To These Guys
Ray would shake my hand, courtly and old-fashioned, every evening when he let me in. The walls displayed their marriage license, flanked by pressed violets under a sheet protector filched from my office; pairs of silver, shell and turquoise earrings hooked on a leather thong; a burlap Texas White Rice bag; the colorful panels from packets of Chinese firecrackers; and propped up on two sixteen-penny nails, Ray’s three-foot machete. There were English Ovals boxes everywhere, now turned to other uses. A scatter of newspapers lay over the greasy greenish carpet. The guinea pig scuffled in his wire cage on the dresser and crouched silent, nostrils dilating.
Ray and I would sit on the floor, backs against the bed, passing the quart of malt liquor I’d brought. The small black-and-white TV, with a wire hanger for an antenna and an excellent picture, was always on. Monica would stay up behind us on the bed, reading or kibitzing. She read Joseph Wambaugh, Baudelaire and Rimbaud — in the original, having learned French from some sailors who’d been her regular tricks — and so Ray and I stood an equal change of being favored with a halting translation of Decadent poetry or a few lines of dialogue exchanged in a squad car. Pig would be decanted from his cage and run loose, chewing the edges of Monica’s paperbacks or burrowing into the covers next to her. Ray would dig out that lump of flesh and roll him around on the floor.
“Pig’s an old man,” Ray would chant, more to Pig than to me. “He’s just a rolypoly old man.”
“Pig’s nine,” Monica told me. “They’re not supposed to live nearly that long.” She leaned from the bed, cigarette in hand, to put her chin over Ray’s shoulder as he tickled Pig’s belly.
Ray left the room on a mysterious errand one night, with a cryptic warning not to open the door unless we heard three short rings. Monica was scraping ice from the freezer and eating it: “The freon gets you high. But mainly, I’m hungry.”
“Christ,” I said, “why don’t I go out and pick up a couple sandwiches?”
“No, don’t. There’s this guy Earl looking for Ray and with him gone I’m afraid — ”
Right on cue, the door was beaten within an inch of its life by a fist that sounded like a Christmas ham still in the can. Panic, panic! But Monica must have been through this kind of thing before; she would surely calm me down.
“Oh my God!”
came her shriek in my ear. “OGod! It’s Earl and he carries a piece! Ray ripped him off
last week and he’s coming to get us! Say omething!
I did say, or rather sing something: “Who is it?” My voice had all the authority of a housewife greeting the Avon Lady.
Monica clapped her hands to the sides of her head. “I wish Ray was here!”
A voice on the other side of the door said, “It’s Earl. Open up.” A tenor; I took heart in my own baritone.
“What do you want?” I bellowed in a linebacker bass.
After a pause, the voice asked, “Who are you?”
“Nonea your goddamn business!” Monica hissed under her breath.
“None of your business!” I boomed.
Monica slapped her head again. “Don’t say it!”