by T. Sean Steele
“I need you to bail me out of jail,” Devon said on the phone. “The body slipped out from the hillside and Keeth threw me to the police.”
“How much do you need?”
They yelled away from the phone. “Hey! How much to get out of here?!“
OK, bail. I thought about my finances. I was making more money than I ever had in my life. This was between babysitting and working the door at Thom’s big band shows. I had saved enough money to move out of my sister’s backyard, at least for the month. Now I was living in a large old house while its owners were in Europe, a place I had never been. There was also a cat and a movie actor living here.
“Listen,” Devon said, “no one is telling me how much to get out of here. But I’m still a shopboy. You know I can’t afford anything like bail.”
“OK,” I said. “Tell you what. I’m babysitting tonight, followed by a big band show where I’m working the door. All the money I make, I’ll save it and get it to you, somehow.”
“How about a lawyer? Can you get me one of those?”
“No,” I said, and sighed deeply so they knew I wasn’t blowing them off. “I don’t know anything about that. I wouldn’t know where to start.”
Devon had a few extra minutes before their time was up so we got each other up to date on our lives. Myself, I had married Moon for health insurance purposes. “The one trouble is after the quick courthouse ceremony Moon took off for Reno and hasn’t been back since. Every few days she texts me asking me to send her some more money. But you know I only get paid cash and don’t necessarily have a bank account so it’s hard.” Also, her absence from work was on the cusp of getting her fired, which would make the initial point of our marriage moot.
“That’s how those things go, isn’t it?” Devon said. “You do things for reasons and those reasons disappear, if they ever existed in the first place, and then all that’s left is doing things…” I imagined them strapped to an electric chair saying this.
Having discussed my life, it was Devon’s turn to talk about their life although we pretty much knew where they stood, being in jail, needing bail money, etc. Instead they used their turn to float an idea about ghosts my way: “In essence the idea is that on a physical level we are like ghosts in that body boundaries mean nothing. Other things come and go inside us constantly like food and germs and parasites and implants and whatever else. So we’re constantly leaving pieces of ourselves behind on purpose or not. Our bodies are so in flux and so inseparable from everything that it makes no sense to think of them as discrete or even our own. Which makes us like ghosts, beings without bodies. Or at least beings that are haunted by a ton of crap.”
It was more electric chair talk.
“That’s really something to think about,” I said and began sweating. Ghosts… boundaries… flux…
My roommate the movie actor was named Lucia Mongrove and I tried to avoid her a lot. But there she was, in the kitchen, wearing a cowboy hat, opening a can of black beans.
She was younger than me.
Twisting the can opener, her hands looked like they had extra fingers.
“Listen, hun, it OK I’m eating your beans?”
Knuckles cracking. Beans. Extra fingers.
“They’re not my beans,” I said.
“Well, you bought them for me and I never paid you back. I’m not going to be able to pay you back, so they’re your beans. It OK I’m eating your beans?”
I didn’t know anything about these beans. Would I buy a can of beans for somebody if they asked? I had no idea. No one had ever asked me to buy them a can of beans. Unless Lucia had asked me to buy her a can of beans. Had she?
“Lucia, they’re your beans. Just eat the beans.”
She was still opening the can. Spinning the can round and round.
“A quality of a good actor is that they are also a mesmerist.” She said this while also trying not to move her mouth.
“Do you mean a ventriloquist?”
“Both,” she said.
Then she said:
“Two, one,” she said.
Out of nowhere, a full moon popped into the kitchen window.
I started howling at it.
Or, no, Lucia was only telling me I was doing these things. I could hear her saying it:
“You’re howling at that full moon.”
Yeah, I thought, trying to focus, it was only her telling me stuff.
Not really happening.
She was telling me I was a wolf. Big teeth. A long snout busting through my nose. A wolf. My eyes squeaking down to a really tiny size. Little pinholes of bloodlust. Fleas all over me. Itchy fleas laying eggs. I scratch the eggs and they hatch. I’m a planet of fleas, also a wolf.
Where would money fit into a life like this? It wouldn’t. Get that wallet out of my pocket. Slide all that cash out of there. Give it to a human who needs it.
“D-d-devon,” I said.
Sure, give it to Devon. Devon’s right here. Pass it right over here to Devon. And the bedroom cash, too. Go get that cash in the bedroom. I know there’s bedroom cash.
The mom texted me halfway through the night. I was feeding the two boys pizza.
“Pizza, my dudes. Pizza for you, pizza for you, pizza for me…” I was a real talkative babysitter. Saying anything.
Can I bring Montel over too real quick? This was the mom’s text. She was at a wedding. He’s getting tired. Is that OK?
I didn’t know who Montel was.
I wrote back:
Always room for Montel!
Montel was just another boy. He was in a suit. I popped his shoes off for him. They were shiny dress shoes. I didn’t have any shoes like that.
“The lady says you got tired at that wedding.”
“Not to mention bored.”
“Where are the others?” he asked me.
“Getting ready for a bath.”
“Do I get a bath?”
“I don’t know you. No baths for strangers.”
“What if I get real dirty?”
“It’s got nothing to do with me. Here’s some pizza and they got a bunch of toys in there.”
Another text from Moon asking for money. I typed furiously while the boys splashed around in the tub.
All the money is gone. I turned into a werewolf and gave it all away because werewolves don’t like money.
How am I supposed to get home?
That was how she talked about spending money in Reno. Getting home.
What about the bedroom cash?
That too. No getting home tonight, Moon.
The boys wanted a story before bed. Their logic was they were scared and needed to calm down.
“You don’t need logic. I would’ve told you a story anyway.”
“Why are you scared?”
“There’s somebody else in the house.”
“Yeah, another little boy. He’s sleeping in the other room.”
They were terrified.
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know… some boy.”
They wanted to know when their mom was getting home.
“She’ll be home when I’m done cleaning.”
“First I’ll do the dishes, then I’ll clean the counters, then I’ll sweep the floors, then I’ll fix the couches, then I’ll take out the garbage, then your mom will be home. Got that? First I’ll do the dishes… then I’ll clean the counters… then I’ll sweep the floors… then I’ll fix the couches… then I’ll take out the garbage… then your mom will be home… Understand? First I’ll do the dishes… then I’ll clean the counters… then I’ll sweep the floors… then I’ll fix the couches… then I’ll take out the garbage… then your mom will be home…”
Later, working the door at the big band show. A giant wad of cash in my pocket to make change with. That full moon right up there in the corner of the sky. In front of the clouds. Still under the spell of whatever Lucia Mongrove did to me. A little nugget of wolf deep in my brain. I snarled at passersby. I hadn’t been paid extra for watching Montel. Devon wasn’t going to be getting out of jail tonight. Damn! Behind me, inside the theatre, Thom introduced the next song.
“This one is about my lost cat. The next one, we’ll segue right into that, it’s about my street, the one I live on. First my lost cat, then my street, the one I live on. Got that?”
“Ah one,” he said.
“Ah two,” he said.
“Ah one two three!”
That full moon blipped out of the sky.
A big man wanted to get into the show but for bad reasons.
“My wives are in there,” he said.
He was probably two feet taller than me. He was wearing an unadorned yellow basketball pinny. The folds of his armpits were massive, easily half a foot long.
“More than one wife?”
He told me his wives were Thom’s whole band, plus about an eighth of the audience.
“The whole band?”
“That’s right. I want them out of there.”
“An eighth of the audience?”
I didn’t understand the problem. Was this guy jealous? If they really were all his wives, not too likely they’d all fall for the exact same guy.
“Fall?” the big man said.
“Fall in love.”
He didn’t understand.
“Get attracted to, that sort of thing.”
He didn’t know what I was saying. It occurred to me I wasn’t dealing with this like a real doorman. Why was I talking to him?
“Out of here!” I said. “You’re confused? You’re confusing me, you gotta go! Out of here! Come on, let’s move!” Saying anything.
“Well now hold on,” he said. “We’re two married men. I’m sure we can work something out.”
“Married? I’m not married.”
“Sure you are,” he said.
Oh, shit. He was right. I was married. My leg started trembling.
“And then I abandoned my post and took the wad of cash which I was supposed to use to make change for the entry fee with me,” I told my sister hours later.
I was standing in the doorway of Lucia Mongrove’s bedroom.
“Good for you,” my sister called from inside Lucia Mongrove’s bedroom. She was tearing it apart looking for my money.
She kicked a hole in the wall.
“It’s not in the wall,” she said. “Listen, you can’t trust actors. I told you that. Acting is advertising. There is almost no acting that isn’t advertising. It’s all very sickening. I mean, movies? Jesus. No! I don’t even like to talk about it because then I’m also advertising even if I’m critiquing it.”
“I agree with you but I thought you write for television.”
She threw Lucia’s clock to the ground.
“It’s not in the clock,” she said.
I wandered outside to the back porch and counted Thom’s wad of cash. Plenty of money. If it didn’t cover all of Devon’s bail, certainly it would cover a little bit of Devon’s bail. Right? Pretty good. In just one night, I’d managed to cover some of Devon’s bail.
“It’s not in the cat,” my sister said.