categories: Cocktail Hour
We will wrap up Eli Hastings week with an excerpt from Clearly Now, The Rain.
If you like it please visit Eli’s website for links to purchase the book!
My truck is stalled in the middle of a skinny one-way street in the University District. Rain slides down the windshield and distorts the gray world outside. My fingers are wrapped around the steering wheel, knives and clubs on the floorboards. Hugh is as taut as a stretched bungee cord at my side. The ripping of traffic in the rain comes from Forty-fifth. Luke answers his phone in the backseat. Get out guys, he says. Get out of the car. And there are so many things, so many possible pieces rolling up from the back of my mind, and we’re out of the truck and Hugh is shaking, more scared than I’ve ever seen him, and my hands can’t hold the keys so I put them away. Luke clutches a raspberry smoothie with one hand, holds the cell to his head with the other, marching back and forth in front of the truck, listening, waiting, for what we don’t know because he won’t look at us, won’t answer the broken whisper every few seconds. What’s going on? Who is it? And the rain comes down harder, the mist gets thicker, and commuters stare at us as if we are ghosts.
The night seems thicker than when she entered the bar. She removes her shades with reluctance, remembering Allen Ginsberg’s warning: It is uncool to wear sunglasses at night, unless, of course, you should be wearing sunglasses at night, in which case, you know, it is uncool to take them off. The stir of shadows around the bus stop seems heavier. Gin burns in her, roiling the gastric juices in her stomach, which has shrunken into a negative space since the last time she choked down a meal with her aloof host mother. The bus is half-empty and she lurches aboard, grabs a pole, and steps away from the man who already stabs her with his eyes. She puts her shades back on, faces away, but he sidles up, says something lewd in French that she can’t make out. Fuck you, she tells him and he laughs like a gunshot and grabs between her legs, hard, chattering on, something about brown girls. And then he knows what’s happened before Serala does, reeling from her jab, his lip hanging raggedly open, blinking stupidly, dripping blood on the expensive shoes of commuters. Her hand hurts but she doesn’t care and she stumbles off the bus onto a corner where a café spills generous light. And at her back she knows that strangers witness her as scrappy and tough, that heads in the bus window turn with respect for her. And she’s pleased in a way, of course, but it doesn’t change the fact that now she wants to cry and be held as anyone, weaker or stronger, would. But there is no one for this and instead she’s off at a trot down another ancient street, searching for the black door where she will find what she needs. Where she will find the thing that can do the trick that gin cannot, will ease the aches in her spine, will let her sleep maybe even until tomorrow, will make her feel better than held, better than loved, better than rested—even if she has to go away from herself for a while to get it.
I didn’t find it odd when Serala became the second person that year, after my father, to suggest we drive to Tijuana. Really let the highway carry us this time, instead of the mere miles between campus and diners. Her objective is the same as my father’s was: to get our hands on some painkillers.
The wind and flying cigarette ashes make my study of the British partitioning of Palestine tedious. Somewhere closer to Riverside than Tijuana, I put my texts aside on the empty backseat. Locks of Serala’s black hair roll and snap behind her, nearly touching my face. In the shotgun seat is Monty. Björk does her best to escape the static-shot speakers of Desert Storm.
Hustlers take us very quickly to what we want. Monty and I together make short work of the alleys and drugstores with our Spanish skills, honed in points farther south. The white-coated pharmacists sometimes balk; we are more risky clientele than my father, but when we extract larger bills, their scruples crumble and we gather big foil sheets of Vicodin, Soma, and bottles of liquid codeine. In a Corona-pennant and chili-light crowded taqueria, Serala goes to the restroom with the pills; Monty and I buy Gatorade and pour codeine into it.
A few hundred yards shy of the border’s razor wire, stern agents, and German shepherds, we split up. Serala checks her watch a lot and is very good at looking exasperated. Monty and I play the role of fatigued tourists. I’m nervous for Serala with all those pills and her dark skin, lip ring, but the agent doesn’t even ask her a question when she whips out her ID, like a cop might do with his badge. When the officer asks me if I have anything to declare, I shake my head and take a swallow of the sour red blend. He waves me on.
We hit Interstate 95 in her brand new Passat, which resembled a chic club: blue dashboard lights, glowing orange needles on the dials, tinted windows and leather seats, bass pounding under your thighs. We went south blindly. It was not until Chapel Hill, North Carolina that we stopped, found a restaurant, and tried to hash out a trajectory. Serala didn’t care—she just wanted to drive. I was in the land of my mother’s family and thinking I ought to pay respects, make a better connection since I would be moving nearby in the fall.
Inside the restaurant, I have my back to the front window and am devouring my first true American cheeseburger in months. She picks at hers with a fork, wheedling out little coils of ground beef from the raw center—she liked meat to be still breathing, just wounded. It takes me half my plate to notice that she is upset. Her eyes are roaming with anxiety. She is hunched forward, her shoulders tense and high, hiding her long neck. Her long fingers toy with the napkin, a soggy fry, a pack of smokes, silver bangles singing a chorus line on her wrist, until she gets exasperated with her own fidgeting and her hands disappear beneath the table. She shakes off my questions then asks:
Do you have some cash?
I say sure I do.
Give me a twenty, will you?
I hand it over and she says, I’ll be back, and gets up, and pushes through the door, and I think: Fuck. Not in the middle of Dixie. But when I look over my shoulder she is sitting with a trembling black woman on a bus stop bench. She doesn’t even speak—I just see her put the bill into the woman’s hand and turn away. I don’t say anything when she folds back into the chair and takes a bite of her burger. But she acts like I have.
She was going to be really sick soon, Eli. I can’t just watch that.
I say something about how she’d probably just put cash in an abusive man’s pocket. Serala shakes her head at me and withholds comment.
Hey, love, she says. In the background I can hear several voices, casual tones, spiked by a chuckle or two: ordinary indoor conversation. I just wanted to tell you that everything’s cool and not to worry. I love you. And I’ll see you at home…