Sunday, November 04, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day Four


Lisa looked down as The Colonel disappeared from sight of the Porch. "Oh, he forgot his bowl," she said.

 

Andy patted her knee and took it from her. He lit it, pulling off one more hit to cash it out, and tamped out the ashes off the edge of the porch. "No worries, my dear," he said. "The Colonel will remember his precious bowl. Before the evening is out, to be sure. I'll keep it safe for him. And I guess I better go back there as well to keep an eye on him. I know his way around fires. He can get out of hand and may need some babysitting."

 

As Andy and Lisa rose, it seemed to cue the rest of the celebrants on the porch. Chalmers announcement and The Colonel's dramatic flailings didn't rouse them, but Andy and Lisa's departure tipped the bar in favor of a max exodus from the porch. Beers were emptied and tossed into the bushes or the nearby cans. Bowls were hit and returned to their generous owners. Some passed through the front door of the house, en route to the bathrooms on the first or second floor. Mackey, who'd been sitting awhile, suddenly realized, when he stood, the state of his drunkenness and, as was his custom, he disappeared upstairs to his Aerie. Time and experience had taught him the long flight to the second floor and steep stairwell to the attic were unnavigable after a certain point. He didn't feel like sleeping on an old couch. Who knew what pranks with Sharpie marker or whip cream would be pulled on him if he passed out in sight of his fellow revelers.

 

When Andy and Lisa appeared in the backyard, someone was backing their car out of the driveway, at Chalmers' insistence, no doubt, to make room for the fire and the rest of the party. People stared, squinting into the headlight as it passed over the crowd. The revelers were in various stages of intoxication and stood in groups in the dusky half light, joking, laughing, passing bowls and pipes, coughing, bobbing in time to music which emanated from a boom box set on the rickety fire escape stairs.

 

A small fire was going in the center of the gravel driveway. The Colonel was nowhere to be found, but in a few minutes he appeared from around the other side of the Country Acres with an armful of sticks. His arms were filthy. Small twigs and leaves were in his hair. He was breathing heavily from his exertions, and dumped the pile loudly and dramatically next to the fire.

 

"There's more where that came from," he said, and disappeared back around the corner of the house. There was a car wide space between Country Acres and the tall wooden fence of the house next door. It went the length of the rooming house. The gap narrowed by half at the wider original house. Scrub trees, tall grasses, and every once in a while a beautiful prairie flower grew there, along with marijuana plants from seeds tossed casually from windows in the rooming house. Earlier that summer, Hosmi, rooting around in that spot for a lost frisbee, found a three foot tall plant. He picked it, stuffed it under his shirt, and dried it in the closet of his room. But when he tried to smoke it, all he got was a headache, so he ground the rest of it in his coffee grinder and made a batch of brownies, which succeeded in producing a mild buzz.

 

All the tossed branches from the next door neighbors' yard made passing through this sideyard impossible. This obstruction prevented people from taking a shortcut through this yard to the apartment building behind Country Acres. This is why Sandy Halvorson allowed this sideyard to grow fallow and encouraged the neighbor to dump their scraps there. And now, as The Colonel cleared this brush away, he unwittingly created an opening and influenced the path of countless students. Within three weeks of the removal of this great pile of tree trimmings, a narrow path had been created by enterprising student foot traffic.

 

It took The Colonel two more trips to move all the trimmings to create a big pile. Each time he drew attention. One partyer thanked him for contributing. Another admonished him. "That shit's too green. It won't burn."

 

"Wanna bet?" The Colonel said, not looking up to wait for a reply.

 

Chalmers was inside, either checking in on Misty or in the basement rousing the rest of the people outside, and didn't see what The Colonel was doing. He didn't notice the growing pile of kindling when he came out to haul in a finished keg and tap the remaining one. He was still inside when The Colonel started breaking down twigs and adding them to the fire.

 

When Chalmers came back outside, The Colonel was almost through the pile, and the fire had grown taller than six feet and was just as wide.

 

"Jesus fucking A Christ!" Chalmers yelled. "What the fuck is going on?" He leaped off the porch and the huddled groups not yet by the fire moved aside to let him through.

 

When he got to the fire and saw The Colonel, now in a sweaty lather, breaking sticks over his knee and tossing them into the fire, Chalmers said, "I should have known. What in fuck's sake do you think you're doing, Sven?" Chalmers never called Sven the Colonel. He didn't like the old man and wouldn't accord him the honor.

 

"Don't worry." The Colonel said. "It's not your wood, see?" The Colonel pointed to the logs, boards and dismantled pallet pieces Chalmers had gathered for the fire.

 

"That's not the point!" Chalmers said as he took a step closer to The Colonel, wanting to shove, punch or otherwise engage in physical violence, but fearing the consequence. "Who started this fire? Me! Whose party is this? Mine! What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

 

The Colonel didn't stop breaking sticks as Chalmers spoke to him and didn't look at Chalmers as he replied, "You were gone. Someone needed to tend to the fire. This is my wood."

 

"Look, Sven, if you don't stop fucking making this fucking fire bigger than it fucking is, I'm gonna..." Chalmers reared back his fist. "Ooh! Stop it! This fire's too fucking big. The cops have been by already. Didn't you hear them say if they had to come back, somebody was going to jail? Well, guess who it'd fucking be?"

 

Chalmers paused for emphasis as if to wait for a reply. He looked around wild-eyed and yelled, "Me! It'd fucking be FUCKING ME!" The more agitated Chalmers became, the greater the frequency of his "Fucks."

 

The Colonel picked up the last of the trimmings in his pile. It was a larger maple limb with smaller branches off it, still bedecked in green leaves. He looked at Chalmers and smiled, then tossed it on the fire.

 

"Get the fuck outta here!" Chalmers yelled and took another step closer. Both men squinted and felt their skin tighten from the heat of the blaze. "I mean it! If you weren't such an old fuck, I'da kicked your fucking ass a long ass fucking time ago!"

 

"Old fuck, eh?" The Colonel said. "That's right. I was killing gooks before you were even born."

 

"Who gives a shit?" Chalmers said.

 

"Listen, asshole. You need to respect your elders."

 

"Age don't make respect, you fuck. Wisdom does."

 

"You wouldn't know wisdom if it slapped you in the ass."

 

"I know you ain't wise."

 

Chalmers was regaining his cool as the dialogue continued. As he kept laying down the put downs, he further realized losing his temper on The Colonel wasn't worth the legal hassle that would ensue. Prior arrests and prison time served for assault had the desired effect of deterring Chalmers from committing the same crime over again.

 

The Colonel stepped around and put the fire between him and Chalmers. "I'm wiser than you," he said. "Though that ain't saying much."

 

Andy, who, unbeknownst to Chalmers, had been standing nearby ready to intervene, not necessarily to fight Chalmers, but to try and talk some sense into the young man in case he came forward, then spoke to The Colonel once he sensed danger was over.

 

"C'mon, Colonel, Sven, good friend, let's go," Andy said.

 

"No!" The Colonel said. "If this fucker wants me to leave, he can make me. And I don't need you to fight my battles for me. This old soldier still has some fight left in him."

"Shit, right. I'd love you to take a poke at me, old man." Chalmers said. "That'd be just the excuse I'd need to kick your fucking ass. Most anybody fucking here'd tell the Po Po I did it in self defense."

 

"I can accomodate your wishes," The Colonel said, and backed away from the fire, turning towards the back door of Country Acres.

 

Chalmers thought the wish The Colonel granted was The Colonel's absence, and turned away from the fire himself to pump a fresh glass of beer. He was taking a long sip and looking elsewhere when he heard laughter. Someone said a long, drawn out "Shee-it." Another said, "You're crazy, man." Andy shook his head and muttered under his breath, "He's always had a flair for the dramatic."

 

The Colonel reappeared by the fire, which had nearly burned through the kindling and had simmered down to a safe and tolerable level. Draped around his neck were two pairs of large boxing gloves. When Chalmers saw The Colonel he shook his head. He knew this was a bad idea, that he should just walk away, that this was far more trouble than it was worth, but he also had to save face. He would never hear the end of it if he backed away from this challenge. Plus, he wanted to beat the old man down and remind him of his place in the pecking order.

 

"Well, Motherfucker, what have we hear?" Chalmers said. "A crazy fucktard with a death wish?"

 

"Look, asshole." The Colonel said. "I've beat bigger men than you in my day. You underestimate my pugilistic skills at your peril."

 

"Pugi-what?" Chalmers said. "Oh, who gives a flying fuck? If I beat your ass will you go the fuck away?"

 

The Colonel stepped around the fire and stopped right in front of Chalmers. They would have been face to face, but Chalmers stood nearly a foot taller than The Colonel. Chalmers was shirtless and his muscles rippled and taut. The Colonel hadn't even removed his hat and while he was wiry, his smaller stature was even more apparent when he stood toe to toe with Chalmers.

 

"A couple ground rules," The Colonel said as he handed a pair of gloves to Chalmers. "Let this be a fair fight. No kicking, biting, hitting below the belt. All the usual rules of boxing, okay?"

 

"Just look at me, bitch!" Chalmers said. "I sure as fuck don't need to cheat to beat the fuck outta you."

 

"We shall see, won't we." The Colonel started to lace up his gloves as everyone stopped what they were doing. Andy, who'd seen The Colonel fight before, was comforted by the scenario. Again, if things got out of hand, he planned to intervene, if only to save the skin of his old friend. But like the rest of the crowd, he was amused at the possibility of a bona fide boxing match.

 

Without being told, another reveler uprooted the four lit tiki torches planted near the back porchand handed three of them to others. They positioned themselves on the edge of the circle of onlookers, spacing themselves apart to form the four corners of the ring.

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