And so now I walk away from my house. I have to get away from it. I really think it's just that I sort of have to get away from everything. No rest, no peace, my brain is a screeching light and I don't know how to shut it off.
Wandering about this jungle and everything I see bugs me. It's like it's all ashes in an ashtray. I can't ever touch cigarette ashes. They have this awful, alien feeling like they're nothing anyone is ever meant to put their fingers on. Everything around me is like that right now. Repellent. Get it the fuck away from me.
Ungodly suburbs. This shit isn't civilization. It's like a big, split-level Brady Bunch cemetery. It's like the cemetery I went to today, except that had tombstones, this has houses.
The rows of empty, dead houses go on forever, but the time passes fast because my head is like a big locomotive and it won't stop going. I can't continue like this, that's all I know. I need to be forgiven for the terrible thing I did. I know I was wrong but there has to be a way out of this trap.
Suddenly, “rurrurrurr,” a dog pops out of its yard and attacks me. It doesn't bite me, but it runs out of the shadows and it yaps and yaps away like a mad thing. It's probably afraid of my face. I'm scared and I can feel my nervous heart slamming away in my chest, but then the fear goes away and now I'm laughing because the dog looks like Lassie.
On I walk and I keep yukking even though that dog gave me a good scare. My heart keeps pounding away, though, like a piledriver, earth shattering. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
After a while the hill bottoms out into Windham Street. Cars fly by, their lights trailing behind them like wild, glowing vapor trails from jet planes and it's scary and exciting and I think about diving into it for a few seconds. I don't go through with it, though. I'm not real sure that what's beyond the sailing lights is as big a thrill as the lights themselves. The whole thing blows me away, though, just thinking there's at least one person in all those cars. Maybe there are whole families in some of them. That's wild...all those people., catching this quick glimpse of me as they speed down the tubes. Where will they end up? What's their destination? Nothing good in this world. Maybe it'd be more humane if they put up this big detour sign that led them all straight to the bottom of the Merrimack River or something. Whatever. Still, the fleeting sight of me by the side of the road must be fucking with these peoples' worlds in a major league way. I try to imagine the trauma they must all be feeling, taking the image of my shattered, zig-zagged killer's face through the rest of their lives.
I can't begin to figure out how it might affect them, but it makes me laugh, Then I have to stop laughing because it's terrible. Then I have to laugh again.
The 7-11's across the street, beckoning me like a glowing, inviting church. The sight of it makes me sad because I have no money and it would be a waste of time for me to go there. It's not like I could even bum around there and read the magazines on account of the way I look. Some son of a bitch with glaring eyes and sharp wolf teeth would chase me out of the store, beating me over the head with a broom or something.
I don't know what to do or where to go. I walk down the road toward downtown Brookdale. It's just my nature, now, to follow my feet. I walk home from school, I walk the cemetery, I walk home from Juan's house, I walked home from the Hobby Shoppe, back when I still worked there.
Up, up, up the street...everything is shrouded in night-quiet like there's nobody living on this planet but me. I'm not sure I like it, but maybe it's better. Look at me, I'm a walking abomination that kills.
Sometimes I'm walking past trees, sometimes past little pockets of houses. Civilization. Civilization in a Coma, with all the lights out.
In the yard of one house I'm walking past I hear a big dog barking out its warning, “Woowoowoowoowoo! Woo!” It booms. I don't see it. The dog might be chained. Why be stupid and take guesses? I amble back across the street. I keep moving and the dog won't stop barking. I think I travel hundreds of feet and wind around the corner and it's still barking.
Summer is coming. Not that I give a flying shit, it's just that I know Summer's coming. It's hot and muggy out and the sky is clear. The crickets are chirping their lonely song in disunity and I wonder if all these brainless little bugs feel as lost as I do out here. I saw a close-up picture of a cricket once. They're not as cute as Jiminy. They look like little monsters. I wonder if they know it?
The sky is too huige and when I look at it I get dizzy and sad and I have to stop staring at it and keep my eyes on the ground. It's this giant patchwork of winking lights and it goes far past the horizon. It goes on forever and ever and now, walking under it as it threatens to crush me, I understand just how tiny I am, just how big and impersonal the whole universe is. I have to look again and I do and I can't stand it because I feel like I'm falling. Now I know why I can scream and scream and never, ever be answered. It's all too big.
An eighteen-wheeler blasts around the bend and vooms by me like a tornado. When it goes by my heart roars like an avalanche and I get scared and shivers go through me like high voltage. The truck barrels past so big and so rapid that I think for a few seconds I could be swallowed whole by something like that. I'm very small. It's like the way a man can wipe out an anthill without even thinking about it. I could go that fast, without anyone ever knowing.
I wander past some of the bigger, nicer houses in town. I'm coming up on the town center, now, and the library. I go by the library and I can feel my heart freeze up and smash like a piece of glass as I think about how Zoe and I were there and how those girls treated her that night and how we became friends then, very good friends and it was sort of uncomfortable at first, because showing yourself to someone is like stripping for a doctor and sharing isn't easy in the beginning. It was only later when I realized how much that night meant to me and now it all just sticks into me like a long, sharp knife and slices my guts up and now I look up into the endless sky again and I want to scream at it. I want to spit at it, knock all the stars out of it forever.
Windham Street crosses over into Brookdale Center. I walk past all these lifeless edifices I can barely recognize now. The First National Bank. The Post Office. The Brookdale Pharmacy and the Gentry Street Mall, where Mom and Dad do their grocery shopping. Where Zoe held a job for a week or so. Get it away from me. But then it doesn't even look the way I'm used to seeing it. It could be a whole different place, because it's after nine and everything's closed over, dead. Dark windows, dark storefronts, empty parking lots. The shadows are moving in, bigger than ever, to take over. The library is closed, too, blotted out. Everything's extinct. No life. I'm walking through blocks and blocks of darkness.
The center opens up and moderate traffic is still whizzing through, people in their transports rushing off to destinations I can't even imagine, not that I want to. They cast the only light on this shrouded town. Professional Buildings. Churches. Town Hall. The Waterworks. The Golden Lion Restaurant. All dark. Blank. They look like they've been abandoned and no one will ever come back to them again. Their doors and windows make gloomy, howling, empty faces that screech their hollow agony into a night that doesn't care. I turn my head away because those faces are too frightening to look at.
I walk past the 24-hour gas station in then intersection. It's the only stable light in the whole intersection other than a few streetlamps. There's a man with an overcoat and a knit hat pacing around. Again, I stress, Summer is coming. He has salt-and-pepper hair, the beginnings of a salt-and-pepper beard and he looks like he's waiting for a war to begin. His face looks like a rock, but it looks like a rock that's ready to open up its concealed mouth and bite a chunk out of someone's arm. As I skulk through his airspace I hear him talking. Spitting out every syllable like he hates them all individually, he snarls, “nine-teen-nine-ty-threeeeee,” and then he fades from earshot. I'm careful not to look at him, because I don't know what he'll do if he sees me looking at him. I cross the street to the right side of the center and I hit the bridge over the brook. Now I can hear the man yelling. He's raving like a monster and I don't understand anything he's saying. He sounds furious, though, and his hollering gives me a chill. I look over my shoulder because I'm afraid he might be yelling at me and I'm getting ready to run, but there he is at the gas station, stomping back and forth, waving his fist at something I can't see. I pick up the pace, though, because the sound of his voice is threatening. It's making me shake. Hoof it, Jack, hoof it. I want to put a lot of distance between myself and a dangerous person like that.
I hit the other side of the bridge and there's this fat old woman sitting on the little wall there. She's all filthy and she looks like she's been wearing those same mismatched clothes for at least ten years or so. She's just sitting there on her perch and she's rocking back and forth like she's in a trance. She's mumbling to herself and I can't hear what she's saying. I wonder if it makes sense? Probably not---anyway, I don't want to know.
She looks up at me with a big smile, but it isn't a happy smile that says she's glad to see me. It's a nervous smile that asks, you aren't going to hurt me, are you? And it makes me laugh at first that someone like her would be scared of a little puke like me, but then I remember that my face is this big, zig-zagging perversity and anyone would be afraid of it. Christ knows I am.
She has this long, greasy, black hair, parted down the middle. Half her teeth are missing and she looks like her nose has been smashed in and broken like ten times over. I walk away. I don't want to look at her. She's horrible. I don't know, though. I may be worse.
On and forward though I have no idea where I'm going or why I came this way to begin with. I walk past the darkened buildings. I don't want to look at them because I know, if I do, I'll see those doors and those windows form those howling, mourning faces again and those faces scare me. I keep my eyes on the ground and I don't look up. Everything around me is a big nightmare. I don't want to see anymore. I know I can't, but I wish I could just keep my eyes on the ground for the rest of my life---not see any of these horrible sights, not see my own face in a mirror, not see anything ever again.
Down Anderson Street and past Brookdale First Congregational Church. I try not to look but everything is magnetic and I'm forced to look. It's a little stretch of hot top on the left side of the church. There's a pair of cops working some guy over. I can only make out silhouettes against rear parking lot lights but I can see that the guy they're beating up is a very old man. He's short and slight and rumpled and the two towering cops are shaking him and taunting him. One knees the old man in the stomach. The old man falls down and pukes. One cop, I think, is looking at me, but it's hard to tell in the dark. I don't want him watching me if he is, so I keep right on walking.
There's a little dirt trail in back of Ebbet's Hardware Store that runs through a stretch of woods and comes out by the Mister Convenience Shopping Square. I take the trail because I don't want to hang around long enough for those two cops to start getting interested in me.
I wander down the little wooded path and I come out at the rear of the square. I see a bunch of people loitering around the back of the building furthest from me. I can almost hear them. The callous scrape of their coarse voices. The shadows make them almost invisible, but I can see them moving around and I can make out the orange pinpoints of their lit cigarettes.
I steer the hell clear of those people and I come out to the front of the square. Mister Convenience is another graveyard. All the light, even the the lamps in the parking lot, gone. Squeezed out. Strangled into darkness.
Across the street I see Callie's Truckstop and Dunkin Donuts, both open because they never close. I cross the street and ten I decide to avoid them both. I can't go into either place because of my face. I'm not fit to dwell with humans. I hit the bike trails in the woods in back of those places, instead. I pass Kallie's. Then I'm passing Dunkin's and I no longer want to be on the trail. Up ahead I see them, fighting and rolling and yelling and flailing and kicking the shit out of each other. They're a bunch of rough, mean kids, or I think they're kids. I don't know. As I draw closer to them I can hear them, their bodies bashing together, and so are their voices as they tangle.
“YUHDICK! YUHFUKKINSCREWINME, YUHDICK!!!!!!!!!!”
It's scaring me bad, now, because the closer I get to them the less and less human they sound. Are they even people, or are they something lower? Is there anything lower than people? Fuck this. Cut back through the woods, over to the back of Dunkin Donuts. I don't want to get any closer to this shit, I'm sure of it. I head through the stretch of woods and stumble over a rock, almost falling on my face. I bounce back and I keep going, faster, in case those creeps on the trail heard me. I have to step over a brook to get to the Dunkin's parking lot and it's an easy step, but I go off balance and splash my foot down in the muck. I pull up a little and SPLOP! Out comes my dirty, wet foot. Here it is, though, the back parking lot, and I'm limping with disgust into it, but I can't say I have any surprise in me. I hit the front lot and continue onto the street and then some guy with a skull tattooed on his arm staggers at me. “Heyy,” he calls, “hey, manh, yoo!” I keep limping forward. “Hey! You godda dollah faha cuppa cawfee? Hey! I bikedid alla way from fuggin' Vermon'! Hey! Muthuhfuckuh! Hey!”
Up the road on my wet, shitty foot and his shouts recede. I walk five minutes. Ten minutes. It's like the Boston Marathon with a shoe full of shit. Squish, squish, squishing up the road.
A pickup truck, a 4x4, coasts by me. As it passes, some freakoid leans out the window, “hey, faggot!” And douses me in the face with beer. The truck barrels off and I try to readjust my vision. This is what they do to you when you're a leper, a mutant, a killer, like me. This is the Real-ass world they try to teach you to brave in school. Eat or be eaten.
Good evening, Johnny-Jack, welcome to the fruition of the American Fucking Dream. This is it, the big, wide world in all its glory, only it loosened its tie and tore away its pretty Halloween Mask. Now here it is, leering at you, dead honest, maggots and all. Our happy, kickass, go-for-it, party-hardy world, minus the beautiful TV commercial facial job. Minus the glitzy, bouncy aerobics workout soundtrack. Minus the designer clothes. Naked, truthful, this is what we're left with when everyone gives up. This is the world that disassembles itself in the bathroom mirror when nobody's looking.
Only it hasn't got a sense of humor, it isn't cute and it isn't being friendly with you. Them only time it laughs is after it shows you what it's really about. When it pisses in your face.
The wonderful world revealed its face to me in the dark and it's an awful sight. It's a machine that chews flesh. I saw its teeth and halleluja, chillun, they were ravenous, gnashing, like a giant mouth full of piledrivers. This is the face I see when all Norman Rockwell's descendents go to bed at night with their warm milk and their candy-striped nightcaps. This is what I see when no one's around to keep up appearances.
Off I slog up the darkened street and under the overpass. I know a mile or so up the highway the Mall is closed and everyone at the Hobby Shoppe has gone home. It's abandoned. Barren. The whole damned mall, empty and yawning up at the sky like a cancerous crater.
I hear the “buh-doomp, buh-doomp” of cars on the overpass above me. It's like being in a cavern. It's like everyone and everything has been obliterated and I'm alone here on a giant ball of waste. But I know the truth, now, and if this were an empty world I'd be better off, but it's not and I'm not, it's night, it's unmasking time and this is all bad, sick, terrifying.
There's an unreal light up ahead, wedged in a comfortable nest of pines. It's Jourgenson's, which is open late. It may as well be open forever, because it isn't ten or eleven or even thirteen o'clock. It's far later than that. It's Forever O'Clock, and the Forever-Meter says to me, it's all over, Johnny-Jack, it's all over, because this is the long night, Planet Earth is fed up with maintaining its niceties and that's all, Chief, no more lost weekends. No more Matthews House with the ultra-green grass. No more Franconia Notch, no more echoes. No more comfort. The sun is never going to come up again.
And still I'm walking. Approaching Jourgenson's. But is it going to be stripped of all its garish, fast-food, quick-ratburger-after-the-game friendliness and homeyness? I see the red-and-white neon glare, but it's stil obscured by that wall of pine trees. I'm heading towards it and I know now that it's the last place in the whole fetid world that I want to go near. But can feel the place screaming for me. I can't stop, oh, Christ, I would if I could. I want to turn around and run, but it's like a magnet. I can tell there's something at this horrible place I'm supposed to see, but I have no idea what it could be. I don't want to go. I can't help it, though, and I can't stop myself. It's sucking me in against my will. I need to stop, to leave, because whatever's drawing me to that filthy neon pit will be too much, too terrible, like one of Zoe's paintings come to life, oh, God, now I understand everything she ever did, how did she ever cope with what she saw, oh, God, get me out of here, I can't handle it. Too ugly. Too ugly. Take this cup from my lips, O Lord, because I can tell that whatever I see here will end my world. I'm scared, so scared, oh, God, don't bring me here, take me anywhere else. I can't take what you're about to show me, take it away, I know I will be destroyed by this.
And the gentle, goading voice of The Lord touched Johnny-Jack and said, go, son, go. It's your destiny.
No, no, no, I can't, my feet still moving forward.
Yes, yes, says The Lord, whispering comfort into the heater of my head and so I move on, I move on, and yea, children, the hands of the angels lay on Jackie's shoulders and they pushed him along, and they bestowed upon him heaven's comfort in this dark, evil world, and yes, bear witness to the miracle of miracles, for te Heavenly Host played bucket brigade and they pushed little Johnny-Jack Pettet into the woods beside the Burger Brothel and they carried him to the light, bretheren and sisteren, to the edge of the forest.
No, I cry, no, I can't take it, I can't take it, please, no, pleeeeeaaaaaassse.................
And the hands of the Heavenly Host encircled little Jackie in kindness and they showed him the awful sight beyond the trees and Jackie's eyes would not close and he opened his mouth to scream but only silence came out. And all the time the hands caressed little Jackie and reassured him in soft whispers, no, no, little Jackie, you don't have to scream and run, nothing here will hurt you, we're showing you a picture, we're just letting you see something and it won't hurt you at all.
AND JACKIE WAS WITNESS TO THE AWFUL VISION OF BROOKDALE'S PRIDE LAYING WASTE TO THE WAILING NEON SHRINE OF PUKE. THEY WERE OUTSIDE IN THEIR BROOKDALE HIGH CEREMONIAL COLORS, RAMPAGING AROUND THE ROWS OF PICKUP TRUCKS AND TRANS AMS THAT WERE THEIR MANIFEST DESTINY.
AND THE VOICES OF THE HEAVENLY HOST SAID, SEE, JACKIE, SEE, THERE ARE YOUR ENEMIES. NOW, PAY ATTENTION, THEY SAID. THERE IS BRYAN AND BILL, THERE IS MARK AND ERIC, THERE IS CHARLIE, AMY, OH, LOOK! THERE IS CHERYL AND JACKIE SAID no, no, don't make me look, BUT THE LORD IN HIS WISDOM AND POWER SHOWED JACKIE EVERYTHING.
AND THE FLESHEATERS MADE MUCH NOISE, DANGLING OFF THE RESTAURANT DOORS AND JACKIE FELT THE POWER OF THEIR CRUELTY--”clit-TORIS!!!!” SCREAMED CHARLIE GOSSLING AND ALL HIS FRIENDS LAUGHED AND AMY SMITH CRIED OUT, “OH, YOU'RE BOGUS” BUT SHE WAS LAUGHING TOO.
No, no, don't show me, WHIMPERED JACKIE AS HE SHRUNK BACK, BUT THE LORD IN HIS WISDOM HELD JACKIE FAST AND MADE HIM SEE. JACKIE PITIED THE PEOPLE WHO WORKED AT JOURGENSON'S, THINKING ABOUT HOW THESE ANIMALS WOULD TREAT THOSE OF THEM WHO WEREN'T YOUNG TURKS----THE THINGS THEY MIGHT SAY TO THEM, THE NAMES THEY MIGHT CALL THEM. THESE BROOKDALE HEROES AND HEROINES WITH THEIR FAITH IN THE MARCHING BOOT. JACKIE ENVISIONED MESSY TABLES, UNSCREWED PEPPER SHAKERS. Noooooo, HE CRIED, no more, no more, BUT YES, SAID THE ANGELS OF GOD AND THEY HELD JACKIE FAST.
AND THEN THE WORLD FELL IN ON ITSELF BECAUSE JACKIE SAW BRYAN AND CHERYL, THE TWO WHO GLOWED TOGETHER BENEATH THAT NEON RATBURGER ROOF. JACKIE LOOKED FOR THE LORD WOULD NOT LET HIM TURN AWAY AND JACKIE SAW THAT THE TWO WERE NOT GLOWING, THEY WERE NOT AS HE HAD SEEN THEM BEFORE, NOT TOUCHING, NOT HOLDING HANDS, THEY WERE ANGRY, NOW THEY WERE HAVING WORDS AND THE OTHERS STOPPED FROM THEIR REVELRIES AND WATCHED BRYAN AND CHERYL IN SILENCE WHILE JACKIE KNELT, TRANSFIXED IN THE WOODS AND BORE WITNESS. HE FELT TERROR, WATCHING PIECES OF THE WORLD FALL AWAY AND NOW HE COULD HEAR EVERY WORD THEY SAID. HE TRIED TO SHUT IT OUT. THE LORD IN HIS WISDOM AND POWER DIDN'T LET HIM.
CHERYL WAS WALKING AWAY FROM BRYAN AND BRYAN WAS SHOUTING, SHOUTING “COME BACK HERE, BITCH! COME BACK HERE! GET IN THE CAR!”
CHERYL STANDING AWAY FROM HIM, ARMS STRAIGHT DOWN AT HER SIDES, FISTS LIKE LITTLE BALLS OF CLENCHED, ANGRY BONE, 'NO, BRYAN, WE'RE THROUGH, I'VE HAD IT WITH YOU,” AND SHE DIDN'T GET TO FINISH HER SENTENCE BECAUSE THEN BRYAN WAS YELLING AT HER.
POINTING AT THE PASSENGER SIDE OF THE TRANS AM, “SIT DOWN IN THE CAR GODDAMN IT! I'M NOT GONNA TELL YOU AGAIN, BITCH!”
“NO! NO!” CHERYL SCREAMED AND HER FACE WAS LIKE AN ANGRY FROG'S, PULLED TIGHT ACROSS, POP-EYED, WIDE-MOUTHED, AND THEN JACKIE SAW THAT HER FACE WAS SUNBURN RED AND SHE WAS CRYING. “I'm not getting in the fucking CAR with you, Bryan! I'm sick of the way you treat people, I'm sick of the way you TALK to people! Nobody's your furniture and I'm--”
AND AGAIN JACKIE SAW THAT BRYAN WOULD NOT LET CHERYL TALK AND INSIDE JACKIE SHOOK AND BURNED FOR HE KNEW WHAT HAVING SOMEONE BIGGER AND STRONGER THAN YOU FORCE YOUR MOUTH SHUT WAS LIKE. “YOU WHORE!” BRYAN YELLED. “I'M GETTING IN THIS FUCKING CAR RIGHT NOW, YOU FUCKIN' BITCH, DON'T YOU EVER CALL ME AGAIN, DON'T YOU EVER SHOW UP AT MY DOOR, THERE'S PLENTY MORE WHERE YOU COME FROM,” AND CHERYL WHIMPERED, CHILDREN, AND SHE RAN TO HER BRYAN. JACKIE SAW AND HE WAS SORE AFRAID AND CHERYL CLUNG TO HER BRYAN LIKE HE WAS THE HOLINESS OF LIFE MADE HUMAN AND LO, JACKIE HEARD HER CRYING TO HIM IN A MEEK LITTLE VOICE, “i love you, Bryan, i'm sorry, don't leave me, I love you.” AND SHE PRESSED HERSELF TIGHT TO HIM AND HIS ROUGH HAND CAME DOWN AND SQUEEZED HER BUNS GENTLY, LIKE A TENDER, COMPASSIONATE LOVER. LIKE A MASTER WHO KNOWS THE VALUE OF HIS PROPERTY.
LIKE AN OWNER.
THE BROOKDALE FLESHEATERS SAW THE REUNION, CHERYL'S RECAPTURE AND IT WAS GOOD, CHILDREN. THEY HOWLED THEIR OBSCENE APPROVAL INTO THE NIGHT.
LITTLE JACKIE COWERED IN THE PINES AND WEPT IN HORROR AND PITY AND THE HANDS OF THE HEAVENLY HOST STROKED HIS SAD LITTLE PUPPY DOG HEAD. THE SOUND WENT OUT WITH THOSE ANIMAL HOWLS AND THE NEON RATBURGER TRANS AM HELL IMPLODED INTO DARKNESS AND SILENCE AND THE CHOIRS OF HEAVEN WHISPERED INTO JACK'S EAR, NOW YOU SEE, THE TOLD HIM, NOW YOU UNDERSTAND.
I know, wept Jackie, I know, thank you.
THE HEAVENLY HOST WHISPERED AND CARESSED LITTLE JACKIE'S HEAVING BONES. SOME GET LOST, THEY TOLD HIM. ENSLAVED.
AND JACKIE HEARD THE VOICE OF THE MAD ANGEL HANNIBAL SNEER IN HIS LEFT EAR, THEY'RE ALL NAMED BIFF.
JACKIE, EXALTING THE GLORY OF THE LORD, I KNOW. Thank you.
SOMETIMES, WHISPERED THE ANGELS, THERE ARE THOSE WHO ARE GOOD AND SWEET, BUT THEY GET LOST.
Damaged, HELPED JACKIE.
YES, WHISPERED THE ANGELS, YES, JACKIE. AND SOMETIMES WE MUST STAND UP AND HELP THESE POOR, LOST PEOPLE, NO MATTER HOW HARD IT MAY BE. AND WE HAVE TO HELP THEM SEE BEYOND THEIR BONDAGE.
I'm afraid, JACKIE TOLD THE ANGELS.
WE KNOW, THE SAID, AND KEPT STROKING HIS SAD, SCARED HEAD. BUT YOU UNDERSTAND. YOU UNDERSTAND.
Yes, CRIED JACKIE IN HIS GRATITUDE, I understand. Thank you.
EVERYTHING WILL BE GOOD AND FINE, JACKIE, THEY SAID.
I know, CRIED JACKIE. Thank you. Thank you.
I've been scoping the Hobby Shoppe for three days. Finally, a day for me rolls around. No Barry. No Greg. Time to go shopping.
Mel is there, presiding by proxy over Barry's conquered Hobby Nation. “Jack! Jesus Christ! It's been a while!”
“Yeah,” being friendly because I have to, “hi.”
“You don't look very well, Jack. You look very gaunt. Have you been sick?”
'Yeah, I've been sick. I've been very gaunt.”
“No, seriously, Jack,” putting on is concerned face. Sweet, congenial, good on appearance, Such a Mel.
“No, seriously, I have been sick. Sick with the Flu.”
“Sorry to hear that, Jack,” looking sympathetic to fit the situation.
“Yeah, it was hell,” I tell him, “I was puking like a mad thing.”
“Well,” he changes tone and I get the idea he doesn't want to follow that line of conversation, “what can I do you for?”
“Nothing, really, I was just popping in to say, 'hi'.”
“Well, it's good to see you, Jack.”
“Yeah, uh, actually, as long as I'm here, let me grab a couple things.” And off I wander through the store. I scan the paint section and I grab a couple of Testor's paints up, just for the sake of appearance. Olive drab and brick red. Good choices. Then I hit another aisle and pick up the X-Acto Knife and the drafting compass. I double back and grab a cheapo pack of manilla folders, just in case he starts asking questions.
I drop the whole mess of it beside the cash register. Mel rings it all up. “Talk to Greg lately?” He asks. What, and Mel DOESN'T?
“No, he and I don't get along too well these days.”
“I'm sorry to hear that. Fourteen-fifty, Jack.”
“Wait a sec. You deducted something.”
“Ssshhhh.” winking like a sly compatriot. “I'm using your employee discount.”
I laugh at the proper, acceptable level in accordance with the situation. “Thanks, Mel,” but I mean it. I only have seventeen bucks on me.
He rings me in and hands me my change. “Like a bag, sir?”
“Sure,” and he pulls out a paper bag and opens it up.
“So,” loading the folders in first, “graduating next week, eh, Jack?”
“Yeah,” I tell him. Mel's little world is so fragile. Why fuck it up with the truth?
“That's great! I loved my graduation. My brother threw this huge kegger and....”
“Yeah, Mel? I can't really afford to hang around. I've got a lot of business to take care of.”
“Oh! Sorry!” Ever amiable. “Here you go,” handing me the bag.
“Thanks, Mel,” throwing him a playful salute. “Gotta boogie! See you in the funny papers.”
Trying to exit, “yeah?”
“What's wrong with your face?”
“Are those bruises on your face?”
“They look like bruises, Jack.”
“No, Mel,” leaving. Smiling, “that's just gaunt. Y'know....from the Flu.”
Copyright 1990 C.F. Roberts/2015 Molotov Editions