Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Temporary Now

Originally published in The Battered Suitcase

Spinning circles, Faith and I. Couple of nobodies whirling round, headed nowhere quick. Who knows how we've managed to make do these past few months. Today feels no different. Standing in the cold and the wet, future don't look too bright. I know I'm not supposed to dwell on the future. Supposed to put my worry on getting through today. The now.

Last night we slept where we scored. Burned and crashed. Something we do a lot. Got up this morning to a battering rain. Haven't eaten since. And the way things are going might be a while before we do. Only a few generous arms have slipped out from rolled down car windows. Seven bucks. Eight. Maybe. Lots of coins. Hardly nobody one with any extra to spare. While I hang back by the scrubweed, propping up the cardboard sign, Faith, she works the cars waiting on the light. She raps her raw knuckles against the wet windows. "Spare some change," she begs.

Most of the time folks ignore her, keep their gazes straight ahead. Once in a while they'll turn to face her, scowling. Or maybe raise a finger and laugh. One guy, when the light flashed green, rolled down his window and spat in Faith's face. Get a fucking job, fucking crack-slut, he shouted. Faith got her hands in the window, got hold of his collar, but when he jammed the gas pedal she got thrown off. A tough girl. Faith. Not easily bothered. She's all about the now. All about believing that today is the only mattering day. Folks who worry on the future, or dream about the past, Faith says, got their heads wrapped around the world all wrong.

Light goes green and the lane clears. I make mention of how bad the rain's getting. I raise the sign I'm holding over my head to keep the rain from drenching me. Faith, she palms a damp frizz of red hair off her face, shrugs, and says, We got much bread left? I don't answer, so she says, Yeah, that's what I thought. She gives herself a glance; her breasts beneath the wet and clinging pullover she's got on. She yanks the fabric away from her skin, then tugs downward, letting the shirt grab and form around the goods she's got. The goods. That's what she calls them. In an ugly way, gets desperate sometimes.

One night a month or so back we'd actually caught enough coin to rent a room. In that room I asked her why we stoop. Uptight and angry, Faith said, Why do you give a shit? Besides, she went on, it's all temporary, anyway. All this shit's temporary.

I said, Maybe I give a shit because I care. Maybe I wanna make a life with you. Faith said, Talk that way again and you're on your own. Last thing I need, she said, is a bunch of happy-happy, joy-joy crap. She didn't mean it, though. I knew that she was hiding behind that tough girl mask. She no more wanted to be alone than I did. Nobody wants to be alone.

That night in the dark I lay on the bed and listened to Faith struggle to keep her sobs inside. Next morning in my arms, she whispered, Let's do it, Donny. Let's kick this shit and anchor down to a real address. Get real jobs. Live real lives.

I got out of bed and parted the curtains. Sunlight swept over the room. Felt different for a minute. Warm and bright. Real and secure. Never felt that way before. But it didn't take long for those hopeful vibes to become temporary. Like always, the reality of the now needed to be dealt with.

Light goes red again and the cars begin lining up. Faith leans over the lead car, peers into the driver's side window. She gives the guy behind the wheel an eyeful of the goods. Then the window cranks down. Help a lady out, Faith says to the driver. The driver, an older guy, suit and tie type, probably says back, What's in it for me? Cardboard sign I'm hefting above my head sags heavy with rain. Even before Faith glances over her shoulder my way, I know she's getting into the car with the guy. It's warm in there. No rain. No wind. No past. No future. Pretty music. The temporary now.

When she nods, I nod back. She opens the door, hops in, slams the door behind her. She sits gnawing her bottom lip the way she does when she wants you to think she don't care about nothing. We'll hook up later. After. Like always. When the car drives off, its tires send a splash of water off the pavement onto my jeans. Ankles to cuffs drenched. I move up with my sign alongside the lane. They don't look my way, though. These drivers. Like they know I ain't quite whole. Like they know something's missing. Like they know ain't know faith with me today.

Later, if things go right, we'll eat good, maybe even get a room.

I let it guilt me. Faith doing what she does to keep us going. Wish things could be different. Wish I could snap my fingers, make all this crap disappear. I tell myself to quit dreaming. If I've learned anything from Faith, it's not to count on things being too different from one day to the next. Life don't work that way. Not unless through some miracle you strike it big.

I hit the mother-lode once in my life. Just once. The day Faith came along. But right here, right now, with cars splashing past and the rain pounding down, I almost hear Faith's voice in my head, saying, Damn you, Donny. Quit dwelling. Quit hoping. In the real world dreams don't pan out.

But I can't help myself. My hopeful streak tells me she's right about all this being a temporary thing.

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