I was going up the basement stairs. I saw a shadow sitting in front of the basement stairs. I sighed inwardly. It was Rex, a tenant in my building. I lived in the basement and he didn’t live here-but he knew the door code to get into the building.
He only did this when he had money, usually after a good day of pan handling or when he got his monthly check. It was as if he had two homes: the shelter or the street when he didn’t have money and in my building when he did.
I don’t know why he didn’t rent a real place with what money he had. Nor did I understand why the super of my building let this go on. For three years now, I saw Rex every month for the first two weeks and it was beginning to get a little abrasive.
I moved up the stairs anyway, intent on going out. The thunderstorm would only last a few minutes at least. I had my camera at the ready, all set to catch a picture of the lightning. It would be awesome.
“How you doing bro?” Rex said. “It’s like it’s been something that she said. And I told her to be quiet, that the windows were speaking to me.”
“Calhoon! Is that you bro? Like fuck you’re getting taller. I said to Rex and Romulus the other day that I really like you, and sometimes it’s like I can’t see you. The trees grow too tall.”
I walked past him quickly. “Cool.” I said.
“Cool?” He squinted at me. He was wearing a train conductor’s hat with his silver hair sticking out in a fringe. He was wearing a shirt that looked like a pajama top and a ratty pair of jeans. He stood and I watched dust fall out of the creases of his clothes. It always did. After Rex was around, I would find trails of dust and dirt all over the apartment building for days. “You think that’s fucking cool? What the fuck man?”
His voice got louder with each word until he was screaming at me. I went out of the building and turned as I got to the door to the foyer. Rex sat back down, most dust falling around him. I went down the stairs and stood in front of the storm under the front overhang, the rain coming down in buckets and the pounding of it matching the beat of my heart.
Overhead, lightning flashed through the sky. It was a bright and quarrelsome pink. I caught a photo of it, just as another slapped through the sky. It was followed by a terrific rumble of thunder that shook the ground around me. It was amazing being in amidst something that powerful.
More lighting flashed across the sky and then another arched down; I realized in a second that it was heading for me a moment before it touched down. I leaped back, falling against the pavement and was out of the line of fire when it hit. I closed my eyes from the blinding brightness of it. When I opened them, two men were standing there in front of me.
They both wore long pink robes that brushed the ground. The one on the right, portly and squat, looked down at the robe. “Really Romulus? Pink?”
The other one, tall and thin like a scarecrow huffed. “I happen to like the colour pink. It’s a happy one. I can’t help it if you’re never happy, Roget.”
“But who ever heard of pink lightning? I mean, electricity is not pink!”
The fat one, Roget, stuck out his tongue. “There’s nothing wrong with a blinding white, a deep purple or a soft or royal blue, is there?”
“Oh, be quiet, Roget. You’re scaring Rex’s friend.” He held out a hand to me. “Can I help you up?”
I looked from one to the other, sure that my eyes were playing tricks on me. “Am I seeing things?” I asked. “Is this real?”
Roget blew a raspberry that made his cheeks quiver. “A question I am asking myself even now, as I stand here wearing this pink Mumu monstrosity. I mean, what will people say?”
“That you look like a gum drop, now shut up you fat fool. Here.” He takes my hand and pulls me to my feet. “What’s your name?”
I was lost for words. I was wondering when my brain would implode or if they were going to kill me. “Huh?” Not the most eloquent of responses, I’ll admit.
“You’re name, friend. What do they call you?”
“Calhoon.” I said.
“An interesting name.” Romulus said. “Who are your ancestors boy”
“Oh goodness sake, really? We don’t have time for this.” Roget said impatiently. “Can we get Rex now, please? I hate the colour pink.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Romulus looked back at me. “You see, it seems our brother Rex has taken quite the liking to you. He’s always down here when he should be up there with us. We’ve come to take him back home.”
“Home where?” I asked.
“Where any god comes from, motal.” Roget said waspishly. “Up there.”
He pointed to the sky and the rolling clouds of thunder. There was no lightning and I understood that the lightning was in front of me. “From the sky?” I was not having this conversation.
“Well where to Gods live?” Romulus said gently. “Yes, up there. Our brother Rex fell down quite some time ago. It’s taken us days to find him.”
“He’s been coming around here for three years.”
“Yes, well your time is different than ours. The important part is that you’ve found him for us. You have our thanks.”
“He’s your brother?”
“We’re Fates,” Roget said. “Of course he is. I certainly didn’t choose him, the drunk ingrate.”
“Roget, please. Keep the insults to a minimum, you’re what made him leave in the first place.”
“Only because he can’t take the truth.”
“Will you desist?” Romulus’ eyes flashed pink with electricity and then they faded back to grey. Roget shook a little at this and quieted down.
“I’m sorry Romulus, I’ll be good.”
“Excellent, now do something useful and go get our wayward brother.”
Roget nodded and hurried up the steps and through the apartment doors. I watched him go and turned back to the one called Romulus. “Are your brothers always so weird?”
He sighed. “Yes, Roget has been a negative soul for as long as he’s lived and Rex for as long as he has, which is forever longer than Roget and me.”
I nodded, not sure what I was agreeing to. “What are you going to do with him?”
“Take him back home. The booze you mortals make isn’t good for him, but he loves it so. We have to get him into detox as we have work to do.”
“Yes, the Three Fates. It’s a lot of work, but enjoyable all the same.”
“Like Birth, Life and Death?”
“The very same. Believe it or not, Roget is Birth. He loves babies.”
“Are you Death?”
“No, I enjoy life to much, so I am Life. It is Rex that is Death.”
“Does that mean I’m going to die?”
“Goodness, no dear boy. We’ve just come to take him home. We’ve never lot him for this long before. And there are so many people who need to pass on. We’ve got to get him sobered up! He loves your version of alcohol, but it’s too strong for him.”
“Your bringing him home so people can die?”
“We think of it as passing. It is the natural order of life, is it not? Otherwise, if no one died, there would be no room to move around. You mustn’t look like that. Death is as natural as Birth or Life, it just has a bad reputation.”
Roget and Rex cam through the doors. Rex was struggling. “I said to her, you can’t catch the sun in your hands!” Rex screamed. “I saw him riding a pale horse and told him that he would be King! I can hear the trees growing from the ashes of its brothers.”
“Yes, yes, we know. You’ve told us this before.” Roget looked slightly put out but was keeping a firm hold on Roget’s collar. “Are we done here? It’s just that I promised Romilda that we’d be back soon.”
Romulus looks up at the sky. “Yes, it’s time.” He turned to me. “And you, Calhoon? Are you ready?”
“For whatever life brings your way.”
Romulus clasped hands with Roget and Rex and there were three pink strikes in the sky. I raised my camera and took a picture, knowing that no one would believe me if I told them the story behind the photo.
I wasn’t sure I even believed it myself.