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.

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 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.

Get Feet Up

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.

Apple & 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.