Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Twenty-Three

Christ! Would you listen to me? That was fucking typical. I’m always obsessing about shit that scares me. Dwelling on shit that makes me feel miserable. Why do I do that? Why does everything get to me like that? When I was eighteen, one of my shrinks said that in addition to TRD, I had OCD: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Great! Another fucking acronym to explain just how fucked up I am. He gave me some pills for it, but needless to say, they didn’t do shit. I don’t know. Maybe he was wrong? Maybe I never had it? I just wish…God, I wish I were stronger! I hate being so fucking weak! Charlie says I’m a lot stronger than I think I am, but I’ve never believed that. Usually, I trust Charlie’s judgment. But in this case, I know better. I can put up a pretty brave front, but inside, I’m always so fucking scared. I used to think that living like this would make me stronger, but it didn’t. It just broke me down, a piece at a time. I feel like I’m always hanging on by my fingertips. I never seem to be able to do more than stay one little step ahead of everything. I can’t do anything right. I can’t even close out my life without fucking it up. This night is proof of that. You’d think that being homeless, crazy, a junkie, and broke would make things easier. It’s like I said: I don’t have to do anything but stay alive. No one expects anything more out of me. Just keep on living; one day at a time. Sounds pretty easy, huh? Maybe it is, but there’s nothing easy about being me. It hurts being me. I’m so tired. I’m so fucking tired of everything. I hate being alive. I hate knowing what I know. I hate waking up every day. I hate going to sleep. Maybe I should’ve got myself busted and sent to prison for the rest of my life? How hard is that? Rob a store, stick some asshole, or maybe just set a building on fire. Bang! Life in prison! Then I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. I’d have a roof over my head, a bed, and free food and clothing for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t even have to think. I’d just have to do whatever they told me to do. Wear what they tell me, eat what they tell me, sleep when they tell me, and sweep the floor when they tell me. No, I couldn’t handle that. I couldn’t handle prison, that is. Prison is a hell of a lot more than doing what they tell you. It’s worse than this place, if you can believe that. Prison is only for the strong. Prison is for those who can adapt to it or overcome it. Prison is for people who can prey on others. I can’t do any of that shit. My fucked up brain won’t let me, and that’s the one thing I can never get away from. I can’t get away from myself. I can’t get away from being me. It’s like that old saying: “No matter where you go; there you are.” Tell me about it! God, why did I ever have to be born? What purpose did it serve? My parents wanted another kid, so they had me. The problem is, they got me. I’m sure as hell not what they had in mind. I’m not what anybody had in mind, unless they’re a fucking masochist. Whatever the rule, I’m the exception to it. You know, like with Nietzsche’s rule. Have you heard of him? He was a total fucking nutcase, but he understood a lot of shit. He said that whatever doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger. He was right. And that’s why I’m so fucking weak. Everything kills me. I just haven’t died from it yet. Strike one for Nietzsche, I guess.

I wish there was some way I could just get away from it all. Besides killing myself, I mean. I wish there was someplace I could go and just live by myself in peace. No people. No society. No rules. No demands. No memories. Just a safe, decent place where I could live out the rest of my life and not be afraid or miserable. I guess I’m not immune to Charlie’s Robin Hood syndrome. Too bad I never found such a place. It wasn’t for lack of thinking about it, that’s for sure. I thought about it a lot – for years. I’m afraid I’m just smart enough to know that it would never work. The closest thing I came up with? Get this: a lighthouse. I’m serious! I used to wish I could live in a fucking lighthouse! Now, how’s that for crazy? I once saw a picture of one in a book and I just stared at it for a long time. I thought it was beautiful. It was all by itself, out on the coast somewhere. There was nothing else around it but the cliffs and the ocean. I was drawn to it somehow. And no, it wasn’t because it was some Freudian phallic symbol or something. Something about it made me think that I might have found a way out. It just seemed like it was the perfect place for me. You know, all alone, out by the seashore. No one else around. Just me. Maybe a dog. Definitely a dog. Nothing to do but run the lighthouse and watch the ocean. Maybe feed the seagulls, too. Smell the salt in the air. Feel the wind across your face. Listen to the waves crash onto the shore. Watch the storms in the distance. No one would care if I was crazy. They wouldn’t care if I couldn’t handle life. I thought that maybe I could fit in if that was my whole life. Maybe it would be enough? I think it might have worked. And it would’ve been great because my house would be my job. Maybe you get to live there for free because you run the lighthouse and take care of the place? I could do that. How hard could it be? You turn the light on when it gets dark and you turn it off when the sun comes up. Maybe you get on the radio and tell all of the ships about the weather or heavy surf or something. Tell them if they’re getting too close to the shore. You listen for their broadcasts and sometimes you answer them. Voices in the night. No faces. No names. You don’t need to know who they are and they don’t need to know who you are. I could do that. My eyes and ears work just fine. They’re about the only parts of me that do, but that would be enough. And as far as taking care of the place is concerned, most of it would be making sure you polished all of the brass shit. There’s a lot of brass in a lighthouse. At least, there was in the one in the picture I saw. And since the job would be at night, it would be perfect for me. I’d stay up all night and run the lighthouse and sleep during the day when nobody needed it. When nobody needed me. I could do that. The only thing I’d have to learn is how to fix the light if it broke. I could learn how to do that. Someone could teach me. I wonder how you get a job in a lighthouse? Do you have to be in the Coast Guard or something? Do you need a college degree? Do you need to be sane? I don’t know. I actually tried to look into it, but I couldn’t find any information. I mean, I honestly didn’t know where to begin. I’m not surprised. It looks like a great life, so the people who do it probably want to keep it all a big secret. I would. I’d never tell anyone. I’d keep it all to myself. Anyway, I never found out. I guess it doesn’t matter now.

OK, enough of feeling sorry for myself. I’m never going to live in a lighthouse. I’m never going to be strong. I’m never going to fit in. I’m never going to know any peace as long as I’m alive. I know that. I’ve known it for a long time. This is it. This is my life. This is what I get. This is the hand I drew, and Charlie says you have to play the hand you’re dealt. If you don’t have the cards, then all you can do is fold. He’s right. You can’t bluff. You can’t bluff life into folding. You can’t win if you don’t have a winning hand. There can’t be winners without losers. That’s how it works. I lost. Maybe I could’ve done better, but I don’t know how. I’ve thought about it until my brain felt like it was going to explode. No luck. So it’s too late to feel sorry for myself. Besides, I should be happy. It’s over. It’s finally over. I want to die, and now I’m going to die. I’m getting what I want. How many people out here can say that? Yes, I’m scared to death of what’s waiting for me on the other side, but I’m scared to death of what’s on this side, too. Could it really be any worse? God is vengeful, but he’s not spiteful. At least, I don’t think he is. He won’t hold it against me. One of his children failed. She was born fucked up and she couldn’t overcome it. It happens. You don’t punish your children for failing. You might be disappointed in them, but you don’t hate them for it. So God won’t hate me. He won’t punish me for being such a fucking reject. Maybe he’ll send me to Purgatory for a few hundred years, but that wouldn’t be so bad. I mean, compared to this place? How bad could it be? Hell, he might even see me and say, “Hey, Miranda! What took you so fucking long? I was expecting you years ago! Why did you put yourself through all of that shit for nothing?” God, I hope so. I hope that’s exactly what he says to me. They say God forgives all sins, so that includes mine, right? Just one more to go, God. Just one more sin that I’ll need you to forgive. That’s if suicide really is a sin. I’m still not sure about that one. Whether it is or isn’t, just let me slide, OK? It’s nothing personal, God.

All right, enough of this shit! I’ve got work to do. I’m running out of time. I’ve wasted too much time already. I’ve got a letter to write and a mailman to find. I’d better line up my mailman first. If I don’t find somebody soon, I’ll be screwed. Most of the people I know are going to hit the hole pretty soon. That’s an indelicate way of saying they’ll find some fucking hole and go to sleep or pass out from the booze and drugs. Hey, it’s what we do. Now I need to find someone who’s pretty tight with Charlie. Someone reliable. Jesus Christ! Did I really just say that? Reliable? Out here? Talk about fucking insane! OK, let me rephrase that. I need to find someone who’s tight with Charlie and who’s what we would consider reliable. So where do I go looking for such a true and stalwart messenger? Well, from where I am right now, I’ve got two options. I could look over at the Blocks or I could try near the liquor store. The liquor store will be closing soon, so a lot of people hang out there hoping to score enough for one last drink. Of course, most of them will be drunk or pissed off. That could be a problem. Then there’s the Blocks. The Blocks is a spot down the street and three streets over from here. We call it that because it’s pretty much an old cinder block wall that’s been falling apart since before the beginning of time. A lot of people hang over there late at night. Unfortunately, most of them are younger guys and they’re certainly not what you’d call reliable. Even we wouldn’t call them reliable. But there’ll definitely be more people over there right now, especially since it’s getting cold. You can build a bonfire at the Blocks and the cops won’t fuck with it. So what do I do? The liquor store or the Blocks? If I had a coin, I’d flip it. Oh, what the fuck? Nothing’s worked the way I planned it tonight, so why try to plan anything now? I might as well go with the liquor store. It’s closer. Six of one, half dozen of the other, right? Just let me find someone there, Lord. Please cut me a break. I need one pretty bad right now.


And there it is: Cardoza’s Liquor. Well, so much for getting a break. There’s nobody out in front of the place. They must have pissed off the owner. See how the sidewalk’s fucking soaked? That ain’t rain, my friend. That’s garden hose. The owner went and hosed the place down to drive away the assholes. I think I told you how they do that sometimes. Well, there you go. They must have really pissed him off! Look at all of that goddamned water! Christ, it’s like fucking Lake Michigan! That’ll keep them away. Nobody’s going to sit in a fucking swimming pool on a cold night like this. Still, I shouldn’t give up just yet. Like I told you before: we’re like roaches. You can scatter us, but you can’t get rid of us. These guys won’t have gone far. It’s half-past twelve and as long as that place is open, they’ve got a shot at getting a drink. Until then, they’re not going anywhere. OK, so where do people go around here? The parking lot? No, this one’s all lit up. The cops would see them from the street and chase them away. Where else? This one has a stairway over by the corner. It’s part of that ugly fucking building on the other side of the lot. The lights over there are pretty bright. You can see what you’re doing, but the cops can’t see you from the street. It’s also a pretty good place to sit. Nobody fucks with you over there; at least not at night. I guess the liquor store guy’s hose doesn’t reach that far. I’ll bet that’s where they are. You can see the front door of the store from there so you can see anyone coming out. That way, you can hit them up for money or ask them to share their bottle. Think of it as skid row liquor store etiquette. All right, that’s my next move. God, please let there be someone there who’ll do this for me. Just this one last favor.

Well, what do you know? My luck may be improving. I can hear them. That means there’s definitely a crowd here tonight. That’s the good news. Then again, nobody’s called out to me. That’s the bad news. That usually means there isn’t anyone here who knows me. Even if I can’t see them yet, they can see me. They know I’m here. Then again, maybe they’re just drunk? There they are! A bunch of them! Oh, man! These guys are fucking loaded! Let’s see…is there anybody I know? Not really. Not on the stairs…or the driveway. Wait a minute! The guy over by the wall! He looks familiar. Is that…is that the guy who’s been following me? Shit! It think it is! I knew it! I knew someone was following me! I kept seeing someone in the distance! I thought I was seeing things but now there’s…wait a minute. Is he…hold on…no, nothing. There’s nothing there. I don’t see him anymore. Am I just imagining shit? He couldn’t have just vanished like that. Not unless he really is the fucking angel of death. If he is, then I think he would’ve introduced himself by now. I guess that means I can scratch him off of the list. But I thought I saw…I was sure I saw someone. Christ, that’s just fucking perfect! I guess I really am starting to hallucinate. Great! I’m seeing imaginary people following me around! It wouldn’t be the first time. When the stress builds, I lose more and more contact with reality. At the rate this night is going, I’ll be on fucking Pluto by sunrise! Jesus! Seeing imaginary people who aren’t there when you look at them! God, what a fucking nutcase! If that doesn’t prove I’m crazy, nothing will!

OK, let’s clear out your fucked-up little head, Miranda. Start looking for real people. Forget the invisible ones. Look for someone who can help you out. Let’s see, how about over by the bushes? Holy shit! That’s Carl! Yes! Yes! Perfect! Can you believe it? Something good actually happened to me tonight! Yes! Carl’s an old-timer and a major fucking drunk, but he’s always been good to me and he’s really tight with Charlie. If I tell him it’s for Charlie, then he’ll do it for sure. He’ll give him the letter. No doubt about it. Thank you, Jesus! I owe you one! Seriously, I do. A miracle in the form of Carl! I just hope he’s not so fucked up already that he won’t remember what to do. That happens with drunks sometimes. I’ve seen Carl obliterate himself on a couple of bottles of Night Train. He didn’t know what the fuck planet he was on. Fuck it! If he’s too shit-faced, I’ll just write it down for him. He’ll find the letter in his pocket in the morning and it’ll have a set of instructions for him. He’ll know exactly what to do. Shit, I’ll fucking nail it to his goddamned head if I have to!

Oh, thank God! He’s not too far gone yet! How can I tell? Because he’s engaged in his second-favorite pastime: wasting what little money he’s got on gambling. You see that thing he’s scratching on? That little card? That’s a lottery ticket. You probably figured that one out already. Yeah, Carl’s a fucking nut for the lottery. He has been as long as I’ve known him. If he has a buck, even before he buys a drink, he’ll buy a fucking lottery ticket. It’s true. The guy’s blood is like ninety-nine percent Night Train, but he has to have that lottery ticket even worse. He’s not the only one. You’d be amazed how much the homeless shell out every fucking night on lottery tickets. Quick Picks, Scratchers, Mix and Match; God only knows what else. You practically need a Ph.D. to figure it all out, but that doesn’t stop them from playing. The lottery and the homeless go together like junkies and dope. You know what’s funny? I’ve never played the lottery. Not even once. I may be crazy, but I’m not that crazy. Yeah, I know someone always wins and they live happily ever after, but seeing as the odds of hitting the jackpot are a million times worse than the odds of getting struck by lightning, Well, I’ve never been struck by lightning, so I’m pretty sure I wasn’t meant to win the jackpot. I’ll save my money. God, the fucking lottery! It’s such a fucking scam! Have you ever heard their commercials? “One ticket can change your life! Try your luck! Just believe in your dreams and they’ll all come true!” Yeah, right! I never had that much hope on the best day of my fucking life.

“Hey, Carl! How are you doing?”

“Hey, Red! Ain’t seen you in a while! How you been?”

“About the same as always.”

“And how’s that?”

“About five seconds away from slitting my own throat.”

“Hah! Damn, girl! You crazy! That’s the truth!”

OK, it appears he’s more shit-faced than I thought. I guess maybe I’ll be writing those directions after all.

“Yeah, you got that right, Carl. So have you got a winner?”

“We’ll see, baby girl. We’ll see.”

“Carl, why do you waste your money on that shit?”

“Hey, I only got to win once. You know how much that damn jackpot is?”

“No. Have you ever won?”

“Not yet.”

“Do you know anyone who’s ever won?”

“I done heard about it.”

“Yeah, and I’ve heard of flying saucers. I’ve never seen one, though. And I never even met anyone who saw one.”

“What the fuck’s that got to do with me winnin’ the lottery?”

I think my point is wasted on him. I’d better stop. I need him to use his remaining brain cells to get my letter to Charlie.

“Don’t you have anything better to spend your money on?”

“Oh, yeah! Got it right here!”

Oh, Jesus! He’s drinking Cisco! I guess they were out of Night Train. Christ, I ought to do him a favor and just kill him right here!

“I meant better than that. A lot better than that!”

“Hey, somebody’s gotta win. Might as well be me.”

“Carl, do you know what the odds are of winning the lottery? Something like five hundred million to one.”

“Who says I ain’t gonna be the one?”

“I’m not going to win this one, am I?”

“Hell, no!”

“OK, OK. So how’s it going tonight?”

“Pretty good. A little cold for my tastes. About gettin’ to feelin’ it now. So what you be up to tonight?”

“Oh, nothing much. I was looking for Charlie, but…”

“Yeah, I heard he got sick. Pneumonia or somethin’ like that. Took him away in the ambulance, over by Grand Alley. Must be pretty bad.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of. Most of the time, Charlie wouldn’t go to a hospital at gunpoint.”

“Ain’t that the truth? Not even if they give him the good dope. Probably went kickin’ and screamin’ this time, too. But don’t you worry. Charlie’s a tough motherfucker. Always has been. Couldn’t kill him in ’Nam; couldn’t kill him out here, neither.”

“Yeah, but he’s not a young man anymore. Christ, I don’t even know how old he is. He’s got to be over seventy.”

“Shit! That motherfucker might be a hundred! But don’t go gettin’ all worried. I done known Charlie a long time. Before you was born, I’ll bet. You couldn’t kill that motherfucker with a motherfuckin’ atomic bomb! Hah!”

“I hope you’re right.”

“I’m always right! Didn’t nobody tell you that?”

“I guess they forgot.”

“Forgot? Shit! I’m gonna have to talk to them motherfuckers!”

Believe it or not, he’s not kidding. I don’t know who he plans to scold for not giving me the word on his omniscience, but it would almost be worth sticking around just to see him do it. God, some of these old timers are a fucking trip! There’s nothing else like them in the world!

“I wish he were here now.”

“He’ll be out soon. He ain’t gonna stay no longer than he has to. You know how it is at that motherfucking Go to Hell.”

That’s street speak. “Go to Hell” is what we call General Hospital. You know, GH? Go to Hell? Considering how they treat you, Go to Hell is a much more appropriate name. If you’re homeless or poor, they usually throw your ass out the door just as soon as they know you aren’t going to die in the hallway. If you die in the parking lot, that’s your problem. They don’t give a shit. As you now know, I speak from experience.

“Yeah, they’ll toss him out on the sidewalk first chance they get.”

“You mean if they even bother to wait that long. They’ll throw his fuckin’ ass out while he still got them tubes in him!”

“And then they’ll charge him for the tubes.”

“You got that right, baby girl! So come on, cheer up. He’s gonna be OK.”
“If you say so.”

“Damn right if I say so! Come on, tell me what do I do with all these millions if I win?”

“Well, you could marry me.”

I’m not teasing him. I’m serious! Hey, I’d be willing to stick around if I became an instant millionaire. Who wouldn’t? I sure as hell wouldn’t have to worry about living on the street. Maybe I could even buy that lighthouse?

“Hell, girl! I’m old enough to be your goddamned granddaddy!”

“Oh, that’s OK. I like older men. Especially when they’re rich.”

“Baby girl, I think one night with you would be the death of me! My fuckin’ heart ain’t what it used to be.”

“Even better! I’d be the grieving widow. The grieving rich widow!”

“Damn! You’s a wicked girl, Red! A wicked girl!”

“Yeah, I still know a few tricks.”

“Oh, I’ll bet you do!”

I don’t even want to think about what’s going through his mind right now. Probably me in a little silk baby doll nightie with a bottle of Night Train. Well, I’m not sure about the baby doll nightie. I’m damn sure about the Night Train, though.

“Well, with all the dope I’ve done, most of them probably leaked out through my ears.”

“That’s a damn shame.”

“Yeah, all that naughty pornographic knowledge gone to waste.”

“Damn, Red! I think I’m gonna have a goddamned heart attack just listenin’ to you!”

“Then I’ll spare you my bedroom stories. Listen, Carl: I need you to do me a favor. Actually, I need you to do me a huge favor. Tonight.”

“No problem, Red. What you need?”

“I need you to give something to Charlie for me.”

“Dope?”

“No, nothing like that. I need you to give him a letter for me.”

“A letter?”

“Yeah, I know it’s kind of weird, but I need you to do it for me.”

“Can’t you just give it to him yourself?”

“No. Not this time. Don’t ask me to explain. You’ll understand later on. That’s…that’s all I can tell you right now.”

Now how the fuck am I supposed to drop something like that in his lap and expect him not to ask any questions? God damn, Miranda! You are one stupid fucking girl!

“You want me to give Charlie a letter on account of you can’t give it to him? And you ain’t gonna tell me what’s goin’ on?”

“Pretty much.”

“Fuck that shit! What the hell’s goin’ on, Red? What you done got yourself into?”

See what I mean?

“I can’t explain it right now.”

“Can’t explain or won’t explain? There’s a big motherfuckin’ difference.”

“Look, I just can’t…I can’t get you involved is all. I’m in some trouble and I can’t get anyone else jammed up in it. I need you to understand that and I really need you to get this letter to Charlie for me as soon as you can.”

“You can’t get there tomorrow and give it to him yourself?”

“No. No, I can’t. God, I wish I could.”

I really don’t like the way he’s looking at me. These fucking old-timers can look right through you and read every fucking thought in your head. It’s like they’re psychic or something. I’ve seen them do it a thousand times. And as drunk as he is, he’s still doing it to me right now.

“So that’s how it’s got to be, is it? You ain’t gonna tell me?”

“I can’t. Not now. Not yet. So will you do it for me?”

“For you? For Charlie? Yeah, I’ll do it. Give me the letter.”

“I don’t have it yet. I have to…I have to go get it. Where are you going to be later on?”

“There’s that old couch behind that liquor store over by the stone wall. Not this here one. The other one. Over near the Salvation church. You know that one?”

“Yeah, I know it. Since when has there been a couch out back?”

“Since some motherfucker put it there this morning. The man be chasin’ me off all day now, but I figure by about three, I’ll go back and sleep on it. It’s gonna be good!”

“You don’t think someone else will be there?”

“If there is, I’ll throw his motherfuckin’ ass the hell out! Shit, I saw the damned thing first!”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“It’s way in the back, away from the dumpsters. Back by the bushes. You know where that’s at?”

“Yeah, I slept there a few times. In the bushes behind the fence. People can’t see you from the street. You can blend in pretty good.”

“That’s right. That’s why it’s gonna be good. Especially with a goddamned couch to sleep on.”

“OK, but this is really important. I mean it! I’m begging you! I need you to do this for me! You promise me you’re going to be there? You’re not going to go anywhere else?”

“Baby girl, that’s the only place I’ll be when I’m done here. Guaranteed!”

“Please do this for me, Carl.”

“Of course I’m gonna do it for you! Ain’t I always done right by you?”

“Yeah, you have.”

“So why am I gonna go changin’ that shit now?”

“You won’t. I know you won’t. Thanks, Carl.”

“Listen, I know you’re all worried about Charlie. But there ain’t no need for it. That motherfucker’s gonna be just fine. His big ass gonna be back on the street before you know it. And I’ll give him your letter just like you asked, soon as I see him.”

“Thanks. I mean it.”

“Now, I’m gonna give you one last chance, Red. You gonna tell me what the fuck’s goin’ on?”

“I can’t. Not right now. I’ll explain later. I promise. I won’t leave you hanging.”

“You best not. Don’t be keepin’ that shit from me forever.”

“It’s a deal.”

“Hey Red? You know Charlie loves you like you was his own, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“He ain’t got no kids, so you’re the closest thing he’s got. You know that, right?”

“Yeah. Some piece of shit daughter I turned out to be, huh?”

“Oh, don’t you go talkin’ like that! I don’t want to hear none of that shit from you! You’re all right, girl. You ain’t like a lot of these motherfuckers out here. You ain’t all fucked up like they are. No-good motherfuckers up to doin’ scandalous shit! Ought to put the motherfuckin’ lot of ’em in the pen! That’s where they belong, you know? Ain’t no place else for them motherfuckers! Send all they asses to the pen! That’s what I say!”

“I think most of them have been there already.”

“Damn right they have! Should’ve stayed there, too! What kind of goddamned fool went and let them motherfuckers out? What the fuck was they thinkin’?”

“I guess they should’ve talked to you first.”

“Goddamn right they should’ve talked to me first! I got to set them motherfuckers straight! Lettin’ them scandalous motherfuckers out when you know they ain’t gonna do nothin’ but what the fuck got ’em sent up in the first place!”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll set them straight, Carl.”

“Damn right I’ll set their motherfuckin’ asses straight! Motherfuckers need to be listenin’ to me! Wouldn’t have half this shit goin’ on if they did!”

Remember I told you how one bottle of Cisco just totally destroys your fucking mind? Here’s the proof! I’m serious. He actually believes every word he’s saying. Pay attention! This is your fucking brain on Cisco!

“Yeah, well, you straighten then them out.”

“Better fuckin’ believe it!”

“But not until after you give that letter to Charlie, OK?”

I’ve got to stick it in his head so I know he won’t forget or something. Just a few drops of Cisco can permanently erase six months of memory from the human brain.

“Don’t you go worryin’ about that! I’ll take care of your letter. And don’t you be getting’ down on yourself. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with you. You got a good heart, Red. That’s what matters. If you don’t believe me, go ask Charlie. I know you gonna believe him.”

“I always do.”

“And he’ll tell you the same damn thing. So it’s settled. Case closed! Hah!”

“OK, you win.”

“I always win!”

“Except for that fucking lottery ticket!”

“Oh, it’s gonna happen, girl! It’s gonna happen! That money’s as good as in my motherfuckin’ pocket! Maybe tomorrow, huh?”

“Sure, Carl. Maybe tomorrow.”

It’s going to kill him when he finds out what this is all about. I wish that wasn’t the case, but he’ll get over it. In a week, he won’t even remember me. Not because he’s an asshole or anything. He’s not. It’s just the way things work out here. The truth is, Carl’s always been nice to me. Maybe it’s because I laugh at his bad jokes? Maybe it’s because I’m the only woman out here who smiles at him? Then again, maybe he’s just a nice guy who’s nice to me even though I don’t deserve it? I don’t know. I just know it’s going to kill him to find out that I used him like that. I’m sorry it has to be this way, but there’s no other way to do it. Tonight’s the night. Charlie’s not here. I can’t do this the way I planned, so I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to use the tools I’ve got; even if that tool is someone who’s always been nice to me. So I’m sorry, Carl. I really am. I hope you can forgive me. I hope that when you sober up and you find out what happened, you’ll understand. And I hope to God that you won’t kick yourself for not trying to stop me. Take care. I hope you win the lottery. I hope you win a billion dollars and you get the hell out of here and live happily ever after. One of us should.

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