Tuesday, October 29, 2013

james and ella

the lock never opened on the first try, this was normal, it wasn't meant to open at all.  james was a genius with locks and in no time he was in the warm barn amid the cooing and rustling of a horse, several cows, and a wild goose.  the goose was an accidental guest, a broken wing a few years back had resulted in permanent quarters.  james crept towards the furthest stall to settle in for the evening.

he'd been hiding out in this barn for a week or so, furtively creeping in at dusk and sneaking away as soon as the alarm sounded on his watch.  he'd oiled the old pump to make sure the squeak didn't arouse anyone as he rinsed his face and mouth with cool well water.  james was a better guest than the goose, who was prone to bothering the two milk cows. 

this wasn't a working farm, understand, it was a holdover from the previous century.  in the sixties one of the first factory hog farms had cropped up nearby and the runoff had killed most of the local farms.  developers had moved in and snapped up most of the remaining properties for a song, and the hog farm had gone belly up in 69 due to an outbreak of hoof and mouth.  only five of the original 200 acres remained of this property, and they were surrounded by a dim residential area.  there were a few small farms like this dotting the land, a welcome if unexpected break in the scenery of cheap one story houses and corner liquor stores. 

a surprise was waiting for james in his usual stall.  a small cot, army style, a woolen blanket, and a clean if worn sheet set, white with delicate corn flowers laced into the edges.  on top of all of this was a wax papered sandwich and a note that looked to have been scrawled with an unsteady hand: "water bingo and the cows"

 james sat on the cot, ate the sandwich, and stared at the note.  he knew who it was from, everyone knew who ella gerald was.  the 900yr old bitch had been living on this farm since being born in the living room to an indian and a jew, she ordered her groceries over the phone and was said to have sued the hog farm in the sixties and gotten rich from it.  some people thought she was a dyke, and some thought she was knocked up by her new york lawyer, lost the baby, and had gone batshit.  james didn't think it mattered when you were 900yrs old.  he got up to water bingo the horse and the two cows, pausing to flick his sandwich crusts to the appreciative goose.  then he lay down to sleep on the first clean sheets he'd felt since being born in alamay central hospital 11yrs earlier.

the next day james got up and watered them all again, just because, folded his blanket and sheet and crept out.  so bingo was that horses name.  the horse was ancient, as were the cows. they spent the day outside and wandered in on their own every evening before being locked up.  the place was more like a hospice than a farm.  james figured the hospice air was all around that place, not just the barn, but despite that he was grateful for the sandwich and kindness and wondered if it would extend itself again that evening.

you see a thief, even a young one, has usually by necessity learned to rely on himself.  it takes the wind out of a sail to find that an intrusion was welcome, and being expected is a blow to the ego and a dangerous thing to get used to.  james was a baby, but he was a hard thieving baby and he knew what it took to survive. 

one of the things it took was avoiding his brother roger, and his mother, missy.  roger spent his days tormenting james into breaking in back doors and garages, and missy spent her days complaining about their fathers and demanding they both provide for her in ways that their missing sperm donors could not.  rogers father was in prison, james father was "unknown".  james always got the impression that rogers cross was greater, missy was constantly reminding him not to become like his father while at the same time complaining that he was already like him.  roger couldn't win, so neither could james.  shit rolls downhill.

so james avoided them both, and for the last week he'd been highly successful.  rog had only seen him in school, james was a few years behind so he left the grounds earlier.  aside from a few notes from rog demanding he come home and take care of business like a man, nobody had noticed he'd been sleeping in a barn for a week.  besides ella gerald, that is.  she had noticed.  would she make trouble?  maybe not. 

when james picked the lock that night he found it particularly difficult, but only because it was already unlocked.  bingo neighed winningly at him, the cows lowed, the goose squawked.  you can't please everyone.  james watered bingo and the cows before heading to his stall, almost afraid of what he'd find there.  he should have been afraid, it was going to change him. 

where his stall had been bare with only the cot and hay, that hay had been removed and book shelves had been placed there instead.  just a couple, but they were filled with books.  james wasn't much of a reader, hadn't had the time.  he'd always associated reading with leisure and that was something that didn't make money and therefor didn't equal survival.  on his bed was an old fashioned lunch pail, metal with two apples, two sandwiches, and a thermos of tomato soup.  under the pail was a note: "please water and feed bingo and the cows, two scoops feed each"

james ate a sandwich and apple, watered and fed bingo and the cows, flicked his crusts to the goose, and examined the books.  "the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe" had just come out at the local movie theater, he settled on that one and read until dozing off. 

the next morning he was a little tired when rog slipped him the first note.  "i'm working on something" he'd vehemently whispered back in between pages, while the lunch guard made her rounds ensuring nobody was doing anything so subversive as talking.  james figured it was ok to take the book to school as long as he brought it back. 

he arrived at the barn a little before sunset but found it satisfactorily deserted as usual.  without trying the lock, he wandered in unchecked, and fed and watered bingo and the cows before heading back to his stall.  there he found his lunch bucket contained one foil wrapped piece of pie, two bananas, one apple, two sandwiches, and one thermos of tomato soup.  in the corner was his bookshelf, but also one lamp that had been plugged into an extension cord running from the back of the main house.  the note under the lunch bucket read "please water and feed bingo and the cows", james smiled.

the next morning james went to school and came home without incident, he was prepared for whatever met him as he swung open the barn door. 

there was an old lady there, ella gerald, he presumed.  his brother roger was there as well.  knife to ella's throat, she was shaking lightly, and rog looked on top of the world. 

"let's run this bitch" he said, james felt his brothers words more than heard them.  felt them like they'd been left under a pail, felt them like fresh sheets or a sandwich in his hands and on his lips. 

ella wasn't anything like james thought, she was tough but not that old looking.  she didn't look 900yrs old or like a dyke, whatever that meant, or like she was batshit.  she looked regular.  she looked like someone who would wrap a sandwich in wax paper for a thief.  and rog, well rog looked like a son of a bitch.

james grabbed a hammer and walked towards his grinning brother. 

james felt a chunk of himself fly away from rog as he hit him, he felt the weight of ella falling before them both, felt her hands reaching for purchase on the barn floor.  felt her looking up at him, horror and relief. 

roger didn't look so tough laying there with a piece of his head missing, he looked like a baby himself.  that's what james thought, and what ella thought, as they examined his small hands and still smiling chubby face.  james thought "why was i afraid of him?" and ella thought "he's just a baby", which is something she already knew.

it's much sadder when you already know.  missy never saw her boys again, but she lived.  james lived too.

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