As I turn the key in the lock of the front door to my old brick apartment building on Summit Avenue, I breathe a sigh of relief. That had to be the weirdest bus ride of my life, I think to myself. What the hell was that about with that homeless guy? There is no way he could know anything about the pink-haired girl. What was this I will help her thing? Bailey, you are totally losing it, I muse to myself as I pull out the mail from my clogged mail box and thumb through the stack of junk mail and overdue notices that are crumpled due to the fact I haven’t checked my mail in days, maybe all week. That was just one really weird, mentally off-balance dude in need of lots of meds that probably can’t tell reality from his waking dream trance that he so obviously was in…probably perpetuated by too much Thunderbird. Wacked, I tell myself. Totally wacked and completely not worth your consideration.

I trudge up the stairs to my apartment. The hallways and stairwells of this old place perpetually smell of burnt veggies, pine sol and mildew and I momentarily wonder how many years of odors are floating through the air into my nostrils. The carpet is worn, very worn. In places you can’t even tell what the color the fibers are supposed to be because it’s worn down to the warp. I open the door to my one-room studio of smallest proportion and toss the mail on a table by the kitchen. My mother would shit if she ever saw the place. There’s only a tiny closet-sized kitchen with a half-size refrigerator and a three burner gas stove, the tile in my bathroom needs replacing, like 10 years ago, but the water is hot so I don’t worry too much about it. The rent is rock bottom and as long as you keep your scraps cleaned up and your food in Tupperware or Ziploc bags, the roach problem is not a problem after all. What the hell, it’s a place to be alone and the steam heat is free.

I turn on the tube and flop on my bed that also serves as a couch on the rare occasion that I might have someone over…like never…and flick through the channels, trying to find something to zone out on…

I apparently fall asleep because in what seems like no time, the phone is ringing and it’s totally dark outside third floor window. I look at the clock on a table next to my bed slash couch and it reads just after 9:00 p.m, so I sit up rub my eyes and pick up the phone.

“Hello?” I say into the mouth piece, my voice thick with sleep.

“Hey! Dude, where are you? I thought you were coming over here to help me stretch some canvas.” Oh. It’s Toby. “Remember? You said you would be over here around seven…” Oh shit. I totally forgot.

“Oh…yeah…sorry…I fell asleep.” That’s what I get for drinking on an empty stomach and then having a panic attack. The crash after a panic attack always tuckers me out and coupled with the fact I didn’t eat all day before hooking up with Brian…well, you get the picture. “Do you still want me to come over? I can hop on a bus…”

“Sure, sure. Yeah…get your ass over here. I can’t paint without anything to paint on. Besides, I have something to tell you that is better in person.”

I say okay and hang up the phone before going into the bathroom to splash my face awake. In the kitchen I drag a plastic jug of milk out of the fridge and take a big swig, only to choke on the clumps that hit the back of my throat and I spew it into the sink. Ugh. Nasty sour shit. I up-end the jug in the sink and pull out a can of Pabst, pop the top and chug half of it to get the awful taste off my tongue. When was the last time I actually bought milk, anyway? I look at the jug. The date is two weeks past. No wonder. I chug the rest of the beer, grab my keys and a jacket head out the door to Toby’s place. This should be fun…it’ll take me two busses and who knows how long to get to Toby’s place. First downtown, then a switch to get to Fremont. I really hope I don’t run into any pseudo-psychic bums this time.

© 2008 D. Kessler

As the #49 bounces along its route, over the University Bridge and alongside the freeway, heading south towards Capitol Hill, I try to theorize again what may have happened to Shayla. In my paranoid mind, I’m sure that something bad had to have happened to her. Why else would she just not be anywhere to be found when I got here. I know I’m basically beating a dead horse until I can actually talk to someone that may have any information at all to help, but this is my mind: it just will not turn off until I either drop dead, fall asleep or come to a conclusion I can live with…at least for now.

Okay, I tell myself. What if you’re wrong and nothing bad has happened to her at all? I mean, what if, in the three years that Shayla has lived here…the three years that I have not seen her…she’s totally turned into a flake? Could be, you never know, stranger things have happened. So, if that’s the case, then she could have just picked up and gone on vacation or something, right? Right, I answer myself. Geez, this is getting bad…I’m talking to myself in my head. What’s next? Am I going to start talking to myself out loud like some of the freaks that wander around downtown and smell up the bus when they ride it?

So, focus, focus…what really are the possibilities here? One, something bad happened. No, no…remember. You’re trying to figure out the other possibilities. So, she could have gone out of town on a whim…maybe another friend of her’s was going somewhere, just for the week, and wanted her to come with and…I stop. This is always where I get when I try to come up with alternative ideas about what happened to Shayla. Wouldn’t she have called me? I mean, I don’t have a cell phone, but she could have called my old house to let me know…left a message, even? Oh. Hmm. That would have turned out bad, I guess. Either I wouldn’t have gotten the message, or there would have been a freaked out situation after such a message was left because I was taking off without saying anything about it. But would Shayla have realized that? Maybe….maybe not. So…a big shouting match did not happen ergo there was no message left. And if no message was left, it is possible that Shayla didn’t leave one because she knew the deal…mum’s the word, although we didn’t really specify that when we made our plan.

So, like Todd and Chris have said, it’s possible that Shayla took off for a few days. Except, wouldn’t she have left word with her land-lady slash apartment manager? I mean, something like “Look my friend Jessie is coming to visit but I can’t be here when she gets here so can you please let her in and give her a key so she has a place to stay until I get back next…” Next when? Week? Month? Okay…I’m getting worked up again. This is never going to do.

I look outside the window, trying to think of something else for a little while. The clouds are a big grey mat hanging in the sky like huge a roll of laundry lint taken from the lint trap of one of those industrial-sized clothes dryers, but it’s not raining…yet. I haven’t figured out yet how to tell if it’s about to dump or not. The clouds look pretty dense despite their fluff, and if you ask me it will probably be raining any time now. But Aliah would probably laugh at me…or at least break out one of her smirky smiles…and tell me, no way, those aren’t rain clouds. It seems she must have a sixth sense about if it will rain or not, I swear.

Thankfully, the little old lady with Eu de Depends & Roses got off the bus not long after she got on, but not so thankfully is that now there’s a woman with a trillion shopping bags: one from the U Dub bookstore, another with what looks like a couple boxes of shoes of some kind, yet others with a plethora of unknown objects, and still others with groceries. The bags are on her lap, falling into my lap, and on the floor in front of her, making me feel extremely boxed in…claustrophobic, even. Why she didn’t go for a real seat farther back in the bus where there is room for all her shit, is beyond me. Well, that leaves one of those seats for me. I get up from my prison and make my way toward an empty seat about halfway down the bus, grabbing at the railings as I go so as to not fall on my ass or bump into anyone along the way.

Flopping heavily into my new home on the #49, I dig in my bag for my iPod and Harvard Mansion 2007, photo by Joe Mabel tune out from the conversations around me. We’re stopped behind a line of cars at an intersection where the oncoming traffic is turning across our path onto I-5 and I notice an old house…or rather, a mansion?…on our left. It’s white, with greek colonial columns in front, lots of trees and a stone walkway up to the front door. Talk about out of place, I tell myself. Very cool, but it looks west over the freeway and probably gets about as much noise as the house in the U District that I’m staying at now. Obviously, it was built in a much quieter time, when the occupants would look out their windows to a rolling valley now desecrated by concrete, asphalt and a constant parade thousands of motor vehicles zooming north or south, each with only one or two occupants. Sad…plus the architect is probably spinning in his grave.

Back to thinking about Shayla, I expand on the probability that she took a break out of town. A trip to B.C. seems likely. Vancouver is pretty close and she could have taken the train or even driven up with this as yet unknown friend. The weather hasn’t been horrible yet, so she could have even gone to the coast for a sweet off-season deal at one of the normally touristy places out on the Peninsula. Aliah did say that a lot of artist-types do that this time of year, before the real storms start to hit, because it’s so dramatic with the drift wood and varied light…etc. And maybe she did leave a message with her land lady…I haven’t been able to talk to her yet…and it’s been over a week now since I got here. She could be back. That would totally fix everything.

Okay. So I’m a little more calm about this whole thing. Or maybe it’s just the Ladytron coming out of my earbuds, I dunno, but in any case I’m feeling better. All I really can do now is follow my plan from this morning…go by Shayla’s apartment and see if I can find her land-lady slash apartment manager and see if she left a message with her, or she can tell me where she works so I can check there. Or maybe Shayla could even been home by now. Or…a big sigh escapes from my until now very tight chest and the person next to me looks over at me, probably wondering if I’m okay. I tend to worry people without meaning to, I’ve noticed. I smile at the middle-aged business-type woman and shrug my shoulders. No worries, I mean to convey. She smiles an unsure smile back at me and goes back to her book. There. I dodged that one, thankfully. I really don’t need to have to hash anything out with another total stranger.

The bus rumbles along a mostly residential thoroughfare: cool old craftsman homes, single-story bungalow-style apartments probably built in the 1940s and 50s, occasionally some newly constructed modern condos scaring the flow of comfortable visuals. I check one of the street signs as we stop near an intersection…10th Ave E, it says. Then all of a sudden as we continue on, I catch a St Marks Cathedral, Seattleglimpse of this huge blocky cathedral on our right set back from the street behind a large parking lot. Before I know it, it’s gone and I’m left wondering what kind of church it is, if there is a tour I can take, if they’ll allow me to take photos …Wow, I didn’t know this was here, I think to myself. I make a mental note to come back and check it out later. I’m sure Todd will know something about it.

Eventually, we make it to Broadway and I get off the bus at Broadway Market, thinking I’d like the walk a few blocks down the street rather than the start-stop of the ride as it snails toward my destination. Broadway is one of those streets that seems to have traffic at all times of the day, and it never goes quickly. The blocks are short and the lights don’t seem to be exactly synchronized to optimum flow. But then, it’s not really so bad as the sights are often worth the snail-pace. Broadway is kind of the heart of Capitol Hill, with freaks of all kinds doing their grocery shopping, pan-handling, meat-market pick-up, a place to see-and-be-seen. I think of Todd and his obsession that he can never go outside his apartment without making sure he is ultimately put together; he never knows who he’ll run into and to be seen in a ball-cap and ratty sweats just to go to the store, even in the middle of the night, for a little something forgotten on a previous trip… oh-my-gawd he’d just DIE. I smile at the thought. He really is a piece of work…and I do really like him. More than the fact that he helped me find a place to stay, I think he’s sweet and a hoot to boot.

Speak of the Devil, and he shall appear, I muse to myself. There, as I am standing in front of the flower shop on the corner, rummaging desperately for a smoke in my bag to replace the one I had to ditch before getting on the bus in the U District, and as being bumped into by some skater-types, I notice Todd coming up the sidewalk, small entourage in tow: a couple of boys I groggily remember meeting at four a.m. the other night after they came in to the apartment for breakfast after they were at Neighbors, an overly made-up slightly heavy-set girl (or is it that she has the biggest boobs I have ever seen in person that makes her seem so? I wonder…) who looks like she’s ready for a night at the club a few hours too early, and a geeky artsy girl with shortish hair and horned rimmed glasses. Todd sees me and it’s all over.

“He-ey!” He waves. “What are you doing down here?” He turns to his fan club, “Hey, everybody, this is Jessie. Jessie, this is Jennifer and Stevee…and you remember Brad and Trevor, right?”

I nod and say hello.

“We were just going to get some breakfast, I mean lunch.” He giggles. “Whatever, something to eat. You have to come with us!”

I try to tell him I just ate a few minutes ago in the U District…

“Oh, come on! We’re not really eating, are we kids? Well, some of us might…just a little bit…but really we’re just going for drinks and maybe a little nibble. Come on…you are coming with, right guys? We’re not taking no for an answer…”

No, of course they weren’t. I was quickly learning that Todd did not ever take no for an answer. So, I tag along to some place I’d seen as I’d passed it the other day…The Broadway Grill…and there’s hugs and hellos between the guys and the maitre de/host before he shows us back to a table in an open and airy sunken area with a ceiling entirely comprised of large skylights. Abstract copper-pipe The Broadway Grill interior - 2007 fountains line the walls, one for each table against the wall under them, and the floor is made of flagstone. There are large plants in the corners of the room and large wall at the back houses what is obviously their entire wine selection, stacked like a wine cellar behind cabinet doors that are just framework with chicken wire. Along one side of the sunken room is a railing separating the bar on  the original/upper level of the room from the rest of the dining area. There is a neon sculpture all along the wall above the bar and clubby dance music fills both the bar and restaurant areas. The whole place seems like a cross between a Mediterranean atrium with a hint of 80’s disco, depending on where you lay your eye and how good you are at ignoring the background music.

An uber-fit, too-tanned straight-from-the-tanning-bed, perky bleached blonde boy/man is suddenly at our table, nipples poking at his slightly too tight polo shirt that has “The Broadway Grill” embroidered above one of those nipples. “So, is it Black Orchids for all?” He asks.

What the hell is a Black Orchid, I wonder. Well, I am obviously soon to find out, due to the enthusiastic response from Todd and his boys. What the hell, I ask myself. Todd is apparently picking up the tab. I buckle my proverbial seat belt and hang on for the ride, hoping the track is intact up ahead.

© 2008 D. Kessler

After the bus pulls away, away from the girl that freaks me out for no reason, I start to calm down. I’m on the way to Capitol Hill, on my way home. I can deal with this. I plug in my ipod and veg out, tune out, watch the various scenes around me…detached. It’s like watching some movie with the soundtrack off. Or rather, with the soundtrack of my choosing…Neurosis, Sepultura, Tool. Very different than most of the persons in the visual backdrop in front of my eyes. That’s what makes it tolerable…the paradox of society versus sound…

At the first stop, one of the business-type robots gets on, early thirties, hair haphazardly pinned up in back with some sort of plastic clip, her feet in tennis shoes, bright white like they just came out of the box sometime this week. Her charcoal suit is ill fit, shoulders a bit too wide, and she doesn’t fill out the bust properly. Probably got the thing at some discount second-life store like Ross or The Rack and doesn’t even realize she should get it altered to fit; she’s not going up the ladder too quick like that. She’s bogged down with too much shit: an over-stuffed handbag, a laptop case and an armload of something that looks like a portfolio stuffed with miscellaneous files being brought home to slave over until midnight. Well, maybe she doesn’t realize that it’s not just how hard you work or how good you are at your work…she still needs to look the part for that promotion. Stupid robots. Exactly why I don’t want anything to do with that shit.

Some kids rudely push past her going the other way in the aisle trying to get off at the same stop. Loudly bickering amongst themselves about something, I can even hear them a bit over my music. They don’t care that as they bump past her, they knock the portfolio out of her arm and it falls to the floor, scattering papers everywhere. She squats down to gather them up and the bus lurches forward at the same time, knocking her on her ass. I catch a glimpse of thigh where it meets a more private area and notice that she’s wearing bright blue underwear. Lovely. One of the guy robots in the seat next to where she sits struggling to get up bends over to help her, and also picks up some papers just out of her reach. He scoots over to the seat by the window so she can sit down next to him and I notice he’s introducing himself, hand extended. I wonder if he saw the blue panties too and chuckle to myself. Yep. Just like a stupid movie.

Just the other side of I-5, the bus stops again to let off more people…and let more on. Things are getting pretty tight and I’m glad that I got on at the stop that I did. Seats are at a premium now and most of the newbies are having to stand, gripping the rails above their heads with whitening knuckles. This driver isn’t the smoothest ride…I wonder how long he’s been doing this job.

A little old lady is wanting to get on the bus, but with her walker she wants the bus driver to lower the handicap lift. Its piercing annoyingly high-pitched beeping noise invades my audio world, then a pause as the old crone wheels her metal walker on in front of her and then up the contraption goes, bringing her with and resuming that gawd-awful sound. Once on the bus, she looks at the passengers sitting at the front on the seats facing inward, waiting for one of them to offer her a seat. A lady with a toddler picks up her snot-nosed kid and plops her in her lap so the old lady can sit, her walker in front of her, blocking the aisle. She looks like she’ ninety, hair covered with one of those plastic rain caps…even though there’s not been a drop of rain today despite the clouds. The little girl in her mother’s lap starts to cry…I can’t quite hear her, thank god, but I can see her face all screwed up and she’s squirming violently trying to get down off her mother’s lap. The passengers across from her are looking very uncomfortable, annoyed even, as they look away, or glare at the child and/or the mother. Mommy is obviously exhausted and ineffectual at curtailing this obnoxious behavior…it’s all she can do to keep the child in her lap. I feel sorry for the kid rather than the other passengers. I mean, how must she feel cooped up on this contraption with lots of strangers around her, giving her the evil eye, and some weird old lady that probably smells of Bengay or worse sitting so close to you she’s actually touching you? Ick. I’d scream and cry, too.

Somebody nudges me in the shoulder. I ignore them. Leave me alone. I don’t know you. They nudge me again, harder this time, so I turn my head to look at the person responsible for interrupting my made-for-Metro movie. Some shaggy guy…great, looks like a bum… is saying something to me, his broken teeth and chapped lips moving in silence…or rather I just can’t hear what he’s saying over my private soundtrack blaring through my earbuds. I shake my head at him and look away again, out the window at the first-story retail storefronts going by: an Italian restaurant that’s been there forever, a nightclub or two, an overpriced “antique” store, a coffee house on the corner, and an Indian store with a window filled with textiles, beads, spiritual books, statues of Ganeshas and Buddahs, and world music CDs. Dude, just leave me alone, I think. I don’t have any spare change for you, don’t want to hear your crazy talk and I definitely don’t want to catch your lice or scabies or whatever virus your saliva is carrying.

Apparently he really wants to talk to me because he’s not letting up, pushing me harder this time. I pull out one of my earbud and look at him. “What?” I ask him, most annoyed to be bothered.

“You will help her.” He says. “You don’t want to, but she needs your help, so you will. It’s your true self.”

What the fuck is he talking about? I just glare at him, roll my eyes and turn away, replacing my earbud. But he grabs my wrist and yanks it back before I can fade off into my own private Idaho again.

“No!” He insists urgently. “You will help her! She bothers you, makes you uncomfortable…but you will keep seeing her until you resign yourself to your task.” His breath smells like a dead wet dog that’s been in the alley under a trash dumpster for three days. It makes me want to barf…but what he’s saying suddenly totally is freaking me out. Who is he talking about? It can’t be…I mean…what does he know about it? How can he? I haven’t even barely admitted it to myself yet…keep telling myself it’s coincidence, I’m imagining it, there’s no reason I should be freaking out on it…

Who? What are you talking about, old man? You’re a freak…” homeless-bums-tramps2 crop

He’s shaking his head, eyes bleary yet filled with some weird sort of compassion. He’s really weirding me out now. “You know.” He pauses. What, for effect? “You know. She will help you too.”

That’s it. I can’t take it. This is too much, too weird. I jump up, pushing him  away from me as I pull the next-stop cable. Shoving past where Miss Blue Panties is sitting, talking to Mr. Nice Stranger, I accidently bump into her portfolio and the papers scatter again, this time under her seat and the one in front of her. Fuck it. I gotta get off this bus! I bolt as soon as the doors are open, stiffing the driver for the bus fare. He shouts after me but I’m long gone, running halfway down the block before I realize it.

© 2008 D. Kessler

A few days after the fiasco at Flowers with Toby, I’m kickin’ it around downtown  and I run into Brian again, this time coming out of The Whiskey Bar. It’s around 5:30 pm, the sun peeking from behind the clouds hasn’t gone over the horizon yet, but it’s making tracks, making the light reflect on the buildings in such a way as to make them seem a bit surreal. Windows gleaming, metal shining, concrete glowing, trying to keep up with the other mediums around them. I’m sure they are even more surreal to Brian, if he’s been at The Whiskey for any length of time. The thing with Brian is that you never really know how much he’s had to drink or how if he’s toasted yet. He holds his Beam-and-Coke-no-ice pretty well. Many a time I’ve had conversations with him at some party or bar or other and later he doesn’t remember seeing me at all due to his inebriation…and I was sure he was lucid at the time. But then there’s the whole thing last week on the bus  where I run into him Whiskey_google DaveEdit (2)and he’s clear as a bell that he saw me at Toby’s more than a week previous to that. I shake my head thinking about it. You just never know with that guy. The only thing you do know is that he’s usually scoping some girl out.

“Hey, Brian” I say as I come up to him on the sidewalk. “Sorry about the other day on the bus. Didn’t mean to cut you off and bolt like that.”

He pulls out a smoke and offers me the pack. I take one and lean towards him, passing the tip of the cigarette through his Zippo flame and pulling the calming stimulant deep into my chest. What an oxymoron, I think in passing. Calming. Stimulant. Fuck Nicotine, man. One of these days I had to quit, but not today.

He blows out his own grey cloud of death and smirks. “Oh, no problem. I know, wrong bus, whatever. I do it all the time…” We walk together for a bit and I ask him about the two girls from his story last week. He frowns in concentration, then, as if smacked on the back of the head, suddenly brightens.

“Oh yeah! Those two….almost forgot. Yeah, they were pretty crazy. We went back to one of their apartments, I don’t which one’s it was, somewhere on Capitol Hill…I think it was up by The Canterbury, but I could be wrong…maybe it was on the other end by down by The Comet , I dunno. I lost track after a while. We hit both at some point during the night and the one girl…the blonde…had a car.” He laughs, remembering. “Dude! A blonde and a red-head…together! Hey, let’s go in here…I’ll buy you a drink.”

We walk through a little metal gate separating the outside smoking area in front of a bar from the sidewalk and he pushes open the glass door under a dark green awning. Oh, I knew this place…two dollar happy hour well drinks. Looks like Brian was willing to forgo Jim Beam in favor of cheaper well whiskey, but I didn’t care one way or the other. A drink was a drink, as far as I was concerned.

We order at the bar and take our drinks over to a big circular booth by the front door. It’s already full of a plethora of persons: a dread-locked bike-messenger type, an older hippy guy with graying hair, a geeky-cute girl with horned-rimmed glasses and a lip piercing, a gothy hippy girl with tribal tattoos trailing down her arm and a few Indonesian silver beads braided into bits of her hair. Although they all seem normal enough to me and just like anyone I would know, I don’t know any of them. Brian seemed to, though, so they scoot around to make room for us. Brian names them off, gesturing to each one with his drink, but I don’t really catch all the names. And it’s not like I really am going to remember them or need to anytime soon, I tell myself.

I look around the bar at the artwork on the walls…some sort of surreal Dali-does-Japanime stuff in muted dirty pastels and charcoal hues on small- and medium-sized canvases, mostly. It’s not bad stuff, way better than anything I’ve seen done by Toby, and I lean closer to the one closest to where I’m sitting to get a better look at the artist info. Damn! They want how much for this one? I never even heard of the guy before. But someone obviously thought it was worth it…more than half of them had sold stickers on the info cards under each piece.

“What do you think of that one?” A voice in my left ear is asking me. I turn toward it to find the horned-rimmed girl looking at me, her eyebrows slightly raised as she sips from a glass of what looks like cranberry juice with vodka. On the spot, I shrug.

“It’s okay, I guess. I mean…I dunno…”

“You don’t think it’s a bit trite and trying too hard? I mean, what’s with the skelton birds on the telephone wires? And the pink panda sitting on the curb?” She takes another sip and gulps it down before going on. “And the whole fractals in factory smoke pouring from a skyline of smokestacks in the distance. What do you think the artist is trying to say…is it an environmentalist statement or just a bad acid trip?” She tilts her head at me, waiting for something profound to discredit her synopsis of the painting sitting on the wall just above our heads. She was wearing a t-shirt…white with lime-green baseball-style sleeves just past her elbows…with some cheesy 70’s-esque glitter iron-on design. Her hair looks like it used to be a pixie cut, but it grew out rather quickly since the summer and now its varied shades of dirty blonde and honey curl a bit into her ears and eyes, making her fidget with it a lot, sweeping it out of her eyes from behind what look like vintage eye-glass frames…tortoise-shell with slightly dulled rhinestones at the corners. A skirt of indeterminate color hinting at the khaki spectrum…maybe a faded café latte?…and a pair of well-worn Vans round out her ensemble.

“Uh…I dunno. I don’t really think about art…too much.” I start off, somewhat haltingly. “I mean…I don’t think that I’m really qualified to judge…what the artist was thinking when they painted it, I mean. Or what statement they’re trying to make… if any.” She looked at me kinda weird, so I go on, stumbling ever closer to the precipice that was me looking like even more an idiot than I felt. “I mean, I like art…and I guess I kinda like some of this stuff here…but…I don’t try to pick it apart…really…”

She gives a little laugh, a cross between a chuckle and a giggle.

“What?” I asks her.

“Oh…nothing.” She sits her empty glass on the table and goes to dig her wallet out of her canvas book-bag, a smirk on her face.

“No …what?” I press her for an answer. I guess I just don’t get girls; they tweek me out, and this one is starting to get on my nerves. She stands up to go to the bar and order a drink, so I move my knees out of the way so she can get by.

“They’re mine.” She says matter-of-factly and leaves me watching her walk away, totally confused. Her’s? So she’s the artist…is that what she’s saying? I looked at the name on the artist info card.  Steve. See, she’s full of shit, it’s a guy. I do a double-take…wait…Stevee?  What kind of name is that? And what the fuck was all this what-do-you-think-about-blah-blah-blah about then? Was she fishing for compliments or just fucking with me for fun. Either way, she’s pissed me off.

I look over at Brian; he’s totally talking to the hippy guy, no plans to leave anytime soon, it seems. I catch his eye and gesture something about thanking him for the drink, that I have to take off, I’ll see him around, okay? He nods, mouths something that looks like “sure, sure” and raises his hand in farewell as the hippy guy talks his ear off.

I’m through the door and on the sidewalk before the geeky artist girl can come back to the table, walking at a good clip toward the nearest bus stop to take me to Capitol Hill. It’s about to pull away as I run up to it, banging on the sides as I try to catch the driver’s attention to keep him there long enough for me to get on. Then while walking down the aisle to find a seat as the bus lurches forward, almost knocking me over, I catch a glimpse outside of that girl again, walking down the sidewalk. Not the artist one from just now; the weird one from the other day last week with pink hair looking for the bus tunnel. What the hell? Why does she keep popping up…in person, in conversation…? It’s really beginning to get on my nerves! I flop in a seat at the back and pull my hood up to block out the world. I just need to zone out and clam down…I’m not making any sense, even to myself…

 © 2008 D. Kessler

4th & Pike

Aliah drives me downtown in what I have begun to call the Wheezing Wagon, although Sputtering Subaru is a more appropriate description of the vehicle. Wheezing Wagon just rolls off the tongue easier. The damn thing barely runs and I keep half expecting to have to hoof it home after one of these excursions. I really hope it’s not this excursion, as we have a few stops planned…all not exactly what I would call walking distance from the U District, and all involving transporting some items that are not just things you can throw over your shoulder.

Greyhound Station, Seattle 09.2006

Stop one: rescue my suitcase from the Greyhound station locker. This is reason we are going downtown, a few miles from the U District, and although I guess a return trip could be done on the bus in case of car failure, it sure wouldn’t be fun. The old Samsonite is very heavy, both with my stuff and just the general build of the suitcase itself. I don’t think they were too concerned about weight restrictions on airlines or the effects of lugging heavy objects on a person’s spine back in the 70’s when the thing was made. It’s one of those hard-shell plastic-composite things in the largest size imaginable without being a sea-going steamer trunk…the kind with the insides that snap in place around your clothes and then the whole thing closes up like a clam shell. Except that the insides on this particular suitcase have long ago gone the way of the dinosaur, 1970s disco and my dear great aunt to whom it used to belong. It was lost among a bunch of junk in my parents’ basement a few years ago when I found it and decided I could more easily live with the faint smell of mildew and an unidentifiable fragrance of potpourri emanating from the thing than I could with living under the same roof as my mother for one more freakin’ minute. Since then, the potpourri fragrance has faded, although the mildew smell seems to be here to stay. Either it hasn’t transferred to my clothing, or I just can’t smell it…and I sure hope no one else can.

Second stop: Todd and Chris’ apartment, at Aliah’s insistence, because Todd said there is a futon mattress begging to be adopted for free. I try to conceal my relief from Aliah as she tells me that it is not pre-used by Todd and Chris themselves. Not that it’s that big a deal who’s been rolling around on it, but I just rather it not be the two gay guys whom I’ve had the pleasure of hearing do their thing in the other room for a few nights while I plugged my ears in the other room, tangled up in the spare comforter on the floor. Todd said the futon is this girl’s in their building…a neighbor that is moving and is graduating to a “real” mattress when she gets to her new place. When we roll up to the building, Todd and Chris are coming out to meet us and Todd waives at us enthusiastically.

“He-eyy!” he sing-songs as he gives me a hug and a smile. “How’s my Sugar-butt? You like the house?” He looks to Aliah. “Does she like it? She gonna be your new roomie?” God, I hate it when people talk about you like you’re not there. But Todd is sweet, and has helped me a lot, so I resist the urge to grimace.

“Oh, yeah, we’re going to work out fine!” Aliah answers him. “And maybe she can get some work at least part time at Twice Told on the Ave. I called Doug earlier today and he said she should drop by, so…” She nudges me and smiles…again. “…I dunno, we can hope. “

I pull a smoke out of my bag and dig around for a light. “Well,” I say, blowing a cloud of smoke through my nose. “I do need to have some money coming in, of course, but I also need to find out what I can about what happened to Shayla, ya know?” Did these people not realize that my best friend had just, poof! Disappeared? For all their help and happiness you would think this was just a regular ‘oh let’s move to a new city and have some fun!’ thing.

“No, of course!” Chris pipes up. “We know, honey-bun. We just need to get you settled and situated and then you can focus on that without a lot of extra distractions, you know? “

“Yeah,” continues Todd. “Once you’re centered, we’ll all sit down together and see if we can’t come up with some ideas where to start.” He looks at Aliah. “Right?” He winks. Oh, yeah…he thinks he’s psychic; a little voice inside my head nudges me. Remember?

“Oh come on, you guys, “Aliah cuts in. “She’s not a kid, she knows what’s what. Let’s get this damn futon on the car…thank god it’s not raining!”

“Yet.” I point out. The clouds over Puget Sound are starting to turn into the color of the bottom of an ash tray, varying shades of ash, and there’s a film of what looks like wetness dulling our view of the islands. Forget about the mountains on the peninsula…it was as if there was nothing beyond the grey mist but an abyss of infinity.

“Right. Yet! Come on, or else by the time we get this home we’ll have a soggy mattress by the look of it.” She nods her head in the direction of the storm that is no doubt starting to whip up frothy caps on the gun-metal water.

Chris goes back inside and returns with rope, garbage bags and, of course, duct tape. “Well, “he shrugs. “Just in case. You know.”

© 2008 D. Kessler

Strom front over sound