Ian Prichard works at a water agency in Ventura County, California, and lives in Los Angeles with his wife, son, cats, and sourdough starter.
A Short Story
By Ian Prichard
“Just a taste, Terry,” Jackie pleaded. “Just a little taste.”
“Not a chance.” In Inglewood, Terry Roesch was going by Terrance Rush, and it drove him crazy that after six months there Jackie still insisted on calling him Terry.
Jackie collapsed onto the couch. They’d already taken the fabric off the back cushion—its continuity across the width of three large seats was one of the reasons Terry had picked it up—and she lay with her face pressed into the exposed polyester batting, her feet dancing on the armrest. “God,” she said, flinging herself over. “I can’t believe I have to do this on this . . . what is this thing?”
“We told you three times already,” Alex, Terry’s sewing partner, said from where he was sitting cross-legged on the floor. “We’re deconstructing the fabric for the Found line.”
“Well, it’s horrid. Why can’t I use the bed?”
“There is no bed, Jack,” Terry said. Fishing a twenty from his pocket, he turned to Alex. “You mind running to get a bottle? Something clear.” He added another twenty. “And not too cheap.”
For a moment, Alex didn’t stir. He was too busy trying to calibrate his reaction. Years ago, when he’d first started hanging around, he’d seen in Jackie what Terry had told him to see—a genius photographer struggling against a mighty, even heroic affliction. But as that had turned into, first, photographer betraying her potential and then simply tragic figure, and Jackie and Terry began to drift apart, Alex felt himself drawing closer to Jackie, to what he thought she really was—a decent, possibly even beautiful, person holding herself at arm’s length from not just her potential but everything in life, by what, despite all the obvious and regrettable side effects, was an easy way out. Alex recognized in this attraction something he didn’t much like about himself. And he was beginning to suspect that Jackie’s whole deal worked for Terry, fit into the conception he had of himself as a Somebody, tragic in his own right, being held back by his heroic love for a hopeless case—something he didn’t much like about Terry. Alex was trying to hang on to the old Terry, the one he’d left his acting (-slash-bartending) career to toil alongside in hope, this man who made you feel like odds didn’t matter, that the past didn’t matter, that the whole goddamn machine, including the anarchic oppositions to it he purported to be working within, didn’t hold a candle to the movement they were incubating.
Then Terry shook the bills at him, a barely conscious and wholly contained gesture that did nothing to reassure Alex. But, not knowing what else to do with this body of his that suddenly felt so superfluous, he sprang up, grabbed the notes, and hit the door.
Terry turned back to Jackie, trying to decide which of his stock of practiced platitudes might be the least aggravating. Squirming on her back on the couch, Jackie looked for all the world like her mother had twenty years before when the two of them had found her, at half-past two in the afternoon, rubbing her black-stocking feet on the plush angora throw draped across the sitting room couch. Except, Mrs. Sauveterre had been giggling. In her Texas-Xanax drawl, Jackie’s mom had told them that she’d found out at breakfast that two designers were pulling their clothes from her Beverly Hills boutique, and at lunch that two even bigger names were moving in to take their place. “It’s just too much to bear,” she said around slugs straight off the Waterford brandy decanter. “It’s just too wonderful.”
Unlike her mom, who burned through both resentment and joy in a couple days and came back exhausted but readjusted, Jackie had never figured out her limits. That, or Terry still hadn’t come to terms with the fact that limits were not an operative concept for her. Not only were her absences increasing in frequency, but they were getting longer, too, and the kicks between getting harder.
When they first split the West Side, when, the morning of high school graduation, they’d ditched their acetate gowns and tasseled mortarboards and caught a bus to Silver Lake instead, their relative squalor and the novel exigencies of getting by had driven them closer together than they’d ever been—as inseparable childhood playmates, as alibis and star witnesses in the trials of their home lives, even as the shameless and generous lovers they’d evolved into as soon as they were physically able. The neighborhood then was still an unprepossessing collection of hilltop wealth and rentals descending the slope to ramshackle, and Jackie’s freelance graphic design, which she did to support her promising photography habit, was more than enough to put food on the table. While he’d started half a dozen of the city’s first underground fashion and style blogs, they never made any money, and in return for the flexibility he needed to pursue his real passion—an experiment he took to calling avant-urban fashion—he kept his opinions about Jackie’s recreative pursuits to himself.
After eight years, though, he’d decided the Lake was burned out—it was all bustle and no hustle, all poseurs instead of inspiration, carriage instead of style, upward mobility instead of passion. The rent, he said to anyone who would listen, was too damn high. So Terry decided to move his operation to the streets made famous by the Walkman-blared rap songs of his youth, and Jackie, by that time out of work and fresh out of alternative plans, tagged along.
Terry knew a guy who knew a guy who, having for reasons more entrepreneurial than idealistic embedded himself in the Occupy movement, knew of this foreclosed house on Magnolia. After half a dozen texts back and forth, he arranged it so Terry could sit on the house while Occupy raised the funds necessary to buy it back from the bank. They were supposedly doing this on behalf of the previous owners, which made Terry feel like the good steward of an antiestablishment property, and, thus, someone of key importance to The Cause—Part of The Solution, as it were, rather than, as their neighbors saw it, the newest incarnation of the same old problem.
However anyone defined their position in it, to Jackie the house itself was unbearable. Her standards had fallen over the years, sure, but they hadn’t vanished entirely. The place was furnished only with what random objects Terry would bring home for their lurid and potentially salvageable upholstery, there was no electricity, and for three or four days every month there was no water because Terry had to disconnect the jerry-rigged bypass on the meter in anticipation of the reader coming by. The carpet stank, there was mold a quarter-inch thick in the bathrooms, and the linoleum was curling at its seams.
As if all that weren’t bad enough, it was Evidence A of Jackie’s case against the hollowness of—well, of pretty much everything, but especially “good causes” in the City of Angels. In one of the strange-bedfellow practicalities that epitomize the city, Occupy was donating some of the proceeds it raised to a relief program set up by the Housing Authority that supported what they were calling transient occupants. Meaning, in effect, that Occupy was bribing the local Housing rep to let Terry and Jackie squat. This didn’t bother Terry—he was an ends-over-means guy, and this meant more time to sew—but Jackie was sure it was all bullshit and they nothing more than pawns in the long game of financial real estate interests. “What do you think’s going to happen here?” she would ask in stretches of lucidity and disquiet. “The racetrack is, like, a mile away. Was. You think the kind of people that are going to live in whatever fucking monstrosity they’re building over there are going to want these people anywhere near them?”
“Listen to you, these people, those people. Since when do think in such binary and socioeconomic terms about identity?”
“Jesus fuck, Terry, would you listen to yourself? And don’t you worry about binary—it’s gonna be mono-fucking-chromatic around here soon enough. And you’re helping it happen!”
Terry would grow very patient then, with Jackie’s loosening hold on reality, with her drug-addled conspiracy theories, her paranoia, and her whims. It had become a schism, an offense to Jackie’s principles—which, along with her charm, were basically the only thing she was holding onto—and she nurtured it, and kept it at the ready, for when she’d finally needed to bolt.
But now she was back, her survival skills apparently even more finite than her patience. She was down an easy ten pounds from the already-birdlike frame she’d slipped away on, but seemed, otherwise, not too much worse for the wear. Terry knew he was supposed to be relieved, and that after the rough first week there would follow that month or so of bliss, before everyone got used to Jackie being clean and she got bored, and it was true that Terry had convinced himself in her absence that this time he would do everything in his power to keep that from happening. But he really could have used another week.
“Listen,” he said, picking her feet up and sitting underneath them on the couch. “You just take it easy. I’ve got a meeting with Severiana Byström in a few days, and if things go as well as I think they will, we’ll be able to get out of here.”
Terry saw the name register—everyone knew the Swedish-Italian supermodel-turned-fashion-guru—and then Jackie grimaced and curled onto her side. “Something wrong with Severiana Byström?”
“No! Shit, Terry, I’m sick as hell, all right?”
Terry knew that wasn’t all, and that she wasn’t going to tell him, but he gave it one last poke. “If you’re felling better, maybe you can come.”
“I won’t be.”
Wherever he laid a hand on her body, a thin film of sweat would rise up from her skin, and she would twitch him off. Terry tried asking about where she’d been and who she’d run into, but he could see that the pain was getting worse by the minute. It’d be into her bones soon, if it wasn’t already, radiating outward from the marrow.
They sat in silence for what seemed like a long time to Terry and must have been an eternity for Jackie before Alex reappeared.
“I picked up a handful of Valiums, too,” he said, digging into the pocket of his purple damask pants. He’d cut them out of curtains he’d found at a fire sale up on Baldwin Hill, right after Terry had decided to trust him with scissors but long before he’d even let on about the deconstruction. They were loose at the waist and tight at the hips and formless the rest of the way down, but Alex was like a proud dad about them. “Guy at Ace’s owed me,” he said, working the bag of pills out like a monkey with a jar.
Jackie took the three Valiums Terry fed her one half at a time, opening her mouth like a child just learning to eat, or a baby bird, and chewing the pills quickly, greedily. But she turned her nose up at the vodka.
“You need to get some in you,” Terry insisted, and she let him tilt the glass to her lips.
“Now leave me,” she said, with a small wave of her hand. At least, Alex thought, her sense of drama was intact.
The guys moved their operation to a room at the back of the house. They were dismantling the couch upholstery, a plain box weave of a fat, burnt-orange acrylic/wool that had probably been all the rage when it hit the showroom floor in the late ’70s. It was remarkably free of cigarette holes, though the typical stains—dark ovals of hair oil, the brittle ghosts of bodily fluids—were going to require a little cleaning. Only, though, enough to knock back the smell. A stain is only damage when it makes a shape over a swath of fabric; at the level of the individual strand, it’s no longer a blemish, but rather an enriching gradation of color, an imperfection that gives the illusion of depth. Terry had happened across the couch down Lennox the week before, where he’d cycled to pick up a 19th century embroidery frame he’d found on craigslist. There was a sign on it that said freeee!!!, but he gave the woman a twenty to make sure no one took it while he found a couple Salvadoreans to haul it over for him. He was happy with it to the point of assurance that in his interview with Severiana Byström, which had fallen like manna from a heaven Terry hadn’t believed in in twenty years, this couch was going to cinch his future.
While Alex separated the weft from the warp, Terry joined the strands, a process of looping the ends around one another and threading each a couple inches back into itself. The resulting thread, wound onto an antique wooden bolt with ends the size of LPs, would give him enough for a few hand-knit pieces—nothing Severiana could resell, but enough for proof of concept. For now, Terry was limited by technology and technique to the patterns his wooden knitting needles could produce, but he hoped one day to have a loom to weave his own fabrics from the city’s abandoned furniture. Hence the line’s name. The sheer volume of orphaned couches and chairs just in L.A. was enough to keep him up nights with excitement, let alone their variety. And never mind Paris, Berlin, Tbilisi, Ankara, . . . His every daydream concerned the urban centers across the globe where Terry would rescue vintage fabrics—English wool and Egyptian cotton, Soviet grays and Swedish yellows—from their otherwise inevitable landfill ends, and, with them, revolutionize the fashion industry.
Terry was so distracted humming along with the songs Severiana’s sirens sang that he didn’t notice Alex had left until he looked up to see him standing in the doorway. “Shouldn’t we check on Jackie?” Alex asked, his voice thin and his gaze trailing back down the hallway.
“Is that not what you just did?”
“Yeah, but I mean . . . Will you go? She looks pretty bad.”
Terry gave him a blank look, then understood. “You’ve never seen someone kick before.”
Alex shook his head. “Not really. My dad dried out at home a couple times, but it nothing like this. Shouldn’t we take her to the hospital?”
“Your old man actually had it worse. No one ever died from heroin withdrawal,” Terry said. “It’s uncomfortable as shit, and it’s ugly to watch, but the hospital’s not gonna do anything we can’t do here.”
“They’d give her alcohol and Valium?”
His tone was . . . Terry decided to be generous and go with incredulous, and responded pleasantly. “Sure, that and a hard time.” This did not placate Alex. “Seriously, they’d give her benzos and barbiturates—basically the same thing. And this isn’t her first rodeo.”
“I know that.” He was defensive, meaning he didn’t know, and was scared.
Terry sighed, as if he hated having to lecture. And in fact, just now, with so many yards of fabric still to go, he didn’t feel like he had the time. But he could afford Alex’s second guesses even less, so, setting his work deliberately down and adopting his old-sage tone—his father’s tone—Terry laid some knowledge on his fidgety protégé. “Look, Alexander, this is part of how we do things. What Jacqueline’s going through is part of the life she’s chosen, part of her response to this fucked up modern existence. How we deal with it, how we help her deal with it, determines the kind of life we’re trying to live. Taking her to the hospital means money, recovery programs, probably the cops—all part of the neurosis we’re trying to stay away from, right? If it was serious, I’d take her somewhere, but it’s not. This is her consequence—it’s not punishment, it’s not disease—and she’d tell you the same thing. You know she would. But don’t worry,” he concluded, turning back to his bobbin, “I’ll go check on her in a bit.”
A bit later, Jackie was still curled up in a ball much smaller than a body as big as hers should have been able to make. Terry could see from across the room that she was shaking, but before he could think what to say, the smell hit him. “Shit,” he exclaimed, rushing, against his body’s natural reaction, towards the couch. “Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit.”
Jackie’s face was a contortion of pain and embarrassment, and the word compassion rattled around somewhere in the back of Terry’s racing mind. But all he could think of were his cushions, and in his haste he lost all sense of proportion and yanked at Jackie’s arm. Alex came running in just as Terry pulled Jackie from the couch and flung her to the floor. Colliding with the smell and shocked at Terry’s violence, Alex stopped short. He looked from Terry, bent over and pawing at the couch, to Jackie, splayed on the floor, choking on her sobs. There was a kind of beauty, of old-school cinematic majesty, to the way the day’s last sun streamed in dusty shafts through the vertical blinds, gilding Terry in golden strips and casting his shadow on Jackie’s body.
“Jesus, Al!” Terry’s voice was loud and as shaky as the hands that tore the cushions from their covers. “Get her to the bathroom!”
Jackie’s skirt was saturated with the mess, and it went down her legs to the bottom of her feet as if she’d been squirming around in it. Which, Alex supposed as he braced himself and picked her up, she probably had.
In the bathroom was an ancient clawfoot tub with a shower attachment and a curtain that might have once been white. The guys stood on either side of Jackie and took turns supporting her and shedding clothes until all three of them were naked and shivering under the cold, weak spray. While Jackie sobbed and sputtered, Terry and Alex soaped her, themselves, the cushion covers, and their clothes. It was a frenzy of lather and tears and curses and rage, the bathroom growing darker every minute as the sun made its way farther and farther below the western horizon.
“So sorry I’m late,” Terry said, shrugging out of his backpack and plopping down across the table from Severiana Byström. “Concierge couldn’t figure out what to do with my bike.”
“There are worse places to wait.” Severiana sounded as relaxed as she looked, placid among the linen tablecloths of the Beverly Hills Hotel patio, which were so white they held a sheen of the same perfect blue that arched across the sky. There was the sharp incense of oaks, the perfume and damp earth aroma of the flowers in their beds, the bright clean smell of the pool across the patio. Eau de my childhood, Terry thought as he shrugged out of his bag and settled in. This had been the Roeschs’ favorite brunch spot as long as he could remember, and reaching for the warm bread in the center of the table he realized he’d been looking forward to a little nostalgic indulgence.
The feelings Severiana inspired were hardly so reassuring. Though she was two decades past her modeling prime, her assumption of the highest mantle of fashiondom had given her legendary beauty—still unmarred by steel or plastic or botulinum—the beginnings of matriarchal grandeur. She was informal and teased Terry without malice, but in his mind she had assumed the role of gatekeeper to his entire future, and he was duly cowed. Terry had the same citron pressé, spring salad, and lamb sandwich that Severiana ordered, though he held the lamb, and he let her lead them through a light conversation about about fabrics and designers and the pros and cons of a dozen cities Terry didn’t say he’d never visited. Small talk was Terry’s first language, and he was able to keep it going, with a smile on his face, despite the terrible cognitive noise the backpack in the chair next to him was making. It had felt like armor on his shoulders on the way over, or the object he’d been out questing for all these years and was finally bringing back to lay at the feet of the queen. But having passed through the castle ramparts, it was now screaming “MacGuffin!” at him, “Traitor!” “False prophet!” and at several points, he was afraid his legs were going to pick him up and run.
Finally, when they’d both declined dessert, Severiana asked to see his wares. Terry unzipped the backpack and pulled out the pile of clothes with no small amount of trepidation. The covers Jackie had befouled were ruined, and while he’d continued deconstructing and joining what was left, Alex had bird-dogged potential replacements. He must have brought back two dozen tattered swathes cut from pleated skirts and armrest covers before they settled on an ancient recliner’s mustard wool for the sweater and a busted ottoman’s olive poly for the scarf and hat. Then Terry knitted his ass off, barely sleeping, even letting Alex do some of the joining, hoping, praying even, that Severiana would focus more on philosophy than details.
Because, he thought as he watched her look over the sweater, slipping the cuffs to see how he casted off and measuring the sleeves against one another, this was far from his best work. He couldn’t believe he’d had to come here so unprepared. So far, Terry had kept his resentment at bay—he wouldn’t need it if Severiana accepted the clothes—but now, as she tested the stretch on the scarf and pored over the shawl collar on the vest and the doubt crept in, so did his bitterness towards Jackie. But before the image of her rattling and writhing on the living room floor sharpen into focus, he willed it from his mind.
Severiana stood and slipped into the sweater. Gazing up at her, perfectly proportioned and immaculately clothed, Terry felt in the pit of his stomach that mix of desire peculiar to designers to both undress and clothe her, to consume her naked body and watch it move in a never-ending wardrobe made especially for her. As she pushed her hands into the sweater’s pockets and pivoted on her stiletto heel, the patio’s tables and chairs rearranged themselves around her line of sight. Severiana strode the flagstones with an ease more elegant than anything Terry had ever seen, playing with the sweater’s buttons and pulling at its sleeves. At the turn, she slid out of the sweater and twirled back into it as effortlessly as if she’d choreographed the steps a dozen days running. For several steps, she tucked her chin, put some smolder in her eyes, and swung her hips an extra inch on either side. Then she fell out of her gait, and, laughing, staggered comically to Terry’s chair.
She smiled down at him, caught up in the moment, obviously enjoying herself. Then she looked away, weighing something. Assuming it was how best to tell him that his clothes, his idea, his entire philosophy on fashion and commerce and life were all utterly ridiculous, Terry made as if to gather his things.
Severiana touched him on the shoulder. “You’re okay,” she said and stepped back into her chair. “It’s just . . .” The smile she gave him was forced. “Well, I promised I wouldn’t tell.”
Terry was precise and polite. “Promised what to whom?”
She spoke quietly. “Mrs. Sauveterre, Terry.”
“It’s Terrance,” Terry muttered. Or started too, before trailing off and slumping back into his chair under the weight of realization. “Jackie’s mom.”
“Yes, dear,” Severiana said. “She told me years ago to keep an eye on you, and I have been. This is an interesting idea. I think I would like it no matter what, but considering the circumstances.” She glanced at Terry to see if she was being understood. She wasn’t. She placed her elbows on the table with casual precision, and laced her fingers under her chin. “Listen, my dear young man, I know this hurts your pride. In truth it hurts me to do it, and I would not be doing it except for Jackie. Her mother and I . . .” Terry thought Severiana was trying to see the answer to her next question in his eyes before she asked it. “Did you know that Jackie went home the last time she left you?”
“To the Palisades? Why?”
“I gather it had something to do with the house you two were living in. She went away again, though.”
“I would say she did.” Their conversation seemed to be lending itself to long periods of silence, and Terry indulged in another.
He’d long suspected Jackie made forays back to the West Side, and in fact he kept some connections there himself—furtive Chateau Marmont lunches with his mom, thin stacks of hundreds in books his dad sent, “surprise” wire transfers arranged by his sisters—but he’d never been caught. He thought you’d have to want to be caught. His initial reaction was indignation, but bubbling up from beneath whatever wrath he’d felt towards Jackie, forcing its way through all the vintage flannel and thrift-store polyester he’d layered on over the years, Terry sensed something else. Something sinister and soft.
When Severiana, this unlikely harbinger of what felt in that moment like both the fate he’d been striving against and the chance he’d been praying for, rose again and said, “It is time you came back into the fold,” all Terry could do was nod his assent.
Alex was sitting on the curb outside the house, extracting a weed from the narrow gap between the street’s asphalt and the concrete of the gutter. The trick was to pull very gently, and at just the right angle, to loosen the hair-thin guy wires from their grip on the grit and pebbles of the trench without snapping the weed’s main trunk. Alex had freed about eleven inches and thought, if he was really diligent, he could make it the last three to the hub nestled over the taproot. Things got tricky when you were out this far, but he hadn’t lost his touch. Better not have, he thought. Not after how many weeds he’d pulled out of how many streets in front of how many houses he’d grown up in. It was strange how close you could still feel to the boy who’d perfected his technique—who could consider such a futile thing a technique. Sure, part of it was that from this level, the streets didn’t look much different from working-class suburbs anywhere—the linked chain, the wrought iron, the dots of charm amid the general neglect—but there was also the reason he was out here to begin with. Jackie had turned pretty much well over night, and if she hadn’t been somewhat wrung out from four days of not really eating, Alex would have said she was downright ebullient. There was color in her face and something besides black in her eyes, and the laughter that came out of her whenever Alex took a jab at Terry was as ringing and free of cynicism as Alex had heard, from anyone, in years. They played Scrabble after Terry left, and Jackie talked easily but not without shame about her benders and drug use, and she was remarkably free of the promises and swearings-off Alex’s dad had taught him, through copious personal experience, never to trust. Alex had tried his hardest not to notice the look she had when he came back from the bathroom at one point, jamming her phone back into her bag. He tried not to remember that she’d said she’d lost it. And it was easy for the next hour because she was the same, placing tiles, drinking tea, eating stale Triscuits and the last of the cream cheese. But the moment the knock had come, Alex had ceased to exist, and, employing the one skill he was even more practiced at than the plucking of weeds, he disappeared.
Alex didn’t know how much time had gone by since that knock, or even if the guy, or girl, or who- or whatever, was still in the house, but it was almost evening when Terry glided up on his bike. They didn’t say anything to one another as Terry dismounted and propped the bike against the fence. When he looked down at Alex, Terry’s face was unreadable—cool, lightly set, as if, if such a thing were possible, it was cast of unflappability itself. It was this lack of affect, Alex thought, the very thing Terry cultivated so meticulously in order to not stand out, that would always be his tell.
“So?” Alex finally said.
“No dice, man.”
“What? What do you mean, no dice?”
Terry had taken the long way home, down Santa Monica Boulevard all the way to the pier, cruising past the Venice bazaar, around Marina’s hundred-k slips and down the Strand all the way to the South Bay before cutting over to Hawthorne and the straight pedal north. He’d avoided that part of the coast for years—“enemy territory” and all that—and he wouldn’t acknowledge that he missed it. But after drifting past the beachfront mansions he knew as a kid, the neighborhoods around where Hawthorne turned into La Brea no longer seemed so chic in their shabbiness. He, Severiana Byström’s new Exotic Fabrics Coordinator, would leave for New York in a week, and a place in Park Slope was already replacing the house on Magnolia as his image of home.
He was thinking, as he pedaled through South L.A., how, until that afternoon, he’d reconciled his meager existence with the idea that he was making himself anew, stripping down, getting to the core. He was thinking that emergent Terry, Terrance Rush, would have been appalled at Severiana’s collusion with the Sauveterres, and would have rejected her out of hand. He was thinking, as he rounded the final corner, that Terrance Rush would have stayed broke forever, and how this new Terry, or this old one, this revenant Terry, would finally be enough to convince Jackie to stay. He was decidedly not thinking about Alex. His partner hadn’t, in fact, crossed Terry’s mind once since leaving him there with Jackie however many hours, however many lifetimes, ago. And his guilt at this, at the fact that it hadn’t occurred to him to petition Severiana for a job for the sidekick that had made the whole thing possible, manifested immediately as annoyance. “What are you doing here?” he said. Then, trying to soften it, “Out here.”
Alex let the weed drop. He wanted very badly to keep from glancing back at the house. Whether to keep Terry focused on what he was hanging around waiting for, rather than where he was doing it, or out of some protective instinct or weird kind of loyalty to Jackie, Alex didn’t know. But it was like driving by an accident on the freeway, and his neck was rubbering around of its own accord. Luckily, though, just before the movement pulled his eyes from Terry’s, Alex noticed something about Terry’s shoulders. “Wait,” he said. “Where’s our shit?”
“Huh?” Terry had noticed Alex’s split second of houseward attention, and was starting to piece together some bits of worry.
“My bookbag, with our clothes. Where is it?”
Still distracted, Terry answered without thinking. “Severiana has it, dude.”
“So she did like it!” Alex’s sprang up from the curb, excitement written across his face, relief running through is his limbs. “You fucker! Tryin’ to play me.”
Terry’s attention was back, and he was back pedaling, shooting from the hip. “No, look, she’s just going to hold it. Maybe give it to this lady in Orange County.”
“Orange County?” Alex was confused. “No one’s going to wear our stuff in Orange County. London, yeah, and Berlin—”
“I know,” Terry said. “That’s what I’m saying.”
Terry was shaking his head sympathetically. “I was upset, man. I wasn’t paying attention. I told her, just keep the clothes.”
“But Orange County?” Alex was on the verge of tears. “That’s our best stuff, Terr. I know we threw it together fast, but they were inspired fucking threads, man. We can’t have it sitting around in Orange fucking County.”
Terry put a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Alexander, listen.” He was settling back into position here, comforted by the reassuring tone of his own voice. “Don’t worry, OK? I’ll get it back. And we’ll hit it—patch up some of the nicks, crank out a few more—and then we’ll score with it. Soon.” He gave the shoulder a shake. “Got to, right?”
Alex took a deep breath. “Right. Got to.”
“Attaboy, Alexander. Now go get some sleep. I’ll call you later.”
Alex nodded, then squatted to peg his pant leg. “You know,” he said, looking up, “it was a killer few days. Brutal, but pretty rad.” Terry smiled as Alex mounted the bike Terry had come in on. “We’re a good team, bud,” Alex said, and zigzagged slowly off.
As soon as he was gone, Terry turned to the house. There was no answer to his shave-and-a-haircut, so he pushed the door in.
Jackie was sitting on the floor in the far corner of the living room smoking a cigarette, a mangled beer can next to her, half full of butts. She looked up as he opened the door, her reaction just enough delayed to keep Terry’s hand on the knob, even as he shut it. From across the room, Terry saw her smile a wide and happy smile, and saw that her eyes looked like he’d just startled her awake. He turned quickly back to the door, as if he’d walked in on someone changing pants.
“Hey baby,” she said to his back, sleepily. “Where you been?”
Terry’s head fell against the door, and stayed there. After a while—six or seven seconds, though it seemed much longer—Jackie asked, “Terr? Whatchya doin, babe?” He walked over and sat next to her, lining up the toes of their matching canvas shoes. A bag was on the floor behind what was left of the couch, stuffed full of clothes she hadn’t had that morning. Jackie saw him see it, and reached up to take the large clip out of her hair. They both watched the clip descend, watched it clasp and unclasp in her hand—Like an anglerfish, mrwah, mrwah, mrwah, she used to say, and a simple Sunday morning from half their lives ago flashed across Terry’s mind.
But she didn’t say that now, and Terry watched quietly as she brought the clip into her lap. “So, how’d it go with the goddess?” she asked. She sounded more alert, but her pupils were like wormholes to the center of the moon.
“Did someone come by, Jackie?” Terry asked, knowing now why Alex had been outside. Jackie was scraping one of the clip’s tines against her thumb, and in the silence that engulfed the room Terry could hear it rasp. “Jack—”
“God,” she said, and lumbered to her feet. “You were gone so long! Why were you gone so long?” There was anger in her face, something akin to regret, or the foreknowledge of it. The kind of pain that can only be cured by the things that cause it.
“I should have taken you with me.” It was all Terry could manage to say.
“What?” Her laughter was incredulous. “Taken me? To Severiana Byström?”
For the second time that day, Terry found himself seated before a beautiful woman, unsure of anything but the fact that whatever she said or did next would determine the course of his life. He reached out and pinched the hem of Jackie’s skirt. It was good cotton, smooth but not slippery, with just enough texture to remind you it came from a plant. “She said New York, is how it went.”
When he looked up, Jackie’s face was blank. She shook her head and said his name, a tinge of sadness in her voice. Then she bent over and picked up her bag, the movement plucking the skirt from his fingers. In the top edge of his vision, Terry saw her loop the strap over her head so it fell across her chest. He knew the strap was cupping one of her braless breasts and that when she pulled on the strap, it would stretch her t-shirt down from her neck and show off the flat place below her clavicle that he loved more than any place on earth. So he closed his eyes and put his head back against the wall.
He kept his eyes closed while the door opened and shut, and the front steps squeaked under her meager weight, and the gate clanged behind her. If he kept them closed long enough, he knew, he could trick himself into thinking she’d be there when he opened them again. But it felt like a flimsy, knock-off version of hope. So he found his knitting needles and went back to work.