Memorial Services Held at Moxie’s Treasure Trove
MEMORIAL SERVICES HELD AT MOXIE’S TREASURE TROVE
Issue No. 12 – June 2016
The bouncer, a thick guy in a captain’s hat with a plastic hook for his left hand, is still eyeing me from the front door. On my way in, at his request, I showed him the chunky contents of the urn I brought with me and informed him it was my best friend, Rawson. I offered to pay an extra cover charge. Cap’n Security just waved me by, stunned, maybe because I was the first person to enter a strip club with human ashes. He probably knew Rawson’s name and was still in the speechless phase of finding out the news.
I’m so close to the stage that I can see the gouges where stiletto-heels have scraped the wood. It’s made up to look like a ship’s deck to fit in with the rest of the club’s nautical motif: two of the stage’s polished brass poles bear limp, off-white sails at their tops; the third ends in a crow’s nest. Rawson’s urn is in the seat next to me. I wonder if I should tent ones along the stage in front of him.
A growling DJ I can’t locate introduces the next girl: “Ahoy, ready your cannons ye plague-carrying bilge-rats! Prepare to be boarded by the finest lass on the seven seas! Arrh, put your hooks together for… Trishella!”
She stomps on clear six-inch heels to the center pole and gently rests a hand on it. She’s just wearing darkness until the spotlight kicks on, and I can see she’s got on a bikini top and denim shorts, for now. Her body’s made of hard curves. She looks sturdy but like she’d be soft to touch. A piano solo I recognize from a Styx song blares from the speakers and that, along with the about-to-be-naked woman in front of me, remind me that I’m at a tittie-bar.
It was actually at a tittie-bar years ago, I remember now, where Rawson realized I didn’t like girls like he did. He took me to one just after my 18th birthday. I remember being happy to be there with him, and I thought I’d mimed the correct expressions while glitter-spattered girls clapped their heels for our dollars. After we left, he told me he could see it in my eyes; that I looked at vaginas like I was studying dinosaur bones. I got stuttery, defensive, but he told me to relax. He said, “There’s nothing wrong with your wiring, pal,” and I tried to believe him. It happened just like that.
Since he’s been gone, I’ve often wondered what he saw in my eyes when I looked at him.
Trishella’s hair looks golden in the light. It hangs to her mid-back, but she moves it like an appendage while she sways her hips out to each side, squats so low her head’s between her knees—then slowly rises back up, eyes closed, smiling to herself, one hand gently drawing a line from right between her boobs to right between her hips. Her fingers gently graze the pole as she revolves around it, but her feet stay planted on the ground.
It’s the stage lights above her, I know, but she glows like Rawson used to. The show isn’t for the audience; it’s a side-effect of her unleashing her strengths. She sheds her clothing with choreography so elegant that I barely register her nudity. Thin tattoos of coral and seaweed start at her ankles and twist, uninterrupted, up her legs, circle around her smooth stomach and then spiral up her back and down her arms, all connected to a large anchor on her left breast, above her heart. She looks like a delicately painted doll.
I wonder if Trishella is the one Rawson told me about, the one I brought him here to see. I can’t help but picture her interlocking with Rawson, their tattoos connecting like they were once one piece. I imagine them wearing animal skins after the apocalypse, surviving together and repopulating the world.
I pull Rawson into my lap and whisper into the lid: “Is that your girl, big guy?” He feels warm now. We’re basking in Trishella together, and I don’t want that to end. The dozen or so weathered-looking Cape Cod townies that make up the crowd clap and holler as she gathers her earnings and strides away. I wonder if I should try to meet her before I get hauled out of here in cuffs. And I need to figure out what I’m going to say when Rawson’s parents or his girlfriend Claire or the police figure out where I am.
First thing I’ll say is that none of this was premeditated. I went to the wake for the same reasons everyone else did: to say goodbye. To share memories about my big Viking buddy. To grieve for that blonde-haired, blue-eyed giant who looked like he could wrestle storm clouds, who laughed like a seal barking. He’d been my best friend since Green Group at Harper’s Elementary. Last year he moved to the Cape to build ludicrously expensive houses on the beach. He died on a job site, sprayed his blood all over some millionaire asshole’s third summer home. They turned him into ashes (because his head was separated from the rest) and packed him inside a brushed silver urn that looks like a bullet.
The wake had been a scene, full of strong men trying not to cry. Metal folding chairs wobbled under beefy retired football players and guys who hauled cement for a living, all stuffed into black button-downs. His dad and his cousin Ted stood at the front like they held live grenades between their asscheeks. Claire stumbled around on noodly limbs letting out emotional microbursts during the service: snot-drooling wails, red-faced tantrums, moans that didn’t even begin to form words. Everyone just let her. Then the guy on his work crew who’d watched him die started muttering like a schizo during the moment of silence. He had to be dragged out. We could still hear him after the door slammed shut.
At the end I was studying this gold-framed picture of him in college, proud and fierce in his pads and uniform on the field, helmet off, looking to the left, the sun making the sweat in his curly blond hair shine. I remember thinking that it was the way I’d always seen him. His urn was next to it on a pedestal, just this unremarkable can of man. I stared at it and repeatedly thought, “Goodbye,” but nothing changed. I still felt foggy. Then one of Claire’s microbursts took out a whole row of chairs and everyone moved in to calm or comfort or restrain her, or all three. I saw the fire exit and I knew the wake was almost over, almost time to put him behind me, and I decided I wasn’t ready yet.
I snatched Rawson’s urn, tucked it under my arm and bolted out the fire door. I peeled out of the parking lot and watched that melancholy memorial service shrink to a blur in my rearview with a steely calm and no regrets. When I realized I was actually getting away, with Rawson in my left hand so I could shift with my right, I headed straight for his favorite place to blow off steam, a strip club called Moxie’s Treasure Trove (billed on the sign out front as “Adult Mentertainment,” next to a shell-breasted mermaid outlined in neon lights).
I’d never even heard of the place until a few weeks ago, when I got a voicemail from Rawson at four in the morning. He’d talked like he had a mouthful of maple syrup, and I could actually hear his zigzag stumbling. He told me he wanted me to come visit so he could take me to Moxie’s, “even though I know you don’t like tits!” (Seal barking.) He mumbled a lot but he talked about Nickel-wing Wednesdays, and about a dancer he wanted me to meet.
“I’m in secret-love with her,” he whispered into the phone. “Remember hunting up North, that white doe I had right in my sights but I froze up, couldn’t shoot?”
He mumbled more, and then asked me to call him back. I’d meant to but I forgot.
The girl who takes the stage after Trishella, a redhead presented by the throaty DJ as Ms. Chevette, twirls around the pole, then shimmies up it toward the nearly thirty-foot ceilings painted with puffy clouds and blue sky. She pulls a spyglass from the crow’s nest at the top of the pole and hangs upside down by clenched thighs. I can see her purple contact lens magnified ten times in its end when she focuses on me.
Her stage presence and pole-skills are impressive. I’ll be writing Moxie’s a five-star internet review as soon as I’m out of jail. But Chevette seems hungry for approval. Not that I would have, but if I’d booed I think it would’ve broken her heart. “She’s not the one, is she? It was that first one, right?” I grab Rawson and shake his insides around. It sounds like a can of coffee grounds. With both her feet on the stage again, Chevette dances like a tree in the wind. But that Trishella, she was the damned wind.
I notice two doors labeled “Buoys” and “Gulls,” and guess I’ll find a pisser there. The men’s room smells so strongly of piña colada urinal cake that my nostrils tingle. I’m impressed by the old-timey map-of-the-world wallpaper, with mustard continents, teal oceans and illegible labels criss-crossed with dotted lines that end in big red Xs. Perched above the sinks next to the mirrors is a two-foot red and blue parrot.
I set Rawson on the plumbing joint above the urinal and unzip. My tank drains, with some force, and I’m suddenly aware of how uncomfortable my insides felt with a swollen bladder edging the rest out for room. I focus on the pee-versus-porcelain splatter, like a drumroll, as I wait for my phone to turn on.
The parrot’s wings flap and it squawks: “No schooners here! All I see are little dinghies!” Its head swivels with a grinding noise that reminds me of greasy pizza and whacking moles at somebody’s birthday party when I was little. I think Rawson was there.
“Whose birthday was that?” I ask and get no response.
That reminds me: the first time we met was at Jimmy St. Cedars’ pool party, when I’d only been in the neighborhood for two months. I got invited because my dad worked with Jimmy’s dad. I knew no one and it showed. Kids were rough-housing in the pool, guys on other guys’ shoulders, sort of jousting, and Rawson yanked me out of my shy stupor and told me to hop on.
I’m pretty sure that’s how it happened.
He was fat but so fast, and we ended up taking down everyone else. I bloodied a guy’s nose and didn’t even get in trouble for it, although Mr. St. Cedars said the pool was off-limits for the rest of the party. Rawson had three slices of cake and I tried to keep up, but ended up puking mine into the pool while he cheered me on.
“I was really shy back then,” I say out loud, buzzing on nostalgia. “But I walked into school as one of the cool kids.” To the urn: “I owe you for that.”
My phone vibrates angrily as all of the missed calls and messages fill the screen: Rawson’s dad, Claire, three numbers with Massachusetts area codes. Then the background changes to a pic of Claire’s face convulsed, mid-sneeze: incoming call.
“Whatta ya think buddy? Let it go to voicemail?” I know what he’d say: answer the call as if you’ve done nothing wrong. Because what have I done wrong? When did Rawson stop being a man and become “remains?”
“Please tell me you’re not the one who took it,” Claire says. Her voice is weak and rusty with grief. She meant to say “him.”
“Rawson is with me and he’s safe and sound,” I explain calmly, “and I promise I will bring him back soon.”
There’s silence, then I hear clattering. I think she dropped the phone. When she’s back on the line she speaks without punctuation: “This is serious this is so serious how could you after all that’s happened how could you disrespect his family how could you disrespect me this is sick do you know how sick this is there is so much wrong with this–” I hold the phone away as I shake off and zip up.
“Claire–” I try and fail to interrupt. “Claireclaireclaireclaireclaire!” She stops talking. “Claire, I’ll bring him back when I’m finished, I promise. Just let me have a little longer.”
“Nothing about this is okay!” she hisses. I hear it like it’s on speakerphone, but it’s not.
I’m not sure if the parrot’s on a timer or if it’s motion-activated, but its gears whir and it starts squawking again. “You’re in the wrong place if you’re looking for booty! SQUAWK!” I pull the phone back to my ear.
“Are you… are you at Moxie’s?” Claire asks.
“Bye Claire! I love you.” The conversation ends with a beep. I’d never said that before, but I know I meant it. As I flush, Rawson starts to slide off the wet pipe but I catch him in my hand, inches away from the urinal vortex and the briny deep.
I’ll never point this out to her, but I saw what I did at the wake as a gift to Claire. I broke the spell of her anguish. For a little while at least she can be disgusted with me, recharged by her fury, and still maintain her position as the locus of everyone’s pity. It’s not likely that anyone’s going to agree with me on this. But I’m happy to pause her misery, because I do love her. It’s a side-effect of loving Rawson. How could I not love someone strong enough to tame him, precious enough for him to allow himself to be tamed?
If Rawson had been a dog, I would’ve been the one feeding him treats and rolling in the mud with him while Claire kicked him off furniture and rubbed his nose in his messes. She’d walk him with a leash while I let him run free. He’d loyally submit to the sound of her commands, but would full-body wag and leak piss at the sight of me. So which one of us loved him more? Which one of us did he love more? Now neither of us would ever know for sure.
With my phone turned off again, I head back out with Rawson under my shirt, his cool metal against my hip. Claire knows where to find us. My time with Rawson is going to be cut short, again.
Behind the bar there’s a pregnant woman who looks like a snake that swallowed a guinea pig. A mess of blonde dreads on her head is restrained by a skull and crossbones bandana. She has a shiny leather eyepatch over her left eye. She could be anywhere from thirty to sixty-five. Her face is a November jack-o-lantern: a pleasant smile with mushy, wrinkly edges. She calls me a pecker-head and asks what I’m having.
I point to an old barrel behind her marked GROG. She fills a skull-shaped mug with brown froth. It’s sweet, but something about it reminds me of sneaking sips of my grandmother’s coffee brandy at Christmas. She turns to Rawson, who I’ve set on the bar, and lowers herself down so he’s at her eye-level and holds out a hand. “Pleased to meet you, sir,” she says. “I’m Moxie.”
“That’s Rawson,” I say. “I think you knew him.” She stands up straight and slaps the bar loud as a thunderclap.
“Shut your sloppy mouth!” she yells. “Are you serious?” She picks Rawson up and gives him a kiss, leaving behind her black lipstick on his shiny side. “Aw Rawson baby, we miss you.” She sets him down next to my mug.
For years I’ve seen this reaction from kids who sat next to him in class but never talked to him, the younger brothers of girls he dated, even the cops who apologetically arrested him for a DUI when he was 22. People have always been enthusiastic to have known him, and he always reacted with that shine and a warm grin, back when he was warm, and still had a mouth.
“Rawson’s beer’s on me,” she says, pulling a beer from the fridge’s misty cold. She flips up her eyepatch and sticks the bottle’s neck in the wrinkly grey socket behind it. She squints, twists, and leans forward, “spitting” the bottlecap from her eyehole back onto the bar.
I want to finish my grog and order a beer so I can see that again.
Moxie’s face tightens up and she leans toward me. “I heard what happened,” she says. “What kind of fucked up God builds a man like Rawson and then takes him away like that?”
I shrug. As far as I was concerned, he could never be taken from me. I challenge God to remove him. God, and the Falmouth police force.
But I’m glad she heard what happened, because I’m spared the retelling of the story, of which I’ve heard three versions.
First, “…he was hit by falling ice,” told by Claire in a sob-soaked voicemail, two whole days after it happened. It took her four minutes and eleven seconds to blubber out those words. I had to listen to the message three times until I understood what she was saying. I remember thinking about what I was doing the moment it happened: I think I was taking a shit. At the moment of impact, I felt exactly nothing out of the ordinary.
Then I heard some of the guys on his crew whispering at the wake that the ice, “cut his head clean off.” I liked that version: I pictured a razor-thin sheet of ice passing through his head at an angle, so fast he didn’t notice. I pictured him blinking a couple times, patting himself to make sure he was okay, then the top half of his head sliding slowly and painlessly to the ground.
Then there was the kid who watched it happen. He was maybe eighteen and wore a white button-down to the wake for some reason. He was shaking, and clammy like he had the flu. At one point I cornered him and introduced myself. I demanded to hear the story.
“Sounded like a door creaking at first,” he started at a whisper, leaning in close. “That was the ice. When it hit him… his head went but his body just kept standing and…” He started to snivel and shake, grabbing a handful of my shirt. “…it was like a ton of bricks, all that ice, and he was just a neck… and all this dark blood spurted out of it… three big spurts…” He broke down and a woman with a veil held him against her chest.
In retrospect, his breakdown during the moment of silence may have been my fault.
I wonder if Rawson was surprised when it happened. Maybe his head kept thinking on the ground for a few seconds. I wonder what a man thinks about in those moments. Probably his girlfriend. The woman he loves.
“Tell me a story about him,” Moxie says. It’s the first time anyone’s asked me to talk. I spent the whole wake listening.
I think of when we shared our first beer, stolen, at age twelve, and the time he fell and broke his arm and laughed at the exposed white bone. I think of me trying to make eye contact with him from the stands between plays during his games in college.
But for some reason my mind just goes, on its own, back to ice-fishing:
We’re sixteen and his dad’s truck is on the ice and I’m next to it, arms folded while he kneels over a trap twenty feet from me.
I’m seeing this, feeling this, while I’m saying it to Moxie.
I’m shivering and the wind is like grinding glass and I hear crackling, like water on a frying pan. and then I’m being sucked backwards, caught in the sinking truck’s wake, flailing for a handhold, staring into the sky. Then it’s cold and quiet except for the sound of my heartbeat. I’m numb and everything is slow, and the sky is a jagged blue hole in the grey getting farther away. I’m there for minutes or hours and my body feels heavy and slow, and then there’s Rawson, coming at me fast like he’s shoving the lake out of his way, and he’s got me. I’m hungry for air but the panic is gone, and I watch the truck behind me swallowed by darkness as Rawson pulls me from it.
When I’m done telling the story, my mug’s empty and my vision’s blurry and Moxie offers me a filthy rag. I turn away and try to pull myself together. I don’t think I ever thanked Rawson for saving my life.
Moxie’s a witch. She pulled that memory out and made me live it. I also remember it a different way, with me only sinking into the water up to my chest and Rawson easily yanking me out, but that seems kind of like a dream now, a story that happened to other people. The way I told it seems right.
Moxie groans and leans back against the beer cooler, rubbing the round edges of her stomach like a gypsy’s crystal ball. “This place won’t be the same without old Rawson stopping in,” she says, and it dawns on me that no place on earth will be the same without Rawson. No matter where I go, he’ll still be gone. “I think poor Trishella is taking the news hard,” Moxie goes on. “Those two had a… something. They never did nothing, but you could feel it in the air when she danced for him.” She fans her face with a coaster.
I knew she was the one. I want Rawson to have one last private dance. “Where is she?”
“She’ll be in the lounge.” She points to a wooden door with a porthole on the other side of the stage. I slip Moxie a twenty.
The walls of the lounge area are lined with blacklit aquariums in the walls. Little jets I can’t see blow lazy bubbles into the room, because it’s Moxie’s, and that’s how she decorates the quiet, classy parts of her establishment. Trishella’s here among a handful of other girls who look like broken dolls next to her. Her clothes look like a costume on her now that I’ve seen her true form onstage.
She looks at me and it’s like the others are gone. As I approach, I hold Rawson between both hands. I don’t feel like I have the right to speak to her. “I was wondering…” I say, and my voice cracks, and I’m embarrassed. “…if you could dance for us. For him, mostly, but I’ll pay for both of us.”
When she stands I see she’s small, but she has gravity. “I think I’ll only need money for you,” she says. I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up as she leads me down a hallway past a curtain of starfish-and nautilus-shaped beads. I feel like I’m going to lose someone else’s virginity.
In a quiet room lit by blue lights she sits me down in a teal chair and closes the door. The rhythmic sound of waves with random seagull cries plays quietly from a speaker somewhere. When she walks back I have Rawson out on my lap. She stops and puts her hands next to mine on the urn so we’re both holding him. I wouldn’t let her take him from me, but she doesn’t try.
“You’re not supposed to have this, are you?” she says in a daydreamy voice I almost can’t hear. I’m ashamed.
“I think he would’ve wanted this,” I say, even though I feel like I’m just squeezing air out of my lungs, working to form the right sounds. Why is this so hard? “You know who this is, right?”
“I didn’t want to accept it when I heard,” she says gently. “It was easier to think I was going to see him walk in the door again. I saw you from the stage and I don’t know how, I just knew what this was.” She pats the urn, leans over it. She pauses a moment before touching it and whispers something, one syllable I can’t hear. She leaves a kiss on the lid so lightly I’m only vaguely aware she touched it at all.
“You could never fit all of him in there,” she says as she stands again. She unbuttons her jeans with a flick of her thumb.
She must not have heard exactly what happened. I try to put it gently, but I can’t really remember what “gently” is: “Well I guess he… kind of got everywhere. They probably just took the big pieces.”
“I don’t mean his body, I mean his everything. The definition of him. This little canister is like a bucket of ocean.”
“Did you love him?” I ask. I’m breathless soon as the question is out. She pats my hands. Most of her is touching me. Her shorts come off in one smooth motion. Her shirt makes no noise when it hits the floor. I can see more detail in the tattoos crawling in and out of her clothes than when she was onstage: seahorses swim around her skin. If she would answer me then I could evaluate her love, and then her grief, and compare them to mine, and maybe I would win.
She stands there, naked, inspecting my eyes. “Dinosaur bones,” she says.
When it starts, she flows like lava. It’s like she’s aware of all of her muscles. She leans over, gently grazing me a few times. I hold Rawson between us and try to maintain eye contact with her two eyes like blue holes and I can’t sustain it. I try to will him to enter my body, to spread through the urn into my fingers and use my eyes to throw his fire at her, use my nose to hold on to her fresh salty smell, use my skin to feel her softness.
Every light touch against me tingles and her body against mine makes something warm inside me rise. I know that Rawson is in me when I feel the tickly swelling in my pants. I’m overwhelmed, drowning in this wonderful agony; mine, for him, and Trishella’s for him, and his for each of us, all the same feeling, the three of us a complete circuit.
I sob like I’m choking, and she stops. She wipes my eyes, which I didn’t realize were wet. We both know the dance is over. She dresses quickly in the corner of the room with her back turned and kneels down to rub one cheek against Rawson before leaving. “You can keep your money. But you should probably put this back where it belongs.” I don’t even think to ask if she’s okay until she’s gone.
I leave the room after she does with nothing changed in me. This weight is still there, and with time it’s just going to rot like a beached whale. I can’t be here anymore and I can’t walk back out through that bar. At the end of the hallway I luck out with a fire-door for the second time that day and an alarm sounds as I bust through to dry air and the cold pavement of the parking lot.
Claire’s leaning against my truck with her arms folded. I wonder why she didn’t just come in. Her eyes are drowned and I can’t look at her long enough to see what she might be thinking. Behind me the emergency door swings slowly and the alarm pulses, a deep roar like a bomb’s about to go off. Cap’n Security runs out so fast his hat flies off his head, and it’s supposed to end here, I know, but I’m still not ready, so I tuck Rawson under my arm and start running with no plan.
I hit a patch of ice and the world tips as my feet slip out from under me. I hit the ground hard, air crushed from my chest. Next to me, Rawson’s spilled everywhere, the open lid a few feet away. Claire screams something, I think maybe my name, and I try to stand and explain myself, but he’s under my eyelids and in my sinuses and I’m coughing him into phlegm I swallow back. I can taste the ashes, burnt and chalky. I’m choking on them, but I don’t think I feel Rawson in me at all.
Jay Geigley is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire as well as an amateur bodybuilder; he believes dieting is much easier than revision. He fled the “Live Free or Die” state to pursue accidental sunburns in San Diego. He lost his virginity to a celebrity last July, and his Drowzee recently evolved into a Hypno, so yeah, life’s going pretty well.