Tule Fog ©2011
By R. Bailey
Fall fell and the foliage came tumbling after. The tule fog mutated. First it was tule fog because they were a peninsula surrounded by a river and sloughs. Then it was valley fog because they were a valley nestled within valleys. Finally it became ground fog; a colloidal carpet that compressed lush and thick, covering the creek, rising over the pastel pasteboards, finally smothering the gables of Canterbury. You could hardly see through it during the day and you could barely crawl through it at night.
The fog was home for Skin. His earliest memories were of a straight finger of fog probing through the Golden Gate to Point Richmond, rusting the slides in the playground until they wouldn’t even work with wax paper. Then it slowly filled the bay and basin with its smooth grey, right up to Grizzly Peak. Even in Alaska, where the fog froze, he’d disappear into it to relish the solitude. At night he itched to get away from the hard, warm walls of home and out into the soft, amorphic coolness.
At the end of the day the mustard bus emptied its contents in Canterbury. Mick and Jim went for Joan watching Terri fade into the fog while she swayed with a wiggle, with a wiggle when she walked. They knew she knew they were watching her. Just as she disappeared, she turned back, shot them a little come-hither and was swallowed by the mist.
“Did you tell her about VanSickle?”
“Hell no, man, did you?”
“No way but she knows.”
“No, she doesn’t”
“She knows, man.”
“Doesn’t make any difference.”
“What if she tells him?”
“She hates his ass.”
“And you didn’t tell her?”
“Not me, did you?”
Day was night was day, over and over and over. The apricots, walnuts, cherries, pomegranates, and grapes were gone. The big walnut was bare and no longer offered protection. But the fog graced them with a safe shelter in the late night.
Reilly popped the Zippo; they lit up Alpines. They were cool in the back of the Signal station, invisible again. Surrounded by a hodgepodge of old mismatched body parts, they were busy filling the rusted shell of a 48 Dodge with smoke, letting their breaths condense inside the windows, adding another veil of invisibility.
The cops rode cream Impalas down Prescott oblivious to the side show. For them it was another night, again. But for Skin and Reilly it was an observation platform. The sparse world floated by in a haze as they kicked back wondering who had been laid upon these worn springs forged in Detroit.
Then the 53 flathead crawled by. Reilly dinched the Alpine.
“It’s Van Sickle. We better split.”
“He’s been looking for us every weekend, he’ll check here.”
Skin traced flames into the bottom of the steamy window. He wrote the backwards message with a flourish.
“Watch your back.”
They split the Dodge to join the fog. Reilly wanted to stay and check it out. Skin said if VanSickle did see the message, he’d search the entire place. They maneuvered past the old body parts and were slowly sucked into the soft grey. They hopped a fence and walked it. It was one foot exactly in front of the other while leaning each ankle to the side against the fence boards. Step by step on the top of a two by, eight feet, over the four by, another eight feet on the two by, and over the next four by. It would take them to Joan.
Rage wailed behind them. Old body parts started crashing, glass windows shattered. Then the crazed howling, “You son of a bitches, I’m gonna find your asses! You’re dead men! You’re fuckin’ dead men.” Another howl, more glass breaking, suddenly a hair hat forced a hoarse whisper.
“Tommy, the cops.”
The flathead roared to life. A cream Impala screamed and leapt through the fog. Tires screeched. Steel crunched steel as the flathead rammed a tower of old body parts that crashed and fell back into the fogged up windshield.
A badge yelled, “Driver, get out of the car and put your hands over your head. Passenger, get out of the car. Put your hands up, NOW!”
They came off the fence on Joan. Reilly was the pumpkin again. “He’s busted man, he’s going to juvie, he’s busted.” They relished the victory as they headed two more invisible blocks up Joan where they’d be home free. Dim lights were squinting through the fog, Impala lights. A searchlight tried to sweep the sidewalks in vain. Skin and Reilly faded over a lawn and into oleanders. The Impala’s searchlight didn’t even come close. It snapped off as it passed.
Hysterical VanSickle bleated with shrill urgency, “They’re here, keep looking, they’re here. They did it, we tried to stop ‘em, you gotta believe me!” The badge shot back, “You screwed the pooch, VanSickle. We got your ass now.” Sound travels easily through ground fog.
Skin and Reilly continued up Joan. The pumpkin was about to burst. “Too much and a half.” He turned to Skin. “Man, nobody else can find out about this.” Skin was a grin. “No problem.”
A gate silently swung opened as they passed. A mushroom vortex of mist wafted up. Terri stepped out barefoot in baby dolls, even more invisible than Skin or Reilly. She watched the ground fog envelope them, wiggled her toes and slipped back behind the gate.
Skin and Reilly went back through their windows, conquerors of all they encountered; the night was still theirs.
Then came morning, again. His mother crashed his door, again.
“ALL RIGHT YOU KNOW THE DRILL UP AN AT ‘EM GET YOUR ASS OUT OF BED.”
There was no Michael there to scream at. Her eyes exploded. Her jaw clenched. Her fists clenched. Her neck muscles knotted and stretched out wider than a cobra. She gave a low hiss and bared her fangs. Her eyes gleaming blood red, she coiled and shot off.
Michael got up from his hands and knees, went to the sink and started to rinse the filthy towel. The cobra was lurking at the kitchen door, its eyes crimson slits. It hissed. Before it could strike he turned. “It’s OK, the wax is dry on this side of the kitchen.” Not quite good enough, but the cobra’s hood did dip, the coil loosened. The venom dripped but the words didn’t come. Michael was pleased with himself. The stalking began.
“How long have you been up?”
“Since five.” Big smile.
“What?” Eyes narrowing further, searching for the lie.
“I woke up. I decided I’d get started.”
“What are you up to?” Suspicion.
“I’m just trying to get everything done early.”
“What brought this on?” Unsure.
“You said I shouldn’t wait to be told what to do. I should take the initiative. I’m done, can I go?”
The cobra’s neck unknotted, knotted, teeth ground, fists opened to claws and clenched to fists again, lips stretched tight over teeth, still unsure.
“Thank you, Mother.”
“Where are you going?”
“Maybe Jim and I’ll go down by the creek.” He knew he had to give her something or she’d be roiling and hissing in a fit for the rest the day.
“DON’T YOU BRING ANY OF THOSE DAMN CRAYFISH BACK HERE. “
The stare got cold; the eye slits froze, still looking for a fight.
Michael Riki Tiki Tavied around her and headed out. Mim was coming down the stairs as he hit the door.
“Are you already done with everything?”
“Done and gone. Good luck.”
Fear grew in her eyes as Michael got out while the getting was good.
Reilly was in his garage filing a spark plug from the Briggs and Stratton. “How’d you get away so early?”
“Didn’t go to bed. Got all my CHORES done before she could strike.”
“That must have made old Momzilla happy.”
“Yeah, I thought she was going to choke.”
“She still fighting with your dad?”
“You mean Johnny? You betchum Red Ryder.”
Reilly screwed the sparkplug back into the mower and closed the garage door. They headed down on Joan. Terri emerged from her front porch, walked across her lawn toward them with wet toes. She let her baby blue bathrobe fall open. They could see her baby dolls. “Hey guys, have a good time last night?”
Skin and Reilly came to an abrupt halt. The fog was lifting.
“Hey Terri, what’s up?”
“I’m going to go paint my toenails, want to help?”
They both tried to swallow but couldn’t. Skin cleared first.
Reilly was a close second. “What color?”
“Does it matter?”
“Uuuhhh, no, guess not.”
“What about you Micky? Do you do toes?”
“Uuuhhh, well uuuhhh, I have before but uuuhhm, we’re kind of busy right now.”
“Well let me know when you’re ready for me.” She turned; her hips swayed their way back to her porch.
Skin and Reilly finally closed their mouths and walked on for a while.
“What’s the difference? She knows, man!”
They didn’t look back.
They grabbed a couple of navels from an overhanging limb and started to peel. They were just beginning to sweeten. They got to Huckleberry and the field that would never be a shopping center. Hodad was hanging with Ed.
Hodad was Greg, a short, broad-shouldered transplant from Oceanside, where a couple of years earlier, he’d fought the marines with his surfboard to lay claim to the best Pendleton breaks. The Marines had won.
Ed was then and always had been, Ed. He was a tall and lanky hard guy, science geek. In the future he would be Sir Edward but that’s over the mountains and through the jungles. He had been pushed into Sputnik’s math and science fast track but he had pushed back, hard. It pissed off the Prescott Valley admin who figured they were losing cash because he wouldn’t play the game. Reilly and Skin split their navels and pieced them off.
A closet full of white shoes sauntered down Huckleberry. Irwin, a half-assed fullback led the charge, “Hey guys, it’s the four freshmen sucking their navels.”
Suddenly they were in a crowd. Skin was the fresh meat in the neighborhood especially to the white shoes. He was an easy target. Even full of Dixie Peach, his hair was unmanageable and always falling over his forehead where it nurtured little blooms of bright pink pimples. His marionette arms and legs were a bully’s amusement park.
The white shoe figured to do a Grauman’s Chinese down Skinny Micky’s back. Skin didn’t have a chance so he tried to fake it like a joke, but the white shoe had no sense of humor. The more Skin tried to make him laugh, the harder Irwin pushed and pushed again.
Then Ed gets fed up with it and smears his Keds over Irwin’s bucks. “Fuck off!” Irwin can’t believe it and stares, speechless. Ed takes a swing, catches him on the jaw. Irwin staggers back. Ed tries to punch him in the gut but Irwin clinches him and starts to pound him down. Ed struggles free as Irwin lands a left to his head. Ed falls.
Skin jumps to help Ed up and pull him away. Ed shakes him off, Hodad pulls Skin back. Ed gets up and charges. Irwin knocks him down again. Ed gets up. Ed goes down. Ed gets up. Hodad and Skin try to hold him back but he breaks free and charges. Ed goes down. Hodad and Skin help him up. Reilly blocks Ed and tells him not to do it.
Ed pushes them away and charges. He swings and misses. Irwin catches him hard in the gut and follows up to the side of his ear. Ed goes down and out, a cauliflower starts to grow. Irwin plants the smudged buck on the cauliflower, twists, laughs and walks away. Skin and Reilly try to pick Ed up. Hodad, who had treated skeg gashes in shark surf, stops them. “He’s breathing evenly so he must not be hurt too bad. He’ll come to on his own.” Just like on Ben Casey, MD.
Ed flashes awake and jumps to his feet; they try to restrain him but he throws them off, sees the white shoe walking proudly away and yells for him to come back and fight! Irwin flips him the bird.
Ed’s cauliflower starts to grow. He looks at the three of them. “That white shoe belongs to me.”
The one stop on Cape Cod filled the entire mustard bus. When Mick and Jim got there Ed stood alone, jaw set and silent, cauliflower beet red and blooming. Greg came up from Pickwick. They all stood together.
“You OK?” Greg was checking the cauliflower.
Mick peered through the fog. The mustard bus was coming up Cape Cod as Irwin turned the corner in his 51 Chevy. He cheerily waved at Ed. Ed slowly extended his arm and pointed, tracing his track to the corner and around the turn.
A murmur rumbled the crowd. Word had traveled fast. Ed’s beat down was the talk of Canterbury. The tone subsided as Ed stared straight into the eyes of every single person standing there. The rumble stopped. There wasn’t a sound. The bus came up to the corner and it slowed right down.
Nobody looked Ed in his eyes. The bus began to fill up and the whispering started again. Ed was in a dark spotlight. As the four of them got on all eyes were on the cauliflower. A silent shudder passed through the bus.
Pat, a voluptuous, raven-haired, 15 year-old beauty always rode the bus with her older sister and younger brother, Ron. She had a different agenda. Mick caught a seat in front of her. He couldn’t help turning back to look at her, her smoldering blue eyes, her dark hair pulled back in a curling ponytail, and her blazing Jane Russell-red lipstick. As she talked, her Maidenform breasts stretched her angora sweater. She had no pimples. She wore white shoes.
She told the story of how she had been cast in a film that shot in town the previous summer. She was just walking by with her large breasts in her tight sweater and they just happened to ask her to be in the movie. Go figure.
Mick figured Ed needed time to himself. He looked back at Pat. As much as he tried he couldn’t take his eyes off her. It had been going on for weeks. When she’d see him staring he’d turn away, quick. After that she started to watch him. He tried to ignore her; his very tenuous cool was at stake. She’d stare at Mick, especially if he looked at her; he tried not to but… those eyes. White shoe sophomore girls just did not purposefully encounter freshman boys, unless it was to humiliate them.
Pat had no interest in Ed or the cauliflower. She was focused on Mick. The older girls began giggling, especially the pretty ones. Not laughing but giggling. Pat focused a stare that bore through him with deep mysteries oozing moist things he could only imagine. But he was ready for it; it was what he had been waiting for. He had a plan. He’d seen it on TV. And now was the perfect time. He glanced back and, cool and smooth, stared right into those eyes. Pat smiled and locked on him. He sneered a little sneer like he’d seen Elvis do in the movies.
“Take a picture it lasts longer.”
Terri raised a dubious eyebrow. Mick didn’t blink. He stayed cool and stared Pat down. She devoured him with her eyes and timed the perfect pause.
It’s surprising how quickly the blood can flow to a teenage boy’s face. Fuchsias started to bloom, first in his ears, then bursting across his cheeks. A scathing comeback failed to materialize; he was wordless, mouth breathing. Pat, with breasts you could live in forever, was smiling at him like he was dessert.
“Oh looook, he’s blushing.” She purred to her friends.
The fuchsias caught fire. Ron choked back a laugh. Ed, Jim, and Greg didn’t. Terri was amused. Mick faced forward with Buckwheat eyes and finally got his mouth closed.
All the freshman girls, sophomore girls, junior and senior girls had seen the whole thing. All the cool girls, all the awkward girls, all the still-trying-to-come-of-age regular girls joined each other for a whisper and a giggle.
It wasn’t so much that everyone broke up, he wasn’t cool or uncool enough for that to happen, but he had been set up and sacrificed. And in the midst of it all, of course, humiliated. He had seen it coming but instead of getting out of the way, he had stepped right in front of it and gotten run over. The dark spotlight left Ed and focused right on Mick.
When his head cleared, Mick was walking through the parking lot with Jim. Ed split for the locker room and Greg stopped to hang with the gremmies.
Terri slipped in between Mick and Jim as they passed the crowd of hair hats; who were in conference.
“You hear about VanSickle?”
“He’s in juvie.”
“No shit, what for?”
“He caught those punks who trashed his custom paint job; framed their bods through the plate glass window in the Signal on Prescott. Blood all over the place. He split but the cops chased him down; totaled his flathead.”
“No man! What happened to the punks?”
“They got away again.”
Jim and Mick didn’t miss a step.
Terri didn’t either, “Exciting weekend.” She watched Jim and Mick exchange glances. “Whoever Tommy VanSickle did over must be pretty cut up.”
Jim and Mick were silent. Finally Mick chirped, “I guess.”
“See you later, guys.” And off she went for a smoke.
The junior side of beef was still on guard at the door to D-building head. Jim and Mick tried it again.
“I told you ‘No freshman.’”
Jim tried again, “C’mon man…”
“Don’t piss me off, Reilly!”
They went through D-building out toward the football field. Ed jogged by with his cauliflower, making a run for “the hill”, a 45% incline up the butte to the old cemetery and the police academy. It was the training ground for Prescott’s soon-to-be-national-champion cross-country team and the part of the home course that defeated all opponents. “C’mon man, suit up, run the hill.” Ed wasn’t on the cross-country team but if they could do it, he could. Jim and Mick waved and walked into the fog.
Jim popped the Zippo. They lit up. They were dragging Camels as the fog thinned. The ambling frame of the Maxx was materializing before them. The Camels got dinched quick. Jim was about to fade away to the side but Mick grabbed him. “No man, too late.” He pulled him straight for the Maxx. When they were close, Mick began.
“I told you we shouldn’t cut through the orchard, we’re gonna be late for homeroom!”
“You’re the one who had to stop and tie your shoes.”
The Maxx was there.
“You made us miss the bus. Hey Mr. Maxx, we’re not late for homeroom are we?”
“No, but you better hurry.”
“See, I told you we’d make it.”
“Thanks, Mr. Maxx.”
And off they went without a hitch.
Later in the day, during algebra, Ron nodded at Mick. He was OK, a blond-haired, blue-eyed police cadet. His real last name wasn’t the same as his sisters but nobody in school knew that. And even though he looked like a blond Norse demigod and his sisters were raven-haired beauties Raphael would have would have killed for, nobody knew their family was a product of divorce and remarriage. That wasn’t talked about then.
In just a few years, a Black Panther Party Minister would shoot him dead and beat the rap. He’d tell the Oakland jury how those piercing blue eyes and shining blond hair challenged and berated him, made him crazy.
After it happened and the headlines were gone, it took years to realize that it was Ron. Mick had never seen Ron as a hard nose or racist as the Black Panther has described. But then Jesse, who was still a year away and had been a blond-haired, blue-eyed hoodlum, told him he and Ron had been bitter enemies because Ron had Jesse pegged as a criminal. Jesse did have that rep. Ron became the first of Mick’s peers to find his moment of fame.
But that would be then. This was now and the fog was lifting. Their invisibility was fading. The days were getting longer but the night had much more in store.