Twitch turned to saunter with his peculiar gait toward the exit on the upper floor of the Experience Music Project. He like to think of a person’s walk as an expression of their cosmic rhythm, as some Australian Mystics put it, or their groove, as a movie he’d loved as a kid put it. The beat to which the person marched through life, the percussive line of their life-song.
You could tell a lot about a person from their walk, Twitch thought. He saw a lot of people in the thick foot traffic of the downtown, and he watched so he had started to pick up on some distinct styles of walking.
The most obvious group were the ones chained to the rhythm of the corporate beat, pacing through crowds with the strident monotony of the industrialized machinery they were imitating. There was no music to their beat. Twitch never pitched them. The health enthusiasts bounced through the city at a light high tempo not even stopping their beat for the waves in traffic. Twitch didn’t pitch them either.
He kept his eye out for those strolling with the heavy beat of solid bass line, his relaxed brothers and sisters who were often open to some chemical diversion. His long honed ability to spilt his gaze in a literal sense allowed him to keep his other eye out for the random spats and spurts of the wanderers pushing through different beats. Not all wanderers knew what they were looking for, and Twitch was quite competent at suggesting possibilities.
Twitch liked to think that his own gait fell somewhere between the slower, steady beat of the carefree and the intermittent stutter of the wanderer. He just wandered more on individual beats, the way a fun jazz piece might take you by surprise with a double down beat or a horn riff.
It had taken him a long time to get comfortable with the sudden jerks and spasms his body had never stopped throwing him after the last surgery. Twitch shudder shrugged the glass door opened and jazzed his way across the empty platform to hop onto the last car of the elevated rail just as the doors began to close. He grabbed one of the gleaming metal poles extending from car floor to roof and whirled around to plop into a sprawl across the empty two seats in the corner, leaving his arm hanging up so he could peer at the watch face dangling from the inside of his wrist.
Twitch was proud of his watch, the thick metal links, the dark husky hue of the band, the black face with crimson hands and only a single ruby chip at the top from which to orient them. He was pretty sure it had cost more than everything else he owned combined. As much as he enjoyed the spare aesthetic, it did require a little more mental gymnastics for him to pull the time from the device.
Twitch grunted upon realizing that the morning with Kid had become most of the afternoon with Kid as well. His head bobbed from one shoulder to another as the cascading pops jumped from his neck split in two distinct groups. The vertebrae up closest to his head would sound, and then those between his shoulders, but not the four right at his neck’s base.
Fused vertebrae didn’t pop.
Twitch tugged his backpack over his shoulder and flipped it onto his lap, zipping open to root around the smaller pocket on the front of the bag, emerging with a long cord with a wink of metal at one end, splitting to end in small twinned plastic pods at the other. A hand procured a phone from a pocket and the metal end of the cord entered a small hole in the phone as the plastic pods each found a home in one of Twitch’s ears, and in short order music was flowing along the new connection.
Twitch flicked a glance over the other occupants of the car, an older man in one of those hatched coats old men favor and a girl descended one of the eastern countries with bright pink headphones bearing the face of a cartoon cat covering most of her head. Twitch nodded and closed his eyes, slumping deeper into the corner of the car, arms crossed over the bag resting on his stomach.
Kid had an unusual walk, Twitch ruminated. He didn’t step so much as he shifted from one foot onto the other, the way Nana’s old tabby cat crept across the yard, ready to freeze or flee at the slightest of provocations. His beat was puzzling, and Twitch loved puzzles. It was a subtle and very considered beat, playing at the softest of volumes, so easy to miss the changes in rhythm, easy to ignore altogether, which was part of the plan, Twitch was confident.
Twitch wasn’t sure why he had approached the boy, or why he tried to find him again, but that didn’t concern him much. He’d gotten used to doing things without knowing why he was doing them. His temperamental nervous system was at least good for that much. There was just something about the boy that seemed. . . Lost. The kind of lost that might not even know where it was they were supposed to be going.
And Twitch was competent at suggesting possibilities.
The rail car jerked to a halt and the doors pulled apart. Twitch spilled out of the chair into a pivot that flipped him around and propelled him through the doors onto the new platform. One of the benefits of the elevated rail over some of the other means of transport was that it only ran from the Imp to the heart of downtown, from the City Centre to the city center as it were, which meant that Twitch could grab a quick shut eye without worrying about missing his stop. There was only one stop.
The rail line ended at the flagship store for one of the major luxury retail chains in the country, an awkward juxtaposition of classical architecture with contemporary transportation utilities, the delicate and symmetrical curves of the elegant pillars lining the building intersecting with the stark glass and steel like someone had shoved a telescope into the side of a wedding cake.
Twitch flounced down a several flights of stairs to reach the terminal where all the busses and the underground rail line stopped, grabbing a seat on one of the benchish curvatures carved into the walls. He flicked an eye at the digital board announcing the order of anticipated arrivals and wormed an arm deep into his back pocket to withdraw a worn leather billfold.
Only four minutes until the 167 line. Busses were running close to on time today. Twitch swung his gaze to the other passengers huddling about on his side of the platform, peering at the small slips of paper clutched in the occasional fist, while pulling a stack of similar slips out of one of the compartments of his billfold.
During those latter days on the old rock the primary mass transit system in Seattle accepted two forms of payment. The first was a magnetized card that held digital credits that were debited each the holder swiped at the sensor attached just inside every bus door. Some of the larger corporations offered such cards coded for unlimited rides as an employment perk, and those could go for a couple grand when they appeared on the street market.
Twitch had long promised himself to steal the first one he ever saw in person.
The other payment mechanism involved exchanging the hard currency of the realm for a paper ticket. These tickets allowed you to move from one bus to another for your single fare, and they rotated through a simple color coding in order to identify the ticket for a particular half a day. That is to say, for a given Tuesday morning the tickets were orange and the afternoon tickets were black, and so forth.
Twitch fanned the collection of ticket slips he kept with him, flipping past the red, orange, purple, black, brown, and yellow, then squinting at a the hand of a passerby before pulling the teal toned slip and tucking the green and blue back into his billfold with the rest.
The 167 pulled into the broad tunnel, slowing in front of Twitch as he jerked to his feet, shuffling along with the others queueing for each of the two bus entrances. Squeezing past the line at the head of the bus, Twitch joined the mass nearer the middle. The bus shuddered to a halt, then hissed the large vehicle tilted to lower the curb side.
The waiting masses trudged through the doors, and Twitch piled in along with the rest. He waved his pass with the colored side facing the driver at the front of the bus and turned to push through to the back of the bus, dropping into the back corner seat.
On a given day, Twitch would spend a few hours camped in the back of one of the bus lines that circled the downtown, the elevated back row behind the walls of the other seats forming a cubicle that Twitch liked to think of as his office. He could roll out his assorted collection of narcotics for his customers’ perusal while still being able to keep an eye on the rest of the passengers.
Today wasn’t that sort of day, though, having poured more hours than expected into the museum. Twitch relaxed into his music and watched the city blur past the window as the bus left the downtown to curl between two of the eastern hills. When the bus had wound it’s way almost to the top of a hill Twitch gave the bell line a tug to indicate his desire to exit. As he hopped out of the bus, Twitch was struck by a thought that had hit him often over the years.
His family had lived on this hill for decades, but Twitch had never gotten an explanation as to why. He knew they were in the Seattle area because his great grandfather had served in the military here, but the now-defunct army base had been on the peninsula past the other end of the city.
Twitch ducked into the little grocery on the corner, throwing a nod at the older man behind the counter who responded with a so slight a smile that it was little more than a brief tightening of his face. Twitch might have been to this store a thousand times across his lifetime. It was the highest store on the little rise atop which his family had lived for the last four generations, and the only one within comfortable walking distance for a child carrying groceries.
The vast majority of those times had been met by that same smile, which the man shared with is diminutive wife, as he did cashier duties, and the apparent secret of agelessness, as neither appeared any older than the earliest of Twitch’s memories.
Twitch grabbed the box of dry noodles and dehydrated cheese and a jar of crumbled bacon, spinning back to approach the the counter, dropping his items onto the glass, flipping them around so the encoded price tag faced the man. A grin blossomed in anticipation.
The man behind the counter snapped into whirling motion from the shoulder down, while the rest of him stayed stiller than a caught breath. One hand swirled in a graceful loop across the front of his chest and Twitch had long learned to ignore that had for the artful showmanship it was because showmanship was not the show.
His other hand snapped to pluck a small plastic handle from its cradle, whipping the scanner across the countertop at the items as a quick pair of dings sounded from the register, flipping to dump the scanner back into its home then with a twist tapping at the corner of the keyboard.
All in the time it took is other hand to flip over and point at the small digital reading of the currency due. Twitch’s grin deepened the same way it had as a boy, and he swung his backpack around to rest on a hip, zipping open first the small pocket to withdraw currency, then the large to deposit the items.
Leaving the little store Twitch hooked a sharp turn to trudge up the last curve of the street. Rounding the bend he saw Nana’s house spilled across crown of hill in jerky twists of sections across 70 years and four generations. The jumbled design of the building told the architectural history of his family, as wings and dens marked each family expansion.
It was a comfortable sight. While he hadn’t lived here since he was in high school, it had always stayed home, where he spent the holidays or stayed when he was between places. While he had spent more than his fair share of nights on the street, this disjointed mess of a house was why he never thought of himself as homeless. They even kept a room for him in the cluster above the newest garage. He didn’t live here, though.
Grown man can’t live with his Nana.