Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
by Bill McLaughlin,
“I'm sorry, Dolores.”
“Hey Ray, look, I'm sorry too, I just get...”
“It's all right.”
“Have a good sleep. Suarte amigo. Good luck in Miami tomorrow.”
“Thanks. I won't forget this—any of it. I promise.”
He walked slowly toward the black outline of jumbled shacks a few hundred yards away. He found a grassy patch, smooth and level. The moonlight was sufficient to assemble the tent. He crawled inside and was glad there were no big holes. The roof of the tent was made of netting and when he laid down he watched the stars and tried to find Orion's belt and the Milky Way. The night air was cool; he covered himself with his poncho and wrapped his sneakers in his shirt for a pillow. He watched as the moonlight dappled the sides of his tent.
And that night two men laid down to sleep. One man, in clean sheets and familiar surroundings, lay in the dark thinking again about missing comrades, thunder and sunbursts, mangled instruments and players. He silently cursed his inability to talk about it. Even after all these years, he could not bring himself to admit that what he had seen was real. And he could not forgive himself for getting out alive.
The other man closed his eyes and listened to the sound of crickets and cicadas, felt the cool earth beneath him. He had no time for the past. He was haunted by the present, by a thin troubled voice that tried too hard to sound gay; by a little song that was made for happiness but reaped only sadness. And before the two men slept they thought briefly of each other, sadly realizing that they would never meet again. And what they dreamed was never better or never worse than what they lived.
Ray awoke at first light. He couldn't remember the last time he had slept all night outside. His back was stiff and he felt dirty. He wanted a hot shower and a cup of coffee. He unzipped the tent and crawled out into the day, already warm, and into the middle of an endless row of tomato seedlings, plastic row covers—and alarmingly close—an enormous, spindly irrigation machine on wheels, wide as a football field and spitting out a fine mist of water and chemicals as it slowly rolled toward him.
In the distance he could see lines of workers, stooped over plants. They were dressed in bright colors; some wrapped their heads in cloth, wound round like turbans. Others wore straw hats, neckerchiefs, and bandannas. Yet others were bareheaded and their black skin gleamed in the bright morning air. The sun had already pried itself from the edge of the world and was bearing down upon these women and men and children.