Issue No. 5 – September 2014
You had a hard time accepting the fact that you are on food stamps. The stigma of it. But Mike isn’t making enough to support you and three kids.
Just the fact that food stamps are something you would be on is telling. Like being on drugs, or on welfare, or on chemotherapy.
On vacation would be one non-negative example. There are no absolutes in this world. Everything is not black or white, white or black.
Now that Jazmyn is in pre-K, your days belong to you. You could try to get a job, to help make ends meet, but, you know what? You deserve some time to yourself. You deserve that. You feel like Mike has pretty much kept you barefoot and pregnant for the last twelve years. The He Man. Well, if he wants to be the man, he can by-God man-up and support his family. If he wants to maintain these traditional roles, then he needs to keep up his end of the bargain. Your job is to raise the kids and cook the meals and clean the house. And let Mike use you for Cialis-induced sex every other Saturday. In many ways, that is degrading. But in other ways, it feels good. You know what to expect and what is expected from you. That’s comforting. You like it. You take pride in what you do for your family.
And now, with Mike Jr., Ben, and Jazmyn all three in school, having your days to yourself is just a fringe benefit. In fact, it’s more than that. It’s not something extra, it’s something you earned. Something you deserve. The twinge of guilt you sometimes feel about it is just wrong. You deserve some me time.
Mike applied for the food stamps. He did it on the computer. He said he fudged the numbers a little bit, but that everybody did that. He said that his family deserved some help. That he had been paying into the system his whole life and now it was time to get something out of it. If a jig could be president, then a white man could be on government assistance. That’s what Mike said. You didn’t know he was a racist when you married him. That stuff just kind of bubbled to the surface over time. Those old fashioned He Man family values that you found comforting, and, if you’re being honest, kind of sexy sometimes, well, those values came with some other old fashioned ideas that weren’t sexy at all. Not at all. But he had you knocked up and shoeless before those darker elements came to light.
He used to refer to black people as African Americans, but somewhere along the line you realized that he was using that term ironically. He might as well have been using the N-word. Then it was Afro Americans, emphasis on the afro. And it just went downhill. Turned to weird terms like Jellybeans. He would never say the N-word, though, like he was above that. You asked him why jellybeans, and he smiled and said ‘cause nobody likes the black ones. Timmies. That was another one. His favorite one. (It took you a long time to figure out why he called some black people Timmies. You finally realized it was African immigrants — very black people with high pitched accents. Timmies were people from Timbuktu. Or at least looked like they could be, anyway).
Really, Mike made plenty of money. He flat out lied on the food stamps application. It’s time for us to get what we’re owed is what he said.
Sometimes you check his internet history, to see if he has been looking at pornography or chatting with other women, but you’ve never found any evidence of that. One time, though, when he forgot to clear out the cache, you saw that he had been visiting a white supremacy website. The Aryan Zionist something or the other. And there was stuff about the coming race wars, disruption of food supplies, and the collapse of civilization. Stuff about building emergency shelters in your backyard. Stockpiling weapons. You could live with his casual bigotry — most folks were prejudiced once you got them behind closed doors — but if he was moving beyond casual and into active hate mode, well, that was disturbing. You didn’t want to spend family vacations going to rifle ranges and survivalist camps and burning crosses and bombing abortion clinics. You just wanted to maybe go to Six Flags or Gatlinburg or Dollywood or something and just be normal.
You order the DVD of that miniseries, Roots. The one about the slaves. Where they go to Africa and kidnap black people and bring them back to America to be slaves. Before the Civil War. You remember seeing it when you were little and how it just broke your heart. You figure that if Mike will watch it, it might humanize black people to him. Lessen some of the hate he is feeling. You try to get you and him and the kids to all sit down together to watch it as a family. But he always finds something else to do. Some reason to not be there. Some place he has to go. Some call he has to take. The DVD is still in the entertainment cabinet. Still sealed. Unopened.
You dated a black guy in college, before you dropped out. His name was Andre, and he had taken your virginity. You had loved Andre and he had been so sweet and kind and it turned you on the way he was always licking his lips, like just being around you made his mouth water.
You have never told — nor will you ever tell—Mike about Andre.
The card came in the mail about a week after the application was submitted. Food stamps weren’t actual stamps anymore. It was a card, like a credit card or a debit card with a magnetic strip down the back of it so you could swipe it at the grocery store and get your food for free. It was called an EBT card. Electronic Bank Transfer.
These were modern times you were living in.
Mike presented the card to you, like he was giving you an anniversary gift. Like it was jewelry or split-crotch panties or something. Told you it was time to enjoy the benefits of living in America. Like the Timmies and border-hoppers do.
You felt very self-conscious and embarrassed the first time you used it. You were afraid one of your neighbors or someone from the PTA would see you. Or that strangers would see and judge you. That first time you used it, you bought three food-service-size cans of generic pinto beans, a big-ass package of dried split peas, a ten pound bag of Kroger brand plain flour (not even self-rising), and a big industrial-size can of Value Coffee. It was like you were living back in the pioneer days. Like you lived in the little house on the fucking prairie. Like you were stocking up the covered wagon so you and your family could cross the Great Plains in search of manifest destiny. You just didn’t want to be seen using your food stamps on extravagant items. If you were seen using EBT, you wanted for people to at least think you were a responsible steward of public funds.
The EBT card — as opposed to the old fashioned, brightly colored food stamps — was supposed to take away the embarrassment and shame of being on the government dole. (You are old enough to remember seeing a young black woman, one hand holding a diapered child straddled on her hip, counting out food stamps with the other hand, and how she was holding up the line and everybody was watching her, but that woman didn’t seem embarrassed or ashamed. She just didn’t care.) The way it worked was, you just swiped it at the register just like a regular check card. The thing about it, though, was that the EBT card didn’t look like a regular Visa or MasterCard. The EBT cards issued by the state of Georgia were predominately green, like a jungle print or something, and in the middle of all that greenery were two hefty Georgia peaches, just hanging there like testicles. It was awful. Garish. Anybody that happened to glance at you while you were checking out would recognize it and know right away that you were just trash. Just poor trash.
But you finally get used to using it. You stop buying flour and corn meal and dried beans and giant slabs of no-name bacon, and you start buying the things your family actually eats. After a while, you develop a little swipe method, so that you palm the card in this certain way and it just looks very casual. You keep the card in your pants pocket instead of the wallet in your purse, so when the total comes up, you just do a quick palm swipe and the card is back in your pocket before anybody can see it. You key in your PIN and you’re good to go. You just carry your bags of name brand groceries right out to your Escalade.
Then Mike starts requesting things like Alaskan king crab legs and New York strip steak. And you don’t want to take a chance being seen buying stuff like that with food stamps. That is not being a good steward of public funds. But you do it, because Mike tells you to do it. Insists. Makes you feel the same way he makes you feel when you don’t want to give him a blow job. Like you are not doing your wifely duties. He can be a real motherfucker sometimes. He Man. If you stand your ground — that it’s just not right to use food stamps to support an extravagant lifestyle — Mike will launch into a tirade about how the Timmies are living large off public assistance, how they are not even real Americans and they are eating filet mignon and swordfish and truffles every night while regular people have to eat ramen noodles and American kids are getting rickets and dying of starvation. And that makes you feel bad. Then he starts in on how the Timmies sell their food stamps for sex and drugs. And they use their women to get more food stamps. He says that in the Timmie culture, women are defined by their sexual organs. That they are actually that primitive. Animals without a moral base. You can go into one of those African restaurants that are popping up all over the Cobb County and just swipe your EBT card in there and you can get marijuana or crack cocaine and then once you are high, you can swipe your card again and you can have your pick of the women. Sex and drugs, and you charge it all to your EBT. And compared to that, you all having Alaskan king crab legs for dinner one night is not even close to abusing the system. And of course he is right.
Usually, you go to Kroger and use the automated self-checkout registers. No matter how much stuff you have, you scan that shit yourself. That way you don’t have to take the chance of the checkout girl knowing you are on food stamps. (Before you discovered the wonderful anonymity of self-checkout, when the cashier rang up your food, you would make up little conversations in your mind. You would rehearse what you might say to her if she got uppity or gave you some kind of judgmental look, or made some little snide comment about you buying expensive Activia yogurt instead of the plain jane store brand. Like if you’re so poor, how come you’re getting the expensive premium brand of yogurt? Like you are not a good steward of public funds. Like you are living high on the hog eating free while everybody else has to work for what they have and they scrimp and save and all they can afford is the cheap Kroger brand yogurt. Well, if anything like that ever happened, you would just hold your head high and look the clerk in the eye and say, “Well, I guess poor people don’t deserve to shit good. Jamie Lee Curtis never said that in any of those commercials. She never said ‘Activia is not intended for the poor.’ But I reckon you know best. I reckon poor people are just gonna have to live with being constipated”).
But nothing like that has ever happened. You discovered the automated checkouts. You ring yourself up so you don’t have to brook the judgmental gaze of the cashier.
But Mike wants the steak and crab legs from Publix. He says their quality is better. Mike is all about quality. You don’t usually go to Publix because they don’t have self checkouts. They are in the process of having them installed—they’ve even marked off floor space for them — but they don’t have them up and running yet. Also, when you pay with EBT at Publix, you have to tell the checkout clerk before she starts scanning your items. If you don’t tell them, then it doesn’t ring up right. There is some little button or screen or something that pops up on their side, and if you don’t tell them you’re using EBT, it will ring up wrong and they have to call the manager over for a tax exempt override or something. Sometimes the manager doesn’t know how to perform a tax exempt override and they end up voiding the entire transaction and the whole ordeal takes ten minutes and the cashier knows, the manager knows, and anybody who is in the general vicinity knows good and damn well that you are a piece of human trash on food stamps. They know that you are getting your groceries for free while they have to work hard and pay for theirs. They cannot afford Activia. They cannot afford to shit good. They know that tonight you are going to feast on exotic seafood and Grade A beef. You are going to have surf and turf, and they are going to have macaroni and cheese or Hamburger Helper because the government is not providing them with dinner. They work for a living and you are sponging off their hard labor. And the checkout girl probably makes six-fifty an hour and has never had steak and crab legs together in her whole life.
Sometimes you use your EBT card at Whole Foods, too. They have freshly roasted coffee beans flown in from some country in Africa. Kenya, you think. Or Ethiopia. Which is ironic. But anyway, they are more expensive than steak.
But you do it. For Mike. Good ol’ Mike. You are starting to hate him. But you have built a life together, and divorce is hardest on the kids. It affects them.
When you are not grocery shopping, you like to shop at thrift stores. You love thrift stores. It’s like a habit. An addiction almost. You just love it. And it saves money. It started because you thought that if you could save enough money, cutting corners, maybe Mike wouldn’t renew the EBT card. That was what you hoped would happen, but it has since become clear that no matter how much money he has, Mike has no intention of ever getting off food stamps. In fact, he is trying to get Medicaid coverage for the kids too.
Mike doesn’t like you shopping in Goodwill or Salvation Army or any of those places. He doesn’t want anybody to think he’s poor. White trash that has to stoop that low to get by. To buy other people’s cast-offs. So he doesn’t want you to be seen shopping in thrift stores. But you do it anyway. ‘Cause he sure as shit doesn’t mind if his wife is seen using food stamps. Fuck him.
So you hit the thrifts. Screw Mike. You find stuff that is like brand new and he can’t tell the difference. You shop the Goodwill, and Salvation Army, and Value Village, and Thrifters, and St. Vincent DePaul, and all those places. You rotate. You have your pin money and your EBT card and your thrift store route and that is your purpose in this life. You take pride in finding bargains. And the EBT card is becoming almost like a badge of honor to you.
One day, you are looking through the women’s shirts in Goodwill. Clicking through the metal hangers on the chrome racks. Click click click. There are silk tops, exquisite hand-tailored blouses. Ann Taylor Loft, Anne Klein, Nine West, Louis Vuitton. Expensive designer stuff. People just don’t know what they’re missing out on. A lot of it still has store tags on it. Never been worn. Shoes too. Purses.
On this particular day you are clicking through the tops. You click to a bright red shirt. It’s a spaghetti strap tank top. It’s the bloodiest shade of red you’ve ever seen. Deep scooped so that it would show more of the tops of your boobs than you would normally reveal. Your smallish boobs are sort of ravaged after having three kids sucking and biting on them (Mike didn’t believe in bottles and powdered formula, and now your tits look like something out of National Geographic). Besides, the shirt is trashy. But, then again, you are trash, so why not?
You pull it off the rack and hold it up to you. Right away you notice that printed on the front of the shirt, in stark big-ass black letters, is the word CUNT. You feel yourself flush and you whack the thing back onto the rack. You are surprised Goodwill would even sell something like that. You thought they were a Christian organization. Must have been one of the Timmies they hire (lots of African immigrants in this area) who didn’t know enough English to know that was a bad word. Or maybe they did know. You remember Mike said that Timmie women are defined by their sexual organs. Maybe in Timbuktu all the women went around labeled like that. Just to keep things clear.
CUNT. That’s all it said. You couldn’t get any clearer than that. Just CUNT. Nothing else. Like a brand.
You want to buy it. Because the flush you felt wasn’t just from embarrassment. It was sexual heat. Brought on by memory. Andre. The black guy from when you were in school and still your own person. When you are your own person, you get to decide for yourself if you want to bottle-feed your kids so that your tits don’t look like poorly filled water balloons when you are just thirty two years old. When you are your own person, you can date outside your race if you want to. You can have sex with a black man if you want to. Back when you were sleeping with Andre, he would say dirty things to you sometimes. You remember one time he looked you in the eye and he said you have a tender little cunt. Just like that. A tender little cunt. That’s what he said. And you just about came. And just now, seeing that shirt, that word. You just about came.
You want to buy the shirt.
You are ready for change. You are ready to be different. You are ready to be the same. You are ready to be your own person once again. But you are not ready to wear a bright red, deep scooped, spaghetti strap tank top with the word CUNT printed on it. You are not ready for that. Plus, you are self-conscious about your breasts. In addition to being well-used, they’re kind of small. A deep scooped tank top is not something you can pull off. Mike says your breasts are about the size of baseballs. Sometimes, he will say that anything more than a mouthful is a waste, and that makes you feel good. But other times he calls them boy breasts, and that really makes you feel bad about your body.
You keep clicking through the clothes, click click click, foraging from rack to rack. Looking at blazers now. But you keep thinking about that tank top. You want it. Mike used to love your pussy. He would eat it for hours it seemed like. One time you two were having sex, and this was after he had two beers (one was his limit), he fell asleep with his tongue resting on your clit. Yes, he fell asleep like that. And he started snoring just a little bit and the vibrations rippled across you down there and you came like eight times. You came like you have never come before. Because when he was awake and working you over with that tongue, it felt like you were on the spot. Like you had to react in a certain way to show him you enjoyed it. But that time he fell asleep, and those sound waves were rippling over that thing that defines you, just rolling across you like troubling thunder. You orgasmed bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam eight times. A string of Black Cat firecrackers going off.
There was something about him being asleep and you were kind of using him without his permission and that turned you on so much and then you thought of Andre, the way his tongue slid over you, the way he relished your body and you have a tender little cunt and bam number nine.
You put the shirt out of your mind and keep clicking through the ladies jackets. Faster now. Clickclickclickclick. Many women would probably say you were lucky to have a man who would go down on you. A man who enjoyed it. But you know better than that. Clickity clickity clickclickclick. Clit. When Mike would eat you out (and he hasn’t in years), it really felt like he was eating you. Click. Consuming you. Clickclickclickclick. Devouring you like a cannibal or a zombie, or a witch doctor extracting your essence to sacrifice it to an angry god. Eat of me and live forever. Or however that went.
You click your way to a really sweet, form fitting blazer. Hounds tooth. Classic. Classy. You pull it off the rack and try it on and look at yourself in the spotted mirror hanging on the wall. Looking at your reflection, you notice right away that your eyebrows need plucking. They were getting bushy. You are a firm believer that the way a woman grooms her eyebrows is reflective of how she grooms everything. You don’t want to send the wrong message, so you make a mental date with your tweezers tonight. But the blazer looks really good on you. Like it was hand tailored just for you. Makes your waist look thinner and your bust look fuller. Like you’ve got softballs instead of just baseballs. You stick your hands in the pockets so you can see you how you will look in case you decide to strike a nonchalant, laid-back look. In case you are ever called upon to do a J.C. Penney cover shoot.
There is something in the right hand pocket. A soft lump. It crinkles just a little bit when you squeeze it. A baggie. You are instantly sure of what it is. You lift the pocket flap and peer inside. Yep. It’s a bag of pot. Looks to be about a quarter ounce.
You proceed immediately to the checkout to purchase the blazer. You do not pass Go. You do not collect two hundred dollars. Your goal is to somehow get out of the store with the blazer and the weed. Without thinking about it. Without giving conscious thought to what you are doing. At the counter, you are nervous and scared the same way you are sometimes nervous when you use the EBT card — only much worse. What you are doing isn’t exactly stealing, but it’s probably not Christian either.
You are scared the checkout man will inspect the pockets and find your treasure. They are actually supposed to do this, to make sure people aren’t trying to conceal merchandise. But he doesn’t. He is a fat man with long greasy strands of brown hair scattered over his scalp. He has very bad skin and uses a wheelchair. Usually, you don’t go through his line, ’cause you don’t like him touching your stuff, but his line was the shortest and you wanted to complete this transaction ASAP.
Outside the store, you stop and take a deep breath and consider what you have just gotten away with. Conscious thought. You peer down the sidewalk. At the other end of the shopping center is a little African restaurant. There are tall, skinny, deeply black men congregated outside the establishment. Timmies. The place is called Okru or Okru’s Kitchen or something like that. You walked by there once and looked at the menu posted on the door. You really couldn’t make much sense of it, but it had faded-out pictures of some of the dishes. There was one thing they had that looked like a bowl of red spaghetti sauce with a boiled egg floating in the middle of it. A whole boiled egg just floating in a lake of red. It looked awful.
You get in your Escalade and head to a head shop (ha-ha). The name of the place is SMOKE. You’ve driven past it a million times, but you’ve never been inside. It’s right up the street from where you live in a little strip mall nestled between a tanning parlor (called TAN) and a nail salon (called NAIL).
You park in front of the nail salon, because you don’t want anybody to see your vehicle parked outside a head shop. You sit there and think a minute. And what you think is: SMOKE. TAN. NAIL. CUNT. Then you think about what you are doing here. You used to smoke herb when you were in college, back when you were your own person. You smoked quite a bit of it, in fact. But that was a long time ago. You have not been your own person in a long long time. You dropped out of college after that first year. When Mike got you pregnant. Barefoot, pregnant, and uneducated. That’s how he liked his women. MIKE.
Anyway, you didn’t want to smoke dope while you were pregnant. You aren’t trash. You weren’t then, anyway. And then it seemed like you stayed pregnant so much you just kind of forgot about smoking pot and getting high. Plus, Mike didn’t approve of it and why make waves? A marriage is a partnership. Give and take. That was your thought process back then. Today, your thought process is that you want to get high. Good-n-high. This pot you have found is like a gift from God. Like God is telling you He wants you to enjoy life and be your own self, even if it’s just for a little bit. Divine intervention is the only way you could get high these days, because you wouldn’t have any idea where to buy some grass. Your friends had either gone straight like you did, or they never got married and had kids, but they weren’t your friends anymore, not even on Facebook. They were probably too busy getting high and having sex with Timmies and generally enjoying life by doing whatever the hell they wanted to do.
SMOKE is quiet inside. It is not what you were expecting. You figured there would be incense burning and Led Zeppelin or maybe some Kanye playing. But inside it is quiet as a church or a library or something. No incense smoldering. It is sterile inside. In fact, it is like a scientist’s laboratory. Everything is glass. Pyrex.
You take a look at the girl behind the counter. A glassy-eyed little thing. High. In fact, you understand why there is no music playing, this poor girl is so high that music would be too much sensation for her to process. So she just sits there, perched on her stool like a fragile little bird.
The showcase is a smorgasbord of glass water pipes and hookahs and glass bowls in neon swirls. There is an atomizer or nebulizer or something that just kind of heats up the pot or transports it like that matter transportation device from The Fly. You’re not sure exactly how it works. You just came in here to get a pack of rolling papers. Job 1.5’s. You didn’t know pot smoking had been taken over by scientists. There is one little shelf that holds a few things that aren’t made out of glass. You see a metal chamber pipe — it has a little hollow place in the middle where you can store pot and get it resin-coated — and at least that looks familiar. Old fashioned. Then something else on the shelf catches your eye. It’s a small wooden container that comes with a hollowed-out ceramic cigarette. A little card next to it says “One Hitter $17.95.” You buy it.
You get home just about thirty minutes before the first bus, Jazmyn’s, is supposed to get there. So you park the Escalade in your driveway and you sit there and get high.
The pot is in fat, sticky, dense buds. Purple and resinous. It smells like Christmas. Christmas on Funk Mountain. The odor is like a mixture of pine and something like sweaty feet. You tear one bud apart into tiny syrupy clumps. You come across only one seed and two small stems. You flick the seed and stems out the window. You take the little clumps of gummy pot and rub them between your thumb and forefinger and crumble it into the wooden dugout box. Once there is a decent amount inside, your fingers are stained and resinous like you got road tar on your hands.
All you do then is dip the hollowed-out end of the ceramic cigarette into the dugout and twist it around in there until the little opening is packed with weed. This is exactly one hit of pot — hence the name. Now you just hold the other end of the cigarette to your lips, light the lighter, and suck. If anyone should happen to be looking, why it would just look like you were helping yourself to a cigarette. Perfect.
The hit goes down pretty smooth. You cough, but just a little bit. You go ahead and smoke another hit, and then put everything away. Two hits is plenty. You don’t want to get too high. Not with the school bus due in twenty minutes now. The kids might smell it on you or ask why you’re acting so funny. Why are your eyes so red, Mommy? That would just break your heart. You wish you hadn’t smoked it now, but maybe it doesn’t matter, because you don’t really feel anything anyway. Probably the pot was old and had lost its potency. It was old and stale and that’s why it smelled so funky. Might have gone through the wash or something. Hopefully it hadn’t been contaminated with dry cleaning chemicals or anything like that. Maybe you would feel a little buzz and that would be nice. That would be enough. You will have had your moment of rebellion.
It did have a strong smell though, so you might need to get out of the car and walk around a little bit to air out your clothes. That’s what you are about to do, but you think again about Ben and Mike Jr., and sweet little Jazmyn seeing you high and that thought just breaks your heart all over again. What were you thinking? You are their mother. They are just innocent children. It makes you feel bad. What are you doing? You can’t act like this when you are somebody’s mother. When you are somebody’s mother, you have a duty to act right. For all you know, that pot could have been sprayed with DDT. The pesticide could be working its way through your system right now. Making you sick. That stuff is straight-up poison. It causes chromosomal damage. It triggers cancer cells and speeds up metastasis. It could be that later when you hugged your kids the DDT would be collected in the oil and sweat glands in your skin and it would be transferred to those children, poisoning them. Altering their DNA. Maybe just a little. Maybe just enough to cause autism or mental retardation. What have you done? You have put yourself and your children at risk. What were you thinking? My God, for all you know that pot was laced with PCP. You could lose your mind and just snap. Transform into a violent monster. Just snap and end up killing your own children and devouring them. Mike would straight up lose his shit. It would be on the news and the crime scene and the blood and the yellow police tape and the toxicology report would show that you had PCP in your system and folks would say she was just a suburban housewife and the news people would let slip that you were on food stamps and maybe this woman was more deeply troubled than anyone realized.
That’s when you realize that you are indeed high. You are having a panic attack and you are high. So very very high. You are higher than you have ever been in your life. You might be higher than any human being has ever been in the history of people getting high. You understand, deep within you, that God did not intend man to be this high. It’s not Christian. All you can do at this point is plead the blood of Jesus and pray. All you can do is say Jesus take the wheel, I’m too high to drive. And He will take it. Jesus will take the wheel and get you through this.
It could be that pot was from some government program where they spent millions of taxpayer dollars to develop a special strain of the most potent marijuana they could ever grow. Made by deranged scientists and you do not want to be this high this high this high. And your thoughts are echoing in your brain and that scares the shit out of you. Echoing echoing echoing. And then you think CUNT CUNT CUNT. And no wonder that poor bird-girl in SMOKE wouldn’t listen to any music. If that girl was anywhere near — even one percent of one percent — as high as you are right now, then that poor child was skating on the outer edges of reality and any sensory input could have pushed her over the edge. And she would be lost forever.
You hope none of the neighbors saw you. For all you know, they could have taken pictures of you and uploaded them onto the internet. This is my neighbor getting high in her car. She’s on food stamps. You shouldn’t do anything in this world unless you were prepared to have it photographed or videoed and put on YouTube.
Or it could be that they saw you and have already called the police and the police could be on their way here right now and you could be arrested right as your kids were getting off the bus. That would be awful awful awful. Fucking echo. It doesn’t bother you so much now. The echo is actually kind of funny. And you laugh about that and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Then you realize that if the police really are on their way, you need to get your shit together. So you take the one-hitter and the lighter and the bag of pot and put it under the floor mat. But that is too lumpy and obvious. So you pop the rear hatch and put everything in the little hidey hole back there where the jack is stored.
You get back in the front seat, and you feel much better now. Safe. Let the cops come. You were just smoking a cigarette. But what if they have drug sniffing dogs? They still can’t get into your trunk without a search warrant. You’re safe. Cool on Christ.
Then you remember the seed and two stems you tossed out the window. The dogs would smell that. But that was a long time ago and the wind probably blew it away. But what if the dogs found it? Right there on your driveway or blown into the lawn? Busted. That would be probable cause right there. Then you would have to allow the officers to search your vehicle and all would be lost.
So you get out and get down on your hands and knees and it takes a long long long time but you by-God find that tiny seed and those two little stems. Inspiration strikes and you tuck it all into the exhaust pipe of the Caddie, but for all you know a dog could still smell it in there, so you dig it back out (your fingers get sooty) and you run to the backyard and up to the shrub fence and you throw it into the neighbor’s yard. Ha ha.
You climb back into the Escalade and realize that you have been messing around with all of this for a very long time, and you must have been so high that the bus came and you missed it. They won’t let the little kids get off unless there is a parent there to receive them. The bus driver would have to take them back to school. And since you weren’t inside to answer the phone (Mike didn’t want you to have a cell phone) they couldn’t reach you to see what’s wrong. It could be that by now they have called Social Services and DFACS because the kids have been abandoned. They would make that call right off the bat because when Mike signed you up for food stamps, he signed the kids up for free lunches at school so they would have already identified your children as coming from a troubled home. And God damn Mike anyway for causing this mess. If he’d just let you get a cell phone like a normal person. He said those things cause brain cancer. And how you hear about people getting blown up at filling stations, pumping gas and talking on their cell phones. They make tiny little electric sparks, he says.
You key the ignition and get ready to drive up to the school to see just how bad this situation has gotten. But when you glance at the clock on the dash, you see that only seven minutes have passed since you got high. You still have thirteen minutes before the bus gets here. This is a huge relief. You decide to get the stuff back out and take one more hit off the one-hitter since you have time time time.
Pretty soon you were getting high every day. You would get high and then vacuum the carpet. You would get high and scrub the toilets. You would get high and watch The Price is Right at 11:30 in the morning. You would get high and eat a whole bag of Funyuns by yourself. When you were good-n-high, the Funyuns crunching in your jaws was like chewing on religious rocks. Like you were Fred Flintstone working at the quarry and reading Bible passages on your coffee break.
You got used to it. It didn’t make you paranoid anymore like it did that first time. Not as much, anyway. After a while, it just kind of mellowed you out. Not always, though. In fact, sometimes the high was so intense, you either had to hand it over to The Lord, or you just had to bear down and work your way through it. And it was like manual labor, getting that high. Sometimes after spending your morning working your way through another high, you had to lie down in the afternoon. To recuperate. Getting high was hard work.
Even though it only takes only a very little bit of the pot to get you high, you have smoked so much that it is starting to run low.
You went back to the head shop, SMOKE. You got to talking to that little birdy girl who works there and it turns out she really was dangerously high that day you came in. She let on that there was some crazy potent “Miley Cyrus” weed going around and that must be what you got ahold of. A tiny pinch was all it took to put you out there on the cutting edge.
She took you under her wing (ha ha) and explained a lot of the stuff they had for sale there. The vaporizer that kind of cooks the marijuana without burning it and cuts down on all the harmful toxins that get released when you smoke it the regular way. And she showed you all those beautiful clear laboratory glass bongs with heavy beaker bottoms and snaky glass tubing and bubbling liquids. It was all very scientific. You ended up buying a Pyrex bong with a glass ash-catcher add-on with a percolator downflow stem and a showerhead diffuser on the pre-filter. Again, it was all very scientific and looked like something out of Bride of Frankenstein, like a mad scientist designed it.
You kept all your paraphernalia inside an empty Tide box hidden up in a cabinet over the washing machine in the basement. And every time you smoked some, you were aware of your supply getting lower and lower.
When you were getting close to running out of Miley Cyrus, you went back again to SMOKE. The sparrow girl was there and you talked to her about this-and-that. Just girl stuff. And you bought a pack of rolling papers and screens (neither of which you needed) and a new diffuser for your bong. You asked Birdy, real casual, girl-to-girl, if she could hook you up, but Jenny (that was her real name) got kind of stiff and made it perfectly clear that wasn’t going to happen. You looked like a middle class suburban housewife, and you guessed that was probably what an undercover cop would look like too.
Your most favorite thing to do while buzzed is shop Goodwill. You just groove on it. Click click click. You always go through the clothes racks real careful, checking the pockets, hoping you’ll get lucky again. So far you have found a still-sealed Trojan Magnum condom, a used tube of lipstick, and a five dollar bill.
In housewares, you see the usual banged up pots and pans and chipped glassware and waffle irons with busted hinges. But today you also see the cutest lidded handbasket. Wicker. It could be Longaberger, you never can tell. You pick it up and are surprised by the weight. It’s fairly heavy, ten or fifteen pounds. You open the top and see that it’s a pre-stocked picnic basket. It’s stacked with plates and silverware and wineglasses and coffee cups and a stainless steel thermos — all nestled inside and tucked under the split lid.
You have a brief fantasy of you and Mike lying on a grassy bank next to a peaceful stream, feeding each other grapes. Only it’s Andre and not Mike.
You want to get the basket, for the future. As tangible proof of the life you could be living. Of what you could become. But not today. Today you are broke.
Your stash is running out. Almost gone now. Just a couple pinches of resinous green crumbs for you to experiment with. And you have no way of getting more. You’ll have to shut down your laboratory. It’s a shame, because you have really enjoyed getting high. It takes your mind off things. And now it’s going to end. But you can’t think about that right now. If you do, you’ll go crazy. You’ll think about that tomorrow. Because right now, right this minute, you are high. Good-n-high. Tomorrow will take care of itself. After all, tomorrow is another day.
And so you head over to the clothes racks and click through the hangers and groove on your buzz, and you see that the shirt is still there. The blood-red one that says CUNT on it. It has a green price tag, and green tag items are half price today. You are surprised the shirt is still here. But then again, what kind of person would buy something like that anyway? You think about that and think some more about it, and finally you decide that you are the kind of person who would buy something like that.
You are going to buy it. Except you can’t. Mike has cut you off of cash. The Pyrex bong and all the doodads to go with it were not cheap. You had to withdraw cash to get it. Mike was pissed. The shirt wouldn’t be much, but you are penniless. Like Scarlett O’Hara at the end of the Civil War. But you couldn’t run home and make a CUNT shirt out of the curtains in the living room. And you couldn’t use your bank card, because Mike would see you had been shopping at Goodwill.
You take the shirt and hanger to the dressing cubicle. You put the CUNT shirt on, and put the blouse you had been wearing onto the hanger. Then you go back to the sales floor and put that hanger on the rack. Click.
And there you are, walking through Goodwill in a shoplifted blood-red spaghetti strap tank top that says CUNT in big black letters. On your way out, you stop by housewares and grab that handbasket, too. You look like some kind of porn film, prostitute version of Little Red Riding Hood as you stroll right out the front door with your stolen goods. Nobody stops you.
Outside, the sun is too bright. It hurts your eyes. You squint down the sidewalk to your left, and you see that same group of black men standing outside Okru’s Kitchen. Tall skinny black men. Maybe they are contemplating whether or not to get a bowl of whole egg in blood sauce. And you look at those men and you think about the two pinches of Miley Cyrus left at home. You bet one of those men would know where you could get a dime bag or something. Maybe a quarter. But of course you don’t have any money, so why take the risk? You doubt they even sell dime bags anymore. A dime bag probably costs a hundred dollars or something.
Then you remember how Mike said the Timmies use their food stamps to buy drugs and sex, and how the Timmie women were defined by their sexual organs. You touch your pants pocket and feel the EBT card snug in there.
You have your CUNT shirt on and your handbasket dangling at your side. You imagine the dirty sidewalk is really a path in the dark woods. And you are just traipsing along it. Like Little Red Riding Hood off to match wits with the Big Bad Wolf.
Your EBT has $526.00 on it.
You start off down the sidewalk in your red tank top.
Toward the Timmies.
Grant Jerkins is the author of the novels A Very Simple Crime, At the End of the Road, and The Ninth Step. His newest novel, Done in One (with Jan Thomas), will be published by St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, January 2015.