F*ck 'em if They Can't Take a Joke
By Auriane de Rudder
Kimber had been doing speed long before I met her, but her habit escalated into a problem while we were roommates. We lived together in Nashville, in a rehabbed craftsman-style home that was rapidly deteriorating.
Kimber and her girlfriend, Corinne, purchased the house in the early 2000s and—like many Americans—found themselves in a financial trap, come 2008. They had poured their money into fixing up the house, with dreams of flipping it for big bucks, but when the economy tanked, the housing market went with it. Kimber and Corinne’s dreams were replaced with the sad reality of sub-prime mortgages. The two struggled to hold onto the house, and did what they could to stay on top of the mortgage. This included renting out one of the master bedrooms. That’s how I came into the picture.
When I arrived, the house was still a home. I was impressed with how well it was decorated, and was shocked to find that the girls did most of the rehabbing on their own.
“How industrious,” I commented as Corinne showed me around my new digs.
She pointed out the floors she had sanded herself, the clawfoot tub she had found at an estate sale, and the bang-up job she did on rewiring the modern chandeliers.
“Now, this is the dishwasher, and over here, is the washer and dryer,” she told me in her Tennessee twang, walking me through the kitchen and into the mudroom.
“Wow,” I said earnestly.
“There’s just one thing,” she stopped and looked me in the eye, “We’re gay,” she hesitated, and continued on when I didn’t flinch, “But we don’t recruit.”
I was surprised. Corinne didn’t look like any of the East Coast lesbians I knew from home. Hell, Corinne had blonde highlights and wore frosty pink lip-gloss.
“Are all Southern girls like this?” I wondered out loud, but caught myself and said, “I mean, I just can’t believe I am gonna’ have a washer, dryer and a dishwasher,” I smiled.
“Well, then, I guess you just need to meet Optimus Prime, and this is a done deal,” Corinne opened the mudroom door and led me into the backyard.
Bamboo shoots lined the perimeter and, in the grass, sat the girls’ 150-lb brindle Great Dane, Optimus Prime. He seemed uninterested in me, and basked in the sun, chomping on an oversized rawhide bone.
“How old is he?” I asked, “He’s huge!”
“Optimus Prime is 7. He’s pretty chill,” Corinne added, “We all are.”
The first year in the house was incredible. The girls became my family, my sisters. We drank cheap wine and held “Family Nights,” where we would watch cheesy Lifetime Originals on the huge, sectional sofa. The girls had an oversized TV, something like 85 inches, and, apart from Optimus Prime snoring on the cushions next to us, it felt like we were in a theatre.
The three of us struggled financially during the recession. Kimber and I were both bartending, which, although pretty recession-proof compared to other careers, was still not yielding the cash we were used to. Corinne worked an IT job, and had been laid off from a lucrative position. She found work quickly, but it was low-paying, contract work. Corinne was the breadwinner and matriarch of the house. Kimber and I were just contributors. Things started to fall apart quickly.
First to go were the appliances. The usual pre-rinse of dishes before using the dishwasher turned into a full wash before we could insert them into the machine for a final rinse. Right. Backwards. Even then, the dishes would come out covered in old food the washer had stored and redistributed. Corinne refused to admit that the dishwasher was kaput, and scolded Kimber and I for not knowing how to use it properly. The microwave had a similar story, as it mostly just charred food or even set small fires. Every time, Kimber and I were to blame for not knowing how to work the microwave. The washer and dryer started devouring all three of our clothes, but since we each did our own laundry, Corinne had no one to blame for that one.
The pipes went next. Water started shooting from the faucets, and then wouldn’t flow at all. At times, the bathtub faucet ran a rusty brown and stunk. Corinne hired a plumber when the the brown water spread to all three bathrooms and it got too stinky to ignore. Her face paled when she saw his estimate.
Kimber and Corinne started having relationship problems right around the time Optimus Prime got sick. It was late in 2009, almost two years after I had moved in. Corinne had just paid to have the pipes reworked, and Optimus Prime was admitted to the Pet ER for an emergency surgery. Any pet owner knows, emergency vet bills are no joke. When Kimber couldn’t cover the vet’s $3,000 fee, Corinne was furious. Their breakup had been coming for some time, but that was the most notable weekend. Kimberly moved downstairs, in the room next to mine. She said it was to keep an eye on Optimus Prime after surgery—he couldn’t yet climb the stairs to the girls’ room—but weeks passed and Kimber didn’t move back upstairs.
Things weren’t great, but having Kimber in the room next to mine was a lot of fun. We were both still working in bars, so we had similar schedules and liked to have an after-shift cocktail together at 3 a.m. Kimberly was somehow a night owl and an earlybird and would wake me up in the morning by whispering through the fireplace in between our rooms.
Charrrrrrrlotttttttte,” she would be quiet at first, “CHARRRlotte,” and then get progressively louder until I stirred, “I’m making COFFEEEEEE.”
She would playfully entice me until the scent of coffee filled the house, and I crept out of my room to join her. I have never been a morning person, but time with Kimber was precious and fun. I’d have breakfast and coffee with her, and then toss and turn in bed after, too caffeinated to get back to sleep.
As Corinne grew busier and more distant—she was picking up part-time contract work every chance she got—Kimber started expanding her social circle. She brought new girlfriends home a few nights a week, laughing and whispering into the early morning hours. Corinne started seeing someone new, and spent more time out of the house.
Other things in our home started to break. Our downstairs guest bathroom was always out of order and had an earthen stink to it. The back patio had rotten planks of wood that were broken and cracked. This created a cozy space for a nest of rats to live. I woke one night to what I assumed was Kimber and a girlfriend, hamstering around in the kitchen for a late-night snack. Instead, I found a giant, fat rat, sitting on the kitchen counter. Next to it was a spilled box of cereal. It stared at me with its beady eyes, a cheerio disappearing into its mouth as it nibbled. I thought it was going to pick up the box of cereal and walk away with it, it was so big.
“That’s it,” I said to the rat, and to myself, “Something has to be done.”
The next day I called a family meeting. We each aired our grievances. We blamed each other, bitched about the things we couldn’t afford to fix, and mourned the days when we were happy. The room was full of sadness, resentment, and dread.
Kimber was vacant and cold during the meeting. She started sentence after sentence with a half-expressed syllable, and then would stop, caught up on how to say whatever it was she was trying to say. She looked tired. I hadn’t seen her much in the daylight then, mostly I’d see her slipping into her room with one of her flavors of the month, late at night. Now, in direct sunlight, she looked older and dehydrated. Unable to express herself verbally, she crossed her arms over her chest and chewed anxiously at the skin around her thumb.
Corinne attempted to stick up for herself, or, really, for the house. With each complaint—the sinks, the appliances—Jesus--the rats, she would wall up and deflect as best as she could. Finally, she cried when forced to accept that she couldn’t save the house on her current salary. She was our leader, and she had failed.
I felt torn between the two of them and utterly useless. Sure, Corinne was our leader. But Kimberly owned the house, too. They had bought it together. And I still lived here and loved them both. None of us had the money to save our home or our little make-shift family. Sadness hung in the air, even worse than that earthen, plumbing smell.
We ended the meeting and moped to our rooms, alone. Two days later, Corinne announced that she was putting the house up for sale.
It got worse.
Kimber disagreed with selling the house, sure that if the girls just held on a little longer, they could turn a profit. She hated Corinne’s new girlfriend, Stormi, and the two had yelling matches all the time. Often, I’d wake in the early hours of the morning to find Corinne and Stormi attempting to stage the house for real estate showings, and Kimber would be screaming at the two of them. She was irrational and always awake.
It was clear that Kimber was on something. Her once rosy cheeks were sunken and pallid. Her light, auburn hair—usually shiny and sleek—was a rat’s nest. Worse, she was bone thin. Naturally svelte prior to this unravelling, Kimber was now skin wrapped taut around bones. She hid this by wearing loose shirts and baggy pants, held up with a belt she had poked holes in with a kitchen knife to make fit. She paced around the house non-stop, and rambled on and on about funny things. I remember one particularly long rant about Britney Spears’ Circus album, including a full review of each song and accompanying, enthusiastic dance moves. Kimber was a girl with a problem, but she somewhere there, she was still our funny, little Kimber.
Most of her girlfriends stopped coming over, but sometimes she’d ask me to go to the casino with her. Kimber’s friend, David, another speedy character, was always awake and happy to pick us up. The three of us chatted excitedly in David’s hatchback as we drove into Kentucky. Then, at the Oak Grove Gaming Hotel, we would sit, mesmerized in the smoky, brightly lit rooms. We chain smoked, listening to the bleeps and blips and coin noises coming from the endless rows of slot machines. We’d play until we were busted, or the place was closing. I’d usually fall asleep to Kimber and David, still chattering excitedly, during the ride back to Tennessee.
And then, Optimus Prime died.
Kimber’s pacing became frantic. No longer was she satisfied to walk the house, back and forth, awake at all hours. Now, she was searching for something. The object in question could be as mundane as a battery for the remote to the TV, which, by the way, didn’t work. Maybe it was a needle and thread to sew a dress she’d never wear, or a paint brush, because she wanted to paint a picture, but she wasn’t a painter and she didn’t have a canvas. She was hard on herself when she couldn’t find what she was looking for. She berated herself as she searched from room to room, muttering the harshest of expletives. She was hard on the house, too. Kimber frequently tore down the cheap artwork hanging on the walls—something Corinne had added to our home in an attempt to “stage” the house for real estate showings.
Kimber became erratic, nonsensical, and delusional. She saw invisible men in shadows, and stalkers lurking that did not exist. She was paranoid and exhausted and scared. The beautiful, whip-smart friend I had fallen in love with vanished. Something had taken my Kimber and replaced her with this hollow-eyed, wind-up doll. I watched the doll spin and spin, gritting and grinding its’ teeth, never satisfied, never resting.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed Kimber was sick, praise the Lord. Raquel, Kimber’s friend from childhood was the first to agree that, on this trajectory, Kimber wouldn’t survive. Raquel intervened. She arranged for Kimber to leave Nashville for two full weeks and stay at Raquel’s country getaway in Doyle, Tennessee. The house was nestled away from the public, and adjacent to rolling farmlands, woodsy trails, creeks and waterfalls.
“It’ll be like rehab, like hillbilly rehab,” Raquel told Kimber, running her hand across Kimber’s back as she rocked back and forth at the kitchen table.
“Hell, it’ll be better than rehab. We can have wine,” I added.
Kimber continued to rock back and forth, and eventually nodded her head in agreement.
“I let your work know you’ll be out for the fourteen days, they okayed it,” Raquel continued.
“How in the Hell did you manage that?” Kimber asked, her voice low, still rocking back and forth.
“Well, now, don’t be mad,” Raquel started, “I told ‘em Jerry died,” Raquel let out a half snort, half laugh.
“You what?!” Kimber broke from her trance, shrieking, “You told them my brother died? Hell,
Raquel they all know Jerry, they’re gonna’ find out sooner or later he ain’t dead! Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”
“Well, I needed something they’d take serious, Kimber. And it worked, they gave you the two weeks off, didn’t they?” Raquel defended herself.
“I’m sure we can convince them it was all a big mix-up when you get back,” I added.
“Ya’ll are both crazy as hell,” Kimber said, and went back to her swaying, shaking her head.
“Oh, please. The way I see it, you needed time off and this was the only way they was gonna give it to ya’. And so what if Jerry shows up, alive and well. Them barflies are all too drunk to notice, anyway,” Raquel shrugged at me.
“Yeah, we can fix all that when you’re better. The point is, you’ve got two weeks. I think we can work this out in two weeks, don’t you think? It’ll be fun,” I was cautiously optimistic.
Kimber nodded again, in approval.
“I’ll pack you a bag,” I said.
“No!” Kimber jumped up and away from the kitchen table, “I can pack,” she offered and scurried to her room.
“Jesus, now we’ll never get out of here,” Raquel nudged me, “Go supervise and make sure she doesn’t pack anything too insane,” she laughed, “Fuckin’ tweekers.”
Kimber packed lots of insane things, but I did as I was told and removed each weird item—a fly swatter, a small statue of a naked woman that usually decorated our fireplace mantle, an unopened box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, to name a few—and after a few hours, we were packed and ready to go. Raquel drove us in her roomy, champagne colored Escalade, the AC blasting away the soupy, summer humidity.
We arrived in Doyle, Tennessee two hours later. Doyle was tiny, miles away from city life, and beautiful. The grass was greener, the air smelled sweet. The sun was just setting, and the sky above us was lavender, dotted with pink clouds. And the house! Oh my God, the house! A 115-year-old classic country home, white with a huge wraparound porch, cornflower blue roof and delicate stain glassed windows, the house was a dream. If ever there was an idyllic place to kick a meth habit, this was it.
Raquel walked toward the house, and I followed, in awe. Kimber walked alongside us, jerking her head from side to side, eyeing every corner of the property suspiciously. Before we set foot on the porch, Raquel turned to us, abruptly, and put her bag down in the grass. She cleared her throat with intention.
“Ahem. Now, ya’ll, look,” she said, blocking us from taking another step, “This is my house, and so it’s my rules. We are gonna’ have a nice, relaxin’ time, this is gonna’ be fun, but we came here for a reason. Kimber, you’re strung out. Nobody wants to say it, but we all three know it’s the truth. So, before anybody enters this house, Imma’ need ya’ to give me all your drugs. Kimber, obviously, I mean you, but Charlotte, if you have anything on you, I don’t know about you or what you do, only God can judge, but so help me, this is a rehab house now. I don’t want ‘em inside. Go ahead, now, and hand ‘em over,” she waited with her arms crossed.
Kimber looked startled, but started to unload the various baggies and vials she had on her. I assumed that she would keep some kind of stash—we were dealing with addiction, after all—but I was surprised when she pulled even tiny, nearly empty bags from hiding places, like the torn lining of her jacket and the secret compartment in her travel bag. Maybe she really did want to get better.
I handed Raquel a small bag of weed and a prescription bottle of Xanax with my name on it.
“Oh, honey,” Raquel smiled, uncrossing her arms, “Those don’t count.”
“Yeah, I might need both of those,” Kimber smiled, handing Raquel yet another, mostly empty baggie of meth.
“Is that all of it?” Raquel asked, her hands full of Kimber’s plentiful stash.
“That’s it, I promise,” Kimber smiled and looked at her feet.
“Alright, then. Ya’ll go put your bags down and pick a room. Imma’ start us a fire. Charlotte, why don’t you get us all a nice, fat glass of red wine. There’s a good Cab on the kitchen counter. Kimber, once you pick a room, you come straight back. I’m gonna’ supervise you for the first coupla’ days, make sure you don’t do anything…squirrelly. Alright, hon?”
“Yess’m,” Kimber nodded.
The porch creaked as Raquel unlocked the cherry red front door.
“Y’all!” Raquel’s voice lilted up as she swung the door open, “Bienvenu a Chateau Raquel,” she said in her best French accent.
We scattered, excitedly exploring the home. Outside, the house was a classic country gem, but inside, Raquel had decorated everything with a funky, modern vibe. Clean lines and unexpected color popped in every corner. Italian glass decorated the oblong end tables, and contemporary artwork hung across from accent walls. Sleek surfaces contrasted beautifully with small, shabby chic touches—a tufted chaise lounge with a farmhouse floral print, antique china in every cabinet, and fresh wild-flowers on every table. Somehow, Raquel made it all fit together perfectly. She even retained a playful sense of humor with a ‘Bless this Mess’ painted sign, hung above the kitchen sink.
I chose the smallest of the three bedrooms, and the most country. My big, white bed mostly filled the four corners of the pale, yellow room, and was covered in a vintage lace blankets and throws. Sunshine streamed into the room through white, eyelet curtains.
Kimber chose the Art Deco inspired room, and placed her travel bag on an emerald green velvet fainting sofa. A Mid-Century, arching floor lamp was tucked perfectly behind the sofa so that the clear, bubble shade hovered above it.
“Ah!” Kimber let out a happy cry as she flipped on the light switch and the light shone a deep green.
“Green lightbulbs!” she said as she tucked her head under the lampshade and examined it, smiling, “Didn’t see that one comin’.”
“Oh, how cute,” I said, popping my head in the room, “I took, like, the rustic room,” I added.
“Isn’t this place amazing?” Kimber asked as she picked up tchotchkes, and traced the fingers of her other hand across the surface of an end table.
“How ya’ feeling?” I asked her.
“Good,” she said, “Shaky. But good.”
“Let’s go see about that fire, shall we?” I gestured to the hallway.
Outside, Raquel had quite a blaze going in the firepit. She gestured us over.
“Well, Kimber, I done burned all your drugs,” Raquel said, triumphantly, her hands on her hips.
“Wait, girl,” I waved my hand in front of my face and coughed, “You burned the meth? In this fire?” I coughed again, and turned my head away from the smoke coming off of the logs.
“Yes, yes, I burned it. But hold on now, don’t freak out,” Raquel said, poking at the fire with a long tree branch, “I burned it over there,” she said, and pointed, using the branch, to a metal barrel at the edge of the yard.
“Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna’ getcha’ high,” she laughed, “That’s the opposite of why we’re here. Damn, ya’ll. Gimme’ some credit.”
I laughed nervously, but Kimber stayed quiet. Her eyes darted back and forth, frantically.
“Now might be a good time to get that wine I mentioned,” Raquel nudged me.
We sat around the fire, each holding a goblet-sized wine glass with both hands. The sun had set, and the sky was a deep midnight blue, speckled with tiny stars. Wind swept gently through the tall grass on the land adjacent to Raquel’s. We had no where to be, and nothing to do. While that may sound perfectly relaxing to some, for Kimber, it was not.
Kimber was back to acting like a basket case. She rattled off several strange utterances; One about a man on the roof, another few about the local police, sure to arrive at any moment. She scratched at her skin and gulped her wine, a futile effort to calm down. We tried to assure her, to explain to her that this was all just part of her detox. That, no, there wasn’t any man on Raquel’s roof, and, no, the police most certainly were not on their way. Kimber wasn’t convinced.
“There!” She yelped, turning to the tall grass behind her, “Did you hear that?! He’s there, someone’s there!” She snapped her head back to face us, her wild eyes bulged.
“Honey. There is no one there,” Raquel told her.
“Kimber, this is normal. You see stuff when you’re so sleep deprived and the speed wears off. It’s scary, but it means it’s wearing off,” I tried to reassure her by placing a hand on her shoulder, but she jerked away as if it had burned.
“Ya’ll think I’m crazy? Fine. There is a man in that grass, I swear to God hisself,” Kimber whispered desperately, “He was on the roof and ya’ll didn’t see him, and now him and the pigs are over there in the grass. Raquel! Raquel, did you burn all the drugs? Like, all of them? Girl, I sure hope you did, cuz’ they’re fixin’ to raid your house, I know it.”
Kimber bit down on a hangnail and tore it free. A small pool of blood welled up on her cuticle. She jerked her head back around, toward the grass.
“Jesus Christ,” I said.
“Girl, you’re trippin’,” Raquel said softly, “It’s gonna—
“Shhhhh!” Kimber silenced us both, “There!”
The sound of a dry tree branch being snapped under the weight of something heavy echoed from the grass.
“See! It’s the cops!” Kimber’s eyes bulged wider.
She waited, and watched. Her eyes darted left and right, faster and faster. In the firelight, I thought I could see her heart pounding through her tiny, baby-bird chest.
Then, to the surprise of all three of us, a big, black shoe on an extra-large foot stomped down at the edge of the grass. The extra-large foot was attached to an extra-large leg, and then another extra-large leg, and then, in front of us, stood a towering, extra-large man. He walked out from the grass, pushing wild, curly black strands of hair out of his face.
“Aw, hell nah!” Kimber shot to her feet and took off running.
I took off after Kimber, not sure if I was running away from the man, or trying to stop Kimber, but running, fast, either way. Raquel yelled out.
“Guys! Guys, wait!” She turned to face the man, “Zirbo, what in the holy Hell are you doin’? You look a mess,” Raquel turned and cupped her hands around her mouth, “Ya’ll come on back! Come on back, now, it’s just my neighbor Zirbo, is all! He’s harmless, ya’ll, come back!” She shouted.
Kimber stopped running and bent over herself, panting. She gulped at the air. I slowed as well, close behind her and did the same.
“Girl,” I panted.
“What the fuck is a Zirbo?” Kimber exhaled, “That guy looks like a straight up killer, I swear it,” she stood upright and wiped sweat from her brow.
“I mean…” We looked to Raquel, waving and gesturing us back.
Zirbo stood next to Raquel and waved, smiling a goofy smile.
“I think he’s harmless,” I said.
Kimber and I walked back toward the fire.
“Ya’ll, I’m so sorry. This is Zirbo. Zirbo, these are my friends,” Raquel shook her head in disbelief, and welcomed us back, “Ya’ll straight jetted,” Raquel let out a sigh, “Oh shit, and you dropped your wines,” she looked to the empty glasses, knocked over in the grass.
“Zirbo, you scared us! We thought you were a killer!” I laughed, as I picked up the glasses.
“Or a cop,” Kimber added.
“Oh, hell nah, not a cop. I never been a man concerned with the rules. I’s a rebel, see,” Zirbo’s voice was tinny, “Ain’t no cops out here, no ways. And I don’t speculate they’d be wearin’ no overalls, neither. You girls is jus’ worked up, is all,” he smiled his goofy grin.
We saw that Zirbo had a total of--maybe--four teeth, all stained dark brown.
“Pleased to meet you,” Kimber said, “Sorry I thought you was Fuzz,” her East Tennessee accent thicker in Zirbo’s presence.
Zirbo smiled again. I watched as his lips curled up slowly. Was one of his teeth actually blue? Could that happen?
“I’m, I’m Charlotte,” I stammered and looked into his eyes, extending my hand.
“Oh no, no. I can’t touch ye.”
Zirbo held up his hands. They were filthy.
“My Lord, what did you get into?” Raquel asked, laughing as she slapped Zirbo on the back.
A small dust cloud puffed up from his back where she slapped him.
“Well, I was trynna’ find my damn horse. She took off yesterday, and I been in the woods and now in the fields, but I ain’t found her,” Zirbo exhaled, “Just like a woman. Always runnin’ off, right ladiesss?” Spittle shot through the gaps in his teeth when he lisped.
“So, your horse…is just…loose? Like, no idea where?” I asked, laughing at the absurdity.
“Ain’t that the damndest thing? Phewww,” Zirbo let out a sigh, “It’s exasperatin’,” he said, and wiped his hands on his pant legs.
“Bo, you’re lookin’ a real mess,” Raquel said, “Why not let us fix ya’ up a little? Whattaya’ll think? Quick shave, a little haircut, maybe a hot towel,” Raquel looked at Kimber and I.
Kimber nodded in wide-eyed agreement. I shrugged.
“Whattaya say, buddy?” Raquel asked Zirbo, her tone also growing twangier now, as she spoke.
“Well, I’m fixin’ to say yes, with three pretty girls wantin’ to make…me…over,” Zirbo slowed his last three words and performed an effeminate shimmy of his shoulders.
“Yeehaw!” Zirbo shouted upward, into the stars.
He rubbed his hands together excitedly and smiled his signature, uh, blue smile.
“Great, I’ll get some shaving cream and a razor. Kimber, go ahead and bring some warm water in the bucket from under the kitchen sink. Charlotte, you find Zirbo a clean shirt,” Raquel turned to Zirbo, “Hon, I don’t think I have any men’s shirts, but I may have some larger women’s shirts that’ll pass,” Raquel winked at the man, “No one will know the difference.”
“I have a men’s shirt,” I volunteered, “It’s my sleep shirt, but it’s actually pretty nice,” I added, “It’s Kenneth Cole,” Zirbo had no reaction to the brand name, and just kept smiling his goofy smile.
Kimber was already in the kitchen, filling up the bucket when I went to retrieve the shirt and other supplies.
“Girl,” I smiled at her and stopped.
“I know. This is so country,” she laughed.
“And Zirbo…” I said.
“Girl, are his teeth blue?” Kimber asked, laughing and cupping her free hand over her mouth.
“Oh my God, that’s what I thought!” I said, as I stepped into my room to gather supplies for the makeover.
We returned to the firepit with our arms full of beauty products and a fresh bottle of Cabernet. We found a canister of Skintimate shave gel, along with a pink Lady Bic razor. I brought out a sea-clay facemask I had packed with girls’ night in mind. Kimber had Almay undereye rounds that looked like sliced cucumber but were actually made out of cotton. And there was my nightshirt. It was a light blue button down, size XL. We laid out the supplies on a neighboring wooden picnic table, and Raquel got to work. She soaped Zirbo’s face with a washcloth, and applied the pink foaming shave gel, gently, to Zirbo’s cheeks. She shaved him, closely and carefully, but left his moustache intact.
“The moustache is dignified,” she said, and tipped a mock cowboy hat at Zirbo.
She then wiped his face clean, and got started on Zirbo’s haircut. She wet his stringy locks with the soapy washcloth, and combed through the knots, holding on to the root, so as not to hurt the man with any snags. She clipped away straggly, dead ends. Afterward, she applied a small dollop of hair gel. Zirbo held perfectly still during the process, two cucumber cotton rounds covering his eyes, and bright green, pore perfecting sea clay sucking out any grime left on his nose.
“Ya’ll sure do know how to spoil a fella,” Zirbo whispered softly, trying not to move.
Kimberly gently removed the rounds from Zirbo’s eyes, and used another rag to to wipe his closed lids clean. I joined in, and wiped the sea-clay from his nose with a warm, damp cloth.
“You can open your eyes now, Zirbo,” Kimberly said, unusually calm.
I noticed that Kimber’s latest glass of wine was almost empty. Maybe the alcohol was working? I snuck away to find another bottle, hoping to get my friend drunk enough to sleep that night.
When I returned to the yard, Zirbo had put on the button-down shirt, and was happily posing for pictures. Raquel clicked away on her flip phone, as Zirbo strutted back and forth, peacocking and bobbing his head. He smiled, much wider than before.
“Oh, I know! One more thing,” Raquel said, and ducked inside the house.
Moments later, she returned with a bottle of aftershave, and poured a splash into her hands. She rubbed her hands together and gently slapped them onto Zirbo’s cheeks.
“Gottdamn!” Zirbo yelled, “I smell fresh and clean! Yowieeeee!” He hollered out.
Kimber, Raquel and I beamed, all laughing and happy to see Zirbo so jubilant.
“Alright, Bo, you ready for a glass of wine?” Raquel asked, filling the three of our glasses to the brim with more Cabernet.
Sleep didn’t come easily for Kimber that first night. Mostly, she paced, still whispering about imaginary cops and men hiding in the brush. Raquel and I sat up with her until the sun peeked through the canopy of trees above the farmhouse. Just as the birds outside began to chirp, the volume of red wine she had consumed overtook Kimber’s anxiety. She paced slower, and slower still. She began to unwind, her shoulders slumped first, then bending at the waist, and finally, a ragdoll, she let us carry her to her bed.
Raquel pulled off Kimber’s boots and pants. Her face twisted when she saw just how skinny Kimber had become. I pulled her t-shirt over hear head, and we left her, in loose-fitting bra and panties. We wrapped her in several blankets, despite the sweat beading off her forehead.
“Should I turn on a fan?” I asked Raquel, “I can’t tell if she’s hot or cold.”
Raquel turned on an oscillating fan and rotated it so that it wouldn’t blow toward the bed.
“You go get some rest. I’ll keep an eye on her for now,” Raquel said, and reclined onto the emerald chaise.
I retreated to my room and collapsed onto the thick, lace duvet, fully dressed. The sun peeked through the eyelet curtains. My teeth were chalky and stained burgundy with wine. I looked at the hallway and thought, half-heartedly, of brushing them. I kicked off my shoes and slept, on top of the blankets, with a pillow over my head, instead.
I woke up in the dark, unsure of what time, or maybe even what day it was. I heard hushed voices, and the clinking of silverware on china. I sat up. I rubbed my eyes, and set both feet down on the warm, hardwood floor. How had I slept so hard? Was it nighttime, or early morning? Slowly, I stumbled to the dining room.
“What time is it?” I asked, groggy.
I wiped sleep from my eyes and focused, observing Raquel and a lean, dark-skinned woman I had never met. The two were digging into a fancy spread of food on the dining room table.
“Shhh,” Raquel hushed me, “Kimber’s still asleep,” she added, spooning potatoes au gratin onto her guests’ plate.
“Hi, I’m Ashley,” the stranger whispered, “You’ve probably heard a lot about me,” she took the plate from Raquel and smiled at her adoringly.
“Oh, of course she has, hon, everybody has heard all about my boo by now,” Raquel squeezed Ashley’s thigh, gently, under the table.
“Ashley, of course, yes. It’s so great to finally put a face with the name,” I said, and raised a suspicious eyebrow at Raquel.
Truth is, I had never heard a thing about Ashley. But, Raquel always had a few girlfriends at once, and I knew well enough to play along.
“You didn’t tell me how gorgeous she is,” I smiled at both of them, “Well, she said you were hot, but she didn’t tell us you were so beautiful,” I laid it on, almost too thick, grinning even wider.
I pulled up a chair at the table. Ashley lovingly gazed at Raquel, completely oblivious to my tone. I examined her. She was really beautiful. Her long, relaxed hair was parted straight down the middle and looked freshly done. Her skin was a deep cocoa, dewy and she wore little to no makeup. Her eyes were black and intense with a thick set of eyelashes that she batted eagerly at Raquel.
“You never told me what time it is,” I whispered, interrupting their moment.
“It’s 8 p.m., babe. You slept through the whole day,” Raquel told me.
“Have some breakfast,” Ashley joked.
“Damn, really? I lost a day?” I dug a serving spoon into a dish of green beans.
“It happens out here. All the time, actually. People aren’t used to how quiet and peaceful it is. Either they had no idea how exhausted they were and sleep a whole day, or they get weird and irritable because it’s too quiet and they can’t relax. Loonies, the whole lot of us,” Raquel said.
“I was like that,” Ashley chimed in, “I was neurotic. I couldn’t stand the quiet. It was like I needed to hear a siren or some drunken pedestrians stumbling by just to nod off.”
“My little city girl,” Raquel leaned over and nuzzled her face into Ashley’s neck.
“What about Kimber?” I asked.
“Well, she’s a special case, but if I had to guess, I’d bet she’s the same as Ashley. City girl, all the way,” Raquel nudged the potatoes toward me, “Have some of those. Cheese and carbs are good during a crisis.”
I helped myself to the potatoes, and poured myself a fresh glass of red wine.
“No, I mean, did she stay asleep all day, too?”
“Oh my God, girl,” Ashley said, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, Kimber was wearin’ Ashley out. She only stayed asleep the first time for a few hours. When Ashley got here this afternoon, she was up and pacin’ again. Still hallucinatin’, until about two hours ago, then she went back down,” Raquel said, worry lines forming across her forehead.
I took a hard gulp of my wine. I breathed in, and held it. When I released the breath, it came out as a long, deep sigh. Both Raquel and Ashley took notice. We sat for a moment, still and quiet, the air in the room heavy.
“I know, honey,” Raquel said, tilting her head empathetically.
Raquel’s blue eyes sparkled in the dim glow of the chandelier overhead. I couldn’t tell if she had been crying.
“Ya’ll. She’s sleeping now,” Ashley said flatly, “Don’t be so serious. She’ll be fine after some solid R&R,” Raquel and I looked at one another, each of us wearing a tight, close-mouthed smile.
I swallowed another swig of wine.
“I’m sure you’re right,” I said.
“Ya’ll!” Raquel forgot to whisper, and Ashley nudged her, “Sorry, sorry,” she whispered, “But we didn’t say Grace.”
The three of us placed our hands together in prayer on the table, and Raquel began.
“Dear God…First of all, thank you for this beautiful spread—”
“And the beautiful company,” Ashley chimed in, opening her eyes to wink at Raquel.
“Yes, and this beautiful company,” Raquel playfully rolled her eyes, and then re-postured herself for prayer, “We thank you, Lord, always. But also, Lord, we have a special request this evening. Our sister, Kimberly, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is sufferin’ somethin’ fierce. We ask you to give Kimberly strength and to give us strength to guide her out of this whole mess. To put it frankly Lord, please keep Kimber the H-E-double hockey sticks away from crystal meth!”
“Amen!” The three of us said in unison, all forgetting to whisper.
We raised our glasses, “Save Kimber!” Raquel cried out.
“Save Kimber!” Ashley and I joined in.
Kimberly slept. She slept for two full days. She woke only to stagger to the kitchen for snacks, her hair mussed atop her head and secured there with a scrunchie, her eyes tiny slits, her cheeks flushed hot pink. She would gobble down a slice of bread, or a Kraft single cheese slice rolled inside a piece of lunchmeat. Anything, really, that was quick and handheld. It was good to see her eat, to watch her rediscover her need for food and rest. She was hungry, tired and simple. Gone was the frightening wind-up doll she had become. By the grace of God, Kimber was human again.
She didn’t speak during this time, although if one of us were in the kitchen she would nod and politely recognize us. This wasn’t strange to me. We had talked, and talked and talked when she was high. Being quiet, now, felt correct. Besides, what was there to say? My friend was detoxing from hard, gnarly drugs, drugs that I thought had swallowed her. And yet, here she was. Standing in front of the open fridge in pajamas, snacking on cheese.
After three days of rest, Kimberly spoke.
“I think we should go out to the quarry today,” she said, standing in the light of the refrigerator, holding a piece of sliced turkey between her thumb and forefinger.
It was morning, around 8 a.m. and the first time I had seen her wake up at a normal hour.
I looked up from the kitchen table, where I was working a crossword puzzle.
“That sounds great. Is it far?” I asked, “And are you sure you’re up for it?”
“Yeah, I mean…No. I mean, I’m up for it. And no, it’s not far,” she said simply, and shoved the rolled up lunch meat into her mouth.
Kimber walked to the bathroom. I heard her turn on the shower. I went to my room and changed into a pair of jeans and a ripped muscle tee.
We rode bikes to the quarry. There was an earthen path that took us straight there. Kimber rode on a red cruiser, and I used Raquel’s more industrious, silver mountain bike. We bumped and bopped along, overgrown patches of grass and wildflowers tickling at our ankles as we rode. It was hot, sunny and humid. The air was thick with the smell of Honeysuckle. Kimber rode in front—she knew the way—and I followed behind.
“It’s right up here,” Kimber called back to me, turning her bike abruptly, creating a plume of rising dust in her tracks.
“Whoa,” I said, and coughed, waving away the dust as I rolled up.
The quarry was huge; A deep canyon with a tall, skinny waterfall on it’s west bank. It shined in spots like Onyx, and was gray and dry in other patches. It looked treacherous. Beautiful, but treacherous.
“Don’t worry,” Kimber assured me.
I stood, in awe, my eyes wide.
“I see that face,” she smiled, “There’s stairs right over here,” she said, and pushed her bike by its wide, silver handlebars.
Sure enough, only a few feet away was a staircase that led down into the quarry, complete with a safety railing for pedestrians.
“Oh, thank the Lord,” I said, “I was not about to scale down the side of this monster,” I told her.
“I know that’s right,” she laughed in agreement.
We stacked our bikes against a tall Poplar tree.
“They won’t get stolen up here?” I asked, “Do we even have a lock?”
“Girl, ain’t nobody out here to steal ‘em,” Kimber said, “Like, who’s gonna take ‘em? Zirbo?” Kimberly laughed.
“Oh my God, Zirbo. Girl, what the Hell was that?” I asked as we descended into the quarry, stepping carefully on the uneven, stone steps.
“You’re askin’ me? I was the one on drugs, first of all. And second of all, I told ya’ll there was someone in that grass, and nobody wanted to listen,” she punched me playfully in the arm, “But for real, though, when he came outta’ that grass, I near about peed my pants, I was so scared.”
“You were scared? You’re the one from the country! I’m an East Coast girl and I have never seen anything like that! No man pops out of the brush looking for a damn horse in my world, let me tell you,” I laughed along with Kimber.
“I hope he found his horse, though,” Kimber added, letting out a deep sigh mixed with her laughter.
“Who loses a horse?” I wondered out loud.
We got to the bottom of the stone steps and admired the rest of the quarry. It revealed itself from this vantage point, no longed just waterfall and jagged rock. At the base of the fall was a wading pool, covered in disappearing and reappearing rainbows, created in mist.
“Pretty nice, right?” Kimber said, and pulled her navy tank top off over her head, her skin ghostly white.
She jogged a little toward the pool, “Come on, get in!” She yelled to me.
She stopped to pull off each of her shoes and unbutton her jean shorts. In the sunlight, I could see that her frail body was littered with bruises.
“I didn’t wear my bathing suit,” I yelled back.
“Wear your underwear! I am!” Kimber waded into the pool and slowly disappeared under the water.
I began to unbutton my shirt and walked toward the pool. The water was perfectly clear, and I could see Kimber’s red hair, swaying like seaweed, beneath the surface. I pulled off my shorts and waded in, cautiously. Kimber burst to the surface and inhaled a huge gulp of air.
“Goddamn!” She exhaled, “That feels so good,” she said.
“Bout time you felt good,” I added.
“You’re tellin’ me,” she sunk back into the water and swam to the edge of the pool.
Kimber hoisted herself up on the black rock and looked at me, her body on full display now.
“Jesus, Kimber. You’re really skinny,” I stopped myself.
“Yeah, yeah. When we get back home, I promise I’ll get hooked up to an IV of gravy, stat,” she splashed some water at me with her feet and laughed, “Ha, when I told you to swim in your underwear, I didn’t know you were wearin’ Victoria’s Secretions,” she raised an eyebrow, nodding at my lower half.
“Oh my God, shut up,” I splashed back at her and waded deeper into the water to hide my leopard-print panties, “And whatever. They’re boy-shorts. They’re totally appropriate.”
“Mhhhm,” Kimber smiled and slid back into the water, “Isn’t Raquel’s house amazing?” She changed the subject.
“Dude, yes! Like, everything in there is so…curated. She has a real eye for design. I mean, I know that’s her job, but I had no idea she was so talented.”
“Girl, I know. I didn’t realize that she’s pretty famous in the interior design world until, get this,” Kimber circled me in the water as she spoke, “So one day, we were at Starbucks, the one on West End, and no joke we saw Nicole Kidman,” she stopped swimming and stood.
“No…” I said in disbelief, “She’s so gorgeous. Did you freak out? I would freak out.”
“I mean, yeah, I was freakin’ out, and when I told Raquel, like, look it’s Nicole Kidman, she turned around and saw us and was like, ‘Raaaaaaquel!’” Kimberly imitated Nicole Kidman’s Aussie accent, laughing, “And Raquel was like ‘Oh hey Nicki, how’s it goin’ girl?’ like, cool as a cucumber,” Kimber rolled her eyes.
“What? Nicki? She called her Nicki?” I was shocked.
“Yeah, girl. They’re pals. Raquel did all the interior design for her house. And that’s not the only celebrity she does it for, either,” Kimber dipped back underwater and came to the surface, smoothing her hair, “Anyway that’s when I realized she’s kinda’ famous for all that.”
“That is wild. Good for her—” I was interrupted by a violent, whoosing sound, coming from behind me.
I turned to face the waterfall. Its flow had tripled, and was now creating an uncomfortable, hard splash into our wading pool. Our pleasant rainbow mist turned into something more like rain, now pelting me in the face.
“Oh, shit,” Kimber said, standing, alert, in the water.
A muted and old-school siren moaned to life in the distance.
“We gotta’ go,” Kimber said, and swam to the opposite edge of the pool.
She pulled herself out, and tiptoed over the wet rock to her clothes.
“Well, come on now,” she said to me, snapping her fingers impatiently.
I was still standing in the pool, watching the waterfall grow stronger.
“Girl. Time. To. Go.” Kimber clapped her hands at me with each word.
“What’s going on?” I shouted over the roar of the water.
“They’re gonna’ fill ‘er up,” Kimber shouted back, hurriedly pulling on her clothing.
“Fill ‘er up?” I yelled back.
“Girl, yes, we gotta’ go,” she reached her hand out and waved for me to step out of the water.
I looked again at the waterfall, the flow stronger now, and snapped into action. I sprung from the pool, and grabbed at my things. I put on my shoes, but didn’t have time to get dressed. The water was rushed, faster and faster, and had already overflowed the pool.
“We might need to run,” Kimber said, looking at my feet, soaked, the water in the quarry now up, past my ankles.
Kimber and I ran, me, in my bra and panties, through the flooded quarry. We raced up the stairs, and staggered up to the last step. Kimber stood, and looked down into the quarry, now more of a lake. I collapsed onto the grass.
“What the hell were you thinking, Kimber?” I was panting and pretty pissed, “You could have gotten us killed!”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” Kimber said, still watching the quarry fill with water, “We weren’t even close to getting killed,” her wet clothes hung off of her skeletal frame.
The siren stopped.
She stood over me and offered me her hand. I took it, but knew not to let her help me to my feet. Even soaking wet, she couldn’t have weighed 100 lbs. I stood on my own. We watched as the waterfall gradually returned to its weakened, skinny state. After five minutes or so, the lake below began to drain.
“See?” Kimber turned toward me and flashed a devilish smile.
“You’re the one who said we needed to run. I call bullsh—” I was cut off by a familiar cry.
“Yeeeeee…haw!” A tinny voice rang out from behind the trees.
Kimber and I turned to see Zirbo, slowly approaching with a twisted, widdled walking stick in one hand. I laughed.
“Fuckin’ Zirbo,” I said.
“Woo-hoo! Lookit you two, like a coupla’ drowned rats! And you in your underpants, oooh wee boy!” Zirbo hooped and hollered, chuckling in between.
“Zirbo, what in the Hell are you doin’ here?” Kimberly asked, shielding her eyes from the sun with one hand, the other, firmly positioned on her hip.
“Shoot. I’m the one who turns the crank,” Zirbo smiled, and turned away from me while I pulled on my shorts, “For the siren, that is. We ain’t gonna’ have nobody drown on my watch,” he added.
“Drown?” I asked, “See, someone drowned,” I glared at Kimberly.
“That was a million years ago, when the water was much stronger, tell her Zirbo,” Kimber nodded.
“Well, it was about ten years ago, if ye must know, but she is correct. The water is much weaker now. And we got that siren, to warn ye,” Zirbo nodded back, proud of himself.
“Right. Thank you for that Zirbo, as soon as I heard the siren, I knew. See? It works.” Kimber said.
“I…” My mouth fell open.
I looked down into the quarry. It looked now as if nothing had happened. It drained that fast. I dropped Kimber’s hand. She stood next to me.
“See?” Kimber said, “You gotta’ trust me. Everything always turns out fine.”
I took her hand again, and squeezed it. I believed her.