West Coast road trip adventures. Seattle to Big Sur. Going south.
West Coast road trip adventures. Seattle to Big Sur. Going south.
Dave is from Manchester. He’s an alcoholic. Dave’s an alcoholic in love with a beggar. He said to me that he’s been offered sex for as little as three Rupee. He’s a Manchester City fan. He said that he’s been in Mumbai for six weeks; the bar manager at the Alps Tavern said he’s been living in the train station for 5 years. Dave says a lot of things.
Everyone in Colva knew Dave. The businessmen, the bar men, the beggars, the rug salesmen, even the dogs. The men at the Western Union knew Dave very well.
That’s how Joe and I met the skinny, chinless man I called desperate Dave. We were eating at the Alps when he invited himself to our table and said that he was desperate and needed help. He needed to get his money held up in the Western Union.
His eyes shifted nervously as he told us his sad story and his accent became chewier the deeper he took us down his well. To get his money he needed a name and an address so the money could be wired to someone beside himself.
“Why?” Was the question Joe, the two Aussies we had meet at the hostel, and myself asked. “This bloody beggar that I thought was my friend stole my passport.” He said.
Dave said that all Indians are liars and cheats.
The Aussies wanted no part in it, but Joe being Joe wanted to see where this was going to lead and agreed. I actually didn’t mind because Dave’s fear was honest enough and he appeared far too high strung to actually pull off a legitimate con. So I said to Joe, “Go for it.” But that my signature stays in my hand, so don’t ask me for nothing.
Dave got smashed quickly and we went outside for a cigarette and he knelt down nose-to-nose with a three year-old beggar girl and yelled in her face to fuck off and go home — home being a mat beside the curb on the opposite side of the road. She just laughed at him. Enraged, Dave picked her up and her two year-old brother and threw them over his shoulders and walked them across the street to where their mother was asleep in the dirt.
Supposedly Dave gets angry when he drinks. But I get angry when drunks exercise their insecurities. He was lucky to have read my stare right when he returned, and he apologized. He said when he gets his money he’ll get us drunk.
The next evening I accompanied Joe and desperate Dave to the Western Union and while they were dealing with that mess I saw that there were phones there and I wanted to call home but I knew it was too late there. Under the circumstances it wouldn’t have been the best idea anyway.
Anything with Dave is possible and sure enough the name on the money transfer didn’t match Joe’s name, as it was still in Dave’s, so Dave had to call his mother in Manchester to sort it out. Joe and I got a beer with Dave while we waited for the money to be re-wired, and found Dave when sober to be quite the pussy cat, of course—just a starved alley cat too afraid of life to live it; killing himself slowly to end it.
Dave got his money. We walked off into the haze of Mumbai’s night. Two hours later, when we were trying to make a night out of New Year’s Eve, we ran into Dave on the steps of the Alps, pissed drunk and probably broke again. He looked lost in thought, wondering when the next Joe Stockman would arrive off of the steel trains willing to help.
We counted off the new year at the Georgian gate on the harbor—exactly where we started our time in Mumbai—then headed back to the hostel and listened to the fireworks explode in our ears, the taxis honk continuous, and the cheers rattle off the brick façade of the Taj Mahal Hotel until morning. Then we left it all behind. Left Dave behind us for good.
I’m fully aware that I’m their driver. That’s what I get paid for. They tell me where they want to go and I take them there. It’s a transaction. They want to see the city; I take them through the neighborhoods. They want to go to a view; I can do that too. The glass that separates the front seat from the rest of the limousine best defines our roles; it’s just me captaining the vessel, I’m employed so the beautiful people can consume their champagne and not have to pay attention to the road. In this regard the tint to the window between compartments obstructs any empathy between us, and casts only a reflection. They can only see themselves, which I suppose, since it’s their adventure, is fair. They can’t see my face and I’m too busy to focus on theirs, which is natural and obvious and for the best I suppose. Our relationship is transparent, a means to an end; at least I know it to be so.
I’m not a taxi. And it may surprise you that the variation of passengers I pick up is quite limited. There’s the affluent couples: their subsets demarcated by age. The young preload on cheap champagne and wine before having me drop them at a swanky pizza parlor. And often in these scenarios the drunker the young man in the back gets, the greater his urge to impress his girl. He wants to know my name, thinking that if we are on a first name basis that he can ask me to pick them up more liqueur; to deviate from the schedule and pick up more friends; to ignore his brutish and suggestive advancements on the poor girl that has found herself alone with a spoiled brute.
The twenty-somethings are not the easiest, but the best. They love hard and hate hard and show it on their jacket sleeves and gown straps. They are by far the most honest, at least if they let themselves be honest about their fleeting youth. They drink heavily to understand each other. Spend coin to understand fine food. Talk about the failures of their friends as if they are immune to the same fates. There’s an optimism that comes with a young couple when they forget about the rest of the world and create their own. I wish it lasted longer because it is a beautiful thing to watch.
The married are different. Some happy, some not; but contentment and stalemate look the same behind the glass. The mundane details of the day become something to ignore, but an impossible vehicle not to use to steer conversation with. They look out the window more. Observe the passing buildings, the October trees shedding leaves, the down and outs picking through garbage cans. They are affected and tip well.
The elderly couples on their way to the opera, or to their favorite restaurant, say little but often are in love with the gentle stream of long love. They burn the bottom of the limousine’s seats like coals. If I could just take the twenty-somethings, and the breathless old lovers, I would be happy. It would be like observing flame and then embers without the dying.
Tonight is cold and cloudless. I’m off to East Moyer, an affluent neighborhood where the streets are lined with ancient chestnuts whose thick trunks stand strong and tangled like a giant’s hand holding a bouquet up from the ground. The brick side streets glow from the street lanterns casting yellow light down from above. Off the bluff lies the black Atlantic swallowing itself. The mighty houses here in Moyer make ants out of the multiple SUV’s parked in their driveways. Their interiors are particular and clean. Their white walls are adorned with original artwork, mantels dresses with antique clocks and family portraits, bookcases crammed with first editions and folios belonging in museums, liqueur cabinets stocked to elude to refined control and temperance. Or at least, this is what I imagine.
I park outside of 1118 Harbor and wait. The first to open the door is a young man in a suit accompanied with a young brunette woman in a black sequined dress. To follow is a pressed white shirt buckled down with suspenders, and a good-looking upright young man in a waistcoat and bow tie. Their dates push out the doorway also in sequins, feathers and furs. Their dress, laughter and the scattered nature of their departure tell me that they’re in their mid-twenties, off to dinner then a costume party, and have depleted the gin stockade from the liqueur cabinet.
“My good man!” The suit says to greet me, “Can you tell what decade we’re from?”
He’s grinning, happy, full of himself and it is fine. He’s olive skinned, hair thick and parted well. The soft brown in his eyes picks up the yellow light emanating from the brick street and I like him for it.
“Chase. Chase Velo.” He shakes my hand. “There are my fools for the night. Don’t we look so? We’re off to Franco’s for dinner and then the Metropolitan for a ball. Did you collect the champagne?”
“Indeed Mr. Velo, it’s on ice as you asked.”
His fools stand together looking more like tonight’s chosen children. The regal blond in yellow and a feathered headband cuts in the pause.
“Chase, we allowed to smoke in the limousine? It’s cold.” She asked, crossing her naked arms, and squeezing them, pretending I wasn’t there. Her strong features but soft manner is perhaps an indication of her personality, strong and tender-hearted, all in one.
“What do you say driver? How is it?”
The waistcoat with a face cutout like a lion came in before I could answer no.
“Classless Lucy… really.”
I remained looking at her, she faked unaffected, her eyes neglecting the twitch indicative of a prior bad decision she’s now believes she’s stuck in. She was the unfortunate. The silence that followed his remark from the others meant that he’s a cutter. Chase showed restraint, looked at his date, as she looked at the ground. The lion was one of those types that cares less for a girl to make them want him more, and it works somehow, but all for all the wrong reasons. Funny how you just know, sometimes.”
“You’re welcome to smoke outside at anytime, miss.” I said to damn the lion. “I can pull over when and wherever you like.”
“My kind of driver!”
I looked to the soft voice that said it. Tall, dark, a slipping glacier of finger waves pasted to the side on her temple. Lips meaty, and I knew then that she was with the bold looking young man tied up in suspenders. Why, because all his words I could tell stayed in his month as something to chew on. She was the talker.
“We can smoke outside the restaurant. Lets stop wasting time.”
“Vivienne called it.” Chase said, giving me a wink as if I was to understand his girl’s needs as well as the rest.
“Let’s crack the champagne!” She said looking up from the ground.
I opened the door and watched them group together, Chase letting Vivienne in first, Bee the talker leading in her bold boy, and the lion leaving Lucy at the end of the chain.
Four bottles of Clicquot spared of their worth and the beautiful twenty-somethings cascade out of my limousine in the same order they entered. Vivienne with tempered grace, Chase with eager flames in his eyes, Bee a fresh application of lipstick, her bold boy, frank barely able to hold in his intoxicated identity, The beautiful lion dim eyed, and Lucy steady like the champagne had made her sober. Chase opened a silver case and passed out cigarettes to his fools and lit each one before his own.
“Driver.” He shouted. I’m one leg away from reentering my vehicle. “Come have a cigarette with us.”
I’ll always share a cigarette with my clients. It’s the least I can do, and I like Chase, and really all of them, including the lion, even if I have the feeling that he’ll break my heart by the end of the night.
I refuse Chase’s offer and pull and light one of my own cigarettes. Bee smiles and asks.
“I don’t want to call you driver; it’s so rude I think. What’s your name?”
“Soft, but strong.” bee laughs, “Love it, fits you.”
“Could have we found a better driver?” Chase praises.
Lucy looks at her lion looking at Vivienne. Frank watches Bee turn into a future bedtime dream. Chase sees Vivienne’s chin lift the skyscraper on the other side of the street. I see them all loving hard and hating hard under the surface.
They ask me questions about their predicament, about the future when this moment will subside into long workweeks without the energy to pretend. I tell them to forget about that and live in the 20s. They loved that and walk into the restaurant excited to be dressed like they were from a better time, drunk with the belle epoch illusion, excited by the ideal of being inhabited by the ghosts that made life a meal.
I parked on the exposed roof of the parking garage the next block over and looked out upon the bead-lit city. For every light there is a body at least. And for every body there’s a potential to love, love like the love I’ve felt for so many women in my past. I don’t know why I’m just a driver, something of a facilitator, a guy in a suit with a map in his head of every side street that makes up the city. What about my potential? Maybe just as I drive without a destination for myself, I want to watch life proceed without any invested interest. That so, I don’t drive at all, after all. Maybe because I’ve hurt too many and have been hurt too often. I’m protecting myself. I wouldn’t want to be the one to collide with this limousine.
I get the call to return. Start the night again.
The fools slowly meander out of the restaurant. The chain is breaking and the night is still young. Chase and Lucy come out first. They’re drunk. Lucy no longer refined; something inside has happened. They talk like they’ve known each other longest. Chase is the one to sooth the situation. Vivienne, Bee and the bold follow. There is no lion and I gather this is where the masks break.
The skyscrapers grow taller. I get out of the car and offer cigarettes to the three so Chase can do his work. But Lucy asks in a dull voice, to hide any register of anger.
“Where is Vic?”
“At the bar talking about himself.” Bee says out the corner of her mouth as I light her cigarette.
Then I do the last thing I’d ever expect. It was the look of disgust on Bee’s beautiful face, the hardening of Lucy’s; the moment where I saw that Chase loved two women and Vivienne knew. When Frank said out loud that the lion is an asshole, as if offended.
“’I’ll get him.” I said. “I know the bartender’s here anyway, not a problem.”
I didn’t wait for an answer. I walked into the foyer, passed the host, and cut through the clatter of silverware and crossed conversations, to enter the bar. There the lion sat with a scotch, a young woman checking her phone next to him, and a bartender raising an eyebrow at me, instinctually knowing who I was looking for.
“Vic, isn’t it? We’re waiting for you.”
“Well wait then.” He said smugly. “I’ll be right out.”
“Lucy is waiting for you.”
“She can wait.”
The young women looked up from her phone, looked at me, said please to meet you and that I have your number to Vic, and then left for the bathroom.
“Have you paid your tab?” I asked.
“Aren’t you the driver?” Vic bit. “What is the driver doing telling me what to do? Have a drink with me instead. I’ll pay.”
“Finish up and lets go.”
He looked into my eyes, searching for a weakness, and sure I have a few, but not for him, not now.
“You think I’m arrogant don’t you? Well, that’s not it. And even if I’m wrong, I can say at least that women love it. You may not, but what do I care about that? Did you not see the woman that just left? Did you not see her? See, you wouldn’t believe what arrogance can get you.”
“Yes I am, but did you not?”
“Yes I did. Now come on, Lucy is outside.”
“Chase can have her. Take her home, do whatever he likes. Doesn’t matter much. She’ll tire of him within days.”
“That’s none of my business.” I said. “Lets go.”
He drained his glass, stood up, swayed, and walked passed me to the entrance.
I walked behind the lion deciding if I’d let the glass break between my passengers and I. However, what business is it of mine to interfere in the lives of others? And Vic had a point, a sick point about his character. His arrogance did make him desirable. He is desirable. Something about his defiant features and his inability to care about the feelings of others over his own needs makes him a bastion for broken spirits. And if I could feel it, then anyone else could, Lucy must, and must hate herself for it. His friends must hate him too but love what knowing him can give them. It’s an evil thing, security, especially when every one of us is insecure except for a person like Vic. Loving him must feel substandard, but in the real word the hungry follow. I decided at that moment when he exited the door that I hated him like I loath myself.
The slap came loud. Lucy put everything into it. The lion laughed.
“Go fuck yourself.” Lucy yelled.
I could see the slap wasn’t just about the girl at the bar, but for everything.
He laughed harder and grabbed Vivienne around the waist. She fought out of it.
Chase came in between Vivienne and the lion.
“What the hell was that, Vic?”
The punch came quick and Chase was down on the sidewalk. Bee got in his face and he pushed her down easily. Lucy pushed him back and he slid his hand across her face and went to grab her hair.
“What are you trying to do!” Vic yelled.
And before I could step in Frank took hold of the lion’s mane and thrust his nose into the granite wall of the restaurant, Lucy trailing within his grasp. But when the head hit, the hand released, and the body fell loose. Frank stood over him, huffing loud now that all the words that had been caught in his mouth were expended. And Bee looked at him terrified, and Lucy looked at the blood espousing from her true love, and Vivienne looked at the sleeping lion wishing that he would wake up a saint, and Chase felt unloved because he was bleeding too, but alone — and I, standing there feeling helpless knowing now that there was so much more to this story then I could ever have imagined.
Vic came to, looking at his friends as if unaware of what happened, and rested his back up against the building staring off into space. Lucy put her hand up to his face and he pushed it away and she tried to put it back, while she sobbed, but he grabbed it and threw it away again while Chase longed for it because Vivienne had walked away.
The lion refused help and staggered to his feet. Spit blood in the direction of his friends as he trailed off. And I refused to walk after him because he didn’t deserve any attention at all. We all watch and admired.
“Where you going?” Bee yelled at him.
“To the fucking ball.” He said and slowly faded away down the street.
The rest of us sat devastated on the sidewalk, all dressed up with nowhere to go but home.
The crows had brought Simon to the hill. He left his horse at the bottom and climbed up its steep face. He settled into an earthen cavity behind the ruins of a stone bunker. He peered through an opening. There were two duelers, one dressed in white, the other black, as well as their seconds, and a judge. The pistols were raised. The signal was given and a loud crack rang out. The crows jumped and cawed on the moss-covered stones above Simon. The duelers stood — unwounded — a lead tangle somersaulted down a mountain of the same, mounded in between them. Simon dismissed the obvious; he was unable to believe the improbable, a draw. And, the judge, Beth’s father?
The two-dimensional men on the hill thickened into a rounded quintet, working as one machine, pulleys and levers strung together by a shared principle, connected by a unifying theory: to perform a metaphor. Still, the task lay undefined, and its purpose cloaked in costume and formality. Conjoined twins, fused by the principle of balance, the duelers were at the heart of the mystery. Or was the father: the judge to blame? They stood admirably, unaffected by mortal existence, bored by the human echo in the hollow of time.
None of this explained why her father was there. It was a bad omen. This place was a place of fear, a trial. The men exchanged the guns for reloading. Simon watched the duelers. They moved the same, breathed the same; there was nothing distinguishable between them besides their appearance. Appearance had become arbitrary; death proven beatable. He knew it. What was left? Her father looked the same, but a wax copy, a facsimile of his former self. Something was wrong, Simon had gotten things wrong. He wasn’t dead, this wasn’t about dimensions; it was about something deeper. He was a part of it, concrete like the judge, not a symbol — not a diamond thought — but a personal shackle, unwanted, not a part of the scheme, but solid and unforgettable. This place wasn’t a world, but a kingdom of memory.
Simon changed. The kingdom dissolved, the men evaporated, there was only the boy. He blinked, Simon saw himself, but it wasn’t him. The boy was perfect like the cable to a gondola. His innocence transcended all violence, all war. There was no longer a war, hadn’t been for years, not in the original sense. Yet, there was a fight still taking place. He was a participant, a performer trying to complete the saga. How long had he been on the run? He didn’t know. Where was he going? Did it matter? It would find him when the time was right. He had no control. The lack there of was a relief somehow.
Simon stood up in the vacuum to engage with the boy, but the hill returned, the men stood at attention. The Duel — perpetual — returned to dictate the sun’s decent. This is how the tides turn, by opposite twins. The boy was gone.
Simon walked around the bunker, exposed himself to the machine. The duelers did not waver. Jeffers, Michael, and the judge turned their heads. Their eyes scanned, they twisted their lips with disapproval.
“Young man,” Said the judge, “you are underdressed.”
“Painfully.” Michael whispered.
“Magnificent!” Jeffers trembled.
“Hiding?” The judge repeated.
“From the Capitol.”
“Which Capital?” Michael asked.
“The Capitol’s scouts.”
(They didn’t understand.)
“The Capital of what?” The judge asked.
The judged looked down, resisted a thought, looked up, unaffected.
“For whom?” Michael grinned.
“Magnificent!” Jeffers gasped.
“The Capitol is the government we are at war with.” Simon said.
The judge closed his eyes to rub out his impatience.
“As I was saying; you are dreadfully underdressed. We are in the middle of important business.”
“Yes, yes, important business, very important business.” Jeffers said.
He fixed his spectacles.
“What kind of business?”
“Important business” The judge fired back.
“Truly, of the utmost!” Jeffers agreed.
“A complete waste of time.” Michael mumbled.
“Remember Michael what happened the last time.” The judge stabbed.
Michael tugged the kerchief tied tight around his neck that covered a deep scar.
“There is a score to settle between the two gentlemen.” The judge pointed to the duelers. “All debts must be settled, all honor must be restored.”
“Debts are paid and honor restored, quite right, debts and honor, balance is in order.” Jeffers stuttered.
“Who offended who?”
Silence washed over them. Stuck inside of their own minds, Simon waited for them to resurface. They attempted to rescue any information that could reveal how the duel started. No answers. Jeffers broke the silence.
“We are here you see, well, here you see, because we must participate. Yes, participate. We must participate because we always have, all of us. Yes, but some do actively, yes like you, actively participate in this exchange.”
“Shut up you fool!” Michael said. “He hasn’t any idea what you are talking about.”
Simon received no answer. They looked at him, pitifully, and confused; all they knew was the duel, no particulars. They feared the forests, the gorges, and the desert most. All they knew was the hill. They knew nothing of the war, of Simon’s misfortunes, or of the witches. They had no answers. They were pulleys and gears; too busy performing from the inside to recognize forms from the outside. Aristotle was a myth.
“It’s time.” The judge said.
He looked sad. Long ago he had done something wrong; it ate at him like a wound at his side.
Jeffers and Michael returned to their places beside the judge whom assumed his position at the table. Simon stood behind Jeffers and the judge and faced the duel. Aristotle returned and stood on the far end of the hill, between the two duelers. His green eyes cut the somber grey that had settled over the meadow. A cold breeze swooped down — the boy seemed to bend with the wind like a reflection.
“Who is the boy?” Simon asked. “Do you see him on the far edge?”
“Gentlemen raise your weapons!” The judge cried.
The duelers raised their weapons.
“Gentlemen, proceed on my signal.”
The judge lifted his arm in the air. Two explosions burst, Simon flinched. The two pieces of lead combined and fell. Simon eye’s fell with them. He looked up to the boy. Aristotle: emotionless. Simon continued to stare. Smoke tethered between them. Aristotle mouthed words as the judge spoke.
“Gentlemen, due to the results of this last exchange, have the honor of either the man wearing white or the man wearing black been satisfied?”
The boy mimicked the judge’s address.
The Second of each shooter went to retrieve their master’s weapon while the boy smiled at Simon. He slipped from the other side of the hill and was gone.
Simon stood stripped. The games were useless. He had played long enough. They had nothing to do with him; he had nothing to do with himself. Identity was the last prank. Jeffers had called him active, he had realized that he was more so concrete, like the judge, but the spectrum of his existence transparent. There had never been meaning for him. The cabin, Beth’s fortress, where had it gone? Everything was malleable. All contradictions.
“Where is the cabin?”
“You always have been my boy!” The Judge said, wet eyed. “I told those two buffoons the weather was going to turn. Like clockwork the clouds roll in. I tell you, young man, if there is sun in the morning, it is sure not to last. Awe well, that is just the way it is, just words from a traitor.”
In his mind Simon recalled the camp, the sewers, the rebellion. He saw the knight’s tattoo and the crows. He saw bombs, freedom: the totality of terror. He saw a witch and a trunk. He saw the Aristocrat. That sick twisted man without a jaw.
“Why am I here? Why are we here? What is the point to any of this?” He shouted.
“Don’t raise your voice at me.” The judge responded.
Jeffers peered through the chamber of his master’s revolver and mumbled to himself.
“Yes yes, why, the most beautiful word to flower from opposition… Opposition is the giver and the taker, the machine of machines, indeed the mover of all things. …Scales and balance, yes, scales and balance. Where was I? Why? Yes, debt and honor restored and enemies befriend enemies. Suppression begets suppression until the bridge breaks, until the bridge breaks.”
Jeffers slipped the bullet into the chamber and locked the carousel into place. His intelligence flickered from his beady eyes and ripened Simon’s. Michael reloaded, looked up, but lost his will to speak. They passed the guns back to their masters. The judge looked up to the sky, finding solace where the silver clouds overlapped, an embrace that obscured a blue sky he knew was underneath. The seconds took their places. The judge lowered his head and stood prouder than usual.
“Tell her that I’ve always loved her.” He said, without looking at Simon.
Simon felt worry.
“Gentlemen raise your weapons!”
Both duelers raised their weapons.
“Gentlemen, proceed on my signal.”
He held onto his lapels, smiled, pinched the brim of his hat, tipped it, and bowed to Simon.
The moment sat sticky, the breeze continued to blow, the judge took a second to wipe the sweat as it slipped from the canal between his mustaches. Simon turned his head; the boy was back, standing in the same place as before. Aristotle completed the circuit — Simon wanted to leave. It was time.
The judge threw up his arm and two bursts of blue flung themselves from each pistol. Simon closed his eyes. In the darkness he heard a buzz approach, like a propeller, coming right for him. He thought he would never get the chance to open his eyes again. But, the propeller never severed. He opened his eyes. The boy had both hands clasped over his mouth in horror (this wouldn’t be the last time, Simon knew). Simon looked down beside him, a bloody hole through the Judge’s neck. He wheezed and wheezed. Then silence. The breeze caught his hat and it tumbled down the hill. Jeffers and Michael walked up to their masters —both jealous — to retrieve the pistols. Unaffected with the gruesome death of the judge.
Simon stared into the judge’s lazy green eyes and watched the silver clouds from above reflect and move across them. It was like looking down from the heavens, through the clouds, and onto the grassy hill. The dual perspective was not without injury. Simon shook, his bones ached. His heart tore. He looked at the judge’s fading lips, curled into a half smile, and himself smiled by terror to complete it. Aristotle had disappeared again. The round was complete.