Chapter 2

MICHAEL AWOKE in the semi-darkness of the little trailer in the woods with its blinds pulled. He was thirsty. Without getting out of the small bed in the rear of the trailer where he lay with Maria, he sat up and leaned over towards the refrigerator. Just reaching it, he opened the door and grabbed a beer. Almost all the ice had melted, but the can still felt old. He popped the top, propped his head on his hand, and sipped.

He listened to warbling trills of the birds in the trees and took another little sip. It wasn’t such a bad life, he thought to himself. He had seen worse, much worse.

He looked over at Maria, who was still sleeping. He looked at her heavy form in the little bed, her chubby face, her brown skin, and the mole on her cheek. Good thing he, Michael, was built small, he thought, because two Marias would not fit in this bed.

He blew softly across her face and she stirred slightly. "Maria?" he said. "Huh?" she groaned.

"Hey, Maria, you got any cigarettes?"

"No, babe, you smoked them all last night," she said. "Don’t you remember?" She turned over on her side, away from him, toward the little rear window of the trailer.

"Hey, I’m serious," Michael said, sensing a little bit of humor in her reply. In the mornings it was hard to tell if Maria was serious or poking fun. She liked to poke fun. "I’ll get you more," added Michael hopefully.

"Sure you will," she said, a little more awake now.

"I will, I swear it," declared Michael.

"There are two, just two, mind you, my love, in the bag on the table. You may have one of them," she announced from under the blankets.

"Thanks, babe," said Michael. "I’ll get you a whole pack by this afternoon." Well, at least I’ll try, he said to himself, getting out of bed to get Maria’s bag from the table. The table, located in the front of the trailer, was only about four feet from the bed, but it was far enough away that Michael had to get up. Almost everything else in the trailer he could reach from the bed by stretching. Sometimes it was an easy stretch, sometimes a more difficult one; rarely, however, did he have to get up. And these days that suited him well. He had had enough of difficulties, enough of hassles. Michael remembered to grab the matches before he got back into bed with Maria.

He took another little sip of the beer that was frothy, refreshing, and still cold, waited a little to light the cigarette, then struck the match. He watched the beautiful flame, broad and blue at the bottom, yellow and narrow at the top. With this perfect flame, he told himself, he could burn down a building, torch a bus, or light a candle or a cigarette. Power, yes, infinite power, between two shaky fingers that held a small stick burning at one end.

"Maria, should I torch the Capitol or just the Governor’s house?" he asked.

"Should you what?" Maria asked and rolled over.

He lit the cigarette.

The inhalation relaxed his small body, and he lay back on the pillow with Maria and listened to the birds. When he listened to the birds he could always picture the woods outside. He could see one of the birds, a yellow warbler, high up in a redwood or a pine or a fir, calling across the way to another bird in another tree, or maybe just announcing its presence to the woods. Calling, announcing, or shouting hello, here I am, there are you. But that was it; there was no message. No order to have something done by 3 o’clock sharp or else. No demand to see your drivers license. No court order, no . . . Michael relaxed and took another drag on the cigarette.

Peace, he had found peace for awhile. And a piece, too. No, he thought, forgive me, Maria, you are much more than a piece. But you are a big piece, a chunk. He had never made love to a woman so much larger than himself. She was like a mountain beside him, and making love to her was like hugging a mountain. It calmed him, it took his fear away, it settled his mind. May he never meet another one of those small, attractive woman in his life, he thought. They were only great trouble.

Like the one he had been married to for awhile who had wanted the fancy car he did not have the money to buy so that he had gotten the money in a roundabout way that had caused him to go to jail, though it was his fault, his own damn fault, he knew. He had had a lot of time to think about that in prison--what else was there to do but read and think? He had even talked about it with his cell mate, a young man in for removing certain controlled substances from a doctor’s office late at night; and he understood now that it all really boiled down to greed, greed for things you did not really need or want. "Feeding desire," his cell mate had called it, who had been reading Hindu philosophy while doing time.

"You have to overcome the three ‘gunas,’" his cell mate had told him one day while they were strolling like two uniformed philosophers in the exercise yard at Soledad state prison.

"And what are the three ‘gunas’?" Michael asked as they came to a fence and stared west across a dusty field towards highway 101 and the freedom to go 55 MPH north or south.

The three "gunas," explained his cell mate, were sattwa, rojas, and tamas. "The ultimate goal," said his cell mate sounding bookish, "is to overcome all three, but one must start with tamas." Tamas, he said, is stupidity, laziness, and inertia. When tomas is overcome, then one must defeat the passions; when the passions are defeated one must assault knowledge itself. "Then and only then does the divine light shine with true brilliance," his cell mate had concluded with a look of mental exhaustion.

Surely, Michael thought, lying there in the bed of the trailer, he was still working on the lower gunas. But one thing he knew he had risen above: he would not be stealing in order to buy something he did not want or need just to please someone else. He was beyond that now; two years in jail had enlightened his mind on that point.

But he felt safe now.

Maria would never ask him to steal things they did not truly need. And beyond the acquisition of certain necessities, she asked little of Michael: now and then to take out the garbage, now and then to dispose of sewage, all necessary and reasonable requirements of trailer life if sewage and garbage were not to gain the upper hand in limited space. About once a week she would tickle him and ask, "Where has my sweet sewer guy gone? Does he love another’s garbage now?" The request was like a cheerful song to Michael, so that sometime, but always that very same day, Michael removed both sewage and garbage from the trailer. Where it went Maria was never quite sure, but Michael was as good at getting rid of things as he was at acquiring them.

The birds seemed to be silent now and Michael decided it was time to get up. "You want the rest of my beer?" he asked Maria, amused with the notion that he was improving his karma by the implied restraint of some nasty, low-order guna.

"No, babe, you finish it," she said, her large, dark, cow eyes popping open and watching Michael as he rose from the bed.

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