That night, Sonny, Tino, and I sat together out on the roof. Sonny put the few crawdads in a pan to boil on my stove. Tracy was an obvious absence, the missing balance between Sonny and Tino. The potentially explosive rocking, cloudy cleanser that she'd given me the first day sat glinting in the jar in the moonlight, tucked in one corner at the edge of the roof. I'd moved the jar as far away from my windows as possible. I was working up the courage to carry the jar down the fire escape to the dumpster below, but didn't want to shake the jar, to turn it or even move it at all.
Tino said, "We got to do something for her when she gets home."
Sonny nodded. He stepped on his cigarette. He leaned over and pulled me toward him. He whispered in my ear, "I need to talk to you." He slid his hand down my arm. I followed him.
We climbed through the windows, to my room. I stood against the wall. Sonny's breath was wine and smoke and warm when he said, "We have to help Tracy. We have to take care of this baby."
I said, "The hospital'll take care of her." I was glad she'd made it to the hospital.
He said, "She can't pay the hospital. She's going crazy." He was leaning in, whispering to me. He said, "Five hundred dollars, and I can make us a fortune. We can take care of Tracy. I can take care of everybody, if I get this thing going."
I said, "Five hundred?"
He said, "One month's setup. I've done it before."
My head was swimming with wine, with a day in the sun, and now Sonny so close, Tracy in the hospital. I'd known her almost a month, barely a month. Best friend, hardly earned. But she was in the hospital. I should've taken her in earlier. I shouldn't have ignored her out on the rocks, at the creek. I was the driver. I had $700.
My skin was warm and cold at the same time, the day's sunburn in the night air. I said, "What makes you think I even have $500?"
He said, "What's $500--half a paycheck, maybe?" Sonny said, "Come to my room."
I wanted to be in his rooms, with the windows always open, warm air coming in, and never any curtains on those windows. The church resting dark and quiet across the street. We could drink whiskey together from the two glasses, one chipped and the other paint-splattered, the beginning of a habit, us drinking together from those same two glasses.
Sonny said, "Five hundred dollars, I can help us all out. You'll have your cash back in a month, tripled at least. I've done it before."
I touched the paint specks on his scarred arm. Paint was caught in the patches of blond hairs there. On some parts of his forearm, no hair grew at all.
What was $500 anyway? I still had my job at the hospital. My rent was almost free. Sonny was a sweet cloud of turpentine and red wine, smoke and sweat.
He said, "How can I help you believe me?" He said, "I've done it before. I'm almost 43--I've been making a living 30 years now. Ask Tracy."
I said, "Okay."
Sonny said, "Okay what?"
I said, "Okay, I'll do it."
Sonny said, "You'll do it?"
I said, "One month, right?"
He said, "Come over, I'll write out a contract."
I took my money from where I'd hidden it in my slim closet, and counted out five of the 700. I handed the money to Sonny. I was operating with a crawdad's brain, Sonny and ideas of charity and guilt about not taking care of Tracy, in her pregnancy and her aneurysm, as that bit of bacon fat dropped down from the sky. I'd reach for it every time. I followed Sonny to his room. I didn't need a contract.
He poured whiskey in our glasses and we drank a toast to business, to health clubs and membership, to Tracy, the baby, and Sonny's new foot. I was the one who leaned over and kissed Sonny. I started it. This time he didn't flinch, and didn't pull away. He turned toward me. Whiskey from his glass spilled down the back of my arm. I took the glass from his hand, put it on the jagged coffee table. I pushed Sonny onto the zebra-striped sectional.
He said, "Hey. Slow down," and I laughed.
I pulled his shirt over his head, and he let me. He lifted his arms to help. He had one scar on his chest, but it was down the middle, not just on the right side. It was jagged and wide and healed as though it had never been stitched closed.
I said, "What happened?"
He said, "Friend of mine. Tried to stab me. It was a mistake."
Always a mistake.
I unbuttoned his shorts. He watched me as I moved. Then he raised his hips so I could slide his shorts from underneath. But he wasn't reaching for me. He was only watching, letting me do everything. I undressed Sonny and myself too.
I saw myself reflected in every one of the red Christmas ornaments, naked and pale, each Christmas ball a murky red swirl, my face too big, my arms, my breasts even smaller in the curve of the glass, a round and bony shoulder. I saw Sonny, naked, in the red mirroring glass. Sonny's body was Matt's body--thin and rangy--but he was tan and weathered, and not Matt at all. There were no scars I didn't already know about. All of Sonny's scars were scars I'd seen already. They were visible mistakes.
Sonny's skin was for me about erasing the texture of Matt, turning Matt into that marginalized memory I'd been aiming for all along, saudade, the most romantic word there is. I wanted Sonny to take over.
Then there was Joan of Arc outside the open window.
I giggled when I saw him. Maybe it was the whiskey, and the sudden nakedness. Joan of Arc's face was so blank, and so close, it was funny to me. He was a pale balloon floating in the dark, over his blue dress, out the open window. His soft mouth was always open. I put my hand on Sonny's skin.
"Goddamn motherfucker," Sonny said, jumping up, pushing me onto the couch and reaching for his clothes. Sonny wasn't laughing. He didn't think it was funny at all. I was still laughing when Sonny picked up the closest thing, the rubber mallet, and he threw the mallet at the open window. The mallet dropped down, hitting the window's ledge and falling to the floor just inside.
I touched Sonny's leg, reaching out for the back of it from where I sat still naked on the couch.
Joan of Arc flinched, then turned and disappeared down the fire escape.
Sonny said, "Fuck me. That cocksucker better quit coming around."
A warm evening breeze blew in.
Sonny stood up and put his clothes on. He was pacing. He said, "That mother wants something. I don't want him around. I don't know what he's after."
I said, "Sit down." He was overreacting. I said, "He's crazy. He's just collecting bottles out there." We left a lot of bottles on the roof.
Sonny said, "He's not that crazy. He knows what he's doing." Sonny didn't sit down. He kept pacing. I poured us both more whiskey.
Sonny said, "Why's he come around my windows?"
He wasn't the only one with windows on that floor, but I didn't argue. Sonny picked up his paints and started working on one of his canvases, absorbed in another universe. He was talking under his breath, to the painting or to himself. I went back to my own room.
I couldn't sleep with the smell of boiled crawdads. The crawdads were still in the pan, now floating in a pale scum along the top of the water. Halfway into the morning, I put the crawdads in a bowl and took the crawdads down to the alley. When I bent to put the bowl on the passenger's side of the Duster, Joan of Arc was already in the car, sitting up in the driver's place, watching our building. I stopped moving when I saw him. I held the bowl of crawdads just over the car seat.
It was the kind of early-morning gray light that makes everything into shades of gray, like a black-and-white movie. I said, "Hungry?" Joan of Arc looked at the mess of shells, curved backs and antennae. He raised his eyebrows, then looked at me. It was a platter of overcooked insects, tangled bodies, nothing like food. I put the bowl on the roof of the car. I sat in the passenger's seat, sitting on the edge of the seat, still halfway out the car.
I said, "I'm sorry about that scene, earlier," like I was the one who'd thrown the mallet. Like Joan of Arc had a right to be looking in.
Joan of Arc reached into the back seat. He handed me my bath towel. The towel was dirty and damp. Joan of Arc was almost clean. I took the towel and bundled it, then held it on my lap.
I said, "Why are you living in this car?"
He spoke for the first time. His voice was soft, barely audible, when he said, "My father threw me out." It was a whisper.
I whispered back, "Why?"
He said, "I wouldn't quit wearing my dress. They put me in a hospital, but the hospital didn't keep me. Then my father threw me out." He rubbed his face, leaving a stretch of grease along his pale, clean forehead.
I said, "You ran away from the hospital, or they kicked you out?"
He said, "I walked away. There was no reason to run. I walk with the voices, so I'm never afraid. But I walked away from the hospital every time I could."
His breath was the curdled smell of nerves, soured anxiety. I've smelled breath like that before; he was afraid. He was sad and nervous and unkempt.
He said, "Even in the hospital, they couldn't stop the voices from talking to me."
I rested my head on the car seat and curled up with my back against the frame.
I said, "Aren't you afraid of living on the street?"
He said, "The only thing I'm afraid of is treachery."
Treachery. I'd never heard anyone use the word aloud before. It sounded old-fashioned, and out of date.
I asked, "Why do you wear that dress?" The car seats were comfortable as any couch, and I felt myself sinking in.
He said, "I found this dress when St. Michael first spoke. The dress was on the street, to my right, where I heard St. Michael's voice." Joan of Arc's dress looked gray in the streetlight. I wanted to wash it for him. Then he asked, "Why do you wear your dress?"
Joan of Arc and I, we both wore our same dresses, like uniforms, every day.
I rolled the towel and tucked it like a pillow under my head. I said, "It's my lucky dress. I've had good luck in it."
He asked, "Are you having good luck now?"
I said, "I found a place to live. Made a few new friends."
He said, "Is that luck?"
I said, "Certainly." At the time, I really thought it was.
I woke up alone in the car in the early hours of the morning. It was just getting light. I was stiff and shaky, and I'd had too much whiskey. I left the car and climbed the fire escape. The spot of roof was littered with beer bottles. My windows were still open. I went in a window and slept again until Tino woke me, nearly noon, ready to go see Tracy. Sonny was nowhere around.
In the hospital, all righteous people were antiseptic. The patients were a mess. They were old or had been shot or were sick for other reasons. Matt crossed over that line on purpose, moving from clean to near-dead in the bathroom, fentanyl in his blood. Now I was achy and stiff and hungover, on too little sleep. Alongside Tino, I walked in a cloud of cigarette smoke, beer breath, and tavern air.
I saw Sonny down one hall, but then looked again and it was a man in scrubs, not Sonny at all.
Tracy was sitting up in bed, watching television. Her head was shaved and bandaged. Her face was puffy. She'd put on makeup, but only caked and clumped mascara, and lipstick too red for a blood-loss patient. Her eyelashes were dark against her drained skin. A nurse was leaving the room.
Tino went in ahead of me. I ducked out. I followed the nurse and got her attention. I asked, "How is she?"
The nurse answered, "Lucky to be alive."
I said, "What about the baby?"
And then the nurse only shook her head. She said, "Baby?"
I said, "In her stomach?"
The nurse said, "The patient's not pregnant, if that's what you mean."
I said, "She only thought she was pregnant?"
The nurse said, "Whatever she thought, I have no idea."
When I went into the room, Tracy said, "Lindeen, sweetie!" but her voice was slower and slurred. It came out more like "sveetie," the way she said it. She said, "Glad you made it." She was already drinking a beer Tino had pulled from his paper bag. She and Tino both tried to hide the beers when I opened the door, until they saw it was me.
I said, "Glad you made it too," meaning that she'd lived. I bent over and hugged her bony body. She kissed the side of my face. Tracy was wearing a soft, powder-blue hospital gown. She leaned against a stack of pillows, sipping her beer.
She said, "I missed the crawdad dinner! But how 'bout a cigarette? I can't drink without smoking." There were two No Smoking signs. Tino pulled a cigarette from his pack for her.
Tino looked bigger than ever, broad-shouldered and heavy, in the small space of the room with the door closed. I sat on the windowsill, worrying about smoke alarms. Tino offered me a beer from the six-pack. I hesitated, then said okay.
Tracy said, "What'll they do if they catch me--throw me out?"
I said, "Throw us out. I could lose my job, drinking a beer with a smoking brain-surgery patient."
She laughed her raspy, wheezy laugh. She wasn't going to put the cigarette out over my job.
Tracy said, "They cut my head open like this." She drew an invisible "L" on the bandage, down from the top and across one side.
I felt my own hands, imagining my head as light, losing blood and circulation.
The dark circles under Tracy's eyes made her look beautiful in a roundabout way, like a face-lift patient. She was beingtaken care of, and that meant cared for. The powder-blue hospital robe rested against her skin in a way that said fragile and still living too. She wasSTRONG. SHE'D even look good when the bandages came off, shaved head and everything.
Tracy took a drag on her cigarette. She giggled as she exhaled. I wondered what drugs they'd given her, and if they'd tested to see if she was pregnant or only taken her word for it. Maybe she hadn't told the hospital she was pregnant because she wanted the painkillers, heading toward a fentanyl baby. Or else she really wasn't pregnant, and never had been. I'd given my savings to Sonny to support Tracy's baby crisis. If the baby didn't exist, whose plan was that?
Sonny and Tracy could be working together.
If it weren't for the bandages, the hospital, I wouldn't've believed Tracy's aneurysm story. It all seemed like Tracy's way of working things toward free drugs and money. I felt tired and worn, and now small and bitter and suspicious too. I'd given away my savings for a baby that didn't exist.
Tracy said, "I love you both." Then she said, "I mean, I owe you both." She giggled again and said, "Love. Owe. Whatever. It's the same thing, pretty much, right?"
I wanted to leave before Sonny showed up. I had to think things through. I wasn't ready to see Sonny.
I walked back to our building alone. The building was quiet, in the middle of the day. My room was hot. The lucky dress was a joke. There wasn't anything lucky about it. I'd been wearing the dress way too much anyway, and now it felt like a sad, sorry thing. I pulled the magenta dress off, over my head. I threw the dress out the window. The dress caught a breeze and only made it to the edge. It clung to the edge, hanging down as a worn magenta flag.
I put on the salmon-colored dress, Jamie's clothes, instead.
That night in my apartment, I lifted the sheet of a curtain and looked across the roof to see Sonny in his rooms. I looked in the way Joan of Arc was always looking in. The only difference was I had my own room, so I could stay hidden. Sonny's lights were on. Tino was sitting on the zebra-striped sectional, watching a tiny TV. Sonny was working on his paintings. Without Tracy, nobody came knocking on my door.
I'd given away too much of the last of my savings. I'd been missing time at the memory lab because I'd been avoiding Matt. My next paycheck wouldn't be what earlier paychecks had been.
I didn't believe anymore that Sonny ever thought Tracy was pregnant.
I went next door, now wearing Jamie's old dress. I'd be Jamie. I was starting to see why jamie left the building: best friends and treachery. When Joan of Arc had said treachery, it sounded like an archaic word. Instead, it was an all-encompassing word for every human element there is to fear. Seduction and backstabbing, vague plans, anger, misguided love. Friends and gifts and sex. Love and debt. Treachery.
Sonny was best chore boy. Best slave, too many years in a row. Tracy's pregnancy was a hoax.
I knocked. Sonny let me in. He said, "What's up?" then walked back to his painting on the easel. He picked up his brush and started working. His eyes were red-rimmed. Tino was smoking pot at the broken-glass coffee table, watching the tiny television.
I said, "I need to talk to you."
Sonny said, "Go ahead. Shoot," and didn't put his brush down. He didn't even look away from his canvas.
I said, "I need to get my money back. I need that money to live on."
He ran a stroke of red paint over a green planet.
He said, "The money's invested now. No way to get it back. You got to wait it out." He said, "One month, we'll all be rich."
The phones were still in a dusty pile in the cardboard box. It didn't look like he'd shipped any of his paintings to the gallery in the desert, either.
I said, "How's it invested?"
He said, "Trust me."
But I didn't trust him. I said, "Tell me."
Tino leaned back. Over the television's noise, he said, "Cheating the ladies now, pretty boy?" Tino'd been drinking all day. I thought, pot. That's their investment.
He said, "I'm not cheating anybody."
Best slave. Best chore boy. He was slaving for Tracy.
I said, "Tracy's not even pregnant."
Sonny said, "She's not?" like he was surprised, but I didn't believe his surprise.
Tino said, "Pregnant?" He stood up.
I said, "Not pregnant."
Tino asked, "You were thinking maybe she was?" When Sonny tried to move past Tino, Tino reached out a hand and pushed against Sonny's chest. Tino laughed, like it was all supposed to be fun. Sonny almost fell, but caught himself. Sonny didn't laugh.
Tino said, "What's up, tenderfoot?"
Sonny walked, steady as he could. Tino reached over and pushed him again, Tino's fingers on Sonny's chest. Sonny stumbled, but he didn't fall. He walked further away from Tino.
If Tracy were there, she would've told Tino to lay off.
When Tino turned quickly, hands up, like he was going to push Sonny again, Sonny jumped back. Tino laughed. He said, "What're you dancing for, friend?" and he kept laughing in a way that was more about conquest.
I didn't take over Tracy's job. I didn't tell Tino to lay off.
Instead I said, "I'm not kidding. I need the money back."
I saw Joan of Arc out the window as pale skin in the moonlight, moving.
Tino said, "Hey, your boy's here, angel," and that's when Sonny turned.
Joan of Arc was out on the roof. He was pulling the blue dress off, over his head. His body underneath the dress was pink and bruised. He had a long scab like a stretch of bark along one elbow. Joan of Arc was naked and pale as he reached down and picked up the magenta dress, the stained, unlucky shifting bit of nylon I'd thrown out the window when I knew it wasn't lucky at all.
Sonny said, "Motherfucker." He ducked past Tino, and out the tall window. When Sonny bent to moved through the window, he lifted the rubber mallet off the floor below.
What was that greasy rubber mallet meant for anyway? Taking dents out of the already beat-up Duster? It wasn't soft, not a bendable cartoon hammer or a clown's prop, the way the word rubber makes it sound. It was hard under the first layers of rubber, like skin over rock. I went out the window behind Sonny.
I saw Sonny swing, heard the dull thud. Joan of Arc was still pulling the magenta dress over his head. He stepped back, or he was hit, or Sonny meant to push him toward that edge of the roof.
The jar of chemicals at the edge of the roof tipped and fell. Joan's leg was white, and long as it stretched. His spine was A rope of knots, a constellation in the air, the dress shifting to cover him only as he fell, as the dress shook into place. The jar flashed in the streetlight, the moonlight. I braced myself for the chemical explosion. The jar hit the asphalt only with the explosion of shattering glass. The liquid inside ran like water, spreading over the asphalt and sinking into cracks, sinking into my dress, now on Joan of Arc on the ground, making the magenta of the dress blood-dark in the moonlight.
Before the pavement, Joan hit his head on the edge of the open dumpster, then against Sonny's car. He fell off the side of the car and to the ground, halfway tangled in my dress, in the broken glass.
Before Joan even hit the ground Sonny was yelling. He was saying, "I didn't touch him, right? You saw it. I didn't touch him."
I wanted to believe Sonny.
He said, "I swung at the wall. I swear, I didn't even touch him!"
What I remember for sure has only to do with the sound of the hammer and the glass jar tumbling. How the jar fell in the moonlight, how it didn't explode. I'd been worrying about that jar. Now there was no threat to it. The glass was glittering and damp down below.
Sonny kept yelling. He was saying, "His head split open! It split!"
Sonny's face was huge, too close to mine, and didn't quit moving. Sonny's face was red and his eyes were giant--pituitary in action, coordinating fight or flight, burning up his kidneys with an adrenal rush. One side of his face was taut under the scars, the other side more open as he yelled. He said, "It fucking split."
Tino was grabbing Sonny, trying to put a hand over Sonny's mouth, pulling Sonny back in through the window. Over the edge of the roof, Joan of Arc was a twisted bit of white sheet, pale bacon fat dropped down from the sky.
I saw the branches and the leaves on the stand of three aspen in a row that blocked the alley from what we called a yard. I saw the phone line.