The summer heat continued its daily parade of oppressive force. Luckily it felt worse and worse as the hours wore on, meaning later there would be another round of monsoons. If there was anything to be liked about the Grand Canyon State, it would be those storms in my opinion. As we made our way in and out of the bushes, heading toward the Walgreen’s at the corner of 89 and Main Street, ManQuail made small talk. I wasn’t too interested in what he had to say, but a part of me listened anyway.
To be honest, I was back in the mode of longing for what I didn’t have anymore. Not that it had ever really left me. I didn’t want to be an eight-legged, hairy bug riding on the back of a former meth addict-turned quail. I didn’t want to exchange emails with some thing, maybe once a man, now living in Sedona, Arizona, as a patron saint of addictions. I didn’t want to dream about gnarly old witches with worms in her mouth. And, as much as a part of me liked it, I didn’t want to keep thinking about that woman’s striptease. What I wanted was to be left alone. I wanted my dreams to have my son in them, for us to laugh and make jokes, for us to be together again. I’d live in the body of a tarantula for eternity if I could only see him again. Even if it was just for a minute, long enough for him to say he was okay, so that I could know he was okay. Instead all I can see is his face, his hand waving at me, through the smudged school bus window as it drove away.
I would be prefer that over anything, but if I could get my old, depressed body back too that would be nice.
“This is better than hanging out in the apartment all the time, right?” ManQuail rambled away as we ducked under a broken, termite infested post with a rusted mailbox still stuck at the end. “It’s a great pad, don’t get me wrong. But I just end up napping a lot, and this week that hasn’t been a lot of fun. I love sleeping, you know. But not with the wild dreams I keep having. I could do without those.”
Only half listening, I agreed. “I could do without my dreams lately too.” I thought of the wicked witch again.
“You’re having bad dreams too?” he asked. “Bet they aren’t as bad as mine. I keep seeing this old lady with death crawling all over her. She’s green too, like she’s covered in gang green, or maybe it’s moss.”
“Hold on, Glenn. You’re seeing her too?”
ManQuail trotted between a dumpster and the back of a Mexican restaurant, somewhere with a little shade from the stifling oven outside and a bit of solitude. We were about a block up from the Walgreen’s. I could hear the roar of the traffic at the intersection. Sirens blared a few blocks away, but that was common for “The Wood.”
ManQuail sounded a bit worried. “Wait, you see her?”
“I have had a couple of dreams about a greenish woman covered in worms. She laughs at me the whole time, like she thinks I am doing something incredibly stupid.”
“That’s what happens in my dreams, Doug! This is incredible. It’s like something out of a movie!” Glenn shouted. His wings flapped excitedly near my face. Then he paused. “What do we do about it, though? What does it mean?”
I watched a black widow crawl along the outside of the grease smeared dumpster. The little thing couldn’t care less about Glenn and I, nor our problems. “I’m not sure what to do, Glenn. But it has to mean something. We can’t both be seeing the same creature in our sleep randomly. I’ll bet it has something to do with this whole thing.”
“Should we tell the saint guy? Kolbe? He might be able to help.”
“So far he hasn’t been much help at all. But yeah, I’ll tell him.”
I looked down at the hundred dollar bill I held. First we’d do some more good. There wasn’t much point in heading back to the apartment right away. Maybe doing good would still break the tarantula body and let the real Doug, unwashed and unshaven, spill free. It was worth a shot anyway.
“Let’s finish what we started first, Glenn,” I said. “Head down to the corner. There’s usually always a panhandler or two hanging out down there.”
It took about thirty minutes to find someone, but find someone we did. Cottonwood never lacked in folks asking for help. Sometimes they were people just passing through and hoping for a little gas money to get them another hundred miles to the next decent-sized city. Sometimes they were veterans who didn’t trust the system they served for so many years. They wanted nothing to do with it, but they did need a helping hand once in a while. For them it was safer to ask a citizen for help than it was to get back into that system. A few of them had good reason to avoid it too, from child support long overdue to arrest warrants.
I once knew a guy in Flagstaff who panhandled for a living. He lived in a two-bedroom house with his wife and three kids. His folks owned the place. The dude made most of his money playing gigs at night with one of Flag’s many local rockabilly bands, but when that got tight, he pulled a beat up old wheelchair out of the garage and went two towns away. He’d sit all day in that wheelchair with a cardboard sign and often come home with upwards of two-hundred bucks. Everyone had reasons for what they did in their lives. That guy had plenty of them. But often, these were folks who were just as miserable as they looked. And most of them could use help.
Perched at the sidewalk, near the entrance to the Walgreen’s, Glenn and I spied a lonely woman with jet black hair down to her backside. She wore an old army jacket, faded from too much sun, and had her black hair tied into a greasy pony tail. Her face looked creased and old, as if she’d spent the majority of her life right there on that little piece of sidewalk with her cardboard. Written in black ink were the words, “Anything you can do to help is appreciated.” She stared at the traffic, but didn’t seem to actually see the vehicles that whizzed by.
I smiled to myself. “She’s perfect.”
Per instructions, ManQuail trotted along the sidewalk, keeping close to the shrubs lining the pharmacy’s property, until we were quite close to our mark. I unfolded the hundred dollar bill and held it before me. I’d no sooner done that, than the bird trotted out into the open, right next to the female panhandler. She looked our way absently, then paused as her eyes focused on the sight in front of her. Glenn bopped a bit closer. She took in the sight of the bill I held. A moment later she snatched it from me, her eyes wide as saucers. Glenn turned tail and started back toward the bushes the second the money got in her possession.
“Thank you!” She called out to us as we disappeared from sight. For a moment, I forgot my expectation that we’d suddenly turn back to humans. That actually felt good.
Better than knocking out the wife beater.