Prose
Jawbone
by J. Bowers
People sleep on Ketch's couches. That's just the kind of guy he is--an easygoing dope fiend with some extra living space, always willing to lend a couch to whoever comes around. You can keep your bicycle in his hallway and live off ramen noodles until things start looking up. You can borrow some of his narcolepsy meds and spend the whole week passed out on the mustard-colored sofa, only waking up for hot bowls of ketchup and rice. As long as you do your own dishes, Ketch doesn't care.

I have eternal dibs on the mattress nestled between Ketch's record player and a pile of defunct computers that we rescued from the Dumpsters behind the Office Max. I'm using one of the computers to finish my book, an epic travelogue about the time me and Ketch hitchhiked to Roanoke, out of our heads on shrooms and borrowed heart medication. I'm writing everything from Ketch's point of view. I couldn't figure out how else to do the part where he stands on the back of a Pontiac with a lampshade on his head, beating his chest like some kind of stoned Tarzan.

I let him see that paragraph yesterday, while we loaded up on expired organic rolls behind the Trader Joe's. It was neat to hear Ketch read his dialogue. It sounds just like him. He spent five minutes shouting "We'll make millions, Benny-boy!" just like he does on page 23, and it ended up making a lot of sense, actually, because we had customers at the apartment all afternoon, forking over wadded handfuls of twenties and eating the rolls toasted with hummus.

They always come in discreet packs of three or four, all in the thick of their summer binges, glassy-eyed and eager to hurry back to the air-conditioned comfort of idling cars. We have a system for optimum customer satisfaction. I put on some music, Ketch packs a bong, and everyone just kind of hangs out, talking shit about the weather and the president, playing it cool until Ketch pulls his scale out from under the mustard-colored sofa and starts talking business.

He's very good at measuring dope, very exacting, but he's prone to fix bigger portions for hot girls and new customers, especially if he likes whatever they've brought in trade. Cash and prescription opiates are best, of course, but we don't mind decent stereo equipment either. Our inner circle pays with their company and random stuff they think we might appreciate. My ex still stops by every so often to bake her homemade cookies and her head. Once Frannie showed us where to find a truckload of stolen road signs and disembodied mannequin limbs. And then, or lately anyway, there's always Evil Ben.

Ketch's been sitting at the kitchen table for the past half-hour or so, rolling spliffs on top of a comic book while we wait for Evil Ben to arrive. Ketch likes to roll spliffs. He painstakingly dissects the buds, piles the scraps onto papers, then roll-lick-twists. He says he finds it almost as soothing as smoking them. Of course, he's smoking one anyway, clenching it between his teeth like any old cigarette and ashing all over his jeans.

"There, three for me and five for you," he says, standing up suddenly.

"How come?"

Ketch dusts off his hands and cracks his back, taking a long drag.

"'Cause I'm already on number four."

His cackle almost drowns out the moist, crackling sound of cars moving over the concrete below. We're like Pavlov's dogs when it comes to parking lot noises, half because Ketch spotted a K-9 unit outside once, half because we like to know who's trying to come see us. There are some kids we'd rather avoid. Ketch stumbles over our laundry, trying to reach the front window. I'm closer, so I pull back the thumbtacked bedsheet curtain and duck under the sill. There's a blue Chevy in the parking lot, spluttering gray-green smoke.

"Is it him?" asks Ketch.

Four or five hippie kids start piling out of the car, tripping over patchwork pants too large and squinting at the number on our apartment building, probably trying to memorize it for future reference. I fall back onto the rug, elbows first, and shake my head.

"Nah," I say. "Just Fluffy Selander and his crew. Six or eight of them, no one I know."

"Chee-rist. We’re not home."

Ketch vaults himself onto the mustard-colored sofa and picks up a book, his red eyes trained on the door. I stay put, hardly breathing. We can hear them in the hallway. They're scuffing their wet Birks on the mat and giggling far too conspicuously, ignoring Fluffy's hissed admonitions to shut the fuck up. He's a good egg, that kid. Brought us some nice hash once, knows a lot about the 9/11 commission, best all-around. Under normal circumstances, we'd make sure he got what he came for, but today we just don't have time for all these people. Today, we're waiting for Evil Ben.

Matt's still out there cussing and ringing the bell. We were their last hope, by the sound of it. There's a girl out there complaining that the whole county's dry, they've tried everyone they know and there's nothing anywhere, can't they just get some 40s and get tanked at the reservoir? It's nice out--get enough beer in you, you won't even miss being stoned. A heavy silence follows her suggestions. She's been saying these things to these people all day, and they’re bored.

Matt leans on the doorbell a few more times, but it's just for show--he knows we're not going to answer. We hear his people arguing their way down the sidewalk. The reservoir girl mutters something about a liquor store, but everyone just yells at her to hurry up and slams their car doors. It's sort of sad. I wonder if she's hot. By the time I lift myself to the window to check, they're gone.

"Well, that's that," laughs Ketch, flinging his book across the room.

I wander into the kitchen, stoned and restless, and carve open a can of refried beans. They slide into the saucepan like dog food, cylindrical and brown. There's a sign above the stove about not cooking when you're strunk or droned, drawn in colored pencil by that pixie-haired girl, Maura, who stayed here a few months back. By way of illustration, she drew herself, me, Ketch, and some roaches fleeing from the burning apartment building, rendered in carefully blended orange and yellow. Our arms are spaghetti-thin and waving crazily overhead, our mouths, shocked blue Os. I wonder whatever happened to Maura. She used to fling noodles against the wall to see if they were done and give everyone henna tattoos. We haven't seen her in quite some time. I turn the stove off and put the beans, pan and all, in the refrigerator.

"Hey, Ketch, whatever happened to--"

"Shh! You hear that? He’s here."

We answer the door before the bell rings, bounding forward like a couple of puppies or sitcom children. Evil Ben is standing behind it, resplendent in a red Mexican poncho, his plank-toothed grin outsizing Montana.

"Greetings, fellow fuckwits!" he announces.

"Did you get them? Did you?"

Evil Ben’s hand emerges from his poncho, holding a brown paper bag. His grin grows two sizes as he hands them to Ketch, he's that pleased with himself. I sweep some issues of Preacher off the kitchen table and Ketch spills a heap of crinkly dried mushrooms onto the ashy placemats, enough to eat and sell and save for later.

"Fuuuck," says Ketch, his eyes Christmas-wide. "You're a goddamn genius."

“I know,” says Evil Ben.

Normally we'd find some way to cook the mushrooms--make pizza or boil tea or something, but it's plain that Evil's not in a waiting mood. He keeps roving around the living room, patting our furniture and clapping his hands, like a little kid waiting for a birthday clown.

“Yeah, okay,” says Ketch. He smashes a double handful of mushrooms into his mouth, scrunching his eyes shut and chasing them with a can of warm lemonade that someone forgot to finish. It takes him a while to swallow. They probably taste like dirt, or worse. They must taste like the giant tumbleweed clusters of lint and hair and toast crumbs I find skittering across the linoleum under the fridge.

"Come on, Ben. Dig in." says Evil, kicking the sofa with his heels. "Places to see, people to do."

I'm watching Ketch chew. He’s actually smiling. So I figure fuck it, and hold my nose. The shrooms crumble quickly between my teeth. They taste like book bindings, or old gum. The last half of Ketch's lemonade washes everything down. It was probably mine in the first place.

"All right, let's move," barks Evil Ben, vaulting off the mustard-colored sofa and clapping his hands like a camp counselor. Ketch places each spliff gently inside a baggie and pinches the zipper shut until yellow and blue make green. Evil Ben grabs the empty lemonade can and crushes it flat against his forehead. He doesn't even flinch.

"You're fucking nuts, man," laughs Ketch, following Evil as he barrels down the stairwell. It seems like the banister's rising to meet me as I follow them, its straight white posts jutting out of the floor like ship's railings. They have that maritime movement to them, too, that untrustworthy pitch and roll. I hurry past the neighbors' wicker wreaths and slap the front of the building's brass mailbox on my way outside.

The grass is beige with patches of startling green. A lot of the college kids in Ketch's complex pay an extra $100 a month to raise yappy little dogs. The green spots mark where they like to shit. Evil Ben runs across the lawn and rolls into a perfect cartwheel, his poncho swirling around him like some strange cape. Maybe all these chemicals are kicking in. But I feel pretty normal, for summertime. We’re losing the sun, but it's still hot enough for those weird little waffling spots of radiation on the blacktop, blurring the air. Evil flings open the rear doors of his mint-green Vanagon. The back is lined with a blue tarp and piled high with junk--dusty stacks of crushed bushel baskets and gutted engine parts, held together with gnarled strings of baling twine.

"To the Batmobile!" he whoops, stabbing a finger toward the sky.

Ketch takes shotgun. I clamber in beside a lawnmower, and pretty soon we're all barreling up I-83, away from the city, which makes a lot of sense, really, when mushrooms are involved. You gotta stay outside, everything good's gonna happen outside. Inside leads to nausea and claustrophobia and overly important-feeling fumblings with the opposite sex.

"Where are we going?"

I sound more worried than I meant to. I just don't want this to be like the time Ketch and I ended up in Kent County, freaked out on acid and buying more from some bearded guy who let pygmy goats wander freely through his home, shitting and pissing at will.

"Graceland, Graceland, Memphis Tennessee," sings Evil Ben, lifting his chin toward the rear view and grinning at me. "Right, Sergeant Ketch?"

"Sure, why not."

Ketch is doubled over to keep his lighter out of the wind. There's a lot of wind. It whips through the open windows, making the tarp under me flap like a flying carpet. I take a long drag from Ketch’s cigarette-shaped dugout. This weed tastes different than the stuff we had back at the apartment.

"Did you get the wire shears?"

Thicker, somehow, like the smoke's soldering itself to the insides of my lungs.

"Fuck yeah. We’re gonna see what's in there."

I bet my lungs are turning black and gooey, like those cancer diagrams they show on morning TV. Or those tar pits the dinosaurs kept falling into, La Brea. I always remember that name because it sounds sticky and inescapable, and also because it was printed in large yellow letters underneath an artist's rendition of what a cross-section of the La Brea tar pits must have looked like, with desiccated dinosaur remains suspended at the very bottom, rotting Allosaurus and Struthiomimus carcasses in the middle sections, and fresh, green-gray Brontosauri floating atop the stew, struggling like flies with fat elephant limbs. La Brea. The tar.

"Where are we going?"

Evil laughs and crams some cassette tape into the stereo. A stationwagon with a yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbon stuck to the bumper whizzes past us in the right lane, country music blasting loud. Evil cranks up the Jimi and flips them the bird.

"Cut it out," says Ketch, laughing. "Ben's all paranoid already."

"I am not," I hear myself say it, but I sound really far away. Jimi shreds into "The Star-Spangled Banner," which means this is either that Woodstock record or still a mix tape, I'm not sure, I can't remember what the last song was. I was busy with other things, like clinging tight to the van's vinyl handles because the tarp keeps slipping around under my sneakers. Evil's liable to kill us on this exit ramp. The floor of the van feels kind of off-kilter. I wish we'd stayed inside, where things don't move so goddamn fast and there aren’t any cops.

"For serious, man, slow down. Ben's freaking out."

This time I don’t disagree. I take the dugout Ketch offers me. He's talking fast and rubbing his face with both palms, talking shit about the high party where J.D. took DXM and got lost in the woods. I’m remembering the time we were all messed up on mescaline and Adam thought he saw Gandhi doing laundry in the ocean. You know, reminiscing like you do when you're waiting to see where a new trip's going, reading your memories like month-old magazines in some mental waiting room.

We peel off the road onto a narrow dirt drive, where the tallest weeds lick at the van's windows like long green tongues. Evil knows this area pretty well, from what Ketch tells me. Apparently he's been pitching in at organic farms up this way since college, hanging out with kids who've named themselves things like Prasad and Annetay. I still have no idea where the fuck we're going.

"All right, gentlemen," he says suddenly, letting the engine cough to a halt. Ketch comes around back to let me out, shooing away the gnats that drift out of the high grass. Evil waits for us by the headlights, beheading clumps of wild daisies with Ketch's wire shears. If my eyes are half as red as his, we're goddamn golden.

"All right," says Ketch, wading through the rushes after Evil Ben. I haven't been anywhere like this since I was a little kid, back when my cousin and I used to catch crayfish in Conewago Creek and pretend we were nature show hosts, narrating every cautiously lifted slab of rock, every swipe of our green dime-store aquarium nets. Ketch and Evil seem right at home, pushing through the undergrowth like they're wading through some vast green gnat-infested sea.

"Dude, this isn't the right way," says Ketch, extending his arm like an arrow. "There's a deer path, remember?"

"Yeah, yeah, I got it, man," shouts Evil Ben.

Ketch's right, there are deer paths here, strange slim lines slicing through the weeds. It feels like no human’s been here in eons, but I can tell that Ketch and Evil know this place well. They move with a certainty that I'm working on, a sense of purpose that seems almost brave given the circumstances. My tongue feels like it's been tied to a brick.

Evil Ben emits a weird karate cry as he hacks through the brambles, using the wire shears as a makeshift machete. The branches part like arms. For a moment, I can’t see anything, just more leaves and tall grass. Then Ketch starts war-whooping like he's just stolen the best toy rifle from the neighbor kids. A little brown shack stands in the clearing ahead of us, its roof sagging under moss and monkey vines.

"See, I told you," laughs Evil Ben, stamping his sandaled foot. "I told you."

"Fuck yeah," says Ketch, lunging forward to grab the wire shears from Evil Ben. He starts stalking around the walls of the building proprietarily, like he's been here a hundred times before.

"What is it?"

I look to Evil for answers. He's packing a dugout.

"There used to be a farm here," grunts Ketch, grinding the wire shears against the shed door. There's a rusty chain holding it shut, and Ketch's efforts make a horrible screeching sound, loud enough to hush the crickets.

"This was probably the old woodshed or something," adds Evil. "Man, this shit's totally dank. Here, have some."

The dugout is smooth between my fingers as Evil lights the business end. We pass it back and forth a couple times, he and I, not wanting to disturb Ketch's work. It's dark now, and the woods are folding in on themselves. I can't see the way back, but Evil and Ketch don't seem worried. Evil pulls a flashlight out of his cargo pocket. Its beam looks hazy and uncertain at the edges. He keeps it trained on Ketch's hands as the chain snaps, rattling to the ground with a thud.

"Nice," says Evil Ben. Ketch and Evil are standing side by side in front of me, peering into the black. I hunch over Ketch's shoulder as Evil slowly traces the flashlight's beam around the interior, revealing rickety stacks of fruit crates, a tangled mass of chicken wire, and other assorted junk. Ketch takes a drag off of the dugout and passes it to me quickly, following Evil inside.

"Shit, look at this," says Evil, blowing some dust off of an old metal crate and flipping it around so we can see it. There are quarter-sized holes punched into the sides. "I think it's some kind of animal carrier.”

Ketch barely looks. He's using the wire shears to slice orange baling twine off of the chicken wire, appraising the metal like he's planning to use it for something later. Evil hands me the animal cage and presses his flashlight into my struggling hands.

"Here, you hold this, and put everything we want outside, all right?"

I let the cage tumble onto the dewy grass just outside the shed, and train the flashlight beam at Ketch and Evil as they hunch among the junk, digging like dogs.

"Hey, check this out," says Ketch, holding up a weird old fishing net. The foam buoys attached to it look like something's been gnawing on them. Ketch looks thrilled. "Should we take it? It'll look cool in the living room."

"Sure," says Evil Ben, slipping a lit joint into my mouth as he dumps a dusty pile of old taxidermy manuals into my arms.

"Awesome," yelps Ketch, triumphantly hoisting something overhead. "Aim the light over here. Over here!"

My flashlight beam catches two dull glass eyes, bored into the skull of an ancient buck trophy. Its fur hangs limp around its neck, barely attached, and half of one antler is snapped clean off, making it impossible to count the points. Ketch is trying anyway, stretching his fingers wide as he raises his prize to the heavens.

"Ten, man!"

Ketch pushes the buck's head into my outstretched arms. The fur is rough against my skin, and oddly damp. My hands feel strange all of a sudden, like my skin's shrinking tight around my joints.

"That's totally coming with us," grunts Ketch, resting his fists on his hips. "Hey, Evil, man, come take a look at this."

Evil Ben's strangely quiet for being less than ten feet away, far too quiet for us, despite our mushroom-addled minds.

"Yo, Evil?"

"C'mere, guys."

I follow Ketch over some wicked-looking mower blades toward Evil's voice. Ketch is nimbler than I am, or maybe he just cares less about getting hurt. I aim the flashlight at our feet until we reach Evil Ben. He’s standing by a mass of barbed wire, his hands jammed deep into his pockets. Ketch draws in a slow whistle, the way sad farmers do in the movies.

"Shit," he murmurs. "Ben, get the light back here."

Before I can do anything with the flashlight, Evil Ben yanks it out of my hand and points it at a corner of the shed. For a second, there's just the shock of two filmy eyes glowing liquid amber in the dim. Then there’s a strange wooden clash of hooves scrambling for footing on the floor, and I realize what we’re seeing.

"It's a doe," says Evil, but no one needed to. We're all staring at the blade of shattered bone that's sticking out of her, glittering white against her blood-caked flank. It's plain by the weary way she lifts her head that she's been doing this for days now, maybe even weeks. She keeps bracing her back like she wants to shimmy out the way she crept in, through a rotted patch of wall near the floor, but it barely looks big enough for a cat to get in, let alone a deer. A thin grey froth lines her lips.

"Let's get out of here, guys."

No one’s listening to me. Ketch has the flashlight now. He's leaning back against the derelict tractor, aiming the beam at Evil's shaky, stoned hands as they inch toward the doe's injury and back again, a cautious, halting dance. We ought to hurry home before the mushrooms wear off, do bong hits and laugh about the government. I should say this out loud, offer a reason to walk away.

“We can’t go, man,” says Evil Ben.

Ketch nods, his eyes black cherry pits. "Yeah. We gotta do something."

Always the Good Samaritan, Ketch, always Johnny on the spot. If I were less fucked up, I'd make some crack about the time he thought we should return a car stereo because he saw a stroller in the backseat, but there's an edge to his voice now, a harsh, wooden tone. He hands me the flashlight and kneels beside Evil Ben. The doe thrashes her legs for a second, startled, then falls still. Her eyes are weird and iridescent, nothing like the buck trophy Ketch found. We should be home already, finding a place to hang it.

"Let's call animal control," I tell them, training the flashlight on Ketch’s eyes. "They deal with this kind of thing all the time."

"Shut up, Ben." snaps Evil, staring me down. "Animal control isn't going to do shit. And anyway, they'll ask why the fuck we're here."

"Yeah," says Ketch. "We gotta do something now."

"You still got those shears?"

Ketch pulls the shears into the light. They're too dull to glisten, grayed by years of rust and grease and someone else's hands. Ketch probably fished them out of a Dumpster somewhere. Or maybe I did, I don't remember.

"Yeah, man," says Ketch, handing the shears to Evil. I hold the light steady, just above the doe’s back. Her wound glitters like raw meat.

"No," huffs Evil Ben. "In her eyes, man. Shine it in her eyes."

She flinches, her black rubber lips pulled back, showing the white edge of her teeth. Don't touch me, they say without saying. Don't you even dare.

"What are you doing?"

Evil grinds the wire shears open, then closed.

"Quit shaking," he whispers, and for a second I think he's talking to himself, but no, he's definitely talking to me. He doesn't tremble as he clamps his left hand around the doe's neck, pushing her head to the floor and pounding it with the heavy metal shears. It sounds dull at first, a playground punch. Then there’s a horrible wet mashing noise.

I scream, but Ketch clamps his hands over my mouth. When I open my eyes, the deer is ruined, her crushed head pomegranate red, her jawbone wet and smiling in the middle of the mess, rotten molars shining like caramel.

"All right," says Evil, standing up. He smears his hands on the front of his pants. "That's pretty good."

Down on his knees now, Ketch is ripping something out from under the tractor's hulking back wheel while Evil sparks up another joint. My fingers are numb. I take it anyway, and take a nice long drag. The weed's that same strong tar pit stuff, tough enough to cut the heavy, dead scent in the air. Ketch holds up a burlap sack, and Evil nods his dreadlocked head, grinning as I pass the joint back his way.

"Let's take the jawbone," says Evil. "It's a nice souvenir."

"Yeah, it's already almost loose. We can soak it in something when we get home."

Ketch takes a hit and passes the joint back to me, hunkering down to help Evil pry the doe's lower jaw out of her messed-up face. They work methodically, like they're breaking up nuggets at the kitchen table, separating seeds from buds, flesh from bone. I pull another hit of smoke into my lungs and hold it till my eyes water.

"Dude, Ben's crying," says Ketch, stretching the gunnysack wide so Evil can slip the jawbone inside, still dripping wet. I suck a mouthful of snot through my nostrils and swallow hard.

"No, I'm not. It's just the pot. And I think the shrooms are coming on."

Evil hefts the sack onto his back and nods vigorously in my direction.

"You scream like a girl," he says, pushing past. "Come on. Let's go disco."

Outside, Evil holds the flashlight while Ketch and I stuff the taxidermy manuals into the animal cage and wrap the ratty old fishing net around the whole mess. I offer to help carry, but Ketch slings the bundle across his shoulders like it's no trouble at all.

"I got it, man," he says, turning to follow Evil back down the deer path toward the Vanagon. I try not to think about those dainty black hooves passing this way, helping to flatten the grass. I can’t help seeing the doe as she is now, half-headless, floating through the Evil and Ketch seem to be in a real hurry, hunched low under their loot. We reach the van fast. Ketch almost crashes into the side of it.

"Whoa," he gasps. "I think I'm starting to get visuals."

"Yeah, me too," says Evil. "I'm okay to drive, though."

I follow them around back and hold the flashlight while Ketch and Evil dump the bundles on the tarpaulin and push everything around to make sure there's still enough room for me. I think about calling shotgun, but seeing Evil's bloody hand on the silver door handle changes my mind.

Evil flicks on the high beams and fires up the Vanagon's engine, scaring moths out of the weeds as we rumble back toward the main road. At first, I have my arm slung across the seat back, but my legs start getting this weird rubbery feeling, like they don't want to support my weight, so I slump cheekdown against the tarpaulin. It smells like dirt and gasoline. Evil's bolus of chicken wire is wobbling in the darkness, every tiny hexagon glowing like wet honeycomb, shifting, kaleidoscopic. For a second, it seems to be the only thing keeping everything from crashing down on me, bushels, lawnmower, the whole works. The junk looks like a castle in the half-light, chicken wire spires curling toward the felted ceiling, caressing dark cigarette burn stars. Ketch and Evil have the Floyd cranked pretty loud, but I still hear them.

"Dude, where'd you get these shrooms?"

"Damon," says Evil Ben. "Up in Staten Island."

"No shit! How's he doing?"

"Good. He's got this old frat house. Man, last time I was up there, he had these two hot girls in the kitchen, melting shrooms and chocolate into molds and shit."

"No shit," marvels Ketch.

"Yeah," says Evil Ben. "I went up there to buy dope, and Damon was like, 'Go pick something out of the hall closet.' So we go open this closet, right, and there are like thirty or forty different pieces just sitting in there."

"Fuck."

"Yeah," says Evil Ben. "Water pipes, gravity bongs, proto-pipes, you name it. We ended up getting seriously blazed with those girls, and one guy passed out in the dog's bed with this huge Great Dane just like, drooling all over him. I ended up doing shrooms with the one girl."

"Shit. What happened?"

"Fucked her."

Ketch and Evil cackle for what seems like hours, pleased with themselves. We must be getting back on the interstate now. Our speed sends the doe's jawbone slipping out of its burlap cage. Its fleshless lip is frozen in a slack, six-toothed grin.

"Take it, Ben, Jesus," says Ketch. When I look up, his arm's dangling over the back seat, waving the dugout's glowing orange cherry in my face. I reach for it, but my arm feels shorter than it ought to. Or maybe gravity's different down here. Or maybe Ketch is keeping his hand just out of reach. Either way, it takes longer than usual to get a hit. Evil and Ketch cackle, and the jawbone leers like it's always been here, like it never fit behind the curled lips of a sweet woodland beast, like it thinks it's fucking hilarious when I smell blood on Ketch's dugout, taste that acrid aluminum tang.

"Your man Damon’s got it made," says Ketch, whistling between his teeth. The front seat springs creak beneath him like a ship, like the floorboards in our apartment. I feel myself stretching out in our living room, my head bobbing in a wide sea of churning floorboards and food wrappers and cast-off shoes, my feet signaling feebly at the crew of the good ship mustard-colored sofa, anchored just off the coast of wicker lawnchair. In time, they’ll spot my buoys and hoist me aboard with blankets and wrinkled cigarette ends, rolled to revive me with their salty nicotine charms. They'll weigh me down with pillows for ballast, and gag the jawbone so I won't hear it laughing.

And of course Ketch'll be there--sitting hunched on the mustard-colored armrest with a bong balanced between his knees. This always happens. I take too much junk and Ketch waits for me to come down. We'll go out for tofu burritos and spend the afternoon playing Playstation. It'll be great.

I let my eyes flicker open, ignoring the pain as my pupils adjust. I really am in the living room, and Ketch really is here, slapping the Velcro on his sandals shut. He smiles when he sees I’m awake, and leans over to punch my knee.

"Hey, buddy."

"Hey...how did I get here?"

"Evil and I carried you inside," says Ketch, laughing. "Man, were you wasted."

"Yeah," I say, riding out a head rush as I sit up. Evil waves and smiles from the kitchen table, wiping something powdery off his nose.

"You ready to go disco, man?" he asks. I don’t feel like he’s talking to me.

"We're going to New York to see Damon," says Ketch, standing up.

"When?"

"Now."

"Oh."

I sit up and rub my eyes. The jawbone is curled comfortably against the sofa cushions, grinning like we're long-lost friends. Its smile seems wider, like the marrow shrank in on itself as it dried, stretching the teeth apart.

"You coming, Ketch?'"

Evil's standing beside the front door, jingling the keys to his Vanagon. Ketch looks at me, then him, then grabs his jacket and shrugs.

"He's got acid."

"Oh."

"Yeah," says Ketch. "We're gonna be gone for a couple days, probably."

"That's cool."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, it's fine."

"All right, catch you later, man," says Ketch. "Don't forget to lock up if you go out. There's dope in the bong."

"Yeah, take it easy," adds Evil, still swiping at his nose, even as they leave. The door clicks shut, they clump down the lobby steps, and I'm alone. I stand up gingerly, half-afraid that the jawbone will brush against me.

Ketch's right, there's dope in the bong, and someone's left the Playstation on, with the controller wound around the heap of melted candle wax and plastic dinosaurs stuck to Ketch's coffee table. The pixie-headed hipster girl who put them there put a lot of effort into making the dime-store dinosaurs and army men struggle realistically to escape the deadly rainbow wax. Some components glow in the dark. We all used to sit around taking gravity hits and talking about it, accidentally splashing bongwater on our stocking feet. I think her name was Juliette. I don't know, she's gone. Everyone who comes here leaves. That's just the way these things work.

It's the reason why everything I own fits so neatly into my old college backpack--clothes, towel, wallet, pipe, a quarter of weed snitched from Ketch's djembe drum. It's why I'm yanking Maura's old train schedule out from under its refrigerator magnets and counting sixty bucks out of the stash in Ketch’s bedroom. He'll notice it's gone before he realizes I am. Around here, we keep track of our money, not our friends.

I almost feel like I should explain this to the jawbone, so she can tell Evil Ben tomorrow night, when he's curled up on my mattress. But as I look at the mustard-colored sofa, the empty Robitussin boxes, and the giant fluorescent snake we rescued from a carnival Dumpster last summer, I find that there isn't much left to tell.

"Goodbye," I say, opening the front door. “I’m sorry.”

The jawbone just grins.

Posted by: J. Bowers

Prose (May 31st, 2006)