A little more of this story, since you guys said you liked it. Nothing too exciting happens. Lesbians and Vietnam, you know how it is. Just a day in the life of the fucktarded townspeople of Bully, NC. This is a little more telling than I usually like to do, but it’s coupled with showing later on, I promise.
If you missed the first part of the story, here it is. Though, you know, it’s the next post down, so you probably could’ve managed on your own, but whatever, convenience.
The thing about Tinker was–well, there were a lot of things about Tinker. Riley thought through them, in conscripted order, whenever she heard a siren start, or a dog bark, or someone shouting outside. She thought about them whenever she ran the garbage disposal and heard something break inside it. She thought about them when she was up late at night, all the bills were paid, and she needed something comfortable to worry about.
But the main thing about Tinker–the most surprising thing–was simply this. She was sane.
Riley had spent the last few years of their friendship thinking that certainly–certainly–this wasn’t the case. Every time Tinker tried to order live scorpions from Amazon, or drink Skittles dissolved in whiskey, or, most common, dump rotting meat products on someone’s luxury vehicle, she thought certainly, certainly, Tinker had finally gone off the deep end, had become an alcoholic, taken a dose of LSD.
But Tinker didn’t do drugs. She was a light drinker. And, as far as Riley’s somewhat unreliable experience could suggest, she was sound of mind and body. She always knew the date, her address, who was president. And that was how you checked these things. Wasn’t it?
It was perplexing, to say the least.
The miracle of her friend’s birth and raising–a scrawny child of the nineties in the tiny town of Bully, NC, learning through the magic of the internet how to dye her hair with Kool-Aid and think in the fashion most opposite everybody else–had somehow resulted in her continued existence. Somehow, some way, Tinker Tonkin continued to both toss rotten meat on police cars AND rent apartments, go to the drugstore, work part time at Caveat Coffee.
It was as though she led a double life. Double lives–both of them charmed.
“It’s not that odd, really,” Tinker had explained to her one night as they mined the Piggly Wiggly dumpster for old sausage. “I don’t hurt anybody. I don’t hold grudges. And this town–well, it’s never had an artist before. It’s inclined to forgive me a lot just for that.”
And Tinker was an artist. Bully’s own artist. Though her exhibits might boast nose cones and sachets of potpurri at the door, and most of her paycheck must have gone to property damage fees, there was something about her rotting meat tableaux that drew people, even the people who’d gotten caught in the middle of them. The texture, the raw reds and browns, the sense that, in the grainy photographs and boxed-in rotting masses, you were seeing something obscene, something private, something not so different, in sheer wrongness, from pornography or horror movie gore.
The livid colors and unconscionable stench reminded Riley of the photographs her grandfather had taken in Vietnam, kept buried for most of her childhood under the leatherette photo albums in the family room. They reminded her, specifically, of the moment she had first realized the people smiling in those photos were now mostly dead. Had died in a ditch somewhere, young guys with shy grins and stupid jug ears: victims of the Viet Cong in the jungle, quiet and softfooted and sure.
It was an uneasy feeling. Sickness, darkness, childhood lost. Almost a feeling of rape. Riley didn’t like the meat pieces, but she had to admit: they worked. They unsettled.
Which was what Tinker, being Tinker, thought art should do.
Tinker had found a terrycloth robe somewhere in the apartment’s reeking bowels and had donned it. It was covered in khaki splotches, which Riley thought of subconsciously as ‘Tonkin Camo’. The robe’s ratty bottom left a few inches of her acid green ass visible, but it was better than nothing.
Tinker fished in her pocket, came up with a flattened pack of Djarum Blacks. She lit one, draped herself equally over the couch, a pile of laundry nearly as high as the couch, and Riley’s lap.
“So,” she said, belching out a curl of clove-scented smoke. “What brings you to mein humble abode? I don’t see you much any more.” Her eyes narrowed. “Not unless you want something.”
“I don’t want anything. I had something to tell you.”
“You couldn’t call?”
“Your phone’s been dead for a year, Tink.”
“Hmm,” Tink said, acknowledging the truth of this with a neutral nod. “Well played.”
RIley wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to have been playing, or how she had done whatever it was well. She shifted a little, Tinker’s half-shaven head itching her thighs. That damn smoke–Riley had never been able to stand the sweet-heavy smoke of her friend’s cigarettes. When they were in high school, her mother had only needed to sniff her to know who she had been hanging out with.
“I just came by to tell you,” Riley said. “Ashford Mims is dead. Remember him?”
“Mhmm.” Tinker’s eyes were fixed on the popcorn swirl of the ceiling. “He was a senior when we were juniors. Football star. What happened to him?”
“Car wreck. They found his Buick wrapped around a tree on the side of old 86. Nasty mess. They’re not sure if it was a hit and run or if it was suicide–doesn’t seem like anything another driver could’ve driven away from, though.” Riley found herself intrigued by the ceiling too–cracking and peeling, galaxies of little white stars. “Funeral’s on Wednesday. His mom said to tell you you should come.”
“I never knew him that well.”
“Yeah, neither did I. But you remember how Mrs. Mims is, right? She wants the whole school there. Even ten years after we’ve graduated. A bunch of people talking about how nice Ash was, how kind and good with animals and all that.”
“I figure it wouldn’t be the worst thing to do, might comfort–what?”
“He wasn’t good with animals. I saw him kick a dog out on the tennis courts once.” Tinker scowled. “The dog didn’t deserve it, either.”
Riley realized she was staring. “Tinker,” she said. “The guy died.”
“I know that. But he wasn’t good with animals.” Tinker put her cigarette out on the coffee table, not even bothering to wipe the embers away. Riley watched them fizzle and darken, looked across at the patchwork of ashen squares where Tinker had done this a hundred times before.
“The best way to remember the dead,” Tinker intoned, in the manner of someone quoting a hallowed source, “is to tell the truth.”
“Okay, okay. Fine. Just don’t tell too much truth at the funeral.” Riley frowned. “You are going, right? I’ll give you a lift. Don’t make me do this alone, Tink. That wake’s going to be like a high school reunion.”
“Why would that bother you?” She shrugged. “Okay, fine. Whatever. I’ll go. I think I’ve got black clothing lying somewhere around here, I can find it by Wednesday.”
“Great. I’ll come pick you up.”
They sat for a little while in uncomfortable silence. They had been so close in high school–had spent every day together, walked home from school together, had hung out in Caveat Coffee and talked on the phone late at night when Riley couldn’t sleep, which was almost every night. They had gone to prom together, causing a minor commotion in both the Prom Committee and the parking lot of Bully Southern Baptist after church. They had gotten drunk for the first time that night in the Tonkin family basement, splitting a twelve pack of Pabst Tinker’s older brother had gotten for them at the corner stab n’ grab. Riley had told Tinker she liked girls. Tinker had told Riley she didn’t like much of anybody. The next morning, they had gone on like it had never happened. Like friends do. Good friends.
What had happened to all that? Age, Riley guessed. Responsibilities. Bills. Riley’s world was night shift at a convenience store, a bare apartment, visiting with Mom on the weekends. Tinker’s world, though it couldn’t have contained much more–Bully was only so big, after all–seemed alien. A rotting meat world, a child’s make-believe world.
The world of a fugitive from life.
The apartment felt even closer and danker than usual, somehow. The smell of Tinker’s ashed cigarette, hot and sharp and sweet. Riley felt her throat constrict. The ceiling seemed to swell, bulge, though it must have just been her imagination.
“I gotta go,” Riley said, swallowing. “I gotta get ready for work.”
“You haven’t even had a beer,” said Tinker.
“I know. I’ll catch you next time.” And then, for reasons she didn’t entirely understand, Riley added: “sorry, Tink.”
She noticed, on her way out, that the parking lot was once again quiet. The BMW, now boasting a meaty topcoat and a cracked windshield, had been moved across the lot. No one had called the police. No one had even bothered hosing off the meat–the BMW owner had probably been proud to find his car so afflicted. People often were, sometimes even to the point of refusing Tinker’s repair money. The town had never had art before, particularly abstract art, and if there was one thing Bully liked as a whole it was feeling included.
Riley didn’t get it, but then again, she didn’t have to. Her car was off limits. Tinker had pinky-sworn it when they were seventeen.
All in all, it was a typical night.