The Lonely Dogwater Blues
Gustavo lead Sandra by the hand down Beytelmann Street, through the dark little bend of Beggars Lane, past Caféluna Street, and finally to the neighborhood locals called Dogwater, where soot-blackened brick tenements squatted over streets laid out like veins on an arthritic hand. At the end of Grandmothers Street, just by the Bitter Whiskey River, were the old Katz and Murphy Buildings: public housing of the oldest variety, stacked around a courtyard as overgrown as a Nebraska prairie. They’d fenced the Katz and Murphy off, chain link topped with razorwire. Signs of life were minimal, shuffling figures swaying like shadows off in the distance.
“Why would you bring me here?” Sandra whined.
“I don’t know,” Gustavo shrugged. “It feels like we never leave our block anymore. I thought we should get out a bit.”
“But here?” she asked. “Darling, we could have gone to Elba Heights or Riverbottom, if you wanted a scenic neighborhood.”
“There are good places here. I know a pub over on Lenders Bend that makes its own stout.”
“Gus, darling, they opened a lovely new wine bar over on Three Trees Road, if you wanted a drink. But here?” The unspoken words were ‘It’s unsafe, Gus, darling.’ Sandra’s anthem. She’d been raised across the Bitter Whiskey, in safe, well-tended suburbs. Parts of the city still filled her with terror.
“Here’s as good as anyplace,” Gustavo said simply. “Come, we can sit by the river.”
“But the smell, Gus, darling.”
“Just low tide,” he countered. “Come.”
“Gus,” she mewled.
“Fine,” he said, crossing his arms. “List your objections. If they make any sense, we’ll go home.”
She looked at him, jaw agape. Pointing at the Katz and Murphy, she stamped her foot. “They keep sick people there, Gus!”
“It’s not a plague ward, Sandra.”
“It might as well be! The government said those people can’t be allowed in general circulation with that sickness of theirs.”
“I didn’t say we were going over there for high tea, Sandra. It’s just a walk.”
“The government says that sickness of theirs makes them crazy,” she went on. “Unnatural urges, all the time. Eats their brains. Makes them do terrible things. It’s all over the television. They’re not normal.”
“There’s no proof of contagion.”
“Of course not! The television says it’s in their blood,” she said quietly. “That if even one parent has it, the children are cursed. It’s why they fenced them off, Gus–to limit them from, you know…from breeding with the rest of us. That sickness gives them this crazed lust. Why, the government released studies just last month…”
“So then, what’s the problem?” Gus asked, smirking. “We can’t catch it, and those folk are cordoned off from the entire rest of the city by that fence. Can we go down by the river, now?”
“I hate it when you get like this,” Sandra frowned.
“This place is not safe with those people! There is a reason the government fenced those buildings off, Gus!”
Gus looked over at the turd-colored Katz and Murphy. “I wouldn’t bring you anyplace I thought you’d be unsafe, Sandra.”
“Oh, Gus, darling, I know that. I’m just not comfortable here, though. Please, can we go home?”
Gus hadn’t shaken his gaze from the old public housing. “Have you ever met anyone with this sickness?”
“Of course not! The government said they’re dangerous. The sickness skews their value system. Makes them think wrong is right, right is left. They’re backwards maniacs with some kind of fire in their loins. Just the other day, this preacher over on Belcher Street was handing out literature on the subject.”
“So you’ve never even actually met someone afflicted.”
“I don’t have to meet one in real life to know about them. The news goes on and on about those poor souls.”
“So you pity them?”
“Of course! I’m not some kind of monster, Gus! But part of it’s their own fault, you know. Why, just the other night, they said on the news that the government had discovered a cure. Did you know that? A cure. They just refuse to take it. They bring that kind of treatment on themselves, when they act so contrary to the public good. The police actions, the fences, the deportations. It’s their own fault, people like that. If they’d just be practical…”
“Maybe they have their reasons.”
“What kind of reason could they possibly have? There’s salvation, looking you right in the face; and you turn it down? No, people like that need to be kept behind a fence, Gus. They’re dangerous.”
“Would you ever talk to one? Ask what their reasoning was?”
“Are you daft?! Like I’d put myself in that kind of danger? Not all of us are so brave and foolhardy as Gustavo Enker!”
She only used the name he gave her when she was on the verge of losing her temper. He sighed, took her by the arm and lead her back towards the rest of the city.
“That’s more like it,” she said, snuggling up against him. “Can we head over to Three Trees, now? I’m just desperate for a Chardonnay.”
“Of course, of course,” he said, patting her on the arm.
He looked back once more at the Katz and Murphy. He’d wanted to scout the fence for weaknesses, map out the best route to the Bitter Whiskey from here. Sandra was sweet, but weak and stupid, and with this recent tantrum; of severely reduced value. He’d hoped he could get her down by the river, convince the government guards they were just another couple, out for a walk by the water. Now he’d have to come back at night, hope the cover of darkness was enough to keep his mission safe. Most of the pieces were in place. Just a few more days and he was certain he could pull it off. Soon. Soon.
He’d break his parents and brother out of the Katz and Murphy, and they’d head upriver.