out of the ashes

Friday, January 21, 2011

Marvin cleans himself up

I freaked!
I thought I'd lost half a dozen chapters I'd written last summer. Of the thousands of hardcopy pages I located in my mess of an office (laughing about that term), I had six or seven of Chapter 35, another half dozen of 36...and so on.
Thank God for Time Machine. The files weren't in my documents; nor in my working draft, but they were in that amazing backup! And thank God for my wife who suggested I look there!!!
So...Marvin is within a few tie-in chapters of being complete.  I needed to get him cleaned up and off to find Amy.  He doesn't know it yet, but the woman he is being sent to find isn't Amy at all.  Anselm needs to get him out from underneath the loading dock and into a more "permanent" address.  400 East 8th Avenue--the home of the governor...and Maribeth Harris:)


      Marvin returned later that day with a new sense of purpose to the place he loathed more than the inside of any confessional.  The Salvation Army Mission on Tenth Avenue and Bannock.  It was only six blocks away from Civic Center Park, and had many years ago been a large private residence covering two full-sized city lots, plus another fifty feet on one side where lawn and flowerbeds and Weeping Willow trees grew in wild abandon. The Army had purchased it a dozen years ago after the eccentric widow—a certain Mrs. Marybelle Stump who maintained it like a macabre Hollywood movie set—finally left the world for supernatural parts unknown.
      An hour after sitting through the reading of the will, her smiling heirs promptly threw it into the hands of a real estate broker, who promptly threw it out to the public listed as “…one of Denver’s finest, charming old haunted houses, with a view of the Pacific.”  He meant Rockies.
        No one of the Army believed in ghosts, although they were certain, to a Major, that God existed, that He had a Son, and that the Son desired them to buy and renovate the ramshackle dwelling (the home of rats and spiders and cockroaches…and ghosts).  They were intrigued, also, by the promise of a stunning view from the west-facing balcony.
      The overgrown lawn, the trees that bent their limbs clear to the ground, and the weed-infested flowerbeds disappeared soon after the new spiritual owners got their hands on the deed. The dilapidated wrought iron fence encircling the corner lot was ground up into a huge rusty ball and carted off to the dump.  Inside, moldy carpet was whisked away revealing solid oak floors beneath.  A host of memory-laden doors with children’s names etched into the edges and on the six inch-wide casings were treated to sledgehammers, and then lugged away in splinters.  Lathe and plaster walls fell in storms of dust, and in their place a grand central dining/gospel room emerged, complete with speckled linoleum tiles that an army (so to speak) of indigents could not possibly damage. 
      And an unornamented wooden pulpit.
      The pulpit stood imperially, despite its plainness, dead center of the room at one end, between a pair of grand windows that had once belonged separately to two of the six bedrooms of the house, before the wall dividing them was unceremoniously removed.  A King James Version of the Bible sat prominently on the top of the pulpit, and it was opened and read from by the major in charge of those souls whose bellies he and his staff had just filled—three times each day.  The same as any of the great preachers of old would have done in his stead.
      The issue for Marvin: if you were here in the cafeteria, you were obliged to listen to the word of God—and it sometimes included the dreaded book of…
                                  Numbers !
…wherein, “…of the children of…” quickly lost all meaning, except for biblical scholars and genealogy sleuths, of which very, very few sat in the folding chairs in front of the Major.  It did not seem to bother the Major during any of these readings that the snoring was often louder than the spoken word of the Almighty.
      Marvin tactfully entered the front doors at 4:45 p.m.  The Men’s shower would most likely be silent, and another hour would pass before the dinner bell rang.  All he needed to do was slide down the long hall to the admissions desk, wink at Ms. Garcia (who, he imagined, would be manning her post behind it until the Lord either returned, or said phooey to the whole Second Coming idea), and show her how filthy he was.  That would be easy enough.  Despite his feelings for the mission in general, he had always gotten on marvelously with the attractive little woman.  A few times, too marvelously.  Though he knew she was quite…no, somewhat religious (A Roman Catholic, of all things, he discovered during the second season of his stay), she sometimes let her tongue slip while working away at the desk behind the counter.  He caught her muttering one day—a colorful expletive in four letters.  F-Major.  The bond between them was born at that instant, and in those leaden days, when fools roamed the halls expounding on every stupid thing under the sun, he visited her at her station frequently for reality checks.  Duets of questionable grammatical taste that began andante, and when he was lucky, ended adagio sensuoso.
      He liked her.
      And so, he tiptoed down the long, dark hall to the counter.  A fluorescent glow flooded the open space and the dull formica surface—which Marvin always thought made it look like an eerie doorway into a frightening nether world.  Ms. Garcia was lost somewhere inside the bright haze, doing something that caused her to utter a string of F-Majors, soto voce, allegro appassionato. 
     Precious thing.
     He leaned forward with his hands on the countertop and gazed in at her.  There she was, bent over, her trim posterior aimed high at him.  Ms. Garcia was tugging right and left, left and right, right and left, at a stubborn drawer stuck in an ancient wooden filing cabinet purchased at Goodwill.  The motion, but not the swearing, made her appear to be doing a Latin dance step.  A Mambo or a Rumba.  Her brilliant Mexican Puebla dress, embroidered with stunningly beautiful florals, winding vines, stick people dancing, patterned needlework, and other colorful decoration, draped over her like a splash of moonlight over a garden of roses.  Its hem ended just above her calves.  All of this would have been ravishing today had there not been thorns on those petite stems.
      Lovely thing.
      He watched her for a moment or two, wincing at various notes, smiling at her down-to-earth saltiness and the rhythm of her movement.  At last he interrupted her.
      “Hello, Pumpkin!”
      She started, leaving the drawer quarter-opened and cock-eyed, straightening like a balloon stretched over an erupting geyser.  Ms. Garcia whirled around to face the voice that had finally caught her defiling the Mission, so close to the sanctuary.  Her eyes were coals of dread set beneath almost masculine, thick eyebrows.  Her mouth had dropped half-open, exposing the faint beginnings of snow-white, perfect teeth, but within a blink she regained her composure, sighed, and then made a quick sign of the cross.  She smiled at Marvin.
      “Holy Mary, Mother of God!  Marvin Fooster, you scared me half to death.”
      “And you tickled my imagination!” he replied with a wink and a tiny twist of his head.  He might stutter and stammer and stand on his own feet in the presence of Amy whoever, but the older, thicker ice of Ms. Garcia had already been broken.   He was comfortable and at ease around her, like being inside an old pair of shoes.
      “Essie, I need a shower.  I gotta’ go shoppin’.”
      “Shopping?  You?”  Esmeralda Garcia, a year or maybe two younger than Marvin, stepped to the counter and put her arms on it, eyeing him impishly.  “What for?  And with what?  You don’t look like you’ve come up very far from where you were last time I saw you, Marvin, mi diablo pobre.”
      “I can’t tell ya’.”  Marvin leaned forward and placed his own arms onto the countertop close to Esmeralda’s, his nose close enough to hers to catch her rising, warm exhalations.
      “Tell me why,” she cooed, “or I won’t let you in.  You will have to go back to the gutter you crawled out of and wash up there.  What is it you’re up to, you rascal?”
      “Essie, my delectable pumpkin…”  He glanced at a stick figure on her shoulder, dancing across the fabric of her dress.  The strange little boxy head and starred eyes made of stitching.  The enigmatic little smile on its thread mouth.  “…My little Mexican dancer, I can’t tell ya’.  I just gotta’ clean up.  Can I use the shower?  Please, sweet-cakes?”
      Esmeralda giggled.  “My.  I am pumpkins and ballerina…and what else?  Well, I suppose so.  Clean up…Madre de Dios.  What next?”  She leaned across the counter and checked the hall in both directions, biting the edge of her small lip.  Ten feet away the entry doors to the cafeteria stood closed.  Across the hall lit by the afternoon sun squeaking through the small glass panel of the rear exit door, the men’s bath lay.  Beyond that, the women’s, and nearest the rear of the building, the office of Major Jeremiah Forsythe.
      “What’s the matter, plum lips?”
      Esmeralda withdrew her face into the room and looked at Marvin.  “He’s gone.  Hurry, then.  Go take your shower.”
      “What does it matter if he’s here or gone?” Marvin asked.
      Esmeralda scurried out of the room, grabbed his elbow, and tugged him toward the bath.
      “None at all, caramelo.  None at all.  I’ll get you a fresh towel.  Hurry.  Go, go now!”  She shooed him to the door and then left for the linen dispensary, a wide, deep cabinet set into the hall wall between the men’s and women’s baths. 
      Marvin stood for a moment at the door and watched her.  He shrugged, then opened it inward with a squeak of the hinges.
      Nothing much had changed, he noticed.  The sofa with a tear in the fabric to his left just inside the door was still there.  A plain, rectangular table between two slip-covered, overstuffed chairs against the wall opposite the door and the sofa.  Atop the table a clear plastic rack containing a wealth of brochures and tracts reminded those who used the facility why they were using this bathroom and shower, and not the one they might have had in a home or apartment of their own.  Above the table the venetian blinds covering the lone window had been drawn closed three-quarters so that a narrow sheet of light with gently moving specks of dust lit the room in a somber glow.
      Marvin closed the door behind him and walked to the room adjacent, a long narrow space where three stalls stood. Their plastic curtains were drawn open, tucked inside the smooth, painted cement curbs.  On either side of the framed opening, two rows of industrial-d├ęcor sinks stood supported by thick, scratched chrome legs.  Behind each sink a long mirror with a narrow shelf beneath it provided a starkly functional shaving station for the transient boarders. 
      He peeled off his coat and shirt and tossed them onto the edge of the sink to his right.  The pants, cinched close to his hips by a belt scavenged from a dumpster, went next, followed by his boxers.  He left them on the floor, moving white and naked to the middle stall, thinking how nice it would feel to be clean again.  It had been a long time—three months, soon—since his last sojourn into this room.  But back in April he had shared the pleasure of a hot shower with Simon the opera singer, and cringed at each flat note.  The other shower had been occupied by someone he had never met, who was dispelling bursts of noisy gas in a consistent way, maybe a metronomic accompaniment to Simon’s serenade.  Outside in the anteroom there had been scattered clips of conversation among the men who anxiously, or not, waited their turns.
      This afternoon they were elsewhere, gone from the building to do what they were best or worst at.  The opera singer, he hoped, had found a choral group of like-voiced crooners—the impresario of oom-pah maybe a bottle of Beano, somewhere far away.
      The only sounds came from the showerhead whistling the pleasant notes of steamy-hot water, and the gurgling of the drain beneath his feet.  Standing with his arms crossed over his chest, his hands resting on his shoulders, his head leaning backward to catch the water splattering the grime from his face, he began to wonder about the woman whose name was Amy for the hundredth time today.  What would she think of him dressed in a brand new suit, with shiny black shoes, and a clean-shaven face?  Would it make much difference?  In reality?  No.  But then, what?
      I’m gonna’ reverse my age.  Did I say that?  Yeah, I think I did.
      And pigs are going to fly to the moon.
      He finished the job.  The water went silent, save the final elongated whoosh down the drain, and Marvin stepped out, clean and ready to shave the gray stubble away.  He lathered at the sink, contemplating the striking image staring out at him from the cloudy mirror, hollow-eyed, with skin like baked leather.
      He stopped for a moment, holding the razor an inch from his cheek.
      But…what if I could do it?
      He chuckled.
      Insane.  Just go steal that new…but, what if?
       Marvin felt as though he was suddenly drifting off into a dreamscape.  His vision glazed.  The face in the mirror smiled out at him, but it wasn’t exactly the one he knew as himself.  The features were close, he could see, but the face was that of a fifty year-old gentleman.  The line of a white collar and neat knot of a tie shimmered in the misty surface at the bottom edge of the reflection.  The hair was light brown—but brown it was, indeed—with salt and pepper at the temples.  The eyes sparkled instead of lolling lifelessly, like those of a dead fish floating at the top of a stagnant pool.  As he stood there staring at the image statue-like, a thread jiggled in his brain.  A thread, that is what it felt like, he thought.  Uncomfortable and squirming through the ruffles and folds inside his head.  The image in the mirror vanished behind a series of numbers and symbols as the thread coiled and then uncoiled, slithering about.  He recognized what had appeared in front of him as a formula, or a theory of some sort written on a blackboard, but what it meant or signified he had no idea.  But then again, it hit him, he did; something to do with genetic structure.
      Genetic structure? I’ve never even heard of the term before…
      A noise from the doorway caused Marvin to blink, once, twice, three times in quick succession.  The Marvin he knew so well had returned by the last flutter.  He shook his sopping head of hair, sending an afternoon flurry of showers in all directions, and turned full-face in the direction of the sound.  Esmeralda stood five feet away, holding a white towel that draped over her arm with her mouth wide open.  He was not Errol Flynn, not even Karl Malden, and he was naked.  Esmeralda’s round brown eyes shifted downward, and a faint smile crept upward, replacing the first reaction of surprise.
      “Oh my goodness.”
      Esmeralda Garcia did not turn away.  Marvin followed the laser line of her sight, then covered himself with his hands.  He looked back up at her and smiled sheepishly.
      “I forgot about the towel. Stupid me,” he explained.
      “How did you think you’d dry yourself, silly boy?  You did not know I would return with this?” she said holding the towel up.  “I think you did.”  Her Latin smile grew.
      “No…I mean, I don’t know.  I was thinking of more important things.  I guess.”
      “Than drying off?  You are playing with me, you devil, you.”
      Marvin began to back up, in the narrow lane between the showers and the sinks, toward the wall abutting the central hall.  Esmeralda stepped forward, matching his tentative steps with two of her own.
      “No, no I’m not.  Honest Injun’.”
      Esmeralda had closed the gap and was preparing to lasso him with the towel.  “Then you would like to, wouldn’t you Marvin Fooster?”  She emphasized the word wouldn’t.  Another step.  She was within striking distance, now.  The towel went up; a set of barbells, two castanets linked by fluffy, white lust, the arms and hands of a referee signaling, “TOUCHDOWN!”
      Marvin closed his eyes and prayed.    
      “Ms. Garcia!  Where are you?” a booming voice demanded from the hallway.
      He shot them back open.
      “Madre de Dios!” Esmeralda whispered in shock.
      No, just Major Jeremiah Forsythe, returned from his meeting with Madre de Dios’ son.  Dios el mismo.
      “Quick, Marvin,” she said.  “The window!”
      Marvin glanced over her shoulder to the far end of the shower room.
      “I’m naked!”
(c) Patrick Sean Lee- 2011

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