Joyland

New York |

This Way Up

by Angelica Zollo

edited by Brian Joseph Davis

He was always late to dinner. He slept through Christmas. He was late to his mother’s funeral. He asked if they had taped it because he missed it.

His house was the party house. The house was infamous for addicts. It brought together the famous and glamorous, more precisely, the formerly famous and glamorous. They were really all one hit wonders. They loved success, but they loved drugs more. Their delusions had plummeted them to the bottom of the Hollywood food chain, but when they were high they were still movie stars: indestructible, immortal movie stars.

He lived in a house made of glass. The house was perched up in the Hollywood Hills, even though it was see through, it was secluded. He was incredibly generous, and lonely, and they all took advantage. The house held secrets. The house was a secret world where vampires gathered.

He got deeper and deeper inside the cave he had built, Hell on the Hill. As the years passed, time seemed to slow as he deteriorated. He was so intelligent. He had a photographic memory. He loved the world. He loved to travel and be in the water. He would wake up each morning with a need to discover, a need to travel and learn and see. This all vanished. Instead of the adrenaline of life running through his veins poison flowed through his blood. And it spread and spread into each and every speck of skin, through every vein. The red lines and shapes were the staves and notes of his demise. The lines looked more alive then he did. His skin became translucent and his hair grew longer, tangled, and lifeless. His muscles and bones became weak. He was a vampire too; living in his own world where each and every night the other ones would join him wearing masks of real people that they once were that one-day had functioned in the real world. They thought they were functioning humans inside their heads of mush and high. I was ten years old when all of this got frightening.

*

I always dreamt about the vampires. I always wanted to bust through the front door and walk inside to see them all at night. They were all sucking on poison, drinking it and injecting it, their sustenance, and their demise. The thing about them was, they were all real and vampires were made up. There was the homeless man that lived on the roof. He didn’t want to bother anyone. He kept quiet. He would whistle old blues songs to keep him company. I think he had been in the army. He had a faded tattoo of an eagle on his now weak arm. I wasn’t scared of him; he had a friendly face with white whiskers.

There was the man who lived in the bathtub. His clothes were all worn and muddy. He stank up the bathtub and caked it all in black mold. He wore heavy combat boots untied. His head shaved and across it a tattoo that read: This Way Up. Just in case he forgot.

There was the rap star that wasn’t really a rap star. He used to sing soul, but he thought it was too old now that the rap is what the kids are singing.

There was the woman who lived in the closet. She said she couldn’t leave it. Her old singing boyfriend had locked her in one.

There was the woman wilting like an old flower. Once glamorous in black cocktail dresses, now uniformed in laddered tights and sweatshirts. She told me once that she would never get into drugs, she would get him off them.

And there was the other woman. She used to be a writer. She used to be bright and her red hair used to shine under the California sun. Now it had made a nest of dreadlocks that she wrapped in an old tea towel. She never left the couch. She would eat old Betty Crocker cake mix out of a bowl even when it had run out. She would watch QVC all day and order old antique eggs and worthless gemstones. She still sounded very posh when she spoke: “I’m going buy them and sell them all for profit.” Boxes of QVC orders lived around her in piles. She ordered all of her goodies off the man’s American Express.

Sometimes there was the Dominatrix with low self-esteem. She would walk around the house in head to toe leather or P.V.C. crying, crying as she dropped her whips and her chains.

One day I went to the house. As I walked to the front door I looked up at the roof. The homeless man wasn’t there. I walked round to the other side of the house. There he was in the grass clutching his old Walkman. BB King playing through the beat up headphones. He had fallen. The fallen roof angel had fallen and was no longer breathing, but he had a smile on his face that reminded me of my grandmother. Right before she passed my mother, my aunt, my cousins and I were gathered around her. There was a smile on her face and her eyes were closed. Her smile stayed there with her red lipstick on her lips.

It is hard to see someone break. Especially when they are addicted, especially when you can’t help them unless they want it. I never thought he would ever get help.

The last time I saw the woman she had developed a disease that infested her skinny legs, now even skinnier, with awful blotches. In a funny way even though I had only known her for a short while and only had a glimpse of the healthy version of her I felt close to her. I felt like I could tell her things and that she would listen.

I sent letters to the woman at rehab when I was allowed to contact her.

She got better quicker than the man in the glass house. She never forgot the letters I sent. She kept them all.

Illustration by Carolyn Tripp