I see William get knocked back on his ass as he tries to plug his guitar into the amp. He sits staring at the silver tip of his power cord, his arm twitching like a run-over dog. It's too much for me, and I climb out of the basement crazy eyed. I'm peaking, the air in my lungs is cerulean blue.

It's as I hear his drum kit kick that I think of stealing Aaron's bike and riding to Julianne's. It's an awful idea, and it haunts the inside of my skull as the streetlamps burn. The road is wet, and the fallen leaves stare at me in patterns.

I get to her house and everything is dark-dark. Her parent's cars take up the long curl of her driveway. I'll go around and crawl in through the little basement window, I think. This makes sense to me.

As I'm stuck halfway through, hanging head first from my belt, these are the things I think to say to her: It's not my fault. I want you/I need you. Jesus fucking Christ, will you please stop hating?

In the dark, the furniture is horrid. The love seat is a florid penis and the lamps are men. I have to lie down and put my chin to the bare floor. There, okay, better now.

I hear her breathing and I know it's real; I've listened so many times before. Within the boundary of one lucid moment, I wonder how to wake her gently. Then I go and sit near her head.

She wakes with a throat of incredible sound, enormous factories crashing into ruin. The house is stunned and the dog howls. She's kicking at me, socks in my face, toes in my groin. "Who is it?" she screams. "Dad! Killing me. Dad!"

When the lights come on with a snarl of dog, I'm sitting in the corner. Her father hauls Pearly Boy away and hits me in the nose with the back of his hand. Blood blooms on the wall. I'm pointing at my watch and yelling "Time. Time." Julianne stares at me, her eyes tiny clocks.

Somehow, we are left alone. Can a father do this? Julianne has given me a towel for the blood. I chew on the little threads and swallow them. She's asking me a question I'm trying to hear.

"Yes," I say, estimating her meaning. "I did need to see you."

She nods. This is why we once were, that nod in the middle of all this. Nobody else could.

She scoots down and puts her hand on the back of my neck. Her fingers trace. I bend near, pull close her face, and kiss her. "Nope," she says, pushing away. "Too late for that." But her fingers keep making color in my hair. Her pea green fingers make love.

- - -


I'm not sure whose idea it was to put the pot into the hamburgers. It may have been mine. Something about the hot fat drawing out the THC for an amazing high.

An hour later, we sat in Tim's back yard with our hands on our bellies.

"You feel anything?" John asked.

"No," I said.

"No," Tim said.

John shrugged. "Let's do bong hits." And we agreed.

We got into Tim's car and headed for the country. It was when the houses opened into sparkling corn that we realized how high we were. I looked up and saw Tim's eyes in the rearview, green and gold, smiling fabulously. I reached between the seats and flicked John in the ear. He held the lobe in his hand, raptured by the crows circling the sky.

Tim put a tape into the ancient stereo and we listened to the bending of violins. The smell of sticky dope followed the crinkling of Baggies. "Hmm?" John said, and he flashed the red-steel bowl for us.

I put my hands in the air. "Oh, god, no. No, no." The sound of the engine was already a space ship. Tim took a hit and the car sputtered into the empty blue sky before us.

Hours, or maybe minutes, later, we were stopped beneath a walnut tree growing into the side of a yellow hill. I heard my breath on the warm pane of glass, a cricket somewhere beneath the seat. Down far into the valley, the stream took silverware from the sun.

"Well," Tim said, and his eyes painted the car. "Are we here?"

"Yes," John answered, and I heard the echo, yes and yes and yes, from one cupped mind to the other.

About the author:

Joseph lives in Baltimore, on the historic and greasy east bank of the Jones Falls River. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Mississippi Review, Opium, Blue Moon Review, The God Particle, storySouth, Dead Mule, Literary Potpourri, and Small Spiral Notebook.