My name is Austin. I’m a police detective. I live in the dirtiest city in America. A place so filthy and completely vile that the trash won’t stick to the streets.
This is my journal, and tonight will bring a historic entry – the last I’ll ever write.
The lake blows cold. Tomorrow it could all change. Sun and humidity will defrost you quick. Downtown mostly abandoned tonight. Too cold even for the dealers and the hookers.
Probably all hiding in the park, under the trees – the only expanse of anything that can be considered green. Fighting for space between highways three decades or more out of date.
Rusting commuter train bridges so blurred against the greater landscape they’re invisible to the taggers. A twisted junkie’s arm, flexing people and information back and forth, day to day up a narrow pass between the hillsides that block the high-rise tombstones from a valley filled with rotting embers of sodium-vapor light. Cutting away from the beach and once grand homes killed off by the storm, erosion and lack of willpower to put it all back together one last time.
A rock tendril at its tip – so this is the spine-knot of the great fish that swallowed Jonah whole? We let it sneak in too close. Who wants to switch the lighthouse back on and shine any light on the feast? As if such hellish jaw-work would be rendered upon us any less effectively in too late arc-light splendor.
I work out of city police central downtown. She could never understand why I didn’t request a transfer. I never could either.
A place is defined by the dreams, or lack thereof, of who decides to make it their home. It breathes or chokes depending on who’s carrying the fire to the gathered masses.
How could I turn my back on such wild desperation? Considering that we ate the torchbearers long ago. Such lovely perversions make brick of our mud huts. Despair isn’t the enemy, it’s my constant companion and it has never once walked out on me – not once. It’s the only thing that keeps me cold at night when it’s too hot to sleep.
I’m told by my department therapist that my job is stressful. She’s the one who suggested that I write down my thoughts so I could organize and keep track of them.
I’ve traditionally had a difficult time focusing on my own day to day activities. My brain only seems to light up when I’m working. Outside of that, I’m barely able to remember to shower. I forget to eat.
I would forget that I was married. I would forget that I made all those soap opera promises to another human being and that she, I suppose justifiably so, expected me to deem them important. So this is why I have to take better care of myself mentally, even though emotionally I’ve pretty much bled out. It was a slow ooze, the Maker’s Mark does what it can to replace the loss of blood, but it’s a transfusion of desperate proportion.
So yeah, I forgot all about her when she was around. I don’t have much trouble remembering her now that she’s gone.
Cheap Christmas lights and decorations. Bored, tired single mother bartenders wearing soot stained Santa hats. A masking of the dread which threatens to literally rip the walls off the place.
I am wandering through lots of cops, uniformed and plain clothed alike. This is their general hang-out. A dangerous mixture of confusion, drunken revelry, and outlooks on right versus wrong. It’s a frontier border town full of bounty hunters who know that no matter how many villains they beat down and toss over their saddles to drag back to civilization that it’s just never going to cleanse the frontier.
There’s a break in the smoke and crowd as a lot of money sits in the center of a billiard table under the unattractive beer-themed light above. An extremely attractive dark-haired woman is lining up a shot.
Everyone is staring at something lustfully, mostly staring at the woman who is about to bank the shot around the table. Knocking three dervish spheres in along the way before skillfully tapping the magic-8 ball into the far left pocket.
She rises, smiling. Cops either whoop it up or turn in disgust like they just took a kick to their own balls. Several of the men just let their sticks drop to the floor and watch the Lady Detective lean on her own cue after making the shot. With her free hand she reaches forth to scoop up all their ego-dripped cash.
She pockets the money while looking my way. I am protected from her only by being on the opposite side of the pool table. “Hey partner.” That’s what she mouths to me as the cash vanishes and leaves behind only her lips. I’ll admit it. She was attractive.
She told me she was glad that I came out for once. She reminded me that it was Christmas and that she had to go tuck in the kid staying at grandmas and assure him that the police helicopter had radioed her to let her know that Santa’s sleigh had been spotted high over the city.
After that, there would be a ‘later’ at my place for she and I.
You know, I didn’t really believe in ghosts. Nobody really admits to that even if they do, unless they’re unhinged to some degree. Didn’t believe in demons or angels or spirits. I had a handle on what these visitors really were. Memories come to visit, old friends and enemies that you can’t deal with leaving in the rearview and moving past.
I had always chuckled at the very thought of ghosts – until the rain came.
I don’t know what made me look up. Especially with the hurry that I was in. How cold I was. How much I wanted to get out of God’s piss-water scaling down in thick sheets.
But I did look up.
There was my apartment, me staring at it from the street. I never burned that light in the bedroom. Never. All I ever did at that place was sleep.
She was in the window. My ex-wife. At first, I was sure it was the drink. One too many is at least the place I was at. Ten too many if someone was actually keeping score.
I think I said her name. I know I grabbed at the ring-less finger.
Yeah, I ran. I mean, my ex-wife almost three years gone, who I was sure I’d never see again, is suddenly standing in my apartment waiting for me to get home.
If the junkies and hookers had been hiding in the park I never saw them. The only thing I was finding was a bar still open.
Things didn’t get much better two days later when I showed back up at work. There was talk that I’d been sleeping down in the evidence room. I told anyone who asked that they were painting my apartment building. The guy I shared a cube with said that he’d have had an easier time believing me if I’d have said they were burning my apartment building down and starting over.
There was a ‘later’ in the coming week for me and Lady Detective. It was in the back of a patrol car. “Austin.” “Yeah?” I just knew it wasn’t her squealing my name in passion. “This is the worst sex I’ve ever had.”
“Do you want me to stop?”
My therapist told me that I had to go home. “Do you believe in ghosts?” This is what I asked her. She assured me that my ex wasn’t a ghost. That she wasn’t dead.
“I didn’t say she was dead.”
“There’s going to be a little review hearing.” She assured me that they weren’t going to make a big deal out of it. “Lots is changing in the department.”
I agreed with the findings of the board. They told me to take some hard-earned time off and to re-focus. So I rented a car and decided to take a vacation.
Nobody had seen my ex in years, aside from me that night in the rain. I didn’t count that, because she was a ghost.
I sat at the counter having pie and coffee and showing a photograph to an overweight and age-rattled waitress. She almost glared at the picture.
“Carol Dawn Holloway. Damn.”
I asked her when was the last time she’d seen her? Had she been around here recently?
“She in some kinda trouble?”
No. I assured her that she was not in some kinda trouble.
“Nobody’s seen her around here since we graduated high school.”
I made sure this was fact. Lied, told her that I’d been told that she had moved back here, to her home town. “You sure you remember her and that we’re talking about the same Carol?”
“Mister, I was the ‘fat girl’ – we don’t forget the lucky bitches who weren’t.”
I hadn’t been in my apartment in weeks, and it was the first stop when I found myself back in the city. I moved through the clutter, my disorganized life, vomited up by the universe to sit in judgment of me.
She’d really been there, I knew it just by walking in. It smelled like her, impossible, but it did. The curtains blew from the dirty window by the wind coming through the fire escape bars and they had a sensuality to their movement. It made me ache all over, almost made me double-over. I felt like I’d just gotten off a tilt-o-whirl.
In the bedroom, suitcases sat neatly on the bed, packed with all of my clothing. My possessions, ready to be conveniently carried off to a new home. I found the bathroom light, my intention was to better guide my face towards the toilet, it felt like blood was coming up.
My own reflection, pale and just like that of a ghost, was intersected by words in red lipstick across the bathroom mirror. Words styled by a feminine hand:
Your last chance. I’ll tell you EVERYTHING.