This is a short chapter from an unfinished novel I started about eight years ago, called The Four Seasons of July Grimm. It was a sprawly, ragged thing– a “flaneur” novel, so to speak– about a character named July Grimm, a down and out drunken poet type (with no resemblance at all to the author, of course) who wanders around the city of San Francisco, soaking up the life of the city. In the course of his travels, he has a series of bizarre encounters with a wide array of oddballs and misfits. Also, certain places he passes or visits will come to life in a chapter of its own– some event that happened in the past; or often something more surreal and imaginary. It is in some way, I guess, about all the layers that make up a city, and how they meld with the consciousness of its inhabitants. This is one of those interim chapters.
I just remembered that there are four sections of the novel, each taking place during a single day of a different season. The first one, which this chapter is from, takes place on April 19th, the day after the Centennial of the 1906 earthquake.
Which is, you know, kind of almost a neat coincidence.
Down below, Pepe makes his little “choo-choo” joke again and Diego laughs, his great head going back, his thick brown lips opening wide and showing his yellowed teeth.
“You useless tramp, Pepe. You tiny, brainless, mange-afflicted mutt,” he huffs and wipes the sweat from his brow. He pulls off his hat, and smoothes back his damp jet-black hair, and exhales deeply. Down below it is quiet, and he deduces that Pepe has gone into the other room to get something. “Come back, silly little Chihuahua!” he bellows and decides it is time to sit for a moment and have a cigarette. Usually he smokes while he works, instead of taking a break, but it is late afternoon, moving swiftly into evening, and he hasn’t had a break since breakfast. It is hot in the great room, the heat having had a chance to grow and build all day, and he has grown tired without realizing it.
He sits down on his stool and it creaks beneath his great frame, which he manages to balance somehow rather gracefully on the diminutive surface. He rests there, high on his scaffolding and smokes and looks up at the great wall above him, at the place where the paint encroaches on the charcoal outline like flames of something living–three dimensional cloud angels invading the territory of the dead. Continue reading