© Nicholas 2004-06


I beat it around the corner and sure enough, the shelter was open and the line was moving. I looked up and down and found Mom, waiting near the end of the line. I ran up to her, she was talking with a big black woman in front of her. I must have been panting, or my shoes made foot prints or something, 'cause Mom turned around and before I knew it she had slapped me hard across the cheek. Geesh! I never even seen it coming! I was usually pretty good about staying out of the way when she was mad, but I guess this time I had done it.

"You're late! Now we'll just get whatever the fuck is left! God Dammit, where you been?"

Then like she's schizoid or something, she's hugging me and running her hands through my hair and patting my back and crying.

"I'm sorry, I was worried. You're never late!" she's sort of mumbling into my hair. I'll never understand girls!

"Come'n. Lines a movin'," the black lady laughs. "You be lettin' that boy breathe now, ya' hear? There be plenty food left today, them scien'ists be cookin'."

"Scientists? What's that? Geesh, are we going to be eating experiment food?" I wondered out loud.

"Nah, honey. They be a church what don't need no doctoring I hear," she laughs a huge kind of barrel laugh that shakes her whole body. I guess she's okay. Never seen her before, but she doesn't stink and that laugh is kind of catching even if she calls me "Honey" Damn, I wish girls would just learn my name! I mean how hard is Paul? Or even "Hey you!" but Honey and Sweetie and the clothes lady calling me "Handsome" and even the church ladies in line always cooing at me, "You want some more Darling?" or "How 'bout a big serving, Sugar?" or even "Oh Honeybunch, your Momma must be so proud to have a jewel like you. Here's some more XXXX." Even Mom called me Paulie half the time, like I was some kinda bird! I answered "Wants a cracker!" once, but she didn't laugh. I managed to avoid the smack, would have hurt even if it was half hearted.

I mean, GEESH! Paul, for crying out loud. Paul!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, the line is moving and we are inside now. Some late comers are behind us, so we're not last last, still coffee in the big pot. I get a big cup and grab six of the sugar packets. Mom hates it when I forget to get her her second cup. A handful of the creamer things and there's today's sign: "Today's meal is Pot Roast and Potatoes with Green Beans or Corn prepared by the First Church of Christ, Scientist. May God's Grace fill your heart as you fill your stomach." Don't know about Grace, isn't that a girl? I don't think I ever heard of no Grace in the Bible stories. Oh well, Pot Roast sounded good at least. Geesh I was hungry!

Sure enough, "Oh Sweetie! Why, you're so big and handsome and all! I bet you're plenty hungry. Here, let me give you some more potatoes and maybe some grape jelly for the bread?"

"Yes, please."

"Oh, so polite, what a Prince you are for your Momma I bet?" She isn't asking me, she's looking at Mom who's kind of smiling and nodding, but already moving on.

"Beans? Or Co....." the man's voice chokes to a complete stop.

I look up the spoon, up the arm and SHIT! It's him! The suit on the street! The guy that somehow got inside my head. He's like stopped dead and staring at me.

"Hey Eric," I almost choke on my whisper.

It's like the whole room stood still. I mean like everything stopped. The fans in the ceiling quit rattling, everybody quit their hacking and coughing and talking, my heart quit beating. Even the cars outside quit honking. I'd said his name. I'd said it right out loud. Just like I wanted to do earlier. I wanted to do it again! What's the matter with me? I wanted out of line. I wanted to melt into the floor. I wanted to shout his name. It felt so good to say it. I don't even know him! Never met him. Never talked. Yet it felt like I should have said his name forever!

He dropped the serving spoon with a clatter and the world came crashing back. The guy behind me in line shoved me ahead and growled, "Gi'me some beans Mister! The punk don't need none, he too small."

Somehow I was following Mom and the black lady to a table. Half of my cup of her coffee had spilled when that jerk shoved me, so my tray was swimming in brown ooze. A mix of pot roast, soggy purple covered white bread now turned dark brown, coffee mixed in gravy and stars and explosions swimming in my head. I couldn't see but a little tunnel of light right in front of me. I stumbled after Mom and when we sat she turned and started fussing with my tray. She was kind of saying something about being careful and kind of crying that she was sorry she slapped me and kind of trying to get me to wake up and kind of complaining about having a kid to the black lady and kind of trying to get all that sugar in her coffee and kind of smoothing her own blouse and asking how she looked and kind of gossiping with the woman across the table about that good looking Scientist serving the vegetables. The fish flopping in my belly decided to spin on its head.

I was lost somewhere I had never been. What the fuck was wrong with me. I wanted to shout, I wanted to disappear, I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry, I wanted to get the fuck out of there, I wanted to be there for the rest of my life!

I didn't eat a bite, but everybody around kept dipping in my tray and soon it was empty like everyone else's. People began drifting away. Some out to smoke if they had a butt. Some off to the men's wing or women's wing for TV. A few of the kids begged to go play on the little playground. Mom sat talking with the women around her.

"Love? You want to help Eric and me wipe the tables and let these girls gossip?" one of the church ladies said from the edge of the table.

"Go on Paulie, do you some good to move. Isn't he just adorable?" Mom said first to me and then to the black lady, looking not at me, but at him, wiping tables across the room.

"Uh, yes please," I stammered.

The church lady and I took the four trays from the table back to the window and she got a kind of bucket and rags. The smell of bleach crinkled inside my nose. Walking over to the other end of the room we started wiping. The hot water and the back and forth woke up my mind and I looked across the room and watched him. Hand dipped in and rag came out, squeeze, drip, splat and wipe to left and wipe to right and step ahead and left again and right. I found myself matching one beat back, when he went left my arm went right. I could feel the table he felt. The bread crumbs rolled from under his rag onto my toes. The water drops left behind by my rag followed him. So when we met up with him in the middle I jumped when she said, "Eric, this is Paul."

"Hey Eric," I managed to whisper again.

He looked at me and I could see deep inside his eyes. He was like scared to death and could only manage to kind of grunt and nod his head before he turned and started wiping another row of tables, working away from us.

Why was he scared? I was scared! Did he feel it too? Something? What? Geesh! I was like spinning in some weird roller coaster ride like I seen once on TV. Upside, inside, downside, outside, completely out of whack! Way up on top of that needle pointy building. Way deep inside some dark kind of mountain thingie. Way out hanging by my shoulders and not touching the ground at all. Way out in space not able to breathe or walk or even think.

I tossed the rag into the bucket and ran to Mom. "I'm going to go watch TV," and I ran to the family room and flopped on a bean bag. I don't have a clue what was on, I don't know if the TV was even working. I don't remember anything else all night except I looked at him. I said "Hey Eric." I touched his eyes. I lost myself somewhere and I was so very very happy so deep deep down inside.

Funny alarm clocks the shelter has to wake up to. No buzzing, ringing or chirping, just a kind of clanking, banging, rumbling noise. I listened as it moved across the semi darkness of the room. Clank, clank, clank, the chains and padlocks off the downstairs windows. Bang, bang, bang, the outside doors propped open with a whoosh of night time air leaving from over and under my bed. The snores of mothers and whimpers of little kids dragged along with the bad breath smell of a night's breathing and farting all together in one room.

Rumble, rumble, rumble, the men's wing opened and feet desperate for their lungs first smoke shuffling, almost running down the ancient stairs. Then the women's wing and some laughter and jiving as the ones without a cigarette tried to wheedle one from those who had some. Finally the light thrown on in the family room and click, the TV turned on to Barney or Blues Clues, or PBJ Otter, whatever day it was. Little feet padding across to sit and suck a thumb while mothers went to smoke, or shit, or pee, or rarely shower before the breakfast bell.

I laid there and listened to it all. Felt the movements of the air, the creaking of the floor. Smelled the change as old went out and new came in and then the smoker's lingering scent would drift up from near the entrance. I heard the sucking lips on thumbs and tried to burrow in the blanket. No good I knew, I always woke up first and listened to it all. I wondered if I didn't wake if it wouldn't happen at all. Everyone poised to move but stuck 'til Paul blinked his eyes and made the light. Silly thoughts, silly dreams, silly idiot to have spent all night saying over and over in my head, "Hey Eric."

Didn't need no scientist to tell me I'd seen him twice and twice was like a lotto win in all the people in the city. I don't think I'd ever seen someone from the kitchen even once outside the shelter and here somehow I'd seen him first and he'd seen me and then we met again. Done, over, ended; that's what seeing him last night had meant. Never see him another time. Never say his name. Never figure out what the fuck was wrong with me.

No shower last night, no wet undies under the bed. I threw the cover back and used my hands to hide my undies and my pee hard dick and sprinted for the pot. The little boys were sitting sucking thumbs and poking boners at the sky; some stroking gently as they watched TV. I laid face down again across the bean bag they all knew was mine and kind of wiggled in to get it all arranged just right. Peeing made me soft, but the chair always seemed to make me hard again and I just rocked and kind of watched whatever was on the tube.

Mom tossed my jeans across my back and laughed, "Paulie! Quit humping that chair and get your clothes on. Be breakfast bell soon."

One of the other moms smiled at me as I struggled to get my jeans on and not show my boner to the world. I blushed from my belly button up. Then socks and shoes and "Mom, it's T shirt day!" and I sprinted to the clothing room.

The nice lady was already there and hugging my bare chest to her laughing, "Handsome! I knew you wouldn't forget me this morning! Look! Some nice boy donated a Quiksilver shirt just your size!"

I couldn't get out of her arms quick enough to get it on and race over to the mirror. Shit, give me a board and move the ocean and I could be a surfer! Damn, it was a wicked shirt.

I ran back and hugged her and then sprinted back to the family room and bubbled for Mom to see what I had got.

She was stuffing something in her purse, but paused and looked and smiled and laughed that I was a sure killer today.

I beamed as we walked out just when the bell began to ring.

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