Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Piss 'N Vinegar

(Image: Marek Okon)

Some people say it's still a colony ship, but I can remember the rainy streets of San Francisco. The rain is where I draw the line. When a ship is big enough to accidentally pick up weather patterns you're not on a ship anymore. And don't even get me started on the rats. We're on a boat full of rats and not a feline in sight. They tried to make machinecats out of metal, but it took mother nature sixty million years to cram enough piss and vinegar into the common felis catus. And the rats evolved to keep up.

Walking in rain without an umbrella is how I first saw Yvette. She had three shadows then, in addition to her own. They were men. Silent men.

"Hey there, blue eyes," I said. Ordinarily that would have been enough to tip a lady off that I wasn't a good man. But when you're living in the guts of a metal arrow flying between worlds, you learn to make compromise. You learn to live without umbrellas, find companionship in a mechanical cat, and take a compliment from a decent man when what you need is a good one. And if the prowlers that stalked away when she embraced me were any indicator, she was in need of some kind of decency. Her hands clasped around my neck and she whispered over the roar of steady falling condensation,

"You take me to a cafe and I'll buy you a drink. This isn't a good night to be alone."

Actually, that summed up the first few hours of our friendship pretty well. If we were ships passing in the night, we were blockade runners - heavy in an indifferent ocean, each one staying afloat despite a cargo hold full of bad decisions. I looked past her into the alley where I saw three shadows, maybe themselves bad decisions, lurch back into the night.

At the cafe we talked about everything but ourselves. That's when her eyes danced across the barcode on my hand, and she divined meaning from the irregular cage bars running from knuckle to wrist. In the past people had their fate on their palms in mystical signatures from the universe. They were interpreted by fortune tellers and gypsies. These days we do things differently. My hand had a signature from the colony ship's detention bloc. This guy did some hard time for some of his bad decisions.

But when she saw it, she breathed a sigh of relief. I know two kinds of men. Those that have crimes to hide and those who haven't had the chance yet - those that have been treated, made gentle.

She knew then that I could never hurt her.

"You folks want a cat?" the old man behind the bar said thumbing over his shoulder at a twitching metal creature grooming itself. The animation was a perfect facsimile of a feline, minus the fur. Minus the piss and vinegar.

"Got an umbrella?" I asked.

"Fresh out."

Always fresh out.

I did sixteen months for robbing this place three years back. When they let me out, the old man behind the counter and I became friends. He knew I couldn't do it again. I had the barcode to prove it. They changed me. When you don't have umbrellas you use a newspaper. When you don't have cats you make one out of metal. And when you don't have decent men...

"Thank you for the time, stranger," Yvette said, "Mind walking me home?"

When you don't have decent men, you work with what you've got. I carry a gun all the time now, but damned if I can pull the trigger. Something in me just won't let me do it. I'm in that cage on my hand that says I've been tamed.

When we file out the door for Yvette's apartment I think about her shadows. If they come out of the woodwork out there on the rainy street I wonder if I could do it to protect that pretty blue eyed girl. That's when my trigger finger twitches, and there's a sour taste on my tongue.

Tastes like vinegar.

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