Mission Austin, pt. 4

Mission Austin


“I had this really bizarre dream last night.”

We were back in that Halloween house, the duplex our friends Roberta, Gabby and Bohdan split with the landlord’s daughter. As these three moved, so moved the party house – or, more accurately, the pre- and post-party house. The recession was on, and no matter how cheap a PBR and a shot was at 8 Ball or The Circus (“can you believe they raised the price to a dollar twenty-five after we made this night cool!?”), nothing was quite so cheap as showing up at the bar drunk. Half-pints became pints and pints became bottles of shitty sparkling wine with half-pint chasers. On something called Tequila Night, I once did speed off Bohdan’s knee and spent the ensuing three hours with Bohdan attempting to convince my friend Geo that Andy Warhol was still culturally relevant. As the pre- and post-party house moved, so too did the noise violations.

“Oh yeah, what was that?”

Rift’s dedication to the institution that was Wednesday night bluegrass meant anyone who arrived with him was just those few minutes early. Roberta was still toweling off her hair, walking in and out of the room and sighing “Rift!” as he had tried to light a cigarette. Gabby was bouncing between rooms and floors, gesturing menacingly with her phone. Bohdan was probably in his room putting hot sauce on something, the Ukrainian element of the party still somewhere repairing the inner lining of a beaver pelt hat. Positively no one was playing soul music or wearing clothes they intended to leave the house in.

You would get smacked upside the head sometimes and remember that you were a guest. I get it, I mean, you’re always happy to see your friends – at the right time, after you’ve picked out panties and your tits aren’t stuck to your arms from the shower. It was easy to think when you weren’t there that the house was just waiting for you to grind some neglected Parliament butt into the carpet while dancing to Sam Cooke, and the blurrier the line got between bar and home, the more Roberta would sigh and Gabby would scream.

I had moved way the fuck down South Main, while the girls and Bohdan moved into the heart of Kerrytown. I clocked it one time – between getting the call that Roberta’s hair was in a towel to the time that I showed up at their house after rolling through the liquor store, it was 44 minutes on foot. Sometimes Bohdan would be in New York or Gabby would be in Royal Oak, and sometimes Anesa would just sleep through the whole thing. You couldn’t just assume that everyone was going to show up on Wednesday anymore.

It was the worst when Roberta was going to study for something. Really, a lot of us that didn’t live there called it “Roberta’s place,” so she could put the axe through a night if she needed to know how the shin bone connected to the extra credit. She would dare us to find somewhere else to pre-game; I don’t think she understand it was like asking to reschedule Christmas.

Rift is pulling bottles and cigarettes out of a brown paper bag. A forty, a half pint of bottom-shelf vodka, a Red Bull. Yellow American Spirits. I’ve already cracked my Red Bull, sitting on the poor abused coffee table on the couch in front of us. One time we knocked seven bottles of champagne off it, and no one even got a towel.

Roberta and Gabby’s room is enormous, an arching thing with nooks and picturesque windows, one of which goes out to the uncomfortably sloping roof above the back balcony where I rubbed the fat pad of Rift’s hand and he told me to quit it. One of Gabby’s huge spider mobiles sits in a corner, waiting to pounce. Roberta’s got a lunchbox with a WWI syphilis poster sitting in front of hundreds of dog-eared books. Somewhere, the Ouija board we haven’t used since last year sits, twitching like it’s been hanging out with us for too long. And there are hundreds of trinkets and baubles and treasures, most of which probably have dex or pot in or on them. Once, Roberta handed me a Klonopin out of a novelty matchbox from a coffee stand in Mumbai. I pull my pint of R&R and my water out of my own brown paper bag. I never start drinking soon enough.

“Rift!” Roberta snaps, swinging into her room and picking up her brush. “You know goddamn well Gabby will have a fucking coronary incident if you light a cigarette in here. Just go outside! It’s not that far!”

“It’s November!” Rift throws back in his trademark growl.

“Rift!” Gabby snaps from Bohdan’s room.

“All right, all right. Fuck.” He tucks the cigarette behind his ear and pats the dots of apple-perfumed vodka clinging to his upper lip with the thick fur of the back of his hand. Roberta disappears again.  

I wasn’t even sure I should tell Rift about the dream. Last week, Roberta and Gabby pulled me into the corner by Gabby’s bed to ask, “Hey, so what’s going on between you and Rift?” Roberta seemed tenderly repulsed, while Gabby had her finger-pointing point-making green dress on.

“I…guess we’re dating,” I said, a mixture of gushing with a little contempt for whatever was going to happen next. And the pinpoint sting of knowing that my guitar already knew they were right.

“You just need to watch yourself, Ergi,” Roberta said, dragging her bangs up with the teeth of her comb, examining her face in the mirror.

“So what was this dream of yours about, Ergi?”

“Rift makes girls cry, Ergi,” Gabby had said.

“I was standing at the edge of my grandparents’ driveway.”

“Father’s parents or mother’s parents?”

“Mother’s. All right, so I’m standing at the end of the driveway, and there are these two big stone pillars right? Made out of the same stone as their house, this big old farmhouse between our town and the next one.

“So I’m standing there, but then suddenly I leap up into the air, I stick out my arms and I’m hanging between these two pillars, right? My hands are flush up against the pillars and I’m hanging there, right, which is just insane because these two pillars are like ten, twelve feet apart.

“And then the craziest thing of all, Rift, I don’t even know how to explain it. I start turning around like somebody is cranking a wheel. My hands stay stuck, just like they are to the pillars, but my arms start turning over and over and I’m getting twisted up like a corkscrew. Only the thing is, it doesn’t hurt at all. I’ve got this incredible light feeling, and I’m happy, like something amazing is about to happen.”

Rift looks at me for a long moment, takes a conservative pull off his Red Bull and vodka, and asks: “do you wanna go smoke?”

And really I couldn’t give a shit less about smoking right now, and it is November and we will freeze on the balcony, and I’m floating away into my world of cheap whiskey and amazing dreams.

“The day I don’t want to smoke, you should start looking for four horsemen.” What can I do? I am dating the most beautiful man in all of Ann Arbor, and all I have to do is take his drugs and not dance too close to him at the bar.

We gather up what we think we’ll need for our trek and then slink down the stairs, knowing we’ll make this trip a hundred more times tonight. We pass the kitchen on our curving route to the balcony; Bohdan is there, scrubbing hot sauce and the remnants of some pasta off a cracked earthenware plate. “Hey guys,” he says, not yet quite ready to sacrifice his home for the night. “Wait, hey, hey Rift, I’ve got that record I was telling you about last week upstairs.”

“Hey, cool man,” Rift says, not quite ready to see that the house hasn’t filled up yet. “We’ll see you upstairs, right? Cool.”

“Cool. Hey, uh, remember to watch out for the cat.” Bohdan was the proud owner of some crazy imported leopard cat, the retail value of which escalated every time someone talked about it.

“Cool.” As we walked on past the kitchen, drinks and cigarettes in tow, I saw that we had scared the cat, Ahrippa, down the stairwell leading to the basement. It might have tried to escape along with us, but neither of us was pissing, the only time it really liked to pounce. Rift opened the inside door to the balcony, and it wouldn’t be shut now for hours to come.

November cold is as surprising as April warm. Rift was a very strong man, but at six two and maybe, maybe one seventy, and with that learned Michigan man resistance to proper attire, you could really see why he wanted to smoke inside. His elbows locked toward each other as though they could somehow protect his middle, and they stayed that way while I lit his yellow American Spirit, and my Marlboro. My friend Leisha always says that pretty girls don’t light their own cigarettes, and Rift sure as hell wasn’t going to.

“Was that the end of the dream, Ergi?” he asked, yanking at the edges of his shirt, trying to cover any exposed skin he could.

“Actually, Rift, that wasn’t the end of the dream.”

“Oh yeah? What else happened?”

“Rift isn’t gay and there’s nothing you’re going to do to change that, Ergi.” I wondered what Roberta and Gabby might tell Rift if they knew me as well as they knew him.

“Ergi falls in love, hard, like a moron. He’s gonna want to follow you around like a stupid happy puppy, and you’re gonna have to swat him on the nose to keep him down.”

“All right, so I’m spinning around between these pillars, right, and my arms are getting all twisted to hell. But then, from out the middle of nowhere I see this man walking up the street towards my grandparents’ place. He’s got this forest green shirt on, and these heather pants, and I can tell with just a glance that this is the man I’m supposed to be with.

“And I’m looking at him, and he’s walking closer, and I think he’s smiling at me, but damned if I never see his face. I had this totally chill feeling come over me, but it was like I was too relaxed. Dream me knew that what was going on was fated, so we didn’t need to hurry. But I never saw his face, not really. I dreamt about my true love, but I never saw his face.”

I had to take several puffs now on my cigarette to keep it going. Rift took a couple of long drags on his, too; smoker see, smoker do. Upstairs, I heard Roberta holler “whoo!” and then say something to Gabby. I heard laughter and then someone turned on a record. Bohdan was probably pressing his jacket now. The night was probably going to turn out just fine.

I heard heeled steps on the floor, maybe Margot or Roberta.

“Hey Ergi,” Rift started as the steps drew ever closer. “Do you think that man walking up the road might have been me?”

As Roberta swung the door out onto the balcony, I said, “You know, Rift, I hadn’t even thought of it.”

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