Where is this place?
I looked up and down the street at the mailboxes and pretty little lights. I could still smell the pizza, so it wasn’t too cold yet. These houses, right together and side by side. Shiny cars sat in their driveways. No oil stains on the pavement or asphalt.
232, 234, 236. About time.
I rolled up the driveway, hopped off my bike and kicked out the kickstand. I unbuckled the insulated bag from my rack.
Alright, 236, let’s see what we got.
I’ve never understood lawn decorations. It must be a rich person thing. What is that, a gnome? Some kind of fairy or angel? What’s the point?
“Hi, delivery from Della’s Pizza!”
The man in the doorway looked at me, his head slightly cocked. Was I at the right place?
“Two pepperonis and a sub?” he asked.
“You bet, sir, that’ll be $33.23,” I said, handing him the bill.
He handed me three tens and a five. I handed him the pizza boxes and sandwich.
“Need your change?”
“Uh…” he looked back into his house. It was bright; I think there was a mermaid painting on the wall behind him. “No, you go ahead and keep it, thanks.”
Abruptly, he closed the door.
Two bucks. These people have a house worth about as much I’ll probably make in my whole life, they give me two bucks. Oh well, so it goes.
I’ve always liked riding through the country club in the early evening. The sky is red and orange and purple and that weird color that everyone recognizes but no one has a name for. It’s almost like they don’t want a name for it.
Once I tried to name it. I sat there for close to an hour, looking and thinking. Gralegious? No, not didn’t sound right. Telrum? Close, but I don’t think that works either. I asked Elbow, too, but he just looked at me with those sad eyes. I gave him a treat to make his tail wag. He didn’t look quite as sad for that moment.
I passed through the gate. The guards were pretty friendly. Working stiffs like the rest of us. I think the one guy lives in here, but he’s put his time in. Earned his keep. How long, though? How long does it take? How much of a keep can you earn?
More like a castle than a keep. A castle without a keep, even. A keep has fortified barricades, security staff, and a village of peasants to work for you inside. The castle’s just the big place for your bed and your stuff. I guess they have security systems, though, so maybe it’s like a digital keep. A city wall constructed of ones and zeroes, along with ‘if’ and ‘for’ loops.
Telrum seemed like the right name for the color. It was fading now. The dark colors of night were coming in. I’ll stick with that for a while. See what happens.
I pulled up behind Della’s. Elbow was tied up where I left him. He was happy to see me, the sadness of his eyes alleviated somewhat. I gave him a pat as I stepped inside the shop.
The pizza shop’s kitchen is the ideal of chaos. It’s like a little pocket dimension of insanity. Greg came up to me.
“Pablo, got another one to go out, you good?”
Greg gestured at three pizza boxes on the heated shelf. I put them in the bag. The order ticket had an address just a few blocks away.
Why couldn’t they just come get the pizza? It’d save them a few bucks anyway. They’d probably be eating it by now, instead of waiting on me.
I gave Elbow an enthusiastic rub-down before I got on my bike. He loves it when I speak stupid to him. His sadness came again as I began to pedal away. I waved at him.
“I’ll be back soon, buddy.”
Often I’ll wonder, is he really sad? Or is that just the look of his eyes and the way his face sits? I think I’d be sad if I were a dog. One person makes you so happy, but that person can’t invest everything into hanging out with you. Other people might make you happy too, but they’re not yours. You’re taken care of, but imprisoned. Yet, the imprisonment is what takes care of you. Almost like a cross-species Stockholm syndrome. Maybe closer to the institutionalizing that the guys down the block have gone through. Every few months they’re going to jail because they can’t pay their rent. Three hots and a cot, all you have to do is punch out a pedestrian.
Can dogs see in color? I remember reading once that dogs couldn’t distinguish color. They wouldn’t even be able to know that telrum existed. Or should it be gralegious? Gralegrious? That’s probably why Elbow was so sad when I asked him about it. He couldn’t even see it. Just another shade of gray, like castle walls. Or a keep.
I pulled up to the address, 549 Woodwind Avenue. This castle also had a digital city wall, apparently. A small sign sticking out of the bushes in the front yard advertised it. My neighbor has a similar sign, but no actual system. She thinks it will deter any would-be burglars enough as is. I wonder if the people she swiped the sign from will ever notice, or care.
There was a gray minivan in the driveway of Castle 549 Woodwind Avenue. It was an older model, some American make. The paint still looked nice though, intact and well-cared for. Its gray paint didn’t match the color of the house, though. This castle was made of red stone, bricks. Castles over here aren’t like the ones in the old days, in stories. Great gray stone blocks forming remarkable structures that left fabulous ruins. We have fired clay bricks. They ruin nicely, too, but it’s not the same effect. The color’s not right.
The light on the front porch flickered slightly. A knocker was attached to the door, right under a peephole. I think it was supposed to have been stylized after some mythical beast, but years of use and elemental exposure had made it into some ruin in and of itself. I imagined myself as an archaeologist unearthing the ancient keep of 549 Woodwind. This relic, here, was obviously tied to some ritual, where the beast had to be fed for the door to open. When the people who lived here would have guests…
My cut scene was cut short by a short woman opening the door. Her hair was an unnatural shade of red, and she wore it in long, thick dreadlocks. She looked me up and down. Kind of pretty, but an unusual countess for this particular keep.
“Luau, barbeque, and an extra cheese?” she asked me.
I nodded, fumbling in handing her the bill. She already had cash in her hand, which she put into mine.
“Keep the change,” she said.
I smiled and turned to leave. As I walked to my bike and she closed the door, I heard a male voice call out from inside:
“What took so damn long? Isn’t Della’s right down the street?”
The door shut. I counted the bills on my way to my bike. Five dollars, wow. Best one of the night.
Despite the good tip, I felt a little irritated at the man’s questioning. Sorry, it took a minute. I left as soon as I found out I had to deliver it. The king and queen couldn’t be bothered to leave their castle, lest the matters of state go unhandled and out of control.
Once the house was out of sight and I left Woodwind Avenue, I felt calmer. The man probably had every right to question the time it took for the pizza to get there. Della’s was, as he said, right down the street. I could already see our lights as I pedaled onward. He doesn’t understand that I’m the only delivery person, it’s not his fault. We’re a small operation. Just another tent in the open market of the collection of castles and keeps in this town. We’re the serfs serving the lords and ladies of this address on whatever street.
I thought on my own castle. Not that I have one. Mikey lets me stay on his lot. He lives an hour or two away. I have a little camper on a cleared piece of land he owns a couple miles or so down the road from Della’s. If I had a castle, though, I’d paint the walls telrum, or grelagrious, or whatever color Elbow and I decided to call it that night. My walls wouldn’t be just digital, either.
I breathed in deep; the smell of trees, car fumes, and chlorine from nearby pools invigorated me.
Elbow made me feel better, too. As I got off my bike and neared him, I felt my negativity go away. His sad eyes beamed as I hugged him and ruffled his fur. Maybe he absorbed my sadness. Perhaps I was just some sort of parasite. I didn’t really feed off my canine companion, but he handled my waste. Unnecessary melancholy was siphoned directly into his little mastiff-mutt body, and he loved me for it. Even when I torment him with questions of color, he still sticks around. Yeah, I’d be sad if I were a dog, too.
© Thomas Parent