Button By Paul Snyders Stepping out into the night_ Sam felt his by sofiaie


By Paul Snyders

Stepping out into the night, Sam felt his teeth bare into an involuntary and unrestrained grin. It was a glorious night. The rain was coming down steadily, and he pulled the collar of his old cloth spring overcoat up, and made sure his battered cap was well seated against gusts. The coat would be soaked through in this downpour in a few minutes, and the hat, not one he chose when he knew it would be rainy, would smell like wet dog for at least two days, but he stepped out from the protection of the porch with pleasure and began measuring the sidewalk in smooth, vigorous, but unhurried strides. It was a spring evening thunderstorm. Not so much lightning that he thought he should hide, but enough to give him the daring thrill of the ancients - defying the wrath of the gods and enjoying it. He saw a couple run by with a garbage bag draped between them, and an argument on their faces. From their ultra-clenched body language, you'd think that the rain was

sulphuric acid (instead of the very dilute solution of nitric acid it is). They winced and hooted and generally worried their way into a car as he breezed by smiling. He loved enjoying the rain all the more because so many saw it as unenjoyable. It was like a special private celebration, from which idiots would spontaneously uninvite themselves.

The melody came back to him; first he hummed, then he whistled it in a couple of different keys. No wait, he had the timing wrong. It wouldn't syncopate properly unless he walked a little slower. He slowed down a bit, scanning the sizzling streetlight plasma reflections in the wet sidewalk ahead.

The area had been rich fifty years ago. Beautiful old trees hung down over the broad boulevard sidewalks, deep front lots setting the houses back from the street. It

felt like space and luxury but it was a spiritually practical decadence, not a high tech figment; just a slightly nicer life every single day.

He loved the neighborhood, loved any excuse to visit it, and never minded a missed bus. It was one of the last places left that felt like it was made for walking. There seemed to be a lot of sticks in the road ahead, so he slowed a bit, to scan closer. One of the sticks undulated – whoops; worms! Wow, there were tons of the little buggers,

way more than in his cramped, overpaved, oversprayed neighborhood. He tried to plot navigation solutions fast enough to continue his exhilarating pace without stepping on any, and made it almost a quarter of a block before he got the slightest cue - a miniscule amount of slip as his heel fell, the tiniest squish, magnified to agony by his imagination. He slowed down to spare his karma the indignity of further insult.

He stopped for a minute when he reached the corner. Three ways level, the fourth road dipped down sharply, and the way the tributaries pushed and jostled and swelled the rivers, till they formed a solid sheet of water reaching from coast to coast (sidewalk to sidewalk) across the road, held him for a moment as the melody started up again. This time he heard the next line: actually it was a modulated variation so it was kind of cheating, but he knew that it could get him to the next great spot, so he added it, and played it through with the rest of the melody so far, tweaking it a couple of times in a couple of passes until he figured he knew it well enough to go on to the next bit without forgetting it.

No cars, no people, the intersection was all his. Hell, as long as his luck held up, outdoors itself was all his - at least to take pleasure in. He could probably get the next melodic line done before he reached the subway; he dared himself to it. At the thought of 'subway' he reached into his inner pocket to confirm that he had a token ready. He did, but he laughed 'cause he also had a button in there. He liked its smooth

coin-eroded feel, but he had been meaning to remember to take it out of his pocket and sew it back onto his favourite vest for weeks. After all, the psychological armour effect of spiffy duds is almost completely undone when they fall into obvious disrepair. But the simple task had eluded him for months, and would probably continue to do so till long past winter vest-season.

Maybe he could inject some dramatic tension into the piece if the next line went sharply to a different, forced feeling modulation - some radically different key only justified after the fact by the next passage. He tried it once, too forced - Whoops lookout just missed a worm. Then he tried again, going down in pitch this time. Better, but still not naturally weird enough. A strobe of lightning, very bright, somewhere ahead, but obscured by the greyed-over skyline hit, and he counted seconds, while looking for good places to duck in if it was too damned close. Less than four seconds and the boom, artillery style, rattling the bones uncomfortably. He could almost feel the pressure wave from the low frequency ionizing pulse.

Two car alarms went off way down the block. One was squealing like a siren, a high frequency, calculatedly irritating sound. The other was the classic automatic pulsing trigger for the car’s horn – brassy fifths. As he listened the damned things kept forming an eerie, large interval chord and beating in and out of a rather tricky bit of syncopation. Nervous with excitement, he sang through the first parts of the melody, even the tame lead-in variation that he'd just added. Then he started into blank canvas, singing it out bar after bar with the accompanying instrumentation bleating away, now in, now out of time - like a band where the rhythm section smokes and the lead guys drink. It was glorious, yes! It worked beautifully and he could see that as soon as he got away from the (currently helpful) influence of the car horns he would be able to write the justifying phrases easily.

Beautiful. He cruised a few hundred feet higher over the water, over the sidewalks, over the homes of the jubilant rain-besotted worms. For no more than twenty minutes at a time he could think of himself as an artist, but they were great minutes. He made it to the subway, carefully adjusting his head so as to not let the fluorescent sterility throw his good creative mood. As soon as he hit the shelter of the overhang, he began unbuttoning his coat to let it air better. Then he took off his hat and just before he shouldered the door, he whacked it hard, to shake the beaded moisture off the top. He hit the escalator at speed, still unlimbering his standard kit. Unbuttoning his light inner jacket, he pulled the plastic bag out and removed his (happiness) perfectly dry notebook. He grabbed the handrail

at the bottom and pulled himself around the corner in a sharp, high-G pivot, then walked quickly through the turnstile, popping his token into the fare box with a perfect 'swish' shot (not easy, with such a light puck). Pivoting on his heels he scampered down the stairs, dying to get to the platform so he could begin to record the melody before it faded.

Meanwhile the ticket collector had looked up from his copy of the Toronto Sun, and glanced into the fare box. There was only one thing in it, and it was not a token! Checking that the station was empty he took his “special tool”, a big zig-zag wire with some very sticky tape on the end, and left the sanctity of his cubicle. Then he walked around to the fare box, reached in around the bends and secured the offending item. A button!

He was just settling back into his booth when two t-shirt and body-armoured transit cops walked through the turnstiles. He stopped them, showed them the button, then checked the monitors. There! That was the bastard; even over his paper he'd noticed

his stupid brown cap. The cops smiled, easy collar, another ticket, one more click on the stupid computer that measures almost everyone's productivity, one less reason for

their whiny boss to freak out on them. The white cop was showing teeth, getting his nasty face on, as the black one grabbed the button and followed him down the stairs.

The train, finally a chance to sit down and get the new melody into his notebook. Sam stepped through the doors and finished up the quick sketch he'd already started. Okay, one version, rough, but complete. He looked around for a seat, and was about to take one when he realized with a giggle that he was on the wrong train. He swung around the handbars on the doorway and slid out just as the rattley doors rumpled shut. He was walking alongside the train in the same direction as it accelerated - a weird perception illusion game he'd liked since childhood. Walking hard, first you're going forward, then you're not moving at all, then you're actually traveling backwards. Then the thrilling suck towards the tracks as the train suddenly disappeared and a gulf opened up beside you. A couple of those new transit cop guys were on the train, and they seemed to be saying something to him, but he couldn't understand them, so he just shrugged and smiled as they whizzed past.

He jogged up the stairs and across to the opposite platform. Which was duly reported by the ticket guy to the infuriated transit cops, who were by now in radio contact. They were disembarking and crossing platforms themselves by the time the ticket collector called up the line to tell them to look out for this insolent bastard in a brown cap and grey coat.

There was no way whatsoever Sam could lean over enough to see properly and not drip on his notebook. It was infuriating (why make good notes if they turn to shit before the ink is even dry?). Okay, he had his roughs; he could afford a minute to reconfigure before proceeding to the clean notes. He had a three-seat all to himself - a nice treat. So he pulled off his backpack and laid it next to him. Then he took off his

coat, rolled it as neatly as possible, and tucked it away into the pack. Next he slid his hat inside, promising the precious cap he'd give it a good airing later. Finally he slid the knapsack back on, wedged its low corner against the seat-back to take the weight, leaned into his pad and uncapped his favourite pen.

Ten, fifteen minutes, and up and down the line, none of the ticket collectors reported seeing the “brown capped insolent bastard” as they were calling him (complete with a cheesy accent to mock the original ticket-collector’s call). The two cops riding on the train behind him were losing their anger buzz, and getting ready to write it off as a miss. They were a new enough force that they were still evolving tactics, but for this team the rule had become “When in doubt, head for the transfer stations, and hope for the best.” So they agreed to ride until they got to the next connector station, get off, scout around, and head off for a coffee if nothing turned up.

By now there was no way the ticket collectors' video network was going to catch him. They were looking for the cap and coat now nestled securely in his pack.

Sam got off the train at the very station the transit cops had decided upon. He needed the uptown bus, but first he needed gum or maybe a candy bar. There was a little shop inside the station, most had them, but the ones at connecting stations were always better stocked, and open longer hours. and bad. The “better stocked” thing was good

A cornucopia spread before him. As many different brightly-coloured attractively-packaged variants of pure caloric food as had thus far been found profitable by some of the biggest companies in the world. All of them packed into a space so small as to make the weight of their collective ad jingles almost scream at him from their single-eyeful stage. He couldn't help himself, he had to scan each item, on every row,

or he would never be able to reassure himself that he had picked the best thing.

Two stations to go now, and the coffee was sounding good to both of them. Really, just a picky old goat at the collectors booth anyhow. Even if they could issue an “up to $1000 fine” they rarely, in practice, gave out more than a $40 ticket - still a slap in the face, but hardly a federal case. Also, they couldn’t help wondering what would the paperwork look like at the office – “charged with criminal use of a button?”

Gum would do it, and Sam was down to the three best candidates and sorting, when an amazing woman walked by wearing clothing that was probably revealing even when it wasn't soaking. He picked the pack closest to his hand, paid quickly and darted up the steps to his bus platform, hoping she was waiting for the same bus.

The black cop reached into his pocket to search for coffee-change and came up with the goddamned button. "Hey, check it out!" He held it up to his buddies view as they trudged up the staircase. "No, you check it out!" His buddy pointed up the facing staircase, leading to the bus platform. "Guy with the backpack, it's him, I swear, I caught his face." "Alright buddy, let’s go," and despite their coffee-deficit, they pumped their weary thighs up the stairs to give chase.

She was. She was waiting for the same bus, and better, she didn't turn out to be one of those women with a beautiful figure and an ugly face, or even a disagreeable personality. She smiled at Sam as he raised the notebook and began trying to get some impressive-looking work done. He was saved from his own awful performance by the

arrival of the bus. He entered just behind her and sat across the aisle so as to be definitely not at a threatening perv-weirdo angle. Then he settled back and worked very hard at not paying any attention to her at all as the bus pulled out and pressed him into his seat around the sharp turn.

"Shit shit shit shit!" The white cop panted, flipping his ratty little moustache up in puffs as he strained against the limits of his cardiovascular system, then gave up, hands on knees, at the edge of the platform.

"Don't worry puffy, I'll get the brown capped insolent bastard for ya," and his partner took off tailing the big bus. He knew that with any traffic at all the bus would be slow, and he'd catch it in a block, tops. Trouble was, predictions like that, even when made on the basis of years of specific experience, only work until you actually need them to. The damned diesel behemoth was catching all the greens, and though he was a good runner (and really wanted to rub it into his partner’s face), he was beginning to lose steam, big time.

Finally, a break! Up ahead he saw the bus stopped at a red. This was it, if he didn't catch it before it turned green he'd have to give up, and slink back to his laughing partner. He poured on his best sprint, and it was magnificent; he vaulted over two ratty old galvanized garbage pails, and even managed not to slip on a very irresponsibly disposed of grocery bag of dogshit. He made it! He leaned against the side of the bus and tapped the guy’s window. The guy was startled, but wide-eyed like he hadn't done a goddamned thing.

Sam opened the window and looked at the winded transit cop on the street below.

"How can I help you officer?" he said in an infuriatingly innocent tone.

Still leaning against the steaming skin of the bus, the cop reached into his pocket, produced the button, and held it aloft accusingly, trying to recover enough breath to scare the little creep.

"My button! Hey thanks man, that goes on my fanciest vest!"

The bus pulled away sharply and he turned to the pretty girl.

"That cop chased me down to give me back my button." She laughed back at him wetly. "And from your fanciest vest too.” 
 "Must've dropped it when I was avoiding the worms." "Worms?" "Tell me, what do you know about music?”

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