Early morning. The leaves are just now starting to bruise. Changing color, lush green to that sickly jaundice yellow…soon they’ll be egglant. Then they’ll be dead. On the ground, raked away, sacks full of eggplant. The metal rods and screws in Harry’s right hip are also just now starting to bruise. With the chill in the air, not yet cold enough to be cold, but warning—threatening—
–the metal in his hip tightening—clenching—threatening to bruise. Outside the Gas n’ Go. Not a lot of people out and about at this point. With the threatening chill starting about now to percolate in his porous bones and in the hardware in his bones and the screws in the hardware in his bones; it’s the feeling you get just before you vomit. That pre-vomit chill that’s some ways worse than the vomit itself. Not a lot of people out and about at this point in the pre-vomit chill. Harry pulled ahead in front of the pump and shifted to park.
Not much on the docket today
Clambering out the driver’s side, bones rattling with that tinny vacancy of a used-up spray-paint can or maybe a set of loose partials falling down the garbage disposal. It feels sick outside.
No…not much on the docket today
That’s for sure
When you don’t sleep, your bones have a way of feeling the UV shift from black to dawn and all that early morning light has a way of radiating through the most impregnable, light-tight sarcophagus; through the blinds and the curtains, even the walls. Insomnia is a kind of dope-sickness; dosing with the black of night, withdrawing with the onset of morning and all that light that penetrates curtains and drapes and drywall and bones…the kind of light that hurts even in the pitch black. Harry’s body knows the morning light without seeing it. Nature’s cruel way of poking you with a sharp stick. Get up. Deal with it. You can’t hide from me. Pre-vomit light. Morning.
There’s nothing to be done…so he submits to the sick light in his aching bones, melts out of bed into a crumpled pile of cold sweats—clammy ashen skin—damp bedsheets…polyester. There’s one thing on the docket. The car needs gas. The car doesn’t need to go anywhere, but in theory it still needs a fill’er’up. Why not. Wobbly, propped up at an anatomically questionable angle on hollow bird’s bones, Harry fumbled for his wallet. Swipe card. Enter zip code. Press Enter. Did you know they have the TV right there at the pump now…….in case you feel the sudden urge for entertainment while pumping gas. What a world we live in now. After this, he’d been thinking, maybe a drive through the abandoned model homes construction area.
Imagine that. Abandoned things of empty abandoned things. Throw a little dollhouse in that unfinished model house somewhere and you’re on your way to some bad postmodern variation on the Russian nesting doll.
It’s a comment on something, they’d say.
“Today’s forecast,” a square-headed Ken doll on the perfectly necessary TV at the pump says… “Brrrrrr…Well, Gretchen, let’s just say Fall is well under way.” Highs in the 50’s or somewhere abouts there. Lows in the 30’s. “Beautiful foliage if you look outside; the colors are just lovely. Enjoy it while you can though, because we are already headed for a bit of a cold snap… some moisture moving in on Wednesday evening… cold front… better bring an umbrella….” And the cube-headed man on the gas pump says some more things too.
Harry twisted the gas cap off and went for the gas gun. Gripped the nozzle in a perfectly reasonable for the task grip, and as he pulled it from the pump, a pungent shower of amber fluid rains down on him along with the long rubber hose fixed to the nozzle. Gasoline is in no time flowing in a caustic river all over the pavement, gushing. A flood of gasoline, soaking the right side of his face and body, dripping viscously from the cuff of his khaki slacks into little puddles around his feet, soaking into his socks and drizzling into his loafers.
Still for a moment, the gasoline really starts to geyser from the break in the hose. Somewhere between the force and flow of a simple garden fountain and old faithful, the gas spurts in heavy consistent bursts from the base of the pump where the hose had somehow come dislodged. I swear I didn’t yank it, he thought. Regardless, there are few people about still and he jumps back into the driver’s seat with the potency of a man much younger, with good solid calcified bones at that. Someone not soaked with inflammable liquid. Before driving off..
Should I alert an attendant?
He is driving off down the road before the question reaches maturity.
Back home, Harry strips naked, gasoline soaked articles of clothing dropping to the floor in squishy clumps as he goes. Not thinking to keep from tracking the inflammable articles in soggy piles like crumbs of bread through a forest. A marked lack of thought. Almost a given. Almost as if having had anticipated this. Not much strikes him as notable…in general.
Showered and dressed for the second time in as many hours, Harry poured himself a bowl of cereal and read the box. A show about some war on the small kitchen TV set. The newsreaders call for fog and drone strikes…both local or some thousands of miles equidistant, he hadn’t caught that detail.
Patio furniture’s on sale…
Harry doesn’t have a patio. He finished his bowl of cereal and drank down the leftover sugar backwash.
Nothing on the docket today.
After sitting awhile, he decides to go on over to those postmodern nesting dolls after all. His salt and pepper hair slicked back in thinning strands, takes a moment to contemplate. Should I have let the Sikh inside the station know there’s a pump malfunctioning? Premature, that fleeting thought finds a capricious puberty in the opposite persuasion.
Bastards are lucky I don’t sue. Who’s responsible over there?
But that’s forgotten real quick. Harry grabs his jacket and cane and heads for the door; stepping over the wet spots on the carpeting. At the model home site, the chill in the air is a bit more sick than earlier. He struggles, bends down low enough to select a few choice rocks from the red clay lining a stone ledge. Leaning back against it, gives it his best and manages in the first shot to smash a second story window. A few more lucky shots, a lot more bad misses.
“What are you doing?” a nasally voice asks from behind the crumbling stone ledge. Ignoring, not answering and not bothering to look behind him, Harry throws his last rock; it sounds with a shallow ping against the faux vinyl façade of the townhouse several yards away. “What you doing?” the nasal voice asks again.
“Throwing rocks,” Harry says, still not turning around.
“It relaxes me. When I can’t sleep.”
“Why can’t you sleep?” the voice asks, followed by a slurp of mucous. A kid’s voice. Probably.
Harry remained silent for a good time and offered, “I don’t know.”
The boy, sounded like somewhere between 6 and 14, slurped a throat-full of mucous back again and stayed quiet for a good time. “You stink.”
“I suspect so,” Harry says. Without bothering to attach a human being to the voice, walks away.
“Hey. You think they’ll ever finish these houses, man?”
Clambering back into his vehicle. “I doubt it.”
The spray-paint rattle in his bones getting louder, and more hollow, he drove back towards his apartment. There isn’t much to do these days. You try to find the time to care about that. But throwing rocks at fake houses keeps you too busy most days to manage it. It occurs that maybe not doing much is itself a lot to do. In some perverse way, taxing.
Harry came to a red light and noticed the thinning branches, balding trees, bruised leaves; around just now, everything is dying. The premonition of vomiting written in dead eggplant leaves along the gutters and sidewalks. Almost worse than the act itself.
Not much more on the docket today.
He thought back to when those fake houses were first going up. A sneak-peek. A glimpse of things that might come. Who knows why they didn’t. Lack of funding maybe…lack of interest…zoning ordinances…whatever the reason, left not even half finished. And apparently forgotten. As a kid, a new construction site is a great thing. Lots of plywood lying around everywhere, all for the taking. For building forts in the woods. Nails, bolts, dirt and rocks. It’s an exciting thing. Then when it’s all finished, all the buildings built and moved into…it always lost that.
My own house was exciting at first. Then I got used to it. Don’t know why that is.
Some ass laying on the horn behind him. Harry looked up and saw the light had turned and in no particular hurry moved ahead. Approaching the shopping plaza near the Gas n’ Go, Harry remembered the faulty hose and the flood of gasoline, and noticed as if a revelation the still pungent odor of the stuff on himself. No amount of scrubbing. A thought occurred to him as he turned the corner onto the side road that would lead past the place.
Suppose, somehow, a spark caught while that geyser was still flowing…maybe someone, not noticing the scene, had walked by a bit later and happened to flick a cigarette butt into the pool of inflammable material. How big an explosion would that make?
Wonder if the place was blown to kingdom come. Shit, someone could’ve died I guess.
Coming down the road, he cranes his neck to see if the whole place has gone up in a ball of fire. Charred remains. Calamity. Dogs and cats, making love. End times. All that.
Coming down the road, the Gas n’ Go comes into view…
…still nothing on the docket today…