Saturday’s Blank Page
I had gone through my fifth rum and OJ, but that was okay because it had taken several hours to get to this point. The sun had come and gone, unreal and distant behind the windows that wrapped around my office. I sat with another blank page in front of me. I had 250 pages above it, complete and ready for the final run. You’d have to be crazy to want to write. I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone. If I had children, I would force them to go get their doctorates in money making and single family homes and, Jesus, don’t ever take the stage, or open the empty notebook with a pen balanced in your hand, or get locked into a land of colors and beauty and deeper thought.
The rum had me. I could always tell. My eyes peeled back and left my skull as the last of the twilight turned into darkness, the cherry blossoms outside my window stepping backward into the shadows and leaving me alone, in a pool of light, with this damned blank page 251 mocking me. Say it, end it, rock it, write it, love it, hate it.
A ringing brought me home, and I kicked my chair away from the table, rolling across low-rent parquet to pluck the black phone from its resting place.
My old friend James whispered from the other end, “Nacho,”
“No, listen, I’ve found it.”
He was silent. I could hear traffic in the background, some sort of echoing announcement from a scratchy PA system. “Chocolate covered digestive biscuits. Tons of them. More than you can imagine.”
“Great, get me some.”
“No. There’s a snag.”
“I need you here.”
“I can’t drive, the rum’s got me.”
“I sent Paulie.”
The doorbell rang, echoing down the hall and pounding through my office. I spun and stared out into the hallway. The carpet out there needed a vacuuming; the running light beside the door was out. “Okay,” I muttered into the phone, turning it off.
Moving through the house was more difficult than I had expected but, when I opened the door, Paulie steadied me by grabbing my shoulders, shaking me violently, and screaming incoherently in Spanish.
There was no hello, he just dragged me outside and lead me to his neon yellow Dodge Dart with the windows that wouldn’t roll up. I piled into the passenger seat and tried to keep my head on straight when he slammed it into reverse and screeched out of my driveway. He leaned towards me,
“How’s it hanging, buddy?” Beer breath and glassy eyes.
“Jesus, you’re drunk?”
He only laughed cruelly, catching air on the hill outside my house and speeding through the neighborhood with an apron of dogwood blossoms following us most of the way. We zoomed out onto Randolph Road, Paulie cutting the wheel a little too sharp. It seemed as if we might end up rolling over and over into blindness and despair, but he got the better of destiny and we sped into the night.
We arrived at the Forest Glen seminary before I was able to stop my hands from shaking. The crumbling mansions and castles were mere ghosts in the night. Paulie jammed in the parking brake before we had fully stopped and we both lurched forward, then he was out of the car and impatiently tapping the window with his black, death’s head wedding ring.
I followed him into the woods, down through a ravine and back up again alongside one of the long abandoned buildings. This had been an old girl’s school, a train servicing the area before the Washington Beltway had even been thought of. That road now hummed constantly in the background, wherever you went. The song of Washington. The US Army had ended up with the property long before I was born and had promptly let it go to hell. Now, the grand buildings stood like some bizarre movie set, a tiny village of dormitories and the surrounding principle buildings, the grounds an overgrown forest dotted with decaying statues of the Greek Muses, tilted and overgrown with ivy as if they were the witnesses of some terrible apocalypse, the last remnants of Humanity. It would be easy to believe, if it weren’t for the Beltway. Paulie and I were crossing ground long forgotten, home to memories, madmen and kissing teenagers. We crossed to the old dormitory that had been constructed in the shape of a small, Norman-era keep. The plywood covering the basement window had been peeled back and Paulie led me inside.
In the center of the basement, beneath a solitary pool of light, James was sitting in a chair, his black duster hanging to the floor. His face, lit from above, looked dark and dangerous. As soon as Paulie pulled the plywood back against the window, James reached out his hand and, with a quick twist, the basement filled with Type O Negative’s Christian Woman. That first track from the album with the two chicks kissing on the front cover. It looked like James had lured me all the way out here to witness yet another one of his Vampire Lestat moments.
He stood up slowly as drunken Paulie scurried back into the shadows. I crossed my arms, ignoring the moldy smell of the long abandoned basement, the black water filling the depressions in the floor, the glaring overhead bulb, and the mind-numbing music blasting through hidden speakers. When James got weird, you had to block out any possible distractions. The last time I treated a situation like this casually, he held me down and forced me to swallow a red gelatin pill, shouting that I would soon wake up in the real world.
“Hello N. Sasha.” He shouted, when he was close enough.
I only nodded in reply.
“Would you like the biscuits?”
“Did you find them down here?”
“What?” he tilted his head towards me.
I shook my head, then leaned closer so my lips were almost touching him. “Did you – ”
There was a starfield as something hit me from behind. I fell into James’ arms and, as darkness crept into my eyes, he spun me around and put me in the chair. When I woke up, Black No. 1 was blaring from the speakers and a TV tray had been set up in front of me. A Dell laptop sat on the tray, the blank page of a Word document staring back at me. It was 10 minutes before Black No. 1 ended and, in the sudden, ear-ringing silence, James faded out of the shadows at the far end of the basement. He sat down in a weathered, wooden chair about ten feet from me and smiled.
“I want you to write.”
“I don’t know yet,” he said, “but it’ll go up on Dirtyfreaks.”
“Greatsociety,” I corrected him.
He stared at me blankly for a moment, then shook his head. “I always use Dirtyfreaks to get on.”
“Well you still can, but – ”
“Anyway, look. Start with this:”
I hate Stephanie. She’s a dirty whore. Stephanie is a terrible cow and her butt is going to get big in a few years, I just know it. Further, she may have nice tits, but she has those pinchy eyes like that actress chick. You know the one? Liz Stauber. She was the goodnik in Teaching Mrs. Tingle and the gossip in Can’t Hardly Wait. I don’t know why I think she’s so cute, but…wait, but it’s not cute. That’s the thing. It’s like Maura Tierney – she’s really hot but she isn’t, you know?
“I’m sorry,” I interrupted, “What’s the point of this?”
James stood up and pointed at me, “You just fucking write! You just shut up and write!”
Paulie edged out of the shadows as well, carrying a Tori Amos CD.
“I like Tori Amos.”
“You won’t after Paulie’s done.”
I looked down at the laptop. “Okay, continue.”
I hate Stephanie even when I listen to Puff. Wow, that’s showing my roots, eh? Nobody remembers those “Big Ol’ Butt” days. Either way, I really hate that bitch, even though I miss her big old juicy pussy. Fucking bitch.
James was silent for a long while, breathing through his mouth and staring fixedly into middle space. I sat with my fingers poised over the laptop’s keypad, watching him. Then, solemnly, Paulie produced a CD from the folds of his jacket and walked into the shadows. After a moment, the air filled with the mellow opening of Electric Relaxation. I don’t think I’ve heard a Tribe track since 94. It was a real flashback moment, and I sat there nodding my head and humming along to lyrics long buried. Paulie, arms crossed, tapped his feet and closed his eyes. James coughed into his fist, stood up and started dancing like the dwarf in Twin Peaks.
The overhead light flickered and I found myself there in the dark with Tribe Called Quest all around me and the cold glow of the laptop for company. But at least I wasn’t staring at a blank page anymore.