That First Sip

“Who’s your favorite singer, Daddy?”

“You guys, of course. You and your sister,” I say.

They both smile, and the light of the day comes to their faces. I watch them take on breath, soft words popping from sweet lips, both right on key. Their cotton hearts are glued to the sugary tone of a song they do not understand. They only know they enjoy the way it makes their faces, the tops of their cheeks filling with joy, rising toward their eyes. They wouldn’t always be this way.

My babies notice my watchful clock and revel in its ardor as they dance on bruised knees in torn clothes. A performance just for me, a desire to please their father, to make a smile across my face that hangs like the moon. I feel a sullen proudness that sinks my baby blues down to the corners of my mouth. I watch them watch one another, smiling, best friends. It’s just the three of us, and it’s the best show I’ve ever seen, and I love them so.

My other love, my pain, my very same page (our page, page 36; it was only for us, not necessary for others to understand), she remains above us in a bed that’s warm on only one side from the night before. Sometimes I say things, then she says things. We go quiet. She goes up, I stay down, boiling over like a pot of angel hair with no room to breathe. Her…I don’t know. I’ve never asked. I only know she’s not with me. She’s lying next to the cold of my absence, stretching out across the whole of the bed, enjoying the freedom. I pretend not to care, convince myself by making foolish faces into thin air. I mumble self-assuring diatribes to protect the need to be justified while pacing back and forth searching for a reason to let it all go, to bring it all back. The writing tries but there’s always pause. Over and over again I turn in my pale chair, look up at the top of the stairs. She’s not there. She’s not looking down at me with words quivering to cleanse. She’s never there. For her some time is necessary. She’s fast asleep while I twist and turn.

The night passes by with lonely thoughts. I distract myself with film; the mindless kind. I only want things to be soft again, because I love her more than I wished sometimes, but only because of the pain, only because of the shame. There’s never been another like it, not for anyone, never of any other time. It’s nuclear, and it wipes out the world. I believe that to be as much as I believe in the day and the night, the birth and the death.

I awake on the couch, the sun scratching at my face though half a shade. I was supposed to have fixed those blinds. They weren’t working properly one day so I pulled. My frustrations won, the blinds snapped, and the bottom half fell flat. I was angry from who knows what, just a feeling sometimes, origin unknown. Maybe there’s things, memories of former days, or maybe I didn’t eat enough. Maybe someday it’ll go away, maybe it won’t.

I sit up on the couch, eager to make amends. It’s a Saturday at 6am, make some coffee, then sit again. I enjoy those first few quiet minutes, waiting. The smell of the beans then the first sip, and I forget. So fulfilling, so brief. The second sip never tastes quite as good, and I remember. Somehow the kids always know when my eyes arrive. I sigh, mourning the death of such beautiful silence, then smile and grab hold of them; good morning and a kiss. And I’m no longer angry.

I know the days clock, I know the time. She’ll be down soon, off to work; so much more to her than wife and mother. I’ll bring coffee up with cinnamon and cream. She always appreciates that. So I put on the tube for the little ones, and climb the stairs with a handful of steam, a gesture of peace. I smile on the way, because I know, and she knows. The excitement builds in my chest as I open the door. I regret not sleeping next to her. Her eyes open and she turns. We smile, agreeing without a word. Because no matter how strong the winds that turn the page, we always find our way back to 36.

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Heart In A Jar

“I think I’m ready,” she said.

Clive and I sat beneath a hue of warm red, flickering red, a bouncing light from the candle that sat in the middle of our corner table. I could see it on her too; it touched her face, Karen’s, like a possession. She smiled like a child, nervous, excited though, like she’d just been told how beautiful she was by someone she’d wanted to love her back. She spoke softly, chin down, eyes up. She bit one side of the corner of her bottom lip. I smiled. I knew what she meant.

“I’m happy to hear you say that,” I said.

I already loved her, after just a minute or two. That was five days ago, Super Bowl Sunday. Clive introduced us, our team won, I didn’t care. I only wanted to celebrate finally meeting her; she had small eyes and dark hair.

Clive sat with Brandy, they weren’t a thing, but sometimes that didn’t matter. Brandy was unsure, Clive was persistent. He had a way. I only knew this, I didn’t hear. Because I couldn’t look away, from her, my her, the only her.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

We kissed a good kiss. The beer was poured, the cocktails stirred, the light still flickered in the darkness of sinister times, and I wondered what it was going to be like.

Oh God dear God

Please let me not lose my strength

Please let me not lose my moxie or my will

Oh God let me not go limp from nerves or pressure 

Oh God dear God 

Please let me ask this of you

We all got drunk, I held her hand. Then back to our place. As we walked they talked. Karen and I did not. Every now and then a look and a smile, and our hands squeezed tighter. I felt just fine, in it pretty bad, enough to make my heart beat faster than a dream. Back at the apartment we opened the door. Clive and Brandy went to his room. Karen and I to mine. It happened right away, her lips, my lips. When our clothes hit the floor she apologized.

“I’m sorry, I haven’t taken care of down there,” she said.

She hadn’t, but I didn’t care. I only wanted her to die at the thought of life without me.

“It’s ok,” I said, because it was.

Her breasts were round, her skin was cream, and she tasted like tequila and lime. And she came, and I came. And we slept a good sleep. I awoke when the moon was still high, grabbed a Camel and sat on the sill by the open window. The air felt like cool water running down my face. It was June. She quietly joined me and we said nothing. It was a good moon, a bright moon, and then we touched. But, I did think to myself, if she knew we were going to have sex then why not prepare, why not take care of down there.

The next morning was comfortable. We stayed in bed a while, held each other, then fucked again. It was slower this time, even better than the first. Then she had to go to work. She promised to come by when her shift was over so we could do it all again. I couldn’t wait, but I did. I waited in my bed in my bare, lonely room for her to return…sleeping, smoking, drinking, thinking. I wanted to call my mother, tell her I was in love. Then it would be something, then it would be real. But first let me take some ecstasy. Yeah, good idea! Now let it catch up, let it settle a while…there it is.

“Mom! Hi, yeah, how are you…No, I’m good…Yeah, I’m ok…I wanted to call to tell you somethi—…No, I don’t need any money, Mom, but thanks…I’ve met someone…I said I’ve met someone…She’s great, her name is Karen…Not long…No, Mom, everything is fine…I just had a coffee, it makes me sound that way…So, Mom, listen, I’m in love…”

And on and on I went. Karen came back that night, she still loved me, lucky me. The lights went out and more of the same, but this time I couldn’t sleep. I wondered when it would all go away, like a high that falls low and you want to hide from everyone outside.

The next day she made me dinner, I cleaned. Salmon Teriyaki with Wasabi mashed, and the dishes in the sink. It was just fine. Then to bed.

“I’ve taken care of down there,” she said.

“I love it,” I said.

I stayed down there for some time, I could’ve stayed longer. Then we slept, and when I woke the sun was bright and the girl was still there.

After two weeks emotions slowed, what a shame. After three, we’d turned, soft and bruised. She asked some things to Clive, not me. Like when Clive went for a run.

“Why isn’t he?”

Or when Clive beat the streets to land the great role of his life.

“Why doesn’t he?”

Clive gave me such a look I could see my future in his eyes, but I refused to believe, still a time of summer yet somehow colder. Three weeks in and the motions routine. Get off work and go to her place. She was house sitting for the director of films.

I wonder if she fucked him? I think she did.

We lay in his bed in his small cluttered room, maybe fuck, mostly not. She’d fall asleep long before me. But she still said, I love you. I don’t know why. There was a night on the town with some from her past. I’ll bet she fucked him, and him, and them. One in particular with whom I disagreed. She took his side, that pretty boy, such a pretty boy.

“How do you not like the Beatles?” I asked.

“I just don’t,” she said, then looked at him and tipped her glass.

The two of them laughed more than her and I that night. I thought to grab a brick from the street, clean his teeth.

I figured when my brother came to visit this Hollywood land that things would go back to the way they were, like that first night, when she wasn’t bare down there. With family around she could learn more about me. But she did not. She wanted to go to bed early. I followed like a dog, pretended to be tired too. It would have hurt worse to not be tired. I was sick with it, sick with the pangs. Clive stepped in and showed my brother a time, but he gave me a look that didn’t agree.

Two months in and barely a smile, she didn’t want me around. I only wanted to be around. After work one night it didn’t go so well.

“How much did you make?” she asked.

“Like eighty,” I said.

“You were there for five hours and made eighty bucks? Why do you even work there? You need to get a new job. That sucks!”

I made excuses, said people are cheap. People are cheap. Back at her place we started a war. Words of pain, words of shame. She called me lazy, I called her a…

“Whore! I know your fucking someone, tell me who?”

“Why is everyone I know making it happen except for you?”

She hit me, I grabbed her, tossed her on the couch. She ran to the kitchen, grabbed a jar of raspberry jam that her grandmother made. It was wrapped with one of those creepy ribbons, made me think of dentures and old age. I followed her in when she turned and threw. I ducked, it crashed, she stood there and didn’t cry. It was worse to see her not cry. I looked at the wall, watched the sticky jam. Some began to slide. It looked like the mess of a heart, smeared, probably the leftovers of her last. Next to her on the counter was an empty jar. Not for me? No way! I won’t, don’t you dare. I’d rather fuck off, curl up in despair. So I cried inside, the outside was steel. I called a cab and left without a word, took whatever she owned and threw it to the curb. It took long, but I stopped trying to understand. For months I drank, drugged, and cried, stayed inside.

Ten years now gone and I see her under a warm hue of red. Our old school has gathered again to say goodbye to one, a good one, my favorite one. A different place, an older time, maybe a different girl. But I could only picture an angry, thorny bush. So hello, I said, then showed her a picture of my wife and beautiful two. She understood. She knew.

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Of All The Things I Could Have Felt

“It’s ok, Dad. The nurse will bring me water soon. She always brings it at 5:35, every day at 5:35. She’s never late,” said James.

“Oh yeah? She sounds like quite a nurse,” I said.

I pressed a cool, wet cloth against his lips. They were exceptionally dry today, peeling, thin lines of cracked red.

“She’s really nice. You’ve met her. She’s a great nurse. She listens good too.”

“Listens well?”

James smiled. Correcting each other was our thing.

“Listens well. You’re right, Dad.”

He was pale, more than usual. Dark circles sat under his big brown eyes like dried dates.

“Is it Nurse Linda?”

“No, Nurse Brenda! But Linda’s nice too! She’s here on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She has two young kids. Nurse Brenda is Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, sometimes Saturday. Her kids are older, in college.”

That made me smile.

“The memory of an elephant…”

My phone vibrated, a text from work, crisis at the office again. I started to respond when I got another one from James’s mom, Melissa, my wife. Be there soon, it read. I started typing.

“Dad?”

“Yeah buddy, hang on a second.” I said, not looking up from my phone.

“Dad, can you please put that away?

I stopped typing.

My son, James, was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma six months ago. There were signs, I guess. We just didn’t see them right away. He started playing outside less after school, was feeling abnormally tired; we thought it was the flu. He couldn’t even get through his tennis lessons. James loved tennis. Then the pain in his bones, the fevers; he stopped eating. He lost three pounds in two days so we took him in. James just turned seven last month. The cancer has spread.

“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry buddy. I was just answering your moth—”

“I know Dad, but she’ll be here soon,” he interrupted calmly.

“You’re right buddy.”

I started to put my phone in my pocket.

“Can you put it over there, Dad?” he pointed across the room. “In the drawer?”

It was the first time I ever recognized my son as a man. He was too young to be a man.

“Sure buddy. I’ll put it in the drawer.”

I walked over to the drawer as Nurse Brenda walked in. She was smiling. I turned around, James was smiling. They were connected. I tried to say something but couldn’t. It was like I wasn’t there. I put my phone in the drawer, went back to my son, and sat by the bedside. I watched them. I listened.

“How’s my man feeling today?” asked Nurse Brenda.

“I feel strong,” said James.

He looked weak.

“Strong like Captain America strong, or strong like your Daddy strong?”

She looked at me. “Hi Mr. Walden! How are you today?”

“I’m good Brenda. How are you?”

“Strong like my Daddy,” said James.

He smiled at me. I smiled back, put my hand on his, and loved him with everything I had. Nurse Brenda remained quiet. Like James, she paid attention.

“A good boy,” said Nurse Brenda.

“My boy,” I said.

“And so cute!”

Comments like that embarrassed James in the purest of ways, such a little boy.

“Nurse Brenda!”

“All right, my bad.”

James smiled at her.

“Well, here’s your water little man.”

“Right on time as always. 5:35. The best in the business,” He turned to me. “See, I told you, Dad.”

Nurse Brenda laughed, gently touched James’s shoulder and gave me a wink. At the door she looked back at James. She was afraid. I think she may have loved him.

“I’ll be back in an hour to check on you, ok?”

“Ok Nurse Brenda! Thank you.”

“My pleasure…handsome,” she said with a wink.

James smiled again. Nurse Brenda left.

Melissa wasn’t there yet. I wanted to text her, just to see where she was. I almost couldn’t help it. I knew she was on her way, knew she had to pick up our daughter, Kayna, at dance. But I still wanted to touch my phone, to gently press the floating squares with round corners, with no true motive. I looked at the drawer across the room. James noticed. I felt pathetic.

“Dad?”

“Yeah buddy?”

“Remember the time we were at the park, and that boy had that go-cart?”

James loved cars.

“I do, yes! That thing was super cool.”

“It was red, my favorite color.”

That day it was your favorite color.”

We both laughed because James changed his favorite color often. One week it was red, the next week it was blue, then green or purple or something, and eventually back to red.

“You were nervous to ask him if you could try it,” I said in a sort of all-knowing fatherly tone.

“I was. I was afraid to. But I remember you told me that I should overcome my fears, that it would make me stronger. You said it wouldn’t hurt me to ask him.”

“That’s right, I did.”

I was proud of myself.

“Well, I’m glad I did, Dad. Because I would have never been able to ride it if I didn’t ask.”

“Oh, you did? I don’t remember that.”

“I know. You were on the phone with work,” he said as his eyes fell to his hands. “I was scared but I did what you said. I walked up to him, said hi and told him my name. Then I asked him and he said yes. He let me borrow his helmet too. He was nice.”

I remembered the phone call. One of our shipments went to the wrong warehouse. I had dragons breathing fire at me from both sides. I had to take care of it. I just had to. But I wish I had seen James talk to the boy. I wish I had seen him ride the red go-cart. The drawer began vibrating. I looked fast in its direction. James looked at me with a sad hope.

“Sorry pal. I forgot to shut it off.”

I walked quickly to the drawer, opened it, and powered down. I closed the drawer and looked back at James. He was looking down at his hands again. Melissa walked in with Kayna.

“I’m sorry sweetheart,” she said to James. “Traffic.”

“It’s ok, Mommy.”

Kayna walked up to James’s bed. One of her hands was in her mouth; the saliva was shiny in the light.

“Hey Kayna, how was dance?”

“Good,” she said, still with a hand in her mouth.

“Wanna sit on my bed?”

“Yeah!”

Kayna took her hand out of her mouth and hopped up on the bed.

James had the ability to put her at ease with just a few words. He loved her the way I always hoped he would. Over the last few months he’s developed such a calmness about him. He wasn’t always. The great impending doom of death can either render you inconsolable, or fill you with the power of acceptance.

Kayna started to sing; she loved to sing. James liked it when she did; she knew that. I suppose she had grown up a bit as well in the last few months.

“How are you feeling?” Melissa asked.

She sat on the other side of James’s bed. I stood next to her.

“I’m good! Tired, but good,” he said.

“His lips were dry so Nurse Brenda got him some water,” I said.

“Oh, I love Nurse Brenda. She’s so sweet.”

I didn’t know Nurse Brenda as well as Melissa did. I’d seen her many times, met her many times, but never got a sense of her, of who she was, until today. Didn’t have the time.

“Yeah, she seems great!”

“Dad and I were just talking about fun memories, Mom.”

The comment brought on the quiet. Melissa became sad. She nervously tapped and rubbed the back of James’s hand. Her eyes bulged, and her skin was the color of a rose. James put his hand on her hand. I put my hand on her shoulder. Kayna’s hand went back into her mouth.

“It’s ok, Mom,” he said, while I said nothing.

James turned to his little sister.

“I like your leotard, Kayna.”

“Thanks Ya-Ya.”

She took her hand out of her mouth.

“Speaking of memories, remember Disneyland?” Melissa asked.

We all lit up. It was the best of times.

“What was your favorite ride at Disney?” I asked James.

“Buzz Lightyear.”

“Oh…yeah…”

I couldn’t remember. Melissa could tell. James continued.

“You didn’t come on with us, Dad. Because your boss called, remember? I think your computers crashed into each other.”

Melissa smiled at our son, he still had some seven-year-old left in him.

“You remember why he called?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yeah.”

“How do you remember that?”

“I was paying attention, Daddy. I think it’s easier to do that when you don’t have an iPhone. I’m glad I don’t have one. I don’t think I would ever want one of those,” James looked down at his hands and continued. “They make people forget things.”

I felt warm and cold at the same time. While I beamed with pride at the calm intelligence, and soulfulness of my dying seven-year old son, I shivered with self-realization. Nothing there but a worn basket full of half-memories.

They kept passing stories back and forth—Camping trips, Legoland visits, trips to Palm springs, Boston, and Tennessee. Story after story I found myself more and more out of the loop. I remember being there, but I couldn’t really smell it, I couldn’t really taste it. The memories didn’t dance for me the way they danced for them. I just kept nodding.

“Yeah, I remember that,” I’d say.

I stepped out of the room, told them I needed a coffee.

I took the elevator down to the cafeteria, stopped short of going inside; I paced the halls instead, sweating and sad. I reached down into my front left pants pocket. My phone wasn’t there. I checked the front right pocket, then both back pockets. I was dripping now, breathing faster. I looked on the floor, turned around, looked on the floor again. I checked my pockets again, looked up at the ceiling, at the walls, and in the waste basket. I checked the empty gurney on the other side of the hall; there was dried blood on the sheets. I caught a glimpse of myself in one of those small rectangular window plates on the door of some lab that decides whether or not your boy is going to live or die. I looked fucking mad. Finally, I remembered. I left my phone in the drawer in James’s room, like he asked me to. My breathing slowed, such incredible relief. Of all the things I could have felt.

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3 Hours Later

“Does Wilson need to go out,” I asked.

My wife was in the tub with salt scrubs. A rolled up towel rested softly under her neck, a wet face-cloth covered her eyes. It was a well-deserved end to a long day at Legoland with the kids. Sade bellowed zen-like from her cellphone that rested on the toilet. Her left arm dangled over the side of the tub, her dainty hand barely holding on to a glass of red. She never looked so relaxed.

“What?” she asked exhaustedly.

“I said…” I walked around the corner to the bathroom drinking a whiskey. “…Does Wilson need to go outside?”

She repeated it back to me.

“Ummm, does Wilson need to go outs—OH SHIT!”

She exploded upright. The water erupted and flopped over the side like someone just cannon-balled her. The face cloth was now sideways and hanging from one of her breasts, and her delicious pinot noir had gulped itself out of the glass. It slapped against the cold tile floor forming a thin sea of crimson that glistened like red tide.

“What’s wrong?”

“Babe, I don’t think I brought him back.”

“What the fuck do you mean you don’t think you brought him back? Are you shittin me? How long ago was that?”

Three hours earlier my wife, Melissa, went to the grocery store. It’s only two blocks away. Usually I go. She brought the dog with her, tied him up outside like I always do, like everybody does with their dogs; it’s a nice neighborhood. Then she went in and did her thing. Back to the present.

“Oh my God, Babe! I did. I left him outside Albertsons.”

I slammed the whiskey and went to my closet. I grabbed a shirt and took off toward the stairs, cursing.

“You gotta be shittin me…”

She said nothing.

I went down the second flight of stairs to the front door, grabbed my keys off the key ring, dropped my keys, bent down to pick them up, kicked the keys across the floor, said FUCK, then picked up the keys. I opened the door and ran. I forgot my shoes.

The red hand flashed at the crosswalk. I slowed down for a moment, then imagined Wilson tangled in his own leash, being humped—without consent—by some mangy Rottweiler looking for a cheap piece of ass. I ignored the red hand, picked up speed and ran across the street, barely avoiding an onslaught of…nothing; there were no cars. On the left was a chic sort of restaurant called, Relm—it’s where the swingers go. I clocked my reflection in the window as I sprinted by. My hair was standing straight up in a few parts and my shirt was off balance by one button. I looked frightened. Some of the patrons sitting inside were also frightened, like that cat-faced country-clubber wearing pink and eating a spin dip, her husband waiting for some slutty thirty-something to walk in wearing a gold pin (the gold pin indicated that you were down to swing).

Just past the dry cleaner some Indian fellow was walking his dog toward me. He froze, a deer ready to be bulldozed by an Escalade, or more like a Jetta—I look more like a compact sedan. The dog was barking, the man said something in Hindi and held his hands up. I had gained too much momentum to stop, plus, there was Wilson, potentially being pissed on by some uppity Schnauzer. Not on my watch.

“Out of the way!” I said.

I hurdled the dog and continued to the store. I ran by a nail salon, a yogurt shop, and Hendo’s Pizzeria before taking a sharp left. I could see the table I usually tie Wilson up to. He wasn’t there. I ran faster. I got to the table and looked under it. No Wilson. No leash. I turned to my right, saw a man holding the leash with my dog at the end of it. Wilson’s ears were back. He looked sad. The man was talking to some guy in a white BMW, leaning into his window.

“Oh, Thank God!” I said.

The man turned around. I ran up to him and bent down to console Wilson.

“I’m so sorry buddy. Are you ok?”

Wilson said nothing, he was too frightened, plus he doesn’t speak. He started licking my face frantically. I stood up, still breathing heavy, still disheveled.

“Sir, thank you so much,” I said to the man holding the leash.

I nodded and waved to the guy in the BMW, then grabbed for the leash.

“He’s been out here for like 3 hours, man.”

The man looked down his nose at me—a human Schnauzer. He wouldn’t let go of the leash.

“Yeah, tell that to my fucking wife.”

He looked confused. I pulled the leash toward me.

“We didn’t know what to do? I was gonna take him home but he didn’t have a tag. I didn’t want to leave him here alone.”

“My apologies! I’m grateful, sir, really. Thanks so much again.”

He was one of those boat shoe wearing, preppy types, probably named his vessel Shindig, or Avantgarde, or something like that. He was in his mid-fifties, sunglasses on his head, tanned and pretentious.

“Wait, how do I know this is your dog?”

He pulled the leash back toward him. I turned from grateful to annoyed.

“Well, you see how Wilson has his nose in my crotch?”

I looked down at Wilson sniffing my balls, he was really getting in there. He does that when he’s happy to see me.

“Sit Wilson. Good boy!”

I turned my attention back toward the pompous man.

“Has he gone for anyone else’s crotch like this in the last three hours?”

He didn’t laugh. I continued.

“He didn’t have his nose in your crotch did he? I noticed you had some organic peanut butter in your bag there.”

“That’s not funny!”

“It’s a little funny.”

I bent down so I could see the other guy inside the car.

“You thought that was funny didn’t ya, Captain?”

Captain’s face was a void. I didn’t give him a chance to answer.

“You see, my crotch has a very distinct smell…” I reached down the front of my pants, made sure to get a little of the taint, then put two fingers to the guys nose. “See? Unique right? Smells like pea soup and day old cabbage.”

The man pulled back in disgust, but he still had a good hold of the leash.

“You’re a goddamned animal.”

“Just gimme the damn leash.”

I grabbed for it. He pulled away. We jockeyed for position. He was smaller than I was. He pulled again. I pulled again. The glass jar of peanut butter and a bottle of Kombucha fell out of the bag and smashed on the ground. He was caught off guard as he looked down so I jerked on the leash. He flailed dramatically like he’d just been whiplashed. He slipped on the Kombucha and the leash came out of his hand. He landed on his ass on the broken glass and peanut butter.

“OWWW!” he screamed.

“Shit man, are you ok?” I asked with a subtle laugh.

When he stood up his ass was covered in fragments of glass, and a fresh coat of peanut butter speckled red. Wilson went for the peanut butter.

“Wilson, NO!”

Captain got out of his BMW.

“What the hell!”

“He started it,” I said.

He tended to the bleeding man.

“Are you ok, sir?”

He helped the man up and let him lean on his car. Bloody-peanut-butter-ass-guy was holding his back side, slightly bent over the BMW. A cop pulled up. I had to think fast. I picked Wilson up. He was shaking. I put on my most distraught face. The cop stepped out of his car.

“What’s going on here gentlemen? We received a call about a disturbance.”

“Good evening officer,” I said. “Thank God you’re here. These guys just tried to molest my dog.”

It just came out. I didn’t know what else to say.

“Molest your dog?” He looked at the two guys and back at me, rightfully confused. “What do you mean molest your dog?”

Captain and Bloody PB tried to interject.

“Officer, that guy assaul—”

The officer looked at them, so I interrupted.

“That’s right officer, they molested him. I came here to the grocery store, I tied him up there, at that table…”

The officer looked at me, then at the table.

“He left the poor do—” said PB.

The cop looked back at them, so I interrupted again.

“…I went in to get some feminine hygiene products and a quart of anti-freeze. I wasn’t gone but ten min—”

“That’s bullsh—”

“Now hang on a minute. Let him finish,” said the cop, then looked back at me.

“I wasn’t gone but ten minutes, I come outside and these fucking perverts have my dog. That guy’s on all fours…” I pointed to PB. “…and he’s got Wilson licking peanut butter off his ass.”

I pointed to the man bleeding. The officer was so disgusted he subconsciously put his hand on his weapon and looked back at them.

“Officer, that’s ridic—”

“Shut up and stand against the car!” said the cop, then looked back at me.

“Go on.”

“…And that guy was doing something in his car.” I pointed to Mr. BMW. “I don’t know. I couldn’t see his hands. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, officer. My poor dog! I’M GONNA FUCKING SUE.”

“Officer, this is preposterous. That guy left his dog tied up outside for three hours…”

The cops eyes were glued to Captain and PB. I started to sneak away as they continued.

“He comes down here claiming that it’s his dog, and all I asked was can he prove it. Then he starts getting aggressive.”

The officer turned to where I was.

“Is that tr—”

He clocked me picking up speed as I tried to make my getaway.

“HEY!” shouted the officer.

I only made it about twenty feet. Wilson was in my arms, looking at me with that puppy head tilt, blood and peanut butter dripping from his mouth.

“I want a lawyer!”

Three hours later, Melissa came down to the police station to bail me out. Disorderly conduct they got me on. She was shaking her head as we walked out of the station. We said nothing to each other until we got to the car.

“Hey babe! Thanks for coming to get me.”

She didn’t say anything, just looked at me with a certain lack of surprise.

“Where are the kids?” I asked.

“OH SHIT!”

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Bill’s Oil Lube

“Hey, so how many d—”

“Ninety days,” he said.

“How the fuck did you know what I was gonna ask you?” I said. “You haven’t eaten meat in ninety days?”

“Just my wife’s vagina.”

There was laughter.

“Hey dude! Umm, Why are you only wearing underwear, and why the fuck are you hanging out of my window?”

“It’s hot.”

“Well, get back in bef—”

The sweat from the heat caused Steve to lose his grip. Just as I reached over to grab him he slipped and the wind caught him and he fell out of my moving car.

“HOLY SHIT!”

I snapped my head around and saw him bouncing and tumbling like a man-sized tennis ball down the street.

I stepped on the gas and took the first right turn I could.

“He’s gonna be fine. I wasn’t going that fast,” I said to myself.

I banged a u-turn and stopped at the light.

“C’mom, c’mon, gimme green. Fuck, man I hope he’s not dead. I had the one beer. They’re gonna think it’s my fault.”

The light turned green and I went left, drove a hundred feet. I pulled over fast to the right and double parked. Steve wasn’t in the street. I saw him sitting up against a palm tree as thick as a Smart Car in front of Bill’s Oil Lube. I sprinted across the street with my hands up in the air, halting traffic on both sides. Cars honked.

“Dude, are you ok?” I asked

“I don’t know,” he said. “The hearts on the left side, right?”

He was rubbing his left thigh. His face was pale and clammy.

“Why? Does your chest hurt?”

“Everything hurts.”

I knelt down to get a closer look.

“OH GOD!” I said as I turned my head away and closed my eyes.

“What’s wrong? Is it bad?”

His eyes were as wide and as white as golf balls.

“What the fuck! Where did your underwear go? Jeezy Christmas!”

They must have been torn away in the fall. I took off my shirt and threw it over his man parts. He didn’t look too bad considering he had just fallen out of my car at 25 miles per hour wearing only his boxers. Some road rash on his shoulders and thighs, a little on his back. Nothing on his face or head.

“Is my penis ok?” he asked.

He was sweating profusely and breathing heavy.

“Your penis is fine. You only lost a few inches.”

“Oh fuck…”

“I’m kidding. Relax, I’m gonna get you some help. Just keep yourself covered up, please. This is embarrassing.”

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and stood up. There was a guy on his cellphone in front of the Kabob shop the next building over. He was staring at us like we were two guys reading the Sunday Times. I was about to ask him if he was calling 9-1-1 when I heard his conversation.

“Nah, let’s go somewhere else. They have no idea how to make a latte there,” he said to the phone in a shitty foreign accent.

“Really, asshole! You see my friend’s bleeding out of his ass here and you’re on a fucking social call?”

“Fuuuck youuu! You’re the one who drove away. I was the one helped him out of the street. His goddamned penis touched my leg.”

Then he walked back into the Kabob shop.

“Fuck you!” I said.

I went back over to Steve.

“How are you feeling?”

“Dude, are you sure my penis is ok?”

“Well, I’m not gonna look again. I’m sure it’s fine. Forget about your ding dong for a second. How do you feel otherwise?”

“I feel weird…Hey, can you tell my wife and kids that I love them.”

“Don’t start that shit. You’re gonna be fine. You can tell them yourself.”

“Please, just tell them how much I love them, Jake. Please.”

He was choked up.

“Stop! Stop that shit right now.”

He looked scared.

“Here, I’ll take a video and you can tell them yourself if it makes you feel better.”

I held up my phone and hit the red button.

“Ok, go,” I said.

“Hey, guys…”

He started to tear up.

“Cut.”

Steve’s an actor, lives in Hollywood. He came down to San Diego for the weekend. He’s one of my two best friends.

“Dude, knock that shit off. You’re gonna be fine. We don’t have time for this. Yes, I’ll tell your family how much you love them, yes, I’ll make sure your kids have a positive role model around, and that they’ll go to college or whatever, and yes, I will definitely do sex with your wife if you die.”

“Not funny!”

“Package deal, pal.”

“Fuck you!”

“Think about the kids.”

“Stop!”

“She’s gonna need a man around, Steve.”

“Jake!”

“What, you’d rather someone else fuck her?”

“Yes! I mean, no. I don’t want anyone to fuck my wife.”

“I’m offended.”

“I’M BLEEDING!”

I dialed.

“9-1-1, whats your emergency?” the lady answered with a cracked, shaky voice, like it was her first call…ever.

“Hi, yeah, my friend ahh, fell out of a moving car cuz he’s a fucking idiot,” I said.

“Who was driving, sir?”

“Is that relevant?”

She typed something.

“Don’t type that.”

“Is your friend conscious?”

“Yes, but I think he’s a little dumber now.”

“Ok, don’t move him. Where does he feel pain?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna touch him, he’s naked.”

I turned to Steve.

“What hurts?”

“My legs, my elbow, my sides.”

I put the phone to my chest to muffle our conversation.

“Yeah, well if you die my ass is gonna hurt. I’ll get fucked. Don’t. Fucking. Die.”

I pulled the phone away from my chest.

“Everything but his head he says,” I said to the operator. “That’s important to him, he’s an actor.”

“What’s the address of the accident?”

I looked up at the Bill’s Oil Lube sign. Bill and a couple of his employees were standing outside staring and whispering.

“What’s the matter? Never seen a naked man covered in blood being consoled by another man before…fuckers. Yeah, thanks for the help, assholes,” I said to them, then continued to the operator. “It’s 101 El Camino, Encinitas. Right in front of Bill’s Oil Lube. But I wouldn’t recommend an oil change from these useless pricks. Their customer service sucks.”

I turned back toward Bill and his gang of monkeys and backhanded the air.

“Go the fuck back inside.”

“Sir, try to remain calm,” said the operator.

“I’m calm. But my friend here is really worried about his big, dumb, penis. He may have to switch to a vagina. If I put him on the phone with you, can you please tell him that those are cool too.”

“Excuse me?”

“He could afford to lose a few inches anyway.” I gave Steve the middle finger, then continued. “It’s like two coke cans stacked on top of each other. Lucky bastard!”

“Sir?”

“Never mind.”

“Sir, have you been drinking?”

“No! Never!”

She sighed and typed something on the other end.

“Wait, what are you typing now?”

“Are his eyes dilated?”

I put my hand under his chin and tilted his face to look at mine.

“Let me see your eyes.”

“Why?”

“Yeah, his eyes are still super dreamy,” I said to the operator.

She laughed this time.

“Dude, stop fucking around. I’m dying here.”

“You’re not dying.”

“Just kidding, yeah his pupils look pretty big too,” I said to the operator.

“Ok, just hang tight. I mean, just relax. An ambulance is on the way. Does he know what day it is?”

I turned to Steve.

“You know what day it is?”

“Yeah, the day I’m going to die.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I said, as I rolled my eyes.

“It’s Saturday,” he said.

“Yeah, he’s good. Just a little sad; he’s got a little gay on him,” I said to the operator.

She started to speak, then laughed again, then typed something.

“So, you said your friend’s an actor. He been in anything I’ve seen?”

I turned to Steve.

“The operator wants to know if you’ve been in anything she might have seen.”

I put the phone back to my ear before he could respond.

“Do you watch gay porn?” I asked her.

She laughed again. So did Steve. Then the ambulance arrived.

Two days later I was in the hospital lounge waiting to go see Steve. His parents, sister, and brother—my other best friend, Ash—had come out from Virginia to be with him. He was pretty banged up. He had a broken femur, a broken elbow, two broken ribs, a fractured collarbone and a bunch of road rash. No internal bleeding though, and no head injuries. A nurse approached me.

“You can go in now but I don’t know if you want to. They don’t seem too happy with you,” she said.

“What the fuck did I do?” I asked.

She held her hands up and walked away lazily.

“Oh, that’s great! Thanks for the support Nurse Jackie. I only saved the guys life. Where you goin? Raid the pill station?”

I went to room 201 and opened the door. All heads turned. Steve and Ash’s mother and sister were looking at me with devil-red in their eyes, hands on their hips. Steve’s dad looked more concerned. I walked in and hugged Ash.

“My mother’s pissed at you,” Ash whispered in my ear.

Then I gave Steve’s wife, Andrea, a hug.

“Thanks for taking care of my husband, Dip-shit. You know if he would have died I would’ve cut your balls off, right?” she whispered and smiled as she pinched my arm.

Steve was laying in his bed, covers up to his chest, partially sedated. He looked ok though. I was relieved. I leaned over the side of the bed.

“Hey, buddy,” I said.

“Hey,” he said.

“I’m really glad you’re ok.”

I put my right hand on the side of his face and gazed into his eyes like a father to a son. He looked at me with gratefulness in his. There was a moment of silence.

“Ok, fine I’ll kiss you…But not on the pee-pee,” I said.

Everyone laughed quietly except for the mom and the sister. Steve’s dad covered his eyes in his right hand in a show of what I can only imagine was disgust.

I leaned in and kissed Steve on the forehead.

“I’m sorry they had to amputate half your penis. You look so much like your brother now.”

I shot Ash a smile and the middle finger. Ash flipped me off. Andrea and Steve laughed.

“You think this is funny?” asked Steve’s mom.

“Mom, c’mon,” said Ash and Steve simultaneously.

Andrea went over to console her.

“It’s ok Arlene.”

“No, I wont c’mon. And it’s not ok. My son almost died and you’re making jokes. Just like you did on the 9-1-1 call. I heard you were telling the operator about his movie career, and that he was a gay porn star. My son is not a gay porn star.”

Mrs. Zempe was shaking with anger. Steve’s dad turned away to look out the window. I turned to Steve.

“Dude, you fucking told her that?”

He had the look of someone that wanted to leave the room. I turned around very calmly, looked at Steve’s mom, dad, and sister, their arms now all folded.

“Listen, I just saved your son’s life. How about a Thank You?”

“You’re not taking this seriously,” said Steve’s mom.

“Look, your son thought he was going to die. And to be honest with you, I wasn’t so sure either…”

Steve shot me a look. I continued.

“…But he was scared, he was nervous. I was scared too, but I figured I needed to stay calm for the both of us.”

I turned toward Andrea.

“He was really worried about his penis, by the way.”

She smiled and muffled a laugh. I turned back toward Steve’s mom to continue.

“He thought he was going to die for chrissakes. I love your son like he’s my own brother, Mrs. Zempe. And I apologize that it’s not in my nature to take shit seriously. I can’t help it. I’m immature. All due respect.”

Steve’s mom was so frustrated that she said nothing and walked out of the room. The sister followed her. The dad stayed.

“Mr. Zempe, I’m sorry, I didn’t me—”

“Did you really say that to the 9-1-1 operator?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah, I thought maybe it would lighten things up. It was stupid, I know.”

He walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and started laughing.

“Thanks, Jake.”

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