Stoves

I was sure I was asleep. I didn’t remember anything before, anyways, and it had felt like a slumber. Somewhere in that null. But the dream that I was sure was just that, a dream, was too described. None of the fogginess that often accompanies a dream, the mild disconnect, was present. I am here, and it seems like it could be Romania.

 

Two men sit just behind the booth I find myself sitting in. Each has a beard; one braided into two gray and small tufts and the other a mess of flimsy black. One hoots on the clarinet and the other looks complacent playing an accordion. In front of them is a tall and hollow box: “Georgey Food Boys Burger Bin: Donations Please.”

 

In front of them two little girls dance. Their smiles alone could bring someone out of a stupor: teeth sprouting awkward and joyous. Their family is clapping them on, and so am I. I’ve got a big smile on my face – I can feel it, even if I don’t remember why I have it. Across the table from me is a big man. He has a red shirt on, and a trim mustache/beard combo. He’s smiling too. Everyone is smiling!

 

We’re in a café I have to assume. In my hand I’m gripping a cup of coffee, and it smells great. There’s a plate of food that is half eaten in front of me, and it looks great. If the coffee wasn’t so pungent I bet it would smell great too – eggs with kale, tomatoes, mushrooms and elephant meat. My companion is eating pancakes, or hot cakes, I guess it doesn’t change, really. All around people are eating and I can see outside through a set of three windows across the room, past the aspiring ballet. There is a row of trees descending along with a not-busy street and out there is water. A whole body of it; we’re not talking about a pond or something.

 

The music is enticing. I don’t know how I got here, and I thought I was peaceful before, sleeping, but now that I’m here I want to dance!

 

I’m wearing clothes well enough for dancing – tan denim, shoes with arch support to spare, a shirt and a coat. I shed my coat, and stand up to join the girls. As I do, my companion claps like a chimp and a few other café goers hop up, too. People are clapping for us, and we’re spinning, sloshing around coffee in my stomach I don’t remember drinking, and having one of the best times in recent history, I know it.

 

After my feet get sore I come back to the table. I have a bite of the scramble – it seems someone, I don’t know if it was me, already put a hot sauce in it. It tastes like browned butter, but that’s normal.

“Really great moves, man!” my companion says. He has almost no hair, just curly short locks, and oil skin. In color and consistency. He smells like a jar of blunts.

 

“Hey, thanks!” I cheer over the noise. I ask him how we got here.

 

“I thought you said you walked?” he says. His left eye squints, but his right eye swells.

 

“Oh, I meant, ya know, in general, haha,” I say. It occurs to me that he is probably not the person to ask – he’s just enjoying breakfast. His pancakes are covered in a powder with beads in it. I don’t know what kind of beads.

 

“How the hell would I know! I’m just enjoying my breakfast, haha!”

 

“Right,” I say.

 

The musicians with their European flavor and style, one wears a stylish hat so I assume it’s European, pack up. They take their burger fund and go. We follow them out as the lights turn off behind us.

 

It’s a little windy but very sunny outside. The street slopes along with the trees toward a park, we can see it down the road, but my friend motions me up the street. I’m here, so I might as well. The park can wait.

 

“Did you like it? The Factory?”

 

“Was that the name of the restaurant?”

 

“Yeah!” his shirt is bounding with his steps, fluttering and colliding.

 

“Oh, yeah! I really liked the dancing, and the coffee was great.”

 

“I really like it there. What else are you doing today?” my companion, I can assume friend, asks me.

I stop us at a street corner with a little white man telling us to cross. He’s shouting at us, but I have to think. Down the street is the park, yes, but what’s at the park, any ways? I can go into the comic book store, over there with the neon sign that says “Read Here”, or that movie theater or the post office. There are endless possibilities just on this corner! What about the water? What about that mountain I see when I peer all the way down the road – I wonder what’s at the top?

 

“I’m not sure. What are you going to do?”

 

“Shit, I’ve got to work,” my friend puts a brown cap on his head. “I need to pay off that train of mine. And the shoes.”

 

“Ah, yeah that makes sense. Well fair’s fair,” I say with a smile. My hair is in my face – how long have I had long hair? “I’ll see you around…”

 

There’s a pause. How am I supposed to know his name? I wish the Romanian music was playing again.

 

“Well, bye then. Not a problem.” he says. If he’d wink, or shrug or something, I would believe it more. It’s just sad seeing him bound away, but that’s what he’s doing. So now I’m alone on the corner, with the red signs telling me to stop. So I’ll wait for the little man.

 

I don’t want to hike right now, so no mountain, thanks; I’ll walk through this alley. Purple flowers blooming in the mud. What a sight! In this alley that seems impossible! But I can’t argue with blooming flowers – how gorgeous! I bend to pick one and they sting me, asking to be left alone with respect. I can understand that. The alley opens to a wharf. It seems familiar but I am sure I’ve never seen a place with so much vibrancy. Thousands, no, millions of people are saying hello to each other. They aren’t all saying it but it’s happening, I can see it! Their eyes light up and they kiss each other and there are children dancing. Women dance with their sons and there are dogs wrestling on their own. A lot of the people are wrestling on their own but the dogs look good doing it.

 

I’ve come to a wide place, as I cross the street and enter the massive throng. The neighborhood behind me, with the quaint café, is gone and pales next to this monolith of community. I zip up my coat – the wind off the water is nipping my skin. I’m malnourished, it seems. Didn’t I have enough elephant meat? People are eating kabobs with anything on them, it doesn’t matter, and laughing until their bones rattle. They’re making love on the sandy white tile of the wharf. They’re making love and people still shake their hands and say how do you do and fine thank you and you? There are little planes landing and rising with fruits and vegetables in them but it doesn’t seem like they are the captains of their crafts because if they were then why would they come to this place to be eaten? The community seems enormous and healthy but what is an enormous and healthy community to fruits and vegetables? Isn’t it suicide to land here, or did they want to see the dogs looking good on their own? I guess I wouldn’t blame them if that was the case, but I can’t say. I feel like I just got here, and unencumbered there is a lot for me to do. I can be wherever I want along this pier, seeing people and making their acquaintance, or I could join that mariachi band since that’s part of me but I don’t really know that for sure anymore.

 

I’ve come to a wide place but it still feels enclosed, but in that enclosure is the life of this city – I know it! I think it’s a city any ways; so many people must be a city. I reach into my pocket and find a few sticky coins. They look like pesos with a picture of an elephant on the face.

 

I see a vendor on the other side of the pier, through the rapids of people, and I start to go to them. A group of three people stop my way – they put their hands on my chest. For a moment I feel myself change, become more like them, but I ask them to kindly move. All three are gorgeous beings, crowded together they are powerful, too. Their hands run across my body, and I’m confused because I thought this place I am in let me be the steward of my direction. It doesn’t feel that way right now! I ask again, please move so I can make it to the vendor. Relenting the trio let me go by, but one grabs my cock. Their hand is hot and alive like a magmatic spirit, but I am still hungry. And, really, I don’t know this person, and I’m not interested in spending the time to make their acquaintance right now.

 

Wading through the people is insane – I don’t remember doing this before in such an electric way. My breath is short and inspired, rushing in and out in time with the memory of the Romanian music. People touch me and I touch them. I see people making love and I ask them how they’re doing. I blend right in because this has been here all along! And it’s still such a nice day outside, and now I can hear the mariachi and even if I’m not playing the guitar I love the banda rhythm. It isn’t mine but that’s fine. We’re sharing the tempo.

 

The vendor is a sleek woman. Her appearance is sharp and she has a badge that says “No nonsense, thanks.” Her smile is authentic but temporary – maybe she’s also hungry. I look at her wares and see a box of snacks. They’re foreign to me, but at the moment everything is!

 

“One box of your snacks, please.” I ask.

 

“Alright,” she says. “Eighty dollars, then.”

 

I wipe my coins off on my jacket and lay them on the glass counter. She inspects one.

 

“I said no nonsense, didn’t I?!” she tosses them back at me.

 

I catch them, elephant side up.

 

“Ah, I’m sorry, I didn’t know that this was nonsense,” I say. I mean it, too.

 

She looks around. The mariachi is bleeding joy and I don’t think she can resist it. The beat of the wharf, and the temperance of the day. She tosses me the plastic box filled with treats.

“Take ‘em, but keep your nasty coins.” she winks.

 

Inside are beetles and roaches, ants and worms, coated in tabasco and honey. There are chilies and balls of clay; when I rattle the container it lets out a sigh of gratitude. Or maybe that’s me! I tear off the thin piece of plastic and recycle it behind the vendor’s counter. I eat a spicy insect and am remembering something, but I guess it doesn’t matter. What NOW?

 

“Thank you!” I say. “Do you know what else I can do today? Where might be a good place to spend my coins?”

 

The no-nonsense woman rests her elbows on the counter. She has a sweater that goes all the way up to her chin, and it looks uncomfortable. It’s carrot juice color, so not quite as dirty as a carrot. Her eyes rotate around like a dreidel until they land on the water behind her vending station. I follow her oracle’s gaze.

 

Ferry boats are chugging big orange and pink clouds out of their stove tops and moving in the water, just behind the bay, and taking people, people that look like they could be eating snacks just like me or maybe making love and it’s a sizzling thing that they’re creating, around these islands that I couldn’t see from the café or hardly even the wharf until this woman let me see them. I’m struck again like a cudgel at how I can do this thing now that I’m awake, and that I’m here and what’s stopping me, anyways?

 

“I think I see what you mean,” I say to the vendor. She smiles at me. “Thank you for the treats!”

 

“No nonsense next time, alright?”

 

I understand her completely. The path to the ferry station is opened up like a slip n’ slide when I look to my left. I grease my way through beautiful people, my coat brushing against their tender bodies, and keep my eyes just above the din. The stacks are like stoves billowing out hot clouds of pizza-smelling ether. I can’t be more excited – but how did I get here? Where do the ferries taxi their guests? And is it a welcoming place?

 

There isn’t a line to the ferry. Only an empty parking lot with a few candy bar wrappers. I look over my shoulder and see the booming pack I’m leaving. They’ve been so fun and I want to stay, but I know that the ships are the next thing. I am confused, but this much I know. I smile and shake the hand of two men wearing bowler hats before I leave the dancing nation and step into the parking lot.

 

There isn’t a line, but there’s a booth – a kiosk, I guess. A heavily bearded man looks over his green and white counter. I look behind him and can see the ferry that is blowing smoke like a carny chewing on his pipe. “Vini Vidi” it reads, carved into a thick piece of sea wood. The ferry is the right size – big enough for cars and all the sadness that travelers lug with them. The sadness that is recreated when one chases their most recent destination and watches their last one shrink.

 

“A ticket, please.” I ask.

 

“It’s a membership. One elephant coin.” His voice is thick like rich chocolate.

 

“Will I need to pay dues?”

 

He sighs, extends a gloved hand. I place my coin in his hand – it peels off my warm palm with some resistance. He lifts the coin from his palm and runs it through a machine. After a moment, he whispers into a radio, then ushers me on. The parking lot is as empty as before, but now there isn’t even one elephant coin-carrying bum like me!

 

Night thunders around the ship as I step on board. Lights go up as the city’s finest keep existing – making love and letting the dogs do their thing. I smile as I step up a few metal stairs, then I take a few more. Wind scrapes my face when I get on the deck. There’s another kiosk, but this one is unattended. Greek is written, poorly, above a bowl of tequila bites. It’s a strange scene, and I can’t read Greek. I take the salty green pyramids in my warm palms to the rear of the ship. I only see a few people sitting in red leather seats. They’re cold – I can see it around them like a blue shield.

 

Black, lumpy water is hitting the ferry. The city with the sloping streets is shrinking, and I’m munching my tequila bites. They’re strong like the hot sauce, and I’m smiling. I know why I’m smiling this time because I’ve been here, observing and acting. Approaching, considering, choosing and it has led me here. I love my actions, and this food and the boat. I haven’t taken this ferry before, but one like it. The Gorgonzola, or the Franciscan, it was called. That’s not right. It doesn’t matter!

 

Cavalcades of lights and laughing – I can still hear people laughing! Some people are moaning, and I’m warm all over. I miss them, but I’m on the run. I assume that, anyways. I don’t have a bindle or anything hobo-ish, but who else just wakes up with no recollection of their lives? I didn’t just coast my way into that café. That’s impossible. I would have remembered. My guess so far is that I’m not a secret agent, but her accomplice, maybe. A gadgets person. It doesn’t matter.

 

Land is a speck in the past. I haven’t walked to the front of the ship yet. I imagine the island or country we’re going to, though: it’s huge and has people that are tropical. They eat toucans and lizards and we hike to the lip of craters each morning, or whenever we feel like it. I love the rhythm of the ocean, I’m noticing, so I hope it’s an island. It’ll be unforgettable.

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