Friday, July 18, 2008

Five Word Friday #3

Yeah, I finally posted one of these on a Friday! The words for today (thanks again to my wife) are: joy, blanket, sawdust, orange and toenail. A challenge to be sure, but I'm pretty pleased with the results. If you'd like to join in, just leave a comment with the URL of your post. Otherwise, enjoy the continuation of Michael and Kyra's adventure!


Joy suffuses me this morning! Today marks the beginning of my second week working at Phileas Jackson’s Concrete Jungle Nursery, and Kyra’s third week with Mrs. Kice. For the first time in over a year I feel like things are beginning to look up. With the money I’m making at the nursery we might even be able to move into a nicer place closer to the nursery. Phileas suggested some apartments that are run by a friend of his and said he’d be willing to put in a good word for me.

I whistle as I walk from Mrs. Kice’s to the nursery. “Zippety doo dah…what a wonderful day…everything’s going my way…hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm.” I probably shouldn’t sing – it’s not my forte, so to speak – but I just can’t help myself. Humming along, garnering stares, I walk up Costa Mesa St. to Raymond Ave. and over to Walnut St. The nursery is only 3 blocks from here on the corner of Walnut and Orange.

My attention is caught by a flicker of movement in my peripheral vision. Looking to my left I see a bundle of rags and papers in the doorway to the Chubby Panda. ‘That’s odd,’ I think, ‘they usually keep things pretty clean.’ They don’t open til 11am for lunch, so there’s nobody in the shop at 8:45am that I know of. The bundle moves and groans and suddenly I realize that the rags are clothes, and the papers are just a blanket. A hand appears, and then a head. It is a homeless man! At least I think it’s a man. I can only see the back of a head of long greasy, stringy gray hair. He turns over to reveal a beard that is as dirty and tangled as a rat’s nest, long and square like some hirsute shovel. His long hair hangs down in front as well, until he pushes it back with one leathery hand to reveal a relief map of a face with a mountain of a nose, two deep buccal valleys and a limpid forest pool for an eye, the forest being his eyebrow. The left eye looks like a cave. The kind of cave you’re too afraid to enter. He looks at me and I get the eerie sense that he can see out of both eyes, or eye sockets, or…whatever.

“Can I help you,” I ask, wanting to return some semblance of normalcy and control to the situation. I am wringing my hands trying to keep them from trembling. The sunshine seems to have been sucked out of the day. If you asked why I was so affected I’m not sure I could tell you. I’ve been around homeless people before, even bought dinner for a few, but this feels different.

“Hello, Michael,” he replies with a voice like wet sawdust. “Sorry I’m late.”


“Oh, I meant to be awake and waiting for you when you came by, but I must have been more tired than I thought. I slept until you tripped my warning system.”

The man’s gotta be a lunatic. Maybe he just guessed at my name and happened to get it right – it’s not an uncommon name after all. And I certainly didn’t hit any wires or anything like that. What’s he talking about – warning system?

He pulls out an orange envelope from somewhere within his clothing. A pocket? A sleeve? I can’t quite tell. The envelope is smudged and dirty around the edges, but clearly written in the center on the front, in a flowing script, is my name: Michael Samuels. The bottom curve of the first S bulges out below the line like a bubble about to burst, and curls around to underline my first name. He is holding it out to me, the expectant look in his eye made somewhat ghoulish by the gaping ghastliness of the socket next to it.

“Well, go on then,” he urges, flapping it towards me like some demented servant fanning his master. I get a whiff of sewer water breath and body odor which smells like he hasn’t taken a bath in several hundred years.

“Wh-what is it?”

“What do you mean, what is it? It’s an invitation of course. What did you think it was, a letter bomb?” Yeah, that makes me feel better.

“An invitation to what?”

“If you’ll stop being such a pamby and take the damn thing you’ll find out.” He smiles, I’d guess to soften the insult, but the row of jagged, broken off branches that serves as his teeth has exactly the opposite effect.

I snatch the envelope, trying not to touch him as I do so. I don’t want to get him angry or something. Who knows what he’ll do? I look down at the orange square in my hand with trepidation. An invitation?

“Well, go on. Open it up.”


“Where else? You have to RSVP – reply soon via postman. And I’m the only P you’ve got to RS via. If you dilly dawdle much longer I’m gonna tell them the answer is no.”

“You’re a postman?” Now I’m really confused.

He only raises one bushy eyebrow and glares at me.

“Okay. Hold on.” I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather he just tell “them” no anyway. I don’t know what’s going on here, nor am I sure I want to find out, but I’m getting the sense he’s not going to let me get away without at least reading the invitation, so I rip the envelope open with my finger. I look back at him but he is ostensibly ignoring me, lazily picking grime out of the toenail on his left big toe. I suppose any invitation, no matter how bizarre, is better than that sight. I slide the card out of the envelope and open it up. Inside, in graceful calligraphy, I read:

Mr. Michael Samuels
is cordially invited
to attend the
1,000th annual
Journeyman’s Ball
for his
into the
Fraternal Order of Journeyman
8pm, Sunday, August 31, 2008
Please R.S.V.P. immediately with Grisleigh.

I look up to find that he is done with his toenails and is patiently regarding me with an incongruous twinkle in his eye.

“You’re Grisleigh?” I ask, realizing as soon as I hear the name spoken that it fits him like no other name could.

“One and the same,” he says with a grin and little flourish of his hand. “At your service.”

“And the Fraternal Order of Journeyman?”

“Oh, that’s a secret, that is.”

Exasperated, I snap, “How am I supposed to know whether to say yes or no, if I don’t even know what is is?!”

“That’s the challenge,” he replies cheerfully. “You have to decide now, yes or no, and once you decide there’s no going back.”

“Not even a hint? Is it something I’d like? I’ve never heard of them before.”

He only looks at me without expression, his eye suddenly dull and flat and unreflective. That, more than anything so far, frightens me. I am torn by indecision. I have to admit that I’m curious. Who is this Fraternal Order of Journeyman? What do they do? How do they know about me? Why do they want me to join? On the other hand, is it worth the risk? If it were just me, I’d probably risk it just for the heck of it. But I have Kyra to consider. What if it’s dangerous? I can’t endanger her life, just to satisfy my curiousity.

I examine my emotions, my response to Grisleigh and the situation, and realize that most of my fear has only been because it has been unexpected and bizarre, so out of place in the normal course of things. There are things I can’t explain and that is frightening to me. I have to admit, Grisleigh’s appearance is a little off-putting, but he has been nothing but friendly, if gruff, to me. And though I have no doubt whatsoever that he is dangerous, I don’t sense any of that directed towards me. So what does all of that mean? That I should do it?

“Look, I need an answer soon, Michael. I’ve got work to do, as I believe you do too.” Oh shit, the nursery. I totally forgot. I’m going to be late! “I’m not going to wait around forever. Either you take courage in hand and say yes, or you live with yourself as a coward forever. The choice is simple really.”

“Hey, now. I am not a coward.” He only stares at me silently. He seems to be very good at that. Finally my curiosity gets the better of me. “Fine, tell them, whoever they are, yes I accept.”

He beams at me, and I can describe it no other way than that it transforms his face, unifies it somehow.

“Aye, that’s what I was hoping you’d say. A carriage will pick you up at your apartment at 6pm on the day of the ball. Your daughter is welcome to attend with you. Breathe not a word of this to another living soul, Michael. Until then.”

He stands in a flurry of rags and without looking back steps around the corner and out of sight. Carriage? Daughter?

“Wait!” I rush after him, but he has disappeared and the street is clear for blocks. There’s no way he could have vanished that quickly! What is going on? What have I gotten myself (and Kyra) into?

Heart pumping, sweating slightly and thinking furiously, I make my way the remaining 3 blocks up Walnut to the nursery. I discover as I walk in the door and look at the clock on the wall that it is 9am on the dot. I am not late, I am exactly on time, as I would have been had I not been delayed. Did he stop time, too?

“PW, are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Phileas is standing to my right in the middle of a bunch of rhododendrons.

“I think so.”

“You think you’re okay or you think you’ve seen a ghost?

I smile. “Yes.”

He raises an eyebrow at me, putting me in mind of somebody else.

“I’m fine, Phileas. What have we got going today?”

He launches into a list of tasks for the day and eventually I lose myself in work, temporarily forgetting the bizarre events of the morning.

No comments: