EXIT

The Plan

Here in the bathroom he could get some thinking done. This was a good one, too. Lots of paper towels, not too smelly and that fan was perfect. Nice and loud with a steady buzzing tone. A little rough but not jarring. In a bathroom such as this he could make plans. He pulled the hasp to the left with a satisfying click and began to rock slowly.

That bitch. That smug little marmot-faced bitch had looked at him like a shit smear she'd have to rub out with and extra splash of Tide. And he, ever the gentleman, had refrained from pointing out that a woman endowed as amply in the posterior as she ought not to don Lycra under any circumstances. Turned out to be a wise course of action. He'd been thirteen cents short on that pack of smokes and his restraint had earned her mercy. Now the blue clouds sparkled upwards as the fan droned on, and plans could be made. First, sleep. No. Sleep was not an action so much as a desire. Having gained the bathroom he mustn't waste it on luxuries like sleep. Plans needed to be made.

He was pretty sure it was Wednesday. The west side of Mohawk street was free of cars which meant that the street sweeper would be sailing by sometime soon with its portable storm singing and spraying, bringing respite from the vibrating heat and dusty quiet. Oh yes the plans.

As today's wednesdayness had been established, the calculations for a productive day could now be made. Long ago the rules had been set by greater men than he (was there any other kind he wondered) Mondays and Wednesdays are aluminum, Tuesdays and Thursdays are glass, and Fridays are reserved for the Mooch.

Triangulating his position relative the recycling center, an intricate map of Los Angeles unfolded in his head. He placed pushpins at promising intersections on the corkboard in his mind and soon these began to glow like the fireflies of a distant Midwest summer.

Clutching his insatiable mayonnaise jar he'd chased them, giggling and yelping and rolling in the fresh cut grass that cooled him and then made him itch. Laughing while the snot ran down his face he'd tried not to pee his pants but then he just let go, the warmth spreading like freedom across his Toughskins and then his jeans cooling like shame. Oh yes the plan.

If he pulled this off he might not need to collect cans for quite a while. He thought about that and let a smile crack his upper lip. Collecting cans was good work. Fine, noble work even. But lately a small demon had taken to riding on his back and stabbing him in the kidneys with a steak knife every time he bent over. He needed three hundred cans today. Thassalotaluminum but that's what he needed.

The cigarette was finished and as it hissed into the toilet bowl he took a moment to squeeze the contents of one of his favorite boils – it reminded him of his first wife – into a paper towel. He decided that the resulting stain looked like The Lion of Judah and crumpled the paper hurriedly. Distant palms swayed gently as Bob Marley softly sang:

You're running and you're running and you're running away
You're running and you're running and you're running away
You're running and you're running and you're running away
But you can't run away from your-

"Shut it, Bob." he thought. "Didn't you die of brain cancer or something? Yeah. Pretty sure you're dead. Shut it."

Well, there she was. Picking up three coffees and a bag of muffins. He couldn't help but notice the smile. Not really forced or anything just, well, maybe not so happy. A bit of fear in the eyes, too. But who didn't have that? No one, least of all an office chick driving an Audi.

And sure enough it was 8:15. Just like every weekday since he'd been surveiling her. Up pulls the Audi in battleship grey, out pops the girl, in goes the coffee and then to the garage.

"Holy crap." he thought. "I used to live like that." He shuddered and pulled his cart a little closer. No matter what you've got going they always let you know that they could take it away at any minute. "Did you call that guy? Did you write that thing? There's a meeting at ten. Did you do that thing? Did you do those things? Did you get those things?" He felt more than a little sorry for her as he watched the darkness of the driveway close around her bumper. He knew as well as anyone what kind of shit she was having shoveled down her pretty little throat.

All this of course had no bearing on the plan. There were logistics to be considered, tactical assessments to be made, even meteorological prognostications, but feelings? He shuddered again. A distantly familiar pressure began to grow in his chest. This was not the emphysema but something older and harder to name. This pain had form and substance and a series of pictures attached to it. Reluctantly he thumbed through the scrapbook in his head. Garden hoses, summer lawns, Christmas trees and birthday cakes. School supplies, Cheerios and the ever spinning living room, a centrifuge of flying lamps and pieces of a broken television. Countless screams ago the garden hose had spewed a shimmering arc of diamonds across the smoothest greenest lawn the world had ever seen. He had once thought that lawn was his. Silly man. The lawn, the house, the cars. He'd thought he'd owned them all but now that they were gone he certainly didn't want them back. Oh no. Not that. Not them. A shower and a nap on the couch he'd thought was his would be great but it was a shower he wanted now. Not the shower. His left butt cheek began to tingle, signaling the approach of a cop. Sure enough, he could just make out the red and blue rectangles of the roof lights heading towards him on Hyperion. They gave him the fish eye as they passed but he'd learned long ago not to stare back defiantly and just let them roll on by, which they did. By now the sun had risen above the office building and was warming him mightily. He looked down and smiled weakly at the steam that was rising from his crotch.

Little Darlin it's been a long and lonely winter
here comes the sun doot-n-doo doo
here comes the sun and I say

"Sir? Are you alright? Would you like a sandwich?" The voice was coming from somewhere above a pair of implausibly cute shoes, into which slender and radiantly smooth ankles had been placed.

"I have some contact information here for shelters." She looked so earnestly concerned with his welfare that he began to long for an ice pick to shove between her bright eyes. "Shelter?" He squinted and waved his greasy sleeve up at the insanely blue sky. A couple of cottony clouds were lazily floating by and a flock of finches performed maneuvers as if on cue. "From this?" and then he stared at her so long and so hard that she tripped on a flagstone as she escaped him. He almost felt sorry for her. "Wait." He said. "Leave the sandwich."

"Fucking Christians." he mumbled, crumbs cascading into his beard.

Now it was time. Parking Booth Guy had left his post for a cigarette and he slipped into the garage unnoticed. There were actually two grey Audis in the lot but hers was distinguished by a peace sign on the bumper. When he found it, he hesitated for a long moment before placing the package on her hood. She'd be coming out soon so he hurried to stand clear. He hid behind an adjacent Cabriolet and waited.

Steadily her steps grew louder, bouncing along the concrete walls and rattling his head. She walked straight to the package, having apparently seen it at some distance and now she hovered over it, contemplating, He searched her eyebrows for a sign of reaction but they betrayed nothing. On the other side of the parking lot a pipe was leaking, dripping slowly and sternly. She turned around.

Her head was cocked just a little, but the expression on her face remained unchanged. He fought to supress an itchy little cough, along with the urge to scream at her: "Pick it up and open it already!" She finally reached for it and he recoiled in terror. The butcher paper made a curious sound as she tore it back. He braced himself as the wrapping fell away to reveal a small smooth cherrywood box. Eagerly she opened it and a tiny one-armed ballerina popped up and spun to the Nutcracker Suite. The itchy little cough suddenly won its freedom and she froze where she stood, trembling and white. At last she spoke. "Daddy? Is that you?"