11.23.2004




“Sterling?”

I turned and saw that the girl was standing on the curb as the cab went off without her.

“Why didn’t you get in the cab?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” she said, smiling coyly and taking step towards me. “Didn’t want to.”

The sky turned purple like in a music video. The street was watching us—invisible cameras dangled in the air over our heads, there were microphones tucked in the streetlights, waiting for one of us to emit the next sound. Instead we just stood there, staring at each other. It touched my heart to have heard the note of concern in her voice—and to see her there, her pretty neck craned forward as she clutched her woefully trendy handmade handbag. I tried to think of something worthwhile to say.

Just then Fitz pulled up in the Peugeot. The light was on inside, turning the car into a bright little bubble of home, filled with scarves and magazines, clothing and CDs.

“I’ve got to go,” I said.

“Is there a problem?” he asked, as I quickly slid in the back. I noticed that he was wearing TRUE’s bright yellow windbreaker. The hood was too small for him. It was pulled tightly over the back half of his head. His five o’clock shadow was darker than usual.

Beside him, TRUE rubbed her face and laughed hysterically.

I threw one last look to the girl. She regarded the car coolly, and then opened her bag and took out a cigarette.

“Does the lil lady need a lift?” Fitz asked, affecting a British accent.

“No. She’s fine. Just go,” I said.

We shot forward and were at top speed in what seemed like seconds.

“Hey,” I shouted above the music. It was “Two of Us”, by The Beatles. TRUE shot me a look and proceeded to turn the volume up as far as it would go. She shouted a long, changing the lyrics to “Three of Us”:

Three of us riding nowhere
Spending someone’s
Hard earned pay
Three of us Sunday driving
Not arriving
On our way back home
We’re on our way home
We’re on our way home
We’re going home!

“So. How are you feeling, Sterling?” It was a question she only asked me when she was drunk. Otherwise, she seemed to forget that I had human feelings.

“Why don’t you tell me?” I said. “I thought you were the big time prophet.”

“Yeah, as if,” she said, quietly.

“Oops, wrong way!” Fitz called out, as he pulled over abruptly and turned the car around. We were on Portobello Road. For a minute the world stopped moving and I could make out the details. Outside the cobblestones glistened like cupcakes. The thought crossed my mind that I could get out, now, and by doing so perhaps persuade the two of them to follow. We were back at top speed before I could do anything. TRUE shoved in a cassette. The car filled with the vacuum flush symphony of garbled tape.

“It’s messed up, TRUE, take it out,” I shouted above the din.

“Hey! you can totally hear both sides at once!” TRUE exclaimed.

“Who is that, Michael Jackson?” Fitz cackled.

“Fuck you!” TRUE told him, in between hiccups of laughter.

She clapped him on the shoulder and turned and to look back at me.

“Don’t mind him, he’s really pissed. Ha. Pissed. See, I’m learning the native language already,” she confided to me. One side of her face was bathed in passing light. The other was covered in darkness.

“Oh yeah?” I said. “Well I think you’re not too far behind!” I had to shout over the noise, which I hate because it makes me sound aggressive.

“What was that?” TRUE shouted back.

“Nevermind!”

“What!”

I was about to reach forward and grab her neck when suddenly a solemnly played organ replaced the screeching sounds.

“Oh yea of little faith,” she said. A beat began from under the organ, deep and clear. It had the requisite high-hats and incessant build-up of a house track. Whatever had been wrong with the tape was fixed. TRUE stuck a long white Dunhill Green in her mouth. She used to hate all menthols with a passion, but that was before she came to England and discovered Dunhills.

“Gotta light?” she asked me, although she knew full well that I didn’t smoke anymore.

I remember the triumphant sound in her voice, the, “I-told-you-so-why-don’t-you-ever-want-to-believe-me?” sing song tone.

At that moment I hated her more than anyone in the world.

Suddenly, the car jerked violently to the right. TRUE was rocked back and forth in her seat. The expression on her face was that of someone being rudely awakened. I looked over her shoulder and saw the bright glow of a traffic triangle as it filled the bottom half of the windshield. The car made an awful lurch as we came over a curb, and it registered to me that we were about to hit the divider.

"Oh, God!" I heard someone yell. Everything was completely detached in that moment, like watching TV on heroin. I was floating over the scene. It might even have been me who said it.

In the next second there was a loud crunch, followed by an immense thud that threw everything forward.

I remember thinking very clearly that I needed to watch out for my teeth.

fucking hell oh please oh NO!!

I was catupulted into the back of TRUE's seat. The right side of my face smacked into the metal frame of the head rest. The part where you adjust the height of the cushion. Then, just as violently, I was whipped back, my tailbone striking against something hard and unyielding. A liquid splashed around the inside of the car that I immediately recognized as blood.

It was on my arms, which were lying on my lap, straight and white and dead as doll arms.

I shut off for a second. When I came back the car doors were open. Something on the dashboard was chiming but other than that it was very quiet.

I was immediately reminded—the darkness, the muffled chirps of alarms sputtering from the flattened cars. Only this time I could breathe the air.

"C'mon, time for a hotel," I heard Fitz telling me. I looked up and saw that there was a gash across his forehead, from which a thick band of blood was slowly oozing forth.

TRUE was hunched over in the passenger seat. I couldn’t see her face.

“Baby, you’re going to have to get up,” Fitz said to me.

“What?” I said.

“We can’t stay here.”

“What?” I said again. He started to explain, slowly, carefully—something about the police, but I refused to pay attention to what he was saying. All I cared about was TRUE.

Her face...I couldn't see her face... Suddenly, I feared the worst...

"Hey, hey..." I called out to her. My voice sounded funny, like I was falling backwards and hearing myself from faraway.

Suddenly TRUE straightened up and to my relief and embarrassment she exhaled a puff of smoke in my direction.

"I found a lighter, " she said, smiling cheerfully as though nothing had happened.

As far as I could tell, there wasn't a mark on her.




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