When she came to the door, she looked more tired than I had ever seen her before. Her blue eyes seemed to sulk, but she somehow maintained a glimmering sign of hope and joy. I never knew what to expect from her, and this evening was no different. I had driven three hours to Port David, Maryland that evening; a quaint quiet town, that was dead in the winter. The only two buildings on the street were a church from the 19th century and a bar that housed the winos and the folks who didn’t find God in church. I was there with my brother, who like myself, found solace in this empty town when everything was falling down around him. At the time, we spoke often and had made arrangements to bring ourselves here during the week.
“Hang on a minute – I think I hear her coming up.”
“Right, well, I’ve got someone meeting me here too. A few friends from home I haven’t seen in months. They won’t bother you.” He said solemnly.
He had a deadly seriousness about him at times and was right about many things. I must have waited for over two hours. She had a way about her that one never knew when she would come through the door, but it was always surely later than she expected. Fondling in my breast pocket, I felt around for a pack of cigarettes and then realized how I was short a few dollars. Always coming up short, I was well aware of my predicament.
“I’ve made it. Here.”
She then playfully tossed a pack of Camel Straights across the end table. The room was dim, and the mirror was hanging loosely from the shitty drywall that was covered over with countless layers of paint. It was then she appeared like she always did. I did not hear her come in and no one could tell when she was leaving next. Never knowing what to fully make of me, she grabbed my wrist and squeezed gently as she found her way into one of the bedrooms. My brother was sitting with his legs crossed on the balcony patiently waiting for his guests. I followed her into the bedroom after a considerable amount of time and some mental contemplation. She had made herself comfortable and kicked her shoes into a corner of the room. The ashtray was full already, and she made quite the scene emptying it for me. Peering into my bag lying on the floor she spotted a bottle of Wild Turkey. One never knows when they might need to cool their head with a drink, especially in the dead of winter in an empty town where there are only two working buildings.
“Hmm…Back at it again I see! Pour me a glass. The drive was long, and my legs are tired.”
She leaned against the mirror and smiled at me. As if she had gotten home from work, kissed the children goodnight and was waiting for me to climb into bed with her.
I meandered into the kitchen and fumbled around the cabinets. Despite my frequent trips to this motel, among many others, I could never find the rocks glass. Pouring some ice into the glass, my mind began to wonder about this turn of events.
“I’m afraid that isn’t enough. Make it a double.” She looked at me again with the sad long eyes standing in the door way between the bedroom and the kitchen. When she walked to me she was wearing a blue and purple patterned night gown. Her holy geisha night gown, with flowers and patterns that made her shine bright in the morning, when she sat up in bed and looked out onto the world when the sun was just coming up. I thought for a moment about how her blonde hair and flowered dress made her look like a sunflower. I waited and continued pouring.
Phrases like “How long has it been?” and “Beautiful!” were exchanged between us. Perhaps a kiss on the cheek and a graze of the hand was customary as well. It was then when I realized that there was no point in going home.
I don’t know how long it had been, but in a few moments the evening was gone. There were two girls and another fellow among us. My brother was entertaining them with marijuana. The smell was pungent as I sat cross-legged on the couch. They passed the marijuana cigarette among them and listened to music from the radio. The yellow haze floated and lingered for some time and I watched my golden Sunflower sip her drink and smile at the boy’s laughter.
“Sunny.” I motioned for her to come sit next to me. I was detached from the moments around me. We watched as they puffed their joint down, and she sat with her head resting on my shoulders. Her legs were pale but full and were bunched up beneath her. Sitting in her nightgown, cupping her glass with both hands she carefully sipped the warm liquor like nectar.
I often thought of her when things were going bad at home, and I assume she did the as well for she was here, and not where she belonged. I remember lying my head down, and it felt full and heavy. In a groggy dream state, I rolled over and saw her reflection from the bathroom mirror. There was no noise coming from the rest of the place, and I heard her soft voice and saw the shred of light peeking out from the bathroom. The phone continued to ring, and she continued to answer it and pull the cord into the bathroom and sit on the sink and talk lightly. Morning came slowly.
Those mornings were full of pleasant surprises. The sun rose over the bleak water, which was almost black and full of ice. You could see the bums traveling on their self-proclaimed highways, stumbling and cursing at God. Their dull gray caps and ruffled jackets were pulled tightly over them as they balanced themselves between the train tracks. I drug myself from the bed and faced the glass sliding door. Pulling open the shade I saw my brother and one of his girls sitting and facing the sun as it rose.
“I must get to bed.” She said slyly.
He rose up from his seat and murmured: “Alright. I will follow you up.”
Long nights here were always harder here because the morning would lead to broken hearts or a deep dissatisfaction within one’s self.
“Sunny, you ought to wake up. Look here darling. The sun is climbing fast.”
She lied on her side facing me with eyes closed, as I stood staring over the river. It reminded me of all those nights in Paris when I would get drunk and smoke cigarettes on the fifth floor of the motel, only to chuck the empty wine bottles out the window, counting the seconds till their fall. And realizing how sad I must have made her when I was out for so long. She lay crumpled on the bed, wilted and tired. I brought her a glass of water and sat down on the side of the bed. Glowing and bright, her golden hair was strewn all over the pillow. I wondered if I would ever see her and her geisha nightgown, lying in my lap, holy and broken, but somehow still maintained. I got awfully sentimental and blue. I hated leaving and had done it enough times to get used to the oncoming feelings of doubt.
She shot up and looked at me. And rubbed her eyes slowly. Her legs were long and crossed at her ankles. Golden and bright from the incoming light, I noticed her staring. I saw the look in her eyes as if she had to tell me something. Before she could speak I made my way onto the balcony again. This time she followed me, with great haste. I sat down and buried my face behind my cupped hands and lit a cigarette. Sunny had found a seat across from me and put her legs up on my lap, and watched me with admiration as I took the first drag.
“I knew you’d be in love with me still.” She said matter-of-factly.
“Yes, yes, of course, I would. I don’t think that I might ever not be.” To an unmoored man like myself, those words dripped off my lips like sweet honey. I felt a deep pain because I knew they were true. I would always find my sunflower, crumpled up in bed, from month to month, here and there, whenever things got bad enough. But there was some solace in that thought, as well as a deeply set wound that would never quite heal.
She shook me and decided that it was time to go. I waited on the porch as she packed her things. She slinked to the door and looked at me with her sad but yet glistening eyes and faint lips which perked up when she smiled.
The next few weeks bled on, coupled together with hydrotherapy, continuing education, a trip to a warmer climate, and still the phone did not ring. It was then that I spent the next few weeks writing, and making observations of those around me. I spent some time down town where the white folk refuse to go after dark and continued to draw upon the experience and the wealth of knowledge from those left handed bums who sipped their wine from paper cups. They sat in their awe under the bridge and called out for 97 cents. I thought about going back home then, it was a lonely time and had gotten over a terrible sickness. Then, like a shot in the night, I heard that the Two Tonged Cat made his way back from the West. He was hung out to dry, and wallowed in the Mexican border, robbed stores of liquor, shacked up with a woman of the night for platonic reasons, and drunk the cool air of the night.
In that moment of absolute clarity, I knew things were turning around. There was, of course, a few girls who had helped keep my bed warm, and rested their head on my arms. I made no mistake of falling in love, despite my best efforts the first time. The Holy Sunflower, made up like a goddess in the night, was off in some nearby air base with some army man. She wrote me, and I do not recall the details. It was as if she had begun to weep, and pulled her heart from the page and wrote in a hurry. “In New Jersey, living on an air base – write soon. Be with my aunt in a few weeks. Until then.” I wrote her back and sent her a hand-drawn picture of her undressing in the mirror.
The night was cool, and we had word that all the boys were back home with their respective lovers. What a hoot it would be if we could gather them all, and pass the wine around once more for old times’ sake! It would be just like Joint-ville-le-Pont, and the girls would woo their boys, hang tight around their necks, and we would roll cigarettes and shiver until the wine hit our bones. The Two Tonged Cat was waiting at the bus station with a guitar case in his hand, a cigarette stuffed between his teeth, and a shaved head.
“Brother” I embraced his look and grabbed his arm. “We need to make it out to Ontelaunee tonight, the boys are home and their all waiting for you there.”
“Let’s get movin’ then. Truckin baby.”
We sat for a moment, in the back of Freddy’s truck. Freddy, tall and handsome with blond hair, he sulked and slinked on the bed of the old Ford. The Cat sat cross legged in the bed with his gear. He used his army roll as a bit of a rest, and pushed it up behind his back and looked as if he was home. He pulled out a large bag of tobacco and began rolling himself a cigarette. Freddy and The Cat were brothers of a sort, some celestial bond, for anyone who saw them said they had the same eyes. Freddy worked at a plant, his dark skin, and worn grey pants made him look ten years older than he was. He pulled long drags from his butts, and made a half smile smirk that could melt the heart of any girl.
Freddy’s tall demeanor demanded attention. He always had a girl hanging around his flat, all kinds of breeds he brought up, and some of them he really loved. I remember many nights spent there, before The Cat arrived. Freddy would bring his lady out from the bedroom, and she too was golden and fragile. He waltzed them out from the partition, and danced in the living room. They bounced from the walls, and sitting solemnly in the corner of the room, playing cards with Chuck, we’d smile, and wish that we too had lovers so bright and young. Chuck sat with arms crossed, and the nights would be cool, and wearing his cap he would deal the cards from his crooked fingers, and puff madly on a cigarette that made him hack. We’d look around and see the drab flat, held together by two kids, who spit and fought many nights. They’d wake up on the floor and kiss until they couldn’t stand the sight of one another. It went on like this for some time.
Chuck was out in Philadelphia, becoming a well-renowned psychologist of sorts, and with no place of my own, Freddy brought The Two Tonged Cat up to his flat with the intentions of staying there for a while, making enough money and then hiking the Appalachian. I still hadn’t received any phone calls or letters, but continued on, working late nights and coming home to drink stale coffee that was warm and bitter. The Cat looked like hell. He was busted up and had a long journey from the West. Many of us thought we wouldn’t see him for another three years, but he got out on some business of “unstable emotions” and “not bein’ able to kill or be killed.” We knew he would find his way back to the heart of it.
It was then, that I knew the tide of things had changed, and the little Hamburg town would be shaken up, and changed for that moment in time. For when I walked up the narrow and broken stairwell, I had the same feeling that I got before things were going to end – a new a fresh feeling, poised with a sense of overwhelming sadness. The door was ajar and Freddy sprawled out on the couch, with his long handsome legs thrown about, laid cool and untouched. In his teeth, he clenched a cigarette, and his sexual prowess was unbound. There was no woman living there, just the Cat. He was on the opposite side of the room, undressing by the window. It was then that I found myself a seat on the vintage electric organ, and began fiddling with the tobacco stained keys. The room was quaint and plain, but when the Cat arrived, his delusions spread across the walls like a terrorized schizophrenic high on LSD. There were mad paintings, done on poster board, some burned and stained with ketchup. The Two Tonged Cat was fond of his visions, and posted them about the flat with no other intention then to stop for a moment and gaze at his work. He groped himself in front of the window and promptly crawled to the roof. The late night haze was setting upon the tired coal mining town, and with a howl he woke the neighbors. Stark naked and half crazed he ate up the moon with a single bite, and shook his arms at the fast cars passing below him, and no one blinked an eye. For we knew he was sad, and we knew how things would end.
I followed him unto the roof, and slid down against the wall. He spoke of dreams and Mexicans in California, along with the girls who he lived with. His mother could not take him home, and the world was slowly fading about him. When the Army told him he was no good, he found a home among the destitute, and like an arrow shot from the heart, he plodded his way back into the gloom. Without a word, he knew he was as good as gone, and laid up on the aching roof, and shook an angry fist at God. Beloved, once beloved…
Moments later, he crawled back into the place, and rummaged in the cabinet for a large saucer. He poured himself a cup of tea and lapped on it while deeply inhaling Parliament cigarettes. What a sight, to see the Two Tonged Cat naked and starving, while Freddy’s sexual prowess shadowed out the night and made dark incantations on the walls. The talk of girls flowed as quickly as the beer, and the night became dross. The bright golden Son who shook the walls of San Diego to El Paso was now on the floor with no intentions at all, but to drink until oblivion. His books were drawn out all over the floor, and with a pocket knife he cut out Picasso paintings and slapped them onto the walls around him.
“God damn. God damn. It’s all so gorgeous, and awfully sad.” The Cat said as he stared into the blue-eyed man with a guitar in his hands, misshapen and full of sorrow. There were no gold pictures on the wall, only Blue Boys and deranged hollow eyes, and like a whisper, he was off again. How Golden and Holy it was then. When Freddy had beautiful girls dancing while Nico blessed our ears with words and song that adhered to our soul… “I’ve been losing so long. I won’t do too much dreaming…” and when they smiled and drank from the cup of ‘morrow! With the bright-eyed girls who smoked marijuana cigarettes on the bed, and embraced the ebb and flow of the sweet summer nights, when Freddy came home covered in sweat and glistened. When Chuck and I would play cards and hold for the chance to see one more beautiful dance, or a glance that would proclaim, “All is well.” How Golden the Summer was, when Sunflowers stood tall and unbroken, holy, and untouched. Ah, you were the best of all my days.