Hermes Goes to Houston

24 Mar

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‘Everybody Else Was Having A Bad Day’

~A Short Story by John Diaz~

Hermes Vasques dreamt of freshly lain foundation bricks. The mortar bulged under the weight of new layers, which he carefully trimmed with the edge of his trowel. He stacked basalt bricks, one atop the other in the morning Texas sun. He felt good knowing that by high noon, his garage foundation would be complete. Suddenly, the structure started to collapse. He fell backward as bricks toppled into his lap.

Hermes awoke with a start.

A child of six or seven years was standing on his legs, climbing to a folding table behind him. A younger girl was hiding below the table, giggling. Hermes scooped up the child by the thighs and the jacket, and gave him a gentle toss onto the table. The kid landed on all fours, squealing in a mixture of protest and delight. Hermes stood up and straightened his shorts and shirt. Brushing away the imaginary kid dirt, he maintained an indignant posture. Over the top of the smaller dryers, he could see the two larger dryers that contained his laundry. Hermes’ two towels, sleeping bag, work pants and blue terry cloth bath robe were dry . . .

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Hermes walked to the oversized dryer, and on the way across the laundry-mat, he noticed the mother of the children, eyeing him cross-ways. She maintained a neutral deadpan. Hermes opened the dryer, rolled up his sleeping bag and folded his towels. He smiled to himself as the children concluded their ambush.

The little boy jumped off of the table, the little girl shrieked in anticipation. Hermes looked over to their mother and smiled.

Their eyes met and he momentarily studied her face. She had high cheekbones and brown skin. Her eyes where large, stolid and brown. She had a classic small, but defined latino chin. It gave her otherwise round face a triangular shape. The largeness of her eyes, the high cheekbones, and the triangular shape of her jaw gave her a delicate feminine appeal.

Hermes turned away and grabbed his bathrobe.

The mother’s emotionless response to his smile made him feel low. But Hermes didn’t just feel low, he knew he was low.

This awareness was a sociological instinct. He was a Dutch-Venezuelan who had immigrated to Houston when he was twelve. His father had been in America for five years, saving money before Hermes’ mother and siblings could be brought to Texas.

Currently, Hermes was a homeless, recently divorced, unemployed bricklayer whose life seemed closed to opportunity.

He was an American enigma.

He never felt as if he belonged anywhere.

Whereas his skin and eyes were brown, his features were European. He spoke Portuguese, Dutch and English. He did not, however, speak Spanish. Nearly every employer he’d ever worked for assumed he could. That assumption always made Hermes want to scream, although he never did.

Hermes took the bathrobe into the restroom.

He felt around in the pockets of the swimming trunks he was wearing. There was a bar of hotel soap, a double-bladed razor and a tooth brush in his right front pocket. His keys were in the left front, and his wallet in the rear right.

He hung the robe on a hook on the back of the door. He was wearing flip-flops, swimming trunks and a t-shirt that said “Busch Light, Drink of Champions.” It had a picture of a Mustang doing wheel-stands, outpacing a Mopar.

Hermes stripped down to his boxers, which had pictures of fat babies in diapers, armed with bows and arrows with heart tips. Unwrapping the soap and lathering up his face, Hermes proceeded to shave off the stubble which gave away his homelessness.

While shaving, he noticed that his armpits smelled like grilled onions and goat cheese. So he worked up a lather and began to scrub them out.
Hermes was leaning against the sink, with his face nearly against the mirror so that the dripping soap and water wouldn’t get all over the floor and his cupid boxers. Directly under his nose, in the glass of the mirror, someone had scratched “Tamara is a man purse.”

While he rinsed the soap away, he heard a commotion between child and mother outside the restroom door.

With one elbow against the sink mirror and his other hand rinsing soap out of the sink, Hermes was stunned and exposed when the restroom door burst open. The child that had been climbing on him earlier went right to the toilet, threw up the seat, and began to urinate.

The mother followed, and was about to grab the kid when she noticed Hermes.

He was behind the door, with his arms in the air, leaning against the sink with his hips in those absurd boxers. All he could honestly do was carry on. The mother looked away with a half smirk. She tried to hide her amusement. The kid took the cue, and finished proudly. The mother waited till the kid was done with his display, then grabbed him by the arm. She marched him out of the restroom without giving Hermes a second look.

Hermes finished rinsing, dried with a paper towel, and collected his clothing off of the floor. Sitting on the ledge of the sink, he was able to pull his shorts on both legs at a time. The t-shirt followed, and the bath robe completed his attire.

“Fuck’n A,” Hermes said to himself as he checked his posture in the small mirror.

He studied his clean shaven face, regal blue robe and perfected the ensemble by adjusting the height of his swimming shorts. He re-checked his posture and put on a smile. Exiting the restroom, he noticed that he felt proud, not embarrassed in any way.

He sat next to the dryer that was busy making his whites moisture free.

‘WHUMP WHUMP SH-WHUMP WHA WHA WHUMP’ went the socks, t-shirts, boxers, and stolen hotel linens in a regular sized dryer, almost dry. Hermes opened the dryer door, untangling the sheets that were holding up the pace of the socks and shirts.

He looked up to catch the eyes of mother. She looked up simultaneously. Their eyes met. This time, her expression was understanding and slightly amused.

“She doesn’t want me,” Hermes though to himself. “Shit, all I have is a bag of laundry and a sixty-nine Ford Galaxy.”

He looked over, and noticed that she was looking at him again, this time more flatly. He let a proud smile flash across his face and shut the dryer door.

Walking over to where she was sitting, he sat down and said, “Nice morning, eh, pretty lady?” with his best Texan accent.

She pretended not to hear him, studying some diagram in the four month old magazine she was reading.

Hermes leaned closer.

“Sorry if I gave you a scare back there,” he said with as much empathy as his brick heart could conjure.

“You should lock the door if your going to use a room like that,” she replied, raising her eyebrows playfully.

“Ya… sorry… I don’t think straight when I travel.” He lied.

“Where are you from?” She asked.

“I’m Hermes from Houston,” he replied, offering his hand.

“Marie,” she replied, taking his hand and shaking it curtly.

“I’m also traveling,” she added as an after thought. “I’m from Boise, my aunt lives here in Detroit.”

Hermes was surprised that she had no accent. But he deduced that she wasn’t lying, so he looked her in the eye and asked, “Would you like to get a drink with me, after I go to this job I got today?”

“Sure, hold on,” she replied, stooping down to retrieve a pen out of her purse. Marie grabbed Hermes’ right arm and pushed up the big, loose, blue terry-cloth sleeve. She wrote her number on his forearm and finished with her name.

She put one x and two o’s after her name.

Hermes held up his arm for a while and examined her handiwork. He let his arm down, allowing the sleeve to slowly slide back into place and studied her smiling face. His heart was beating faster with a tinge of adrenaline, but otherwise, he felt calm.

Hermes couldn’t help but notice that the two kids were staring at him. They appeared a little frightened.

“I gotta get to this job.” Hermes lied again.

He got up, threw his laundry in a bag and folded it quickly. He decided to leave the sheets in the dryer, since he no longer felt like using them as seat covers.

As he turned to leave, he noticed the two kids still sitting quietly, studying him. He patted the little boy on the head on his way out, as if the kid was a ‘good dog.’

As Hermes started his old two-door ford, he noticed Marie and both of her children were watching him out of the laundry-mat window. He held up his arm, looked at the number written on it, put his hand to his ear as if it were a phone and pointed at Marie. She smiled and turned around.

Hermes’ only job today, besides his laundry, was to talk to his unemployment counselor. He was intending on telling him that he didn’t want the employment office sending any more mail to his ex-wife’s house.

He was leaving Detroit for good, and heading for Texas. And he didn’t want any more denials going to his ex’s house.

Unemployment had been the final circumstance leading to divorce. He was simply too proud for the constant rejection. And he didn’t see any reason why he should be made to feel embarrassed because of events that were beyond his control.

Mashing the accelerator to the floor, Hermes drove in a reckless fashion through a half abandoned Detroit suburb.

The prospect of squatting in a freezing, old, dark house was in no way appealing to him. He pictured himself on a huge ranch in Texas, the sun warming his back, working happily for some old foreman.

A sense of urgency overwhelmed him, and he mashed the peddle to the floor again. As the Galaxy 500 reared up, a cloud of blue smoke came out the back, and it stabbed loudly down the vacant four-lane arterial.

There was a humorously large red cowboy hat in the passenger seat of the Galaxy. Hermes’ father had won it for him at a county fair when Hermes was a kid. He placed it on his head and admired the results in the rear view mirror.

Smiling to himself, Hermes declared, “Goin’ to Texas.”

As he neared the unemployment office, Hermes thought of Marie. The idea of whiskey, beer and romance seemed a fitting way to leave this cold industrial wasteland. Hermes pulled into the unemployment office parking lot swiftly. The Ford leaned obtusely as he made a wide arc for the only open parking spot he could see. Just as he pulled in, he put all of his strength into the e-brake The rear wheels locked up, and the car skidded into the spot obnoxiously. Hermes leapt out of the car and slammed the door. He walked erect, smiling hugely, with his flip-flops flip flopping.

Pausing at the door, he admired his reflection in the tinted glass. He was wearing a flowing blue open bath robe. There were white shorts with the beer shirt underneath, and his head was crowned with the large red cowboy hat.

He looked like a redneck version of Captain America.

Hermes strutted up to the receiving desk majestically, smiling to himself about the image he’d just seen.

“Hi Veronica, I’m here for my appointment with James,” he said with his best okey-dokey accent.

Veronica’s facial expression betrayed her bad day.

Her teased and dyed red perm vibrated with inner frustration. She passed the sign-in list to Hermes. He placed his mark, tipped his hat and smiled at Veronica. She was not amused. So he quietly shuffled over to James’ cubicle and took a seat.

Being as Hermes was a few minutes early, James wasn’t at his desk. He was most likely out back smoking his second cigarette, Hermes thought. James always smoked two cigarettes between clients. A task which only took him five minuets to accomplish.

Hermes kicked off his flip-flops and pulled up a second chair to prop his feet on. His head, topped with his large red cowboy hat, was sticking out of the cubicle.

“Mr. Vasques,” James addressed Hermes from behind. “I would like to get into my office now.”

He sounded defeated.

Hermes bunched his frame into the cubicle so as to let James in. “How’s your day, James?” He asked.

James sat down and punched some numbers into his computer without replying. He looked at Hermes obliquely. A file popped onto the screen with a two-tone introduction, and James looked back to his computer screen. “I’m sorry Mr. Vasques,” he said in an unemotional tone. “But due to your union stipulations, we cannot offer any benefits until next June.”

“I didn’t come here to talk to you about that.” Hermes said, lifting a conspiratorial eyebrow. “I came to tell you that I’ve adopted a new philosophy, and I won’t be needing your services anymore.”

Hermes moved his feet from the second chair, placing them on the desk with a self-gratified sigh. James stared at the feet on his desk with both eyebrows pinching the middle of his forehead into worry lines. His face relaxed and he calmly turned back to meet Hermes’ complacent gaze.

Hermes continued: “Also I would like to add; that I will be more free and happy not having to answer to stuffy guys like you.”

Hermes paused and stretched his red cowboy hat into the hall further, balancing dangerously on the back legs of the chair. He rocked back and forth on the chair legs, looked up and added, “Just because I’m homeless, doesn’t mean that I need your money. I am requesting that you never send a single piece of mail to my old address again, as I don’t want my wife to see them anymore.”

“Ex-wife” James corrected him. He picked up the phone and dialed a few numbers, then replaced the phone in its receiver. His eyes never left Hermes’ gaze.

“You see James,” Hermes continued with honest empathy. “One day, you may find yourself in my position, and you’re just gonna have to smile more buddy.”

He took his feet off the desk and sat up straight. The chair settling with a thump. James picked up a pen and nervously chewed the end. He regarded Hermes in a distracted manner. He seemed to be looking just past him.

Hermes followed James’ eyes.

Just as he began to turn sideways, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his neck.

“Now just calm down, Mr. Vasques,” a deep commanding voice said from behind.

White light clouded his vision and Hermes slid off the chair into a heap on the worn musty unemployment office carpet. His bright red cowboy hat fell to the floor and the blue robe covered him like a blanket.

Two large orderlies dressed in white placed Hermes onto a stretcher. Hermes looked vacantly into the gentle baby blue eyes of the orderly. The nicely trimmed blonde goatee seemed somehow relaxing. While the orderlies carried him away, his blue terry cloth robe dragged along the floor, Hermes was heard repeatedly sputtering, “Can I bring my hat?” [JOHN DIAZ]

[John Diaz is also the drummer for Bremerton band YIA and steward of Bremerton’s Artists for Freedom and Unity.]

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