A Valley Of Ashes
an excerpt from a recent novel by Lynn Rogers
Copyright © 2008 by Lynn Rogers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher, except for the inclusion of quotations in a review. For further information, you may write to the publisher.
Published by: Inkling Press, P.O. Box 2598, Menlo Park , CA 94026 ISBN 978-0-9711039-4-8
Friday, September 26, afternoon
In the diner outside Stockton, Darla Leaven played with the catsup and the crackers. Long ago her MaRose said “If you ever get hungry and don’t have nothin’ to eat, go and pour catsup into the water at a diner. Eat the crackers there and you won’t starve.” Darla sipped the chlorinated water, run with catsup streaks like blood.
Darla pulled her vinyl coat about her close. She wasn’t any too thin; except her high top jeans were not pinching her any more; they were loose, even when she sat now. She had sat here for about an hour, sat at a corner table near the back door. Her ma had been right, Darla had found free food here—good since she didn’t have gas left to drive to the country and pick food from somebody’s field. And no one had said get out, it was not a fancy place; here Darla could stay.
No one here to say, tell me more about yourself darling. And she didn’t have to answer, to guys usually, what do you want my name is not darling it’s Darla. Only her ma could call her darling.
At this thought, Darla took out a crumpled paper from her bag, ripped at the zipper. She wrote and wrote and wrote. The same words, over and over. She wrote, until her ink pen dried up. She wrote the names of her mother and her sister, they were dead—that is mother was dead and her sister Delight was penned up in a home for the cerebral palsy victims in the San Joaquin Valley.
The dead could come to you from Spirit though. Come and help you out of hard times if you only thought of them or wrote their names—dowsing could help also. Darla needed some help.
It was just herself now for months. After first Ray’s death and then after her teen daughter Daphne couldn’t take Ray’s death—the last of all the bad things—and disappeared; months after Daphne left, Darla had moved from the Mountain View apartment she’d had with Ray and for Daphne to go to emotional school. Now Darla stayed in the rectory office at the Catholic Church where she cleaned—even though she was not Catholic. That was good, because people came and gave away stuff on Sunday and she could take a little bit out of the bag and feed herself.
The Catholics where she worked wanted her to work hard and give her time in exchange for a room. The other women who worked there were older than her, and cleaned up for free, cleaned the bright candle altar in front of the Virgin of Guadalupe and in front of the Fatima Lady and in front of Saint Anne and stuff—for nothing, just for the thrill of getting to do it.
Darla had seen the priests’ dinners spread out and seen their fancy cars. By this point in life, she knew suffering was for ladies—that is, nice women who do what men say. She also knew the Filipino ladies at the care home who took care of her sister, lived in that house and had food and stuff, but no real rooms or anything. Darla saw enough what happened to ladies.
Darla leaned over onto the streaked table and drank down her cold catsup soup. She crunched into two saltines peeled out of beat up plastic.
Darla Leaven, Darling Levine too, that’s what they called her at the Catholic’s place, only she was not Jewish that she knew, though her name surely sounded like that at times. When she tried to come up here today, to Stockton, before she came over to her family’s old place in the Linden valley and such, it was then she had the problems.
She’d come to see her older sister in Stockton first and the ladies at the care home had fed her once there. Then Darla had driven the $300 car she’d found some time ago, along to the old farmhouse in Linden and slept under the hatchback behind the seats—good thing you couldn’t open it without knowing the trick, no one could hurt her that way.
Who wants to come in next anyway she asked herself writing this on the paper on the sticky table—it’s the mother in heaven that’s who—It’s Rose Out of Time.
Reaching with her spirit mouth open from the beyond, Darling’s mother Rose came through like a wind. She came through when her daughter needed her, she could give that even if she were dead; the flame of her love burned brighter now for this daughter, than when she’d lived.
In life she was always hunkering down under the sadness of her other daughter’s care, now she was wind, leavening what couldn’t be heard, or seen. I love you, you will be OK, don’t be afraid, spirit Rose tried to say down to Darling, there like a too white blur on an abraded eye, to Darling left on earth, where it was so sad.
Here in heaven happiness rolled like the word out of Christ’s mouth; that’s what she had believed, down there, now she was all ages at once, here, in the land of summer and eternal light. Here she could send rose petals or catsup or love, through her open spirit mouth. She yearned like breath, to put her arms around her lost hurt child, the one she’d had no time for, on earth.
Only for you, spirit Rose intoned through the field of summer love and coming home and going for a light brighter than just this. I LOVE YOU, YOU ARE NOT ALONE, was all she could say and that like sugar, Darling, take the sugar.
Darla picked up a sugar packet and opened it with her teeth, she stirred it in the catsup water and she felt sweetness flow through her like a mother’s love.
On the Silicon City golf course, some sadness poured into Paddy Kovarik when his ball went low and sideways and when it skidded over sand and the man-made pond with a fountain at this muni course; Paddy scoffed at himself then, but more than that, he was big time sad. The lifeless pond might as well be full of spent fuel rods, it looked so bad.
Following after the ball on foot he thought on how his father played golf in Omaha, his brother there too, and he was the only one of his family, would run out by himself and live on the far west coast. They thought him some kind of success but today he only played the municipal course with ponds that looked full of spent fuel.
Here with houses at insane prices he had to get by on less than they could imagine. Here since his landing in the Salvation Army place when he hit bottom after the dot com crash and that divorce. Here since he’d worked part time in the alcohol rehab for longer than he wanted to remember, here he got enough to come play the muni greens.
Stepping in golf cleats and long shorts onto the sort of manicured lawn here, stepping out like this, it had to be a good day. Out like this, alone with the city course fountains and birdies and stuff, he’d skidded the ball, normally he took it in stride, today sadness came over.
Paddy bent down over the green, below hills under a gray cast Silicon Valley sky. Since he’d come to Fort Ord Monterey years ago, in the seventies, he’d liked the weather here OK. Didn’t matter the smog that much, nine holes at the city run course, a couple of slugs after—he couldn’t do that anymore—and he’d be an OK man. Out here life was easier overall.
From Omaha he’d come, married and divorced and married and divorced again, he’d come here with his limp from ‘Nam and stuff, he’d come here and practically died drinking after the crash, found he liked better working nights with the drunks while waiting to get rehired, here today he was gonna find his ball and do better than he had when he started.
Are there any more to speak, do I have anything to say, Darla scribbled the questions.
Rose poured the sugar through her baby there on earth.
Jeffrey hugged his knees to his chest, he couldn’t breathe, the big man had hit him that hard. He leaned back against the freeway sound wall and he waited for someone to pick him up, take him out of this hellhole Stockton by the Delta water, where his father hit him hard, take him to San Francisco, anywhere there were poets and it didn’t matter if you wanted to dress in women’s clothes and scratch at your wrists, so what?
After nine holes Paddy came out without a drink, got the note from some woman who was chasing him down because he’d helped her again at the rehab center; got her latest note off his car. Most of the time, even with the drink out of him for now, he still had woman troubles. He peeled the big hipped blonde woman’s note from under the wipers. Belinda, he knew her more than he should have, from Compuck from drink therapy now at the army of drunks. Belinda, forty-something, cried a lot.
What he couldn’t do real well at work, he could do with women, for about three minutes. Signal when through, there were heartaches. When he’d drunk, it was the drunks who drank with him, now it was the woman drunks he got close to helping them by, when they fell off the wagon somehow they found him and wanted more.
Christ. Like love addicts too or something. There were programs for that he supposed, maybe that was him too, only now he had just wanted to play golf that’s all, not have the latest one upchuck her feelings on his car window. Christ.
“Paddy babes why haven’t you been to see me, it’s like years ago, after our lost weekend, how I lost track of you in Reno that time, you said you would see me after I went through Salvation Sober Steps. I did all that, now you won’t answer my calls, I don’t know what I could do. Call me babe, B,” read the latest note.
Jeffrey pulled the coat up around his hurt knee, even in this hot valley sometimes in fall it could still get cold at night. Coming around the bend and slowing, oh dude, slowing, a woman in some beat up beater car—hey?
He climbed to his knee, so painful from his dad’s last kick, he sprang to his feet anyway and the woman rolled down the window to him, “Do you have any gas money, kid?”
“I have some, ma’am.” He’d heard that term in movies. She was pretty, what he could see in the dark, about his mother’s age or a little older, that would be forty or fifty something, he didn’t know exactly. She had skin without makeup, he could lend her his if she’d let him.
“Get in then, stay on that side of the seat, keep your hands beneath you and call out to me each sign you see, my eyes aren’t that good at this moment,” the woman said, pushing open the passenger door to Jeffrey.
“Stockton, K Street, Third Avenue, D Street,” he called after they got rolling. “Bless you, kid,” she said after awhile of him saying he had to leave his parents’ house because his dad got mean and stuff, after she knew she could trust him. “Bless you,” she said like her mother Rose had said afore her.
Paddy Kovarik took his bag quickly back to his car after the nine holes. It was twenty nine steps from the muni deck to his car. He’d counted them, twenty nine steps to the drive home without a drink here or on the way. He plumped his black golf bag back into the trunk of his green Ford Taurus. He’d bought it under the high mercury vapor lights on Steven’s Creek, probably came to the dealer in trade from a guy who had to have taken care of the thing like glass.
It ran good now, that’s all Paddy could say. Didn’t want to jinx his luck with the car.
He came in his good car the home way, back way, coming out first onto McLaughlin, going west down toward his trailer on the Monterey. Yee gads his brother and dad would hate him for living this simple way, but he was beat, somehow, beaten down and he didn’t give a damn.
He took Tully across the 101, then down to Monterey, the King’s Highway. He came into his place at half past seven. By now he’d stopped at the King Burger but they were slow and he’d gotten himself a burger double cheese and healthy salad. He’d gotten himself a Kingfish and he came into his park on Endland and he came into his turn in the park on his street now devoid of Hispanic kids who usually played here, and devoid of the Vietnamese and the resettled Russians; he was tired now. In a couple of hours he would be tired enough to sleep.
“Watch that turn,” Darla told Jeffrey Hines, driving when they got onto the 680 then 101 to Monterey and the King Burger there. He was a good looking, fair kid, not blond but reddish to light brown under some kind of black dye on hair too long for short. Good build though he was too thin for it. Good skin like a girl and it showed beneath his tee shirt; above the neck he had strong even features and small purple-tinted glasses. “I’d buy you food if I had money,” Darla said to the boy, she said it over and over and then Jeffrey said, “I’ll buy you food, I need a place to stay, OK.?”
“OK kid,” Darla said, adding she’d used up her food stamps already and money for gas to see her sister in the care home. She said she had to give Jeffrey something, because he had helped her get back here, and he had that huge bag and nowhere to go. “I could sneak you in the church,” she said, “but it would never work. But I’m thinking I used to clean an office out here, E Building at the Generous plant.
“It’s closed now because of the terrorist threat and stuff, but I can still get in from the main entrance, street left side and then through. Me and Ray, we practically used to live there when he cleaned for Generous too. And thanks for the fish and salad,” she said.
“You should eat something more than that,” Jeffrey said, eyeing her and thinking how pretty she could be with the right earrings and the right false eyelashes and stuff. “I know something I could do with your hair,” he said.
Darleng—Rose always said her daughter’s name some-where between a Darling and a Darla and it stuck—Darling was tired and she didn’t mind this kid doing anything to her now if she could just use the badge and get in, and then she could get them settled and just rest.
Since her Daphne had split, this was the first time she felt she had someone to look out after and she didn’t mind the feeling one bit.
Rosh Hashana Eve
Paddy Kovarik pulled back out of the Sleepy Bye Mobile Court on the Monterey because he forgot food for morning. If he did not get something at King Burger now, he might just find himself at the Swizzle Stick bar back toward Monterey at 6 a. m., throwing down a belt or two instead of breakfast. Like his father had said, the greasy food kept alcohol from getting to you. It was a strategy to eat and not drink, Paddy had worked out in his Salvation stay. He held onto it now, and he’d keep on, he supposed—unless he got a job back where he thought he wanted—dotting coms.
Shit. A woman and a skinny long haired teenaged boy looked like a girl, trying a door at the shut down part of Generous, building E. What the hell were they doing? They looked homeless under the high light, and after the year he’d been through, he had to stop. Damn.
He pulled his Taurus into a U-ey from the King Burger side around facing toward the Cemetery. You couldn’t go into Generous from the back door any more. He knew all this because he’d interviewed here more than once, no dice, he still hoped it might happen. He parked just before the sheltered bus stop bench, turned off his motor, snapped all the door buttons down at once and came through the pedestrian entrance back a ways, same direction as the Swizzle Stick.
He loped across the parking lot, up gray steps toward a door these two goofs had somehow gotten open and kept propped open with a duffel bag. You couldn’t get in this side he thought, all business was on the Orchard side. Damn, somebody could alert the Feds.
He stepped over some hair brushes and a wig and bracelets, spilling out below the step from the pressure of the door on the bag.
The woman and the boy were just ahead there, backs turned but frozen like, they probably didn’t know if he was security or street threat and they couldn’t stop and go back or just go in, either.
“Well damn it you two, you are going to get yourselves in some trouble if you try this now,” he said, like he already worked for Generous and had been released from helping drunks and yet still understood what trouble you couldn’t help, was. “Alright, I’m sorry,” the woman’s thin reedy voice stunned him right out. She swept a freckled, sun-worn hand half over her eyes and she pushed wan hair she hadn’t bothered dyeing or anything, back from her eyes, and she turned herself around by force of her hand it seemed and she faced him, exhausted look on her face as if no one had taken care of her for years. And she was pretty, and to him, sad, spent, gray and silver and blonde hair all radiating at him like fluorescent lights turned to some inner sun.
“I’m sorry we shouldn’t be here I guess. I worked here once. I cleaned, I—left something, I guess,” she said, looking up at him with sad green eyes and trying to appease him as if he had some say. Suddenly, to his right, the wraith kid, longish hair straggly like he didn’t care when he was like this, the kid said to Paddy, “She’s with me,” like this kid could protect a flea.
And the woman looked past the kid and right through Paddy somehow and they stood there, the three, while Rose in Heaven’s hollow, poured sweetness on them and saw the scene in the E Building lot up the steps and almost into the florescent light warmth of the building, as if it were some place you could pour heaven’s great light onto, and it would stick.
Ten minutes later they were in the first empty hallway and the man who came up behind them was with them somehow and Darla held her breath—what else could happen? But he just set there when they came into the first cubicle with the open door, and after they looked around he came after them when they jumped back out from under a security camera mounted in the empty cubicle into the shadowed part at the end of the hall.
He stood and saw with them the long tables there with old masking tape rounds and markers some without caps, and he saw with them no coffee or tea there but some old trays there and there were some Styrofoam cups sideways and then they all three saw the chalkboard said, NASA, Nuclear Attack Strategy Assessment, and with her and the kid Jeffrey, this guy too nodded his head sideways.
“No,” he said, “No room at this inn,” he said, and steered them out through the hall, back to scoop up the make up and things spilling out of the bag by the front door.
“Let’s go,” he said, “this is not a good place for us to be,” he said, and took himself out first so they could follow and not be afraid of him. At the edge of the sidewalk he said, “I can go with you, I can find you something, I work at the Salvation Army part time, surely there—”
The kid looked afraid. “That’s where they pray with Bibles and stuff, that’s where they make you—”
“There is a religious element,” Paddy said, “it is part of the recovery strategy, that’s all.”
“I’m not recovering from nothing,” the kid said, “and I don’t want the crap kicked out of me by some Bible guy no thanks, I’ll just leave then,” he eyed the bus stop. The lady, because by now what else could you call her, the lady leveled with Paddy in telling him, “I don’t know this boy, but he gave me money to drive back here, bought my dinner and I need to find him someplace, do you see?”
Her lovely voice rose on the word “see,” and Paddy, the former drunk, with willing women on his windshield all the time, said, for some stupid reason he couldn’t fathom, “You could stay at my place.”
“No, siree, we couldn’t,” the woman said. She said it out loud like she and the boy were aristocrats down on their luck or something.
“Oh, alright,” Paddy said, “then where are you going to stay?”
“I could stay at the church,” she ventured, explaining, “I clean there.”
Some church, to have her looking this frail and far-away.
“I could stay, I could go to—Frisco,” the kid said.
Right. This wasn’t the Haight/Ashbury days reborn time, this was a bad time to be a kid anywhere alone. Paddy had to do something to help these people.
“I’ve got to get something at the King Burger,” he said, “and then, if you follow me there, we can work something out.”
“We already ate,” Darla said, looking back into the E Building lot, but around the corner into the shadows up Curtner Avenue by the cemetery and toward the main entrance where he had applied for work after the dot com crash before 9-11 and where after 9-11, numerous times, he had followed up.
“I can follow you, but only for awhile,” she said.
Darla stood inside the King Burger, waiting while the guy ordered up, grateful because he insisted on to-go stuff for everyone. “It’s better I get food here than at the grocery store where I could be tempted,” Paddy admitted to them in the line. “Those big plastic fake liquor bottle displays could do me in.” What was this guy, a twelve step, keep-coming-back-it-works kind of guy? She still didn’t trust him, but she let him buy food for later.
She wasn’t hungry now in fact her stomach hurt from so much at once with Jeffrey and that on top of the cracker soup. Darla calculated just how far this new windfall food would go. She had to look out for Jeffrey and he was going to want the two orange juices and the breakfast slab all by himself. The cheeseburgers and fries would go for lunch, and after that she had to be at the church and clean, anyway, and it wasn’t Sunday yet, so she couldn’t get more from the church donation bag.
If they came to the man’s house as he kept saying, she could stay with Jeffrey there and already she wanted to stay with Jeffrey somehow.
“OK,” she said when the man came with the good smelling bag that at the same time made her sick to smell, like the overcooked fat would snake down to her heart and stop it. “OK,” she said, “we’ll follow you to where you live and you can make a few phone calls for Jeffrey like you said and I’ll wait there, just till he gets settled and I’ll go to work after that.”
Jeffrey had a Queen Shake, that’s what he’d asked for, and he slurped it like a dead girl coming back to life. But he came close to Darla and stood by her and said to the man Paddy, “We’ll go with you, thank you for this shake,” but Jeffrey’s eyes slanted down on the guy though he was so tired he just wanted to sleep.
Inside the Mobile Park on E Street, Darla noticed the place was dim and painted green. The bathroom was clean but old in the walls, the couch was a decent one—“I got this at the Salvation sale, with knobs you could push and the part under your legs that would fan out and you could sleep.”
That’s what Darla did right away with a throw the man Paddy gave her, right over her coat she didn’t take off. And that’s what Jeffrey did on the other side of the couch with the knob first stuck and then fanning out too and with the tray pull down on the couch full of Darla’s purse she’d been willed in Rose’s things and with the Queen shake, some left at the bottom in case Jeffrey needed it when he awoke.
Paddy Kovarik withdrew from the two and emptied his pockets onto the Salvation special ex-motel dresser he’d picked up after he’d lost his stuff at the old place, when he’d lost track of all his things on some major drunk. He dropped golf tees and keys and the note from the blonde job with the too broad hips and tears, onto his Formica dresser top. He slipped out of his shorts and placed them in the soiled basket near the step down bathroom.
In the morning he could call the Army and put the kid in touch with emergency housing, in the morning he could think of what to do about those sun spotted hands, that tired, pretty face with the fair silvered hair spilling onto it like a tangle of tears. In the morning he could fix these two up, give them all breakfast. That’s it—remember, eat the food he had for himself right away now in order to not take a drink.
Paddy opened his sheets and slid into them like an embrace.
At a quarter of five in the morning Paddy awakened before the other two. He stepped by the slumped forms contorted and twisted back and forth from the night’s efforts to get comfortable on a stretch-out for one. He turned on his espresso machine, the one thing he saved from before his crash.
Waiting for it to hiss and brew, he slipped out down the back mobile steps to the Taurus, grabbed the Wall Street Journal he’d found at the muni course and he came up the steps back to the sleeping two with an eagerness he hadn’t felt in awhile.
He poured coffee into the only other thing he’d saved—his Compuck employee cup. He slipped into a green vinyl kitchen chair so out of style it was coming back in. He looked quick over the water stained other-fingered Wall Street pages, found Generous stock up to 29 and a half.
This, all this, could be a sign. A sign of better times in store. With some money in his cup he could do more for—he heard a moan from the sleeping woman, noticed in the balm of sleep her form had escaped her. Breasts curved out from between the vinyl jacket folds and her slip on beat loafers had come off too and he had a look at her feet, which were magnificent.
She was a woman and she was fine and she had lived in herself and she needed him. Just then she awakened and looked up at him and the wan tired look washed back over her. The woman receded to somewhere else and he saw the boy Jeffrey follow her right up into awake, sweep long hair from his eyes, that in this light looked smudged with—soot or—mascara? The kid rubbed at his eyes some and when he got them clear enough to see, he scowled at Paddy who was watching this. The kid looked like he thought Paddy was gonna hit him.
Which in some days, years ago days, when he drank under his own father’s pressure to succeed in south Omaha, Paddy might have, encountering a snooling kid like this. That had ended when he’d led kids like this in the real Army. He’d learned about his fuse right then. Later at the job before the dot crud he’d led crews of these and he’d succeeded and now he led crews of drunks in God’s army.
Geezus beezus Christ, thinking of this and his fall from things, only then it, hit him. It was morning and for the first time since the Salvation program he hadn’t eaten or read their Bible stuff to keep from going by the Swizzle Stick which opened at six. He was here now, with these two the cat had dragged in, and he had no thought whatsoever, besides this.
Saturday, September 27, morning of Rosh Hashanah
Darla waited for Jeffrey who had locked the bathroom door. He took forever and she’d eaten much of the breakfast slam Paddy Kovarik bought for them, and she’d drunk the extra King Burger orange juice. The man Paddy with his back to her in the small kitchen turned toward her once in awhile.
His back was nice in some mesh golf shirt-like thing—nice back like her pa’s so long ago—when he’d turned away from her making flapjacks. That must have been in the kitchen of the house in Linden Valley where her folks had landed from Oklahoma. They never knew what to eat, her MaRose, her Daddypa Jim. But it had tasted better there than any she’d had since. “Do you want—something else?” the man, Paddy, turned and asked her. The white hairs just coming in on the sandy chest hair peeking out of his shirt
Editor’s Note: To get a signed copy of A VALLEY OF ASHES contact the author at: email@example.com or call 408 559-5995— or, for a regular unsigned copy, contact the publisher at inklingpress.com
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