James Faulk / Sunday, March 18 @ 7:43 a.m. / Dead Reckoning
DEAD RECKONING: Downtown Underground II: Banana Jello
Note: This is the second part of an ongoing memoir of the author’s
teenage years. The first part is also available on this website. For context, it might be worth a
glance. I don’t know how many parts there will be. I’ll stop when
I’m done. Probably less than 5. Certainly more than 2.]
Amid the bones and rotten pilings we found a treacherous path, first around the corner and then off the street, blessedly out of sight and onto a warped wharf where over the years millions of carcasses had change blistered hands in a carnage economy.
That was all gone now, save for the few sedate crabbers motoring out every now and again with their pots stacked high and their faces set to match their expectations.
Somewhere amid the squawking ratbirds, I could almost hear the fishermen swear up and down at the prices they were paid to offload their trawlers and rowboats, crabbers and longliners as we descended from street level, crookedly hugging the wall.
Beneath the water line, a murky stain under which the world was tainted and fouled by a film of alien growth, was a different world. I was tickled by the thrill of breaking rules, by the proximity to history, and the camaraderie I felt with my friends.
We had to find our way through a maze of dilapidation and danger, and in my estimation, that made for grand adventure. Most immediately, that meant we were going to have to squeeze into a crack that fed into the gaping throat of the faded, obviously vacant building. And what a building it was.
The paint, a gaudy bouquet of paint-sale colors, flaked from the dripping walls. Ancient lettering that for generations had declared pride in ownership, was now mostly illegible, a G half obscured by ash and dust, perhaps an E, maybe the last letter was a Y, or a V. The paint had peeled to the point that the hieroglyphs were near indecipherable.
My stomach still burned like a sonofabitch where the fence had raked it open.
The bleeding had stopped, thanks to my shirt, which I’d used to staunch the wound. But the agony, and the absurdity of my appearance, the mud and blood mixed up and half dried all over me, I put out of my head to consider the pure awesomeness of what I was seeing.
“Holy shit,” I said. “I’ve died and gone to Heaven.”
Heaven stank like shark shit.
We clustered around the sort-of cave mouth. Mike traced the faint lettering on the walls. Kyle coughed into his elbow joint and folded his arms, narrowing his eyes at the hole and glaring back at me. I could tell his mood was souring..
Time for a speech. This was, after all, what we came for.
“Men,” I stuck out my chest and regretted it. The gash in my belly spread wide with bluster, opening the wound and sending a trickle of fresh blood into my skivvies. I held my shirt against the flow — what felt like, in effect, keeping my innards from spilling out onto the filthy seaweed- and tobacco-stained path. “Er, guys?
I focused on Mike. He was my ace in the hole. He’d do anything I —
“There’s no way I’m going in there,” Mike declared, his fingers snagging the corner of a patch of paint and peeling it back. He was very focused on keeping that shred in one long piece.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Kyle said, staring at Mike’s hands.
Mike’s betrayal stung me. I thought for sure he was with me, as inspired by the scent and taste of history all around as I was.
“What do you mean? We walked all the way across town? I brought a whole box of cereal! You’re already going to turn chickenshit and we haven’t even made it in?”
His paint peel split. Without blinking, he picked another at random and began the same process again. There was a long moment where no one spoke.
“I really wouldn’t do that,” Kyle said.
“See? Now there’s two of us,” Mike said.
I turned my wrath on Kyle. “What the hell is wrong with you guys? Why’d you even agree to come down here then?”
“Huh?” Kyle looked at me as if I’d grown an orange mustache. He pointed back at Mike. “I wasn’t talking about the building. I mean peeling paint. There’s probably a shit ton of lead in that old stuff. You’ll get brain damage. It’ll fucking turn your cerebral cortex into banana jello. No shit, man.”
Mike ripped his shred off the wall and sniffed it. Kyle adroitly slapped it out of his hands, and Mike erupted.
“Dude, look at James,” he said, “James, you look like you just slit your own throat! You might need stitches, for Chrissakes, and we’re going to crawl around in this shit? Lead paint? How about infection? And that old lady with the kids — she saw us trespassing! She’s totally going to call the cops, but you still want to break into these old warehouses? You say, ‘The Paint. The Paint.’”” He reached up and by running his hands back and forth along the wall, making it snow heavy colored flakes all around them, mimicked a blizzard. “The whole building is going to crumble if we go in there!”
“Dude!” I yelled, quickly stepping out of the storm. “Are we going in or not?
“C’mon, man!” Kyle responded. “Barbara Walters? 20/20? You really don’t want to mess around with lead paint!” Suddenly, though, he narrowed his eyes and smirked. “But otherwise I’m with James on this one. Your pussin’ out on the adventure, Mike. James seems OK with going on. So am I. Aren’t drummers supposed to be the crazy ones?”
We both looked at Mike, the remarkably talented drummer in our mid-tempo rock band HodgePodge, waiting as the pressure of this question built its inevitable pressure.
Seconds later, Mike shook his head in bitter surrender. “Whatever.”
I asked Kyle, “If you’re OK with going down there, why you look so fucking pissed?”
“My arm hurts, shithead, right where you slugged me with that meathook of yours.” He paused, grinning. “My mother slugged me once.”
Without missing a beat, we all joined the chorus. “Once!”
We began our fateful descent.
Later, I heard Mike muttering. “I hate banana jello.”
[To be continued]
James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.