Darnell: Waiting on the Day (October 2011 Story of the Month)
by Beau Johnson
I watch from up high; me, the King of building nine. This is what I tell myself, wearing shorts I've yet to change. The rifle is beside me, like a pet whose silence is learned. In the lawn chair I sit, a man now forty-five. Bone thin, wiry, I eat fritos until the bag is done. I chase the chips with a single Bud and then another because I can. Passing the fridge I see my unshaven face, look past my lying eyes. I think: why do you go on, but the thought is fleeting, gone and replaced faster than I can breathe. Things are easier this way, when delusion is at its peak.
Back on the balcony, back in my chair, I further my vigil still, somewhat giving what I got. Does that make sense? Not really. Do I care? Not one fucking bit. What intrigues me is the day; the journey it might provide. It gives me hope, as it always has, ever since this thing I do began. To the East the day begins, peaking, and then runs every way at once. Shadows stretch, traffic comes; with traffic, people, and people, bikes. Some run, most walk, but ever onwards each of them march. On and on they ride, unaware it's all a lie. Or perhaps they know the truth, and like me, wish for something more. Bullshit, really, but a flavour made popular by what passes for the times.
Across from me are apartments, more buildings, the hospital and church. Factories are in the background, history to the land. Here I watch a man openly drunk at a quarter past ten. I focus on him tight, the sight above my gun giving me a clear and present pose. Paper bag in hand, dressed in unkempt clothes and a red Fedora hat, he weaves in front of the Drug-Mart, happy as a lark. He is singing it seems, or quite possibly conversing with himself. Women walk by him, and men, patrons, each veering as if he were contagious. Perhaps he is, and the fear they have is justified. I would question it however, believing the fear portrayed a shame. They know his look, his truth; that too easily the same could happen to them.
Last week, one block over, a man and woman fought behind their car where their drive and the sidewalk meet. He wore a muscle-t, she a too tight dress. Her hair was red and his shaved bald. Once he hit her, then twice, and she crumbled to the ground. He does a dance of some sort, like he's proud, and I fixate on his pants; that they hang too fucking low. Suddenly another man appeared; he who intervenes. He is black and wearing a blue bandana and is bigger than the man he confronts. They duel verbally, face-off, and then the shit gets real. Baldy pulls a knife and cuts Bandana deep. From my sight I see it bloom, his shirt a violent mess. But Bandana is not done, and to my surprise he kicks the first man's legs out from under him. As ground and Baldy meet I hear the sirens first faint, then loud, then watch as they approach. One car, two cops, and Bandana has his hands raised even before they are out of the black and white. Baldy is not as smart. The big cop takes him down, a Taser before his rights; a knee as well, there in the middle of his back as both officers applied the glinting cuffs. The man who intervened, he is the one I was meant to see; the reason I carry on.
The day continues, hot, and I forget about the fight. I concentrate on today; wonder if I'll be around come this time tonight. I change my view; then again, and then another time after that. I am looking, you see, watching, in anticipation of a glimpse.
To my left I see him, soft and dull and thick. His brown hair screams of murder, of the secret self within. A duffle bag is over his right shoulder, held by meaty mitts. The bag is big and black and I believe it contains a head. It's there in the way he walks, alive in the colour of his jeans. I follow him through my scope; let the nose of the gun rest upon the balcony's old and rusted rail. His step is brisk, his loafers light, and I hold the gun tighter than I ever have. One little squeeze, I tell myself--all it would take and the monster would cease to exist.
The air conditioner surges, gurgles, and I turn my head to look. The back of it drips as it has always done and I tell myself to die. Instead I stub my toe on the bottom of the barbeque as I go to get another beer and sleeve of white saltines. The crackers I eat at once, and only because I'm never full. Clean your plate. Mind your mom. Do what's told is right. These are the things that make me who I am. At least that's what I've been told. I don't know, though. It seems to me there is another man, a future self, and he is only tucked away. He is the man who screams inside our eyes when the world is beyond our grasp. He is dark, this man, but seldom is he heard. Seen, yes, and only because of what he sells. "I have paid my dues," I say aloud and resume the day that's come.
No longer gone, the woman from the corner of Park is clean and ready to work. She presents herself, finds a john, and I follow them as I can. In his car she gets to work and I envision Halle Barry; more specifically, one of the many characters she has played. The john is no Sam Jackson, the opposite in fact; white and fat and bald, pasty as an un-popped zit. She works him though, full bore, and soon the transaction is complete.
In front of the Drug-Mart, I check in on the drunk; that the man continues his dance. Cars drive in and cars drive out. Out loud I recite each of their license plates and then aim for every head. I get them all, every shot, and predict how it goes down. They stand as I shoot, the first shot locking them in place. A moment later a woman screams, her scream becoming the damn. Breaking, they run, each of them searching but unsecure. I pick them off as they go, as many as I can; one down, two, each in the back of the head. Panic reigns, faces explode, flotsam to the wind--
Brakes lock, lock hard, and the familiar screech begins. There is time however, and the driver, male, avoids what could have been a very costly mess. I sit back; lay the gun across my lap. It is fine wood, a stock barrel, and I caress it like a pet. A present from my father, I have never felt it spent. I dream of it happening, I do, on days quite like today. It never comes to pass. Not as I would like. This is where God comes in; where he goes and rights the day. They say to temper evil there must always come some good. He's good like that; at messing with my head. If ever there was a secret man.
In the parking lot the car is moving much too fast. The girl is small, away from her mother's eye, and I see this all without my scope. The drunk does too, and as she walks down from the curb he is after her faster than I would have thought. In seconds the car will strike her, kill her, as I know it's supposed to do. It does not however, and the man's Fedora is given flight instead. Sacrifice they will say, and that the man had been a hero every single day. They will say this with pride and wear it like joy, each of them forgetting how they would come to stand clear of him not a week past from the day. This is human nature though, the beast who loves and attacks. For forty years I have known this, since my father gave me sight.
"Darnell?" She says, and I know at that moment that my day has come undone. Dead drunk or not, when Petra calls, I am there to answer.
I find her by the door, grocery bags in hand. "You just gonna stand there? C'mon, help a woman out." I do. I take the bags and put away my other self, the one from deep inside. It is time to form my face for her, the ones she needs to see.
"Something's going on outside, over at the 'Mart. Lots a screaming and carrying on as I drove by. You seen it, I suppose?"
"Looks like a man died." I say, and she stops so suddenly I think I've left my other self out for her to see.
"You don't got that gun out there again, do you?"
"Petra, dear; is that the type of man I am?"
"I don't know," she says, and lumbers towards the dining room table. She fits, barely, and I watch as her body forms to the shape of the chair. For better or worse, I said, on the very same day as she. "It's just when a man, when he starts to spend most of his days on a balcony with a gun, it tends to make a woman nervous." I smile softly as she says this, believing it conveys everything I wish to say. In the kitchen I find her treat jar half full, at just below the line she never likes to see. I take it to her, remove the lid. Standing, I feed her peanut butter cups, one and then another. She accepts them gratefully, her breath now fuller than before. Upon her fifth she pulls me close. Tight, she holds me around the waist, whispers that all she does is worry. I tell her that there isn't need; that today has come and gone--but then I feel myself stir. Petra does too, and soon I am home within her face. She doesn't mind, and hasn't since the scale could no longer take her weight. Not that I do either, as her mouth is just as warm.
"I am only looking for a glimpse, Petra; all I've ever asked--that the evil of this world is being held at bay." I tell her this, knowing it is exactly what she needs; that for Petra it is more about right than it is about wrong. It is a fallacy, of course, but the blinders are the armour my wife has always had to wear. Nodding, she continues her pace; slow, but full, all in. She cares, she does, and the peanut butter smell is nice. What I don't explain is that the chamber is never empty and that tomorrow could very well be the day. Done, I take her chin in my hand and thank her for my gift. Shorts up, I give her the grin that she requires, the one that says I am who I should be, and then I go for the remote. "Come on!" I say. "I think Jeopardy might still be on."
BIO: Beau Johnson lives in Canada with his Canadian wife. She is very understanding and allows him to write even though they have three small monsters she has bore unto him. Unfortunately, all three boys were born with hair like their father's--poor kids. It will now be a much tougher life. Other than the once, at the Carnage Conservatory, Beau strives to be published again.