Thursday, November 29, 2012

NaNoWriMo day 29

"Elfjin and I have been through a lot together," Stella said. "I originally won him at a carnival, so he was the product of achievement. But shortly thereafter I got a really bad case of chicken pox. I hear kids don't get that anymore. I guess my generation was the last to go through that rite of passage. But my case of chicken pox was awful. I still have scars on my forehead and arms. See?"


Stella tilted her forehead towards the light. Gerald looked closer. This would be a good opportunity for that kiss... But not yet. She showed him her arm. He grabbed her by the hand, looked at her face for approval, and stroked her inner arm.


"Feel it," Stella said, barely, in a whisper. "There. And there."


"Right," Gerald said. He let go of Stella's arm, but she stayed closer, sitting on the end of her bed.


 "Ouch. I imagine those must have been awful. I had chicken pox when I was in Kindergarten, but it was mild. The only thing I remember from that time is that I got to drink grape soda, and I drank so much I got sick, and I can't drink grape soda to this day. Grape juice. No problem. But grape soda? No way."


"Goodie," Stella exclaimed. "More for me. I love grape soda."


"You can have it," Gerald said, and made retching motions, pretending to put his finger down his throat. "But what about this here Elfjin? You won him at a carnival and he saw you through the chicken pox. Why is he your favorite?"


"I guess I always root for the underdog," Stella said. "Look at him. He's all homely looking and warty. Somebody needs to love him. Plus, when I had the chicken pox and was all covered in painful, weeping sores, I looked at Elfjin and didn't feel so bad. He's warty. I mean, that's a permanent condition. Somehow I took solace in that."


"Would that be an example of Schadenfreude?" Gerald asked.


"I don't know," Stella said. "As I understand it, doesn't Schadenfreude imply that you are taking joy in the suffering of others because they deserve it?"


"Possibly. Or it could be a case of There-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I."


"That sounds like catharsis. Like Greek tragedy."


"I don't know. When I think of Schadenfreude, I think of just desserts. When I think of catharsis, I feel a sense of relief that it wasn't me, and also a feeling that what I feel catharsis for didn't necessarily deserve the tragedy that befell it.


"Honestly," Gerald continued. "I haven't given it much thought at all. I'm totally BSing right now."


"That's okay," Stella said. "I am too, but I heard a professor talk about it once in a class. And I love tragedies. Shakespearean and Greek."


"God, I can't remember the last time I went to a play. It has to have been at least 10 years."


"I'll have to drag you out sometime. The university puts on student productions a few times a year. Many of them are written by students as a master's thesis. I go to as many as I can. They are so easy and accessible."


"That sounds like fun."


"And if it wasn't fun, then I could watch you squirm, and it would be good Schadenfreude."


"You just like saying that, don't you?"


"What? Shadenfreude? Why would I like to say Schadenfreude?"


"I like the word too."


"Let's try to incorporate it into every conversation we have."


"Okay. I guess. I don't know how appropriate that would be."


"The more inappropriate, the better."


"I like your sense of irreverence, Stella. It shows a naughty side of you I didn't know existed."


Stella tapped her fingers on Elfjin and drew the doll close to her face, and pretended to whisper in its ear, "Ha. Ha. We must not reveal the dark side too quickly, no?"


"Okay. That's just plain weird."


"I figure I should be upfront with my quirky tendencies. If you can handle them, then at least you know what I'm about right away."


"Fair enough."


They spent the next hour and a half trading quirks, each trying to outdo the other. It certainly was not the way Gerald had anticipated the evening going. He discovered that Stella didn't drink or smoke, and could hardly stand the smell of second-hand smoke. And while she had been to parties, she didn't like them and preferred gatherings of two or three people. Gerald revealed that he agreed with her about parties. He had a hard time distinguishing voices in a crowd. He called it his attention deficit disorder ear. When amongst a large group of people, if someone wanted him to respond to something, they had to get right next to him and talk into his ear. Some people thought he was deaf, but he just had very selective hearing.


Just as Stella was telling him about her abject fear of possums, Breanna walked in and interrupted their conversation to talk about business exclusive to the floor. She disappeared for a few moments, but then came back and plopped herself on her bed in a huff, clearly annoyed at Gerald's presence.


Gerald took the hint and rose to go.


"Well, I guess it's about that time," he said, looking wistfully at Stella.


"Let me walk you down to the main floor," she said.


And as they parted, Gerald gave her a kiss, more soulful than a peck, but with only a hint of passion, and walked down the sidewalk alongside the dorm. He turned around to once to see if she was looking after him, and she was. He gave an awkward smile, waved, and promised to call her soon.


He called her the next day.


Chapter Fourteen


Crow had never seen a man shot before. Unlike The Colonel, he got a student deferment from the Vietnam War and never joined the military.


So when he saw Higgins get shot down, from 70 feet away, as he crouched in alarm in a dumpster, Crow was shocked beyond belief. He stood and watched as Detective Hartwig rumbled over, gun at the ready, and checked for life before covering the body with his jacket.


And then Crow made a quick escape, staying behind the dumpsters with his bike as a chorus of sirens hove in on the fraternity house. To see such violence left a marked impression on Crow. Every time he heard what sounded like gunshots, he crouched in fear. And this gave Crow the realization that what he was experiencing paled in comparison to the shell shock he'd heard about with soldiers from the other wars, what is currently called post-traumatic stress disorder. Those men and women had seen horrors like what Crow witnessed on a daily basis, and the ever-present threat of a violent death ate away at their pysches.


Crow just complained about having some vivid dreams. And over time they went away. But he put together some pieces. He had an inkling of what had happened Corn Fest weekend, for he recognized Detective Hartwig as the person who talked to Chalmers. And, putting two and two together, knowing Chalmers was a bigger-time drug dealer than Higgins, Crow figured out that Chalmers must have told Hartwig about Higgins, which, in effect, had determined Higgins's fate. And Crow knew that if someone as inconsequential as he knew about this connection, others had to know as well.


Crow figured he would need to watch his back at the Augusta Inn. He didn't want to get in-between whoever was going after Chalmers. Otherwise, it was none of his business, and knowledge better kept to himself.


And it would be better to stay away for awhile and let whatever heat from this blow over. Who knows who saw him at the scene of the shooting. He didn't want to deal with going into the police for questioning. While he had never been harassed by police, being homeless meant he was always susceptible to be charged with vagrancy or any other slew of scoff laws designed to harass the indigent and down and out. Bonneville was a very progressive community, tolerant of outsiders and the mentally ill, as long as they could be tracked and easily-located.


But Crow worked on the periphery. He did his best to not look like he was homeless, thus explaining the well-hidden caches of his stuff. A loaded backpack or shopping cart was a dead giveaway. And he camped in places where he knew he would be undetected, avoiding places where social footpaths tread, usually presenting some kind of obstacle, such as raspberry brambles, or a swamp, to deter the errant intruder.


And this is where Crow lived in the weeks following the shooting, benefiting from a warmer-than-normal November. He ventured into town on Thanksgiving to enjoy a meal at the community center, where he was a well-known volunteer. But no one asked about his absence about town, and he volunteered nothing about the shooting.


After days of struggling to keep warm in the week after Thanksgiving, Crow finally relented and returned to the basement of the Augusta Inn. He could hear from the shuffling of feet overhead that Chalmers was still around, still alive and well, along with his woman and kids.



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