He was standing at the top of the stairs smoking a cigarette when I pulled up. Behind him, the house was dark and quiet, but his face was lit up with a triumphant, evil grin; and immediately I knew what had happened. With his head cocked a little to the right, he stood looking down at me as I climbed the stairs towards him; all the while, he was beaming that peculiar smile of his. It was not even a smile per se. With his lips curled downwards, almost as if he was frowning, and his slightly crooked teeth bared, and with that pale incendiary ardor burning behind his eyes, it was a much more complex expression than the word 'smile' can express. Thinking back on it now, I'm reminded of Spike, a cat I had growing up on my parents' farm, and how he would come stalking into my room with his proud, long-grey-legged gait and jump on my chest while I was trying to read and ram my face and chin with his face and chin until I followed him outside to see the little, brownish and white corpses he'd left in a pile at the front stoop. That's what I was reminded of. During my climb, I said nothing, trying my best to seem unimpressed, taking my brother's advice. When I reached the summit the wind picked up and he stepped back a little, taking shelter behind one of three red brick pillars that stand like sentinels on the front porch of his and my brother's house. I stood, arms akimbo, looking at him, my nostrils tingling with the piquant scent of his cigarette.
"Well?" I said, giving him the bait I knew he wanted.
"Well what?" he feigned.
"You know what."
He took a drag, fished through the grey stream for a loose piece of tobacco, and said: "I got it."
"Ha! I knew it!" I couldn't believe it. Yes, I could. Why lie? I knew he would. I knew he couldn't resist that challenge. "I knew that's why you were standin' up here grinnin' like a retarded kid who just got a kiss from the school nurse, or something!"
"Marty," he said, grabbing my right arm and putting his head down in mirthful shame, "you - no offense - don't know shit."
"Then what do you mean: 'You got it.'?" I said, somewhat violently jerking my arm from his genial grip.
"Well . . . I'll give you the ending first, then I'll lay out the story for you. First of all," he stopped to ponder something only he could see hanging in front of his face, "or would it be 'Last of all?" He considered this for a few moments before I reminded him with a shove that he was telling me a story. Coming to he said: "Anyway, I got your tea."
"Yeah," I said, a little agitated, "You told me that on the phone."
"Yeah," he said, "but that's the ending. I told you I was gonna tell you the ending first. The ending is: 'I got your tea.' Now I'm gonna tell you the rest of the story, picking up where I left off, which is the beginning.
"So Elle didn't get out of work 'til like nine thirty, and Tommy was out doing whatever 'til like quarter past, so it was, like, one of those instances when too much shit needs done all at once, and instead of just setting out and doing it, I decided to put the kettle on and do some serious thinking about it first. Like, I knew I had to go get your tea from Tommy before you got here at - what time is it? - ten, but I also had to pick up Elle from work, but she said she wouldn't be done 'til like ten after nine or later possibly, and I needed to make it to the bank in time to get out money for the transaction. (You know ever since that dude tried to rob the ATM with a sledgehammer, my life has been seriously inconvenienced.) So, like I said, I just sat here 'til, like, ten after nine, watching Ren & Stimpy with the cats before realizing: 'Holy shit! I have a lot of shit to do!' Not only was I beyond, I was late. And there was no way I was gonna have the money to get your tea; I just plumb forgot to hit up the bank. Figured I could probably bum some money off Elle, but I've been figurin' on that a lot lately. She doesn't seem to mind, but it sure makes me feel like an asshole. So that's where your money's goin', pal: straight back to my wetnurse."
I broke his oration with a startled, repulsed look at "wetnurse."
"Ha! I get ya with that one? Sorry, brother. Anyway, I picked up Elle and bummed twenty bucks off of her and then broke the news that it was for tea and that we'd have to head out to Tommy's before we could do anything else. Did she want me to drop her at home while I went out there and then swing back around and pick her up on my way back into town? No, she didn't mind going out there. 'Well, are you sure? It's kinda weird. I mean, he's kinda weird.' That was fine, she dealt with weird people all day. 'Maybe a little racist, too.' 'Well, that's kinda fucked up,' she said. What did I mean by "a little racist?", she wanted to know. And she's right: tt's fucked up for sure. I agree completely. You know what it's like, Marty, when he goes on one of his tirades. It's like a huge, belligerent elephant in the room when we watch Steelers games. I confessed this all to her, too. Then, like, lowering her brow and kind of like glowering" - (this word was mispronounced, but I knew what he meant when he said "glow-ring") - "at me she said: 'Do you think it's cool to buy -' 'Hey, babe,' I said to her, kind of, like, putting my hand over her mouth, ya know? I said: 'No, I don't think it's cool necessarily, but it's kind of one of those weird, personal type things, ya know?' And people always get silent when I talk about this, but - well, first let me tell you this: I didn't even encounter racism - honest to god - until I moved to the city. Sure there were no black people back home to be racist against, or whatever, but when we saw them fumble a football or sell something on TV we never used The N Word, or anything like that. I told her all that at one point, too, I think. But she was right, and I told her that, too. I said: 'You know you're right. It's totally fucked up; and I vacillate so much on the issue. But I already told Marty I'd do this for him, so I gotta see it through. If that's a lame excuse, that's fine, I'll take it, but I gotta go.' She just turned in her seat to face the road rather than me, and said: 'Okay, I understand. I know the meaning of the word forbearance.' And then she looked back at me, kind of sideways, but with this little twinkle in her eye.'
"Dude, she did not say that."
"Yes she did, I swear to god!"
"Whatever, get on with your story. This better be leading up to something."
"Don't worry, my friend. You know it is."
He pulled out his pouch of tobacco and orated the next chapter while he rolled himself another cigarette. An ambulance sped past, its sirens blaring, just as he started to continue.
"What?" I shouted with freezing hands over my ears.
"What!" he shouted back with his red coarse tongue against the cigarette paper.
"I couldn't hear what you were saying with the ambulance going past," I said at a steadying volume after the siren had faded.
"Oh," he said, "you said: 'what' huh?"
"Well, I'll tell you what: fuckin' pigs, man. Fuckin' pigs on my ass constantly these days. I thought that was a pig scream at first. I was 'bout ready to jump in this house and run out the back door and up through the landslide. Ha ha!" He punched me in the arm; it still fucking hurts.
Not letting him see me even wince, I said: "Did you get pulled over again?"
He was pacing and smoking now . . .
"Say: 'Possessed of inebriated inspiration and dispossessed of all good will and judgement.' Type that dude! Seriously, just keep it. Fuck the fourth wall. Fuck final edits. New chapter."
"I just had this feeling the whole time we were at Tommy's, right? Like, I could just tell that existence was bored and wanted to fuck with me. 'The shadows of things enter our lives before they do.' I think maybe Capote said that. I'm not sure though. But that's what I mean, you know what I mean? I could tell something was coming. Sitting there, with Mollie drooling on my lap, staring at me vacantly, blinking, staring more, panting in short, snotty heaves, growling for my attention, and Elle at my side, nervously fingering one of the belt loops on my jeans and kicking her leg to some frantic cadence only she could hear, and Tommy in one of his light afternoon comas with a cigarette burning away in his limp fingers while the giant high definition television - 'mos def out' according to Tommy - flashed and blared Rock of Love season 3 with absolutely terrifying intervals of barely subliminal - in fact, downright fucking obvious - messaging via McDonald's and Target and SUV and cell phone commercials, I felt awkward as fuck. But not awkward enough to leave. Something was keeping me there. Not the tea either. Though, it probably did stimulate my already frayed apprehension, I will not - especially in hindsight - give much credit to the tea. Seriously, though, it's good shit, and doesn't 'noid you out. If anything it facilitated me divining what I did. But right after I had the premonition I had the realization: there's no getting around it. The hand is dealt. And yeah, that's how I think the universe works. Or at least that's how I see it as working. There's probably more up ahead, maybe millions of years worth, but my headlights only let me see so far ahead into the darkness. They're brighter than most, though. I'll swear that 'til my grave. I knew it was coming. I knew I had to leave at some point, and when I did I'd get pulled over by a pig. I couldn't see what would happen. That'd be like asking me to see leaves on a tree on top a mountain. I just see the green shape the leaves make. I can't see each leaf for itself. Such was this, ya know? I knew I'd get pulled over, but I had no idea how it would turn out. So I spent the last ten minutes we were at Tommy's exploring and digging around in the various nooks and orifices of my outfit and person, in search of the very best spot to conceal your bag of tea. I settled, finally, on this pocket here," - he opened his grey pea coat and removed the bag from the inside breast pocket - "And when the rear view mirror of my car suddenly lit up with red and blue flashes, I gotta say: I was a little worried.
"It wasn't easy leaving Tommy's either. And, I don't know, maybe I could've avoided it by hanging around for a little bit longer. He'd just gotten a peach blunt and really wanted to enjoy it with some other people. As nervous as I was about my premonition, I knew Elle didn't wanna hang around my gardener's all day, smoking peach blunts and tolerating racism disguised as politically incorrect sarcasm. You know what I mean?"
"Definitely. You're right: that shit is weird."
"Don't I know it. But as I was leaving he was like: 'Well, I got two, so at least take one and try it out,' and tossed a flesh-colored plastic tube across the room. I caught it and laughed, remarking that it looked like a cock, and Elle blushed and rolled her eyes."
"What a prude!" I had to interject. In his defense, I've seen those peach blunt tubes and they do look like male genitalia. Clearly a plastic one, a replica, but the resemblance is obvious. "But how would she know anyway, right?"
"Dude," he said, "she's seen one before. She told me she's had sexual -"
"I know, I know. You've told me this a millions times. I was just kidding anyway. What happened after you got pulled over? I'm still confused how this all adds up. How this has anything to do with how you 'got it' as you so eloquently put it."
"I'm gettin' to that, man. If you'd just let me tell my story, you'll see how it all adds up. Alright? Be patient, man. Anyway, for about a minute, while the pig was running my plate or something, I stared into my rear view mirror, transfixed by the flashing red and blue lights, with this clamorous fugue in my skull. The whole council was in an uproar! One voice was shouting: 'Gun it! You can outrun this pig if you take 'im by surprise! Trust me, you gotta better chance outrunnin' him than you do a shower full of hungry, soapy animals!' Another guy suggested I force Elle to stash it in her purse, and then if it's found there to plead total ignorance. But the most sensible voice of all, which at first seemed the craziest, wasn't really a voice at all. It was more like an echo, but an echo of an image. Like, this one time when I was pretty young, I was helping my mom can some homemade spaghetti sauce. I was rinsing out the Mason jars and handing them to her. I guess the jars were a little wet 'cause she was fumbling around with the lid on one of the jars she'd just filled and it slipped out of her hand. It was bad. You couldn't tell the blood from the spaghetti sauce. For weeks after that, I had this, like, video clip that played over and over again in my head, coming on sporadically, like when I'd close my eyes or something, of my mom looking down at her gashed-open toe, looking up at me, looking back down at her toe, then looking above me and screaming bloody unintentional matricide! It was like that. But the image this time was of that plastic cock floating in slow motion through the air with the heavy toms in that Strauss song from 2001 thundering away: the dawning of an epiphany. But I had to act quickly, casually, and the hardest part wouldn't be quickly and clandestinely concealing your bag of tea inside the plastic cock, but convincing Elle to deflower herself with it in order to preserve my own precious chastity."
"Oh. My. God."
"So when I say: 'I got it,' you - "
"Oh," I said, putting my hand up, "I get it."