By Justin Burnett
I was looking for her, and saw her through the crowd through a window, standing outside on the porch. I saw her breath in the air, with smoke from the joint she somehow kept lit in the wind. In winter there’s cold wind by the harbor. The lighthouse across the black water was still lit up rainbow for Christmas.
Inside it was hot, humid even. It was New Year’s, 1999. I made my way to the door through the noise and hot damp of beer and bodies, and a group tending to Jon Pagar, puking on the walls. When I opened the door it was like letting the sun into a vacuum, heat, noise flooding out to the porch. When I shut the door it was quiet, just bass and people’s voices. Still smoking, she wore that same grey flannel over the white sweatshirt. Her hair blended with the water behind her, and the mark on her cheek, normally pale blue, was dark. It was windy, but the weed and rolling paper between her lips burned on from red to ash.
I asked if she would come in, and she said she would, soon. I asked her if she was ok and she said she was. She kissed me. I had a flask full of Grand Marnier and offered her a drink, but she said no. I had a swig. We looked out for some time on the harbor, the lighted windows of old houses, dark crags by the water. Then my friend Tony came out and yelled “For the Boston Bruins, fuckin, Billy dude, numbah thirty five, shots, fuckin shots kehd, two hours and fifty minutes.” He pulled me back inside.
That night we were about to have sex. We’d found some room at whosever house it was, where it was all dark except for light from the window, Christmas lights on the lighthouse. It stripped color on her body; where it didn’t was just black, the rest of the room. She was really into it and so was I. But when I reached for the condom she stopped my hand.
“No Bill, it’s fine, just do it.”
“Taylor,” I said, “we should really be careful.” She kept hold of my wrist, felt me with the other hand, and looked at me as if to speak. I saw her eyes, colorless in the dark.
She bore her head into my chest, and I felt it wobble. I rubbed her head, and the shirt I still had on got wet under her eyes. Inside her head, I thought, was a ship, a ship in a bottle that was on fire. But then I remembered you couldn’t have fire in a vacuum.
As we lay there I couldn’t really think straight. I mostly just looked out the window. Fog gathered on each pane, behind it the muffled color of rainbow, and now a pulsing brightness above it. The beacon must have been spinning. I felt nauseous. I think Taylor fell asleep after a while.
Early the following Tuesday I woke up in the cold and drove down to Providence for tryouts. I was trying out for the Providence Bruins, Boston’s minor league team.They were looking to sign a goalie and brought us in from all over. I shook hands and introduced myself to the guys in the locker room. On the ice I ended up playing well. It felt good to be in a rink, hear skates, to be in the crease. When the puck went up the ice I’d lean back against the crossbar. When it came back I’d make a nice stop and some Canuck would say, “Nice save, eh,” when he skated by.
They wanted me and a couple others to stay for practice the next day. They put us in a hotel nearby. Some of the guys watched the game from the hotel bar so I watched with them.
I had four beers and talked mostly to the bartender, whose name was Lee. Lee was a Vietnam vet and a straight-laced dude, but a good dude. He taught us how to do a stranglehold. He told me he’d seen a lot in the war, things that should never happen. He didn’t go into detail.
But he said, “But you know what the worst thing is: the worst thing I seen wasn’t in Nam. It was right back here, back home.”
“What was it?”
He came in close and whispered, “Our own people, killin their own babies.” When I got back to the room later, I took some nips from the mini fridge and brought them over to the desk and started to write. I thought about writing Taylor a letter, but a poem came out eventually. I didn’t think I was a good poet, but it helped me get my thoughts out. The last time I could recall her happy was Thanksgiving. We were at the Ripper after the football game, and she ate and talked with everyone, laughed. We’d go up on the roof and smoke weed because she couldn’t drink, she was only nineteen, and even though she never drank she’d sneak swigs of my beer and kiss me when she thought people weren’t looking. I couldn’t believe we were in the 2000s. I fell asleep eventually.
I played shitty that second day. When the pucks came at me I just lost some of them and got pissed off. When some guy crashed the net hard I shoved him off and told him to fuck himself. They said they’d let us know soon.
On the way back to Marblehead, I wasn’t proud of it, but I killed some brandy. When I got home I felt drunk but was still cold. There was a note at the apartment from Taylor telling me to come to this house on Washington Street. I walked there and rang the bell. This other girl let me in.
“Hey, you’re Bill, right?” She was blonde, near my height. She had a big smile and was dressed nicely with makeup. At the edges of her smile were these deep lines.
We went in, Taylor was there, sitting on the couch. She said hey as I came in, and the other girl sat down next to her. I sat on a chair across from them. The room was stuffy. I took my jacket off.
We took shots and talked. The other girl’s name was Shayla. She asked a lot about hockey, and even though I was pissed I talked about it. She looked at me as I spoke, the lines below her cheeks. Both the girls’ eyes were the same shade of blue.
Taylor was quiet but then she got more talkative. She talked about random things, like when the parking ban was going to end and if it would get colder. Bill, I hate gin. Did you know my dad fought two guys one time and kicked their asses? And then she said, “Let’s have sex.”
When she said that I was looking down at my empty shot glass, and didn’t look up right away. When I did she was looking at me. How much did she drink? Maybe not much at all. The thought scared me.
“Come on Bill. Live a little.”
Shayla looked at her, then at me, back at her and back at me again. To me she said,“Yeah?” Taylor was unbuttoning her flannel. But when she came to the last button, her hands fell to her sides.
I stared at Taylor. My hands itched. I wrung them out. Live a little.
“Dude, what is going on?”
She looked empty.
I said nothing to Shayla and pulled Taylor up, buttoned up her shirt. I put her jacket on, took the booze and we left. Outside I shivered and I drew Taylor in close and started to say something but stopped. A car passed leaving smoke.
“Do you want to go to McDonald’s?” I asked her finally.
After a moment, I felt her nod.
I had more of whatever the shots were on the drive. Taylor said nothing. She laid the seatback flat, laid back and shut her eyes.
I asked for apple pies but they didn’t have any. I just got a large fry, two double cheeseburgers, and some water to sober up. Taylor didn’t want any water, but when we got back on the road she took the food. She put the seat back up, lit a joint and smoked as she ate.
“I’m sorry,” she said eventually.
“Taylor, I know you don’t have to say anything to me. I don’t expect you to, or anything. But if you wanted to you can talk to me about anything. If you let me in, you know, maybe I can help. I love you and just want to know what’s going on.”I kept turning my head from the road back to her face. She just nodded. I thought about heading to the lighthouse. Maybe she’d talk to me there. But before we got into Marblehead she asked me if I could take her home.
“To your dad’s?”
When we came to a red light I looked at her. Okay. “Okay.” I drove her there and saw her in from the car, and drove away when I saw a light go on in the house.
In the morning there was another note for me. She told me to meet her at a bar called Gulu Gulu in Salem that night.
When I got there she was sitting at a table in the corner. The place was busy and looked modern. An acoustic show played on a stage:
“She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere.
So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair.”
I came to her table and there was an envelope before the empty chair. I sat and looked at her. She didn’t say anything. Neither did I. She wore makeup, had a nice black shirt on with earrings; she’d done up her dark hair. Her birthmark was faint behind makeup. I opened the envelope and there was a note and twenty dollars.
I’m sorry for being so out of it lately. I’m not myself. Or, I am myself. But I’m hurting myself. I don’t talk about it because I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to bring it into what we have together. I just want to talk about good things with you.
I looked up at her. Taylor was looking at me. Her mouth was open slightly. I watched the band before I read again. What song was this? Here’s twenty dollars as an apology. You should buy the World Wide Stout, my dad told me it’s great and its 18% alcohol.
I put the note back in the envelope, and the envelope in my pocket. A girl needed to pass so I had to slide my chair up to let her by.
“Excuse me,” she said. I slid the chair back out. I looked to the stage, only a foot off the ground. The band played on:
“She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh.
I told her I didn’t and crawled up to sleep in the bath.”
The song was The Beatles. “Norwegian Wood.”