A place for thought.

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He, Him, His. (revisited part 6)

Light lit on the tops of the mountains to the East. Cold, spilling into the open door, running across the tiled floor, he tried to pull his blanket over himself but there was no blanket. His eyes opened. Where was he? And then he remembered. He found a blanket in the kitchen and returned to the newly reclaimed front room and sat on the sofa curled up in the quilted blanket. He was warm. He stared at the bits of black at the bottom of the fireplace and did what he spent most of his time trying to avoid; he thought.

“Am I alive?” he asked the silent room. He waited for an answer. None came. His gaze turned to the open door. He waited until the sun had completely cleared the mountains and the chill ran to the West. The blanket was pushed aside but he stayed curled up on the sofa

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He, Him, His. (revisited part 5)

It had been a long time since he had seen another human, and the last few he had seen had been scared, jumpy things, more like wild animals than people. The last people, mostly men, had jumped out of corners or from under burned out cars as he approached, their eyes wide, heads moving rapidly from side to side, screaming words he did not understand. He wondered if his turn would come. Not today. Today was a beautiful day. A breeze blew from the west, coolness was in the air, fall was coming. He had not seen another person for a long time. He looked toward the small fireplace in the front room of his home. He noticed, once more the clutter on the floor and the writing on the walls. He had not seen another human for a long, long time. He decided. First he swept the trash out the door and let it spread across the front yard. He borrowed a rusty red wagon from his next-door neighbors and went into town shopping for paint, patch and tools. The paint store remained almost intact; the looting had taken different directions.             “Five gallons of your lime green interior,” he said aloud to the paint store.

“What’s that?” he listened.

“No the one without primer please,” he answered the paint store. He pulled the top off of a five gallon bucket of white paint and dripped a little green color, a little black and just a dash of yellow into it and stirred until it became the desired color.

“There you go sir,” he said to himself.

“Will you need brushes and rollers?” he nodded

“And some patch, “ he said as he loaded the materials into the rusty red wagon.

“Fast dry?”

“Yes, please,” he answered as he loaded a sack of fast drying joint compound onto the rusty wagon.

“I’m in a hurry,” he added to reveal his need for the fast drying kind. And then he hurried out of what had once been a glass door but was now just an aluminum frame.

“Thank-you!” he shouted into the empty shop as he and the wagon exited to the street.

The work took very little time. After years of fighting to keep himself from cleaning up the mess in the front room it turned out not to be such a big mess after all. By the end of the day he had not only cleaned, patched and painted, he had shopped at the neighborhood houses and up graded his furniture, placed a small carpet on the mopped floor, and hung a picture he was sure was worth a good bit of money. Last, he rubbed the spray paint from the screen of the flat screen TV. He sat on his sofa and watched the blank screen for a while, picturing various sit-coms he had watched, he even laughed at some of the jokes. He remembered the last news show and clicked the clicker at the screen, he had remembered enough for one day. As night came he lit the wood he had placed into the fireplace. He knew the chance he was taking by putting a plume of smoke into the sky, but he hadn’t seen another person in a really long time. It wasn’t quite cold enough yet for a fire so he opened the front door and slid up a window. He lay on the carpet in front of the fire and pretended life outside hadn’t changed. He pictured a couple sitting in front of their TV, holding hands, children being sent off to their beds, giggling under the covers, an old man reading a thick book in the light of a single bulb. He fell to sleep lying there on the carpet with the door wide open, the light from the fire sending a glow out into the dark streets.

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He, Him, His. (revisited part 4)

The ground was covered in black and white, bright sun and dark shadow, odd angles, lines crossing and re-crossing, he stood with his arms around her thin waist, his hands clasped behind her back. He swayed slightly right and then slightly left his feet barely sliding from side to side in the soft dirt while the music played in his head. She stood perfectly still, her arms to her side, her long dress reaching the ground, her hair trying to find its way to the sky. Keeping one arm around her waist he reached the other to the back of her neck and pulled himself closer to her. Remembered the effort in the curve of her chin, the tiny chips removed to form the eyes that looked but did not see. He reached into the branches that protruded from her misshapen head but refused to think of her as a tree. He said her name softly into her wooden ear, gently, tenderly, believing she could know. They stood in the half darkness until the slant of the shadows changed and the light began to dim. He told her he needed to go. They had one last dance. He kissed her lightly on her cheek and then made his way back to his dwelling. The sun became an orange ball floating just above the earth as he entered through the back porch door of his childhood home. He lay on top of the blankets that covered the mattress on the kitchen floor. The quiet filled every inch of space making the air hard to pull into him self. When darkness came he closed his eyes but sleep stayed away. His mind filled with people. People he had loved that were no more. People singing, and dancing, and laughing, and playing, he felt a trickle of moisture as it tickled along the side of his nose. And then sleep took him and he found rest for another day.

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He, Him, His. (revisited part 3)

The problem wasn’t food; the problem was water, there was none. When the looting began he had taken food in foil pouches from camping stores. That food and been taken from him. In the meantime most of the stores had been emptied. A can of beef stew could be found under a display case or once he had found a whole box of spaghetti o’s pushed up against a wall by an abandoned fork truck, and in those days there was still competition by other people, some of them expressed there desperation in violent ways, but most did their best to get along. As the people left they left behind what they could not carry and this became a source of food in abundance. He started the diverse hiding places during this time and if he could remember all the locations there would be plenty of food for a long time. But he had no way to create water. Looking back he knew he should have stashed bottled water. He hadn’t. At first water still came out of the spigot in his kitchen, slowly, without pressure but the water was there. When the water no longer came from the pipes people would form lines at the three giant storage tanks on a hill just north of the city. The water tank gave water for such a long time he almost thought they would continue to do so forever. The lines of people grew smaller and the water continued until the day the water in the tanks no longer reached the outlets. First one tank was declared empty, that day was a boon for food hunting. People had left the town in long lines. The lines shortened and it was a long while before a second tank emptied. Someone unbolted an access point on the tank and six inches of water was found covering the bottom of the tank, with the population greatly reduced over ten thousand gallons of water should last forever but forever is, as they say, a long time. All three tanks were empty now. He searched his own hiding places, not for cans of food now but for soups, and juices, and sodas, anything with moisture, but it was never enough and he accepted constant thirst as a new part of his life.

He remembered a hiding place in a basement after a hard day of finding people in walnut trees and found his way to what had been one of the finer houses in town, a three story redwood sided home, painted white. The entry way was at the center of a ten foot wide front porch that ran the full length of the front of the house, the roof of the porch was supported by six white pillars that stood three stories high. In the olden days he would have never been allowed to approach such a house. Even today he approached carefully just in case someone considered this their property.

“Is anyone here?” he shouted. He leaned into the entryway and shouted again, “Is anyone here?” he waited and listened. The house was empty. He remembered the way to the basement and in minutes was digging through a pile of canned goods looking for some that might contain water. He found a box of kool-aid envelopes and started laughing uncontrollably.   And then he saw the blue tank in the corner of the room.   It was a commercial sized water heater. He had found water in water heaters before, they were more convenient than going to the city water tanks, and most had been drained long ago. He went to the spigot at the base of the tank and as a show of faith he placed a plastic bucket someone had left in the basement under the outlet before he turned the knob. Water. At first it came out dark orange, filled with rust but then it cleared. He set the rusty water aside, he knew from experience it would take the rust several hours to settle. He went up the stairs and into the kitchen of the massive house, found a pot he could boil water in and returned to the hot water heater, one hundred twenty gallons of water, six months of life! In the back yard of the huge house he built a fire in the bar-b-cue and watched the pot come to a boil, tonight he would have tea with his dinner but tomorrow he would have kool-aid.

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He, Him, His. (revisited part two)

He wiped a bit of beans from his mouth and made sure he had drained the last bit of water from his cup and then, with an almost clean, damp cloth he wiped clean the plate, cup and bowl and placed them back on the shelves in their proper places. He walked from the kitchen into the front room of the house. Litter; clothes, paper, and discarded food containers filled the floor of the room, the walls were covered with multi-colored spay paint graffiti. An oversized flat screen television, looking very out of place, had somehow escaped the looting and some of the vandalism of the first days of chaos, he stared at the white peace sign spayed across the screen, without electricity or UHF it was still almost as entertaining as it had been in the time before. He, once more, resisted the urge to clean-up the mess, strangers looking through the front door should see just another abandoned house although strangers were less and less a problem now-a-days. He looked at the ceiling and smiled, no leaks, the house still had a good roof and all of its walls. Three bedroom, two bath, air conditioned stucco home, near schools and shopping. Only the baths were useless, the bedrooms were trashed like the front room, the schools were empty and not a single shop remained open, he figured the AC would work if he could get power to it. He walked into the bedroom that had been his since the day he was born. His bed frame was still in the corner by the window but the mattress was on the floor in the kitchen where he slept.

Enough of this, there was work to be done and the walk to his place of work would take time. Instead of walking toward the town he walked through the tracks of homes, following the zig zagging of the residential streets until they ran out of empty houses and into what had once been irrigated fields. Cotton and alfalfa and corn and potatoes had grown green and productive here but when the water had stopped the plants had turned brown and then, for the most part, blew away. Brown ground with brown winter grasses covered thousands of unused acres. He walked toward a one-hundred-sixty acre rectangle of walnuts trees, a clearly marked border of a straight line of trees, now just dry trunks with leafless branches but they were still a thick forest that provided shade and privacy. He walked into the deceased woods being careful not to walk where he had walked before, creating no path, he came to his place, far from the edges of the trees. His tools were where he had left them. He picked up a sharp chisel, a hammer and went to the spot where he had stopped yesterday and began to carefully chip away bits of walnut. The tree no longer had the shape of a tree, it had the head of a man six feet off the ground the branches spreading from the hydrocephalic head, the handicap necessary to keep the branches intact, the branches were his uncombed hair, his body was only roughly defined and was the task of the day and several more days to come. He worked carefully until the sun made long shadows, put his tools in their place, swept wood chips from the base of the tree. Three people, who had once been walnut trees, watched patiently as he cleaned up and ended his work. He nodded to the people trees and made his way back through the forest remembering a stash of canned goods that would make a proper dinner as he walked back toward town.

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Just as the water returns, when the clear water is only about an inch deep, the shift in direction disturbs the flat sand, just a little. The sand moves in long parallel ripples an inch or two to the west. Focusing just on the patch of sand, it’s like when you’re pulling slowly into a parking spot and a huge black SUV is slowly pulling out of the next spot. For a split second it feels like you’re going twice as fast. All the ripples of sand moving to the west together, vertigo, just for a second and then walking, waiting for the next wave to wash by and the next glimpse into the universe next door.

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Jimmy, Super Kid (part forty-six)

By the time my father makes it out the front door of our house we are both sitting in the front seat of the fifty-four Chevy waiting. My father opens the driver’s side door and looks at us, checking to see if we are wearing clothes fit for the workplace. He doesn’t say anything, which means we pass the test. He bumps the starter and the engine runs with almost no noise or vibration, my father takes good care of his car.

“First thing I want the two of you to do is load some stuff into the pick-up,” my father is mostly talking to himself, planning our day but if we listen closely we will have less questions to ask later. “Load the big stuff first. There are several sheets of plywood. Load that first,” he looks over at the two of us, “if it’s too heavy get help. Put the toolbox on last, it will help hold everything down. When we get to the jobsite I’ll let you off at the house we just finished framing. Put everything that’s not nailed down into the dumpster and sweep the concrete floor clean.” He pulls into the construction yard and parks in his regular spot. As he walks toward his pick-up he points to the pile of stuff set aside to be taken to the job site so Ricky and I walk there and wait while he backs the pick-up up to the pile. I grab the handle on the tailgate just as the pick-up stops and pull down the tailgate without letting the tailgate drop, my father never lets the tailgate drop on its own. Ricky moves to one side of the stack of plywood and with me on the other we have the first sheet loaded almost before my father gets out of the cab of the pick-up. He looks at us and almost smiles before he heads into the office to do office things.

“How much are we making?” Ricky asks as we put another sheet of plywood into the pick-up bed.

“More than you could imagine,” I say between breaths. “My father pays good.” There are bags of hardware, rolls of paper, two-by-fours. The pick-up starts to look a little loaded, “Make sure nothing will blow out,” I instruct Ricky and we both look over the load to see if anything needs tied down or covered with something heavy. Lastly each of us takes an end of the heavy steel toolbox and just barely make it to the edge of the tailgate, from there we slide it the rest of the way.

“You guys got that?” my father asks as he looks over the load, checking to see if anything is going to blow out. I see the look in my father’s eye that tells me it’s okay and put the tailgate into place without slamming it.