She knew this wasn’t supposed to be comfortable, not that there were many stories about how it was supposed to be, but comfort was really the last thing you could expect, at least while you were actually doing it. Even pills would make you nauseated.
Her original plan was to bury her clothes in the sand before walking into the water. The outgoing tide was so swift that at its full it made a dimple a hundred yards offshore. She wouldn’t need to swim far, though she was a strong swimmer. A champion, she thought scornfully. Yeah, right. Some champion.
Christ, but it was cold. Even taking her jacket off was almost intolerable. Depending on what you believed, the next step would take you to a tunnel of light or all your loved ones or the next life.
The only residents remaining in the small town of Miners Hill are spirits.
They were always there, though I was the only one to see them, much less communicate. My grandmother told me it was a gift. Experience has shown me it’s the opposite.
Spirits are everywhere, as anyone who sees them will tell you. Sometimes they are only fragments, a piece of somebody that somehow was left behind. Other times a spirit is a whole being, an entire personality—albeit one without a body.
When the spirit is whole, there is always a reason. No living thing would ever choose to be trapped between worlds. Their sole purpose is to carry a message to the living.
The spirits of Miners Hill were there before the first board of the town was laid. They were there before the Indians walked the unmolested earth.
“It wasn’t supposed to look nice. That wasn’t the point.”
“What was the point again?”
“I wanted to shake them up. Make a statement. You know.”
“So you made a dinosaur. Out of garbage.”
“Not garbage. Scrap.”
“Whatever. You’re surprised they had a bad reaction?”
“I thought that—”
“You thought that after you received the commission you could do whatever the hell you wanted. It’s a city project, James. You think they’re idiots or something? They know you didn’t spend fifty thousand dollars making that sculpture.”
Ten in the morning I find Patsy sitting at the end of the bar. His missus left last week, gone in the night without a word. Patsy said there was a note, something about visiting her sister. She had no sister I ever heard of.
Patsy was Dad’s friend. When I see him now it is difficult to believe it’s the same man. His hands shake as he raises the pint to his lips, the greed in his face mixing with dread as he hoists the glass. When he was Harbor Master he never touched a drop, but I suppose men like Patsy were never meant to be pensioners. The Dover pilots used to joke that it was the strength of Patsy’s personality pulled the freighters into dock, not the tugs.
He notices me, raises a hand. As I take the stool next to him, an acrid sting of urine clenches my nostrils and almost makes me sneeze.
“Drinking alone, Patsy?” I ask.
“Never alone, son,” he says. He drains his pint, taps it on the bar. The barman, busy with a crossword, ignores him. “My mate over there sees to that. And now you.”
He stood there like a fool, banging the big brass knocker. No answer.
He was about to leave. It was in his mind. Get in the car. Back out of the driveway. Never come back. Fuck this.
But she came to the door, stood wordless for a moment before turning her back to him, walked into the living room leaving the door open.
My living room, he thought. Once.
“His birthday was yesterday, Chip,” she said, lighting a cigarette. She sipped coffee but did not offer him a cup. ‘The party was yesterday.”
“I know when my son’s birthday is. And I can see there was a party. This place is a fucking pigsty. “ He pointed at the bottles on the coffee table, the lipstick-smeared martini and wine glasses, the overflowing ashtrays. “Looks like a hell of a kid’s party.”
“So what? A few people came over after.”
“Anyone I know?”
“People make a choice, Chip. Our friends made a choice.” She nodded at the toy he held in his hands, the little truck he’d bought at the gas station. “You couldn’t be bothered to wrap it, I see.”
“Where is he? I want to see him. Give him this.”
“He’s at my mother’s. How about you call ahead next time?”
“So fucking what. Who do you think you are? Noah?”
“I’m just saying that it’s not all bad.”
“Oh yeah. Easy for you to say.”
He stormed off across the asphalt, fists balled in fury. He got to the car and went around to the passenger side, pulled at the door. It was locked. He turned toward her, raised his hands in a pantomime of impatient frustration.
She fished the remote from her purse and pressed the unlock button. Nothing happened. She tried again. Across the parking lot, he crossed his arms and stamped his foot.
“Try holding it to your head.”
She turned. It was the State’s Attorney, the very man she had been hating for the past two hours. He gestured at the keys.
“Seriously. Hold the keys next to your head and try again.”
She did as she was told. The lights of the car flashed. Her son got into the car.
“He’s going to be hot in there,” she said. She looked at the State’s Attorney. “How’s that work? With the keys?”
He shrugged. “Something about the liquid in your skull amplifying the signal. Works even better with a bottle of water.”
“Huh,” she said.
“Listen,” said the State’s Attorney. “I’m recommending an outpatient program after he serves his time. It’s the best I can do. With luck, he’ll have learned his lesson.” He looked out at the parking lot. “See the rainbow? Maybe it’s a good omen.”
I pulled up in front of the building. This black guy in a beret and an open shirt leaned toward the car and asked if he could borrow a gas can.
I had none and said so.
He asked if he could ask me something.
He fumbled with a cellular phone and began a rambling story about his car stuck on the bridge.
I could smell this one coming.
I remember once in San Francisco there was a guy that hit on my father for a weird exact amount, something like 12.00. He had a cast on his leg. He said his family was stranded in the car, he was out of money, the machine wouldn’t take his card (which he brandished as proof).
Dad, small town, gave him a twenty and the man gimped off with thanks and God bless you. Dad took a cab to a hotel across town where he was speaking.
Coming out of the hotel a few hours later, there was the same guy hitting on him with the same story.
Dad said, “You son of a bitch! You don’t even recognize me, do you?”
The man suddenly did and ran down the street, cast and all.
One time I drove my car from Arizona to San Francisco,. I parked near the library and went to a deli to grab a sandwich. When I came back, the sidewalk was littered in glass. I was sure my windows had been smashed in.
I looked. They all were whole. A mystery, because the broken glass wasn’t there when I left the car. A guy appeared out of nowhere, a broom and dustpan in his hand. He started sweeping up the glass he turned to me and said “Yo, man, look what almost happen to your car! Man, outta town guy like you are, you gotta be careful. How about I watch your car so nothin’ bad happens to it?”
He was trying to be menacing, but I busted out laughing imagining this guy hauling around a sackful of broken glass and a little broom looking for out-of-state plates. It was a great little scam and I’m sure did pretty well with it.
So, this guy today, I cut him off: “Sorry, man. Not interested.”
It’s become my standard reply to the street hustle. The longer and more involved the story, the more likely it’s a scam.
He was shocked, offended. He said just wanted to know if the guy at the gas station was fucking with him when he wouldn’t let him put gas into an orange juice container. He didn’t want anything from me. He just wanted to know.
So we talked about container laws and the reasons for them, ending with a rather vivid description of some lawn-mowing jackass setting himself afire with a glass jar of gas.
This guy continued apologizing to me. He was wearing lots of gold medallion and a big gold wristwatch. He had scars on his stomach that looked like he’d been shot twice and cut open on an E.R gurney. I didn’t ask him about them.
I just said, “Look, man. I live in the city. I don’t believe anybody because of all the hustles. I act like this to defend myself from scams. It’s not at all what I’m like.”
Maybe he had figured that out early in our conversation.