Across The Wire Vol. 2


By Ed Komenda

Lou opened the door with a heavy blanket over his head.  I hadn’t seen my best friend in over a year, and it was a relief to see him standing there, cloaked like the South Side’s Obi Wan Kenobi. It was January.  A few days after Christmas.  A dull gray Chicago.  Lou welcomed me into the house:  A rented three-bedroom on 67th, where the temperature was a few degrees warmer inside than outside. Comforters covered the picture window. A blue couch sat at the center of the living room.  On the cluttered coffee table sat a TV remote, a Tambourine, a stack of X-Men comics, an old Ziploc of weed, an empty bag of Lays, a pickle jar half-filled with garlic chunks suspended in juice, a peanut butter jar with a protruding spoon, a two-liter of Coke with one pull left at the bottom, an ashtray with Camel cigarette butts, six or seven nubs of days-old blunts and a tattered copy of Road-side Dog.  The reason blankets covered everything is winter gas bills got too high.  One weekend of heating the place and you were bankrupt.  Lou zipped his body in a sleeping bag and breathed through a fabric air hole he fashioned in the shape of his mouth.  We walked through the living room and into the hallway, where another set of  blankets obscured a doorway.  Lou parted the blankets like a beaded curtain, and we stepped into the kitchen.  It was warm.  All four burners on the gas stove were going.  Lou sat at the table. In front of him sat a bottle of Jim Beam.  Next to the bottle was a tiny puddle of spilled whiskey – an erroneous pour left to evaporate.   Lou poured a shot for himself and took it. He slid the shot glass to me, and I took one, too.  We said little. We traded the shot glass until we felt brave enough to exit.  Lou said he needed five minutes to shower. He left the kitchen and entered the bathroom.  Shower sounds and steam leaked under the door. I rubbed my hands together and jammed them into my coat pockets.  I could see my breath.  The spot reminded me of the country house where I’d been living the past three years. I stapled Walmart blankets over the windows. I kept a space heater next to the bed.  I slept fully-clothed – pants, sweatshirt, socks – with a hood drawn tight around my head.  A heavy blanket on top. On the dead heating vent, I kept a bottle of Wild Turkey.  It was nice to have someone to drink whiskey with.  In the country, that someone was Otis, the fifth man on our four-man lease. He looked like a descendent of Andre The Giant if Andre The Giant grew up roping steer and using Keystone beer to fluff up his scrambled eggs. He stayed in the basement. Tucked in a corner room cramped with warped, musty vinyl, a king-sized bed and computer desk, he chain-smoked Winstons and played World of Warcraft, wrapped in a nest of secondhand blankets. We had a fireplace in the living room and no money for wood. But we worked in the library, and one day Otis returned with stacks and stacks of discarded books. He grabbed a thick history text and tore it in half.  Split it right down the spine.  He grabbed a geography edition next  and tore that in half, too.  I could tell he was well-versed in the art of book disposal.  We stacked the pieces like cords of wood. I crumpled pages into kindling balls, and Otis dropped his own in the ash. He flicked his Bic under the yellow pages, and soon there was fire.  We spent the next week watching Kubrick on couches we salvaged from curbs around town. I was working a library shift when Otis fell asleep during a Cheers marathon. A few embers popped past the metal mesh and landed on the carpet. Smoke filled the living room. A house party regular named Cody showed up and found Otis snoring. “Yo, wake your ass up!” He slapped Otis awake and stomped the smoldering rug. Otis rubbed the crust out of his eyes and peered through the haze. “Shit,” Otis said, “that was a close one.” He cracked a window, shut off the TV and went back to sleep.  Lou came out of the bathroom, slicking his hair back with a brush.  Steam followed him like a fog.  We drove to Chinatown for five-dollar soups. We cruised. Marquee Moon played from the car stereo.  We glided through the dirty slush with no plan, no discussion about what we’d been up to, no talk of what came next. We were full of broth. And we were warm. 

Ed Komenda is a writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow him on Instagram @ejkomenda