Short Fiction

Jones Goes to College, Part One

Jones dug the hell out of that first semester at Coronado Hall. It was awesome, even if there always was some dude from Peñasco or Ojo Caliente passed out, drowning in his voluminous post-beer-bong vomit in the third floor head. The world was over for that rascal except for toilets and tile floors thought Jones as he hit the shower.

The Grateful Dead tapestry he put up on the window to shut out the light was, like, a total hit with his roommate and the fellows next door. And damn it all if the food wasn't a gazillion times better than at Allsup's.

With “Yow!” and “Yeah!” serving as enthusiastic interjections, the semester jetted out quick across the blue dome of the world. That spring, Charlie Jones made a grip of ceramic objects, read and decoded two situationist texts and learned how to tinkle out a couple of dances by Bartok.

Jones decided, as sure as eggs was eggs, he could never move home again. Living with the old man wasn't of any use, anyhow. That dude never seemed to get over his Afghan hound Duchess dying early. Twenty years had come and gone and it was still like living on the moon when Dad was around, all silent and dusty.

Reckoning the student ghetto was the way to go, Charlie began exhaustive research focused on finding a shack he could call his own. He did not have to extend himself too much into that realm mostly because he happened to run into his pal Donna in front of the student union.

It was just about May in those parts and Donna was gamboling about on the lawn with a lady friend who was dressed all in white. She was sporting a long skirt and sorta looked like Stevie Nicks, except for her hair. Her mop was as black as crow feathers and was blowing around in the springtime wind like it was trying to fly away into the clouds or something.

After a couple of obligatory hippie-hugs, Donna introduced Zelda and let it out the two of them had found an underground haven. It was a remodeled, carpeted, and suitably dark basement apartment they had found south of campus. The deal was they needed a third person to make the rent.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” Jones said as a storm came up and it started to rain like it used to do in Albuquerque before the environmental disaster of 2037.

The next morning, Jones got up early and hauled his sorry ass over to the student ghetto. It was early, with the light just coming over the new jungle of tired elms that framed the place. As Charlie approached the underground pad, a dude dressed like a steam-shovel operator came racing up the stairs with Zelda on his heels in a fashion that vaguely reminded Jones of the German retreat from Stalingrad.

Charlie stood there while the two of them began to argue and cajole, gesticulate and weave. After about five minutes of that, the guy in the industrial costume lumbered over to his El Camino and rolled away while April Wine blasted through the truck’s speakers. Zelda gritted her teeth and extended her right hand, all friendly, acting like nothing at all weird had just happened around there—or anywhere else earth—for that matter.

But Jones sensed she was unsettled about the whole thing. With Zelda standing out there in her bare feet, toeing at the dirt nervously and clad in an oversized wife-beater and sweatpants, he gravely intoned—drawing back a ways as they shook hands—“Tell you what, I'll start bringing my stuff over tomorrow.”

It poured water from the sky for the next two days and the lightning flashed and flashed. When the storm let up, when Charlie Jones finally got moved in, he still thought it was a sweet deal. There was a tiny kitchen at the top of the stairs and the rest of the place really was underground; all the walls were cool to the touch and hardly any light got in at all.

Donna was never home. Sometimes Jones played new wave music recordings in the big room in very back of the joint. Otherwise kept to himself and got up early every morning so as to dutifully haul his sorry ass to school.

He couldn’t tell whether Zelda worked or not. Every time he went by her room, the door was open with Fleetwood Mac songs floating through the air, incense wafting here and there and Zelda reclining languidly on her bed while leafing through books about food and flowers.

She'd usually glance at him wanly as he passed. He'd smile vaguely or give her the Vulcan hand salute. One or the other of them would tilt their head curiously before looking away.

After two months of that, a spot opened up at Harvard House, which was a broke down palace occupied by a collective of artists. Their pad was right down the street from a haunted house; a decent pizza joint was just a block away. That was an easy choice thought Jones as he handed over three Franklins to his new landlord.

Charlie split from the underground chanti just before the sun came up so he didn't have to make eye contact with Zelda. He didn't see her again until a big house party came around just after Thanksgiving. By then it was easy enough for both to pretend they were strangers.

That was the only pretense they chose to preserve as the two began making out on the couch. As their hands entwined, Zelda tried to remember the previous summer while Charlie attempted to recall what sorta tuneage the lady favored. Everyone else was out on the porch drinking tequila, eating pumpkin pie and watching a winter tempest come down from the mountains.