not finished yet. Homeless man prepares to enter into a comedy competition
|"Get off me, damn skeeters," Darnell yelled, "You don't take no more of me." In a rush of motion he swatted at his arms, crushing two of the little bloodsuckers. Where he had smashed them into flattened insect parts, red dots appeared, proof that they had died engorged on him. At least they died full, thought Darnell. That was a consolation. He figured no one should die hungry. Life was hard enough.
In that moment between sleep and wakefulness, he argued whether or not he could make a joke out of it. Maybe he could call himself a food bank for all the hungry homeless mosquitos. It could be funny, if he delivered it in the right way. The Laughbox's competition was set for tomorrow, and the thought of the impending date hung over him and sent shots of adrenaline coursing through his limbs. Lauren was going to be there. She said she might bring Chelsea. He laid there, his eyelids comfortably closed, imagining the stage. In reality, it was a small collapsable platform in the corner of a pub, but that's not the stage Darnell imagined. His was grander than that, with wooden floors and bannisters that went all the way up to the ceiling. From a thick iron bar, hung a heavy velvet curtain, which was the deepest color of red. Rows upon rows of chairs spread out in a semi circle around the stage, and the hot white lights were all on him. He was center of semi-circle. Everyone was watching, even the bartenders, cheering when he came up and greeted the crowd with a roguish tip of his fedora. He had them chuckling with the first joke, and laughing their asses off by the third.
Lauren was in the front row, skinny and sexy like she used to be. She gave him a look that said, "I want you, baby. Later, after the show." At this, he grinned, and gave a sly wink. Chelsea was sitting in the next seat, eight years old, like the last time he saw her. Not some twenty-year old stranger he could hardly recognize. No, she still had the same pigtails, thick braided cords of glossy black hair, smiling her smile of baby teeth, which were all jacked up in a cute sort of way, with inverted front teeth and one or two missing lower ones. There in the crowd, she could see how much everyone loved her daddy, which made her love him even more. She was proud of him, too. Of course she was proud.
This pleasant daydream ended as another mosquito dipped its syringe into his flesh. He slapped his arms again and let out a string of curses.
"You skeeters always suckin' on me with them needles" he yelled, "you eating me up, but I ain't no food bank." Needles. It was always needles, following him everywhere, in his thoughts and dreams, pricking him between his toes and knuckles, tickling the inside of his elbows where the scars were. Always trying to suck him dry, to take away his life, one bit at a time. They'd suck away the memories of Lauren and Chelsea if he let them, he knew, but he wouldn't let them. "You ain't takin' that bit of me, you damn needles," he said.
"Shut it, Darnell. People's sleepin'." Uncle Ro said this, laying just a couple feet away on the old pile of blankets they shared, the soft tones of exhaustion still in his voice. At the same time, he kicked out at Darnell's thigh with a sneakered shoe.
"Ow, what was that for?" said Darnell, more surprised than hurt. "I was stoppin' already." Uncle Ro's only response was to roll over and go back to sleep.
Darnell went quiet, but the mosquitos kept at him and he couldn't sleep or concentrate on his daydreams, so he got up and looked around. He could hear Uncle Ro snoring softly, his head propped up by a towel, and half a cigarette tucked away behind his right ear, to smoke whenever he woke up. That wouldn't be for a long time though, not until the afternoon. Uncle Ro was a crackhead. Not the bad kind, he didn't ever offer to suck anybody's dick for a fix. He just scored when he could. Darnell was trying to get him clean, since he himself was respectable now. He had gotten clean in prison, and learned to stay that way in the halfway house. He was trying to make Uncle Ro respectable too, but yesterday Uncle Ro scored big after he and Bill Nubbins sold a backpack full of electronics they'd "found." Uncle Ro was a space cadet for a glorious five hours then, red eyed and happy, grinning like a child caught stealing candy. The poor lucky bastard.
They had slept on the grass under open sky that night, since it was warm and rain wasn't likely, but they camped close to the bridge just in case. The wind still brought the smell of the place to Darnell, the stale piss, bat and pigeon feces, and the clammy mud smell of caves and other dark places. Even despite its smell, the bridge was a reassuring object for him. Supported by tall concrete pillars, it bisected the the shallow green-brown waters of the bayou, which slinked their way between giant slabs of fallen concrete and piles of trash and sticks. Every minute or so, the whole structure would thrum as a car passed over it, sending the sound and vibration into the ground. Soon, as morning rush descended on downtown, this occasional thrum would turn into a continuous buzz and roar, a pulsating concrete womb.
On the banks under the bridge, there were the sleeping, farting, grumbling mounds of about ten other hobos, children of the concrete womb. Most of them were equipped with sleeping bags or blankets. The old man Sunny had nothing though, but he said liked it that way. He had a bit of the crazy in him, Sunny did. Skinny and knobby where the bones stuck out, with scraggily hair and wild beard, he looked crazy too. Darnell had never seen him eat anything before. He never even saw Sunny at the shelters or the food lines.
"Wealth is bad for us. You get me? Wealth is bad." Sunny once said this to Darnell. Darnell of course disagreed, but said nothing. He knew not to openly disagree with the crazy, to let it go its own way, like a tornado, until it fizzled out. Sunny continued. "Empa-Ethical-Especially? What's the word? It leaves me. It's a temptation, hear? Tempting an idling and sinful life. We the flies in the trap. Need to cast off the sticky web of possession, just like the Webber says. All hail Mad Max! Ha ha." Then Sunny beckoned Darnell closer, with a wave of his hand. "You want to know a secret?" Darnell was concerned, but he nodded with genuine curiosity. "My name, buddy,' Sunny said, clapping Darnell on the shoulder. "I took away the sin. Now, Sunny, ya' sans sin. Get it? Sannyassin. Get it? Ha!"
Darnell didn't get it, but before he could say anything, Sunny stuck the white curls of his beard into his mouth, mounted his rust scabbed bicycle, and rode away.
He was ten kinds of crazy, but Darnell liked him, and often wondered what he had been before. They all had a before story. Almost every hobo could phrase it in the same way. Before I [blank], I was a [blank]. For Uncle Ro it would be, "before I started doing crack, I was a civil defense lawyer." Darnell thought Sunny must have a successful past like that. Maybe he was a college professor once, who went schitzo and dropped off the map. That was possible.
Sunny must have been somebody. Darnell could sense the greatness in other people. It was a skill he had. He'd get this tingling feeling in his stomach, a six sense of sorts. He figured it was like calling out to like, since he knew he had greatness in him too. The tingling feeling always came when the wizened hobo was around, strongest when the crazy old man was sermonizing. Darnell once joked to the others that Sunny was the Black Buddah, come to enlighten all the broke fools who made the bridge on 4th Street their home. Uncle Ro had laughed a lot at that, his eyes twinkling in that way that showed he wasn't all there.
Climbing the hill, up and out of the bayou's banks, Darnell met the sight of downtown. Houston, like any big city, had its gritty moments, but this morning it was magical. The mist clung to the sidewalks, smelling like fresh cut grass. It covered the garbage and wear and tear of the streets, so that it looked as if the city emerged out of the clouds. From these ethereal foundations, mirrored skyscrapers shot upwards, and were ignited into golden pillars of fire by the emerging sun. It could almost be heaven, Darnell thought, breathing in deeply. The air tasted free. It had that distinct aspect to it.
[not yet finished. Still would like any and all suggestions]