and I sat in silence.
of graceful footsteps gently clapped away the quiet a few moments
later. The woman who had been in the front of the shop earlier was
carrying two large trays of colorful assorted candies. She set the
trays down on a cart, and rolled the candy towards me. The wheels
of the tray creaked and whistled as it moved along the floor.
Red said you wanted a lot of candy. Well, here's a lot," the woman
said. "Try the red-striped ones, they're my favorite," she smiled.
her recommedation, I grabbed a few red-striped pieces from the mountain
of confection. I popped one in my mouth. It was good. Chewy and
tart. It tasted like strawberry-rhubarb. My salivary glands kicked
in and washed away the cottonmouth.
looked at me pensively, as if awaiting a verdict.
are very, very good," I said, as I smacked and chewed.
of knowing agreement broadened over her face. I hadn't noticed earlier
as we had entered the shop, but she was pretty. She looked impish
like a mischievous child with short, blond hair that she
brushed forward. All her features were small, and seemingly delicate,
except for her eyes. She had large, radiant blue eyes that blazed
above her high-set cheekbones. She looked like a cross between a
fairy and a princess.
you're Barnum," she said. "I've heard quite a bit about you. If
you're hungry for some real food, there's a little restaurant just
down the street that makes the best tapas. I'm heading over there
in just a minute."
the glass-domed ceiling overhead I saw the sky was dark. I couldn't
think of a better idea than dinner.
rose from his chair. "Well, as good as some dinner sounds, I have
an appointment I must attend to, so I'll just grab a bite on the
way. "Barnum," he said as he extended his hand to me, "It's been
a real pleasure. We'll meet up again soon. If you need me for anything,
Red or Stella here know where to find me."
that I was coming around, I stood to shake his hand. "Yes, Gnothi,"
I said. "It was good to meet you. There's still more I'd like to
ask you, but I guess that can wait for another day."
smiled as he turned to exit the room. "Yes, another day very soon."
he chimed, as he vanished down the hallway.
standing a few feet from Stella. She was taller than I had expected.
I stood just at six-foot tall, and she couldn't have been more than
three or four inches shorter.
looked caringly at me. "You look pretty spiflicated," she said.
"Let's get some real food in you. I'm going to change out of this
work uniform, and I'll meet you in the front of the shop in a jiffy."
mean you don't want to walk down the street in a bright pink shirt,
blinding white pants and nurses clogs," I retorted.
you're not one to talk," she laughed. You look like shit. There's
another changing room right outside the door where you can freshen
up. Look on the top right shelf in there use anything you
clogged her way down the hallway, leaving me alone. I looked at
the pile of candy which had suddenly lost its appeal. I made my
out of the room and found the door I was looking for, with a sign
that read, "Another Changing Room." I turned the doorknob and entered.
It wasn't a large room, and was mostly filled with stacked-cardboard
boxes. In the far corner was a small shower stall and a sink. I
quickly disrobed and threw my clothes in a pile on the floor. The
shower brought me back to life as the hot water beaded against the
back of my neck. I quickly soaped up, rinsed off and turned off
the shower. I grabbed a towel hanging on a rack, dried off and wrapped
it around my waist. I stood in front of the sink and looked into
the mirror hanging overhead. I didn't look so bad considering, but
I needed a shave. I looked up to the right and saw a shelf containing
a number of trial-size personal hygiene products wrapped in plastic.
I grabbed a disposable razor and a tiny can of shaving cream. I
had only been in the room for a few minutes, but I knew I needed
to step on it.
later I was clean-shaven. I quickly dressed. As I was hunting down
a comb and a toothbrush, I spied a bottle of eye drops. A minute
later, I walked out into the hall feeling like new man with
eyes that were back to brown.
out to the front of the shop to see Stella standing there in wine-colored
velvety pants that flaired over black boots. She had on a white
t-shirt covered by a worn, leather bomber jacket. She looked hip,
like a designer or an artist.
clean up good," she said. "Red had to run out, so I have to lock
up. Wait outside and give me two minutes."
outside as I watched the candy-store flick off for the day. The
window displays and the counters went from a neon rainbow to darkness.
Stella appeared through the front door, closing it and locking it
over," she said. "Let's get some comida. It's this way."
in Toland were quaint in the late-summer evening. The district had
an old, urban industrial-bohemian feel. We walked past windows of
small, owner-operated arts and crafts boutiques and a few galleries.
The area had a quite buzz about it, like something was happening
like it was the place to be. "Here we go," she said.
up to see a dimly-lit sign that read, "Curious Bull Tapas Lounge
& Bar." We entered through the door and walked up half a flight
of stairs into the restaurant. A waiter holding up two fingers nodded
in our direction. We both nodded back in reply. We were seated at
a small candle-lit table near the front window, overlooking the
street. The atmosphere was festive but relaxed. Spanish music with
choruses of trumpets played ambiently over the stereo system in
the background. Dried flower arrangements hung from the walls surrounded
by little glowing red and white lights. The feel was elegant-kitch.
are you hungry for?" Stella asked, as she flipped through the menu.
"The empanadas here are the best around."
not exactly being a tapas connoisseur. "Why don't you pick
out something good for us," I added. "I'll eat whatever." Minutes
later, we were drinking cerveza and munching on portobella bruschetta
and assorted empanadas. The food and beer settled me down. I'd had
quite a day after spending the night sleeping on a park bench. The
high from the ganja was gone, and it was always nice to be sitting
at a table across from an attractive woman.
I see you finally met Gnothi," see said as she tipped back a cerveza.
"He sure is a live one."
he's quite a character," I replied. "And he seems to be a man full
of knowledge and endless surprises."
"You haven't seen anything yet," she said. "He and Red have been
testing a new crop of boosters along with the movers you were in
today. I've seen some things in the last few weeks that would make
your head spin. Gnothi has a very peculiar sense of humor sometimes."
boosters," I said, puzzled.
you really have been out of the loop for a while," she chuckled.
"What's the last booster you used to move?" she asked.
almost spilled her beer.
she exclaimed. "Where have you been? The last time I heard anything
about T27, it was being used in the suspended-animation sectors."
where I've been," I replied. "I was in Sector Gamma."
she exclamined. "Red had said you'd been away, but I didn't realize
it was in a non-physical sector. Did you die? Is that why you were
quite die," I answered. "But I did come close enough that it was
decided that I should be suspended. I had a rare type of blood disease.
One that many felt a cure would be found for in a matter of years.
I was suspended and then I was removed from Sector almost 50 time
you remember anything about it," she asked, intriqued.
really," I said. "From my point of view, I went to sleep one day
and woke up years later."
never actually met anyone who's been in a non-physical sector,"
she said. "So, you're like an iceman. Gamma was one of the first
because of my grandfather, I guess I had a certain pull, " I replied.
"I was the first patient moved to Sector Gamma. That wasn't too
long after everything went ape-shit."
she said. "You were really around for all that. And you knew Chipper
and some of the first Wanderers. "
I laughed. "I guess you could say I was at ground zero for much
was quiet for a minute. Then she asked, "Barnum, do you believe
point, I honestly didn't have an answer. I believed in something
just what I couldn't quite say.