the stumbling conquistador

As I began to shakily explain the situation, and my bold attempt at robbery, the skeletons cut my legs out from under me and proceeded to pelt me with candy corns and gumballs….”

 

by mel bosworth

 

My slide began one spring and wore out the seat of my pants through the summer and beyond. When, at last, I reached the bottom of the hill, the two-story home, the trophy wife, and my true love–a ’58 Mustang–were nothing more than smudged dots on a pastel horizon of memory. I reached out to Chartreuse–a skilled seamstress and bohemian relic of my past who would forever be assailable, due in large part to our one-time romance within the precocious folds of Haight Ashbury–and asked her for lodging and also for a fine costume as Halloween fast approached. She cleansed me with curls of sage smoke and then provided me a cot in the corner of her sewing shop. But I soon found the revisited echoes of my life uncomfortable, so on the morning of Halloween I dressed myself in the disguise Chartreuse had stitched for me and set out to reclaim my independence.

The Indian grocery was nondescript enough, or so I thought, and within pedaling distance from the sewing shop. I secured the Schwinn to a parking meter and strode into the store, the speech of my gait inflected with a dangerous cocksureness that belied my trepidation. I immediately swiped a banana upon entry and tucked it into the sleeve of my garment, my furtiveness covered by a gang of bawdy, vertically challenged skeletons that jockeyed for position in front of the candy shelf. The clerk, mustached and dark skinned, blue shirt buttoned all the way up into an unseen eyelet somewhere beneath the shelf of his stubbly chin, barely gave me notice at first. It was only when I jabbed the banana in the direction of his indifference that he offered me a yawn that wafted curry. The banana was wrapped in my sleeve in the hopes of portraying its inherent fruitiness as a lethal weapon, but the clerk simply frowned at the bulge. He asked me if I meant to buy anything. Then he asked me why a grown man was dressed like a Conquistador.

As I began to shakily explain the situation, and my bold attempt at robbery, the skeletons cut my legs out from under me and proceeded to pelt me with candy corns and gumballs. The lead skeleton, a pudgy round thing with dirty hands, bleated to the clerk that I was in fact trying to rob the store, and that my pantaloons and ruffles were a means to masquerade my true identity. I squirmed on the tile beneath their sweet attack, and tried to relay, with frantic tongue, that I no longer had an identity. But my words were drowned out by a spray of sugar that soon turned to kicks, and through the haze of tiny shoes I could see the clerk lazily swirling the rotary of a telephone.

The energy of my desperation requisite for escape was crippled by deep thoughts of guilt, and as I lay on the tile absorbing the busy abuse of the children, I resigned myself to the idea that the bottom of my hill had not yet been reached, and that these ghouls were really ushers, booting me down the next slope. The voice of the clerk cut through the fluttering mayhem and informed me that the police were on their way. The children, wrestling with their own compunction brought on by my sudden lack of self-defense, began to disperse. The clerk went about his business, and the children spilled out onto the street, and although I could have left before the authorities arrived, I chose not to. Customers stepped over me–sometimes casting a disapproving look in my direction, a look often set aside for the assumed mentally ill curled against the cold cement of banks or shopping centers–and purchased things with an air of dignity and assurance reserved for those embossed with the precarious notion of stability.

The stream of patrons thinned to a trickle and then ceased dripping altogether. Beyond the door of the grocery, the street had grown dark, and the clerk confessed that he had never phoned the authorities. Infuriated at this denial for further descent, I demanded that he ring them at once to come and take me away. But he would not. He helped me to my feet, asked that I return the banana to its proper location, and then guided me to the sidewalk. Noticing the Schwinn tied to the parking meter, he asked if the bicycle belonged to me. With residual vitriol still coating my throat, I spat that I once drove a ’58 Mustang, and that the most beautiful woman in the world used to sleep in my arms, in these very arms. Unaffected by my tantrum, the clerk rolled his eyes up the sidewalk and then down. He told me that I should hurry along, that the costumed children would be returning to their homes, and that the true monsters of Halloween–angst-filled teens armed with rocks and eggs–would soon expose themselves. Pedaling back up the street, he concluded, was my best, and only, option.

Initially confounded by the words and blunt kindness of the clerk, I waved him off with a grumble and proceeded to unfurl the lock on the bicycle. Turning my back to the embarrassment of my failed criminal endeavor, my thighs burned beneath the fabric of Chartreuse’s superbly crafted pantaloons as I whizzed past the blackened storefronts. With each pained rotation, the crisp wind of an October evening cut through my ennui, and in essence, erased the mud strokes that had been slopped onto the canvas of an unquiet mind by an equally agitated hand. Salty rivulets of frustration snapped off my chin as the sentiments of the clerk, along with the sense of unconditional humanity that both he and Chartreuse possessed, sparked through the darkness of my misunderstanding. Pedaling back up the street was my only option. So I pedaled up the street, shirt billowing in the breeze like sympathetic magic, inflating my self-worth. I pedaled up. I pedaled. Up.

Originally published:
Issue Fifty-Five
June 2009

 

(illustrations: dee sunshine)

 

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