April 1970 – Hudson Valley College – No Way To Say Goodbye.
by Michael Summerleigh
November 18th, 2020
This sunrise was painful. The aftermath of a Night on Bald Mountain with all the acid storms comfortably nestled within the convolutions of his brain. He had seen all manner of wonders in the lighting-blasted darkness, wonders both real and imagined that made him laugh and cry in the horse latitudes of his heart…
He sipped water from a battered Army-issue canteen that spoke to him in some strange new language…swallowed the last three little pink tabs for breakfast…making five in total if he counted the two at dinner the night before…hitching out to the mountain… climbing in the dark…
This sunrise was painful. He rolled up his sleeping bag and started climbing back down the way he had come…
* * *
…Rolled into Nazareth about half-past noon…the process of getting from where he had been to where was now having totally eclipsed the reality of tripping his brains away… the vast acid dreams now become Reality…
He trudged up Main Street thirsty again, the Homestead beckoning with a promise of cold beer and the absence of direct sunlight. Inside, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom he acknowledged a wave from someone faceless behind the bar…gratefully picked up the Youngbloods doing something restful on the overhead…nodded and flashed a peace sign at a voice he recognised…found a booth he thought was empty but wasn’t…already down before he realised it was tiny Carol huddled in a corner…she said:
“Go away please…”
And continued to cling to her beer mug with fingers like dead skeleton claws crying while the sun outside blazed away in a joyous springtime balefire, oblivious to the pall and pain of humanity crawling below. Joshua didn’t go away. He tossed his sleeping bag onto the bench on the other side of the table, inched himself backward so he wasn’t crowding her…asked:
“What’s wrong Carol…?”
And because what was wrong was hurting badly enough that the possibility of Josh’s crazy fucking girlfriend maybe finding her in his arms…ripping her heart out on the spot… seemed preferable to doing without some sort of human companionship and comfort… Carol relinquished her death-grip on the beer and let Josh hold her…
* * *
At forty or so minutes past one Carol dried her eyes and thanked him. He stood up so she could slide out of the booth and go on up to the bus station, buy a ticket back to Massapequa where she could be with her family when her brother came home from Vietnam in a box…
Joshua ordered a second beer and a shot of bourbon…
The three relatively new little tablets of joy in his brain continued to draw sharp little pencil lines around everything he looked at…
* * *
At a quarter after two Joshua went back outside again, slung his sleeping bag over one shoulder and trudged up Main Street some more…head down literally bumped into Stoner Mike out peddling his wares of an afternoon…apologised for being too fucked up to even entertain the notion of buying more dope he tried to explain to Mike that dealing was something that should embrace the time-honoured traditions of skulksomeness and cautious paranoia rather than flat-out broad-daylight capitalism. Mike didn’t seem to understand, perhaps being almost as stoned as Josh…or maybe just stoned in such a way as the meeting of their minds was not something to be found in the day’s casting of the I Ching. He did, however, spot Josh a taste of what he was selling via one of the best things about capitalism, known as the free sample.
* * *
Another one of the things Josh found out right away at Hudson Valley was that Sirius, rather than being a Dog Star in the night sky, was a star dog in almost every corner of the empire day or night…a honkin’ big black Lab with a head the size of a basketball and the rest of everything else attached being built along the lines of a small Percheron.
Sirius roamed at will, nominally the companion…or familiar…of another town celebrity whose name Josh had never known–a mad bearded anchorite of a fellow who lurched around in what looked like a dark brown cassock made out of burlap girded roundabout the waist by a length of cord as thick around as Josh’s wrist. Occasionally they roamed together; most often they didn’t. And if the response to the classic, “Where does a 600-pound gorilla sleep?” was “Anywhere he fucking well wants to”, the same could be said for Sirius. One morning Josh was puzzled to find Dennis asleep on a couch in the main lounge; later that day he found out it was because Sirius had decided to appropriate his bed the night before. Really. There had been witnesses. Eventually a photograph had been produced as iron-clad indisputable evidence. A big fucking black dog stretched out on Dennis’ bed with his head on Dennis’ pillow. You didn’t argue with shit like that. You could almost hear the damned dog snoring.
Today Sirius came padding down the high street like a dope-fiend on the prowl for Thunderbird-addled winos he could roll to feed his habit. Sirius was always willing to be your friend, always willing to tag along so long as you understand that his philosophy of Life was “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine too…especially if it’s food.”
Josh liked Sirius a lot. He told Sirius to chill, ducked into the butcher shop and traded the joint he’d gotten from Mike for a big ham-bone. Sirius became his friend and they sat together in front of the bus station…Josh tripping on the splinters of his brain…Sirius reducing the bone to a similar state…
* * *
It was almost five o’clock when Joshua found himself in front of the Jack-in-the-Box and realised that watching Sirius had made him a little bit hungry. It looked busy inside.The parking lot was full. Sirius seemed disinterested in junk food and wandered off in search of a good place to stash the remnants of his bone. Josh walked around the back and started knocking on the steel door…waited until he heard footsteps on the other side and then found himself face-to-face with his employer who was an Italian guy originally from North Bergen, New Jersey, who should have been in North Bergen, New Jersey, and not anywhere near this place much less in an apron covered with tomato ketchup and grease…
Josh said “Good afternoon, Tony,” in a very upbeat friendly sort of way he hoped would somehow alleviate the look of being totally pissed off on his boss’ face.
Tony looked like…Tony…thirty-something and dark-haired and maybe carrying a little bit more cannoli than was good for him…handsome but unhappily married because he had this thing for his sister-in-law’s daughter…
“You’re fuckin’ early,” he said. “It’s a goddamn zoo in here can you help out…?”
Joshua said Sure thing and dumped his sleeping bag beside the door. “Go sit down…take a break…I’ll do the grille for a while…”
“Don’ f’get t’do somethin’witcha hair,” Tony said over his shoulder.
Joshua said hello to the night crew. About an hour later things quieted down. They all stood back and applauded. Joshua took a step back from the grille, smiled graciously, bowed once. He got a couple of buns and filled them with cheese slices and lettuce and tomato chunks…buttered the outsides… slapped ‘em down on the grille to get all toasty…
Tony didn’t look any less stressed.
“Grilled cheese sandwiches. Special order.”
“Doze ain’t on the menu…and we don’t do no special orders…”
Josh shrugged. “They’re my supper,Tony. My girlfriend’s roommate says all this other crap we make isn’t good for me. How’d we do…?”
Tony shook his head and made some Italian noises. “There’s somethin’ wrong I gotta check the tapes again.”
“How come? For what?”
“How come is because we sell hamburgers for fifteen cents, right? And the tape says the last hour we sold a hundred fifteen dollars’-worth of hamburgers…which means you cooked …what…seven hundred fifty fuckin’ hamburgers in one hour…?”
Josh flipped his sandwiches.
“That seems a little high, Tony.”
Josh grinned to himself.
“Fuckin’ right it does. I gotta check it.”
“Can I talk t’you first, please? It’s important…’
“Okay but make it quick. You gonna stay right trough t’your shift? I’d like t’get my ass outta here if I can…”
Josh nodded ambiguously, made sure his buns were toasted and the American cheese slices were just starting to melt…followed Tony into the office.
“Whattaya want, Josh?”
Josh took a bite of his grilled cheese. Chewed. Swallowed.
‘I quit, Tony. I’m sorry.”
Tony had plunked himself down behind his desk. Now he did an impersonation of …what else? Josh thought…a jack-in-the box…
“I gotta quit.”
“You can’t just quit. An’ you gotta give me two weeks at least.”
Joshua took another bite. Chewed. Swallowed.
“Okay. I quit in two weeks. But I can’t stay through tonight…”
Now Tony looked really angry so Josh tried to keep his voice very soft and peaceful.
“I can’t stay for my shift tonight, Tony. Actually I shouldn’t stay…”
“Why the fuck not…!?!?!”
Joshua finished his first grilled cheese sandwich, started on the second. Chewed. Swallowed.
“”Tony…I can’t stay tonight because in the last eighteen hours I’ve done five hits of LSD, and while it seems to me that maybe I did cook a shitload more hamburgers in one hour than anyone else in the history of Jack-in-the-Box, it’s also quite possible that I didn’t… in which case it means you also are hallucinating…and that is really not a good thing for someone like you to be doing…especially if you start hallucinating your niece in the middle of fucking your wife…”
Being unemployed didn’t feel any different from having a job. ❑
Published in the print edition of It’s Working Short Stories of the Integration Issue.
A character in the midst of a trip. Work strangeness and the hallucinatory end of a work experience. Humorous and trippy. Short Story by Michael Summerleigh.Tweet
Michael Summerleigh lives in rural Ontario, Can- ada with a cat named Mina. Years ago when he was someone else he wrote and sold “horror” stories to a number of amateur and semi-pro fanzines, as well as professional anthologies. Donald M Grant published
a short novel entitled THE BLACK WOLF in 1979. Prior to that he wrote Sunday features for the Montreal Star, as well as a Bookmans weekly article that became the introduction to the Citadel Press edition of David Lindsay’s A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS.