NOVEMBER 20, 2016
DEATH HAS NO MERCY
So anyway. A set of dockwallopers pounded the marinas and rooftops, driving everyone indoors to shelter among friends and family. It has been a long, hard, vicious drought and now the sweet, blessed rain was pelting down with promise of more to come. All the shopping-cart ladies who steal from the recycling bins vanished from the streets, taking with them their stolen carts piled high with illicit bottles, leaving the ground to steam upwards in clouds between the black lamp posts with the violence of the downpour. Water sluiced along the curbs to cascade down the storm drains and collect in pools all over the Island pushing along all the detritus of Fall until everything is swept sparkling clean, taking along one last leaf left to drift, one last leaf, letting go.
Next week the Annual Island Poodleshoot and BBQ kicks off with its usual mayhem, but this time the organizers are exceptionally well prepared with Red Cross wagons, ambulances, fire extinguishers and even updated Poodleshoot rules.
Eugene has taken down his Anti-Poodle Blunderbuss, inherited from his father and started cleaning and polishing his gear, making sure the Flaying Knife is especially keen.
Mr. Terse and Mr. Spline, who very much enjoy killing things, especially if they may be helpless, cute, and intelligent to know what is happening to them, have also been preparing their personal armaments for a day they are sure shall be celebratory as well as sanguine on account of the recent elections.
In the basement of the Old Same Place Bar, Padraic and Dawn have been stirring the still mash, making barrels of Padraic's official Usc que bah, the Water of Life, and the pungent scent permeates the neighborhood for blocks in all directions.
Now DST has ended and the days start later and end earlier. Because of the weather, a sort of grey pall hangs overhead, lowers the sky. At the bus stops parents stand with a sometimes strained sense of needing to let go, watching the little ones climb aboard wearing their yellow boots.
Time will come for letting go. The Almeida clan all getting bigger with each passing year, handing down clothes officially as each year passes, one generation to the next, in a ceremony held on English Boxing Day, Gilberto giving his soccer shoes to Filiberto, who gave his pants to Alicia who handed down her nightshirt to Ana who passed on her shorts to Jorge who handed t-shirts to Yolanda who passed on her shift to Yvonne who allowed her apron to go to little Santiago who no longer was a baby any more.
Why Boxing Day? asked Mrs. Almeida, stirring the bacalhao. We are Portuguese-Americans.
"Why not Boxing Day?" said Pedro. "It is as good as any other day to say goodbye and let go of old things."
The Elder Mr. Larch moved slowly across the room to stand at the window, looking out at the wet pavement and the trees on Alameda Street. His son came for a visit and they talked. Maybe they talked about his son's business which was doing exceptionally well in these pushy times. Had something to do with curing pushy people.
Two tea cups remained on the linoleum table in the kitchen. He could not remember what they talked about. Sarah had always reminded him. She had sat right there with her hair done in a gray bun.
He had to pee and it was trouble. The light in the bathroom was crinoline white and the toilet was white.
He stood in the dining room and the picture of him wearing his uniform still stood on the piano. He and Sarah had played the piano together, with him doing the right hand and her doing the left and they added embellishments back when this old house had been packed full of life. That was after he had returned from France and survived D-Day and all that splashing through the shallow water with the machine guns going like mad. Explosions.
Sound. Toilet flush.
He stood in the foyer, but forgot for what he was going out. Never mind. Chestnut Grocery not the same since it changed hands.
His son said why don't you pickup that Spanish class at the Mastic again. See your old buds over there. But there were not so many of them alive any more. Why don't you get involved with politics? You used to like that stuff.
In the bedroom the photographs. Abu, his last dog, a terrier. Turned out to be the best dog to his surprise. Everyone should own a terrier. Devoted as hell and take no guff. Damn right.
Sarah at Heart's Desire Beach. All the urchins running with shovels.
His gold watch from the Agency on the dresser. Everybody had enjoyed the joke; gold watch for retirement as intentional cliche.
Pictures of the kids. Larry as a baby. Malphesia glowering beneath angry teenage bangs.
Picture of him with Paul when they had climbed Mount Whitney before the quota system got put into place.
Him planting a sequoia with the Park Service when he had did that.
Mr. Larch sat on the bed and watched how the lights from the neighbor's yard moved the shadows across the wall and thought about rivers he had crossed in his life.
He stood up painfully with aching joints and went out the back into the dank, cold yard with the wind stirring the bare branches of the box elder and he listened to the sounds of the night and felt the cold seeping in. A tattered skeleton left over from Halloween swung from a tree in the opposite yard. Cloud wrack passed overhead, revealing an handful of stars, gradually clearing until the night sky offered itself in all its stunning beauty like the body of a woman.
Time, he thought, to let go.
"Yoo hoo!" shouted a female voice from over the wall. "Mr. Larch, I just finished making an apple pie!"
"O for pete's sake!" said Mr. Larch with irritation.
"It's me! Lulu your neighbor! I just made some pie and it's hot!"
"No you don't," said Lulu. "Everybody loves apple pie! And I have fresh ice cream from The Scoop! Come on over!"
Old damn busybody, thought Mr. Larch. But then he said, "What kind?"
"What kind what?"
"What kind of ice cream?"
"Raspberry!" said Lulu. "And rhubarb. It's from The Scoop
In the Old Same Place Bar much of the talk was about the recent elections and what it all meant for Islanders. Spraypainted swastikas had appeared overnight on walls at the high school and Old Schmidt sat morose on his stool so that even his moustaches drooped and his pipe sagged. Suzie overpoured liberally so as get him to cheer up but nothing worked.
"Ja, I remember dose days," he said. "The Brown Shirts with their knifes and clubs, scaring people. Dreck! And now it all comes back again. And in America! Damals war der Fuhrer der 'Strongman' und der Trump genauso!"
He stood up. "Here in America where we come for freedom to get away from all that evil! My people fought against der Hitler; we tried to kill him and when we failed all of us died -- executed! Two thousand of us!" Old Schmidt pounded his cane on the wood floor.
"Easy, easy old man," Padraic said.
"I haf come to the end mit zis! I stand and fight Fascismus! America must rise up and resist tyranny! It has to! . . Or it dies! Ach . . . "!
Old Schmidt turned pale and clutched his chest. He began to fall backwards until Eugene jumped up to catch him in his big arms. Everyone jumped up and the room became pandemonium.
All in that room later said they felt the presence of The Adversary.
"He is having an heart attack," said Borg Rubbitsom of the massage parlor A Touch of Wonder. "Call 911!"
While Dawn called 911 the company laid out Old Schmidt on the floor. Suzie put her sweater under the man's head and knelt beside him holding his hand. Sweat beaded up on his forehead.
"You must resist, America! You must resist für die Kinder. Für die Zukunft. You must resist even if you fail; otherwise they will only remember you as ones who went along with it. For all of Time. History will not forget. Believe me, I know. . . ".
As the sirens wailed closer, Old Schmidt shuddered, coughed and breathed one time and then not again as Suzie continued to hold his hand. The sirens abruptly stopped outside and a whirlygig of lights streamed through the open door even as a shadowy form floated outwards across the threshold past the EMT's rushing in with their equipment, too late. The Adversary had left with his charge.
From far across the water the faint sound of the train ululated mournfully as the locomotive trundled from beneath the light-studded gantries of the Port of Oaktown, letting its cry keen across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, through the cracked brick of the Cannery with its leaf-scattered loading dock and its weedy railbed and interstices of its chainlink fence, dropping slowly over the basketball hoops of Littlejohn Park as the locomotive click-clacked in front of the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, trundling out of shadows on the edge of town past the Ohlone burial mounds to parts unknown.