Perfectly Lonely

“The things we think, the things we want, we can do them or not; but we can’t hide them”. – David MametHouse of Games

Tommy crossed Mott Street so he could walk in the sun. The metal cleats on his imported Italian shoes clicked as they caressed the red brick. He glided along in front of those perfect blue buildings in Chelsea, the one’s he’d thought about so often when he lay in that open air prison cell in Africa waiting for the calendar to meet the day he’d circled.

It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon and a dozen young girls from Sacred Heart Academy in their catholic school uniforms paraded past him giggling and hiding their post pubescent bosoms behind stacks of school books. He watched the kids playing soccer in the manicured playground off Mulberry terrace. He took out his comb and slicked back his hair. An hour ago he’d still been asleep. He felt for the $ 1,200.00 in folding money he had in his left pocket and the folding knife in his right. He never carried a weapon here on his home turf in the good old U.S.A. where he felt he owned the streets. He never needed one. Here he was a known man. The fine Swiss folding knife was a gift for his nephew. He had carried it all the way back from Africa. He thought he would ask Barbara to wrap it for him. She always enjoyed wrapping gifts. He loved to watch her girlish joy as she warmed to the task, one he had no talent or patience for.

He passed the news stand and the candy store nodding acknowledgement to the group of teenagers loitering on their corner trying to look hard. “Hey Tommy, you back?” the leader of the kids said. The kid ran over and said “Tommy Christ man, it’s you, yea? No kid, you’re hallucinating, Tommy said. Tommy produced the roll of cash from his pocket and handed the kid a twenty-dollar bill. “Keep it quiet that you saw me,” Tommy said. “You got it Tommy”, the kid said.

All the while he made the rounds a movie of where he’d been these last few years played in his head. He remembered the first rule the African boys tribal Chief had taught him. The boys had befriended him because they said he looked like those pictures at the church, the ones depicting Jesus Christ. After they’d got to know him better they all thought this was the funniest thing ever. They laughed every time they recalled what Tommy had told them “things are not always as they appear”. They would repeat this endlessly every time they met, laughing with a joyful abandon. They took to calling him “ragazzo bianco”, a term Tommy taught them meant “white boy in Africa” in Italian.  He liked that better than the African version, Mukiwa, which sounded to him like a pejorative.

The boys took Tommy to meet the head man of their Shoshone tribe. The old leathered man exited his hut and extended his huge muscled hand while caressing Tommy’s hand gently. “My name is Joseph” the old man said. Joseph’s face was as black as the night; the pale yellow moon shown in his eyes. His said his path was marked by the stars in the southern hemisphere and he had walked all of his days under African skies.

The first rule Joseph told Tommy was this: “you cannot outrun anything here. Not we Africans who have grown up here and not the elephant or the monkey or even the army ants or the crocodile, everything here is faster than you. Never run away.” That was just fine with Tommy. He hadn’t run since he was 13 years old. It’s what he really liked about Africa; a wonderful symmetry, a dignity, a perfect loneliness in having at every moment to make a stand.

Tommy also learned that there on the Savanna the animals smelled the dung they encountered on the trail in the Bush, of the beast that had pasted that way, to decide if it were meat eater and to measure its ferocity. It was the same here in Tommy’s world he thought. But here men look into each others eyes; sometimes it’s just a glance if the prey were pushing a baby carriage with a woman by his side supremely confident she had her man by the balls. That guy just didn’t count since he had already given in. He was no threat and out-of-bounds.

Tommy was on his way to Barbara’s place. He hadn’t seen her since well before he’d left. Maybe he wouldn’t go. She was with Johnny now and that had sent him half way around the world. He still thought about her almost every day and the thought of seeing her again really put the hook in him. She’d never told him why she’d left him and he never asked. He was too blown apart by the loss of her love to think straight then. But now, after he had soothed his broken heart and dispelled all the craziness with every drug, every female and every adventure available to him on his lost voyage, it was the only answer in the world he cared to know the answer to even though now he felt he belonged to nobody and nobody belonged to him and that’s the way he wanted it. That was the way he chose to live now, perfectly lonely.

Barbara was on the phone with her girlfriend Caroline listening to her say that she’s heard that Tommy was in town. “I’ll bet that jackass is on his way to see you now” Caroline said. “Bobby saw him in Chelsea yesterday and he walked right by him like they hadn’t grown up together. Can you believe that”? Caroline said. “No”, Barbara said, “Tommy’s not like that. He’s got a heart. Did Bobby say how he looked”, Barbara asked.

The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was taking place across town. Tommy hailed a cab and let the city drift by as the cabbie barreled down Tenafly and over to Melrose. The vendors were just setting up, getting ready for the evening festivities to jump off, firing up the grills and putting out the arcade games. The Carnies were busy assembling the kiddy rides; the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel. When Tommy was a teenager he use to be the first one in line to hire on for day labor when the Carnival came to town, scrambling high up on the rides like an acrobat with large spanner wrenches to secure the bolts. You had to be in good shape and have nerves of steel to tackle that job and the girls that traveled with the carnival would watch as Tommy in bare chest climbed up the sides of the rides. He looked good without a shirt and the girls always found Tommy.

Tommy and Carmine’s eyes met at just about the same moment as Tommy turned up Melrose. “Holy shit Tommy” she exclaimed. “My God, where the hell have you been? You look beautiful baby. You’re so thin. Come here and let me fix you a sandwich”. Carmine hugged Tommy and lingered a moment more than she ever had before. “I missed you baby’ Carmine said. When did you get back? Have you seen Barbara yet? Carmine was excited with joy and speaking so fast that Tommy had no time to offer up any answers.

You know that Johnny will be here tonight. I hope you’re not going to start any trouble. You know he’s still royally pissed off at you. He really doesn’t like you. Bobby told me he’s been saying some awful things, Carmine said. “Yea, I heard”, Tommy said. Don’t worry angel, that fat bastard’s not gonna stand on me.” Tommy tapped his right pocket again feeling the heft of the folded blade.

It was midnight his third day back when Tommy strolled into the poker game in the back room of Sal’s Bar.  As soon as their eyes met, without a word Johnny came at Tommy like a locomotive, his massive girth giggling as he bounded from his chair and across the room. He fell headlong into Tommy and they hit the floor. Johnny’s 330 pounds crushed Tommy 130 pound body and made him feel like he was being suffocated by a whale. Johnny struggled to maneuver the knife from his right pocket, opened it with his teeth and blindly stuck it deep in Johnny. As fate would have it, as it always did with Tommy, the blade severing the carotid artery in Johnny’s neck. Johnny yelled in agony and shock. He twisted and moaned and wound down like a kind of old clock. Johnny bled out in just over a minute. Sal’s wife Jessie dropped the tray of sandwiches and drinks and screamed from the pit of her stomach in horror which scared the attendees more than seeing the dead body they just been playing cards with a moment earlier. She ran out of the room to call up the cops who arrived within minutes with their red lights flashing in the hot Manhattan night.

Tommy stood before the booking sergeant in handcuffs as he was processed into the city jail with a first degree murder beef hanging over his head. He lay back on the bunk in his cell and thought about Barbara for a minute and then began to fall asleep. Tommy dreamt of Africa and what Joseph had told him. Tommy whispered to himself. “You can’t outrun anything here either Joseph; my whole world is a jungle”.

Soon after Johnny fell word spread across the neighborhood with the speed of a late night subway train. Ten minutes after she got the call Barbara was frantically speeding across town on empty streets. She had to see him, had to tell him she loved him, how she always had and always would. She planned to tell the authorities she was his wife and maybe then they’d let her see him.

The tears in her eyes welled up and for a second blinded her. She reached in the console for a tissue and momentarily lost control of the car as it drifted into the oncoming lane just as the garbage truck exited the alley at Folsom and hit her broadside right at the driver’s side door. The truck driver had little time to apply the anti-lock brakes and the truck heavily laden with its stinking cargo jolted and skipped to a stop pinning Barbara’s car against a street lamp that was right next to a bus stop kiosk.

The garbage truck driver radioed his dispatcher who phoned the police. The paramedics arrived just when the cops had managed to extract the rumpled door with the Jaws of Life. The M.T. grabbed his emergency gear and ran over to where Barbara lay motionless. “You’re going to be fine sweetheart. Just stay with me. Don’t close your eyes” He said. “We’ll have you out of here and in the hospital in ten minutes”, He said.   “Am I going to die” Barbara whispered? “Not tonight sweetheart” the M.T, said. “What’s your name angel” he said? Barbara whispered something he couldn’t make out. Blood was clogging her airway. He leaned in close and gently put his ear to her bloody mouth. “Tommy” Barbara whispered as she faded, “Tommy”.

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About circusinpurgatory
Nick Masesso Jr’s fictionalized short stories, poetry and prose have been published in the Starry Night Review, Elegant Thorn Review, Language and Culture.net and Vagabond Press; the Battered Suitcase. His latest book “Armor of Innocence” and first book “Walking the Midway in Purgatory, a Journal” are available on-line and through bookstores.

2 Responses to Perfectly Lonely

  1. James Mcfarland says:

    6.2 rating, bad continuity, scene jumps from relative present to days in Africa, no segway for reader to grip onto. Typos, grammar, same scene= tough guy with girlfriend faces unseen enemy, more reference to guns or knives. Sorry, soul search, mix in fresh theme, I know it’s you but you’re complex, reveal to the world, falcon.

    • circusinpurgatory says:

      “The writing style is both anti-novel and Imagist. It fragments and distorts the experience of characters, forcing the reader to construct the reality of the story from a disordered narrative”

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