It had rained a lot in the night, but now the sky was a brilliant blue. Every day in the summer Martin—Marty they called him—shuffled down the hill to the boardwalk where all the tourists hung out.
As many sunny days as cloudy, that’s all he could ask for. The cool breezes off the ocean were a gift, as were the tourists, coming from who knows where.
He kept his wagon in the rented shed he’d paid an arm and leg for; he had gotten too old to pull it up the big hill every night. It was full of colourful toys—marionettes and hand puppets—and none of the “thanks for visiting wherever” souvenirs that all the kiosks sold. Marty didn’t believe in “place by name”. He believed in place by the smell of the salt in the air, place by the people you came to know, place by the memories you made.
“What is the point of buying some shirt just to prove you’re as stupid as the person who bought one before you?” he asked a family walking by. The kids didn’t like what the Bed and Breakfast had to offer that morning and were searching for a MacDonald’s restaurant.
His customer service skills were not great.
While opening up the wagon’s compartments, setting up the supports for the extensions and then carefully arranging his dolls, marionettes and hand puppets on their posts, he remembered the smell of wood chips as he carved each block to form their heads. He could remember that joyous smell way back to his days as a boy when his dad taught him to whittle. He was a lucky man in that he had had a happy childhood. “It’s been pretty much down hill since then.” he said to his puppets.
Sometimes for a laugh he fashioned one in the image of neighbor that annoyed him. The winters passed this way; making dolls and puppets. The long days of what might have been loneliness filled with the growing number of these “friends”. In his small house, they ended up sitting around the furniture like a bunch at an Irish wake, flopped over and asleep with their eyes open.
The gulls, those darn dirty birds, were usually squawking out their patch of territory like carnies by this time, but they were not around, except for “Loser”, the flightless cripple gull that was fat from chips. He was there walking in crazy circles. Loser never left the boardwalk.
Marty hated gulls for their capitalism, but he supposed the whiteness of their close-cropped feathers made a nice contrast to so much blue when they were flying.
As far as capitalism went, his grand-nephew said he should have a website and sell “online”, but Marty was distrustful of such confluxes. The news show channel that came out from the city to interview him made him sound like a joke. He sold well that summer and had to replace all of dolls over the winter, which was a good thing because he preferred to be busy.
Some customers came back year after year, locals and foreigners, with stories about the joy his work brought some relative or friend. These people were the ones that “got it”. These people were like the stepping stones you find when you’re stuck on a rock. They get you back to the shore. In Marty’s case the shore was where he could still care about something.
He put his straw hat on and opened up his lawn chair. This was a good place, enough back of the impending crowd he could breathe but close enough to be seen without having to socialize with the other hawkers. They were like sea gulls without the nice feathers. He didn’t care if they hated him. If any one of them gave him trouble, they ended up with their head on a puppet!
Howd ya like that, ya filthy carnies? he thought. His thought was directed at no one in particular. He might have said it; he spent so much time talking to himself he could not be sure.
He stretched out his legs in front of him and lowered his hat a bit over his eyes, enough that he could close them from time to time but enough that he could open them too; keeping watch over his wares.
The boardwalk seemed a bit empty, even for this early. Since the family of tourists he had not seen anyone. The sky had turned an ugly grey all of a sudden, as if the former blue was just some heavenly lure bobbing on the skin of the sky and this grey was now the truth closing in.
The wind picked up his hat and threw it, rolling it along the boardwalk.
“Oh for f**k sakes!” Marty said, wrestling his way out of his lawn chair to get up and go after it.
“It’s a mite windy!” He yelled to the only other vendor who appeared to be locking up his booth for the day no sooner than he had opened up.
Marty saw his lawn chair flying over head as he shuffled along in pursuit of his hat.
“Oh for f**k sakes!”
He had put the brakes on his wagon as always, but he let his hat and chair go and headed back towards it. His shirt and pants were glued to him by the wind and he had trouble keeping his droopy lids open to see his way. His baggy face was billowing in the wind. It was hard walking.
“It’s a mite windy!” he said again, but he could see that his neighbor was gone, headed for cover. A few puppets had gone flying off their posts, and as quick as he could, he pulled the rest down and folded up the extensions locking the whole thing down. He started pushing it towards the public washroom, thinking that with all the concrete it was his safest bet.
“Oh for f**k sakes!” the doors were all locked. The best he could do was chain it to the rod steel divider in front of the barricaded window of the chip shop. It was down wind from the washroom and easier to walk to. There was a lot of water coming with the wind now, and he had trouble getting the key in the lock for the chain but he managed.
How had this hurricane come up so fast? He forgot to listen to radio. Why was that? He wondered. Oh, now he remembered: he was going to sit with his coffee and listen to the weather report as always, but then he saw that stupid cat about to pee on his tomatoes again and he had to find the rake to chase it…
The wind was cruel. He was sure he wasn’t going to make it back up the hill to safety.
“Oh for f**k sakes!” He saw that screw ball sea gull, Loser walking in circles. He imagined, it was swearing as much as he was. Marty had gotten himself tucked behind the restaurant wall and the wall next to the dumpster somewhat out of harms way and he hoped high enough that the waves which were now lapping over the boardwalk wouldn’t reach him. There were sheets of water flying horizontally through the air. Above the incredible sound of the waves, the wind and the rain he could hear the groaning of things that were meant to stay put changing their address.
“Oh for f**k sakes!” He ran a bit and grabbed Loser by the neck. Marty figured if he killed Loser accidentally with his heroics Loser would be better off, but he seemed okay when they got tucked in. The bird turned his head and put it under its useless wing. Marty did something similar, squatting down and lowering his head. Loser was in his lap. When he noticed the warmth of piss running down his legs, he considered strangling him but he had to admit, he was so scared it might have been his own.
“ ‘To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is,’ he said, ‘you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived.’ -Jonathan Livingston Seagull”, Loser said.
“Oh for f**k sakes I thought that book was bullshit when I read it 30 years ago! Why are you quoting it to me now?” Marty was talking to Loser, the Seagull.
“Marty, this is your life. You have no friends and now you are going to die, pitifully, behind a dumpster with piss and bird shit on your pants,” Loser said, his face was gleaming with a heavenly white and his beak was the most perfect yellow. Around him, the sky was bluer than any blue Marty had ever seen.
Puppets were floating by him, saying things like, “He’s right Marty, listen to him; he’s the only real live friend you have…”
“What do I do? What do I do!!!”
“Recite after me, ‘there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…’ and after all this is over get that young nephew over with his computer and start selling online, maybe you could try some online dating too, you’ve been alone too long, oh, and KILL THAT FUCKING CAT NEXT DOOR. I hate cats!”
Marty woke up in hospital. It was a miracle he survived. His entire inventory was destroyed. He was going to have work all winter. When he got home, he did what Loser told him to do. He bought a computer and got his nephew to set up a website so he wouldn’t have to deal with the public and the weather. As for the online dating, he wouldn’t call it “dating” so much…
He has not, as of yet, killed the cat.