The fire roared and Lou stared into it, wanted to wade into it, disappear into it, but life and all its shit just wouldn’t let him. He’d remembered the firewood down in the basement and he made three trips with two logs each. Held them like feisty cats at the napes. Quickly up the stairs because they were slipping. He broke a sweat, and this meant he was doing exactly what was in front of him, precisely what needed to be done. He found relief in that.
He’d built a teepee out of the logs and in the middle of it he placed a grill type platform. The platform made him think of an altar and the two front logs of the teepee sat spread so he could reach the platform’s surface. He stared at the platform but somehow it was only the surrounding fire that he saw. The crackle and pop and hiss sent waves of faraway young life rushing up in his mind and he could bear to think on none of them. The fire roared on and he walked away.
The street was dark and the trees were leafless and it was cold out and the wind blew and the naked branches cast their scraggly timid shadows out to wriggle across all the ground. Lou saw the skittery shadowy lines as earthen cracks, as proof that control is the biggest myth of all, that the world is at heart a dark, dangerous place and anything of light was made up. He heard a noise over his shoulder and looked. It was nothing.
The fat black pistol sat on the stone mantle over the fireplace and it was still caked in Lungsee’s blood. He looked at the clock and it read 2:57 AM and it was about one hour ago that he’d decided to stop carrying the gun and burn it. If it’s metal, it can melt. That, he reasoned, was the best plan. Melt it. Gone forever. A pile of molten black slag. No police could decipher it. He wasn’t going away for this. For that shitbag of a human being.
He walked back to the fireplace, grabbed the fat black heavy weapon, squatted and quickly jabbed his hand into the fare and over the grill platform altar and dropped the gun on it.
The wood handle grip, and he wasn’t even sure if it was real wood or what, bubbled instantly, and he smiled. The metal was stronger and would take longer but this was the only thing to do. He couldn’t even remember where he got the gun and this caused an instant wave of panic, as if his mind slipped, like an old man.
He wasn’t losing his mind because the plan was smart. Lou new enough to understand that with no weapon, there was no murder, and if there was no murder there was nothing to worry about, and so began a train of worry that the fire led to because it reminded him of a time when he was thirteen years old and he had a winter job after school teaching inner city black kids how to swim. He rocked back from the wall of heat and shook his head and tried to forget this, because it was just this one thing in all his life that he knew had been genuinely helpful, productive and worthy. The heat of the fire brought all this back.
Lou rubbed the tiny balls of hot sweat from his brow with his finger and then he raked his forearm down over his face. He didn’t feel right. Cold and hot. He couldn’t get the steamy indoor pool out of his mind, and the one thing he’d overheard in the adult locker room after one of the swimming lessons was an odd man and he was talking to another man and he said to him in an advisory tone that if you wanted self-esteem, do something esteemable, and Lou somehow knew what this meant because they were doing the same thing, teaching, and he felt squarely good about it then and he knew this odd man was correct.
Lou named his idea, memSwim, and he hatched it when he was 16 years old. He envisioned a citywide program to privatize the public pools and teach the basics of swimming and water safety. He believed he could provide a nice service and make a buck. Blacks can’t swim, Memphis is hot. Done.
He thought the idea was good, then and now, and as Lou sat there with his face in the fire, he knew it had reappeared for a reason. A damned fine reason. If he could just get down the basics of memSwim, the bottom line, the mission statement, and get it to the mayor, then it may just be a nice little get-out-of-jail card. Good idee, he mumbled to himself, and he heard the noise again and looked to the parlor door but there was nothing there.
The gun’s handle grips had melted off nicely, leaving a bubbling brown pile like he predicted, but the rest of the fat black beast had not so much as even broken a glisten. Lou thought about increasing the heat but didn’t know how. He wondered if more wood meant a hotter temperature, and he grabbed the gothic fleur-de-lis poker, and he poked the pistol and was now looking down its barrel. Suicide over prison? He wondered. Yes.
But suicide would not be necessary. memSwim was a ticket. As if he’d hatched this idea long ago, for now reason then, for just this present predicament. The world works like that, doesn’t it? Preemptive community service, and come to think of it, Delly would be perfect to run and manage it. Perfect. Black and white. Lonely. Together. I trust him, he’s black, and then Lou heard the noise again, so he rose and moved to the door with the poker now that his gun was done, and he looked out into the dark hall and it was still nothing.
He crossed back to the window and looked out to the street and he saw a dark figure moving over his yard, square in the shoulders but circular in motion, under the spindly branch shadows from the ill half-moon. The figure floated, glided, as if in a dream, and he carried what looked like a grocery sack curled up at the top. And a guitar case. It was Delly. And Delly seemed to sense he was being watched because he stopped and without hesitation turned and looked back and up and stared right at Lou. They looked at each other for a long moment. Lou then simply stepped aside, out of the window, away from view.
Lou held his breath and didn’t realize it and when he eased his face to look, Delly was gone and all that was there was nothing.
Gone. Lou knew memSwim was a pile of shit and he darted back to see about the pistol and it was still hard as iron so he yanked it out with the poker and it bounced and sat on the hearth smoking like it had been fired and Lou knew it’d definitely killed that cape-wearing hippy freak and nothing could change that. There was nobody to talk to. To explain it. Nobody. He was all alone, and he had to go.
The closet in his bedroom was big enough for a car, but Lou knew instantly where to drop to his knees and he did and from behind a mountain of loafers and wingtips and unathletic sneakers, he hauled out a midnight blue Gucci shoe box.
He flipped off the top and dumped the contents and what spilled out measured up to nothing less than a little mound of things. The things that mattered. Most. He hadn’t looked in the box in years and what he saw was as familiar and needed as a favorite dog’s face.
But the wanting little pile of things quickly became meager. If this is what mattered, how pathetic can a person be? He picked up the little brass music maker with a wind-up song that played Pop Goes the Weasel. One night long ago, he played the machine backwards and the eerie ditty stoked his desire to write a creepy story in the Poe tradition, but he’d never got past, It was a bright sunny Tuesday...
The feeling of that night long ago with the music machine was strong, and he remembered who his girlfriend was and what she wore and what she said and what he said and how he fucked her. He remembered the bars they went to that night, and the little cream-colored Alfa Spyder he bought on a whim the day before because of her and her love of that not-very-funny movie with Buck Henry acting as a hotel clerk. Mrs. Robertson or some shit. The girlfriend loved the movie, the car and Lou, and she was just so simple. How can girls be so simple? They sit there. They smile. How easy must it be to be female? That’s why they make everything so fucking inverted. But then he recalled some other shit and that she was really a bitch and that’s why he woke one day and she was just gone. So many girls, there one day, gone the next. Fuck ’em. Again and again. Life felt like a convenience store. But now it felt like one he’d robbed and killed the clerk.
He put the little music machine in his robe pocket and it clinked against the scotch bottle and this reminded him to down a slug and so he did. He then picked up a pale green brochure for a men’s drum circle event up in the Ozarks somewhere and he remembered he kept this brochure as a joke, but he now suspected that his keeping of it was no joke and this depressed the living hell out of him and then he found tucked into the pale green trifold brochure a plastic poker chip with AA on one side and 1 hour on the other and he zinged this out of the closet and across the room with great disgust and looked behind him frantically until he found his bottle and took a nice long alcoholic slug and said to AA, Fuck you! Then, needing to see where the little 1 HOUR chip landed, he popped his head out of the closet door and looked and noticed that somehow the little fucker landed on his bed, right square in the middle of his pillow: Fuck yooou!
Lou looked down at the rest of the things in his pile of memories and he couldn’t bear its Grim Reaper innocence, so he looked up at his row of suits and knew he couldn’t take them and he tried to be a tough guy about this by thinking that suits are for ninnies who play by the rules and there is nothing he would rather leave behind than his suits and then he looked back to the Gucci box and saw a faded receipt for a box of chocolate bars that he bought off a little black boy who came selling the crap candy door-to-door. Coconuts. Delly hated coconuts. Huge white bars in white wrappers, generic, fake, probably not even chocolate at all but some concoction some agency was tinkering around with. He ate one with the little black boy and it was okay, but the reason he kept the receipt was pity and this somehow made him feel better as a person. Murderer. He wouldn’t ever have to be a salesman. Or black.
Lou had to go.