Friday, July 22, 2016

My Getaway

I went to visit a friend of mine who lived down in the city.  He said he had something that he wanted to show me in his basement, something I might be interested in buying.  He took me down to look at it so that we could settle on a price.  As we descended the dark, narrow stairs and made our way to the back corner of the basement through piles of dusty, overturned chairs and duct taped boxes, I noticed that something looked strange and out of place.  The back wall seemed a little closer than I remembered.  The ceiling slanted sharply there, and I even bumped my head against it.  I looked closer and saw that someone had nailed a few sheets of drywall together to form a roughly improvised partition.  It looked like it had all been done very recently. 

I turned to my friend and asked him about it.  "Something's different here.  There used to be a door here where you go could straight out to the back yard.  It's all been covered over.  Everything's been boarded up for some reason.  When did this happen?" He just shrugged like he had no idea what I was talking about.  There was a long moment of silence.  My friend seemed uneasy.  He brushed the sweat from his forehead and wiped it against the leg of his pants, pressing his hand a little too roughly against the fabric.  I could hear him breathing heavy in the close, stifling air.  Then I heard a soft thump behind the partition.  I saw my friend's hand twitch, but his face showed no sign that he had heard anything.  I knew then that something was up.

I scrambled back up the stairs and my friend scrambled up after me.  The kitchen was up at the head of the house, and the house sat on the corner of two city streets.  From the kitchen window I could see along both streets.  I looked out at the cars parked along the curb.  Most of the cars were empty and I could clearly see that there was no one in them.  But further down, about fifty yards from the house, I saw an orange and white van that had curtains drawn across the windows in the back.  I could just barely make out the grey smoke curling up from the tailpipe behind the van.  That was it.  They were watching, waiting in that van.

I just shook my head at my friend for betraying me, and then I ran for the door on the other side of the house.  I burst out into an alley between the houses, and I could already hear the scrape of the van door opening and the frantic voices of the cops piling out.  I climbed a fence into the neighbor's back yard and then over another fence and another until I came out onto the street on the other side of the block.  The cops were swarming in from all directions.  I crossed the street and took off running down the sidewalk, knowing that they were close behind.

I turned a corner and I stopped to catch my breath in front of a tall grey house.  I had eluded them for a moment, and I took a second to collect my thoughts and think about my predicament.  I hadn't done anything.  I hadn't bought whatever it was my friend was trying to sell me to set me up.  I had nothing incriminating on me.  I fumbled through my pockets.  The only thing I had was a disk, and I knew that the only thing on it was the rough draft and the final draft of a paper I had written for college.  I could hear the footsteps of the cops on all sides.  They had figured out where I was.  I stayed still and waited for them to come. 

I had the disk in my hand, and for some reason, just as one of the cops came around the corner and came into view, I tossed it away from me and it landed in the grass somewhere on front lawn of the grey house.  I wasn't exactly sure why I did it.  I wasn't sure if it had been a reflex, or whether I had done it to deliberately mislead them.  But the cop had seen me, and the mere act of throwing the thing away had given it an incriminating importance.  The other cops showed up, and some of them hunted around in the grass for the disk while the others handcuffed me and loaded me into a squad car.

Later, the disk would become a great point of contention for the police.  There had to be some reason I had thrown it away.  There had to be something on it.  There had to be something about it.  For lack of anything else to analyze, they scrutinized the two versions of the college paper that were saved on the disk, looking for clues.  They decided that the secret lay in the discrepancies between the rough draft and the final draft, that these differences must form some kind of code.  They brought in all the experts, all the specialists.  And all the while, the days went by, and I sat there in a cell, forgotten, wondering when it would all end.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

After the Fireworks

The fireworks had just ended, and we were all left in the dark.  I could still smell the smoke.  There were cars parked along the side of the road where the ground sloped off into the ditch.  There were voices all around, and people would emerge laughing in groups and pairs from the tall grass on all sides and join the crowd of people slowly making their way down the road.  The moon shone down, casting our long shadows on the pavement ahead of us as we moved along at even paces from one another.  People lugged folding chairs and coolers and held their kid's hands or carried them as they slept against their shoulders.

Around dawn we came to a field with a short wooden fence around it.  There was an open gate in the fence and the crowd was flowing in through the gate.  There was a woman there with a clipboard, and she was checking names from a list as people came through.  She stopped me as I came up, and she couldn't find my name on the list.  I explained to her that I didn't live around here, that my brother did, and that he would be able to vouch for me.  People continued to pour in through the gate behind me as the woman flipped through the papers attached to her clipboard, looking for my brother's name.  Finally, she decided to let me pass.  I explained to her that my wife was somewhere in the crowd behind me, that we had gotten separated out on the road.  She nodded and said she'd keep an eye out as she turned her attention back to her clipboard and her list.

I followed some of the people who had passed through the gate, and further on we came into a narrow yard with a ranch house on one side and a barn on the other.  There were fruit trees and taller shade trees in the yard.  There was a door standing wide open in the shadows on the side of the house that faced away from the rising sun.  I ducked into this doorway as the rest of the people kept trudging past.  I  found myself in a small unlit room and it took my eyes a moment to adjust to the dark.  There was a bed just beside the door, and my brother was sleeping in it.  I imagined that he liked to drift off to sleep with the door open so that he could see the view and feel the breeze from outside.  There was a fireplace across the room with the last crackling embers of a fire burning in it.  A wooden chair had been placed in front of the fire, and I saw my cat curled up on it.  He perked up as I came in, and his eyes shined in the light.

My wife shushed me from the corner of the room.  I couldn't see her, but I knew she was there.  She had come in ahead of me.  She didn't want me to wake my brother.  He had a few hours to sleep yet.  He snorted and rolled over the other way like he had heard us.  It began to rain a little as the morning sun crept into the yard, and the rain pattered softly against the open doorway.  I went to another room of the ranch house and watched from the window.  The rain passed just as quickly as it had started and the drops of water gleamed off the fruit in the trees.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Time

At a family picnic, I was talking to my aunt and I told her that I was thinking about getting a big clock face tattooed in the middle of my back.  I told her that there was a special ink that they could use for the hands so that they could be set for the right time and then they would move and tick along like a normal clock.  The hands could only be set once, and the setting would be as permanent as the tattoo itself, but once set right, the clock would always keep accurate time.  It would never lose a second here or there over the years.  And I would always know what time it was, because I would be able to feel it on my back.  If I was working with someone and they said, "Man, it sure feels like it should be noon already," I could just stand up straight, arch my back to get a sense of the position of the hands, and say, "Nope.  It feels exactly like it's quarter to ten."

My aunt responded to this with a wry smile and a roll of her eyes.  She pointed out that there were some cases where you might not always want to know the time.  I had to admit that that was true.  Sometimes, on a long shift, the worst thing you could do was to keep looking at the clock.  The minutes would just crawl by.  Other times you just wanted to stay in a moment, not caring when and if it would ever end.  I thought about having that clock on my back, feeling every minute portioned out equally, every moment of my life punctuated with that slow inky tick.  I rubbed the back of my neck, feeling like there was an itch I couldn't reach.     

Getting Together

My mother was having everyone in the family over to her apartment for Christmas Eve.  My wife and I were riding over with my old girlfriend and her boyfriend.  We were all close friends.  On the way we stopped off at a gas station for a case of beer.  There was tinsel and lights strung up around the door and the clerk sat behind the lonely counter watching some televised Christmas pageant on a little portable TV, while the snow fell in thick wet flakes all around.  My wife and I sat in the back seat of the car as we headed back out through the slushy streets.  The boyfriend drove, silent and serious, trying to peer through the headlights past the falling snow.  The old girlfriend was in the passenger seat and she turned back to us and laughed and snorted about some nickname I used to call her.  I blushed.  But everything was fine.  We were all together.

We pulled up outside my mother's apartment complex.  We got out and stood around in the dim, yellowed lights and the falling snow, and the boyfriend said something about having to check the rear brakes on his car before we went in.  I was about to get into a whole conversation with him about bleeding his brake lines, when I noticed that my old girlfriend was already starting down the walk towards my mother's building.  She didn't feel like standing around and waiting for the rest of us.  I wondered what my mother would think, having my old girlfriend show up on her doorstep, by herself and without any explanation.  She had never liked the girl.  She certainly wouldn't start liking her now.

But when the rest of us got up to my mother's apartment, we found my old girlfriend sitting in the corner of the living room in a plush chair beside the Christmas tree, sipping a cup of coffee.  My mother had welcomed her warmly into her home, and she came and took the rest of our coats and we all settled in on the couches.  There were carols playing on the radio and the tree flashed its scattered patterns of colored light.  I got up and went to put the case of beer in the refrigerator.  When I got back, the rest of the family had arrived, and everyone was packed into the small warm room.  I saw that the chair in the corner was empty.  I looked around.  My old girlfriend had slipped out and she was gone.  I knew I'd never see her again, and I knew it had to be that way.  I sat down on the arm of the couch and watched as the kids crawled around under the tree looking for their presents.      

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Close Shave

I was in the locker room of this shop where I worked, getting changed into my uniform before my shift.  I was heading out to work with the rest of the crew, when I heard a sharp grunt of anger somewhere behind me.  The locker room was filled with clouds of steam from the showers, but I made my way through the steam until I came upon one of my co-workers holding a pair of electric clippers in one hand and brushing his other hand across a spot just above his ear.  I looked close and I could see that he had nicked himself with the clippers and taken out a big chunk of hair above his ear.  I told him that the only thing he could really do to fix it was to shave the rest of his head.

He made a hard frown and a curse, but he acknowledged what I said and he headed over to one of the mirrors above the sinks on the other side of the locker room.  But things got confused in the cloud of steam and suddenly it was me holding the clippers and walking towards the mirror.  It was me that had to shave my head now.  The steam had fogged up the mirror.  I tried to clear the fog away with my hand, smoothing out a clear circle in the middle of the mirror, but as soon as I had that hole cleared and I tried to see myself so that I could shave my head, the mirror would just instantly fog over again.  I tried to just shave my head without being able to see what I was doing, plowing long even strips up one side and then the other.  But when I pulled the clippers away and felt my head to see if I'd gotten everything, I would always feel thick patches of hair that I had missed.  I would never be able to do this without being able to see myself.

There was a room upstairs above the shop, where I thought I might find a mirror and maybe a little pair of scissors to get a closer trim.  The room was a brightly lit bedroom with a low ceiling and a big four posted bed with thick, darkly laquered, wooden posts. There was a matching wooden dresser across the room.  It sat beneath the front window which looked out on the grey day outside and the quiet residential street below.  I rifled through the drawers of the dresser, trying to find the mirror and the scissors, but there was nothing but old bracelets and earings and little plastic figurines and loose red and white dice misplaced from some board games.  

I finally found a little pair of nail trimming scissors in one of the bottom drawers, but still no mirror.  I looked out the window and I saw someone in a heavy winter coat passing on the sidewalk below.  I could ask them!  They could trim my hair.  They could see what they were doing.  I fumbled with the latch on the window, trying to get it open so that I could call down to the person on the sidewalk and ask for their help before they slipped away.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Total Eclipse

It was a nice, spring evening, and I was driving eastward through town when I noticed the clouds begin to clear in the sky ahead.  As the clouds drew back, I could see that there were stars behind them.  It was still too early for the stars to be out, and I knew immediately that this had to mean that there was a solar eclipse taking place in the sky behind me.  I began to panic.  I was afraid that I would be irresistibly drawn to look at the eclipse and that I would end up damaging my eyes.  I pulled into the parking lot of the local library.  I kept my head down as I got out of the car, but I couldn't resist making a quick sidelong glance at the sun.  I only got a glimpse.  I saw the massive dark disk slowly sliding into position.  I saw the huge interlocking mechanisms of nature momentarily exposed beyond the limit of what human eyes can bear.  I kept my head down and went looking for shelter.

I went inside the library.  There was a reading room in the basement, and there were other people taking shelter there. It was quiet and still and everyone was hunched down as though holding their breath and waiting, their eyes all raised towards the ceiling, trying to stay perfectly still until this terrifying alignment of celestial bodies had run its course in the world above.  A number of people had even piled into a closet.  They were all crammed in there with hardly room to move or breathe.  One of them, a small child with a smudged face, stared into my eyes, shaking and trembling.  The sight of them all cowering in the closet made me reconsider my fears.  I had never seen an eclipse, and I might never see one again.  As long as I didn't look directly at the sun, I'd be alright.

I decided to go back out.  I climbed the stairs, back up to the main doors of the library, eager to get back outside.  But when I opened the doors, there was just a huge grey gust of wind sweeping past.  I stepped out and found the sky completely clouded over and darkened and grey.  There were a few inches of snow on the ground and there was thick snow swirling in the air.  The bright spring evening had been swept aside by the eclipse.  The sun and the moon were out there beyond the clouds, conspiring to leave us in the dark and the bitter cold.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Resting in the Fields

I was living out of an old van.  Most of the time I kept it parked in an open wheat field, and in the evenings I would sit with the doors open and let the breeze blow through as I listened to my programs on a little TV that I had set up on some wooden crates.  I had to listen to the shows instead of watching them because the picture tube was blown out on the TV.  Somehow it was better that way.  There was a drama that was set in a hospital that I especially liked.  I would sit back with my eyes half closed, seeing the scenes in my head and getting a glimpse between my fluttering eyelids of the golden waves of evening light rustling out there in the wheat with each passing breeze.  My friend would come by sometimes with a few cans of food to cook over the fire after the sun went down, and he would find me there in the back of the van, smiling and about to doze off.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Station House

I was a rookie cop, and it was my first day on the job.  I reported to the police station that morning.  The station was located in an old house.  The large kitchen had been made into a break room.  Cardboard boxes filled with files from old cases were piled up in one of the back bedrooms, and the hall closets were stuffed with uniforms and supplies.  It was a simple, laid back place and it seemed like most of the cops just sat around the station there all day.  There were card games going in the break room, there was steam in the air from people using the shower upstairs, and some of the cops kicked their feet up on the coffee table and sat on the brown couches reading magazines out in the common area that used to be a living room.  There was a lot of talk about what it meant to be a cop, what a tough break and a rough deal it was, and how they put their lives on the line, but no one ever seemed to leave the station to go out and do any real police work.

I started to get kind of anxious.  It was one of those jobs where you're expected to look like you're keeping busy, but no one really gives you anything to do.  My training officer was sitting in on the card game, and she hadn't told me much of anything since I'd reported for duty that morning.  I wandered from room to room, not quite sure what to do with myself.  I didn't feel right about plopping down on the couch and reading a magazine, so I would go to the window and look out at the birds splashing around in the stone birdbath and perching on the old clothesline still strung up between two rusted poles in the backyard.  Then I would wander down the hall to the kitchen to look at my training officer's cards over her shoulder, and I would stand there awkwardly for a while until that got old, then I'd head back down the hall to the window to look out and see what the birds were up to.  I looked at my watch, and there was still another six and a half hours to go till the end of my shift.

I really started to feel awkward when this woman in a grey suit showed up with this grim and aggravated look on her face.  Someone whispered to me that this was the police commissioner.  She looked at everyone lounging around, and she didn't seem too happy.  Two men followed her wherever she went, scribbling things down on yellow legal pads.  She barked orders at officers as she passed them.  She snapped her fingers and a cup of coffee was brought to her. I tried my best to look busy.  I pointlessly sorted through some paperwork at the main desk, and she walked by without noticing me.  This was driving me nuts.  I couldn't spend all day trying to look busy when I had nothing to do.

After the commissioner was gone, one of the other rookies came up to me.  He had been feeling a bit anxious and bored too, and he suggested that we head out in one of the patrol cars and see what was going on around the town.  This sounded like a great idea, and I jumped at it.  It was sunny and a little cool outside.  We took one of the patrol cars that were parked out along the front curb under the shade of a large maple tree.  It felt good to get out and get some fresh air and really be doing something.  The other rookie told me that he had a hot lead on something and he knew just where to go.  I nodded and we drove off.

We pulled up outside a jewelry store in town.  The other rookie cast a few quick glances up and down the street as we got out of the patrol car.  He fidgeted with something on his gun in his holster, and I wasn't sure what he was doing.  I was starting to get nervous about the whole thing.  As soon as we came through the door and the electric door chime sounded, the rookie pulled his gun and started yelling at the people behind the counter to put their hands up.  It took me a second to realize that he was robbing the place.  I started to say something and he turned to look over at me, and just as he did, one of the owners grabbed a gun from under the counter and started firing wildly in our direction.  I dove for cover behind one of the display cases, and as I looked up, I could see the other rookie flailing about as he got riddled with bullets.  Blood and glass rained down everywhere as I tucked my head in and curled up behind the display case.  I never should have taken this job.