September 17, 2012
The houses should have been built closer together. It would save the trouble and expense of pouring those five-foot-wide strips of concrete driveway in between them. Can’t fit a car worth owning.
There’s a bend at the end of the street, and a footbridge that cuts south to cross the ravine. The ravine is half inside the city limits and half outside. Stay on the road, though, and you’ll pass the cemetery. That’s where they bury their dead.
A car or truck passes by every five minutes or so. Ten times the usual rate, owing to road construction at the rail crossing that bisects Market Street. More exactly, the installation of new crossing gates. Last month’s failure caused the fourth fatality in seven years. The detour reroutes traffic past the cemetery and downhill until you pick up Market Street again by the Shell station, but now you’re well past anywhere you needed to be.
At the last property before the ravine, Hubert the ex-cop has set up a card table that quivers beneath its load of fresh vegetables: zucchini, cucumbers, heirloom and Roma tomatoes, hot and bell peppers, and squash. His handwritten sign says fresh veg, honor system but ever since the detour began, he is at the table all day.
“I get by,” Hubert says. “Better than some, probably.” He sips his fifth or sixth cup of this day’s black coffee.
“Kicked the dirt over my second ex-wife not eight months ago. Nice casket, nice service. She didn’t appreciate it, though. Not one bit. Kept hollerin’ for a long time.”
He begins shaking and coughing. It’s not a seizure; Hubert is laughing. He rattles and wheezes for a few more minutes before putting his cap back on and becoming serious again. His features settle like custard folded into an unbaked pie crust.
“I never killed nobody in the line of duty,” he says, “Seemed the same as setting them free. I wanted those shits to sit around their cellblock thinking about what they done. They’ll get their chance to burn. What’s the damn hurry?”
He recalls the old days because people seem to want to know—bunch of pussies sitting in offices; or worse yet, bums just sucking on the government’s teat.
“Never been shot. Stabbed, though. Just once. You have to really want to kill a man if you’re set on putting a knife in his guts. The guy yelled at me because I was still alive after.”
Hubert’s neighbor Delores starts up a mower and begins cutting her front yard; headphones over her ears and a cigarette in her mouth. There’s no room to turn around, so she just keeps backing up again. The work is finished in exactly six passes: three down, three back.
“My dog Hutch smells meteors at night,” Hubert says when he can be heard again. “Even before they hit the ground. He does. Hears them, too. I watch him at night. Listening, listening.”
None of the houses in the neighborhood has a yard large enough to support the most meager of vegetable gardens. Delores always gossips about Hubert unloading the crates of produce he buys from the wholesaler every other morning.
“You can’t see shooting stars if you stare right at them,” Hubert continues, leaning back in his folding chair and blinking. “Just look away or let old Hutch find them for you.”
More like this on my blog, but you already knew that.