“This arm ok?” Stretch. Wrap. Snap. Click. (pause) “So. What do you do?”
One distracted explanation and half a purple-capped vial of blood later, the nurse exclaimed, “Oh! My father was also a Russian translator!” I looked up. “Russian and Spanish. He worked for the courts down in the Valley.”
“Really? In the Valley? Spanish I get, but how the hell did he learn Russian way down there?”
Shoomp. Click. New vial.
It wasn’t until Colby’s successful third attempt that I learned of the previous two. On New Year’s Eve, behind a locked door, with his father’s shotgun. Before that, in the bedroom with a bottle of pills. Before that, some other place, some other failed escape. He was sixteen years old. He was the first of my friends to commit suicide, but he wasn’t the first to die, nor would he be the last.
“…Cricket…Jimmy Cricket…” Doc quipped, as he rocked unsteadily in the beaten-up deck chair, back and forth.
Doc didn’t bother with a last name either, or a first, for that matter. His birth name had been shrugged off long ago for a single syllable, though it suited him well. It was a novelty of no consequence that we happened to know his real name and for once that we also knew his address. He’d bummed around the lake since the last flood took out his trailer down by the river. The lone bartender at the beer-and-whiskey dive in town was the only soul who saw him regularly and was kind enough to transmit phone messages to him when he remembered.
Moscow, Novodevichy Cemetery
Rex always smelled of the fire. That acrid scent of burning cedar and daily BBQ mingled with a sour whiff of whatever cheap whiskey they had around. It clung to his heavy works shirt in the summer, and I gradually became so accustomed to it that I could sense that hint of smoke at first sight.
Somehow I can’t recall ever seeing him by a fire even once, though surely I must have. Nor can call up the details of his features; more than a decade later, only the silhouette of his huge frame and the ten-gallon hats he favored pulled down low over his fleshy face linger in my mind’s eye. That ungainly form, so heavily tied to this earth, was unforgettable. On so many occasions, I recall that bulky shape filling his rickety porch, leaning forward with a good-natured leer as C and I approached, watching her eyes glance over the rusty bike leaning against the weathered steps. “Hey,” he wheezed. “Wanna ride my Huffy? Heh.” As if to demonstrate that his lechery was all in good fun, he would heave his awkward frame skyward and shuffle into the old house for another beer, always safely assuming we would follow.