Sunday, August 22, 2010

Chapter 4 (concluded)

Johnny Angel bowed and mimed opening a gate.  Larissa hopped nimbly over the fence.  Johnny just stepped over: it was waist-high to Larissa, but Johnny had been growing like a weed since he’d left home.  He was taller than many of the street people now, although still a bit gawky.  The three of them ambled over to the statue’s pedestal and sat comfortably on the lowest level of its ziggurat-like base.  They kept a wary eye out for the cops or the park police, but old Farragut here wasn’t much of a target for terrorists, so they didn’t really expect to see any.  Johnny Angel turned their way and looked kindly over at them.  “What can a tired old man do for you two vessels of youthful élan?”  Despite his words, his eyes sparkled with more energy than Johnny himself felt.

Larissa immediately turned to Johnny, sharing the older man’s stance and curious stare.  Now with two pairs of eyes on him, Johnny was a little unsure of himself.  “Ummm ... well, I’m not sure.  I just feel like ... something’s wrong.”

Although his eyes continued to smile, Johnny Angel let his mouth grow serious in deference to the young man’s problem.  “You feelin’ like you can’t get your head on right, boy?” he asked.  His voice was low, but still he preached.  “Is there something pulling at your steps, turning your path from the forward? spinning you round so you be walking backwards, always looking back at where you been?”  Somehow Johnny got out of that that Johnny Angel was asking if he was homesick, missing his old life.

“No.”  He shook his head slowly.  “It’s not that.  More like ...”  He grasped for the right words.  “More like something’s sneaking up on me, you know?  Like I should be worried about something but I don’t even know what it is.”  He looked to see if he was making any sense.

To his surprise, Johnny Angel’s face was actually concerned all of a sudden.  “May I touch you, boy?” he asked gently.  Johnny tried to control the puzzled look on his face.  “Um, sure,” he said.

The calloused black hand in its shining white sleeve reached across Larissa’s blonde locks and touched Johnny’s thick mane.  Johnny was conscious of the fact that he hadn’t properly washed it in months, needed a haircut badly, no longer owned a comb or brush ... it seemed as if the mundane was all he could concentrate on as Johnny Angel’s strong fingers found his scalp, wandered around, explored the topology.  Johnny remembered reading once that there was a strain of fortune-telling where the diviner read the bumps on your skull instead of your palms; was this what the old street preacher was doing?  All this went through his mind as he concentrated on the blackness that had filled his vision; unfocussing his eyes slightly, he realized that the blackness was composed of the two pupils of Johnny Angel’s eyes.  He started to shake his head to clear it, but somehow realized that would interrupt the process (what process?) so held still.  Somehow the other man’s eyes had filled his and then swallowed them; those pupils were huge, and yet he knew that they were fixated exactly on him, and, whatever they saw, whatever the questing fingers felt, it was all coming from some well deep within him, someplace he hadn’t even known he possessed ...

Then Johnny Angel’s left hand was retreating, and his right was patting Johnny’s clasped hands, which were in his lap and (he was surprised to note) trembling.  “There you are, boy, you got nothin’ to vex about.  Just breathe deep now.”  Johnny realized he had been holding his breath and suddenly sucked in a giant lungful.  “I think you feel somethin’ powerful, though, boy.  I ain’t felt that myself in a long day.  Not myself nor myself for nobody else, if you see what I’m saying.”  As usual, Johnny both did and didn’t, but he nodded anyway.  The old man was staring at him curiously now, with his head cocked to one side.  “Could be nothin’, of course,” he said.  “Or, then again around the bend, might be somethin’.  More circumspect to favor caution in the face of uncertainty than to court compunction by failure to adhere to due mental process.”  Johnny stared at him blankly.

“Better safe than sorry,” Larissa translated.

Johnny Angel smiled with one side of his mouth.  “As the little lady says,” he agreed.  “Is there perhaps someplace where the two of you might seek sanctuary from this abysmal late summer heat?”

Johnny felt confused again.  “It’s not that hot,” he started, but Johnny Angel squeezed his hand.

“Johnny Bones!” he whispered.  Johnny had never figured out why the man called him that sometimes, but he only did so when he had something important to say, so Johnny shut his mouth.  “My acumen ain’t what it used to be, of that there can be no doubt.  This here gray hair tells a story could wring tears from a turnip if it could stand to listen.  But you come to me to see what nuggets I had to offer, and I done offered ’em unto you.  You feeling what I’m saying, boy?”  Johnny nodded.  “So hie yourselves off to some haven that smells like home mayhap, if I may alliterate.  But not elaborate.  Am I epiphanous?”

Johnny smiled.  “Yessir, you have lit my bulb.”

Johnny Angel threw his head back and his rich throaty laugh rolled over the small park, frightening the pigeons.  “Good, good.  It’s a joy to my ears.  And I especially appreciate a young person with such a gracious anatomy and an articulate demeanor.  But now you two fly on outta here.  You going to have to shepherd the egress of this one for me, boy; she’s way too chatty for a settled old man like myself to put up with.”  He grinned at Larissa.  She smiled up at him.

As the two younger people moved off down K Street, they heard Johnny Angel starting up his monologue again.  They both smiled despite the weirdness of the previous scene.  Then Johnny sighed.  “Of course, I have absolutely no idea where we’re going to go.”  He looked at Larissa for inspiration.

She thought for a moment, then looked back at him very seriously and said one word: “Jet.”


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