I awoke to the sound of a barkeep on the street below my window harassing an old homeless man who tried to get himself a free drink. I looked out and could see the old man's face clearly. He had long gray hair, a gray beard, and a long black wool coat that hung to the ground like a cape. The coat covered even his boots and his whole appearance was weathered, statue like, as if he were carved out of wood. He had an expressionless image as if he had seen all and was no longer affected by human interaction. "Whats one drink?", the old man yelled, "you got a whole bar full e'um". I could see the barkeep now as he stepped out farther into the street. The old keep was like the stone to the bums wood, a fierce man. His bald head gleamed in the sun and his mustache hung so far he had a permanent frown like the way a walrus does. And the keep says
"If I give it to you I gotta give one to ever' man that come here sayin it ain't fair, and god damn if I'm gonna have one hour on the house, I ain't made a money."
"Tell ya what, you got dishes need a washin?"
"We got a dishwasher boy and I got no need for you anywhere else so just leave already."
"It's a free country ain't it?"
"Yea but it's my bar!"
"Leave him alone." I screamed from above and tossed down a couple dollars.
The old man grumbled a little, picked up the money, and the barkeep let him back in. I picked my chin up off the window sill and came to the kitchen for breakfast. I had myself eggs, toast, and coffee while reading the local newspaper, like every other morning. Always the same routines. I was getting awful tired of routine. I wanted something to happen so bad I would wish every time I went to work that when I come home my apartment building would have burned and everything I own with it. Then I would have an excuse to go off and sleep along the water fronts without a care but what I was going to eat. I could fish the lakes and live real simple. I would never have to wake up and feel tied to any routines ever again, but be on a constant travel, never once sleeping under the same stars. I could search the town streets for change and buy one of those big 40 ounce bottles of beer for two bucks to go with my fish sometimes. And there is always free water in the drinking fountains around town. Of course I have to wear eye glasses and what if something were to happen to them. God damn if I only had good vision I'd up and leave everything behind right now, I would. But I can't right now anyway because I'm late for work.
One o'clock, time for my lunch break. I squeezed out rudely through my fellow co-workers and charged out the big double glass door to the designated smoking area. This is the one and only time of my work day worth uttering a single word about in any detail. I reached into my pocket with my right hand trembling a little, because of the adrenaline from rushing out so fast, and started fingering through the little cardboard pack awkwardly. Jim comes dumbly stumbling out to find me trembling like a mad man over a cigarette and lighter. He asks
"Whats wrong with you?"
"Oh nothing, just one of those days, you know, today like yesterday and everyday all day, I thought I'd park on the freeway and watch those fuckers facial expressions."
"What are you talkin about?"
"Nothin, forget it, one of those days."
"Have you seen the new girl? She is gorgeous, the most beautiful blue eyes."
"Ah the hell with you, it's impossible to talk to you."
"Boy she is gorgeous though, and her father owns a couple banks. If I could get with a girl like that I would be set for life."
"What would a woman of her status want with a bum like you?"
"Oh your one to talk, you ain't ever got a nice thing to say."
"Thats because I never got a nice thing to see."
"How can you have an attitude like that everyday? You should just keep your mouth shut forever and never talk to no one"
"Wouldn't that be nice?"
I took a long drag of my cigarette and thought about a world where I didn't have to talk to anybody. The thought of fishing along the beach and sleeping under the stars came into my head again, it's a thought I can't get over. It comes to me every time I go to work, or every time I wake up to an alarm clock, or every time I have to make a regular phone call home on the weekends, not that I don't care for family, it's just the whole idea of it. I guess Jim was right, there ain't much I really do enjoy in this life, except maybe a rainy day. Just then the blond comes walking out like some horrible queen of some horrible nation. Her head held high with some structure I didn't care for. She was too loud before she even said a word. Then she did.
"Why hi Jim!"
" Oh hey there Alice, we were just talking about you."
"You just come in from wonderland?" I said
"What's he talkin about?"
"Never mind him, he has nothing good to say."
"Well he says he has nothing good to see."
"I don't get it."
"Neither do I, and I don't think he does either."
"Well with a mind like his I would fear he's a psycho killer." she says laughing, without ever looking at me.
Just then a weird rush came over me. I dropped my cigarette and started walking out towards the parking lot. I wasn't clear as to what I was doing but I just kept walking.
Jim yells, "Hey! Where you think your going?" I didn't acknowledge the question, just kept walking. He made a few more attempts to get my attention but I got to my car and was off. I thought about how I left my coat and cell phone in my locker but I couldn't stop driving. I couldn't focus on anything, like my body was going two steps ahead of me and I wasn't worrying too much about catching up. I drove by a man and a women walking hand in hand down the sidewalk, and for a second I could gather a real thought. It was an anxious thought, what I imagined would go through someones head the moment before kicking the chair out from under themselves and laying all faith into the rope around their neck. But I just kept driving. I wasn't even sure where I was gonna go but I know I wasn't turning around and going back to work. I was gaining on my apartment building and decided to pull in and park. I sat for a half an hour pondering, not in words, but emotions. I had a big decision to make and I knew if I didn't make it now I would wake up to an alarm clock tomorrow morning ready for the same cynical conversations at lunch break with people I didn't know a thing about, or want to know. I thought maybe I should wait a week and sell the car and television and refrigerator and toaster and bed and break the lease on the apartment and buy a tent and do it proper. But I couldn't wait that long, I didn't care enough about cleaning up after myself. I had to say fuck it all and leave a loud mess for whatever poor bastard would eventually find me missing with my car in the lot and all my shit up in the room.
At that moment I got out of the car and started walking nervously down the street like I had earlier with Jim and the queen, Alice. I walked past my building, which is damn close to being the very rotten center of the small city. I past Cavern Street, then Main Street, then Carton Avenue. I realized I was walking extremely fast and knew if I was really doing this I should calm down and enjoy it, so I stopped dead in my tracks on the cross of Carton and Belvue. I sat down on the step of a used book store, took a long deep breathe, and thought up a plan. No more than four blocks, in the direction I was already headed, is the edge of town where the docks are, on Lake Chaplin. If I followed up the lake about half a mile the coast becomes more sandy and beach like and the woods are vast but you can still see the tips of the buildings in the city if you stand in the water and look down the coast line. That was all that went through my head before I stood up and began walking in the same direction towards the docks. I stopped off at the corner store and picked up some of those free match books they have set up along the side of the register, and thought I could use them to set a fire and cook up some fish or something. I also bought a 40 ounce bottle of beer for 2 dollars, with the forty something dollars I had in my wallet. I made it to the dock carrying the beer in a plastic grocery bag and turned at the lake and started along up the lake front. I got to the beach at around 2:30 and sat down in the sand, glancing around dumbly. Suddenly I felt kind of silly and didn't know what I was doing. I didn't regret coming, but my mind was a little off because of the whole ordeal. There were a few people at the beach; two young teenage girls in bikinis that must have skipped school, a man and his family speaking spanish, and a young boy reading under the shade of a tree. The father of the family was staring suspiciously at my unkempt work clothes and plastic bag of beer, when suddenly I realized I forgot something. "The fishing pole", I muttered to myself, "all this and I have no way to eat." I headed back to town, having stashed the beer bottle in the bushes at the beach. I was walking quickly up Carton Avenue when a firetruck flies past with its alarm ringing loud and proud. I past Carton and started on Main Street and noticed a cloud of smoke in the air and people rushing in the same direction I was, some screaming wildly. I started running to see what was going on and then passed Main Street, hit Church Street, and stopped dead. "What a god damn hilarious coincidence." I said to myself as I watched my apartment building vomit flames and smoke into the air. "Whaaahoo gooood dammmn!" I laughed. Right in the middle of my mad scene a women to the right of me yells.
"What are you so pleased about you bastard!"
"Why I didn't mean anythi-"
"My baby is in there you monster."
I went speechless and started to feel a little sick to my stomach. I felt like I was dreaming and couldn't focus on the facts of all this. I thought about how every day I wished this place would burn so I could leave. And how I didn't care a bit about anything but watching this world burn and all the people I loathed with it. I felt woozy and sat down on the curb, out of the way, trying to gather my thoughts. Everything was happening so fast I was feeling far from sanity. I saw the firemen pulling out a small charred figure and the woman began screaming wildly. So wildly I had to cover my ears or pass out, one or the other. The baby was dead.
I just sat there feeling like there could have been some life lesson here, maybe not to take anything for granted or some stupid cliche like that, or maybe some Ebenezer Scrooge ending was coming, but I didn't feel anything. After five minutes I wasn't even sure if I felt bad for the mother or her child. I just got up denying that I ever lived there and walked slowly and calmly back to the beach. I never ate any fish that night. As a matter of fact I stopped at the corner store and bought two more bottles of beer. I spent that night drunk, cursing the moon that ever a child was born into this unpredictable hell. The only predictable thing about this life is that we will never find any real answers, and peace is far far away if anywhere at all. The next morning I felt so full of sorrow I sat all day at the bar across the street from what was once my home. I spent the last of my money on booze. The old man with the long black coat comes in and sits down next to me. He says
"You want to know a secret?"
"You know they say that fire yesterday was arson."
"It was me.... I lit the fucker.... I SENT THAT ROTTEN BUILDING TO HELL!!!"
He stumbles out of his chair laughing, then choking every time the laughter got too loud. I didn't know what to say and couldn't if I did. I hoped to god he was lying and just drunk. He was heading to go back out the door when he turned around and looked me square in the eyes. "Now I'm not all alone down here.", he says. Then he was gone. I knew there wasn't a damn thing to learn anymore, so I put it out of my mind, turned to order another beer but was out of money. "Hey keep, how about letting me off with a free drink?"