|Hydelands a Taylespun Blog|
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Olie wasn’t a junkie, at least I don’t believe she was, but what do I know. She was walking along the sidewalk on Second street, behind the Crystal Palace that is the court house in the city, here. She looked a bit disheveled as she took one slowly placed step after the other. Each foot was planted with purpose. The sun was high in the bright blue sky. The heat of the day yet to be enforced, but the small woman in from of me walked like the sun itself was her burden.
I had jury duty on the second floor that day. We spent our morning waiting and waiting to be chosen or sent home. I was chosen and then sent to lunch before the start of the trial, and that’s when I met Olie. I was walking toward that little coffee shop, the one with the great cupcakes and chicken salad. Not Willow Tree like the other shops in the area, this one, Troy City Coffee and Lunch, made their own. They boiled chicken beasts in seasoned water every day for a fresh batch of the “Bird Salad” they offered on fresh baked deli rolls. So, it was toward Troy that I was walking when I saw her for the first time.
Olie wore a pair of black denim jeans. They were torn in a few places. She had on heavy black boots with white sting laces. The boots were speckled with red and yellow spray paint. Her hair, jet black and fine was pulled into a pony tail that started near the top of her head. She slowed down, if that was possible, and I found I was right beside her within just a few steps. I’m not sure why I remember this part, but she had on a white t-shirt with an image of the President doing unsubstantiated things. The caption stuck with me, it read, Orange is the New Crack. I smiled, almost burst into laughter. She spoke. Softly, yet firmly, and directly at me.
“’t’s so fuckin’ funny?”
Took me a second to understand she was talking to me. I was absorbed in the moment and the politically themed comic on her shirt.
“Your t-shirt, I answered, fucking hilarious.”
“Yeah, I do, sorry to interrupt your thoughts, but it just caught my attention, really”
This tiny little woman, more girl still, maybe seventeen or eighteen, I guessed, had just intimidated me in so few words. I really felt as though I had shamessly burst into her solitary world. I took a long deep breath. She stared at me. I found it hard to break her gaze. That’s why I never thought she was a drug user. She held this powerfully independent gaze that looked as if she were reading my soul. I stopped breathing. Held my breath for a few seconds and then I was able to break that stare.
I lowered my eyes and looked at her boots. That’s when I saw the paint spray and white laces. I found myself wondering what could cause that look, it seemed almost accidental, but it looked so free.
“Dude, you got a problem with me?” she said, no longer using that quiet, timid voice.
“No really, I just have jury duty, it’s lunch and I was going to Troy Coffee for a bite.”
“Then why you been eye-ballin’ me. I look like I sell BJ’s or somethin’ you creep.”
“No, that never crossed my mind.”
“Always crosses a guy’s mind, ‘specially and old fat, white guy’s.”
“I’m not old.” Yeah, but, fat and white I couldn’t deny. Old I realize is always simply perspective. “Look, Kid, I just liked the shirt. I don’t want a BJ. I just want lunch.”
“Lunch, now there is a concept.”
She seemed to soften with that sentence. She became more of the young girl she should have been. Her piercing glare shifted, and she looked to her own boots. She began to step from side to side. And then suddenly she pivoted and began to step away. My heart sank. I’ve been called a libtard, a snowflake and others I’ll not repeat. My esteem can only handle so much before I get pissed off. What I am, you selfish pricks, is a fat, old, white guy that actually cares about people.
“You hungry, kid?” I asked in a soft voice, “Really, you hungry?”
“Always, but I got my dignity, not much else. I ain’t beggin’ or blowin’ for shit.”
“I didn’t ask for anything, I asked if you were hungry. Coffee shop has great bird salad on a nice soft roll, and great coffee. I’m looking for a bit of conversation to pass my lunch. If you’re in, I an springing… Just one question.”
“Here we fucking go…” she took a long breath and another step.
“No, just your name. I am offering you the respect of using your name, not calling you ‘kid.”
“Gimme yours first.”
“Name you dense fuck! I don’t eat with no dudes whose name I don’t fuckin’ know”
“I’m Kirby, Kirby Rounds.”
“I’m Olie, just Olie is all you get.”
“Fair enough. C’mon.”
She walked with me to Troy City Coffee and Lunch. It was cool inside. Smelled great. The place was nearly empty. We took a table near the front window where we could see the folks walking by and everyone could see us. Olie was careful, always darting her eyes from face to face as folks walked by the other side of the window. I brought two each Bird Salad sandwiches and tall iced coffees.
Olie proceeded to tell me a story that blew my mind. I am still trying to process it and once I do… well, then I can continue. Let’s just say, the trial over the next few days barely held my attention, and I thought about my daughter, Dawn, and how much different her life might have been with a few different friends and choices. Sure, I knew already how thin our lives were, how fragile life is despite and outward illusion of strength, but Olie pulled aside that tattered old curtain for me, yet again.
Olie’s story remains a tale to be told, or rather shared.
Friday, February 16, 2018
In high school it was different. She tried to go by Carol, but Pickle had stuck. It was who she had become, but, she was also becoming quite an athlete, her smarts were showing, and she was becoming very pretty, and respect, well, sort of, followed. Her friends called her “Pick.” That stuck too. Pickle was younger than me, at least in years, but she was older and wiser. I think it had something to do with being called Pickle.
There were five of us. Pickle was the best looking, cute turned to pretty, and then pretty became simple beauty, her dad was mixed race. He was light skinned and straight haired, but somewhere in his past were African genes. Pickle came out the color of medium coffee. Her skin was the color of a permanent tan, and her almond shaped eyes were entrancing. You noticed I said her father, right. Pickle was actually my half sister. My brothers and sisters mostly all had different fathers. Some were somewhat present, others skipped out as fast as they could. Father of the year had a different meaning for us. Five kids, four dads, and very little of anything but each other.
We grew up in the system. A small government check every month, subsidized rent, donated, what they called commodity foods, you know the score, cheese, peanut butter, powdered milk and eggs. Don’t get me going on the canned soup with no labels. There were soup names spelled out with permanent marker on the side. Those names were often wrong, so we took to calling it mystery soup, or simply soup d’jour.
Cheese omelets were Pickles favorite, and then her specialty once she started cooking at nine years old. Momma had so many kids, because that meant more money, a higher rent allowance and even more powdered milk an eggs. Pickle’s omelets were legendary in our funny little family. We all looked forward to them for the first week after our monthly allowances of food came in. even Momma, who mostly ran around trying to clean up after us, and trying to teach us a way to a better life. Problem was, she didn’t really have a clue how to get to a better life. She thought it would be found bed hopping, and hoping something would stick. There is a pun there, but I will leave it alone, cause that’s Momma were are talking about.
Momma was basically a good woman, just a lost woman, but the good part she passed along to Pickle. She said, “My Pickle has such a big heart, so full of love. She sees the good of people, and the bad. My girl can read people faster than she reads a haiku.” Pickle would say back, “but I understand them less.”
I think, sometimes her big heart got in the way. She needed to see the good, and turned from the bad. Pickle was empathetic to a fault. She forgave blindly, never holding a grudge. When my brother stole her savings can to buy drugs, she forgave him. When my other sister wrecked her almost new car, she forgave her. She forgave me a time or two as well, and for that I am grateful, and in her debt. And when her husband smacked her across her face on Christmas day, three weeks after they were married, she forgave him too.
She stayed with her man for a few more years, their daughter, Moffit was born before the next Christmas they shared. Forgiveness goes along way, but sometimes it is not enough.
Momma died along the way, so did two of my brothers and my sister. That’s why I am here. The anniversary of her death.
March is an odd month. Winter and spring exist at the same time, life and death. Rain soaked days can be depressing, not like the hope filled April rains, the ones that feed the daffodils and tulips. It’s raining today, but I am here, ten years after her husband beat her to death. I have tried to follow her example, but, I am not Pickle and I hope he rots in his cell.
Moffit goes to college in September. She plans on studying social work. She wants to help. She has her mom’s eyes, and her mom’s heart. She has not, however forgiven her father either. She stands with me on that point. I just hope it doesn’t eat at her in the ways it eats at me. I hope she finds a productive helpful career and some good close friends.
The system took its time, even skipped a generation, but it worked. Moffit and her cousins, my own brood of five, will never have to eat from unlabeled soup cans. More than one of which became pork and beans. Very few were clam chowder. Moffit is Pickle with hope. My hope, her hope, Pickle’s hope and the hope that Momma shared with us all.
Pickles stone stands alone near the back of the Old Grove cemetery. There are trees around, none with leaves, it’s only March. There are soft shadows across the dormant lawns. They will be beautiful in the summer. I feel stronger after our visits. The ten years drift away and I see the wonder that Pickle held for the world. I feel her strength and her love.
Her stone, stoic, strong and bold. Ten years ago it was set with her remains resting below. There is and image of an angel carved just under the gentle arc of granite, below the angel a single word, the one word that matters.
Below that are the dates of her living. The time she marked along with our hearts.
From the beginning, Momma called her Pickle. So did everyone else. Some of us always will.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
He felt uneasy all of the way here, heartburn, queasy, even just a bit of nausea. Randy’s stomach was in turmoil, not just too many fucking fried clams for dinner, but too many coincidences. He should have known better than to eat so much, especially on a work night, but his gastric unease did not matter. Randy knew exactly what had to be done. He grabbed at the ax and took his first steps toward the dark green front door. He hoped it would be better this time, somehow all better. He would make up to God for misguided choices. Someday payment would be made in full, and his soul might be cleared of any debt, but for now he had only one thing in mind. He hoisted the ax to his left shoulder as he had done many times before.
She had come from within a swirling cloud of black smoke, her hair, only a shade or two darker than the midnight sky above their heads, hung nearly to her waist. Her reddened eyes glared at him with rage. Some wore terror on their faces while others painted the rage of reason across their features. This one, wearing a simple white terrycloth robe, slightly tied and hardly covering her secrets, was really pissed. Randy had no sense of her fear. Before he took a swipe at the front door, she grabbed at his arm.
“My boy,” she said, her eyes were flames. “He’s on the third floor, please …” Her eyes, they would stay with him every step of the way. “Go to him, help him.”
“Tell the man by the truck I’m inside.” Randy swung the ax, crashing it into the door. One powerful swing and the front door opened. These tenement houses were never secure, and they burned so fucking fast. He adjusted his air pack and stepped inside. Flames were licking along the walls. Thick black smoke, like angry thunderheads, billowed across the ceiling scorching the white to black. Randy reached to his headlamp, turning the ineffective beacon on. To his left, as usual, he found the first set of stairs. He knew he should have waited for back up, or even a hose team. But those eyes, he would see them until he died, he was sure, they more than begged, they commanded.
He knew he needed to act fast to get to the boy. How ironic that it was the same address, 502 Fourth.
He knew he needed to act fast to get to the boy. How ironic that it was the same address, 502 Fourth.
This house had been his first full fire six years ago, the reason he had to make amends. His first casualty had been on the very same third floor. Tonight he might rid himself of an old demon or two. On the next level, second floor, the smoke was thicker and lower. Randy was finding it more difficult to breath. The house began to groan. Poets speak of roaring fires and rolling flames, but every firefighter knows it is more violent than that. The flames scratched and clawed, pulling at every stray strand and lifted corner. As the building struggled back, it groaned. He had never heard the roar of a fire so much as he heard the groans of pain, from the wallpaper, from the wood, from the melting copper and from the victims being carried out as the flesh peeled away from their bones, crispy and smoking like an overcooked slab bright pink salmon on a char-broil grill. Pain had a peculiar sound and it scraped at his own soul.
It had been like that since the first time and every time since, when the very, very, old woman was carried away in an unrecognizable lump of flayed, split charcoal. He knew right then he could have done more. His heart felt her agony. His dreams carried her revenge. He had frozen, he been scared. He had stepped back down the stairs leaving her screaming soul to cry for both vengeance and pity. She had gotten neither. Survival never felt so selfish. He lived with that conflict every day, and in every detailed nightmare, as though he had made an unspeakable bargain.
Right now, away from that hideous memory, he was finally mounting the last flight. There was a boy at the top. There would be no turning back now. Not this time. He was better trained, more professional and he had six years of vengeful nightmares under his belt. Randy could feel the heat through his boots. That was not a good sign at all. His wits told him to turn back. He fought every instinct to flee.
"Not his time,” he told the clawing flames around his head, “It’s a young boy. His mother begged me. I have to do this. I’m not a hero. I’m just a man. He’s just a boy.”
Just three more steps to the top floor. These buildings all had the vaulted ceilings on the top floor, hardly room for a man to stand in the center, let alone at the outside walls. Randy pulled the ax around and swung, the first door pounded inward. The bell on his air pack began to ding. Only minutes of air left. Next door. Boom, a wall of flame exploded out toward him. He had expected it and was behind the wall as the ax slid from his hand bouncing across the floor into the bathroom. No kid. He had time for just one more door. Randy pounded at it. It opened with a groan and a wave of slightly cooler air.
There he was standing just to the left of the window, waving as if to his mother as she went off to Sunday marketing. The flames and smoke seemed to be avoiding him. He stood in a clear patch, almost safe from the conflagration around him.
Randy’s bell pinged more slowly now. Maybe a minute left. He waved for the kid to come closer. The boy simply waved at him. He stood in the center of a circle that remained untouched by the ravages or their effects. He smiled. His red t-shirt, nearly as bright as the surrounding flames, bore the word Sabbath across his chest. Randy waved again.
“Not ready yet,” the boy whispered.
“I should not be able to hear you,” Randy said as his lungs began to fight for more air. He ripped the mask from his face. The hot scorched air invaded his lungs with tenacious violence. Like his first try at whisky, but more. “C’mon,” he tried to yell.
“No!” The boy said, “You should remember this room.”
Randy fell to one knee.
“I do...” he coughed, “my first casualty,” cough, cough, “this room …” Cough.
His eyes began to burn. The heat dried all of the moisture from them. His face was beginning to redden. He had more than a sunburn on his cheeks, the image of the boy flickered. Randy closed his eyes, the pain was growing and time was racing away. Penance he thought. Time to pay. He opened his eyes and saw the old woman on the floor, her arms were again reaching for him as they had six years ago right here on 502 Fourth.
“‘Help me’,” she had begged.
“I couldn’t,” he whispered again. Six years had gone by and now, he knew he could have. “Couldn’t,” He lied. Randy paused, then it spewed out like phlegm coughed from deep within his thumping heart. “She was old and I was so young and carrying her down might have killed us both. I didn’t have the balls to risk it. Six years of lying and hiding. Six years of dreaming and screaming, I always knew that the only reasons I turned away were selfish ones.”
“That old woman fried because she was old, and you did not want to risk your life.”
“It was my very first fire, on my twenty-first birthday, and an old, old lady.” Randy wheezed, his argument over. He knew he had turned his back on her pleas, descending through the blaze. The admission froze his rational thought.
The boy stood proudly in the circle of unscorched floor.
“You know the really wicked part of all this is that you would have died, both of you, had you tried, but when you come right down to it, you sacrificed her, in trade for six more years. If you had died that night there would be no debt, and no need for me. It’s a special night for me too.” He paused as Randy fell to the floor, his bewildered stare locked into the hardened gaze of the boy. “If your lucky, you’ll pass out before the flames get really hungry.”
Outside as his brothers called out, looking for Randy, a woman in a bathrobe walked along the sidewalk approaching the front door. No one seemed to care or notice the fourteen-year-old boy step unscathed from the billowing black clouds. The smile on his face was ear to ear.
“I can’t wait to show dad,” he said to the woman, “my first soul.” He opened up the small sack.
“Big Jim will be so proud,” she said peering at the soft light glowing inside the white bag. Her red eyes shimmered with delight. “The ones bearing guilt are always the best. They are forever suspicious, very cautious and most difficult to trap. This is a really good soul, so much more than just another debt paid,” she said closing the bag. “That old woman’s wails and curses were not wasted. Your father will be proud you’ve had such a rewarding night."
They stepped around the red truck pumping water into the triple decker. Together they walked side by side into the enveloping darkness.
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