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Dispatches from Atlantis #6

Drink with the Coyotes Part II

 Paul Corman Roberts
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 Paul Corman Roberts
Dispatches from Atlantis #6
by Paul Corman Roberts  FollowFollow
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Paul Corman-Roberts had coffee and donuts with Eldridge Cleaver in 1995 and once pulled a graveyard shift at a Circle K during the Rodney King...read more riots. He misses working in theater.
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Dispatches from Atlantis #6
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EIGHT AND ONE HALF-HOURS later after barely escaping the high desert of southeastern California, I emerge from the Central Valley and onto the upper deck of the Oakland Bay Bridge. I am near migration’s end, yet I don’t get the fabled view of the Queen city of the Pacific, the Oz of the west that so many other writers have described upon their arrival. Instead, there is a steady drizzle that distorts the lights on the jumbled mass of skyscrapers barely hinted at in the distance. The Corolla is assaulted by cleaner, crisper rain than it knew in its Mojave existence. I know my destination is somewhere within this apocalypse of hulking, mist strewn monoliths.. My brave, plucky vessel, once prepared to die, now smothers us, my possessions and me, in warmth and dryness.

I take the first exit that comes my way, winding my hatchback in a circuit until we are delivered onto a familiar sounding avenue:

Mission St

This is the wondrous alien nightmare the evening news sang of in my youth. A landscape belonging to pedigree uniforms by day, and the trolls I was warned about as a child by night. Every edifice, every brick, is packed snug against the next disproportionate spectacle, cast in the sickly, orange streetlight pall.

Mission

Just sounding out the name is simultaneously beautiful and horrible. Is this how Native Americans originally thought of missions? The only thing keeping night at bay, keeping it from swallowing my worldly possessions and me is D’s phone number, which I can barely make out in the light of my dashboard. The only working lifeline I can find is cradled in what looks like a broken eggshell. I see no one, yet feel all of no one’s eyes upon me.

Ring

Please answer.

Ring

I arrive and double-park outside the Nitecap bar, where Diana meets me in her trademark black hippie dress and baubles. Ray offers to stand guard (on her suggestion no doubt) while D and I haul all my stuff upstairs. “His back is bad,” she tells me upstairs, not sounding all that convinced.

We finish unloading the Corolla and Ray rides shotgun to help me figure out which streets are one way…and before we’ve even made one loop, we find the perfect spot a mere block down Hyde St…beginners luck Diana will tell me. When we return, Ray then needs to leave to find a parking space for his truck, and D has asked him to buy some champagne. Then she sidles up to me and asks if I want some speed.

“You know I came here to try and get away from that kind of shit. Why, won’t Ray do it with you?” And I immediately regret the poison in my voice. I know what is coming; a month ago self-righteousness felt delicious, now it feels like a cheap shot.

She begins spilling, because talking is something we once did really well, and she hasn’t really spoken coherently in my direction since dumping me.

“He’s been out looking for work exactly twice, so he claimed. He’s still supposed to show up for the window washing thing with the temp agency, but he probably won’t go.” There is pent rage in her frame; she has no patience for a co-dependent. “Too many rats in the fast lane he whines; society is madness. I mean it is, but do you see it holding me back?”

I subtly punch a new button. “D? How much is rent and when is it due?”

“And that’s another fucking thing! He’s made no offer to pay rent, never has enough money for dinner. He’s starting to creep me out because he isn’t eating anyway. He fasts. Constantly fasting and burning incense,” she tells me, “which is cool, but not all the time. He burns that powdered incense, the kind that you can lay out like a line. He even jokes about it; ‘Hey what would you do if I just snorted this line.’ But that’s what he does all day while I’m at Goodman’s, except for maybe going through all my shit.”

“He’s mirroring you D, but with his favorite dysfunction as opposed to yours. See, I’ve been through this with him.”

“It’s like he really is a junkie, but it’s for this bullshit he’s always spouting about not being concerned with material needs.”

“Oh gee, didn’t I include that in the Ray maintenance guide back in Vegas?” She winces and looks away. Jesus, I can’t stop myself from hurting her with words, but she won’t ever stop making the drama about herself either. I thought, maybe, just maybe there was still a chance for us, but I can see she hasn’t changed, and I...have I changed? I don’t think I love her anymore.

“I know he gets high from the fasting” she continues, “but he doesn’t do it right. I can see his ribs when he takes his shirt off; it’s gross. We stopped having sex a week and half ago. He’s always telling me I should join him in the fast if I want to ‘really fly high.’ Goddamn, I wish he would just go out with me once in a while, just for one drink, but that means spending money on something impure. He’ll hang out at the Psychic Eye until they ask him to buy something or leave, and then he spends money because he’d rather stay. You’d think he could at least ask them for a job.

“He never goes anyway without my copy of the Gita. He suddenly got serious about Krishna when I was just finishing the book. What the hell was I thinking?”

“If I could have told you, if I could explained it would you have listened anyway?”

“Maybe if you had kissed me when I got off the plane. Maybe if you had asked me to marry you and take me up to Humboldt or something.” Now I’m stunned.

“You’re kidding me?”

“Not totally. It’s all I can imagine that would have prevented that weekend from going down the way it did. It’s like we were both hexed, but I don’t think it was Ray; I mean he had some part in it all, he made some conscious decisions of his own when he saw what was happening to us.

“Our lives were changing. I think I did what I did because it was the only way you would be convinced to move out here.” I feel the old resentment, but I can’t deny her words. No, she’s absolutely right. What was I thinking? Soul mate of this little club girl from Vegas back in the day? She is more than that. She is my own Santa Ana wind.

“Miggy, I’m leaving. May first. I’m going to hit the road for Alaska with this guy John I met down on the Haight; traveler from West Virginia, and I know he’s going at least as far as Vancouver, and there’s a chance he might come all the way up with me. He’s dealing tabs right now. You should drop one with me, it is incredible shit...”

“Diana!”

“Sorry, shit. Sorry. I’ve been reading Dharma bums and I love it. The night I met him down at the park he quoted to me from it. He is so delicious; I’ve had a vision that he’s going to be the father of my first girl.” I can’t help giggling. She is still so starry eyed despite her hard luck life.

“I’ve also had a vision that you’re going to be the one to inherit the studio. Ray’s not going to stay in San Francisco.
He can’t handle the intensity here.”

Ray comes back another twenty minutes later, frustrated with his parking experience. Once he’s up on the roof, D heads back down to do her bump in the bathroom. Ray doesn’t even approve of her drinking; so he’s clueless about her relationship with meth and acid. I doubt I could have warned him either. Ray is an expert at asking me questions and not listening to my answers, or just not putting any stock in my opinions because I’m not enlightened like he is.

“So Migs, what’s up?” Ray has turned on his beatific surface. “Not much man,” I answer, waiting to pick my spot.

“How’s the spiritual healing business going?”

I light the victory joint, grab the champagne bottle and leap upon the outer ledge of the roof, a mere six inches from a seventy-five foot drop. I suppose this is dangerous when one is tired from driving over six hundred miles in one day, but this aggravates Ray to no end; the drug use, the daredevil stupidity. It’s all bad karma to him, but I think he also senses the message I’m sending.

“Well, you know, it’s always a challenge to get up and running, which I’m sure you remember from good old Las Bogus.” Even his cynicism is faked, like a politician. He always sounds like a game show host these days.

“I’m sure Diana has told you she’s going on a Dharma quest; I’ve been thinking about seeking mine in India. I’ve been seeing it a lot in my dreams; I think it’s my higher self trying to guide me there.”

(Now)

“That’s a good idea Ray. I don’t think the restraining order will prevent you from going there.”

It takes a stage pause for him to get it, to feel the inevitable weight of the truth to crush his supercilious, Fallwellian smile. He attempts recovery. “Oh, I know what this is all about,” he says much too loud, “Listen, I don’t know what Charles and Nicole told you but it’s not what you think it is, okay. Whatever it is they told you I’m sure they blew it way out of proportion just because they’re pissed about the money.”

(Again)

“No, I know it’s not entirely what they think. I got a different story from them than I got from Liz.” All the nervous animation dropped out of his voice, all the pride out of his eyes. There was nothing left to hide. “What did she tell you?” he mumbled.

“Everything.”

Ray had made a pass at the woman I had been seeing openly during my long distance relationship with D. Not too long before she broke up with me as it turned out, they had spent one lost weekend at her place fucking like jackrabbits. The problem was, Chuck and Nicole had been there when Liz stopped by the house to pick Ray up. Thereafter, Ray would tell both my roommates that he was going out, that he had a date with Liz, etc.

The truth was, Liz had been done with him after their one weekend. He had constantly called, wanting to spend time with her, asking if they could go out to lunch, out to dinner, to a movie, coffee, anything. He began leaving notes on the windshield of her Toyota when she was at work. He never had a real date with her after their one weekend together. He began following her around town and leaving cryptic messages on her answering machine instead of invitations.

That was in October, four months before Diana’s visit. The restraining order had come for Ray in December, but nobody said a word to me about it, because Ray had told Chuck that he had already told me everything, and nobody wanted to broach the uncomfortable subject. After I made the decision to move, everybody, including Liz, thought I was being rash in my anger, and too hard on myself with depressed esteem. They all felt the need to come clean so I would come to my senses and not walk blindly into an emotional landmine.

“What are you going to do?” he asks.

“It doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t care anymore. Dude, I just spent sixteen hours traveling over the fucking desert, and almost lost it completely in the middle of nowhere. All that matters is that I made it...I win.” I am wild now, full of my vindication. I bellow out a victory howl, a cry that I fling upward to try and hit the monuments to the robber barons perched further up the hill, trying to hide in rivers of low flying clouds. I feel purified in the slow, gentle fog fall.

Ray looks nervous. “Maybe you shouldn’t stand so close there, Migs.”

“Maybe you should come up and join me,” I shoot back wild eyed and smiling maniacally. For a moment, I think he might even try to push me over; but he doesn’t even believe he could do such a thing. In fact he thinks I might do it to him.

I step down from the ledge and hit the joint again. “I’m strong now Ray. I’m stronger now than when you last saw me.”

He nods. “Yes, I can tell.”

“I don’t want anything from you or D. When she’s gone, you can stay; all I will ask is that you pull your weight.”

He nods again and says that he will, but he doesn’t. Instead the next day he goes on and on about how sure he is that he and Diana are meant to be together.

“The first week I was here I noticed that her palm lines and mine were an exact match!” he boasts. His each and every day is full of omen’s favoring him. “You should check it out Miggy, it’s amazing!”

Diana is smoking a hand rolled Bugler on the futon couch. “Don’t do it Ray.”

“No, this is a trip...c’mon Migs...look.” He sits next to her, takes her hand to hold it out next to his. She gives me a look, resigned, pained, and looks back out the window, taking her next drag as Ray excitedly implores me to inspect their palm patterns. I almost want to believe this. I could somehow believe that the heartbreak of losing D and Liz both to this freak was somehow beyond my control.

But there is no match. It is obvious. Their palms couldn’t have been more different.

“Can you see it Mike? Can you see how perfect we are?”

I immediately point out the differences, with something like bitter glee. “Look how Diana’s lifeline flares off to the side here, and yours goes up straight. And her heart line crosses her lifeline, while yours is separate. See,” I trace it out, “right here?” Once again, he is speechless. He doesn’t expect to be proven wrong by me, but since I’ve arrived here in this new wild town, that’s all that has happened. We have surely changed places in the order of the Cosmos.

“I told you not to do it Ray. You ruined it.” I look up at D, wondering if she believed, at one time, that their palms did match. It was always so hard to tell what she believed. All I see is moisture on her cheek as she looks out the window and takes another drag off her Bugler.

Also by Paul Corman Roberts

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