The reach of purple, black, and deepening gray clouds, and gales ferried a stunningly bright, yellowing dawn from a harbor, the aloft looming with heavy, thunderclapping wind and mushrooming toward the shores, and also a jetty, which was known as Cape Ann, and, notably, in the way. The cape township, Cape Ann, north of Boston, at Ipswich Bay in Massachusetts, has been mistaken for Salem or Essex, where there are many clams; not so much for Gloucester, though, where an inimitable souse of the Atlantic can splash the wince, and veer of the Fisherman Statue, the one near Gorton’s, still at Rogers Street; Gabriel called it “the wash.” He shuddered in it briefly, and hunkered beneath a cupola; it did soak the back of his green poncho. Skeptically, Gabe began jogging in place, to displace the rush of seeming Arctic air, and under a nautical lantern; after a time, he flinged a Marlboro cigarette into an occasionally-filling, cement crevice of the street. A clear, plastic bag was a padding to the breast pocket of his red-checkered, woodmens’ shirt, the only clean shirt which remained in a plastic yard bag full of his clothes; the bag’s contents were dry; satisfied, breathing easier, Gabriel surveyed the Cape Ann weather, the rain, pellets gunning the sands of the awkward harbor, and then nervously searched his pocket for the same bag. He squeezed the contents, which were a weedy clump of vegetation, and exhaled, more comfortably. “Mary Jane,” he murmured. “Mary Jane.”
He thought about his old neighbor in New York, a man with whom Gabriel often shared the stash. He had left the former Marsh College instructor in Coney Island; he was probably tasking another Friday, vegging Pawn Stars, streaming Flip or Flop on HGTV, and otherwise recuperating from congestive heart failure, or furiously trying to locate Rockford Files, having cut the cord. His days seemed “like decades,” and Gabe was relieved to leave, and let the scene away from him; much can be achieved accidentally in one day at home, he told him. Gabe chuckled about it; “yeah.” His father, Red, had passed away; their macaw, Krakow, had been uttering his usual lingo, his Mets’ cheer, — “Better batter, better batter,” — as Gabe packed, and carted his belongings down the Coney stairwell. Krakow complained, demanding, “Make him bring it! Make him bring it!” (He did bring a more contented Krakow to the city of Gloucester.) Red’s son found a temporary refuge in the haze of contraband, marijuana, and scarcely bothered to conceal the clouds in his hall.
Too, Red was hanging out in Coney, but he was more annoyed, evinced by the continual scratching of his head and chin, aware, more or less aware, of the difficult situation, not completely discontent, not completely unhappy, – his son should have moved along years ago – but Red was frustrated by the fact neither Gabriel, or his neighbor, the college instructor, could see him. It would not have surprised Red if the macaw saw him, the bird was brighter than anyone Red knew in his years; the elder man expired suddenly from a shrapnel infection, accidentally pinged by a drive-by shooting, and now, he felt okay, about all of that, but consterned to watch Gabriel moving all of his things, and finally relented, joining Krakow in the Mets’ chant, “Make him bring it! Make him bring it!”
Aji was alone with the LifeRaft®, and revving the engines, obliged, but not adored by the Selective Monitoring Unit, SUM. SUM took to issuing a number of tacit comments to her, in an attempt to highlight its common displeasure with her guidance; the machine occasionally employed a British tone, engaging in dismay for her, as a new captain, and her decision to visit this obscure backwater of the Milky Way. “Can we surf?” SUM asked, and further supposed, “Perhaps there’s a truck stop nearby.”
It was nonetheless a place Aji had waited for years to visit. She cheered at SUM, “We are finally here — Earth!”
“I wonder if there are public restrooms,” SUM conjectured.
The mission was dubious. Aji’s hope was to find her lost son, Will Adorjan, and to remedy another of his prank, the first decent lead about his whereabouts. She believed for a variety of reasons Will had been behind the pranks. The Hydra base had informed her a rogue aeronaut was visiting a fair number of galaxies, and placing benign codes in their computer systems; and, whomever it was, they had been utilizing Will’s digital signature. However unlikely, it could have been Will, who had been missing for years, unseen since an abortive landing with a crew on Coda, a remote sphere in Sombrero. Either way, Hydra wished for the code to be expunged. It was Aji’s first solo flight, and she had glided into Earth’s atmosphere in the Hydra LifeRaft®, with SUM, albeit to the latter’s chagrin. SUM did not resist a temptation to proclaim, “Hello, Earthlings!”, and fell silent. Aji grinned, looking away, and rather cheerfully. She pondered Bud’s favorite motto.
The object of Will’s suspect prank had been an unfortunate college instructor in New York City, whose only apparent err had been using the university mainframe to design a lottery scam. The suspect had fed the computers with a burn code, which Aji said, “had to go.” She told SUM to devise a holograph to display on the window of the instructor’s microwave oven. “We need a way to communicate,” she told SUM.
The dijection from the Hydra command center had been remarkably smooth, and easy. The LifeRaft®, nicknamed “the glass canoe,” was transparent on either side, and invisible to the spectrum of human eyesight, using a magnetic impulse to traverse, or “diject” from point to point in multiple dimensions of time, and space. Aji ventured out of the LifeRaft® to the street in Coney Island, and the parking lot to find a space.
A friend, Professor McCurdle, had helped to stem any discontentment with Red’s new, everlasting passage, and was training him, in the slower hours of the night, for a career in comedy, McCurdle’s passion. Just now McCurdle was warning Red about one of the adages of physics. He informed Red it was impossible for him to join his son, who was moving to Boston, New England, and Cape Ann, and what’s more, if he was ever to actually desert the afterlife, and revisit the Coney Island, he would be forever-stranded in the old flat. Red eyed McCurdle about that, and unhappily waved at him, thinking of Yogi Berra. He complained, “If that is a laws of physics, it should be changed.”
In the afterlife, Professor McCurdle was thoroughly-enjoyed by new, and old friends; his demise had been triggered by a case of a botulism; now his colleagues who believed the former clowning teacher was finally beginning to discover an audience. McCurdle could recall his journey from Earth less than most people, and seldom bothered. He didn’t seem to mind it, referring to it disconcertingly as “just another stage exit.” Red was having a hard time parting with the Mets. He told people he was a “rookie,” and such, choosing to speak unnervingly, exclusively, in the language of baseball. Red, viewing Gabriel’s plight, and interminable troubles, told the professor, “I have a couple of problems. My boy can’t seem to hit the ball.”
Professor McCurdle reiterated, “You can’t stay in the bleachers.”
“No, no,” Red nodded, profusely. “He’s going on the road.”
McCurdle nodded, explaining his own hitch, a blankness, a gap in his memory, his last recollection ordering “something fresh” from a busy waiter in Alley 13. “But you know what. I don’t understand why so many people want to go back. I’ll never leave the touring company. But these others, they drop like flies. Great, – great big flies.”
“Big flies,” Red repeated, pondering it, but not very much. He gazed at the sinew of McCurdle’s face, and responded, “Gotta do it between the lines, McCurdle. They have got to do it on the field of play.”
McCurdle was restless, but not confrontational. He observed mildly, “There must be some kind of an abyss?”
“A fence, sure, think of it this way,” Red said. “Ground crew comes out, puts a tarp on your field.”
McCurdle said slowly, “A – tarp.”
The Marsh College instructor was blank, and daunted at the kitchen table. His grandmother had been a survivor of the Great Depression, and practiced a strange proclivity long afterwards, to the end. She would count her change, the coins in her purse, before dinner every night, and search for two U.S. nickels; whereafter, she put one in each hand, and pressed the nickels together, and put the stack next to her place; grace would usually follow; plates, and coffee were ferried around the table. It wasn’t until the Great Recession, in 2008, and the stony, “doosie-step” days of the visceral years thereafter, her idiosyncrasy was plain, and clear.
He was studying retail sales, preparing a research study for his students that year, the year of the crash, and witnessing first hand the “great brush,” like a “brush with death,” or the brush of a storm, or a brush with the law; it was a detachment from the junctions of a living economy. Like the advent of Big Box stores, such as Wal-Mart, the slow, coincident demise of Moms-and-Pops, small businesses, molting into the gig economy; outlet stores; digital shopping, and social media, the nearly fatal wounding of proud, brick-and-mortar institutions which, today, really just rolls our eyes.
The suites and co-ops of Harbor Loop joined Pleasant at Main Street and Duncan, and stretched past Holy Cow Ice Cream, where Gabriel, who had relocated from New York City, had a pending job application. He lived with the macaw, Krakow, next to a seafood restaurant; his basement loft was above a monger’s alley where gushing salt, and water spilled into the gulley, and around the curb outside his door; it was a one-room alm, renovated as a “villa, with an ocean-view.” He had his own mailbox; brown, and white, it was fabricated to look like a cow, and it contained wiring, for some reason; perhaps it was meant to greet the mailman with a “moo.” He sparked another Marlboro at midday in a dry spot of the alley; a pacific lull spread through the veins of his brain from a few puffs of marijuana. He wandered to pat the top of the cow mailbox, beginning to wonder how far away, if he did take a job, was a form of solvency; maybe welfare. A red-haired man, a twenty-something youth, was smoking at the corner, and Gabriel, near the mailbox, watched him. The youth was wearing a psychedelic, 60’s-ish tee-shirt, yellow, and purple, with a ragland pattern, and blue jeans. He asked Gabe, “Any work around here?” The man seemed familiar, like someone met at another time. His build, the cut of his features, reminded him of his father, Red, who had passed away, but any number of people similarly reminded him of Red, something of an optical illusion.
Gabriel opened the cow box, and asked, “You fish?”
The youth replied, “Too much work.”
“I’ve been thinking about trying it,” Gabe said, offering him a smoke; hearing the notion of joining a fishing crew surprised him, as well, but any progress, even a step, or a motion, made him feel better. “You know, going out in the boats? We’d have a better chance if there were two of us.” He added, “Meet me here tomorrow.”
The youth frowned, “Time?”
“It’d have to be early. Five?”
The youth crossed his arms, and scanned their clothes. He nodded, a few seconds, and offered a knuckle-bump. “Five.”
Paradoxically, and according to McCurdle, the absence of an invitation from somebody still alive meant Red was unable to leave Coney Island, without also leaving the afterlife, which also meant the comedy circuit, which he called “the Bigs.” This was a “rule.” He actually offered Red a spot as straight man in his new troupe, the “Cortege.”
Red found the entire matter too colossal. “You know, something else,” he observed. “Somebody else is living there.”
The professor allowed Red could still peruse New York. They shuffled broadsheet pages of newspapers, and orange peels with their shoes, walking the Brooklyn streetscape towards Alley 13, where other “expats” liked to gather. Red had an eerie memory of Alley 13, but could not describe it. He misjudged the sights, and smells. This was the fifties, they realized. Gosh, he could visit his wife. Bah!, he thought.
“Nope,” Red told McCurdle, on second thought, viewing the corner of Alley 13 more carefully. “This is the Sixties.” He was getting the hang of it, and just was when, darting out of the shadows, was a black Ford Falcon station wagon.
“The Big Ugly!” Red hollered after it. The Falcon was their first automobile.
The driver was navigating the bumpy, one-lane Brooklyn street. “Look at that!”
“Moron!” the driver, a woman, his wife, shouted from the window, and honked the horn for nearly a mile, one of her “proclivities,” he recalled.
Aji had instructed SUM to deejay local music, and paused to hear the lyrics, “Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again.” She had been visually inspecting the college instructor’s Coney Island building for a half-hour, and finishing her paperwork, absently asked, “Okay, John –what is a Lodi?”
The computer, SUM, replied, “Lodi is a place. A city in California, the Zinfandel capital of the world. We have no such geopolitical designation.”
“Try to remember the motto, SUM, the Hydra motto, Bud’s…motto.”
SUM answered, “The book truly prefers ‘search and discover.’ Wouldn’t you say? Besides, there are never any banjos.”
“I hear banjos,” Aji iterated. “I hear banjos!”
There was the more recent result of his application for Medicaid. The final bill for four-to-five days in Coney Hospital was more than $43,000, “in nickels,” he told Milt, and began describing such times of emergency, the great “brush,” discussing “what is,” and “what need not be.”
The human cost of the great Depression resulted in his grandmother’s generation creating Social Security, and Medicare. Part of the Great Society, Medicaid allowed for the retroactive payment for three calendar months, in certain states, and eligible cases. He told Milt it was important to realize, and it was important to say, America was in 2015, and fore, and aft, a “good country”; to realize it, in the essence of the word, after staring for the best part of an hour at his bank account, and a forty-three thousand dollar ch-ching.
The great, economic “brush” can erase “what is,” like gobs of paper wealth, and many lives, but did not wipe away what “need not be”; falling away were the Draconian scenarios of his new life, such as the search for a doctor pro bono, who might treat heart failure for free, if Medicaid did not provide relief.
Red was sullen. McCurdle found him backstage sitting upon a barrel in with the props. He was worried Red might sit on the props, and crush the cardboard ducks, or live rabbits. McCurdle shooed him away, and asked him about the performance of his entourage, the debut of the “Cortege.”
McCurdle asked, “How was it? How did we do? What do you think?”
Red opined, “What can you do? The wind was blowing in.”
He had been smoking a cigarette during the performance, in fact; mulling the memory of the Police Athletic League World Series; the year he could not remember, just the field, and the real grass. He had struck out five times. He had been scheming about his last chance, his final at-bat, thinking about trying a 35; a thirty-five inch bat was “twice the size of a regular bat,” but young Red figured, “All I gotta do is touch the ball, and ka-boom, it’s outta here.” He seized a 35 for the on-deck circle, and ignored the scowls of the coach and his teammates, hoisted it precariously to one shoulder, and confidently eyed the pitcher. “Better batter, better batter,” the infielders chatted; the pitcher hurled the baseball to the plate, a chilling, eerie object, the ball, spinning towards his face. He lugged the bat o’er backwards, closed his eyes, and swung it forwards, around, in a hopeless swipe. There was a “crackle of mush.” Red’s phrase. “A crackle of mush.” He hardly glimpsed the ball, sailing over the fence in left-field, but surely heard the thunderous applause of the crowd, the sole memory in which Red took heart.
Red gazed at McCurdle. He mulled the “Cortege,” and “did the math.” He closed his eyes, much as the fateful swing in the PAL World Series; it was maybe more of a squint, followed by kind of a “Geronimo,” a “look-out-below,” like jumping out of a tree, somewhere, in time, and space.
A young, elegant woman in the decorous library of her home ran a finger along the edge of her new iPhone. She set it down, carefully, on a side table, and she gazed at it thoughtfully; she picked it up again, and smoothed the side of it with her hand. She had read about Red on the new smart phone, in the obituaries of a website for the Post. Red had succumbed to an infection after neglecting to seek treatment for his gunshot wound.
The vibration of the cell phone startled Gabriel, who had been gazing through a designed port hole at the level of the street. He searched for it furiously, found it in another coat, and raised it to his ear; then he swiped it, prepared for a call to buy an automobile warranty. But the voice belonged to Kapitolina. He heard, “Gabe?” ◊
¤ JUKE BOX ¤
Theme: “Mary Jane,” Alanis Morissette | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 51-,” a myopic vaile (No. 60)
..… from “^; or, CARET,” III of III,
The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories, by Soda Tom,
[Complete Works, No. 01]. Copyright (C) 2017-20, ff.
All Rights Reserved.
Created by Soda Tom