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Life, Death, and Thirst in Hogwaller photo

It’s lunchtime, the fridge has some old softened carrots and half of a purple onion, some coconut creamer, and one lonely egg. I grab my bag and go outside. I need a big drink, I’m drying up in the sun. I walk down the path and there is a new square of fresh concrete on the sidewalk with a length of yellow tape blocking my way. I look at the cakey cement square, someone has written ‘CUBAN MAMA’ in it. I reach in my bag and carve into the drying cement with a half used tube of old lipstick. I write ‘BLACK HOLE SUN WON’T YOU CUM?? ’ and then I draw the sun. I stick the lipstick into the concrete also. Art is easy and that is why it is for stupid people.

Woman holding a hammer comes up to me on the sidewalk and tells me her granny is a bitch, Granny just won two grand at the Charlestown races. Tells me her granny's got a horseshoe up her butt and I say I believe her. I start walking towards the ABC store and the woman follows me. She swings a hammer in one hand and a tub of neon cheez balls with a purple lid in the other, says her name is Kathy Ann.

Kathy Ann follows me and tells me about her day and Kathy Ann tells me about seeing wild horses on the beach and Kathy Ann tells me how to make lemon squares. We walk up to the ABC store and Kathy Ann follows me inside. I grab a small bottle of bourbon off of a sticky shelf.  Kathy Ann follows me to the counter and the man at the counter watches Kathy Ann swing her hammer back and forth beside me as I pay for the bourbon and the man watches as Kathy Ann swings the hammer behind me as I head out the door.

I pull out the cigarettes from my bag and I hand one to Kathy Ann who is standing at my side. She sets the cheez balls on the curb. We stand smoking in silence for a moment. Kathy Ann says “it’s rough” and I say yeah. I look around us and the world is blind to us and the world is deaf to us. I start thinking about Kathy Ann in ways that make me feel unhinged. I tell Kathy Ann I’m having all kinds of thoughts.

Kathy Ann follows me as I start walking back towards my house. I look in the bottom of my bag to see if there are any broken Xanax chunks laying around in there I can pop. I find half a bar in the corner of the bag and swallow it. I stand near the entrance to my apartment and look at Kathy Ann then we keep walking. I say “I’m gonna go sit by the river”. Kathy Ann nods her head and I watch myself sway in front of her in the reflection of her fast shades.  We hobble together down Market Street to the end of the road where Woolen Mills meets the muddy Rivanna River. It flows and flows and I stare at it and I don’t care about anything. I watch the devil float by riding on the back of a ten-foot silver swan and I don’t care. I squat down along the river bank with my feet planted in the muck. Kathy Ann rests on the tub of cheez balls. Kathy Ann asks if I saw the swan and I say yea.

Sometimes people drown in this river and sometimes people find bashed up bloated blue bodies along this river and blame it on gang violence. Sometimes I swim naked in this river and I don’t care who sees. The river doesn’t care either. The Rivanna River used to be named The River Anne, it’s always churning and it’s always changing. Sometimes it floods and people cry about their cars. I flick my cigarette into the river and it disappears.  I like how I die slowly because it feels more tragic.

I look at Kathy Ann and I think about all the dumb men around here.  Kathy Ann says “all change is short change.” I feel dumb and blind and I feel ugly. I watch life fly by like it’s goodbye forever. I feel lonelier than ever sitting on the river bank with Kathy Ann. I wonder if she likes Thai food. I wonder if her bedspread is from Walmart and if it’s neon-colored with black skulls on it. I think about how bad I wanted to be Neil Young when I was little. It’s not easy to be alive and it’s not easy to say good-bye.

Kathy Ann looks at me with her face melting from the sun. her face is slipping down off of her skull and dripping upon her shirt and it is rolling off her fat shoulders and Kathy Ann’s face is just pouring down like rain from there on. My eyes feel like they are vibrating and made of blown glass as I watch clumps of Kathy Ann’s hair take turns diving off of the top of Kathy Ann’s right shoulder. I open my mouth and I tell the vibrating skull that I’m gonna head on home now and I tell the skull it probably should drink some water. The skull moves forward a little bit and then the skull falls onto the mudbank and rolls down into the river.

 I watch the skull float near the mud bank while I stand next to the rest of Kathy Ann’s body. Then I watch as the bobbing skull shrinks down and becomes a pearl and then I keep watching as a small redbreast sunfish swallows down the misshapen pearl like a prize.

I say goodbye to Kathy Ann’s body and then I wave goodbye to Kathy Ann’s body. I can’t really tell at all if Kathy Ann’s body knows I am waving goodbye to it and that I am saying goodbye but there are angels, illuminated, all around us. All around us on the river bank the angels are suspended in the air like molasses and I say goodbye the best I can.

I hear the angels talk shit about me as I’m walking back towards Hogwaller. The angels don’t follow me but they make noises at me like tea kettles boiling or trains braking or goats giving birth and everything feels darker now and I wish I was the sunfish. I wish I was anything not human, I wish I was a bolero tie around a bull dykes neck catching drops of sweat while someone plays old time. The heat in Virginia is exhausting, I die slowly walking back to my apartment. I didn’t mean to feel this good, I didn’t mean to feel anything. I drink from my bottle right there by the cemetery and it means nothing to me. The heat is violence, the tar sticks to me as I walk in the road and I wonder why there are no good sidewalks here.

 I’m caring the tub of cheez balls and I walk way up to the top of a hill and pour the whole load down the road back towards the river. The cheez balls roll out and they roll out hard but it feels like I’m just skipping rocks somehow. In my head, I say ‘I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive’ to each cheez ball as it rolls away but it still just feels like skipping rocks. I can’t explain these feelings to people but I know I’m right.

I throw the empty tub of cheez balls near some wilting hydrangeas and the number 11 bus nearly hits me while I stand in the road. I say in my head I am fragile, I tell myself there's no point in breaking right here in the road. I tell myself I should wait till later.

On the way home I walk past a yard full of sunbleached lawn ornaments and I start to cry hot tears of desire for the flamingos and the fat girl in the cutoffs on the porch as I bumble on by. The heat is drastic and maybe the only thing that is real. I feel competitive with the heat but I know the heat will beat me one day the way it beat my friend Macey’s mom when we were in high school.

 I walk around the trailer park that has been dropped on top of a small hill like it’s just bird shit on a windshield. The boy with ‘Mama Tried’ tattooed underneath his eyes and ‘Country Fried’ inscribed above them got shot through the heart in the smallest trailer in Hogwaller. His mama said the police don’t give a fuck on live tv, I was watching the tv when she said that.  I used to see him at the public pool sometimes and his body was so kinetic, I felt scared to look away from all of that potential.  I was afraid if I looked away he would just disappear. He would swim for a while then the water would drip off his tattoos with purpose and he would just stand upright in the sun like that dripping. He swam in his jean shorts, he never had a towel.


image: Brooks Callison