Rated R, for sex, drugs, and haunted souls.
By Alex Jennings
Trenice felt the car more than she saw it. Or she saw it without seeing it. She couldn’t be sure. Had the car’s driver meant her harm? Probably not. Here in New Orleans, sloppy driving was usually accidental.
Trenice had worked late again at Chez Lazare, and while the weather was still hot, the days faded earlier and earlier. By the time she made it to Armstrong Park, sunset had come and gone. She had seen the Jackson-Esplanade bus ready to turn onto North Rampart when the streetcar sailed across Esplanade. Streetcars were slower than buses, so if she wanted to catch the 91, she couldn’t wait until she reached Canal. Instead, she’d have to take the Armstrong Park stop and dash across North Rampart, waving her tattooed arms above her head to make sure the driver saw her.
Trenice tried not to think about how badly she needed a new car, how much hassle it would save her every day, as she cut across the street. The car that nearly hit her whooshed by so quickly she barely registered it. All she got was a scent of patchouli and tobacco that cast her back ten years.
Still, she didn’t miss a beat. She clopped across the asphalt in her business hooves, waving her right arm without thinking about it. The bus sighed to a halt and knelt for her to climb on.
“Girl, you gone get hurt if you don’t get some sense,” the driver said.
By the time Trenice fit her key into her apartment’s front door lock, she was sure she’d seen Trill gaping at her from the driver’s window of the car that had nearly hit her, but that couldn’t be, because Trill was dead.
If he were a ghost, would he be angry with her? Even at the best of times, his mood swings had been unpredictable. His highs had been so high Trenice had felt buoyed along with them, but his lows had been bitter, bleak, and hard to take.
She slept fitfully that night, tossing and turning on her secondhand mattress. Her bedroom’s window unit air conditioner was on the blink again. She’d have to scrape some money together to get a new one or have this one repaired. Even at the end of September, the city heat was stifling. It lay on her like the weighted blanket she used in the winter, but its pressure didn’t soothe her.
When she slid too close to wakefulness, her mind presented a slideshow of memories. She and Trill sitting on a Red Square bench, kissing hard in the chilly night air. She and Trill making eyes at each other across a Seminar Building classroom. She and Trill sitting, stony-silent, in a darkened movie theater, refusing even to look each other’s way. Trill’s stupid car he so dearly loved, the dog he had viciously abused. Trill and Lemur smoking meth off a makeshift tinfoil screen. Trill. Trill. Trill. Trill. Trill.
At seven, she turned off her alarm before it could ring. She felt like the worst version of herself. She checked her reflection in the mirror before heading out to work. Dark skin, hair like Frederick Douglass, lips too thin for a black girl. She picked out her hair and called it done. She sucked her teeth as she glanced at her skinny-fat arms. She was too old and too tough to feel this way. She knew the toughness was killing her, but it was all she had.
Chez Lazare’s offices operated out of a converted funeral home near the corner of St. Claude and Elysian Fields. It was an ugly old place — three stories, lots of gray painted concrete, and a front porch with stone tile that couldn’t decide whether it was a washed-out tan, or a washed-out gray. The location was mostly secret — Lazare housed women and children on the run from their abusers. Years ago, the dormitories had been FEMA trailers, but grant money had allowed the organization to build something more permanent. The place was beginning to look like a mismatched apartment complex.
Sometimes Trenice loved the place — it wasn’t fancy, but it was functional. Other organizations spent money and resources building or renovating new offices, trying to look soigné. Chez Lazare didn’t care about appearances. For all its faults, this was the kind of nonprofit where service came first.
Almost five years ago now, she’d been hired on the spot at her job interview with a bearish unkempt executive who couldn’t stop dicking around on his BlackBerry long enough to look her in the eye. She’d known nearly nothing about grant writing or fundraising, but she believed in Lazare and its mission. Now Trenice could spit out compelling copy with minimal effort, but she felt no more employable than she had at twenty-two. The job wasn’t fun anymore, and she was tired, but when she considered moving on, she suspected she had nowhere to go.
Trenice didn’t realize it until Ida-Rose spoke, but she’d registered the other woman’s scent several minutes ago. Notes of lavender threaded through a dark, nutty aroma — like oatmeal or toasted walnuts. The word “scrumptious” occurred to Trenice, and she thrust it away. Looking up, she found Ida-Rose standing beside her cubicle, expertly angling her body. The black line of the choker across Ida’s throat and the ridiculous flare of her hips beneath her Ultrasuede skirt made Trenice blush.
Even if she were willing to sleep with a co-worker, Trenice was too smart to take a chance on Ida-Rose. The woman had started as an intern six months ago and had already installed herself as volunteer coordinator. She hadn’t dropped out of Tulane to take the job, but she was spending her entire school semester on suspicious-sounding “independent study” credits that somehow allowed her to work fifty hours a week at Lazare. That kind of ambition marked her, in Trenice’s mind, as a crusading white girl from Away who would leave Lazare any time she wanted for far more lucrative corporate work.
“Yeah,” Trenice said. “What’s up?”
“I’m having a hard time with the copy for the Thank You Turn Up. Do you have anything I could use from the Goldring Proposal?”
Trenice wasn’t sure why Ida needed this now. The Donor Newsletter wouldn’t go out until next week, and Volunteer Beat wouldn’t go live on the website till the same day. She cleared her throat. “Here at Lazare, we’ve replaced the Thanksgiving holiday with our own Thank You Turn Up, a week-long event consisting of multiple volunteer projects across New Orleans, culminating with a night of music, food, and drink, free for our donors and volunteers. All you need —”
“‘Music, food, and drink?’” Ida asked.
“In that order?”
“Yeah,” Trenice said. “It sounds better.”
“Once I’ve got a draft, can I run it by you so you can make it sound like someone my age wrote it?”
Trenice blushed. “I’m not that much older than you.”
“I know, but everything I write sounds like an abstract for a science paper.”
“Sure,” Trenice said. “Yeah. I’ll look it over.”
“Oh my God, you are an angel.” Ida beamed. “Are you coming to Cosimo’s tonight?”
“Yeah, I was — yeah.”
“Good,” Ida said and cocked those hips. “I owe you a drink.”
Trenice met Trill during her first week at the Evergreen State College, way up in Olympia, Washington. At a college fair Trenice had attended in New Orleans, the subject of Evergreen had come up. Evergreen hadn’t sent a rep, but one from Portland State University had pronounced it “A good school . . . but druggy.” That had been enough of an endorsement for Trenice.
During orientation, the more conscientious students spent their time attending workshops and seminars with their parents or relatives, but most everyone on the sixth floor of A Dorm skipped those sessions in favor of what one kid — a dumpy little hippie with coke-bottle glasses and big, scarred knuckles — called “team building exercises.” These exercises consisted mostly of drinking like fish and smoking weed using as many esoteric delivery methods as possible. It was Trill who had introduced the sixth-floor crew to knife hits.
He was raw-boned without being tall — as if he was built to a smaller scale. Bronze skin, dirty-blond kinky hair, and hollow, hazel eyes. He wore baggy corduroy pants, maroon Doc Martens, and a blue-and-white striped hoodie. The first time he locked eyes with Trenice, she felt herself moisten. She knew they’d wind up in bed together before classes started.
“It’s better with a torch,” he explained. He addressed the entire gathering, but Trenice felt as if he spoke only to her. “You know. Acetylene? But you can do it with an electric stove. You could probably do it with a gas stove, but I ain’t never tried that, so who knows? You heat the ends of the table knives until they’re red-hot — glowing and shit —” He pulled the two knives from where he’d stuck them between the burner coils, and nodded to his sidekick, Lemur, who waited with a tiny mass of weed. “You smash a little weed up between the knife ends, and you . . .” He paused to position a paper towel tube to catch the smoke from the operation. He inhaled, shook his head like a dog, and coughed hard.
“. . .suck the smoke riiiiiiiiight up,” Lemur finished for him, wide-eyed. His voice was a cartoonish falsetto.
Trill pointed at Trenice. “You’re next, Denise.”
“Trenice,” she corrected.
He raised his golden eyebrows, widened his eyes comically. “Fuuuuuuuuuck! My bad.”
Trenice shrugged. “What’s your name?”
“Thomas Eugene Merrill III,” he said. “People call me Trill.”
For lunch, Trenice ducked around the corner for a poboy from Gene’s, then brought it back to the courtyard, where she sat at an uneven picnic table shaded by the great, gnarled branches of a live oak that dominated the outdoor space. Eventually, that tree would need pulling up to keep it from assaulting the dorms or the main office house, and Trenice hoped she wouldn’t be around to see it happen.
She picked her sandwich apart without eating much. Trill’s voice sounded in her memory: Daaaaaamn, Treeny. You sure can eat! She wasn’t exactly svelte these days, but she’d been thicker then. Trill had liked that about her.
She caught herself just shy of snapping at him aloud, then jumped as LaShauna sat down beside her.
“Too many ghosts in town,” LaShauna said. She was tall — over six feet, with fat, neat dreadlocks and long witchy fingers. She’d been living at Lazare for two months now with two children and an infant granddaughter.
“That’s what people say,” Trenice said and shrugged.
“You don’t believe?”
Trenice creased her neck, rolling her chin to the left. “I wouldn’t say that,” she said. “My Mamaw says the dead talk to her, and she ain’t lying.”
“They stopped coming round so much after the storm. But all these white folks moving in brought new ones, you know? Got no manners.”
“Wait, are you saying even the ghosts getting gentrified?” Trenice said, forgetting for a moment that carefully edited version of herself she displayed at work.
LaShauna grinned sadly, showing her gums. “Ain’t that some shit?”
If the white folks streaming into town were bringing new ghosts with them, what about the people who moved away for years and then returned? Could the ghosts of their exile follow them home?
During sophomore year, pot smoking gave way to harder drugs. As a freshman, Trenice had heard crazy stories about A Dormers smoking crack “by accident” during a drinking trip to Vancouver, but she never thought her friends would be interested in partying that hard. She, Trill, Lemur, and Lemur’s girlfriend Jerrica got a house together for their second year in Olympia, then went one step further and all got jobs working at the McDonald’s on Harrison. That was where they first tried speed.
Trenice had enjoyed it well enough. She liked the razor’s-edge high and loved the nights she and her housemates spent dancing way too hard at Thekla or at tapings of Dance O’Dance. Still, that quarter, Trenice’s grades suffered and her uncle threatened to stop paying her rent, so she dropped the drug entirely and suggested to Trill that he do the same.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty busted,” Trill said, as he applied a strip of papier-mâché to the wire bulb that would be the head of the monster pope puppet he was designing for his program. He didn’t look her way. He’d been brooding a lot lately — worrying about his father’s stomach cancer.
“I’m not trying to nag you or run your life,” Trenice said.
“You’re not nagging me,” Trill said, and now his voice held real warmth. “And, fuck, man. Somebody gotta run my life. No more speed. I promise.”
Rush hour smelled like melting asphalt and car exhaust. Trenice was so unused to leaving work at a decent hour that the daylight seemed like an affront. She visored her left hand over her eyes as she crossed Saint Claude to the streetcar platform, her change card from this morning held between the first two fingers of her right hand. She knew she should walk to Esplanade, but a weariness had settled into her bones. She wondered whether she should see someone about her depression.
It dawned on her as she stood waiting for the streetcar that if she went uptown now, there was no way she’d come back to go to Cosimo’s. Her bank account was perilously low this close to payday, but if Ida bought her that drink, Trenice could nurse it all night and have a half-decent time.
She didn’t think about her real reason for staying downtown: despite her misgivings about Ida’s motivations, Trenice liked her. Maybe more than she cared to admit. The attraction was more than physical, but the idea of intimacy with anyone seemed absurd. The fingers of her left hand twitched at her side. She wished she still smoked, or at the very least that she hadn’t left her headphones at home.
Trenice unzipped the big pocket of her backpack and rifled through it again. Fruitless. As she zipped it back up, something drew her eye to the Walgreens parking lot on the other side of the avenue.
Three rows nearest to Trenice were all full. The arrangement of the cars and their colors reminded Trenice of ornamental Flint corn and of fall. One car sat toward the back of the lot, a black Volkswagen Jetta. The moment Trenice laid eyes on it, the Jetta’s engine thrummed to life.
Trenice could see no driver behind the tinted windshield, but the car revved its motor as it sat in place.
Mr. Dog. The name made Trenice shiver. It made her think of Trill’s dog, Callie, and how badly he’d treated her once his addiction had fully taken hold. The worst thing about it was that Trill alternated between effusive affection and violent outbursts — kicking Callie, screaming at her, locking her in closets. Trenice had confronted him more than once, and Trill seemed just as disgusted and horrified by his own behavior as she was.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. There’s something in me. Something bad. I know I’m going to fuck up, and everyone will turn their backs on me, and it’ll just be me and Callie. She doesn’t deserve this.”
“Then stop. Take her to live with your mom and dad. You shouldn’t be putting an animal through this.”
“If I do, you’ll stuh-stay with me? You won’t leave?”
“Leave where?” Trenice asked. “Where I’m gonna go?”
Trill did as Trenice asked, took Callie to his parents’ house and left her there during spring break. Instead of flying him back to school, his parents had given him the Jetta, which he had named Mr. Dog. Trenice hadn’t understood what the car represented for Trill at the time, but in retrospect, she understood that the car was tangible proof of a good thing he’d done.
Trill’s parents seemed to hope vehicle ownership would pull him back on track, help him claw his way back out of junkiedom. By then, Trenice knew better than to hope the car would truly make a difference. Nothing could, short of his father’s miraculous recovery.
Trenice yanked herself back to the present. There must be thousands of identical cars here in New Orleans, the exact same make and model as Trill’s pride and joy. Trill was dead and gone, and that Jetta was not Mr. Dog. She glared at it.
She flinched as a hand fell on her shoulder.
The man’s ratty trousers were held up by a rope belt. The sight of him blasted her with guilt.
“Bus fare?” he said.
Trenice gave him her change card, the better part of ten dollars still on it.
“God bless. God bless.”
Trenice didn’t answer. She turned away from the covered stop to head back up Elysian Fields. She would walk over to the French Market and buy herself a pair of flashy cheap sunglasses. Tonight, she’d take a break from herself.
Ida kissed hard, like a man. Every so often, she’d point the tip of her tongue and slide it between Trenice’s upper lip and her teeth. Every time she did, Trenice groaned with hunger, and somewhere far away she was a little embarrassed to be making out like this in the back of a Lyft on its way to Mid-City.
Trenice didn’t remember leaving the car. All of a sudden, they stood on a compact covered porch. Ida-Rose fumbled with her keys, her back to Trenice, an aroma of booze and cigarettes radiating from her skin — or was that Trenice’s skin? She didn’t care. She let herself consider the shape of Ida-Rose’s ass beneath her skirt. An aching heat spread from her center.
“Jesus fucking fuck,” Ida-Rose said as the door swung open. She glanced at Trenice over her shoulder, then blushed.
Trenice took a step toward her. The distance between them felt like a crime.
“One thing,” Ida-Rose said.
Trenice barely understood the words. “What? What.”
“My apartment’s haunted.”
“I know,” Ida said. “I know. But it is. You probably won’t see anything, but you might, and I don’t want you to — I don’t know. I don’t want you to leave.”
Trenice felt something shift inside her. The porch light didn’t change, the quality of the sky remained the same, but all the heat and desire deserted her. She hung her head. “I don’t think I can do this,” she said.
“I’m supposed to be someone else tonight — I’m not supposed to be anxious or scared or . . . or . . . or overthinking everything. I’m supposed to just see what I want and go for it, but . . . but I’m still just me.”
Ida turned and watched her for a moment. “Good,” she said finally.
“I don’t want to be part of your vacation from yourself,” she said. “That’s not — do you think that would be fair to me?”
Trenice blushed. “Well.”
“I know I make you hot. But there’s more to it than that.”
Trenice closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, Ida had come closer. She was looking directly into her face.
Ida sighed explosively. “Then get in here and fuck me. Please.”
So Trenice did.
Later, as they lay in Ida-Rose’s queen bed, their hips pressed lightly together, Trenice allowed herself to feel . . . was it contentment?
“You know, I’d given up on you,” Ida said, and ashed her Kool 100 into the tray resting on her belly. Yellow lamplight from the street outside slanted in to cast a butter-gleam on the pale flesh of her breasts and belly. She’d opened the window to smoke, and Trenice was glad. She hated the idea of Ida-Rose putting clothes on to venture outside.
“You knew this would happen,” Trenice said. It wasn’t a question, but it wasn’t a statement.
“I thought it never would,” Ida said. “I thought you were too sad. I figured you were in the closet.”
“I came out in high school,” Trenice said. “My family wasn’t great about it, but they weren’t terrible.”
Ida-Rose’s calico cat stalked out of the kitchen and glared at them for a moment before curling up by the living room’s inert fireplace.
“Then why are you so sad?”
Trenice didn’t answer for a long time. She tasted her words like marbles in her mouth before letting them into the air. “You can’t have all of me all at once.”
Around four in the morning, Trenice climbed out of bed and padded to the bathroom. The pitch and yaw of the apartment’s hardwood floor made it clear that she was still good and drunk. The latch on the wooden door stuck a little at first, but Trenice had seen Ida jiggle the knob in its collar, so now she did the same. The door popped open to reveal an old-fashioned full bath with what must be the original vanity and a claw-foot tub-and-shower combo surrounded by a curtain that bore Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
Trenice did her business, wiped, then stood at the sink to wash her hands. She cocked her head. A buzz like electrical feedback had crept into the edge of her hearing. No. Not feedback. More like the expectant buzz of a guitar amplifier. But was it a sound? Ida-Rose snored away in the bedroom, just as audible as before.
A subtle movement drew Trenice’s eyes back to the mirror before her. The shower curtain slowly parted.
Trenice stood very still.
An olive-skinned boy of about eleven stood in the tub. He stared at Trenice, wide-eyed, the quiet bow of his lips drawn slightly up at the corners.
The boy seemed as surprised to see Trenice as she was to see him. Together they waited, eyes locked. Finally, the boy opened his mouth and crooked the fingers of his right hand into a shovel. Theatrically, with deliberate motion, he drew his hand up to his open mouth and dropped it to his side again.
Trenice whirled to find the bathtub empty. When she turned back, the boy’s reflection was still there. He repeated his gesture three more times; then his image became a collection of shapes and shadows in the dim of the room. He did not disappear, but what had been his figure became the pattern of the tile on the bathroom’s far wall, a shadow cast by a palm tree outside the bathroom’s frosted window, a smudged stain on the wall behind the bathtub . . .
It was the damnedest thing.
Well, second damnedest.
After all, she’d seen Trill.
“I’m so embarrassed,” Ida-Rose said, then took a bite of praline bacon. For breakfast they’d come to the Ruby Slipper on Burgundy Street, after which Ida-Rose would walk to the French Quarter and pick up her car. Even with October around the corner, this was another brutally sunny Saturday morning.
Still, all Trenice had to do to banish her headache was wear the sunglasses she’d bought yesterday. She wasn’t sure how she felt about things with Ida, but she remembered enough to know the sex had been amazing. She had to admit her interest in more.
“Why embarrassed?” she asked.
Ida looked at the table, took another sip of her coffee.
“Really,” Trenice said. “So, it’s a ghost.”
“It’s fucking transplanty as fuck,” Ida-Rose said. “‘Oh, I’m a Tulane student living in Mid-City because I feel like that makes me more authentic. By the way, there’s a ghost in my bathtub.’”
“But that’s not it.”
“It’s not,” Ida-Rose admitted. “You said I couldn’t have all of you all at once.”
Trenice just watched her.
Ida-Rose seemed to crumble. “Okay,” she said. “Fine. It’s because I can’t see him. I’ve never seen him.”
“He was my grandmother’s baby cousin, Nicolai,” Ida-Rose said. “He was sick when he came over from the Old Country. Almost died in steerage, but he pulled through, I guess. When the family got to New York, he just stopped eating and wasted away. I guess that’s why he does the thing where he mimes food.”
“You sound like you’ve seen him.”
“I did,” Ida admitted. “Once. In Connecticut. In my grandmother’s house, when I was like six. I freaked out, threw a bucket of Legos at him. I haven’t seen him since. I didn’t even know he was . . . still with me, or whatever, until I moved out of the dorms. Girls I brought home started seeing him, and . . . ?” She let her left hand flutter in the air before her as if to say, And the rest is history. “So. Maybe it’s not my apartment that’s haunted, it’s my family. Or me. That’s probably my biggest secret.”
Trenice opened her mouth. She snapped it shut again without speaking.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Ida-Rose said softly.
“I want to.”
“What do you think will happen if you say it out loud?”
I’ll die. The top of my head will fly off, and my brains will shoot straight out my ears. The building will collapse on us. The gravity of my hurt will draw everything into me, and everything will end. Anything. Everything. Or nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
While Ida-Rose’s car sat unattended in the French Quarter, someone had broken its driver’s side window and stolen nothing but a box of tampons. Trenice sat agape at her cubicle desk listening to Ida-Rose explain the situation over the phone.
“I don’t know,” Ida-Rose said. “I guess I should be pissed, but Jesus Christ. Whoever did it needed those tampons.”
Something gave way in Trenice’s chest. She realized now that she’d been waiting months for Ida-Rose to say something racist, or, at the very least, terminally clueless.
An exquisite tenderness crept into Ida’s voice. “What is it?” she asked. “What are you not saying right now?”
“Nothing,” Trenice said. “Just . . . you have a good heart.”
“Do you know that you were the first person to be nice to me when I started at Lazare? Nobody was mean, but you bummed me a cigarette on my first day, and you said, ‘We gotta take care of each other.’ Do you remember that?”
Trenice frowned, confused. What was happening here?
“I remember . . .”
“I’m not even going to call the cops,” Ida said. “I’m just going to take it to the mechanic and get an estimate. Finish that letter.”
“Can we —?” Trenice asked. A hard lump rested in her throat. She made an effort to speak around it. “Can I see you Sunday?”
“You can see me,” Ida-Rose said. “You can see me whenever.”
Trill’s parents were rich. It had taken Trenice almost a year to realize it, but during the summer after freshman year, Trill asked Trenice to join him on the family vacation to “Florence. Like, Italy Florence.” Trill’s father was already ill by then, but the family didn’t know. He was a light-skinned black man with coppery red hair and summer freckles. The moment she met them, Trill’s parents seemed to take to her. They adopted her, after a fashion, and it wasn’t until years later that Trenice realized how jealous Trill must have felt.
He seemed to feel his parents were terrible people, especially after his father announced the cancer during one of Trill’s weekly calls home. Trill didn’t say anything when he ended the call. He sat, looking down at nothing for several minutes. Then he crossed the room and turned on Mario Kart. He played all night with a white-knuckled aggression that left no room for enjoyment.
Trenice asked him more than once what was wrong, then finally decided she’d have to let Trill explain in his own time. After losing a race, he’d pulled the Wii out of the entertainment cabinet without disconnecting the wires and hurled it into the kitchen where it broke against the fridge. Then he’d stalked outside and started chopping wood in the dark.
From the porch, Trenice watched as he split log after log, never stopping to rest. “He’s known for months,” he said finally. “Months. He’s fucking dying, Neece. They’re going to experiment on him, and nothing’s going to work.”
“Is it cancer?” Trenice said. “He could go into remission.”
“I’m scoring tonight,” he said. “You want some?”
“No, but . . . just . . . whatever you need.”
Distracted as she was, it took Trenice until four in the afternoon to finish her letter of interest for the Kellogg Foundation grant. Finally satisfied, she submitted it along with the other application materials and looked around to find the office empty. Ida might have a ghost in her apartment, but there were none here at Lazare. It stood to reason — after all, why would dead folks hang around a mortuary? It had likely meant nothing to them when they were alive, and there was nothing interesting about the place. In the silence of the vacant office, no hidden eyes watched, no starving boys mimed.
Trenice let herself out the front door and locked up behind her before using her phone to summon a car. After waiting a few minutes with no results, Trenice checked her phone again to find the driver had canceled.
Sucking her teeth, she tried again, and after a few minutes that driver canceled as well.
She was not surprised when the black Jetta pulled up at the curb.
She thought of Ida’s starving uncle as she watched the car idle on the street.
Should she be afraid?
She sucked her teeth. Fuck that. No rich-boy ghost from fucking Philly was going scare her into submission. She descended the steps and walked around to the passenger door.
Trill drove without speaking. Trenice wondered what they must look like. Just another car on the road? Nothing particularly ghostly about it? Would onlookers see Trenice suspended in midair, like Wonder Woman in her invisible jet?
Trill laughed as if he’d seen the image as well. “You’d be all over the news,” he said.
Trenice smiled. “So, how does it work? What’s actually happening right now?”
He shrugged. “I dunno. Nobody gave me a manual or nothing. I’m just here.”
Trill guided the car past Saint Claude and made a U-turn farther down Elysian Fields to turn north, heading for Chalmette. He looked better than he had the last time Trenice had seen him. She had dropped him off at Portland International for a direct flight to Philly. Trill was terrified of flying, so the idea of taking two planes home for his father’s funeral had been out of the question.
The sky had been a baked cerulean blue, the clouds piled one atop the other like a stairway to infinity. It had been more than a year since he and Trenice had been together, and in that time, Trill had become a monster-movie version of himself. Never thickset, he’d lost weight, become scarecrow-thin. His hollow eyes had gathered shadows around them, and he had developed a sort of shell-shocked glare. Dirty blond dreadlocks grew from his scalp as if a child had glued them there. He wore a hooded sweatshirt the color of boiled liver and his lucky T-shirt. PILOTS ARE PLANE CRAZY it read in sober block caps. Trenice had given it to him for his twentieth birthday.
Trill reached for the door handle.
“Are you going to be okay?” Trenice asked. They were the wrong words to express her thought.
He let go the door handle and placed his hand in his lap. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I think I’m fucked. All that money. What am I going to do but get as much skate as I can and just do it all?”
“Please don’t,” Trenice said. “Go to rehab. Get it together. Please. Please.”
He watched her for a moment, as if she were a stranger. Then, without answering, he got out of the car.
“I went to rehab,” Trill said. “I was clean for years.”
“Then what happened?” Trenice asked.
Trill smiled crookedly as he watched the road. “Mom must have called you.”
Trenice just looked.
“Unfair,” he said. “So unfair.”
They’d sailed through Chalmette, heading toward Pointe à la Hache. Daylight had begun to fade. Farms, houses, businesses became fewer and farther between. Mr. Dog gobbled the road, growling his pleasure.
“I can’t go with you,” Trenice said.
Trill shrugged. “I know,” he said. “I’m not here to shame you or scare you or any of that. You know . . . you know it wasn’t your job to save me, right? You can’t do that for people.”
For the first time since she’d gotten into the car with him, Trenice noticed the tears pouring down her cheeks. “I would have,” she said.
“You know it’s the truth,” Trill said. “But you know it in your head, not in your heart.” He drove in silence for some time. “I’m tired of driving,” he said. “I want . . . I want to go see my dad.”
“You didn’t mean to keep me here,” he said and laughed a little. “I loved you so much. So much. Stop using me to fuck up your life.”
“What if I’m not ready?”
“You’re ready,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Trill never turned the car around, but somehow, before Trenice knew it, they were headed through Chalmette again. By the time they reached Trenice’s apartment on Saint Andrew and O. C. Haley, something had taken shape inside her. It felt similar to the lump in her throat that she’d spoken around to ask Ida about Sunday, but there was something both heavier and easier to it. As if it was offering her something rather than keeping her from it.
“Can I touch you?” Trenice asked.
“No,” Trill said. “Those times are gone.”
“Okay,” Trenice said. “I loved you, too, you know.”
“I know,” he said.
Trenice unfolded herself to stand on the sidewalk. She shut the door and as she did, she lost track of Mr. Dog. She knew she was looking directly at the car, but her eyes couldn’t find it. Then it was gone.
Trenice stood on the street, trying to think what to do or say. Finally, she slid her phone from her pocket.
“Niecy,” Ida-Rose said. Trenice thrilled at the husk in her voice.
“Listen,” she said. “Luh-listen. I used to do meth with my boyfriend, but he died, and I never got over it.”
“The, uh, the window. Was it expensive?”
“Yeah,” Ida said. “I’m getting another quote on Monday.”
“I let go of my ghost today,” Trenice said. “And, you know, if you and me are going to be a thing, you’re going to have to deal with yours.”
“Yeah,” Ida said. “Uh. Wait.”
“We’re going to be together?”
Trenice’s smile was more than a smile. It was a grin. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, we are.”
About the Author
Alex Jennings is a writer/teacher/performer living in New Orleans. He was born in Wiesbaden (Germany) and raised in Gaborone (Botswana), Tunis (Tunisia), Paramaribo (Surinam) and the United States. He constantly devours pop culture and writes mostly jokes on Twitter (@magicknegro) He also helps run and MCs a monthly literary readings series called Dogfish. He is an afternoon person.
About the Narrator
Laurice White is a poet, actress, writer, and procrastinator. She lives in Michigan with her daughter.