UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
The speakers BOOM from the room’s dark corners and the boys and girls bop and shake and grind inside a thick bevy of sweaty bodies as they careen and tremble and zigzag and twist on the dance floor, their shadows vague and fluid beneath
…they’re TRIBAL, says Stevie catching Clem checking-out her tattooed arms and winks. Stevie’s a ring-nosed Indian chick (Cherokee, she says) and they talk and smoke and drink and pretend they’re not strangers, sharing the barroom bond of anonymous unanimity. Her pony-tail wags as she talks, touching his arm every so often to impress her extroversion, taking great care in making sure her tattoos and piercing are in full exposure for all to see, a rainbow snake eating an egg wrapped inside a spider web stretching across her forearms and up to her elbows, an orange and yellow sun reaching out from the ball of her shoulder, paisley dragons French-kissing on the belly of her bicep. Her dress hangs loosely on her slender frame and matches a scarf arrange tightly around her throat. HEY cutie, she says to Clem sitting beside her at the end of the bar away from the dance floor, There’s this movie you HAVE TO SEE…Everyone is dead, except for a buncha survivors – And these demons are fuckin-up the city, because it’s the Apocalypse…And Clem offers a participatory nod and she goes on, counting the nipple-rings on the shirtless pubescent bodies on the dance floor – One – Two – telling himself he’s not the sort of kid who finds himself in a place like this. Not at all, he thinks, Let alone at this time of night – Three (that one has tassels) – Ha. But there he is, holed-up, almost enjoying it all and even though things are getting foggy he doesn’t seem to care. Four. FIVE – Damn that’s a lot of hardware.
He’s somewhere off Elliston. The place is call La Pepe or Le Peep or something Latin, but the only thing Latin about the place is the Hispanic dishwashers, mustachioed and stout, peeking out of the kitchen at arbitrary moments to survey the mass of Caucasian youth swinging with pagan-like crescendo and sweating from wall to wall beneath the purple halogen glow. They comment to one another, Más fresco que una lechuga. ¡Qué babosa! HAHAHA. Da lo mismo. Sí, then disappearing behind the kitchen doors.
Clem shivers, feeling the pores on his skin pucker shut and he thinks things might become clearer if he would just stop drinking whatever Stevie the Indian keeps on ordering. He chain-smokes out of boredom and a lack of material to bring to the conversation, picking-up what he can of the Indian’s raspy speech floating transiently in the smoky air…And the MESSED-up thing is the demons are trying to MATE with the female survivors…the HUMAN ones…but they don’t rape – they HYPNOtize them – It’s TOTALLY messed-up. Her voice judders low and brusque. Clem’s head bobs and he tries to fight back a heavy lull stretching across his shoulders, thinking, Whatever’s happening right now probably has something to do with that rock the Indian stuffed inside that peace-pipe of hers earlier in that shit-stained alley.
He’s finding it hard to concentrate and watches her lips move as she talks, too fast for Clem to keep pace while her eyes seem to bug-out their sockets as her tongue motors behind her teeth. Are her teeth that yellow? Or it that just the black-light? Her voice is cagy, almost a growl. He wants to ask her if she lives in a wigwam, but decides against it, a small voice inside urging, Cool it, man – Let’s slow things down…but it’s no use, and Stevie’s words gradually fall mute, drowning-out slowly and blending with the THUMP-THUMP of the music blaring as every noise meshes into a constant stinging hum, pushing wave after wave of noise and chemical through his skull. Clem shutters, his head buzzing as if an insect lay trapped inside his ear canal screaming, low at first, then gaining momentum with a strength and veracity that makes him want to swat his head for a creature that isn’t there.
The night cruises by and he tries to recall how the PM became the AM so quickly…and mutters something indecipherable under his breath (even he can’t comprehend) and he hears Stevie say, EASY, cutie-pie – You OK? And she giggles, her vocals trail-off vacantly as her beady eyes wiggle beneath her chocolate brow. He shrugs lazily, drifting deeper and deeper into a wet comatosis, recognizing his present state as a product of a needless (self-inflicted) damage. He realizes that this could have been easily avoided, and recoils in the painfulness of THESE pleasures as a cankerous palsy invades the vessels inside his brain. I guess SOMEone is having fun? Stevie blurts, crinkling her nose, and Clem can barely make out the sound of her voice, I’m cool, he says with a stoned-faced, wishing she would go away but not wanting to be seen alone, That would be pathetic.
The place has a real urban scene happening – girls dressed like boys and boys dressed like girls, everyone is wearing make-up and the same hairstyle…looking individual, like everyone else. Clem glances down at his attire, examines his jeans and T-shirt timidly, his clean prep school haircut, penny loafers, uncertain if he fits The Mold. Stevie says something about how, This spot was ah TOTALLY kick-ASS place hang before all the SQUARES discovered it. Her hand falls onto his thigh and she leaves it there for a moment before removing it. Clem yawns and looks around. Not wanting to be rude, he feels the need to respond but for some reason decides against testing his present power of speech or balance…his mind meanders off again, the HUM…returning, slicing into the drum of his ear like a perforated razor.
How bout another drink, COWBOY? She says, her eyes glimmer. I dunno, Clem says, Got church in the mornin’. Ohhh, - Think you’ra Christian, eh? – Me TOO, so don’t worry big boy – I’ll be sure you make it, and she smiles. Why you inah place like this if you SOO worried bout making it ta church? I go to church for peace and bars for the company. Well, you’re in luck sweetie-pie – I’m the BEST kinda company. And she orders another round and the bartender whips it up in a flash. Clem watches the bartender’s smooth movements of robotic perfection and human care. He can feel his saliva congeal in the pit of his mouth as he looks on with autistic amazement, conjuring a swallow before the spit can breach his lips and run down his chin.
The concoctions are something fruity (or acidic) speared with a wedge of orange (or lemon) on the rim and the fluid inside the glass seems to radiate inside the fancy beakers they’re served in, emitting a radioactive glow against the neon lighting behind the bar. Hereya go, hun, she says, You’ll LOVE this. Clem picks-up the drink awkwardly, feeling self-conscious while holding the glass with such a fancy stem. He doesn’t say a word and, for a moment, can only glare at the hypnotic ambiance of the elixir before swilling it down with an immediate and brutish lunge. He cringes as the fluid attacks his tastes buds. DAMN, I lika man who likes his booze, Stevie says, nursing hers daintily with an aimlessness that puts him at ease. As she looks off at the dancing mob, he takes this opportunity to scope her out forwardly without much concealment or care, flaunting his liquid-courage, using the camouflage of the dim lighting to take liberties with his eyes. He runs though the checklist of female measurement: Nice ass, but she’s FLAT…really flat…but I’m no breast man…never have been…Guess her posture could use some work too. But I like the tattoos. Her arms are pretty muscular…really muscular, but it isn’t all that bad. He thinks about asking her back to his place. I could always ravish her, he thinks, She would probably like it…REALLY like it, but he decides against it, Probably has the HERP.
The music continues to THUD-THUD along and Clem looses himself in the labyrinth of ink on Stevie’s arms, tracing the tracks of designs with his eyes. She turns back towards Clem before he can look away and catches him in the act of ogling, then smiles just enough to encourage him, thinking, Ummm-UM – Whata sweet little boy – Never had a yuppie before – Bet hesa CHERRY – How tasty. Clem rolls his shoulders back with an attempt at nonchalance and tries to shrug her off, not wanting to send the wrong message but thinking, It’s nice to feel sexually relevant.
On the dance floor, two boys sandwich a girls with their hips and they thrust her back and forth like a rag doll as she runs her hand across her temples, whipping her hair around and around with exhilarated pleasure, squatting lower and lower to the floor, grinding harder and harder, positioning her pelvis more openly and receptive to the bombardment dry-shags spearing her from every angle, injecting her body with more and more satisfaction. Clem watches in conversation with himself. How did I get here? He can’t recall. Well, how did I start out? That fact seemed more immaterial than the former. The only thing that seemed to be clear was that where he is always comes second to where he isn’t. Always will be. He has friends, a lot of them. Assholes…rich and spoiled (like me)…but none could be convinced to join him anywhere in town other than the mainstreams of Demonbreun or Second Avenue because they didn’t want to, Hangout with ah buncha homos. Clem palms his hair…greasy, feeling the night slowing coating him in its slime.
Stevie sits fixing her pony-tail and Clem realizes that she isn’t talking, looking less and less amused by his company. This makes him nervous. I like your tattoos, he says, Very…edgy – Or did I already tell you that? No, she smiles, but thanks. I’d like to get one ofem sometime, he says and she perks-up, OH, you should TOTALLY go to MY guy – He’s VERY professional. DEFINITELY, he says laughing inside. He wants to tell her she doesn’t know what professional is…but doesn’t, so he just sits and stares, chewing the inside of his mouth, fumbling for his pack of cigarettes as he looks back out at the crowd, the music crashing throughout the room. What inspired them? – If you don’t mind me asking? Nothing really, looking bemused. Then why did you get them done? Because I could…
The two sit quietly in their chairs, neither speaking, watching on at the vortex of flesh on the dance floor, the mob churning like a bulimic organism attempting to eat itself, spitting out bodies as quickly as it sucks them in. Stevie looks bored and about ready to scoot and Clem, not wanting to be a drag, asks her if she wants to dance, leaning back, stretching, trying to look casual and not offensive or predatory (like most guys), For kicks? Her eyebrows rise and she nods, leaving her unfinished drink on the bar, taking Clem by the hand and into the throng. He likes the ways she moves, the slippery dives of her well-oiled hips and elbows rocking back and forth with Zulu-fluidity. They’re bumped back and forth and crushed against waves of arms and legs and crotches viciously straddling whatever grazes the void between them. After one song Stevie says she’s tired, looking almost on the point of total monotony, and Clem asks if, You wanna have another pipe? YEAH? Why not? For kicks, right? Sure. Thought you had church? Forget church. And she leads him by the hand and they slip out back through the kitchen, past the Hispanics dealing cards across a cutting board. They look up from their game, then away as Stevie and Clem disappear into the alley.
Outside it’s cool and dark and the soft beams of a street light paint vague highlight along the brick walls. Stevie plugs the pipe, working unaffectedly without any light. The flash of her Zippo ignites and after a couple of hits she seems to be having ALL sorts of fun again. A couple more. This girl is all lungs. I love METH, she blurts, it’s LACED, she proclaims proudly then exhales, refusing to cough in front of Clem, The Amateur. ME too, he declares light-heartedly, taking the pipe, making her giggle, Even though there an EPIDEMIC of this stuff in the South. He watches her pony-tail wagging in the alley’s half-light, Well, how do you think we get so muchuv it? And she points her chin down and coughs (finally) and Clem’s eyes begin to adjust and he sees her eyes start to bug again. He has a pull, then another, and doesn’t say a thing, just stands still and feels the first waves coming, once, twice, then in droves, gaining energy with hurricane-like momentum, inundating the shores of his mind then retreating back into the gulf of thrashing Great Whites and Killer Whales and the hair prickles-up on the back of his neck. And Stevie finds her second wind, Haveya ever noticed ALL the different names we give all our drugs? – It’s…like…a whole nother language. Clem tries to recall, not sure what she’s driving at, her voice is deep and echoing. The waves are crashing with a storm swell strength, only now he can’t feel them recede.
You know, like – Amp, Crystal, Crank.
Glass, Clem chirps.
White cross, White crunch.
Blue belly. Blanco.
That’s where they make this stuff, Sweetie - The Trailer park, and she smiles, giving him a playful nudge. Oh, Clem says, casting a long arching look past her down the alley towards a streetlight. He thinks about having another trailer toot, but decided against it, Well, what’s innit anyways? Sudafed.
His eyes glaze and he watches her play nervously with her pony-tail, twiddling-twiddling-TWIDDLING her fingers around and around the black Cherokee ends, scanning the ground anxiously, listening to the bass speakers indoor thud-thud-THUD, drowning inside a dopamine flood, powering-UP. Hold tight…It’s just beginning. She moves towards him slowly and her body begins to levitate, floating ethereally like some guardian angle riding on a cloud of hazy methamphetamine. And Clem cracks his knuckles and the click echoes down the alley, gesticulating out from his hands and into the air, and his teeth CLENCH…gliding through a docile purgatory, waiting and listening, riding the paranoia into the paranormal into the euphoric…(Was that a human voice?)…His neurotransmitters firing-firing-FIRING like a machine gun and his brain jitters forward like a panzer tank, fluttering and gyrating with STIM-U-LA-TION, seconds, minutes, soar by and slip beyond reach. She touches his arm and pulls herself closer, senses para-SHOOTing down his arms, and she nestles up beside his rigid frame, and kisses him around the neck and ears, he giggles, That tickles, hot in the groin, she laughs along with him, pushing herself in closer as he kisses her back, teasing, nibbling – Yeah? – hehe, snorting the musk, running his hand up and down her back and snickering and salivating, licking, touching tongues, feeling her ass and her thighs, tightening, feel up and around the crevice and cupping….HER COCK.
Clem shoves her back against the wall, FuCKKKin’ SHIT, and swings and kicks and Stevie yelps, dropping her pipe on the pavement – CHING, dodging Clem’s blind lunging – too stoned to connect – arms and elbows flailing frantically. He manages to grab her scarf and she chokes – Uhhnn – for a moment before untangling herself. YOU DIRTY FAG, Clem shouts, stumbling before charging violently at Stevie who ducks out of the way, and Clem hobbles as he trips and falls onto his back, sprawling out on all fours clumsily and defenseless, Stevie laughing sinisterly, WHO’S the FAG NOW? And she (he) lets out a menacing cackle that vibrates from her tar covered throat, snatches her (his) pipe from the ground, wraps her (his) scarf back around her (his) Adam’s apple as she (he) saunters off down the alley, BYE-BYE LOVER-MAN, smiling ghoulishly down at Clem motionless laying against the asphalt half-conscious and growing colder, barely hearing Stevie’s heels clicking and clacking against the ground, softer, then silent.
Clem finds his feet outstretched across the pavement stained with oil and bubble gum and his shoes STRATCH painfully against the asphalt as he pulls them in towards his dewy torso. No sign of Stevie the Indian, Who knows where and when HE ran off. The sun’s glare begins to beat down on Clem, cruelly squeezing his cataracted eyes and pounding his temples, feeling warm rays against his skin. He lays still for a moment, unsure if his legs will hold him. The street looks calm and soporific in the dawn’s surly light. Where did I park the car? Or did I even drive…I hope not. He rises painfully, bursting with ache, reaching blindly for his equilibrium, tonguing a mouthful of dry ash, his lungs cystic and cracking, feeling decay a worm wouldn’t touch. He wobbles from side to side before managing to anchor himself against the alley wall. He wanders up and down Elliston twice and then remembers he parked all the way downtown in the parking lot off 1st Avenue, by the Courthouse.
He starts down West End, holding his hand over his eyes, offering a glance at the Parthenon replica standing palely behind the trees of Centennial Park. Dump trucks rumble down the road gathering the bagged excrement of the sleeping city. Birds bathe in the puddles along the curb. Did it rain last night? Must have.
He strolls past the Methodist Church and looks inside the front door as the wooden pews begin to fill with worshipers in dresses and ties, a team of deacons standing proudly on the front stoop like Christ’s sentinels distributing programs and shaking hands. Organs playing, people singing. Hosanna. In the HIGHEST. Where West End turns into Broadway, a bearded man sits with his legs folded smoking a cigarette beside a grocery cart full of aluminum cans and fabric. He’s wearing some sort of strange, tacky, filthy green jumpsuit, unshaved, hair greased back. The man glares-up protectively as Clem nears, gnarling with suspicion, but as his eyes focus, Clem’s haggard mien is revealed to him and the man’s stiffened look relaxes and his crooked posture relents as something in Clem’s appearance makes him recognize Clem is one of his own. An eager and attentive look flashes across the man’s face as Clem passes and he shucks out his pack as if to say, Smoke? Clem waves his hand, wanting for the cadge but the words are choked back by his catharsis of a migraine-brain and dry tongue.
Past 11th Avenue he catches the smell of gasoline and rubber from the Shell station. A man in a racing T-shirt waits outside and hacks-up a cud of phlegm and spits, staring at Clem from beside a stack of propane tanks, scratching his gut. He turns and goes back inside.
Clem stands on Broadway and gazes down at an abandoned rail yard. Behind those empty tracks he looks-up at the windows and Romanesque arches of Union Station were he was once attended a wedding. He can’t recall the ceremony or those involved…but remembers the smell of the flower arrangements meshing with the building’s heavily lacquered interior and admiring the high bronze ceilings. The memory slowly begins to surface...and he sees the room full of strangers that greeted him, shaking his hand, treating him as if he was one of their own, employing the façade that he had grown-up with his entire life, abortions and baptisms, infidelities cloaked safely behind the white picket fences of moral obligation, paid for with silicon implants, four-car garages, in-ground pools and all the other suburban ingredients that rely on the double-standard devised to conceal a latent lack of substance and spirituality that makes up THAT existence. All he knew about his life was the people in it, and these people took extensive measures to prolong a style of life by ignoring its mortality and dysphoria, pushing these realities further off the periphery of thought until truth ceases to exist any longer, making existence nothing less than one continuous prom picture pose. He never liked it and never got used to it.
The streets are empty except for a street sweep laboriously mowing the gutters past Commerce Street across from the Ryman. As the sun lifts itself higher into the sky, its rays grow stronger and stir up the mug on the saturated earth below it, the beams reflecting off the red brick buildings with increasing brightness and heat.
Down 8th Avenue, a lone hooker wanders barefoot up the block past the Greyhound Bus Terminal holding a tattered blouse across her boney frame, shoulder straps falling down her arms, looking puzzled, as if no one told her that the boys from Fort Campbell won’t be coming down from the base this morning. Coming closer, Clem sees the trickle of mascara and blood seeping slowly down her cheeks from the sores in her eyes and splits in her brown lips. He thinks there’s a cemetery down the way, but can’t remember.
At the end of Broadway, the windows of every shop are full of mannequins in cowboy hats and Western clothing, plastic guitars and mandolins fastened in their hands. Each figure wears a glazed look while, peering out from behind the glass below the yellowed awnings, arranged just right enough to make the tourists salivate. Overhead, tangled telephone lines stretch-out along the way like black spider webbing, hanging loose and swaying in the breeze. Clem crosses the road where the city meets the park on the riverfront along 1st Avenue and walks down the terraced hills cascading towards the water, skimming the broad expanse of the Cumberland River. He steps carefully down the incline rising up from the water, fighting his momentum from pulling him over. He carefully approaches the railing above an abandoned barge resting in the shadows of a dormant bridge that rises from the brown current like a tombstone. The gradual waters below it carry logs and other unknown objects which chug past the banks with the ebb with the fetid stream.
Clem sits on a cement block and looks out over the watercourse. On the opposite bank stands the Stadium, empty and ominous, greeting those riding up the highway, Welcome to Nashville, MUSIC CITY. Downstream paper mills, landfills, and Kentucky. He watches the solemn progress of the refuse floating by, frothed in the milky residue of sediment and slime, sinking and resurfacing, heading north. He can smell himself, Or is that the river?
He remains placid and serene, listening to the distant drone of the highway whirring off on the horizon, counting the billboards that pepper the round emerald hills: 1-800-INSURANCE, PREFAB HOUSING, SEE ROCK CITY. He lingers in his seat feeling tired and vacant with no place to go, the acid churning inside his stomach as his body begins to digest itself, fibrosis invading his bones and cramping. Birds glide in scouting circles from high above, Or are those vultures? He thinks about moving, but decides against it. This is Sunday morning.
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