Excerpt, Flood Moon

Calvin Hopper, frustrated with a life that seems to have left him more and more isolated, packs up and heads west, away from the security of his native New England. He lands in a mountain village called Sage, and with little recourse, ends up in the only establishment that seems to be open—an erstwhile café of some sort. He narrates the ensuing scene, the one which begins after he has traipsed into the place with wet running shoes.

 

From Flood Moon:

 

The ensuing welcome was less than cordial. “Wanna get those off?”

A man stood in the lighted passage at the right, a man whose bald head fell just short of touching the top of the door frame and whose jeans cuffs stopped well above his ankles. His pale blue shirt was, by my estimate, three sizes too wide and two sizes too short. My own experience has taught me that being average carries with it certain benefits—the ease of buying clothes among the best. I can walk into any department store, pay my money, and leave with some item that fits me. This man in the shadows couldn’t, not unless he shopped from the Barnum and Bailey collection.

“And leave them by the door,” he added, with the same irritation.

“Yes,” I said. “Sorry about the floor.”

He made no attempt to disguise his annoyance. “I’ll get a mop. It’s not like I don’t have one.”

He turned and walked away, but continued speaking—louder. “I just hadn’t planned on using it tonight but...gonna ruin your feet too, standing around in wet shoes. Put ’em on that mat.”

To the side of the door was a remnant of grey indoor-outdoor carpeting, rough-cut but functional. By the time he returned, I was standing on it while he sponged the puddle I had left.

“Now what?” he said, his voice mellowing as the floor became drier. “I’m looking for a place to stay. The bus driver said.    ”

“I mean, what do you want for your feet? You can’t walk around barefoot. You get a sliver or something and sue me, I’ll lose all this.” When he spread out his arms to encompass the room and its meager furnishings, I thought he might have been kidding; but I was afraid to laugh because sometimes “all this,” really is “all this.” This time it wasn’t.

“That’s a joke, man,” he said, his voice monotonic and low. “This isn’t exactly San Simeone, is it?”

It might have been. I had never heard of San Simeone, a fact he probably gathered from my silence.

“The Hearst Castle. Don’t you ever go to the movies? Citizen Kane. This ain’t that.”

He flipped on an overhead light and erased many of the unsettling shadows, revealing some thin paint and pockmarked floor molding—just a room, serviceable if unspectacular. But the man himself, removed now from those shadows, was all angles and lines and furrows of varying depths. He might be handsome in the sunlight, but not in this room, not now.

“I did see that movie,” I said. “This place looks fine to me.” He dismissed my comment out of hand.

“Very safe of you. I’m Walter Trucks. And you?”

“Cal Hopper,” I said as I labored with the wet laces. “Nice to meet you, Walt.”

“It’s Walter. People get comfortable with Walt, then it’s on to Wally. I don’t like Wally. Nobody called Cronkite, Wally, did they?”

“Maybe his friends did.”

“When we’re friends, we can revisit the topic.”