Down Louisville, the numbers regress--Fourth street, Third, Second, but First is not First but Walnut and Zero is Riverside Drive. There Mac sits, in the left lane, the lowered drawbridge before him. This is maybe the sixth or seventh time he's been in this spot tonight. The first after the Monte Carlo. He's watching.
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 on a stylite, visible from a distance of twenty blocks. Honda On A Stick.
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. He was there last night. He'd rather not think about it.
The Plymouth remains unaccompanied at the traffic signal before the dark bridge, and as the signal descends to green he looks around--no lowrider 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
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. Tonight we have: 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.
Through the late night smells of still-warm asphalt and spring blooming he comes to the Oliver Road at Louisville light again, finally ready to give it up for the night. A red Ford Falcon idles in the lane beside, mid-sixties model. Its windows are down.
A boy and girl sit in the front, mouths involved. He judges them to be about sixteen. In the instant of discovering an observer the girl's face does a crimson flush.
Mac smiles in what is nothing more than a small celebration. Somehow the girl takes 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. With violent bouncing motions she laughs aloud, watching Mac watch her, moving.
He snaps his head back around at the light. 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. His family of wife and four year old are familiar with the varying mobile home parks about the parish. Their 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 proper 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 past 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 temporarily.
When Mac is drying off he notices the plastic door handle missing. With fingernails he frees himself from the bathroom and ventures to watch TV. Sybil is not in the room. Cooper stares at the wall above Mac's head for a long time balefully. Abruptly his face shudders with the thought of another grievance and he rushes to the bedroom.
Loud voices, and the door slamming. 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'm just talking about, 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, 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 child usually sleeps at various stations in her parents' room.
Mac's clothes are situated in the trunk of his car.
Lying down, 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."
Stepping heavily he goes toward the bathroom. The bedroom door is open. Mac peeks hesitantly inside, above the inert child. He shouldn't . Mac knows that. But here he is, drawn, as the wounded watch a cut to see if bone shows through.
All visual elements here seem to be born of extreme pain and struggle. 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 and interrupts herself with a strange arch of the mouth. She flips him the bird and yells savagely "Get out! Out! Now!!"
Mac wanted to say something to Cooper about 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. The pavement closely shoulders a curving bayou. Black water reflects expensive houses from the opposite bank. Mac watches racing pinspots of light on the surface, past a seafood restaurant and a cypress-boarded bar, the busy dots soon collecting into the upside-down image of the university campus. Veering right, he takes the new bridge across the bayou, passing the eleven-story dorm and coliseum. He's surprised at the number of doors open and students about at this thankless hour.
He drives on, to another 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. A few of the windows are lit, celebrity posters visible within. He parks in the tennis court lot, with a view.
Nothing much happens.
The sound of something tearing at his windshield awakens him. An campus security officer places a ticket under the wiper blade. Mac's heart starts to beat uncontrollably. Before he can speak, to offer some explanation, the officer is already gone, stalking another unauthorized vehicle.
He yawns, stretching, and eventually settles back against the headrest. Each identical dormitory door has an identical light attached to the wall beside.
Eventually there is motion; a young man opens a door, peeking outside. He makes his way to the stairs and runs down, cutting across the road undetected. Mac gets no glimpse of the surmised girl inside.
Another hour, nothing else occurs. Then it's back to 80, called DeSiard Street here, going all the way downtown. The signals 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. The water 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 Cypress Street. This is the region of forgotten motels:ancient neon and stuttering, faded "Vacancy" emanations. 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 offers grudgingly "Vincent" as Mac introduces himself. Vincent accepts the completed registration slip and cash without rising from his stool, eyes trained upon his counter-top set. Mac grasps the key and watches for a while, waiting for a break in the program, maybe chat a little.
At the commercial 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 to his room. 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 hears the noise. 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 shut, fingers in ears, 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 lets himself into the empty room, looks around, finding the key. He hears the sound. He walks to the wall, listens 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.