An Excerpt from a new project:
Dingbat walks up to me with a gas can. He’s tall and skinny and we’re a matching pair in many ways with our faded jeans, big boots, and well-worn cowboy hats.
He asks, “Do you have– “
I interrupt, holding open my thin denim jacket, “Where would I?”
Dingbat, grey hair, white beard, with the wrinkled skin from being a white fella in his late sixties, nods unsurprised. He falls into step with me. He’s known me since he was a youngster, that’s what he tells the tourists. It confuses them. I’m apparently younger than him, looking like a slender and somewhat weather-beaten woman stuck somewhere in my mid-forties, or that’s what people think upon meeting me for the first time. I don’t disabuse them by admitting my age. It’s true enough, Ding and I have known each other a long time, decades, all those ups and downs, gones and backs of mine. He’s stuck with me. One of the few. Ding has a family, one who brings him in at night, empties the gas can as he sleeps so that he has a purpose the next morning. They live up on the hill, past the cemetery, in a dome of a home. Fancy it is. Dingbat is not.
I like him.
One of mine.
“KD? Dingbat? Can you spot me a moment?”
We turn at the voice, a newcomer’s, Master Tubs we call him behind his back, and cross the one lane road without checking for traffic. It’s that kind of town.
Master Tubs is a full-figured ripe pear of a man with a shock of red thick hair and beard. He had half-climbed an old wooden ladder pressed firmly into the sand below. The wind knocked at the elm trees, shaking off the last of the snow, leaving a shower of winter confetti across his broad shoulders. He grins down at us.
“I’ve been wanting to get up here for months now and I heard that there’s another big front heading our way. Best be prepared, correct?”
Dingbat nods and puts down his tools. “What are you going to do up there? Watch for the storm?”
“The chimney was chocked full of something and my fire backed up this morning so bad I threw my coffee over the flames. It was a waste of that expensive Sumatra but worth saving my home for, if you ask me, which you didn’t, not yet, but you might have, so I’ve told you anyway.”
“You can come with us to the coffee shop.” Ding offers. “I like Toka’s blend.”
I’m game to help. “Do you want one of us to go up instead? If you’re inside, we can yell down and poke around for you. Got a brush for the job or what were you going to do, tell it to clear off your property?”
Master Tubs drops back down to the dirt in a blink and a thump, and a grin of relief widens that painfully pink face, hinting at skin cancer. He’s been sunbathing is my guess. I’m not one to judge. It makes my job easier when they do it to themselves although I do wish these nudists would live in the valley and not on Silly Mountain.
Well, Master Tubs is one of those men who think women can’t do shit and so he ignores my offer but Ding and him wander around the side of the wooden home, no porch on this one, to collect the appropriate tools. I think about my plain coffee, waiting at my cabin on the edge of town, hidden in the rocks, but with a great view of the valley’s comings and goings.
Just as I’m about to wander off to the coffee shop next door, Dingbat appears, shaking a twelve foots snake of thin metal with a tarry brush stuck on the end. He smiles. He likes to be on roofs. Up he clambers, fast and nimble for all his 68 years. I follow, a bit steadier in my hiking boots, clump-clump and up.
Dingbat has the chimney cap off and hands it across. I set it on the tin roofing and look around. The village is waking up and the smell of juniper smoke lingers in the few trees left since the last heatwave that killed 84 trees in town.
“I’m ready!” calls Tubs up the echoing chimney stack.
Ding shoves in the brush.
Master Tubs yelps. “Oh! Ooh! Ah fuck…”
Ding brushes the chimney, up and down, scrub, shake, shove. He grins, moving his hips to some rhythm that makes me see him as he’d been in his twenties, a runt with the dance steps that made the girls (and boys) crowd around, saying, he sure does move good for an ugly bugger.
Or was that me who’d said it?
The brush stops, Ding almost topples, and Tubs yelled, “Got it!”
We put away the ladder, wash our hands with the hose outside, and stare at the feathers, bones, and notice the missing beak. Yes, a bird had died in that chimney. I recognize him, the raven I mean. I know most of the birds in town, they come to mine twice a day as I sit on the wooden platform with the view. Mikey here, as I’d called him, was a good fella. Paid attention and took tourists’ guns when they weren’t looking. He’d done his job just a bit too well apparently, poor boy. Someone did him in, and that pisses me off.
“I’ll take him,” I offer.
Master Tubs looks up, “I was going to toss it in the trash. It’s Thursday.”
“I’ll take him.”
Ding picks up the bird by a claw and hands him over, then picks up his empty gas can and asks, “Do you have any spare?”
Master Tubs shakes his head and walks back inside to make a fire, not even thanking us. He won’t last here.