Yellow foam pushed through the threadbare cushions of the plaid couch. A bus moaned down the street and the front window rattled gently behind heavy olive green drapes. Bobby, bored and restless, was staring intently at the brown sculptured carpet; tracing the little valleys with his eyes. It always made him think of islands in a muddy sea. Who buys brown carpet?, he thought. This looked like shit the day they bought it.
Abruptly breaking his revery, Bobby announced, “I’m going to go to Dave’s house.” From the kitchen, his mother replied, “Be home by eleven, Ok? I don’t like it when you stay out late.” Bobby sensed the subtle pleading in her voice but he ignored it.
She wanted to believe he was going to play video games. She wanted to believe he would be home on time.
Bobby crossed the living room in three steps and was out the door. He lit a cigarette as he got to the end of the block. Dave’s house was around the corner to the left. Bobby turned right.
The last rays of sun streaked through the purple clouds at a sharp angle as he cut behind the old warehouse. Bobby jammed his hands deep into the pockets of his worn denim jacket and skirted the thin line of trees headed toward the Ordox.
The Ordox was nothing really; just a clearing alongside the tracks behind mostly abandoned factories. Dilapidated buildings sheltered the area from view. The hard-packed dirt and broken concrete gave the area a moon-like appearance.
A bottle of cheap vodka pressed uncomfortably against Bobby’s ribs as he weaved his way between piles of debris and muddy chuckholes. He could start to make out a small fire within the scrubby copse of trees as he reached the far side of the rough expanse.
Bobby could see a handful of bodies huddled around the fire as he approached. Orange light flickered and danced across young faces as the sky deepened toward night. Deep purple buzzed softly from a large boom-box radio.
“What’s this?” Bobby shouted as he pushed into the circle. “A prayer meeting? Are you all here to find Jesus?” He was greeted with a jeering chorus of profanity.
“Fuck you, Bobby!”
“Blow me, asshole!”
“Your mom was calling Jesus last night …from my bed!”
He could have gone somewhere else to hang out. Anywhere would have been nicer than this godforsaken hole. Still, he came here again and again. The Ordox was home. A shitty, land of the misfits, home but home nonetheless.
Plastic milk crates were scattered around the fire. Bobby found an unoccupied crate, kicked it into place, and sat down. He tugged the bottle free from his jacket, twisted the cap off and held it up toward the fire as if in salute. Taking a long pull from the bottle, it struck him that the vodka tasted like rubbing alcohol.
Bobby stared into the licking flames, mesmerized, waiting for the buzz. Pat sat across from him and, with a maniacal grin, began to weave one of his long twisted stories. The tale was mostly bullshit but Bobby listened, half-stoned, with rapt attention. Well-crafted lies are always more entertaining than real life truths.
“You see,” Pat explained, “The guy never showed up so I sez to his friend gimme the hundred and we’ll call it even. I end up with the hundred and the bag.”
Pat concluded the story with an elaborately silly bow that elicited a few groans. Bobby’s ex-girlfriend Cathy giggled. Sensing an opening, Pat gave her a wolfish look and moved closer.
The vodka circled the fire a couple of times and was nearly gone. Bobby cracked the top of a warm beer well on the way to velvet oblivion. He knew he was supposed to feel angry or hurt or something. He knew it, but he couldn’t pull up anything stronger than a dull indifference. I feel like another beer, thought Bobby.
The evening began to roll forward like a series of snapshots. A moment here, a moment there. The rest was just black emptiness. Some unseen editor was deleting scenes from Bobby’s life. It ought to have been scary but it happened so often that it began to feel normal. That fact itself should give him pause. Instead, what he felt–what he always felt–was an urgent tightness in his chest. It was as if he were holding his breath and each beer was another foamy inhalation.
He had the faintest glimmer of a memory of yelling but at whom he could not recall. It was an indistinct echo in his mind as the empty blackness fell on the remainder of the night.
Bobby woke with a start to bright sunshine. His head was pounding and the light hurt his eyes. He was in his own bed, fully dressed. His shoes were still on his feet but he could not remember how he got home or when. The alarm clock read 1:30. He sat up and took a sharp, deep breath trying to clear the cobwebs. Looking down, he saw a stain on his thigh the size of a football–dried blood.
A wave of panic washed across him and his heart felt like it would jump out of his chest. He stripped off his clothes and took a hot shower. He did not have a scratch on him anywhere. The panic became a dull foreboding fear that throbbed in sync with his hangover.
Cautiously, he made his way downstairs to gauge his Mom’s reaction. What the hell had he done last night? Was he in trouble?
His mother looked up from the newspaper as he entered the kitchen but said nothing. The look in her eyes conveyed disappointment and sadness. If something really bad had happened, she would be angry. Disappointment was the status quo these days. He made a sandwich and quickly went back up to his room.
He began to call his friends, subtly prodding them for information about the prior evening but not wanting to let on that he remembered absolutely nothing. By five o’clock he had reached everyone he could think of but still did not know where the blood came from or how he got home.
His head felt a little better. The fear shrank to small a tight ball of ice in the pit of his stomach.
There would be another fire at the Ordox tonight. You can only hold your breath for so long…