I shan't be posting today, as I'm officially on vacation, and I've just spent the last 6 hours or so driving in the car with my family. All of whom I love. Really I do. I know, because I keep telling myself over and over again. Now where's the ibuprofen ... ?
We're up in the mountains for a week. Should be fun. Especially now that we're out of the car. Hah! I kid. I'm a kidder. But just to be away from work and house issues and having a break from Little Big Planet (whose theme song is now permanently ingrained into my head) and the tyranny of the television and the schedule ... I'm looking forward to it.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Johnny turned to look at Larissa. “What now?” he asked. Larissa raised her eyebrows at him. Johnny shrugged and gave her a dopey grin: not like they had any important appointments to keep, of course. Abruptly Larissa turned her back on him and went to speak to one of the courtiers. Johnny didn’t take offense at this; it was just one of those things you learned to deal with. When Larissa had nothing further to say to you, she moved on. Johnny had quickly learned to re-evaluate his former concepts of social grace in the past few years: in his adopted culture, there was far less emphasis on words and more on deeds. If a person on the streets could count on you, they just didn’t give a shit how you talked. And Johnny knew he could count on Larissa.
So he moved off amiably enough and spent a couple of hours catching up on street gossip. Tillman had been busted again; he had a vicious crack habit these days, and he would either kick it or he’d end up as a John Doe on an ME’s table somewhere. Parking Jimmy and Polish Peg (who was not really Polish at all, but Albanian or Czech or some other Eastern European nationality) were having a territory dispute—Parking Jimmy said Peg had taken his sleeping spot—and both were expected to show up at some point for Sally to pronounce judgement. There was a new old guy down on K Street and, as always, speculation abounded as to what his story was. Everyone claimed to know, but the info was always thirdhand at best. Idly, Johnny wondered what this conversation had been like when he had first appeared on the streets. And how long had it gone on? Because the longer it took for the conversation to meander to its natural death, the more interesting the origin (or at least the more interesting it was perceived to be). Johnny had never heard any of it, of course—that was considered gauche in street etiquette—but he wondered if he could place the exact moment when it stopped by remembering when his status had changed from tolerated to accepted. That was generally the marker. And yet ... the 13 years growing up in the big house in the suburbs with a maid and a chauffeur and all the latest video games—PlayStation, Nintendo 64, even a pre-release Sega Dreamcast—were somehow clearer, despite tender age and temporal distance, than the two to four year period that he was currently engaged in living through. Indeed, the fact that Johnny had no idea how long it had been since he fled his house, had no idea even how old he was any more, barely remembered when his birthday was, for that matter ... all those facts made it seem like this life, with all its immediacy and danger and harsh reality, was just a strange dream, or maybe a delusion ... Perhaps Johnny had been hypnotized by a stage mentalist, and told that he had been living on the streets of DC for three years, and he was even now making his friends laugh at someone’s birthday party.
Not that Johnny had ever had many friends in those days. But he had always been invited to the birthday parties, of course, for the expensive presents he could provide. And he had nearly always gone, especially after Amiira disappeared. Even a façade of human contact was better than no human contact at all.
By then, night was approaching, and Polish Peg had showed up, with her knee-length white socks and sturdy black shoes that were the envy of many of her peers. Footwear was always hotly contested, of course (Johnny himself sported a pair of well-worn, low-topped combat boots that were a size or two too large), but Peg was a short, muscular woman, and no one fancied their chances trying to take hers. Of Parking Jimmy there was no sign. Johnny was starting to get bored. He scratched idly at his chest and looked around for Larissa.
She was talking to Randall, speaking in low tones while the much older man waved his bottle du jour around animatedly. No doubt delivering statistics on the dangers of alcoholism, not that it would do much good. Some street folk spent whatever change they could collect on liquor and considered food a strictly secondary expense, and Randall was certainly in that camp. One day his liver would give out and he just wouldn’t wake up the next morning. Johnny had seen it happen before, and had no doubts he would see it again. But tonight he was having difficulty concentrating on the problems of the streetfolk. He wandered over to Larissa and maneuvered her away from Randall. The old man winked at him, no doubt thinking he was saving Randall from more rhetoric. Johnny gave an ambiguous nod; he had little interest in whether Randall stopped drinking, and none at all in keeping Larissa from haranguing him; he just wanted to get out of there. For some reason, he wanted to be alone. He just needed Larissa’s company while he did it.
They made their way out of the Court, speaking politely to the others on the way out. Freefall hailed them again as they passed. “Farewell, little Alice! Farewell, Johnny Hellebore!” he called. “Where will you be fetchin’ up tonight? Wherever the wind may take ye?”
Larissa cocked her head to one side. “If a wind blows, ride it,” she said calmly.
The blind man cackled. “Little Alice, full of pithy sayin’s. Shock of gasp!” He flashed his gleaming white teeth at them. Johnny had no idea what “shock of gasp” was supposed to mean literally, but he had known Freefall long enough to recognize the gently facetious surprise that the phrase represented. They moved on; Jimmy the Squid merely nodded and grunted, as usual. Larissa twiddled her fingers at him in an odd sort of “toodle-oo” gesture.
The streetlights were well on (those that worked, anyway), and the day people were gone from the streets. It was dark, but Johnny had seen darker. The stores were still lit, although there were not really any of those on this block of E. Down at the corner of 7th, it was busier; this wasn’t a very populous part of the city, but there was a liquor store close by, and a struggling club where DC Space used to be (DC Space was still a landmark location despite the fact that it had closed more than ten years previously). There were a few people strolling up and down 7th, but this end of E—all office buildings—was fairly deserted this time of night, which of course was why it was an ideal location for the Court.
Larissa looked at Johnny expectantly. It was almost disconcerting: it had been a couple of months now since he had seen the girl in more than passing, and yet now it was if they were still hanging out every day. “Well,” her look seemed to say, “where to now?”
Johnny was suddenly unsure of himself. Why had he needed to leave so badly? “Ummm ... maybe get some food?” Larissa shrugged. She gestured back down toward 7th; Johnny took the hint and led the way.
There was one more alley to pass on their side of the street, and Johnny automatically glanced down it as they walked by. Pass by an alley without checking, and you could end up with bad people at your back, and that was never smart. This one appeared to be empty except for a large animal deep in the shadows, which Johnny assumed was a dog, although a big one. Wild dogs were not common on the streets of DC, but certainly not unknown. There was nothing unusual about this one, except for its large size, and some trick of the light that made its eyes shine green. Even what could be seen of its fur seemed to have a greenish cast to it. As he was about to look away, the dog looked up and stared directly into him. Johnny slowed, and then stopped as he waited for the shadowy form to slink away—most street dogs didn’t want any trouble from street humans—but the dog just held its position and its gaze, pinning him to the spot. He felt Larissa touch his arm. He turned to look into her questioning eyes and tried to come up with an explanation, but after a few stammered words he gave up and just pointed back down the alley. Larissa looked around him, down the alley; following her gaze, he saw ...
“N- nothing, I guess,” he heard himself say. Larissa cocked her head and looked up at him. Her eyes held no concern, but he knew that studying look. He smiled to alleviate any worries she might have about his sanity. “Thought I saw something, but I guess I didn’t. Let’s get some chow.”
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Due to work emergencies that have severely curtailed my ability to get some sleep, I will be forced to miss another blog posting this week. Except that this technically is a blog post, so technically I'm not missing it. But I suppse you know what I mean.