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#1187549 06/13/23 12:08 PM
Joined: Dec 2006
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Story in progress. Hey! I may be 'done', done enough to end it! July 7, 2023. I'm still tinkering but, the basic story's done!

"Broken Places Bar & Grille" copyright June 13, 2023 by Gary E. Andrews.

1. Ernest Hemingway said something.
He said,
"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places."

Well, here I am, third day in a row, three o'clock in the afternoon, perched on a bar stool at the Broken Places Bar & Grille.

I feel useless, used up. June 30, 2023. I slough off that...idea. It's easy to...get...down. I've been...having those...existential...thoughts, I guess, for...a while. You...you start to wonder what your life's about...sometimes. You don't always figure it out. Sometimes you just figure out a little bit of something, and have to push, psychologically, beyond that...that time, that...moment in life. I've learned not to take it too seriously. When I was about twelve I was depressed. I had the presence of mind to wonder why. I kind of... walked through my life, family, friends, school, free time in the woods and by the river, and decided there was no reason for it, that it was 'just a thing', and it would pass. I felt immediately relieved of it, and that fascinated me. I still get down, and with good reason. Life can...be... unsatisfying at times, and you can find reasons... justifications for...being down, so you find reasons to...let it pass. So...anyway...

Two job interviews this morning, had two more this afternoon. No promises. Still, I should have gone on home and just...did something.

One more interview tomorrow, Saturday. I could make some phone calls, set up some interviews for next week.

But...aw hell! It's Friday. I might as well...I might as well...

Might as well what? Three o'clock. I ain't startin' out a Friday night of partying...am I?... at three o'clock? I look down at my clothes. I guess I could. I dressed for the job I want, carpenter, better clothes than I would actually wear to work, jeans, pullover shirt, newer work boots.

But...here I am, at the Broken Places Bar & Grille no less. Ain't nobody ever in this place, day or night that I've seen, but workin' men who don't want to go home yet. A guy I worked with, the foreman, brought me here for lunch early Wednesday, like eleven o'clock, which I knew was weird, but, ya do what the boss wants to do. He told me all about their Angus burger and tomato soup on the way over. The more he talked the more I wondered at what a marvelous place this must be. Laugh out loud! Wa'nt nobody here but us two, at first. Some more people came in as we were leaving. She fries up a mean Angus burger, monster! Big ol' patty, slice of Vidalia onion, mustard. He had a fishtail sandwich that looked good too.

Then, as we were leaving, we're out on the big wide sidewalk walking back to the truck, and I'm thinking about why the sidewalk's sixteen feet wide all down this side of the block, and he tells me we're getting laid off. Not him, but me and two other guys. The job we're finishing up, well, he can finish it up. And they don't have another one for us to go to. So much for a recovering economy. It's...uneven. Some sectors, some places go up while others go down. I just happen to be working for a company going down. I remember feeling sick, having eaten that big ol' burger, and coffee. I never drink coffee.

He had to park down the block so we're walking by all these vacant buildings, and that...yeah that probably figured into my depression. Big wide sidewalks, a good sixteen feet wide, like maybe at one time there were a lot of people walking here, and all these stores were...somebody's entrepreneurial venture, hope, positive they could make a living here. Now...me and empty buildings, dreams dried up and blown away in the noonday wind.

I'm gonna finish this beer and...

What the hell!?

Something just slammed into the front door! Big ol' kawhump!

Bar maid's headin' down behind the bar with a goddamned shotgun! I don't know where she got it from but it sure didn't take her long!

She steps out from behind the bar down here by the door, comes out kinda sideways, gun up, and she's leanin' and peepin' out that diamond window in the door where the white sunlight glares in!

"I'll...be...damned!" she says. Uh oh! What? What?

What the hell? She didn't say it like she's surprised; more sort of...slow, word by word, disgusted, 'I'll...be...damned!".

I'm about four stools from the front door. I's watchin' that pretty girl on the news. I don't have tv at home. I pick up my change, pick up my beer, move back to the hallway that goes out past the restrooms, the women's restroom, marked 'Ladies', anyway. The door at the back end of the hall says 'Gents' but when you open it you're out in a foyer on the alley! I found that out yesterday. She, the barmaid, didn't tell me. Austin, Texas, 2023! If ya go out the front door you can see the State Capitol building down south in the distance.

She's opening the door... just a little... It opens in. It ain't supposed to. Supposed to open out, so folks don't get trapped inside if the place catches fire.

I'm backin' up into the hallway a couple more steps. Gettin' out into the alley seems like my best option. And then run like hell! That door...back door...opens out into a small space and then the alley. We're about in the middle of the block so running left or right will probably work for me! I'm watchin' the action at the front door, thinkin' about the back door. She pulls it in, open wide. The glare of the afternoon sun fills the dark room with a hazy light.

There...on the ground...in the little...entrance foyer there...is a rumpled bit of clothing...and some blonde hair... short cut...

It moves!

The barmaid puts her right foot under the torso, flips the body up off its belly onto its left side.... a...military maneuver...rolling over a body in the field. I see boobs. It's a woman! Now I'm really scared.

The barmaid steps in, to the other side of the doorway, back against the door, passes the gun to her left hand, turns to me, gestures back across her body with her right for me to come there, shotgun angled down at the floor in her left. I start slowly in that direction, quicken my pace as she gestures more urgently.

"Set 'tis gun on 'na bar!" she commands, swings it up to point at the ceiling! "Don't touch a' triggers!" she commands. She hands it to me pointing up. I do it.

I take the gun, beer still in my right hand, barrels across my right wrist, my left hand on the stock, nowhere near the triggers, try not to touch my fingerprint pads on it anywhere, set it gently lengthwise on the bar. I have to let go my beer, set it on the bar, to lay the gun down, free that hand to slide out from under the barrels. I look back at her, waiting to see what's next.

"Help me pick 'iss up!" she says, bending to take hold of the limp mass at her feet.

'...pick 'iss' up? This? What...is...this?

"I cain't lift 'er!" she says. "My back won't take it. Can you get 'er?"

She steps back across the doorway, turns with her back to the door jamb. "Put 'er in 'at second booth." She twists back into the room, points with her right arm. I glance at the booth, back at...the...the body.

I haven't moved. I don't know if we should...

"Com 'on Candy!" she commands, and I move. I step out. I straddle the body. She's dirty...side of her face...her arms. Her facial expression is tormented, frowning brow, lips tight, then open, then tight again, murmuring, emotional. Laying against the wall of the entrance space is a bicycle. The girl's right foot is up on the sprocket. I pick the bike up, push it so her foot falls down, off, push it out on the sidewalk, kickstand down, turn back to the girl. Her skirt is up in the back. She's wearing black bicycle shorts under it. Cars are going by. My truck's across the street. I think about makin' a run for it.

I step back in across the threshold, turn, roll her by her shoulder onto her back, and lift her by her shoulders, her torso, to sit up. Her legs flop over, cross at the ankles, to accommodate what I'm doing with her upper body. I run my arms up to my elbows under her armpits. I smell her sweat, mixed with...What is that? ...strawberry something.

Eww! A little...vomity breath. Eww! She's saying something. I don't know what.

I lift her to her feet, but she's got no legs under her. She doesn't weigh much. I just drag her back and over to the booth. I turn to my right, try to lay her down in the seat. Her damned forehead hits the edge of the table! Ouch! [naughty word removed]! Sorry kid!

I roll her onto her back, use her legs to push her head closer to the wall. It bumps! Sorry kid! About half her calves stick out beyond the seat.

I stand up, step back. The room darkens a bit. I look to see the barmaid go out. The room lightens again. I look back at the kid. The room darkens again as she comes back in with the bike, seems real dark again as she closes the door. I take another step back. Place stinks of stale beer. I'm breathing heavy, not so much from exertion...kid don't weigh nothin'...but...wondering if we shouldn't be callin' an ambulance, the police, instead of...draggin' 'er in like this.

Kid's layin' there in the dark now, mumbling something. Barmaid's gone behind the counter, put her shotgun somewhere. I go back and get my beer. Stand there, watching her go down behind the bar to the kitchen, little, narrow kitchen in the back. I'm lookin' over at the kid. I'm callin' her a kid, but she's grown. Her gray skirt's twisted tight around tanned, shapely legs, high-top tennis shoes, slim waist, flat belly. I see her navel...boobs under a pullover shirt. Grown.

Barmaid's comin' 'round the other end of the bar now with a couple bartowels. I see drops of water falling out of one, light reflect off them in a trail on the floor.
"Sit 'er up for me!" she says. I come closer, tilt my bottle up and empty it, set it on the table. I reach and take hold of the kid by both hands, pull her up to a sitting position, kinda catch her from falling forward, my right hand on her chest. I lean across the end of the table, bump it, knock over my empty, put my left arm around her shoulders, hold her up there. Her head lolls, her eyes open unevenly, look at me, independently. She murmurs...something, smiles. Vomity breath! I lean back, find a position where I can keep her sitting up without being...too close.

"Candy," barmaid says to me, "Meet my daughter, Carryin' On Caryanne!"

I see the resemblance now. Andrea, the barmaid, and I have talked some since I've been...landing here the past two days. I came back Thursday after Wednesday's layoff lunch. Had the fishtail. I've looked into her face like I'm lookin' into the kid's face now. Yep. Her mother's daughter.

She begins to dab at the face, around the mouth; looks like peanut butter and jelly, kinda dried up. She keeps dabbing, a gentle hand. Carryin' On Caryanne's face begins to relax, the torment fades, stops murmuring, a pretty face, tan, blonde eyebrows, short, curly blonde hair. I...don't mind...being this close.

"Momma," the kid says, or almost says, slurs like, "Monna, I'm hun'ry."

"I'm gonna get 'cha some chicken noodle soup, baby," Andrea says, keeps dabbing. I don't say nothin' for a long while, just watch the pretty come out from under the dirt. Andrea dabs, murmuring, "Damned kid!" every so often. She washes the girl's neck, her throat I mean, her chest where a couple unbuttoned buttons in her pullover shirt exposes it, where I've held her up with my hand. She dabs with the dry towel.
"Lay 'er back," Andrea says. I take hold of her left hand with my right, slide my left hand from her shoulder down her right arm, take her hand, lay her back. She tenses, kind of lays back under her own power.

"Go behind the bar," Andrea says. "Gitcherself another beer if you want. Can you open a can of soup and warm it up on the stove back in the kitchen?"

"Yes ma'am," I tell her.

I don't want another beer. I pick up my empty, walk away, glancing back, see her washing the girl's arms, hands, legs. I follow the drip trail to the kitchen, reach into the trash can to drop the empty bottle from a short distance. I hate the sound of bottles crashing into bottles in the trash, especially when I'm playing guitar and singing. Wait staff in bars are indifferent to the frequent noise. I see cans of soup on a shelf, just two-by-fours nailed between the studs of the unfinished wall, the one that makes the hallway that runs by the Ladies to the back door. It's all painted white in here, studs and sheetrock, sheetrock on the hallway side, studs, 2X4 'shelves' here inside. Andrea's purse is hanging on a ten-penny nail, up high. No chicken noodle, tomato, cream of mushroom. I look around for a can opener, find one, a pot, find one, turn on the electric burner. I open the can, dump in the soup, one big glob. I see a water filter on the faucet in the sink, run a bit of water through it into the can, swirl it, pour it into the pot, put it back on the burner, adjust the heat. Spoon, stir. Can in the trash; 'clink'.

I step to the doorway. All I can see is Andrea's head and shoulders, still there, kneeling by the booth. I go back. Watch the pot begin to steam a little, stir it.

What a day, a day at the Broken Places Bar & Grille.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/07/23 04:58 AM.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? www.garyeandrews.com
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2. Daddy Dan.

Andrea calls me Candy. When I came in, first time, Wednesday, thinkin' I'd have an Angus burger, while I could still afford one, thinkin' I still had a job, not knowing what the foreman was gonna tell me out on the sidewalk when we left, I was still wearing my shirt from the company that had just decided, without telling me yet, that they were laying me off. It says, "Andy", short for Andrews, my last name. They made the shirts; didn't ask me. She started callin' me Candy, and since it was right there on my shirt every time she stood across the bar from me, I figured she knew what she was sayin'. I could read it backwards in the mirror behind the bar. 'ydnA'. I kind a' liked it! Candy. Candy Andrews. Makes me sound cute, don't it? LOL

I come out of the kitchen as she comes in, lean on the first stool here at the bar, look at the kid, layin' down in the booth again. She comes out, down the bar, comes back, sets up another bottle of beer to me. I don't want it but I have it in my hand and take a drink before I can tell myself 'No'.

"Kid's a piece 'o work, ain't she?" Andrea asks, going about her business behind the bar, movin' this, touchin' that. None of the movements seem purposeful. She doesn't expect an answer. I don't give one. I start havin' questions but I ain't gonna ask 'em. Drugs? Drunk? I didn't smell liquor; just strawberries and sweat, and... Kid been...runnin' with the herd? What?

"I had great hopes for her," Andrea goes on. She's looking toward the little front windows, high up, neon beer signs there. They've used plywood to cover the bottom part of the windows, make it a saloon. "She's really good at math. Straight A's all through high school, all through school. Hung out, took a bunch of jobs for a couple years. Three years. Then she got serious. Couple years of college. Then...straight ta hell!"

I'm calculating, if she finished high school, couple years hangin' out, and went to college, twenty-two, twenty-three years old? And maybe some years after that.

"Did she drop out of college or finish?" I ask, regret it. Ain't none o' my damned bin'ness and I'd probably be better off not knowin' any more about this than I have to.

"Finished," she says, "Two years in...finished up in September...last September...2022...grades went to hell...Got her Associate's Degree in Accounting, came home and started stayin' out all night, gone for days, come home, not like this...never seen 'er..." She can't seem to find words. Finds some, "...just...worn out...tired. Rest up and gone again. Never seen 'er like...today though."

Andrea's still staring up toward the front of the bar. She whirls, goes back to the kitchen, comes back with a bowl of tomato soup, just as the front door opens. Same crowd from yesterday. Four men, two women, hard hats, work clothes, khakis, loud, boisterous. I'm gonna talk to some of them today, see if they know where I can find a job.

"Can you...can you feed her, Candy? I gotta...make some money." She sets the bowl at the end of the bar.

I don't hesitate. I like Andrea. "Sure," I tell her. She didn't wait for me to tell her. I take my beer, go back while Andrea goes toward the people coming in. They're all sitting at the bar. I look at the bowl of soup, spoon in it. I saw some cracker packages back there in the kitchen, go, fetch a handful, get a bottle of water from the cooler here, set my beer and the rest on a tray...eww! Dirty tray! Dried, crusty something! Next one down is too...ugh!...and go to the booth. Andrea left the two bar towels on the table, one damp, one dry. Good. This might be messy.

I set the tray on the table, away from the kid. I do the hands thing to sit her up. Her head lolls. No...cooperation. I hold her right shoulder, put my right hand on her left knee and spin her legs under the table, slide my left hand down her arm, holding onto her right hand with my left. She's talking. I don't know what. I sit half assed on the end of the seat and push at her waist, pelvic bone, to slide her across the booth against the wall, slide in against her. She looks at me, glistening eyes half open, leans back, lets her head rest against the cushioned back of the booth. She pulls her right hand out of mine, puts both hands on the edge of the table, brings her forearms in across each other and leans forward. I put my left hand on her chest again, fearing she's going to fall onto the table. Her right hand comes up, pushes weakly at my wrist.

"Stop it!" she says, with a little energy. "You be'er stop it!" she murmurs. The people are noisy but I worry that they heard her and wonder what the hell I'm doin'!

"How about a drink of water?" I ask, open the bottle, lift it to her lips. She purses her lips, lets me pour in a mouthful. She takes the bottle, left hand, right hand, gulps about two fifths of it, sets it on the table. She looks...or her eyes open in my direction...takes the lid from between my thumb and forefinger, twists it back on the bottle. Some bleary eye contact. She's conscious, at least... a little.

"Can you eat some soup?" I ask her. No answer. I dip the spoon in, fill it, think better of that, empty it and just put the coated spoon up to her lips. "Open up," I say, and she does. I put the spoon in, wipe it on her upper lip. She closes her mouth, works her lips and lower jaw.

"Ass 'snot chin oodle," she mutters.

"I didn't see any 'chin oodle' so I went with tomato," I tell her. "Here. Take another bite. I fill the spoon, take a chance, she opens her mouth, takes it.

"S'ot," she says.

"Hot?" I ask. I spoon a little onto the back of my left hand. It's not too hot. I spoon at it in the bowl, to cool it a bit more.

"Do you want crackers crumbled up in it?" I ask, pick up a pack. I wipe my hand with the wet towel, see the dirt Andrea washed off her.

"Hell no," she says, without enthusiasm. Her eyes open. She reaches and takes the pack of crackers I'm holding, opens it, takes one out, dips it half in the soup, puts it in her mouth. She looks at me. I don't think her eyes can focus.

"S' your name?" she asks; I think.

"Andrea calls me Candy," I tell her.

"Candy?" she says, with what I take to be an interrogative tone. "Like...candy? Candy."

She takes the spoon out of my hand, dips it in the soup, pulls the bowl over in front of her, takes the spoon to her mouth. She misses, dribbles some down her chin. I offer the dry bartowel, dabbing at her chin myself. Her left hand comes up, takes it. She totters in the seat. I put my hand on her chest to steady her. She pushes under my wrist with her left hand, the bar towel, says, "Stop it!"

I scoot away from her a couple inches. She looks sideways at me, goes on to get the other cracker out of the cellophane, dip it in the soup, take a bite, get a spoonful. No dribbles.

She continues, seeming completely occupied by the soup. I look around, rather than stare at her. She's a very pretty girl, or could be if she wasn't so...effed up.
I sneak a glance at her, look at her temple, the hair on the side of her head. There's a piece of pecan tree leaf there. I pick it out, lay it on the table, look and see I only got half of it. I think she looks at it, looks at me, back into the soup. I look away, give her some...privacy. I scoot away, sit at the end of the bench. She's eating the soup more quickly now, dipping crackers, takes a sip of water, guzzles another quarter of the bottle. Thirsty. Dehydrated maybe. I get up and go to get another bottle. I'm sure she's dehydrated. Those pretty lips look dry. Her eyes look a little...I don't know...dirty, like maybe she hasn't washed her face...in a while.

Andrea's busy with her crowd. Two more come in, a man, a woman, greet the others, like they've been expecting to see each other here. Good. Makin' money.

I come back, sit on the opposite side, push the water across the table to her. She finishes the first one. Goes back to the soup and crackers. I sip my beer, look around. Her bike's kind of too close to the door so I get up, go and get it, bring it back, park it by her side the booth. I sit on the other side again.

She stops, looks at the bike, asks, "Where's my backpack?" and almost immediately says, "Oh. Ne'er mind. I didn't have it with me."

She finishes the soup. I peep in the bowl. Very empty. She sits, folds her hands, intertwining fingers, head hanging, like in prayer, but...snoring a little. I wonder if I should lay her down again, but there are too many people in here now, really, for that. I take the empty bowl, empty bottle, leave the leftover crackers, the full water bottle, take the tray, my beer, and go to the end of the bar. Andrea comes away from her crowd.

"She ate pretty good," I tell her, point at the bowl, empty cracker wrappers, empty water bottle. "I think she's sleeping. I'm afraid she'll fall and hit her head." As we watch the girl lays her head on her forearms and seems to be stable there.

"Thanks Candy," Andrea says. "I don't know what to do with her."

I get the impression she's not just talking about right now, but, in life in general. The crowd calls for another round. Andrea goes to serve them. Cash register ka-ching! Kid stays sitting, head on arms. I sip my beer. I take the tray, empty the wrappers into the trash, crush the bottle, put the lid back on, put the bottle to the recycling, put the bowl and spoon and tray in the sink. There are a lot of other bowls and plates and silverware in the sink. Must have had a good lunch crowd. I draw hot water, soap, wash them up. I take a peek at the kid, stable, come back and bring the stack of trays and wash them. They needed it. Some had obvious food crusted on them. Couple more bowls, spoons. Wipe down the sink, stove, wash the pot, hang it.

I dry my hands, go stand at the end of the bar again. Kid's leaned back against the back of the booth again. This is not good.

I look at the big arches in the wall. The wall's painted a light green. At some point someone's put cinder blocks into the arches, closing them up, but the bricks are still there, big lovely floor to ceiling arches. I imagine the place when it was first built, wonder when. I noticed from across the street that Broken Places is just half the building, big two-story brick, wonderful tall windows upstairs, brick arched. Alamo-style peak centered on the front. That other half is boarded up, the doorway, and part way up the windows on the ground floor, like this half, leaving just the narrow 'windows' at the top. Looks like it may have been one...store at some time.

Two more men come in, go to the last booth back by the Ladies room. Andrea comes out to serve them. They order mixed drinks. She tells them they can turn on the lamp. One of them says, "That's okay." She comes back behind the bar and fixes the drinks. Back to their booth. She takes a stroll by her kid, goes on up and in at the front end of the bar and resumes conversation with the crowd. They're still boisterous, teasing each other about personal matters, boyfriends, wives, trucks and cars, Ford versus Chevy argument, work. Lots of friendly banter. I turn and sit on the stool and sip my beer.

Someone spills a beer on the bar. I grab two bar towels out of a stack under the bar there and head down outside the bar, lean between two guys, lay a towel in the spill. Andrea retrieves a wet one and I take mine up, lay the wet one in the dry one, wipe at the spill with the wad, back out carefully not to drip on the people, and head back to the kitchen, rinse them in the dishwater, wring them out. When I come out I'm looking down to see if I got beer on my pants or shoes. I look up and I notice one of the last two men to come in, the big one, is turned toward the wall, but looking over his shoulder, back down...toward the kid! His companion is there, on the opposite side of the table, but leaning across. Shee-it. This is trouble! I head that way. He's trying to talk to her. She lifts her head, murmurs. I step over beside her bicycle and he looks up at me.

"The lady is a little tired. Please let her rest," I say quietly to him.

"Well me and the lady are talkin'," he says, a tone that grates on me, "and you're buttin' in."

That brings the heat into my chest. I don't know what to say next. I simply stare at him, too long. My knees begin to shake. I steady myself. I'm suddenly aware the place has gone quiet.

"This is the bartender's daughter," I explain, quietly, "the lady who served your drinks. That's her mother and," and while I'm searching for more words to say, Andrea comes up on my right, levels the shotgun, just over his head, by my reckoning, and says,

"And this is her Daddy, Double Barrel Dan! He don't say much but when he does people listen...as long as they still have ears."

She growled it, low, menacing, clear, right there by my right ear. She scares me!

The guy looks defiant, but that drains out of his face by degrees. I turn and walk back to the end of the bar. I lift my bottle but my hand is shaking so I set it back down. When I look back, he's on his way to rejoin his friend, who, I see as I step over to lean on the end of the bar, has turned back in the booth, and is looking at me, looks away when I look at him. Andrea's on her way back behind the bar. I'm on my way to the bathroom. Out in the alley I take a few deep breaths. I take a piss, see people driving, walking by both ends of the alley, about equidistant from me. Broken Places is right in the middle of the block. Long block.

I look up, fire escape, rusty, see the back of the building, yes, twice as wide as Broken Places, built as one building, those big arches open, might have been a feed store, a saloon, something. Windows up there are dirty, tall, elegant arches, like in front. The counterweight for the fire escape ladder is encased in a metal box, but the metal's rusted open for about four feet at the lower end. I can see the weights on a chain through the rusted out holes.

It's four-thirty eight.
I should get the hell out of here.
I should get my ass on home.
I should just walk up...or down...the alley, walk around front, get in my truck and...
I should...

I go back in. Back into the Broken Places Bar & Grille.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/06/23 08:10 PM.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? www.garyeandrews.com
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3. A Woman With The Blues.

I open the door, peer into the dark hallway, smell the stale beer. I hold the door open, figure some fresh air can't hurt the place, step back out of the foyer into the alley, glance down the alley to my left, bright sunshine, people, cars going on where they should go in the first place, unlike some people, look up the alley, nothing moving, but, bright sunshine, green and growing things, trees, weeds even, out, away, fresh breeze blowing. No. I step up on the pad of the foyer, step over the threshold, stop to catch the door from slamming behind me. Darkness. Beer-stank. I smell the tomato soup. I go up, past the Ladies Room, back into Broken Places.

The two guys are gone. Their glasses are gone. I hear Andrea clunking in the sink behind the wall. Kid's still sitting, slumped on her arms on the table. The three women are gone. The men are still here. A couple of them are playing chess at a table, second table from the door, dangling overhead lamp on. The others are at the bar, quiet, watching TV. My beer's gone. Take that for a sign! I could just walk up and out the front door and be gone. I should.

"Com'ere!" It's Andrea. She's right there beside me, turns to go back into the kitchen area. I follow.

"Those two...(She uses a bad word to describe them, alleging improper...uh...conduct...with their mothers)...left, but I saw one reach toward your beer. Not much moves in here without me noticin'," she says. "I came and looked in your beer and saw this." She unfolds a section of paper towel. There's a damned brown pill laying there in a little pile of rice!

"What the hell's that?" I ask her.

"I don't know!" Andrea tells me. "I think that horse's ass dropped it in your beer! I saw him reach that way as they passed by. By the time I got my eyes focused back here he was drawing his hand away. I didn't like the look on his face! Looked like he was caught at something. I didn't like either one of those pricks! I didn't figure that out for a minute. It took me a minute to think to come and see and I saw this at the bottom of the bottle. I'll shoot that little son-of-a-bitch if I ever see him again!"

I laugh, but, I'm pretty sure she's sincere. I appreciate her outrage. I was drinking a Corona, clear bottle. Thankful for that too.

"Joe's got an appointment tomorrow," Andrea says. "I'm going to take this and see if Doc (she says something like 'Hilda') can tell me what it is. I'm sure the bastard intended to do you harm, not get you well! I'll shoot the little bastard if he ever comes in here again."

She puts the paper towel and pill into a ziplock bag, puts it in her purse, hanging there on the nail."

"Joe's my husband; second husband. Not Caryanne's father. He left me," Andrea confides, glancing at me, then away, into memory. "Joe...Caryanne..."

She's thinking. I wait. "Let me get you a fresh beer." She passes by me, rather than letting me turn and walk out of the skinny kitchen ahead of her. She's...emotional.
I do not want another beer! Damn it! I shoulda gone up the alley, or even out the front door when I came back in. 'See ya! Thanks!' Nope. Hang around. Now, tied into some sh...stuff. Other peoples' problems. I got problems of my own. I step out, sit on the first stool again. Kid's changing from leaning back to putting her head down on her arms again.

She's back, talking, "Joe had a stroke, and...Caryanne came home...she was at college...and came home on Spring Break. She didn't...I didn't have the money to let her go to the beach down at Galveston like all the other kids. She said she didn't care. Said she'd rather be home for a while. That was her kind of Spring Break. But..."

Someone's pecking a bottle on the bar. We look down that way. Andrea gives me the one-finger 'one-moment' sign, goes to...'Make some money.'

I sit, glance over my shoulder at the kid. She's leaning against the back of the booth now. I see her tongue lick at her lips, close them. Her right hand comes up from under the table, brushes under her nose, comes to rest on the table, drops again to her lap. I can see she's opened the other bottle of water. Good.

Andrea opens two more beers and takes them out the far end of the bar, by the front door, over to the guys playing chess. A little conversation, and she's coming back by Caryanne. She talks quietly to her. Caryanne, opens her eyes, says something. Andrea picks up the bar towels, wipes the table, brings them. Her voice is low, conspiratorial, as she stands at the end of the bar, closer to me than I'm comfortable with, and says,

"Caryanne...Joe... gave her a pill. Damned Hospice gave him Ativan, to take himself any time he felt 'agitated' or experienced 'anxiety'. Well it knocked her ass out! It knocks his ass out. He knew... And..."

Andrea hesitates. 'And'?

"...and Caryanne thinks Joe... did something to her while she was out."

Oh shee-it! TMI. Too much information!

"I...I believe my daughter," Andrea says, steps away, left hand still on the corner of the bar. "She...says she knows...what her...body... feels like when she's been...after she's... had sex, and she hates Joe for it. So I can't have 'em both in the house. And Joe's had another stroke and is almost completely dependent on me now. He was good to me before...the strokes...and... all this. I can't just...abandon him. And she won't come home as long as he's there. It's a shitty situation!"

She sniffles! Wipes at her right eye with the knuckle of her right index finger, turns, goes back into the kitchen, all the way back to the storage shelves along the back wall. I can lean over the bar, just a little, see down that way. She stands, left arm down, right fist into her waist, puckering her black leather vest. She wears that vest every day. She's got that middle age extra weight, kinda...heavy...broad in the backside, the legs. Sometimes people live a little harder, look a little older than other folks their age. I can't guess peoples' ages. If Caryanne's in her early twenties... I'm twenty-eight. Andrea's gotta be...

She comes back with some cans. I can read chicken noodle. She puts them on the shelves where the others are. I sip the beer, stare at the potato chip rack. What a situation. You don't exactly feel better about your own life, but you do reassess the size of your own problems, when you hear someone else's.

"Me and Joe bought this bar," Andrea says, "thinking we'd like the...social aspects...have a place where our friends would hang out with us...but...hell...Ya have to make your money getting people drunk and then you have to put up with 'em! They're not all your friends. And the ones who are can be as big a problem as any stranger. She laughs, but she still looks like she's on the verge of tears. She pulls a duster from behind the potato chip rack, starts waving it over everything on the shelf, the wall, the mirrors behind the bar. She goes about eight feet down behind the bar, stops, comes back, puts the duster back where it was.

"Then Joe had...his first stroke, and suddenly...it wasn't fun here any more. It...it was a necessary...getaway for me, but...not fun." She's looking down the bar, looks up at the squares of the embossed tin ceiling, across to the opposite corner, down and over toward Caryanne. I don't look. I look at my beer. I need to go. I'm tired. It's been a long day. It's after five. I want to lay down. I want to eat and lay down. I want to play my guitar and... and eat and lay down and be grateful for my life, that I have lesser troubles than...some people.

"Candy," Andrea says. "You gotta help me out."

Uh-oh!

"Yeah, if I can," I tell her.

"Can you take Caryanne home with you? Just for tonight. I can't...she won't come home with me. She needs a night of rest. I'm afraid...of what she might do to Joe if I let her in the house. She won't come in anyway, but...I can't...I don't wanna just...put her back out on the sidewalk...after this."

Holy shee-it! I'm thinkin', 'I can't do that!' Can I do that? I can't do that! My mind's bouncing all over, images, what ifs, etceteras!

I...If you're afraid to have her in your house how the hell can I have her in mine?

"Is...Is that a good idea?" I say aloud, to myself and Andrea. I want to say, 'Is she dangerous?' 'Is she addicted to some hard drug, hard drugs, making her a desperado, a sneak-thief? Is she gonna steal my TV. I don't have a TV. But...my guitar? My toaster oven? A can of coffee? Well, she could have the coffee. It's ten years old. My laptop? Can...I just...take in this strange...kid... She's not a kid! This strange woman... this crash-on-the-bar-door out-of-it grown unknown woman...into my house...overnight?

"I...don't...know...Andrea," I tell her. "Is...Is she dangerous? Is she addicted to something? I..." I'm out of questions I can ask. 'Is the bitch crazy?' wouldn't be appropriate. 'Does she own a knife or will I have to loan her one to stab me in the head with?' Nope. Inappropriate.

Andrea laughs, just a chuckle, and that index finger knuckle comes up to wipe at a tear in her right eye again.

"I wish I could say, 'No!', emphatically," she says. "But...I don't know any more. It's been since last Christmas that she's been...doin' I-don't-know-what out here. She comes here sometimes, sane and sober, talks rationally, goes away mad...We always did fight and argue...cry...make up...and...today's the first time I've seen her like this. I...you know...you worry...and imagine...this," she gestures toward the kid, over behind me. I don't look. "...and...what goes on...but... this is the first time I've seen her like this. So...I don't know."

Some people come in, a couple. They come and sit at the bar, closer to me, to us. We can't talk intimately any more. Andrea goes to make some money. I look over at the kid, stand up, push my stool out a little. I look at myself in the mirror over the potato chip rack, look into my own eyes. I shake my head. "Damn it, Andrews," I mutter aloud.

I push my beer toward the back of the bar, turn, cross the room, look at the sleeping angel face, turned up to the ceiling, wonder if there's a devil child in there too. I take the bicycle, turn it toward the front door. Andrea's there at the end of the bar.

"I'll be back," I tell her.

I open the door, stick the bike wheel in the crack, nudge the door open, roll out, reach and pull the door by the diamond window, close it. The sun's still high in the sky. I cross the street, put the bike in the back of my truck, get in, start it up, look over at the building, once elegant, with that rounded...Alamo-type...peak at the top, center, tall, elegant windows, arched tops. Now the ground floor cut up in half and boarded up and in decay. The beer signs in the boarded up side...I don't even think they make Wiedeman and Stroh's beers any more! It screams trouble. I do a u-turn to cross and stop in front of the Broken Places Bar & Grille.

I stare at the door. I think I see a skid mark where her front tire hit it. I check traffic, pull out, and head for home. I live in a frickin' trailer. There's not much room. I've had people in before but it's crowded, or feels like it to me, always getting out of peoples' way to move around. I made a sign for out front, says, "Three's A Crowd". I ain't hung it out there yet but... the sentiment is real! It ain't so bad when it's just me and a girl. Of course, the girl's not averse to close quarters contact. But...this is more like...a hostel situation, a motel situation. A 'guest', a visitor, not a...friendly...overnight... Carryin' On Caryanne!

"Into the unknown!" I utter in a movie monster voice, laugh, shake my head.

At the trailer I park in the carport, back in like I always do. I take the bike out of the truck bed, and just as quickly put it back in. I'll have it with me when I go back, just in case plans change and this Plan A is discarded for a Plan B that doesn't include me.

Inside I sit down on the couch. I need a moment. The couch has two recliners on the ends, and humps in the middle, so you can't sleep across that. I've slept in the recliners but...it's not comfortable. You don't rest well. You can't...turn over, change positions, roll left, right, not...fully. I decide to give her my bedroom. She can close and lock the door. If she comes out I'll probably hear her be able to see what she does. I did laundry Tuesday so I have clean sheets. I wash my hands, face, look at myself in the mirror, shake my head again. What the hell are we doing?

I take the sheets and pillow cases off, put the clean ones on. I pick up some sh...stuff, defiantly declare, aloud, "I ain't cleanin' the whole damn place up to...accommodate the kid for one night!"

I commence to cleaning up the whole damned place to accommodate the kid for the night. I run the vacuum cleaner, stuff stuff away, clean the sink, the bathtub and shower stall, the shower curtain soap residue, a little, sanitize the commode. Do the dishes in the sink. I take my cereal bowl out of the fridge, my soup bowl, cutlery. I just rinse 'em and reuse 'em all week, keep 'em refrigerated until weekly dish-washing time. I wash them. I finished the last of my vegetable beef soup for breakfast, put the crock pot in the sink, filled with water. I wash it now. Dump the water, clean the sink.

I go out, clean out the front of the truck. My brother calls it my diary, empty chocolate milk carton, fast food wrappers. I see some cherry tomatoes that got away from me the other day. Hey! They're still good! I'll take 'em in, have 'em for bacon and tomato breakfast! There are little gravels, grass on the floorboard, on the seat too.

I ain't runnin' the vacuum!

I go in, bring out the vacuum. I wipe down the dash, the door, her door, not mine, around the steering column. I look in the glovebox. Condoms. Ink pens. Nothing to steal. Maybe I should give her the condoms to...you know...be...safer out there. Kid might be a hooker! Street people get desperate, often have nothing to sell but... That's why it's the world's oldest profession; when a woman's got nothing else she can barter with her body. In war zones they often do. The idiots destroy the infrastructure, the economy, and people get desperate for basic survival. Women have children to think about so sex for sale isn't out of the question. Predators are watching for it. I go in the trailer, wash my hands.

I get my shower, shave, put on clean clothes. I'll just wash my face in the morning and be ready to go. I need a job! I feel better, but...I've committed. I should BE committed? It's just one night. It won't be one night. Who am I kidding? Once I get her in how can I get her out? What's the plan for tomorrow night? Shee-it. Damned fool! I could have walked up the alley, around front, got in my truck, got the hell out of there. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. I go out, head for Broken Places. It's nearly seven thirty. She told me she closes at eight, says there's never enough business after eight to make it worth staying. Needs to get home to Joe anyway I reckon.

I hang a left, go to the alley, make a right, down past the Gents door, out the other end, come around, park right in front. I get out, go in. Andrea's there, talking to Caryanne. The rest of the people are gone.

"This is my friend, Candy, I was telling you about," Andrea says. I step over to look back at her face.

"Yes. We met," Caryanne says, articulately. She...she looks...cleaner. Like she's...washed her face or something. Combed her hair. The rest of the pecan leaf is gone. Straightened her clothes. Sitting up straighter. Her eyes are still...watery...bleary. Andrea asks,

"Candy, can you...can you still...will you...take my Caryanne home? I didn't ask if you...have...people at your place. Are you married? Kids? Is this...too much to ask?"

"No," I tell her. "Nobody to consult. Nobody to complain. I live alone," I tell her.

"I'll follow you over," Andrea says. "Don't lose me. What's the address? I'll use GPS." I tell her the address, lot number, the name of the trailer park. She says, "Oh! I know where that is! I go right by there."

I can't say anything. My damned brain ain't workin' so my mouth doesn't either. They get up. Andrea goes to the kitchen, flips off the lights. I turn and head for the door.

"Back door?" I ask.

"Locked!" Andrea assures me.

They come out behind me. The sunset is beautiful. I...spontaneously... stop to look at it. They step up on both sides of me. I'm in no hurry to stop enjoying the burning orange on the clouds. There's a nice breeze. They don't seem to rush it either. I finally glance down toward the capital, lit in the growing darkness, look at Caryanne's face in the sunset light, move, going out in the street to get in. The kid comes to the door. I lean over and unlock it. She gets in with me. Andrea goes to a silver Cadillac, parked just ahead of me. I pull out, watch in the rearview to see her pull out and follow.

Kid's quiet. I look at her hair. She's cute with it cut short. Lovely profile, very...even, jawline, nose. We're almost there when she says, "Thanks. Thank you. I...I need to...get off the streets. I've been...couch-surfing, staying with anybody I can...for... for too long. I..."

I wait. She doesn't seem to finish that 'I'...

"Your mother asked me to help you out for the night," I tell her, and, anxious to establish the 'one-night-boundary', "...so I said I would." I hadn't actually said it, just... decided I would. But...here we are. "I made the bed, fresh sheets, and cleaned the bathroom a little," I qualify 'a little' because, for women, a man's idea of clean falls short, "...and I have some food we can warm up."

"I don't want to...be...any more trouble than I have to..." she says. "I...I appreciate...your help. I can just sleep on your couch. I'm used to couches."

"You're welcome," I tell her, the perfunctory reply to someone you're helping, to ease the 'guilt' associated with accepting help.

"You can take the bedroom," I tell her. "There's a door you can lock. There's a bathroom, shower, tub, sink." I hope she'll clean up before she gets in my bed. I rethink that. I'm sure...she will. She's...not the...homeless girl I've been thinking she is. Something...somehow...I...know that. This...is just...someone whose life...took a turn....I think.

I think about the job interview I have tomorrow. They let me come in on a Saturday. I figure they're workin' Saturday so maybe they need me. A carpenter can be useful to almost any construction company. But things slow down from time to time and people get shuffled around, musical chairs, too many people, not enough chairs. This might be one of those times.

I'll take my laptop and gun with me. I'll have to leave my guitar there...with her in the house. Too hot to have it in the truck. They might put me to work. It's happened before. Go for an interview; get hired, go immediately to work. I wonder whether to tell her I have to leave in the morning...might give her time to plot some sh...stuff. I know! I'll just leave a note in the morning. I'll say,
'Job interview, this A.M. Back soon.' 'Don't get comfortable you crazy...!' I won't say that. Now I'm suspicious again. Damn it! What have I gotten myself into?

We arrive. I back in. I get out. Andrea pulls in in front of my truck. Big Silver's sticking out in the roadway a bit, but I figure the neighbors can get by.

"Nice place!" Andrea says. Ya look at your place more attentively when someone else is looking at it for the first time. Yeah. 'Nice', and you know it just means not much clutter.

"Come on in," I tell them, unlock, step up, step in ahead of them. I turn on a lamp in the living room, turn on the kitchen light over the sink. I go open the bedroom door. I'd sprayed some air freshener in there and closed it earlier. I smell it.

"Oh!" Caryanne says. The door's hanging open behind her. "I need my backpack!"

She crosses her arms, right one straight across, left hand up to her right shoulder by her neck.

"Where is it?" Andrea says. There's a tinge of anger in her voice. I'm nervous about Shotgun Andrea! Caryanne tells her, street name, a little far from here. "Well we shoulda gone there first!" Andrea says, sounding a bit disgusted. I'm uncomfortable with the emotion between them.

"Well," I say, "Let's go get it." I step over to the door. They're looking at each other. Andrea comes and goes out. Caryanne follows.

"I'm sorry," she says. "I should have said something."

"'s okay!" I say. I step out. I'm locking the door. It ain't okay! Damn it! It's like carpentry though. Nothing ever goes easy like you think it will. You get into a job and there's unexpected stuff, always. Especially in old buildings. Nothing is plumb. Nothing is square. Nothing you thought you would 'just' do is 'just-doable'. First ya gotta do some other stuff so that you CAN just do. It's okay. It's okay.

"Mom," she says, "Candy," she adds, "Can we take the truck? That silver Cadillac will attract attention down there. Cops'll be lookin' us over. The hookers will be too. The homeless and the addicts...Can we?"

"Yeah," I say. I think about setting her bike out but I'm afraid it'll get stolen while we're gone. Andrea backs the silver Caddy out. I pull out. She pulls in. She comes and opens the door. Caryanne hops out and they argue but Andrea gets in, slides to the middle, bitchin' under her breath, 'Make an old woman sit in the middle!' I fish out the middle seatbelt. She puts in on, tells Caryanne to put hers on. We roll.

It's kind of north of downtown, a rundown area. Used to be something in big old brick buildings here, now long gone. Railroad spur down the middle of the street. Weeds. Litter. Caryanne's giving us a guided tour, "Homeless shelter's about five blocks down that way. Soup kitchen's over there. This is the open air drug market."

It's a wide street, between two identical brick buildings, smaller sidewalks than before and after, used to be head-in parking on both sides, identical buildings on both sides, red flint brick, pavers, and broken windows. No cars, parked or moving. Lots of litter. Piles of sheetrock and boards and bricks. Weeds. Dark under the trees, little...forests that look like they've grown up between the buildings since the places were abandoned.

"Cop's 'll come in and bust some of the drug-dealers, and as soon as they go some more come out and business goes on. I bike through and look them over, see who's dealing and who's buying, so I'll know who not to trust, who I might be able to help. Albert's the little prick...'scuse my language...who gave me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that must have had something in it. I started feeling it almost immediately and headed for your place." She's talking to Adrea. "I guess I made it. I don't even remember. I'll beat his ass next time I see him."

These women are violent, or at least, they talk that way.

"Who is he?" Andrea asks. "I'll beat his ass too. Candy, will you beat his ass? Three ass-whippin's generally are very educational!" We all laugh.

"He's not homeless or anything," Caryanne says. "He comes down here talking Jesus and inviting people to his church."

I kind of hear air quotes in the way she pronounces 'church', confirm it as she goes on,

"His 'church' is an old gas station with wrecked cars around it. Spends more time on young girls than anybody else, gets 'em cryin', touchin' 'em, inviting them to his car. I've told people I don't like his ass! I never trusted him, fully. You know; ya let the preachers preach. He brings peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bottles of water so almost everybody's willing to listen to his [naughty word removed]. But that's the only thing I had to eat today so I know that's where it came from. I will... beat... his... ass!"

The strength of the last three words begins to alarm me. She...they...really are violence prone!

"Right there," she says, "in those bushes. That's where I hid my backpack! That's where we were standing talking, and I ate the sandwich. I stumbled in there to hide it, fell down, and he came pullin' at me and I clocked him. I connected good with his face. I got on my bike and headed for your place."

I cross over to the wrong side of the street, stop by a wooded area. Caryanne gets out, goes through my headlights, into the woods, bushes just about waist high, full-grown forest of trees further back, looks like a place where there used to be a building. She reaches down, comes up with a backpack looking like a mountain hiker's gear; big one! She comes back out. She comes to the open door, stops. She lowers the backpack to the ground, stumbles over it.

"Albert!" she says, loud. She's not just saying the name. She's yelling it, yells again, "Albert!"

I look where she's looking. Some guy has a young girl by the arm. The girl looks a little drowzy, seems to need support. Albert lets go, takes off running! The girl staggers back, catches herself on a flag pole. Albert can't run very well, sort of a hop like one leg's not working very well.

Caryanne grabs her bicycle out of the back of the truck! She mounts up, goes off at speed in the direction 'Albert' went! Holy crap! Now what are we doing?

Andrea struggles with her seatbelt, slides to the passenger seat, shuts the door!

"Go after her!" she says. Holy crap! I take off, following the kid! About a block away I see Albert open a car door, big black car, Lincoln Continental. Caryanne is riding straight at the car, crashes into the door and flies off the bike, over the friggin' door, hits Albert like Superman!

Er, Supergirl!

Holy crap! They fall down behind the door!

I pull up, stop in the middle of the street, headlights angled at the Lincoln!

Girl's a'straddle him, poundin' with her right fist on this guy who just can not cover up or block the blows!

I think I see her poke him in the eyes with her left hand fingers, go back to wailin' on him!

Andrea's out, comes up to them fast, but just stops and watches.

I get out. Stand there, watch. The guy's not even trying to block the blows any more. His arms are just laying, right one against the door jamb of the car, left just extended out. Caryanne's peppering him with foul names, finally being able to match up the names with the blows, then syncopating them, fist, Blap!, then name, "Bastard", fist/Blap!, "Son-of-a-bitch", a few involving his Mother's morality. I'm looking around, wondering if Albert has friends, or if the cops are on their way.

Caryanne's standing up. I want to get the hell out of here! I pick up her bike, put it back in the truck. Andrea's talking to Albert. I can't hear what she's saying but I hear the menacing tone and give thanks to the universe that she doesn't have her shotgun with her. I get back behind the wheel. Caryanne kind of tugs at the tail of her mother's vest, pulls at her, and they come across the lights of my truck. They stop outside the door.

"Can I use this water?" Caryanne's asking. She's pointing at a bottle of water in the pocket in the door.

"Uh," I say, "It's...it's been here in the truck for days...weeks. I wouldn't drink it."

"I want to rinse my hands," she explains. I don't want to get his DNA in your truck."

"Oh," I say, surprised. "Yeah! Yeah! Use it!"

DNA! Holy crap! I pick up another half bottle from my door pocket, pass it to Andrea. They rinse her hands there in the middle of the street. I see Albert roll on his side, onto his hands and knees. He's frickin' bloody! He goes up on one knee, turns in to get in the car, kind of falls in, seems to have trouble getting his feet in, does, pulls the door closed. I can only see his head, his face, over the door, but he looks bloodied. They're in. Door closes. I swing right and loop back across the street, clear the curb and drive away, back the way we came. Damn! All I wanted to do was go home, eat something, sit down, play my guitar, relax. You can't always get what you want. I shoulda just walked up the alley and...

They're giggling! Now they're laughing out loud! Violent people!

"Carryin' On Caryanne!" Andrea says, and they laugh some more. The truck smells of sweat and strawberries.

And guess who's staying with me tonight? Nice guys finish last.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/06/23 08:32 PM.

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4. Rescue Me

"We need to find that kid," Caryanne says.

'What kid?' I'm wondering. Oh, the kid Albert had by the arm. Shee-it! Now what?

"Go back," Caryanne commands, then changes it to a request, "Can you go back to where we first saw them?" she's asking. "I'm betting he did the same thing to her he did to me."

Shee-it! Again. Shee-it!

"Yeah," I say. There's no enthusiasm in my voice. I try to muster some earnest interest in the mission to counter that. I can't find words to express it so I try to think of body language, the 'urgency' of my driving...but...

There's where they were. I've passed it by the time I realize it. I'm back by the wooded area. Caryanne's backpack is still laying there. I pull up, again, at an angle, lights shining past the backpack into the woods. Caryanne's out. Gets her backpack. Back in. I want to throw it in reverse and get the hell out of here. I go back to where we saw the kid, by the flagpole, another forested area where there probably used to be a building. I turn off the engine, get out, watch them go into the woods.There's some light in the sky but it's dark in the woods. I fish my spotlight from behind the seat, click it on. It works! I haven't charged it up in a while, but it's working. The truck lights go off. I shine the light back into the woods, the powerful beam shining a good ways. I see them back in there. I ain't goin' in there! There are tents and hovels back in there, cardboard shacks, blue tarps, beyond where they are.

Oh! Feet! There are feet sticking out from under a bush here close to me. It looks like the kid. She had red...like...pajama pants with cartoon characters and that's what I see.

I've taken the light off them to look at the kid, this new...kid, and when I bring it up to shine on them. They're coming back. I keep the light on the ground, to light their way.

The kid is snoring. I look closer in the dim edge of the spotlight light. She's a kid, like thirteen or sixteen or something, little girl, not very big. She's dirty, dirty hands, dirty face. Hey! Peanut butter and jelly! I can see what looks like peanut butter and jelly on the corners of her mouth, on her chin. Just like Carryin' On Caryanne. Albert. If this is what you're doing we're going to have to track your ass down and beat it again. Damn! Carryin' On Caryanne a mean little bitch! Supergirl!

They're here. Caryanne and Andrea are 'examining' the kid, pulling her eyelids open, talking between themselves about "...pupils dilated, fixed...", more choice words for Albert, insults to his mother.

Caryanne's lifting the kid. I back out, keeping the light on the ground as Caryanne walks toward me. I'm out on the sidewalk, step off the curb, keep the light on it as Caryanne steps off. Andrea's close, hands on the kid's head, safety in case Caryanne drops her, I figure. But she looks like she's got her. Caryanne's strong...strong enough.

I open the tailgate. Caryanne sits her right hip up on it, spins to throw her right leg up, left leg up, keeps 'cradling' the kid, scooches across the crack off the tailgate into the bed. Her skirt's way up her thighs. Looks like bicycle shorts, black, down her legs. I can't help enjoying seeing her legs. Andrea's closing the tailgate. Caryanne scooches to get the kid's head out of the way.

"Hospital?" Andrea says.

"Yes," Caryanne replies.

'Shee-it,' I say to myself. I click off the light, put it behind the seat, get in. Andrea's in the other side, closes her door, puts on her seatbelt, eyes straight ahead.

I guess we're going to the hospital.

I go at a good speed, fast, more than the safe speed limit, as determined by engineers, and posted by authorities, but not 'I'm-an-emergency-vehicle' fast.

Andrea's focused ahead, glances over her shoulder, then ahead again. Then, she announces, "Caryanne's got her finger down the kid's throat, making her vomit! Eww! Success!" I'm wanting to look back to...see that...I guess...more concerned with the bed of my truck than comprehending what's going on. I guess she decided to try to get the...poison out of her, rather than let it keep dopin' the kid. Maybe that's what she did for herself, and why she's recovered enough to ride her bike, fistfight, and rescue a kid.

"Damn! Candy did you see that? That's my kid!" Andrea says. "I never imagined her kickin' ass like that! It...it was scary!"

"Exactly!" I agree; "Scary!"

My life was simple this morning. Now it's... There's the hospital. I go right to the Emergency Room entrance where ambulances go, not where people walk in.

Andrea's out, to the back. Tailgate flops down with a bang! She's away, into the doors. I'm out to the back. Caryanne's scooching again. I reach, take the kid, head in with her. Andrea's coming back with people, a gurney. I lay the kid on the gurney. Caryanne's telling them about making her vomit.

"See that peanut butter and jelly on her face?" she's telling them. "There may be dope in that. Collect that just in case it can be tested."

"Well we can't test that here," a woman is saying. She has long false eyelashes, looks like she's made up for a night on the town, not working the ER.

"I'll get it tested!" Andrea's saying, exasperation in her voice. "Just...collect it!" They're turning away down the hall. The two nurses or whatever they are exchange glances, tight-lipped, don't say anything.

"You'll have to get in there with them," I tell Andrea, collect that stuff yourself. Make 'em give you a swab or...or a tongue depressor, something. And a bag to put it in." I drop back, let Andrea, Caryanne, and the people take the kid in. I go back out to move the truck. As I do I hear a siren. I park, come back in. They're not in the 'lobby'. I start to walk back the direction they were going. A uniformed security man confronts me. Big guy, taller than me, got me by a good hundred pounds, one of those giant men. I tell him the details about the kid. He tells me to wait out here, leads me through a door, into a lobby in the walk-in section. I expect him to hook me up, get me back there with the girls and the kid. He goes back behind a desk, stands, scans the closed-circuit television screens, doesn't talk on the phone or radio or anything. I content myself to wait where I am, go sit down by the windows, pick up a magazine laying in the next chair. I look out. I can see my truck. I notice a vending machine with hot chocolate, put in the coins, get one. It's good. I'm looking around. Pretty much full house. Friday night. Old people, with younger ones, and children in pajamas trying to get comfortable on the bench couches or chairs. One tiny one crying, not to be consoled.

The siren was getting louder. Now it's stopped. Lights continue to flash, on the trees across the parking lot, behind my truck. I go out, walk down to the ambulance entrance. The attendants are unloading a person on a gurney. They don't seem to be in a hurry. The person isn't moving. Her clothes are kind of shabby. She looks dirty. I step closer. On her face it looks like...peanut butter and jelly!

"Hey!" I say, "Is that an overdose?" He doesn't answer. I tell them, "If that's peanut butter and jelly on her face there may be a drug in it that someone gave her. I just brought in another kid, two of them, separate cases, with peanut butter and jelly on their faces, and feeling doped up." No response.

They go in. I go in with them. This time I'm able to go right with them into the treatment rooms. "Collect that peanut butter and jelly and test it for fentanyl or something!" I tell them. "You might want to make her vomit." They go on as I stop. I stop because I hear Caryanne's voice, calm, confident, directing someone to, "Give it to me. Give it to me! I'll have it tested."

They come out from behind a drawn curtain. Andrea's got a piece of paper. Caryanne's got a plastic bag, top torn off. Tongue depressor in it.

"Candy," give me that pen." I have a pen clipped to my shirt-front. I give it to her. "What time is it?" I look at my watch, tell her. She's writing. "I don't know the kid's name. Best we can do is document the time we brought her in to try to find out anything about her later."

"They just brought in another girl," I tell them. " I think I saw peanut butter and jelly on her face."

Caryanne and Andrea stop in their tracks. "Where?" Caryanne asks. I see the two attendants coming out of a drawn-curtain area down the hall. I begin to walk that way. They pass by without showing any interest. I look back. They're not looking back. We go in. The girl they brought in is on the bed. Nobody's doing anything for her. She's...not moving, not...breathing.

Caryanne is collecting a tongue depressor like she knows where stuff is in the room. She gets a plastic bag out of a trash can, a bag that held some piece of equipment and has been thrown away. She scrapes the peanut butter and jelly off the girl's face with the depressor, puts it in the bag. Andrea's writing down the time. No one takes any notice of us as we come out. We're outside, into the truck. Caryanne's in the middle. I'm driving, aimlessly, not really headed for home or anywhere else, really. I realize I'm not even doing the 35 mile per hour speed limit, speed up. They're quiet.

"Tilda," Andrea says.

"Tilda," Caryanne repeats.

"It's late," Caryanne says.

"She'll get up," Andrea tells her. Andrea is keying something into her phone. A female voice with an English accent starts telling us to 'Turn left in 100 feet'. GPS. I do it. I follow the instructions and end up back on my side of town. We go to a nice house. I pull into the driveway. They get out. I stay put. Nobody's told me anything different. I see Caryanne hand the bags to Andrea, turn and come back as the truck lights go out.

"Come on, Candy," she says. "You need a drink and something to eat." Cute girl, offer of food and drink. I don't ask any questions. I notice I'm not resisting my involvement in this sh-tuff any more.

"Is your bike safe here? Someone could steal it," I tell her as I get out. I lock the truck.

"We'll take a chance," she says. "I appreciate you...helping us," she says. We go up the drive side by side, her arms crossed over her chest, then dropping to push me ahead on the sidewalk along the front of the house. The inner door's open, storm door closed. Andrea's inside talking to a woman who...looks...a lot like Andrea.

"Aunt Tilda," Caryanne's saying, "Mom's sister. She's a doctor. She can test [naughty word removed]. I know there's drugs in that damned peanut butter and jelly." We go in.

I don't know who's older, Tilda or Andrea. They talk alike. They look alike. Tilda's saying, "We can try." She has the bags, the tongue depressors in them. Andrea's telling her not to mix them up, to mark them with the times on the pieces of paper she's torn and put in the bags.Tilda goes off down the hall. Andrea hands me my pen.

"Mom," Caryanne says, "Let's raid Tilda's refrigerator." We go toward a kitchen. I see a bathroom. I go in, take a leak, flush, wash my hands, face, dry on paper towels, come out. Andrea's coming up the hall from where Tilda went.

"I gave her that pill that horse's ass put in your beer!" she says, jerking her thumb back down the hall.

We sit at a kitchen table. Andrea pours me a glass of milk. I sip it, gulp once. Caryanne's pushing a sandwich on a plate to me. I hope she washed her hands.

"I washed my hands," she says, smiling at me. Kid's pretty, now she's got her face under control. Her knuckles are real red, but not cut. She turns in her chair, starts inspecting her knees, left one reddened, right one bloodied, big scrape up her shin. Probably from flying over the door, landing a'straddle Albert. Damn! Supergirl! I chuckle to myself. No one seems to notice.

"Tilda can test those samples, see if she can detect drugs," Andrea says. We eat. No one talks. About twenty minutes have passed and Tilda comes in, says,

"There's not enough there to test. I'm getting a little fentanyl on one, the second one, the later one. But not enough to be sure."

The girls look disappointed. Caryanne's shoulders slump. She frowns.

"And that pill is a 'roofie', a knockout drug," Tilda goes on. "Caryanne, come here and let me get a blood sample from you."

Caryanne's up, compliant. "Yeah!" she says. She touches my shoulder as she passes, "Why didn't you think of that Candy?" She's teasing me, squeezes my shoulder, goes.

"I figured," Andrea says. "I'll shoot that little bastard!" Andrea's gonna need more shotgun shells.

"Did you stick you finger down your throat when you realized you'd been doped?" I hear Tilda ask Caryanne.

"Yeah," she says. "I don't think I could have made it to Broken Places if I hadn't. That [naughty word removed] hit me hard! And fast!"

"And you stuck your finger down the kid's throat," I call after them. "And there's vomit in the bed of my truck." They stop, look back at me. I look at Tilda. "Would there be enough in the vomit to test?"

"Maybe!" she says. I like her surety. Tilda goes down the hall. We three go out. I get my flashlight and shine it on the mess. I haven't sprayed out the truck bed in...probably months. But there's not much dirt and debris there. But a substantial puddle of vomit, and purple jelly and brown peanut butter and white bread obvious in it!

Tilda comes out, goes about collecting samples, more than one, test tubes. Vials. She came prepared. Inside, Tilda down the hall, Caryanne with her. Caryanne comes back, holding a gauze pad on the crook of her elbow. In about another thirty minutes Tilda's back.

"Yes," she says. "Fentanyl. And a heavy dose of it. I need to get down to the hospital and see what I can find out. I called and told them I was coming and what to do with the two patients. They said one had expired, came in expired. But the young girl's alive."

"Fentanyl in my blood?" Caryanne asks. Tilda nods, tells her to drink plenty of water, flush her system. Caryanne tilts up her glass of milk, downs it.

We all look at each other. "Candy!" Andrea says, offering a high five. I take it. Caryanne reaches and squeezes my wrist. I feel...a hell of a lot better about the whole thing.

We go out, Tilda and Andrea getting in Tilda's car, Caryanne coming to the truck. I don't ask, just head for the ER. Arriving, we see two cop cars, lights flashing. We park, go in with Tilda leading. She examines the kid. Gives some orders. She asks to see the dead girl, gives some orders for the Medical Examiner's autopsy. Coroner? We tell the tale to the cops. They gradually ease up out of suspecting us of something. I look at us, me in clean clothes, but clothes suited for my work, Andrea in her bartender outfit, looking like a biker bitch, Caryanne looking shabby...sorry kid...like a street person. I guess I'd suspect us too.

We go out, get in the truck. Tilda stays in the hospital. We head for my house. There, Andrea thanks me, hugs Caryanne, gets out and into the silver Caddy, backs out, drives away. I back into the carport, thinking the bike might not get stolen if they don't easily see it. I know the little bastards come around late at night. They got my tools about a year ago; two years ago. I'm careful to lock the toolbox on each end each night. The one night I forgot to they got me. I figure they try it on lots of nights, find it locked, still keep coming back and trying it until, bingo!

Caryanne gets her backpack out of the truck. We go in. Caryanne goes to the bedroom, apparently retrieves a toothbrush; I hear her brushing. She goes in the bedroom, doesn't close the door. I go brush my teeth, step into the bedroom to get my clock-radio, need to set the alarm for in the morning. She strips off her skirt, wiggles out of it. Bicycle shorts. It...seems...brazen but...I guess it's not. She knows she's wearing the shorts, not...underclothes. Still, she...seems to realize it... looks a little...uncomfortable herself.

I gesture with the radio, say, "Job interview in the morning." She nods. "There's food, if you're hungry. There's coffee and a coffee maker for in the morning. The coffee's ten years old but..." I leave that to be self-evident. "I read coffee leaches minerals out of your body so I quit drinking it; have a cup every once in a while but..." She just smiles at me. I come out, come back to the living room, plug in the radio, lay on a couch recliner. I'm exhausted. I'm out in a matter of minutes.

I wake up. Caryanne's untying my boots, pulls them off. She smells clean, shampooed, the trailer full of steam from a hot shower. She's wearing my green robe. I never wear it, just have it hanging there in the bedroom. She lays in the other recliner. A beam of moonlight shines in on the lower part of her face, tip of her nose, mouth, that...mouth, her throat, her chest. She talks, just random, rambling through the day's events. Her lips are a work of art. I stare, see her tongue catch the moonlight occasionally, words with 'th'. I doze.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/02/23 07:44 AM.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? www.garyeandrews.com
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5. Morning Glories, Longview Love Affair. Saturday, July first, 2023.

The alarm is annoying. I sit up. She's not in the other recliner. I go to the bathroom. The bedroom door's open. She's not in there. Good.

I sit on the edge of the bed, look at the pad I keep there. In the middle of the night, the moon shining in on me, I woke up, pulled the guitar I keep by the bed over onto my stomach and strummed Em, Am, and F. I ad libbed,

"A Woman With The Blues, can steal your heart, just by telling her tale."
I changed it to,
"A Woman With The Blues, is stealing my heart, just by telling her tale."
I read what I wrote;
"Her lips become, a true work of art. I stare. My senses fail.
I do things I know are bad for my health!
I become a Stranger To Myself.
I become a Stranger To Myself."

I'm not sure which one of those lines is the title, THE Hook.

I play it, get to a Verse II;
A girl with her eyes, is luring me, to my ultimate doom!
I find the truth, in spite of her lies. She takes me up to her room.
I see things that should ring alarm bells!
I become a Stranger To Myself!
I become a Stranger To Myself!"

I need a Bridge here, didn't find one last night. I played some instrumental bars but...an Instrumental Bridge may not be enough.

I read Verse III;
"No woman with a heart, could ever have done, the things you've done to me!
You're out on the street! You hide in the dark! You have your own kind of need!
I see where I stumbled! I see where I fell!
I become a Stranger To Myself!
I become a Stranger To Myself!
I become a Stranger To Myself!"

Playing through it...I...like it...but...I feel...its darkness...a little more than I should...from a fantasy song.

I have to go.

A I get ready, go out. Her bike's not in the back of the truck. Backpack's gone too. Puke's still there. Damn it! I'm out! Am I out? Out of her...troubles? I don't bet on it. I pull out, go out to the highway. Down at the intersection I see her walking, big backpack, walking the bike. I pull off in front of her. I lean across, unlock the passenger door. She comes up to that side, opens the door.

"Can you give me a ride to work?" she says. She tells me where it is, the street name, and I know the street. It's not far off my way. I'm early. I like to get to appointments early, locate them, be there at the appointed time. I'm in, still in her sh...stuff.

"Yeah," I say. She slings the back pack into the bed, lifts the bicycle, strong, fast, climbs in, closes the door.

"Thanks again," she says. "I owe ya. Bike's got a bent rim. I can't ride it or I'd be there by now."

I don't say anything. I don't know what to say. A minute ago I thought I had my life back. Now, well...we'll see.

She's quiet. I like her quiet. I like quiet anyway. That's why I don't have television, well, that and the fact it costs more than I think it's worth.

I find the street, stop at the intersection.

"Left? Right?" I ask her.

"Left," she says, points. Good, I'm still headed to my own destination. I just drive. Finally she says,

"You're quiet. I guess I...put you through the wringer...yesterday."

'Put you through the wringer.' I've heard that expression. Old washing machines had two rollers you'd put clothes through to 'wring out' the water, to prepare them for hanging on a line out in the sunshine and winds to dry. Nobody says that any more. Only people who live crazy lives and find the...metaphor...meaningful.

"Yeah, that was a hell of a day," I tell her, look in my rearviews. "Does that kind of...stuff happen a lot for you?"

"No," she says. "I live a...pretty...quiet life, mostly. I work in a bicycle shop. There are other workers, Larry and Harold, but we're all usually working alone. We...talk, listen to music, serve customers, repair bikes, build bikes. I...I ride down to the...poor side of town on my breaks, check on people, try to pass out aspirin, toothbrushes, toothpaste, women's...women's hygiene products. There are more women out there now, for some reason. I guess the Coronavirus Pandemic of the Early 21st Century hit women that way. Some of them tell me their husband died and that cost them their homes. Or just got sick and went bankrupt and... It's...hard...to hear them...their stories.
Some were hit by the Oxycontin Pandemic of the Early 21st Century. That started in the Late 20th Century though. People didn't know it was happening. It was all around us and we didn't know. I was just a kid when I first heard the word. People pronounced it 'Oxy-cotton'. But I watched the news on tv and finally heard it right, and read and saw it spelled. And I started paying attention to it. A lot of people I talk to tell of their personal experience, their kids, their wives, their grandmother or grandfather, getting the pills from doctors and dentists, not knowing it would turn them into addicts. It was all around us, epidemic, pandemic.
It had the same effect, I think, killing people, as Coronavirus, debilitating families. People ending up on the streets. Parents suffered, couldn't recover from losing a kid. Marriages split up, same effect, some people ended up on the streets. You should hear the stories. After a while they just accept that this is their life now, their new normal. They find a new routine, soup kitchen, homeless shelter, dishwasher jobs. They find a place to sleep, a place to lay it all down, and get a little rest so they can...'work' the routine again the next day, or...find alternatives every day.
That's why Albert comes down here. His religious bullshit makes him seem benign. He wears two crosses on his collar, like some...official...uniform of some official organization."

I remember seeing those crosses on that white shirt collar, before it got bloody!

"Hell, I fell for it! I would never have thought he'd pull some [naughty word removed] like this but I'm sure of it now. He wears two bags, straps crisscrossed over his chest. I remember he had sandwiches in a bag on his right, and bottles of water in the bag on his left, but the sandwich, just a half sandwich he gave me, came out of the one on his left. I didn't think anything about that. He gave me a bottle of water. I usually turn him down, hoping someone who really needs it gets it. But he was kinda pushy...and there weren't many people around. I'd been looking for some women who were there Wednesday and I'd run out of stuff to give them. I thought it would...be a kindness...to...take it that day, to make him feel like he was doing some good. I hadn't eaten any breakfast or lunch. We were busy at the shop... There it is!" she says, pointing across to the left side of the street. I see a sign, L&H Bicycle Everything, next to L&H Lock & Key Everything.Two hanging signs; two window signs. Looks like the same building, two doors, bicycles in the windows of both. Tidy little place. I pull over across the street back a ways in in the only open spot behind parked cars.

"Candy, thank you so much. You've been...very kind." She's opened the door a crack, sits there, looking over at the shop. "If you ever...need anything...Mom and I will be forever grateful. You should get a bike. If you ever need a bike come and see me. I...I hope I see you again." With that she spins out, closes the door, gets her backpack out, slips it on like something she does a lot, lifts the bike out. She does it with strength and grace, like she does that a lot too. She crosses behind me. I watch her in the mirror on the passenger side, the rearview on the windshield, the driver's side, waiting for traffic to go by. She pushes the bike out, hops up on one pedal, glides across, jumps off, lifts the bike onto the curb. She swings her leg up and sits, pedals once, twice, goes up the sidewalk, doesn't look back, hops off and enters the shop, handling the door and the bike and the backpack like she's done it plenty.

I watch traffic, pull out, look at the shop as I go on. I'm not...comfortable...just...dropping her...off like this. I'm...the kid...needs... She needs help. She's 'eking'. Have you ever 'eked', eked out a living? I came out of work one day. It was Friday, payday. I had six dollars left from last payday. I decided I was going to go have a good lunch somewhere, instead of Dandy Jim's $1.99 burger and a coke, a common lunch for me, if we're working making rafters in the shop or in a building nearby. I'm a simple man with simple tastes for food. I...had a...woman once who had a sophisticated palate, very persnickety about her food. Not me. I'd eat cold fried chicken out of the fridge and she'd cringe! LOL. "Cold fried chicken is a classic!" I'd declare, "A gustatory delight!" Cold pizza! Love it. Not her.
But, anyway, that day, a six dollar lunch sounded reasonable. I was gonna have something good!
But I saw a movement to my left, and saw a man...rise up out of the dumpster! Eking! So I walk over and look. He was down in there. The movement I saw was him coming up to lay two sandwich bags, covered in coffee grounds, with half sandwiches in each one on the back section of the dumpster, and he had gone back down. Dumpster-diving! Literally! He came up again. I went over and talked to him.

"I had to drop out of school in the fourth grade," he told me, 'because I 'take epilepsy'," is how he put it. "Nobody'll hire me." He leaned on the dumpster, standing in it, as casually as you might lean on your car and tell your story. He went on with his life, past and present, and it wasn't... Count your blessings. Count your blessings. I count mine, remember my, 'Interview With A Man In A Dumpster'. So anyway...

I'm near the company with the interview, out on a two-lane highway, not many buildings out here. Time. Good. Early. I pull off the road, into the drive entrance over a culvert, weeds all around. There's a backhoe, small dozer, next to the chain link fence along the road, a black Cadillac between them and a trailer, sign saying "Simpkins Construction" and "Office", and out behind the trailer, two bucket trucks, two pickups. I pull up along the front of the trailer, back up beside the backhoe, pull forward and park where I can pull out forward when I leave. I'm pretty sure the Cadillac can get out if it needs to. I like to do that, park nose out, so I don't have to be real careful when I'm leaving a place, so I don't have to do this maneuvering then, leaving. Sometimes ya wanna get away quickly. It's a habit, even on a job interview or at a job site. I take my folder, with my resume', not updated past Wednesday when I got laid off. My brother taught me to update it as soon as you get a job, then you can talk about it in the next interview if you lose that job. You've got the dates, ready. 'Ready for reality!' he says. He's the one who said, "Don't waste a day. Start looking for a new job the same day or the next day!" I'm doing that, between rescuing doped up kids...girls...women. I go in. Secretary, older woman, nice clothes;

"Good morning! Are you Gary?"

"Yes! Gary E. Andrews," I tell her. Her name is Lyrida... She pronounces it. I read the block on her desk as she says it...Lyrida Simpkins. Like 'lyric', but with a d. Accent on the first syllable. Lyrida.

"Mr. Simpkins isn't here," she says. "Family emergency. But I can interview you. You said you have a resume'?" Mr. Simpkins. Lyrida Simpkins. He has a family emergency. She's here, chipper sounding. Must not be too bad. I won't ask about it.

"Yes, Ma'am," I say, flip open my folder, fumble with getting one to separate from the others, get it, hand it to her.

"Sit down," she says. "How long have you been out of work?" she asks over the top of her glasses, goes back to reading.

"I got laid off Wednesday," I tell her. She keeps reading. I'm making note of the layoff date, June 28, 2023 to update my resume' when I get home. Maybe I'll be able to add my new job; "IhopeIhopeIhope!', as my brother would say. I pull the pen...I almost always carry a pen, clipped to my shirt...and pull out a resume', make that entry.

"Where did you get this resume''?" she asks. "I like the way it's...laid out."

"My brother writes resumes," I tell her. "He's very adept at identifying skills and helping people comprehend what they have to offer." I hope she gets the message. The stuff on the resume' is what I have to offer. I've done carpentry since vocational school, back in Ohio. They don't have vocational schools here, a man at the Employment Commission told me, because they'd have to let the...he said..."niggers" in. He assumed I'd be racist too, I guess. I could feel my face get red. But... anyway, I've done carpentry work from the time I got out of high school to the present day. I can tell her verbally everything on that resume' if she gives me a chance. It's on the resume'.

I'm 'reading' the office. My brother told me to do that, see if you can talk about something 'they' are interested in. There are picture frames on her desk but they face her. If they were pictures of them holding up fish, you could talk to them about fishing. You know. Read the office. The only things on the walls are no-picture calendars and a dry-erase board. It looks like they have several jobs scheduled, abbreviated names of companies, dates in the near future, July, September, a couple months out. One in Buda, about twenty minutes away. Oh! That one's in Longview! Water filtration plant. Lots of forms for concrete! That's five hours from here! The top two are past dates, and maybe they're about to finish up or in progress. I'm hopeful, with cause for optimism. There are succulents, small pots, on her desk. There is a philodendron growing out of a pot by a brown leather couch, up along the windows in the front of the trailer, almost across to the other side. Oh! She has an unvariegated spider plant, just green, no 'striping'. It's healthy, spidering. I have one I've had since 2009. I'll definitely talk to her about that!

We talk about tools. I have some of my own, no big stuff, just essentials, saws, hammers, crowbars, drills. I had to replace the stolen stuff. I don't sully the interview with talk of that. Positive vibes...vibing here! She's very articulate. I like her. Lyrida. I don't ask about her name. She's probably had that all her life.

"I was hoping he'd be back but he hasn't called," she says. "Can you come back on Monday?"

"Yes, I can be here Monday morning, or afternoon, whatever's convenient for you," I tell her.

"Monday at eight o'clock?" she says. I agree. She writes it down. We stand. She does so I do. She reaches to shake my hand, comes around the desk to do it. She gestures toward the door with her left hand. I step to the door, open it, step out on the small deck. She steps out with me. "The weeds are taking the place over!" she says. I agree with her. "Watch that third step down!" she warns with reasonable urgency. "Bad wood," she says.

"I could clean this up in about an hour," I tell her. I gesture with both hands. "These weeds pull right out of the ground, pretty easy. It's been dry. Only these weeds seem to thrive in it. Look at them a foot tall where everything else is small."

"Yeah?" she says. "I don't know...What would you charge for an hour's work?" Hmmm...I'm thinking.

"Well," I say, grinning at her, looking at the lot, "I'm a carpenter. An hour of my time...What do you pay a carpenter? It may take two hours. I'm usually more optimistic than accurate estimating time." She repeats my words, 'More optimistic than accurate,' laughs, says, "That sounds like a virtue; not a vice."

"Give me two hours," she says. "I can put some money in your pocket today!" We shake hands again. She goes in. I look at my watch. Eight forty-nine. Call it nine o'clock. I go down the steps, look at the broken two-by-four. They should have put it at the back and the two-by-six at the front. They didn't. The two-by-four is broken. All the other steps are made right. I go to the truck, get my gloves. I've got a treated two-by-four piece in the bed. No puke on it! I'll see if she wants me to fix that. I start pulling weeds there by my truck. I have a weed-eater at home but I'm pretty sure I can clean this up by hand. The particular weed I see most of has multiple stems I can gather in one hand, pull slowly, giving roots time to let go, and it comes out of the ground pretty easy.

I see some five-gallon buckets in the dozer bucket, take two and go out by the road, outside the fence. I start there, at the entrance, around the culvert, along the ditch. It goes good, as expected. I go up and down the road on both sides of the entrance, step over the ditch by the outside of the chain-link fence. My buckets are full. I take them to the dumpster, come back, work down the inside of the fence, both sides of the drive. I work around the backhoe and other equipment, work up to the trailer. It's parked with the tail end against the fence. I come down along the trailer, the steps, and my buckets are full again. I continue around the trailer, back to the fence at the tail end, around the pickup trucks and back down the other side to the front fence. Couple dumpster runs. After pulling everything big and obvious it makes the smaller stuff, random tufts of grass, look out of place. The stuff growing outside the fence on the adjacent lots looks more...unruly too, after I cleared the stuff in here. There are morning glory vines on the fence at one corner, over by the entrance. I leave 'em. They're beautiful. That...unique shade of bluish purple. I leave 'em. If she wants 'em pulled I will but...I'll point them out and ask her.

It's getting hot. I have a bottle of water in the truck. I go get a drink, sit in the truck a minute, door open, a little shade. I look at my watch. Nine-fifty-six. I need to give her another half hour or so. The weeds are pretty much gone. Some of the tufts of grass could go. I pull them. Go around again, find some I missed. Little stuff that would grow in a couple days. The place looks cleaner. I see some lumber piled, two-by-fours not stacked, piled, nails in it. None of it is treated wood. I grab my crowbars and claw-hammer, go at the pile, lay down some dunnage, broken boards, and start cleaning out nails. I've got the whole pile cleaned, apron full of nails, look at my watch. Five till ten. I'm done here! Cool. It's hotter than hell. I take my tools to the truck, go up the steps and in. She looks up, grins.

"I heard ya out there hammerin'!" she says. "That's initiative! The place looks like somebody's doin' business here again!" She laughs at her joke.

"I left the morning glories hanging on the fence," I tell her. They're too beautiful to pull down, but I will if you want." She gets up, goes out. I follow. She goes down the steps, ably steps over the broken one, walks over in front of my truck, out by the road, comes back, walks toward the back of the lot, by the lumber pile. She's shaking her head.

"I swear!" she says. "You hustle don't cha?"

I don't reply. She reaches her hand toward me, like a fist bump, palm down. I almost fist-bump her, but see she's got folded money sticking out by her thumb. I put my hand under it, palm up. She opens hers and drops the money in my hand. There is...at least one...folded bill there, maybe two. I see a twenty. I don't unfold it. I just tuck it in the watch pocket of my jeans.

"Okay," I tell her. "I'll see you Monday, eight o'clock. Thank you."

"Yes," she says. "Hey! Could you use one of these boards to fix that step?" Old Mrs. Wright trick; you're done, you're paid, can you do one more thing?' I laugh to myself.

"Yes, ma'am," I tell her. "But these aren't treated wood. I have one in the back of my truck," I tell her, "if it's long enough."

She's talking about the morning glories and the heat as we go back across the lot. I leave her at the steps, say 'Thanks' again. She goes up. I hear her close the trailer door behind me.

I go to my truck, get my hammer and crowbars, the 2 X 4, a saw. I lay the board in place and it fits; a little more overhang than the others but I split the difference and it will look fine, for the purpose. No need to saw it. I pop the old one out, straighten the nails, pull up the two-by-six, lay it on the steps to move it to the front, put the new two-by-four in the back, grain arced up, nail it in, two nails on each end, angled opposing each other, two in the middle, nail the two-by-six in the front. Done. It's the only step that had the boards backwards, the two-by-four in the front. I take the broken board, pull the nails, toss it in the pile, put my tools away, climb in, roll out, back down the highway. Okay. That felt promising. They're workin'. They've got work to do. They wouldn't be talkin' to me if they didn't need a carpenter. She's got my resume'. He can read it. I think I made a good impression on her. Now...just gotta convince him. Monday, eight o'clock. Mr. Simpkins. Larida Simpkins. Nice looking older woman, fine dresser, well-coifed. Seems bright and friendly, if formal. Her makeup looks good, even out here in the sun.

I can go home, do a little phone book research, either call today or just have some ready to call Monday, more interviews. I'll get back to work. I ain't too worried. I may check out some places I've worked before. There's one up in Longview I'd like to go back to, Warner. They kept me busy until they didn't. I like Longview. The company was okay. The owner's daughter, Tulane Warner, and I had a...flirtation...goin' on...before the world ended (Coronavirus Pandemic...what did Cary call it? 'of the Early 21st Century'? I'm thinking of her, Tulane, blonde hair, blue eyes, nice tan, daddy's money...LOL...little extra junk in the trunk...just the right amount of fat...not so fat that I'd be disgusted with her naked...just enough to have low self esteem and put up with my dumb ass...and...then I'm seeing Caryanne's face...She...looked...very pretty this morning. And she's so articulate. I have to...adjust my first impression to include what I've seen and heard from her since. She's an impressive young woman. She's been...making it on her own...by her own terms...apparently... She has a job! That was surprising. Probably doesn't pay much. But she's...an advocate...watching out for people in straits more desperate than her own. I like her. Now I'm thinking of Tulane and...she's not all I'm giving her credit for. Problems.

Uh oh. I'm rolling toward the intersection with the street where Broken Places is. What am I doing in this end of town again? I can't go in there four days in a row. What the hell would I stumble into today!? I look down the alley as I pass by the south end. Empty. I turn at the light, go around the front. Traffic behind me. I slow a bit. There's parking spaces open. I put my foot on the gas. I'm going home. I'm gonna eat, take a shower, take a nap, play my guitar, rest, relax, mind my own damned business. Longview. I'm gonna think about Longview and Tulane Warner's mouth.

I dash off an email, ask about work. I really don't want to renew the flirtation. We sort of ended on a bad note, Tulane and I. All her friends were men. They were all party animals, too much booze, and...other stuff I don't like to be around. Someone always suffers for the extremes. A couple fist fights too. Fist fights in houses tend to break [naughty word removed]. Very unpleasant for anyone with brain cells. The people there seemed to think it was all funny. Not me. Other people suffer. Still...I don't like to be around that either. Stupid gets stupider in a hurry. Tulane would never leave when I told her [naughty word removed] was about to go down. Told me, 'Go ahead. I'll get a ride!', with attitude, 'I'm having fun!' she'd say. I'd stay...ya can't just leave someone you brought. The second time she told me that I did though. The next day she'd tell me the story of exactly why I knew it was time to leave. When I said something to Tulane about all of it she cooled on me, no longer a friendly grin, no more, 'Come and take me to my friend's party!' invitations. I don't really want to talk to her; just...get the information. Are ya working? Are ya hiring? All my contact information's in my email, automatically.

After I hit 'Send' I have second thoughts. I don't want to...go back. I don't want...to leave...here.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/06/23 09:18 PM.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? www.garyeandrews.com
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6. The Upstairs Visitor.

I look at the door, black skid where, I think, her tire hit it. Beer signs in the little high windows. Angus burger. Tomato soup. Caryanne's mouth.
Damn it! Some fool's turned on my right turn signal. I'm going around the block to come back and park. Damned fool!

Hey! Is...is that Caryanne? Bicycle going down the sidewalk toward...yeah...turning in the alley. Big assed backpack. As I come up to it I check the rearview, nobody behind me, slow, and look...and...Yeah. I'm beginning to recognize her...from behind, what I can see, legs and...beneath the backpack. I don't go in the alley, drive on by, down to the corner. Have to wait on traffic, cuss 'em a little for being in my way. I run my Dad's dialogue; 'Where in the hell are they all goin'? Everybody and his uncle!' I pull out, zip down the block, turn on green, back toward the other end of the alley. No traffic behind me, slow, look up the alley. What...the hell?

I can see Caryanne, that big-assed backpack, climbing the fire escape!

That ladder pulls down, counter-weighted, and, she's climbing up. I come to a complete stop in the parking lane, where I can see straight down the wall. She gets to the point where there's a...there...are...like hoops around the ladder, and...oh! The backpack's...I thought it was falling, but she's...got it, slings it around and...puts it...up through the hoops. She climbs, one step at a time, pushing the backpack up, sets it there, steps off onto the grid. She...she's...controlling the ladder as it comes back up. She's facing the door up there, disappears into it. She's back out, snatches the backpack in. She comes out, doing something at the railing, I...It... looks like...she's tying a rope to the railing, drops it to dangle, a green rope. She pushes the ladder back down, steps on it. She's coming down.

I should pull up so she doesn't see the truck. I do it. Jump out, go to the edge of the alley. I'm trying not to look weird to people driving by. No one is walking by. I'm like... peeping around the corner, not close to the building there, just stand on the sidewalk where I can bend just a little and peep down the alley. She's tying the rope...to her bicycle, pulling the ladder back down. Climbing up. She's on the...the grid...the...landing, pulling the rope. The bike's front wheel comes off the ground. The bike falls sideways, stands on its back wheel, and swings a bit, steadily rising. She's strong as hell! Old Albert's ass took a pounding. Shoulda checked those biceps before he messed with Carryin' On Caryanne. She coordinates the spin of the bike to bring it up to the rail, takes hold of the front wheel, right hand, hoists it with both hands, up and onto the grid. She stops, leans on the rail with both hands. That was probably a workout! I lean back a bit, take a deep breath myself. I peep again in time to see the back end of the bike...and...the back end of Cary, disappearing into the building.

What the hell? I go to my truck, get in, watch traffic, pull out, and damned if I don't just park out front and walk on up to the Broken Places Cafe & Grille. Lots of empty buildings here. Looks like someone's working on one of them, a big double like the Broken Places building. "Coming Soon" sign; "Mouths of Babes Boutique". I kinda laugh, but like that someone's optimistic enough to invest in something.

Yep! I see some tire tread marks in that black skid on the white door of Broken Places. I open it. Two young girls are playing chess. Andrea's standing looking over the bar at them, looks at me, stands up. To keep from saying anything before I can process, for my own comprehension, what I've just witnessed out back, I say,

"Angus burger! Everything! Tomato soup! Black coffee!" I don't drink coffee! Damn it!

She grins, points at me, nods, turns and goes to the kitchen. The girls don't look up. I walk to the end of the bar, start to sit, walk on out to the back door. Open it. I don't go out. I look up from my vantage point inside, see the outer edge of the fire escape, wonder. I let it close. I come back and sit at the first stool, back end of the bar, stand up and lean to look into the kitchen. Andrea's moving fast, like she's full of energy.
The front door opens, two women and a man. They point to the first booth, go there, sit, both women on one side, him on the other. Andrea comes out, grins at me. That's the happiest I've ever seen her. She's as pretty as her daughter when she smiles. She goes to the trio. They talk, sounds like they know her, know the place. I see in the mirror the light come on over the booth. She's coming back.

"Angus burgers all around!" she says. She goes in the kitchen. I can hear her singing something. She stops singing and whistles! LOL She's...by God happy! LOL

I'm looking at the potato chip rack, wondering what to tell...or not tell...about...her upstairs visitor.

Front door opens. More people, four, go to a booth. Andrea's at 'em, orders, back to the kitchen. She tells them to turn on the lamp over the booth. They do. She comes back into the kitchen. I get up, go turn on lamps over the other three booths in the back. I don't want to go by the customers up front to turn on the one over the second booth. My burger's ready, served. Andrea's looking at the booths, maybe at the lit lamps, grins at me. No tomato soup. That's okay. Front door. More people. Damn! This place gets busy. Front door. A guy. He sits at the bar. Andrea serves him a beer and I hear him order an Angus burger. It's a hit! More people. I smell a fishtail! I look around. Booths are full. Lamps on, lots of noisy talk. It's booming in here! Door opens, two people sit at a table about in the middle of the room one empty table up from the chess players.

Front door. In the door comes the prettiest girl, blue dress, sleeveless, cowboy boots; cowgirl. It's Caryanne. She's grinning, greeting people who greet her, waving to the first group who came in, high fives the girls playing chess. She looks at me, gives me a little wave. Cute...little wave. I raise my hand, look at the potato chip rack. Damn. Damn, damn, damn! I eat my Angus burger. Andrea's back, "Forgot your soup!" she says, grins, sets the bowl in front of me, face brightens to see Caryanne. "How'd she do last night?" She asks, clarifies, "Okay? No...sickness or anything?" She's asking about the effects of the drug.

"No, nothing," I say, "that I'm aware of. She was gone when I got up, but I found her down the street, gave her a ride to work. Bike wheel was bent, crashing into your door, Albert's door, probably other doors we don't know about." I laugh. Andrea doesn't.

"Work?" Andrea says. "Where does she work?" I begin to assess what I should tell if she doesn't already know. Suddenly Caryanne's there, sits on the stool, leans on the counter, the bar, and...

"Don't leave your bike out on the sidewalk honey," Andrea says. "Somebody'll steal it!"

"It's...okay Mom," she says. "It's not out there."

"So, how's work?" Andrea asks, implications in her tone, raised eyebrows. She doesn't wait for an answer, goes out in the room.

"Work's fine," she says. I look. She's looking at me, grinning.

"I...told her I gave you a ride...to work," I explain. Andrea's back, to the kitchen. "I didn't tell her any more than that. I didn't think about...whether that was... information you wanted...shared."

"That's my Mommy, Candy," she says. "You can tell her anything you want." I have to chuckle.

"Really?" I say, tease, "Even about dancing at the hoochie coochie club?" She laughs, spontaneous, joyous. Good! The idea is so outlandish she doesn't give it a second's thought to be offended. Andrea's leaning from the kitchen, looking out at us, wiping her hands on a towel, looking, grinning. She comes and gets a tray, looks it over, looks at me, grins, goes, loads it, comes by, goes to serve it. She's back, snatches another tray from the stack, goes to the kitchen. Comes out with another trayful and serves it. Caryanne's not smiling any more. When Andrea comes back she says,

"Mom, do you need some help?"

I look from her face to Andrea's. Andrea's face goes sort of dark. At first I think she's...maybe...angered by the offer. But then I think she's just...hiding some emotion she doesn't want to share. I look at the potato chip rack.

"Sure," she says, goes into the kitchen. Caryanne touches my right side, my waist, as she gets up, goes around me into the kitchen. I hear them talking. I eat my burger, spoon my soup. Caryanne comes out, goes to the coolers, starts searching for certain brands. Finds them, trays them, goes out the far end of the bar. I don't look to see her serve them, but, I can see that blue dress out of the corner of my...consciousness. She's back, draws some soda pop drinks, trays them, puts on a short white apron, goes out. I refocus on my lunch, finish it. Andrea's buzzing by. No small talk now. Busy, makin' money!

I can hear her telling people, "Yes, that's my daughter!", them saying, "I thought so! She looks just like you!", Andrea saying, "I wish! Isn't she pretty?" Yes, she is.

A woman's asking, "Why haven't we seen her before?"

Caryanne's saying, "She keeps me in the attic!" I can see her finger pointing up at the ceiling. They laugh! I laugh! The attic; the upstairs visitor. Lady down the bar looks at me.

Andrea comes back, stops at the end of the bar. I'm looking at her. She looks at me, says, "She never did this before!" She goes to the kitchen. I look over the potato chip rack, see the curly blonde hair moving back and forth. She comes behind me, brushes my back with her hand as she goes behind the bar. She turns, spins to face me as she steps into the space. "Man!" she says. "This place is poppin'! I had no idea! I've only ever been in here at night when it's just a few drunks. She grins, says, "A couple of you drunks." She...spins away, goes on to the kitchen. I can see her back. Tan, little blonde hairs in the fluorescent light. They're talking. It's...all business, what things go to what tables, makin' it work. I sip my coffee. It's lukewarm. Little mindreader, Caryanne, comes out with three coffee cups in her left hand, pot in her right, half refills my cup, grins, says, "I thought you didn't drink coffee?", goes on out, our eyes on each other until it's not possible any more. It's embarrassing! I can't...not look at her. I hear her, see her, imagine her, moving around the room. Lots of laughter. She's charming. She's her mother's daughter. Andrea elicits the same laughter when she's out in the room. It's...a good day in Broken Places.

I'm thinkin' it's time to pay my bill, get up and out of here. I reach and take out my wallet, lay a ten and two ones on the bar, push my empty bowl, plate to the back of the bar. I look at myself over the potato chip rack. I'm not getting up. There's something wrong with me.

I look at Andrea, hustling to the cash register, big grin. Her brow's...unwrinkled. She's hustling out into the room. What can I tell her about...her upstairs visitor? It's not my business. It's...part of this whole thing between them. I want out of it. I should stay out of it. I'm staying out. I ain't tellin' HER. I ain't askin' Caryanne. It's...they're...working things out and if they want to or need to...know something...they need to get it from each other. Anything I do or say is bound to be wrong for one of them, and I don't want to be wrong...for either of them, especially... Yeah. It's...delicate. Let them work it out. The guy lookin' back at me over the potato chip rack nods his head.

People finish, pay, ka-ching, cash register, credit cards. Andrea's showing Caryanne how the register works, how the credit card machine works. A few more people come in. They clear tables, take orders. My coffee cup's empty. I stand, take it, my bowl, plate, go back in the kitchen, dip a plastic dishpan in the soapy water in the sink, set it up on the side of the sink, start washing dishes. They come, one at a time.

"Well bless your heart!" Andrea says. She goes out. Caryanne comes in, says,

"Hey! Dishwasher! Well bless your heart! 'Bout time you got here!" She laughs, touches my back. I don't say anything. I'm...a little embarrassed, for...no particular reason. I feel it in my face. She goes out.

They come and go. I'm aware who's there behind me. I don't look other than peripheral vision and the blue dress with the white apron I can't miss. They drop bowls and plates into the sink. Caryanne touches me. Why does she touch me? I like it. It...feels...affectionate. It...feels...unnecessary. But she does it. I like it.

I've finished the dishes. I go for the three pots on the stove. One has tomato soup. The other two have residue of chicken noodle, something else, but are pretty much empty. I wash those two, wipe down the stove. I scrape at the grille, pile the burger remnants on one side. I clean some grease spatter on the sink beside the deep fryer, on the back of it, the table on the other end. Onion peels, those papery things that stick when they get wet. Aggravating. I sweep the floor, just some paper towel pieces, some cracker packaging, onion peels. I...or...someone's splashed a bit of water. I put a doubled paper towel in it, drag it around with my foot, toss it in the trash. I dry my hands, forearms, go out, sit at the bar. The place is clearing out. The two girls aren't playing chess, now sitting at the bar. They get up, go out. One waves to Caryanne. She waves back. People go out. A guy comes in. Caryanne goes behind the bar, serves him a beer, uses the cash register, gives him his change. A little conversation, leaning on the bar, fist on hip, like Andrea does. She...looks, statuesque. She ends it, comes up my way, looking at me the whole time, me looking at her.

"Need more coffee?" she asks, pointing.

"No,thank you," I tell her. "I'm wired now!" I show her my right hand, make it quiver. She laughs. I like her laugh. She goes on. I'm...just another customer. She comes out, sits beside me.

"Wow!" she says, "I can't believe that...rush hour!" She laughs. Mom's a Hustlin' Ho if she deals with this every day! I've been wondering how she keeps this place alive! She made some money today!"

"Yeah," I say. "I had no idea. We came here for lunch once and it wasn't this packed. I guess it was early. And the crowd today changed at least once to a whole new crowd I think. People ate, paid up, left and just in time because other people came."

"I know!" she says. "It was poppin'! She was hoppin'! I'm so glad...I...I'm...so glad I came in today." She's quiet. That...stuttering...seems to belie some...emotion. She's looking at her hands. I look at the potato chip rack.

"How's your knee?" I ask. She spins, pulls it up toward me, puts her left foot on the side of my stool. I can see up her dress. She's wearing black bicycle shorts. Still... Too... sensuous a view. Her wounds are all scabbed over. Big round one on the right kneecap, long wide one tapers down her left shin. Visions of Supergirl flying over that Lincoln door to throttle Albert! I laugh, shake my head.

"What?" she says, grinning. "What? What?" She pokes me in the ribs. She takes her leg down. I laugh.

"You, Supergirl," I tell her, "flying over Albert's door. And you pounding on him. You're scary!"

She laughs, says, "He deserved it. I'd do it again. I will do it again!" She turns back to the bar, folds her hands. "You...don't have to be afraid of me though. I'd never hurt you. I'm not scary."

I make a gesture of wiping sweat from my brow, say, "Whew! That's good to know!" She laughs, looks at her hands. She gets up, busses some tables, sets the bottles gently into the trash. Takes stuff to the kitchen. Comes by. I...we...can't help looking at...her...at each other. She goes by. I'm looking at the potato chip rack. I go and wash the dishes she's brought to the kitchen. Finish up. I decide to go. Andrea's busy at the cash register. I stand, look around. Caryanne's not in the room. I lean into the space between the bar and the kitchen; not there. She's...gone. I was aware of the front door opening, not much, just enough to change the light in the room. I didn't look.

Andrea comes and stops by the end of the bar, pushes my money back, says, "Your money's no good here mister!" I push it back, say,

"Well, split it as a tip with that new waitress!" She laughs, looks around. Her face goes blank, registers concern.

"Where'd she go?"

"I don't know," I tell her. "I noticed the door open but I didn't look. Andrea's face...the distress...she steels herself. Then it's...just...Andrea's face. She goes in the kitchen. I go to the front door, see the white apron on the end of the bar, go out, look up and down the street. I want to see that blue dress. I don't. I get in my truck. I sit there. Finally, I start up, look for traffic, pull out. I go around the block, so I can glance down the alley, nothing, go to the light, turn left, go home. I'm in bed when I hear a knock at the door.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/06/23 09:42 PM.

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7. Mi Casa; Tu Casa.

I get up, fast, hurry through the darkened trailer without turning on a light. I lift the paper I use to cover the window in the door, peep out, hoping...to see...

It's the landlady, Mrs. Wright. She lives in the house out by the entrance. She walks her dog down through the park several times a day, and night. I often run into her coming home late and get caught talking longer than I want to. She asks me for favors, gives me money off my rent. I never feel adequately compensated for the time and work involved, but, I just do it for favor, in case I do something that gripes her. Probably won't matter when it does happen. I open the door.

"Hi, Mrs. Wright," I say. "Is everything okay?""

"Yes," she says, "I just saw your light on and wanted to see if Caryanne was here. She said she'd paint my fence if I got the paint."

There ain't a light on inside or out. Mrs. Wright.

"I..."

I don't know what to say.

"I didn't know about that," I tell her. "I'll probably see her tomorrow or sometime this week."

"Okay, just tell her any time she can. I'm gonna put the paint on the porch and she can just do it any time she wants. I'll just put it on the porch."

"Okay. Yes ma'am. I'll tell her." I'm hoping the conversation is over. It ain't.

"Did you hear about those kids getting doped downtown?" she says. "Somebody's been catching little girls and doping them up! They had it on the news. This world's gone crazy! Gets crazier every day! Why when I was a kid we rode our bikes and played Hide & Seek 'til the streetlights came on. Some kids went home when the streetlights came on. Some of us stayed and played some more. It was safer then. I don't know if it was safer, but we didn't worry about it. You have to worry about it now! People have to watch their kids to the school bus, be there to meet 'em when they come home. Hell, they ain't safe at school either! This world's gone crazy! Gets crazier every day!"

"A lot of them aren't safe at home!" I observe. She doesn't comment on that. She prattles on. I'm wondering when Caryanne and Mrs. Wright made plans to paint the fence. I figure asking will open a whole new area of conversation. I'm just glad she's not raising the rent for having an overnight guest. I regret thinking that, putting that thought out in the universe where it might land in Mrs. Wright's mind.

Her dog is pulling at the leash. She gives a wave, turns and walks away. I pull the door closed. I'm back in bed when I hear her voice. She's talking to someone else, laughing loud. The dog barks. A voice is talking to the dog, sounds like that, 'Who's a good boy?' repetition people use when they're petting their dog or someone else's. It's...it's a woman's voice. There's a knock on the door. I get up, go more slowly than before. Peep out. Caryanne! I hesitate to reach and unlock the door. I don't know why. I do it.

"Hey," I say.

"Hey," she says. She crosses her arms. Her bike's leaning against her. She's in jeans and a tank top. She looks out toward the road. "I...I'm sorry to...come knocking. I thought I was good for tonight but...the place...I was going to stay...is...just not ready to spend time in. Can I...?" She stops, studies the ground, takes hold of her bike. "Can I stay here one more night?"

"Come on in," I tell her. I swing the door wide, point at a hanging basket with my unvariegated spider plant in it. "See that hanging plant back there, Caryanne? There's a key in the little water tray under it. If I'm not here you can just let yourself in." I don't know why I did that. "Bring your bike in. This is a bad neighborhood. People like me live here." She laughs, lifts the bike, sets it in. She has a small backpack, slings it off, hangs it on the handlebars.

"I had a place but...it's not clean yet. It's got a bathroom, just a stall shower, no tub, and no...shower curtain. I used it and got water all over the floor. It's a concrete floor but it just turned years of dust to a...slick gray mud. I can...fix it up...maybe tomorrow, or...it may take... a couple days." She leaves that hanging. Looks back toward the bedroom. "I don't wanna take your bed. I can sleep here on the couch. I did the other night and neither one of us got a good night's rest. Candy I need...I need a couple days. I can stay out of your way. I just need a place to sleep...safely...and...a place to keep clean... and I'll be out of your way...well...by...by Wednesday...maybe...or by the end of the week."

See? I knew it wouldn't be just one night. But...now...I'm okay with it. She helps people. I can help her. I can do something for her. And for Andrea. I'm...not... totally altruistic here; I...like having her...around.

She's asking. She's asking and I'm not averse to the idea. I gesture to the four walls, "Mi casa; tu casa," I say. I turn, go back to the bedroom. I slide the pocket door closed, except for a couple inches. The air circulation's better with it open. She's at the door as soon as I lay down.

"I'm gonna take a shower," she advises. "I worked up a sweat trying to get here before you went to bed." I say, 'Okay. Make yourself at home', and she goes about her business. I hear the water running, imagine her naked in there, try to close my eyes and sleep. I'm wide awake. I hear the commode flush. What a wonderful device. I've wondered what a struggle it must be for homeless people to find a place. I look at the clock, pick it up. The alarm's set for Monday morning. Tomorrow's Sunday. I turn the alarm on, figure I'll let it go off, just to make sure I didn't set it for P.M. instead of A.M. I've done that before. I figure I'll be okay, get to sleep in, relax on Sunday. My mind wanders, keeps coming back to hot water and tanned skin. I'm kind of dozing, that wonderful feeling when sleep claims you, when I hear the water go off. I see the light darken in the crack I left in the door, her hand on it, pushing it back, reach for my robe, duck back out, close the door, trying to be quiet. Hell girl! How'm I s'posed to sleep like this? I roll over, face the wall. 'Sleep," I say, in my head, repeat it, over and over, trying to drown out other thoughts. It ain't workin'! Then it is. The body knows what it needs. Sleep comes when the body has no option. The body insists.

I dream of a carwash. It's...like I'm working there. And a black Lincoln Continental pulls in. I can't see who's driving. It wakes me up. The trailer's quiet. I think I hear Mrs. Wright's dog bark. It usually barks three times, and quits. Bark! Bark! Bark! I feel sleep insisting again, and go gladly with it.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/06/23 10:20 PM.

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8. Posthumously Famous

Sunday morning, sunshine outside the back window; must be streaming in the front. I sit up, hang my head, put my elbows between my knees in a kind of stretch, come back up, intertwine my fingers, stretch my arms, over my head. My left shoulder gives a quiet 'pop!' My right hand bird finger pops too. I look at the door, wonder if she's out there. I want...to see that face. I stand up, slip into house shoes. I fish the clock radio out of the trash can. I remember knocking it in when the alarm went off. 'This is a test. If this had been a real alarm...' Eight-fifty-two. I got a pretty good night's sleep!

Oh. There's...my robe, hanging where...I hang it. I slide the pocket door, look out. No bike. No backpack. No Caryanne. I stop, wonder whether I should just go back to bed. No. I...I want to...go somewhere...do something. Take my guitar and go to the park and play, or down by the Colorado. I like playing in the open air, good to breathe, look around.

I splash some water on my face, brush my teeth, go back and lay down. I could sleep. I'm up again, pull on the same socks I wore yesterday. I pull on my jeans, my shoes, find a shirt. I wear these nylon pullovers. They're cool in the heat. Wind blows through. I pick up my guitar case, go out.

Caryanne's bike! It's there, behind my truck. I see the small backpack. I look around. There she is! Coming down the road. She waves, big grin. Damn she looks good in the morning sun.

"Hi!" she says. "I painted Mrs. Wright's fence! Three hours, and she paid me twenty-five dollars!"

"Three hours? You've been at it since six?" I say. Three hours and twenty-five dollars? I'm processing whether the...enthusiasm in her voice is positive or sarcastic.

"That's pretty good money for a side hustle!" she says. Positive.

"Great!" I say. "Now you can buy me breakfast!" She laughs, says,

"Yeah! I can! Where do you want to go?" I jerk my thumb back over my shoulder, say,

"Back inside and fry some eggs and bacon."

"Okay!" she says. I turn, wheel my guitar around to fit back through the door. We're in.

"Let me do it!" she says. "I make the best scrambled eggs in Texas."

"Okay," I say. "But I have to warn ya; I've had some very good scrambled eggs!" I add, "In Texas!"

"Sit down and play me a song!" she says. "Where were you going?"

I tell her what I just told you, the park, maybe down by the river, how I like to play outside, look, breathe.

She doesn't seem to be listening. Opening and closing the refrigerator, fooling with the stove.

"The bacon's in that green container in that upper drawer," I tell her. She finds it. I sit on a kitchen chair, unsnap my case, take out my guitar. I play "Blue Riser", an instrumental I wrote. She stays busy. I play another instrumental piece. She's putting the bacon back in the fridge, looks at me, the guitar, as she closes the door. She's leaning on the fridge like she did at the bar, talking to that customer, something, gangly but graceful about her. She's...got a kind of...athletic build. Beautiful legs, probably from lots of walking and riding that bike. She's listening, turns and works on the food.

I sing "Over The River Tonight".

She stays busy. I finish and she stops and looks at me, turns off the stove.

"Whose song is that? I never heard that before," she says.

"It's by Gary E. Andrews, also known as Candy," I tell her.

"Dude!" she says. "You wrote that? And those other tunes?"

"Yeah, them too," I tell her.

"Why ain't you famous?" she says, pretty grin.

"I don't know!" I declare, with false enthusiasm. In a calmer voice, a real voice, I say, "Fame is overrated though. I don't wanna be famous. Maybe after I'm dead. Then folks will leave me alone while I'm alive."

She laughs. Plates...she finds them in the second cabinet she opens, before I can tell her. Toast. Jelly. She puts them on the table. Eggs. Bacon. She opens the fridge and gets a tomato out of the door, the mayonnaise...around here they call it 'My-nase'. She's serving it on the table beside me. Goes back, gets a glass out of the dish-drainer, fills it with milk. She's fast, efficient. I'm ready to eat. She's filling her plate. I put the guitar in the case.

She comes, sits, grins at me. Starts eating. I like looking at her eyes, almost closed, looking down at her plate. Her nose...thin...comes to a nice point. I'm already enamored of her lips. She looks up, grins. I start eating. I look up. She's looking at me, looks down. I grin.

We're quiet. We eat. Look at each other every so often. I...enjoy it very much. Her scrambled eggs are the best in Texas.

She finishes before I do, gets up, goes to the sink, runs a little water in the dishpan. She washes her stuff, comes for mine, picks up my last bite of toast and puts it to my mouth. I take it. She's turned away by the time I look up. But...I'm starting to like...this...girl in my...house...my life. That worries me.

"I was hungry!" she says, and I immediately remember her saying 'hun'ry' when she was out of her head. "All that stooping and bending and stretching to paint that little fence wore me out. Mrs. Wright talked for about the first half hour. She finally took the dog for a walk." I listen. I like her voice. "I need to make up some time at the bike shop." She's prattling, thinking out loud. "I'm gonna go down and clean the street out front. We...I pretty much take care of our block out front, both sides of the street, keep the weeds pulled, sidewalks and gutters clean. I can straighten up out back too. They have a lot of junk bikes out there, spare parts. Larry told me it was getting too messy. He can't find stuff he wants. I'll see if I can organize it by brands. Clean up."

"Okay," she says. "I've gotta go find a shower curtain and a broom and some other stuff. You need to go play your guitar so you can get posthumously famous!"

"I have a shower curtain," I tell her.

"I can't take yours!" she says.

"No, I have one, just like the one that's up, with the dragon flies," I explain. "I was going to change it out, just to have a clean one, a new one. It's in the package there in the linen closet. I just haven't gotten around to it. There's nothing wrong with the one that's up, just needs to come down and get a good cleaning."

"Oh," she's thinking. She frowns a little. I like her...cogitating face. "I love those dragonflies! I'll take your old one down, put your new one up, and I'll take your old one to...my...new place."

I want badly to ask her about her new place. I don't get the chance. She's up, in the bathroom, singing "Over The River Tonight", sort of. She's got melodies, just not all the words. Some of them though! I like it! Earwormy enough to be a hit! ( www.garyeandrews.com )

The phone rings. I let the answering machine pick up. I don't get many calls 'for' me. Telemarketers, maybe someone else who wants something I don't want to do or even think about right now. It rings again. Caryanne leans out, looks. Goes back. Singing again. I like...The third ring is short; I wait for someone to speak. It's Tulane!
"We're not doin' much right now! Longview's slowin' down! But you be sure and call me if you come to town! Here's my new number." She rattles it off. I can't understand her. I don't...think I need to. I may listen later, try to write it down. If I still need work I may have to...call.

Caryanne comes out with the shower curtain, finds a grocery bag, puts it in. She's quiet. Her face is...I don't know...dark...not...bright and vibing positive.

We both go out the door, me and Caryanne. She waves, that cute little...self-conscious wave I...like...and she's off. I watch her body 'wield' the bike, zipping around potholes and gravel piles. She stops by Mrs. Wright's, straddles the bike, looks at the fence. I can see it from here. It's like...lime green! It's just two sections, one on each side of the walk, and the overhead trellis. She gets off the bike, kickstand, goes to the fence, looks like...she's picking up newspaper off the walk, wadding it up, putting it in the trash can. And...then...she's gone. I put my guitar in the truck, pull out, go by Mrs. Wright's lime green fence. Uhg! But...knowing who painted it, it has its merits.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/06/23 10:30 PM.

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9. Monday, July 3rd, 2023.

Later that night, Sunday night, she's back. Seems natural. We lay in the recliners in the dark, streetlights and moonlight in the windows light enough.

I go to bed at ten, set the alarm for Monday morning, July 3, 2023, and maybe a new job.

I get up. She's gone. I get ready, go. I arrive at the company about 7:30. I go by instead of going in. There's a cop car there, cop and a guy standing talking. I see three men moving around back by the pickup trucks. I turn around down the road, come back, pull in.

I maneuver to park, like before. They both come toward the truck as I get out. Lyrida comes out on the deck, smiles, waves, leans on her hands on the railing. I think it's a friendly wave, friendly smile, not a...smirk...and a...disarming wave while the noose closes on me.

"Gary E. Andrews?" the cop says. Uh oh! When they already know your name...

"Yes," I reply, stop and stand, wait for him to come to me.

"Did you bring a girl to the Emergency Room Friday night?" He's not asking a question he doesn't know the answer to.

"Yes," I say.

I don't ask questions, wait to see where he's going with this. This can't look good for the new guy looking for a job! Shee-it!

"What can you tell me about her?" The other guy's not saying anything, standing back a little.

"We found her down on..." I can't think of the name of the street..."Where the homeless people live...by the open air drug market." I mention the 'open air' factor to accuse the cops a little for not having more...I don't know...awareness...control...something.

"Who's 'we'," he says. I really don't like his tone. Am I in trouble?

"Uh, the lady...and her daughter...I don't know their last names," I realize. "Andrea. Andrea runs...she owns the Broken Places Bar & Grille, and her daughter Caryanne, who is...", how to describe her, "an advocate for the homeless," I explain. I'm reluctant to tell Caryanne's story but figure they'll ask for more if they need it. The other guy is listening. I'm not sure about his face. A little dark, hostile, a little just...hanging back.

"Why did you bring her to the hospital? What was wrong with her?" He's still not giving up anything.

"Caryanne had shown up at her mother's place and believed she had been given some dope in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by a preacher named Albert."

There. Bam! I've told what I know. I go on,

"We went back to the place where it happened and she saw the guy..." I want to just tell my own version, what I witnessed. "I saw him pulling on that young girl's arm, little kid, and the little girl trying to pull away. She looked like she'd been doped too. We...confronted him... and he ran." I skip to, "We got the little girl and she was out of her head...unconscious really...and she had peanut butter and jelly on her face. We figured he'd done the same thing to her as he did to Caryanne.
Some people think people don't belong to anybody so they can...get away with stuff." I'm editorializing. I skip to, "Caryanne picked her up...the kid was out...unconscious... She had stumbled back in the bushes, maybe murmuring a little but incoherent. She got in the back of my truck with her, Caryanne got in the back with the kid," I jerk my thumb over my shoulder at my truck. "We took her to the hospital. Caryanne had stuck her finger down her own throat to vomit the sandwich and whatever was in it. It was...she said it hit her hard and fast. She had a blood test and it came up fentanyl. So, on the way to the hospital she gagged the kid to get the stuff out of her. We...just...left her with the hospital. We didn't know who she was. They wouldn't tell us anything; privacy law."

I want to reference Tilda, who seemed to have authority at the hospital, a known entity, respected, a doctor. Her 'legitimacy' might bleed into my own. Again, I'm reluctant to...name names. I don't know if Tilda wants to be known in this mess.

"How about the other girl?" the cop asks.

"What other...oh...the...dead one?" I say. "She was brought in by an ambulance. I never saw her move or breathe. They...the EMT's...didn't seem to be in a hurry or try any life-saving stuff. I went and watched them take her out of the ambulance and saw she had peanut butter and jelly on her face too. Caryanne said the stuff hit her quickly, Caryanne, and she hadn't had anything else to eat that day, so she was sure that's what it was in the little girl. And probably the dead girl too. She was able to...after throwing up...to ride her bike...Caryanne... over to the Broken Places place and...that's where I met her. I was there, eating a late lunch." 'Drinking an early beer,' my inner voice says. I add, "First time I ever saw her." I don't know why. I'm scared, I guess.

"That's pretty much the story I have," the cop says to me, looks at the man. The man looks at the ground behind me. Cop says, "Do you mind giving me some information about yourself, just for the record?" I open my folder, hand him a resume'.

"Is there anything you need that isn't there?" I ask.

"No, no," he says. "This is everything. Thank you." He hands it back, says, "I already have a copy of this." I glance at Larida. She's still standing, smiling, placid. The cop and the man exchange a glance. I see it. Wonder why. Cop asks another question; "Why did you come here to apply for a job?"

"Uh...because...I...need a job," I explain. What a question! "I just got the address and phone number out of the phone book, and called, and, Larida...the lady...on the phone... gave me an interview. That was Thursday, for Saturday." I'm screwing my words around. I'm nervous.

"That's all I need," the cop says. He shakes the man's hand. The man puts his hands in his hip pockets, watches the cop go toward his car. He turns to me.

"I'm Alan Simpkins," he tells me. "The girl is my daughter. She's fourteen. You...you people saved her life."

Holy shittake mushroom! The girl...Alan Simpkins. Lyrida's smiling. He's not looking at her but she's motioning for me to come in. She turns, watching, opens the door, waits. I start walking that way, gesture to him. with my left hand, pointing that way, my right arm ushering him, at a distance. Alan Simpkins turns. Lyrida motions again. We go. He gestures for me to climb the steps ahead of him.

"Lyrida said you fixed the steps," he says.

"Yeah," I tell him. "I had that piece of treated wood in the truck. The cut end needs to be treated again. I brought a can of spray. Wouldn't hurt to do the whole rig, make it last an extra year or two.

Inside Lyrida's handing us both a cup of black coffee. She points to a brown leather couch. I go, sit there. He comes, sits on the other end. Lyrida's smiling, sits behind her desk, shuffles some paper. She keeps looking at him, looking at me, looking at him.

"Lyrida's already decided we should hire you," Alan says. "I make all the decisions around here and then Lyrida tells me what to do." He laughs. Lyrida makes a face, nods, affirming that fact.

"Ask him a question," Lyrida commands. He grins at her. She grins back, tosses her head at me, looking at him.

"What...uh...what can we do to advertise more?" He looks at Lyrida. She looks at him, drops her hands on the desk like...maybe...I think...maybe she thinks that's a stupid question and she meant a question about my qualifications.

It comes to me to say, "You have your name on all your vehicles. Turn the backhoe and the dozer parallel to the road so the name of the company can be read from the street. Or angle them, so the name can be read as traffic passes both ways. And keep the weeds pulled!" They both laugh. I sip coffee.

"Except for the morning glories," Larida says, without looking up. "I'm going to start parking over there."

Decisions. Alan makes...all... and then...Larida tells him... I...I think...I have...a new job! Poker face.

"Well," Lyrida says, again, not looking up, "You people need to get out of here and go to work. We're running late!"

"Let's go," Alan says. I get up, set my coffee on a small glass table there in front of the couch. He tilts his up and empties it, sets it there. We go toward the door. I wave to Lyrida. She grins, waves back.

"We'll get some paperwork tomorrow," Lyrida says. "We're running late already today." We go out.

Outside Alan introduces me to Captain Jack, his foreman, an 'Old Guy' carpenter from Louisiana, a.k.a. Cajun Jack. There are two other men Alan introduces as laborers, one he says, "Is a pretty good plumber," and the other, "A pretty good backhoe and dozer man!" We load into two trucks, Alan and I and the plumber in one, Captain Jack, the heavy equipment man in another, and out the gate we go. In about twenty minutes we're down in Buda, corner lot, converting an old bus station to an office and retail space, with a coffee shop on the corner. It's a fairly large job, changing a building from one use to another. They're well into it, plumbing, electric...Alan's the electrician...and a heating and cooling system looking complete.

"Time for walls," Alan says. He and I and Captain Jack go to a south facing window and he unrolls blueprints on a half sheet of plywood, painted white, on sawhorses, the floor plan, everything well explained. I see the fast food places all along the other side, Walmart sign on down the street. I ask some dimensions on the main hallway, the print being a little less than legible. Captain Jack pulls a pencil, writes them in in a space, labels it 'Hllwy'. I'm looking at the blueprints, the space.

We go to work on the coffee shop, and retail space. Then, Alan decides we should do the offices in the back first, so we can bring lumber in from the front, stack it, without anything in our way, walls. There are side doors in the two back corners, but making the turn past the utilities room there in the right center, would be aggravating on one, and the other one...well...Captain Jack says, "I just don't like it!"

They laugh. And coming off the street, or the parking lot on the other side and in the front would be easier, in their opinion, through the double front doors, which can be opened with no center brace. Cool. Whatever. Alan's apologizing but I make it clear I agree, or am agreeable to whatever they want to do. I have no problem changing gears. I kind of like that they rethought it and did so before we...painted ourselves into a corner, cut our options.

The offices go well. Captain Jack's got the floor marked for the base plates. The plumber is plumbing. All the rest of us are carpenter-ing. There will be one restroom on the left, behind the corner coffee shop, then the office in the back, and the same arrangement on the right behind the intended retail space. One side will be a ladies room between the office and the retail shop. The other side will have a men's room, between the coffee shop and that office. The plumbing fixtures are in the space, commodes. One has a urinal mounted to the wall and we use it, feel a little exposed with the glass on three sides up in the front, traffic going by, fast food places across the street. The blueprints show we're framing in lots of openings for glass on the coffee shop side of the hallway, inside the building. I like how I'm imagining that. But I wonder if the equipment inside the shop will need that wall. Some of it looks small, like the retail and coffee areas on both sides of the wide hall, wide as the double doors, but I'm not asking questions, second-guessing that level of planning.

We break for lunch. At a drive-in nearby we all get in line and order for ourselves. The plumber's in line in front of me and I hear him say to the pretty little woman in the window, "Baby, I got to looking in your eyes and forgot what I wanted!" He quickly orders a barbecue with slaw, and a chocolate shake. He hadn't forgotten at all. I'm snickering as she closes the window and he turns to grin at me.

"Does that ever work?" I say.

"It did one time; one time," he says. "That's why I keep trying it!" I have to laugh. I look at Captain Jack behind me and he shakes his head. When I see the girl's brown eyes I see it could just as easily have been a spontaneous inspiration. Very pretty. But...I've become...enamored...of blue eyes...lately.

As I'm walking away with my order I hear Captain Jack say, flatly, "Hey-Baby-I-Got-To-Looking-In-Your-Eyes-And-Forgot..." The girl laughs out loud! I nearly spit out my milkshake.

Back on the job we have the hallway wall up, on the left, spaces left for the doors, interior windows...they want natural light in there, and the back wall of the office leaving a hall for the exit, access to the door on that corner. We frame in the floor plates for the other office, again, leaving a space around the utilities room, a hall to the rear exit on that corner. That's the parking lot side and I suggest a glass door, to let in natural light. We're going pretty good when Alan asks, "Do you guys want to work a little overtime to get this part finished up tonight? We'll make good time tomorrow if we can come in and start the next phase."

Everyone says sure. I nod. We're working when I realize tomorrow's the Fourth of July. I don't care. I'll work it. I look at my watch, four twenty. Cool. I'm assuming overtime pays more, but I don't know. Nobody turned it down. I'm assuming overtime starts at five. I don't know. But I'm just glad to be back on a payroll. We get to the stopping point Alan sees...he makes all the decisions...pretty much what he said, where we can come in tomorrow, put in the electrics, and move on. I look at my watch. Damn! It's seven fifty two. Mental note; About three hours overtime.

In the truck Alan tells me Lyrida called to see how I did. I had heard him on the phone, say, "Knocked it out of the park!" He didn't say much else; short call. The only call I heard. I thought he was just talking about all of us getting done what we got done, which was a hell of a good job. Now I wonder if that was his assessment of me. Captain Jack's sharp as hell, "Measure twice; cut once," he says. And, "You can cut it shorter; you can't cut it longer." He would holler out measurements and I'd cut the boards and we didn't make any bad cuts. Between the two of us and these other guys, on the ball, ready with the next tool you need, the next piece of equipment or material...it rolled.

At the shop we get out and Alan hollers, "Who's working tomorrow? Fourth of July! You can have it if you want it. Holidays don't pay!" Captain Jack raises his hand. I raise mine. Plumber and Dozer-man don't. Head shakes, decline. "Okay," Alan says, "See you guys Wednesday," points at them, points at us, Jack and me, "you guys in the morning." Everyone heads for their vehicles. Captain Jack shakes my hand, grins. Plumber shakes my hand. I head for mine. Lyrida's gone. In my rearview I see Alan stop on the driveway outside the gate, get out, roll the gate closed. Okay. Behind me now. I head for home. Broken Places is closed by now, and further away than my turns, so I ain't goin' by there. Although...I kind of want to. But no. I'm damn it tired!

When I get to the trailer I see Caryanne out on the highway, arriving just ahead of me. She turns in. I'm...elated. She stops, looking at the empty carport, turns her bike like she's going to come back up the lane, sees me coming, straddle-walks the bike out of the way. I pull up to position to back in, roll down the window.

"Are you just getting in?" she asks.

"Yeah," I tell her. "We worked some overtime."

"You got the job?" she says. I tell her I did and she does a two fists arms up celebratory move, shakes her arms and...other stuff...jiggles. It's...nice to come home... and find her here.

I get out. She's still on her bike.

"Are you just getting here?" I ask.

"Yeah, I helped mom again with the lunch rush, and took leftover food down to the people. They're...desperate enough that a piece of hamburger or a container of leftover soup from a pot on the stove is not...repugnant to their...palate. Hell! They're starving, some of them. Then I went back to the shop and worked on bicycles. Time flies whether you're having fun or not." She grins, looks at the ground. I unlock the door, open it. I'm waiting for her to come. She sits there.

"You coming in?" I ask her.

"I don't know," she says. "I...I could probably...stay at...my place. That shower curtain worked." She's twisting her hands loosely around the handlebar grips, nervously, grinning. She's so damned cute! "Well...full disclosure," she says. "There was this...shiny...black beetle laying there, dead, in the middle of the room. I'd seen it. I knew it was dead. I haven't done a full sweep of the place yet. I don't have a broom. I...don't want to...borrow Mom's."

I'm thinking she's almost giving away her 'upstairs visitor' status by implying that borrowing mom's broom is logical due to proximity. I don't say anything. I'm imagining that long room, long as the bar, concrete floor...completely open? Sweep it, mop it, likely to clean up nice and stay clean.

"And... anyway, this thousand legger thing comes racing down the room!" she says. "I can see it in the sunset light from way down at the other end," ...she gestures with an arm wave, indicating far away, "...coming, and it's bookin'...really fast, zig zagging, coming, weaving, and it gets about this far..." She gestures with her hands about fifteen inches apart... "from the dead beetle...and it stops, stands there for a second, and then leaps! It leaps that far..." gestures again... "...onto that dead bug! Now, I ain't afraid..." she laughs... "...of dead beetles or even thousand legger thingies...except...when I know they can leap! I never knew they could leap! It was...scary violent!" I laugh out loud. "So...I'm a little freaked out about...that place. I gotta...decontaminate or...exterminate...a little before I'll...sleep comfortably there!" She's glancing at me, grinning. She looks shy.

"So, you need to stay here another night? I told you to make yourself at home," I tell her.

"Yeah, I need...sanctuary!" She laughs her lovely laugh, steps off the bike, rolls in. I open the door. She puts the bike in, goes in, bicycle shorts, very...attractive.

She declines food. I take shorts and underwear and a t-shirt into the bathroom and take a shower, come out. She comes through the trailer, toiletries in hand. I reach in the bedroom and hand her my robe. She grins, takes it, squeaks, "Thank you," goes in, showers. Comes out, asks, "Candy, can I...borrow some of those...briefs you wear? The ones with...legs?"

"Sure," I say, without really thinking about what she's asking.

"I saw the package in the bedroom, and they kind of look like bicycle shorts," she says. "I...don't have any underwear..." she confesses, "so I wear bicycle shorts all the time. I have four pairs but..." She doesn't finish. "I can take an old pair that...maybe are getting worn out for you."

"Take the three new ones left in the package, Caryanne," I tell her. "Take them... all three. I have plenty." I don't have plenty. That's why I bought six new ones. But I have enough. There's another 'homeless' worry. Your underclothes wear out, or...get soiled because you don't eat in a normal fashion, don't have a toilet to get to, and get surprised sometimes, and you can't just wash them...That costs money, your socks, underwear. Soon you're just wearing outer clothes, and it doesn't feel... comfortable, physically or psychologically.

"I don't..." she says, doesn't finish. She goes in the bedroom, closes the pocket door, comes out, the white legs of the boxer briefs, I think they call them, are longer than the black bicycle shorts. She's tugging at the bottom of the legs. I think it's sexy. I don't know why. But I do. Her legs are shapely, muscular. The little white cuffs... I don't know.

We talk. I tell her about Alan Simpkins and who his daughter is!

Her jaw drops open! She says, "You're shittin' me!", apologizes, asks for details.

I don't have much more. We talk about 'small world' and karma and she tells me about a karmaic circle concept (kar-MAH-ic), where an action or failure to act, words spoken or just thought, opens a circle that will come and close with you, behind you, for better or worse. She describes a bad karmaic circle as, 'Snapping shut on your ass!' I'm thinking about that when she asks me to play guitar. She lays in the recliner, covers up with one of my Mom's quilts, and falls asleep. I slip off to bed, reset the alarm. In the morning, just before the alarm goes off, she's there, sits on the side of the bed, pushes at my shoulder!

"I don't want you to go to Longview," she says. I think, I'm not sure, she says, "Or take me with you if you do." She must have heard Tulane leave the message on the answering machine.

I'm trying to form a sentence, point out I may have to, don't want to, but may have to. She's gone again. I hear the trailer door close.

The alarm goes off. Tuesday, July 4th. I have to get to work, but I had allowed for the possibility of giving her a ride to work. I'm early. I like talking to her. I like Mrs. Wright's fence. I...like that...she doesn't want me to go to Longview. I...really...like that...she...Did she say, 'Take me with you'? I'm... I can't think.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/06/23 11:03 PM.

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10. Candy's Got This!

Tuesday, July 4, 2023. Caryanne's gone, as usual, when I get up. Kid runs on little sleep. I miss seeing her in the morning.

I pack a lunch. I don't know what's open today, where we'll get lunch if I don't bring something. Just some celery, a couple radishes, a single slice of Dark Rye and one slice of ham, one Pepper Jack cheese. Some apple juice. Bottle of water. I'm off.

I see a kid on a bicycle. It isn't her. At the shop no one's there. I park. They show up. I go up by the trucks. We head for the jobsite, get there. Captain Jack starts laying out some projects for me and him. Alan goes to work running electric. We're back and forth to the blueprints, buzzing along.

Lyrida! Lyrida's at the door. She's in jeans and a t-shirt. For an older woman she looks very good. She moves with grace too. Her placid smile is ever present. She has some paperwork, waves it at me, gestures to the blueprint table. I go, sign where she tells me to. She explains everything succinctly.

"If you turn in a timesheet this Friday you'll get paid next Friday," she says. "After that payday is every two weeks."

Alan comes and they start talking about the work. I go back and help Captain Jack. They walk through the space. I can hear them talking. Lyrida's talking about how small the coffee shop and retail space are. I get the impression this is her place, her job. She's investing in this. There's more conversation I can't hear. They come to where we are and Alan says, "We'd like to meet Caryanne and Andrea. Can we go to the Broken Places Bar & Grille after work?"

"Of course," I tell them. "They're open 'til eight. I...I don't know if Caryanne will be there. She...works at a bicycle shop." I tell them the name. They've used the lock and key side, will use them on this job when it's done. "She's been helping with the lunch crowd," I tell them. "So she might be there at midday." I look at my watch; eleven-thirty-seven.

"Let's go there and eat," Lyrida says. "Now."

Captain Jack puts his hammer down, goes and washes his hands. Apparently he knows Lyrida decides what we're gonna do. Alan nods.

"I've decided we'll go there and eat," Alan says, grins at me. Lyrida turns and goes out the front door, turns right to the parking lot. I see the black Cadillac pull out, head the right direction. I wash my hands in the men's room. Alan's washing his in the ladies. We get in the truck and go. Captain Jack says, "I'm back on the clock in a half hour."

"Yes, Sir, you are," Alan says. I'm looking at him. "You too," he says. Okay. If this takes longer than half an hour we'll still be getting paid and paid for the ride back.

We're driving, riding along, nobody talking, and Alan says, "We're going by the office. Let's...let's knock off for the day. Full day's pay gentlemen. I just can't see coming back and getting much done."

Hey! I ain't gonna argue that. He pulls in, we get in our trucks and the caravan rolls. Arriving I see Lyrida's Cadillac parallel parking in the space a few doors down, before the Broken Places. Alan's ahead of me, and ahead of Captain Jack. He takes the next open space, beyond Broken Places, and Captain Jack takes one on down by the corner. There aren't any more so I turn right, head around the block to find something. Nothing close to the corner so I go on, thinking there might be one back down around the other corner behind Lyrida.

As I go by the alley I glance, see a black Lincoln Continental, doors open on both sides!

Two men are standing looking up! One is going up the fire escape, in the hoops!

I slam on the brakes! I hear tires screech behind me! I hadn't looked. I put it in reverse, back into the alley, go as fast as I can, backwards toward the back of the Lincoln! I get there, slam on the brakes! I'm out. As I step up Albert pushes the man there with him toward me, says something to him. The man brings up a pistol. I go toward Albert. The guy runs around the front of the car, gets between me and Albert! I recognize this little motherfucker! He's the guy who was trying to talk to Caryanne when she was doped up, the one Andrea said put the roofie in my beer! I'm betting the guy upstairs is the other one, bigger fella, muscle, cold-eyed, stone-face. They didn't just come to Broken Places for a drink! They were after Caryanne! Sons-of-bitches!

Caryanne! I hear her cussing! Took the words right out of my head!

"Sons-of-bitches!"

What's going on up there? I need to get up there.

"You need to call your man down here before he goes too far!" I tell Albert.

He smirks. His gunman smirks.

"You motherfuckers have already gone too far!" I say to them, look from one to the other. Suddenly I hear the door open up above. Albert backs up, around the right fender to the front of the car, all the way over to the far wall, looks up, grins. I hate that motherfucker!

Gun boy gestures with the gun, pulls at my shirt-front, and moves over by Albert. I slap his hand away, move toward him as he backs up. Gun boy's looking up there, gestures for me to keep coming, pushes me down the other side of the car by the open driver's door.

"Tell your man to come down here and walk away, Albert!" I say, "before it's too late." They laugh, again, look at each other. It's already too late. I'm gonna kill these motherfuckers! I don't know how! But if they don't kill me I'm gonna kill them! I'm looking around for a brick, a stick, anything I can strike a single blow with and put a son-of-a-bitch away!

"Bring her down here," Albert says to the man above. Caryanne struggles but that big son-of-a-bitch has her around the waist, off the ground. She's grabbing onto the railing, hooking her left leg through the bars. "Knock the [naughty word removed] out of her!" Albert says. The big guy starts pushing the ladder down with one hand, holding Caryanne off her feet with the other! Son-of-a-bitch!

The Gents door of Broken Places slams open against the wall!

Andrea!

I can't see her but I see the shotgun! She's got Daddy Dan raised, pointed right at Albert and Gun boy! Gun boy looks freaked! He swings the gun at her, looks at Albert, swings it back on me! Andrea hears Caryanne, peeps out, up, eyes back on Albert! She peeps out at me, back at Albert. She steps out, lets the door slam behind her, under the fire escape, sees the man, Caryanne. Caryanne's still, holding onto the rail, leg still intertwined.

"Go back in Mom!" Caryanne yells. "Candy's got this!"

What? Candy ain't got [naughty word removed]! What's she talking about? Candy's got a snubnosed 38 three feet from his nose! Andrea's got this! I just hope she shoots Gun boy before Gun boy shoots her!

"Hello Albert," Andrea says, squinting at him, her voice a controlled growl. Her voice quivers, vibrato, like her heart is beating hard and fast. "I was hoping we'd meet again some day."

"You don't know who you're messing with lady!" Albert says, quietly, menacingly. Andrea shakes her head, just a bit, like, 'Oh! Don't give me more reasons!'
I want to laugh! My knees are shaking. What the hell are we gonna do?

A black Cadillac turns into the alley! She comes rolling slowly down toward us! Gun boy's looking at Albert. Albert's making 'Be cool' gestures, both arms, palms down, up and down, up and down. I look at Andrea. She hasn't looked at the Cadillac, that I know of, gun trained on Gun boy.

Albert looks up, says, "Take her back inside!" and the big guy up there, wrenches Caryanne violently off the rail, throws her in, steps back out on the grid.

"Goddamn you!" I say to him.

Now he's got a gun in his hand, down at his side.

Andrea swings Daddy Dan straight up, shoots!

She swings the shotgun down! Shoots! I blink! When my eyes open Gun boy is bouncing off the brick wall and there is blood!

Albert's moving like he'd like to run in all four directions at once.

Out of the Cadillac comes Captain Jack, out the back door, behind the driver. He's out in front by the time Lyrida and Alan get out the front doors! Captain Jack's got a gun! Lyrida's got a gun! Alan doesn't have a gun but he's right in line with them! They come forward, spread out across the alley, Captain Jack on the right, Lyrida on the left, and Alan in the middle. Lyrida tells Jack, "You shoot the two on the ground! I'll kill the one on the fire escape!"

I feel like I'm gonna...piss my pants!

Albert turns like he wants to come my way. I wish he would. I wanna do a Caryanne Carryin' On pounding on his ass! Lyrida's on her phone. I hear three 'clicks'. I assume it's 9-1-1. She backs toward the Cadillac, just a couple steps, talking, big handgun pointed up at the fire escape the whole time.

Caryanne's out, over to the ladder, pushes it down, steps on it, coming down. She goes and hugs Andrea. They both begin to cry. Caryanne tries to talk, can't. Andrea tries, can't.

Captain Jack's got Albert bent over the hood of the Lincoln, tells me, "Find that [naughty word removed]'s gun!", throwing his head at Gun boy on the ground. I look around on the ground, don't see it. I look up under the Lincoln, and do. It's pretty well centered back under the transmission. I gesture to Jack. He nods, kicks Albert's feet apart, like cops do, says "How about you [naughty word removed]? You got a gun?"

I step over the...remains...of Gun boy. He's rolling and puking! Andrea and Caryanne are still crying, trying to talk, can't.

I look at Alan, motion to him. He comes up. We move over to the right side of the Lincoln where he can see Albert's face.

"Alan," I say, "this is the Albert you've been hearing so much about. Albert, this is the father of the girl you doped last Friday night. Alan doesn't have a gun with him today but I'm sure any one of these fine folks would be glad to loan him one."

Alan isn't laughing. Albert looks up, looks back down, leans on the hood with Jack holding him by the belt, his left leg braced between Albert's, his gun pointing right between the cheeks of Albert's ass! If he was a plumber it would be ready to put a bullet in the crack!

"Candy!" It's Caryanne. "Mom needs to go sit down!" I come, try to give Andrea a little support on the right, take the shotgun out of her hand. We go in. Lyrida, Jack and Alan stay outside. I step back to the doorway, tell them,

"Don't hurt him. We're bringing Albert to justice today." I look from face to face, Lyrida, Alan, just the back of Captain Jack's head. He's nodding. They all three nod. I hear sirens. Blood drips from above. I hear a groan. I see a gun laying on the grid. I come out, climb up. I don't have to step off the ladder to get it. I bring it down, lay it on the ground. Lyrida nods. She's talking to 9-1-1. I hear her say, "Yes, the alley behind." I see a cop car come in down behind her Cadillac. I go in. We're probably not gonna sell a lot of Angus burgers this afternoon.

I lay the shotgun on the end of the bar. Andrea's sitting in a chair at the first table there. Caryanne's sitting next to her, real close, holding Andrea's hand. Andrea motions for me to come closer. She's fumbling with her left hand in the breast pocket of that black leather vest, comes out with two shotgun shells.

"Reload for me, Candy!" she says. I laugh. Caryanne says, "Mom!"

Andrea grins at her, reaches to hug her. "Honey, go lock the door. We're a goddamned crime scene today! We ain't open 'til tomorrow. Maybe this afternoon."

I watch her go. Damn. I like watching her, going and coming. So I do.

I'm eager to ask her what the hell she meant by, "Candy's got this!"

But that can wait...for another time. There will be...other time.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/06/23 11:42 PM.

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11. Best Scrambled Eggs In Texas

The cops raid Albert's place. There, locked in a god damned gas station bathroom, is a seventeen year old girl from Marshall, Marshall, Texas, who says, to the cops, and later to the media, at a press conference Mayor Daimler and the girl's lawyer, and the girl, hold with the media at Albert's 'church'. Her lawyer, speaks briefly, then tells the girl to tell her story. She does.

"Albert and his two men have been bringing men here, using me... using me themselves. They bring me inside, make me...they use that old car inside for... It has a big back seat." She turns, awkwardly, points to the garage door behind her. "They take me to cheap motels to clean up, shower... They have a woman come to do my makeup. I...don't know how to...do makeup. It's...so expensive. She puts pretty dresses on me, and delivers me in a limousine, to the high-price hotels, where men...use me. One woman," she says. The makeup woman has not yet been identified.

"Thing is," her lawyer says, into a bank of microphones, "two of the men who were brought to her, here in Albert's gas station 'church', separately, but in the same night, were men she recognized!"

"One was the Juvenile Judge, Judge Kirchener," the girl alleges, "and the other I think is a cop or sheriff's deputy." It's the Judge's Bailiff.

The District Attorney comes down the street with a Sheriff's Department escort, siren, lights flashing, bails out and rushes over and tries to horn in on the Press Conference, saying,
"Oh! Her lawyer's just having her make stuff up to excuse her part in this scheme!
She's been coached to make it more sensational than it is!
She's trying to play the victim card!"

I don't like his ass! Everyone wonders at his motives.

Her lawyer doesn't argue. She pushes some of the media microphones at the D. A
The media go for it.
The D. A. repeats the allegations word for word...for...the record!

"Sounds like he's been coached," I say to people around me in the crowd. Some laugh, some simply affirm agreement. Caryanne does both.

Her lawyer says, "Well, she's really good at it, because there are Court Records showing she was sentenced by this Judge to a juvenile facility, and the Bailiff was in the Court on that date. She picked them out of a photo-lineup! She's even got a cufflink that matches one found in the Judge's office by investigators. She found it after he left the hotel room...on a second visit...one of those makeup and pretty dress visits... and kept it, and hid it from her captors. And the accused, one Albert 'Shoes' Melvin was a frequent visitor to that juvenile corrections facility, alleging that he comes there to save these children from a life of sin. Staff there say he only seems interested in saving little girls. Boys can go to hell!"

She's firey; this lawyer! Red head! Texas girl! She pulls the girl back, consults quietly with her.

"I'm very concerned about this level of corruption," Mayor Daimler says, "gentlemen we entrust to wield the Government authority of Law, the Law of the Land, consorting with sexual predators and human traffickers, known criminals with long records of a lifetime of illegal associations and activities. One wonders how widespread the corruption is. One wonders, 'How long has this been going on?'."

The girl's Attorney stops talking. The Mayor stops. All the reporters turn their microphones to the District Attorney. His face gets very red. He sputters, stutters, says some words that are audible but unintelligible. He turns and storms off, his sheriff's office escort, following his lead, he stops, starts to come back, his escort does too, the media turning away, turning back to give him his 'day in court', but he stops and goes back, and so does his escort. The lights go off. No sirens. The crowd watches in silence as they back up, turn, and go away. Someone laughs. Many people laugh. Some shout obscenities!

Two days later, the District Attorney 'recuses' himself from involvement in the prosecution of the case. It's about two weeks later when he announces, "I've decided to resign to spend more time with my family." I think the tangled web wove right up to his door. Maybe they couldn't prove his connection, but...

Albert's ass is in jail, not likely to ever get out unless some corrupt Governor pardons him. His lawyers...he has three...say there will be an appeal.

Tilda tells us, in confidence, so don't tell anybody else, that Gun boy lost his right nipple and some of his right arm and shoulder muscles. He won't get out of jail for a long time, if ever. That 'gun arm' will never serve him fully again.

Big man on the fire escape; Ooo! There was a saying...I don't hear it any more..."I'd give my left nut to..." whatever. Well, Big man got some buckshot through the grid of the fire escape, tore up his left calf and thigh and right testicle... We refer to him as 'Lefty'. His ass belonged in jail a long time ago. 'Career criminal' the media call him, listing his... What do they call it? Rap Sheet of crimes? He's not likely to get out either.

Caryanne petitions the City Council to start a Homeless Registry, simply offering for people to Register, get their names on an official record, through City Police and other help organizations. She tells them, "Don't make it compulsory. These people have good reason not to trust us, not to trust other Citizens, society, Government representatives, Law Enforcement, or holy men. They've been let down by society. It's our responsibility to earn their trust and assure them they are not giving information to the very people who will use it to hurt them. They're hurt enough. They don't need more predators, wielding Government authority to prey on them."

Some of those words, 'wield Government authority', are mine, stuff she and I have talked about, and she has used at City Council meetings and in conversations with the Mayor. 'wield Government authority'. The Mayor uses it now. The media use it now.

Some Sheriff's Office personnel ..the County Sheriff's Office runs the Juvenile facility...found to be 'affiliated' with Albert 'Shoes' Melvin, are not allowed, prohibited by a new City Ordinance from representing themselves as official Homeless Registry entities. Investigations are ongoing. "...still ongoing..." as the newspapers and television people like to say. I try to teach them to just say 'ongoing' and leave off 'still'. I'm with the Grammar Police. No success so far. Some of them say 'still continuing'. Makes me nuts!

Mayor Daimler takes an interest, takes the twin abandoned buildings across the street from each other, right where Supergirl pounded on Albert, by Eminent Domain, and one more right in the Open Air Drug Market, and puts a Police Station in it. Housing for the homeless is developed in the buildings, with helping organizations in offices on the ground floor, efficiency apartments on the upper floors, intended to be temporary, and just a 'stepping stone' to more permanent lodging. It starts working immediately, folks able to get jobs, get Social Security, move out, plenty of new folks moving in. Plenty stay out in their tents and cardboard shacks, but there's movement.

There's a clinic. Tilda and other doctors come. Caryanne gets donations of women's hygiene products, other stuff, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hydrogen peroxide, bandaids,condoms, aspirin. There are couples down here, families with children. There's a woman with five children, the youngest a babe in arms. There is mental health counseling, medical help. Legal help. Help.

Food trucks come, give leftovers at the end of their workday elsewhere.

Other 'holy men' and women come around. People are watching. Caryanne suggests, to me, anyway, a 'holy man' Registry.

There's a Day Worker Registry where companies come to find temporary help when needed. People voluntarily 'register', giving their names, getting the names of the employers, so no one disappears going off with a stranger to work somewhere on a farm or in an oil field or anywhere. It hasn't happened here but...forewarned is forearmed. Caryanne says, "A gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure." She took it metric for the City Council. I laughed quietly, to myself. People listen when Caryanne talks! I'm proud of...Well, I have no right to be proud of her. I'm proud to know her, a remarkable advocate for...The People, The People of Austin, Texas!

There is training for people in medical documentation, training in construction, basic tools. I brought a woman to work and showed her some basic carpentry. She liked it, said she wanted to learn more. We're trying to get her hired somewhere. Simpkins Construction isn't able to hire her right now. Alan's trying to spend more time at home, with his family. Lyrida is his father's second wife. He passed away, left Lyrida the company, and she split it 50/50 with Alan. She declined her lawyer's advice to go for a 51% share, saying, "This man is the man I saw work this business for years, building it, being it. His father left it to me out of love. I'm sharing it with his son, out of love. He has a family to take care of and does. Alan IS Simpkins Construction. We consult on all big decisions and it's working." They make a great team.

There's some training in basic electricity, women learning to sodder for local tech companies, seamstress work, repairing clothes, maybe starting up a neighborhood business doing it. It's...there's so much going on down here. I come down and pull weeds, play guitar, taught a kid a G chord...He's got his late father's Gibson guitar! Lives in a cardboard shack! I pick up litter, but there's not much litter, and not many weeds any more. I see homeless people taking care of that stuff.

The trash piles in the little forests where they build their hovels are cleaned out and look like little parks, with pathways, lighting, electric for primitive camping, toilet facilities, a central water source. Not everyone gets the word before they come here that they can be helped. They stay pretty full...the little parks...but people are steadily moving on, getting their lives back.

Caryanne's down here several days a week, connecting people. We go together on the weekends, 'occupy the night' she calls it. I play guitar. She sings with me on some songs she likes, gives me head shakes and funny looks on ones she doesn't.

Andrea hired Simpkins Construction to open up the two big arches on the Broken Places ground floor, just tearing out the cinder blocks. She owns the whole building, not just half of it, and Broken Places Bar & Grille is now Broken Places Cafe & Grille. We tore off the plywood and opened up those ground floor windows, let the light in. It's not a dark beer joint. It's a cafe. Hanging plants, unvariegated spider plants, other stuff.
She had us build a New Orleans-style balcony out over that big wide sidewalk, which cut the light out, keeping late day sun off the windows until late. She has tables out there along the front of the building. Hanging plants along the outer edge make it elegant, in my opinion. I like sitting out there and eating giant hamburgers with giant slices of onion! And, if she remembers to bring it, tomato soup. People act like it's a secret recipe! But it's just canned soup! It's good!

Andrea had the upstairs remodeled, a big open space, those two arches upstairs like down, still open from when the place was built in 1896, the concrete floors put in in 1953, old wooden ones rotted away when the original roof leaked. She and Joe live there! There's a small elevator in that far corner in the other section, for Joe's wheelchair, and a stair-lift too. Joe can roll right out on the balcony, with a little help. Likes it out there. He can't say...or do...much, but...Andrea says he likes it out there, and she would know. Andrea takes care of him. She has help from hospice.

The stairs are wide, up that far wall, elegant carpentry, there in the new half of the Broken Places Cafe...& Grille. Someone said Thomas Jefferson's son, James, son of Sally Hemmings, built the stairs. No one knows who said it but the rumor gets retold. I do know for a fact the original teller never tells it any more, just looks awed when someone else does. Some say we should apply to get the building on the Register of Historic Places, or something. You can see the original window openings, this building originally built free-standing, not up against others. The brick arches over the windows are beautiful. The building to the south, toward the capital building, is only one story so Andrea had us tear out the cinder blocks that had closed those windows up at some time in the past, and put in new windows on that side. You can see the capitol dome, lit at night.

Andrea put the neon beer signs up in her apartment. "They're art too," she told me.
The big white electric sign is gone, and just two wooden ones hang on each end of the new balcony. I made them, Caryanne consulting on the little flourishes in the lettering, making them beautiful, with a router, hung them myself.

I mop the floor at least once a week. It doesn't smell like stale beer any more. Folks come from miles around to enjoy the cuisine. She still serves alcohol, but her main business is food, a simple menu, and that's all the customers really want. That and some charming conversation, and Andrea's a charmer.

I wanted to tell her she didn't need to say '& Grille' any more, just 'Broken Places Cafe', but...I'm trying to mind my own business more and leave other folks alone.

The booths are gone; it's all tables now, with white table cloths. I can still see one booth, in my mind...Caryanne...dirty face Carryin' On Caryanne...tomato soup.

I love this place!

Sometimes they have soirees, hosting the arts, music. Artists, painters, have shows, a gallery, downstairs and up, if the artist can fill it, to help local newbies get known. There's always art on the walls, stays until it moves somewhere else, to show, or sold. The Mayor came here for some fundraising. Folks like looking out the windows, down south toward the capitol dome at night.

I play here, hosting an open mic on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. It's catching on. Media give us attention, write articles, interview kids, older folk who come and play their songs, recite their poetry. The university people show up, introduce themselves, talk about 'roots', 'influences', music history, old country, like European old music, and new music. Professor Simon heard me play, "We Could Use A Little Rain" and, when I finished, asked, with enthusiasm, "What are your roots?" I never thought about it. I'm sure I was influenced by everything I ever heard, music, literature, life. I told her, "I just write songs." ( www.garyeandrews.com)

Some of the empty buildings up and down the block are opening boutiques, clothing, candles and knick-knackery, a video game place, a music store. They're repairing roofs and renting upstairs apartments to students, some of the previous homeless people are finding places here. The guy who runs the hardware store next door says he's getting more business. He's an old school know-what-you-need hardware store; not a chain. His daughter intends to take over the business when her Dad retires. He sells bicycles he gets from Caryanne's Bicycles Everything guys. There's an old drugstore slash bodega on the corner down the street. That lady says her business is up too. Nothing happening at the other corner, up the street...yet. Great building, two-story, garage in the back with a loading dock. Someone will put it back to work. You hide and watch!

I sweep the street gutters, the sidewalks around the whole block, pull weeds. Little things matter. Pride of place. Folks take better care of the sidewalks and streets, the simple stuff, leaving the city to take care of more complex issues. I like the new trees they're planting in the round holes in the big wide sidewalks that probably had trees long ago, but have just been weed-gardens for years. The city Shade Tree Commission consults on what kind of trees will be best.

Hey! Nobody pees in the alley any more; new Gents toilet, formerly the Ladies, new Ladies over in the other half of the building now. The other half's back door is glass. Money's tight, 'cause Andrea's spending it! She didn't have any trouble getting a loan. Everybody knows who shot the sons-of-bitches! And they respect her for it. Austin. Austin, Texas.

Captain Jack cooks some good Cajun dishes on special days, and nights. Andrea thinks he's the 'coolest old man you'd ever want to meet'. They often dance, spontaneously, passing each other serving food, in the middle of the Cafe with customers watching and applauding. It's...a wonderful...uproar! I look forward to it. They can dance, that old style hand-holding, twisty...jitter...I don't know what. Just as quickly they get back to serving food, makin' money!

Caryanne?

She moved into her Dad's house, where Andrea and Joe moved out, where she grew up. Now that I know her I don't think she's ever been unhappy. She's chronically happy now, that face...that face breaking into a dimpled grin as soon as I see her. She's painting the shutters, beautiful out in the Texas sun, got me sanding floors. They're in good shape. It's easy. We'll be done in about a week, ready to...do other things...with our time. Time! Hah! The ever-elapsing moment of now. There's none wasted, none simply spent. It's all invested, with an expectation of Return-On-Investment (ROI).

Caryanne still works at the bicycle shop, side hustles for Mrs. Wright, building steps for trailers (She has a carpenter who helps her!), assembling car ports, painting fences. It's purple now. Really ugly. I love it.

I hate to tell Mrs. Wright I'll be moving out. I've...found a better place, where the prettiest girl in Texas makes the best scrambled eggs in Texas.

Song: "Stranger To Myself" copyright April 6, 2023 by Gary E. Andrews.


“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 07/07/23 06:08 AM.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? www.garyeandrews.com
Joined: Dec 2006
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Joined: Dec 2006
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I keep thinking about this one.


There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? www.garyeandrews.com

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