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Frame

By Kurt Eisenlohr

So for lack of anything better to do, or maybe just to hide, she stops by and stays half the night, night after night. We're circumstancial friends. Today, she's early.

I'm on my couch, drinking a beer, half asleep, half watching a program on O.P.B. I have my feet thrown over a crate and a newspaper in my hand, the beer balancing on my belly, rising and falling with each breath I take, newspaper slipping from my fingers, blue light of the television sucking at my face.

Leticia doesn't say anything. Neither do I.

The apartment is crippled Americana--cramped, claustrophobic, filthy--but has a view of two mountains I have no way of ever visiting. It's an apartment I pay six hundred and seven dollars a month to live and lay around in, listlessly. I think it's an alright place, as alright as any, really. Leticia doesn't think about it; it isn't her place. Me and Leticia work shitty jobs which pay next to nothing. Well, my job pays next to nothing. Leticia spreads her legs on a stage in a dive downtown and the dollars come flying, pussy being a more valuable commodity than the ability to bus a table. But we're both getting older. And she doesn't work that much lately. Leticia sometimes wonders how I make it. Leticia sometimes wonders how she makes it, how anyone makes it, and why bother?

I yawn and stab the remote.

A man walks across the screen, pulling a little wagon. In the wagon sits a television: dot pattern of a dot pattern. In the center of this second screen stands a man wearing a flashy red suit, white dress shirt, a blue tie. The man is smiling, waving his arms in a gesture of welcome, as if to say, "Come on down, you'll like it here." I think he might be trying to sell a car. But I don't see any cars. The man appears to be standing in the middle of nowhere.

I look at Leticia. "You want a beer?" I have a six pack out, on the floor, by the crate my feet are resting on. I'm pointing to the bottle that hasn't been opened yet. I have some coffee brewing in the kitchen.

Leticia takes the beer, pops the cap, pulls on it. Then she walks into the kitchen and comes back with a cup of coffee. A drink in each hand, one up, one down. "It's a white trash speedball," she tells me, laughing. She paces around the room like that, raising the beer to her mouth, raising the coffee cup to her mouth, arms going up and down, turning in circles, humming to herself.

I take my feet off the crate and hang them over the arm of the torn up couch. They aren't a part of me anymore. In my dreams I'm always trying to hack them off. Or someone else is. In my dreams I'm almost always dying. Or someone else is.

Leticia stops pacing. She flops herself down in a chair by the window. She looks at the mountains, drinks her beer. "I can't stand the daytime," she says. "I hate it."

"Nights are worse," I tell her.

The man on TV, the one in the televised television, jumps up and down, waving a tiny flag, stars and bars, red white and blue. The first man is gone. He's left his wagon sitting there. It's the 4th of July.

I get up. I walk to the refrigerator and back, slowly, like a man underwater. Leticia looks at the TV. I'm thirty-eight years old. In high school I ran track and won awards. But then high school passed and I got hammered by things and now I move like everybody else. I hand Leticia another beer. I set our empties on the crate. We drink and don't say anything for a while. From outside comes the sound of people and automobiles. Half an hour passes. Nothing else comes.

"I should move out of here," I say. "Not this place, this place is okay. I mean the state, the country, the whole fucking thing."

"Where would you go?" Leticia asks. She's stretched out on the floor now, shoes kicked away, arms folded at the chest.

I make a vague motion with my beer. "I don't know," I tell her. "Somewhere..."

"I know what you mean," she says.

"Have you heard from Claire?" Claire and Leticia used to dance together in the club where Leticia works. Claire moved back to L.A. To try to kick at her mom's house.

"No, not since that postcard."

"That was a long time ago."

"I know."

"Want another beer?"

"Sure."

I make the trip to the refrigerator. It seems a long way to go. Leticia changes the channel and the man in the little red wagon disappears. Now a group of policemen are bashing down the door of a drug house somewhere in middle America. They have axes and guns and snarling dogs and they're lining people up against a livingroom wall. A reporter is following the action with a microphone, talking into the camera, out of the television, at Leticia, at me, at anybody who cares to listen.

"Fucking FOX network!" Leticia says. The police officers are probably saying the same thing, pre-edit.

I hand her a beer. "It's fucking COPS." I tell her.

"It's fucking everybody!" she laughs.

Upstairs, a woman is screaming at a man who is hanging a picture incorrectly. And the man is screaming back. The banging is bad but the voices are worse. It's the anger in the voices that is shaking the walls, I'm sure of it. Pound! Curse! Pound! Curse! Pound! Pound! Pound! I wonder what it's a picture of?

"Fucking lunatics!" I say. Leticia giggles. I put my head in my hands. Then lift it like a heavy rock and let it drop to the back of the couch, my legs sprawled out in front of me. I cock my arm and hurl a beer at the ceiling. It explodes over the room in a wet, glassy rain. The neighbors continue to hang their picture.

"I think she's in trouble," Leticia says.

"I'd like to stuff a rag down the world's throat," I tell her.

"I'm serious," she says. "I'm worried about her."

"Who?"

"Claire."

"She's a nice girl. I like Claire."

"I should fly out there for a visit. I wanna know what's going on."

"Why don't you call her mother?"

"Her mother won't let her talk to me."

There's a knock at the door. I get up and press my eye to the peep-hole. There's a man out there.

"Who is it?" Leticia asks.

"Be quiet," I tell her.

The man is wearing mirrored sun glasses. He pushes them up onto his forehead and his eyes burn a hole in me. He looks like death warmed over. Jaw clenched tight. Staring straight ahead. I know the look. I've lost things too. Some more important than others.

I watch him through the peep-hole.

He stands there, waiting.

I think I know what he wants.

I open the door and let him have it.

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Copyright 2006 Kurt Eisenlohr

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