Nathan Leslie
Errand

Since Shelley came home, she really can't bring herself to drive. Not only does her mother have heart arrhythmia, and need care and daughterly nurturing, but also there is the matter of fear and dread, or dread mixed with fear, or ambivalence, or whatever it is that makes Shelley's stomach curdle and her skin tighten at the thought of sitting behind the wheel and stepping on the peddle. Who knows why. Thank God for Milton Glencoe, who lives in her neighborhood, and agrees to drive her to work every day in exchange for gas and a hand to hold his coffee. Sometimes he doesn't even make her pay for gas, does he? He either feels sorry for her, or he forgets. One or the other. He is quite forgetful, which Shelley thinks must make him an excellent accountant, since that's the way accountants are supposed to be, isn't it?

Today there's a bit of trouble brewing, and Shelley can sense it as soon as she wakes up and walks down to the kitchen expecting her Saturday morning breakfast of pancakes and bananas and juice and coffee and the morning paper, which she won't read. But no breakfast. No mother. Shelley races back to her mother's room and discovers problem number one: Shelley's mother is out of her medication and she needs to get to the drug store--or Shelley needs to get to the drug store for her--so that mother's heart doesn't race or skip or slow down or do whatever it does that Shelley doesn't understand (although mother doesn't ever mind self-medication with a bottle of her finest), and so that her mother doesn't get a heart attack and die as a direct result of Shelley's sillyineptitude. Then Shelley would be all alone in the house, and then she'd have to cook dinner by herself, and then she'd have to clean toilet bowls and dust the little porcelain dolls and glassware, and change the dryer lint, and things like that, and she wouldn't want that, would she? Problem number two: it's Saturday. A snowstorm swept through the area yesterday, leaving the roads icy and slushy and snowy, and Shelley can't handle that, can she? If it was a Tuesday or something like that, Shelley could ask Milton to stop at the drug store on the way back from work, and then she could buy her mother's medication, and then everything would be hunky-dory. But it's Saturday. No Milton. No stop on the way back. No hunky-dory.

Shelley paces back and forth, pulling at her hair, pulling at her ears, grinding her teeth, grinding her hands together until they are white. What to do? She could give her mother a whole pot of coffee, and get her to drive herself to the store through the icy, snowy, slushy roads to the drug store to get her medication. But that means actually listening to her mother rant about modern inconvenience this and disgraceful pharmaceutical companies that (plus the pot of coffee might not be so good for the arrhythmia after all) for an hour in the snow, and ice, and slush, and Shelley doesn''t like hearing her mother's rants for any amount of time, and the car's the worst place for it since her mother insists on listening to the music of the Ancient Greeks (she has tapes), which sound atonal and garbled to Shelley's Debbie Gibson-bred ears, and plus the music gets her mother in the mood to watch the old tragedies on video, and Shelley can't stomach another viewing of The Orestria or whatever it's called with the guys in the funny mask (sans a bottle of mother's finest) no matter what. No. No mother in the car. No way. Shelley decides to call her Paulie. Big brother Paulie will know.

Paulie lives an hour away, and works as a computer technician for a retail store, and won't tell anybody what he does there, and lives in a one-bedroom efficiency in some lady's attic that smells like dead squirrels and decomposing mothballs. Shelley went to visit Paulie at work once. Paulie was behind the cash register scanning a high speed modem for a frowning woman standing next to a frowning man, standing next to a hyperactive four-year-old yanking computer magazines from the magazine rack with demonic glee and watching them slide over the store tiling until another mussed-hair computer technician picked them up. Funny how the adults ignored Paulie. Shelley was with Milton who needed a new high speed multi-task something-or-other and Shelley said maybe Milton could get a deal from her brother, who is a fancy computer technician an hour a way, and whose job is a big federal secret, and Milton smiled his bug-eyed smile and squinted at Shelley. It's not his fault he's legally blind, Shelley thought. Legally blind accountants with Coke-bottle glasses and bug-eyed smiles need friends too. And plus he drives her places. Paulie told them he was just "filling in." Emergency, he said. Yes, that's why he was behind the register. Normally, I'm in back doing lots of technical things, complicated technical things with computers and stuff. That's why he was wearing the orange and blue uniform scanning computer disks for unsmiling adults and their banshee children. It looked like an emergency, Shelley thought. My brother must be important. Then she thought, lots of people are cashiers, and they don]t just do it in emergencies, and then she wondered if Paulie was soooooooooo important why was he doing something as easy as scanning computer disks for unsmiling adults and their banshee children? Oh well, Shelley thought, such is life.

"Uhhhhhh," Paulie says.

"Paulie," Shelley says. "Ma's heart . . . I mean Ma, she
needs her pills."

"Who is this?" Paulie says.

"Shelley. Paulie, Ma."

"Ohhhhhhhhhh," Paulie says. "Pills."

Paulie isn't entirely there. Who is ever there though? Shelley is willing to cut Paulie some slack. Shelley asks if Paulie could drive an hour down there and go to the drug store and get mother's medication and race over to Mother's house and give the pills to her so she can give them to mother and then don't stay because Mother doesn't like you all that much, because you remind her too much of Dad, and you can't do anything about that--no not even you. Paulie asks how Mother can hate men if she has a son and had a husband before he ate one too many bacon cheeseburgers with a side of cheese fries and a milk shake and a fudge sundae (make it two) for dessert.

"Oh, you know what I mean, Paulie. Come on, I need your help."

As entertaining as it all sounded, Paulie says he can't. There_s snow on the ground and here in Maryland you don't drive when there's snow on the ground unless you have to give birth to a baby, or get to your job at the National Association of Aerodynamic Media Technologies where you sit at your desk and play pong with some fourteen year old in Bali, or unless you have a Lincoln Navigator or a monster truck that can climb fallen oaks much less snow. Shelley can't believe her ears. She pleads and begs Paulie to come, but Paulie asks her why she didn't do it herself--she's right down the street from the drug store. It's only a mile away. It's not that big of a deal. Shelley doesn't have a lot to say to that, and she knows he's right, and she knows she's being ridiculous, and she hangs up with Paulie and thinks long and hard about what to do, and then she calls Milton. She lets the phone ring and ring and ring and ring and ring, and then ring and ring and ring. Then she calls again and let it ring and ring and ring some more. She can hear Mother moan in the bedroom. Shelley knows she'll have to go at it alone. Shelley puts three pairs of pants on, four pairs of socks, five shirts and a sweater, two pairs of gloves, two winter hats, and she clomps out the door prescription, broom, and shovel in hand, and searches the car looking for the ice scraper. The snow has stopped. She cleans the car off, and shovels her car out, and scrapes the ice from the car, and she's ready to go. She pulls out of the driveway, and her feet are quivering, and her hands are quaking, and her face is tight and her blood is racing through her veins, and slowly she accelerates down the snowy road, to the stop sign, and turns right to the drug store. As she drives down the road she thinks this isn't so bad. I'm here in the car, and the car is moving, and the snow is moving outside, and I'm on my way. Yes, there are tall banks of snow by the side of the road. Yes, the road is slippery, and a bit dangerous. Yes, I've never done this before, and I'm only doing this now out of brute necessity. But I'm a big girl. I'm a big adult in a big adult world. And anyway, change doesn't happen, she thinks, unless it's induced. And then sometimes it is. It's okay, Shelley thinks. I'll go back home afterwards and drink a bottle of mother's finest and forget all about it.





Smash the Quiet

Let's just start with the physical shit first, okay? Just shut the fuck up and look at me. Look at me. I don't care if you're behind the wheel--look at me. I look like a motherfucking marsupial. I got these clamshell ears, and these roly-poly eyes, and this sticking-up-this-way-and-that-rooster-ass hair. You see any tits? See. No. See. What do you expect from a flat-chested tomboy? You think I could make it out here on Western Ave? You think any guy outside a blister-dicked junkie would fuck me? Yeah, could be I wouldn't succeed there, know what I'm saying? And I mean, if you ain't working at the stores, or busing tables down at Louie's or some bullshit like that, you got to sell your ass. And even then you ain't going nowhere unless you got something else on the side. This is my something else on the side, asshole. No, I don't do that. If you'll . . . If you'll listen, I'm telling you nobody put me up to it.

You think cause I'm this nineteen year old young thing I got to be pushed and pulled all around by some fat sugar daddy in a Benz. You got everything all figured out. You guys got conspiracy up your asses. Sometimes a person's just a person doing their own thing. That's me. I do my own thing. No. No. Like I said, I'll take you there, but it's a lost cause, man. There ain't nobody there for you to talk to. My dumb-ass parents got killed two years ago. Pickup truck fucked them up. There ain't nobody there to talk to. It's all right, you don't have to say anything. It was their dumb-ass fault. They got themselves splattered driving too fast. It was their fault. Forget it. Forget it. Yeah, turn right up here.

No, the Howards don't know me. It's all very laissez faire, know what I mean? Ilive in back, and they live in front, and they let me be. Because, man. Shit, they don't even know I exist. Literally. Unlike you motherfuckers who think I'm some kind of fucking charity case who needs some case worker in blue to help me out. I want to ram my fucking foot up the asses of all these do-gooders who say "I can save her, all we have to do is this and that." Why do you think nobody respects you guys down here? All you do is talk about this good-guy, bad-guy bullshit mentality, like this was some kind of fucking war movie. It ain't a movie. All right, all right, take a left up here and go straight until I say. It's okay. Nobody really thinks about that kinda shit in the first place.

Yeah well, what happened next is I just kinda dropped out for a while. I sure as hell wasn't about to go live with my great aunt Linda somebody or other out in Durango, and my parents didn't have no sisters and brothers and shit that they got along with enough to take me in. So here I am. No, they're all dead. You know, fuck that. I didn't want to take advantage of nobody--getting all in their business. I wanted to do it all on my own, you know? So I laid low for a while in the house, hiding out whenever a real estate person or a cop, or some insurance guy came by. Yeah, that's exactly what happened next. Foreclosure and I had to scurry. Fucking Howard kids everywhere, playing in the sandbox, hooting and hollering up and down the stairs. This was my yard and strangers were everywhere.

I'll tell you, I hid out in the shed. Fuck yeah, I was scared as shit. I was always a good girl, and I did my schoolwork no matter what, and I kept my nose clean, and there I was illegally hiding out like a convict. Except I didn't do anything wrong--yet. Okay, next light--no, not that one--the next one. Yeah, take a right.

You gotta understand, when I was back there I realized they didn't actually know the shed was part of their property. I guess the agent guy didn't get his facts straight. You'll see. It's tucked behind some nasty old bushes with broken glass down by the roots, and there ain't no fence there so it looks like it belongs to the Brown's next door. But it don't. I hid back in that shed, and then I started sleeping there. I have my pillow and blankets and shit, and some cans of this and that, and I'll sleep there and go about doing my thing, sneak back at night. Yeah, my thing. Yeah well, eat my pussy. I'm being fucking honest with you and you got to make some wise-ass crack. This ain't Dunkin' Donuts, motherfucker. Shut the fuck up and listen if you want me to talk.

So like I said, my parents were worm feed, so I decided if I wasn't going to go to school, I might as well start taking some action. Get a little payback. I would go into parking lots and hunt down any pickup truck I saw (just pickups), and then--yeah, you guessed it, asshole the windows. At first I just carried a brick wrapped in a couple shirts and I'd bang it into the windows real quick, and take off fast as possible. But the problem was it was still too loud. The thud would alert people that something was breaking, and I could only do one truck at a time. One day when the Howards were out I broke in through the window and snagged all the change I could, and I took myself down to the hardware store. I bought myself one of them glass-breaking hammers. You tap it once on a window and all the glass crumbles into a little pile on the inside. It just made me that much better. I could increase the fucking productivity, see? So I started doing two, three trucks before somebody would see me, or hear something and I'd have to take off. I was on a tear, doing twenty, thirty cars in a night. Read about "the pickup vandal" in the paper. Pretty soon I could barely go anywhere around here and find a truck that didn't have plastic on the window. People started saying the glass repair companies put the vandals up to it, or maybe the window plastic manufacturers. But it wasn't nobody but me. Thank you.

Then I started moving up in the world: I'd do car windshields. Anything. Fuck it. I fucked a whole lot of cars up out there. Yeah, I knew that. Yeah I didn't want to steal them. I didn't give a shit. I just wanted to get back at everybody, you know? Like I was some fucking terrorist. It gave me something back. People shouldn't drive so fucking much anyway.

No, fuck no. Why should I care what those people do. It's only an inconvenience to get a window or a windshield replaced, and the insurance covers it anyway, so fuck them. Think about it: I'm making a statement. It means, stop fucking killing people with your cars. I know a guy who just does mini-vans. He doesn't do that many of them, but it's like he hates what they stand for. Ask him, man. Anyway everything was fine until fifteen minutes ago. Yeah, thanks.

Why? If you want to know the truth, I was sick and tired of quiet. I wanted to smash the quiet. I don't know, when my parents went I guess the little voice inside me died. I would come back to the shed after nightfall, and crawl into the dark, and I'd have to eat green beans out of a can and a crusty heal of bread. The shed smelled like gasoline and mouse shit. When I slept mice would scurry around the shed, and climb the walls. Fuck it. I had a purpose. Yeah, turn left. Go straight until I say.

One day, I was out in Baltimore with my hammer. The road off to the side was notched, you know like they do when they're putting down asphalt. It was a sunny day and I was off to the left, and the shadows from the cars made them look like they were on stilts. On the shoulder I could see the glass in the asphalt glitter in the sun. I sat there and watched the shadows drive by. For a second I thought, maybe one way of fixing things would be to take pictures of it all, and just try to get somebody to look at something differently. But then it got dark, and I didn't see no beauty anymore, and I got back to business. Yeah, up there. Yeah, there's this is it. See. There's the shed. Yeah, that's what you might call it. This is what you wanted, right? You walk with me to the shed and I'll show you everything I got.