As Lester walked down the street, the moon shown down in scattered pieces on the pavement that resembled shards of broken glass, but giving off no reflections; just brief elongated shadows. He couldn't help but notice how his brown dress shoes, that were size too big, gave off a click clack click sound that he found reminded him off high heels that held long, thin legs that existed on far away beaches and sophisticated downtown bistros. Those were long lost places; where beautiful sights and sounds seemed endless and life was something merely only to be lived. He slowed his pace a little, and saw how his turtle green jacket seemed blue every time he passed a cluster of trees that temporarily blocked the waning moon.
His clear breath stood out amongst the stillness, "Spring is over'' he thought to himself, digging into his black pants and tossing around change in a nervous way. He didn't look down at all, only forward. He knew where he was going and that seemed enough. The terrible shoes had quieted slightly in their feminine sound, and the tall wooden street lights, gave off a soft, pale light that seemed familiar and rivaled even the moon. Lester starred up at the few stars that were visible, a small collection of tiny white eyes, spaced so far apart that he concluded that they didn't even care if they were noticed, like the angry eyes of strangers that subtly meet yours as you cross daytime streets. He had felt uncomfortable lately, a combination of real maladies and convoluted nonsense. Doctor Benning told him that his lungs were in rough shape, and recommended that he move to a warmer climate. The ugly red lamp on his solid oak desk always caught the unmistakable look of utter disinterest in his eyes. They went from his ledger, to Lester"s, and than always back on the wall, as if something magical and promising existed there, other than placards and degrees that most likely defined his whole existence.
Dr. Benning was a tall skeleton of a man, whose fingers always danced through his
dyed beard, as a spiders' legs would in secure fluffy web. Aside from the small light the lamp gave off, the office was dark and somewhat menacing. Most of the time the waiting room out front seemed more appealing, for at least if contained magazines, though they were all at least a few years old and consisted primarily of golf and homemaking. But the sunlight came into that room from open blinds, and everyone there avoided it, finding shaded areas or hiding behind magazines.
"I just have this feeling in my head, Lester would tell him, "It doesn't hurt, really, but it's like a thumping sound that won't go away." Dr. Benning would do his finger dance through his beard, acting as though something utterly foolish had been said. All he would do was shake his head and look at his wall. "Nonsense, nonsense, Mr. Whempler, you simply don't get enough rest." he said in a most endearing voice.
Lester walked into a small package store on the corner. The old bricks were covered in outdated flyers and graffiti. Walking past a few singing winos, that were actually hitting correct notes, he stepped inside and noticed how the whole place smelled like a combination of fresh roasted peanuts and stale piss. Approaching the counter and fumbling for his wallet, he saw a small woman standing up from a stool. She gave a little half smile, and asked "Wha can I get you sa?" in a sad redundant way. She was Asian, and her long straight black hair only accentuated the tiny features on her pockmarked face. He dug into his pocket uncomfortably, pulling his wallet out and placing it awkwardly on the plastic counter that covered all the bounced checks. Thinking for a second, he said "Old Golds please."
Sweat was beginning to pour from his brow, and all he wanted was to be back outside. It wasn't just the odor, the crooked candy bar rack and magazine display were etching closer and closer each second, and they made a horrible scratching noise as they tore up the floor, inch by inch. The place was devoid of any other customers, but Lester could feel the peering eyes of the other workers that were surely behind the door in the corner of the store.
She stretched her pale arms upwards as her skin tight shirt lifted slightly. The green cotton perfectly outlined her lean stomach. He pretended to not to look, but she slunk down quickly and saw exactly where his eyes where. Fluffing her hair, and turning her head "Five sixty eight" she responded in a quiet, but dominating voice. He dug into his wallet uncomfortably as he gazed longingly into her dead eyes. He pulled out a ten dollar bill and her small hand instantly shot out like a five fingered bullet. Dropping the bill in her palm, he quickly lunged at the door, barely gripping it before it flung open, and taking a long deep breath. The winos stopped their song for a brief instant, giving him a jovial laugh with pats on the pack, and than quickly continued on.
The emptiness of Summer nights had always bothered him. It was apparent that this season was the lull between Spring and Winter, and all the promises and plans it was supposed to represent, were really just that; a seasonal metaphor. Lester ripped open the cigarette pack, discarding the cellophane into the gentle wind that crept up the empty street. The streetlights were a little brighter because their gaps where shorter, and a cluster of newspapers flew along the street almost exactly in the crosswalk. A few made their way and a remnant of the sports pages hit Lester's ankles as he stood on the corner starring at the bar.
Quite a few people were outside of Blue Horse and as he walked in he noticed his cigarette was still lit. No one seemed to notice, and remembering he had done this once or twice before Lester, casually inhaled deeply for a few seconds and tossed it under his shoes. It was a small place with stained navy blue carpets and a little horse shoe style bar that faced filthy windows. The automatic pool table was probably broken as a group were gathered around it and seemed to be shaking it. There was an old jukebox that took one quarter and always held the same old songs. Looking around and seeing too many familiar faces he contemplated turning around and walking out, but all of a sudden he was sitting down at the bar. The bartender was new, because usually they knew what he drank, and usually they were female. "What'll it be?" he asked, the last of his teeth showing under his stained mustache. Lester shrugged and asked for gin on the rocks. Throwing a ten on the counter, he gave a little point at the man, indicating the change was his tip. The place was same, like always: full of staggering locals and awkward tourists, some there to kill time and others trying to make it almost matter.
He took long hauls off his drink and looked over his shoulder at the only couple dancing to a drawn out ballad. The man was young looking and tall, with large biceps, and a huge pot belly. His partner made an earnest attempt to appear a decade younger than she was, and bitterly failed. Soft blond hair covered a face that had seen it all. She was at least fifty, and as Lester watched the couple sway and grind, a large hand hit his shoulder.
"Les, holy Christ! Howaya doin?"
The man yelling into his ear was Gordon Rusden, an old acquaintance who loved the sound of his own voice. Les looked up and faked a perfect smile. "Hey Gordo, not to much, not much at all."
The couple had stopped their dance, and as the music faded the whole place took on an ugliness. Between Gordon's endless banter, the air was abuzz with broken pieces of lives that were ruined. Sad men sat alone, starring around and than focusing back on their drinks; making sure they were still there. Les saw them only as mirrors, giving off his own reflection. The two or three women in the place were getting every sleazy glance that could be given. Grinning and looking disinterested, they still sat there, batting their eyes and sipping the free drinks. And the bartender, who kept smoothing down his eyebrows and mumbling to himself, kept a constant glance over every single thing and seemed to approve.
Gordon's face had some constricted look to it, and after several seconds of subconsciously drowning out his voice, Les looked at him.
"The girl, Les, the girl! Jesus Chrisona cross, where is she, what's her name? "
" I don't know"
"I'll tell ya, I heard she was a good lookin' little thing Les, you should bring her "round."
Lester merely shrugged.
"Whataya ya drinkin? Next ones on me""
Lester gulped down his gin and waved his hand in front of his face.
"No, no just came in for one."
Gordon gave a disapproving look and shrugged, finishing his drink and motioning for another. "Godamnit Les!" he yelled pushing his empty glass forward, "You haven't been around in two months." Straightening up, he picked up his fresh drink and smiled, "It's just good to see ya guy, how's Emily? Haven't seen her in a long while" he said laughing to himself. His hand rested on Lester's shoulder, and for an instant, he almost felt like having one more drink here, to forget the past. All he really wanted to do was talk about the future; and not about what it held, but about what it decided to release.
Lester stood up and stretched, wishing to merely shake hands with Gordon and leave. Gordon grasped his hand hard and looked over his shoulder, "Hey Tim, Les is here!" he shouted. As Lester tried to make his way to the door, he was stopped in his tracks by a very drunk and disgusting man. He smelled like pickles and his sweat laden hair clung to his face. Tim Phines was Gordon's long time running buddy and a long time causal acquaintance of Lester. Although he knew very little about him, his gut was confused; all he understood was to leave his presence as quickly as possible, or smash his skull in. Short and stocky, his flamboyant voice made him seem almost humorous. His tone deaf voice screamed in Lester's ear, and with a solid grip he tried to lead him back to the bar.
"Christ Whempler, whattya doing' here ya old man?"
"Leaving, sorry, it's just.." Lester began slowly..
"Oh it's just nothing" Phines said caustically, "I always thought of you as a family man Les, pausing to take a sip of his scotch he continued, "And to hear your involved with some little whore, well a fellow starts think, about a guy, ya know?" Phines rolled his eyes and finished his drink as a few people looked on. Biting his lip but smiling wide, Lester pushed him away hard, and started again towards the door. Tim went flat on his back and rolled over as a pig would. Loose change fell from his pockets and his shoes hit the top of a vacant table. Standing up, he straightened out himself and dramatically raised both arms,
"Nice guy, Les, nice guy." he screamed, "Good man! Tell your wife I said hi, go home and see her, ya prick"
Lester could feel all eyes upon him as he strolled out, but he didn't care. Kicking open the door, he saw Gordon's frightened face fixated on him as he brushed off Tim. He held the door on his foot; reaching for his cigarettes he noticed how the sky was much darker than before, and devoid of all clouds. As he let the door go, and started to walk, he heard Phines talking to a stranger and pointing at him, "Hear she's dirty, wouldn't touch the girl myself, ha, Lester's new plan""
Lester called a cab on a nearby pay phone and was unsettled to hear his voice sound so shaky. He soon found himself being whisked back to his hotel. He had been living at a little place called The Tumbler right smack in the middle of town since his wife left him two weeks ago.
He met her when she was a hundred pounds overweight; with crooked red bangs and wore a pound of eyeliner. But her voice and charm overpowered her physical shortcomings. At night, when it rained and the flimsy drapes swayed with the wind, she would fall asleep with her fingers pressed into his chest. Her touch made him feel that all the smiles he had made were really valid. And she cooked the most delicious meals! Breakfast was always the best, because she would go all out; crepes, eggs benedict, and always champagne and orange juice. Afterwards they'd always sit down on the couch and talk for at least an hour, before Lester had to leave for work. He remembered how sad her eyes looked as he shut the door each day, as if some tragedy had happened.
His room wasn't too small, but at night when the specks of moonlight swept across the bed, it sometimes felt like the walls were closing in. Lester lit a cigarette and tossed the smoking match at the ashtray but missed. He reached into pocket and pulled out his wallet and an appointment reminder card from Dr. Benning. Looking at is closely he laughed,
"The best service, provided exclusively to you."
He ripped it in half and dropped it on the floor, watching all the little pieces that almost passed for snow. The walls were a sickly green color and were barren, except for a painting of a boy and a clown. Grabbing his bottle of wine and seeing there were a few sips left, he fell back on the bed and clutched the bottle with his right hand. His wife was originally from Massachusetts, and throughout their ten year marriage, he had always felt more than happy; it was a sense of solemn pride that he, of all people, had found a small slice of heaven. She might have loved him, but he wasn't sure. She probably listened to him, but he couldn't remember. When they first met, he had trouble finding even a few minutes to himself. She always wanted to know what he liked, what he didn't, what he was thinking and so on. Emily was always unhappy about being overweight and right after they got married, she started her decade long diet. Each year, steadily, she lost roughly ten pounds a year, along with other tiny pieces of her personality At the end of the decade she decided she looked good enough, and told Lester abruptly that she didn't love him anymore and wanted a divorce.
It must have been a state of shock he was in, because at first he didn't feel anything.
He didn't ask any questions, because he knew all the answers. She was having an affair with a much younger man for about year. He was very aware, but didn't say a word, fearing he'd lose her. Everything he now owned fit into a tiny suitcase he packed after he got the news. All the rest he left for her; the furniture, the two cars, everything. She couldn't bare children, so at least there was no worry about custody hearings or any other such nonsense. "Emily, whenever you have the papers ready, mail them to my brother and I'll sign them and he'll drop them off." were the last words he spoke to her. Her eyes swelled up with tears and as she tried to offer a small embrace he shook his head and walked out the door for the last time.
Now he found himself watching the ceiling fan go around, and around. There was no moonlight tonight and he sat up slowly shaking his head and feeling utterly elated. For he had met a girl two days ago at an antique store; her name was Jane. Her pitch black hair fell down past her waist and her smile was as wide as a river. She was a petite and had pale blue eyes, and every time she laughed her high pitched laugh, he felt himself get a little younger. He stopped in for no particular reason other than he had never been in there before. It was a cluttered mess. Walls of clocks surrounded all the old miriors and lamps, and bookshelves that were kept in pretty good shape. She told him that she dusts everything almost every day.
"I don't mind it, actually I sort of enjoy keeping them nice"
They had talked for a while and Lester had told her that he had a keen intrest in porcelian angels. That was a lie of course, Emily was the one who collected the stupid things. During their marriage he had bought her dozens of the things. It was all he could think to say at the moment, because he wanted her to keep talking. She showed him a couple of useless things, and after pretending to be interested, Lester excused himself for a cigarette, and she smiled and followed.
As she stood and lit her cigarette, everything behind her faded to grey for a few seconds. Her long hair gently kissed the breeze and her smoke blew past Lester's head. They had hit it off, and talked and joked for about ten minutes. At one point she was doing in impression of some miserable customer who had stopped in earlier, and had her hand on his shoulder. Her face was a few inches from his, and out've the corner of his eye he saw a white pickup drive by. It was an old friend named Berney, who knew everyone at the Blue Horse. A loud noise was shouted out the window as it drove by, and Lester stuck his hands in his pockets, the way a guilty child would. The phone rang in the store and she smiled and said she had to go. Lester nodded and smiled back, hoping their eyes would meet. They did. As he started walking away, he heard the bell of the door chime and looked back over his shoulder.
"Hey, come back in three days ok? There is something I want to talk to you about."
Lester stopped and turned quickly around. He nodded and gave a wave. She waved back at him and disappeared. The walk back to the hotel was magical. His spirits were uplifted so high, to the point were he greeted strangers and wished them a great day. Most smiled, but one man scoffed and flipped him off, and even this only made Lester laugh. Getting to his room, he gently held his hands together. For the first time in six weeks, he was happy that he had quit his job.
Lester took off his pants and shirt, carefully folding them and placing them on the back of a chair as there was no closet. Half tripping over the empty wine bottle, he fell on the bed and fell asleep, creating his own dreams. He woke up the next morning much later than he had hoped, and ran around in a mad panic. Cursing himself for wearing the same clothes as the first time they met, he went about his normal routine. In exactly eight minutes he was showered and dressed, his hair combed neatly to one side. He looked out the window as sunlight hit him in the face. He squinted out a bit and saw all the people walking below him on the streets. They all had a purpose. Today he was going one of them. Double checking his pockets for the room key, he rushed down to the lobby for a cup of coffee. There was no time for breakfast. As his shoes slapped against the tile, he noticed how fast he was walking and how quickly he was sipping his coffee. He had even forgot to add any cream or sugar. Everyone seemed to get in his way this morning. He zigzagged between young mothers with hordes of children and men with briefcases who only looked important. The shop was usually a twenty five minute walk, but it was in his sights after only eleven.
He sat down on a bench to catch his breath before going in. Lighting a cigarette he had a violent coughing spell, the first in a few weeks. He lurched over and gasped for air, but couldn't get a breath in. After a few seconds and several odd stares from strangers, he sat up straight and smoothed out his shirt. He inhaled deeply, taunting the cough to come back. When it didn't he made his way to the door. He first peeked in the window, as a thief would, just making sure she was still there. Seeing her behind the counter he slapped his hands together and took one last breath before entering. Jane instantly recognized him and she smiled and motioned for him to come over.
"We're almost closing, I didn't think you'd make it today" she said. Her eyes were wide and full of an old fire that Lester had forgotton about. She was wearing a grey skirt with old sneakers and an orange tank top. Looking aimlessly around, he ran his hands nervously along his face and leaned closer. "I'm sorry, the morning seemed to get away from me." he mumbled. "It's just so nice to see you""he paused for a moment, "and you look astounding" he finished tripping over his words.
She gave him a funny look and held a finger in the air.
"Just one second, I'll be back ok?
Lester rested his other arm on the glass counter and nodded, hearing a few of the clocks go off. It was a crazy sound, as they all had different chimes and the odd melody caused him to relax a little. He couldn't believe that she actually set them! Could they all be set? He didn't have a watch, but they all read around one o'clock or so.
Looking around and feeling comfortable, he picked up a little wooden Indian staute and saw the fine workmanship. Perhaps, he thought, he could come in everyday and hear the clocks at all hours. The tiny music and her eyes could might be able too hold off all the rest life's demands. As he put down the carving, he heard Jane's footsteps coming from the basement. The footsteps were gentle and he listened and watched as she came around the corner, carrying a very large cardboard box. It was dropped untop of the counter and dust dust flew up in the air. She let out a small sigh and wiped her forehead.
"These are heavy Les!" she laughed.
Lester cocked his head slightly to the left and glanced at the box. It was held together by old duct tape and whatever was inside it was very heavy. He motioned towards it curisoly and shrugged. She smiled and said "This is why I wanted you to come back, wait a sec" She pulled out a small knife from behind the counter and cut the tape. Opening the box, she excitedly pointed inside and Lester's heart sunk. Inside the box, fifty or so porciclen angels looked back at him. He stepped back and starred at the girl, whose smile only grew wider.
"Yeah, some lady came in every year and would sell these, and my boss decided to save them, since no one ever bought them" she said, in such a happy voice.
"Did you ever see her?"
"No", she said, "I've only been her three months and I guess she's been coming in for around eight or nine years"
Lester felt so lightheaded, and wished that he could float away. Instead, he stood erect and as his stomach ached and moaned, he asked slowly""Is"Jane"Is"this why you wanted to see me today?" She met his eyes instantly and almost jumped.
"Yes, yes Les! He told me that this weird lady sold each of them for five dollors a piece, they're worth so much for than that, like five times that!" she screamed.
Grasping her hair and tilting her head upwards, Jane gave her little magic laugh and starred at Lester. He starred back and waved his hands around the box.
"Oh, Les, listen" she beagn, I found these for you, no one cares if there missing, their all yours." ."
Wishing the clocks would strike up again, Lester looked upon her face. Her small lips only made her cheeks more beautiful. He noticed that his gaze was at the floor, her smile slowly faded and became a concenered look. Perking up he pointed at her and asked her to pick one out. She rolled her eyes and gave a little wink. She stuck her hand in the box. Wriggiling around, her hand lifted and held a small white angel holding a harp.
"How's this one?"
Lester nodded and picked it up without looking at it. Bowing softly, he told her that he'd be back to pick the rest up in the morning. She bowed as well, and took the box off the counter. He saw her go behind the corner and the gentle footsteps began again. Lester kicked the door open, and the miday street caught his eye. Thick, tasteless air engulfed the crowded street. The sad young mothers were still there, beside groups of dead eyed boys, wandering just because they could. Walking out into the middle of the street and crossing, Lester still clung tightly to the little white angel.
As he made his way back to the hotel, all he could feel was the wind in his hair. He simply looked forward and determined that since he knew where he was going, all was well. The streets were empty, except for a few bums and a young couple arguining in front of a restaurant. Lester walked into the lobby and all was quiet, only the large silouete of someone at the front desk. Entering the room, Lester felt so relaxed as he pulled out his wallet. As he looked inside he saw he only had enough money for one more night and a meager breakfast. He gazed about the room and walked towards the window. The sun was pouring in, and as he put the angel on the ledge he sat down and tried his best to smile. He took off his shirt and pants and threw them across the room, watching where they landed. Rubbing his eyes franticly, he started coughing again. He thrashed around violently in his bed and when he finally finished he was gasping for air and started to cry.
When the angel fell from the window and shattered, he couldn't decide if it was the breeze, the sun, or his lungs which caused it to fall. The sound attacked his eardrums and a choking feeling rose up in his throat. He sat up and starred at the broken pieces until it got dark. He fell back and closed his eyes tightly, hoping in vain to fall asleep, as loud voices and unspoken dreams started to fill the streets and space around him.