After the Boy Sparklehorse encounter in the ice cream parlor, I’m ready to cash in this day for the next one in the stack. So I start heading in what I’m fairly certain is the direction of my hotel, though I’ve never approached it from this angle. I find the city is often if not always smaller than I expect, things closer than they seem through alleyways that cut at non-right angles.

 

Yup. Here’s my hotel now.

 

Yawning in the trenchcoat, dawn breaking up above the awning that says the hotel’s name, I push through the door and hear the old-style bell ring. There’s no one at the front desk, which there’s usually not. Reassuring. Then I hear what sounds like canned laughter from the multipurpose room, and have a hunch.

 

Following the hunch despite how much I’d rather go upstairs to bed, I press through the ajar multipurpose room door and watch Big Pharmarkos practicing his stand-up material, prancing on the stage in a glamor get-up with a touch of the Hawaiian about it. He likes to practice right at dawn, I’ve noticed. He has his mic plugged into a guitar amp and a small crowd — 10 or 12 — men and woman, who share this thing about them that makes me gravitate toward calling them “hangers-on,” is lounging in positions between sitting and lying in the various armchairs and loveseats, some curled up together, others staring at the out-of-service slot machines against the back wall, several munching Lorna Doones from the vending machine, one or two actually watching Big Pharmakos.

 

When he sees me we nod back and forth.

 

I watch the rest of his set, neither especially interesting nor especially not interesting. When he’s done, he puts the mic on the amp, letting it hiss like one or the other is smoking, and comes over. “Good thing you came by,” he says, apparently recognizing me right away despite my new coat. Maybe the Saturnalia is over. “They moved your room to a house. C’mon, I’ll take you.”

 

I follow him out, the hangers-on turning their heads a few degrees to watch our movement, but none of them turning all the way to see us through the door. We walk into the misty, clean dawn, smoking and jaunting in our hips, stretching out in the favorable weather. The night’s heat has broken and turned to dew. “I saw them moving it,” says Big Pharmakos. He doesn’t ask me where I’ve been, and I don’t say.

 

We walk a long way, long enough for our (my?) relaxed strolling attitude to turn somewhat quaint and behind-the-times. We even pass the junkyard, where Junkyard Charles Matthiesson is awake, his back turned to us.

 

“They put it in this house,” says Big Pharmakos, pointing to a handsome but decrepit outskirts farmhouse that reminds of the place where Joe Christmas once allegedly murdered his much older lover with a razorblade, a straight razorblade I believe it was.

 

“I’ll see you,” says Big Pharmakos, and makes a gesture that looks like he’s either very hungry or needs to find a bush behind which to shit in a hurry. I leave him with a nod and make my way in, finding the door ajar and a key in a pail beside it, for later, when it’s locked, I guess.

 

The staircase creaks when I step on it, and I creak my way up to the second floor. Before long, I find my room. It’s exactly the same as it was back in the hotel, even with the same number and keyhole in the door (the “same exact door,” I might say). Inside (it opens with my usual key), I find that Housekeeping has been by and turned down my sheets and turned the two water glasses on the desk upside-down, atop those doily paper protectors that keep dust from getting in. I go to open the window but then decide I’ll save this step, so as not to get all the fun of discovery over with too soon.

 

I’m not ready to sleep so I go back down to see if there’s a coffeemaker. Amidst the creaking of the stairs I hear and then smell (or vice versa) coffee brewing.

 

It’s brewing in the kitchen.

 

In there I see it brewing, and then I see a man about my height and shape at the table, with an empty cup. “It’s not ready yet,” he says.

 

“It is,” I say.

 

He turns to look, the room newly silent. “Ah. It is now,” he says. We both help ourselves to cups, then sit at the table with them.

 

“So, Oliver Treatment,” he says. I don’t especially wonder how he knows my name, if it is my name. “I’m Jerry.” I greet him civilly.

 

“You know the deal with me?” he asks. I say that I don’t.

 

He launches into a long story about how he used to be a notorious outlaw until the police thought they’d killed him and fell off his trail. I must be falling asleep as he talks because I start to think he’s describing a dream he’s had as he tells of his exploits, and then I think, “No, it’s a dream I had that he’s describing.”

 

“The crux of it,” he says, “came the night in the supermarket. I won’t tell you what I did in there,” he looks at the clock and confirms his good judgment on this count. “But, let’s just say, when I ran out of there the cops ran out with me, guns about to blaze. I ran right across the parking lot and hopped the guardrail onto the bike path, and from there it was straight into the woods. A kind of bog, actually.

 

“This was two, three in the morning, by the way. So I’m running through this bog, waiting for the cops to open fire. And you know what I hear? What I hear is a single shot. One single shot, somewhere way off behind me.

 

“The cops took a shot in the dark. Just one.

 

“Probably hit a tree or something, if that. But they publicized all over town that they’d killed me. Never showed a body or anything, but that’s the story they went with. Like the opposite of a WANTED poster, you know? Announcing my death. And I just kept going about my business in town, without even laying low or disguising myself or changing my name. And no one’s ever bothered me. Even though everyone knows me. I even still shop at that same supermarket, though I’ll admit I rarely think about doing what I did again. And this was years ago. Been subletting this place here probably six months.”

 

He looks extremely proud of the story he’s just told. I ask him if there are other roommates.

 

“Just one he says. Name of ‘Chad, Who Disappears for 10-15 Minutes at a Time.'”

 

“Ok,” I say. “He around?”

 

Jerry looks up at the clock and then looks back at me clockeyed. “I’d say 7 minutes at least. Optimistic.”

 

I get up with what’s left of my coffee and go onto the porch. I walk once around the house and then down the steps, painted white but almost fully peeled, and into the yard. A thick and fragrant mist blows in as I walk.

 

Now the house is so wreathed that it looks like a place teased out of a dream in the minute or two after waking, when I’ve rolled up onto my side in bed but haven’t yet “gotten up” in full.

 

I stand there admiring it, then wonder about going back in — the if and the how.

 

The prospect of reentry feels about as certain as recommencing a dream broken off in the middle by waking with a start. Unlikely, but not impossible.

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