Coming in over downtown San Jose at sunset, Scootie could see the racetrack oval of Chavez Park, the rectangular eye of the Fairmont’s rooftop swimming pool. Looking north, he saw the line of planes descending into SFO, including, just possibly, Juliana’s. He got in ten minutes early, but was still surprised when no one at the baggage claim. He tried standing on the curb in front of his airline. Nothing. He called Jackie’s house, but got her answering machine.
It got to be an hour, and Scootie shifted from annoyance to worry. This was not like Jackie at all, and given her recent troubles, there was no scenario too morbid. He returned to the curb, counted his cash and hailed a cab. The driver, a young Vietnamese man named Tranh, responded to Scootie’s request with a look of surprise and hardly suppressed delight.
Scootie was thankful that Tranh spoke little English; it gave him some time to sort out his thoughts. They joined the line of red corpuscles climbing Highway 92, and it was a great relief to see the dark field of the ocean. He guided Tranh to Jackie’s house, a large Victorian near the high school that had been chopped up into apartments. He signed over his last twenty-dollar traveler’s cheque for a tip, waved off a smiling Tranh, then entered a steel gate and followed a trail of concrete squares to Jackie’s door.
He found Sable on the front porch, mewing pitiably, her head ducked in a posture of anxiety. Scootie squatted down and carefully lifted her. He found bits of leaves and dirt in her fur, as if she had been outside for a while.
His knock brought no response. He tried again, and a third time, the sound growing louder with each attempt. After the fourth, he felt a vibration in the floorboards, then heard a thud on the door, as if someone had fallen against it.
“Jackie? Is that you?”
He heard a faint “Yes” from the other side.
“It’s Scootie. Let me in, please.”
“No,” said Jackie. “Don’t want to.”
“Jackie. I’ve got Sable. I think you left her outside.”
Jackie cracked the door open. “Please let her in. Then go home. Please.”
Scootie’s anxiety was working back to annoyance. He decided to hold Sable hostage.
“Jackie, I just blew a sizable wad of cash on a cab, because you were supposed to pick me up. Now, why won’t you let me in?”
From the dark interior came a feeble response. “I’m... drunk.”
“Oh.” Sable grew restless in Scootie’s grasp, so he set her down. The door opened, and he could see the silhouette of cat and mistress fading into the kitchen.
“Come on in,” she said. “If you want. Want some wine?”
“Um, sure.” He felt his way to Jackie’s couch. There was a ceramic piece on the coffee table, three Slavic women joined in a dance. The one on the left was missing a leg.
Jackie returned with two glasses. “Shame, huh? Lost it in the earthquake. Here.” Scootie took a swallow and broke into a fit of coughing. Jackie laughed.
“Whoops. Sorry. I ran out of cabernet. This is port, from Lisbon. Good shit. That is, if you’re expectin’ it. The asshole from Montana bought it for me.” Jackie lifted her glass and calmly took down half of it.
Scootie settled into the couch. “Jesus, Jackie. You never forget things, but you forgot me. You never get drunk, but... here you are. Are we losing you?”
Jackie leaned forward, staring ahead with a glazed expression. “Sort of a flushing process. First ya cry for a week, then ya spend a week chewing your fingernails, playing the ‘Oh, what did I do wrong?’ game, and then... then ya get drunk every night and ya turn into Bette Davis in All About Eve. I got it down to such a system, they don’t even notice at work. Littel fatigue, bloodshot eyes, I just tell ‘em it’s allergies.”
“Hmm. So how long does this stage last?”
“Get used to it, pal. Rex was worse than most.”
“Oh, speaking of...” Scootie reached into his shirt pocket and handed her a pair of coyote teeth. “I brought you his fangs.”
“The Trickster,” said Jackie. “I hope you pulled ‘em out personally.” She put her feet up on the coffee table and rested her head on Scootie’s shoulder. “Sorry for leavin’ you at the altar, Scoots. Didja have a nice ride?”
“Frankly, no. I was too worried about you.”
“That’s very sweet,” she said, and smiled. She ran a finger along the back of Scootie’s neck. “Ya know, you got great hair, Scoots. Wish I had hair like that.”
Her finger continued to wander, tracing the rim of his ear. “These big ol’ earlobes of yours. Simply adorable. Y’oughtta get an earring, big ol’ pirate hoop.”
“And what phase is this?” asked Scootie.
Jackie kissed the top of his ear and whispered, “This would be the horny phase. Little revenge on the conniving ex-boyfriend. Whattya say, Scoots? Y’wanna mess around?”
“I can’t.” He needed something to do, so he fetched his port from the coffee table.
“Aw, why not? And don’t give me that horseshit about the sanctity of friendship – ‘cause if you were really my friend, we’d be on the floor right now.”
“I’m involved with someone.”
“Oh, yeah, right. Don’t kid an old girl, hon. If you had a chick, I’d be the first to know about it. Now come on, be straight with me. Am I really so friggin’ undesirable?”
Jackie’s eyes were backing him into a corner, but Scootie could feel a draft coming in under the wall, a doorknob, an exit he had been meaning to take for months.
“I’m in love with Juliana Kross. We’ve been sleeping together for four months and keeping it hidden from everyone, even our closest friends. I just spent the week with her in Wyoming.”
Sobriety crept over Jackie like a sunrise. She exhaled in the shape of an “ooh” and sank back into the couch.
“Oh, Scootie. You are in some deep shit.”
Photo by MJV