Before the Bay

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By Drew Buxton

It felt like someone had reached inside Trent and was holding his stomach with a big hand, not really squeezing, just gripping it like a football. He leaned against the brick under the King’s Pharmacy sign, the mounted gold letters over the forest green front. He pulled his arms inside his t-shirt and scrunched his nose and spit on the ground. The sulfur-fart odor of Port Arthur took on a nasty edge in the cool breeze, but it was best for him to stay outside; he was the white boy with the gold teeth, a pillhead.

He’d told Rose not to go for it yet. It was only her fourth time seeing that doctor. Maybe next month or the next, better to soften him up some more, but she’d gotten it anyway: a six-month script for instant-release Xanax at max dosage.

She looked so good walking out with the see-through orange tube, in her black booty shorts, showing off her tan thighs. She knew what she was doing. She was a bad bitch! She was the streetwise one. He wanted her right there, but the big hand tightened its grip and twisted. Rose raised it over her head and shook it.

“Whoo!”

“Stop it,” Trent said. It was the size of a Coke can. So many Xan-bars. He wanted to protect them from her and put them in a safe place. So many Xannies that he didn’t see the purse swinging at his head. It hit his temple and sat him on his ass and a slap woke him up.

Rose had Impulse Disorder or something like that and lashed out sometimes without meaning to, like she was watching someone else do it, Trent knew. In the Lincoln bucket she fed him two bars and swallowed a pinch herself. She did need it. She had anxiety and so did he. They still had some dank leftover from the sack they bought last week to carry them over to the night. The night! When they’d go to Bomb-Bay Grill and see their man behind the bar and trade half the Xannies for plastic pints of codeine syrup – that lean – sell a few hundred for cash, and keep the rest to pop, pop, pop.

*

The sun had broken through the smog when they got back to the squat, and they laid out on a mildewy comforter in the yard of overgrown weeds. Rose passed Trent the blunt. The smoke hung in the dead air like the grey smoke oozing from the wall of refinery chimneys, the last thing before the bay and Louisiana.

There were no fences and no sense to the scatter-shot neighborhood. Their squat wasn’t bad. The white paneling was raked over from half-hurricanes, but it was better than where Trent was at before where he had to huddle in the only corner that stayed dry during rain, most days around three. He wanted to paint the place turquoise and the window shutters black. Hot. Hotter than the pink and brown one down the street. Rose said to leave it though, best not to make it look lived in. Most leftover white folks kept their houses white. They peeled mud off the side panels with water hoses, and repainted the white.

“Let’s go to the bay,” Trent said with nothing behind it. The Xannies were flowing free through him now and the sun melted the pills for their brains to soak up. She’d given him this feeling, handed it to him. She wanted him to feel good. She didn’t respond, a smirk stuck on her lips. The bay was 10 minutes away, but they’d never gone together, and they’d never held hands down the boardwalk.

They’d only been to the reservoir, where they first had sex. Trent had cleared a spot on the rocky sand beach and laid down a towel, and Rose had taken off her shirt and slid off her cotton shorts. She had on a floral top and black bottom. She’d sat in his lap, and he couldn’t help getting a boner, but she didn’t say anything or giggle. She’d only laid back into his chest, her legs so soft even though she hadn’t shaved in a while. She’d dug in her purse and pulled out the saddest joint. He took it from her and laughed. “What the fuck is this?” It was loose and lumpy.

“Shut up, I was in a hurry!”

“I can’t trust this. Are you sure it’s weed?”

“Fuck you! You can’t have any now.” She laughed and raised her fist.

He turned his back to the breeze and carefully split the joint open with his car key. He showed her how to keep a firm pinch while she rolled it and to leave enough room at the end so she didn’t burn her fingers. Trent hadn’t smoked Mexican swag in years, and it took him back—that spacey high that makes you more hungry and tired than anything.

The water was the dullest brown like coffee with creamer and Rose was afraid it would make her sick, but Trent had been swimming in the reservoir since he was a baby and had only gotten sick a few times. “Just don’t swallow any,” he said and swam out to the middle and floated on his back like oil.

“I’m gonna dunk you,” She said and doggy-paddled over and clung to his back, out-of-breath. “I almost drowned!” She kissed and nibbled on his neck, and he shook her off and swam out of her reach.

“I hate you,” she whimpered, and he went to her rescue.

They laid back on the towel, and Rose’s hand crept up his thigh. “What’s this? Got something in here for me?”

Rose spoke in porn clichés. She stroked his cock until it pushed up his shorts. It was dead afternoon on a weekday; no one would come by. She got on top of him and moved slow, and their sweat mixed in the sun. He couldn’t believe she was having sex with him, pushing her hips into him and moaning. She’d cupped his neck in her hands and squeezed, soft at first then hard. Rose had a way of choking that made you not want her to stop even when you felt yourself slipping away.

When Trent came to his cock was still out and Rose was half-asleep next to him.

The Lone Star pitchers really set off the Xannies. They got to Bomb-Bay around seven and were the only ones there, but the music had switched to pounding dubstep at some point, and Trent heard dancing behind him. Their man had left and there was a different bartender and he kept mean-mugging Trent like an asshole. They’d got everything they needed though, and their bellies were full of all their favorite things.

Rose went to dance, but he stayed at the bar and watched her in her tight jeans. He could watch her body move all night.

The dubstep cut off in the middle of a track, and everyone just stopped mid-dance-move. An enormous man stepped out from the back. He was the tallest man Trent had ever seen, tall like a lanky 15-year-old but not goofy at all. He had on red leather pants and a red hoodie with the hood pulled over his head. His face was silver. It was one of those high-cheekbone masks with that creepy, smirking expression. He held double-stacked styrofoam cups, the huge kind they sell at food marts; he was leaning heavy on syrup.

He brought out a turntable deck, and set 10-foot speakers on either side like bodyguards. He spun a chopped-and-screwed track, ahh, that third coast Texas slow-loud-and-bangin’ (SLAB) shit. It scratched an itch inside Trent, and he sat up and bobbed his head. People rushed the dance floor. How the hell you gonna try and dance to a screwed-up record? Even the slumped over drunks at the bar got up and shook their fat asses. They were all off-beat and frantic.

Trent got up to check on Rose, but the big hand came back and squeezed. The music got distorted like the big speakers were blown, but everyone kept dancing crazy like they didn’t care. Trent got on the dance floor and reached for Rose, but the beat pushed him back, and he could only graze her jeans. The DJ’s mask was locked on her ass, and her hips took her away. Trent’s mouth filled with spit. Rose dropped her ass to the floor and bumped into the turntable stand, and her jeans slid down and her crack poked out. The cheeks of the mask turned pink, and a bead of sweat ran down it and sizzled. Trent put his hands on his knees, and purple vomit sprayed onto the wood floor. “I’m sorry,” he gurgled then threw up the rest of it. A dancing girl stepped back and slipped and fell in the puddle. On the floor she kept dancing, rolling around in it, turning her white skirt purple—gone off pills too.

The asshole bartender got in Trent’s face, but Rose didn’t notice anything. She grinded her ass up and down a leg of the turntable throne, and the giant DJ’s mask was orange like it’d been plucked from a furnace.

Trent reached for the back of his head and felt blood. He was halfway between the bar door and the street. He’d been thrown, he figured. The ground shook underneath him in rhythm, that same beat. Probably only out a few seconds, he figured. He patted down his pockets, but the lean bottles and Xan-bars were still there. He looked up to the misting sky to see how grey it was. The deep-charcoal clouds meant real rain was coming. He sat up, and the pain flushed out all the good stuff and he was brutally sober.

He got in the Lincoln bucket and took his t-shirt off and held it to the gash. He wanted to be held by Rose. He wanted to hold her without her trying to fucking fuck him. He sipped the syrup and let it coat his gums. He really liked the taste, and he only mixed it with Sprite sometimes to make it last.

When he got back home to the squat he lined up the bottles. Promethazine Cough Syrup with Codeine, white letters on a purple label, lean, syrup, purple drank. He put two in each hand and raised and lowered them like dumbbells. He took a big gulp and listened to the rain hit the solid roof. He picked up the tube of Xanax and stirred the tabs with his finger and washed a couple down with syrup. He dumped them out on his shirt and started counting, dropping them back in the tube one-by-one and listening to the echo of them hitting plastic, then the soft click of them against each other. He got to 17 before nodding out.

Too many to count anyway. He’d never run out. He drank more lean, and it washed the sting from his head. He’d been thrown on his fucking head! And Rose didn’t give a fuck. If he died, how long before Rose would find out? He pictured some creep on the street talking like, “Sorry to hear about your man,” trying that game, and Rose being like, “What man?”

The white boy with the gold teeth, he died, alone on the street.

He would leave in the morning and find a low-key squat on the other side of the reservoir. He would paint it whatever he wanted, lime green with forest green panels, or green and gold like the King’s Pharmacy sign. He could spray paint the roof black and really set it off. Rose knew him though. He pictured her in the passenger seat of some creeping Caddy. “That one,” she’d say.

He’d paint it white and make it respectable. He’d straighten out the siding and keep the yard short and even. He’d take the gold fronts out of his mouth and wear checkered button-ups. He could just be a white guy. He could be a Port Arthur relic, a young man who hadn’t ran away to Houston—someone who made old people smile when he passed by.

A junk hangover was coming on but warmth was still in his blood when he got woke-up by someone riding SLAB past the house. He was used to them pushing through the neighborhood like kidney stones but not at 1ten in the morning. The Xannies rattled next to him. He got up and grabbed his other pair of jeans and walked out the front door. He got in the Lincoln and turned the key but nothing happened.

“Fuck!” The bucket always had trouble starting up but never just died like that. He popped the hood, but the crusty battery was missing. He stepped back. Everything was missing: the engine, whatever else makes a car go, totally gutted.

The street trembled. The hood-stand rattled in its hook, and Trent posted his hand on the frame for balance. It was that same hot huge beat the DJ had spun at the Bomb-Bay. He’d never felt bass like this. The stand came undone, and he pulled his hand away just before the hood slammed down. The bass took his balance, and he stepped back onto loose grime and landed on his ass.

He covered his ears, and the beat entered his body and stung the cavities in his teeth. It stopped, and white echoes lapped in his head like bay waves. He sat up and popped a Xan-bar in his mouth and dragged it with his tongue along his gold front, and the bitter taste made him shiver. He scrambled to get up, but he couldn’t steady his legs, and he went right back on his ass. Footsteps came fast and he curled into a ball and tensed up, expecting something like a boot to the spine.

But there was a touch on his shoulder instead. It was Rose, in cotton shorts and a t-shirt, looking confused like she just woke up. She kneeled down and tilted his chin to look into his eyes. Her face was soft with pity, but he couldn’t hear her words, the bay still in his ears. She helped him up and saw the street’s imprint on the underside of his forearms and tried to wipe it off. They walked through the yard, and Trent made out the dewy grass squishing under his feet. The bay settled and Rose’s words came in: “I walked home and came in the back door and then I heard this loud thumping so I came out and was like ‘Oh my God, is that Trent?…”

A gleam from the street caught Trent’s eye. Floating towards the squat was a beautiful dropped Cadillac Deville on white wall tires and chrome swangas that jutted out like blender blades. It passed by barely moving, dripping candy-purple paint, with murdered-out windows and a fifth wheel on the trunk. A true hoodoo. Rose pulled him inside.

Glittery red panties poked out between her shirttail and shorts, panties he didn’t recognize. She sat on the couch and led his head into her lap, and he kissed her thighs. “That tickles! You need to shave,” she said. Her legs were sticky with sweat and alcohol, and he remembered their hangovers—together in the bucket, cruising for greasy food, thoughts slowed to a codeine drip. That time they ate at this fish fry spot and had a fart contest. Rose’d let out a string of crackles and Trent lifted one cheek and ripped a wet one.

“Check your underwear!” Rose’d cried. He’d sharted himself. The sound was damning, and he couldn’t play it off. He’d ran to the bathroom with Rose pointing at him, yelling “He sharted! He sharted!”

She straddled him and kissed his lips, and he grabbed her ass, the same ass she’d given away so fast. She tasted like the syrup and he shrugged her off and stood. “I’m out,” he said and walked to the backdoor.

There was a loud SNAP and he turned around. Rose stood there in a red-leather one-piece, holding a red whip with a bunch of little tails. “Come here, Cockboy,” she commanded and blood flooded Trent’s crotch and he wanted to bite into the red leather and lick the tan off her legs. He wanted to be punished. Rose was so hot and he was a junky thief.

“Come here,” she said and cracked the whip at his feet. He ran out the backdoor but the ground quaked and knocked him over. The crushing screwed-up beat. Parked 10 yards away in the weeds was that beautiful fifth wheel hoodoo Caddy. The windows rolled down and smoke billowed out like some ill Indian signal. The cherry of a lit blunt lit-up a silver face. It was the hard-leaning DJ.

How many fifteen inch speakers can you fit in a Caddy trunk? Trent crawled back to the backdoor and used the doorknob to pull himself up. The subs flexed again and the wood house groaned and roof tiles littered the yard. Trent set one hand inside, and the whip lassoed his neck, and Rose snickered like he’d never heard her do. With one yank he flew into the house and belly-flopped on the splinter-floor. She dragged him through the kitchen into the living room.

“Stand, Cockboy!” She yanked him up and pushed him onto the couch. He covered his face. “Oh babe, ” she said and straddled him and pulled his face to hers. The red leather was so tight, and her smile was wild. The image of her face came in and out of focus. So pretty. She passed her hand through his hair and down his shoulders. She pulled the leash tighter, and he could feel her touch on his thighs. He heard the rattle of pills, and the whip loosened a tiny bit. He strained his eyes and saw an orange blur.

“Bad, bad boy,” she whispered, and the rattle again. She was taking the shit. She was leaving him like she did before. His palm shot out and hit her square in the throat, and she went backwards over the coffee table. He uncoiled the whip from his neck and grabbed the drugs.

“He really is bad!”

He ran for the front door, and the whip-tails cut through the air, and hot pain ran through his body. The whip was electrified. He made it out the door and took off down the street, and the ‘lac peeled out from the back. They were on him right away. Rose hung out of the passenger window, swinging the whip over her head. Another lash froze him, and the throttle got louder. Trent felt his leg kick out in front of him and over his head, and he landed on his back.

The engine cut off and the doors slammed shut. Trent sat up and saw blood dripping from the front swanga wheel. His jeans were ripped and his calf sliced open. Rose and the DJ stood over him in their red leather, and the silver mask smiled at Trent, but Rose’s face didn’t do anything. The DJ’s shoulders sprouted broad like wings. He pulled a massive blade out of his leather pants, like a machete but bigger, and Rose stepped back into the overcast shadows.

The blade came down, but Trent rolled to the side, and the metal clanked on the asphalt by his ear. The DJ stepped up and raised it again, but again Trent got up, again he peeled himself off the street.

He bear-crawled into the neighbor’s yard. “Oh Trent, don’t run anymore,” Rose said in a whimper, and Trent got to two-feet and took off, pain shooting up his leg.

Trent knew the neighborhood, and the random set-ups made sense to him. He knew how to tow the space between yards where no stake-chained pitbull could get to him. He cut north on a busted street for a few blocks and turned west towards the reservoir.

The Caddy’s bass went rogue silent. If he could just get down the alley. He tensed up every time the path crossed a street. He stopped and crouched down before Monroe. On the other side was the switchgrass field with blades tall as men.

As soon as he stepped out floodlights froze him. He remembered telling Rose how when things felt fucked up, he’d go to the reservoir to be alone. He turned from the blinding light and Rose snickered. He stood in a low, wide stance, and the first wave of the beat didn’t knock him off his feet. The big engine surged forward, and he ran into the switchgrass.

He ducked his head low and zigzagged, but the engine got louder, closer. Trent looked over his shoulder. The hoodoo tore through the dense stalks. The swangas pulled out the blood-red roots, picking up more as it went, rolling it up on the axels. He could feel the ‘lac wanting to suck him under, but he saw a brown neckless thing coming out of the ground like a mangled claw—the foot of the dry jungle of mesquite trees, impossible to drive through.

Trent pushed through the bare branches, and they snapped back on his neck and raked his arms. A few minutes deep he stopped and leaned back into them and let them hold his weight. The reservoir was close. It was quiet, and there was nothing past the tips of the mesquites. He breathed deep and took a pull off the syrup.

Then Goddamn churning sounds like a lifting crane, and the ‘lac rose above the tree line. Fuck. Impossible hydraulics. The bass shook Trent’s cheeks, and put nausea in his belly. The DJ gunned it and wood sprayed off to the side. Trent was running again, and the branches made new cuts every second. The DJ pushed the ‘lac to its limit and made it squeal, and the floodlights got brighter against the trees.

Trent saw the bent-back limbs against the grey ending of the dry forest, the rock wall before the big drop-off to the water. He turned his head and saw the DJ draw back the huge blade, and he dove down and rolled, slamming into the stone and concrete. The hydraulic legs hit the wall and bent back like elbows, and Rose and the DJ shot out of the windshield. The backend of the hoodoo came up, wanting to flip over the wall too but it came back down as they hit the water, and the hydraulics collapsed.

Trent crawled from under the big body and cut the engine, and the beat finally stopped. Dangling on the stone wall, still sparking, was the electric whip. Trent poked the handle and picked it up. The DJ swam towards the shore with violent strokes of the blade and Rose treaded water and heaved for air, the wind knocked out of her. The DJ stood, the water only up to his waist, and waded up the shore, the sizzling mask locked on Trent. Rose looked up, and Trent felt her stare but wouldn’t let her find his eyes. He flung the crackling whip into the mucky water.

The DJ set a leg on the pebble beach, but the electric pulse stopped him. Streaks of white climbed up his back, and smoke poured from the eyes and nose, and drops of red dye dripped off his pants. The machete fell from his hand, and he fell flat and the mask clanked against the pebbles.

Trent looked for Rose and saw the reservoir had caught fire. It was as much oil and sewage as it was water. The fire started off small in front of Rose, growing from the still sparking whip. She gasped and huffed for air and that’s when it went wild. Her pretty hair went alight and she slapped at it but the flames only kicked higher, and she sunk under the blackest smoke spun from their fingertips. Oh Rose. She’d never learned how to swim. She’d never know that west of Port Arthur grey clouds mean rain.

The DJ’s head popped up and he grabbed his blade. Fuck me. He clawed forward on his belly, but the fire wanted him, and pulled him back under like a rolling gator. He chopped at the flames, but he slowly lost, and the tip of the blade went under. Smoke rose from the reservoir, and the charred smirking mask floated to the surface. The searing orange had been sleeping under the dullness, building for years for a flash of rage to rid itself of the grimy black sludge, the rubber jelly—the refinery’s flushed beer-shits, the stuff that doesn’t evaporate.

Trent took out the tube of Xannies and tossed it in the air. He caught it and shook it over his head.

He petted the unscratched candy hood of the ‘lac and eased himself into the driver’s seat. He stroked the wood-grain steering wheel and tipped back the double-stacked cup, but nothing came out. He dipped his finger in, and the syrup stuck to him like tar. He licked it off, and the new moon turned purple and shined a purple glow. Everything was purple. No pain came from his head or leg or the cuts all over. No more pain. Trent followed the DJ’s path back to the road and the ‘lac crept so slow you had to look close to be sure it was moving. The bass cracked the curb and shook the block, but the bay was all he heard.

_________________________________________________________

Drew is from Texas and currently resides in Peru. Find his stuff at DrewBuxton.com.

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