|Stop, Look, and Listen. Death owns this right of way. Photo by [Maris].|
Tennessee Ernie Dietz sat by his small campfire, scraping the dregs of his hobo lasagna from the bottom of his favorite bean can/sauce pan/sauté pan/storage tin/urinal. He stared at the flames as they danced and hissed. An exceptionally disheveled hobo emerged from the woods, shuffled up to the fireside, and grinned madly at Ernie.
"Jeepers, mister - you scared me half to death! Say... David? David No-Ears? Is that you?"
"Well, sure it's me, pal." The man's face was encrusted in dirt so thick and chunky, it might as well have been a western omelet. He doffed his raggedy, poorly-knitted lint cap, revealing his bald head and noticeable lack of ears. The open holes looked rather like scars, and as such were best hidden away under a hat. To be fair, he had ears. He could hear as well as anybody; he simply didn't have the external cartilage that makes up what most people envision when they think of ears. But "David No-External-Cartilage-Only-Ear-Canal-Holes" was way too long for a hobo moniker.
"I'll be damned - it is you! What you been up to, David?"
"No good. I can promise you that. Just got back from pickin' cranberries, up north. Been hoofin' and ridin' southbound for weeks, chasin' what's left of the sun. And get this - I'm in love!"
"No foolin'? In love? You?" Tennessee Ernie had a reputation on the rails as being gullible, and he was making a concerted effort to be more skeptical. "I don't believe it," he added.
"Hand to God," David No-Ears affirmed. "Mind if I share your fire?"
"Have a seat, friend. My fire is your fire. Got a few beans here, somewhere..." Hoboes never asked, "are you hungry?" Hunger was always assumed. They just offered.
"I'm much obliged, Ernie. No beans for me, thanks. Just want to warm up for a bit and get back on the road. Got to get to Little Rock to see my girl."
"What girl? Who? And no offense, but... how?"
"I'm tellin' you, Ernie. It's the genuine article. I love this woman, and I'm gonna marry her. I met her in New England, a month ago. I hopped a New Haven freight outside of Providence, and there she was, curled up sound-asleep in an empty cattle car."
Tennessee Ernie wrinkled his nose and chortled. "Cattle car, huh? Romantic. Must have been love at first sight."
"Laugh all you want, bub. You know me. I barely believed in love, let alone love at first sight - until I saw this gal. I dropped everything I was carrying, and of course the clatter woke her right up. She jumped up and hissed at me and waved a stick and gave me a profound death stare, but I just stood there smiling at her. She had skin that looked like it might never have seen the sun, or a hard day, or a speck of grime. Her eyes were like a child's - twinkling like diamonds in the snow - yet it seemed she might have been looking right through me." No-Ears sighed happily and rubbed his hands in the warmth of the fire.
"Yeah, yeah. Get to the good part, you old tramp. I'm tired."
"If you mean for me to talk about her figure, I won't. She may be a hobo, but she's a lady, and I ain't here to talk about her poetic caboose, or her pinup-girl legs, or her perfect bosom, which might have been sculpted out of marshmallow by Alexandros of Antioch himself. I could tell you that she sings like an angel, kisses like the devil's daughter, and seems to scarcely touch the ground as she glides from place to place. She emits her own light. She's cool to the touch, and no one gives her any guff. She's gonna be my wife, I'm tellin' you. Since I met her, the sun rises and sets on her. I can't think of beans or cops or dogs or lint or anything - only her. She is the reason for every beat of my heart, these days. I get younger, just thinking about her. I have to meet her old man and all that, and then she'll be mine."
"Gee, David," Ernie said, "that's swell. I'm happy for you. Congratulations."
"Thank you very much. And thanks for the fire. You're a good man." David No-Ears rose to his feet and extended a grateful hand. "I should be on my way."
"Not at all. Help each other - whenever and wherever - right? Say, if you don't mind my asking, what's your dream girl's name?"
"It's Jane. Itinerant Jane."
Tennessee Ernie Dietz swallowed hard, and what little color his face had possessed to this point utterly vanished. "Itinerant Jane?"
"Blonde? Western Pennsylvania accent? Loves pierogi, and sandals?"
"And you met her when?"
"About four weeks ago, in Rhode Island," David said. "Why?"
Ernie put his hand on David's shoulder - a rare gesture, for a hobo. "I don't know how to say this, brother, so I'll just say it. Itinerant Jane died over a year ago. She got shot by a hunter, walking the tracks between Syracuse and Buffalo. It was an accident."
"What the hell are you talkin' about? You bent or something? I spent a week with her, before she went on home - ahead of me - to break the news to her folks. I'm on my way there, now. You must be thinkin' of someone else."
Ernie shook his head sadly. "Maybe you're thinkin' of someone else, friend, but I was there, not thirty minutes after the accident. I watched Itinerant Jane die. I don't know what to tell you. I'm sorry. Your fiance is a . . ."
David No-Ears waved a dismissive hand at his hobo friend, and laughed as nonchalantly as he could, but as his time with Jane replayed quickly in his mind, a sickening, sinking feeling took hold of his stomach, and refused to relinquish its warm black grip.
"Super," he said eventually. He left the campsite, not spooked, not haunted, but utterly and completely defeated.
Okay, here we go. Instead of the insanity of this year's National Novel Writing Month, I'm going to attempt to complete National Blog Post Month, cranking out a little bit of drivel every day for all of November. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. Anyway, the little bit of drivel through which you have just finished slogging was inspired by the STUDIO 30-PLUS prompts "best hidden away" and "scar," from NOT JUST ANOTHER MOTHER BLOGGER, whose material lives up to her blog's title. 29 more posts to go. Come with me, won't you?