“Where are all of the curtains?” I asked Freddy who was sitting on the couch in the library watching TV. He was oblivious to the morning sun blasting though the naked windows. Maybe Momma was getting ready for Thanksgiving next week. Last year we all ate in the purple dining room with real silverware. Demetrius spilled his half glass of wine on the white tablecloth and everyone laughed. Last Thanksgiving.
“Jack died. He was in Houston having heart surgery and he died on the operating table. Momma’s really upset.” Freddy didn’t look away from the television.
“Oh no. Is she OK?” I wanted to believe that Jack was just her flight instructor. Nothing more.
“She went upstairs to her room after she took all the curtains down and started washing them.” Freddy still hadn’t turned his head. It was easier for him to bury himself in the TV.
“I’ll go see what she’s doing.” I turned and went upstairs. I knocked on Momma’s closed bedroom door and then slowly opened it. It was pitch black because all of the curtains were closed. My father had painted the room black and Momma never repainted after the divorce six years ago.
“Are you OK?” I asked quietly.
“I’ll be OK in a little while. I’m just going to rest a bit. Come back later.” Momma answered in her saddest voice.
I closed the door and headed for the kitchen. Momma seemed upset but she sounded that way a lot. This might be more than her normal ‘feel sorry for me’ act she went into every so often.
Freddy was now in the kitchen getting out a bowl for breakfast.
“Freddy, what should we do?” I pulled out some Cheerios and poured them into a bowl of my own. “Pass the milk.”
“There’s nothing we can do. They’re shipping his body back here. Momma’ll probably go to the funeral whenever it is. I think he actually died on Tuesday and Momma just found out.”
“Jack was an OK guy. I know he had no idea what to say to me but he tried to be nice. It’s really sad. I wish he hadn’t died.” I saw him last week and he seemed normal but I guess open heart surgery was risky. Freddy kept reading the cereal box.
I was off today. My new job delivering eggs in New York City didn’t have any deliveries on this Friday. The guys were coming to get me later on in the afternoon. We were going to Van Saun Park to make the scene.
Richie and Louie and the whole gang met at the park before everyone went to the rental house the gang shared. Everyone was drinking and smoking. I wasn’t in the mood for a party so I got a ride home with Billy when he left. I wanted to tell somebody what happened but no one really knew Jack so I hadn’t even tried.
I was up by 8 on Saturday morning. I went straight to the kitchen and grabbed some coffee with too much sugar and milk. I was headed for the library when I heard Momma say “Don’t walk around the house with coffee. Go back in the kitchen until you finish it.” I couldn’t do anything right.
“Yes Ma’am. Did you hear anything else about Jack? I’m really sorry it happened.” Momma just looked at me. I didn’t know if I should talk or not.
“He was a good man.” Momma said as she headed up to her room with her cup of coffee. My insides were turning. Freddy wouldn’t even think about it much less talk.
I drank my coffee and stared blankly outside through the sliding glass doors. Is this really happening? I jumped up and ran into the library to see if the curtains were up. The windows were bare. The room was cold. I walked slowly back to the kitchen and sat down to finish my coffee.
I was hungry. I was always hungry. I made a bowl of Cheerios and sat down to eat by myself. No one else was awake. I was almost done when the harsh ring of the house phone made me jump.
“Hello. Galfas residence.” I answered as I had been instructed my whole life.
“Can I speak to your mother?” I wasn’t sure who it was. The voice seemed familiar.
“Momma, telephone.” I screamed up the stairs. I put my ear to the phone and heard my mother say “Hello. Milton hang up. I have it.”
I hung up and went back to my breakfast. My mother sounded like she had been crying. I decided to wait and then ask Momma if I could do anything for her. She was coming down the stairs. And she was crying.
“Go get everyone and tell them to come downstairs. Wake them up. Now!”
I ran upstairs and went to every bedroom, opened the door, and screamed “Momma says come downstairs to the kitchen right now. And she is not happy. Hurry it up.” And then I went to the kitchen and waited.
Phoebe, Freddy, Chris, Demetrius, and I sat speechless around the kitchen table. We were all looking at each other wondering what else happened. I heard the creak of the front stairs and it could only be Momma.
“Vangy died last night. Your grandfather had leukemia, as you know, and it finally took him. I am going to Atlanta for the funeral. Your brother Timmy is going with me. You all need to listen to Phoebe. She is in charge. I will be back by Thanksgiving.” We all said “Yes Ma’am” almost in unison and sat there in silence for what felt like an hour.
“Do we need to get the turkey and cook? Who is coming for Thanksgiving?” I finally broke the silence. I had been looking forward to family dinners even more since the divorce.
“We’ll see,” was Momma’s reply. “I’m not sure when the funeral is yet.
Maybe you can just do something small.” Momma slipped out the door and disappeared.
Momma was really sad and that made another thick cloud of doom drop on us. Her intense grief weighed on the house even more than the divorce. We might still be able to see our dad who was in Beverly Hills. But Jack and Vangy were gone for good. No ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ like everyone else. “I’m going out. I can’t take this. Jack and then Vangy?”
Vangy was actually our step-grandfather so we called him by his first name. I still remembered how he whipped me the one summer I spent in Atlanta with him and Mommie, our very Greek grandmother. I felt really bad for her. We all really liked her and thought she was cool.
I had been straight and off heroin for two months but suddenly I could think of nothing else but getting high. Maybe Joe was holding. I had gotten paid Friday and still had some money. I got dressed and called him.
Joe answered with his hello. “What’s up ya pinhole rubber?”
“Joe, is anything out? Are you going into the city today?” I asked.
“Red Stripe was really good but I can only get quarters for $65. I’m going with somebody and I can pick one up for you.” Joe answered back.
“What am I gonna do with that much? I don’t even know if I have it.” I pulled out my cash and started counting. I had $113. More than I thought.
“Do you want to split it?” I was used to only getting two bags for $12. This would be my biggest buy ever. I was swinging the long curly phone cord in circles while I held the receiver to my ear.
“I’m broke. You can call me back later. I might go again.” Joe was a little too happy. His voice too confidant. He was definitely high and always claimed to be broke.
“Alright I’ll do it but I don’t have a car so you have to come get it.” I had to have it. If only my Alpha Romeo’s engine hadn’t blown I could have taken Joe myself. I didn’t like not having wheels. It meant that other people would know what I was doing. Next week would be two weeks at my new job driving a van and the company promised I could drive the van home then.
“I’ll be there in an hour so be ready.” And Joe hung up. I knew Joe was going to dip into the quarter for a shot and that’s why he would do it.
I sat down at the circular oak kitchen table and looked out the sliding glass doors. All I saw were the spindly leafless arms of maple and oak trees. Our six-foot grey cinder block wall kept the trees in a prison.
What time was it? What if Joe blew me off? A car door slammed and then the doorbell.
“My ride is waiting so I gotta go.” said Joe. He was bouncing up and down and kept pushing his cheap plastic glasses up his nose into place where they never sat for more than three seconds because he kept looking down at his shoes.
I reached out with the money. “65 right? How long will it take?” I knew it would be around two hours but I had to ask.
Joe counted the money and turned to leave as he said “Just be here when I get back. My ride is fucking freaking out. He doesn’t want to wait.”
“Alright already.” I said but Joe was already at the car.
Now what? I walked back to the kitchen and then through the swinging dining room door and then to the solarium and then back around to the front hall. What was I doing? I shouldn’t have spent all that money on dope. Then I saw how bright the library was without curtains and felt the emptiness again. Vangy and Jack both gone in five days.
I didn’t really like either of them but Vangy was the only grandfather I knew. And Jack tried to be good to me by taking me up in his plane to teach me to fly. They just never seemed to talk about anything. It was like they didn’t hear me or see me. Why did I care that I would never run into them again?
I went up the backstairs looked out my bedroom window and then ran down the front stairs. I wasn’t dope sick. I could just sell the dope and make back twice what I paid. I went to find my ‘works to have ready to use as soon as Joe got back. The homemade needle and bottle cap cooker looked fine.
I couldn’t sit still. I kept going in the same circle over and over.
Finally I saw a car pull up on the side of the house and Joe popped out running towards my front door. I jogged to meet him.
“I got Turkey Blue Stripe. It’s really good. Be careful.” Joe warned. He was scratching his arm through his dark blue pea coat. He looked really high.
“Right ya pinhole rubber.” I said as Joe just turned and ran back to the car. He didn’t even look back.
I ran upstairs into the boy’s bathroom, locked the door and got high. My head flooded with warmth and my body followed. I had just put a tiny bit in the cooker. I came back out of the bathroom and knew I had to leave the house of doom for a few days. It was bringing me down.
As luck would have it, it was Linda that came to the rescue. The phone rang and I answered “Hello. Galfas residence.”
I heard a girl’s laughter and then “Milton, what are you doing?” It was Linda of Linda and Camille, two of my best friends from first grade on. I hadn’t spoken to her in probably six months.
“Jack, Momma’s boyfriend, died.” I blurted out first thing.
“And Vangy, my grandfather, died five days later. Momma took all the curtains down and the place is like a funeral home. I can’t stay here right now.” I was letting it all hang out.
“That’s awful. I was looking for Camille. I moved into an apartment in Ridgefield Park on the first and I thought Camille was going to come over. Have you seen her?” Linda kept talking. “Where are you going to go? Can you stay with the guys?”
“They’re gone. They drove up to Rhode Island to see Gary for a few days.” I answered.
“I have room. You could sleep on my couch if you want. You could be my first sleepover.” Her voice had softened into a sweet plea.
“That would be cool. I don’t have a car. Can you pick me up?” I was so high I just said yes without thinking.
“I’m at my parent’s picking up some clothes I left here. I’ll pick you up in a few minutes. OK?”
“Cool. I’ll grab some clothes. Bye.” I had spent the night with Linda and Camille a lot of times since elementary school. We would listen to Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane in Camille’s tiny little bedroom where I would fall asleep on the floor or in her chair.
I had barely grabbed my black Converse sneakers and extra pants when I heard “Milt, where are you?” from Linda. She must have been heading for her VW Bug as soon as she hung up.
“I’ll be right down. Did you find Camille?” I trotted down the wide circular front stairs into the entrance hall.
“No, I didn’t. Wow. This looks weird. Your mom really did take all the curtains down. It’s really bright in here.” Linda was staring into the library like she had never been here before.
“Let’s get out of here.” I said as I opened the first door of the airlock.
“My car’s on the side. Is that all you need?” asked Linda.
“I’m good.” I didn’t really feel like talking. It was ruining my high. I think she was excited to have her first visitor. She could have done better than a pathetic druggie. She didn’t know.
We barely spoke for the twenty minute drive to her 1930’s brick apartment building. We walked up three flights to her apartment and I dropped my little bag on her sofa. Three very large windows faced the street. The kitchen was on one side of the living room. I smelled Patchouli.
“Linda, do you want to eat now? I can warm it up if you get me started.”
“OK. Open the Mateus and I’ll put the pasta on the stove. I have some parmesan cheese too. I wish I had a stereo. I want to hear ‘White Rabbit’. I love the Airplane.” Linda was gliding around the kitchen while glancing over to me and then stirring the pasta pot. I grabbed two glasses from her cupboard and poured the wine.
“Linda, want to smoke a joint? I only have one paper. Do you have any Zig Zags?”
“Go look in my pocketbook. It’s in the bedroom.”
The bedroom door was a mirror to the bathroom door directly across the hallway. I walked through it into the bedroom and there was her pocketbook on the dresser. Opening the latch and sliding my hand down to the bottom I pinched the rolling papers freezing as I saw two twenty dollar bills. I could buy four bags with one twenty. No, I would not do that to Linda.
I rolled a joint that made the food and ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ seem incredible. We finished and Linda got up and did the dishes. I watched her put the last bowl away and sit down on the couch curling her long legs under her sideways. She leaned forward to pick up her glass of wine from the coffee table.
The show ended and I turned to face Linda gulping her wine. Her eyes began to wander all over me. Her brow furrowed as she contemplated. Suddenly she smiled warmly, her eyes softened and her legs brushed my thigh as she stood up.
“I’m going to bed now. I have to get up early for church with my parents. You can stay here tomorrow. I’ll be back in the afternoon.” And she headed for the bathroom.
Reaching the door her hand caressed the frame and her face turned serious. Her blue eyes burrowed into mine and then her lips opened to a pouty smile. She held her gaze a little too long for me.
Turning my head away I said “I need to use the bathroom after you.”
I stretched out on the couch and it was almost a foot shorter than me. I heard Linda close the bathroom door and less than a minute later she was standing over me in a sheer baby doll night gown.
“You don’t look very comfortable. Is it going to be all right?” she asked as I looked up at her. She seemed different. I saw her nipples pointing, her body posed.
“I need to use the bathroom.” I squeezed between the coffee table and couch and my arm brushed her firm breast. Did she lean into me? I felt in my pocket and thought about another shot to sleep with.
The ‘works were already in my hand as I quickly closed the bathroom door. I immediately cooked my dope and shot up. There was still around half left. Maybe three more fixes. I changed into shorts to sleep in and opened the door across from Linda’s bedroom to see candlelight and smell incense.
Linda called out, “You’re too tall for the couch. There’s room in here.”
I slid my feet across her floor scratching my arm and fell on top of her covers.
“You’re going to be cold when the heat goes down. Get under the covers with me.” Linda pulled back the covers and then threw them over me. She slid back into me until I felt her body’s warmth from head to toe. The thin fabric of her sleepwear left her vulnerable. My arm instinctively wrapped over her with a hand landing on her breast. And that is all I remember.
“Milt. Milt! Are you asleep?” Linda was wriggling her rear end to no avail.
Gently moving my sleeping arm from her body she sat up and stared. “You nodded off on me.” She spoke softly into thin air. Linda ran her hand gently down my arm and laid back down sliding her full form into the curve of my body.
“Good night.” And Linda fell asleep quickly.
The jarring ring of an alarm angrily reached into my head. I shook my head wondering where I was. There was Linda all up against me. Warming me and this time I had woken up ready. I was reflexively poking into her. She had to feel it.
Her head swiveled over her shoulder and paused as she searched my face. Last night’s warming smile changed to her old familiar one. “I’ve got to go or I’ll be late. I’m jumping in the shower.”
Tenderly my feet slid over the side of the bed and onto the floor. I was waking too fast, feeling edgy. I needed a fix. I’ll just get Linda out of the apartment and shoot up after she’s gone. Linda would be a good girlfriend for someone.
Linda came rushing from the bathroom. “I can’t be late to Sunday Mass. My Mom will kill me. I’ll be back later.” The door slammed. She was gone.
I wanted to help out in return for her letting me stay there. I decided to make chicken and rice for dinner. But before I went to the store I ran to get my bag and dope. I cooked the dope and shot up in the kitchen. The familiar warmth crept up my body until my head was filled with it. I was invincible once again.
I was down to $42 and I only had two more shots of heroin left. I walked to the corner store and got chicken to make for dinner. When I got back I put water on for rice and plopped the cut up chicken into the oven.
Thirty minutes later the food was ready and no Linda. I waited for a while but I got hungry and ate. I couldn’t stay here after last night. Linda wasn’t going to put up with me. She might not come back at all if I was still here. I did some more dope and nodded out on the couch.
I woke to keys in the door and there was Linda. She dropped her coat on a kitchen chair with her bag. It was dark out. The oven clock said 8:20.
“My Aunt showed up and we had a big dinner with her. My Mom and Dad didn’t want me to leave.”
Linda kept talking. “When are you going home? Will you have Thanksgiving at home?” I wasn’t cool to her anymore.
“I don’t know if we are having Thanksgiving this year. I need a ride to work tomorrow. Could you take me?” I had to get away from Linda and her knowing eyes.
“OK. I will. If you don’t have a turkey you could eat at my house. Good night.” Linda’s sympathy hurt.
As soon as her bedroom door closed I rushed to the bathroom and finished off the last of my dope. I curled uncomfortably into the couch and nodded off.
Linda’s alarm attacked through her closed bedroom door. I was instantly awake, edgy and almost sick. The dope had pulled me back in. I checked my bag for dope. Gone. I needed the truck from work to get more.
“I’m going to shower for work. Breakfast?” The bathroom door closed before I could answer.
An uncomfortable silence wrapped around us as we finished the last of her eggs and toast. Leaving the dirty dishes in the sink we rushed out the door into the cold fresh air.
We barely spoke until we got to South Hackensack. “What time do you get off work? Do you need a ride?” Linda still acted like a friend.
“I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll go home tonight. I should have the truck to take home so I won’t need a ride. Thanks for letting me stay with you.” My mind was stuck on getting into the city to re-up.
“OK. Bye.” I closed the passenger door and Linda popped back into traffic.
I headed straight for the coffee and donuts that were always ready in the break room. Devouring two frosted donuts I carried the rest of my coffee into my boss Martin’s office to get my deliveries.
“Hi Martin. My grandfather died and I might have to take some time off. If that’s ok.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your grandfather, Milton. Are you sure you don’t want to take some time off now?” Martin always spoke like a professor.
“No, I’m fine. Work will take my mind off things. I’m driving today, right?” I needed my fix. My nose was running.
“Yes, I have you scheduled for deliveries in Manhattan and Staten Island. The truck is ready for you to load up. Here are your delivery tickets.” Martin handed me five small slips of paper with the orders on them and I walked out.
I was loaded and headed for Route 80 and New York City in less than five minutes. Ten more minutes and I was coming off the lower level of the George Washington Bridge headed downtown to the corner Juan worked.
I was in luck and there he was. It was early and he was the only one out. Not even any cops. I got two bags and took off to my first delivery on 58th St. I used their bathroom to shoot up. The rest of the day went without a hitch and I was back at the warehouse a little after four.
Martin met me in the hallway. “Now that you are in your third week here you can take the van home if you need a ride.” I knew he had told me that before. When he said it this time I could tell he felt bad for me.
“Thanks a lot. I won’t have to call for a ride now. That’s great. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I went out the warehouse door and got in the van to drive home and stopped.
THE BOARDING HOUSE
Where was I going? I didn’t want to go to Linda’s. She might be feeling funny about the other night and me falling asleep. And I knew she had figured out I was shooting dope. The House at 303, home, was a mess and depressing as hell. After Diane and I broke up she had stayed at a boarding house on State Street. It was near the nursing home where she worked. I’ll try that.
I drove over to State Street and stopped at the first house that had a ‘Room for Rent” sign out front. I knocked on the office door and a minute later a bent backed old man opened it and asked “Do you want a room?”
“What do you have?” I didn’t know how this worked.
“I have a very nice room for $45 a week on the second floor. It is right next to the bathroom and has a TV.” I freaked out. I only had $46 left. I couldn’t do that. I could sleep in the truck.
“Is that all you have? Anything cheaper?” I blurted out.
Tilting his head up to scan my face he answered “I have a small room down the hall from the bathroom for $25 a week. The roof slants so you have to watch your head but it’s clean.”
That I could do. “I’ll take it. Here’s $25.” I reached in my pocket and counted out the cash.
“Let me show you the room first and if you want it, I’ll give you a key and receipt.” And he did just that.
I settled into my new home and opened the window to hide my works under a shingle. I made sure it couldn’t be seen from the street. I figured that if it wasn’t directly in my room then they couldn’t bust me.
Closing the window, I took a look at where I was. The bed barely fit and the ceiling was on a tight slant that matched the outside roof. A three-drawer, dented and worn chest of drawers was under the steep ceiling with a black and white thirteen-inch television on it.
I walked around the bed ducking the ceiling moving towards the TV. I started to turn the tiny television on but stopped midway and walked back to the window to peek out again. The cold and dreary clouds had brought a drizzling rain that could turn to snow at any minute. I lay down on the bed and thankfully fell fast asleep.
Tuesday I woke up to a growling stomach. I hadn’t eaten anything last night. I rushed to work and my route took me into Manhattan and an early morning buy from someone I had seen with Juan, my regular connection. The dope made me feel warm inside but not nodding off. It was just OK. I made it back to my room with two sandwiches I took from the break room at work. The black and white TV gave me little comfort. It was no substitute for my family in the full house I had left.
Wednesday promised to be an unwelcome repeat of Tuesday. As I left the boarding house I noticed the nursing home where Diane, my past live-in girlfriend, had worked. I wondered if she actually still worked so close to where I was staying.
I was a little early to work but punched in anyway. The coffee and donuts were waiting. I took the free breakfast into a space near the breakroom phone and called where I hoped Diane still worked.
“Hello. Is Diane there?”
“Yes, she is. She just went on break. Let me get her for you.”
I waited patiently until “Hi Milton. How are you? Where are you?” It was Diane.
“Hi to you. I’m staying at the boarding house you stayed at when you first left my house. I’m just 5 houses down from you right now.”
“Why are you there? I thought you would have a big place of your own by now.” Diane always made me feel like I could do anything.
“Jack died and so did my grandfather, Vangy. All in five days last week. Momma took down all the curtains and the house felt like a funeral home. I had to get out. When do you get off?” I suddenly felt all alone.
“I get off at 3:30 but I have to pick up Ronny from my sister right away. And Jeffrey is expecting me.” I detected some regret in her voice. Jeffrey was the black kid she had a baby boy with right after we broke up.
“I miss you. I’d love to see you even for a moment.”
I could hear her breathing and deciding over the mouthpiece. “I could come over tomorrow, Thanksgiving. I’m working overtime for the money. I can even bring you some turkey from the dinner they have for the patients.” Diane still missed me even after all that had happened. She was right to leave me after the last binge I went on.
“That would be really cool. You know which house? The one on the corner. I’m in room 4. What time do you get off tomorrow?” For the first time in a week I had something to look forward to.
“3:30 like today. Jeffrey is off tomorrow so he can watch Ronny. I can only stay for a little while. It will be nice to see you. I’ve gotta go. My break is over.” Diane confirmed everything.
“OK. I’ll see you then. Goodbye.” I hung up right after I heard her say “Goodbye.”
I made my deliveries and was out of New York before rush hour. It would be terrible just before the holiday. This time the company had a turkey lunch for everyone so I filled up on it in the break room and piled a plate really high to take for tonight. I had two extra bags for tomorrow just in case my nose started running from the dope sick.
I watched the Thanksgiving specials on TV but couldn’t fall asleep until Johnny Carson came on. I ended up sleeping until after 8. It was Thanksgiving and I called home from the pay phone on the corner. No turkey and Momma was still in Atlanta. Nothing had changed.
I drove over to Woolworth’s and got their two-egg breakfast for $1.19. The sign on the door said they were closing at noon. Thanksgiving. Then I settled in to my room with the TV on to wait until Diane got there.
Around 3:30 I started wondering if she had forgotten me too. Should I call her from the pay phone at the bottom of the steps?
Then the creaking steps signaled a visitor. Diane? I cracked the door and peeked as I had seen so many others do to me, but it was an older black woman. Where was she? I turned the TV back on. A slapstick Bowery Boys movie played.
Tap. Tap. I opened the door and there was Diane. Her light pink and white nursing assistant outfit was peeking out from under her unbuttoned winter jacket.
“Are you gonna let me in?” She had a bag of food in one hand and her pocketbook in the other. I kissed her hello as her eyes looked beyond me into the room.
“Hi. I’m really glad you came.” I kissed her again and pulled her so close her flat belly and muscled thighs joined mine. She wrapped one of her legs around mine to keep our powerful embrace. My heart raced. I pulled her into the room and pushed the door closed. My arm reached over her shoulder to turn the lock as she pressed her lips to mine.
Diane broke our embrace with “These are turkey sandwiches I brought from work. It’s all I could sneak out.” Diane took off her coat and threw it on the bed. She sat down next to it.
“Wow. I forgot how hungry I was.” I pulled a sandwich out of the bag and sat side to side leaning into Diane. I could feel her warmth as I swallowed one mouthful after another. The cold turkey sandwich and dried out potatoes were no match to last year’s banquet. Last year there was hot gravy and pumpkin pie. My Mom, Freddy, Chris, Demetrius, Phoebe, and a couple of friends sat around the giant dining room table stuffing our faces and laughing. At least Diane was here for an hour. Then I would be alone.
“Slow down. You’re gonna choke.” Diane was smiling as she watched me swallow the last bite. She had snaked her arm around my back and was running her fingers up and down it.
“Thanks for the sandwich. I was so hungry and everything is closed now. I’m really glad you are here.” Then she leaned into me more. I could feel her breath on my cheek and I turned to her warmth wrapping my arms around her.
“Wait a minute!” she commanded and stood up and removed her white nursing uniform. I don’t think she noticed my surprised stare. I watched her slowly pivot towards me wearing only her dark stockings and purple lace bra. She knew exactly how to pour fuel on my desire.
“I don’t want to mess my uniform up.” She continued. If this was because she felt sorry for me, I didn’t care.
I just stared. I stopped thinking. There was nothing else in the world besides us. I reached out and spun her onto the bed. We returned to that first time and all of the pure passion we felt. We took turns removing bits and pieces stopping only for more long deep kisses. Suddenly we were wrapped in our past pure love. Time froze as we became one.
As quickly as it began it ended. The room felt too small for the two of us.
My eyes turned away as I remembered our original innocence. My heart was still racing and sweat ran down my brow. I wasn’t sure the sweat was just from being physical.
“I have to get home. I’m already late and he gets jealous.” Diane’s eyes were holding back tears. I had just been part of Diane cheating on Jeffrey, her partner.
“I wish it could be different. I have really missed us.” I said wanting redemption for this willful act. My nose was running and my nerves were now on edge. Thoughts of another ‘fix’ to help me forget what just happened spun around in my head.
Diane answered with little conviction “I do too. I care so much for you. I have to go now.”
“Be careful going home.” That was the best I could do. Diane went back to her real life. Diane knew what she wanted and I didn’t even know where to sleep.
The slow drizzle began right after Diane left, and the temperature dropped along with the sun. I resigned myself to the black and white TV. The evening went painfully slow and finally around ten I fell asleep.
NEW YORK CITY
The alarm jarred me awake at 7:30 am on Friday. The rain had snow in it. That was bad and it only made me feel worse. I wouldn’t feel good until I took my morning trip to Harlem. I went down the hall to use the bathroom for my three S’s, shit-shower-shave. I trotted down the stairs and out the door in a race to be at work by 8:30. If I was late they might assign my deliveries to another driver. I needed the van. My nose was running. Dope sick.
I just made it to the factory and clocked in. I headed right to the coffee and donuts. The van was loaded and off to New York I went to make a delivery in the rain and snow.
And a pickup. I was rushing to find Juan to get two pound bags of brown. They were called pound bags because at one time they cost $5 and pound meant 5 or so I was told. Instead of taking the West Side Highway right down to 57th Street for my delivery, I got off the Martha Washington bottom level of the bridge just on the other side by the Port Authority bus terminal heading into Spanish Harlem.
I was in the left lane heading towards the first light after the bridge. A tractor trailer was moving carefully down the furthest right lane. Just as I approached the corner the truck sped up and blindly decided to cut across all lanes to turn left. He didn’t see me. My head snapped sideways and instantly pulled my neck. The tractor trailer smashed into the van.
My first thought was “Shit, maybe I can walk the four blocks over to the corner to hook up with Juan.”
But life really likes to mess with you and two of New York’s finest sauntered over in their rain parkas.
“You OK?” asked the smaller policeman. “We called an ambulance,” said the other. He edged toward the truck driver who was just jumping down from the cab. The police took both our information, wrote him a ticket, and told me I had to go to the hospital in the ambulance to get checked out.
“I’m OK” I protested. “I just need to call my boss and find out what to do with the van.”Maybe I could sneak away and see my dealer. My works were still in my jacket pocket.
“Okay, there’s a pay phone on the corner. I’ll walk you over,” said the short cop in a really sincere way.
I called work collect and reached Martin. “You have to go to the hospital and get checked out for insurance. I will take care of the van. Just worry about yourself.”
“Thanks Martin. I will call you later.” I had to be cool. The police were right next to me.
My nose was starting to run as the cop helped me into the ambulance. The van would be towed off. Luckily the hospital of choice was Columbia Presbyterian only a few blocks downtown. Two hours and a neck brace later, I was walking uptown towards Juan’s corner. I had taken the neck brace off and stuffed it under my coat. Thankfully Juan was there, hovering under a cornice by a doorway.
“What’s up, Juan?” I made the standard hello.
Juan answered back “What’s up? Black tape is out.” He scanned the street looking for my car or anything else that could be trouble. The rain kept most dealers inside leaving only the most desperate junkies to make trouble. And the junkies got brave without the money dealers keeping order.
“I need two.” I ordered, “Do you have any place to get off?” I needed a fix now and I definitely was not being safe. Even though the streets were mostly empty I was a white target walking alone in Spanish Harlem. Dangerous.
Juan looked me up and down deep in thought. He replied quickly. “Vamos. Come on,” he said through a thick accent. I had known Juan for two months and always trusted him over the other dealers. Juan was straight with a wife and two kids from Puerto Rico. He didn’t have papers and barely spoke English. I matched his rapid pace as we dodged rain drops on the sidewalk until he suddenly darted into a building.
Buildings were perfect for rip offs so I hesitated. But only a second. I was sick and too needy to care and took the chance, following him into the dark hallway. We ran full speed up three flights of barely lit stairs, then down the black hallway to the second door on the left. Good people always ran from the street to their apartment so the drug addict thieves who lurked in the hallways wouldn’t rob them. When Juan ran, I knew he was afraid of the bad junkies too.
“Hola,” he called out as he opened a dented door and handed me two bags and a little sack. I counted out twelve dollars and put it in his hand. I walked in and pushed the door closed while watching a woman carry a small boy towards us. His wife and child I guessed. He had taken me to his home.
He opened a hallway door and motioned me into his family bathroom. That’s where he wanted me to do it. I went to work and in less than five minutes I was fixed and happy.
I walked out and called for Juan to let him know I was done. The warm wave of relief was still building in me.
Juan came from the kitchen and I said “Gracias.” I did not know what else to say. I felt Juan’s eyes on me.
“Did you have a good Thanksgiving?” I asked.
“Que? No. No turkey. Maybe next year.” Juan answered with so much of an accent it took me a few seconds to get it.
I had to get out of his family’s home that I had soiled. I heard Juan locking all of the locks behind me as I ran down the steps. The cold rain washed the streets and me both. I was straight now and thinking clearer. Juan had risked everything to come to America and have a better life. I already had the better life. What was I doing risking so much?
I walked six blocks to the bus terminal looking over my shoulder. The dope made me feel powerful walking in a world I knew nothing about. This world knew nothing about me either. Why was I OK with this? Was this supposed to be my new normal?
I got to the bus station and checked the schedule for the State Street bus. I still had three more nights paid for. This was bad. The bus to the lonely State St. boarding house didn’t leave for almost three hours. There was another bus that stopped one block away from home, the House at 303, in only 20 minutes. I bought a ticket on the earlier bus and headed back home hoping the curtains were back up.
Author Notes: Read more as they come.