Photograph by Hannah Mattix
SOME KIND OF RECEPTACLE
by Bryant Musgrove
We got ourselves into this situation. Or, more appropriately, Mel got us into this situation - halfway over the mountain, amidst vast redwoods, we stopped to get some gas and she got out and shut the door. I looked at the night attendant, trapped behind cartons of cigarettes and unspooling rolls of scratcher tickets, and thinking about that bindle tucked into the ashtray and the poorly disguised package beneath some blankets in the trunk I said, “Our keys got locked.”
“Sorry?” He regarded me blankly.
“A little help?” I replied.
“So what do you want me to do?”
“I dunno ... Help?”
“I’m the night man,” he told me. “Not a car thief.”
Issue #46 soundtrack: You Won't "Television"
“Well, is there someone you can call?”
“Isn’t there someone you can call?”
I walked out. Mel sipped her soda, singing softly, leaned up against the station wagon. She had light brown hair, a mess of short tufts that darted in every direction, and a slim, boyish body with legs like flag poles sticking out of the bottom of her jean shorts.
“The fuck are you so happy about?” I barked.
“Nothin’.” She cast her eyes downward. I knew that I intimidated her, even though it was her brother who was the real criminal. Me? I was just some guy, a mule looking for the cheapest way to stay high. “What’d he say?” she asked.
“Won’t help. Or can’t. Or something.”
“So what’re we going to do?”
“How the fuck should I know? You’re the one who got out of the car.”
“Yeah ... But I’m not the one who left them there,” she said. The keys dangled from the tumbler, glinting in the shine from the overheads. I thought maybe I should smash the window, but technically the car belonged to her dad. “I needed a soda,” she said. “The burn hurt.”
I nodded, feeling my own drip. “Let me have some.”
She handed me the cup.
“What did you get?”
“A little of everything,” she said.
The saccharine syrup collected the crank clumped in my throat and sank. “You got any cigarettes?”
She glanced to her pack of menthols on the dashboard. I asked if she had any money, and she fished a beaded coin wallet out of the macramé purse dangling from her like a saddlebag. Her fingers rooted around inside, found a few crumpled bills. I walked back towards the convenience store.
“See if he has a coat hanger,” she yelled after me. “Maybe that’ll work.”
I ordered Camel Lights. The night man asked, “Any luck?”
“The fuck does it look like?” We exchanged money. “Matches?”
He shook his head. “Gotta buy a lighter. Not allowed to give out matches.”
I counted my change. “How much?”
“You got enough.” He took it. “You alright?”
“You mean, besides being locked out of the car?” I said.
“I’m just fucking dandy.”
“Just asking is all,” he told me. “Don’t need to be testy.”
“You got a coat hanger?”
“What? … Now I’m some back alley abortionist?” he snapped. I just stared at him. “Why you presupposing I’m a man who goes around carrying coat hangers? First you accuse me of being a car thief ... Some of us got honest jobs you know.”
“You got one or not?” I asked.
“Just the one attached to bathroom key.”
“Can I borrow it?”
“You got to go?”
“Then why would I give you the key?” I wondered if he could tell if I was high, if he was just fucking with me.
“My girl’s gotta go,” I offered. “How about that?”
He shoved it across the counter. Looking him in the eye, I untwined the hook and slipped the key ring off the wire.
“Hey,” he faintly protested.
Setting the keys down, I smirked.
Outside, Mel slurped away, sitting on the hood. “Now I gotta pee,” she said. “Being high always makes me want to pee.”
“Hold it.” I showed her the hanger. “You know what to do with this?”
“Yeah. My dad taught me. When I was in high school I used to lock my keys in my old car all the time.” She slid down on her ass, riding up the hems of her cut-offs.
“You’re cute,” I told her.
“Thanks,” she giggled. “Fuck, I’m really tweaking.”
“Me too. Good shit this time.”
“Yeah, we can be fucked for a week.”
“At least,” I said. “If we get this door unlocked.”
She fed the hook between the rubber and the window, angling for something to catch. The drip finished and I felt the speed catch up with me -– my toes tingled, hands rubbed my chin and tugged at the ends of hairs - and I felt urgently alive. I lit a cigarette to distract myself.
“Hey,” a voice called out. “No smoking by the pumps.”
I looked up to a couple of CHP officers walking away from parked cars. “Sorry,” I said, and stamped on the butt. The drug gripped my paranoia. I whispered, “Faster.”
“It won’t work.” She hadn’t seen them yet.
One of them split off and came around our car. Crowned by an ill-fitting cap, he looked like a squat blue box. “What’s a matter? Your keys locked in?”
“Yup,” I answered, watching Mel’s face turn from the door to the cop. Her hands did their best to stay tight around the hanger.
Intrusive eyes searched us, the car, the plates. “Do your parents know where you are?”
“We’re students,” I told him. “At the University.” Only half a lie - the year had ended without either of us telling our parents we’d quit and moved into a run down Queen Anne on California Street with some other drop-outs, sixth year philosophy majors, and a middle aged hippie couple who sold hemp bathmats.
“In the car.” My shrug suggested bad luck all around.
He laughed. “How old are you two?”
“Nineteen,” I answered.
“Eighteen,” she lied, smart enough to not give away that she was really a year younger.
“Alright,” he said, and went to rejoin his buddies gabbing with the night man, sipping on coffee.
Feeling bold, I stopped him, “Hey. You think you could give us a hand?”
His head shook no, but he said, “I could break the window. Will that help?”
We forced chuckles and then he left us and my heart pressed against the sides of its cage.
She went back to it, tiny tanned hands grasped the wire hanger, sliding it up and down, determined. Watching her rear wiggle while she worked, I forgot about the cops, the keys, the drugs, and thought only of what I wanted to do to her when this was done. After another bump of course.
“It won’t do it,” she said.
The patrolmen exited, coffees in hand. The short one stopped and looked to us again, and I wondered what the night man might’ve told them. Meth leaked from me - toxic pools of perspiration puddling armpits and the backs of my knees - its smell draping my neck in viscous sheets. Mel’s pupils dilated, her went breath short, and I did my best to beam signals to her brain that told her not to worry, not to freak out, that they didn’t know about the package, that they didn’t know about her brother out in Vacaville or the man down in Capitola we were supposed to deliver to.
Approaching us, the officer’s face disappeared beneath the brim. The deep shadows of the fluorescents seemed suddenly so harsh, but he only asked, “Any luck?”
“It’s not doing the trick.” I did my best to feign a normal man’s dismay.
“Well, we’ll call it in,” he offered, “and a tow guy will come with a tool. But you’ll have to pay him. Maybe wait awhile too.”
“Thanks.” She smiled, quicker than me to play along.
“Sorry we couldn’t do more.” He joined his partner in the cruiser, wheeled back into the mountain. I guess it helped that we looked like what we sold ourselves as.
“Jesus,” I said.
“I know,” Mel answered.
The tow guy showed up about an hour later; his arrival heralded by the deafening blast of a stereo reverberating from the tops of the trees. It took him less than five minutes with a tool that looked like a small flat crowbar.
Mel crawled across the driver’s seat. Those shorts drew our eyes like a beacon heralding lost sailors. The guy gave me a wicked grin as she popped the glove box. She counted three twenties off a stack of six or seven and he took the money, nodding. The explosion of tinny rock and roll continued as he disappeared into the woods.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked. I hadn’t known that she had any cash.
“Dad gave it to me when we stopped by the house.”
“How come you didn’t say nothing?”
“Why would I?” she asked. “He’s not your dad. It’s not your money.”
Shrugging, I slid back into the driver’s seat. “You coming?”
She stood still, entranced by moths dancing in the shafts of light. “What about the hanger?” She picked the mangled instrument up from the ground.
“Fuck the night man,” I told her. “Let’s boogie.”
As she came around the front of the car her body glowed incandescent in the headlamps, and she gave me a look of satanic glee that told me we both knew that she could be the death of me. She got in and said, “I’m scared and don’t wanna go down this mountain anymore and they’re my brother’s drugs so fuck Stevie and the delivery and let’s pull over and get a hotel with my money and get really fucking high and then maybe I’ll let you fuck me.”
So we found a cheap room off the next exit, and brought our drugs and cigarettes and displaced bodies and made a safe camp for the night. Mosquitoes swarmed us, and though our bodies were like roadside neon exclaiming ‘Eat Here!,’ they showed no interest in our poisoned blood, instead they landed on eyelashes like astronauts sent to inspect foreign worlds who could only report back that the conditions found were inhospitable.
She fed my nostrils noxious clumps with a pen cap, cut lines on the nightstand. The sound of clearing throats filled the room. And we tussled, nude but useless on top of the sheets, the drug speeding blood everywhere but my dick.
But eventually she said, “Higher.”
“We’ve gone and run through ours already,” I told her. Our bindle laid torn open, scraps of wax paper with no powder left to give.
Shimmying off the bed, she went to the table in the corner where the package lay half-heartedly hidden beneath our clothes and cut into it with the ballpoint of a pen.
“What about Stevie?”
“Fuck him.” She turned to me in the full glory of her nakedness, nodding to the bedside lamp. “Let’s smoke.”
So I unscrewed the bulb, cracked the conduit with the car key, and gently removed its filament. Then I went to the bathroom and rinsed clean the magnesium coating, drying it out with a hair dryer safety locked to the socket.
I brought the pipe to her.
“Higher,” she said again.
Light beat through a gap in the curtain. A thin string of saliva bridged us as I lifted my head from her breast. I felt husked.
“Fuck,” she said.
“Yeah,” I answered.
She took the bulb from the nightstand, its bottom covered in soot, and furiously clacked a lighter beneath it. A little was left. The crystals reduced to liquid, releasing their vapors. She exhaled a cool smelling smoke and offered it to me.
“Nuh-uh,” I replied. “I need to feel normal.”
She inhaled again.
I clumsily donned my clothes. “I need to eat.”
“Okay. Go do that.”
She shook her head. “Bring me some ice.”
The motel was a two-story, L-shaped structure that probably had been built and last really cared for sometime in the fifties. Concrete staircases adjoined either end, and our room felt stranded somewhat between them on the middle of the first floor. Only three other cars were in the parking lot. Strong sunlight forced me to squint, but I could see that the attached restaurant I‘d noticed when we pulled in appeared to have been long boarded up. A bell rang when I opened the door to the front office.
“Any food around here?” I asked the clerk.
He eyed me like a specimen. Embroidered words on his cap read ‘My Baby’s American Made,’ and the grayed bristles of his beard trembled while he spoke. “Down the road a way. Our diner’s closed ... Nobody stays here seems to eat anymore.”
“What about ice?”
“Machine’s broke, but if you hang on a sec I’ll get you some from a cooler in the back.” He disappeared behind a flimsy door, reappeared again. “You got some kind of receptacle?”
“A receptacle ... A bucket, kid. Or a cup or something?”
I shook my head. He grunted, and then returned with a yellowed, perspiring styrofoam cup, the half-melted ice within it forming a kind of slush. It felt cool and bathed my hand.
“You want a candy bar or something, there’s a vending machine around back.” And as I was almost out the door he reminded me, “Checkout’s ten-thirty.”
Halfway across the parking lot I was interrupted by a vision - a dirty angel, bare naked, bathed in morning light that danced through branches and crushed the earth below with long shadows. She stood in the window of the last room on the second floor, arms splayed and palms faced to the world in surrender. Amber tresses glowed. She looked new. She looked peaceful.
And then she launched headlong through the glass, destroying our moment of majesty. But the thing was, is that the door was right there, not a foot from the window. I rushed to her.
Up the stairs and out of breath, I found my angel lying on the landing, exposed for what she truly was - an old thing, mewling in a mess of her own making - a puddle of urine escaping what had just struck me as divine and now showed itself to be only as smelly and human as the rest of us. I stood dumbstruck while she wept.
“What in the fuck was that?” The clerk’s voice came from the bottom of the steps. “Oh,” he said, answering his own question once confronted wholly by the sight before us.
We both asked, “Are you okay?”
She had no answer.
“Don’t just fucking stand there, we’ve got to help her,” he told me.
Offering my cup, I brought the pooled ice to her lips. Beads dropped from the rim and broke against her forehead.
“Are you fucking retarded or something?” he asked.
“No,” I answered. “I’m just tired.”
He batted at my hand, knocking the water from my grasp. What little ice was left exploded on the ground, indistinguishable from the small defenestrated blades. I thought of Mel, still thirsty in our room. “C’mon,” he said, “we’ve got to get her up. Stop fucking around.”
We each grabbed a shoulder and lifted her to her feet. He delicately ran a hand down her saggy backside, brushing away the ground fragments, and stopped before he did the same for her front, eying her rosy nipples and strawberry pubic mat. He looked to me. I nodded that it was the right thing to do, lacking perversity, so his hands continued, tracing the curves of her body, freeing the sharp pebbles caught in the untamed curls of hair.
Her feeble sounds became shorter, choked expressions escaping from her throat.
“What now?” I looked to him for further instruction.
“God sure made you some kind of moron,” he told me.
“No,” I protested anew, “I’m just tired.”
Her speech returned: “He has a gun.”
Instinctively, I ducked beneath the guard of the shattered window. The two of them still stood. The clerk eyed me again with baffled bemusement. “There’s nobody there, kid.”
Peering over the precipice, I saw that her flight had shorn the opening totally. All its jagged remnants lay at our feet, except for a piece that had gouged into her left buttock. The gash matched her hair. I directed his attention to it.
“Jesus. That’s gonna hurt tomorrow,” he said.
“We gotta call someone,” I told him, not thinking through the implications of that statement.
“Yeah. We do.”
She whispered, “He’s a got a gun,” and her crying ceased.
I froze again.
“We should cover her,” he told me, handing me the key ring that had been clipped to his belt loop, supporting her with his other hand. “She’s higher than shit and she doesn’t know what the fuck she’s talking about. Go in there and get a blanket and then we’ll figure out what in the fuck it is we’re gonna do.”
The smell of cooking methamphetamine overwhelmed me as I came through the door. They must’ve been making a batch before whatever it was that had led her out the wrong way.
“Hello?” I called out, searching the room.
The mattress barren, I unraveled the quilt from a pile of bedding and clothing stuffed into the corner, and returned with it to the landing. We draped it over her shoulders, hiding her bare form from the cruel light and our prying eyes.
“Anyone there?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” I answered.
“Then go call 911. I’m afraid if I let her go, she’ll fall, and frankly you look only a shade stronger than she does.”
Embarrassed that he saw me so easily for what I was, I dutifully went to follow orders, but the telephone cord had been yanked free from the socket. Copper wire dangled from its end. The handset and the cradle lay separated too: the base under the window, bathed in broken glass, and the receiver near the jumble of bedding, on top of an overturned, half-burnt chair. The smoke alarm lay next to them, now just cheap circuitry freed from its casing.
“Hello?” I called out a second time, before venturing into the bathroom. A garbage bag overflowing with empty cold medicine packages rested in the corner, and the tub contained a partially solid browned sludge. The air reeked. A black revolver sat next to the running faucet. I stuck my head out the open window, barely large enough for me to fit through, and took in the two- story drop to the rear parking lot. Between the two of them, she had certainly chosen the easier exit.
I went back. “Phone’s broke and he’s gone. Out the back window, I think.”
“Okay,” the clerk responded, “Let’s get her inside and then I’ll go down to the office.”
We guided her in and sat her down on the bed.
“Jesus, what is that fucking smell?” he asked.
“Drugs,” I answered.
“This used to be a nice place. Families used to stay here.” He stared at me. “Wait here. I’m going to call the cops and an ambulance.”
The woman just gasped with short, worried breaths.
“You okay?” I asked her again.
She said nothing.
“Alright,” I said, and headed down the stairs and around the back of the motel.
Looking up at the open window, I thought about how much the man’s leap must’ve hurt. A parked car was down some way from me and a chain link fence abutted the rear of the lot, about as tall as my neck, covered in part with green vinyl siding.
A voice rustled in the bushes on the other side, “I didn’t do nothing.”
“I didn’t say you did,” I said, crouching to peer through a gash in the vinyl. A man, naked too, his body covered in bristles of black hair, tried to hide.
“I didn’t do nothing,” he repeated.
“If you didn’t do nothing, why’re you hiding then?”
“‘Cause I’m naked.”
“Why you both naked?”
“It keeps the stink off,” he replied.
I thought about their clothes in the pile. It wasn’t enough to just not wear them.
He forced himself to his feet. I guessed he was about 50, and though mostly bald, wild curls leapt from patches on his scalp. One hand kept to his face. The other dropped to his crotch. “Don’t be looking at my dick.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Had a fight. Shit wouldn’t work. She kept yelling.”
“I know how that is.”
“You don’t know shit.”
“Guess I don’t,” I told him, “but I still have my pants. Didn’t jump out a window neither.”
“Yeah,” he agreed.
“What’s your name?”
“The fuck you care? Did you call the cops?”
I shook my head. “Just curious is all.”
“Hey, Gary, I’m Ben.”
“Hey,” he said.
I thought that he must be cold. Though the sun was out, a cool chill still hung in the air, and his sallow skin was prickled by goose bumps. He started to amble closer. “Maybe I can help figure out what you’re going to do,” I said.
“I didn’t do shit, I told you that.” He dragged his left foot in a limp, and his right hand joined its partner in covering himself. “Don’t look at my johnson,” he snapped. “You some kind of fag?”
“No. I ain’t some kinda fag.”
“Okay.” He reached the other side of the fence and we stood face to face. “You got a cigarette?”
I shrugged. My pack was back with Mel. “Sorry.”
The clerk rounded the corner. “I fucking told you to-” He stopped short when he saw the other man.
“This is Gary,” I introduced them.
“Oh,” he replied. “Well ... They’re going to be here in a few minutes.”
“Who’ll be here? You didn’t tell me you would call the cops. Fuck. Shit.” Gary turned, staring out into the massive, dark woods past the shrubbery. His bare ass clenched, evincing pain.
The clerk stopped him. “I think that foot’s broke.”
“I think so, too,” he replied, poking at it gingerly.
“Where you going to go anyway?” the clerk asked. “There ain’t nothing there but trees.”
“Plus, you’re naked,” I added.
“Fucker. I’m fucked,” he raged, and completely still, muttered for a beat. Then he started, darting first to the left, then to the right, the lame foot dragging behind. For a few feet it looked like he might try to keep going, try to disappear into the redwoods, but then he stopped, growling, hurt. “Yep. I’m fucked,” he admitted. Turning back to us, he continued to cup himself. “How’s Angie?”
“A few cuts is all,” the clerk responded. “She’ll be all right once she comes down from whatever the fuck it is you all are on.”
“I love her,” he said, and regarded us for a moment. “You all see the bathroom?”
“Yeah.” The clerk looked at his watch.
“Well, fuck it then. I’m fucked.” He dragged himself back to the fence. “I’m fucked, aren’t I?”
“I’d say it looks like it,” the clerk answered. “If I were a betting man.”
“Fuck,” Gary said. His hands dropped to his side. His small, uncircumcised member shrunk in the brisk air, curling inwards, retreating into his balls like the head of a turtle.
I realized then that I’d been wrong in my reappraisal of Angie. she was my dumb angel and she brought with her the grace of knowledge that this is what happened when life really went wrong: you fell through glass and landed on concrete. I thought about Mel, stranded in our room, sucking on that light bulb.
All of us were trapped, waiting to be filled by something.
Gary looked at me, his fingers scratching gums. “I’ve got problems man.”
“I’ve got problems, too,” I said, “but I’ll agree that yours are worse than mine.”
Bryant Musgrove has been published in the Washington Square Review and on Volume 1 Brooklyn. He grew up in Southern California and now lives in Brooklyn, NY, where he is working on a book and a screenplay.
Hannah Mattix was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. She currently lives in New York City, where she works as a freelancer for Time Out New York and the New York Observer, and as a staff photographer for Prefix Magazine. Visit her online portfolio at hannahmattix.com.
You Won't is Josh Arnoudse and Raky Sastri, two Massachusetts natives who have been making things together since 1999. From 2003 to 2008, they conspired to produce a series of strange and little-seen movies while Josh attended college in Western Massachusetts and Raky gigged around NYC with a number of different bands. You Won’t was born in late 2010, when the two friends willfully marooned themselves in the woods of Eastern Massachusetts (for the second and third time, respectively) to record a number of Josh’s songs. Their full-length debut, Skeptic Goodbye, released February 14th from Old Flame Records. Visit the band online at youwontyouwont.com.