Friday, May 18, 2007

Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring: Part II, chapter 7 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)

There always comes a point in one's life where one has to sever all ties with some portion of the past. For some people doing so is a difficult and emotional undertaking. But as for me, my heading north—and leaving the south behind for good—was the perhaps the easiest thing I'd ever done. It felt good to be on the road, facing straight ahead into a distance which in my younger years might have disturbed me. And by the time I set out for New York such sentiments as loss and regret appeared to be well in the past for me.

Still, what people leave behind tends to accumulate in their memory, creating a mass which, however intangible it may be, possesses a kind of gravity. So as they grow older, and grow weaker, they are inescapably drawn to the past. Certainly I wouldn't be spending time trying to set the facts straight if I too hadn't been drawn to the past. Which isn't to say that I'm either old or weak. It's just that the dimensions of my past experience created a pull so strong that even I couldn't escape it.

When Carone and I drove north, however, that pull had yet to have an effect on me. If anything, what I felt was not a pull but a push; and several times Carone had to alert me that I was going far above the speed limit. "Even if it's just a fucking speeding ticket," he said, "you want to avoid any confrontations with the cops." I wasn't as afraid of cops as Carone was, and despite his constant warnings I couldn't help myself. With my foot pressing the gas pedal closer and closer to the floor just moments after each warning, Carone suggested that he drive, and after the first rest stop he got behind the wheel.

By midnight we'd reached Danville, Virginia, where we decided to stop for the night. I was in a hurry to get to New York and didn't want to spend one more moment in this or any other small town. I wanted to drive ahead, since it would only be another eight hours or so to New York. But Carone was tired and was now afraid not of the cops, but of my driving while he slept. It turned out the last time he'd slept in a car was twenty years previously, when a friend of his drove a Ford Mustang into a tree as Carone took a nap on the backseat.

"I could have died in my sleep," Carone whined. "And there's no worse way to go than that."

"Well, you could drown," I argued, "Or get boiled alive like a lobster."

"Hey, I'd rather be boiled alive, 'cause at least I'm awake to see my life pass before my eyes. If you don't get to see your life pass before your eyes when you die you're getting ripped off in a big fucking way."

It made no sense to me, but since Carone had been patient in helping me with the dogs over the past few years, I gave in to his demand that we stop for the evening.

He drove into the parking lot of the next motel we saw. Entering the room Carone immediately lay down on one the beds without even stopping at the vending machines to get a midnight snack. I wasn't sleepy at all, so I went outside and started walking down the road, thinking that when I got tired I'd be able to lie down and sleep. But when I got back to the room and lay down my mind was racing with thoughts of death. I was, in effect, too afraid to sleep, as Carone's fear of dying in his sleep suddenly began to make sense to me. That he nonchalantly had lain down to sleep without the slightest hesitation seemed like insanity to me. So I just lay back, listening to the sound of Carone snoring and to the cars that passed by every few minutes outside our room.

When morning came I hadn't slept for even a moment. I didn't sleep at all for the next two days. It wasn't until after I went drinking with Carone, his brother, and his sister-in-law that I finally got some sleep. We'd gone into town to a bar on Eighth Avenue and 46th St. a few blocks above Times Square.

Vince—Carone's brother—and his wife, Karen, had suddenly started arguing about something (what it was neither Carone nor I could tell). Karen got up from our booth and sat at the bar.

"Just let her cool off," Vince said, and then asked the waitress for three shots of bourbon. "This is the way to drink," he said to me. "Neat or on the rocks. Don't do those weird shooters my brother here orders—that shit'll fuck you up bad."

Vince's voice and mannerisms were just like Carone's, except that he wasn't nearly as heavy.

"Ah, you're just a pussy," Carone said. "You've never been able to keep up with me."

"I'm not nuts like you is all it is."

"That because you're too much of a pussy to be a nut like me," Carone said, giggling at his own response.

As they went back and forth like this I looked over to Karen at the bar. She was a dark haired German girl with a nice meaty frame. I'd had my eye on her since I first walked into Vince's house two days earlier to see her sitting on the sofa wearing these shorts that seemed to sink into her at the crotch.

"I'll go talk to Karen while you two play your little game here," I said.

I got up and stood beside her at the bar.

"I'm sorry. I've been in a bad mood tonight," she said slowly with her thick German accent.

"That's all right."

"Well, you're our guest. And with your marriage just breaking up, I'm sure you don't need to see Vince and I arguing."

"No," I said, shaking my head then smiling. "It's fine. It's like I brought a little bit of Florida with me."

"I guess you and Lily were constantly fighting?"

"Not really. Not until the very end anyway. We just let the bad shit build up without talking about it. Until it was too late to fix things up."

I shrugged my shoulders and turned away for a moment. Turning back to her I looked into her eyes then down. Karen thought it was a sign of the sadness I felt at the breakup of my "marriage" (all along I'd led everyone to believe that Lily and I were actually married) when I was really just trying to look down her blouse.

"Let me buy you a drink," Karen said, patting me on the arm.

We stayed at the bar for a few more hours, by which time Karen and Vince were on speaking terms again. When we got back to Vince's house I went into the guest room, lay down, and fell right to sleep.

The next day Carone and Karen went with me to look at houses while Vince went to work. It was then when I found the house on Staten Island. It was small wooden house, its walls painted white, with one bedroom, the living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom all on one floor. It wasn't much to look at but it had a big yard and was fairly isolated, the nearest house being about a football field away.

I closed the deal on the house immediately and began to set things up for the dogs, building fences in the yard to divide it into compartments. To shelter the dogs when it was cold or raining I set up some smaller compartments in the basement. Since the house was small, furnishing it was very cheap. I bought a bed and a dresser for the bedroom, a table and chairs for the dining room, and a sofa and desk for the living room which I planned to use as my office. When I was done the house still looked somewhat empty, but that was how I liked it. There was actually little difference between the way it looked the last time Carone saw it before going back to Florida and two weeks later when I'd completed all the work on it.

Soon I began concentrating on the dogs. Carone had set me up with a man in Valley Stream who had some good dobermans which I could breed with mine. Within a year I had twenty dogs—all strong and fierce—and my business was ready to take off.

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