Read Little man in the weeds first











I tried to build a house. An overturned refrigerator box fortified with sticks and camouflaged with dried leaves. Inside we sat on an army blanket no one would miss. We breathed the damp green must of the soil beneath us, the coarseness of the aged blanket, the rotting cardboard.

I’d poked holes in the walls for air. Shafts of sunlight thrust inward like magician’s swords. Light dotted her like drops of God.

Then I wonder why I think these things. It’s as if another puts the ideas into my mind. Another person. Another Mitchell, much older, moves these hands and pushes feelings into my throat that make me feel like screaming, or crying. Jumping for joy.

I think, “We made it. We really did it,” but I can’t bring myself to say it. It’s such a waste of time with her. Talking. Sometimes I forget other people can’t hear us as well and I presume they can. I walk up to them to continue the conversation I start in words and they look like I’ve just dropped in from Mars.

Then I remember my mother’s admonition: “I don’t want to hear you and that Anna went hiding by yourselves again. You stay out with the other kids. You stay where everyone can see you. And you better keep all your clothes on.”

What did she think we were doing? Could it be wrong?

She puts a finger to her lips when she hears one of the neighborhood kids ride past on his stingray. Somehow in plain sight no one could figure out where we were. So silly.

We’re right here.

When she’s sure the kid is gone is gone she says, “First we have to say a prayer.”

“How come?” I protest, more to be disagreeable than to be impatient. Besides, it sounds too much like church.

She thinks and so I think: “You’ve lost a lot of your smarts.”

“No I haven’t,” I say with my mouth. And I want just to get up and leave, but I can’t. The voice in my head, the feeling inside my body tells me to stay.

It’s too much like dreams—and this solid life drives away the dreams like the wind blows cotton away from dandelions. Would we leave someday and never come back?

“We ask the angels to protect us. Michael-el, Gabber-el, Robbie-el, and Oil-el.” She says this and kicks at my foot.

“Who?” I protest. Outside my friends are playing football, riding bikes. Why do I listen to her? What made me build this place nobody can see? It makes my parents mad when we disappear. We’re bound to get in trouble. Someone will tell.

And she never explains how this will make the nightmares go away.

“They’re angel names. That’s why you have to say ‘el’ after all of them. Like ayenge-el. See the ‘el?’” she explains.

“I don’t care about angel names,” I say, feeling stupid now, and I can’t think of anything worse. Sitting in a perfectly good fort with of all people, a girl. Talking about of all things, angels.

Now getting scared.

Anna acts like she knows I’m not going to be too patient so she starts trying to make it quick. “Just say what I do. We need the angels to make sure nothing mean gets through. Just say, ‘Angels I just said, protect us.’”

I sigh and repeat the incantation. Then I rub my nose. When will it be over?

“Okay, hold my hand.” She reaches out with both hands. It’s the part I hate the most. If anyone sees me doing this, I’m sunk. They’ll hang my sneakers over power lines, call me sissy names, pants me in the cafeteria.

But I do it anyway because there’s no way to get out of this fort until I do what she’s asking. My legs won’t work until I do.

“You promised,” she thinks to my hesitation, and I know I did but I can’t remember when in his entire life he ever said I’d do this even once. Where did that promise come from? And now we do this all the time, and if I don’t do it the nightmares come back. Snow and ice. Burial alive in the cold.

Then I take her hands and the lights start dancing. The sun spins shafts of orange and purple. The tornado pulls the fort off the ground.

The angels come like old friends. Dorothy rescues Toto. Dumbo’s mom rocks him in the crook of her trunk. Mickey Mantle homers again. Geppetto awakens to find a real boy while he reaches down and as Arthur lifts Gwenevere onto the back of the white charger.

There are so many things to learn in this life. So much and so little time. How to do it? Will my friends here help me?

Away.

The whole world drops away like dry crusted creek mud falls from your leg when you flex it.

I’m another me for a moment on great white horse with wings, Anna behind me on the saddle, her arms around my waist, we’re flying. The chatter in my mind dies and I can focus. Damn how it’s good to be able to think again.

Now I know where this feeling comes from.

***

It's been a while since I dropped out like that. Shake the mist from my head.

"Angels I just said..."

Eddie's wiping a tumbler with a white towel. He says, "Wassay, boss?"

"Nothing, Dr. Rivers. Lot on my mind so I'm talking to myself."

"The usual table? Where's the Blue Lady tonight?"

"She's otherwise engaged," I tell him. "Meeting a business acquaintence so I'll just wait here."

"How's the case coming?" he asks, racking some wine glasses.

"Can't talk about it while it's going on," I tell him.

"They're talking like it's gonna be a street fight."

I lift my glass to toast him. Take a sip. Smile. "Can't talk about it."

"It's cool. What you doing with all your free time now you don't have to run your company anymore. You still get to use the jet?"

"Well, when they fire you, they take away your jet privileges."

"Ain't that the shit." He starts to say something else, then stops himself. Slings the white rag over his shoulder and leans over the bar. "Can I speak my mind, Boss?"

"Sure." I knock back the Springbank. Tap the glass.

Eddie pours a generous double. Puts down the bottle. He leans forward and says in a low tone, "Dog, you got trouble you don't know about. Lotta people dragging your good name through the dirt. There's more than the law after your ass, if you know what I mean. Nothin for nothin, and I mean you no disrespect, but your Blue Lady was back here talking the shit about you like she was going to hire Johnny-fucking-Cochrane and sue the cum right out of your dick."

"When was this?"

"Yesterday. She had that entourage of office bitches she moves with. I kept pouring on your tab like I always do, boss. But when she started in on that shit, I was going to shut that shit down, no disrespect, but they left before I could. I thought you'd want to know, case anything was said."

"You're a good man, Eddie."

"Money, what I think is you're a man of means who don't fling the bling in everybody's face, and we all appreciate it around here. If I was you, I'd get myself one of those private jets, get myself the next chica with I-loved-Clinton lips that hits on me, get my ass in the plane, my dick into her, and off to some island while this all blows over."

"I'm thinking exactly the same thing, my friend," I say to him. "Why don't you have yourself one of those, too."

"Thanks, boss. Don't mind if I do." He pours himself a short shot from the Springbank and puts it back on the glass shelf. Raises the glass to me, "This is the real shit, ain't it?"

"Indeed," I tell him. Look at my watch. Kwan is an hour late and there are no messages. I finger the cell, about to call to see what's up when I see Eddie's eyes go wide.

He puts down his glass quickly, pulls the rag from his shoulder and says, "What can I get you sir?"

I feel the air change beside me like Mt. Everest decided to come in for a drink. Beside me stands a man who is either a middle linebacker for a professional football team or the after picture in a commercial for anabolic steroids. He's six-foot eight. Dark suit. Dark glasses even though it's night. As wide as he is tall. Says with a Londoner's accent, "Excuse me for disturbing you, sir. But are you Mr. Mitchell Dale?"

Eddie looks at me like he's going for the phone. I wave him away, tell the guy, "That I am. Lemme guess, Othello, do I have that right? " Smiling at him is like trying to get friendly with granite.

He ignores my comment. Continues speaking unperturbed, "Might I enquire if you'd have a moment to spend with my colleague, Mr. Holland?"

Now I get it. "Oh I see--you're Nolan's gopher. My friend, I'm somewhat engaged with my colleague Dr. Rivers over there, and Mr. Springbank right here, so I don't think I can accomodate Mr. Holland's request right now. But if you would be so kind-- I'd like you to deliver a message to Mr. Holland. Can you do that for me?"

"Absolutely."

"Cool. Go to Mr. Holland, unzip and shove it up his ass with my compliments."

The mountain of human flesh is unfazed. Eddie turns his back to the bar, laughing.

Nolan's flunky says, "I can't do that, sir."

"Well, if you can't get it up, and I completely understand your dillema, he's an ugly bastard and loyalty to management can only take you so far in life, but you can simply tell him I told you to bugger him, but if he wants, he can fuck himself with my compliments. Now good day, sir."

Turn back to my glass, pitfully aware the human bulldozer has not moved when I hear, "Ever the dickhead," from the restaurant doorway.

Nolan says, "It's ok, Raphael. You and Mike get yourselves a table and start. I'm going to sit here and enjoy a drink before dinner."

The man starts to complain, but Nolan assures him he'll be safe. Raphael and another creature of equal protoplasmic mass head into the restaurant. Nolan climbs up onto the seat next to me.

Eddie looks at me. What can I do? "Give the man whatever he wants on my tab," I tell him. "I'm going to go to my usual table." I collect my glass.

Nolan orders a double shot of twelve-year old Cao Ila and says, "There's a couple ways we can do this. This is about as civil as I get."

That's it. Days of pent up anger, Cathy, the lawsuit, Anna's ideas like a disease bouncing through my head--"Are you threatening me?"

I look him in the eye. It's been years since I've been this close to him. Saw him on Letterman and Leno. CNN. Accepting the Oscar. The Golden Globes. His hair is turning gray. There's a lot of something tired around his face. Deep lines.

I'm about to start feeling sorry for him when he says, "Absolutely."

"Fuck you," I say.

"Oh now that's original dialog. Get one thing straight, I will do anything for her. Do you read me? That man you abused could break your neck and toss you in the East river rolled up in a flea-infested middle-eastern carpet and all I'd have to do is blink like I meant it. Do you want to find out if I've got the guts to have him do it?"

"You just threatened my life in front of about thirty people," I say, not sure what I'm feeling except the last thing I need now is to see Nolan Holland. God damn me. What is happening to my life?

"That's how fucking crazy this situation is," he says. "Your best friend in the world steps in and threatens to have you killed for the woman who loves you more than her own life. What a masterfully banal dime-novel plot we have developing. I think I'll write the book and make a couple million while you're in prison happily giving blow jobs to convenience store thieves."

"You're insane," I tell him. There's something in him now, different from when we were young. What changed in me made me slower. Whatever's burning Nolan is keeping him up nights. I bet the bastard never sleeps.

"I will fucking kill you for her. Can I be any clearer?"

"No," I tell him. Maybe because getting hit by a train is the stupidest thing a man can do. When you're walking on train tracks, the train is going to hit you sooner or later. "I believe you would try."

I slide toward the bar. Nolan says to Eddie, "Spread the word. One thing about this winds up in National Enquirer, I'll have Raphael come back here and shove a pool que up each and every asshole in this room. Don't think we haven't taken names. We are savage bastards. We will kill them in their sleep. Understood?"

Eddie looks at me and shrugs. I say, "Understood," for him, because I know Nolan well enough and he's not going to drop it until he hears what he wants. I have Eddie bring over the bottle of Cao Ila and a couple of glasses. I pour one for Eddie, and tell him we're ok for the rest of the evening. Then I drag the bottle and glass over to one of the tables. Nolan sits down opposite me.

"So what are we doing here?" I ask him, chugging down the two-hundred dollar scotch, praying for something inside me to start feeling good.

"I'm going to bring you back to the land of the living," he says.

"We've both done so well minding our own businesses for all these years. Why'd you want to screw that up?"

He shakes his head. "You are the densest, most obstinate motherfucker ever born to a warm-blooded species."

My stomach is churning. It's hard not to shout at him.

"Let's cut the high-brow insults. It hurts me being here with you. You can't know how it feels--I want to strangle you. You wrecked my entire life. Anna's too."

"One way to look at it is you'd never have taken the reigns at Cyberport and Cercom if it wasn't for that. Where would you have been with Anna dragging you down? If she had stayed, you'd still be living in that apartment over on Route 27 in Edison running IT for the big grocery store on the corner instead of sitting here worth a couple hundred million. It's gotta feel good, pal. Don't tell me you've regretted one day of it."

"Oh so let me get this straight, you twisted fuck. You banging my wife while I'm off killing myself on customer calls and board meetings was actually good for me? Is that what you came here to convince me? Go line up behind those bastards who think I blew a half a billion of shareholder value on personal affairs. I got a lawyer you need to meet."

He shifts in his seat, swigs down his scotch and pours himself another. A young woman from a table nearby comes over clutching a napkin and a pen close to her chest.

"I'm so sorry..." she says.

"Yes," I tell her, "He's Nolan Holland. He'll autograph your ass if you like."

Nolan tells me to shut up. Apologizes to the woman and signs her napkin. Then asks her if she could try to keep anyone else from coming over. We need to be alone.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he says when the woman leaves. "Really. I mean what happened to you to make you such an unbelievable asshole?"

"Assholes succeed, dude," I tell him, and smile. "You should know. You helped make me what I am, according to you."

"Look, I'm not going to try to justify my actions to you. It was wrong--"

"Wrong?" I say. I hear myself getting louder but I don't give a shit anymore. "We were friends. I trusted you..." I can barely get the words out. Now I'm thirty-three again, sitting in that living room with the two of them, making unilateral decisions that change all of our lives.

"I know you don't believe--"

"Believe what? What asinine bullshit are you going to try to feed me now?"

"I didn't sleep with her. Never even thought about it until you made it impossible for her to stay. All the accusations. What were you thinking? You knew she couldn't live in this corporate pig sty you call a life--did you honestly love the money more? After she came to live with me, after a couple years--once the divorce was final, you bet. I begged her to marry me and she wouldn't do it. For five years I took care of her and loved her the best I could and nothing I could do was good enough for her. Do you know what I would do for her?"

Now I can see it in his face. I've got everything to lose now. Everything I've worked for could go straight down the drain. Hundreds of millions. My relationship with Cathy. My reputation.

"Yeah, you'd try to kill me," I say, because he just reminded me how it felt. There was a time, I would have, too.

"And I will bring you to her, because all she wants in the world is you, and I can't change her goddamned mind."

Now Nolan's eyes are glazed. He rubs at them with his fingers.

"What the hell are you doing, Nolan?"

"You're coming to Antarctica with me. It's your problem, now. You promised her. I'm going to make sure you keep your promise."













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