Another excerpt from Volume II of my memoir-in-progress, Blood Rain.
For someone allergic to work, it was the perfect job. Metal cabinets flush with stationary, pens and pencils, typewriter ribbons, whiteout. A sleek IBM Selectric on every desk. Xerox machine. Piped in FM music. Black leather couch in the President’s office for naps and trysts. Thick reclining chairs in the new car showroom for comfy reading.
I had the run of Colonial Dodge on the graveyard shift, no supervisor. The expectation was that in the wee hours Jessica and I would shoo thieves and vandals away from acres of new cars and trucks out on the lot. Fat chance! Most nights I would punch in on my timecard at 11 o’clock, go out hootin’ ‘till ‘last call’ at two in the morning, then plop myself next to a typewriter back at the Dealership until dawn.
After a night on the town playing hooky from work I always stopped by the Ranch House for a double-shot of coffee. The girls all knew me. Lois was sitting at the counter and since my regular booth was teeming with rowdies I swung my butt up next to her on a vacant stool. There was a Bic lighter and pack of Kool Menthols between us and she reached over and nudged them aside, which I took as a welcoming gesture.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” I said.
Lois rolled her eyes and three-fingered a wayward tuft of mousey-brown hair back behind her ear but didn’t say anything. She was off the clock, not wearing her usual crisp white uniform, perched primly on a wobbly stool with her knees pressed close together and her legs crossed modestly at the ankles. Graveyard shifts mess with sleep rhythms and it was not unusual for her to be here on a night off.
“How was your trip to New Jersey?” I asked, remembering that she had driven up there for a few days.
“I, uh . . .” She glanced furtively side to side like she was afraid someone was eavesdropping, lowered her voice. “I don’t know, I’m not sure I was there.”
“I mean, uh . . . I went to Jersey but I only remember like maybe a few hours or so of the entire trip.”
“I don’t do drugs . . . It’s like, uh, I was there, lookin’ through my own eyes, but like I wasn’t there also.”
“It wasn’t me that was there.”
Lois fidgeted. Her body tensed. She seemed torn between a primal need to talk and the impulse to run and hide.
“I, uh, I’m not working here anymore, ya know?”
“I got fired . . . At least, that’s what they tell me, I don’t remember exactly.”
I swiveled toward her on my stool but she would only glance at me out of the corner of her eye. She tucked the hem of her skirt tighter under her legs and smoothed another strand of hair back into place. She started to reach for a cigarette but then didn’t.
“I’ve got to go see a shrink,” she said. “You don’t know a cheap one, do you?”
I laughed, the image of a black leather couch back at the office suddenly flashing through my mind. “I used to be a counselor,” I said, “before I dropped out and hit the road. Worked with delinquent kids.” But Lois wasn’t listening. She had slipped into a monologue addressed to a half-empty cup of coffee, occasionally tilting her head and looking askance as if someone else was sitting on her stool.
“My problem, the reason I can’t keep a job . . . is, I lose control. Sometimes I don’t feel like coming to work and it’s, like, the next day before I call in. I don’t know where I’ve been, can’t explain myself. Or I clock in and they tell me I had several customer complaints last night, insulted people. And I don’t remember.”
“Yeah, I give in to deeper impulses too. Sneaked away and went to The Blinker tonight, closed down the bar. One of these days all the new cars gonna disappear off the lot while I’m AWOL. Fired? They’ll probably jack me up and hotwire me.”
“No, that’s different.” She looked down at herself, thrust her hands in the prayer position between her legs and squirmed. “It’s not me doing this. Sometimes I look in the mirror and it’s not me looking back.”
“Too many Margaritas? Lose track of time, blackouts?”
“No – it’s like, uh, like when they put the wires in the . . . and the microphones on me . . . and they strapped ’em to my body and they wanted me to go down and talk to this guy because you see he hadn’t done anything yet that was against the law but I had to get, uh, I had to get his, his voice, on record. And that’s not me that was doing that. I saw me on Court TV, up on the witness stand, and it wasn’t me.”
Lois shivered and started massaging her temporal lobes with urgent fingers. “You got any aspirin?”
I walked over to the cashier and bought some Tylenol. When I got back she was spinning around on her stool with a gleam in her eyes and mischief on her face.
“I ran over her cat the other day,” she said, “Vet had to zonk the little fucker.”
“Your cat, you mean?”
“No, Lois’s. All it did was sit and lick its balls which weren’t none there, she had ‘em chopped off!
She swung around again until our knees were touching. “Hi,” she said, her lips parted in a crooked grin. “I’m Liz. Lois has a hissy when I come out cuz she knows I like to party. All tied up in knots, she is, afraid of men, scared of living. Me . . . let’s just say I do enough guys for both of us. I love it when she wakes up with ooze between her legs or Vaseline in her bunghole and doesn’t know who I straddled last night.”
I watched her light up a cigarette and vigorously shake her hair loose from behind her ears. “You’re, uh . . . not Lois?” I asked.
“Me? I’m Lois’ worst nightmare. I’m her headaches and forbidden thoughts. She tell you ‘bout her blackouts? That’s Liz unleashed, rockin’ in the free world. I got her fired, too, told that bitch old lady what to do with them eggs she complained were too runny, ‘Eat ‘em or shove ‘em sunny side up,’” I said. “Lois doesn’t remember but she’ll waitress again somewhere, nobody checks references anymore . . . That’s all she can do, lacks imagination, hides from the world and what kind of life is that? I got plans, maybe move to California, LA, make it in the movies. Fuck if I don’t have years of experience being someone else! Speakin’ of references . . .”
She had kicked off her shoes and I felt her toes tickling my leg, climbing higher.
“You ain’t had nothin’ chopped off, have ya?”