Tex sometimes wonders how I make it. Tex sometimes wonders how he makes it, how anyone makes it, and how they can keep on making it, and why bother? But he doesn’t think about it all that much….”
by kurt eisenlohr
So for lack of anything better to do, he stops by and stays half the night, night after night. We’re old friends. Today, he’s early.
I’m drinking a beer. I have my feet thrown over a crate and a newspaper in my hand, the beer balancing on my belly. It sits there, rising and falling with each breath I take, the newspaper slipping from my fingers, blue light of the television sucking at my face.
Tex doesn’t say anything. Neither do I.
The room is crippled Americana, small, dark, and airless. A room I pay five hundred dollars a month to live and lie around in, listlessly. I think it’s an alright place, as alright as any, really. Tex doesn’t think about it—it isn’t his place. Tex and I both work shitty jobs and we’re getting old and the shitty jobs pay next to nothing. Tex sometimes wonders how I make it. Tex sometimes wonders how he makes it, how anyone makes it, and how they can keep on making it, and why bother? But he doesn’t think about it all that much.
I yawn, stab the remote.
A man walks across the screen, pulling a wagon; in the wagon sits a television: dot pattern of a dot pattern. In the center of this second screen stands a man in a blue rayon shirt, white polyester pants, a red tie knotted at the neck. The man is smiling, waving his arms in a gesture of welcome, as if to say, “Come on down, you’ll like it here.” I think he might be trying to sell a car, but there aren’t any cars around. The man appears to be standing in the dead center of nowhere.
“Beer?” I say. I have a six-pack out, on the floor, by the crate my feet are resting on. I’m pointing to the bottle that hasn’t been opened yet. There’s a thermos full of coffee down there too. “Cuppa coffee?” I say.
Tex takes both. The day is already a hundred years old and quickly turning to shit. He opens the beer, pulls on it, then pours the coffee into the plastic cup that sits atop the thermos. A drink for each hand, one up, one down, a white trash speedball.
I take my feet off the crate and hang them over the couch. They aren’t a part of me anymore. I often think of hacking them off. But I don’t have the tools, and these thoughts only come to me at night, and I somehow always manage to engage myself in other, less intoxicating thoughts, until morning comes. It’s a long lonely time, waiting for the morning to come.
Tex stops pacing and sits in a red chair, by the window. The window is high on the wall, and beyond the window stands the brick side-wall of the building next door. The beer is going down easy, the way it always goes down.
“I can’t stand the afternoon,” Tex says. “I hate it.”
“Nights are worse,” I tell him.
The man in the television jumps up and down. The first man is gone. He’s left his wagon sitting there.
I get up. I walk to the icebox and back, slowly, like a man under water. Tex looks at the tv. I’m thirty-six years old. In high school I ran track and won awards, but then high school passed and I got hammered by things, and hammered many things in return, and now I move like everybody else. I hand Tex another beer. I keep one for myself and set the empties on the crate. We drink the beer and don’t say anything for awhile. From outside comes the sound of people and automobiles.
Half an hour passes. Nothing else comes.
“I should move out of here,” I say. “Not this place, this place is okay. I mean the state, the country, the whole fucking thing.”
“Where would you go?” Tex wants answers. He’s stretched out on the floor now, shoes kicked away, hands folded at the chest: Dead Guy.
I make a vague motion with my beer. “I don’t know,” I tell him. “Somewhere…”
“I know what you mean,” Tex says.
“Ever hear from your brother?” His brother used to be the third man in our little drinking club. Worked in some sort of machine shop downtown. Then one day he got out. Just like that. He moved to Texas.
“No,” Tex says. “Just that postcard.” About a month after he left, his brother sent a postcard. He didn’t write anything on it. Just drew a little picture of a stickman in a cowboy hat, standing beneath a giant sky, his arms raised high.
“Beer?” I say.
I make the trip to the icebox. It seems a long way to go. On the tv a group of policemen are bashing down the door of a crack house in Detroit. They have axes and guns and snarling dogs and they’re lining people up against a living room wall. A newsman is following the action with a microphone, talking into the camera, out of the television, at Tex.
“Fucking niggers!” Tex says. The cops are probably saying the same thing, pre-edit.
I’m still digging through the icebox. “What?” I ask. But I can hear him plain as day. I walk back in there with an arm full of beer. I hand one to Tex. “Fucking cops,” I tell him.
“Fucking everybody,” he says.
Upstairs a woman is screaming at a man who is hanging a picture incorrectly, and the man is screaming back. The hammering is bad but the voices are worse. It’s the anger in the voices that’s shaking the walls, I’m sure of it. Pound! Scream! Pound! Scream! Pound! Pound! Pound!
“Fucking lunatics,” I say. I put my head in my hands, then lift it like a heavy rock and let it drop to the back of the couch. I hurl a beer at the ceiling. It explodes over the room in a wet, glassy rain.
The hammering continues.
“I think he’s drinking himself to death,” Tex says.
“I’d like to stuff a rag down the world’s throat,” I say. “Who?”
“My brother,” Tex says.
“What else is new?”
“I know,” says Tex, “but I think it’s getting worse now. I can feel it.”
“He’s a good guy,” I tell him.
“I don’t know what the hell happened,” he says.
“What happens to anybody?” I ask. But I already know the answer to that one.
Kurt Eisenlohr is a painter, writer and bartender living in Portland, Oregon. In addition to illustrations contributed to all issues of Smokebox his poetry and fiction has appeared in numerous journals and magazines including Asylum, Verbal Abuse, River Styx, Another Chicago Magazine, Cokefish, Decoy, Way Station, and STOVEPiPER. His chapbook, Under Hand and Over Bone was published by Alpha Beat Press in 1994. His art has been shown in many galleries and is featured on the Future Tense Books web site. More stories and art can be viewed in the Vault of Smoke.