Taylor returns with part 3 of her Burning Harmless series.
My uncle’s study was more like a cavern. Stalagmites of religious literature and composition notebooks grew on every surface that could halfway support them; some even had candles barely balancing on the faces of the book-cover saints. A transparent Jesus stared at Dick as he mumbled and scribbled in his newest journal. The stained glass window with our Lord and Savior’s face on it was the only thing giving any significant light, casting primary colors across the wood-panelled walls. I thought Jesus always looked stoned. Uncle Dick said he was just calm and filled with God’s love. I was pretty sure there’s no way the guy didn’t take drugs, though.
It’s not that I didn’t entertain the idea that there was something bigger than myself out there. I’m sure Jesus was a really solid guy, but my life experiences told me that if the Christian god–the man with the plan–was real and sitting on his cloud-throne surrounded by hot angels, he was a giant douche who was making a bad indie movie out of my life. Dick had landed a deal in the late nineties publishing Christian-oriented self-help books. They were all titled things like: “The You You’re Meant to be Inside of You” and “Exploring the Universe Hiding in Your Soul”. They sold like crazy. People loved to hear how much of a special snowflake they were and that everything that happened was pre-planned, like instructions on a microwave dinner. Dick would occasionally try to convert me but I saw organized religion as a coping mechanism. I liked drugs better.
My mom mentioned her older brother sometimes when I was growing up. I didn’t meet him until after she died, though. I was the miraculous ending to one of her weekends in Vegas and an only child, leaving Uncle Dick my only living relative. I’d just turned seventeen when she died suddenly of a brain aneurism, and my options were to become a ward of the state or go live with Dick. I knew practically nothing about my uncle when I was shipped from Los Angeles over to Flower Mound, Texas. I’d done some internet searches, which is how I knew about his incident at the Motor Vehicle Department, but other than the fact that he was probably okay with me smoking some pot, I had it in my head that he was my mortal enemy and I’d be out of his house the second I turned eighteen. It’d been four years since then. It was partially out of laziness that I’d made no escape attempt, but Flower Mound wasn’t terrible. It was the tenth wealthiest suburb in the state of Texas. I figured most of the residents were making at least six figures a year. It was boring, neatly-landscaped and a great place to sell cocaine.
“I’ve got some people stopping by today.” I sat in the arm chair that faced his desk, pushing on my eyes. They felt like they’d swollen to the size of lightbulbs. I wished I hadn’t made a total ass of myself the night before. Sol must’ve thought I’d gone out of my mind. Dick nodded, but was still writing. Sometimes he claimed to hear voices from, what he called, his “heavenly family”, so I wasn’t sure if he was acknowledging me or his imaginary friends. “Didja hear me?” Dick nodded again, “You’ve got people coming.” It had actually been surprisingly easy for Sol to convince my uncle to let me sell narcotics out of his house–partly because Dick had spent a good portion of his younger life on hallucinogenics, but mostly because it meant my Uncle Dick got to declare our house his own, legally recognized church. No one could say anything about the cars coming and going, because my uncle branded himself as a healer; he prayed over people with pneumonia or folks who wanted to win $500 on a scratcher or something. My uncle’s true followers only accounted for one or two patrons a day, but the cops wouldn’t investigate a church with no good reason. The fact that we could deposit all of the money and keep it tax-free was just a plus. It’d been a process to put it all together, but Sol handled the majority of it and in the six months that the Church of Godly Healing had been in operation, we hadn’t run in to any issues.
Dick held his pen with just his index finger curled around it when he wrote. It irritated me to look at. I didn’t know it was possible to be at a level of hungover where you want to slap people for things like that, but I had managed to accomplish it. “I’m going to grab some coffee.” My uncle nodded. That pissed me off, too. “Can you use your words?” Uncle Dick set down his pen and stared at me. He looked a lot like a skeleton, but in a cartoon-y Halloween-decoration way. “What’s bothering you?” He folded his thin hands. I rolled my eyes, “I have to apologize to Sol for something.” “Oh, well that’s good.” I cocked an eyebrow. My uncle finished: “He’s doing some work in the kitchen.”
God damnit. God damnit. My plan had been to wait until I needed more blow, call Sol and act like nothing happened. Then, if he sounded irritated, drop a quick “…and sorry for acting like that on that one night.” I really sucked at apologies. I didn’t feel bad for a lot.
I entertained the idea of going out for coffee to avoid him, but my head hurt and I was probably going to puke soon, so I settled for walking down the hall as slow as I possibly could. As I got nearer to the kitchen, there were banging and whirring noises. I heard wood splinter and snap, and a mechanical sound I couldn’t place. I smelled sawdust. It wasn’t unusual for Sol to come over and fix things for my uncle, but he definitely wasn’t replacing a loose doorknob or a cracked window.
“Um,” I prodded myself in the temples as I stepped through the doorway, “Can you stop for like two fuckin’ seconds?” The kitchen island was torn apart. The dark wood cabinets laid in piles of parts. I was glad to see, though, that Sol was not a part of this construction crew. Two men I’d never seen before stared at me. “Si,” one said. He was moustached and had his hands raised like I was a cop. He slowly set down the drill, then continued to stare at me. The other one was fat and annoyed me. I don’t know why. Probably because he was fat. Partly because he wasn’t afraid of me like the other one. “And the countertops are granite, by the way. Don’t clean them with anything stupid.” I was irritated that I had to navigate over mountains of wood and screws. They were really actually reasonably-sized bundles, but I felt like shit, so they were goddamn inconvenient. And what the fuck was Sol doing anyways?
I’d just mustered the energy to trek to the fridge for creamer when he showed up. Instead of saying hello, Sol grabbed a jigsaw and started it near my ear while I was turned around. When I spun to face him, it took every ounce of me not to projectile vomit on him for fun. I couldn’t tell if he was angry, but I hated him for looking good. I looked like a hooker who’d been dead for three days.
“Mia,” Sol raised my chin with his pointer finger and motioned with his eyes towards the two men, “Did you tell them to stop working?” I was still thinking about throwing up on him, so I didn’t answer. “Yes or no?” Sol was still. He was pissed. He never talked to me like this. I’d seen him treat other people this way, but never me. We were fucking. I was the exception. I got to test my boundaries a bit. “Yes, Sol.” I moved to finish making my coffee. I wasn’t scared of him. I had made that clear a long time ago. “They don’t work for you.” The men picked up their tools and went back to building whatever it was Sol had hired them to do. He wasn’t going to tell me if I asked, so I didn’t bother. I sipped my coffee and responded sarcastically, “Everyone works for me.” Sol apparently had lost his sense of humor overnight. “Get dressed,” he said, pulling his car keys out of his pocket, “We’re going for a drive.” “Are you going to kill me?” I was half joking. A corner of his mouth twitched upwards, “Make sure you look real pretty.”
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