Defeat at the Foot of Pete
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs – perhaps you don’t understand the situation.
The rusting tin integer wasn’t worth a penny but it cost a total zero his eroding thin sanity. Hovering ghostly above, the penumbra of a missing “1” gloated. Cruel consequence had its fun with the fragile and pointed a single finger to the imagined ideal of fairness. But life lessons were not completely without purpose, that’s why they’re called lessons. Duh.
What is a life lesson? Cribbing from Winston Churchill: It is like a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Henry Peck believes and preaches that there is an epiphany inside each life lesson. Au contraire says a doubting Thomas (Cruise). Quoting from the movie A Few Good Men: Should we or should we not follow the advice of the galactically stupid?
Henry found himself laying in the sparse grass on the sharp gravel shore of Pete reservoir. At last consciousness, he heard a gunshot. Blackout is the first refuge of a coward – unless there’s a place to hide.
As the gnats about him needled his scalp, he poked even deeper into his memory. The hostage crisis started coming back. He remembered awakening to a horrid stench. It wasn’t the dreadful smell of death – it was the much greater stench of the dead guy’s still breathable shirt. Implausibly but not impossibly, Angry Man had shot himself first. The simplest logistics escape some of our most well intentioned plans.
If a paramedic had examined the two bodies lying in the Pete street apartment, he would have found no viable heart beat. This is a true statement except for the fact that an ambulance was never called and Henry wasn’t dead. Henry’s clothes were soaked with blood from the erupted head that rested on his sunken chest. At first, he wondered why no one called the police at the sound of gunfire. He concluded that in this part of town the sound of a gunslinger was more frequent than the sound of a robin singing.
Henry did not wonder why the two targeted women were gone. He did wonder why the “Ruby” revolver seemed to be cradled in his palm. This reality prompted him to action. He pushed the still steaming stink stack off. Knowing he could not go out in broad daylight looking like he just left a slaughter house, he walked to the closet to look for a change of clothes. What he saw took his breathe.
On the left side of the closet, hung dozens of identical shirts. These shirts still had all of their tags on them – unopened Christmas gifts often revealed family ties. Henry loved and wore these same shirts – except they weren’t exactly shirts. They were 2-in-1s.
A 2-in-1 is: a sort of dickey that has taken hostages: the original false shirt-front with a reluctant collar sewn on, an innocent sweater vest wishing it would have completed the weave and finished cardigan, and two pathetically short sleeves that only a bastard design would claim. Henry mused, That sweatshop Bangladeshi seamstress should be working in America. Probably is.
Improbably, on the right side of this fashion faux pas, hung a long row of identical trousers. Yes, they were Dickies – fourteen pair of pleated, cuffed, four pocketed khakis. Also with tags. It looks like Virgil laying over there had some pretty good fashion sense even if it was an aberration. Henry loved and wore the same style trousers, too.
So, except for the sanguine hue, Henry wore the exact costume that a man whose brains could fit in a Lite beer can would literally not be caught dead in.
So, laying on the shore, Henry imagined he remembered all this. Continuing his recollection, he did remember changing into the clean clothes and emptying his crusted pockets into the clean ones. He didn’t remember removing the tags and he couldn’t remember anything after that until he woke up here on the beach.
But now, upon further thought, since he found himself in the same clothes he’d been wearing and near the site of the traffic jam, he was afraid to trust this last surrealistic memory. He had no evidence he could point to and corroborate the haunting events that occurred after returning to the main road. Henry again had to consider whether he was going mad.
Henry would not leave this place until he got a sign that verified his madness or his sanity. He stood up and looked around. The deserted shores of the reservoir sustained no life worth living. Yet, he spotted what looked like a fishing pole propped on a rock a few yards away. Walking to it, Henry had to wonder who would leave a working rod and reel cast into a fish-less tank – or who put it here for him to find.
On a whim, Henry picked it up and hopelessly started to reel in the taut line. Wow, I caught something. Like a little boy, Henry reeled and tugged and reeled and tugged as if he had a whopper. He performed these theatrics even though there was no struggle on the tackle – only weight, dead weight.
Henry’s mouth fell agape at the sight of he catch. It was a dead animal – part of a dead animal. Henry’s mind raced back to the scene of the traffic jam that occurred here not that long ago. The realization that the catastrophe had turned to tragedy lay at his feet. The public servants at the seen did not do their civil best. Expedient, not expert; they were insensitive, not compassionate; they were irreverent, not fervent – the firefighters dumped Bullwinkle, with a wink, and without a second thought, into the drink. The nearly severed nose pulled off with a single Henry tug on the fishing line.
This was the sign Henry needed to begin to resurrect belief in his sanity. Though salivation had commenced, he would have to leave this near jellied delicacy for the appreciative carp. Those nutrition-less bottom feeders had the ravenous appetite of ten Henrys for this carrion carryout. It would be the death of them.
Henry watched the oily mouths pursue the goo, wiggling out of the water, continuing over the rocks, and on to the chum. In pursuit of their desire they would die a terrible death, even for a carp. This sight struck Henry with insight. He had an epiphany. This gem had to be written down before he forgot it. As he raced across the rip-rap, he turned his eyes back one at a time towards the morsel he left wharfed.
Henry wrote the sage adage on a sticky note and jammed it in he pocket. He excitedly jumped into his car and cursed immediately. There was something in the driver’s seat that bruised his butt. Reaching under himself he retrieved a gun – a revolver, the erstwhile suicide maker. It was “Ruby’s” revolver – blood, brains and three remaining bullets. Now he was sure he wasn’t crazy. But if all of what happened was real, mostly what he remembered of the night with Sheena, he would rather be crazy than sane, dead than alive.