Aaron drives for Radio Cab and doesn’t get off work until late. He always says he’s going to take me star gazing out by the airport, but he never does. We always do the same thing: I wander off somewhere until the sun’s about to come up, and he picks me up and takes me to my apartment and we sit around and drink beers and smoke and I let him fuck me. Stars don’t impress me, anyway.
I like wandering. It’s better than sitting around in my apartment by myself staring at my stuff. Not that I have much stuff: old candles that I never light. Plants that I can barely keep alive. Stacks of DVDs I’ve watched over and over again.
My shift at Eddies ends at ten. It makes for a pretty short shift, but the tips are good. Every few days Eddie gives me some weed and I thank him and act like he’s doing me a big favor. I don’t even smoke weed because it makes me start to think about things I don’t like thinking about, and once I start thinking about getting fried to death or getting raped by wild animals all I can do is watch a rom-com to distract myself. Rom-coms depress me, but usually after I’ve watched Bridesmaids or Knocked Up I can at least go to sleep. Aaron always takes the weed anyway. I act like I don’t notice. I act like I give it to him.
I wander down Fourth Avenue and meet up with Mike at Roosters because it’s right down the street from Eddies. Mike and I have drinks, and I don’t tell him about Aaron or Downer Dave, and I don’t tell Aaron or Downer Dave about Mike or about each other or about anything really. Mike buys my drinks and tells me I smell like I’ve been deep-fried. I asked Aaron about that once and he said that maybe my clothes smelled like I’d been making burgers and fries all night, but the smell was different than if I’d actually been deep-fried. Then he sniffed my neck so hard I could feel my skin being yanked up into his nostrils, and he said I smelled faintly of sweet onions, which was one of his favorite smells. But I think he was just smelling what he hoped he was smelling.
Mike always pays for my drinks. He talks a lot, but he never stays out too late because he works for the city and has a family. He talks about things I don’t care about like hockey playoffs and parking meters. He complains about being lonely, but he lives with his wife and his baby daughter. That means he lives with two other people. Sure, one of them can’t talk and probably cries a lot, but if you have people around then being lonely is a choice you’re making and you can’t complain about it.
Mike goes home, and I finish my drink and walk a few blocks to the Brotherhood to maybe meet up with Downer Dave. The night I met Downer Dave he was anything but a downer. He put me on the handlebars of his bicycle and we darted down hills and scaled the skeletons of construction sites and watched the twinkling city from the Broadway Bridge. He had a gallon jug of Carlo Rossi, and we sipped from the bottle until our teeth turned brown. When he fucked me, I watched steel colored clouds pass by with stars that popped in and out. That’s how things were the first few times we hung out, but then he stopped texting me so much, and when we did hang out we’d just sit at the Brotherhood and then maybe go and sit by the river until he dozed off in the dirt. Now he just sits at the bar, huddled over a piss yellow draft of cheap beer. He wears a leather jacket whether it’s cold or not. I ask him how he’s doing. He sighs and swirls his pint around and mutters something about how he’s having a rough week. It’s like every week since I’ve known him he’s having a rough week because there are people disappearing around him like it’s the rapture and he wasn’t chosen. Or he isn’t going to make rent. Or his roommates don’t clean out the litter box. Or how can anything be good when there’s a pile of trash the size of Europe floating in the Pacific. Dave never asks me how I’m doing, and he never buys me a drink. I buy my own. Usually a vodka soda with a lime instead of a lemon. The only thing Dave ever says that is positive is when we’re in his car, and he’s going limp, and I’m spitting out the window, and he tells me that I’m the only thing in his life that makes him happy. The saddest thing is that after we’re finished I see a different world reflected in his eyes for just a second, and it is a happy one. I think I might have to ditch him.
After a certain time of night all the streetlights start to blink a sick sort of yellow. The streets get quieter while the insides of the bars get louder. I walk under the bridge and sit on the riverbank and throw stones and listen as they hit the black water. I like the way it sounds when the rocks hit the water. In my mind I watch them sink to the bottom of the river, to their new home, where they’ll probably stay for a long time. This feels like too much power to have, to put something somewhere else for a long time like that.
I text Aaron and he picks me up at the base of the bridge. I ride around with him for a while. Everybody he picks up is either drunk, or catching an early flight. If it’s the drunks, I pretend that Aaron and I are married, and when they ask me questions I make up stories about how Aaron and I live in the hills. Or about how we’re doing research projects for movies we’re going to make. Sometimes I stuff my jacket in my shirt and tell them I’m pregnant and due at any time, so I have to ride around with Aaron in case I go into labor. If it’s the people going to the airport I just sit there and I don’t really say anything and they never ask me any questions anyway.
At the Radio Cab garage, we trade in Aaron’s cab for his Subaru hatchback and go to my place. Aaron looks around my apartment like he’s never seen it before, but he slips out of his sleeveless denim jacket and tosses it on the couch like he lives here. We sit and drink a beer together. We smoke on the balcony. He leads me to my bedroom where we strip out of our clothes. He always treats me like a treadmill. Like as soon as he gets on he just wants to get off. When he starts yelling FUCK FUCK FUCK my mind wanders. I think about Eddies and grilling burgers on the flattop and how my fingers are so calloused that I don’t even need to use tongs to pull the onion rings out of the fryer basket. I wonder if the neighbors can hear Aaron while they’re starting their day. Making coffee and toast or whatever. He huffs away in my ear and I think about how I should go see mom up in Port Townsend, or move out of this neighborhood, or maybe do that nursing program I saw on the billboard on the side of the interstate. I think about Mike and Downer Dave and wonder what they do this early in the morning. I put them places: Mike’s making his kid breakfast and arguing with his wife about something I wouldn’t bother arguing about. Downer Dave is asleep in some dirt, having dreams about flying.
When Aaron finishes, he rolls off of me and goes into the other room and grabs a shaving kit out of his backpack and disappears into the bathroom. When he comes out he’s different. His eyes are glazed over and docile. It seems like if I reached out and touched him he would break. He leans in and pecks me on the cheek, grabs the weed off the dresser, and leaves. I lay out my Eddies clothes for the next day. Clothes I don’t mind getting grease all over or care if they smell deep-fried. I sit up for a while longer and drink a beer and have a smoke, and then I crawl into bed while the sun comes up. Before I fall asleep, I get up and open the blinds even though I’d probably sleep better with them closed. It just seems right to let the light in.
Grant Gerald Miller was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He currently teaches creative writing at The Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in various journals including Cease, Cows, Qu Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, and Fish Magazine‘s 2014 Anthology.