Discover more from Junction, Nowhere
Junction, Chapter 1
At the far threshold of the evening, just before exiting the car, Agatha and Badger took their shrooms with chamomile tea.
At the far threshold of the evening, just before exiting the car, Agatha and Badger took their shrooms with chamomile tea.
“Vile,” Aggie complained across the thermos’s steaming metal lip while Badger lit a joint. “Did you even put sugar in this? Don’t smoke in the Jetta, man.”
“Sugar in’gonna get you any closer to God,“ Badger said wisely on a soft white exhale, which he was kind enough to send out the cracked window. Agatha finished her beverage with a stiff upper lip and leaned over the back seat to extract their hoard of blankets and pillows. They left the vehicle on the pitted roadside and skipped down the edge of the embankment, following the footpath behind the veil of canopy-shadow. The worn clay trail was easy going on a good day, less so in near-darkness while carrying armfuls of bedding. They emerged on the far side of the trees only a little mangled by Oregon grape and blackberry thorns.
This bank of the river stood forty feet above the churning water, a wide stone platter open on three sides to a view of the western foothills and sweet, vaporous alpine sky. Aggie and Badger spread their impedimenta and laid back on a makeshift bed of ratty cushions and comforters, dangling their legs from the rock face to feel the mist on their calves. On the far bank, a sawtooth treeline stood black against the gloaming sky, and above their heads bats flitted and wheezed across the firmament. At this elevation, the heat of the afternoon was already nearly gone. Agatha wriggled like an eel on the ground to pull sweatpants over her shorts while Badger toked again. He offered her the joint and, when she declined in favor of a cigarette, sat back against his rolled sleeping bag with the look of a contented cat. He began to tell a story.
“So back in February, I was in Seattle visiting my cousin when he asks me, ‘Badge, you got good weed?’ I say, ‘Yeah, friend, always.’ ‘’Cause I got a buddy who likes to party,’ he says, ‘and we could have a real good night ahead of us if we head up there.’ So up we go, and my cousin, I start to realize he’s got friends in high places, ‘cause the ‘hood we end up in is actually Hunts Point. House we pull up to, you could fit twenty of my place inside it, like damn. So we’re setting up to have a real good night, nah? Like, I got weed, but they’ve got everything. I had a chance to do some K, but before that, I wind up in the basement, smoking with the guy who owns the place. He’s some kinda hot shit, got drunk white girls hangin’ off him, but brother doesn’t give a hoot, he just wants to talk about Bigfoot. No kidding! He’s got a computer down there and pulls me over to listen to these recordings he got off the World Wide Web that sound something like a ferret. He tells me it’s a yeti. Says someone wants him to join an expedition to the Ural mountains to look for yetis. I ask him, ‘What exactly do you do, that people just ask you to go on expeditions?’ And he turns to me, looks me straight in the eye, and he says: ‘Drugs, man.’”
Badger’s lips quirked while Agatha threw her head back with a bark of amusement. “You know who he actually was, though? I didn’t recognize him at first. He’s a musician. Can you guess?”
“Kenny fuckin’ G.” He clapped to emphasize the twist ending and Agatha fell into laughter again. “He gave me ketamine and let me hold his sax! Best night of my life, man.”
Agatha had been grinning at him in a haze of cigarette smoke throughout the telling, but when he was done with the story and she was done laughing, she sat back on her hands to announce, “Bullshit.“ Badger bit down on his smile. “I know you don’t have a cousin in Seattle. And you’re not stupid enough to cross state lines with weed in your car. Ugh…“ Taken by a sudden stroke of vertigo, she tipped sideways and placed her temple on the blanket.
“I got cousins in Seattle,” Badger said dreamily. He held out the joint again without looking at her, and she took it automatically before remembering she was only looking to drop out tonight. She passed it back. “I got cousins all over the place. Spokane and Sacramento and Santa Fe… Had a whole high school fulla cousins. You’re my cousin.”
“That’s bullshit, too. I feel weird.”
“You feel weird ‘cause you just drank an eighth of Golden Teachers, prima.”
“Mmm.” Aggie’s stomach wouldn’t settle and her soft palate felt twitchy. She uncrooked her legs to lay back on the blankets. Her cigarette ember bobbed in the fuzzy near-field of her vision as she squinted for the night’s first stars. “I’m gonna be super vulnerable and honest about something right now, Badge. I got a better view of the sky in Bethany Valley.“
“Yeah, girl. Hit me with those stories about how much you loved living in Deathany Valley.”
“That’s—okay, look, me saying that doesn’t invalidate all the other shitty stuff about the place. Of course I could see more stars in the desert, Badge. Of course you can see the Milky Way better from more than forty miles outside the city.”
“Oh, perhaps I’ve misjudged ol’ BV, then. Tell me more.”
“You’re being a shit. Alright—it was in the middle of nowhere, so rent was cheap. College town, easy to get booze. And the weed was better.“ She watched Badger’s face carefully at that last part, and cackled when his eyebrows shot up aghast. “I’m kidding, Badge, oh my God. No. It was awful. Fuckin’ schwag.“ Badger sat back again, looking ruffled. “No desert bud could ever replace yours in my heart. Ah, shit.“ Even laying flat on her back, she had the feeling that she was tipping slightly off-balance. “Is it starting?”
“You’ll know. Hey, look at me.” She rolled her head around on the comforter to squint at his huge square shape, outlined sharply against the dusky sky. “You’re feelin’ weird, just talk to me. Say what’s on your mind.”
A dangerous proposition. Aggie used her tongue to feel out the shapes of the back of her teeth, and felt disquieted, though she couldn’t begin to explain why. Instead she admitted, “I think I gotta go back to Foodland.”
“For discount chicken, or…?”
“For a job, dude. Don’t make me say it out loud.” Her arm, held at such an awkward juncture to her body that it seemed it might not be attached correctly, was mapped by a network of freckles and fine hairs pulsing before her eyes, either a trick of the low light or bonafide hallucination. “I’ll have to field a bunch of questions about school if I go back to work there, but they don’t drug test and I know the people are cool, so…” She ran a hand down her wayward arm, reading the braille of her own goosebumps. “I mean, I gotta do something. What’s my other option? Hang around my grandma’s house all summer, waiting for her to forget who I am?”
“I know.” She tried to fill the hole in her chest with a last deep draw off the Marlboro. It left her with that first-ever-cigarette feeling of having her soft tissues peppered by sand, and she took a moment to cough heartily. “Fuck—hoff—fuck it all, man, it’s so sad at home. Honestly, Badge? I was really glad to be away when this all started. When Margot said she was coming back to take care of things so I didn’t have to, I was really happy about that. Isn’t that an awful way to be?” She turned up the nearest edge of the blanket and mashed her filter angrily into the stone beneath.
Badger didn’t respond for a moment, being in the middle of a long, thoughtful toke. He coughed gently, expertly, on the exhale. “It’s not just you,” he said finally. “I coulda done more. I was here, I knew what was going on. I shoulda stopped by.”
“It’s not your problem.”
“I got family everywhere. Your grandma was good to me when we were little. And my brother.” The last bit came quietly, three words slurred into three syllables. An airplane as bright as Venus scurried across the nascent starscape. “I shouldn’t have waited till you got back to stop in and wish well.”
“We’re both pieces of shit, then,” Agatha croaked.
“We gotta change the subject. It’s gonna be a bad trip.”
Aggie got tangled up in her question of how she was supposed to talk about whatever was on her mind without killing her buzz, and decided the best thing to do was stop talking and close her eyes. In the darkness behind her lids, a dense field of glowing fibers twisted in and out of the forms of hourglasses and orchids.
“I’m feeling it,” she whispered. The blanket at her side pulled beneath Badger’s weight as he laid down by her shoulder. “Wow.”
“Hey, A?” Badger patted her knee with an encompassing hand. “I just wanted to tell you. I’m glad you’re home.”
“Me too, man.” The cityglow beyond the western hills was a sunset that never ended. “I missed the trees so much. When I finally came back up over the mountains, and the brown turned green again, it was like… I could finally breathe. I hadn’t even realized I couldn’t till then.” Badger hummed an expression of profound understanding. “But everything’s so different now. The new high school looks like a prison, I feel sorry for those kids. And traffic in town seems worse. Maybe I’m in more of a hurry than I used to be.”
Badger refuted her. “Nah. Traffic is wack since they put in that development off Chevaux.” Aggie wanted another cigarette, but the prospect of fishing the lighter out of her pocket sounded extremely squirrelly, given how the ground seemed to be lightly rocking on a fulcrum. She put a finger in her mouth and nibbled on the nail instead. Badger re-lit his joint, and the glow limned his blunt profile and sprawl of long black hair. The heat off his lighter wavered the night sky above his nose as he began to tell another story, in more quixotic tones than the first.
“Back before they cut out the trails to build that development, I was out walking along the creek one day. The banks had, uh, had too many trees to walk along, nah?, so I took off my flip-flops and went up through the water, smoking a little weed, tryna relax. Before too long I realize the banks are covered in, y’know… cairns. A few stones stacked up, about yea high? They’re everywhere. First just one or two, then bunches between the trees near the water, coulda been a hundred or more. And there’s this lady down there, this little tiny old thing up to her hips in the water, probably 90 years old. And keep in mind, this is way back in that ravine behind the Safeway, so I don’t know how she coulda even gotten there except by walking about a mile through the water like I did… But anyway, she’s standin’ in the creek, pulling up rocks from the bottom, sorting ‘em by size. Tells me her name is Faye, and she’s building a body for the stones. It’s what she does every day. Stacks rocks around the creek behind the Safeway, ‘cause the stones… need a body.“ He extended a hand to caress the rocky shelf on which they lay. “She says kids come out and kick the cairns over when they see ‘em. Broke my heart to hear it, A. So I ask her, ‘Do you need a hand, can I help you?’ and she looks a little worried and tells me I can’t build the body… but maybe I could help fix it?
“So up on the bank, it’s probably ten minutes I’m standing there, barefoot, stoned as a dog, digging through a pile of rocks tryna figure out which one should go on top of another, till I think I’ve finally got it right. And I turn around askin’, ‘Is it fixed?’”
But he gestured upward along the sky, to illustrate an absence.
“And she’s gone. Like a fuckin’ dream, man. I never heard a thing and I couldn’t catch her walking back out through the creek. I have no idea where she went.”
Agatha had drifted so deep into the narrative that it was fifteen seconds or more before she realized Badger had stopped speaking. She ran her tongue in another circuit across her teeth and mumbled, “Wait, what happened then?”
“I didn’t go back for a couple weeks. Was all torn up by then. There’s houses there now.”
She asked, “Bullshit?” He said no, but then again, he always did. “Shit, man. That’s a pretty good story.”
“I only tell good stories.”
Something was changing. Night had fallen on them completely by now, but the sky seemed to be growing brighter. Stars quivered in the blushing violet atmosphere, their scintillae jumping across infinities to connect like chain lightning. Agatha’s throat filled with emotion which couldn’t be swallowed away, and she had to twist up handfuls of the blanket to remind herself she was still earthbound. As she wiped her cheeks, she snickered.
“I’m sorry.” It seemed that she could see Badger’s face floating beside her in the perfect darkness, a comic’s mask, perpetually laughing, all crow’s feet and a gaping mouth. “I’m sorry, I’m not sad. I’m being stupid. It’s just so beautiful.”
“No, no,” he soothed her, patting out a big blind hand across her face and chest, at which she couldn’t help blubbering with laughter again. “It’s not stupid. It’s perfect.”
“Oh my God, it is.” The stars were pearls of dew on a cosmic spiderweb, were freckles on God’s black arm. She let out an open-throated sob. Next to her, Badger issued a tiny sniffle of his own, and through her tears she snorted over how ridiculous they were both being, which made him start to laugh too.
“I love you, man,” Aggie wept. “You’re my best friend and I love you so much.”
“I love you too, A. Oh, man. I love you. I’m so glad you’re home.” She reached out and grasped his upper arm tightly, and he twisted that arm to cup her elbow, and by those junctures they braced themselves against the earth while the universe grew and grew before their eyes, until it was far too large for even the sky to hold.