Thursday and Jude Vignettes (Old)
June 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
Vignettes to be casually inserted into novel.
Saint Jude was the patron saint of desperate causes, he helped those in urgent need, and if Thursday had lost God and Jesus years ago, she kept Saint Jude around purely because he was less judgmental than the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Jude was also the name of her last—and possibly final relationship, she worried—and when she pictured St. Jude, hanging around on her left shoulder blade (the right shoulder was reserved for her actual conscience—a prissy, preppy girl who was quite naïve), she pictured him dressed like Jude, in tight, dark jeans with black leather loafers, wearing a Jawbreaker t-shirt and smoking Winston Lights. That voice in her left ear, Saint Jude always lighted a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and sighed upon exhalation as he told her things she never wanted to hear, and as it turned out, he was always right, a habit that irritated her deeply. At age nineteen, Thursday had suffered a heinous ear infection that left her partially deaf in her left ear, the only culpable explanation for the frequent miscommunications with the angel on her shoulder.
When the inside of her left ear began to ache, she partially blamed the change in weather, but also Saint Jude’s nagging advice coupled with his second-hand smoke exhalations.“God, I know, okay?” she was frequently heard to say aloud, or, “Stop, you’re giving me another earache.” Every once in a while, someone would look at her funny, and Thursday would explain that she often spoke to herself, and they would nod at her as if this were an acceptable thing to do.
If there was change jangling in her pockets, Thursday was happy to spare it to the mendicants on City Street. A chilly December night, on her way home from work, she met a bum with large dirty glasses, covering himself with blanket, meagerly asking for change in a voice as soft as a wet kitten, the runt of the litter, mewing blindly for food, and even though Thursday had seen him at the local Starbucks before sipping on lattes, she reminded herself that it was coffee at least, not booze, and who was she to judge what beggars did with their fifteen dollars an hour (on a good day) in their panhandler occupations. She handed him a dollar. “I’ve been giving you change since I was eighteen,” she said. “You should know my name by now.”
He accepted the dollar, far less eagerly than he had asked for it. She half-expected him to pull out a crocodile-skin wallet. “I like to watch ‘em grow up,” he said. Thursday chuckled and went on her way.
The bums around City Street were spoiled. Scanner Dan had an apartment paid for by a sorority house. Steam Tunnel Bob was given an obituary and a candlelight service by the lake. But that didn’t change the fact that Scanner Dan was potato sacks of marbles mad, and Steam Tunnel Bob had froze to death at the opening of one of the notorious steam tunnels that he navigated so well. It was too bad, about Steam Tunnel Bob, she had always thought of paying him to be her guide to explore the Mad City underground. But he died with his steam tunnels and who knew what other absurd secrets.
He wasn’t that cute, and his roommate kept pinching her ass over a game of drunken chess until she told him to knock it off, even then he giggled like her seven year sister when she knew she was being naughty. The naughtiness of a thirty-something, however, suffered from a lack of cuteness that the naughtiness of child struck with melted gold ringlets. “Let me walk you home,” said the not-so-cute man.
“Sure, but you should know that that’s all you’ll be doing,” said Thursday.
It was the first real snowfall of the winter, heavy enough to cancel university classes, but soft and wet enough to roll snowballs up the mile long City Street until they became snow boulders, or make snowmen that sat on bus stop benches wearing silly grins and smoking pipes with tendrils of cigarette box plastic peaking from the ends of broken twigs, frozen and crackling. The storm encapsulated the isthmus, a record amount of snow fell around the city like a gothic theater curtain, keeping the inside of the isthmus warm and sultry, the players drunk on bliss. The snowfall silenced the traffic and the trains.
Thursday playfully let the not-so-cute man kiss her on the walk home, but by the third stop-and-kiss she became bored and annoyed with his passions.
He tried to feel between her legs under her long coat, under her sweater, only to half-grope at two layers of pants while they stood at the entrance to her building.
“I said,” she reminded him, “that the only thing you would be doing was walking me home. You kissed me by the way, and it didn’t change my mind. It was nice to randomly be hit by a snowball, and to meet your roommate, but night has come to a close. Goodnight.” She laid this last line on him with the seriousness of an actor in Macbeth, but the smile on her face as she walked the three flights of stairs to apartment suggested that she cheerfully considered him a Falstaff, and that maybe she considered most men Falstaffs.
She saw him many times later at a popular restaurant. She knew his ex-girlfriend as a customer from the Tortoise who had fucked many other customers there. He didn’t recognize her, or he pretended not to, and she smiled every time his eyes purposefully missed hers. Don’t worry cowboy. That snowy night will remain our saccharine sweet secret.
November shook the oaks and maples free of their brightly painted foliage like a bad baby-sitter, leaving the trees dark and menacingly naked, gripping the landscape in a crooked grim death-hold. Thursday half-expected to see corpses dangling from the gnarled tendrils of the trees that guarded the streetscape like monolithic sentries in a post-apocalyptic future. Thursday knew these types of observations would be the final word on her day of judgment that would send her caroming head-first on the highway to hell.
The porches were back in season, Thursday noticed, which meant that it was truly summertime once more in Mad City. Almost every house east of the campus had a porch, and that evening, each stack of barely rotten wood was stocked with fresh bodies: people wedged between each other, people sitting on the steps or the wooden rails, people wandering in and out of the house for cold beer or vodka lemonade. All of them looked as though they were mingling on the deck of a cruise ship, staring out into the blue Mediterranean, rather than glued to shabby wood planks or beds of concrete by their dirty Converse sneakers, staring out into the traffic ridden east side of town, people-watching, chatting, and smoldering over rich barbeques that rang true to meat eaters everywhere.
Young men and women cozying up amongst one another, smoking cigarettes, spliffs, blunts, bongs, a line of coke or too, and some vicodin to keep the other drugs under control, drinking summer beers like Hopalicious or Bell’s Oberon with Lake Mendota just a short walk away. When the night hit, the lake would be filled with mischievous skinny-dippers. Porch season was the only thing about Mad City that Thursday would miss.
Thursday and Hyma walked along the train tracks near an abandoned warehouse off Lake Michigan. The malt liquor was slowly taking the edge of her hangover.
Trains clattered by, shrieking horns and whistling steel. Her whole body shook, her teeth rattled and her Colt 45 foamed at the neck. All the freight cars were covered in graffiti that reached as high as a human arm could reach. It was a sight she found comfort in—train cars that her grandpa hopped cross-country and the ones that were so epically described in beat poetry weren’t tagged with cans of spray paint, this was the work of modern slum angels, ragged sloppy kisses bestowed upon the past as a gift from the present.
The steam tunnels erupted in the winter through the manholes in the streets; something angry was stirring, furiously boiling underneath the city of Milwaukee. She could see hints of the anger sometimes; sections of asphalt that had been effaced to bare the swollen bricks underneath the streets, like a scab that had been broken, revealing wet, bleeding flesh, the meat and bones of Old Milwaukee. This was the city she wanted to see; Milwaukee shoveled aside, layer by layer.
Thursday watched Hyma clumsily tread the tracks. She imagined that God had become frustrated with this bumbling angel who couldn’t focus on the rigorous heavenly rituals and so sent him to Earth to stumble in and out of people’s lives with a hint of admirable lunacy. She wasn’t far off, as I happened to know.
“What’s this all about?” asked Thursday.
“For a couple weeks now, I’ve let you had your fun,” said Hyma. “Partying out all that Mad City drama that you just can’t seem to let go. But you’re not going to fuck strangers and drink yourself to death, not while you’re staying with me.”
Thursday contemplated Hyma’s words while they walked together in silence.
“I haven’t done much for myself, have I?’ she said. “Thought Milwaukee would be like a get away.”
“Thurs, you’re the last person I need to tell that you’re problems follow you wherever you go, but I’m telling you anyway.”
“I know I can pull myself out of all of it,” she said.
“You know? Right,” said Hyma, “You’ve calculated the risks. You’ve made the necessary observations. You have correctly analyzed each one of your issues down to a nub, but you…” Hyma shook his forty at her. “You don’t know fucking know how.”
“You’re like an angel with ADD,” said Thursday.
“And you’re like a pathetic angel who gives away her feathers to every sad, lonely, bluesy fucker she meets on the road.”
“How is being kind and generous pathetic?”
“You’re mistaking your personal sadness and selfish stupidity for generosity. You give away all your feathers, Thurs. You can’t fucking fly, and you’re just as much of a loser as people you try to help.”
“What I’m saying,” said Hyma, “why I dragged your piece of shit ass off that junkie’s mattress, you still wearing clothes from two days ago, is that if you don’t treat yourself right first, you ain’t gonna help no one.
“Sounds like an age-old adage,” said Thursday.
“Well, it fucking applies to you,” said Hyma. “I figure that once you’re good to yourself, nothing is gonna stop you. Why do you think I always beat you up? I was trying to beat some goddamn sense into you.”
Thursday let go a sly smile. “Oh yeah? I always thought you were just trying to fuck me.”
Hyma shook his forty and malt liquor splashed on Thursday’s clothes. “That’s the most fucking disgusting thing I have ever heard.”
Thursday choked a little on her beer and between laughs, she sputtered, “Are you some kind of guardian angel? I mean like a stupidly drunk bumbling guardian angel.”
“All this talk about angels is creeping me out,” said Hyma. “C’mon, you’re gonna meet my business partner. I’ve got other things to take care of tonight, besides you.”
“Where are we going to meet him?”
“She, and we’re going to meet her up in that abandoned mental institution about a mile from here.”
It was the end of February, but the night was still colder than a buttercup in the belly of a frozen wooly mammoth. Thursday left work and began her usual route home. She stopped halfway through and headed northwest, to the train tracks.
In the distant past, there had been plans that would allow tracks to be laid from Chicago to Mad City, but the town, snuggled between two lakes on an isthmus proved too isolated to warrant heavy industrial traffic. Thursday passed what could be considered the train yards many an autumn afternoon watching the slow, slugging cars inch their way over steel tracks, crushing dead leaves and releasing the fresh, crisp scent of damp decay in their wake as they left the isthmus as slowly as they had come upon it, unimpressed, unbothered by the dim lights and cheerful sounds that traveled from the foggy windows of yet another happily mundane town.
She went there now, catching only one train.
She wept heavily, and her tears froze to her lashes and stray strands of hair mingled with the snot spilling from her nose. She felt pangs, little stab wounds all over body, puncturing the steel-enhanced swollen skin that had kept her spirit safe for so many years.
I sat on her shoulder, my legs dangled off her shoulder blade. I turned my head only to see Thursday’s face buried in her scarf. I tried to light a cigarette, the last in my pack, but it was broken at the filter. I sighed and wiped away a single tear with my thumb. It’s not as if I can’t bear to see a lady weep, God knows, cross my heart, that I’ve seen Thursday weep a hundred times over.
Medically, I could piece together a broken heart with some minor shards of plastic, as I have been known to do worldwide. They’ve named fucking hospitals after me, that’s how fucking respected I am. Medically, however, there nothing physically wrong with Thursday’s heart except that it beat too fast every time she laid eyes on whatever it was that was breaking her spirit; though right now, medically, she was experiencing moderate tachycardia, and the swelling of her heart working too damn hard was too much for me. I crumbled my broken cigarette, wiped away my tears, and picked pieces of tobacco off her icy, frozen cheeks.
There were two bars inside the College Bar, the second one used rarely—Friday and Saturday nights. She was bored with her party, a collection of people she was neither interested in nor knew very well. They were friends of Marcus, and Marcus had left quickly, without a goodbye, realizing that he was very drunk.
Thursday was lugging a large paper bag with a shoebox—Heidi’s birthday present. She eyed the second bar, unmanned and stocked full of liquor, and wondered if Heidi might like more than one present.
“Happy Birthday!” Thursday flounced through the door and did a full twirl in her ankle length, gray wool coat with black trimmings she had sewn on herself. “I know we usually drink whiskey and gin, but vodka was all I could get, and some triple sec, oh, and Bailey’s, but that broke on the pavement.”
“What the fuck,” said Heidi. “You brought me booze?”
“Why are there pour spouts on the bottles?” asked Samson.
“You didn’t…” said Heidi, gleeful.
“Six,” said Thursday. “It was all I could carry.”
Armored caterpillars dueling
Too young to be so tired.
Between the first time Thursday saw Jude and the first time they met, there passed a dark, blank year when they barely knew of each other. Both were lost and tired and thought that cutting corners and taking shortcuts would shed some revelation on their destinations in life. Instead, they missed each other on the streets by seconds, a dozen or so instances, too busy looking at the sky or staring at their feet. For years they had abandoned the sight of each other.
Jude had been the last person in Mad City that had made sense to her. When he moved away, Thursday felt as though she had been sucker-punched. There was nothing left in the city to look forward to. The town seemed to shrink and the familiar building facades were hateful and dreary; it all had been just a bad luck fairy tale. A bone-deep weariness crept over her and the only thing she could do to keep from falling apart was to keep moving, constantly moving with grueling shifts at work and long nights with good friends but despairing libations. Even after Jude was long gone, Thursday couldn’t stop moving, she was caught in a vicious, unrelenting routine, and she couldn’t remember how to slow down.
Julian had once told Thursday, after they hadn’t spoken for three years, that the only people worth pursuing were the ones that gave you butterflies in your stomach.
I remembered he had said it just like that, “butterflies in your stomach,” stripping the phrase of its cliché, bringing it back to its bare, sweet imagery that brought a smile to Thursday face, wrinkled with worries.
Personally, the way Julian had said it, forced a vision in my head of moths being extracted from the throats of young, dead women. Of course, Julian had been speaking of his blossoming relationship with Tamara, and not a horror film, though I found them to be one and the same.
Thursday doubted he would have said that if things with Tamara hadn’t finally come together, but she agreed with him anyway. She learned how to drink whiskey from Julian, and she learned how to be smart from Jude, a beaten, ragged angel, broke down from the myriad of lives he had lived before. When Jude left, she forgot how smart she had been, but when she thought about him, real hard, the memories came back and Thursday knew that it was the Jude inside her that told her to never compromise herself, ever. She wished she thought of his strength more often, as her last year in Mad City insofar, had been the blankest year of all.
She saw Peter at the Gypsy Gem Lounge and he pretended not to see her until she went right up to him, tugged his shirt and said hello. Thursday was drunk, horny, and willing to compromise. I leaned back against her left temple, crossed my ankles, casually lighted a cigarette, and softly warned, “don’t do it, babe,” but Thursday decided to take Peter to a show anyway, where Sully let them both in for free with a hug and a kiss from his favorite civilian. Inside, she was exhausted and wanted to go home, but Peter suggested they go to another bar.
“The Wolfhound,” she said. “It’s next door.”
“How about the DA? You like that place, right?”
“Sure,” said Thursday. She removed a pint glass, half full of beer, from her jacket, chugged the last of the beer, and smashed the sixteen-ouncer in the parking ramp, Level 3.
Rufus was tending bar. He greeted her and they exchanged cordialities.
“Is that the guy?” asked Peter, pointing at a group of karaoke singers in the back of the bar. He was picking out a tall blond, likely a rower for the college team.
“The guy you were supposed to be with. You know, the reason you stuck around this shithole of a town.”
She resented the way he described Mad City, her fucking town—his fucking town—his words were unoriginal and stupidly callous. There were few people she knew who could refer to Mad City as a “shithole of a town.”
Those people were the staples of Mad City. They were allowed to be flippant in their disregard. Sure they scoffed aloud at newcomers, and scuffed their only pair of crummy shoes on the dirty, salted winter sidewalks, sucking on half-frozen cigarettes, thoughts of passion, hard luck, disaster, and sadness steeping in their brain pools.
They secured the life-blood of the city. Like mad prophets they walked the streets, drawing the lake waters towards the shore, forming the isthmus, the foundation of their city, and every layer of love, anger, and tenderness in between.
Samson was one of those people. He fed the city and only let the city take from him only what he had already rationed. ****************************
“No. Who told you about that?” asked Thursday, peeved that the tall blonde did resemble her unfortunate romance, but far more irritated that Peter was stupid enough to say something to her he knew nothing about.
“I just heard,” said Peter, shrugging.
“Why would you ask me that?” She stuck the mug of Oil Slick Stout into her jacket. Peter didn’t respond.
She took Peter home anyway, rebelling against her own common sense or in anger against the other man—who would never know and certainly not care—turned up Bob Dylan to maximum volume to cover her own obnoxious sounds, drank more beer and kissed him all over his face. He told her to choke on his dick. She let him fuck her with a condom a male stripper tossed at her at a bachelorette party in the Dells. She let him fuck her to Bob Dylan, the last musician that anyone on earth should fuck to, his screeching voice almost as awful as Thursday’s fake orgasm.
The sex was boring, even I was bored listening to them, and I could tell that Thursday felt like almost as big of an asshole as when she purposefully smashed the pint glass in the parking ramp, Level 3.
“And you fucked him anyway?” Samson was incredulous.
“Samson, it’s been two years. And I hadn’t shaved my legs in like two weeks, or my armpits in like a week, and God only knows—well now Peter does too—what it looks like down there.”
“I haven’t shaved my legs in two weeks,” said Heidi. She lifted her pant leg to reveal downy blond hairs. “Samson doesn’t mind.”
“I like it dirty,” said Samson.
“Sure, but I’m Hispanic so my shit’s wiry.”
“Like barbed wire?”
“Exactly like the barbed wire that kept your people inside Auschwitz.”
“I can’t believe you said your shit’s like barbed wire and then once again made a comparison to the Holocaust. It’s only so funny Thurs, my people suffered.”
“Am I wrong that it keeps Jews away? I don’t see you or Francisco rushing the fence to fuck me.”
“That is fucking disgusting. First off, you’re like my best friend slash sister. Second, I got me a woman. I’m gonna roll this joint and pretend I didn’t hear about how your excess woman hair is as gnarly as barbed wire.”
Heidi grinned. “Lets have a twenty minute conversation about Thursday not shaving, shit’s getting real. Who wants a shot?”
The bartender was smart like Jude, even a little wary, achy and tired like Jude was, but he didn’t know himself as well as Jude did. He was skinny man in a fat boy’s body; he would loudly project charisma and then suddenly, without warning, retreat into the folds of his skin, like a hermit, whenever he felt the doldrums creep in—he didn’t know what to do with all that space inside himself. He used to think like an artist, before people started to pay him mind, forcing him to weave in and out of himself, wondering if anything still fit.
Thursday tried not to think about this as he passed her a bowl of fake weed, a technically legal substance that was supposed to impress the same high. She was trying to hang, I knew, she had her own ways of trying to fit in and tonight she felt the need to impress, so I left her alone.
The bartender got on his knees and looked for the album the three of them had been singing along to—and fighting about lyrics—during the walk
Thursday passed the bowl to Marcus. “I don’t know why it’s not working,” said the bartender, high as hell and unsuccessfully fiddling with his stereo.
“Here, I’ve got it on my iPod,” said Thursday, handing him a red Nano.
She sat down on the curb-picked couch, feeling the drug work her system. The three of them listened to the album all the way through, few words elapsing between them.
Thursday’s eyes moved from Marcus, to her lap, to the bartender, who in his present euphoric state was musing over a drink coaster, made from a photograph of Bob Dylan he had cut out from the album booklet of Another Side of Bob Dylan.
Thursday lifted her glass from Bobby Dylan’s twin coaster, and was confronted by the furrowed, pensive brow of James Dean, the iconic college pin-up boy; he represented a giant that Thursday’s generation did not have.
Sex, whiskey, and weed: a triage of vices in the flesh, a disheveled, all-star starting line-up seated quietly, side-by-side, displaced to the bottom of the order on a couch dragged from a curb-pile of other peoples’ junk,
They pretended to be unaware that these carefully planned escapes had become attractive retreats, total surrender to the only real vice at hand, their self-indulgent misery. Thursday swilled her whiskey and swallowed it with fierce deliberation.
I lighted a cig. Destroying the great minds of her generation.
She wondered if their spiritual movement would ever come, or if it was happening at that very moment as each drank deeply of their own personal sins and inhaled the sticky, heavy curtain of cigarette-hazed humidity that unveiled their most intimate smells.
Thursday escaped her sweaty daze. “It is okay if I sleep on the couch again?” she asked the bartender. She could hear Marcus pissing loudly in the bathroom.
“You can have my bed,” he said. “I’ll take the couch.”
“Nah, I’m alright here,” she said, leaning back. She shoved a canvas pillow over her eyes, ignoring my glances, which I assumed she thought would be judgmental, but weren’t.