His clapboard house sat sinking on the lot adjacent to St. Christopher’s’ Church. Bamboo stalks teetered everywhere, randomly squashed between the trees and lining the roadside like weeds. With their caney stalks painted fluorescent colors, I imagined them all to be plastic straws, the kind with the bendy thing at the top.
I had to walk past…around…. his house to get to Girl Scouts. In the broad daylight, of course.
Mama laughed when I told her he was spooky…. “Ahhhh, half the women I know have been to visit him” “and they’ve all lived to tell about it…..you’re fine. Walk fast if he scares you, but if you walk slow, you can hear them” “Hear who?” I asked, eyes a little bigger. “Never you mind, honey, go ahead and walk fast…”
So I didn’t.
I slowed down and kicked loose gravel in the street. Dropped my book bag over and over again. Picked up sticks and squatted down low…..examining…..torturing …..little mounds of ants. And I listened. And peeked.
That year I stayed in Girl Scouts five months longer than I made it the year before. I learned the facts of life from the Troop Leader’s daughter ( “They put their tongue in your mouth and then you have a baby”) and I fell in love with the Tinker Man……
I spied on him every Tuesday, under the trees. He whittled and spit and took deep swigs from his beer. He never once looked me in the eyes, but I wanted him to. I would hum and play hopscotch, sing, talk to the birds….Make all kinds of racket. He never once looked up at me….
But I looked at him.
His skin so dark , freshly baby-powdered by the dust that drifted around his grassless house. His black hair, twined, knotted and fringed. Paper moths and love bugs dancing on the locks. His mammoth left hand cupping the beer can, ( I knew it was HOT beer, not cold like Mama’s.) and his other, the right, painting, widdling, sometimes just tinking coins in a cup. He smiled. Not at me. But at the dirt. At his feet. At whatever was before him.
His trees were littered with tin-can faces, chicken bones and rag dolls blowing in the dirty wind. Nonsensical carvings. He was the voo-doo man. He cast spells and took them away.
The lady in the Thunderbird flew past me. She pulled in between the neon cane trees and jumped out, in a hurry . Her diamond tennis bracelet caught the sun and the tin cans sparkled as she hustled over the crackling sticks and rotting sugar cane, lifting her high-heeled feet in fast tense. She handed him the money and he never looked at her. She left the same way she came...only poorer.
I sat down on the curb. Skipping Girl Scouts. The little black convertible arrived within minutes and the man, who should have never fit in the car in the first place, lumbered out of the driver’s door. He stretched his arms lazily to the sky. He yawned wide open. A show. For me . Or the Tinker Man. He walked slowly down the same path she took moments before. He stopped at my love, reached deep into his right pocket and pulled out a wad. Slowly peeled green bills from the money clip. I counted. Five. And then I stared at my feet and wrote in the sand. I gave the big man the honor of not looking in his eyes as he drove off.
The Tinker Man smiled at the dirt. Took another swig from his Tuesday beer. And I heard them then.
The spirits laughing.