She said her name was Billie. Her mama called her Billie-Jean when she called her anything at all. At fourteen she was all angles and knees and steel-blue eyes. We sat in the doorway of my 1970’s shit-brown RV, the orange shag rug faded to something between mustard and burnt sienna. Dirt had settled so deeply into it that it was hard to tell the difference between the ground and floor.
Yet there we sat, on the unwashed floor, around midnight, watching the rusted burn barrel settle into coals. The worn metal base glowed in the darkness; a comforting red shimmer. The mist of the harbor appeared in the parking lot we would call home for the next five months.
I watched Billie take a long drag off her Newport. She had the hands of an artist and they
gestured gracefully at the end of her too-long limbs. She began to complain, ranting about how much of a child I was.
I looked at my own fingers. They held a Marlboro Red; it was the only thing I could ask for with confidence. My hands were a point of frustration. At sixteen, I suffered from the delusions of the young and confused my youth for beauty. My hands betrayed me with their thick-fingered bluntness and functionality. These were the hands that I would someday grow into.
“Do you think that we could be friends,” I ask.
She may be right when she calls me a child.
“Do you got any booze?”
I laid back and opened a cupboard. I had done an inventory when I first bought the place for the price of a tow and found an assortment of old liquids that had about a fifty percent chance of causing blindness. I grabbed the sake. The label of the bottle has yellowed with age, but the liquid was still clear.
When I sat back up Billie had an old book in her hands. It was worn down like the old Bible my grandma kept hidden in her nightstand; the one that held the doubts she couldn’t share with God.
“Do you have a few hours,” Billie asked.
“We have all night.”
“Then Howl with me…” I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…’”
There is a fine art to the drinking of sake. Although between the two of us, we had experienced the world’s most common abuses and some of its more creative ones, neither train-hopping nor thousands of dead fish had taught us this art. We drank it straight from the bottle. Do not do this. I flipped through Billie’s black leather-bound sketchbook. Billie wants to go to art school in Mexico. Instead of the cold metal and concrete of train yards and processing plants, she wished for warm beaches.
My eyes fall on a drawing of two faceless men in sharp black suits and bowler hats. Emptiness where their selves should be.
“I think the devil was a handsome man,” I say.
“So beautiful that he could make God weep, but not so beautiful he could convince Him in the desert to forget he was God. It doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice if you know there won’t be any consequences.”
Positioned above the men’s heads, in precise thought bubbles were two symbols. One for each man. One contained a period. The other a question mark.
At that age, I thought I would like to be the type of person who thought in full sentences. To feel confident in my decisions, and to know my own mind. Be bold, be sure. These things are not meant for me.
Later, I thought I might be a question mark? I do not understand the world. Maybe if I could ask the right question? Maybe Billie knows? I ask, I question. These things are not meant for me.
These days I feel I may be an ellipsis. I wait in want of more options.
Billie waves the empty bottle in my face, the yellow of its label now picked apart in the eager frustration of anxious hands.
“I have some weed.” I comment gesturing to the bag on the olive green counter.
“Pipe or paper,” I ask gesturing to the colored pipe on the olive green counter.
“Read to me, I’ll roll.”
My tongue was heavy and lost from the sake, my mind a fog.
The unfamiliar words fell from my mouth in a slurry, confused and misguided.
“What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open
Their skulls and ate up their brains and imagi-
I’m lying upside down in the doorway, my head brushing the bottom step. Hand lazily bringing my last smoke to my numb mouth. My hippie skirt is a silken colorful lie, wrapped like a noose around my waist. I am Odin, hanging akimbo from the white trash tree. The world sees me as hopeful and full of possibility, awed and memorized by the movement of the heavens.
In my mind’s eye, I see myself in wide-legged pants and a shirt two sizes too small, with
suspenders that I don’t really need and a new hat every day. I smoke cloves and drink whiskey-on-the-rocks and stay up all night talking about philosophy because the universe is a fucking slaughterhouse and everything in the dark wants to rip your lungs out without giving you the courtesy of a final breath.
This is also a lie.
That is you.
I am alone.
I do not think we will be friends.
The cacophony of bar-close rolls back into our camp. Billie makes eye contact with her part-time lover who is wrapped tightly in the arms of someone who is not her.
I pass her our last cigarette.
“How could she fuck him?”
The chaos finds an ax and several pallets. The burn barrel’s coals are renewed. The light in our darkness cannot go out.
Billie handed the smoke back to me. The butt had been crushed by her lithe fingers, and the filter tasted like Japan.
“Carl Solomon! I’m with you in Rockland
Where you’re madder than I am.”
KB Baltz was born in a Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea a month early and sideways. She has been doing things a bit backward ever since. When she isn’t writing she can be found screaming into the void while finishing up a BS in Fisheries Management or hiking. You can find some of her other works at Inquietudes, Gnashing Teeth, and Trembling with Fear.