I can’t believe what you’re telling me, Danny. I can’t believe Bonnie’s dead. I thought she was way too tough to die.
No one is too tough to die, Dimitri, not even Bonnie. You know that better than anyone. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but that’s the way it fell out.
Danny is sitting across the table from me at a sidewalk café in Vienna. We are two decades, six-thousand miles, and the width of one full ocean from where we started. And damned if my old friend and running mate doesn’t look exactly the same. No, not exactly the same; that’s just how my eyes see him. My eyes are liars.
The man sitting across from me is well-fed and healthy. He is wearing an expensive wristwatch, sporting a very trendy leather messenger bag, and I doubt that either were stolen. Times change and time changes. I know that. But when I look at Danny, I see a skinny guy scaling a drain-pipe next to an open window and me waiting to follow.
I wonder what Danny sees when he looks at me. I am carrying the same twenty years. The passage of time has polished me as well. The price of the cigar I’m smoking would have kept us fed for three days back in the old neighborhood. I look up at him and I see him watching me, waiting for me to speak.
Danny, you remember when I first met Bonnie, right at the beginning of it? I was ranting on about how she scared me shitless.
You ranted a lot back then, Dimitri. We talked a lot of crap, both of us. Talk was cheap, but it’s about all we had, remember?
Of course, I remember. I can remember us talking, you saying something like, something like…
And then the light fades and everything is badly out of focus. I’m not sitting at a café table anymore and I’m not smoking a cigar. Danny is sitting on a wooden crate, his dirty converse pushing against a scarred wooden floor. We’re back in our stinking squat two decades gone. Danny’s droning on about how I’m messing everything up.
Hey, earth to Dimitri, come in D. You just dropped ash all over yourself.
The sun is shining again, and I have, in fact, dropped cigar ash into my lap. I rise from the chair, brush myself off. The wicker groans a bit as I sit back down.
Damn, Dimitri, you scared me. I thought you were having a stroke or something.
Sorry Danny, I sort of fell into a time warp. I swear, for a second there, I saw the two of us back in the old squat. It was just you and me, sitting there talking about Bonnie.
I remember it, how scared you were anyway. But you were crazy about her. I said something about you having it good and not even knowing it. How you’ve never talked about a girl like this. I told you to plunge headlong into this one. You’re gonna die anyway, just like the rest of us. Go for it full-on, roll those bones and to hell with the rest.
Right, and I said that’s how it will shake out, except it’s my bones that are going to roll. You talked about how pointless it was to be afraid; that there were only three possible outcomes: She leaves you, you leave her, or somebody dies.
You forgot option four: You both die.
No, I remember that one because I told Bonnie. That was later on. When I mentioned option four, she just cackled. She grinned that wicked leer of hers and said, Honey, you up for a little murder-suicide? She meant it too. That girl was hell on wheels.
Danny laughs and shakes his head.
There’s a good answer for that one. You should have told her that she had to go first.
I tried that too. She said, That ain’t how this goes down, Sugar. She was a piece of work. Damn, I loved that girl. I thought I was living out some kind of dark Bukowski fantasy, but I was just a voyeur. Not Bonnie; she was the real deal. I was a transient in that house. She was the landlady and the madame.
Was she really that tough? As I remember, she wasn’t much bigger than the small end of nothing whittled down to a fine point.
Danny, she was every bit that tough and more. She had a mean little thirty-eight revolver with the sights filed off. It had a snub-nosed barrel, no need for aiming. She said she worked up close and personal. Danger in a small package, that’s what she was.
Didn’t you two end up in the hospital over something she got you into? I remember something about the two of you taking a hell of a stomping.
You remember correctly. We were at the Blue Eagle, over on Harbor Island across from the steel mill. What we were doing there, I have no idea. Tough place, full of guys just off their shifts at the mill. Bonnie was itching for some trouble. I was pissing and moaning, worried about getting hurt. She just laughed at me.
She said, Hurt don’t last long and it lets you know you’re still alive. Watch this. Throws a full bottle of beer at a table of steel workers. That bottle smashes against the wall, glass and beer raining down on those bastards. She hollers, This punk called you fat assholes a buncha faggoty bitches and I agree with him one hundred percent! Then she pulls a sap out of the back pocket of her jeans, laughing like a wild thing. She’s screaming, Ollie-Ollie-in-Come-Free Boyos! That wall of meat smashes into us and she’s swinging that sap for all she’s worth. Bonnie, she was worth a lot. She took out a couple of those big hombres before they knocked us down and put the boots to us. We were ten days healing up from that one.
So, you healed up and you stayed with her, right?
I did, Danny, I stayed with her right up until the day I crawled up those creaky wooden stairs at the old Fremont AA Hall. I couldn’t take it anymore. The booze, the dope, all the ripping and running; that shit wore me down until there was nothing left.
You remember those stairs? The AA Twelve Steps painted on the risers? I always hated climbing them, even after I was a year clean.
Of course, who could forget that? The old neighborhood is gone now; a victim of gentrification. The Fremont Hall moved up north, up to Greenwood. Hell, how can it be the Fremont Hall if it isn’t in Fremont? So, what happened to Bonnie?
Bonnie had no more use for me after that. Sitting in those AA halls wasn’t her idea of a good time. I doubt she gave me a second thought. The last time I saw her, she looked me up and down, shaking her head like a mother over a lost child. It was like I’d failed her somehow. I never saw her again. I doubt she gave me a second thought.
You’re wrong, D. Bonnie died out in Billings with no next of kin. The cops started calling the numbers in her book until they got to me. I guess I was the first person to give a shit. I drove out there, saw to the arrangements and such. Her worldly goods were one duffel bag and an old leather satchel.
Danny reaches into his expensive leather messenger bag, pulls out a tattered manila mailer. The thing is covered with stickers and stains. My name is scrawled across the front of it. He lays the battered envelope on the table and pushes it across.
I found this in the satchel.
I lay my hand on it and an electric shock runs through me. I know what’s in it. Bonnie and I clowning in photo booth black-and-white, poems written on beer coasters, locks of sable and blonde hair braided together.
The bottom falls out of my chair and I’m pinballing back and forth in time, a kaleidoscope of years lost, and a life gained. Waves break over me; of memory and guilt, of forgetting and not being forgotten. It’s too much, too deep. Then I am washed up on a rocky beach like the castaway that I am. I open my eyes. My old friend Danny is sitting across the table from me, doing his best to ignore the tears coursing down my cheeks.