The Wanderer, Part 2

In case you missed part 1 https://yourmamasallwrite.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/the-wanderer-part-1/

The first time Carl saw the portal, he thought it was a penny or a piece of broken glass catching the light. But it was after midnight in a dark alley. Only later would he contemplate how there had been no beams to reflect.

Coming out of both his drunken stupor and wounded haze, Carl saw a shimmer in the corner of the building a few feet away. Unknowingly compelled, he stumbled to his feet and lurched for the corner, anxious to touch the source of the reflection.

As he reached for the glimmer, he realized it was not a coin or broken bottle. He inched closer and just as he touched the light, he found himself transported to a corner a half mile away. Unharmed and without memory of travel, he simply stood on a sidewalk he had been fifteen minutes away from a mere moment before.

A heartbeat later, the compulsion began. He started walking, though he was tired, hurt, and wanted to sleep. He walked, and walked, and walked as if his feet were in control instead of his mind. Not quickly, but with purpose, as if he had somewhere to be. He didn’t panic until he realized, he couldn’t stop. Odd as it may seem, he was reminded of a couple of failed rehab attempts. After a few days or weeks, the compulsion to use would become too much to bear, moving like electricity under his skin. The pulses would gain strength, urging his muscles to walk out the door and on to a fix. He might have taken the twelve step program a bit more seriously, had he known he would be opting for a million step program by default.

He didn’t always find the portal first. The work was tricky. Disguised as reflections of light, and lasting only for a few moments at best, portals were akin to finding a four leaf clover in a field of green. But with time and practice, Carl got better at the job. No longer held captive to the daily rituals of eating, drinking, bathing, using the restroom, sleeping or maintaining employment, he had nothing but time to focus on his new profession.

While the portals had no definitive pattern, he could narrow in on the general proximity of a portal, down to about a hundred yards. He couldn’t really explain it, but as he gained experience in the field, he adapted a sense of where the next portal would be. As the time of the door grew closer, he noticed the hairs on the back of his neck begin to rise- an instinctual act that alerted him to danger.

If he missed the portal, there was no assurance that a monster would pass through from the other side. Sometimes the portal merely winked in and out. But should the darkness find the doorway first and use it, death was sure to follow.

********************************************************************************

His eyes couldn’t help but follow Maria the first time he saw her. It wasn’t that she possessed the type of beauty that made men stare. She was attractive but not a knockout. The snug waistband of her jeans gave away her propensity for cupcakes as a late night snack. But Maria had youth on her side, and the bit of extra weight made her look shapely rather than pudgy.

What set Maria apart is that she exuded kindness. Other people did their best to look past the folks sitting with their cardboard signs lining the sidewalk, begging for spare change and half eaten meals in take out containers. Maria not only looked these folks in the eye, she smiled. She handed them bottles of water and detailed directions to the shelter, patting them reassuringly on the shoulder before parting ways- often the only non-violent human contact they had experienced in months. She was one of the few individuals who looked on their dust-stained faces and saw people underneath.

When Carl passed by, he watched as Maria interacted with the inhabitants of the street. It was clear many of the folks were familiar with her. They exchanged laughs easily. As he got closer, he overheard her teasing one man about being a Denver Broncos fan.

Carl had no choice but to wander the streets, but it seemed his “territory” had been predetermined. His feet led him along the streets covering the radius of a few miles.  Sometimes he’d see Maria a couple of days in a row, other times it would be weeks. Still, their paths crossed.

She must have noticed him too because one day she fell in step with him and struck up a conversation.

“You sure do a lot of walking around here.”

“Uhhh.Yeah,” he stammered.

“Where are you walking to?  You pass by here a lot.”

“You know.  Just filling the time.”

“You must get thirsty after so much walking.  I’ve got some bottles of water if you want.”  She rummaged through her bag in search of a bottle.

“That’s ok.  I’m alright.”

“Do you live around here?”

Being this close to her was intoxicating. She smelled so clean, like laundry soap and apple shampoo. For a second, he forgot that she must see him as a pity project. It had been so long since someone had talked to him. Most of the time, not even the street folks struck up conversations since it was clear he had nothing to give. Everyone else was scared or disgusted by his presence. Here, a pretty girl was making small talk, like an acquaintance she’d just met on the way to the bus stop. Yes, he forgot who he was.

“You sure are nosy,” he teased.

“I’m sorry. I ask too many questions. My whole family is like that. My mom would have already asked you for your social security number.”

He laughed, and then noticed Maria glanced at the pamphlets in her hand. Carl’s reverie ended.

“No, I don’t live around here. I’m kind of between places.”

“Well, I work at St. Mary’s over at the corner of Morsch and Dansby. You should come by some time. We’ve got shitty coffee, but if you put enough sugar in it only tastes slightly like gasoline.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that.”

“My name is Maria.”

“I’m Carl.”

“Ok, see you around Carl.”

They had shared a walk and parted ways, almost as if they were friends.

****************************************************************************

Maria would walk a block or two with him when he wandered into her work radius. Her agenda was apparent. She wanted to save him. She believed in her program.  Energy radiated from within her and he knew she possessed idealism that led her to believe she could make a difference. If she just kept talking to him, kept foisting pamphlets upon him, one day he would let her help him. It was a bit condescending, but he could not fault her for her enthusiasm. There are worse things in life than trying to be a source of salvation.

He told himself this anyway, but in truth, he hungered for her company. The few minutes of dialogue they shared were virtually the only ones he spoke. He had no need to converse with a cashier. The landlord would never again admonish him for being late with the rent. His mission did not provide the time for going to a concert, a book discussion, a town hall debate or any other activity where he might converse with strangers. Being in constant motion did not provide a lot of opportunity for chat.

Television shows and movies were out of the question.  He might catch a glimpse of a television clip on a plasma screen in a shop, or as someone looked at their smart phone waiting for a friend to arrive at a coffee house. But for the most part, he was isolated with his own thoughts. Forced to observe interactions, Carl contemplated the blunders of social connections. He saw countless times where a woman, dressed in her date night best waited on the curb for a gentleman to open the door, only to sheepishly realize he was already to the far side of the car. Parents screamed for their children to shut up as they buckled them into their car seats. Kids ignored their mothers’ attempts to get to know them, intent to chat with an invisible counterpart via text message.

Carl took it all in and contemplated it. Isolation caused consideration and patience to bloom. He savored his conversations with Maria, never treating her without courtesy. Other men on the street made crude comments, undressing her with their eyes and gesturing with their hands. Some people got angry, shouting insults of “who do you think you are? You think you better than me, bitch?”

Carl, despite his appearance and obligation, did his best to return her kindness. His occupation gave him time to focus on subtleties others might pass over. On their brief walks, he’d tell her if the cactus garden on 5th street had finally started to bloom. He’d point out the sunlight filtering through a tree, creating a mosaic of shadows on the concrete. As time went on, his actions got bolder. He’d save a penny he’d found on the ground, and present it to her as a lucky charm. He’d carry a particular stone in his pocket to show her and describe where he had found it. She never seemed to regard these gifts as paltry. Nor did she give indication that the treasures crossed a line. She simply voiced her astonishment at his observance of life. Maria talked to him like a genuine person- over the decades he had become one.

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