by Tim Gilmore, 1/29/2016
I talked to the old white man who committed the heinous crime and the old black woman and her grandson PacMan. I was a kid myself, but sometimes the desire to find the elements of a story superseded my awkward shyness. I didn’t believe any of them, but PacMan’s story was the most compelling.
Around Proxima Road on the Westside are other streets with astronomical names: Centauri, Andromeda, Canaveral, Strato. The fading ranch-style houses here were built from the late 1950s through the 1970s.
The old white man lived in a concrete-block house painted blue on one side of Proxima, and PacMan and his grandmother lived in the “crack house” across the street. The houses were built in 1959 and 1960. Beige vertical OSB sheathing covered the crack house, but two or three trees grew yet triumphantly there against the street.
The old white man told me “that old black lady’s dog” menaced him daily. Sometimes the mud-brown pit bull would growl and drool as soon as the old white man stepped from his front door in the morning.
Though the old black woman kept the dog on a chain attached to the maple tree, sometimes he came off the chain and endangered the neighborhood’s outdoor cats and children and old folks.
I remember I asked why the base of that tree was painted white to the height of my hips. The first owners of the house had done that, he said, to prevent winter sunscald. It was an old technique. Those original owners would sure be sad to see what had happened to their dream home. All they’d recognize now was their winter-washed tree.
The old black woman said the old white man would walk up and down the sidewalk on her side of the street, sometimes a dozen times in a morning, infuriating her pit bull who seethed and snarled when the man sneered at the dog and taunted him.
She recalls him threatening her, “If your dog keeps barking at me, I’m gone cut his head off.”
He says he said, “If your dog kills one of my neighbor’s cats, I’m gone cut his head off.”
The dog’s name was Soupbone. I never discovered the old people’s names. I was unable to get Soupbone’s version of events.
The old white man said “crazy drug-addled trash people” went in and out of the “crack house” all day and night. Old Plymouth sedans and 1970s and ’80s “coupe de villes” would park along the street and “strange individuals, both white and black” would pour forth toward the little house, some of them staring up into the trees and hardly able to walk. He points out the similarity between “de ville” and “Devil,” with a stern “I get it, do you get it?” look in his eyes.
The old black woman said she knew nothing of the old white man’s allegations, but said her house was open to all, “Mi casa, su casa,” that it might be a sad but inevitable consequence if the younger generation took advantage of her hospitality. “My home,” she said, is “the community home.”
I was more interested in Soupbone’s story than those of the old people, but story’s the exclusive domain of homo sapiens. Besides, Soupbone was no longer around.
PacMan finished the account.
When I asked him how old he was, he held up five fingers, but his grandmother corrected him sternly: he was six. PacMan could sleep anywhere, through anything. Nothing woke him up. His grandmother told me this. People got crazy sometimes, so she knew. But something woke him up just before sunrise one morning in June.
Nautical twilight, the moment the sun lights the horizon, occurred at 5:23 a.m. and the sun rose at 6:24.
PacMan said the sound was at first like crying, then like “flying all over the sky.” He said he first thought the sound was sad, but then he knew it was happy.
When I asked him how he knew, he called it “angel sound.” I asked him what he saw.
Where Soupbone’s head had been, he said, big white feathery wings emerged: “Soupbone a angel.”
PacMan watched Soupbone fly headless and ragged-angel-winged up, just clearing the long ago winter-washed maple.
“Where did Soupbone go?” I asked.
“Oh,” PacMan said. He shook his head from side to side and his eyes opened wide. “Soupbone the whole sky!”