The stone gazes of dead heroes judge him less harshly than the milk white mountaineers to whom he sells fleeting tastes of happiness. The generals and martyrs stand sentinel in their secluded arbors; they have become commonplace idols. The only homage they now receive is his, when he seeks the isolation his livelihood necessitates. For no appreciable reason he notes a square, black sticker subletting space on the Jeep’s bumper as his customers mount their hasty withdrawal. Proudly it proclaims the occupants have “Seen Rock City.” He doesn’t doubt it; he can picture their stacked leather shoes slapping staccato on rocks older than folly, hear the misplaced laughter of hopeful hooligans who despise their parent’s wealth.
The mountaineers never laugh in his presence. They stumble through the transaction with the jittery fingers of promised prom night lust and mumble their gratitude away from his face in their rush to exit stage left. It’s not fear, no more than his own smirking bemusement is derision; two worlds meet in these shady glens, under the stern visages of dead men and their artillery, and no one quite knows what to do with the energy which sparks from such galactic collisions.
He reaches up to stroke the smooth cheek of one of his granite companions, taking a comforting poetry of promised protection from the cool, unyielding hardness. He always does this, in appreciation for their allowing him the use of their homes. The city hosts dozens of these glens, five of which he rotates as a storefront. Even now, with so many years of shadowy commerce behind him, he finds it peculiar that only he favors the abodes of the stone soldiers, only he superstitiously seeks their warding watch. He does not know if these men fought for the freedom or enslavement of a people. It doesn’t matter. Whatever these men fought for, whatever cause has cast them into stone permanence, they are his soldiery now; he is their general.
Laughing at the irony, he moves to survey the territory his soldiers fought and died for; perhaps to take, perhaps to hold. His storefront lies atop a ridge stretching languidly along the city’s side, spooning lovers of geologic proportions. City lights wink an orange promise of prosperity, installed by fat men who reek of costly colognes. In younger, leaner, more honest years he hated those men, saw the city and its lights as a fetid product of negligent greed. He has left behind hatred, left behind hopeless aspiration to inclusion in their ranks, and sees them now with the benign, vaguely affable banality of coworkers. They milk the city and its milling people from one end of the spectrum, he from the other, and it is only their sons he ever encounters, passing through his periphery on their paths towards inevitable dominance of their domains. He has learned to love the city.
“I keep account of my hits and my misses,” he says into the emptiness yawning wide and cold before him. His soldiers voice no opinion, but the cellular phone in his pocket responds with a merry tinkling. In its emerald glow he finds the voice of his child. His customers paid well, and tonight’s fish will be fresh, properly broiled, without the slippery breading of poverty. He is proud of his capability to provide, and why shouldn’t he be? There is a significant cost to love.