It was another bad dream that woke him up. Ever since the Shelter in Place orders that come down, it was one bad dream after another. That phrase that the media echoed over and over "except those over the age of 65," was keeping him awake nights. It wasn't so much that he was worried about himself; it was the two people sleeping in the other room that filled him with anxiety. His granddaughter Athena and great-granddaughter Beatrice had moved with him when Athena's new boyfriend proved a little too handy with his fists.
Louie had actually dug out his old .38 special out of his sock drawer and oiled it up. He figured that Blake, that was the douche's name, had too much poison building up inside of him, and might need need a few holes in his stomach to let it out. It never got to that point. You could mistreat Athena once, but she wasn't a slow learner. She had her bags already in the trunk of her Honda when she waited until Blake went to sleep, tossed the keys to his truck in the garbage disposal, and went into the darkness of the bedroom and taught him a life lesson with her old softball bat. This was, of course, after she had strapped Beatrice safely into her car seat.
On one hand, Louie was relieved to have them safely under his roof again, yet on the other hand, the virus worried him greatly. So greatly, in fact, that the ghost of his father had taken to disrupting his sleep.
Then on top of it all, Beatrice started having bad dreams of her own and started crying out for, of all things, a golden cookie. When Louie pressed Thena, she told her grandfather that Blake, an ex-sailor, had gotten Beatrice hooked on this brand of Japanese cookies that looked like golden Oreos. They were called Athenas and had a picture of the Greek Goddess on every cookie. Blake had given Bianca a cookie one those nights when couldn't fall asleep after one of his fights with her mother.
"Then make her some damn cookies then, Thena. How fucking hard is that?"
"It's not just any cookie, Grandpa. It's got to be those ones," Thena would sigh. "I know it sounds crazy, but it's got to be those cookies."
"God damn it. How could you let that happen. Let your little girl depend on a fucking cookie for her well-being. Why weren't you there giving her a Oreo or something, a Fig-Newton maybe?"
"I know, Grandpa." Then she would look him with those same sad eyes that he had first seen on the day that Maria, her mother, had died when Athena was only 10 years old.
At first, he had tried to order the cookies on Amazon, but there were none to be had. He next asked a friend to look for them in the markets around his apartment but to no avail.
"It's no use. You can only get them at Bagosian's Market across town, in the neighborhood where Blake lives. You watch Beatrice, Papa, and I'll go look."
"No wait. It's not safe. One more day. I'll try to trick her with those sandwich cookies I bought before this whole thing started."
"It won't work. I've tried." And she was right, that night it was worst. Beatrice was inconsolable and Athena had to rock her all night to try and comfort her.
Louie picked his grandaughter up and placed her on his shoulder and carried her outside to look at the moon. It helped some; it reduced her crying to sniffles.
When he tried to sleep that night, Biggie, as his father was known, came to visit again. The nickname was in reference to the fact that he was Louis senior and not because of his size. He had always been a small, bent over man, A man with small beady eyes and a hawk like nose. He also had a cruel smile which he used when he saw people get hurt. Louie's most painful memory was of the day when his father was teaching him how to ride a bike, and Louie fell and scraped his knee. It took Biggie five minutes to stop laughing before he helped Louie up.
"Go get her a cookie, asshole." Louie could make out his father's silhouette on the window shade which was illuminated by the street light on the corner.
"But, Pop, it's dangerous out there. I might bring the disease."
"Fuck that disease. You going to let Beatrice cry herself to sleep every night because you are a little chicken?" The silhouette raised its hands disgustedly. "I was going to pull out the night when your mama and I made you. At the last second, I said fuck it, I got nothing to lose." The silhouette waited for a second before hissing, "Maybe I should've just used a condom if had I only know you would be such a coward."
Louie woke up in a sweat. He made himself a cup of hazelnut coffee and went and sat out on the patio. He looked up at the moon and started humming the song, "You Got a Friend" to himself. He once had owned the James Taylor's Mudslide Slim cassette, and the song always seem to calm him down even after it made him remember he had no friends. They were all dead and buried out at the Calvary Chapel Cemetery on the east side of town.
He went and got his pipe out from behind the shoeboxes in his closet and smoked some pot. He usually only smoked when his back was giving him problems, but this was different. Times had changed. He took a few puffs and mumbled, "You got a friend," then fell asleep in the patio chair.
He was startled when he woke up to find the spectral image of his mother, Big Athena, sitting in the chair across from him. She was taking a hit off of the pipe.
"Acha cawch!" she sputtered, "Damn, that's pretty good stuff." It took her moment to get her breath before she said, " I know you. You're gonna listen to what that fool told you, aren't you?"
" I got to, Mama. The baby cries every night."
"You cried a lot too when your were that age. Why don't you do what I did for you."
"Mama, telling me the boogie man was going to chew my testicles off if he found me awake was cruel. I used to have sneak your sleeping pills to fall asleep some times. For years, I went to sleep with a ball in each hand trying to protect them. It came out in the divorce too. Besides, Beatrice is a little girl."
"Well, learn to adapt the story."
"No, Mama. I got to go get those cookies."
She stood up exasperated by his answer, and even in her spirit form it took her minute to dislodge her huge butt from the confines of the patio chair. "Well, here take this, she bent over and fished around in one of her Uggs and pulled out a switchblade knife and sat it down on the table, "And this, and from seemingly out of nowhere, she handed a him a red compact with a mirror in it, one of the folding kind with the make-up still in it. Louie recognized it as one she had used to show him his black eye the night he tried to stop his dad from hitting her with a flyswatter. He hesitated about taking it from her thinking it might have the virus. Then he remembered she was a ghost.
"A compact? Why would I need make-up?"
"I don't know. Maybe to disguise. Maybe its the mirror, pendejo. Come here. Give your mama a kiss."
As he hugged her, he was careful not to push his arms through her outline form so that it looked like he was hugging himself. He also wondered to himself, "Can't anybody in this family not be sarcastic when they tell you something?"
She heard his thoughts, and as he pulled away, she said, "Why for, to soften you for the beasts to eat you? Be careful, Son. Make sure you take sanitizer and hand wipes. Sanitize those cookies before you take them into the house. Have Thena soap you up and spray you off with the garden hose too."
And he woke up. A moment later he was looking at himself in the hallway mirror. He wore his catcher's chest protector from when he played slow-pitch softball. He had found a large gray handkerchief and wrapped it around his face. He got his SF Giants cap off of the bust of Buddha that sat on the piano and pulled it down tightly over his eyes. It was a dangerous thing to do in a town full of Dodger fans, but he thought, "Fuck it. If you're going to act like a hero. You gotta act like a hero."
It took him a couple of minutes before he snapped out of the circular reasoning that he put himself into trying to think whether that last statement made any sense, but when he did, he stood there for a moment admiring himself in the mirror. OK, maybe admiring is too strong of a word to describe what he was doing. He was looking at himself and had to suspend his belief systems somewhat to pretend that he could pass himself off as a superhero of any kind.
He wrote a note to Thena using a bright red marker and an old envelope. The note said, "Be right back. Going to see a man about some cookies. P.S. have some dish soap outside the door. P.P.S. some Lysol too."
It was over seven miles across town and Louie, after failing his last driving test, had no driver's license or even car for that matter. He did have a cool, big ass beach cruiser Schwinn bicycle painted black with orange flames. He had put a large chrome basket behind the seat to carry shit home from the store.
The sun hadn't completely risen over the horizon when he sat out down the alleyways figuring he would attract a lot less attention. He was pulling out of the alley on Ferguson street when he ran across his first test.
There was large crazy looking sunburned red-headed white lady pushing a blue shopping dressed from head to toe in Dodger blue standing in the middle of the alley across the street. Her red hair hung down in huge snake like dreadlocks coming out from under the ball cap perched precariously atop her head."
"Where the fuck you think you going, Yahoo! Wearing that damn Giant hat too. I ought to brain your dumb ass with this here golf club I found this morning."
"Let me pass, Red. I'm going to get cookies from my granddaughter."
The medusa like woman shrieked revealing a whole bottom row of blackened teeth, "Cookies for you granddaughter! Fuck your G....."
She didn't get a chance to finish the sentence because Louie had pulled out a large plastic spray bottle filled with a yellowish liquid and started spraying her with it.
She recoiled in horror and started to shriek even louder. More importantly, she dragged her cart out of the way. Louie used the moment to pedal furiously past her. She swung the golf club and narrowly missed his head.
Once safely passed her, he stopped, stood astride his bike and said, "I'm sorry. It's only water with a couple drops of food coloring. It won't hurt you. Here, let me give you this compact for your trouble. It still has make up in it." He reached into his back pocket half expecting the compact to prove a figment of his imagination, but it was there. He wiped it off with sanitizer, inched close and tossed it to the woman.
He could hear her yelling "Thanks!" as he rode away. He thought to himself, "One down, two to go," knowing full well that there would be three tests to this journey.
He was only about a mile away from Bagosian's Market when he ran over a piece of sharp wire, and his back tire went flat. He had no choice but to push on. He was also out on the street again as the alley ways were far too dangerous to travel down in this part of town. He was going south on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue when he spied a large, dark tattooed man pushing a bike on top of a rusty red wagon in the opposite direction. The bike had no front tire.
The man was menacing looking and was tattooed and pierced on nearly every part of his exposed body. Everything about the man was off putting and scary looking. His strong body odor wafted across the street. Louie remembered something that his mother had told him about not judging a book by the cover. His mom was the most judgemental human being he ever knew, but for some reason, he had filed that saying away. Maybe for just this moment.
He warily approached the man, "Hi. I'm Louie. I need that back tire you have there." He pointed to the man's bike.
Up close, Louie could see that the man was even scarier looking. He only had one large green eye, the other eye socket being covered by scar tissue that Louie correctly surmised had been the result of a fire.
The men stood up taller. He was at least six foot three inches tall. He looked like a mix breed, of what ethnicity Louie didn't know. He did notice there was a Oriental look about the one eye that he did have. The man took his own sweet time looking Louie over too. Then he looked away and down at Louie's bike.
"I need a knife. I need a knife bad." The man's voice was harsh and raspy, but it had just a trace of a warm tone about it. Leon Redbone came to mind when Louie heard it.
"What you need the knife for?" Louie asked. He had the switchblade knife his mom had given him that morning, but didn't feel right about handing it over to someone who had ill intentions.
"Cut melons." Louie didn't respond right away, so the man continued, "My Mama, she's old and crazy. They took her knives away out the house 'fraid she'd hurt herself. But she grows good melons. I need something to cut them melons with. I was looking to take this here bike down the street to Jackson's Thrift Store and trade it for a knife."
"What's your name?"
"Well, Percy, I'm Louie," Louie reached out his hand and Percy started to shake it, but decided to fist bump instead, "It looks like I was put out here to run into you today. I gotta knife, and I only need that one back tire. You can keep the rest of the bike and trade it for some salt or something."
"Well, I'll be damned," Percy said when Louie handed him the switchblade that his mom had given Louie in the dream.
With the new tire in place, Louie was at the store in matter of minutes. He parked the bike in a rack thoughtfully provided by the store and ran into the market. He fully expected that there would be one more obstacle to overcome before he procured the cookies, so he was surprised just how easy it was. There were two packs of Athena brand Golden Sandwich Cookies on the shelf. He took them both at first, but thought about it and decided to leave one in case someone else had a great-granddaughter like Beatrice.
When he walked out of the store, he soon discovered what the other test would be. He found two large young men dressed completely in black and wearing white suspenders to hold up their pants so that they wouldn't fall off of their corpulent asses. They were standing by the bike rack and sawing off the lock on Louie's bike.
The larger of the two young men saw Louie approaching and spoke menacingly, "Oh no you don't you old mother fucker. Don't even come over here acting like this is your fucking bike. Me and Dookie like this bike and have decided to add it to our own collection." He smiled revealing his braces. His face was a red mass of pimples though and his eyes were the very dictionary image of word porcine, resembling a pig. His freckled, flabby neck rolled out of the top of the dirty, torn Marilyn Manson T-shirt that we wore.
"That's my bike. I need it to take these cookies back to my granddaughter who cries without them." Louie was unafraid. He pulled out the yellow liquid in the spray bottle just in case.
The other young man, just as ugly, but wearing a Judas Priest T-shirt, stopped sawing the lock long enough to say, "Did some mother fucker mention cookies. I love myself some cookies." He dropped the hacksaw and started to step toward Louie.
Louie tensed up and held up the spray bottle before him thinking how he stupid he was for doing so. The young man's raucous laughter startled Louie, and Louie recoiled when the guy reach out and knocked the spray bottle out of his hand. Then the guy reached for the cookies.
But suddenly he stopped. Louie had closed his eyes and gripped the cookies as tightly as he used to grip his testicles to protect them from the boogie man. When he opened his eyes a slit to see what was going on, he saw the both young men backing away from him with their hands over their head. He turned a looked behind him and there stood Percy with an opened switchblade and Red brandishing a golf club with one hand and flashing sunlight into the eyes of the dudes from a compact mirror she held aloft in her other hand.
Louie walked over and picked the spray bottle and started spraying them with the yellow liquid. He told them, "I pissed in this bottle this morning. Now, I piss on you, you animals. Now get the fuck out of here!" They complied as fast as their fat little legs could take them.
Louie turned and smiled at his saviors. He went to high five them but fist bumped them instead and explained, "That was just water and yellow food coloring. I wouldn't do something like that. I just wanted them to think it was pee. They deserve to think that."
The lady spoke first, "You gave me a compact. That was nice. And you apologized. You didn't have to do that."
Then Percy asked, "Why did you want them to think that it was pee in the bottle? You were nice to me and now I can slice my melons."
Louie turned and looked at the young men as they ran. "I don't know, Percy. I think it must have been the Judas Priest T-shirt. That album Demolition was beyond horrible. I don't like Marilyn Manson much either."
The journey home was anticlimactic as Louie knew it would be. He parked the bike behind the apartment and sprayed it off with Lysol. He then took the same Lysol bottle and soaked the plastic wrapper of the cookies.
Next, he had Thena come out and spray him off with a garden hose after he had soaped himself up completely. He shed his clothes behind the deck wall and placed them on the wall to dry. Then he soaped himself up again and repeated the process with the red rubber small hose he used to water all the colorful flowers in their pots.
When he was satisfied that everything was sanitized, it took one of the boxes of cookies and cut the wrapper off. He got down one of Maria's fancy China plates from the set her mother had given her as a wedding present. He placed three of the golden cookies on the plate and poured Beatrice a large cold glass of chocolate milk, her favorite.
He carried them into her room and sat them down on the small table where she held court with her dolls.
She started crying, "Not those ones, Grandpa! Not those ones. The other ones."