It was just a tent by the side of the road.
The road meanders from noplace special to nowhere anyone wants to go. The semis rattle by going both directions filled with the boles of trees, showing their butt ends to the only place they’ve ever known, going somewhere else to be useful. Like all the children born here do, as soon as they’re big enough.
The car’s a bit worn now, and a muddy chuckhole reaches out for the tire as we bound into the hardpan lot, pitching and yawing like astronauts on the way home. His grandfather would have called it a chuckhole, anyway. His grandfather, the man with the twinkle in his eye and a laugh on his lips and the same name on his certificate of birth. He winked out like a star in a distant galaxy last year, but the light from it is still reaching us here. It’s in the back seat, bright; and driving, too — a little faded.
The words aren’t up to the task anymore. People grope for the name to call it. Antiques? A flea market? Junk or junque. It’s stuff for sale that no one wants so it costs a little money. If anyone would want it, it would be by the side of the road with a “Free” sign on it. But then, commerce is not arithmetic.
I know too many things and examine everything like a doctor looking at the third person in a row with a cold in the last ten minutes of office hours. He knows nothing so everything is wonderful.
You can never tell with him. He never uttered a sound until he was four. Just looked at you with eyes like saucers half-filled with motor oil and you wondered if he was sent to make you nervous forevermore. Then he never stopped talking until his eyes banged shut each evening in a bed laden with bears and talking sponges. To bring him anywhere is to bring Ken Coleman along to murmur about the mundane in a continuous stream, and pass the time contented.
What would it be this time, you wonder. A broken Happy Meal toy or a dented sousaphone or a three-and-a-half legged-table covered with lead paint? He ranged around the tent like a bedouin holding up a caravan mid-desert and pawing around for some honorable plunder. Then he disappeared.
We found him there, sitting alone and tapping away. No paper. A Royal Standard Ten with beveled glass windows on the sides. He wouldn’t go anywhere else. He wouldn’t look at anything else. Tap tap tap ding.
“I’m going to find the man and make him a bargain.”
It was twenty bucks we didn’t have. It was twenty bucks that wouldn’t show up on our plates. It was twenty bucks I would have sold a quart of blood to get for that boy. All the way home, he sat in the back and craned his neck to look at it on the floor behind the seat. Some things are worth more than money.
“This is the machine you write books with, dad.”
Yes, my boy. The machine comes with the stories in it. You just have to let them out. They put in windows so you can get a look at them first.