Authors: Jamie Sheffield
Bound for Home
“Bound for Home”
© Jamie Sheffield, 2013
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author /publisher.
Published by SmartPig through Amazon.com KDP.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
SmartPig Office, 3:48pm, 6/4/2002
When Maurice broke into my office and found me asleep on the couch, he pointed a narrow finger dramatically in my direction and actually said, “Aha!” (
like a policeman revealing the guilty party on an old TV show
). I struggled my way up into the world, and wondered some combination of ‘now what?’, ‘get out!’, and ‘lunch? … maybe donuts’. He must have tiptoed up, putting his weight on the sides of the old wooden stairs in the old wooden building (
or I would have heard the creaking which normally alerts me to people approaching
). Since he owns the whole building and I’m never behind on my rent, it occurred to me that he had no need to sneak around, so he must have wanted something in particular.
“Maurice, come in.” I offere
d, although he was already in. Social conventions are hard enough for me to learn and follow when people follow them, but I had no idea how to treat someone who entered my locked office without my permission; so I ignored it.
My greeting seemed to take the wind out of his accusatory sails; he lowered his pointing finger, and jingled his keys with an apologetic tilt of
his head and arching of eyebrows.
My landlord Maurice communicates largely through gestures, and in the nearly seven months that I’ve been renting this office space, it has become abundantly clear that he finds my manner of human-to-human interactions equa
lly off-putting and confusing. He dragged one of the chairs around my work-table (
really a kitchen table, but there’s no kitchen, so …
) and moved it close to the couch, then settled himself slowly down onto the seat as I shook myself free of the last of my nap.
“What do you want?” I ask
ed, in a manner much too direct for Maurice, who prefers to circle the subject for discussion sometimes for an hour or more before getting down to business.
at me blankly, patted the chest pocket of his worn-thin flannel shirt, pulled out a mostly crushed pack of Lucky Strikes
(the short filterless ones, I noticed
), and looked around (
as he always does
) for an ashtray. I hate the smell of cigarettes, and have to air out SmartPig for hours after each visit from Maurice. He knows this, but it’s (
) better than him lifting his leg to claim dominance/territory like the dogs at the shelter.
ed an empty Coke can out of the recycling bin, and passed it to him. He looked at the can with a mixture of deep sadness and disappointment (
at me … the can … both … I’ll never know
), shook it, and tapped the half-inch of ash already accumulated into the can (
which gave off a sour little hiss as the hot ash fell into the few stray milliliters of Coke at its bottom
I don’t want to repeat my question, but Maurice seemed either not to have heard it the first time, or was waiting for reasons known only to him
to respond. He nodded and smoked and tapped and sighed, then whistled through his teeth and asked, “So it was cold last night, yes?”
It’s been coming for months, but I
saw it in a flash of conversational (
) images now; the next ninety seconds of this conversation could leave me actually (
as opposed to only virtually
) homeless. When I settled into my new life in the Adirondacks, and found how much I loved camping and sleeping outdoors, I let the lease on my apartment in town lapse, keeping the office-space for my few belongings and to have a place to get out of the rain. Maurice must have figured out that I no longer have an apartment (
people in small towns apparently know almost everything, about almost everyone, almost all of the time
), and became concerned that I was using the SmartPig office as a residence (
which is in violation of my lease
). I had a moment of mixed fear/anger/panic/frustration as I contemplated losing this space, but Maurice didn’t see it; I don’t emote like other people do, and unless I’m trying, I don’t generally have facial expressions … or blush … or cry.
“Yes, it was
… surprisingly so.” I responded; ready to talk about the weather for hours, if called upon to do so. “It was record-breaking if I’m not mistaken.” (
.) “26 this morning when I woke up next to Little Green Pond, and it hit 70 this afternoon just before I lay down for my nap.”
Maurice squinted at me through his smoke, and
dropped the tiny butt of his cigarette down into the can, giving it a shake before putting it down purposefully on my table.
… where will you sleep tonight Tyler?” He looked around the room as he asked, taking in the neat piles of gear, the slightly less neat piles of books and magazines, and the messy piles of clothes that a slightly open closet door has failed to hide. He got up, shook the butt out into my garbage, rinsed the can in the sink, and returned it to the recycling container; looking uncomfortable and angry and worried, all at once. (
I love watching his face, for the emotions that play across it … I may be horrible at reading and/or portraying emotions, but his are fun to watch
“I was thinking about one of the campsites around Follensby Clear Pond for
tonight. Have you ever been out there? It’s beautiful, and so …” I was ready to continue extolling the virtues of Follensby Clear Pond, but he cut me off.
Acgh! No, I sleep in a bed. Every night, in a bed.” His French-Canadian accent, often missing completely (
although the structure of his sentences always suggested a Gallic influence)
flared when he felt strongly about something (
which was quite often with Maurice
). “This is what I am talking about Tyler. It’s no good.”
“What’s no good Maurice?” I was pretty sure that I could see where he was going, but it was important to the favorable flow (
) of the conversation that he get there on his own, before we could fix it together.
“I cannot rent my building to a man with no home. When it gets cold again, you will live all the time in here
… sleeping on the couch. And you will burn my building down.” This all came out in an explosion of words and spit and gasps and hand gestures and eyebrow wiggles, and at the end … a hand slapped down loudly on the coffee-table for emphasis.
“You must find a place to live
… a home. I like you Tyler. You are a good tenant, always neat, always paying the rent on time, help out with the garbage and recycling for all the renters ...”
and that’s why you want to kick me out? Because I’m a good tenant?” I asked.
“No. I like you. I don’t want to kick you out, but I can’t have a ma
n in my building with no home. Home is like family, and family is everything.” This last phrase clanged oddly in my mind and brought me back fully to the conversation, wresting me from thoughts of heading down the 23 steps and to the right for 87 paces to get some Chinese food for an early dinner.
“Maurice, what’s the matter?” I ask
ed. “You know my family is gone, but what does that have to do with my office-space?”
Maurice literally crosse
d himself, thinking of my parents dying in the Twin Towers almost nine months previously (
I have seen his near-mystic response to my orphan-hood before, and I tried, perhaps clumsily, to cash in on some guilt to keep a roof over my gear, if not my head
“My family is gone too
, Tyler. My granddaughter, Sophia, my princess, her things are gone from the house, and she’s beyond my reach.” From the initial obfuscation, Maurice shifted gears so quickly that my nap-dumb head couldn’t keep up.
“Wait, what, when … granddaughter? Maurice, what are you talking about? Did someone take your granddaughter?”
“She has been taken, yes, but of her own free will.” He said, as though that made sense. He moved over to sit next to me on the couch when the topic of conversation changed from my office lease to his missing family. He leaned forward a bit and paused, waiting for pity/clarity/comfort … something. I ran through the most likely options, based on what I had seen people do in similar situations, and reached out tentatively to pat his shoulder … four times. I must have guessed correctly, or at least acceptably, because he breathed out … relaxed a bit.
“Tell me about it.” I asked, hoping that more information/background would help me understand what had happened
that resulted in the derailing of first my nap, and then my verbal eviction notice.
Sophia’s classes at North Country (
Community College, the SUNY college campus in Saranac Lake, NY
) finished over a month ago, and she was lookin’ for some kinda job with her friends. She found a hippie farm out in Gabriels … fell in love with the people, the lil’ goats, the LAND, doing ‘honest’ work, she says. Room and board and a small stipend, she says. She can stay for free in my house ‘til the end of time I say, but she wants this. We argued, she said OK, but she moved out a month ago … she must have waited until I went out … she took some-a her clothes from my house and left everything else. I haven’t heard from her since. I went out to the farm yesterday, my birthday, which she never misses, and the guy at the gate by the road won’t let me in, says she don’t wanna talk to me.” He finished, and went through the cigarette ritual again (
patting for them in all of his pockets, pulling out the crumpled pack, looking around for an ashtray
). This time when I grabbed his empty can from the recycling, I also grabbed a pair of Cokes from the tiny student fridge, and sat back down … opening the first can as he lit up.
okes were both for me. Maurice apparently only drinks coffee and wine, so after his first few visits, I ceased all attempts at playing host (
as I don’t do hot drinks or alcohol
). I had the tiny fridge turned as cold as it would go, but it couldn’t chill the Cokes quite enough for my liking … they were still good, and helped bring me fully awake.
“Do you think they took her, or that they’re holding her against her will?” I ask
ed, not really knowing what to do regardless of his answers to either of my questions … hoping that more information would bring things into focus, and allow me to see through the static of people and emotions to the clarity of an answer. I live in a godless world, but worship information and patterns and clarity and answers.
“Nah, she wanted to go …
she wants to be there.” He answered simply … no clarity for me yet.
“Did you have an idea that I could help, Maurice?” One of the
useful things about not understanding human artifice is that I tend to cut through the awkward waiting and misdirection that most humans seem to thrive on (
or at least need in order to communicate
Maurice looked pained at
the direct route I had taken. He must have had an elaborate back and forth in mind, involving cigarettes and Gallic shrugs and grunts and both of us observing the niceties of conversational rules which I had never understood. He sighed and nodded at me through a cloud of smoke and skipped ahead to rejoin the conversation.
Yah, I was hoping that you could go out and talk to this guy at the gate, to these people, to my Sophia … to make sure that she’s OK, and … also … to talk her out of living out at that hippie farm.”
“Why do you imagine that I could do that if you couldn’t Maurice? She’s not my granddaughter, I’m not a cop, why would she listen to me, even if I could get
passed the guy (
guard? Why have a guard for a hippie farm … more on that later … maybe
) at the gate.” I passed the conversational ball gently, but firmly, back to him.
Maurice puffed on the tiny remain
der of his cigarette hurriedly, three times, before responding. I could see him thinking about how to answer … and also how to answer without a fifteen minute preamble.
“I lost my head a lit
tle bit at the farm … yelled at the gate-guy a little. I grabbed the tire-iron out of my trunk and tol’ him that I was gonna talk to Sophia, and nobody gonna stop me. He reached out and took the tire-iron from my hand, so quick and gentle I almost didn’t see it or feel it. An ol’ man like me, you think maybe it’s easy….” As he spoke, Maurice’s right hand darted up, flicked my left ear, and was back in his lap before I could flinch or say ‘ouch’.
I said. “Maurice! Point taken … so you’re quick … quicker than me … so what could I do, except lose my tire-iron too?”
“Oh no Tyler, the gate-guy, he gave the tire-iron back to me nice as pie (
a clumsy simile if I’ve ever seen one, although I do find pie to be quite nice, and now found myself thinking about some apple pie to go with my Chinese dinner
). He politely asked me to leave, gave me his word that Sophia was fine, and that he’s look after her special for me.”