(This is a selection from my as yet-unpublished fictional memoir “The Great Poet of Garbage”. Enjoy.)
There were rumors, millings about, theories, whispers, whispers that he may have been, possibly was, had hidden his past as the Gerber Baby. No one was sure. But no one mentioned him without mentioning that.
Someone in town whose name escapes me said they’d seen him enter the National Bottle Museum, and noted the deferential whispers of the employees and volunteers that turned to an awed hush when he finally walked in. His past sat most comfortably at the threshold of local mysteries; interesting enough to mention but not enough so to ever actually check.
We weren’t sure who’d first said it, where the idea had come from, and if anyone we knew who had spoken to him had asked the story had never come to light. And we’d never seen him at a distance without squinting, without pondering what might have once been, and seeing somewhere in his gruff countenance, his curved posture, some semblance of his possible past.
We never saw him smile. We weren’t sure he did. Not anymore anyway. We suspected it a cautious move, a defensive calculation lest we might see in it somewhere the hungry grin of the Gerber baby.
He lurched tall and bald, but bald the way old men were, bald in ways the Gerber baby wasn’t, but that was a long time ago, if it ever was, wasn’t it. He lurched tall and bald through the days, through the bars and cafes, through the suburban duplexes on Lake Avenue and sometimes we heard him discussing book projects, collections of pictures of the town.
All the antique dealers had him on their shit lists for the times he’d taken photographs of old postcards without permission.
And he always had that small dog on a short leash with him, the dog that had since grown notorious for climbing on tables at soirees and eating whatever blocks of cheese were in the offing.
And the brewery supposedly kicked him out one night when he’d pretended to be part if a reception in order to take food off the catering table. We figured that’s where the dog learned it from.
He didn’t have many friends left. Or so we heard.
On the nights this life seemed especially long he’d hole up in his apartment and on his night stand on either side of his lamp sat a small bottle of whisky and a small bottle of Gerber’s peas and carrot mix. He’d look slowly at each. What was and what could’ve been. He slouched amd hit the power button in the same collapsing notion.
The record picked up where he’d left it.
“Oh how we danced and we swallowed the night,
When streets were all ripe for dreaming,
Oh how we danced and you whispered to me,
We’ll never be going back home…”