“Get down here now, Ben!” she screamed from the kitchen. Her screechy voice was chalk on cement: bumpy, jagged and unsure of its direction. My name wasn’t even Ben, that’s how messed up she was.
“Heard you the first six times!” My answer banged along the walls to where she sat and held off her demands for long enough that I could get into the smoke filled kitchen. It smelled like menthol.
Clothed in a faded pink bathrobe, she sat limply on a bar stool and leaned heavily against the countertop island in the center of the kitchen. She took another long drag of her cigarette. “Can I help you, your royal hagness?” I quipped.
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that, Ben. I will slap that petty little smirk off your face so hard you won’t even remember how to talk back,” she croaked and then let out a gargled cough.
I see a hawk circling overhead and I pause for a moment, entranced. It glides on the high, unseen currents, dipping to one side and then to the other. I haven’t seen a hawk on one of these trips before. They prefer live prey. Behind me and across the field, where my path meets the trees, a couple of large crows are picking apart a dead squirrel. My dead squirrel.
I can hear the earth groaning beneath me.
It started when I was 12 and taking confirmation classes at St. Mark’s. I left church each week confused by the lesson on the Ten Commandments. What was adultery, or covetousness? Who wanted his neighbor’s ass? I certainly didn’t.
The next time Don's really, truly awake again, it's in the early hours of the next morning. He must have been out for the whole day.
He supposes he'd walked back to the hotel, but he doesn't remember. He can sketchily recall, though, stepping into the lobby and being hit by a sudden crippling wave of exhaustion despite the few hours of sleep he'd gotten, stumbling into the lift while the television buzzed loudly with the report of a gang shoot-out on the bayou
He pops out into the dark and silent corridor and buys a few packets from the closest vending machine. His first thought, when he enters his room again and looks over the small amount of luggage that has somehow managed to fling itself everywhere, is that there's no reason to stay anymore.
It takes a long time to pack. It doesn't have to, but Don finds himself putting things in then taking them out again, refolding and rearranging. It almost feels like reluctance.
He wonders if it's all another dream. If what he heard and saw was nothing more than one last flashing nightly vision. If everything will go back to normal once the daylight comes again.
He makes it to the bayou in less than half an hour. The run is done on rote.
There's not even a moment of doubt before he spies the glow on the waterfront, a few hundred yards from where the St John's University back gates open out. He twists his arm to see his watch, and subtracts the hour he's still yet to set.
In the distance, he hears the first beat of a drum. It's deep, resonating, pounding in a steady rhythm that matches the rush of blood in his ears. But it's not loud, not very. It probably can't be, in an urban area like this. A chant starts up, sibilant and undulating, though he can't make out the words.