In the opening pages of A Drop of the Hard Stuff, Scudder mentions that his friend Mick Ballou is married now, to a much younger woman named Kristin Hollander. Readers may recall Kristin from Hope to Die and All the Flowers Are Dying, but her relationship with Mick may come as news to them. It was in fact noted in a vignette I wrote a couple of years ago, “Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen,” but that was written for a limited-edition broadside published by Mark Lavendier; it sold out in a hurry.
I expect I’ll tuck it into my next collection of short fiction. But in the meantime I thought some of y’all might like a look at it:
MICK BALLOU LOOKS AT THE BLANK SCREEN
“At first,” Mick Ballou said, “I thought the same as everyone else in the country. I thought the fucking cable went out.”
We were at Grogan’s, the Hell’s Kitchen saloon he owns and frequents, and he was talking about the final episode of The Sopranos, which ended abruptly with the screen going blank and staying that way for ten or fifteen seconds.
“And then I thought, well, they couldn’t think of an ending. But Kristin recalled the time Tony and Bobby were talking of death, and what it would be like, and that you wouldn’t even know it when it happened to you. So that was the ending, then. Tony dies, and doesn’t even know it.”
It was late on a weekday night, and the closemouthed bartender had already shooed the last of the customers out of the place and put the chairs up on the tables, where they’d be out of the way when someone else mopped the floor in the morning. I’d been out late myself, speaking at an AA meeting in Marine Park, then stopping for coffee on the way home. Elaine met me with a message: Mick had called, and could I meet him around two?
There was a time when most of our evenings started around that time, with him drinking twelve-year-old Jameson while I kept him company with coffee or Coke or water. We’d go until dawn, and then he’d drag me down to St. Bernard’s on West 14th Street for the butchers’ mass. Nowadays our evenings started and ended earlier, and there weren’t enough butchers in the gentrified Meat Market district to fill out a mass, and anyway St. Bernard’s itself had given up the ghost, and was now Our Lady of Guadalupe.
And we were older, Mick and I. We got tired and went home to bed.
And now he’d summoned me to discuss the ending of a television series.
He said, “What do you think happens?”
“You’re not talking about tv.”
He shook his head. “Life. Or the end of it. Is that what it is? A blank screen?”
I talked about near death experiences, all of them remarkably similar, with the consciousness hovering in midair and being invited to go to the light, then making the decision to return to the body. “But there’s not a lot of eyewitness testimony,” I said, “from the ones who go to the light.”