Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Stepping out on the wet sidewalk, Mark straightens the tail on his ragged shirt. What’s the hustle today? Asshole pissed all over his sign last night, so sidewalk cruising is out. No back up. It’s the story of his life. Get a scheme set up and some jerk screws it up for you. Of course, his warm bed was gone when he plowed the fat face into the wall. At least he did snag an extra cup of coffee as he went out the door. An ambulance screams past, turning in to the hospital across the street. Anybody he knows? Who cares? Most of the idiots he knows would stick you as to look at you.
The clang startles him as the purse misses his head and hits the pole. He looks up to see a strange woman screaming at him. She is a molten mass flowing on the sidewalk. A bored cop materializes in front of them, writing notes about some attack she claimed she witnessed. Nice to know there are crazier people than him. A bunny haired girl sits quietly on the wall watching the scene play out. She is the only smart one. Finally, the cop tells both of them to move it and Mark obliges. No sense starting the day in jail.
Shambling on, he turns the corner. He usually works the saps willing to throw a dollar to make you go away. And a dollar is what he needs. He sees a woman in a flowered skirt fiddling in the back of a VW Bus in the next block, Her long, graying hair flowing reminding him of an old hippie mother he knew in California. This looks like a good score.
“Problem, Ma’am?” He asks quietly.
A serene face turned towards him, smiling. “This old thing is being a pain this morning. I was heading towards the store and it decided to quit. One of these days, I am just going to have to retire her.”
“Want me to give it a try?” Mark asked
“Sure. It needs to get her out of the street before the tow trucks come. I don’t have the cash to bail her out.”
The van has its own mocking energy, almost daring him to approach. Leaning down in the engine bay, he sees the loose wire and secures it with an old twist tie he has in his pocket. The van starts immediately. Squealing with delight, the calm woman rewards him with a kiss.
“Thank you so much. I was at a loss what to do. I don’t have any money with me, but could I give you a ride?”
“I don’t really have any place to go. “
“How about my house?” She replied “I’ll fix you dinner and you don’t have to hustle today. By the way, my name is Kari.”
“Mark.” He shakes the offered hand. This is working better than he thought it would.
The accumulated papers fly off the front VW’s passenger seat. Climbing in, Mark spots an amethyst heart hanging from the rear mirror. Visions of brown skin and flowers filled his mind. It looked like Keisha’s heart. Mark shook a little at the memory.
“Interesting piece. Where did you get it?”
“I found it in a pawn shop in New Orleans a while back.” Kari shifted gears. “There was something magical about it, like it had a destiny and a past. I like stuff like that, so I bought it.”
The amulet warmed Mark’s hand and he struggled to control the tears that came out of nowhere. The street in front of him transformed into the hurricane shelter. Just as quickly, the image was gone.
“I knew a girl who had one like it.” A hint of sadness filled Mark’s voice.
“Really? Sounds like a story to hear over some wine and a joint.”
They fell silent. The van turned on to a side street and pulled up to an older structure in a neighborhood that had seen better days. Just past the house, the street dead ended at a rail yard. The sound of trains was loud and constant. A young black boy stared at her Earth Mother neighbor and her latest companion. To him, it seemed a like a new one every night.
She produced a key ring and jiggled the door open. As they came in he noticed a pack of Camels and a small Bible sat next to an easy chair. He notices the place smells more like reefer than tobacco. A torn leather sofa sat along the wall opposite the windows. No plants or indications of animals. There was just human habitation and an air of quiet desperation.
She pointed down the hall towards the bathroom. “Washcloths are in on the shelf and there should be enough soap. Just set the clothes outside the door and I’ll take of them. Take your time”.
Mark thanked her and went on down the hall. A few framed photographs of long dead relatives looked solemnly upon him. He wondered if there were any pictures of him somewhere? Probably not. He wasn’t much for pictures and he figured any of his relatives would like to forget he existed anyway. He flipped on the light and stepped into the spartan bathroom.
As his rags floated to the floor, thoughts raced through his mind. Who is this woman and why has she come into his life now? As the warm water cascades down his face, he begins to cry a little. It is almost as if God had finally heard his prayers. Everyone else he met had left him broken and broken hearted. Or he bailed when things got to hot. He was always a coward, sneaking out in the middle of the night to avoid the results of his actions. He still had to wonder what was the catch?
A knock on the door and Mark takes the offered robe. He comes back to the small living room to find a sandwich and a cup of tea on the table in front of the sofa. The fear was growing. He takes a bite and leans back. The past has come back somehow. It didn’t matter how many drugs he did or whose shelter he was hiding out in, Keisha was still there. Shaking, he thinks back to the hurricane shelter and wonders what ever happened to her. The memory of the heart hanging over his face is overwhelming.
Sleep overtakes him. Young girls and old women switch places in his as they float above him. He tosses on the couch. Keisha’s rich form and scent fill his nose. He reaches out to touch the mirage as it vaporizes. He awakes to a round geisha face. She has his clothes and a bottle of Riesling. The warm fabric against his skin is soothing as he puts them on. He is more alive that he has ever been. Kari smiles back at him.
“If you like, you can crash here tonight. I don’t bite.”
She senses a wall is coming down on the silver heart’s secret. The heart belonged elsewhere. She was just the foster parent, and she knew it. Like a caged animal, the heart filled any room with longing energy. The reward for the service was near.
Sitting next to him on the couch she hands Mark a glass of wine.
"So, where are you from?" Kari asked
Mark leans back and takes a sip. "Army Brat. I lost track of all the places we lived. Germany, Italy, up north. Dad died and, I finished up school in California. I stayed a while working on cars. VW’s mostly. That’s how I knew where to look for the problem on the bus. That generator wire works loose quite often and it just needs to be secured. Anyway, I did pretty well and had a good time.”
“Boredom and a DUI sent me up to Vegas Bright lights and all that. I met a girl in one the smaller casinos. Soft blond hair and a body that wouldn’t quit. She worked as a dealer and made pretty good money. We moved in together and had a daughter. I found a job in a small shop out by the Air Base. Things seemed to be working pretty well. " He grabbed a cigarette and lit it.
Kari handed him an ashtray. "What happened to her?"
"I started drinking pretty heavy and she didn’t like it. Can’t blame her really. One night, I got really lit and found her in our bed with this black guy. I freaked out and started swinging. Screams and blood everywhere. I got hit a couple of times. The scar on my face is where he got me with a knife he found. It wasn't pretty. "
Kari nodded. "Your daughter?"
"I’m not sure if she was even in the apartment or not. I got in my car and left afterward. I never even turned on the news to see if they were alive or dead. I just hit the road. “
“I drifted east. Denver. Oklahoma City. I landed in St. Louis for awhile. I worked construction and still worked on cars on the side. The guys I worked with never asked me any questions, so I never told them any lies. Started smoking Ice about then. I found I could go several days straight on it without many problems except when I needed to sleep. Then I would be a handful. Got arrested a couple of times, but I guess there never was a warrant from Vegas. At least nothing they ever found. “
“The construction work ran out and winter there sucks, so I went down to New Orleans. Worked at an oil refinery up river. It was a good gig, so I cut down on the Meth.. Only smoked when I needed to stay awake for a swing shift. Things were beginning to settle down when Katrina came and I got chased down to Houma to ride everything out. I …met a girl there.”
He went silent. Kari slipped her arms around his shoulders. Tears were forming around the creased eyes. The silence held thick in the room. Mark gulped down his wine and poured another glass. Kari sipped hers and waited. In as soft voice she quietly asked.
“What did she look like?”
Mark took another gulp of wine. Coughing a bit, he found his voice again.
“Keisha was a young black girl. She might have been 14 by the way she acted, but was but had a huge rack. She wore an amethyst heart on a silver chain, very similar to yours, that would dangle in her cleavage. I used to kid her on how the purple shone off her skin and she would just giggle. The sweet sound was something that was always in short supply in the shelter.”
“We were battlefield companions, sort of. She was separated from her family during the evacuation and she was pretty scared. We would spend the day playing cards and talking. She had a couple of girlfriends she would go off with every now and then. There were a lot of scared and scary people in the shelter. But she would always come back. She told me she felt safe with me.”
“The night when the other hurricane came in, we were in the shelter. It sounded like God himself was smiting us. We smoked little weed I had to calm us down and she snuggled in close. I held her and my hand started drifting under her shirt. She pulled away.”
He stopped again. Mark’s chest heaved and buckled as Kari held him. She kissed his damp face gently. She poured the last of the wine into his glass and handed it to him.
“Go on, Honey. You need to get it out. The memory is poisoning your soul. ”
Mark looked up into the Geisha’s face. This was his final confession. He knew police and jail were close to him and he didn’t want to go. But the memory was too strong and it flowed from his lips like a flood.
“I pulled her back against me. The shirt and bra lifted, exposing her small copper nipples. The silver heart hung between them. My hand brushed gently against her skin as I kissed her. She bucked a little under my weight.”
“Suddenly, there was no resistance. The Heart was offered and I kissed it hungrily. I kissed those breasts and smelled the unwashed skin. She gently stroked me. We both knew we needed something then. The Heart was glowing like it was another person joining us. It felt warm with joy as it dipped on and off of my chest. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes before it was over. The flower was mine and the Heart was satisfied. We settled back against each other and slept like children, not worrying about whether anyone saw our nakedness. The next morning she brought me breakfast and we made love again.”
“Later an uncle found her while she was hanging with her girl friends. I saw the reunion from across the room. There was happiness there and I didn’t want to interrupt. I couldn’t see the Heart. I don’t know if she ever let on what had happened with me, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I snuck on to one of the evacuation buses and ended up here. “
Mark collapsed back on the couch as silence filled the room. The silver heart began to glow on the table beside them. Kari knew what the Great Spirit needed from her. Slipping the Heart on, she brought Mark’s face up to her breast. Glinting in the lamplight, the silver heart beckoned him to let its healing energy to touch his soul. Kissing away his tears, Kari held tight. There was no sin to forgive, just Keisha’s grateful spirit to impart. Mark was home.