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The night was the clearest Baxter had seen in days – the city lights washed out the stars, but no clouds were visible. Bourbon St. was bustling with people from every part of the social spectrum. Most of the students stayed at dance clubs and bars, leaving the seedier locales to the older fragment of the population. The meeting place was close to the intersection with Canal St. The bouncer let Baxter through – reluctantly - after checking his ID twice and looking him up and down in a dubious manner. Baxter grew worried that maybe his father had been turned down. He paid the twenty-dollar cover and stepped inside. The stage was dead and dimly illuminated; after a minute of adjustment, Baxter’s eyes registered the tables surrounding the stage. All but one were packed – that one was that which seated his father. There might as well have been a spotlight him, through his appearance he stood out like a rat in a hamster cage. It is still a mystery how he got past the bouncer – he wore a suit that looked as if it had been slept in repeatedly and was in dire need of a haircut and shave. Baxter could barely recognize him with the full beard.
        “Travis!” he called, disregarding the otherwise semi-quiet atmosphere of the club. Baxter dropped out of his gaze and hurried over to avoid further undue attention. Mr. Ilston resumed in a slightly lowered voice: “Thank God you got my note. Listen, I’m at my end – Right after you left, I found out that your mother had been cheating on me, for the past three years. All this time, all this time… She planned to divorce me, Travis! Me! I left town before this got big, at least I could leave my ministry as a respectable man. I came down last year, hoping to find you – I knew you loved New Orleans. Right now I’m in between jobs, so to speak, and I was wondering if you could help me out for the time being…”

Silence ensued.

A boiling, yet cold and sickly silence.

        “So, can you help me?”

Baxter snapped:

        “Fuck you. Fuck you! I didn’t leave! You kicked me out when I was seventeen, almost finished with school. I had to sacrifice all I had just to survive! Now you come to me for help? If I wouldn’t feel sorry for you, I don’t know what I would fucking do. Here’s a $100 – that’s what you wanted, isn’t it? Take it, and get the fuck out of my life.”

Baxter jumped up, flipped the chair and ran out. The same old selfish bastard he always was. Aimlessly, Baxter stumbled into the nearest bar, telling the bartender his want to forget the last two hours. The last of his energy went into handing the Bartender the rest of his money, thirty dollars. Something similar to a Long Island Ice-tea was handed to him, it tasted terrible. If a hospital had to administer alcohol for some reason, this would be their medium of choice. Three glasses were consumed to the best of his memory, followed by images and sound bites of Baxter turning down a cab, throwing up in an alley and waking up in the hallway before his door. The memory of his father remained, and was now accompanied by a major hangover. Dazed, he washed up, laid down on his bed and put on a Tom Waits CD.

His father had only degraded since Atmore, the small town was his life. He hadn’t overreacted, the voice said, but his heart disagreed. This was still his father, and Baxter was acting much like him, much to his dismay. Had he turned into his father? No, replied the voice, quite the opposite. By denying part in his father’s failure, he was distancing himself from him, chosing a different path. Now everything, again, was in Jamie’s hands. Life would be bliss, if fulfilled.
        He didn’t drink that night or Monday, opting instead to rearrange things in his apartment and visualizing a satisfying future. His resources had come to an all-time low of $10,000, which would last about five months were he to spend it conservatively. Realistically, he had about two. Then he would have to get a job, and life would begin anew, rather it would resume where it had stopped in Mobile. The only thing which kept him from a depressing realistic view was the lovely Jamie, at his side and maybe helping him financially. This could not be like Mobile, he resolved, for he could not live in Mobile but would have to live here.
        That night he went out, with a still perturbed conscience. On his way out he passed the bar he patronized three days earlier and resisted the urge to give the bartender his honest opinion. Something compelled him to walk on, down many roads and turns, away from Bourbon, into a more classy neighborhood he had driven through once – but that wasn’t what led him on. With every step, the noise in his head grew, the noise which opposed his conscience. The turns were determined yet sudden and random, leading him on for over an hour. He passed stores, cheerful people our and about shopping, reveling in the approaching Christmas season. Glossy shopping bags reflected the wet pavement, reflected the passing headlights. In a way, he never ahd been one of them. His last Christmas was a fond memory, his father bought mom a thin gold necklace, she hugged him and wept, this time out of joy. Baxter had received a woodcutter’s kit, complete with a fine wood-chisel, small hammer, three knives of ranging sizes and several types of wood. Baxter had given both parents books – neither read them. At least his mother started hers. Now he hadn’t even the pretense of family, again it became obvious how much hinged on Jamie.
        At last, Baxter stopped before a lusciously illuminated club. His feet hurt, and it was here or somewhere else he would have to rest. Silently, he slipped the bouncer a twenty and stepped inside. Immediately he saw her - on stage, her breasts exposed, jiggling in the most aggravating fashion. Seconds passed in the fashion of hours.
        “This has to be a dream,” he thought, perhaps aloud. Time resumed when she spotted him. Their eyes met in a gaze of deepest sorrow, now he knew her secret. Covering her bareness, she scurried offstage. Baxter stood still for another five minutes. There was an odd tone to the announcer’s voice, as if he was underwater. Jamie was scurrying between a number of people aside the stage, avoiding Baxter’s blank gaze. At that moment he wanted to step ahead, to talk to her – but his mind had him frozen. “Why,” he asked, “why did she hold off on you when she was selling herself every night?” Rationally, he knew the answer, but this was not a moment of rationale. Stripped of all control, he stood in the aisle until people started filtering out. Baxter went with the flow.
        Streets flowed past, walls opened and closed aside him, cars raced silently past, leaving him behind. He walked until his legs gave in. Sinking into an alley, Baxter cried himself to sleep. Things with Jamie couldn’t possibly be serious, not with that job. Why hadn’t she told him, eased him into the fact of her profession… He would find out eventually…

The sun woke Baxter before anyone else had a chance to. Gathering himself, he decided that the sensible thing to do was to call Jamie. Thinking of what to say, Baxter proceeded to his apartment. Again it felt lonely, Baxter tried to remember the last time he cried. He couldn’t.
        The number was no longer on the pinboard, Baxter remembered taking it down the first time she visited. Where he had put it had escaped his mind. He couldn’t have thrown it out, he didn’t remember throwing anything away, and the appearance of his study reaffirmed this theory. Papers lay strewn about his desk, everywhere. One by one he picked them up, shook them and threw them out. The area under and around his desk was checked out thoroughly, by nightfall the whole apartment was turned upside-down. No number. Maybe she would call.
        She had told him that she would call Tuesday, but considering the circumstances, Baxter figured she would either call before, or not at all. For the next few days, Baxter lived by his phone, remaining within audible range at all times. Showers were out of the question; the running water might drown out the ringing of the phone. By the time Wednesday came around, he had eaten all the remnants around his house and slept a total of five hours. Reluctantly, he accepted his fate.


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