DIRTY BLUE BANDANA
“Please?” Donny had said. “Six bucks
is all I need.”
I almost hung up. If Carlos walked in . . .
Wincing, I rubbed my bruised cheek.
“Sue,” Donny pleaded, “I’ve
got to get drunk.”
“I’ll leave it on the tree,”
I said, “outside my house.”
In a plastic bag, I stuck crumpled bills and tied
the bag to a branch.
Peered around, in case Carlos was coming.
The sober ex had hid their daughter, Cissy. “You
owe me!” she told Donny.
You can’t afford six bucks for booze, how
can you buy a baby sneakers? Cissy
would outgrow them in a month. A year of A.A. meetings, but Ex-Bitch still had
Donny had no job, just handyman gigs. Two old
lesbians he stayed with, on
their hairy couch. Martha and Max: cat ladies who’d rescued my Shadow from a
dumpster . . .
When Carlos dropped him in.
Got enough bad luck, Carlos sneered, later.
“That sick fuck,” Max said, as Martha
scrubbed Shadow’s black fur clean. “Piece
of shit,” Martha said. Shadow yowled, in agreement.
My heart swelled. Thank God he wasn’t hurt.
“Why . . .” Donny asked me, “can’t
you leave him?”
‘Cos you fucked up.
Last year, it was Donny and me. Great sex, on
the couch, unmade bed. Chinese
takeout: greasy lo mein and boneless ribs. “Ya notice,” he said, waving his
plastic fork, “they only use chopsticks on TV?”
The late movie: film noir vs. silents.
“In the 1920s,” he said, “they
could act! With eyes, body language.” Tying
my pantyhose tightly around his forehead. “’The Sheik,’” he said, “‘of Araby!’”
He could’ve been an actor himself.
Or quick-change artist. Loved switching hats:
ball caps, a gray beret that
made him look French. (“Oui-oui!” he said.) Bandanas. Like that stained
blue-print one. “My ‘dirty blue bandana,’” he joked. “Like the red one in that
and Bobby McGee.”
Between us, Shadow lay, grooming. Nothing so peaceful,
I thought, as the
bed lightly rocked. Donny didn’t care if Shadow’s fur went up his nose or got
on his clothes. Unlike . . .
“Fuckin’ cat!” The shirt was
so white, it looked blue. Till Shadow sat on
it. “I’ll crack his skull!” Carlos said.
One night, Donny stopped for last call at a bar.
Inside was Ex-Bitch, even
drunker than him.
Before the late movie came on at my place, Ex-Bitch
was knocked up in
We were done.
Months later, along came Carlos. The opposite
I’ll show you, I thought.
In no time, we shacked up. This hot guy with a
smile that never reached
his eyes. Like a great white’s—cruel, unblinking.
Somehow, he knew everything.
Did everything, better. My cooking he gagged on,
though Donny had kept it
“What’d you, poison me?” Carlos
yelled, fists flying.
So bad, he beat me, sometimes I couldn’t
see. Teeth felt loose. My face
was puffy, sometimes purple; sometimes green.
“Whose shit?” he demanded, yesterday.
Clutching Donny’s “dirty blue bandana.”
“Huh?” I said.
Long ago, Donny had taken all his stuff. Still,
here it was. Like Donny had
snuck in and was laughing at Carlos.
“My ex,” I said, “who died.”
Suddenly, I felt grief, like Donny really was
dead. How could I lie
“Died?” Carlos smiled. “That
pendejo who stays with the cat ladies?
Those two dykes?” He inched closer. “Who you leave money for, in the tree?” I
Into the garbage he tossed the bandana, on top
of eggshells and chicken
It was the worst beating yet.
Once he left, I held the dirty bandana to my cheek,
Like something worse was coming.
What, I thought, could be worse than
Hours later, when my cell rang, I knew.
“S-Sue?” I knew it’d be Martha.
Like I knew Max was holding her, from
behind. With Shadow under the table.
Outside their building, Donny lay in the gutter.
Face bashed so bad, it
was nearly unrecognizable. Only his clothes and blood-soaked bandana identified
“The blue, dirty one,” Martha sobbed.
Heart racing, I searched my apartment: couch,
garbage, anywhere I could’ve
The bandana was gone.
* * *
Late last night, it must’ve happened.
Carlos had never come home.
But all I could think of was Donny.
It seemed impossible that they could kill each
other, but in an uncanny way,
How the one was bludgeoned to death made sense.
But how the other was hanged from the tree without
waking me didn’t.
How could that bandana tie itself, tighter and
tighter, around his neck? Way
up high? Who could explain that?
Maybe a magician.
Or a quick-change artist.