The boy bounced about the mattress bathed in the blue moonlight beside a Porta-John behind an IHOP. A girl sat at his feet and whacked a conga with a drumstick like a gibbon as moths fluttered around her head. Her drumbeat penetrated the Caravan through the bullet holes in the rear where Hepburn slept shivering in a pile of cash and spooning a one-eyed pit bull. I flicked poker chips at her head and then a quarter and she shot up rubbing her skull.
“Fuck,” she said. “That hurt.”
“It was an accident.”
“You’re a bastard.”
The pit bull looked up, sniffed a chip and hissed as it yawned and lowered its head. Hepburn slithered between the bucket seats and looked out at the boy and girl making merry like gnarly harlequins in the nocturne.
“Where’d they come from?” she said.
“No idea. I’m going to go talk to them.”
“Don’t do it,” she said. “They’re sick.”
I peered ahead and said nothing.
“I mean it,” she insisted. “They’ll tear your heart out.”
She lay back down.
“Wish in one hand and shit in the other. See which one fills up faster.”
“You’re a dead man,” she muttered and grunted like an irritated bear cub as she fluffed four G’s and reclined.
The boy pranced around like a tipsy cherubim as the girl drummed unaware of my presence cloaked in the foggy stillness flattening across the lot to where I looked on from the periphery. I chased a Nicorette with a splash of flat Fresca and ambled out of the Caravan hooking the door shut behind me with the end of a crowbar. The children’s sound and springing ceased and they peered in my direction, shielding their faces from the sky and squaring their shoulders towards me as I emerged from the haze and came into focus.
The girl wore a tattered R. Kelly t-shirt and a hockey helmet arranged like bucket atop an upturned mop of peroxide kelp, her waxen face splotched and polyped and framed by the helmet’s plastic earflaps. The boy’s head was shaved pink as something newly born and his jeans were ripped and grass stained. He wore a phalanx-linked lanyard draped around his neck and safety pins fixed through each earlobe and hemmed around the shoulders of his black jacket bejeweled with an assortment of spiked rudiments that glimmered in the moonlight like flecks of zirconium on a scrawny shadow.
The girl waved her drumstick like a saber that I deciphered as the femur of a lesser jackal. She jabbed the bone in my direction and continued to bat the conga with her free palm.
“What do you want?” she hollered above her percussions.
“I’m a friend,” I said. “Just lost and about out of gas.”
The girl slapped the drum a final time and pushed it aside. The boy shambled back and forth scowling like a dwarfish heavyweight. I lowered my crowbar and they both seemed to ease, the girl sheathing her bone into scabbard tethered to the conga.
“Who are you?” she said.
“I’m no Magellan.”
“What’s a Magellan?”
“Not really certain,” I said. “It’s figure of speech.”
The boy stooped and mumbled “We’re gonna burn” in a guttural tone as if his tongue was forked and swollen. He sawed the right temple of his raw and peeling head with a barbed sleeve then turned and commenced a jumping accompanied by the sound and sight of rusty springs poking holes through the mattress. Stuffing fuzzed from the fissures and floated through the air.
The girl rose and advanced towards me and belly-bumped me backwards.
“No offence,” she said.
I stepped forward and belly-bumped her back.
The boy began to caw and flap his arms like a groundbird in a psychotic frolic.
“What’s wrong with him?” I said.
“He hasn’t really been himself.”
“Does he have a temperature?”
“Not sure,” she said. “He said he feels fine.”
I looked about the abounding night where a rubbery wrack of dust churned above the eskers to the north, there wreathes of smoke drifted up from the earth.
“Where are we?” I said.
The girl removed her helmet and shook her head.
“I don’t know. Baptist country, I guess.”
The clouds looked invincible as they swelled and swirled around the moon.
The girl stepped onto the mattress where the boy’s jigging sent a wave of vibration up her legs and fooled with her equilibrium. She wavered and the earflaps on her helmet squeaked as she held it like a blanched skull by a socket at her hip.
“I’m gonna burn,” he grumbled. “We’re gonna burn.”
“Shut up already,” the girl snapped. She balanced herself and sat. “We get it.”
He gleeked and gingerly balanced one leg and raised the other perpendicular to his body pulling by his outstretched toe with both hands like an atrophied gymnast. He held this formation for several seconds then rotated towards the girl, forcing his bare foot into her face. There was a lesion on his heel, green and open like a purse. The girl studied the wound closely then brushed it off and kissed it. The boy squealed with glee and lowered himself onto the mattress beside her.
“That looks infected,” I said.
She felt his forehead with the back of her hand.
“The fuck’s it to you?” she said.
I took a step back and held my arms up in an expression of utter neutrality.
“Not a damn thing,” I said. “Ain’t my foot.”
The boy stood and patted his hands to his face, yammered weirdly and sat again. The girl rolled her eyes, sighed wistfully and shrugged.
“Do you have any cigarettes?” she said.
“Sorry.” I patted my pockets. “I’ve been clean for a week.”
“That blows,” she said. “I mean, good for you.”
“No. You’re right. It does.”
She pointed behind me and nodded at the Caravan.
“What about your friend?”
I turned and saw Hepburn’s head peaking through the sunroof, her onyx wig festooning like a Pennzoil garland noticeable even from a distance.
“Be my guest,” I said. “She smokes menthols.”
“Oh,” the girl said. “Then never mind.”
The boy sucked in and clucked his tongue. And then there was a brief moment of tranquility. Nothing but owl cries and the night’s sliming lumen on the land.
“In Europe people usually offer cigarettes,” she said. “In America you have to ask.”
“What was Europe like?”
“Never been,” she said. “But I read about it in a magazine.” And she coughed and wheezed in a way that evoked my sympathy and I stirred through my dungarees.
“Here,” I said. “Eat one of these.”
I pulled my hand from my pocket and tossed her a linty Nicorette. She caught the lozenge and eyed it curiously.
“What does it do?”
“Not shit,” I said. “The box says your head’ll buzz, but it doesn’t work.”
“Better than nothing,” she said. She popped the lozenge into her mouth and started to suck. “It tastes funny but I’m starving.”
The boy crouched slowly. He removed the lanyard and his knuckles whitened and he began to self-flagellate.
“You’re gonna burn,” he said. “I’m gonna burn. We’re all gonna burn.”
“Why does he keep saying that?” I said.
The girl began to hiccup and she clutched her throat as if the lozenge had clogged her windpipe and she gasped, “It’s like—the only thing —he thinks about” and she hacked and heaved phlegmatically but produced nothing.
The boy seemed disembodied from whatever was happening as he whipped and blushed and the bones clicked against his careening back as he sprang. I observed the scene bemused and gestured towards the Porta-John.
“Does that thing work?”
The girl choked the lozenge up her throat and spat it into the ash at her feet.
“What kind of questions is that?” she rasped and wiped her mouth. “It’s a Porta-John.”
She made a motion with her hand at the boy who dropped and wormed across the mattress towards a JanSport disheveled in an adjacent pile of cinder. He produced a can of beer and cracked it. The girl grabbed the can and guzzled until it was empty and her throat settled. She passed the can back to the boy who cradled it with both hands above his unfurled tongue and harvested the remaining foam as he knelt beneath her like a drooling manciple.
“Where did you say you were going?” she said.
“I didn’t. We don’t know. We just are.”
The boy wrenched the can and chucked it towards the Porta-John but the fling flew askew and the can skipped across the ash and into the night. He stared at me licking a fistula forming around an iron gauge lodged through his lower lip.
“Do you have any money?” the girl said.
I reversed my pockets.
“Sorry. I’m broke.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “We spent all our money on these outfits.”
She rose and step swayed looking down at her feet.
“These Doc Martins are the most expensive things I’ve ever owned.”
“I bet,” I said. “I like them.”
She strapped on her helmet and stood one foot at a time with her hands hipped like a clogdancer and gradually cracked each ankle.
Sulfurous breeze swept across the lot, the waft tickling my nose and my tongue buds puckered and expelled spit that tasted like sawdust.
“What’s that smell?”
“It’s the pyres,” the boy whispered hoarsely. “They’re everywhere.” There was no expression on his face yet he seemed a ponderous creature beset with great woe as he sat on the mattress, his body curling like a yellowing fern.
The pit bull barked behind me as Hepburn fumbled from the Caravan and limped silently towards the Porta-John swinging a tire iron. The pit bull gimped alongside her until the two parted ways, she to the latrine and it onto the mattress where it mounted the boy’s leg. He squealed and clapped his hands as the dog began to thrust. The girl jumped and both boy and dog bounced with her.
“What’s it doing?” she said.
“Masturbating,” I said.
I pounced upon the mattress and my weight sprang the trio higher. The dog gnawed the boy’s belt and whined a little.
“What’s it doing now?”
“Probably having an orgasm.”
The dog’s cheeks abruptly flabbergasted and it closed its eye and lay down dazed.
An iodine light illumed the silken bands of morning ozone stretching across the horizon. The boy and girl hunkered down and kissed awhile with their small and lashless pigs eyes shut until they lost consciousness with their lip rings tangled. I hasped the JanSport with my crowbar and held it by a strap as I fished through its contents. A boodle of tampons. A hairbrush. A dead Nextel. I felt somehow cheated and I dropkicked the bag and its insides spilled everywhere.
Hepburn emerged from the Porta-John lurching as if she had just birthed a barky melon and slammed the door behind her.
“Anything good?” she said.
“That’s a negative,” I said.
She hunched over and tottered as she massaged her ovaries with both elbows.
I looked towards the sky lightening above. There was no sun. Only a paling smog and the white and smoking country. Silent. Serene.
The children snuggled peacefully, their pungy presence, tangential to the waking world at large in the strangeness of that light. The boy was snoring with his head cricked awkwardly off the mattress and his jaw opened wide, the girl jerking sporadically beside him as they slept. The pit bull crinkled its snout, blinked its eye and looked hungry.
“What’s wrong with them?” Hepburn said. “Are they sick?”
“I suppose we all are.”
I crouched beside mattress and absorbed their appearance with ambivalence.
“I like her boots,” I said.
“They’re girl’s boots.”
“I want them,” I said. “I’m taking them.”
I unlaced and removed the girl’s footwear as her dull jowl produced a bubble of ossifying saliva. The pit bull sniffled her cheek and licked as I worked to boots onto my feet and stood and kicked gracelessly through the ash.
“How do I look?’
Hepburn hugged herself and trembled.
“What have I gotten myself into?” she said.
“Where’s the love?”
“Let’s go,” she said. “I’m getting cold.”
We left the children to life, one beyond what their combined years would or could ever account for and we rode the Caravan on fumes until empty. We abandoned our booty and continued south in a light drizzle. We bushwhacked our way through a chartreuse marsh of cuckoo bud and columbine and sought shelter in a duck blind fortified upon a cattailed mussel bed. There was a lightning flash but no sound save for wind and the mew of a faraway train.
Profile: Adam Moorad