Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Fax by Phyllis Barber

The Fax

                              Published in Crazyhorse, Spring 2000, Number 58
             They’re cruising East Colfax in Eddie’s ‘76 van, silver-colored with serious dents, full of his clothes, his tools, his bed.  Mitch watches Eddie signal like he’s going to turn the corner, but Mitch suspects Eddie’s not turning anywhere.  He’s probably looking for the contact, the mule, the one who’ll take him to the Black Tar.  Eddie, who thinks he’s fooling Mitch.
            Eddie stares through the open windows at the people sitting on the corner bench, waiting for the bus.  Mitch watches him scan the store fronts, the people crossing the street.
            Hey, my man, Eddie says.  What do you think?
            Mitch is pensive, his eyes two stones in a sculpture.  It’s Colfax, he says impassively, trying to ignore the cold hard point-of-the-arrow fact that keeps jabbing his brain.  Linda’s left him, swept him out of her life like dust.  So forget it, he tells himself.  You’re out on East Colfax in Denver, you and good old Eddie who just blew into town after ten years and said it was his duty to find some weed to mellow your mind.
            Chill out, Eddie says, the same way he said it last night and this morning.  The heartbeat of the universe, he says.  Look at it.  Right here on The Fax.
            I’m mellow, OK? Mitch says.
            Don’t take everything so serious, Eddie says, looking over at Mitch and grinning, but then his attention is back on the street.
            Eddie’s tweaking, Mitch decides.  For something more than weed.  Eddie’s like a ghost, slipping away from everything concrete.  Mitch can’t forget the blue worm of a vein he saw this morning, the one on Eddie’s arm when he was shaving in the bright light of the bathroom mirror.  So why had he fallen for Eddie’s plan to smoke a bowl for old time’s sake?  It had to be a scam.
            We’re forty years old, for Chrissake, Mitch says.
            Tonight we’re gonna score, Eddie says.  Give your brain a rest, Mitch.
            The sun’s low in the west, not far from settling into the Rockies, and East Colfax is lighting up.  Twenty-four hour Walgreens, Roy Rogers Chuckwagon, Adult Video Library, Music Box Lounge.  All the things a person could need.  Even the Church in the City where the marquee says, “Love One Another for Love Comes from God.”  Brothers are playing basketball in the dusk on an outdoor court.  Mitch listens to balls bouncing on cement while Eddie waits for the light to change.
            Eddie.  A friend from high school days who aced Mitch in the calculus final, went to Cal Berkeley on scholarship, taught at Trinidad State JC for a while before he disappeared from Colorado and everybody’s address book.  Eddie.  A ghost for ten years before he shows up on Mitch’s doorstep a few days ago, his mooncrater van in the driveway telling about Eddie same as Eddie standing on the doorstep in his Levis and wrinkled T-shirt.  This was the Eddie who always had a knack for getting what he wanted.
            Mitch sighs as he sees the street lights turning on for the evening, lighting up the street people and their grocery carts full of home.  Everybody’s at home on wheels tonight.  Everybody’s moving, looking for the next place, and Eddie turns off his blinker and says, No, I think we better stay on The Fax for now.  My instincts say due west.  I listen to my instincts.  Do you listen to yours, Mitch, or just to that spider-web brain of yours?
            So, you’re the salt of the earth, Mitch says.  Compadre of the underdog, the homeless. 
            Look at this parade, Eddie says as he steps on the gas for a green light.  Look at the Darktown Strutters over there.  That drum major with the jerry curls.  Rip van Winkle on the right.  This is where it’s happening.  You feel like Alice in Wonderland, Mitch?
            Mitch shifts in his seat, feeling the tear in the seat cover under his right leg, the scratchy fabric reminding him of his computer chair at the office.  You think you’re some kind of tour director, he says, showing me what’s real because I’ve never seen it before?
            Something like that, Eddie says as he stops for another red light.
            Two Brothers are talking under the street light, and when they see Eddie pinning their every move, one of them holds out a closed fist as if he has something to offer.
            Probably narcs, Eddie says.  The Fax is one big roulette wheel.  The only way, Eddie says as he turns on his blinker again, is to find somebody on the street who knows what’s what.  Get the mule to make the deal for a small percentage.  No money until the stuff’s in your hand.
            He makes a big arcing turn and cuts over to 17th, then 21st.  At Stout, he hits his brakes.  Reservation People, he says, pointing a finger, and Mitch remembers how the Navajos think they throw part of themselves away if they point at someone.  The Wind People who live in the fingers are scattered.
            See those Indians sitting like pennies on the bus bench, Dude?  Copper pennies.  Get it.  Eddie laughs, then gets serious.  They might be who we’re looking for.
            Why them? Mitch asks, not sure Eddie’s idea is a good one.
            They’ll know who’s who on the streets, Eddie says.  I love the Indians, man.  Noble dudes fucked over, right?
            You could say that.  Like me.  Your friend, Mitch.
            There are 5.2 billion sad stories walking around.  Break the mold, man.
            You’re all heart, aren’t you, Eddie?
            Some of the Indians are milling on the sidewalk, and some are sitting on the bench in front of the solid brick wall of Tankersley Enterprises, waiting for a bus that’s not scheduled to come, surrounded by bags full of one thing or another, taking a break from their heavy schedule, their stressful day.
            Eddie bumps his wheel against the curb when he parks.  Come on, he says, rushing to the sidewalk.  Mitch unbuttons the top button of the plaid shirt he wore to work today and drops to the street.  The evening is hot.  He feels the cement soaked with heat through the soles of his shoes, follows Eddie to the corner to the bench.
            Eddie’s already talking to one of the Indians in his own inimitable style: from the hip, hands talking, earnest, straight to the heart of things.  Eddie’s not tall, he smiles a lot, has a trust-me face.  But, to Mitch, something about this scene reminds him of the old Cowboy and Indian flicks.  Scamming the natives with different kinds of beads.
            This is Mitch, Eddie says to the man with black and white striped hair to his shoulders, a T-shirt with a torn neck band and an orange and black Broncos windbreaker that has stains resembling rusty blood and housepaint.  The jacket’s been around.
            This is Little Bear, Eddie says to Mitch.  Little Bear knows people, Eddie says, a smile playing around his lips.  Something’s coming, something big, he mumbles so only Mitch hears him.  Then he moves close to Little Bear.  Leans in to ask.  Does Little Bear know where to find some Tar?  He turns back and grins at Mitch like some kind of cheshire cat.
            No Tar, Little Bear says to Eddie, backing away from him, his hands stretched out.
            Eddie stops grinning like the good-time Charles he usually is.
            You told me you were looking for pot, Mitch says, nudging Eddie’s ribs with his elbow.  None of that shit tonight.  Come on.  Keep with the Plan.
            So many of my friends fucked up on Tar, Little Bear is saying, his pants slipping down his hips.  The neck band on Little Bear’s T-shirt seems to rip further every time he pulls his pants back up.
            I don’t really care about that stuff, Eddie says.  He pats the shoulder of Little Bear’s jacket and smiles again.  Just wondering how much you could deliver, my man.
            Little Bear doesn’t deliver Tar.
            Weed? Eddie asks.
            I could know someone, Little Bear says, pulling a soft pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his jacket.  What do I get?
            The fattest bud in the lot, Eddie says.
            Sounds fair.  Little Bear taps a cigarette out of the pack, puts it between his lips, and pats his pockets for his lighter.  But you better remember something...if I say I’ll do this for you, I’ll keep my word.  Don’t forget.  Got a quarter?
            Eddie digs in his pocket, sorts through his change, hands a quarter to Little Bear.
            While he waits for the deal to go down, Mitch sits in the empty place on the bench next to a sleepy-looking Indian with a stringy dusty ponytail.
            How’s it going? Mitch says.
            Not bad, the man says.  I’m Gordon Sits a While.  He holds out his hand for a shake.  You?
            Mitch, Mitch says, shaking his hand.
            I got my papers, Gordon says.
            Right here.  Yeah, Gordon says, taking a yellowed, frail piece of paper out of his shirt pocket.  15/15, it says.  Every part of me Sioux.  One hundred percent Rosebud Sioux.  Not many of us left.
            I wish I was 15/15 of one thing, Mitch says, as he reads Gordon’s paper.  I’m a little bit of everything.  Heinz 57, like the ketchup.  How does it feel to be so pure?  Does your blood run better?  Mitch smiles a slow smile.
            Could be it does, Gordon says, smiling a sly smile of his own.  His incisors are both missing.
            I’m tight with my blood, Gordon says, rocking his knees back and forth while he talks.  I sent a man to the hospital who insulted my father.  Four years in the pen.  I can still hear that fucker’s words sometimes at night.  Gordon holds up a fist.
            Party time, Eddie says.  He’s back from his silver van with a short stack of paper cups and a third-full bottle of Jack Daniels.  Party time, everybody.
            Bus stop, no buses running, a little cocktail party on the corner of Stout and 21st, not far from the Stout Street Clinic.  Paper trash swirls by.  The sun is slipping past the green steel gridiron on top of Coors Field.  The stadium was built from the ruins of railroad yards and warehouses, Mitch remembers as he watches the silhouette of steel change from green to shadow black and thinks of a newspaper article about how the stadium was designed to be connected to the city and all its life.
            Eddie passes cups of whiskey to Gordon, Mitch, and a man and woman holding hands and waiting, who knows for what.  It’s evening on the promenade.  Time to hold hands.  Time to watch the community parade by.  She’s a sweet faced woman with cat eyeglasses and a faded silk scarf tied under her chin.  She smiles at Mitch as they toast each other.
            Cheers, Mitch says.  Cheers, the woman says.  They lift their cups and touch paper rim to paper rim.
            Mitch settles back into the bench and wonders if his soon-to-be-ex might drive by with her lover.  He crosses his legs and sips whiskey as he waits for the next car to pass.  He feels tired as Linda’s words pound his brain: You’re boring as sawdust, Mitch.
            How boring is sawdust anyway? he wonders as he feels the burn of the whiskey on his chapped lips.  Sawdust has a nice smell.  It’s soft.  The analogy doesn’t work.  And Eddie, who’s been eating my food for four days, using my shower and my phone for a zillion calls, thinks I’m boring, too.  Eddie, who couldn’t stay home and watch another video tonight, or even settle for a nice meal and talk about the old days.  Eddie and his search for the sensational.  Always looking for something bigger and better than ever existed before, just like Linda.
            Mitch suddenly realizes Gordon is talking to him.  He tunes in at half sentence.   ...it was a bitch, Gordon is saying.  You done any time? He’s asking, emptying the last drop from his cup.
            Time?  Mitch ponders for a minute.  Yeah.  Time.
            Mitch studies Gordon’s face, a scar across his cheek pulling his left eye lower than his right one.  One Big Eye should be Gordon’s name, he thinks.  He also notices the way Gordon’s hair fans gray from the tip of his widow’s peak, the way his face says trouble.
            My wife left me.  Mitch crumples the cup in his hand.
            Women, Gordon says.
            While the two men ponder the word, the conversation falls quiet.
            No matter what we do, Mitch breaks the silence, there’s the female sex to deal with.  Sex.  Oh fuck, sex.  Mitch puts his forehead in his hand and feels like crying, but he knows he shouldn’t give in.  Avoid self-pity, his therapist tells him.  It poisons you.
            Mitch feels a hand on his shoulder.  It’s Gordon’s.  He’s looking at Mitch more with the big eye than with the other one and saying, Hey, brother.  I’m holding down this spot on this bench.  That’s my job.  See?
            You’re a good man, Gordon.  Mitch feels a thickness in his throat, the tightness of tears rising until a flurry of action behind the bench draws his attention.
            Little Bear is back, Little Bear is saying.  We can go see my squaw now, he laughs.  You like it when Indians have squaws, don’t you, he says to Eddie.  Fits the picture.  Right?  She has connections, my man.  Mota, yes.  You know I keep my word.  Don’t doubt Little Bear’s word.
            Let’s go, Eddie says.  Motor to Mota in the silver glide mobile.  See, Mitch, he whispers to his friend who’s still sitting on the bench with Gordon and the happily-together couple.  I come through with the action.  Right?
            Right, Eddie.  Mitch stands up reluctantly, not wanting to leave Gordon.  Good talking to you, buddy.  Hang in there.  Hold onto your spot and all fifteen of those fifteenths.
            Gordon’s one big eye seems sad, like it has seen more than an eye should see.  See you, man.  Take care.
            Mitch wants to lean down and touch Gordon Sits Awhile’s scar.  He wants to take Gordon home for a shower, wash the dust from his pony tail.  He wants the world to be a better place.
            Come on, Mitch, Eddie is yelling.  Mota, Mota.  Es tiempo.    Move it.  Let Little Bear sit up front so he can give me directions.  Okay?
            Mitch climbs into the back where Eddie sleeps at night and suddenly feels cut off from the world at the front of the van.  Eddie.  Little Bear.  The things they’re saying.  The streets.  He’s watching a movie as he sits cross-legged on the floor, straightens his back, checking out the view of the tops of things, which is all he can see now.  The tops of street lights, street signs.  No curbs and sidewalks for now.  Look at life from a different perspective, his therapist always tells him.  A new angle.
            Eddie is sipping whiskey as he drives, his third paper cup full of Jack.  When Little Bear tells him to turn, he reacts a block late.  You want me to drive? Mitch asks as if from another country.
            I’m fine, Eddie says.  I’m fine.
            Yes, Eddie’s fine, Mitch thinks.  Driving around Denver in his office and his home, his clothes folded into boxes on the built-in shelves.  Eddie’s smiling.  Eddie’s face looks like sunshine, always has, big smile, let-me-help-you-out kind of guy.  Eddie, showing up out of nowhere just when Linda told Mitch she was off to the races with a new jockey, a better chance to win the race, were her exact words.  You don’t even care who wins, she’d added as she closed the door.  Eddie Ready.  Eddie, The Man.  Showing up at Mitch’s door out of nowhere, a beeper hooked to his belt.
            Put in some tunes, Mitch says.  Some of the good seventies stuff.
            Later, says Eddie.  I want to hear what Little Bear here has to say.  Are you a chief, my man?
            Little Bear lights a Marlboro and blows a stream of smoke out the window.  Forget the chief stuff, Eddie.  We are equal where I come from.  Rosebud.  South Dakota.
            Do you know Gordon? Mitch interrupts.  The guy with a scar under one eye?
            You mean Gordy Squats a Lot? Little Bear says, sitting forward and squinting his eyes.  Turn at the next corner.  Martin Luther King.  Okay?
            Okay, says Eddie.
            Yes, says Little Bear, settling back into his chair.  Gordy and I did time together.  We both have fists.  See this, he says, holding up one meaty chunk of a hand.  I was a boxer.  A good one.  See my nose?  He points to a twisted depression at the bridge of his nose.
            Hey, Little Bear yells.  That’s the corner.  You missed it.
            You told me too late, Eddie says. 
            You want me to drive, Mitch asks again.  I’m still sober.
            No, Mitch.  I’m fine.  Trust me.
            The van seems to be turning constantly now.  Mars.  We’re going to Mars, Mitch thinks as he watches twisting tree tops and the shift of blue-black sky.  He has no idea where they’re going except he hears Little Bear say Clarkson, Ogden, 26th.  They must be in the Hood, and Eddie is driving like corners are round.  Relax, Mitch tells himself.  You can’t control anything anyway.  He looks at the angles of the street lights and swirling tree branches as if they were museum paintings–the masses of green leaves overhead, clumps, bunches, long branches disappearing from the picture, too long to fit in the frame.  Eddie and I’ll get some pot and get baked, and I’ll sit in my favorite chair back home, put in some “Dark Side of the Moon” and say Screw, Linda, screw linda, SCREW LINDA, as many ways and times as I want.  But Mitch’s head and stomach have started to talk to him.
            Eddie, Mitch says, stop turning so much.  My stomach needs straight lines.
            Eddie slow the van even more.  Slow enough?
            You’re creeping like a snail, Little Bear says.
            Trust me, Eddie says.  I know how I need to drive.
            Hey, Eddie, Mitch says, the alcohol buzz finally colliding with his rational mind, smoothing the folds in his brain.  He slides forward on his butt and scoots closer to Eddie’s chair.  I’ve wanted to ask you this, he says.  How was it you came back, right in the middle of my fall down the black hole?  After ten years.  The King of Calculus at my door.  Mitch can see Eddie’s eyes in the rear view mirror.
            Ten years doesn’t mean anything, Eddie says.  Ten years is nothing man.  I love my friends.
            Mitch hears the word love, but it floats through his mind like a high-speed sailing ship.  High school buddies equals love?  Some equation struggles to formulate itself in his brain.
            Turn here, Little Bear says, reaching for the bottle from its place between Eddie’s legs, pouring the last of the Jack into his cup.
            Poor Jack is dead, Eddie sings as he slows the van to two miles per hour and creeps around the corner.
            Go into this alley, up here, Little Bear says.  It’s narrow through here.  Ooh, Jesus, watch out for those cans.
            All Mitch can see is the tops of houses, TV antennas, second stories.  Eddie, he says, trying to keep upright as Eddie takes the bumps in the alley.  There’s nothing to support his swing from side to side, front and back.  Eddie steps on the brakes, Mitch pitches forward, and Little Bear opens the squeaking door.  Twenty five, he says.
            No money till we get the shit, Mitch says.  Like you said, Eddie.
            Just give him the money, Eddie says.
            You said....
            Give him the money, Eddie says again in a softer, more ominous voice.
            Mitch takes two bills from his wallet and slips them into Little Bear’s hand.
            I’ll be right back, Little Bear says.
            Eddie and Mitch are sitting in an alley somewhere in Denver is all Mitch knows.  He’s sitting on the floor of Eddie’s bedroom wondering why Eddie changed the rules of the deal and why Eddie keeps staring up at the ancient bare-bulb streetlight.  He’s also thinking about Linda.  Bad moon rising in his chest.
            I bet if I went in there, Eddie is saying, more to himself than to Mitch, I bet....  He’s still staring at the light like it’s some kind of train.  Eddie must be tweaking bad, Mitch decides.  He’s nowhere near here.  His head’s been hijacked.  But has he ever been here?  Are any of us here?
            A strike of pencil lightning loneliness cuts into Mitch.  Nobody’s home for anybody, he thinks.  Everybody’s craving sensation.  Linda.  Eddie.  The whole fucking mess is so putrid.  Puke on it.  Fuck the whole human race.
            I’m gonna check out your office, Mitch says as he crawls back into the rear of the van, curls up next to Eddie’s bean bag chair, the one piece of luxury furniture.  All Mitch wants to do is find some solitude, feel something soft and curving and pliable.  A quiet place to curl into.  Surrounded by beans in a bag.
            Why you leaving me all by myself? Eddie says.  Come back up here, man.  Eddie picks up the empty bottle of Jack from where Little Bear left it.  He twists its neck with both hands as if he could wring whiskey from it.  Mitch stands up, feeling uneven, and stoops his way back to the passenger seat, his spinal cord grazing the dome light.
            Last drop, Eddie says as Mitch sits on the torn seat cover again.  Just think of it, man.  We’ve got some weed coming our way.  Hey, everything’s gonna be all right.
            So you say, Mitch says, thinking of his computer and his office and his supposedly boring life as he feels the chair’s fabric against his hand.  Life can’t always be a rush, he’d told Linda.  There are times when it’s good to contemplate what everything means.  Times to sit back.  Observe.  All you do is contemplate your navel, Linda had said.  Count the hairs on your chest.
            So, you think my troubles are just one of life’s little pit stops? Mitch says.
            Just one, Eddie says.  Life is life.
            Mitch tries to be a stoic, crosses his arms, rests them against his woven leather belt.  He feels the imprint of the basketweave pattern on his wrists.  Snap out of it, his therapist would say.
            I’m glad you showed up, Eddie, Mitch says as if he’s a Pavlov dog obeying the therapist’s words, uncrossing his arms and leaning one on the windowsill.  Your name came up every once in awhile.  Nobody knew anything.
            I’m still alive, Eddie says, his chest resting against the steering wheel, two hands snaking around the lambswool cover, staring out into the dark where the ancient street light shines on the broad summer leaves, making them an unreal yellow.  Mitch puts his hand out the window to feel the air.
            I bet Little Bear’s wife could get Tar, Eddie says.  We’re at the source, man.  We’re so close.
            Come on, Eddie, Mitch laughs to keep things cool.  In his head, he keeps seeing the vein on Eddie’s arm that looks like an overstuffed worm.  You a broken record or something? he says.  You told me we’d go out and look for weed, remember?  Little Bear’s getting it.  Everything’s cool, Eddie.  OK?
            OK, OK, Eddie says.  Just testing you.  You know I like watching you and your goat.
            Sure, Mitch says.  You and Linda.  You both think you’re so hip, whatever, whatever.  You think I’m a stone fish or something just cause I’m not out looking for the action every night.  I’m a person, remember?  Doesn’t anybody matter to anybody?  What’s all this me-me air people have to suck to keep alive?  Tell me, Eddie.
            You’re in the pits, Mitch.  Plain and simple.
            And you’re in the tar pits, Eddie.  Mitch looks over at Eddie with the sides of his eyes.
            A pit’s a pit, Eddie says, still staring out the window.
            Mitch wonders what’s so interesting about the isolated street light standing by itself in the back alley.  Maybe it holds a key of some kind.  Maybe Eddie’s onto something.  He contemplates the light shining by itself at the top of a wooden pole, way up in the air.  You’re a slave, Eddie, he says.
            And you’re not?
            There’s movement at the back door of the house.  Little Bear lumbers down the narrow wooden staircase, a big man with a chest that could house a ceremonial drum.  His hair brushes the tops of his shoulders.  The half light of the evening casts a shadow across his face, exaggerating the twisted cartilage at the bridge of his nose.  His hands are big at his sides, two of Mitch’s hands in one.  His Levis sag at the hips, not designed for his build, and he seems to be growing into Big Bear as he approaches the van.
            He’s big, Mitch says as he maneuvers back to his place on the floor.  What are we doing messing with a guy like this?
            Eddie doesn’t answer.  He’s leaning toward the door Little Bear is opening and dusting off the dome light to better inspect the goods.
            Did you score? Eddie asks as Little Bear slides into the vacated seat, wearing the smell of alcohol like a mask.
            Did I say I’d get you weed or not?  Little Bear is irritated.  He leans forward in his seat and puts his hands flat, fingers facing each other mid-thigh, head down.  If I say I’ll do something, I do it.  Got that?  Don’t you have any respect for a man’s word?  He turns his head toward Eddie, his head still bent forward.
            Yeah man, I do, Eddie says, but he keeps staring out the window in the direction of the broken sidewalk leading to the narrow wooden stairs, the back of the house.  There’s Tar in there, he says.  I know there’s Tar.
            Shut the fuck up about Tar.  I keep my word, Little Bear says.  The word I gave you.  Do you understand?
            Yeah, yeah.  I get the message.
            You don’t sound like you get the message, my friend.  Pay attention.  Little Bear is expanding, his chest powering up, ten tribes blossoming there.  Mitch feels like opening the cargo door and running from this air that’s turning nuclear.
            You think I’m a con or something? Eddie asks like his brain’s disconnected.  He’s trying not to stare out the window, but he’s fixated on the back stairs of the house.  I love your kind, man.
            You love my kind, huh?  Little Bear’s fists are rising slowly and Eddie’s not getting it.  And what’s my kind, buddy?
            I love everybody, Eddie says in a soft TV preacher kind of voice as he turns toward Little Bear.  Black, Red, Turquoise.  Peace and harmony.  Get that through your skull, Little Bear.
            Even though Mitch’s head is off kilter and swirling, he can’t believe he’s hearing this.  Eddie’s stepped over the line.  He’s flipped.  Mitch believes in knives and knuckles covered with blood and he’s ready to pull the long handle on the sliding door and spring for cover.
            Don’t talk about my skull, Little Bear says as he edges off his chair in Eddie’s direction.  I’m Rosebud Sioux.  See these fists.  Shut up about love, all your little flowers and doves.  Shut up, man.
            But it’s real love I’m talking about, Little Bear.  Eddie’s holding out his hands, palms lighted by the dome light.
            Eddie, Mitch says loudly.  Cool it.  Didn’t you hear the man?
            Listen to your friend, Little Bear says.
            He doesn’t believe me, Mitch.  That’s the trouble with people.  Suddenly Eddie’s punching the steering wheel with the heel of his hand.  Why don’t you believe me, man?  And then Eddie’s an explosion.  He’s shouting.  Why don’t you believe me?  He’s slapping the dashboard with both hands.  He’s swinging one arm wildly.
            Mitch rolls to a crouch, half stands, ready to split the scene.  Eddie.  Cut it.
            And a fist crosses the space between the two captain’s chairs in the front of the van.  Hits the bone by Eddie’s right eye.  Mitch is stunned by the sound of the fist connecting with Eddie’s cheekbone.  The sound that doesn’t reverberate.  Stops cold.
            That’s nothing, Little Bear says.  Be quiet, you punk.  Now.
            Eddie’s mouth and eyes contort with pain.  He cradles the side of his face with both hands, twists his lips.  Little Bear pulls a plastic baggie from the pocket of his Bronco’s jacket, unfolds it, picks a fat bud out with two fingers, licks the top of the bag and folds it down.  He hands it to Mitch, then opens the door which moans with the pain of old age.  He slides out of the van, walks like a bear down the alley beneath the ancient streetlight and disappears between the shadows of garages.
            The silence is accentuated by the ticking of the cooling motor.  The crickets have stopped.  Inside, there’s a feeling of something settling.  Mud perhaps.  Slippery mud oozing over the floor, made from the dust of the ancestors.
            You OK, man?  Mitch is kneeling at Eddie’s side, the palm of his hand on Eddie’s leg.
            Eddie’s still holding his face.
            Anything broken? Mitch asks.
            No answer.
            Couldn’t you see he was getting ready to hit you?
            He didn’t believe me, Eddie whispers, his voice bruised.  That’s why everything’s so screwed up.  Nobody believes in love anymore.
            Why should they, man?
            Eddie touches his face gingerly, not seeming to hear Mitch’s question.
            Mitch wants to say, Worry about yourself, Eddie.  But he doesn’t.  Instead he wonders what he and Eddie will do after the silver van rumbles down the alley and back onto the streets.  Maybe Eddie’ll have to move on, or maybe he needs a rest.  Maybe it’s time for Mitch to close the door on the Lovely Linda and her Torture Chamber.  Whatever, as he helps Eddie into the passenger seat and slides into the driver’s spot, Mitch has the uncanny sensation of walking across large white margins into the realm of another story.  Another one of the 5.2 billion.  And he wonders how this one will end or if any of them ever do.

You can find out more about author Phyllis Barber on her website, www.phyllisbarber.com.

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