- The Angle of Flickering Light
The first time I meet John is in the kitchen of the restaurant. I stand diagonally across from him behind the stainless steel prep table, polishing knives and forks and spoons. The small boom box on the shelf forces alternative rock music out of its old speakers. John, wearing a starched white, short-sleeved chef’s coat, hovers over a large pot of simmering chicken stock, stirring it. “Where are you from, Gina?”
“Salem, New Hampshire.”
“Salem. I used to live on Howe Street in Methuen. You know where that is?” He turns his head to catch my eye.
“Yup, I know exactly where that is.” I watch a young dishwasher with stretched earlobes and spiked black hair hold a cigarette between his fingers and walk outside, slamming the screen door.
“Ever get drugs in Lawrence?” Steam emanates from the pot, and the side of John’s neck glistens with perspiration. His voice is distinct, smooth, and even above the music, like an echo of someone I’ve met, someone I’ve known, but not here.
Lawrence, Massachusetts, is located just south of Methuen, a town that borders Salem. For the state’s drug users, it is the center of the universe. Tenement houses practically touch one another, and mail slots in doors help sellers exchange drugs for money. “All the time,” I say, shining forks with Windex and terrycloth. I look down at my hands moving quicker now, and stare through the forks at my striped bistro apron. [End Page 43]
I know Lawrence well. My uncle was found dead there when I was in the seventh grade. His funeral was the first time I’d seen death. He lay there in an open casket, his skin pasty, his beard intact, his face orange. He was found hunched over the steering wheel in his truck, a used needle on the passenger floor. He was found in a warehouse parking lot, his arms scabbed with blood, scarred with track marks.
John turns around and leaves the pot. He walks over to me, his lips an inch from my ear. He smells of Old Spice deodorant, bourbon, and marijuana. “Ever hit the pipe?” Even though he stands close, his voice rises loud enough for others to hear.
I pause. The Windex drips down the knives and onto my hands. “Yeah, but I don’t exactly like to advertise it. Plus, it was a long time ago. I haven’t touched hard drugs in years.” I dry the sticky blue liquid from my hands, soaking the cloth.
He walks to the other side of the prep table and faces me. The table separates us by a couple of feet. His scent lingers, despite the potent smell of Windex. He looks at me sideways before leaning his head down and grabbing a large chopping knife from the table’s drawer. I don’t look away. The tattoo on the inside of his forearm spells his son’s name. Jacob. The letters are black and rounded, some of them capitalized like uncial script, and others lower case, the elegant shape of the ink dripping down the surface of his skin. I imagine how the needle carved his flesh, the letters forming, his skin tissue bubbling up as the ink was buried. The way we etch ourselves into one another, the way we are able to forget.
John’s dirty blond hair tucks itself behind his ears and curls underneath the lobes. A film glazes his steel blue eyes. He looks up again, staring at my face while slicing a pepper into smooth delicate strips. He chops methodically, his hands almost hairless, the skin hugging his prominent knuckles, tiny reddish divots digging into their whiteness.
This seems a conversation we’ve had before, even though it is our first time meeting; it’s as if we’ve encountered one another in another time in another place. I am struck by his openness. Perhaps it isn’t that we might know one another that matters, but that we know where the other has been.
John abandons the pepper and moves back behind the cooks...