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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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