Every day’s a novel somewhere.

Photograph by J. Gerald Crawford. You can find other Crawford images in the art section of Caleb and Linda Pirtle.
Photograph by J. Gerald Crawford. You can find other Crawford images in the art section of Caleb and Linda Pirtle.

Every day, somewhere in cities large or small, down main streets or back streets, you can find a novel that’s unwritten.

The plot is there. The characters are there.

The story is waiting for a writer. I would suggest looking in the newspaper.

That’s what I do, and I always find a good story, but hardly ever on the front page.

***

The day came early as days tend to do when the August heat burned away the dark and allowed the sun to chase evening shadows from the downtown streets. As soon as the gold from the sky touched her window, she was out of bed, on her feet, and headed toward the front door.

He was still asleep. He would be sleeping until noon.

That’s what he did every day, his mind deadened by two-bit wine and his body wasted by a six-bit hooker who lived on the fourth floor above the Come And Get It Saloon over on Third Street.

For months she thought he was working. But the paycheck’s stopped coming.

And she followed him one night, seated herself in a dark corner, watched him sip from a clear bottle and put his last quarter in a jukebox to hear Merle Haggard sing about hearts broken and love lost, and she recognized the words if not the melody.

The hooker was tall. A little too angular. Long black hair, dyed the color of shoe polish. And her lips had been mistreated by Botox or something worse.

They told a few jokes, laughed a while, sipped a while, and went upstairs.

She would have followed.

She would have shot them both.

But she was a God-fearing woman. And she didn’t own a gun.

She walked out of the house while daylight was shaking out the wrinkles from the night and glanced at the sky.

The clouds were molten gold.

It was a good day to be alive, she thought. It was a good day to die.

She had just enough money to buy a bus ticket to Montgomery or purchase a used .38 special from Dean Farley’s Pawn Shop.

She boarded the bus, and Birmingham faded into the distance, cloaked by a sky filled with molten gold.

***

He was beyond his youth but not quite as old as he felt. He had ridden all night on the bus from Charlotte, but sleep had abandoned him about the time he reached the Georgia line.

His eyes were tired. His shoulders sagged. His gray suit was badly wrinkled.

He spit up blood when he coughed, and he coughed every five minutes or so.

He walked slowly out of the bus station, and a sharp pain wracked his stomach with each step he took. He wondered if he would live long enough to find the woman who had  loved him and left him and quit loving him eight months ago. He’d be damned if he died before he came to finish the job that had brought him to Birmingham.

He reached in his pocket and removed her photograph.

It had been taken ten years ago on the Outer Banks. It still looked just like her.

Her feet were buried in the sand. A harsh wind was blowing her dark hair.

It looked bronze when the sky was a molten shade of gold. It was black in the bedroom. But those memories were haunting and long ago.

Why had she left him?

He knew. But he didn’t want to admit he knew

The cancer had struck him hard. He was a dead man, the doctors said, before anyone discovered the tumors that began in his liver and worked their way into his lungs.

He was devastated. She turned cold.

He knew she was young. He knew she was beautiful. He knew she would find another man.

But why couldn’t she wait until he was gone? It wouldn’t be long.

Why was she in such a hurry?

He had written to tell her he still loved her. The letters came back. Return to Sender is what the envelopes said.

He climbed into the back seat of a cab and said simply, “Third Street.”

***

Gray suit drank expensive whiskey all afternoon in the neighborhood bar.

Didn’t catch its name. It didn’t matter.

It was dark and cool, and the alcohol deadened the pain.

The day was growing long when he finally pushed his chair back, tossed a fifty-dollar bill on the table, and wandered toward the stairs. Each step was harder than the last one. On the fourth floor, he stopped at the second room on the left.

For another fifty dollars, he had purchased a key from the desk clerk. What was fifty dollars to a man who no longer needed them?

He unlocked the door and kicked it open.

She glanced at him, and her eyes began to quiver.

The man saw a ghost in the mirror. It was his own image.

He knew she was beautiful, but he had forgotten how beautiful she was naked and bathed in a dim light. He had not forgotten

The man was a little too fat, a little too short, a little too old, and a little too greasy.

He was sweating profusely. He forgot what he had been doing only moments before. He was no longer interested.

Gray suit had only brought two bullets with him.

One for his wife and one for him.

He found better things to do with the second bullet

***

She came home after midnight. Got off the bus in Montgomery. Caught a ride back home with truck driver on his way to Nashville. She knew what she would tell him.

He was two-timing and worthless. But she still loved him.

She walked in the house, and it was dark.

She walked in the bedroom, and it was dark.

She called his name.

No answer.

“I thought it over,” she said aloud. “I forgive you, and maybe we can start anew.”

She switched on the light.

He should have been home by now.

He wasn’t.

She slept alone that night. It would be the first night of many.

She missed him most when the sky was a molten shade of gold.

Wicked-LowerPix

Please click the book cover image to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his books.

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