Blue Skirt Productions is proud to introduce Sparky and Dwayne. This unlikely pairing will have you laughing and aching as they navigate each other and the new life they embark on. We will be publishing one chapter on the first Thursday of each month from the book, The Continuing Adventures Of Sparky And His Guardian Friggin’ Angel by Marc D. Regan. We would say more, but feel Sparky and Dwayne speak best for themselves…. Enjoy!
Chapter One: A Thousand Mile Journey Begins With 1 Big Bang
Okay. So here’s the picture: You got this friggin kid, the whole goddamn town’s golden boy. And his sweet sixteenth b’day–it’s in full sports star cha-cha. Plenty’a drinkin’. Empty kegs gettin’ field-goaled to the sidelines as the next is tapped and spurts froth-capped golden pony piss into one’a them red plastic cups. Sure, there’s tokin’. You know how these bashes go. Muscled arms draped over muscled shoulders, while curvaceous cheerleaders squeal and swoon.
In the picture’s center is Golden Boy—and he’s flawless, with blonde hair clipped neat on the sides and back, and longer up top so an adorable wave brushes his fair fuckin’ forehead and celestial blue eyes, both innocent and sharp as a friggin’ hat pin, plus a show of ivory like he’s a bleach drinker; and finally the physique of Adonis—the picture’s a cliché in a jockstrap.
All to say, it’d be enough to have a guy like me (who orbits, exiled to the edges at birth) retchin’ in his red keg cup, if I wasn’t ace at crashing these Coach’s Favorite parties and versed at tipping as many free drafts and puffin as many free doobies as possible.
Thing is, in this midsummer’s night panoramic of millin’ meatheads that’s now tucked in your feather bed friggin’ mind, there lurks not-so-nice elements: A fin’a knaves who pass shaggy winks. Just hangin’. Like a bad-breath burp in a crowded elevator. Friggin’ idiots set to spike the yippy-yi-ay right out of the hey-I’m-turning-sixteen party with their flask of old-fashioned ill will. Waiting while Golden Boy gets ripped. Staggering. Then bingo. A flashed half pint and Pavlov’s Birthday Boy’s droolin’ for a taste. He gets lured outta his folks’ rosewood and stain-glass front door, down those front friggin’ steps, across a meticulous front lawn.
Imagine a nice night. Warm, clear, no moon. Trillion dead stars. Adonis blotto from suckin’ his fair share of pony piss, stumblin’, lookin’ up, as one’a these lost boys instructs, no doubt seein’ two trillion dead stars. And he’s goin’ something like Whoa…lookit the stars in that perfect goofball Golden Boy voice.
And those dudes, five or so rotten bananas, they usher him ever farther from that fancy house—his whole friggin’ life, really—till one of em halts the parade and goes:
“Hey, Randy, we got ya a birthday present.”
Voila, out comes the bottle.
Birthday Boy’a course already laid eyeballs on it, but his brain (and for a goddamn jock, the kid’s usually pretty friggin’ smart), it’s tapioca. So what his double vision sees, as if for the first time’s a pair of half pint bottles, a bottle (there’s only one, Einstein) that’s not even new. With a peeling label, broke seal, and only part full, it’s a nightcap to match his Robert Johnson’s last. But the kid’s pie-eyed oblivious, swayin’ like a dashboard hula girl in his five thousand dollar athletic footwear, as his show-stopping eyes—made all the bluer by the vein-infused whites—strain to focus, and the lug with the bottle goes:
“Thing is, Randy, you gotta guzzle the whole thing in one tip.” And sure you can see it: these foul fucks starting to sing (deep and hushed) drink, drink, drink, drink…
And void’a further encouragin’, and his already booze-befuddled noggin noddin’, Randall Prescott III (aka Golden Boy, Sports Star, Richie Rich; soon to be Sparky, plus the derogatories a wicked world can pin on a victim) seizes the dirty bottle, downs its vile contents and—three, two, one—he hits the hunk’a street he’s always lived on, and there on a Sports Star-sized asphalt chunk that’s in plain friggin’ sight’a the neighborhood, the kid starts convulsin’—word has it—like an epileptic in a hornet nest. Now here was a foul finish to the kid’s Sweet 16 bash that had those putrid pranksters happy dancin’. Teach the town’s favorite bii-atch a lesson.
Only it didn’t stop there. What came after the kid’s collision with the pavement was like the thunder and lightning got their shit backwards so the flash followed the crash, and this flash eclipsed any sunshiny future the kid or his folks or his coach or his supposed friends or his sexy little honey-pie could’a shit outta their asshole imaginations.
But what the fuck do I really know? I’m Dwayno (deemed Draino by many) and few, if any, citizens in our prissie little town would accept a drink’a water in Hell from me. People tend to vanish when I start talkin’. And probably for the best, cause good stock, it ain’t my friggin’ heritage. Some say I lie. I call it embellishin’. And my retellin’ the events at that party’s totally based on conjecture, barroom gossip, and overheard conversation. Dwayno just mixed it together and finger-painted a picture in your mind. Colorful details that may or may not be accurate.
Cause I wasn’t there. I invent details…
Seeing what they’d done, with the kid jitterbugging on his side and puke spillin’ from his lips and nose holes, this band’a dirty dickheads yelled Holy shit! and Fuck me! and spit some wicked laughter. Unfinished cigarettes tumbled as those tricksters ran in different directions, and their discarded cherry-headed smokes rolled a quick path for the unconscious still-twitchin’ kid and the puddle of puke and the unfinished splash’a whatever he downed, which now surrounded his golden head like Satan’s own halo, and
that summer night briefly lit, like it was friggin’ noon, like Old Man Time had been sneakin’ sips off his own brown bottle flask and had let an hour-skewin’ hiccup’a fire, as whatever had been in that pint bottle and was then pooled under, on and in Golden Boy’s jaws ignited.
…details like that. And you can call these details pure bullshit or you can say they’re fruit from the busy-body bees that’ve buzzed round our town of Anderson since an ill-fated eve—that’s now legend—spreadin’ rumorous pollen. But factual or fiction, true or falsified, witnessed or dreamed up, the essential story’s that a prank stole—and nearly killed—sixteen-year-old Randy Prescott.
Sleeping in a truck stop parking lot is hard. I mean, sure trying to drop into dreamland is literally hard, what with your hips and ears and elbows ground by the blacktop, your whole body forever cocked to run—for your life, maybe—but you get used to that kind of hard. You adapt.
But there are other kinds of hard. Like when some horn-ball fat-ass truck driver gets it in his caveman head that he wants to poke you in the shower. Or make a night of it in his sleeper cab. Doesn’t hear when you tell him you don’t swing that way.
Or could be he’s not fat but a rail-thin speed-freak long distance hauler, and at the news that you’re not going to be his dirty-dance partner, he decides he doesn’t like you or your horrid face and that the world would be a nicer, cleaner place without a freak like you around. Doesn’t matter that you haven’t said two words to the guy and that you’re just trying to get a little fuel in your tank, a little gut-destroying bacon and eggs, maybe. Next thing you know Speed Freak has a pistol, some snub-nosed number that looks like a cap gun, but you don’t want to find out how it’ll fuck you up, so you’re running.
A lot of running in these last weeks of endless days.
Running, because maybe tonight’s example of hard is an SUV full of high school seniors who are shattered on rum and have noticed you in the shadows seeking invisibility. They’re not interested in taking you into the shower, but they do want to fuck you up good: all because you won’t take off your big hood and show these yahoos your face. Damn right, you’re running.
Still they catch you, fall on you. Perhaps you’ve taken a header in an irrigation ditch you missed as you stole looks over your shoulder, knowing they’re close and that these jocks, drunk or not, are in the shape you once wore beneath your skin. Back when you stretched and worked your entire body, rather than exhausting just your legs, when you smiled for cameras and moved for crowds, cat-like, electric—back in your now smoke-obscured past.
Sure your legs are strong from steady walking—day after day—but they’re also tight and tired, unable to ensure escape, especially when you’re in a dry ditch, drunk yahoos on you, their fists pummeling, their toes hammering.
Hard is when there’s no hope, no running away.
When night becomes nightmare, there’s just enduring, curling, accepting their hail, stony fists raining down, striking soft parts, until you are done, punch-drunk. Erased.
Hard becomes irrelevant when you’re invisible.
Because although they get your hood off and your face exposed, security stripped from your skull the minute they have you under them, you’re gone. They’re enthused, belly-yelling, blindly swinging knot-ended limbs, but none of it matters. Not the names they call you, not the injury inflicted—because they fade. Laughing, leaving the mean scene. Having satisfied a need. For another night.
The number one lesson learned hiking interstates? Life is hard. You must be careful, use your wiles. Stick to shadows.
And you learn: scope your surroundings and plan ahead. Lessen the hard.
For example, tonight you’ll seek refuge beneath an eighteen-wheeler. Sounds crazy, until you’ve done it and with good results. Out of sight can equal sleep. Plus, on cooler nights drivers run their trucks all night. This means warmth for them, and you, the vagabond.
What you do first is target a driver, exchange a few words, feel him out. Pose questions: Where ya headed? When ya leaving? If his answer includes morning, you’re golden.
Tonight’s no different.
“Hey, man. How’s it going?”
“Not bad.” The guy’s short and bearded, dressed in blue denim, red flannel. Stretching, scratching his belly, he says, “Yeah, I heard the weather. Clear through the weekend.” Goes on to say he’s here for the night, heading out at five sharp.
The guy passes a pamphlet about Jesus, winks, says he’s got room for a passenger, and is headed clear to Georgia. Says, “God loves you, man.”
If this southbound trucker (or Jesus) wonders about what is under the oversized hood I’ve tugged forward, he doesn’t show it.
Declining his offer to break bread inside, I make for the perch I secured earlier, a wooded niche fifty-or-so paces from the tarmac’s edge.
Lying back on a section of moss, I dream of cigarettes. Hard pack, red and white. Fresh cellophane wrap crinkling away, exposing the smooth box; its bottom thwapping a thigh to drive tobacco bits deeper in paper shafts. The violence, it’s arousing. A sweet moist-earth scent wafts as the foil is slipped out, exposing twenty fibrous filters to the air, and the eye. Two rows of ten, nice and neat, and the chosen cigarette comes free of the rest, brown and white body emerging, a slim tightly packed column of pleasure. Again the rich aroma, filter in lips, the synthetic taste, the flame. Orange-yellow, or bluish from a Zippo. A smoky mix of just-lit tobacco and lighter fluid in the nose, on the palate, saturating the lungs, and then twin plumes blow from tingling nostrils: it’s a brown taste, this roasted juice on the tongue, the scent that lingers on fingers.
Smoking: rustic, outdoorsy. The Marlboro man.
Before all this road trekking, when I was in the crib so much, on a torn couch, wielding a remote control like a rattle, cigarettes were my pacifier, my binky, a distraction as I healed.
I never smoked cigarettes until my face was burned off.
But cigarettes aren’t a part of my present plan. I quit before leaving Anderson a lifetime ago (or three weeks, depending on my mindset). I still desire a cigarette—the ritual, the sensual experience—but those days are over.
Yep. Crazy fuckin’ days. A kid gets French fried at his birthday party, for chrissakes?
Okay. Now, clear your mind. Imagine a real handsome dude—tall, tan, and good-mood tipsy: I was at Sparky’s party. But let’s not get ahead’a the story. The kid was still Randy then.
And as previously mentioned, I was not at the scene’a the crime when KABOOM! went the night. But I had boozed myself past Tipsyland and into the Drunk as a Motherfucker zone.
Also, just so we’re clear, I was not there to celebrate him. Way I figured back then, little Richie Rich Sports Star could go fuck himself. I was there to party the panties off’a Julie Jenis. Yeah, rhymes with penis—as in mine: ready, willin’ and able as a motherfucker. And’a course (though Julie wasn’t a mother back then) I scored. In the back of Vince Wyatt’s Nova. Which is where I was when the kid went down and the night lit up. A’course, with my head burrowed in Ms. Julie’s sweet spot, I missed the spectacularities. When she moaned firecracker, I snorted agreement, thinkin’ she was referencing my oral technique.
But when blue lights started dancin’ round the Nova’s innards, I was up, done with Julie, sober as a Mormon! Outta that backseat, around the Prescott house, gone. Warrants, you know.
First off, I didn’t know what was up—how could I? Did one of the victim’s jock friends pass their limit, eat a half hit’a microdot and hallucinate Coach Dickers as Christ on a cross? Did innocent eyes watch Richie Rich melt? Which was goddamn close to the truth, only not how I imagined it.
Anyways. Someone dialed Adam-12. Normally an uncool move. Hello—a high school party. Minors drinkin. Weed. Drugs. Bystanders with outstandin’ warrants. But given the circumstances, pokin’ 9-1-1 probly saved Birthday Boy’s life.
My life: walking, scanning. Scanning, walking. A solitary figure grabbing shuteye here or there. Under something. A rest stop hedge. An 18-wheeler. Such is my present life.
I spy Christian Trucker exiting the truck stop diner—a virtual stranger whose truck will keep me warm tonight. Crossing the vast parking lot he surveys the sky, and climbs into his rig.
I slip into the restaurant.
It’s always a coin toss: dinner in a booth or at the counter. Both have upsides. A booth offers near invisibility—enjoy a meal and escape unnoticed. The counter renders a guy’s more exposed, which increases the likelihood of some kind of “fucking freak” incident, but, too, there is the listening aspect. At the counter one can hear crosstalk, gather important info, weather being a biggie. Counter-talk provides information concerning local events, places to avoid, others to visit; seated at the counter a guy almost feels human, unmarred, a part of life.
Tonight I choose the counter.
Obviously, she’s dying to catch a glimpse. A peek at my face will satisfy her. I get her curiosity—I am a curiosity—but I know better than to appease her. If Tina, my waitress, catches a look down the tunnel this oversized hood creates, the fun begins. Oh my god! What happened? You poor thing! This is a favorable scenario, one I call Girl Discovers Injured Bird Scenario. But other scenarios are just as likely. Take for instance the Oh My God—You’re a Fucking Freak Scenario; or the Excuse Me, Sir, Customers Are Complaining And I’m Going To Have To Ask You To Leave Scenario.
Tonight I’m not finding out which scenario it would be. Tonight my hood is pulled high, tight, and aimed at the table. The plan: eat, then leave. Simple.
My mom used to say, Don’t wear out your welcome, and I wonder about her now, as my moist palms feel the cool gloss of the counter. I slide my fingers toward me, mindless and slow, each hand on a side of the plate, my picked-through meal, thinking: Is Mom wrapped in her pink and gray flannel bathrobe, stinking of gin, sweat and worse, slouched over the table? Has her consciousness been erased by the contents of a bottle? Or has she dumped temptation down the drain, gotten up and into fresh clothes, ventured out into the mix of Anderson? It’s easier on the tired mind to imagine her words coming, clear and concise, from a sober tongue, a tongue not stained by chain-smoked Marlboro Light 100s (she never smoked before the incident, either) and drunken conversations about melted sons.
And Dad. Might be in the basement, the family room. At his stocked bar. Is he blaring old rock, roaring along, out of key? Teens may be milling—kids I wouldn’t have acknowledged before the incident, slacker kids, just hanging, catching a free buzz. Or is he swearing at no one, music off? Stumbling, falling, sleeping on the couch, or on the floor in pissed pants?
It’s my fault, really; though I try to blame the party. My sixteenth birthday bash. But my party sort of equals my fault. I could have said no to the party. If only I had.
But there’s no room for daydream regrets; Tina the waitress approaches. Hood adjusted.
This is a special sweatshirt—took searching to find it, with a huge hood that tunnels out from my face. Bought six of them, but brought only three.
“You okay in there?” Her voice is ear-candy, soft, playful, and the set of her lips betrays intelligence—too much magic to be slaving in this greasy joint—but concern creases her brow. It’s a nice but plain face on a girl that probably would have been interested but intimidated in the old days. When it was all about me. I wouldn’t have noticed her. When I jockeyed the highest waves, flawlessly, I missed a lot. She bends to see into the hood; she’s waiting for me to speak.
Again Mom’s warning comes to mind.
“Yeah. I’m fine.” Shifting so that the opening of my hood is aimed away from her, I scan the dining room. “I gotta go.” I hear her digging in her apron, extracting my check, placing it on the counter, as I behold dull-faced drifters, road-weary truckers, cranky families. No apparent threats tonight.
Then I spot him. Across the room, in the glass, looking at me, even as I look at him, and he reminds me of me (obviously), an aide-mémoire that there is always threat. Always pink scar tissue to keep me on edge. Keep me moving. Always him, the guy in the glass. Reflecting lost possibilities, dashed promises. From here I can’t see his face, his supersized hood insures this, a fact I find reassuring. Still, I know what lies in that azure hood: a pink-scar Grand Canyon that divides him from the rest of humanity. Vulnerability hides in that hood.
Yes, my pink scars, my blue hood—image reversed. He’s ever with me, as I go. Slowly. Skirting I-95. Moving south, the Atlantic side of Connecticut. Still in New England. After three weeks. But where I am doesn’t matter. What I am does—difference overrides all. Fear is fear and drunk is drunk, and fear and drunk together, shorten heartstrings. I have lumps to prove it.
Turning back to where she was, only the meal slip remains, so I drop bills and stand. The guy in the glass stands too, and in jest I give him a little wave as I make for the door.
I’m not sayin’ that Sparky (my nickname for the fallen sports star) woulda asked for savin’. Sense I get after over a year’a close quarters with the kid’s that he’d rather lose his old life than findin’ a new life in Hell. A’course Hell’s in the mind of the beholder.
I told Sparkola (a variation nickname): Welcome to my fuckin’ nightmare!
You ask me, he’s better for that fiery night. He’s twenty now and four years’ll change any clown. Take Ms. Julie Jenis—add a thumbless fist’a years and any sweet’s soured. Four years have remade her into screwball junkie with a pair’a butt-ugly, stupid-as-drool squirrels posin’ as kids. On her, twenty-one looks forty! And I’m no age bigot. There’ve been forties who rock-n-rolled my world. Not Julie. If they made a PDR of diseases, she’s probably had ‘em all.
Sparky, though, he’s a helluva lot cooler since his shinin’ star face got melted. Humbler. Sure, there were hospital stays and operations, but once his folks’ bankbook oil well blubbed up only mud? How many skin grafts you figure they’re tradin’ for a bucket’a sludge? But losin’ your Layla for havin’ your golden face erased, and havin’ your now-broke folks become slobberin’ foolish drunks, and havin’ your friends and teammates write you outta the fabulous story—well, that shit teaches humility. Lesson: a guy’s gotta keep a sense’a humor.
Still, it was me, I might not’a done so well. But comparin’ me and him’s like comparin’ a guy born blind to a photographer that gets acid splashed in his eyes. Blind’s all the first clown knows, but the photographer, he has to adapt.
A guy’s gotta consider John Lennon. Good looks, musical, but his life musta been a bad friggin’ dream—endin’ in harsher shit than Spark’s (harsher ‘cause he fuckin’ died). But John rose above the one-dead-and-the-other-deadbeat parent crap, and the anger, not to mention Yoko, and what’s he do with it? He sings: “Gettin’ better all the time.” “Love, love, love.”
In those couple months, I was singin’ those friggin’ anthems a lot. And that’s because’a me and Spark bein’ roomies. Most’a those mornings I woke up tuneful. I poured coffee or grabbed a beer, fired up a smoke and blew rings like nobody’s beeswax. Maybe I’d crank tunes or watch some tubualaronics (TV). And what the frig could be finer?
Outside, away from spotlight glare and neon blick and buzz, chilly dusk deepens as I duck behind buildings. Headed for my wooded perch, to await unsullied night. Odors (bacon, eggs, potatoes, toast) converge in the air and provoke a chuckle—it smells better than what I just ate. How’s that work?
Once, the breakfast I just ate (sort of) wouldn’t have made it near my mouth. Or Randy’s. Me and the guy in the glass, we’re not Randy. Randy Prescott died. Now, bad food is all I eat.
My sneakers slap asphalt. Restless energy fills me, energy I need to release.
So A or B?
- A) Nap under a big rig, or B) Dart through these woods, tumble over a chain link fence, and again sidle the interstate. Rest or walk through the night. My body hums with unexpressed momentum, but my thinking’s muddied and my muscles ache. I need rest.
“Hey!” The sinister bark has my heart in my mouth. Aw, fuck. Not tonight.
After the initialities smoothed out, me and Spark’s roommate arrangement left no room for gloom. Despite us never havin’ been real friends, or friends at all really, even post-roast, I was changin’ that factuality. By showing up at the door’a his kinda low-income pad, gettin’ the you’re-unwelcome welcome from the kid, I got inside and basically never left. Probly sounds suspect and maybe it is a little, but I had no choice. See, I had a friggin’ dream.
Now I ain’t no Martin Luther King Jr and I hope I ain’t a lunatic. I hardly remember dreams. But this one goddamn dream—like the grandpappy of all leeches: I couldn’t shake it.
And I wanted to.
In the original sin-sational dream, I was about to bone the ABCs outta my first grade teacher—she was on a cushy bed she kept hid in the little kid coat closet, spread-eagle naked as a goddamn cherub and teasin’ with naughty girl hips and rose blossom lips—and when I’m in, all red face and guttural, set to let go, Clarence (the chubby white-haired angel from that old Jimmy Stewart movie) ker-pops outta nowhere and’ss on a chair beside me. He goes: Stop!
Now, in this dream I was gonna tell Angelic Doughboy to go tell his shit to some nimrod who’d care up on that mountain you hear ‘em singin’ about (when it’s summer and you’re a four-foot snot-nose that nobody likes, or trusts, and you’re standin’ outside that open church house window cause you’re not allowed inside), but before I can tell Clarence squat, it’s only me and Doughboy in his Silent Nightie, both our asses planted on these hard chairs. No naked teacher or bed or coat closet anywhere. And, instead of me tellin’ him, he goes: Be the Guardian Angel, Dwayne Ulysses Handy.
What the fuck? was my answer.
And this heavenly friggin host, he goes: Your charge.
I go: Charge…?
To which he replies: The boy known as Sparkola the Burn Victim is your charge. You will do the Guardian Friggin Angel boogie woogie for that poor boy till the hows come come.
Till the hows come-come? I sit up, awake, my spine bonerrific-straight on a motel bed I’d finagled some dope into rentin’ me. Like a ghost parade, bits’a dream floated through my head: Guardian Friggin’ Angel… Sparkola the Burn Victim… Your charge…and I understood.
All but that Till the hows…business. That riddle took longer to solvulate. Finally I decided that this goofball angel just had a slippery-tongue speech impedimention and he actually meant to say till the cows come home. Which cows and what home, I hadn’t a clue then, and I still don’t, but I been on the lookout ever since.
And there I was, guardian friggin’ angelin’ without a license. No trainin’, unless you count instructions from a faggy dream angel. Which I had to count. Otherwise, I was goin’ nuts.
Truth be told, I was none to friggin’ happy about this thing I had to do. See, Sparky (as I now call him) was a terror to behold. We all got our faults and I ain’t gonna lie about mine: I go for beauty. Luscious babes, sleek cars—hell, whatever pleases my brain via my eyeballs. Then you got Spark’s face: burned beyond belief, humanity trial-by-fired right off’a his skull, utterly un-fuckin’-beautiful, and prior to that goddamn angelic dream, just layin’ eyeball on him creeped me out. All to say, I’d kept my eyes off’a the kid—until the angelic goddamn dream.
But, after hangin’ together (and seein’ each other), the fun kicked in. Since Spark no longer did the sports star routine, we partied, laughed, and became like brothers. Or how I figured brothers’d be since I never had one. I told him about Clarence.
“Clarence…in a dream?” he says. “From the movie?”
“Hey, I don’t write the fuckin’ dreams, I just have ‘em.” I admit to not recollectin’ my dreams. “Which makes this one special.”
“Special. So what’d the angel tell you? In your dream, what’d he say?”
“Spark. That’s why I’m here. On account’a you bein’ my charge.” My raised hand stop-signed his next question. “All to say, my little toasted coconut—I’m your guardian friggin’ angel.”
He thought that was funny as a drunk tryin’ to jog his way down an icy sidewalk. But he seemed okay with this realism. We didn’t discuss my gig or his being the charge any more, but I did remind the kid occasionally that I was not just a few years his senior but I was also his guardian friggin’ angel. Life was copasetic.
Then one night I blabbed about gettin’ some tail, hookers maybe, but Spark wasn’t ready.
I erupted guffaws. “Not ready?” I goes, operating on about twenty beers and an ounce of bud. I made my eyes go real fuckin’ wide to convey my shock into the fortress of that hood, and that must’ve been a bloodshot sight cause laughter danced from his sweatshirt cavern. Laughin’ harder, I go: “Spark. Can’t ya bone with a hood on?”
His laughter slammed on the brakes. The party stopped. His bedroom door shut.
“Hey! You!” yelled a human shape I did not want to meet. Voice deep and ravaged.
Instantly my muscles recall how to create quick distance, how to make opponents shrink, how to gather energy and focus it. Body memory. It’s ever available, despite physical fatigue or trauma. A blink of time (and a smoldering butt) can steal every good (essential) thing—family, home, friends, girlfriend, trophies, opportunities, face—but time can’t touch body memory.
I ain’t sayin it ain’t fucked—the kid gettin’ his own personal big friggin’ bang. Can you even imagine it? Athlete Randy’s lights go out on a perfect life—and come back on to burn units and masked faces and needles’a numbin’ drugs that don’t touch the searin’ pain and infections and no sleep and no relief and no hope and when the bandages come off and he makes it to a mirror—no fuckin’ face! Nose melted! Nub ears! No lips! More than enough to make his hair stand at full fuckin’ attention, like Moe Howard in one’a them Stooges shows—if he had any hair left, which he hardly does. He’s got hair like a whisp’a cotton candy. So, sure it’s a hard.
But—and this ain’t a small but—he had GOOD (understatement). There’s memories. We all got obstacles. Fryin’ pans upside the squash? Just wantin’ to die? Eventually, we all get our backdoors ramrodded in. Some more often than others. Cause the facts’re in: Life sucks.
All doors, though, they got a hinge, and here’s the hinge on life suckin: It does if you think it does. Forrest Gump woulda said, Suck is as suck does.
Okay. Who’m I to be waggin’ tongue? Last I checked that bein’-alive register, I did my twenty-whatever years of nonstop bullet train hit-and-run shit-storm the worst. I thrashed like a butt-prodded badger for decades. I was mean-spirited, booted from schools, drunk, and drugged-up dangerous—your basic miserable prick. But even a resentful little snot-rag can change.
How’d I do it?
One-word answer: Sparkola. My friggin’ inspiration. A real phoenix, that one. A miserable, chomped-bubblegum-headed-ass-phoenix, maybe, but he rose from the ashes.
Anyways, there I was a while back. After scapin’ up a fistful of dimes—not easy in this WTF age, let me tell ya—and after a hike—to Blackie’s Packie a’course—I’m sittin’ on the old Sparkola couch, sippin’ frosty fuckin’ foam off a GIQ (Greater Imperial Quart—for you clowns that don’t know Narraganset), and nothin’ could be finer.
‘Cept for Gumby’s mood-melted cousin grumblin’ complaints. Spark had hit a rough patch. A fact’a post-traumatiz-ocean: It comes in waves. I mean, the kid friggin died, and gettin zap-paddled back leaves psychologic scars.
But witnessin’ the kid’s rough wave—gettin’ drenched by it—well, that kinda runs a happy chap’s eggs, if ya know what I mean. The ice-water negativity! Christ in a goddamn crab boat! I call to Clarence. For maybe a little guidance, some angelin’ clue.
I called at Sparky: “Hey, ya wanna ease it up? You’re rainin’ on my moment.” I even got generous: “Hey, Spark, c’mon out, pull up a friggin’ glass and have a drink, huh?”
Outta his burnt mouth and sweatshirt tunnel came a deflating-tire voice: “Nah.” See, by then the kid was partakin’ less and less, till it’s zip, meanin’ even worse friggin’ moods.
Bad news for a guardian friggin’ angel.
I know you can picture that day (a week before his vanishing act): lived-on shoebox crib, one fantastic-lookin’ dude layin’ back on some crumby couch deal with a big brown bottle in his grip, moisture coursin’ the cold glass and connect-o-llectin’ on his tanned fingers (yeah, my fingers are tan—and tasty, girls), and a grim reaper dude’s slouched in a doorway between rooms (stained white wall, cheapo brown doorframe)…got the image? The ball of scar tissue he calls a head goin’: “Nah.”
Bummer, for sure, but my good humor bone was bigger than usual. I was a shinin’ sun to liquefy cold stone. I’d already smoked a few bowls.
Artificial joy maybe, but hey, I’m American. Up and swiggin’. Friggin’ survivin’. A losin’ bum tryin’ to squeeze a couple lousy drops outta his day. Same as all the other days. Survivin’ to drink and drinkin’ to survive—all-American boys, me and Spark.
Twenty-first century twenty-somethin’s. With desires, dreams. And dicks, okay? The complete American package. America, land’a the powerless and imprisoned, the scared stupid and addicted—to whatever you got. We’re danglin’ from the tail of the scarred Pepsi generation. Narraganset boys, we were raised up on the same friggin’ songs as a million other American kids. We marched in The Black Parade. And we played air-guitar like motherfuckers.
Least I did.
Spark, not so much. He grew up in a rerun’a the Brady Bunch. ‘Cept without Marcia and Cindy and Jan. No Greg or the other two stooges. Just Randall III. By his lonely with Mike aka Randall, JR and Carol aka Lydia Prescott. Little Randy, cute as custard pie, climbin’ Go Tell It on the Mountain church steps like a Kennedy descendant.
Yeah, I know: No life’s perfect when you’re inside it.
I also know what I saw—‘cause I was the kid that hid by those goddamn church stairs. I know what I heard—sunk in the weeds as they sang. Him and his picture book family glidin’ through years like royalty. Yeah, I was the grubby little snot-nose that swiped candy bars and toys from stores, ‘cause no one was buyin’ ‘em for me. And yeah, from under that window I heard ‘em sing.
Once I resented the kid, but tables turn. And voila, we’re roomies. A pair of misfits.
Two more lost boys.
Then I knew what’d help the burn victim. “Hey, Spark! C’mere!” Smiling, sippin’ ice-cold piss, I waited. ‘Cause this one’s good. When he’s in front of me, I go: “Spark. Ya sweat too much. Life’s not that friggin’ tough, once ya figure things out.” I hold up a finger. “One, there ain’t no winners. Zero. Imaginate a rowboat out on a wild sea, waves crashin’ and roarin’, hungry as a motherfucker. The poor schmucks layin’ low in the boat are just that: losers, wishful-friggin’-thinkers. Ocean gets still, they catch a fish or some shit, they think their luck’s changin’. That things are gettin’ better. Hell, you hear me singin’ that—right?”
All’s quiet in the hood.
“Thing is, Spark? It’s illusion. I mean, look in a goddamn mirror.” A smile of brilliance. “Okay? Illusion. Meanin’ not good, not bad. What is just is, okay?” Seein’ his gum-wad nod, I go on: “Spark, you and me’re in little friggin’ row boats, lost at sea, and we’re gonna die! That’s it. In fact, we are the stupid little boats! All us sorry stiffs are just stupid little boats, driftin’. No direction or real hope, ‘cept maybe grabbin’ or stumblin’ into passin’ pleasure, a distraction from the truth: You’re already fuckin’ dead, ya ninny, your goddamn body just hasn’t caught up! And the sooner ya realize that fact, the better. Least then you can relax. Enjoy the decline, the death process everyone calls life.” Spark’s hood don’t change, but his slump-shouldered stance told me that this proposition didn’t inspire him much. But I had enough smile for us both. “Damn, your face got melted off! You know what I’m sayin’! But remember: It’s all in your head. Good or bad, it’s up to you. Your choice. That’s what I learned in Sunday school.”
I Tarzan-shout, as my sneakers pound earth, but they’re rendered weak and dumb by the other voice, calling: “The fuck are you, boy from the hood?” Hoarse and distorted. Then there’s more: “Hey, Spark…what the fuck…” And—snap!—recognition. A familiar voice.
I quit running, retrace my steps, only slower. “Dwayne,” I say. And this tall, skinny guy tackles me. Hard. We tumble in a tangle. My hood’s pulled away. We stare at each other.
For a moment it’s as if the population of Anderson has come with him. The laughter, the pointing eyes. A shame wave washes over me. Hood removed, monstrosity revealed.
But it’s just the one guy, the boyish man. Dwayne Handy. Here. Alone. In Connecticut. It makes no sense. “Dwayne… What the fuck…?
He answers by fingering my eraser-pink lava-flow face and laughing like a terrier that finally has the ball, shouting: “It’s like this, Spark: Your guardian friggin’ angel just scared the holy fuck outta ya!” Again, Dwayne rubs palms where my nose was, the pink scar tissue hair once grew from, my suggestion of ears. “Kid—it’s great to see your ugly friggin’ beautiful face!”
You should have seen his friggin’ face! Or that goes without saying, but when I charged him, roarin’ like that Jason dude, Spark about shit his diapers! Oh my friggin’ god!
Anyhow. Now he’s in befuddlement tryin’ to crack the code’a how I found his sorry ass. I’m intentionally vague. But we ain’t talkin’ brain salad surgery. We split a roost for weeks, then the friggin’ guy poofs? No See ya in a while, buddy, just vamoose? Me wakin’ up, my grin met with nothin’, but a silent couple rooms? C’mon.
Days alone in the crib’s pretty con-clue-sieve evidence that the Charcoal Kid pulled a disappearin’ act. He’d been goin’ on gone-for-hours walks (gettin’ ready, it turns out, for the physical challenges of vagabondhood). Trade goin’ for gone, and arrivin’ at the fried-banana’d split, it wasn’t a brain strain. The long and short? Meet your natural-born tracker. Like in those movies with Steve McQueen—or whoever always gets his man—or burn victim, in my case.
World-by-the-balls Dwayne U. Handy, Super Sleuth.
To get the burn victim clues in a row, I talked to Bobby Newson at the Army-Navy store, and sure as shamrocks, Spark was there buyin’ survival-type gear, and finally, when I secured a bag’a primo bud for Bobby the Army-Navy stoner, and his eyeballs were amply red, he admitted that Spark pretty much said that he was takin’ a trip—south. Bingo.
After the Army-Navy fact-findin’ mission, worried sick about Sparky (aka my charge), I couldn’t co-hearse myself back to that desolation row death-crib, not for long, and it wasn’t only ‘cause’a Landlordy’s calls, and that’s when I got the dazzling goddamn idea of droppin’ in on Sis (despite her callin’ the cops on me last time—‘cause’a me bein’ snookered). Lucky-ducky, but I didn’t know it right away. See, I forgot one fact, a fact that ended up bein’ my free pass to localatin’ Spark, and that fact’s that Sis works graveyard shift and gobbles downers to sleep, and so there I was, ass on her couch, thinkin’a my next moves and all that shit, which is when I scan the span of her one bedroom and, like gold goddamn rays from above, there by her door I see—keys. Sis’s car keys just hang-danglin’ inside her door, whispering: Dwayno… Take me…
So I did.
Weeks’a cruisin’ I-95 in Sis’s El Torpedo and then I spy a blue hoodlum trampin’ along Highway Sidelines, CT. Instead’a storm-trooperin’ Sweaty Marchin’ Man (that sweatshirt, man!), I make like Spark with his scar tissue noggin and I hide my cleverness. Easy with the incognito hood’a the El Torpedo, which Spark’d never seen.
And ain’t it just like the fallen sports star to walk? Huff-puffin’ it up the shoulder of I-95 with a big-ass backpack and that hood, like some lost KKK guy—in blue. Same as I been doin’, only in the El Torpedo—hangin’ back, killin’ time, toolin’ north, then south, then north, putt-puttin’ rings round the clip-cloppin’ burn victim—till Sis’s rig explodes in flames! Ironic, right?
The obvious questions: Why’d I stay on the sly so long? Why not stop when I spotted the kid? Yank him into the car, head for home?
To answer such questions, you gotta know the inner workin’s of Sparkorama. Believe me when I say that Burn Victim’s one mulish dude, and ambushin him woulda blown any chance’a steerin us north—for Anderson, a quaint tight-ass town you gotta see to believe—and then hate. ‘Cause it ain’t love’a hometown that motor-vated me to rescue Spark back there. Nah-ah. My sudden kidnappin’ tendencies were about the pad we shared. It’s the one home sweet home I had in ages. Practically ever. Home’s the digs in Anderson, and key to us gettin’ there’s wiliness, plus patience. But, Sis’s rig came with her fatso purse (hundreds!), which always helps.
And, for skeptics who think trackin’ the dude after a slew’a days’d passed is impossible, think fuckin’ again: Spark left a map under his mattress, with I-95 highlighted.
So. Ditchin’ Sis’s roastin’ shitbox, I surprise the poo outta Sparkola at A-1 Truck Stop.
Which leads here. Cozy in a Motel 6. I wasn’t about to be some Kung Fu grasshopper wanderin’-walker or a dopey hobo snoozin’ under some semi, so I go: “Cut the shit, Spark, we’re hirin’ a room. My treat.” Figured that last part’d seal it.
Then we flip the page to find Spark pissy and bickerin’ over goin’ home. Refusin’. Sayin’ he’s trackin’ some goddamn answer. Walkin’ and walkin’ and… Evidence that more than his face got fried! But I’m like: “Okay. Spark? Know what? Fuck that. We’re headed home—after a comfy night in a bed!”
And now, lights out, I ask myself, just for giggles, Dwayno, what would Clarence do? But I know: keep the melted man safe. It’s my job for chrissakes, as his guardian friggin’ angel!
About the author: In a previous life Marc D. Regan zigzagged the U.S. in search of reason. He then got involved in a collective of musical misfits that blew up P.A.s and created soundtracks in various basements. Today, he lives and writes fiction in remote northern California. His work (writing and two dimensional art) has appeared in Microfiction Monday Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine and other publications. His story “Appearances” will be included in Bird’s Thumb Magazine’s February 2015 issue. He has been a Finalist for Glimmer Train contests, twice.