As a child, gazing into sky: "Mommy?"
As a Mother, gazing into purse: "Yes?"
As a child: "Why is the sun following me?"
I didn't know what to do. Would you?
Noon-thirty and I was sitting out in the hot car of a Wal-Mart parking lot. I didn't mind. I was a college junior and time was merely a word and waiting in cars fit my lifestyle like keys fit crossword puzzles. I had a gas station beer, one of those cold metal 16-ouncers, and I wore my good fitting jeans (the ones I would write on when drunk) and the radio was playing angry girl bands. I love and have always loved angry girl bands. They have what I call fuck you. Also I was waiting on a girl. A cute bra-less girl who would soon leap off a balcony.
I didn't know it at the time, so just waited, with my beer.
As she exited she had that walk, all soft-glide and adjust the sunglasses and my god am I young and strong and filling these clothes like they were planted upon me and grown from the sun and rain and earth of my dreams.
She was eighteen is what I'm saying.
"You get your pills?" I asked her.
She slid into the seat with a crinkly white paper bag and a frown. "Yes . . .Why? What do you know about my pills?"
"Nothing," I said, which was true.
"Exactly." She squirreled the bag into her little purple purse. A sigh left her lips and ruffled her bangs. "Nothing at all. And why is this car so hot?"
I shrugged and waved to the glow and blink of the dashboard. "I couldn't figure out the A/C. It's like a spaceship."
"Right," she said, leaning up—half-moon flicker of cleavage—and flipping a knob. "How about that beer?"
Happy she got her pills but a little worried about the frown and the nothing at all, I passed her my drink and started the engine. We'd only known each other two weeks, since we'd met at The Underground, a techno club. I was impressed with her energy (and, yes, the fact she never wore a bra) — a dervish of a night, closing the club, sitting over three a.m. cheeseburgers at the Waffle House, walking and talking across campus until we passed her dorm and made-out good morning.
The car cascaded into the street and a motorcycle whooomed past and she gave the biker her middle finger; the nail polished a deep arterial red. She told me to drive faster and I did. The car was hers, a Lincoln Continental, a gift from her father who worked in downtown Atlanta selling small fish to big fish. It was boxy and white and slipped into gear like glances across an Alpine stereo.
"You want to get a movie?" she said, her voice lifting. "I got that giant TV, we might as well watch it."
Yes, yes, yes, I thought, and so said, "Sure."
We sat on her bed drinking beer and watching a Woody Allen movie about four people trying to figure out why they married their respective spouses as opposed to their best friend's spouses. It was one of his later movies and not so good. Woody Allen was playing Woody Allen, if you know what I mean.
She went into the bathroom and I heard water running and she returned with an odd smile.
"What were you doing?" I said, and then for some reason added, "Taking your pills?"
She dropped onto the bed, smoothed a comforter edge, and said, "You're so the same."
"What does that mean?"
"Beer," she said, pointing to the mini-fridge.
I went to the fridge, paused, and turned to her. "I'm not the same. I mean I don't think so. Am I?"
She gave a flattened smile. "Please, a beer, and only a beer."
We drank and watched the film, vaguely. She repainted her nails, a glossy black this time, and I got a ballpoint pen and drew an upside down cross on my jeans. I'm not sure why. I mean I don't even pretend to be religious.
"That's a hell of a car for a freshman," I told her, noticing her bra strap was showing. It was linoleum green.
"Yep," she said.
A mower hummed outside and the afternoon spread across the room in quilt-like patches of yellow. I made a shadow on the wall, a rabbit, or maybe a weather antenna. We finished the last two tall boys and the conversation turned aimless and beery.
We said thing like:
Is Budweiser to Irish people as Guinness is to us?
How often do you masturbate?
Why do bikers ride cycles, while cyclists ride bikes?
And then we were kissing and arms fumbling and my synapses crackling with alcohol and anticipation and the malty smell of her skin…and then she was crying.
I pulled away. "What's wrong?"
"The movie," she said, sniffling now. "I don't know. Maybe not the movie. I just need to go to bed."
She fell onto the mattress and tugged at the comforter edge, squirming her way up, a glacial effort. She hugged a giant purple pillow like it was a parachute.
"Okay... okay," I said, and helped her with the sheets. I tucked her in and she turned away, to the wall.
I looked around. I felt like a streamside boulder, only invisible.
"I like you," she said to the wall. "I do. I'm just tired and my head is full of things only I can think."
"Okay," I said dumbly.
"I need to sleep." She pulled the sheet over her head. Her face was hidden, a featureless lump. I felt the shadows gathering, like I had already lost something.
This muffled voice: "Call me tonight. Call some people. We'll go eat. We'll go eat tonight and forget about today."
"Right," I said. "I'll call you tonight. No problem."
Looking at the bed, and then about the room, I felt bewildered and angry and sad, but not sure why. I gathered the beer cans and placed them quietly in the garbage. I pressed MUTE on the remote control. Someone ran down the hallway, feet thudding on the carpet. Water gurgled above the ceiling. On the TV Woody Allen was walking down the street with a teenage girl and waving his arms excitedly. By the time he kissed her I was in the lobby.
We were one of only two groups on the restaurant patio because it was too early for the drinking crowd and it was located at least two blocks off the main strip of college bars and half the idea of alcohol for the drinking crowd is to be seen with alcohol. Our group was hungry, so it wasn't such a concern.
The patio was on the restaurant's roof and one of my friends leaned against the railing and talked to his girlfriend about high diving. They were both on the university's high diving teams, and always talked diving. The rest of us ate chips and salsa and smoked cigarettes and drank margaritas and occasionally joined in conversation with the other table on the patio.
A typical example:
"You guys know how to make sangria?" they'd yell.
"Wine and berries," we'd reply.
"Berries?" they'd shout back. "We were thinking apples."
And the night went on like something poured from a sloshing pitcher. We drank, talked, ate tacos of crunch and floury burritos and coppery pools of beans, fried, refried, topped with kaleidoscopic swirls of cheese. Finally, both groups pulled their tables together and we drank more, talked more, over-talked and hit all and every aspect of where to buy cheap beer and how the university parking cops were communist bastards and the way to avoid organic chemistry and who can reliably deliver weed without the confusing phone calls and hanging out for hours in some 30-year old stoner's apartment and did you know Microsoft Works is an oxymoron and wasn't Caddyshack the last truly funny movie, the before we were all dumbed down and thought Adam Sandler was a comedian movie, and what about these margaritas, it's the tequila, definitely that bite of the tequila, that makes a quality margarita. . .
I went to the downstairs bathroom and returned and took my seat, a swallow from my glass, and then my gaze met hers, a slitted glare, something ablaze.
"I saw that," she said in a razored hiss, a tone that quieted the table, no easy feat.
"You. You went to the bathroom, and at the same time that girl"—she nodded across the table, where a girl sat smoking a clove cigarette—"also went to the bathroom."
"What?" I said. "I have no idea what the hell—"
And she was up, flinging her drink, her keys past my ear, digging in her purple purse and throwing things at my head, me ducking, kneeling on the wet-plank-tobacco smelling floor, the outdoor lights blurring, the alcohol, her throwing, hurling, shrieks and curses, and then the purse, skidding along the table and rattling plates and pitchers, ashtrays, overturned drinks, and everyone, everyone what-the-helling, what-the-hell, and she took three steps back, three measured steps, grabbed the railing, smiled, lips curled, white teeth, hooked her leg—no, no, no, I'm not seeing—and she was gone.
I ran to the railing, searching, the shadows and light, the glistening asphalt, her body crumpled at the bottom of a low hill, between a garbage can and a Volkswagen.
"Hey," I said, the words dull and drifting.
And then she was up, stumbling across a street and then down another, away, street light to street light glow, smaller, each time, as she appeared in the next halo, running, arms whirring, running, away.
"What the hell?" I asked the patio.
They stared, a crowd on the highway, slowing for an accident, gawking, mumbling, maybe they saw something, or, if it involved a hassle, maybe they didn't see a thing.
"Angry," someone muttered, "an angry girl."
"What . . .?" I turned to the empty street. "I mean what do I do?"
They didn't know.
I didn't know.
My body floated to the table and plopped into a chair, synapses blurry, lines down, head stuffed with sodden wool, alcohol and adrenaline. Shoving glass shards and a plate of congealed nachos aside, I picked two quarters and a tube of lipstick off the table and put them in my pocket. Then I noticed a wedge of glittering foil beneath a dish of salsa. It held a tiny pink pill. My heart thudded up, and fell like a severed anchor.
It was lithium.
Ah, ah . . . you ass.
Yes, me . . . egotistical bastard.
Let's pretend there is no Example Number Three.
Sean Lovelace teaches writing at Ball State University. He writes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Recent publications include Willow Springs, Diagram, and Black Warrior Review. His chapbook "Grass" is from Elixir Press. His works have won several awards, including the prestigious Crazyhorse Fiction Prize. He also likes to drink beer. And run, far.