There once lived at the edge of time a peaceful place where time was barely there at all, only a gentle gliding through space, and a distant rushing like a waterfall. There was a river and a city that flowed down the mountain beside it.
Forests covered the whole. Every day, the sun sprang up in the east and soaked the sky with many shades of orange before disappearing in the west. The sunset was always the last to fade. How could there be a sun in such nothingness?
In this land of nothings lived a mother and a little girl. The mother loved her girl more than anything else in the world. They lived a simple life, that is, until the river began to run dry of fish.
“Yeah, well. Tough times.”
“Don’t pull that on me. I want to hear it, from the beginning.”
He stamped out the cigarette, like it was defective, and lit another. Veiled curiosity. I had seen that before.
“You want entertainment. Okay. It started a lot longer ago than that.
“My dad used to work in a factory. Money was good, or at least steady. When he got his arm caught in that machine… Well, that’s when the beers and disability checks started rolling.
“After Mom left, I needed my own escape. Billy came here a lot…”
“To MY bar!”
“Yeah, your territory.” I blinked, gulped. Composure regained.
“Anyways, I followed Billy one time, saw him sitting on the jukebox with a pretty girl at each arm, competin’ for him, all over him. I wanted that kind of life, I guess.
“But what I wanted more than that was a place to practice…” I thought better about telling him. I was still fucking cold.
“To be alone and work on myself. Hence your little room under the staircase.”
He was downright intrigued. An eyebrow raised, and the good eye beneath it suddenly burned like an ember. “And what- WHAT are you practicing down there?”
“That’s what I can’t under any circumstance tell you.” My voice sounded surprisingly solid. Unmovable. Yep, and it should be.
“I’ve also got something to get off my chest,” he said.
“Your little secret’s not so secret. Did I forget to tell you about Mack?”
The panic threatened to rise again. The bloody handkerchief, the dirty socks that would appear. I think I knew.