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Wandering Souls-13

October 26, 2013

     The man in the brown car coat called to him and said, “Over here Dewey,” and held one of the double doors open.  “Go on in,” he said.  Stepping past him into the darkened hall Dewey said, “Excuse me.”
     In the movie house the high walls were peach colored stucco and painted in a wild west theme.  There were cacti and buffalo and cowboys on horseback spinning lassos, chasing long-horned cattle that would never be caught.
     It was a wide hall full of seat rows, these in a subtle curve facing the huge stage and screen.  Every seat was occupied, the smiling watchers sitting shoulder to shoulder studying the great screen on which a family, a Chinese family, ate dinner.
     In a restaurant: father, mother, two daughters and an infant in a booster chair at a table crowded with one those Chinese meals of many little dishes.  The baby, laughing, reaching, grabbing at the little plates, the parents and sisters, laughing, moving things away from the baby’s grasp.  Trying to eat between moves in a continuing game of dinner and chess and everybody laughing.  The rapt watcher, their eyes following the baby’s grabs and the family’s counter moves, laughed too; an excited chuckling that combined in the hall like a thousand divas and echoed and echoed until the cowboys and cattle on the wall seemed to tremble.
     Dewey was rapt as well, wandering down the center aisle unnoticed past three or four rows, his eyes on the screen, the chirping baby, the smiling children and laughing parents.  He found himself standing beside a seated man, a large man with a huge bald head and Dewey tapped the big man’s shoulder, said “Excuse me.”
     The great head turned a flat, placid face to Dewey that, upon seeing him, ballooned with fear.  The abrupt swelling centered and seemingly powered by the dark, gaping mouth that lead to a yawning abyss, the throat leading down it to a body of horror that released in Dewey’s face a keening howl of terror and his body, beginning exactly where Dewey’s nudging finger had touched his shoulder, brittled and powdered to ash falling away leaving wisps of the bald man glittering in the screen’s reflected light.
     Warned by the bald man’s bellow each face in the crowded theater turned to look and each, as their eyes beheld Dewey, was split by that high mourning cry and the audience, each a half beat after the other, dissolved like dry leaves before the opened door of a blast furnace, their ash falling until the last was so powdered and a cold gust swept the hall gathering the ash into a twisting, banner of cloud that circled over Dewey’s head once and, whipping up, out of sight leaving Dewey alone in the theater with the man in the brown car coat who said, “Boy, you sure know how to ruin a good time.”
     “What were they watching?”
     “Life.”
     “Who’s?”
     “There you go.  You don’t get it.  It’s all the same thing.  It’s everybody’s.  You speak to spirits you’re talking to yourself.”
     Dewey gestured to the empty seats.  “What are they afraid of?”
     “You you dumb shit.   You head breaker, face basher.  You are monstrous.  Gentle souls these.  They can’t abide the horror.”
     “Why aren’t you afraid?  Why do you talk to me?”
     “Because I’m an asshole.  I still have work to do.  Have to go back one day and do that dull cycle again.  Only assholes want to contact you boobs.  Have to be a jerk.”
     “The lady’s not a jerk.”
     “No.  No she’s not.  I didn’t mean that.  She has unfinished business, important business and she’s picked you, you stupid shit, but you’re too damned dub to pick up on it.”
     He reached out with shocking speed grabbing Dewey’s shoulder and shook him, Dewey as hapless in his grasp as a mouse gasping in the tomcat’s maw.  “Wake up,” the man yelled, his voice with a power that crashed like a rogue wave in the theater and slammed into the walls.  “A door’s been opened for you, a mission given and you can’t see it.  So I’m here, sack of shit that I am, in the hope that I can point you in the right direction.”
     He let go of Dewey, then grabbed him again as he wobbled fighting for balance, held him up and pushed him toward a seat saying, “Sit down.”  Then he said, “You got a smoke?”
     Dewey nodded, reached inside his coat for the pack in the shirt pocket and held it out.  The man in the brown car coat took one, Dewey took one and then, putting the pack back, pulled his Zippo from his pants pocket and lighted them both.  Dewey pointed through the growing smoke cloud and said, “That what killed you?”
     “Yeah.”
     “Cancer?”
     Sucking hard on the cigarette, the man shook his head ‘no’ and then spoke, the words slipping out with the smoke.  “Trying to light up while I was driving.  Drifted out of my lane and went headers with a Roadmaster.  Died in the meat wagon on the way to the hospital.”  He grinned at Dewey.  “My last words were asking the ambulance guy to find my cigarettes.”
     “You’re here to help me communicate?”
     “No, I’m here to hit you up along side the head, metaphorically speaking.”
     “Listen,” Dewey said.  “Could you pass a message for me?”
     “To some stiff?”
     “I’m not sure.”
     “You don’t know if they’re dead or not?”
     “Not really.”
     “And you want me to find out this little thing for you?”
     “Yes.”
     “Who is it?”
     “A girl.  A girl I knew a long time ago.  Gwen.”
     “Last name?”
     “I don’t know.”
     “Just Gwen?”
     Nodding Dewey said, “That was her bar name.”
     “What was her real name.”
     “She never told me.”
     “You didn’t even know her real name?”
     “No.”
     “Smooth.  Well, hang on.”  While remaining the same, the man’s face changed, becoming as dull as a cow, then as sharp as a ferret’s. It grieved and teared, chuckled and roared, looked dazzled, then amazed, then woebegone.  Then he came back into his pissed, amused demeanor and said, “She’s here and your son.  Both of them.  She left the child with friends and stepped on a mine on the Cambodian border.  Trying to get to Thailand, to America, to you.  Her friends got tired of the baby and he lived on the streets, grew to be a big boy, strong and mean.  His father’s gift.  He was a pickpocket, a drug dealer, a pimp.  Pumped himself full of his own shit one day and stepped in front of a truck.”
     “A son?”
     “You knew?”
     “She told me she thought she was pregnant.  Didn’t know yet.”
     “And you thought just another gook girl looking for a husband, a ticket to the U.S.”
     “Yeah.”
     “But you knew, didn’t you.  You knew she wasn’t lying, it wasn’t a trick.  Yes you did.  Oh yes you did you rotten piece of shit.”
     “I know.  Can I talk to her?”
     “Gwen’s in seclusion.  After the chaos…she’s in seclusion.  So many people need comforting when they get here.  You ground pounders give them such a hard time.”
     “In seclusion still?”
     He shrugged.  “The good you do is eternal, the evil damned near.  It takes time to calm the terror.”
     “Is there anything I can do for her?”
     “You’ll have to ask Gwen about that.  I doubt it.  Your work with Gwen is done I think.”
     “I think about her,” Dewey said.  “Remember her.  I’ve always felt bad about what happened, if that means anything.”
     “Of course it does.  Don’t you pay attention?  Everything means something.”
     He looked at Dewey, hard blue eyes flanking a long, pale nose.  “You are a prick.  Must be something I can’t see.  Anyway, the dead cat.  It was in the summer of 1967.  Just before your senior year in high school.  Just before you finished that up and had the war, the draft to worry about.  Being grown up, all that shit.  The last year you were a kid and you were walking down a road, a little country road in Independence County, Arkansas.  It had been hot and dry and the red clay there was blowing away, red dust coming in under the door, into your eyes, your teeth.  Some time later you’d spit red dust out in Southeast Asia and think, ‘Just like home.’  You saw the cat, in the road, in the dust.  Flattened and split open, nearly turned inside out by the lumber truck or Chrysler or whatever that ran it over that hot day in Arkansas.  Didn’t even look like a cat anymore.  It looked like a sick caricature of a cat, a cartoon cat and there were the crows.  The crows, black dusted with red, peck-peck-pecking at the cat, tearing it where it was smashed into the road.  You walked up quietly, got closer, where you could see and you did see didn’t you?  You saw that the crows weren’t eating the cat, but the maggots swarming in its rotting flesh.  And you could even see the fleas, the cat’s fleas leaving the cold body, crawling up the crows’ yellow legs, heading into the dark feathers to feed there.  You saw that the crows were eating the maggots that were eating the cat whose fleas were jumping onto the black birds to eat the crows.”
     “And you were consuming too.  Looking at them and taking their image and feeding on it.  Bright kid.  You understood that you were metaphysically feeding.  Didn’t know the right terms, but you knew it. And then you thought of the draft and the war and how you were just one more item on the menu, crow and cat and flea and worm and you.  Not even an entree, just a bit.  Just a snack on the world’s plate.  One more bite for society or God or chaos or cosmos.  Couldn’t put a name on it, but you saw your place as brightly as the middle of a megaton.  A cocktail wiener on a toothpick.”
     “You thought you’d gone blind, didn’t you.  Well, light does that but you forgot didn’t you bright boy.  Went to that war and got your ass eaten right up, but you had a taste too, oh yes.  Quite the little glutton, you.”
     He shook his head.  “We feed too, those of us not out of the cycle, we hunger.  We feed on emotion.  You guys are our little beanery serving up pots and pots of hate and love and fear.  Oh my, we are well fed.  Back to the crows.  Remember now what you felt then?  Just at the moment of your revelation?  Remember the base emotions stirring that ragged soul of yours.  Fear and fascination, disgust and delight, all at once like biting into a pie and tasting each individual ingredient while also tasting what they have blended to create.  And tasting what it’ll become in your gut and what you’ll finally shit out for the flies to feed on.  And tasting what the flies taste.  Every flavor of every stage, all at once, all different and the same.  You saw then and knew,but you forgot.” 
     He jabbed Dewey with the hand holding the cigarette.  “Remember,” he said.  “Remember and act on the memory.  That’s what it’s all about.”
     “What if I don’t remember?”
     “I don’t know.  I don’t know everything.”
     “But what is it?”
     “Call it the big picture, the great mystery, the little riddle.”
     “You’ve seen it too haven’t you.  Tell me.”
     He pushed Dewey away, turned and walked up the aisle to the doors calling back over his shoulder, “Find it on your own.  You left them to die.  You’ll get nothing from me.”  Pushing one door open the man in the brown car coat paused, turned halfway back and said, “Just watch the damned movie.”
     Morning and Dewey, sitting on the side of the bed, the smell of the man in the brown car coat’s cigarette in his nose, smoked his own cigarettes, one after the other.  It was an hour before he was up scrabbling and hopping around his room, getting into his trousers and shirt; getting properly perched up on his cane and standing at the door, waiting for his courage to arrive, the courage to open it and begin the long hike down the hallway to her door.

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