Of course he survived. After they pumped his stomach, he called the Board of Health, which performed an unannounced inspection on Chez Sidney. Pigeon feathers were found in the kitchen and the restaurant was closed down. Then he came looking for me but, oddly enough, he wasn't out for retribution. As it would be some time until he proffered his "business opportunity," the morning he found me on the green, wooden bench in the Common, he merely asked a bunch of questions. All during that first meeting, my mind clicked like a misfiring gun. And the thought that repeatedly refused to fully discharge was that it would have been better had he died.
Actually, that's not entirely true. Another question pulsed through my brain. For the first time, I also wondered how it tasted. This may seem odd, but I'd never met anyone who ate one before. This guy who showed up in front of me, with his long shadow blanketing me like an extra section of newspaper, was the first. I didn't have to guess that it was him, just as I didn't need to imagine the food poisoning or the stomach-pumping. I knew him by the way he dressed. His bruise-colored sweater tucked into his black, woolen slacks. The tops of his leather shoes displaying an intricate pattern of holes like some crazy Chinese checkerboard. And, of course, the trademark gel-slicked, black hair. The epitome of Eurotrash, he was just the type to be drawn to Chez Sidney. The longer I looked at him, the more vivid the scene in my mind became. A candlelit table, soft music, wine, and Eurotrash trying to impress his date: "To the common man, it's pigeon; to me, it's a delicacy." I wondered how delicate the doctors had been when they were evacuating his stomach.
Eurotrash stood above me. Black tufts of chest hair, like spider legs, crawled out from the top of his sweater. I started to rise. My own hair was sticky and my spine ached where the wooden slats of the bench had embedded themselves like railroad tracks. A big maple tree provided a chilly, leafy canopy against the sun and I shivered under it. As I drew my plaid flannel coat around me, some stuffing fell from the ripped sleeve, reminding me of an unexpected snowfall I'd once woken to on a particularly cruel April Fools' Day.
"I always thought it was just a myth." He spoke as if the letter 'h' hadn't yet been invented. "A legend."
"No. It's true."
He nodded slowly and, while he ran his fingers through his gelled strands, I was reminded of another front-page story about the Exxon Valdez.
The clicking in my head continued. I wondered how he knew it had been me. There were thousands of homeless people in Boston; how did he arrive at my park bench?
"How do you catch them?" he asked.
I said nothing. We looked at each other for a moment, and then he offered me a cup of coffee. I was dubious. I'd never had Starbucks before.
"Go ahead," he laughed. "It ain't gonna hurt you."
He held out the cup to me, almost threateningly, so I finally took it and drank.
"It's not so bad. Thanks."
I stretched and then took my canvas bag from the bench and strapped it around my waist. At night, I used it for a pillow but I kept a few items in it that I liked to have with me at all times - cigarettes, some change, and my little tool. During the day, I wore it like the small fanny packs I'd seen attached to bicyclists as they cruised down Beacon Hill.
I started walking towards the Public Garden. I had to piss, and there was a clump of bushes I could use without being seen. Sometimes I'd use my clients' bathrooms, but none of the restaurants were open in the morning. Eurotrash followed me to the little duck pond where the paddleboats were and I sneaked behind the bushes. A few flies buzzed around me as I let loose, carving small yellow trenches in the dirt.
Copyright 2001 Andrew K. Stone. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be printed in any form without permission. For permission to reprint this excerpt, please contact www.sotherebooks.com.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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