4th Extract from Psycho-Active

Hair of the Black Dog.

(in French)
“Robert, listen to your mother, this is for the best.”
“No Dad, it’s not fair, I don’t understand. Why can’t I stay here with you?”
“Your mother doesn’t love me anymore, son. Texas won’t be so bad. I promise.”
“I hate her.”
“Don’t say that, Robert. Your mother loves you very much.”
“I don’t love her anymore.”
“Goodbye, Robert.”

It was a long drive from Montreal to San Antonio. Three thousand kilometres of mirthless woodland, vast flat plains, silver and grey cities – cities that I’ll never know – and then, the volcanic dessert, to which was to be my new domicile. The trees of Quebec didn’t wave me goodbye, not even in the wind. Au revoir mes vieux amis.

As we pulled up to the new house, and I got out the car, the desiccated air nearly choked me. Texas had no trees. Only cacti.
Our new house was nice. Bigger than the one back home. We hadn’t any furniture yet, but that would come.
We had a pool now. And a patio. And a kitchen with marble and chrome. My room was bigger. The bathroom looked cleaner. And the brilliant light from outside made the dust in the living room sparkle like fallen pieces of the galaxy. “So Robert, honey, what do you think of the place?” She asked.
“Je déteste ça.”

**Knock, knock, knock.
I woke up to foreign noises outside my door. “What the fuck is he doing in there?” said a buffalo voice, mired with constipated rage.
“I dunno Dad, he hasn’t left the room all day”, said another alien voice, which I vaguely recalled through the haze of my hangover. This assailant wasn’t from outer space. It was the innkeeper’s daughter.
**Knock, knock, knock.
“Sir, can you come out please?” said the irritated buffalo. He questioned his calf again “Who the fuck is this guy?”
“I dunno, Dad. Last night he was really drunk, talking about armadillos and weird stuff.”
“He didn’t touch you did he?”
“Dad, please.”
“Ok. Well, I’m fucking going in.”
He jangled his keys for half a minute before he found the right one. The door swung open.
There stood two silhouettes eclipsing a ray of smoky amber light from the courtyard. The owner of the vexed buffalo-voice was a man as fat and greasy and his vocal cords would have you believe. Beside him, stood his buxom calf, taller than the night before. They looked like two unlikely detectives in a Manhattan film noir, finally having tracked down their trophy serial killer.
I was curled up in my burrow, in a ball of duvet with only my face visible.
I spoke first, “Fuck off, buffalo man.”
“What did you just say?” the fat, balding cattle retorted.
“You heard me. Fuck off, buffalo man. And you too buffalo bitch.”
He charged at me and pulled me from the safety of my burrow. He tossed the duvet across the room and threw me into courtyard, onto the gravel floor. It was nighttime again. A beautiful one at that. The angry buffalo loomed over me as I lay on my side coughing up blood and black stuff. I still hadn’t fully recovered from the car crash. He kicked me hard in my chest, which made me cough even more blood. “I don’t know what your problem is, buddy.” said the livid livestock “but you been cooped up in my hotel for more than 24 hours now.”
“Motel.” I corrected him “it’s a motel.”
He kicked me again. More blood.
“You owe me money, buddy. And you owe my daughter an apology.”
I reached into my back pocket and got my wallet. I dropped $60 on the floor by his feet. He picked it up, “Ya’ fucking weirdo.” He looked me once over with disdain and disgust, and then waddled off and went about with his business.
“Asshole.” chirped the young calf, as she scuttled along after her father.

Starry, starry night.
After being trampled by a balding cow-man I decided it was probably about time I left Hebronville and made my way to Mexico. I was in high spirits again and keen to get back on the Road. I sat in nurse’s car and ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The milk was warm but I didn’t mind.

3rd Extract from Psycho-Active

Out on the Road, the wandering stranger only has he, himself alone, and his story. Throughout the ages though, these meandering gypsy-rogues, hermits and lost hobos would need sustenance to survive that lonely and volatile road. In 21st century San Antonio my friends, the local 7/11 is where the scavenging hunter meets his prey.

I pulled up outside the 7/11 on South Zarzamora around 9pm and pretended like I was checking my tire pressure. I looked on inside to stake the place. It wasn’t my local.
The clerk at the checkout was of South Asian origin. He had no moustache, and his haircut was stylish. Strange, I thought. Was this to throw me off? Men from that area of the world can be shifty fuckers, not to be trusted in precarious situations. I would need at least all six senses, maybe seven, to make it out alive; they would require a vigilance cut from diamond scalpels. I filled my gas-tank up first. Here goes.
I made my way across the courtyard briskly, head down. The glass panels of the entrance door were colder than what they should’ve been in May. This was my first red signal. I entered anyway.
The lights inside were especially bright, even for a 7/11. Like a Guantanamo torture room. They burnt my retinas unforgivingly. I had my shopping list scrawled on the back of my left forearm, written with a ballpoint from the glove compartment in nurse’s car. These were the key provisions I would need for the Road, enough at least to get me a way into Mexico. It read like this:

Gasoline bottles – 2
Cinnamon Toast – 4
Milk – 2
Bread – 3
Toothpaste/brush – 1
Butter – 1
Plastic utensils
Soap – 2
Bandaids
Water – 3
Tinned food
Carton of Rothmans
Bourbon – 2

These provisions would be my life-blood for the coming days and nights. Should I lose but one item, then so-help-me-Shiva, I’d be done. I’d have to cut up my credit card after this transaction.
I loaded my stuff at the checkout and store clerk Raj met his eyes with mine. They were most intense brown eyes I’d ever seen: a potent and murky fog of enigma and mystery, choking me with their noxious fumes. I got lost in their gloom, wandered aimlessly through their virulent smog, spitting up blood as the sepia smothered me. I soon found myself at childhood, the pale voice of a boy saying faint, unintelligible words; mocking me. He had no face, but in his aura, he hated me. He was insane.
A blind-side fist to my face woke me up: “Gas?” asked Patel, the store clerk.
“Huh?”
“Did you want gas?” he repeated, confused by my confusion.
“Yeah. Sorry. Pump seven.”
“That’s three hundred and forty nine dollars and fifty eight cents.”
He swiped my card and I signed. I wanted to fake my signature but I had no choice. I needed these provisions. “Thanks.” I said.
“Have a nice day, sir”.
One more glance at those eyes. And I left.
I sat around in the car a couple minutes after the transaction, watching in, watching him. Who was this guy, and what did he want with me? These were questions that needed answering but not just then. It was a time for a new mood. The Road was ahead of me.

I hit the highway hard, loaded on bourbon, cigarettes and sugary cereal, 80mph with the window open and a middle flying in the face of my automobile coevals who chewed fumes in the quake of my exit. I clenched the rubber steering wheel, the nurse’s rubber steering wheel: a shining thing no less symbolic than my last steering wheel, now wrecked. I felt free for the first time since birth.

10:05pm: Route 16 was quiet at that time of night. Route 16 was always quiet. I chose it so I could drive at high speeds with liquor, so I could watch the dirt, and the dust, dance in solemn moonlight from my wing mirrors as I scorched the Texan soil with my tires. A song was playing on the radio, it was the same song I was humming in the kitchen a few days prior, when I was making my strawberry-celery sandwiches. I shouted along to it as loud as my lungs would let me. It went like this:

“And you may find yourself, living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself, in another part of the world
And you may find yourself, behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself, in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself
Well, how did I get here?

Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
After the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime
Water flowing underground”

Once in a lifetime. Once in a lifetime.

I stopped off for the night in Hebronville, a small town fifty miles off the Laredo border. Nurse’s tires had had enough traction for the day. And I was tired, too.
The first motel I came across was another identical sister to the thousands, millions of moribund motels that litter and hue America’s many interstates. The name of this particular motel was caricatured, and fit it near perfectly, like the sequined jacket squeezed over the man-tits of a doughy Las Vegas Elvis impersonator. It was called the Texas Armadillo Inn.
There was a pretty 18-or-twenty-something blonde type at the motel reception desk. The innkeeper’s daughter, I deduced. Although, I gotta say, for a pretty 18-or-twenty-something motel receptionist at in the middle of the dessert, she didn’t seem too receptive. I hovered bourbon-blooded, and hit her with my best lines, “You know you’re pretty pale for this time of year, don’t you go outside? Are you one of those people with a UV allergy?” I said it with suave conviction.
“Excuse me?” with a frown that could tame coyotes.
“Ah, nothing.”
“Hey, you know real Armadillos sleep for sixteen hours a day in these burrows?
“Sir.”
“Wish I could sleep for sixteen hours a day. In burrows.”
“Sir, you’re spilling alcohol all over the floor. Open liquor is not permitted in the motel lobby.”
I decided call it a night.

I woke up the next morning with a black taste in my mouth. It was time for me to go, to make my way to Mexico. But for some reason it didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. Nothing did. I closed the curtains of the wide motel windows, and turned off all the lights. I wrapped myself in the duvet and stared at the rusty stains in the corner of the ceiling. I lay like that for twenty-four hours.

2nd Extract from Psycho-Active

Please excuse grammatical errors or otherwise - this is ripped straight from my zero draft an is largely unedited. Also excuse the weird spacing - wordpress can be a bitch with formatting.

I was pretty banged up after the accident. Brendan said I’d fractured something or other, but “nothing to worry too much about”, and that “I’d only be in for a few days”. Brendan’s the kind of doctor you can trust. One should always, have faith in the honesty of the Irish; with all they’ve been through over the years, they’ve little time for duplicity. I only had minor bruising around my eyes and the obvious places, so I wasn’t concerned. All I could really think about was my Destination.

Nurse came in with my travel case around 3pm I think. I wasn’t keeping track of the time. “How are we feeling today Mr. Giraud?”
“Fantastic, nurse. How are you feeling today?”
She laughed a little, probably at the oddity of the response. “Just fine, Mr. Giraud, just fine.” She said it with the glimmer of a smile. She was young. Beautiful. Brunette.
Her lips moved, exhaling softly before she spoke, “I’ve got your case here Mr Giraud. Where would you like it?”
“Anywhere is fine, nurse.”
“Down by your bed here?”
“Perfect.”
She placed the bag down. “We should only have you out of here in a day or two. We’re just keeping you in for observation for the moment.” Our eyes met at the utterance of the last syllable of her sentence, and stayed that way for what felt like a minute or more, but in reality a second or two. I looked away first. As she left the room she rewarded me again with that glimmer of a smile.
I rifled through my case to see if anything was missing, but it all seemed in order. It was a shame – I wouldn’t be here much longer.

I’d rather enjoyed my stay at Christus Santa Rosa hospital. I had everything I needed: a good bed, mediocre food, the exceptional Dr. Brendan, but above all, time. Time worked to be the niftiest feature of my medical insurance plan. It had afforded me the previously unknown luxury of planning. The Mexican border would be my next destination.

Dr. Brendan knocked on the already open door “Hey ya, buddy how’s it going? Look, we’ve been trying to get through to Jan these last couple days but still no luck. We’d really like to speak to her – let her know about you here.” I pointed the black remote at the TV, “this thing got cable? There’s this thing I’ve been watching on National Geographic – Alaska State Troopers, it’s fascinati-”
“-Robert” He was frowning now. “Where’s Jan? We called her work and she’s not been in for the last two days. What’s going on here?”
I stared him dead on in the eye. We held like this for what was at least a minute or two before I broke away; looked down at my sheet, “She’s dead.”
“Dead!”
“Dead to me. I found her fucking some guy in our marital bed. She said she was leaving me, to be with him. Said they were running off to paradise together. They’re probably in Cancun by now.”
“Ah jeez, Robert I’m sorry about that.”
“That’s why I crashed. I was chasing after her. I wanted to convince her to stay. It was stupid.”
“Crap, well that’s just, annoying. Look, if you need somewhere to stay or anything, Rachel and me got that spare room. The kids are off at camp. I’m here for ya buddy.” It was a sappy response, I thought. But Brendan meant well.
“It’s fine Doc. I’m good. Just aching to get out of here is all. I’ve got some things I need to take care of.”
“Well there might be a little problem with that, buddy, turns out we might of misread one of your X-rays. We checked a couple of the scans and it seems the fracturing to your collarbone might be more severe than we previously thought. We’re gonna keep you in a little while longer. At least for a few more days, for observation. That ok, buddy?”
“Well, you’re the boss, Doc.”
He gave me a thumbs-up and turned to leave. I asked after him “Oh Doc, National Geographic?”
“I’ll send nurse in to help you with that.” He turned again to leave but stopped this time, “Oh, and, Robert, the thing with Jan – it’s a phase, probably. Rachel had this thing, couple years back. She came round in the end. I’m sure Jan will too.”
“Thanks, Doc.”
“No problem, kid.”

The nurse came in again around 3pm wearing that same glimmer of a smile. That smile could tease the demons from my bones. Charm the red serpent that now consumed my soul. I could take her with me, maybe? “Good afternoon, Mr. Giraud, how are we feeling today?”
I grasped my collarbone, “Sore, actually.”
“Dr. Brendan said you needed help with your TV?”
“Yeah, I need National Geographic. I’ve been watching this thing on the Alaska State Troopers.”
She frowned at me, “You’ve barely touched your food.”
“Oh sorry, I’m not really that hungry.”
“Well there’ll be no television until you’ve eaten, Robert. How can you expect to get better if you don’t eat? You need to build your strength.”
“You can’t be serious?”
“I’m deadly serious, Robert.”
“Just put the damn TV on, please, nurse.”
“And that’s enough of that attitude too, Robert. I’ll be speaking to Dr. Brendan about this.”
“What the fuck?” She turned and left. I called after to her but she didn’t respond. “I’ll turn the fucking thing on myself then.” Her glimmer had faded.

It was round about 10pm and the evening staff were just clocking off. I was watching Alaska State Troopers. I could see the nurse at reception just down the hall leaning over talking to an orderly. I called for her.
When she got to my room she was dressed up and wearing lipstick. “Hey, nurse, I just wanted to say, sorry for the way I acted earlier. I was out of line.”
She sat down beside my bed, “That’s ok, Robert. I understand it’s tough being stuck in hospital and all, but you need to eat your food if you want to get better, ok?”
“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry, nurse.” Her smile crept back, but it was different somehow. It was gentle, comforting maybe. “Hey nurse, would you mind switching channels for me? I think the batteries in the remote are dead.”
“Sure, Robert, no problem.” As she got up to change the channel she left her bag on the chair beside me. It was open. Inside, silver keys glistening with Elysian-light shot lightning bolts from Zeus through my retinas: an offering from heretic gods. I snatched and hid them under my pillow.
“What channel d’ya want?” she asked.
“Anything, really. I’m just sick of fucking Alaska.”
“Ok, you’re all set.” She picked up her bag. Our gaze met again, for a moment.
Her eyes were warm, ochre. In the multi-second interval between polite exchanged words, those warm ochre eyes spoke to me in a million languages from across the galaxy, solar system, simultaneously, with different words, genders, grammar rules, phonetics, frequencies, but they all seemed to say exactly the same thing. I can’t quite place what that was right now. But on that day, when the universe stopped for the meeting of our inky irises, it seemed so very clear. I felt like I’d known this anonymous nurse for a thousand years. Or at least my whole life. Like the absolute trust you feel with a nurturing family member. Like a bond from the womb. We wrote a contract in those fleeting seconds, and signed it with the indelible ink of our irises. A sacred covenant could survive the End of the World – the ‘Anko Tuluta Riaaka’
I decided to break the silence. “You have plans tonight then, nurse? Look at you, you’re all dressed up.”
“I do actually. Tonight’s Nurses Night – me and the others get together once a month and go for dinner and drinks at Bohanan’s. It’s like a ritual thing we do.”
“Don’t drink and drive.”
She smiled. “I won’t.”

I’ve always been a firm believer in the tenet ‘a sharp suit makes for a good man’, and I’ve tried to live by it. I’d never been able to afford anything tailored, not on my office salary, but always found that with a discerning knack for colour-coordination, combined with a fitted pinstripe ensemble, the workaday suit-wearing man could at least pull off the semblance of that spirit. I didn’t have my pinstripe with me in the hospital that day: in the maelstrom usually associated with vacation packing, I’d forgotten it. But I did have my navy one. You match a navy suit with a white shirt, black tie, Phil’s Rolex, and mahogany brown brogues, and then my friend, you have the sartorial solution on what-to-wear on an impromptu trip to the Mexican border.

As I left the hospital I didn’t bother checking out, what good would that be? Instead I tipped my proverbial cap to the orderly at reception and he didn’t even call after me. Getting out was easy – if you look like you know what you’re doing, then you can pretty much blag your way through ninety percent of life – the hard part now would be Sherlock Holmes-ing nurse’s car. But I’ve always fancied myself the investigative type, with a keen attention to detail. I probably should’ve been a detective or a journalist or something, but the working-all-hours vehement work-ethic requisite for a job like that would’ve conflicted with fastidious family building aspirations. Nothing could get in the way of that. I made my way out to the car park.

So lets start with what we know about the young nurse: she’s a beautiful middle-class late-20-something from the suburban North East, possibly Long Island, maybe somewhere in Connecticut. She’s an intelligent, registered nurse, who doesn’t mind being away from home in a hotter climate than she’s used to – so I’m guessing she studied at Berkeley or maybe even more local: Texas. From her attentive, nurturing bedside manner she’s most probably a liberal. With all that considered the car will be a hybrid, definitely. If she’s a registered nurse at her age she’s probably on about 50K starting salary, so the car won’t be too flashy. Unless of course her folks are rich, but even then she’s not the spoilt type. So I’m guessing a smallish coupe, maybe a Volvo C30 or even a Smart. The decisions indeed. Lightbulb: I could just auto-unlock it with the key and see what lights up.

It was a Toyota Yaris hatchback. It was a hybrid. Thought so.

Extract from Psycho-Active

For context: this extract is set just after the protagonist, Robert, murdered his wife and her lover.

I threw my 75X45 travel case into the trunk of the car. It sat neatly next to a spare tire iron and an aerosol of anti-freeze. I put my key in the ignition and revved the engine. My hands gripped the steering wheel with new, tenacious piety. At that moment, I had the feeling that this rubber wheel might somehow be of great symbolic significance for the Road Ahead. Like a prophetic token burning bright, gifted to me by gods yet unknown. The stage was set. I revved the engine a little more. A wireless key to open the garage door. Go.

I wasn’t exactly sure where I was supposed to be going. I headed out on the road and soon found myself circling, crossing and re-crossing intersections over and over. They were the same intersections I’d crossed a thousand times, all through the years, throughout my early teens, my adolescence, my adulthood. The familiarity was comforting. The consistency, gratifying; I was being cradled by the repetition of movie-reel memories. But after a while the nostalgia slowly waned, and the intersections of San Antonio didn’t seem so comforting anymore. My mind slipped north. I started to miss the sugar-snap bite of birch-tree air. I missed sleeping by the fire in winter, my head on grandpa’s lap. The warmth of pate chinois fresh from the oven. Grandma’s kiss on my forehead. I missed the silence. The dark and humid night in San Antonio made my dreaming lucid, my pining, fluid. I forgot the steering wheel and crashed into the back of a Honda Civic stopped at a red light.

I woke up in a daze with my head buried deep in the car’s deployed airbag. The same song from the kitchen was again in my head; it was faint, but I could nearly make out the words, “Letting the days go by.” There was a tapping sound in the background, “Let the water hold me.” Tap tap tap tap. “Letting the days go by”. Tap tap tap. “Water flowing underground.” Tap tap tap. “Into the blue again, after the money’s gone. Tap tap. “Once in a lifetime.” SMASH. And just like that it came to me. I now knew my destination.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. Then another grabbed my shirt. They started to pull, and before I knew it I was being dragged out through my car’s broken window. I couldn’t make out much of what was going on, but I could see blue flashing lights, and hear people talking around me. I felt prodding and poking on my face, but then it started to fade. Then I passed out.

The indigenous Karipuna people of the Amazon rainforest were first contacted by civilized white man in 1852. The idea to do so was the brainchild of a lesser-known British explorer named Harold Horatio, and was commissioned by the Crown of the Great Britain for the furtherance of the glory of the British Empire.

 Harold Horatio was a capricious man with bronco emotions. He could go from euphoric elation, to volcanic rage, to catatonic mental-purgatory with little neuro-chemical effort. He was a hard man to predict. When the Karipuna tribe first met him, they were tentative, and for good reason. He was wild.

Harry’s cooked skin was burnt, bright red, and he was berating his staff with biblical vehemence, flipping from fits of spasmodic laughter, to acute sociopathic rage. This, was the only ambassador the Karipuna had ever had, from the civilized West. Things changed when Harold met the Chief.

Background: only the wisest of the Karipuna get to be the Chief, and by extension they become the ‘Tok Miisama’ – the Master of the Medicine.

Something strange and special happened that day in that particular part of the Amazon rainforest in 1852: for the first time, white man was made civilized.

The Chief saw Harold was troubled, needed help with his rabid, chicken-head-mania. So he took him into his village, and introduced him to the Karipuna way.

Harold studied under the Chief, who remedied him with their medicine ‘Halukee’: the hallucinogenic poison from Psychoactive toads. Harold Horatio was changed.

Despite their wild appearance, the Karipuna people are a pragmatic, calculated bunch. And before they met Harold Horatio the explorer, they didn’t have a word or phrase for ‘unpredictable’. They do now, and it’s ‘Rekuka Kulata’, which roughly translates to ‘travelling man’. A man who travels too much will always be at war with himself. Or so the Chief tells me.

I woke up in a hospital bed. There was a man sat down beside me. I knew where I was, and who he was, but I asked him anyway. “Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital, Robert. You crashed into the back of a Honda Civic at a red light. You damn near killed the poor guy for chrissake. We’ve got him in a bed down the hall.”
“Oh.”
“We’ve tried calling Jan at home and on her cell, but we can’t through. You know why that is? She away or something?”
“Who?”
“Your wife… Janice? Oh, I see. You rest up, Robert.” He got up to leave.
“Wait, Doc.”
“Yes, Robert?”
“My car?”
He frowned, “Towed. But your travel case was salvaged from the wreckage. We got it for ya.”
“Can I have it please?”
“Sure. I’ll have the nurse bring it over. You rest up now, Robert.” He left.

That was Brendan Callahan – Dr. Brendan Callahan M.D., physician at Christus Santa Rosa hospital and our family doctor since we moved to San An. He’s a descendant of Irish immigrants who left for Manhattan via the McCorkell shipping line, during the great potato famine. Who would have thought it? A mick doctor. He moved here when he was thirteen, just like me. But he’s a decade older. I know he feels the brutality of the Texan sun like I do. Those of European descent always do.