Word Count: 4,350

A Coward Drifts Here a short story by Edgar A. Bajaña

Edgar A. Bajaña ebajana@yahoo.com

BAJANA/A COWARD DRIFTS HERE

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I.

Balancing a slump of laundry on my shoulder, I managed to

unlock the front door, when my spanish-speaking landlady held a polished black phone to my face. It gleamed at me.

II.

On

the

other

end

was

my

sister’s

son

calling

me

from

Chicago.
It’s Robert, Uncle Eddie.
Hearing his voice, I gripped the receiver a little tighter,

unsure if I should respond or just hang up. But, the first breath that escaped me were...

“Robert, how did you find me?” But, Robert sailed over those words, as if an ocean of time

had never existed between our lives. And it was somewhere in the

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middle of this unexpected call, when I noticed his voice was deeper and that the slight lisp that used to gather at end of his sentences, vanished.
Finally, I asked him. “Robert. Is there something wrong

with my sister, Betty.”
No. Nothing at all. There’s nothing wrong with mom. Nothing

like that. Nothing like when you didn’t appear for your own mother’s funeral. No, nothing like that. Every things fine here on that front. Everyone’s still alive around here, except for you know who.
I couldn’t believe it. The words of that little runt rocked

me right off my ship. How could he say such a thing, to me, his Uncle. I was left speechless, dumbfounded, and sent tumbling back to the last moment I felt any kind of regret. And, I

remembered that I did regret it.
I tried to continue on like nothing, though. “Whatever

Robert, what’s wrong Robert? Just Tell me.”

I called to ask you a question. Just one, Uncle Eddie. And he told me that it was very important to him and that I

had to give him an honest answer because he’s not that little kid anymore that I could lie to, so easily. And after I give him that answer. He promised me - I promise to leave you alone under the same rock I found you. If I wasn’t so emotionally numb back

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then, I would of felt a drop of sadness for the way he saw his me. But by then, all of my fairy tale excuses had fallen away. His words were hard and true and I knew it. I had become lost, just walking and living upon the earth and that was it. Maybe once before, I could sense that there was something more, out there.


Uncle Eddie, Where did you go? Back in your head? “What? How did you find me here in New York?” Robert glided past that question again. And the little runt

continued on like nothing. But he’s not a runt anymore. He’s sounded older. I assume he was in high school or something. But, Robert didn’t say much about this part of his life. You could say his school life was a mystery to me, as much as my work life was to him and that how we preferred it.

Uncle Eddie, let my ask you. I thought that he was about ask his question. But, he

didn’t. So, I held the phone away from my ear for a moment to relieve my sore shoulder from the weight of the laundry bag. Even with the receiver about a foot away from my head, I could still hear him rattling off words, now noticing that his tone has changed. I assumed he was just letting off some adolescent angst. He shot off words like presumptuous beliefs, impotent appendages, routine inconsequence, reproductive hierarchy, and

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magnetic social orders, and sometimes even used these

Page 5 words

within the same sentence. At the time, I had no idea what the runt was talking about. From the change in his tone, however I gathered that Robert. was no longer the carefree boy that I tossed up in the air against the cerulean sky of some suburban tract of land outside of Chicago. He was different, a bit worn. I felt.


Once again I ask him. “How did you find me?” And once again, he goes into something else. Come on, Uncle Eddie. Remember you were once like me. In

fact, you even told me to find you if you got lost. You know why? Remember Uncle Eddie.



“How did you find me?” Remember “Remember what? Why won’t you tell me.” Remember how you told me that two artist were always

greater than one. That together, not alone, but together, they could reach outside the normal bounds of their imaginations, to shine the light on what was dark, so the others could reach even further.
“Stop it Robert. Robert we don’t live in that world

anymore. I was wrong. I was wrong. We work, be good, and die.

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That’s all. That the best religion there is, when death is so near.”

What can I say, I was completely numb. “Robert, how did you find me?” I had to try to find out one

last time before I hung up on him.
Uncle Eddie. I’ll tell you, only if you answer my question

first. And I can tell. OK.

“OK.” I rubbed my head and eyes wondering if this was really

happening. What did he want and how did he find me. It should have been impossible. For the last ten years I’ve been drifting between Chicago and New York without family, without signing my name to a damn piece of paper for cash. It should have been impossible for anyone to find me.
Just hang up on the runt, I told myself. But, I had to

know. So, I stayed on the line. I pulled on the telephone cord, the only thing connecting our two worlds, for a couple feet of slack. I sat on the green carpeted landing, between the first and second floor. The wood underneath creaked, as I settled in. Looking downstairs, I saw a silhouette of my landlady standing with someone else behind the smoked glass door that leads to the living room.

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As I waited for Robert to ask me his question, I heard the

voices of several children outside. I heard them giggling at each other first. Then, They started to scream and cause a

ruckus over what was laying out there dead in the street. I had passed it on my way inside, but did not give it much thought, like the other things I see outside.
I spotted the tree through the four small pane windows of

the oak door. An ancient oak laid out there dead, with guts twisted apart causing a bit of traffic on the narrow and thin street, causing the neighborhood kids to scream at the top of their lungs. A couple of seconds later, it looked like they were calling someone over. It wasn’t the police. It was just a guy with an axe. Quickly, he began to hack away at fallen limbs, while the kids stared, cheered, and wondered. After a couple of swings, he handed the axe over to one of the taller girls, a curly haired girl one. Thunk. She swung into the meat of the tree, one blow after another. All the while, the guy and the children gathered the slaughtered branches into neat piles.

Then, I got a glimpse of her almond face as she raised the axe for another throw. And, I read her face full of determination, focus, and freedom.
Uncle Eddie. what’s wrong with you. Your not listening to a

lick of what I am saying. Are you?

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“Yes. Yes I am.” Uncle Eddie, remember last night? Of course I do.

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As Robert spoke, I noticed the afternoon light began to

unroll sideways along the hallway of the second floor, giving way to something else. That’s when I noticed something by the foot of my door. Something black.

Remember last night Uncle Eddie? Remember, Uncle Eddie? There were flashes of light all night. But right before the

storm, you watched the moon hang on a calm black night. Then, you smelled something different in the air. It was the pungent smell of electricity charging within the dark clouds. Then, the first thunderbolt struck the ground close to the house leaving you disoriented from the flash of light. And through the night, there were relentless arcs of lighting flying through hell,

electrifying the air that raised the hair off your arm. Then, the storm was at full volume and the rain poured like waterfalls and thunder roared with a never-ending laughter. And, you did not know not what to do. Do you remember Uncle Eddie?

I answered with silence. I asked myself. How could he know? I looked at the front

door thinking he could be on the other side, for all I knew, he

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was. But I thought about last night and what I really remembered was something worse.
“Robert, this is what I remember. I remember shifting in

place, pacing from one room to another like a caged animal at the zoo, scared of what was out there, unable to see past the thick sheets of rain pouring over the glass. Inside, I was

blind. Inside, I was alone, accompanied only by a strange cast of shadows dancing along the inside walls of the house,

hollering at me. Then, lighting flared through the hallway of the second floor, rattling the picture frames, reaching for me, trying to light me.”



Uncle Eddie did you see last night? Again I answered him with a disturb silence. Get out of your head Uncle Eddie? “What Robert? What? Robert, there are children screaming

outside the house. There’s chaos in the street. I have to go... please let me call you back. I promise. I’ll call you back.”
Even though I won’t. Even though I won’t do anything about

what’s out there in the street. “Let me call you back.” I felt short of breath. I expected him to simply agree.


As I was about to hang up on him, I heard him say. Wait Uncle Eddie, I love you. “What?”

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I love you.

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And, Robert’s words held me. They held me little longer on

the line. As he continued to talk, I tried to visualize Robert being older. But, all I could imagine was a thin little boy with dark hair that carried his heart in his eyes and his brain in his mouth, like all who once came into this world. The boy who I saw probably looks nothing like he does now. It had been ten years since I actually saw him, since I actually held him.
Even in this moment, I did not tell him that I loved him. I

just hoped that staying on the line a little longer, said it for me.
How did he find me. It should have been impossible. It was to ask him again. He wanted me to give up on that

useless

question, like I gave up on everything else. And as he wished, I did.




That’s when he asked me. Uncle Eddie. Will you draw my vision? “What?” A story Uncle Eddie. Will you draw it? Then, he proceeded to tell me how he built his creative

life, the part he cherished the most, the part that superseded his own need for hunger.

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Uncle Eddie, I got the bug from you. I did just like you

did. I kept my book by me all the time where I recorded every single dream, picture, sound, and feeling. Everything. I became like a farmer and the book held my field. Every season, I

planted a seeds on every page, hoping that one, maybe two, would grow and bear fruit. Some didn’t. But, others did. I have no where else go and no one else to trust with this. I’ve tried. But, I had been disappointed by the other who took and never gave. Except you, Uncle Eddie.
It was like he was twelve again, staring up at me and

saying these things straight to eyes.
Except you Uncle. I’ve seen your visions and they can be

true. I know they can.

He’s lost his mind. “No! That’s not the world we live in. That world had its

chance. I’m not the same man anymore. All I know is that I do not believe in that way of thinking any anymore. I can’t, if I am going to survive. It gets more complicated as you grow up, Robert. You’ll find out.”
In the mist of my rant. I tried to explain that I had And he laughed. The little runt laughed. He

become an atheist.

could not believe that anything like that could exist. So, I gave up after the second time and just told him that I don’t

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believe in anything anymore, especially the haunts of old dreams from an old book.

But, Robert kept trying. Uncle, it must hard being an artist and not believing in

anything. It must make the whole thing unbearable. We have to believe in something. We have to, were artist Uncle Eddie. And I know underneath all that soot, you know that to be true.


“I tried, Robert” Then try harder! Your unbearable. What type of kid nowadays uses the word

soot anymore. Do they even teach that in school now? “Who are you, Robert? How did you find me? I’m not the man you thought I was. I don’t know if I am even your Uncle anymore, Robert.”




There was a short pause on the other end of the phone. But Robert persisted. Uncle, will you draw my story? And I instinctively, cringed at his request. I remember when he was smaller, he would come up to me and

asked to draw this and draw that. And I did. But, years of false dreams have fried closed that part of my brain. It just doesn't work like that anymore. Everything had been a waste of time. Like the runt said, they take and don’t give.

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I could have easily pretended and said sure. I’ll do it.

And that would have been it. But, it would have been a lie. So I try anyways. I try to stall the inevitable.
“Just mail it to me and I’ll look at it. I’ll get back to

you Robert with my answer. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to you. I promise.”
Your lying Uncle Eddie. I told you I can tell. What is it.

If you can’t believe in yourself, how can you believe in other. Is that the horse shit you wash around your head now a days. Come on Uncle Eddie. Anything is true, if you believe it.
Robert pressed me for an answer. But the answer required

more than I was willing to give at the moment. It required, faith.



I tell myself. He’s just a kid. “You’ll grow out of it, Robert.” Uncle, will you draw my story? And the way he said it made me want to cave in. But, I

didn’t. I couldn’t, not at that moment. In the end, I said.



“No!” And Robert’s last words were. Your a coward, Uncle Eddie! And hung up on me.

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I sat there alone on the stairs with the phone on the

ground, listening to the dial tone echo in the stair well. And all I could think of was...How did he find me?
I looked upstairs, filled by the afternoon sun. And I

noticed a thick black package leaning on the foot of my bedroom door. I grab it. And on the front, it says... To Uncle Eddie, From Nephew Robert.

III.

On the last day of Spring, Robert’s package was still in

the same black envelope it arrived in. All this time, I still haven’t opened it. I haven’t even given Robert a call in Chicago because Then I looked at my own pile of paper all shoved in three drawers. It was a mess, not giving anything the time to take root, grow, live. Dead old paper surrounded me. For the past five years, I haven’t written a thing. No, it’s been ten years.
I heard the printer sounding off in the bedroom. I go over.

I check that there is enough paper even though I expect a couple

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of pages at most. As I leave the room. I hear the machine start spitting out paper. I decide to refrain from going over to it. Instead, I become busy with something else. I start to make lunch and water the grass. Then, I mow it. I walk inside and the machine is still going. I do chores for my landlady.
We did not know That I used to write. I go back into the

attic and take out a box labeled, Old writings. I look through it. Flipping through pages. I had begun to write something. An hour went by. And the machine was still going. In fact, I had to go down and reload on color paper.
I hear the phone ring, but its not him. I knew Robert.

He’ll call again and that when I’ll read it, I make a promise to myself.
The pile of paper was unavoidable now off the printer and

on a side table next to to my comfortable plush brown lounge chair. Then at night I left it there in the dark and went to bed. At night, I went up to the room and snatched the black package off the ground. And I took it to my own glass top

writing desk. There it stayed. I did not pick up the thing until a couple days later. I left it there and following cover and it read in type “The Arc.” When I woke, I was compelled to sink in that lounge chair, with the light hitting the tip of my nose like so.

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On the first page was the title...The Arc. On the second page a quote...

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“In the boroughs, there are places of poverty

where the rays of sun do not reach the hearts of young. the It is within these concrete walls, where of hunger The retreat only young left minds for into these

pain

another

world.

world

vessels of innocence to defend themselves against an age that can no longer protect them.” - The Artist King

So I sit. And read. And all through the early morning, I find Robert once

again, on every page. I skip lunch and continue until the afternoon light diminishes. The only time I put the manuscript down is turn on the lamp, so I can continue into the evening and then into the night and once again, into the early morning. Its the first day of Autumn and I can feel the cold wind just outside the window starting to cool the hair on my arm. I finish reading I find Robert again, echoing in my mind. I release my fingers from the last page and reach for the phone.
I have to call him now.

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I get up from the lounge chair.

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I have to talk to him. I have to tell him that I’m sorry. I

have to call him to tell him yes. I place the manuscript on my old writing desk. I look outside and the sharp light of the autumn come through the window, blinding me, my eyes bloodshot.

Regardless, I picked up the phone and start dialing. I don’t care how early it is or if he’s sleeping. I just

need to talk to him and not let any mountains exist between us.


him.
Is this a cruel joke. Who is this? She sounded pretty The phone started ringing. Someone picks up and doesn’t say a word. Hello, Betty! Betty! Wake up Robert. I need to speak to

pissed.



It’s your Brother. Oh my God, where have you been. Go wake Robert up, I need to talk to him. How dare you say his name. Don’t. You weren’t here for mom

or for him. You don’t get to say his name.

She sounded distraught. It your brother. What’s wrong. Where’s Robert. I have to

speak to him. Put him on the phone. She breathed heavy on the other side of the line.

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Edgar where have you been? Jesus damn you. Robert’s not

here. He ran away. He’s been gone for six months now. We don’t know anything. Do you?
know and he sparked up. Tell me. Tell me you self bastard.

where is he. You know. Tell me.
She starts to cry and plead. I did not anything though. he

looked at the manuscript in his hand. and stayed quiet listening to her rant and rave madly. I decided not to tell her anything about the manuscript., even further I decided not to tell her anything about the phone call I had received from him.
i told her that I missed him and that I had just gotten the

urge to reach out to him to see how he was.



There was a pause on the phone. before she hung up on me she told me in a cold voice. Well its a bit too late for that. All I could think that there had to be more. I could not

stop looking at his last words and thinking about how much of his life I really missed, never giving him the attention or love that I felt this moment for him.
With a cool draft of air brushing up against my arm, I

hoped that I could have talked to him, to understand him a little more, to know him.
Once again I was ignorant of the bloom in Spring.

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IV.

It’s the middle of Autumn. Patiently, I wait for a his call

to come within the flock of crackling leaves flying through the wind. All the while staying faithfully in the same place he found me, hoping that the boy would call just once more. But he never does. In the mean time, I’ve started writing again. I write and everything is about waiting and nothing happening, nothing bearing fruit, nothing with teeth. But, I keep going on.
During which, I took to a city job to save money, so one

day I can go back home.

V.

Months pass. And it’s the season when things that grow,

don’t anymore because its to damn cold. Walking one morning on a filthy snow-covered street, the puddles of waters are iced over black. There is not a day that goes by, that I don’t think of Robert. When I cross underneath the elevated train, I always guard my bag feeling Robert’s manuscript at the bottom of other things that I carry to and from work. As I walk down these cold

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frigid streets, it weighs me down like it always does. Until today.
Today, I pass by the old drunk living like an animal

underneath the viaduct. I though of Robert as I always do, wondering what had become of him. The ragged drunk huddles together on the floor wrapping himself in thick blankets with his eyes peeking out. He looks at me, as I pull something from my leather bag. It’s my nephew’s manuscript.

The bum calls out to me, but I ignore him like I did Robert

last Spring.
I unsheathe the bounded paper from a yellow envelope with

my sisters Chicago address on it. A months ago, I thought about mailing the manuscript to my sister. But, I’ve never sealed the envelope. As always, I walk to the middle of the street. On one side, there’s a blue mailbox. On the other, there are drunks having a bonfire to keep warm. I look at both sides, as cars pass by me close on both sides, hitting me with a rush of cold air on the cheek. I look down at the manuscript. It’s the last memory of my sister’s son and she should have it. But for some reason, I haven’t been able to just let go. So, I decide to walk away from the mailbox, like I always do. And in a week, I’ll do the same thing all over again.

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Just a couple steps away, though, there are some homeless

drunks keeping warm by burning newspaper and junk inside a tattered refrigerator box. They take turns feeding it. But it doesn’t take long before it all goes up in bright glow. They begin to bicker among themselves. The snow comes in thicker. Eventually they leave for cover, underneath a cold and dark viaduct.
I stand above the fire. I flip the manuscript open, once

more. I fan the first couple of pages on the top corner thats worn from the this same weekly routine.
I take a couple steps closer to the burning trash, parts of

it now scattering and flickering around me. The flame becomes brighter once again, as I stare at the manuscript. It is lit by the orange flame flickering up against a pale blue snow. I think of burning the whole damn thing right there. All I have to do is drop it and forget about it, like I have with everything else.
Instead, I take off my glove and pull out a pen from the

inside pocket of my second hand overcoat. It gleams at me.
My grip on the pen tightens. The blood in my fingers turns

pale. In my other hand, I have his manuscript. As a violent wind blows on me, a couple of the pages from the bottom slip away from my fingers and fall away with the gentle snow. Until, they feed the fire at my feet. And for the last time, I admire the

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look of Robert’s name on the title page, accomplishing all things I could not. Then, I think of his last words. And second later, an ill feeling comes over me, something that makes my stomach convulse upon itself. And this is the thought leaves me with only one thing left to do.
I cross out his name and write mine own, never again to

confuse my disillusionment, for just the frigid flush of air that accompanies birth.

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