He pulls over at the curb. All the shades are pulled down, the house looks dead. The house-- shack-- is on the beach.
He gets out of the car.
"Tracy," he calls out, expecting nothing.
He walks to the screen door. It's locked, but the inside door is wide open. He smells pot, and something that is not pot, and something that is feces. He has never seen this place, yet it is, somehow, exactly as he imagined it would be. It is also worse.
Tracy appears in the front yard, behind him. "What are you doing here?" she shrieks. "You weren't supposed to come until Thursday!" She looks like a crack addict.
She runs in the back door, cursing.
A man who looks like anyone from Cops except the cops comes and unlocks the screen. "You're Tom, right? My name's Sam. Pleased to meet you, I've heard a lot of great things about you that for all intensive purposes I feel like I knows you." There is no geographic reason he should speak with a drawl, but there it is. Obviously, he is not wearing a shirt.
"Where's Tracy?" He walks past Sam. The house is filthy. There is broken glass from what could have been a crack pipe pushed to the corner of the floor, and what still is a crack pipe is sitting hopefully on the TV, waiting for someone to hold it.
Tracy comes back. "You can't just come by whenever you want! You can't force me to do anything, I told you I wanted to do this but not yet! Fuck! My girlfriend's boyfriend just got locked up, and she needs me--" She yells more words at him.
"Get your stuff, we're going."
"Son of a bitch!" she screams, slaps a beer bottle off the counter and it smashes into the sink, more glass. She walks off, screaming something about a car and a guy from Arkansas. With her, it is always more and more words.
"Tracy, let's go! Now!"
Sam intervenes. "Don't worry about it man, I'll go talk to her. I'm really glad you came, she really needs help right now. Do you want a beer or something?" He has one ready, pops the tab and hands it to Tom, who takes it for no reason. Sam goes off to make things right, crunching some broken glass underneath his bare feet. His feet do not care enough to bleed.
There is more screaming.
A man knocks hard at the screen door; Tom instinctively locks it. The man looks like a ex-football player turned pro beer drinker. Big chest, bigger gut. No sleeves. He cups his hand over the screen to look in, then jumps back when he sees Tom standing there. "What's going on in there? Open this fucking door!"
Tom takes one step back, close to the kitchen cabinets.
"Who the fuck are you? Where's Tracy?!" He yanks at the screen door. "Open this goddamn fucking door or I'm going to fucking smash it--" and it bursts open.
Oh my God, Tom thinks. I'm going to have to kill this guy.
"Hold on, man," Tom says. "I'm her brother."
That was the only right answer. The sibling relationship is the only one respected in the streets. It's even, neutral. There's no assumption of ulterior motives. You're given credit for trying to do the right thing, and leeway because you're young enough to know the score.. If he was her father he'd be tossed. If he was her husband, he'd be dead.
"Oh, sorry man, that's cool. Things have been out of control here lately, people, crack, the cops, last week someone set fire to my--"
"I'm getting my sister out of here."
"Ok." He glares at Sam, who is peeking around a corner, and walks out. Tracy reappears. "Fucking--"
"Shut up. Get in the car."
Sam is overly helpful, he puts her bag in the car, goes inside, gets another bag and puts that in, too, then suddenly stops, reaches in, and grabs a bottle of pills. He looks back at Tom. "I don't know how you all are getting back home, but you know she's got an open warrant, right?"
"No, I didn't know that."
"It's not a warrant," she says, "the PO violated me because I had a hot urine, but she wasn't allowed to do that because I was already in treatment for it, so I spoke to her supervisor, a guy named Marins, or Marinis, Marins, something like that, I have his name inside with the other papers, and they told me that I had to get a doctor's note verifying that I am in treatment and that I am prescribed the Xanax for my anxiety, one four times a day. I never abuse my medications, I take it only as prescribed. My doctor knows that. That's why he trusts me with the Xanax. But I couldn't get to him because they don't allow walk ins, and the last prescription he wrote by mistake he wrote two times a day instead of four times a day, so the PO said that she had to technically violate me but since she knew that I was telling the truth about the Xanax I wouldn't be arrested. But then she got transferred, and she never changed the order--"
"Tracy," says Sam, "just get in the car. You're brother really cares about you, don't give him a hard time."
Sam looks at him. "She really needs help. She's been diagnosed bipolar schizoaffective, she takes Seroquel but she's supposed to be on lots of other shit, but, you know, she doesn't take them. I always try to get her to take them, and I make sure she doesn't abuse them, and I makes sure she gets to her appointments. She's really lucky to have a brother like you, to come out and do this for her. " He pauses. "Do you want some beers? You know, for the road?"
"No, thanks." He shakes Sam's outstretched hand, but then Sam won't let go. "Look, could you do me a really big favor? It would really help me out a lot. I'm trying to get this apartment but the landlord needs me to verify that--"
Tom pulls his hand back. "Sorry, I can't help you."
"No, wait, hold up, it's really not a big deal, all I need is a letter--"
Tom's face turns stern. "So that's it? After all the help I gave you here? I gave you my beer. I moved all this--"
"Dude, I'm not doing anything. I'm here to get my sister, and I'm leaving."
He takes both her bags out of the car and drops them in the yard. "Wait," she yells, "I need that bag, I have a pair of pants inside I have to return to--"
He gets in, starts the car. "Wait," she says, "I forgot my cigarettes-" He drives off.
Forty five minutes later, she says, "I need a beer. We need to stop somewhere."
Tom shakes his head in disbelief. "Yeah, sure."
"No, seriously, I'm going to have a seizure, I'm coming off it, I'm in withdrawal."
He looks for no reason, he wouldn't know what withdrawal looked like.
"Please, I'm not kidding here, I was taking like 12 Xanax a day, I'm going to have a fucking seizure--"
"Fine!" He pulls into a gas station, parks, takes the keys. "Stay right here. Do not get out of the car." He goes in, buys a six pack of beer. Walks out, throws three of them away. Gives her the other three.
He can actually see her get calmer with every approaching step. "I need to pee." Christ. He's with a three year old. She takes the beers, takes her bag-- which he snatches back out of her hand. She glares, goes off to the bathroom.
As he waits, he notices his sunglasses case is missing. Not the glasses, just the case. He opens her bag, it is pushed to the bottom. He opens the case. Inside is the tire gauge he didn't even know was in the car.
Then he sees her.
The beers are not in her hand. What is in her hand, balanced on her head, is a 3x4 ft picture, in a steel frame.
"Open the trunk," she says.
"What the hell is the matter with you? Did you just steal that from the bathroom?"
"It's all right, don't worry about it. No one will need it."
"What are you talking about?!"
"Come on, I really like it, this is my favorite photo in the whole world. I love Marilyn Monroe, she inspires me, she inspires me to get clean, this photo always reminds me of--"
"Give me that fucking picture," he snarls, rips it more aggressively than necessary from her hands, and walks back to the gas station.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she yells after him. "It's just a fucking picture!"
He walks into the gas station. The attendant sees him, sees the picture, and does not want to understand. "I'm calling the police," he says.
"Look, this picture fell off the wall, so I'm returning it to you. Here it is."
"Here it is, I'm sorry, I'm leaving."
He comes back to the car, she is smoking a cigarette. Where did she get cigarettes? Where did she get a lighter? "What's your problem, man?" she says. "You're acting like I stole a guy."
"Get in the car. Just get in the car, and don't talk, don't talk to me, just don't fucking talk to me until you're sober." He is suprised he can't pull the steering wheel off.
They drive silently for about ten cigarettes.
"When I get out," she says, looking out past the highway into her dreams, "I'm going to move back to the beach, and I think I'm going to get a job working with vets from Iraq who have, like, PTSD, people who are self-medicating." He says nothing. She eventually looks over at him, honestly perplexed.
"You don't even fucking care about the vets, do you? You voted for Bush, but you don't even--"
"Shut up," he says, "all the time."
"You don't know what it's like for us."
He actually slows the car down. "Us vets? Are you a vet now?"
She rolls her eyes, you just don't fucking get it, takes a drag from the cigarette and blows it out the window. "You know what your problem is? You don't fucking care about anything, or anyone. That's your problem."
They keep driving.
I'd like to say there's an ending to this story, but unfortunately there isn't.