Maps and Miracles by Michael Fontana
I took my first smoke of the day outside the flophouse, the weather kind of chilly but tolerable for winter. Outside stood a snowman with its surface blackened by bus exhaust. I went over to inspect it. The snowman bore two blue stones for eyes, a carrot for a nose, and a crack pipe in what should have been its mouth. Instead of a top hat, he wore a Limp Bizkit cap.
The snowman soon startled me by speaking. His voice was thin and high. “Got a light?”
“Say what, partner?”
“Got a light?”
“Sure.” My hand trembled as I worked the match to light and cupped my hand over it so it wouldn’t get blown out by the wind.
“Thanks.” The snowman leaned in with his crack pipe and sucked the flame down in the stem. “Sweet.”
“You talk,” I said.
“You got a problem with that?”
“No. It’s just that most snowmen don’t.”
“I ain’t most snowmen. You want to give me a complex?”
“No harm meant. I see all kinds of weirdness in this neighborhood but never a talking snowman.”
“Now you have.”
Silence fell even though I wanted to talk more. I wanted to tell him that I only slept in the flophouse because no one else would have me. I had lived in apartments but over time, I wore down mentally and began drawing pictures on the wall in black marker. Maps, mostly. Of lands that existed solely in my head. So the county parked me in the flophouse where they didn’t care about markings on the wall. They didn’t care about much there except collecting rent.
“Any action in this territory?” The snowman finally said.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, fun, kicks, hoots. I’m bored just standing here.”
“You can move?”
“Can I? Just watch me.” He proceeded to dance on feet made of twigs. It was entertaining at first. Then I wondered whether the medication was wearing off, and if I was headed back to the hospital.
“I’d better go back inside,” I said.
“You ain’t very social, are you?”
“I’m just not sure that you’re real,” I said, trying not to say it too harshly and hurt the snowman’s feelings.
“Oh, I’m real. You just got no imagination.”
“They tell me I have too much imagination.”
“Who are they?”
“The doctors and nurses and social workers and therapists. They say it gets me in trouble.”
“I’m nowhere near trouble. I’m fun. You ever seen Frosty the Snowman on TV?”
“When I was a kid.”
“Think of me as like that. Only here instead of someplace nice.”
“I’d like to see someplace nice for a change.”
“Then let’s hitch a bus.”
So the snowman left his spot completely, his twig feet dragging thin lines through the drifts. He knew right where the bus stop was, which was almost as amazing as his having known about TV. All of it compounded to make me think I was deep in psychosis, but I decided that so far there was no harm and that made it all right to play along.
We hopped a bus. He didn’t have the fare, so I scrounged up enough change for him and used my bus pass for me. We took seats in the back. No one looked up to see that it was a snowman moving down the aisle on the rubber mat, sloshing a small wake wherever he went.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“You a person of faith?” He asked in return.
“Somewhat. It depends on who or what I’m asked to have faith in.”
“Do you believe in miracles?”
“Some of them. If they don’t bring me into trouble.”
“I’m not here for trouble. I’m here to inspect the city. You want to inspect it with me?”
“Sure,” I said, not really sure at all.
We got off outside city hall. The building was brick with gold trim. On the steps churned a picket line. The unions were on strike so city hall was closed. The snowman picked up a sign and joined the line. People smiled and laughed at him like someone in costume. He motioned me forward, and I joined the line as well. I couldn’t read the signs too well, only that one word was “unfair.” That stuck with me as being the case with most of the world when you got right down to it. Then I decided that was an awfully bitter attitude to hold so I let it go like a parakeet from its cage.
After an hour or so of marching around in circles, a TV camera spraying us with light, the snowman and I left the scene. He went up to a hot dog cart and ordered one with relish. I didn’t have money to pay for it, so I offered a food stamp, which the vendor took with what sounded like a swear word in another language.
“Want a bite?” The snowman asked me.
“What do you want then?”
“I want to go home.”
“Back to the flophouse? You kidding me?”
“No, back home. Where I grew up.”
A Lesson from the Road
Our Immortal Souls
Maps and Miracles
Tailing the Blond Satan
Into Open Hands
Drill & Kill
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