A Fresh Start
I wasn't used to being the person sitting on the outside of the hospital bed.
I'm not sure it isn't worse than being the one in the bed. It was starting to
get to me.
I was relieved when Patty left for the night. I wanted to thump her. Every
time Lynn stopped crying, Patty'd say something, and they'd both start up again.
Lynn looked exhausted. Her eyes were closed: I hoped maybe she'd go to sleep.
I suppose Lynn called Patty 'cause she knew the number. Patty called Mrs.
Ransom's, where Richard and me were building her garage, from the hospital. I
remember hearing Mrs. R's phone ring. As soon as she came out and said my name,
I knew. I could see it in her face. I said, "Where is she?" but I knew, and I
jumped in the car and took off before she could answer me.
I'd been sitting here holding her hand for a coupla hours. Every time I moved,
her hand would tighten on mine, like she was afraid if she let go, I'd leave and
not come back.
I stood up, so I could see her face better. "Yeah, baby, I'm right here."
"We haven't had a chance to talk…..to be alone….."
"It's OK. We can talk tomorrow. You should try to get some sleep. You want me
to get them to give you something?"
"No, I want you to sit here next to me."
"I'm gonna have to go home pretty soon-"
"You haven't said much."
I took a deep breath and let it out. "Not much to say."
"Can't you sit here next to me? Can't you look at me?"
So I sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry," she said. She had her palm on the side of my face
and she wouldn't let me look away. Looked like she was going to cry again. "I'm
so sorry. I know how much this baby meant to you."
"Yeah…..Look, I'll be back early in the morning, OK?"
"I know it's my fault. I should have told the doctor everything. I need you to
tell me you forgive me."
"Not your fault." I kissed her on the forehead. "Nothing else you could do.
Just not meant to be, that's all."
"The next time, I'll know better what to do. It'll be different-"
"The next time? You wanna go through this again?"
I shoulda just slapped her. Woulda been kinder. I sighed. "Not your fault.
OK? I just….I'm doing the best I can, but…..." I kissed her on the forehead
again. Put the hand on my face back down on the sheet. "Maybe you could give
me a day or two, OK? Before you start talking about doing it again. I'll be
back in the morning."
"Bud….will you be all right?" She had that concerned look on her face, the one
She didn't look like she believed me. "Maybe you should call the Reverend.
It's not that late. Or Richard. I don't think they would mind if you needed
somebody to talk to."
I shook my head. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. I gotta go."
She looked alarmed. "What are you going to do?"
"Got some things to take care of at the house. Then, I don't know……Look, don't
worry. I won't break anything."
I stopped in front of the door. I wasn't wearing a jacket; the shirt I'd had on
at work had short-sleeves. No idea where my handkerchief was. I had to use my
hands to wipe my face off before I went out into the hall.
There were lights on in the house. Patty must have left them on.
I went upstairs. The bloody sheets were still on the bed. Probably soaked all
the way through to the mattress by now. I pulled them off, wadded them up and
took them downstairs to the garbage. Pulled the mattress off, and dragged it
Lucky we hadn't got excited and bought a lotta stuff for the baby. Not too much
to throw away. A coupla little toys we bought one night when we were being
silly, and a blanket, and, you know, a few things like that. Didn't take too
long to gather them up. I left them in a pile by the back door. Couldn't quite
make myself actually put them in the garbage can.
I think I coulda been happy enough without a baby. I never expected one. Lynn
wasn't supposed to be able to get pregnant. She told me that when I first
started seeing her, told me I didn't have to worry about it. So the pregnancy
was a big surprise for her too.
You know, I coulda done without knowing about the abortion, too. But she wanted
to tell me. New in L.A., new to hooking, probably all alone and scared, and
ended up with a butcher that almost killed her. Patchett's doctor in LA had
said her womb was too damaged to conceive. When you're a hooker, that's not a
She was afraid to tell her doctor here about it. You can't keep a secret like
that in a town like this. If one person knows, pretty soon everybody knows.
And, like I said, we told lies like crazy when we moved back here. Didn't wanna
take a chance on screwing all that up. So she told me about it. I guess it
made her feel better.
She didn't have to explain it to me much. Not too long after I joined the PD,
my partner and me had to clean out a filthy abortion parlor in a cellar under a
liquor store. If that was where she went, she's damn lucky she wasn't
dead. That guy'd put more than just a couple girls in the morgue.
In a way, I can't help hoping that's the place she went. 'Cause the slimy
bastard that ran the place came after us with a butcher knife, and after we
took it away from him, me and LeRoy beat the shit out of him. Sent him to the
hospital. I was younger then.
Went into the kitchen and dug around in the refrigerator, but I wasn't hungry.
I just didn't know what else to do. Knew I couldn't sleep. Finally just sat
down on the couch, lay my head back and closed my eyes.
Lynn and I never talked about her hooking. In LA, I'd had it all worked out in
my head so it didn't bother me that she kept working after she started seeing
me. It took me a little while, but I did it, 'cause I wanted her. They got
Veronica Lake, I got Lynn. No problem.
So some people mighta thought it was strange I got so upset when Ed went after
her. But, see, I knew the only reason he wanted her was because she was with me.
He didn't give a shit about Veronica Lake, or even Lynn herself at first. I
hated him, he hated me. He couldn't stand it that I had something he didn't
have; and he tried to take it away from me. Wanted it for himself. I understood
Lynn was a hooker; she let guys get between her legs every day, it was probably
no big deal to her. And she said she thought she was helping me.
It was a big deal to me. I'd told her stuff I didn't tell other people. She
knew more about me than anybody. I let her see me on the inside, not just the
outside. I don't think I asked for that much in return. I didn't ask for all
her time, all her attention; I didn't ask her to quit her job. But I thought
there was some part of her that belonged just to me, that she wanted to
save just for me.
And then she gave it to Ed. Fucked my enemy. It wasn't so much the sex, either,
it was….I don't know, I guess it was because she knew he wanted my woman, no
matter what name she was using, and she let him have that part of her. She knew
how I felt about him, and she still let him in.
And if it was just sex between them, and didn't matter, then maybe it was just
sex between her and me…….and didn't matter.
Made me feel stupid, anyway, for thinking she felt the same way I did, for
thinking that when we were together, it meant something. Made me feel….betrayed.
The set-up at the Victory Motel seemed like Fate. Payback, maybe, after I turned
into the kinda scum I'd always despised. Or a way out, maybe. I never expected
to walk away, I just figured I'd take as many of those dirty bastards with me as
I could before I went down.
But I lived. And nothing ever got resolved. Too much other shit came up after I
recovered. We conveniently forgot Ed nailed my "girlfriend", and that I tried to
hammer Ed into his filing cabinet. Lynn and I started playing house, and Ed's a
friend of the family. Cozy.
It was time to start seeing things as they were, as they actually had been.
Couldn't avoid the truth anymore. It turned out all those guys between her legs
mattered after all. Veronica Lake had nothing to do with it. It was a hooker
named Lynn Margaret Bracken who let anybody with the cash inside her body. And
that's why that body couldn't hold onto my child.
I knew I was being unfair. Lynn wanted the baby, too.
And you can't blame a woman for what she did before she met you.
As far as that goes, I used to live on the streets from time to time; I knew
some hookers. I understood why women start working downtown.
Didn't make a damn bit of difference.
I felt betrayed. Again.
It wasn't reasonable, it wasn't rational. Couldn't help it.
I had to get outta the house. I promised Lynn I wouldn't break anything.
I don't know how long I walked, but it musta been a while cause I ended up
outside the Clamdigger (kind of a stupid name for a bar in the middle of the
desert), down in Bisbee's version of the B-district. A few bars, a tattoo
parlor, a coupla pawnshops, a laundry, you know the kinda place I mean. In
Bisbee there were only a few blocks of vice, and pretty tame at that. Even so,
I'd hardly ever been here, and never at night. I was surprised to see a few
working girls hanging out under the streetlights, brushing the moths outta their
hair. How could a girl make a living in Bisbee?
Didn't go there meaning to get drunk, but once I was there, it didn't seem like
a bad idea, so I sat at the bar and worked on it. Almost everybody there was
drinking beer. I guess ordering Scotch made me noticeable right away. Nobody
bothered me, though, till I had 2 or 3 in me.
A coupla guys I woulda figured for dock workers if Bisbee'd had any docks-you
know, dungarees and tattoos-came in pulling their girlfriends after them by
their shirts. They played a coupla games of pool, making lots of noise, and I
thought about leaving, but I'd gotten pretty comfortable right there, drinking
slow and reading all the labels on the bottles behind the bar. Till one of them
came up behind me and gave me a shove. Spilled my drink.
"You want something?"
"I never seen you in here before."
"I think you ought leave. This bar ain't for fucking shopkeepers…fucking salesmen…
whatever the hell you are." And he gave me another shove.
Lynn told me once I had cop written on my forehead. Guess it was gone.
I got off the barstool. The idiot had a coupla inches and about 30 pounds on me.
I had about 10 years on him.
"Yeah?" I said.
"Yeah, that's right."
A voice behind the idiot said, "Uh, Donny?"
Donny said, "Shut up," and grinned at me.
"Yeah, but Donny, this is---"
"Shut up, I said!"
"So, Donny," I said. "You're trying to tell me this is a man's bar, huh?"
"No sissies, no pussies. Right?"
"Yeah, that's right."
"So, what're you doing here?"
I've always loved watching that moment when the bum realizes what you said to him.
You can see it in his face, you can watch him think, you can tell exactly when
he's gonna swing. Like now. I ducked, put my fist in his gut, his face on my
knee, and his head into the front of the bar. I might be a little slower than I
used to be before I got shot, and maybe a little less strong, but not too much.
The dope that came in with Donny elbowed his way through the ring of on-lookers.
He looked at his buddy laying on the floor and swung at me without even planting
his feet first. I didn't have to move too far to get outta the way. I grabbed
his shirt. Hammered him in the face 3 or 4 times and he was out, too.
Real quiet in here now. I finished my drink, tossed a bill on the counter and
Couple of blocks down, another bar, the Tradewind Lounge. Couples dancing slow
to the jukebox. Had a coupla drinks there. Went on to the next one.
Only about 5 or 6 bars in Bisbee. I hit all of 'em. Ended up drinking rotgut
whiskey in Ned's, a hole-in-the-wall full of old rummies without any teeth. Ned
looked vaguely familiar. 'Course, by this time I had a pretty good buzz going.
Decided I oughta stumble home.
Ned yelled at me from the other end of the bar when I headed toward the door.
"Hey, Bud, you want me ta call somebody for ya?"
If I'da been sober, I mighta wondered how he knew my name. Course if I'da been
sober, I mighta known where I knew him from. I shook my head. "OK, you take
care," he said. He waved, and I waved back.
One of the first things I learned about Bisbee was, if somebody waved at you, you
waved back. Didn't matter who they were or whether you knew them or not. I was
always waving back at strangers.
Took a deep breath outside and thought for a minute trying to figure out what
direction the house was. Been doing pretty good not thinking about anything so
far. Maybe if I was lucky I could get home and asleep before my brain woke up
I saw the fist just a split second before it connected with my eye. Knocked me
back against Ned's door. Donny grinned at me.
I'd like to be able to give you the details of the fight, but I can't. Can't
remember it. Judging from what I saw in the mirror the next day, I didn't duck
too well, but at the end, when they dragged me off him, he didn't move, so I guess
I leaned my head back against the wall of the alley where we ended up and closed
my eyes, still breathing hard. The spectators were dragging Donny out onto the
The back of my head hurt pretty bad, but not the rest of me-it would, but it
didn't yet. Part of my face was numb, the eye on that side was swelling up.
The other eye burned like there was something in it, and I kept blinking to clear
the water out of it. I could taste blood. I thought maybe a couple of my teeth
I was alive and in one piece, though---sorta---and my pulse was pounding, the
blood hurtling through my veins like a roller coaster flying along the downward
Maybe that's why I wasn't surprised when I felt her snuggling up against me. It
seemed like the most natural thing to happen next. Her scent rose up in my
nostrils-not perfume, but the smell of her sex, musky and strong. I was instantly
hard. Her body cuddled my groin. I opened my eyes---
The world shifted. "Marly?"
No, Marly was dead. And even if she wasn't, that was years ago, she wouldn't still
look like this….
The woman's chest was heaving, both of us were breathing hard. Above the top of
her dress, the flush was going up her neck. "I never seen anybody beat Donny
before. Look at you…" Her hand was inside my shirt, then pulling it out of my
pants, pulling it open. "I'm supposed to be working, but I can't let this go by
without getting some of it. Come on, honey, this one's on me."
She looked up in my face, eyes big and dark and shining. I put my hands in her
hair, dark red and coarse; touched her face and that skin, so fair and fine….It
was hard to see her, I had to keep blinking, the tears ran down my face……dammit,
couldn't see her, I wanted to see her…..Marly……
It was Marly. It was. Giggly, jiggly Marlene, the first woman I thought I loved.
Uncomplicated. Sex and chocolate. God, I missed her. And here she was. Her
face was pressed against my neck, licking and sucking and then biting. And she
was whispering in my ear what she wanted to do, what she wanted me to do, how it
was going to be.
Marly. I forgot about everything else. There was something….I needed to tell her
I was sorry……but I couldn't remember…..and then it didn't matter. It was Marly
here, Marly with her mouth setting me on fire, and I felt like….oh, man, I felt
like I was 10 feet tall, like I was a bull for her, huge and randy. I was breathing
in great gulps and still couldn't get enough air. It was always that way with Marly.
She took my hands and put them behind her, on that fine rear end, and moved
against me. And then, I don't know, I musta blacked out for a minute or two,
suddenly we were standing the other way. Her back was against the dirty brick
wall, I was holding her there with my body, my hand was under her skirt, she was
laughing. "That's it, honey, come on, take what you want." I could do that. I
held her face still with my hand, found her mouth.
But there was something…..not right. Something really not right here. Didn't
taste good, didn't feel right. Her hand was inside my pants and suddenly that
didn't feel right either. Something wrong with this. Couldn't be Marly. I
pulled away and looked at her. Had to squint. Not Marly. A whore with red hair
and fair skin, blood smeared on her face--my blood---but not Marly. I gagged.
Knew what the taste was in my mouth. Stepped back and gagged again. Marly used
to carry a flask of whiskey with her to rinse her mouth out between customers-I
saw her do it once. Guess this broad hadn't thought of that.
"What's the matter, honey? Come on, bring that thing back over here---" She
reached for me. I gave her a shove. Took just a few steps before leaning up
against the building and losing what little was left in my stomach.
When that was gone, I stood there and heaved. Couldn't seem to stop. I felt
somebody's hand on my shoulder, and tried to spin around and hit him. You know
how hard it is to punch somebody when you're puking?
"Hey, Bud, it's me, it's Richard. It's OK, it's just me."
Richard. OK. Richard.
"Jesus Christ, Bud, what are you doing to yourself? Oh, man look at his face.
Let's get him outta here, look out, don't step in that."
That didn't make any sense. "Richard?" One of my eyes wouldn't open and things
didn't look too good outta the other one. And I was starting to hurt. I wasn't
sure what was going on. I knew I was drunk, but this was pretty bad, my legs were
shaky, and I was dizzy; couldn't remember……..something. Didn't think I oughta be
this sloshed. "What're you doing here?" And I heaved again.
"Ned called me. You remember Ned, we fixed his mother-in-law's back porch. Woulda
been here sooner, but-get outta here, Jeannie, go find somebody else to jump on-and
he better still have his wallet when I get him home or I'm gonna come looking for
you---no, I woulda been here sooner but I stopped to pick up the Reverend. That
old Buick of his, you know. I think it's a generator problem. When you get to
feeling better, we'll take the generator apart on that clunker and rewrap the core
and see if that doesn't fix it---"
He kept talking, but it was all nonsense. That was Richard for you. He pulled my
arm over his shoulder, and helped me walk outta the alley.
Another voice said, "How could he possibly have won a fight in this condition?"
I felt like I should know who the voice belonged to.
"Oh, see, Rev, this ain't drunk. Ned said he didn't drink that much. Just keep
walking, Bud. He probably banged his head or got his head banged for him. This
looks like concussion to me; you know, the puking and the…hey Bud, come on now,
stand up…..Bud….shit. Sorry, Rev. You stay here with him and I'll go get Ned to
help me, we'll get him in the car."
I could feel the cold cement through the seat of my pants. Thought about trying
to get up again, but decided against it. So dizzy I just barely saw the Rev squat
down next to me. Concentrated on not heaving again.
"I have to say I'm disappointed in you, son," he said.
"Yeah?" He was disappointed in me again. Huh. Old news.
"Lynn's in the hospital and you're out here drinking, fighting and….worse."
The next thing I remember we were in the car. Richard was driving. I didn't feel
like I'd been asleep, but I couldn't remember getting here, so maybe. The Rev was
sitting next to me in the back seat.
"Who was that?" I asked.
"Hey, Sleeping Beauty!" Richard turned around and grinned at me. "Who was who?"
"That woman." My stomach felt a little better. Hoped we weren't gonna be in the
car too long, though.
"The one with her hand in your pants? That's just Jeannie. I was in high school
with her. She was always kind of a different bird." He laughed. "Looked like
you knew her."
"Thought she was Marlene."
"Marlene, huh? You holding out on me, Bud? This somebody you could introduce
There was silence for a few minutes.
"Richard," the Rev said quietly. "He thought he was kissing a dead woman…"
"Well, yeah…like I said, looks like he got his bell rung pretty good."
"Then Jean was taking advantage of him." Another uncomfortable silence. "We
should have intervened…..instead of waiting…."
"Well, how're you supposed to tell for sure?…..It's not my fault. What if he
wouldn'ta been, you know, confused? You woulda been embarrassed if we didn't
wait till they were done. That's all I said."
"That's the last time I listen to you," the Rev said. After a long moment, he
went on, "Except about my car."
"Yeah, I really think rewrapping the core'll take care of it. Unless the solenoid
in the starter's broken. We should probably check that first, 'cause that'd be
simpler. Except it can't be the solenoid."
"Shouldn't we be taking him to the hospital if he's concussed?"
"Nah, they just send you home and tell you to come back if it looks like you're
dying. At least that's what they did with me the time I fell off the roof."
Richard helped me into the house, but I think I mighta been able to make it on
my own if I'd had to. My head was a little clearer. The Rev came in with me.
I lay down on the couch. He got me another pillow and a blanket. Pulled up a
chair and sat next to me.
"I'll be OK, Rev. You don't have to stay…."
"Bud…I have to apologize to you." He gets so serious about these things. I
guess his sense of honor is one of the things I like about him, even if he kinda
goes overboard sometimes. "I accused you earlier of insensitivity. And other
things. I don't know if you remember."
"And it seems that I spoke hastily. I do think you could have done something better
with your time than drinking, but Ned told us how that man attacked you when you
left his establishment. And I realize you may not have been responsible for your
behavior with that woman. I want to say that I'm sorry. You didn't deserve my
"Don't worry about it. There's always tomorrow."
"I'm sorry….I don't quite understand."
I would've liked to talk to the Reverend. He was waiting for me to. He spoke in
platitudes, and I didn't take his advice even when he was right, but he always
listened. And I wanted to do more than just tell him my problems. I wanted to
ask him about his own marriage. I wanted to ask him what it felt like to have a
woman that was just yours and no one else's.
But I couldn't do that. The secrets weren't mine to let slip like that. I was
drunk (no matter what Ned said) but at least I wasn't so drunk that I forgot that.
So I told him about Marlene. He was favorably impressed when I told him how she
and LaDonna took me in off the streets, and predictably shocked when I told him
they took me into their bed, too.
I didn't tell him what happened to her. It woulda just upset him.