New Rourke Unmasked
The Walkabout: Show & Tell
We All Get Old, But We Never Grow Up | The Kitchen Table of Fate
Since his late teens, Gabriel Docket had bounced around the country from one coast to the other several times. A high school dropout with little in the way of marketable skills, he lived off his wits, looks, and luck but never really knew what to do with himself. Eventually, he had gravitated to New Rourke; a city so big he thought he could easily get lost in the crowd. But the stigma of being the luckiest man alive continued to follow him, and patterns emerged in his life that rekindled his wanderlust. He had the ability to move about freely, but time and again nearly everyone he met eventually tried to turn his luck into their’s. He had begun to feel that all the good that came into his life was simply there to benefit others and not really for him at all.
That was until he met Akiva. She had become a stabilizing force. He had been honest at the beginning by saying he was sticking around for the sake of the child and was relieved when Akiva stated that he was free to leave whenever he felt the need. But over their months together the patterns changed. He found he was forming his life around hers. Her roots in New Rourke were becoming his, he was at least congenial with the few people she considered friends, and the desire to be untethered had been overpowered by the desire to be near her. They had an amiable arrangement founded on an understanding of attention, only when asked for, and fidelity. Being free to follow his own interests (apart from any form of luck based gambling) and the somewhat jaded love of a beautiful woman seemed, to Gabriel’s view of the world, about the best sort of life he could hope for.
Despite some minor complaints, Gabriel felt like this was the first time in his life he had ever been really happy. Yet he still hadn’t found a way to tell her any of this…That and the fact that, unknown to Akiva, she was some sort of all-powerful fundamental force of the universe.
* * *
It was evening in Akiva’s condo. They had moved there after the people who owned the penthouse Gabriel was house-sitting had returned. It was still mostly unfurnished as Gabriel traveled hobo-style and Akiva’s worldly possessions, house and all, had been vaporized in a robot attack. The only things they had at the moment were a bed, clothes, kitchenware, and some borrowed furniture. Gabriel had made himself useful by procuring a large flat-screen from someone who was just giving away. Honestly, a perfectly good TV just right out on the curb.
Gabriel was in the kitchen cooking up some dinner when Akiva came in the front door carrying a stack of folders and notebooks and a backpack fit to burst.
”That smells edible.” Akiva said unloading her burden on the dining room table. “Make me some, please.”
Gabriel shrugged off the slight snub to his culinary skills and began preparing a second serving. “What’s all that?” he asked.
”Comparative baby-ology for the terminally weird.”
”They have that?”
”Books on superhuman pregnancy.” Akiva clarified while pulling dog-eared books from the backpack. “Apparently it’s a very niche field of study. Dr. Crevitz said she’d wave her fees if I allowed her to write a paper, but I wanted to do some research myself. I’ve got speculative medical journals, copies of baby diaries, as well as a few selections on the more mundane material.”
Gabriel looked at the pile suspiciously. ”That is…a lot of reading.”
”Don’t worry. I’ll fill you in on what you need to know.”
Spatula in hand, Gabriel was starting to feel like he was surplus to requirements on that whole maternity thing. “How is everything going by the way?”
”As far as Dr. Crevitz can tell, fine, but slow. However, since scans don’t work on me, and she can’t take any samples, she has to rely on some very old and esoteric methods. She has also,” Akiva narrowed her eyes, “ordered me to eat and sleep regularly.”
”Sounds like a pain.” Gabriel said, trying for empathetic.
”Just put the food in front of me when it’s ready.” Akiva said, flatly and then, out of course, added, “Please and thank you.”
Akiva sat down behind her pile of books and blurred; a sure sign that she was manipulating time. If Gabriel squinted and focused real hard, he could almost make out arm movements and books shifting around. He was still no good at gauging how fast she had accelerated her timeline. Trying to think about it for too long tended to give him a headache.
He finished making the food and placed her plate in the middle of the table. After a second the plate had been shifted into Akiva’s flurry, and then a few seconds later an empty plate reappeared in the middle of the table along with a note scribbled on a scrap of paper that read, “Thank you. I believe the bread is going bad.”. Using the same piece of paper he scribbled a response, “it’s rye”. She in turn responded “Why are you feeding me sarcastic bread?”. It took him a moment to parse out her joke. Eventually he let out a chuckle then sat down on the couch to eat and watch tv.
The local news was discussing non-confrontational issues for the upcoming governor election. The reports were exuberantly chirping about how New Rourke’s own mayor was in the runnings and was polling very well. Gabriel shook his head derisively and switched over to tonight’s game.
”What are you watching?” Akiva said leaning over the back of his seat.
”Jesus!” Gabriel shouted, almost spilling his plate.
”Looks like hockey to me.”
”Now, you’re just fucking with me.” he grumbled.
Akiva shrugged. “I was bored.” She sat down beside him and leaned against his shoulder. “A few hours of biology goes a long way.”
”It’s a Shifters exhibition game.”
”That’s the local team, correct?”
”Yeah, do you follow them?”
Akiva shook her head. ”I don’t follow sports much, but I know Elizabeth supports them. Her step-brother is the team physician.”
”No shit? Do you think she could get some tickets?”
”Possibly.” Akiva’s brow furrowed. “On the other hand, you could buy tickets yourself instead of free-loading off my friend.”
”I find enough money to feed and clothe myself. I don’t have the cash for tickets.”
”This might be an alien concept to you, but most people find they can earn money with a job.”
Gabriel sighed. “With this luck curse, any job I’d try to get, there’d be some other guy who gets it.”
”Do you know that for a fact or are you just making assumptions?”
”Hey,” Gabriel turned and glared at Akiva, “don’t talk down to me.”
Akiva sat up and starred expectantly at him.
”What?” he asked.
”You say you want to be here for this child, but you expect me to be the only one who provides for it?”
”Geez, it’s not like I’ve got money coming out of my ass! I get what I get.”
”Enough to feed and clothe yourself.”
”What’s the fucking problem? Something will come around and we’ll make do!”
”Make do.” Akiva echoed in that flat tone women use to convey severe disappointment.
”Oh don’t give me that passive-aggressive bullshit. You knew this when you threw yourself at me.”
Akiva grimaced and her face flushed. She looked like she was about to unleash a volley of scathing vitriol and Yiddish, but instead she just stood up and took a breath.
“I’m going to bed.” she announced then went into the bedroom, walking quietly with malicious politeness.
”Fuck.” Gabriel mouthed.
He looked down at his food; his appetite escaping him. He couldn’t remember any of his previous relationships having such precarious hurtles. Then again he’d never had a relationship with someone who looked to be too young for him but was really a superhuman three times his age.
He got up, threw out the food, and cleaned the dishes before heading to the bedroom. She was already lying in bed turned away from him. He wanted to go in; to sleep, to yell at her, to apologize, to demand an apology. But he stood in the doorway, minutes passing by, until he turned around and went to sit back on the couch.
Where did she get off talking to him like that? It wasn’t like he could just go out in the morning and apply for a job at a law firm. Even if the economy wasn’t bad, who was going to hire a man in his thirties who’d never even bothered to get his GED. He could fight some other loser for the chance at aggravating, menial, labor with little pay, but the only difference between that and what he was doing now was that he made his own hours, didn’t have to pay taxes, and rarely went to bed smelling like the bottom of a trash can.
He had no doubt he could provide for the child. Whenever he really needed something the universe did provide. On the other hand, whenever he actively worked towards something that depended on variables beyond his control he was denied. Even before the luck curse, he hadn’t worked a steady job for years. There had been lean times and there had been windfalls, but he’d always had food in his stomach, clothes on his back, and a roof over his head. Now, all of that was gone, replaced by a mockery of prosperity. He was constrained to exist in that narrow space between fortune and hardship with neither prospects nor property. Some might argue that his situation hadn’t changed at all, but at least before the luck curse there existed the possibility for things to improve as well as fail. He recognized that there needed to be a change in his life. He just wasn’t sure how to go about enacting that change.
He looked at the clock; it was nearly ten at night. There wasn’t much that could be done at this hour, but he was too awake now to sleep. While he was pondering the options of going out to a bar, or flipping through channels till he found something to watch, he unconsciously reached into his pocket and pulled out a Sacagawea dollar. After a few flips, he became aware of what his hand was doing. With the coin once more tumbling upward, Gabriel jerked his hand back in shock. The coin tumbled to the hard wood floor, bounced twice on its edge, then rolled all the way across the room to the front door, where it fell. Gabriel walked over to the coin and picked it up. He stared at it, and the faces of Sacagawea and baby Jean stared back at him.
”I guess I’m supposed to take this as some sort of sign?”
The coin remained stoically silent.
”Where am I supposed to go?”
The coin refused to render any further incites.
”I could just stay here.” Gabriel said, frowning at the coin. “How would you like that?”
He looked over his shoulder at the apartment. It was a nice enough place, but it was still only a place. He thought about Akiva, and the child, and how one argument would easily turn into another then another, till they were both bitterly sick of each other.
He gripped the coin hard in his hand. “I’ll make you a deal. You lead me to something I can work with to make things better, really better, I’ll stop calling you a curse. I’ll do the hard work, whatever it is. I can take my lumps. Okay?”
He reached for the door knob, but pulled back. First he went to the stack of books and wrote out a note. Then he grabbed his coat, apartment key, and wallet, and walked out the door.
* * *
The hallway of the apartment building, was predictably quiet. Down the hall someone had just stepped off the elevator and the doors were beginning to close. Gabriel ran to them and shoved his hand in just before they shut.
”So far so good.”
Gabriel looked at the floor buttons, unsure which to select. So, he put his left hand over his eyes, waved his right in a circle, and then slapped the buttons with his palm. The doors closed, and the elevator ascended three floors. When the doors opened again there was a broad-shouldered man reaching for the call button.
”That was lucky.” the man said, with a friendly grin as he stepped in and pushed the ground floor button.
”Yep.” Gabriel answered, lamely. “Lucky.”
Gabriel looked over the man surreptitiously. He was wearing travel clothes and had a very large duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
”Taking a trip?” Gabriel asked.
”Deployment.” the man shrugged. “Overseas.”
”Oh.” Gabriel nodded while silently screaming in his head Crap, where am I going‽
”Taking the late train.” the man added. “Even if its on time, I’m gonna get to base to report in just before my flight.”
”Train!” Gabriel nearly shouted in relief, because even for him it would be extremely unlikely he would get admitted to a military base. “Train. I’m taking the train too. Trip. Family thing.”
The man eyeballed Gabriel. ”Alright. That’s cool.”
They rode the elevator in silence staring straight ahead. When the doors opened again, then man tentatively said, “I called a cab. You want to share?”
”That I can do.”
At the train station, Gabriel thanked the soldier for his service, and they parted ways. As Gabriel stood among the benches trying to figure out his next move, a rickety-looking old woman in dirty, faded, clothes approached him.
”Mister! Hey, mister! You going places? I got places. Good ones too. Cheap!”
The woman held up several travel brochures and fanned them out in front of herself with an eager look.
”Cheap, huh?” Gabriel said looking at the brochures, and trying not to let his gaze linger on the kiosk across the room which was laden with suspiciously similar brochures free for the taking. He pulled out the golden Sacagawea dollar and held it up. “What can you give me for this?”
The woman peered at the dollar then nervously over the brochures in her hand. Gabriel watched as her lips quivered while her eyes darted from one brochure to the next, then to Gabriel, then back to the brochures. Her hand wavered over one brochure for a moment before darting to another. Finally, she selected one and snatched it with her free hand like it was a winning lottery ticket.
”This one’s a dollar.” she croaked hopefully.
Gabriel made a show of considering the exchange. He’d been in her shoes a couple times, and was all too familiar with the delicate, yet proud, egos of the desperate. After what he deemed an acceptable pause he made his purchase. An hour more, destination in hand, he’d gathered enough for the ticket from what was in his wallet, hidden under seats, and from people too hurried to notice how much they had tipped him for carrying their bags to cars.
Three and a half hours later, he was in a town he’d never heard of, although the brochure had made quite a fuss about the pies at a local diner. He had no money, no food, and the temperature had dropped to the point that he really wished he had a thicker coat. In the small park across from the train station, he found an abandoned bicycle which he rode through the town until the chain broke at a crossroads. He kicked a rock for two blocks through a quiet neighborhood till he came to an otherwise unassuming house with a neon sign in the front window stating that it was open twenty four hours a day. Gabriel looked up and down the street, but he didn’t see any other signs, so he shrugged and went to knock on the door.
Before his hand touched the door, it swung open and a rather sleepy looking woman in a bathrobe grinned widely at him.
”Why am I not surprised?” Gabriel said.
”Hi ya, cousin.” replied Summer.
To Be Continued