Wet Metal: An Excerpt From Blame 

Tuesday, Jun 16 2009

Patsy MacLemoore came to on a concrete shelf in a cell in the basement of the Altadena Sheriff’s department. Her hair had woken her up. It stank.

She had said she would rather die than come back here. She’d said that both times she’d been here before.

The little jail had no windows. Fluorescent tubes quivered night and day. A fan clattered, off-kilter. Each of the three connected cells contained a seatless stainless-steel toilet and a tiny, one-faucet sink.

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Lurching to the undersized sink, she drank from it sideways, cheek anchored against the greasy spout. The dribble was tepid and tasted of mold. In the next cell over, June’s haughty face loomed. Did she fuckin live here? Every time Patsy’d been in, she was, too. June’s top lip was like two paisleys touching. What’d you do this time, Professor? said the lips.

Don’t know, Patsy said. D’n’D. De-dicking some cretin. No idea.

Not what I heard, June said. And lookit your face.

Patsy’s fingers went to a ridge of scab crystallizing along her cheekbone. No wonder her head hurt.

Returning to the shelf, she noted the itchy rasp of the prison gown. Lead-blue, unrippable, it was made of 45 percent stainless-steel, according to the label. She was naked beneath, not even panties.

I hear you’re in deep shit, Professor. June’s bangs were set in a pink foam curler. How do you get curlers in jail? June had a real mirror, too, not the stainless-steel square provided before you face the judge. And a hair dryer. A zippered sack of makeup spilled open on her sleeping shelf. Like she lived here.

Hey, Professor, wanna borrow my brush? A turquoise paddle with mashed black plastic bristles slid through the bars, but Patsy knew better than to reach for it lest the brush be retracted again and again, as many times as she’d fall for the ruse, only to be offered at a price, as if she kept a twenty rolled up in her privates for such expenditures. Naw, Juney. Patsy gathered her long sour hair — the mats large and thick as trout — and wound it into a loose knot. But this proved too much tug on her scalp and she shook it free.

She couldn’t be in too deep shit, she thought, if she was still in this small-town dump. When’d I come in, Juney?

You were here when I come. Snoring in your own mess. We made ’em spray you down. What’d you do to make ’em so mad?

Who knows? said Patsy. Maybe I used too many big words, or lectured ’em on the progressive era. Hell, Juney, I have no idea. Oh, but we’ll find out.

O’Mallon was at the cage door. Hiya Bitsy, Patsy said, using the jailhouse joke about a supposedly small part of him.

He opened the door, beckoned with a curt tilt of his head.

Standing, she realized she was still quite drunk. Well, they needn’t know that. She straightened her spine, and set off at a stately pace. O’Malley, blocking her, produced cuffs.

Uh-oh. Daddy’s mad.

He drew her hands behind her back, clasped them in chrome, shoved. Goddamn, Bitsy. See ya, Juney, over her shoulder.

O’Mallon steered her by the upper arm down the floor-waxed hall to what Patsy thought of as the conversation room, another drab and battered place with a stoic oak table, and windows with chicken wire in the mottled glass. Benny, the lawyer who had represented her in other drunk-driving episodes, sat inside the door. Did I call you? Patsy asked, for she had summoned him on more than one previous occasion with no memory of doing so. She grazed his shoulder with her hip. We have to stop meeting like this, she said.

Benny ignored her — her own counsel!

Lieutenant Peterson sat across the table. Also, Ricky Barrett, who had just last year been a continuing-education student in her 20th century cultural-history course. Those continuing-ed credits had paid off; he was Detective Barrett now, as she’d learned during her last incarceration.

Everyone’s mouth was a down-turned crescent. To what do I owe such a ... summit? she said. Such a meeting of the County’s best and brightest?

Shut up, Patsy. That was the world-weary Peterson. White-haired and monotoned. Just shut the fuck up.

But then nobody else said anything.

Really, you guys. What’s up? Why the faces? I can’t remember a thing.

Try, suggested Peterson.

Patsy pulled out a chair, sat and tried. Monday morning survey, America 1865 to the present. Office hours. Personnel committee dinner at Anne Davis’ house, blankness setting in around the soup course, not her fault, the wine so cheap and bad. What day is it, anyway?


Shit. When’d I come in?

Last night.

I lost Tuesday, she said.

Across from her, Ricky Barrett snapped the elastic band on an accordion file, a battered and cloudy-brown thing, the corners worn to white. Patsy couldn’t help but read the word felt-tipped on its side: HOMICIDE.

The taste of wet metal filled her mouth.

Michelle Huneven is the author of two previous novels, Round Rock and Jamesland. A contributor to L.A. Weekly, she lives in Altadena. Blame will be published by Sarah Crichton Books/FSG in September.


Further reading from the Weekly Literary Supplement:

"How Fiction Works: King James and the Battle for the Novel," by Nathan Ihara

"Geoff in London, Interview in Absentia," by Tom Christie

"Henry Bay’s America: An Excerpt From The Enthusiast," by Charlie Haas

"The Calm: An Excerpt From Silver Lake," by Peter Gadol

"Old World Meets New Age in Thriller Nowhere-Land," by Judith Freeman

"Publishing Your Novel Online," by Alan Rifkin


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