Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Crossing Death’s Path at Night…



illustration by Kort Fox


Crossing Death’s Path at Night…
by L. Edgar Otto


I am walking at night, making a circuit of the islands, the
bars from Barstow and Water streets, peering inside, never
going in alone, learning the denizens. I see the deaf girl in
the floppy hat, the shorty singing karaoke. I wave. He does
not see me. I know now he and my dark angel did not date;
only spied upon imagined voices in the joints.
I sing between the blocks of nearly empty streets and
write a country song about craving the neon lights and noise
after a love goes silent in that place like any other place one
finds himself in--- that stalemate in a meaningless game;
stranded. That place where there is no way to cross the
expanse of once familiar seas and only scavengers and wild
man eyes and tigers in disguise; uncaring and unseen to me
who senses this town of memories foreign and full of
strangers. Nothing to do but walk.

I stop a young lady I’d seen passing by with nods on
other nightsI am walking at night, making a circuit of the islands, the
bars from Barstow and Water streets, peering inside, never
going in alone, learning the denizens. I see the deaf girl in
the floppy hat, the shorty singing karaoke. I wave. He does
not see me. I know now he and my dark angel did not date;
only spied upon imagined voices in the joints.

I sing between the blocks of nearly empty streets and
write a country song about craving the neon lights and noise
after a love goes silent in that place like any other place one
finds himself in--- that stalemate in a meaningless game;
stranded. That place where there is no way to cross the
expanse of once familiar seas and only scavengers and wild
man eyes and tigers in disguise; uncaring and unseen to me
who senses this town of memories foreign and full of
strangers. Nothing to do but walk.

I stop a young lady I’d seen passing by with nods on
other nights in these hours between coffee shop closing early
and last calls and rowdy crowds and borderlines for
swerving drunk drivers. Wisconsin summers are for road
construction and freedom from her one other season; Arctic
winter. They are a time to waste and walk until I slip behind
the boxes in the factory to sleep; entering late enough that
the security guards would not care, would not smile and
observe my miniature tobacco pipe--- no privacy although so
high the rent. I will lay among rolling papers, shreds of harsh
hangover trash gleaned from the floors of auction houses
sold to Americans back home in Caroline Virginia. I ask her
to let me walk with her to the Bottle and Barrel. She is a
working girl wanting to see what the guy she met last Friday
wanted. She will stay for a time and walk back home, saying
she was not afraid and never bothered to be during her
weekend walks down this lower class ghetto of a
neighborhood.

The drunks pass us, stumble. But wait until they pass
us with cat calls and violent remarks. Then the police stare,
surprised and white faced; pretend not to see us. By now
they are used to my walking and no longer follow. They are
sure I’m just one of the river rat winos; but one who doesn’t
drink or cause trouble. Or perhaps they think I am one of the
positive-avenue mentally ill who wander at night and say,
“Hi Joe, see you at the soup kitchen slop shop tomorrow”, or
grunt at the blonde old bag lady who happily grunts back
“hello”. I recite to the young girl my song lyrics as she says
she likes the live bands. I think of how the others must see
me and still allow themselves to feel safe--- they understand
me as if I’m on some medication; as if I’m talking to myself,
like the bag lady does: “Hey, your payee takes too much of
your money, Mande, to not let you go at night for coffee at
Burger King.” Yeah babe, keep cursing them under your
breath.

“I’ll walk you back if you don’t stay,” I say to the
young working girl. We talk of when she too worked in the
old tire factory--- almost derelict again as the economy keeps
sliding down.
But I lose her in the crowd, thinking I might buy a
beer; maybe talk with Sue, who lives here. She is the party
chairman, socializing. Maybe I’ll bring it up to her how the
county has made it so hard for my family in spite of
obligations from the state. I am a veteran without
disabilities; granted quality in nothing, not even quality in
my lifelong quest for the promised education or training for
better work than washing dishes. KP trained me for that, and
I also became an expert marksman.

God, I hate badges now and would never want to
wear one. I see all the kids in detention for playing hooky;
suspended for three days of hanging out at the mall; a year
before they can go to college again. If I were ever called for
jury duty and voted again, I would declare them all innocent.
I was cuffed on hearsay for what I’d never done and worse.
Without trial they took my child in handcuffs from his home.
No dependents now, we live on the street.
I was in my bag lady disguise, having a small plastic
see thru brown bag with a jar of peanuts and two cans of
Doctor Pepper. The bartender and the B&B and the bouncer-
-- both drinking—say “You can’t bring that in here. You’ll
have to leave.”
“But I just bought this for morning at my shop and
was finally going to buy a beer. Don’t worry, it is not twelve
and you won’t get in trouble.”
“Just leave.”
So I wave goodbye to her through the window and
begin the final walk past the long industrial building down
Galloway by the river, before the path on the bank in the
woods turns into a bike trail. I never wanted to walk it at
night. Once I encountered a staring deer; frozen, stopped.
Only when I rattled my keys did it awkwardly turn and
scamper back along its path.
Then I saw him--- horse and a large black robe and
hood; pristine. He was entering the path in the woods
parallel to my long sidewalk of lights and noise and plastic
smells. It was Midsummer and not Halloween. I think maybe
I’m imagining this, maybe some old Wiccan lady crossdresses;
out now so as not to be seen in the dead of night,
dressed too warm for day. Maybe Death is some true myth,
hokey and forgotten, like Bigfoot. Or like the time I
challenged God to send a bolt from the blue and a three-foot
hole in my apartment ceiling blew out 25 water heaters.
But Death does not see me, so I walk faster and
whistle my new and happy tune, joyful and full of nuances
of emotions. They betray. I do not whistle in the dark.
Anyway, if this is death, I have a bone to pick with
him. How dare he take Kinsey’s mom and leave the four
children. How dare he confuse the prey--- waiting,
accepting, grooming herself for the claws and teeth; saying
no to life and love, to eating or being eaten. Rape as well as
love are now as meaningless as the pretentions of justice,
institutions of learning and state, the expectations of work
and marriage, and the chemical imbalances of therapists-asdealers.
Death comes out of the path walking faster than I’d thought
and passes the transformers for electricity for the complex
before the bike path. I have half a block to go and gain on
him, he slows. I continue my song. We are the only ones
walking along in the same direction. By chance and not
design, I stop at the east entrance and rattle my keys,
opening the door. He must know that from here on, our paths
alone together would cross; danger between strangers along
the bike path. He turns to look at me, white faced and frozen.
I stop and stare back. I go inside and lock the door as he
scampers into the distance.

* * * As appearing in FANBOY magazine and edited by David Racine

1 comment:

  1. this is making me want to read more. nice job!

    ReplyDelete