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Lines For Kate

By Spencer Dew

The milk on her breakfast cereal tastes like brake fluid, or so she says, missing her mother of all things and wanting most and just and only for me to go away.

For days we’ve discussed proactive responses to the pregnancy, the immediate necessity of electrolytes and Vitamin B post-procedure.

That was back before Daylight Saving Time, a different atmosphere. Now the sheets of sky threaten rain. She feels cornered, and her hand eczema has come back, a dry red all along her knuckles and her finger joints.

***

In the alley behind her place, city workers roll patches of grey paint over old gang tags, graffiti. They don’t do anything about the dead dog except step over it.

In the car, alone, I listen to a radio report about role models and the responsibilities of motherhood, about being “healthy, wholesome, and sound.”

The boulevard bristles with false facades, tattered marathon fliers, meat markets, mosques. “It’s a myth,” I’m told, “that we’re missing out on something because we’re repressed, we’re inhibited. I’m not too inhibited. I’m just fine.”

***

From the interstate sidelines you smirk, darkly, surrounded by layers, brown and white, some dumb H&M ad yet to be brought down.

Conjurer, sucking Krug and running your tongue along the powdered edge of a black Amex card, those legs like burglar tools, mangling the lock.

It gets me thinking, knees and the between, wasters once and future, every scene and lack of scene. I pop an extra twenty milligrams from someone else’s Adult Attention Deficit Disorder prescription, head down to the powwow in Gary.

***

I take the pictures that are expected: feathered headdress, boned war apron, beaded wampum belt. Little kids dancing or with cotton candy.

I leave out the rubber reproduction tomahawks, the station wagon tailgate selling “real authentic peace pipes,” suede pouches, black light posters, bongs.

There’s an art student who says her name means something in a First Nations language, and because her cheekbones fit a certain theme I snap some pictures of her and her blonde daughter, whose name is the same as a brand of tofu.

***

Sounds operates on a slight delay from the visual, and the edges of things stay excessively in-focus, razory, distinct. It’s an old story.

Everyone gets accused of something, sooner or later. I say this over watered-down whiskey at a bar of a hotel in downtown Chicago.

The art student has dropped off her kid with a neighbor in Logan Square, is here to discuss my work covering the war, a topic I try to remain vague about, not remembering which war it was, precisely, I sold her as a line.

***

And so it goes, suite to suite, glass-fronted elevators and the reassurance of room-service menus in all their leather-portfolio weight.

By the time I check back on things, the abortion is over, begrudgingly, and Kate Moss is back along the racks of the transient newsstand.

Only the pose changes, the incline of the pout, the orientation of the body of water: Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago. At 103 rd street there’s a house with the windows covered over in Puerto Rican flags.

***

Every guy who lives there is nth generation Irish and sleeps on a couch, a couch for every man, couches in all the rooms, kitchen included.

I go here and do what I’m supposed to do, stylish within reason, shooting sloppy with the knowledge I’ve got till the weekend to cut the images down.

Half a frame of close-up tubing from the works, then a couch, littered with pizza boxes advertising a game-time double-steak special, the window with its weird blue, red, and white filter, very romantic in that De Quincy kind of way.

***

I head up to her place after I’m done. She buzzes me in but doesn’t unlock the apartment door for ten minutes, telling me things her mother said.

She won’t look at me when I do get in, and paces around, smoking–which she never used to–and asking me if I want to know what it was like.

I’m bad with questions like that, so I tell some elaborate lie about a burn unit in Boston and what happened to the skinless kids when the power blackout hit. She, meanwhile, has only managed to mention that a vacuum was involved.

***

She cries for days, till snow comes and the meth lab story runs, Sunday, with instant Pulitzer talk, a celebratory dinner in the Loop, sushi.

That’s when I notice they’ve taken the billboard down, and whatever is replacing it is going up in stages, bands of colors, a gaudy, yolk-yellow, brick red.

That and maybe the conversation, with some eager, fresh-from-college stringer passing through town, who lets me put my hand on her thigh, about the Balkans, the camps there, the sunken eyes and raised ribs of the men, it leaves me vacant, let down, like when you’re walking down the street and some guy comes up to you with his hands in his grimy overcoat pocket and he starts talking at you, asking you for money and calling you names, and you expect him to hit you or shoot you or for there to be some flash of action and pain, a knife blade, anything, but instead he just shuffles off, still talking, and you realize none of it was aimed at you anyway.

 

Spencer Dew lives in Chicago. His recent work has appeared in Opium, Rain Taxi Review of Books, Sightings, and Thieves' Jargon.

Photo "Alone 1" courtesy of Trasie Sands, Mississauga, ON, Canada.

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