A Work of Serial Fiction by Noah Sanders | 1/6/17
Silas was still in Minneapolis. He had traveled slightly west (about half of a mile) and then turned north. In total, he was 0.7 miles from the front door of the hospital. He was back where he had been before his brief stay in the hospital – the Minneapolis Public Library – doing exactly the same thing he had been doing before his brief stay in the hospital: reading.
The janitor’s daughter – six-years-old, short brown curls dotted with pink and white hair clips shaped like butterflies, running through the library at night while her father cleaned the library, a five-floor holding cell for books, magazines, and newspaper clippings transformed each night into a magical castle, a beachside resort, a hotel for the dogs she wasn’t allowed to own – had found Silas slumped in his chair, unconscious from three days without food or water, books piled in towers around him. She screamed, her father heard her over the music blaring through his headphones, and Silas was taken to the hospital.
This time was going to be different. This time, they had a plan. Bubba, Mama, and Earl where going to rotate shifts, bringing Silas a bottle of water, an apple, and a bag of ranch-flavor corn nuts every four hours. Sticking to this schedule, Silas thought he could finish reading what he wanted to finish reading in one week, maybe two, and they could all move forward with their journey.
When Earl opened his eyes, he was face to face with Bubba’s fat, protruding belly button, a squat air-traffic control tower tracking the flight of dust, hair, and flakes of dead skin blown lazily across Bubba’s broad, curving belly.
Their campsite, their home for the past week, consisted of a 6 x 8 ft camping trailer –scratches and dents scrawled across its siding proof of the years of family road trips proceeding Silas’s impulsive Craigslist purchase – the blue Toyota Camry to which the trailer was hitched, Bubba’s motorcycle and May’s sidecar, and a green canvas tent Bubba had pitched alongside of them, all arranged in a semicircle in the southeast corner of the parking lot, equidistant from the library doors and the CVS across the street.
Although the trailer was ostensibly Earl’s, and the tent was Bubba and May’s, Earl had learned over the past week that personal space was not something that was held in high regard by his newfound and motley crew. The trailer door did not lock and Bubba, the self-appointed enforcer of Silas’s feeding schedule, made sure Earl did not miss a single shift.
As a sort of ten-minute warning, when Bubba passed the trailer on his way to the CVS, he would bang twice on the side of the trailer with his fist, a signal that Earl should open his eyes and start heaving himself off of the mattress they had somehow squeezed into through the trailer door. On his way back, Bubba would bang once more before he burst through the door, shoved the newly purchased food into Earl’s hands, and stared, silently, until Earl was out of the trailer and on his way to the library. Still, after a week of this, Earl was yet to hear Bubba speak.
Placing a hand on Bubba’s belly for support – still intrigued by and thankful for the taught rigidity of the skin over that belly – Earl heaved himself to his feet. He grabbed the plastic bag of food and drink Bubba handed him, squeezed through the tiny door of his trailer and walked across the parking lot and into the library.
Aside from Bubba’s banging and his forced excursions into the library, Earl’s life was going slightly better than he was used to it going. To be clear, he hated bringing Silas his food. It was just over fifty yards from the door of his trailer to the doors of the library, which meant it was just over one hundred yards before Earl could slump back onto his mattress, and Silas was never in the same spot. But because he rotated shifts with Bubba and Mama, these brief periods of physical activity were interspersed with longer periods of lethargy and relaxation in his trailer, a trailer that was just large enough to be comfortable, but small and confining enough to remind him of prison, a home he thought of with fondness and nostalgia.
This time, he found Silas on the third floor, lounging in a purple beanbag chair and reading aloud to a small group of children sitting scattered around in front of him.
Except for Silas’s voice – full and musical, climbing octaves and changing tone as he switched between characters – the room was silent. The children – cross-legged on the floor, chins resting on fists – were captivated. Earl could not tell if they were focused on the story or on Silas himself. The same energy Earl had met in the hospital, the force that had pulled him out of his bed and tossed him in the back of the trailer (against his will, Earl would later reflect), was clearly present again here, emanating from Silas and settling on the children listening to his story.
Earl picked a spot in the back and slumped to the ground, resting his immense body against the wall. Ignoring the silent stares of hovering parents, parents less than pleased to have Earl in such close proximity to their children (the scars on his head still burning grotesque and red, rolls of fat spilling out from under his t-shirt, the stench of a week crammed into a camping trailer – metal baking sweat in the sun –radiating almost visibly into the air around him), Earl pulled out a bottle of water and a bag of ranch-flavor corn nuts and settled in to listen to Silas’s story.
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