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   p i n w h e e l

---   G I L   O T T  

I am tired, having walked such a long way uphill. But even my fatigue is light, like a white jacket which comes off easily and falls behind me. Over that wooded rise a rising medallion, jeweled song of every color, and at each door a girl. Some are red, some blue, some yellow -- iron, steel, and brass. If I move toward any one of them she is naked, bowing at the waist and inviting me in. I choose instead to lie back here on the grass as the pinwheel spins over me. Reach into the picture and pull it close. Feel my strength. Even as I pull the little girls from their hiding places, even as I crush them against my chest, there are more, offering themselves. They are squealing, each squeal a red smear on a perfect blue sky. So beautiful. Everyone is watching. They cheer as I squeeze the spinning thing, and squeeze it, squirting up like a tornado, the girls sounding like a moan inside. Then going black.

I come down in the back of Luddy's car, flat on my back with silhouettes of oak branches flipping by upside down against a deep blue sky. It seems cooler, darker, so we must be getting close to Temper's place up in the hills. I'm a little stiff, hurt in my right shoulder and ribs. Can't say how long I was out. Jane and Luddy up front look straight ahead saying nothing.

I groan a little to let them know I'm awake. Jane makes a little sideways look at Luddy; Luddy grips the wheel tighter and adjusts himself in his seat. I see his jaw muscle move. Nothing more. Strange how nobody's talking, especially Jane. She was my old lady before Luddy, and we're still good friends. Luddy goes 60, 65, even on these winding old roads, up and up.

I sit back, try to remember the dream, play it over. I like that. Mostly I remember the colors, yellow, gold, and red, like polished brass spinning disks, you could walk into. Smooth and ripe as cantaloupe, but metal, a liquid metal singing in my arms and thighs. Funny how on PCP such a good feeling is really the same as a terrible feeling, the ache all over fear like the car might drive right into the side of the hill, right into the rock and underground. Like Jane and Luddy might want to do me in.

Finally we got to Temper's place; I know it 'cause of the sound of gravel under the wheels. I pull myself up between the two front seats and notice Jane's hand wrapped in a towel. She sees me looking at it so we don't say anything about it. We pull up to the cabin and Jane gets right out and walks -- a little stiff, it seems, but quick -- holding that hand, straight up to the cabin. Luddy kind of waits around.

I'm still kind of dazed, things coming back to me slow. That hurt in my side must be worse than I thought since I have to catch my breath once just getting out of the back seat, then a sharp pain standing up. I hold on to the side of the car, with Luddy there just pretending not to see me. I count four other cars there in the driveway, none I recognize, and nobody around. Must all be inside. Didn't know Temper was having a party.

I feel Luddy's eyes on me all the way across the drive and up the front porch steps. Door's open.

Mostly people just standing and sitting around there in the smoke, some talking, but most stop when I walk in. Big guys, mostly, some I recognize, like Temper, Al, Mankie, most I don't, all looking at me. A radio all by itself in another room. It's dark in the room, and it takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. I probably look like I'm staring, but for a second I think I see something black and squirming in a big bowl they've got there on the floor in the middle of the room. One guy's holding a knife. Then I notice Mankie looking at my hand, and I stare him back, put it behind me, I don't know why. Never liked Mankie. It all makes me uncomfortable, so I just kind of nod and walk into the hallway toward the kitchen. On the way I look at my hand. It's got blood on it, a real smear, on the sleeve too, really ugly, and it's not mine.

I know Temper's got another room to this place, a big room he keeps a lot of stuff in, and it's got a sink and toilet. Door's off this hallway, just before the kitchen. I can hear Jane's voice, all freaked, and some other woman talking from the kitchen, as I turn the knob and push in.

Room's empty, smells rank, like nothing has moved in here for years. Boxes and what look like cages along the far wall, a stuffed armchair, paneling coming off the near, no lights. The sink as I remember it is beside the one window, which is propped up with a stick and looks out over the driveway. I can feel that pain running down my right side again as I walk toward it.

First thing I notice looking in the mirror over the sink is a big cut on my head over my eye. Look at the thing's enough to make me feel sick, and I lean and grab the sink. Funny, I hadn't felt it before. No washcloth here, so I run water into my hands and splash it on my forehead. The cold water feels good, so I do my whole face and neck, then get to work scrubbing the blood off my hand. Won't come out of my sleeve, so I just roll it up. Breeze coming in the window feels good on the cold water. Things are getting a little clearer. I think back to Jane, how she wouldn't look or talk to me.

For a moment, things are pretty peaceful. I'm still at the sink, but looking out the window, past the cars out front to the dust on the leaves of the trees, hearing the little brickle sound from the creek runs beside Temper's. Another fragment of the dream comes back, a smiling girl floating toward me from a shady spot on the side of a hill. Maybe my head's still buzzed, since I'm watching the sunbeams that way and don't hear my name the first time somebody calls it.


It's Jane's voice. "Pete."

I don't even turn to say it to the door, but keep looking out the window. "In here." I hear the handle turn, the door open. Jane is behind me.

"Pete, you've got to get out of here."

"Why. What's going on?"

"You really don't know, do you."

I don't answer. I'm still looking out the window, at Luddy's car now, seeing the trunk is up and somebody, probably Luddy, bent over pulling on something heavy in there.

"These people don't want you here, Pete."

"What people? You mean Temper? Let him tell me himself. And who are these other people?"

"That's not what matters. They think you'll bring trouble."

Outside, Luddy's still pulling something out of the trunk, when suddenly I can see part of what it is. Just the tip, the foot end of a sleeping bag over the lip of the trunk, and Luddy leans back in and continues tugging. It's my sleeping bag. I've never seen another one that's bright yellow like mine.

Jane must've seen Luddy too, and her voice becomes urgent. "Pete, you've got to get away from here! Now!"

I can feel the hair on my neck standing up. I hear the screen door slam and Temper comes striding down to Luddy's car and pulls Luddy up by the shoulder. Whatever he says I can't make out. They're both yelling at once. Whatever it is, Temper is not buying it, and it looks like he's about to smack Luddy.

Then from behind me, Jane again, "'ve got to..."

I turn around and face her. Her face is all contorted, scared shitless. "Fuck you, Jane! What the fuck are you trying to do! That's not mine!"

Her face is red, her eyes puffy with tears. Her mouth is all trembly. She can't answer, only nod. I shouldn't do it, but I suddenly hate the bitch. I swing hard, and catch her beside the eye.

When she goes down, Jane makes a little scream, loud enough somebody must have heard it in the hallway. Those people will know what's happened. Can't go out that way.

I turn back to the window and start climbing out. My side and arm have gotten stiffer, and the pain sharper, and my landing -- real awkward after falling about six feet from the window -- hard as hell. The cabin is up on blocks, so I roll under into the shadow to figure my next move. Lying there, my whole arm is throbbing and it's hard to breathe. Lots of running, and the screen door slamming. My dream. The girl reaches me. She's all vapor, like blue powder, but warm, covering my body. Her eyes are yellow, and fuse with mine as she wraps herself around me. She holds me. It's like a little cartoon when I see Temper come out from behind Luddy's car. He's breathing hard, and from under the cabin I can't see Luddy. Temper shouts something toward the porch, the people on the porch, and then he looks. He looks straight at me.

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