The first really odd thing he asked himself was, “How long can I go without blinking?”
3 miles at 83mph. But he knew he could do better. Better was always there. Better was a hard coach or maybe a bitchy mistress but there it stood.
“You can do better,” said the voice, expressionless.
Nag, nag, nag. There were a few miles when he felt good. Right good. Bob Seger “Roll me Away” road song good. Now he knew the voice that slipped in over Bob Seger’s 10,000 cigarette perfectly gruffy voice, it was the “You can do better” voice.
The motor whirred along with the ruthless beauty of efficiency. Cams spinning, injectors spitting and the uniform spark driven explosions belted him forward. He thought he could hear the gears in the transmission. The loudest noise was induction, the hungry suck of oxygen as the cylinders sucked in huge amounts of air before belching it out in a long rumble through the exhaust.
He rolled off and downshifted as he ran down a ramp toward a truck infested rest stop. The bike backfired.
It’s running rich, he thought.
“You can do better,” said the voice, expressionless.
Fuck you voice, he thought and then couldn’t decide if he should pull through one of the diagonal parking places that ran down the center of the lot or swing into the curb, cut a hard left and back up to the curb. He picked the curb. The bike seemed to sigh as he shut it off. Leaning onto the kickstand it seemed to drop its shoulders and relax. Inside himself he just needed to pee.
The bathroom was clean. Generic. Graffiti-proof. As Grandpa used to joke he “did a bladder download”. Grandpa was an engineer and it was an engineer’s joke. After a short clicking walk he was off the tiles and back onto concrete. The hydraulics closed both doors behind him without a squeak.
Crappy parking job, he thought as he walked up to the bike. It wasn’t centered in the spot but it wasn’t off the greasy, oily shit stain the cars behind when they overheated, pissed and puked after too hard a run. How many clapped out cars had sat there and bled vital fluids?
“You can do better,” said the voice, expressionless.
Mounting from the cop-side he pulled the bike up to met his ass as he sat down. Denver was still 5 hours down the road.
“You can do better,” said the voice, expressionless.
It wasn’t unexpected, he just wasn’t ready when it happened. Things had been pinging of his face as long as he had been on two wheels. It just wasn’t something you wanted to happen or were ready for. It was just a black dot, then 4 wings, eyes and a long tail and WHAP! Right on the bridge of the nose. He was blinded for a second; cross-eyed. Instinctively he turned and put his chin on his right shoulder and what was left of the dragonfly was torn from his face by the crosswind. One wing resisted, flapped hard and lost before it disappeared, broken and ruined.
Once at a party a drunk girl had walked up to him, flashed a beautiful smile and then slapped him so hard he wobbled and then walked off giggling. This was that moment ago. The dragonfly had beautiful faceted eyes. It flashed before his eyes just long enough to recognize before it before it hit and ran. Thank God he had bought those cheap safety glasses. Good sense told him to pull over, wipe off and let the sting fade but somewhere inside he couldn’t do it. It was defeat to pull over and pussy-out on the insect’s terms. Eyes still watering he decided to ride to the next exit before pulling over.
Ahead he saw an overpass and decided to go another before he’d pull off.
Talking to Jesus
His nose still hurt. It wasn’t broken–he knew that feeling. Pulling into the gas station he figured a short stop to throw in a gallon and a half would give him time to hit the head for a piss and wash his face. Watching over the top of the nozzle he looks into the tank and he hears a voice.
“Those things will kill you.”
Looking up there stands a middle-aged guy on the other side of the island with one hand on a Honda Odyssey minivan and the other on the pump trying to make himself look hard in a vintage Mountain Dew shirt and Walmart shorts.
“Those things will kill you.” Minivan nods at the bike.
“What was their name?”
“Whose?” Replies Minivan.
Bubbles appear in the bike’s tank, the gas almost foams as it fills up into the collar. A careful eye and clicking in the last few ounces, he pulls the nozzle and flips it up to keep it from dripping. “The one who died? What was their name? Was it an uncle or a brother or cousin? Maybe that friend in high school or the guy on your softball team? What was their name?” Hanging up the nozzle he just looks at Minivan. Minivan looks startled. “Don’t you remember?”
Minivan looks lost. “It was my cousin. His name was Dakota.” Memory flashes in his eyes a cloud of a flashback.
“High school? Dirt bike? What?”
Minivan’s eyes appear to dilate, focus shifts in time and the shimmer of memory appears. “Dirt bike. Family reunion. Hit a tree and broke his neck. My Aunt was there, right there…” Minivan is gone a moment but wakes up with a start as words start to flow over him.
“I am not Dakota. Warning me won’t save him–or me–or you. Someday, in motorcycle heaven, if I see him I’ll tell him you miss him. I’ll tell him you miss him and wish you had told him to be careful. He was a good kid wasn’t he?”
Minivan nods, in daze, a haze, a heather.
“He don’t blame you man. He don’t. But if I get there first I’ll let him know you love him. That you miss him. That you wish things were different and he were still here and you could wrestle and fight and tell stories.” Stepping back and turning he throws a leg over the bike. There’d be time for pissing later, maybe in a culvert or behind an abandoned service station. “He’s cool with you.” A click and a rumble and the bike, its heart beating, oil flowing and spark flashing drops into first. Easing out the clutch he pulls away.
Minivan hangs up the nozzle, presses “No receipt”, opens his driver’s door and drops into the driver’s seat. The van rocks gently and Mrs. Minivan returns with chips and sodas in a plastic bag and sits down.
“Honey,” she asks, “are you OK? You look like you saw a ghost.”
Before he can answer a five year old voice speaks from the middle row, “It’s OK Mom, he was just talking to Jesus.”
The Sun lay a warm arm across his shoulders. Riding in the morning was his favorite because the world seemed to linger as it woke up. Smells came easier and cleaner. It was as if the gas and oil and diesel were too cold to reach up from the pavement and grab his nostrils. Rotting things hadn’t started to stink and the scent of nature was strong. Grass, corn silk, and seasonal blooms weren’t masked by the odor of boiling radiators and soft tar. Plus, you could smell the bacon near the diners. Small towns were the best for smells. A bakery was a treat only surpassed by the aroma of hot doughnuts.
Starting in the morning passes him through the transition from cold to cool, from cool to warm and then warm to hot. It was a time of metamorphosis or bloom, where shedding layers moved you closer to the real world as you stripped out of your gear. A cold morning called for a rain jacket outer to cut the wind and seal in the heat. Then, once you started to get a little too warm you had an excuse to pull over, shuck the rain gear, start up again a little too cool and then cycle back to warm again. Spring came again and again and again until he was down to long sleeves and a vest. His shoulders gave the first sense of real heat. It took time for the armor in the back of his vest to heat up but the sun on his shoulders was the signal to pull over again, hydrate and (they called him a pussy for this) apply sunscreen to his neck and face.
If things got really hot he’d pull over, soak a buff, put it on under his helmet and let physics cool him down. Do-rags weren’t his thing and the knot was always chaffing his neck. Getting off the road by 3 was his target. Things could get blistering by 5pm. Besides, it was 8 hours in and out of the saddle and that got him far enough.
Closer to wherever it was he was going.
Up the Creek
He wasn’t lost, misplaced or meandering, a better term would be “re-orienting himself.” Bushwhacking wasn’t his forte but he has a decent natural north and generally got where he wanted to be without a phone, map or GPS. Currently the problem was the county road division. They didn’t believe in paving roads. This road clearly was going somewhere or it wouldn’t have asphalt on it. Every time he considered turning right or left he’d find the pavement ended after 50 to 100 feet. Tricked the first couple of times he was now in the habit of slowing and looking before he turned in. A 90 degree turn to the right throbbed in his head. Just a turn to the right before he was too off track.
Another intersection, another dirt road; every mile or so.
He turns down one of the incomplete roads, kills the engine and coasts to a stop. He can hear the wheels on the sandy (soon to end) blacktop. Dismounting cop style he plants his foot and swings his right foot over the seat. He can feel blood flowing back into his knees. Looking around for some sign of humanity, namely a silo or water-tower he thinks about direction. The land is rolling and flat punctuated by heavy brush wherever there is water. He had been taught to follow water if he ever got lost. “Water leads to people because people seek it out. Humans need water!” His father was an outdoors-man and worried about his boy getting lost or eaten by something. “Water goes to more water,” he said, “It’s life. It will lead you down from the mountain and somewhere on it’s bank you will find people.” What kind of people was never mentioned. Pop looked so serious when he’d pass that sort of information along. His eyes were so bright back then. Over the years the frame of his face had changed, become wrinkled and gray but his eyes had always been so very bright. Things change, things fade.
Down the road about a quarter of a mile he can see where a small creek wanders over and bumps the packed gravel. There are a couple of what could be small walnut trees there as well. The image of a pipe clean or furry caterpillar comes to mind as he looks around at the meandering creek. Throwing a his leg back over he fires it up and starts down the road, quickly dropping off the pavement. It is a well maintained “unimproved” road without washboard or washouts. Shadow lay on the road and parking meant keeping away from the shoulder to keep it from collapsing. A junction box cover came out of a saddlebag and went under the kickstand just in case.
Shade felt good. Protected from the sun. Respite. Just big enough to be called a creek and not a drainage brown water rain with modest speed. It was hard to believe that the ground had that much run to it. Rooting around he found his rain jacket and after an inspection for insects or their homes he spread it with the liner up and then sat down and laid back on it.
Rain on the Road
Inside his head a distant thunderclap brought him back to the world. Sleep had slipped up behind him and taken him for a short ride. The urge was clear. Pee. Now. Getting up was uncomfortable. Should have gone earlier. Standing on the bank he knew he couldn’t pee in or around the water because it was just wrong, three weeks of sleeping bags, oatmeal and jerky had helped drum that one in. Scanning about he can’t see a helpful soda or water bottle. Trash just wasn’t there. “No garbage, no people,” his father’s voice said in his head, if that was true then this was truly nowhere. The trees were a possible target but felt wrong too. Looking at the packed gravel road he realizes he can get off the creek’s watershed if he just drained the hose there.
The problem wasn’t a shy bladder because no one was around. Problem was he’d been holding it a long, long time. Relaxing enough to get started took closed eyes and forced thoughts and a good minute. Standing there with his wick in his hand random thoughts wandered through his mind. Anchor-less thoughts about high school or birthdays or the crash; a wind whipped, nonsensical circus parade. The dog he hit in the early dawn hours with his mother’s car he wasn’t supposed to be driving. Nikki J in a red prom dress. Mowing the lawn. His father’s lawyer. Waking up behind the 7/11. The fallen apple tree in Grandpa’s backyard. A college dorm room. Things began to flow. A third grade water color. Baseball dugout both empty and full. Compound fracture, big toe. Tattooed knuckles up close, very close.
The flow of urine petered out. How strange, he thought, standing in the middle of nowhere with a motorcycle and his dick in his hand. He realized that like everything else he’d pissed away–the sun would bake it dry and the wind would whip it away.
A Dirty Business
Things were going better than he thought. The road surface was smooth and he ran slower than usual his brain was happier. There was no nagging worry except riding on a dirt road. Everyone seemed to fear a dirt road because somewhere in their brains they thought a dirt road was paved with grease and BBs. A steady throttle hand and controlled braking kept the bike from getting sloppy. Looking into his mirrors there wasn’t the cloud of dust he had been expecting. In his mind there should be a swirling towering cloud he could not see through. The low fog of dust wasn’t biblical enough. There should be a trail of fine particulate destruction in his wake. Unfortunately the road was well built and packed tight.
He saw no one. He passed no one. There was no one. An odd serenity falls on him. Maybe he is here. Maybe he’s not here. Maybe he fell of the planet and into some kind of Twilight Zone. Displaced from the world he went for miles on the dirt road rolling up onto the asphalt before an intersection, looking both ways and continuing on with a thump as he dropped off and left the asphalt behind. In the rumble and the dust and the vibrations he has stopped looking for a beacon of humanity. He was locked in to the experience of riding on dirt and was soaked it in and rolling around it it. You weren’t supposed to do it. He was doing. He was liking it. It was like getting away with something.
Approaching another intersection he gets ready to roll through and, checking to his left, realizes there’s a large blue water tower in the distance sticking up like some strange, inverted blue onion. A town. There are no silos, which is strange, but water meant people and people meant being somewhere and he was ready to be there. Loneliness wasn’t a thing that stalked him. He wasn’t lonely but missed people. His Pop at the end of his days might have been the same: things that were now better than the things that are.
The town is younger than he expected it to be. Very little brick and more strip mall than main street. Buildings hid behind parking lots. It was actually a small city. There were no silos because this looks to be a straight up suburban island. One of those “historic townships–less than an hour” from downtown somewhere. These were his people. The layout was familiar. He knew where he was because he had grown up in a city just like this. Metaphorically he had grown up here. There was cineplex somewhere. The Big Boxes would be clustered together with quick to the freeway. Somewhere there was the right kind of neighborhood and the wrong kind as well as a trailer park no one admitted to living in that was near the “industrial” side of town. The stick build homes were all up to code, no one built a shed without talking to Planning and Zoning. It may be a historic township but name was its only legacy feature. It was like being inside a Chinese WalMart. All the pieces were there just the packaging was different.
No brick downtown. No faded 1960’s signs. No diagonal parking along a nostalgic main drag. No clock on the watchmakers shop or shoes on the cobbler’s store. No drive in that your parents went to. No Empire Theater. No courthouse, City Hall colonnade or Masonic Lodge. The bakery was in the supermarket and the diner was Mickey D’s. There should be ghosts peering out through torn yellowed newspaper on empty storefronts. Somewhere a developer had thieved a name and its dignity and then sold it.
“No butcher, baker or candlestick maker.” He said aloud. Were they in town or a bathtub? Rub-a-dub-dub baby.
There was an old Dairy Queen re-branded as “Tony’s Tacos” coming up, it made twisted sense in that “Pedro’s Pizza” sort of way. He’s in the left lane of the 21st century American main street; two lanes each way and a suicide lane in the middle of it all. Continuing down this road it would turn into some kind of state highway and cross an interstate that would send him straight to Metropolis. A honk next to him snaps him awake like a dog barking on your bed at midnight. Reflexively he rolls off and starts to brake. It’s too late. An empty lonely skateboard is shooting across his path. Braking isn’t going to work. Eyes anchored to the transportation of a generation he releases the brake. They will collide. Prying his eyes up he pins the throttle to lighten the front end. The front get light, the forks decompress and there’s a bang and a clatter, the sound of breaking, a mumbled thump and a feeling of something under the rear wheel. Relaxing he backs off the throttle and looks in the mirror. The board is broken and upside down, trucks and wheels to the sky. Slowly it spins to a stop in the suicide lane.
Traffic is muted. Everyone has slowed to prepare to evade the missing skateboarder or maybe hoping to see something bloody and spectacular. Taking advantage of the slowing and stopping behind him, he slides into the curb lane and pulls into the next driveway and rails around the curbed island reversing course. There is the intermittent scuff of his right footpeg on the surface of the parking lot as he bounces through the gutter and up onto the asphalt of the lot. At Tony’s Tacos he sees three teenagers. A young boy and two older girls. The girls are holding the boy back. The boy wants to run out into traffic and get his board. Stomping his feet like an angry child he waves his arms and grabs his head while one girl hangs onto his elbow. She won’t let him chase his toy.
All three turn to the sound of his approach. Oh, they are such puppies, he thinks. So young and stupid/innocent. Holding the boy is a skinny blonde girl wearing Hello Kitty flannel pajama pants. Babies. He feels old yet empathizes with them. Stopping he looks at them and they try to decide what is about to happen. There’s a soft, frozen moment of surprise. Stopping he flips down the kickstand down and stands. Hello Kitty moves forward to put herself between him and the boy. Happy to be free the boy slides further behind her. She starts talking quickly.
“It was an accident Mister, he was just being stupid,” she says. “It just happened.” The other girl slaps the boy’s head,
Girl number 2 has unnaturally black hair, is heavyset and wearing a “Black Veil Brides” t-shirt; one side of her head is shaved. She hits the boy again. “How do you fuck up a nose grind like that, STUPID!” Cocking her arm she looks to slap the boy again but Hello Kitty grabs her wrist and yanks her hand down. The boy looks sheepish and scared, the attention is more than he wants. He has the same brow, eyes and nose as Hello Kitty.
Making eye contact with Hello Kitty he speaks his first words, “Is that your little brother?” Then throws his chin out to indicate the boy.
She sticks what little chest she has out. “YES. And he didn’t mean it.” Her voice is bold and frightened all at once, there is no trembling in it but he feels her fear. With one hand he unzips the first 6 inches of his vest. A fast move will send everyone running or worse, put Hello Kitty in fight mode. With his free hand he gives the “take it easy” sign, palm out fingers up, open hand. Fishing he finds his stash pocket. Gently he pulls out his walking around money.
“Your little brother?” he asks brings his hands back together.
“Yup.” Says the scrawny blonde. Confusion. He looks at the money in his hand. Peeling off two Benjamins he holds them out to her. “Make him leave that one where it is. Buy him a new one. Don’t let him cheap out.” Sidestepping a little he looks at Little Brother, peels off an Andrew Jackson and adds him to the cash. “Buy him some food. He looks like he needs it.” She does too. Looking up at the Tony’s Taco sign he adds, “Not here. Find him a good sandwich somewhere.”
Extending the money he watches as the kids try and decide what to do. Black Veil girl looks crafty and seems prepared to pounce on the cash. Hello Kitty tentatively reaches out but cringes as he grabs her wrist and stuffs the money in her palm. There’s true tension and he holds on to her just long enough to get her complete focus.
“You’re a good sister. Do not let her” nod at Black Veil, “take it. It’s for ya’ll.” He says and drops her arm. Three steps later he’s on the bike and rolling. His lawyer would be soooo pissed, thinking the money was going up his nose with “illicit purchases”. For his lawyer dropping 5 bucks in a red kettle at Christmas was an “illicit purchase”. A quick u-turn and he guns it hard.
Damn that was fun.
Suburbs are swamps that lay around cities, sometimes fetid, sometimes sweet; always different in their sameness. Highways and freeways just hump it across the suburban experience. The engineers are trying to get you to ignore those endless stretches of houses, convenience stores, strip malls and fast food joints. It’s where the designers live and they don’t want you to stop or look. It’s like you’re passing over it in a low flying airplane.
“Avert your eyes!” Say the suburbs, like some stick-built Elephant Man, “I’m hideous! Look away! Watch the car in front of you please.”
He’d get off the freeway and roll through Stockton or Galt just to look around and find somewhere to eat. Hard towns were more authentic. Old, hard towns were better. Mobile, Alabama. Oakland, California. Oklahoma City was worth a ride through town. Kansas City was a stop and eat, don’t be stupid kind of town; anywhere in Missouri was old with brick and worth a look. You might not think it but Cedar Rapids was a good, old hard town. Hard towns had fighters. If it’s got a rep for fighters then it’s the kind of town you want to eat in. Yuma. Ogden. Rock Springs. Train towns. Towns that may be down but won’t get knocked out. Those kinds of places that may be past their prime but could still punch. Ali just past his prime–Mike Tyson in 2000. A rose with the bloom just off and the pedals loose, those sleeping dogs you should let lie. No staring or prolonged eye contact, just mind your own business towns.
Once in a hard little town in Nebraska the checker at the lunch counter had grabbed his hand and turned it hard, looked at the tat on the inside of his wrist and asked like a curious aunt, with an iimpossiblee 1960’s beehive of grey and blonde. She was every stern teacher and best friends harsh but loving mother.”What’s this?”
“My Pop,” was all he said.
“Huh,” Releasing his hand, “Twelve ninety-five.”
He was a leave-me-alone kind of guy in a leave-me-alone kind of store in a leave-me-alone kind of town. She was too.
He ate lunch in the park next to the grocery.
Apple and Oranges
Inside the Walmart. Being a sell-out, he tells himself. But it was a quick and dirty run required by the suburban sprawl. Ain’t no fruit stands in the metropolis and who knows what has sneezed on a apple in the gas station. Looking around he could be anywhere in the US. Or China for that matter. There was a homey feel to being there with the pallet stacks in the aisles and cubes of Disney movies by the checkouts. God it must be ugly to stand in a long line with a cart full of Lucky Charms and diapers as a three year old stomps her foot demanding the latest big-eyed, small waist-ed princess. Looking around he sees the little children are thin and the big children aren’t. Most people don’t look happy. Shopping is a chore. In the big box good smells mixed with other good smells and somehow became bad smells. Chemicals mixed with boxes musty from long sea voyages. Boxes spent a lot of time in containers and had that weird, wet cardboard smell. Throw in sweat, fried food and dirty diapers and you had a stew that no one’s nose really wanted. If you were lucky the place might smell like bleach and antibiotics. If you were unlucky it smelled like the woman in front of him. Not good, there was no standout odor, she was like the building–a collage of aroma that just didn’t work.
Walmart, the new central marketplace of humanity. You’ll find it all and them all here.
From behind him comes the bickering of teenage boys arguing about who’s driving the car home. Curious to see why Mom sent them to the store he half turns and looks. Two young men in white shirts and ties are behind him. One holds a box of tissues, a gallon of milk, and a cake mix. The other holds three bags of Nacho Doritos. Nacho Boy has some nasty acne at his hairline. Milk Boy is the older of the two but still looks like a puppy. He looks at them, noting their high and tight haircuts and matching uniforms. They look at him uneasily. Nacho’s shirt is rumpled, Milk’s not quite so much. Both have a small name tag perched on their breast pocket like company ID. According to the tags Milk Boy is Elder Rooch and Nacho is Elder Kilham. He looks at them and they look at him. The feeling is very much awkward. Neither knows what to say. The context was wrong for both sides, neither expected to see each other so neither had a plan.
Nods. He nods. They nod. Everybody nods to say, “I have no idea what to do.”
The air clears. Turning back the woman in front finishes digging in her purse and has lifted a too big arm in a too small t shirt and is now swiping a card to pay. The flesh under her arm jiggles as she punches in a PIN. The checker looks at him as he puts 2 oranges, an apple, a bag of trial mix and a zero calorie energy drink down. She looks pleased to see under 20 items actually hit the Formica. Wobbly arms had simply brought her cart into port and unloaded as fast as the checker could clear the dock. The drink is swiped and in a bag, followed by the oranges and the apple. Before she can tell him a price he pivots to the left and says, “I’ll pay for these guys stuff too”, beckoning with his left hand he waves the boys up to the little counter.
As the chips are swiped he says, “You sure you don’t want a Pepsi so you can make it a meal?”
Elder Kilham with the erupting hair line says, “We don’t drink colas.” Dead serious. “Well, I don’t at least.” Turnint to his companion, “Elder Rooch, do you drink colas?”
Elder Rooch looks put out, panicked and pissed off all at once. Secretly he and all the other missionaries refer to Elder Kilham as Elder “Kill’im” because that’s what they all want to do. Elder Rooch tried to give Elder Kill’im an eat shit and die look. It bounced off. Elder Kill’im wasn’t done yet. “We’re missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!” He said cheerily and, hands now free of chips, stuck out a hand. Elder Rooch looked both terrified and hopeful. It would be fun to see his companion ground into some kind of pulp. Difficult to explain to the Mission President but fun nonetheless.
It was a child’s hand. Small, soft, hopeful and weak. The kid tried to squeeze, you had to give him that.
“I see by the way you eat that you’re concerned about your health,” said Elder Kilham. Nodding to the bag with the apples and oranges in it. He continued, “Did you know the Lord has given us a Word of Wisdom about what we eat and put in our bodies and wants to bless us for following his instructions?”
The older Elder looked like he was going to crap himself. The color had gone from his fate. Part of him was terrified that Elder Kill’im was going to get killed and part of him was thrilled it might happen. Embarrassed, panicked and hopeful he had no idea what to do. Kill’im was an idiot.
The apples and stuff was road food, daylight food. Daylight food was light stuff–apples, oranges, fresh fruit, nuts–stuff that didn’t sit in your gut and make you sick. Never start a day’s ride with a lump in your gut. Sounded wimpy but yogurt was a money day starter. Waking up in a motel it was always fun to grab a yogurt and juice and watch the old fogeys look confused. Night food was when you could get a little nutty and go big. You had overnight to sleep it off.
“So, I take it you don’t follow the Word of Wisdom?” He says pointing with his chin at the bags of chips. Turning away he starts for the door. “Enjoy your lunch boys.” He throws the words over his shoulder.
Really. Walking away? Really? Elder Kilham wasn’t about to let a promising contact walk away. Especially one who didn’t understand how Nacho Doritos fit in with the Word of Wisdom. It was time for some gentle persuasion and teaching; or at least landing a phone number and teaching appointment. On the other hand, Elder Rooch had moved from panic to guilty bewildered entertainment. Kill’im had completely snapped. The kid was wound up backward and overly tight and now was chasing down something that didn’t want to be caught. It was like the mouse charging the lion. It made strange, wonderful, tragic sense and he, Elder Dylan Rooch from Mesa, Arizona would be there to see the wonders of Elder Kill’im’s spiritual/physical suicide. Maybe Kill’im wanted to die in the service of the Lord. This was his jihad moment and his martyrdom. Whatever this is it’s going to be fun to watch.
The soft slap of flat-soled dress shoes follows him. What an oddly feminine sound, like Grandma hurrying across the kitchen linoleum. Focused Grandma. Grandma coming for an explanation. Mentally dropping a gear he picks up his pace. Grandma’s feet slap the wax a little faster, harder. Passing through the automatic doors he expects the rhythm to slow and fade. Nope. Only difference is the scratch of concrete instead of the slapping of waxed floor. What kind of git was this dude? There was a girl he knew in high school. She had wanted to “find her bliss” and pursued her bliss with a religious fervor. She would paddle around behind the young man she thought possessed that bliss until he would surrender said bliss not to thrill himself but to simply be left alone. Bliss Girl would then set out to burn his car to the ground or break his parent’s windows until she saw her bliss appear somewhere else. Where she picked up the term “find her bliss” was still a mystery. The question now was if Elder Kilham was going to try and light his bike on fire when he left.
“Sir?” Scratch, shuffle, scratch, shuffle; concrete on flat bottomed shoe. Elder Kilham skipped a sidestep to try and get into his field of vision. “What you say if you knew that the Lord had a living prophet on the earth right now? Would you want to know what that prophet’s message is?” Ignoring the sidestepping boy was getting difficult. The little shit was determined. The bike was parked in painted island at the end of a row, not wanting to stop traffic he paralleled the front of the store and waited for a break in traffic to cut into the parking lot proper. The kid was on the parking lot side of him now, shuffling and scooting.
A simple push would land Elder Kilham in front of a pick-up or minivan. Just a little shoulder. More like an elbow. the kid really wasn’t that big. Oops–sorry, he must have tripped. The kid was like a gnat or a mosquito buzzing alongside trying to get purchase and take a bite. Should he get swatted was the only question.
“Maybe we could stop by and meet with you this evening,” Kilham continued, “We have great message we’d love to share with you.” Kilham’s heart beats faster as the man stops. He stops. Holy smokes he’s going to give them an address and phone number. This could be a golden contact. A spirit the Lord has prepared for them. For him. In his head he was already writing his blog entry about a potential baptism. Finally, something his folks could share at church, the Lord at work in the world. Three months in and his first serious cold call investigator.
“You’re the bicycle guys right?’ It’s not the question Elder Kilham was expecting. There’s an unnatural pause. He continues, “You know, you guys ride the bikes everywhere? Book of Mormon guys–like the musical?”
Elder Kilham was stumped. Unready to answer. Elder Rooch jumped in, “Yup that’s us. Around here we get to drive a car though. Things are too spread out for bicycles.” Wary of what Kill’im might say he tried to take control of the situation. “We appreciate you paying back there. It was really very kind of you.”
Looking at Elder Rooch it appears he needs more than groceries, his eyes are sunken and have dark circles under them. Life with the little weasel was sucking him dry. Pity flows into his heart. Imagine believing God wants you to put up with this other kid. “It was very Christian of you!” Kilham chimes in looking to get the conversion process going again. “Just what a disciple of Christ would do!”
This kid was an idiot. Time for a lesson. A jacked up Chevy 4×4 pickup is rolling slowly toward them, tires grumbling, heading to the exit of the parking lot. As it starts to pass them he reaches out with his free hand and grabs Kilham by the tie and yanks. Kilham pulls back but not as far as to hit the Chevy. His tie pops off and he watches as it’s casually tossed into the bed of the passing truck. The Missionaries are speechless. It was an impossible to expect action. Kilham’s tie rides away in the back of the truck. A twenty dollar bill appears in the hand that cast off the tie. Stuffing it into Rooch’s pocket behind his name-tag he looks at the elder of the two. Dumbfounded Rooch nods and looks at Kill’im.
“Go back in and buy Junior a real tie.” Walking away there’s no look over the shoulder and no words thrown after him. Get to the bike. Get feet up and move on. Putting his lunch in his saddlebags he looks to see how the boys are. Kilham is throwing up, Rooch is smiling.
A Little Farther Away
Back on the road life didn’t seem so close. On the road with the sound and the push of wind and pull of the bike things settled down into a strange calmness. Like being in the shower. Amid the noise and steam somehow it was tranquil. Probably was the same for machine operators and truck drivers, you just get used to it and once it’s not there you miss it. A body not rattling was a body unsure. The flow of the road was hard to explain. Such a three dimensional experience involving all your senses. I wonder, he thinks, if Pop got this way in the middle of a project or negotiation. That single place where things fly around you and you simply are. The simple state of doing a something and then being something, of union with action where you become the thing you’re doing.
Pop was gone. Mom too. They had left things but not a legacy. Things that were his now but only owned by him. How could you have so much and so little at the same time? Like a king it was only yours if they gave it to you or you had the power to take it. Being King meant nothing if your subjects ignored you–or weren’t afraid of you. There was no crown without subjects, just a kingdom of empty. His inherited kingdom produced an eternal flow of money that he let a Regent take care of. Lawyers and Advisers had courted him wanting to help out. He stuck with his Pop’s guys. “Just make sure everybody gets paid,” was all he would say, “Don’t fuck with the blue collar guys–cut them a break.” He just let the words hang out there in front of the suits. They feared him because he didn’t know what he was doing and if he tried to do something then he could kill the golden goose. Throats tight under their ties they tried not to “fuck the blue collar guys” and to “cut them a break”.
Pop could play that game. Asking Pop a question now wasn’t an option. People expected and dreaded leadership but he had none to give. Not an empty vessel, he had just never been filled to pour out.
Looking out he could see the water. He liked that. Water and hills. Earth and water. Water and air. Sunrise over the hill. Fire over water. The clerk was happy to give him a room with the patio on the east side. There was no second floor. It’s OK, the clerk said, if he wanted to pull the bike into the room overnight, just let it cool before rolling it in. Helped keep the smell down and the oil from leaking, not that his bike was a leaker or anything, just that some guys bikes did. You know. Other guys. Not him. Sure they had a weekly rate! Monthly too! Linen daily, unless you don’t want it. The “Do Not Disturb” really works. One over night guest is okay. Same person 2 nights and you need to pay an extra 20. It’s a quite place though. Honest.
He took the room for a week.
The Immaculate Orb
The beauty of the cheap motel was that a good one looked like a do-it-yourself wood paneled basement, sometimes even with shag carpet. A good cheap motel looks like a make-out spot with a bed and bath; the sort of place where root beer and vodka are considered a mixed drink. The floor was uneven, sloping toward the sliding glass patio door. There was no fan in the bathroom, only a square chunk of 3/4 plywood that had been pressed into service as a cap for the opening where the fan once was. There were pull chains on the lamps and some kind of large, dark stain on the carpeted floor. The curtains smell of weed and the bathtub has no plug. An impossibly perfect cliche’ this room is, he thinks. Right down to the bedspread that was a mash up of colors so you couldn’t tell whether a color was original fabric…or something else. Feeling like he was in someone else’s home made him feel comfortable and he settles in by sliding the window open walking to the patio door and sliding it open. There is no screen door. Unfazed he leaves it open to let the room gasp in fresh air.
Sitting on the end of the bed he lays back and looks at the ceiling. Plaster swirls stare back and flexes with memory. He had worn a black suit to the funeral. Wonderfully tailored and finished with a blood red tie he was camouflaged perfectly. Lots of people looked for him and few found him, he had cut his hair to a fashionably ragged and was clean shaven. Avoiding the funeral director he had avoided being seated in a place of honor. Sitting around him were people he did not know, people he didn’t want to know, people he could not know. His mother had kept him away from these people the best she could, kept him in globe, like an ornament. Maternity had suited her. Allowed her a diamond to polish, a garden to weed and protect, never to be his father’s son until nature and genetics took over.
In the crowd he felt safe and alone, ensconced. It was the pinnacle of his sheltered and lonely life. Pop didn’t know him until the apron strings had scorched off in chemo. Almost too late then to build the connection, crossing paths in the kitchen or the garage. The break, or maybe the bridge, happened in the kitchen. He was making pancakes when his Pop came in and surprised him. Pop was supposed to be at work but walking in it was clear he was sick, coughing and pale.
“Got anything to put on those?” Pop asked.
“Maple syrup.’ Flat answer, with an unsaid, “Butter”.
Pop walked to the refrigerator and popped it open. “I’ve go some strawberries in here somewhere if you’d like.” Realizing he had implied the berries were old he added, “Lili picked them up yesterday.” Lili now held the household together; maybe she always had. Pop had taken good care of her in the will. Lili was as much family as anyone could be. If Pop was sick she’d be bringing tortilla soup for dinner with her for their dinner. Looking at the griddle and the like-new bowls and utensils in his hands he thinks a moment.
“Pop,” he asks, “Do you think instead of bringing soup that Lili could cook it here sometime?”
“Yes. Sure. I mean that would be nice I guess.” The aroma of pancakes stirs his own memories. “That’s a great idea. You want me to cut up some berries?”
“Why not? Go for it.”
His father looks around for a moment, out of his element. “Where are the knives?”
“Knife block is on the other side of the toaster.” A point with the spatula. Pop didn’t know where anything was in the kitchen. Then again neither had Mom. Pop pulls out a green plastic bin of large bright red strawberries and the sound of bare feet on tile passes behind as he gets a small straight edged knife. He knows where the bowls are and doesn’t have to ask his son. Pausing, Pop asks, “Is school in or out right now?”
“Out.” Flip a pancake.
“Want a job?” His father asks. Silence. The other pancake pauses in midair.
“Sure. Why not?”
The plaster swirls in the ceiling start to deepen with the sunset. Looking up he thinks about the immaculate orb of nothing that his life had been.
Bacon with Breakfast
The sunrise was slow into the room. He had picked a room with a western view to better see the water and sunset. Morning as struggling with a curtained window. Fighting it’s way through the cracks above and below the door ol’ Sol was going his best. The evening had been cool and when he closed up the room he hadn’t set the air conditioning low enough. Or maybe it didn’t work. He awoke warm and with an easy jog of sweat. The tub shower drained slowly but wasn’t more than a splashing annoyance. Towels were bright and clean. He’d seen worse. Dreams hadn’t escaped him in the night. First he had been swimming with a girl at his old high school. Throwing their towels over the chain link fence they had climbed the fence for a moonlight swim. Neither had stripped past their underwear. Oddly childlike and innocent the adventure lacked erotic arousal; it was giggling, races and seeing who could hold their breath the longest. A storm came and they went inside inside the changing rooms but she disappeared. Going through the door he entered a nightclub. A moment of panic before he realized he was not in his underwear but fully dressed. Lights flashed and techno music thrummed but he was not at a rave, just a club, the kind that pop stars overdosed in with hot, long legged women. Ugly hanger-on men filled the room. A shrieking sound tried to pierce the noise that filled the room and a slow blue strobe bounced out from the walls.
Fire alarm. Nobody seemed to notice. “Fire!” he had yelled, “FIRE!!!” No one even turned their head. With both hands he grabbed a woman close to him. “FIRE! GET OUT!” he yelled at her. She smiled. “FIRE!” He yelled. She smiled. With both hands now on her face he screamed “FIRE!” into her face. She smiled and he woke up.
Now he was in the shower and he wanted bacon with breakfast.
The motel could have been a “resort motel” in it’s prior life, a destination, where you took the wife and kids. Now it was a bit of a roach motel. Not minding he locked the door and mounted up to head to the little town down the road a mile. Languid, he thinks, it’s a river road and it’s simply relaxed and easy. Languid. With a weekly rental he could run the road both upstream and the downstream. Take a look around, explore. Dappled light strobes through the leaves on the windshield. He felt hazy and safe with no agenda as he passed a raft rental, then a small white church (“Cliche,” his mother would have said). Houses and businesses began to pop up and bunch together. A bicycle rental shop. Vacation realty specialists. Dee’s Dairy Swirl. The Riverside Diner.
The Riverside Diner. Breakfast all day. Homemade cinnamon rolls and pies. Gravel parking and an summer dining area off the side. Throwing down a steel junction box cover he tips the bike and lands the kickstand in its center. Swinging his leg over and stepping back he looks down at the steel plate to make sure everything is set. Something glitters under the bike. A step back and then to one knee he looks under to make sure it’s not a liquid from the bike. A small Hello Kitty charm looks up at him. Attached to a small silver bracelet there are two or three other trinkets he doesn’t recognize. The front tire must have run right over it. What are the odds? It was the kind of thing a teen would wear to be cute and the sort of thing a cute person would pull at her mother’s sleeve and cry and miss. Picking it up he pauses a moment to give the bike a quick once over. Other than needing a bath things are looking sound. Back on his feet he walks to the entrance. The door is an actual two piece Dutch door; solid lower with a glass upper. Blue checked curtains are tied back and swing with the motion of the door as a cluster of three brass bells chatters from the interior handle.
The layout is simple. Square tables that can seat 4 or be pushed together to accommodate more. Table cloths match the curtain on the door. Yellow paper sunflowers centerpiece each table, pinching menu specials between the vase and a stainless two sided napkin dispenser. A voice from the pass through to the kitchen floats out over the register and it’s small counter, “Sit anywhere you want!”
Picking a table against the back window/wall he places himself to see everything but the emergency exit.
No Problem Sugar
She was a child and as a child she didn’t want to finish her breakfast. Icky and cold it wasn’t fun anymore. The maple syrup was gross and thick but still looked cool when you stuck a fork in it and pulled it out slow. Looks like Spider-Man if you do it just right. Or you can drag your fork through the pool of syrup and make little canyons that filled and disappeared as the tines plowed through. Swirl. Capital A, almost there for a second. Dip a finger to see what it feels like on her skin. Sticky, duh. Wipe finger on pants. Still sticky. Finger in mouth. Ick. Lint. Rub the finger on her jeans again. Drop the fork. Poke what’s left of maple soggy pancakes with the spoon. The spoon leaves a different track in the syrup. Like her finger but different, bigger. Hand to her brown hair. Oops, all stuck together. Free the hair. Maybe a paper napkin will get the sticky off. Nope. Just sticks to the sticky. Uh-oh. Paper tears. Won’t come off with a swipe on the pants. Busted! Must have been in the bathroom. A woman with short brown hair. Eyes on. Right to the girl.
“Sweetie! Don’t play with your food!” Head down, hands up. Disappointment. He’d been there and done that. Carved his name into the tree of failure. Hold your hands up, let Mom dip a napkin in water and start cleaning up. Fingers, face and hair. Rub-a-dub-dub. Don’t fight, only makes it worse. A glass of water plonks on the table in front of him, sloshing. “What can I get for you?”
Startled. “A cinnamon roll. With a side of bacon.”
“Roll with a side of bacon.” She looks the type who should be chewing gum but isn’t. A graying ponytail. Close in age to reading glasses on a chain but not yet. Doesn’t write down the order. “Anything to drink?”
“You got it. Want that roll heated?” He nods. “It’ll be a few–we don’t use a microwave. That OK?” He nods again. “OK, I’ll get your DP and then it’ll be a couple of minutes.” As she walks away workout shoes, jeans and pink shirt he turns back to watch as Mom is finished cleaning up the little brown haired girl.
“Miss?” he calls to her backside. Stopping she turns as she has a thousand times. Another changed mind.
“What else can I get you?” Walking up she fingers the pencil in her hair as she considers writing things down.
Holding out his hand he lets the bracelet fall, holding one end between his thumb and forefinger. The chain snap straight, rebounds and swings. “I found this out front. I think it may belong to that little girl over there.” Juts with his chin. “Would you mind…” She reaches out and he drops it into her outstretched palm. “Thank you.”
“No problem sugar.”
A Soft Bump
“Dani, say thank you to the nice man.” Mother said. Dani doesn’t want to. She doesn’t want to speak. The man is hairy. He might be a Bigfoot. Shaking her head she tries to slip behind her mother. She can barely see over the top of the table. Huge and hairy the Bigfoot man stares at her. She is just eyes and soft freckles to him. Scaring little girls is not his habit or hope. It hurts to see the little person cower. Connection. He hasn’t make a connection in a long time. Human touch had been so fleeting the last year. There had been bumping, a little grinding, a touch of punching but he had not been this close to a true child in all that time. This child was cowering. A frightened animal not an inquisitive pup.
“It’s OK,” he says.
“She needs to show her manners.” Mom twists and with one hand on Dani’s back tries to move her back to the table. Her eyes harden. “Say ‘Thank You’ to the nice man.” Firmness and threat edge her voice. He doesn’t look like a nice man to Dani. He looks like a Bigfoot or one of those bad soldiers in the movies that Todd “treat-him-like-he’s-your-father” likes to watch. Food probably gets stuck in his beard or he has bad breath. ICK. She squirms against her mother’s shepherding hand. The man is leaning around the table towards her.
“It’s OK,” he says and sticks a fist out. “How about you give me some knuckles and we’ll call it even?” He smiles. His voice is gentle like Mr. Burton’s at school. Mr. Burton could make you feel bad when you didn’t throw your garbage away and really good when you did. She’s never seen, talked to or touched a Bigfoot before. Bigfoot man isn’t that scary, not here with Mom. It is like feeding the giraffe. The giraffe is her favorite animal but once she was eye to eye with one and saw that icky blue tongue… Wishing she had fed the giraffe she looks at the Bigfoot tentatively holds out her fist. Both lean forward and there’s a gentle bump. Their knuckles don’t match and she thinks how big his fist is and that maybe he’s really a bear. As he smiles she see’s straight white teeth and blue eyes for the first time and they smile at her just like Mr. Burton. Pulling back resets and she double bumps him.
“Thank you.” She mumbles. A tiny voice. Almost a mumble. A faint bee buzzing.
“An honor.” He replies and keeps his eyes locked on hers. Everything he had done for the last year had been alone. Ride and sleep alone. Fever and sick alone. Hurt and heal alone. Loneliness had started as freedom when Mom died Then he had the backstop safety of his father who never fixed it, only pointed the way out of the mess. No hands on doctoring, just pointing out the cure. There is no romance in being alone, just the eternal safety of not losing anyone or thing. The safety of having nothing and no one to lose; nobody got disappointed and nobody gets hurt. People who don’t exist had no expectations and people you don’t know are easy to please. Riding across southern Utah he had seen a sign that read “No Services Next 100 Miles”. Next 100 miles, maybe an hour and a quarter. Next 100 miles, if you pee it’s on the side of the road. If you decide to try for some privacy and step off down the bank you risk tripping and falling in a place where a broken leg means hoping someone stops to check on your lonely bike. He had just stood on the road and sprinkled a rock. Nobody drove by. If you broke down either you fixed it or you hoped something kind that way came. There was solitary magnificence in the landscape. Reds, orange, yellow and grey, so complex and empty. A recurring fantasy nightmare was simply turning down a dirt road and riding until you reached whatever was there or simply ran out of gas and died, swallowed into the terrible beauty. It had been a long hundred miles and now he looks back and wonders if any of it was real.
When mother died it left him alone with Pop. Mom had been the driving thing, the push, the glowing coal that boiled them into action. Like any roiling pot she brought chaos with her and they had bounced around like hard boiled eggs, banging off each other and sides of the pot they couldn’t get out of. You wanted out but you had no idea what life would be without the mayhem of scalding, surging water. There is no oil that could smooth that surface. With the fire out the water stilled and the oil became a pliable thing without the continuous battering. Laying on the bottom of a cooling container they had no motion to click them together. The catalyst was gone. The currents and turbulence left them alone together with a film distorted view of the world outside.
The little girl stops at the door and waves at him. A kid wave. A child’s wave. He holds up a palm to her and all his fingers bow twice. TTFN!
Cinnamon roll gone and the bacon wiped off his fingers he swirls the ice in his glass and then throws the last gulp of soda down his throat. Arranging his silverware on the plate at 10 to 4 he sloppily refolds a napkin and crowns his setting. The graying ponytail comes out and puts the check on the table and starts to straighten things. “Anything else I can get for you today?” Habit drives her end of the conversation. This is how she says, “Goodbye, hit the road” without force or annoyance.
“Yes,” he says to her surprise. “Where can I get a haircut around here?”
Smile. “You looking to keep all that,” a finger points at his head and draws a circle twice in the air. The red nail seems to leave a blur behind it that catches up as the finger stops.
“Then head into town and look for Bobbi’s on the right side. About half mile down.” She picks up his plate.
“What if I want to lose it all?” He asks, curious. Playful. Flirting?
“Then you go to LeRoy’s about a quarter mile beyond that. Then, once he’s made a mess of things come back here and we’ll shave you bald for a fresh start.” Both hold a straight face before smiling. The head their different ways. She to the kitchen and he to his bike. Holding up a couple of bills he puts them next to the register and pins them with the shot glass that doubles as toothpick dispenser. “That’ll take care of it,” booms a little too loud out of his mouth. Door bells tinkling he opens it and heads out.
His helmet doesn’t fit quite right anymore. It’s not like he can spin the thing around on his head–there is just a lot less hair and things felt loose and weird. He has been through this before. Once Pop and he were on their own he just let it grow until it annoyed him and then he loped it off. His face was cool too. The woman at the salon wasn’t rigged to give him a shave but she improvised and used clippers to shear him down to under an eighth of an inch. Air flow over his chin is a forgotten sensation. Feels good. Different and good. At first it felt like cool water and he could sense the flow and pattern on his scruff. Slowly he forgot about it until he got into a low shaded place along the river and he felt the cool air on his face and head. He was running the downstream leg and looking at the back of the water as it rolled over the turtle-backs of smooth rocks and boulders. The river ran clear at the moment. Rain would change it to chocolate but he was happy to see such clear water.
River on one side, hill and homes on the other he found his attention divided. People living along the river took yard care seriously. Lawns were mowed, fences painted, flowers in weeded flowerbeds, rolling along he saw a surprising level of manicure and grooming. People seemed to realize that they were part of the scenery and put on their best Sunday clothes. Maybe that’s what tourist towns did. He didn’t care. It was enjoyable and authentic. Homes were split between cabins and plank, with plank homes favoring brighter colors and more yard. The river and road meandered. Meandered, it was one of his mother’s word. She had driven words into him like nails, repeating, explaining, re-using; driving them in with the vicious intent of permanent adhesion. “If you don’t have a excellent vocabulary you will smother your opportunities with inadequate speech.” She had said.
Shit, she had stuck that knife deep in his head.
Broad and wide now the river slowed down and started to turn to brown as creeks and lesser sources began to join it. Images of hearts, arteries and veins run through his head. All that life moving irresistibly forward, carrying waste as well, the essence of life in one long running liquid thing. Deep inside himself a voice slaps him.
On the bank of the river a doe and a speckled fawn stand in tall grass. Target fixated he stares at the animals. His brain locks on a memory from a very young age when a doe had wandered into the back yard. She ate some of the flowers. Mom had run screaming at it into the yard. Bounding away he was amazed by the grace it showed. For some reason the size of it’s ears had stuck in his head. Like a hare, just that big. A work crew appeared the next day. The fence was finished the day after.
A watchful eye on him the doe was still except she kept chewing the grass in her mouth. The fawn ducked under it’s mother and looked under her belly to see him. He looked for other deer as he passed by. There were none.
When he got back to town the light was low and growing amber. Slicing under branches the sun touched items usually shielded by the trees; the bottoms of doors, asphalt under cars, tabletops by windows; sneaking a flash deep into store displays. It was close to time to shuck his sunglasses. Hunger banged around his gut. A convenience store banana wasn’t enough to get through the day let alone the night. Passing through town he decided to see what the Riverside Diner had to offer for dinner. Bottom line he could get breakfast for dinner.
Looks like the senior rush, he thinks as he pulls up. Full-size American cars are the flavor of the day in the parking lot. They are beasts and their drivers fear banging them together so they are widely spaced and none are parallel. Deciding to park away from the lumbering iron he puts the bike by a blue Toyota Corolla at the far edge of the lot. No need to get the bike knocked down or run over. Walking across the gravel lot he sees gray ponytail come out the kitchen door and start walking toward him. A blue Corolla makes sense for her. As their separation narrows he stares overly hard. He was wrong. She’s nowhere near as old as he thought in the morning. Maybe it was her work scowl but now she’s clearly not much older than he.
She startles him by speaking. “You clean up pretty good!”
“Thank you.” Rubs his chin, “It’s how I lose weight.”
Close together now he realized her face is smooth, without crow’s feet, but not stretched or frozen with botox. She mush run a hard scowl at work. Or maybe she was having a bad morning. They pass. He stops and turns around asking “Hey, what’s good here for dinner?”
Cued by the crunch of gravel from his stop and turn, she turns and starts walking backward like she was born that way. “You like Chili?” She asks still moving away.
Watching her move away he sees her youth as she walks away facing him. “Is it good?”
“Nope,” she turns and then lifting her head and bouncing the words off the trees in front of her says, “The Knife makes great fried chicken!’
At her blue car she pauses with one foot on in. “Billy the Knife. The night cook.” So smooth it looks like the car has vacuumed in she disappears into the drivers seat, the car starts, clicks into gear and moves.
Tonight He Dreamed
Sitting down he felt vague shame. He had only seen what he expected to see. Part of him wanted to apologize to the girl with the gray ponytail for being so blind and willing to accept his prejudices. His lie was morning shifts are for old women and he had made her into his biased truth. She was cute. And right. The fried chicken was killer. It had an unidentified kick to it, not cayenne, could be Cajun. Extra napkins lay spent on the table. He was fat and happy as his mother would say unkindly. Making fat and happy a negative was part of her plan to cut all the happy out of life. How she had come to be the rain on every parade escaped him. It was who she had always been, he had known no different and couldn’t imagine it. That bruising, unhappy control was what had made the family work and fail all at once. Paradox has been his state of being for a long, long time.
Cherry pie for dessert seems a cliche’ but he goes for it anyway, the crust on top looks like a long, twisted pie of dough wound in a spiral from the center out. It’s hypnotic in its own way, the kind of thing you’d hold up and spin behind the basket as the opposing team takes a free throw. Simple yet complex. Kind of thing Pop would appreciate. Looks wickedly engineered but in the end…not so much. They do have a Billy the Knife, so…do they have a Penny the Pastry Chef? Betty the Baker? Crocker the Pie Hawker? Dan, Dan the Pastry Man? Oh hell, he was fat and happy. Good food after a good ride. There was suddenly a growing gravity. A thing. A place. A comfortable corner.
The ride back to the motel was in darkness. Watching for eye-shine a traveling slower than he would in the daylight he was cold by the time he was back in his room. The room was cold and the air conditioner/heater rattled when he turned up the heat. Going to sleep was easy and tonight he dreamed.
The heater made the room too hot. Waking with a glow of sweat he cracked the window too far and slipped back into bed. Better cold than hot. The morning was pleasant cold; in the hills, trees and water the cold wasn’t as hard. Shocking cold was gone, this cold simply woke you and promised the sun would change everything for the better if you could get to it. Camping cold, that sleeping bag/tent moment full of dread but pregnant with promise. The water sang as he peed into the bowl. How many billions of men had listened to that sound this very morning. Who was peeing on trees, or in the shower or God knows where. He liked a man doing an average, everyday thing.
Putting on his pants he hops on one foot, off balance. Change and keys jingle and clink, there’s a moment of fear he may fall. It’s another day and he only has two things on his mind, breakfast and a ride upstream. Sitting on the bed he sniffs one of yesterday’s sock. Good enough, but laundry day was here. He needs to stop at a laundromat and buy a packet of soap so he can stomp on his clothes clean in the shower tonight. It was time to play Maytag man. For the first time in a long time he looked forward to the day and forward to returning to the town and the room. Usually he gets itchy fast and wants to be off, or returns only because it’s where he knows there’s a berth. This feeling was warmer, familiar. For some reason this place was safe harbor. Home base in a game of tag. Feeling like he wanted to stay close enough he could hurry back he finishes dressing and steps out the door; which won’t stay closed as he steps out. He closes it. It pops open. Closed. Open. Pull. Soft scrape of metal on wood. Pop. Swings inward. Open. Mumbling. “Now you’re just trying to piss me off.” A hard, sharp pull and slam. The door stays. He jingles the knob. Things seem tight. To the bike. Quick check. Leg over. Helmet on. Clean start up and with the chunk of first gear he’s gone.
The ride to the Riverside is quick. The blue Corolla is on the far edge of the lot. The bulging full lot. What the fuck day is it? It must be Saturday or Sunday, the place is packed out. He’d park in the employee’s area and sit at the counter but there isn’t one. Yesterday he had walked in and been lost without chrome and red leather stools with a long counter and a pie case. It was some kind of converted building that didn’t start as a diner and no one had ever stuck one in. A tree without a trunk is a bush and a diner without a counter is a restaurant. Perhaps it was that lack of a diner’s heart that give the different vibe he had liked. A parking lot full of people liked it as well. The majority of plates were local; which he liked. Not a lot of tourists is a good sign.
Where to wait? Not feeling like standing around waiting for a senior citizen to finish gumming a waffle to death he turns the bike around and heads back to the motel. Hustling a little bit as he makes the turn into the motel lot he sees his room’s door standing open but no housekeeping cart. Rolling up hot he skids the rear wheel a bit as he stops then flicks down the side stand, parks up and dismounts. With one hand on the door he carefully pushes it open, making sure he isn’t leading with his head. The room is empty. He checks behind the bed. Nothing. Closet empty. A sound from the bathroom. A rustling behind the cracked door. Softly turning to face the door he listen. Sound like someone is shaking out a towel. Maybe it is housekeeping.
Shaking stops. Motion. Soft rustling again. Step toward the door. One hand with a gentle push. Rustling stops.
A small dog holding a sock sticks it’s head around the door.
A Little Tug
They stare at each other. The dog, disturbed at being interrupted while killing the sock. The man, incapable of processing what he was seeing. Cocking it’s head to the left the dog sits a moment before ducking behind the door and shaking its head with lethal intent. Little dogs can be real bad-asses, he thinks. That stick and move thing. Dropping to one knee he cautiously pushes the door back. Dog could climb him like a stump and take his nose off. The door swings toward the naked wall. To the right is the sink and toilet. Dog could feel trapped. Not caring too much yet the dog stops, then resumes shaking the life out of the sock. It’s how dogs kill things. Bite. Shake it until it’s dead or stunned. Imagine if that got a piece of your face. Yikes.
“Hey little dude.” Squeeze him with the door just a little, not need to scare. A cropped white tail leads as the dog backs out of the diminishing space. Butt high the dog must have its head on the ground. “Hey little dude, no need to get excited.” The dog, now white and showing a brown spot on his left side ignores him. Pushing the door further the dog backs out fully and looks at him. The dog drops the sock and barks once.
“Easy little dude.”
Bark. Staring. Smart eyes. A touch of gray on the muzzle. Brown mask and ears. Both ears stick straight up but fold forward a the top. The dog just looks intelligent. Intelligent dog. Not feral. Dirty but not beat down, on-the-street dirty dog. Dirty like “I got lost at the rest stop” dirty. What do you do with a dog you don’t own in a town that ain’t yours?
“Sit.” Haunches to the ground. Like a Chinese temple lion. Back straight. Chest out. Rough coat. Not wire haired but more than smooth. The dog cocks it’s head waiting for another order.
“Stay.” Standing, he backs out of the bathroom. The dog just sits. Happy to be of service. Smart dog. Not afraid dog, not cowering dog. Ok-I’ll-do-that-dog.
“Heel.” Nonchalantly the dog stands and trots to him. Makes a have circle behind him and sits again. Got it boss. Now what? Seriously. This is way too easy. The dog seems…bored, the commands routine and the actions uninteresting.
“Down.” Walking his front paws out the dog patiently assumes the position of a sphinx.
“Stay.” Turning he walks out of the open door into the parking lot. Taking his time he goes to the office. Maybe the dog will be gone when he gets back. Maybe it’ll get up and trot back to wherever it came from and a little old lady or happy kid will say, “Where have you been!” and there’ll be treats and reunion. Laughter. Kisses and scratches.
Mr. Friendly “park your bike in the room” is in the office at the desk.
“What can I do for you sir?” The kid is the dog. Young and following instructions beyond the letter. Eager to please, fur is even unkempt; well-trained, too bright and bored, both excited to show off their skills.
“Has anybody checked in with a dog?”
“Uhhhh…” Quizzical, lost a moment. A shuffle of pages on the registry. Yes, an old school, registry. Back and forth. One page erect, reading sideways and flipping the page between hands and head turns. Hey there Norman Bates, read a little faster. “Ah…No. Not that I can see. Is there a problem?” Face up, eyes shining.
“No. No. Just thought I heard something.” A pause, mouth almost open. “No. Everything’s good.”
Walking out he thinks he should have ratted the dog out. But maybe the dog was gone. Maybe the problem had solved itself and when he got back it will all have never been. Sometimes just walking away fixed things. His father had. He had. Just turn and walk away. Some badgered and chewed and pointed and yelled until someone did what they wanted but he was willing to wait it out; wander away from the fight. With luck the dog was gone.
But it wasn’t. It was sitting where he left it. The only difference is it had gone and got his sock and was giving it a working over, holding it between his front paws and pulling with his teeth.
“Dog.” The tugging and chewing stops, the dog frozen mid pull. “Drop it.” The dog gives the sock a little tug and then lets it fall from his mouth.
The Dreamed Dream
Here is the dream he dreamed the night before the dog:
blood was in his mouth
feeling like warm milk
it did not choke him
he spat it out
but it was replaced too fast and he swallowed it
maybe his brain is leaking
pouring down his throat
not a torrent
not enough to drown
like wine gently poured down his throat
red and white
his uvula dripped plasma
good God how much
blood can one head hold?
In his gut
clotting, filling, bloating
but he can’t force vomit
bad thanksgiving memories
swirl in his head
mom made candied yams
a burnt wasteland
of morning glory
in his gut
he wanted to throw it up
but his body said,
his belly button
like a pregnant lady
but he had
no contraction, no expulsion
just the constant flow
Then he woke up.
Said the Dog
The dog was still there.
The dog. Was still. There.
There was the dog, still.
The dog, still, was there.
Still, the dog was there.
Shit. Walking back into the office he asked Mr. Helpful what the charge for pets was. Free, he was told. Slapping a fifty on the desk he said, just in case, looked at a weakly floating Mylar balloon that proclaimed “Happy Birthday!” and went back to stand in the doorway and look at the dog. The dog looked at him. There was an inspection going on. A weighing and a measuring. Both animals wanted company and both wanted to be left alone. The dog broke the stalemate, dropping the sock and trotting to the door, sitting down and looking up at the man.
“Good dog” said the man.
Here’s looking at you, said the dog.
“You should have a name I guess,” said the man, “even if you’re not going to be around long.”
You don’t need a name, said the dog, as long as you can make food appear and it doesn’t rain in the room.
Trouble was what to do with the dog. The door and its inability to securely close had put him in this situation. Maybe it could get him out.
“Stay,” said the man.
Just make sure you leave a sock out, said the dog.
“Stay.” Pulling the door gently he let it sweep the dog gently into the room, the dog avoiding thedoor by backing up but not breaking for it.
At least I got a sock, said the dog.
I’m a Regular
Keeping it simple he headed to the Riverside, lines be damned. It looked like a grinder he could drop the dog into and someone would know someone who knew someone. Gray Ponytail is plugged in somehow. You can’t have that many fogies in one place and not have an orgy of gossip going on. Grab a cinnamon roll, coffee, drop a hook, back for dinner to check the bait. It was a damn well trained mutt. It was somebody’s. Morning crush gone, the restaurant was about half empty. Walking directly to yesterday’s table he sits down. Gray Ponytail is working another table with a foursome of older gentlemen. After a flourish with her pen she comes toward him. He watches her walk. The floor is a trampoline and she bounces with each step, ponytail bobbing. “Same-same?” She asks.
“Yup, and a large OJ.”
Nodding, she is gone, leaving only a hole in the air. Gray hair. Odd. Got to ask about that. Maybe it was a political statement. Or…well there was a reason somewhere. First things first. The dog. Hey, anyone you know missing a dog? Nope. I was wondering if you knew anyone missing a…nope, nope, nope. How do you start a conversation about finding somebody’s dog? Maybe just drop it in like an ‘oh yes, this happened’. Looking up at her made him feel small and out of control. Nobody talks up to somebody about stuff. You stand eye to eye. Maybe he should stand up. Or he could wait until he was leaving and then they would be eye to eye. Could go over and talk to to the tea party guys but they were discussing healthcare or medicare or something and sounded like they were getting pissed off.
A small coaster skims across the table and a glass of orange juice lands on it. “Rest will be out in a minute,” turning to leave she starts away.
“Hey,” he says. She stops. “I found a dog.” Out of ammo he lets it hang there; nothing more to say.
“Good for you.” Staring. “Were you looking for one?” Faint smile.
“No, no. I just..it..” His brain skipped teeth on his speech sprocket. “It just wandered into my motel room.”
Head tilt. Ponytail swings. “You just leave your door open and let things wander in?”
Dammit. “The door won’t always latch and I went back and there was this dog in my room.” Silence. She was sharp. Speak now or get spoken to. “He’s a little rat terrier or something. About 10 pounds. White and brown.”
“Sounds nice.” A step backward and away.
“No, wait! It just showed up and I think it’s somebody’s and I need to have you ask around.”
Pause. “You got a picture of it?” He looks stumped, stupid.
Exasperation. “Like on your phone? Did you take a picture with your phone?”
Shit. “Nope.” He is hoping the dog is gone when he gets back to room, that the problem is solved by the math that caused it. “I’ll get one. Maybe you could Facebook it or Snapchat it around.”
“Sure.” Eyes darting to the four old guys, then locking on his, “Anything for a regular. You are a regular right?”
“Yes. Sure. Of course. I’m a regular–now.”
Been There. Done That.
Trepidation was in her as she shot and eye check to the old men. They were worn. Time has slicked their surfaces and hidden their edges and corners. You couldn’t get purchase on them–they were no longer individuals but things–all the special about them had been sanded off and they were just angry, opinionated old men now. Different once, they must have been different once but no longer because they had embraced the cliche’ and burrowed into the accepting safety of prejudice and broken hearts.
Was there a worse death? Occasionally they gently leer at her. She knows this. No touching, they know this too. Once a quintet they are now a quartet because Billy the Knife had heard about number 5. Words collided in the parking lot. Billy said everything without saying anything. Tone, volume, and word choice; so perfect and menacing and so innocent, The Knife was an artist with food and with words. Been there, done that, he had said to her. Won’t let anyone get away with that shit. No one, he said with a true hardness in his eyes. Somewhere back there someone had failed him. She could tell. The Knife was sharp and ready. Been there. Done that.
Dammit and Cool at the Same Time
The door had slowly swung open slow, like it had when he pushed it and snuck in. Jumping off the bed he crept over to see if it was the man. It wasn’t. Back on the bed he is curled on the pillow. It smells good. Like hair and sweat and oil. Like people. And soap. Soft, he sank down into it and, divot-ed in he liked how it kept him warm. The open door let in smells and sounds he has heard before. Road, people, birds, planes, leaves…outside sounds. Grass, cars, smoke, fresh cut wood, oil, diesel…outside smells. Under the bed he had caught whiffs of food, mold and blood. If the man doesn’t come back soon maybe he’d go out and pee on something. A soft breeze pushed the door and it flexes open before gently swinging back; a wind-driven sigh.
His ears perk as he hears the sound of the motorcycle coming closer. The bike coughs a backfire and his head comes off the pillow and he uncurls to sit sphinx-like on tense haunches. Loose gravel crunches as it pulls up to the door. A hard rev and then it shuts down. A metal creak as the kickstand stretches it’s return spring and a thump as it hits the stop. Boots. The right sound for the man. His tag wags. He doesn’t want it to but it just does…like when he’d piddle with excitement as a puppy. The people go angry but it just happened.
Outside the door the man stops. The dog can hear him putting keys in his pocket. Waiting now. The man is right there. He smells right there now too. A meat. The man smell, the meat smell. The wag, wag, wag smells.
You in here? Says the man.
Right here, says the dog, jumping off the bed and turning the corner around the door. Right here. Sitting. Wagging.
The man’s face says, dammit and cool at the same time. A hamburger says, I’m in the bag. His tail says, wagging like I really mean it. Mouth watering he sits. Looking good. Steady and ready.
Wow, says the man. What a mooch. Reaching into the bag he retrieves a cooked hamburger in a wax wrapper.
No bun? No bun! The dog fidgets. No bun. All meat. Best day ever.
Karrera with the gray hair since high school had looked at him like he was nuts when he ordered a hamburger “hold everything but the patty”. She was cute when she was confused, wrinkled her nose like something smelled odd. It was the hot engine look riders got when they smelled oil or coolant or hot electrics. As metaphor a fire under your ass was great, but as a reality it was frightening. Nobody wants that much heat that close to their gonads.
Hello? Says the dog. Whimper. He doesn’t want to whimper but this was dammit and cool at the same time. Drop the meat already!
Stepping fully not the room the man tears off a small piece of ground beef with his right hand. He lowers the patty and holds out the chunk of meat. This what you want, he asks and holds the small piece too high to reach.
Dummy, says the dog. Jumping up he grabs a hold of the whole patty out of the man’s other hand.
Shit! Says the man. He manages to hold on to half the patty.
I win, says the dog disappearing under the bed. Now under the bed smells like hamburger, mold and blood. The hamburger is juicy and after he finishes gulping it down he licks his paws a moment to get every drop of grease.
The dog stays under the bed. You there? Asks the man after a moment. Licking his chops the dog sticks just his head out from under the bed.
Am I in trouble? Asks the dog.
No, says the man as he squats and offers another chunk of burger. Careful and slow the dog takes the meat. Two gnashes of his molars and the meat is gone. Gulp.
The man asks, when was the last time you ate? Chin on the ground and straining not to grab at the remaining hamburger the dog softly paws at the ground, crawling forward. The man drops all the way down to his knees and slides back to give the dog room to get out from under the bed.
Right here buddy, he’s patting his thighs.
I’m in, answers the dog, jumping up.
Thinking dammit and cool at the same time he pets and loves on the dog feeding him the rest of the patty.
Not so Fast, Said the Dog
You probably need a drink, says the man gently setting him down and going into the bathroom. Coming out with an awkwardly narrow glass full of the water he asks, wash it down pal; and still holding it for stability offers water. No tadpoles or mosquito larvae. No oil or scum. Just water. Just water. Water water water. Too fast but who cares? The man can barely keep the glass from getting knocked over. More, asks the man? Sitting down patiently the dog says, yes please. Looking down the man sees the dog is getting a little dog woody. Put that chapstick back in the tube, he says and reaches into the bathroom. The water flows violently for a second and the glass is back on the floor before the bubbles can all rise to the top.
He lets the dog drink its fill; not with pity but brotherhood.
Thanks, says the dog as it sits down.
You need to pee now don’t you? The man slides open the patio door and the dog prances out onto the back lawn of the motel and searches from tree to bush for the right place. Finding a small maple that smells right the dog hitches up a leg and lets it go. Relief he didn’t know he needed. Habit forces him to scratch the earth and flick tiny bits of dirt, leaves and grass. Teach that tree a lesson says the man from the patio. He clicks his tongue twice, the way you’d talk to a horse. Coming, says the dog and dropping his head he kicks it down a gear and runs hard to the man.
Smart boy. Good dog. It going to piss you off I take a picture? The man asks.
No, says the dog, sitting. Just don’t steal my soul–I’m still using it. The man scratches and folds the dog’s ears. Wag, wag, wagging says his tail. It’s embarrassing sometimes. It just happens. He can’t control it. Neither can the man. He starts to baby-talk and work the dog’s skull over; scratching, rubbing, massaging. Stopping he brings his hand to his nose. The dog knows what the man smells, the individual scents bear a map of where and what, a nasal history of the last few months.
Woof, says the man. You need a bath.
Not so fast, said the dog.
Bathing dog was a fight. Scratching, plunging, slipping. Kneeling and squirming. Attempts to escape or drown. After the fight the dog had run under the bed. Hopefully he was dry enough. Soaking wet and cold the man strips down, flips the toggle and warm water pours out from where the shower-head should be. The head had been there yesterday; clogged, sputtering and crunchy with minerals–but there. Having showered under a garden hose he wasn’t put off and he climbs in, ducks under stream and soaks himself from head to foot. Stepping back he feels something under his foot and, as the dog barks in surprise he nearly falls on it. Stumbling and naked he feels stupid and lucky as he manages not to grab the curtain and pull it down.
What the hell? He snaps at the dog.
Dog sits and wags his stubby little tail; please don’t be mad. Sitting there on the porcelain of the tub it looks like a tiny scrub-brush swishing away. It’s impossible to stay angry. Just wanted to be close by, says the dog. This was true. The dog had been alone a long time. No scraps. No warm spot to sit in when the person leaves or plates set on the floor to be cleaned. All the good things of people had been gone. All the bad was gone too. No shouting or hitting or being thrown. He had napped on a pillow. A pillow and no one yelled or threw things.
And there was food. Food had arrived and the only price tag was a frisky lap in the tub. This could be good. This is a set up was worth pursuing. So he had jumped into the tub to keep an eye on his new benefactor.
Hey, says the man, my eyes are up here, quit staring at my junk. Modestly he turn his back to the dog. The man is careful as he soaps and rinses. Bathing with a hose allowed you to move the water around to rinse all the tough to reach places. With the fixed shower he had to move himself around to direct the water. In a twisted limbo he tries not to step on the dog as he contorts to get the water to the right crease or fold. Taking up space in the tub dog worries about getting smashed. The man teeters and hops, using cupped hands to deflect and carry water to different parts of his body.
People are funny. The water stops running and the man squeegees water off his arms and legs. Why don’t people shake it off like dogs? Dog shakes a shake that starts from his nose and ends with his tail. Looks at the man. Easy! See? The man just looks at dog. No clue. Wagging his tail dog just looks at the man. Seriously, says the man, quit looking at my junk. He continues as he rubs himself dry with a towel, seriously, you’re creeping me out.
Dog follows the man into the room and watches him sit on the bed to get dressed. Bored dog picks up a discarded sock, drops to the ground looking like sphinx and after pinning the sock under his front paws starts to pull on the sock with his teeth. There is no malice. He’s not practicing skinning a squirrel. Pulling just feels good in his mouth. His teeth like it. The weave slips and grips the enamel and his teeth torque in their sockets. Pull, chew, pull, chew, pull.
Hey, said the man. Hey. Knock that shit off. Dog stares and his eyes say, why? Pausing he waits for anger and seeing none he looks down and starts working on the sock again.
You know what? The man asks. I’m going to give you a name. Your name is Tug. Got it? Tug wasn’t listening and kept working on the sock.
Better Outside the Bag
First stop had been to the see Karrera at the cafe. She had pointed him to QuarterMaster Surplus where he picked up a canvas messenger bag he thought the dog would fit into. The bag smelled a bit like the store. Wearing it back to the motel should air it out. As he purchased the bag his brain tried to help him understand he was doing little to find Tug’s owner and that naming the dog was ownership and if you were trying to figure out how to travel with the dog then the dog was, de facto, his. He wanted to not want the dog. Somewhere inside him was an angry mother telling him dogs were dirty and stupid and flea ridden and more responsibility than he could handle. Another voice just wanted to be left alone and not invest his heart in another thing he could lose–wouldn’t it be easier to take the dog to the pound and then a nap? However, the loudest call was to get back to the dog and put him in the bag and see if he’d go for a ride.
That would be cool.
Coolness was hard to deny.
Tug was cool and loaded into the bag easily. It was hard for him to pop his head out to see so the man cut a “U” into the side of the bag and Tug was happy to stick his head out under from under the flap to see where things were going.
And it smelled better outside the bag.
The Moment or not the Moment
He is asleep. Sunset had caught him out with Tug looking for a bag of dog food small enough to fit in the saddlebags. They had got home tired and a touch cold. The shower head had magically reappeared and Tug had vaulted into the tub for no apparent reason. Tug was good on a leash and now had what seemed to be the only collar in his size that wasn’t pink or didn’t have happy smiling kitties on it. Hell, it might be cat collar, it came from a hardware store and was bright blue; looked good though. Soft growling wakes the man, a sound like someone slowly spinning the tumblers on a big safe. Click, click, click. Slow. Soft. Hey you, stupid, wake up, somethings up. Not a sound for the intruder but a sound for the pack. It was the sort of thing that got him kicked off the bed but now he wanted the man to wake gently and be with him.
Hearing the soft growl the man wakes but doesn’t move. Tug is between his legs and he feels the little dog vibrate. On his side he brings his chin to his chest and cracks one eye open enough to see the door is open. Bright blue moonlight cuts a hard line across the carpet and into the room. Should have set the chain. Usually better at security, they both had been pretty jazzed when they got in and then there was the water fight in the bathroom…lazy or childlike he had just overlooked securing the room. On the road of his life he too had been beaten for small things and now he resists the urge to whip himself for enjoying the moment. Nothing he did or felt now was going to unset the chain. Chewing on it, spitting it on himself wouldn’t change anything. His mother thought if she rubbed his nose in it enough that somehow things would become undone and wouldn’t be there anymore. She was a liar to herself. Inflicting the pain made her feel good, she couldn’t change the past, she knew it, but she could make someone pay for it and she took a calculated carnal enjoyment out of it.
In the hard moonlight he listens trying to hear what Tug hears. Sure that no one was right there he opens both eyes to look. Hold still. No noise of motion. Grunting like he’s dreaming he shifts his body to get a better look at the door. Hoping the noise says, “Just wrestling bears in my sleep,” he pauses and scopes the scene. Everything is written in dark blues, like a forties cartoon, liquid blue where light flows instead of flickering; a three quarters or full moon throwing hard edged shadows. On the parking lot he could make out individual leaves flitting and banging, hiding behind each other, a moment unique and then a herd again.
Sneaking up the door like the wicked witch comes a shadow. Human. Flowing across the threshold and then running up the door. Head and shoulders, turning, looking. Then a profile. Silently he reaches for the folding knife on the night stand and hooks a thumb on the blade. Outside the motorcycle seems to sparkle in the moon light, the chrome doing its job with flair. A car in the distance freezes the shadow. Tired light from the road flickers weakly, turning blues to grey and almost green. Turning to the light the shadow is in profile and with the profile he sees a ponytail. Shoulders now look smaller, petite; the monster is gone but his heart picks up speed.
Tug growls quietly again. Reaching down he puts a gentle hand on the dog’s haunches. I’m here. I know. Situation is under control. Tug quiets but pressed again the man’s thigh he can feel the uptick in heart tempo. The shadow pauses, becoming a fresco, sensing something, torn between the fear of having been discovered or the fear of being discovered by running. Inside the man the same debate in a different key: is this the moment or not the moment?
Believers Never Really Want to Know
To act could kill the promise and the promise was sweet enough to cling to because it was alive, revived and back from a long vacation. He coughed to see if the shadow would flee. Her head snapped to the side to put both ears on the sound. The dog turned his head, looked at him, and asked, what are you doing?
The man speaks. “If you’re going to steal it then just ask for the keys, I don’t want the ignition screwed up any more that it already is.” Dog likes hearing the man’s voice and his tail wags reflexively. The shadow breathes a startled breath, flexing on the door. For a pregnant minute neither moves or speaks. It’s s a dream to both and breaking the moment could break it and wake the nightmare. Tug growls again, clicking like a ratchet. The man squeezes him and again he stops. Her shadow climbs the door as Karrera steps into view blue and ghostly, the grey streaks in her hair neon and glowing.
“Hello.” Says the man.
“Hello.” Say Karrera.
Wag, wag, wag, says Tug’s tail.
“This place is too cheap for chairs?” says Karrera.
“Too cheap for working locks too.” he says. “Sit anywhere. Should be clean…ish.” He hopes for the edge of the bed. Putting her back against the door Karrera slides down into a squat that turns into crossed legs on the floor.
“Yoga?” he asks, “Around here?”
“Find somewhere it isn’t”, she replies.
Still wagging his tail Tug starts to crawl on his belly to the foot of the bed. Rubbing his belly on the blanket he lets his back legs drag behind him because it feels good. In the reflected moonlight his black spot looks like a hole in his side. Stretched fully out he works himself to the end of the bed and drops his head down between his paws. “Wow,” says Karrera, “somebody’s working it hard.”
The man rises up on an elbow to look at Tug. “He’s a smart dog. Really smart. I don’t know how he wound up here.” But, then again neither did he. Life was the river and he had thrown himself in to be swept along, rolled, stranded in the eddy and now at least the dog drifts along with him. The silence is awkward and safe. You can’t say the wrong thing is you don’t say anything and they both didn’t want to take the wrong step. Trapped in the minefield they simply waited. Tug’s tail slows, stops but stays pointed at the ceiling as if to say to the man, “This is an asshole. You’re being one too.”
The air isn’t pregnant, the scene is not waiting for crescendo, the thing is there and quiet; not poised or prepared but real and neither dares to point at it for fear it will either materialize or disappear. It is the fear of ghosts, that they might be real or they might not. Believers never really want to know.
Hind Legs Dragging
“What’s your name?” She asks, poking gently, not wanting to tip the situation over.
“Is that what you go by or is that the legal description?” She tries to wink with her voice but doesn’t think it comes through. It’s a soft push, wanting to say just the the right amount, coaxing the kitten from under the bed.
“My mother always said Joshua and my Pop always called me Josh.” Releasing it’s not a real answer he adds, “Josh is best.”
Tug lays quiet, his chest and belly against the bed. The man and the woman are talking and he likes it. Slow, soft. No growling. No barking. Wiggling forward he slides off the bed like a seal, hind legs dragging.