Don's head felt like it was in a thing like a box or in a thing like maybe a real big fist and it was closing and Mark over there in the kitchen was not helping anything feel any different. Mötley Crüe was pounding out of the speakers of the boom box Don's sister had loaned them, the boom box she'd put on the windowsill and nobody had moved since. Maximum volume created maximum distortion and the music was set to both. It didn't matter that much to the boys, either of them; they'd memorized the whole album years before.
Mark was cutting oranges into quarters with a big commando-type knife. When he'd gotten about one thousand chunks of orange piled up on the counter, he jammed the knife into the formica surface. He starting scooping up orange quarters and dumping them into the refrigerator. Although the music prevented Don from actually hearing anything else, he did see Mark's lips move and Don knew that Mark had just said "Awl riot" in the way that was his, Mark's, trademark. It meant the same thing as "victory" or "how unusual" or "I can't think of anything else to say." It was like Don's own bandanna, like the one he had tied around his neck in ninth grade and it just became something he kept on doing; it become the thing he always did. People said, “Don. You know, the guy who has that bandanna around his neck all the time.” Everybody did things like that, like Mark always said "awl riot" and Don wore a bandanna around his neck and this girl or that girl wore a lot of gold-toned rings on every finger or another wore red eye shadow all the time or some such thing. Everybody did something that they did all the time.
The boys' apartment was a good apartment because almost everybody who lived in the complex worked day jobs of some kind or else had a bunch of kids that would keep them all pretty busy and out of the way. Nobody was out much during the weekdays and Don and Mark could do pretty much whatever they wanted. Don might bring over one of the guys from his baking industries classes or Mark might cruise one of the high school parking lots. Just like that, just about every day there was a party.
Don's headache was getting much better. It seemed to have a little life all its own, that headache. It came and went like an old friend though lately it was making more and more of its own decisions without asking Don and it, the headache, seemed to be getting desperate as if it were running out of time, running out of choices. Don was the guy who hated pain. He had never and probably would never get used to it. He was the kid who was scared of spankings because they hurt. He was the one who wouldn't fight, who would eat shit on the playground rather than risk getting hurt. Don used to lie awake in his little bed in his Mom's apartment trying to sleep and just keep seeing himself falling off his bike into gravel, getting "swats" from his PE teacher, burning up in some horrible car wreck.
Don tried to stop thinking about his headache specifically and about pain in general. He drank some more beer and looked at their clock with its electrical cord trailing down to the outlet. Don wondered if they sold aspirin at liquor stores. While he was doing that, the tape in the machine ended or stopped or something and in the shock of sudden silence, both boys realized that someone was knocking really loudly on the door.
"Whoa," said Mark.
Don opened the door and it was this friend of one of Mark's girlfriends; her name was Julie. She was sixteen and she liked to come over to the apartment when she was supposed to be in study hall and she'd wait around hoping someone would get her high or show her some deep attention and then she'd go back to school for social studies or hygiene class or something. This girl always wore a black, TV-type detective fedora kind of hat. It was her trademark.
"Hey, Don," she said.
"Hey, Julie," Don said.
She sat down on the living room floor and lit a Marlboro Light. It was the kind of cigarette she bought from a machine rather than risk get carded by convenience store clerks. Don went back into the kitchen near Mark.
"Did you guys ever have Mrs. Lamont ever?" Julie asked them. "For English?"
Neither Mark nor Don said anything. Don was looking through some empty cassette boxes, not thinking about his headache, and wondering where all the tapes were.
"Well?" Julie asked and she whipped her head around to look right at them and her black TV hat almost fell off. "I mean, did you?"
Don moved as quickly as he could to the front door and opened it back up. Sunlight came in sheets through it.
"Hey, Julie," Don sort of said. "I mean, see you later, okay?"
Julie just sat there a second and then she stood up really fast and just left.
"That was harsh," said Mark.
"Nah," Don said back. "Not really."
It was extremely near closing time and, okay, I will admit that I was very drunk. I had run out of cash early in the evening and had been running a tab on my credit card. I was drinking shots of vodka and glasses of draft beer. I figured out a long time ago that those are the kinds of drinks you drink when you don't want to commune with other people. If you drink something with pineapple or grenadine or other vivid colors, you're asking for someone to talk to you. Even ice can be dangerous because it makes that attractive clinking sound on the way to your mouth. A shot and a beer meant something else altogether, something kind of morose and silent.
At least, that what I always thought until this guy at my left told the bartender to “give me another round and put it on that pussy's tab" and jerked his big thumb to his right which was directly at me. The bartender looked at me and I was pretty surprised and didn't really know what to say and then the drinks came up. Everybody within earshot was looking at me. I still didn't know what to do but I knew I didn't like what was being done. I didn't know what to do so I nodded and listened to the acid laughter drip out of the Thumb and his buddies drinking on my tab and basically the rest of the entire bar was laughing, too. They all seemed to have figured out that they had it made no matter what I was drinking. My choices had become extremely limited.
I finished my vodka, decided to leave the rest of my draft on the coaster, and slid off my stool in a humble, I'm-off-to-take-a-leak-Sir-but-I'll-be-right-back kind of way as if I was really worried about keeping on his good side, what he was going to do to me next, what he was really thinking about me. When I got near the exit door at the back of the room, I stopped and looked back toward the bar. I waited like that until the Thumb had the time to look over and wonder where I had gone off to and when I was getting back. He was still thinking about me, thinking about me paying for more drinks, and maybe even missing me. The bar was crowded enough, I figured, to keep him from just charging into me swinging his big fists and, I figured, he'd want to tell a few people what he was going to do to a drink-buying pussy like me. I figured that once he saw me, I'd have about half a minute to get ready. I kept staring at him until he looked over his shoulder, I locked my eyes onto his, I pointed my finger straight at him, I made a hooking kind of gesture, and I made my mouth make "You" real obvious. And then I crashed backward through the exit door out into the parking lot.
I was shaking and scared as hell, hyper-conscious of how bad all my calculations probably were, and how even my few seconds where fading away fast. I was just about ready to give it up and run when I found what I was looking for, a big flat piece of landscaping rock. I got to that rock, grabbed it, and the door swung open. The Thumb was alone. I took my swing and the rock split his nose cleanly down the middle, squashed it up under his right cheek. He just stood there and watched the blood ruin his nice shirt.
""Okay? Fair?" I tried to whisper. "Want to quit now?"
His eyes cleared up and he said, "Now, I'm going to kill you, now."
The rock bounced against his left ear. It sounded soft and wet when it hit but he didn't react the way I hoped. He made a noise like "woof" and then he made another noise that sounded like "fucker."
I started to really panic. I tried to think about what I should do next. I threw the rock straight at his mouth and ran. I figured that if I could get to my car and start it and drive, I could run back and forth over the Thumb until his pieces were too small to do me harm. He didn't follow me, though. I got my car door open and I twisted my key into my ignition and, as I drove out and away, I could see he was still standing there bleeding under the light of the “no entrance/exit only” sign.
Even though he was pacing everywhere through the house, even though he acted like he was bored to distraction, Jackie really wasn't. He was just Jackie, Jackie here and there throughout the house.
Once in a while, he would stop at the door of the kids' room and call in.
"Are you kids okay? Do you need something?"
"Your mom will be home real soon. Okay? Kids?"
Stuff like that.
When he was out in the kitchen, he finished washing the dishes, scoured out the sink, scrubbed the cutlery a second and then a third time, scoured out the sink again, and started on his shirt and pants. He yelled toward the kids' room a lot.
"Cleaning up in here!"
"Getting things spic and span in the kitchen!"
Things like that to keep them posted on how things were going with him getting ready for their mother to come home.
The stains on his clothes were difficult and he couldn't even start to think about the stains on theirs or the other messes around the house he was going to have to start cleaning. His clothes took a lot of rubbing and scrubbing and some "god-shit-fuck-goddammits" before they came away clean (or cleaner than they’d been before he started trying to clean them). In between all those times he was scrubbing at his clothes, he was still pacing around the house only he was naked and looking out the windows and discovering that he was wandering away from the sink and his dirty dirty clothes again and that he was smoking a cigarette in the hallway near the bedrooms and the doors to theirs, the children's rooms.
But Jackie got everything all washed out and rinsed and hung up on the shower curtain rod in the bathroom. When he saw his reflection in the bathroom mirror, he saw that he had no shirt on which made him look down and remember that he had no pants on either.
While he was in a closet getting fresh clothes, he heard the crunching noise from the gravel in the driveway. Jackie went lurching out into the hallway tangled up in his new, fresh, clean clothes; he was all tangled up in those arms and legs in an eagerly comical kind of way.
"Kids!" he called. "Hey, kids! Your mom's home."