Drainmen - Ch. 1

by RW Spryszak

When the old sky deepened into hard blue we walked arm in arm to the station where we sat beside a man we couldn't seem to see, sitting at a table next to us. A kind of a love story.

He held a cup of coffee to his mouth or, more precisely, where his mouth would have logically been imagined to be. He wore a hat, the name for the style of which we couldn't agree on. His dark, blank outline against a wall papered with old posters for gas stations and pawn shops.

All the details that would make the man a conscious understanding were blurred and dark from a negative source which we could not see. Occasionally some light or reflection of light lit a spec of him or lifted the depth of shade tantalizingly toward blue. Whenever that happened there were dot-like stars or flashed streaks of red and white inside his shadow body. And then the gray which came and went threatened to reveal all but never did.

We couldn't find any specific feature in his face. It was as if the man sat in a column of shade surrounding only him amid the native light of day.

There was something about him I did not like. It wasn't a question of being threatened or even puzzled by this otherwise incomprehensible vision. It wasn't that he reminded me of something else, similar to him, that I didn't like. It was the kind of dislike one feels at the prospect of having to be introduced to an unfortunate person you were hoping not to be introduced to.

At one point I think he heard us talking and seemed to sense it was about him. Though he never looked directly at us it was the short turn of his head and the resting of a thoughtful cup in front of his face that made me recognize the kind of reaction a person would have if he heard someone talking about him.

This is not to say he couldn't have heard one of the trapped birds that flew frightened under the broken ceiling of the station, trapped once they flew through an open train portal they can't find again. He could have simply had a twitch. Or perhaps he was tasting his coffee at the back of his throat. Whatever it was we didn't want to take the chance of upsetting him, so we stopped talking about him and briefly looked about the station as if we were looking for someone.

But human nature being what it is, we returned to our discussion about him once we both felt his attention had gone elsewhere.

"Do you think he's a spy?" You asked.

I always tried to be thoughtful with your questions and never took them lightly. I knew how sensitive you were to not being taken seriously. After giving the appearance of respectful reflection I replied "being in a shade like that would seem to make it too obvious. I rather doubt he would present himself like that if he was, indeed, a spy."

"But that's just it," you argued. "It's so obvious everyone would overlook it. Therefore, doing it turns all suspicion away, simply because no one could believe something that obvious would be true. Everyone would think it would be too stupid for a spy and look like that, so no one thinks he is a spy when, actually, he is one. He's used everyone else's counter-intuition against them. It's the perfect disguise in plain sight."

I noted we were intentionally speaking even more quietly than before. Still, I couldn't help myself from looking up at him, every once in a while, just to see if he was still trying to listen. But the truth was I couldn't tell. I came to believe that my furtive efforts would have made me look all the more suspicious if he saw me. the initial discomfort I felt about him changed color.

I suggested we go on our way. "After all," I told you. "The sky's gone marble red and this station will soon become no place for us." To which you agreed, and we did not walk slowly to the station's wide, over-arching, purple entrance. I would say I saw a vision of ghosts trailing behind those we passed. But I am not a believer in ghosts. "I think a more interesting question would be 'how did he accomplish that shadowed effect," I said as we walked. "That would make for an interesting study."

"I believe they do that with a kind of fabric," you replied. "Obviously he can't walk under a portable umbrella which can't be seen unless it was attached to some rolling device."

"But he's inside the station," I said. "He wasn't out in the sun. Remember?"

I saw that you wanted to rush by such a silly oversight on your part. You never liked to appear wrong, or wanted to be seen to come to a conclusion while ignoring a basic and obvious detail. I let it go. Over the previous month or so I've recognized that we've been surreptitiously watching each other for signs of decreased mental efficiency. I watch for this in you and notice when you look for it in me. Like a macabre race to death, on some level. I don't like to dwell on it. And I never wanted to consider it. I wanted us to go on like we were forever, despite the fact I don't believe in ghosts. I changed the subject. I said something about the weather as we stepped outside. You were happy to join me.

Past the abandoned army depot's yellow-gray walls and broken windows on both sides of the street, we found a bench and sat down in a slight drizzle.

"It's the plastics making the sky change color," I finally said.

"No," you told me. "The plastics have nothing to do with the color of the sky. The plastics are spoiling the sea. Not the sky."

Corrected, though I knew perfectly well it's the ocean that mimics the color of the sky (therefore if the ocean was red there was a good chance it was because it was reflecting the color of a red sky) but didn't feel like arguing. We sat quietly for a while, watching our reflections in a window of a building across the way.

The truth was that neither of us were going mad or losing our minds or our cognizance. Our minds are too full. Always filled with several matters at once. Important matters. Matters that can't be solved easily or quickly.

The drizzle steadily increased to a full shower and then close to a downpour. We lived in this and were used to it. We became transfixed by the water gathering in the gutter and building itself into a mass that eventually began to flow and speed down to the corner drain. A process of mathematics of which I am only too aware of. I could tell you, too, were working out vectors.

Luckily, before we lost ourselves in the hypnotics of it all, the bells of St. Thorfinn called out across the dewy air. The bells were our signal, just as always, and we hurried down the street to the old cathedral that has been a stoic witness to so much since it was built by Ulf the hermit. It was a favorite of ours, responding to bells.

We rushed along, not wanting to be late and miss our chance. It was, after all, the entire reason we were out and about. We were waiting for those bells to play just that exact chime, in that order, signifying the event.

We turned the corner to the cathedral plaza beside the river where the grand old church sat like a sharp pile of bricks with an insolent finger of a tower rising high above it all. We found our usual seats along a crumbling cement wall that did a poor job of trying to separate the black factories behind us from the supposed grandeur of the cathedral grounds. And here we took out our pads and our oil pastels and drew insulting caricatures of the sheeplike penitents and blind believers lining up and going inside with solemn, sorry faces. Moving side to side as they advanced like a line of whirligigs on a rope. As I recall you didn't believe in ghosts either