Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town
by RJC Smith
We were on the roof, smoking pot. Rena had a pair of binoculars. It was the last summer, or any season for that matter, that I would spend with my father, the last before his unfortunate break. Rena was only my friend, and possibly my only friend. There wasn’t much else to do and we had no other means of emotional support save each other. That and Rena was in love with me, and maybe I got off on it.
“Huh,” said Rena, and I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes at her coyness, which I found grating. There was a lot about her that I found grating, yet she continued to spend time with me. This was invaluable because I didn’t have a driver’s license.
I had already hit the joint twice, but in light of her obliviousness, took one last extended toke, which sent me into a coughing fit. My eyes reddened as I coughed and I pushed a wave of nausea back into my stomach.
“What,” I said, extending the joint towards her. She didn’t notice me. She was transfixed with whatever her binoculars were pointed at. I looked down at the pool, visible along with a good portion of the wooden deck from where we sat on my house’s roof. I watched its surface waver and reflect light.
My father had a routine for swimming in this pool. It was the same every time, every day, every morning. First, he’d walk, straight into the frigid shallow end, down the textured steps, into the water. He’d rotate back and forth, the tips of his fingers gliding across the chlorinated blue. Then he’d raise his arms up into a triangle and dive forward, transitioning into a measured butterfly stroke.
“Where did you say your dad was,” Rena said, in a confused voice.
“Grocery shopping, I think,” I said. “Do you want any more of this joint or what?”
“Maybe you should take a look at this,” Rena said, motioning for me to come look through her binoculars, “Or maybe you shouldn’t. I don’t know.”
I swiped them from Rena’s hands. I put them up to my eyes and moved back and forth, adding sarcastically,
“What am I looking for? What am I looking for?” before Rena guided me to the sweet spot with her right hand.
“What is it,” I continued, “a blue-jay? An ostrich? Some kind of rare sparrow?”
Then I saw it. It was a scene set inside my next-door neighbor’s, Richard Godsen’s, hot tub. Inside were Richard and my father. Richard was positioned over my father, hunched over somewhat, and my father, Pete, was leaning back, his eyes closed and his mouth hanging agape. He was giving him a fucking handjob. You could tell from the little splashes of water around my father’s crotch.
“Huh,” I said.
I’d rather not go into the scene where my father hit my mother repeatedly with a wooden spoon from 7:23 PM to 7:24 PM (I was looking away through most of it and staring at the stove’s LED clock), because I’m saving that for the therapist my mother will force me to see once they’re legally divorced and she has money.
“Why didn’t you do anything to stop him,” Rena asked, behind the wheel with red puffy eyes, turning a corner into the parking lot of a local playground and baseball diamond. We were both high and would be getting higher in a minute.
“I guess at the time I wasn’t sure it was really happening,” I said, answering without thinking, a direct line between my mouth and my brain. I felt a bit queasy because I knew a more honest answer might be something like, ‘I didn’t want to be hit with the spoon either’.
“Yeah,” Rena said. “I guess I can sort of understand that.” She enunciated each little word like they all had lives of their own.
We got out of the car and walked up past the playground and towards the baseball diamond, its outfield meshing indiscriminately with the larger grassy area. We walked out and stopped ten or so yards from an ongoing little league game. I sat down on the grass cross-legged and Rena did the same. Sometimes I wanted life to be something bigger than smoking pot in a field, but my life was often little more than that. Five yards away an outfielder stood, his body twisted to eye us with suspicion.
When we drove back, all I could imagine were buildings, warehouses let’s say, filled with little stationary cars where moving roads were projected onto windshield shaped screens. Rena’s ever-present shoegaze played on the car stereo, somehow sending me farther into myself.
The only thing that separated my house from Richard Godsen’s was a few yards’ strip of dirt and pre-autumnal leaves. I wanted it to be the last summer I spent there, smoking pot atop the pool diving-board or throwing a ball at the half-tennis court wall.
“I think I’m getting headaches,” Rena said, “headaches unlike those felt by other people.”
“Hmm,” I responded, “Interesting,” while continuing to stare alternatingly out the side window and windshield.
The headlights on passing cars shone through the windshield and I winced. Rena glanced over at me and I continued looking forward. This was the little thing we did, the talking without saying, avoiding the tension of her want. No emotion resonated out from me.
“Maybe it’s a satellite,” she went on.
“Or maybe your rising planet,” I said.
“Rising sign,” she said. “I think you mean rising sign.”
“Or ruling planet, maybe,” I said, as we curved onto my house’s road. Rena snorted through her nose.
We pulled into my driveway and sat there in the parked car, outside of my garage. A jetliner passed above, close enough for us to hear the sound, or me at least, as Rena’s ethereal music was blasting from the speakers, bouncing around the inside of the SUV. Rena opened up the glove box to pull out her little acrylic pipe and proceeded to fill it with marijuana from a small glass box. The windows of her car were open and I wondered if my father could hear us from inside over cable news squall. Then we smoked more, back and forth, the rotating act of it almost better than the high.
“Can we put on something with, like, a beat,” I asked. “I feel like I’m about to drift off into nothingness.”
“Like what,” she said, “what would you have me put on?”
“Something more pop/rock, I guess.”
“You take it, just put something on,” she said, throwing her iPod into my lap.
I scrolled through it. She wasn’t the type of person that listened to music for a hook. I persevered and found something because I was high and didn’t want to agitate her further.
We sat there quiet with just the music for a while. It was fine. I had become adept at thinking it was fine.
“You don’t have any cigarettes do you?” I said, finally.
She pulled a pack out from her cup holder and held it in the dark in front of her torso. Rena looked up at me with a blank face and was silent, then smiled.
“Just the one,” she said, “wanna split it?”
We passed it back and forth for a few minutes.
“Do you want the last drag?” Rena asked, displaying a cigarette that was little more than a cotton filter.
“Sure,” I said.
Rena pulled on it and grabbed my head with her free hand. She moved closer and pulled me in, we met midway. Though she was attempting to kiss me while blowing smoke into my mouth, the sensation I most remember is our teeth hitting.
“No,” I said, “no.” I hadn’t wanted it. Perhaps I pushed back a bit too hard. She was looking at me with a face. I was trying not to look at her.
I walked in the front door and closed it quiet enough so you couldn’t hear it click. My father was passed out on the recliner with a can of coke held limply, resting on his stomach, the blue light from the TV coating him. I wondered if he had slipped some whiskey into the can, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of checking.
Then the TV started emitting a horrible beeping noise, and a gray box appeared over a pundit’s face. ‘FLASH FLOOD WARNING: 1AM-9AM’ it said in bold lettering. My father jolted awake and spilt some of his drink on himself. He looked up at me, failing to recognize my presence for a good half-a-minute. Behind us the television set continued to blare warning noises.
“I’m going to bed now,” I said to him. I said it, loud, as if shouting over some swell.
“Did you remember to close the door and take your medication?” he asked. It was nonsense. I couldn’t fault him as he was only half awake.
I was lying down in my room, listening to the sound of the intermittent but heavy rainfall. If you stare at a white plaster ceiling for long enough all of its little imperfections will become known to you. Through my laptop speakers black metal was playing, which meant I was not quite ready for sleep. It was close to two in the morning. I’d always had trouble sleeping.
I got up from bed to turn the lights off, then I lay back down, switched my gaze from the ceiling to the standing, oscillating fan in the corner. The rain picked up again, pattering against the window. Outside, I could hear a car door open and close. Its engine started. I heard the sound of tires moving over gravel and onto dirt.
I had thoughts of Richard until my thoughts were submerged.
Rena and I began to kiss. She wrapped her hand around the back of my head and I pulled her pelvis into mine. Then she let go and pushed my hands away, falling back onto the bed. She pulled off her sweatshirt and when that was off, her t-shirt.
I should have felt something different, I know. Instead I felt coldness welling inside of me, enough that it scared me. I slunk back like I was being rewound. I crouched fetally on the floor for a minute. From outside came the sounds of drunkenness and car doors. Rena sat upright, took her head in her hands and began moaning like a deer whose back has been broken through car collision. Her head began warping, though I couldn’t tell if it was just my vision failing me, if I was too high or something. Little slits opened up in a ring around the top, columns formed along her forehead and across her temples.
I got up and walked out of my room, down the stairs and to the ground floor, where the garage and laundry room were. I slid the glass door open and stepped out onto the gravel. Richard and my father were leaning against the family sedan. Richard was gripping a bottle of whiskey with a hand connected to an arm wrapped around my father’s neck.
“Pete?” My father whimpered. “Is that you?”
It was raining and very dark out. There were rumblings of thunder in the sky. When I’m lit up and remembering being there, this is what I think it was: simply lightning. But then there was the moaning and thumping I heard coming from up and behind me. Looking back I saw Rena at my bedroom window. Light was pouring from the northern hemisphere of her head as she banged it against the glass. Her moaning was loud enough to make out from the gravel lot. The light was bluish-white and almost blinding. It was illuminating the three of us, the parked car, and the edges of the nearby woods.
RJC Smith lives in New York. He has work published in X-Ray Lit Mag.