Monsters In The Night

Thunder boomed, hard. I was half awake, my head propped on several pillows, drowsily cursing the doctors for their curiosity on my behalf. How many more nights, I wonder? I’ve gained 18 pounds since Thursday morning. It’s Saturday night. My appetite, forced anyway, has departed. Depression shoves its ugly way into my semi-waking state. I fight it, drug free, but sleep does open the door, allow a crack of unguarded real estate vulnerable to dreams and intruding thoughts. The past swallows me alive. I remember.

Thunder boomed, hard. I barely knew her name, this slight girl in pursuit of me, hell bent on interference. She angered me. Traffic roared on either side as I gauged the open spaces, mentally preparing for a moment in time, an instant, a fraction of separation in chaos that would allow me to dash across four lanes of late night traffic. The city seemed alive, monstrous, a devil, a demon and fiend; a gaping, slashed hole into the inferno, a place where monsters slightly slumbered. I felt the pull.

Lightening leaped across the sky, forked and menacing. Rain was nowhere, just this infernal heat and smog and light pollution and the pounding music from small holes in space where the lost sought what they did not have, what they could not understand, what they missed. The chasm of their souls.

The girl grabbed my arm. I frowned, annoyed once again. I shook of her hand. Intoxicated, she swayed in the menacing, drenching glow of streetlights buried in late night/early morning pollution. Exhaust fumes sickened me. The smell of burned grease, perfume, crack, meth, pot, cigarettes, booze, and sex – it was redolent. I needed space.

I fixated on one star. Only one. I sought that perfect wink of promise, of morning as I pondered my next move. I was leaving. My old green bag, so faithful, was packed. My cash was once again sewed into the bottom, safe. My bowie knife had been stowed inside, along with some essentials: A toothbrush. My passport and ID. An extra pair of shorts. A linen shirt. One pair of pants. A belt. Raincoat, tied to the outside. Duct tape, wrapped around a water bottle. Aspirin, antibiotics, bandages. Little else.

I couldn’t just leave her here. Predators loomed and scurried in the dark, menacing and overlooked in their shadow of evil. The girl swayed. I took her hand. It was clammy, cold. Desperate. She looked at me, naked in that moment, stripped of her guard, her love for me evident and obvious.

She was crying.

Thunder boomed, hard. My son cried out in his sleep and I was padding up the steps before truly awake. My footsteps, aided by adrenaline born from the ancient instinct to protect your own, were as silent as down before the breeze. I marveled for one moment at my instinctive ability to move so silently in the night, when I chose. A gift, perhaps, from my mother.

My monsters still loomed omnipresent as I entered my firstborn’s room. He was sitting in his bed, his small head, framed by blond curls, cocked slightly as he observed nature’s fury through his window. I ran my hand through his hair and down his back. Comforting.

He grinned at me in the dark. “Blanket, Daddy.” I soothed. “Yes, son, you have your blanket. Don’t be scared.” He looked at me, wide eyed and so full of questions. An unfathomable curiosity ranged in his hazel eyes, more expressive than most. “No, Daddy. Blanket.” I looked to where he was pointing. His blanket had fallen out of his crib. I picked it up, still warm from his embrace. He grabbed it delightedly.

He turned it in his hands, looking for something that I could not see, that perfect place of contentment, something that reminded him of the womb, perhaps. His mother’s heartbeat, as he lay safe and warm, listening to the love surrounding him, inundated by care and peace.

He settled back into his covers and closed his eyes. He smiled once more, then, just like that, fell asleep. One brave little boy in a thunderstorm. He knew no monsters. They had no bearing on his life.

Thunder boomed. I sat in my chair, watching my son sleep. I cried. I don’t know why.

surfing

The cook ducked out of his hut, avoiding the overhanging palm beam that had threatened to brain him since his first day in the village. He walked the stone path with the easy nonchalance of one accustomed to his surroundings, slightly bored, but still alert. He carried his two knives and a steel wrapped in an old dingy apron, once white and shiny, now dulled and frayed, but still clean. The threads of the ties were nearly gone and had been replaced with a length of climbing cord, tied in a simple square knot.

His first day off in 24 days had begun two evenings ago at around nine. He had fled the kitchen and its grinning cooks with a passion born of travel and study, studying the surf, which had been pounding since his arrival, until night stole the light from the sky and stars winked overhead, unshrouded by light pollution, as they had for a millennia. He left his perch on the short rock outcrop for the village bar, in search of a score.

He had arrived in the village from points north, broke and injured, a nasty cut along his rib cage from an attempted mugging. The rusty knife had chattered along his rib cage as the assailant tried to rip his pack from his back. The point failed to find its mark between his ribs just over his liver. He had managed to get in one hard, lucky punch and a kick to his assailant’s groin before beating a hasty retreat to the nearest bus stop, where he had dressed his wound as best he could with bandages pulled from his dwindling first aid kit. The bus ride over seemingly impassable roads, rutted heavily and drowning in spring rains, had done little to allow his cut to heal, unaided as it was by the lack of stitches.

The doctor had grinned at him, then mercilessly sewed up his cut unaided by much in the way of painkillers. The further south he went, the more macabre the doctors. The sky had been an impossible pink that evening, and a loud native band thrashed and abused a damaged guitar and drum set in a ramshackle bar filled to the brim with grinning Nicos.

He had awakened the following morning in a strange bed, at daylight, as was his habit. A soft, gentle breathing and the smell of clean hair alerted him to her presence. She opened her eyes sleepily as surf pounded on the beach, only a few hundred yards away. Her fingertips traced a path along his back as he stretched out some of the kinks and cleared his fuzzy head.

The wave was amazing. He surfed all day, coming in only to guzzle water and munch on goat tamales.

The restaurant had hired him the next day. Twenty-four days ago.

Now he made his way back to the kitchen, mentally dreading the moment he would arrive to the bedlam of corruption he had survived for nearly a month. The surf the day before, his day off, had been flat. For twenty-four days, he’d listened to the blue-green water pound the sand-covered basaltic outcropping that thrust up the water into a ridable wave, pearling along its lip and dropping its secrets, born thousands of miles away in the Pacific.

His one day off. The ocean had turned into an empty space, devoid of movement, the surf gone as if it had never existed.

Now, it was booming again. Judging from the shouts and crows of accomplishment, it was really cranking. His depression, imagined only a few moments before, blossomed into its own malignancy. The stones under his feet, worn by an untold millennia of tumbling about in the ocean, thousands of miles from their Andesite depositional environment, seemed far away, just out of reach of his lurching feet.

The kitchen door burst open and a Honduran cook threw a pan of scalding water, festooned with shellfish parts and pungent bones from the stew the night before into the morning earth. The green, ripe, pregnant smell of the rain forest was contaminated with the scent. The cook squinted at him in the early morning hazy sunlight. His teeth were set at crazy angles, rendering him threatening even when smiling. Which he rarely did.

They pass with barely a word. The kitchen door slams behind him as he ties on his apron, Chaco sandals on his feet, barely clad against the onslaught of heat. He hones his knives and sets about re-positioning his mise en place, glancing quickly at the work list to gather the ingredients necessary to placate a group of eco-tourists, vegans all. He simmers a haunch of goat in a huge cast iron pot, marveling once again and the enormity of the thing, the sheer weight of it. It took three of them to clean it properly, which they rarely did. Rust flakes mix with the fat and detritus of the barely cleaned goat, the base for the vegetarian soup to be served later to the unsuspecting white people in overpriced shoes and weather proof shell jackets, their glasses fogged over with humidity.

Eighteen days later, he stands once again by the beach, his pintail surfboard thrust into the sand beside him. How he has managed to hang onto that board is beyond him. His depression is worsening, born on the walk to the kitchen. The surf is once again flat. The girl, a brief repository of feeling, has moved on, holding one of the billionaire eco-investors hostage with her smooth skin, full breasts and grinding hips.

He tucks his board under his arm and grabs his bag, his constant companion of so many years. His knife roll, tied tightly to deter thieves, is barely visible and he subconsciously tucks it away. The tools of his trade. He melts into the tree line, his swarthy skin and silent tread causing one to look twice, if you noticed at all. His breeding showed.

He never liked this village anyway.