Sunday, December 24, 2006

CRIB, a Christmas Story

I wrote this story one Christmas Eve while working the overnight shift at Sand Hill, a lockdown facility for adolescent girls in Vermont. As the Overnighter I sat in the plump chair at the top of staircase, gave permission to use the bathroom,Midol and cough drops as needed, but most importantly just stayed awake,logging in on the computer to report on the previous fifteen minutes. That night not a teenager was stirring, and so I wrote "Crib". The highest praise I ever earned for a piece of writing came from one of the girls at Sand Hill after one of our ELA classes. She listened to the story impassively, then slipped me a note that said, "I liked it. SShh,it made me cry."

Crib

Willie walked. Willie always walked, or if he wasn’t walking, he was standing in the doorway of the building next to the thriftshop on the corner of Classon and Myrtle, the only doorway where those who passed never told him to leave. The doorway where nobody ever snarled: move it, or if I see you here again, I’m calling the cops.
Instead the people who eased past would say: excuse me, and sometimes even, how y’doin or s'up? But Willie never answered. He'd just nod and move out of their way.
When he wedged himself into the frame to get out of the wind, the smell of pine from the woven branches that encircled his head roused him from his early morning stupor. Willie scratched the back of his neck and looked up at the edge of the sky along the rooftops that turned from ash gray to white gray. Above the laundry lines a downward gust of wind blew a garbage bag to earth where it wrapped itself around the base of the streetlamp. Willie remembered it was Thursday and that he would need the bag to pick up the empties from the in front of the old lady’s house on Walworth Street. So he shuffled over to the pole and grabbed the bag that he stuffed into the deep satin pocket of the coat,loose and black that flapped like a flag in the wind. He returned to the doorway where he stamped his feet on the concrete slab and rubbed his bare, coarse hands.
When the door opened, he moved aside. He recognized the woman by the row of silver rings that lined her ear and glinted in the early morning sun as she stepped out onto Myrtle Avenue. The wind swirled bits of cellophane and candy wrappers around her feet.
“You want to stand inside?” she asked,holding the door open.
Willie peered down the long corridor. He felt the invisible wall of heat that radiated from the baseboards and moved outward,but shook his head.
“You sure?” she asked again before pulling the door shut behind her and turning the key twice. “My boyfriend’s working in the studio today. He won’t mind. It’s wicked cold.”
Willie nodded his head first yes and then no. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he headed back down Myrtle Avenue. He felt a gnawing in his stomach and wished that he had something to eat and that he had said something to the girl.
“You sure?” he mumbled to himself. “It’s wicked cold.”
Willie dragged his feet to keep his boots without laces from slipping off, leaving two long trails of gray in the cushion of fresh snow that covered the cement. He passed the red and yellow lights that blinked along the awning of the bodega just as a man stepped our of the store with the smell of frying bacon following him out the door. He held a tall lidded cup in one hand and shifted the long sandwich wrapped in wax paper under his left elbow as he crossed to the curb to place the key in the door of his blue pick-up truck.
Willie saw by the Budweiser clock in the window that it was almost seven and picked up his pace toward Walworth Street.
“It’s wicked cold,” he mumbled to himself.
He approached the squat row of red brick houses where the old lady pushed open the rusted gate. She clasped her flannel robe with one hand and with the other dragged the last dented trashcan to the curb.
“Morning, Willie,” she said, “should be a good couple a bucks here today.”
She lifted a lid from the bin of crushed Coke cans and green bottles under a layer of gnawed chicken bones.
“Gee, I hate it when folks throw trash on your bottles.”
Willie shrugged, and then picking off the remains of the wings still red with hot sauce, he flung them over his shoulder onto the street. He then took the bag from his pocket and fumbled to pull apart its vinyl sides with his numb fingers.
“I have trouble with those too,” she said, taking the bag from Willie and rubbing the top seam between her palms before pulling it open with the tips of her fingers. “It’s the arthritis,you know.But today it’s not too bad.”
Willie tossed the cans and bottles into the bag.
“If you don’t mind, Willie,” the old woman said, her gnarled fingers gripping the railing as she climbed the steps. “I could use a hand.”
Leaning down low, Willie grabbed the last few beer bottles, and then followed the footprints of the old woman’s galoshes up the stoop. He stopped at the open door.
“Come in,” she called from the far end of the wallpapered corridor before sliding open an old-fashioned maple door.
Willie waited near the iron coils of the radiator that hissed and spat from the silver valve at its side.
“Can y’help me carry this down?” she asked, pulling a crib on wheels from the bedroom. “I’m hopin' somebody might come along who could use it.”
Willie nodded. Grasping the railing, he lifted and carried his end down the stoop and together they set the crib on the sidewalk.
“How about a couple a my muffins? I just baked ‘em.”
Willie nodded and sat himself down on a concrete step and watched the white haired woman duck into the alcove below the stairs. He sat hunched with his arms crossed over his knees and studied the crib. He admired the decal on its headboard, three rings of tiny blue blowers. He liked the lacy pillow on which lay a fleecy black lamb with an embroidered pink nose.
A van rolled up to the curb. Its windows were darkly tinted and on the side door was painted in script: Church of the Incoming Saints. The window slid down and the smooth skinned face of the driver leaned out.
“Wh’d’a’y’rob a daycare?”
Willie stared back dully at the talking face.
“The crib, where’d y’get it?”
Willie shrugged.
“I ought’a just take it, but I’ll give y’two bucks for it.”
Willie shrugged again, then pointed to the old woman who came out of the house, carrying a tin pie plate with two grainy yellow muffins and a steaming cup of coffee which she handed to Willie who wrapped his cold hands around the hot ceramic and closed his eyes to feel the steam on his lids.
“Morning,” she said to the short, balding man, sleekly bulging under a knee length leather coat.
He slid like a seal from a rock as he moved from the seat of the van to the sidewalk.
“Hello, ma’am,” he replied, in a much softer tone than he had used with Willie. “By any chance, is that your crib?”
“Was my grandson’s, but he’s long grown out of it.”
“I’d like it for my daughter, she’s due any day now. That is if y’don’t need it.”
“We’re not expecting any more babies in this family. My youngest in Queens just turned forty seven.”
“Well, then I guess I’ll take it off your hands,” he said pushing the crib toward the curb.
Willie wolfed down the second corn muffin, then licked the tip of his index finger so that the crumbs on the tine would stick to it. Meanwhile the man slid open the door and, lifting the crib over the snow bank, set it down on the beige carpet that lined the floor of the van.
“Thanks, lady,” he said before sidling back up into the driver’s seat.
“You’re more than welcome. Just glad t’see it go t’somebody could use it.”
Tilting back his cup, Willie sipped down the last sweet drop as the van drove off. He placed the cup on the empty tin plate and handed it to the woman.
“Well, I got work t’do, she said, heading back into the house. “See y’next week, Willie.”
Willie half smiled as he rose and brushed the soft snow off the back of his coat. Bottles and cans clattered in the sack he tossed over his shoulder while like some urban Santa he slid in his loose boots back toward Myrtle Avenue.
Passing the bodega on the corner, he glanced again at the Budweiser clock in the window. He saw that he had two more hours before the supermarket where he could redeem his collection for cash would be open. On the dumpster he noticed a stack of outdated newspapers bound with twine. The twine was loose enough that he could peel off pages of the Daily News to crumple and tuck in fistfuls under his shirt. He then picked up his bag and made his way toward the playground on Classon Avenue to sleep on a bench until nine.

***********************************************************************
The alarm rang at seven. Gloria reached down and yanked the plug from the wall, dimly wondering what she would wear. To get out of bed she had to roll onto her right side and slowly push herself up into a sitting position. She lifted her feet into view so she could examine her swollen ankles. She groaned and let them drop back heavily to the floor.
Her tee shirt crept over her belly and the stretchy front panel of her pants seemed about to pop.
“C’mon, Gloria, you’re gonna be late,” her aunt scolded as she climbed the stairs.
Gloria crossed to her dresser and stood on tiptoes to see her full torso in the mirror.
“I’m not going.”
“Gloria, you gotta go,” replied her aunt who stood in the doorway, her hand on her chest, breathing heavily with the exertion of her climb.
“I feel sick. I can’t go,” Gloria lied.
The queasiness that had kept her home the first two months had passed. Now she just felt sick at the sight of herself in her clothes, extra-large shirts that clung to the globe of her once flat stomach.
“You sure you’re not lying to me?”
Gloria’s eyes became filmy and her lower lip quivered. She spluttered and then the deluge of tears poured down her cheeks.
“I hate myself. Look at me, I look like a blimp. What am I going to do? I’m so scared.”
Gloria’s aunt stretched her short arms as far as they could reach around her niece.
“Baby, it’s gonna be alright, everything’s gonna be alright.”
“But look at me! I’m ugly!”
“You’re not ugly, you’re beautiful.”
“Yeah, right,” said Gloria, grimacing at her image in the mirror.
“Well,. sure you look ugly when you make a face like that.”
Gloria’s aunt pulled up the faded stretched-out shirt to reveal her rounded belly, firm and smooth as an acorn. She ran her pudgy hand over her niece’s taut skin when suddenly the surface undulated with a movement in response from below.
Gloria smiled.
“Do you see how beautiful you are?” she asked, gazing at Gloria’s beaming reflection in the mirror. “ Not that I’m sayin’ it ain’t gonna be hard, and that I don’t wish this was something for you to deal with later on. But this is the way it is, and we’re gonna make it work, okay?”
Gloria sniffled and nodded.
“Now you stop feeling sorry for yourself and come down to breakfast.”
Gloria followed her aunt down to the kitchen where on a blue plate she had stacked three waffles, piled high with strawberries and topped with a swirl of cream.
“You’re the best,” Gloria said, pulling her chair way back from the table.
“Now make sure you finish every drop a that milk,” her aunt scolded as she drained her own cup of tea before rinsing it out at the sink. “I gotta be at work by nine. What are you doin’ this morning?”
“I dunno.”
Her aunt took a ten and two fives from her wallet and set them down next to Gloria’s plate.
“Why don’t you go downtown and buy a little something for the baby?”
“That’d be nice.”
Her aunt set four more singles down on the table.
“And here’s carfare, I don’t want you walking downtown, okay?”
“I promise,” she said through a mouthful of waffle.
************************************
On the slats of the wooden bench in the playground, crumpled newspaper rustling around him, Willie slept. And as he slept he dreamt he was a boy again in the fields behind his grandmother’s house where with a long knife he cut himself a piece of sugar cane, and with its raw sweetness, other memories filled him with a vague warmth.
Then the electronic bells tolled. From the speakers atop the aluminum sided church across the street blared the tones of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” retrieving Willie from his tropical island dream back to the cold, damp playground in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn.
Stiff from having lain huddled for two hours on the bench, Willie slowly unfolded his knees from his chest. The soft snow that had fallen at dawn was now soupy and brown. He reached under the bench for his cans and bottles, but the bag was gone.
Once Willie had woken to the sound of clattering cans as two dogs fought over a chicken bone at the bottom of his ripped bag. But this time it had not been marauding dogs. Someone had taken it.
Shoulders slumped Willie shuffled by the see-saws, out of the park and toward the high stooped houses of Classon Avenue.
********************************************
Gloria took her uncle’s goose down vest from the hook in the hall and zipped it up over the jacket that she could no longer close. She stepped out onto the porch and shivered with the cold. Classon Avenue was brown with dingy slush and not even the sight of the Christmas decorations in front of the houses cheered her.
Every year since she was big enough to carry the plastic figures from the house to the patch of yard outside the ground floor windows, it had been Gloria’s job to set up the nativity scene. And ever since she was a little girl, she delighted in wrapping her arms around the kneeling Joseph and carrying him from the basement and setting him down in the plywood stable, and then going back for Mary and then the shepherds and the sheep, and then waiting for midnight Christmas Eve to bring them the baby Jesus who she would tuck into the straw-filled milk crate.
This year though Gloria had no interest in Christmas, so her aunt had to set up the scene without her while her uncle had to remember to plug in the lights each night.
Gripping the iron rail tightly, Gloria felt each step carefully with the toe of her boot before placing weight on her foot. A slight girl who had always moved quickly and never with caution, Gloria now found herself eight months pregnant and unable to see the ground beneath her or the extension chord that her uncle had run from the manager up the stairs and into the hall outlet.
When she reached the bottom step, her boot slid under it and she lurched forward. In that moment she felt the dread of hitting the cement and gasped,just as two hands reached out and firmly clamped her arm.
Gloria regained her balance and braced herself against the fence, but the stranger still grasped her arm tightly.
He wore a loose black coat that flapped in the wind. His boots had no laces, and he smelt like garbage.
“I’m okay, really,” Gloria said, pulling away from his bony grip.
He let go and murmured, “I’m okay, really,” before slogging off down the street.
Gloria waited until the stranger was out of sight.
***************************************
Willie turned the corner from Classon Avenue onto Myrtle where a jagged wind pelted his face. Ducking into his doorway next to the thrift shop, he stomped his feet and blew into his raw cupped hands.
When the teenage girl came around the corner, he watched.She stood at the bus stop with her shoulders hunched up to her ears and her cheeks buried in the pillowy black vest she wore over her jacket.
When after a few minutes the bus did not come, she turned to survey the store behind her. The shelves of its window were neatly arranged with boxes of costume jewelry, rows of used books and bins of old record albums and assorted toys and gadgets.
From his doorway Willie observed how the girl’s head popped up past her collar and her eyes gleamed. There on the sidewalk in front of the shop were larger items for sale: a row of battered bikes, five bar stools and a crib—a white crib decorated with three ringlets of tiny blue flowers. The owner of the shop came out untangling a string of small lights that he wrapped around the handlebars of the bicycles.
“How much y’want for the crib?” the girl asked.
“Fifty dolluhs.”
“I can give y’twunny.”
“Twunny, w’a’yuh kiddin’ me? I paid double that myself.”
With a shrug the girl headed back toward the curb.
“Wait,” the man in the leather coat called after her. “Gimme twunny an’ I’ll hold it f’you.”
“Twunny just t’hold it?”
“Okay, ten,” the man said.
Gloria wasn’t sure where she’d get the other forty dollars, but she wanted the crib, so she reached into the pocket of the vest and unfolded the bills her aunt had given her.
“Come back by tomorr’a,” he said, nodding toward a shelf in the window where a stuffed animal was perched on a lacy pillow, “an’ I’ll throw in the teddy bear.”
“It’s a lamb,” said Gloria handing him the ten as the B54 rolled up to the bus stop.
“Whatever,” said the man, tucking the bill into his bulging wallet.
Willie watched from the doorway as Gloria waddled over to get on the bus.
The accordion doors folded behind her and slush splattered from the beneath the wheels as the B54 pulled off down Myrtle Avenue. The shopkeeper tucked the wallet back into his pocket as a tall woman with a fur hat stopped and examined the crib.
“Looks new,” she commented.
“Yeah, never been used,” the shopkeeper lied. “It’s a factory second, just got a couple a scratches on the side.”
“How much?”
“Fifty bucks.”
“I’ll give you thirty.”
“Thirty five n’you got a deal.”
“You take Master Card?”
“Sure, c’mon.”
With her high heels click clacking the woman followed him inside.
Willie crossed over to the thrift shop doorway and peered down the dim aisle where the two stood at the counter. Silently he moved toward the crib, slid his finger around the tails and pushed.
Once out of range of the thrift shop window, Willie broke into a jog, his sloshing steps accompanied by the squealing wheels of the crib.
And as Willie ran, he smiled to himself at the thought of the girl and the old woman and the shopkeeper all at once. He thought of how the girl would smile when she found the crib outside her door, and he remembered the old woman’s words, “I was hopin’ somebody’d come along who could use it.” Then Willie laughed to himself at the thought of the shopkeeper’s face when he’d come out on the sidewalk and see that the crib was gone.
Then a hand clapped down on his shoulder.
“Yo, where y’goin’ w’the crib?”
Willie froze. He wanted to say he didn’t’ take it, but all he could do was to point at himself and nod his head furiously up and down.
“Okay, okay, it’s yours. So wha’d’y’want for it?”
Willie’s cheek twitched. He stared at the man who he vaguely recognized from the neighborhood, but he couldn’t recall whether his face meant trouble or not.
“I’ll give y’ten bucks for it.”
Willie hesitated. He still could see a blurry picture in his mind of the girl’s face. He still wanted to roll the crib over to that stoop where she had stumbled that morning and wait for her.
But from the diner on the corner the smell of grilled meat filled his nostrils and lightened his head. Dimly he recalled his stolen bag of cans and bottles.
“C’mon, y’want it or not,” the man said holding out a ten dollar bill. “I don’t got all day.”
Willie took the money and watched the man roll the crib over to a blue pick-up truck, take down the tailgate and load the crib onto the back. Before the truck pulled away from the curb, Willie was hurrying over to the diner where he pushed open the glass door and was momentarily overwhelmed by the spicy aromas.
“C’mon in or get out, but don’t stand there with the door open. I’m freezing,” shouted the woman at the cash register.
Willie stepped onto to the tiled floor. He went to sit at one of the booths with the red cushioned seats, but the waitress shot him a threatening look and nodded her head toward the counter.
Timidly Willie sat himself down on a stool and stared at the menu the waitress slammed down before him. He pointed toward a picture of a cheeseburger and a basket of fries.
“You got money?”
After Willie opened his hand, she scribbled down his order and took the crumbled ten dollar bill from his palm. She rang up the order and placed his change on the rubber mat, then she leaned into the long narrow window behind her and clipped the yellow slip to the wire over the grill.
“Burger deluxe,” she called to the cook. “And put a rush on it.”
Willie lifted his feet from the railing at the counter and felt his stool turn slowly to the left. As he spun, he surveyed the food being eaten by the customers seated at the booths along the window.
There was the gleaming platter of pork chops and mashed potatoes accompanied by a saucer of bright green peas; a plate of spaghetti bordered by meatballs and speckled with cheese; a steaming bowl of soup and a toasted English muffin glistening with melted butter. The sight of ice cubes bobbing in a tall glass of Coke-a-cola made Willie thirsty.
He was about to order a large Coke for himself when rotating back toward the counter, he saw the pinched face of the surly waitress. Instead of setting down flatware on a place mat, she slid his burger off the white plate and into a styrofoam container, jerking her head in the direction of the door.
Willie noticed three bristly hairs on her pointy chin and wanted to say that he was supposed to get fries, but when the cook hunched down on his side of the cut away window to leer out at him, Willie set his eyes on the linoleum tiles and moved toward the door, evading the stares of the diners who watched his scuffling exit.
On the street Willie tucked the container under his shirt next to his skin as he walked with long strides back to his doorway. He glanced about to be sure none of the stray dogs that roamed the neighborhood had followed him, then took out the white container and popped it open. Wrapping his numb fingers around the warm bun, he dropped the container to the ground as his teeth sank into the soft yellow bread. He felt the crunch of the bacon and the silkiness of the melted cheese as the hot meat crumbled in his mouth. Barely taking a breath he devoured the burger and for a moment felt full. But then the hunger assailed him again. Willie reached through the hole in his pocket, into the lining of his coat searching for his change, two dimes and a five dollar bill—enough for a second burger.
But then Willie felt a growing discomfort. It was a pressure around the rim of his head like a tightening steel band, and in his stomach he felt a queasiness that made him think that maybe the beef had been bad or that he had eaten it too quickly. But Willie knew something else was bothering him. Simultaneously he pictured the pregnant girl on Classon Avenue and a second burger.
Willie moved from the doorway in the direction of the diner. But he stopped before the thrift shop. There in the window on the shelf beside an open box of silverware, he saw a fleecy black lamb with a tiny pink nose on a lacy pillow.
Willie moved toward the door, but then when he stepped onto the mat, he was startled by the sound of a buzzer. The shopkeeper who was seated on a barstool with his short legs dangling toward the floor, jumped down and hurried toward Willie, flicking his hand from the wrist.
“Out a’here, out, out.”
The mat continued to buzz as Willie stood his ground and held out the five-dollar bill in his hand.
“Well, wha’d’a y’want?” he asked gruffly.
Willie pointed toward the fleecey lamb. The man snapped the bill from Willie’s hand, careful not to touch his skin.
“Take it an’ get outta here,” he said adding the bill to the stack in his wallet, returning to his stool by the cash register.
Willie gently slid his hands beneath the pillow and moved back toward the door, his eyes set on the lamb. The mat buzzed beneath him, and he wanted to ask for a bag.
“Wha’d y’waitin’ for, I told y’t’get out a here.”
Outside flints of hail rained down on the Avenue. For a moment Willie stood beneath the open awning.
“What, you deaf?” the shopkeeper barked out the door. “Now get out a here!”
Balancing the gift on one hand, he tucked it below his shirt while his other gripped his flapping coat over it. He walked over to the curb where he stood and watched a B54 coming down the avenue. As the light changed and the bus crossed the intersection, the driver honked, but Willie didn’t move. The bus stopped in front of Willie who peered through the wet, silvery windshield. The bus’ double doors unfolded and a flood of teenagers washed onto the sidewalk, shoving and laughing and cursing at one another. Willie stepped onto the bus and looked down the aisle.
“You getting’ on or what?” the driver asked with irritation.
Willie shook his head and backed off the bus. He hurried across the street to the playground, hugging the lamb close to his chest. He pulled back the slit in the chain length fence and ducked into the park where he squeezed himself into the doorway beneath the eaves of the small brick building that housed the locked lavatories. Willie kept his eye on the bus stop, feeling a rush of excitement every time a B54 approached and an ebbing sense of disappointment when the girl did not appear.
Afternoon wavered into evening and bus after bus came and went. Careful not to crush the gift,Willie squatted down and leaned his head against the brick, nodding off into a state of semi-sleep, every few minutes shaking himself awake to keep watch.
*******************************

Pins and needles pricked her toes, and her swollen ankles throbbed from the long walk from downtown, but Gloria was happy carrying the big blue tub home. She didn’t regret having added her busfare to her ten-dollar budget to buy the tub, molded in the shape of a tugboat. It was cumbersome to carry, but she delighted in the thought of her baby splashing in it and laughing at the sound of the red rubber horn on its wheel.
As Gloria was passing beneath the bare sycamores that lined Fort Green Park, pellets of ice began to ricochet off the hoods of the parked cars. She held the tub upside-down over her head and kept walking past the steel roll gates splattered with graffiti, the vacant lots strewn with tires, coils of barbed wire, shattered glass and broken strollers. Grand Street, Steuben, Ryerson, Hall—she counted each block as she moved slowly, but steadily down Myrtle Avenue.
By the time Gloria approached Classon, she felt the heaviness of her belly pressing downward and the ache that radiated up her legs and across her lower back. She had to sit down. She entered the playground through a slash in the chain link fence and sat down heavily on a bench. She set the tub beside her and leaned back, placing her hands around the dome on her lap and for a moment shut her eyes, not caring that the hail had turned into rain, the cold droplets running down her cheeks.
Suddenly from beneath her half-shut lids, she saw a movement by the door of the men’s bathroom. She opened her eyes and thought at first the wind had stirred a heap of garbage, but then the heap of garbage rose, and she saw it was a man.
Gloria grabbed the tub and hurried across the playground past the swings and back out onto the street. As she turned the corner she felt relieved that her own stoop was in sight, but when she glanced over her shoulder, she saw the man from the playground was following her. More alarming was that his bent arm was concealed under his coat where something bulged from beneath. Gloria quickened her pace, her heart beating more wildly as she heard a volley of not so distant gunshots.
Nearing her house, she saw that every window was dark. No one was home. Exhausted and fearful, she gripped the railing and climbed the steps as the dark figure stood watching her ascent. She knew that as she fumbled with the keys, he could easily overtake her.
Then a car horn blared.
“Hey, cupcake!”
Gloria turned and saw the dark figure shuffle away just as her uncle pulled up to the curb in his pick-up truck that shimmered a silvery blue in the falling rain.
“Check this out,” he called, stepping out of the cab and around to the back of the truck where he lowered the tailgate. He lifted the crib onto the sidewalk, the street lamp shining down on it like a spotlight. Gloria looked on in amazement.
“My crib, how’d you get it?”
“Let’s just say I got my connections,” he said as he carried the crib up the steps and into the hallway where he flipped on the switch and lit up the Nativity scene below.
For a moment Gloria admired the swirling white and blue curves of Mary’s robe and the way Joseph’s hands clasped each other and rested peacefully on his bent knee.
“C’mon in and close the door,” her uncle called from inside.
“I’m comin’,” she replied, but then she noticed that the straw filled milk crate was no longer empty. In it lay a little stuffed black lamb on a white lacy pillow. Carefully she moved down the steps toward the manger. She froze when from the alley stepped the stranger.
She opened her mouth to call out for her uncle, but no sound came. Then the dark figure moved closer, his big buttonless coat, flapping over its thin body, the light from the nativity casting a glow on the visitor who stared down at his worn boots.
And in that light Gloria saw a young man, not much older than herself, the same stranger who had caught her arm and broke her fall that morning. She looked more closely and could see that his eyes conveyed no danger—just a meager hope as he stood looking down at the lamb.
“Cupcake, you okay?” he uncle called from the doorway.
“Fine,” said Gloria as the young man backed away from the yard.
“Merry Christmas,” Gloria said to him as she headed back up the stairs.
Willie smiled and shook with an odd quiver.
“Merry Christmas,” he murmured, trying to keep the sound of her voice in his mind as he shuffled down the street, around the corner and back to his doorway by the thrift shop.
“Merry Christmas,” he said to himself. “Merry Christmas.”
People passed with their heads tucked down into their coats as they hurried home down Myrtle Avenue.
“Merry Christmas,” Willie kept repeating, smiling more broadly each time a stranger replied.
“Merry Christmas.”
Then from the crowd of passing strangers emerged the girl who lived in this building, the one from the morning with the row of silver rings down her ear. Raindrops glistened against the metal on her face and zigzagged down her cheeks.
“Hi,” she said, pressing the bell in the doorframe.
“Merry Christmas,” Willie said again.
“Merry Christmas to you, too,” she replied.
A tall, broad shouldered man opened the door. He wore a black tank top splattered with paint and around his muscular arm was tattooed a ring of thorns. He smiled and bent his head to the side to dip down and kiss the young woman’s neck.
“Merry Chrismas,” Willie said again.
“Hey, Merry Christmas,” he replied.
His girlfriend whispered something in his ear.
“Sure, why not?” he replied.
“You want to come in and have something to eat?” she asked Willie.
Willie froze and his smile faded. He stared at the couple who stood framed in the doorway. He looked behind himself to see if someone else was there, someone they were speaking to. But no one was there.
“I’m serious, man,” he said. “I just made some awesome soup.”
“C’mon,” urged the girl. “Just for a little while.”
Willie struggled to form the sounds in his mouth, his eyes squinting beneath his furrow brow.
“Sure, why not” he heard himself say.
Then as he followed the couple down the hall into their apartment filled with guests, it felt so good he just kept saying, “Sure, why not.”
While Willie moved through the crowd, people kept saying merry Christmas, man, merry Christmas, so Willie just kept saying merry Christmas, man, merry Christmas back. And Willie felt again the vague warmth from the dream he had that afternoon on the bench in the playground, only this time he was awake.
"Merry Christmas, man, merry Christmas."

4 Comments:

At 11:29 AM , Anonymous Lydia from Pratt said...

Hmm, recognize the locale, but what playground on Classon & Myrtle?

(Didn't cry, but I did like the story. Reminded me a little of O Henry.)

 
At 11:33 AM , Blogger Eben Reilly said...

Hi thanks,

I drove past recently and was surprised to see the playground where I used to take my kids back in the early 90's gone. Now it's an ART SUPERSTORE.

Brooklyn's that way-- you turn around and blink and then it's transformed. Look at Myrtle Avenue--where not so long ago it was mostly bodegas and thriftshops and boarded up storefronts... it's now Kosher bakeries, etc.

That's the beauty of writing-- like photography we can catch the moment.

 
At 10:03 PM , Blogger Sheela Wolford said...

You are a remarkable storyteller, but what I like best is you are a consistently good storyteller.

 
At 4:38 AM , Blogger Eben Reilly said...

And you are a consistently constant writing companion. Our Friday talks keep me encouraged.
We both struggle with time, finances, teaching to keep our heads above water, but the writing
keeps our minds afloat on a calm and bright lake somewhere far beyond subway platforms, turn-off notices and ghosts of Christmases past. Hope this holiday brings joy to you and your girls and creative surges in your novel!

 

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