if I suffer at this
think how I'd feel
among the lettuce-
pickers of Salinas?
I think of the men
I've known in
with no way to
choking while living
choking while laughing
at Bob Hope or Lucille
2 or 3 children beat
tennis balls against
some suicides are never
The aroma of fresh brewed Brazilian Peaberry swirled around inside her nostrils with almost enough authority to distract her from the blatant glances of disapproval. No matter how she tugged the man-made materials they kept their pucker. A returned glare from tired eyes confirmed she was quite aware of how ridiculous she appeared. Sporting an ill fitting acetate/polyester blend leisure suit on this balmy afternoon paled in comparison to the last ardent?.. 24 hours.
Just a day before Sadie was sketching a cityscape on the light teal plaster wall in her downtown apartment. She had been anticipating this day off for weeks. That morning she rolled out of bed, grabbed a cotton tank - leaving her PJ bottoms on the floor next to the chair that had become a temporary wardrobe. Sadie wasn't as particular when it came to her bedroom as she was with the rest of her apartment. She liked the old cracked tub in her bathroom and the creaky wood floors in the living room and keeping everything tidy showed off those special amenities. The complex had been built in the forties and fit her like a glove. She spread her plans out on the carpet. Her paints and water bucket sat on a drop cloth she had spread against one wall.
Two pots of coffee and four skyscrapers later, Sadie heard a strange thud from the unit above. She was used to the familiar raps and thunks that came from Mr. Bukowski's third floor studio, but this one was different. It had purpose. The rhythmic pounding normally associated with Mr. B's one man Foxtrot, was unlike this thump that clotted her thoughts and swelled in her brain until she couldn't concentrate on brush strokes and had to check on her hermit neighbor.
Mr. Bukowski had lived in apartment 3B for 22 years. Everyone called him Mr. 3B. Sadie liked him from the beginning. But she liked most old people. They delighted her and always had wonderful stories to tell. She learned he was divorced and had two sons. One son lived in Taiwan and worked placing orphans with American families. The other son, his youngest, was adventurous. He would write every month about a cliff-hanging escapade he was on and where he was headed next. He was always travelling from one natural phenomenon to another. Mr. B was proud of his boys. He missed them but they always kept in touch. Lately though, he seemed disconnected. He still checked in on Sadie, but he kept conversation short. She knew he hadn't heard from his youngest in a couple of months.
Sadie went to the corner of the room between her only two windows and knocked on the water pipe a couple of times. Three knocks meant I'm home and safe. Five knocks meant goodnight. She had been communicating with her neighbor like this for years. Most of the tenants thought Mr. Bukowski was weird because he never left his apartment, but Sadie knew better. He was very concerned for her well-being. He insisted she let him know when she was home. Sadie didn't mind. She cherished him and always checked on him too. Although recently, grumpy and distracted more suited his demeanor. Two knocks were just a hello. And he would always knock a happy beat back, but today she got no response.
Panic gripped her and without thought to her bear legs, she bolted up the one flight of stairs and pounded on his door. "Mr. Bukowski." "Mr. B, It's Sadie." Sadie pressed her ear against the door, but heard no sound. Instead her senses broke into a memory of her college friends huddled around a campfire roasting marshmallows... "Mr. Bukowski!", Sadie yelled louder. She ran back down to her apartment and rummaged through her junk drawer for the spare key he had given her. When she returned, the memory had manifested into white smoke. She struggled with the lock but it was the door that seemed to be stuck. She yelled for help and continued to throw her body against the wooden barrier. With a bruised shoulder, a deep breath, and concentrated determination, the next jolt jarred the door open. Flames surged toward her but she could see Mr. Bukowski on the floor just a few feet away. Sadie closed her eyes tightly and ran toward his still body. She thought she heard sirens in the distance.
Bright light forced itself on Sadie's retinas. She tried to focus on the images around her. A northern accent had her shoulders pinned down and was telling her she was a brave and very lucky girl. Voices around her were barking orders and taking charge. Sadie let her eyes close again.
The unusual clothes were the first thing she noticed. She itched. All over. Immediately Sadie knew she was in a strange room. A small woman, who she identified as another neighbor, sat sleeping in a chair close by. A feeble sense of humor grasped Sadie as she noticed their suits were identical in style. Sadie got up and without the hindrance of an IV, left the room.
It was morning again and the sun was shining. She was tired, thirsty, and confused. All she could think of was Mr. Bukowski and his body on the floor. She could remember running towards him. She remembered trying to wake him and someone running in after her. She knew he was gone.
As Sadie walked back to her complex, she saw the trucks first, and then the rubble. Sadie and 14 others had lost everything. She turned around and walked to the closest coffee shop. She couldn't shake the feeling that the fire had started somewhere in Mr. Bukowski's heart, but she would never really know.