by Michael Schmidt
reprinted with kind permission
Something was nipping at our heels. The night was sticky-black and it dripped in big fat spaced-out rain drops and tangled our hair so all we could do was laugh in the back seat with our heads out the windows as somebody drove us to the next chapter while we looked for the stars. We howled and people howled back, we were both alone and had another larger man between us. We felt each other through the filler and I knew you were my reason for jumping into this stranger’s limousine– Chris Ball, he claimed he could get us into the Cosmos. Your blue hair matched the neon desert lights, your slender arms were speckled with crooked lines of tattoo poetry and on your forearm was a swallow– your skin was a high-strung canvas stretched across a skinny frame. You played with your lip-ring while you told me about how you worked the black jack tables at one of the casinos, you told me you knew Chris Ball, you said you were friends, you asked me where I was from and I asked you back and you said “here?” and I didn’t understand. Chris offered us pills and we took two each. After a while my nose began to itch but I felt better. I looked over at you, sunken into a black leather armchair letting your head move with the little bumps in the road.
“Call me Chris.” He handed me a card from the front seat with his name on it and some official sounding title, he said he was a club rep, I didn’t really care, but he could be funny sometimes, even if he was only faking it. I was glad I left Jack and Mary and hoped I wouldn’t have to see them back at the hotel. She said she hated names because they never did anyone justice and I agreed and we decided not to ask each other’s names but I felt like I knew her name, and it was Delilah, I never knew anyone named Delilah, I wonder if she gave me a name? I think it’s better that way. We pulled up to the front of the casino and poured out of the stuffy car, we followed Chris Ball as he led the way to the club on the second floor. We went straight to the front. A bouncer put a hand on his chest and stopped him, Chris Ball said something and he came back with another bouncer and he was let in and we followed, the bouncers stopped me, Ball and I made eye contact, he kept going deeper into the club with Delilah trailing behind and I stood there for a second before turning around, thinking I’d get some free drinks out of sitting at a black jack table. I always met people at black jack tables and if I left at the right time I could more or less come out even with a few more drinks in me.
I lingered outside the front for what felt like fifteen seconds, Delilah came back and grabbed my hand, it was cold, all I wanted was to go to her art-decked studio apartment and listen to her inflection-free voice mixing with indie records. She pulled me towards the entrance “Hey Joe,” she said to the bouncer, smiling. “Hey Ashley. Is he with you?” What an ugly name, Ashley. I acted like I didn’t hear it and after dancing with her for a little while it went back to Delilah.
She was water in my hands. After we danced we went back to Chris’ table. I ordered a drink and paid the waitress. Delilah was on the couch next to Chris Ball with her head slung back like in the limousine. She was tired and breathing hard, I took sips from my drink and ignored the dancers behind me, Chris Ball would get up occasionally, or shake hands with someone, or pull a girl closer, or order more drinks—I stayed in my chair and took long sips from my drink pretending not to watch her chest heaving up and down. We sat like that for a while. I ordered a few more drinks and listened for them down inside me. We all got up and careened our way towards the entrance, we got back in the car and made our way to the front of the hotel through a whirring sea of faces and glittering purple chandeliers.
We got back in Chris’ limousine followed by another guy and a few of the girls that were around our table at the club. I was tired. The girls were anxious, so was Delilah, finally Chris opened a cabinet next to the mini-fridge and began parsing out blow. They circled the tiny limousine table like prudent well-mannered jackals. We had gone up and down the strip twice already– it was nice, everyone was too focused to talk so I looked out the window and counted all the fat Mexican girls with three-foot margaritas and listened to the music, I wish it was Mozart, everything would have been a lot less ugly if we had been listening to Mozart.
And just like that the group was ready for another club. We were headed to Ozone which was the club to go to on this particular night, at this particular hour. I was tired. I had another drink but that made things worse. I lit a cigarette and Chris told me to put it out– I laughed and threw it out the window. We all got out of the limousine, I lit another cigarette while everyone headed in, I didn’t really care that they would go without me, I was ready to walk off the alcohol and head back to my hotel, head up the elevator, sneak into the room, get into bed and hope I wouldn’t have to stay awake until the spinning stopped. I was positive Jack and Mary would be asleep after a night of drunken fights. Delilah came back and had a cigarette with me. She had her arms crossed and shoulders hunched as if she was cold. The wind was blowing her hair into her eyes; she closed them while she took a drag. The ash blew up into her hair. We were drunk, leaning on a wall next to a casino entrance watching people just like us pour in and out of limousines from the 80’s and 90’s. The thousand yellow light bulbs that hung over us left her features shadowless, I kept eyeing the taxis but avoided inviting myself over to her house. Finally, without saying anything, she grabbed my arm and walked to a cab and got in, I followed. She spouted out an address, I don’t remember much of the ride over to her house, I remember her hands being cold.
I paid and we got out in front of a small desert house on the outskirts of the suburbs. She opened the door and asked me to wait outside. After a while a Mexican woman came out and smiled at me and then left in a pale Dodge Neon. Maybe five minutes later Delilah was back and led me to her room, I bumped into what felt like a stroller, she turned the light on in her room and we sat on the bed. She put on the same shit we listened to in Chris Ball’s limousine. There was a half empty jewelry armoire with a film of white powder on the top. The room was empty. There was a box TV connected to a Wal-Mart DVD player across from her queen box-mattress bed. There were a few movies on top of the TV– The Expendables, 2 Fast 2 Furious, seasons upon seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. “So Delilah, whaddayou like to read?” She gave me a look like I was being sarcastic. “Who’s Delilah?” Oh fuck that’s right it’s Ashley. “Sorry, bad joke,” I laughed it off. Her skin was red and patched as she took off her shirt and exposed her back. She had more swallows on her back. She was facing the Armoire and asked if I wanted some, I hesitated but then got up and stood next to her. She went first and I copied her, it burned like I expected but then I felt sick. I sat down for a little bit and then got up to go to the bathroom. I asked her where it was. She said something, I’m not sure if she was mumbling or if I just wasn’t paying attention.
I opened the door to her living room and then opened the next door I saw, it was dark, I fumbled for a switch, it flickered on and I realized I was in a kids room, a beautiful little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes sat up in her bed “Mommy?” Fuck. I closed the door and turned off the light– I went to the bathroom and threw up from the blow. I rinsed my mouth with a bottle of mouthwash and went back to Delilah’s… Ashley’s room. I thought I saw a Bob Marley poster above the bed before she turned off the light and started unbuckling my pants. I could feel she was naked, she kissed me and grabbed me but I couldn’t concentrate. I gave one last effort by turning her around quickly and bending her over the armoire while she pressed her naked body into me. Nothing. The lights went on. She called me a cab without me asking and then got into her pajamas. I got up and put my clothes on and decided I’d wait outside for the cab. I opened the door, I looked back at her, I wanted to ask what her girls name was, but I just said “goodbye.” She didn’t say anything– I closed the door and watched a gecko flitter across the street while I waited outside.