Short Story By Loren
It was the abruptness of it, really, that shook me. I rarely dream, so it was not a matter of rioting vision.
I jumped from some hollow, and I was shivering. This one, sterling Friday evening. My entire body pulsing with
the desperation of a tortured heart.
So I had a coffee, a big cup with no milk. Black is Back my father used
to joke of my habit. He used to clog his coffee with whole milk. His cholesterol count stopped that.
I was drinking the coffee, I looked at the telephone. It was linen-white, scuffed plastic, nothing special. So,
as I drank the coffee, and let the bitter black slosh in my mouth, I watched the phone.
Half-hour later, I finished
my coffee. I undressed and showered. My ears were sad and hopeful of diverting noise. I think a car backfiring
would have pleased me about then.
My apartment overlooks a junkyard, a sprawling inferno of dispensable things. I used to stand at the window
after work on Friday evenings and gaze, and I'd notice the fenders from cars and big, matte objects unrealized to the eye.
It was a Friday, and the rubbish was higher than last Friday. On grimy nights like this, when the air was
warm and the cops werent around, the scavengers came out the woodworks. They would scrabble in that junk. They
were, on the whole, poorly dressed. There would be women with great holes in their blouses through which clammy flesh
could be seen. The men were jacketed horridly, and their pants were all quilt patches. The aura of filth surrounding
these people was marvelous.
A lot can be seen from the second floor.
I watched them as if I was watching
gladiators. I thought: These people have disavowed humanity. There's dignity in that.
I saw a lot of
things those nights. There were tribes of these people, the men rangy and gaunt, squat and belly-large. And he
would have a stringy arm about his mousy womans shoulders, and they would be finicking over hubcaps and scrap metal.
The children were almost always sickly and badly outfitted. Once they dug to those discarded toys, though, and found
those moth-riddled dolls and such. It was a boon for these people.
I would see these shabby men chattering,
as if discussing stocks and bonds or football. And the women would be jabbering audibly enough if you cracked a window.
The words were never heard, but their hum was distinct. It was intoxicating.
I would sit down to solitaire
then. I did it this Friday, too. I fingered the cards in my careworn deck, slipping the aces and kings and clubs
into formation. I play meticulously, with accuracy. With boredom. This Friday, my coffee vigorous with a
healthy decanting of whiskey, I played the game with the complete and unstinting mastery that comes of lonely devotion.
The phone rang. I didn't answer it, waited for it to ring five times. The voice on the other line was
as shrill as the carryings on of a newborn.
Hello. Mathew Cravitts, yes?
sir. We've received numerous complaints about that garbage dump adjacent to your apartments. Something about vagrants
rooting about in there. What can you tell us about this?
Yes, well. Its basically on Fridays.
They come out and kind of browse, you see. Nothing harmful.
Yes. Thank you. Well get right on it.
There was a clack-clack. He had slammed the receiver down. Lighten up, I thought. I turned back to my game,
this interlude having generated fresh interest. I played a hand and sank into twofold boredom. I walked to the
window and scanned across the junkyard, to the very peripheral glimmer of the retiring sun. Dropping my eyes, I saw
the scavengers at liberty, culling together an inheritance. Their children, I thought, will walk away from the funeral
rich in dingy hubcaps.
I wasn't interested in my game. I wasn't interested period.
I was snoring,
had tried to revive the game and, in the end, had gone to sleep, tipping face forward onto the carpet. When the yelling
started, I scrambled to my feet and to the window.
There were three of four policemen driving in dragnet fashion
across the rubbish heaps. In the midst of the mountainous refuse, the browsers were divided between those who knew about
the cops, and those who had yet to be disabused that it wasnt Christmastime. Gradually, every last scavenger stood straight
and noticed. They were like prairie dogs, timidly surveying the even dryness of the desert. Only they didn't have
a hole to back into.
I watched the mop up, the cops in obdurate ranks carding the bums out like unwelcome fibers
from a piece of flax.
I climbed into bed that night and dropped off instantly. My dreams, the first in a solid
year, were littered with moldy clothes and cardboard boxes.
The following Friday I tried to enliven things. I wanted some festivity, some simulacrum of the tropics and
all their sunny trappings. So I bought some mangos. I bought a bunch of bananas. I bought an under-ripe
star fruit, greenish and firm to the touch. I bought a brownstone in a back-alley on Blake Street. I pinched a
syringe from a down-at-heel pharmacy. I walked home shaky, shuddering in the eye-wilting headlights of the cars of the
night owls revving up and zipping down Blake Street, drawn as if by leashes to the dives and titty bars on Falk Street.
I locked myself into my room and dug a spoon from the silverware drawer. I had my lighter at the ready.
having a party.
It was the first time I'd done horse in six months, and I was confident that it would be the last
for twice that. Trust me: Im no slave to this shit. This was a special case. I gave myself a special dispensation.
I was having a party, see?
The phone rang on me. I had loosened the belt and fallen against the couch in logy abandon.
I let it ring five times, and it stopped. I sat waterlogged and counted the pixels that had swarmed to my eyes.
Never stare straight into lights, son. My father knew everything. He knew what I was going to say each moment.
He could mix an outstanding cocktail. He could convert to metric as smoothly and effortlessly as he could the frequency
on a radio. My father was a goddamn genius.
And, as I relaxed my muscles and piloted blithely out of the semi-shade
of euphoria, the phone rang. Again, I let it tire out. I made it to the window and opened the blinds. The night
was prevailing upon day, and I noted with a certain joy that the bums had returned. I watched them, the shabby old men
with their girlfriends on their arms, the children lost in filthy frolic. They were legion, these creatures. All
together. The fellowship of the unwanted, these discarded creatures hooking arms and caroling, never alone, never sad.
I was still shaky.
When the phone rang a third time I answered. That same shrill voice. Goddamn
it, I thought.
Hello. I was calling to check up on the vagrant situation. I trust the police have cleaned
it up nicely.
I grinned down at the revelry of the bums, the inefficient horseplay of the urchins.
they swept them out alright.
Good. Now, let me cut to the chase. I am calling on behalf of Representative
Charles Hodgkin. I trust youre satisfied with the celerity of this clean up operation. Well, this is just the
sort of service that Charles Hodgkin can provide
I slammed the phone down. They have no decency. Bastards.
I started to close the blinds and finally simply peeped out again at the pageantry amidst the debris.
As far as Im
concerned theyre welcome. Freedom should apply to everyone. Before closing the blinds I caught sight of a couple
smooching, cuddling, fondling one another. I lingered on this pair. My mouth was dry. My heart was thumping
I should have bought two. Damn it. I sat down and began a game of solitaire, shuffling the
deck, arranging in parallel muster the kings, queens, aces, clubs. The goddamn Jester.
I tipped over
in the middle of yet another game. When I woke up it was twelve, and the streetlights were on. I opened the blinds,
and there the police were advancing on the bums, and the bums were scattering. Some neighbor must have made a phone
call. The night was thickening even as the streetlights tented up the darkness with spears of glare. I watched
the rout and I thought:
Leave them be. They're the only friends I've got anymore.