1: Rainbow Kid

I suppose this is as good of an introduction as any other. I am walking from downtown. I am walking from a day of walking. From a day of coffee and a day of thinking—where, of course, thinking is too strong a word. It’s more of a day of considering and observing. But mostly it’s been a day of waiting. I’m leaving downtown, passing to the left of campus. I’m on my way to somewhere else. I’m expecting a phone call.

A kid shuffles out of the shadows. He looks at the sky sincerely puzzled and relentlessly confused. He asks “where’s the rainbow?” It’s a fair question. It’s been drizzling or raining all day. I don’t want to be impolite, but I don’t know how to respond. I smile and gesture. I am surprised with the subtleness of that gesture. I am noncommittally expressing camaraderie with a lost leprechaun.

He doesn’t react. He doesn’t budge nor flinch. Mist settles over his eyes as he continues to scan the sky for the missing rainbow. I continue through central campus, through the medical campus and then…

2: The Arb

I’m at the Arb. It’s a quarter till five. It’s not as warm as it ought to be but, in hindsight, it’s not as cold as it would get. There’s an indefinite odor in the air. Wet wood chips and leaves. Newly blossoming flowers and that thick densely sweet powder that reminds me of black women that I can tell are black even when bundled up head to toe in deepest winter. I once followed that scent down the block and into a grocery store so I could prove to myself that I was capable of smelling ethnicity.

That is what the day is like. I have been chasing specters of comfort. I have been following the cold sun and the aroma of the familiar. It leads me here to the Arb, to the musk of decay and the screaming scents of birth.

And I wait. I consciously wait. As I wait I think bitterly of Bukowski. Bukowski and his “No Help for That.” There is a place, Charlie, and it is here, at a rubberized table, at the Arb, on a Thursday, with no wine. I am dressed in sandals and my feet are cold, but it’s good to be off them. I try to see what the sun sees, but I am in shadow.

There is a path down to my right that is bounded by obscenely square garden beds. It will eventually curve into something more organic. It will curve and snake through memories: a girl, coffee, raw sewage leaking from a conduit. The decision to turn the other way. I only saw her once more after that.

An offshoot of that path, a year later, is a bench overlooking a hollow where I wished I had marijuana as I refined a story. I can’t tell which is worse. I stare at the entrance sign and I try to remember if it says anything about bikes. I stare at the trash cans and wonder if I have the strength to walk that far to dump my butts.

  1. The Table

The table top is quilted with fine strands of rubbery plastic. It reminds me of spiderwebs and woodgrain, of packing material and dirt roads. It’s beige, or tan, or a similar color that I’m told guys always have a hard time discerning. It’s the color of this pen tip. It’s a fine weaving of silky strands and pits and it feels like corrugated cardboard, but rougher, deeper. I don’t understand it anymore than I understand flesh.

My goal is to wait for the phone to ring. To have a distraction from waiting for the phone to ring. It doesn’t occur to me how bizarre that goal is. I wait for the thing to happen to take my mind off it not happening. I stare at my phone. I pretend it is to check the time—it’s almost five—but it’s actually to see if I had somehow missed a call.

As I wait I attempt to balance my phone on its short edge on the rough table top. It takes a while. The phone’s bottom is curved, and the table is uneven. I eventually get it to stand. The trick is to get the curve of the phone into a pit on the table. The theory behind this endeavor is that when a call comes in the phone will vibrate and fall from its uncertain balance. I have a smoke while I wait for the fall.

That proud phone stands steady in its commitment. Unyielding and unfailing—even against the cold wind, even against my harsh stare. It’s toying with me—confident and cocky. It’s a game of patience and stamina. Relentlessly refusing to budge. I shiver and I wish and I hope for even a wrong number. I have even stacked the deck in my favor. I eventually loose. My patience gone. My pride burnt out. I slowly stand on uncertain legs and unceremoniously shove the phone into my pocket.

  1. 911

It’s after six. I’m walking back from the Arb to downtown. Back at the spot where I met the leprechaun another young street kid approaches me. He asks to use my phone to report a crime. I’m weary. I have lost enough already.

I’m suspicious. I size him up. He’s young, but tattered. He explains that he tried to use the emergency call box but it didn’t work. I wonder if I could out run this kid, half my age, in my sandals with my messenger bag dragging me down. I think if I react quickly enough I can trip him.

He says his girlfriend was almost raped. I hand him my phone. Not out of concern but because it will be the most action my phone has seen all day. He takes it, turns, and briskly walks away. I stay close. A young girl at a nearby table thanks me, saying that it’s very kind.

He dials, I count three digits. He starts talking. He repeats the story, occasionally pausing for response, he gives the name of a cross street. He thanks the phone, closes it and gives it back. I continue to the coffee shop.

I can’t concentrate on my work. I am amazed that the call went so smoothly. I wonder how the campus emergency phone is not working, if the call made it to the right call center. I check my outgoing call log. He didn’t make a call.

  1. Uno!

I’m at the busstop. It’s almost seven. No-one has gotten back to me yet. On the ground are three Uno cards. Two eights and one face down. I check the bus schedule, I have 20 minutes until the next bus.
I am mesmerized by the cards. I have to know what that third card is. I either wonder if, or hope that, it’s another eight. But mostly I need to know. I want to prove that it is in fact a third eight. As if that would lend some meaning to the day. As if everything would click into place with the reveal.

But I’m terrified that it’s not. What if it’s a five or a reverse? I am frozen between my desire to know and my need to turn the other way. I don’t know what to do. So I stand there, eyeing the three cards. Perhaps hoping for a strong wind gust, or for someone to wander by with the answer. The homeless guy on the bench in turn eyes me with suspicion. He has a long white beard. But I need to know and need to not know what that facedown card is.

I flip it over with my feet. It takes longer than I think it should. I stumble and almost loose balance, but I eventually flip it over. It’s a wild card. There’s your rainbow, kid.

One thought on “Interstitial”

  1. I generally post previous versions of poems in a self-titled category. I’ll post a few select earlier versions of this one at some point. It begun as two separate poems, each one went through many, many revisions. And I’m still not through. It’s too much work to get them all here, so when I get around to it I’ll post the first couple of drafts of each one.

    Update May 30, 4:56 PM
    I added as many of the previous drafts that I could find, including the 48 Hours Magazine submission about the 911 call. I am still unsure what the kid was after—or if 911 calls are recorded in a phones call log. You’d have thought I would have checked by now.

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