Tzef Pine CC
Order for Pete
Pete was getting something to go from the take-out window he was surprised there was one it snuck up on him but after all he was near the beach it was only five and he wasn’t planning on eating so soon but feeling squirrelly he’d walked down Washington to where he could see the pier and there it was, the window that is, and so why not. He rocked back and forth on his feet waiting for the double cheeseburger and fries as he watched other examples of his fellow humans or whatever run rush ramble by no one gave him a glance why the fuck should they yo, bro! get a move on what you lookin’ at don’t worry no offense I’m actually a nice guy if you knew me hah. He had planned on saying nothing to no one today especially not a slurred buh-burgacombo nuh-nuh-number shreee to go no drink duh-danks name’s puh-Pete but then he did.
He’d been swigging vodka in his room straight from the handle no glass no ice right from the lip since the noontime news update on KTLA an eighteen-wheeler jackknifed on the Santa Monica bad news on top of a bad mood he had seen this latest slip-up coming for a week now but after Oprah and Dr. Phil he was bored again so he struck out into the late afternoon sun the fog had burned off he was feeling antsy he wanted to slow down his intake anyway that bottle had to last him the night he had a little self-respect left hah hah hah. He could have waited for his white styrofoam box of hot food inside the restaurant he guessed maybe even ordered a cold drink from the bar Johnny on the rocks just for a change of pace but it wasn’t never mix never worry it was that inbred financial good sense he’d had since his trailer-park childhood in the Valley and a paper route whose earnings went straight into a savings bank passbook the memory of which arrived in the nick of time to keep him out on the sidewalk in the sun in the heat beating down on the back of his neck you know how drunks hate the heat he was in the crowd jingling the loose change in his left pocket (keys, phone in the right). He took them out of his pocket and put them in proper order by size the quarters at the bottom of a pyramid with the nickels and the dimes on top there were no pennies he wondered how much it was if it added up to enough to buy a schooner (nothing harder) if it was nice and cool inside that bar he’d escape the heat the sun but no he won’t do that he’d play the Best Boy In The World who really did mean to get back to the rooms one of these days he was just out doing research hah hah hah for a while, hey people look I’m back! Hah hah hah do I get a twenty-four coin I’ll add to it the quarters and dimes and nickels already there burning a hole in my pocket gotta be legal tender somewhere right? Maybe here at this bar say it sure looks popular all those folks knocking shoulders inside knocking back bet it’s nice and cool in there.
Loud angry voices of the Get out and stay out kind interrupted his descent into Boardwalk Blotto-Land Pete turned his head toward the door leading in and out of the restaurant and saw a young short heavy-set woman with thick black hair stumble out or maybe was she was pushed he couldn’t tell for sure two beefy arms extended out the door suggesting that someone inside had had enough and was tossing the bimbo out. Unable to stand straight she lunged like a dancer struck with a sudden palsy across the wide sidewalk until she made the acquaintance of a parking meter and slumped to its base. Blood oozing from her scalp lying unmoving untalking she was twenty feet away from Pete other people waiting for their own styrofoam boxes were closer but even Pete could see her lips open and close like a fish out of water gasping for air or is it water they gasp for anyway this girl was wasted she was further along the launch trajectory that Pete that intended for himself this evening Was she moaning? Who could tell the sidewalk was busy and noisy it was the start of the bewitching hour for The Parade of Venice Beach Low-Lifes! but Pete thought he could see another parade, the blood where her head had hit the parking meter now conga-lining down her cheek the boom-boom Seventies disco bar music audible here in the street under angel-free skies We are family.
Wassup wit her people were saying shit what’s wrong wit her get her some help A dude Pete’s age went up to where she was down and started riffling through her purse looking for something Say who da fuck are you someone says Pete at this moment surer on his feet than she had been on hers moved forward but another guy was faster and got there first Who da fuck are you what you doing Don’t worry I’m her boyfriend she just had too much she been here since happy hour started gotta get her home He continued to go through her purse Pete guessed he was looking for a wallet the dude faster than Pete then said If you her boyfriend then what’s her name what kind of fucking boyfriend are you you fuck-ass. This artist knew an opportunity when he saw one was rolling the chick right there on the sidewalk in front of the crowd getting larger it was a sunny late afternoon people were out the Parade was underway Peter could smell the sea two blond surfer guys with perfect teeth and fancy wet suits but no surf boards heh heh walking through the crowd didn't look either way didn't look down at the unconscious woman on the sidewalk didn’t skip a beat their fake-surfer louder-than-needed-to-be convo Westwood chicks they’re so easy.
Some was saying Who’s called 911 who’s called the cops she’s OD’ing right here in front of us jezus fuckin’ christmas others echoed Get her some help Pete looked back to the restaurant door and the owner of those two beefy arms was now standing on the sidewalk too his feet wide apart and those beefy arms defiantly crossed like y’all get the fuck outa here Pete glanced across the street saw a giant bearded biker dude checking IDs at a club Pete shouted out Hey over here this guy is robbing this girl Do something man Pete thought he could see the biker smirk and go back to using his little blue light to check driver’s licenses meanwhile over here the fake-boyfriend guess he found what he was looking for and ran with it he was quick agile no one could or did stop him Pete thought he could see the woman drooling at the mouth the lips were still moving like that fish but slower now people were saying Yes I called 911 other people were saying Yes I called the cops well then Pete thought where the hell are they. A bell rang for Pete it rang a second time Order up for Pete. The woman had slunk further down onto the sidewalk her black t-shirt crawled up her belly to her bra rolls of fat went from her stomach round to her sides below the bra Pete could see a tattoo it was a lightning bolt or maybe a small Thunderbird couldn’t tell for sure didn't want to get closer her chin slumped down onto her chest there was only a tangle of thick black hair and no face for him to see anyway if her pupils were gone Pete wouldn’t know it she was probably drooling up a storm more bystanders on her far side were looking in horror concern confusion mystery helplessness or with no expression at all You called 911, right? So where are they? Pete looked up scanned the boulevard no cop car no ambulance no nothing. Order for Pete. Burger combo number three for Pete. Last call for Pete.
It was more crowded on the sidewalk no one touched the woman things spilled out of her purse a wad of tissues a tube of lipstick some keys attached to a big pink fluffy thing no one is saying he’s her boyfriend anymore, are they? Pete took his phone out of his pocket pressed a button started to make a video of the scene the woman motionless silent a lump of a human on the middle of a dirty sidewalk some stepped aside to let Pete move in closer to zoom in on her face if he could see it still no cops no ambulance no nothing but plenty of young and not so young people on bikes and scooters whizzed by didn’t slow down though Pete was both sick to his stomach and hankering for that vodka waiting for him back in his room.
The fire trucks two of them whoa two, count ‘em, two, their lights flashing their sirens wailing it had been twenty minutes of Pete and other useless people milling around The woman was dead now had been for a while everyone was repeating what one fireman said into his radio OD’ed yeah but we knew that already firemen all over the place with no fire to put out just a corpse to guard until the ambulance came might as well have been a hearse two guys in white uniforms loaded the woman onto a gurney and shoved it into the back with a loud crash of metal meeting metal lights flash and sirens wail again Pete still making his video until it was out of view anyway almost out of view what was the point now. Pete told the bald handle-bar-mustached cop in the cruiser that showed up so late it was like a joke that he had what went down on his cellphone that’s great kid gimme your address and number we’ll be in touch later we’ll want to take a look at it good work you okay yourself?
Pete never did pick up his white styrofoam box. Back in his room setting sunlight intruded on what was otherwise dark all day his landlord’s converted garage with only one excuse of a window the furniture lifted from the streets he did not immediately resume his only temporarily suspended binge he had the video the cops may show up and want to talk to him he had to be coherent he had to be able to pretend to be sober he had to act like someone who has just witnessed a woman buy it in public, whoa man that’s deep. But as the sunlight faded and who could find this place anyway Pete cared less and less about how he might look to the police he wasn’t breaking any laws was he? Pete was white and free and a registered voter he’d even been to college so he repurposed an old Starbucks paper cup stretched out on his sofa which was also his bed sipped it bit by bit savored that unadulterated clear sting yum welcome home old friend and looked forward to the oblivion sure to follow it always did he passed out didn’t wake up until the middle of the night and saw there was still an unbelievable inch of good stuff left in the bottle but Pete staggered to his feet poured the last of his Trader Joe’s Vodka of the Gods down the kitchen sink only for a second thinking of draining it into himself instead jezus christ he’d never done anything like that before probably never would again what kind of bullshit resolve was this all of a sudden out of nowhere he’d hit his bottom before and this was no-way, no-how near it. He went into the garage’s makeshift plywood bathroom didn’t puke though the sight of the toilet made him want to instead he opened the medicine cabinet turned on the light searched the narrow glass shelves for the amber vials a pipe and little plastic baggies of the pills the powders the crushed whatevers and a single syringe and his works Conor had stored or just forgotten about those many nights he had stayed over at Pete’s place this past year mary mother of god what if the cops had come and searched the place. The cops never did show wouldn’t you know that’s the LAPD for you except maybe they had and Pete remembered none of it did he still have his phone? maybe they took it. All of Conor’s stash went into the little bathroom trash basket whose contents Pete would ditch in a large alleyway dumpster blocks away in the morning but Pete had to focus hard in his semi-stupor just now to make sure to throw out only his boyfriend’s illegal drugs and not his own, his Retrovir his Epivir his Norvir his Abacavir his Tenofovir all of Mister Pete’s antivirals hah hah the legal drugs that have been keeping him alive for quite a while get it? Once he’d cleared the shelves of Conor’s shit he lined up his vials in perfect straight lines labels all facing perfectly outward He closed the cabinet door faced the mirror saw his White Trash Self it had had its charms hadn’t it, illuminated by a sickly-yellow low-watt lightbulb saw the one-time twink when twenty now easily mistaken for a hard-knocks late-thirties big brown cow eyes turned thin slits like a lizard’s cheeks now turned red and bloated like a chipmunk’s two days’ growth of a dense dark beard on a greasy swarthy face like a pirate’s a head of hair thick and black like a recently dead girl’s Oh my god that girl stiff on the sidewalk Pete felt it was him she’s dead it could have been anyone but Pete felt he was her whoa man just look at that mop a bird’s nest a wild mess of This Qween’s bad Great Clips haircut on full porcupine-quill alert it was visual proof of a life prolonged and shortened at the same marvelous and miserable time by the twin industries of the pharmaceutical and the distilled. It’s all Better Living and dying Through Chemistry Pete felt he was her hah hah When would he get around to calling Conor to fess up what he’d done oh shit Well welcome to our world baby we’re a quarter of the way into the twenty-first century yeah right and hadn’t Dr. Phil told us on tv today that it was high time to let change into our lives Pete felt he was seeing everything through the lifeless eyes of a girl with a lightning bolt tattoo or maybe a small Thunderbird who knew. Pete looked in the mirror again and saw nothing but her face and it was his own he wasn’t pretty like her or dead like her but it was her and it was him.
John Whittier Treat is the author of two novels, The Rise and Fall of the Yellow House and First Consonants. "Order for Pete" is an excerpt from his work-in-progress, The Sixth City of Refuge, the story of two addicts who leave Los Angeles for rural Washington State.
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