Moses Sagas


Chapter Three

Hsű – Nourishment:

“The height of wisdom is to allow people enough recreation to quicken pleasure in their work until the task is completed.” – from I Ching the 5th gua

RENO

Reno Hobbes moved into the space Moses gave her in Venice Beach, but she spent most of her time wandering the streets of Hollywood and scavenging along the beaches in front of her new place. Accustomed to homelessness and poverty, she contemplated her new situation with a mixture of wonder and fear. Reno wasn’t reflective, but she had been the past seven days, jumping impulsively to her feet, her fingers constantly reaching to find the amulet on her neck, those thin fingers dropping back down after she’d redetermined that it was still there.

Four years earlier, when she was 21, she’d been rolling a tobacco cigarette when he found her crouched in the stacks in a remote Oxford archive one day in early September. She had purposely chosen a hidden place, secret and empty, and suddenly, like light, he’d shown up.

“I’m Moses,” he said with a slight bow.

She knew not to act startled from her many years on the streets. She remained on her haunches in the darkness, engaged with her cigarette. She feigned disinterest in the highbrow student from the school where she’d been lucky enough to get a job as a janitor three days before, a job that kept her off the street, though it was only a matter of time.

She’d stopped bathing five days before but didn’t know why, and suddenly, with this man here, she worried about her smell. He didn’t seem to notice.

“I see,” said Moses, smiling at her, his eyes calm, untroubled.

Her head jerked up.

“See what?”  She looked around, terrified.

“You,” he’d said, quietly, “you, Reno Hobbes, hiding here.  A nestless mouse.”

She did not ask how he knew her name. She was too strange herself to worry about others’ strangeness; she did not try to reconcile reality and madness. Reno divorced the world long ago.

Reno never knew her mother, but she knew her father and she wished she didn’t. She ran away from home, and rape, at the age of 12 to make art in a secret basement hideout until the building was condemned and torn down. Then she lived in the street, or in empty buildings, until any one spot became too dangerous. She’d gotten the janitorial job, her ethereal beauty giving her a little edge to secure what she needed – a place off the street. The man who hired her had the oddest feeling he was hiring a lonely angel. Reno was always alone, but alone was safe, alone meant no one would hurt her. Her frequent bouts of paranoia and psychosis drove her to drink and would probably cost her this job. While other people thought about the next year or five years, Reno thought about the next few hours; she was a perpetual combat soldier.

She peered at him silently. Reno rarely spoke. If she had nothing to say it did not occur to her to speak.  Normally no one was listening. But he was, he was listening with terrifying precision. She was alarmed.

He pointed to a tiny figurine she’d made from an aluminum can, the figure dangling from her boot buckle. It was a horse’s body with a female torso.

“You make that?”

“Yeah. What do you mean, ‘No’?”

“No, I won’t hurt you, that’s your worry. Don’t worry. You talk to it?”

“Because then it talks to me.” Her life straddled so many realities his perception did not seem weird.

“I understand,” he said, from far above her. He was six foot four inches tall, but he seemed infinitely taller from her perspective. “So what does she say?”

“Who?” Why was he still speaking to her? Reno shook her head to try to clear it.

“Cheyenne, the doll you made.”

“I wish I knew,” shrugged Reno. Cheyenne was her mother’s name, the woman who fled a violent marriage and left an infant child defenseless. How this man knew the name of her doll Reno did not know, but that knowledge did seem strange even to her. Even if he’d gone through her hiring papers he couldn’t have known. She routinely lied on documents to keep herself hidden from the violent man she was sure was still alive not too far from here.

“He’s not close,” said Moses, “Your father is far away.” He smiled at her and she realized that she’d never seen anyone or anything as beautiful as he was. If he was looking for sex, she might consider it for the first time in adulthood.

“I’m not,” he said, still smiling widely.

“Not what?”

“Looking for sex.”

“Oh, yeah, OK.” Reno stared at him, blinking.

“You work here.” He had his hands in his pockets but his black gold eyes and the riveting intensity blazing from them kept her rooted in place.

“Kind of, for awhile, anyhow,” she stood up and tucked the cigarette behind her ear. She looked at him nervously, she was never nervous because she was always alone.

“You working now?” He raised his eyebrows along with the question.

“Now? No, now, now, now I’m going to drink,” she said, “a lot,” she added, pressing off the stutter on her lips and patting her leather jacket with the cheap bottle of gin inside. Her hands were shaking, like usual. Both of her wrists had handcuffs tattooed on them.

“Can I join you?”

“You got something to drink?” She looked around.

“Keep yours for later. Let me treat you.” He’d been almost backing up as he spoke and she realized that she had taken a step towards him without knowing.

That was the beginning. Then, weirdly, he’d been able to get her a better job, a job working on manuscripts, a job she loved. And from that first night out together, she’d never had another break with reality. She didn’t stop drinking, or roaming, and her mind leapt from image to image without any real connection to the external environment, but her hands did not shake the same way ever again, and she lived much more freely, without the customary, terrifying madness. Moses seemed always to have time for her, and for the first time in her life she was not drifting and disenfranchised.

They talked, some, but mostly he just let her be with him.

There had been other moments, extreme ones, during those four years, and every time he’d been there, calm, absolute. That time with her wrist when she’d cut off the cuffs. She looked at the scar and ignored it again.  He found her and healed her.

During the spring of his second Oxford year, Moses gave Reno a fantastic old Olympus OM1.

“Take pictures,” he said, handing it to her in the alley where she’d slept for three days after an argument with her landlady.

“Of what?” She looked at the camera but did not take it.

“What you see.” He placed it into her hands.

And she did, developing in black and white, film, old -fashioned film, mainly, though sometimes she did grainy videos. She photographed everything in the margins, everything like herself. He built her a small dark room in his own enormous flat, and she spent hours alone there when Moses was in class and she wasn’t working, swishing her probing fingers through chemicals, hanging dripping images on a clothesline.

“Come home to LA with me,” he said one night, four years later, after losing to her in poker again.

“In the US? No. What, say, and do – do what exactly?” she took a defensive drag from her cigarette and slapped down her trembling hands, irritated by her own stuttering. “No,” she added, quickly, saying it again, “No,” she stood without waiting for his answer, and then she practically threw him out of his own house before she realized she needed to leave. She’d stood outside his door, only for a moment, turned the handle, walked back in again, confused. He was still standing there, that clear light surrounding him as it always did.

She did not want anyone to have any kind of power over her. Moses, though, wasn’t that kind of man. He never used his power, except to serve her. Despite her utter suspicion of everyone, she’d grown to trust him; for four years she’d perched in his crown, a very slight bird. She reentered his apartment and sat on the floor.

“Welcome back,” he’d said, softly, and then he said something she did not understand, “‘The wound is the place where the light enters you. You’ve a crown of thorns, Reno.’” The words confounded and distracted her. He reached into his pocket pulled out a small velvet box. It was colored blue, her favorite. She touched it timidly. She took it, sniffed the cover, and handed it back. No one gave her things. Not even Moses.

He began thinking of profanity so that when he took her hands, he would not shock her too much. He picked up her hands, wrapped them around the box. She looked him in the eyes trying to find the courage. Cautious, she lifted the lid, and held up the little charm: a five fingered hand. The diamond studded charm glittered in the shifting shadows of Moses’ home. The chain, made of platinum, was terribly thin and had tiny diamonds in it too. Moses had the piece made for Reno based on what he knew her needs were. It was infinitesimally thin and feather light, studded with twinkling gems. It was strong, but it would not bind her.

“Mitten?” She sat down on the floor where she was, dropped it out of the air with one hand into her other hand.

“Hamsa,” he said, gently, smiling at her.

Her hands were trembling too much to open the clasp. He crouched down and undid it and put it around her neck.  She knew that it would never come off, not even in her own grave would she allow this amulet to leave her. He stayed there, on her level, his arms resting on his knees. He was so terribly beautiful, so terrible and so thoroughly beautiful.

“I have a small collection of books, manuscripts – and – other projects. You’d have your own place, a decent salary, freedom,” he smiled the way he always did, with that lone dimple surfacing vaguely near the right edge of his peach lips. He was still squatting down, near her, his black solemn eyes irresistibly calm.

She reached across the space between them and traced his face with one thin finger, touching him for the first time in four years. “A place?” She ignored the pain that came from touching him.

“I’ll be there with you, living nearby. And if I ever go, I will take you with me.”

“Yes. Ok. Yes, then. I will.” She smiled a completely open smile, something she rarely did, and only for him.  It was as big a commitment to her as an oath. She’d withdrawn her stinging arm and shuffled to her feet, staring at her long thin fingers as they ricocheted pain, nails bitten to the nub. She forced her hands into her pockets. By this time she was sporting a Mohawk and a feathered earring in her nostril.

That was a month ago. Now she was earning a lot of money, she knew, courtesy of Moses Jinn. She wandered through LA, taking buses, sitting beside homeless people, naming them when they wouldn’t name themselves, giving away her money in wads, sharing tobacco. There was a woman who fed pigeons and talked to herself near the beach by Reno’s new house. She called the woman Velvet.

The money she was giving away was very little of what she was truly earning. Reno did not know that someone named Sian was directing the investment of three-fourths of her salary. Other parts of her income were used to pay her new mortgage, which she barely knew she had, as well as her other bills. The cash was meant for Reno to give away, because Moses knew she would. A stack of 200 one dollar bills was delivered daily per Moses’ direction. Reno always re-divided it up into piles, a little stack for each hour, though she was often gone for hours at a time. She had no notion of how complex it was for Moses to guard her, to render her essentially immune from people who would otherwise quickly discern that Reno was a cash source. But no one would ever be able to remember how they got money, or from whom, and no one could quite place the inhabitant of the fabulous upper loft home in Venice. Their recognition of Reno would simply slip from their minds.

Her new American photographs were already dangling from the cord she’d made out of used fishing line and hung from the rafters. There was a pile of rusted roofing tin in the corner she’d salvaged that morning. She planned to do something with that tin, animals, maybe, or –  – but thoughts such as these merely floated through the landscape of Reno’s mind, unattached, until she acted upon them.

Her Moses had arrived in LA a few days ago. She’d called him hers for years now. She did not think of him romantically, but her feelings for Moses were utterly possessive.

Moses was coming home. Reno didn’t spend a lot of time in contemplation but she knew she loved Moses. Her feelings for him were simple facts, like stones she carried in her pocket. Reno’s possessions were always temporary, until she met Moses. He was hers, the only thing that she knew she owned. She did not feel proprietary, only certain that the connection between them was permanent. Reno grabbed her gin bottle, a couple of cigarettes, took a look up and down the main drag of Venice Beach, and hurled herself into the darkness, searching for the rubbish she used for making art and for the people she used for making one-sided conversation. He’d visit her, she knew he’d come.

He finally stopped in late, after James’ party and some business on the La Brea building. Reno was now home for the night, safe in her new cavernous industrial space on Venice Beach. Reno’s diet consisted mainly of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, with the occasional cracker thrown in for variety. Her dwellings never smelt like cooking or cleaning. They smelled of art, smoke, and alcohol. Moses smelled the Woodbine smoke before he touched the door.

He knocked and the door swung open. He set down some boxes in the doorway. He knew she would not lock the door, she never did at Oxford, which was a far less dangerous place. His animals were watching over her, so she was under his care, though he knew if she were robbed she’d not likely notice.

“All right?” said Reno, watching him from below where she crouched on the floor, a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. She glanced carefully at Moses and even smiled at him. She stood, scooted his boxes into her place with her foot. She wore overalls, a red lace bra, a tight black tank top, and a very tall pair of combat boots that laced above the ankle. Reno’d been shopping on Melrose with Moses’ little sister, and though it had been a delight for Twink and scary for Reno, Reno now felt strangely happy with her new wardrobe.

“Yes. You’ve settled in Miss Hobbes?” he asked grandly, handing her a slim case from his back pocket.

“Pencils?” she asked. She rarely reached out, and did not do so now. But he often gave her glorious art supplies, so it was a good guess.

“Mezuzah. Do you have a hammer?”

“No. Want a drink?” she rattled her empty glass at him.

“Not tonight.” He began looking for a hammer substitute.

She walked over and dug through a paper bag, handed him a rock.

He spoke in Hebrew, and she turned away, lit a cigarette.

When she heard the banging stop a while later she asked him, “The boxes?”

“Drawings from a vendor in Rome.”

“Yeah, OK,” she said. She nudged the bundles gently towards a massive table made from restored shipping planks. She considered the table, decided. The table was already splattered with white and blue maritime paint. Reno was strong; she lifted both boxes and put them off to the side.

Moses wandered over to the bank of windows where she’d hung something she’d worked on for a week – a large doll constructed from fishing lures, old buoys, and floats from large ocean nets. Moses pointed at the doll, whose head was a coconut salvaged from the beach.

“Consuela,” said Reno, mixing herself a cocktail of straight gin, adding, “LA has lousy buses.”

“Yes. I bought you a motorcycle, but you have to pass the driving test.”

“I’m  – yeah – I’ll think about it.” She was scared about being in a police station.

“I’ll go with you,” he said, his face full of light as the moonshadows framed the mass of black curls. “Reno, please go, with me, and get a license.” She wasn’t listening.

Moses picked up a small plastic head from the windowsill. On it was a smiling Asian face, half obliterated. He set it down and stood there, hands in his pockets, looking down at the bustling night scene of Venice beach: drugs, muscles, sex.

“I,” she stopped, tongue tied as usual.

“I know you did. I missed you too.”

Reno preferred solitude to anyone’s company, except Moses’ company. She let him love her. No one had ever loved her. But this man loved her.

“Mo-Jinn, did you ever take a test?”

“Once.”

“Did you pass?”

“Barely, but that was before I met you,” he said, smiling at her.

“I haven’t been to school since I –”  She looked out of the room, through her glass as it reached her lips.  She set down the glass, pulled her pierced lip through the edge of her teeth. She paced a few times and abruptly sat down on the floor. A cricket leapt onto Moses’ chest, crawled onto his bare neck and began to sing.

“I have to go,” he said, backing up. “Come see me next week, Manna will get you.”

He turned to go and stopped.

“Have you turned on the refrigerator Manna delivered?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’d be a no.” He walked into the kitchen, aware of the layout of the place since he’d approved its purchase. He unwrapped the plastic from her new appliance.

He stood in the kitchen looking at a paperback book; he picked it up, drifted his gaze over the page marked by an old playing card.

“You’re reading Don Quixote?

“Used bookstore,” she pointed to someplace outside where she’d presumably purchased the book.

He smiled at her; Reno was full of surprises.

“I’m fine,” she said, firmly, taking the book and rechecking to see if he’d lost her place. He had not.

“Yes. You are. However, you’re sleeping on the floor, the plastic is still on your mattress and the sheets are still in the package. Use the bed. You’ll be covered with bruises in a few weeks if you sleep on concrete floors like these.”

Moses unwrapped the sheets, undid the mattress, made her bed.

“Don’t, don’t, don’t buy anything,” she said, jerking her hands through her newly black hair.

“I’ll go. It’s good to have you here.”

“Moses?”

“Yes?”

“There’s a bird on my roof. He’s, he’s watching me.” She poked her right thumb at the window.

“That’s Friday. You’re not imagining it. He is watching you. He’s a friend.”

“Words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, tenement stalls,” she said, suddenly, and without consciousness.

“The song?” he asked her. He knew to check himself if she told him anything.

“The bridge,” she said, pointing.

She took a huge drink and walked away from him, ignored his farewell, and began to open his packages carefully, balancing the cigarette and drink as she did so. Reno’s heart and mind were fiercely devoted to her passion for garbage and manuscripts, almost equally divided between them. Moses was the only human being she’d ever met who valued her attachments. She loved Moses as much or more than both of those things, but expressing emotion was something Reno was incapable of doing.

Outside, Moses had a brief conversation with Friday who told him where to go. Moses headed for the bridge, the underpass, where Reno had seen something. His car hummed softly in the summer night. He scanned his perceptions, allowing himself a glimpse of her day until he saw the bridge as she was beneath. In a half an hour, he was there.

There were the normal tags, names of forgotten children who wanted to be on a magical Schindler’s List but didn’t know how to get there, and in the middle of the underpass, there it was. A strange drawing of an upside down Christmas tree with a hand rising underneath it, about to topple it. On it, instead of decorations, were logos of 12 of the largest corporations on the planet, companies that employed hundreds of thousands of human beings. The logos were hanging from the inverted tree from chains, vile, festering chains that were shaking as the hand began to topple the tree. The whole image looked like it was in motion, so skilled was the artist who made it – the artist, of course, being Reno. Moses breathed in, moved his hand in front of the image and a living tree exploded the abandoned underpass. He stepped aside and closed his eyes. Moments later a new underpass connecting the roads above rose right beside the living tree, a spectacular one done by hand, each stone measured and fitted to the next – a bridge of stupendous beauty. IN the shadows, something slunk away, fury seething in its unhuman teeth.