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Out of Nowhere

By:Roan Parrish

Out of Nowhere

By Roan Parrish

Chapter 1

THE FIST comes toward me in slow motion like some fucked-up cartoon, slamming into my jaw and knocking me sideways. My head hits the metal garbage can, and a few seconds later the blond guy’s load hits my neck and drips onto the cobblestones of the alley. Blond guy’s boots scuff cigarette butts, condoms, and wads of mucky leaves as he stalks toward the back door of the bar, cursing me out.

I didn’t peg him as being able to hit quite that hard when I chose him. He’d looked smaller in the bar, though once we got outside I realized he was about my height—six feet or so. Must’ve been the paisley shirt. Fucking paisley made him look like a wuss. I definitely ripped off a button or two when I shoved him to his knees in front of me, but he didn’t seem to mind. Didn’t mind when I shoved myself down his throat, either, staring past his light hair to the dark brick behind him and trying to pretend I was somewhere else… someone else. He minded being pushed away when he asked me to return the favor, though, and he sure as hell minded when I said I wasn’t a faggot.

My jaw gives a throb and my breath finally comes effortlessly. But it won’t last. It never does.

My vision’s blurry, but that’s probably mostly the whiskey. I drag myself up and stumble the few blocks to the subway, trying desperately to hold on to the calm and think of anything but the feel of another man. When my mind starts to wander to his firm chest and the rasp of stubble on my dick, I run through tomorrow’s transmission rebuild on Mr. Coop’s ’87 Volkswagen Fox until I can relax a little.

The calm’s gone by the time my dingy green-and-white awning is in sight, though, and the catch in my breathing is back, like I can’t quite inhale fully. Because I know what’s waiting for me inside. Nothing. An empty house filled with it. My quickening heartbeat throbs in the bruise emerging on my jaw.

Worse, I’ve sobered up on the walk from the subway and it’s still hours until I can go to work in the morning. The more aware I am of my breathing, the more labored it seems, and I bend slightly at the waist, taking a deep breath with my hands on my thighs. Desperate for something, anything, to distract from the quiet of the walls pressing in on me, I strip off and hit the weight bench. The familiar heft and clank of metal scraping metal and thudding on cheap carpet helps a bit. I lift until my muscles shake and my sweat smells whiskey sweet. If I’m lucky, it’ll be enough to let me fall asleep. But I’m usually not.

The second I flop onto the bed, still damp from the shower, the images start playing behind my closed eyes. Blond guy from earlier, but it could’ve been any of them, really—nameless, interchangeable, seen through a fog of whiskey and revulsion. Their mouths, their sweat, their dirty hands…. But I keep going back even though the thoughts make me squirm.

I GET to Big Jenny’s Dive around nine to meet Xavier. X has been my best friend since we played high school football. The guys on the team teased him for being a black kid from North Philly who loved hair metal instead of rap, and since I loved it too, we spent most of our time arguing about Poison, Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard (which Xavier contended was only pop metal but I worshipped), Twisted Sister, Van Halen, and, of course, since they were from Philly, Cinderella. We’d replace Nas and Goodie Mob with Quiet Riot in the locker room stereo and push Play just as our teammates got in the showers, posing and roughhousing; then we’d crack up as they were stuck doing so naked to the soundtrack of “Cum On Feel the Noize.”

X left for a few years to get his MBA and we lost touch. While he was in North Carolina, he got married and cleaned up a bit. Not that he had ever been into much. Just selling a little pot when he’d needed the money and pills when he could get them. He seemed different when he got back, though. More focused. He put it down to his wife, Angela. I never got the whole story, but I think she basically told him he was acting like a dumb kid and needed to grow the fuck up. Angela doesn’t like me. Xavier denies it, but I know it’s true.

We meet at Big Jenny’s most Thursday evenings to watch two cover bands battle it out, playing hits from the seventies, eighties, and nineties. How loud the audience sings along acts as an applause-o-meter, and the winning band gets free drinks for the week. Cover band night reminds me of singing along to the radio in our garage when Pop still worked at the other shop, my younger brother, Daniel, sitting on the steps into the kitchen watching me and trying to sing but getting all the words wrong.

X is late so I’m stuck at the bar by myself. A couple of ladies in their forties chat me up. They’re clearly slumming it, their clothes a little too fancy, their heels too high to fit in here. They ask the usual questions: What do you do? Do you come here often? Are you married?—this last with exchanged looks and laughs like they’re reveling in breaking some rule they’ve set for themselves. It’s embarrassing and exhausting, so I do what I always do.