Cecil’s Funeral

Everyone at the service wants to know when Renee got into town, how long she’s staying, how sorry they are about Cecil. All but the last is nervous chatter because, apparently, she visits once a year. She’s still a part of this community. I can tell there are other things people want to say, but a funeral isn’t the appropriate place.

  • So glad to see you.
  • Will you ever move back?
  • Do you like living in New York?

Renee made good in a big way and the town wants some of that for itself. I’ve been gone for 10 years and no one’s busted up about it. A few people say, “hello Arrich,” but most are content with quick nods without words. All the attention is directed at Cecil’s wife Dana, and to Renee.

“Cecil was so proud of you Renee.”

Renee cries with inaudible grace, wiping steady tears without wailing like she did with me. Despite that, a woman who worked with Cecil, Helen, comes over and hugs Renee from the side, then positions herself beside and behind her, a firm hand on her shoulder and a muted glare at me, as if she’s protecting Renee from voodoo. Renee thanks her, and pats one of her own hands over Helen’s, releasing it from service. The man next to Helen offers a pat on the same shoulder and his own “so sorry Renee.”

Renee catches me rolling my eyes a little and quietly digs a heel into the front of my shoe, trapping and pinching a toe. Now we are both crying. I whisper,

“I loved him too Renee.”

I hardly knew him, but Renee lets up on my foot. I make thoughtlessly thoughtful statements all the time, ones  she scolds me for, but today it’s okay for some reason.

“You hardly knew him, you jerk.”

She says jerk like it means buddy, strangely comforted by my usual bullshit.

Cecil was cremated, but his will has a lot of strange stuff in it regarding the funeral. The first is we’re doing this thing at a cemetery instead of just putting him in a tin can on the mantle and calling it a day. Most of his remains are going home with Dana, but a couple of scoops (enough to make a pot of coffee) are to be laid to rest here. That part is fine, but what’s weird to me is that it’s not in an actual burial plot. We’re almost to the road, the nearest headstone is 20 paces into the graveyard, and we’re planting a tree no bigger than a potted houseplant with the coffee scoops of Cecil.

It’s ridiculous. I think it, but keep myself from whispering to Renee whose eyes are locked forward with everyone else’s in sober reflection. Nothing for me to do but attempt to reflect soberly.

More than half the town is here, in their Sunday best, witnessing what amounts to superficial landscaping. It seems so overdone and melodramatic to me, but it makes me think of another ridiculous offering of Cecil’s.

“What was that fish he had mounted in his office?”

I can hardly ask Renee without laughing. She remembers and seems, like me, to associate what’s going on around us with the fish, shakes her head before whispering back to me in recognition,

“The Anchovy.”

Right. An anchovy. Just one. He wasn’t outdoorsy, but went once with fishing-obsessed friends on a trip. They all brought back monsters they mounted. With no prize of his own Cecil had the last piece of his bait taxidermy’d instead. The little fish is 20 times smaller than the wood it’s mounted on. A comic proportion, a lot like a tiny sapling being planted by a couple hundred people in formal attire. Renee puts an arm around me and kisses the side of my face before whispering,

“He loved that thing.”

Although Cecil rarely went to church he insisted that the Baptist minister speak, as well as a mendicant from the Buddhist Meditation Resource Center (slash bookstore slash gift shop slash natural foods purveyor) located in a downtown strip mail. She brought along two assistants, so there are 4 people in religious attire hovering over a folding card table with Cecil’s urn on it.

“Are we all ready to lay brother Cecil to rest?”

Rev. Philip Ishmael Pryce (who I called Fisher Price when I was younger, but caught hell for it) gets the spiritual party started. People nod in the affirmative. He’s wearing long flowing robes that are mismatched. The top-most one is white (with a coffee stain), but the layers underneath are light purple and a faded pink. There seems to be more of them then there are supposed to be.

“Good morning my friends.”

I’m the only one, other than the mendicant and her two toadies, to not reply-

“Good morning Reverend Pryce,”

-like a field of trained African Parrots.

I try to shoot the monk-nun a nod to let her know the whole crowd isn’t playing into Fisher Price’s hands, but her hands are buried in the sleeves of her robe and her chin is at rest on her chest. A quick scan of the crowd and I make eye contact with a few people, all of whom immediately look away and down.

“It is a beautiful day to say good-bye to a loved one.”

What?

“I’ve been asked to say a little something for our brother Cecil and to read his favorite passage from the text, The Bhagavad-Gita. Although Cecil was a Catholic, and a lapsed one at that, he treated those around him with good Christian love. So, although he was not as Christian as you or I, ah…”

I remember something else Renee told me after one of her trips down here. Reverend Pryce suffered a massive concussion several years ago while trying to set up the nativity scene in icy conditions. He was putting the star that lead the Wise Men to the freshly-minted Jesus, leaned a little too far out on the ladder, and flew ten feet to the pavement below.

He never dropped the star.

For his heroics, he spent several weeks in the hospital and was thereafter promoted to Reverend-Emeritus. Most of us haven’t heard him speak since then, but he and Cecil knew each other. It was worth the wait. This guy is good.

“Cecil, ahh… Christian. Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes! Cecil was a lapsed man of the one true God, but he saw the words of our savior in other societies not fortunate enough to have been exposed to his wisdom.”

The basic chronology of that is hilarious to me. And only me. I laugh, softly I think, but Renee digs her heel into my foot again.

“I have been lent a copy of this Gita from Sister, ah… the monk, ah, woman- This nun here. You all know her. The lady who runs the bookstore on South Yarrow Street. The one next to the Dunk-in’ Donuts.”

There’s another lightbulb for me. Fisher Price liked to use Dunkin’ Donuts in many of his sermons. I remember this now from Christmas services Paula dragged us to. He thought there was great merit in The Dunk-in’ Donuts, almost as if they were churches themselves. He put (and still puts) the inflection on Dunk in the same way that natives of Nashville pronounce guitar, Gee-tar.

When I was a kid I thought this idiosyncrasy was surprisingly effective in humanizing his sermons. It’s not about the church, but the faith the people in the building produce and apportion, and it’s not about the donut franchise, but the people enjoying the sustenance produced and sold there.

“I will read Cecil’s selections to you now:

You have been mourning those who should not be mourned; the truly wise do not grieve for the living or the dead. There never was a time when I was not, or you, or these rulers of men. Nor will there be a time when we shall cease to be, all of us hereafter. Just as within this body the embodied self passes through childhood, youth, and old age, so it passes to another body. The wise man is not bewildered by this,

um, ah- And Cecil marked, ah…”

He stumbles and can’t find the next bit of the selections Cecil requested. Everyone shifts in their quiet and respectful stances as the first couple of minutes pass. Philip forgets what he’s supposed to be looking for and just improvises the rest, as I hoped he would.

“Cecil and I used to play chess together, and then, ah, after my accident, checkers. He was a gifted player and a true friend. He and I were both fond of the Dunk-in Donut. You know the one. It used to have a handle. They call it the Old Fashioned now. I guess Cecil and I were both old fashioned.”

I miss Cecil more by the minute. Renee looks over at me, I think to make sure I’m not laughing, and I shrug my shoulders, smiling.

“The best way to judge a man-ah… Cecil was always sharing his ah… What was I saying? Forgive me for a moment.”

He thumbs through the Gita as if he expects to find something there, at random, that will save him. He stops and abruptly walks away from the group, holding and waving the Gita over his head, forgetting I think that it’s not a Bible. He gets in his beat-up Camry and drives away, his robes stuck in the door, tethered and billowing. People look up and around at each other wondering if we’re all meant to leave now. The nun steps forward and keeps the proceedings moving.

Her toadies spread out a little so that together the three of them form a triangle of sorts around the tree hole. The nun breaks out some beads. The toadies break out their matching sets. About ten more people from town follow suit, so that the the string beads are like cigarette lighters at an AC/DC concert.

The nun chants a little. It sounds more like fake Native American to me than Eastern Zen, but I’m enjoying myself, thinking of dunking some donuts with Cecil. To show my appreciation I chant along, first quietly to myself, and after Renee glares at me, loud enough for everyone to hear. To my utter amazement everyone with beads joins me in chanting.

Sadly, I’m still the only one smiling. I keep thinking if Cecil were here he’d be on the ground laughing, and I imagine him watching this, eating donuts holding his glorious anchovy.

The nun-bookseller stops chanting and everyone waits for her to say something. Those waving beads slowly lower their bead-arms and wait. The nun is dead silent for what must be 5 full minutes. Finally, in a sudden and sweeping gesture, she reaches into the sleeve of her robe and pulls out…Nothing?

“Is this a magic trick?”

Renee digs her heel into my foot again. The nun shakes her hands at the hole in the ground, then her toadies shake their hands, then she chants a little more and signals to an old man with a shovel who is not dressed for a funeral. He lifts the tiny seedling and puts it in the hole, then waves at no one in the proximity of Cecil’s urn. No one is moving to do anything.

“Is anyone going to do something?”

I whisper to Renee. No one moves. The crowd is growing restless again. The nun and her minions keep their heads bowed, seem to be clearly waiting for someone else to do something. Fisher Price should be here.

I step forward. No one stops me. I walk slowly to the card table, thinking someone will intercept me and do what is necessary. I’m alone, and another scan of the crowd gives an additional smattering of quickly broken eye contact.

I make it to the table and grab the urn. First I try to pry off the lid, but eventually try rotation. It’s a twist cap. Inside is a little silver spoon. I look up at Renee, then behind me to Cecil’s wife, and they have an expression of surprise and appreciation on their faces. I walk over to the tree hole and put a few scoops of Cecil in the ground with the tiny sapling, before screwing his cap back on and returning him to the card table.

Still, no one is doing anything. Only now, everyone is looking at me. I think I just accidentally put myself in charge. When I look at people their eyes go from me back to the card table. I look over at Renee and she’s sobbing now like she was when she first told me Cecil died, and I notice for the first time she’s holding a slip of paper.

She’s supposed to say something.

It’s too much for her.

I walk back to her, reach out to her hand and take the slip of paper, put it in my pocket and whisper,

“Don’t worry about it.”

I walk back to the card table and look up at everyone. I pick up the urn and hold it in front of me like I’m reading the label on a great bottle of wine. I think of the only funeral I ever cried at, Spock’s at the end of Star Trek II. It strangely fits, so I go for it.

“We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted that in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life.”

Here I point to the tree. It’s a dramatic, Shatner-esque pause, not by design but necessity, because I’m going over Captain Kirk’s next lines in my head and taking out the sunrise of a new world bit which makes no sense to me in this context.

“Ours is a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of our friend Cecil, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.”

I can’t help but leave in another of William Shatner’s heavy-handed pauses, but the crowd seems to enjoy it. I turn and hand the urn over to Cecil’s wife, trying not to salute her even though I really really want to. I decide instead to ad-lib,

“He’ll be missed,” to her, and a louder, “We’ll all miss him in our own way,” loudly to the crowd. As I walk back towards Renee I wave to the groundskeeper in overalls with the shovel, spinning my finger pointing upward and then pointing down at the tree hole like a basketball coach in a movie about underdogs, telling the most underdog player to take his free throw and win the game for the small state college no one ever expected to make it to the national championship.

Let’s bury this guy and go eat some donuts.

The 100

I’ve driven thousands of miles in the last month. I started in Bakersfield. I’d been working for a little over a year there and I don’t remember much, only that the money was good and I despised it.

I’m heading south now through Virginia.

There was something about that part of California that was all of the nothing I never dreamed the state could be. It was bleak, but domestic, a post-apocalyptic dream if things just fizzled out in a few hundred years. You know, desolation without calamity. Just a gradual decline, the last human on earth living out their mildly choking life in a 1400 square foot space with a convenient half bath on the main level and several pieces of laminated shelving.

Maybe it’s nothing like that. I didn’t get out much when I was there. I left as soon as the idea hit me. Enough saved. No strong ties. The wind struck me funny late one night, and the light too was perfect for leaving.

I’m driving an old car. An Audi 100 that’s lost all semblance of luxury. Everything is fine internally, but the exterior hasn’t been washed in months. There are dents in the grey. Nothing pronounced enough to be anymore offensive than the layers of dirt or the thick outline left by the wipers on the windshield. I drive on back roads because I don’t want to think about the car anymore than I have to. Don’t want to remember we both need a bath.

At regular intervals 95 rolls along next to me, following me, because it has to be close to everything.

The tractor trailers are making time on it, leapfrogging each other, gurgling diesel. I never see them on these bumpy, saggy old roads. The 100 has an old cassette player and I have only a handful of tapes to play. Nina Simone is the only one that sounds good anymore. I had a Sinatra that didn’t hold up to the heat and drags a little. Mostly I just roll down the windows and listen to whatever is out there.

“Stay in the yard Tommy, mommy’s got to get the phone”

I slow down, pull onto the gravel shoulder to listen. the 100 is invisible. Behind me, I can see in the rear view, cars up on blocks, an overweight older man mows the lawn with his shirt off. He’s one yard over from little Tommy, who is closer to me. Almost peripheral, but still just in my mirror. The old man and the young boy don’t even notice me.

I turn Nina up, Tommy looks up at my reflected eyes and quickly away.

My baby never treats me, sweet and gentle, the way he should, the way he should. I got it bad, and that ain’t good, no that ain’t good.

I pull slow back onto the road, watch as Tommy looks up. There are clay colors running next to me. Most of it is soil you couldn’t grow anything in. There are broken pots and swing sets strewn across broken lawns, brown dead patches where there used to be old tires and couches.

I tune out. It’s too depressing. I step on the gas and get back on the interstate. Hours pass and everything looks the same to me. A monstrous grocery stores rises out of the North Carolina coming into view.

And when the weekend’s over. And Monday rolls around. I end up like I stalled out, just crying my heart out.

The 100 is purring along, but I’ve slowed down. Cars whizz by me. A group of must be high school kids pass me on the left in a new model Ford. They’re screaming and singing at each other. All the windows are down. The pimpled driver looks like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown. The girls in the back look over and blow me a kiss before laughing to each other. The pimpled driver turns to look at them, then at me. He rolls down his window to tell me he loves me, laughing. I blow him a kiss and cover my heart with my hand, looking at the girls, mock-swooning for them all. They all laugh and the pimpled driver floors it. Disappears ahead of me into the flow of traffic.

It’s a great day for driving though, the best yet.

Just me an Nina and no reason to be so down on anyplace. Anyone. It’s getting hotter. The humidity is deep in the car with me. The old 100’s AC can’t keep up. I shut it down and roll down the rest of the windows. Let myself sweat. Let the grime on me run.

When I take deep breaths it seems like water’s there, oxygenated and blood strong. Like I’m being born in the most absurd way possible. Driving. Driving south out of some kind of mechanical womb but still the water in my lungs. A baby. Me, tasting something like saline, but sweet.

I drift off in that thought.

I’m just under seven pounds. I’m blind and dumb. All I can do is whine and mew. My skin is thin and blue. The world sounds like I’m underground. The 100’s engine is a steady heartbeat. The clouds look like umbilical cords or kite tails. String out as I cross over into South Carolina.

I smell what I think is moist earth. Sand too. The air keeps getting heavier. I must have listened to Nina a thousand times in the last month. I must be going crazy. When I stop for gas I hardly know how to talk to people anymore. Strangers.

Once I’m moving again there are just lines on the highway, the shoulder. I’m following lines. As though I’ve forgotten how to make sense of anything else. The pavement is too big and vague. I love the borders. The yellow and white marks that let my brain stay all crazed. So long as I follow these things the 100 will take care of itself. Keep it between the lines. Like grade school.

I’m be home in a few hours. Charleston. The old family house. My brother still lives there with his wife of a year. There’s history there that we’ll all remember to forget. I won’t run away again. There’s plenty of room for us all. Besides, I don’t need to interfere anymore. I have the road, the 100, and Nina.

Beyond Belief

“You can’t make yourself believe in Santa Claus.”

When I heard that from Andy it seemed completely reasonable. In a few flashes I remembered my young mind. The part that was afraid of the dark. The part that was so excited by snowfall that I’d stay outside until I was soaked to the skin and my extremities hurt. And I remembered Santa.

“You know I thought I saw him once.”

“Oh yeah? And who do you think you saw now?”

I didn’t answer him. He wasn’t trying to be mean. It was the argument we had often. We were both scientists, biologists, but it was only me who believed in an afterlife.

“It’s not about capital “G” God anyway. I’ve told you that a million times Andy.”

“There’s just something?”

“Yes. Why is that so offensive?”

“It’s not offensive. You’re just half-assing it so you don’t have to pick a church.”

It was friendly banter most of the time. We’d been friends since the sixth grade. We went to the same private Catholic school.

“If that didn’t cure you of an afterlife, I don’t know what would.”

Andy was the third, and last, child of a Catholic father and a mother he only described to me as “growing up handling snakes.” I never met her. She died in a car accident when Andy was seven. He was in the car with her. He remembers it all, he says. And when he talks about it there’s less pain in his voice than an emptiness where the pain should be. Andy is the happiest guy I know. When he thinks of his mom I think he wishes she’d had time to have fun.

“She was so serious most of the time. Not mean or anything, just sober and careful about everything.”

Andy’s mom didn’t go right away.

They’d been driving on an icy road, carefully, but a car lost control entering the highway next to them. It slammed into the passenger side rear and sent the sedan spinning. Andy says he remembers 3 complete rotations on the ice, all with enough centrifugal force for him to think the whole time that they were about to flip at any moment. Andy’s mother put her hand instinctively across his chest, holding him as he screamed. She was silent. Their car bounced off a concrete barrier and spun back into oncoming traffic. They were struck next by a truck.

“We were like a football getting punted off field. It felt like we were airborne for ages.”

The car landed butter-side down and Andy’s mom hit her head in three collisions: the driver’s side window, the windshield, and the roof before her neck settled into her shoulder like the vertebrae had been reduced to dust.

“It’s horrible Andy.”

“It was, but she was in shock the whole time. I’d never seen her so peaceful. She was drifting back and forth between consciousness and kept smiling at me.”

Andy remembers her asking if he was okay, which miraculously he was. He’d been too small to be thrown against anything. All around him parts of the car were forced inward, but nothing touched him.

“Don’t call it miraculous.”

“It’s just a word Andy.”

“It’s bullshit.”

He was a seven, so there was no more Santa Claus, but he believed in the god his parent’s shared. He loved his mother as well as a kid could. She loved him like an adult who grew up handling snakes.

“She could still talk for a few minutes. It was slow coming, but she had this expression on her face like she knew what was happening. I stared at her. There was blood everywhere, but her face was so calm, and I guess I was in shock too, we just sat there looking at each other. I asked her if she wanted to pray with me. She couldn’t nod her head. Her smile opened up a little more and she said: No.”

A car pulled up behind them and tried to help. The snow was coming down now and several other cars had become involved with the collisions. Andy remembers it getting quiet for a few minutes.

“It blocked all three lanes. Everything came to a stop. I remember little thuds, but no more crashes. Mom was the only one dying.”

Nobody wanted to touch her. They couldn’t get to her anyway. They tried to fish Andy out of the window, but he refused to go. He could reach her right forearm. He squeezed it and her eyes would open for him for a few seconds. Even at seven he wasn’t wondering if she was going to make it. There must have been panic there, but he never described it to me that way.

“I asked her not to go. She smiled again and told me not to worry about it.”

It was what she said when he asked her if they’d see each other again that seems to have framed his worldview.

“I don’t know Andy,” is what she said.

“She’d only ever told me how certain she was of it all before then. It was terrible and big and true until the end. Then she was just smiling, like her life was all a moment.”

“It’s all she had time for.”

“Exactly. So it doesn’t matter what you pin to yourself when it’s easy, when there’s time for believing. In the end she just knew, nothing to believe. No time for it. Like you said. I’m not sure what she knew, but she didn’t need to believe she was dying for it to be real.”

Her life became both trivial and true, for a few moments. Andy started to cry, he told me, and with the last few puffs of air in her she told him simply, “It’s it,” and “be you,” before the final cut off, “nothing-”

“Which means about as little to me now as it did then.”

Andy wanted to believe after that, but he couldn’t. He watched her drift off, remembers when the mom he’d loved for seven years became an object, when there was nothing there anymore. He was alone in a car. He was cold. There was no sense of wonder or magic. There was no Santa. He passed out. The next thing he remembers is being home again, with his dad.

“So you don’t believe in anything?”

“I believe in plenty of things.”

Morris

I was waiting for money.

It was a Thursday. This was before the internet, online banking, all that crap. It was the early 90’s, I was 24, and I was afraid to answer my phone. Afraid to open the mailbox. I knew there was nothing but past due notices in there and nothing but collectors on the phone. But my brother said he could come through for me. No bullshit. He put a check for a couple grand in the mail and I was waiting to intercept the mailman. I’d deal with the bills and the calls when there was something I could do about it. Hopefully before Friday. My landlord said Monday was my absolute last day.

“You better put cash in my hand Monday morning or you’re out!”

I sat on a bench a few doors down from my apartment. It was in a park, but one of those parks that was really just a bit of dirt the city couldn’t do anything else with so they planted a few trees, put in a bench, and told the neighborhood, “See? Look how we take care of you.” The view was of the traffic on 8th Avenue and the smell was nothing but exhaust.

I met Morris that Thursday.

“You’re on my bench.”

He looked homeless to me so I got up. I didn’t want to get into it with a crazed street person. As soon as I was on my feet though he laughed. Like a completely normal person I thought. He told me I was easy to scare.

“Sorry?”

“You’re prickly, and skittish. Sit down. What’s the matter kid?”

I sat back down where I’d been at one end of the bench. Morris sat at the other end, but turned towards me and crossed his leg, looked as comfortable as he would have been in an Eames Chair. I guessed he was about 40. He had a thick salt and pepper beard that adsorbed most of his neck and extended impossibly high up his cheeks.

“Nothing. Just waiting for the mail.”

“Money troubles?”

I gave Morris my full attention finally. What he’d been waiting for I guess. He still looked homeless to me, but I could tell that the clothes were good quality, just worn to death. He was in olive dress slacks, a hand-woven brown belt branded Oaxaca, Mexico several times around, a denim button down left mostly open, and a pair of old school hiking boots with red laces.

“I lost my job a few months ago.”

“How bad you in?”

“Enough.”

I didn’t want to talk to a stranger about my problems so I got up again. Morris laughed again.

“Is it my bench you don’t like or my company?”

There was nowhere else to sit.

I’d hard an apartment in Park Slope the year before with a stoop and would have given anything for that. But where I was then it was just a wall of doors spilling out onto the sidewalk. The last thing I wanted to do was open my mailbox. I sat back down with him. He introduced himself.

“Name’s Morris.”

“Anthony.”

“Tony?”

“That’ll work.”

“Tell you what Tony. I’ll take care of your money problems if you spend the day out here with me.”

This time I stayed on my feet when I got up. That sort of crazy was enough to brave the mail. Morris laughed again and told me to think about it.

“Thanks for the offer Morris.”

“I’m on my bench everyday, so if you change your mind, come on out.”

Every piece of mail was bad news.

It was pressed so tightly in that most of it was mangled. All of it was redundant, repeated mailings of bills. I’d held them all off as long as possible. This was the week I’d lose water, heat, electric, and they’d start the eviction process. At least it was empty now.

Maybe I shouldn’t have worried about eviction. My apartment already looked like I was in the process of moving out. I’d sold all my furniture and most of my books. I was surviving on a jar of peanut butter and cheap bread. I could have left with a backpack and a suitcase of books and the place would’ve been vacant except for the mattress on the floor.

I had a decent view though, of the bench. I stared down at Morris, watching for the mailman, and fell asleep with my head propped on the fire escape.

Morris wasn’t there the next day.

I headed down to the bench, only now I was looking out for him and the mailman. The mailman showed up first, but still no check from my brother. I went in an called him. glad the phone worked for one more day.

“I sent it man. I swear I sent it close to a week ago.”

“Where’d you send it?”

“What do you mean? I sent it to your place. The Slope right?”

“Shit Michael, I moved out of there last year!”

He said he was sorry and offered to express mail me another, but it was already late in the afternoon Friday. He was home and lived in the middle of flipping nowhere Nebraska. The soonest he could express something would still get it here Tuesday. I’d be out on my ass Monday if I didn’t plop some cash in my landlord’s hands. I told Michael to wire it as soon as he could, that I’d likely be on the street for a while.

“How do you wire money again?”

I didn’t know either. I only really knew the expression. I gave up. Grabbed my backpack of clothes and left the books. When I got to the street again I saw Morris. He looked at my backpack and waved me over.

“You get the boot already?”

“I will by Monday.”

“Money didn’t come?”

“Nope.”

“So I guess you can spend the day with me now.”

I was too goddam tired to get up. I had nothing of value. Just a bag of dirty clothes and an attitude.

“What exactly you got in mind Morris?”

He told me a story then, about a brother of his own, about parents there were never there, about being a hard-working guy once. I asked him what happened.

“What happened?”

“Yeah, you lose your job? How long have you been homeless?”

He laughed again.

“I’m not homeless.” He followed my gaze to his clothes, all the same items as the day before. “Oh, I get you. I clean up real nice Tony.”

Before I could ask another question he offered to buy me breakfast, pointed to a diner close by. I told him I really didn’t have a dime.

“I heard you Tony,” he said laughing, “Do you need me to pay up front?”

Under any other circumstances I would have kept my distance from Morris.

He never seemed so crazy as to scare people with the looks of him, just made you curious. You knew there was a story there it was just easiest to believe it was a homeless, drug-addled one. Easier to think he was probably fringe. Keep walking. But where was I going to go? I followed him to the diner and decided on the walk over I didn’t care if he was broke too. I’d eat and dash. If they nabbed me, locked me up, well, it’d be a roof over my head.

We had eggs. 6 apiece. Sunny and runny. We mopped it all up with a stack of toast. Rye. When the check came I tried to look cool, but eyed the door. I startled the waitress. I felt a single trickle of sweat run down my back and then Morris pulls a wad of bills out of his hiking boot.

“Keep it,” then he looked at me, “you want a coffee for the road?” and no answer, no time to, before, “two coffees too,” while giving her another bill to cover them. “Cream and sugar?” I nodded. “Just cream for me.”

Morris wasn’t a millionaire.

He didn’t have enough to keep me in my apartment. Not on him at least. But he had plenty on him. Just in that boot. For all I know he had little stashes of cash all over him. He also wasn’t homeless. He ran an SRO across town,

“So close to the East River you can spit in it if you want.”

He put me up. For what wound up being 3 months. I got a job the second week I was there and saved enough money to get my own place again. In Brooklyn this time. An old friend from Nebraska took a job in the city and we were roommates. It was almost a year before I thought to visit Morris again.

He wasn’t at the SRO anymore. for weeks I was an ungrateful ass, in my head. I missed the guy. I never found out what was so special about that bench to him. If I believed in anything I’d call him an angel, but I’m not one of god’s children. Sometimes you just get lucky. Sometimes there’s a Morris.

 

Judy And The Dream Of Horses

Once upon a time there was a group of kids who liked to play the ponies.

I’m talking kids, the girl in charge, Judy, was 13. Her mother was a compulsive gambler and Judy grew up fast in pool halls and at racetracks and dressed up like a midget to get into casinos. Her father finally got wind of it when Judy was 12 and was awarded custody. It was an easy sell really because Judy’s mom didn’t need the child support as much as the time away to gamble.

“Take her, you bastard, the kid slows me down anyway!”

Judy’s father, Jim, was no bastard. He knew his father, Sheldon, and both were nice guys.

Jim was a busy guy. He worked grueling hours, for years, to keep his dad in a top-notch assisted living facility. Sheldon’d been in the Second World War and came back with enough injuries to make sure his old age would be a torturous amusement park ride if he didn’t have the best care. Jim spent boatloads, and Sheldon had as pleasant an existence as possible.

Judy didn’t have a lot to do when she moved in with Jim.

After learning the complexities of an adult underworld, school was a snap. She excelled at most everything, but also had no interest in any of it. She loved to read, could devour a book in a day, but as far as being an overachiever went, she wasn’t having it. Math club? No thanks. Advanced-track projects to place out of classes most of her peers couldn’t? Nah. To her teachers Judy was an inspiring waste of potential, but she could ignore anyone. She had plans of her own.

She loved horses. The ponies. Jim lived near a track and although she was too young to get inside without an unscrupulous mother, there was a rolling hill above it all where she made camp. She set up a few collapsible stations with high-powered binoculars and stopwatches. She started bringing kids up, for “fun.”

Ages ranged from high school seniors all the way down to first graders. Within a month she had steady customers and steadier income. She bankrupt many of the working high schoolers and turned the younger kids into thieves, employees, or both. By the third month she’d invented a boss, Larry Henry, and claimed to answer to him. If anyone brought a beef to her she said,

“You’ll have to take it up with Mr. Henry.”

Larry Henry was in reality a degenerate gambler named Tony Olson.

A regular at the track. Judy had watched him for weeks before naming him the imaginary boss. He sat in the same spot everyday and attracted the worst kind of people. He wasn’t connected, but he did well. Well enough that people asked him for advice and shadowed him. Tony was obviously obsessed and blind to everything else but the races. He won, frequently, but wore the same 2 suits repeatedly and flew into rages when his pick didn’t come in. And even at times when it did come in.

“I can’t pay you this week Judy.”

“It’s not me you owe money.”

She never bullied her customers, just handed them a pair of binoculars and pointed out Tony, called him Mr. Henry.

Tony didn’t have to throw a punch to scare most kids. Even for races he won he was on his feet and in a lather. He screamed and kicked and sweat through his suits and chomped on a ratty cigar. He had furry hands, a wide and strong back, and was balding in a way that made it seem like the hair on his head was getting pushed out regularly by his boisterous personality.

“He’s a totally reasonable guy. I can call him up here to chat if you like.”

They never did. They always found the money. Or Judy got another family heirloom.

Jim never expected a thing. Judy brought home perfect report cards and the timid teachers who knew she was capable of, “so much more,” never pushed the matter. By the time she’d been a bookie a year she had close to 30 thousand in cash hidden in her closet.

Greg almost ruined it all.

Greg was a high school senior, a football jock, and too stupid to stand down from a fight. He was mild-mannered enough under normal circumstances, but the kind of player on the field who even at 18 had a reputation for introducing young players to concussions. He was passionate about football. That was all he’d been passionate about until he discovered gambling.

He had a lot of beginners luck. Too much. The first hundred bucks he turned into 850 gave him the false impression that gambling was easy and required no skill. He didn’t handle losing more than twice that much well.

“I ain’t paying you 2 grand!”

“It’s $1,850 Greg. And you don’t owe it to me. You owe it to Mr. Henry.”

The binocular trick had the opposite effect on Greg.

“I ain’t afraid of that guy! Call him up here!”

It was a small amount to lose in the grand scheme of things, but Greg wanted to keep gambling.

Judy let him go double or nothing, twice, hoping that he’d win his money back and that would be that. But he lost. And lost. And lost. She was willing to lose the money, but had to cut him off. Nothing doing. Greg demanded to see Larry again.

“This whole thing is a set up!”

While Judy was trying to decide what to do next Greg had already made up his mind. She watched it unfold in slow-motion. Looking at her fake boss through binoculars she saw Greg coming out of the shadows of the canopy leading to the seats. He was making a show of himself, storming towards Tony. People took notice. People took so much notice that well before Greg’s Arrival Tony was on his feet and facing him.

Greg threw one punch. Tony blocked it easily and threw one back. Greg had never been in a fight with anyone willing or knowledgeable enough to defend themselves. The fight was over quickly. Judy watched as Tony dragged Greg back up cement steps and threw him down into a chair.

Tony was a reasonable man.

Greg didn’t wind up in the hospital. He gave it up easily. Tony asked him what the hell he wanted, and sobbing, Greg told him he couldn’t pay him.

“Pay me what? I don’t know you from Adam you crazy kid!”

“I’m sorry Mr. Henry, I don’t have a dime. I know I owe you, but-”

“Kid, stop for a second and start from the beginning.”

Greg told him the whole story. Judy could tell because first Greg pointed to the hill, and then Tony raised his own set of binoculars to Judy’s set up. He found her looking back and the two of them stared for awhile. She held up a finger to Tony and put down her binoculars. She wrote the following on a legal pad with a sharpie:

Your cut = 20%

Tony jerked his binoculars down and looked back to the sniveling Greg.

“How much are you into me for kid?”

“I…can’t…pay…you..”

“How much!”

Greg told him, between sobs, $9,170. Judy watched as Tony turned away from Greg to smile, then quietly laugh. He made the universal facial expression of mouth puckering, head shaking, not bad. He pulled his binoculars back up to find Judy. She was looking back at him. He waved at her, then raised 5 fingers. Judy put her binoculars down and tore a new sheet off the legal pad, wrote with the sharpie:

Too much. 30

She raised her binoculars again and Tony was still smiling. He gave her the thumbs up, turned to Greg with mock terror, hiding his smile, and said,

“I’ll give you to the end of the month. Now scram!”

Joe’s Last Penny

Time is money.

I’d heard the line before, but this was different. I had to really think about it. I asked Mike, the supervisor on my first job, if I should use expedited shipping for a package that was marked: URGENT. “Time is money,” was the only answer he gave me. It was no answer. I wanted a “yes” or “no.” I was 16 and didn’t know what to do. It seemed like a lot of money to me.

I reminded him that expedited shipping,

“Costs 4 times more than standard shipping.”

“I don’t care Joe. Didn’t you hear me?”

I’d heard him. He stormed away and I thought the expression made a little more sense. Maybe time was as important as money. So to Mike and Mike’s boss it was worth the extra expense to get something to an antsy customer.

That’s not what it means at all.

Time is an asset

is what I told myself for a while when I heard the money line. Money to me was too specific, so I liked to think of time as anything of monetary value. It wasn’t right either.

My second job was in a restaurant and I came to understand the line to mean a customer was going to tip whatever they were going to tip no matter the duration of their stay. The objective was to get them in and out as quickly as possible, so that someone else could come in and do the same.

“Hey knee pads, stop chatting up your customers so much.”

“What do you mean?”

“Time is money bro. They’re done, so turn the table over.”

All the expression meant for a while after that was a vague compulsion to make as much money as possible in a given amount of time. If I wasn’t at work the expression continued to have no meaning. Until I wound up in the hospital.

I broke both my legs in a car accident.

Everyday in the hospital was costing money. I was still young enough that this was mostly my parent’s problem. They were both pretty lousy with money though.

“You’re going to have to help us out with this Joe.”

I didn’t have a lot of savings. I was 20. I paid for my legs for years afterwards, both to my parents and to the hospital. The expression morphed into something else. Time away from work, whether due to injury or vacation or choice, is like charging up a credit card. Nothing is free and you’ll eventually have to pay for everything.

Time is an illusion.

When my legs were pretty much back to normal I decided to go to college. I’d been supporting myself well enough since high school, but now I needed something that made “good money.” My parents helped me as much as they could. Not a lot, because, like I said, they were both horrible with money.

I took a philosophy class and learned that time was (from one perspective at least) a human invention. That made as little sense to me as all the other trite explanations of time.

The sun rises and sets, for sure, but calling that time is not a real thing. Or it wasn’t a discovery of natural phenomena. It was just something to call it. For what? So we could plan when to do stuff. All food-related near as I could tell. In early cultures harvest rolled around at the same point on an iffy calendar and the invention of time was an attempt to make the most of that.

I hated philosophy. I liked drugs a lot more, and drugs according to my roommate Sam were,

“The whole point of your time in college Joe.”

I didn’t agree, but I also didn’t have anything better to do. I coasted along for another 2 years doing well enough in my classes and doing a lot of drugs. I overdosed my Junior year.

Back in the hospital, this time with parent’s who refused to help given the circumstances, I started to think about time again. Time was money again. Kind of.

Each breath I take is allowance spent.

Like the earliest days. Like being a kid. Here’s a few dollars. You can spend it on whatever you want.

Recovering back at my apartment there were still days and weeks and years. But those divisions of time had become meaningless to me. In the abstract a year seemed huge, but when I thought back a year, it was a blink. A few thoughts, highlights of partying and interesting if trivial bits from classes. The year seemed like a few days, days a few hours, hours reduced to a handful of fragments. The last year was nothing really. If I thought about other years there was even less to them and I knew that in another year I would just think of the present one as that year I OD’d.

Like money, someday, I’ll run out of time.

That thought doesn’t prepare me for the days and weeks and years. But for the moments, it does.

I don’t remember much from my overdose, but what I do remember are the last few breaths before I blacked out. Each one seemed like it was going to be my last. I was helpless and all my decisions leading up to those last moments seemed wasted.

The need to get things done quickly seemed absurd. The hurried push of customers wasn’t memorable or important. The philosophical bullshit was in the background, but there was no time to give it anymore than its vague sense of purpose. Each breath was long and packed with panicked awareness.

Awareness of what? Just breathing. I’ve never put more feeling and more or myself into a string of breaths. I was scared and alone, but breathing was never more delicious. Each breath was deeply good and I was grateful as hell for it. I didn’t have time to form thoughts, just have them. Trust them. I wanted to live through this. I wanted to have another crack at time. I wanted one last chance to spend my allowance well.

I lucked out.

Time is money? Sure. I have a little left in savings so let’s not argue about it.

Myron

My parents gave me an antique name.

“That’s a bit old-fashion. Is it a family name?”

“No, neither one of our families ever had a Myron.”

“We just like the sound of it. It sings.”

“I guess so.”

My parents discussed my name with a friend, Helen, when I was two years old and I completely forgot about it until a few months ago.

Let me explain why I can remember that.

I’m 46 years old. When I turned 40 I wanted to do something adventurous to commemorate it. I decided to try skydiving. Long story short I suffered a head injury. Massive enough that when I woke in the hospital several days later I had no memory of the event. No memory of the last several months. I knew who I was, that I was married, but most life details were a muddy soup. If someone asked me how old I was, for example, I didn’t know, but guessed anywhere from 29 to 40.

The mental order wasn’t restored after several months of rehab. I consented to be part of an experimental drug trial, for dementia.

“You should notice a difference in a few weeks, but I want you to keep track of anything that stands out.”

I wasn’t even sure then what that meant. In a month though I had a clear memory of the accident, my personal history, the overall minutiae that went into my average day. I was back to my pre head injury self, with months left in the trial.

Strange things began to happen, but none of them worried me.

I knew they must be a byproduct of the drug, and I didn’t want to be taken off it. The return-to-normal phase only lasted a few weeks before my memory improved to higher levels than I’d ever had before.

Photographic memory is both useful and exhilarating. I didn’t tell a soul the day I released I had it.

“Have you seen my phone?”

Was the question my wife asked me when I realized what was happening. I reached into my mind the same way I always had to ponder such everyday questions. Instead of a drawer of crumpled mental post its I saw a detailed overlay of our house. It was as though my eyes were closed and I was visualizing the space, but I was staring at her and seeing it in a superimposed flash. Well, 2 flashes. One flash was a detailed, photo-realistic image of our house and everything in it, and the second flash every object had a dimmed color except for my wife’s phone.

“It’s under the bed.”

“Under the bed?”

It was an unusual answer. My wife didn’t like things under the bed.

Another few flashes:

  • a bedside table
  • the phone set down
  • my wife reading in bed
  • my wife putting the book on the bedside next to the phone
  • the dog bumping the table, the book bumping the phone
  • the phone drops onto carpet, gets pushed a few inches out of site when she got out of bed that morning

Pretty normal series of events. The problem though was that I had been asleep when all of that happened. The phone was there.

“Weird. Wonder how it got under there.”

I didn’t say. She didn’t press. We both dismissed it in our own way.

Remembering things evolved further. I told the doctors only what I knew they wanted to hear. As the end of the trial approached I started feeling panicky about coming off the drug.

Sleep changed for me. When I closed my eyes at night the events of my life kept assembling and sharpening. It was like a movie where things are shown moving in reverse. My past was fully reassembled and more details were revealed each night. I remembered being born. the blur, the lack of intelligence was overwritten somehow. I could tell you what socks the doctor who delivered me was wearing, how much change was in my father’s pocket, how many floor tiles there were.

I’m obsessed. I admit it.

The trial was over 3 years ago and the drug never came to market. I’m not sure if anyone else had the same experience. The progress of my memory has slowed, but is still improving. The regeneration seems to continue to occur. Every day seems a little longer. Information pours through my senses and is quickly processed. I close my eyes for a few seconds and I see a lifetime there.

Not Scared

tea afternoon. is what I call it. come to anyway. we’ve been here for a week. tomorrow we leave to return. home. back to a tick-tock I could just as well leave alone. done fine without us for this long.

at home there’s no tea in the afternoon.

just night. before exhausted from a day bed. we talk about our grueling over dinner with eyes half open and never think for a moment we could do anything but drone on. work tomorrow. and tomorrow. then the weekend. a recovery that never lives up to expectations. we never recover. not really. so tired, the both of us. before this real break.

“I don’t know why I like this.”

“Hot tea?”

“Hot tea on a hot day. I mean, the sun must be keeping this the same temperature.”

we’re at the beach, have been, for the week. and I read somewhere about the hot tea on a hot day and convinced her. we don’t have a cooler. we have a thermos.

lightest touch. swear I can see the words we exchange in the last week. like fine bone china feels. conversations in a full voice as delicate as a whisper. little cartoon bubbles in our heads, like I can reach up and pick her words out of the air. words. about life back home. about love we still feel for each another. about dreams we had and have. about sand. surf. sun. simplest dinners. and for the last 3 days about a paper-thin boy running back and forth in front of us on the beach.

we met his parents the first day they were here.

we’ve seen them every day since. they wave. we wave. they rented the house next door and seem as swell and calm as we do. a man named Carl and his lady, Maddie. the boy is always running. tanned so deep you can hardly tell he’s theirs.

“What’s his name?”

“Oh, that’s our Bailey.”

Bailey has only made fleeting eye contact with us. he doesn’t seem shy, just not interested in the adults in the world.

he loves our dog and for that we love him in return. Barney, our 6-year-old Black Lab, chases him on the beach. chases birds with him. Bailey and Barney. they’re in their own kind of love. we fretted a little when Bailey threw himself down in the sand at Barney’s feet, then launched up around him. hugging and pulling the Lab into the sand. he loved it. they both did.

he runs and runs. Barney sits and waits half the time.

if Bailey is still at all it’s because he’s hunting.

Barney creeps up behind him. curious. concerned. and curious again. quieter than I knew our old boy could get. Bailey’s trying to catch a seagull we think. the chase is usually enough, the running screaming at them. but sometimes he wants to get close and who can blame a 4-year-old for that?

we listen to Bailey’s pheet, pheet, pheet. quiet on the beach sipping tea we hear the waves and just that, the boy running hard. he makes it so we can hear the sand.

he talked to us once, the 2nd day. When he saw we were holding hands. he asked Jan,

“Are you scared?”

and she told him that she wasn’t. just happy. she kissed my hand and I worried again. about Carl and Maddie. about the site of us this far south. this isn’t back home. Bailey, in his young way, recognized love. he wasn’t scared either.

afternoon tea. our backs settling into canvas chairs then sand. the tea doesn’t cool us off like I was lead to believe. but we’re used to it now. it makes our temples moist and slightly salty.

Jan puts her cup down and picks up her camera.

Bailey quietly stalks a seagull. Barney creeps behind. we’re enthralled by these 3 wild animals. Bailey, tanned dark brown, has chalky bare feet from days in the heat. Jan and I can hardly stand it for a few seconds, but the boy doesn’t notice at all.

Carl told us it’s their sixth trip down this summer.

so Bailey has had all summer steaming sand stomping to make callouses of his feet. little boy hoofs, most likely. he’ll get that gull someday cause he’s as quiet as a lizard. I see him try again and this looks like it might be it. he contracts himself to the ground, his little energy moves to center. i can see it. I whisper,

“Jan! Jan!”

She whispers back “I got him Olivia. I got him.”

Bailey leaps!

the gull squawks just out of his reach.

one feather floats down and settles in the sand.  Bailey snatches it up and dives backwards into the sand. he makes a show of being mad, but he’s all giggles. Barney swoops in and licks his face. this is a game they all play. he’s quick to jump up and is back storming down the beach and more gulls. he and Barney disappear out of our sight.

“Did you get him Jan?”

she thumbs through the photos. and smiles. “I got him.”

Jan puts down the camera, arches her back, extends her hands and points her toes. the water sounds now, without Bailey’s stomping, like muted applause. just over the dune our little roamer roars, chasing more gulls. Barney trots back by our side. quiet. almost instantly, asleep.

“More tea?”

“No thanks baby.”

“Shades passing us. Want to go back inside in the air?”

“In a little while.”

“Home tomorrow then?”

“We don’t have to.”

Jan leans over her chair and kisses my salt-moist temple.

her lips are poised and quiet, like she’s drawing all my thoughts out and into her mouth where she rolls them into a tiny little pill she can swallow. she rolls my thoughts like that, then like there’s a string attached to close my eyes. the string between her teeth, her head pulls back slowly. she breathes out of her nose into my forehead. she pulls all my worries out of there.

“No, we don’t have to leave.”

“Do you want to?”

“I never want to leave.”

the quiet is broken by Bailey. and a chorus of gulls leaving the beach. they howl into the sky to flee his stomp-screaming. Barney looks up at him and barks once before settling back to sleep.

Nobody Here Named Hank

Nobody likes a heartbreaking story.

That’s a lie.

Everyone around me lately has it pinned to their sleeve, heart like it’s made of paper mache, but if you poke them with a stick it’ll still trickle plenty. I don’t mind at all. It’s quiet up here. When they start talking, after the money has changed hands, I can tell they feel better, because I’m nobody.

She tells me she’s homeless. Or is about to be. She’s wearing Chanel I think. I don’t have the best nose for that, but I used to know a girl who told me it was her signature scent. Like Holly Golightly. My friend Charlie is that way with Brut. Like Joe Namath, I guess. She never asks for anything but an ear and I give it. I give it to most people too I guess.

I’m a parking attendant.

I doubt if anyone knows my name. She calls me Henry, but my parents named me Hank. Straight up. It wasn’t short for anything. I’m sure I told her that, but I take Henry as a thoughtful upgrade. Her friend Bill calls me Guy, probably more of a lowercase guy though. Bill’s alright.

They’re both hairdressers. I think. Or work in salons anyway. Bill might be a Massage person, what do they call themselves? Masseuse is out, I think. Therapists. That doesn’t make too much sense to me, but it’s fine. Really. It’s all the same to me and he seems like a nice person. Like I said. She’s never told me her name and it’s not my place to ask.

“In another week I’m out on my ass.”

So she says. Her car is old, but not quite vintage yet. Sure it will be. It’s one of the last of the first-generations VW Sciroccos. An eighty-one I think. I have to tell her that every few months for the last year, but it doesn’t seem to mean anything to her. The car was a hand-me-down from a gear-head brother. Joe she called him. Funny, I know her brother’s name. Beautiful paint, original interior even. Red plaid over red leather. She complains about it being a standard, but she can tell it’s nice.

“Driving stick makes you pay more attention. It’s safer.”

“You think so Henry? I think the drivers around here are awful. At least in New York, crazy as it was, you felt like everyone was in it together.”

Half the time I don’t get to talk to her or Bill or anyone. I’m driving.

There’s 2 of us and it’s all valet. One of us takes the money, gets on the walkie, and then the other guy drives it up. If I work with Anthony he always wants to drive and then I’m up top in the booth like a bartender. Sitting there after the money is squared, staring out and waiting for them to make conversation.

I always have a book and I’m fine with quiet, really.

“Hey Guy! Can I just put my bike in the corner?”

Her friend Bill has a motorcycle. It’s nothing like mine. I have an old Norton Altas that’s lost all its chrome, has some duct tape on the seat, but runs like a champ. I restored it myself and Bill says he likes the sound of the engine almost more than his BMW. His is a big bike. Sport Touring he calls it, but I’ve never heard anyone use that term but him. He’s a good egg though, really.

“Sure, if you can get it behind mine.”

I shouldn’t let him. It just gets him out of the way so I can talk to her. Most of the time, honestly, I don’t even give him a ticket. I wave him out as easily as in. He parks free more often than not, but it’s a bike and riders expect that sometimes. Even if it’s some 13 thousand dollar touring number. They think of it like some kid’s trike they can push in a corner and why should they have to pay for that?

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

“They’re really going to throw me out.”

“Who?”

“Henry?! Weren’t you listening? The Co-op Board. They gave me a month, but I didn’t think they meant it. Like I’d buy that deathtrap.”

She’s going to be homeless then.

“Surely you have somewhere to go.”

“I don’t really. I just moved her last year and haven’t made friend one. Except for you Henry.”

She touches my hands sometimes like we’re old pals. Too much so I think. Like she’s cutting my hair maybe. I’m pretty much bald, for years now, so I wouldn’t know. Only 35. It came early. I hardly got used to hair before things went all Ben Kingsley. But I suppose I remember my childhood hair as well as anyone. Sitting in those barber chairs like a barber doll. So much patting on the shoulders and a strange intimacy. Grown people you hardly knew playing dress up with a kid wearing an apron.

“There’s not much room at my place, but you’re welcome to crash if you like.”

She blushes deeply and I know I’ve made a mistake.

“Listen to me would you Henry? That’s so kind of you. I complain too much! I’ll be fine I’m sure.”

“Where will you stay? A hotel?”

“I suppose a hotel, but really, Henry, you don’t have to.”

Jesus, I know that. What the hell is the matter with me?

“My place is clean and close by. You could even park your VW. Might help you get some money together for a new place. Are they shorting you a deposit?”

“Why? Because I’m evicted basically?”

I nod and she smiles a little without softening. She’s considering it now, but has to. I guess they don’t pay her much.

“No. Luckily. Are you sure about this Henry? You hardly know me.”

I don’t know her at all.

“You hardly know me.”

“Sometimes Hank I feel like you’re the only friend I have in LA. This is nothing like lower Manhattan.”

“Hey, you called me Hank!”

“I’m sorry, do you prefer Henry?”

I guess I do. How about that?

Fearless

I used to be fearless.

They say bout me, done told me even, said,

“Boy, you gonna set the world on fire!”

I never knew, never cared, what that meant. I just saw a look in they eyes, could swear I see a heart beating in they chest. They was crazy bout me. Everything they say puff me up, make me feel like somebody. I was good stuff. I’d hear them talk I thought maybe, Chrissake, maybe I can fly. Or walk on the sun.

Then I had my accident.

That’s what they call it anyhow. Wasn’t no accident. Everyone gathered round me cause I can run fast and hit hard, wanting to be my friend they said. Shaking my hand left and right and sometimes when they slip they hand away there’s something there in my palm. Maybe it’s cash. One time it was a powder and I don’t know what for at first. But they show me. After that the cash was as good as powder soon as I get it in hand.

“That poor boy is a buffoon.”

“Didn’t he used to be somebody?”

“Almost somebody.”

“What happened?”

What happened was I died.

Too much revelry, too much letting them blow me up. I pumped too much crap into me and my body called it quits for a while. Stopped breathing at a party. Passed out and fell ten or leven feet. They tell me I land on some of my head, but I don’t remember. It was months before I wake up and nobody treat me like the second coming anymore. Only look I see in they eyes after that is pity.

Even before I broke my head my own mother hate me.

I never mind. She hate everyone. She was pretty once then found out she was smart on top of it. That chapped her ass. Everyone was afraid of her after that. Small town like this full of nothing you can’t excel without drawing attention to yourself. I say she tried to fit in after that, but woman being smartest in the room all the time don’t sit right. Small town like this. And this with me before the stupid.

My pop was smart too, but had a condition. Something with his pancreas I think. Pop loved my mom and married her. She married him I guess. I don’t know that she ever but hate him too. He was 30 something when he died. I was six I think. I remember a birthday. A football maybe. I remember he had a reputation round town. When I was coming up. When they still look at me like I was something. They tell me how great he was.

“And you’re at least the athlete he was.”

Or something. That was forever ago. I walk a little funny now. It took me most a year to learn how to again. It don’t feel funny to me, but I can see plain as day sits different than everyone else walking.

But I ain’t sad.

I don’t remember ever really being happy before when everyone loved me. I only got one friend, but it’s one more than I remember from before. Everyone might have loved me, but no one really gave me much mind. They just like to watch me run and hit and score. I was as good as a racehorse. Or dog even.

My friend is the postman. He’s blind in one eye. My fault. When I was twelve playing with fireworks I stole from a neighbor. Spent the whole day shooting them at the mailbox cause I liked the sound. Like the black mark it made when it hit with a pop. It was an accident. Not like my accident. Real accident. I didn’t even see him walking up.

He hate me worst than my mom. For years. Until I got stupid and everyone start up like I was some animal to be pitied. Then he warmed up.

“I’m real sorry about your eye Jon.”

“It’s okay kid. You were too young to know any better.”

And my name is Willie. William. They called me Bill when I was something. Willie now, some reason. Me and Jon spend most evenings together. My street is the last on the route and I started having a cold drink for him. Can’t help it but everyday I say sorry for that eye and the look on his face is something strange because I can tell he’s sorrier than me. Aint’ pity though. similar. but that look everyone else gives me is short, a shock to em, then they all look down. Jon he just look at me like he wish he could make it all better.

Jon is just about the best friend a guy like me could have.

I’d give him my eye if could. Cut it out myself and hand it to him on a big down puff. I could do it too. I used to be fearless.