Selection from The Loft

by Peggy DeBell

No one prepared me for the bum bar-B-Que, as I was fond of calling it, much to Lester’s irritation. The guests came in rainbow colors and sat on street furniture covered with Curley’s dyed drapes and Anita’s hand-knitted pillows.

Anita and Curley were busy in the kitchen making old-fashioned brownies. Major Mo-Roc was the first to enter carrying a heavily patterned Majorca dish. He said the recipe was from his Moroccan cookbook. Punch and Judi, smelling like warm yeast, danced in. They were swinging a basket with fresh loaves of bread peeping out as they stopped and introduced themselves. Divin’ Dave stomped in holding food packages from his recent dumpster foray (announced loudly with pride). Lovely Lolita prissed in just behind him and made a beeline for the kitchen, then carefully guided a cheese soufflé into the oven with flamingo mitts. Jukebox Jim arrived with a stack of records. And of course, I made Jell-O, flaming red Jell-O, with bits of glowing chartreuse pistachio.

The potluckers were seated powwow style, anxious to try the special tea Curley was brewing. The teapot was a bit strange, but then so was everything else. The smoky glass had a long tunnel shape protruding from its side. Most spouts tapered. This one didn’t. The water was already in the fat-bellied part and Curley was busy pinching herbed tea from a baggie and placing bits of it into a little shelf built into the other side of this so-called teapot. Then he got out those same kitchen matches he had in Alabama and lit the tea leaves. What a backwards way to make tea. The water wasn’t heated and poured over the leaves. The tea leaves were heated and I guessed the water would warm up as it passed over them through this pipe thing. I couldn’t see it working. I shook my head and whispered to Les, “What kind of tea ceremony is this anyway?”

Then Curley put his Mick Jagger lips to the end of the tunnel part, and inhaled deeply. As he did bubbles began to form in the bowl. The leaves smoldered like Satan’s fire. Then he passed the contraption on to Lovely Lolita who sucked on it too.

At this point, I exclaimed, “HOLY OPIUM DEN.”

“Shhh… that isn’t opium,” said Les, “That’s called a bong and it isn’t tea. There’re marijuana leaves that Curley grows in a greenhouse on the roof.”

“You mean you grow veggies, and I grow flowers and Curley grows drugs?” I said under my breath. “Just how long have you known this? You probably knew about the joints in the matchbox as well!”

“It’s not a drug,” said Les defensively. “It’ll get you high, that’s all.”

“This loft is high enough for me. Have you tried this with Curley before?”

“Yes, a few times back home. It doesn’t do much more than make music sound good and food taste great,” whispered Les. “Go ahead and have a small amount. It’s not addicting, so don’t worry. You’ll feel a bit dizzy and sort of tipsy like you do when you have more than one beer.”

“But it’s illegal!” I said, my eyes bugged on the smoke bomb that was floating in my direction.

“So is any fucking position other than the missionary in Alabama,” said Les.

The music was loud enough for the neighbors to start complaining. Then I remembered the neighbors were all getting high and I was next.

Les said, “Go ahead and inhale a small amount. The water makes it less harsh. Then hold the smoke in your lungs for a bit and slowly blow it out.”

“O.K., I am probably going to get arrested with the rest of these bongers, so I might as well,” I said with a sigh.

“Honey, this is New York,” said Dive. “They only go after the dealers.”

“What about the nuts growing it on their roofs?” I said, looking at Curley.

Dive didn’t answer. He just laughed. A bit too loudly, I thought.

I had smoked two cigarettes in my life and had never had more than two beers at the same time. After wiping the mouthpiece with a Kleenex, I sucked that stuff right into my lungs and began to choke. Les pounded on my back and jumped up and got me a glass of water. I was relieved. I thought I had coughed the smoke out before it took effect. I felt a bit dizzy, but that was all. So I got up and headed for the bathroom. I sat down on the toilet and looked at the poster in front of me. It was a blown-up version of a Polaroid that Curley had made out of slices of cantaloupe in front of a scale model of the Empire State building. I was looking at it like it was a painting by Gauguin, primitive and thick with exotic brush strokes. The slices became boats with rough-barked hulls. The music soothed my ears and wound around my brain like southern sirens floating in the Caribbean.

I’m not sure how long I sat there looking at the brilliance of Curley’s photo. It was all about scale, and fruit, and buildings that looked like spaceships about to take off, and how they all related to each other. Yes, the spaceships were hatched when the cantaloupe was hacked apart. The Empire State was born from its loins, all hard and steel like and glistening like Curley’s motorcycle. Damn, I felt I could eat a thousand of those melons. I wanted to dive into them with my teeth bared and feel their flesh rise around my cheeks. About that time, Les knocked on the door, and said with some worry in his voice, “Megan, are you alright? You’ve been in there for almost twenty minutes.”

“Nah,” I said. “Can’t be that long, I just got in here and I can’t stop looking at this photo on the wall. It is the most interesting thing I have ever seen.”

“Uh… Megan,” said Les. ‘That’s the dope. You think you have seen something truly remarkable and in the morning it’s just gonna look like grayscale. And your thoughts seem so original and insightful, but later you realize they were just the musings of a stoned idiot.”

I felt sorry for Les. He was so uptight that he couldn’t enjoy being stoned. St—oned? That’s it. I was as high as a catnip eating monkey! And speaking of eating, I was ravenously hungry. I opened the door and headed straight for the kitchen area. There on the castoff cable-spool table was a stack of those homemade brownies Les and Anita were making earlier.

After gazing at them in wonder, I took one and stuffed it into my mouth. They didn’t taste like Betty Crocker. There was a strange herb flavor to them—rather bitter and not nearly as tasty as mine.

I grabbed one of the small dishes of Jell-O and a spoon and headed for the roof. I wanted to see the pot plot. Everyone else was dancing or playing darts. The garden of heavenly drugs was hiding between two large smokestack-looking things. I went in carrying the quivering dessert in one hand and the spoon in the other. Carefully arranged in rows of peat pots were plants with leaves that looked like little ridged hands. I sat on a crate bench and dished the cool flames into my mouth. This was the best gel-batch I had ever made.

When I had a bite or two left on the plate, I put it down quickly. The hands on the plants were waving at me. I got up to look closer and spun around to see Curley opening the greenhouse flap- the smogged sun perched like an aura above his crown. Without thinking, I picked up a bucket of water and splashed it right over his unquenched curls.

“What the fuck!” he yelled, and then he started laughing. His laugh pealed and echoed inside the plastic and sounded like Lou Reed singing “I’m Waiting for the Man.” I realized it was the party music and the sound had drifted in with Curley.

“Your hair was on fire?” I said sheepishly.

“Megan,” he said, “It’s not my hair that’s on fire.”

“Well, what is?” I said, before I realized what he meant. “I’ve never been so out of it. And I feel dizzy and everything is colored outside the lines. I saw red squiggly thingees all around your head.”

“Did you eat one of those brownies?” said Curley, looking into my eyes.

Peggy DeBell lives in Madison County near the top of Hap Mountain in the Spring Creek Community. She is a member of the Practice Community at Southern Dharma and has been a member of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild in Fiber since 1985. “Fitting into the Red Dawg Salloon,” her first short story, was published in Western North Carolina Woman in the spring of 2007, along with the image of her quilted wall hanging.

About The Loft–The Loft is part of a longer story of Megan’s struggle to reconcile the education and culture she received from her family with her own not-so-rosy experience of marriage and love.