Good morning, folks. Your trusty guest blogger here, Christian Bauman. Thanks to Mark for handing over the microphone for the day. Does this make me a BauTEV? BaumaTEVian? Anyway. Charmed, I'm sure. Let's chat: You can get me at blmcwb at att dot net.
So. One of the reasons I’m here today is the release of my second novel, Voodoo Lounge. The book is set during the opening days of the 1994 U.S. invasion and occupation of Haiti. It goes like this…
There are a few people involved, within. Tory Harris is the glue holding the book together. She’s a twenty-three-year-old soldier, recently promoted to sergeant. She’s on the crew of an army boat, and is the only female in her detachment. You’ll meet a host of her companions: Dick Wags, Scaboo, Snaggletooth, Xerox, Shrug, Riddle, Victor Charlie.
On their first day in-country, Tory meets Marc Hall, an American army captain whose mother was Haitian. And the reader begins to hear about Junior Davis, Tory’s ex, a former soldier, an addict (of many sorts), a looming presence in her life (in many ways). Davis has taken a job as engineman on an old Christian missionary ship, currently stuck in the Haitian port of Jeremie. The pastor of the ship, an ex-nun, and the ship’s master, a Canadian named McBride, become key players in the narrative. (Can I interject here how hard it is, and how much I hate, describing your own book? Okay, thanks.)
If this was a reading, this is what I’d read at this point. This scene isn’t from the Haitian narrative; it’s a description of what Tory and Junior’s relationship was like while they were together. It can be found beginning on page 172 (and I’m copying/pasting from my original manuscript, so it differs very slightly from the book):
Junior Davis’s naked body was the first Tory ever examined in great detail, and she went at it with a small obsession in the first months of their relationship. Meeting Junior, being with Junior, fell like a last step in an unplanned process that began with signing her Army enlistment papers almost two years before. She clung to him with a fierceness she didn’t understand, learned who he was with her eyes and fingers. Their first night together, in a roadside motel on the strip leaving Virginia Beach, she got up out of bed and turned on the overhead light. She liked—needed—to see. He was pale, tall and tough as a piece of rope, with more scars than she thought a twenty-five-year old should have. She traced them and knew them like she knew the little veins on her own ankles or the freckles on her forearms.
Junior would shower in the middle of the night, walking the second-floor hallway of her dormitory barracks with just a brown Army towel wrapped low around his waist, using his copy of the key to open the door when he got back to her room. (They rarely used his room, three buildings over, because he had a roomdog, a crew-mate of hers; Scabliagni, whom everyone called Scaboo.) Tory kept a purple lava lamp in the corner, and after his shower Junior Davis would stand framed in the doorway, glowing in liquid light, then stretching up with both arms to grab the door jamb and do a pull-up—Tory, curled in the bed with blanket to chin, watching.
“Stop it, New Jersey,” he’d say sometimes, crossing the room to put his hand in front of her eyes. “You’re making me nervous.”
But he wasn’t nervous and she knew it. He liked to be watched. He liked to be liked, and liked to be noticed. Which was fine; she liked to watch.
It was comfortable. Not like seventeen, eighteen; high school and the long, dry summer before she left New Jersey for good, fumbling in dark places with her gray-eyed boyfriend under the stands at the stock-car track in Flemington, night air all grease and french fries, rushed hands pushing up under shirts and down into tight, unbuttoned jeans, lips and tongues kept locked together so no chance to stop or change your mind. Tory always tried to pull back from their never-ending kiss, break her lips away and just watch for a minute, just breathe, the roar of the stock engines making everyone deaf to everything. She’d known him in high school but only to look at, a memory of passing in the hallway and the parking lot. Wayne his name was, Wayne Apgar, cousin of the family who owned the bar in Croton. He worked part-time on a pit crew, and was nineteen, one year older. He took her under the stands three different Saturday nights, with a blanket from the trunk of his car, red and black squares. Wayne Apgar’s face smelled of fuel, the smooth skin on his chest deeper, musky. He was the first one she put her hands on and explored by touch. She came very close with him, very close, short, quick breaths. He didn’t like it when he noticed she was watching him work, and on the third night, wool blanket itchy and rough beneath them, he rolled her over so she couldn’t watch, his chest on her upper back, his one hand gripping tight to her long hair, the last boy who would ever have his hands in that hair, just two weeks before she shaved it down to barely an inch and got on a Greyhound bus to Ft. Leonard Wood.
Junior Davis was dark-eyed in his own way, and baby-faced in the sunlight, but he was no kid. Twenty-four when they met, he was slow, languid—their nights together rolling out with no end. They would lock her barracks-room door at nine or ten o’clock on a Friday night, the little fridge tight with cans of Rolling Rock, a fresh pack of cigarettes and bottle of Jack Daniels on the desktop. Junior Davis liked to fuck in the heat, thermostat cranked so they’d sweat; she’d raise the window and stand by it when they’d finish something, icy breeze pushing goose bumps across her breasts and belly, her back and legs still red from the warmth of the room and the blankets. She liked the openness of leaning there like that, on the cracked winter windowsill of her barracks room, raw and tired.
“That’s a control thing,” Junior told her, eyes half-closed, smoking his own cigarette on the bed.
“Standing there naked like that. It’s exerting control. Something in your past makes you need to exert control.”
The corners of her mouth raised, amused, and she smoked and shivered and said, “Maybe I just like being naked in the window.”
Junior liked to talk, and would, under the blanket, wrapping long limbs around her and telling long stories then talking would turn to touching and touching was exquisite and then he couldn’t talk because he’d pushed her onto her back and spread her thighs and his mouth was busy. Even then she looked at him, down the length of her body, over her breasts and to where his hands lay flat on her belly, the top of his head framed by her thighs, and she’d stare until the point where she couldn’t anymore and had to stretch her neck out and lay her head back, teeth bared and eyes squeezed closed. They moved, it seemed to Tory, across the room without walking or memory, realizing you’re on the old couch then on the bed then sometime much later blowing cigarette smoke out the gap in the cracked window, Junior kissing her neck as she smoked.
She went on the pill because he didn’t like to wear anything—he went in smooth, and it did matter, she thought, it mattered in the feel, and more it mattered in the mind. What she liked most of all, what made her growl, was to push him down on the couch and crawl on top, kissing his face and mouth, kneeling over his lap, drifting her bottom back and forth, teasing him, grazing but not letting him in, then slow, slow, a centimeter at a time, pushing herself down, hands flat on his chest and knees in his sides, riding at her own lazy, determined speed, her own time, riding. It matters, she thought. This time, with him. It mattered. The music loud in her ears, Junior underneath. The music was all Tory’s on those winter nights, endless in the CD changer as the night ground on, all her guitar players, all her old men, and when she was done, eyes squeezed and her chest flush and trembling—when she’d gotten everything from him she could—she’d pull herself off, open and empty, padding naked across the floor, taking a pull from her beer as she reached down in the darkness to turn up the volume for “Life by the Drop.”
They were drunk together. Their long rolling nights—Junior Davis finally curled asleep under the sheet as Tory watched the sky purple with Sunday dawn—and their short evenings, too. Everyone had a beer in the car between port and barracks at the end of the day, and a beer to shower. If they all went out to eat there was a pitcher and Riddle would refill it then T.K. and so on. If Junior Davis came over after there was a beer open before the door closed. Whether they fell asleep on the couch watching the ten o’clock news or passed the week-night boredom naked in bed, there was the same nice buzz, the same low cloud in the brain.
They were drunk alone, too. Tory mixed vodka and frozen lemonade over the summer when Junior Davis was out with the mike boats, drinking when she watched TV or read a paperback out on the lawn before the sun went down then maybe some eight ball on the pool table in the dayroom. Her barracks neighbor, a loud pool-shark parts clerk PFC named Candy Phelps, stuck to Diet Coke and tequila and walked around the barracks most evenings in cut-off sweats and flip flops hefting a glass stein filled with ice and the syrup-sweet drink.
Enough so it wasn’t drunk anymore, just the general state of being. But that’s how it was in the green machine, in the dorm barracks or the cheap off-post apartments down Warwick and Jefferson Avenues; after your first year, then two, you slipped into it, slipped through, one day after the next, hot summer rolling to cold winter rolling to hot summer. Tuesday was just as good a night to kill a twelve as a Thursday or Friday. Easy, with the TV or a card game and what else were you going to do? No tax on beer at the Class 6, and what else were you going to do? It was just raising the bar on what drunk was; drunk wasn’t drunk anymore, civilian drunk—that was every day. True drunk now was really fucking drunk. True drunk was what you did on an August Saturday afternoon in Mac’s backyard with Victor Charlie using an oar to mix up a batch of Purple Jesus Juice in a kid’s plastic bathtub and Doc and the Steward burning up a mess of chicken on the grill, then heading out to Bucks or the Crystal around eight with Junior and Dick Wags and Alicia to raise hell and waking up next morning with no idea where you’d gone after that or how you’d got home to the barracks or to the boat. That was drunk, true drunk. It was social and about as subtle as an old steel hammer.
When Tory and Junior Davis were drunk together just the two of them it was different, low and slow and constant, never rushed. It was a steady killing of bottles and an endless burning cigarette. It was instant fights, sharp tempers, small objects flying across the room and slamming into the wall and sometimes each other. It was quick make-ups, fierce apologies. It was Tory busting out laughing, slamming her forehead into his chest so hard he yelled. It was hands all over each other, going down on him as he drove her truck cross post to make the Class 6 before it closed; Junior Davis following her down the sterile store aisles, his wide hands up under her shirt, palms cupping her small breasts hard through the lace of her bra.
Their drunk was a lot like their relationship in that way; it matched their relationship, followed the same track. Same as when you’re drunk and you don’t notice things have started to change, or you think maybe you see a change and you don’t know why or how long it’s been that way and you shake your head to clear it but you’re drunk now and nothing is very clear.