High-Test

by | Feb 10, 2015 | Fiction

The drunken pregnant girl smoking a cigarette in the parking lot of Andy’s Airport Inn caught Glenn’s eye. She swayed back and forth, dancing without music. Glenn imagined a clear and vibrant melodic rhythm must have played loud in her head. Despite the bitter cold, her sweat jacket was open in the front, exposing her maternal belly. The leggings underneath her short jean skirt were ripped in a way that seemed purposeful. Her pony tail splashed about behind her in bright blond bursts, made all the more brilliant by the flood light shining down on her. As she danced, she lifted a tallboy in a paper bag off the hood of the car and took a pull. Glenn thought about how easy it should be to feel superior to a person like that, but it wasn’t coming easily to him. She danced with the confidence of someone who was impervious to other people’s judgment. He envied that. Glenn’s cigarette was almost done. Huddled against the bitter cold he lit another and watched her. He made up a little story about the drunk pregnant girl smoking. How she got into trouble, dropped out of high school and moved in with her boyfriend. She got a job at the grocery store, and despite the adversity in her life, she was mostly happy. Her boyfriend, also a dropout, worked at the garage and cheated on her frequently. Her worst fear was being publicly confronted with his infidelity and having to break it off. She depended on him for nearly everything, but was still very proud and unwilling to be viewed as a fool. Even though Glenn’s fantasy painted a somewhat underwhelming existence, he envied her for moving out of her parents’ house. It was something Glenn had done many years ago. However, due to several setbacks in his life, he was once again living with his Mom and Dad. She stopped swaying, apparently aware she was being observed. She cocked her head and put her hand on her hip.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” she said.

“Nothing,” Glenn said. “It’s just…”

“Just what, motherfucker?”

“It’s just that…” He was drunk and his mouth was dry. “You dance nice.”

She let out a delightful laugh. Glenn could tell his comment took her by surprise. He imagined many strangers had offered her choice words regarding the dangers of smoking and drinking during pregnancy. She relaxed her posture and walked over to him. He took a self-conscious drag of his cigarette and nervously searched for other things to focus on. The dumpster, the backdoor of the bar, the full-bright-winter moon.

“I was sure you were going to say something different.” She smiled. “You like the way I dance?” Glenn smoked and nodded.

“That’s sweet,” she said.

“I’m not trying to creep you out,” he said. Glenn tried to talk slow and purposefully in order to overcome the slur he perceived in his voice.

“Too late,” she said and laughed and put her hand on his shoulder. The creaky backdoor to Andy’s was knocked open. A young man with close-cut black hair came out, hands full of packaged goods. He was dressed in white pants, a black belt, and a white t-shirt. Steam came off his bare skin.

“Got the beer, babe,” the young man said. He was shorter than Glenn, but muscular and had the look of guy who woke up in the morning halfway ready to kick someone in the dick. “Who the fuck is this?”

“This is…” She made the face of a stumped child before she continued. “You know, I don’t know who this is.”

“Glenn,” Glenn said.

“Glenn,” the drunk pregnant girl with the cigarette repeated. “He said I danced nice.”

“Well, Glenn,” the young man said. “That makes you one of the smart ones.” He looked directly at the girl. “Is he one of your old regulars from the bar?”

“No,” she said. “I’d remember this one. You’ve never seen me dance before just now, have you?” Glenn shook his head no. “Well, you’ll have to come over to Sugar and Spice in a few months. Once I get the little one out and start back to work. Then you’ll see some real dancing.”

“She knows how to shake it,” the young man leaned in and gave her a kiss. “Of course if you aren’t grossed out by the whole bun in the oven, we could set-up a private show for you tonight.” Glenn became aware he’d been nodding along with everything the guy said. “Great,” the young man said. “Why don’t we head to your place, we’ll roll a few joints and Jenny will put on a show. It’ll fucking kick ass,” the young man leaned to Glenn. “You pay nice and she’ll treat you nice.” Glenn realized that he was still nodding to the couple and stopped himself.

“It sounds great,” he said. “But I can’t tonight. Work in the morning, you know how it is.”

“Yeah,” the young man said. He looked Glenn up and down. He was obviously annoyed. “Let’s go babe, this limp dick is all talk.”

“Nice to meet you,” Glenn put out his hand, but the gesture was ignored. Glenn turned towards the door and started back inside. He had a half of a beer and glass of whiskey waiting for him.

*****

The next morning Glenn woke up with his head on the wrong end of the bed. He didn’t feel well and wasn’t sure how or when he got home. He sat up and pulled the blankets off himself. His chest was bare, but his pants, belt, shoes and socks were still on. He noticed that his lamp was no longer on the night stand next to his bed and found it had been knocked over along with a bunch of pint glasses. He routinely brought them to bed with him, filled with water, in case he woke up thirsty in the middle of the night. Glenn stood up. The rug was soaked, but at least none of the glasses had broken. He thought about the noise it must have made and wondered if it had woken his parents.

With an appropriate amount of self-loathing, Glenn made his way to the bathroom. He commenced his ritual and jumped into an ice cold shower. He flushed his nose with a Neti pot, brushed his teeth, took six aspirin, three B vitamins, some zinc, and then downed an energy shot. After all that, he still felt like shit.

*****

“Big night last night?” Glenn’s dad entered the kitchen as Glenn poured himself a bowl of cereal.

“Yeah, you know,” Glenn said. “Mondays.” His dad nodded.

“You didn’t happen to hear some kind of calamity last night, did you?” Glenn asked.

“I didn’t,” his dad said, which immediately soothed his white hot embarrassment. “But your mother did.”

“Awesome,” Glenn said and spooned his breakfast into his mouth. “I don’t remember what happened.”

“Well, your mother sent me to check on you. I asked if you were alright and you said yes.” He took a sip of OJ. “That’s it.”

“That’s not so bad,” Glenn said. “I got into the whiskey last night.”

“Ah, the high-test. That’ll do it.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Glenn said without meaning to, an almost involuntary confession.

“Morning, doll-face,” Glenn’s mother said as she entered the kitchen. She gave him a big smile and pinched his cheek. “So, how are we feeling this morning?” she asked.

Glenn’s dad made a hoop by joining the tips of his fingers together and opening up his arms, like a cheerleader making a “P”. The gesture was very upsetting to Glenn’s mother.

“Aw, honey-bear, what’s wrong?” Glenn’s mother asked.

*****

His father’s favorite joke was an old clunker about a man who goes to pick up his blind date at a high-rise in Manhattan. The woman is not quite ready to leave so she invites him in. She says she will only be a few minutes. She tells him to make himself a drink and go out on the porch and enjoy the view, which he does. After a few minutes a little dog joins him. While the white fluffy dog is small and harmless looking, it growls at the man and bares its teeth.

“Is your dog friendly?” The man calls into the apartment.

“Yes,” she says. “Rollo is very friendly. He just wants you to play with him.”

“I feel like he wants to bite me.”

“He just wants to play,” she insists. “Make a hoop with your arms, he’ll jump through them.” The man is doubtful, but figures why not? He makes a hoop with his arms, the dog stops growling, backs up and gets a running start and then launches itself into the air, through the man’s arms and then over the porch railing and off the side of the 15th floor. The man is stunned. The woman appears shortly after and looks around. “Where’s Rollo?”

“Rollo seemed depressed,” the man says.

*****

Glenn arrived late to work, which no one noticed because his office was in a satellite building that nobody visited. He shared an office with a woman named Sharon, a fifty something mother of three girls who arrived even later than he did. The first half of his day was made of a series of promises and resolutions that had to do with quitting smoking and drinking less. There was some toiling on the fact that he had moved back in with his parents over a year ago and should be in his own place by now. As the fog of his hangover lifted he attempted to do some work and successfully moved a few items from his inbox to his outbox. In the afternoon he looked through the job posting site at his company and thought about applying for a new job. Something more challenging with better pay. This made him think about the Master’s degree in Business Administration he’d abandoned right before moving back in with his parents, which made him think about his ex-girlfriend, who he’d nearly married, and who was now engaged to someone else. When four fifteen came around, it felt close enough to five for him to leave. Tonight, he thought while he drove, I will just have one and go.

Glenn decided to go to the bar where his father drank, a strip-mall bar and grill with a lot of flat screens and low light. With family around he would be less likely to go to whiskey and in effect would be cutting back, as he resolved. His father was already there; he was a semi-retired investment banker who made his own hours. The two shared a pitcher. For the first time all day Glenn felt good. The day’s worth of discomfort, both physical and mental, washed away. They split another pitcher.

“Well,” Glenn’s father stood from his bar stool. “That’ll do it for me.”

“I’ll be right behind you,” Glenn said. “I’m going to do one and go.”

“Okay.” Glenn’s dad gave him a pat on the back as he left. Glenn ordered another pitcher and drank while watching the game. His phone vibrated on the sticky wood veneer of the bar. Glenn was excited at the possibility that someone was looking for him. Maybe one of his friends had a night off from his wife and was looking for something to do. Maybe it was his ex-girlfriend calling to tell him she’d made a mistake. He grabbed the phone. It was a text from his mother. She asked that he go to the supermarket and pick-up a container of Neapolitan ice cream. This was not good. An ice cream order from Mom meant that she was concerned and trying to get him home at a decent hour. The idea being, the supermarket closes at eight and ice cream melts, so without acting like an overbearing mother of a thirty year old man (who shouldn’t be living at home), she could keep Glenn from staying out all night. However, it was not a flawless plan, not in December, not when it was this cold. Glenn told the bartender he’d be back and left a half drunk pitcher on the bar.

*****

Glenn’s mom didn’t even like Neapolitan ice cream. It would just sit in the freezer until it grew frost and then Glenn’s mom would put it out back for the deer to eat. She hated all the deer that made a home in the back of her property and hoped soured Neapolitan ice cream might somehow wipe out the herd. So far the method had been unsuccessful. Glenn grabbed a container of Turkey Hill and headed for the check-out lanes. It was fairly empty, being so close to closing. There was an old woman buying a scary amount of cat food so he started for the empty lane a bit further down, but the check-out girl tending to the old woman caught his eye. It was the drunk smoking pregnant girl from Andy’s Airport Inn parking lot. He figured that he’d seen her here dozens of times and never took notice of her. Glenn was more excited to see her than he should be. After all, they didn’t know each other one bit. However, he couldn’t help it, he was thrilled. It was like he’d just run into an old friend.

She gave him a lingering look while ringing up the cat food, but it was clear to him that she couldn’t place his face. He gave her a big hello after the cat lady left.

“From Andy’s parking lot last night.”

“Oh, right,” she said. “I was, well. It was late.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I was really feeling it this morning.”

“That’s $4.65.” She smiled.

He handed her the money and took the change. He felt like there should be something the two could talk about, but it just started to feel awkward. He nodded and mouthed the words thank you, picked up his bag and walked toward the door.

“Hey,” she said. “I forget your name.”

“Glenn,” Glenn said.

“Well, Glenn,” she added. “Me and Ricky will probably swing by Andy’s later tonight. Be sure to say hi, if you’re there.”

“You can count on it,” he said. He fired a finger gun at her and immediately regretted it. Glenn tossed the bag with the container of Neapolitan ice cream in the back of his car and then returned to his pitcher. He ordered one more, watched the rest of the game and then headed for Andy’s. Ricky showed up around 11:30 that night, which was much earlier than Glenn expected. Ricky looked around the bar made eye contact with Glenn and then kept searching. Glenn raised his hand and waved. Ricky gave him a big smile.

“Who you waiting on?” Ricky asked.

“You,” Glenn said. “We met last night.”

“Right,” Ricky said. “Jenny’s in the parking lot, come out for a smoke.”

*****

What was he doing? Glenn asked himself as he sunk into the soft brown couch in the living room of Ricky and Jenny’s condo. He wasn’t even exactly sure where he was. Jenny had all his attention on the drive over. They wanted to go back to his place, which he kept saying was impossible. When they pressed him on it, he made up a lie about sleeping on the couch while he finalized his divorce. Still, they seemed pretty dead set on taking the party to him, but once it was clear that Glenn wouldn’t give in they offered to take him to their place. Ricky insisted that they stop at 7-Eleven for supplies and asked Glenn to accompany him inside. Jenny waited in the car. He told Glenn to take out a bunch of money from the ATM. He said that they would play money games, and Jenny would put on a show.

“You like how she dances, right?” Ricky asked and Glenn nodded yes. “The more money she gets, the better she dances.” Glenn took out three hundred dollars, all he had until next payday. This money was meant to go to his credit card company. Those three hundred dollars were another small step in paying off his debts and getting him out of his parent’s house, and back to school. But he was lost in the intensity of their attention and didn’t care.

When they got in the car, Ricky insisted that Glenn sit in back with Jenny. They peeled out of the parking lot. Ricky punched the roof of the car and hollered, then Jenny screamed, and Glenn joined in. As the car made a sharp turn Jenny fell into Glenn’s lap. She said sorry, but did not go back to her seat. Instead she ran her fingers through his hair and asked him if they were going to have fun tonight. He nodded enthusiastically and she laughed. Her breath was hot and boozy. He could feel her pregnant belly press up against him. She put her hand between his legs and said, “Oh my, you’ve got a monster.” Then she called to Ricky and said, “Glenn’s got a monster.”

“You lucky dog,” Ricky said. He lit a smoke and punched the roof a few more times. “You lucky dog.”

*****

Glenn sunk to the bottom of the couch. Something was wrong. Glenn didn’t have a monster, he knew that. Why were they being so nice to him? Sure there was the money, but this hardly seemed worth the effort. He started to regret emptying his bank account. He decided he would lie about how much money he had, lie by more than half.

The condo wasn’t too bad; it was past its prime, but there were a lot of nice things. They had a super huge 3D High Definition television. There was a Blue-ray player and just about every movie you could think of, there were three video game systems, and a laptop sat on just about every free surface. Even though the furniture was nice, nothing seemed to really match, like it was a bunch of people’s tastes all thrown together. Regardless, it was all high-end stuff.

“Wanna drink,” Ricky asked. He walked past Glenn, into the kitchen.

“Yup,” Glenn answered. Jenny entered the den. She had on the same outfit as last night, or at least a similar version of it. She turned on the iPod in the sound dock next to the TV and took off her jacket. She had on a skimpy spaghetti string tank top that didn’t quite cover her baby belly. Jenny opened a drawer in the entertainment center and pulled out a long fireplace lighter and began lighting candles. She put a cigarette in her mouth, lit it and began to sway, just as she did last night. Glenn felt at ease. Her eyes were closed as she moved around the den. She turned the lights down. It was so effortless and beautiful that it almost seemed like part of a rehearsed routine. The lights were still on in the kitchen and Glenn could see Ricky sharply reflected in the giant television screen. He was clearly crushing pills on the counter with a spoon and then adding the powder into Glenn’s drink. Ricky stirred the cocktail with his finger. Jenny moved herself between Glenn’s legs and said, “Hey, are we going to have fun tonight?” She ran her hand down the side of his face; he nodded yes. She pulled her shirt up over her full pregnant belly, just below her breasts, the whole time moving hypnotically back and forth. She took the cigarette out of her mouth, blew smoke into the air, and then placed the cigarette in his mouth. She ran her fingers through his hair again and in an act of prestidigitation produced a beautiful crystal glass of whiskey, clinking with ice. “Drink,” she said and he did. He would do whatever she asked of him.

*****

Glenn woke up on a bench located on the southbound track of the Ewingville train station. He was so cold that he jumped to his feet and started running for home before he had one clear thought. It took a few moments to come to any conclusion of what had happened. He knew where he was, it was his home town, but he had no clue how he had ended up at the train station. He was four miles from his parents’ place, about two miles from Andy’s. He checked his pocket and found his keys, no wallet. No jacket for that matter. As the night started to come back to him, he found himself hoping that a car would come down the road so he could throw himself in front of it, but no one was out this early. His car was a block of ice in Andy’s parking lot. He cranked the heat and rolled down the driver’s side window. Glenn opted to drive home with his head out the window, rather than de-ice the car. He pulled in his parent’s driveway, jumped out of the car and ran for the house. He turned around just before entering, went back to the car and grabbed the bag of Neapolitan ice cream for his mother.

Glenn turned the shower on hot and lay down in the tub. He slipped into sleep for a few minutes and woke with a jolt. There was something wrong with him. He didn’t feel drunk, exactly; but he wasn’t right. He called out of work and got into his bed and stayed there well into the night. The day was filled with fever dreams. He got up at least once to be sick. He heard his parents talking downstairs; there was a hushed tone of concern that he couldn’t totally make out. Glenn opened his laptop. The first thing he wanted to do was report his cards as missing or maybe stolen. He logged on to his bank’s site and saw that his credit card had reached its limit. Eight thousand dollars, it was almost impressive. The last charge was at 4:30am that morning. They had hit three gas stations and a 24 hour pharmacy. In just a few hours and in the middle of the night, they had wiped him out. It had taken him a year and half, not paying rent, living with his parents to bring the initial eight thousand down to four. Yesterday that was all he still owed. Without those huge monthly payments tying him down he’d be able to go back to school, get an apartment, and get on with his life. Now he had to start all over again, but it felt worse than that. He didn’t know what this was. Glenn called the credit card company. They were actually very helpful and said that they would look into the charges. In most cases fraudulent charges weren’t the responsibility of the card holder. This put him at ease.

*****

Two weeks passed before the credit card company reached out to Glenn. In that time he had all but become a teetotaler. He’d made inquiries with his school about getting back into the graduate program, securing loans, and also found a second job delivering newspapers in the early morning hours. It was good money, and the extra responsibility kept him out of the saloons. Glenn was excited when Karen, the representative from the credit card company, called. He was anxious to get this situation closed and more than ready to put this whole stupid escapade behind him.

“We will not be taking responsibility for these charges,” she said.

“What?” Glenn asked. “You said I wouldn’t be responsible for fraudulent charges.”

“Our investigation concluded that these charges weren’t fraudulent,” she stated firmly. “We have video of you from the pharmacy. You were clearly at the location. This case is closed.”

“Video?” He felt all the panic and dread he’d managed to avoid pour into him. “I want to see it. I was never in those places.”

“You clearly were,” Karen said. “We are more than happy to share our evidence with you. I’m sending you the video file now. Thank you for choosing Colonial Credit Card Company. This matter is closed.”

She hung up, but Glenn remained on the line. He listened to the dial tone as if waiting for a reprieve. The tone went to a busy signal and he hung up. Sitting on his bed, in his parents’ house, Glenn opened his laptop and logged into his email. He watched the file Karen sent. It was him, clear as day. He was inside a shopping cart, his arms raised in victory, fists clenched as Ricky and Jenny pushed him up and down the aisles of the CVS. They threw piles of gift cards over his head, filled the cart with water-piks and foot massagers, and mp3 players. One of the static angles showed the register. The cart, with him in it, flew into frame unchaperoned. Ricky or Jenny must have pushed it and let go. It hit the counter and Glenn watched himself slump forward in the basket. The couple walked into frame and Ricky takes a wallet out of the cart and hands the clerk a credit card. Glenn closed his laptop and went down stairs.

“Another quiet evening?” His father asked from the TV room.

“Yes, indeed,” Glenn responded. “Another health night.” He opened the refrigerator, found nothing of interest, and closed the door. He opened the freezer and spotted the container of Neapolitan ice cream wedged up against a stack of empty ice cube trays. It made him think of Jenny and that night and how all he had to do to get his money back was to call the cops and tell them where she worked. His heart began to beat with a fight or flight flutter.

“I’m going up to the supermarket,” Glenn said, half talking to his father, half to himself. Glenn grabbed his keys, got in his car, and turned the engine over. He took a deep breath and drove to the parking lot of the supermarket where he sat for some time. The song on the radio faded to commercials, the DJ talked a bit, and then another song played. His inability to move started to trouble him. Glenn bargained with himself. He got out of the car on the condition that he would stop in the bar next to the supermarket and have a whiskey. It had been so long since he’d had a sip. An agreement was reached.

Glenn finished his whiskey and decided to order a beer. He felt his penance had been paid and since he was about to take the first step in getting his money back, he was entitled to another taste. Once the beer was gone he made his way to the grocery store. He felt calm and his heart beat with a steady and constant rhythm. Once inside, he spotted Jenny. She was on a break, standing next to the gumball machine in the front of the store, texting on her phone. Glenn thought about going straight to her manager, but decided that was cowardly. He wanted to confront her. An old woman stopped to speak with Jenny, and said something that made Jenny smile and hold her belly in her hands. Glenn could see Jenny mouth the words thank you. She then took the old woman’s hand and placed it on her stomach. Her tummy was much bigger than Glenn remembered. It looked like the kid could pop out at any moment. The old woman laughed, said something, and nodded her head; and that made Jenny laugh and nod too.

Glenn held his phone, ready to call the police, but he didn’t move. It felt different, not like in the car. He could make the call, he was sure of it. He could stand the embarrassment and shame of it all, but it didn’t feel right. The woman said her goodbyes and walked toward the exit. Jenny leaned on the bubble gum machine and went back to texting. She bobbed her head and tapped her leg to the beat of whatever song she held in her head.

 

Photo By: hugrakka

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