“Where were you losers?!” Ronny says from the driver’s side of the idling van. His arms are perpetually sunburned. In his late 30s, with scaly skin, round, orange-tinted sunglasses, and ugly striped short sleeve shirts from Wal-Mart, he is way too old to be called Ronny.
“We got lost,” I tell him. It’s late, but the sun’s still strong.
“Get in. Let’s see what you scored today.” He takes our clipboard and bends over it, head shaking. “Lowest seller on the floor!” is Ronny’s rule. I want to explain what happened but am sure he won’t listen. I’m low man today. Stew had been clueless. I don’t know what was up with him. Probably hungover again. We got a good start. But that lady took us into her house in the afternoon, and then even Stew outsold me, Goldfarb too.
“Pitiful. You had us waiting here for this? Can’t you close a fuckin’ sale no more?” He says it like he’s auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino movie.
He drives us to the motel, where he will lie back in a private room, getting stoned, while the rest of the crew packs four or more to a room: me, Stew, Jason, Bobby Goldfarb.
We sit on the curb as the sun angles over pillows of blued clouds. Melanie sits next to me for a change, pats me on the back.
“You think the sunsets are this pretty in Cancun?” she says.
“Does the sun ever set in fantasy land?”
“What you mean?”
“You really think any of us is going to Cancun?”
We will stay one more night at the Courtyard Motor Inn outside West Chester. Places like the Nod Away Inn and the Coach House, the Arrowhead Motel, the Travel-Inn–they bleed into one, like that U2 song, though I know Bono was singing about God and heaven, not motels. At night, you hear roaches and water bugs crawl, sometimes I catch a spider rappelling off the ceiling. Commotion comes from outside too–car doors clapping shut, people mumbling next door, glass breaking, dickheads whooping it up.
Stew sits, nudging between me and Melanie. What the hell, I say. He pulls a thigh from the chicken bucket.
“How close y’all doin’ on points?”
Stew comes off with the howdy-do Southern good ol’ boy sweet talk. I am more of the fast-talker. When I can’t massage a customer’s objections right away, I go rapid-fire, shame them into doing the right thing. You’d be surprised how often it works. People want to be liked. Even by salesmen.
I remember when Stew’s question had freshness to it. The first part of the summer when I was hotter than the sun, selling was new to me, and it gave me a rush to approach that doorbell, push that button, to hear the buzzer going off, somewhere inside a scrappy dog yapping, the anticipation of the door opening, the fast scribble of my ball-point pen on the sales slips with the carbon behind.
Hell, I was glad to be on the road. After Daddy was back from Iraq for a month, I couldn’t take any more and told Mom I had to go. I didn’t have the grades for college. There was community college, she pleaded, maybe a trade school. She said what would make your father proudest was enlisting. Why did she care what Daddy wanted, anyway? All he did was cheat on her. Everybody knew. He’s your father, she’d say, as if that was enough. Didn’t you love him? Did he love me? Of course. You know him. He’s not verbal. Mom, I kept telling her, he wasn’t there! Ever. When they sent him to Anwar Province, we barely noticed. Anyway, I knew if I signed up, they’d call me up and ship me over there, like they did Dad. And they’d ship me back, broken up, fucked in the head, or dead.
“I’m closing in on the prize, Stew. 800 more points, and I clinch. I’m calling it quits…after scoring the trip they owe me.”
“Screw that, Rico. I’ll call you from Cancun. You’ll still be knocking on doors, pit bulls in your face.”
For all his Southern charm, he has a mean streak. We all do. Door to door burns it into you.
Melanie, we discover, is top seller, again. Her reward? The points and the extra double bed in Ronny’s room. I’m starting to think it’s rigged. Last week in Ohio, the Knight’s Inn, Suzie got Ronny’s extra bed, and I seen Ronny coming out of his room the morning after, greasing his hair with a comb, and his purple door was cracked open, and that other bed was tucked in and made. He was cinching his belt, proud as Sir Fucksalot, Suzie curled in a mess of sheets, her naked back to the door. She left that night. Kind of melted away. Nobody saw her leave, and Ronny didn’t talk about it. I think she ran off.
We spend the early part of the evening tossing chicken bones at parking lot pigeons. Funny how the wing bones don’t fly as well as the thighs. Ronny comes over later that night, where most of the crew is huddled around the TV watching Survivor.
“Tonight, the two low seeds battle for a bed spot. Goldfarb, Rico–ready to rumble?! Loser hits the floor.” The crew is hollering, putting their backs to the walls to give us space.
Bobby Goldfarb is a 17-year-old runaway with mop top hair. He’s stringy, keeps to himself, and sucks at selling. Last week, Cambridge, Ohio, I think it was, Ronny ripped him a new one. You’re bringing your crew down, he’d said.
We work against each other, but we also compete against other crews for MP3 players and McDonald’s coupons. Deadbeats hurt point totals. This is not a summer vacation, Ronny tells him. Goldfarb was taking it silent, trying to be a man about it. We don’t like free riders.
Bobby didn’t say squat at first, then this: “How do we know you’re doin’ your job, Ronny? We don’t see where these checks go. You come in here with bogus numbers, for all we know.”
“Bottom man has no right to talk back to crew leader. Bottom man does what we tell him to. You speak when we tell you to speak. When you achieve, you earn your privileges back. Those are the rules, our code. When I see a list of names and magazine subscriptions on this here sheet of paper, then you can talk back.”
“It’s a free country, Ronny. I walk if I wanna walk. I talk when I wanna talk. I been through worse shit than this. I’m gettin’ out of here. You don’t know the right way to do business anyway.” He pointed at a clipboard. “Where the hell do those slips go?” He looked around at the rest of us. “You’re trapped. Trapped and screwed. I’m goin’ home.” He made for the door.
Ronny stood aside and held it open for him.
But as Goldfarb moved to the door, Ronny sucker punched him in the jaw, and the boy just flopped hard, the side of his head spinning and flattening against the edge of the dresser. Somebody shouted “get it on” and then we were all into it. My foot crushed into his ribs. Stew had him in a lock, jamming his fist into his chest. Stew lifted weights, so those clenched fist blows had to hurt, and Stew smiling all the while. He’d have made a good guard at Abu Ghraib. The girls were screaming, whether in encouragement or fear it was hard to tell. Ronny had his belt off now, and whipped him in the face with it. Then we shredded his stupid t-shirt and Ronny lashed his back with the buckle end of the belt. In a minute, maybe two, it was over, and Bobby was balled up below the TV like a turtle, crying. He couldn’t stop. Ronny stood over him, staring, in a kind of gunslinger pose. He threaded the belt through his pant loops and cinched it. Spit was drooling off his lip onto the kid’s back.
“Rule!” Ronny said, “Never cross the crew.” He bent down and got into Bobby’s tear-stained face. “You’re going back out there tomorrow to sell some goddamn magazines! Until you shape up, your commission’s half of what it was.” Ronny stood, and turned. He took us all in with his gaze. “Anyone else want some?”
The night we pummeled Goldfarb, Jason held a post-thrashing party. Jason spent his daily allowance on Miller Lite and crystal meth, in that order. Things got out of control. MTV was cranked to an ear-scraping level. People were just tired as all hell but that didn’t stop them from losing it. You gotta find a way to decompress. There were people not even in our crew floating into the room, flipping open a can of beer, like they’d been your pal since last year. Dudes had girls pinned up against the walls, making out. There was a wet t-shirt contest on the Real World, and soon we had one of our own right there in the room, with Melanie and Suzie and Paula prancing in front of the tube while Stew doused ice water on their white sand mounds of perfection. This is why we signed on for the summer, to meet people, acquire valuable social skills and job experience, and hopefully get laid. Some nights it felt like we were getting just that.
We’ve been selling college towns east of the Mississippi. I’ve been in a bad streak since Huntingdon, West Virginia. Now, I’m not closing. The towns we hit, the villes and burgs, should be easy pickings in the summertime. Kids around my age with nothing to do on lazy, humid days, hanging in the hollow spaces below humming air conditioners and box fans, doing nothing on porches where white screen doors clap hard, doors decorated with a horse and carriage in black. As we move from house to house, you tune to the sounds between: the crickets scratching, a squirrel chattering, central air units groaning, urging you on to get something done in your life. Go out. Push it. Be something.
People in college towns got extra to spend on subscriptions. Architectural Digest, the Atlantic, Good Housekeeping, The Utne Reader, Simple Living. Books like that and Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Redbook, Elle, Cosmo. We have stuff for young, old, anybody. Rolling Stone for the baby boomers. Spin for the thirtysomethings. Easy. People got time in the summer. You cold-call, they’re almost glad to see you. When I was on a streak, I’d tell ‘em, what are you gonna do when you’re lounging on the beach? You need magazines to pass the time. Push it. Some days I was the brightest thing to happen in those suckers’ lives.
Days get long, though, and my throat goes hoarse after 10 hours. If Ronny’d just let us alone, I could rack up more points toward Cancun, but he always makes us take a couple hours to post flyers for our six nights in Cancun contest, or the simpler “make money fast” sign with his cell number. You call, and he gets you “VIP access” to a sales seminar to learn the advantages of magazine selling.
I started at 20 dollars a day, but since I hadn’t been pulling weight, I’m down to 15. Commissions get tracked in an account only Ronny can see. All of our paperwork, our slips, they’re like fourth-generation photocopies. When the tour is over and the crew gets back home next month, they say they’ll cut you a check. If you really beg Ronny, he’ll write you a check for some of the money, but you gotta sweeten the deal for him. With the girls it’s easier, because they got other things than money to give.
Where does all this money go, anyway? Bobby Goldfarb was right to question. We pile into a van at 8, and we’re on the streets ringing door bells for 10 to 14 hours, rottweilers growling, bedroom slippers rubbing toward the screen door, witches in curlers and bath robes, business suits on to work in their Acuras, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee, fried eggs, tuna fish. Doors shutting all day, or never opening, heads shaking, only occasionally nodding. Lots of folded arms. By late morning we hit our stride. We’re college boys accumulating points. You ain’t no college boys, someone always says. We want Cancun so bad. We’ll say anything. We’re kids with disabled parents. We’re cancer survivors. We’re high school kids earning scholarship money. We’re foreign language majors who want to study abroad. We’re Iraq war vets. We just got back from Afghanistan. Our parents were lost on 9/11. The money goes to the Universal Subscription Association. Is this real, some of them ask? Where is the home office in Hollywood, Florida, anyway? Is it a real place? Hell do I know, I want to say, but I always, with conviction, tell them, of course it’s real. At the end of the day, we roll the checks, pack the slips with a rubber band, and Ronny mails ’em off. Do these folks ever get their magazines?
I’ve been low man a lot lately. This day, the day I will fight Goldfarb for a bed, starts with a cheap-beer hangover. We go to Denny’s for breakfast–me, Jason, Stew, and Goldfarb at one booth, Ronny and Melanie in the booth next over.
“Sleep well, Rico? Eat fast. We got a long day. This is virgin territory for us.” He looked at a computer printout. “College town. Affluent county. A town without excuses. The brass ring awaits!”
The waitress drops off my Grand Slam.
Ronny looks over from his booth and studies my plate. “At least you’re scoring with breakfast. How about scoring some sales today?”
His face is hot pink with soft pink pimples. He’s got his orange sunglasses on, the ones that block out the blue light.
“I guess you know about scoring, skipper.” I poke my sausage link inside the butter-soaked flaps of pancake skin.
“Girls want to be with winners, Rico. That’s your trouble. You’re always into everybody’s business but your own.”
I think of Daddy when they shipped him back home. All the blood seemed flushed into his big face. His legs in the wheelchair were tiny. They didn’t match his upper body. He’d been maimed by an improvised explosive device. I didn’t like the way he looked at me, like what happened to him had been my fault. What was I going to say? Sorry? It was just me and Mom and him in the room. I wanted to say, “Where are all your girlfriends, now, Captain America?”
When I told Mom I was leaving with Ronny’s crew, I told her I needed to do this for me and nobody else, to prove I could be something. That line came straight from Ronny’s sales pitch. It’s like the Army’s “be all you can be,” only it’s about selling Time and Good Housekeeping. I didn’t tell Daddy. Mom said he’d never forgive me for refusing to visit him in the rehab center anymore.
I haven’t talked to Mom in two months. If you want to call home, you have to pay Ronny for the calling card, and I sort of think, what’s the use of looking back? None of us in the crew talk about where we’re from, only where we’re going.
We all have headaches from the 30 pack of Pabst we’d knocked down the night before. I’m trying to ignore Ronny’s needling. I look across the booth at Goldfarb, his string bean arms still bruised from Ronny’s sales motivation lesson. The dope was bruised bad enough that he should have gone to the hospital, but nobody said nothing about medical treatment. I give him my buttered toast, tell him I’m not hungry. I watch him nibble at it, working around the crust to the middle.
After Denny’s, Ronny drives to the Office superstore and copies a batch of new flyers. Waiting in the van, I bum a cigarette from Melanie. She smells of a fresh shower, but she looks already sweaty. Being low man gives you last dibs on the shower, and this morning the water wasn’t hot. A little splash in the hair and arm pits was the best I could manage. In the mirror my skin was tan and oily like a brown trout. I looked at my legs and tried to remember what Daddy looked like running after a frisbee. I’ve put on weight, thanks to all the cheeseburgers, dogs, corn chips, and Coke.
Melanie sits in the front seat, another privileged spot, point blank in front of the air conditioning vents. A month ago I was her favorite. She called me her Latin lover. Ever since, she’s been skimming from dude to dude in the crew. Since my sales have slipped, she doesn’t give me the time much anymore.
The day we recruited her she was reading one of the flyers stapled to a telephone pole. Stew and I were teamed for the day, working a Florida neighborhood of low-slung white ranch houses no bigger than trailers. The palm trees were rough, stubby. Down the block we saw this girl with a bored and “ready for action” look.
“Keep going, meet me here when you finish the block,” Ronny said. I could see him approach her, arms open, pointing at his pictures of Cancun, waving the magazine catalog at her. The same routine he’d done with me. Telling her about the adventure of being on the road. New places. Clean hotels. Paid meals. Every day more points toward your Cancun trip. The selling skills you’d acquire that you’d use for life. The friends you’d make. Lifelong pals. Just like college, only you were learning real things like people skills and how to make a living, not meaningless crap like American history or quadratic equations. She was twirling her brown hair, listening, pivoting on her back heel. A cop car pulled up behind us, braking fast.
“You got a permit?”
Permit? We didn’t even have ID. I looked down the block for help from Ronny. He’d already left with the girl. A day and a half later, Ronny bailed us out. I asked him why he left us in the Volusia County jail, why he didn’t tell us squat about permits, why he cut and ran.
“You needed to be taught a lesson. I’m training new recruits. Don’t give me that look. You get into trouble, you pay the consequences. Keep your eyes wide open, man. I’m not going to be your personal assistant. I got business to transact. Recruits to train, so they don’t end up like you. You got to live by your wits. You gotta sniff out the cops before they come. Have an escape plan. Think on your feet. Come up with excuses. Sorry officer, you say. You play dumb. Make nice. Be freakin’ creative for a change. I’m not your Daddy.”
Melanie was eager her first week on the job. Weren’t we all? She had white teeth like the girls playing beach volleyball in the Cancun photos on the sales brochure. I liked her smile and the way she looked at me. We joked about the idiot customers, the old ladies with too many cats, the crazy townies, the women in vintage housecoats. By the third week Jason had her turned on to the occasional joint, and she’d found her way into my pants. Even though I knew she was using us to get closer to Ronny, I wanted her anyway, and she was the first girl I’d been with since this older chick Sheila, who must have been twenty-seven. It was my first week on the crew, and she went down on me one night in the back of the van while everyone got stoned. A week later she switched to another crew heading back down south, while we trucked north up the interstate.
After Denny’s, Ronny drops us off in West Chester. We hit some upscale townhomes. We go up a new street for three or four blocks. Some blocks have smaller twins and row houses. Others are colonial. The sidewalks are made of bricks, uneven because the tree roots push them up. We end up on this one street–real warm and leafy, not too sticky for this time of year. I feel, despite the hangover, a little more zest in my sales technique today. Bouncy, ready to spice it up. The words of my sales pitch come easily, liquid and muscular. By mid-morning I’ve made six sales already, and Stew is getting defeatist on himself.
It’s all good until we get lost. I don’t know how it happens. We’ve been watching our feet on the bricks so we wouldn’t trip. Stew doesn’t remember where we should rendezvous with the van. Goldfarb’s no help at all. We are more messed up than I first thought. We try retracing, but the blocks don’t look familiar. We know we’re going the wrong way, but I am getting on a hot streak and don’t want to break the magic thread. We seem to be farther out from the center of town. The houses now larger, mostly singles with bigger yards, mature trees. The shade keeps this block protected, cooler than the others. This block fits with what I imagine a home should feel like: quiet, calm, safe.
“Let me take this one,” I say to Stew. We hop the porch stairs of a little bungalow. There’s a swing, and ferns in hanging planters. A Beatles song is on the stereo inside. “I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in and gets my mind to wondering…” It’s loud and I’m not sure if they hear us knock, so we swing on the porch until the song ends. I knock again.
An older woman with silver hair that used to be gold appears. She has a leathery tan and white teeth, open-toe sandals and a bright, body-length dress, printed with orange and yellow flowers. She eyes us, not with suspicion like most customers, more of a gentle confusion. Maybe she’s senile. We give her our one-two fast-talk about being college students earning points toward Cancun.
“Cancun,” she says.
I pull my list of magazines from a back pocket and wave it close to her face. She puts on a pair of half glasses that were resting on her chest and examines the list carefully. Stew and I shoot on about the nice neighborhood. Got to keep the customers a little distracted. No time to think. Running interference like that keeps them off guard. A tip I learned from Melanie.
“Gentlemen, you have nothing I want. What else can I do for you?” She doesn’t say it like she’s apologizing for it. But she’s not dismissing us either. Me and Stew don’t know what to say.
“You look tired. Come on in and I’ll fix a glass of sun tea for you.”
People never invite us in. They’ll buy ten magazines to keep you outside. What is it with this lady? We sit on a loveseat in the front room. The walls are lined with walnut shelves and worn books. It’s cozy in here: a brown rug, red cushions, a couple of small, abstract paintings. Real paintings, not like the stuff you get at the mall. There’s no TV.
Her name she says is Anna. She carries a tray with three glasses filled with ice and a pitcher of tea. Like she’d been waiting for us to come.
“I’ve never seen so many books in anyone’s house before.”
“To tell the truth, I’m more of a books person. Magazines are too transitory.”
She can tell I don’t know the word.
“Fleeting. Fly-by-night. Temporary. Superficial. Of no consequence. I am not a magazine reader. Books last longer. A person grows into them. You can come back to a book. When a magazine hits the doorstep, it’s already old news. An old poet once said that poetry was news that stays news. ”
Usually I have a comeback for a customer’s objections. This one is different. She says these things not to send me away, but to turn me on to something.
“How many books y’all got?” Stew asks.
“Never counted them.”
Anna goes on about books, refreshing walks in the great outdoors, how much she’s enjoyed living in this one town her whole life. It all makes sense, but at the same time it almost feels like a different language, maybe a dialect from another part of the country where nobody much goes anymore. Pretty soon, I am telling her about my Army brat childhood, all the moving, my Dad in rehab. She says how much variety that must have brought to my young life, how interesting it must have been, but she sees how it might have been hard to live without being rooted in one place. My leg won’t stop hopping.
Stew asks if he could use the bathroom.
Alone in the room with me, she puts her glass down on a coaster. I don’t have any patter left to fill the empty space. I’m looking down at my legs.
“When was the last time you called home?”
I tell her I can’t remember how many states ago. The blur, the bleeding into one.
“Would you like to call? You’re welcome to use the phone. Long distance charge is on me.”
I knew that if I called, Mom would cry and beg me to come home. Maybe I should take care of her.
I don’t say anything. I don’t want to betray the crew. I don’t want Ronny fucking me up like he did Goldfarb.
“Are you sure you don’t want any magazines? We have some more on this list here…”
“The phone’s in the hall. Go ahead. Call home, tell your Mom you’ll be on the bus tomorrow. I’ll take the money I’d spend on magazines and buy you a one-way ticket.”
Why is she doing this? She doesn’t even know me. It rubs me wrong, like when a guy with a banjo forces you to sing along to a song about frogs getting married. Singing wasn’t your idea, but here you are mouthing the words. Outside the window I could hear a woodpecker going crazy at a hole high in a tree. Stew comes back in, rubbing his hands on his shorts. I look at Anna and shake my head “No.”
We leave. We start down the block.
“Where the hell is Goldfarb?”
Crap, we’ve forgotten about Bobby Goldfarb.
I don’t close a sale after that, and it takes us two hours to find Bobby, who’s none too pleased that we left him alone. He’s been lying on a bench in a gazebo staring at trees.
Goldfarb isn’t going to wait this time. I’m wondering if he appreciates the toast I gave him this morning. He lurches forward, extending a gentlemanly “fair fight” hand, and whisks it away, then flattens me with a left hook. You’re a fast learner, Bobby. I see asterisks. Then he has me on the floor in a half nelson. I lever his backside into the bed frame and he wails, lets go of me. I’m rising, kneeing him in the jaw, and his lower teeth write a signature in his upper lip. He chops with his right hand, stabbing at my eyes. Then he’s pulling my balls, squeezing them ’til I go nauseous with knotted pain. I head butt him in the jaw again, something about his mouth is unfinished, and we both stand up, swinging haymakers. He claims to be a student of karate but he’s no good at it. When he attempts a leg whip, he puts his foot into the television. By the looks of it, what I could see through my bloody eyes, he sprained his knee maybe. So I slam his forehead hard into the top of the TV, hard enough to break it, but the damn thing wouldn’t turn off. He claws at my stomach and I’m off balance, falling back. Somebody shouts “Revenge of the Nerd!”
We catch our breath. Now Bobby’s flexing. He wants that bed real bad, and he has something to prove to Ronny and the others. For a second I wonder what that lady Anna would say if she saw me here.
He rushes me like a wave. I’m wasted, critically wounded. I let him pummel me. Left, right, left right. He is straddled over my chest, the dragon tattoo on his arm pulsing with each punch.
“C’mon pussy,” he screams. “Big pussy. C’mon!”
Nobody jumps in to call it. Each punch makes my cheeks softer, and I choke on the blood. I can’t hear anymore, nothing but a clanging, like a crash cymbal. So I’m not sure if they are cheering him on or not. I try standing. He scissor whips my legs and face slams me into the carpet, and things go dark.
I wake up on the floor. The clock flashes 2 a.m. The carpet burns with the smell of industrial shampoo and feet. The nylon threads are steel wool on my arm, which is hitched under my jaw for a pillow. It’s like there’s this cloud of rubber pad smell, lint, dirt, spiders, and dollops of dried sperm hovering around my face, haunting me. I’m drifting in an ocean of shag and tile. I look for a rope to drag me out of it, toward the dry sand. My hearing still isn’t right. I should hear ocean, but it’s all clanging cymbals.
There is no Cancun, the cymbals in my head say. Of course there is. It is just as real as this town, as Anwar Province, as Huntingdon, as Fort Sill. Every day people go there on vacations, to realize something from their lives. They go there, a reward for jobs well done. A place as real as the sun, the wind, the sweat, the semen, the blood. The clanging doesn’t stop. There is no Cancun. There is the dream of a full-color place–sands and palms and blue tropical waters, string bikinis, margaritas, and six pack abs. Every day you can fly there, stay a few days, fly out, and tell yourself as you lay back and watch the clouds below how worthwhile it all was. It’s real like that.
No pain, no gain. That’s what you tell yourself. You will go and make yourself ready for the next day. You won’t walk away. You will ring doorbells, steer cars, walk on cracked sidewalks, dial phones, push strollers, pump gas, carry baskets into laundromats, ride hospital elevators, flush toilets, scrape a dull razor on your chin, you’ll get by on crutches, or wheelchairs if you have to, and you’ll take the bills stuffed in your tiny mailbox and tear open the letters from bill collectors and publishing clearinghouses, a little corner of your heart wishing for an offer in an envelope that can’t be refused.
I imagine Anna’s house, bats flying around the eaves of her house. The sound of creaking insects. Upstairs a light behind a window curtain. She’s reading an old book. I can’t make out the title.
Jason rolls out of bed and trips into the bathroom. He’s pissing in the sink. “Oh yeah!” he shouts, still drunk, cheering on the stream seething out of him. I lean my back against the dresser, avoiding a deep bruise above my left kidney, and massage my belly. From Ronny’s room, I hear the rhythm of mattress springs. Melanie’s cooing moan seeps through the thin, spongy wall. I wonder if she’s smiling through it. Is it the smile of a kid in a school picture, her head tilted, artificially frozen? How far is it to Cancun again? How many stacks of magazines will I have to sell? How many doors from here to there?
When the noises stop, I slip on my shorts and go outside. I peek through the slit in the front window blinds into Ronny’s room, filled with the glow of TV light. I see his sunglasses on the nightstand. Melanie’s there with him, one of her spaghetti straps fallen off her tan shoulder. She’s been doing her hair in the mirror, lost inside it, or maybe trying to lose something in it. Her neck tilts as if she sees something outside, then she brushes the illusion away. Ronny’s propped on a pillow watching Ultimate Fight Club. Without taking his eyes off the set, he extends an arm toward the window, middle finger rolling off his fist, effing me away. I go back to the room and sit on the floor and wait for him to start the van.