by C. N. Nevets, (c) 2010
Jimmy was so thin and pale I thought his veins might just fall out, but when we sat down at the little round table, he was the one who was bursting with smiles and energy.
“I don't know how you do it, man,” I admitted, idly glancing at the grease-smeared menu in front of me. “You're forty-five and you're grinning like you're nineteen.”
“Lovin' life, brother, that's all it is. Lovin' life.” His voice was strong, but hoarse. He'd had three shows this week, and his style of singing would have strained anyone's vocal chords. He glanced over at the girl behind bar. “I'm thirstier than hell, hon, just gimme a couple glasses of water with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of sugar, and then keep 'em coming 'till I say no more.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Heroine.”
I rolled my eyes. Jimmy Heroine. His stage name. Used to just be something people called him because he was so stretched out and empty looking. Now the young ones thought it was his real name. What a world.
I gave her my order. “I'll have a scotch with a pinch of scotch and a teaspoon of scotch. Keep 'em coming 'till I say no more.”
Jimmy eyeballed me, his eyes popping out of their sunken sockets. “You doin' okay there, brother?”
“Yeah, not bad,” I assured him, shrugging my upper arms and laughing a couple times through my nose.
“Whatcha painting right now?”
Where was that damn scotch? I looked at the menu again, a little more intently. I thought the word behind the thick smear of dried ketchup was hamburger, but it could have been ham sandwich. “Just painting little things here and there, you know? Stuff for family mostly.”
“Working a lot?”
“Feels like all the time.” I looked at the girl behind the bar. She was fixing his waters. There wasn't a bottle of scotch anywhere near her. “Gotta pay the bills, you know? It's good job, too. I like the people I work with and I'm in quality assurance now, in management, so it's really good. But definitely a lot of hours.”
“You're gonna go insane, bro bro.” Jimmy tapped out drum rolls on the table surface with his nail-like fingers. “You're a painter, not some retail guy. Your stuff's good. That one you did with the face, and the blue background, and it was like you could feel what it must be like to be God when you looked at it – I still have dreams about that painting.”
The girl set his waters down and then asked me, “What was it you said you wanted? Beer?”
“Scotch.” I tried not to snarl.
“Right, scotch.” She turned back to Jimmy. “Anything else, Mr. Heroine? You want some fries or something? My treat.”
“Sure, honey, that'd be great, thanks.”
I meant to swear under my breath, but I just swore. They both gave me looks of surprise and reproach. Grimacing, I picked up the menu to hide behind. Didn't last long. I smacked it down on the table. “You living off your music these days?”
“Hell no,” Jimmy laughed, grinning. As if the laugh pained him, he winced and then applied gentle pressure to his side. “We have a lot of shows, but we play for drinks and a hundred bucks to split. Stuff like that. It's about the love, brother. The art.”
“You can't live on art.”
“Hell no,” Jimmy agreed, laughing again. “But I get by.”
“Still selling your blood?”
“And your sperm?”
“You look like death, man.” I meant it as a judgment against his lifestyle.
He brushed it off. “That's the operation, that's all.”
As the girl brought me what looked and smelled like an amaretto sour, Jimmy lifted his t-shirt. In addition to the sharp relief of his ribs, I could see a scar on his left side. “Kidney,” he said.
“Cancer?” I asked.
“Not sure.” He lowered the shirt and drained one of the glasses of water. “Not mine, whatever it was. I donated it, brother.”
“Donated? How are you healthy enough to donate a kidney?”
“The kinda guys who pay you in cash for your kidney don't do a physical first, know what I mean?”
I stared at the drink that had been placed in front of me. My voice was distant. “You sold your kindey? Sold? Your kidney?”
“Gotta pay the bills, ya know?” Again, Jimmy laughed. His laugh was warm and convivial, even when it was hoarse like it was.
“Hey, it lets me make money and still sing, I'm cool with it.”
I shook my head and crossed my arms across my chest, sitting in stiff condescension. “It's a slippery slope. Where's it going to stop, Jimmy? Blood, sperm, kidneys -- pieces of your liver?”
“I dunno.” He was grinning, but his his were sharp and shadowed. “You tell me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I'm just selling my body for my art, brother, you're selling your soul.”
I gulped at the amaretto sour and my eyes searched the room for anything to look at other than Jimmy's grin.