Friday, November 09, 2012

NaNoWriMo day nine


There was the dream of the redheaded fox. It took place sometime in the 1960s, or so Crow surmised, because he thought he was with his wife, Deborah, and their son, Jamie, was just a little baby. Sometimes, they were in the dream. Sometimes, they were not. But they were always silent, bystanders to the action.

 

The setting was parklike, a roadside, on the edge of a copse of trees, somewhere in Iowa or the Dakotas, Interstate 80 or 90, it didn't matter. They were having a picnic. Others were coming and going, a bustling scene, festive, a picnic. Crow was resting on his elbows. He wore a short-sleeved button-down shirt. A woman in a paisley skirt stood nearby, looking into a shaded plate glass window outside a concrete and glass temple of modernity -- a highway rest stop. Crow was in the grass, on a blanket, a picnic spread before him, the trees behind, looming, a vast field before him, the hissing string of the highway spreading off to infinity, the grand vista of westward expansion, manifest destiny.

 

And as if to contrast with all of these signs of civilization, a glimpse of orange in his periphery vision, and then it comes into full view, a fox, but large, taller than any Crow had ever seen, more like a greyhound, but a fox nonetheless, bright orange, white and crimson, slinky and loping. Crow looked around. No one else could see the fox and yet the fox also seemed unaware of him. The fox snuck up behind the woman in the paisley dress, a large, baglike purse draped casually over her shoulder. And just as it appeared behind her, the fox metamorphized into a tall woman, waiflike, flowing orange-red hair, a dress seeming of woven gauze, the slight tint of orange and red. Features flat, as if she was created with a few quick brush strokes and set alight on reality.

 

Crow looked on benignly, curious, as the fox-turned-into-a-woman casually reaches into the woman's purse and removes a wallet. She then walks behind a man standing nearby, arms akimbo, absently staring off into the vista, again, oddly unaware of the presence of this alien creature. Crow knew what she wanted to do and decided to move into action. He rose. The fox woman had her back turned to him. He moved slowly, as syrupy slow as can only be achieved in dreams, and grabbed the fox woman by the wrist.

 

She turned to him, and her head is already a fox's again, all snarl and sneer and teeth. Crow pushed it away with his free hand while keeping an iron grip on the cold wrist. The face reappeared, and it's the woman's face again, looking hurt and sad -- resigned to her fate. And just as Crow is moved also to sadness and remorse, feeling compelled to let this wild creature free, the woman's face distorts and blurs and spins...

 

And then Crow woke up...

 

It was always best when Crow had the fox woman dream in People's Park for, despite the sound of the train and the noises of civilization, being in the woods gave one the feeling of nature, and when Crow awoke he would look around for the fox woman. It was easier to hold onto the dream.

 

But on this morning, he was in the basement at the Augusta Inn. And a little hungover. He'd used a little extra money from the previous day of can collecting to buy a bottle of cheap wine. And whenever he drank, he ended up the Augusta Inn. Crow had innate fear of mixing alcohol with the outdoors. He'd ready too many newspaper articles at the library about homeless people being found in public parks, dead by exposure or some careless accident.

 

The dream of the fox woman always left Crow with a sense of longing for all he'd lost -- a car, movement, transportation, his family, his youth, his strength. In the dream his grip was so strong. And what did it all mean?

 

For all he'd lost, Crow had his wits about him. Let the rest of the world think him crazy because he was homeless, and was silent, but he was not. Anyone could avail themselves of the various social services. He could stay at the homeless shelter instead of the woods or the basement of the Augusta Inn. He could get a job. Even though he was in his sixties, and most of his front teeth were missing, Crow stayed hale and sinewy and alert. And he thanked homeless living for keeping him that way.

 

He sat up, the layers of cardboard beneath him shifting as he moved his legs. A gray, soft light filtered through the cobwebs and the dust caked on the basement windows. He listened to the shuffle of feet overhead, the rush and hiss of water in a pipe. In the next room was a washing machine, dryer, and a big concrete sink. Crow removed the musty layers of blankets and tattered sleeping bags and put them back in a garbage bag. He cinched the bag tight. Nearby was a set of cabinets, and counters that used to be in the kitchen upstairs. Crow picked up the flattened cardboard and slid it behind this fixture. He opened a cabinet door and stuffed the bag as far back underneath as he could, straining and grunting to compress and conceal his stash.

 

Crow took one last look around and patted himself to make sure nothing was missing. He reached into a flannel shirt pocket and pulled out a toothbrush. As he brushed, he coughed and hacked, as muffled as he could, not wishing to draw attention from above to his presence. Every once in awhile Chalmers, Mackey, or someone familiar caught him here. They were cool about the presence. Mackey, on really cold nights or times of bad weather, made sure to keep the back door unlocked to let Crow in. Crow never let anyone see him slink in through a window in the sideyard. He always made sure this was unlocked before he left. But he would try the back door first. Sometimes Crow and Mackey hung out together in Mackey's attic room, drinking beer and watching horror movies on video tape. Mackey liked Crow because Crow didn't talk much.

 

"No bullshitting with you, eh, Crow," Mackey said.

 

As if to emphasize this, Crow just nodded his head.

 

Crow looked at Bonneville from the unique perspective of someone in his position. Greek Row was a money pit. Each day he collected enough cans from the drinking habits of college students to get 35-40 pounds of cans. If he found a discarded mini-fridge, which he often did at the end of the semester, he would get it away from a dumpster, conceal it as best he could, and visit Errol Gray, owner of a local thrift shop, who would drive Crow back to the fridge and pay him $10 on the spot if it worked all right. Errol also let Crow hang around the shop and had him work the register or do small electronic repairs for a little extra spending cash.

 

Crow knew every hidden nook and cranny in the two large public parks, People's Park to the south of campus, the public space between the campus and Greek Row, and the Fern Bottoms forest preserve on the north side which, as its name suggests, was a flood plain of the Kushamukee River. He had constructed semi-permanent shelters at each park, stashing a cache of bedding, extra clothes, cook pot, bottle of alcohol, and various other sundry in honeysuckle thickets or up in the hollow log of a tree. Crow could track the various animal footprints, could trap, skin and eat possum, squirrel and raccoon, and could catch bullhead, carp, bass, and bluegill from the Kushamukee using nothing but a beer can, a hook, and scavenged fishing line.

 

He also had three or four bikes locked up in various spots around town. Whenever he found a new one, or a broken one thrown away, he'd take it to Errol's shop, where Errol let him use his tools, fix the bike into workable shape, and more often than not give it to Errol as a goodwill gesture. Crow's economy was one of goodwill. He saw the exchange of money as "too easy," and "the evils of Mammon."

 

He much preferred a barter economy, a free exchange of goods. Or, more often than not, Crow just gave away his bounty, knowing that if he ever needed help, the recipients of his goodwill would be there for him. Thing was, Crow never collected on this debt of gratitude. He considered it a point of pride that while he was regarded with pity and disdain by the world at large, sometimes hassled by some self-righteous neo-conservative to "get a job." Or, more often than not, students would throw stuff out of their car windows at him or he would be confronted at a dumpster by an irate property manager. Crow tried to move easily through his universe. He regarded such conflicts with an air of dismissiveness, moving on quietly. No need for confrontation. Good rarely came from loggerheads, he liked to think.

 

The friends in Crow's world, Mackey, Errol, the librarians at the Bonneville Public Library, and the odd student or two, interested in social justice, who deigned to recognize his presence -- all who knew of Crow  -- eventually came to honor him. He possessed a peace and sense of perspective seemingly lost to most in the haste and rush for the big money grab of modernity.

 

This is why the dream of the fox woman seemed so disconcerting, set Crow awry. It gave him a rare feeling -- desire. What did Buddha call that? Crow thought. The source of all suffering. For while Crow, through stealth and cunning, had carved out a unique and satisfying existence for himself, the dream of the fox woman exposed two glaring absences in Crow's world -- the loss of love and intimacy. And the loss of Jamie, his son, who was still alive, still somewhere in the world, for all he knew, and yet he knew not where, had no means of contacting him, and had not been sought out by Jamie. They hadn't seen each other in nearly 20 years. The fox woman was a shapeshifter, a powerful symbol in dreams, suggesting some crucial missing part of one's identity. Crow theorized it was the one missing thing he wanted -- Jamie.

 

The other thing was a long dormant sexual desire. The fox woman turned him on. She was his magic, fantastic lover. Tragic, too. Because sexual fulfillment was the greatest farce. Crow thanked the benefits of his age. His desire was a distant ebb, made more urgent by the dream, but quickly receding to its former place of limited importance.

No comments: