Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Good Clean, A Harsh Clean: Part II

Standing behind his hunch I could see the old man's spine through his sweater. It stuck up like a range of old, wind-worn mountains that stretched from his collar to his belt, and I wasn't sure where to put my hands, not out of some idiot's need for appropriateness because, let's be honest, he'd become sexless years before I met him, but because it all looked way too brittle. Might as well ask me to push a bag of glass onto the roof.

"Here we go," I said, more to myself, putting a hand on either side of his waist. As small as it was to look at it was actually even smaller to touch, the cordorouys, baggy on his pelvis, pushing in under my grip until they hit bone. I lifted him up and he couldn't have weighed more than seventy pounds. It all went easily enough, except maybe for some ugly straining on his part.

"You got paws bigger than some bears I've met," he said, settling in.

"Which is it then?"

"Hmm?"

I recaptured my seat and grabbed my gin. "A minute ago I was an ape, now I'm a bear."

"Well. A lot can happen in a minute, don't you think?"

"Suppose." I took a pull and it tasted right, like always. I watched my fingers flex around the thick glass.

"I used to have hands like yours, believe it or not. Somewhere along the way I lost track of them. Let them..." he trailed off. "Now if I so much as get a weed in the yard I need my grandson to come pull it out." He sipped his drink and said, "Shit. Now you think I'm some lonely bastard who buys a stranger a drink so he can complain about his lot."

"I'm not that perceptive about these things."

He breathed into his glass, a long, lungish thing, and it took me a bit to realize he was laughing. The bartender glanced over to make sure it wasn't a death rattle. "You're very good," the old man pointed a strange fingernail at me. "You play the oaf but that's not you at all, is it?" I tossed back the rest of my drink until cubes hit teeth. Then I waved for another. The bartender did his job and the old man was still on his second sip. "You would've fit right in with the Gentlesin's Club," he said, "bastard like yourself, they'd have made you a member for sure."

I grabbed a swig, phrased like a question.

"It was a men's organization of sorts, glorious shit-starters hellbent on anarchy. Beautiful men in our own right. Used to get dressed up in our best tuxedos and chew peyote. We liked to say, 'If it's not right, we'll wrong it.' See, we understood what all the greats have- that you can do more damage in shined shoes than you can in stompers."

He went on like that as I finished my second and ordered a third. We sat drinking for a bit listening to a television try its hardest. Eventually I said, "What line of work's your son in?" He looked up slowly from his glass. "He must be busy if it's worth skipping over him and bothering the grandson for help around the house."

"You think so?"

I shrugged.

"And you're supposed to be the 'not perceptive one'." He moved his head around, mocking me. He slid his glass around on the bar and watched the way the puddles moved. "Didn't mean that. It's just, sickness took that boy a long time ago. Sometimes I get a stick up the ass about it."

"Understandable."

"The only phone number I got left is my grandson's. Now don't get me wrong, he's sort of an asshole, but at least he picks up. Speaks to a man's character if he can pick up a phone fully knowing I'm on the other side of it."

"Cheers to that." The bartender came over and topped us off. "In fact I'd say Malcolm qualifies for fucking saintdom for putting up with your sour routine all these years."

"Nobody asked you," the old man mumbled.

All of a sudden all that gin in my gut felt like it was weighing me down, ready to fall out my ass like a wet diamond. I pretended to take another slug but instead let it burn at my lips because it bought me some time, kept things casual. "His name's Malcolm?" after I'd counted to ten.

"Unfortunately. It's no wonder he fancies himself some sort of poet with a name like that. But what else can we do but grow into our names? Like goddamn potted plants."

I looked at my hands, wondering if he could smell the bleach on them.

1 comment:

steve said...

digging the character development!