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like a hungry wolverine, a pathetic voyeur, a man who grinds through Internet
porn sites all night because he doesn’t have the nuts to troll for real
meat in the chat rooms, you coward, Marty white-knuckled the handle
on his briefcase. “My God.”
Kitchfield was married. And it sure wasn’t to the Bobsy Twins there. Marty
had seen the wife himself, arguing with Evan at the corner deli. The Korean guy
who owned the place kept barking at her to shut up or order. A month later, Marty
stood beside her in the elevator, eyeing her cleavage and gulping her perfume.
Pouty lips. Sweet can. Drunk, and it wasn’t even lunch yet. “You
wanna piece of me?” she’d roared. “I can read your thoughts,
you freak! They’re that obvious!”
With the affronted dignity of a drinker, the wife ratcheted up her shoulder bag,
tensing for the ping of the elevator. When the doors swept open, she marched
off, leaving Marty small and alone. Middle-aged. Dismissed.
And now her revolting snot of a husband was a published author. With a book tour,
no less. The one thing Marty could secretly lord over him was gone, out-of-print,
like Marty’s own book. He could make out Evan’s sports car idling
at a red light, the vanity plate reading “Author”. Pain stabbed him
like an ice pick. Clutching his middle, he dragged toward the bus stop, wishing
for the thousandth time his DUI skirmish with Kitchfield’s car hadn’t
gotten his license revoked. Wishing his boss wasn’t half his age and a
needle-nosed prick. Wishing—oh, Jesus, the pain—that anyone ever
in the history of civilization had read his book. Loved his book. Sent him impassioned
pleas on scented paper to write another.
But that was eighteen years ago. Marty
leaned, panting, against a wall. The word “pussy”, rendered in fuschia,
glared on the bricks above his head. Well, he was a pussy. A pussy because after
the first reviews rolled in (“atrocious”, “a
joke”, “a bathroom read, at best”), Marty tucked tail, took
a crappy bookkeeping job, and married his fat lazy wife for no better reason
than she put out when he wanted her to. But she’d borne him a child—the
daughter he loved, Yvette. The song in his heart. These days, of course, Yvette
was lank and moody and full of teenage insouciance. She rarely called him Daddy
Marty scratched around in his pocket for the antacids before remembering they
were gone. Then he scrounged for change. Nothing. A bus token. The pain gnawed
at him like a cancer. It probably was cancer. Marty clutched his chest. Even
his heart hurt. He felt sure he was dying.
And who would care? People criss-crossed back and forth, eyes averted. Heaving
himself off the wall, Marty trudged again up Greene Street. He could drop dead
on the sidewalk and the same assholes he worked for would, with vague repugnance,
step over his lifeless body. He would melt there like a child’s ice cream.
Only the ice cream would have elicited real tears.
Desperate to prove himself wrong, Marty searched the faces that passed him. Hunted
for a flicker of compassion. A gleam of recognition. Any sign of like-mindedness.
The sidewalk hummed with the percussion of commuting feet: the solid thump of
men’s loafers. The prissy click of women’s heels. The tramp of workmen’s
boots. But no one met his eye. Each person lay entombed in his own dark secrets.
Buried in flesh walls. Marty knew then that his fear was true.
A cry of rage and anguish gurgled in his throat, choked down by an equally morbid
paranoia, not of people’s indifference, but of their laughter. The sun
beat on his bald head like an angry Aztec god. Closer now, the bus stop’s
three Plexiglas walls were dull with grime. Marty lurched toward them, a Quasimodo
in brown gabardine, briefcase banging his knees. Without even glancing at him,
an old black woman fanned herself with a church program, saying, “Sweet
Jesus, I sure do wish the bus would come!”
He sat. Gasped for breath. Grateful almost to the point of tears for the privilege
of shade. Patting his pocket for antacids, he came up empty. Christ, would the
pain never stop? Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the old black woman rocking
and fanning, rocking and fanning. Next to her sat a young mother and her baby.
A scowling Puerto Rican paced in front of them. He had enough grease in his hair
to make him the envy of every Waffle House south of the Mason-Dixon. And just
beyond the Puerto Rican loomed an advertising poster, embedded in Plexiglas.
Marty gave a snort of surprise.
He stared. Belosi’s Brain said the words on the cover. Marty felt himself
go light-headed, as though he’d been huffing paint fumes. From the street,
car horns blatted. Marty didn’t blink. Kitchfield’s fleshy lips,
the windblown hair, his whole intolerable smugness jeered at Marty from the poster.
He felt like a syphilitic gnome beholding the young godling who has come to slay
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