C3. Leo, the Water-Pipe

Years later, Dan Jones couldn’t look away from the bus-stop across from his apartment. He washed clean dishes again and again just to stand near the window in his kitchenette, to watch the Bluebird Line unload passengers every quarter hour. By the time Faith stepped off the 12:30 bus his fingers were raw and prune-like. He waited at the peephole for her to knock on his door. “Dainty, it’s me!”

“Faith! Come in!” Dan opened the door and received from Faith a frosted cupcake with the number twenty-eight written in cinnamon candies.

“Happy birthday, Dainty.” Faith kissed him on the cheek and lounged on his couch. “Share that cupcake with JayJay. You two have the same birthday. Can I see your bong?”

“Thanks, Faith.” He put the cupcake on the coffee-table near the couch and passed Faith a glass pipe. “It’s not a bong, it’s a water-pipe. Its name is Leo. Is Beatrice coming?”

“JayJay and BeatBax missed the bus. They’ll be on the next one.” She took the water-pipe and looked into it like a microscope. Dan had cleaned Leo to crystal clarity hours earlier, so she saw five internal, slotted glass fingers submerged in ice-water. Ten glass buboes encircled the mouthpiece for a solid grip. The stem of Leo, the water-pipe, held a blackened bowl big enough for a pinch of powder. “I’m really nervous,” she said, grinning. “I’ve been putting this off for years.”

Dan nodded and gingerly took the pipe from her. He set it on the coffee-table. “How much centipede dust did you bring?”

“Check it out. You’ll like this, Dainty, it’s about a religion.” Faith passed him a red card-stock pamphlet from her purse. He opened it to see a plastic baggie filled with brown powder. He scanned the pamphlet, a religious introduction with text in ten languages. “I got it when we were in high-school. Monks from the Islands of Sheridan gave a lecture in Wyoming while I visited my uncle.”

“And they gave you drugs? And you took them?” Dan hesitated to open the baggie. “Maybe you shouldn’t smoke this, even if we’re all here to trip-sit you. Getting drugs from strangers is ill-advised at best.”

“It’s okay. I’d met one of the monks before, apparently.”

“You must have impressed him. This is a lot of powder.” Dan poured half the centipede dust into Leo’s bowl. “There’s enough here for Jay and Beatrice if they want to join you.”

“JayJay might,” said Faith. “But BeatBax wouldn’t feel comfortable. Ever since she started working as a nurse she’s been bugging me to cut back on the drugs. And… um…”

She stared at Leo, refusing to meet Dan’s eyes, and took a deep breath.

“You know, Dan, sometimes you get a little too close to Beatrice and it makes her uncomfortable.”

Dan covered his face. “I know,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“I’m… attracted to her, but not sexually. Not even romantically.” He wandered back to the kitchenette to see the vacant bus stop through his window. “I think about her constantly. I see her in my dreams. Just the knowledge she exists is enough to calm me when I’m anxious; I don’t need to be physically close to her. I’ll tell her that when she gets here. Then she’ll feel more comfortable.”

“Maybe just leave her alone,” said Faith. “She’s a quiet, sensitive person. I’m sure she’ll appreciate your feelings without you needing to tell her. Give her space.” Dan nodded. Faith tried to smile at him. “Hey, Dainty, look at this!”

In her purse she carried a cardboard box. She unfolded its flaps to show it contained moist earth. Six raw crickets were stuck eyes-down in the dirt. Where the crickets met soil, tiny buds sprouted. Buds with ten black, beady eyes.

“They’re propagating,” she said. “I told you we could grow our own. If I dry them, would you wrap the wings? You’ve got a knack for meticulous work like that.”

“I could try,” said Dan. He compared the budding crickets to a hand-drawn illustration in the red card-stock pamphlet. “I should show this pamphlet to my professors. I’ve never heard of a Sheridanian religion. News about the Islands of Sheridan is all crickets and centipedes.”

“The monks were fairly reclusive. I don’t think you’d have luck asking about their religion point-blank.”

“But they lectured in Wyoming. Were they lecturing across America? Did they give multiple lectures?”

“No, just the one lecture, in Wyoming. They made a point to state they would never return.”

Dan closed the pamphlet. “Well, what was the lecture about?”

“Nothing, it was a silent lecture.”

“Did they… make hand motions?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I wasn’t in the room.”

“And you want to smoke the centipede dust they gave you?” Dan wrung his hands. “I’ve smoked centipede dust, Faith. It’s a harrowing experience at the best of times. What if they cut it with something?”

“If they cut it with something they did it because it’s part of their religion. Centipedes are prepared by Virgil Blue; are you gonna tussle with Virgil Blue? This is the way it’s meant to be.”

Dan laughed and packed the powder down tight. He brought a black blowtorch from his biggest bookshelf. “Well, did Virgil Blue tell you to drink cold orange-juice when you smoke centipede dust?”

“Virgil Blue didn’t say anything. He was the silent one. But Virgil Skyy didn’t mention orange-juice, either.”

“Then call me Virgil Orange, because I just saved you a coughing fit. I’ll be right back.”

Dan hurried to the refrigerator. Faith stole his spot by leaning across the couch. “This is a nice apartment, Dainty.”

“Thanks. It was my dad’s, before he died.” Dan poured most of a gallon of orange-juice into three glasses and looked at the bus-stop outside his kitchenette window. The 12:45 Bluebird passengers disembarked. “There’s Beatrice and Jay. I haven’t seen Jay in years, he looks really good. What should I say to him?”

“Tell him you like his shirt.” When she heard a knock at the door, Faith shouted: “JayJay, BeatBax, help me consume these drugs!”

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