He woke fully dressed, lying on his bed, arms outstretched like a man crucified. A window shade beside the bed rose on a breeze, crinkled and flapped like a big tongue tasting the air. He winced at the sound. The daylight hurt his eyes; he swung his thin legs off the bed and sat up. Whoa! The room turned: a clockwise motion then back again, as if adjusting itself. He shut his eyes, bracing himself with hands on the mattress.
The door of the room flew open.
His mother, wearing a terrycloth bathrobe, red, like a campfire. “WHERE IS THE CAR?” she shouted.
“Jesus Christ,” he said, rubbing his forehead, “in the drive.”
“It is NOT in the drive!”
He listened to his mother’s feet beat across the floor like drums.
Louie stared at a crack in the linoleum. The car? He heard footsteps approaching like an army on the march…
Louie teetered to his feet. His father and mother stood in the doorway. His father wore a white t-shirt; his face blue with stubble, nose red, and a vein in the middle of his forehead swollen like a night-crawler…“What you do with the car?’ he screamed. “YOU CRACK IT UP? ANSWER ME!”
Louie blinked. Shrugged his shoulders.
The fucking car.
Louie’s father stepped across the floor; he threw a punch: a Rocky Marciano right-hook.
Louie ducked and the room ducked with him up and down. He ran to the door and out, past his mother, who rabbit-punched him in the ear as he ran past.
“GODDAMN DRUNK!” his father screamed.
The cool morning air burnt Louie’s throat. He sucked air for breath. “Oh my Christ,” he said…He walked along the sidewalk and over a truck-long bridge, spanning a river in the trough of cement retaining walls. The river giggled. It thought he was funny, Louie told himself.
The smell of grease and fried chicken assailed his big nose. Three cars in the lot of KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN across the street. A seagull flew over the roof of the joint; a french fry like fangs in its mouth…In the park beside the river trees stood, bare, branches raised like arms in some kind of beseeching action. When did the trees lose their leaves, Louie wondered. He gazed at cars in Goldman’s Super-Duper Market parking lot. Traffic noise revved like an engine inside his head. FIND THE CAR, he told himself. The goddamn car. A cat-sized crow stood in the sidewalk, looking pissed-off and as if daring Louie to pass. He kicked at the bird, wondering if the thing would attack him. The crow flew off, croaking “ut oh! Ut oh!”
Louie’s mouth felt dry, like a desert. Should have grabbed a quart of milk from the frig before he booked, he thought. He searched his pockets for his money. SHIT! where did his money go? He must have been robbed! Or did he lose it? He leaned against a telephone pole and watched cars pass. Too bad he did not have a cigarette, he thought. Or a joint. The pole smelled like tar and resin.
A vague memory, distant, like the First World War, came into his mind. A booth in CHICK’S Lounge and two girls sitting across from him. A blonde and a red-head. The blonde had big knockers. The red-head pretty and with a silver nose ring. He recalled the feel of the redhead’s lips, the smell of shampoo in her hair…She was married, he remembered her saying. Married! And had kids…Three or four or…The memory faded…
A truck ground a couple pounds worth of gears. The truck driver had a mountain-man beard and a tortured-looking face, angry eyes in his melon-sized head. The eyes looked down onto Louie, who flinched. The red-head’s husband, he told himself. Holy shit! Drops of sweat sprouted on his scalp and rolled down his back like rain. It could not be, he thought. Or, could it?
He walked away hurriedly, looked back once before stopping on the corner. Run like a bastard, he told himself—if the guy came for him. Could he run like a bastard, he wondered? His feet felt as if someone had pounded nails into his soles.
An old lady driving past in a Cadillac gave him a fish-eyed look. Louie wondered what her problem was: lose her false teeth?
Behind the Caddy a pick-up truck: the guy driving pointed his index finger like a gun out the window. Louie cringed. Chooch Rondini–who tended bar at CHICK’s—stuck his peanut-shaped head out the truck window: “PISTOL!” he shouted.
Louie hated the name. John the bartender at the American Legion tagged him with it and it had stuck. He did not want to be “Pistol,” but he was…Maybe the car is at the Legion, he told himself; he crossed the street as a guy with a sun-burnt face and pointy van Dyke beard walked out of AL’S Hardware carrying a pitchfork. Louie moved aside quickly: for some reason he could not explain, the guy gave him, Louie, the creeps.
Church bells tolled Bong Bong Bong Bong BONG BONG
“Jesus!” Louie said, cupping his ears.
Birds like ashes fluttered around the steeple of the church. Sky above smoky gray.
A whale-sized fire truck rolled out of the fire station and wallowed in the street, lights flashing red and yellow, siren wailing like a signal for the end of the world.
“Bastard!” Louie shouted.
The truck took its sweet time going to douse the flames.
Louie read the marquee above the movie theater entrance: LOST IN SPACE A Romantical Comedy Out of This World Starring Tipsy Hedron and Nipsy Russell.
He nearly walked into a bow-legged man wearing a homburg and carrying a big fish. The fishes mouth flapped open and closed, as if it were trying to speak. The distant siren of the fire truck wailed.
The black eyes of a red brick tenement building across the street stared down at Louie who became self-conscious under the scrutiny. He studied the cracks in the cement sidewalk; got a whiff of the odor of burning meat and glanced into the window of the Miss Brighton Diner. An old crone gnawed a chunk of bloody meat that looked, to Louie, like a baby’s arm. He shivered and looked away; noticed a big basket of bread loaves in the window of SCHWARTZ Sporting Goods Store; wondered since when did Schwartzie start selling bread? A sign on the door of PETE’S Market read BUY FISH…Fuck fish, Louie thought. He wanted something to drink, like a Pepsi, or a can of Budweiser.
He heard the puth puth puth of a car engine and then the squeal of brakes. He glanced at his brother’s black Volkswagen Beetle, nose to the curbside. His brother jumped from the car. He wore gray sweat pants and sweat shirt. A red bandanna tied around his head. “Where is Dad’s car?” he shouted. Louie backed away, trying to escape the aroma of bad breath as his brother’s eagle-eyes bore into his. “Hey, why don’t you go run some laps or something?” Louie said. His brother’s fist felt like a blunt end of a stick hitting his, Louie’s, face. Louie sat on the cold sidewalk and watched his brother walk away.
The car made farting noises as it sped off. Louie touched his lip, swollen like a rubber inner tube. He stood and walked to the curbside. Watched cars pass. Threw a hand up at a Chevy Explorer Wagon in the lane opposite. The driver of the Chevy nodded. Louie stepped into the street, over a dead fish, silver with glossy pink and turquoise sheen, lying in the gutter. A car passed in front of him like a hot breeze. Louie wiped sweat from his face with his shirt sleeve.
The Chevy idled at curbside, the driver’s head level with the car’s dashboard; silky hair capped the head like an overturned bowl.
“Mouse!” Louie called, approaching. “What are you doing, Mouse?”
Mouse shrugged. “Nothin’,” he said like a complaint.
Louie dodged a tractor trailer rig loaded with cars.
“What happened to your lip?” Mouse asked, staring.
“My brother punched me.”
“Is that right?” Mouse looked amused.
“Can you help me, Mouse?” Louie pleaded.
“Help me look for my father’s car? I lost it.”
Mouse’s big square teeth gleamed in his kid-sized face. “What do you mean, ‘lost it’?”
“What do you mean, what do I mean? I can’t find it!”
“No shit,” Mouse said.
Mouse glanced at a passing car. “Sixty-seven Mustang,” he said.
“Help me look, will you?” Louie begged.
“The silver ElDorado,” Mouse said.
Mouse went into deep into thought as he watched cars. Louie waited. The mountain side rose like a vast brown wall behind the church. Something half-way up the church steeple caught his eye: a golden cherubim, swaddled in cloths, and clinging to the spire of the steeple. The cherubim waved a chubby hand in Louie’s direction.
“Hop in,” Mouse said, decisively.
Louie sat. Mouse fiddled with the radio, tuning-in The Righteous Brothers, who sang, “you lost that loving feeling.”
Mouse stared ahead over the dashboard as the car moved down the street.
“Whoa oh oh oh,” Mouse sang, “whoa oh oh oh.”
Louie looked at the parked cars.
Did he really just see an angel wave to him, Louie wondered. An angel on the church steeple…Waving??
“Hey!” said Mouse, looking in the rear view mirror, “I think your father’s car just went by!”
Louie swiveled his head to the Chevy’s rear window.
“I’m pretty sure,” Mouse said. “Some girl driving.”
“A red-head?” Louie asked.