The Hummingbird Kiss

Take Me to the River

Thin yellow light crept through the crack in the curtains, as Al Green sang “Take me to the River” on my clock radio. It was seven o’clock. I rolled out of bed and padded into the bathroom for a quick shower.

My new husband, Charlie, was under court order to stay with his parents until his sentencing, which was that morning in a half an hour. I figured it was my duty to show up, but I did not want to go. My mind felt gummy, I kept sneezing, my back ached, and for some reason I couldn’t stop yawning. What a day to be getting a cold.

I flung back the blue shower curtain and turned on the hot water. Everything in my mother’s bathroom was blue: the throw rug, the towels, the cover over the back of the toilet seat. A blue nude, painted by one of my mom’s artist friends, hung on the wall. Charlie had been fascinated. His parents were Mormons and they didn’t own paintings, especially blue nudes.

“Your mother is like someone from another planet,” he said, which is how Charlie himself felt around his family. What my mother said about Charlie is another story, especially after the time he pawned her mink coat and denied it up to the last gasping second when she dropped the pawn ticket on the table.

I stood in the shower with the water running over me. My skin felt raw, and the water fell on me like mercury. I washed my hair, breathing in the heady scent of Herbal Essence, as Charlie’s day in court played itself like a bad television show in my head. Since the old learned judge was a friend of Charlie’s family, he’d probably get more probation or maybe they’d send him back to that lame-ass drug program. 

Charlie and I had managed to inject a bit of dope every day for at least a month. My veins could use a break. I rinsed, turned off the water and stepped out of the tub. The drain swallowed the last dregs of lathery water. I sneezed again.

My mother was still in bed. I didn’t wake her. She would have felt obligated to get up, make breakfast or something. I wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t want to exchange pleasantries. Isn’t this a glorious day to watch your incorrigible husband get spanked in public?

I trotted downstairs to the kitchen of our apartment, which was clean and shining and quiet as a chapel with the soft gray light streaming through the oak trees into the window. I boiled some water in a white tea kettle and made a cup of Orange Pekoe tea, but at the first sip, I had to run to the sink and vomit. Not the sweet effortless regurgitation brought on by a robust shot of warm heroin, but a gagging bile-filled puke.

A cold and a stomach flu. For God’s sake, I thought. I tossed the tea into the sink, rinsed out my mouth and grabbed my purse. I stopped by the mirror to smear on some lipstick and was caught by the black holes inside my green irises—cat eyes, Charlie called them. I stood there for a moment in front of the gold-framed mirror like a portrait of myself: my long dark hair and the blond streaks I’d recently added out of boredom, framing my pale oval face. Something about my eyes looked just like Charlie did that time he told me he was dope sick and needed to pawn my watch for a fix. I dropped my leather purse, swallowed and leaned toward my reflection. 

I had it. The jones. That’s what they called it. Charlie and his friends. The jones or the bear. I examined the pastiness of my skin and noticed the sniffling and the way my back ached. Well, what else had I expected? All this time, I’d never let him get high without me because it wasn’t fair. Not I--the chump who bakes cookies at home and waits for her man to come back all stoned and feeling good. Now, everything had changed—in the blink of my weirdly dilated eyes. A chill clawed its way down my back like little rats’ feet.

I slipped on a jacket and stepped out of my mom’s apartment into the empty embrace of the morning. Down past the end of the parking lot, the bare hands of the wind ruffled the river. A shower of brown oak leaves dropped onto the asphalt. But nothing felt normal.

I got into my Mazda, cranked the engine, turned on the radio and drove away, heading to the toll bridge where I tossed a quarter into the gaping mouth of the automatic toll booth. I watched the silver disk swirl around and around before plunking down the throat of the machine. The light turned green, and I flew across the river, swerving between pokey drivers who didn’t really want to get to their awful jobs, and squinting my eyes against the sharp crackle of the sun’s rays as it made its ascent—as if this were just another day. Until finally, I jettisoned out of my car, hurried through the heavy glass doors of the courthouse, darted into the elevator, and strode into the courtroom where in front of the judge’s bench stood my lean and handsome husband, impersonating a young man with a future.