Motel 6. Arizona. Small break on the tour for the Lolly book, a commercial book of sorts for which I was hired. It’s been interesting for me. The main reason I took the job was because of the strictures—to have a company ask me to write their story without any hard profanity, sex, etc. presented a whole new take for me concerning the novel, to extend a clean form for length. And to see the writing take a fresh form, to feel that rush of being outside your comfort zone; it’s something every writer, musician, painter, actor, director—creators of all forms—should do once in awhile. Whether it’s a job writing a book for a company that has a bizarre, beautifully odd story they want readable for everybody, or whether it’s an exercise behind the keys to keep you sharpened, to keep the writing new. After nearly 25 years of writing (since I was a teenager) the feeling remains the same, the salvation of the words, not be dramatic, but the feeling that is unfailingly home regardless of how far you take it, twist it, pervert it, shine it, or take a break from it; it remains. And the right project outside of your steady work can be good on a few levels, actually. For me, getting back to my “vintage” stuff has been like seeing an old friend or my dog after a long separation, but a necessary one. This morning it’s good to get back to some missing teeth within the smile of the pages. Here’s an excerpt from my new book, Gutted Rose & Other Stories, being released next year.
Elsa sat on the floor and waited. The floor was easier when she was hurting. Why, she had no idea. Maybe because she saw the room from a different angle and it threw off the pressure. She heard the hallway door open and the sound of Dag’s freewheel being pushed up the hall. She sat the table and opened a book. The door was always opened, and Dag pushed his bike in.
“You know you were just sitting on the floor.”
“Oh, fuck you. No I wasn’t.”
He kissed her scalp and sat across from her. He raised an eyebrow. She shrugged, “Where were you?”
“Had to outrun a cop. They got those fuckers thick as flies down there now, on mountain bikes. More than usual.”
She didn’t care. He was there now. And he didn’t care that she would rather run it up than see him alive. They were both fucked without it. He cooked her up while she set the rig out. She thumbed what was left in the baggie.
“Are you getting in on it?”
“Don’t worry,” he watched it cook with her, “I just sorted myself out on the way over.”
“The cop saw you finishing?”
“Exactly. Didn’t kill the course, but it was really shitty timing on his part.”
She smiled into the spoon. She would probably love Dag even if they were both clean, but she couldn’t love him if one of them were. They’d tried that. One toppled the other, then that one toppled the other. They were connected to fall. Dag had enough for the rest of the week, and what he’d given Elsa would get her by until then, unless a cop popped him and he did another ten days in county, which meant nine days in medical. When that happened, Elsa sold some ass. When Dag was out, he was constantly hustling to keep them both covered. Dag shot her up and they fucked, then walked down the street and watched a plane get ready to land off to the northeast of the bridges.
He stepped off the plane and pulled his fedora low on his brow. It was slow at the airport tonight, but old habits in public died hard. He’d had a good time in the city on set, survived the wrap party, gave a long interview with Playboy about his life as an actor, then blurred back to Portland to spend two weeks with his family, or his mother, really. His father didn’t have much to say to him, never did. A couple of fast whispers as he walked through the baggage claim, a few cell phone shots, and he was in the back of the car. The driver looked in the rearview and smiled.
“You know who you look like?”
He stared at the driver and smiled. The driver was an old man. He wanted to make the kid laugh. Hell, the kid was 40, but he was still a kid, he still had his baby face. He was famous for it. He’d seen the kid grow up. He pulled onto the access road.
“Saw you on Late Night. You’ve been busy.”
“I’ve been going non-stop. Good to be home, friend. Name?”
The driver laughed, “Like you’ll remember. Lenny.”
“I like Lenny.” Alex said. Brubaker smiled at him. They played the same game every time. Brubaker was older now, a lot older. He’d been a driver for the old man before the old man retired from film. He was the only one in the family anyone could fully trust, including the people in the family. Alex thought about it. His cell rang. He looked at Brubaker, “I have to get this.”
Brubaker raised the window between them. Alex put the phone to his ear.
“That was fast.”
“I told you I had to come here last weekend. I offered to bring you with me—”
“Yeah, as your fucking buddy from the city.”
“Don’t do this to me, Christian. You know what I’m up against.”
Alex rubbed his eyes. Brubaker glanced back. Alex stared off over downtown. He made Brubaker take the same way every time. The Fremont Bridge onto 405.
“You know what it’s about, babe. Please don’t do this. I’m fucking begging you.”
“I know what it’s about. I can’t hide like this anymore, Alex. Your head’s so far up the ass of your—”
Alex hung up and texted him that the call was dropped and he’d call him from home. A text came back: CHICKENSHIT.
Alex watched the city from the bridge. He loved Christian, he burned for him. The world had their suspicions, jokes were made on SNL, Comedy Central Roasts, references to him being gay, but he wouldn’t admit it. The bridge was in the mirror. Brubaker rolled the glass back down.
“You gonna tell ‘em this time, kid?”
Alex squinted at him in the rearview.
“Tell them what, Bru?”
Brubaker shook his head, “Gonna leave that elephant in the room again.” Alex reached into his pocket and lit a cigarette, “Mind your own business.”
“Bullshit. Let’s go down Burnside.”