SPOTLIGHT: A Cup of Truth at The Hard Knock Café by Jessica Harman


Ten Cents

            Ten cents can buy you an empty cup at McDonald’s, where the bus through Wisconsin stops, from Boston to Minneapolis, and then you can fill it with water. Maybe even pilfer a few ice cubes from the beverage station.

            Ten cents can’t buy you much else.

            I knew a man who said I was a dime piece, then he showed me the raised flesh of his scar on left shoulder blade, where the gang had branded him, making him a new member. I don’t remember being shocked. I was like, yeah, whatever.

            Jack and I met, not on a psych ward, but a few steps up from that: a residential program called, “Go Get ‘Em.” We drank our juice together in the mornings. He would burst into rhymes. Rhymes he wrote himself, about his sadness, about his pain. He was a rapper who would one day have his own youtube channel.

            He wasn’t enraged or anything. He wasn’t even bitter. Life had given him lemons. In response, he made torta della nonne.

            We had a blast in computer class. He read up on man boobs; I googled not Justin Bieber, but Justin Beaver. Actually, he did that, too. I just wished I had thought of it. The website had Justin Bieber’s head on beavers’ bodies.

            I fell off my chair. ROFL, quite literally.

            Laughing while institutionalized.

            I spent some time in Bellevue, too. Art class was very educational. I made a few awesome collages.

            I miss those times.

            I’ve had a good life, actually. Lots of comforting coffees, good poetry books, good times marinating lamb chops, nice walks on the beach. Even when I was not quite right in my mind, I solaced myself by saying that I would one day be the mental illness comic.

            I got better. I took my meds, took advice on diet and exercise seriously, and here I am, poised for a new phase.

            I called Jack, recently. He’s back in Baltimore, now. He went back to his old ways. So we can’t really be friends, even. Two different worlds, two different planets, two sides of the tracks. Heaven and hell. Which do you prefer?

            It’s a choice, in some ways. In some ways, it’s really not. You do what you need to do. I’m lucky I’m on the right side of the fence, the same fence that, this morning, I saw a gray squirrel scamper across, carrying a glazed donut.

            Thank you, Dear God for these puffy clouds, chocolate assortments, and ice-cold lemonade.

            You can’t really count on it to be good, but, anyway. That’s where I’m at, now, but once, I was his shorty, his flower, his dime piece.

            On the streets of Baltimore, calling someone a dime piece means they’re a ten on ten.

            He also taught me to chill, and to quit buggin.’ That means feeling weird.

            A lot of life is weird.

            But I’m thankful I’ll always be that dime piece he once knew, revealed his scar to, and laughed at beavers with.

Welcome to The Game

            Caroline heard harp music from the apartment above her, as she sat at her computer, writing poetry.

            Her roommate, Zoe, came into her room – she didn’t knock, but the door was open – and said, “I wish I was writing poetry on a Saturday night.”

            Caroline just looked at her, like, yeah, in a lot of ways, I’m a nerd, but sometimes that’s cool.

            Caroline’s boyfriend, Joe, who didn’t live in The Greater Boston Area, but was in Montreal, right where she had left him, though they remained friends, said when she told him about the harp music, “It’s because you’re inspired.”

            Caroline was finally happy – content – living with Zoe, Ulrich, and Jennifer.

            Jennifer had a lot of auburn curls, and said things like, “I don’t care if you eat my food.” It was B.S., but it was cool and funny B.S.

            They each had a section in the refrigerator.

            Caroline thought that Jennifer was so cool.

            When they all moved in together, they were strangers who had all gone through the same landlord who told Caroline on the phone around the time she was getting the apartment, “Keep the tenants in the same school. Then, it works.”

            The apartment was nice, which was sort of rare, which is saying something about Boston. They had an extra fee for that, for getting a nice apartment. There were a lot of hidden fees in the whole process.

            As the young women sat in their living room, doing their nails and getting to know one another, Jennifer said to Caroline, “You seem like such a sweet person. Watch you be the biggest bitch.”

            That was the beginning of the end, for Caroline, even though it was, technically, the beginning of it all. Because, Caroline knew, in her heart of hearts, that she was, actually, a total bitch. She had problems with compassion and interest in others. Yes, indeed, she was quite a bitchy person. Like, seven out of ten. No, actually, eight on ten if you count the times she screamed at Joe. Ok. Maybe eight and a half on ten. But who’s counting?

            Zoe came in to Caroline’s room gain, the next Saturday evening.

            Zoe said, “We’re going out for drinks tonight. Want to join us?”

            Caroline actually said, “Sure.”

            As they were speaking, they heard Ulrich singing “Celebrity Skin” by Hole as she did her makeup.

            Zoe said, “Okay. Get ready.”

            And that was the beginning of the evening’s quest: for the four girls to find millionaires: people you could dress up and take places.

            It was a silent understanding that they had that they knew they were all pretty girls, even cute. Perhaps not beautiful, but a nine on ten, quite frankly.

            Caroline hurriedly got into a red dress. She put on a little bit of perfume, a gesture that one of her friends, Diane, had called a “French shower.” Which was kind of funny, especially since Caroline had French ancestry, rather than Italian, depending on how you pronounced her great grandfather’s name.

            Outside, the four Sirens walked.

            Harp music could be heard in the streets.

            She was happy she was a nine on ten. The beautiful kind, not the bitchy kind.

            They arrived at the bar and slipped in.

The ambiance in the bar was the color of whiskey. Each table had a small candle in a glass dish, the kind they have in jazz bars, though this was no jazz bar. It was a sex palace.

Zoe flipped her hair, which she had once referred to as “the wrong kind of brown.” Yet her hair was thick and lovely, like a stormy, muddy sea.

The girls were all in love with each other, and knew it.

There were guys at the bar. They sat on barstools, facing the wall with all the glass bottles in different states of emptiness or fullness. They didn’t seem to notice the girls, much, so it was a surprise when the bartender brought drinks to their table, saying they were from the guys over there at the bar, who were now looking at the girls.

There was some hesitation as the girls sized up the guys. The girls accepted the drinks.

Caroline felt something in her slide and snap as she took the first sips of her drink. This was exciting. This was the first big event of their evening.

“Welcome to the game.” Zoe said to Caroline who was kind of naïve in matters of going out to bars.

Caroline played another type of game. One with the muse.

Once, Caroline had even laughed at God. She didn’t know if it was on her mind, then, but sometimes it was. That was a bad – a really bad – idea. Her life had been riddled with mental illness issues ever since then.

Caroline wrote something on the paper coaster, and shoved it over to Jennifer.

Jennifer turned it over, looked down at her drink, then up at the dim lighting, and bit her lower lip.

The coaster remained upside down, so that everyone could read the writing, “I am broken. Can you fix me? Let me know.”


A Cup of Truth at The Hard Knock Café: Harman, Jessica, Buddha, Alien: 9798507075997: Amazon.com: Books

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