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The Sun Never Rises: Chapter Six
There’s Room on the Road for You
In truth, there’s room on the open road for all of you reading this. There’s room in the alleyways and the cardboard jungles. There’s room in the tent cities and abandoned warehouses. From sea to shining sea we welcome all with open arms. Just don’t expect us to give you a hand up.
Cynical? Perhaps, but I’ve grown tired of seeing the increasing numbers of homeless, and civic leaders with no plan on how to deal with the problem, and a general populace that simply chooses not to see the problem.
And so I write!
Let’s see what is happening with Max and Katie.
My first impression of Louisville is not a good one, black and white pulling up alongside us, boy in blue, not much older than I was when I signed up with Uncle Sam, rolls down his window and tells us we have to keep moving, there’s no place in Louisville for our kind.
I feel Katie’s hand squeeze mine.
“Let it go, Max,” she says. “It’s not worth it,” she looking pale and frail all of a sudden.
But the thing is, sometimes it is worth it, and damn the consequences. I reach into my coat pocket and pull out one of the few possessions I have that means a shit.
“Officer, this here’s a purple heart. I got it a few months after a sniper’s bullet shattered my shoulder, chunks of me flying off into a cold desert’s night. It’s been almost ten years now so most the time, it don’t hurt much, but when the weather’s cold, like recently, there are mornings I don’t feel like I can lift five pounds, you know? Our kind? I’ve served my country, Officer, and I figure that gives me, at the very least, the right to walk the streets of that country. Now Katie and I aren’t hurting anyone. We’re not even panhandling. We’re going to find a mission, get a meal, maybe take a shower and then be gone. Total elapsed time in your fine city of maybe two hours, and then we’ll either head south for Memphis or west for St. Louis. Do you suppose your fine city can tolerate us for two hours?”
The window slides up, engine shuts down, and our new friend gets out of the patrol car, jacking up his belt, releasing the strap that holds his gun to the holster, shiny black shoes creaking in the cold as he approaches us, the wind pushing against his back, nasty-assed day to be rousting the homeless, that thought undoubtedly rushing through his mind.
“What unit were you with over there, soldier?”
“Fourth Infantry, Officer. Paktika Province, sixteen months.”
We were on a slight knoll, just high enough so we could see the gray waters of the Ohio off to our right. The cop looked in that direction then back at us, tossing it around, giving it some thought, making decisions based on input and gut.
“The Salvation Army is six blocks down that way,” he said, pointing to the west. “First Light Mission one block further. You’ll find what you’re looking for at both locations.” He tipped his hat. “Welcome to Louisville, soldier. Thanks for serving our country.” He tipped his hat at Katie. “Ma’am! Just don’t get too comfortable in our fine town.”
He drove off and I watched him. Katie squeezed my hand again.
“What do you think he sees when he looks at us, Max? Why the instant hostility?”
“It’s what he might see down the road of life that bothers him, Katie.”
“Himself! He knows we’re not a problem. He just doesn’t want to see a reminder of how bad this country has gotten, and he hopes it don’t infect him. Now let’s get us some lunch at that Salvation Army.”
No Warmth to Be Found
Louisville ain’t much warmer than Pittsburgh, you want to know the truth. Not much cleaner, either, at least not the parts of the city we’re allowed to roam. Reverend Parker at the First Light Mission spoke of salvation and a kinder, a gentler life in the hereafter, same boilerplate message I’ve heard in one-hundred such missions, sign on with Jesus and all will be well, but as we move on after a lunch of tater tot casserole, I’m wondering where the hell Jesus is. He’s sure not in the puke-stained alleyways we pass. I don’t see him administering to the junkies or the alkies, or protecting the shop owners as they get ripped off by the street punks trying to make a name for themselves. What the hell, right? Parker would just say those people aren’t true believers, or salvation awaits those folks after death, and maybe he’s correct….or maybe he’s just shucking his jive to stave off his own demons.
Whatever he’s selling I’m not buying.
Memphis or St. Louis, those are our choices as Mother Nature blows more needles through our overcoats. I can feel Katie shivering as we stand at an intersection debating directions, thirty-eight-fifty in my pocket, money enough for four or five days of food on the road, life boiled down to two choices, south or west, both looking bleak, both holding very little in the way of promise.
“I’m tired, Max,” Princess Kate says to me, the light in her eyes dimming, and I feel her forehead and it’s blazing, and just like that our indecision is solved, south or west, neither are options. Katie needs some medical assistance. I half carry her to a park bench, get her settled, not quite sure what to do, strange city, no clue where aid is, “excuse me, Sir, would you know?” but the words are swept away by the wind as person after person walks quickly by us, and damn that wind why can’t it just stop for a moment?
“Katie, I’ll be right back,” and I rush into a storefront, “excuse me, can I use your phone, medical emergency?” totally ignored, “get the hell out of my store before I call the cops,” almost exactly the same words I hear at my second stop, getting frustrated now, feeling my pulse increase, the adrenaline and anger coursing through my veins, my vision starts blurring, my memories taking me back to another time, answering every slight with two fists, blood and teeth spraying over a parking lot, the judge giving me a choice, serve my country or serve the county for twenty-four months, mom and dad in attendance, wondering what had become of their son.
Rush Back to Katie
Somehow I tear myself from the black thoughts, don’t allow them to overtake me, make it back to Katie and wrap her in my arms, stand her up, walk her slowly to the street, out in the middle where they’ll have to notice us, standing there, cars narrowly missing us, honking, windows rolled down, cussing, Katie leaning against me when the cop pulls up, right there, middle of the road, same cop who welcomed us earlier, seems days but really only a couple hours, window rolls down and there he is, pink cheeks and baby face.
“What’s up, soldier? This is no place to dance.”
“Katie’s sick, officer. I don’t know what to do.”
The door locks click.
“Get in. I’ll take you to the hospital.”
Six block ride, pulls up to Norton Brownsboro Emergency, brown and white façade, five or six floors, cop gets out, keeps the engine and heater running, walks in the doors, I can see him there talking to a nurse as I keep telling Katie we’re going to get her fixed up, then he’s walking back out pushing a wheelchair, the nurse in tow.
“You need to let us take care of her, soldier,” the nurse says as she helps Katie into the chair, Katie’s hand in mine, me not letting go, drawing a line in the sand, enough is enough, I think, it has to end, no more pain for Katie, by God, and the young cop tells me it’s okay, “suspend the fighting for one day, soldier,” and I kiss Katie on the forehead and let go of her hand.
Two hours later a young doc approaches, everyone seems young and I’m feeling the old, sits down next to me, explains that Katie “basically has pneumonia, fluid in the lung, you know” and we got her there in time so that’s good news, he says, battle it with antibiotics and she should be good as new in a couple days, “keeping her overnight as a precaution,” and I explain I don’t have but thirty-eight bucks and the cop, he tells me at ease, soldier, it’s all being taken care of.
They lead me up to two-eighteen and there she is, looking small in that bed, white covers wrapping her warm, a tube snaking out of her left arm, asleep and looking peaceful, and I can’t help it, don’t know where it came from, but the tears start falling and they won’t stop, a flood of tears and convulsing sobs, big old veteran crying like a baby, and that young cop with his hand on my shoulder telling me exactly what I needed to hear.
“Everything’s going to be all right, soldier.”
AND DAMN I HOPE HE’S RIGHT
We’ll leave Katie and Max for now. Katie needs to rest up and Max, well, he needs to rest as well. They’ve still got a long road ahead, so we’ll join them next week.
They do want me to tell you thanks for joining them. They appreciate your kindness.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc) #greatestunknownauthor