Arkum hums with a high electric whine, a noise that is like tinnitus to the nth. The man with the monocle who was so strangely dressed coughed on me as the bus lurched to a stop. I hope it wasn't the virus. Now I hunch my shoulders against the freezing wind that hugs the frozen ground. I have two cloptomiters to go before I'm home and it's dark but for the purple neon gloom, looking like a distant nuclear disaster but is merely low light bouncing off the distant metropolis along with the nearly unbearable high whine. And then the wind blows it back upon itself and for a few moments of relief I almost hear silence. I can barely see the ground beneath my feet.
What was I thinking when I dressed for the day? My feet are freezing. Thank the dog for the electric eye. I can see the faintly pink glow of my signature footprint along this well trod strip of stone. But it seems eerily empty for now. Odd. This time of night is usually humming with voices coming out of the dark. All I hear is the high city hum and the wind. Several layers of skirts fly up from a gust of wind and I almost topple backward. These tall rubber boots on their platforms are wonderful in a crowd, extend the stride, and strengthen the buttocks, lifting its heft of weight into the air like a pillow. But skirts?
I hear the dog once and know I will turn left half way up the lane to my bunker. His voice always rings out once when I reach this spot and even without the eye I turn left, arm raised, palm flattened upward to make contact with the wire of the compound. I trail my gloved fingers along the fence until I feel the gate. Here I must remove my glove and place my naked palm against the freezing surface of the palm ID pad. And it slides open almost silently. I enter and hear it slide shut behind me. It locks with a hollow sound that makes me shudder with pleasure. Now small photocell lights flank the path like little pale full moons.
I have a single bunker. I am gifted in certain arts. I can talk to the mad and read their minds. I can smell danger. And I am old. No small accomplishment in these times. So the dog, as he calls himself, and I live together in a cube of concrete with a pyramid roof alone, in silence, but for the sound of my own voice softly talking to myself and his rare great bark or low growl.
He doesn't rise when I come in. But I hear him panting softly in his dark corner. The room is only warmed with his body heat. All the fuel was burned long ago. But food will be brought for both of us. He could so warm me better if we slept together but he will not. So I wear all my clothes trying to keep from shivering. I would never ask to sleep in his bed but have invited him into mine. Often. No luck.
And now before my fingers stiffen in the cold I must answer the questions sent to me by the mad. Only the mad understand the mad, but not all the mad have my gift to hear their inner voices. We are all somewhat gifted. Some of us have visions, hear voices, but I can only listen to the inner voice, the one that never says aloud what it most fears.
One of my three female friends lives a few houses away. On Thanksgiving morning one of her Bunko girlfriends' husband died. It turned a quiet, peaceful Thanksgiving into a deep wound. And so this past couple of weeks she has been doing the hard things a good female friend does at a time like that. He was too young to have died of "natural" causes though he had a heart attack and then a stroke in the past, survived all that, then went into multi system organ failure unexpectedly and died quickly. So an autopsy was performed and my friend was the one given the task of officially identifying his body. She was the one to tell the mortician that "No, they did not need a $1,000 urn for his ashes, not they did not want him embalmed for washed for the crematorium. Still the cost was shocking. Then it was my friend's job to scoop the ashes from the cardboard box into a container she'd found at a discount store. Then she helped write the obituary. And before the "celebration" of his life at her friend's house, she poop scooped the back yard of their condo. Now that's a friend.
But she needed a break. And I'm the only one of her friends out of this loop. One of the many advantages of being a voluntary shut-in, is the ability to avoid all this expensive and traumatic life. Oh yes, I do know that the rituals surrounding death just might be very important for the living, but not for me. I worked hard to ensure that no one will have to spend a penny or a moment's attention to my untimely death--it should have happened thirty years ago or so... But here I am, still as strange and self destructive as ever. Me and Amy Winehouse--we're gonna live forever.
Anyway, my friend is the queen of speed shopping. And we had things to do and places to go today. Odd that either of us would actually choose to leave home on a day we both call the "amateur shopper's day." But we had a list and a treat at the end, so off we went in her recently serviced minivan to what we used to call Fred Meyers, but is now really the Smith's Superstore. We still call it Fred Meyers, even though it's been the Smith's Superstore for years. She knows this monster like the back of her hand, or so she said. But the bastards have rearranged the store so nobody can find what they came in for and now we're all pissed off and looking at overpriced shit we had no idea we needed. My friend heads right for the poor college graduate who's stocking cereal and has him take us to the new place they sell electric kettles. I find the one I want and we're off to the hardware department to get a duplicate key made. And we're out of there, heading south toward the smoke shop on 39th South and 3rd East. This place is a find. It sits in a tiny strip mall and I stand outside in the sun, sucking down a Marlboro Menthol light 100 while she sits in her minivan and sucks down a beer disguised as a pepsi.
The smoke shop is a fine place to shop. I replace my recently broken pipes, get some pipe cleaners and a carton of Marlboro Menthol Light 100's A new-fangeled cigarette holder and we're off to this little restaurant for good cheap Mexican food in a small mall called Ivy Place. We are so pleased with the success of our trip out. We have not spoken of death. Success at every turn, despite the presence of other people. The food is good and the place is full of Mexican men nursing hangovers--early afternoon breakfast and a beer. We eat vast quantities of good Mexican food and listen to a Mexican language station on TV and loud Mexican music on the jukebox. Just like a vacation and It's all delicious. While she waits for a take-out order for her husband, I go out for a smoke and spot the Spoons and Spices across the parking lot. I head inside, elbow my way politely to the counter, to ask for directions for the stove-top espresso makers. A young women leads the way. They have one twelve cup left but no box. I say it's for me, I don't need or want a box. She wraps it up and bags it, takes my money and I'm out of there in minutes. Then we are heading home and very pleased with ourselves.