Mercury is in retrograde when we swear our blood oath, palms sliced with butterfly knives stolen from the Berkeley flea market. We promise to live fast and die young and press our bloody hands together, holding them still until they coagulate.
“Give me all your bloodborne pathogens,” she says.
“Does this mean we’ll always be together?” I ask.
Marley doesn’t respond. I can feel her pulse, blood pumping into my palm, mixing our shit up. I squeeze her hand tighter, try to give her more of myself. Red tendrils creep between our fingers.
“I was born at night, but I wasn’t born last night!” Marley peels her hand away from mine. Maybe it’s her or maybe it’s the blood or maybe it’s the act of swearing an oath to each other that gets me hard, but Marley must’ve noticed, on account of her moving away from me.
I fumble an apology. “My b-bad.”
“Her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing when to fly.”
I put flame to the end of a Newport. “You wrote that?”
Marley laughs and a filthy loc falls in her eyes. She brushes it across her forehead. “Simone de Beauvoir.”
Marley knows all about people with names that are hard to pronounce. She made it through a semester of Postcolonial and Transnational Feminist Theory before her psychotic break. She taught me about things like urban ethnography and spatial injustice. She gave me a copy of The Color of Law, now lost in antiquity. Nothing lasts forever.
My feet are fat, pitting edema in my ankles. I waggle my clown shoes.
“Let’s go steal from Whole Foods,” I say.
Marley takes a swig from a warm bottle of kombucha, swishes it around in her mouth, gargles, and spits. “You read my mind.”
In the cheese section we steal six-year Baldersons and slabs of cave-ripened Langa Castelbelo. My peacoat has pockets on the front that I leave unbuttoned: designated stolen-organic-food docking areas. Marley just keeps stuffing things in her dreadlocks. Prosciutto and mozzarella rolls, dolmas, Kalamata olives stuffed with blue cheese, cucumbers in brine, heart of palm—she wraps it all up in her hair. Her sweat probably tastes like a Greek restaurant. I daydream about making love to her from behind while I bury my face in her hair, stuffing loc after tzatziki-sauce-flavored loc into my mouth until I choke and die right there, in a cloud of baba ganoush while I’m still inside of her.
That’s how I want to go.
“My man, you good?”
I look up, and there’s a security guard standing in front of me. I look down, and I see myself cradling a bag of sea scallops in my arms like a baby. The security guard looks like Mr. Cooper from the early nineties, award-winning, television show Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, starring Mark Curry and Holly Robinson. As long as I don’t mention that to him, everything should be fine.
“My man,” he says, this time a little less friendly. “I said, are you good?”
I freeze. “Did anyone ever tell you that you look like—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, like Mr. Cooper from the early nineties, award-winning, television show Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.” The security guard facepalms dramatically. “I know motherfucker. Don’t you think I know that?”
I stare at my swollen shoes. Suddenly, Marley appears, dreadlocks akimbo. “Run!”
So I Usain Bolt the fuck out of there, netted bag of sea scallops bouncing up and down as I run after Marley, the security guard in hot pursuit. We bend the corner and nearly knock over a tower of Fra Diavolo sauce. The security guard isn’t as lucky. Twinkling glass and red sauce everywhere.
We make it out alive with all of our contraband intact and post up against the brick of the Singleton Masonic Lodge. An out-of-breath Marley says, “Do you believe in quantum suicide?”
I wipe my nose and blood comes off on the back of my hand. It’s fresh, new blood. The old blood on my palm from our oath-swearing session has dried brown and flaky. “I don’t believe in anything.”
“Somewhere there’s a you that’s a better version of the you you are now. Someone better than the you that you are in this iteration of the universe.”
Somewhere there is a Marley who loves me the way that I love her. Somewhere, the person that you love and the person that loves you are the same person.
“I can be better now,” I tell her. “Right here. If I wanted to.”
On Dukeland Street, we wait in a line that wraps around the block like we’re at a Chipotle or something. With thirty-six dollars between us, we’ve come for caps of Pink. Salmon-colored crystals in emptied-out Solaray gelatin capsules—we’ve come for U-47700 but fentanyl will suffice. The number-one hit single of all time starts playing, and we all know the tune.
“Pandemic! Got that Pandemic! Red tops! Blue tops! Two for fifteen!”
No, for real, they really call it that. When 9/11 happened they started calling the shit Bin Ladenfor a while. Marketing. A timeline. From plastic microcentrifuge tubes of Columbine to stamps of Katrina, you can buy dope in every flavor of American tragedy if you live long enough.
Marley rubs her nose. “I can only steal when I’m on one. Sober, I’m too shy for it. I’m no exhibitionist.”
“I don’t get high anymore,” I tell her. “I’m either here or not here.”
“But when I am high, all I can do is steal! It’s like I’m invisible. Invincible.”
Tonight is a full blood moon, a total lunar eclipse. Blood moon. Blood oath. Blood in, blood out.
We sneak into my old place of employment with a copy of the key I had made before they fired me and asked me to turn in the original. We go into the break room, toss the sea scallops—netted bag and all—into the microwave. Put it on high for seven minutes. Press start. Marley and I steal pens and Wite-Out tape, Post-it pads and boxes of Swingline premium staples. We have no paperwork. We don’t even own a stapler. The night is young.
David Simmons lives in Baltimore where he has worked as an optician, electrical estimator, and drug trafficker. His writing has been featured in Strange Horizons, Bridge Eight, Snarl, 3 Moon Magazine, Across The Margin, and the Washington City Paper.
Charles J. March III is a quasi-writer, pseudo-musician, and counterfeit-artist currently living in California. His pieces have appeared in such places as the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, in the toilet, and in the trash. Last year he poured his blood, sweat, and tears into Blood Tree Literature’s hybrid contest, and wound up winning third place. PBS once contacted him regarding his work, but it didn’t work out.