Encouragement by Harrison Kim

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Jackson flows around the streets in a long black cloak that edges right down to his feet. His halo of black and grey hair holds up a dark cowl. At every corner he crawls on his knees and sweeps up the dirt and litter with his bare hands and drops it in a bag he carries around his neck.

“These avenues are my cloisters,” he says to anyone who will listen. “The city is my church. I must keep it clean.”

He looks in at doorway sleeping street people and each time he looks he slaps his own face.   “I must atone,” he says.

“But what are you atoning for?” asks Travis, a skinny pock faced young man with bad teeth sitting in a plastic chair at the corner of Pandora and Douglas. Jackson often passes Travis, a member of the street congregation who sells advice from his chair for two dollars a minute.

“For what do you atone?” Travis says again. He sips from a bottle within a paper bag.

“For everything,” says Jackson.

Travis laughs out loud. “You’re no worse than me.” He looks at Jackson’s dirty, cracked hands. “What we should do is make an apple pie together.”

Jackson stands there a moment. This time, he doesn’t slap his face. “I like apples,” he lifts his long black whiskered chin. “I see the end of another street.”

Travis notices grey ash rubbed under the monk’s eyes, and chuckles “You’re lucky you can still see with all that dirt on you.”

The street monk begins walking, turns, looks back. Travis shouts at him. “Pie!” then he laughs, he rocks back in his chair and his face turns beet red and the noise comes right from his gut. Jackson disappears around the corner.

“I’m gonna disrupt his ass,” Travis roars and rocks. “I’m gonna break his chain of bullshit.”

Travis loves the rush of his laughter. He sips another gulp of pure unfiltered water from his paper bag and continues giggling.

“I’m looking in a distance from a psychedelic dream,” he thinks. “I shall merge with the dream.” He stands up and hikes over to the Oxford Grocery store, where he searches for flour, sugar, apples, and raisins.

“I will also buy this cinnamon!” he grins at Leila the store clerk as he pays for his items. “I earned twenty five bucks giving advice this morning.”

“You make not bad money,” she agrees.

“Thanks to my reputation for accuracy,” says Travis in his deep, confident voice. “And I only have good intentions.”

He takes his bag of groceries and stares around at all the store goods. He breathes in deep. “Rejoice and keep the change. Perhaps we can have coffee together sometime.”

“Sure,” laughs Leila. “But only if you pay.”

Travis grins and lopes over towards the Johnson Street Bridge, passing tents erected on the sidewalk. He dodges skinny long haired men whipping by on chopped down bicycles, and a thin legged lady pushing a pram full of teddy bears. He reaches the end of the street and bends his way back underneath the old blue bridge. Sure enough, there’s Jackson, lying in a sleeping bag laid out on all the collected dirt and litter he’s picked up. He’s rocking his body back and forth as the tide rolls in. He’s rocking fast. Travis hears traffic rumbling above, he senses the steel vibration.

“I’ve got apples in here,” says Travis, motioning to his bag. “I’ve got pastry and butter and milk.”

He laughs. “I’ve got cinnamon.”

“There is no oven. “Jackson mutters “There are no bowls.”

He makes to slap his face.

“Wait.” says Travis. “This is a project. If the Government can build a marvelously sturdy bridge like this one, we can build an apple pie.”

“That seems simple.” Jackson says.   “But it’s out of my routine.” He runs his hands across his face. Then he runs them back again. “I’m tired.”

“Of course,” says Travis. “You’re like a wound up clock. You’ve done lotsa ticking but you’re still tensed and tocking. Would you not enjoy the pie savor? Consider it to be like incense.”

“As I mentioned,” Jackson repeats, “What about the bowls?”

“I bought the ingredients,” says Travis. “You supply the equipment.”   He smiles. “Consider bowls to be the holders of communion, of our horn of plenty.” He starts to giggle, then checks himself. “We should give thanks.”

Jackson jumps from his sleeping bag. He stares down at the water, sits and stands several times. He pulls the black cowl further forward on his head. “Gratitude is good.” he says. “I know where there’s some bowls.”

“Perfect,” says Travis. “Now we need a kitchen.”

“I don’t have a kitchen,” Jackson tells him.

“That’s not what I’ve heard from the grapevine,” says Travis. “When I hear you slap yourself, it comes to me that you may be a rich man.   Rich not only in guilt and regret, but in what caused you to feel those things.”

Jackson says “Who are you, Travis? Who are you really?”

“I’m a gatekeeper.” Travis says. “What we allow to pass through us becomes who we are.” He scratches his chin. “I decide what passes through.”

“You’re not on drugs?” asks Jackson.

“I’m a monk,” Travis begins to laugh again, then he stops himself. “Just like you. But a different kind.”

Jackson shakes his head. “Your voice sounds so certain and confident. I hope it’s not the devil’s voice.”

He pulls down his cowl and Travis sees the dark depth of a crows footed face below that crown of hair.

“I’m only a cook,” Travis says. “I can teach you a thing or two about apple pie.”

“Well,” says Jackson. “We can go to my kitchen.” Then he says, “Well, maybe not.” He turns again, “I guess so.”

“You’re making yourself dizzy,” says Travis. He puts a hand on Jackson’s shoulder. “You don’t decide,” he says. “You do it. It’s only a pie.”

Jackson stands taller with Travis’s hand on his back.   “It’s only a pie,” he answers.

The two walk back up to the street, Jackson taking big steps, Travis loping beside him.

“Our bus is right here,” says Jackson. “It must be a sign.”

He gets on. Travis approaches the driver “I will bring you a piece of pie on our return,” he puts small coins into the meter.

The driver motions “Just go sit down.”

“Thanks,” Travis says. “You have a tough job.”

Jackson and Travis ride up past the small houses and the soccer fields, past cafes and schoolyards. They ride to where the road winds around old mansions ringed by thick oaks and firs and there are no stores.   All the way up, no one sits close to Jackson. Travis noticed the Jackson body smell before, but now it’s very apparent. Jackson makes to slap his face, but Travis shakes his finger, “none of that.”

They disembark in front of an old peeling heritage house with one turret tower and several gables, Travis follows Jackson up over the unkempt lawn, around the side of a tremendously wild hedge with poking out branches.

“This way,” Jackson waves a large key, motioning Travis down some stairs, they step through a scratched white door into a basement.

“This is the kitchen,” says Jackson. “You must be very quiet.”

Travis sees a black flecked stove, with an oven. There’s a jam splattered fridge, “is this your place?”

“My Dad’s’” he says. “He’s pretty old.”

Travis tries the sink taps. “Lots of water,” he announces. “Are there any pie plates?” and Jackson rummages through the cupboards.

Travis’s hands go through the motions of preparation. “I’m the director,” he says. “This is my arm and leg routine.”

Jackson finds the bowls and the wooden spoon.

Travis in fact knows nothing about cooking. “The valve of instinct is open,” he says to himself, and he hums “I will go with that.”

When he does this, he sings: “Nothing I do will work out good or bad. It will just be”. Then he stops.

“Let’s put about two cups of flour in,” he tells Jackson.

He turns. There’s an old man standing in the doorway, a very stooped thin moustached guy with his mouth open and a few good teeth in there. He’s breathing heavily.

“That’s a lot of flowers,” says the old man. He looks around him. “I heard some noise. You know I don’t like noise.”

“Hello Dad,” says Jackson. “I’m sorry, Travis wanted to make a pie. I’m sorry.”

“You can have some too,” says Travis. “This pie’s for everyone.”

The old man doesn’t say anything for a moment. Then he peers out from his cloudy eyes and states “I’ve always liked apple pie.”

“Come and sit down then,” Travis pulls out one of the blue wooden chairs, he sees white fiber coming out of holes in the seats. “Are these stuffed with horse hair?” he asks.

The old man sits. “Yes, horse hair,” he says. “Where did the monk go?”

Travis hears some crashing outside, and lopes out to see Jackson moving his arms up and down and slapping himself.

“It makes me feel better,” Jackson says. “I have disappointed my old Dad and I must pay the price.”  His cowl is off and he’s ripping a bit at his black halo of hair. “I’m a bad person. I’ve always been a bad person.”

“Hey,” says Travis, “Your Dad’s about ninety years old. I have to tell you, he’s harmless.”

“I let him down,” Jackson says. “I did not rise to his expectations.”

“Well, there’s got to be something better to do about that than slapping yourself,” Travis says. “Or him.” He pauses. “The pie’s in the oven.”

Jackson stops. He grins, for the first time, his yellowed teeth framed by pale whitish gums and behind a pallid face all that hair. “I’ve always found it hard to find a job,” he says

“Yeah,” says Travis. “You gotta be sure about your career. One hundred per cent sure.”   He rubs his chin. “We’ve gotta break your chain of down.” Jackson smiles widely in response. “They tried electroshock on me,” says Travis. “That woke me up. For you, more subtle techniques.” He taps Jackson on both shoulders with a wooden spoon. “I dub thee monk.”

Travis goes back inside, leaving Jackson rubbing his face; he steps around Jackson’s Dad.

“You don’t look like my son,” the old man whispers.

“Your son’s outside doing his exercises,” Travis says. “Take this.”

He pops a leftover apple into Dad’s hand, goes for a walk down the hallway and checks out the ceiling beams. One hundred per cent Douglas Fir, very sturdy. This place is worth a mint. He returns to the old man, who’s still holding the apple.

“Can I give you a knife to eat that?”

“You’re another one of the street people!” the old man whispers again.
“No,” Travis says. “That’s my disguise. You know, Jesus was from the streets. So was Buddha. And I think Leonard Cohen even walked the lanes of Laredo.”

The old man smiles. “I was a preacher,” he offers, cupping one hand to his ear.

Travis grins. “Perfect. We’ll work very well together.”

He bends down to check the oven. “I think the pie is ready,” and pulls out a blocky looking white pastry chunk that smells like warm summer afternoons when the wasps crawl in the fruit.

“Yum,” says Travis, and the old man grins.

He slips outside to check on Jackson, who is on his hands and knees, his hands sweeping up the steps that lead down to the basement door.

“Come in and eat,” Travis beckons, and Jackson follows.

The three of them sit around a small coffee table. Upon that table Travis slaps three slabs of pie.

“You don’t have to eat it all,” says Travis. He digs in.

Jackson mouths some words of thanks and starts forking it up, and the old man takes the dish onto his lap “no one’s served me for a long time,” he says. “Well, it doesn’t taste bad, kind of like cinnamon.”

“I’ll live here,” Travis says, “and serve you cinnamon pie every day.”

Jackson looks up. “You seem so certain,” he says.

“I have to be,” says Travis. “What do you think got me to this place?”

He ponders his choices for a second as the two eat the pie, because he’s mixed two blotters of LSD in the crust, one blot in each serving except his but Travis has been high all day.

“This pie will help you break the chains of your own slavery,” he tells Jackson in his deep confident voice.

2.

Travis has lived in the old mansion for the past month, he’s made an office out of one of the upstairs rooms, inviting people over for desserts and a chat. Only twenty dollars. He’s hooked it all up with Twitter and Facebook, and he’s added ice cream to the menu. He calls these events “advice parties.” People come over and they feel pretty good after a talk and a meal.

A lot of things in the house itself have disappeared, including all the bicycles, but the old man is still around, smiling all the time now and asking for more pie.

Jackson no longer slaps his own face. He carries a broom and pan to sweep things up, and puts the ashes in the trash. Travis has made him official clean up man. Jackson still considers the streets his cloisters, but doesn’t blame himself for the congregation’s sins. He’s eating more, and has gained three pounds.

Travis doesn’t believe it’s the LSD. He put it in the crust, and the old man didn’t eat his crust. He thinks it’s the advice. Be certain, be real, and break the chain of bullshit. “But it could merely be having a good cook,” he tells Leila the store clerk.

“It’s encouragement,” she offers. “And your positive nature.”

When Travis leaves the store, he grins. He knows the truth. He possesses the devil’s voice and confidence, and bends the weakest to his will.

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Harrison Kim

Harrison Kim lives in Victoria with his spouse and editor Sera T. He worked many years at a psychiatric hospital, and is writing stories from collected experiences there and other places. His stories can be read at Hobart Pulp, Liquid Imagination, The Horror Zine, Literally Stories, Fiction On The Web, Bewildering Stories, Spadina Literary Review, and others.

Blogspot: https://harrisonkim1.blogspot.com/

Image by blogmood__ from Pixabay

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