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Shadow Stall
Cain & Quartermaine 1-A
© 2022 James LaFond
San Jose Union Station, Bunk Nelson
An Autumn Wednesday
“Recovered to heroic poem from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming.”
-John Milton, 1668, The Verse, from Paradise Lost
It was so very cold when Night dropped Her bitter shroud over the Land of Sunshine. The Sunny Vale Transit Center in San Jose was where the busses turned around and the trains, Caltran and Amtrak came and went. Bunk Nelson had bunked in the Navy for six years, so long ago, until his enlistment played out, in LA Boxing Gyms until his chin gave out, in San Francisco Hostels until his wallet gave out, in Oakland motels until one of the junkies sold him out, and then in San Quentin until The Man kicked him out.
Born somebody-else Nelson, he had spent his life in bunks, never owned his own bed. They had called him “Bunk” for so long that most of the time he clean forgot that Mamma had named him Gerold, with the ‘o’ instead of the ‘a’.
The bus was warm but the second trip around, the driver, a big young buck full of righteous guff, Bunk could tell, began eyeing him in the mirror. Jail would be warm right about now. But something in the spit bucket that he envisioned as his soul, bristled with pride at the thought of being hauled off a vagrant again, not at this discarded age.
Besides, there was that pain in his gut down low that he did not understand, that made him afraid of a medical exam. At his age, the ambulance police would be called, and they took old dudes to unnamed places from where they never returned.
A negro with sense could not just up and go to no Mexico.
North of Sacramento it just got colder the norther you went. He had a winter spent up in Tacoma. To be out in that chill, no worse then this, but wet as all get out, for an LA Boy become a bleary-eyed old man, shivered the soul.
To go east, into the high deserts, he’d catch his death the first winter on the street.
The Transit Center it was. Buck Guff, the driver, nodded to him that it would be so as he hollered, “End of the line!”
He entered the wooden double doors like to a church or a cowboy bank of old. Before him, to the left, were wooden pews like an old church such as he had refuged at and even eaten in on the Padre Dime. Beyond those pews was the windows looking upon the train tracks.
Straight ahead was the marble floor for passage to the set of wooden doors opening on those ominous industrial ways of come and go.
Now, all the way to his left was a great clock upon the wall, illuminated by the lights hung from the high and mighty beam ceiling. Under that was the ladies room,. Right of that was the water fountain, where that Russian backpack kid he’d seen around was charging his dumbass phone with the water fountain outlet. Right of that was the men’s room. And, to the right of that, cubby-holed the Cash Lady’s news and snack stand.
To his right was the Amtrak counter behind plexiglass, staffed by a ‘no bullshit but not in your face white boy ‘and a fat Mexican woman. They were shielded from the fallen sun coming through that giant window to his right by a flag that was so big it could have flown over a naval base. That flag was, like him he mused, rendered pale and faded of years, the red and blue gone to light just like his hands had grown ashy.
To the newsstand he went. The Cash Lady looked up at him, wheeling his carry-on luggage behind him, seeming all the legit passenger, “What can I do for you, sir?”
It was so grand to be a sir for a moment in ever-effacing Time.
Bunk awkwardly sought to straighten his shirt collar from where it necked out from the V-neck of his button down sweater vest, shrugged his shoulders to make sure the windbreaker settled just so, and cringed at the deep rumble of his voice, knowing as he did that it had been earned with liquor, “Ma’am, if you please, a can of potato chips, the plain ones, an orange Crush...ah, do you sell Jet magazine?”
The lady smiled, “Haven’t handled Jet since 2012.”
How he missed them pretty girls, not that many had been between those pocket sized covers since women got all libbed up…it was for the best, reading now pretty much behind him.
He would have until Ten O’clock before the Amtrak folks kicked his ass out, nice wise in these parts, not a Nigerian up your ass like in Seattle or a big thugged-out Houston Negro in security uniform in Reno.
The Russian kid came and went.
By evening an Asian lady and two white Amtrak men replaced the Latina and the daytime Whiteman.
Bunk avoided the other homeless, looking the passenger part as long as he could. The insane bitch with her cart full of junk setting up a picnic for baby dolls and talking to imaginary folks... the homeless black bitch in the scooter chair... the crazy cat lady with her bag of crossword puzzles mumbling to her self.
When he had arrived, the bus drivers were using the men’s bathroom a lot, the janitor working on a flood in there. He held his business, nodding out in the chair, eating canned chips, which he knew to be counterfeit but, like being called “sir” by mistake, liked anyhow. And Bunk liked drinking orange Crush, so much so that he’d keep the bottle for water. He was so glad that there was no additional pain in his gut when drinking the soda, simple pleasure that it was.
Coming at just before 8:00 had been a dozen legit passengers, ready to get that 8:23 train. Then, at 8:05, The Man at the counter announced that there had been a “trespass incident” which was government speak for a homeless dude or a suicide getting run over by the train, and it being his fault of a surety.
A man went to the desk and came back to tell his wife that this would be at least a two hour delay, possibly three, which meant the station would not close until late, as far as people being here, but folks would not be let in unless they had a ticket.
At 8:30 the janitor went home.
Bunk stood, arranged his clothes just so, affecting some dignity, and wheeled his carry-on, which was really his whole world that he wheeled around, with handbag strapped to he upper handle, back to the men’s room.
As he was heading back, a man entered, a tall, thin, long, white—actually almost white, like near pale as paper—man wearing a long trench black coat and a military, rucksack, an old black canvas bush hat, walking with a black cane tipped in black rubber and handled in silver in the image of a dragon.
“Well, I’ll be,” mumbled Bunk, “a man clean up out of old time history.”
The man looked at him from across the room, the sun having entirely fallen, with only the artificial street stars of night framing him in Bunk’s blear sight. Stunned by the narrow, piercing gaze, Bunk righted his own gaze towards the bathroom, nodded respectfully, tipping his leather fedora, his one real possession of dignity, and wheeled his way back there.
Bunk picked out the toilet stall in the back left corner, not the handicapped one to the right. His business soon done, he cleaned up, nodded to the passenger man with the pretty wife as he washed his hands, and then lingered in the mirror until that man left. This was a chance at a warm night and a safe place to pee when his old bladder could not hold.
Bunk Nelson, seduced by the private seat and the good and comfortable heat, soon fell asleep.
Bunk dreamed of old times, good times, sparring with Bob Foster, holding mitts for Danny Lopez, of a time when his leather handbag held gloves, wraps, mouthpiece, ring shoes and trunks. Bunk dreamed of old hero-like times when his proud leather handbag marked him a man of gym-worthy account, and did not house adult underpants, a shawl, pork rinds and the world’s worst vodka.
To not wake from such dreams, upon some warm night, remained Bunk’s daily aspiration.
“Mister Quartermaine?” heard Bunk, as he emerged from the shallows of dreamy sleep, those dream times when a bit of the sleeper’s own will might nudge The Dreamer to throw that weary sleeper a bone for his soul.
Looking down under the stall, instinctively holding hat to nap of head with his right hand, he saw no one, “Yes Master?” came another voice. This was said in a Jamaican kind of accent, somewhere warm down there in Vacation Way, he reckoned.
Came the first voice again:
“Master, aye? If it be so, why, pray tell, is this wretched rack upon which a soul finds such torment, so falter prone? Is it cruel Time or by some juju design?” The voice echoed about the tile and metal hall of private business. It was in a strangely stilted old time English accent.
That this would be the tall stranger with the rucksack, Bunk new instinctively, having retained, even in these guilty white times, a healthy negro sense.
The pair sounded as if they were in the handicapped stall.
“Oh, Dear Master, the Indian rubber has slipped, your ship o’ stilt, it to leeward lists. We have time before we board train—a soul has gone seeking before the engine roar. It is our boon to be sure.” The voice was rich, and deep and almost childish too, like the speaker was so tiny as to keep alive the vitality of innocence and childhood.
“Blast, mayhap by no temptation offered by thy pygmy damnation’s ghostly sty!”
Bunk was having a hard time following along and became nervous, that he was burglarizing the wrong conversation.
“Master, Master...not I, it is not for I to phoenix puppets from these echoing stages into the pit of ages...not I, My Captain, Lord of our Tiny Maine.”
“Deviltry be damned, Mister Quartermaine, this contrivance must bear the lot of us! On with it!”
“Yaaz, Master… Master so strong!”
A terrible moan, a groan that echoed all of the heartbreaks and bad breaks Bunk had suffered in his life in each agonizing note of suffering, echoed so sad and lonely through the bathroom, that Bunk forgot himself and dropped his empty soda bottle, having kept it to refill.
Bunk, afraid and ashamed at burglarizing another lost soul’s terrible pain, rose with a rattle of plastic wheels on tile and the clack of metal door on plastic handle to enter into the middle of the men’s room, seeing himself there ashen in the mirror, wide eyed as well. Out of the corner of his left eye he saw there, under the handicapped stall, a boot, a black buckled boot, and a cane, the black rubber-tipped cane of the stranger.
“I’s sorry—fell asleep is all,” mumbled Bunk as he limped towards the door dragging his wheeled suitcase with the hand bag laced to the pop-up handle.
When he got to the door and reached his hand to the handle, the Olden English voice spoke as one in pain does, when he is broke, and the litany of loves, jobs and homes lost reels by in the mind’s eye to torment the exile in the empty ghost-lit halls of his ostracism, “We live in apology, Stranger, You and I. Your courtesy is a boon. May the Furies feast on another’s plight this night.”
Bunk mumbled, “Thank you, Sir,” and walked in the stiff and awkward haste of those who have no ease and no place. The door swung shut behind him and without a thought for this warm hall, Bunk Nelson shuffled for the outer door, afraid of He who was behind him, for once eager to embrace the cold night.
Seeker Cain
seeker cain
Mirror Black
when you're food
under the god of things
the fighting edge
your trojan whorse
the combat space
within leviathan’s craw
into leviathan’s maw
dark, distant futures
son of a lesser god
blue eyed daughter of zeus
the first boxers
the greatest lie ever sold
the sunset saga complete
z-pill forever
thriving in bad places
masculine axis
the lesser angels of our nature
taboo you
on the overton railroad
the greatest boxer
book of nightmares
by the wine dark sea
the gods of boxing
song of the secret gardener
barbarism versus civilization
orphan nation
broken dance
the year the world took the z-pill
menthol rampage
logic of steel
fiction anthology one
winter of a fighting life
honor among men
let the world fend for itself
on combat
night city
america the brutal
logic of force
advent america
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