“Maybe we shouldn’t,” I say. “Look at her, Sandy.” The woman is rocking back and forth, clutching her chest and mumbling something that sounds like Zeek.
Sandy doesn’t look at her. She looks at me. “I thought you wanted this job.”
I do. I really do. If I didn’t have this job I’d have to be home. And if I were home…
I call the police.
The police arrive forty minutes later with grease stains on their pants, looking bored as hell. They load the woman into the back of their cruiser and drive away. I carry the shoes back to their rack on the children’s side of the store. They’re a beat up pair of Jordan’s. The price tag says six dollars. She didn’t even have six dollars. I wonder if she spent the six dollars getting drunk. The shoes were probably for her kid. That’s the way of things here. Your thoughts go to yourself first, and if there are a few thoughts left, your children might get them. But from my experience, the only things children get in this neighborhood are drunk parents and partially full stomachs. You’re alive, you’ll survive. That’s what my mother used to tell me.
Before my shift ends, I pay for the shoes and shove them in my new Groceries & Shit bag. I walk the two blocks to the bus stop with my head down. It’s raining—warm rain—not the cold kind that makes your bones ache. I wish I had money for a coffee, but I spent what I had on the shoes, and I need the rest for bus fare. I decide to walk the five blocks instead. I stop at a food truck and hand them my bus fare. In exchange, I get a paper cup of coffee with a dash of cream and three sugars. It’s delicious.
The police station on Bone Harbor Hill is always busy. I walk into the lobby and a dirty-faced toddler crashes into my legs. A baby cries, a woman curses, a man who barely speaks English is arguing with a clerk. “A meeestake! A meestake!” he cries. I look around, trying to decide if this is worth it, when I see one of the cops who came to the Rag O Rama to arrest the woman. He has a gym bag slung over one shoulder, and the look of a man who just ended his shift.
“S’cuse me,” I say. He is reluctant to stop. “Excuse me,” I say louder. He is wearing sunglasses despite the lateness of the day. I stare at my own reflection and say, “The woman you picked up earlier from the Rag O Rama. Is she still here?”
He sticks his thumbs in his belt loops like he’s some kind of boss, and looks at me like he’s trying to place my face. He won’t be able to.
I shove the shoes at him. “She left these there,” I say. And then I turn and leave without looking back. My own shoes, the ones on my feet, are the only shoes I own. Torn up sneakers from the Wal-Mart clearance rack. You can do without a lot of things in this life, but shoes are a necessity. If you’re stealing shoes, it’s a desperate necessity. And I will not stand in the way of people trying hard to survive.
I’M WALKING TO THE CORNER STORE for healthy cigarettes, watching the way the fat of my knees bulge with each step, when I see him. He’s reading a book, his head leaning on his upturned palm. There is a glass of water beside him, untouched and filled to the brim, sweating. The fact that he looks so at ease with himself is what abruptly redirects my feet from the cracked sidewalk to the pathway that leads to his gate. I smile. I don’t smile. I wring my hands. I fold them behind my back. No one really knows if it was a car accident, or a tumor, or something like Multiple Sclerosis that made Judah Grant a cripple. We knew him when he walked on his legs, then one day he couldn’t. As I watch him, I have a thought that startles me in its clarity. He wears his wheelchair. His wheelchair never wears him. I’ve never had this thought before. As a general rule, I try not to look at Judah. Staring at someone in a wheelchair doesn’t seem polite—even if he is beautiful.
There is a fence surrounding his yard. It was once pretty; you can still see the remnants of eggshell blue paint in some places where the rust hasn’t eaten through it. I remember being little and thinking the fence looked like Easter. The gate groans loudly as I push it open with my fingertips. Judah’s head comes up, but not at once. He’s so casual as he sets his book aside and watches me walk up the ramp that Delaney had built for his chair.
“What are you doing?” I ask him. I glance down at the book he is reading. It’s a biography.
He holds up the thin joint between his fingers. It smells hella strong. Like weed smoking weed.
“Can I have some?” I ask.
His eyes lightly graze me. “I’ve never seen you smoke,” he says, and makes no move to pass me the joint. His voice is clear and deep.
“You never see me,” I say.
“Sure I do.” He puts the joint between his lips, sucks in a little. He exhales before he says, “You walk past here every day to go to work.”
I tuck my chin in, surprised. “How do you know I’m going to work?”
“Dunno,” he replies. “Maybe because you look miserable.”
He’s right, of course.
“Okay,” I say. “So you see me walking to work once a day and you suddenly know me?”
He smiles a little and shrugs, extending the joint toward me like he doesn’t care whether I hit it or not.
“No thanks,” I say. “I don’t smoke.”
His laugh is a slow build up. It pools in his chest and bursts forward. He laughs like he’s been laughing his whole life, and he knows how.
“I like your bag,” he says, extending a pinky finger and pointing to it. The remnants of his smile are still lingering around the corners of his mouth. “Groceries and shit. Is that literally what you put in there?”
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