Night never seemed the time to get sentimental about the way the world never becoming what it was you wanted it to be when you were young, so thought Flanders, but this night, this very night, the lights on the wet streets making slurred rainbows and hissing sounds as the tires rolled over the pot holes in the asphalt, he thought, why not, this night of endless dreaming when there is only he and his cigarettes, the bottle of hooch in his back pocket, the clubs along the avenue up to the old water tower where he’d been in trouble on nights like this years earlier, earlier, faster as the rush of speed hit the brain and the tongue swelled and dried as ideas and impulse came into their own just then, this night of cigarette smoke in is lungs, a dry and parched pinch of burning charcoal filtered blackness that roasted the pink design of nature’s idea of breathing, Flanders took a drink, he wanted to talk he fingered his change and lounged against the wall of the door way he was in, cracking his knuckles, rattling the coins in his pocket, thinking he’d love a blues jam to break out in front of him right now, a long and searing guitar solo ala Alvin Lee or Johnny Winter, none of this po’ sharecroppin’ Negro shit where the notes were all wrong, the coarseness of the singing too beat up, chafed, scuffed up , none of that at all, he wished it would rain, he thinks that would help the way he isn’t feeling about this world and how it never comes around to his way of thinking, anyone’s thinking when there was a time for him to be alert enough to ask someone, why couldn’t he just drink like the other guys, just be like the other guys, just drink and sit in a bar and smoke the cigarettes, endless butts crammed in an ashtray, get drunk, pick up on some swing shift cootie cutie and fuck his brains out, be in some place warm, worn out, fucked up, fucked and asleep, oh yeah, not outside on a rainy night, looking at the traffic, all his teeth grinding something fierce, molars going like trains passing each other in mountain towns where the coal and the axel grease comes from, to the shelves of California, Flanders took a drag off his smoke and felt his back pocket for the bottle, wanting to slow down, the cars came to the intersection and just roared by when the lights changed, when the lights changed, the cars just roared by, big radio speakers cracking the promise of dawn and early returns of bus lines up and at ‘em and really alert to the cause of what the fuck am I doing here, oh pleaseeeeeeeeeeesssee man oh god in heaven this is such a bad bad badddddddddddd buzz, fucking A man, bad bad bad, Flanders was awake enough for an invading battalion, the white crosses had him marching, ready for anything, just alert, nothing moving but notions about what he might have done in former times, the chances he passed up , the chances, man that guitar solo smoked!!! I went down to the cross road, to hack a ride , oh yeah
There was a harmonica in one of his pockets, but this was no time to stop what he was doing in order to find it, he ran his hands over the wall, slimy with night dampness, another rain was coming, dust from the asphalt rose again and choked him, he lit a new cigarette and watched the fresh red cherry at the tip glow , Flanders squinted his eyes to blur the vision, it was the light at the tip of an air plane wing, the light on a buoy in a harbor of choppy water, a small torch to burn away the night, he coughed, spit some phlegm, he took another drink from the bottle, he could hear the motor functions of his own mind grind away, running overtime, everything felt as though it were about to fall apart and collapse, I bet this goddamned building weighs a fuck of a lot, he thought, I mean any reason I need not pay my taxes, I mean, not until the editorial cartoonist for that rag gives us an apology for the dirt he did addicts, man, like just cuz I slam does not mean I am an addict, I just fuck up is all, ways to my thinking, the cooties are fucked up, yeah, electric as robot arms in Disneyland kiddie zones, oh yeah…
“You need a blues jam” Shel said, breaking the barrier between them. She’d been there next to him, flipping through the pages of a paperback novel that she read by the light of the liquor store they were standing in front of. “You’re tense, Flan, you gotta loosen up.”
She put a hand on his shoulder. He pulled away with a startled jerk of his shoulder.
“Play some blues, squeezie”, she cooed, bending down the corner of the page she was on and stuffing the book into her shoulder bag/ “Play something low and deep so that your nerves can find something they can rest on.”
“Can’t” said Flanders” this was a mistake. I can’t even walk anymore, and the only thing I can do is stare at the intersection watching cars get on and off the free way…”
“Those white crosses were supposed to be good….”
“ No goddamned shit, . Flanders wheezed. He was short of breath.
“Easy” said Sheila “It’s okay.”
“Goddamned Ferg” he said.
“It’s okay. Play some blues…”
“Can’t. Ferg just drinks, man, none of this slammin’’' and scammin'. Man oh goddamned man, oh fuck oh yeah…”
A car slowed down in front of them, the tires hissing like crackling dry leaves in a fire. The driver was a teen age male, wearing a backward baseball cap, looking around the avenue to see who was coming and going along the wet street. The passenger was another boy, a Mexican kid in a spike cut and black smear of a goatee between his lower lip and chin. He pounded on the side of the car in time to the furious beats of their CD deck, annihilation music.
“Hey” he yelled at Flanders, “Which way to the Water tower??”
Flanders stepped forward, into the arc of light cast by a yellow street lamp. He looked sick, eviscerated of all feeling.
“That way” he said, pointing up the street, into perspective obscured by billboards and old trees the city hadn’t yet cut backt.
“ On the right, bro, can’t miss it…”
The passenger gave a nod to the driver in the direction that Flanders pointed . The car lunged forward suddenly, running a red light, leaving a clamoring echo of squealing tires resounding through the block on what had been a quiet night on the street, with only a constant light rain accompanying the motions of minor crimes occurring in the alleys , parking lots and playgrounds.
“Kids, goddamn kids” he said, “I mean, when we went cruising, when we were that age, we made it a point to get the fuck outta dodge, y’know, I mean go someplace we didn’t live and see the sights , the freaks who lived there , man, I mean, gimmee a break, there’s nothing at the Waterpower but old men at picnic tables playing cards and checkers…”
“I couldn’t tell ya” she said, “Let’s go get a movie and chill, Flan, its cold and you have to do something besides stare at traffic. Put all that speed to use studying an unsolvable puzzle…”
“Tell you what, Shel, I gotta work tomorrow, and I ain’t sleeping tonight, not really…”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing” she said, taking his arm to pull him away, inch by rattled inch away from the liquor store entrance and up the street, where she had her apartment above a neighborhood hobby shop. “Time to read a film, not the street..”
“Next chapter…” she said, and pulled him along by his arm.
She led him down up the street, into the dark and shrill coldness of half-rain, a hard mist that felt not unlike stabs to their skin, pricks of cold, deliberate fingers. The walked past several businesses, most of them bars, most of them unlit with the doors open for the old navy guys and their wives who had to stand outside for a cigarette. Shel could feel the double burn of whiskey and Marlboros passing through her throat and passing on its burn and warmth to every far end, fingertip and unhealed region of her body where the cold of an unending, snowless winter crept and hardened her skin into some flat surface, emotionless, recoiling at the touch, she loved the feeling of being thawed, whiskey and cigarette, the room and the streets getting hazy around her as the city seemed to calm down for a moment, fall quiet for some long seconds, it’s hateful speech quieted by a collective sign from bars and vanishing apartment houses after the citizens are off the buses and out of their cars and settling in with the fall of nigh and an eye lid, then another eyelid, television on and drink in hand, a cigarette burning and the skin softening, feeling, the sting of feeling flooding back to what had seemed so hopelessly lost, inured, hard and crass, like the weather that surrounds and buries the neighborhood , unresponsive to the silent yearnings of hearts translating their desires into small talk about work, box scores, bad jokes, yes, she wanted to warm up.
Shel pulled on Flander’s hand, poor Flanders who was now so relentlessly distracted with his speed that all he wanted to do was merge with the things of this extraordinary world, to burst through some membrane of distinction and test the intelligence of the average man- made things he found on the street, that he espied doing nothing, being nothing and not even existing as the sum of theirs constituent parts until his eyes took them in and his mind gave those things names, that is, defined them, but he could feel himself being tugged along the street by Shel, past the businesses, the parked cars, in a direction away from the water tower that was still the landmark all kinds of personal gravity had their polarities defined by, the water tower seen from afar, looming from the small vest-pocket park area from where it rose above the line of tall trees and the buildings of the business district that had an indifferent profile in their hard angles, architectural distinction sacrificed when mortar had to be applied in a hurry less the money run out during a construction boom that began in the fifties and ground to a stand still in the sixties, leaving the business area to slowly fall apart, patch by patch, chicken wire seen under the stucco, the water tower looming over the tree line and the roofs and television aerials as though it were a guardian sleeping on its feet, resting against the cornerstone of a palace gateway while the business of invading hordes and their dirty money swept past it, quietly changing the name of the bricks, the stones that built the homes , dug up the trees whose roots disrupted the sidewalks that led to and from the park and The Water tower, where everyone was going to or coming away from on a rainy night.
Flanders stopped suddenly, causing Shel to stumble in her rapid pace. He pointed down to the curb, where a stream of rain water flowed down the street’s slight incline. This was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, and again he pointed he motioned for Shel to take in a long look at the run off as the water gathered and swelled at the curb and then became a mad river to the bottom of the hill, running into storm drains that emptied on beaches that were closed to swimming and other human use.
“Nice, Flan” said Shel, pulling her coat around her collar. She was getting cold. The wind cut through her wet coat bitterly.
“We gotta go, sweetie” she said, pulling him along, “what we need are a bath and drink. Let’s get going…”
“Listen” he said, cocking his head as though to aim his ear in the direction of sounds only he heard. Shel looked puzzled, her mouth taking on a frown that wormed over her delicate, high-cheeked features.
“What?” A visible tremble ran through her lips. It was cold and her teeth were chattering.
Flanders put a finger over his lips. “Over there” he said, tilting his head to indicate a cross street they’d come to, in front of yet another cluster of shops that were mostly closed for the night, but where the liquor store still kept the light burning until the legal limit. Up the side street, in a doorway that led up to apartments over the storefronts, were two teenagers, arguing. There voices could be heard on the main drag between batches of cars hissing along the asphalt.
Flanders was laughing.
“I wanna hear this…”
“Flan, damn it, it’s cold…”
“Listen. Shhhhhhhhhh…” He placed a twitching, cold tipped finger over her lips to make her be quiet.
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