"Hey, asshole! Do you know you're standing in a pool of blood?"
Egon looked down at his heavy boots and only saw the damp fading leaves of early November and a crumpled gum wrapper.
"Forget it, it's fading." He looked up at a small woman further dwarfed by a large canvas on a battered easel, which was decorated by a dangling row of decapitated Barbies and one disintegrating troll doll. "Now get the fuck out of my way, I got work to do - I'm losing the vision."
To the sound of bristles and paint being scrubbed across a rough surface, Egon moved slowly across a stretch of damp grass, leaves, and discarded fast food wrappers. A glance over at the horizon told him he was in Central Park, about half past noon if the shadows were any indication.
"I SAID, get the FUCK outta my WAY. You deaf or something?" She gestured to the left of where Egon was standing, wondering how he'd gotten to Central Park without remembering how he'd gotten there wearing only pajamas and a pair of work boots without so much as a subway token or a PKE meter.
Except for the lack of a PKE meter, most of life for Egon was like that – the fact that he'd just been told twice that he was an asshole reinforced the reality, though he couldn't possibly be an asshole, as a live, free roaming anal sphincter without a means of life support was physically impossible except perhaps in the spirit world... which might bear investigating… then there was the lack of subway tokens and even more worrisome lack of a PKE meter, but it was blood that caught his attention.
"Blood," Reaching down into a non-existent cargo pocket for the still non-existent PKE meter, Egon kicked his way through fallen leaves and torn open condom wrappers towards the foul-mouthed little artist, "Do you see it now?"
She sighed, picking up a pack of cigarettes, lipped one out and lit it, free hand busy with a brush loaded with scarlet paint, "I SAID... never mind, it's fading." She dropped the lighter in among a mass of half-used paint tubes and well-used brushes, and through a cloud of bluish smoke added, "You're still in my way."
"The blood, animal or human?"
"How the hell should I know? Blood's blood, the way I see it - maybe from a mugging. Now back the fuck off or I'll mace you." Her free hand indicated a large can strapped to one hip before going back to managing the cigarette. "You've been warned, asshole."
Egon moved closer, unconsciously pushing his glasses back up his nose, studying the roughed-in image of a bleak forest landscape where ghosts glared out at him from behind monochromatic trees with bare branches. More streamed across a gray sky of broken clouds. Blowing smoke from her nose, artist jabbed at him with the scarlet-loaded brush, "Yo, back off or I'll call a cop."
"You're in Central Park, but you aren't painting Central Park, or are you - the trees are the same, but leafless."
Another blast of smoke, "So? I paint what I see." She went back to dabbing in painted red eyes.
"Where's the blood? It's not in the picture, and I don't see it here." Egon pointed about 30 feet in front of the canvas.
"I said, asshole, it's faded. Now get the hell away or I'll call a cop." She brandished the mace as Egon stepped back to get an overall look at her work.
"You're that artist, the one that outsider gallery in The Village is promoting."
"You're not as stupid as you look, asshole - my Gawd you're tall as I remember... what a hat rack!"
"I am not a hat rack." Egon stated flatly. "I own exactly one winter hat. I keep it in a drawer. Nor am I an asshole. My being both an asshole and a hat rack are physically impossible."
"You ain't changed a bit." More blue smoke.
"You know me?"
She spat out the cigarette, extinguishing it underfoot, "We went to school together for nearly six years, asshole until you bailed out in the sixth grade. Hell, our yards were back to back." Her hand was still on the mace, but it had relaxed somewhat.
Distracted from the painting, a dark mirror of the landscape they stood in, Egon remembered.
For someone his parents told was beneath him, Erzulie Sappington had caused him a lot of trouble over the years.
Kindergarten was when it started. Only there becasue he legally had to despite his early brilliance and towering over his new classmates, Egon had very logically told the tiny girl who lived behind him in a tumbledown tract house and whose eyes were always watching things that weren't there, that because of her small size she was obviously a mere 3 years old. Therefore, she needed to be with the preschoolers in the day care center across the street where she could play in the sandbox and eat paste all she wished...and why was she wearing boy's clothes?
It took two teachers to pull her off of Egon so that he had to spend the first day of school not doing quantum physics as he'd expected, but sucking on an ice pack until his loosened front teeth stopped bleeding, the scratches on his face and neck bright yellow with iodine.
That night, with a police officer standing in the background, Mr. Sappington came over from his unkempt side of the property line and paid to have Egon's glasses repaired. Reeking of beer, he'd called Egon's father some of the same illogical things Erzulie had called Egon at school as he handed over a roll of crumpled, greasy bills before stomping back into the dilapidated house.
There had been shrieks and a rhythmic slapping sound after the door of the slowly collapsing house slammed shut behind the man in his shabby mechanic's uniform.
The officer got back in his car and drove away without comment.
Egon learned his lesson; avoiding whenever possible the hot-tempered little girl with the long black braids and who wore boy's clothes when all the other girls wore dresses and Mary Janes - and who liked to draw while staring out the window at things which weren't there. Still, having Erzulie around DID have it's advantages: the rest of the class made fun of her weird clothes, foul mouth, and crazy grandmother; for a boy who was more interested in building a combustion engine than in The Beatles, and girls. Having somebody else take the heat cut down on Egon being called "Weird-Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh", EEEEEEEEEEEEEE-gone!" and "Jerk!" while getting his hair pulled and his underpants elastic yanked up over his head on the long bus ride home by the time they both were in sixth grade.
Extracting your head from your underwear really cuts into research time.
On weekends they ignored each other at the property line, which grew ever more and more unkempt on Erzulie's side as the years passed. Eventually Egon's father paid to have a fence put up, blocking off the sight of Erzulie taking care of her crazier and crazier grandmother, a tiny bent woman with tangled white hair who screamed at things that weren't there even as Egon planned his own battles with the Boogeyman or blew up the garage.
What was incomprehensible to Egon even then, was that despite being somebody who dressed weird, that everyone called white trash, Erzulie was a straight A student; even beating him out in the 3rd grade science fair when he didn't take into account that the judges, though impressed by his scale model of a proposed moon lander, were more impressed by her display of salt crystals grown in different mediums.
Egon had to admit; though his model was accurate down to the last theoretical detail, Erzulie's display with it's delicate frost of salt had been more visually impressive – even if the red ribbon he'd won no thanks to her blue, had gotten him grounded: no "Popular Science" magazine for a month – he'd been so upset that he blew up the garage again that night, only on purpose.
And now, here she was again, in Central Park: Dirty Erzulie, braids now streaked with gray and down to the back of her calves which were covered in paint smeared denim, smoking as heavily as she had since the fourth grade.
"You're the asshole who got me a belting the first day of Kindergarten."
"You broke my glasses. They were trifocals."
"I was the same age as you. I didn't belong in preschool."
"Why isn't the blood you said I was standing in earlier, in your painting?"
Erzulie pushed at Egon as he leaned over her work, bumping the easel so that the dolls danced. "I SAID, it ruined my composition. The blood would have diluted the impact of the river of ghosts."
"What ghosts?" again Egon reached for his non-existent PKU Meter.
"They're everywhere, can't you of all people see them?"
"I left my PKE Meter in my other pair of pants." Egon paused, studying her sharply cut profile, "Have you ever had your eyes tested?"
"I never needed a machine to see this shit." Erzulie waved a dismissive hand. There was an 8 ball tattooed in between her thumb and forefinger. With a crack in it.
Egon remembered a Times article from a few days ago halfway to the back page, "Your paintings aren't fantasy, they're reality."
Erzulie paused in another light-up, same old nearly black eyes boring into him - no, not into him, but at a point about five feet behind him.
Egon turned, seeing nothing but a leaf strewn sidewalk and trash can. Erzulie laughed and loudly rinsed her brush in turpentine, "Dead jogger, head beaten in, not enough juice to be something you and your pals get paid to remove."
Erzulie too, had been reading the paper.
"How long have you…?"
"All my life." Erzulie fiddled with the lighter before dropping it and the cigarettes back into the jumble of paint tubes and brushes. "After I got screwed out of that full ride scholarship to RISD by that blonde cheerleader who couldn't even Draw Pokey: she only took P.E. classes the second half of our Senior year when I took a full academic load. Sooooo, I muddled through four years on my own dime at some no-name backwoods State University buried in the Midwest. After getting fired from my third job in advertising, I started painting what I saw. Granny saw 'em too. Made her crazy. Me? It made me a living... and paid for rehab..." She looked up at him, head cocked. "And you?"
Egon looked away without meaning to. The disappointment in his father's eyes, his mother's eyes, their cold disapproval when his university scholarships didn't materialize as planned, instead going to a Senior that Egon tutored the summer before - a massive hulk with a hairy back who flunked Algebra I twice and thought mice hatched from eggs… but who was on the varsity football team when his high school had come in first in their division for the first time in a decade… proving that the son of the largest Ford dealership in the region was more important than the son of the owner and chief researcher of an independent biological research lab.
"I liked your salt display." Egon mumbled.
"You were always better at math than me." Erzulie rocked back and forth on her heels, focusing on the distant burnt stump of what had once been a luxury apartment building from the 1920s.
"You could draw a straight line without a ruler." he added, following her gaze.
"Shit, why didn't you ask me to help with the Boogeyman? I would have climbed that damned fence. AND I would have brought one of my old man's tire irons… or his belt."
"You knew?" Egon forgot about counting the windows on the top floor of some high-rise, and stared at her.
"Son of a bitch told me after I smacked him on the head with a broken chair leg! He said you were smarter, but I was more violent."
They stood silently facing each other, Egon polishing his glasses, the canvas a background against the remains of autumn, two different visions of Central Park, both accurate.
Finally he broke the silence, "We were on the same team, the whole time and never knew,"
The canvas fell off the easel in a sudden gust of wind and broken dolls, spilling black, white, and red paint onto the damp grass and leaves...
…Egon sat up in bed, reaching for his glasses before turning on the light on the nightstand. In the snore-filled half darkness of the fire station he picked up a crumpled newspaper from the floor beside the bed from where it had fallen to cover a pair of damp, grass-stained work boots.
As the traffic of the day shift warmed up to a slow, dull roar, Egon shuffled through to the arts section: he was right.
Someone named Erzulie Sappington was giving a show for the next two months at a small Village gallery specializing in occult and outsider artists.
Though the name was the same, he could still be wrong.
"Day off Egon, where you gonna go? Natural History Museum, molds and fungi department?" Peter wandered past half-asleep, coffee cup in one hand.
Egon paused - fungi held a lot of appeal, however: "I may go and visit an art gallery."
If he did, he'd take a PKE Meter.