Looking back, I can see where things went sour. I was given a great, golden opportunity to turn a small time business into a money making empire. Now as I sit in this dank cell with concrete sediment pilfering down the walls like salty mists off the ocean, I have no choice but to relive each wrong turn.
Today is my re-evaluation with the parole board. Our last meeting left a bitter taste in my throat. They said I didn’t deserve a chance on the outside; that I was unfit to live in a community. One whole year I’ve been in this place because that bitch set me up. I thought the pregnancy would change things. It looks like I’ll have time to think everything over.
“No Basket, No Basket!” The referee blows his Fox 44 whistle, the only whistle approved by the NBA. It’s said this little bastard can pierce your eardrums even when they call back the big three point buzz-killer and everyone around you is screaming their big fat heads off. But right now I can’t hear anything because all my attention is focused on a wonderful blonde two rows ahead. I don’t even care Reggie Miller was out of bounds, again. In fact, these free tickets have inspired me not to take an active interest in the game. If I’d paid for the seats maybe there would be a reason to get my money’s worth, maybe. Hell, I’ll just go get another beer with the money I saved. Lars wants one too. I just hope I can make it there and back again.
Like Theseus in the Labyrinth I grasp the railing with both hands, terrified to let go and spin out of control down the small concrete stairs. Lars bellowed something at me but I don’t remember what he asked for. I do remember our fight last night at the softball game. Lars had come at me as if falling off a skateboard and in an instant I had cracked him on the top of his head with my softball bat. The striking sound of aluminum on sheet metal always gives me goose bumps, tonally pure and clear. And like knocking out the legs of an old wooden table, Lars fell to the ground, his legs buckled under his massive body. We were ejected from the game and fined fifty dollars each. I put Lars in a taxi, slipped him a fin and drove myself home. On my way back I thought about the sound of the bat hitting his head. Thinking about Lars makes me feel sorry I’m going to kill him.
Lars has had a three inch square metal plate in his head since the eleventh grade. Having been comically endowed with an enormous head since birth, we were never really surprised when he spent two weeks during final exams in the hospital after a fight with a local boy named Henry Fouche. Lars says he doesn’t remember much after getting hit with the rock—he bled too fast and passed out from the shock. Henry, who’d thrown it, was beaten within an inch of his life by the principal and got suspended. Those two weeks were pretty tough on our group of friends. Lars wasn’t able to remember simple words or write his name. Then after a supposedly successful operation he started having attacks. I swear it’s the pills he takes for the pain—almost five years and still on them. I’ve heard about some intermittent side-effects but lately I can’t seem to distinguish one snarling outburst from the other. During the onset of his first “episode” I was sure I smelled shit and as it turns out, Lars pinches one off every time he goes ballistic, an involuntary burden resulting from a damaged control nerve in his brain. Sometimes after school during hockey practice when we’d all be huddled around the crease, sweaty and tired from laps, leaning on the butts of our sticks, Lars would go berserk and tackle the guy nearest him. He once tried to club a right winger with his helmet. Soon we were kicked off the team and resigned the second half of winter to getting high in the teacher’s bathroom. It didn’t take long to get caught smoking up and by February we were out of school. Lars didn’t care. Everyone had been calling him Plate-head and Leaky-ass. But the attacks persisted and became a problem so Lars went to a doctor and was prescribed Laxopectrin, a controversial but apparently stable mind controller. I took them when the opportunity presented itself. Lars gave them to us because they make you pass out for an hour or so. It’s part of a game we play called “waking up in a strange place.”
The fourth quarter is half way over and twice already I’ve been in the beer line. I remember dropping two pints of Red Hook Ale down some stairs and now I’m waiting another fifteen minutes to get new ones. Time seems to be going by so slowly. It takes all my energy to stand up straight. The girl in front of me in line won’t stop talking. It’s the same blonde from earlier; I like to think she followed me. I don’t want to talk to her. I really need to find Veronica. I remember she said to meet at the bathrooms.
“What’s your name?” the blonde girl turns and asks me.
“Jack,” I say. “Yours?”
“Ahhh, Tracy. Nice. So you like the Pacers?”
“Yeah, sure I do,” She says to me, “But I’d rather just watch them on T.V. It’s too loud here.”
“Oh. Well I got my tickets from the radio. Tenth caller and all that.” I’m lying and I don’t know why.
“How exciting! I’ve never won a radio call-in. You must be a lucky guy.”
“The opportunity presented itself. So Tracy, where you from?” I ask.
“Fifteen minutes outside of the city,” she says, “And you?”
“Actually I live really close, just a few blocks down Columbus. I live above the Eastern Mountain Sports with a view of the water tower.”
“I know where that store is! I was there a week ago getting some boots. What a coincidence.”
“Yeah. Funny,” I say. She has her hands on her hips now and says, “So what are you up to after the game?”
“Umm… I’m not sure. My friend and I might just go home.”
“Oh. You have a girlfriend?”
“Nope. Just my friend. His name is Lars. You can meet him on our way back.”
“Our way back. Ok, I see,” she says with a very sexy smirk and I follow the curve of her body from her face down to her hips.
“Yeah,” I say, “Because we’re sitting in the same section.” And as innocent as a lamb she pouts, “Why, have you been spying on me?”
“No. I mean, yes. I saw you sitting a few rows ahead earlier.”
“Ok. We can walk back together. You know you’re really funny too.”
Five minutes later I have two beers and am pretending to go back to my seat when Tracy said she needs to use the “little girls’ room.” I wait outside next to some drinking fountains. I have to meet Ron there anyway. Tracy comes out in record time, wiping her nose on her sleeve. “Hey guy,” she says to me. “I’m going to go back to my seat. Maybe I’ll see you around?” I tell her I’ll probably see her after the game and she gives me an odd look like she doesn’t believe me. “Ok goodbye,” she says. Shit, I don’t believe myself either. After she rounds the corner into the arena I rest my back on the cool stone wall.
“Hey Jack,” Veronica chirps. I open my eyes to see her coming out of the bathroom rubbing her nose. She is dressed in her red and white cheerleader’s uniform. “Who was it I saw you talking to? I can’t leave you alone for five minutes.”
“What are you talking about? You’re the one who’s late,” I say, “Come on, Lars is sick. Let’s go.”
We linger long enough to kiss. She stands with her mouth open for two heartbeats, eyes looking up at the ceiling fans. I listen for the score of the game and take a long sip of beer. BUZZZ! “Let’s get moving,” I say.
“Did you tell him you were going to look for me?” she asks.
“Of course,” I say, peering over a herd of fans for Lars. I see him through a mosaic of yellow and blue. He really looks disgusting tonight, his dramatically hooked Roman nose glistening from the mucus of his post-nasal drip.
“Pipe down. We’re almost there,” I hiss as we make our way down the narrow stairs and across to our seating section.
I tap Lars on the shoulder, “Hey, look who I found.”
“Hey babe,” Veronica says to him. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” replies Lars as he stands up to let her into her seat. I have to cringe and look away as they share a sullen kiss. “Where you been?” he asks.
“I told you I was here with the other girls. We have a booth next to the ice cream stand.”
“Aight,” says Lars. “Just sit tight. The game is basically over anyway.”
“Hey Lars,” I tap him on the shoulder again. “There was some nice tail up there in the beer line, looked like a promising opportunity.”
“Yeah, yeah,” says Lars. He is busy talking with Veronica in a quick, hushed speech I know to be an argument. Probably arguing about the drive home.
The game ends five minutes later and we are caught in a herd of fans trying to leave. I start “Mooing” until some people next to me catch on. I never miss an opportunity to boil myself down to the livestock level, really pasteurize myself. Right then I slip on some spilled beer and black out.
I wake up in the back seat of Lars’ Crown Vic. My body isn’t sore, my head doesn’t hurt; we are passing a cornfield, Speed Limit: 35. Veronica sits in the front. Creed is blaring through the speakers.
“Hey. You’re up.” She is on her knees now, looking back at me. I can’t see the road from where I am positioned so I try to lean closer to the front seat but find my hands are tied to the seatbelts.
For Part 2 – go here.
The Jackson can not be reached because we don’t want to give him an e-mail address.