Lucky had long ago stopped looking , stopped listening to the steady hum
of traffic , buzzing past him , as he walked along the roadside .
His eyes were trained only on his feet , watching for the sharp
pointed bits of gravel or the
few shards of glass from broken bottles .
Lucky thought about his eyes . It was a time longer than yesterday that he knew
his eyes were getting dull . The doc said he had catter something . Caterpillar ?
No , that wasn’t it . The foot bumps were becoming more frequent and harder
to absorb when he stumbled . He knew it meant going under for a cut job .
That glasses would have to be bought and he would have to wear the damn things for
as long as his eyes were open . Should he be grateful for the free overhaul he
got at the last shelter ? Catter something . I just can’t see me , no how , getting
glasses at my age he thought . Damn these old blinkers of mine anyway .
Why is it that when a man gets past seventy the body tells him about all the
things that are getting rusted and busted inside ? That it ain’t no use any longer
to set your feet on the road ; where you been for so long that you become part
of it yourself . You become every pebbly , rock hard part of it .
His boots , look at them ! The soles worn so thin that they no longer sprung up
over the stones but sank into each one of them . Making him feel each of
them , like it was a toll he had to pay every day just to get up .
He brought himself back to the hill . It rose up before him . Up , Up , Up . Seeing
the blue patch of sky above the dirt and grassy slope jarred a memory to life .
It was off the coast of Victoria.
The memory of being on the corvette made his
guts tighten . There he was , leaning over , backside to the wind and his guts
churning over and over , spewing out into the black water , into nothingness , and
then seeing the behemoth . The whale . Blues , black and huge and oh so very
beautiful and clean . The size of her and him in a corvette . What a puny , good
for nothing , moulded hunk of metal that was .
The hill already . Lord I’m tired today , he thought . Give me the hill one more
It’s mine by rights , Lord . No one knows it better . You hear ? No one !
Lucky stopped , not looking up to see what he had to do , but knowing every part of it .
The weight of the pack was always with him . Even when it humped up beside
him , it was there ; testing him , teasing him to put it back across his back .
Ride with it , he told himself , don’t let it make you give up like it did to old Charlie
Charlie . He still missed his road partner . Now , no one to talk to , except himself .
Maybe just another excuse to give up as if he didn’t have enough already .
The pack , for so long , was a part of him like he was part of the road . No , the
road is different . It has life . The road took people away . Sometimes it brought
people back , sometimes it didn’t . It was real and this he knew for certain . It was
real , just as the grassy hillside was real and it gave him comfort to know that
the grass would be just like a woman , lying there waiting , to let her fold around
him ; taking him to peace , complete , with no answer necessary to anyone .
His mind returned to where he was . The dull sense of heaviness made him
take the first step on the road going up . Another step followed the first , and so
he began , giving no thought about what he would see at the top of the hill . If
only I could get that word , he thought .
His eyes were rhythmically lifting with his feet . The word , “catterman , ” came to
his mind . What the hell is that ? Half and half . Somehow the image of it gave him
a thin smile . Maybe that is what I am , half caterpillar , half man . I walk about as
slow and that’s the truth . Can’t no caterpillar feel as tired and worn down to the
gristle as I do . That’s another truth . Knowing the truth didn’t make him
feel any better .
Lucky was almost to the top . Come on you useless clodhoppers , get me up
there . I got business to do : goods to cash in on ; my belly to fill ; my bottle to
drink and my tobacco to smoke . Lord, what would I do without my pipe ? A
Three Star Brigham . The best money could buy way back when . Got to get me
some cleaners . The draw ain’t there like it used to be . Hell , what isn’t ? Ain’t
nothing and that’s the truth .
His feet were like lead when he focused his eyes and looked up . He was
there . Thank you Lord for giving it to me one more time .
The beautiful whale in the blue sky above me ; may it be there forever .
© Peter B. Armstrong