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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Part 2 - Eddie

Be sure to start with Part 1:
Part 2 – Eddie

“Watch where you’re fucking driving!”  A scornful voice with a hint of panic.
Eddie glanced over at his passenger then back at the road.  His right tire was well over the rightmost stripe of the road.  He overcorrected across the other stripe, then recorrected, the cars to his left honking.  A man in a black Mercedes flipped him off then accelerating past him in the left lane.
“Jesus, Eddie, what the fuck?”
“Sorry, Tony, I was just trying to do the math.  How much do you figure I owe?”
“I don’t know, Eddie,” the man to his right sounded exasperated, “but I don’t need to know.  You know?  You need to know.  You should know this kind of stuff.”  Tony sat up straighter in the passenger seat of Eddie’s Toyota Sentra, relaxing his right leg where he’d involuntarily pushed it into an invisible brake pedal.  He was beefy, the body of a 6’5” offensive lineman stuffed into a 5’9” frame.  His was not the body of an athlete gone to seed.  His was the body of the seed germinated, sprouted and cultivated, milled into flour, then combined with yeast and allowed to rise.  He breathed loudly, as if his girth somehow was creating a restriction in his airflow by choking off its supply to his lungs.  He had black hair peppered with gray and slicked back over a bald spot in the back.  He wore an orange reflective vest over his powder blue work shirt.  He turned and looked at Eddie with coal black eyes.  A hard look. 
“This is important, okay?  You need to figure this shit out.  Get paid up.  These are not the kinda people you pay in installments.  You’re probably at least fifteen grand to the red, and if you owe fifteen you might as well owe twenty.”  He looked meaningfully at Eddie, overpronouncing his next word, “Capiche?”
Eddie chuckled nervously at this but answered, “Yeah, I capiche, Tony.  I do.  I’m just trying to figure it out in my head.”  He glanced up, momentarily excited, “Hey, Tony, you think they’d take my car as down payment?”
“This piece of shit?”  Tony laughed.  “No offense, but these guys, Eddie,” he paused and wiped his nose with his finger, sawing back and forth and sniffing loudly, “these guys steal nicer cars than this to bury people in.”
Eddie sighed worriedly and they drove in silence for a few minutes.  For someone in his mid-twenties, Eddie’s face carried a lot of worry on it.  Maybe it was just that he was an expressive guy, an earnest-looking fellow.  More likely however, it was the result of sleeplessness caused by fear of mortal peril.  His dark brown hair, cropped short and pushed forward was in perpetual disarray resulting from frequent habitual nervous hand combing.  Eddie looked taller than he really was. Naturally wirey with long legs, he had his driver’s side seat pushed back as far as his Sentra would allow, still for all that he was only 6’2, and, as the expression goes, 170 pounds soaking wet. 
Tony looked back at him across the car.  “You need to do more than figure it out in your head, Eddie.  I’m not fuckin’ around here.”  He paused a few seconds and continued more quietly, “I like our morning commute.”  He gestured at the median, “. . . near death experiences notwithstanding.”  He started to say more then exhaled and sat in silence.
“Yeah, okay, Tony.  I get it.  I do.”
The rest of the drive neither man spoke.  Tony eventually leaned forward and switched on the stereo, searching across the band until he settled on a Classic Rock station, then he relaxed back into his seat and exhaled audibly. 
Eddie pulled smoothly into the parking lot of the cement plant.  They passed the sign, “Conti & Diluca Construction”.  The hum of the Sentra’s tires on finished asphalt gave way to the crunch of gravel and he slowed to a stop just outside the front door.
Tony unfastened his seat belt and reached in front of the seat to grab an insulated lunch bag.  He levered open the door and shoved it open with is foot before sliding off the seat and out the door. 
“Thanks for the ride, Eddie,” he said, easing the door shut.
“Sure thing, Tony,” Eddie replied, the door already shut.  He sat for a moment in silence and ran his fingers through his hair, scratching at an itch on his scalp before a rap on his passenger side window startled him.  He looked over to see Tony still standing there.  He made a sort of stirring motion and Eddie depressed the button to open the passenger side window.
Tony leaned down, resting his elbows on the window frame and spoke conspiratorially.  “Listen, Eddie, I know the economy sucks, and I know you’ve had a rough patch.  But there’s a rumor.  Well, there’s more than a rumor, about this homeless guy in the city sitting on a load of cash.  Doesn’t spend it.  Doesn’t do nothin’ with it.  I don’t know how much of an effort it would take for an enterprising youth such as yourself to convince this guy to part with some of it, you know?”
Eddie looked at him, “What are you saying?  Fucking rob this guy?”
“Jesus Christ, will you keep your fucking voice down?”  He looked around nervously.  “Look.  I wouldn’t say anything but I’m worried about you, man.  I know you aren’t the kind of guy that takes stuff from people.  But the way I see it, you’re never getting a loan for that kind of cash.  You’re never going to make that kind of cash in a legit job in the time you need to make it.  You’re sorta stuck.  And this guy. . . scum of the earth, you know?  Just one of the unwashed masses, completely checked out mentally, and just sitting on tons of cash.  He’d never even miss it.”  He stopped and looked down at the seat.  “Fuck, never mind man, forget I even mentioned it.”  He started to stand and Eddie reached his hand out and grabbed his wrist.
“No, man.  I’m sorry.  You’re right, I’m in a tight spot.  Look, you know anything else about this guy?  Can we talk about this tonight after you get off?”
“If you want, Eddie, if you want.  I’ll see you around.”  He thumped the window frame twice with a meaty hand and spun in the gravel lot, walking away. 
Eddie nodded to himself and closed the window, putting the car in drive and pulling slowly away.
Tony looked over his shoulder at the departing car and shook his head.  “Fucking flake.” 
* * *
That night Eddie pushed opened the door of his apartment and crossed the hallway to knock on Tony’s door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me.”
The door opened, and jerked to a stop, tethered by the lock chain.  Tony’s face appeared in the crack.  “What’s up?”
Eddie gestured with his right hand, two beer bottles held by the necks from his fingers clinked dully.  “Can we talk?”
Tony sighed and nodded, shutting the door slightly, and Eddie heard the slide of the chain from its keeper before the door swung lazily inward.  The lock chain swung slowly against the door frame.  Eddie pushed it open as Tony sat down at his kitchen table.  Across his chair back was the orange safety vest.  Tony was wearing a t-shirt and boxers.  The apartment smelled vaguely of cheap cologne and shampoo. 
Eddie twisted the cap from a bottle of beer and it hissed open.  He pushed it across the table at Tony, who took it wordlessly and held it to his lips to drink while Eddie opened his own bottle.
“So tell me about this guy.”
“I don’t know, Eddie,” he temporized.
“Come on, seriously, I’ve got nothing here.”
Tony looked up from his beer.  He belched.  “Alright. . . he’s a flood squatter.”
“A what?”
“Well, he’s a homeless guy, right?  But he actually lives in a house.  You know how after the flood everyone sorta evacuated all their homes and a bunch came back?  Well in the shittier neighborhoods, they really never did.  So there are all these abandoned homes and people squat in them until someone scarier muscles them out or the cops do.  This guy has been squatting in an old abandoned house for years.”
“Why hasn’t anyone chased him out?”
“I don’t know.  I guess nobody gives a shit about the house.  The only reason I know about it is because he leaves the house and buys booze and food.  Every week booze and food, and the place he goes to buy booze happens to be a family-owned business.”  He looked up at Eddie and caught his eye.  “You know what I mean?”
Eddie nodded. 
“So anyway, you might be thinking, how is this even noteworthy?  Who notices some homeless guy buying booze?”
Eddie shrugged.
“He’s filthy, dude.  Completely filthy.  Smells like something the world ate and then shit out.  Wears no shoes. . . not ever, from what I understand.  So he sorta stands out, you know?”  He paused to take a pull from his beer.  “But the thing that really stands out is and what is of most interest from your standpoint is that when he buys his booze he peels his cash from a roll of hundreds.  Thick roll.  I seen it myself.  And smelled it.”  He made a warding gesture with his free hand as if waving away fumes.
“So why not you?  Why are you telling me about this?”
“I’m no fucking thief!  Hey no offense, Eddie, but I’ve got a job.  I pay my bills.  I don’t gamble and if I did gamble I sure as shit wouldn’t borrow money from the mob to do it.  I’m not like you, Eddie.  You need this.  I don’t.”
Eddie looked down at his bottle.  Beads of moisture condensed on the chilled glass of the brown bottle and trickled down the side, leaving tracks across the haze.  Eddie wiped the neck of the bottle with his finger and took another drink.  He combed nervous fingers through his hair.
“Yeah, alright,” he said quietly, after a long silence.  “Where’s this guy live?  When’s he leave the house?”
Tony tipped the beer upside down, finishing it.  He stood up and tossed the bottle into the garbage.  He reached inside a drawer and pulled out a notepad and a pen.  He stretched and then sat back down at the table, putting the pad and pen down before replying.  “I’ll write down the address.  I don’t know when he leaves the house.  I just know he does it a couple times a week.  Same days every week, but I don’t remember when.  You’ll have to just go and check it out for yourself.”
“You mean like, case the joint?”
“Case the joint?  What are you a 50’s safecracker?  Yeah, ‘case the joint’.”  He chuckled at this.  He opened the pad and began to write the address.  “Take something to protect yourself with cause it’s a bit of a rough neighborhood.  Go to this house, and watch.  See when he leaves, see how long it takes him.  Go inside, take a look around.  Hell, I don’t know.  Maybe you’ll get lucky and he keeps stacks of hundreds in the bathroom for toilet paper.”
Eddie finished his beer and stood up.  A watermark in the shape of wet grin puddled where the beer bottle had been.  Eddie reached across the table and got a napkin, wiping the smile off the face of the table. 
“Where can I toss this?”
Tony gestured toward the sink garbage where he’d tossed his own bottle.  He ripped the paper from the notepad holding it out for Eddie to take. 
Eddie’s empty joined Tony’s with a loud clink.
“Alright, Tony.  Thanks.  I really appreciate this.”  He took the paper from Tony’s fingers, folded it and slid it inside his jeans.
“Alright Eddie, good luck man.”
“Thanks.  Hey, I won’t be able to give you a ride to work the next couple weeks, alright?”
“Yeah, alright.”
Eddie stood there a moment longer, looking a little lost.  Then like a diver perched upon a precipice, he leaned slowly forward and opened the door into the hallway shutting it quietly behind him and went back to his apartment.
Behind him the lock slid home.  Tony rested his fingers against it for a minute then went into his bedroom and picked up the cell phone from his nightstand.  He thumbed through his contacts before selecting one.  He pushed ‘talk’ and let out a long resigned sigh.  The phone rang twice before it was answered.
“He’s in.”
“That’s good, Tony.  That’s really good.  Keep your eyes open and let me know if it looks like he’s backing out.”
“And Tony?”
“If this all works out, you can consider your debt paid in full.”
“Alright, thanks.  I really appreciate this,” Tony replied, his voice shaking with emotion, an eerie echo of Eddie’s own words a moment prior.  But the other man had already hung up.
* * *
At 3:00 a.m. the alarm went off, but Eddie, whose thoughts were anchored fast in the anxiety of his upcoming “caper” was already awake, staring at the red L.E.D. clock face, his finger probing dumbly across the unseen clock controls.  He switched the alarm to “Off” and threw back the covers of his bed.
He showered but did not shave, put on jeans and a navy blue t-shirt, socks and some running shoes.  He walked out into the kitchen and poured himself a bowl of Cheerios.  The cold coffee carafe was a third full from the previous morning.  Eddie poured himself a cup of cold coffee and microwaved it until it steamed, then carried it all out to his table and sat down.  He spooned Cheerios into his mouth and stared at the backpack he’d filled the previous night.  He reached across the table and grabbed the shoulder strap of the pack, sliding it toward him and off the table to the tile floor.  He unzipped the pack and looked inside.
Inside the backpack was a flashlight, a bottle of water, a pair of binoculars, a long kitchen knife, a notepad, and a pencil.  He got up from the table and went to the refrigerator.  He pulled the insulated lunch bag from the wire shelf.  Inside it was an apple and a ham and cheese sandwich.  He closed the refrigerator door and added the lunch bag to his backpack.  He zipped the backpack shut and slid it across the floor with his shoe, standing up and finishing his cheerios as he walked to the sink.  He dumped the last of the bowl into the sink and ran water into it.  He finished his coffee in gulps, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and added the mug to the sink before returning to the table.
Eddie stooped and caught the loop of the shoulder strap before standing and slinging it over one shoulder.  He walked to the door, removing his car keys from a doorside hook and shaking them open in the palm of his hand before switching off the light and opening the door into the hallway.  He closed the door silently behind him and padded softly down the hall to the stairwell and out the front door, swallowed by the darkness.

Continued in Part 3:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"What Comes Around" Part 1 - French Toast Jesus

Adam James had taken the call that informed him of the death of his wife and daughter at work.  He had gently replaced the telephone in its cradle.  He folded his laptop closed, powering it down, and slid it into his bag. He slung the bag over his shoulder in a daze and grabbed for his keys with shaking hands, knocking them clumsily from his desk. He bent to retrieve them, and the messenger bag slid around in front of him, unbalancing him slightly so that he stumbled before straightening, keys in hand, sliding the bag back around his waist and striding from his office. He moved mechanically, woodenly, his face a mask of repressed anguish. And somehow, though he couldn’t remember the particulars, he found himself in his car at home in the garage, the engine idling with no clear memory of having gotten in nor of driving it home.
The funeral arrangements passed in a blur. He had help, of course, and if he allowed himself to be taken along for the funereal ride (not terribly unlike the departed themselves), he can perhaps be excused just this once. Having no one left in his life to be strong for, Adam allowed himself the luxury of weakness. When the funeral ended, and the cars (magnetic “Funeral Procession” flags efficiently removed by stealthy funeral home staff) cleared slowly from the cemetery, Adam allowed himself to be helped to his feet and chauffeured home. There he sat on his loveseat in an attitude not unlike that which he’d exhibited graveside, hunched forward, forearms resting on his thighs, hands crossed slightly, staring blankly ahead. He fell asleep in that position.
While he slept he dreamt of Helen and Abby. They were at the pool together. Helen, his wife, and Abby, his 5 year old daughter, were wearing their swimsuits. He was wearing the suit he’d worn to the funeral. He was frustrated by his failure to pack his swimsuit when they’d left for the pool and tried to convince them to wait for him while he found something suitable to wear. In the dream he left the pool to find his swimsuit. And he woke up in the morning of a new day on the loveseat, his suit crumpled and damp with sweat. He allowed himself, at last, to weep. The disappointment of waking to find them still dead overmatched him.
What happened the next two days was. . . nothing. The phone rang and went to voice mail. A knock at the door went unanswered. He neither showered nor ate. He moved from the loveseat only to use the bathroom or get a drink. He left the lights off. He wore his crumpled suit. He stunk of sweat. Adam had checked out.
The phone rang on the morning of the third day, rousing him from his slumber on the loveseat. Voicemail announced his absence, then beeped.
“Adam, it’s Mom. Honey, I know you’re hurting. We’ve left messages. We’re coming over tonight to check on you. We love you, baby. Hang in there.” The receiver clicked and the phone beeped once.
He glanced up at the answering machine and saw the red L.E.D. “12” switch to “13” then strobe insistently. He ran his fingers through his hair.
“Just my luck.” His voice rasped hoarsely. He coughed into his fist and cleared his throat, then lifted himself up from the loveseat tugging at the knot in his tie to loosen it. He walked to the foot of the stairs, slowly pushing himself up the carpeted steps. At the top of the stairs he turned and went directly into his room, not allowing himself to look down the hall to Abby’s bedroom. Not allowing himself even to think of the existence of such a room. Not allowing himself to remember the joyful music of her girlish giggle.
He pulled the tie from his collar, unthreading it from around his neck, the silk hissing against the cotton collar, and began to unbutton his shirt, kicking the toe of his right shoe into the heel of his left, and levering it off, before doing the same with his right. His jacket and shirt he tossed across the bed. He pulled his belt through the loops of his pants and tossed it on the bed too, allowing his pants to bunch at his ankles before stepping out of them to remove his socks. He sighed heavily and walked to the bathroom naked, turning the water in the shower to "Hot" and examining himself in the mirror. Medium height, brown hair, matted and messy, light brown eyes set in whites so networked and bewebbed with blood vessels they looked pink, two days' growth of patchy beard on his chin. In all other ways, forgettable. He lost himself in his reflection and the steam from the hot water began to haze the mirror. He pulled the lever and the shower sputtered to life. He stepped into it, letting the scalding water baptize him painfully before he surrendered and turned the temperature to something more comfortable. He shampooed and washed and shaved, then stood facing the water, letting it run down his face like tears, and for a long time he didn’t move.
When he’d finished the shower, he shut off the water, and stepped, naked and dripping from the tub. He toweled himself off and walked out of the bathroom, pulling a clean black t-shirt from the drawer, a pair of boxer briefs, and jeans. He dressed, then walked back downstairs barefoot and went to the kitchen.
Pulling open the refrigerator door he scanned the shelves, selecting the carton of eggs, a milk jug, and some butter before closing it again with his hip, his hands full. These ingredients were joined by a loaf of bread, some vanilla extract, and maple syrup retrieved from the pantry. He turned the burner of the stove on, and heated a greased pan while he beat eggs and milk together with vanilla extract. He dipped bread into this and slapped it wet into the pan where it sizzled and spit. He repeated this for three other pieces and pulled a spatula from a drawer. He stood over the pan, pushing against the sides of the bread, loosening them and testing them, until he judged them sufficiently cooked, then he slid the spatula underneath each and expertly flipped them.
He made coffee. It steamed in his cup and he cooled it with cream and sweetened it with a little sugar. He turned off the stove and put two pieces of the French toast on his plate. He carried the plate, his coffee, the butter, and a knife and fork over to the kitchen table and sat down heavily.
And that’s when he saw it. Or Him. Jesus Christ himself enthroned in browned and crisped beaten egg in toasted bas-relief there upon his plate. Upon his brow a crown of thorns, his hands were joined as if in prayer. His eyes were cast heavenward.
A sign. Clearly a sign. Adam was no fool, he knew it was a sign just as he knew every sign can be interpreted more than one way. Acceptance or rejection. Blessing or condemnation. Good or ill. And Adam gazed into the Lamb of God’s eyes and spoke aloud, “You’re too fucking late.” And he cut French toast Jesus asunder and ate him, unblessed and without ritual, “this is my body, take this and eat it in remembrance of me.” He finished his unholy eucharist with a belch. A fist to his heart as he stifled another burp, standing with his plate a mass of maple syrup godsblood smeared across it. He walked it to the kitchen sink and threw it in heedlessly. The plate broke on impact. Adam watched it angrily.
“Fuck you,” he said, and walked, still barefoot, out to his car. He drove out of the garage, down the driveway, and never returned.
What Adam didn’t know was that the face on the piece of toast was NOT in fact that of his rejected lord and savior Jesus Christ, Lamb of God. . . but a dead ringer for 1936 Greek Olympic Fencing Champion, Leonidas Pyrgos, who had the Christ-like beard, of course, but the more European, less Hebrew features. Adam, saw the blue eyed Nordic Jesus of Adolph Hyla’s famous painting, never knowing it wasn’t Jesus at all. Never had been. The crown of thorns was merely the victor's laurel wreath.
Why Leonidas Pyrgos should appear on French toast is perhaps no more baffling than why Jesus of Nazareth would choose to do so, and perhaps less so, since Mr. Pyrgos’ gold medal in the 1936 Games would come against a French opponent. All of which is irrelevant because the true explanation is, if the same infinite number of monkeys on their infinite number of keyboards would take an infinite break from their duties rewriting all the great works of literature, doubtless they could etch the random visages of every man woman and child whoever lived in egg based paint upon a canvas of toasted bread. Which is to say that it was neither the visage of Mr. Pyrgos, nor the Prince of Peace, but an inkblot interpreted by a tortured mind as the sums of all his experiences has best prepared him to interpret it. Regardless, an objective viewer would still give the nod to Pyrgos.
And so pushed by a perceived sign from God, Adam made a choice, just as Job had once made a choice when faced with similar circumstances (French toast notwithstanding). Adam’s choice, however, differed from Job’s entirely. He rejected God utterly. Having lost his wife he instead made a bride of murder and consummated his wedding in the blood of innocents. After a series of slayings that stretched seemingly at random from Pennsylvania to Louisiana (but actually just provided bloody punctuation marks on a map that told the story of his path South), Adam found himself homeless in the streets of New Orleans, accepting money from the mob to end people's lives.
One day, a man with clean black shoes and a tidy suit pressed a thick envelope into Adam’s filthy outstretched hand. He opened it and riffled the bills inside perfunctorily then stuffed it inside his jacket. He reached out, still without lifting his eyes from the clean black shoes and snapped his fingers impatiently. A folded slip of paper was placed in his hand. He unfolded the slip of paper, "the black spot" as he had come to think of it and read his mark’s name. It said simply, “Eddie”. No last name, no address. He glanced up questioningly, but the man with the clean black shoes and the tidy suit was gone.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tough Love

I shared a quiet moment with Lily.  I held her in my arms as we got ready to read her bedtime story.  Her face was very close to mine and she smiled shyly up at me.  I bent my head forward and gently bumped my head against hers and said, "I love you, Lily."

She giggled at this.  She likes when i conk her head.  Then she looked up into my eyes, reared back and head butted me in the bridge of the nose.  Stars exploded across my vision, and she said, "I wub you too daddy."

A couple days later i was rubbing the bridge of my nose weerily and it felt sore, like I'd bruised it, but I couldn't remember why that might have been.  I thought about it a bit and smiled, remembering.  That was a good night.