“You ever get tired of being this way kid?” his voice mocks me. “You ever just want to quit?”
“Why quit? We’re just getting started.”
The smoke of burning rubber fogs the empty street. In the distance, their taillights are swallowed by the void. They’ll come back. They always do.
“Yes, whenever you need them most. Other times, you have me.”
“I don’t believe in you,” I say.
“And yet, here I am.”
“Where do we go from here?” I almost expect an answer.
“Where do any of us go?”
I close my eyes and I can hear the Billie Ellish song playing somewhere in the night. When we fall asleep, where do we go?
“I like this song,” he says. “C’mon, kid, let’s go get a drink.”
With a snap of his fingers, we’re standing in a tavern. Barmaids bustle drinks about. Women in stilettos strut on a catwalk. Hooting and howling men, chomping on cigars, cackle at obscenities whisper-shouted over the cacophony of music and glasses clinking.
“Tell me about it, kid,” he says, holding up two fingers to the bartender. “What brings you back to me? What sort of – what did you call it? – crisis of disbelief bring you back to me?”
“I’m still trying to make sense of it.”
“It’s rudderless, kid. Without plan. Without consequence.”
The roar of a 1960 Cadillac convertible turns into the parking lot outside. He nods his head, as if noting that they’re right on time. He continues, “Here’s point where the moment of truth comes, kid. Outside, your demons wait for you. Inside, you talk to a fictional character you personified whenever you’re confused.”
“I think he’s inside, Anderson,” Mackie shouts. “He ain’t out here that’s for sure.”
“Leave him be,” replies Chrysanthemum. “He’ll come out whenever he’s ready.”
“The verdict,” I begin, but he cuts off my words.
“Rudderless, kid.” He shakes his head, downs the two shots set before him. “You have to move on.”
“And what about…” I trail off.
“Kid, if you’re unsure how she feels, how the fuck am I supposed to know?”
“But aren’t you…”
He’s gone. The bar. The barmaids. The stiletto girls. Just dark. Quiet. Except for the roar of the engine.
“You coming?” Anderson asks.
“C’mon,” Cassie adds impatiently.
“I always wondered why I created you four.” Always wondered what parts of me each of them represents. Mackie and Anderson, the violence and anger buried deep inside me. But what role do the girls play? Chrysanthemum, the lustful? Cassie, the impatient?
“Not every thing has to be psychoanalyzed,” says Chrysanthemum. “We’re just who you turn to when you need to make sense of something. You grew us from nothing. Just fictional characters you embodied demons in. We used to be just a thing you did, until you made us into something more. All this is you.”
Mackie? Gone. Anderson? Gone. Cassie? Gone. It’s just me and Chrysanthemum in all her nakedness. She walks circles around me, her hand brushing my shoulder ever so often. She lifts her long, polished nail – red, of course – against my cheek and leans in close, her lips closing in on mine.
“I am the person you once thought you were. The person who only looked out for himself. But you were never that hard. Never that cold. You shut off the world because you thought it was the only way to keep yourself safe. Letting others in made you vulnerable. And,” she laughs, “I guess you were right. You shouldn’t never had opened yourself to that pain. Because what has it gotten you? Where has it gotten you?”
“Hush,” I say.
She moves back, the Cadillac door opens and she gets into the car.
“You’re wrong about me.”
“Am I?” And she too has gone.