Bud Smith lives in NYC, and works heavy construction in New Jersey, building and maintaining power plants and refineries. His books are the novels...read more Tollbooth and F-250, the short story collection Or Something Like That and the poetry collection Everything Neon.
I WAS OVERLY DRAMATIC, THAT WAS MY PROBLEM. Her parents, I’d have to shoot both of them at point blank range.
It was colder at the top of the water tower than I’d have guessed from the ground. The wind was different up there. I liked it though. I’ve always felt better suited for the sky; that’s where I live now.
I could see Tella Carticelli’s small brick house below. She was on the brown, uncared for lawn practicing spins with her lemon lime hula hoop. I watched for a little bit with my Lone Ranger binoculars. She looked unhappy despite how brightly she was dressed. Violet ribbons in her hair, that powder blue Sunday dress that I didn’t care for—it was understood, we’d use the dress to start a campfire in the desperate hills along the reservoir.
To me, she was Teal Cartwheels.
With pride, I counted the revolutions of the hula hoop around her hips and imagined planets orbiting the sun. Her body, her heart, her soul, were at the dark center of the galaxy that I needed. I was the pilot of a strange spaceship: controls set for the sun.
We were seventeen. She had a secret decoder ring that opened up. Inside, over the code breaker, she’d pasted my photo. I worked at Fried Paradise dropping the breaded chicken into the grease. They’d sent me to the Mayweather Home because in a note passed across the auditorium, I’d written that I wanted to blow up the high school with a fertilizer bomb.
Love; all of it for love.
There wasn’t any going back. Things were already in motion. The faint speckle of blood on my right shirt sleeve. My shoe stained red—I’d stepped in it [you know what], slipped.
All I could do was wait, climb down the water tower when everything was perfect. I’d drive over to Tella’s lil brick house and take her away in my shiny new car. I didn’t even have my license yet, I had a car though. I’ll just tell you that I found it. How's that sound?
Way up in the sky, I shivered, wishing that I still had the orange scarf that she had knitted me in her home economics class in St. Agnes where she went to school.
I was being diplomatic, you see. I wanted to give her parents one last chance. I wanted them to seal their own fate. I figured life should be about that, you—deciding your own path.
For the seven hundredth time that day, I took out the wrinkled and worn letter, and read it again.
Stay away from our daughter. She has no chance of a future with you in it. No chance at all. Presently, there's a restraining order with the police department filed against you. Don’t come around her any longer. She has decided to continue her studies abroad. It's deadballs certain/final. Tella is leaving, move on. I have a gun now. I have a sign hung on my property that says TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT ON SIGHT. The law will be on our side.
Have a Blessed Day,
Then, I watched his beat-up red Ford pickup truck came down the block. He parked, appearing from the cab coated with cement dust: curly, salt n pepper hair, mustache, ripped Levis. Cement was stuck to his dark leather work boots. He was almost the same size as the pickup truck. I wondered how he ever fit inside it. He’d mixed cement by hand since he was 12 years old. Arturo didn’t believe in machinery. I would have worked for him, that’s the funniest part. I would have married his daughter and carried on the family business, if things could have been different. I would have mixed the cement. He could have taught me how to lay block.
Maybe in a different life.
Teal had stopped with the hula hooping. It lay dead at her feet as Arturo walked over to her, speaking a few words. She didn’t respond. He bent down, touched her shoulder, kissed her on the mouth. When he went inside his house, Teal sat down on the crumbled brick steps. She couldn’t see me up there, I was too far away. That’d never happen again. I wanted her to see me, wherever I was, for as long as she lived.
Down below, I had camping gear. The Boy Scout’s manual. The US Army Survival Manual FM 21-76, Countless Atlases of the United States that I’d boosted from the public library. I had five changes of clothes for myself. Canned goods. MREs. Eighty dollars in cash. Three credit cards that belonged to some people I don’t feel the need to mention. Most importantly, maybe—Arturo Carticelli’s handgun, which he’d bought exclusively to shoot me. The joke was on him, I had the pistol. The combination to his gun safe had been November Tenth Nineteen Seventy Seven, Teal’s birthday.
As her mother’s silver Valiant rounded the corner, I felt my heart chug into startlingly off-rhythms, like Nigerian jazz.
It was March. The nights were still cold. Dusk was there. The quality of light was steel and ice. The fiery orange of the sun vanished beyond the soft curve of the earth and our meager town. The power-lines. The pine trees. My water tower perch with the football team typo that’d been painted on it carefully to read: HOME OF THE SCREMING EAGLES!
According to the water tower, the town was nameless. It existed merely for typos and high school football. It was a careless void in which we lived.
But, we were fucking leaving.
The Valiant parked. Miami Carticelli stepped out onto the driveway; long dark hair, a white dress with blue flowers or birds, I cannot remember; a grey half sweater around her shoulders. She was made of glass. I’m not sure how she’d voyaged across the Atlantic Ocean on a raft of Michelin tires, drifting aimlessly from Havana. She was the assistant bank manager at the place by the bowling alley. She didn’t stop to talk to Teal on the steps, instead, she passed by wordlessly into the house.
They hadn’t spoken since my girl’s ‘procedure.’
Satisfied that they were all home, I descended the water tower, started my boosted car with two attempts, the ignition was weird. Bats flew out of the trees pursuing insects in the vivid dusk. I had no appetite. It was spaghetti night at the Carticelli house.
The door to the house was locked but Teal had given me a key with a hot pink rubber cover. Inside, it smelled like pasta sauce—excuse me, gravy. Sausages, garlic bread, the fire in the hearth. Potpourri. I had the pistol in my hand like a detective in a dime store paperback.
Her mother, Miami, tall and beautiful, flashed by oblivious in the kitchen, carrying a silver steaming pot of spaghetti. Elvis Presley was singing softly on the old tube stereo, "Fools Rush In".
...read more (4/18)I ducked down the hallway, hiding in the shadows, my back flat to the wall. Near Teal's bedroom door, I could hear her tape player, muffled and warbling alien in a foreign language. She was listening to an instructional tape to learn to how to speak Italian. The tape kept saying common phrases and repeating them back. She was in there packing her bag too. I didn't have to see it to know it. The sounds we make consolidating our favorite knickknacks into a suitcase are amplified god-size.
We were being separated. So much was working against us. None of our problems were our own doing.
My Nikes sunk into the thick orange shag carpeting as if it was quicksand. I flattened my back against the dark floral wallpaper. Peonies. The toilet flushed in the bathroom directly across from me. Arturo Carticelli: all 250 pounds of him. Twenty five years of cement mixing experience. Hands like sledgehammers. His heart was carved from the same material as Michelangelo’s Pietà. It just wasn’t as finely crafted.
All along the hallway were photos of Elvis Presley, all different phases of his career. He made up most of the decor of the house, now. Miami Carticelli was an avid Elvis Presley fan. She loved him the way her grandmother had loved Castro.
The family, once devout Catholics had lost its faith. It was partially my doing.
I crept past Teal's room, waiting briefly in her brother Neil's empty bedroom. It had the preserved feel of a crypt missing the body. Neil had a Chippendale's poster on the wall hidden behind a poster for West Side Story. I discovered this after tearing down the West Side Story poster in disgust. In surprise, I looked at the Chippendale poster in wonder: the ripped, greased torso of a long haired man with feathered brown hair. Neil was in the Navy. He owned a silver Black Fantom bike. He was somewhere at sea on the USS Howe. I didn't know anything else about him. Just that he was gone, and that made Teal cry.
I put my ear to the common wall that Teal and her brother shared. I thought about doing "our secret knock" but decided against it. Things were happening a certain way and here was no other way to go about it. I'd considered all the consequences, I was fine with all of the consequences. Jail. Death. Hell.
The tape said, "Come faccio a contattare la polizia?"
I heard Teal Carticelli's sweet voice repeat back, "Come faccio a contattare la polizia?"
...read more (5/18) The instructor on the tape said, "How do I contact the police?"
I laughed. Things like that were always happening. It felt like the universe was aligned right there with me. It was resisting, sure. But it was right there, playing along. When you know you're gonna get resistance you can expect it and act accordingly, think Mohammed Ali messing around with the rope-a-dope, that kinda manuever.
I took my ear away from the wall. It was sweating or I was sweating, something.
Neil's bedside clock was blinking 12:00. 12:00. 12:00. The power had gone off in the summertime and no one had reset it.
I heard Arturo humming to himself as he came out of the bathroom. He hadn’t washed his hands. It was his house. I heard him lightly knocking on his daughter's door, "Come out, your mother made you a beautiful farewell dinner."
"I don't wanna," she said.
"Honey, you'll make her upset."
"I'm not hungry," Teal said. "I'm not coming out."
I sat down on Neil's bed and waited. I could feel the slow revolution of the earth.
Arturo had padded off slowly down the hall towards his wife, his humming growing faint. Elvis ended.
I took my time. I considered trying to run away with Teal, and not confront her parents at all. I decided it was pointless, they’d find us. They had to be spoken to, reasoned with. It was the only way. When I finally walked back down the hallway into the living room, I noticed for the first time that the large painting of Jesus on the cross that had hung above the fireplace was gone. It had been replaced by a massive black velvet Elvis dancing in his blue suede shoes. The ornate golden frame was the same. They had swapped out the paintings. Jesus, his apostles, his mother and everyone else associated: all gone.
Elvis was looking right through me, wherever I stood, his eyes followed. I loved that about Elvis.
There was the clink of plates from the breakfast nook where Arturo and Miami were already eating. I watched the mineral oil rain lamp leaking in the corner and I listened to their parakeet, Winter, chirping in the corner, and I listened to the apocalyptic sound of their forks and spoons as they ate their spaghetti, which I imagined as bloody worms.
...read more (6/18)As I stepped across the threshold, entering their breakfast nook, Arturo looked up at me for what seemed like a thousand years. There was sauce in his beard. The table was set, small antipasto salads already consumed, pitted olives, a three liter bottle of Food Universe store-brand orange soda. Grandma’s silverware that’d been sent in a wooden case from San Donà di Piave.
Arturo's mouth was stuffed. Garlic bread, extra butter. He chewed it all for a split-second before giving up and spitting it out onto his plate. Miami's Havana eyes were wide. Rightfully.
"She's coming with me," I said flatly.
"No, she's not," Arturo boomed. The air had been sucked out of the room. We were in a hostile vacuum. I was proud in a way.
"Yes, she is," I informed. "It's final. You need to be OK with it. You need to make peace with it right now."
"There won't be peace between you or our family ever."
"Last chance," I said.
Instead of responding to me, Arturo swung around in his chair and opened the cabinet built into the bottom of his tropical fish tank. Neon tetra floating in vibrant green water.
He spun the dial, I said, “Save it.”
He laughed, he spun the dial.
His gun was not in his safe any longer.
It was in my hand.
He looked back in horror as I fired. The shot missed his head by a fraction of an inch. The fish tank exploded. Glass and rushing water. Gunpowder. Smoke. Miami screaming. I shot again. Blood sprayed from Arturo, he'd stood—the bullet ended all that. He collapsed onto the table, the plates of spaghetti cracking. The table splitting. Miami screamed, continued to scream, phrases in Cuban. I thought about Teal in the other room, having to listen to the screaming. I shot her mother.
She slid onto the floor. At my feet was a pink fish, flapping and sucking air. Its eyes passed through me.
I picked up the pink fish and put it into a glass of water in the kitchen.
...read more (7/18)I was a mess. I went down the hallway, my ears ringing. I opened Teal's door. She was sitting on her bed beside her suitcase. She had her passport in her hand. Her hair was done up like I was taking her to the prom. She was wearing more makeup than I imagined the whole world possessed. This whole scenario was a complete surprise to her. "I thought I'd never see you again," she said.
I kissed her mouth. Her lips were paper dry.
"They were going to stick me on a plane ..."
"I know," I said. "Things’ve changed."
She opened up her passport and showed me her plane ticket. It said ROME. I tore it in half.
She let out a sigh of relief, gripped onto me forcefully. I hugged back, hard. Her parents were bleeding everywhere. The house was filling up with their blood. We couldn't go out the front door. She needed to keep pretending it hadn't happened.
I slid open her window, we climbed out.
"Are you alright?" I asked, meaning everything, and took her hand as we stood next to the barren rose bushes outside her window, absent of flower—only thorn.
She didn't respond, she just nodded in the slightest way, squeezing me with her tiny hand. We went across their back lawn. Pine cones and pine needles everywhere. My car was parked through the trees in the parking lot of the Catholic Church.
"This is our car now," I said, crossing through the wet leaves. "Do you like it?"
I’d taken it from one of the doctors at the Mayweather. I had his credit card too, but was too afraid to use it.
Teal shrugged about the car. I put her suitcase in the trunk. I started the car. It was a Lincoln. I had always wanted a Lincoln. There was a Hyundai at the junkyard I’d been eying with my Fried Paradise salary. But now, a Lincoln! Teal stared straight ahead in the passenger seat, tears in her eyes.
"Winter," she said.
...read more (8/18)I went back into the house, this time through the front door. I expected them to still be alive. To come at me. Ghouls. But they were dead. They’d be that way forever. The smoke alarm was going off, I noticed it as I was leaving even though it was so loud you could hear it from the street. I had the bird cage under my arm. I'd taken Arturo's wallet. I'd dumped the three liter bottle of orange soda on the fire in the fireplace. I figured it was respectful. The bodies would look better. The cold preserves. I didn't want the house to catch fire either. We'd get farther away. Better not to draw attention. Time was all I cared about.
We drove in silence through town. Winter the parakeet perched on the arm of her heart-shaped sunglasses. She was crying, but maybe didn’t want me to know. The moon was out.
It’s very easy to tell when someone is crying behind sunglasses when the moon is out. The makeup running down their cheeks seems electrified. Their softest sobs might as well be a neon billboard.
When we passed the plaza with Fried Paradise in it, I felt especially stupid for having my work shirt still on. I started taking the shirt off, driving with my knee. I didn't work there anymore. The shirt had a big cartoon chicken on the back. I wouldn't wear the big cartoon chicken anymore. Teal got nervous and grabbed the wheel so we didn’t go over the dotted line. I didn’t stop her.
A police car drove past us slow. He was drinking a big gulp soda. His hat was off. He was singing along to the radio. We might as well have been on Jupiter. Or ghosts. Or anything. We were no interest to him.
Then, I was shirtless and cold. The heat didn’t work. I kept trying it anyway.
"Where are we going?" she asked, facing out the window, very interested in the pine trees and the sugar sand and the weeds growing out of the sugar sand. Buckhorn. Mallow. Wild sage.
“Where are we going?” I repeated, clueless about an answer to that. I mean, we were headed south, she could see that much. I said, "South, I dunno, where do you wanna go?"
The bird chirped. It didn’t even flap its wings anymore. It knew better. They’d been clipped.
"Why’d you have to kill my mom?"
...read more (9/18) I had an easy explanation for that, "She loved your dad as much as I love you."
She nodded, maybe understanding it one of a million different ways. One of those millions of ways being something acceptable. Would she wanna keep going on living if I was dead? If somebody killed me, would she go after them? Would there ever be any peace? I wished she would just find something on the radio for us to listen to. I feared even worse that anything on the radio would be a dark reflection from the abyss swarming around us.
"I have a brother too," she said.
"I know, I'll have to deal with him too."
I stopped at the last red light in town. I could have easily blown through it.
“I would hope he would,” I said. “I’d do the same thing if I was him.” I touched her thigh, “Let’s not worry about Neil right now.”
“What are we worried about then?”
“I don’t mind you shooting my dad,” she said, pushing my hand away, “I wish you hadn’t shot my mom.”
Teal didn't say anything after that. We could have talked about anything. On the outskirts of town she pointed out the window at a plain white concrete building, Spine Align the sign said. There was a chiropractor there who apparently did other procedures. Sometimes the protestors stood outside with cardboard signs, unless it was raining.
"Kody, you see that? That's where they took me." They, meaning her parents.
"That's the place huh?"
She sighed, "It is."
"How'd they do it?" I said, as if that was the kind of thing that anyone would want details about. "Don't answer that," I said.
In my rear view, I glanced at the gold BMW in the Spine Align parking lot. I knew without asking that it was the doctor’s car.
"I'll tell ya. You should know. First they went in with forceps … pulled. They—they scraped. It hurt some. After that, there was a little vacuum."
I exhaled darkly. She said when I got angry, I sounded like a bull. A bull! What a compliment.
...read more (10/18)I stepped on the brakes, skidding the car out. Hateful, I looked back in my rear view some more at the sign for the chiropractor. He didn't deserve what I'd do to him. He thought he was helping people, maybe some of them, not her. He shouldn't have done what he did to Teal, to us really. But, he shouldn't have to pay for that. Arturo had gotten the bullet for that debt. Miami Carticelli got one too just because I knew about revenge. I’d grown up right down the block from Commando Video. I’d seen all of Clint Eastwood’s movies on VHS, as 99 cent rentals.
“What was the doctor’s name?”
“Swan,” she said. “Dr. Swan.”
“I’ll go in real quick and say hello to him.”
“Her,” she said.
“Oh.” That changed things.
A woman. A woman would understand better than I could. A woman.
“She was very kind. I spit on her,” Teal said. “She was very kind.”
I put the Lincoln back into gear. We kept driving. Her parakeet was crawling up her hair. Then, it sat on the top, clinging onto the violet ribbon, as if it were on a throne.
Camping: roughing it. The first night, we went far into the pine barrens.
There was a vein of dirt trails that led farther and farther away from the heart of civilization, and if you just keep floating through those veins like a gulp of blood, you’ll go forever.
At first, you’ll feel like a human. Then, you’ll feel like an atom. Then a particle. Then whatever is smaller than a particle. Then whatever is smaller than whatever is smaller than a particle. Until, the thought of electricity is non-existent. Until the light of the pollution is gone. Until above you are spotlight stars pulsing and the moon, fat and heavy and unconcerned with you or what you have done, it’s just the moon.
“I’d like to live in the wilderness,” I said.
She was sitting Indian style, still facing away from me and the fire I’d made, looking off into the darkness, “And do what?”
“Be wild,” I said, as a joke.
...read more (11/18)I tossed a small stick in her direction, it landed on the blanket that she was sitting on. She didn’t notice.
“I’ve never been camping and I don’t think I like it very much.”
“No?” I said, faking shock.
“Well, this is nothing. We’re still so close to the big cities. You see how small the sky looks? Don’t get used to that, girl. Pretty soon the sky will get so big it’ll just suck you up into it and you’ll have super powers.”
“Where do you get your information. The sky is as big as the sky is everywhere. At least on Earth. Are you taking me off Earth?”
“If I find us strong enough jetpacks,” I said.
An owl began to hoot. Winter flinched. “Your bird is nervous,” I said.
“The gun shots made him loopy.”
“I’d like to break horses on a ranch. You’d like that? You could be a cowgirl. Have you ever thought about being a cowgirl? I’d get you spurs and I’d have spurs—”
She began to cry again. I could not console her. No matter how I told her about my dreams and where I wanted to take her: Electric Peak, Montana. Big Sur, California. Devil’s Canyon, wherever that is. The Salt Flats. The Badlands of South Dakota or North Dakota, I could never get that straight. Juno, Alaska. Deadwood City, Idaho: a bonafied ghost town with a silver mine, if I remembered correctly. I had a subscription to National Geographic magazine.
I’d been in contact with ranch hands to the north. My application was being processed. I said my name was Paul Newman. Everybody loves Paul Newman. Things looked good. We’d have our own room. Meals provided. Running water. All the fresh air we could breathe.
I ran my fingers through her thick hair. She cried on my lap. “I wish that my guts would glow in the dark, so that if you looked down my mouth, you could see my heart if the moon was too far behind a cloud.”
She said, “I wanna go home.”
“I’ll teach you how to snare rabbits.”
...read more (12/18)“We’ll sharpen branches and make them into spears.” Before long, she was asleep on my lap in front of the fire. I moved her gingerly so that she wouldn’t wake. I took the photographs of her mother from her purse. I took the photographs of her father from her purse. I placed them in the fire.
The next morning, we were freezing in the damp grey woods. With the light, we could see that somebody before us had made a small shrine: pentagrams carved into a circle of trees not too far off, deer skulls, the last remnants of black candles, a mattress all cut up and burnt in the middle. “Kid’s stuff,” I said.
She made the sign of the cross.
We ate Chef Boyardee raviolis from a cold can. She said she wanted to take a shower. I said, “It’s only been one day.” Her Samsonite suitcase was extremely heavy. Was she smuggling cinder blocks across state lines?
“What’s in there?” I said, hefting it.
“Important things …” she said.
I glanced in. A portable travel record player. Twenty Elvis Presley records. Two shirts. A pair of orange pants. Flip flops. Things she’d need at a winery in southern Italy.
That day we traveled farther into the pine barrens. Around three o’clock in the afternoon, I began to eye the fuel gauge.
“We’re gonna run outta gas,” she said, tapping the glass. Her pink fingernails went tap tap tap.
“Maybe we’ll just dig a deep pit until we find our own tar. We’ll refine it. Make our own gasoline.”
“You know how to do that?”
“I imagine there’s something about it in the Boy Scout manual.”
“Neil was an Eagle Scout,” she said. “He’s got a silver Black Phantom motorcycle. His boyfriend flies jets—”
“Enough about Neil and his boyfriend.”
She had set the record player up in the backseat. It took four D batteries. The vinyl revolved unevenly. I had to drive very slowly around the whoopdees in the trails so that the needle wouldn’t skip. Elvis sang, “That’s Alright Momma, that’s alright with me” in distorted tones as the disc skipped. As the arm hopped. As we slipped farther off the map.
...read more (13/18)That night we camped in light rain. The fire wouldn’t stay lit. The tent was small and fluorescent so that a hunter didn’t accidentally shoot an arrow into it. I’d have preferred camouflage. She was still keeping her distance from me, laying on top of the sleeping bag even. We had on all of our clothes. I mean, all of them. Multiple layers of jean and sweater and even my Fried Paradise work shirt with the large cartoon chicken. We shivered. Alone. The night lasted a thousand years.
At first light, I heard her outside the tent weeping. She’d been looking for the photographs of her parents. We didn’t talk about it.
I packed up all our belongings, loaded them in the trunk of the car. With the very last of the fuel we left the pines, pulling onto dark asphalt again on the outskirts of the outskirts of the outskirts of Philadelphia. But, south, still. Gas at a Shell station. Check the oil. Fill the tires. South.
“I’m going to take you somewhere nice, instead of the wilds.”
“Where,” she asked distantly, still not looking me in the eye.
“Graceland,” I said.
The color returned to her face.
There were pay-showers at a campground in Parkersburg. Since we didn’t have many quarters we washed together, but it wasn’t sexual. Later, we stopped and played Mrs. Pac-man for two hours outside a grocery store in Lexington. A county fair with a twinkling Ferris wheel caught our eye off the interstate near Sugar Tree, we pulled off, had one of the nicest nights: bright blue cotton candy, demolition bumper cars, sharp darts popping plump balloons. I won her a strange bubble headed gold fish scooped from a holding tank and placed in a clear plastic bag.
Since we didn't have a tank for it, we gave the fish to a little blonde haired child, maybe four years old, who said, "I'll name her Lil’ Rainbow!"
We ate corn dogs, listening to a woozy country and western band play up on rickety stage on the far side of the fair grounds. Distantly. I couldn't believe when Teal said, "I've never had one of these," chewing.
"A corn dog? What a sheltered life."
...read more (14/18)"They don't have them in New Jersey. Well, where have you been that corn dogs are so abundant?"
"Everywhere. Corn dogs are the backbone of America. I been everywhere man,” I sang, she wrinkled her nose at me. “My foster mom dated a truck driver for a little while. Dale,” I explained. “One summer I went out on the road with him for three weeks."
"You name it."
"Jupiter? Did you go there?"
I shook my head, sipping my root beer. "Only Earth. US. of A, nowhere else matters."
"It's in Florida. Jupiter, Florida. That's where my mom lived ‘til she met my dad. She cleaned hotel rooms for two years. The Shamrock Motel."
"Oh, I don't know anything about Florida. Just that it’s where Mickey Mouse lives. I have no interest in Mickey Mouse. I don't like that fucker," I said. "But, I've always wanted to move. To just keep moving. He was gonna teach me how to drive a big rig. It didn't work out."
Teal wanted to dance. I wanted to decline, but I knew it'd mean a lot to her. I let her drag me through the maze of people. Balloons. The smell of pony shit. Popcorn. In the middle of all those people, she gripped onto me, and we swayed back and forth very slowly while the band played sad cowboy songs that I don't know and never want to know because they sounded so sweet that night that if I ever heard them again they might spoil the memory.
We stayed at the fairgrounds after everyone else went away. I was able to get in through the window of the snack shop, the latch was screwy. We didn't mind sleeping on the floor in there. It was nice when I put down the blankets. She was excited and couldn't sleep, but I made her sleep.
I'm pretty sure we both laid there on the floor just pretending all night.
I heard a dog barking just after dawn. Looking out the window of the snack shop, I saw a very pretty girl throwing a frisbee for a golden retriever.
I walked out, she waved.
"Hey," I said.
...read more (15/18)She looked at me. I liked her short shorts and her tight t-shirt that said Cherry! But instead of talking to her, I woke Teal up, we carried the blankets through the field to where I had the car hidden in the trees. We drove west. I didn't want to make Teal jealous by talking to other girls. And, it seemed dangerous to get close to anybody, considering the recent events that had taken place. I imagined that the police were involved in some capacity. Talking too deep to people would only bring death.
As we drove, Teal was giddy, full of excitement. I could almost hear her head rattling. She bounced on the passenger seat and Winter slid on her shoulder, gripping on for dear life.
"We're going to see the King! We're going to see the King!"
By mid-afternoon we were in Memphis and it was different than I thought it would be. It was dirtier and duller, but that's all I'll say about it in case you ever want to go there for yourself. I don't wanna ruin the surprise for you.
… Ah, never mind.
Graceland is located right in the center of town. It's right off of the main drag, which was really strange.
"When I think about where Elvis would have lived, I didn't picture there being a gas station right across from the gates," I said, bewildered.
"It's much smaller than I thought it would be," Teal said, squinting through the windshield through the lush green trees, across the property.
We parked in a lot not too far away, walking hand in hand, as a bunch of other nimble brained tourists trodded down the sidewalk with their cameras and glossy pamphlets stuffed with Elvis factoids and histories.
"It feels like a religious experience," Teal said.
I ignored this comment, though I kind of agreed with it. I was too busy contemplating the house that was getting closer and closer. It wasn't a mansion at all. More of just "a big house".
When I thought about how rich Elvis had been at the time he bought the house—at the height of his career—and thought about how really, how modest it was. I said, "You're right, he's a lot like Jesus."
"Amen," Teal said, kissing her gold crucifix.
I said, "Really, if he'd been assassinated and not just died on the toilet bowl, there'd be churches up everywhere."
...read more (16/18)That's the thing about me and Teal. We often agreed: as if we were the same mind stuck into different bodies and reacting to the different chemicals and hormones of the separate bodies. It was so natural and pure and all consuming, our love for each other. It was like loving your own shadow. It was like loving your own heartbeat. She said, "Kody, we're about to go into the Great Pyramid and see the sarcophagus!"
Inside, everything was smaller than you'd have thought it would be. A time capsule. A time capsule preserved from August 16th, 1977. The upstairs was roped off. The tour guide said, "The bed is still unmade." The carpets were thick white shag. There were crystals and mirrors everywhere. We didn't touch anything. We were led down a narrow hallway, into the jungle room. His study was full of TVs. There must have been fifty TVs.
It was just a house to me. I was stunned at how moved some of the tourists were. I wanted to get away from them. I pulled on Teal's shirtsleeve and motioned for her to come with me down a hallway that was going in the opposite direction of the tour.
"Your not supposed to," she said.
"That's the craziest thing I've ever heard."
"Well, it's true."
"Just because you're not supposed to do something doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it."
We ducked under a rope and walked down the hallway anyway. There was a wooden door that I opened, thinking how nice it would be to pull her in there and steal a kiss in Elvis' house, how much she'd like that. I wouldn't kiss her with anybody else looking. I really don't go for that kind of thing.
"You can't be in here," said a man in a black suit behind the door.
He was sitting on the bed. A security guard.
"You're in here, sir." I said, "Let us take a peek."
"No," he stood up off the bed and ushered us out. I asked him for his name, "You don't get my name," he said darkly. "What would you want to have my name for?"
"For? Oh, just for reference. In case I found your boss around here."
"My boss is dead," he said.
"Mine too," I said. I shot him Tuesday.
Teal tugged my shirt. She was pulling hard. My face was read. The old fat security guard was coming closer.
"What's your name, son?" he said.
"Call me the breeze," I said.
...read more (17/18) We went back down the hallway away from him. I thought Teal would be mad at me for the rest of the day again. I couldn't deal with that, but she seemed over it by the time we got downstairs.
The basement was set up with long glass display cases that went all the way up to the ceiling.
I couldn't break the spell of the things in the glass cases. Teal was transfixed by the jumpsuits especially. Those full body suits with the capes and the sequins and all the glitter and gold that he wore when he had his shows in Las Vegas at the very end of his career.
"Wow ..." she cooed, her eyes were so wide. "I want one of these."
"Yeah, you'd look pretty slick in one of those numbers."
"Nudie," she said, reading the plaque. That was the designer. A Japanese fella. She said his name over and over again. Getting closer and closer to the glass. Her breath fogged it up.
Another security person said, "Back away from the glass."
They were really starting to annoy me. People like that always have something to say when you're having fun. Really, what was the harm? My girl wasn't even touching the glass. It was intense in there, all the people crowding in, the heat, the breath, Teal's wonder at the suits in the cases—we had to leave. Not that we wanted to. Quite the opposite. We just couldn't handle it.
Outside, in the fresh air, it was better. I could see the sky and hear the birds chirping and smell the just cut grass: all that calmed me down. Teal hugged onto me and we had a talk sitting on our butts on the grass alongside a garden just popping with red and orange and yellow flowers.
"That's his grave over there," she said, pointing, "I don't need to see that."
"I don't either."
She was looking up into the trees. The birds were so loud. "They all seem so happy here. Listen to them all. What could they possibly be saying?"
"They're probably singing Elvis songs in a bird language that we can't understand."
"Like what? What song?"
"Oh, this one sounds like Suspicious Minds ..."
"Kinda," she said, smiling at me.
...read more (18/18)We walked out of Graceland. At the car, she took Winter out. She wouldn't let me talk her out of it. She insisted that we go back to the property and let her parakeet go. That meant, I had to climb the tree and put him on a limb because his wings were clipped. She seemed to think that his feathers were almost there, just right there, that he'd be able to fly again and take care of himself soon.
She was so happy. Crying tears of joy, waving goodbye to her bird sitting helplessly up in the branches. We walked down another brick path. Priscilla Presley's white jet was parked in a large asphalt lot.
I said, "We should take that plane and fly up over the clouds and just disappear."
She held my hand tight. At the car, she was shocked to see that I wanted her to drive. She'd never done it before.
"I don't have my license, I can't," she said.
"The police won't care if they catch you driving."
At a gas station in Forrest City, she bought a magnet with Elvis’ face that said GRACELAND. She bought a few magazines, some feminine products, a newspaper that had our picture in it, a cherry Coke. We stuck the Elvis magnet on the side of the car, but forgot to take it off when we abandoned it later that night behind a pizza parlor. I had no idea they made pizza in that part of the country. Rumor had it that there is no Heaven; still—I thought about Winter the parakeet stranded in the trees, regrowing his wings, and that’s enough.
“I’d only kill for love,” I said.
Teal said nothing.
The frost in the morning was getting worse, the stars were getting heavier, I dreamt exclusively of falling rather than flying. I broke my hand punching out a window in Jacksonville. I tried not to whimper when her affection for me returned, and she squeezed my hand again. The pain was fine. It was worth it. Just north of Tampa, where the bridges carried on forever across the blue water that seemed to disappear into the afterworld, she confessed: “I guess I’d kill for love too.” All my dreams after that were of the sky over Montana, truly infinite.