Grasshopper walked out on stage, and slung his guitar over his shoulders. The band started up.
“Good of you to come out,” he said after a few numbers. “Being a Monday and all.”
Someone at the back of the room hollered it was Wednesday. A murmur of confusion rippled through the crowd. It threatened to sour, become panic and lapped at the stage.
“Just how long are my songs?” Grasshopper asked, and the crowd laughed and settled.
The band walked off stage on a Friday, and it Sunday by the time the brights lights over the stage dimmed and darkened.
We were in the winter wing of a new “smell museum” that just opened. One of us put down the tube to the wood stove, and walked over to the other at beef stew.
“This is just a little too idyllic,” one of us said. “Where’s the Vicks?”
The other shrugged and shambled into the summer section. We filled our nostrils with the sickly sweet smell of pollen on a hot day. Sweat and sunscreen and bug spray. The sign in the lobby said scent was the sense most connected to memory, but nothing came to either of our minds.
*That’s 1700 stories. Wild.
There must be a massive fire somewhere nearby.
But because the windows are open, it’s been warm, and the winter was long, it kind of smells like a campfire, and then, instead of whatever else you should be thinking, like maybe someone’s lost everything, you get reminiscent. But not nostalgic. Because those aren’t the same things.
One is romantic. The other is just sad.
Anyway, the smell is pleasant, and comforting. And innocent in a way. Or pure maybe?
But to think that you have to ignore the blaring sirens and the flashing lights, but that’s done easily enough, really.
Goat rented a motel room three towns over for the weekend. Listened to the local pop music station because that felt more exotic than watching TV. Waited for someone to text him and ask what he was up to. Figured he’d lie. Someone told him they found a hundred bucks in the nightstand bible. No one that generous has passed through. Went out to fill the ice bucket, just for something to do.
His neighbour sat in their open doorway, letting all the bugs in their room.
“Pretty swell night, ain’t it?” they said, smiling. “Feels like just anything’s possible.”
He said if his life was a movie, he’d only ever be a character actor somewhere in the background. The bartender just poured another pint and slid it over. The woman three stools over said her morning glories couldn’t tell time. They bloomed in the afternoon. A third voice from some dark corner hollered that he was an adult because he kept his candy in mason jars.
“For freshness?” a quieter voice asked in the silence that followed the outburst. But the reply was drowned out by the door chimes as another patron poured in out of the afternoon rain.
The neighbourhood mystic knocked at Coyote’s backdoor. He’d been up with the sun, and was just making a second pot of coffee when she walked in.
“Get your broom,” she said.
“I just swept yesterday.”
“Then make a mess.”
Before he could object, the mystic stomped her muddy boots against the kitchen floor. Tossed a handful of coffee grounds like she was sowing a field. Emptied her pockets of dried leaves and dust bunnies.
“Feel better?” she asked after he’d swept and brought a cup out to her where she stood on the balcony.
He said he did, a little.
She came back from the bathroom with a single buffalo and transitioned to a quick four eight.
“It’s not you, you’re great,” she said while scuffling. “It’s me. I’m a mess right now. There’s just so much going on.”
She stepped and spun and did a couple paradiddles.
“I just don’t have it in me.”
Bull, rapt, raised his hand for the waiter.
“That’s too bad,” he said. “But I get it.”
She pirouetted twice, arms flailing so it seemed frantic but needed a lot of practise, and finished with a full pull shuffle.
“That was something,” he said later.
“You can’t go around telling boring people to fuck off for repeating platitudes. I mean, you should, but they don’t know any better,” the woman at the bar said.
Coyote instantly fell in love.
He kept turning the pages in his book, but pushed his chair away from his table and closer to that prophet.
“It wouldn’t even make a lousy difference.”
He turned and saw the speaker spoke to no one, except maybe her reflection in the mirror behind all the bottles, and somehow that made the whole diatribe that much better.
Vitriolic, he thought, when he got home.
The bars are open again, and I’m up against the glass eating nachos like I’m some kind of zoo exhibit.
“Here we have a doughy middle-aged human male, he’s not been exposed to human contact in quite some time, so please, do not bang on the glass. It may upset him.”
So then you realize upset doesn’t always mean “anger”, but could also be “confuse.” And then you wonder if we’ve been belittling animals all this time by using diminishing verbs. But that’s a lot to think about on your first night out with two whole months of winter remaining.
Bear had it all mapped out. How one thing led to another and how the circumstances influenced situations and how he thought he felt about the whole thing. All someone had to do was ask. Or present the opportunity. But that would never happen. It was too far back. Too much. Too long. There’d have to be too many footnotes. He’d need thumbtacks and string and poorly developed photographs for when his words failed. A tie to untighten savagely to signify it was no use. They just couldn’t get it. A moment of dark silence. And then the bright epiphany.
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.”