by Dennis Hiatt

At age thirty  I came to the conclusion that life was a
painful event that I had very little control over. If one 
gave up smoking, ones live-in girl friend of three years
would move out because she was in love with a Mexican
delivery boy who smoked.  If, on the other hand, one got so
drunk that one pissed ones pants, and still managed to pick
up on the beautiful girl in the motorcycle jacket, one would
wake up missing all his money and his Visa card would be
happily breeding in the next state. (Oregon)
     This may not be the story of everyone's life, but it is
my story. One night, about a week after Rhonda dumped me, I
smoked a little killer bud and this ying and ying of pain
seem to stretch before me like an interstate road map.  Red
lines of the main roads, blue for the secondaries, dots for
the towns, dots with circles for the cities and stars for the
state capitols.
     Good, I thought, one can read a map. One might not like
the towns, but one can know where one is going.
     So simple. So beautiful.
     We will go forth.  We will haunt the edge.
     The next day I sold the Russian icons my grandfather had
left me and bought a 1986 Toyota. I also bought a .38 police
special, a kilo of bud, a Micky Mouse watch, two Siamese
fighting fish and a tank to keep them in.
     I quit my job and picked up some odds and ends of drugs.
     I would now leave San Francisco and travel the map.  I
sat in the brown car and stared at my Rand McNally with red
eyes.  I could sail west to Reno. I might slip south to LA.
Or...I could cruise north to Seattle.
     Or, I chuckled and took a deep, hot hit of blasting bud,
I could go to Portland. Ah yes, the place where California
State Troopers are bred. The town where a hot tub is what you
take to the senior prom and the ballet has a happy hour.
     I exhaled and nodded to the Siamese fighting fish. One
of which was awfully dead. Mayhaps I shouldn't have let them
play together.
     Whatever. I scooped Mel out a tossed him on the
sidewalk. Rhonda nodded back, so I took another hit and
coughed, "Far out. Let's go."
     After a little LSD Rhonda and I rapped psychically as we
drove up Interstate 5.  Sometimes we'd just watch the trees
and shit fly by or groove on a tune on the radio, but mostly
I smoked bud and she tried to explain about healing crystals
and Politically Correct. In that respect Rhonda was a lot
like my ex-girl friend, who was her name sake.
     When we crossed the California/Oregon border, I had this
vivid image of sleeping bags filled with human bones. I shook
my head and the scene would not go away.  The woods must be
full of dead campers, hitch hikers, run-a-ways, and black
teenage whores. Rhonda nodded. They didn't recycle.  They
didn't eat organic veggies.
     All of them? I coughed down a bong hit.
     Rhonda shrugged. Her fins were very beautiful when she
shrugged, but fighting fish can lie.
     Not a healing crystal in the bunch? Rhonda's tail
flicked and I felt the car edging into the gravel on the
shoulder of the road. I straightened the car out.
     You'll see, Rhonda smirked. Red lines, blues lines...all
white lines.
     That reminded me of the coke in the glove box. However I
would not pull over. In my mind I could see a blue/grey
sleeping bag. It looked just like mine and it was wiggling.
     I did stop in Grant's Pass to gas up and piss. I pulled
in to an Exxon station. The car in front of me had a bumper
sticker that read; SHIT HAPPENS.
     Shit does happen, but I didn't need to be reminded. I
yelled fill-er-up to the brown gas jockey and went to the
john.  It was clean and I washed my face and my hands. The
sleeping bag quit wiggling.
     When I got back to my car, the pump jockey was inside my
Totoya wiping down Rhonda's tank. He grinned at me. "Sure
does smell nice in here."
     "Fish are like that." I shrugged and handed him money.
     "Using the seat belt on the fish tank...aint that
special."  His grin was not friendly. I could see sleeping
bags wiggling in his soft, sly, brown eyes.
     I adjusted the rear view mirror and started the brown
car. He stared at me. I grinned. "You kill many whores this
     He shook his head. "You?"
     "See you in the forest, " I smiled as wide as the grill
on a truck. "Deep, deep in the forest baby."
     He wasn't smiling or grinning when I drove off. Mexicans
have no sense of humor, I thought.
     Rhonda said, take the coast highway. I want to see the
     The suns going down, I said. I wasn't falling for fish
trickery. I was on a red line heading for a circled, red dot.
     Your cokes history, she smirked.
     I checked the glove box. It was still there. We didn't
talk again until I pulled into Portland at midnight.  At
least Micky Mouse said it was midnight.
     I parked at a restaurant named Quality Pie.
     Rhonda said, Leave the engine running or I'll freeze.
     Sure, I agreed. The micro dot was wearing off and I was
finding it harder to relate to Rhonda. However the bright
lights of this northern restaurant stimulated my thyroid or
something more vulgar and I was buzzing like a fly against a
window pane by the time I made it to a booth.
     A chili dog and coffee, I barked to the welfare mother
in an Oregon pseudo Nazi black skirt and black tie who took
my order.
     As her fat thighs dragged away, I looked around this red
dot with a circle.
     In the next yellow leatherette booth, staring right at
me was a rather odd young woman. She was darkish. She had
large lips and kind of bottle opener front teeth. She was
smiling. She was also wearing a shirt that read: you can't be
first, but you can be next.
     Next for what I wonder.
     Sex you asshole, Rhonda intoned from the Toyota.
     Oh, I smiled back and said, "Nice shirt."
     From the warmth of the car Rhonda laughed. Cover a frog
with sugar and you'd eat it, wouldn't you?
     "Thanks." The young woman shook her head ever-so-
slightly. "You looked really ripped."
     I stared at her breasts. "Huh, you looking for a date?"
     She chuckled rather sourly. "No and I'm not into
watermelons either."
     I realized she was an African American and that her
smile was not friendly. "Oh." Said I.
     "You a computer geek? I mean you look like you'd have to
buy sex."
     I shrugged. "I don't smoke."
     "Not cigarettes maybe." She agreed.
     The Nazi Welfare mother brought my coffee and a sickly
glass of ice water.  She was young and her eyes were a pale,
dead blue. "I just pulled in from Califoria. " I offered up
wondering if that would cost me my life.
     She nodded. "I got my masters at UCLA."
     "Oh." I said, knowing she was lying.
     "You want to hear a weird story?" The girl in the next
booth asked. But now she was in my booth. She had nice black
hair. It looked very strong and alive.
     Her eyes lit up like a child sweating bullets on
Christmas morning.  I liked her.
     "I moved here last week and I was like way broke."
She paused. "You know what I mean?"
     "I really like your hair." I smiled to show I meant it.
Fish cannot smile you know.
     "Hey, try and hold it together. Will you?" She seemed
kind of happy that I was at loose ends. "We're both new in
Portland. Okay?"
     I nodded.
     "Okay, so I was digging through the papers to find a
share-rent gig and I came across this housesitting thing at
an art gallery."
     I smiled. It was kind of like talking to Rhonda, only...
I don't know...more real maybe.
     She smiled back like she was about to tell me something
she'd only share with a friend. "Only it wasn't an art
gallery. It was like a house. They had these black velvet
things in the front room. I mean," she leaned forward looking
very intense and really sexy, "this was where junk pop art
went to die."
     "A fighting fish grave yard...so to speak?" I rallied to
hold up my end. Rhonda was ominously silent. But she might
have just been interested in the story.
     "Hang in there." The young woman said, really meaning
that I should shut up. The chili dog showed up. We both
looked at it. It did not look happy. When the UCLA waitress
was out of human earshot, she went on. "So the deal was here
is this father and son. The old guys name was Simon and the
kids name was Sunspot. And I'm to get free rent just to look
after the place while they're looking for more paintings."
She stopped and looked at my food.
     I forked a nibble and she went on. "Okay, the first
night Sunspot, who's about thirteen and a dropout starts
scratching at my door like at three in the morning and he's
whispering: `bring your lovers home.' Is that weird or what?"
     I nodded, though it seems a reasonable request to me.
     "So, after three nights of this scratching and
whispering bullshit, I think I'd better have a talk with
Simon and tell him to jerk ol' Sonny's ass into shape, but
tonight at eleven, here's the fucking scratching again and
`Bring your lovers home.' and this time it's not the kid but
its the old man.  I climbed out my window and hauled my butt
down here."
     "My name's Mel. Want this chili dog?" Man I knew I was
in a red dot with a red, red circle. I'd read that damn red
map right.
     "Thanks." She took my fork and pulled the dead dog to
her. "Mine's Mable."
     "Nice name." I grinned.
     Between mouthfuls she grinned back. "You must be really
     I shrugged. Rhonda said Help!  Screw you, I thought
back, but I said. "Uh, I gotta go check on my car."
     Mable scarfed down the last bean. "Hang on. I'll go with
     Leaving a penny tip, I paid the cashier while Mable
gathered up her things. Two big green/grey bags of things. A
lot to take out a window I thought. Her teeth looked rather
sharper than they'd first seemed. Then in a rush it hit me.
I'd left my fucking car running in a parking lot in a strange
and cold town.  What bad drugs, my drugs were turning out to
     It was raining when we stepped outside. I found the car
where I'd parked it. True it's windows were fogged up, but it
was still there. Mable looked at the car and shook her head.
     "Are you okay, Mel?" She was still shaking her head.
     I got behind the wheel. Mable opened the passenger door
and saw the fish tank. Rhonda was strangely quiet. "Get in."
I said.
     Mable heaved her bags into the back seat, and slipped in
past the fish tank to sit next to me. I handed her the bong
and pulled slowly out of the parking lot. She fired up the
bong and handed it to me at the first red light.
     I don't know how long we prowled the dark, wet, glassy
streets of Portland, but I found no map within the dot. The
rain was soft and dripped from the many tall, leafy trees
which lined the old streets. The brown Toyota was warm and
steaming.  Rhonda slept and Mable and I did not talk, until I
pulled up to a shadowy park.
     "This is good shit Mel." She was looking at the wet,
dark trees.
     I nodded. Micky Mouse said it was 2:00 AM.  I felt lost
and cold. I could coke up, but why? Mable was leaning on me.
I could feel her breast on my arm. "Tired?" I asked.
     "You running from yourself too?" She replied.
     I was stoned but the micro dot was flushed from my head
by time and the black, night air. I took her hand. "I
wanted..." My voice trailed off.
     "Tell me where you live."
     She shook her head. "Yeah. Right. Take home my lover."
Mable took her bags and got out of the car. She walked across
the wet grass into the dark trees. I turned off the car's
engine and at some point went to sleep and dreamed of
sleeping bags.
     I woke up to a raw sun come up over the horizon. It cast
the long shadows of the new day like a white washed picket
fence across my Toyota. Four kids with spiked food colored
hair and black, leather jackets came out of the trees like
baby devils.  I started the car. The fish must be as cold as
hell by now.  One on the kids rapped on my window. He looked
sick.  "Hey Man," He yelled through the window. "There's a
dead chick in the trees."
     "Shit happens, call a cop." I said and took out the road
map.  Breakfast and the bong could wait. I needed to get out
on the road. I needed to know where I was going, because soon
there would be cars with flashing red and blue lights here in
this savage park on the edge of the smell of shit.