Curtis the “Mercurial”


This excerpt from Dan Liptock’s story “Curtis the “Mercurial” appears in full in the Chinatown Bus Stories Chapbook: “Stories and illustrations of adventure, tragedy and lives in transit” w/ accompanying artwork by Matthew Gribben

It had been a mad dash to Chinatown after a late night and very little sleep.

I hadnʼt seen Curtis for years. We had sat all night on my porch drinking beers and talking about old times. He said he was heading to a Buddhist Monastery in Nova Scotia where he was going to stay. No one believed this. Heʼd told me this on the phone a week ago and Iʼd talked to mutual friends since. Some thought rehab. Some said jail. It wasnʼt that Curtis couldnʼt have been interested in becoming a Buddhist monk but he was a profoundly restless person. One could be unnerved by the way he constantly adjusted his posture or the way he sometimes jerked his head around furtively like a lizard. In conversation he spoke wildly and passionately flitting from idea to idea occasionally glancing by contradictions or outright changing his mind entirely mid-sentence. Over the years when Iʼd hear from or of it would always involve outlandish jobs or places: building manatee shelters in the Florida Keys, coding for the government in the Arizona desert, a food truck in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. I assumed there was a layer of bullshit in all of this, but I liked Curtis and he was smart. Our friend Bill whoʼd grown up with Curtis had always called him “mercurial.” He said he meant it mostly in the sense of the perennial trickster and winged messenger of the gods, but with his back against the wall Curtis could be quicksilver.

Last night on my porch heʼd seemed subdued, even resigned. It had not seemed to me to signal the inner peace of the pilgrim, but instead the exhaustion and recalcitrance of the losing gambler. Still he spun tales of his travels and we spoke in the old rhythms of friendship. It was towards the end of the night when he walked out to his truck and come back carrying the shoebox with holes poked in it. He stood on the sidewalk holding the box out towards me under the streetlights and the trees of the park across the street.

“I need you to bring this up to Bill tomorrow.”