Sunday, April 20, 2008

9 Ball, Corner Pocket

His hair hung over his face and his voice was so soft that if you hadn't been listening you would have missed his call. Cue lined up, push! Crack, thunder moving down the table - plonk. The nine slid into the corner pocket. He straightened, shook his head and satisfaction flew across his face.

He was a loner, a stranger to this town. She'd never seen him before. Another call, another shot, another plonk and one by one the balls fell just as he told them to. A crowd grew to watch the magic. Stella constantly delivering beers and nachos kept her eyes on the kid. He looked like a kid although she was sure that 'lanzo had checked his ID at the door.

The kid pocketed the modest fiver that he'd won by clearing the table as Cake, the best player in the county, ponied up a $20 and the magic started again.

This time the kid broke, sending the first ball into a pocket - stripes. Once again, without scratching or missing a beat the kid cleared the table. Cake, a big barrel of a man, picked up his twenty and handed it to the kid. "Double-er - nuttin? And I break?" he asked. The kid nodded and cake took the table racking the balls. The silence gave Stella a chance to study the kid under the guise of asking him what he wanted to drink.

He was tall - thin. Thin as a rail her grandma would have said. A shock of blond hair fell over his forehead and obscured his face. He had long narrow hands - piano players fingers, that held the cue carefully even as he slouched awaiting his turn. "Dew" he answered her query and shook his head at the offer of food.


Often times he would go sit by the Minnesota River and throw rocks into the water for hours on end. Looking at him you wouldn't be able to tell whether he was sober or stoned - homeless or not - old or young. Well, that part wasn't really true. He was young, but he was older than he looked and that, when he thought about it, was what counted.

Today was a rare sunny March day. The wind was pushing the winter remnants of trash in swirls around the parking lot as he walked toward the river. He'd spent some of the money he'd won the previous day on food, a pack of cigarettes and a large bottle of Mountain Dew.

He reached the river and squatted on the bank. He nestled himself between the forked roots of a large cottonwood tree. The river, like time, rushed by. He paid it no attention.

As the sun set he grew aware of the stiffness in his body and the cool air gave him a chill. He didn't know where he went when his mind took off like that, but he was always thankful for his return. He stood, stretching, wondering about the time. He was hungry, so it had been awhile, but he hadn't moved, so he was pretty sure it hadn't been days.

He ran his hand through his hair, dirty, and across his face, stubbly, although he was so fair that he looked to be too young to shave.


He awoke in a cold sweat. It was the same dream and it always scared him. The thing was, with his eyes open he could never remember it. No matter how many times he planned to remember it coaching himself to keep his eyes closed, to keep still until it came back to him - he always jerked awake; heart pounding eyes flying open involuntarily. He'd grip the edge of his bedroll, orienting himself back to his body.

Afterwards - after his eyes opened - they would be no returning to sleep and he always knew that the dream heralded a call to move on. He'd been waiting for it. He'd been in the small town for the past three weeks. Longer than usual and many folks had started to recognize him and they had begun to seem familiar to him.

The only one he thought he'd miss was the girl in the bar. Stella her name tag had read. After his first night there she'd made a point of keeping his Mountain Dew filled and his ashtray empty. He'd never spoken to her, except that first day when he'd asked for a dew, but her quiet care taking had reminded him of his mother and he'd gone back to that bar. Not every night, but often enough to know her work hours.

He packed his things without fanfare, his movements small, tidy, borne of repetition. His long fingers pushing his few possessions into his pack. He headed south, toward the railroad yards at the edge of town. He'd check there for a lift first before walking to the truck stop at the highway. He preferred trains. The rolling sway was hypnotizing like the river current, but the slowing or stopping of the train almost always brought him back. And it was easier to figure out where he was if he'd been gone on a train.

Trucks were how he'd ended up in Southern' Minnesota in March. He'd gotten to Chicago by train, but the rail yards were too well secured; patrolled by dogs he couldn't find to befriend; and so he'd gotten a ride with a trucker in February. It was early March before he'd figured out where he was. Trains, yep, trains were easier.

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