He doesn’t peer into every corner. He doesn’t need to know. There are shadows on the wall, leaving an indistinct impression. One among many. The walking wounded stare back. Casualties of war. Now, they’re in another place, fighting battles for survival. Their wounds are all too real. There is no front line, or back seat, or room with a view. Come dawn, along with the rats, they all disappear.
In the quiet darkness, well past midnight, where we had been drinking for about three hours with modulated care (if you can believe it) beside someone’s massive pool in the Poconos, the narrow beam cast by a flashlight came with an alarming start down the barrel of a sawed-off rifle bound to spread pain, sac pain, heart pain, knee cap pain. The rifle and the projected flash were steady, likely in the hands of a confident man beyond rifle-range tough, the heavy voice not asking but demanding an answer: “Who the hell are you guys? Speak up quickly, one of you, before this popper gets away from me. I’m not the best shot in the world.” The qualification he added in a mimicking tone said it better than any hard-line threat: ” but I don’t have to be.”
Let me tell you about a few things that have changed since I was a boy.
Back then, there wasn’t a nice big garden outside our house like there is now, only a heap of muck and a puddle of ooze that we used to surf in on the broken-off door of a cement mixer. We’d wreck around in that puddle what feels like all the time, until Ma came out roaring, I’ll brain yiz if ye cross this door mucked! And off we’d dash into the house for tea, kicking off our battered trainers at the doorstep, beating the muck out of them on the wall and leaving them to crust over in the sun.
He lights a cigarette on their small balcony that overlooks the main children’s park beneath. It’s dark already, so the only rumbling he hears is from lonely street dogs and teenage couples. He takes long deliberate drags from it, letting the smoke settle on his lips for a moment before deciding to blow it out. He watches as the smoke meets the air, blurring the horizon underneath him. His wife approaches the balcony from their living room. He hopes she would not scold him again for smoking. He knows it’s bad for him. As soon as she steps out, he starts, Continue reading
There is no such thing as mundane disbelief on the wretched, glittering streets of New Orleans. No doubt lives among the connoisseurs of gin and light. No hesitation hides behind distorted Mardi Gras masks, only creatures moving lithely through the crowd of wayward travelers. The city breathes in a cacophony of sound. Even the steel factory rattles distantly, like a drum beat. Yet, as Thomas O’Clery stood in the braking trolley car, inhaling the piss and bourbon stench of the city, he felt only a cold numbness. Neither the driverless carriages, or the preternatural weight of hot summer jazz, like a voodoo queen’s curse, could frighten or arouse him. Not anymore.
Small-eyed, small-eared, a mole perched like an ace of spades on one eyelid, a mastoid-depressed void behind one of those ears, pale of complexion, shoulders it seemed worn down by weights almost too ponderous for life, Jimmy Griffith was the essence of obscurity as he leaned on the bar of the Vets Club. All members knew Jimmy by name and by sight, but few had ever heard him say much more than a good morning or a goodnight, or “I’ll have my second beer now, Al,” or “Brownie,” if Brownie Latefox was on duty. This was the two-a-day ritual at the end of walking his route about town, measuring water consumption, reading the meters down in fieldstone cellars or the utility rooms of newer bungalows. Read the meters, jot the numbers, cheat a bit for a friendly face, or go a step further, like disconnecting a meter for six months at a time, not a soul at the water department or in the confines of Town Hall ever the wiser. Nobody knew how happy Jimmy was to have the job, nobody in God’s creation. Or why.
With eight hundred miles of road under my butt in the last three days, my blood sugar barely holding the line, a couple of old wounds still talking sass to me, whatever else was bugging me besides my errand, fell off the face of the Earth when Disher Menkin’s wife Elsie, the new widow, still somewhat of a knockout though she’d collected some flesh under her chin she’d never try to hide, a few other imperfections lost in a surprisingly good figure, hardly ever taciturn at best, said, “Where the hell have you been, Coop, when we needed you most?”