Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 6, Scene 4

TOC page here.

In the last scene, Diana used TV to spread the message about the white van; in this one, she’s doing more traditional detective work:

The minister took a long look at the sketch in its plastic sleeve. “That’s an expensive van, is my first thought.” She handed it back to Diana. “If we had a van like that we would have had a big argument about whether we could better serve the community by selling it and using the money to fund more services.” She handed an apple to the next man in line. “How’s your foot, Raymond?”

“Taking it day by day,” said the man as he shuffled down the line.

“We’re Unitarians,” said the minister to Diana. “We argue about everything.”

Diana said, “What if you had a member who owned a van like that and donated its use?”

“Well, that’s certainly possible.” Another man, another apple. “Here you go. Not in our case, but I can see a church or other group doing that. I don’t know of a specific one, if that’s what you’re about to ask me.” More apples, more soft words of encouragement. “Your typical church is going to prefer the sort of van with seats… you know, I think this is the most thought I’ve ever given to vans.”

As she handed an apple to the next man in line, he gestured at the sketch in Diana’s hands. “That’s the old Reaper’s van, isn’t it?” This guy was as grimy as the typical street resident, but his gaze was steadier.

Diana said, “We really don’t think it’s the Reaper.”

“Oh, he’s out there waiting for us all. You know where I seen a van like that? Moving clothes around.” He noticed he was holding up the line and stepped out. “You know how they got them bins here and there, where folks can drop off clothes that are still okay to wear?”

“Oh, you’re right, Keith,” said the minister. He waited for her to continue, but she said, “Go on.”

“Sure. Well, that bin, it’s like one of them big mailboxes, right? Once you dump the clothes in, the lid shuts up and you can’t reach back in there. The van comes by ever so often, the two guys lift up the outside of the bin to get at the can inside. You follow me?” At their nods, “Well, this been a real cold winter, on account of that global climate change. So one day maybe three, four weeks ago, I got me a good place to sit out the day in the sunshine, and one of them bins is right across the street. Along come these two clowns from Peachtree-Pine and start messing with the bin.”

Diana said, “Do you stay at Peachtree-Pine?”

“Hell, no. I mean, no, ma’am. Place ain’t safe: they got no rules. Well, til Ms. Claire come along, but she still ain’t cleared out all the bad apples.” He stopped, and looked at them both, expectantly.

“Go on,” said the minister.

“Oh: yeah. You see, the bin is too big and the lid’s too high for you to reach in. But if one fella boosts the other one up there, the second guy can drop hisself in the bin. First guy holds open the lid, guy inside passes him some fresh clothes. You see, them bin guys don’t reckon on how homeless men are real clever, and can get in anywhere. Like raccoons.”

“We cuter, though,” said the next man in line.

“Speak for yourself, Gary. So the one fella’s in there looking for last year’s Christmas sweater, and along come the bin guys in they big white van. The guy outside takes off, the lid flips closed, you can’t hear nothing from inside cos it’s full of clothes, so when the guys hoist that bin to get at the can inside, old Bobby pops out of there and just about scares them both to death. I’m like it’s a Christmas miracle! Them guys was a little pissed off at first, but then they rolled with it: one asks the other, why would anybody throw out a perfectly good black man?”

He bit into his apple, chewed, swallowed. “Course, in truth, Bobby ain’t that good a guy.”

Show, don’t tell. Let’s let Keith tell us the story. This is a great way to add useful detail to a scene without either just infodumping or cutting out the detail so it doesn’t look like you’re infodumping. Keith has his own meandering way of speaking, but he’s a good storyteller, and he gives Diana the background in such a way that we start thinking about clothing bins just as much as the minister is about vans.

Keith’s story conceals the fact that there’s only one real piece of information here: vans pick up clothes from bins. But where’s the fun in that? How does a homeless man see a clothing donation bin differently from a civilian? Because remember, one of the central points of this story is that just because you see a homeless guy doesn’t mean you can either judge him as worthless or slot him into a preconceived narrative—even though a lot of the individual stories start to meld into maybe six or eight narratives as you hear more of them. Note that I’m very carefully not giving you a narrative for Keith. How did a guy this lucid end up homeless? You don’t get to know, and this is important when reinforcing the point about not judging.


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  1. Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 6, Scene 3 | Julian Cage

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