BULL SWAN

cigar man 1

BULL SWAN

        William “Bull” Swan was awakened in his bed by his pit bull Shiva who lapped his face with her big flat tongue.  It was Friday 5:30 AM and Shiva, who had been cuddled in the crook of Bull’s arm, knew it was time for her bed-mate to arise.

        Bull groaned, “OK, OK,” and he threw back the thin comforter and it enveloped Shiva’s head.  Bull sat up on the edge of the bed.  He felt his jaw.  He had shaved yesterday morning.  He pinched the collar of his V-shirt and stretched it up to his nose and sniffed.  He had only worn the V-shirt one day.

        He felt there was no need to shave and shower this morning.  Even if it was a kind of a special day.

        Shiva pushed her head between Bull’s arm and chest.  Bull put Shiva’s big head in a head-lock and nuzzled her big fuzzy forehead.  Shiva trembled with happiness and desperately tried to reach Bull’s face with her tongue.

        Bull stood up in his V-shirt and boxer shorts and black socks.  Shiva jumped off of the bed and charged to the bedroom door and then spun around and began an army-crawl on her belly back to Bull, all so he would have to rub her head again and Bull laughed.

        Shiva led the way trotting into the hallway and down to the kitchen.  Bull could hear that his friend Travis was already up in the living room and watching the big flat-screen TV.  Travis was a Ranger in the 75th Regiment, on leave back here in his home town.  He had slept on Bull’s couch last night.

        Bull, in the kitchen, called to Travis, “Hey.”

        Travis called back, “Hey, dude.  Big day, right?”

        Bull mumbled, “Yeah.”

        Travis called, “What’s wrong?”

        Bull was studying the big tall pot bubbling upon the stove.  Jostling together in that big tall pot were hominy, pork, chili peppers, avocado slices, and other seasonings and garnish.

        Bull called to Travis, “What the fuck is this?”

        Travis called back, “Pozolé.”

        Bull asked, “Where did this come from?”

        Travis replied, “That little Mexican girl next-door,” then he laughed, “If it wasn’t for me being here you wouldn’t have a pot to pozolé in!”

        Bull asked, “Because you fixed her flat tire last night?”

        Travis said, “Hey, dude, she invited me to dinner Saturday.”

        Bull said, “Be careful, man, she is really straight and her family is really traditional.  You might be proposing.”

        Travis gave out a fake scream.

        Shiva sat down on her haunches at Bull’s feet, looking up.  Bull picked-up the big plastic ladle and scooped a bowl of pozolé and placed it in front of Shiva who immediately began to lap it up noisily.  Bull then scooped a bowl for himself and stuck a clear plastic spoon into it.  Bull grabbed the pot of coffee and poured into a big mug (that was actually a soufflé cup with a handle).

        Bull called to Travis, “Thanks for making coffee, man.”

        Travis warned him, “It’s ‘kick-ass’ coffee, dude.”

        Bull said, “If I can’t chew my coffee it isn’t strong enough.”

        Bull picked up his bowl of pozolé and his mug of coffee and shuffled into the living room.  There was Travis slouched back on the big couch flipping channels with the remote control as if he was firing a pistol at an arcade.  He still wore his fatigues.  He had his feet on the big coffee table that was made from a cross-section of a redwood tree and was stained high-gloss.  On the table was a centerpiece that was a cherry tree branch covered in pink blossoms.

        Bull pointed at that anomalous token of femininity on the middle of his table and he asked, “The little Mexican girl?”

        Travis grinned and said with a comical Latin-lover breathiness, “Oh, yes, my Serena.”

        Bull set his mug of coffee down on the coffee table and sat down with his bowl of pozolé and began to spoon the rich savory stew into his mouth, slurping, “Mmmm, gawd, mmm.  Careful, man, or you will propose to that little señorita.”

        Travis said, “No savvy, señor,” and then he asked, “So where are we meeting Phillip?”

        Bull smacked and said, “Fleep?  At his store.”

        Travis was thoughtful and then he asked, “Do you think ‘Fleep’ will want to see me?”

        Bull said, “Tough shit.  For this day he will have to forget everything after high school.  He can hate your guts tomorrow.”

        Travis said, “Great,” and then softly, as he had said so many times, “I did yell ‘flare!’ but Fleep always claims he didn’t hear me.”

        Bull said into his bowl of pozolé, “That’s what he gets for jumping out of a plane with you strapped to his ass.”

        Travis winced, “I plowed the dirt with his face.”

        Bull said, “You two were coming in ‘way too fast.”

        Travis lamented, “But I thought he heard me.  Fleep was supposed to lift his knees and pull the loop to slow us down.  I was too late realizing.”

        That conversation had become almost a script with them ever since the tandem skydiving accident.

        Travis asked, “How is Fleep doing, anyway?”

        Bull recited, “His herniated disc is completely blown out now and its bone against bone.  So he has terrible sciatica on the right side and can barely walk.”

        Travis grimaced, “Thanks a lot.”

        Bull added without mercy, “He uses a cane now.”

        Travis said, “And thanks a lot, again.”

        Bull finished his pozolé and sat back on the couch to drink his mug of black coffee and watched the TV channels fall and rise as Travis fired the remote at them.  Shiva clambered up on the couch and curled up next to Bull.

        Finally Bull arose and stated, “I’m getting dressed.  Time to go,” and Shiva followed him down the hallway back to his bedroom.  Bull pulled on his trousers and put on a Hawaiian shirt and then he laced up his black work boots.

        Outside in the driveway Travis was climbing into the passenger side of Bull’s extended cab 2014 Chevy Silverado truck that bore the logo “Bull Demolition Contracting” on the sides, back, and hood.  Bull had gotten a demolition contractor’s license after he had finished his four years of active duty in the Rangers.  He was still in the Reserves for another year.  Travis had stayed on active duty and had another year.

        Bull held the passenger side extended-cab door open and grunted to lift a stilled Shiva into the back seat, saying, “Wuff!  You are lead, Shiva.”

        Shiva immediately bounced to the far side and wedged her face into the open swing-out quarter window.

        Travis asked, “Why are you bringing your girlfriend?”

        Bull said, “She’s the one who truly loves me.”

        They drove off to Phillip’s store, The Smoke ‘n Guns Clubhouse.

        Shiva then stayed in the truck while Travis and Bull got out and went into the store.  Phillip was waiting for them behind the counter with his wife Charlotte.  Phillip was wearing a dark sports jacket with a pale yellow satin shirt underneath and a pale yellow satin tie.  His right hand was placed upon the glass countertop, with bold simple gold rings on his thumb and on his pinky finger.

        Bull guffawed, “You look like a fucking Mafioso.”

        Phillip replied unfazed, “My mother’s family was in the Jewish Mafia.”

        Phillip had laid out three cigars upon the glass: a Kristoff Ligero Maduro, an AVO Maduro, and an Esteban Carreras Habano, three cigars from recent reviews on his website.

        Travis said, “Hey, Charlotte.  Hey, Phillip.”

        Charlotte smiled, “Hey, Travis.  Hi, Bull.”

        Phillip nodded.

        Phillip handed a select cigar to Bull and then to Travis and then the three of them lit up, smacking and puffing.  Charlotte went to the register.

        Bull and Travis studied the big glass humidors full of cigars.  They ran their eyes over the pistols and rifles and knives on the nearby wall racks.  The three of them would use the shooting range in the big basement of the store whenever Phillip acquired a new weapon.  And Phillip had several “special customers” to whom he made “special sales”, yet he trusted Phillip and Travis to be silent when he would let them try “special” sniper scopes and “special” elite weapons in that shooting range.

        Travis glanced at Phillip’s cane hung on the counter edge and said, “I am so sorry, I am so sorry.”

        Phillip nodded.

After an awkward minute Phillip let Travis off of the hook and asked, “How was Kazakhstan?”

        Travis said, “I was in the Almaty region.  Almaty means ‘rich with apple’.  It’s supposedly the place where apples originated.”

        Phillip nodded and gave an ‘is that so?’ grunt.

        Phillip turned to Bull and asked, “Are you ready for this?”

        Bull shrugged and blew a billow of smoke above his head.

        When Bull, Phillip, and Travis were in high school together, the center of their universe was a dance nightclub called The Emerald Ember.  It was the center of the universe for most of the people they knew in high school.  As their era ended in the harvest of adulthood, The Emerald Ember slowly lost its hue in the eyes of the subsequent crops of young people.  The Emerald Ember recently had been purchased by redevelopers and they put out to bid for its demolition.  Bull found out about the job and he bid low, with his heart, instead of bidding sensibly, with his hard head.

        He had a mission.

        Bull had scheduled to start demolition on Monday but he was taking Friday off to gather one last time with his two friends at The Emerald Ember and drink memories and say a final farewell to those hallowed grounds.

        Bull motioned to go.  Bull, Travis, Phillip, and Charlotte went outside the shop.  Phillip put up a sign in the door of The Smoke ‘n Guns Clubhouse that said “Gun Away, Back Tomorrow” and then he limped out to Bull’s truck.  Travis got into the backseat of Bull’s extended cab truck with Shiva and Phillip sat shot-gun with Charlotte between him and Bull.

        Bull turned up the radio.  The engine roared throatily.

        Phillip smiled wryly at Bull and said, “Still haven’t replaced that Cherry Bomb muffler, eh?”

        The three guys smoked their cigars and Charlotte lit up a cigarette.

        Bull said to Charlotte, “I thought you quit.”

        Charlotte said, “Special occasion.”

        Then they all started to quietly think about how their town had changed since they all had cruised those streets as teenagers.

        Travis asked, “What are they going to build in place of The Emerald Ember?”

        Bull answered, “The City of Knowledge Islamic School, pre-school through Grade 12.”

        Travis snorted and muttered, “Fuck me.”

        Charlotte said, “I think it’s a good sign.”

        Travis asked, “How can that be?” as Phillip shook his head to stop Travis from asking the question and Travis said, “America is about the excellence of the American way.”

        Charlotte preached, “I feel your pain, Travis, but America is about inclusion and diversity, not about excellence.”

        Travis said, “God help us.”

        Phillip said to Travis with a laugh, “I tried to stop you.”

        As they drove onto the traffic circle, in the middle of which was The Emerald Ember, Travis pointed and said, “Fuck me.”

        There was a crowd in the parking lot of the boarded-up dance nightclub.

        Phillip asked, “Protestors?”

        Bull drove his truck into the parking lot and halted in wonder.  He asked, “Isn’t that Steve and Teri?  Mark and Brenda?  Jesus.”

        Travis said, “Well I don’t see Jesus but I see Skip and Diane.  And there’s Ricky and Mike!”

        Ricky and Mike had been founding members of The Delusions, the house-band for The Emerald Ember back in the day.

        Charlotte continued, “And Loora and Gabby and John and Dennis and Lois…”

        Bull said, “What the fuck is this?”

        The crowd surrounded the truck.  Bull, Phillip, Charlotte, and Travis got out.

        Travis, next to Bull, said, “Uh oh, Bull.”

        It was Perri.  With two young girls, apparently her daughters.

        Perri said, “Hey, Bull.  Hi, guys.”

        Bull stiffened and asked Perri, “So what is this?”

        Perri said, “I read about the closure of The Emerald Ember and I saw that you had the demolition contract.”

        Bull looked at the two young girls beside Perri and he asked, “Your body guards?”

        The two girls giggled and moved closer to their mother.

        Perri said, “My daughters, Rachel and Sarah.”

        Bull looked back at Perri and asked, “So where is Dr. Li?”

        Perri said, “My husband is in Kazakhstan with a medical team doing charity work.”

        Travis could be heard saying, “Fuck me.”

        Bull asked Perri, “So what the f-,” and he looked at Perri’s daughters as Perri scowled and then he finished, “What is going on?”

        Perri said, “I explained to my daughters what this place had meant to all of us and they got on social media and put out the word to everybody.  We were going to be here Monday but then Charlotte told me how you were going to be here today to say good-bye to the place.  We want to say good-bye too.”

        Bull looked at Charlotte who shrugged and said, “A lot of people wanted to be here.”

        Bull looked with narrowed eyes at Phillip.

        Phillip said, “You think I could stop this?”

        Bull sighed and marched through the crowd toward the chain-link construction fence surrounding The Emerald Ember and he unlocked his gate.  He muttered, “I need to call my insurance and make sure I’m covered for this.”

        The crowd filed past Bull, many of them carrying picnic coolers.

        Bull muttered, “No alcohol,” and each bearer reaffirmed, “The Emerald Ember didn’t serve alcohol.”

        Several ‘mourners’ brought boxes from Hillary’s Everest Burgers, another old hang-out, that still survived by serving fast-food breakfast and offering burritos.

        Many of the crowd had brought their children.  All stood at the doors of The Emerald Ember waiting for Bull to unlock the door.

        Phillip grinned, “Should I be the bouncer and check for proper attire?”

        Many in the crowd had dressed in an approximation of the old fashionable gear.

        Inside, Bull turned on the bright lights.  The crowd ‘booed’ and Bull said, “Just a fucking minute,” as he adjusted the ambience to the nightclub atmosphere.  People dragged the clustered tables and chairs out to the old positions.  Charlotte led the formation of a buffet table with all the picnic coolers set underneath and the food and drinks arranged.

        Mike and Ricky, former members of the house-band The Delusions, set up a DJ booth for music.  Mike now sold nutraceuticals online and Ricky still performed as a solo artist for Christian fellowship events.  Mike and Ricky had bought the DJ booth together.

        Bull and Travis sat at a table together watching the moment unfold.

        Travis said, “Pretty nice, Bull.”

        Bull said, “Well, this isn’t exactly what I planned.”

        Phillip said behind them, “Yeah.  Most everybody’s here.  Now who do we talk about?”

        Travis looked around and then leaned toward Bull to whisper, “I don’t see your ex.”

        Bull said, “Lucky her.”

        Bull suddenly stiffened.  Perri and her two daughters were approaching.  Phillip said to Travis, “Hey, Travis.  Come help me and Charlotte.”

        Travis grabbed the excuse and stood up and departed with Phillip.

        Perri stood before Bull with her two daughters and watched Travis and Phillip departing and she then she turned to Bull and asked, “How have you been?”

        Bull grinned and said wryly, “Good, if I don’t think about it.”

        Perri said to her two daughters, “Go get some goodies.

        Perri watched them hop and skip away and then she turned to Bull and asked formally, “May I sit here?”

        Bull said, “Sure, I guess.  That’s what this is all for, right?”

        Bull was still drawn stiffly into his defenses.

        Perri said, “You look good, Bull.”

        Bull muttered, “Not good enough, right?”

        Perri’s face contracted and she said softly, “Oh, Bull.”

        Bull said, “Sorry, just a joke at your expense.  I didn’t mean it.”

        Perri and Bull studied each other’s eyes.  Perri finally said, “Life has given me so much.  Bull, I’m glad you married and had the wondrous experience of parenthood.  I truly hope you too feel life has been generous.”

        Bull said dryly, “I never had kids.”

        Perri was embarrassed, “Oh.  Oh.  Oh, I’m sorry.  Didn’t you want kids?”

        Bull looked into her eyes intently and said, “Hello, Perri…”

        Perri looked away and said, “Where is your wife, Bull?”

        Bull said, “We split.”

        Perri said, “Oh, Bull.  Jesus, I’m saying all the wrong things.  I’m sorry.”

        Mike announced into the DJ microphone, “All right, all you geezers throw down your canes and let’s dance,” and then the music from their day began to blare and everybody hooted and cheered.

        Perri said to Bull, “Let’s dance.”

        Bull was taken aback, “What?”

        Perri repeated, “Let’s dance.  You were the best back then.  Can you still dance?”

        Bull said, “Fuck.  I haven’t danced since we outgrew this place.”

        Perri said, “Well, now you’ve grown back,” and Perri stood up and held out her hand.

        Bull took her hand and suddenly he was back at The Emerald Ember, Friday night, gonna’ show ‘em how it’s done.

        There was already a crowd on the old dance floor, shaking away the years.

        Perri still had the moves.  Bull watched her and slowly he warmed his joints and let go.  He closed his eyes.  It was then as if all the old memories had been hiding in his joints and now they were free in a rush of euphoria.

        People were cheering.  Bull opened his eyes and saw that Perri was smiling at him.  In fact, many were looking at him.  He had been the best dancer back then and now he was back.

        The mood on the dance floor turned into fever.  The Emerald Ember became a throbbing time machine.  The children were astonished at these people who had been their parents a few minutes ago.

        Suddenly Shiva was hopping gracefully up and down around Bull.  Everyone laughed.

        Bull shouted to Perri, “She must have climbed out the window!”

        Bull grabbed Shiva’s forepaws and began a hopping variation of his trademark moves.  The crowd squealed with laughter and became wilder.

        Finally the series of songs ended so that the sweaty, laughing crowd could get a drink of soda and share the kindled memories.

        Perri said, “Thanks, Bull.  I’d better find my daughters,” and she started to turn away.

        Bull said, “You haven’t changed, Perri.”

        Perri turned back and smiled and they looked into each other’s eyes, standing on the pivot of time.

        Bull, hot and loose, just blurted out, “Perri, you still prevail in my mind and my feelings.”

        Perri started to speak, “Bull…”

        Bull interrupted, “I tried to forget you, to bury my feelings, but it was poison.  It cost me my marriage.  No, no, no, it’s not your fault.  I’m just saying I don’t want to be like this.  But at the same time I wouldn’t trade these feelings if I could.  How fucked up is that?” and Bull snorted, then he continued, “I just have to live with it and deal with it,” then a realization struck him, and he laughed, “So I smash things, I shoot things,” and then Bull sobered and said quietly, “And I hurt my wife.”

        Perri leaned and kissed Bull on the cheek.

        Bull said, “Just think of me once and awhile, Perri.”

        Perri looked down and said, “I do.”

        Sarah and Rachel skipped up to their mother and began a silly dance mocking her and Bull, and Shiva joined them.  Perri and Bull laughed hard together.

        Perri wiped her laughing eyes and said to Bull, “I’m going to mingle,” and she started away.

        Bull said, “Sure.  I’m going to mangle,” and they laughed again.

        Shiva followed Rachel and Sarah, all three of them hopping behind Perri.

        Bull joined Travis and Phillip shooting pool at a pool table which miraculously had been left behind intact.

        Bull asked Phillip, “How can you shoot pool with your back fucked up?”

        Phillip said, “Drugs.”

        Travis said eagerly, “You’re bringing this pool table back to your house right?”

        Bull said, “Why not?  You can sleep on it.”

        Phillip was holding back but then he asked Bull, “Seen your ex?”

        Bull quickly asked, “Is Deborah here?”

        Travis said, “She’s talking to Mike and Ricky.”

        Bull looked over and saw her.  He was relieved that she looked good and that she was laughing.  Bull slowly approached.

        Mike and Ricky looked past Deborah and Deborah turned to see Bull.

        Bull grinned sheepishly and said, “Hello, Deborah.  You look good.”

        Deborah said, “Thanks.  I wanted to be here too.”

        Bull said, “I’m glad, really.  This has been quite a day after all.”

        Deborah said, “I saw you dancing with your true love.”

        Bull asked, disingenuously, “Shiva?  She’s good, isn’t she?”

        Deborah said, “You know who I mean.  Perri.”

        Bull sighed, “It was good to see her again, yes.”

        Deborah asked, “Is that all?”

        Bull said to her, “Yes.  That’s all.  Come over here a minute,” and Bull walked Deborah to where no one else was nearby.

        Bull said, “I want to say something that I couldn’t have said if it weren’t for today.  Deborah, I’m a moron and a complete jerk.”

        Deborah grinned, “I know.”

        Bull said, “And I’m so sorry I put you through all that.”

        Deborah said, “Poor Bull.”

        Bull looked down and shook his head, “I know I’m an asshole and a rotten husband.  I should never have married anyone.”

        Deborah said, “Jesus, Bull are you going to cry?”

        Bull took a deep breath and looked up and said, “Been there, done that.  Wanna dance?”

        Deborah said, “We’ve danced enough, Bull.”

        Bull felt a knot in his stomach and he looked away.

        Deborah surprised him with a kiss on the cheek and she said, “I don’t hate you, Bull.  I just wish we hadn’t wasted all that time.”

        Deborah walked away into the crowd to mingle.

        Shiva emerged where Deborah had vanished, trotting between all the legs of the crowd and she came up to Bull and then she jumped up on her hind legs and embraced his waist and she barked one time.

        Bull laughed and bent over to hug Shiva and he let her lick his face.

        Travis and Phillip came over.  Phillip asked, “How are you doing?”

        Bull looked up at Phillip and then to Travis and then at the happy crowd and he said, “I can’t wait to tear this place down.”

 

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