Five

The trailer was dark, but it was always dark, even during the day. During the daylight hours, the darkness in the trailer seemed almost malignant to Sherry Manning – harsh halos of pale sunlight glowed around the edges of the blankets and towels hanging in all the windows – except for the one living room window where the swamp cooler was – and the glow made the smoke from a cigarette someone was smoking look like something sinister as it oozed through the air, then was swept away suddenly by the current of the cooler.

She lay on the couch with a couple throw pillows under her head. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been lying there, nor did she care. The television was on – The Price is Right had been on for a while, then she’d closed her eyes and opened them to Jerry Springer, closed them again and opened them to Oprah, and now it was a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond. Sherry liked that show and watched it a lot. She squinted at the television and wondered if it was an episode she’d seen.

Sherry sat up on the couch and yawned. She smacked her lips and rubbed her eyes. Her mouth was dry and she felt… gummy. Gummy in her mouth, and gummy all over.

Andy came in from the kitchen and said, “Hi, babe.” He sat down on the couch beside her, put an arm around her, and kissed her cheek. “I gotta go.” He held a cigarette between the first two fingers of his right hand, and it trailed ribbons of smoke that got caught up and swept away by the swamp cooler.

“Where you goin’?” she said. Her tongue felt thick and she slurred her words. She sat back a little, reached up, and stroked his smooth face, brushed a strand of his long hair out of his eyes. She loved his hair. It was long and thick and luxurious, a rich brown, like chocolate, and she loved stroking it, running her fingers through it.

“I gotta pick up David,” he said. “Him and me’re gonna score some weed. Pays the bills, y’know.”

“Yeah, okay. Gonna be long?”

“Shouldn’t be. Don’t worry, you got plenty a company.” He looked down at the floor where four bodies formed sprawling lumps under a tangle of blankets.

“Who’s here?” she said as she squinted down at them.

Andy frowned for a moment and shrugged. “I’m not even sure anymore. People’ve been in and out today.”

“Do me a favor before you go?”

“Sure, what?”

She reached over and took her black vinyl kit from the end table and handed it to him.

Andy looked at the kit disapprovingly and sighed. He only smoked weed, he didn’t do the hard stuff. He didn’t like it when Sherry did, either. She didn’t do it very often. Sometimes she got an itch for it, like she’d had the day before. At least she thought it had been the day before. She frowned.

“What day is it?” she said as he took the kit and opened the zipper.

“Tuesday.” He opened the kit and went to work. “You know I don’t like you doing this shit. You do it much longer, you’re gonna have trouble getting off it.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t.”

Sherry liked to watch him as he held the lighter under the spoon, as he loaded the spike. As he put the tourniquet – a length of surgical tubing – on her arm. Then he tenderly felt for a vein, gently inserted the needle, and –

All the gumminess went away. In seconds, Sherry felt pristine and shiny, like the surface of a mirror, like the sharp, glinting, polished-steel blade of a knife.

Oh, yeah. She dropped her head back and relaxed, slumped on the couch as it moved through her, as it soothed every nerve to the point of ecstasy.

“You gonna be okay now?” Andy said.

“Mmm, yeah. I feel all yummy now.”

He leaned over and kissed her, and she put an arm around his neck, pulled him close, and gave him a long, deep kiss.

He smiled as he pulled back. “That’s nice. I want some more a that when I get back.”

He stood and she said, “Hurry back.”

Andy left the trailer. A moment later, she heard his pickup truck start. A moment after that, he backed out, then drove away.

Sherry licked her lips, then smacked them. Now she could function. She stood and prodded one of the lumps on the floor with her bare foot. “Okay, who’s on my floor?” she said. “C’mon, guys, it’s – “ She looked at the clock on the VCR. “ – it’s almost nine-thirty. It’s nighttime, guys.”

The bodies began to stir on the floor. Blankets shifted and a head popped up from beneath one of them.

“Lissa?” Sherry said.

“What?”

“Hi. I’d forgotten you were here.”

Lissa smiled, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. She smacked her lips and rubbed her eyes. Looked like Lissa was feeling pretty gummy, too. She had short dark hair and a round face and was plump. Lissa and Sherry had been friends since high school.

“Who else is here, anyway?” Sherry said.

“Rob. Remember? And Philpott.”

“I remember Rob being here. When did Philpott come?” His name was Sherman, but everybody called him by his last name, Philpott.

“I dunno. Oh, and some guy.”

“Some guy?”

“Yeah, some guy, I dunno who he is.” She nudged the body beside her with a knee. “Come on, guys, wake up. It’s late.”

“You want some more, Lissa?” Sherry said.

“Oh, yeah.”

Sherry opened her kit as Lissa got up on the couch beside her. Sherry went through all the motions.

“Oh, God,” Philpott groaned as he slowly rolled over and peeled the blanket back. “My back.”

“What?” Rob said.

“My back. It’s in pain. From sleeping on the floor. How long’ve I been down here, anyway?”

“All day,” Lissa said as Sherry injected the needle. “No wonder your back hurts. Mine doesn’t feel so good, either.” Her voice became quieter and quieter and her head fell back on the cushion, and a big, slow smile spread over her face. “Mmm,” she said, and it sounded like a cat’s purr.

Sherry pulled the needle out and put her things away in the black vinyl kit.

“What the hell is this?” Philpott said.

“Oh, God,” Rob said.

Sherry looked down at the boys and tried to focus on what they were looking at.

There was one remaining lump beneath a blanket. A corner of the blanket was pulled back, and there was a puddle of something on the dirty old cigarette-burned beige carpet, something white and foamy and lumpy that disappeared under the blanket.

“Hey, dude,” Philpott said. “Wake up.” He reached over and shook the body beneath the blanket, but it did not respond.

Philpott grabbed the edge of the blanket and pulled it back in one quick movement.

A young man in his early twenties, their age, lay on the floor on his side with his mouth and eyes open. The foamy substance clung to his lips and chin. He’d vomited it onto the floor. He stared at nothing with dull, flat, milky eyes. His face was pale with a sick, yellowish hue, his messy hair dark.

“Holy shit!” Philpott said as he scrambled to get to his feet and get away from the body.

“Oh, God,” Rob said as he got on hands and knees, then stood.

Sherry gasped and shot to her feet, still holding her kit. She swayed a little unsteadily, then found her footing. “Who is that?” she said. “What… what happened?”

Rob said, “It looks like… he O.D.’d.”

“Oh, dear Jesus,” Sherry whimpered as she pressed both fists to her chin and dropped her kit to the floor. “But who is he?”

“Didn’t he come here with David this morning?” Philpott said.

“When was David here?” Sherry said.

They stared at the corpse for a while – all but Lissa, who sat slumped on the couch, her eyes closed.

Sherry tried to speak, but only croaked like a little frog. She did not recognize the pale, dead young man on the floor.

“Yeah, he was here,” Lissa said, still slumped on the couch with her eyes closed. She opened them and slowly leaned forward to sit on the edge of the couch. “David was here early this morning. Today was still on TV, so it was early.” Lissa slowly looked down and saw the body and gasped. “What the… who’s that?” she said, her voice breathy.

“That’s right,” Rob said, frowning. “I’ve got a fuzzy memory of David being here.”

Sherry said, “What’s he doing here now?”

“Well, he’s… dead,” Philpott said.

“But who is he?” Lissa said as she stood.

“We don’t know,” Philpott said.

“Well… what are we supposed to do?” Sherry said.

Timidly, Lissa said, “Call the police?”

Sherry said, “We can’t call the police, Lissa, there’s a fuckin’ meth lab in the other room.”

“Oh, yeah,” Lissa whispered.

“And we’re stoned,” Sherry said.

“Hey, I’m not stoned,” Rob said. “I gotta go, anyway.” He started looking around for his shoes.

“What?” Sherry said. “You can’t leave.”

“I brought you, Lissa,” Rob said as he put his shoes on. “You comin’ with me now?”

“No, you guys can’t leave!” Sherry said. “We have to wait till Andy gets back. Andy’ll know what to do. Don’t go!”

“I gotta go,” Rob said. “You comin’, Lissa?”

“I-I don’t know,” Lissa said. She put a hand to the side of her head, as if it hurt.

“Come on, Lissa, you can’t go,” Sherry said. “You, either, Rob. You have to stay till Andy comes back.”

“No, I don’t need this shit,” Rob said. “C’mon, Lissa, let’s go.”

“But I don’t wanna leave Sherry here with this.”

“Fine, then, stay. But I’m goin’.” Rob went to the door and opened it as he fished his keys from his pocket. Outside, it was dark. “I’ll see you guys later.” He pulled the door closed after him.

They heard his car door open, then close, heard his engine start.

“I can’t believe he left,” Sherry said quietly. “I mean, we, we’ve got a-a dead body on the floor, and he, he just leaves.”

“Please cover him up,” Lissa said.

“Yeah, that’s not a bad idea,” Sherry said as she bent down and tossed the blanket over the staring body.

“I’m hungry,” Philpott said.

“How can you eat now?” Sherry said.

“My stomach’s growlin’, that’s how.”

“Well, have some cereal, or somethin’. Help yourself.”

“What are you gonna do?” he said.

Sherry sighed. “Wait for Andy to get back. I don’t know what else to do. Maybe Andy will.”

Philpott nodded and said, “Yeah, he probably will. When’s he coming back?” He went to the cupboard, got a bowl and a box of Cap’n Crunch, poured the cereal into the bowl, then went to the refrigerator for milk.

“I don’t know,” she said, thinking, Not soon enough.

“What are we gonna do with him?” Lissa said, her eyes puffy. “I mean, if we take him to the hospital, they’re gonna wanna know who we are. They’ll ask about our connection to him, they’ll wanna know who he is, they’ll ask – “

Stop it, Lissa!” Sherry snapped. She raised her hands and buried her fingers in her hair on both sides of her head. “Just stop it, please. My God, I need a cigarette. And a drink.”

Sherry went to the end table, found her Marlboros, and lit one up with a red butane lighter.

Philpott stood leaning on the kitchen counter and ate his cereal.

“I wish I’d gone with Rob now,” Lissa said, her voice quavering. She turned and stared down at the long lump in the blanket on the floor.

“I’m sorry, Lissa,” Sherry said. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m… tense. I really appreciate you stayin’ here with me. Both of you, thank you for stayin’, really.”

Philpott put his cereal down and held up a half-full bottle of tequila. “You serious about having that drink?”

“Yeah,” Sherry said. She went to the kitchen, took a glass from the counter and rinsed it out. She held out the glass and Philpott poured.

He was short and pudgy with bright red hair and a face covered with freckles. He took a glass down from the cupboard and poured some tequila for himself, took a few swallows, then picked up his cereal and finished eating it, drank the remaining milk out of the bowl, then put the bowl in the sink.

“Lissa’s right,” Sherry said. “What’re we gonna do with him without getting ourselves in trouble?”

A brief frown could not darken Philpott’s open, optimistic face. “We’ll ask Andy when he gets back. Maybe David will be with him and we can find out who this guy is.”

Sherry thought of the corpse’s open eyes and mouth and took a couple gulps of tequila. “Hurry home, Andy,” she said.

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