Yellow Mama Archives

Terence Butler
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Zimmerman, Thomas

THE CITY IN THE RAIN

 

Terence Butler

 

The front door sticks just at the point of closing. You have to give it a tug to close it and when you do the wind chime sounds. Not a full ring, just a shiver like it does in the rain. And the flap on top of the mailbox lifts what must be only a tiny way and taps its part too. Then there’ll be another sound, maybe the honk of a car horn, or the crash and whine of a garbage truck, or the rush of the commuter train on the elevated tracks a block away. I learn things from that very next sound.

One morning it was a newspaper suddenly plastered against the side of my dad’s car by the wind. It flapped and fluttered there, trapped like a bird I once saw inside our garage, too dumb to just give in and wait until I went away. If the paper would relax, eventually the wind will die down. I’ve learned to let the world show me the way.

Yesterday morning when I went out I saw the black dog hurrying by again, the third day in a row. The first day he was going down the hill, the second day up. Yesterday he was going down again. He has a mission.  I hurried down the steps and called to him; “Hey, Blackie!” He broke his stride a bit and his ears pointed back at me but he didn’t come.

Dogs know things. Every time there’s an accident or a fire or someone comes out of their house on a stretcher all covered up, there’ll be a dog somewhere close. I want to watch this dog because black always carries a message.

I wait for the bus with a book open on my lap and my black hair hanging down so no one can see me. I let the others get on before I look up surprised that the bus is there. Then I lose my backpack or have to go back and get my jacket. When I get on I can’t find my fare, and I have to lean on the bar next to the driver while I look for it. I can smell his aftershave and his cigarettes and I know he can smell my shampoo and see that my hair is still wet. I always get a transfer even though the bus stops right in front of the school. He used to act mad, but not anymore. I’m waiting for him to talk to me and then I’ll stop. I’ll still get a transfer, but I’ll act like I’m the one that’s mad. He’ll be confused, but if I ever need him he’ll be there.

I sit across from the retarded guy. Most of the females sit as far from him as possible because he gets so excited. One old lady who rides in the sideways seat by the door thinks she’s on to me. She gives me a look, and that’s when I open the top button of my blouse and let my skirt slide above my knee. It drives her wild. Him too. He’ll rock, and rub himself, and groan like dad when mom does him in the kitchen. The old lady will hiss something at the driver and he’ll have to stop the bus and yell. “Marty! Stop that or you’ll have to take the next bus!” Then he’ll look at me in his mirror, but I’ll be behind my hair, studying.

I hear the girls in the restroom talking about how Marty is gross and disgusting and I wonder if they’ve ever noticed the size of that thing he’s rubbing. It goes halfway to his knee. It would drive them wild to know that I plan to do him when I get a chance. Not for the sex, but for his knowledge, because retards and crazy people can teach things. They live in a different version of the same world we live in. Our world is like TV with the sound off to them, and they have their own soundtrack. Once I do him he’ll teach me to see the way he does.

Father Murphy is the one I want though. He’s young and he’s got sad eyes and a stubbly chin, as if he forgets about what he looks like, and he never smiles or jokes. I love his sermons even if I don’t understand some of the words in them. He gets caught up in what he’s talking about, his voice trembling at first but getting deeper and louder as he gets into his homily. In not very long he’s forgotten all about us, and he stares down at his podium for long passages, or up at the stained glass over the choir without making any eye contact, and I think about the erection he must have under his vestments. I watch his tongue and his lips and I see the way he touches his stole and grips the lectern and I get dizzy. I go with him like listening to music in my room.

When he stops it’s always at a point of showing us the importance of good works or relating his own confusion about what God wants. Then he’ll talk about his faith before he goes back to the ritual and the singing in Latin. He leaves us longing to know what he knows. I’m never more aware of my body than at those moments.  I know he’s crazy and I want him to touch me. I want to do him. And I want him dressed all in black.

*

Today I took a wiener and waited on the steps for the black dog to come by. The second sound was something with cars; screeching brakes, and two different male voices shouting curses, and one car burning rubber as it roared away. It made me nervous and ruined my mood. It must have been an accident that didn’t happen and I wondered if it was going to happen to me.

Sitting there and thinking about that, I almost missed the black dog. If I had, it would have been the whole day that was ruined and I’d have gone back inside and stayed in my room until mom and dad came home. What changed it was a sound.

I had my head down inside my hair when I heard his claws tapping the sidewalk as he hurried by. I jumped up and went down the steps to intercept him. For some reason I snatched at his tail and I yelled, “Stop! Blackie!” Well, he turned on me so fast and crouched like he was ready to spring that I stumbled backwards and almost went down. I’ve never seen a dog like that, as angry and vicious looking, except Cujo that is. That’s what he looked like. Cujo.

He was barking and barking and I felt my control of the situation slipping. I held the wiener out and told him good boy but it made him even wilder. He started advancing, lifting one foot at a time and growling, his teeth bared. He held his head low to the ground and stared up, the whites showing at the bottom of his eyes. All his hair stood up along his back, and for the first time I noticed the scars on his body and an open wound on his chest. He didn’t have a collar and I thought maybe he was feral, a feral dog, and not just someone’s pet who knew how to get out of his yard, and I remembered something on TV about backing away slowly and not making eye contact. It was about bears, wild bears, but what’s the difference between wild and feral, I just did it.

And then I lifted out of my body and was over the whole thing spread out and watching it in pieces. I saw my body fall and lie still and curled up and I saw Blackie stop and lie down and watch me from a distance. My body was very still, almost like dead, and he watched me awhile and then he whimpered a little and got up. He tiptoed over and got the wiener from the sidewalk next to my body and swallowed it in one gulp and ran away.

I knew that I had entered his mind and stopped him from hurting me. But I wondered what his lesson for me was. Was it about the accident that hadn’t happened, and was he showing me that something that I thought was friendly, for instance him, might be a thing that could cause me harm?

I couldn’t go to school. I’d have to go to my room and fast. I’d listen to music on my iPod and go over everything that happened. I’d still have my uniform on when my parents got home and I wouldn’t have to explain until the call came from the attendance secretary tomorrow morning.

The god damn nuns are making things hard for me, calling my folks and telling them there’s something wrong with me. I have to keep pointing out my straight A’s and the beautiful art I make. I’ll be gone away to college in just a few months, and I have to keep mom and dad on my side. I can usually hypnotize them into doing what I want, but it’s getting harder. And now my day was building up to something big and I didn’t know what. That’s when I have to be careful.

It was when I was climbing the stairs to my room that I realized that the black dog was coming down the hill, not going up. He should have been going up.

*

My room was silent. All the things in my room were silent. I sat in my black leather chair and closed my eyes. I felt nothing. I spun my globe and it landed on empty ocean. My pictures were only pictures. Even Joan of Arc seemed like an ancient cartoon. Oscar, my goldfish, hung in the furthest corner of his home, barely moving. Worst, my scissors were open and neither blade pointed at anything that could teach. I closed my eyes again and I tried to see things, but the world was locked. I needed to understand why the accident hadn’t happened and how I could keep it from happening to me.

Weed always works when I’m blocked like this. I learned about it from my dad when he used to visit me before he got sad and scared. He told me not to do it, but what do people do when someone tells them that?

I went to their room and got the shoebox where he hides his weed and pipes. I took a little weed and a small pipe made of a piece of tubing and some brass fittings from the hardware store. My dad let me watch him make this pipe back when he wasn’t afraid of me. Of all his pipes it is the most powerful.

I put the shoebox back and went onto the deck off their room and smoked. Then I put the pipe back in the box and went back to my own room. I got out the iPod and sat in my black chair and listened to Radiohead. They are in touch with the other side of things, though I don’t think they realize it. Someone has power over them because the music is really about things that aren’t what he sings about. Like Guilt and Fear. Crazy things that teach. What Father Murphy knows and maybe Marty too. 

Marty swam up in front of me then, swimming like a fish with arms. His eyes bulged like fishes eyes and his mouth made slow gulping movements. He was graceful in that world and his erection was enormous. His round, fat little body was covered with tiny golden scales. His feet and hands were webbed and he waved them like Oscar does his translucent fins. He turned and twisted in front of me in a water ballet. This was his world and he was a beautiful part of it. He asked me to come with him, to swim in his world, to let him teach me. What else could I do? He would know about the accident and the black dog. I knew then how to begin.

Marty would be at the special needs building near the convent. I’d have to be careful, but I knew I could catch him there at lunch. I’d do him in the old school bus that’s parked at the back of the campus and then I could ask him. But first I’d need to perform a ritual. I drew the blinds and lit the incense.

I closed the scissors and held them while the metal warmed in my hand. I hummed “Reckoner” by Radiohead. When I felt a pulse in the blades I set the scissors down and spun them as hard as I could. They leapt from the desk and flew across the room and fell to the rug near the window. The blades were open again, but this time they were as wide as I’d ever seen them.

One blade pointed to Joan of Arc and the other to the window, two things almost directly across from each other. A window? And Joan of Arc? What else but this? My path was laid out for me.

I moved to the window and pushed it open. Ugly music came in from the city, like a composition made of layers of traffic noise and screaming. But floating on top, way off in the distance, the carillon at the monastery was starting up. Father Murphy was not a monk, but he was a priest. I am not Joan of Arc, but I am a crazy saint. I soaked up this message awhile, letting it go all through me.

Then I laid out my black clothing on the bed, humming the melody of “Reckoner” again. I chose things, all black, everything. Pants, top, underwear, socks and shoes, my hoody and shades, all black. I stood naked in front of the window and felt the power of being young and beautiful. I ran my hands over my breasts and touched my vagina. I almost weakened and lay down, but I overcame the waves of lust because I knew I’d have to do two men today.

After I dressed and wrapped my hair in a bun, I got my sword from the blanket chest. It’s a dagger, a silver letter opener I found in my mom’s trunk of things from her mother, a woman I never knew but who sometimes comes to me and tells stories of olden days. My grandmother’s dagger is from a time so far back I can’t imagine it. People knew things and everyone was like me then. The only “misfits” and “troublemakers” were nuns and cops and doctors.

Anyway, I was ready, and by the time I walked to the schoolyard it would be Marty’s lunchtime. After that I could visit Father Murphy in the rectory garden where he sits in the afternoons. He’s usually dressed in his cassock, but if not he’ll be wearing his black shirt and suit coat. He’ll be there, all in black, studying his missal stuffed with his sacred writings.

I went out and down the block, and in the gutter at the corner I saw Blackie, dead.

The accident had happened to him, not to me. I thought at first he’d sacrificed himself for me, let a car hit him so that I wouldn’t be hit. But then, as I pulled his broken body onto the sidewalk and arranged it under a tree, a bad feeling came over me, a question I couldn’t form, and I knew that there was more to this day that had to be played out. Blackie shouldn’t be dead. He was only a messenger. Was someone trying to kill me?

*

Rain. Coming down in torrents. Black columns of it in the distance between the City and the Holy Volcano. The wipers of the bus a fast thump-THUMP-thump and the hiss of the huge black tires a counterpoint. I tightened my hoody strings and settled my Ray Bans and stepped off the bus into the howl of the storm. I love a storm more than any other kind of weather.

The campus was deserted. The black expanse of the ball courts looked forlorn. The picnic tables in the portico waited uselessly. Cars huddled in the parking lot. Everyone would eat lunch inside today.

I ran from building to building and tree to tree and stood awhile in the shelter of each hoping for any glimpse of Marty. In reality I was enjoying the building of tension that each stop brought. I knew that eventually I’d find him in the special ed. building. In the meantime it was delicious to think of how excited he’d be when he saw me, how I’d drive him crazy with my ritual before doing him, and what his answers to my questions might be.

Then I was at the equipment maintenance shop, my last stop before entering Marty’s building. I made a bee line for an open bay where a pickup with its hood up was waiting for the mechanic to return from lunch. I leaned against its grille and looked out through the sheet of rain that fell from the roof edge. I’d wait here a moment and close my eyes. I might be able to get a fix on Marty’s whereabouts. 

Voices whispering. One wheedling and insisting, another giddy and resistant. One masculine, the other girlish. I was torn between running away before anyone saw me and an overwhelming curiosity to know who was whispering in the far dark corners of that old building.

I crouched at the side of the pickup and went to its back corner. I held there listening, then stole past the glass-enclosed office and the filthy restroom to a stairway leading to a loft. The voices came from above. Weak daylight up there wavered with every blast of the storm. I dropped to hands and knees and climbed the stairs like a small child does, moving upward one step at a time, careful not to make a sound. The last few steps I crept even more cautiously until I sensed that my head would be directly at floor level. Then I stretched my neck until my eyes were just above. In the tall rectangle of light from a broken and dirty window I saw them.

A small person huddled and kneeling in prayer before a much taller one, someone all in black, someone unbuttoning a cloak, letting the wind take it, spread it like wings while he placed both hands on the head of the kneeling one-- a benediction? Then that other one making sounds in his throat like an animal devouring something filthy and the tall black one tipping his head back to moan and sigh, and the other one, Marty, spitting and laughing and turning and seeing me as I run with my sword and smash it as hard as I can into Father Murphy’s chest.  

I’m slashing now, I slash at Father Murphy’s face and I find his dick, and I can feel it slippery as I saw on it, the sword not sharp enough, but I have holy strength in me and I will kill him before he kills me. And then he’s strangely weak, and I can see blood weeping like tears from the wound in his heart, and his hands, his manicured hands, clutching at his black shirt, brushing at it as if he wants to wipe the blood from his sacred clothing. His eyes turn up and away.

I stand and look for Marty. He’s huddled near the stairs and I rush and kick him, and kick him again, and I push him so that he tumbles all the way to the bottom of the stairs and then I throw Father Murphy’s dick down on him and I turn and hurl myself through the tall window, into the storm.

*

Delicious Pain. I know this is a hospital and it isn’t the nice one my mom went to. There is a narrow window with two bars and a deep sill on the outside. A crow is huddled there, his feathers puffed, his back to me as he waits out the storm. I whisper to him; “Turn around, black bird. Talk to me.” He hears me. His feathers are so black I can’t see him as a fully rounded object. He looks flat, and I see that he is a hole into another world. His eye, the eye he turns to me, is even blacker than his body and what gleams there is wild and crazy. He’s a saint too, like me. 

THE END


Fire Man

Terry Butler

 

When I start this, get in the car, turn the key, put it in drive, I already know I’m fucked. I don’t really know this woman. There’s probably nothing new here, I made lots of mistakes and lucky finds that same way before. But this one seems different. She’s a goddess in a toilet bar.

Yeah, I know, but fuck you. She is both lost and found and you’re so cynical you can’t believe in that. That’s your problem, not mine. I knew I’d try with her no matter what.

She texted late. Her message said I know you don’t know me, but I felt we connected. Can you help me?  A guy wants to hurt me.  Call me.

So what do you do? I mean YOU? You say fuck it, we haven’t even screwed?  Me, I remember her voice. I remember her big eyes in her little face, eyes ready to flood with tears, copper brown and seeking. This kind of stuff passes you tough guys right by, but it goes right into me.

I called her, she answered, she’s crying. She gave me an address and hung up.

Fuck you, yeah you’re stupid too. I’m out.

*

Pulling up outside her cul de sac I think I’ll just sit and look around.

Lupine Court is like a million others, four houses looking at each other. Two are nicely kept and anonymous, one has lots of cars in various stages, number four has weeds, broken mini-blinds, dead shrubs, water-logged newspapers in a pile near the porch. That’s hers.

I leave the car, walk around behind it, move sideways into a shadow. Lights are on in the motor-head place. Muffled AM radio music, otherwise crickets and traffic sounds.

Her porch light is on. There’s mail stuffed in the box and tossed on the stoop. I stay in the shadow, go to the side away from the living room, toward the gate that must lead to the back yard.

Still in the shadow, not ready to move, I watch a dark SUV ease in, headlights off. It shuts down, goes silent. There is enough street light that I can see two heads. A glow inside comes on and goes off, a woman steps out, crosses to the house I’m watching, drops an object, goes back to the SUV. The starter purrs, the Lincoln finishes the curve of the cul de sac and leaves without lights.

Flames blossom without much sound, just a soft whoosh.  They’re moving up the door, spreading sideways and up the walls. They’re traveling quickly and looking hot.

I’m in the gate and around the back and trying to get oriented. I see a slider that’s partially open and I duck in. I close it so that it doesn’t provide a draft.

“Aubrey!”

“Aubrey, are you in here? It’s Billy!”

“Billy? Billy! I’m here!”

Somewhere to the right and down the hall. I move, starting to choke but keep going.

It’s a big dude blocking the hall now. He’s got a bat and he’s spread wide, legs and arms planted and looking to take my head over the fence and out of the park.

I move to him square on. He’s taking little tip toe steps and raising the bat. The little .32 comes into my hand and cracks a few times in a tight pattern around his heart.

She’s in my arms, shaking like a wet, freezing dog, but she’s soft and curvy and just the right size and we’re kissing the way new lovers do, and she asks me to take her away.  

So I do.

*

Why don’t you just relax and tell me about it Aubrey? I’m the guy who got you out of there, right? What’s your deal? You think I’m going to take you back there? Come ON girl!

Billy, I love you and what you did for me but you’d never forgive. No one could.

OK Aubrey look, I’m not them, you’re not me, I’m not you, they’re not us. You are you, I’m someone separate from everyone and at the same time the same as everyone. Have you done something unforgiveable? What does that look like? Does it look like burning a house or trying to kill somebody with a bat? Is it unforgiveable that I shot that guy? Who would forgive him for beating me to death with that bat? You? Would you understand both why I killed him and why he would need to kill me? Who are you Aubrey? Who am I? Who are those people who made you afraid?

Just love me Billy.

So I did.

But I couldn’t stop asking. Couldn’t stop picking at the scab, and that’s what drove her away.

*

OK, fuck you man, so she disappeared. How is that different from any of the women you’ve ever been with? How many women do you remember besides the ones who fucked you over? Oh, yeah, Jenny, your first. And what’s up with her? You have no idea, right? Want me to tell you? I figured not. No, no, she’s cool, she’s doing well. I just know, OK? None of your fucking business. At least I know Aubrey will never forget me.

I’m thinking Aubrey was someone not of my realm. Like you and me are not of any place besides this right here. I had ideas and even plans. You had your dreams too, I remember your dreams. But Aubrey, and maybe that guy I shot, and maybe those fuckers who started that fire, they were from another world where there aren’t any rules and everybody is scared and everybody goes to hell. Like the ultimate game where only the worst people win.  Well, fuck you too, bro. I know what I saw….

***

Edit Text

Fire Man Sings the Blues

 

Terry Butler

 

How’d what work out? Oh, with Aubrey. Why are you asking, so you can tell me you told me it was stupid? If you remember, it was me who told you I was fucked going in.  

Man, what’s your trip? I’m not bugging you about why you’re here in the Brass Rail fucking with me instead of at home with your wife. Shit. Fuck it. I’m out.

*

The two nice houses of the four on Lupine Court have realtor signs in front of them now since Aubrey’s place burned to a blackened sunken shell. I keep coming back, sitting in my car across from the court on the through street. I come at all hours just to watch, waiting to see if someone shows up.

That’s how this all started. I met her in a bar, she called and said someone was going to hurt her. I came and sat here and watched as a woman got out of a dark SUV and set the house on fire. I went in, shot some dude, and took her to my place.  It was good for a while, but I kept asking her questions; normal questions you might ask a person you’ve kept from getting killed, like who? And why?

She always said the same thing, and the more she did the more hardheaded I got.

Billy, please don’t ask. I love you and what you did for me, but you’d never forgive. No one could, ever. Just love me, Billy.

The Day family are hereditary hardheads though, so I kept it up, and I pushed her too hard. One afternoon she cleared out. She left a note.

Please don’t look for me. You don’t understand. I’ll always treasure our time together. I love you Billy, take care.

*

So, I’m here at Lupine Court, listening to Miles with the mute, watching and wondering what the fuck I’m doing.  I know everyone who lives on Lupine Court has something they saw, who went in and out, observations about Aubrey. I’ve knocked on all the doors. No one answers, not even the guy with the junk cars in the yard. I call him Steady Eddie, because this man ain’t moving his cars for nothing or nobody, no way. I’m just waiting until I see him.

Then he’s at my passenger window. Dude must be watching me. I let it down. He’s calm, not angry and looks like he’s not going to act like a tough guy. I’m all smiley.

Yessir! How ya doin’?

Why you keep coming around here, man? You some kind of cop?

Last thing from a cop. I’m trying to find the woman who lived in that house.

She’s dead, burnt up in the fire.

No, she didn’t. She may be dead now, but not in the fire.

How you know that?

Because I was here that night. And so were you.  

What you saying, I had something to do with that shit?

No. Just that I saw you in your yard when I left. What did you see?

I seen a Midnight Blue Escalade come in, a chick get out, walk up to the front, toss a bundle, turn right around and leave in the Caddy. Couple minutes and the whole place was on fire. I call 911, keep watching and see a dude come out carrying what looked like a dead body. You, I guess. They got in a car across the street and rolled out.

What else?

Man, I didn’t get no license numbers, no descriptions of nobody, right?  I ain’t up for any kind of shady shit with them people so I just watch, don’t get involved.

What makes you think they were shady?

Hey, you know what, I told you I ain’t involved. Know what I’m saying? I will say I was surprised to see a little proper looking chick like her involved with some bad ass gangsters. Look like you care for her, that right?

He looks closely at me. He can see. He’s big and dark, a watch cap pulled down almost to eye level.

What’s your name man?

Lionel.

Billy.

Fist bump.

All-right, B. Check out Sleepy Batiste for yourself. Be real careful when you do, and don’t come bothering me no more.

*

The bar where I met Aubrey, Mr. Wright’s, is not downtown or out on the highway. It’s midtown by the malls, behind some carpet and mattress places. They’re hiding it because overcrowded isn’t their business model. The exclusive clientele will take care of them as long as they keep the place private.

I can get in there by reputation. I’m definitely not a high roller, not a big mouth, not a psycho. What I am is a long-time pro with certain skills. I’m known, and this is where I go to be utilized.

But unlike me, everybody in Mr. Wright’s knows who Sleepy is. I’m properly respectful of his bad-ass-ness but I’m not scared to approach him on this. Call me nuts or even suicidal, I don’t care. I see him at a table near the bandstand and I go over.

Sleepy! Can I talk to you?

A slow turn toward the source of this rude interruption. An even slower appraisal and then the clichéd response.

Do I know you?

He’s got a long frame enclosed in a tightly tailored medium grey suit, Italian wool with a subtle weave. One leg hangs over the other one without mussing his pressed pants, while one lengthy arm encircles a gorgeous redhead’s shoulders and the other extends forward to tap an ash into an ashtray. His eyes are the reason he’s called Sleepy. They’re long-lashed slits, with enough cold coming through to let you know that Sleepy may be his name, but it is definitely not his game.

No, but you know a friend of mine. Aubrey Wells. Have you seen her recently?

I take a step forward. A big guy at the table eases his chair back and unbuttons his jacket. Nobody moves but the redhead. She wants to disappear. Sleepy stows the cigarette in the ashtray, pats her hand, unwinds his arm from her shoulders and smiles a dismissive smile as he points a long finger at me.

And who are you to her?

I’m Billy Day. I was with her the night you burned her house down.

The smile switches off and he shifts in his chair in a way that sets his big buddy on edge and makes the redhead want to crawl under the table. Sleepy is now wide awake.

Feeling loose and powerful, and in some way light, I lean over him and switch my smile on.

Did she tell you what I did for her that night? Did she tell you how I made her feel clean again? Did she tell you I’d do anything at all for her?

Sleepy moves like a cat. He stands and looks down at my face from just inches away. His eyes are something like a cat’s now, definitely intelligent but definitely not human.

Man, you playing with fire.

And is this lady your fire-starter?

His eyes flick right to the big guy. Sleepy moves back and I move with him, turning him toward the blow that’s coming. He’s a head taller than me and I bunch myself, lift and throw him into the hulk just as the hulk unloads but tries to pull his punch. Sleepy catches it glancing off his forehead. Probably hurts anyway.

Of course there’s another guy, the one out of nowhere who slides behind me and grabs me, tries to bring me to my knees. We wrestle some while Sleepy and the hulk get untangled. They’re too late. I slip loose and head for the door. I’m running, juking like Walter Payton, heading for the nearest corner to turn. A couple of shots fired, but I’m gone from there. I hide in an alley a bit and then go get my car.

I don’t want to go home because I know if I do I won’t sleep anyway, so I drive back to Lupine Court.  I can’t think why I believe hanging around there will give me an answer about Aubrey’s whereabouts. I’m feeling unusual, that is to say, lost. Why do I care so much? I pull up across the street, but I don’t shut the car off. In a minute I’m driving again, pointed to The Brass rail to start a bender.

*

Why am I sitting down here at the end of the bar? Maybe so I don’t have to talk to anybody. Aw, shit man, I’m sorry. What are you drinking? I guess you never get tired of that shit. Yeah, cheers.

Yeah, I am kind of down. I miss her and I keep looking but I can’t find her. All she ever told me was that she was from California, had come here with a band, that they fired her here and she’d been scuffling gigs on her own since. No, thanks, partner, I need to keep it clean so nobody gets hurt but me. Thanks for the offer though. OK, I’ll be here all weekend. And hey! Jenny said hello. I see her around. She said to tell you hello.

The End

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80_ym_firemanbluesfooter_lthomas.jpg
Art by Londyyn Thomas © 2020 Edit Picture




Fire Man Answers a Call

Part 3 Fireman Series

By Terry Butler

 

You Billy, right?

Sometimes, yeah. What’s up?

Friend of mine say you in here a lot. Ax me to look you up. Cat name Lionel.

How’s my friend, Lionel?

He cool, want you to know he got something for you.

You have it?

Naw. He say come up to Lupine.

Buy you a drink?

Aw-ight. Thanks, man. Double Johnny Black.

This is my daily. The Brass Rail on Vallejo. The only working man’s bar on the Beach now that our town has been invaded by successive waves of self-seeking outsiders fleeing inauthenticity in order to find something resembling it in an historic neighborhood, in an historic small city not New York, Chicago or L.A.

If they’d just ask a native he could set them straight. Kerouac and Ginsberg are dead. Bob Kaufman and Corso stayed here for a run with the hippies, and Ferlinghetti might be in the bookstore in the evenings, but the vibe is in SOMA now, and you can find that shit in any town.

Just before this cat approached me, I’m trying my best to be sincere with Geno, my homeboy from forever. He’s telling me about his woman problem. Again. Right now, he’s got two great ones, Jenny from Mission High days and his wife from the streets, instead of a string of whackos like usual.  He sits on the same stool every day and when he knows it’s time for me to come in, he gets the one on his left empty so he can talk at me.

Hey, Geno, I gotta go. Tell me about your talk with Jenny later, OK?.  No, yeah, it’s all good, it’s just a heads up, a need to know.  Say hi to Jenny. And your old lady too.

*

I haven’t been to Lupine Court for a while. Aubrey’s house is bulldozed. Corner stakes are up, showing the lot boundaries, but the yellow tape is up too. There’s still a dumpster in front. My gut is tight.

That night, carrying her out of the fire, a crazy kill I’d never expected, caring for her until she calmed, loving her to sleep. Never to be forgotten by her or me.

Across and into the cul-de-sac, Lionel sits in a lawn chair inside his lit up garage. His system plays softly and spreads peaceful Marvin Gaye into the twilit drizzle. Brother, brother, there’s just too many of us dying.

He knows I’m here, so I walk up. This is the first time we’ve met beyond those momentary connections, but the connection is strong. He’s big, and I am too, but he’s solid in the way a wall is solid, his bump and embrace is an illustration of physical power beyond ordinary.

Lionel?

Hey, B. Thought you should know. I seen her.

No.

Yeah, right here. On foot. She was all covered up, but I knew it was her because she went dead to the burn pile and walked right in. All the way to the back of the lot. Old shed back there didn’t burn. I started to follow quiet, but I knew I wouldn’t make it through all that shit without her hearing me.

She went in?

I heard the door open. She come right back out. Walked fast right by me. I’m standing on the sidewalk and she looked right through me.  Hey, man, she knows me. We talked a few times, she came to a barbecue I had.  The girl ain’t dead but she’s a ghost.

Did you talk to her?

I told you, I was like a phone pole or some shit. I called her name and she didn’t even notice. She went to the bus shelter and when the 52 bus come, she got on it.

52 goes downtown, right?

Yup. Greyhound terminal to out here.

The drizzle is turning to rain. The smell of the ashes gets more noticeable. I can see the shed, the door hanging open. When I step inside, I wonder if its empty because it always was or if people have taken the contents. It is definitely empty. Aubrey hid something here.

Nothing seems out of place. It’s just a shed for garden tools.

Shit, Lionel. Guess I’ll go downtown.

Looka here, Billy. I ain’t no friend of god damn Sleepy myself, know what I’m saying? 

Personal?

Right. And I will back you when it’s time, but those motherfuckers all know me. Go to the terminal on your own this time, ask some hooker where Fleur is.

*

A Grey Dog depot is the same everywhere. Big city, small town. Other than size there’s no difference. It’s about who is around there. Poor folks mostly, and those who have no eyes for a settled life, as well as those who prey on both. Bus depots are always downtown and always dirty, with a view out onto the broken parts of their city or town.  This one was once a painted and tiled palace of bus traffic. Now it’s dying. A terminal for folks who have to travel and can’t afford to fly.

Standing outside and watching the pale light settle on the loser side of the street, on its locos, thieves and innocents, an emptiness grows in me.  I think Aubrey is familiar with bus depots. She never explained a thing or told me a full story, but I know she’s seen these corners.

I’m feeling a fool, looking for heaven, walking in limbo.

*

Hey, man, you’re Fleur right? The nice lady said I should look for you here.

What nice lady?

Oh, Cookie, over on the other side there.

What you want? Must not be Cookie. 

Actually, I’m looking for friend of mine. Aubrey. One of her neighbors told me she disappeared after her house burnt down. He said she was a hooker and said to try asking around the Greyhound depot.

Neighbor? What neighbor?

I didn’t get his name. Older man lives around the corner. He knew her well enough, I guess.

I don’t know no Aubrey. All I got is pussy for sale. If you don’t want none then I can’t help you.

But Cookie seemed to know who I was asking about.

Fucking Cookie got a big mouth.

Fleur takes his gold tooth pick out of his pretty mouth and at last looks right at me. If he had a dream other than this one he’s living in, he would want to be a spoiled fop in the decadent French court of Louis XIV. He tries to look dangerous.

This the truth fool, you take your ass out this neighborhood. Don’t come back no more. Aubrey ain’t none your business.

You know her then.

Oh, Man! You a smart-ass motherfucker ain’t you? Fuck this sucker up!

*

Cookie?

Yeah it’s me.

Where the fuck am I?

I brought you to my place after they dropped you behind the dumpsters. Me and Deirdre.

Man, everything hurts. Fleur did it?

Shit, that punk ass bitch would worry he might break a fingernail. No, it’s those assholes who hang with him. But he told them to do it.

Wow. Cookie. You helped me. 

Aubrey is my friend. We go way back. Fleur put us in his string the same day.

You know where she is?

Maybe.

Maybe. It seemed important and I tried to hang on but pain and a glimpse of a dark hole I could crawl into pulled me in. I needed to close down so I did.

In a burning house I watch a beautiful child run from room to room in panic and fear. My feet won’t move. I’m paralyzed, my lungs are filling with choking smoke and my heart is hammering. Aubrey! I scream. Billy! She shouts.

I’m fading from life, whispering, Aubrey…? Billy, she moans.

And then it rained.

*

Take this ice water Baby. You need to drink.

Aubrey?

No, baby. Cookie. Lionel’s here too.

Physically I’m feeling like a hurricane and an earthquake just happened right on top of me. But even in the fog and with the annoying ringing sound that is my consciousness I can still be startled by the idea that Lionel and Cookie are both here in this room. I try to sit up, I feel puke rising. Lionel lifts me and places my shoulders against a pillow and I spew into a bowl that Cookie has ready. I tell my head to stop spinning and my gut to stop being in charge.

Lionel? What the fuck is going on?

*

Lionel tells me that he has known Aubrey since she stepped off the bus. There wasn’t any band that dumped her, no scuffling for singer gigs. She was one of many kids running from the empty middle of the country to the mythic coasts and the bright, lit up interior cities. She was looking for an own-self, someone in a dream, a version of what could be created in the right place and time. Just a runaway.

Lionel, the sometime predator, chained to a gorilla habit that was killing him little by little, happened to be in that terminal when her bus came in.  She was a small goddess, he says, almost perfectly formed, looking over the top of her shades, casting about for something, a newborn lost in the forest.  She was open, available to the world, and he was instantly in love. His love was immediate, but his commitment was temporary because after all, it was just business. She was more valuable to others than to him in his currently limited usefulness, so he took her to Sleepy, and after, with his purse full of silver, he went back to his slave life.

He never let go of her or what he had done.

She was 16, Billy. My sister was 17 and I thought about that. Didn’t stop me though.  Man. Shit. Fuck.

*

Me, Lionel, Geno, and a kid Geno says is the greatest driver he’s ever known, going up from Broadway with nothing good in mind.  Geno and Lionel each take a sidewalk.  I go down the middle of the narrow street.  Cookie sees us and she lets the girls know to get clear and watch. It’s not quite dark but the street lamps are starting to come on. Beer signs in bar windows are just beginning to get bright and inviting. A street sweeper just passed so the pavement is shining, the air smells clean right then.

In front of The Blues Saloon Fleur poses leaning against his Benz. His boys are slack, backs to the walls of a pizzeria and a coffee house. The house band is tuning up, customers are drifting to the door, paying the cover, getting their stamp. Testing, testing. A wailing fragment of Chicago blues harp through a Fender amp, a running scale on electric bass, a drum roll and a rim shot, a thumping bass drum, and cutting loud and clear on top, a few deep-toned 12 bar rides up and down the neck of a Gibson ES 355.

I’m in his face before he can react.

Is this how you want to die Fleur? Just shot down in front of here? I can kill you and gone.

I’ve got his jacket and shirt above his belly twisted in one hand and a .38 deep in the softness just below his belt. He’s scared, not used to this, maybe never saw this since the projects, but that shit was never him, always somebody stupid.

Where’s Aubrey, Fleur? See, a beating like you gave me is one thing but a bullet in your gut is another. I’ll let the ass whipping go if you talk. Either way its pain. Your choice, bitch.

He looks around and sees his friends paying deep respect to mine and the several hard-eyed women moving to close a circle around us.

He points his chin at me and tries not to let go of his self-image as a bad ass.

She’s dead, man. She told Sleepy she wasn’t working for him no more and without no protection some sick fucker cut her up and dumped her across the bridge.

Police know this?

How the fuck I know what the fucking police know man!? It was in the Chronicle this morning! You don’t read the fucking paper?

I let go of his clothes, push him away, and as he straightens himself and gives me a threatening look I put a bullet in his left knee.

The girls turn to face out but keep the tight circle. Geno and Lionel are watching Fleur’s soldiers run. We walk up the hill to where the kid has the plain looking Chevy waiting. I hear the pimp moan as Cookie nudges him in the ass with the pointed toe of her stiletto heel.

Hey Fleur. Now we gone call you the Pimp Who Got a Limp.

I hear the cackling of whores getting even.

We climb into the four door and ease out into Saturday night traffic. Streets fully lit up, people walking against the lights, double parking, buses and cabs. The kid deals with it all like skating alone in the park.

Where we going Billy?

I don’t know. Hit the liquor store on Franklin and Lombard. I need to get a Chronicle.

As it has lately, the violence leaves me empty. No adrenaline rush, no sense of justification. One asshole shoots another asshole, so what? Am I looking for war or a woman to live with?

I’m not sure Aubrey even knows I’m looking for her. I’m not sure she cares.

The End.





Terry's book, CROOKED LADDER is available in paperback from Amazon at :

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1912017164/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=terrence+butler+crooked+ladder&qid=1596881511&sr=8-2










Terry lives in the country, near a small town south of San Jose, CA called Hollister. He used to write steadily, publishing both in print and online as Terence Butler, but after some health issues, the energy needed to write seemed to dissipate somewhat. He has been a professional photographer and a painter/collage-assemblage maker for most of his working life, so painting and photo art have taken the place of genre fiction as an outlet. Recently the story “Fire Man” appeared all as a piece in his mind so he simply wrote it down. He sent it to Cindy, and in the ensuing back and forth. They somehow discussed using some of his visual art, too. Cindy is simply the best, and a real stalwart in this little world. She has a big heart and a deep love for animals, too!







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