“That’s the problem with being in love,” Hammond said, “most guys don’t want to admit it.”
“What makes you an expert on that?” I quickly shoot back and chow down some more fries. And cola. And then more fries.
Anything to concentrate on … just concentrate on eating.
Hammond leans over the diner table, conspiratorially:
“I have figured it out,” he half whispers. Not low enough so it’s completely certain she doesn’t hear. Even with all the noise from the rest of the noon-time diner.
“What have you figured out, amigo?” I say, but keep my eyes where they are supposed to be:
The food …
My bulky partner grins. It is easy for him.
Eric Hammond: Ready to tell me some bullshit, to rub me the wrong way as usual. In his sweaty trooper shirt, beard stubs, and unkempt hair. Like some Burt Reynolds movie’s version of a cop – too fat, too slow, too sweaty.
He is anything but.
That biker he stopped from cleaving my skull yesterday, baseball bat-style, is still in Flagstaff Med Center wondering if he’ll ever be able to propagate his genes again – so we can have more alcoholic bikers with a grudge against the rest of the world.
Not the first time he’d done that. And I’d do the same for him. Every time.
So I let him BS me.
“You know,” Hammond says, “I was always crazy about some chick when I was a teen, and then 10 times more after that. I never said a word.”
I look up from my cola, which is empty soon. But I am not going to call her to come get me a new one.
“Just because you were awkward when you were young … ” I start.
“Don’t give me that,” he interrupts. “I wasn’t finished. It’s not just me.”
“Keep it down … ” I say, breathing heavily and wondering if I can chow down more fries before we have to leave. I want to do something not to leave, but not eat.
“We have to do the round between Kachina and Sedona,” I continue, trying to make this all business.
Which is all BS, too, of course.
Hammond takes one of my fries, the last one. Eats it like it was a delicacy.
“Jon, my man – we’ll get there soon enough. The question is why you don’t want to talk to her.”
“I do. We have talked. I drove her home from the gym.”
“Yeah, and then you want to come here every day to have lunch. So you can talk about fries and ketchup with her. Great way to keep a conversation going. I’ll say it again: You don’t have the balls to ask her out!”
“I don’t want to – look, you don’t know shit about her. You don’t even know if I want to ask her out.”
“You have only been talking about her for the last two weeks. I know what the hell you want.”
He winks at me: ” … amigo.”
“Oooh … ” Hammond’s eyes widen at me, mock-like. Then he turns in his seat before I can stop him.
“Honey – we’d like some more to drink,” he calls out.
And she comes over.
Carrie is a natural blonde but doesn’t look the part if you know what I mean. Oh, I realize how that sounds but you should see her eyes, man – you should see them. Like they are looking at all the world and like there is a world behind them. But that’s where the problem comes. I’ve seen such beautiful eyes before.
I’ve seen the pain and strength which are there at the same time in such eyes. Because she knows that everything she dreams about, everything she really is inside – all of her world – it may never be part of the world outside.
The fence is just too high.
“What’ll it be, gentlemen … Another round of Larry’s the best?”
She means the fries.
Hammond is polite enough not to stare at her breasts as she leans a bit forward and you can see that she also has got all the right curves beneath that dull waitress uniform.
It’s not because he is married, you know – the a-hole is busy looking for my reaction.
“Eh … “
Yeah, I get off to a great start.
She smiles and I am lost again.
“Maybe you want to,” she suggests, “but don’t really have the time?”
“Something like it!” Hammond quips and grins broadly at her.
She nods, she understands.
“I can get you some to-go. It’s gonna be a long afternoon, right?”
“Yeah, right,” I say and mean to get up. “Just get us the same as we had … Carrie.”
I hesitate on all counts. On saying her name. On getting up. On finding out where to look.
This is … not right. I’ve been in serious relationships for fuck’s sake. I chase bikers and drug dealers for a living. I know how this works.
And yet … I don’t.
I don’t go anywhere, just lean back and don’t even bother to hide how tired I feel.
Now it’s her turn to hesitate.
“Will I see you at the gym, tomorrow?”
That was not for Hammond.
I go for the cola but it is long empty, so I put the cardboard cup down and …
“Yeah,” I say – fully aware that I am not myself right now – “yeah!”
And I look up and smile. And she smiles.
And I have never really seen anything that makes me happier. Even in a run-down diner waitress’ uniform.
“Ha-ha!” I hear Hammond go, mouth full of his last fries. As if he had saved those for this moment.
“You got something stuck in your throat, hon – ?” she asks with accustomed ease.
She has been working here for months, I know. She must get all the shit from all kinds of …
Hammond wipes his mouth with the back of his sleeve. Leaving grease spots on his own uniform, to join the rest.
“I’m fine, thanks.” He nods vigorously. “I’m fine.”
“Look,” I start, manning up before this gets out of hand. “I’ll be there. As usual.”
I say it to her, and I am still not myself. Who is talking? How did this guy who can say these things to this woman – how did he suddenly get here?
But I’m glad he did.
She smiles again and takes our trays.
The problem with ‘the guy’ who just offered me help in the diner is that he is … not a regular.
He comes and goes.
Kind of like that self-confidence you are depending on when you are out to arrest people. Especially dangerous people, with guns and not a whole lot of resistance against using them.
Then you prep with your colleagues and you remind yourselves that you have a ton of experience doing this. You just need to remember it. Everything will go well.
But then you are out in the field, and something goes awry and you forget. And you begin to get those shakes or that cold feeling in the stomach. And you do your best to hide it, and just get it over with.
Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it happens even if everything goes according to plan.
I guess things went according to plan this time, in the diner. At least I did not screw up.
But I feel like I screw up every time I talk to her, even if it is just small talk.
So I come there, usually with Hammond, for lunch. And I get like I don’t want to be there, and I feel like something in me is taking over and looking for all sorts of distractions, even though what I want most is … to be there.
And then, sometimes, ‘the guy’ shows up and I manage to have a normal conversation with Carrie. Even if it’s just about what we’ll have, and if I’ll show up for gym the same days as she plans to.
So maybe ‘the guy’ is not someone else. Not some secret courageous Cary Grant living inside me.
Maybe he is just normal me.
And the true impostor is that feeling that takes me over and makes me feel like … she’s out of my league.
“Are you that skittish in the gym, too?” Hammond asks as we drive out I-17 towards Kachina Village. “I mean when she’s around … “
“Maybe you should start coming to the gym,” I say, “then you can see for yourself.”
“I bet you are doing fine,” he says, unperturbed. “I bet you work out there and everything is fine. With talking to her and all … “
“I bet you are right. It’s just … small talk, though.”
“That’s a start. Why not more?”
“You begin to sound like Dylan from the gym, Ham. It doesn’t really help.”
Hammond’s voice shifts, a tone that doesn’t help. And I know I did that.
“Listen,” he says. “Don’t compare me to that chatty man-baby. He just messes with everyone, he tries to draw them into talk about all kinds of crazy stuff in his mind.”
He then looks at me, dead-earnest:
“What’s on my mind is you, partner. You haven’t been yourself for weeks now and it’s beginning to … “
I know. He doesn’t have to finish. I am a liability now. Ever so small, but still.
And partnerships and, heck, friendships don’t need that.
We drive on in silence and the trees seem to grow more shadows. At the Dollar Store we pull in and Hammond gets a new package of smokes – for later, of course.
I don’t comment anymore – of course.
I just wait in the patrol car, watching people a little bit but really, I am watching the shadows between the trees in and around Kachina Village.
My bro explained it to me last fall when I took him here for some R&R after his illness, and why not – he is much more into shit like that than I am:
Kachinas are spirits or personifications of things in the real world. These spirits are believed to visit the Hopi villages during the first half of the year. Kachinas are understood as having humanlike relationships; they may have uncles, sisters, and grandmothers, and may marry and have children.
I remember Dave looking at me in a strange way, when he walked between the trees one morning, just a little away from our cottage. I got out and asked him what he was doing, it looked as if he was feeling his way through the forest – with closed eyes.
What was he looking for?
Maybe what everybody who has almost died of hepatitis – or anything else – is looking for?
Dave looked at me and said something I don’t remember about the kachinas. And then he said something I do remember:
” … kachina has to do with the idea that there is life in everything in the world – rocks, trees, people. Everything has an essence or a life force, and we have to connect with that life force.”
“Or what?” I asked, in good spirits, because I had just made coffee, and it was a great morning and Dave looked a bit comical out there among the pines in his bathrobe.
Obsessing about our imagined Cherokee ancestry, like he always had.
But then he looked at me in that strange way and said:
” … Or we die.”
Hammond came back with cigarettes and colas and off we went again, looking for things on the road that violated some regulation or other. Like people, cars.
My mind felt hazy. I let Hammond do the looking, and take care of the radio. I just drove on.
That’s the way I’ve done life so far, alright. I just … drive on.
Whenever there is something by the road that makes me jittery … or makes me feel like a million bucks … or just really, really fantastic … whenever there is that …
I drive on.
Let me tell you about Carrie Sawyer. Let me tell you what I fear about her.
First of all, I fear that she is too wonderful. That she is … someone so special that there is no way in hell I could ever deserve her.
I dunno why there is that feeling. It’s just there.
It was never that way with Kim, and we did have some good times. Or with Maggie. Or Shay.
I don’t think I’ve had any other relations with a woman that was worth mentioning. Not in my 30 years in this fucked up world …
And Shay – oh, man – we were hardly out of high school. That was just … a fling.
It’s not that Carrie is your almost stereotypical good-looking blonde. It’s not that. She’s got it where it counts, sure. She’s got those ice-blue eyes and that nice long hair and some curves that are really, well, beautiful.
But all that is just … nothing. It’s not what really counts.
I mean, it does matter that she is … you know … that she has those looks. But she is hardly a model. Her face is a bit like some soldier I once saw in a movie.
I know that sounds odd, but I think it is beautiful, too. I talked about models before and they are all smooth as silk and look like somebody drew them with a feather pen.
Carrie has got the looks all right, but there is a roughness about her that comes off as more sincere.
Heck, I don’t even know what the hell that means …
I guess … I guess it means that if you put some of those models that I used to fantasize about when Dave and I were kids – if you put someone like that in a snowstorm and ask her to find her way home, she would either not come home or she would come home and look like a doll that somebody had hit with a sledgehammer. She would be just like that.
Like somebody who looks like someone who had been hit by a sledgehammer. And who would never go out again. Anywhere.
Carrie would come home and she would look like she had been in a snowstorm, but she would be tough. She would be there. She would be beautiful.
She would be able to go through another snowstorm.
And I guess that’s also what …
There’s something about that strength I see that makes me think it’s not all roses for her, or it’s never been. It’s the kind of strength that’s either genuine and really beautiful when you have it and you are as beautiful as she is – as a woman.
Or it’s a cover. A cover for something that’s as messed up as I am sometimes. And as I know Dave is.
And which is probably because our mum died and left us with that asshole for an old man.
And then all sorts of other shit. And it’s a wonder I ever got accepted as a cop, you know … but that’s another story.
I’m proud I got this far, but I feel like I have been in 3 of those snowstorms to get there. And I feel like … I can’t really go through another.
I need some years where I don’t get into all kinds of shit with people I love. Or people I am supposed to love.
Don’t get me started on my old man …
Don’t get me started on all the crazy arguments Kim and I had at the end. She wanted someone who was going to be … refined.
Or just all right, I guess. No baggage. I don’t know what kind of movie she saw, but it was different than mine.
We didn’t think so at the beginning, but that’s the way it turned out.
“You want a cola?”
“No thanks, buddy.”
“I’m turning back to Flagstaff at the next roundabout.”
“Good. I’m starving.”
“You’ve been fucking eating for the last hour.”
“I asked if you wanted something.”
“You did… “
I come home to my condo and I don’t turn on the light at first. I just go into my living room, which is the only room and I sit down on the couch and look into the darkness.
And I think about her, of course.
I’ve never felt … so close to anyone. And yet we have barely talked.
Mostly about weights and push-ups.
And ketchup and fries, of course.
What if she is the real thing?
What if she is not?
What if she is from somewhere as shitty as Dave and I?
That would mean I am not really in love, right? I am just looking for someone to share my own messed-up-ness with. Some kind of crazy sympathy …
What’s crazy is that I don’t even know that. About her.
I don’t really know her.
And yet … I know I have known her all my life.
With that quirky accent that she can’t really hide. Where is that from anyway? Wales?
I reach for the remote. A safe option. There is a program about …
On Fox. Of all places.
So maybe she is from Scotland.
And maybe I should steer clear.
I am thinking that maybe she is too beautiful for me because she is beautiful and tough.
And maybe she is tough because she is as big a mess like me.
And I’m not tough. Only when I do my job …
It’s not a good combination.
Kind of like two people, with the same messes, feeling they have something in common. And they do. But what they have is not love.
It’s more someone to share the loneliness and the messes with.
Not a good combo.
I’m going to bed.
I was pretty close there for a moment – believing I ‘knew’ her.
Yeah, I probably do. But for all the wrong reasons.
And I’m not coming to the diner anymore. Or the gym.
I’ll be doing us both a favor.
The next afternoon after work I decide to go by the gym, anyway. But after the time I know she has been here. Or usually is here.
Forlorn concrete boxes on the edge of some dusty Arizona town – that’s the gym and the nearby pool. They are as shitty as they look, but they have what people need.
To come here. Often.
They have it.
I step through the doors and then remember I haven’t brought any gym clothes.
“Hey champ!” Dylan calls from his cave behind the desk.
“Hey – uh – I guess I am getting old. Forgot my clothes.”
“Why did you come in then, champ?”
“Got nothing else to do, I guess.”
Dry laughter. My best attempt.
“You here to see Carrie?”
Dylan goes right to it. He has his lucid moments. Not sure I like that …
“No, I’m – ah, fuck it – I’ll go home. I just remembered when I got in the door … about the clothes … “
“I see. Well, champ, she is not here, you know. Haven’t seen her all week, in fact.”
“What? Not all week?”
“She is a regular – I know, I know,” he says and shrugs and begins to fiddle with his old CD’s as usual.
“But she didn’t come here all week.”
He looks up, right over those greasy glasses – right at me: “No.”
I look towards the gym hall, lost.
“Not in there, Jon.”
“I have to go.”
He doesn’t say anything when I go out. He doesn’t need to.
Then I am out, back on the burnt concrete, standing by the car. Or more like wandering around. Like a beast in some bloody zoo. Cage is gone and I guess I don’t know whether to stay or go.
I know where she lives, though. I drove her home a couple of times.
It wouldn’t be a problem if I just passed by, maybe because I am going to Studebaker’s shop and pick up those tools. Right around the corner.
Might as well just look.
But how the hell could I see something from the outside.
I could call …
I could look up her number.
I could do lots of things, but I should go home, because this is stupid and so am I.
I get in the car and get the engine going and then I just … fucking sit there. People come to and fro, some of the irritating teens from the gym. Some mothers with their children from that kindergarten over on the other side that looks like another slab of concrete dropped from the heavens and somebody couldn’t find somewhere else to put those kids.
So they bored a hole, made it hollow and put them there.
Hollow. Like there is nothing inside, even though I can see there is.
Hollow. Like … not real.
Like an impostor.
Which is it?
So I make the decision I have to. If this is to make any sense at all.
But not home.
I don’t know where I will end up, but I know where I am going.
Last edited 5 Aug 2023