Sunday, November 11, 2012

NaNoWriMo day 11

Crow stood at the top of the steps, stretched, first reaching his arms behind him, arching his back, and then reached up, standing on his toes, separating the many layers of his garments. As he lowered his arms, he looked to his left. Across the lot, sitting on a metal folding chair on the back stairway landing at Country Acres, leaned back, bare feet crossed and resting on the railing, was The Colonel. He puffed on a bowl full of weed, held it for a long moment, and exhaled in a wheezy cough.


When The Colonel noticed Crow, he put his feet back on the deck, rose, standing, and yelled over, "Hey! You! Crow! Over here!"


Crow walked casually over to The Colonel, a little hesitant. He knew the hostile nature of The Colonel, but figured it was early enough in the day, The Colonel couldn't be too drunk, and pressed his luck. A conversation might lift Crow's mood, drive the last vestiges of the fox woman dream back into the deep recesses of his unconscious where it belonged.


"Hello Colonel," Crow said.


"Crow," said The Colonel, drawn out, almost in a sneer. "Want a hit?" He offered the bowl and lighter, outstretched his hands. Crow normally didn't smoke pot, but today, the dream, the gray skies, put him in a mood.


"Thank you, good sir." Crow grabbed the bowl. He took a hit, held it as long as he could, much longer than The Colonel, whose lung capacity was diminished by daily smoking of bowl and pipe, and was still holding it in when he handed the bowl and lighter back to The Colonel.


Crow exhaled slowly, and was still exhaling when The Colonel handed the bowl back to him. Crow took a hit quickly, a smaller one this time, while the cherry was still red, and handed it back.


A calm euphoria warmed over Crow, but it was edged with the slight tinge of paranoia, of a hyperawareness he never quite got used to, no matter how many experiences he had with marijuana. It would be best to go for a ride, to get to work collecting cans, to burn off this new, sudden, falsely acquired energy.


The Colonel loaded a fresh bud into the bowl and handed it back to Crow.


"Oh, no thanks Colonel," Crow said. "I'm feeling quite good as it is."


"C'mon, you fucking lightweight," The Colonel was insistent, shaking the closed fist containing the bowl and lighter at Crow. "Gotta enjoy some fresh buddage. If you couldn't feel by now, this is some of the kind."


Crow weighed his options. It would be rude, he guessed, to just smoke and run. And for some reason, whatever motivation he had to move was being replaced by a syrupy slowing of time. He walked around to the stairwell and sat on a step. The Colonel handed him the bowl and Crow took another hit. He handed it back to The Colonel, shaking his head from the dizzying intensity of the hit, and exhaled slowly through his nose.


Crow nodded his head, "Tasty. Very tasty, Colonel. Like a newly-mown lawn. Your generosity knows no bounds."


"Yes, that's what people say," said The Colonel. "I just appreciate it if people ask, you know, and don't just take my stuff." The Colonel frowned, raising an eyebrow at Crow.


Crow was confused by this gesture. Was The Colonel insinuating something? Or was this just another manifestation of weed-induced paranoia? Crow relaxed. He knew The Colonel. The man was not afraid of confrontation.


"Did you take my stash of cans?" The Colonel asked, pointing below him. There was a concrete stairway, going down to the lower level of Country Acres, where there was a kitchen and common lounge area with a small television set. The Colonel kept his cans behind the back door, set amongst other garbage cans.


Crow smiled, not wanting to give the slightest hint of guilt, and made eye contact with The Colonel. "No," Crow said.


"I don't know if I believe you," The Colonel pointed at Crow's bike, which had a small pile of garbage bags attached to the rear wheel rack with a couple bungee cords. "You're the only one I know around here who collects cans. I had at least $30 worth of cans in there. And one of the neighbors told me he saw you slinking around here around the time my cans went missing."


"I don't know what to say," Crow said. "I'm sorry your cans were stolen. You can think it was me all you want, but it wasn't."


"Ah, fuck," The Colonel said. "I don't know." He narrowed his eyes to slits and continued to glare at Crow.


Crow looked down, a tacit admission of guilt in The Colonel's eyes, but Crow was just thinking, devising a solution to assuage The Colonel's accusations. Knowing The Colonel, Crow knew the man could hold a grudge for a lifetime, and every time he got drunk he would no doubt add Crow to his litany of complaints against judges, lawyers, politicians, the police and anyone else in Bonneville who had done him wrong since time immemorial. Instead of silent indignation and absenting himself from the scene, Crow thought it best to nip this little crisis in the bud.


Crow reached under his top layers, a cotton hoodie, a frayed flannel long-sleeved shirt, and a t-shirt, to the daypack cinched in a belt around his waste. He pulled out a leather wallet and looked inside. He had enough money, and enough left over to at least buy a fast food value meal. He'd have to get collecting, though, to replenish his funds. Crow pulled out a $20 bill and two fives and placed them on the railing near The Colonel.


"Here's the $30 for your missing cans," Crow said. "I repeat, I didn't steal your cans, but I don't want any bad feelings between us, okay?"


The Colonel didn't even look at the money. "I don't want your stinking money," The Colonel said. "I just want to be assured that my stuff won't get stolen."


"Obviously, you can't," Crow said. "You still don't know who stole your cans and where you've kept them is not a safe place." Ever the problem solver, Crow offered, "Maybe you can keep them in the basement next door."


"What?!" The Colonel squawked indignantly. Crow wasn't sure if it was an affectation. "And leave the cans under your watch? Isn't that like leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse?"


"Why not?" Crow said. "This way, if your cans go missing again you can definitely blame me. As it is, my guilt, as you want to keep on asserting, is based entirely on hearsay."


"This neighbor saw you take them." The Colonel said.


"Really? Who is it? Doesn't the defendant have the right to face the accused?"


"I'm not going to tell you."


"I don't know what more to say," Crow said. "I've offered to pay you back for the cans that were lost and offered up a safe haven where you can keep them in the future." Crow looked at the can of beer on the ledge next to where he placed the money.


"Were the cans mostly of that brand of beer?" Crow asked. Then he stood up, a little uneasily. The weed had lowered his blood pressure and wave of dizziness passed over him. He steadied himself, placing a hand on the railing, then walked around The Colonel who, now sitting, followed Crow with his eyes. "Yes," he said.


Crow looked down the concrete stairwell and saw another garbage bag. "Did you use the same kind of garbage bag for your last batch of cans?" Crow asked.


The Colonel, surprised by this line of inquiry, looked off to the side, thinking, and then said, "Yes."


"Here's what I'll do," Crow said. "I'm going out collecting today and am stopping by BIMCO [Bonneville Iron and Metal Company] later. I'll ask if anybody brought in a bag of cans with mostly crushed Busch beer and in a garbage bag with a yellow cinch tie. Don't know if I can get a name, but maybe we can get a description and you can look out in the future."


This seemed to mollify The Colonel, who reached for the money and stood up.


"Lookey here, Crow, take your goddamn stinking money," The Colonel waved the bills at Crow.


Crow took a step forward and then stopped, "You don't still think I took your cans, do you?"


The Colonel shook his head.


"Then we're good?"

The Colonel shook his head again.


Crow grabbed the money, zipped open his daypack, and stashed the money away without taking out his wallet. He looked back up at The Colonel.


"I'll ask around for you," Crow said. "And the offer still stands to keep the cans in the basement over there."


"Nah! That'd be too much trouble," The Colonel said. "I'll keep 'em right here."


Now it was Crow's turn to be indignant. "Well, damnit all to hell, Colonel. Do you want your cans to get stolen again? You better put them someplace else. The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime, right?"


"I'll keep 'em in the kitchen somewhere. Don't worry I'll move them," The Colonel said.


"If you don't, then I WILL steal them," Crow said. "I'm still bothered that one of your neighbors said they saw me take your cans."


"Don't worry," The Colonel said. "I lied. There was no neighbor. I was just trying to draw a confession out of you."


Crow shook his head and laughed. "So I guess you think I'm the type of guy who would steal your stuff."


"Nah. You're the only one I know who goes around collecting cans. Look, Crow. C'mon. Help me finish this bowl. Let's get good and baked. We're a couple of old hippies, right?"


Crow, unmedicated, had already started the day short on motivation. The dumpsters could wait another day.


"I'll stick around, I guess," Crow said, and walked back to the other side of the fire escape. He sat with a groan. "But only if you give me a beer. I've got some serious cottonmouth going on here."


"Not only do you steal my cans, and smoke my weed, you want to drink my beer, too?" The Colonel said.  But Crow knew this time that The Colonel's irritated tone was purely in jest.


The Colonel reached into the cardboard 30-pack under his feet and handed Crow a beer. The men sat and smoked in silence for awhile. When Crow finished his beer, he rose again, clearly intoxicated.


"I'm getting too old for this shit, Colonel," Crow said. "I don't know how you do this."


"Stamina, my man. Or tolerance. Whatever you want to call it." The Colonel said. "You sure you don't want another beer? And I'm about to toke up again."


"H-E-double hockey sticks no," Crow said. "I'll be lucky enough if I can get back to the Augusta Inn."


"Whatever you say, lightweight." The Colonel said.


Crow tried the back door of the Augusta Inn, then remembered that he'd locked it behind him. "Shit," he muttered, and disappeared behind the sideyard. He wavered a minute at the window, deciding whether to climb through and get some more sleep or to try and continue on with his day. His stomach growled. A gnawing hunger -- the munchies -- another side effect, "petty fleshling concerns," in Crow's parlance, motivated him to stay outside. He needed to eat.


"Back already?" The Colonel said. He hadn't moved. Crow had never seen The Colonel eat. The old man seemed to get caloric sustenance entirely from beer, and yet had no paunch. Crow had already heard the oft-told story of The Colonel's stomach ailments, which, along with a genetic pre-disposition, explained his skinny appearance.


Some time in the 1970s, The Colonel had gotten a bacterial infection so bad it threatened to kill him, and doctors had to remove a portion of his intestines. When The Colonel told the story, he outstretched his arms as far as he could. "This wide," he said. "At least six feet. And I haven't had a decent shit since. Nothing but pebbles." The Colonel liked the gross out factor of this story and always told it the first time he met a woman.


Crow unlocked his bike and stopped at a fast food restaurant. He had some coffee with his order. The caffeine rejuvenated him and the food took some edge off the buzz. He went for a ride to help further sober him up.


Such a funny picture of a man, long, gray hair pulled back into a ponytail, a bushy beard, shabby, dirt-smeared clothing, red-eyed, a goofy grin on his face, looking up and around in amazement and wonder at the sky and trees flashing by him. It would be easy to assume the man suffered from a mental illness, that this was an accident just waiting to happen. As Crow rode on, he was overcome by a rapture of sorts. Sure, it was drug-induced. Memory, such a hindrance, a downer, taking him on a path to self recrimination and shame for past deeds undone, was now a tonic. He thought back to all the years of hard work, the backbreaking labor on the oil rigs, and the other jobs he'd had, working in factories, farming with his father, plowing with a donkey and a steel plow in rocky Tennessee red dirt, or his military service on an aircraft carrier as a mechanic in the engine room, all the steam and oil and adherence to military precision, and all, all of it, leading up to this moment. He hadn't worked in over 10 years, and he was only a couple years older than The Colonel, 65. How blessed. How fortunate to breathe deep, full and healthy, hale, in a place and time where he knew others and was known. He'd gotten out of the race and really learned to live. Let Jamie see him now. Let his parents view him from beyond the grave. Let Deborah too. The fox woman, ever changing, ever shape shifting. If they didn't get his scene, man, to use the "old hippies" parlance The Colonel alluded to (though Crow, during the turbulent 60s was a member of Nixon's "silent majority," church going, hard working, crew cut), they just didn't get it.


Let the old me look at me now, too, Crow thought. He let go of the handlebars and raised his arms to the sky in exultation. He seemed to finally understand the dream of the fox woman.

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