The Silence & The Howl (§.30)

continued from chapter 29


CHAPTER 30

Harmon pocketed a tangerine and ambled out of Harold’s cramped apartment. The early morning chill prompted the man to sheath his hands in his jacket pockets whereupon he felt paper and paused beside a group of vagrants along the road to the old breaker. With furrowed brow and pursed lips, he withdrew a small, immaculate piece of paper – expensive and exceptionally durable – a business card he’d forgotten. Methodically, the man turned the rectangle, reading the name there inscribed in the ascending, amber light.

Lynder B. Partridge.

He slid the card back into his pocket and moved towards the vagrants, who all starred intently at the wayfarer. He greeted them warmly.

“Hows it going?”

The eldest amongst them, a man some fifty years of age, bearded, gaunt and filthy, screwed up his face into a scowl of disgust.

“Going just like it looks.”

Harmon remembered the tangerine he had brought along and removed it from his pocket, extending it towards the man.

“You folk look hungry.”

The anger and disgust in the old man’s face melted into a visage of confusion.

“What is it?”

“Its a tangerine.”

Hesitantly, the bearded itinerant took the fruit and nodded graciously.

“That’s very kind of ya.”

One of the younger nomads smiled and gestured towards the small ocherous sphere held in Harmon’s left hand.

“Wouldn’t happen to have more than one a those wouldya?”

“Fraid not.”

Harmon continued along the road to the coal breaker, as a flock of crows spun off the branches of a nearby tree like a living cloak of itinerant night.

A woman stood upon the edge of the precipice which let down into the gulf—from town to processing plant—adorned in a thin-worn longsleeved sweater, hair-tie and mud-stained fishing boots. A large ant’s nest lay beside her, some five feet off, covered in the onyx-sheen of busy carapaces.

“Isn’t it beautiful,” she inquired, gesturing towards the decrepit facility beyond the ridge, which hung between the effulgent sun and the colorless shade of earth, as if suspended within the bleeding outer horizon of some other-world.

A ruined castle from a fantastical realm.

“I don’t find anything beautiful in decay.”

“Plants ain’t decaying.”

“Plants replace themselves. Breaker can’t.”

“I’m more concerned about the plants than that old ugly hunk of iron. You know there used to be a forest here? Say its only right that they had some payback.”

Harmon gestured to the ant hill beside them.

“Would you say the same for the colony?”

The Silence & The Howl | Part 16

§.16


The moon ghosted above the ancient coal breaker. Odd figures walked the streets, surreptitiously passing small plastic bags to each other just beyond the illumination of the streetlamps and the lights of Andy’s house.

Bluebird did not call before she arrived. She parked her car in the front of the drive and clattered down the way to the door in dark purple yoga pants, faux-designer boots and a short-sleeved T and a windbreaker. She knocked on the door and waited trepidatiously as a mexican eyed her up from the leftern lot. Momentarily, Andy opened the door.

“Hi there. You’re Lyla, right?”

“That’s me. And you’re Andy, we’ve met once before.”

“Yeah, you stopped by work to give Harmon a sandwich or something.”

“Speaking of – is he here?”

“Yeah. Come in. Let me take your coat.”

“Thanks.”

She slipped out of her puffy, oversized windbreaker and held it under her right arm as she stepped inside to behold a small little living room covered over with stained leaf colored shag and unadorned walls of pale beige. To the immediate left of the door, a old television sat pressed against the wall, blaring a sitcom, before it a ratty couch upon which lounged a middle aged woman who was dressed as someone fifteen years her junior.

“This is Marla. Marla, this is Lyla.”

“Hi.” Marla intoned without much interest as she fished out a gummie bear from a crinkling plastic bag upon her lap, eyes fixed on the flashing box before her. The box squawked, ”

Andy turned away from the couch-bound woman and pointed to the stairs which let up to the right.

“He’s upstairs. Door to the right.”

“Thanks.”

When she reached the upper floor landing she paused and listened for him. She knew his footfalls well. He was pacing restlessly. She entered and found him languidly smoking by the window, gazing out towards the coal breaker.

He turned slowly. The light of welcome absent from his keen green eyes.

“Hello, Bluebird.”

“Hey.”

She moved forth and slowly draped her arms against his immobile form. He reciprocated the gesture and then offered her a cigarette which she swiftly accepted. They stood smoking menthols, looking out the window at the gang members hocking opioids on the corner.

“So whats new?”

“Oh, not much. You know how it is.”

“I do indeed.”

“So what happened? With Richard?”

“He called me a liar and I told him I wasn’t and he threw me out.”

“What? Really? That’s what you two are fighting about?”

“No. I’m not fighting anything. Ain’t worth fighting with people that don’t care about you.”

“That wasn’t directed at me was it?”

“Why would you assume it was?”

“I know I haven’t been around much,” she took a long drag and shook her head as she exhaled into the pane, “But I’ve been busy.”

“What with?”

“Prepping for the gala – the next one, that is.”

“Next one?”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, sorry. Yeah, I um, I – the last one was really successful.”

“I know. I was there.”

“Are you mad?”

“Yeah. But not with you.”

“Richard?”

“I kept thinking. Bout hurting him. Over and over again. Stomping down on his shiny little head until it popped like an overfilled water balloon.”

“I don’t think that would be the best way to handle it.”

“No. But it’d be a way.”

 

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 12

§.12


When Harmon waved to Sprawls as he made breakfast the man only shook his head and sneered.

“What?”

“Why you still here?”

“Where were you expecting me to be?”

“Anywhere but here. I told you last night. Ain’t gonna work out.”

“Are you being serious?”

“I ain’t gonna throw you out. I know you don’t have anywhere to go right now. You find one. Then you leave.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Richard?”

Sprawls didn’t answer and kept buttering his toast over a paper plate beside the kitchen sink. Even as he did so, his bloodshot and buggy eyes swept to the side cautiously, suspiciously.

“You’re gonna throw me out because… I didn’t give you a cigarette? Have I got that right?”

Sprawls shook his head and didn’t answer.

“Stop buttering the god-damned toast. I’m talking to you.”

“I gotta leave. You just remember what I said.”

With that Sprawls turned to leave but Harmon braced him with his left hand, turning him half about as Sprawls grunted and smacked his roommate’s arm away.

“Don’t you put your fucking hands on me.”

“This is my house too, Richard. I’ve been splitting the rent with you since you got it. We’ve been playing music together for four fucking years – you want to end all of that over… what? Nothing?”

“I’m not repeating myself.”

“What is wrong with you?”

Sprawls just starred at him dumbly. Harmon knew he was high. He could smell it on his clothes. He wondered if Sprawls was on something else. He was always on something.

“Ain’t me that got the problem.”

“You disappoint me, Richard.”

“Yeah.”

And with that Sprawls turned and left the house as Harmon stood clenching his fists and fighting back a rage that compelled him to run from the house and bash his friend’s head against the pavement over and over until it splattered like an overripe mellon. Instead, he took a seat at his desk gathered up his laptop and went downstairs to begin filing all his belongings into cardboard boxes to take out to his car.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 11

§.11


Harmon woke to the hot rays of the sun licking his loose and stimulated body. He inhaled the aroma of his basement room; stale beer, drywall and wood, plaster, steel and warm dust, relishing the tincture as might a perfumist a bag of potpourri. He stretch and looked to his left. Lyla was gone. Only a sunken spot in the gray mattress and the scent of womanly body spray remained. His momentary elation swift-faded. He sat upon the old and worn-out mattress, unevenly sprung, staring at the spot where his love had been. He reached over and caressed the area where her nape had leaned gainst the pillow. It was still warm. She’d left recently. He rose, naked, and stretched and threw on his underwear and pants where they had been hastily discarded upon the cold concrete floor and jogged up the stairs and ambled expectantly into the living room, empty save his laptop table and chair and Sprawls ratty couch. The notebook lay open on the table where she had left it, the portrait smiling up at him. He moved to the table and slowly closed the notebook.

He sat down and raised the screen of his laptop and, as if compelled by some ethereal force, opened a new tab on his browser and typed in ‘Lyla Regina Summers.’ The top results were from her personal website featuring her artwork, her page on the local universities site, one news article on local artists she had been briefly and briskly featured in, referred to by name only once. Farther down the search list he chanced across a podcast titled ‘Women Out Of Shade’ and saw that Lyla was featured on their metadata. He plugged in his headphones let someone should enter the house and clicked on the requisite links and listened.

“Hello lady writers, this is your host Monica Chambers and you are listening to Women Out Of Shade, a podcast dedicated to bringing female artists out of the shadows and into the light. Today we’ll be talking to Lyla Summers, a local soon-to-be-graduate from Haverral University. Ms. Summers is a illustrator, photographer, social activist and painter. So, welcome to the program Ms. Summers.”

“Thanks so much for having me.”

“So, I seen your recent showing, your gala – I thought your work was really quite wonderful.”

“Oh, why thank you. It went really well.”

“I wanted to know, first, how you came to be interested in art, in painting, and what your principal influences were.”

“Well, I’ve been interested in art since I was young. I always liked to draw. I got into painting when I was in high school and it all just sort of clicked. You know? Anyways, I decided, on my very last day of high school what I wanted to do and sent in my portfolio to Haverral and the rest is history. As for my influences, well, I have to give a lot of credit to Samanta Farrow, my advisor – she’s also a painter-”

“Yes, I’ve heard of her.”

“Isn’t work just wonderful?”

“Its really unique.”

“Yeah. She was such a good mentor. It was only because of her that I got placed in the gala. But anyways, to answer your question, her method really helped me grow, as an artist. So I’d say she was my chief influence.”

“So what are your plans from here?”

“Well, I planed to move. I really want to get out of this area.”

Harmon straightened in his chair, his eyes flying wide.

“My girlfriend lives in Florida, so I’m planning on moving down there soon.”

“Girlfriend like friend or girlfriend girlfriend?”

“Haha, girlfriend girlfriend. She’s been so support of me. I really should have mentioned her when you asked me about my biggest influences. I couldn’t have done half of what I’ve accomplished without her.”

Harmon paused the recording and rewound it and listened through once more to ensure that his ears weren’t playing tricks upon him. The audio came through the same on second listening.

“My girlfriend lives in Florida-”

Harmon listened through the rest of the recording, waiting for a name. Lyla never gave it. He slowly shut the lid of his lap top and rose from his chair, his mind whirring like a broken machine, hands flexing like speared and desperate crustaceans. How could she? How could she? Why would she? Why wouldn’t she tell me? She was just here…

The sound of footsteps upon the pavement outside left no room for further reverie as Sprawls burst in through the front door, a large white plastic bag under his left arm.

“Good news, had a sale at Captain Andy’s.”

Captain Andy’s was the locale liquor store and one of Sprawls favorite mercantile haunts. Harmon slowly turned to greet him.

“Nice. Mind if I have one.”

Harmon wasn’t sure what his roommate had purchased, nor did he care. Anything to numb the frantic rage he felt. Anything to blunt the urge to put his fist through the wall, to flipped his table and snap his laptop in half and cast his chair against the wall and drive down to Lyla’s house and beat her bloody until she gave up a name.

Sprawls withdrew a tallboy and cast the can to his roommate who caught it deftly and snapped it open instantly and downed a quarter of the bottle at once.

“You okay, man? You looked pale. I mean, paler than usual.”

“No. I am not okay. But I will be.”

“Something happen?”

“Something is always happening. No use complaining about it.”

“Yeah.”

Sprawls flopped down into his couch and cracked open one of the bottom-shelf tallboys and took a sip as he set his bag of beer down upon the floor.

Harmon remained standing, guzzling his beer. In short order he polished off and asked for another which Sprawls readily provided. After a few moments Sprawls spoke up dejectedly.

“Bitch fucking lied to me.”

“Who?”

“Sarah. That girl that was here. You seen her.”

“Oh is that her name?”

“Yeah.”

“What’d she lie about?”

“Bout being pregnant. Said she’d just been putting on a little extra weight – huh, yeah right. Got me thinking. Thinking bout lying. How often people do it. How often do you lie?”

Harmon turned towards his friend with deadpan seriousness.

“I never lie.”

“Bullshit. Everyone lies.”

“I have not told a lie since I was a child.”

“Bullshit. Hey, lemme get one of this cigs from you.”

“You just called me a liar. Get your own.”

“Just lemme have one.”

Harmon stuck one of the cigarettes between his lips and lip up the end and spoke without turning.

“No.”

“Hey fuck you, man.”

Harmon did not respond and smoked, starring at a peeling spot on the wall as if it were the very center of the universe.

“That’s some weird ass shit. This ain’t gonna work out.”

Sprawls waited for Harmon to say something and when he didn’t Sprawls got up from the couch and made for the stairs.

“This ain’t gonna work. Have your stuff outta here tomorrow.”

With that, Sprawls left off before Harmon could respond. He stood there, staring at the spot where Sprawls had been and then turned and grabbed his coat and headed for the road. He drove. Comforted by the roaring hum of the old hatchback’s engine, crunshing asphalt beneath its newly worn yet powerful tires. The earth shearing against itself like two techtonic plates. He determined suddenly, as the weight of the days events fully pressed themselves against his mind to drive to Lyla’s house. She lived twenty eight minutes away in her mother’s messy yellow house. He drove straight north. The gang of toughs that he’d spied before were no where to be seen, only a young man walking down the street, bobbing his head to the hidden hymns of his headphone. Harmon envied that man. Cocooned from the world. Happy with his big, dumb smile. A surge of rage that bellowed dragonlike from the roiling fractal depths of his mind overtook him. Bliss-through-ignorance is the harborage of cowards, he thought to himself coldly, redirecting his attention from the walker back to the road. He floored the gas and ran the lights as a vehicle he paid no mind to screeched to a halt, its driver howling out the window some indiscernible curse. He drove out of town to the north, the great crumbling ruin of the coal breaker visible in blurred side-glances to the northeast and then even it fell away from view.

No, he thought, suddenly slowing, I’m being primitive. Letting my emotions run away with the reigns of my soma. Predictable. Understandable. Vexing. He pulled to a stop before the highway off ramp and checked the mirror, he U-turned and sped back towards town.

He would not go to her. He would wait for Lyla to come to him.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 9

§.09


When Harmon finally made his way back to his house the car belonging to the woman was there once more as well as Lyla’s car. Sprawls car was gone. He quickly dashed inside the house and discovered Lyla sitting on his chair in the living room, bent over his desk, his sketchbook open upon it. She looked at the drawing of selfsame visage with pursed lips and wide eyes.

“That was supposed to be a surprise.”

She gasped and dropped the notebook. To Harmon her face born a sign of shame that were as a curse upon her and a faint flame of suspicious there lit up in the corridors of his tired and tumbling mind.

“I’m sorry. I had tried calling but you didn’t answer.”

“Had went for a walk. Forgot to bring my phone,” he replied gesturing to the device where it lay at the corner of the table nearest the wall, not far from the sketchbook.

“So what brings you here, fair lady?”

Lyla rose slowly, hesitating, as if the words had been snatched from her throat. She quickly regained her composure and shrugged, “Dunno. Just wanted to see you.”

“I’m surprised.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“I understand college is demanding but we never meet up anymore. We rarely even talk.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want you to be sorry, I just want you to be with me.”

“I’m with you now.”

Harmon moved to stand before the woman. He was two inches taller than her, three with his boots on, and looked down into her large, coffee colored eyes and raised his hand to her face and leaned down towards her, gently caressing her lips with his own. Smooth and warm and delicious. She kissed back, hard and slowly wrapped her slender arms about his neck as heart beats quickened. Harmon slid his hand beneath her shirt and she shivered at the touch and smiled.

“You’re cold.”

“I’m sure you can figure out a way to warm me up.”

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 2

CHAPTER TWO


Harmon awoke with the rising of the light. He ran his hands through his hair, wild and dark as raven-down. He stretched and cracked his neck and leaned out on the tips of his toes til he fell to the floor, catching himself before his face collided with the spotless concrete of his tea and smoke-scented basement. He did a push-up and then one hundred and then twenty more. At one hundred and twenty he started to waver and dropped to his shoulder and rolled over on his back, breathing heavy as a cat howled from somewhere outside. Shortly thereafter, something else howled. Coon from the sound of it. He checked the time. 7:00 AM sharp. He’d an hour to make it to work. He rose and looked to his mobile phone, outdated by the standards of the day. Tense. Anxious. Expectant. It’d been two weeks since Harmon had dropped Lyla off with Serena. Only phone calls he’d gotten were from his boss and his bank to let him know that his account had gone inactive and would be closed if it continued to remain so.

He fancied he were being impatient, she’d call, he told himself, she always did. They used to speak for hours every other day. Hang out on the regular. Increasingly, that was becoming a rarity. Now they’d speak but once every other week, if that. They’d meet up once a month or every other. Harmon shook himself from reverie, stretched and leapt up to the exposed crossbeam of the basement ceiling and started doing pull ups. A sudden implacable fury permeating his soma. He hit fifty and dropped, muscles afire. A pleasurable pain. He looked in the old mirror that had been left in the basement by the previous owner; his pale-yet-tanning form, all sharp, angular lines and surging veins, was alien to him. It occurred to him he’d not looked at his own reflection for over a month. There were no other mirrors in the house. He tensed his half-naked body before the mirror with his arms at his sides; his opaque green eyes vacuous. Glassy. Like liquid emerald’s encased in amber.

He showered, dressed and walked up the stairs to the living room where Sprawls was sitting, drinking his bottom-shelf beer and smoking a joint that smelled of mildew. The odious scent of the rough rolled sheet permeated the room and Harmon braced himself against any outward show of displeasure as Sprawls took a sip before speaking.

“Morning. You been up all night?”

“Stayed up writing.”

“Come up with anything good?”

Sprawls nodded and offered his roommate the joint. Harmon waved the offer and poured himself a cup of coffee, waiting for the reedy black man to continue. After a shrug and a lengthy toke he did so.

“Got this nice blues line, man. Need you to cook up some lyrics for it.”

“We’ve been writing songs for a year now. When we gonna start playing places?”

“What kinda places?”

“Dunno. Bars. Somewhere with an audience.”

“I been busy, man.”

“You work at a failing print shop with one reliable client.”

“Yeah, well, its a very demanding client. Why you always so impatient?”

“Not impatient. Just think we’ve come up with some good work. Must be that stuff you’re smoking.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning it makes you lazy as shit.”

“What’s your fucking problem, man?”

“Didn’t have one til you started snappin.”

Sprawls shook his shiny, bald head, rolled his bloodshot eyes and took another drag, knocking back his beer. He flipped on the television.

As Harmon went to take a sip of his coffee Sprawl spoke up suddenly, “Rent is due soon.”

“Yup.”

“You have it?”

“I will.”

“So you don’t have it?”

“No. Not now, I don’t. Will once Swain pays me.”

“You want to stay in my house you’d better fucking have it on time.”

“What do you mean ‘your’ house?”

“My name on the deed.”

Harmon didn’t respond and took another sip of the coffee, inhaling the soothing Colombian scent. Then he spoke up with a ill-concealed vexation.

“I thought we were friends, Richard.”

Sprawls perked up, no one except Harmon ever called him ‘Richard.’ He’d taken on the moniker ‘Sprawls’ after getting released from prison.

“We are. Weird thing to say.”

“You just threatened to throw me out of our house.”

Sprawls took a toke. Body limp. Eyes shifting from the TV screen to the man behind the kitchen counter.

“Because its MY name on the deed.”

“I’ll have the money.”

“Five days.”

“Five days.”

“I’m serious.”

Harmon furrowed his brows. Sprawls was barely there.

“So am I. I’ll have it.”

“Cool. See ya.”

He may as well have said, “Whatever.”

Harmon finished his coffee and let out the house, got in his beaten and sun-scrubbed car, lit up a cigarette, cracked the window and hit the gas and drove down the cratered roads of the suburban neighborhood to the end of the northern-most street whereupon he spied a gang of toughs hanging about between two peeling and dilapidated houses that looked like over-sized shoe-boxes. The toughs were black and mostly middle-aged with cheap shirts and expensive sneakers. Harmon had seen them hanging around before and knew that they weren’t locals. They looked expectant and worried. Moving back and forth in wordless perambulations, tight little circles of uncertainty. Some smoked and others listened to their MP3 players on their phones. Harmon figured they were on business. Waiting for a drop-off. The area had changed after The Cartel moved across the border, peddling flesh and pills. He looked out the window again as he pulled to a stop at the red light; could have ran it but he liked the ritual of the thing, the stop and smoke and stare, at the gray, seething clouds, like great ethereal snakes, at the birds whirling swarm-tactically against the thermals, at the black outsiders with their baggy pants and bad tattoos and vacant expressions, at the drop off from the rise and the vast mechanical expanse of the abandoned plant below; coal breakers, they used to call them, sorting and processing sites for anthracite, bitumen and lignite. A place where children once labored under the auspices of strong-willed industrialists. From his metallic perch he could see strange forms moving where none should be, glassy-eyed and furtive amongst the shattered and rain-worn rocks of the coal breaker’s ruin.

Junkies.

The zombie apocalypse had already happened and it hadn’t even made the front page. Pharmacology, the vector for a self-inflicted scourge. The pharmacist-as-pusher. The citizen as outcast.

Harmon took a long, soothing drag and watched the addict-vagabonds moving in strange undulations against the dessicated corpse of the iron giant. He wondered if the once-mighty site of unparalleled industry could be rehabilitated, reanimated, summoned forth from its fetid slumber by some creative recourse to technological necromancy. The thought filled his bosom as his whirring clockwork mind with a sense of unrealized majesty.

The landscape before him transformed into a field of great ranging towers, like the fangs of some titanic canine, arcing towards the sky as if in hunger of the moon. The junkies and lean-tos vanished beneath the furious blaring of steam-engines charting the fruits of the coal breaker by rail-lines to every corner of the world and all those beyond it. Their rumbling stacks searing the acrid wind with staccato puffs of smoke, pitch and gray and fading out into particulates imperceptible to the eyes of Man. He saw high-rises crop up around the coal breaker and many more behind it. A metropolis. A megalopolis. A ecumenopolis. A city so great it were as a geological force unto itself, that shook the very foundations of the earth, reverberating the magmous core with the song of its creators; echoing out unto the very stars which were the builders’ own to claim.

Harmon’s reverie was broken when the light turned green. He paused a moment and looked out the driver-side window, away from the coal break, to the right, to the shoe-box houses and the would-be gangbangers stoop-shouldered and sag-pants’d as a troop of hispanics walked up to them, plain-clothed and colorful.

“The fuck you lookin’ at, white boy?”

Harmon said nothing and methodically flicked his half-smoked cigarette out the window, where it landed with a hissing sputter at the caitiff’s feet. He refocused his attention to the road as a muted “motherfucker” echoed briefly behind the rambling, metal wagon.

*

Harmon arrived at work five minutes late. His daydream’s heady alcahest the generative nexus of his tardiness. Eric Swain folded his thick and hairy arms before his chest and shook his head, short-cropped hair copper with the rising sun.

“You’re late.”

“I know it. Got distracted.”

“Hows that?”

“Got to daydreaming.”

Swain smiled slightly, wryly and shook his head fractionally and spoke slowly.

“Coulda lied. Traffic jam, or something.”

“I suppose. Ain’t many cars on the road though.”

“How would I have known?”

“You wouldn’t, but I would.”

Swain shook his head again, like a horse chasing off flies and then looked skyward, squinting his sunglassed eyes gainst the relentless rays of the effulgent sphere and then turned.

“Well. Come on.”

“I’ll ensure it doesn’t happen again. Much as I’m able.”

“What? Being late? Hell… you’re the only reliable hand I’ve got other than Daryl.”

“I don’t think Daryl likes me.”

“Daryl doesn’t like anybody. You said ensure.”

“Yeah.”

“My wife bought me some Ensure,” the duo moved over the front lawn to the unfinished house’s driveway where stood a stack of roofing tiles, Swain reached up and removed a bottle,” Its like a protein-shake type of thing,” he shook the bottle,” Said it’ll help me keep it off the middle,” he patted his rounded gut and smiled again, “Guess’n I could do with that.”

“Guess’n so.” Harmon scanned the neat and brightly colored packaging of the protein shake. It was delightfully designed. Beautiful in its simplicity. Bright blue swooshing up in a thick line at the top and bottom bracketed in the middle by off-white with the brand name strikingly colored in stylized typeface just below the thick, upper blue swoosh. He thought of all the work that had gone into the bottle’s design; he thought of the graphic design team that had spent weeks or months choosing an appropriate typeface, modifying it, colorizing it, sketching out drafts in some aromatic coffee house, of the plastic manufacturers which had crafted the bottle to be as ergonomic as possible and of the alchemists, shuttered away in their corporate laboratories judiciously mixing and remixing various tinctures so as to strike the right balance in taste and texture. Harmon fancied it likely that more cognitive energy had been distilled in the creation of that single drink than would be expended by most of those that drank it in a month. The apprehension of such industrious creativity flooded his mind with mirth. He looked up to the roof he would shortly help to build and for the first time in a very long time, he felt pure and unmitigated joy.

*

Harmon was fifteen minutes on the bare roof of the house before, Andy Flint, the last of the crew arrived. He conversed with Swain briskly. Agitation the whole of their forms. Then Flint scaled the ladder to the roof and grabbed a sponge-pad to walk on to ensure he had some tractable footing such that he did not, in venturing out upon that perilous peak, slid off upon the slick, shiny wood or newly nail tiles and tumble out unto the void and there slam his skull upon the concrete drive below. Harmon recalled last winter when they had been working a roof in the middle of winter in the downtown area. The ice made the sponges near-useless and Swain, running a small operation and lacking the funds for harnesses, bid his crew work across the frozen tile. Harmon had overexerted himself and fallen flat upon his back some near twenty feet off the roof. He’d landed in some shrubs and lay their for a long while, stunned and unable to breathe. When Swain asked him if he was alright he had grunted and raised his left arm skyward, thumb extended upwards.

“Mornin’ Andy.”

“Harmon.” Andy replied, nodding dully as he scuttled up to the middle of the roof on his sponge-pad, wrinkled jeans scrapping against the sun-faded plywood like sandpaper on snakeskin. He was jittery and tense. His eyes bloodshot and ringed with owlish circles.

“Can you hand me that bag of tiles?”

“That asshole.”

“Who?”

“Fuckin’ all of them, man. All of them. Sonsofbitches, every one.”

Harmon paused a moment and watched the man curse under his breath and then returned to his work. He didn’t like to chat when he was focused on a task. Andy’s dour mood was ruining the atmosphere of creation. He wanted to dash lizard like across the roof as he built it up under the hot and ceaseless sun with nothing but the creaking of the renovated house and the sonorous opera of the wind. The chatter was breaking his concentration.

“Told me I’d be fired if I was late again. Just like that. Hell, I been working here just as long as you and they still treat me like I’m some… I don’t know… like I’m wet-behind the ears. Like I’m some kinda fuckup.”

“You shouldn’t pay so much heed to what people say when they’re angry.”

“A-fucking-men, man, a-fucking-men.”

Andy smiled awkwardly. He was twitchy and kept scratching himself, flexing his fingers and rubbing his arms in between nailing down the tiles, as if they were assailed by an army of invisible ants. Drugs. Uppers. Harmon wasn’t sure what particular kind, but he could tell the man was on something. He’d had a history of substance abuse, didn’t like to talk about it. Harmon didn’t want to ask. He was focused on the roof. Shortly, Daryl’s crass voice boomed out from the far-side of the rooftop.

“What are you two faggots talking about?”

“Just shooting the shit,” Andy responded irritably.

Daryl stood up high, as if to show his dominance over the peaked surface, “Well, you sure are filled with shit, Andy, so I’m sure you got a whole lot of it to shot.”

Andy leapt up, furious.

“You’re always talking down to me.”

Daryl loosed a cackle and shook his head.

“Why you gotta be such a drama queen.”

“You keep talking.”

“I will.”

“Piss off.”

“Rather not.”

“Keep on it.”

“Hows that girl friend a yours? The flat-chested one.”

“Shut it, Daryl.”

“Might have mosquitoes bites but she sure is pretty. Almost as pretty as that sweet thing our man Harmon’s saddled with. Nice curves on that one. Hows is she doing, Harmon?”

“Fine.”

“Oh look at ole Andy. He’s hopping mad. Look, what I said about your girl – its not an insult. If my mug was as ugly as yours I’d take whatever lay I could get.”

“Shut your fucking mouth.”

“Or what? You’ll shut it for me?”

Tremors of rage shook the hammer in Andy’s hand. His knuckles going white about the red-taped handle. Daryl pointed to the hammer, his tone sobering.

“You so much as swing that in my direction you will regret it.”

Harmon turned around his visage impassive and rose to his knees and slowly placed his hand upon Andy’s arm which clutched the hammer.

“Enough. We got work to do. Client is expecting us to finish this roof today.”

After a moment of tense silence Andy and Daryl moved off to opposite ends of the roof as the neophytes clamber up the ladder, bags of tile upon their straining backs.

*

After work Andy sided up to Harmon where he lay upon his back counting his pay on a patch of cool-shaded grass neath a willow in the backyard of the client’s house. To either side of the tree rose up thick hedges, ill-kept and somewhere a cat meow’d. Andy explained his cousin was unable to pick him up and asked if Harmon could give him a ride. Harmon looked around. Only Swain and Daryl remained, the neophytes all having departed the moment the boss had allowed it. Swain was talking to his wife, planning a dinner-outing for the night. There was no point in Andy asking Daryl. Harmon nodded, saying nothing and asked for but a moments patience. He liked the feel of the grass upon his skin. The moss of the willow upon his neck. He closed his eyes and inhaled and opened them and watched a dragonfly land upon one of the upper branches of the willow and he thought of the construction of the creature and then a facsimile all of copper and brass and steam and coal and fire. A great clockwork dragonfly and he upon it, skipping over the clouds with reckless enthusiasm and a conqueror’s cry. Then he shook himself from reverie, removed his keys and rose.

*

Cherry of Harmon’s cigarette flickered like furnace coal upon the windshield. Andy sat in the passenger’s seat. Sullen. Ashamed.

“Hey Harmon.”

“Yeah?”

“Just wanted to thank you.”

“Its no trouble at all.”

Andy nodded appreciatively and then looked out the red-tinged passenger’s window; some youths were ambling about a basketball court; to the left, a old woman sat upon her porch drinking from a mason jar as a cat the size of a small dog twined about her blue-veined legs. Harmon’s eyes were fixed to the road. He did not need to look out the window. He had memorized every house. Every sign. Every road-turning. Only the inhabitants thereof remained a mystery to him. There was no map, mental or otherwise could encapsulate them. A thin black man passed a young white woman upon the sidewalk before the house of the woman with the mason jar. Neither looked into the eyes of the other and they passed beside each other with wordlessly apathy as if the other were nothing more than a clump of grass. Harmon found it strange and unsettling how so many people could live in such close proximity for so long and yet almost never look or speak to one another. They came and went like ghosts under the setting sun.

“If you died in a crash, but some of your organs could be saved and transplanted, would you want them to be?”

Andy, arched a brow, confused and startled by the sudden query.

“Uh. Dunno. Why?”

“Just something I get to thinking about whenever I drive.”

“I don’t think I’d want my insides inside someone else.”

Harmon tilted his head up and took a drag of his cigarette and mulled his own question around in his mind and answered with measured tones.

“I used to think that way. Used to think it was weird.”

“And now?”

“Now I don’t. If I were to get pancaked – say, right up the road, before I pull in to your drive – bam, flattened; but one of my organs, say, a lung, remained intact and could be transplanted to some patient that needed it, I think whoever can should scoop it out, put it on ice. I wouldn’t need it, being a pancake and all. I’m not a pharaoh.”

Andy considered the driver’s words and then puckered up his mouth and nodded as if sense had been made of the thing.

“Makes sense I suppose. Less’n you’re religious in some kinda way.”

“Everyone is religious in some kinda way.”

“Thought you were an atheist?”

“So are the Taoists, but no one calls them that.”

“Caint say as I know much bout no Tao.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

They rode in silence back to Andy’s house where it stood like a fat skeleton against the pale, bony light of the slowly ascendant moon. Andy thanked the driver again and got out and strode up past the confederate flag which hung over the low-hanging porch, covered over in blankets and beer cans and rickety rocking chairs and flower pots and then vanished there within.

*