Estelle blares the horn and I start climbing into the Jeep when she tells me I have to sit in the back because Clarence is in the passenger seat. I don’t see anyone but I do what she says. She seems really on edge. I sit in the back and wonder why the top has been removed from the Jeep and really wish for the millionth time that I had a coat. She rips through the side yard and bounces into the alley. We drive through a series of alleys. I never realized Dayton had so many alleys but it seems like a half an hour before we’re on any type of main road. And then it’s only to bound up onto 35. My arms are wrapped around myself and my teeth are chattering and the speed of the highway isn’t helping at all. By the time we reach 75 South my blood is finally pumping and I’m starting to feel less like a corpse.
“Where are we going?” I ask, knowing I should just enjoy the ride but, given my past experiences with Estelle, I know that wherever we’re going could lead to savagery and horror. I think I’m okay with this.
“Clarence has a cane!” she yells. Spit mists out of her mouth and spritzes my face. It smells like Listerine and death.
“Clarence! Has! A! Cane!”
“And it has a skull on it!”
“Clarence sounds like a badass!”
I repeat myself but it doesn’t elicit any response. The rearview mirror frames Estelle’s wild eyes. We’re in the fast lane and doing well over a hundred. There are very few other cars on the highway. She stops and tells me I have to drive.
“I don’t want to drive.”
“The arthritis in my knees is really fucking with me. Get behind that fucking wheel or I’ll cut your face.”
She slides over into the passenger seat.
“What about Clarence?”
“Clarence got out a half hour ago. He’s a limp dicked mother fucker. By that I mean he’s my son and I have had sex with him.”
“Therefore you know all about his erectile dysfunction and his penchant for relations with mothers.”
“The next time I hear fancy talk like that I’m biting your ear off. Get this bitch moving. It’s stolen.”
I slam on the gas. Eventually we pass a stadium-sized church with the skeleton of what used to be a giant Jesus until it got struck by lightning in front of it. Estelle stands up and rips off her top. She’s not wearing a bra and she bounces around. “Look at these, Jesus!” she shouts. It’s just like Mardi Gras.
“Drive faster!” she says. She’s still standing up, her breasts and loose skin flapping in the wind. I try to turn on the heat and she karate chops my hand away.
We pull off an exit somewhere in Cincinnati. She spits directions at me and I robotically maneuver the Jeep until we’re in front of a dilapidated Victorian house. It’s the only house with any lights on.
Great! Maybe she’s taking me along to another one of her parties. I really wish Buddy were here. Estelle hops out of the Jeep and winces. She buttons up her floral-patterned polyester church dress and I realize how conservatively she’s dressed. She goes around to the back of the Jeep and grabs a couple five-gallon cans of gasoline.
“Grab those.” She points at a couple of road side flares.
“What are we doing?”
“We’re having fun. We’re making the night glow. We’re aging and regressing.” Then she growls at me and lashes out at my cheek with a claw. It hurts. I think it’s bleeding but I’m holding these flares and too preoccupied to check. We walk up onto the porch. She sets down the gas cans and tries the door. It’s locked. She tells me to kick it in. Says it’ll be a blast, a really big time, a fiesta, arena rock.
I kick the door several times. I can’t kick it open. I’m chubby and weak and not a master of kicking open doors. The door opens anyway and an old man stands on the other side.
“Why the banging?” he says.
Before he can say anything else, Estelle throws herself on him like a wild cat, gouging his eyes, kneeing him in the groin.
“Grab the gas! Splash it around!” she says.
And the next few seconds are filled with people screaming and running from the house and I’m splashing the gas all around the perimeter of the room I’m standing in, the fumes enveloping me, and I’m having a really good time and immediately want to move to another house and do it again. I look back at Estelle and she’s continuing to rip at the poor old guy’s face and when he seems immobilized she grabs one of the flares and sparks it up and tosses it into the room. I run through the open door and head for the Jeep. Estelle’s limping along behind me, silhouetted in the hell orange glow of the house. I sit in the passenger seat. My hands are shaking. My nerves are shot. I can’t possibly drive. And I begin to wonder if what I just had, what I just experienced was, in fact, fun. Or was it just something I felt and I’m confusing that for fun? Or did I just do whatever Estelle wanted me to do?
Estelle gets behind the wheel and we swing through another series of alleys and then we’re at a parking garage and we’re driving to the top of it and then we’re out of the Jeep and standing against the concrete barrier and Estelle is pointing at the burning house and mouthing the word, “Beautiful.”
I think of the mutilated man inside, rolling around on the floor and screaming.
Estelle moves a hand with knuckles the size of walnuts over my cock. It’s unresponsive. She reaches into her giant purse and pulls out some pills and tells me to take them so she doesn’t have to rip out my tongue and I do it.
In a few minutes I’m rock hard.
She crawls up onto the hood up the Jeep, hikes up her skirt, and slides down a huge pair of underwear.
She says, “I’ll let you wear my wig.”
She says, “You’ll have to get the lube out of my purse. You’ll need a lot.”
She says, “Yeah, that’s it.”
She says, “Yeah, just like it’s 1939. I’m the magic paper bag.”
She says, “Fill me while the world burns.”
She says, “Faster. Harder. You need to lose some weight or you’re going to break my hips.”
She says, “Come on my tits. Spray ’em with that shit.”
And I’m doing everything she says and I’m looking at a lighted sign beyond the Jeep that says ROOF and has an arrow pointing up and the light is blinking and then it’s going dark and then we’re lying in a puddle of grease covered with a crocheted blanket that smells like mothballs and gasoline and I ask, “Who was that man?”
I’m still wearing the wig, but my shirt is off and my pants are down around my ankles. She lights one of those long cigarettes and hands it to me before lighting another one for herself.
“Don’t ask me questions like that.”
“And the guy from last night—”
She presses her cigarette into my thigh and I bark out in pain. She exhales a languorous blue plume.
“Besides,” she says, “you only want to know about them to make yourself feel better. You think if I had a good reason to do what I did then you could feel like they deserved it and then you would feel less guilty. Let me tell you some things. I’m a product of the Depression. Everyone my age is a product of the Depression. We grew up with nothing but when we became adults we had the opportunity to give our children almost everything they wanted and we did that. Mostly material things because those were exactly what we didn’t have. And then they grew up with everything and wanted more and more and gave their children—people like you—everything. But you wanted more. You wanted to feel important and special so they had to give something else to their kids. Attention. But a parent’s attention is never enough so they had to make you feel like everyone else paid attention to you too. Like anyone cared. No one cares. They’ve never cared. We are all just a speck of cosmic dust.”
Preachy, I think. And then say, “But why kill other people? If we’re all just specks of dust, why not just leave people alone?”
“Because some dust needs vacuumed up.”
“You’re so nihilistic.”
“I am nothing. Yours is the generation that wants to be labeled. But you’re all just consumers, really.”
I take a drag from the cigarette. “I’m just fat and sad and.. cold.”
She stands up. “You’re bumming me out. You can get your own ride home.”
She snaps up the afghan and before I can even stand up and pull up my pants, she’s in the Jeep and speeding away and I wonder if I’ll ever see her again.
She forgot to take the wig so I leave it on for warmth. I can’t find my shirt anywhere. I wish I had a cell phone. Agatha has a cell phone. I need a pay phone. I wonder if pay phones even exist anymore. I wonder what I said that set Estelle off. She seemed bitter. She’s probably the angriest, most bitter person I’ve ever met.
I begin walking down the ramp of the parking garage. I’m really far up. I find a staircase and take it, thinking an attendant who sees me on the ramp might have some questions or something. I don’t think it’s a crime to wander through a parking garage. I’m pretty sure it’s a crime to light houses and people on fire. I’m also pretty sure I still smell like gas.
The stairwell is brightly lighted but it has a really odd smell to it. A few stories down I come across a man bundled into a sleeping bag. I stand over him for a second. There is an atrocious smell wafting up from him. I wish it was Buddy. Maybe this homeless person could be my friend. Maybe he’s not really homeless at all. Maybe he just likes sleeping in parking garages. I just had sex with a really old person in a parking garage. People do stranger things. I prefer to think that’s what this guy’s doing. It’s just an experiment. He has a warm home and a loving family to go back to and he doesn’t have any mental problems or addictions or anything.
I nudge him with my foot.
He pulls down the sleeping bag and tells me he thinks he’s going blind. Then he becomes defensive and asks me what the fuck I want.
“Do you have a phone?”
“Yeah, I gotta phone,” he says. “Do you need to call the President?”
“No, I don’t think so. I need to call someone to give me a ride back to Dayton.” Then I think maybe this isn’t really true. I don’t really know many people and those I do know don’t drive.
“You wanna take a ride in my sleeping bag?”
“Are you inviting me to have sex with you because, if you are, I have to decline. I just had sex up there and then she left me. That’s why I need a ride.”
“That’s a misogynistic statement and a really derogatory term.”
He mocks me and pulls out his phone. I’m glad “phone” wasn’t code for something else like drugs or his shoe.
He says, “Let me update my Facebook page first.” He stands up and wraps a smelly arm around my shoulders and we both smile into the phone and he takes a picture but it doesn’t flash because it’s already so bright in the stairwell. Then he types in something and hands me the phone.
“What’d you type?” I ask.
“New friends. LOL.”
“Who you callin’?”
“Well, first I’m going to try my wife or my ex-wife or my former roommate and then I’m going to call my BFF Buddy. He’s a standup guy but he has a chemical dependency problem and he might even be dying of cancer so I’m not sure he’ll be up for the drive. He sleeps a lot.”
“Good luck. I’m gonna take a piss.”
The guy pulls down his filthy pants and begins urinating onto his sleeping bag.
I call home. It rings and rings. Maybe Buddy is still sleeping. Maybe Buddy is having sex with that sad cheerleader I saw him with this morning. Maybe Buddy is dissolving a person in acid in the bath tub. Jesus. Buddy wouldn’t do a thing like that. The voice mail prompt comes on and I say, “Hey Buddy, this is Andy. I’m in the Nati and need a ride back to Dayton. If you can help me out in a couple seconds give me a call at this number. Otherwise maybe just, I don’t know, drive down I-75 or something. Man, fuck it, I don’t want to be a pain in the ass. Just forget about it.” I press END and call Agatha. It rings and rings. I imagine her phone in the bottom most layer of coats and give her a while to get it. It doesn’t go to voice mail or anything. Just rings and rings. I hand the phone back to the possibly homeless guy and say, “Thanks.” I search in my pockets until I find a dollar and hand that to him too.
“Thanks, man. God bless you.”
I wander around town until I come to a bar called Aluminum Can Drinks. There is a cab in front of it. Why didn’t I think of calling a cab? I walk to the cab and hop in the back.
“I need a ride to Dayton.”
“That’s far away.”
“I can do it.”
He pulls away from the curb. The ride is completely uneventful. The cab is warm. I sleep all the way home. When I get home it’s just before dawn and I go upstairs and get in bed next to Buddy.