Chapter 6, Part B
Round him she drove,
talking and singing he whiled
"But, I had this other ride the other day that was a lot better. It was a bell from Saint, uh, Saint...I-am-the-vine-and-you-are-the branches, you know, that one, over on 9th and Marion? Well, it was from the offices of the cathedral, just across the alley. This woman had called us. So she gets in the cab, its about 10:30 in the morning, and she says shes going home because she just got fired. Oh, Christ. What for? And she says that she worked in the payroll department of the church. Shed been there for over two years, did her job well, everyone always got their checks on time. Then about a month ago she went to the doctor for some pains in her chest of some sort, and he told her she would need some sort of surgery that would put her out of commission for about six weeks. So she told them at work, she even had her doctor write them a note. and a few days later she was informed that her services were no longer needed. Terminated. She asked them if it was because of her surgery and they said No, it was because of her job performance. Apparently all the other women she worked with were pretty catty and they never really liked her because she wasnt, so they blackballed her. And she was the only black person in the office, so...." Jason trailed off.
"Whats she going to do?" Estrelica asked.
"Well, I started muttering Call the ACLU, and she had already called them, she already had a lawyer. She was set to take on the entire archdiocese. By the time we got to her place over in Rainier Valley, near Genessee, the meter was up to $7.50 or something, so I soaked it up myself. It may not have been much, but shes going to be needing all the money she can get from now on. She was really appreciative and sent me on my way."
Jason and Estrelica both took sips of their beer as she darted off to the toilet. Jason left the booth as well to see who was playing pool.
Vic had met up with a couple of old friends and sat with them at the bench with tables in front, facing the bar.
"God, why do we even come here anymore?" one of Vics friends asked. "Look at the talent in this place, anymore."
Vic turned to him. "How old are you?"
"Oh, shut up. Theres just a serious change in the kind of people here."
"The four of them sat watching some kid at the bar trying his damnedest to get his spare change into the coffee can set up by the cash register to no avail.
"Oh, God, look who it is," said one of Vics friends as all of their heads turned to see Estrelica coming out of the bathroom. "We saw you come in here tonight with her, Vic."
"Yeah, I just met her."
"What are you doing with her, Vic? Shes never been near a tightrope."
"Are you kidding?" Vic asked. "She holds the damn thing up. I guess youve got to see her alone."
"You know, I hate to tell you, Vic, but the last time I was in the bathroom she was in there heaving up her guts. That tightrope must be pretty heavy."
Vic listened to them all taking their lighters to a glacier and was too tired to think of anything to say.
"Shes a bitch, Vic. Nothing wrong with that, but itll be something youll have to get used to. Thats all."
"Oh, Jesus, whats she doing now?" One of them said as their heads turned again to see her asking someone at the bar for the gum in his mouth as she affixed it to a dollar bill and sent it skywards to the ceiling forty feet up to join all of the other bills of denomination starring the black Comet ceiling. She put too much thrust on the buck and it plummeted back down and landed in the middle of the pool table. She didnt want it. The guys playing pool didnt want it, and continued playing pool around it.
Vic got up and went to the bar as Estrelica went back to the booth. Vic returned to the booth and splashed the pitcher down on the table and poured a glass for Estrelica as a drop hit her in the eye. She took her contacts out and put them in her case.
"Aaaahhhh. Theres nothing like taking your eyes out. Now I can see what you really look like."
Vic made a toast. "Heres to eggs and shaggy rugs."
Before Estrelica could ask what the hell he just said, he kept talking.
"So, I was in this diner this morning and I met this girl."
"What was her name?"
"She hasnt told me yet."
"What does she look like?"
"And what does a nightingale look like?"
"Couldnt tell you. Ive never seen one; Ive just heard about them."
"What did you say to her?"
"Lay it on me, sister."
"Cant really say just yet. Shes the kind where you have to talk to her first."
"Nah, probably not."
"No? Then I wasted a lot of time."
"Not necessarily. What do you like about her?"
"The way she doesnt flinch."
"Did you try and smack her or something?"
"Well, she knew I was supposed to do it. I mean, Ive got the hairy chest; Ive got the--"
"Did you know that snakes have hairy chests?" Estrelica asked.
"No, but did you know that female snakes give off a different aroma from male snakes? And there are some male snakes that know how to duplicate the aroma of a female snake so well that its accepted by the female snakes."
"I wonder what they do when theyre accepted." Estrelica queried.
"They probably just move into the downstairs apartment by themselves, the room by the stairs as you go out the front door, and prop open the door at night as they sit writing letters listening to fiddles on the radio. And the maidens on the porch, well, they all gather around him on Saturday afternoons to hear him talk about all the other male snakes. Now, the other male snakes, they slither past the house and curse him. Hes blackballed. But, theyre all jealous as hell. He gloats a lot, I guess, but when he goes and gets into his little snaky bed, he must wonder about the company he keeps. And as hes lying there thinking about it, a rap comes at the door and the only other female snake who understands him comes in and says "Finally, someone I can talk to." So, he obliges her and starts talking about the strategy of male snakes and she listens and suddenly she realizes that male snakes use the same strategy as female snakes. She gets all uncomfortable and realizes shes left a friend waiting upstairs and exits stage right. The male snake cries until he laughs, then he laughs until he cries. Then he goes to sleep."
"Sounds like a sad story." Estrelica said.
"Dont know. I guess youd have to be a snake."
"So, how do you know so much about snakes?"
"I used to be a mongoose. A little mongoose, mind you, but a mongoose nonetheless." Vic said.
"Yeah, I used to be God."
"Well, I took a liking to this guy and he took it further than I did. And one day he started telling his friends that I was God. Then he started writing it everywhere. I couldnt walk anywhere without seeing that I was God. Finally I had to physically move away because this jerk wrote everywhere that I was God. But a few months after that I met someone I really liked who really liked me. And...I guess he paid for this other assholes sins. Kind of cruel, but...whatever."
"So you fell pretty hard?" Vic asked.
"Well, what am I supposed to do about me, you know? Its like that guy who drags around a crucifix on his shoulder with the little training wheels on it. He told me once that he was going to take it all over the world with him. I told him that he better get a bigger cross because the one hes got right now hasnt got the space on it for everyones signature. And before I was God I was a clown. The clown who smothered to death in her own make-up."
"I used to live in a house where the former tenants were clowns. A whole gaggle of them lived there. They even left their broken trampoline in our shed. One day I was giving a ride to a hitchhiker who wanted to go to this house that was only a few blocks away from mine and he was one of the clowns who used to live in my house. He lives right in the middle of where all of the drive-by shootings have been happening, and he was saying that all of his neighbors are pretty neighborly. He said the worse that it ever got was just before a summer storm when you can feel the air bend into your lungs. He and his neighbors were all out on their stoops, when this guy came tearing around the block in his shorts with a gun, and he stood stock still and fired a shot straight over his head as all these other cars went ripping by. He screamed at the top of his lungs, I am NOT the MAN. The MAN is the MAN!! Then he collapsed in the middle of the street and a minute later the cops came screaming around the corner and flew out into the streets with their guns on him. He just lay on the street whimpering as the cops beat the crap out of him. They put the cuffs on him and piled him in and took off. Apparently they still had him in the back of the car when they picked up one of the guys who was chasing him. They put him in the back, too, and he starts telling them all that hes got AIDS, but all the time being really friendly and cracking jokes and stuff. Then, just as theyre about to get out of the car at the jailhouse, he looks at the other guy and says, You know what I like about you? I can still kill you. and he spat in his eyes."
"AIDS in the eyes." Estrelica said.
"I was seeing this guy once who was always getting into trouble and one night he was at this pub talking with this guy who got up to go to the bathroom and left his wallet on the table. When he got back from the bathroom he claimed that the other guy had taken five pounds out of his wallet. They argued until the guy he accused just belted him one and laid him out. The next day, the guy he belted tracked him down and offered him a job at the framing place where he was the owner." Estrelica said, taking another sip of beer.
"I saw someone left to die in a pub." Vic began. "I was in Wales. Merthyr Tydfil. I met a doctor in England, in Avon, and he was born in Merthyr Tydfil and was three and a half when he moved to England. Then when he established himself as a doctor, every weekend hed go over to Merthyr Tydfil to search for a few acres of land. He found his few acres and started to build a cottage on it for when he retired, and hed talk with all of the neighbors and go and have some pints with them at the local pub just down the road. Every weekend hed do that until his cottage was finally finished. Then one day he walked into the pub and said, Well, Ive retired. Im here for good, now. and the locals turned to him and said, Well, just because now youre going to be among us, dont start thinking that youre going to BE one of us. I was staying with him at the cottage when this happened. That was the first night, actually, in the cottage itself. It was deathly quiet on the walk back to the place. And when I was lying there with the lights out, I heard him sobbing upstairs. The next day I wished him well and set out. I stayed in a bed and breakfast on the other side of town for a while and I went to see him about a week later and he had died of a broken heart. Thats what I remember of Merthyr Tydfil." Vic remembered as he took a swig of beer before he continued.
"And then there was Estrelica. Estrelica I met just after Beatrice had shown me all the sights she remembered I knew. Estrelica and I traveled quite a bit together. She told me about the ice caves of the Cascades and the streets of Dublin. She taught me the proper way to duck in a head-on collision and how to line up your spine against a bookcase. I thought she was going to show me more, but when I spoke to her about going back to my home, the land where Im from, she told me she couldnt. She said shed been many places, but she couldnt go to my home. She sang me to sleep that night, then in the morning she was gone.
"I had 5000 more miles to go before I was home, and by day I screamed her name to the sun and at night I whispered her name before I fell asleep. I was one mile from home when I stepped into a liquor store for a bottle of Jameson and I looked at it, my fingers around its neck, thought to myself, "I wish I may, I wish I might." Next thing I knew the bottle was in the dumpster and I was looking completely into the face of Estrelica.
"I hadnt seen her for centuries and she looked through her eyes like shed seen the same things that I had. I had to stop her from finishing my sentences for me, but we picked up on each other pretty quickly. If Id been a liar I would have told her how Id been trying to find her all that time, but she knew what I had to go through just to be able to look at her: The eyes of men after half a bottle of whisky pleading for me to come see them in prison just before they go through customs at their own country thats waiting for them. The same guys Id seen hours earlier as kings of all theyd seen. The way theyd stare out at the world with lasers, only to quietly immolate themselves when theyre face to face with...."
"...a choir of dragons they kept company with, feeding a cat thats not even theirs, but comes over into their yard anyway, just to hear the strings a little closer. It heard the thieves one day try and break in so it ran across to show its fangs and had to claw their faces just to make them run. The swaying of the strings is what she remembers as she lay sprawled out on the porch and saw a jackrabbit in a red vest and a white jacket take a whiff of the babys breath and arch its back against the bottom of the basin of the sky to see Concord dragging the last piece of sod from Gods green earth with it on its way: Ahh, it wont fall on me, she thinks to herself. Not with a headache THIS BIG to block it out.
A storm with juniper and soot rain edged its way in front of the window pane where Estrelica and Vic were sitting and straddled the ledge. Neither of them paid any attention to it as Estrelica pulled out a deck of cards with thistles falling out onto the table as she took a card, creased it once, and picked out a stem from her teeth.
"What I want to know is, tell me what youd do about this string that keeps hanging down from my skirt."
Estrelica got up and walked over to the bar. Vic looked out of the window through the clouds at a moon hed never be the first to get to. Even the terrier across the road yawned as a lace of rain spat onto his coat from the awning above. Vic took a Viceroy out of a brass case with ibexes etched on the lid, noticed a film canister on the floor under the table that he found fully exposed, pocketed it and lit his cigarette. He glanced over towards the bar and watched Estrelica slip Terrell the barkeep a note as she backed into the pool table on the way to the lavatory.
A kiss planted itself on Vics neck as Jill swung around into the other side of the booth.
"Still here, huh?" Jill asked.
"No, not for long. I dont want to be here." Vic replied.
"But, Vic, your horizons dont have to be far away. Your horizons can be very, very close."
"Im always on the horizon, Jill, you know? The horizon can be a pretty quiet place."
"Oh, you make me laugh, Vic. When was the last time you had the whole bed all to yourself? Youre a gourmet, Vic. A gourmand. A downright connoisseur."
"I am?" Vic looked over just as Estrelica came back into the room. Jill turned around to see what he was looking at, then turned back.
"Dont look, Vic."
"Okay, I wont" he said lowering his head, then letting his eyes lift his head back up again.
"Keep not looking."
"Have you ever seen something bloom, Jill?"
"No, I only ever see things die. My eyes never get there in time. Thats why I never change things around in my room, so I dont have to think where anything is."
"Youre talking in riddles, you know."
"Ahh, youre just mad because I never tell you any jokes."
"Tell me a joke, Jill."
Vic listened to Jill excitedly trying to put him into her little box as he realized he may have finally reached the edge of the city. He had tramped every cherry blossom avenue and backwashed alley in town, only to find himself at the end of the night where the meadow begins and the steam that gushed its way through the cracks in the sidewalk were just so many naked memories creeping away unnoticed from the boredom of his heart.
He stared at the half-full glass of Eds in front of him and saw the shimmering amber light of a fishing trip his father had taken him on when he couldnt pronounce the name of the fishing rod he used. All he could remember was that it started with a z. He let himself feel the chill that stalks your spine when your past lines itself up one memory after another like an orphan punching out a runaway, and thought about how everyone blows the candle out with the same breath that they used to flick away the life of the butcher that fired you at noon as well as the first sigh that coughed you out of sleep in the morning. Jill realized Vic was alone and left him for the dartboard.
He looked up to see some girls at a table whom he didnt know as one of them flashed their eyes There he is as her friend turned around to look at him. He looked away wondering who they were or why they noticed him. He thought of when Beth Stoleson called him a card some ten years ago, and how she never told him what card she meant.
"Are you going to finish that?" Estrelica asked as she approached the booth.
"Probably not." He said as she set down a glass of ale for each of them. Before he had a chance to take a sip, she proposed a toast.
"Heres to...Heres to...heres...." Estrelica thought abortedly.
"Heres to thirty dollars on Day-In Day-Out." Vic delivered.
"In the fourth race tomorrow at Longacres." Vic wagered.
"You know, it shouldnt be a variable that a horse can fall, because any horse can fall."
"Well, yeah, but at the same time, a jockey cant help a horse win, but he can prevent a horse from winning." He reminded her.
"You ever bet on a photo finish?" She asked.
"Only thing I ever bet on."
"Well, lets just say that some days are better than others."
"Heres to Day-In Day-Out." She proposed.
"Day-In Day-Out." He repeated as he clinked her glass, lifted his to take a sip and was blinded by the light from the lamp hanging down over the booth between them.
"Im getting sick and tired of this lamp." Vic snarled.
"Yeah, there are rooms where Im best seen. I guess this isnt one of them."
Estrelica & Vic, Chapter 7