Chapter 16, Part B

Coast is clear


A peace pipe, a crate of Mickey’s, some hummus, taramatasalata and pita bread passed amongst them as the crackles of the fire crackled. They had all been running shit-scared since the womb, got to the fire and huddled together in hysterics, snorting billows of smoke through their noses with cigarettes on their lips, made itsy-bitsy spiders with their fingers and shoved everything into their own bottle-green eyes, picked music off their tongues, spread it out over the flames, watched it singe and blow up through the holes in the clouds, ricochet down to the Antarctic and drift off past the sky and form a constellation that BC looked up and called a cross and crown. The guy from Portland looked up and found a wild window of widowed pillow willows. Vic closed one eye, looked up, saw the wrong constellation and called it India. Estrelica rubbed her eyes and saw kaleidoscopes in her palms, hoped she had a tampon and blew her nose in the handkerchief that smelled like her nana’s knickers' drawer of the powder she had given her for Kissmas. Crackle.

Estrelica used Vic’s boot to trace for Bridget where she wanted to go next. Vic used the guy from Portland as a fresh pair of ears, who kept his eyes on Bridget saying "uh-huh" and laughing too loud for the girl in the shawl whose friend was in the hospital with a stomach full of pills. Sash wept white tears to himself and Mark kept a close watch on the flames. He had worked in the engine room of a breeder reactor with the guy who didn’t smoke, for a few summers. Crackle.

The guy who looked like Nat "King" Cole asked a lot about cab driving and was told about Jason. He gave the address of a friend of his in London who had the same birthday as a friend of his in Ma’alot to Vic, who flipped open his wallet and addresses tumbled down like credit cards onto the sand. Sacramento had expired, as had Narabeen Beach, Bellingham and Sligo, but Santander, Queen’s Park and Nesoya were fresh and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle were bursting. Largs was now Oban. Belfast now Beirut. Jordan had been washed out by a beer spill, but 1938 Delaware, Maison du Soleil, God’s House and 905 18th were etched in his prefrontal forever. Estrelica remembered J. Dove packing once, turning to her and saying "It’s like burning your room." He’d try getting everyone to huddle together, but ended up scraping the plan and just lining them up by the door, squeezing the pain out of them, cocking his left eye and rumbling "If I don’t meet you at the dograces, I’ll see you down by the powerlines." Krackel.

A story about some kid who murdered his best friend made the rounds and everyone listened as just above them a jet flew over and a hijacker lost his nerve. At the 7-11 Estrelica and Stoney were just in, a gun was pulled on the 73-year-old Latvian-born, Texas-raised, Japanese-educated, Libyan citizen of an American company he worked for on the shores of Tripoli. Troops in China were dispatched and a year later the ground rumbled under Mecca, and fingernails found their way into the mouth of the short man who was thinking to himself "Marilyn Monroe? The Moon? Waterloo?" Crack.

They all knew July would smell like gunshot, all the way up and down Madison. The heat would leave them alone and let the animals kill each other, then send someone in to clean it up. Crack.

Estrelica looked to the skies, found Cassiopeia and Sagittarius and wished she could be in La Paz in July for the solar eclipse. Crackle.

Vic looked at the ocean and his face creased with the waves. Estrelica leaned back and rested her arm on his leg as he nodded out to sea and said "See it?" offering her a corn nut.

"The hurricane?" she said taking it into her mouth.

They looked at each other and turned back to the storm.

If you made a mobile out of everyone around the fire, pinned it above a baby’s bed, with Estrelica in the middle and Vic somewhere around the bottom, said good night and left the baby to sleep....Estrelica blew in Vic’s ear as he drifted in and out of sleep and said under his breath "Cross the line. God will take care of you," and opened his mouth as wide as the universe as he fell in her lap. With those few sounds that slipped from his lips, a chorus of chewed laughter made its way around the fire and stopped as the lowest voice among them deadpanned "I hate Jesus Christ with all my heart." Estrelica reached back to touch Vic’s chest, raised her chin and said "There’s a man who’s made a decision." Vic’s mouth fell open as he kept talking in his sleep, " you Ruth..."

The face of BC still rang with the words he’d just spat. He had a can of shaving cream in his jacket and dabbed a little on Vic’s nose.

"So...What’s your name?" he slowly asked Estrelica.

"Wait a minute," she said, "I’ve seen you before. Weren’t you at a party of Nick’s about a year ago?"

"You mean the party where you were with that guy who just got back from hitchhiking and he fell asleep?"

"Uh, yeah," Estrelica laughed, "I was there. So, what did you say about Christ?"

"I woke up one morning and found my bed burning." he coldly stared.

"Well, what the hell were you doing smoking in bed?"

He looked back at her and said "Is the day any different for you than the night?"

"No, wait," she cried, "what did you say about burning in bed? I’m taking NOTES, okay?"

Vic woke up and everyone started to laugh. He looked at them all, noticed his nose, found the one laughing the most and said "Hey, hey, hey, hey; what’s the big idea?"

"I had it done to me when I was a kid."

"So, I have to pay for it, huh? All right...." he reassured him.


All of the others there knew each other somehow and one of them was going to start working at the shipyards the next day. He had been on ships for years and now figured the least he owed them was to help build them now. He had a son with his girlfriend and only asked for the car once a week.

Vic counted, counted, counted, hic, all of the faces there and Estrelica gave him a swig of her beer as she told Bridget how, when she was a child, swinging on her family tree, a mighty oak, when it was ripped from her parent’s house one night during a tornado when she was sixteen, and how she had to chainsaw the branches into wood. She also told her about the stream of Elizabeths she was from on her mother's side.

"And the other side?"

"A bottle of whisky, I guess."

The kid from Portland said something in Vic’s ear as he pointed to Bridget. Vic leaned down and the guy said, "I just don’t understand."

"Ah, I wouldn’t let it worry you." Vic said. "It’s not worth thinking about. Just, uh, know it’s there. That’s about all you’ve got to do."

Roy scraped on his violin "What shall we,

what shall we do,

what shall we do with,

what shall we do with a drunken



what shall we do with a drunk,




gave up, laid on his elbow, and put his fingers in his hair next to hers.

A few faces bade farewell, a few more, and a few were left as Estrelica rose and walked slowly to the shore with her arms folded, moving further and further into the wind and the mist.

Vic listened to Bridget and her friend exchange how they each made Gestapo, as Bridget called it, as he saw Estrelica out of the corner of his eye stand by the water huddling herself and couldn’t tell the gray of the sky from the gray of the shore. She was all he could focus on, standing there still. Too still. She knelt.

He rose and walked over to her with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on her hair. He stood next to her and stared out at the weather, knelt, lit a cigarette and gave her a drag. They looked at each other, their eyes washed open by the sea, the wind squinting their eyes the same way. She looked at his hand as he stubbed out the cigarette, took his hand in hers and tried to find salt water in his palm.

"All this is yours," the wind whispered to Estrelica.

"These things aren’t yours" the wind whipped into Vic’s ears.

"Why do you have to do everything by yourself?"

"Don’t you want to be with me?"

"Don’t you want to go?"

They turned back to the sea.

"If you really are mine, it won’t matter I guess."

"I’m leaving tomorrow."


"Back to Britain. There’s something I have to find."

"But, first you have to see what I found at the store!!"

She pulled him away, putting his arm around her waist as Vic pulled out his lighter, turned back to the sea and said "We were here."

"And here and there and then over there," Estrelica finished for him as they walked the length of the bay dragging up tree trunks behind them on the way back to the fire. She took his castanets out of his pocket and danced laps around him all the way back to the fire as her eyes opened like lips. She grabbed his arm to bring his ear to her mouth as she whispered "I found Blackjack gum." Vic’s mouth fell open in surprise, she mimicked him, and they laughed at each other as she tossed the castanets and the keys to their hotel room at Chris’s By The Sea to the guy from Portland as Estrelica and Vic went to her car. They drove to the closest bar, shot a game of pool that Estrelica broke open and made fun of Vic chalking up his cue. He pocketed well, she started to come into her own, then he missed his last shot, scratching in the eight ball that bounced her last ball in.

"I told you not to chalk up." She whispered, raising her eyebrow.

"Touché, Touché, Tora, Tora, Touché."


On the way back to the beach, the night stole them as its own, almost crushing them as the hurricane passed a Camaro on their right doing a solid ninety-nine as the black flag came up. No checkers around for miles.

They got out and walked through a field as Vic said "Did you see that? A star just blew up."

"Nah, I think it was just a planet." Estrelica sighed.

"Hey, up to that next poplar and back or its the money for the vodka. Ready, set," Vic ran straight into a freshly seeded tree and a bramble slashed the orchid tattoo just above Estrelica’s heel. Back in the car she asked "What do you see," handing him the binoculars.

"I see a forest green Jag XJ beading up with rain and she’s slamming the door on him and flagging down the first car that’ll stop."

"Hmmm. That’s funny. I was watching that quarter moon. No, over there, above that dead tree. Doesn’t it glow like something you’ve never seen?"


When they got back to Chris’s, Vic shut the car door as he said "Forty-six dollars? What did you get?"

"Well, most of that is Caerphilly and Cheshire."

Vic rested Estrelica’s guitar on his lap as he sat on the stoop of the hotel listening to Bridget and her friend inside. Estrelica walked onto the beach a little way to walk out her name in the sand as Vic found her strings and played one of those songs that you can chew forever and never quite figure out how it goes.


Wrapped up in the clothesline

in your mother’s skirt you’d twirl

smokestack after smokestack

and the soot that fell from your curls

fetching dice for the carpenters

catching pennies off your wrist

the tar on your uncle’s undershirt

and the fingernails scraping your fist.


Somebody’s crowbar Casanovas

like spiders on your sheets

the pipeline boys who dragged you in

and offered you up to the streets

and which angel flashed his teeth at you

and saddled you with the goods

that could only ever be traded away

to the devil in the woods


Sometimes the thunder on the ceiling

too poisonous to resist

every hand that tries to touch you

all you see are a couple of fists

and the guardians say all bets are off

they’re just your lessons they realize

and you can tell more from their shadows on the wall

than from having to wait for their eyes

and the trick is finding magic

and the curse is continuing the spells

and the trap is abandoning any pair of hands

that led you to find your own bells


Like the light beneath the Netherlands

you never quite forgot

your grandmother’s hands on top of yours

and the songs that you were taught

when you laid out in the August sun

that always let you hide

catapulted from the morning grass

into the skies where you used to dive.


Now your eyes are branded

you’re coming here to leave

all that’s left to hang onto

is the way that you used to sleep

and the faces that you never recognized

that made you turn away

the markings of a swan are etched

from the shadows of the day


The strings rang and rang and rang and rang as Estrelica walked back to Vic as her strings stilled themselves in his hands. They knocked before they tried the door of their room, which had been left open. Bridget and Bob, his name turned out to be, asked about the conditions of the roads down the coast a little further and stole into the night leaving their body oil behind.


Estrelica & Vic, Chapter 16, Part C

Coast is clear