Portion of a new short story
Excerpt of the first story in the collection, Purely Gone and Other Departures:
CooCoo tilts down Harvard Avenue like a carny ride in slow motion. With the blare of the Buckaneer Bar behind him and only the gas station on the corner as his next marker, he is moving carefully through the haze of two a.m. in late September.
It is cool enough to see his breath, though he wonders if the clouds from his mouth aren't just pure alcohol exhaust.
"5 Dom $7" is what the Buckaneer sign reads, and that's CooCoo's kind of place, in spite of the cutesy spelling of the name. No complicated list of beers from around the world, just your five basic cold bottles of nearly tasteless amber liquid, guaranteed, in sufficient quantity--and chased with enough whiskey--to set the nightat its proper angle.
He sings to himself as he lurches along, not caring what song it is, just extricating words from his weary brain in clumps, like the clots of green bile he hocks out of his lungs on a daily basis. His voice sounds like a rusty hinge, the result of years of crowd-taunting at his
He pauses for a moment, rocking on his ankles, looking around at the street, suddenly worried that he's passed the corner where he's supposed to turn--15th Street--in order to get back to the fair grounds and his camper.
The night looks airbrushed, dark and light swirling in millions of fine dots in front of his red, wet eyes. He spots the gas station and knows he's okay, though he's amazed at how far away it seems.
“Drunk again," he rumbles through a crooked grin.
Any further editorials must wait for the time being while he labors to get up the latest product from his lungs. He spits them out into the gutter--three, four, five sticky wads the
size, color and shape of small toads.
It's the water, he knows, while he does a Macarena search for cigarettes and matches. Falling in that damned water all the time.
And it crosses his mind that maybe this year it'll be better to get off the circuit right after the Tulsa State Fair until the big shift down into Florida and the Gulf coast.
The chill of early Autumn seems to come quicker each year, and the water of his booth grows a bit colder as well. He can feel the steady creep of arthritis in his knees from the daily immersions. And his feet have turned into crusted hooves from staying wet all the time, no matter the weather.
Just what I need, he thinks, turn into a gimp on top of everything else. Limping along, snot hanging out of my nose, people watching me go by, hoping I don't hang around and stink the place up.
His body suddenly gains a thousand pounds and wants to sit itself down, but his mind fights it off. He knows the cost of being "undesirable" in these towns, of being discovered shitfaced on somebody's stoop, or caught in the act of upending a local virgin, or a thousand other ways of crossing the law.
He pictures his camper to motivate himself. He built the structure onto the flatbed of his pickup back when his hands were stable, fitted with creature comforts to keep him content. The camper is his world for the fair season.
In many ways, it’s even better than his rat-hole apartment back in Albuquerque, though there are days when he wishes he could figure out how to add a toilet, or maybe even buy a little generator to keep a fridge. Ambition and actualization are always at war within him.
His wandering thoughts carry him along to the corner. The light changes and a bustling begins that does not immediately bring his legs with him. Arms pumping and face going purple with the desire to move, he seems to stretch out in front of himself for a few moments before his lower body slowly lunges forward to catch up with the top. He can see at a glance that he's never going to make it across in the duration of the traffic light, but there's
no traffic so he'll be okay.
Until a car bursts around the corner at such an alarming speed that it appears to bend before CooCoo's glazed eyes. A bunch of kids, packed in like pink pickles, hoot at him, hurling insults that are somewhat drowned in the squeal of tires and the sudden leap of blood to his ears.
CooCoo wheels on the rapidly vanishing car. "You are the walking dead," he bawls. "You have no souls, no future! Morons! Inbred mutants!"
He shakes a fist, feeling the commotion in the air from the car’s passing. A vague wisp of perfume and dampness rides on it, complicated by the reek of gasoline.
"Fornicating lab rats," he mutters, and hastily skitters the last ten feet to the curb, aware that more cars may be in motion.
He pauses for a moment in front of a sandwich shop. "Big Al's Sandwiches & Healthy Food," says the sign. CooCoo doesn't give a damn about that; he just likes that the sign is yellow. Makes him feel a kind of kinship every time he sees it. His booth is bright yellow, and the sign is done in brilliant reds and greens: "CooCoo the Cosmic Clown--Dunk or Die."
He charges three tickets--three bucks--for five balls, and insults people as they try to hit the target that will, on a bullseye, release his seat and send him plunging into the water. The yellow background makes it harder to see the target, and seems to make people extra pissed-off, with his endless stream of insults feeding the fire for their rage.
“Yer old man wears a dress!”
“You call that a pitch? You throw like a girl!”
Shuffling along the sidewalk, he feels the night opening up its secrets in front of him, can almost hear the sex going on in the houses he passes, can practically smell it.
Here and there a house shows the strobing of a TV set. CooCoo despises television. He always associates TV with his long-departed wife, the woman he thinks of as It.
Sometimes he thinks he's finally forgotten her name, which is when it resurfaces—Candace—dead fish on the hook of his contrary memory.
Such a sweet name on that hellcat, he thinks, images arriving unbidden. Ratty reeking bathrobe parted to reveal rarely shaved legs splayed on ottoman, flabby ass taking up most of the couch, ashtrays piled high, dirty glasses everywhere, and the sick sweat smell of men who had been there during the day. Grave diggers, he called them, plowing her dead earth. And the goddamn television on, day and night and day, blaring, boring a hole in his skull.
He finds himself clutching a fence in anger. That was a long, long time ago, he tells himself. Long before—everything—so let it go. Let her memory follow her bones.
CooCoo grits his teeth into the night air, free hand clutching his chin to keep it from quivering and releasing the flood. He will not turn to water again, not—
The voice, a young woman's, kicks him in the pants and sends him scurrying along the sidewalk again. No time now for melodrama, he tells himself, keep moving.
He'd seen them, of course, a minute before. A knot of carnies sprawled on lawn chairs in the dark, near the corner of the lot where all the campers and RVs of the workers are parked. Every night, out come the cases of cat-piss beer and fifths of Old Armpit.
And the local girls. Always the local girls, the peroxides with Cleopatra make-up, soft bellies just starting the long leak over hip-hugging pants, their wounded eyes searching for something in the swirling crowds of the fair, in the nighttime blare of lights and music and machines. And men. Something in these girls, the same in every state, hungry for the swagger of rootless men, driving them toward the tattooed arm, the slim hips in tight jeans, the gimlet eye of the heartless hunter.
CooCoo is making the best time he can, but he's no match for this young one. I'm forty-two, he thinks, moving like I'm eighty.
"Hey," she calls again, and he ducks his head, knowing the next thing will be the arrival of the whole group, with CooCoo as the target du jour, as happens too often.
He stops dead.
Tries to take her in, his eyes bugging in and out. He risks a look at her.
Dark hair, curly, pale, long-legged. Slender. Drunk. A sort of vest thing on, bare arms a little goose-bumpy in the night. Low-slung jeans.
Something purple sticking up in the V of the vest. Takes him another minute to realize it's her bra. Or half of it. Sticking up on her chest like a monocle. Front-hooker, or whatever you call it, unbuckled.
A quick glance at the cluster of bodies shows him she's been with that jerk-face guy, Vince or Vance or Shithead, whatever his name is, that runs the Ferris Wheel, passed out now on his rusted lounge chair. Guy makes out like a bandit, CooCoo thinks.
His mind goes back to the problem at hand.
"That's you, right?" she says, in a gulpy little elated voice. "I thought I saw ya today at the fair, but ya had your face paint on. I kinda knew your voice. I mean, it don't sound like it used to, but it does, sort of."
He doesn't dare open his mouth and confirm or deny, since the very saying will do the trick. He simply stares at her.
She stares back for a moment, dark eyes searching his face with amusement.
"I'm Georgia," she says, after a moment. "Georgia Baywater. You were my teacher in American History at Albuquerque High. You remember? I'm thinkin' it was, um, ‘bout eight, nine, years ago. Yeah."
CooCoo's brain goes into search mode and finally matches this woman with a thin, newborn colt of a girl, moving around on uncertain legs. Breathless at every moment, one of those high-strung butterfly types, constantly careening between mirthless laughter and plentiful tears.
"Yeah, okay, busted," says CooCoo, throwing his hands in the air, as he starts along the sidewalk again. The woman follows. He has no choice but to keep going; his legs will give out on him in another few minutes and once he's down someplace he'll be down to stay. His only hope is that she'll get discouraged and go away.
He glances to his right, and she's still there. Beyond her, the trailers and RVs are solemn, bulky outlines against the night sky; slumbering dinosaurs; dead elephants.