As a rule, Jamie steered clear of Fat Tuesday. The MTV clones with their bedhead styles and tribal tattoos were bad enough sober. Tossing back Jell-O shots and moving in packs? No thank you. But three years in the Keys, and he was restless. He’d been through every waitress and barback from Key Largo to Key West. But this girl was different. Yeah sure, a barefooted hippie chick sucking down rum runners. But all those freckles and a tangle of fiery dreads? Tangle O’Dreads, mon. An Irish Rastafarian! No? No worries. He was feeling alright.
She led him to her van, her feet slapping against the concrete and her skirt riding low on her hips, weaving him through all the tourists with their hairspray and watches, Duval lit up like a fairway, bass lines pulsing out of bars like a heartbeat. Then crawling into a blue velvet womb. From what he remembered, they were flying pretty high when the hippie and his boy toy joined the party. A bag of weed, a bottle of tequila. Then too many arms and legs, a foot jammed into his face, a silver cross dangling against his balls. He’d had worse.
Jamie stretched, his hand brushing against a wall. All things considered, not a bad way to wake up. All fuzzy. Blue velvet below. Blue velvet above. Like being swaddled – at least in the dark. Jamie lifted his head. In the light of day, the van looked more like Elvis’s cat had licked his blue suede shoes and coughed up hairballs. His stomach lurched. Yep. Another morning after.
At the bottom of the bed, the girl was clinging to his leg like a rusty barnacle. Jamie rolled over. Bad idea! The old guy face-down. A hairy, hairy ass. And the Cuban boy sprawled on his back, his silver crucifix and a peace frog belly button ring. A peace frog? Fuck no.
Jamie inched his leg free and crawled out of bed. He almost stepped on the guy’s foot, grimy black and callused. What was it with hippies and shoes? Or baths? And why did so many of them land in the Keys? The livin’ ain’t easy, he wanted to scream. It’s the end of the road.
He was pretty sure he hadn’t sucked on any toes.
He found his shorts in the sink and a tie-dyed shirt that didn’t stink too bad. Good enough. No sense digging for his own. He wasn’t that attached. He helped himself to a blueberry glazed from a box of donuts baking on the dash and eased open the door, surprised to find his flip-flops where he left them on the street. That’s right. No shoes allowed in the van.
Stale crumbs stuck to his parched tongue, and he tossed the donut toward the gutter. Feed a gull, save a life. Only scavengers survive. He ducked off Duval, and a sour smell slapped his face. Fresh vomit. His stomach crawled for the exit. He hated Key West in the morning, before it put on its face. The empty streets, all the shuttered doors, like some pastel wasteland with scalloped trim. It gave him the creeps. He remembered watching The Twilight Zone, something about a girl who could stop time. The Russians shot their load at America, and the girl stopped time just before the missiles hit. There she was, bombs hanging over her head, walking around all by herself. All the people statues, mon. Jamie didn’t know what he would do. Restart time and everybody dies. A choice with no choice really. What difference is there, he thought, being motionless or dead? Alone or dead?