Day Five

His throat was a coil of copper wire. Spears rattled in his golf bag. This was, as his mother would put it, the last stop on the train to damnation. Well, it wasn’t his mother. It was the grizzled old war vet back in the hospital library, a chomped cigar hanging loosely from his bottom lip.  Foot on the ottoman, two eyes on the window bars. The line of his mouth like an aerial view of the Berlin wall.

This was, as Colonel Stetson would put it, the last stop on the train to damnation. The final tax to pay to hell, he’d say as he spat through the window bars. The window bars were the important part, place built like a prison but meant to keep people from getting in. At least, that’s what the doctors said. In truth probably to keep Colonel Stetson from getting out. Keep Isaac in the four by five cell, a kennel really. Except dogs were friendlier than Colonel Stetson. Back in Nam, said Stetson, they ate dogs, roasted ‘em around a fire like marshmallows. You could see their fur curl, smelled bad, but tasted fine. Like chicken, he said. If chicken fucked pork.

Isaac’s eyes were itchy and then wet. Then his face was itchy and wet. Spears rattled in his golf bag. This was, as Colonel Stetson would put it, a mouse’s chance in a house of cards. Well, that wasn’t Colonel Stetson. It was his mother, when she was in the hospital. Hospital library on a dreary Sunday afternoon, cigarette smoke trapping her stare she looked through those window bars too. She tried to lick them sometimes, thinking they were made out of peppermint. They weren’t. They were just metal and rust and ash from all the cigarettes.

The golf bag hit him in the back of his leg, once, then twice, something sharp in there that kept screwing into his thigh when the bag nudged him. He shifted his shoulder, but the pain only moved to his left leg. Almost there, he told his trousers. Almost there and then you can forget your defenses. His throat was a coil of barbed wire, spiking into his neck. Spears clattered in his golf bag.

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Day One (Story a Day)

I thought I saw David Bowie on the subway last week. I mean, I know I didn’t see the actual David Bowie. He’s been dead for ten years. But I saw some guy who looked a lot like him. And that guy was the reason I ended up in Nashville with a bag full of methamphetamines, shoes worn to heel fabric and tan lines everywhere. Sunday afternoon and damn squirrels trying to sneak into my tote bag.

I can see that I’m going to have to explain.

It all started, if you can call it a proper start, with me trying to get a transfer from a reluctant machine. This was at the top of an escalator that led down to the tracks. I heard the train pull up from downstairs, the screech like a thousand fruit bats coming to tear out my eyes. I waited for a second, poked the red box to see if it would wake up and give me my customer service, but it just sort of stood there. The doors opened downstairs, with that intestinal gas of a hiss. The machine spat out my chip, and I scraped some skin off trying to get it out of the slot. Then I ran. This proved to be a poor decision.

The first chime was playing as my knee hit the bottom step of the escalator and I slid onto the platform. My tumble had caught some hair in the rubbery hand railing, and I tore half my scalp crashing through those subway doors. I felt the clamp as the doors closed on my butt, but they bounced off, grace of all the KFC I’ve been eating recently. So I was two feet and two cheeks inside the car, and this old lady was looking at me kind of weird from her seat across the aisle. I sidled over like this was a daily occurrence and sat in the seat next to her. The seat wasn’t vacant. So I sat in the seat next to that one. The man I’d just sat next to smelled like lemongrass, and I apologized to him in the most graceful way I could. It wasn’t very graceful, but at least I didn’t vomit on him like the last time I rode the subway.

It was at this point that I noticed David Bowie. I mean, he wasn’t actually David Bowie.

“Whoa,” I said to Lemongrass. “Is that David Bowie?”

“No,” said Lemongrass, “He’s been dead for ten years.”

“The guy or David Bowie?”

Lemongrass didn’t say anything. I could see that Lemongrass was done with me, but I wasn’t done with my questions.

“Then why does he look like David Bowie?” I asked. My logic was infallible, man, and I had him caught. But Lemongrass told me again that David Bowie had been dead for ten years. I needed to think about it, wasn’t sure if I bought Lemongrass’ smoke and mirrors approach to stranger chatter. Still, I didn’t know what this guy was all about so I got up to take a closer look. I guess Lemongrass was pretty relieved about that because he immediately filled the seat with his backpack.

I took a look on my phone, didn’t trust Lemongrass to give me top notch information, but I’d be damned, it turned that David Bowie was gone ten years on that day. I took a look at this guy. I don’t know, man, he just looked like David Bowie. When Bowie was in his thirties and forties, I mean, not when he hit his late eighties and looked pretty bad. Swept hair and thin lips, the broad bony facial structure, some eyeliner. He looked like my mom. I mean, my mom looked like David Bowie and this guy looked like both of them. I wanted to talk to him really bad. Say something clever like, “Another day another Labyrinth crotch bulge, eh?” Or, “Ziggy Stardust, more like drugs!” Maybe not those. Those aren’t not clever, but you know. Something clever.  “Glam, bam, thank you ma’am.” I don’t know.

So I moved to talk to him but the doors farted open and he was right out of there. I followed him. It was rush hour, I guess, because people were packed onto that platform, ants in a molehill. I lost sight of David Bowie almost immediately. Well, I had to find him again or else I couldn’t talk to him and ask him if he wasn’t really David Bowie’s kid. David Bowie’s kid had some cool name, I remembered, like Shazam or Raisin. Someone poked me in the back. I looked around to find Lemongrass, gnawing on a stick of zucchini.

“Go to him,” said Lemongrass. His voice was sultry.

And that’s when Lemongrass pushed me onto the tracks.

***

Now, I didn’t think that the tracks would be so crinkled with electricity, but they were, and I saw all sorts of (ziggy) stardust behind my eyelids for a few minutes. That’s the interesting thing, I told myself, you learn something new about subways every day, and David Bowie too. As my eyes got a little better I decided to walk a little, there on the tracks where it wasn’t so crowded. Then maybe I could spot David Bowie. David Bowie’s son. My mom. Just some guy who looks like David Bowie.  This plan seemed like a good idea to me until I heard that familiar scream of metal and I realized that I was in front of a subway train.

“Goddammit, Lemongrass,” I said.

So I moved left, as was the polite thing, and the subway whooshed by my ear. It brought with it a neon halo, pink and throbbing, and when the train passed I was no longer on the subway tracks. I was no longer in Toronto. I was no longer in the year 2047. I knew this because there was no subway. Instead there was a cowboy ghost town and a sign that said ‘NASHVILLE’ swinging from a cactus. David Bowie had turned a corner into the saloon, double doors whacking the walls with pockmark kisses.  I was all set to go in too, but there was a tote bag slumped against the Nashville cactus. It was from Ikea. I picked it up and looked inside, because I’d seen a nice set of glassware the last time I was there. Maybe it was a miracle. But it was just meth.  The clock struck Sunday, and the squirrels started to gather.

“Wait for me!” I shouted after David Bowie, and I slung the meth bag over my shoulder and ran. I ran straight into the subway train, where Lemongrass sat eyeing a stick of zucchini. Lemongrass pushed me out the door and I was back in Nashville, having walked all the damn way from Toronto in another century. Tan lines everywhere, but it was the peeling sunburn that got to be. I tried some meth . The clock struck Sunday afternoon, and David Bowie was dead. David Bowie, his son, and some guy who looked like David Bowie and my mom. Mostly my mom, I started thinking as the saloon doors closed behind me.