“Logan? Logan Miller?” There’s a female voice over my head.
“I think we need coffee over here Ed,” she calls to the back of the café.
Thump! She must have taken the seat across from me. I rub my forehead on my arm. My head pounds too hard to raise it. Clunk! The sound of a cup, placed on the table, is like shards of glass stabbing my eardrums.
“Thanks, babe. Logan, do you need us to call someone?"
“No,” I grunt.
“Can we take you to the clinic?”
“No,” I grunt again. My throat is raw. Coffee sounds good. Water would be better.
“We were sorry to hear about your uncle.” A warm hand covers my elbow.
Prying my crusty eyelids open, I stare at my shoes until they come into focus. One of them is untied. With a monumental effort, I pick up my head and try to look at Ellie without crying. I’m not sure why I’m so torn up about my uncle’s death. I hardly knew him, even though we shared a tiny trailer for seven years.
“You ever heard of someone that young dying from cirrhosis?” I rasp.
She winces. “Wish I could say no. But, well, you know. Alcohol’s a demon to our people. It’s taken many Lakota in their thirties.” Ellie’s voice is as velvety as her skin. Despite her crooked nose and lopsided mouth, she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. I don’t care if she’s twenty years older than me, I’d go after her if she wasn’t married to Ed.
I use the napkin Ed brought with the coffee to wipe gunk from my eyes. I dig my knuckles into the sockets to clear away the film and erase the events of last night. Oh God, what did I do?
“Can I get you some clean clothes, at least?” Ellie asks.
I lower my hands and look at my shirt. It’s torn near the sleeve, but that’s not why she’s offering a new one. I’m covered in vomit. Fantastic.
I nod, swimming in embarrassment. She summons Ed back over.
“You can change in the back room,” she tells me with a sad smile.
I have to lean on Ed to keep steady as I walk. He helps me through the kitchen and into the supply room. It's really more of a shed, constructed from corregated metal and attached to the café. A sagging cot sits wedged in the corner between boxes of paper cups and toilet paper. Ed and Ellie have it here for drunks who need to sleep it off before going home to their families. It probably stinks worse than I do right now, but I’m tempted to lie down on it.
Ed digs through a black garbage bag at the end of the cot, and presents me with a shirt and jeans out of it. I must not be the only guy to come in here needing a change of clothes. I struggle to get my shirt off. Ed steps in to lend a hand. It’s humiliating to be undressed like a little kid. The soiled fabric swipes the tip of my nose, and it reeks so bad I almost hurl. Ed must smell it too, but he doesn’t flinch. Must be used to the smell of vomit. I guess we all are. Sometimes I think our little piece of the Rez gets showered in it the way other towns get rain.
I hold up the jeans he gave me. No way these will cover my super long legs. The pants I've got on aren’t in bad shape. A freshly torn knee, and a thick coating of South Dakota dust, but no puke.
“I think I just need the shirt. Thanks,” I tell him.
“I’ll put this in the wash.” He holds up my ratty t-shirt.
“Nah. It’s pretty wrecked. I’ll just toss it.” I shrug.
“Okay. I’ll let you get cleaned up. There’s a sink over there.” He points to a stainless steel box with a rusty faucet. It was probably an outdoor spigot before they built this around it.
I’m relieved when Ed leaves. He isn’t judging me, but still I’m ashamed. The shirt from the garbage bag is a button up plaid. One like an old guy would wear. Too short in the sleeves, and too tight in the shoulders, I have to leave it mostly unbuttoned. It’s still an improvement over what I had on. I hope The Higher Grounds Café doesn’t have a “no shirt” rule, because I’m not sure this qualifies as being dressed and I don’t want them to kick me out yet.
I wash up at the sink, avoiding the cloudy mirror hanging above it. I can’t believe what I did last night. I should have left when Oinker and Robert took off. As soon as White Jim showed up they grabbed their jackets, and begged me to go with them. Why didn’t I?
I fumble back to my seat. There’s a glass of water and two orange pills next to my coffee mug. I toss the tablets into my mouth and wash them down with water. I sip the coffee. It’s cold, but good. Ed joins me.
“First time with the needle?” He asks.
How’d he know?
“I smoked it,” I mumble, my chin in my chest.
“Gonna do meth again, you think?” He’s not really busting on me; I know he wants to help.
I shake my head and stars explode in front of my eyes, causing excruciating pain. I hold my ears to keep my brains from leaking out.
“Good.” There’s a long pause. Why is he still sitting here? “You sure I can’t take you somewhere to see a doctor. The clinic? The ER? Just to get checked out. I’d be happy to do it.”
“Thanks, Ed. I just want to go home,” I say.
But I don’t want to go home. I’d like to shower and sleep, but I don’t want to go to my trailer. Maybe Oinker’s grandma will let me sleep at their place for a few nights. If she’s forgotten...or forgiven...what I did to their family last August.
“You could rest here for a while if you want.” He means the cot in the back.
I don’t have the strength to consider another option. I agree, with a single nod, and shuffle back to the little room. Leaving the cold cup of coffee on the table.
When I wake up it’s dark. The small window above the cot reveals a moonless sky full of stars. A nightlight shows the way to a card table with a lamp. I switch it on. There’s a note, two bottles of water, and two more pain pills on the table.
“Logan, we didn’t want to wake you. We hope you’ll stay until morning. There’s some granola bars and fruit cups in the blue cupboard if you’re hungry. The door into the café is locked, but you can get out the back door if you need to. The cash register is empty. Sincerely, Ed and Ellie”
That pisses me off. Why would they just assume I’m a thief? I cool off quick though, because I know why. I am a thief, among other horrible things, and most people around here know me. A drunk at sixteen, a thief, a liar, lazy, violent. The list goes on. I haven’t done much good with my life. Except score a few goals for my lacrosse team. But Coach kicked me off last month for my grades, so I don’t even have that to contribute anymore.
Not that this life has been gentle with me. I came from nothing. The by-product of two teenagers I never met. They didn’t even care enough about me to give me up for adoption. Just let me float aimlessly through the state foster care system until Uncle Frank was old enough to take me.
Frank “Bird with Red Foot” Miller. A man who couldn’t take care of himself, much less a kid. He didn’t hit me or mess with me. He ignored me. Frank spent most hours of the day, and night, asleep. At least he had the good sense to spare the world of his uselessness. In the last six months of his life, the only times he walked out the front door were to drive into Whiteclay to pick up more beer.
The people on my birth certificate listed as "mother" and "father" are both dead now. She was killed in a hunting accident before I was out of diapers. I don’t know how he died. Frank got a letter last year from the city coroner in Houston saying his brother had passed away. We didn’t go claim the body. Didn’t have the money.
So I was dealt a poor hand, but there are kids I know who come from the same kind of situation as me, no parents, no money, starving most of the time, and they don’t do what I do. Even in the worst of circumstances, there are people around here who choose to do what’s right. But not me. Never me.
I wrap a wool blanket over my shoulders and light a cigarette. I gaze out the window at the smattering of stars, and consider walking through town, onto the highway, and into the Badlands. Eventually, dehydration would stop my heart and steal my breath. Coyotes could pick my bones clean and recycle me to the earth. That’d be the honorable thing to do. A poetic death. I think my ancestors would welcome me if I cut my losses and just take myself out. Save countless victims from the destruction I bring with me.
I finish my cigarette and stub the butt out on my boot. Only after I’ve ashed on the floor and put the Marlboro out on the heel of my shoe, do I see the sparkling clean ashtray on a shelf next to the cot. I attempt to gather the ashes with my hands and put them in the green glass, but all I manage to do is make a grey mess on the floor. I’m sorry Ellie! I’m a slob on top of everything else.
My tongue feels dry and my fingers tremble. When was my last beer? The party, where White Jim gave me the crystal, is the last thing I remember. And that could’ve been a couple of days ago. I don’t recall leaving there or how I got to the café. I usually can’t go more than a couple days without a drink before I get a little nuts.
I drain one of the bottles of water they left for me and lay back down. I lock my knees and elbows, trying to stay as still as I can, to quiet the shaking and muffle the screams starting in my toes. A rumble and gurgle in my gut sits me straight up. My eyes dart around for a bucket or container. A pristine, white trash can will work. I shove my head into it and throw up. Twice. It’s all water, but smells awful. I’ll sip the next bottle slower.
I step out the back door and find the dumpster for the café. I toss the whole can in. I feel bad about throwing something away that doesn’t belong to me. I’ll buy them a new one.
The stars dazzle, seeming to blink with ferocity. The sky is too big and noisy for me to handle right now. I might sacrifice myself to the Badlands someday, but not tonight. I drag my boots back inside and collapse onto the cot.
I light another cigarette and put the ashtray on my chest. I close my eyes and ride the waves of frustration inside me. I cross my ankles, my fingers, my toes. I grit my teeth. I almost shout. I almost cry. There has to be more than this. It can’t be too late for me. I don’t want to die young. I don’t want my life to end in a hospice bed at age thirty-one, like Frank. My skin, yellow as an Easter Egg. Tubes, running into my arms and up my nose. Nurses and orderlies clucking their tongues and whispering, “Isn’t it a shame? He has no one to mourn him.”
I sigh, defeated. If there is a way for me to change, I don’t have it in me. Someone would have to tell me what to do and how to do it. And I’m willing to live differently. Try to be a better man. I just need someone to lead the way.
Thanks for stopping by and reading "Logan's Last Day". The events in this chapter take place before the first chapter in my novel "Tenderfoot", coming Spring 2016. Logan is one of four teenagers who wake up in another world, called Enova, with no knowledge of how or why they arrived. This chapter tells the story of Logan's last day in Earth World, before he's transported to Enova. I hope you enjoyed this "behind the scenes" look at one of the main characters for "Tenderfoot". There are more "prequel" chapters to come before the launch of the book! Please tweet, tumbl, Instagram, FB post, or share this blog post with the world! And make sure to let them know it belongs to me, Abby Drinen!