Patrick is holding court on the back patio. A seated Trout, who is reluctantly in attendance and working on the Sunday crossword, is not even sure if the back patio should be open. The cafeteria is closed, and the septuagenarian Ms. Ellen, who earlier taught seated yoga in the Group Room, reminded Patrick that the back patio is available during eating hours only.
She also reminded Patrick to wear a shirt, as there is a dress code. Ms. Ellen, though is retiring in two days, and her day in-day out seated cow-cat doesn’t exactly manufacture authority. Nor do the fact of orthopedic shoes during Vinyasa.
Patrick had been sunning himself earlier, and journaling, out by the asphalt walking path, near the fenced-in pool, which was for who knew what patients. The schizophrenics had the Ping-Pong table in the South Wing; the pool seemed to be for the pool guy only, who fished out the water bugs with a skimmer at 10a.m. daily. The pool was otherwise a failed Hockney painting, bottom-murky.
“Trout—you gotta hear this.” And Patrick was busy punching up texts on his phone.
“How’d you get that phone in here?” Trout asked. “Never mind.” He shakes his head. Patrick is practically manic.
Trout was stuck on 47 down.
James pipes up from his recessed seat near a potted cycad. He’s wearing a black hoodie pulled up over his head and hiding a cigarette. Earlier, he had admitted to being busted twice by the Korean security guard while trying to steal a smoke, but—since he’s withdrawing from heroin—tobacco only seemed fair.
“What’s up, Patrick?”
James is hiding his hand behind the potted plant, which is already yellow, and there are wafts of illicit tobacco.
“This message—from my girlfriend!”
Patrick is a short-timer, needs a ride to Mojave.
“Fucking hot out there,” Trout says. “Death Valley was 127 degrees yesterday, second highest recorded temperature on the planet. Seven degrees shy of hottest.”
Trout is still stuck on 47 down.
“I know! And Mojave was like a hundred-fucking-nine. I told my girlfriend it’s 73 out here and she told me to fuck off.”
Eric suddenly appears in a red flannel crew neck and blue flannel pajama bottoms. Comes out of some side door from somewhere, and—like a mad gibbon—moves opposite the caucus and places two hands on the vending machine glass at the patio’s far end. He then disappears behind the vending machine and crouches down.
Trout: “What the fuck?” putting down his paper. His pants are neatly cuffed, his shirt sleeves neater. He’s the asshole of the bunch.
Mike speaks up: “Monkey looking for Freon? Hell if I know.”
Mike is sitting behind Trout’s left shoulder, shirt off, and with a Vikings hat creased to resemble a BDU patrol cap atop his head. He’s a handsome black man, portly, with a neatly trimmed beard. Seated he’s exactly two rolls–stomach and tits—and has deftly sharpened pinkie nails which he hasn’t trimmed after almost four weeks of Program.
He’s VA, like Patrick, and they call each other ‘Chief’ out of deference.
“Here it is, here it is,” and Patrick holds up his phone.
He reads from his illuminated screen: “Hope you’re ready for me when you get here. I’m gonna fuck your brains out.” He laughs, “Ha-HA!”
Patrick is Nazarene-chic with a caved-in chest and wasted pecs. He wears shirts, generally advertising tequila, and is bandied on all wrists and ankles with assorted beads and twine. He looks like every Donald Sutherland film of the Seventies with bouffant hair and an anachronistic moustache. He wears cock-eyed Ray-Bans with tape on the earpieces to hold them in narrow place.
Trout had a hard time figuring out why all of Patrick’s shirts were ripped two inches south of the collar, but—in keeping theme with the hemp bangles—Patrick also wore assorted necklaces. Two inches south of his collar was a roughly cruciform pendant, battered silver, with a bauble in its center. A poor man’s pave´.
Mike says: “Nice. Can’t wait to get me some pussy.” James takes a drag from his cigarette, looking around.
James is all hawk-nose and probably could care less about the banter at present. He could only get out of bed twenty-four hours prior.
Trout shrugs. “Good for you, Man.”
Eric comes bounding over from his simian perch behind the vending machine.
“Dude, dude, dude!” he says to James. “Let me have some of that!” James obliges.
It ‘s safe to say that Eric has the dumbest haircut on the planet, a buzz cut of sorts, but with a hairline opposite of receding. His forehead is made small by wolf-boy overgrowth, and he’s got those goddam mismatched pajamas.
Trout figures out 47 down. On to 63 across.
“So how you gonna get there?” Trout asks Patrick.
“Gotta get a bus, but I need my license first WHICH I told my sister to send me.” He punches the air with his contraband phone.
“Wait,” James asks, retrieving his cigarette, ”You need a license now for a bus?”
“Well, YEAH,” Patrick says.
Mike laughs. He usually only talks when pussy is the conversation d’jour, but he’s still a few rodeos ahead of James.
“Greyhound, Dude. Greyhound.”
“I told my sister to send me my license, but then she says she ‘feels uncomfortable’ sending that sort of stuff by mail,” Patrick is exasperated. He holds hands like electrical charges above his head.
“I KINDUV NEED THAT, I tell her.”
“So not MTS?” James asks again.
Mike chuckles, and no one bothers answer.
Eric is reaching for another drag, but James has already extinguished his smoke against the trunk of the potted sago. This is a complete disregard of prehistory. Sagos existed in the time of dinosaurs and well before Sir Walter Raleigh. Tobacco showed up only a few millennia before Christ.
Patrick bounces in a circle with hands still above his head. “Goddammit! I need to get on that bus!”
Trout: “Because of…(?)”
“Tina? No—not just Tina. I need to get into the VA Center downtown—I need my personals.”
“So, like one hundred nine degrees and then a 180 back? To the VA?”
Patrick points emphatically and taps his philtrum, the divot above his upper lip.
“Yes, yes, yes, Trout. I’m supposed to get a bed there. Year-long program. Christ—haven’t been downtown in thirty years. I hear my boot camp is now all shopping malls and shit.”
“Wait, what? Whendja go to boot camp?”
Patrick taps his nose and prances another circle: “YES!”
Trout laughs for the first time.
“That IS all shopping malls and shit. Golf course, greenbelt, restaurants, playgrounds. That place got closed down in ’86? Yeah—they finally re-zoned it. Now it’s all commercial.”
Trout puts his paper between his knees, momentarily. “Where did you serve, Patrick?” He cocks his head, suddenly and keenly interested.
Patrick has bled-out tattoos, green ink on his forearms where the track marks could be, and these are military souvenirs when there aren’t otherwise medals. The pool at the end of the patio is likewise green and nondescript. Moths fly in the low light, to be fished out tomorrow from the shallow end.
“Central America? Iraq?”
“No.” Patrick points, Jack in the Patrick, “No—DC! The whole fucking time!” This is a ribald joke.
Trout picks up the paper again. The last answer was ‘ayeforaneigh’, some crossword nonesuch involving horses and politicians. He decides the crossword is stupid, a dalliance, a needle in the head jerk-off; he folds it away.
Wolf-boy Eric says, belatedly: “Downtown. You can totally score downtown.”
“Greyhound station in particular,” Patrick whirls and, again, points to Eric.
He then reels himself in, reversing his sprung accordion.
Un-pop goes the Weasel.
James meanwhile has fallen asleep.
“What’s up, Chief?” Mike asks, readjusting his hat, wiping his armpits with his discarded but matching Vikings jersey.
Patrick shakes his head. A Greyhound bus to Mojave would take sixteen hours. By car, six. Ten hours extra is the devil’s time, especially as passenger and not as driver.
Mike intuits something and scratches the side of his nose with his pinky nail.
“My roomie here, Trout—he normal. Right, Trout? You normal?”
Trout turns toward Mike for the first time. They’ve roomed together for a few days, have ignored each other’s snoring. They’re easy, throw snacks back and forth between beds.
“Relative, my friend. Relative.”
“Yeah, well—we ain’t normal, Chief,” Mike says, returning attention to Patrick.
Eric really should be a baboon. His blue flannel bottoms match a mandrill’s indigo ass.
“Yes! The Greyhound station!” His Librium hasn’t kicked in yet. He murmurs something about meth.
Patrick intones, “Every time I get on a Greyhound—shit—it’s the same story.” There is momentary pathos as the vending machine hums it advertisement of Fiber-One bars and Chobani yogurt—rehab food.
He perks up, can’t be a sad clown.
“It’s always some motherfucker from Corcoran sits next to me—ha!”
Patrick pins his chin to his chest and baritones: “Hey—I just got outta Corcoran. Wanna score in the bathroom?” Patrick giggles and jazz hands beneath the outside flourescents: “And I say, ‘Sure!’ Probably where I got Hep-C.”
Trout picks up the paper again, sighs. This is Willie Wonka shit.
“Shooting up in the bathroom of a Greyhound with bus tap-water isn’t probably a good thing. And that’s, like the first twenty minutes.”
Patrick taps his temple, pretending to Scarecrow-think.
“Nope—nope, not a good thing,” he decides.
In a patient-guided meeting earlier in the week, Patrick mouthed every single word of the twelve-step preambles. The preambles—seriously—take up half the time. It’s like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but with nine extra verses, hand over your liver, not your heart.
“Think I’m gonna go upstairs,” Trout says, pushing himself out of his chair, molded as it were to resemble some Henri Moore sculpture, organic and unlike the asterisk tattoos on Pat’s arms, else Eric’s dumb haircut.
“See you up there?” He gives knucks to Mike.
“Oh wait, wait, wait, Trout. Gotta tell you this. So Pam wanted to shave her legs tonight and needed a nurse to watch…”
“Who’s Pam again?”
“The Goldie Hawn lookalike. Goldie Hawn!”
Trout thinks to Goldie Hawn, plays deuces in his head and comes up with a wither some 1.5.
“Sure, Man, sure.”
Patrick excitedly pulls at his ripped collar. “I said: Hell—I’ll watch!”
(Patients can’t use razors without the badges witnessing, eagle-eyed)
“Get this, Trout—I’m gonna go up to the nurse’s station tonight and ask what it takes to get a condom up in here. Funny, right?!”
Trout smirks. “That’s funny, dude.”
“See you upstairs, my friend.”
Mike calls after Trout: “Hey, Roomie—you always be sitting by yourself at lunch. Me and Chief here—we be repping with the Ladies.”
Moths do their peripatetic thing and Patrick finally sits down on a table, strips his Wabo-Cabo tank off and places his fist to his chin, the sudden naugahyde thinker.
His wife died two years ago.
Trout sits with the paper in the upstairs. Downstairs is scary, all DT cases and medical instruments jamming the hallways, whereas upstairs is hotel-like. There is the fact that you can descend the elevator to breakfast, which makes the upstairs Four Seasons in comparison to downstairs’ one-star.
Patrick charges past Trout to the nurse’s station. He speaks quietly but rapidly to the nurse.
“The bus is 186 dollars. I don’t have my license, yet.” The exchange gets quieter and more hurried. After a few minutes, Patrick taps the desk and says loudly, “Thanks, Erica!” and strolls away.
“Hey, Trout!” And he leans in. “I did it.”
“Asked for that condom—ha!”
“That’s funny, Man.”
Patrick strolls off down the hallway. He refuses his pills; Mike, too. Says they’re making things too weird. Everyone’s supposed to have their vitals taken and their pills administered before bed.
But this is all voluntary. All an act of good faith.
The day before, Roberto, the tattoo artist from LA was discharged. Greaser hairline, all-black, svelte, manicured, the words ‘Meat is murder’ stenciled along his brow. Ropy veins and swallows decorating his neck. There was cake in the courtyard, the schizos played Ping-Pong on the other side of the fence. Ten people gathered, wishing Roberto well. Even Trout got a piece of the pie.
Patrick separated himself.
“Isn’t that beautiful?”
“I mean, ten people laughing, not one drug. It’s beautiful, Man.”
He fingered his necklace through the ripped collar, the battered pave´.
“I wish, Man, I fucking wish,” he says, slowly shaking his head by the penniless fountain, water in a constant recycle, the sound of white noise.