When It Pains, It Roars
by Johnny St. Clair
i paid no attention to my fare, just glided to her softly spoken destination on some kind of earthbound autopilot. i spoke the toll with my eyes on the sideview, and she handed some bills and something else to me over the seat. she was gone before i could say a word. it was dark and the pile felt strange; too many bills for the $12 cab fee, plus something in the pile was too irregular, angular, smooth.
a photograph. i turned it over in the streetlight until i could make it out and remembered where it's from: a cracked plaster cement stairway in a building i've long since left. i remember the morning like yesterday when i found that graffiti scrawled in the stairwell. and i remembered it's author. she was all peroxide lemon yellow blond scattered hair and glass blue eyes, a black biker jacket, a sunflower dress. late one summer night must have been about twenty or so people in that place, most crowded into the kitchen around a keg of beer. she said she liked my haircut and laughed when i asked if she was punk rock. i had it made.
a little while later, she had gotten into one of those quiet fights with her friend, the kind of fight that seethes venom and threatens violence. i remember him grabbing her by the arm and jerking her body towards him. her hair fell into her eyes and, the way her jacket moved, i could see that the shoulder on her sundress had torn. so i took the dare and stepped up to them, telling some lame joke and maybe get him to relax. well, he wasn't having any of that, and he quickly dotted my eye. i stepped back, still with the beer bottle in my hand - neck up, down at my side - and shook my head. i laughed a bit and started to explain myself when he hit me again. i mean, square in the nose this time. see, i had had my right arm at my side with my hand around the neck of the beer bottle. i learned to do that when i was younger. it was a good way to hide it when underage drinking in public, or at least make things less conspicuous. as it turns out, it also allows for a quick swing. i really didn't think about it, it was something more or less like a reflex. the bottle crashed into the side of that motherfucker's head, and he crumpled to the floor of the kitchen bleeding and screaming. a couple of other guys came towards me but stopped short. i looked down at the jagged glass in my hand. by this time, Lemon Yellow was standing behind me, tugging on my shirtsleeve to leave. we left out the back door like some Bonnie and Clyde shit.
we ran down the street and hid behind what? a car? some bushes? something. she asked me how my face felt, and i wanted to say that it hurt but it came out "it pains." we had a laugh about it. we got back to my home, get high, drink wine, sun rise, fall out, wake up…she's got on one of my shirts tied in a knot at the waist. she's in my wallet. i tell her there's $87 and she looks at me like she's gonna cry, and it mighta been cuz she got caught, but i think it's cuz she ain't no thief. i told her to keep it anyway. she says she's sorry, says that she and her boyfriend are catching a bus to New York City. i tell her she should be running from that place, that she should be heading west, that the sun sets too early where she's going. she laughs, leaves.