Sunset and Highland
Cop car, siren on, lights flashing, speeds through the intersection. Twilight sky, quarter moon, palm trees, and a warm breeze. A cliché – but still it’s what’s happening. Man walks out of drugstore carrying a twelve pack. Pan right. Wino lies on sidewalk laughing. Children run through parking lot.
Background: traffic noise. Time: 9:47 pm. Date: Sunday, January 10, 2010.
Everyone smokes weed: bud, ganja, kush, mari-fuckin-wanna. At least all my neighbors do. As I walk home I pass through its pungent haze billowing out of dim lit apartment buildings. The kids in the alley constantly puff. Beanies pulled low over their eyes, sitting on the curb, talking shit.
Carl’s Jr. on the corner, ravenous pothead surveys the menu, counts change, places order.
Street person digs in trashcan, pulls out crumpled wad of paper, inside a half-eaten burger. She looks around before stuffing it whole into her mouth.
My neighbor wakes me every morning with loud house music. The bass thumps the wall while a repetitious melody drones. Pillows wrapped around my head won’t cut the noise. Reminiscing his glory days DJ’ing on the dusty Burning Man playas, my neighbor dances around his apartment and I contemplate homicide. When his dealer drops off more meth, the music gets louder. Some days it’s constant. Others, the apartment is dark and silent.
Tonight we run into each other at the security gate to our building.
“Hey,” I say and open it with my key.
Twitching, spastic, my neighbor slips by, eyes cast downward.
“Hello,” he whispers and runs into the alley.
This is the second time we’ve met, and the most we’ve ever talked. I tried to say something to him about the music once before as we passed in the courtyard, but he wouldn’t stop. When the music is playing, it’s useless to attempt communication. I’ve witnessed my other neighbors try. The crazy guy from upstairs pounded on dude’s door so hard it shook the building. But he never answered. Muscle bound kid, covered in tats, from apartment 12, stood outside and screamed his ass off, then kicked a hole in the screen door. The music continued, the walls vibrated, no response.
Apartment manager’s cat slinks off as I approach. Courtyard lights illuminate the trees and throw shadows across the walkway. Prefab televised laugh track leaks from an upstairs apartment. Out front, on the street, someone yells, “Cada uno lleva su cruz.”
Tina is sitting on the front step of my apartment. Next to her, underneath the air conditioning unit, there’s a bare patch of earth. Nothing grows there. I’ve thought about planting a small bush to fill the space.
“Where you been?” she asks.
“Walking,” I say as I open the door and turn on the light. The apartment is warm. I close the blinds. We sit on the bed and I take off my sneakers.
“Finished your book,” she says. Then runs her hand up my back. Stopping at my neck.
She leans her head on my shoulder and tells me everything that’s wrong with it. She caresses me as she speaks. There are parts that confuse her. Things she doesn’t like. So much she doesn’t understand. I listen. I feel her touch. She could just as easily be talking about us.
I hear the TV from upstairs. The faint laughter becomes the soundtrack for my life.
Yesterday I was looking for a number in my phone and realized there were some I need to delete because the people were dead. Seeing their names reminded me. It was odd they were still in my phone but not on the earth. As if their numbers should somehow erase themselves.
Upstairs, floorboards creak as someone walks back and forth. Then I hear Tina’s voice. She’s telling me what she thinks works with my writing: the images, the darkness and despair. She sounds sad. Like she’s reciting a eulogy. If I were to die, how long it will take her to delete my number? Maybe she’ll get a head start and do it sooner.
“I have to go,” she says.
“I know,” I answer and reach for my phone.
Door closes. Room becomes darker. No one is touching me.
Background: television static. Time: 11:11 pm. Date: Sunday, January 10, 2010.
Fade to black.
A revised version of this post was published in Prairie Wolf Press Review – Premier Issue: Volume 1, Spring 2011