Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
(page 2 of 16)
An hour later, Ray was still sitting on the curb on Cesar Chavez Drive sucking a peppermint. No cops had come, no security people. Nothing around, just the small, sad-looking young maples stuck in the ground like toothpicks, neatly arranged by some anal landscaper. Suddenly he noticed the girl, the receptionist, was standing over him.
“Do you need a ride somewhere?”
Fiona was from British Columbia. She had come to Asheville with a boyfriend who had since left her for a hike up the coast. She got a job at the Biltmore. Got fired for having too much attitude and too little aptitude for kissing the abundantly ample, well-rounded butts of wealthy tourists.
“Man, you're the first interesting thing that's happened to me in six months,” she told him.
“Christ. You probably think I'm off my head. You don't have to be nice to me. I know what I'm doing... what I've done.”
“What are you still sitting here for?”
“I'm waiting to get arrested.”
“Arrested? Are you kidding? They're not gonna arrest you, man. We had a guy in here last week throwing baby powder around the lobby, screaming, 'You fuckin' sonsabitches. Y'all got the amtrax now, you bastards!' He had a big manila envelope filled with the stuff, just taking fistfuls out and tossing it in the air. The funny thing was, in like one minute, he was covered in it—the whole place smelled like a nursery. Him they arrested. You've got no worries, dude.”
Now he noticed her for the first time; her black hair, nutmeg skin, dark eyes: a northern girl. Alert, Nordic eyes like pulsing stars in the winter sky. Eyes made for catching the flutter of a hawk's wing or the mercurial quiver of a pine marten beneath freshly fallen snow. Without words, she spoke of split wood and running sap, searing coals and the deep, sweet peace of midnight sweats. Those solemn eyes and steady hands only hinted at the broad current that ran beneath her surface; a secret river flowing through a stale and stagnant landscape. Standing there with Ray, she transformed the curbs and streets and lawns. The spindly red maples became ancient elders, the predictable grass turned to wildflower prairies thick with caribou moss and lichens, the pavement shrank until it was no more than a thin black line dividing the wild from the civil.
But there was a sadness also. A sadness born of the fluorescent, make-believe jungle; of eyes wounded by the false blue light; trapped for months in that sterile space without rain or wind or clouds. A box where the temperature never changes, the light never dims, and where no living being can ever feel at home. She sits there—for money—with her Nordic eyes and asks, “Can I help you?” And everyone is satisfied.
Downtown, on the top floor of a three-story brick walk-up, they sat in her studio eating home-made pizza. Her apartment was so sparsely furnished, it seemed to Ray that she had not yet moved in or was at that moment nearly moved out. He said so and she reminded him of his former life, just two days old; reminded him of all the possessions he willingly abandoned for a cramped and dirty seat on the Greyhound.
In the center of the large room was a potter's wheel. The hardwood floor was covered with slivers and shards. Earth-colored cups and bowls rose around them like a relief map of a lumpy lunar surface. They sat on bean bag cushions, eating and talking.
“Why are you doing this? Being so nice to me?”
“Hey, I'm a traveler too. Just not right now. Don't worry, you'll get a chance to give it back. Just don't ask for more than you need and you'll get it. I promise you. And once you get it, make sure you give it away.”
Ray looked at her with a million questions building behind his brown eyes. The corners of his mouth curled like question marks. She sensed his confusion.
“I know it sounds freaky but it's true. You just need to throw yourself out there. Think of it like a river. You need to find your way into the center of the stream. If you hang on to the shore, grabbing at every tree stump and root, the current will rip you apart, bring the roiling, abandoned debris of civilization crashing down over your back, splitting your skull with the hard cold steel of ambition, competition, and greed.”
Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part II continues...