to 5

    on the 5ives




1. Annabella. Because of her my mother thinks I'm on drugs. Of course I am, but that's not the issue. The issue is that now she knows: I had to tell her, even. It was better than the alternative.

2. Annabella is taller than me by one inch, has hair so dead she doesn't have to use hairspray anymore, and actually cares whether I eat or not. Her parents are never home, either. Sometimes I picture them after a long day at work, lying side by side in their king-size bed, hands laced over their lower stomachs, eyes fixed on the ceiling. They can't be comfortable.

3. Crabs. The Romans called them pediculosis pubis. Annabella gave them to me to remember her by. I didn't ask her where she got them.

4. My first sexual encounter with her ended before it began. We were at her house. I was back from the refrigerator, vaulting over her mother's cedar chest at the foot of the bed. The leading blade of the ceiling fan caught me on the bridge of the nose, and for a moment my body leveled out in the air—legs rising, head falling—and then it was just blood and my face pressed to Annabella's pale stomach, my eyes already swelling shut, both of us trying not to laugh.

5. The day I told my mother I regularly used a wide variety of drugs is the day I call the Day of the Goat. Because through the thin wall of the bathroom I could hear the news about a goat that had gotten loose downtown, was hopping from car to car, up to the occasional diner or café to bray. The after-work crowd were running behind the cops, who were chasing the goat. It was a mob. My mother was on the other side of the door from me. I fed her names she knew from her pamphlets: marijuana; crystal meth; ecstasy; yellow jackets. She cried. In the other room my father leaned forward in his recliner (I could hear it) to see the goat better.

6. The Day of the Goat was also meatloaf night. In the weeks ahead I would think of the meatloaf we'd left on the table smothered in ketchup, with cross-sections of green bell peppers draped across it, and then return to my duties: sneaking every piece of linen and every article of clothing and every scrap of cloth into the washer and boiling them, then using my old t-ball bat to transfer them to the dryer. I don't know what my mother thought was going on: drug-induced psychosis; paranoia; doing laundry for crack. Every towel in the house was folded differently. None of the curtains reached their sills anymore.

7. You can rent a steam-vac with fake identification, too. It's easier than buying beer. My father opened the door on me with it, the carpet lathered, rising, and we looked at each other across the living room, and he closed the door, sat in his car until I was done.

8. Annabella told me about the crabs over the phone. They were grey unless they'd eaten, and then they were reddish brown. Lindane was the cream I needed, the shampoo. Lindane was my friend. I had to get it at the pharmacy myself, though, tucked into the cuff of my winter coat. On the way back my headlights washed over her house—Annabella's—and there on her curb was her parents' mattress, my nose blood sprayed over it. The crabs were feasting on it. It made the itching worse somehow.

9. The Day of the Goat I smelled like medicine. Like I had dandruff, or arthritis. The scent of meatloaf filled the house; I stood on the back porch and smoked the fattest joint in the history of fat joints. It was more of a cigar, really. Like a paper-towel tube stuffed with one of my mother's hip euphemisms: Mary Jane; loco weed; tea. Annabella had rolled it for me. Her fingers were like that—able to do perfect things while the rest of her fell apart. She said it was so quiet at her house, it was good to hear me talk. I told her they still weren't gone. She told me to use a comb.

10. The vision I had on the way to the table that night was Annabella and me, only Annabella was my mother. Which I know isn't my fault. We were in the living room; the sun was streaming in around the miniature shades and we were naked on the coffee table, picking nits out of each other's body hair and flicking them to the carpet. Above us the ceiling fan turned slowly, like in detective movies where the detective has to follow a clue to South America. I was so hungry.

11. My father cut the meatloaf with the big knife. It was a formal affair. Or maybe I just wasn't to be trusted with sharp objects. Maybe they knew I was stoned. One thing I noticed was that everyone kept one hand under the table while we ate. Because they itch. I excused myself to the bathroom, applied the shampoo without water. There was no lather. The bottle said the eggs of pubic lice can live six days. It hadn't even been a week, then. In the next room the news wasn't on, but still I knew about the goat somehow—bounding ahead of a teeming mass of police. I smoked the rest of the joint out the open window behind the toilet, and then exhaled down the front of my pants once, for good measure. The dog was clawing at the door, whining for me to come out.

12. In the cartoons, all the fox has to do to rid himself of parasites is find the right stick, hold his breath, then jump in the pond. The ticks and lice all gasp for air, climb towards the sunlight, perch on the stick, and then he flings it away professionally, rises light-headed on the bank; shakes, each droplet of water animated to perfection, arcing off his red body into the sky.

13. On the way back down the stairs I realized that my mother's tea was just another way to pronounce THC. I wanted to tell this to them so bad.

14. At the table the meatloaf had been done up like a ham: all in slices lying on each other. Healthy slices. Like it had been dropped into a piano. We ate without talking and I sang lyrics in my head. My father commented on my apparent thirst and I commented back on the quality of the tea. My mother looked at him with her look. The lindane was burning a chemical hole in my jeans. I dropped my napkin six times just to adjust, and then set it on my lap, smoothed the wrinkles out like a sheet I was spreading. They were both already watching me.

15. The goat as it turned out was a visual aid gone awry. From one of the business towers. I felt sorry for it when they got it cornered on the bridge downtown, but then my father went to another station. It could have been an accident, though: alone in the room, he could force his hand into his pants, his fingernails. His elbow could have just changed channels and he never even knew, his eyes rolled back to the whites, and for an unusually clear moment I realized he was terrified. That he'd brought them home. I leaned against the tile wall of the shower and smiled. My mother had her face to the space beneath the locked door and the carpet. She was reading the Bible to me.

16. Because my eyes were still swollen I didn't trust them at first. And because I was stoned. It was all Annabella's fault, too. The joint had been an apology. I'd held it and looked to her and then she was walking away, the wind trying to blow her stiff hair, having to go around instead. She'd said they could get in your eyebrows. That the higher the egg is up the hair shaft, the longer you've had them. Her hairs were ripe with pale eggs, follicle to split end. She was sorry. I smiled, looked at the sky in the best way I knew how, and then stroked a match head on the concrete, slow enough that it didn't catch until the end. The whole time I was watching her.

17. What happened—what I didn't believe at first—was that the crabs were finally leaving. At the dinner table. Genesis, Exodus, all that. One of them leading the rest up out of my jeans, out of the oppressive haze of lindane. He was a hero. The first thing they had to cross, though, was my white napkin. And it wasn't a neat, single-file thing. It was panic. Like the soccer game was over, the theatre on fire. I looked up to my mother and laughed, and the already-downturned corners of her mouth turned down some more. Somebody's meatloaf fork clattered to the table. I had no idea what to do with the napkin, either. Just to run.

18. Weeks later, the house sanitized, all my stashes off-property, lindane still under my fingernails, I saw her again, Annabella. In the fluorescent light at the convenience store at the end of our street. Her father was idling in their car in the parking lot, a newspaper spread between him and the world. I was in line behind her. Her hair was beautiful—healthy, full, lustered: like the commercials say. I touched it, weighed it, and she straightened her back under her leather jacket, and then the hair shifted. It was a wig. I pulled my hand back, looked at it. This was the Day of the Hair of the Dog: earlier I'd chased our dog down, scrubbed the crabs off him while my father watched, beer in hand. Because I was old enough he had been telling me about women you take home and women you don't, or shouldn't, and I told him not to worry, this wasn't going to happen again. He raised his beer to me, father to son. Another successful talk. We never made eye contact.

19. In the convenience store the clerk was pretending he didn't know what was going on. That I had called my mother from the payphone outside and made up drug after drug for her, then licked them, inhaled them, cooked them up, shot them into my arm, between my toes, the tear duct of my right eye, because I'm right-handed. The thing was that the dog was white now. Our Irish setter. You're not supposed to apply lindane in the sun; it says so right on the bottle. Later I planned to corner him with the wet-dry vac, get all the eggs off him. Because they can live six days. What I was buying at the convenience store was a pig's ear, because dogs like them. I hadn't expected Annabella, though.

20. Remember me? she said, looking directly into my eyes, then fast away. She was buying lip gloss and low-salt peanuts. Her boots touched each other, then didn't. She had no eyebrows. My last sexual encounter with her would be on the trampoline in her backyard, three years later. Stepping off to adjust their motion-sensitive security light I would break my arm, and her father would have to hold the steering wheel with both hands and drive me to the emergency room, and standing with her in line at the convenience store I knew all this somehow, too, could see it. But my hand was already holding the side of hers. Her dry lips smiled. The lindane had burned all the hair off her body. I leaned close, closed my eyes, and said into her ear that I wanted whatever she had, it didn't matter, and her hand tightened around mine and she led me out the door, past her father, across the parking lot, through the remains of my mother's heart, and once out of the light she leaned on me, removed her boots, her hair, and I did hesitate, yes, but it was only to take a mental snapshot before we exploded into the night like birds

21. only birds don't know what it's like to really fly, to jump into that perfect space between a downtown bridge and the wide roof of a recreational vehicle heading out of town and then just float for an impossible second, your veins shot full of drugs both imaginary and real, with names like ecstasy and love and gonorrhea and speed and apology and innocence and acid and guilt and music and peanuts and crystal and crank. But there's never any rush like the first time, a fan blade rushing towards your face. Until I caught Annabella's father watching me in the rearview the Night of the Trampoline, I never knew that either.




stephen graham jones