I don’t think they can handle the Juice, Davey Dog sneered a challenge.
He smirked with superiority and you couldn’t tell exactly where he was looking, because his eyes were hidden behind dark glasses.
There were eight of us gathered in his basement, four boys, four girls, all between the ages of 15 and 17. The Dog’s basement was a safe harbor where we could drink and use drugs without worrying about getting busted.
Davey Dog was my friend Joe’s brother-in-law. He was in his late thirties and worked as a driver for Wise potato chips, which meant there was never a shortage of chips for us to much on.
Dave wore dark glasses whether inside or outside. I had only seen his eyes several times, and didn’t like that they were vacant and overcrowded all at once.
Dave spoke with a self-consciously cultivated drawl, a stoned surfer and hipster burn-out rolled into one. It was a voice that he often “blackened up” for maximum effect. Perhaps he had dreamed of being a jazz hero, some kind of midnight falcon or hawk, but he was a driver for Wise potato chips who drank like a fish and did a ton of drugs and liked having young people around who he imagined looked up to him as some sort of Vice Den Messiah.
Which was how Joe saw him.
Joe had grown up in a traditional Italian family, a family of immigrants, and when Dave married Joe’s sister, Linda, it was like American coolness had infiltrated their lives. Dave was a self-heralded rebel in ways that greatly appealed to Joe’s imagination.
On this night we were all drinking beer and most of us were tripping X. We sat and ate chips and lovingly insulted one another, and at one point Joe turned to Dave with a smile and said—Tell em about the Juice, Dog.
Dave smiled and held it until it became a hard, unnatural thing, then cautioned—Man, I’d better not even talk about that stuff.
Dave swigged from his beer, and Joe went on, as Dave knew he would—The Dog has this stuff, this juice you drink, and . . . man, I had the smallest amount the other night, just a little, and I was gone.
Dave, like a proud mentor, picked up where his pupil had left off—Dude couldn’t even walk. His legs were jelly.
Dave hissed laughter through his nostrils while clapping his hands riotously. Joe did the same and affirmed—I was jelly, man.
Let us have some, Dominic pressed.
Yea, don’t hold out, Anthony pitched in.
That’s when Dave had said to Joe—I don’t think they can handle the Juice.
The gauntlet had been thrown. Several of us scrambled to pick it up, prepared to transform ourselves into jelly.
After a bit of mandatory pleading on our part, Dave went to the closet, opened it, and just then Linda appeared on the steps leading into the basement. She was at about the halfway point and poked her head out in our direction, surveying the state of the basement and its occupants.
Everything good down here, she asked, looking at us then at Dave.
Yea, Lin, everything’s fine, we’re just shooting the shit.
Her voice grew clipped and took on worry—You know you shouldn’t be drinking down here.
She turned her gaze on her brother—And what about you Joey? Are you drunk?
No, Lin, I’m not drunk. Stop acting like mommy.
Before Lin could respond Dave cut in—Lin, isn’t it better that they’re down here, in a safe place, than out on the streets? There ain’t no cops here.
Linda bobbed a nod, as if agreeing, but said—They shouldn’t be drinking at all. They’re kids, Dave. They shouldn’t be getting drunk.
Dave responded in a calm, paternal voice—Don’t worry, Lin. I’m keeping an eye on them. I’ll make sure they’re alright.
We, the kids, remained frozen in the glare of Linda’s implication.
Don’t stay up too late, she told Dave, then ascended the stairs.
Dave smiled and turned to Joe—Your sister’s a real watchdog.
Tell me about it, Joe agreed.
Dave went into the closet and took out a plastic jug filled with clear liquid and poured what was equivalent to mouthwash gargle amounts into paper cups.
Start with that and see how you feel, Dave spoke like a doctor prescribing medicine.
Me, Dominic, Anthony, Joe, Kim, and Kristine had some. Janine and Mary passed.
I drank what had the texture of syrup and pretty much no taste at all.
What is this stuff, I asked Dave.
It’s medicine to help you relax, Dave responded coyly and dosed himself.
We each had a second round and before drinking Dave warned us—Remember, you drink too much of this shit and you won’t be able to walk.
Then he laughed, perhaps perversely relishing the notion of us as cripples.
Me, Dominic, and Kristine went on to dose a third time, the others stopped at two. It wasn’t long before it felt as if my entire face and body were wrapped in warm, fuzz-coated cellophane. Cellophane that pulsed and produced feverish tingles.
Everyone seemed to be more or less in a state of happy plasticity. Except for Kristine, who shifted from gelatinously relaxed to motor impaired. Her movements had become palsied and she couldn’t focus her eyes. She fell twice. Her enunciation had become syrupy and clotted.
Dave grew concerned. He pulled me and Joe off to the side.
You’re gonna have to do something with this girl, he spoke with low gravity. Your sister’s upstairs and . . . I can’t have this bitch dying in my basement.
She’s not gonna die, I snapped with assurance, yet felt alarmed that Dave had even raised the possibility.
She’s your girlfriend Johnjohn, do something with her, Dave said.
She’s not my girlfriend, I shot back.
Well that bitch wants to jump your bones, I can tell you that much, Dave said. Just cuz you’re too much of a homo to do anything with her…
Dave smiled and cupped the back of my neck, letting me know that his remark was meant as encouragement and not as a slight.
What do you want me to do with her, I said to Dave.
Just then, as if she had been privy our conversation, Kristine called out—Johnjohn, will you come with me to the bathroom. Will you? Please?
I saw Kristine slumped against the wall, Janine by her side, rubbing her shoulder.
Johnjohn you should go with her, Janine urged maternally.
And you’re telling me the bitch doesn’t want you, Dave grinned like a pair of evil scissors.
I walked over to Kristine. Janine gave us space.
Let me lean on you, Kristine said.
I tucked my hand into Kristine’s armpit and guided her into bathroom, closing the door behind us.
She immediately dropped to her knees and began puking into the toilet, a lot of it splashing onto the toilet seat, which was down. I came in from the side and flipped the toilet seat up, wanting to be useful in some way. Kristine retched violently, her body convulsing. I rubbed her shoulder as I had seen Janine do.
Eventually Kristine finished and lifted her head from the toilet. Puke moistened her mouth and the edges of her long dark hair. I tore off strips of toilet paper and handed them to her.
Your mouth., I said.
She wiped her lips and her mouth.
Did I get it?
Yea. There’s also some in your hair.
Help me stand, she said.
I took Kristine’s arm and helped her to her feet.
She stared into the medicine cabinet mirror.
I can’t even see myself, she said. My vision is out of whack.
Am I here, she asked, and laughed a soft, curdling laugh.
You’re here, I assured her.
I pinched her forearm.
No, she responded.
I pinched my own forearm.
I can’t feel it either, I said. Guess we’re both not here.
We’re ghosts, Kristine smiled. Then—Can you help me clean the puke out of my hair?
Sure, I said.
I turned on the water, regulating it until warm.
Tilt your head to the right, I guided Kristine. A little lower. Good.
I placed the puke-stained strands of hair under the running water.
The feel of Kristine’s hair along with the warm water threading between my fingers put me at ease.
I asked Kristine to switch sides and tilt left and continued washing.
When I was done I grabbed a towel from the towel-rack and dried the ends of her hair.
Good as new, I told her.
You’re a great beautician, Kristine smiled, then looked into the mirror—I still can’t see myself. Not clearly. I’m a smudge. You’re a smudge too.
We’re impressionistic, I said.
Yes we’re, Krsitine brightly started, then stopped, and looked into the mirror, perhaps to verify the substance of her impression. Then she turned to me and looked into my eyes in a hazy out-of-focus sort of way, and said—We’re good friends, aren’t we Johnjohn?
Yes K, we’re good friends.
Kristine smiled, as if doped by innocence.
We’re such close friends, she went on, and you like me, right?
Of course I like you.
No, I mean, like-me like-me. Do you like-me like-me Johnjohn?
It was then that our words crossed.
As I spoke—I like you—Kristine suggested—We should have sex—and then we stopped, a couple of ghosts who were still inhabited by their bodies.
You want to have sex now, I asked Kristine.
Yea, now. Why not? We should do it. We like each other and . . . everyone is out there and we’re in here.
We were in here and they were out there, I adopted Kristine’s reasoning. Why not, right?
Don’t worry, Kristine said, I’ll brush my teeth.
You have a toothbrush with you?
No, I’ll do it with my finger.
Which is what she did.
When she was done—Smell.
She breathed into my face.
Minty fresh with just the faintest under-scent of puke.
We began making out.
Tongues, hands, groping, friction, and eventually Krsitine’s jeans around her ankles, and then her panties.
I looked down at Kristine’s panties, which were cream-colored, and noticed that they were splotch-darkened in the center.
Kristine followed my line of vision to the spot and said—I forgot that I have my period. Do you care?
I don’t care, I lied.
I looked into Kristine’s fuzzy eyes, then at the blood-dark spot, to which I was magnetically drawn, and fell into a metronomic tic of a rhythm. Eyes, blood, eyes, blood, eyes, blood.
Maybe now’s not the right time, Kristine said, sliding her panties up past her thighs and around her hips. Next came her jeans, and once again she was fully clothed, the reversal complete.
Thank you for being with me Johnjohn, Kristine said and squeezed my hand.
Of course, I said, and squeezed back, feeling bewildered and grateful.
I stood there, torn between wanting to fuck Kristine and wanting to love her, and couldn’t clearly make out the difference between the two.
After Kristine and I left the bathroom and rejoined the others, Dave, flanked by Joe, pulled me aside and asked—What were you two doing in there?
When I responded that I had washed her hair, Dave cocked his head and squinted—I don’t know whether you’re a homo or a bullshitter.
I told Dave to pick whichever one he liked, not caring enough to let him know there was a third choice which he wouldn’t understand.