In my dream, I hear glorious, angelic trumpets and I soar above everything. I am a speck in the sky, flying on above, away and on to happier places. I am a golden idol, not a man. A well-muscled sculpture of gold; the most valuable of properties.
The stairs that lead down to my basement bedroom whine under weight. "Time to wake up sugar darling." Colleen, my mom. Smoking a cigarette like it's still hip and wearing a skimpy piece of lingerie. I sit up instantly. “That’s my boy," she coos and strokes my long black hair out of my face. Her hand smells like strawberries, as she always does. No matter what, the woman always smells like strawberries.
Once, I was waiting up for her when I was younger. She was walking home that night and it was a storm for the ages outside, trees were bending sideways, and the ones that did not bend broke. When I heard the door open and slam, I ran to her and wraps my arms around her middle but I remember one thing distinctly. She smelled strongly of strawberries. Through that rain her normally straightened blond hair was frazzled and disastrous, her make up was running but she had retained the stench of strawberries.
She turns and walks up the stairs, and I stand up and walk across the basement to the bathroom. I enter the dark bathroom and crank the shower on full heat. I sit on the toilet as the steam fills my little sanctuary.
Now that I'm warm, I pull off my sweatpants and climb into the glass-enclosed shower, making sure to crank the cold water so I'm not scalded. I brush my teeth, my tongue ring clinking when the plastic brush makes contact. I scrub my skinny, lanky body with generic brand yellow soap. I wash my hair twice, to make sure it gets the "magic gleam" mom's always going on about to customers.
I step out of the shower, turn off the cold water but keep the hot running. I dry off, wrap the towel around my self, and pull on my sweat pants. Now that I'm comfortable, I turn off the hot water and go to my room to get dressed.
My mom is standing beside my bed, holding one outfit and looking at two others laid out on the bed.
The two on the bed are the lesser evils. One is a tight pair of black ***-hugger leather pants, coupled with a black leather Aladdin vest. The other is a pair of daisy-duke white shorts and a Hawaiian t-shirt, although I doubt I'll be allowed to button it up all the way.
The one she holds is the worst. A pair of pale-blue skinny jeans, with torn holes and a hemmed crotch, several sizes too small. These "trunks" as my mom called them, paired with a very tight, black-mesh back-less shirt.
"Which one do you like Mickey?" My mom asks, smiling and stroking my cheek with the back of her hand.
"I like Hawaii." I say, reaching towards the shirt and shorts. This weather's too hot for leather and those jeans are just terr-
"I think you should wear your trunks today, sweetie." She says, faking innocence with wide, heavily made-up blue eyes. "So much new business, we want them to become regulars, and what better way than showing them, exactly, what they're to be so exited about."
She tosses the outfit at me lightly and smiles.
I sit in my room on the leopard print sheets that mom puts on during business hours. It’s cold in the room, a freezing breeze shakes me every so often and I wish I could be under the covers. I wish I didn’t have to wish…I wish I could just do. I wish a brush fire would start nearby. A fire that, when pushed by the wind, ignites this house and I’d have nowhere to turn tricks and we could go camping.
The bell that’s connected to my mom’s seat upstairs rings, a customer is coming downstairs. I take another drag of my smoke and crush it out on the bed frame. The creak of the stairs, the permed, short and colored hair, the varicose inner-thigh veins, ragged wheezing moans and foreign tastes.
Dark night seeps through the windows of my room now, the stairs creak as a lonely soul leaves my hovel. I turn and see that she left a purse; I roll over and look inside.
Make-up applications, a pack of cigarettes, a bright silver zippo, a wallet full of receipts, and several half-eaten packs of gum. I sit up and smile, take the cigarettes and lighter, pocket them and then stand. I remember what mom said; “I’ll be out until late, business meetings. We might be getting a new employee.” I carry the purse upstairs and cackle to myself hysterically.
I push open the porch’s screen door and walk out on the dry, cold grass of our backyard. The grass is burnt and yellow in many places and scratches my feet like straw. I walk to the nearby shed, grab a can of gasoline, and a bag of old newspapers.
I pile the newspapers together, peeling the pages apart and then crushing them into balls. I stack the balls in a knee sized pile and then pour a bit of gasoline on it. This fire is going to warm me right up. I smile to myself and close my eyes. The familiar and delicious smell of gasoline arouses me and I breathe deeply.
I turn to the purse, and place it on top of the newspaper pile, pour more gasoline on top and admire my achievement. Then I extract a cigarette from my pocket and light it with the zippo. I stand for a few moments, no hurry, no other engagements, no one else needs pleasing. This is time for me, time for Mickey, Mickey’s time. The cigarette smoke mixes in my sinuses with the overwhelming aroma of gasoline to create what I can only imagine heaven smells like.
I take a final puff and flick my cigarette towards the pile. Where there was once cold dampness and meaningless trash, there is now beauty. Warmth fills my body from the shadows of my soul to the youthful innocence within. Fire, god’s gift to man, man’s greatest achievement. Cook us food, provide us comfort and light, and provide us entertainment and meaning.
The blaze is chest high now, and the heat is painful on my face, causing me to squint but I do not move back.
I stand there, and watch the once tangible and material newspaper and purse as they are turned into nothing. The remnants of a chemical reaction. The cold breeze returns and lifts fragments of ash like a mini-tempest. By the end, what’s left of everything is scattered by the wind.
I change out of my work clothes and have a quick shower. Then I change into dark washed, looser fitting jeans and a collared shirt. My work is done for today.
I walk into the Rose and Crown, the small town’s only bar. It’s ancient, still equipped with a jukebox and is filled with aging men and women waiting for their life to end one drink at a time. I see a few customers in here; a woman wearing full baby-blue yoga outfit winks at me and I smile warmly back.
I sit at the bar and Harvey, the Crown’s bartender for the last ten years stops in front of me.
“How’s it goin’ Mickey?” he asks while he shines a lager glass.
“Not great Harvey,” I confide in him, I feel sorry for myself today and that’s what Harvey was here for. I’m there for lonely old women, Harvey’s here to listen to your troubles. “I hate my job. I despise it. The worst part isn’t the job itself, it’s the feeling of being trapped that comes with it.”
Harvey excuses himself by raising one finger and walking across the bar to take an order. I look around the bar when I see something out of place. In the corner is a gorgeous, youthful face.
I get butterflies like a teenager again and stand, walking over to her table. “Carrie?” I ask, disbelieving. She looks up from her beer and she smiles beautifully, her face is vibrant like flowers in spring, full of life and joy.
“Mickey!” she exclaims as she wraps her arms around my neck “I can’t believe it’s you. Wow, you look amazing.” She says as she looks at me.”
“What are you doing back in town?” I ask as I sit next to her. My hand shakes nervously, so I put it under the table. Carrie Jay, the most beautiful girl in high school. We all went to school here, in this small town and I had always had the most consuming crush on her. I was infatuated. I remember getting drunk senior year to ask her to come to prom, having to drink because I was so nervous, but when she answered I hung up. We only stayed friends, although I badly wanted more.
Her face drops as I ask her why she has returned, and she takes a moment, take a sip of her drink and then sighs. “My dad died.” She says, her face crumpling with emotion. “My brother is still so young, he needs someone to take care of him.” She sighs again, deeper this time. “I didn’t plan on settling down for a long time but the choice was taken from me.” My heart melts.
“Well, I’m here for you Carrie.” She smiles weakly and takes my hand. “If you ever need help with anything, let me know.”
A smile returns to her face and she messages my knuckles gently. The interaction is strange for me and I take my hand away. Her smile falters. “I know you’re here for me Mickey, it’s just so strange seeing you again. After so many years. You seem very different. Sad. Is everything alright?”
I want to tell her so very badly. I want to tell her about the old women who don’t shave nor wash. I want to tell her about my mom, the duality. How I love her and hate her all with the same breath. My heart is beating frantically, and my nerves are teetering, threatening to topple. “How about I get a drink first.” I say, smiling. She smiles back, women love my smile, and mom always told me my smile was what made me attractive.
I stand and walk towards the bar, Harvey is busy and I turn back towards the girl who starred in my first explorations of sexuality. The girl I lusted, dreamed of and wanted for so very long but could not attain because of insecurity. I loved her because she was the farthest thing from a stereotypical female symbol of sexuality. She was just another one of my friends; she loved to drink, to swear and to joke around. She never wore make-up, she didn’t need it and she rejected all stereotypical signs of womanhood.
She lights a cigarette, the ember flaring and my breath is taken away. The hot light illuminates her face, every beautiful angle and crevice. I decide I want her.
I return to her, two shots of rum for me and another beer for her. “Here” I say sliding the frosty glass towards her across the table.
She smiles, “Thanks. I put my number in your phone. Anyways, you were about to tell me how you are, how are you?”
I think for a moment. My decision is one that surprises me, as I am not familiar with having nerves cloud my judgment. “I’m very well.” I say feigning confidence. “I work from home. Quite well off.” I finish and then instantly curse myself inside.
She’s surprised, she correctly guessed from my earlier attitude that I was unhappy and didn’t expect this response. “Really,” She asks as I take one shot “What do you do?”
“I’m an online trader” I hear myself say as the nerves control me again. “You know, stocks and stuff.”
“Mickey, that’s sick.” She says smiling. “I always knew you’d be something real special one day. You were always a smart kid.”
I take another shot and then chuckle. “You’re kidding yourself, you’re the one who had an A average while I was smoking joints in the smoke pit.”
Carrie smiles, brushing her black hair off of her face “You may not have tried that hard Mickey but you were always smart, it was obvious. Anyway it’s great to hear you’re doing well, just great.”
“Thanks,” I say and lean forward. “What about you, do you have work in town yet?”
Her smile fades a bit, she was always transparent. “I have a job at Thrifties for now, night manager.” She’s lying. I can tell, but I don’t push it. She checks her watch and then stands. “Well Mickey, it’s been great catching up but I have to head out now, call me real soon, okay?” She bends over and kisses me on the cheek, her lips linger for just a moment but I enjoy it infinitely. I can’t remember ever being kissed like that; so gentle, so caring, so soft.
“Mickey, there’s my prize boy.” Someone behind me says and thick arms wrap around my neck with the distinct smell of strawberries.
“Colleen, how are you?” I ask her. She sits across the table from me.
“Well,” she says quickly, she’s excited, “I got a new employee, that will double our potential client market. Not just old women anymore, oh no, oh no. You’re gunna have to ooze sexuality now to keep up and stay mom’s favorite little guy.”
I say nothing. My mom smiles and says “We got a girl now, men are better clients. I’m just joking anyway darling, if she does pull in more than you, that’s nothing. It won’t ever measure up to all you’ve done for us. Everyone you’ve done.” She starts laughing and I smile.
“You’re weird mom.” I say to her, smiling. She chuckles and orders us some beers.
“That might just be the most normal interaction we’ve ever had,” she says and we clink our frosty mugs together.
“I know you mean well,” I say and she smiles. That’s why I won’t kill you. You don’t know any other way to be. Enjoy your happiness while it lasts.
My mom is the belle of the ball, loudly proclaiming how happy she is and flirting with every man in attendance. Later that night we stumble home singing, arms over each other’s shoulders.