He introduced himself as the last of the crossword builders. But refused to elaborate when pressed. It made dinner awkward. The host coughed. Someone brought up the weather hoping to change the subject. We all just chewed in silence until someone said anxiety is the price of being able to imagine a certain future.
Someone else wondered why we didn’t go out dancing instead.
Everyone agreed they were overdue for a good frolic. That they’d been cooped up long enough to start laying eggs. So we moved the furniture to the edges of the room, and turned the music up.
The local philosopher sat at the bar, wondering aloud.
“Is it better to shovel several times during a snowstorm, or do it once at the end?”
Coyote was the only other patron, so he closed his book and thought which he preferred.
“Depends on what you need to shovel,” he said. The philosopher perked up, and sidled over to Coyote’s table.
“Of course. And it depends on if you are expecting a delivery, or are worried about having to leave in a hurry, or how bad your back is. Or how good a shovel you own.”
Coyote nodded, and sipped.
“Anger is a secondary emotion,” they said. We drank our bitter coffee and bit into the styrofoam cup. “Feeling are messy. Confused. It’s normal to feel a range of things. When that happens, you need to ask God for clarity.”
“Yeah, pray harder, dumb fuck,” a voice from the back of the room said.
That got a laugh. And a sweeping lasso glare from the group lead.
We’re forced to be here. Once a week. We sign in, and later someone goes down the list of names and calls you if you didn’t show. Twice. Then they send the cops.
The polished wood, lights and music make it feel warmer in here that it deserves to be. Sat facing the street, watching people struggle with strollers and groceries against the wind and weather. Inside all I can wonder is whether to order another, or make my way home.
The man at the next table speaks into his phone, “Yes, the trains have not yet left the station.” An accent of some kind almost imperceptible. German?
At the bar someone asks loudly who the couple of the year is, but he may only be referring to his social circle, I think.
“Anyone that says ‘don’t get me wrong,'”the first one said. “Like that’s some catch-all excuse for having any shitty opinion.”
“How do you punctuate a quote that ends a quote?”
The second one waved the question away, but more from them than the other.
“Maybe it’s a little more than that. I mean, it was that. But it’s crept everywhere. Like whatever plant it is that’s incredibly invasive. To make an awful metaphor.”
Someone unapologetically bumped their table. They sneered simultaneously.
“Probably? I only read the headline. Anyway. It’s a bullshit qualifier. And qualifiers upset me on principle.”
“What I’d really like to do,” Trout says while perched on the edge of the curb, “is get a boxful of little commemorative wreaths, like the big ones you see at the funerals of important people, but mine would be no bigger than playing card. And what I’d do is just set them anywhere the fancy struck.”
The traffic broke and they crossed the street.
“That’s a little morbid.”
“I don’t think morbid’s the right word. It’s closer to the feeling of seeing a Halloween costume store empty at the end of November.”
“What kind of flowers would you use?”
Coyote couldn’t sleep. He rolled over. Flipped his pillow. Kicked a foot out of the blankets. Clamped his eyes shut. Focused on his breathing. And still nothing, so he decided that was it, he’d get up and finally run off to be a hobo.
An hour later, he’d settled back into listlessness, content with lukewarm coffee and the crossword puzzle. One of the answers ended up being “lacks arias” and he thought that profound. And a little too close to the way he felt. He’d have to do something. And he’d get right on it, after a quick mid-morning nap.
As far as he knew, he’d never been the type to show up in the wee hours and bang on the door, begging for one more chance. Or cornered anyone with dull conversation. Ignoring their eyes’ pleas to stop. Never’d scrawled poems on scrap paper while huddled in the bus stop, running away towards some half-thought-out hobo fantasy. Nope, to the best of his knowledge and memory he was a fine upstanding person, with faults for sure, no one’s perfect. But nothing as deplorably awful as the things he overheard his friends saying, when they thought he’d finally passed out.
While the cashier slid his groceries across the scanner, Fox let his mind drift.
When the shopping cart bumped his back, he turned, a snarl already snapping at his lips. But he sheathed it when he saw the stooped old woman, apologetic eyes just above the cart. He bobbed his head in acceptance, and shifted over. But then moved back, and asked if the woman would like help unloading her cart.
Her eyes dried, and a smile cracked her wrinkled face.
A car, surging out of a narrow alley, stopped short. Fox shifted his bags to the other arm, continued.
By gum, have you never heard of Arizona Cecil? Come up from the desert to dig that there canal. Never a finer digger there was. Could shoulder enough dirt to drown fifteen men. And that were before the lunch break, mind you.
“Funny son of a fish,” many of the men digging the canal used to say. Whether that was a play on words or a prediction is coloured by the time between.
But years after he’d drowned in the surge that took so many, the men working’d swear one bastard fish would come up and deliberatly knock ’em over.
It’d been raining for two goddamned days. Coming down like artillery fire. Dzinski kept his chin tucked against his chest. Ignored his soaked through shoes and that old familiar tingling itch. He waded across the street towards the amber lights.
He peeled his jacket off, slid into a booth and worked his shoes free.
“Wet one tonight,” the waiter said, setting down a drink and a couple of bar towels.
Dzinski sipped his whiskey. Dried his feet. Too wet to think. But if he was heading down to the station in the morning, he’d need to get his story straight.
A benefit of bike riding no one talks about very much is that when you move your feet to a certain rhythm, and focus only on what if right before you, it allows forgotten songs to bubble up to the surface of your mind. And you find yourself mumbling trying to form the words to match the suddenly appeared melody. If you go far enough, or ride long enough, or push hard enough, you might be able to dust this half-remembered thing off, and find that you know all the words, and that your heart provides the perfect back beat.
A woman biked the alley all evening, getting off at each yard and staring through the bicycle’s frame as though it was a telescope. On the third pass, she asked Goat if he’d seen a cat.
“It looks like a little tiger,” she said.
He’d seen a fair amount of cats that day, since he’d been wandering back and forth whenever the sun came out, but none matching that description. She shrugged and pedalled on, clicking her tongue.
Goat returned to his daily exercise of refining the excuses for why he acted the way he did, when he knew better.
“If I could change any one thing? I’d make sure karaoke bars had the song length displayed. So you’d know how long you’d have to be on stage.”
“Because you don’t want to be up there for six plus minutes?”
“Of course not. I’d want two and a half, three minutes tops. A scorcher, y’know. And the timer could be visible, so you’d know how long you’d have to suffer up on stage.”
“Some people like it up there,” God said, wondering why he asked this question.
“This feature isn’t for them. It’s for the ones that get pushed into it.”
Just once, I wish someone would accuse me of being mellifluous. Even if I’m not sure how to pronounce it properly. I wish I could tapdance and knit and play the piano. That I could say marvelously wise things at teeter-totter moments. Have perfectly toasted toast and soft butter and crispy soft bacon every morning. I wish I could give casual compliments. Tell people what they truly mean to me. Feel good about who I am.”
“So what did you wish for?”
“Oh, you know,” he said, moving hurriedly away from the table. “It’d never come true if I said.”