Monday, November 28, 2011
Magpie Tales: Creature comforts
A red couch sits beneath the freeway overpass. Nicer than what you would expect of street furniture, but nothing most affluent would want sitting in their living room or would dare invite guests to sit upon. Denizens of the street have less concerns with what others may think. A free place to lay your head is treasured, all the more so if it bears some comfort.
Scrawled on the wall in dripping red spray paint, where those entering its lair will clearly see, are the words 'BeWare Couch!!'
"Hey! Hey! What do you think you doin man?"
Startled, Joe raises his eyes from their view of the next square of sidewalk, the one after the one he was currently crossing, which came after many others since being rousted from his place behind a dumpster on Twelfth Street. Everything he owns is stuffed in plastic grocery bags tied together and affixed to an old broken broom handle. A small bit of blue rubber that once coated the whole think provides little comfort for the hands that now carry it.
A ratty man, hair nesting in large fern-like growths at odd angles on his head and eyes of angry bees ran arms waving up the asphalt toward Joe, screaming. Pants that are several sizes too small inch closer to the mans knees as he raises each leg high as a flamingo before bringing it down to slap the asphalt. Slap-slap, slap-slap. Each footfall a double tap due to disengaged soles that hang like dog tongues.
"I said what you doin?" the man repeats, through chipped yellow teeth filling the puckering gash of his mouth, though his hands do most of the talking.
"Looking for a place to sleep," Joe mumbles, continuing to move forward despite the crazed man.
"Don'chu go sittin on dat couch, da couch is not the sitting kind, eatchu up n' ruin yo mind," his fingers dance as if to cast a spell, moving in ways knuckles should not.
"What couch," Joe begins but before he can finish the man is on him, all arms and legs, tugs and pulls, no punches.
Joe collapses under the surprising weight, the stick flying from his hands as the tries to gain purchase to pull the man off of him. Old mustard and vinegar smells run down Joe's tongue, his gag reflex taking over from there. The man's hands push into his face driving it into the grit of the road, the small ledge of the sidewalk creases Joe's back. The burst bags of his possessions spill their entrails in puddles of shirts, an old can rocks. Steaming vomit chars his throat and sprays across the grey black toward the yellow line down the middle.
"I tell's you no couch, why you make me hava do dis," the man's fetid breath leaks into the hollows of Joe's cheek.
Sepia pictures of a swing set, his little girl in a billowy dress, with a gap tooth grin fill Joe's eyes, forcing a tear from the corner. The pressure on his head, in his head is suffocating and he succumbs to the shadows that laugh as they overtake him.
"Honey, did you see that man on the couch?"
"What couch dear? I am trying to focus, the only reason I took this way is because someone took too much time selecting the right jewelry to accompany her dress tonight. If there was a couch, it was probably some bum. The city needs to clean up their mess, it only encourages them."
The car settles into silence, its headlights slashing the night toward more civilized sections.
Clouds. An ocean. Joe is floating. His bones no longer hurt as they grate against each other inside his flesh. Spreading his arms he relaxes, letting the waves take them where they want. His finger finds something semi-solid. A bag? Slimy and cold. Tight weave cloth, rough, a stick, coil in his back. His dirty body.
Awake once more, Joe only moves his eyes, surveying where he is. His feet burn from loss of circulation, propped on the arm at one end of---a couch? One arm rests across the top, a used condom under one finger. He pulls the hand to his chest and checks but the old rope belt is still cinched tight at his waist. He rolls to his side, wincing as he puts his back firm against the back of the couch.
Across the road, against the opposing concrete wall, the crazed man that attacked him crouches. The man's long fingers dig in a ball of aluminum, pulling bits of something then bringing it to his mouth. He hums and chews, licking his greasy fingers, before turning his head to look at Joe.
"I tells you dat couch is bad noose. Shoulda listen. Mama sed listen. Da couch is hungry doe. No time ta listen."
"What are you talking about?" Joe croaks the words, pain coming alive along his body like red ants, but unable to muster the energy to move.
The man is crossing the road on all fours, eyes wide, yellow as the teeth. Joe sighs hard, wanting to escape but his muscles unwilling to answer his call. The man is close, his hand crawls on Joe's cheek, turning the head to look directly at him.
"De couch is hungry," the man laughs, a mixture of screeching tires and steel drums then retreats back across the street.
He is picking once more at the aluminum, when Joe feels the first tugs at his lower back, then the gnawing and begins to scream.
A red couch sits beneath the freeway overpass. Nicer than what you would expect of street furniture.
This is a Magpie Tale.