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.”
“I don’t want to know how magicians do their tricks,” Doe said.
“There’s so much music, why do I keep listening to the same thing?” Lamb said.
They did other things for a few minutes.
“I knew I would.”
“What if I spruced up the words?”
“If you did what, Gertrude Frances Birdwhistle? Spruce them up? Shall we sprixt yon words ere the winds and walk through them to better understand your original meaning?”
They did other things for a few minutes.
“You can fuck off, you know that, right?”
What he wanted, needed, Coyote decided was that feeling of being out past curfew again. Of the way summer night’s smelled after crawling through a basement window and finding his friends hiding behind a bush two doors down. That electric opportunity that came in with the clouds once the sun set, low and fat and making sure the night stayed too hot for sleep. Of those things in between. Of having to quietly move through a dark house, hoping no one would hear you, and even if they did, the punishment would be nothing compared to what he now knew.
When the metro doors almost shut, Dzinski slipped out after the man with the waxed moustache and sharp-shaped ears. He shadowed him south down the side streets, keeping about a block back. He stepped into an alley as the light ahead went red. Waited until all three cars crossed. And then he pulled out, and the man was gone.
He found him, two blocks left and another one over, staring, rapt, at a lighted window. Dzinski crawled down the other side of the street and saw breathless couples stepping on each other’s toes and smiling as they learned to foxtrot.
She spent the Sunday in the park, practising drawing ferns. But could never get the fronds quite to her satisfaction. A squirrels stopped above, and stared. Three kids ran by screaming chasing the man on the bicycled fridge full of ice cream.
A breeze struggled through the air too thick with humidity. A few of the leaves above her rustled.
She thought a cold drink would be nice, and set off in a south eastern direction, figuring to find a terrace that wasn’t too crowded on the main street of the neighbourhood down the hill. Ended up walking home instead.
Maybe I’m not at my best, but I don’t feel awful about it, and I don’t really see what I can do to make things better. Or if I really want to bother. My life is fine. Only poor in comparison with the curated conflation and combination of others. Simply seems superior. But this all came about because someone mentioned a friend in common was doing all right, but only had small goals, and nothing major. I frowned a bit and wondered why we’re supposed to have goals besides eating enough, sleeping safely, and sharing a laugh now and then?
Spine cracked and pages dog eared, he slumped in the front door. Brittle pages, paragraphs of faded ink of the previous night fluttered as the wind swept in from the street. Moved the stale air inside, but not enough to change the smell of vanilla and mothballs.
Collapsing on the bed, curtains doing little against the high afternoon sun.
He slept until sometime in the middle of the night, then stumbled to the washroom and studied the new creases in his reflection. Tomorrow’ll have to be a new chapter, he thought, because this one has gone on too long already.
It’d started raining. Most people out on the street ran for shelter, but Buck stopped. Tilted his head back.
It’d only been a bar fight. And he’d only gotten lucky. Pulled away from the punch. It’d been eight years since he’d felt rain, and hadn’t a reason to move. A fat kid under an umbrella stopped to blow a whistle.
Buck kept hearing it echo down the alley on his way home. He’d still wake up to the sound of the knee cracking under his foot. To the feeling of the nose collapsing beneath his fist. “Maybe, tomorrow,” he thought.