1

Tim Timmons bought himself a puppy.

After losing the longtime love of his life, a deepening habit was to drink or drug himself to sleep almost every night because, without some heavy assistance, he’d awaken consistently at 2 a.m. to a black abyss of nothingness.  His muscled arm would reach for the left side of a king size bed and his palm would pat cool and empty sheets.  Visions real and imagined plagued his ruminating mind.  He couldn’t shake the idea of her loving or sleeping with someone else.  His closed eyes would see her in high definition and his ears could hear her through the thinning walls of his sanity.  His pulse would rev to a dangerous tachycardia which he felt in his temples and neck, followed by an uncomfortable shortness of breath.  There’s an ICD-10 code for SAD (Separation Anxiety Disorder) but he didn’t remember it offhand.  All Tim knew with certainty was that he had developed a mental health problem and something had to be done about it.

But not with counseling.  In Tim’s sketchy experience, there seems to be a trend with professional counselors, especially the court appointed ones, of being off their own damn rockers (which quite possibly might be a prerequisite for the job) and making a comfortable living by charging unethically hefty fees for coloring books, crayons, and bullshit platitudes which insults one’s intelligence and erases what little remains of human dignity.  One counselor Tim was forced to know personally by Judge Sumshit, was a soulless, drooling gamer lobotomized by electronics, a white doughy-assed pornhead pud wacker who couldn’t initiate or hold a legitimate conversation but got paid handsomely for what exactly?  A signature, a self-righteous smirk of satisfaction, and–of course–Mr. Timmons’ credit card number.

For a few months, Tim had been trying to wean himself off the booze, tapering off the heavy stuff, determined to find better ways of coping with mind-altering grief.

SO…

During the day, he’d crank out a rapid set of thirty pushups whenever fresh sorrow stabbed suddenly and twisted deep in his heart with an unexpected cruelty.  He’d slip furtively inside of the nearest staff bathroom and, like the comic book Superman whenever he stepped into a telephone booth, make a swift change before anyone discovered his secret.  The other day, in the late afternoon, he gloved up with medical latex and hit the floor with a rapid fire vengeance, emerging red faced and out of breath, bumping into Mike, a tattooed surgical tech, who took one look at him and said with a burst of laughter, “Damn, T-bone!  That must have been a whopper of a shit!”

(For such a dull name, everybody loves to play with Tim Timmons’ name.)  

It was no mystery.  What he needed the most was what he needed the most: a best friend. Wet kisses.  Unconditional love.  Someone breathing next to him.  Another heart beat.  A cute and comforting snore.  A fart.  Anything.

Not a replacement woman. No one could ever replace Kat.

If not a Kat— a dog.

Pet therapy for the mentally and emotionally insane.  That’s what Tim prescribed for himself–at an exorbitant price–but for far less than some burnt coffee breath counselor who always talks in slow, strange syllables (but only while in session) as if he or she had just eaten a scoop of hot poop.

A cinnamon colored Belgian Malinois with a storm gray face and chocolate dipped paws.  Tim drove into the high plains–where iPhone connections, Alexa, satellite maps, and pavement all disappeared –in the middle of a seventy-mile-per-hour dust storm.  With blind intuition, he eventually found in Burlington an insane dog with bright blue eyes which are sometimes as green as the sea or the monster of jealousy.  A dog that will run up the side of a telephone pole just because.  A precious gift from God who wrote in the first pages of His book (a best seller now for centuries) that it is not good for man be alone.  Tim Timmons, a traveling nurse who named his dog Jack after Jack Kerouac, because the two will always be On the Road (AND because pup and poet share the same handsome eyes and dreamy stare), suddenly found himself with the two essentials necessary for his overall health and wellbeing: companionship and purpose (even if that purpose was the simple servitude and repetitive act of cleaning up shit and piss).

2

I-70 East toward Denver ramps off at exit 267 for gas and lodging and offers every traveler a minutes-long decision at a shivering traffic signal to turn left or right onto Kipling.  At that particular juncture, a piss-stained underpass serves as a kind of dividing line between Arvada and Wheat Ridge as well as a convenient cement shelter for stoned zombies, sticky beggars, and crotch rot prostitutes.  The light is three seconds on the green and three minutes on the red.  Cardboard signs are available for red light entertainment, the predictable scams (an unemployed vet with a beer belly and a pack of cigs in his breast pocket; a single mom with two teeth and visible track marks in need of groceries; a family member with a terminal disease–any dollar amount will help with the emergency surgery–God bless ya), forcing guilt-ridden drivers to cough up change or to stare uncomfortably at their laps or pretend to fiddle with the radio.  The beggars rotate corners to keep it fresh.  Here’s some good advice: never make eye contact with the living dead or they’ll come to you, stumbling and mumbling, arms outstretched.

When Tim gave up drinking again (at least for a few hours, last week), he offered his last ice cold can of beer, a tall boy, to a bearded fellow who responded as if he’d just hit the lottery.  A man down on his luck, so grateful for a comforting drink.  A cup of cold water for the thirsty, a Modello, in the name of Jesus.  

Yesterday evening, Tim drove down from hoity toity, overpriced Avon and exited at the foothills of the eastern front range almost two hours later, returning to urban sprawl that would make John Denver roll over in his grave.  He signaled right and entered the fenced parking lot of a Comfort Inn in Wheat Ridge.  Earlier his handsome black and silver Ford F150 was dry and very thirsty.  He paid ninety-nine dollars at a Kum and Go (whoever the hell came up with such a name, anyway? –amusingly –this one sits side-by-side with a Rapid Lube) to fill the tank; suspicious of an odd number, he topped it off at an even hundred while staring at an image of Joe Biden pointing his index finger at the jaw-dropping reality of bad energy policies (“I did that!!!” the sticker exclaimed).  For some unknown reason, a mousy, weather beaten woman at pump 3 was staring hard at Tim from behind a cloth facemask that was stained with snot, likely a faithful Fauci follower—they’re everywhere—pathetically, perpetually unnecessarily frightened people, disciples of a political fear monger and a hypocritical medical fraud.  After Tim filled his tank, he popped quickly inside the little mart and purchased a plastic wrapped turkey sandwich, some Oh Snap! Pickles, and an accompanying large coffee–which further rang him up to eight and some change.  He also threw in a bag of smoked meat sticks for the pup which cost another twenty.  Almost thirty dollars, a surprisingly expensive stop.  But it wasn’t over.  A man with sores on his face waited just outside the greasy gas station door and begged for his last four singles.  Within half an hour, Tim also forked out another $136 (yes, that was after the Priceline “savings”) for a clean bed on the second floor.  Yep, Joe, the economy is going strong.

Tim realized with much gratitude that he was one of the fortunate ones. How did people survive these days?

3

He gained access to room 211 with a magnetic key card, parted the curtains and discovered to his relief, a doggy park on the other side of the parking lot.  Two women, mittened and bundled to the chilly breeze, walked in circles–one talking on a phone and the other sipping a hot drink –edged close to the cleaner edge of a chain link fence.  The middle of the arena was a minefield smudged with poop. Dirty Dr. Seuss snow. What was needed was the Cat in the Hat’s Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger (D.I.R.T.).

The sun was low in the dusky sky when pockets of street people in groups of four to six, mostly men but also a few women, began to congregate beneath a elderly but maternal cottonwood tree to Tim’s left.  The tree wrapped long arms around the lost children of the world and offered shelter from harsh gusts of wind that would make a cowboy squint. Some hauled their belongings in trash bags.  At least two were pushing rusty grocery carts.  An emaciated girl, who might have been pretty once upon a time, was strumming on a guitar.  One man carried a wooden gate on his back like the cross of Christ and propped it up against a smaller tree for shelter and crawled beneath it (smart).  Most huddled close for warmth, whispering it seemed, and he wondered what exactly was being said.  Soiled clothing, bleu cheese pussy, unbrushed teeth, didn’t matter.  There was an odd sort of fellowship in the congregation of the unrighteous, like prisoners choosing sides, watching each other’s backs.

A police cruiser rolled noiselessly past the group at five or ten miles-per-hour, appraising familiar faces with a spotlight. Tim sniffed through a dry nose, mumbled under his breath, “you sadistic, two-inch dick, wife-beating bastard– turn that blinding beam away from their faces!” He scratched his right butt cheek, and turned away, suddenly pissed off.  His puppy was asleep in a small box.  Jack in the Box.

Before the purchase, the breeder had texted the most recent pictures but the camera on his phone wasn’t the best quality and the images appeared a blotchy purple.  If that sweet pooch really had been purple, Tim would’ve honored him with the name Penis.  But the baby’s eyes were very blue and looked more like a Sinatra or a Frankie.  But that stare.  It was the dreamy gaze of Jack Kerouac–”Go thou across the ground; go moan for man; go moan, go groan, go groan alone, go roll your bones, alone; go thou and be little beneath my sight…

Tim enjoyed soup and salad for dinner.  Some of the best minestrone he’d ever tasted was from Li’l Nick’s Pizza in Arvada.  Of course, a glass of cab pairs perfectly.  He’d stop drinking tomorrow (same old mantra).  He sat contentedly alone, hogging a table meant for four, and snickered at the red neon double entendre glowing in the window: “Had a piece lately?”

Nope.  Dammit.

After dinner, he went immediately next door to the liquor store and purchased a cheap screw top bottle of Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon, 2020.  But the wine was as sour and disappointing as the year it was bottled.  The bad taste might have been due to the fact that he had no wine glass but only a plastic cup at the hotel.  Tim descended the tacky, stained carpeted stairs to the front desk and asked if they had any glassware.  John said they didn’t.  The night shift manager appeared for the first time from behind a divider and said with a friendly wink to “hold on, babe.”  Then she disappeared into another room and emerged minutes later with a freshly scrubbed green coffee mug.  It was hers, she said.  Tim Timmons didn’t have the heart to decline and politely accepted her generosity, knowing he’d never drink from that cup.  She smiled warmly and said that he could return her green mug whenever he checked out.

“What room are ya in?”

Tim told her.

Sometimes he didn’t know what to think of such kindnesses but half expected a knock on his door later that evening after she grazed his hand ever-so-softly and introduced herself as Maggie.

Back in 211, the Youngbloods were singing “Get Together” in Tim’s weary mind as he stared out the window.  Just before stepping away from his curious voyeurism of the poor and needy, a moaning gust of wind parted the fur of a mottled mutt as it was passing below.  The glass pane felt cold to his touch.  The collie mix looked up and noticed him, thankfully, his barefoot owner did not.  As he pondered all of the people gathering together on the lawn (shocked at how many), Holden Caulfield’s question popped into mind.  Where do all the ducks go in the winter, when the lake is frozen over?  He decided then and there that he would purchase some beer and sit down with them later in the week, when the weather was mercifully warmer.  He wanted to know.

Homeless lives matter.  These were not busting windows or robbing stores or pushing unsuspecting Asians into the subway, no, they were waiting for a damn break and maybe just a moment of human touch, even if it were a shackling of ankle to ankle.  They were panhandlers at worst, making a living in their own annoying and desperate way.  The lost and the lonely and the addicted.  At the base of Maslow.  Under the warm skirt of Mama Cottonwood.  Trying to survive.

4

There was another one who wandered the streets during the daytime hours and Tim wasn’t sure what to think.  He’d never seen him hanging with the homeless.  Mid-twenties, long red hair pulled into a tight bun that was almost too perfect, a black Sherlock Holmes pipe too huge for his pale thin face and clinched tight between what Tim imagined to be sharp piranha teeth, a black tuxedo, dark sunglasses, and always carrying what appeared to be a boombox.  Maybe he’s eccentric.  Maybe a dealer.  Definitely too small and delicate to be a pimp.  A male prostitute? Maybe.  A pedo?  Nah.  Perhaps he’s suffering from a mental issue–a delusion of grandeur–or simply seeking attention (he certainly had Tim’s).  Who knows?  The ghostly figure might be employed as an entertainer at Freaky’s (which lives up to its name in barely legal paraphernalia).  But Tim Timmons had an unsettled feeling deep in his bones that there was another story.  He’d seen him four times–the last time as he was passing a chilly high school softball game at the Lutz Sports Complex–his head turning neither to the right or left, a walking mannequin.  No one seemed to notice whenever he glided past them, right under their damn runny noses.  His appearances were so strange and eerie and unexpected that it prompted Tim to ask around.  Albino boy is neither known nor has he has been seen by anyone.  Whoever or whatever he is gave Tim the creeps, the gurgle shits, the heebie jeebies.  A thought crossed his drunken mind: Maybe he’s dead.  Maybe he’s the death angel.  Maybe he’s coming for me.  Don’t remove his shades, buddy boy.  Don’t look into his eyes.

At 9:30 p.m. Tim prayed his normal prayer before bed, words which meant nothing and everything.  “Almighty God and everlasting Father, if You’re watching or listening, please help me. Thank you, Kind Sir.  Sincerely, Tim Timmons. PS: Please watch over my Kat.

5

At 11 p.m.  there was a knock at his door.  Tim didn’t answer.

At 2:33 a.m.  Tim was dreaming of a Chicago cafe and the comforting sound of a latte which triggered an ASMR tingle in his scalp.  In reality, Jack was squirting a chocolate shit shake onto the faux wood floor.  Here was Tim’s new purpose: to take care of this pointy-eared baby. Therefore he didn’t complain. Such nastiness had to be cleaned right away (especially to ensure better air quality) and this blessing in a brown disguise prevented him from focusing on his SAD condition.

At 2:45 his iPhone dinged and jolted him from his doodies (duties).  Excited and hopeful, he rushed to the phone without washing his hands, thinking it was her.  It was only a silly ad.   “Stop ED now!  Get hard instantly with this one simple trick.”

Don’t need that.

Tim washed his hands and stared at his chill bumped naked skeletal frame, raccoon eyes, and Keanu Reeves hair (after a high school science project gone wrong).  The only thing he wore was a black leather necklace with a seven chakra pendant which he hadn’t taken it off since the day he first put it on.  “Damn, you’re ugly, boy” (now he’s talking to himself, shit).  This inspired Tim Timmons to take a long upturned Hemmingway swig of sour wine.  The bottle had been waiting for him like a faithful friend next to the bedside lamp.  He slipped into a ripped pair of Levi’s, a black winter shirt, a scuffed pair of Durango’s, out of the lonely room, and down an endless empty hall where he half expected Jack Nicholson to round the corner dragging an ax or maybe run into pipe boy removing his glasses to reveal empty sockets oozing with maggots.

Tim realized that an app on his phone was still putting out a staticky white noise (the sound of a fan which helped him to fall asleep).  He turned that off and ignited the LED rock lights hidden in the wheel wells of his truck.  He chose blue and his black F150 was extra handsome.  Black and blue, baby.

At such an early hour, there wasn’t a single soul in sight, not even the homeless.  Holden’s literary voice again: Where do the ducks go?

No fresh snow had fallen in the night and Tim was disappointed because the roads were clear.  He wanted so badly to dress his tires in snow chains.  Why?  Because a man’s truck looks almost as sexy in chains as a woman’s ankle does in bracelets.

Tim passed a closed winery.  He remembered Kat’s wine breath kisses.  The very sound of her voice always made him wet, even on those arctic cold days, he would glisten like the wild honeysuckle whenever the stigma and stamen are pulled.

No, no, no.  He must banish her from his mind forever.  “Get out of my head, pretty girl.  Super Ass. You wanna go?  Then damn go.”

To accomplish this unwanted goal, he headed toward somewhere more appropriate to his mood.  Crown Hill Cemetery at 3:30 a.m. sipping on coffee with French vanilla from the local 7 Eleven.

6

The front gate was open.  Tim drove past a sign pointing him to the Chapel of Peace and straight to the tall and frightening Tower of Memories.  Where a single hall was lit.  Where a window was open.  Where the homeless might climb inside without fear of trespassing because everyone inside is already dead and sleeping soundly.  Where embalming fluid is possibly leaking and staining the walls and floors of the crypt (Please, sir, don’t slip).

Tim thought that he might have glimpsed the shadow of a curved Sherlock Holmes pipe traveling along the mausoleum wall, extra large and elongated beneath the light of the lanterns.  The red haired albino boy wearing the dark glasses and–what? –bloodshot eyes, black eyes, no eyes behind them?  A shiver shook his body (perhaps a cold ghost had just passed through his warm flesh).  He was reminded of the cult classic, Fantasm, and the giant creepy mortician wearing a tuxedo, dead hair flopping with a strawy sound as he chased two boys in a locked and inescapable basement.

Whenever snow covers the hills of the dead, thousands of cemetery vigil lights burn like candles on a final birthday cake.  Tim drove down every dark lane, sipping coffee, reading names, relishing his time with the dead.  Coyotes yipped like angry women and demons from a forest of stones scratched with names and dates which no longer matter.  Mother Mary scared him from behind a tree, hovering in marble robes over the grave of a rich man reduced by death to the level playing field of the homeless.  Lifelessness is homelessness.  Lostness is lifelessness.  Disembodiment in all of its many forms.  Nothing really matters in the end unless the end is the beginning.  This circle of nothingness turned Tim’s truck around and drove him back to room 211, further into his insomniac insanity.

7

A shower.  That might change his inward disposition and silence all of the hissing voices.

Tim Timmons was delighted to find a shower massager in the surprisingly clean bathroom.  He finished the bottle of Evan Williams (100 proof, woo hoo!) he kept stashed in his truck.  After scrubbing his body with a perfumy bar of soap, he laid down on his back, draped one long leg over the side of the tub and stretched the other up the wall.  It appeared as if his lanky, limber body had just been shot to death in the streets of New York.  He aimed the shower massager in that highly sensitive area between ass and cock and closed his eyes.  The bourbon loosened his resolve to forget about Kat and he conjured up all of the times she would ride him like a horse (yee hah!) and smile down upon him afterward, pleased, content, and in love.  Long silky hair damp with sweat would hang or stick to her flushed face while she waited for him to finish popping and shrinking to a normal size inside of her in the intimate afterglow.  With this delicious fantasy in mind, minutes later, he came—hands free—an uncomfortably intense orgasm which caused him to make a strange noise and left him feeling even emptier than before.  Strange.  Well, maybe not so strange: moments like those are meant to be shared.

Tim stepped out of the shower. Jack stared at him with one of his ears turned down.

“Stop staring at me, Jack Ass.”

Tim checked out early, just before dawn, and drove to Lookout Mountain at sunrise where he parked at Windy Saddle.  Like a children’s storybook, the moon (Goodnight, Moon!) sank on a single cloud into Golden Gate Canyon.  The night disappeared.  A tangerine sun ascended into a Tie Dye sky.  Out of habit, Tim opened the console and reached for the bourbon he had finished a half hour ago in the bathroom.  He was relieved, however, to find two mini bottles of gin.  Little devils, those.

His head was spinning.

His phone rang.

Kat was somewhere in Kansas, driving away from him, across the flat lands, directly toward the sun.  “Do you see the sun?” she asked, “Watch it with me,” she said, “What do you see?”

“Denver is a toy city, glinting in the morning light, far below and far away. What do you see?”

“Nothing but endless fields.  But, for the next few minutes, there’s a blinding ball of fire sitting on the hood of my car.”

Suddenly Tim found himself riding shotgun beside her, an invisible passenger, smiling. Holding her soft hand in his, they greeted the new day together.  An unexpected blessing.

The sun had risen too fast. Something about Kat had changed, even in those final few minutes. Her goodbye was as cool as if it had come from a stranger. For her own protection, she had flipped a switch. Tim kept his ear to the phone long after she disconnected.
___________
Andrew Dabar