She didn’t know the girl, she was sure of it now. In the walk from the department store she had rifled through her memory, cross referencing facial features, hair style, voice, clothes, posture, gait; and found nothing. Now, she felt more anxiety, even more than she’d felt when she heard the comment as she marched through the cosmetics department. But now she questioned: had she heard it – would a stranger be so rude? Was it just her imagination running away with something she could not be sure of? Again the rifling started, the Rolodex shuffle; maybe she knew the girl, maybe…
She caught her reflection in a store window. She hated the way she looked when she was submerged in obsessive thought – her eyes looked smaller and her face longer, her chin tended to jut out. She thought she looked like a brooding old spinster at best, at worst: an angry man about to rampage through the streets. Not the desired presentation for a woman of twenty years who woke up this morning vowing to shine like the rising sun.
He was a big guy, tall and broad shouldered, his black jacket doing little to conceal the bulk. However, he was as shy as he was big, and more than that, sad and morose. He always looked like he’d just been crying, even though that seemed out of the question, as his personality was clearly cobbled from Gary Cooper parts. He would loom over his friends in front of clubs, looking about, almost disinterested, his shaggy hair falling into his face. Rarely speaking, he nodded his head at the bar when he wanted something, as if unsure anyone would respond to his verbal requests. He wished to take up as small a space as possible. Still, he was big, and his size brought with it a natural presence that, even if he’d rather it not, brought him some attention.
He had the air of the graveyard about him. Even if he was at a party, he looked like he was ruminating in a cemetery. There was something deep and dark on his mind, though not dangerous, and if anyone can be comfortable bearing such burdens, he seemed that one. Comfortable in a chosen skin; black leather, as it was for everyone in those days.
One evening he and his friends passed a vagrant outside a shuttered storefront. A week later he received one of those friends at his house, and when he had turned his back on his visitor, the friend noticed a stirring in an adjacent room. Quickly, thinking it an intruder, the friend rushed in and found the vagrant, unnerved but cleaned up a bit, and apparently staying in the abode. The friend turned to his tall and broad host, who, of course, said nothing, then the friend looked around the room. There were photographs, at least a dozen of them, affixed to the walls and leaning on tables, of a young woman the friend had never seen.
“You got somethin to say to me?” the friend inquired, somewhat pointedly. Predictably, there was no response, just the slightest bow of the head, which somehow completely took the edge off the moment. The friend inhaled as if to make another inquiry but held the breath. He turned to look at the photos before exhaling and, after grabbing the big guy’s sleeve, he left.
When the friends met up later that evening, nothing was said about the visit, nor would anything ever be said about it. Nothing really changed in the dynamic among friends, just as nothing had ever changed before, except in considering an incident which occurred shortly thereafter that would have never happened in prior times, in this way. A wisecracking bartender at a restaurant started in on the big guy, equating his silence for stupidity, The bartender made one crack too wise and two too many, and the friend who knew the secret lost his composure. Now, normally, busting up each other with put downs was the primary pastime among the friends and their acquaintances, but something, some small thing, had changed, at least that’s what coursed through the mind of the friend in the seconds that transpired while he grabbed the bottle of rye on the bar, smashed it, and started after the bartender.
I heard the shot as I was looking at his face, or at least I think that was how it happened, sequentially. I remember his head as a bit of a blur, as if it were moving just a bit fast for my senses, like the bullet that penetrated the adjacent brick and sent clay shards to scrape the left arm of his jacket. The speed of sound is slow, I remember from school, and because of that the audible crack of the shot gave me no clue to the distance of the shooter. Human reaction is slow as well, at least in stunned surprise, and if there was intent to aim and fire again then he was a goner, standing as he was perpendicular to but still against a wall, a blind man sent to a firing squad.
There was no second shot, just a disoriented mumble, and maybe a stumble, as the event came and passed. Mostly it felt like silence, though I must have heard the trickle of brick parts as they hit the pavement, but it seemed a long time before he said “What the hell…”. I grabbed the unscathed sleeve of his leather and pulled him around the corner into an alley where we ran like we did when we were kids. Thank God for Chicago alleys, always our hideouts, now our escape route. In the passage we went from numbness past fear and into silliness, laughing by the time we’d traveled a city block and out a side alley, into a busy diagonal intersection. We aimed to get lost in a crowd, but finding only small groups, we serpentined in and around until we ducked into a diner. We had a few bucks so we ordered coffee and fries, and examined the scars on his left sleeve through the cigarette smoke rising from the ashtray between us. Outside it began to drizzle, and I didn’t know why but I thought that if it was to become a hard rain, I would run outside and stand in it, my face turned up against the deluge.
The beret was raspberry and she bought it before anyone ever heard that song. She wore it on the back of her head in an ecclesiastical fashion, and she imagined the office of it all, the feeling of being separate, a tad off, different. On cloudy days like this her skin looked blue and she liked the way that complimented the color of her millinery find. To pump up the effect she wore raspberry lipstick as well, applying it throughout the afternoon within little vignettes she’d direct; next to the phone booth, bending to the chrome-framed side mirror of a parked car, in the window of the coffee shop where that beautiful man-child worked. There she’d feign absent-mindedness and linger a bit after she’d placed the cartridge back in her patent leather clutch, sometimes pulling at her sleeve a bit in an oh-so-cute way. She imagined herself fifty years older and doing the same thing, in a version of the same ensemble, and still not knowing whether she and the man-child would ever be together. She’d feel a strange pain in her hip joint.
Time for a movie, she thought. She knew a way to sneak in through the alley, so she didn’t have to pay, as she wasn’t working. She only worked when she had to, and she didn’t have to, not with her imagination, her raspberry things, and a way to get into the movies for free. She’d eat the complementary happy hour food at the club, and then sew her landlady’s curtains for this month’s rent. She’d take the remnants and make herself a skirt, maybe dye it indigo. Raspberry and indigo; she liked that, cool names for two adorable children. She wondered if the man-child would like to have a family…
The early morning sunlight bleached the lines from his face even as it seared a precious memory into his soul. Not long ago, it was dark, and not just dark, but opaque black dark, the peculiar kind of darkness you find at 4 am in a club where the walls are painted black. Even then, amidst the abyss, there were signs of the light to come, where blue neon hints at the dawn sky, and the glossy black surfaces sparkle like morning dew. Even then, he closed his eyes against the breaks in the darkness, fighting to stave off what was coming, testing his resolve against the bringer of light, of mornings, of mundane responsibilities, job, commute, commitment. Of course, he would fail, but the burning of the smile lines and the crow’s feet from his young but fatigued face served a small victory, rendering him younger to the morning eye, a five minute victory over the onset of time.
She was here. He knew it before he saw the note she left for him with an arrow pointing west.
Continuing the expeditions of Jeff MacNelly, James Kilpatrick, and Eugene McCarthy, with apologies.
A Frankenstein monster of patchwork innuendo, mismatched parts and all, this pathetic creature fits within no accepted single branch of the animal kingdom. More acclaimed by horror novelists than zoologists or historians, the Benghazi was rumored to have existed in some form for ages but was dismissed as an improbable, silly, vainglorious fabrication of stilted imagination. Of late, the creature’s awful appearance has made its existence all too real for some. Its nature frustratingly straightforward in its crookedness, its habits awfully stubborn, it is a mind-numbingly plodding creation, stuck in the rut of its own making. Too dim and solipsistic to do much more than rehearse circular arguments with itself, the Benghazi mostly sits around developing sores that fester in time, leaving the creature, eventually, untouchable.
Continuing the expeditions of Jeff MacNelly, James Kilpatrick, and Eugene McCarthy, with apologies.
The Bork (or Powell)
A curious creature, the Bork, or Powell, as it is sometimes called, comes from a lineage so noble and environment so regimented that it cannot help but to follow the orders of its superiors. Unfortunately, this creature most often thrives in this circumstance just long enough to follow one order too many. As its superiors are often self-serving and otherwise careless, the ultimate order is almost always the one the destroys the career of the Bork/Powell, effectively ending its existence as a being relevant to anything but this bestiary.