Saint Patrick’s in North Beach
After a late dinner with a friend, I say goodbye, give her a kiss, and head home. As I walk up the hill I see two kids sitting on my building’s front steps, staring at me with goofy expressions, like they’re wondering why I’m walking towards them. But then the girl’s smile fades and she turns her head and starts throwing up. Greenish liquid splatters the bottom steps and splashes the sidewalk. The rancid smell of barf and alcohol hits my nostrils and I step back.
“She’s sick,” says the guy as he gingerly holds her long black hair away from her face, his gesture almost looking tender, except he can’t keep himself steady and ends up falling into her, and they both slip in the barf.
“Excuse me, I live here,” I say.
“Sorry,” says the guy. The girl’s head now cradled in his arm as he wipes her mouth with the sleeve of his sports jacket, which sort of reminds me of someone polishing a bowling ball.
“You’re throwing up on my steps,” I tell him, and then point to the splatters of barf, like I really need to.
“She’s sick,” he says again, as if this is a reasonable explanation as to why they’re here making a mess.
“Okay,” I say. “She’s throwing up on my steps. Do you think you could get her to stop, or just move down the hill to one of my neighbors?”
The girl looks up at me, then at her friend, then lies down and closes her eyes. Her yellow sundress is stained and torn, and when she pulls her legs in toward her body going for a fetal position, I notice she has only one shoe.
“She’s so beautiful,” says the guy as he runs his slimy fingers along her cheek.
Stepping around the barf I make my way past them and up the stairs. Fumbling for my keys I look over my shoulder and see the guy stand up and steady himself on the handrail.
“Hey, can I use your bathroom?”
The girl is now curled up against the wall, snug in a corner under the mail slots. Her hand pressed against the stair as if she’s holding on. Turning my key in the lock I push the door open, then pause and look down at her.
Earlier in the evening I’d been a friend’s house in the suburbs and had parked my car out front in the street under a tree. When it was time to leave I started the car and pulled away from the curb and halfway down the block noticed a spider clinging to the center of the windshield. As I sped up, it slowly started slipping across the glass, moving from side to side whenever I turned. At the freeway onramp I pushed down hard on the gas pedal expecting the spider to fly off. It flattened itself against the windshield and hung on.
The girl’s hand reminds me of the spider. But she’s clinging to the house, I can’t speed up, and now her drunken boyfriend is asking if he can use my bathroom. I feel like turning on the windshield wipers and just wiping them off my front steps. Unfortunately the building has none.
“I don’t know you,” I say.
“Name’s Bob,” he says and holds out a slippery looking hand.
“I don’t wanna know your name.”
“Gotta take a piss,” says Bob.
We stare at each other until the muffled ring of my cell phone breaks the silence. Slipping it out of my pocket I hold it up to my face trying to read the caller ID, but I don’t have my glasses and without them I’m blind. A bit reluctantly I slide my finger across the touch screen and then hold it to my ear.
“Hello?” says the girl on the steps as she raises her head and looks around.
“Hello,” I say again into the phone.
“Hi,” says Alina, her voice sounding faint.
“Hello?” says the girl on the steps as she pushes herself up and looks at me. “Do I know you?”
“Who are you talking to?” asks Alina.
“No one. It’s hard to explain,” I say and back into my doorway.
“Hey Mister,” yells the girl. “Can I use you bathroom?”
“Who wants to use your bathroom,” asks Alina. “Where the hell are you?”
“Obviously I’m at home if they want to, ah, use my bathroom,” I stammer.
“Can I use it?” asks the girl as she wipes her hands on the front of her dress.
“You gonna let them use your bathroom?” asks Alina.
“I can’t use your bathroom?” screeches the girl and then looks at her boyfriend as if she’s just realizing he’s there.
“I already asked,” he says and shrugs his shoulders.
“You’re both covered in puke,” I say and gesture in their direction with my hand.
“They’re covered in puke?” says Alina. “Who the hell are they, and why are you talking to them?”
“Told you it was hard to explain,” I say and close the door.
Inside it’s dark and there’s a smell like fried collard greens or burning sage. I reach for the hallway light switch and then decide against turning it on. I’m afraid Bob or his girlfriend will take it as encouragement to come knocking. Better to leave the front of the house dark and hopefully they’ll go away.
“What’s up?” I ask Alina as I sit on the couch in the living room.
“I called to talk, but you sound busy.”
“I’m not busy. I don’t even know those people.”
“Then why were you thinking of letting them use your bathroom?”
“Is that what you called to talk about? People who want to use my bathroom?”
“No, I just…” and then she pauses.
I’ve known Alina for twenty years. We go way back to the bad old days and then some. We hung out in the same circles, did a lot of drugs together, and on more than one occasion tried to rip each other off. A lot of our friends from those days are dead, or have disappeared. For some reason we’re the two that made it out alive and today we’re still friends.
“Have I gained weight?” she asks.
“Have I gained weight?”
I’m not married. I don’t presently have a girlfriend. But I’ve been in numerous relationships and I dread when a woman asks about her weight.
“Yes. Have I gained weight?”
“Well, if you’re asking me have you gained weight in the last twenty years, then yes, the answer would be yes, Alina, you have gained weight. Because we’ve all gained weight. I’ve gained weight. Everyone’s gained weight. The whole freakin world has gained weight.”
“Noooo, of course I know I’m bigger than when I was twenty years old and using drugs. No, I mean have I gained weight in the last few months?”
I am the spider slipping across the windshield of truth. I am clinging on for dear life, but I know that when the conversation reaches a certain velocity I’ll be tossed off and splattered along the highway of indiscretion.
“Perhaps, if you feel you’ve gained weight than maybe you should, ah, think about your diet?”
“So I have gained weight,” shrieks Alina.
“That’s not what I said…”
“Is my ass huge?”
“Some guys like a big ass.”
“You’re saying my ass is big?”
“No, I’m just….”
“I’m so depressed. My ass has gotten so big I can’t even get out of bed.”
“Do you exercise?”
“I exercise. But it’s hard when I’m draggin around something so big it should have its own zip code.”
“You’re exaggerating,” I hiss.
“I can’t believe you just said my ass is big.”
“I didn’t say… What’s that crunching noise?”
“I’m eating cookies damn it. I’m depressed! I eat cookies when I’m depressed.”
There’s the sound of someone screaming coming from out in front of my building. I rub the bridge of my nose, close my eyes, and tell Alina I have to go.
“You just don’t want to talk to me cause I got a big ass,” she says and hangs up.
The hallway is dark and I run my hand along the wall as I make my way to the front door. Scrunching down the blinds that cover the front window I stare out through the gap and see Bob and his girlfriend in the street yelling at each other. Cautiously I open the front door and peer out.
“You don’t love me!” screams the girl.
“But babe,” says Bob.
“I hate you!”
“Honey, you don’t mean that. It’s the alcohol talking.”
“Screw you,” yells the girl as she pushes Bob and then stumbles backwards down the hill out of my line of vision. Then there’s the screech of tires followed by a loud horn. A red minivan tears past on its way up the hill, the roar of its engine drowning out all the other noise. A bit concerned I step outside to see if she’s been run over.
The girl is nowhere to be seen, but I can hear her shouting. So she must be okay and I suspect in someone else’s doorway down the block. Bob stands in the middle of the street and stares at the ground. When I get to the bottom step he turns and looks in my direction.
“She’s sick,” he says. And then starts walking down the hill.
I stand on the sidewalk and look up into the sky. The moon is half full and glowing. In the upstairs apartment across the street there’s a party going on. I can see people’s heads through the window moving around the darkened living room. Their voices getting louder as some boring jazz plays in the background. When one of the partygoers looks out the window and our eyes meet, I turn away and look down the hill for Bob and his girlfriend. But I can’t see either of them and then I remember the puke on the steps.
I open the garage door and walk inside to get the hose. I want to wash the puke off before it hardens. As I walk past my car I notice something like gauze on the windshield. When I take a closer look I see a small spider spinning a web inside my car.
This was published as “Late Night Q&A,” in Word Riot, May Issue (2009)