R. Keith

I write to understand stillness, not to please.
Roberto Bolaño

And there we were.

Rachel was with J. Rachel, who I thought was pretty though her mouth looked like she tried to open a can of soup with her teeth. J. , her boyfriend was always on the quiet side from what I can remember about him. And Kimberley who I had known since preschool with Mudflap, who was older than all of us at twenty-four. He was the only one of us with a job at The Dollar Thrift where he ran the register and stocked shelves. And he had his own place. Above a detached garage which was decorated with road signs, construction signs, pylons, stolen x-mas lights which we liberated on our many outings. This was the place where the bunch of us would spend much of our time. Then there was myself, I was the fifth wheel. But anyway.

Alright my darlings, I lived with Chickyboo and her boyfriend on the other side of town past the railroad tracks. Her name was Rylana but everyone had always called her Chickyboo since the dawn of time. She had been a girlfriend of my father's brother who pulled the cliche I'm going out to buy smokes and you know the rest, my dears. The reason I never lived with my parents is a whole of kettle of fish. Chickyboo went through a few partners before she had shacked up with Dylan and I tagged along since she's my legal guardian. Dylan had a voice like Koolaid man and was just as shapely. A long time ago Chickyboo told me that Dylan mostly felt sorry for me because he had spent his teen years living in a handful of different foster homes. He got me to help him at his locksmith job in the summers when I wasn't in highschool. Since I've graduated I thought he'd offer me a job but no dice. No, it didn't happen like that. He offered but it wasn't something I really wanted to do and I've just been hanging out with Kimberley and Mudflap, J. and Rachel. Wasting our youth.

Well my dearies, if I remember right the night started off like nothing out of the ordinary. The quintet of our karass shoving random things into out pockets at the supermarket as we did every other day just because we could. We'd all split up and meet back outside. In the parking lot J. showed off the box of protein bars that he had shoved under his shirt. Rachel, some girly smelling bottle of shampoo. I swiped a pack of hotdogs. Mudflap pulled out four bottles of butane from his jacket pockets. And Kimberley, nothing. I only remember her ever stealing once or twice with us. Even then it was something small like bottles of cheap nail polish, plastic combs, or other girly things like packs of hair scrunchies

The five of us meandering all of town. Mudflap opened a bottle of butane and squeezed the liquid all over the garbage can in front of The Sugarbowl Cafe which was closed now. Pulled out a smoke and bent down to light it in the flames coming out of the garbage can. We all jogged out of there, passing the Bump & Grind, which was some lame bar that Chickyboo had met Dylan at a few years ago now.

We were in some residential neighborhood, near the train tracks some blocks away from where I was living with Chickyboo and Dylan. It was the third or forth day of the month. There was heaps of stuff in front of houses that people had just abandoned when they moved out at the end of the previous month. Cardboard boxes containing scraped up old frying pans, VHS tapes with a old camcorder which J. helped himself to, a curling iron, I didn't get a chance to look though because Mudflap had dowsed the box in lighter fluid and lit it up before I could see everything inside. Some houses down, a mattress and boxspring in the yard beside the driveway. When Mudflap had the acid-yellow butane bottle in his hand Kimberley tried to talk him out of it. She said the words That's enough already! But her words were ignored and we were all running towards the train tracks seconds later.

And there we were, my dearests...
In front of the chainlink fence surrounding some kind of storage unit place. Trying to keep our noise down, but something heard us on the other side of the fence and came charging our way. The blur of a Mastiff snarling and slobbering on the other side of the fence. J. said the words Give me the hotdogs. He opened the package and undid his fly. Sticking a hotdog inside and waving it around as the mastiff on the other side was getting more and more ornery. J. Went up to the chainlink fence and stuck the hotdog hanging out of his pants through the fence and began air humping. The mastiff bit off a chunk of the hotdog and J. Dropped on the ground pretending to suffer in painful castration as the rest of us laughed, but I was still nervous about the bulldozer of a creature on the other side of the fence.

Kimberley grabbed Mudflap's arm when she saw him pull out one of the butane bottles and said the words We're leaving now. I woke up the next morning on the floor at Mudflap's with a hotdog shoved up each of my nostrils and Rachel's girly shampoo was a pearl necklace all over my neck. I had to wash it off in the bathroom.

Walking back to where I lived with Chickyboo and Dylan, I passed by the storage place and strolled up near the fence where the mastiff came back running and baring its fangs at me again and slobbering everywhere. I stood there as it freaked out on the other side of the fence. The hotdogs from lastnight were still in my jacket pocket. I tore one in half and tossed it over the razor wire on the top of the fence. The dog went running for it and inhaled it off the ground. It stood there, looking at me, no longer barking and spazzing out. I showed the other half of the hotdog and they walked up to the fence. I fed it to them through the fence and they got skittish when I went to pull out another hotdog from my jacket. They calmed down when they saw what I had. I said the word Sit and the mastiff did so. As the beast took the hotdog through the fence I saw what was stamped on the tag on its collar, the name Honeydew. A whistle came from somewhere and Honeydew ran off in that direction.

For two days I just stayed at the house. I heard Dylan and Chickyboo talking about some kids being seen liting fires in the suburbs. Dylan said the words I read about it in the paper at work, where are the parents in their lives? I wanted to go out but not really see the others, though at the time they were the only friends I actually had even though I was the fifth wheel. When I crossed the train tracks and up around the storage unit place I could hear growling and the figure of Honeydew behind the fence. As I got closer the growling stopped and the mastiff's tail went flailing around again and they came right up to the fence to greet me. I didn't have anything to feed them this time.

All we did was stare joyous at each other until I felt I should take off. When I got downtown, who else would you expect me to run into? And there we were, the five of us. Nothing to do with our lives but wander around town at night.

Around ten o'clock, maybe after, I don't remember really, all of us in the rich part of town. Newish McMansions with double garages, fresh cut lawns the shade of celadon, Isabelline toned fences separating each and every back yard, minivans in driveways. Parked on the street was some 4x4-weekend warrior type thing. Mudflap looked in the bed of the truck, reaching in and unscrewing the cap off of the jerrycan as J. took out the camcorder he had found a few days ago and hit record. Mudflap dumped the jerrycan and you could smell the gas as it poured out. Rachel took out her smokes and ripped off part of the pack, lighting it and tossed it into the bed as the rest of us flocked off. Except for J. who was standing there filming the flames in the bed of the truck reaching higher and brighter.

So, as we were at Mudflap's later that same evening we were all hanging out like nothing had even happened. We stayed up channel surfing on the tv, except for J. who was watching the camcorder of the truck bed on fire over and over again until everyone passed out asleep. I couldn't find sleep and stared up at the ceiling in the dark. At some point I watched J. get up off the floor where was laying next to Rachel. He walked over and opened the window and I heard piss hitting the cement outside. But anyway.

Before Mudflap had to work the next day. He woke all of us up with blowing cigarette smoke and an incense stick below the smoke alarm. And he broke out in hysterics, laughing at all of us springing up to the blare of the smoke alarm.

We went to The Sugar Bowl and had milkshakes and loitered forever and a day because we had nothing better to do with our lives. The waitress finally came over to our table and stuck her hands in J. and Kimberley's drinks and she said the words Thanks for coming in guys. Mudflap and I downed the rest of our milkshakes before any of the greasy haggard digits had a chance. Mudflap told us all to meet him after work. J. said the words To do what? And Kimberley's words were The same nothing we always do, you have any plans?

My lovelies, let me tell you, as Mudflap worked his shift at The Dollar Thrift the rest of us went to Second Time Around, a second hand shop where I feel like washing my hands right away after I'm done looking around. The old ladies working there followed all of us around the store keeping their eyes on us. J. found a stuffed elephant toy and as he went up to the counter to pay Rachel said the words Is that for me? And J. didn't reply. We all followed J. outside of Second Time Around and J. went into the phonebooth. The stuffed elephant in his mouth, he ripped a hole with his teeth and pulled out a bit of the ivory colored stuffing. We watched J. wrap the cord from the payphone receiver around the toy's neck and take the camcorder out of his jacket as he set the stuffing a blaze. He stood there filming the whole scene with the pulses blaring from the payphone receiver until Kimberley pulled him away and we all darted out of there.

At the supermarket Rachel and I waited outside as J. and Kimberley go into grab us all some liberated food. Kimberly comes out to meet us in the parking lot and says the words We gotta go, they grabbed J. She tells us that he got caught shoving butane down his pants. She said the words A bottle fell out of his pant leg and they nabbed him, I didn't get anything I just got out of there. She took out the camcorder that J. found some days before and said the words He gave this to me so he could fit stuff in his pockets. I don't remember Rachel looking too concerned about her boyfriend getting busted for shoplifting. No, that's a lie. She was laughing and took the camcorder off of Kimberley.

So, the three of us hung out outside of The Dollar Thrift until Mudflap was off work. We saw the lights in the store go off and Mudflap came out and locked the door from the outside. He said the words Where's J.? and Rachel started up laughing again. Kimbey told him what happened and Mudflap didn't have anything to reply with. He lead us all back to The Sugar Bowl which was closed now. Behind the cafe we watched Mudflap climb up the side of the cardboard bin and reach in to grab a flattened cardboard box which he ripped in to thin, jagged strips and he opened the lid of the grease bin behind the cafe. I never in all my life understood why grease bins always smell like an outhouse. Rachel clued in to what was happening and said the words I guess J.'s gonna wanna see this, if we ever see him again, as she turned on the camcorder. That was when I realized what Mudflap was up to. He squirted the butane all over the bits of cardboard on the top of the grease bin and flicked his lighter. That, my dears, that was the worst horrible stench I have ever known. The flames from the grease bin turned the brick walls of the Sugar Bowl from cochineal to kohl and melanin as Rachel filmed the scene for J. and I looked at Kimberly with the worried, unsure look on her face, neither of us not knowing what we should do or how to make sense of what the people we hang out with were doing. The look her and I shared told each other that we knew it was wrong but what do we do about it?

As Mudflap was working the next day, Rachel, Kimberly and I hung out at his place. He had a fridge full of condiments that he probably never paid for from The Dollar Thrift and nothing to put on them. Rachel and I shared a pack of microwave noodles and the three of us divided up what was left of the toaster strudels in the freezer. Rachel said the words You have a locksmith kit, right? You can pretty much open whatever door? I nodded and shoved noodles in my mouth. Rachel said the words Grab it next time you go to your dad's and we can get some real food. I was about to say the words Dylan isn't my dad... No, I didn't even think about that. I was more interested in what she had in mind. Also what happened with J. Where is he now, did Rachel even care? She never mentioned anything.

So, us three were supposed to meet Mudflap again after his shift at The Dollar Thrift. Halfway there we're waiting for the light to turn so we can cross and a van with two boys is yelling at us. I always thought that yelling was just stupidity and I never respond to it. Rachel on the other hand...

We cross the street and the van pulls up next to us and they offer us a ride to some party. I'm not sure if they were looking at yours truly or Kimberley when the passenger said it, but he said the words I guess you can come too. The seats in the back of the van were covered in empty cans, food wrappers, plastic bags. The boy driving looked at us in the rear view mirror and said the words The seat folds down into a bed. And the wheels screeched as he slammed the brakes at the next red light. Rachel said the words You guys got anything to eat at this party? The boy in the passenger seat turned to face us and said the words Yeah, babe we can grab something to eat before we get some liquor. We pulled into some totally sketchy convenience store and Rachel convinced the two boys to buy us whatever we wanted. Of course I got a pack of hotdogs and just took the packs of mustard from the counter by the microwave and tucked them into my pocket. Kimberley wasn't going to get anything until I said the words You should probably eat before we drink, cuz Rachel's probably gonna make them buy us a ton of booze.

We pigged out in the boy's van as we headed to pick up booze. When we parked the boy driving handed a wad of bills to Rachel and said the words A flat of whatever's good. Rachel looked at the boys and one of them said the words We're uh... of age in like a month. Can you just buy it for all of us, babe? Kimberley said the words How old are you guys really? They looked at each other and one of them strated to say the word Fift... and the other finished with Seventeen, please just this once, we thought you guys were cool...

And there we were...
Kimberley, Rachel and yours truly in the liquor store looking at the wad of cash the boys gave us to buy whatever. Kimberley said the words We should just ask to use the back door and head back to Mudflap's, he's probably at home wondering why we ditched. We got fed, and we can buy more food with their money now. Rachel said the words No, I wanna see where this night leads and handed us each a case of cans and she picked another herself.

Back in the van the boy looked up in the rear view mirror again and said the words Any change? Rachel said the words No, nothing. Actually, no the words Rachel said were Kelly and Kimberley actually had to chip in on all this, you said whatever's good so we got what was really good. The boy in the passenger seat said the word Oh... and dug out some bills and handed them to me. I couldn't tell what denomination they were in the dark, so I just handed half to Kimberley.

Well, dears, we pulled up to a ratty looking abode and the boy turned the van off and jumped in the back seat next to Rachel and said the words Why don't you guys put the rest of the booze in the fridge and we'll see you guys inside in a bit? as he ripped a can out of a case, handed it to Rachel then took another can for himself and put his free hand on Rachel's leg.

And there we were...
Inside the house which didn't appear much nicer on the inside. We cramped together on a couch that had stuffing coming out of it like J.'s elephant. The boy was between Kimberley and I. We each opened cans and after the first few sips Kimberley handed her drink to me and shook her head. The boy said the words You don't like it, I thought this was the good stuff? He tired to put his hand on Kimberley's leg the way the other boy did with Rachel in the van moments ago. Kimberley said the words ...I ...I have a boyfriend. He looked at me for a second, then back at Kimberly and put his head down and didn't say anything.

If, and only if I'm going to be honest, my loves, I don't remember anything else from that night. All I do is draw a blank if I even try. When I woke up on the filthy carpet of that house I felt like I had been hit by steamroller. I looked at the couch, which was the last place I remember being and the two boys were passed out sitting on either side. In the bedrooms and bathroom, kitchen, Kimberley and Rachel were no where to be found. What I did find was J.'s camcorder sitting on top of the tv. On the floor were my hotdogs and a gazillion empty cans.

What a bitch of a time I had trying to find my way back to across the tracks, stopping to see how my only true friend Honeydew was. I should have grabbed those hotdogs to give to my dear bulldozer of a dog, I wasn't really clear headed enough to think of it. I just need to crash in my own bed at Dylan and Chickyboo's.

Three, no... two days later, after hibernating in bed and eating aspirin like Altoids and listening to Dylan telling Chickyboo that I should try to find a job and pay at least some of my own way around the house. Chickyboo said the words Kelly is barely even here anymore, usually just comes here to shower maybe twice a week, maybe spend a night or two then disappears...where ever it is those kids spend their time doing who knows what. The passive aggressive arguing went on and I sandwiched my head between a couple pillows since my head was still pounding a bit.

Some time afterwards Chickyboo came into my room and put a couple bills on my dresser and said the words I'd like to see you around here more, but maybe you should make yourself scarce for a little bit. But you can always come and check in with me at work once in a while, ok? And she left the room.

I grabbed my lockpick kit and the cash and headed out after I changed my clothes. Walking to Mudflap's I was wondering if The Dollar Thrift sold dog biscuits. I'd get some for Honeydew with the cash that Chickyboo gave me. What was Dylan's deal? I spend the majority of my time out of the house, even though I'm not so sure about the company I keep anymore. Regardless, it doesn't have any affect on him.

* * *

I had the lock on the gate open with the bump key in a few seconds. All the locks on the storage sheds were cheap and easy to open. Honeydew was following me as I crept around. The first unit I opened was storing a vintage car, some kind of Ford I don't know much of anything about cars. But something really stunk in the storage unit. I pulled down the door and locked it back up with the bump key. Another unit had random boxes filled with magazines, some had old ratty looking clothes, all kinds of electric wires, plugs, cables. Nothing interesting. Outside the unit were five large pails with warning labels to wear protective masks when handling and a bunch of stickers with symbols I didn't understand the meaning of.

At Mudflap's I knocked but just opened the door at the same time, it's always unlocked.

And there they were...
Passed out on the mattress on the floor. Clothes scattered around. Both mouths wide open as Rachel and Mudflap were on their backs, side by side. I turned around and shut the door as quietly as I could.

And there they were...
Walking up the driveway. Kimberley and J. J. said the words No one there? And I replied with the words Oh yeah, go take a look! Nah, I'm playing. The words I said were No one answered the door I guess Mudflap's at work. What the fuck happened to you, J.?

The three of us wandered to the super market where J. had been caught and just hung out sitting on the sidewalk. J. told us that after his parents picked him up at the police station and took him back home they wouldn't let him leave the house. J. said the words So that's what cabin fever is like. I went to put some clothes in the dryer and I thought fuck this and climbed on top of the machine and opened the window and crawled out.

I said the words I have your camcorder, I forgot it at Dylan's we can grab it...uh, do you need it right away? J. shook his head and told me to get a shopping cart. Kimberley got inside J.'s cart and the two of us stood a distance from each other and ran towards the other, pushing our carts and crashing them together. This went on and on again. Ten, fifteen minutes. Some cars honked at us. Someone said the word Hey!! And more horns honking. Kimberley fell out of J.'s shopping cart as it tipped over on its side and the three of us were laughing for a few seconds until some man in a polo shirt and name tag speed walked up to us. His name tag said Doug MacDougall or something like that and he said the words I have you all on camera yaknow?! You're the one who was stea... And we laughed at Doug MacDougall or whatever his name was and walked away. But anyway.

We walked by The Dollar Thrift. Where Mudflap wasn't. A fire truck blared past us. Then a second. Kimberley said the words Been a couple days since I seen my boyfriend, are you guys coming with? I wanted to suggest that we just go to The Sugar Bowl but Kimberley would know something was up then. Play dumb instead I thought. But I was nervous. I said the words Let's grab the camcorder before we go to Mudflap's.

When we passed the storage unit I lead J. and Kimberley around the other side of the fence, hoping Honeydew wouldn't see us, and that J. wouldn't want to pester my real friend. I got them to wait outside the house in case Dylan was there and wanted to remind me of how I'm wasting my life and freeloading. Thank the stars neither Dylan or Chickyboo were home.

Mudflap and Rachel were standing beside the fire trucks and ambulances that were on his street as the house in front of the garage apartment of Mudflap's was being dowsed with the fire hoses. J. takes out the camcorder and starts filming the whole scene. But anyway. The ambulances started up and their sirens blared. Kimberly said the words Are you guys ok, what happened? Rachel said the words I guess we're fine. I looked at Mudflap and Rachel for some sign, any kind of sign, some look on their faces that would tell me if they did this or not. I'm not sure if I could see anything. I'm not sure what I was even looking for.

Three cops came up to Mudflap and one of them said the words You live there? He pointed to the unit above the garage. Mudflap nodded and they had a short conversation somewhat like this: You're gonna hafta come with us. / Why's that? / We just need you to answer a few questions. / Sure, ask. / No, we're gonna need you to get into the back of the car. / Am I under arrest? / We just need you to come with us and we'll all have a little chat together. / Am I under arrest?! / Look, it's so much easier for you if you just come along with us. One of the other cops slammed his handcuffs on Mudflap's wrists and it took two of them to drag him and push him into the back of a cop car. The car sped off and Rachel had a big smirk on her face.

Inside Mudflap's, J. and Rachel started making out in the bed where I had seen Rachel and Mudflap earlier. I noticed Kimberley look at the mess on the floor. A condom wrapper beside some of the same cans that those boys got Rachel to buy. Kimberley said the words Do you wanna go to The Sugar Bowl or something?

We went to The Sugar Bowl. I paid for both our milkshakes with some of the cash Chickyboo had given me. All the things going through my head, Rachel probably did what I think she did the night we went to that creepy pigsty house with those boys, then, I know what I saw at Mudflaps. If I had been a couple minutes later I would have ran into Kimberley running out of Mudflap's crying. And probably Mudflap and J. scrapping it out. Now Mudflap's landlord's house burns down.

Kimberley said the words Do you think Rachel would fuck me around? What words should I respond with to something like this? I didn't know which words, so I let her continue. She said the words I know she was in the van with one of those boys and...ugh, how are you now from that night? I said the words Took it easy for a couple days, that's all I needed. Kimberley said the words You've always been tough, I can't believe Rachel even did that to... Kimberley grabbed both our milkshakes and pushed them to the other end of the table as the old crow that works at The Sugarbowl walked past our table and said the words You gonna be here all night?

* * *

The next four days I stayed at Kimberley's in her room. She never mentioned seeing the condom wrapper on the floor at Mudflap's. I'm quite certain she saw it. Kimberley fed me bologna sandwiches with cheese slices, microwave noodles, toast with peanutbutter and I caught a shower or two after her parents left the house to go to work. I stayed there cooped up in her room without anyone knowing. After that I couldn't handle being indoors anymore.

Kimberley and I wandered over by the storage unit place. She remembered Honeydew from the night they ate J.'s hotdog. I pointed out the garage unit that had the old classic car inside. I have no idea why I mentioned that the keys were in the glove box. Honeydew warmed up to Kimberley pretty quickly and after a bit her and I wandered around town. Not really talking much. But I remember her saying the words Whenever my boyfriend comes back from wherever he is the three of us should drive that car out of here and head somewhere new, where no one knows us. Start over, fresh. I wasn't sure how to answer. It wasn't a bad idea to my ears, though I'm not sure I'd want to go with Mudflap.

We walked back to Kimberley's and both her parents cars were home. Her parents were the least welcoming people on the planet if you ask me, my lovelies. I wouldn't be able to stay there tonight. I felt like an unwelcome burden at Dylan's even though I should catch up with Chickyboo, so that's where I headed.

I woke up to the sound of Dylan screaming the words Kelly get the fuck over here. I wasn't certain what to think what Dylan was yelling about or what was happening. In the living room there was Dylan standing in front of the tv. He said the words What the fuck is this?! And pointed to the tv.

And there we were. On the tv screen, the video tape in the machine. I see my face, and some hands I can only guess they're J. and Mudflap's and I suppose it was Rachel operating the camera. On the tv screen I was passed out on the living room floor at Mudflap's. My mouth wide open. And my dearies, what happened I don't even want to think about. There was either Mudflap or J. with the hotdog in the fly of his pants. Putting the tubesteak in my mouth as I was out cold on the floor. I could hear Rachel and Mudflap laughing away. Next on the tv screen Mudflap undid his fly. He put himself inside my mouth as Rachel and J. cackling distorted over the speakers. Then J. again. He said the words Eat it as he put himself and a hotdog in my mouth. On the tv speakers I could hear Kimberley saying the words Okay, stop! Enough already! The camera shaking with Rachel laughing. A close up of my face. My dears, I'm sorry but you can already imagine what they did. Dylan said the words Who the fuck put this tape on the doorstep?! And of course I couldn't answer. The camera wobbles around and there is Rachel on the screen, taking her shirt off. She straddles me as I am out of it on the floor. She hunches over plopping her tit in my mouth, shaking her tits against my teeth on the screen, Kimberley said the words Come on it's not even funny anymore! And J. and Mudflap like hyenas over the speakers. Rachel rams a nipple in my nostril, then her other nipple in my right nostril. And again in my mouth.

The tape cuts to the house in front of Mudflap's place on fire. At first zoomed in up close. All you can see is orange from the flames until the lens is adjusted to film the house burning away and falling apart. Then panning over to a stretcher being picked up and put in the back of one of the ambulances. Dylan said the words You guys did this?! I stood there in the living room frozen in my skin. I didn't know what words to say. But Dylan did, he said the words You get the fuck out of my house. I still remained there some seconds that felt like decades until Dylan said the words Now! You think I'm fucking around? Get the fuck out of here!

And there I was. Wondering around aimlessly. Thinking of what Chickyboo would even say if I went to talk to her at her job. How would she convince Dylan we didn't set the house on fire? Where to go from here? Not Mudflaps, I know that much. If Dylan calls the police on us then we're all fucked. And I hope the four of them all get fucked. No, that's not right. Kimberley was telling them to stop. She didn't do anything to me. But anyway.

I got the chance to pack a few changes of clothes before I left Dylan's but I noticed my lockpick kit was missing. I had some thoughts that I could sleep inside the car in the storage unit. I'd have to be totally stealth, just until I figure out something else. Honeydew would let me know if someone was in the yard. My kit must be at Kimberley's

When I got to Kimberley's parents house her mom answered the door. She said the words Kimmie isn't here, maybe check her boyfriend's house. What do you guys call him, Mudpie? Yes she's probably there.

I trekked all around without any destination until I came upon the storage unit place. Up at the fence was Honeydew looking happy to see me with his tail flapping every which way. I stayed and visited a bit, but I needed to find Kimberley to get my kit back and have a place to nap for a night or two. I doubt she's at Mudflap's. Her mother just wanted to get rid of me. And I don't really want to go there. But anyway.

So, darlings, let me tell you, I went to see Chickyboo at her work Budget Fares I wasn't certain if she was pissed at me like Dylan was but I wanted to take the chance to find out. In the mall outside of Budget Fares Chickyboo saw me through the window. Her eyes went all huge. She was with a customer so I just waited in the mall. I found a newspaper on a bench in the mall and flipped through it until I came upon a photo of the house in front of Mudflap's place. The article next to the photo said the words Elderly couple parish in house fire, cause unknown.

Over the mall speakers a voice said the words Attention all shoppers, this is an evacuation, all shoppers and employees must leave the mall immediately. This was repeated five times between a fire alarm going off. So, everyone in the mall headed towards all the exits in a cattywampus fashion. I watched as fire trucks and ambulances drove around the back of the mall. Security guards and police wouldn't let anyone near the area.

Well dears, I heard a voice calling my name and there she was, Chickyboo. I asked what was going on and she said the words I dunno, but there's a Bomb Squad truck on the other side of the mall. How have you been holding up?

Chickyboo took me for lunch at some Italian restaurant called Giorgio's I had never been to before. She told me that she packed up and left Dylan and was at a motel now. She said the words He keeps calling me at work telling me I need to pay him back for all the time I wasn't working and he was supporting me. And he was like, You're lucky I don't ask for more since Kelly was freeloading off of me the whole time we been together. She told me he wanted six grand. And she said the words I had an idea, I call Dylan up and say I have the money and we meet somewhere. Then your friend Mudfling and what's the other one, J.? They roll him for it right afterwards. But how would I even get that kind of cash? I've never had that in the bank in my life.

Let me tell you, I was eaten up with curiosity that Chickyboo would even think of doing that. I didn't bother telling her that I don't really want to hang around those people anymore. After we ate I walked Chickyboo back to her job. The mall had returned to normal as if nothing happened. Inside of Budget Fares one of Chickyboo's co-workers said the words Oh hey Rylana, you're back, we were worried. Chickyboo told her we had just went for lunch, and asked what the commotion was earlier. They said the words The Bomb Squad was called! There was one of those pressure cooker things on top of one of the dumpsters out back and someone called the authorities. They thought it might be a bomb, because of all the fires around town in the last little while. I stood there silent in my skin. Chickyboo said the words Well kid, if you need a shower or place to stay just come find me here at work. Don't be shy to drop by just to say Hi either. She gave me a few bills before I left.

All I did, my loves, was flake out at the mall until 6pm and I met up with Chickyboo after work. I didn't have anywhere else I could go and Chickyboo knew that. At the front desk of her motel she asked for a second key. In the motel room the two of us talked about what was on the video tape Dylan had found. I said the words I don't remember any of that happening, I was out of it, you could see on the tape. She asked about the fire, she said the words Two people died, elderly people... I said the words That was the house in front of Mudflap's place, we had nothing to do with the fire, we were just there and one of us filmed it. Even though I wasn't totally sure that Rachel and Mudflap were innocent. Thinking of what they did to me when I was out cold made me think otherwise. The thing is, that I didn't have anything to do with it. Or them. Anymore.

When Chickyboo left for work the next morning I hung out in the motel room for a bit. I used the phone in the room to call Kimberley's house. On the other end of the line she said the words No, I haven't seen your locksmith kit. I told her about Chickyboo running out on Dylan after he kicked me out when he saw the tape of J. and Mudflap doing that stuff to me and she cut me off with the words No, that wasn't them. That was the night with the two boys with the van in that scummy house. I'm sorry, I thought you knew. I'm sorry. I... I tried to get them to stop. ...I ...I'm sorry, Kelly.

At the motel front desk I said the words I think I lost my room key. Room 58. I had to pay a fifteen dollar deposit to get a new key. I didn't actually lose the key. I was thinking about what Kimberley had said before. To take that car in the storage unit. Take off somewhere new. Start over. Would Chickyboo come with? Probably not. She's settled with a decent job. She can get Dylan off her back herself. She doesn't owe that loser shit. With the cash that Chickyboo gave me I bought a cheap file at the hardware store. Thinking about taking Honeydew with me on a joyride to anywhere but here with the car.

Back at the motel I called for pizza. Double Pepperoni. I sat on the bed, having a difficult time filing down the teeth of the extra room key into a makeshift bumpkey so I could open the locks to the storage unit place. I pondered if I should let Chickyboo know I'm leaving, maybe call up Kimberley and invite her. No, maybe get a hold of them when I get to wherever I end up. Chickyboo would be off work in an hour, I should leave in a couple minutes.

I wandered around again all night by myself. At the fence around the storage unit place I tried called Honeydew's name as quietly as I could. My true friend didn't come. Something didn't feel right. I called a few more times and nothing. I took a walk around the fence looking around, making sure no one else was in the yard. The padlock on the gate was easy to open with my homemade bumpkey and a fist sized rock. Everything was too quiet. The lock on the unit with the Ford was different now. Still I managed to bump the thing open.

And there everything was...
The horrendous stench as I opened the unit garage door. I had to pull my shirt over my nose and even then I was still coughing. The classic car with scratch marks all over the paint from some beast. Rachel's body laying limp on the car's roof. A pail of whatever that stuff was with all the warning labels. Honeydew on the cement floor. For a second, my dears, for a second I thought of taking the vavle stem cap off and letting out the air from all the tires, so Kimberley wouldn't be able to get very far with car.

* * *

Over the years I would run into Kimberley on the street, or shopping in the mall. We would stand for a few moments of small talk, not really getting into the details of each other's lives. For the past two years I haven't seen her at all. I used to receive birthday cards in the mail from her in June, sometimes July, even though I'm a Capricorn. Rachel and my darling love Honeydew were eventually found in the storage unit several months after what had happened. Mudflap wasn't found not guilty of the fire of his landlord's house. Not enough evidence. He might still be running the cash register and helping himself to random stock at The Dollar Thrift. I'm not entirely certain and I doubt really want to be bothered to find out either. I'm not sure what happened between him and Kimberley. J., just seemed to vanish without a trace. No one ever heard anything from him again. Chickyboo has gone through a number of boyfriends, some she lived with, some not. I see her a couple times each month, we go out for brunch. My life, my dears, didn't turn out to be anything very remarkable. Chickyboo let me stay with her in her motel room for a while and I started working at The Sugar Bowl, drinking all the free milkshakes I want and managing to put away enough money to get a small place of my own. Chickyboo stays on my couch when she is in between boyfriends. Once, maybe four years ago I thought I saw one of the two boys with the van come into The Sugar Bowl as I was just finishing my shift. I stood there frozen in my skin. They sat down at a table to look at the menu. And as I was looking at the bottle of window cleaner from under the sink, Kendra, one of the other servers asked me to pour a rootbeer for the table where he was sitting.

R. Keith is the author of twenty collections of poetry, fiction, vispo. Latest books include Wild Rose Country (Cajun Mutt Press), Plangent, The Book of (Alien Buddha Press), FLOP (Rust Belt Press). His visual art has been displayed in galleries in Canada, Malta and Russia.
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