She snapped her fingers.
I must have fallen asleep. The last thing I remember was that she was dangling her feet in the muddy water and pointing at the shadow of the floater. She said something about dust and ashes, and then the dreams...
They were not about her, not exactly. They were about a roof top and a chasm, and a flag waving on a pole that tumbled end over end into oblivion... They were about a little kid in a hay loft in the night sweat of summer, they were about hay hooks hung from a chain. They were about a monster.
And then she shook me. The planks were hot and wet against my cheek. They smelled of creosote and oil. My face was tear stained. I didn't remember why I was crying.
She sat in a disheveled heap with her pack clenched to her chest and her face hidden behind her hair. Next to her was a green and black turtle shell textured notebook with JOURNAL printed on the cover. I didn't say anything.
"It's my journal."
Time passed. I stared at the water. She fumbled with her hair.
"I was thinking about cutting it off."
"That's nice." I said.
"Nice? Is that all you can come up with?"
"OK." I said. "I remember when I thought I was a poet. I had just arrived in San Francisco. I was full of myself. I remember spinning on a street corner in North Beach. A clown did tricks nearby and barkers bleated out a spiel. The smell of fish and garlic and chop suey frying rode the breeze off China Town, wound around City Lights and Vesuvios and passed my corner like junk in the tide on it's way out the gate."
"I know. I lived there." She said sharply and yawned.
"Something in common."
"Don't count on it."
She dug through the contents of her pack.
"Every experience gives me more to write about."
"I remember when I said that too. I read Rimbaud and caught strange fish from my drunken boat. I found enlightenment in an open page of a telephone book. I was insufferable."
"I don't read. Real life is strange enough. What's the point?"
"It is." I replied and nodded. "Too strange. It's even stranger that you don't read."
She turned on me. Anger in her eyes.
"Why? Because I'm a poet? I'm a poet because the things I feel are trapped and words are the easiest way to set them free. What can I say, I'm lazy. I don't want to make a statement about anything. I'm a narcissist. Seeing my reflection in the pool is fine with me. I'd like to get in so deep I feel like I'm drowning but something always stops me."
"That's just a cop out."
"Don't try to define me, old man." She snapped.
"Don't be so defensive. It's just words. Me, I just got tired of running."
"Idle hands are the devils playground." She said and got up.
I looked up at her.
"What makes you think I want you in "next"?
"If I was you I'd say women's intuition."
"Go ahead, you can be girly if you want. People are weird."
"That's not what I meant."
"Yeah, well, I mean to walk. There's a park near here and a Ferigamo boutique off the park. You buy?."
"What makes you think I want to?"
"Everybody wants. I had a boyfriend once who collected nothing but pictures of legs. He cut off the bodies. They all wore shoes. I want Ferigamos. What's the difference? It could be people."
"That's not what I mean."
"Who cares what you mean. You mean what you are. The rest is just words. I see through words. Poet, remember? Blah blah blah."
Somehow satisfied with what she found in her bag she shoved it all back inside and stood there, staring at the water.
"Sometimes I feel like that would be something." She said, nodding in the direction of the floater.
"What do you mean, 'something'?"
""To float, face down in the water staring down at the fish."
"All you'd see out there is junk, that is until your eyes start to rot from all the industrial chemicals in the water."
"So! It would still be something. An ending, that's what it would be. Not to always wake up and it's more of the same, day after day, living, on and on past all hope of rhyme or reason. Always feeling like I could do more, be more. No matter how much I do that it's never enough. I get so sick of it, always trying to live up to some greatness that probably wouldn't be any different than what I'm doing now except that it got popular. People got obsessed with it and turned the person who happened to do it into something insufferable that nobody could live with without turning into a characature. I mean, how sincere can you be if everyone thinks you're God?"
I didn't have a ready retort to volley. Actually, it made me uncomfortable to hear her talking about things that I knew only too well. I've been there, trapped in the hamster cage of fame for so long that I forgot who I was and the only solution was to kill it before it killed me. So I shut up and looked around. The other side of the river was shrouded in fog. Ponderous tugboats churned the water. Close to shore, seagulls made an exclamation over some garbage.
I got up and stretched. I was stiff and sore in places that had remained unstrained since I was young and adventurous. Being stiff didn't matter. I knew that behind the physical surface sensation didn't matter. Standing knee deep in sub-zero snow at midnight with no ride in sight was worse, much worse, but eventually it was only a memory. No matter how bad it was, eventually everythiing was only a memory. Anyway, I was only a kid.
I didn't want to be where suddenly I was- an old man living in the past, rekindling the ruthless boy who would stop at nothing. I wasn't ruthless any more.
"I try to tune out what isn't important as much as possible." I said.
"You mean you don't feel pain?"
"It's what's behind it that matters. You have to get past the pain to see it. Some time I catch a glimpse- a flickering behind the eyelids, sometimes I just think I do."
"Philosophy, or masochism?." She scoffed. "Come or stay, I'm leaving."
She started walking.
I followed. It seemed that I was destined to follow this poet- like obsession, I was expected to follow blindly. So I did. As if with blinders on I followed her butt as it twitched down the sidewalk.
We passed a gas station.
"Wait a minute. I've got to pee and do a magic trick." She said, mysteriously, and headed for the toilet.
I shuffled around, still half awake. Coffee was the only thing that made sense to me but a cafe was nowhere in sight. I looked through the travel destination plastered window of the station and saw a coffee machine. I went in and got a large espresso. It tasted terrible but it was coffee and I offered it up to the gods. Soon my head cleared. I stood outside in the dawn sun with my eyes shut. The smell of roses and dust and old oil mingled on the breeze.
She strutted out of the bathroom like she was striding onto a run way. She had the models walk and the pouty pout pout down pat. Her act was in high gear and she was dressed to match in black tights and a little skirt and a velvet vest over a tight top. Her hair was chopped, like she took the ax to it and left nothing to the imagination. The hair tips on the right side of her face were bleached white. They fell across her mouth like claws on a screen whispering to get in.
"Don't look at me like that."
"Don't dress like that."
"I thought you were a chief, or at least an indian."
"There have to be some some where. It might as well have been you."
She sighed dramatically.
"Would it have mattered?"
"You mean would I love you? Probably not. but at least you would be someone I could respect."
"At least you're honest."
"Yeah!" She said, "At least."
She strutted her stuff shamelessly in that way that told you that she either had nothing or too much to lose. It didn't matter which to me. I just looked at her. When she said "magic trick" she wasn't fooling.
What was this supposed to teach me?
"Don't waste your time. "She said, as if she knew what I was thinking.
"Good. Now, lets get going." Without further ado she scooped up her pack and tossed it to me.
"Here. this isn't part of the clown costume."
I caught it and stood there, not sure what to do.
She solved the problem. She turned and proceeded down the sidewalk. I trailed along behind, again enthralled by her tight butt in the tight skirt and how it signaled every move- again being caught up in the paradox of how mysterious life was. I never knew, from moment to moment, what would be revealed next.
"Don't leer at my ass." She said over her shoulder.
At the end of the block she took a sharp left and for a moment was lost from sight. When I turned the corner she had stopped and was talking to two rat-like men with multiple piercing, wearing black leather. They looked like brothers. The same lanky greased hair, the same ratty eyes, nibbling at her body as she talked. As I approached I heard one of them mumble something about a rave and nudge the other one who stared at me as I moved closer.
"What are you looking at grandpa?" he growled belligerently.
"Shut the fuck up." She said. "He's with me."
"Oh, that's different."
"Not that different." She snapped.
Nothing like kicking the "old guy".
I knew none of it mattered. None of these people mattered. Nothing they could do or say mattered. The world they lived in and everything that made living worthwhile was so much dust and ash as far as I was concerned. I was only here because I had decided to put myself here and putting myself here meant that I had to follow the script. Since I was the "old guy" in this story I had to explore what that meant. Naturally, if I would have chosen a different setting for the story, let's say a retirement community or some high powered business situation where being the old guy might have meant I was the boss the result might have been less demeaning but really, what difference did it make? So I stood there and said nothing while the rat-like men danced around her like they had to piss bad but couldn't and she ignored them.
Finally they came to whatever conclusion they came to and she told them she might see them later.
Then we were walking on Prospect. The rich and famous were all around us, power-shopping. I didn't know any of them. They ate each other alive so quickly it was hard to keep up unless you were a fame junkie and that definitely wasn't me so I ignored their posturing and made sure not to get run over by their limos as we crossed the street to the Ferigamo store.
It looked like an art gallery. There was a shoe, one shoe, on a pedestal in the window. It was lit up like a stage set for the second coming of Christ but nothing was there but the shoe. Inside the store, total silence and gaunt women in ten thousand dollar rags paying homage to the god of fashion. Except all there was were more shoes, about 6 of them, all in their own little world, behind plate glass, no less. I don't know what kind of mojo kept all this desperation at the top of the list but when I got up close to one of the cases I was immediately surrounded by more gaunt women, except this time they were waiting for me to buy. they reminded me of vestal virgins except that this god was made out of cows and lizards and god knows what.
"They need to lighten up." I whispered to her when she finally stopped next to me.
"You know what their commission is on a sale?" She whispered back.
"Duh." I replied. I needed to sat down so I took up space on one of the little benches that were there for the faithful to use. All they needed were little stools to kneel on but I suppose that would have been too much. All this idol worship was exhausting. I felt disappointed that she was so enthralled by all this crap. It made me question my good taste, the infallibility of luck, my own sanity. I needed a distraction. I wandered out side and stood by the curb. I wanted a spaceship- I needed a spaceship- but nothing landed. Instead, limo after limo passed me disdainfully wrapped up in tinted glass, and polished painted arrogance. I stuck out my thumb and waited to see what happened. Nothing happened. My arm got tired. Nobody wanted to pick up the "old guy."
Maybe I should get a face-lift. I thought.
Nobody cared about the slightly weathered "old guy" standing on the curb. If I would have come too close I'm sure they would have cared enough to call the cops but there really wasn't any reason to come too close. It was all too boring.
"What are you doing out here?" she said from behind me. I turned around. She looked disheveled but glamourous, in a perverted, poetic sort of way that I couldn't describe any better than that.
"What happened to you?" I asked.
Up close she smelled like hot girl.
"Fooling around." She said.
"Oh." I replied.
"Oh? Don't you want to hear the details?"
"You're a guy."
"Yeah, an "old guy." I replied.
"You're not mad at me are you?"
Now I was on familiar territory and it made me more forgiving. I didn't want to beat her but I definitely thought she should suffer so I just sighed and stared out into the street.