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– this letter to Norman Court –
There was a university campus, short walk from where I got off the train, a certain building towering high turned out it was the library, lugged my way up stairs, landing after landing, found a table to sit at, buried in some corner, unzipped my duffle and hardly knowing what to think counted everything.
Just short of eleven-and-a-half thousand dollars.
I sat and hours passed, nobody coming anywhere near me, nobody, nothing, sat there with the duffle, the money, stared at wall, ceiling, shelves with wheels affixed to the ends would spread one away from another.
Eleven thousand three hundred seventy-two dollars, plus I had five or six dollars between all my pockets.
The little area I’d tucked into windowless, I sat until the clock on the wall showed it well into evening.
Outside it was flat with cold, felt darker than it was. I found a coffee shop just closing up, asked didn’t they have any left in some pot, they said it was cold, got them to give it to me for nothing.
Three mouthfuls into the cup, five drags down my cigarette, it struck me I’d no idea where to go and couldn’t go anyplace I did think of. It just wasn’t a good idea to be anyplace, not for awhile—though at the same time I couldn’t just stroll around forever, a duffle bag of my dirty change of clothes and the money. I’d need a room for the night, which already felt a drag, but anyway I’d do some laundry, have that little problem solved, was beginning to feel especially unwashed under my new coat, like grime was transferring inside to out, didn’t like how there was some spot of coffee, something, already on the cuff, when was I ever going to clean a coat?
Grit my teeth through the price of the first hotel I came to, didn’t want to keep walking around, though–was most annoyed that to wash all my clothes it’d cost for two runs of the washer, the dryer, ridiculous considering it was only one pair of pants, underpants, two shirts, four socks, but unless I wanted to wrap up in a bed sheet down the hall it was the two loads, one trip to the machine in my boxers.
Just undressed, holding a cigarette I wasn’t smoking, the actual implications got all over me, sulfurous side concerns not enough to keep me distracted. I’d no place to go and eleven thousand wasn’t something I could set up home and hearth on—any hump a part time job a pizza parlour made twice that a year, now it was absolutely all I had, everything, it and a change-and-a-half of clothes.
What was I thinking I’d do—get to someplace new, find a place to live, get set up and what’s it cost to do that?
Added on top, I’d only been able to support myself as I had on suitcases, stolen wallets, little grifts and franchise pawnshops because I knew some ins and outs of the town, had sofas, floors of people I could impose on, become a kind of fixture, harmless although everyone’d more or less the right idea about just what I did, day to day.
New town, what’d I know from what?
I got into any sort of comfortable groove, necessities sorted out, what’d my little nest egg’ve dwindled to?
I was neither infuriated nor numb, just pacing, insecure, felt abnormal, thoughts miles behind where they should ought to’ve been.
Before I knew it, I was waking up eight in the morning.
Didn’t bother to shower, collected up the clothes from how I’d arranged them for the two strategic trips, put on the shirt visually seemed the cleanest, under my coat it wouldn’t matter, either way.
Middle afternoon by the time I was on a full bus, random middle aisle seat, trying to keep my calm, nodding off, chin to the duffle my arms wrapped around, not understanding why I couldn’t keep awake. At some rest area I could see a decent sized town an easy walk, wandered away, ate cheap hamburger, downed a coffee too hot to get a refill straight away, sat in the toilet to straighten my thoughts, get things in order.
Already it was down to eleven thousand two hundred something—this couldn’t be maintained, just moving burned this fuel up. To keep from torturing myself, I drew a line under eleven thousand flat, understood the two hundred or so on top needed to be sunk on one more room, one more night, whatever was thriftiest from the Goodwill—that and enough to rent some cabinet out someplace at least a month, take care of I’d have someplace to put the money. Week or two wandering around, professional loitering someplace innocuous, see how things’d fell.
Had an awful sleep after two hours with the phone book comparing prices, storage lots over P.O. boxes, woke up to outside it’d snowed but now sleet was dousing itself over top that, everything ugly, upturned scab looking.
Picked up the room phone to dial Murray’s place, puzzled through how to get a non-local call to go out. Very least, I’d maybe get Murray to pack up some stuff of mine, clothes, whatever he thought of, I’d meet him on a quick swing through town, step down the train, get the bag, move on.
Murray answered, said How’s Kansas? after we’d traded Hellos—he was obviously a bit put off it was me calling.
-It’s swell, you let the room?
-He sighed, I knew he was rolling his eyes, probably had a movie on pause he wanted to get back to. No, man, your deposit has reserved your perpetual spot, worry not. Policeman was here looking for you, though.
I stared at the hotel painting above the bed, watercolor western scene, horses and no people, sun the same color as the hills of field it sank in.
-Which policeman, what do you mean?
-A policeman, I don’t know which.
I could tell he was walking with the phone.
-Left a number, card?
-A number, wrote a number you should call him about whatever it is.
I leaned in toward the painting, tried to get an idea of my reflection in the darker spots of it under the glass.
-Policeman didn’t have a badge, a card right? What’d he look like?
-I’m sure he had a badge, something. Plainclothes, detective somebody or another.
-He just wrote telephone number on a sheet of paper, that seemed straight with you?
There was a pause, didn’t know what I was bothering Murray for, knew who it was, guy I’d took his wallet and’d given me the letter to deliver to begin with—wouldn’t be able to describe him either except he didn’t look like anyone.
-Alright well, either a real policeman or else a pretend policeman wrote a telephone number down, said you should call him and so you want that number or not?
-What did he look like?
-Guy in a suit, looked like someone either was a policeman or else pretending to be a policeman and said he was with the police, he wanted to talk to you about something. You want the number?
I wrote it in the margin of one of the local restaurant menus left by the lamp, asked Murray could he get a bag of my stuff all together, but I couldn’t come up with an answer when he asked what I wanted him to do with it, told him I’d call him back and could he do me a favor, not tell anyone I’d called.
-You need your twenty bucks back with everything?
I told him Yeah, if he still had it, but he said he didn’t, laughing, told me to call him when I wanted to pick everything up.