Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
(page 3 of 15)
Ray found the tent. It was packed tightly in a small army-green nylon stuff sack. It was backpacker's tent, lightweight and compact. It fit right in his daypack.
“Thanks, August. I don't know what I would have done without you. I can go anywhere now.”
“Don't mention it. I'm glad to get rid of it. I just hope it isn't full of holes!”
“You know, I really appreciate the ride too. I was getting kind of discouraged out there. I'd been hoisting my thumb since early this morning. There's not many friendly people around.”
August nodded in agreement. He always picked up hitchhikers—unless they looked drunk or stoned. He was an idealist. He wanted the people in the world to take care of each other. Most of all he wanted happiness, not just for himself, but for everyone. It was the music now, the music was the thing he could give away—absolutely free for anyone who wanted it. That was his way. And rides, he couldn't pass on a chance to help someone. His daughter would scold him if she knew. So he resolved, even though he really liked Ray and would like to tell her about their conversation, he wouldn't mention him to her. 'At your age? Pickin' up strangers? Are y'all crazy or somethin', Papa? Lord, I swear, the older you get the sillier you get!' No, she wouldn't understand.
“Sounds like Key West all right. Anyway, if things get any worse around here, I'm thinking about moving to Cuba. Only thing is I'll lose my veteran benefits.”
“What's wrong with Key West? Seems like paradise to me, I mean for an artist or a musician.”
“Used to be a busker's town. It' all changed now. You can't fart on Duvall without a permit. Used to be musicians—good musicians too—we'd have all-night jams, right there on the street, and big crowds, people who just came for the music. Now its all T-shirt shops and $5-a-scoop ice cream. If you don't light your cigars with dollar bills, you can't come to Key West—it don't exist for you.”
August looked over the steering wheel as if for some fact he might have omitted. After a moment he continued.
“It's happening all over. They ruined the French Quarter too. New York's Fulton Street, Baltimore, Philly, you name it. A lot of good musicians and artists can't afford to live now. They won't be happy till we're all flippin' burgers.”
“I saw lots of performers—too many maybe—down at the square last night.”
“Oh sure, if you got the money you can buy a license. Then you get to crowd into Mallory Square with about a hundred others and try to get your living in an hour while the sun's settin.' What kind of shit is that? A license to make music? No thanks! I'll take my chances on the street. In Cuba there's music everywhere. Not much money, but lots of music. You know the more I think about it...”
August examined Ray from behind his wire-rimmed sunglasses, exposing large brown irises floating in a milky-white sea.
“Ever had a mango shake, Ray?”
“No, I don't think so.”
“There's a little place up ahead I like to stop. Best fruit shakes in the state. Grow all their own stuff. What do you say? My treat.”
The two men were quiet for the next few miles as the car passed over a series of slender bridges skirting deep blue bays and inlets. The roadway occasionally drifted toward the horizon, brushing against the tropical Atlantic then suddenly receding behind thick mangrove jungles. While Ray and August were speeding up the coast, those mangroves were determinedly moving outward, thrusting roots deep into a hostile medium, plunging down, taking hold, anchoring the rootless seedling. In its struggle for survival the mangrove begins to gather soil around itself, creating a tiny island. Its unrelenting effort will eventually change the contour of an entire coastline. Restless bits of leaf and stem expanding a continent, reducing the idea of permanence to an illusion created by time and falsely witnessed by men. At a roadside picnic table they sipped their shakes under the shade of two royal palms.
Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part III continues...