by Karl Marxhausen 1977
Monroe gazed gently out the window. It was Friday night. Not much was happening. The kids were out, on the streets below, driving around.
He stood in his blue & white overalls. A white T-shirt on. He looked at the blue flowered wallpaper. It looked just the same as they looked when he checked in. Subtle. He felt like the wallpaper looked. Quiet.
Through and through, like the wallpaper felt. Flat and smooth. He even looked like wallpaper, he thought, with the overall straps slung over his shoulders, strong Galena shoulders. All farm. He looked more like farm that the wall paper. And the room looked nothing like farm.
The room was fancy with city frills. A fancy room with a fancy linoleum floor. And a fancy spring bed with a white frilled bed cover. And two room lights. Three, counting the one by the wash sink. And mirrors. One by the wash sink. And one on top of some chest drawers. And everything: chairs, desk, rocker, drawers -- all wood. Real wood. Now that was fancy!
A rocker -- Did he mention a rocker? Yes, he did. A rocker for reading books. A rocker for nodding off in, after the ten o'clock bell. A rocker -- his time machine, in which he sat and rocked beside Hemingway's campsite. From which he observed his hero, Nick Adams, fishing for trout. From which he could feel the cool fall breezes and hot summer heats. If he had ever ridden a horse, he could have mounted the rocking chair and ridden through the woods of the Big Country. And jumped across the wide trout streams and seen a thing or two. Or dreamed a thing or two.
Daydreaming was an occasional activity of Monroe. Especially after an exciting book. What would he dream about? thought Monroe. He would never say aloud that he dreamed at all. It just wasn't his practice.
Monroe might like to have been a sheriff in a Western. A shiny dust-speckled badge on his pearl-buttoned shirt. And a ten gallon cream-colored hat on his sweated head. And a fine set of sixguns slung at his hip. A sheriff. Keeping the peace and order. Practicing his draw before the davenport mirror. Blowing the gray smoke off the barrel of a warn sixgun. Turning the dead rustler over with his foot. And walking back to his office. Stopping to spit into the dust.
The rocking chair never betrayed that small glimpse of Monroe, riding high on the hot afternoon trail, out to the ranch, where the shots were heard.
The carpet, that laid square under the bed, hid the bear tracks Monroe found, and the pine needles that fell off his mud-stained boots. Only a sheriff, thought Monroe in his overalls.
He didn't feel like a sheriff now. He never felt like a sheriff. Right now, he was wallpaper. He smelled like wallpaper. Hanging, flat and smooth, and taut on the old walls of the Desoto Hotel.
It was a busy day for Monroe. He had gotten tired of waiting for the mail. And tired of sitting in his black rocker. And tired of pacing in the room, back and forth, as if thinking deeply. And tired of looking at the wallpaper. Not tired of the wallpaper itself. No, just tired of looking at the wallpaper. Monroe went out and got a job.
His job was mowing lawns. With a city lawn mower. A fancy city lawn mower. Not a simple practical push mower. But a gas-fed combustible automatic grass-eater. This did not bother Monroe. He could cut grass either way and not feel fancy at all. It was a job.
Monroe thought it was a good job. And a reasonable one. He liked to mow. It was nothing like throwing bales of hay. Hay was hay. And grass was grass. He liked to mow.
He saw it as work. Strenuous tiring hard work. Muscles pulling and heaving the mower to make it respond. And manuvering it about, up and down the grassy slopes. Around trees and shrubs. Cutting close to the sidewalk and against the house. The work depended on the mower. A stubborn mower meant more work. And more compromising. You can only push a mower so far and then.. it quits on you.
The day left Monroe with chaffed hands, a weary head, a happy heart, and a pair of tired feet. It was a Friday night. Tomorrow was Saturday. And tomorrow would be Dubuque.
Monroe's roomie wanted to go to Dubuque.
"They have a fine library there, so I hear," said Karl. Monroe wanted to go along. Libraries were worth checking out. His wallet was full of library cards. All the same size. Each with a different name for each library. Each a ticket to hours of reading. Monroe looked
forward to Dubuque.
He needed another book to read. To substitute for reading mail, because there was none. Ever since school started. That's what Karl said.
"People are in school now. They don't have time to write."
Karl understood that. But Monroe did not.
Why live in a hotel, if no one writes to you? thought Monroe.
There are lots of hills and woods and leaves and grass and rabbits in Galena. And civil war houses and stores and bars and broken sidewalks. And runaway lawns that might need mowing. And a town clock that rings every hour, and once every half hour. A dike prevents the flooded river from reaching the town streets, like it once did.
And outside the window, across the street, a laundry fan circulates round and round. Breathing out hot lint air. And Monroe breathes deep. It was a good day to work. Two lawns finished.
Monroe sighs. Time to turn in.
|Christopher Press © 1977 All Rights Reserved. Do not reprint