Fellow Writers and Readers:
I’m writing a series of short stories in which the characters reside in Marin and Sonoma and are often connected in some small way. NaNoWriMo has got me going, and it’s flowing well. I hope to self publish the stories as a collection in early 2014. Here’s a teaser. As always, I love comments or feedback. Be well and keep writing, Holidays, shmolidays. Just write.
Poppy’s got Priors.
That night, sitting on Poppy’s deck off his make shift loft, I could see things moving in the water, between the house boats that are moored at the peer across the street. It could have been currents underneath the surface, shifting the world that rested on top: the boats, the pier, the ropes and floaters that looked like enormous necklaces thrown out onto the salty bay. It could have been ghosts of old drunks who fell in one night, not missed by anyone, and washed up bloated in the morning. Or the ghosts of families, women and children who had come back to haunt us here, the place in this world where they were most unhappy.
It ain’t that bad, Jose. You’ll figure this out. You got this. I could almost hear his voice in my head, as if he was whispering through the bars of the cell and the words were finding their way out of the county jail, up and over the hill, into the valley, riding the thick California fog to where I sat on his deck in Sausalito.
“Who lives on a Gate?” I asked Poppy the first time he gave me his address. “No street or anything? You live on Gate Three?”
“Not on it, by it. It’s not like a street or nothing. It’s where we get our mail.”
I’m used to it now that I ‘m down here all the time. House-boat people, sailors, and the guys like us that serve them – there’s a language. Poppy could guess where someone lived after he’d poured them a glass or two.
“Single Dad, lonely, but got some dough. Gate 6 and ½,” he said one night, nodding towards an executive type with an expensive tie loosened and his jacket on the stool next to him.
“There’s a gate called 6 and ½? They don’t even get a full Gate?” That seemed shady.
“Yeah. They’re all divorced guys. Get half of everything.”
“Even the Gate.”
We laughed quietly, backs to the customers. Poppy was alright. And it was crazy what he could do with that little hand.
We’d met at a party about a year and a half earlier. I was pouring in St. Helena, the fortieth birthday of someone with money, an evening party with lanterns strung through the trees around a small vineyard, Chinese acrobats dancing around the whole affair. I’d catered in Napa for a few months and was getting used to the lavishes the rich bestowed on one another.
Poppy was a guest that night; he’d tagged along with some city girl he’d met at the bar the night before. I went to hand him a glass of Cabernet and realized his right hand wasn’t where you’d expect it to be. I quickly handed it to his left hand instead, but he caught me staring. So he lifted his right arm, about half the usual length of an arm with a small hand where you’d expect an elbow, and wiggled his fingers at me.
Heat went up my neck, afraid I’d offended someone important and could blow the whole gig. I needed the money.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
“No problem, hombre. It does what I need it to.”
I hate when white people speak Spanish to me like I don’t fucking know English, but when I looked closer I saw Poppy was probably Latino too, just a light skinned guy.
“Iraq?” I asked. Christ, my idiot mouth was operating before my brain could intervene. Of course it wasn’t a war wound, that hand was tiny, probably born that way.
“No, but that’s what I tell the chicks. They love a war hero.”
We both smiled and a momentary bond was formed. He circled back to my station a few times that night, explained to me that he tended bar too, even grabbed a bottle and poured a few glasses for me when I ran to the make shift kitchen, a tent set up mid-vineyard, for more wine.
“You ever eat escargot?” he asked me, between courses. I said no.
“I just did. That shit’s nasty.”
Then he wandered back away. Right from the start, we were like that. Could talk or not, make observations, crack each other up, making fun of the rich folks we poured for. He’d gotten me a job at the wine club where he worked, tending bar Monday-Wednesday. They were the worst nights for tips, but it was a foot in the door. I slept on his couch most week nights, usually went back up north on weekends for catering gigs, or to stay with my folks.
Poppy’s place was a few blocks from the wine bar — the top half of a two story building with a steel roof and cheap windows, across the alley from the sign “Gate #3”, and from the entrance to the long pier with run down houseboats on both sides. Downstairs from Poppy’s loft was a shop that fixed exotic cars and motorcycles, so it always smelled like oil. Poppy answered the phones for the mechanic in the mornings, from 8-11 AM, when the guy rolled in. Because of this, Poppy’s rent was cheap. He had a tiny deck off the back door where we often shared a joint before bed, and a rickety spiral staircase that went down to the lot where I parked my car. I’d fallen right off the stairs once, down ten feet to the ground, Poppy laughing his ass off. We were pretty drunk that night.
Now Poppy was in jail and I had to get him out. Unless he did that shit they said he did. If so, he fucking belonged there. He wouldn’t do something like that though. Would he? Fuck. Poppy was my best friend, but there was a lot I didn’t know about him.