We got let off the rig outside of Vicksburg. Early as it was, we were only just ahead of the steaming heat of the day, just behind the hot, dark night. We tried to walk into town but finally gave out near an old BP station with a lunch counter. The old garage shut down when twenty-nine years of tender machine couldn’t match an engineering degree.

 

He didn’t even want to go in and deal with it all over again; the stares, the whispers, the “I remember you”‘s, the “you’re scaring the kids”. So on. He patted my shoulder uncomfortably and peeled his hand of my shirt. “Mine are always sticky”, he half smirked. He sat on the curb and pushed the butt of a half used cigarette into his lip so it wouldn’t move around.

 

All I could afford was a day old baker’s dozen blacknwhite cookie. I wondered how to split it evenly. He didn’t seem hungry and was back in the old days. I managed to fill an old plastic bottle with hose water. He morphed his hand into a cup and I filled.

 

The sun began to beat down on decades unattended concrete. Small Dust Devils traced the roadside up to the train crossing. I stared at the cookie. I hadn’t built the nerve to eat it alone. It seemed to look back at me. I wondered if the seam between the black and the white weren’t a mouth that was on the verge of speech.

 

“you’re not much good, are you? Not like that horse.” He was turning on me again. That old friend of his was rare and true but it was a long time ago. I’m his mind, nothing could measure up to that horse but his mind was made out of clay. There wasn’t much of that horse now and what there was in the knapsack.

 

“Look, why don’t you just take a vacation away from here”, I said. “There’s a 1964 Barron’s Travel Guide to Venice in the magazine rack in there. Take a vacation in that.” He grimaced. There was no vacationing from her memory. But Goo said she got smart and then she transformed into a normal coed and went to grad school at NYU. “She really could hold a microphone”, he said.

 

Finally, when it was too hot to move, the guy came out and drove us off. “Get out of here and that colored hobo with you. Yer scarin’ the little folks.”. He tried to appeal to him by offering the kids a ball made from his leg but it was too late. The heat began to harden him and he was crumbling. I asked for a grocery bag and where we could find a creek or a tub. “The River is over yonder, yank!”

 

We managed to get away but he never looked more broken. He said he never found the way he could stay lost in his own slab of clay the way kids could get lost is his old stories. But he was convinced that no matter how finely you sliced him up you never would find anything that was him. “It’s like saying, where’s Ole Miss, you know?”

 

I didn’t know. What the Hell did anybody know. I looked down into the face of the cookie. It was the first time I ever saw a cookie cry.

 

(re-posted from Facebook)

Advertisements