Chapter 1

summers and summers

Vic bled. He was finally free from the chains of hell and he staggered along the backstreets crying. He spread his legs in the corner of the Chief’s lounge of the 5 Point Cafe and read the international weather listings, tipped his head back to light a cigarette and made it do a cartwheel in his mouth as he fished for his passport. He laid out scraps of addresses like an antique blueprint and made a smoke ring of the Black Forest with his teeth.

He began thinking of the party at God’s House when he shook Purcell by the stairs and took him down to the basement with the asbestos-laced heater shaped like the steel glove of Lancelot and reached behind for his bottle of John Jameson. He cracked it open and waited patiently for whoever noticed him missing to find their way down to the stove and help pass around the bottle. All the little boys who somewhere down the line had stayed up all night and cut notches in the drainpipe like the ribs of a Doberman howling like it had been fed the guts of a pocketwatch.

"Be a man" was all their sisters had said to them, and they’d dress in front of the mirror of their fathers’ bathroom all dripping with STP and resin and memorized themselves into oblivion. Funny how a dimple could be a gash with a flick of the wrist.

He thought of the nights he used to drive to the graveyard on the west side of town and sprinkle snuff on Gordon’s grave. He’d grab a bouquet from one of the other graves, shove it in his boot and go over and sit in the old gunner's turret by the lighthouse. He’d sing to himself all the old 78’s his grandmother used to play along to on the piano before the silent movies.

The bedroom light in one of the tenements across the telephone lines would always flash on and off, so he’d wave his arms like a crane stuck in the spokes of a penny-farthing until it stopped. No one ever noticed him.

He had sealed tontines with the best of them: Miscellaneous warlords from the farthest roads imaginable, all recognizable to each other like they had all fought alongside each other centuries ago and had returned to claim what was theirs ever since.

Their needs were few, but their passions were bottomless; as impatient as the wind and as attentive as a baby. They were inevitably surrounded by others who could only ever think of kitchens as if they were built to make food, not to eventually have to take on the violence of the night when it was too much for a bottle of sour mash and a game of Tonk; just something to do as tales of running around inside Diablo Dam, climbing up Kilimanjaro cradling a bottle of Johnny Walker, and sitting in a skiff on a spring Sitka morning emptied themselves like a six-string hollow body aching to be released of its songs. And even after the kitchen table had too many dead soldiers to make room for a phone book, names and numbers of various Matildas out there in New South Wales, Innisfree, Jordan and Sacramento made the morning complete knowing that Albosanti had married an heiress, Degermark was on his way to Findhorn, Fiona was brewing her way along merrily, and Natalie was on her way to Arkansas just because the gems called her.

They had all agreed to one day buy a sprawling heap of a place in Sri Lanka and drink mint juleps on the stoop, and Joaquim would always promise to bring his blaster, the one that would fade out unless you set the volume just below the point where it would distort. They’d build the place with broken windows and shove a cheroot inside the mouth of anyone coming through the door.

Vic’s life had begun innocently enough by trying to tip back in his highstool on a bet by his older sister and had his two front teeth knocked out.

He grew up in a town that had pawn shops with electric guitars made out of wooden toilet seats that stayed in the shop window for years, and he went to school in a place where a guy who chased the gym teacher around the track with his car was actually punished.

His heart had been hocked for hooch one Hogmanay too many and kept falling for voices that sang ‘Get yourself a mate named Smith’ while making a Spanish omelet. He knew all about expectation, but you try and tell that to a long lost dream that starts out like a movie and ends up like a book. All eyes and sighs and reluctant thighs, like the old shanty song goes. They’d wind up in Ireland penniless and spend their days reading in St. Stephen’s Green. They want the one thing you can’t give them, and even if you can, they’ll get back to you in ten years time. The most desperate beggars make the most patient monarchs. They play a nickel-ante game until they bluff your pants off. Finally you just have to say, ‘Look, I’m going to Alexandria and next year I’m going to Singapore. If you’d rather think about it here....I thought you liked hummus.’

You could see it in his eyes that when you started talking about the past, he simply saw it as summers and summers ago. A few summers he’d twisted around his knee and it would be years before he’d untie them, and when he would, the ceremony of untying would shoot through his heart like a lucky strike of lightning that he’d later bless and throw to the guns. He could hold a fistful of olives in the palm of his hand and gaze upon them until the universe disappeared and you’d sit there staring at them, too, until you realized he wasn’t about to sacrifice holding them so it was up to you to go and wash out some glasses.

And on the morning of the Day of Judgment, you just know that he’ll wake up in a rosewood four-poster canopy bed with Jamaican blinds to hold in his nightmares and a bottle of Bombay to ease his mind. He’ll slap back the blinds like a jungle cat and spit tobacco from his teeth with "Now or Never" on his lips. He’ll do a push-up or two and bathe in buttermilk and rinse in rye, grab the claw of a condor, chuck open the window sash and bellow out that he’ll give the keys to his Royal Enfield for the name of the seamstress with the witch doctor father.

He’ll finally get the guts up to go and see God sometime in the afternoon, who was going out for a stroll anyway, so they’ll go down to the quays and have some lunch. And after talking about volcanoes and traffic and time, God will lean over real close and say "Son, why’d you do it?". And after finishing off the rest of his coffee, Vic will turn to God and say, "I did it for her. Well, mostly her; and a little bit for me." Naturally, God will ask for specifics, so Vic will start to unwind his tale, and God’s a sucker for a good story.

And while he’s telling his story, God will start falling asleep dreaming about Vic’s story. And they say that if God falls asleep dreaming about you, you’re scot-free. You don’t have to deal with the big fireplace; the white rooms talking with all of your relatives; the same pheasant-under-glass day-in and day-out. None of that. You’ve won.

And you never have to wake up ever again.


Estrelica & Vic, Chapter 2

On or about the first day of June