My old man was an original member of the Jackpine Gypsies. They called him The Kid back then, since he was only fifteen in ’38. After the war, he rode a surplus Chief he bobbed himself. All seasons except February, he’d say.
I tell you, if he seen Sturgis now he’d up and die. All these fat, rich lawyer types towing their fancy Harleys behind RVs and dressing up in three grand’s worth of Schott leathers, pretending to be bikers.
It makes me sick.
There used to be ethics. Honor. Being a biker wasn’t for everybody.
That was the goddamn point.
It isn’t until I go upstairs that I realize somebody is home. Just my fucking luck. They told the neighbors they were going on vacation. Boarded the dogs, stopped the paper. But here I am in the bedroom and somebody is in the shower. A woman, from the smell of the soap.
I search the dresser. Two Rolexes in one of those self-winder cases. A diamond engagement ring on the nightstand. I’d like to find some cash, but there isn’t time.
Then the water is turned off and out she comes, wrapped in a towel. She looks right at me.
Yuri Andrejevic passed the bottle of kvass around the fire. Nicolai Ivanovich merely stared angrily, arms tightly crossed over his belly.
“Oh, did we hurt your feelings, Nicolai?” bellowed the Colonel. “Well, I won’t apologize. Your story is ridiculous. A stone from the sky did all this!” He waved his gloved hand.
We’d been six days riding along the Tunguska river across thousands of versts of destruction, the great forest trees laid flat and burnt to charcoal, the rabbits and deer of the forest lying dead in their tracks with singed fur and blistered skins.
I drank the kvass, wondering.
“Got the last box packed. Where’d you get the flowers?”
“They were on the porch. No card.”
“You think they’re from him?”
“Duh. Who else?”
“Doesn’t he know we’re moving?”
“Probably. You didn’t hear anything? He didn’t ring the bell or nothing?”
“Maybe. The tape gun makes a lot of noise.”
The girl unboxed the two bouquets and carefully arranged them on the table.
“There. A nice surprise for mom when she gets home.”
“Who you gonna say they’re from?”
“No way she buys that bullshit. She’ll scream and throw them out.”
“I want her to see them.”
Soon as they took out pay phones, I knowed there was a war on the poor. It’s symbolic.
Take the cops. It’s like whatever rules held them back in the old days is gone. In them times, a cop might roust a brother for sleeping where he ain’t supposed to. Maybe even they arrest you for vag and take you downtown. Depending on the time of day, you might even get a meal if you was sober enough to eat.
Not no more. Nowadays they curse you, hit you with them batons, maybe even shock you with them stun guns.
“You bought a Hitler Car? You can’t be serious.”
“You should feel the air conditioning. Like a movie theater.”
“Chryslers have air conditioning. Volvos.”
“The cars are terrible. Read your Consumer’s Reporting.”
“So it doesn’t matter with you that this company made machines that killed my entire family? This is nothing?”
“I knew you would be this way. Remember the Bayer aspirin? When we were courting?”
“That was different! They conducted medical experiments! They killed thousands for their science!”
“Yes, they did. I am not denying they did. But these are different people now.”
“I will never ride in it.”
“You have a lot of nerve,” I said. “Showing up now. After.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said in her snide tone. “I got here as soon as I heard.”
“As soon as you heard,” I said. “Right. What about before?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said again.
“Sure you don’t.” I said. “She’s been sick for what, five years? Six?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Let me ask you,” I said. “How many times did you come up here then? How many visits?”
“You know how it was,” she said.
“Still is,” I said.
Oh, Cropper was inventive. He had these little touches made him unforgettable. One job, he had the bloke cuffed to his desk when he noticed a cup of pried-out staples sitting there. A bloody cupful! So Cropper asks him, “How many’s in there?” The poor bastard says he don’t know. Cropper takes out his gun and points at the bugger’s head. “Guess,” says he. But before the poor sod can, Cropper tells him that he’s gonna count them after. Every staple unaccounted for, over or under, he’s going to make the bugger swallow! I tell you, Cropper was a genius.
The usual Sunday shelling had finally stopped, the merchants appearing like magic with their brooms and dustpans to sweep up the rubble and broken glass. Not that there was much left of the latter–the first casualty of war may be truth, but the second is surely windows.
We strolled through the square and almost tripped over an unexploded 105mm shell smoking in its crater. Wordlessly, Chaim snatched me by the collar and ran us toward the massive stone archway, the heat of the explosion lifting us and propelling us forward until we reached the safety of the archway.
I ain’t against work when I can get it, long as it’s temporary. I can’t stick in a place for long. I get the itch. First time I jumped a freight was the first time I ever felt alive. I wasn’t running from nothing. My home life wasn’t exactly what you saw on TV, but it wasn’t monstrous. I still keep in touch with them, at least with Ma. I show up Christmas or Easter some years, if it’s convenient.
This life has changed in the years I done it. Less opportunity. You see them old-time hobo movies or read the stories and think you know a thing or two. The hobo code and all that. But it ain’t like that now. It’s more serious, and more dangerous. I never let on that I’m a woman, now. Learned that lesson hard.
When it stops suiting me, I guess I’ll quit.
Written as a contribution to Transient | The Daily Challenge