Coyotes Howl in Fallbrook
Leonard and Betty
By Scott Gressitt
Prologue“When did you stop loving me Betty?”
“Who said I ever loved you, Leonard?”
“Then why did you marry me?”
“Mother liked you, and Father said I could never go wrong marrying an accountant. Why did you marry me?”
“Your beauty and independence were always a turn-on. Your drive to achieve seemed so interesting to me, having none myself.”
“And when did that stop being attractive to you?”
“After our last trip to Europe. You couldn’t separate yourself from your damned itinerary. With your ever tightening sphincter, you made the trip, each progressing day, a more protracted and haunting hell for me.”
“If you were more assertive, I’d be willing to follow you anywhere. But you get lost in your head, tune out, and seem to forget others are present. Do you have any idea how insulting that is?”
“I just want to relax, enjoy my vacation, and not obsess about what I haven’t seen yet. Moreover, I’d like to just breath in the environment where we are at any given moment and be more present, appreciating what is immediately at hand.”
“Christ, Leonard, you are a total space cadet. I can’t believe I married such a loser.”
“Believe it, Betty, believe it.”
Into the Unknown UniverseA zephyr blew through Leonard’s head, calmly and gently clearing the cobwebs of confusion and dementia that spewed incessant prattle across his forward viewport. Seeing clearly for the first time in decades, marching orders scrolled across Leonard’s frontal lobe, offering clear and precise directions for the next set of impending actions. Leonard read the instructions on his onboard teleprompter and felt nothing as he climbed aboard the cross-town bus, heading home.
He watched attentively as the lines of text slowly passed, right to left, across his mental focal point, superimposed over the blur of the passing world, viewed disjointedly through the bus window.
He memorized each step of the instructions, trusting the silent invisible source, who methodically meted out a game plan for Leonard’s afternoon activity.
The scrolling stopped.
Leonard recognized his bus stop and, leaning into the afternoon with meaning, exited the bus and walked the two blocks home.
Working His PlanLeonard found the keys Betty had ineffectively hidden in her underwear drawer and, smirking, tottered down the front stairs, out the front door and to the waiting car in the driveway.
He unlocked the car, backed it out of the driveway, turned it around, then backed it into the driveway stern first, pulling right up to the garage door, and parked. He opened all four doors, popped the trunk, and wandered dreamily into the house to prepare for the important mission ahead.
He raided the drawers in the kids’ room, searching for a bag of balloons he knew his kids left there fifteen years prior. Finding them, he waddled along the hall, down the back stairs, and through the laundry room to the garage.
Rummaging through his disheveled junk drawers, he spotted the always-elusive silicon funnel and stuffed it in his rear trouser pocket. He then shuffled back through the house to the pool shed.
Flipping over buckets of stray tools and apparatus, winging cupboard doors open and scouring the shelves behind each, he finally found, scrounging behind a fifty-pound bag of diatomaceous earth, a hand pump, and he rescued it from slow death-by-rust.
Ambling somewhat more decisively back to the garage, he opened a cabinet full of paint cans in a wide range of capacity containers, holding paints of disparate colors in various stages of entropy and differing levels of viscosity.
He found, by shaking each container, the least viscous paint in the lot: a gallon of signal yellow epoxy deck paint. He put it on the lid of an innocent bystanding trashcan, pranced to the wall switch that opened the garage rollup door and, triggering it, paused briefly at the tool bench for a screwdriver, then headed back to his trashcan workstation to begin pouring the yellow paint through the funnel into the hand pump.
Upon filling the pump to the brim, he began to pump each of the individual balloons full of lovely, blaringly bright, yellow paint, carefully tying off the neck of each with an overhand knot.
When the bag of balloons was exhausted and all were full, he grabbed any empty cardboard boxes in sight, filled them with balloons and loaded the heavily laden boxes into the car through the open doors.
Faster now, he leapt up the stairs, shaved off his three-day stubble, brushed his unkempt gray hair back with a wetted brush, flossed, and turned to the toilet and emptied his bladder. Walking to the closet for his most comfortable summer seersucker suit, he casually turned the picture of Betty and him facedown on the vanity counter without so much as a thought.
He dressed quickly, grabbed two twenty-dollar bills out of his wallet and tossed it in the trashcan by his bedstead.
Leaving his bedroom he stopped midstride and took another picture of Betty, posing with their children and him, down off the wall. He walked back to his dresser, pulled a penknife out of the top drawer and, carefully removing the photo from its frame, laid it down on the bathroom counter and cut Betty’s image from the picture, leaving the images of the kids and him perfectly intact. He inserted the photo back in its frame and re-hung it on the wall.
Skipping down the stairs, he headed to the pantry, pulled out a bottle of Coke, a fifth of rum, and a thermos. Into the kitchen, he set the ingredients on the counter, grabbed an ice tray from the freezer and filled the thermos with a half-liter of rum and ice, and topped it off with Coke. Grabbing a tumbler from the shelf, he marched with that and his thermos out the front door, pulling it shut as he went.
He set the thermos and tumbler on the front seat of the car and walked around it, closing all but the driver’s door. Stepping smartly back into the garage he made a beeline for the trashcan and, removing his mess from atop it, pulled the lid off the can and walked it over to the vise on his workbench, securing the lid in the jaws thereof.
Pulling a quarter-inch drill bit from his drill index, he chucked it firmly in an electric drill and made four equally spaced holes around the circumference of the lid.
He pulled four small S-hooks from a dish of miscellaneous hardware in a side drawer and pocketed them as, in one smooth motion, he relaxed the jaws of the vice with his free hand and caught the lid as it rolled out. He tossed the lid in the trunk, pulling it closed as he waltzed by, climbed behind the wheel of his old Volvo, and reached into the front passenger seat for his rum.
He poured himself a tumbler full, allowing several ice cubes to slash into the glass in the process.
Leonard pulled the driver’s door shut and took a deep swallow of his rum and Coke. It rolled down his throat with that ever-faithful mild burn, warming him from his neck to the pit of his stomach. He closed his eyes and let his head fall fully relaxed back onto the headrest. He waited for the spreading glow that he trusted was forthcoming, courtesy of the rum.
It was his favorite part of drinking, really the only part he loved: that initial rush of warmth, peace and quiet, and freedom from the ever-present white noise in his head; the incessant yammering, the raucous demands and orders from the … “committee,” led fearlessly by Betty.
As the ensuing glow calmed him down, he gently lifted his eyelids, and. looking squarely in the rearview mirror, said, “You’re doing good work today, Leonard.”
Onward, Inward, UpwardLeonard drove unhurriedly the six blocks to Betty’s store, Once Upon a Memory, Scrapbook Haven. He parked across the street, put loose change from the ashtray into the parking meter and strode decisively down the block to Murray’s Hardware.
He walked in, moving directly to the aisle where he remembered having seen a roll of bungee cord, pulled the entire reel off the shelf and walked it to the register and paid cash.
He strode just as decisively back to his car and, opening the trunk, staged the trashcan lid and bungee cord neatly on the trunk floor.
Pulling a pair of dikes out of the old tool bag he kept there, he measured out thirty-foot lengths of cord, nipping them each off tidily with the dikes. Reaching for the S-hooks in his pocket, he secured a length of cord to each one.
He walked up the block with two of the lengths of cord coiled over his shoulder. Stopping in front of a No Parking sign, he secured one length to the sign about six feet from the bottom, and the second length, about three feet below the first.
He walked back to the trunk and removed the two last lengths and walked down the block to a sign that read Public Library and bore an arrow pointing east. He secured the other two cords to that signpost in a similar manner to the first, then stretched the ends with the S-hooks back to his car and, fishing out the trashcan lid, secured it to the hooks.
Stretching the bungee out tightly as he walked back up the block to retrieve the cords lying on the sidewalk, he bent over and one at a time hooked the ends of the cords to the remaining holes in the steel lid.
He returned to the car and reached in the front seat for his tumbler. He took another generous swallow of his cocktail, walked over to his rig and stepped backwards from the curb until his ass touched the building behind him. Gratefully and proudly, he surveyed his handiwork and a quiet smile came to his face.
He said to himself, “You’re doing good work today, Leonard.”
Taking ActionHe walked back to the car and, opening the back door on the passenger side, removed a large box of his paint-filled balloons and carried them to the sidewalk immediately beneath the suspended trashcan lid, dithering lazily in the afternoon sun.
He went back to the car, reached in the glove box, and removed the owner’s manual and wedged it securely between the horn and the steering wheel.
The deafening blast immediately drew attention, and Leonard stepped quickly back to the operator’s position of his rig.
He scooped up a paint balloon, laid it tenderly in the trashcan lid, and, grasping the lid by its handle, he once again backed up until his ass was right against the building behind him.
He estimated tension, distance, vectors of thrust, velocity, microclimate and angle of trajectory; squatted low to the ground, pulling the lid back as hard and as far and as low as he could; carefully sighted the front door of Betty’s shop; and let fly his missile. It landed within close range of its intended mark and behaved as expected, instantly and permanently defacing the front door of Betty’s shop with an explosion of bright yellow unrivaled by even the most ambitious graffiti artist this side of Harlem.
The blaring car horn, at this point had attracted quite a crowd of onlookers on both sides of the street.
People streamed out the retail establishments along the street, and others peered out of windows.
Leonard reached for another missile and this time, cocked and loaded, aimed for the sign on Betty’s storefront. He always hated the name and the whole scrapbooking thing.
He let fly the yellow bomb. It impacted just southwest of center and made a dazzling display on the black and white sign. It reminded Leonard of the spinart he had made at carnivals in his youth.
“Why don’t your customers just make their own scrapbooks without buying someone else’s idea of what’s beautiful?” he had repeatedly asked Betty over the years. She’d never answered him with anything other than a scowl of disapproval, disappointment and disgust.
Finally, Betty opened the front door, dressed as always in a black tailored business suit white blouse, pearl earrings, silver bracelets and a red chiffon scarf.
She looked aghast at the yellow paint dripping from the lintel above the front door and ducked through the opening just in time to miss a bright yellow sploosh accelerating down onto the sidewalk.
She looked across the street at Leonard, eyes the size of saucers, mouth opening and closing like a trout out of water. Her anger radiated across the street and centered squarely on Leonard’s forehead. Her hole opened again and out came, “Just what the hell is the matter with you, Leonard!?”
Without the faintest reaction or emotion, Leonard scooped unit number 3 from the waiting box. But not just any unit. No, he chose the plumpest, ripest, most deliciously fecund bomb in the batch.
He carefully aimed at Betty’s sternum. Once again he calculated the physics, drew, sighted, and released, with aplomb, his bomb.
Choking down vomit brought about by the shear excitement of watching the yellow orb, Leonard was mesmerized by the sailing amorphous wiggly. It flew in a slow-motion yellow arc, forming an electric monochromatic rainbow over parked cars, street signs, and time and space itself.
He nearly wet himself as the yellow explosion flashed across Betty’s chest, besmirching her black dress and spraying her entire torso, whilst creating a yellow silhouette on the storefront behind her.
Betty, her gaping hole dripping yellow from its lips, uttered a final “I hate you, Leonard!” at the top of her lungs.
He whispered a gentle retort, “I know you do, Betty. I know you do.”
Leonard methodically dismantled his rig, returned all the parts and pieces to their respective homes onboard the Swedish Mission Craft, climbed in the driver’s seat and gently pulled the door to.
He took a long pull on his rum, looked squarely in the mirror and sighed wistfully, “You’re doing good work today, Leonard.”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦Scott Gressitt, a newcomer to the craft, has discovered writing as a satisfying and powerful new way to enjoy living, fecund with opportunities to exercise his entertaining lexicon. His writing is unconventional — stories based on his unconventional, real-life experiences, filtered through a mind nurtured in an unconventional setting. Enjoy.
Image by Petter Palander via a Creative Commons license.