Friday, September 26, 2008

Spare Change #20

Elbows resting on the dust covered window sill, I watch the sun creep over the horizon of single storey buildings and towering trees. There is no glass in this window, no curtain to hold back the breeze moving past me and into every corner of my room.

“I need some sleep,” I tell Phakov as he leaps onto the ledge beside me. His eyes are full of curiosity as he scans my face – probably trying to understand why he found me awake for the second straight morning. “Early to bed, early to rise, just like you.”

The truth is that I haven’t slept, not a single minute, since I read Ashes’ note two nights ago. No use telling Phakov though, I don’t need him losing sleep over this crazy woman too.

I’ve tried to forget her threat, the danger she poses to my continued breathing; I want to close my eyes and find relief in dreams or nightmares or nothingness. Oh lord how I need a break from this madness.

But I can’t sleep. My ears hear menace in every creak, every breeze, every unseen noise; my eyes see guns in every window, in every car, behind every door. How can I sleep?

Phakov nuzzles my forearm, the closest thing to affection I have ever received from him. I reach over to give his head a scratch but he jumps down before contact can be made and struts across the carpet and out the door. So much for that.

I return to looking out over the trash filled courtyard, the sunlight is slowly stripping away the shadows to reveal the destitution dotting the ground. This isn’t a view I often indulge in but I’ve been unable to tear myself away the last couple of days.

A movement at the edge of my vision causes my chest to clench and my heart to skip a beat… but it’s only Phakov taking his leave. He glances up at me before stepping around a discarded tire and disappearing around the corner.

“I need to get out of here,” I mutter as I turn away. “I need sleep.”

I gather my things and head for the stairs, doing my best to not jump at my own shadow. Maybe I should sleep at the store tonight – DJ would understand, wouldn’t he?

Well, I’m not sure that I’d want to give him the full explanation. But if I don’t lock myself in there it’s gonna be another long, sleepless night and my brain is about ready to shut down right now. DJ wouldn’t want a zombie running his store, that’s for sure.

I reach the ground floor and pause to look around before stepping into the exposed outdoors. If Ashes doesn’t kill me, this paranoia will.

I take a deep breath and start moving again, walking only a little faster than usual, my shoulders just a bit more hunched. There’s an itch between my shoulder blades that feels like a pair of eyes watching my every step but I refuse to look. This is getting ridiculous.

I arrive at my bus stop with too much time to spare. I sit down. I stand up. I pace back and forth. All the while my eyes are darting in every direction.

“God damn it!” I yell at the morning – I consider it a small mercy when it doesn’t respond. I sit down again and stare at my shoes, determined not to look up until my bus comes around the corner.

To keep my mind busy I start to count my breaths. In one, out two, in three…

I’m up to one hundred and six when the familiar rumble of the bus’ engine reaches my ears. I feel calmer and a touch more sane but I’m still eager to get on that bus and surround myself with people.

The doors clang open and I step on board. I toss some change in the dispenser and take my ticket and my worries to the back of the bus. I sit down and try to relax but my nerves are too shot, I can’t sit still. I’m exhausted, strained, rattled – I can’t take much more of this.

“I need some damn sleep.”

Friday, September 19, 2008

Spare Change #19

Tommy – I knew you’d be too weak to pull the trigger,” Tommy reads the crumpled note out loud in a dangerously flat tone. I’m glad I managed to convince him to stash the gun before coming to his place – I’ve had enough gunplay for one day.

“It’s probably for the best that she’s gone,” I tell him. “I think you’ve gotten into enough trouble today.”

He doesn’t reply, he just keeps staring at the scrawled writing on the otherwise plain white paper in his hands. He had found it stuffed into the top of his sleeping bag when we had arrived just a few short minutes ago. His silence is making me uneasy.

“Tommy, don’t beat yourself up over this; you couldn’t have know that -”

“She was a lying whore?” he interrupts, his words so cold they should’ve had icicles dangling from them. “No, I guess not. Maybe if I wasn’t doped out of my head for the last year I would’ve had a brain cell or two left to see through her game.”

“You’ve got enough left to not shoot me, that’s all I care about.”

“Er, yeah,” Tommy says, finally looking up, embarrassment clouding over the icy hatred. “Look man, I’m -”

“Forget it,” I say with a shake of my head. “You weren’t yourself and in the end nobody got hurt. And you might have even learned a lesson!”

“Yeah: drugs plus women equals bad news,” he mutters.

“Or maybe its just drugs equals bad news.”

“Not right now man – we’ll have that talk later.”

“Fair enough,” I say, “but we are having it, and sooner than later.”

He makes a dismissive gesture and returns to reading the note – hoping that it’s magically different this time? I don’t know but I leave him to it.

I stroll around the basement of this condemned house and try not to think about when the two floors above us will collapse. A fire gutted everything above ground but left the basement with only a few patches of smoke damage. A few rooms are carpeted, the main living area is bare concrete and there are even a few posters on the brick walls. It’s a pretty nice find for Tommy – until the city gets around to leveling it.

I glance out the door/window and feel the cool night air on my face, listen to the city going to sleep. It’s good to be alive; I don’t remember the last time I truly felt that way.

“It’s getting late,” I tell Tommy as I return to his side. “I’m gonna head out, it’s gonna be an early start tomorrow.”

“You sure you don’t want to call the police about Ashes? She’s got it out for you man.”

“I don’t think the cops would care too much about a little homeless sibling rivalry,” I reply. “Besides, she’s long gone – I ‘m not worried about her.”

“Don’t underestimate this psycho,” he says, holding up the note. “I did and look what happened to me… what almost happened to you.”

I laugh it off and begin to turn away.

That’s when I see the writing on the back of the note.

“Give me that for a second.”

Tommy hands it over, confusion stomping all over his face. I turn the note over and the words that greet me make my blood go cold.

“What is it?”

It takes me a moment to find my voice. To find my footing. To find the confidence that was just with me. I read the words aloud in a hollow tone.

J – Don’t think this is over. I’m not done with you yet.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

Spare Change #18

“What, did you really think you were Daddy Dearest’s only bastard?”

Down here, on all fours and staring at the floor while wheezing like an asthmatic, it’s hard to say what I had believed. If I was being honest with myself, I’d have to admit to not giving the subject much thought. Before tonight anyway.

“I guess… I was too busy… staying alive… to think about it,” I manage to squeeze out between agonizing breaths; he really caught me with a good one.

It makes sense though – the old man bedded (or couched, or dark alleyed…) any woman that would have him. He watched over me until diabetes finally overwhelmed him when I was six, but for as much of those years as I can remember it was a revolving door of disinterested pseudo step mothers.

“If I wasn’t the only one,” I ask as the pain begins to recede, “why did he only look after me? Did he know about the others?”

“Oh, he knew,” Tommy says with disgust, “but you were the only boy.” I begin to laugh – it hurts but I can’t stop. “What’s so damn funny?”

“What was I,” I gasp, rolling onto my left side, shaking with laughter, “the heir to his trash can kingdom? His poverty palace?”

“He wanted a son to carry on his name,” Tommy says as I collapse onto my back and howl with laughter. This is all too much; I’ve even almost forgotten about the gun in his hand. “What is it now you lunatic?”

“That was a noble cause, to be certain, but he’s failed to achieve even that much,” I tell him. “I don’t know my last name!”

“No problem there,” he says. “She does.”

This brings me up short. I lay still for several moments, letting this new tidbit bounce around in my head. Do I want to know? Does it matter anymore? Did it ever?

I push off the floor and return to my feet. The gun follows me up but I try to ignore it. I’m starting to see a way out of this but I need to concentrate. If I approach this the wrong way I’ll set Tommy off and the gun would surely follow his lead.

“So pops made some attempt at taking care of me but he abandoned the girls,” I say in a thoughtful tone. “I bet they weren’t too happy about that.”

“You think? Two of them died before their first birthday and a third didn’t make it past five,” Tommy snaps at me. “Ashley is the only survivor.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about Ashley? How long have you known her, known all this?”

“It doesn’t matter. Oh, she prefers to be called Ashes,” he says. “As in: rising from the.”

“Cute,” I mutter as I trace out my next steps. “I think it does matter how long you’ve known her though, so could you at least tell me that?” Tommy sighs and looks annoyed, but he tells me.

“I dunno, like three months?”

Three months are like three years on the street; you trust people after that much time together. I decided to assume they’re sleeping together instead of asking for confirmation – there’s no need to have that fresh in his mind when my next words arrive.

“So Ashes carries this grudge around all her life, then one day she meets you,” I say. “She gets to know you, finds out you and I are tight; you tell her all about your buddy J and she figures out who I am. Sound about right so far?”

Tommy scowls, he glares, but he nods, the slightest twitch of his head.

“So she hangs around, gains your trust,” I continue steadily. “She’s found a way to get some revenge but she needs you on her side first. So she tells you all about our ‘Daddy Dearest’, how lucky I was -”

“Enough!” Tommy shouts, the gun shaking in his hand. But I can’t stop now.

“And then finally she has her chance – she laces your dope with God knows what, steals your stash and puts the blame on me! I have to admit, that’s pretty impressive -”

“Enough,” Tommy mumbles, the gun falling to his side. “No more.”

“Tommy,” I say gently as I move slowly towards him, “I think it’s time for a family reunion.”

Friday, September 5, 2008

Spare Change #17

“Tommy, let’s just talk this through, okay?”

He swings the gun back towards me and I can’t help but flinch. I don’t think he’s ready to pull the trigger yet but I can’t be too sure of anything right now.

“Shut up J,” Tommy says casually, “before I shut you up.” His calm demeanor is more terrifying than the crazed ranting I faced in the alley the last time we were together. I worry that this is the calm before the bullet storm.

Satisfied that he’s obtained my silence, Tommy brings the gun and his attention back to the couple huddled together on the floor next to the register. They haven’t moved since I told them to get down when I saw Tommy arrive. Was that only ten minutes ago?

“I didn’t mean to involve you in this,” Tommy tells them, “but now you are and I can’t just let you go. You’d go yap to the cops and they would insist on interrupting my business with J here.”

“What are you going to do with us?” the man demands. He’s trying to sound tough and brave but that’s a hard thing to accomplish when a madman has a gun leveled at your head.

“Haven’t decided yet,” Tommy says, “but I’ll thank you kindly to keep your mouth shut ‘till I do.”

“If you keep telling everyone to shut up,” I say from the door, “you’re gonna be the only one talking. That doesn’t sound like a good way to resolve this.”

“You wanna talk J? Fine, let’s talk. How about you start by explaining why you stole all my dope?”

“What are you talking about? If your drugs are gone it’s because you smoked them all in one go, then decided it was a good idea to go buy a gun.” I want to scream at him, I want to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him, I want to unlock the door and make a break for it and to hell with the couple I would leave behind. But I keep my voice even, I stay still, I pray we all make it out of here alive.

“You know I never do enough of anything to lose control, man. But it’s all gone and the last person I was with before it disappeared,” he says as he walks over to me, stopping inches away, “was you.”

I look into his eyes – they’re clear, focused and very, very angry. Oh God, he’s clean… whatever he was on in the alley has left his system. The alley…

“Tommy,” I say softly, “were you with anyone in the alley before I turned up?”

“What does that matter?” His eyes narrow and he jabs the barrel of the gun into my chest. My heart skips about five beats. “You want to dump the blame on someone else?”

“Listen to me.” These could be my last words – I better make them count. “When I got there you were already smoking something. Whatever it was, it was messing you up big time. We’ve known each other almost two years now and I can say, with complete confidence, that wasn’t you I was speaking with that day. Who gave you those joints?”

Without a word Tommy slams a fist into my abdomen. I double over, gasping for air, as he turns and strides away. My vision goes blurry as I put a hand on the floor to steady myself; but my hearing is fine. I hear him stop and turn to face me. I hear the gun being cocked.

“I will not listen to you smear her good name.” Her? What is going on here? “She has done more for me than you ever have. She would never steal from me. Not like you did.”

“Tommy, I have no idea who or what you’re talking about.”

“Save your lies for the devil J – you’ll be seeing him soon enough.”

“This woman of yours is the one spoon feeding you lies, Tommy! She poisoned you, she stole your drugs and now she has set you on me! Open your damn eyes!”

“How can you say that?” Tommy screams. “How could you say something like that about your own sister?”