Tim Timmons sits alone at an uneven table, his stubbled chin cupped in both hands, his broken spirit leaning heavy on both elbows. The surface rocks with a ka-thunking sound. A small glass of ice water sloshes over and soaks his only napkin.
The Ethiopian Restaurant is almost empty. He orders a lamb dish that looks like gray slop. Dog vomit ladled generously over sour bread. No silverware is issued. This is finger food at its finest. It reminds him of the time he was forced to use two bare fingers to scrape stringy puppy puke from the ashtray of his pickup. This time he’s going all the way. He’s actually going to eat it.
The prison orange window curtains to his right are faded and stained. Across the street is a red brick row house with a plywood sign and a weary message: Black Lives Matter.
The waitress is black and very polite. The two gentlemen sipping beer at the bar, their large butts and thighs melting over the struggling bar stools, are black. They’re puffing on strong cigars. Their eyes, old and alert, follow the exaggerated wiggle of the waitress as she crosses the creaky floor. It reminds Tim of a visual acuity exam: follow my finger: up, down, over, down. Occasionally they glance at him with what seems like bored curiosity. They see a tall skinny white guy in blue scrubs and cowboy boots, winding down after work, skimming (for the hundredth time) a worn out paperback copy of William Butler Yeats.
He nods in their direction. The two men turn without nodding back. They eventually say something to him on his way to the men’s restroom. “Putchya mask on.”
On the return trip to the hotel, Tim is walking Lodum Street and thinking about after dinner coffee and a rose red sunset from the eighteenth floor and a Cadbury egg he’s been chilling in the tiny refrigerator. It’s the simple things.
So many people in the short space of a mile, bumping shoulders and scuffing their feet. Cheap men’s cologne competing with expensive female perfume, weed, French fries, garlic. Old buildings. New buildings. Rich people. Poor people. Not a child in sight. Bus fumes and noise pollution at a stop where six people sit without looking at each other or saying a word. Transvestites at the door of a salon twirling their fake hair, winking, silently propositioning, hiding a disease. Beggars sitting on the steps of an abandoned church, waiting for Christ to pass by. Dumpsters with their vinegary, maggoty runoff into the rat infested sewers. A Jewish rabbi with amazing curly sideburns and a long beard, his faithful head bowed low, Oy vey. A pharmacist sliding and locking a screeching cage over display windows at closing time. An angry man strung out on drugs or suffering from schizophrenia hissing and scratching something on the rough pavement of an inner city basketball court with a broken piece of glass from a brown bottle.
Everyone is wearing a mask.
A man loitering at the hotel turnstile asks for a dollar. Tim gives him a dollar.
Once safely inside of the lobby, a girl with blue lipstick shouts across the room, “Sir, put your mask on. Please do your part in keeping everyone safe.” Examining his hospital scrubs, “You of all people should know better.”
Tim has plenty to say about this but decides to keep an educated opinion to himself.
Shrugging innocently, “Um, I don’t have one.”
“Well, you need one in order to enter the building.”
“Doesn’t the hotel provide masks for the maskless?”
“Okay. Good. May I please have one?”
“We charge a dollar per mask. We don’t give them away for free, you know.”
Tim pulls out a twenty.
“Sorry, sir, I don’t have any change.”
“Well, just add it to my bill.”
“I’m not allowed to do that.”
“Okay . . . how bout I buy twenty masks or take one for free.”
The two just stand there blinking at one another, silent. At a stubborn standstill. An awkward impasse.
Exasperated as well as amused, Tim stares at the woman’s blue lips while pondering if he should make a run for it past the chubby security guard who is eyeballing him. He chooses instead to disappear once more into the turnstile. He exits the building to find the humble man who had asked for only one dollar minutes ago.
“Hey, tell you what. How bout l give you a twenty for that dollar?”
“Right on, man!” followed by an endearing toothless grin.
Tim Timmons purchases an ugly gray paper mask with a sticky dollar that cost him twenty.
Room 1829. The aroma of fresh coffee in the air.
Tim washes his face, brushes his teeth, turns out the lights, strips down to his skin, opens every curtain of the large corner suite for a panoramic view of the city. After sunset, the condominiums across the street are coming to life with their golden lamplight, martinis, and jazz music. A couple is kissing. A dog is at their feet. Another girl is running on a treadmill. A man directly below Lululemon is sitting on the toilet, pants around his ankles, reading a magazine.
The chocolate is smooth on Tim’s tongue. He chases the heavenly texture and taste with a slurp of French roast and continues to spy on the concrete and steel world around him.
Loud sirens on the street far below. A fire engine headed to who knows where. Maybe the Ethiopian restaurant.
A tall steeple off in the distance points to a God Tim doesn’t know but thinks about often.
Someone is having sex right next door and, from the sound of it, things are going very well.
In the dusky gray of the day, Tim Timmons is as lost as he can be and haunted by a ghost. If he could just open the window, he’d close his eyes and fly away. No, maybe a gun. A large hollow point works best to clear a path through the gray matter of a tortured brain (aim for the medulla oblongata) and is 98% effective when plugging a bleeding heart (shoot more than once like poet Frank Stanford, just to be sure). His reflection is smiling back at him, sinister. Tim looks away from himself, frightened.
The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You, he whispers softly to no one.
Sober for a week. This is what happens. In this dark room. In this lonely room. This too big of a room.
Desperate, he locates a Bible in a drawer, opens it, and with a trembling hand drops a blind finger to a random page. He reads the words aloud.
“God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”
Pressing the open book to his naked chest, Tim falls onto the bed, closes his eyes, ponders the coolness of the page in the first dark hour of another long night. Moments later, he is startled awake by the blinding light of tomorrow.