The following stories arrived after we had already sent the galleys to the press. We were unable to corroborate the facts presented in them, but they do show RR’s continued desire to write. Perhaps they are short stories based on hypothetical events in his life that never happened. Unfortunately they provide no additional clarity to RR’s whereabouts, and, if anything, only serve to further muddle the picture of what did or did not happen outside of the series of events outlined in his memoir.
It was dark when Cindy and I picked up a hitchhiker at a rest stop near Columbia, SC, who told us he just got out of Western Psych. Nothing but talk of a glorious reunion with his girl for miles. We kept giving him weed and moonshine in hopes he would pass out or slow down, but it didn’t work. When we dropped him off outside the train station, we realized we’d gone the wrong way for almost two hours.
7am, stopped at a trucker bar on a back road. We’d lost time, distance, and money. Sitting over a bowl of pretzels, I poured gin from a plastic bottle into my coffee.
Cindy half twisted on her stool, and asked the bartender, “What state is this?”
“Tennessee.” His teeth were crooked and so was his back.
“The bathroom’s for customers only.”
“Right,” I said. “We need to get east.”
The bartender inspected a glass and threw it in the trash.
I squeezed my head and felt my ears pop.
In the mirror behind the register I watched a sleeping man breathe in a torn vinyl booth: Half-eaten sandwich on his plate, crumbs in his beard, and a briefcase at his feet that looked like it held our ticket.
Somewhere in South Carolina
Sitting in my underwear on the edge of a bare mattress, I watch a ribbon of light shine between the legs of my jeans drying on the curtain rod in the window. Cindy fills the tub with ice and cans of beer, sings along with the radio in the bathroom. Just the chorus, of a song I don’t know. Outside by the motel pool, an argument materializes between a couple I recognize from check-in. The woman’s holding a plastic bag and a glass bottle. Above her shorts, a scar that runs down her stomach towards her hip. He backs behind my jeans then reappears, arms waving.
Cindy turns on the faucet, the chorus refrains.
I feel the air swish through the fly in my boxers as I run towards the pool. The door slams, and the argument stops right before it’s about to escalate into something serious. My bare feet scraped and burning on the hot concrete by the vacant lifeguard chair, I realize there’s no water, just a bunch of broken chairs and a skimmer bent in the middle.
The next set of entries arrived with the content above in a separate notebook, clearly written after the timeline of events in Ronald Reagan’s memoir. I feel Ronald Reagan used stories of Kevin’s time in the halfway house (and his clear distain for the young main and the complicated feelings about his relationship with Althea) as a metaphor for hiss own feelings of being trapped in Booth, and used that as a prompt to craft these entries.
The housing development they’ve been working on out. The new houses have all the siding up, but they’re empty. Like people-sized birdhouses. When the weather turns, the homeless in the park migrate there for shelter.
An Orange Datsun hatchback sat out front of the halfway house. There’s a piece of clear plastic duct-taped over the space where the rear windshield should have been. The engine was running and a young boy slept in the back. His head slumped over the seatbelt like his neck was broken. Through the small triangle of one of the car’s back windows, I watched his lungs fill with slow, labored breaths. So long between them I thought he’d stopped, then his chest rose slightly, and decompressed. My breath fogged the window and I realized how creepy I must have looked. I quickly turned away and limped up the front steps onto the porch.
The railing creaked when I leaned against it. Exhaust puffed out of the Datsun, and I chain smoked a couple cigs before the front door swung open behind me. Traci hurried past with a disgusted look on her face, got in the car out front and drove off without a word.
Inside a single light bulb burned overhead, and there was no one around. From the TV in the living room, I heard Maggie narrating our session: Give yourself to me, Ronald Reagan. Let me help you overcome a seemingly hopeless situation. That’s it. Yes.
I walked through the foyer, turned off the set and sat on the couch. Geoff walked out of the kitchen at the end of the hallway. He wiped his mouth with his forearm. “Ronald Reagan,” he said. “God save the Queen.”
“Room’s upstairs, second on the left. Kevin and Reggie have the suite on the third floor. Mooch stays in the basement, and is in charge if I’m gone. And I need you to front me 500 Nedvedol.” He clapped me on the back, and I yelped and dropped to the floor by the phone.
“Little skittish?” Geoff said.
“Four a piece on the front.” I opened my bag and counted out the pills on the floor.
“You’ll get half in cash and half in trade,” Geoff said.
“On top of all that, you’ll get clean piss every week.”
“Don’t worry about it. Now, I’m going to watch some TV.”
I found the second door on the left, the bed felt like a concrete slab. From the TV downstairs, I heard Maggie’s voice:
The addict needs to submit to the idea that his way of life must change completely. Submit. Oh, oh yes. Change. Change, Ronald Regan. Destroy your old ideas. Let me help destroy them. Is this helping? It is, isn’t it? Yes. Yes it is. Yes.
I put my pillow over my head and tried to sleep.
Halfway House Day 2, 11pm: 5 days clean
I have to stay here for 14 Days. I can’t leave for the first week (Tier 1), but after that I can come and go as I please, as long as I sign out.
These last two nights I haven’t been able to sleep more than 3 hours at a time. My mind won’t shut off. Geoff owes me money. None of my friends want anything to do with me, and I have no idea what happened to Jacky. A news van just pulled up outside.
Day 3: 6 days clean
Channel 7 ran a piece on Ace from jail. As I did, he went from GCJ to Clean Time (where he was almost immediately voted off for his incessant staring), then he wound up at the Alano Club and, after the midnight meeting, he allegedly jumped in front of a tractor trailer and got his guts splattered all across Confederate, which is also Route 33. The Preachers’ followers are trying to blame the Gryphon’s Den. Footage of his death makes it seem like he was running from someone. Cause of death is yet to be determined. That motherfucker must have killed him, or told those white-shirted freaks to do it.
4AM and the dogs outside won’t stop barking and I can’t sleep.
Last Day on Tier One: (10 Days Clean off Narcotics, 45min off pot)
Fell asleep with the TV on and woke up to Steve filming Maggie and Bruce outside the halfway house.
I got out of bed around nine, after what felt like five minutes of sleep, and used a baking sheet from the stove to pry open the window. They were on TV and outside, looking at me. I turned off the TV.
That was three hours ago. Since then, I’ve been peeking through the curtains in 7.5-minute intervals, watching them, pondering my next move. Every 30 minutes, I shout.
“My contract is up. I got my certificate. Right here.” I hold the creased and folded Wellness Certificate in front of me and lean out the window.
Maggie yells, “Do you need to more therapy?”
From two stories up I can see down her shirt. Steve backs up with the camera to get a better shot of me. I throw the baking sheet at them but it kind of just wobbles in the air and drops harmlessly in the flowerbed. Wind resistance. Factor in wind resistance next time.
It’s as if my disinterest only makes them more determined. I slam the window shut and pace. Seven big steps to the bathroom and seven strides back to the window. Touch the bathroom door, and then the window frame on the top right corner. The room is between paint jobs: half pink and half blue.
Last night Geoff demanded I front him another 500 Nedvedol for $2000 in cash/trade (a grand in crumpled fifties, just over four ounces of pot and some red pills that make me itch on the inside. Plus mystery coupons he swears are on the way and will be totally worth it).
I’ve started organizing my funds so I can stay better compartmentalized monetarily. The idea for this came last night when I found this great lunch pail snooping around the basement, and I’m keeping my savings in it and the money to pay back Bob.
I wipe sweat from my chest with the itchy, yellowed sheet.
Touching the window frame, I think about how great it would be to get mail. Althea hasn’t responded to my letters.
Kevin comes in without knocking and sits by the door in the recliner that won’t un-recline.
“Kevin, turn on the TV. This is neat.” At the foot of the bed, next to the stove, a piece of plywood and two stacks of bricks serve as the TV stand for the old tube model. It sits 4 paces from the window, 3 from the bathroom door. “Want some reds?”
“Not really in the mood.” Kevin turns on the TV and the outside of the house appears on screen. He empties a pack of cigarettes on my desk and starts cutting the filters in half with an augmented disposable razor, lights one.
I unplug my useless alarm clock. “Watch the delay.”
“She left me.” Kevin halves another filter, stares at the television.
“Check it out.” I throw the clock out the window, and turn to face the TV. The clock smashes off the hood of the news van. “Who left you?”
“Cindy left me.”
When Kevin says this I think:
- Fuck you for fucking Althea, that’s what you get.
- Jacky hates me now and I’ll never be happy so why should you?
- Cindy has really long pretty hair.
I say, “Really? Left left? Shitty. Help yourself to the red pills in the medicine cabinet. On the house.”
Kevin goes to the bathroom and pukes, the medicine cabinet opens and closes, the toilet flushes.
From my desk area, I grab the wooden chair and smash it on the floor. It smells like sawdust. “To be honest I don’t think she liked you, anyway. Unhook the VCR.” I prop open the window with one of the chair legs, intricately lathed, blue paint fading.
“I took a couple reds from the cabinet.”
“Here, now take a couple tri-planes, the combo is great. Christmas colors. Plus you won’t vomit.”
“She’s gone. Really gone.” He takes three Nedvedol, maybe four, and crunches them like Pez.
When I was a kid, I had a Ken Griffey Jr. Pez dispenser. I can picture it, still in the package, resting on the dresser in my old room back in Jersey. I eat another Nedvedol. A couple reds.
Kevin stands by the broken recliner and sifts through the small pile of cotton and paper on the desk, puts his hands on his hips and looks at the vent in the wall. “She said it was just weird that I did her sister. Two days before I get out, too. We could have made it work.”
“You’ve slept with a dead woman.”
On the other side of the room now and squatting, Kevin yanks at wires and slides the VCR from between the stacks of bricks. “It dawned on her when she was finishing the third act of her play.”
“See when I wave my hand? Two seconds ahead of the TV.” Kevin passes me the VCR.
Leaning halfway out the window, I shout. “Leave me the fuck alone. What more do you freaks want from me? Fuck the viewing public, fuck this country. Fuck you all. I’m clean.” I say. But I’m not clean. Not even close.
Out goes the VCR.
The VCR smashes in front of Steve outside then we watch it smash on TV.
I hear bells downstairs.
It’s time for the afternoon meeting.
Construction: ½ way house Day 8 (11 days off narcotics)
The blasting started yesterday while I was in the shower trying to scrub the marker off my chest. It goes from 4 to 8 pm every day, the blasting does: they just blow holes in the same place to try to level out the ground to start building and, I assume, to force out the last of the Section 8 tenants so they can finish the bypass.
At 9pm the dogs start up. And don’t stop until dawn when Maggie and Bruce arrive with the cameras to film me through my bedroom window. They stay till the blasting starts again at 4 (they take the nights off so Maggie and Steve can report from Sophie’s place, while Bruce goes to the Glass Home).
It’s 2:34AM and I want sleep. But the dogs won’t shut up, and now there’s a couple arguing over crack or food stamps or something in one of the houses.
A faded disrespectful and confused cross diagonally from my collarbones to my navel. On the back of my arm, Renada’s number is faded and barely legible.
Althea called me, rather, she called Kevin and he told me she wants nothing to do with me anymore.
It’s dawn and I’m still up. Lack of sleep has become a problem. Yesterday, Steve tried to scale the wall and get in through my window, but I pushed the ladder down when he was halfway up. Today he’s wearing a brace on his wrist. The sunrise is beautiful.
God Closes a Door: Day 9 morning, 12 days off street drugs.
Kevin puts a stack of tabloids on the desk, and hands me the blender. I sit in the open window. My right leg sways in the balmy Autumn wind, tapping the side of the halfway house. Out goes the blender. We hear the crunch and then watch the windshield of the green SUV re-smash on TV.
“I think I get what they mean now,” Kevin says, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” He carefully halves the filter of one of his smokes.
I say, “Sometimes it just looks like a window you can’t escape from and only reminds you of your shitty view, or that you can’t even get out the window and maybe you should break down the door.” I step inside, walk to the desk and flip through the stack of magazines. “Does that help? That thing with your cigarettes?”
“I smoke hundreds, makes them taste like regulars. Have one.” He throws me a ½ filtered Camel 100. I thank him. Light it.
“I don’t believe the shit they write about me.” I exhale smoke against the window, watching the cameras and reporters swarm. Almost overnight, the media presence has tripled—maybe quadrupled.
An army of local and nationally affiliated reporters wearing hard hats with TV station logos, convinced the Werewolf Killer could strike the halfway house at any moment, wait outside with more on the way. Redundant explosions or no, the coverage is ‘round the clock.’ I close the curtains.
Kevin rummages through my closet and pulls out an old vacuum cleaner.
“This memoir I’m writing, it’s going to be great but I need to get the whole thing together. And really, fuck it, if people are obsessed with me, they’ll buy my book under false pretenses maybe, and then they’ll be blown away by my narrative ability and learn the true story of my life. Lately I’ve lost sight of that.” I give a quick glance to a grainy photo of me and Jacky on cover of the Greensboro Guillotine, the rottenest tabloid you’ll ever stare at in the checkout line. I light a cigarette and give the cameras the finger through the curtains. “I have a story to tell.”
“Then tell it.”
“The beginning, the most important part, the part that will create sympathy with the reader towards me as a complex character who once was a normal kid, I don’t have that part.”
“Where is it?” Kevin leans the vacuum against the windowsill.
“Other side of town with my teacher. Remember that time they tried to give updates from Sophie Trent’s house? The college girl that flipped out on Maggie. That’s her.”
“Let me toss the sweeper,” Kevin asks.
“Sure thing, buddy.” I prop the window with the chair leg and pull back the curtains.
“Hey I’m sorry about Althea, it just kind of happened.
“We’ve been over this.”
“Why don’t you just go get your story?” Kevin grabs the vacuum and takes a quick peek at the TV behind him. “Sounds like that’s what’s bothering you.”
Out goes the vacuum, we watch it explode near a cluster of orange barrels by the access road and two seconds later we see it on TV.
In order to keep the voices in the pipes quiet, I tossed change down the drain and ran the garbage disposal. The disposal was installed in my bedroom when the halfway house served as a bed and breakfast.
Around 4am, Mooch kicked opened my door and asked me to stop. “Shut the fuck up or I’ll put you back on Tier One indefinitely.” The hole in his cheek stretched and retracted as he spoke.
He raised a fist. I dove under my bed.
I came close to falling asleep when the dogs started barking and the media arrived and the TV crews aimed floodlights through my window.
I walked into the bathroom and pushed open the ceiling tiles, grabbed my weed, and tried to put myself under a new influence—a more tired influence–but pot only made me anxious and paranoid. Sprawled out on my mattress, I listened to the dogs howl and cursed the light.
The sounds coming up through the floor started again:
That’s it Ronald Reagan, You’re getting to the deepest part of your insecurities. Let my vagina represent your childhood. Get to the bottom of it, yes. Get to the root of your fears. The core. Yes. Good. Yes. Deeper. Free your inner-child.
I left out the basement door.
It took fifteen minutes and forty seconds there and back (including three minutes to locate a suitable can of what I assumed to be black paint, but was actually shingle tar that I found in the basement of a half-finished house).
I’d gotten to know the indecisive hours between midnight and dawn well, and on this night, the last before Kevin’s exit celebration, I spent that time painting first my window and then my entire room black with tar. I smoked cigarettes and doused my walls with black muck.
Kevin entered at 6 AM.
“What’s all the noise?” he said.
“Congratulations. We should celebrate.” My cigarette wobbled in front of my face. “Grab a brush.”
Kevin shrugged and picked up an augmented push broom I’d fashioned into a paintbrush and helped me slide the black around the cramped space. We laughed and listened to a nameless blues cover by a band whose keyboardist had recently died.
“Why black.” Kevin motioned for a cigarette.
“Can’t sleep,” I explained. I threw a cigarette at Kevin. He missed it and picked it out of a black patch on the linoleum. “I did the windows, but then I got some on the wall, and figured I’d better do the whole room.”
I had been using my hands exclusively for this activity and the thought that I’d never be able to get the shit off stuck in my mind while I tried to wipe them off on my mattress.
“We’ve got a line on some copper tonight,” Kevin said, “In the park.”
“Gasoline will get this off my hands.”
“I hope so,” Kevin said. He turned sideways, bent his arm up and away from his body, and watched the black streaks run towards his elbow.
Kevin’s Graduation Night
In Guilford County, the historical markers are plated with copper. Mooch’s guy, Skycap, paid top dollar for scrap metal. It was a three-man job.
Our arms were covered in gasoline and the stubborn remnants of shingle tar. At dark, Kevin and I left through the basement and walked three dark miles to Justin’s house on 404 where Mooch was waiting in my old car.
Kevin kicked a tire. “Who’s Bobby Jr?” he asked and got in the back.
I ran a finger over the rusted out J by the door handle.
Mooch was biting his nails and dropping them in an empty Lowenbrau bottle.
“My car, how’d you get my car?”
“You left the k-k-keys in your front door after you broke my f-face.” Mooch’s smile stretched the hole in his cheek up towards his ear. If he remembered our previous conversation, he didn’t let on.
“Why don’t I drive?” I asked. “Clutch is tricky.”
“I g-g-got it.” Mooch dropped a shard of fingernail in the bottle before he threw it on the lawn and sped off back the way we came, over the bridge, staying on the 404 when it broke left off of Main and circled around town towards route 77.
We pulled into the Civil War Heroes Monument Gallery armed with a crowbar and one of those little propane torches. Mooch can’t drive stick for shit so we jerked and flinched our way through the park, down what I’m pretty sure was a bike path lined with limp, wiry trees. Streetlights curled overhead like fingers dropping spots of light on the pond at the foot of the hill.
Before the Jefferson Davis statue at the entrance, Mooch steered us off the path and up the hill, and the monument park rose into view.
We lurched to a stop behind a row of hedges that looked like it might come alive when the moon hit the brush right.
Mooch said, “Go for Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Albert Pike. After that it’s whatever, but they have the biggest faces. Do them first, got it?”
Since it was his idea and his fence, Mooch waited in the car and got high while Kevin and I did the statues. It seemed unseasonably cold when I stepped onto the grass. Like Autumn came all at once that night. Scattered light stuck to the exhaust pluming out of the Subaru and the mist rising up off the pond. The sound of the cars on the interstate in the distance was all that broke the silence.
I told Kevin, “Hit the hairline and follow around behind the ear.” I twirled the crowbar like a baton, threw it up and caught it. Kevin melted the edge of the copper, and I slid the crowbar beneath the peeling flesh and scrapped it off. We removed six of the seven faces and put them in a canvas bag by the trunk.
I spun the crowbar in the air and dropped it. “Shit help me look for the crowbar,” I said. “Shine the torch over here.”
We squatted in the dark grass, surrounded by faceless monuments. Blue flame illuminated a section of ground the size of a shoebox. When we heard horses clopping at the bottom of the hill by the pond, we hid behind the car.
The men on the horses wore bright yellow vests and in the dark they appeared headless, just glassy drips of neon. They glided by the rusted merry-go-round and huddled near the emergency call box.
“They see us,” Kevin said.
Grass stuck in my nostrils and mouth when I spoke. “Get your head down.”
“Making a break for it,” Kevin said.
I grabbed his arm. Fantastic pain rippled through my knee. “Shit. I found the crowbar.”
Mooch turned on the windshield wipers, then the parking lights for some reason. Then he accidentally released the E-break. An inhuman wail ripped out of Kevin when the car rolled over his hand and down the hill. Kevin dropped the torch and the grass between us caught fire.
Brake lights flashed, Mooch jumped out of the car before it clipped the Jefferson Davis statue by the pond and sent it toppling into the water. The horses freaked out and scattered. One of the guards fell in a yellow heap by the pond. He looked like a giant misshapen lightening bug.
“Jesus.” I tried to pat out the fire with my backpack, but my backpack caught fire so I hugged it and rolled over repeatedly.
From the path, the guard fired a flare gun. The flare hit a tree and exploded right above me.
“Hey man, hey man. You’re on fire,” Kevin said, holding his hand.
I screamed and ran, blood sopping up the warm night air on my shoulders and blotting on my blazer where ashes ate through the fabric. My shorts went up like a magic trick, the synthetic fibers eaten by fire instantly, and I was in my underwear. The Curfew Officer with the flare gun ran after me. Kevin took off towards the pond, jumped in and swam.
“Got you now, Hoss.” Her voice was deeper than mine. I saw the woman slip on the wet grass as I ducked into the midst of the Bull Run reenactment.
I hated it when people called me Hoss. She’ll come back someday. I said to myself. And I thought she would, but the woman I pictured in this sentence became a weird conglomeration of Maggie, Althea, Renada and Jacky. Blue dress, arms covered in scars and tattoos, red hair falling around a Queen Elizabeth mask. The girl in my head morphed as I stumbled towards the reenactment. Two different eyes and Althea’s soft nose, track marks on Jacky’s brown skin. Sophie’s orange sneakers, whispering through rehab, carrying a clipboard and scribbling all over my memoir babbling about Janice Joplin.
The Booth reenactment of Bull Run consists of primarily female mannequins dressed in polyester blue and gray, three fake cannons, and the facade of a burned down house.
I tripped on a severed limb and blindly crammed myself between the fake dead bodies. I wondered if this was how it would end, in my boxer shorts, hiding in a haunted glorification of a lost war surrounded by distorted plastic women, while a vision of the girl I wanted to love clicked together like a cherry master in my head. I pulled a pair of pants off a dead soldier that looked about my size and cringed at the flashlight cutting through the night.
“Hey there,” she said.
I stared at a broken leg. Keep walking. God, please. If I can get out of this, I swear things will be different.
The leg I was staring at shifted when the officer walked past. “I can see you. Just come out, and we can do this the easy way.”
I played dead and thought about the bag full of copper at the top of the hill, and why I’d even left the house tonight. The guard kept walking, and when she shouted again her voice was far off, and I knew she was bluffing.
Kevin and I wait at the Infinity Diner for Mooch’s fence to come pay us for the bag copper sitting under the table. We’re at the same table Jacky sat in when I tried to meet her here. A small jukebox stuck to the wall plays classic rock standards. I stare out the window at the God’s Church of the Carolina’s office across the street, and let the shadows play with my eyes. I’ve got ice cream in front of me, but the thought of eating it makes me sick. Kevin’s pushing eggs around his plate and drinking from a 40oz he hides in his crotch between pulls.
“These eggs are fucking terrible.”
I stare at my melting ice cream and suppress the urge to throw the dish across the dining room and watch it shatter into a dripping mess on the wall. “Ever think about all the waiting we do for people we don’t even like?”
A huge group of kids from the midnight meeting walks in and sits at a big table in the section behind us. My new pants itch and I’m sweating.
“We’re selling copper. Copper’s our reason.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I don’t really like you,” Kevin says.
“That’s my point.”
Kevin offers me some of his forty and I take a sip and pass it back.
I think I hear someone from the midnight meeting talking about Clean Time or my night with Maggie. I spin around in my seat and peer over the edge of the booth. A tired girl in torn pants catches my eye and walks over. She hands me a step-working guide and asks me to sign it. “Make it out to Jeryln,” she says and touches my hand. “Want to head over to the meeting with us after this?”
Jerking my hand back, I say, “Maybe I’ll meet you there. Meeting Makers make it.”
I sign her book. She thanks me and goes back to her table. I keep watching them watch me.
Kevin says, “Sorry I fucked Althea. The way she explained things, I mean, it just sort of happened.”
I examine my ice cream. I try to see it melt, actually notice it change states before my eyes.
I say, “That’s how I explain the first time I tried Meth.”
Kevin slides a cigarette out of his pack and cuts the filter in half with a razor blade.
“You know she left me by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere,” I say. “You done with that fork?” I take Kevin’s fork and stab it through the little radio sending plastic flakes and sparks into the artificial sweetener. “I can’t listen to Zeppelin anymore. Sorry.” Laughter bumps around the table behind us. I scratch my shin.
Kevin pushes away his plate and chugs the forty.
“How’s your hand?”
“Broken. Pretty sure.”
“Hey. That’s our man.”
Mooch’s fence Skycap’s wearing a pilot’s hat and a jean jacket covered in patches. He sits and looks through the deformed faces we stripped off the statues. He smiles and hands me an envelope. I count 37 bucks and give Kevin 18.
Skycap takes a mouth full of my ice cream and pockets the spoon. “This is going in my personal collection.” He grabs the bag from under the table and slings it over his shoulder on the way out.
“Let me get a ride back into town,” Kevin says and follows him to the exit.
Skycap turns. “I’m walking.”
I sit and drink the rest of Kevin’s forty and listen to the kids from the meeting laugh behind me. I leave a ten for the bill, grab the forty, and head for the backdoor.
[i] Here the respective myths of Aracne and Daphne are elicited.