There was way too much noise in my head as we rode along in that little car listening to the Insane Clown Posse. I sang, “My kind of bitch aint like your bitch cuz my bitch don’t bitch at all,” and I thought I meant it. The leaves had changed colors and already I regretted not cutting out of at least one class to look at the blazes of red and orange in the metro park. I sat obediently in that big brick box of a school all autumn and the grades weren’t coming up. Pointless.
I told her to go to her father’s trailer, thinking to myself, “I’ve been loving you far too long,” though really it was only seven months. She was sixteen and I was fifteen. Her father’s trailer had two things I needed, marijuana and a claw foot bath tub. I had gotten used to smoking weed in the claw foot tub. If her old man ever noticed we were pinching his weed, he didn’t say anything.
You’d be amazed at the range of trailers you can find in a given park. Cheap trailers with aluminum siding that looked like they would blow away at the first sneeze of the big bad wolf. There were multi-story trailers with brand new vinyl siding, small durable trailers with genuine wood paneling. Her father’s was what we called “Cadillac.” Three bedrooms, a pimped out bathroom with a mirrored ceiling, and a two-car aluminum port where he parked his F-150 and his Mustang. He worked the afternoon shift at the F-150 plant in Dearborn and was usually gone by the time we got out of school.
I followed her through the door and slipped the new Grinderman album into his Bose stereo system, the distortion ringing out of those fifteen inch speakers, the sub woofer counting the bass guitar’s whole notes. All the noise on the stereo said “You are wrong.” I knew this. A song called “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” played. I walked into the bathroom and turned the shiny chrome spigot labeled “H.” I stripped down and climbed into the steaming water. The condensation began to cloud the ceiling mirror as the water ran.
It was a ritual for me to sit there while she rolled a joint from her father’s bag and fed it to me. Her dad’s marijuana made me high on its own, but the hot bath got me stoned. Grey honeycomb shapes would enter my vision. I’d be nowhere and myself while she delivered me the vision. That day the weed never came.
She had found a crumpled note from an old friend in the lapel pocket of my flannel and was leaning over me screaming something. I got out of the tub and gathered my clothes from the toilet while she held her note to my eye level like it was the baddest piece of evidence in the world. I said I loved her and that it was an empty note. That Gert had emptied the note on me and I didn’t care. Gert was an old friend whom I kissed at the metro park two summers ago. This girl, though, was my girl. This Patty with her washed out blonde hair and acne. The tough thing about going with a tough girl though is that they’re tough. Patty had a scorpion tattooed on her lower back; this made her tasteless and tough, and when she decided to haul off and hit me, it fucking hurt.
I walked through the kitchenette past the collector’s mugs lined up on a display shelf: Pittsburgh Steelers, Dale Earnhardt Sr., 1995 Atlanta Braves with Steve Avery’s autograph. I’d only met her old man once, but that was enough to learn that Steve Avery, the baseball star from right here in Taylor, MI, didn’t give autographs to many people, but Patty’s dad knew how to approach him and he appreciated that. Her dad had yellow around his eyes as he spoke of the greatness of Avery and gulped from a 16 oz can of Budweiser. I didn’t know who Steve Avery was until he showed me that mug. He also told me one other thing that stuck. I was welcome to come over any Sunday I wanted to watch Nascar, but I had to root for Little E. If I didn’t root for Little E I had to bring my own beer. I didn’t ask him if he knew I was fifteen.
As tough as she was, Patty still loved to bake, especially around Christmas. She had a taste for gingerbread cookies that came from her dead mother. Each year her mother was gone, she’d save a cookie and pierce it with a safety pin; then she’d feed red ribbon through the hole and make an ornament of it. She had eight ornaments stored in an eggshell white ceramic cookie jar. No one was allowed to touch them. Once dressed, before I left the trailer and the kitchenette, I removed last year’s last gingerbread man and squeezed it to crumbs. It was a transgression that was real, and I could’ve tasted it if I’d had a mind to. I didn’t taste it though. I took my Marlboro doo-rag from atop the living room TV, wrapped it around my mouth like a train robber and left.
Out in the street, the leaves were even more gone than before, and the dusk was coming on, the western sky a spent orb of light. Trees aren’t supposed to clank, but the bare branches clanked above the swelling culverts that never properly drained. The walk to the other end of Taylor was going to be long and colder with each step. The air around me would be colder, and my thinking, walking, breathing, aching and other factors that said I walked on an autumn day would maintain a fairly regular clip. Breath, step, lockstep with the hum of traffic out on Telegraph Road.
Everyone at school called my girl, “The snake charmer,” so I had to figure either they were wrong about her ability to charm or they were wrong about me being a snake. Seven months is far too long, I thought, as I called her the worm tamer in my head. I was only ever happy when I was inside her, fucking, sober or high. This was happiness. I loved her far too long. I turned left on Chippewa Creek Drive. I never had any interest in Gert. I could have fucked Gert at any point, but I didn’t. I kissed her one summer day beneath an oak tree at Huron Metro Park. Patty always hated that rich bitch because, as far as I could tell, she was rich. Her parents owned a horse farm, not a trailer.
The cement that lined the drainage ditch and ran alongside the road was unnatural, but I liked the way it echoed the sound of water, a sound like traffic, when the spring and autumn rains came down. It hissed an ancient question about the quality of noise as I walked through the subdivision of tract ranch houses that sat between Libato’s Trailer Park and Deer Creek Park. It hissed the same question an overdriven Fender twin amp hissed. The distortion sound of the creek echoing on concrete was like the girl with the crumpled note in the trailer full of rock n roll.
I wasn’t proud of crumbling the gingerbread man in the kitchenette. If it had been a gingerbread home, I wouldn’t have crumbled it. I would never crumble a gingerbread home. With all the wooden placards hung from trailer doors imploring God to bless this home, and all the trailers we called home throughout my childhood, I knew that homes could crumble on their own; it was only Patty’s man that had crumbled when I left.
I didn’t know if my mom would be at our trailer or back at her boyfriend’s house. I didn’t know if Rick was her boyfriend today or not. Mom liked gin and tonic and honky tonk music at the bar, but if she was thinking too much, Rick might be an enemy who had told the police that she had illegally obtained pills.
Either way I didn’t care; I had a roach hidden in a ziplock bag in my sock drawer. I would smoke it and think about the last seven months. Seven months is a long time, but not as long as a walk on a cold autumn night. And as long as that walk was, I knew nothing had changed. Tomorrow Rick would be here drinking our whiskey and eating our food, counting down the days until the eagle flew, and tomorrow the worm tamer’s Chevy would be choking itself in my driveway like a dog on a short leash.
He had been aloof that whole week, in his own world, not even noticing the leaves at the metro park when we stopped to smoke our cigarettes. Why would he? There were leaves in his head, October rust in his head. I wish I had that album still, October Rust. He said he felt like someone had punched him in the lip but no one had.
That afternoon we were listening to ICP. I hated all their bitch-fucking talk, the dumbass clown thing. I drove from South Huron Metro Park to the Daly burger on South Huron Drive. I was supposed to be home. My father had warned me the night before that the river and the creeks were high, to watch for flooded roads on the way to school and back, not to drive anywhere I didn’t need to.
Daly Burger is old, the kind of hamburger stand that even reminds people who never lived it of the 1950s. The kind of place where a boy you didn’t know might jump into your car and make you feel alive, his hair slicked back, square cigarette pack in the sleeve of his shirt, Elvis on the radio. That day, when I brought Jason to the drive-in to order the burgers he swore he needed, he said he never saw the leaves that autumn. He said the airport had cut down all the trees and Downriver had no color.
The bright white Daly lettering shone against the powder blue awning. The lit plastic menus with their little chrome ordering switches were no longer caked in fish flies. When I asked Jason what he wanted he muttered about me being a worm tamer. I didn’t argue. I ordered the three burgers I knew he’d eat. I ordered the coca cola I knew he’d mix with the cheap Canadian whiskey he stole from his mom’s boyfriend. I had no faith that the people inside would get the order right. The box sounded like a distorted guitar.
I had suspected him and Gert for years. He spoke so glowingly about how her parents had treated him. He spoke so glowingly of her parents’ farm and how they used to sit out at the far end of the race track beneath the hum and lights of planes. I told him it was easy for rich people to be pleasant. When the woman came with the plastic, wax paper-wrapped basket full of burgers, I thought of my father’s kitchenette and a pot to boil Gert in, how trying to relax after school simply boiled my nerves.
Jason was tall. His spine was bent, and he spoke with a southern accent that didn’t come from living in the south but came secondhand from his Alabama-born mother. He had scraped-off zit scabs on the back of his neck that made me sick if I looked at them for too long.
Daly’s is the kind of place where in summer you’d expect pretty girls on roller skates, but it was November, early in November, and before long the Daly Burger would be serving its clientele exclusively indoors. I wanted to fuck Jason in this parking lot, to suck the zit scabs on the back of his neck until the skin healed over new. I wanted to do it in my little car while snow was on the ground, before the girl on summer roller skates could find us.
“Let’s go to your dad’s,” he said, tossing the wax paper wrapper out the window and biting his first burger in half. I didn’t argue. The slow, fat girl inside filled someone’s cup with the last burnt-tasting dregs of coffee. We waited for her to unhook the tray from the window of my car, and while we waited, I pictured him fucking someone else and liking it. Her parents owned an orchard. Her parents owned a hundred horses and other kinds of beasts.
Cal Freeman was born and raised in Detroit. His writing has appeared in many journals including Commonweal, The Journal, Nimrod, Drunken Boat, and Ninth Letter. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and creative nonfiction. Recently an excerpt from his novel, Tractors, was published by the journal, Works in Progress. He teaches at Oakland University.