Timmy and his younger brother Chip waited at the door of the Brooklyn Gardens shuttle bus. The bus leaned to one side, hissed and threw open its doors. “Thanks, mister!” they yelled to the driver as they jumped to the sidewalk. Chip loosened the necktie noose that had been strangling him through the Mass. “Why do you gotta get dressed up for the dead people?” he asked Timmy.
“‘Cause it’s outta respect. Anyways don’t you think it was nice to get dressed up for Chris?”
“Yeah, I guess so. But I don’t think he woulda done it for us.”
“Don’t talk like that.”
Chip grabbed the back of Timmy’s belt and let his arm swing back and forth as they walked home. They had their orders – come straight home and change out of their good clothes. When they reached their stoop, they stopped and looked up at the third floor. The window was closed. Timmy looked down at Chip, and they nodded their heads and smiled. They ran passed their stoop, around the corner and stopped in front of the color tiled window of the corner pub. Timmy, shading his eyes, pressed his face to the colored glass. Chip stood on a standpipe and did the same. “Do y’see’im? Is he in there?” asked Chip
“I think so. C’mon.”
Chip clung tightly to his brother’s pocket as they went through the huge wooden double doors. The pub was filled with familiar faces from the neighborhood. Occasionally, a face would turn, smile and raise a glass. They could see Tony the bartender scurrying about scooping up change and passing out glasses. At the far end seated on the last stool in the corner, was Uncle John.
“Tony, look who came to visit,” sang Uncle John, “my two roving nephews, back from the spreadin’ of the Good Word, no doubt.”
Timmy and Chip could tell that Uncle John had spent most of the afternoon in the pub, because, because, whenever Uncle John spent most of the day there, his lips would stick out under his nose. Fish Face, Chip called it. The boys ran over to him, and Chip ran into his Uncle’s arms. That’s when Timmy saw that picture again. It was the only picture of Him that frightened Timmy. The Head was tilted back, and the Eyes looked Heavenward. Sad. Pitiful. Blood dripped from the Crown of Thorns, and the Mouth gaped open. Abba. It wasn’t like any of the pictures in his religion books at school. Even the statue in the church vestibule wasn’t as frightening. Once Timmy even touched the wax Nail in the wax Feet on a dare, and that wasn’t scary. He did not want that picture to touch him. Chip didn’t mind; he ran right into it. Why would anyone want that picture, Timmy thought, and to have to see it when you get up in the morning, or whenever you had an itch. Uncle John must have liked it to have it tattooed to his arm. Uncle John held out his arms and caught Chip, and planted him on a stool. When he was younger, Timmy used to think that the Blood would rub off on his clothes.
Tony, two sodas for the boys,” said Uncle John.
“Here y’go.” said Tony placing two colas on the bar.
“So what’s the good news, boys? You keepin’ your noses clean?”
“Yep, they’re sparklin’,” said Chip before he gulped down his cola.
“So what’s with the fine tie and trousers?” asked Uncle John.
“We had to go to the – you know – funeral,” answered Timmy, fidgeting on his stool.
You remember, John,” said Tony. He reached over and drew Uncle John over an inch. “Smitty’s kid,” he whispered. Uncle John sat straight and reached for his drink. Timmy could see the Eyes, and the muscles clenched when the glass was grabbed.
“Terrible thing,” said Uncle John, “So young. But for a twist of fate, it could have been either of you. Terrible thing.” Chip wiped his mouth and belched. “Here, here,” said Uncle John.
“We better be gettin’ home, Uncle John,” said Timmy. “Thanks, for the sodas.”
“By all means. The last thing I need is for your mother to start accusin’ me of corruptin’ you.”
Timmy grabbed Chip around the waist and helped him off the stool. “Now, you be good,” said Uncle John as the two brothers rushed through the doors out of the dark taproom onto the street. The boys squinted at the bright sunshine. They walked slowly, and Timmy peeked around the corner. “Is she waitin’?” asked Chip. The street was deserted and all the windows were shut. Timmy pulled his brother, and they ran to their stoop, as the click and screech of a screen was being raised.
“Timothy! Philip! Where the dev’l have you been?” screeched their mother hanging halfway out of the window. “Get in and change.” They rushed up the stoop, and Timmy saw his mother continue to look up and down the block.
Each successive flight of stairs brought the boys higher into the heat; the third floor was always the hottest with the approach of dinnertime, and the kitchen heat billowed through the door and washed over them. Their mother was at the stove, working. The table was already set, but he was not there. Chip ran into their room and tumbled out of his good clothes forgetting, or not caring, to hang them up. Timmy followed his brother and picked up each piece as it was discarded. After he changed, Chip sat on his bed leafing through a stack of comic books he dragged out from under his bed. Timmy changed, and then opened the window letting a breeze into the room. He stepped out onto the fire escape and sat down. The breeze was stronger, and he forgot the heat in the kitchen. He looked out over the yards and felt the metal bands rub into his backside, so he shifted to get comfortable. The dry paint flaked away from the bars and he absentmindedly picked the flakes away and watched them flutter down through the bands, past the floors, until he lost sight of them as they landed someplace in the yard. Clotheslines, some heavy with damp laundry and others with dry sheets, swayed back and forth from each apartment. Looking over the yards and down the block it looked like party streamers haphazardly strung at different heights.
Chip climbed through the window with a comic book in his mouth. He slowly sat down next to his brother and opened the book. “He’s back,” mumbled Chip. He turned the page and Timmy looked over his shoulder at the superhero. Chip moved his lips as he read the dialogue. “Are they gonna…” Something crashed in the kitchen. They were both on their feet, hearts thumping in their chests, before the comic book hit the floor. Timmy grabbed the rung of the ladder leading to the roof and climbed up with Chip following.
The screams and yells from their apartment mixed with the street sounds. Rumbling diesel engines – This has got to end – squeaking pulleys – Every night… – rustling trees – I can’t take this. Soon the church bells drowned out everything.
The sun was low and cast a red haze over the horizon of Brooklyn Gardens giving the city skyline a rusty shade. Each tower and skyscraper reflected the waning sunlight in differing patterns. “That’s pretty,’ said Chip. They sat in the center of the roof far from the edges next to an old duct that was boarded over. “Could y’tell me the names for the buildings again?”
“We do this all the time. When will you remember for yourself?” Timmy snapped.
Chip nodded and pulled his knees up resting his chin. “I wish I brought some comics.” The church bells stopped, and they heard a door slam below. “Do you think Chris died because he did somethin’ bad?” asked Chip.
“No. God’s not s’posed to do that.”
“Maybe he thought somethin’ that was a sin?”
“No. That’s not s’posed to happen either.”
Chip rocked back and forth, away from and into Timmy. Mr. Malk, the grocery man who lived in the apartment house across the yard, stepped through the door onto his roof. The boys waved, and Mr. Malk stopped short, saluted and walked over to his pigeon coop. Loose feathers flew around the opened door as Mr. Malk slapped the side shooing everyone out. He picked up his long stick with the white rag on the tip and made wide circles with the stick. The pigeons flew together in a wide circle that stretched from his house to theirs following the pattern of the rag stick. The flutter of the white and gray pigeons could be heard with each pass. The boys watched them fly high in an arc and pass directly in front of them every time Mr. Malk drew his rag stick in a tight circle; then they heard more cooing and fluttering, but not from Mr. Malk’s pigeons. Mr. Mann from the building next door had let his pigeons free. His pigeons were all white and flew in quicker circles when Mr. Mann waved his own rag stick.
“They gonna do it?” asked Chip.
“They like it too much.”
“Who you thinks gonna win?”
“Nobody really wins. They kinda trade. Watch.”
The diameter of each circle of flight increased. The men waved their rag sticks until their pigeons flew in overlapping routes. They flew together ten times mixing with each other until each man stopped his circle making and tapped his respective coop top. Gradually, all the pigeons hobbled into the shade, fresh water and feed of the pigeon coop. Mr. Mann stuck his head inside his pigeon coop, and the boys watched him grin as he grabbed a pigeon in each hand and waved them at Mr. Malk. He put the captured pigeons back into his cage.
“Timothy! Philip! Get down here! Dinner!” screamed their mother.
* * *
Timothy, Chip and their mother sat down to eat. The meal was delicious, and the table was silent save for the scraping of knife and fork, and Chip’s chewing. Once the plates were cleaned, they went back to their room. Timmy went directly to the window and onto the roof. He sat on the edge and watched the skyline slowly light the night. He could hear the bazaar in the churchyard begin to open. Chip walked up behind his brother and softly tapped his shoulder. Timmy stood up moving away from the edge and looked at Chip holding his hand out with a rubber ball. Timmy grimaced and shook his head. “I don’t feel like it.” He walked near the duct and leaned against it. Chip walked next to his brother and knelt down beside him. “You gonna leave one day and leave me,” he said,
“I can tell. You don’t wanna play with me anymore like you used to. No more cat burglar. You don’t even hit me with your pillow no more.”
“It’s not you. You didn’t do anything,” answered Timmy.
Timmy grabbed Chip with one arm and hugged him. “You know you’re my best pal.”
“You’re just sayin’ it,” said Chip struggling, “You’re gonna leave me all alone.”
“I can’t leave.”
“Would you take me with you?” said Chip slowly.
“C’mon, let’s go to the bazaar. I got some money.”
They climbed down the ladder and ran through the apartment to the street below. The sounds of buzzers, ringing bells and popping balloons from the churchyard drifted up the street to meet them, enticing them, drawing them quickly through the chain link fence. The tents had green and white stripes with narrowing awnings over open counters. Patrons slapped coins down and the old women spun the huge numbered wheels. Some booths had two wheels spinning in opposite directions waiting to see if the number fell under the tiny red strip guaranteeing the third shelf prize. The wheels buzzed in every corner of the yard. After inspecting each booth for the best booty, Chip decided: “C’mon, this one.”
Timmy picked Chip up and let him put the coin wherever he pleased, occasionally changing his mind and switching at the last possible moment when the old women’s hand left the wheel.
Seven coins. Seven spins. No prize.
Chip looked up at Timmy, cocked his head to one side, and gave a half-hearted smile. “It’s okay.” His eyes were glassy and filled. Chip wiped them with his arm before anything more happened. Timmy rummaged through his pockets, frantic and hopeful.
“We can go home,” said Chip hooking two fingers through one of Timmy’s belt loops.
“Hey! “yelled the older brother retrieving a coin from the folded recesses of a back pocket.
“You do it!”
“No, you do it!”
They ran over to the nearest booth, and Chip blindly slapped it down from Timmy’s shoulders. The wheel spun and buzzed and clicked. The second wheel spun. The red patches blurred until the whole wheel turned red. They both waited for the wheel to show the number and the color. The wheels slowed and the tab clicked off each nail. Forty-Two. Thirty-Five. Three. Twenty-Five. The tab stopped between two nails over Forty. Chip looked down at the counter. Their coin was nestled over the hole in the four of Forty.
“What will it be children?” Anything on the first shelf,” said the old woman scooping up the change.
“It’s on the red,” said Chip.
Timmy looked at the wheels. The narrow red stripe hung over the tab pointing to Forty. “It sure looks like it,” he said.
“Sorry boys, you’re mistaken. It looks to me like you’re off by one nail,” she said putting the change in her apron pocket.
Timmy moved closer to the edge of the booth near the wheel. “What do y’think Chip?”
“It looks like we’re bein’ gypped. But it’s okay. I’ll take that.” He pointed to the first shelf.
The old woman handed Chip a plastic box the size of a folded newspaper. Chip took the lid off and looked inside. “Perfect.” He climbed off Timmy and grabbed the belt loop.
“What did you get that for?” asked Timmy.
“I’ll tell you later.”
“I got no more money.”
“Can’t we just walk around a bit and see everything before we go home?”
The lights on the booths blinked, and the music piped through the paths of people huddled around a stage. They could smell popcorn, chocolate and beer. Huge stuffed animals were tossed over counters to the waiting arms of teenage boys who immediately passed them over to the girls at their sides. Timmy and Chip walked near the card and dice games in the auditorium and were shooed away by the men at the doors. They rested on the back steps of the school and startled a kissing couple in the shadow of the steps. Soon the lights blinked on and off, and three priests came out from the rectory and walked around the yard ringing bells. The bazaar was going to be closed for the night.
“We’d better be going,” said Timmy.
“I know, but I don’t wanna go home.”
They walked home slowly. Chip kept one hold on the belt loop and the other around the plastic box. They crept up the stairs waiting for sounds, any sounds. The kitchen light was on, and the apartment was quiet. Walking through the living room on the way to their room, they heard the deep voice, from the shadow on the couch – the heart-stopping, breath-holding, hold-up-your-arms-close-your-eyes-voice- “Get to bed.”
Timmy closed the door. He walked to the window opened it and gazed at the clear night, the stars and moon. Chip put the plastic box on his bed and rummaged for something under his bed.
“What are you looking for?” Timmy whispered.
“For this.” Chip pulled out a handful of comic books and placed them in the plastic box and put the cover on top. “So if you leave and you take me with you, I can carry this.”
Chip scrambled on top of Timmy’s bed, resting next to his brother. “You betta get changed for bed.”
“I’m gonna sleep just like this, with my sneakers on,” Chip answered back. “Just in case, so I won’t have t’put them on. Promise to tell me which buildings are which.” Chip climbed onto his own bed clutching his comics’ box.
“Sure. G’night.” Timmy and Chip closed their eyes and waited for the time when they both could leave.