The Melancholy of Darby James by Jim Heskett

She seemed pensive, and I loved that about her. Every sigh, toss of the hair, dip of the eyelids…. every movement was another facet of the melancholy mystique of Darby James.

I saw her for the first time that day in detention, senior year. She had transferred from another school, and although I’d heard her name, no one else knew anything about her. I watched her from across the room, her pale skin and black hair contrasting the violent red choker necklace perched just above her collarbone. She had black lipstick and eyeliner, a grey shirt and black pants so baggy that she could have smuggled half of Mexico across the border. We called those kids Goths.

She was sitting at the desk with her head cradled in one hand, sleeping. Sleeping was against the detention rules, but skilled students made an art form of creative ways to sleep undetected. The unskilled– kids we called Posers– would always do something stupid and attract attention, like snore or drool or give themselves away in some other clumsy way.

I was in detention for my chronic lateness to first period. My little brother had some problems, so getting him ready for school was a daily struggle, and… these are all just excuses. I didn’t get up early enough.

I watched her sleep, her little upturned nose flaring with each inhale, and I fell in love, partly out of the stark boredom of detention, partly from a sense of mystery attached to the new girl in school. My parents tell me I’m insightful and self-aware, so I know these kinds of things.

Plus, I liked that she wouldn’t catch me lurking, as long as her eyes remained shut.

After the never-ending hour finally was over, and we all collected our belongings to leave the room, I waited and observed Darby. I was trying to think of an inlet to spark a conversation with her. At first, nothing came, but I followed her out of the room anyway.

My brain was screaming that it had to be here and now, in proximity to our shared detention experience. I might not get a better opportunity.

“Darby,” I said, struggling to catch up with her in the hallway.

She squinted at me. “What up, gangsta?” she said. Strange way for a melancholy girl to talk. Also, I noted that she didn’t say or ask my name. No matter, I pressed onward.

“How about that detention?”

She smirked at me as if she weren’t sure if I was being serious. “Yeah… how about it?”

I blanked. My opening line, as bad as it was, had been the only ammunition I brought with me. What came out next was complete improv. “Do you, um, know where I can get some pot?” It was a gamble, but I thought I might as well go for it.

Her head whipped around in a circle and her eyes darted in every direction. She frowned. “You wanna say that a little bit louder?”

“Sorry,” I said.

She came closer, cinching her pink Hello Kitty backpack over one shoulder. Standing a full head shorter than me, the way her pupils drifted to the top of her eyes as she looked up at me sent a tiny rumble through my body.

“You need some of the sticky?”

“Yes,” I said. I didn’t though. I’d never smoked pot in my lifetime. Smoking pot was for the kids who hung out behind the grocery store before school, seats reclined and windows cracked as streams of gray leaked from the car like a pot of rice steaming. That she would be involved in that lifestyle was just a random guess, based on the gigantic pants. Seemed fitting.

“Okay,” she said, and then she ducked into the empty side hallway, among the lockers. She crooked a finger towards me and I followed.

“How much do you need?” she said.

Panic. I had no idea of the standard units of weight when it came to purchasing marijuana. Pounds? Grams? If so, how much? Maybe you buy it in joints? How many is a reasonable amount?

“Um, not much,” I said. Better to say nothing and have people think you’re a retard than open your mouth and confirm you’re a retard. I read that somewhere.

“Like an eighth?” she said.

“Yeah, exactly. An eighth would be great,” I said.

She scanned our surroundings again, then unzipped her backpack and dug her hand into it. “Just so you know,” she said. “All my eighths are weighed without the bag, so you get the full three point five grams. Comes out to five grams total with the bag. Those guys who weigh it at three-five with the bag, they’re super sketchy. I don’t roll like that.”

“Yeah, that’s totally a crappy way to do business. I appreciate it,” I said. An eighth of an ounce. Starting to make sense now. I loved learning about the drug world from Darby James.

She produced a rolled sandwich baggie full of something green and dense. She held her hand in place, not offering it to me. She was waiting. “Twenty bucks,” she said.

“Oh, right,” I said, and pulled out my wallet. I gave her my last twenty dollar bill. I had intended on using it to buy the new Dr. Dre CD, but I think Dre would understand that sometimes, you have to spend money to impress women.

She held the baggie low and pressed it into my hand. The contents seemed incredibly light for twenty dollars, but I had nothing to compare. I started to unwrap my purchase, and she slapped my wrist. She touched me.

In a shout-whisper, she said, “What in the hell are you doing?”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, and slipped the baggie in the pocket of my jeans.

“Seriously, dude, you never know who’s going to come strolling around that corner.” She then tilted her head and narrowed her eyes, as if she were studying me.

More panic. I was about to be discovered as a Poser, so I started inventing ways to explain myself. Was I just checking it for quality? No, that might seem rude or distrustful. But maybe she wouldexpect me to be distrustful, given what she told me about some unscrupulous dealers who counted the weight of the bag with the marijuana.

“I was just… um…”

She rolled her eyes and giggled, which struck me as strange. The pensive, melancholy mystique I had conceived for her clashed with giggling. “Alright, I gots to go,” she said. “Enjoy. Let me know when you need more.” She slipped her backpack over her shoulder and turned towards the glass doors at the end of the hall.

I watched her walk away, the bottoms of the pants shuffling along the recently-waxed floor. Instead of saying “if” you need more, she had said “when” you need more. She was planning on seeing me again. My heart thumped in my chest.

***

At home, I went to my room, locked the door, and stuffed the bag of marijuana into the toe-end of one of my stuffy dress shoes. I hadn’t worn those shoes since grandma Hazel’s funeral, so I figured them a safe hiding spot. But the problem was that I could still smell the marijuana from five feet away, so I retrieved my dirty gym shorts from the laundry and tossed them on top of the shoes. Problem solved.

I went to sleep that night pondering the choker necklace at Darby’s throat, how it amplified the tendons and veins in her neck whenever she turned her head. Also how the ends of her chin-length hair curled slightly outward, like a row of commas. Would I see her tomorrow? I hoped I would see her tomorrow.

The next day, I got up extra early and got my brother off to school in record time, in the hopes that I might catch Darby before class.

Seniors were allowed to park either in the main lot or behind the school in the backup lot. The back one was next to the chain link fence, which was technically off-campus, so that’s where the smokers gathered. I made an educated guess that I would find her smoking at the fence line, so I parked in the back lot.

The rough and tumble crowd flashed some stink-eye at me as I made my way through their tobacco-stained ranks. I played varsity basketball, which essentially precluded me from smoking, and they all knew it.

And then I found her, sitting alone in the grass wither her back resting on the fence, at the outer perimeter of the smokers’ line. She was wearing a long black dress, with a cigarette in one hand and a book in the other.

“What are you reading?” I asked.

She closed the book and smiled at me. Now that my opinions on her melancholy image were evolving, I loved to see her smile. “Trainspotting.”

“Never heard of it,” I said.

“It’s awesome. Did you need some more of that sticky?”

Did I? Is one evening enough to smoke an eighth of an ounce? I didn’t want to seem like some kind of marijuana junkie. Plus, I was broke.

“No, I just wanted to say thanks,” I said. “It was really killer stuff.” I had no idea if killer was a word you might use, but I had to say something.

“Join me,” she said, patting the grass next to her. Right. Next. To. Her.

I sat down, so close that the fabric of her dress brushed against my knees. “Turn in a little bit towards me,” she said, “so all these moochers can’t see. I’m not sharing with everyone today.”

I angled myself to face her. I was practically vibrating from the possible outcomes of the next few seconds.

She took a small wooden box from her purse. It was the size of a pack of cigarettes, with some kind of tribal carving on the front. She held it out to me. “This is to say thanks, because not too many people buy from me yet. Getting started in a new town is rough, you know?”

“Sure,” I said, accepting the box.

“It’s not the same stuff I sold you. This is some special skunk weed I got in New York over the summer. Seriously head-trip shit.”

I turned the box over in my hands, baffled as to what I was supposed to do next.

“Go ahead,” she said. “You can have the first P.H.”

I studied the box more closely. Instead of being one solid block, the top was a separate piece. I dragged my thumb across it and the wood slid to the side, revealing two chambers within. One chamber was dark, but the other contained some kind of metal stick, which must have been spring-loaded, because it popped upwards when I slid the cover away from it.

“You okay there, chief?” she said.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m just… I just haven’t…”

She raised an eyebrow. I needed to figure this thing out, and quickly.

The stick was a cylinder, the size and shape of a cigarette. A hole ran straight through it, and one end was concave, with a hollow the size of a pinky-nail. I turned it over in my hands.

“Are you going to load that pinch-hitter, or what?” she said.

Ahh, okay, it’s some kind of straw-like, miniature marijuana pipe. Using my keen powers of deduction, I surmised that the other, larger chamber contained this skunk weed she had mentioned, and I was to insert that stuff into this thing. But I had no idea how to do that.

My heart raced. I knew I was about to blow it.

I held the box over my hand, tapping the sides to shake some of the marijuana into my cupped palm as if tapping a ketchup bottle.

“What in the hell are you doing?” she said.

I was speechless. She tilted my hand and poured the little green chunks from my palm back into the chamber, and took all of these strange objects from me. “Have you never used a dugout and pinch-hitter before?” she said.

I didn’t answer, just sat, dumbfounded. She held the pinch-hitter in one hand, the box (“dugout,” apparently) in the other, and ground the concave end of the pinch hitter into the large chamber of the dugout. When she pulled it out, the hollow was packed full of the green stuff. With that, the whole process made complete sense. Stupid, stupid me couldn’t see the obvious.

She passed the pinch hitter and a lighter to me. I stared at it. I twisted the tube in my fingers. Terror welled inside me.

“Um, are you having some kind of mental breakdown or something?”

I stared at her, knowing that any chance of ever getting a date with her had just evaporated before my eyes. I was so full of despair that I had to come clean, but the words leaked from my mouth in a dibble.

“No,” I said. “I just…”

I could tell she was growing impatient. “Spit it out, dude,” she said.

“I like you, okay? I wanted to talk to you and I didn’t know what to say.”

She put her hand over her mouth and laughed. Seemed like a cruel response to my confession. I struggled to keep my lower lip from trembling, but I seemed unable to look away from her.

She must have noticed the puppy-dog hurt in my eyes, because she placed a hand on my knee, abruptly becoming empathetic. “Hey now,” she said. “It’s not like that. You’re just not exactly my type.”

This wasn’t helping. “Not your type? I know I’m not the best looking guy at school, but…” I tried to hide the disappointment on my face, but the heat-needles of embarrassment below the skin of my face were multiplying.

She laughed again. “No, it’s not like that. You don’t get it, do you?” Then she leaned in close, her pale face only inches away from mine. “I’m gay, home-slice. My type is the people that don’t have penises.” She sat back and studied me. “You’ve never smoked pot or done any drugs at all, have you?”

I shook my head.

“And you bought a twenty-bag just so you could ask me out?”

“That was the plan,” I said, barely above a murmur.

“You still have that eighth?”

“It’s at home, in my dress shoe.”

She sighed. “Bring it back to me tomorrow, and I’ll give you your money back.”

I nodded solemnly. I was disappointed, but more than that, I was confused. Why was the prettiest girl in school a lesbian? And how could I have been so wrong?

“And, dude, a little word of advice: doing all this crazy shit just for effect… that never works out. You’ll always get caught.” She struck the lighter and inhaled through the pinch hitter. Holding in her breath, she said, “Slow your roll with the drugs, too, unless you know what you’re doing. Weed’s not so bad, but you start dicking around with the hard shit, and everything changes. Trust me.”

She pushed a cone of sweet-smelling smoke from her lips. I pretended my shoelaces needed tightening.

“I gotta go,” she said. She stood up, slipped the dugout into her purse, and patted me on top of my head. She bounced along the fence line, with her heavy Doc Martens boots trampling the grass and her black dress fluttering behind her.

Ten paces away, she whirled and blew me a kiss. The bright smile across her face was the last thing I saw before she abandoned me at the fence that morning. I stared at my hands and realized that Darby James, my beautiful Goth lesbian, had nothing melancholy about her. And now I was late to class.


Jim Heskett is a writer of short and long fiction, blogger, photographer, musician and an experiential enthusiast. He lives in the shadow of Colorado’s Flatiron mountains, and encourages you to visit www.jimheskett.com for more stuff.