OLD FLAME - ROBERT CRISMAN
Bad novels would have it that lost dogs in sewers get laid in such ways that would make even dead men jump up to go out to get some. Sundry stupidos eat this shit up. Really, though, sex in a sewer? Rats do it and dig it, but people? C’mon.
I knew this guy, Lowball Eddie, a lost dog for sure. Him in a novel? Some scribbler would give him a cock like a rocket, with women ecstatically screaming for more—all this with a vision of book sales hitting the moon.
It would be interesting to see how the scribbler would handle the night when an old flame of Eddie’s came calling.
The clock’s striking twelve, and Eddie’s in dreamland, when rapping blinks him awake. He stays put, though, hoping whoever it is at the door will quit it and get down the road. No such luck. After three or four minutes of on-again, off-again bam, bam, bam, bam, he says fuck it and jumps out of bed.
His place isn’t much. A stained, white-walled box, with living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. It’s a transient’s pad—stay there 10 years it’s a transient’s pad—smelling of smoke and old, sour sweat. The bedroom’s a mess, heaped with crap, mostly cheap clothes piled high on the floor and the dresser, and also the bed and the chair. Also, small piles of paperback books, discarded paper, pop cans, chip bags, etc. Three butt-choked ashtrays, one on the dresser, one by the bed, and one on the chair that has been there since Eddie moved in. No bugs in the place yet: God must’ve blinked at the squalor and told them to hold off for now. On the bed, a crumpled-up blanket. The mattress, a Rorschach mosaic. The sheets are wadded and tossed in a corner, to fester till peace reigns on Earth.
Imagine the bathroom.
The living room’s pretty much more of the same. The furniture’s Salvation Army crapola, the kind you see in most low-rent pads. There’s a couch that sags like an old, beat-up horse, a raggedy armchair, and a dusty old Zenith TV. Eddie bought the TV for chump change and, truth be told, he got burned. The coffee table’s just up from kindling, the end tables too, and the lamps are the kind you find on the sidewalk in front of some boarded-up flophouse. There’s more of the same kind of crap that litters the bedroom: ashtrays, pop cans, and so forth, strewn all around.
To the right of the door stands a bookcase, three shelves, crammed to the max with paperback books, stacked every which way. Some have spilled onto the floor as just part of the mess.
There used to be books Eddie’d read 20 times on those shelves, back when the shelves were kept dusted and neat. He’d arranged books by authors: Hammett, Ross Thomas, James Ellroy. George V. Higgins, the dialogue master of all fucking time.
This was Eddie’s library, man. He’d wanted to take those books to the grave. It's just that, every so often, he’d find himself broke as the brokest-dick dog on the planet, and the only way out was to sell off that library for nickels, to eat, or buy smokes, or sometimes to help get the bag. Years of this shit in the life of an on-again, off-again dopefiend.
At first, it was like selling his babies. He’d fallen in love with paperback copies of some of those books. The ’68 Vintage Red Harvest by Hammett, the cover a circle of bullets, the backdrop blood-red, like the story. Every reading was fresh for 10 or so years. He’d always thought that he’d have it someday when finally he’d gotten the place he’d call home, in mellow old age, far away from the scuffle.
Dreams do get dusty. But Eddie has plans: some heists and a bust-out from poverty row. After his getaway, well, he figures he’ll whip out the dustrag. For now, he’ll continue to kick through the books on his way to the door.
Still blinking sleep, hair sticking up, his sharp-featured face all puffy and grumpy, he opens the door. Standing there twitchy and raggedy-ann is a skinny blonde chick. Her hair is a mess.
It’s winter up here in Seattle, and she’s dressed for Phoenix. Her jacket is lightweight, a scabby black denim. Her t-shirt’s the color of mud. Both items go with the Thriftko garbage-can jeans she’s got on. Her old, clapped-out sneakers are one size too big. No socks, of course. Why spoil the effect?
She’s in her late 20s. Next year she’ll look 50. The way-too-bright eyes in hollow eye sockets, cheeks all sucked in, the bloodless, abraded complexion. Fat little commas smudging the ends of her mouth. Rockhead stigmata. Oh boy.
She was a fox at one time, though. And, despite all the horrors sucking her face off, it’s not all gone yet.
How did she look before crack grabbed her ass? Blonde, slender, curvy, all peaches-and-cream with a face like an angel, the way Eddie dreamed her? You can paint your own dream. Give her some zits and a butt like Wyoming if that blows your hair back. Just so it hits you. Then imagine she dumped you a couple years back. She’d treated you like a disposable Bic and doled out the pussy with interest rates over the moon. You’d hoped and you’d hoped...but she kissed your ass off and you’d gone into shock, and then didn’t know whether to kill her or fall at her feet and beg for your life back. Then, 800 years—and you finally got over her, sort of. I mean, Jesus, she’d left you for dead, am I right? And now, here she is, a ragged-ass crack ho. Do you shit or go blind?
Poor Eddie! Talk about mud-stupid, slack-faced, and staring! It’s all he can do. She starts picking away at her jeans like a quick little crab. Then she tosses her head and tries to stare back. She can’t hold it, though. She tries smiling, but the smile is half-ass and dies in a heartbeat.
She sucks up some air and says, “Long time, no see.”
The cat has his tongue in a vise-grip. She darts a look out at the street and says, “Can I come in?”
Inside his skull, Eddie is scrambling around like a monkey on bennies. He really can’t deal. If this was just some old skank, well, he’d broom her and get back to bed. But, this bitch...
Aw, no, man, she’s got to go, too.
He’s scared to death he’ll get weak. She had his nuts in her sack for a long fucking time. He blinks and says, “It’s real late.” There’s a gallon of phlegm in his throat. He’s weak already.
She says, “I know. I’m sorry, I just... I hadn’t seen you in awhile, you know, and I...” She shrugs up the rest.
“Yeah.” he says.
He’s stuck as a deafmute for something to say. Both of them are. She’s trying like hell, though. Funny, it used to be, she didn’t have to say squat.
Finally, “Larry’s in jail.” She chirps this one out like it’s good news.
He says, “I heard. You got out.”
“I been out four months.”
She takes another deep breath. “Well, can I come in?”
“Just for a minute. I know it’s late...”
Eddie hangs fire. She peeks past him into the room, like she’s looking to jungle up there for the winter. She shivers. “It’s cold.”
“Okay,” Eddie says, not happy at all, and knowing he’s fucking up bigtime. Alesha comes with a cost. “Come on...for a minute.”
Quick as a wink, she’s inside. She heads for the couch and sits down and starts rooting around in her purse.
She shoots him a quick look. “Okay if I sit down?”
He sighs. “Be my guest.”
She starts dumping stuff out of her purse, onto the table. Wadded-up Kleenex, grime-crusted papers, envelopes, lifesavers, tampax, a greasy old comb, and mass other crap. It’s hard to see where her shit begins and Eddie’s leaves off.
She’s muttering now. “Where are my smokes?”
Eddie stands there, chewing his lips. “Alesha—”
She finds the smokes, Kools, crumpled to shit. “Do you got a light?”
He mutters and picks up the matchbook next to her purse and hands it on over.
She lights up the Kool and says thanks. She sucks up some smoke and then sits there, eyes in mid-distance, as if she’s thinking of some dress she saw on some dummy last week down at Nordstrom’s, and whether it’s worth the arm and a leg that they’re asking.
Eddie’s already tired of the act. “Alesha—”
She rides right on through him. “God, Eddie. I’ve just been running around like crazy this week. I’m living way out in the north end, right? And I don’t have a car, and they fucked up my check, for the second month in a row, and—it sucks, you know? All I’ve been doing is running around, trying to take care of that stuff, and it’s making me crazy.”
She laughs, if that’s what it is; it sounds like dry leaves on sandpaper. “I’ve been up on the Hill, like all fucking day, trying to get them to give me my check, and it’s just, they’re such fucking bastards. And then, when I got out of there, finally, it’s late, and I didn’t have any money, and I’ve just been walking around on Broadway all night, and it’s, uhggghh! God! You got an ashtray?”
There are three of them there on the table, all heaped with butts. Eddie points the nearest one out.
“So, anyway,” she says, “it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, and you’re up here, and, I thought I’d come by and, you know, see you.” She tries another one of those stillborn smiles. The smile’s like her act, a sort of brassy blasé, worn thin as a counterfeit dime. Under the act—what else?—rock nightmares, chewing away.
Yes, chewing away... at the fat little girl in the school way back when, who wanted the stars there to love her as one of their own, and got shit on... until she slimmed down and got fine. Then things were different; the boys all came sniffing around. She’d wanted them to adore her; they wanted a ho who would fuck them for free. She decided to make the boys pay. She also decided that she would be Queen, and that tits and ass were her ticket. And they were—to a throne in a kingdom of cripples. She reigned over droolers and bar tricks who coughed up her rent. She’d wanted the love of the gods and revenge on the meat-hogs, but this was rat’s-ass. She gave herself over to rotgut, then rock, and to dudes who all starred in low-rent Clint Eastwood cartoons. In between were the Eddies, breakable toys, here for a minute and then gone.
Now, here she is, just chirping away, like it’s all good.
“I saw Larry last week, too, and he asked about you, and he wanted to know how you’re doing, and I said I’d stop by.”
Bullshit. Weak bullshit, too. Larry could give a rusty fuck about Eddie. Plus, bringing her old man into the rap while working a sort-of-an-ex-squeeze she’d dumped—dumb dopefiend move. But, what the hell. After all, this is Eddie and she’s peeped his hole card. He let her in, did he not?
Still, he’s got to try and shortstop this shit. “Alesha—”
Not yet. “But I wanted to see you anyway, you know, ‘cause it’s been awhile, and—”
She blinks and her eyes go way wide. “What?” Like she’s all surprised.
“What do you want?”
“What do you mean?”
Like, what kind of a question is that?
His jaw starts to work. “Goddamnit—”
“Eddie, I told you, I— ”
“Eddie, what? I don’t—”
He starts counting to ten, and then says, “Look—”
“Goddamnit! What are you doing? It’s midnight, goddamnit! You didn’t just ‘drop in.’ To see me. The fuck—now, c’mon.”
“Hey! No goddamned Eddie! Fuck all that shit! I wanna know what—”
“Goddamnit, Alesha! You—I want you to quit stalling around! What the fuck do you want?”
“Eddie! Can’t you just—”
She gapes at him now, like he’s just lost his mind.
“Okay,” he says, “that’s it. You gotta go.”
He’s kicking her out? She doesn’t believe it.
He starts toward the door. She stays where she is.
He gets to the door. “Alesha, c’mon!”
“Eddie, what are you—please! Stop!”
“Stop? You stop!”
Alesha will not get her ass off that couch.
“Goddamnit, get your ass up! I’m not playin’ with you!”
“Eddie, Jesus!” She still doesn’t move.
He starts toward the couch.
“Okay, Eddie, okay! I—please, I’ll tell you, okay? Just—please, okay? Just give me a little, you know, just—please?” Then she just sits there.
“Hey!” Eddie says. “You said you were gonna spill it, so spill it, god—!”
“Can you loan me $40?”
There it is, finally, and who on this planet did not see it coming? All that fucking dancing around...
Eddie stares, blinks, and says, “No!”
“I’ll pay you back!”
“Alesha—Jesus, I can’t believe it! You, fuckin’—I—Jesus Christ! What the fuck do I look like? I fell off a pumpkin wagon or something? Goddamnit—No!”
“Eddie, I swear—”
“No, goddamnit! No fucking way! You, Jesus, I can’t—” Eddie’s face, going from red now to purple. This bitch! Where in the fuck did she dredge up the nutsack to get in his face with this shit?
That’s obvious, of course: her need and his sad-ass track record.
But—damn! “You come waltzing in here at 12 o’clock midnight, and dance me around for an hour, like, maybe I’m stupid, just hand you some money so you can bop off to the rockhouse! You think I’m some kind of moron? And you—look at you! You’re loaded like dumptrucks, goddamnit, and—”
“I am not loaded!”
“Bullshit! I could skate on your eyeballs! Ray Charles could see—”
“I am not loaded!”
She throws that one out louder than some world wars—and, right on cue, the guy in the apartment above begins pounding away on the ceiling.
It freaks the shit out of both of them, too. Eddie just hisses: “Goddamnit, goddamnit, goddamnit! Shut the fuck up! Are you crazy?”
His face is tight purple. His voice drops down low, with a violent edge. “I’m not giving you money. And you’re fucking gone, and I mean it. Now, get your ass up and get the fuck out.”
The look in his eye—her eyes go way wide again. He’s serious, man! It’s, like, finally, she gets it. It blows her right out of the water.
“Eddie, please!” Now all of a sudden she’s begging. “Please don’t! I’ll pay you, I swear! I’m—please! I’ll pay you tomorrow, I swear!”
“I said no.”
That’s it. She’s all out of time.
And, still—it looks like it’s going to take pit bulls to get her up off that couch. She’s staring holes in him now, trying to voodoo his ass off the money.
“You want me to carry you?”
The girl is a bulldog.
“Alesha,” he says, “how long do you think you’re gonna be able to keep this stupid shit up? I’m not giving you any money.”
“It’s a loan!”
He just shakes his head. “C’mon, get up.”
She lowers her head and breathes deep. She sits there rock still.
She shoots him a look, then stares at the floor, at something far, far away. The room goes quiet as all the dead noise in the world. Her eyes, man—fixed inward, staring. Her mouth seems to tremble, as if it’s about to dissolve.
Tracking her face are shadows of tears, murdered and buried a long time ago, in some unmarked grave. Years of them, too, and just for the moment, she looks to be 50 years old.
A long tick of time—then, her face pulls together, via a process unseen, except for the newfound resolve in the set of her mouth. Her eyes are now focused, the ghosts reinterred. She knows what she has to do.
Another deep breath. “I need—“ Her breath catches.
She looks away at the wall—and then, in a stuttering rush, her voice flat and low: “I’d...I’ll...you know, go to bed”—deep breath—“with you.” She looks at him quickly, then dead-on at nothing, eyes widened, glazed over. “But...I need—$40, I...” A quick shake of her head, and the rest of it drops down a hole.
She darts a look up from under, then off, away.
Eddie, meanwhile, he’s... Huh? That’s what she said. Motherfucker.
His heart starts in beating again. Then—throat-choking rage shoots right through him. This dirty bitch! The love of his sorry-ass life! And—here she is, and she—motherfucker!
He blinks, shakes his head, and then—you’d have to see it. Something sure starts to click. Standing there, face dumb as paint, arms slack at his sides, eyes hooded. Sadness, or something, blinked over.
From boyfriend to trick. Shame wells inside him—and fear. And then, there is no way to read him. He’s gone undercover.
Time spanks off the clock.
And then—what is this? The gleam in his eye... Is this... yes, it is!
He’d thought that this girl was an angel. And, what, after all, makes an angel?
Forget about heaven.
And boil off the bullshit.
What makes an angel?
Cocksucker lips, on Alesha, this bitch...
Alesha is checking him out. That gleam in his eye: lust shot with rage. She knows it so well, having come, over time, to regard it as damn near her birthright. She eyeballs his crotch, peeks up at his face, then stretches her hand toward his zipper. She’s barely breathing, afraid that he’ll break.
She starts to mention the money again, then backs off. The way that he’s breathing… He’s helpless. He’ll pay.
She rubs his crotch softly, starts stroking and stoking his cock through the denim.
Just for a moment, Eddie is standing outside of it all, watching her do it to some other guy.
Her eyes begin dancing. Her breathing kicks up a notch. Her lips open slightly, and, by God, she grins. The tip of her tongue snakes out past her lips.
“It’s alive, I can feel it.” Her soft, breathy laugh is close to a moan.
Eddie, a deafmute, eyes locked on her hand at his crotch.
She grabs the top of his zipper and pulls it down slowly. His dick stands at half-mast. She strokes it upright.
She unsnaps his pants and pulls them down to his ankles. Then she slides off the couch and onto her knees. She gobbles him whole.
She moans and feathers his balls with the tips of her fingers. He takes her head in his hands, and then grabs up a clutch of her hair.
She licks his balls, moaning and moaning—mood music for hard-ons, hence part of the script.
He grabs her hair, bunches it tightly, and then forces her back. He tilts her head up and then starts in pumping. Slowly at first, then faster and faster. He has her back arched, with her knees on the floor, neck stretched to the limit, arms splayed like her fingers. She looks as if she’s reaching for Jesus. He forces her head to the couch.
He drives his dick deep, brings it back, and then drives it deeper. Whaling away now. The squeak of the couch and their grunting come faster and faster.
She jerks away, and his cock flops out of her mouth. “You’re hurting my hair!” She brushes her hair back with this cock-freezing frown, again the perfect, petulant hussy that Eddie remembers.
He’s frozen above her. His cock has gone soft as a noodle. He’s all knotted up. He grabs her wrists, though, and goes back to the grind. The veins stand out on his neck, and his body goes rigid as rocks. His face, red and sweaty, is tight as a rope holding six tons of rock salt suspended in air.
She spits his dick out, jerks her head to the side, and tries pulling her arms free. “You’re hurting my wrists!” His dick goes dead as a doornail.
It’s the chance a trick takes.
He’ll ride this thing through to the end, though. What else to do? He’s Sisyphus, rolling his rock up the mountain. The Wile E. Coyote of grudgefucks.
Back to the grind, with a lighter grip on her wrists, to be sure. She could even pull them away. But she leaves them there, crossed, with her hands hanging loose. Like the whole thing is nothing at all. That soft little pecker. She sure made her point.
She lies like a dead thing beneath him, eyes now half-shut and staring at nothing. Eddie, ramming away, like a rabbit with minutes to live. Let him pump till he’s dry.
Blasé Alesha. Her screams and her shame are all buried down deep.
You do what you have to.
Eddie keeps on, and the clock ticks off hours, it seems—and then, at long last, a tickle. It spreads like molasses, out from the base of his nutsack. He grunts and drives harder. The tickle is spreading, fighting its way through the knots and the blockage inside him. All his muscles are bunched. Pushing and shoving. Like ramming a rock through a clogged, rusty drain.
Driving and driving, and heaving and heaving, and finally—it gets there! Shoved through his cock like a gallstone and into her mouth. His own mouth gapes open, his eyes slam shut tight. He presses his crotch to her face then and grinds it, squeezing the last of it out.
At last his release, blunted and dulled as it is by the blockage.
He rolls off the couch.
After that first too-quick minute, he never got close to a hard-on.
Alesha lies on the couch as if nailed. A dribble of juice leaks out the side of her mouth. She coughs, lifts her head.
Eddie half-sits and half-sprawls on the floor. She sees that he’s somewhere in space. She ducks her head then, spits the juice in her hand, and rubs it into the backrest.
Then she waits for Eddie to get off the money.
On the way out the door, she stops and blows him a kiss. “’Bye, Eddie, love you.” Then, zip, she is gone.
Later, he stands at the window. Three o’clock in the morning. He’s smoking a butt, looking out over nothing. Singing a snatch of an old Rolling Stones dirge, Moonlight Mile, softly, sadly, a little off-key. Next up, the Temptations: Hurry Tomorrow.
BIO: Robert Crisman spent some years living the kind of life depicted in this story. Unlike most of the people who live it, he found his way out. He brought his ghosts with him, however, and his fiction, about lost dogs stuck on the Road With No Exits, is his way of turning his time in the mix to account.