Drank

His deep-set eyes fell on so many businessmen and students rushing through the crowded sidewalk to arrive at just another meeting or classroom, any space cooler than the sweat drenched concrete of a Philadelphia summer. The blistering sun was getting to Garrett, even as he sat in the air-conditioned café. The tepid musk floating inside those walls was reminder enough.
His hours spent amidst the tan walls and hipster do-nothing regulars were meant to normalize him. To keep him distant from the knowledge he was doing nothing with his life. None of them could understand the funk their armpits and unwashed clothes could bring on Garrett. He looked back to the unforgiving pavement, and the remorseless feet that stomped along it. They were all the same, he thought. None of them could change, and none of them had any idea they weren’t going to.
Garrett climbed from the table to leave with a last look through the dried film on the window. He saw the father first. A man, who at twenty, looked as though he’d already seen a thousand different kinds of pain, and each one he brought upon himself. He wore tattoos like they were clothes, his arms and neck covered in the different color dye, deflecting a shame he knew was his. His painted hand held the tiny palm of a girl’s not older than ten.
She struggled to keep up. His hurry barely noticed when her beaten up Reebok caught a crack in the sidewalk, and she had to use that uninterested, decorated hand to keep her balance. A balance the man did his best to forget. One that was hers to make behind him. She found it entering Sami's swinging door.
Garrett watched as the pair made their way to the counter. He tried to remain discreet as he watched them, opening the book he carried in for appearances. The man couldn’t have cared less, didn’t notice Garrett was alive. The girl though, in the midst of being dragged, witnessed Garrett’s interest. Her hand in someone else's, she would have waved had it been free.
“Do you want something?” The man asked looking down.
She nodded her head and smiled a grin free from understanding. Garrett wondered if it was intrisic. If she, like her father, had the inclination toward deluding self-destruction. If she had the type of numbing narcissism her father most obviously had. He guessed that she did; it was a symptom of the cafe.
“Peach, please,” she said, motioning toward the house of iced-teas behind the counter.
He fished two crumpled dollars from his dirty jeans and handed them to the Mohawk-clad cashier, braless and pierced like a pin-cushion.
“Look, I need to make a call.” He said to the cashier. “Could you watch her while I use the payphone?”
She shrugged and turned to replace a dirty pot of coffee with a clean one.
The man made his way downstairs without a word to the girl. She had a seat at the empty table next to Garrett’s. Content with her iced-tea, she shook it up and twisted the cap until its seal popped. She took a casual sip, blending in well with the patrons around her.
Garrett suddenly remembered that children made him very uncomfortable. He didn’t know what to do around them, never had, even as a child himself. He figured it best to ignore them, to focus on anything but their tactless manner of dealing with others. But this girl didn’t seem anything like that. She couldn’t have been younger than Garrett’s impression of ‘child’ but about her there was nothing insulting. She seemed sincere, and she gazed out the filmy window just like Garrett had when he spotted her.
He kept himself from glancing at the girl, requiring every bit of restraint within him. Had she been the normal fare inside of Sami’s, he would have been content saying nothing. To the little girl’s credit, she could very well have been. A bit taller, with hips and breasts wider, Garrett could have assumed her rent was late, that she’d called out of work because of a hangover, and somewhere on her body a tattoo was waiting to be revealed after a six pack of Pabst and as many shots of Jameson. She had the mentality, it was waiting for cultivation. This was what drove the compulsion for Garrett to tell her to try business school; this life she’s so well suited for is one of circles. How he wanted to tell her the distant, uncaring man she came in with was a result of this life - of drug-addled insignificance and fantasy indulgences without real intent or substance. Then again, Garrett guessed this girl loved him unconditionally, and no amount of truthful observation could change her mind. He only wanted to tell her the iced-tea would be better enjoyed on a picnic with another lawyer, anywhere but within those deaf, unsympathetic walls.
Instead, he kept his nose in the book and read the same sentence for the fifth time.
‘Let be what cannot go undecided.’
The man she’d entered with leapt up the stairs leading from the bathrooms and payphone. He’d grown squirrelly in the past five minutes and hurried toward the little girl. Squatting to put her at eye-level, he smiled and took her hands in his own.
“Listen, baby-girl.” He said. “I’ve gotta go for a little bit, but I’ll be back. Daddy needs some help right now. Just wait here.”
She did her best to keep a wrinkled frown at bay, but there it was below a shaking lip.
“How long?”
“I promise not long. Just wait here.”
The man rose to his feet. He caught the glare Garrett leveled from the corner of his eye. He snarled at the sympath and strode from the café. Garrett watched through the window as the man hailed a cab quickly, jumped in, and peeled off down the street.
The little girl’s happy fixation on the window had evaporated. Now she looked only at the bottle in front of her, and the stained mosaic table that supported it. She was trying to keep the emotions inside, the unbelievable feeling of abandonment, the terror he might never come back.
Garrett could smell the shame on her shoulders. Through the funk of armpits and unwashed clothes, he didn’t need to look to see her emotion.

Fall Hunter


Tom Brady had two hours left to wait at the Dark Brew Coffee House before the girl he’d arranged a date with would arrive. His empty mug woke him to the uneasiness in his muscles. He begged himself to bring it to the counter for another refill to help him wait. Instead, he continued looking down, aware of that unavoidable decision he would make prior to Three O’clock.
In the face of his weakness, he formed his usual scowl that mixed contempt with distrust. Put off by the surroundings he’d found himself in nearly every day, he couldn’t understand why he continued coming back. Why after so much time, he maintained the semi-daily ritual of entering through glass doors, sitting unnoticed by the register, and rereading magazines nobody liked to see him carry. They portrayed the skill of a hunt, and the glory of a woodsman. Part of him wished it wouldn’t occupy every aspect of his interest, but he thought the need too inlaid to change. Photos or articles of dead and stuffed animals served to remind him of his weighty grasp of living. Such a grasp secured the truth he came to know in brutality.
Would-be peers despised his presence, mistook him as some worshipper of savage acts, a carrier of heartless ego. But it was his control. That control was the foundation for what he thought was steady protection. A few had tried to crumble those walls, intrigued by the distance, testing his defense. They brought with them a sense of pity Brady could not stand. He had no problem in making that clear to them, and quickly they’d give up. With each abandonment, his fortress grew more remote. It wouldn’t be long before he accepted his emotions as unchangeable, and his holiest belief the unavoidability of destruction.
He had been going this direction for years, and truly, he thought himself too weak to care. Within him there was a pride to his resignation. Viewed as a flawless safety in identifying his weakness, he managed to defeat everyone, first of all himself. He was desperate for something more, of that much he was certain, but unwilling to sacrifice the security of his loneliness, he was doomed to remain inside the boundaries of a white-walled prison. He was realizing the sublime plan for Tom Brady. And he grew tears at the thought of the boy who became a man over night, and the man who stood forever still while the world around him tore itself apart.
He was in the midst of this conclusion when she interrupted him.
“How can you support such cruelty?” Annabel Black asked of Brady’s fascination with a stuffed and mounted four-point Buck he’d been poring over in the pages of “Hunter’s Quarterly”.
Both saddened and entranced by the animal’s reduced glory at once, he was unable to move his focus from the polish of the page. “I don’t.”
“Then why do you have the magazine?” She asked; not to be phased by his listless response. “If you don’t support it, why do you have the magazine?” Riled, but wholly unafraid, Annabel looked down at the six-foot frame of Brady’s filled out body, shoulders curling in on themselves, hands hidden beneath the table. He stared into the gloss of the magazine’s image, silently begging for its lifelessness to save him from his own surrender.
He looked up at her, rejoining the pain he’d worked so hard to escape.
"I don’t support it,” he said. “But sometimes it makes sense. When nothing else seems right, it reminds me why it doesn’t. And that’s all I’m looking for.”
He saw the hope evident in her approach being brought to the surface. He saw her almond-colored eyes growing larger because of his sincerity.
“Well, I’m glad,” she said with a smile. “I kind of expected something as sad from you.”
Brady nodded at his own notoriety. She embraced a moment of hesitation. An indication of the deeper desire to acquaint with the man she’d seen so sadly self-contained, he could only have loathed companionship. But in that moment of hesitation, that incalculable gap between what’s expected and what’s desired, Brady’s insides begged him to lower the fence he’d so ably constructed for this very reason.
Annabel subtly nodded, preparing to return to her table, once again to rejoin Dylan Thomas in a lonely embrace.
“Wait,” he said. “You should hear how I feel about domesticated animals… I mean that’s really depressing.”
“I’m a dog person,” she said.
“They’re so sad,” replied Brady. “It’s in their eyes. Like the only thing they’re really aware of is that they’re going to die.” He paused. “But I don’t really know, I only ever had an Iguana.”
Annabel had a seat in the chair across from Brady, now more animated than she’d ever seen him; more animated than he himself could remember.
“An Iguana, Really?” she said.
“No. Not really,” said Brady with a playful smile. Annabel ha-ha’d quietly and closed the magazine that lay open between them. Brady brought his hands out from underneath the table and let them rest close to hers.
They discussed matters Brady hadn’t given thought to since graduating from college. Political beliefs, philosophy, science theory, so many things he turned his back on when each was unable to answer the questions he’d felt plaguing him since he understood what the word plagued meant. When they offered him no relevant explanations as to why he had such difficulty with change, he denied their merit, and was left in the wake of his own recalcitrance. This was three years before he’d met Annabel, and in a matter of hours, she convinced him of the possibilities changing his life could afford.
Throughout the night, their knees would touch beneath the table, and it was more contact than he had known in some time. Brady’s look wouldn’t stray from her eyes, and she held his depth for as long as he desired. He couldn’t resist an almost constant, garish grin that Annabel returned with equal earnest. Suddenly, he began to warm up to the fact that maybe the life he’d devoted to remoteness wasn’t worth its numbing reward.
When Dark Brew closed that night, he didn’t want to let her go. He was shocked by his reaction, astounded at the level of connection he wouldn’t allow himself to deny. As they parted, he pleaded with himself to set up another chance to connect. There was so much more about her he wanted to know. And for once, he wasn’t terrified of letting her know about him. He wanted to tell her about himself, about the fear he never felt strong enough to contend with. It was what he hid from the world, out of the sheer terror of making it worse on him.
Before he could form the words, she was talking about Mark.
Annabel told Brady that she’d met him a few months before; and that while she wasn’t sure about what they wanted from each other, she was certain he and Brady would get along as friends.
“Yeah, famously, I’m sure,” he said with a sting that wasn’t intentional.
“I just thought you should know, before you--” she stopped. “And I don’t even know. It’s just… we know each other.”
He fought back the urge to abandon her. He hung on to that faint chance they had of truly finding each other like it was his last shot at bravery. It was enough to keep Brady from giving up, at least for a little while. He would say it was fine, and ask her for another night. All the while he kept in mind the haunting connotations of what exactly ‘we know each other’ means.

He sat at Dark Brew staring at an empty mug, waiting for a girl he thought could tear him away from his stillness. Deep inside him he knew it could not be the case. He recalled the memory of his father, and knew Annabel could never understand. No one could. To even make an attempt would only remind him of the pain he had the power to dull if only he continues to reject the world around him. He stared into the empty mug, pushed it across the table, and walked out of the shop. If she saw him again at the coffee house he would make sure to be short, and snide; he had a gift for showing people the door, and would fake pleasure in telling her he was no longer interested.
As he left Dark Brew he knew exactly what to do. He would walk the few blocks to Barnes & Noble to buy the latest issues of his hunting magazines, the objects that washed away the risk Brady saw in uncertainty. He hated their reaffirmation of his debilitating solitude, but it was all that he could count on. Rejection of everything was what granted him his safety, and for Brady, that safety counted most.
He pushed in the giant glass door that marked the bookstore’s entrance. At the magazine rack labeled “outdoors” he gazed across the unfeeling eyes of hunters as they stood around their prizes. How he hated them. How much they reminded him of his own misery, and how no matter what he thought, nothing inside him could change for the better. He saw it only a moment after looking. Spread across the cover of “Fall Hunter”, there was the weathered figure of a man in a room filled with mounted animals, his eyes grown weary after a life spent devoted to death. His sullen face looked out from the glossy cover, communicating a truly profound guilt. Not for all the life he had taken, but for his own that was wasted. He stood in front of his rewards, and presented only a gap where pride should have lived. The man had beaten everyone, and bitterness was his prize. Distance from humanity was what gave this hunter such a showroom, but the showroom was what sliced him down the middle. He looked two parts now, one in control of his own decisions, and the other, their servant. His soul was stuck between them, attached to neither, a part of nothing. The choice the man had made was to remain there, unwilling to change what he became. And now, the man’s detachment seemed all that there was to protect him from the sadness of his life. Inside his stern and pitiless look, Brady saw distrust for the whole human race. Brady saw himself.
A genuine fear rushed through him, for in that moment he might have forever stayed the same. He saw his life before him, and what he’d gained and lost. He at once saw the memory of his father, Ryan Brady. It was a memory he had tried so long to bury, but now it struck him in a way impossible to ignore. Brady saw his father, laying dead on the soft dirt of a forest. It was their first hunting trip together, and Brady knew, it must have been his fault. It tore him to pieces each time he remembered, ashamed that it happened, ashamed of his reaction, ashamed of himself. But something inside him had changed. His myopic view of the past was diminishing. He began to see the world in front of him, and the static resolution of every situation’s predictable security. It wasn’t possible. Not for him; not for Thomas Brady. He’d allowed his soul to shrink to the point of invisibility, to where he was nothing more than a shell, hardened by cynicism and removed from the world he had once adored. He was more than that. He was always more than that.
Dropping the magazine to the ground, he turned on his heels and ran back to his meeting with Annabel. As he ran, he felt a freedom from the crushing weight his self had strangled him with for so long. He was running from a life that would not catch up with him. At his back there was the past, and he’d spent long enough in its deadening grip; in front of him there was potential, danger, truth. He felt in his muscles a joy he could not remember, his heart pumping through him the beauty of epiphany. All at once he was made aware of how wrong he was, why he’d done it, and how it could be changed. He was running to Annabel.
He yanked open the door of the coffee shop and saw her waiting. He crossed the length of the floor to where she sat and plopped down in the chair opposite, not giving a thought to his winded and sweaty presence.
“Jesus,” she said. “Are you okay? I thought you stood me up.”
“Annabel, listen to me.” He paused only a moment to catch his breath. In her arched eyebrows he saw a trust he at once admired. “I--” He started. “I-- I lied when I told you my father was a lawyer. He’s not. He died. He dropped dead of a heart attack on our first hunting trip together. It just gave out, he gave out. I don’t tell people that. Ever. But I told you because I want you to know. Because I can see you helping to save me from myself. I want to know you, Annabel. I want to know you.”
She winced at the revelation. “Brady, I’m sorry. I... Last night I told Mark about you. It was what he needed to get serious about us.” Brady felt what was distinctly similar to a punch in the stomach, but nothing could dull his surge of emotion. “Jesus, I’m really sorry, Brady. I mean, it doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends.”
Brady looked across the table with eyes that asked nothing more than understanding. He could for once, begin to understand himself. He saw the past he was prepared to move on from and expected to see the future as securely, but couldn’t. What lay ahead was unclear, it was unknown. And that’s what came to change him. The future’s unpredictability was what would inspire him, not Annabel, not a picture on a magazine, but the promise of a future he would admit was beyond his control.
He looked up at Annabel. Her expression was that of awaiting some explosive rebuff that would have ended her time at the Dark Brew coffee house.
“No, it doesn’t,” he said with a smile. “I realized what there’s no getting around.” She looked at him with those eyes, warm enough to melt a hunter.
“I want to know you.”

Step

For all intents and purpose, Ronnie had been a bum his entire life. He was a man without the shyest of wants or needs. A man that could go for days without food or a clean crap and still thank those unfeeling city-dwellers that snarled at his proposition for unwarranted help. He was a happy guy, Ronald was; despite cutting off his nose to save his face. He knew a level of freedom no one can understand lest they’ve ever looked at the homeless with a scrap of envy. That freedom though, wasn’t what made for his happy demeanor; it was something far simpler.
The trick to living homeless, he told me once, was to find any passing joy and hang on to it with every thread of dignity one can muster. His certification of life came from the ease in which he derived pleasure from eating only semi-moldy garbage. If the lettuce hadn’t gone entirely tawny, Ronnie would become the happiest of campers. And that’s how he got through his days. That’s how he could so easily refuse the amenities that make up a life as a part of society. As a result, Ronnie was able to make up his own society, full with standards and borders, a world dictated by only a few but steadfast rules. One such rule - the most important rule - was force your glee at every turn.
It’s not to say this was always easy for good Ronnie. A bum is still a bum, regardless of proposed demeanor; and most generally, a bum is pretty corrupt with revulsion by nature. Still, Ronnie found his grace when he looked for it. Those that he considered friendly were the ones to point out his shoes were what made his search for temporary satiation plausible. He’d had them for ten years and there was barely a scratch on them. The train yard bums called them magic and respected Ronnie for wearing them. Those more cynical homeless believed he’d been trading them up for months. The black leather was as deep and robust as the day he first held them in his hands.
A man with white hair and brown skin stopped in front of the then newly dispossessed Ronnie and asked if he had the skill enough to shine a pair of shoes. Ronnie nodded without a word. The brown man looked down at Ronnie, who at the time was wearing bundles of newspapers for footwear and asked if he needed them. Ronnie denied the offer, claiming since his fall, he needed nothing. The brown man smiled and left his shoes in the hands of the given up. Maybe there was magic in them, perhaps it was a karmic redistribution, but those shoes to Ronnie made his search for any chance of truth in life worth continuing.
It was when those shoes were stolen from his feet that Ronnie’s search for dispensation took on a different ideal entirely. A group of those more unsavory homeless types had banded together for the sole purpose of removing Ronnie’s grace. And after they were taken, he slowly collapsed into the man he was before his fall; he became needy, desperate for the absolution that had come so easily with the knowledge of an overall unimportance. Without the ace in his shoes, unimportance turned into anguish and his positive world view had steadily crumbled. He was left with the truth of his part in a meaningless society.
So he wandered. Shoeless and adrift, he pursued what could not be captured any longer. His heart was enamored with what was passing, yet he realized what passed by was something he could never truly possess. As each chance for renewal escaped his grasp he’d become more and more aware of his own lack of having. He was made aware of what a bum he’d become.
Ronnie lived on, somehow. On Fridays he’d beg for Fifty cents to empty the Inquirer’s Twenty-Second Street point. If a good movie was opening that weekend, Ronnie could earn quarters enough for a real meal; as real as Wendy’s or McDonald’s, anyway. But he hadn’t in weeks. He wouldn’t sell the papers lifted from the corner anymore; just wrap them around his feet, swollen from the chilly air. He didn’t think much about the fact he was stealing them from their distributor, or that he could have used the Citypaper for free. He took what he did for his wants and regarded nothing else with importance. Change within him had occurred; now there were unbreakable standards to which he had no chance of avoiding. Before, Ronnie knew purposelessness, now he was a waste. Even as a bum, Ronnie was faced with those exchangeable alternatives that crush a man’s spirit, and cause for starvation’s reminder.
He hadn’t eaten in a week and by then, a week was a month. All that came to pass as truth for Ronnie was that the hungrier he got, the less likely it became that he would eat. Falling deeper and deeper into his hunger was all he could do, besides decay. He’d try sometimes to read the news on his feet, but he’d almost forgotten how, or was just too hungry to do so. He thought of his hunger. It was consuming him, bit by bit. He began thinking about how to rob the man walking down the street wearing glasses and a Nancy scarf in March. There was no strength left in Ronnie to pull him into an alleyway; or even to swing a lead pipe. Maybe he could manage the ten-year old girl walking home from Grade school. Then again, he doubted if she had anything on her to begin with.
If you’re hungry enough, you’ll do just about anything to eat. You find the push to get up for food. Without energy, Ronnie gathered his final ounces of strength to sell one last stack of papers before what otherwise would surely have been death. He would settle for anything, a bag of peanuts, a hot dog, something to chew and swallow. He trekked the ten blocks to Twenty-Second where he often made his pickup, fingering the two quarters in his pocket. Pushing himself to the point, he thought, was just the beginning. It would be a while still of carrying the papers before any profit could be turned, and that ache made him walk faster.
As he approached the corner he saw a woman with dark sunglasses holding a long stick. At first her look was lost, but it became clear she was waiting for something. She blocked Ronnie’s access to the papers.
“Would you buy a paper?” He asked, swallowing his words as he spoke them.
“How did you know?” The woman asked. “I need change for my dollar.” She rubbed her cane against his paper shoes. “Could you help me?” She pointed her head upward toward the sky, focused in her darkness. “Please,” she said and held out a Ten dollar bill.
Ronnie took into account her helpless and trusting place. His stomach made him take a paper from the machine and hand it to the woman.
“Keep the fifty cents,” she said. “A paper’s worth a dollar any day.”
Ronnie looked at her a moment, and looked at the Ten she was holding out, mistaken for a single.
“Are you blind, Ma’am?”
“No, I carry this stick for fashion; it’s the latest trend from Italy. Take a guess, smart guy.”
And carrying the paper under her arm, she walked away. Ronnie looked at the ten dollar bill he had just taken and was able to think of only one thing.
For a man with newspaper footwear to walk into the Arch St. McDonald’s is not entirely uncommon; the place had seen its fair share of scum in front and behind the registers. Ronnie though, was one of the few to walk in with money in his pocket, albeit appropriated money. He strode to the counter with the truth of life within his reach. Here he remembered what it was like to be content with what was occurring. No longer minding the sores around his feet, the ache in his belly, the hardship on his mind, he ordered food like a man with an honest intent and responsible plea. He asked for two Double Quarter Pounder meals. He was given a pound of beef next to three potato’s fries and a gallon of Coke, not the healthiest way to break a fast.
He inhaled the meal. Tasting nothing but the long-awaited sustenance, he smiled at others in the restaurant as he ate. People avoided his looks. They glanced over at the bundles he would walk on, but made sure the bum could not ruin their meal. It didn’t bother Ronnie. His anger had receded and he was left to enjoy how the day was turning out. He recalled the blind woman, and the off-chance timing of catching a free ten dollar bill. Maybe it was greed, he thought, maybe one should feel bad. But he didn’t. He didn’t feel anything except for the meat, sliding down his throat, half-chewed and overcooked.
When done, he sat on the hard plastic of an upstairs dining room chair at McDonalds, shifting for a more comfortable position. He told himself he wasn’t going anywhere, not until that food had been digested, but there were troubles. Remembering back to the night when his shoes were stolen, he began to tremble with anxiety. Those faces that belonged to the arms holding him down, the smiling mouths of remorseless thieves, it stuck out it in his head like never before. Unable to shake their malice he began to tremble, grappling with the shooting pains bursting in his belly. Something was coming, and Ronnie knew not how to deal with it. All his life it was his lot to abstain from finding an answer to a problem. Never needing a solution was his key to avoiding any hindrance. But now, his stomach insisted on showing him solutions are inevitable. It showed him what it’s like to be folded on top of itself so many times its density could pop. And pop Ronnie did, all over the floor of the upstairs dining room at the McDonald’s on Arch. He tried popping in the bag his food came in, but failed after focusing on the chunks. He could see the onion and the mustard, the pickle and the ketchup, it kept coming and coming; not barely a quarter digested. He lurched as little as possible but landed face up on the floor dry heaving out of the side of his mouth what was left to be expelled. His knotty hair smeared the reddish remains of a stolen meal into the linoleum floor as he cried out loud, begging for something he never wanted in the first place. Finally, he had adapted the thief’s mindset and aided in the proof of that single societal truth; nobody’s different at zero.