Down Louisville, the numbers regress--Fourth street, Third, Second, but First is not First but Walnut instead and Zero is Riverside Drive, following the levee. There Mac sits, in the left lane, the lowered drawbridge before him. This is maybe the sixth or seventh time since the Holiday Grille he's been in this spot tonight.
To his right is an ex-service station reincarnated as a used car lot. Upon a tall pole an actual automobile hovers there, like a saint upon a stylite, visible from a distance of twenty blocks. It seems possible to the observer driving this avenue that up to half the city's commerce bears direct or indirect relation to the pre-owned vehicle industry. Minds of enterprise ponder fine incalculables inside small back rooms powered by window-unit air conditioners. Local schoolboys hold high hopes to join such an elite someday.
On the left sits a convenience grocery and attached bar. The window of the bar is blackened, but the door is propped open. The Gateway. Mac turns straight ahead again. Too fresh--he was there last night. He'd rather not think about it.
The Plymouth remains unaccompanied at the traffic signal to the dark bridge, and as the green descends he changes his mind. He looks around--no Monte Carlo, no police either. He makes a nominally illegal turn across the right lane to Riverside, pulling up on the sidewalk beside the car lot.
He steps out for a quick survey. Everything's quiet. Despite sometimes tradition no salesman currently populates the late night office in somber refuge from suburban home and family. Mac once bought a car, or rather made a trade here.
But. No new arrivals since yesterday. He walks around just in case he's wrong and they've got something worth upgrading the Plymouth for. He edges up to a VW, peers inside.
One time he had the shit scared out of him on some lot finding a VW unlocked on a Sunday morning and a guy sleeping in the back seat, smelling like a slaughterhouse. He avoids the VW. Once again around the pavement; pickups, Mercurys, an okay Volvo wagon. Which would be good for his job, hauling boxes around the city from one business to another, cheaper than UPS. Mac resumes his drive.
This was Mac's method: days he drove parcels around town for a small local concern which owed its existence to the gross ineptitude of the US Post Office. Nights he drove the streets still, victim to a merciless curiosity that allowed him at most a few hours of sleep before work--and driving--again. Every third or fourth day this led to a crash, wherein he would sleep eighteen hours straight, leading to another dismissal from his job, followed by begrudged re-hirings, result of high turnover (low pay) and Mac's own seemingly genius-knowledge of locations within a city numbering system that defied all possible variations of human logic.
Of principal famlial relations, Mac has one each: mother, father, brother, sister. The degree of contact with each varies.
The make and model of his current vehicle change frequently, a habit that depletes his (low pay) finances and necessitates periodic address changes as well. In his personal library is the used auto blue book, cica two years past. The auto magazine section of the public library is known to him. Dealers are continually suprised by his grasp of arcane facts: Monday-built statistics, air-bag suffocation-death rates, option variations on a 1972 Pontiac Catalina.
His date of birth, month and year, are known to him. Certain other facts remain elusive, however, such as the hour of delivery
and weight. (See contact with family.) In this, his twenty-seventh year, he intends a search for the certificate of his live birth.
Through the late night smells of still-warm asphalt and spring blooming he comes to the Oliver Road/Louisville light again, poised for a left turn in the direction of his bed, finally ready to give it up for the night. In the lane beside idles a red Ford Falcon, mid-sixties model. Its windows are down.
A boy and girl sit in the front, radio off, mouths involved. He judges them to be about sixteen. In the instant of discovering an observer the girl's face does a crimson flush. The boy remains calm, passively proud.
Mac smiles in what is nothing more than a small celebration. Somehow the girl starts to take it wrong, growing angry. When Mac keeps smiling she launches into the boy again with savage determination, eyes turned upon the voyeur, tongue flicking about the boy's lips. She begins to writhe, slowly grasping the boy's hand and moving upon her breast. The boy's surprise is evident. Maybe even grateful--this isn't how he pictured the move coming about. With violent bouncing motions she laughs aloud, watching Mac watch her, moving.
He snaps his head back around at the light. The yellow is just now going to red; they've missed the green completely. He guns it through the light anyway, barely checking for oncomers.
Moving on, moving on.
Mac has a fundamental aversion to the area where he currently resides. Cooper, with whom he works, has a trailer that he moves whenever the second-lease rate increase turns up (wheedling his brother's two-ton Ford for the precarious haul) and his family of wife and four year old are familiar with the varying mobile home parks about the parish. The current base is on the south side of Highway 80 opposite the bayou a mile east of the university--sort of on the edge of the edge of town.
Mac inhabits the small room at the opposite end of the trailer from the master bedroom. Cooper's idea actually, sharing rent, beneficial to all concerned. Especially when Mac gets to actually stay there.
It is not even within the city limits.
He can smell disintegrating gar carcasses upon the bank, tossed over from yo-yo's in the bayou. The trailer park is dimly lit. The asphalt drive culminates in a circle with itself, a solitary post lamp in the middle.
Cooper's truck is there, as well as the Pinto. Everyone's home. Mac squeezes the Plymouth in beside the truck. The steps shake as he reluctantly walks up.
The 901 Club is on. Danuta and a born-again former Jew are getting a kick out of their previous mystic leanings and attempts to achieve the nothingness at their center.
Cooper and Sybil appear to be having an argument. Their only concession to Mac's appearance is to disguise points of reference with obscure nouns. The child sits on the floor absorbed in a coloring book that has long been filled, tracing lines into the available white space.
Before Mac can move on from the living room Cooper is warning him that Meyer, their employer and dispatcher, was plenty hot when Mac did not return to the warehouse after the last delivery trip that day. "I had to make another goddamn run for you at ten till five---"
Mac grins and begins to tell him about two women in a white Jeep. Sybil shrieks Cooper back into the argument.
The kitchen is small, overflowing with Cool Whip-leftover bowls.
Mac visits his allotted space in the back, then passes through again on his way to the shower, which is beside their bedroom. Sybil quietens for the instant.
When Mac is drying off he notices the plastic door handle missing. With fingernails he frees himself and ventures to the couch to watch TV. Sybil is not in the room. Cooper stares at the wall above Mac's head for a long time balefully. Mac can tell Cooper is about to fill him in on everything when his face shudders with the thought of another grievance and he rushes to the bedroom.
Loud voices, and the door slams. Mac asks the child if there's anything else on that's good. She says this is a scary movie, as if that were evidence enough.
"You don't want to watch that, do you?"
"Uh-huh. It's good."
"It'll give you bad dreams."
"Does it give you bad dreams?"
"No! Not, I mean, no. It doesn't at all."
"I just mean, for you."
Then she looks up squarely at him, her mouth pulling slightly open. She glances around the room. The child has the habit of nervousness whenever she finds herself in a room alone with an adult.
Despite the noise of the argument she disappears down the hall, settling down upon the carpet in front of the closed bedroom door. Before long she is asleep.
Mac switches the channel. The scary movie is replaced by a comic whose jokes seem far away and unfinished. Elsewhere there is news and MASH reruns. He finds himself with the folks of the 901 Club again.
At some imperceptible point the argument in the bedroom ceases. Sybil comes out very quietly and crosses the room, sheepish to his gaze. She has changed into a t-shirt, barelegged. Visiting the kitchen for a coke can conspicuously left unopened, she winks at Mac, flashing a bit of panties. He turns the sound up with the remote control.
When the 901 Club manages to let go of its audience for the night, the Donna show comes on. Mac has already seen it once in the day, at the warehouse office. If it had been a week ago he could have watched it again. He switches the set off.
Turning all the lights off in the trailer he goes to his room--actually a flattened berth up a set of brief steps, containing only a shallow mattress crooked above a larger room Cooper uses for storage. The storage space was intended as the second bedroom, but the child usually sleeps at various stations in her parents' room.
Mac's clothes are situated in the trunk of his car.
Lying still, he hears them at the other end of the trailer. It goes on a long time, slows, then starts again.
At this time of night solitary eighteen-wheelers on the Dixie-Overland Highway rattle through. Occasionally there is a plane from the airport, a couple of miles to the south. He hears an unbaffled motorcycle in the trailer park. Uninvited beneath his eyelids, he sees the girl in the Falcon, her tongue pushing like an flexed arm muscle.
Somewhere a car radio is on. Mac can clearly hear something like a computer saying the Lord's Prayer. And then this spoken, within music, repeating several times:
"People call me rude
I wish we all were nude
I wish there were no black and white
I wish there were no rules."
Turning on lights and stepping heavily despite himself he goes toward the bathroom. The child is asleep on the floor in the hall, still in dayclothes, the bedroom door open. Mac peeks hesitantly. All visual elements here seem to be born of extreme pain and struggle.
He shouldn't be here. Mac knows that. But here he is, drawn as the wounded are to a cut to see if it reaches to the bone.
Cooper looks asleep. Something like snoring issues from his closed mouth, only rawer. Sybil sits erect against the backboard, sheet pulled up, dull eyes forward, unfocused. Mac sees her hand beneath the sheet, working at something like a persistent itch.
At length she makes the discovery of Mac peering through the door and interrupts herself with a strange arch of the mouth. She flips him the bird and savagely yells "Get out! Out! Now!!"
Mac wants to say something to Cooper about driving to work in the morning, but drops it.
Within a few blocks 80 is officially inside the city again, flanked by shell-paved lots and bait shops. It shoulders the bayou closely along a broad S-curve. Black water reflects expensive houses from the opposite bank. Mac sleepily watches racing pinspots of light on the surface of the water, past a seafood restaurant and a cypress-boarded bar, the busy dots soon transforming into the upside-down monolithic image of the university campus's first-seen and tallest building, an eleven story male dormitory. Veering right, he takes the new bridge across the bayou, passing the natatorium and coliseum. He's surprised at the number of doors open and students about at this thankless hour.
He drives on, comes to a dorm on the periphery that has just this year been ceded entirely to females suffering campus-housing-overcrowding. A fact gleaned from his television news watching. Three stories, characterless brick, with doors opening onto walkways--no interior communication. A few of the windows are lit, some posters visible. He parks in the tennis court lot with a view.
Nothing much happens.
The sound of something tearing at his windshield awakens him. An officer of campus security is securing a ticket under the wiper blade. Mac's heart starts to beat uncontrollably. He begins to speak, to offer some explanation, but the officer is already gone, away from Mac's car, stalking another unauthorized vehicle.
Mac finally comprehends that the officer never noticed him sitting inside. Though it occurs to him to enter pursuit and say something, he's not able to fomulate what the point would be.
He yawns, stretching, and eventually settles back against the headrest. Each identical dormitory door has an identical light attached to the wall beside. The sameness leaves it confusing for Mac. The sky is still dark beyond the tennis courts where the sun will first show. He thinks that's where.
Eventually there is motion; a young man opens a door, peeking cautiously outside. He makes his way to the stairs and runs down, cutting across the road undetected. Mac gets no glimpse of the girl during the brief exposure.
Another hour, nothing else occurs. Then it's back to 80, called DeSiard Street here, going all the way downtown. The signals at this hour flash yellow. He glides through the five-point intersection, randomly electing Louisville Avenue. Past Oliver again--no Falcon where the Falcon was--and the Holiday Grille, still open. Mac counts down the streets once more. He slows, coasting toward the foot of the bridge.
Right, left? Mac deliberates edgily.
He finally proceeds with shallow breaths across the river, guided by dim globes to either side, a concession for travelers in a dark country with no semblance of boundaries. The river below is a black abyss, visible through the drawbridge grating.
His tires--that sinking, descending sound like crippled aircraft in some TV war show.
And then he's over, safe. Past the bridge to the west side--technically a different municipality. Highway 80 hooks sharply right, now called Cypress street. This is the region of forgotten motels, shunned by Holiday Inn regulars. Ancient neon and faded "Vacancy" proclamations. The names: Mab's Shady Oaks, the Century, the Canary Court, Green Gables, all U-shaped stucco buildings around a central festering swimming pool, floodlights garish against the night. Each with an office and a black and white television near the register, oil film on the windows.
The Grotto has a new night clerk. Fifty-ish and haired only in scabrous patches above the ears, he answers grudgingly "Vincent" as Mac introduces himself and asks the same. Vincent accepts the completed registration slip without rising from his stool, eyes trained upon his counter-top set. Mac grasps the key and watches along for a while, waiting for a break in the program, maybe chat a little.
At commercial time Vincent hurriedly switches to an episode of Hogan's Heroes, one eye upon his wristwatch until the cable health show with leotard aerobic dancing returns.
Mac wearily moves on and finds his room. Only the near section is let, and he thinks he has possibly been in 104 before. The wood slats of the floor sag and creak as he undresses.
After a while the play of green from the Grotto-pool sign outside collects and decorates the carpet beneath the window, lending the room a hesitant luminescence.
Just as the warm red figures begin to appear beneath his eyelids he begins to hear the noise. The warm figures scamper away. He perceives grunting and heaving from some adjacent room. Lying still, he tries to vanquish the sounds so reminiscent of extreme bodily discomfort, clamping his eyes and ears shut, but the couple's staying power is remarkable.
Minutes pass with the weight of entire days. Finally he groans heavily at his run of poor luck, as if virulently retroactive from the whole night in one instant. He sits up and dials Vincent for the time. Having paid already, he gets dressed and drops the key upon the rumpled bed.
Mac will ride around for a while, getting a breakfast biscuit somewhere with the three one dollar bills left in his pocket before heading to the warehouse to begin his day of work and more driving.
Morning accomplishes itself, among its routine sounds the grunting itself, undiminishing. Around ten o clock Vincent comes into the empty room, looks around, finding the key. He hears the sound. He walks to the wall, listening to the cavity, envisioning the hidden aging water pump and its contingent creaky attachments. He gives the wall one stiff kick, rattling the pipes. Silence.