sake, there were fingerprints everywhere -- no spot
on any wall had escaped having at least one hand pressed against it for
stability and support while waiting for the bathroom, or helping a friend
off the floor.
So I threw the towel down on the bar and went to the front door. I unlocked
the single bolt (being very happy not to have to fish through a dead man's
pockets for the guy) and let myself out the front door onto the street. It
was a chance, I knew. Most of the regulars pulled around back, but out front
anyone walking down the street or driving by could see me. I slipped out
into the heat and walked down the street. A Drag rat, a girl about sixteen
with a handful of piercings in her lip and a kitten on her shoulder, asked
me if I had a cigarette. I scratched the kitten's head and gave her a
five-spot, then asked her where she was from originally. She told me, and I
thanked her and went into a Circle K to buy a bottle of water and drain the
ATM of five hundred bucks. Then I got on the pay phone to Amtrak and ordered
a ticket to Seattle.
Then I went to get Felicia. When I checked out, I gave Sonia at the front
desk what I imagined was a smile similar to the one Dave had on his face
there at the end, and after half a six-pack of Red Dog that I drank while
waiting for the cab to come take us to the train station, I decided that,
either out of perverse humor or some kind of respect, my next name, my
Seattle name, would be Dave.
(end of Part 7)
On to Part 8