Smoking meth was way better than
snorting it, Jayden decided—the rush quicker. He somersaulted over the back of
the couch. The flabby brown cushion skidded from under his butt. His legs
flailed. A bare calf whacked the coffee table. A glass butterfly figurine took
flight, smacking into the wall.
“Uh, oh,” Matt said, “you’re
deep caca now.”
Jayden’s high diminished a
“That’s Tasha’s favorite
butterfly, dude.” Matt held up the now wingless figurine.
His heart fluttered. “Maybe we
could glue it.”
“We?” Matt said.
“Me.” Jayden scrambled up from
where the cushion had dumped him to search for the wings.
He had to do what Matt wanted or
he’d end up sleeping in his truck and showering at the homeless shelter. The roof
over their heads came courtesy of Tasha, and Tasha was Matt’s girlfriend.
It took a moment to spot the pieces
of clear glass. He held them up. The wings had made clean breaks from the
torso. Thorax? He strode to the
kitchenette and pawed through the junk drawer, searching for Krazy Glue.
Matt came up behind him and
whacked him on the side of the head, just because, then ran his fingers through
the items Jayden had dug from the drawer—rubber bands, twisties, Ziploc bags,
screws, a bullet.
Jayden bulldozed the stuff back
into the drawer, crumbs and all. Then he scanned the counter for the two wings
and realized he’d shoved them into the drawer with everything else.
Matt hovered. “Tasha’s gonna be
He twitched. Tasha waitressed at
a high-end restaurant, saved her crystal for double shifts, and paid the rent. “Tasha’s
not so in love with you right now, either.”
Matt flipped his sun-bleached
hair like he was still the Greek god Tasha had fallen for. “What are you
saying, dude? Tasha loooovves me.” But Matt’s dilated pupils almost obliterated
his blue eyes, and his board-shorts bagged on his once buffed body.
“You have bad judgment,” he
said. “Been bad since middle school.”
“Guess so,” Matt laughed. “I’m
hangin’ with you.”
Jayden sorted through the junk in
the drawer again and came up with one wing tangled in dental floss.
“I have a plan,” Matt said.
In spite of the meth high,
Jayden had a sinking feeling. Matt’s schemes always meant risk for him and
reward for Matt. In high school, it was the price he had paid to run with the
cool kid. Now it was the price he paid for room and board.
“My dad lost the tenant in his
granny unit,” Matt said.
“Your dad wouldn’t rent to you.”
He unsnarled the glass wing and searched for its mate. Matt’s dad was a
successful Santa Cruz real estate agent—a man who regarded his son as a losing
investment. Still, he’d forked out the money for three stabs at rehab. His own father
wouldn’t have tried even once if it weren’t for his mother; his father had
hated him since he was a fetus, poisoning his mother with preeclampsia.
Jayden found the other wing
wedged inside a folded Bed Bath & Beyond coupon. “It doesn’t help,” he
muttered, “that you made me steal your dad’s Rolex last time out the door.”
Matt bounced around the kitchen,
jabbering. “Maybe we should reorganize these cabinets for Tasha.”
“I don’t think that’s a good
idea. Fixing her butterfly is the best bet.” He looked at Matt and then at the
kitchen counter. “Where did you put the body?”
Matt scratched his head.
Frowned. “I gave it to you.”
“No. You didn’t.” He sighed.
was it possible to feel tired when high on meth?
Matt patted his pockets. He came
up empty. “Dude,” he said, “it’s been a couple years since I left my dad’s.”
“You mean since your dad kicked
“Why are you so harsh?”
Jayden hurried to the living
room to look for the butterfly thorax, Matt trailing behind him.
“My dad has a weak spot for me,”
In Matt’s family
there were three girls and then—finally—Matt, the baby boy, the prize. “Just
how do you think you’ll get back in good with him?” Jayden asked, spotting the
thorax on top of the shelves of cinder block and planks.
“My dad is like Clark Kent,”
Matt said. “Under his business suit is like a tie-dye shirt with a dancing bear
“What are you even talking
“My dad is a Dead Head.” Matt came
right up on Jayden’s shoulder, practically breathing in his ear. “I mean a one-hundred-percent,
to-the-bone, Head. He wants us to play “Ripple” at his funeral.”
He elbowed Matt back a step. In the
kitchenette, he practiced fitting the wings to the body even though he had no
glue to affix them.
“That’s where you come in,”
His heart sank. Matt’s current
scheme might suck even more than a previous plot to steal a Johnny Rice
surfboard. “I say we go to Home Depot and buy some Krazy Glue.”
Matt snatched away the three
pieces of butterfly and stuffed them in his pocket. “We’ll do that. But as you
pointed out a moment ago, fixing this thing might not be enough. Tasha’s pretty
sick of all this. And in my dad’s granny unit, you could have a real bed. In a
Jayden turned slowly. “What’s
your big plan?”
“Dead Central,” Matt said,
pacing to the refrigerator, peering inside, closing it, then walking in a
circle. “Man, they have this Jerry Garcia doll my dad would flip over.” His
voice pitched with excitement.
“Your dad wants a doll?”
“No.” Matt snapped his fingers
in front of Jayden’s eyes. “You’re not following, dude.”
Jayden steered his faded red
Toyota truck up the golden foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. He’d only
been up to the university for “Weed Day” on 4/20, and then he’d entered from
the other side to reach Porter Meadow. This edge of the University of
California campus provided sweeping vistas of the ocean that failed to calm him.
He turned and drove toward the
redwood forest. The individual colleges of the university were tucked
discreetly among the trees, the whole campus like a sprawling park.
His phone directed him toward
the McHenry Library, the home, according to Matt, of Dead Central, a permanent Grateful
When Matt had proposed the
scheme, Jayden had felt like tackling him, plucking the glass pieces from his
pocket, and jamming. But, here he was, making the final turn to reach the
“You’ve arrived at your destination,”
the phone said.
Ahead of him stood a Student
Union. No library. He continued up the narrowing road. A couple of students
hurried along on the shoulder, backpacks swinging. They looked like they could
be going to a library.
He passed a large, empty
turn-out. A bicyclist zipped by, too close for comfort.
He soon found out why no one
else was driving. The library reared up from a wooded hollow. Its parking lot
was small, with all the spaces designated for handicapped or staff. The last
thing he needed when out on a caper was to get a ticket. Wasn’t that a cliché
for how they tracked down bad guys? Parking
ticket near the scene of the crime?
Circling back to the large
pull-out in the woods, he eased his truck onto the bare earth. He swiveled his
head, scouting for any No Parking sign. None. But why is the space empty?
He climbed from the truck and slipped
on his backpack. The dirt area could hold 50 cars; clearly it was meant for
more than a pull-out. Maybe there was a trailhead and nobody felt like hiking
He hoofed it down the road toward
the library, wishing he’d had a bump of something, but he and Matt had smoked up
their supply. Another reason to do this thing. Matt might beg or pilfer some
money from Tasha, but he wasn’t going to share any score without something in
return. So, even though Jayden thought this was the stupidest idea in the
world, his grungy athletic shoes thumped along toward the library, stirring up
Students lounged on the Global
Village Café’s patio and steps. Jayden wiped his sweaty hands down his board-shorts.
While perfectly dressed for the surfing community of Pleasure Point, he stuck
out here. Just what you don’t want during
He entered the adjoining library.
On the other side of the spacious foyer, the circulation counter stretched,
several library staff at work. A dark-haired woman at the counter studied him. He
blinked. She looked like his mother—all delicate bones and sweetness.
He pivoted quickly, relieved to
see Dead Central right there, a room off to the side of the entrance.
“Last time I was there, I was
the only person in the room,” Matt had said. “No docent or anything.”
Jayden scurried through the
doorway. Four old people were inside!
Fortunately, they seemed to be
together, and he expected they would leave as a unit. Unfortunately, they
seemed to be in no hurry.
Sweat trickled down the inside
of his O’Neill’s tee shirt. He stood in front of a glass display case,
overwhelmed for a moment by a riot of bright-colored objects. The Jerry Garcia
doll sat on a shelf, a Cabbage Patch kind of thing. His mom had loved those
stupid dolls. She kept them on display in the hallway, and his father allowed
it, because he doted on her, had trouble denying her anything—the only reason
his father had tolerated him. If it weren’t for his mom, Jayden truly believed
his father would have ripped him from the womb and drowned him, rather than to
allow his mom the agony of her pregnancy.
The woman from the circulation
counter peeked into the Dead Central room. Jayden’s heart panged. She even had
big brown eyes like his mom.
And Jayden knew he looked like
his mom—even more so now that he was ten pounds lighter and had let his dark
curls grow—so it was weirdly like seeing himself.
The group of four, two men—one
bearded and one bald—and two women—both with long gray hair, one with braids,
one with locks free-flowing to her butt—bent over the flat display cases. They
reminded him of the kind of weathered, tough old people he saw walking the
beach picking up driftwood. They all wore jeans and tops that advertised the
The woman with braids, tall and
raw-boned, emphatically tapped the glass. “I was there. I mean right there. I
was probably just out of frame of this photo.”
The library worker backed out of
the room, apparently satisfied that they were all innocent visitors to the Dead
collection. Trusting. Just like his
mom had been.
“There’s cool stuff. Back in the
corner. Where I don’t think the security camera covers,” Matt had said. Obviously,
Matt had given the idea some thought before Tasha’s butterfly ever hit the wall.
Jayden moseyed past Grateful
Dead beanies, posters, and license plates. He inspected the old farts and
wondered how much longer they’d take. His attention drifted back to the display—tie-dyed
clothes for little kids, stuffed bears of every size and color, and
psychedelically-painted toy vans.
The braided woman was holding
forth. “August 9th, 1995, the saddest day of my life,” she said
reverently. “Such a shock.”
“Oh, come on, Alice,” said the
bald, short man. “Jerry Garcia was an overweight, diabetic, drug abuser.”
“Who invited you, Shelden?”
“Can I be honest with you,
Shelden?” Alice asked.
“No.” Shelden fronted her with a
palm. “I’m trying to have a nice time here.”
Edging around the room to the
far corner, Jayden found his prize, a framed letter, signed by all the Grateful
Dead, hanging freely on the wall. Small enough to slip into his pack. He just
had to wait—
He whirled, flushed, like he’d
been caught. The old woman with the braids—Alice—had snuck right up on him. She
read aloud over his shoulder: “Dear Dead Heads: This is the way it looks from
“Far out.” She waved her friends
over. “You guys, check out this letter.”
The other three clustered around
him. Alice continued reading: “Your justly-renowned tolerance and compassion
have set you up to be used. At Deer Creek, we watched many of you cheer on and
help a thousand fools kick down the fence and break into the show.” Alice
paused and turned to the group. “Do any of you remember receiving a copy of
“Holy cow,” the bearded man
said. “The Dead were pretty upset with their fans.”
“Not their fans,” Alice said.
“The cheapskates who thought they should get in for free.”
“They created that culture,” Shelden
Alice reeled about so fast she whipped
Jayden with her braids. “They did not! All those vendors around the concerts
and the crowds who broke down the barriers, they were free-loaders.”
Jayden felt like he was trapped inside
a hippie drum circle.
Shelden held his ground, chin up.
“Yeah, well, when your early gig is with the Hare Krishna founder, tell me
you’re not sending a message the music is for everybody?”
“Be real, Shelden,” Alice
retorted. “Bands have to make a living.”
“Alice,” the second woman said,
“this young man was here first. Maybe we should give him some breathing room.”
“I could use some coffee,” the
bearded man sighed.
“That sounds heavenly.” The
woman tugged on Alice’s arm. “Come on. We can continue this after we’re
As they trickled from the room,
the silence buffered him. Given the passion he’d witnessed in Alice, maybe a
Dead memento could stir the heart of Matt’s dad. Head on swivel, he reassessed
the room. He was tucked in a blind corner, his back to the door hopefully blocking
the view of anyone entering. Reaching out, he unhooked the framed letter and
stuck it in his unzipped pack. He slung the pack over his back and turned to
The library worker stood in the
doorway. “Did you find everything you wanted?”
Her eyes searched his face the
way his mother’s had when she asked, “Are you doing okay, honey?” the question
meaning so much more: Are you using? Are you stealing?
Bobbing his head, unable to
speak, Jayden moved toward the frail, vulnerable woman, relieved when she
scooted aside. He hadn’t killed his mom with preeclampsia when she was pregnant,
but he’d been killing her slowly ever since, and he felt enormous relief that
he didn’t have to push by her double. “Yeah, thank you,” he mumbled, turning
toward the library entrance. He nearly collided with the towering big-boned Alice.
He gulped. Alice’s position and
height provided a much better angle to see the corner. Instead of reentering Dead
Central, Alice wheeled and followed Jayden out the glass doors of the library.
He hurried up the walk to the
roadway. The denim around Alice’s long legs swished behind him. When they
reached the roadway, he spun to face her. “Why are you following me?”
“Give me the letter.”
Alice snapped her fingers at
him—just like Matt did. She stretched out a wrinkled palm with rings on every
“Go away!” he hissed. “This
harassment.” To have Matt’s treatment come from this old lady flushed him with
“Harassment?” she snorted.
“You’re a little thief.”
“Why don’t you report me then?”
took off running. Surely, he could outrun her.
But Alice was in shape, her
athletic shoes pounding the dirt behind him. Her hands grasped the pack and
jerked him backward. He lunged forward with all his strength and broke free.
“What does a punk like you want with that?” she panted.
He glanced back. Alice was bent
over, hands on knees.
He sprinted toward the turn-out,
rooting his truck keys from his pocket as he ran.
Behind him Alice continued up
the road like some friggin’ zombie. Matt had told him Deadheads were crazy but
this was insane. He rounded the bend to the turn-out in the redwoods.
He halted. His red Toyota had
disappeared. Blinking, he rotated in a full circle as though there might be
some way he could have missed seeing it. Had someone stolen it?
Alice huffed up to him. “Missing
“My truck. Someone stole my
Alice laughed. “You were towed,
you idiot. Didn’t you read the sign at the entrance?” She swung her wide hips
in what he guessed was an old-time dance move and started to sing about
His heart raced in panic. He was
trapped here with contraband and a lunatic. “Not funny.”
“I think it is.” Alice picked up
the tempo of her swaying and sang with full-throated confidence about cards not
being worth a dime if you didn’t lay them down.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She snapped her fingers again
and pushed out a demanding palm.
“You’re stealing,” he protested.
Alice tilted back her throat and
made a sound that reminded him of a marching marine. “How can I be stealing
when it’s not yours?” She held up one of her braids as though inspecting for
split ends. “Extorting, maybe.” She dropped the braid and stuck out the hand.
Jayden was sick of the whole
business. He extracted the framed letter and slapped it into her palm. “Happy?”
He spun and headed back toward
the library. “Enjoy. I’m going to report
that you stole it.”
“You little snitch,” Alice
hollered after him. “Who do you think the librarian will believe. Me, or some
tweaker roaming around with a backpack?”
Jayden covered the distance to
the library as though he’d been teleported. The small, dark-haired woman—the
ghost of his mother—stood by a cart, a book open atop a pile, her face bent in
“I want to report a theft.”
She lifted her head. “I’m glad
you made the right decision.”
He stepped back. Blinked. She had seen him take the letter. The woman
She came around the cart and
whispered softly, “I have a son of my own.”
He knew what she was telling
him—the deception, the heartache, the mother’s love that didn’t stop. Until it
did. Until one day when she woke up feeling broken, like she was a failed
mother, part of the problem, an enabler.
A tear leaked down his cheek. He
swiped it angrily. “That woman with the braids took it from me.”
She sadly shook her head. “Deadheads
are such fanatics.”
“Aren’t you upset?”
She put a hand on his shoulder
and leaned close. “That letter’s not an original. It’s a copy in a cheap
frame—something we can afford to hang in that blind corner.”
The woman headed back to the circulation
counter like that was all. He trailed her. “So you don’t want to pursue this?”
“You know how it is with
property theft,” she said pointedly. “The campus police wouldn’t waste their
time.” She picked up another pile of books from the counter and carried them to
the loaded cart. “Maybe you could contribute twenty bucks toward buying a new
“I don’t have twenty bucks.”
The ghost of his mother rolled
the cart toward the library stacks. She was going to disappear—again. Like his
real mother who’d been shattered by his last fiasco. “I could work for you,” he
offered, his heart sailing, desperate.
“I’m no fool,” she said. “I
to be, but I’ve learned. I can’t trust someone like you.”
Like Tasha’s butterfly hitting
the wall, the wings broke from Jayden’s heart. Tears dripped in earnest. He
felt like that time long ago at the Boardwalk when he’d been separated from his
mom. A lost child.
“They towed my truck,” he told
The brown eyes softened with
sadness. Two students brushed by, cutting their eyes toward them, then emphatically
minding their own business.
The woman patted his shoulder,
again. And then, like the crazy Alice, began to sing—not like the old
hippie raising her voice to the
majesty of redwoods—but rather a tentative sound modulated to the library
Surprised, he dried his tears. “What’s
She narrowed her eyes at him. “I thought you were a
Grateful Dead fan.”
He shook his head vigorously. “I
don’t know anything about them. That letter was for my friend’s dad—so he’d
give us a place to stay. That song, the one you’re singing, is the one he wants
at his funeral.”
“Good choice. You should listen
to the lyrics sometime.” Humming, she rolled away.
It would do no good to follow
her. He had to find his own path, but his arms already itched with the
sensation of crawling bugs.
He couldn’t call Matt. He
couldn’t return to Tasha’s apartment, to a life surrounded by meth, because if
he had some, he’d disappear into the redwoods and smoke it right now.
He exited the library into a
sliver of sunshine. There must be a bus into Santa Cruz. He patted his pockets
and dug into every crevasse of his pack already knowing he wouldn’t find even a
penny. He spun around toward the clusters of students hanging out in front of
the Global Village Cafe. If he tried to bum the fare from them, they’d think he
was running the stranded-traveler scam.
Well, one person knew he really
was stranded. He headed up the steps into the café.
Alice saw him coming. Her chair screeched
back, and she launched to her feet.
He padded meekly up to the group
of four. “I’m not here to start something,” he said.
“That’s good,” Alice said,
“because I would finish it.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,
Alice,” Shelden said. “What do you need, son?”
He glanced toward Alice. “As
Alice can testify, my truck was—”
“We’re not giving you a ride,”
Shelden folded his arms over his
chest. “Would you let the kid finish his sentence.”
“I’m fine with the bus,” he
“Listen to this cheeky, entitled
little bastard. I’m fine with the bus,”
Alice said. “Why should we give you anything?”
“How much is the fare?” Shelden
asked, lifting and pulling a worn leather wallet from his back pocket.
“I don’t know.”
“You’re enabling,” Alice said.
Shelden scowled up at Alice.
“Yup. That’s right. I’m enabling this kid to catch a bus.” He handed Jayden a
five-dollar bill. “I hope that covers it.”
Jayden scanned the café for a
student to ask where he could catch the Metro.
He’d get off as near as he could
to home and hopefully
his feet would head in the right direction. Because right now, his heart wanted
was to crawl back to what was left of his mother and to mend something more
fragile than a broken glass butterfly.