Continued from: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 5 — After School Not So Special
Mitch rubbed the sleep from his eyes while he looked out the window. The lowering sun gave the afternoon a comforting tint and shadows of trees reached across the parking lot. He watched the boy at the far end of the lot sitting there smoking a cigarette, and it reminded him that he’d like a cigarette of his own. It wasn’t shocking that kids that young would want to smoke, but it did seem a bit peculiar that they’d do it right out in the open. During his own childhood, Mitch smoked and drank anything he could get his hands on, but it would have seemed unnerving to do it in a spot where an adult might observe. But, of course, that was in a different time, on an island where everyone knew everyone else’s business and if anyone saw you up to something, mom and pop would know it before you even stepped through the door to face them. Now, people just don’t seem to give a shit.
The boy crushed out the cigarette and left the butt there beside the curb. He stood and headed for the door to Building 2, adjusted his back pack and pulled open the door. Cooper didn’t see Mitch looking out at him and he was too consumed with hunger to feel the stare. When he passed through the door, he was thinking about getting some dinner and then emptying out his pack only to refill it with the supplies for the tree platform. There were all kinds of secret pockets in the pack; one thin compartment designed for loose change and another for pens or pencils. He imagined that one would be perfect for concealing cigarettes.
Mitch turned back into the cavernous utility room and pulled the string on one of the suspended light bulbs. He’d been having a dream when the voices outside woke him, but he was actually grateful to be stirred from slumber as the “short nap” he’d decided on having that morning turned into a marathon sleep session that would now keep him on the job into a good part of the evening. The blinking red light on the telephone promised a barrage of complaints and requests and he decided on a pot of coffee to prepare himself to face them.
In the dream he was fishing alone on a riverbank. The sky line of the city was visible up-river and the current was racing toward it. The fish just didn’t seem to be biting and this disappointed him as he’d gotten a hot tip that river bass were abundant that day. A mushroom cloud of smog rose above the city after awhile and a sweat broke out, first on his chest, but then spreading up to consume his face. He could feel his cheeks flushing, red and clammy. A voice spoke from behind him: “better save them fish from the filth that lies ahead.” He turned around and noticed Scott, his ex-part timer standing at the top of the bank, a whiskey bottle clutched in one hand and car keys bouncing in the other. Scott was dressed in nothing but an oversized bra and girdle, bunched along one seam and tied to ensure that it wouldn’t fall from his rail-like body. There was a tug on the line then and he nearly lost his fishing rod to the current. Once he recovered, the pull settled a bit and he reeled in a pretty good sized river bass. After it suffocated and he removed it from the line, he slit up its belly to begin gutting. But no blood seeped out and no internal sacs were exposed. The fish was full of rusty screws. They fell out of the opening in a variety of shapes and sizes—some hooked, others straight. “Count ‘em up, Hoss. Go ahead and give ‘em a quick counting before the flies start eatin’ that fish!”
That was when he was shaken from sleep by some commotion outside, but when he looked out there, he saw only the kid. Now Mitch was faced with added disappointment as he stood before the coffee maker. The supply of filters was depleted, and after he emptied out the dried up grounds in the basket, he decided to use a paper towel for the fresh pot. Once he got the coffee dripping, he pulled his clothes from where they were piled beside the cot and stepped into his pants. A collection of bolts jingled in the pocket and he fiddled with them while he listened to the answering machine. There were seven messages.
There would be no counting the bolts.
Continued in: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 7 — Housekeeping