On my nights off I walk to the park on a lake. I watch the ducks land on the water until the sun goes down and then I listen to them take off into the night. Sometimes they don’t take off and I wonder where they went. I’ve never eaten duck before, and I think that should change. I don’t have a reason for it yet, but in my life, I just do what I want and then I come up with the justification later. The psychiatrist in rehab noticed the pattern. She said that I should justify an act before I commit it, so in her honor, I’ll give it a try. I want to shoot a duck at a public park with the pellet gun that I bought. My justification is that eating duck is something, I imagine, I would never get the chance of doing otherwise. A delicacy to celebrate my sobriety is probably what the doctor would prescribe.
The last few hours of my graveyard bartending shift are always torturous. Eye Shadow is a gay bar open 24/7. The door doesn’t even have a knob or bolt, just a thin board that swings out into the sidewalk. As I fish through the tip jar loaded with more phone numbers than bills, I think about what the owners would do if they had to close. Would they have to board the door shut?
There are no windows to the bar and it looks like someone took the set from Cheers, slowly aged it in a dry rub of cocaine and used coffee grounds, then had some kind of homo-erotic séance involving even more cocaine and if that isn’t enough you could take a spin on the three stripper poles mounted on the stage. I’m not trying to give it a bad name by no means. This little hole in the wall has been good to me. An oasis, if you will, in this anything but deserted desert.
My first nightshift at Eye Shadow, I decided to have a few beers after work, which turned into a slew of cocktails and then the realization that I’d been drinking there until my shift the next day. It’s funny what having no windows does to a place. Sometimes, as a joke, I think of title to the memoir that I’ll never get around to writing. “No Windows” might be what I go for, but with an asterisk next to it and in brackets it would read: working title. When I got sent to rehab, I had one demand. A room with a window. I never got the room with a window. I guess addicts don’t get what they want, something I’m now realizing.
I’ve been here a month and I’d be fine if the rest of my life I never saw a casino again. Let’s get the obvious questions out of the way. What the hell am I doing so far away from home staying at a Best Western in fucking Reno, Nevada? Two words, or better yet, one name: Tully Gallagher. Out of all the places to meet a girl, I met Tully on an online forum dedicated to gardening. Our online chats and letters turned into regular Skype calls until we started playing around with the idea that we could have a real relationship. She said that she wished I were in Reno and when I said that that’s a possibility, she told me that I could live with her at her house. She’s two years older than me, believes overalls are back in style, and is a forklift operator after dropping out of school because nothing interested her. Maybe if I hadn’t pushed all my friends away after I got clean, they could have told me that moving for a woman never ends right. I seem to be imagining a lot lately what my friends would say to me now, if I still had any.
Two of my regulars are what’s left over from the late-night. Both of their names are variations of Robert. Bobby is an older gentleman that may or not be still connected with The Hells Angels. Robby was just recently let back in now that he is twenty-one and not relying on the fake ID that I’ve heard about that says his name is Ray Peña. On paper it sounds like a harmless enough name, but I assure you if you say it out loud you will understand why it raised a few eyebrows. I should have cut them off a few drinks back but since they are my only source of entertainment until my relief gets here, it’s worth it. However, when they start belting out in horrible unison “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease, it backfires. Near to the end of the song, they find their rhythm and grip each other’s hands desperately, their necks arched back and for a moment they have something going for them. The moment will be lost on them when they sober up, but I like that because it will be all mine.
I’m not going to lie and say that my life back in Portland was anything but glamorous. I was living in my parent’s basement in the house that my sister looks after. I was tasked with doing all the bookkeeping and invoices for her husband’s chiropractic office and it was either that or be on the street and coming straight from rehab, I made one hell of an easy call. Brooklyn, my older sister, is the only family I have in the states since my parents do the whole Doctors Without Borders thing. Two busses and three hitchhike rides later I was on Tully’s doorstep. I got the address from a letter that she sent me when I was at my parent’s place.
A woman answered the door in a bathrobe holding a Pitbull by the collar and pointing to a plaque that said: NO SOLICITING. A modern townhouse in the suburbs, big wide windows with grey shutters, a few tree saplings in a neatly groomed lawn.
“I’m not selling nothing,” I said. “Is this 413 Circus Circle?”
“Sure is.” The dog relaxed a bit and smelled my privates. “Stop it, Boomer,” the woman said.
“I’m looking for Tully.”
“Tully! Some guy is here for you!”
“I’m Stewart. Tully didn’t mention a roommate, but that’s fine with me.”
“I’m her mother. Where is that girl? I don’t think she left yet. Do you see the car across the street? It’s a little white Toyota. Maybe she left already to the farmer’s market.”
“It’s there,” I said.
“What’s all this?” she asked, pointing at my rolling duffel, my hand still gripping the extendable handle. Before I can answer Tully came running down the stairs in overalls and her long curly red hair in pigtails.
“Thanks, ma. I got this from here,” Tully said.
“Don’t take too long. The market won’t be open forever,” her mom said, walking away and calling Boomer after her.
“I was going to surprise you,” I said, pausing and searching her blue eyes for an explanation.
“I was going to talk to her about you. I didn’t know you were gonna come so soon.”
“Is there anything else you forgot to mention?”
“The car is unlocked. Put your bag in the back. It’s only a few miles down 395.”
As I was thinking about what I was going to do without a pot to piss in, she shopped for exotic mushrooms and sampled local honey as if nothing were wrong. I haven’t spoken to Tully since the little trek to the farmer’s market. Honestly, I’m not sure what I would say to her if she answered one of my phone calls. I can add it to the list of made-up conversations right next to all the friends that no longer care about me.
My drug of choice like many suburban teens was Oxycontin and Vicodin, basically the expensive version of heroine. I wish I had a sob story to tell you about how I got injured and my doctor filled my script when he shouldn’t have. No, I procured my habit the old-fashioned way by boredom and lack of self-control.
If the 90s crack epidemic hit the whites as much as the blacks, would it still be as criminalized? Those are the type of questions I would ask myself in rehab since there was no one there to ask those sorts of things. The only difference from a drug epidemic and a gang problem is the effected demographic. I was just another white punk afflicted by a terrible disease, a bystander as if I’d caught a cold for staying out too long in the rain. I played the cards that were dealt to me even if that meant playing the victim to society, or what seemed to be left of one.
Today, Tully finally answers my call and agrees to meet up. She’s got Boomer with her, so we meet at a dog park that’s nearby my hotel. She’s wearing overalls again but over a sweater and her hair is shorter now with her bangs curled. She’s throwing a frisbee for the dog when I walk up.
“You look good,” I say.
“Look Stewart, I’m sorry I haven’t returned your calls. I was embarrassed. I didn’t tell you I live with my mom and Jesus, when you surprised me at my house I was in shock.”
“It’s okay,” I say. “Like I said I was living with my sister before I came.”
“Where are you living now? I figured you would have left this joke of a city.”
“I kind of like this joke of a city. Right now, I’m actually at The Best Western down the road.”
She retrieves the frisbee from Boomer’s mouth and throws it high in the cloudless sky and when it lands, it rolls in a small semicircle. The pine trees surrounding us blocks most of a gust of wind, but she rolls down the sleeves of her sweater, holding her arms against the front of her body.
“If it’s getting cold, we can find a café to talk in?”
“I gotta get going anyway. I got some work to do for my mom.”
“Well, I wanted to just plant a seed in your mind. You don’t have to say anything right away, but just think it over.”
“Okay, flower boy,” she says, which was my handle on the forum.
“We could get an apartment together. I have a job and the pay is about to get better.”
“Fair enough, I’ll think about it.”
Instead of a state-run addiction facility, my parents put me up in one of those fancy resort types with different activities to choose from. I chose gardening. First, because it seemed easy enough and second, the girl that facilitated it was a volunteer who I had the hots for. I convinced Bianca to let me use her laptop to do research after my first seeds did not germinate, probably due to the fact that I watered them with bleach and on occasion my own urine that was dehydrated from all the medications. I used her laptop to watch porn, which I was in desperate need of from being cooped up and let’s just say my imagination was not at its best form (again from all the medications.)
I checked into rehab a few days after an overdose on my twenty-first birthday at the behest of my parents with the promise that I’d be able to go on a sort of furlough to see Brooklyn graduate college. When it came to the day of graduation, instead, I chose to watch porn on Bianca’s laptop and send a lengthy email to Tully about how the broccoli plants had a nighttime visitor that ate gaping holes in the leaves. She responded right away with a few pointers about various organic ways to deter pests like adding more mulch and planting various herbs to mask the scents. My time spent on the laptop strangely enough went more to the gardening forum and talking to Tully, until eventually I forgot all about my original pornographic endeavor. However, that’s not technically true, because she did send me a few compromising photos. Classy stuff I assure you. The one I remember best was the one with her plaid collared shirt unbuttoned all the way and it being held up by her teeth, both hands cupping a breast, and her bright pink nipples peeking out between her fingers. I fell for her long before the photos she sent me, but I would be a liar if I didn’t say it kept me up at night in my small cot in my windowless room. I would wake at dawn in a sweat, passing the sleepless hours thinking about how much I wanted to caress those breasts with my own hands.
With Tully’s help along with the other gardening fanatics on the forum, the garden did well. I even felt sad when I had to leave, knowing that I would never see the fruit of my labor. I’d only harvested a few lettuce heads and one small squash when it came my time to enter back into society. The only drawback about being put into a non-state-run facility was that when it came to release, they didn’t help me with any employment options or housing. They assumed that I had money to fall back on.
My boss has been slowly ingratiating me into the prime-time hours of business, which means more tips and seeing the place as a proper club. This means I have to come in earlier and don’t have to stay at work so late in the night. I’m still not used to the crowd and the drinks that come out of the printer faster than I’m used to. The bar seats are empty since all the tables are being served by the cocktail waitresses. I’m sure I’m forgetting to salt or sugar rim our house drinks that are being ordered like crazy, but patrons are too busy to notice because of the drag show that’s in full swing.
Tonight, at Eye Shadow I made the mistake of running someone’s card and addressing them by the name that appeared on their card. Eye Shadow is a place where you can be anyone you want to be. The truth is, I envy my patrons who know what they want to be and aren’t afraid to show it. I’ve seen men in their forties who have more hair on their chest then on their head spin their asses off on one of the stripper poles with more energy than I could exert on a European fashion model during intercourse.
While I was working my sister leaves another voicemail on my cell that finally got turned back on today now that I can afford it. Did I mention that I left without saying a word to her? I know it was a shitty thing to do with all that she did for me, but I always thought I’d call her eventually and let her know why I left. As I’m counting my cash for my drop, I listen to the latest voicemail. There is a hint of distress in her voice and I can hear her two kids in the background. “Please call me back and let me know how you’re doing,” she says as I can hear a tea kettle screaming. “Mom and dad are coming home soon. I’d love it if I can at least tell them how you are. If you don’t call back, I’m going to assume you are using again.” I’m about to call her, but I realize she is probably in bed by now.
One thing at a time.
Tonight, I get to the lake after dark. I imagined for a while that I would call Brooklyn after a good duck and tell her that I’m better off without her help. I don’t know yet if I’d tell her where I was or I’d just devoured a duck, but somehow, she would be able to tell that I was better off.
Tonight, is the night I’m going to bag myself a duck. Earlier today, the alarm clock that is tuned to the classical station played Mahler’s 5th symphony at my regular noon wake up time. If that wasn’t a sign that I don’t know what is. All you got to do is add a “D” to the end of his name and you got a delicious meal, phonetically that is of course. I cranked the radio as loud is it would go until the people in the suite next door banged on the wall.
I’m crouched behind a fern that gives me enough cover to peek my pellet gun out. All I have to work with is the cheap scope that’s sighted in at twenty-five yards and a flashlight taped to the end of the gun. I’m hoping that the light will blind the duck, giving me a few seconds before it flies away to make a clear shot. The only area in my line of sight is a spot in the lake I’m fairly certain that’s not too shallow for my makeshift waiters I’ve fashioned out of two trash bags and a full roll of duct tape. The almost full moon makes its way out of a cloud and gives me a good view of the empty lake that reflects its murky sheen disrupted every now and again by a fish coming up to devour an insect.
I could hear them before I saw them, two ducks at a crawl on the surface of the water. They were still too far out for me to shoot them and I saw them start to turn toward me, their little feet under the surface kicking towards their own demise. I wait with my finger on the flashlight and when they get close enough, I flip the switch. My eye is in the scope and I take not one but four shots at the birds. I catch one in the wing and the other flies toward me and quickly gains altitude until I can no longer hear its wings that was like a deafening heartbeat. The one that’s been tagged is still trying to get away, but it can’t do much other than flop around like a fish that’s gotten itself snagged. I pop a few more shots at it until it stops moving.
I pull out my trash bag waiters and put them over my jeans. I make it to where I shot the duck but by now, it’s a good meter towards the center of the lake. I can see its body floating about ten meters from me. I make the decision right there to go for it and I swim out like a bird dog getting the kill for its master. As I grab the duck by its mangled wing and drag it back to the shore, water seeps down my pants to my socks. I snap its neck to be safe and shove it into my backpack with the pellet gun’s barrel peeking out of the zipper. The trash bags rip as I run towards the street. It’s only a twenty-minute walk to my hotel.
As soon as I get to the hotel, I put the bird on ice. I examine it. The beak is smooth like beach glass and is as lifeless as its eyes drooping to one side. The tongue looks surprisingly human-like but rough and spiky as I brush my index finger down the side. A female Carolina duck would be my guess, a freckled breast, large tail feathers with a sort of teal at the edge of the wings. In bed, I peruse forums on duck hunting on my phone for information about how soon I need to gut the bird. I think perhaps that when Tully decides to get an apartment with me, I’d pan sear the duck and open up a good bottle of Malbec. I can see it now, as vivid as the moon light coming in through the window. I can almost hear my phone ringing and her voice telling me that she thinks this city would be good for us.