Goose, it's a Danger Zone
I left after Slim and his friends were killed.
The day I left, I hadn’t used in 12 hours. My skin was tight, my hands were cramping.
“What are we doing here?” I asked Danny that night.
He said, “We’re just hanging out, man.”
But that wasn’t the question I was asking. Danny just didn’t understand what I meant.
I had no money left and couldn’t bring myself to jack money from what family and friends I still had after the Meth days. So, I left without telling anyone. I just filled my backpack with the clothes I could find and left.
I showed up at my aunt Sal’s house to crash, all the way across town, through the park, and past the corner store. I told her I was trying to get clean.
She stared at me through the screen door and shook her head.
“Look what the shit dragged in,” she said and stepped through the doorway.
“I need a place to stay.”
“You’re here to steal from me again. I know what you’ve been up to.”
“I need a place to stay for a while.”
She nodded at me, her arms crossed, her eyes narrowed. She looked over my shoulder into the street. When I turned to look and see what she was looking at, she smacked me in the back of the head.
“Fucking stealing from your own family.”
I held my head, starting to remember why I didn’t cross her when I was growing up. Danny and I used to tear around her house, fighting. We’d come home drunk, with girls, whatever. And she’d always start swinging.
“You expect me to fucking let you stay here, when you’ve stolen money from me. You and that fuck up Danny—he’s always been a fuck up—you’re out there fucking spending my money on drugs.” She smacked me again. “Where the fuck is he, anyway? Is he sneaking in the back window, while you create a diversion?”
“Sal, Danny’s not here.”
“No. It’s just me and I need a place to crash for a while.”
“You’ve said that three times.”
“Are you high, Chris?”
“No. I’m itching. That’s why I’m here. I need some help.”
“You need help?”
“Yeah, you’re the only person I could think of, to… you know. You’re the only person, I could think of.”
“Yeah, I get it.” She opened the door and held it open. “Come in.”
She took me down the hall to the room I used to stay in with Danny. It was bare. The color was even different from the last time. Not one of the posters Danny and I had left was still there. Just the TV and VCR with the copy of Top Gun remained.
“Yeah, I painted,” Sal said, before I could ask.
“What’d you do with the posters?”
“Threw ‘em out.”
“What?” I turned around. Scarface, Goodfellas, Black Flag, Pennywise. Everything was gone. The wall used to be covered with ticket stubs, patches, stickers, posters, newspaper clippings, pictures of bands, friends, faces, cars. Danny and I used to pile on things we liked. There must have been at least three or four layers of stuff and Sal had thrown it away.
“Fuck you, Chris. You already saw that it was gone.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think you threw them out.”
“What was I gonna do? Hang on to ‘em?”
“Yeah. You still had the Goodfellas and Black Flag posters when I was here. What happened to those?”
“I threw ‘em out. You fucking stole my money and you were fucked up. So, I did what I had to do.”
I put my bags down and she grabbed me by the arm and took me to the bathroom. She started a bath and sat on the edge of the tub, checking the water with her hand.
“No bubbles?” I said.
She just glared at me and looked back at the water.
“I can’t believe you threw all of that stuff away,” I said.
“You’re lucky I let you back in this house, Chris.”
“Thank you for that,” I said, standing behind her.
“This bath is for you.”
“No, that’s OK.”
She turned around and looked at me.
I flinched, half expecting her to smack me again.
“If you want to stay here, you’re gonna clean yourself. You’re gonna clean up and you’re gonna get a job.”
I shuddered at the thought of working again. The uniform, the measly paychecks, the supervisors, the fucking customers.
“If you try to fucking steal from me, I’ll kill you myself.”
She added, “And if you’re here, you’re here, you’re not wherever you’ve been, and you’d better find yourself a job.”
~ ~ ~
After the bath, I dried myself and stared into the mirror. I could barely see myself. I wiped my hand across the mirror and looked at the part of my body I could see. My eyes were dark, sunken into my sockets. It looked like someone punched me in the face a week before. My skin had color cause the bath was hot, but my skin still looked aged. I pulled on my jeans and shirt and walked out into the hall.
Sal came out of my old room and said, “Come on, I got you all set up.”
“Thank you,” I said when I got into the room.
She pointed to a pile of clothes on the bed and a plate of food on the nightstand.
“Really,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Look, Chris,” she said. “This isn’t some half-assed shit. If you want to stay here, you’re gonna get clean. So, when you go in that room, you’re stuck in there. You can’t come out.”
I looked at her. A vein in her neck kept popping out as she spoke.
“I’m gonna lock you in there.”
“There’s never been a lock on the door.” I reached back and turned the knob a couple times. “See.”
“I’m not really locking it. I’m blocking the door.”
I laughed. “With what?”
“Stop being a smart ass. A dresser or something.” She took a deep breath. “Basically, Chris you’re stuck in there.”
“What, you’re gonna slide food under the door?”
She just looked at me and turned to walk out of the room.
“—You start now,” she said as she walked out of the room.
Two minutes later, I heard stomping and dragging in the hall. I changed out of my old clothes and ate the food and looked around the room.
~ ~ ~
I hadn’t slept in two days. My eyes were heavy, and every time I closed them, I saw a dirty line. Cut. Waiting. It was hard to sleep, but I dozed in and out. Each time I woke, my clothes were soaked. I’d change. But the next time I’d wake, they’d be wet again. I couldn’t grip anything. My hands actually hurt. They shook, and every time I grabbed the cup on the nightstand, a burning shot through my hands and up into my arm. I wanted a line—needed one.
I popped in Top Gun to keep my mind full.
I kept dreaming that I was in Micah’s front room—a replica of his childhood, when everything was still there: the pictures, the furniture, the color. His parents kept coming out into the kitchen, to bring us plates of Glass, like they were bringing us sandwiches. And we kept taking it. Bumping it. Danny was there. And Melissa. And Donald. Everyone. Even if I didn’t know their names. They were still there, with us. Everyone laughed, smiled. I’d wake up from this to sweat and pain. The sheets, soaked. I’d drink the glass of water and force down the PBJ waiting on the nightstand.
~ ~ ~
The next time I woke, there was another PBJ, a pitcher of water, lighter, an ashtray, and a pack of smokes. At the base of the lamp, Sal left a note.
Here’s lunch. You can smoke in here for now.
I smoked two cigarettes before I even took a bite of the sandwich. The nicotine calmed my shaking a little, but I kept picturing myself at Micah’s doing what we did.
~ ~ ~
I woke. Another fucking PBJ. How many fucking days? All I got. PBJs.
~ ~ ~
I woke. I was on the floor, curled up, fetal, naked for some reason, and my head pulsated.
Sal stood over me, shaking my shoulders.
I looked up at her.
“Stop. My fucking head hurts.”
“You’re fucking lying on the ground.”
I pushed myself up.
Sal picked me up by my armpits and helped me onto the bed.
I leaned back and stared at the ceiling.
“You haven’t touched your food,” she said.
“What is it?”
“What do you think?”
“Jesus, Sal. Fucking Peanut Butter and Jelly. Do you own anything else?”
“What? You want a steak?”
“I don’t want another one of those fucking sandwiches.” I closed my eyes. “I swear.”
“You should eat.”
“I can’t take another bite.”
She picked up the plate and dropped it on my chest.
“I’m serious. I can’t eat anything.”
“You need to eat. You’re fucking delirious.”
“You were talking in your sleep.”
I picked up the sandwich and took a bite.
She sat on the bed next to my feet and looked around the room as if she had never seen it before, as if she was visiting my house and wanted to see what I hung on my walls. But the walls were bare and she had nothing to look at.
“Well?” I said.
“What was I saying in my sleep?”
“Highway to the Danger Zone. Goose, it’s a highway.”
“You’re fucking kidding me.”
“Please get me another movie. It’s fucking me up.”
Sal laughed and walked over to the TV on the dresser. She ejected the VHS of Top Gun out of the VCR and walked out of the room. As she shut the door, she said, “I’ll be right back.”
She came back in with a VHS of Goodfellas and The Godfather.
“Gangster flicks?” I said.
“Jesus, stop being so fucking picky. You get what you get.”
I asked her to put one in.
She popped in The Godfather and turned on the TV.
She shut the door as the FBI warning covered the screen.
~ ~ ~
The room spun the next time Sal came in. She had a ham and cheese sandwich, but I couldn’t even look at it. The room kept spinning. She filled the pitcher with water and left it on the night stand. She took the sandwich and left.
~ ~ ~
Sal brought in a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a couple pieces of toast. I wasn’t dizzy or nauseous, but it took a lot of work to chew.
Sal emptied the ashtray into a small garbage can.
“Thanks,” I barely said.
She said, “It smells like a bowling alley in here.”
~ ~ ~
Next time I woke up, Sal was dragging me onto the bed.
“Can I bum a line?” I said.
I half expected her to pull a tag out of her jeans pocket. But she didn’t and I passed out minutes after she shut the door.
~ ~ ~
“Can I bring Danny here?”
“He’s my brother.”
“He’s a fuck up.”
“But he’s my brother.”
“Get a job, a place, and you can do it. I’m not dealing with that brat.”
“Come on, Sal.”
“Does he even want to come?”
“That’s my point.”
“When can I leave?”
“When you’re better.”
“Not yet, Chris.”
~ ~ ~
I haven’t used in three weeks. I walk up to Micah’s and the house is still. Nothing comes from inside. It’s as if the house is dead, just a shell.
I get to the door and knock three times.
~ ~ ~
Danny and I are on the porch, smoking cigarettes, when music starts thumping from inside the house. I don’t remember a stereo, but there’s one now and Black Flag’s playing. We don’t say anything, just smoke and look from each other, to the street, then back. He’s got on a homemade Circle Jerks shirt he made out of a plain white T and a sharpie. It’s only three months old, but it’s worn on the shoulders and neck. It’s formed to certain parts of his body, but hangs off others. It used to fit him well, but it doesn’t anymore. There’s dirt smeared across his chest and a dark stain on his belly.
“Where the fuck have you been?” Danny says, blowing smoke in my face.
“I couldn’t be here anymore, so I left.”
“Why? What happened?”
“What were we doing?”
“We did what we did, Chris.”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“What are you saying?”
Never mind. I’m just saying that I couldn’t be around anymore.”
Danny doesn’t say anything, just leans against the wall and nods a couple times. He rolls his neck and looks past me, into the street.
“I think Micah killed Slim,” I say.
He laughs and rolls his eyes.
“Bullshit. There’s no way. It’s Micah—and Slim was a dealer. That’s the risk you run.”
“He would’ve done it that last time, if we didn’t show up.”
“You don’t know that.”
“You saw the screwdriver.” I think about why we were at Slim’s. The way Micah looked at us, as if we were betraying him. “He was going to clear his debt.”
“We’re talking about Micah.”
“That’s what scares me.”
“He tried to rat us out. We’re his friends and he tried to rat us out over some fucking Glass he never paid for.”
“We were bumping that shit and you know it.”
“I know, but it’s not like he was saying. He was worse than us.”
“He apologized, Chris.”
“But he wouldn’t have. Slim gave him a break. That’s the only reason, he took it back and said he was sorry. What makes you think he wouldn’t turn on us the next time he gets in a jam?”
“He’s our friend.”
“He turned Judas.”
“He back-stabbed us.”
Danny shakes his head and hocks a lugee off the porch.
We stare at each other for a while, like we’re trying to understand each other, but Danny’s half-tweaked, probably coming down, half-lucid. We turn and look at a car passing by. I can hear Micah inside screaming along to Black Flag, his words muffled from the walls.
Danny flicks his cigarette butt into the lawn and asks for another.
I hand him a new one, but he doesn’t light it. He twirls it between his fingers.
“What’s going on, Chris?”
I look at my shoes. “I found an apartment.”
“I found an apartment.”
“You can’t afford that. You can’t even afford a couple tags. Look at yourself. You’re itching for a line.”
“Since the day I left. It’s been three weeks.”
“Shit, it’s been that long?” He sits down on the porch and looks up at me. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
I shrug and watch his eyes rattle.
He looks me up and down like he’s really looking at me for the first time. His lips tighten and his eyes squint.
“You look like shit,” he says.
“I feel like shit.”
Danny reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tag. “You should bump this.”
I shake my head. “I got a job.”
Danny starts laughing.
“Chris, how can you? I mean, come on. We don’t pay rent.” He keeps laughing as he talks. “And even then, we can barely afford to bump.”
I smirk at him.
He stops and lights his cigarette, and after he takes a drag, he points at me and says, “You’re being stupid. You can’t hold down a job.”
Danny doesn’t say anything, just looks at me with his eyebrows raised, smirking, his teeth showing like he’s about to flip me shit, but there’s disappointment in his eyes. I can see it. He wants me to stay, but he can’t say it or maybe he doesn’t know how to say it.
I tell him I’m serious again.
He tells me he knows and takes a drag.
“Come live with me,” I say.
“It’s all the way up Lanning, by the Gomez house.”
“Over there?” He stands up straight and waves his hands in front of me. “That’s all the way across town.”
I pull out a new cigarette and light it. I smile. I pretend this isn’t hard for me. I pretend to be the smarter older brother, the one who knows what’s best. But he can see right through me, like he knows I’m weak, knows I don’t want to work a job, knows I want to take the tag from him, walk right back in that house, cut a line, bump it off the fucking table, and stay.
“Look at your hands. You’re shaking,” he says.
I look at my hands. I noticed them shaking when I first left Sal’s, but maybe I’ve gotten used to it.
“You’re shaking, dude.”
“Of course I’m shaking, I’m still itching.”
“Is it bad?”
“It’s better than it was.”
He opens his palm and shows me the tag again.
“That’ll make it worse, Dan.”
Danny takes his hand back and shoves the tag into his pocket. He examines me again and brings his knees up to his chest. “You really look horrible.”
“I look horrible?”
“Yeah, you do. You don’t look like yourself.”
“Danny, I look better than you.”
“It looks like you can’t take care of yourself.”
He laughs and says, “I’m doing fine, dude.”
I just shake my head.
“You wanna come in,” he says and looks over his shoulder. “You could come in if you want.”
“I shouldn’t be here,” I say.
“Why are you here?”
I’m staring at his pockets. Now that he’s shoved the tag away, now that it’s hidden, I want to bump it up my nose, I want to feel the way my eyes stay open, I want to feel the way my heart pumps.
Danny must see me looking cause he reaches into his pocket again. “If you want it—”
“—No. I’m done. Don’t.”
He pulls his hands back out and looks at his feet. “I feel like you’re standing there, judging me and everyone in this house.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Well, that’s how I feel.”
“I’m here to bring you with me. You need to get out of here.”
“Shut up, dude. You’re talking like some kind of fag.”
“Danny, you should come live with me.”
He laughs and stands back up. “No way. I like it here. And Micah’s got a sweet hook up from Shadows.”
“I don’t like Shadows.”
“Danny, you should come with me. Get the fuck away from this.”
He smiles. “You are looking down at us.”
“It sounds like it. ‘Get the fuck away from this?’ What the fuck does that mean?”
“You’re my brother. I just want you, I don’t know, away from this.”
“I like it here.”
“I did too.”
“You’re still mad at Micah about the whole Slim thing.”
“You mean, that he killed him.”
“You don’t know that—no. Dude. I’m talking about the whole Judas thing.”
“I’m not mad.”
“Yeah, you are.”
“I’m not mad. I’m just getting out of this while I can.”
“Out of what?”
I point at the house. “This. Stealing, bumping, fucking wasting away.”
“You’re an asshole, Chris.”
“I move in tomorrow. You can come if you want.”
“How’d you get the money for an apartment?”
“I borrowed it.”
“Yeah.” He laughs and slaps my shoulder. “You don’t know anyone with money.”
“I borrowed it from Sal.”
“Sal? No way she’d give you money.”
“I got four months to pay her back.”
“She knows you’ve been bumping.”
“I know. I told her.”
“Where’d you really get the money?”
“Sal lent it to me. She knows I got a job. I work at her place, stocking shit for the night crew. She drove me to the interview.”
“They hired you looking like that?”
“I cleaned up pretty well for it.”
Danny nods a couple times, smirking, and flicks his cigarette past me, into the lawn.
He tells me he’s going inside.
I tell him I’m leaving. I take a pen from my pocket and write my address on the top of his hand.
“Don’t tell anyone where I live.” I point at his hand. “This address is for you. Only you. You have a place to get clean. But if you come, don’t bring any fucking Glass.”
“What if I don’t come?”
“I’ll come back and convince you later.”
“I won’t come.”
“OK,” I say, evenly.
“OK,” he says, unevenly and goes inside.
I walk back to Sal’s.
~ ~ ~
Danny knocks on my door early Sunday morning with a backpack slung over his shoulder. His eyes are red and his skin is close to a grayish color. There are bags under his eyes. He looks me up and down. There’s a half-smoked cigarette stuck in the crease of his lips. He puffs, smiles, and shakes his head a couple times.
I pull the smoke from his lips—he winces at the pull—and bring him inside.
“You look good,” he says, setting his bag down on the floor.
“You tweaking?” I say.
He walks past me and into the room, looking around.
“Changed your mind?”
“I’m here,” he says and cracks his neck. “Any place is better than there.”
“Thanks, I’m glad my place is any place.”
He looks at me, startled. “No. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I’m kidding.” I pat his shoulders a couple times. “What happened? I thought you’d never leave that place.”
“Fucking shit got real.” He leans against the wall and points at his head. “I figured it out though.”
He takes a deep breath and starts, “So, I found this fucking Super NES at the thrift store in town and brought it back to the house. We played it for a couple days.”
“What’d you play?”
“Super NES,” he says and rolls his eyes.
“Oh. Shit. Street Fighter II.” He laughs. “But anyway, Howard jacks Mario Kart and Mortal Kombat from this kid in Long Beach. And we started playing those. But I go find Shadows for some Glass and when I get back, Street Fighter is gone and there’s just fucking Mortal Kombat.”
“Did they pawn it?”
“Well, I asked fucking Micah what happened and he said he fucking was gonna trade it in for Donkey Kong.”
“Donkey Kong for Street Fighter? Is he fucking nuts?”
“Yeah, the fucking Glass messed him up.” Danny points to his temple. “Brainless.”
“So, what’d you do?”
Danny pulls the game out of his bag.
“He had it on him?”
“Yeah, it was in his bag. The fucker was about to split.” He shakes his head. “I fucking snagged it from him, grabbed my shit and took off.”
“What’d he say?”
“Nothing. He couldn’t understand what I was pissed about. Said, he thought I’d be bored with it by now, so he was gonna get a new game.” He coughs and shakes the game at me. “How is it possible to get bored by this?”
He takes a step towards me, but wobbles a little.
I grab him by the arm and bring him around the couch and tell him to sit. Danny just looks at it for a second, then he sits.
The dark green corduroy is ripped open and the stuffing pops out of the holes. There are stains everywhere. They look like mustard, coffee, and grape juice.
Danny’s wearing the same clothes he was the last time I saw him. But the hole on his shoulder is bigger and he’s got a dark brown stain across his chest. He lies down on the couch and looks up at me.
He closes his eyes and says, “I’m sweating, my hands won’t stop shaking—look.” He shows me his hands. They shake. “I feel like I have to swallow every two fucking seconds, but my mouth is dry—can I get some water?” He rubs his forehead. “I feel like shit.”
“Just, you know, give it time.” I walk into the kitchen, get a glass of water, and bring it back.
He takes it and guzzles it down in one gulp.
“We’ll see,” I say. He’s not even at its worst.
“Thanks, dude.” He rolls his eyes and lies back down. You’re making this so much easier.”
~ ~ ~
In the morning, I find Danny on the kitchen floor, passed out, snoring. I shake him awake and ask him what he’s doing.
He says he’s hungry and looks at the fridge.
“Lying on the floor isn’t gonna help.”
“Dude, I can’t even stand up,” he says.
“When’s the last time you ate?”
He lays his head against the floor, closes his eyes, and starts to hum. “Um, Thursday. We had hot dogs and chili.”
He opens his eyes. “Really?”
I help him back to the couch, lay him down, and make sandwiches.
~ ~ ~
Danny’s on the couch, reading an article in Rolling Stone.
I hand him a plate of food.
“Fucking PBJs. Dude, that’s all I’ve had.” He coughs. “Fuck, come on. I saw some TV dinners in there, even some fucking mac and cheese.”
“Stop complaining. At least you’re eating.”
“But I’ll fucking leave if you keep feeding me PBJs. I’m fucking out if I eat one more.”
“Dude, that’s what Sal fed me.”
“Yeah, but Sal’s mean on purpose.”
I laugh and remember having the same argument with her, about the sandwiches.
“I gotta go to work,” I say. “I’ll make you a real dinner tonight. Maybe I’ll pick something out.”
“You’re not staying?”
“I gotta work.”
“Yeah, but you’re not gonna lock me in a room or something? You trust me to stay?”
His eyes have widened and he looks worried, scared even, like he knows how weak he is.
“Sal doesn’t like you, otherwise I’d take you there.”
“Danny, just don’t go anywhere.”
“Take my shoes,” he says.
“Yeah, take my shoes.” He smiles weakly. “I can’t walk around on the cement in this heat. Taking my shoes will keep me here.”
I walk over and grab his shoes off the floor. I turn to leave.
“Chris, you should take your other shoes too. I mean, we’re the same size, anyway.”
I walk into my room and put my Cons into my backpack, throw Danny’s shoes in, and even take my flip-flops.
Danny’s laughing when I shut the door.
~ ~ ~
I come home and Danny’s gone. I pick up the phone and call Micah’s, but Micah hasn’t seen him. There’s music blaring in the background. I can hear people shouting.
“Who is this?” he says.
I hang up.
~ ~ ~
Danny comes back two hours later.
He walks inside and smirks, then sits down on the couch, right next to me. He sighs and rolls his neck a couple times. I don’t say anything. I just look at his feet. He’s wearing a couple layers of socks.
I look at him. I stare.
“I should’ve taken the socks too.”
“What?” he says, slight laughter slipping from his mouth.
“Where’d you go?”
“Did you tweak?”
I examine him. He looks the same, except he’s showered, and dressed in my clothes. His face looks like it did yesterday, just not as fucked. There’s more color in his skin and his eyes aren’t as red. The dark puffs under his eyes have started to shrink, but his hands are still shaking.
He shakes his head, but doesn’t answer till I say his name three times, slowly.
He says, “Does it look like I’m fucking tweaking? I went out for smokes.”
He doesn’t answer right away, but sort of looks around the room a couple times and cracks his knuckles.
I look around to see what he’s looking at, but there’s nothing in my apartment. There’s just the couch we’re sitting on, a toaster in the kitchen, and nothing but wall-to-wall carpet, white walls, and Venetian blinds. I don’t have pictures or paintings or even a TV. Nothing. He’s just looking at nothing. I look back at him and stare.
“What?” he says, not looking at me, color back in his face, like he’s blushing.
“What else did you do?”
“I tried to buy beer.”
“Yeah, but I kept getting carded. I had to walk all the way over to Rufus, but they were closed, so I came back.” He takes a breath. “I just want a fucking beer. What do you want from me?”
I start laughing, and slapping his shoulder. “You want some beer?”
“Yeah. I do.”
~ ~ ~
For a month, Danny stays clean. He just drinks a lot and sleeps most of the day, while I’m at work. The boredom gets to him, and sometimes I come home, and he’s either making paper airplanes out of beer bottle labels and bills, or doing pushups in front of the couch. He calls himself a caged animal and I laugh.
But I come home today and he’s gone. There’s a note on the table.
AKFD is playing over near Howard’s house. I think his cousin lives at the house. You should come. I’ll be there till late. If you don’t show, I’ll see you later.
But Danny doesn’t come home.
I wait until morning to call Micah’s.
When I ask for Danny, Micah says, “Who?”
“Danny,” I say.
He yells something away from the phone. I can’t understand it.
Seconds later, Danny’s on the phone.
“When are you coming home?”
“Oh. Hey Chris. Soon. I’ll call you later.”
“Danny,” I say.
“Chris, stop hovering.”
“How am I hovering?”
“You just are. Let me do what I want. I’m fine. I’ll come home when I’m ready.”
“Danny, just leave. Come back.”
“You know why. You know what’s over there. No one there will understand, they’ll offer you shit and you’ll want it cause you’re itching and—”
“—Why are you always hovering, judging everyone that’s not like you, looking down your fucking nose at everyone?”
“You know why.”
“Jesus, Chris. Leave me alone. I’ll be home when I want to come back. Otherwise, you know where to find me.”
Click. He hangs up.
I let the phone buzz for a while, then put it down cause I don’t want to hold it anymore.