A Bit of Nonfiction: The King of Wands Part II

Image/Art by Anthony Clarkson from Mind Space Apocalypse

He returned from Chicago months, maybe a year, later. Atlanta does that with its vacuous suck, like a vortex you need light-speed to escape. There was a lot of back-and-forth, bars and pool halls and jobs and friends and parties. He must’ve called at some point. He had taken to wearing urban black, and carried his camera everywhere. The first thing I remember about his return is he was held and questioned after the Olympic bombing. Probably for running around with his camera carrying a suspicious backpack acting all Kramer and weird.

Our lives began to gravitate around the center of town. I don’t know that any of us lived anywhere in those days. We just worked at places during the day and wandered around all night. My bed was a couch in a college town two hours south of the city, so sometimes I just slept in the car and went swimming or took a shower at a friend’s house.

I met him on West Peachtree, on the sidewalk in front of the Middle Eastern diner and the entrance lobby to his mom’s condo building. He was on a pay phone.

“What do you want on your pizza?” he asked. He had these little slips of paper with credit card numbers on them. He forget something in the condo, so we went in and I said hello to his mom, a submissive redhead with freckles, and the bastard stepfather.

There was a pool deck on the 11th floor, where we would swim some nights, and he took pictures of the white bats that swarmed like satellites around the lights. Sometimes I drove around town. I don’t know where we went. Everywhere and nowhere. We drove past the Stardust drive-in on Moreland, where they sometimes had classic matinees, like a double feature of Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby on Mother’s Day. We drove past the federal penitentiary, tall and romantic and made of stone, where I imagined lost souls were watching us go by from black windows. Paul’s real dad was in the penitentiary.

“Do you remember him? What was he like?”

“Not really. I remember he lost me in a poker game when I was about three.”

“What? Is that true?”

“Yeah. I spent a couple days with a bald guy named Boss. He fed me and stuff. Then my mom found out and she came and got me.”

Not too much later he got kicked out. I found him one night roaming with this guy Hans. Hans had just come in on a Greyhound from the west coast. He was some kind of poet, with white-blond hair slicked back and silver rings in his ears, a stud in his tongue that flicked out between words. He talked and talked.

“I need to find my wife,” he said. “Tomorrow.”

“You have a wife?”

“Yah. She might be hanging around Little Five. I hope. I don’t know. I need to find her.”

My life was a copy of On the Road, and this was Dean Moriarty.

We sit in my car in the pitch black waiting for Paul to grab something else he left at his mom’s.

“So I started making these beaded necklaces out west and I’d sell them. One was yellow and pink. One was three colors, purple and green and yellow. This other one was really cool, silver and black…”. Hans went on like this about necklaces for ten minutes. “Then, I had saved enough money for a bus ticket, so I could go back to writing and quit making fucking beads.”

We hung out at the smoky IHOP uptown for a while, read and drew and drank coffee.

“Where are we going to sleep tonight?”

“What about your place?” Paul said.

“Peter is home. He might not like to wake up with people sleeping on the floor.”

“Who cares? He likes you. He lets you get away with everything. And you give him rides everywhere.”

“Too far anyway.”

“Yah,” Hans says. “I can’t leave the city. I have to find my wife tomorrow.”

“I know a place,” Paul says. “But first, I want to show you something.”

He slides in his key card and waves to the door guard at his mom’s building. We take the elevator to the top floor.

“Come on. Have to take the stairs the rest of the way.”

We climb this back stairwell and Paul opens a painted steel door. The roof is covered, high and peaked and too dark to see.

“Come on.”

We fumble along in the dark to a slit of light. Paul climbs under the low overhang, and we follow. There is a concrete ledge, about 12′ by 8′, that is the roof of a row of plate glass windows that runs all the way down to the street. From the edge, you can see all the headlights squirming up West Peachtree, the orange ambience of the city where light touches smog, the Bank of America plaza building, the skywheel, I-75. A hot breeze that is cooler than the stagnant air whips my hair in my eyes. What if you were to fall, or fly, or make love at a place like this concrete and glass Everest?

On the fourth floor, Paul leads us to another door, part of the exterior deck that looks like a janitor’s closet. He swipes his card in the door crack and turnes the knob back and forth. It clicks open. He flips a light switch.

The room is massive, like a whole apartment, like a London garret with a peaked roof and a high window. Nice furniture and paintings are stacked against the wall.

“Welcome home,” Paul says.

“What is this place?”

“Penthouse storage.”

Hans and I grab the blankets draped over some of the furniture and spread them out on the concrete. One of us turns out the light. It is hot, and the floor is hard, but ultimate freedom lies in discomfort sometimes.

A Bit of Nonfiction: The King of Wands Part I

Featured Image/Art Anthony Clarkson

I am going to have visitors. The reason this is essay-worthy is I so rarely have visitors, at least any whom are wanted. Certainly none from Atlanta. But I won’t go there anymore. They have to come to me. So every now and then I will do a little character sketch of someone from my deck of cards. I began writing my own tarot deck at one time — that is how it started — thought I might publish it one day, illustrated with black and white photography, another abandoned project. Because life is a game. A circular passage through The Fool’s Journey. Or perhaps poker. For I am Alice, and we are nothing but a pack of cards.

The King of Wands is coming, along with his wife and toddler. In appearance, he, who I will call Paul, is just another moderately successful guy who does nerdy stuff with computers and has a hot exotic wife. I was skeptical when he said he met a girl from the Philippines and he was going to bring her here and marry her and he didn’t even want her to work. What could I say? Turns out, she is really nice. Now they have a red-haired daughter with brown skin, which is exactly what I knew would happen.

This friendship has answered a lot of life’s puzzles that some people never solve. Can girls and boys be just friends without attraction? Absolutely. Without a doubt. We may not have soulmates, but we have soul families. Do people change? I’m holding to no. Some people are born with hearts carved out of meteorite, and bad stuff happens and they become assholes until they come out clean on the other side, with no excuses.

My son and I drove up to their house on the northside of Atlanta on our way back from Mexico. The garage was open and empty.

“We’re still at the store,” he says. “You can go on in, though. The door is locked, but it’s a simple one. Use your card. You know what to do.”

My son gaped as I slid the card back and forth until the door unlocked. This creature, named Pablo Escobar, some insane cross between a dachshund and a Jack Russell, ran demoniacally around the house while we waited.

I met Paul senior year of high school. It was my third high school and I had three months to go. So I made an entrance in that art class dressed in head-to-toe black and a pair of guy’s combat boots that had been passed around the old neighborhood. He was the only person who didn’t stare, and the only one who asked any relevant questions like what music I listened to.

The best way to describe Paul was like a small version of Kramer from Seinfeld, spastic, but with freckles and a curly red mop of hair. He was frightening good at finding people. One year and four or five residences after graduation, the phone rang at the diner I was working at. “It’s for you,” the cook said, holding out the receiver. It was Paul.

He stayed at one apartment I was living at with way too many people; he made a bed for himself in the attic above the laundry room where there was a small sheet of plywood and a lot of pink insulation. I knew he was messed up. Hell, we all were. His stepfather used to hit him and lock him in the closet. “Naw,” he tells me now. “They let me out when company was over.”

He started running around with this Pakistani guy, Faisal, and drinking too much. At Halloween, he painted his face in black and white for a Halloween party at the restaurant where he and Faisal worked. When I pulled up to the apartment, Faisal and his girlfriend were unloading what looked like some kind of twisted rag doll with melting clown makeup out of Faisal’s car and dragging it on its knees.

We dragged him into the bathroom and put him in the tub. He was covered in vomit and blood.

“He fell out in the middle of the road,” Faisal said. ” While the car was still moving. After he puked in the car.”

He was not conscious. But he was still throwing up. My boyfriend wandered into the bathroom to see what was going on.

“Jesus,” he said. He went in the bedroom and closed the door.

Faisal and I looked at each other.

“We have to clean him up.”

“He should sleep it off.”

“We can’t leave him lying down,” I said. “He’ll drown in his own vomit.”

We turned the shower on and hosed him down. He moved and whined a little. When he was reasonably clean and soaked through, we sat him up against the back of the tub and covered him with a blanket. Faisal left. I went to bed to face a cold shoulder. At some point in the night, Paul woke up, shivering, and dragged himself up the ladder through his hole in the ceiling.

It was fall, still, moving towards winter. I remember this because the sky was gray and leaves were falling. Things always end in fall. We are moving to another apartment, a better one, my boyfriend says. What does he know? He’s a 17-year-old foster kid. Paul is not allowed to come. My boyfriend’s criminal idiot brother and his underage girlfriend are not allowed to come. The only person allowed to come along is my boyfriend’s best friend. I don’t like Jeff. He’s a shit. We put on boxing gloves to spar at his mom’s house and he punched me in the face before I was ready. I was happy here. Now we are moving to this big, expensive apartment I don’t want, and I feel like I’m only allowed to come along if I behave. I don’t know when he quit loving me.

Paul sits down beside me on the front stoop under the slate sky. He is headed for Chicago with Faisal in a week.

“You know, I miss sailing,” he says. “It’s kind of hard work, but it’s really nice being out there at sea.”

I don’t feel like talking. Another leaf swirls down.

“I didn’t know you knew how to sail.”

“Yeah. I learned in this youth program.”

It is quiet for a few seconds, until a squirrel starts making noise in a tree and then flies to another branch.

“Did you see that? It was a flying squirrel.”

“Squirrels don’t really fly,” he says. “It’s just the wind lifting them up, like a sail.”