The pizza man's shift ends at five. It's
Cherry's dad's birthday, back in the days when her diabetic
mother was still able to walk, when her father still smiled.
Red drives up in the black Sentra, shrooming for
a good half hour now too nervous to get out of the car for a
full five minutes before he goes up to the Elm Street home and
quickly knocks. Cherry answers and he's sure she sees pupils
large as dimes, wreathed in a hair-thin circle of grey before he
sees the whole family, a big Indian family, the squat and
powerful tribe that owned this valley before Red and his
mixed-breed and bleached white brethern put up smoke shops,
pizza joints, gas stations and Albertson's.
"Happy birthday," Red shouts, way, way too loud
echoing between his ears as his face turns cherry and her dad
doesn't even notice because he's celebrating with a few beers
and his face is already redder.
And the whole family is going to a pow-wow
tonight while it's still light, Red and Cherry (should have been
Sherry but her dad can't spell so that's what it says on her
birth certificate) are leading the way with enough time to swing
by the house up off Wawona to get Micah and Matt and there might
even be enough mushrooms to go around. Cherry won't eat because
they taste awful and those little green spots could be poison
mold but Red is feeling fine, more awake than ever.
Indians, these same squat dark people of the
swamps, are everywhere around a grassy field and Dixon is trying
to score some peyote chants to listen to when he comes down in
the dark and $5 gets his fix so they all sit down by the edge of
the grass after Cherry realizes these three are so stoned behind
three pairs of dark sunglasses they stick out like something
wrong when Red goes off on some kind of rambling grand tangent
after meeting Cherry's sister.
Dancers, feather dancers glide through the hot
dusk and Red can see them but he's busy looking at the
reflection of his face in his glasses strangely magnified and he
stares for 15 minutes while Micah smokes camels and Cherry tries
not to act suspicious with the lone ranger and his underage
Back at Matt's house, Micah picks up the phone
and starts making faces. He's tweaking hard on two stalks of
dried madness and it's his father on the line while his face
gets stranger and stranger then purple and angry as he argues it
out. Red gets in the car and drives.
At Round Table he slides his long body up
against the yellow stucco, just afar enough from the door to be
out of sight but still hear the body blows on the Street Fighter
machine and the pop of shotgun shells from Area 51. Behind the
fake Oakleys nothing is wrong.
Molly and Sarah pull up in Sarah's emerald Civic
coupe, the best car Dixon's ever motored up Market Street
through the Castro lost in the neighborhoods before bungling
into Golden Gate Park around and around to Haight Street.
Red wears faded, loose jeans and a black bootleg
Counting Crows T-shirt, hair bleached yellow-white, dark roots
glaring. He sits there for a while, doesn't really know how
long. Probably just a few minutes. Probably only one rank clove
Red's hands feel out of place, and if he was
standing he would put them behind his back and make fists to
force the awkward feeling away. He moves his left index finger
and watches like it's not his just a little bit dizzy.
He stares at his legs stares at the ash on the
Djarum black, how the paper turns to purple to grey and his
middle finger burns while the girls sit on the hood of his
hatchback and talk like they know he doesn't want to see that
Molly's now a mother duck to Sarah's pain and he can't see that
either so the runs of bleached white in his jeans get all his
attention while kids kung-fu kick Ken because Ryu ken and Micah
picked up the phone and Red ate those last few caps then Molly
is speaking while he looks Sarah up and down everywhere but her
face snaps back to his pants leg.
Red thinks about that woman at BP who said some
people have one of those days and she has one of those lives and
he sees the crank in her skin and her hair and down into who she
is and all he wants to do is get out of there with two corndogs
"I haven't seen you in a few days, Red. What're
you up to?"
"Just smoking and waiting. Cherry and me and
Matt and Micah were at an Indian pow-wow."
"That sounds like fun. Cherry's an Indian,
"It was. Cherry was driving my car."
The girls are talking again and it wouldn't take
long before Micah would be lost in the haze of friendly faces we
never see again after joining the Marines just to get kicked out
a week later for kidnapping a 17-year-old girl out of her
parents house for two days before he'd a chance to ship out to
"Why was she driving your car?"
Sarah too is a ghost.
"I just didn't feel like driving. ... It was
Cherry's dad's birthday today."
The girls are talking again and it wouldn't take
long before Sarah'd be back with the thirtysomething with the
little girl (she used to comb that little girl's hair) and he'd
finally leave his wife for real and take Sarah to Florida where
the beaches are so much better than artificial lakes and the
condos so much sexier than dank apartment walls and the pain so
much more real than giving her soul to a young punk in the hot
tub, in the shower while her old man roommate takes a walk with
The girls are talking again and Jon drives up in
Molly's old orange beetle, the mirrors flopping and his Round
Table dress code slacks sagging.
"Are you stoned? Hey, Mols, Sarah."
"Yeah. I was down at a pow-wow with Cherry and
Matt and Micah."
"Do you have any on you?"
"A little bit. The mushrooms are gone."
"Ah ... dude'"
Molly's saying something again and it wouldn't
be long before Cherry's mom would lose the strength to walk
would get tubes in her nose and would die along with the cheery
half drunk smile on that thick little man's dark face.
"Red, you're high on mushrooms?"
"And just a little weed."
"We never can tell."
At night, between the bottles and hits on the
tie-dye glass pipe, through the din of peyote cat calls, Red
can't stop seeing the slack jaw on that Indian, slack jaw on
that Indian at the retreat for recovering addicts.
Once a year, they have a pow-wow on a Manteca
© Red Dixon