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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ring My Bell!

Occasionally, I may threaten
To put my children's heads through a wall
At the Trader Joe's.

Of course, I would never.
But I do rather like the way it sounds,
Especially in the heat of the moment.

Usually, it's both heads I'm after.
Together, at the same time.
Any wall will do, really.
Today, I chose the long wall behind the pita chips.

Sending only one head flying
Hardly seems worth the effort.

"Clean-up on Aisle Two!"
The guy in charge announces
Over the loud speaker.
"Wait a minute… Never mind," he says.
"It seems I rang the bell for nothing."

They menace one another,
With incessant teasing and bickering.
They fight over samples of Reduced Guilt Ziti
And who pushes the cart better.
These things make me crazy!

Neither boy even flinches
When I suggest they mind themselves.
It's as if my rage and I are invisible.
We have no power here.
The store is too crowded.

So I send them out to the car.
"Watch after your brother," I warn.
"I will," the Big One assures me.
"Love you, Mom," the Little One says.
"I love you, too."

And through the sliding doors, they go.
One boy's arm draped over the other's shoulder.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lovely Day!


"We're going down the stores," I yelled toward the back bedroom.  No answer.

Charlie and two other dudes had been in there for over an hour.  I knew they were smoking dust, but I didn't dare open the door and interrupt their high.  You could get your neck broken doing that.

I waited for a minute, just to see if anybody else had a better idea.  Given the circumstances, it seemed unlikely.
"Let's just go," I turned to Terry.  She had fallen asleep watching cartoons with an infant on her lap.

Theresa is Charlie's sister.  They call her Terry.  When I met her, she already had four daughters and was pregnant with the fifth.  There would be two more babies after that.  All girls.

"Are you gonna be able to walk the whole way?" I asked as she got herself to her feet.
"Yeah," she said.  "I'm outta Newports."
She deposited the baby onto the sofa and wedged a cushion behind its back.  Terry was a few months shy of dispatching yet another child into a world where the ones she had already squabbled over every crumb.

Rob emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.  He was the cleanest of all three boys.  He showered several times a day with the intensity of a murderer whose victims frequently resisted.  Rob didn't have a regular job, but he stayed busy and seemed to work hard.  I wasn't certain what he did, but I always felt as though I was better off not knowing.

"Can I get five dollars?" Terry whined at her brother.
"What for?" Rob looked down into her ruddy face.
She stared blankly at him.

"Why you broke again, bitch?"
"I got kids!" she moaned.  "They always needin' shit."

"You forget what I told you?"  He looked angry.  "I ain't giving you no more money."
She frowned at him.

Rob launched into what sounded like a combination speech and scolding.
"Terry, I'll buy diapers.  And milk for my nieces.  But that's it, yo," he said.  "If you're too fucking stupid to keep your legs together, that's your business."
Theresa ignored his nasty remark.  She didn't even flinch.

"There's nothing to drink in Mom's fridge," she complained, insolently.  "So, I guess your nieces need milk."
"You don't wanna fuck with me, Sis," Rob warned.  "I don't give a damn if you are knocked up.  I'll lay you flat on your ass."  He balled up a fist and circled it menacingly in front of her face.
"Oh yeah?" she replied.  "You don't wanna fuck with me neither, Rob.  I might kill you when you're sleeping.  And then, you'll be dead."

I stood there with my eyes half shut, just waiting for them to start punching each other.
Instead, Rob put his arm around his sister and kissed the top of her head.
"Let me get my wallet," he said.  "It's in the truck."

When the front door shut behind him, Terry whispered, "Don't say nothing.  I'm gonna buy us some wine coolers."
I wasn't gonna say shit.  I had my own reasons for wanting to get going.

*******

Like most of the individuals in Charlie's family, Theresa frightened me half to death.  She was a vulgar, contentious girl with a hair-trigger temper.  She was quick to take a swing at someone over a harmless misunderstanding.  Although we did not know each other well, I suppose I was relieved that she held me in such high regard.  She referred to me as her sister and friend, but I can't say that the feeling was mutual.

I hated when Terry drank.  She couldn't hold her liquor and got sloppy real fast.  It always bummed me out once I realized she was getting loaded.  Her condition distracted me from my own high, and I became resentful.  I didn't want to clean up anybody else's mess.  Besides, she had all those kids to take care of.  I felt sorry for the girls and powerless to help.  It just seemed like there was too many of them. They needed so much and had almost nothing.

Only a few years older than I, my sister-in-law looked like she could be my mother.  Her hair was graying at the roots, and she was missing a few important teeth.  When she coughed, every bone in her body rattled.  Physically, Terry was a wreck.  She wasn't even forty.

Knowing this made me feel both sad and fortunate at the same time.  My life was falling apart but in comparison, I was in pretty good shape.  The absolute nerve of me to judge.

*******

Mabel's house was a cuckoo clock of illicit activity, with junkies popping in and sliding out all day and night long.  Pendulum regulated want, relief and more want. Addiction in a crowd is stressful.  It is difficult to manipulate the outcome with so many players and lots of moving gears.  Bottom line, everybody's just trying to get high.  I mean, get by.  And nobody knows what time it is.

I was never comfortable down Harding Park.  It was a scary place.  But love, drugs and love of drugs led me down roads I wouldn't have chosen had I more common sense and better self-esteem.

*******

I didn't like to admit how much I enjoyed rock cocaine.  When I was high, crack made me think I was busy and important.  But when it was over, I felt devastated.  I knew my involvement was something I shouldn't brag about.  The regular smokers looked like death warmed over, and their desperation scared me.  Still, I wasn't like them.  Yes, I was embarrassed by where the pipe kept taking me, but I had everything under control.  Sure, I did.

Unlike my steady diet of speed and alcohol, I couldn't smoke crack every day.  It was a thoroughly ungovernable drug and insisted on being the only thing worth pursuing.  It was jealous of friends and hated all of my jobs.

Therefore, I considered my relationship with crack as a special occasion that occurred more and more frequently and lasted longer each time.  But like I said, I had everything under control.

*******

"You know what a Vespa is?" Terry asked as we trudged along toward Soundview Avenue.
"It's like a little motorcycle, I think."
"Veronica says they make one for Barbie," she explained.  "Her birthday's coming up."
"That sounds nice," I said.
"Yeah.  I wish I could get it for her."

Terry sounded as though this idea was already an impossibility.  I didn't respond. I'd already bought Veronica's Barbie a horse at Christmas, and the girls broke one of its legs fighting over it.  I wasn't about to hand over a European scooter to an angry foot mob.

"Maybe she won't remember she asked me." Her thought drifted off under the wheels of a big truck that screeched to a stop at the corner.

"I like your big titties!" the driver hollered out the window in Terry's direction.
She smiled broadly and cupped her breasts.
I wished she wouldn't act like that.
Terry bought two Zimas and a gallon of milk at the bodega.  She liked to play the slot machines in the back of the shop.  With change of two dollars, she dragged a stool across the floor, positioning herself on the seat.  Her swollen belly rested on top of her thighs.  She inserted three quarters into one of the unmanned boxes, pressed a button and pulled the handle.  A bunch of coins plinked and plonked onto the tray at the bottom of the game.

"I never win nothing!" she shrieked with delight, bouncing off her perch.  "You must be good luck, Mare.  Come and try it!"

Terry pressed some change into my hand and urged me toward the machine.  I wasn't really certain how the game was played.  I pulled the lever hesitantly, and all the lights on the appliance went nuts.  A fifty dollar win!

The clerk at the register validated my receipt, and I split the cash with Terry - twenty five bucks each.

"Try and save some," I suggested as I shared her cut.  I was thinking about that Vespa.
"I guess," she muttered, mesmerized by the spinning fruits on the screen.

I watched for a few minutes as my sister-in-law continued to feed her prize money into the one-armed bandit.
"I'll be right back," I told her hunched shoulders.

*******

At the liquor store, I chose a jug of wine and a pint of vodka.  I would have liked to get the bigger bottle of each, but I didn't want to be lugging them around all afternoon.  Besides, once people at the house knew I had booze, it'd be gone in no time flat.  I had to hide my liquor behind the couch, and I didn't like reaching under there.  I asked the store owner for an extra brown bag so I could put the bottles in my backpack.  Hopefully, they wouldn't break.

I noticed the display of mini roses on the counter, the kind in little glass tubes for smoking crack.  I slid one over to include with my purchase.  Instant special occasion.

*******

As I stepped back onto the sidewalk, Terry was bumming a smoke from some guy pulling a microwave behind him in a shopping wagon.  I

"Just tell Rob, okay?" the dude begged.  He sounded somewhat frantic.  "I got this and a nice air-conditioner, if he wants.  They both work good."
"I need a light," Terry informed us as the cigarette dangled from her lips.
"Yeah, yeah.  Sure.  Got it.  Sure."  He lit a match and held it to her face.  His hands were trembling.
"Promise you won't forget to tell him.  You're gonna tell him, right?"
Terry took a long tug and handed him back his half-smoked butt.  "I gotta go."

"So, how'd you do?" I asked.
Terry wasn't carrying the milk or her drinks anymore.
"Where's your stuff?"
"Fuckin' machine's bullshit," she grumbled.

"I'm gonna need to make a stop," I said, as we ventured back down the block.
"Stop where?"
"Just for a minute," I told her.
"I hope you ain't getting too wrapped up in that garbage," Terry cautioned.
"I'm not," I replied.

Crack was just a treat.  Besides, she should talk.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Complete Me

Gene Dall was almost four hours late for supper.  Each time I heard the Pelham Express go past, I zeroed in on the end of the block, praying for him to appear. Staring at the empty street, my little kid mind wrestled with all sorts of nebulous, grown-up worry.
"Please, God.  Send him home.  And don't let him be dead.  I promise I'll be good."

Prompted every few minutes by the screeching and hiss of the train's air brakes, I repeated my intention and continued the vigil.  Sometimes, I would concentrate so hard, willing him to step out of the next subway car.  On particularly quiet evenings, I could hear the bells chime as the doors opened and shut.  I imagined him falling down the stairs of the elevated platform and started listening for the ambulance that would arrive to whisk him to the hospital.

Finally, there he was.  As he turned the corner, Dad stumbled toward the house.  I could tell right away that he wasn't just a little loaded.  He was blind drunk.  A few strong steps and then, a sharp curve to the right, as if an invisible person had appeared from nowhere and pushed him.  He reached his hand out to either brace himself or wave something away.  Steady.  Steady.  He reeled forward again, this time, listing to the left.  My stomach lurched.  The sight of him filled me with both relief and shame.

I yelled through the screen door, "Mommy, I see him."
Big Mare shut the water off at the sink, drying her hands on the pockets of her smock top.  She reached the porch and looked up the street, just as Dad sailed into a cluster of large shrubs on the easement near the curb.  From the window, I heard a woman's voice holler, "Hey, buddy.  Are you all right?"
"Jesus Christ, go get that dumb bastard," my mother snapped.  Her voice was angry, but she looked shaken.  Mortified, she retreated into the kitchen.  "Hurry, girls.  Just bring him inside!"

Judy and I ran toward the spot where my father had toppled over.  I retrieved his glasses from the sidewalk.  One of the arms had snapped off, and it took me a few minutes to find it.  My sister helped him to his feet.  Dad's face was full of scrapes from the branches that had broken his fall, the front of his  jacket flicked with dirt. Together, we guided him past neighbors who looked away and pretended not to notice the shape he was in.  What else could they do, really?

It was always amazing how Gene Dall could find his way back to the house, given his near lethal levels of intoxication.  Despite a lack of social conscience, he possessed a somewhat highly developed homing ability.  It might take him a few hours longer every now and then, depending on just how badly he got himself turned around.  But ultimately, he'd return to us.  Well, most of the time.

My father could be anywhere when the drinking began.  He never seemed to require any plan or preparation, with no forethought of consequence.  Just him and a switch that got flipped whenever  he and alcohol bumped into each other.  We never knew what to expect, and this is how we lived.

I couldn't imagine what had gone on during the course of my father's day to render him so utterly incapacitated.  From what I understood, cops fought crime.  And apparently, they also drank themselves half crazy.  Granted, my grasp of employment as a concept was limited when I was a child, but this much I knew… He was supposed to be working.  So, how'd he get like this?  And why can't he just stop?  Doesn't he love us enough?

These were some of the unanswered questions that plagued my thoughts and filled me with a strange longing.  This dull ache grew deep inside of me and became a persistent, unfulfilled need.  Looking back, I can almost see the gray hole where all of my emotions disappeared.  I heard them hit the water in the darkness, swallowed up by the problems that existed in our family- problems that none of us ever talked about.

Once inside the house, Gene Dall allowed himself the luxury of physical collapse. He groped his way along the hall and flopped into a chair in the TV room. Generally, he remained pretty docile; no doubt, exhausted from his drunken commute.  He presented with the resilience of an unarmed opponent.  If capable of eating, he sat quietly at the kitchen table, shoveling macaroni into his mouth and occasionally gagging on his food.

Big Mare couldn't help but square off against his inebriated condition.  Hours of agonizing panic takes its toll, and she tore into his carcass like a frenzied animal.
"I hope you choke to death," she told him.

Of course, she didn't mean it.  She loved her husband very much.  She'd just spent half the night on the telephone, desperate to find him.  She called everyone within a fifty mile radius who might have seen Dad within the past 18 hours.  She said novenas to all the holy representatives who dealt with sons of bitches like my father.  St. Monica, the patron saint of alcoholics and housewives, covered a lot of ground on Big Mare's behalf.

"I can't even look at you," my mother said.  "You disgust me."
Mom's frustration was heartbreaking.  Her marriage was a bitter pill to swallow. She thought she had found a decent partner.  She'd started out with the best intentions.  I bet my father did, as well.  But somewhere along the line, Gene Dall developed a taste for the booze, and it systematically fucked them both up.

Mom decided she wanted my father to be a different man, and her demand was non-negotiable.  She knew goddamn well this was never gonna happen, and I think that's what made her so furious.  She routinely positioned herself for disappointment, knowing two things full well:
     1.  He would never change.
     2.  She would never leave him.
My parents' relationship was classic codependency, and I was destined to join the ranks.  It's almost as if I read the Codependent Owner's Manual and followed each set of instructions with the zeal of a scholarship student.

*******

Periodically, I have to remind myself that I'm no expert at any of this psychological stuff.  Yes, I do a little reading here and there.  Legitimate research helps inform my own writing, so I try to incorporate  facts into my stories without sounding like a windbag.  Occasionally, I come across information that enlightens my emotional path.  I discuss these revelations with my therapist.

"Oh, my God," I say to Kara.  "I totally did all of these underhanded, manipulative things!"
"It's okay," she replies very gently.
And it is okay.  I take full responsibility for what I've done.  We can discuss these details honestly and refer to them as opportunites for growth.  And here's another thing - I know my folks weren't perfect, but my mistakes were not their fault. Admitting this helps me be kind to myself, gentle with my dad and loving toward my mother's memory.

Addiction will always fascinate me.  I'm hopeful that I'll be in recovery forever.  I continue to learn how to keep my compulsions in check so I can make smart choices and have a decent life.  I want to stay healthy and do well.

I always thought circumstances provoked me to reach for the wine and the drugs.  I had tons of reasons and excuses for heading to the liquor store and all my dope spots.  When I tried to correct these conditions, my drinking went bananas and I became an alcoholic.   I blinked twice, and I was an addict.  It never occurred to me that I should change my own behavior to improve situations.  That's some intriguing shit.

*******

Whenever I get anxious, I head over to Legacy Heights and spend some time with Gene Dall in Memory Care.  We always have a lovely visit.  I do most of the talking, and he's cool with that.  It doesn't matter what else is taking up space in my head or on the calendar.  As soon as I see him, I automatically feel better.  I think it's because I really like knowing where he's at.

Monday, August 4, 2014

These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends

"What is it?" I asked.
"A duck, I think," replied Charlie.

"How come it's here?"  I figured that was a reasonable question.
"I thought you might want it," he said.
"For what?" I swear, I was at a loss.
"I don't know.  Just to have."


Charlie's voice was thick and compromised.  When he kissed me, his mustache smelled like bugspray.  He'd been in Harding Park all day.  He said he was going to check on his mother, to make sure Mabel was all right.  But that was bullshit.  The drugs always pulled him back.  They sucked me in, too.  I hated going down there; it was depressing - but I loved getting high.  So I made up excuses, just like he did.


My man liked to smoke PCP and wander around.  That was his thing.  The sherm took him on turbulent trips in his mind.  On this particular occasion, he ambled along the jetty and stared at the frozen water.  The waves rolled across the edge of the sky and burst into flames.  A monster emerged from the fire, chasing a giant angel who carried something bundled in her wings.  She flew past the clouds and tumbled violently to the ground.

Charlie ran to where she'd collapsed in the snow.  When he reached out to touch her shoulder, she swirled past his legs and knocked him to the ground.  That's when he saw the bird, struggling in the icy water beside the pier.  He scooped the animal up by its neck, wrapped it in a dirty tablecloth that he found in somebody's boat and returned to Queens on the subway.

"What's wrong with him?"  I scrunched up my nose and made a face.  With big, red bumps all over its head and beak, it looked evil and unwell.
"Maybe it's tumors," I wondered out loud.  "Is he gonna die?"
"Hope not," Charlie slurred.  "I almost couldn't catch him."
Just then, Cancer Duck hissed and startled us both.

"Where should we put him?"  Chuck looked at me, like I would know.

Between the two of us, we understood very little about living things and their requirements.  I already had a kid, and he was eight years old.  I probably should have had slightly more on the ball, but I did not.  We lived in a damp basement in Rego Park.  We both had drug problems that governed our decisions.  Hardly the ideal environment for children or game fowl to flourish.

White and red ribbons with tiny little bells were tied to each of the animal's ankles.

"Get me a knife, will you?" Charlie asked.  "I bet this guy's on the run from somebody," he decided.  This guess made slightly more sense than the magnificence of his earlier hallucination.
"Maybe he was in a duck fight," I proposed, handing him a pair of scissors.
"Ducks ain't like that," he said.  "They're gentle."


Santeria was big in certain areas of Soundview, a growing Caribbean community.  It is a faith where the deities descend to earth to assist and bless their followers. Animal sacrifice plays a part in certain rituals that pertain to spiritual cleansing. Chances are this poor thing was next in the queue to have his proverbial goose cooked.

"Let's call him Romeo," Charlie proposed.  "He looks like a lover, not a fighter."
I emptied out the bottom drawer of a bureau and lined it with old shirts.
"He can't live in the furniture forever," I warned.

"Relax," he said.  "My cousin's got a doghouse he ain't using.  That'll work."
Charlie saw nothing wrong with this suggestion.  The dumbest shit makes perfect sense when you're zooted out.  Every thought is perfect, initially.  Until the arrival of the demons that grow from the soft and tender meat of a poisoned brain. I had learned to not challenge him.

Our houseguest appeared to be quite content, swaddled in his makeshift cradle of stale laundry.
"Goodnight, Romeo," I whispered as I eased the drawer closed a little bit.
I guess I was glad that somebody could sleep.

I returned to the kitchen and the baggie full of cross tops I kept in my bra.  I licked my finger and pressed it into the little sack.  Seven or eight pills stuck to it, and I scraped them onto my tongue.  I poured another tumbler of wine, resuming my life's work.

*******

The next day at lunchtime, I went to the bookstore near my job and read everything I could find on ducks.  Apparently, Romeo was supposed to look the way he did.  He was a Muscovy, which is an actual type of bird.  Muscovies are born resembling other ducklings, but they get uglier as life goes on.  I understood what that was like.

Relieved by the news that our science project wasn't sick after all, I stopped at the Petland Discount on my way home from work.  I approached a young man who was dangling from a step ladder, his arm submerged in a murky fish tank up to his elbow.

"Can you tell me what ducks eat?" I tried to look past the waistband of his underwear.
"No," he stated, honestly.

At first, I thought maybe he wasn't an employee.  Then I realized he undoubtedly wished that were the case.  I stood there for a minute, trying to decide what to do.  I looked around the store for an answer.  I drifted toward the birdseed display and examined a few bags, hoping to find a picture of something useful - like a duck, smiling and eating his favorite meal.

"You know there's a feed store on Metropolitan Avenue," the boy offered as he dried his hands on his saggy pants.  "I bet they have what you need."
"How far up?" I appreciated the information.  "'Cause I ain't got no car."
"I don't know," he said.  There would be no further conversation.  It seemed as though he'd given me as much help as he could manage.  Positioning himself on a stool by the window, he reached under the counter for a bag of Skittles, signifying that he was officially on his break.

I went home and wheeled my shopping wagon all the way to the farm supply place and back, about three and a half miles.  When I returned to the basement, I showed Charlie the fifty pound bag of chow that I'd bought.
"We don't need that expensive crap," he snapped.  "The swans down Classon Point eat garbage, and they do just fine," he said.
"Yeah, but this is really good for him." I protested, quietly.  "Plus, I got some lettuce."

And more wine.

Romeo liked his little shed out back, and he seemed to be enjoying his new diet.  As birds go, he was a pleasant one.  Muscovies do not quack, but he communicated in other ways.  He wagged his tail happily whenever he saw me.  He made good-natured huffing and puffing sounds.  I think we were building a lovely relationship.


It came as no surprise that Romeo did not care for Charlie.  Whenever the bird saw him, he quickly disappeared into his plastic Igloo.  I could not let on that this creature brought me so much joy, or Chuck would surely kill it.  Some nights, I wished there was enough room in the doghouse for me, as well.

*******

A few weeks later, the owner of the feed store asked how my duck was doing.
"He couldn't be better!" I exclaimed.
"Well, I'm glad to hear that, young lady."  He smiled as he rang up my order.  "Where are you anyway, over by Flushing Meadow?"

I didn't even question why he asked where I lived.  Mr. Lee was a very nice man.  And hey, maybe he wanted to give me a ride home.
"I"m off Yellowstone Boulevard." I volunteered.
"Oh, I thought you were on the pond."  He looked concerned.  "Then, where's your water source?"

"I guess I don't have any," I told him.  Immediately, I was embarrassed.  "My bird drinks from a bowl."
"That's not right," he shook his head.  "Ducks have to be able to wash their heads and faces, to prevent infection and cataracts.  Plus, they need exercise."
I ran all the way home, clutching my bag of hay.  And some vodka.

Charlie was shaving his head in the bathroom when I arrived.

"Romeo needs a pool or he's gonna die!"
As usual, anger intensified his facial features. 

"I'm sick of hearing about this bird.  He gets wet when it rains," he growled.
"No, like a lot of water - for swimming and moisturizing."  I explained the information that Mr. Lee had shared with me.
"Don't believe that asshole," Charlie said.  "He knows you're an idiot and you'll buy shit."

With that, he cut the top of his ear with the straight razor.  He pounded on the sink and the corner snapped off, breaking into several additional pieces when it hit the floor.  Of course, it was my fault.

I got an aluminum baking dish from the stove.  I turned on the outside faucet and dragged the hose across the yard.  Romeo waddled from his enclosure and stood in the lasagna pan while I filled it with cool, fresh water.  His beak was opened slightly, and he was panting.  It almost looked like he was saying, "Aaah."


*******

The following day, Charlie had another great idea.  Most of Charlie's ideas involved me giving him cash, him scoring a few bags of dust and occasionally, needing an ambulance.
"I could use thirty dollars," he pleaded.

"Alls I got is train fare," I told him.
"C'mon, please."  I hated when he begged.  "I'll have a surprise by the time you get home."
I left twenty bucks on the table and went to work.  I wasn't gonna give him all my money.  I needed to buy my own dope.

I was nervous when I showed up at the house later that evening.  
I heard music coming from the driveway as I turned the corner - Guns-N-Roses.  It was one of only two cassettes that Charlie owned.  The other was Metallica.  My brother-in-law, Ned and their friend, Stevie were laying on the ground between the buildings, surrounded by empty beer cans.  They were super stoned and covered in mud.  Charlie came out of the basement holding a set of pliers and the tooth he'd just yanked out of his own head.  Blood dripped down the side of his mouth when he smiled.
"I knew I could do it," he said.

I stepped over the shovels that littered the sidewalk.  I ran to the fence to check on my duck...
And there was Romeo, peacefully paddling back and forth in an old porcelain bathtub that the three of them had robbed from a junkyard earlier that day.  They strapped it into the back of Stevie's Datsun pick-up and quietly drove it over the bridge.  They dipped a few joints in their beloved zootie and started digging a giant hole.  Then, they sunk the tub and ran a trench out the bottom, so it could be drained and refilled whenever the water got skunky.  I couldn't believe it.  As absurd as it looked and as wasted as these dudes were, they did a really fine job.

Stevie got to his feet and came over to where I was standing.
"That bird looks lonely, Mare," he said.  "You should get him a girlfriend."
Ned spit into the front of his shirt and wiped the dirt from his eyes with it.
"I need a girlfriend," he commented.  "I could use a wife, too."
"I'm glad I got a wife," Stevie thought for a minute and struggled to recall her name.  "Rose."
"Rose is the greatest," Ned grabbed Stevie by the shoulder, lovingly.
"Keep your fuckin' hands off my wife, Ned.  I mean it, man.  I'll slit your throat."

I turned around just as Charlie threw up on the stairs.
"Are you okay?" I called down to where he was bent over.  He was still grinning, and the color was returning to his cheeks.
"I told the guys you'd give them gas money, so they can go home." 
Stevie nodded.  "Yeah, I need to go home."
He and Ned exchanged a look.  I knew they weren't gonna buy gas, but I really wanted them gone.  I needed to get with my shit, too.

*******

That weekend was my birthday, and Mabel was very excited.  She had something special for me.  Charlie's brother, Rob drove her to the house to come see us. Clutching an identical-looking Muscovy wrapped in a beach towel, the boys helped her down the stairs and into the apartment.


"Where'd you get her, Mom?"
"The Chinese butcher shop in Hunts Point," she exclaimed.  "Seven dollars!"
Mabel was so proud of her acquisition.  Athough I would have preferred cash in a card, as I could have easily converted it into something snortable, I was moved by her gesture.
"Call her Juliet," she pleaded.  "She'll lay eggs, you know.  Charlie love eggs."

Romeo and Juliet really hit it off.  It was nice to see them get along so well.  Most evenings, they waited for me at the gate.  I brought my wine and pills out back while I changed their bedding and water.   They nibbled raisins and Cheerioes right from my hand.  I stayed with them until it got dark.  I was glad they had each other.


Everybody needs somebody.  I have Charlie.
I tried to reassure myself, but it was a terrible thought.
Sometimes, I wondered if I could ever get away.  Charlie would never let me leave. I'd have to kill him, and I didn't know if I could pull that off.  Maybe if I took a hammer to the back of his head while he was sleeping…  But I'd have to be certain to hit him just right.  If he got up, that'd be the end of me.

The love birds continued to thrive.  They took turns, swimming in their bathtub and sitting on the eggs that came as a result of their coupling.  Mabel was right - we ate omelets for the rest of the summer.

Throughout October and early November, Charlie was in and out of jail.  Both times, I was the one who called the cops.  When he punched me in the face, I had him arrested.  And the time he knocked my tooth out, back in, he went.  The ducks and I were always grateful to see him go and tense when he returned.

The most upsetting thing about having Charlie locked up was that it lent me the opportunity to examine my drinking and drug use more seriously.  I preferred to not think about it.  I quickly dropped the charges, and the chaos continued.

*******

"Chuck, you have to wake up!  The ducks are gone."
"I don't care," he said, rolling over on the mattress and facing the wall.
"Charlie, please come," I cried.

I was frightened to go back out there by myself.  I'd just thrown away the garbage, and I noticed that both gates were pushed open the wrong way.  The doghouse was empty.  I knew something bad had happened, but I couldn't figure out what.  The tracks in the snow were various shapes and heading in different directions.  Romeo and Juliet were nowhere to be seen.

"I hate these fucking birds," Charlie muttered under his breath.
He carried his boots into the kitchen and lit a cigarette at the stove.  I clung to the back of his sweatshirt as we followed the webbed footprints over to a broken part of the railing.  Clumps of bloody feathers were everywhere.  So many that I was surprised there was anything left when we got there.

It was clear that some kind of animal had gotten hold of Romeo.  It tried to pull him through the fence and into the woods, taking his head clean off in the process. Then it came back to eat what was left.

"What the fuck?  What the FUCK?"  Charlie whispered into the quiet of a morning filled with carnage.
He turned to me and asked, "Where's the girl?"
"I don't know," I replied, completely beside myself.
"We gotta find that stupid bitch."  He meant it in the nicest way.

I realized the phone was ringing and probably had been for several minutes.
"Goddamn it.  See who that is," Charlie said.  "I'll clean this up."

"Hello?" I sobbed into the receiver, my hands still trembling from the cold and the subsequent horror.
"Mary, it's Artie from next door.  There's been an accident."
"Yes, I know."  At least I thought I knew.
"So, you've already seen her?" he asked.
"Wait.  What do you mean?" My turn.
"What do you mean?" His turn.
"I'm confused," I told him.
Our conversation felt like parallel universe shit.
"Out front," Artie continued.  "Tell Charlie to bring a shovel."

*******

Addiction is an unforeseen beast that devours and destroys everything it touches. Sometimes, it can pull you from the warmth of a regular life.  It thinks nothing of sinking its teeth into your throat and dragging you silently through the darkness until have no more fight in you.  And you give up.

Addiction will chase you down the driveway of your own home.  It will nip at your heels as you run in terror.  It will fill you with such ungodly panic, you'll dart right in front of a large truck and be crushed by its wheels.

Addiction is a monster that tells you it's reasonable to rinse a plastic tumbler and fill it with wine at 7:30 in the morning.  It encourages you to lick your fingers and dip them into a baggie full of pills, over and over again.  It convinces you that your sorrow is relief.
Nothing good could come of this.  Charlie was gonna kill them anyway.

Tragic tale aside, the facts remain.
Addiction wants everybody dead, but it'll settle for miserable.

For never was a story of more woe,
Than this, of Juliet and her Romeo.
     - William Shakespeare