Spring diggin' in my back. Cracks in the ceilin' and walls. Damn drippin' sink swimmin' upstream against the gin.....Like a jack-hammer in my skull. Fuzz on my tongue tastes like three-day-old underwear. Not sure how I know what that tastes like. Not sure I want to know.
What's that smell? Me? Nah. Sour milk and liverwurst? A mangy muskrat decomposin' in a bag of Doritos? Boiled kelp covered in limburger cheese? Don't know. Maybe it is me. Can't tell whether my stomach's churnin' from the smell or whatever I did to myself last night. Wish I could remember. Well.....Maybe not. Some things are better left a mystery.
Forced myself up to sit on the edge of my bed. Ran a hand through my hair and stared at my feet. Took a minute to focus. Eyes felt like saucers of milk. Funny. Big toe forced it's way through my sock. Good. Now it matched the other one. Was always a fan of continuity.
"It's about time, Mr. Diamond," a male voice to my right. I didn't flinch. Heard him breathin' as soon as I woke up. Guess gin doesn't effect the ears.
"How'd you get in, junior?" I asked without turnin'. "Ma let you in?"
"No, sir," he began. "I knocked and some guy answered. He told me to sit down and wait. Then he left."
Some guy? What the hell. Turned my head to face my "guest", fightin' back a wave of dizziness at the sudden motion. You'd think I'd know better. Dez Bryant seemed more than a little nervous sittin' in that rickety chair. He was tryin' real hard to look comfortable.
"What guy? What'd he look like?" I demanded softly. The less noise the better. At least until I've had a chance to throw up.
Dez thought for a second. "Big. Like Ngata big. Hairy, too. With a tattoo of a cobra on his face."
"Oh," I replied as I scratched the stubble on my chin. Ma. Smiled to myself. Sometimes I forgot that Ma wasn't exactly what you'd call a classic beauty. She'd been mistaken for a lot of things......Never a woman, though. Pity. Underneath that dock worker's exterior beat the heart of an angel. Awe, who'm I kiddin'? The woman was a succubus. Never met anyone filled with that much venom and nastiness. God, I'm glad she's back.
"A friend of yours, Mr. Diamond?" Dez asked.
"Lifelong friend, sport." I rubbed my eyes.
Dez Bryant shifted in the chair. Wore his uneasiness like a three dollar suit. Last thing I needed was some kid raidin' my closet.
"What's on your mind, ace? You come across the tracks for kicks.....or just to get a glimpse of a middle-aged mook on a Saturday mornin'?"
"Uh, sir, it's two in the afternoon."
"Sue me, cuddles," clearin' my throat. "Lucky I got the day right."
Monday. Hmm. Guess I can expect a visit from my bookie. Buckshot Bertha is nothin' if not punctual. Ran a hand through my hair and sighed. Oh, well. Buyin' an extra few days will cost me. Again. Hope my back can take it. Bertha ain't what you'd call petite. There's times when bein' this charmin' is a curse. Get it from Ma. Damn genetics.
The young man leaned his elbows on his knees and stared at the floor. "You weren't surprised to see me, Mr. Diamond." Dez began. He looked up at me again and forced a nervous smile. "I guess Mr. Jones told you I was coming."
"Somethin' like that, yeah. Didn't say why.....Or when."
"I'm not catching you at your best, huh? Maybe I should come back."
"How do you know I'm not peakin' right now, scooter?" I burped up a little gin. Tasted better headin' in the other direction. I think. "Maybe this is the best I got."
"Sorry." Dez hedged. "Don't mean to offend you, but why do you do this to yourself?"
I grinned at the question. "Because if I did it to someone else they would toss me in the slammer. Fair enough, sparky?"
"Fair enough, Mr. Diamond."
Polite kid. Last time I was called Mr. Diamond this many times, I was at the proctologist bent over a table. Aside from Dr. Hook needin' to trim his finger nails, he was a decent guy. Wish he'd call like he promised.
"OK, slick," I encouraged. "I'm all ears. What's got you're shorts in a bunch?"
"Well, Mr. Diamond," Dez measured his words carefully, "I'm sure you've seen some of the things that's been happening on the field this season."
"Yeah. Kinda hard to miss."
"I'm just not sure what to do to fix the problems. I know where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to do, but when the play gets going something happens in my head. I take a wrong step or make a wrong read or let the ball slip through my hands. It's frustrating as hell."
"Can imagine, chief."
"And the worst part is hearing it from everybody. The Fans. The Coaches. My teammates. I'm trying my best. There's just something not clicking."
Felt bad for the kid. "'Scuse me for a minute, sport." Pushed myself to my feet. "Need to get rid of some of this gin."
"Sure." Dez put his head in his hands and sighed.
Relieved myself in the bathroom then threw some water on my face. Leanin' on the chipped and rusty sink, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. What happened to my face? Yesterday I looked like Dez Bryant. Young. Healthy. Full of life and promise. Time sure beat the hell out of me. Shook my head. Time.
"You alright in there, Mr. Diamond?" Dez asked.
"C'mere a minute," I called to the kid.
"Need a hand?"
"Nah. Wanna show you somethin'."
"Uh, that's OK, Mr.Diamond," Dez hesitated. "I'm good right here."
"Relax, Sally. You're not my type," I chuckled. "Now, c'mere."
The young wideout stuck his head in the door. Guess he was satisfied with what he saw and came in. "What's up?" he questioned.
"Look here," I said, gesturin' towards the mirror, "and tell me what you see."
Dez seemed confused. "I don't understand."
"Just look in the mirror, Skreech," I repeated. "And tell me what you see."
I stepped back and let the kid peer into the glass. "What d'ya see?"
"Dirt," he began. "Mildew. Grease. Toothpaste."
Funny. "What do you see?"
"I see me."
"And who are you?" I demanded. "Who is Dez Bryant?"
He didn't answer. Didn't really expect him to. "You're a man. Nothin' more. Nothin' less. You can't be everything to everybody."
He looked me in the eye.....Waitin'.
"The fans? They're gonna cheer you when you do good, and boo you when you do bad. That'll never change. Doesn't matter who you are."
"I get that, Mr. Diamond," he waved off the comment. "I'm not worried about them. That stuff doesn't really get to me."
"Then what, sly? The coaches? Coaches will love you until someone younger, faster and cheaper comes along. Name of the game. You're smart enough to realize that." I hope.
"I know. I've seen it."
"Teammates, then? Well, that's a little more complicated, 'cause those are the guys you have to look at in the huddle. But twenty years from now, how many of them do you honestly see as your friends? Honestly?" He looked at the floor. "None of them matter in the long run, kid."
A little mist clouded his eyes. "It's everything, man. Everything you just said." He folded his arms across his chest. Like a shield. "Every time I step on the field there's a million eyes watching me. Judging me."
"You can't play this game for them. Or their approval. All that matters is you. You have to go out there and play the best you can for yourself. Just you. Dez Bryant. One man." I put my hand on his shoulder. "Once you figure that out, you'll be fine."
"You think it's that easy?"
"It has to be that easy, kid," I shrugged. "There's a helluva lot guys with less talent and less brains makin' it look that easy."
Wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "What makes you think you're right?" he asked. "You don't look very smart."
"Hey," I defended myself. "You don't get digs like this by handin' out lousy advice."
Dez smiled. The first real smile since he walked in. "Can't argue with that, Mr. Diamond. This place is tight."
Yawned and nodded my agreement. Could do with a few less cockroaches. But home is home. "Just think about what I said, junior."
"Thanks, Mr. Dia...." He paused. "Thanks, Dick."
Grinned in spite of myself. "Welcome, Dez."
He turned to leave, then stopped. "What do you see when you look at me?" he questioned from behind youthful eyes.
"Doesn't matter what I think, kiddo."
"I really want to know."
Held out my hand and waited for him to take it. He did. "S'long, son." The mook almost broke my fingers.
Disappointed that I wasn't goin' to answer, he simply said, "Take care, man. And thanks, again." The kid seemed a little taller as left the bathroom and out the front door. Or maybe I was just a little more hunched. Don't know.
What do I see when I look at you, Dez? The future. Leaned on the sink again and looked at myself in the mirror. And there, my friend, is the past.
Shrugged and made my way back to bed. Spring was still diggin' in my back. Didn't mind. Sink drippin' made me sleepy. Funny. No more throbbin' in my head. Sleep was gonna come easy.
Knock at the door. Heavy knock. Bertha. Damn. Now would be a good time to throw up.