Philip Kobylarz

Licorice-Colored Hair

     A part-timer, jack of many trades and interests, Mikey did not know what he wanted out of life, or what to do in it, so he hung out and even managed to work a bit at the Gallery. He was naturally skillful, good at anything he tried- welding, polishing, making prototype sculptures, inventing sculptures to be made, or at least drawings of them, and making love to unfamiliar women. According to his backroom stories, he was especially knowledgeable in the last category because he was continually in search for Ms. Right, or at least, her sister.
     Symptomatic of many a mid-westerner born and bred in medium-sized cities, not having a particular accent and all too familiar with the forever stretching fields of corn and sometimes soybeans that led nowhere and contained nothing other than vast expanses of itself, he seemed to be seeking a horizon, a line of perspective, maybe a definition of himself.
     An early riser and smoker of morning cigarettes and addicted nail biter, he was the energy cell that got the Gallery going. The morning music thumping out of the lunch room stereo was his: funk, jazz, rap, or classical. He liked it all. When he worked, he liked to control the situation and job at hand; he was his own boss which meant there was an inevitable personality clash with Rex. After all, it was Rex's show, and he habitually called the shots even though he set unreasonable schedules that no one could meet and that demanded total commitment to the impossible.
     Mikey and Rex carried out their psychic battle by leaving each other mean little post-it notes about the workplace. If you're gonna do it like this, don't do it at all by Rex would be met with a If I don't do it, it won't get done, boss-man by Mikey. There were times when Mikey's replies quoted philosophers or great men of literature; Rex would reply by intentionally illiterate responses misspelled on purpose. The best of these missives were culled by Raymond and left in the bathroom for the reading pleasure of all.
     Thimk, next time, stoopid– R.
     I thought, therefore I did– M.
     Granpappa with his lame arm, could a done better– R.
     Then get him to, pops–M.
     Before finishing my pieces, ask!–R.
     Because I did it better than you, don't be peeved, be happy–M.
     Egads, it that a weld, or an iron caterpillar–R.
     Neither, it's a pupa in molt–M.
     In any normal workplace, these aesthetic exchanges would have lead to a firing before they could even be pronounced, in this case, writ, but this was the Gallery, and artists, up to a point, could be inspired and egos could be fueled by this kind of mental banter.
     Because Mikey just didn't know what he wanted to do, petty arguments were a symptom. Partially, this is what led him to become engaged to his college sweetheart Karrie. Sometimes she would come in and wait for her man to finish work, and she'd bring a twelve-pack of beer for all. During these afterhours steam blowing sessions, Mikey and Karrie would take little jabs at each other, in front of the others, revealing their unhappiness. Both worked marginal jobs– Karrie was a food preparatrice at a deli. Mikey worked at the Gallery. Both of them had with no careers in sight for the future. They had children, in the form of two puppies, but they were just too young to be a couple, let alone a to-be-married one. When Mikey began sleeping at the Gallery, or in the back of it, in his car, the warning flag was unfurled.
     It seemed that the artist's life lead to either infidelity or heartbreak, often both. When Karrie wasn't around, Mikey inevitably complained about his "set-up" to mainly uninterested ears. What could anyone tell him? There wasn't a success story in the ranks. Rex and Nora were always at each other, Raymond practically despised his girlfriend, Pablo's cut out on him, and Sam and Louise were never around enough to reveal the secrets of their bliss, which was, in fact, the true secret of their happiness.
     During the long boring hours of drudge work, like endlessly sweeping up minute dust particles or re-arranging the tool shelves or collecting the tiny bits of pieces that didn't make it into art– from the floor, off the tables and desks, something Mikey loved to do, images of his possible wedding night drifted through his head.
     Silver kegs of beer seeping flat beer, the band covering Hendrix tunes as inefficiently as they could, his buddies all gussied up in rented tuxes, his old flames looking better than they ever did when they were with him, especially the tall blonde who'd been in a motorcycle accident and had a scar running up her thigh, the dance floor of the non-denominational chapel barely occupied. A cafeteria fold-out table loaded with presents in beautiful wrappings that he'd later let his dogs in a fury open, his mother drunk on wine, attempting to sing the songs from her own wedding, the band reluctantly switching to Blue Moon, and her dancing with anyone who would dare. Somehow these visions didn't leave him sad, only wishing that they weren't his.
     To say he wasn't happy was to miss the point altogether. He, like the others, wanted something better. He was selling some of his bronzes, especially the one of an ear of corn painted real colors and his giant iron cowboy boot. He even established a formula that took in all the costs, work time, even shipping fees, to gain a moderate profit. But days beginning with the thought of making ten or so belt buckles, out of bronze, that simply consisted of the words Belt Buckle put a damper on the crisp sunny mornings. Maybe he wanted to travel. Maybe he wanted to leave.
     And he would, as often as possible. Usually, minutes of get away time. A walk to the gas station to pick up a pack of smokes and some candy bars. After putting in hours of reluctant work, he'd take one of his dogs out to the riverside park, watch the topographies of sinkhole and river form, then spin away, and he'd wonder what the woods looked like just beyond the levee on the other side. He'd roam the back alleys of town, where the Amish parked their horse and buggies, and he's whistle and chirp to get their attention, then look for decent cardboard boxes from behind the thrift and hardware stores, for shipping his works to such distant places as Toronto, Okaloosa, Peoria, Albuquerque.
     Other places is what Mikey often thought about. It is what lead him to buy a motorcycle. After the daily grind, he'd ride it along the highways that led from town to town, never actually going anywhere but around. With walkman earphones set snugly in his ears, and a helmet on his head, he could be elsewhere, almost with a feeling of flight, alone in the night air and wind listening to jazz turned up real loud. It was a mock escape from everything: his life, work, the country. To see lights of a town on the distant horizon, and to achieve them, downshifting past the police car in repose on the outskirts of the city, to cruise in third gear through the empty streets lit up by a local salon's beer sign and streetlights flickering through the wings of a million hungry moths. To accelerate outside of town, shifting, pushing the engine to its limits, entering a freeway, and opening up the bike to full speed, grinning, and facing the almost limitless possibility of highway 80– endpoints of San Francisco or New York– nothing stopping him but his own rationality.
     One day he would just ride and keep riding. But not yet. Tonight, like most other nights, he'd go home, to his dogs and his woman, have dinner, watch a little t.v. until he became bored, and fall into another restless sleep knowing there was another day of hard work ahead of him, and that he was surrounded by fields and fields of fields, and that life was that way, but it didn't have to be, and he could change it if he wanted to, by leaving, by finding a different job, by having an affair, by drinking more, by whatever he wanted. The crux.
     Knowing what to want was the hardest part. Karrie and Mikey would take trips to the big city, St. Louis, Minneapolis, or Chicago, to find the things that life in their corner of the woods lacked. Books, art museums, good restaurants, could from time to time provide the spark of excitement that once led them into the proposition of love. After a while, these places became the same old places, and they stopped going to them mostly because they tired of the long drives to them, always the same route, always the same familiar scenery.
     Which, quite naturally, as all of nature is the antithesis of civilization, led Mikey to search for new landscapes within the limits of his territory. Landscapes of a highly localized, and feminine disposition. Unable to find inspiration within his life, he began messing around.
     He had for sometime been fascinated with the conceit of adultery, if there exists a person who is not, and started to test the clichés he'd learned from movies, on women at nearby pubs.
     Much to his surprise, they worked. Asking what sign a fellow drinker was, with a few initial laughs, proved to be a time tested true lead into a person's psyche. The third Scorpion he met in one evening garnered him a ride home, late, late at night, and a goodbye kiss and understood promise for a less crowded rendezvous. Her name was Monica and she was trouble.
     Trouble came in the guise of abruptly disconnected phone calls. Mikey became forgetful of things, like where he put his keys and sunglasses; he'd drop sculptures he had just finished. At work, he started to blink uncontrollably, and stutter when he spoke to customers. Karrie began to pick up on these signals and the guys at work, being artists and never too far from the inspiration that only emotion could bring, knew something in Mikey's world had begun to become unhinged.
     Especially since his bouts with Rex had almost completely subsided. This ongoing theater of dislike was one of the favorite vaudevilles of the Gallery. Without the tension between the two stubborn men, a dynamic was missing. Nora no longer had Rex's anger to console. Pablo didn't have a cohort in criticism of the boss. Alex couldn't act as mediator. Raymond sat and ate his lunches silently, trying to figure out what type of cloud was obscuring the co-op's weather. Then Monica started showing up at the Gallery.
     Sam, who happened to be around only at the most crucial moments, announced her first arrival, from behind haze of blue generic cigarette smoke– she's here Mikey boy, and dressed in nines. And she was: heels, tight black pants, and a sweater that was more of a second skin than an article of clothing. When she arrived, Mikey dropped the ball-peen hammer in his fist, ripped the goggles off his face, and with a dirty handkerchief, wiped sweat and dust from his face. He ran into the bathroom to presumably fix his wild tuft of three o'clock work hair.
     When he came out, Monica was chatting with the Raymond and Pablo in the office. There you are, she said when he entered the room, knocking over the cup of pencils on the desk. He invited her to the pub down the street for a beer and game of pool.
     Mikey didn't come back to work that day.
     Karrie called twice.
     There is a type of psychic radar that infidelity, or the thought of it, breeds. When Karrie came into the Gallery at five thirty, the boys told her that Mikey was out with a client. Nora said nothing. Karrie didn't have to inquire about the gender of the foresaid client. It was understood. It's all in the eyes.
     At the bar, Mikey and Monica small talked. Really mostly they didn't say much. Mikey watched her as she bent over the pool table, hands tightly holding the cue, one eye closed, one squinting when she made a shot. To him, she looked like an elf with dark hair. Angled eyes that looked maybe even Egyptian with the aid of carefully applied mascara. A perfectly proportionate pug nose, the tip of which moved when she smiled broadly. Long dark hair the color of fresh licorice.
     She walked around the pool table, to make a shot, and bent her long body nearly an inch from Mikey's face. The thought that this couldn't be happening didn't occur to him. When she pulled her stick back, it hit his beer glass, which was on a wet napkin. The glass stayed position on its edge, tilted, holding half a beer. Mikey saw this as a divine sign.
     So did most of the bar's patrons. They looked, laughed, pointed, then began to applaud. Monica smiled in astonishment before turning around and seeing what she had performed. She curtsied, took her shot, and sunk it.
     To Mikey, this miracle was a message. And it read: Caution Ahead. Before he had the time to fully realize the situation, the time of late evening it was, his relative drunkenness, he was in the passenger seat and Monica was lighting a cigarette for him, in her mouth, and they were driving to her place.
     When they got there, they were greeted by her auburn cat, Tether. Mikey entered, taking off his coat and apologizing for his grimy work clothes. Monica offered him a glass of wine, disappeared into the kitchen, from which immediately he heard the radio, the jazz station he always listened to. She came out with a bottle and two glasses and a lit candle.
     This was something new. The taste of her lipstick. The contours of her body felt through tight jeans. Though she wore no perfume, her hair carried the scent of fresh picked flowers, or a newly used bar of soap. He tasted the taste of the gum she was chewing and didn't take out of her mouth. He measured her weight as it pressed down onto his own body, which he couldn't feel anymore. The buttons of her shirt were round and liquid smooth like seashells. She breathed his name, and something else that he didn't want to hear, then she bit his ear. It seemed as if her breasts were moving of their own volition. When he closed his eyes he saw Karrie's face, he saw his dogs running away from him in a big grassy field, he saw his mother scolding him for breaking a window with a baseball. When he closed his eyes, he saw the lights of some distant city slowing turning off, like stars dying. Mikey was going somewhere he had never been before, a new place, a location of no known address, somewhere where it might be possible to return from.

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The views and opinions expressed throughout belong to the individual artists and may or may not coincide with those of the other artists (or editors) represented within the magazine. Hobo Camp Review supports a free-for-all atmosphere of artistic expression, so enjoy the poetry, fiction, opinions, and artwork within, read with an open mind, and comment wisely. Thanks for stopping by the Camp!