If I’d put together that the wormy son of a bitch scarcely met Al’s description of the buyer, probably didn’t have a nickel to his name, and likely was, in truth, a vagrant junkie, maybe I wouldn’t have come to in the basement of an abandoned department store, ass going numb on cold linoleum, arms twisted and bound around a support beam. Maybe I wouldn’t have Louisville Slugger tattooed to my scalp, the sickening crack of wood against bone still thundering in my ears. And maybe things wouldn’t have turned into a total clusterfuck. Too many maybes, I know, I know, I conceded to her. Her silence belied her disappointment. Yeah, big surprise, I growled some more, another goddamned wrong turn. She remained cool, though, impassive. She’d heard this rant too many times already, possibly.…
Finkelstein put his hand on Jerry’s shoulder.
“That’s all I can tell you.”
Jerry could barely button the buttons on his shirt. His fingers felt like hot dogs and the buttons felt as small as tic tacs. He had come to trust the doctor and had begun to believe he could maybe fix it. Finkelstein snapped the metal clipboard closed and looked at him with big, sad eyes. He hated this part. He always hated this part.
“I’m sorry, Jerry.”
Jerry bumped into the wall on his way out of the examination room and two nurses saw it. He looked at them sheepishly, then realized that embarrassment, along with a whole host of other things, was something he wouldn’t be bothered with much longer.
What was it, anyway? Embarrassment seemed suddenly so abstract, so arbitrary. Why feel one thing when you can just as easily feel another? Great, he thought, wish I’d had that revelation sometime during my twenty years of therapy. Well, it’s never too late, he chuckled, as he turned up his collar and stepped out onto Prince Street.
Then, he stopped. Well, actually it is, bubbie. It is too late.
He jiggled the ice around in his glass, tried to tune out the band, and attempted to recall exactly what Finkelstein said.…
On Friday, the crowd stopped by the most vulnerable place. A library. An orchard. A school.
The people in the crowd raided bakeries because they’d never baked bread. Shot at rotten houses because they’d never had to live in filth. Every experience they didn’t get, they annihilated for the humans to come.
Then the caravan trudged onward. The nurses on duty cursed as they removed broken glass from bleeding bodies.
They had marched for the same number of days as the age of their oldest walker. 83.
I traveled with the crowd for 9 Fridays. On the 10th, the crowd schemed to raid every treehouse in a suburb where white picket fences got hosed with an unlimited supply of potable water. Where roads extended into dead ends and every pothole was the cause for an evening’s complaint.
I grew up in a place like that. Then I left for a college more isolated than my town. All while I dreamed to see more.
When the crowd swept through the candy aisle, I joined. My father said, “Don’t go.”
I said nothing when I slammed through his door. Behind me, my mother cried.
Some memorable members of the crowd were: Henry, who squeezed his legs close at the table to pick dirt from under his toenails.…
“What a shame,” Nonna said when I arrived at her place after working at the family restaurant. “Mary Muldoon just called. Drunk as a skunk, asking if I knew where her husband Jim was and quite annoyed at the Happy Garden Chinese Restaurant. Said they were sending her pork fried rice and egg rolls at least three times a week. Claims she never ordered a thing.”
“Where’s her husband?”
“Molly, he’s dead. Has been for years. She found him in the living room around dinner time. Massive heart attack.”
“Oh, that’s terrible.”
“She must be having blackouts and forgetting things. Or she’s imagining that they are delivering the food. Mary has squash rot. Poor thing. Her mind’s all messed up.”
“What’s ‘squash rot’ ?”
“It means your brain is rotted from too much alcohol. When she drinks, Mary gets delusional and hallucinates.”
“She eats at our restaurant once a week and never says much unless it’s to complain. She’s nasty to me. She told my father that I’m a ‘clumsy oaf,” and said that I should be washing dishes instead of serving food.”
“You’ve got to have compassion, Molly. She’s been through a lot and can’t help herself. Addiction to alcohol is a terrible thing.”
“I don’t think it’s an excuse to be mean, Nonna.”
I excused myself, saying I had homework, and went to her bedroom where I would hang out until my parents closed the restaurant.…
A man comes to town. He wears spit-shined shoes and a lime-green coat. His hair is all slicked, and there’s a pack on his shoulders. He looks bright and flashy, like a light bulb. I see him walking down the road, the noon sun sizzling on his head, with his feet raising little clouds of dust.
It’s a midsummer inferno outside, and all the windows in our house are open. I’m lying on the grass on our front lawn, Hector at my side, just lazing around. It’s too hot to think, much less do anything. Inside, somewhere in the dim swelter, mama’s cleaning pots and pans.
The man stops at a bakery window and looks in at a loaf baking in the oven. They have it on a rack in there, and it’s going around and around like a little white planet. When he sees it he whips off his spectacles and cleans them on his shirt cuff, and a greedy look gets on his face.
After he’s stared for a while he moves on, and the first thing he does is come towards my house. He walks down the front path, and I can tell he’s nervous because he’s fussing with his hair and sniffing his breath and rubbing the sweat off his forehead. …