UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
WILLIAM HAAS

Bruised

         Ouch, Sammi says, as I grab her bruised wrist.

         She canít wiggle away. I crush her against the dusty aluminum siding like an
empty beer can. The pressure pounds behind my buttonfly. Iíd gone down to the
Four, where I spied Sammi in a tight violet skirt. It was opening night of her
graduation show. Stark, black and white contemporary interpretations of old
magazine photos lined the walls. I drained my Black Label, weaseled up and bought
her a Cosmopolitan. Bought myself a Warsteiners Dunkel, so as not to appear cheap. I
knew sheíd at least let me walk her home. Call it a manís intuition.

         Come on, baby, I say on her doorstep. Let me inside.

         I press my lips to hers, squeeze her in a sloppy kiss. She fumbles with her keys
and I back off a little. I wrap my arm around her tapered waist and shove her into the
apartment.

         Slow down, Julian, she says, looking up all shy at me. But I donít listen.
Her hair smells faintly of vanilla. I slide my hand down her shoulder, onto her
small firm breast. She quivers a little under my touch. I lift her black shirt just enough
to see the fold of her belly button. I reach up to her bra.

         You wanna hear some music? she asks, sliding out from under me and
straightening her blouse. One lock of shiny black hair flops over her eyebrow.

         How about the Meters?

         She drops on ĎIím Gonna Put Some Hurt On Youí then sits down beside me,
all proper. The Black Labelís got me seeing double. Glad I brought my jimmy hat. The
phone rings. She lifts the receiver then drops it back on the cradle.

         Chase, she says, has been bothering me day and night.

         Chase, I think, that Fubu-wearing creep.

         Didnít you two break up? I ask.

         We werenít really going out, she says. I came here for school but he stayed in
Wheeling. Then he got a couple connections here and wound up moving down. When
heís drinking, he tries to rekindle the old flame. End of story.

         I look at the answering machine, red bulb blinking like a paddy wagon.

         Heís such a stalker, I say. Keeps calling.

         Heís a slow reader, she says.

         She shouldíve had enough self-respect not to get caught up with a back alley
cretin like Chase, anyway. Only dude in town with a line on Ruffies. Iím sensing right
now she might want my sympathy, calm her little broken heart. If Iím lucky, my
concern might cash out.

         Did he hurt you, Sweetheart? I ask, caressing her wrist above the tender bruise.
I notice that her bracelets cover a series of bruises snaking up her inner arm.

         Donít sweetheart me, she says, pulling her arm out of my grasp. Chase is my
burden, not yours.

         Heís still an asshole, I say.

         Look, I donít want to talk about it, she says. Iím leaving town anyway. Iím
going to Cooper Union to study photography.

         Who cares where sheíll be in a year? I just care about tonight.

         Whyíd you drop out of art school? Sammi wants to know. As if I could even
remember why.

         I liked your paintings, she says. Hasty, yes, but they had a lingering presence.

         I kiss her again to shut her up. Her tongueís sweet, a memory of Triple Sec and
cranberry. I slide her shirt off and her chest heaves; a white bra shines against her olive
skin. I run my hand up her thigh, under the violet skirt, and then the fucking phone
rings again.

         Donít answer it, Sammi, I say. I slide my finger past her underwear, over a
patch of soft fur. Sheís warm, but dry, like deflated balloons held tight by rubber
bands. Regardless, I push my finger in.

         Not so fast, Cowboy, she says and grabs my wrist. The phoneís still ringing off
the hook. She continues, Itís my time.

         My time, too, baby.

         Of the month.

         And thatís it. At least she doesnít answer the goddamn phone. Sheís gripping
my wrist, but Iíve got her pinned against the arm of the couch. The answering
machine clicks.

         Youíve reached Sammiís. Leave your digits and Iíll get back to you.
Sammi, Chaseís voice crackles through the machine, a little slurred. I know
youíre there. Pick up the phone.

         Leave it be, I say.

         Why do you do this to me? That panty waste whines from the machine.
You know I love ya girl. I canít stand the thought of you with another guy.
Heíd never love you like I did. Never treatcha right. Come on, girl, I know youíre
there. My friend saw you leave the Four with that Julian. If I catch you at his place,
Iím gonna-

         Sammi pushes hard, stands up, and lifts the phone out of the cradle.

         Iím here, she spits into the receiver. Chase, why do you keep calling?

         She turns her back, so I canít even admire her tits lift and drop as she exhales
into the phone. Just see the tattoo she claims is the Chinese symbol for escape.

         I look around the tidy room. Itís amazing what she can do with a couple cinder
blocks, two-by-fours and batik. On the wall hangs an enlarged self-portrait, a study in
pink of Sammi standing like Patty Hearst with an assault rifle.

         Chase, Chase, Chase, no. I didnít go over to Julianís. He just walked me home.
No, I didnít let him in. He left. No, Chase, Iím going to sleep. Tomorrow. Not
tonight. No, heís not here.

         Sheís pulled her blouse back on and lit a Newport. Again I notice that violet
bruise on her wrist. Gimme blue balls, girl. Fuck that, Iím out. I wipe off my mouth,
slip on my Memberís Only jacket, and leave.

         Hasnít stopped drizzling, just pissing out the plum sky. Might as well roll
down to the Four, grab a whiskey before last call. Maybe thereís another girl to chat
up. All down hill anyway.

         My jacket smells like wet cardboard. My Sauconys are soaked by the time I get
to the bar. The only other person in the Four, besides Tommyboy, the bartender, is
the same sloppy drunk who was slobbering on the bar when I left with Sammi.
Tommyboy looks up from the bottle count.

         Chase was in here looking for you, he says. That dudeís come untangled.

         I just smile and hope he remembers me leaving the bar with Sammi.

         Watcha drinking Tommyboy? I ask.

         Knob Creek.

         Two Knob Creeks. I toss down a twenty. On me, I say.

         Cheers, he says, tipping his glass. And your change.

         Keep it.

         Thanks, he says. Tell ya what. Get that lousy drunk out of here so we can blow
a line.

         Gotcha, I say.

         I swallow the shot. I realize Iím fucking blitzed when the whiskey doesnít even
burn on the way down. I approach the wheezling piece of shit and shake him fucking
senseless.

         Last call was twenty minutes ago, you greasy vagrant.

         Soon, the dirty drunk says. Both his teeth are dabbed in yellow.

         You heard me, Lambchop, I say. Leave.

         His purple eyelids close over yellow corneas. I throw him off the bar stool. The
filth of his seam-popped Memberís Only jacket rubs off on my finger tips. He struggles
to stand.

         You remind me of me, boy. His voice has the timbre of an unoiled
lawnmower. So full of spunk, he says.

         He clocks me square in the left eye then flees in a drunken stutter step. For a
decaying old vet heís still got a swiftboat full of strength. I pick myself up from the
ground and dust off.

         Lock that door, Tommyboy says.

         He draws two tall Rolling Rocks from the tap and cuts out two fatty lines of
uptown on the lacquered counter.

         Thank you, I say.

         Least I can do. Youíre gonna have a black eye tomorrow.

         We snort the uptown. Straight to my head and Iím clear as Brita water. He
swishes a white towel across the counter, then hangs it over his shoulder. I drain my
glass, say my goodbyes, and stumble outta the Four into the drizzle. I hoof it back to
my wood-paneled efficiency. The doorís splintered and mud prints line the floor. The
apartment smells like marinara sauce and stale coffee.

         Iím about to throw my carcass-black eye, bruised ego and all-on the couch,
but thereís Chase, iced out in a platinum-plated chain and a huge cubic zirconium
earring. Water courses from the razor-blade part in his crew cut down his pink Irish
cheeks and onto the gold collar of his oversized Roethlisberger jersey. He sits on the
couch. My couch.

         The fuck are you doing here? I ask.

         He pulls out a half-empty bottle of Mad Dog and chugs at it, leaving a
disgusting ring of purple spittle around the rim.

         Yo dawg, Chase begins, hiccups, swallows and begins again. The fuck happened
to your eye?

         Got suckerpunched by a bum.

         Chase laughs and asks, You looking?

         Spent my last coupla bucks down at the Four, I say.

         I thought you was down at the Four tonight, Chase says. Too bad you ainít got
no cash. I gots da line on some dope shit. Hard as a fuckin rock and yellow. Pure
yellow.

         He pulls a little Zip-Lock from deep in the pocket of his South Pole jeans and
empties the powder onto my glass coffee table. He cuts out a single line with his
driverís license.

         Yellow, he says and snorts it through the Lincoln memorial. He continues,
What you been into, lately? Ainít seen you around.

         Just trying to save up a little money. Maybe get out of town, move to
Pittsburgh.

         Bling bling.

         Chase, I say, I need some sleep, man.

         Itís raining, dawg, he says.

         That repugnant motherfucker takes another slug from the Mad Dog and
dribbles it onto my paperback copy of Porno. The cheap wine soaks into the pages like
a bruise.

         Donít you got anywhere else to go? I ask.

         Sammi locked me out, he says.

         He mustíve showed up at her place crying and she told him to bounce. Wonder
if sheís still awake. Maybe when I get this lousy drunkard outta my place I can roll
back by.

         Have you ever loved a woman, Julian? He asks, cutting another line on my
table. What a stingy bastard. Got the purest blow in town and wonít share.

         Donít know what you mean, I say.

         Not a bitch, but a woman? He says. Cause I have. In fact, Iím still in love.

         Thatís nice, I say.

         Is it now?

         Guess so.

         Course you would, he says.

         The shriveled fucker swallows some more swill and slams the bottle on my
glass table with a crack.

         What were you doing tonight in the Four? he asks. He wonít stop staring into
my eyes.

         Just drinking a couple beers and chilling, I say.

         With Sammi?

         Saw her there.

         Donít feed me no bullshit, he says. You left with my female, didnít you?
She didnít want to walk by herself at night, I say. Jealous ex? Thatís his
problem. Ainít my fault the girl likes me.

         Thatís not fair, my friend, Chase says.

         Not fair to walk a lady home?

         A lady? That bitch? He stands up and says, Unfair to me, dawg. You feel me?

         She doesnít belong to you.

         Chase overturns the table and shoves me to the ground.

         Iíll show you property, motherfucker, he yells. Iíll put my chrome to your
motherfucking dome, son.

         He lifts his jersey to reveal the white pearl handle of a nine millimeter. He
towers over me, staring through unblinking yellow eyes. The fluorescent light glistens
off his platinum-plated chain.

         Frightened, I look down at my hand. Sammiís bloodís crusted under the
fingernail. Her fault Iím in this situation now. If she hadnítíve been bleeding, I
mightíve gotten somewhere, mightíve made my current predicament bearable. I think
about the violet bruises on Sammiís wrist. All that blood trapped by the skin.

         Iíll show you property, Chase says, as he wraps his fingers around his piece.

William Haas lives in Portland, Oregon







© 2007 Underground Voices