[The opening chapter of a new work in progress]
Some folks handle stress by drinking, others drugs; Melville walked. For hours he would trudge about in the snow, flapping his arms like a bird and muttering to himself. People would stop and look, shake their head and step across the street to stay clear of the flailing appendages. Never once did he remember striking anyone in his travels, though lately he had taken to walking by night to avoid the dirty or bemused looks. This is not to say that Melville actually enjoyed walking. Far from it, he would have much preferred to be sitting in his scavenged office chair, feet up on the edge of a speaker, watching Hershiser mowing down the hapless Marlins. But this was therapy, self imposed, whenever Gilad’s world started to press in on him.
Tonight was one of those nights. Returning from work, Melville had entered the apartment, taken one look at the jumble of boxes and papers and fled. Now several hours later, frost tipping his beard, nose running like a tap, he trudged along the muddy street. The usual problems occupied his mind; the imminent end of his career – government cutbacks, the future prospects of a 40 year old weatherman with minimal education. It could be worse he supposed. A recent seperation from ‘her’ had netted him a few thousand on the house, there was a buyout package, even if it didn’t kick in for a couple months – tax purposes and Melville was basically healthy. He reached into his pocket, fumbling in his mitts, extracted a rather bent and crumpled Craven ‘A’ and lit it. He trudged onward, oblivious to the curl of blue smoke that circled his head like a halo. From time to time he would take the cigarette out of his mouth, usually in mid flap, giving the appearance of one of those people that guide airliners into the docking bay, albeit a slightly mad one.
Melville looked down at his feet. In his haste he had forgotten to change into his mukluks. Through the mud and grime he could just make out the letters, R E E. His feet squirshed wetly as he walked. Ugh, he thought and turned toward home. A few steps further on he smelled burning leather and realized that his cigarette was attempting to ignite his right mitt. Shaking his hand to free the offending stick he flipped it into the air toward a snowbank. Then an odd thing happened, something that even Melville noticed. Instead of the cigarette slipping into the muddy slush, it hung in mid air, about 5 feet off the ground. Then the burning end glowed brighter, almost as if someone was taking a last quick puff off the cigarette before putting it out. Amazed, Melville stood still, watching. There was no-one around him for blocks, yet here was a self-smoking cigarette. Melville checked his pulse and blinked his eyes, fast. Too many late nights he thought. Then another amazing thing occurred. From out of the darkness came a voice, “Thanks!”.
Slowly a form began to materialize in front of Melville. Dressed impeccably in evening attire, at least that is what Melville assumed it was, was a gentleman of slight build, balding, perhaps 40’ish. The man stood about 6 inches above the mud and snow; probably keeping his feet dry thought Melville. In his hand was Gilad’s discarded cigarette, which he seemed to be inspecting with only mild curiousity. With his head cocked slightly to one side he was actually observing Melville closely, watching for the sudden buckling of the knees that usually followed his arrival. But none came. Melville remained firmly rooted to the spot, a small rivulet running over the top of his sneakers.
“Hello Melville”, he said finally, flipping the cigarette end over end into the brush where it smouldered on a recent Zellers flyer.
“Ummm… Hello…” replied Melville half under his breath, “Do I know you?”
“No”, he replied, “But I know you and that’s the important thing!”
“My name is J. Worthington Fox, but most people just call me Jay.” He bowed slightly and spread his arms in a small flourish, “I’m here to help you.”
Help? Him? How? Melville was quite confused by all this. Here he had been just a minute or two before, minding his own business, trudging along in soggy sneakers and now some, whatever he was, was telling him that he was there to help him. How incredibly odd.
“Help me? How?”
“I’m your mentor spiritualis… err… guardian angel.”
You’re whacked, thought Melville to himself, but just nodded his head slightly and wrinkled his brow. He reached into his pocket for another cigarette.
“Do you mind if I bum a smoke off you? Most people these days are death against it”, Jay coughed slightly.
Melville fished a second cigarette out of the pack and handed it to Jay. Immediately the end began to glow and Jay inhaled contentedly.
“I used to smoke these”, said Jay, looking longingly at the brand mark on the cigarette. “You have good taste Melville.”
“They were the only ones on sale”, replied Melville.
“Oh.” Said Jay. “Well then you have good taste, if only serendipitously!”. Jay laughed to himself.
Melville didn’t find this at all funny. In fact he was starting to find this, whatever, rather annoying. His feet were getting cold and his moustache was becoming quite crusted. “I should be going, nice to meet you Jay.” Platitudes always sounded funny to Melville, but he really had to leave. The cold weather and the wet feet had reminded him of certain urgencies.
“Nice meeting you too, Melville! You should get out of those wet shoes and socks before you catch your… well anyway. I’ll see you around.”
Melville turned and nodded to the man and began to walk as quickly as his feet would take him, toward the apartment. Looking back over his shoulder he saw the cigarette in mid air again, end glowing, smoke curling lazily into the silent night.