13. Liz Gives a Dollar and Brad Talks Plumbing

May 13, 2010

Walking past the park on the way to Plutonium Music always made Liz uneasy, even though the park was beautiful with large expanses of grass and raised beds near the neighboring stores. Exotic succulents tumbled over the wooden planks and cacti stood like spiky barbarian hordes above them. Weeds flourished everywhere. At the farthest edge of the park, away from the Ave. was a redwood grove; underneath the towering trees, the homeless staked out places to unroll their bedding and sleep. Only recently, the make-do homes had spread to the sidewalks adjacent to the park and across the street. Mounds of blankets and old clothing were heaped on patches of ground meant for trees to shade the pavement. Occasionally, there was the odd hand thrust out from the raggy bedding: swollen, with grit under the nails and streaks of dirt across the skin. Now, in December, intermittent rain had forced the homeless to cover their beds and themselves in plastic.

The numbers of beds was increasing, thought Liz, a lot. That was worrisome. For the most part, the homeless in the park were like the panhandlers on the Ave. Kind of jerky and bizarre. It was hard to have sympathy for them. But once in awhile, she would be overwhelmed by the misery and suffering conveyed by someone’s face. She felt an instantaneous flash of pain in the soles of her feet: it was as if the bodily suffering had flown to one area of her body and settled.

Like now, when she saw the man standing at the edge of the basketball court near the picnic table. He was so thin, and he seemed barely to be able to hold himself upright. Liz stopped, and pulled her coat tighter. She had seen him before. He was the man who wore a red-and-black-check shawl. Only he wasn’t wearing it now, and his clothes looked pitifully thin in the cold afternoon air. But there was something else about him that was odd. It was if the air around him were shivering. Was that a trick of the light, or was it his body that was shivering and giving a flickering quality to the surrounding air?

Liz walked slowly toward the man until she was standing in front of him. She held out a dollar but the man didn’t move. For a moment she was uncertain what to do then she reached over and tucked the dollar into his shirt. She pulled her hand back and walked quickly away.

Inside the music store, Brad was telling Rose and Nate about the movie he had gone to the evening before. There had been a flurry of customers before Christmas, especially in the last few hours before closing on Christmas Eve, but now, on the day after Christmas, the store was almost uncanny in its stillness. The managers had been grim about the holiday sales, and rumors abounded that there would be lay-offs in the New Year. As if in defiance to the possibility of losing their jobs, everyone seemed to grow more and more listless, hanging out when possible and talking about anything except work.

“Tell Rose about your cat,” said Nate. “Brad’s cat doesn’t want to share.” Nate wagged his head knowingly at Rose.

Share? thought Rose.

Brad unwound the long story of his woes. “It’s not just friends and girlfriends though,” he wailed. “Last night there was something wrong with bathroom sink.” He added grimly, “It’s the woman upstairs, I’ve tried to talk to her about it a number of times. I go upstairs and knock on her door and say my shower or sink or whatever is running over but she just plays innocent. ‘Oh really?’” Brad’s voice took on a high naïve tone. “‘Gee, that’s too bad.’ And she’s always semi-naked when she comes to the door, as if she just stepped out of the bath. One of these days I’m going to tell her ‘Clean out your drains, lady.’”

“Does she have something to do with your cat?” asked Rose.

Nate snorted.

Brad looked hurt. “Well, yes. The plumber called me to say he couldn’t fix the bathroom sink. He went out to his truck to get something, and Romeo wouldn’t let him back in the bathroom.”

“Hunh,” said Rose. Now there was a puzzle, on many levels.

“Hi, guys.” It was Arnold carrying a bag of cat food and several cans of tuna. As if in explanation, he added, “Bob said that I could take as long as I wanted to find a home for Sandy.”

“Who’s Sandy?”

“The cat,” said Nate. “Arnold’s named the cat Sandy.”

“Hunh,” said Brad.

“That’s great! That means kitty has a reprieve, for ever,” said Rose.

“No. I have to find Sandy a home,” Arnold retorted, clearly in a waspish mood. He disappeared into the employee’s back room, and Brad and Nate turned to leave—one back to Jazz, and the other off for lunch—both sensed trouble from the little white-haired man.

They froze in mid-turn, Brad turning a splotchy bright pink, which didn’t suit his red hair and blue eyes at all. Rose looked past them and saw Liz walking down the aisle, vinyl flanking her on the left and New Age on the right. She wore a brown wool coat over her jeans; a gold and silver scarf tumbled out from the collar, and her hair spilled over the collar and scarf like warm honey. Her skin looked translucent and delicate. She wore a frown that settled like a tiara on her radiant brow. No one said anything; the men turned slowly back toward the counter where Rose was standing. Brad looked stunned.

“Hi!”

“Hi, Liz,” said Nate emphatically. Brad mumbled something indistinct.

“What is that?” shrieked Arnold, as he came out of the back room. He was staring at the huge cat’s head drawn in multi-colored markers on Bob Winston’s white board.

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