Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chapter Eight : Reverie

The candles guttered in the draft cast by a clattering box fan, and Jericho struggled to focus on the small picture of Caytlyn that he had pulled from his wallet. His fingers felt like sausages, the skin threatening to burst every time he moved a joint. Needles scratched at the back of his eyes, and he blinked. The apartment was small and cluttered, but clean. The table took up most of the space in the combined kitchen and living area, with a sagging tweed couch pushed up against one wall and a very tiny television perched precariously on a spindly plastic chest of drawers. The lights were out, and the street lamps outside cast a warm glow on the threadbare carpets and gingham curtains. The girl pulled her robe more tightly around herself, a bare, freckled shoulder peeping out, and laid her head on Jericho’s shoulder.
“Who is she?” She asked quietly.
Jericho blinked, and pushed the picture out a bit further and tried to focus. “Caytlyn.” He mumbled. “My ex’s daughter.” He struggled for words. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that the entire conversation would be nothing more than a blurry scar in a few hours, and he hastened to unburden himself while he had the nerve.
“My wife was cheating on me and got pregnant. We split up, but the douche-bag left when he found out she was pregnant. She had Caytlyn, but.”
The words stopped, and a single, large tear traced a lazy arc down Jericho’s cheek. The girl smoothed it away with a thumb, and Jericho remembered his last visit to the hospital.
“She died. My ex, I mean. It was an auto accident. Caytlyn was only a few months old.”
The room swayed gently in the breeze of the fan, and Jericho briefly imagined that he was on a cruise ship in the middle of the Carribean. The moon shone softly, and the ocean breeze carried the sharp tang of salt. And then the moment passed, and the room was still.
“I’ve been raising Caytlyn ever since.”
The girl smiled, a genuine smile with no pity mixed in, and somehow Jericho felt stronger. He understood, then, how a face could launch a thousand ships, and almost said so, but some small part of his mind, the skeptical and self-preserving lizard part, thought better of it.
“She has cancer. Leukemia. The doctors say it is a long shot.”
The girl said something, but Jericho wasn’t paying attention. He remembered standing in the doctor’s office. And then sitting in the doctor’s office. And then weeping in the doctor’s office. He remembered the feeling of hopelessness for a child who hadn’t asked to be a bastard, who hadn’t asked for an absent father or a dead mother. He remembered a beautiful little girl, with her mother’s eyes, who hadn’t asked for cancer. He remembered trying, with the doctor’s help, to explain the situation to Caytlyn, and he remembered the large, bright eyes filled with hope as she asked daddy to promise that everything would be ok. He remembered stumbling through the dark streets, filled with hurt and rage and alcohol, cursing everything he could name. He remembered the dark joy that gripped him as he imagined grasping a deadbeat dad around the throat and slowly, very slowly, choking the life out of him.

“Jericho.” The girl’s voice interrupted his reverie. The candles were burned down, and it felt like hours had passed in the blink of an eye. And then she was kissing him, and Jericho felt comfort and self-loathing in equal measure. She stood, her smile more impish than kind, and pulled Jericho to his unsteady feet. “You'll be needing a wash. Are ya forgettin’ yer cards, mon?” She asked. “Ye drew the lovers.”

Jericho blinked. "I don't know your name."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chapter Seven : Marlboro

Zeke was the kind of person who harbored a passion for learning his trade, seconded very closely by his passion to share that knowledge with everyone and everyone as frequently as possible. Unfortunately, such opportunities were rare, and he took full advantage of Jericho's attention. The minutes stretched into hours, and Jericho, who had begun by taking furious notes on his tablet, was reduced to nodding and the occasional interjection to ask a point of clarification. The conversation found them wandering into the early afternoon, the bright sunlight a welcome contrast to the somber elegance of the reading room. The roads were a mixture of quaint cobblestone and newer asphalt; the buildings were multistory brick affairs with white iron railings and white window casings, gleaming in the sunlight. There was a lush park behind a wrought iron fence, and vines tumbled from balconies and balustrades. A monstrously large honeysuckle reared from the park like a pile of golden pillows, and Jericho noticed an abnormally large bumblebee hovering and flitting through the blooms. The cloying scent of the blossoms filled the air, and Jericho noted with a small part of his brain the rust colored patch on the bee's abdomen. For a moment the world was still and quiet, and all this talk of dark magick and spells and tarot seemed as alien as reinforced concrete and jet engines.

"You coming, old chap?" Zeke called over his shoulder. A motorbike clattered past, followed by a delivery van, and the world returned to normal. They turned left, and began walking past beautiful rows of brick buildings and a very old gothic church. Zeke took a break from his speech, the sounds of the city making conversation challenging. They crossed the A400 and stopped at a classic pub, The Marlboro Arms. It peaked out from the base of a massive brick and white building, its doors opening on the very corner of the structure. Its wood and gilt fa├žade supported maroon awnings stretched out over sidewalk seating, and old fashioned glass lanterns beckoned passersby. Above the restaurant, white pillars adorned a bulbous corner tower. Zeke slid into a table, and fished around in his pocket. His fingers emerged a moment later with a battered silver cigarette case, from which he plucked a rumpled Gauloise. He offered one to Jericho, who shook his head.

A girl appeared immediately, dressed in a very short leather skirt, fishnet stockings, platform sandals, and a biker jacket. Her hair was streaked with purple, and it looked as if her makeup had been applied by Alice Cooper.

“Ah, Zeke, ya barry bampot! Hown the fook are ya?” She slid a heavy mug of very dark beer to Zeke, while simultaneously slugging a drink of her own. "Who'se the bawheid?" She thumbed toward Jericho, without sparing him a glance. As if on queue, several burly men dressed in similar fashion crowded around the table.

“Blimey, mates!” Exclaimed a large man that looked suspiciously like Jericho’s cab driver. “It’s Zeke!”

There followed a general pandemonium that involved a lot of beer, some of which ended on the table and sidewalk, more than a few cigarettes, and copious amounts of battered and fried fish, French fried potatoes, and other heavy morsels that had apparently come into vogue at some point prior to the discovery of heart disease. Zeke, it turns out, had a fan club, and they listened in something rather less than rapt silence as Zeke continued to spin his yarn.

“It was the loneliness, really.” Zeke said, his voice raised from too much beer. “He thought himself so above it all, you know, but it was really the emerging insecurities of an unstable and insatiable ego who failed to apprehend the necessary interconnectivity of the social consciousness!”

The girl interrupted with a gaffaw like a braying donkey, spraying the better part of a pint of beer across the table. One of the boys wiped some foam off the basket of fries, and popped one in his mouth.

“Ya gantin dobber! Ya cannae ha two pints and yer all blootered! Ya kin string dead braw words, but nobody knows hoot ya talkin aboot!” She laughed again, and Jericho vaguely recalled a documentary on the mating habits of hippopotami. His head was thick, and his fingers burned. He realized it was the ashen stump of a Gauloise, and he stubbed it into the overflowing ashtray. He wondered how many he had smoked as he bit off a soggy piece of fish and washed it down with warm beer. The girl had ended up on his lap somehow, but he wasn’t complaining. It had been so long since he had really felt a part of anything, and he felt somehow that he could actually belong with this motley crew. Her hair smelled like cinnamon and beer.

A few pedestrians gave them sidelong glances, but probably thought better of complaining about what could be an ex-convicts association chapter luncheon. At one point, Zeke pulled a deck of tarot cards from his pocket, and began explaining the fundamental differences between the Rider-White deck and the Thoth tarot. This devolved quickly into a mad scramble to see what everyone’s fortune was, and the deck ended up in several piles, and no one knew whose cards were whose, and one of the larger blokes accused Zeke of cheating, which, given the circumstances, seemed to require an inappropriate suspension of disbelief. Jericho glanced down, his head spinning, his binocular vision only able to focus on one thing at a time. He noted briefly that his cards were the Lovers, the seven of Wands, and the Hanged Man before the cards ended up being whisked away. And then everything was a blur of gothic clothing, beer, cobblestones, and taxis, and Jericho had no idea where he was.