If his mind was a town, then everything was out on the edges. Nothing in the middle but wide roads, empty storefronts and apartments for rent. He’d have to start walking if he was going to get anywhere. Ten steps into his travel he stopped and wondered if this was really worth it.
He had to focus on what he was looking for, but all he could come up with was something. Anything. This place should be dense, he thought, high rises and narrow streets and buildings built on the past. There should be traffic and chaos.
But there wasn’t.
He hooked something and began the struggle of reeling it in.
“Big one?” his cousin asked, keeping the beer can close to his lips.
“Better take it easy. Let the fish tire itself out.”
He let the line out some and stretched his back, groaning. Then he started to reel it in.
Yesterday he’d left the city. His job. His apartment. Came home. Drove all through the night.
“So you’re on vacation?” his asked.
“Yeah. A couple of days.”
The rod curved as he reeled in, and pulled back.
“I you’re not careful, you’re going to lose it.”
I guess it was fine, I mean. I don’t really have anything to compare it to, right? It was just the bunker. We played board games and read books and played records on Saturday mornings. Mom taught us math and some French. Don’t ask me to speak it.
No, we never asked about the outside. We didn’t know it existed.
It was pretty big, about the same size as this place, I guess. Three levels. Can I have another smoke? Thanks. The first thing I did when we got out? Fell to the ground and cried. Just bawled.
The ghost was sprawled out on the couch when we got back from the grocery store. It was watching TV. And wanted to know if we’d bought any snacks. We offered it a banana, or a yogurt, but it sneered at both suggestions. We said it should have asked for snacks before we left.
“You didn’t say where you were going,” it said, turning back to the TV.
We asked if it was going to spend the whole afternoon on the couch.
“I have about three episodes to catch up,” it said. “But I can scooch over if you want.”
Possum had a deal with the maintenance guys in a couple of the neighbourhood’s new condo buildings. He’d get to go through the recycling containers first. All he had to was bring them out and clean up after. It was easier than walking the streets all night, rifling through the residential and public cans just to find someone had already cleaned them out.
Once, some punk pulled a knife. Almost stabbed him. For seventy cents worth glass.
He’d usually make about fifteen bucks from each building. He’d buy some sandwiches and stop in at the mission to hand them out.
He’d wake me up every morning. Hacking up something in the sink. Stirring his coffee, the spoon ringing off the mug. Shoving the toaster’s latch like he was cocking a shotgun. Humming along to radio. Stomping around with his work boots on.
I couldn’t get back to sleep. Ever. So I’d wait until I heard the door slam, and his truck start. Then I’d get up. Sometimes, he would have left the coffee machine on and I’d have a cup or let it boil down to a black sludge.
That way he’d have to clean it when he got home.
A skeleton stopped the Fiddler at the bridge into town.
“Bridges’s closed,” it said. “If’en ye can’t pay the toll.”
The Fiddler made an exaggerated show of checking his pockets and purse, and even pulled off his boots and shook them, to show the skeleton he hadn’t even a wooden nickel. The skeleton stroked his rib cage as he thought.
“Couldn’t pay you with a song, I suppose?” the Fiddler asked.
“What good’d that do me? Ain’t got the ears to hear it.”
“Then how’re you fit to answer my question?”
Caught in his lie, the skeleton, ashamed, moved aside.
That week up at the cabin we smoked until our fingers were yellow and drank until our insides ached.
Outside it snowed or it didn’t. The sun shone, or not. We had the curtains closed tight. We didn’t bother looking out the windows, knew there was nothing we could learn out there.
We wanted escape. Or to retreat.
We had it figured out one night, or morning, or afternoon. Had set the exact words in the right order to fully, finally, explain what it was we felt.
But woke up to a log smouldering in the stove, unable to remember.
Prompt courtesy of the Daily Post.
The Fiddler dropped nimbly from the boxcar, just before the train rolled into the town. He stretched, bending until his fingers scraped the ground, arose slapping the dust from his trousers and looked east.
He heard a crow’s shrieking caw, but looking up, all he could see was a Whiskey Jack flitting among the branches of a scraggly pine.
“Much obliged for the warning, friend,” the Fiddler said, tipping his hat. “But I’ve been through here before, and know what to expect.”
The bird stared at him.
“Oh, yes. Your payment,” he said, drawing his bow across the instrument’s strings.
“Judging by the size of the bags under your eyes,” her mother said, “I suppose you’ll be staying with us for a while.”
She knew her mother was trying to make a joke. To make this easy. Easier. That this situation, whatever it had become, was uncomfortable for both of them. She didn’t want to come home like this, and had convinced herself that this was only a temporary solution. Not long term. A week, maybe two. Just long enough to rest up and see clear and then she’d head back to school, to the city, back to her life.