Sitting in William Heath Davis Park, diagonally across from the Horton Grand. It is, I imagine, like a patch of old, un-drowned New Orleans here in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. You can't pass it without hearing some tourist use the word "quaint." "Cute" and "adorable" are runner-up bets. It is Friday afternoon, a little after five. I have been here nearly an hour and so far, alone. I am writing longhand on yellow legal sheets a scene where a man returns home from a memorial service for his wife and unborn child, and he is drunk. He lets himself into his little bungalow cottage by kicking the door in, since his landlord has changed the locks. This is about as far as I get when I see a man who looks to be a survivor of some unguessable catastrophe. Though he is clean-shaven, his trenchcoat clean enough, his hair straight back from his forehead, ruffling at the back collar, which I notice is one of those old tab-collar shirts from the 1960s, with the small button to snap beneath a tie and lift it to the Adam's apple. He wears no tie, though the tab is buttoned. His face is scarred from acne and something else, possibly the work of a windshield in a car accident. He becomes my character, at least in physical description, though I've already given my character a beard and the name Tiller.
The real-time, beardless Tiller seats himself on a bench and reaches into his coat pocket for a paper bag. Inside is a half pint of Ten High bourbon. He pulls the bottle from the bag, replaces it, and lowers his head on two upraised thumbs. His elbows rest on his splayed knees. He wears engineer boots. I give my Tiller engineer boots.
My Tiller, or Tiller I, brings a 12-pack of Lucky Lager into his -- formerly his and his wife's -- small cottage and sets it on the kitchen table. He sets a bottle next to it. It is Ten High bourbon, a fifth. In the bag with the bourbon is a roll of duct tape. Tiller I, holding the duct tape, turns on the stereo, selecting a Bob Dylan CD. (I thought Bob Dylan because of the tab collar on Tiller II. Dylan was pictured wearing this kind of shirt long ago.) The small house is filled with the song "You've Got to Serve Somebody," while Tiller I dances around the house duct-taping the windows and doors where they join the floor and walls.
Tiller II removes the whiskey from the bag once more and stares at it. He replaces it after nearly a full minute and reaches into his other pocket for a pack of Marlboro 100s. Tiller I takes a break. Surveys his duct-tape work and lights a Camel 100. He listens to Dylan sing a different song, "Ring them bells with an iron hand so the people will know. Ring them bells, ring them bells. Breakin' down the distance between right and wrong." I think those are the words. Both Tillers seem satisfied smoking. I smoke.
Tiller II produces a kind of small hunting knife from the rear of his waistband. It is probably just barely a legal size, I don't know. He starts whittling at his thick black leather watchband with a diver's watch at its center. He cuts away thin strips that curl away and fall between his boots. From a distance, this distance, it appears he is stripping black strips of flesh from his wrist.
Tiller I puts out his cigarette, checks the windows and doors. Dylan starts up with "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and laughs. He drinks, alternating the Ten High with cans of Lucky Lager. He does this with a kind of grim determination through three cans and half the bottle.
Tiller II removes the bottle from the bag yet again, unscrews the top and smells it. He replaces the cap, puts the bottle back into the bag slowly and returns it to his coat pocket. He begins cutting at his watchband again. A small pile of coiled black leather forms at his feet on the bricks with philanthropists' names carved onto them. The coils look like shed pubic hairs from some beast.
Tiller I goes to the oven, opens it and blows out the pilot light. He is singing along with Dylan, badly. He is swaying without rhythm and turns up the dial on the oven knob to Broil, then backs it off a fraction of an inch. He seats himself on the kitchen floor and continues to drink. After a time he is no longer listening to Dylan; he is re-living the car crash in Mexico where his wife and whoever their child was to be died. After a time, Tiller I falls asleep, or passes out, really.
Tiller II now gets up and paces. He has replaced the knife into a place for it at the back of his belt. He paces the small park in an accustomed way -- pacing the yard. I now put together two things about this man: the way he paces, head down, as if with eyes at the crown of his scalp, and the way he cups his cigarette. I am betting he was both in combat and in prison; but this isn't necessarily true, because I know nothing about him.
Tiller I sits up on the kitchen floor. The CD plays that song by Dylan about how something is happening but Mr. Jones doesn't know what it is. Tiller I looks around, confused. He reaches onto the kitchen table for a cigarette.
Tiller II sits back down and lights another Marlboro.
Tiller I reaches into his shirt pocket for a Bic lighter.
Tiller II draws heavily, coughs and immediately puts out the smoke.
Tiller I feels the skin of his thumb abrading the serrated wheel at the top of the cigarette lighter and begins to rotate the wheel as he looks around, still confused.
The Tiller here, with me, in the park, gets up and walks out of the enclosure. As he leaves, the sun has nudged its way past the corner of a building on Fifth Avenue and just over the top of a clump of leaves on a row of jacarandas. The park is flooded with lemon-white light.
My Tiller, Tiller I's world turns the color of cobalt and cerulean. He sees tiny, toothlike blue-white flames along the ceiling studs as he is blown into the roof in a cloud of powdered drywall and ceiling tile.
The Tiller in the real world walks past the Horton Grand, pauses and places a paper bag into a trash container on the street. His pace increases.
I flip the yellow pages closed, reach for another smoke, and think again. I feel as if I've smoked 50 of them today.