Prairie Wolf Press Review
Sunset and Highland
by Patrick O'Neil
Cop car, siren on, lights flashing, speeds through the intersection. Twilight sky, quarter moon, palm trees, and a warm breeze. A cliché – but still it's what's happening. Man walks out of drugstore carrying a twelve pack. Pan right. Wino lies on sidewalk laughing. Children run through parking lot.
Background: traffic noise. Time: 9:47 pm. Date: Sunday, August 8, 2010.
I've been out wandering for the last two hours. I'm sweating and the weather is hot. My apartment is unbearable in the summer heat. But really it's my thoughts I'm trying to elude while drifting through the alleyways of the neighborhood.
Dissolve to location: Carl's Jr. on the corner, ravenous pothead surveys menu, counts change, places order.
Street person digs in trashcan, pulls out crumpled wad of paper, inside a half-eaten burger. She looks around before stuffing it whole into her mouth.
Dude leans against a lamppost selling herb. Two youngsters make a buy and walk away fast.
It feels like everyone in the world smokes weed: bud, ganja, kush, mari-fuckin-wanna. At least all my neighbors do. As I walk home I pass through pungent haze billowing out of dim lit apartment buildings. The kids in the alley constantly puff. Beanies pulled low over their eyes, sitting on the curb, talking shit.
A parked car blocks a driveway. The glow of a cigarette illuminates the face of the passenger. A mumbled conversation heard when I near. A sense of menace as a man runs toward me. A dog barks, another siren in the distance. A girl laughs. I'm almost home. Edit to flashback.
My neighbor wakes me every morning with loud house music. The bass thumps the wall while a repetitious melody drones. Pillows wrapped around my head won't cut the noise. Reminiscing his glory days DJ'ing on the dusty Burning Man playas, my neighbor dances around his apartment and I contemplate homicide. When his dealer drops off more meth, the music gets louder. Some days it's constant. Others, the apartment is dark and silent.
Tonight we run into each other at the security gate to our building.
"Hey," I say and use my key to open the gate.
Twitching, spastic, my neighbor slips by, eyes cast downward.
"Hello," he whispers and runs into the alley.
This is the second time we've met, and the most we've ever talked. I tried to say something to him about the music once before as we passed in the courtyard, but he wouldn't stop. When the music is playing, it's useless to attempt communication. I've witnessed my other neighbors try. The crazy guy from upstairs pounded on dude's door so hard it shook the building. But he never answered. Muscle bound kid, covered in tats, from apartment 12, stood outside and screamed his ass off, then kicked a hole in the screen door. The music continued, the walls vibrated, no response.
The apartment manager's cat slinks off as I approach. Courtyard lights illuminate the trees and throw shadows across the walkway. Prefab televised laugh track leaks from an upstairs apartment. Out front, on the street, someone yells, "cada uno lleva su cruz."
Tina is sitting on the front step of my apartment. Next to her, underneath the broken air conditioning unit, there's a bare patch of earth. Nothing grows there. I've thought about planting a small bush to fill the space. But it would probably die.
"Where you been?" she asks.
"Walking," I say as I open the door and turn on the light. The apartment is hot and confining. I close the blinds. We sit on the bed and I take off my sneakers.
"Finished reading your book," she says. Then runs her hand up my back. Stopping at my neck.
She leans her head on my shoulder and tells me everything that's wrong with it. She caresses me as she speaks. There are parts that confuse her. Things she doesn't like. So much she doesn't understand. I listen. I feel her touch. She could just as easily be talking about us.
I hear the TV from upstairs. The faint laughter becomes the soundtrack for my life.
Shift focus to memories.
Yesterday I was looking for a number in my phone and realized there were some I need to delete because the people were dead. Seeing their names reminded me. It was odd they were still in my phone but not on the earth. As if their numbers should somehow erase themselves.
Upstairs, floorboards creak as someone walks back and forth. Then I hear Tina's voice. She's telling me what she thinks works with my writing: the images, the darkness and despair. She sounds sad. Like she's reciting a eulogy. If I were to die, how long it will take her to delete my number? Maybe she'll get a head start and do it sooner.
"I have to go," she says.
"I know," I answer and reach for her.
Door closes. Room becomes darker. No one is touching me.
Background: television static. Time: 11:11 pm. Date: Sunday, August 8, 2010.
Fade to black.
Patrick O’Neil writes nonfiction and makes short films. His essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, most notably: Weave Magazine, Word Riot, Two Hawks Quarterly, and Survivor Chronicles. His memoir, about his former life as a junkie bank robber titled Gun, Needle, Spoon, is busy being read by indie presses and agents. His short punk themed documentaries have been rejected from numerous film festivals. He currently lives in Hollywood California and holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. You can find more of his writing online at: http://patrickseanoneil.blogspot.com
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