by Jennifer Kaciuba
Natalie, Mike and I had been on the corner of some intersection in Bridgeport. There was a park there and more than likely we were just hanging out, drinking, doing whatever we always did. It was only a few blocks from Natalie’s house on 51st and Halsted. She lived right by Sox Park. It was the only house for miles, every fucking way you looked you came across a meat packing place, one of those places were they take the cows, pigs, and whatever other animals they fashioned into small, packaged wrapped, chunks of good ole fashioned meat. The smell of slaughter was ripe and especially pungent on hot days. It made me want to drop kick cute animals and jump off of buildings. The way that we saw it was, during the summer there was nothing better to do than heckle kids at the park, drink forty ounces of beer, or smoke a little bud.
And this day at the park was no different. We sat around at the tiny park amongst a bunch of murder factories, hill billie racist assholes, and rich people. Bridgeport was always so diverse, I guess. We all sat in the same spot every day, as though the seats were assigned to us. Natalie sat on the tire swing. She always sat there because she said she liked to spin. But in all honesty I think it was because of that one story she told me that night when we drank too much Jaeger together. She told me that her brother used to tell her to jump on the tire swing and she’d have the best time of her life but every time, Natalie’s dumb ass would fall for the trick, and before you knew it, she was face down, on the ground bleeding, and crying over her brother’s ability to deceive her, once again. I think she sat in the tire swing because it was some fucked up way she conquered her fear of the terrifying tire swing.
Mike laid on the slide. He’d put his head down the slide from the top and squiggled down the metal slide until his shirt would rise up and his flesh would cause the squeaking sound against the metal to make him stop and then he’d just sit there. He’d lie there and bask in the sun like some fucking lobster until he got too hot. I was astonished his skin and the metal slide didn’t liquefy and fuse together and become glue that held Mike down, kept him there, to burn alive under the sun.
I always sat on the picnic bench or the concrete wall that bordered the small park; close enough to Mike and Natalie, but far enough away from the actual play ground so that any children that were actually going to play wouldn’t be affected by my continuous chain smoking. My ma always smoked in the house and I guess I just grew accustomed to smoke. I liked to breathe it, smell it, and rinse myself in it.
Every day we would wake up from Natalie’s house and walk over and just sit and wait for it to get dark. We never wanted to do anything when it was light out cause we never wanted to get in trouble. Natalie lived a few blocks down from the cop station, so more police cruisers drove around the area than any other kind of car. . Their cars always slowed down as they drove past us, and they would gawk at us as they slid by, probably to make sure we weren’t doing something damaging. Plus, no one was ever able to go on runs during the daytime so;we would just hang out and laze around in the sun.
When dusk fell on us we would stand up and walk the street. We would stroll around wondering who we would run into first. There was Tino – he was our alcohol guy – some strange looking dude with a face that looked like he had gotten carved out of wood and I should fill him up with punch to make him my very own Tiki cup. His whole body was covered up with tattoos, his face was the only place where his actual skin showed through. He was a crooked son of a bitch and was in some gang in Canary Ville. He shot our friends house on 45th and Union and was always beating the shit out of his girlfriend. But he was the only one able to get us alcohol.
Then there was Ray, or Mousey, as everyone called him. The nickname didn’t mean anything cool; it literally meant he was like a mouse. He never talked but he always had some ridiculous hook ups. He hung out with some bad kids and that was okay with us, we never hung out with him. He was our dealer and that was it.
On this particular day, we walked around and ran into Ray and his girl Brittany. Apparently, it was going to be a smoking night. It was ideal weather for smoking, hot and humid; we got our usual twenty sack from him.
“Aight guys, this shit’s new, I never gave it to you”. Ray tried to talk hard. It was funny to see a petite kid in oversized gangster clothes sell us weed. It was hard to contain the laughter but we needed the hookup.
“This shit right here, it’s my buddy’s special blend. It’s got like three mixes of shit. It’s fuckin blue, look at this shit”. Ray opened up the small saran rap piece he wrapped it in and handed it to Natalie. She held the baggie in her hand and inhaled it deeply. She was our weed bloodhound; she had the nose to sniff out skank verse chronic.
“It smells good”. She said, and handed him the twenty dollars and jammed the weed into her front pocket.
“Later, Ray”, we said, and he walked away without another word. That was all it took, there was no reason to attempt to actually engage in conversation with your dealer. We wanted his weed, not his words.
The three of us went back to Natalie’s and sat in her backyard. We couldn’t smoke until much later. Her dad worked as a paramedic and whenever he came home the fat ass would pass out on the couch. Sometimes when Natalie and I were drunk, for fun, we’d scream loud as we could in her dad’s face and he would never even move a muscle. So waiting for him to pass out on the couch was a better plan than hearing him bitch at us for getting high on his back porch.
Natalie’s Mom was not only, she was also the loudest, angriest pot-smoker I had ever come in contact with. Half the upstairs had been converted into her own little apartment because even though she and Natalie’s Dad were divorced, neither of them thought about moving out. Her black hair was always scraggly and thin. It looked like hay that had been burnt and crispy from a fire. Her teeth were always crooked and it bothered me that she didn’t get that shit fixed. Her voice was scary, it was old and raspy from the years of Newports she swallowed down angry at the lack of care Natalie’s dad showed her.
She scared me because the only time she talked to us was when she was too lazy to walk down the stairs and you would hear her screaming from her bedroom for someone to get her a fucking bowl of ice cream. She made me panic all the time. I nearly had an anxiety attack every time I set foot into Natalie’s house.
She didn’t care what we did though, which is why we hung out there so much. She knew we drank and smoked in her backyard and she couldn’t have cared less. It was cool but it scared me. I was positive one day, she would snap and we would get yelled and screamed at about smoking in her over-sized backyard. The fear stayed in the back of my mind because there was never a time I could remember us not doing what we did in Natalie’s backyard.
We watched the day turn into darkness and when we heard the front door close, giving us the cue that Natalie’s dad was home, we began to get everything ready.
Natalie was the ringleader, the one with the most skill in this department. She would take the bag, open it, pour it out onto the table and pick out all the seeds and stems while Mike and I huddled around her, holding out our cell phones, to make sure she had as much light as possible. Natalie was meticulous with our weed, with nimble fingers like tiny ballerinas, but without the shoes and the tutu and shit. How she learned the secrets she knew, I’d never find out.
“Alright, Mike, you got the papers”? Mike handed her a Swisher Sweet cigar.
“Damn it Mike, take the fuckin tobacco out”. Mike took the cigar back and stood off the porch of Natalie’s house. He carefully the cigar back and forth like a cork-screw, right and then left, so that the tobacco fell out into a little hill on Natalie’s lawn.
“Here”. Mike handed Natalie the empty cigar.
“Fuckin strawberry, why didn’t you get grape”?
“Natalie why don’t you go get shit yourself”.
“Hey, guys, shut up”. When they fought it would make my high a million times worse. I realize we weren’t even smoking yet but I didn’t want to start out bad because of these two assholes.
Natalie broke up all our bud and carefully put it into the cigar paper. While she rolled it back up her tiny fingers looked like a cigarette roller. When she licked the brown paper to seal the cigar closed I wondered what it tasted like. I thought maybe that’s why she wanted grape and not strawberry. She took her lighter after she clicked it and lightly licked the whole thing with the flame. She lit it just enough that it was sealed closed. I looked at her while she held our blunt in the air. Her luminous eyes reflected the moonlight. Then she lit the blunt and sucked in the smoke, her mouth making this tiny o shape and once again her eyes glimmered..
“Hit this, you have got to fucking hit this dude”. I looked at Natalie; smoke cascaded down her chin then down her neck, making a waterfall as it melted into her purple shirt. She held out her right hand holding the perfectly rolled joint. She made the okay symbol with her two fingers.
“Don’t be a bitch.” She looked at me with deer eyes, the kind that had been stopped in headlights. After one hit her pupils had become dilated so bad that the white in her eyes swam into the black. Her eyes were one color, and blended in with the dark sky. I leaned forward to grab the blunt. I made my fingers in the shape of a v, the way I do when I smoke a cigarette. I placed it perfectly in-between my first finger and middle finger. I put the end with the hole for inhaling up to my mouth and as I breathed and I imagined every one of my brain cells popping like balloons with every igniting drag I took. My eyes widened and I wanted to breathe it in again longer, hold the air in my lungs longer. I didn’t want the feeling, or the taste to leave my body. I wanted to hold on to it all at that very moment.
“Asshole, pass it here.” Puff puff pass was the name of the game. Mike looked at me with a fire in his eyes. He reached out for the joint and I obliged. He sat on the white lawn chair right next me. With his body half bent his arm seemed longer than it should have really been. In this moonlight, his body looked like it had expanded to some extreme lengths. I closed my eyes to hand it to him and imagined Gumby sitting there unwinding comfortably while he kicked back his head and crossed his two green legs, right over left, overlapping at the ankles, putting one of his arms behind his head the other holding the joint, getting blazed as hell with the rest of us.
“Good ass shit right? Fuck Jess, tell me that isn’t some good ass shit”. Natalie was perseverating over the fact that her twenty dollars was put to good use. She went on and on, beating the same dead horse about the quality weed we had just bought a few hours before.
After Mike hit it, it went back to Natalie. She inhaled again; her pupils would ripple like a puddle after each hit she took. Then it went back to me.
I took the blunt and held it again; I ripped it longer this time. The weed stayed captive in my throat, I was not going to let it go. I exhaled the cloud of smoke then inhaled it back in. I looked like I had eaten smoke, I felt like a dragon. I hit it again and held it deep and safe in the bottom of my lungs. I locked it away, I didn’t want it set free. Then an earthquake of sound and feeling jolted my entire body. I began to feel an eruption at the pit of my lungs. I coughed and coughed until I couldn’t breathe. I put my head in my arms and held the weed out to Mike still coughing.
“I told you it’s some powerful shit”. When I looked up from coughing Natalie was no longer sitting in the circle. Her back was turned around and she was concentrated on something.
“Uhm, dude, what are you looking at”?
“Look at this tree”. She said to me as she reached her arm behind her and when she felt Mike carefully place the blunt in her hands, she abruptly snatched back her arm as if someone might have stolen it.
“It looks like a tree”.
“No, no, look, it’s talking, Jess. Jess, the fucking tree is talking”. She took another two hits off the blunt. The blunt was quickly turning into nothing. The three of us were going at it faster than ever before. I took the blunt from Natalie and put it in my mouth.
“You are fucking crazy”.
“No I’m not, look”. She pointed her hand out. Her skinny arms and fingers made me jump. She looked like a skeleton. I looked at her face after I saw her arms and she was still Natalie. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief at what this shit was doing to us.
I looked at the tree once again and noticed suddenly it looked a little more alive than it usually does. It shook like a dog would when getting out of water. When it was done shaking, it looked at us. Its eyes were not really eyes at all, just hollowed out holes in the green leaves of the tree. One eye appeared and then right after it another one. It slowly created its self. Then the mouth came. It leisurely came out beneath the green face. It started at the left corner and then branches and leaves and green began to sink in like they had the eyes and once it was done it smiled at us.
“Holy shit”. I was in disbelief as I passed Mike the blunt without even turning around.
“Mister tree, if the sun like, makes light and warmth, then why doesn’t the moon do the same thing”? Natalie said, then set her head back. She began nodding in agreement with the tree. I shook my head and just saw it nodding and smiling at me. I didn’t hear it talk. I rubbed my eyes and looked at Natalie. She was smoking the blunt again.
“I’m gonna go piss, skip me”. I stood up to go to the bathroom. My legs felt like Jell-O and I imagined myself made out of rubber. My feet felt heavy, like they were being weighed down to the ground. The wooden porch was spongy like they are at parks and Chuck-e-Cheese. I bounced from the porch to the back door. I was on the moon. Then it all stopped.
The back door on Natalie’s porch was in this dark area they used as a crawlspace. I had used this door so many times and wasn’t afraid but for some reason, this darkness was deeper than usual. I came to a stop as soon as the door was in front of me. I couldn’t walk in. There was something stopping me getting into the house.
I looked up in front of me and I saw it. Shining through the darkness was a white crooked row of square pieces. I stepped back a minute. Then above the glowing row, a sudden oval shape started to glimmer. It came in slowly. Then it was a complete egg shaped oval right above the row of white. Then there was another oval only a few inches away from the first one. The line of white began curving upwards and in front of me stood a smile. A floating and radiant smiling face stared at me. My mouth fell to the floor. I didn’t move. I tried to go through it but couldn’t seem to face this monster. I gave up. I ran back to where Natalie and Mike were sitting.
Natalie handed me the weed as I lay on the wooden porch with my arms over my head, hiding my eyes.
“Don’t fucking go in there”. Smoke came out of my mouth with my words.
“What the hell”. Mike must not have been like we were. He just kept lying back in the lawn chair and staring up into the sky.
“I’m serious. Natalie there is something in your fucking crawlspace”.
“Jess, calm down”. Mike was the only one able to talk to me. Natalie was focused on her tree and the way she looked, you could tell she wasn’t going to stop staring any time soon.
“No man, fuck, there is something in there”.
“You’re just high, shut up”. I closed my eyes completely; I knew Mike wouldn’t have believed me even if I told him about what had just happened. Mike always watched out for us, but never gave a shit about what we actually were saying.
I lay on the porch. I covered my face with my arms and kept my eyes shut tight. They were so tight that a crowbar could not even budge them open. Suddenly my world began spinning. My eyes were closed and splashes of red and orange and white and blue were being splattered all over the inside of my eyelids. I couldn’t hear anything. Everything was silent. I couldn’t tell if Natalie was still conversing with her new tree friend and I could never tell when Mike was fucked up. I was fucked up. I was blazed.
The colors wouldn’t stop splatting and began flinging at my eyelids. A million color bombs had just been dropped from the sky into my eyes. I couldn’t hear and the only thing I could smell was the burnt out smell of a blunt being passed between us three. I tasted grape. But it wasn’t a good grape taste. It was burnt. I had cottonmouth and every time I would spit, it would fly away. My spit had become those weeds that you are supposed to blow on to make wishes. Every time I spit I imagined another wish blowing away.
In the silence I started to hear a voice. The voice seemed far away but at the same time right in my ear. It was muffled, and sounded like the whisper of a child. I clinched my fists. The whirling colors in my eyes split like the red sea for Moses and in the middle of them came a black figure. It was nothing but an outline shape of a human being. It started far away but with every breath I took it would get closer. I would breathe in and it would move its right leg. I would breathe out and its left leg would follow right after. I held my breath and it stopped moving. The dark figure stood completely still. I held my breath then I felt the beating of my heart, out of control; it was on a roller coaster, almost cashing out of my chest. I had to breathe again.
As I took small steps, the figure came closer. It was at my eyes and then a voice inside my head whispered to me. My eyes shot open. I looked around and saw the same scene I saw before I closed them. Natalie was sitting on the railing of the porch talking to the tree. Mike was still reclined.
I crept up to Mike carefully and silently. He was facing away from me. I put my two hands on the side of his chair and rested my chin right by his ear.
“Mike”. I whispered.
“Jesus Christ Jess what the hell are you doing”? I felt tears well up in my eyes, resting there but not falling. I opened my eyes up wider and stared at Mike.
“Uh, Jess you alright”? I looked at him harder. I squinted my eyes a little bit then widened them back up again. I didn’t say anything to him.
“Shhhh”. I put my index finger up to my mouth and ordered him to be quiet.
“What the fuck are you doing”.
“Shhh”. I did it again. He didn’t get it, he couldn’t talk or else the dark figure would get him next. My ears were ringing. There were daggers in my ribcage. I wanted to look down to see if I was covered in bruises but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Mike.
“You can’t sleep or you’ll die”. My ribcage began a throbbing. My bones felt like if I touched them they were going to turn to dust. My knees were shaking and my whole body felt like it was going to start convulsing.
“What the hell Jess”.
“Promise you won’t go to sleep”?
“Jess what are you…”
“I SAID PROMISE!”
“Alright fuck I promise”. I took my head off his chair and crawled back to my spot and lay down again. I covered my face again but this time I laid on my stomach. I was face planted into the porch and unable to move. My body was a stone at the bottom of the river. I wasn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon. Then I felt something scrape my face against the porch. I imagined that when I stood up, a pool of blood would be a mark to where my face would be.
“Shit shit shit SHIT Jess get up”. It was a muffled sound. It sounded familiar. It was Natalie’s voice.
“Mike what the fuck are we going to do”?
“Ah Jess seriously? My dad will be up soon you have to get the fuck off my porch”.
“Just grab her by one arm Natalie”.
I felt like a crane was lifting me up. I opened my eyes and Mike and Natalie were carrying me, my legs and feet dragged on the ground. My bare feet were blackened with dirt and distress from the summer and now bloody from this unwilling trip. I kept my head down but opened my eyes. I closed them once I realized we were going into her house. The creature from before was gone.
The dark dismal house seemed empty. I closed my eyes as they dragged my feet through the area that just hours ago had seemed haunted to me. I opened them at the last second, just to see if I had literally gone crazy. I looked around and saw nothing. I turned my head around. I felt like an owl. As my friends me across the crawlspace floor, my head did a complete 360 to once again glance into the darkness. And I saw it again. The huge face that I had seen earlier starred at me. It’s face crinkled and crunched until one of its egg shaped eyes winked at me.
“HOLY FUCK, did you see that? Do you fucking see that?”
“Jess shut the hell up. Fuck shut up”. I didn’t understand why she told me to shut up, we all knew that a fucking tornado could come through this house and her father would never even wake up.
“No, I’m serious, look, behind you, do you see it? It’s there, it’s still there”. They turned around and I wasn’t completely sure if it was just to humor me so I would shut up or if they were a slight bit curious to see if they could see a single thing. Their heads both turned back and they took a glimpse at the dark.
“Yeah it’s right there”. I pointed my finger hoping they could see the strange mysterious face that stood right in front of me. It was making faces, opening its mouth and closing it again, winking and squinting. Finally it stared at me and looked as if someone had thrown its head back to make it laugh because its eyes were so squinted they were nearly closed and its mouth was open as wide as it could possibly get and in my head I heard laughing.
“Fuck do you at least hear that”?
“Jess shut the fuck up, you’re insane”. I shut my mouth. No one would have believed me anyway. I didn’t get how Natalie could sit there and have a conversation with a fucking tree and that was okay but if I saw some monster I was insane.
They took me through the living room. I heard her dad’s snoring and felt it was necessary to scream. I went to open my mouth and nothing came out. Someone had crawled inside of my body and turned off my voice because now, I no longer had one. They dragged me up the stairs. With each stair Natalie would nearly drop me. It amazed me that she could carry me with her tiny frame. It made me nervous that she would actually drop me. But then I thought that as she let me go, I would avalanche down the stairs like a million little pebbles, each part of my body separating itself, bouncing rapidly, possibly being able to wake her father up. I danced and shook around as they carried me under my two arms to try and shake free, I wanted to cascade down the stairs. Instead they dragged me all the way to Natalie’s bedroom and threw me on the bed.
It was a million clouds, I was in the sky, floating away on white balls of fluff. Then I realized I was fucking hungry. I was really fucking starved. I hadn’t eaten all day. It was weird because we’ve smoked so much weed that I never even get what they call the munchies anymore so feeling hungry felt wrong.
“No Jess shut up”.
“No seriously, I’m fucking hungry”. They started laughing. Their laughs panicked me. Their mouths opened into two large cannons and it was just black inside them. Natalie was shrieking. Mike’s voice and laughter seemed deeper than usual, like he was an old man.
“No go to sleep Jess”. I grabbed Natalie’s Lion King blanket and closed my eyes. I turned off my brain. I tried to swallow but my throat was a desert. I wanted to spit and see the weeds disperse into Natalie’s room like they had on her porch but I wasn’t able to move my throat to gather saliva.
“What the fuck happened to her, man”? Natalie was always a little concerned for me. She secretly cared about me I knew it.
“That shit was laced I swear”.
I smelled their cigarette smoke and relaxed. I began breathing out of my nose and drifted off into a place that I hoped was less frightening than the one I had just been at.
I felt a shake ten minutes later. Natalie stood above me. She had her two hands on me and was jerking me back and forth.
“Get up, we got food”. I didn’t want to get up. I smelled the pizza though and without my consent, my eyes rushed open. Everything was spinning. It didn’t spin the way it would if I was about to throw up from drinking too much; the whole world was just lightly whirling around. It wasn’t bad enough to not be able to handle it but it made me nervous just the same.
“Give me some pizza”. I didn’t want to wait around, I just wanted to fill up my stomach and go back to sleep.
“Here”. Mike handed me a slice. The grease made the pizza shiny and even more appealing than it would’ve been if I’d eaten it earlier. The pizza burnt the roof of my mouth and the back of my throat. The burn felt like it had to happen, it made me enjoy the pizza more.
“What the fuck was with you tonight?” Natalie was looking at me like she was some kind of mother. She stood at attention and her hands were perfectly placed on her hips. I figured in a minute she would be shaking her index finger in my face, scolding me about how irresponsible and dumb I was.
“I don’t know”. The pizza made my voice strange. It was hard to talk with a mouthful of food and a spinning room.
“You kept telling us you saw shit”.
“Yeah and you told me not to sleep, or I was going to die. What the fuck is wrong with you”?
“I said, I don’t know”. There accusations were annoying me. I wanted to smoke again so their annoying voices and bullshit wouldn’t bother me as much and would amuse me instead. They both looked at me, their stares were piercing my skin. Lights came out of their eyeballs to focus on me I was being interrogated. They were looking for some kind of explanation I didn’t have.
“Jesus Christ, come on. It’s not like you haven’t been all fucked up before. Natalie, you threw up all over my mom’s car remember and I had to tell her that we got some shitty Mexican food and couldn’t help but throw it up, and Mike you got so fucking high one time that you stopped in the middle of the damn road and turned around because you saw a brick wall in front of you. Don’t act like you guys haven’t been fucked up. I don’t know what happened”.
They shut up. They looked at me and nodded their heads. Natalie started laughing; she started cackling, then Mike joined in, his snickering was loud and boisterous.
“What the fuck?” I looked at them as they laughed harder and harder. I continued to devour my pizza. They didn’t answer me; they just kept chuckling and snorting, probably at me.