Chapter 4: Backdoor Of The Rainbow

See previous post for Chapter 3 of my first (serial) novel, "Bluer Than Blue."

Sometimes Harold viewed the traincar through a plastic flask-shaped kaleidoscope. At the moment it was Komrade, with a bold sickle on the label. It was definitely not bottled in Russia, but was a fair tribute to the malpractices of Russian communism. Komrade turned what could be a harsh worldview into soft focus. The oranges, reds, blues and beiges melted together in Harold's state of quasi-numbness. Some college girls sitting across the aisle, diagonal to him, were sure he was leering at their close to unseemly outfits. Their presence did not register to him as human. He was on a different plane, a plane of suffering that felt to him at the moment like pleasure. They blended into the color scheme like other fixtures of the moving train and passing scenery. He had just enough of a mind to get where he was going.

Harold had only known the Komrade for a couple of hours. There it had been, on the edge of the sidewalk, almost in the street, a beacon in dark gray grit. It was a beautiful day, crisp yellow leaves of city trees upturned by the breeze and the sun gentle. Hardly one drifter to be drunk all the time, since that seemed to complicate survival (and deep at his core he did want to survive; he was wired that way), Harold still could not simply pass this up. The bottle was mostly full, if not unopened. It was a rare occurrence, so he stooped over to retrieve it. He took an unabashed swig, then stowed the Komrade in the pocket of his long black trench coat.

He walked on towards the nearest train station with enough small change for the fare, collected from the sidewalks and from his earlier recorder playing. He had one of those in the trench coat's inner pocket. Not given much of a choice of instruments in grade school so many years ago, he took up the recorder and got quite good at it. Later in school, he progressed to the piccolo and the flute and even the saxophone, much to the dismay of his alcohol-soaked parents. They drank constantly when he was younger: In the morning and in the evening, at hours between shifts and sometimes during shifts, on breaks. Just a swig or two to make the day go by. They complained about Harold's music in their scraggly voices. Harold trained himself to become deaf to their drunken rants, and consequently to many of his own thoughts and feelings. Yet, the music remained. He played mindlessly, and beautifully.

As of the day Harold played the recorder for his next fare, both of his parents had long since died from their toxic lifestyles. Harold had long since been left loveless on earth to wander, and so was on the verge of insanity. Music kept him on the verge, instead of all the way there. Of course this is sad, but remember that happenstance can be brilliant. Harold stood in his preferred reverberant spot of Liberty Plaza. The plaza was mostly concrete and brick, and the sound bounced and carried as if he played in a concert hall. For Harold, it was the best thing he had going on. He lay down his hat on the ground and started in to his repertoire. People passed, their hard shoes clacking and coats flapping. It was a Saturday. A few stopped for a moment, and some for a while to listen with mild delight. What a mild unobtrusive surprise it was for each passerby to see this scruffy guy play with elegance.

And there was something definitely legitimate about playing Baroque music, whether they knew it was called that or not. Something about the counterpoint tickled their synapses into appreciation. If they had change, they gave it up gladly. Harold was glad about this also. He felt a mild sense of purpose. All is relative. It was a glad day for Harold. He didn't speak to people. The music was enough for everyone. No one hassled him. He hassled no one. He was so absorbed by his playing and the outdoors that he had little regard for the passersby, or whether they regarded him as a person or as a zoo attraction. It really didn't matter because he didn't notice.

Later, when he sat on the train, view soft around the edges and slightly blurred in the middle, he felt a measure of satisfaction. The train announcer's voice echoed in a cavern of contentment. All he had to do was listen for the sound of his stop. Unlike some down on their luck, way down on their luck and past the verge of insanity, Harold did not talk to himself unless there was no one around, unless it was nighttime and he was looking up at the mysterious moon. Most of the time, he remembered the futility of trying to start up conversations on the train. But if someone spoke to him, he would answer. He was buzzed this time and focused on his own unreality. The college girls felt relieved that he was keeping to himself, and not looking at them lasciviously, unlike a couple of other tidy and unnoticed guys and gal. In their defense, it was more of a lonely reflex.

The girls had really done their best to sexify themselves. It was mostly a friendly competition amongst their group. There was hot pink lipstick, long eyelashes, very short skirts and tightly crossed legs, and sequins and silk. If one of them carried the look, where the others were uncomfortable, it was Rachel Sharma. Rachel had her reasons. She was headed to medical school, a place for which her heart had no desire. This was her night to be a red hot vixen chameleon, like her daydreams. Her dark purple smoky eyes were painted with the expert intention of escape. She was smarter than she let on to her friends. Yes, medical school. Her older sister married royalty, and it was up to her to choose one of the no-nonsense utilitarian professions deemed acceptable by the family: Doctor, lawyer, scientist, programmer - anything readily perceived as dutiful

that would therefore amount to loads of cash. You could view it as tradition, or as a deeply worn rut.

Neither of them suspected it, that is for certain, but Rachel and Harold had something in common: They both loved music, and it kept them sane. Music, in Rachel's life, had been relegated to a hobby. She performed at special events for friends and family. She felt like a zoo attraction at times, but she loved to sing and write songs. She was still hanging on to some family programming. That is, the lurking feeling that an artistic career, even if chosen by inspiration, is decadent and lowly. This programming was destined to die out with her - that Saturday night she was ready to revel in decadence - but she wasn't quite ready yet. This was just the beginning. She and her friends chatted their way to the club, a revered palace, the escape from the escape. Rachel hoped to try a new cocktail, maybe a purple one inspired by her eyes, behind which the scene was more interesting. She caught an idea for a song inspired by their journey to the nightlife, to the planet of drinks and no expectations. The hook was: "I Wanna Be Sexy For You." Or was it “Fo’ Ya?”

For a moment the train surfaced. The warm glow of the moon filled their pupils with its glory. They blinked slowly at it as if they were clinging to tree branches in the distant past. By this point, the girls had acclimated to Harold's presence in that they ignored him. The only one who looked at him for longer than a split second was Rachel. This was the same guy she and her scientist parents had passed in Liberty Plaza. They'd paused for a moment or two, however a moment is defined. They'd offered up their small change. It wasn't that the scientists didn't appreciate music. They liked it a lot. But they were consumed with carrying on the tried and true methods of monied living. They were scientists, but experimentation didn't often leave the laboratory. They did not regard themselves as living experiments or meta-universes to be explored. In their defense, this was a relatively new-fangled idea. They did not think of their own evolution as still happening. Because of that, certain pathways of awareness just hadn't formed. Leave it to the kids. But leave what exactly, they didn't know. That's the point.

"Soouuth Siide," the train voice warbled. Both Harold and the girls braced themselves to disembark. The girls stood up, kind of teetering on sky high heels. Harold gripped the metal bar beside him and hoisted himself up.

"God, I hope he isn't going to follow us, right?" The girl with the hot pink lips said.

"No, just relax."

Harold wasn't. He had a mission: Food. He was headed to the backdoor of The Rainbow Grocery & Delicatessen. They got rid of the excess after sundown. Employees got first dibs, but there was always a ghastly amount left over. Harold found grocery stores after hours, especially The Rainbow, to be the most dependable and delectable sources of food. He usually met a human comrade or two there - yes, he had partners in destitution - and the proprietor of the joint never ran them off. So the girls scuffled on their way and he ambled on his, the Komrade's buzz wearing off. But he had been where he was going so many times, sobriety wasn't an issue. He could drag himself to the backdoor of The Rainbow half dead, sure as the salmon swims upstream.

Harold pressed his back against the metal handle of the door and rolled out of South Side station. The Komrade had been sucked dry. No question about that. Harold's addled but recovering wits found the large black metal trash bin, filled to the brim, topped with a rotten de-potted plant of all things, and he tossed the plastic flask atop the heap. It was officially night, the sky having totally darkened and the temperature dropped. Harold buttoned the buttons on his trench coat that were still there and flipped up the collar. Meanwhile the girls, a bit farther along in their agenda than he in his, secured their faux fur and puffy jackets and clip-clopped into the neon delineated South Side Diner. Harold was still adjusting himself to the night air. You'd think he was the one destined for the palace of revelry. Well, in a way he was. To him, The Rainbow was a banquet. He washed his face in the water fountain, dried his hands in his hair, pushing it back and tucking it behind his ears. He put his hat back on and set out in the direction of the Grocery. It wasn't far.

He passed under dark overhanging branches of the city park trees and between them glimpsed flickering stars. On some nights, he noticed, some stars flickered and then on other nights, they didn't. They seemed to have moods, to be talking to one another. He wished he could join their conversation or at least decipher the code. He continued to look up now and then as he made his way past shop windows lined with inaccessibles. Most of the items seemed useless to him then, but then it was easy to imagine planting a flag in a huge heap of them. There was a time, though a long while ago, when he had a lot of stuff. He eyed the perpetual shoppers in the cell phone store and thought: 'What the fuck." In his mind the phrase had the same Maxine downturn. As in "what the fuck" this is strange, or "what the fuck" how did I get here on the outside looking in. As in, why the fuck not or oh well, fuck it. There was a couple that looked like they were debating one design over another. He felt bitter and jealous for one second, and then didn't care at all the next. It was all right a few steps further. He saw the warm glow of The Rainbow sign and beheld it lovingly.

No, he didn't enter through the front door. He swung a left down the alleyway alongside the brick building. The alley always seemed damp whether it was or not. Usually some kind of creature, a cat or a rat, scampered away at his approach. That night the roaches were congregated by a tin trash can, but they held their ground. The roaches had mostly given up stealth. There was no need for it. Even the burliest human tended to recoil at the sight of them. They went on enjoying their telepathic food fest when Harold appeared. He watched them poke their antennae around for a moment, hard shells shiny in the streetlight.

"The nerve," he muttered, then shook his head and swung a right down the delivery driveway.

"Ey, eey, Harold! Pot ah gold tonight, yeah pot ah gold!"

It was Marty. And he usually said that, unless he was in a really foul mood. Marty's mind was slightly more addled from previous junkiedom. Destitution had actually caused him to come to a little. It was several months ago that Harold met him at the nearby shelter. Someone had tried to swipe Marty's dinner roll and Harold stepped in to settle the matter. Marty had henceforth regarded Harold as his guardian angel, in a literal sense, and did his best to keep up with him.

"Yep. Any moment now."

The backdoor of The Rainbow was already propped open. Marty watched with his tired eyes as the shadows of employees criss-crossed on the pavement. He was sitting on a blue overturned bucket and propped his chin up with his hand. Harold was just standing there, his coat hanging.

"Found a full bottle ah vodka today. Some Russian stuff. Gotta say - wadn't bad."

"Oh, ahh - yeah. Good for you man, good for you."

"Don't know, but it felt good."

"Gotta say, gotta say. Good to see you, guardian. It's good to see you here. We're gonna have ourselves a fiiine meal tonight."

"Sure we are. Surely. Rainbow's the best in town. Got the right notion, lettin' us be. All that food...? Just surely go to waste, we don't show up."

"Right, yes. That's right. Harold? All them other places...They ain't right, chasin' us off..."

The opposite door opened and the stream of light from inside The Rainbow widened. It was time for the benevolent mothership to share its bounty.

"Got some good eats for you gents tonight."

If only the workers knew the perspective of the drifters. They offered more than good eats; they offered the cornucopia of life. On the landing they laid out bags and crates teeming with produce and meats.

"Pot ah gold, eh Harold? Pot ah gold!"

The workers laughed. They, in their dirtied smocks, laughed with a tinge of superiority, yet also it was laughter of mirth.