By Nate Rogers
“Goddamit, Frank! Wake the fuck up!”
“I said, wake up and leave or I will make you leave.”
“Jeez, take it easy. I was having the most wonderful dream…”
“You say that every time this happens, Frank. You’re so wasted I wonder if you even have the capacity to dream anymore. Now get out.”
I stand up, trying my best to look as unsteady as possible. Yes, fall on the stool next to you, Frank. Put your coat on slowly. Don’t look Victor in the eye. You’re a good liar until you look somebody in the eye. Out you go, Frankie. Don’t look back.
“Wait, Frank! You have to pay your bill…” Victor’s voice trailed off. Almost as if he felt bad asking from an old friend. I capitalize on the hesitation.
“Oh, that’s ok, Victor. We can have lunch tomorrow!” Making the final movement out the door, I enter a slow trot to the right down Wilshire. I intended to run down 11th Street too, but I was winded. Now I understand why you’ll never see fat, old lions on nature shows. Or fat, old deer, for that matter. They shouldn’t survive. I shouldn’t have survived this long. The only animals in the wild that get fat and old are pigeons and rats—city scum. No wonder they like my house so much.
I was supposed to find a job today but I don’t know where to begin. Anyway it’s got to be five or six in the morning—too foggy for anyone in L.A. to be feeling sympathetic.
After walking around the block back to 10th, I head south toward home. Going past the school I almost step on my own puke from last week. Some things stick around a lot longer than they should.
I still open and close the gate to my front yard even though I could simply walk through all the broken parts of it. It’s not like I have a lawn to take care of, anyway. Force of habit, I guess. I have a lot of habits.
Looking at the front of my house, you wouldn’t think that anybody had lived here for a long time. I blame that damn tree. It’s a hideous, old oak tree that has decided to die all over my house. The gutters are full and leaves get blown in the broken window nearby. And the worst part? I sympathize with the fucking thing.
The landlord has been on my back about the state of the dump, but I’m pretty sure he can tell that I’m not going to be able to pay rent much longer. I think he feels bad for me, too.
I look through the mail that has piled up and hope for something other than bills. Of course I find something worse: junk mail in her name. A fitting format to be reminded of her, but I just can’t stand to see the words “Heather Soders” anymore. Can’t the bastards tell that she’s never going to order anything from your goddamn hiking catalogue? Not at this address at least.
I grab the newspaper from the heap of mail and throw the rest in the trash. I stopped paying for the Times a long time ago, but I guess they never took me off the mailing list. Too bad I don’t read much anymore. I’ve found a use for them, anyhow. I have a pile of election results, sports scores, and stock trades in my dining room so that if I get evicted, I’ll have something to insulate my sleeping bag with. I’ve been eyeing a spot in the Westminster Dog Park that doesn’t look so bad. Could be nice really.
As I throw this paper down, something catches my eye. The date: October 7th, 2011. Could it really be that late in the year already? That makes it twelve years since we divorced. I was a young man at that point. I could have recovered. Now here I am. Forty-seven years old and I’m considering moving to the Dog Park. She always did tell me to come see her if I ever needed anything. It’s been too long, though. Too much has changed.
It’s a bit surprising to me that in twelve years, I still think I love her. Hell, I never even knew her! Maybe it’s the desperation of my situation. Or maybe it’s just that the bed was a hell of a lot warmer when she used to be in it. Which reminds me: I should probably try to get some real sleep if I intend to find a job today.
After lying down for just a minute, I suddenly realize how drunk I really am. The fan above me is spinning, but I never turned it on. Jumping into the bathroom, I just barely make it to the toilet before it all comes spewing out of me.
As soon as it’s over, I lean back against the bathroom wall and stare out the window. It’s the only window in the house where I can see the sky. Huh. It was cloudy when I walked home, but now it’s a spotless, hazy, beach blue. Funny how things can change so quickly without me noticing. I used to watch the clouds move across the sky, finding shapes as they went by. Not anymore.
I guess I got enough sleep at the bar. Time to get going. I put on my last clean collared shirt and walk out the door. The sun is blinding, but at least it’s a nice day. It’s always a nice day in this town. Even in October.
I fight the initial temptation to go back to Victor’s and beg for a drink. Nothing to be gained by that. At the very least, I need to try to accomplish something today.
Three restaurants and two supermarkets later, I’ve got nothing but a few sympathetic faces. I suppose I’m not the only schmuck looking for a job these days.
As I wander aimlessly down Santa Monica getting further and further from the ocean, a car horn and shrieking tires catch my attention. Not that I really care to notice bad drivers in L.A. anymore, but more out of an instinctual reaction. The dirty smell of burnt rubber stings my nostrils. Twitching with a bit of sensory overload, I turn to see what it was all about. It wasn’t really the driver’s fault this time. Right in the middle of the two westbound lanes was a mangy looking brown mutt. Deer caught in headlights, really. Too scared to move.
I start to walk east, but my feet soon give out on me. I turn and looked back. A few more cars were slowing down and swerving around him, but he wouldn’t last without any help. I mutter a miserable, “Goddamit,” and run into the street.
My dumb ass didn’t even look before I jumped the curb. A beat up old champagne colored Honda almost knocked my ankles right up to the light pole. Things really move fast in this town.
With a bit more caution I make my way across the median and over to the mutt. He was wandering slowly, shaking from head to toe. I reach to grab his collar, but there was nothing there but a few scars.
I must have looked crazy standing in the middle of Santa Monica Boulevard trying to get a dirty stray out of the street. He clearly wasn’t budging. Stubborn old dog. With nothing else to do, I go over to him and pick him up in both my arms. I guess it’s been a while since I picked up a dog, because the whole thing was pretty awkward. I have him by his belly with his head near mine and his feet dangling helplessly below my waist. No way I could hold him like this for long, but I had to cut across another lane to get to the sidewalk.
Noticing it too late to do anything but turn my back and cringe, an enormous black SUV barreled straight towards us. I close my eyes and hold tight to the mutt. Ready to go. With horn blaring (as if that would help), the car screeches to a halt about two feet from my back. I stand in shock for a moment before hobbling over to the sidewalk.
Sitting down on the pavement in exhaustion, the mutt soon followed suit and lies down next to me. He must have noticed my good looks, because pretty soon my face was getting slobbered all over.
We walk back up Santa Monica together until cutting down 10th to get home. I was surprised by it, but this dog walked by my side the whole way. That is, until he stops to eat something. I almost break out laughing when I realize that it was my dried up week old puke outside of the school. I give him a light kick and we keep on going. Man, some things never go away, do they? If my puke can sit on the street for days without getting washed off, then maybe things don’t change as quickly as I thought. Maybe Heather’s feelings are stuck immobile on the pavement just like mine. She does live pretty close to here…
Deciding that the dog clearly needed something legitimate to eat, I head towards the pet store on the corner. Walking in, I feel much more welcome than I had earlier at the restaurants or supermarkets. Or the bar, really. At least here, the rabbit cage smells worse than I do. Strangely quiet for a pet store, though.
I go straight to the counter with the dog wagging his tail beside me, and asked, “What’s the most dog food I can get with this?” I take out everything I have in my pockets. About twenty-five dollars. The lady behind the counter leans over, looks at the dog, and smiles. She leads me to the dog food aisle, and points out a recommendation. I grunt a bit as I pick it up (it was a lot heavier than the mutt), and bring it back to the counter.
She is an older woman with gray hair and a moth-eaten gray cardigan to match. She looks me carefully in the eye, and hesitates a bit before finally saying what she needs to ask:
“Listen, this may sound a bit strange, but do you need a job?”
Published on page 50 of the Winter 2011 issue of Leviathan.