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Where was Shannon headed? Walking aimlessly down a sidewalk in Erie, in the brisk morning in the beginning of a snowstorm, he had become perplexed. He had started out for Erie, after finding his wife had abandoned him, and his home, and therefore felt it was no longer a home, yes a house, but not a home, not any longer. Why had Gertrude left? He, Shannon, couldn’t tell you if he wanted to. And for the most part, I doubt he cared all that much, although she was a good drinking partner. She had left, and that was old news now. “Don’t look back,” that was his quote to himself today. He was now standing ankle deep in slush, in front of a bus station. On the station it read in big fat letters:
There were stacks of fish piled high in containers lying open for folks to examine one from the other: mostly dead but some still had a tinge of life in them, and wobbled about, all big-eyed fish, with their flipper-tails hanging over the tubs they were in. The market area was on a kind of platform; Shannon read the sign near the Greyhound symbol, “Fish Market!” It was more like a small open market, not big at all, just lots of fish, smelly, unsmiling big-eyed fish, and several folks standing-a few sitting on stools behind, or near their storage bins and tables full of fish: weighing them, gutting them and trying to make them look pretty.
A woman was behind one of the counters, cutting open a fish, other fish tapping on the containers with the last of their will. She looked at Shannon looking. Could she be looking for a fish sales person? Something told Shannon he could be one. He stepped forward, leaped up onto the platform, out of the slush (of ice and water) and approached the woman behind the counter. He noticed she worked quickly. She had long stringy hair, little beady eyes, entrenched into deep sockets, and a high forehead, receding hairline, little ears, about five-foot five, overweight, like him, but thirty-years younger. Her hands were too white for the rest of her body, as if they had lost circulation from all the cold, and fish cutting.
“Are you a fish cutter?” asked Shannon.
“Yes, sir,” said the woman “I’m a good one too.”
This woman eye-balled Shannon skeptically, perhaps thinking, what’s he up to with such a stupid question, of course she’s a fish cutter.
“Is it difficult to be a fish cutter?” Shannon asked. He didn’t want to ask her for a job outright, he wanted to be a little smoother about it, more polite.
The woman looked at him inquisitively.
“What’s up mister” she asked, “are you some quack?”
“Absolutely not,” Shannon said. “I don’t even know what a quack is?”
“Well, fine,” said the lady, “but if that is a rat looking out of your coat pocket, you’re a quack!”
“Rat?” asked Shannon, “What rat?”
“That rat that is peeking out of your coat pocket…” Shannon didn’t know what to say. What kind of woman was this, I mean, she spotted everything, and did she go in for detective work or what? Are fish cutters like detectives? He wanted the job but did he have to explain his whole life to her?
“I left St. Paul, my wife left me…” he started out to say, “I passed Washington High School, on my way home-“
“I know a gal in Minnesota,” the woman fish cutter said, “maybe you know her. Claudia Kline?”
It was useless he told himself to continue on this way, he’d tell her just the main facts, cut the story to a few paragraphs. It was getting too cold to stand there and go on and on and on, and then only to find out she didn’t need an assistant, at least it appeared she didn’t need one. He looked at the fish; they were everywhere, on the counter, over the counter on the floor, piles of fish everywhere, stiff and cold looking fish, like him. Perhaps they, like all those folks he saw in the cars driving by had places to go also, and then all of a sudden, woops, they became trapped, and now were being cut open, and she was worried about the rat.
He noticed cats were sneaking about.
“My wife up and disappeared on me yesterday, unexpectedly,” he told her with a grin (repeating himself).
“No wonder she left you, so would I, if you came home with a rat in your coat pocket.” She told him.
“I need a job,” Shannon commented. There was a silent moment now, a moment of terror in his eyes, and empathy had set into hers, upright. They never really hit it off, he knew that. He figured it was a dead moment, and all was lost. There was no use in pleading, she saw the rat, and she was still trying to figure out, what kind of man carries a rat around in his coat pocket.
“There’s the Greyhound bus station, go get on a bus, and go home, I can tell you aren’t like that Jack guy who rode all over the country, and wrote a book about it, the beatnik guy! You know who I’m talking about.” said the woman, “I’ll even buy you the ticket!”
“Thank you,” he said. He turned and walked into the slush, deserting Erie, walking over to the bus station, she had given him fifty-dollars. Luckily, that was less than the cost of the ticket, plus a few extra dollars to boot; perhaps he could get a breakfast along the way. He had sold his house just before he took off to Erie, but the lawyers had put all the money into a bank account for him, he didn’t even know what bank. Why had he even left St. Paul? What was he trying to do anyhow?
Coming down the street towards him were five Mexicans, they checked him out, he put on a mean looking face, like Humphrey Bogart in, “To Have and Have Not (the movie),” so they’d not think twice about robbing him, they didn’t smile, just stared, unchanging faces, blank faces; he knew what was on their minds, but they dare not stop, and they didn’t. Their faces never changed from one step to the next. They went to the fish platform, to the counter where the woman was.
The bright morning Minnesota sun woke Shannon up; hours on the bus, near winter he pulled the blinds down on the side against the sun, the chilled window felt refreshing. He could smell the dirt, and odor of the cornfields. He had taken a jug of wine with him on the bus, it only cost a dollar (Ripple), he had gotten drunk during the night, had a hard time finding his ticket, incase someone wanted to recheck them. It was clear the change of the countryside as the bus came down out of the Great Lakes region. It was a rough ride, that of which he could remember, but he told himself: beggars can’t be choosers.
The next day, Shannon O’ Day stood in the center of the downtown bus station in St. Paul, Minnesota; he had arrived early in the morning. There was a café and barbershop and shoeshine stand in the station, all on one side. A janitor was mopping the floor; other men just sitting around smoking, some sneaking a quick drink from a bottle of wine hidden inside their coats, mostly homeless folk.
Smoke circled the station; about fifty people on hard looking plastic chairs sat admiring the graffiti on the walls, reflections of the bathroom walls. Should he, Shannon stick around, warm up, or go to the bank get his money out, and find a hotel? After all, he sold his house, had $8,000-dollars in the bank, he just needed to call up his lawyer to find out which one, which bank, and have him call the bank to release the funds. He could do and go, and see whatever he wanted to then. He looked around once again, hesitantly. He was old, very old, maybe sixty-five or seventy.
When he is gone, left this world forever, he knew men would never write books about him (of course he didn’t know me at the time), not like F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was born in St. Paul, and everyone in the Midwest knows about Scott. This was the new young generation all about nobody and everybody; like Andy Warhol once said, and Shannon paraphrased him: everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, somewhere along life’s line.
Shannon had called his lawyer, his money was in the 1st National Bank, a big gray building in the middle of town, he was up near “Mickey’s Diner” he didn’t like that big ugly grey building, the tallest in the city, the bank was alright, just the building. Shannon looked about again, with his big fat ugly heavy and lumpy old body in the middle of the bus station, folding and refolding his handkerchief, and pushing the rat’s head back so folks would not think he was a wacko, or goofball, he took off his hat and wiped the sweat off his forehead, he still had a bit of red to his hair, it was thinning though, curled around the ears, and coming out of his ears and nose, around his dull bluish eyes, those long eyebrows he could almost lick them with his tongue.
He had a few tears running down his cheek, as if he was lost, in his own old spirit, not knowing what now to do with his life, he tells the rat to simply stay put. The tears run down and his pocket handkerchief and his shaking hands wipe his tears.
Heavy, oh so heavy, his feet felt, the numbness had left. He made a path to the doors of the station, a kid was running with a ball shouting, “Look, look, I can…” then he saw the rat’s head and was about to say “Rat!” Shannon knew this beyond a doubt, and he tripped the six-year old, and whispered, “Shut your fat little mouth, you little rug-rat!” And the little boy looked up at him terry-eyed, forgetting the rat, and yelled, “He tripped me…!” It really didn’t matter to Shannon; it was really an inviting prospect to skedaddle on down to the bank, and draw his money out. Somehow it wasn’t what he wanted to do right away, but better now than never. He wanted to eat; he had three dollars on him, enough for a good breakfast at Mickey’s Diner, but the bank now seemed to occupy his thoughts.
Shannon turned his back on the bus station and headed on down the street to the bank, in this quiet and conservative, near frozen little city in the Midwest, walked down the cemented sidewalks, looking in the stores, as they changed the cloths on the manikins, from fall to winter designs. Car horns honking, people talking about a war in Asia, a dinky little nowhere country called Vietnam. Shannon had said aloud as folks walked by, “Now another little dirty war by our so called patriotic elected.”
He saw the bank, thought about General MacArthur, who had given a speech a few years back at West Point, 1962, he was the head of the American Forces in the Pacific during World War II, and had a final campaign in Korea that lead to clashes with President Harry S. Truman. If he had his way, he’d had ended the war that was starting in Vietnam in a flash, one big bomb, that would do it, not all these little firecrackers, and don’t worry about China, we had a few leftover for them. He had been a soldier in WWI, a rebel kind of. There I sat in the ditch, waited for the Germans, that doesn’t matter anymore though, new wars, there are new wars for the new generations; something to pass the hours away, so we create new wars. And it’s always America who has to come running to the rescue for Europe, the thankless contentment, haven’t they figured it out yet: countries that are not ready, or prepared to defend their wealth, are simply targets for those that are.
His hands where nervous and trembling now; alas, “Here I am at this big ugly building.” With those nervous and uncertain hands he opened up the heavy doors, concealed his rat by pushing his head back into his deep coat pocket.
There were many large square pillars in the bank, he looked at them. Then at the teller counter, he motioned to one of the tellers that was counting money, she looked at him, bowed her head acknowledging he was there, and continued the count. ´She remained him of Popeye’s girlfriend, Olive. He told himself: that is the risk you have to take coming to these big ugly buildings, hurry up, wait. He clapped his hands, his long fat fingers, in the bank. The teller looked his way, facing him more now, gave him a sign, with her big bulging eyes and eyebrows that went upwards, making her forehead seem smaller:
“The Patient man gets what he wants!”
He was hungry, wanted to go back near the bus stop, to Mickey’s Diner, and have that $3.00 breakfast. He then gave her a sign, with his lips:
“Patience is not my virtue!”
Ah, those old timers before him, were sure wise fellows, they built such big banks, with lots of money in them, if only they had some imagination, other than making them look like matchboxes. They never had to advertise much, didn’t see it on the television anyhow, people just automatically gave them their money. They told them on paper signs, “We are the best, number One,” then put a big one on top of their bank, and they were really number ten when they started out, and people believed they were number one, and left the other banks for theirs. He knew how it worked.
He looked at the clock above the head of the woman counting the money-the one he now called Olive-it was 11:00 a.m., nearly lunch time. He saw a sign now, it read, “Be Patient!” This wasn’t Mickey’s Diner he told himself; this was someone who had his money, telling him to be patient.
“I wonder,” asked Shannon to a young lady standing behind him, “is this a bank or a waiting room at a hospital?”
“Yes, sir,” answered the young woman, “this is a bank of course, “it is the First Bank, number one!”
“Thank you miss,” said Shannon. He folded his hands and waited. “I would like to have $8,000-dollars of my money out of the bank,” said Shannon to the teller woman.
She called his lawyer, and he assured her, this was Mr. O’Day, and he had placed his money in the bank for safe keeping. She then gave him his money.
“Is that all sir, she said?” And he stood there thinking. “Please move sir, there is a lady behind you waiting.”
“Why don’t you give her the sign that means patience, like you did me?”
He opened his coat pocket, and out popped the rat’s head, placed the rat on the counter, gently. The rat windswept his fur and shook himself, as if to stretch from being cooped up in a small area too long, it was as if it even tried to be tidy about it.
The lady behind him moved rapidly away from him, and the teller, grabbed a pen and tried to push it back, away from her so it didn’t jump towards her. “Isn’t he a manly fury little fellow?” he remarked. “Incidentally,” he asked, almost embarrassed, “next time give money bands around the bills, so they don’t flop all over the place.”
“Bands?” said the woman, “for your money.”
The teller shoved the rat back with her pen a second time, like a wicket witch, and quickly stepped backwards and to the side, to where she felt safer. Shannon had a warm glow on his face and a big shinny smile.
“He’s not a noisy rat, just a happy one,” Shannon mention in passing starting to move away from the counter, as the bank teller threw her arms in the air, yelled in a hysteric voice to her boss: “A rat! Rat, a live rat in the house, I mean bank!” At that juncture, Mr. O’Day walked quickly out of the bank: behind him, voices crying, along his path: “A live rat, a live rat…rat…rat!”
When he got outside, he was tucking his money in his left pocket and in the right the rat.
“How old is the rat?” asked the waitress at Mickey’s Diner, after delivering Shannon his long awaited breakfast.
“How would I know,” Shannon said. “I just met him yesterday. My wife left me a few days ago to boot.”
“You poor old man,” the waitress said. She poured some steaming hot coffee in his coffee cup, refilling it. Shannon put his finger in it to test its temperature, how hot it was. “We were out drinking that evening, or was it morning, I can’t remember, and I heard the train near the cornfields. I passed out, and when I woke up she was gone, just like that.”
“Maybe she’s trying to get a hold of you right now?”
“Give me the pepper please,” asked Shannon, “now what were you saying?”
“Nothing, just eat old man,” she commented, and walked away.
“I’m a High School graduate,” he told the waitress as she walked away.
“So what,” said the waitress, “eat up, shut up and get out of here, and take the ugly rat with yaw.”
His mind was now drifting, and the rat was hanging its head out of his pocket. He knew the rat was hungry, it looked faint. And perhaps this cold air was too much for it.
“I say,” he said to the rat, handing him a piece of bacon, “I bet you could eat this whole breakfast by yourself.”
The waitress came up now with a large order of potatoes, fried crisp.
“Here,” she said, “for the rat, I hate to see anyone, or thing, go hungry.”
The rat was now nibbling at its food, in the booth area, on the bench like seats, happily, rising up his head looking at his new friend.
“He does that to thank me,” he explained to the waitress.
“They are delicious potatoes, fine, too.” She commented. Shannon grabbed some with his finger tips, the rat almost bit them, and sure enough, they tasted delicious, and so with a nod of his head he agreed.
After eating all those potatoes, the rat was reenergized, as if his head was clear, and eyes could now refocus.
What was this decomposing language the waitress was talking about; his wife might be looking for him, now that he had $8000-dollars in his pocket. If she found him, he had a big surprise for her-nothing; he had nothing for her, her cut was out of the bank. He wasn’t a man to be taken lightly, or made a fool out of: he once heard the saying, ‘Monkey see, monkey do,” and he was doing just that, as far as he was considered, she burned he bridge she crossed.
After finishing his breakfast and the rat his potatoes, the rat had fallen to sleep.
“When he gets tired of sleeping,” remarked the waitress, “best you get on out of here.”
“Sure,” said Shannon.
“Where is your home?” asked the waitress.
“It used to be on Albemarle Street, down Rice Street, past NSP (Northern States Power).” The old man said, with a smile a bit sadly.
Strange man, thought the waitress.
“I was not always a waitress you know,” she commented.
“I’m sure you weren’t.”
“Plus, I also got a High School Diploma, went to Central High School, then Harding High School.” The waitress started to go on and on, about her life. “Do you find my life interesting?” she asked the old man, adding, “if you write a book someday, don’t use my name, ok?”
“Sure, dear,” said Shannon, “If that’s the way you want it.” Then he was quiet, “Incidentally,” he said “mind if I get some more bacon?”
“It’s the best in the Midwest,” the waitress said with a smiled, her face, pale and red, sweaty with patchy rawness from the wind, “You look like that lady from ‘King Kong,’ you know Fay Wray?”
“She was an interesting woman, I met her once, and did you really want more bacon?”
“Yes,” Shannon answered simply.
“And lay off that rat,” said the waitress, Shannon was tickling it.
“Tell me more of your life story,” said Shannon.
“I once found myself in San Francisco, back in the early 40s,” she began, “I was always excited about wanting to see the Golden Gate Bridge, perhaps that is why I ended up there.”
“Go on,” rambled Shannon.
“Like the rat when I got there I remember being really tired, and must had fallen soundly to sleep. When I woke up I was in bed with a man. My mother had disappeared.”
“Who was the man?” asked Shannon.
“A soldier on leave, from WWII…can’t remember his name.”
“Just call him, Igor,” suggested Shannon.
“Yes, that sounds pretty close to his real name,” she said.
“I went downstairs to the lobby to check with the bellboys, and the register, because I though I came with my mother, but it read his name, and mine, and the bellboys all said, the soldier and I were one. It all of course was a surprise to me. I remember then calling up my mother and she said, ‘Where the heck have you been, after the bus accident, you were missing,’ and I told her I wake up in Frisco of all places, everybody calls it Frisco you know. I found out I had been gone two weeks. Amnesia for two whole weeks; can you beat that. How do you like my story?”
“Go on, it’s a killer, said Shannon.
“Amnesia, that is what I had, walking around in a state of amnesia for two whole weeks, I wake up, that’s it, and then I went to see the Golden Gate Bridge.”
“What about the soldier boy?”
“Igor, he gave me a one-hundred dollar bill, told me to go back home, he’d write me, but he never did of course. And I bought my ticket and came back here, and I’ve been a waitress ever since.”
“It’s good to get such things off your mind,” said Shannon.
“Yes,” said the waitress, wrinkles around her eyes, especially pronounced when she smiled. They reminded the old man of the trenches he lived in during WWI.
“You look better now,” said the old man.
“Honestly?” she asked.
“Cross my heart hope to die,” and he had his toes crossed, because he knew he was lying.
Shannon went outside of the diner, an old diner car from a retired train, made into a café.
“You come back again,” yelled the waitress, “but don’t bring that rat with you please!”
“Yes,” said the old man, looking up at the ugly bulky bank, with the number one on top of it. Was it true, it was the number one bank in St. Paul; he’d had liked to have known the truth?
The rat’s head was also looking up at the big one, grimy like, almost emulating Shannon.Write by spiderman hoodie