ACT III | CHAPTER I
Israel and Ra’chel called him intermittently in the evenings. Muzic only picked up sometimes to dispassionately explain he didn’t know when he would make landfall again. Evelyn called him once too, but he had dejectedly let it go to voicemail. Otherwise, he spent the twilit hours on dating apps, talking to bots that provided him with links to share his CC info under the guise of proving his identity.
The eighth day at the sober home, Muzic dodged curfew and bussed across town to an excrementous motel where a gang of junked Solutions dropouts holed up in a hotboxed cubicle of a room and shot heroin or hit up the hookers by the Waffle House and the Greyhound station blocks across the interstate. Muzic scowled silently on the floor mostly and drank his first ZeigenBocks in at least a month, relishing the underwater sensation that soon mired his thoughts.
In the morning he sauntered down the miles stretching University Dr to Solutions and mutely packed his suitcase and departed. His friend Hope from high school still lived across the University in the colonial house where Muzic had ever been to his first party years before, remembering as a senior trying those first cheap beers and Taaka, clobbering opposition at the Smash Bros fighter, charades and Cards Against Humanity… Arriving at her doorstep now, Hope’s bewildered reaction to his apparitional appearance reminded Muzic not to discount the differences in his own perspective of “normalcy” and others’.
One of the ex-Solutions kids, an athletically built goon with spiky bleached hair who dubbed himself Bedivere, accompanied Muzic to the local annual Jazz Fest near the downtown square; despite Muzic’ monosyllabic contributions to their conversation, Bedivere valued the friendship enough to share a motel room relatively more peaceable than the generally ubiquitous chaos in northwest nocturnal Dented Town. If he had lifted his head out of his inner gloaming just a moment, Muzic would have more thoughtfully appreciated the genuine goodwill in Bedivere’s general blandness, but Muzic was bogged down in his disgust for the yuppie town that so ignorantly titled itself “Updowntown in miniature.” Being determinedly bound for the real thing was the other thing that aligned Muzic and his bleach-blond friend.
In the summertime a year before there had been a stolidly greasepit delicatessen in the upper echelon of pseudo-socialite Dented Town where Muzic had made sub sandwiches in between chugging cinnamon Fireball with his lanky, tatted manager Laramie Bentham’s back office. Laramie had been something of a spiritual predecessor to Israel in Muzic’ unfolding story, and Muzic had enjoyed the older man’s irreverence and frequently opiate-induced antics, which had contributed to the sluggish flow of clientele through the place. Now he returned to the delicatessen to find the animate junkie had vanished entirely. Instead an equally slovenly but vastly more boorish thirty-something-aged man was there to interview Muzic and pontificate about his elite standards for the establishment, which was incessantly flickering with mothy fluorescent lighting like a zombified hospital cafeteria; behind the buffet line, a cute half-black young woman with spiraling curls and thick glasses watched Muzic from the corner of her eye, sneaking a smile once or twice.
The woman, Lola Yazzie, trained him the following day, though since Muzic had worked at the deli previously and it being a cloudy Sunday morning, there was little more to do than kick back on the stainless steel prep tables, chill and hang out in the alley and smoke. Muzic declined to share her marijuana blunt but gladly gobbled down the Percocets she offered. He learned that she was not African American like he had assumed but predominantly Cherokee, and also a double Gemini coming up on her thirtieth birthday, and a street racer fanatical about cars and Yelawolf.
“But so you. What’s your story?” Lola asked as they loitered by the refrigerated walk-in, in the blindspot of the cameras. There was something wildly attractive about her mischievous grin and dark eyeliner, not to mention the electric fluidity of their conversation.
“Hm, well I’ve been in town… two weeks now. I was in rehab before.”
Faint surprise passed across her visage. “You were in rehab? Shit, but I just gave you those pills!” she realized, distressed.
“No, it’s all good!” Muzic reassured her. “I’ve already been drinking since I’ve been here, I’m not concerned about sticking with the whole sober thing at all, honestly. I really went to rehab just to get out of this shit situation in Updowntown. It… well, I was living with my friend I still crushed on and that ended up messing me up a ton, her having boyfriends around — well and she ended up doing the escorting thing too after we got the apartment, but at least I could come home from work and these wealthy… suitors or whatever, gifting expensive scotches and tequila — and then methheads and skater punks coming over and partying all hours of the night, I wanted a clean break mainly. It was a lot.”
Lola nodded, looking thoughtful. “Sounds intense, I get that… I’ve thought about rehab before, but… I need these pills and xans for my back, it’s bad bad when I don’t have them… What were you in rehab for — if that’s not too weird to ask.”
Muzic smiled. “No, it’s not at all.” He fiddled absent-mindedly with the spray nozzle coiled above the triple-compartment sink, hosing down an empty basin. “Mainly drinking. Smack too, just sometimes y’know.”
“Wow,” she said. Her inflection was unclear. “Well, I’ve almost done that before. When I lived in Oklahoma we partied pretty hard, but everyone there is into meth… How old are you?” she asked, and they both knew the question wasn’t completely innocuous.
“Um, twenty,” he replied, smirking.
“Noooo way!” Lola exclaimed, almost laughing. “You’re a baby!”
Muzic shrugged, feigning nonchalance, though there was a sudden vacuum in the moment. “Wise beyond my years…”
He was scheduled to leave two hours earlier than her; as 5 o’clock crept upon them inexorably, an increasingly precipitous sensation nauseated Muzic as he fretted secretly about how to make a move on Lola. Lola seemed similarly lost, he thought, but uncertainties plagued him. On the line, as they served sporadic customers, they continually brushed against each other crossing paths; their conversational chemistry spilled over into genuinely exuberant, tag-teamed interactions with customers. The tip jar was overflowing, which Lola remarked was something miraculous. Nevertheless, the minutes quickened and 5 o’clock was soon receding into aching memory.
“I guess that’s it…” Muzic said longingly at ten after. He stood idly between the walk-in and the exit, fumbling in his pockets for nothing in particular. Lola lingered in the blindspot.
“Damn, wish you were working longer M…” she said.
“Honestly me too,” he said. “Um… well we should kick it sometime though. Maybe I could get your number,” he added, suffocated.
“Bet!” she said enthusiastically and approached him with her phone out. And they exchanged numbers, and suddenly found themselves standing intimately close, their gazes simultaneously magnetized, and Muzic stepped forward and his lips locked onto hers, their arms encircled each other desperately, phones still in-hand. Lola backed them steadily into the blindspot again, Muzic pinned her against the undulated wall of the refrigerator as they made out.
Several minutes passed before the doorbell chimed, indicating someone had entered the lobby. Muzic and Lola broke apart reluctantly. Lola positively beamed and gathered herself a second.
“Um… I… I’ll go get that real quick,” she said breathlessly.
Within a week, Muzic had virtually moved into her bedroom. Lola lived on the second story of her parents’ Castilian sandstone L-shaped house, which was tucked at the end of a cul-de-sac in posh suburbia. The house overlooked a slantwise stretch of woods wound towards a creek and series of anthracitic-seeming bluffs of rock that jutted at the water’s banks. It was all-around a tranquil hermitage for smoking or anything else they wanted to do in private. Inside the house, though, haphazard newspapers, pet toys, left-out food and plain garbage marred the opulence of the foyer, the grand staircases, dinette and living areas. The marbleized island in the kitchen boasted the dimensions of a swimming pool, but every inch of surface was littered with wrappers, empty plastics and especially pizza boxes all sagging under the weight of dozens of cats, who made their beds there.
“We have fourteen,” Lola explained the first night. “And one is pregnant, Myrtle. She belonged to my friend before he went to jail.” It turned out that several of Lola’s friends were in jail, but they called her daily and mailed her drawings and letters. Other friends lived around the neighborhood; these friends Muzic found surprisingly redneck or country-ish, and most treated Muzic with suspicion or chilliness. But they sold or gifted Lola cocaine or tweak, which she shared with Muzic as they spent many nights in the next weeks nocturnal, watching movies, driving around town, cuddling and having sex in her bed or in the media room across the hall.
The strangest and most jarring thing he discovered about Lola was her fierce Christianity and Republicanism — he was slightly indignant when he had floated his interest in reincarnation and Lola had earnestly regarded this as blasphemy. The teenage yuppie coworkers at the deli were articulate and passionate about Bernie Sanders in the early summer leading up to the Democratic National Convention, and while Muzic privately shared and appreciated their views (they reminded him endearingly of wistfully forgotten friends from UX, who had passionately badgered about crooked Clinton and Debbie W Schultz), Lola scathingly rebutted their arguments and disdained liberalism and the naivety of youth. Being a decade her junior, Muzic was hyperconscious of being compared to the teenagers and tacitly avoided commenting in anyway when Lola launched into politics. She usually wore a shell casing on a necklace around her neck at work, which earned a businessman’s formal complaint. When management insisted she remove the necklace, Lola quit altogether. Muzic almost did as well, though he felt entirely ambivalent of the whole issue, but endured for more savings.
“So fucking stupid,” Lola said the following morning as they were driving through the suburb. “I can’t keep a job.”
“It’s whatever,” he dismissed. “We still have another check coming, maybe two. Don’t you have leftover from your last paycheck?”
Lola shook her head. “No! I have to buy medication from my mom, and shit’s expensive even with the doctors in Oklahoma. I always run out every month, M. I don’t know what to do.”
“Fuck it, let’s go to Updowntown. I’ve hardly spent anything from work so far. I can buy gas, food, margaritas, you can meet some of my friends and we’ll just enjoy not working for a minute.”
Several days passed as Muzic made arrangements with Danny and Lola waited for their final checks to arrive at the store; meanwhile, the boorish doughy manager who had initially interviewed Muzic sycophantically acquiesced to the authority of a transplant supervisor, a Californian poetaster whom Muzic had warmed up to only long enough to converse about natal astrology and science fiction before realizing she had the same exhausting kind of deontology when she pooled the entire staff’s tips.
“You know, nowhere in Updowntown only pays minimum wage,” Muzic bemoaned to Lola the evening before their departure. It wasn’t remotely true.
He had packed only a bright red suitcase and a tangerine-on-gray-colored backpack, which he had been gifted at the Broke Works Christmas gathering the year before. That was everything he needed for his belongings, and he wasn’t sure if he would be coming back from Updowntown or not. Only Lola tethered him to the Dented Townian quagmire now, and he was quietly tiring of their increasingly incongruous relationship. Lola drove them on their way to the delicatessen Friday lunch-rush to pick up her last check. Once they had the envelopes, Muzic also grabbed a couple cups, handed one to Lola and filled his drink at the soda fountain.
“Hey, what are you doing?” the new supervisor asked, bemused, as she had never met Lola. Several customers turned to see what she was looking at.
“She’s with me,” Muzic said with a suave grin, standing at the plate-glass door. “Also, I quit.”
Updowntown’s phantasmal skyline merged sinistrally into indigo against the marmalade dawn. The back parking lot of the Goodall Wooten had a sepia glow softening its griminess as Lola parked directly beneath the basketball court at Muzic’ discretion. She cut the ignition and collapsed against the steering wheel. Muzic called Danny three times and went to voicemail each dial.
“Goddamn it Danny,” he muttered, trying IM. “He swore he would be awake.”
“I’m crashing, M,” Lola slurred barely audibly. “Bars hitting me. Don’t got his address?”
Muzic shook his head, frowning. He got out of the car, fiending for a cigarette (Lola never let him light up in her car), and despite being agitated with Danny, he could hardly contain his mirth at being in his most revered of buildings, in his most revered of cities. For all its crusty shabbiness and asbestos aesthetic, it had an irrevocable homeliness about it to him since he had first ever met Ra’chel and all the characters that had followed. It was beatitude in many meanings of the word. He was delighted to find the passcode unchanged in the months since he had been here last, and inside the tiled foyer and the drab, carpeted lounge looked exactly the same.
Muzic reminisced to the last days before La Hacienda, to when he had been seated on the only other piece of furniture besides Ra’chel’s bed in her threadbare squat at the German House co-op, and the dark lanky Nic Moore had found the most reassuring words Muzic had been hoping to hear from someone before his rehab stint.
“Man…” Nic had said shortly, and in a suffocated voice, continued, “if you still wanna be doing all this shit after, you’re worried ‘bout nothing. Nothing.”
“Nic, come on, you’ve already had three hits, quit hogging it!” Ra’chel had whined.
“Hey, hey, hey, hey stop,” Nic told her airlessly, still sucking in the dope spiraling around in his lungs. He exhaled and continued manically. “I’m trying to tell him something real and you’re — hey, stop, you keep interrupting with shit that’s not what I’m tryna say. Look,” he said, looking at Muzic, “all of this is literally gonna be no fucking different when you get out — Ra’chel, fuckin’ Israel Vibez, Danny, they’re all gonna be up to the exact same fucking shit, know what I’m saying?” Nic smiled. “The exact same, you know I’m right.” Muzic had to admit it was probably true.
He wondered what Ra’chel and Nic were doing now. In the hours before he and Lola fled Dented Town, Danny had mentioned the German House had been bought by the Greeks and closed down but had otherwise given no indication about where Ra’chel was — in fact, Danny’s voice had turned uncharacteristically icy when Muzic mentioned her, ending their call not long afterwards.
When another hour or two evaporated without hearing from Danny, Muzic grew peeved and anxious while Lola slept at the wheel. He rang Evelyn but that went to voicemail too. A moment later, though, his phone rang back. It was Danny.
“Muzic I’m so sorry! I fell asleep! Are you in Updowntown yet?”
Muzic yawned. “Yeah I am,” he supplied. “It’s all good dude, just glad you called back. I need your address, I’m at the Woo. We’re crashing pretty hard.”
Jumping back into the shotgun, Muzic closed the car door as quietly as possible, but Lola jolted awake nonetheless. Then as instantaneously her wherewithal visibly sagged again.
“Got his address,” Muzic announced.
Lola shook her head. “You’ve gotta drive.”
“I can’t,” he said severely. “Trust me, I’m a god-awful driver, especially here in Updowntown. I’ll absolutely crash.” He knew she wouldn’t risk her baby.
He regretted not driving them almost immediately. As Lola was backing out of the parking space in front of the Woo’s exit, they slammed backwards into a cement pillar. Lola barely reacted to Muzic’ astonishment. She ran over the curb coming out of the alley and was swerving lazily once they slugged onto the interstate. Muzic braced himself, horrified, as she took the exit onto 7th and narrowly avoided a head-on collision at the intersection.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” he hissed once he was safely pedestrian again, after Lola pulled in front of Danny’s house. They were on a street on the east side of Updowntown named Inks Ave. It was near a green, hilly cemetery and lined with cute, colorful bungalows, rock gardens and sprite canopying trees in picketed enclosures. Danny’s front patio was decorated with cherubic potted plants and plush armchairs on either side of an argyle hammock. Muzic ascended the sharply inclined driveway and up to the patio and knocked on Danny’s door while Lola malingered in the car.
Danny swung open the door and locked Muzic in a tight embrace on the threshold. “Muzic, I’m so glad you’re back,” he said fervently. He frantically ushered Muzic inside.
The whole house was floored with ginger Spanish block tile in blackened grout veins beneath gold-threaded carmine carpets. Danny himself had an equally regal appearance since Muzic had seen him last. He was still deeply bronzen and tall and thin, but his jet black hair was like a lion’s mane tumbling in cascades around his shoulders, thick strands swept across his joyous face.
“It’s amazing to be back,” Muzic said, smiling. “Damn, Danny, this place is awesome. How long have you been here? How did you get it?”
Danny lead him to the kitchen and pulled a couple peach-pear La Croix from the fridge, handing Muzic one. “A month, and I met my roommates at Loco’s Cantina. I told them I was looking for a place, because I was hiding out at the German House,” he added conspiratorially, “and the guy who was rooming here before me was moving out. And they let me move in here! Cesar and Niria, and they’re both gay too is the craziest thing, Muzic! I have to be extremely careful to keep the craziness out of my life now,” he added sternly. “I was so fucking stupid and had Vibez and Courtney over a week ago, and they were completely xan’d out and passing out on the couches. And before I had Ra’chel and Tomas,” he trailed off, scowling, his eyes crystallized. “What I’m saying Muzic, is you have to be on your absolute best behavior here. No drinking and getting crazy — or you’re sober now though, right?”
Muzic dodged the question. “Ra’chel and who?” he asked, confused.
Danny turned deaf, but his visage softened some. “I keep telling you Hearken, if you just keep your intentions whole and focused,” he closed his hands in prayer against his forehead, “and your karma positive, you can manifest anything.”
“I mean, yeah,” Muzic conceded, straight-faced. “I could have done that instead of drinking myself to death back at Riverside, maybe… Wouldn’t have needed to get out and do the rehab beat— ”
“Muzic I didn’t tell you the craziest thing about here,” Danny interrupted in hushed tones, his face anguished, and continued in a deadly whisper, “I did something really fucked up, I can’t even believe,” he stopped suddenly, for someone entered in through the front door, a pale young woman with traced laugh lines and sanguine hair tossed above her head in a wiry bun. She glanced around at Muzic and smiled, but then frowned at Danny.
“Danny, someone’s sleeping in their car on the driveway. I had to park on the street.”
Muzic spoke up first. “That’s my bad, she’s my girlfriend. We just drove up. We’ve been driving all night. I’m Muzic, by the way,” he added brightly, holding out his hand.
The woman shook it. “I’m Niria. And that’s fine, I just didn’t know what was going on there.”
“For sure, yeah I’m sorry about that, I can go move the car into the street.” He sensed he could practically perfume himself with Danny’s anxiety in the air.
She nodded. “I appreciate it. Our other roommate is on his way home too. And it’s more that she’s taking up the entire driveway…”
Lola was effectively comatose, so Muzic gently guided her out of the now slightly battered vehicle and eased it backwards into the road. Inside, Niria had retreated to a bedroom at the very rear of the house. Danny acted suddenly claustrophobic upon Lola’s emergence into the living room.
“Hey Lola, this is my friend Danny.”
“Hey,” she managed.
Danny looked horrified. Muzic reassured him, “I’m really sorry Danny, we’ve both just been up for forty-something hours by now, could we nap in your bedroom maybe?” Danny nodded and led them through the hall to the second room on the left. Danny’s bedroom was spectacularly bare; he had a high-sitting bed on a tin-metal opalescent frame, an Ionic lamp and a closet stuffed to the ceiling with his suitcase, backpacks and mounds of blanket and laundry. From this messy stockpile, though, Danny materialized a pullout mattress and folded it back onto the floor. Thanking his best friend, Muzic and Lola passed out for several hours.