“…but Pecota is doing sales there now, but I don’t know how he’s going to keep it up, he’s lost half his people and he just can’t service what he’s selling anymore. Anyway what do we care, we’re doing all right here. Another beer?”
I am at next table, listening. He comes in here three times a week. But on Fridays he drinks too, more than he should before getting back in the Porsche. They finish the discussion, argue over who’s paying, head for the stairs out of the basement pub. Lion’s Head. There is a lion’s head above the entrance, and he has to duck under it.
This time, he’s left his coat. I pick it up and leave. Outside, here’s a propane tank in the parking lot. Behind it, I go through the coat. No wallet, no keys, just some gum and a few receipts. I rap the propane tank. I smack the asphalt. On the bus home, I wear the coat. It’s too big. Too brown.
In the basement, the gloom’s out. The radio’s playing. I sit at the desk and touch the coat. Smell it. Think about fucking it. Sit down with the receivers, begin to tinker, to sodder, to assemble and wire until I have a patch the size of a postage stamp balancing on my thumb. It fits into a pocket of the coat, underneath a label. I turn on the computer and touch the red dot over my house.
Dancing with a coat. In the dark except for the yawn of a computer screen. These are dreams of living and flying. Of real lives like Rod Bayne’s, the things he’s done – must have done – to have the life he’s got, the unsavory deals, the backwards stabbing, the lies and cheats, the conversations over lunch about the Pecotas he doesn’t care about. Mr. Pecota, son of immigrants – who deserves better – has no voice in basement pubs under lion’s heads.
I get to the pub the next morning before it opens. First one in, hand the coat over to a manager. “Walked out with it, thought it was mine.”
Manager looks me over. “Right. Thanks for returning it.”
Bayne doesn’t come in that day. He does the next, though, and asks about his coat. He walks out looking tall and brown. Screams away in a Porsche.
A red dot travels through the grid of my town. I follow on a bus. There is his work, and the parking lot of other Porsches. I wander through it. At the front desk, a security man stares at me as I look at the building directory. The elevator takes me up. I find a bathroom and sit in a stall, waiting. People come in, talk about their corruptions, their dementia and the sabotage of freedom, many things I have suspected but this is a different discussion now, a clearer one. Bayne comes in, too. “I don’t mind giving on that. Just make sure I get some hours out of this.”
Bayne moves through the town, and I follow up the hills and through the streets, inspecting the trail of his corruption. But I don’t see it. There are supposed to be monsters inside the businesses he visits, blighting souls; and oozing creatures coming out of the sewers to eat poor people. But I don’t see them. There is supposed to be an answer to why Bayne rides a chariot while I ride the bus; it has something to do with an envelope of money, or a promise is a promise, or sins inside churches next to saints. But it’s not there. It’s not there.
At night, I study the red dot, waiting for it to cheat, to sneak away, to steal something, to badger someone or hurt them, to carry on with illicit loves or murders so foul. But it stands still on the other side of town, doesn’t move, doesn’t grow or become redder, doesn’t bend or glare. I drink. And watch. Drinks and drinks and drinks, until the bottles are lying broken at the bottom of the cinder blocks that make the outside wall of this basement den. And still that red dot hasn’t moved, hasn’t changed, hasn’t grown or opened a door to netherplaces.
I’m walking, because there’s no buses at this time. There are people on the street, just like me. Bayne lives faraway, and it takes most of the night. To stand on his lawn and look up at the light unlit in his house, with three garages and two cars parked outside, the white marble rock in the middle of the grass, the lamps burning along a path of light, the swings and the slides in the sandbox, the welcome mat that welcomes me too. No one moves. No one explains this, why this is happening to Bayne and to me, how we crossed into the same reality just before the lion roared.
The door is unlocked. Inside, it’s dark. The toys are in a chest. The movies stacked on shelves. A pickle jar of change sits on an island in the kitchen, scribbles on the tape, and there is a laptop bag and there is an exercise bag, and in the basement there is a fireproof safe. A bar with whiskeys, scotches, malts, spirits, racks of wine in a storage cellar, a television that is a wall.
And upstairs. A little boy in his bed. He’s beautiful.
A little girl in a crib. Sleeping with a smile.
And down the hall. Bayne sleeping with an arm around a woman, a dark-haired woman. They are quiet. Peaceful. Spent.
In the kitchen, I take a sip of wine from a bottle that’s quarter-full. There is nothing in this house that is corrupt. If there is something sordid, I can’t find it. Can’t find it. I know that there is something wrong. Something missing. Something hidden. I find it in the bottom of the bottle. And then again when I go through his coat and find the little patch tucked in a pocket behind a label. And once more on the road home, as the rain begins to spit at bodies that are immune to it but not really; not really immune though we would like to think so. And finally, I find it in the corner of the basement den, beside the broken glass, in the gap between the cinder blocks that lets the wind in.