SNUB 2 by Rob Labelle (originally published in Fishpiss Magazine)
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The Candy House
I was twenty-one and just back from a trip around the world. Well, as far as Istanbul, where I got some sort of weird flu. So my parents' graduation present ended with me sitting in Montreal's new Mirabel airport, so empty after the rest of the world, bent over, holding myself in but not wanting to leave my bags to run to the can. When my old man found me I tried to put on my smug act, like I was too cool for words, playing with my new beard with one hand while the other held my stomach. All he could say was, "We'll fix you up," which pissed me off to no end, I must have looked like an angry little ghost. It was nice to be back in my room, though. And when I got better, it was nice to be on the safe little streets of Greenfield Park, which hangs onto the very western tip of the island of Montreal, closer, at least psychologically, to the Ontario border than to St. Laurent Boulevard. It feels like you could just lie right down on the pavement of those streets, and feel safe and sound, though I guess the reality would be you'd get run over by some seventeen year in his new car. Rich kids, and I was one of them. Aging, though. God, twenty-one, such a doom number. Maybe that's why my parents cut off funds. I never asked them, never had to ask them. Both of them individually were always doling out tens and twenties daily like it was running water. And me, hardly peeping, just taking it all in like it was my job. It would be strange to suddenly ask for it. Shameful, embarrassing. I was still keeping up my cool front.
"You look like the Phantom of the Opera without the mask, and he's grown a beard!" I was walking around with my friend Scott, the same as we did when we were seventeen. I just mumbled something and ran my hands over my face. I think it disturbed Scott that I seemed to take his comment seriously. Scott was always bigger than me. Big legs, big shoulders, big chest. He was the first boy that I met that actually had a chest, like a man's chest, a superhero's chest. All those years walking around together with him always bigger than me. Now I was actually taller, but just this thin wisp. A thin wisp beside a block of cement. "Bentley's tonight?" "Can't do it. Broke." I liked the sound of these words. Like arriving at this wall of no cash was something that happened all the time. It helped make me feel a little tougher. Scott only blinked for a second and jumped into the game. "Well if you need money," he said, "I know somebody who's looking for somebody."
Lost amid the streets of big, healthy yards and heavy stone houses was a house older and poorer than all the rest. It was a house my father called the "paint sale house." Clapboard, with the front a pale green, one side yellow, and the other a fading hot pink. The color of the back of the house was unknown. "Brings down the look of the neighborhood," was what my mother said about it, but it was actually an old farm house and was here before all the others. And as a kid I'd always liked it. It looked candy, candy that had been dropped in dirt. "He needs someone to do a few deliveries." I wanted to ask, "How do you know?" and "What kind of deliveries," but just stood there stupidly looking at the peeling paint, the closest I'd ever gotten to the door of this house. That was what was so infuriating about Scott, the way he could pull out these surprises on me. Even now. Even though I'd been to Istanbul. He rang the bell and said, "I think we should buy something from him first." After a few moments, a young, frowning woman holding a baby answered the door. The baby had a large bald head, white, white skin and big blue eyes that stared out at us. "Raymond." The word barely leaked out of Scott's mouth. He seemed to be losing his nerve. "Raymond's not in right now," she said. Then the woman smiled, revealing a couple of missing teeth. "Will he be back soon?" "No, he's out for the day," she said, but then backed away from the doorway. "Come in and close the door. I can't have people standing at the door like that." In her neat, slanting kitchen we watched the woman, still holding the baby, find and open a small plastic pill bottle. "How many. "Uh..." Scott hesitated as if making up his mind, "just two." The woman tapped the bottle on the arborite table top so two tiny pink pills fell out. "You might need two each to get off," she said, and tipped out two more. "Is that like Orange Barrel?," Scott asked, probably the only acid name he'd heard. "No," the woman said vaguely, then added, "that'll be eight bucks."
We emptied our pockets onto the table and came up with only six dollars and fifty-five cents. The baby, still in the woman's arms began cooing, and its little baby hands reached out at the money. "My friend here is looking for a job." The woman looked at Scott without responding. "You know," Scott said, "The delivery job?" "You gotta talk to Raymond about that." Then she added, "and you gotta take these four tabs now that I've taken them out." "Besides this money, we're broke." These were the first words I'd said since we walked in. The woman looked at me. "You're both wearing underwear aren't you?" "Huh?" I looked at Scott, and he looked at me as if we were actually considering her question instead of wondering whether or not to just turn and run out the door. "Just leave both your underwears here and I'll front you the extra hit. I'm sure you both live at home and your mothers wash your clothes for you. If those women are anything like me, they know exactly how many pairs of everything you guys have. How are you going to explain losing underwear?" The woman gestured to a door off the kitchen. "Just take 'em off in the bathroom and leave 'em there." The next thing Scott said was, bar none, the stupidest thing I think I've ever heard him say: "We're adults. We're both twenty-one!" I felt like crawling in a hole. The woman didn't say anything but just looked at him as if to say, "don't give me that, you little rich boy." And she was right. Even though what she was asking us to do was crazy, and she was probably only a couple of years older than us, she had some kind of rights here. After all, we were the ones who marched up to her door to buy these stupid little pills. I headed for the tiny bathroom, and Scott, for once, followed me. We hit the door frame Three Stooges style. Once inside, we were barely able to close the door. "I didn't mean for you both to go in there at once," the woman called after us. "Are you queer for each other? Or are each of you afraid to be left alone with me?" At this, she laughed, and the baby began to cry. Scott made a face, a scowl. He said, "We don't have much choice now," and pulled down his pants and underwear together. Then I did the same, and both of us did this kind of dance trying to pull our pants and underwear off without removing our shoes, something we used to do years ago on gym day at school. We placed our underwear one ontop of the other, then quickly pulled our pants back on. The tiny pills our action earned were still sitting on the kitchen table but the woman and her baby were gone. We could hear them in another room and the baby kind of crying-complaining, the woman answering him in a singsong voice, "yeah, yeah, yeah." Scott picked up the acid and we left without a word.
We wandered to the golf course where we took the pills out again. They looked like miniature Sweet Tarts, pink with darker flecks of red, like flavor crystals. We each took one, waited about ten minutes for something to happen, then took the other two. The effect was gradual; we had to ask each other several times if we were feeling anything at all. But we finally did. An old Humpty Dumpty potato chip wrapper lying on the ground gained a dramatic significance. The image of the little cartoon figure sitting on the wall became our emblem and we passed it back and forth between us for several hours. We laughed hysterically about everything, especially about the stranded underwear which we recalled hours later. Finally, we drifted off the golf course back onto the street, and walked and walked and eventually without quite realizing it, separated.
I went back to the candy house the next day. I don't know why. For my underwear? The acid, really, was such a horror; that "through the wringer" feeling, but it had with it this sad letdown feeling, a sweet and sour memory. Again, the woman came to the door. This time she appeared very serious, and no baby. "Raymond's told me what you should do," she said. She didn't even look up at me. It was as if I had been expected at exactly that moment. I followed her back into the big, slanty kitchen. This time, there was a series of baggies laid out on the table, each containing a number of tin foil-wrapped squares like little chocolates. "These each are goin' to different people," she said, and handed me a torn-off piece of paper with four or five addresses, no names. "That's a good jacket," she said, and began stuffing the bags into the various pockets of my parka. It was only October and still warm, but I'd already started wearing it because I liked it. Lucky. "What do I say when I get to these places," I asked, holding the little slip of paper in my hand. "Delivery from Raymond. That's all. There's no money to be had. That's already done or to be done later." Again, like the day before, I could do nothing but agree. I turned to go. "Wait a minute," she said, and she ran out of the room. In a moment she returned with Scott's and my underwear in her hands, which she stuffed into my coat ontop of the drugs. Then she kissed me. Her face was bony, pointy, and her mouth wet on mine. "This pays for what you owe," she said. "You'll get your pay when you come back."
It took me about three hours to deliver all the stuff, mostly to kids' basement apartments, but there was also a business man, a waiter in a bar and the most surprising, a single woman in a real nice part of neighboring St. Lambert. I did it but I never went back for my pay. I just went over to Scott's parents' house, laid his underwear on their welcome mat, then went home.
© 2000, Rob Labelle
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