Read the first part of Going Tidal (A Selection from Tightropes Through the Eco)
I call him Max, short for Maximo. That’s Spanish for best, and that’s what Max is. The best. He and I, we make the best team. We’re the good guys. You don’t believe me, officer? Hell, let me explain. Max came out of an egg. The palms told me where to find him. I swear to god.
So there I was, dumpster diving for palm fronds to weave into hats, sell to tourists on the beach. I read the palms, y’see. They tell me which ones want to become hats. And sometimes they tell me more. Anyhoo, me and them was having ourselves a conversation about rising oceans and beaches washing away when all of a sudden someone said in my head, over here.
That’s when I found the egg. Someone threw away perfectly good food. A cryin’ shame with all the starving people in the world. People like me.
You can’t figure rich idiots. You’ll never know why they throw away half the stuff they do. That’s why I came here to Ft. Lauderdale. To dumpster dive. See, I ain’t got nothing no more, not since the dreams started.
They ain’t really dreams, but I don’t know what else to call ’em. My granny used to say I had the gift of sight. I was seeing them dreams, back when I had a regular job workin’ on a chicken farm up north. The boss said I was sleeping on the job. I wasn’t. I told him about the floods I saw in my dreams. Gonna wash away his farm, I said, but did he listen? Naw, he fired me.
And then the floods came. My ex told me about it after me and her split. Said I was good for nothin’, but that wasn’t true.
I know that now.
On account of Max. Max meant to find me. We’re a team.
He was already in my head long before I ever came down here to Lauderdale’s beach. He made me come, and he was right, as always. There are a lot of rich idiots here, y’know, coming in search of sun and surf, leaving a lot of themselves behind.
But there are a lot more here like me. Stranded, without a dime. Hungry. Please help. God bless.
What about the egg?
Given the size of that egg, I was going to have me a feast. It must’ve come from an alligator, or hell, maybe even from some turkey the ‘gators ain’t got. I was feeling mighty pleased with my find. My stomach was singing oh joy. I stuck the egg in my pack all careful-like and wandered around, trying to think of the best place to fix my egg. Somewhere where I could build a little fire without bringing the cops down on me.
I ended up a couple blocks off the beach in front of one of those derelict ’50’s motels that was in the middle of being torn down. Nobody was working that day, and the tourists didn’t come that far off the beach. I snuck under the wire fence and climbed through a hole in the rubble where I could have my feast all to myself.
I settled down on a rock and finally took that egg out of my pack. There was a crack in it. Hell. But no juice had dribbled out to ruin all my worldly possessions.
Then whaddya know? It started wobbling back and forth. Something wiggled inside like a ball of worms. The egg cracked some more. It glowed red. And then a feather poked out. Double hell. No gooey fried egg for my supper that night.
Maybe this would turn out to be an even bigger meal.
One half of the egg shell rocked open. The little fella curled inside its egg, but it wasn’t no bird like I’d ever seen. Oh, it had a feather all right. Just one. Red, like blood.
The rest of it looked like – I dunno – a baby ‘gator. Everything’s gators ’round here. But this one had teeny little side sprouts that looked like folded-up aluminum foil.
So much for my meal.
The little dude jumped up on two back legs, balanced with its tail, pawed the air with its stubby arms, rattled its aluminum wings, and stared at me with two of the biggest silver eyes you ever seen. It couldn’t have been more than six inches tall, twice that if you count its feather. Slimy goop coated its scales, giving the little whatsit a shimmering look.
It chirped and croaked, and the red color drained from its feather.
I backed up, still crouching, hoping like hell my bad knee wouldn’t give out on me then. “Relax,” I said. “I ain’t going to eat you.” How could I eat someone’s baby?
The feather waved, puffing air into my face. The slime dried from its scales. Mama, it said in my head.
I swear to god.
“Don’t you call me that!”
Hell, what was wrong with me? It was a bird. Or a ‘gator. Maybe a flying dinosaur. I heard a story that they was coming back. Something about D, N, and A.
It blinked at me, as if I’d hurt its feelings.
“Least you could do is call me ‘papa’,” I said.
Shit. Talk about bad timing. It needed a mama, and I happened to be there when it was born.
Hell, one of the reasons my ex left me was ’cause I didn’t want to be no one’s daddy.
It shimmered some more, and its feather turned on the red again, then switched to purple, then to blue, green, and gold. I felt kind’a dizzy watching its colors swirl like one of them toy watchamacallits you spin around.
Finally, the specks of color vanished into the dark. The little guy’s fireworks had gone out. I felt all tingly hot. And dizzy, too. Like someone hit me over the head. The whatsit was takin’ a look inside my head at my dreams. I wasn’t just me no more.
Eat, the feathered ‘gator said inside my head. He hopped to one side and curled into a ball.
The air smelled like barbecued steak. Damn, someone was grilling out, like me and the ex used to do before we got foreclosed on. Then I noticed a table all laid out, complete with candles in hurricane lanterns, all pretty-like, the way my ex used to do. And the steak. A plate full of honest-to-god steak. My mouth watered. I was dripping all over myself. I dove in.
I came up for air after a few bites. Where was I? What happened to the fenced-off yard of the ’50’s motel being demolished? Why was I sitting at someone’s table eating some rich dude’s steak? I shrugged and went back to work eating.
When I finished, I stood up and patted my belly. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a meal like that. I belched a few times, my stomach not being accustomed to feeling so full, and then I noticed that whoever’s balcony I was standing on sure had some hell of a view. I was way up high, goddamn! Must be the penthouse of some skyscraper tower stuck up in the clouds, looking down at the ocean. Freighters down there blinked their lights. The tops of palms waved up at me and traffic blurred past.
I was sure that any moment now, the cops would come busting in and haul me away for trespassing.
The feathered ‘gator from the egg shell had rolled into a rubbery ball in one corner of the balcony. He was snoring good and shaking all over with each snore. I gave him a slight kick. Gonna make him tell me how we got there. But he didn’t budge. Even if I did wake him up, what could he say? Really. He was just a ‘gator. Or a bird. Or something. I slapped some sense upside my head just for thinking that such a thing like it could talk to me.
Might as well check out the place. See if there was anything I could borrow. And figure a way out of the jam I was in. If that was a dream, I sure hoped I’d wake up before the cops busted in. I tiptoed over to the sliding glass door, just in case the rich dude whose steak I’d eaten was passed out on his couch inside.
It was a mighty fine room, decked out with gleaming leather, chrome, and glass fixtures. So I slid the door open just a titch. A blast of air conditioning washed over me, tickling my skin, reminding me that I hadn’t showered or shaved in… Oh, let’s just call it a while.
I didn’t see anyone around, so I stepped inside. Tried out the half circle of the couch. Leather crunched as I sank down, and I sniffed the fine perfume of cowhide as I made myself comfortable. I burped again and thought that what that meal needed to finish itself off right was a shot of whiskey. I stared long and hard at the glass coffee table, wishing that shot would appear. It didn’t.
But a key sat there. I picked it up and squinted at the card attached to it. Just enough light trickled in from outside for me to read the heavy, black print: “Trujillo.” And an address. Someplace on Ocean Boulevard. I recalled the stream of traffic below the balcony and decided that’s where I was.
I leaned back, wondering if this Trujillo was any relation to that crazy dictator-god somewhere down there in the Caribbean. I figured it was Trujillo’s steak that I’d just enjoyed. That’s when I noticed the little feathered ‘gator on the other side of the glass table. Standing on his hind legs, he watched me with those silvery eyes of his.
I held up the key to show him. “I suppose you wouldn’t know anything about this?”
Mama, he said in his little chittering voice that tickled the inside of my head, you are Mama Trujillo now. You set me free from the egg that old Trujillo created.
“Trujillo?” I said. Then a picture flashed through my head of some laboratory in a jungle, where a bunch of men in white coats was growing flying reptiles in cages. Looked sort of like Max.
You like our new home, Mama Trujillo?
That’s when I decided to name him Max. He’s the best. He got me that place. And now I know why.
If Max wants to call me Trujillo, that’s okay by me, ’cause I don’t have to peddle my hats to tourists on the beach no more. Instead, I get to sit on that terrace, penthouse level, sipping a piña colada and staring at the ocean and all the cruise ships swinging past with drunken tourists. It ain’t whiskey, but hell. It ain’t reality TV, neither. I don’t know how Max done it, but he found me that place, and it’s all mine.
And y’know what? It’s kind of nice not being alone no more.
Although, not twenty-four seven. Max goes off and disappears for days at a time. Each time he comes back, he’s got another feather on his head, and he’s another inch taller. One time when I asked him where he’d been, I got a horrible picture in my head of masses and masses of people drowning. Palm trees crashed over onto the beach and monster waves washed thousands, I mean hundreds of thousands of people out to sea. I kept rubbing my eyes to make the pictures go away, but they wouldn’t, not at first, not until I stopped asking Max where he’d gone.
So there I was one day, trying to enjoy my colada out on the terrace, but seeing instead more terrible pictures in my head. Then, some cheeky bird soared along the coast, circled my building, and dive-bombed my terrace. It was going for the maraschino cherry or the chunk of pineapple the bartender downstairs liked to stick in the umbrella that shaded my drink.
“Hey, get out of here,” I shouted. “Go get your own drink.”
The bird danced around a bit on its clawed feet and folded up its aluminum wings under the feathers it had grown. It wasn’t no bird. It was Max standing on my terrace, staring at me with his great big silver eyes.
They need our help, he said.
We have to go now.
“We? Like, you and me?”
“What’s the rush? Are cops coming?” I stared forlornly at the froth that still filled half my glass.
Everyone dies if we wait.
Was that a threat? Hell, I knew this life was too good to be true. I knew it would have to come to an end one day. Only, I thought it’d be on account of the cops busting in. Not dying.
After all, I owed Max big time. “Okay,” I said with a sigh as I heaved myself out of the chaise. “You lead.”
Hold my feather.
Whatever. “Which one? You must got half a dozen or so by now.” I bent down to his eye level. When Max stood tall on his hind legs and tail, he came all the way up to my knee.
No matter. Hurry. He hopped a little dance – impatient, was he?
“Okay, okay, relax.” The things I had to do. If only my ex could see me now. She always swore I couldn’t give no one the time of day. But hell, just look at me now, cozying up to the bird lizard. I got no one else. So I reached out and grabbed all of his head feathers with one fist. “Now what?”
He kept on dancing, and pretty soon I felt myself jiggle, too. Then my hand – the one that held onto his feathers – started to tingle. And my skin glowed. Pink, at first. Then red. Then blue. I lost count as the colors crept up my arm. Something knocked me off my feet. I jumped backwards, but I didn’t let go of Max’s feathers. It was like we’d fused together, and I couldn’t let go of him even if I wanted to. Just the idea of being joined to a goddamned flying ‘gator made my skin crawl. Or maybe Max was doing something to me that made it feel that way. It was like fire ants running up and down my body, and I wanted to leap into the air.
Next thing I knew, I was soaring through the air. Oh, Christ in Heaven. I was dead meat now. I didn’t dare look down. I closed my eyes and waited for the splat.
It didn’t come.
A powerful breeze washed over me, flapping my shirt against me. I tried to open my eyes, but they wouldn’t open against the force of the wind. “Max, help!” I shouted, only no sound came out. Maybe the wind blew the sound away. When I opened my mouth, the wind choked me.
I’d never asked no one for help, not in all my born days.
I felt something – someone’s presence – in my head, a soothing presence the way the grownups used to do back when I was a kid. Only it was Max this time. It’s okay. Max chittered in my head. We’re almost there.
There? Where’s there?
Then a new dream started playing in my head, or hell, maybe I was living it. I don’t think so. I was watching events that weren’t real. Only, I wasn’t making them up. They just hadn’t happened yet. But they would.
* * * * *
A city of skyscrapers rise above the sea.
Buildings vibrate, rocking back and forth. The ground splits open, elevated highway crumbles from its foundation, spills cars and motorcycles into the ripped-apart earth – screams pierce the air. Buildings fly apart, chunks of concrete explode, hurtling after thousands of people, who run and tumble over each other… Scream some more…
The ocean sucks backwards, curls up into a towering wall of water, aims itself at the tangle of people…
Nowhere to run.
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