High on Haight (part four)

“How do you always have money for weed and McDonald’s?” Vargas asks. “You got a job or something we don’t know about?”

They eat Big Macs in the park just above the artificial waterfall. Sallie eats one too, her red and black tongue licking up mud and pine needles to get the last of it, while Sun Going Down, a vegetarian, drinks a strawberry shake.

“My money?” Henry says. “Why do you care?”

“You out robbing people, Henry?” Hector asks. “Because that ain’t cool, man.”

“No. I don’t rob people.”

“You one of those rich kids from Marin who comes down to Haight to play at being homeless?” Vargas asks.

“Nope,” Henry says. “I’m not rich and I’ve never been to Marin.”

“You sucking dicks then?” Vargas says.

Hector and Vargas laugh. Sun Going Down finishes her shake and picks at her fries.

“No,” Henry says. “Don’t do that either. I used to be in the Army.”

Vargas chokes on his Coke.

“No shit,” Hector says. “What did you do that for?”

“I don’t know,” Henry says. “Seemed like the thing do.”

“How long did you do that for?”

“Eight years.”

Vargas whistles and Sallie howls. “That’s a long fucking time,” he says.

“Is that where you got all the cammies from?” Hector asks.

“No,” Henry says. “I had to buy these when I got here. I left all that shit back on Knox.”

“Back on Knox?” Hector says. “What did you do, just up and leave?”

“Something like that.”

“Wait,” Vargas says. “So you’re still in the Army?”

Henry finishes his sandwich, licks the special sauce from his fingers. “I guess,” he says. “But they stopped paying me a little while ago.”

“How long you’ve been gone?” Vargas asks.

“I’m not sure,” Henry says. “Few months now. Time kind of stops out here.”

“Tell me about it,” Hector says. “I have no idea how long I’ve been here. Must be two years by now. It’s hard to tell without there being any seasons.”

“There are seasons,” Vargas says. “It rains during the winter, is foggy during the summer, and is clear during spring and fall. You’ll get the hang of it one day.”

“Fuck fog and rain and clear,” Hector says. “I need snow and leaves changing colors and shit like that.”

“You were in the Army?” Sun Going Down asks. Her voice is surprising and soft.

Henry nods. They’re all quiet. Sallie rolls over and Vargas rubs her belly.

“My dad was in the Army,” she says. “Long time ago. He got killed in a car crash and my mom had to move in with her brother.”

The leaves blow in the wind. All around them people are bedding down for the night. The fog is thick, dripping from the trees like rain.

“Why did you leave?”

“I don’t know,” Henry says. “It was time to go, I guess.”

She stares at him. Her eyes blue and relentless.

“A friend of mine was killed,” he says. “Over there in Iraq. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. She was too good to get killed like that.”

“Aren’t we all,” she says. “Where’s she buried?”

“Somewhere down south,” Henry says. “I don’t know. I didn’t go. I came here instead.”

“You should visit her. Say your goodbye. But don’t go back. Stay away from the Army. It isn’t good for people.” She lies down on a bed of leaves, pulls a wool blanket over her head.

“Yup,” Hector says. “She’s right. The Army’s no place for a man.”

“Yeah,” Henry says. It’s very cold and the fog stings his face. “I’m going to go.”

“Go?” Vargas says. “Go where? Why don’t you stay here?”

“I don’t know,” Henry says. “Walk around. Go find my car.”

“You’ve got a car?” Vargas asks. “Shit. Big man with a plan.” He pulls Sallie close to him and covers them both with a tattered and thin sleeping bag. She wags her tail and licks his face.

“See you tomorrow, Henry?” Hector asks.

“Yeah,” Henry says. “Probably.”

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