Crayon Barn Chris


By Dylan Smith

When I woke again my left eye wouldn’t open and through the one that would I saw the spire of a cathedral through the sunroof of my car. It hung over me at an arced angle curving wobbly in the glass, its pitch a wave of vertigo and the whirling made me sick. The Arch. The Tarot Guy. The Square. My left knee ached badly and my face ached all around my left eye where something new and terrible had happened. A moon-colored cloud up high on the wind and water, I needed water. I tried to open both eyes again slowly this time and with intent but the left eye stayed caked shut and I winced because my busted rib. That piece of shit Chris. The spire was a towering swirl of sandstone and lime and it reeled, it lurched. I tried to stare it still by studying its stained glass dormers and the dark spaces between its salt-streaked shutters stained green from bird shit and rain—but on it spun, and I felt sick. Sunday bells soon to toll through the morning. I brought my hand up to my left eye and felt the swelling there and a cut and the dried blood below my brow from I still didn’t know what yet. Bereft. Barefoot. Bewildered. A train screeched somewhere down far below and tore along like underground thunder and a toy-sized plane full of real-sized people inched through the far away blue high above. I’d left the key to my Volvo in the ignition overnight and when I went to turn it, nothing. Dead. The Sunday bells started. A whirlpool of wounded pigeons. I opened the car door and vomited onto the street. 

I wondered whether Chris would come looking for me before work and figured he probably would. His security shift started at nine. A stack of orange parking ticket paper fluttered beyond the bird shit covered glass and I cursed Chris and the spire bells tolled eight times after a long ominous song. I found an old water bottle on the floor and drank from it like something dead come alive again. My head ached. I needed to hurry. My duffle bag lay upturned on the passenger seat beside me and I dumped it out, emptied my pockets, took an inventory of what remained. I found eighty five dollars and my credit card and the bottle of Chris’s pills and one pair of socks. No driver’s license. Half of a red crayon. Art’s flask was missing. I found the telescope Chris gave me and the red unopened card and Sarah’s address scrawled on a scrap piece of napkin in red pen. I’d hidden my cell phone in the duffle bag but the screen had cracked bad and it was dead, and I found my passport in the glove box along with a pair of dark sunglasses and a toothbrush and a packet of blue gum. Thank God. I brushed my teeth while chewing on the gum and I put on the socks. I poured a little water on my head and pulled down the rear view mirror to take a first look at my eye—but that’s when I noticed the CitiBike behind me. The back seats had been pushed down and the bike lay back there like the body of a broken dead blue horse. Vaguely the features of the film guy’s face formed in a violent blurry fluorescent vision. I opened the car door again to spit out the whiskey colored red, and I had Calder’s wizard hat in my lap. His ring of mysterious keys. I had no time for wonder. I poured the last bit of water onto my dirty work shirt and brought it up to the dried blood below my eye. Objects in the mirror may appear closer than they appear. What? I hid Calder’s hat underneath my seat. I felt very paranoid. 

With my duffle bag packed I limped barefoot and carefully toward the deli on the corner. I needed to quiet the hammering in my head. My left leg felt like a peg below my knee and now I’d probably need an eye patch. Shipwrecked. Seasick. Stuck. Sarah’s street crossed an avenue which had been torn up to be repaved and the glass doors to the deli were covered in a haze of construction dust. You could barely see inside. Across the street was a playground wherein children screamed constant bloody murder and parents stood around staring into cell phones and ignoring their leashed barking captive dogs—but inside the deli things were dirty and silent and perfect. An old woman behind the register gestured toward laminated pictures of Mexican breakfast specials and then down the long narrow linoleum tile toward the newspaper stands and the beer. I could have kissed her. A blue countertop with barstools against the window where another customer looked out drinking coffee. Curled on a stack of dusty boxes slept a deeply purring cat. I brought a tall cold yellow can of beer to the counter along with a coconut water and The Sunday Times to hide behind. The old deli owner smiled at me and blinked. She had understanding eyes. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten. I pointed at the picture of Mexican eggs and coffee. The shop owner wrote down the price and put my beer in a paper bag and I took a stool hidden from the unpaved avenue by a pillar. I opened the beer and took a long important drink. The world arranged itself accordingly. Edges softened. The hammering stopped. Through the window dust I could see the cathedral and my car and according to Chris’s note, Sarah’s apartment was in the building right above me. The best place to hide is beneath your enemy’s bed. Or better yet—a church. I took another drink. The customer next to me stirred his coffee and looked me over. I watched him pull down on his mustache and notice my shoeless feet. He looked back out at my Volvo and nodded. I could have reached out and taken his hand. He smelled like old broken cowboy leather. 

“Pay mind to your vehicle out there, son.”

I didn’t think I could talk correctly yet so I didn’t. 

“They’ll tow ‘er today if you don’t wake up and move it.” 

“Tow,” I said. My tongue felt strange against my teeth. “Tow.”

“That’s right. See you’re the only one out on the street? Think they won’t fuck you on a Sunday boy, but they will. Warning signs nailed up to all the trees. Like wanted posters in some old western.”

The shop owner rang a little bell to announce my eggs and the cat woke up and did a fluorescent downward dog. I came back to the window with a tray of steaming eggs and green peppers and then I limped to the fridge for another beer to go with my coffee. 

When I sat down again the old man had risen to leave. 

“What year is she?”

“What year is who?”

“The station wagon, son.”

“Oh, man—I mean. Shit.”

The guy pulled on his mustache again and looked out. A starry eyed look. He seemed from another time. 

“I could really use a jump,” I told him. 

“Can’t help you there, son. Been out here visiting my daughter. My grandson. Newborn just yesterday.”

“Right,” I said. 

“You know, son. I recognize something in you.”

“In me?”

“You ever heard it said: from Danger grows what Saves?”

I thought about that for a while. 

“I’ve got some friends in that church there. Good ones. Passengers of the same wrecked vessel as you. Why not make your way over with me after breakfast. Get you cleaned up. Find you that jump.”

Trees alive with birds and leaves waved like painted hands in the window. 

Under the deli door, a low wind hissing Chrisssss.  

Eventually I just didn’t respond. 

“Well. Easy does it, son. You know where to find me. I’ll pray you get the help you need.”

The man put his hand on my shoulder and left. I watched him cross the street and walk into the basement of the cathedral. I took a couple bites of the eggs, covered my head with the front page of the paper, and when I woke again the cathedral bells clanged out their thunderous song. Somebody had drawn a little heart deep in the dust on the window by my beer and my eye bled brand new blood. The vision in it looked all fucked up and cloudy. Smeared. I counted ten tolls of the bell and the eggs and coffee were cold. I wolfed down the eggs and drank up the coffee and I stuffed the beer into my bag with the Times. People poured out of the cathedral and I felt alright knowing Chris was at work. I stood outside the Volvo holding jumper cables. Like the soft roar of some far off surf, those kids on the corner howled from within the wind and my puke stunk. Nobody stopped. I needed to get cleaned up. The bathroom was in the basement of the cathedral. I checked under the stall for cowboy boots and locked the door. My eye looked bad. Black hole in my visions. Like I’d stared too deep into the sun. The lid flapped like the belly of a gutted fish and I marveled at the miracle of running water. Gently I cleaned the cut and ran wet fingers through my hair and then I snuck back up through the barn-like dark to a space in the back where I wouldn’t be spotted without shoes. I admired the cathedral’s hammer beam roof and the pillars of the nave were ancient hand carved wood. People were still leaving. I needed a shower and some shoes and I needed to get back on the road before Chris got off of work. The panes of a rose shaped window sparkled like a kaleidoscope of crayon-colored pixels and others showed scenes from the Bible. Like giant stained glass figures from the Tarot, I thought—and then I remembered the door in the west side of the Arch. Calder sitting there crosslegged and shirtless, showing me his keys. Oh God. I remembered entering the Arch through that little door and a staircase spiraled up into the dark brick dirt-floored room where Calder kept his things and slept. Squatted. A long wooden table full of broken cups and dried flowers, candelabras, skulls and swords and mirrors. In the corner a loud cage of doves and a cot and a bottle of whiskey shining red. I must’ve eaten mushrooms or something. Leaky skylights. A snake. I remembered the way Calder fanned his cards before he tabled them. It felt like a bad dark dream. The Devil. Lovers. The Tower. Strength. The sun blasted through the stained glass walls of the cathedral and I felt alive again. I opened a Bible. Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. What a word, I thought. Firmament. I read a page or two from Judges. Delilah and the lion. Soon the bells tolled once for ten thirty and Chris had my poems, my secrets, that snake, but so what. I’d rewrite them. Rewrite them better than ever, I thought, for I knew them all by heart—and I knew that somewhere deep down within my life’s unholy mountain of fears and wounds and lies I’d kept alive a little cave of light, a little candle on an altar luminous and alive with my heartbeat and breath still burning fire for Alma, Alma, Alma. I closed the Book. Put it back in the pew. The cathedral was empty now. Silently I opened my beer, took a drink, and I wondered what it would take for me to change.

For money Dylan Smith plants flowers on rooftops in New York and has a website with links to other stories online. Oh and check out The Other Almanac. A piece of Dylan’s will be published in print with them this fall.