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Jan/Feb 2013 Spotlight

Pablo, Pablito – a novella

Chapter Six

by Steven Schutzman


Walking along the golf course fence, kicking through leaves, letting his fingers trail and bump again over the hard, cold wire, Pablo feels he's following a path he has followed, not just yesterday, but many other times before. The coolness of the air. The smell of the dead leaves and distant smoke. The darkness seeping up from the ground. The trees twisting and untwisting above his head. On a mission no one would understand, to discover the secrets to be discovered. Knowing there are secrets is the key to discovering secrets and Pablo knows they are everywhere, waiting, inside and out.

All this feels like old times when he was a boy exploring abandoned places, traveling inside the singular loneliness of being small and well behaved, of having no mother or father, of sleeping in the bed with Little Grandmother until he was twelve and she said they must stop, of trying to believe what the priests said about God. Being able to accept God would have made him feel a lot better about some of his stray thoughts. He knew there was a secret force behind things but, try as he might, he couldn't believe it was God the way they told it. To give it a name showed you weren't lined up with the force. All names cause the force to withdraw like a bright light obliterates shadows. He said 'spirit' to himself in small letters, not 'HOLY SPIRIT' writ large, just 'spirit' to show what the force was inside individual people, animals and objects.

Unlike those old times, there's no Little Grandmother waiting supper for him to hear his thoughts and the story of his day. He's on his own, a hero to no one.

Oh, crap. Pablo stops short, believing it, not believing it, surprised, not surprised at all. There is a guy, up ahead about twenty yards away, sitting back shirtless against the fence, on top of the splayed sleeping bag. Pablo's heart starts pounding hard in the chill of sundown. He pulls his hand off the metal connecting him to the guy's bare back pressing angrily through the wires. Looks like it hurts. Or should hurt a normal person. Looks like when the guy peels off the fence, the gouged flesh of his back will resemble ice cube squares turning white with cold in their freezer trays sure to freak out passing golfers.

Just like last summer when he saw the man-slaughterer at the community pool, the birthmark at the base of Pablo's spine begins itching wildly as if insects or small animals are beginning to hatch from eggs long ago planted beneath the surface of his skin.

The guy is using the fading afternoon light to read a magazine, looks like, up close to his face. Maybe he has a flashlight buried in the leaves next to his bed, as Pablo thought yesterday, so he can continue reading in the dark, and a radio and a toothbrush and canteen and more magazines and a can opener and utensils and cans of food and a deck of cards and letters from home and dozens of pure white lost golf balls in the brown leaves like a nest of eggs that will make him rich someday because between the golfers with their unnecessary, no-trespassing game and the homeless guy with his bare necessities you need some kind of spell, same as people who buy those magazines with stories and photos of the stars, like the one Pablo bets the guy is reading now.

Pablo had only half believed it yesterday when it flashed through his mind that there was a person living at the bag but there the guy is, acting like it's the most normal thing in the world, kicking back on the couch in his living room. He has found that such stray images are usually more accurate than his regular thoughts, a different way of receiving truth and that he should study them just like he studies the photos he snaps with the camera, a treasure and burden in one, hanging now from his neck. Pablo never reveals his stray images to anyone. Instead he shows some people his photos and watches their reactions, curious to see if anyone will catch a whiff of the atmosphere of his inner world. This is all he can do. That the stray images must remain hidden, that no one must know, has been a given in his life since the age of twelve when he could no longer be considered a child, when Little Grandmother paid to have a wall knocked down and a room taken over from the apartment next door so they didn't have to share a bed anymore. Before that he told her everything.

Now Pablo feels terrible he sent Dakota to return the sleeping bag for a doubtful reason (a test) to an imagined person who turned out to be real and could be dangerous with his bare back pressed into painful ice cubes like in that movie, what was it?, where the craziest outlaw held his hand close over a candle flame to prove how tough he was and scared the shit out of the other outlaws who followed his orders from then on. Some crazy people don't feel pain. They sleep with their eyes open and hear your thoughts as you think them. They sidle up and breathe the fear coming off your skin like pure oxygen to get strong, and maybe this one did something awful to Dakota on account of the sleeping bag.

Get real What is he thinking? Bag back to fence as promised, girl back to school as promised, guy back to bag. That's it. That's the order. Jesus. No reason to think anything else but better check.

Pablo spots a stone half buried in the ground. Out it comes easy with the heel of his sneaker from the soft ripe dirt. Its coarse edges feel good to his fingers and palm, rough and chill with a million years of nights, and just the right weight at the end of his throwing arm like they were made for each other, strength and weight in perfect balance. He feels like he could throw it a hundred miles an hour through a wall.

Pablo starts forward, kicking even louder through the leaves, not wanting to sneak up on this person, but to imitate the walker he was yesterday. This gives him a character to play, there by accident only, no problem. He feels calm now, the stone in his hand seems to calm him, except for the annoying itch of his birthmark tuned like a radio to static in his body. Scratching it never does any good. It has to stop on its own.

The guy, when he sees Pablo, sits up with a slow groan (Mmmm) off the fence which rattles and springs back into position as if it's been holding its breath. He's husky and hairy, a large bear-like person. He stretched the fence a lot with the weight of his heavy, soft looking body. Pablo imagines the lumpy white chessboard of flesh on the guy's back, blood seeping into the gouges the fence made. His hair is in dreads, not on purpose, from grime and neglect. He has a big, dark beard and shadows for eyes, a white guy with the thinnest strips of white visible on his face between the matted hair.

What's up? Pablo says, downhill from the guy's boots, like size fifteen, with huge rubber treads shaped like the blunt teeth of carved pumpkins.

The guy looks up into the trees as if Pablo really meant 'Up' not 'what's happening', one of those people, looks like, who can't do one thing normal or understand the simplest words without reading his own things into them. For someone like this you must wait as he goes through the military drills of his brain. The guy swivels his huge head back and forth as he scans the branches. He grunts. He pulls at the rolls of his belly, one hand after another in time to his swiveling head. Pablo sees, next to him on the sleeping bag, a small potted plant with flowers whiter than new golf balls gathering more light to themselves than anything else around, shining. A delicate, little potted plant? Probably he talks to it. Probably he loves it like a wife.

You are one freaking crazy dude, Dakota said.

The guy finally lowers his gaze to the level of Pablo's belt, around, eyes hidden in the shadows of their sockets, as if he can't stand to look another person in the face.

Cool woods, Pablo tries.

You know it's crazy, man. It makes no sense, the guy says, talking to Pablo's belt buckle. The library. Mmmm. They say you can't talk in the library but there's plenty of noise in the library, lot of noise, too much noise. It's crazy. It makes no sense.

Apparently satisfied with his speech, the guy breathes out noisily, a snuffling, forceful, loud exhalation accompanied by a low sound, between a groan and a growl, that reminds Pablo of a bear again and he thinks that an actual bear would be less alarming than this bear of a guy would be in a library.

Mmmm.

More quiet, more reading. That's the library, I guess, Pablo says, feeling ridiculous.

Lights, computers, wheels, clocks, printers, turnstiles, shoes, water fountains, sodas, coins, papers, pencils, chairs, keys, keys, keys, all kinds of keys. Yeah. Plenty of noises, says the guy, exhaling loud as a bear again. Mmmm.

Probably have better luck explaining things to a bear than to him but here goes nothing.

They don't want talking because the words get in the way of the words people are trying to read. Words against words, you know, way too distracting.

You got any money, man?

Pablo's spirit sags. Of course, money is the most important thing to people who don't have any but the question makes him feel like a piece of meat, good for one thing only. Like the guy is as grasping and full of needs as a big baby trying to feed on everyone as soon he meets them. Two little speeches about a library and he's the guy's long lost brother. Normally Pablo gives something but he feels like he's in a different life from the one he was living just yesterday.

No. Sorry. I just got fired today.

From deep out of his chest like from out of a bear, the guy's groan is more articulate this time, full of doubt and confirmation; doubt that Pablo is telling the truth, confirmation that people are liars.

Mmmm. And they won't give you a library card unless you have a utility bill or a phone bill with an address. It's crazy. It makes no sense. I don't have an address. The whole world is my address. So they won't let me take out books from the library. Mmmm. You got an address I could use, man. Or did you just get evicted today too?

You been crashing here long, man? Pablo asks, not wanting to say No again to this person, figuring he better split before things, as they must, get any worse.

You can't give the woods as your address, man, the guy says with anger at Pablo as if he had suggested that and not just asked a question. That's crazy. It makes no sense. Mmmm. You at least got a cigarette, man?

No, sorry. Don't smoke.

Just quit today, huh, camera boy?

The cathedral/school bell starts to ring the hour and a few seconds later, high up on stanchions taller than any of the trees in the woods, the timed spotlights go on to illuminate the greens and fairways behind the fence, a world as inaccessible as the celebrity world of the fan magazine, of spotlights and limos, cameras, red carpets and stars arriving. There are no golfers to be seen.

Mmmm, growls the guy. Six fucking o'clock.

He starts to rise, as if he has an important six o'clock appointment, needing to reach back to grab the fence to help himself up, he's so fat and out of shape. The guy only makes it to his knees before he's breathing too hard to keep going.

Okay. Okay. Be cool. I have to split. Take care of yourself, man, Pablo says then remembers why he started this conversation in the first place. Hey, man, have you seen a girl, with ringlet curls, a small girl, in a high school uniform, around here lately?

A girl? No. Ain't seen one. Hmmm. Now get out of here.

Pablo hears a rustling in the tree above his head and his name being called over and over. He looks up to see the white sneakers, brown legs and blue skirt of a girl in a Catholic school uniform climbing down the branches, and then her black flopping curls through the spring leaves. Maybe she was what the guy was looking at so hard up there. What's up? Her. So, it really wasn't that crazy for him to look up after all but now many new things don't make sense.

Pablo, Pablo, Pablo.

She belong to you too, camera boy? the guy asks from his knees, as if accusing him of the crimes of having money, an address, cigarettes, and now this girl.

Pablo, Pablo, Pablo.

Dakota drops to the ground close beside him, her eyes pure black and skin paler with fear. She digs the fingers of both hands into his arm, shivering like mad.

What the heck are you doing up in a tree?

I...No...Pablo, she says through chattering teeth while her strong tense fingers dig in and yank on his arm for them to get away down the hill. Let's get away from him. Let's get out of here.

Before Pablo can make a move, he sees the guy begin to fall toward them in slow motion like a tree or a building coming down, sees his huge hairy startled face plunging forward through the air, the developing image coming clear slow as a photo in its fluid. He will remember how the big mouth was open not to make a sound, there was no sound, but as if the guy too was surprised by what he was doing. He will remember the guy's blackened teeth, the golf course light filtering through his flying dreads and his own remarkable stillness before snapping into action. Pablo's mind has frozen this moment sure as if his camera took a picture.

There is time to dodge but Pablo doesn't dodge as he normally would, always like that, always running and dodging and climbing fences, never standing to fight not because he was afraid but because fighting never made sense to him. Not dodging is something he will wonder a lot about later. Maybe because it was just so unexpected. Maybe because of the perfect feel of the rock at the end of his arm. Maybe because Dakota was there to protect. Or maybe just maybe because of the wild signals of the birthmark he shares with the man-slaughterer, his violence.

With Dakota pulling his other arm, Pablo's good arm flings the rock at the huge, tottering head. The sound of bone giving way enters Pablo's bones as the guy drops like a sack of sand to the ground. There the sound will reside, in the bones of Pablo's memory, for the rest of his life, reminding him that he is someone in addition to who he thinks he is most times. He hears the world in a new way, the way a dead man hears it, neutrally, not with his ear but through his ear into the wide open spaces of his spirit and the high mountain paths of his dreams.

For those few moments, Pablo is sure his life is a dream but then his head closes to the wide open spaces of his spirit, the veil goes back down and Pablo is Pablo again and the world is the world as expressed through homeless guys, truant schoolgirls and flung stones. He looks down at the guy's unmoving bulk. The pattern of squares in his flesh resemble the shadows the fence would cast on his back at noon, an embedded cage. What has he done?

Jesus.

Let's beat it out of here, Dakota says. Before he comes to.

Maybe I killed him. I think I killed him.

A big guy like that with a little rock. No way.

I hit him right square in his head. Hard. You hear that?

Yeah, it was a good shot.

He wasn't in too good shape before and now look at him.

A beached whale.

Not moving or nothing.

No, you just knocked him out cold, Pablo.

Do you hear him breathing? I don't.

It serves him right for charging at us. And if he's dead what are you going to do? Go to the police about it. No way. Now, come on.

What's the heck is going on? What happened to you?

I'll tell you later. Come on.

You mean, you're all right, huh?

Yeah, I'm all right. I think.

He didn't hurt you?

No. He was just down there. Waiting. Lurking. Come on. Let's go.

No, I'm not going. I can't leave him like this. What happened? What're you doing up a tree, Dakota?

What is wrong with you? We have to get out of here. Suppose some one from the golf course sees us or from school.

I'm not going anywhere with you, Pablo says. You're nothing but trouble. Now tell me what happened here.

My blood came.

What?

I slept here last night and dreamt about you the whole time. We were older and together, Pablo, but you know that.

Know what?

How we're going to be together.

You didn't go back to your school?

No. I told you. I slept here. This afternoon, I climbed this tree to hide and see if you would come back for me after work. I needed to know your heart. I needed to know if you would really come back for me but then this giant shows up and I was scared to get down with him right there and then my blood came when I was up there.

Are you hurt?

No. No. It's my first blood.

Your first what? Blood?

You know, my first period. Like I told you, it never came before. Only just yesterday, I was still a girl.

Yeah, right. Oh well, I suppose...like... Wait a minute. You promised to go back to your school. I told you I really needed you to keep that promise. Now look what's happened. Jesus.

Dakota holds her hands out, palms up, as if in an offering. An offering? Offering of what? Her blood? No, no, she is shrugging. She is saying, this is what is and what has to be.

My first blood. I felt it coming since yesterday. It came for you, Pablo.

You're crazy, girl. It has nothing to do with me.

It came for you, same as you came back here for me.

I was just checking on the bag here.

Sure you were.

I was just checking on the broken promise you made.

I meant the promise when I said it but...

What? You're nuts. A promise is about the future, Dakota.

I love my new name. Say it again.

What about school?

I'm a woman now.

I don't think so.

Who cares what you think?

I care what the police think.

I never knew my parents.

So what? Me either. That happens to plenty of people and there are no excuses in life. You either do it or don't do it so you have to do it.

In my first foster home, my foster father would come into my room late at night, a lot.

Oh. You mean...Jesus. That's horrible.

For years, he did it. That's why my period never happened until now. Because I refused to let it happen.

It's impossible. A person can't control what happens inside their body.

I did. And now I know why. My blood came because of you, and gave me back my purity, for you.

I don't think so.

Who cares what you think about it? It came for you.

The guys groans, coming to now it seems, on the ground, and Pablo feels a huge relief he isn't dead.

See? He's not dead and we have to get out of here right now, Dakota says.

No. We have to check see if he's okay and help him if he needs it.

Are you crazy? He's a crazy giant. If he gets hold of us, we'll never get away.

I can get away. Don't worry about it. You go. Go on. Back to school. This is on me. I'm the one who cracked his skull with a rock.

You just did what you had to do.

I don't feel good about it. I'm going to make it right.

He's a monster. I want us to leave. We have to leave right now, Pablo.

Dakota comes up and looks in his eyes, with her demand. He must choose her and let her choose him, her look says. With her so close, Pablo remembers his dream, how changed they were, how grown up and accomplished, the city turned into a beautiful mountain place, their back and forth to silence, their rush to patience, their sparks to embers. He also remembers how slyly he disobeyed the dream-rules to win a beautiful kiss and it is precisely because he would never do something like that he wants to do it now, dared to it by the dream and by Dakota's own daring eyes. He kisses her mouth from now until then, from then until now. Goodbye. They are standing just up the hill from where they kissed before but it's not yesterday's kiss of strangers. It's the beautiful kiss in the dream, pushing and giving, searching and finding, falling and floating, breathing into each other's secret, wordless places, before the mountains split open with the black sludge of animals but they don't, of course, there are no mountains, only the stolen kiss of a lifetime that Dakota finally ends by pulling away and giving him this smile that says she knows he is hers forever.

That's what you think, Pablo says out loud as if she's those exact words to him first.

Oh, you know it. Come on.

Dakota takes off down the hill onto the soccer fields. Yes, after a kiss like that, he is supposed to follow her anywhere in the world which is why he doesn't; her confidence that he will give it up makes him refuse to give it up.

Dakota runs across the soccer fields, away not toward the castle/cathedral school, aiming for the streets of the city. He can see her clearly, running through the light thrown down on the grass by the golf course stanchions, a loping stride very different from the darting, soccer quickness of yesterday. She is a beautiful, together runner with flawless rhythm that will take her a long way from here. Will she stop? No, she won't stop. Will she turn? No, she won't turn. She will disappear into city's boxes of shadows. She will dart, spring, spin, dance, climb trees, maybe change her name again. She will become a doctor in a foreign land. She will kiss strangers. Her sparks will turn to embers. This is the journey her spirit must take, with or without him. It is for him or for his spirit to choose. While he stands there, his spirit is already running at her side.

The guy groans his groan into the ground. His legs start to ooze down the hill toward the rest of his body which looks like a fat headless white worm, his dark head blending in with the dark dirt. His legs don't so much move as throb down because of the pull of gravity on his flesh. When the guy's body gets level it'll probably start to roll like a log down the hill and Pablo will have to jump out of its way and hope the guy comes to a stop on his back so he can see how bad his wound is.

He looks up and sees Dakota has veered from the line she was taking toward the streets and buildings of the city and is out in the middle of the soccer field dribbling an imaginary soccer ball in front of the goal posts. She fakes, stops on a dime, spins, jukes, reverses, jukes again, deking her opponents into confusion, scores and jumps with her arms in the air in celebration. This is her last chance message to him, there on the fields of yesterday, when everything seemed like an accident. What a kid, out there on her own. A kid with no one, abused yet sufficient to herself in the world. It breaks his heart and restores his heart and he feels his spirit take over his body.

Pablo starts running, his camera crashing against him as he goes. He takes the strap off his neck, slips his wrist through it, wraps it around his arm and clamps his hand over the leather covering the lens, all the while closing the distance between himself and the school girl playing soccer with an invisible ball. He runs up, steals the ball from her and controls it with some pretty nice moves of his own. She doesn't try to steal it back, just watches him dribble, smiling her smear of a smile. She knew it, her smile says, knew he'd come to her. Oh well. But it's a relief, kind of, and he smiles back.

Look girl, Pablo says all caught up in the crazy moment. Our shadows are fifty feet long.

The only reason you stole that thing is 'cause I let you, she says. Or else it would never happen.

There are no excuses in soccer, girl. You either do it or you don't do it so you have to do it.

Pablo kicks the ball high and far through a window of the castle/cathedral school.

Come on. Let's go before the nuns come after us for breaking their window.

Lucky shot.

Now they run together, easy as two loping dogs. When the grass turns to sidewalk and people and cars, Pablo knows where they are going, to his apartment, darting and dodging the tired workers of the lonely planet where they have been marooned.

He sees a 7-11 with a pay phone outside. He says, wait, he has a call to make and Dakota waits in the shadows of the store while he calls 911 and tells them about an injured man who needs help. After describing the injured man's location and what's wrong with him, some kind of blow to his head. He refuses to give his name or tell the operator anything more except, Be careful. The guy could be dangerous.

 

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