by Karin C. Davidson
In the uptown Canal Villere we are standing in front of the wine shelf, looking for the Bolla Valpolicella. It’s late on a Saturday night and we’ve nothing better to do. Micah says his brother’s out of town, so we can go to his apartment and watch movies. Jude has already walked to the checkout and is picking out a soft pack of Camels. We are all bored, and so we smoke too much.
Outside, the night is drenched in New Orleans’s wavering city lights. Above are clouds of muted lavender and copper. I reach out to touch the sky and realize the drugs are already working. We fly down Claiborne Avenue with the Volkswagen’s top down. Jude likes to drive fast and we pass everyone else on the road. I watch from the backseat as people in Monte Carlos and Mustangs blur past, and my eyes start to sting and tear.
“Slow down, Jude,” I yell.
“No way, sister.” He takes a corner and the VW seems to lift sideways for a moment.
Then again, maybe it’s the drugs.
I have no clue what I’ve taken. Something dark and sinister that’s filling me up with a strange purple feeling. I slide down in the seat even though we’ve arrived.
“Come on,” Jude says.
He seems impatient and looks down at me. I love his dark hair, his darker eyes. He reaches into the back and offers me his hand. In his other hand is a lit cigarette. Like I said, we are bored, in that long summer-stretch, that limbo between semesters, and this is just one way to skip through another evening.
We’ve been spending too much time together. Micah with his Dylan imitations, Jude joining in with a second guitar, me just sitting and listening, not bothering to understand the lyrics. Laughing. The three of us, a habit. Impetuous and willful and wanting to push limits, or each other, whichever comes first.
So I grab Jude’s hand. I love his hands. They are strong, wicked elegant, capable hands. And he nearly lifts me right out of the car. I climb the last bit and end up in the street on my ass. Micah gazes down at me.
“On the pavement thinking about the government?”
The road is uneven where I’m sitting. “What do you think?” I say back.
“Look out, kid.” He takes the bag of wine and leaves me there.
Yet again, I’m sitting in the street. I think I’ve been in this same spot before. There are oyster shell fragments and gravel and bits of debris around me, and I don’t feel like getting up. Jude shouts at me to get the fuck up. Since he’s not helping, I get up by holding onto the car door handle. I love my Volkswagen, white and shiny with little silver door handles.
Soon I’m standing in front of the brother’s place. Micah’s brother. I wonder if his eyes are as wide and swimming as Micah’s. It’s an upstairs apartment with an outdoor stairway. I step out of my shoes and onto the smooth tile steps, each tile a slightly different color—red, orange, brown. I am so damned quiet in my bare feet. Micah is behind me. His hands are on my waist. His mouth just barely touches the back of my neck. But I’m Jude’s girl, so this is different. Micah’s breath is warm, and Jude is already upstairs. I follow the stairway around, the iron railing under my palm, guiding me. Micah is no longer there. He has stopped to pick up my shoes.
Inside, the TV’s on. Saturday Night Live. Bill Murray and Jane Curtin are being rude to each other, and I stand in the doorway, watching their faces twist, listening to their voices curl. Eric Idle is the host. I love Eric Idle, and suddenly I’m laughing without even knowing I’m laughing until I almost spill the wine that’s in my hand. Jude is lying on the couch, and now I’m sitting on the floor below him. I don’t remember this glass of wine, but it’s red and it’s in my hand. And Micah’s somewhere. Is Micah somewhere? Yes, there he is, in the chair over there, and he’s looking at me. I take a sip of wine and look back at him. Jude watches the show, and Roseanne Roseannadanna makes him laugh out loud. I wish I could do the same thing. Make Jude laugh.
Yesterday on the way to Des Allemands Jude yelled at me from his truck. We were shooting down Carrollton Avenue to I-10, Jude in his truck and Micah and me in the VW. I was smoking a cigarette, hanging my arm out the Volkswagen window, and Jude was alongside us, shouting and pointing. I guess Micah had forgotten to put the gas cap back on after he filled up at the Texaco. I pulled my arm inside the car and put the cigarette out. Why we were going out to the bayou at noon, I didn’t really understand. Micah and Jude thought it was a good idea and had even bought turkey necks that morning. For some reason Jude was driving his truck, the crabbing nets and a cooler of ice and beer all loaded in back, and we were following in the VW with the turkey necks in a bag under my feet. It was only when Jude yelled at me about the cigarette and the gas cap and blowing the fuck up that I wondered about taking two cars. Since he’d begged so much, I’d even let Micah drive.
Roseanne Roseannadanna is not making me laugh. She keeps trying to touch Jane Curtin’s nose, and Jude reaches over now and touches mine. He likes to do this. I guess he thinks it’s nice. I haven’t ever said so, but it’s annoying. Or is it just that my sense of humor is being sucked away? This wine is too red and too dry and it’s making me want to drink more.
Micah gets up and goes into the kitchen. He brings back three glasses of water. He sets one down next to a half full ashtray, then hands me one. How did he know?
I accidentally spill a little onto my legs, and it’s cold. Micah drinks his water until it’s gone, gone, gone. He has this light brown wavy hair and he’s real skinny. Too much speed, not enough grits. Or something. He motions to Jude, who has fallen asleep. Jude was just laughing, though. How can he be asleep? Saturday Night Live is over and an old black-and-white film is throwing light out into the room. Time is on its own, shiftless.
I try to remember the day before. How by two in the afternoon, I’d felt done. Done with the hot sun, the tepid brown water of Bayou Gauche, the bare spot we’d found, no shade at all. Micah in the only tree around, small and nearly limbless. On the shore opposite, huge cypresses were littered with sleeping white egrets. I kept thinking how cool it looked over there, and Micah kept yelling about the turkey necks. Jude checked the lines, pulling them up very slowly, and managed to net seven blue crabs. They were sizeable and pissed off, too. Inside the ice chest they clattered around until cold enough not to care.
Nobody else was out there; nobody else was stupid enough to go crabbing in the midday, mid-July heat. They were all inside, sitting in front of giant electric fans and drinking iced teas.
I am stupid enough, though. I go wherever the boys go. We are inseparable, a trio, twisted together, trying to figure things out by doing them, not doing them.
Micah is sitting next to me now. Jude is above us on the couch, talking in his sleep. Is he really asleep? Or is he asking us what the fuck we’re doing? Micah slides his hand under my shirt. His hand is smaller than Jude’s. He bites his nails and looks worried a lot. Sometimes he sounds like Dylan. Blonde on Blonde Dylan. Highway 61 Dylan. But now he sounds like nobody I’ve ever met, his breath like a freight train inside my ear.
“Come on,” Micah says.
I realize this is the second time I’ve heard this tonight.
“What?” I say.
“So useless and all,” Jude says. He is still asleep and turns away, his face to the back of the couch, his back to us. He is so long; his legs go forever. The couch is corduroy, and I think of how his face will be imprinted with vertical stripes when he finally wakes.
“Come on,” Micah says again. He is a little boy lost, his voice small and hollow, and this time the request has a different meaning.
“Where?” I answer. The living room looks lilac and the TV is blue. There is one lamp on, but it’s in a different room. Which room?
Micah is pulling me up off the floor and I must weigh a million pounds. He’s got me up now and we’re going toward that light. Before we get there, he stops and I lean against a wall and he cups my face with his small hands and there’s that breath all over again. Micah has incredible breath, sweet and warm, like cinnamon and chocolate. I let him kiss me, even though somewhere in the back of my mind, there’s a little niggling that feels lonesome and wrong. The kiss is undeveloped, a precious thing, and I feel it working on me, undoing my spine. And then I realize it’s Micah’s fingers undoing the buttons down the back of my blouse.
The niggling grows as the buttons unbutton. Still, I don’t try to stop Micah and eventually he pulls my blouse off. I look down at it. On the floor. In a small gauzy heap.
At Bayou Gauche the afternoon sun bleached the mud bank the color of dirty china. The crabs kept coming. Jude lowered the lines one by one and tied them off onto the railing of the little bridge we’d come across. I sat at one end and watched him, the white line silent, his hands moving, his fingers quick but the entire movement gradual. Slow motion. That’s how he loved me most times. In slow motion. He glanced at me now and then and smiled.
Micah was still off in his tree, singing. The words were loud and then soft, like his gaze could be. Mean, defiant; then lulled. Always channeling someone, usually Dylan. “But I would not feel so all alone,” he yelled. He wanted what he wanted and if he couldn’t have it, he cried.
The sun was hot and wretched on my shoulders, and I wished for a wide-brimmed hat. My can of beer was half empty and warm, my cigarettes almost gone. I squinted back at Micah, then over at Jude. I was an in-between girl, and those boys were waiting, just waiting, to see what I’d do.
“Lors,” Micah says.
“Lors,” Jude says, still facing the back of the couch.
Micah looks over his shoulder, then back at me. I see the lamp now, and it’s in a bedroom. Micah is sleepy-eyed and pulling me that way. I see a bed and resist. A girl in nothing but cut-off jeans and resisting.
“What?” Micah says, smiling, trying to draw me in.
“No,” I say. I undo my wrist from his hand, but not without twisting it free.
I scoop up my blouse and hold it up to my bare chest.
“Why the hell not?” Micah has turned into mean Micah.
I try to put on my blouse and he tears it out of my hands. A button pops off and clicks as it hits the hardwood floor. It lays there, a glistening thing, like an open eye.
“Why?” he says.
“Micah, just stop.”
“Sooner or later,” he says. He nearly sings. He pushes me into the bedroom and grabs the back of my hair, right at the nape, right where it hurts.
The bed has a white spread over it and the lamplight washes it whiter. Still holding onto my hair with one hand, Micah grasps me around the waist with the other. He’s kissing my throat and I wait. I’m not uninterested; I’m certainly not uninvolved. I just want to see what happens. Micah loosens his hold when I stop struggling. I give in and find a place outside of myself; in that moment I become the yes-girl. But the lamp is too bright, and I reach over and turn it off.
First light seeps through the windows above. Gray, uncertain, unpredictable. Barely a color, barely there. That sad time when night gives into day, when I haven’t slept enough and wish for just a few more hours of darkness. But now Micah is over me, kissing my naked breasts. I know this is wrong and still I lie there, letting him. Letting him. Even with Jude in the next room. I sit up and kiss him back. And then I push him away.
“That’s all,” I say.
He starts to cry. I knew he would.
The crabs were a stunning sight, gray-blue backs with aqua legs and claws, outlined in magenta. We had seventeen in the ice chest before we realized that Micah was delirious. He’d been drinking beer and was red-faced and crazy-looking.
“You’re not my mother!” he screamed at me. “You’re not my sister!” And louder still, “You’re not even my lover!”
“No, I’m not,” I said. “And I’m driving. You’re wasted and it’s my car, dammit.”
Jude and I carried the chest between us, the top barely closed, mostly full of big busters. And then Jude had to go back for Micah, who wouldn’t get out of the tree. I couldn’t see past the dull green marsh grasses and stood in the truck bed for a better view.
Micah swatted at Jude, who was much taller and stronger and avoided Micah’s little slaps. “You go your way and I’ll go mine,” Micah yelled. “I’m gonna let you pass, you son of a—” He tried to cling to the tree and climb higher, but there was no more tree to climb.
In the end, Jude had to trick him and pry him loose and sling him over his shoulder. Micah’s hair flopped around and he shouted obscure things, more at the dirt than at Jude or me. He called us lousy film stars and 60’s wannabes and misfits and dullards. “Time will tell,” he half-shouted, half-moaned. Jude told him to shut the fuck up.
On the way home Micah fell asleep in the back seat of the VW. I followed Jude’s F-150, the right taillight still busted out from the time Micah kicked it. By the time we reached Kenner, the bright orange sun fell to one side of Lake Pontchartrain, leaving the rest of the way home muted and tinged with pink streaks and just a little bit of despair. The summer was halfway over and the world beyond the bayou seemed to me an uneven, unrelenting sort of place. And I didn’t know how much longer I wanted to be there.