The Empty Promise of a Brand New Day, Back Story Pt.1

Every morning the sun rises from behind the hills, and, glowing with warmth and life, lies to my face. A new day has begun, but within this day lives the same cynicism, the same egoism, and the same dim remorse as any other day. There are moments in the dawn that clang like trash cans spilled by strays that lurk just out of sight, and in those moments I bolt from my cot, I scratch and pull at my shirt, and I remember how the light in the bathroom was uncovered and harsh, smearing illumination across the stains on the sink and floor; lending unwanted dimension to the dried piss crusting the toilet seat as my head pitched forward and cracked against the side. Memories deep and mean like a quarry, red from rust and wet from rain. I see flashes of the evil twat once known to me as the Eternal Camile with her lips splotched and red, her tootsie roll nipples and velveteen heart, her scatter shot mind blasting me straight to jail. Camile, you rotten tomato, you Benji-fucking scum, you turn-coat whore of a slut, you master of disaster in your mask of angry zits. Oh…when next I see you, then we shall see…make book on it!

And now the bees rise like a cloud from the overturned garbage of the morning, and they descend into my hair and burrow into my ears, stinging and swelling and buzzing. I clench my fists and ask my friend the Wall to hand me some good news so that I might clear my mind of this shit storm, but the Wall gazes past me, unconcerned. My lost freedom itches like a phantom limb. My neck is already stiff with tension. An unseen screw is turned, tightening my skull. My cellmate Jody complains, “You’d better stop grinding your teeth, ass wipe!” I tell him that unless he wants to taste the bottom of my foot via the hard way, he’d better mind his own business, and he, as is his wont, punches his cot. “Damnit! I hate it here! I hate YOU!” I laugh and call him a baby, because that’s what he is: an over-sized, hairy baby, with no social skills. He flops around his cot like an frustrated trout.

And so the morning marches on.

People who feel they know me are probably looking for precious backstory: how did Pendel’s sorry ass land in the clink? The story is long, but I guess I have some time. When it all went down, it seemed so unreal to me, like everything was happening in a brain gone bad, as if, in reality I was lying strapped down to a bed in a mental institution at the top of a black hill, and the doctors were telling my dad that it was useless to talk to me, that I can’t hear him, that the strange things I was saying and doing were part of the brave, new world I had constructed in my mind, that I was not responding to medication, that I was never coming back. With the magic of hindsight, of course, I can now see that everything that took place is all part of the normal, natural order for any person who becomes involved in selling weed.

In my heart—my blackened cinder of a heart—I (justly) blame Benji and Camile for everything. It was their malice that turned my karma shit black. It was their corroborations that saved Benji from sharing my fate. It was they that flinched at the first sign of trouble, and turned Sugar against me with pitiable lies. If they hadn’t…oh, but I get ahead of myself.

******

So here goes nothing:

The nagging rain and dead gray sky notwithstanding, my day really turned to stone the moment I entered the old folks home. Debora Fanning immediately materialized from thin air and stepped—with more grace than a woman of her size deserves—into my path. “Pendel. A word?” I asked her if she promised that it would only be, in fact, one word she planned on sharing with me and her already thin mouth disappeared into the dough of her face. I was all like, hey man, give me a break. I’ve been helping Big Bill wipe ass, no complaints. She held a hand up to quiet me, which I freaking hate like death, but allowed it for now, because I am in control of all things Pendel. “There were men here again. But they weren’t the same men as the last time, Pendel.” She looked at me sideways as if I had something to spill, which I did.

Ok, I said, well, I need more information, Pilsbury.

“They had badges. They were detectives. They were narcotics officers.”

OUCH. But my face is unchanged, I am an ice sculpture of feigned confusion. I betray nothing. Debora, what did they want? Is it about my sister (I apologize to you Clare for having so cavalierly thrown you under the bus, but you know what a shit I am)?

“It is not.” Debora Fanning has a gaze as level as a gyroscope. It is fearless, but I am great and terrible. We are well matched, Fanning and I. “Pendel, I have had a lot of young people serve their community service with me. Do you know what that means?”

It means you’re middle aged.

“Pendel, it means that I’m no fool. It means that you might think you have me duped, but I can assure you that you do not. Narcotic officers don’t just come around asking for people. They ask questions about people. People they think might have reason to be up to no good. They check to see if people have jobs.”

So, I have a job. I love it here. Adult diapers and daisy chains.

“You realize of course that I cannot and will not cover for you. I do not know you. It’s not my place to trust you or rehabilitate you. This is not your job, it is your court ordered sentence, and I told them as much. Get yourself together, Pendel. I don’t know what you’re doing, but I don’t need the trouble, and neither do the other very good people who work here. Not to mention the poor souls who have come here to end their days in peace.”

What could I say? All the braggadocio in the world cannot change the fact that I am, in fact, a hindrance to Debra Fanning and the Silver Fox Players. I don’t admit it to her and never would, but I am a gambler in a game of unquestionable consequences. It’s cliche, but the walls are, in fact, closing in around me. I feel it in my head. I find myself looking for escape routes where ever I go. I check outside windows for sturdy drainpipes or adequate cracks. I check stairways for roof access. I have written out and destroyed more than five different options for home emergency egress. I have a supply of non-perishables stashed in a certain park and I refuse to reveal to any of you untrustworthy harpies the exact location. The other day as I headed out the door, Sugar Bear asked me where I was going, and I told him I was biking down to the Taco Bell on East Main. Immediately I suspected him of everything bad in the world. I then proceeded to pedal my ass as fast as humanly possible to the shop across the street from the Taco Bell—some stupid little shithole with the inexplicable name of Artistic Sandwich and Pizza. I hid behind a car in the parking lot for twenty minutes to see whether or not I had been followed. Make sense? Fuck no. How would I know the difference between a regular customer and the cops? Why would getting a taco on that night be any different from any other? If I was being FOLLOWED, then wouldn’t they have seen me turn into this lot? All these questions mattered not because my mind was fried beyond belief with worry. Oh, and pot. Which also just so happened to make the fucking taco, when I finally purchased and devoured it along with two of its brothers, one of the best tacos I had ever had in my LIFE (for more on my past experiences with tacos, CLICK HERE).

I lamely suggested to Debora Fanning that perhaps these gentlemen with badges (and therefore guns) must have simply been trying to question me about a friend of mine, someone with whom I had most DEFINITELY cut all ties, as a matter of fact, now that I think about it DEBORA, I know EXACTLY about whom they must be curious.

I had my regular smoke with my new old friend Charlie Murphy, and I told him I didn’t know how much longer he and I would be able to hang out. He shook his head and sighed, “Goddamn you, you just couldn’t stay out of trouble.” I agreed that no, I couldn’t.

“When are they coming for you?”

I really have no clue.

“You even know they’re cops?”

I just shook my head and finished a beer, crushing the can on my head with a belch. Charlie shook his head again. I forgot the question entirely a mere two minutes after he asked it.

I’m pretty sure I wiped an ass or two before heading out the door, but seeing as I have blocked as many of these particular traumatic events from my mind as possible, it’s tough to say. I biked home in the dreary rain and had already pushed open the door of my faded abode before a frightening realization brought me to a halt. The door wasn’t locked, and that was a HUGE problem. I was just thinking that someone (i.e. that fucking asshole Benji—you rotten piece of fucking shit I can’t WAIT to tear you a new asshole) was going to hear it from me, because you simply DO NOT EVER leave our door unlocked for OBVIOUS reasons, when the fact that the door jamb was a mess of splintered wood bubbled up to the top level of my mind and set everything inside me on high alert. I wiped the rain dripping from my hair from my eyes and backed one step toward the street. Dim light spilled out onto the front steps, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember if any had been left on when I left earlier in the day. I focused my entire existence upon the crack made by the partially opened door and listened.

“Hey man, don’t be shy, get your ass in here. It’s fucking wet outside.”

The voice, which caused my cock to turn ice-cold and shrivel into nothing, came from inside the house, but the hand that shoved me forward most definitely came from behind. I tripped over the sill and nearly fell flat on my face before the same hand (I assume) steadied me roughly and then immediately began to drag me the rest of the way into the front room of the house. At first I was simply too shocked to do or say anything, I simply let the disembodied hand throw me into one of our dilapidated chairs.

“That’s it. Get comfy.”

The sound of the voice speaking again brought me back, and I looked around wildly and began to stand, but was hit on the back of the head with something not quite hard like a semi-thawed carton of ice cream (I never found out what it actually was) and found my seat again pretty quickly. Cold steel was at my throat and I became very still. It’s funny, really, how certain things can focus a person. Is it genetic? It must be. A young man who has never seen a woman undress, even if he’s never heard the tales, would become very focused the moment it happened in front of him. He doesn’t need anybody to tell him where to look or what’s important. It’s all reflex; nature takes over. In a very disturbing way, the knife pressing just below my adams apple produced much the same effect. I was a statue with five senses, baby.

I gathered quickly that there were two men in the room with me. They had turned on only one lamp, the living room was dim, and I couldn’t see much. It appeared as though none of the other rooms had been entered, or, if they had, the lights had since been extinguished. The men in the room—and you know, all this shit is very foggy now—seemed to both be around average size and…how else to put it?…of average hair. I don’t know. Like I said, it’s all foggy. Fuck you if you don’t like it. There’s lots of blogs out there littered with minutia if you want them. The weird thing though, the detail I won’t forget anytime soon (that and being ‘jump started,’ of course), are the cheap freaking Groucho Marx glasses they both wore on their faces. The ones with the fake nose, right? Oh my god. Creepy as shit and completely effective, because I couldn’t bring myself to center on ANY other facial detail. I was so fucking freaked out I almost peed.

And it was all going to get much worse.

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Dissolution of the Senses

The next day, upon my return to the old folks home, I was immediately accosted by the unassailable frumpiness of Debora Fanning. Her dark eyes flashed upon my graceful and sweeping entrance through the front doors of this palace of the damned, but they faded back behind the glow of her shiny skin soon enough, for nothing seems to keep Debora Fanning passionate for too long. “Pendel. Just the person I was looking for. A word?”  I knew it would be more than one, but I meandered over to the front desk anyway. “Pendel. I spoke with Bill Hardisty yesterday evening. He said you left him hanging with Arnold Tillerman the other day. You know anything about that?” Was she speaking of Big Bill the orderly, friend to all mankind? “His name is Bill Hardisty, and to my knowledge, he’s never left this state.” I said yes, I knew that Big Bill had been on his way to wipe Arnold’s ass, but after taking into account the size of Bill’s dinner plate-sized palms, I figured he had everything under control. Debora stuck her tongue into her cheek and looked deeply into a spot above my head. “He did not, and poor Arnold has been very itchy for the last 36 hours or more. It isn’t funny.”

Well, okay, and so I’m sorry, and so where the hell is Arnie, and let’s get those cheeks scrubbed till they shine, America. Debora Fanning clucked and frowned slightly, and scratching the back of her head she said more: “Some gentlemen were looking for you the other day. You left before I could talk to you about it.” Casually I say: Oh? Did they provide identification? Had she seen them before? “Why would they have identification? They said they represented your grandmother’s estate. It wasn’t your day to serve, and I have no clue where you go when you’re not here, so they said they would be back. Has something happened to your Grandmother?”

The funny thing about my Grandma is that she died about four years ago. And before you all fall over yourselves telling me sorry, save it. The woman never liked me anyway. Apparently I reminded her of her ex-husband, who was of course my Grandpa, who was a difficult bastard, if you believe the rumors. My Grandma, a grown—nay, elderly—woman with stuffed bears and porcelain dolls all over her country-morning-breakfast-themed house…I’m sure my Grandpa merely had to lift a cheek and fart for her to consider him an abomination. She LOVED my brother Matty, though. He was her sun. He provided her with warmth and light and made the crops grow and brought the promise of better times to come on winter mornings after the wind howled and the cold seeped into every bone during the long dark of night. Every Christmas, Matty’s gifts were larger, and always needed batteries. And after I opened my new bathrobe, when the hurt expression would betray my feelings as Matty—a child at the time and not to be blamed for his actions, I SUPPOSE—would gloat with his beeping, blinking, plastic fantastic, my Grandma would shake her head with an impatient frown and claim, “Your Grandfather was the same way. He never appreciated the things he was given.”

So, look, I plan on keeping this short, so suffice to say that I doubt very highly that anyone came around to talk to me about Grandma’s estate four years after her death. Even if there were something left to give, it wouldn’t come to unappreciative ME, unless it happened to be a box of old bathrobes.

The thing I found really disconcerting was the fact that they DIDN’T show a badge. So then what the FUCK?

I told Debora Fanning that if the men happened to show their face again, she should ask them what my Grandmother’s name is. If they don’t say Esmeralda (her actual name was Gladys), she should contact the authorities IMMEDIATELY. She furrowed her brow and opened her mouth to speak, but I touched a finger to her lips and looked about conspiratorially. Later, I said, and ducked my head low, b-lining my way to Charlie’s room.

Upon arriving, having not seen Big Bill, I closed the door and snapped my fingers several times in front of Wide-Eyed Wendell’s nose. I said aloud to him that if he could hear or say a fucking thing, now was the time to let everyone know. In response he merely breathed. I turned and faced Charlie, who was seated in his wheelchair and watching General Hospital on the television. “What’s the big goddamned deal, scaring Wendell like that?” he said. I told him time was short, and I only wanted to ask if the men who talked to him the other day told him who they were. “They didn’t tell me, but it was pretty obvious, so I didn’t ask.” So who were they then? “How should I know? Are you deaf, Pendel? I just said they didn’t tell me.” And with that he turned back to his program. Charlie is so damned cool most of the time that you forget he’s an old man, but there he is in his wheelchair, sucking on his lip, his left hand fidgeting restlessly at his armrest.

I told Wendell to keep it real as I exited, and promptly smacked my nose hard into the chest of Big Bill the orderly. “There he is, ladies and gentleman!” he roared, and he slapped a one meaty hand on my shoulder as the other palmed what seemed like a dozen white towels. “Can I have a word with you, little buddy?” Rushed with no real idea why and with my eyes watering, I tried to tell this heavily browed man with the dark, curly hair and kind face that I knew what he needed to say, but that he needn’t because I was very sorry about Arnie’s rash-covered ass, but he silenced me with a serious look.

“Buddy, I can’t have YOU leaving me hanging when I’VE got to get something hanging out of a man’s butt, okay?” I repeated all my regrets, and stressed that it wouldn’t happen again, but that I needed to be on my way. “Where’s the fire, buddy? This is my point. There’s work to be done HERE. That’s why YOU’RE here. You screwed it up out THERE, so they sent you in HERE to learn about how what you do affects others. You see?” I said yes. He laughed. “No, you don’t. Look, you’re not so new around here that you don’t know what happens to an adult’s sheets after they shit the bed. It’s easily a two-man job, sometimes more. Sometimes MORE, you see?” Bill often repeated his words, adding weight to the things he really wanted his audience to grasp. “Now, that old man has about 500 hours left in him, maximum, and you just stole the dignity out of the last 40 or so. Does that sound like a person who knows what I’m talking about? Does it SOUND that way to YOU?” I said no, because it’s the truth. Bill took his hand off my shoulder and walked away.

I sulked to the nearest cleaning supply closet and shut myself inside the acerbic dark, and wondered morosely why I was made to suffer. This eventually tuned to self-reproach—inevitably, maybe—and the sheer depth of my inability to grow or learn sat on my chest—a lead gargoyle with a sharp, sneering eyes and zero remorse for my shortcomings. My stomach was killing me. My mouth felt watery and tasted of copper.

Eventually the dark grew kinder, and soon my raw nerves, deprived of stimulus, grew calm.

****

Sugarbear was in a panic about the strangers questioning the workers of the old folks home regarding my whereabouts. He wanted to dump every cube he had right then and there, but Benji and I convinced him to reconsider. I told him that I had no idea who was looking for me yet, and as far as I knew, the eternal Camile’s mother was hunting me down for my indirect role in trashing her house-cleaning business. We kept him from disbanding our little enterprise for the time being, but Sugarbear has been far less jolly than is the norm. If his old man ever found out about how he makes his spending cash, well, kiss Wittenberg University goodbye. I honestly think he frets over this more than he does, say, oh, I don’t know…JAIL TIME. That tells you right there how much simple approval means to a human. We are weaved into a social fabric at birth, the threads tight around our throat. Struggle but a little, and the grip tightens, choking off breath and weakening your resolve.

In all honesty, I think Benji and I are most worried about having to find REAL JOBS. A large part of me is happier than I have ever been. I seem to flourish on the underside of the ship, and the thought of being pried from the hull and dragged out into the sunlight to squirm in the plain sight of others leaves me hopeless and thin.

Personally, I think the horrible bitch that lives next door has something to do with all of this. I can’t prove it yet, but she’s fat and always complains about our music and has one nose out the curtains every time I walk out to hear the birds.

She’s going to find out what trouble is if I discover she’s fucked things up for me. Make book on it.

Ugh. Something tells me I should have apologized to Arnold T. for what happened to his ass. Oh well. There’s a lot of things I should have done.