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The Fedora

In fiction, Stories on July 7, 2016 at 1:36 pm

fedora

 

There was a man on the corner outside my window across the street from the Third Avenue El. He wore a tan, belted rain coat and a brown felt Fedora. He seemed pensive, preoccupied. I don’t think he was waiting for anyone. It seemed more likely that he found he needed to stop and think a bit, and so he did. Right there.

It was a hot summer’s day and we didn’t have air conditioning. Almost nobody did and so the windows overlooking the streets of our railroad flats were where we spent our days hoping for a breeze, any small hint of moving air.

I had watched Mr. Perkins in 5B wait on the same corner. He waited for a friend, a spouse, his eight year old son—I couldn’t be sure because at one time or another all seemed to appear beside him. He never traveled very far—they all came to him because he used a walker and on Thursday afternoons, the one day I guess he could afford an aide, a uniformed woman would be by his side.

Over time I had watched him grow less and less able, walking slower and slower until one day he was no longer at the corner.

Jessie’s Gyp Joint was the store in front of which the man in the Fedora stood. His hands rifled through his inside coat pocket until he found his pack of Lucky Strikes, turned the pack upside down tapping it until one cigarette protruded. He lit it and I watched the end turn bright orange, the edge of the paper ashen and he blew out the first puff through his mouth and nose simultaneously.

He was a tall man and lean with an aquiline nose and dark, close-set eyes and an inquisitive turn of the lips. Whatever he had been thinking of seemed to have been thought successfully because his face lightened away from the intensity. He seemed almost to smile at himself.

My own father left when I was three. I vaguely remembered his scent, one of cigarettes—the first puff, the first heady smell of tobacco that made me cough, then laugh. That is the only memory I have.

Every man that comes to that corner of Third Avenue and 85th Street reminds me that I have never had a father and makes some longing stir in me and some imaginings rise up.  A man I conjure up out of a simple, long ago scent and the sight of a suited man holding a Lucky Strike.

There is a green pole upon which the stop and go signs light up alternately alongside an overfilled trash can.  The man with the Fedora steps aside as a homeless man approaches and begins rifling through the trash.  He finds a discarded cup and raises it to his lips on the off chance there is anything left in it. A glass coke bottle is lucky—about two small sips remain and  then the dark liquid disappears from the very pale green hue that washes over the bottle in the sunlight. He unwraps paper after paper and peeks into brown sandwich bags withdrawing empty butcher wrap.

I watch as the man in the Fedora watches him and I’m not quite able to make out his expression. I can’t read him—whether he is angry or disgusted or sympathetic and I feel frustrated because, for some reason now, it is imperative for me to know.  Then I see him reach into his raincoat pocket and pull some change which he extends to the man by the garbage.  The man thanks him and heads to Jessie’s Gyp Joint from which he emerges seconds later chewing on a candy bar.

The man in the Fedora once again is lost in thought.  The afternoon heat is rising and I wonder how he can stand in suit and coat and hat, but I think he is like my uncle Lennie who also keeps the formality of suit and tie no matter how hot it is.

I feel the small stream of perspiration run from my temple down to my jaw line, then drop from my face onto my lap. My tee shirt and shorts stick to me. My breath is hot, and smells from the street are rising now in the heat wafting up to me. The rank smell of summer streets. Urine from doorways, dog shit. The hot dog vendor’s sauerkraut, the accumulated garbage in the sacks in front of the buildings. Piles of them, open cardboard boxes with debris and rancid garbage.

It is funny I think to myself, that I never particularly watch the women.  I am only vaguely aware of women passing in their checkered Peck and Peck suits; their hair in bobs and page boys their chunky heels tap taping the grey sidewalks. I’m aware when Mrs. Finch in 3C walks her two Pekinese Chu Chin and Chow Toy. They are ugly little dogs, I think—but God knows I would never tell her—their faces smashed in; tongues hanging out; long brown and black hair. They pant, and drool trickles down their tiny heads. It makes me feel as if their ratty fur is in my mouth and I want to spit in some automatic reflex to it.  But, mostly unaware of the women, I am always aware of the men, and it is not lost on me that I am always looking for a father—but not just any father—my father.

The man on the corner in the Fedora fiddles with his wristwatch now, raises it to his ear as if to make sure it is ticking. Time must be going very slowly for him.  It is for me too. Last year when I was still in grade school it seemed days went quickly and I was always running out of them. Now, with my new awakening to longing, they move slowly but inevitably.

Finally, the man in the Fedora looks up. He sees me. I think to wave even tentatively because probably he needs encouragement to come up here.  So eventually I wave and he waves back and smiles but he doesn’t move.  It is one of those smiles that admits to someone being cute,  a child, and is somewhat dismissive. I am certain he must know who I am.  I am certain he must come upstairs after long, long last.  He lights another cigarette and I can smell it as I used to, and it makes me cough then giggle.  He is moving now, removing his hat for just a minute as he wipes the sweat from his bald head with his handkerchief than replaces the Fedora to his head.

He steps off the curb now and across the street towards what must be my building and I lose sight of him. After all these years I know he is coming back, and now crossing the street to ring the bell downstairs. And I wait in the heat in the darkening flat for the ring. But there is only silence.

-Annie Quintano

Lost Soul

In fiction, Keeping hope alive, Love, The worst of times on May 13, 2016 at 4:04 pm

don't jump i love you

It’s springtime in the city and the sun is about to rise up – and you see the delivery man making his rounds.

A police officer is walking his beat – on Fifth Ave and 57th Street – when he looks up and sees a man on the edge of a tall building, he realizes this man is going to jump. He calls on his walkie-talkie before going to the building where the man is. He rushes to the building, and asks the porter, “Where is the elevator?” He figures he is on the 30th floor.  When he gets there – all the doors are locked – it is only 8 am in the morning.

Just when he turns around – the elevator door opens and a young lady comes out. He asks her if she has the keys to the office leading to the 5th Ave window – where the man is – she says,  “Yes, is there anything wrong?” The police officer says – “There is a man on the edge of the window.” The lady gets upset. He puts his hand around her and says – “Just relax, please.” As he enters the office – and sees one of the windows open – he looks out, and sees the young man on the edge of the window, crying by himself. The young man sees the police officer. “Stay away from me or I’ll jump,” says the young man – the police officer asks the young man if he wants to talk about his troubles – “What’s your name son?” “ What difference does it make?” says the young man. “I have a 19 year old son like you – I care,” says the police officer. The police officer mostly listens as the young man describes his very personal struggle with his mental illness. “My name is Kelly – and if you come in I promise you I will help you,” says the police officer. “You’re just trying to fool me,” says the young man on the edge of the window.

“How can I trust a police officer?” says the young man.  “Tell you what,” says the police officer –“I take off my uniform and you and I can talk inside.” The room is full of police officers, “how can I trust them?” — says the young man. “Listen, I’ll send them away, and it will be just you and me,” says the police officer. Police Officer Kelly finds himself with a young man threatening to jump from a window, and realizes by talking to the young man it gives him a sense of hope and encouragement to come in.

Kelly the police officer tells his captain to give him 10 or 20 minutes – Kelly steps outside on the edge of the window. “How are doing son?” says Kelly the police officer. “I just don’t know,” says the young man on the edge of the window, his eyes wet with tears. “Listen son – sometimes life can get messy, you can be down today, but then you come back up again, son.” As the young man listens to Kelly, the police officer, he’s able to get a good grip on the young man and get him inside the building.

The young man starts crying and sheds tears. “It’s ok to cry, son. And I promise I will help you,” says Kelly. He gives him a big hug.

-Charles Borges

 

DNA

In fiction, Stories on March 18, 2016 at 2:48 pm

 

 

criminal_genes

                    James Small lives with his grandmother in the projects uptown. So one night she asked him to go the store to get a few items. She gave him the money.

On the way outside he met on the stairs his friend Herbie. So they both went to the store. He made his purchase, and he got two Coca Colas, one for himself and the other for his friend.

They took his grandmother her stuff, and told her they were going for a walk in Central Park. So she said, “Go ahead, but remember that tomorrow is a school day.”

He said, “Yes.”

They started to walk in the Park, and had got about a quarter of a mile. They saw a man running towards them. He ran into the bushes to avoid them. They thought nothing of it, so they continued their conversation about basketball.

All of a sudden they saw a pair of headlights coming towards them. It was a police car.  So it stopped.  Two cops got out and started frisking them. Then they handcuffed them and threw them in the back seat of the squad car. They drove further into the park, where they saw an EMS van with a woman, who had been bleeding, with the EMS workers attending to her.

So they pushed the workers aside, grabbed James by the arm, and asked her, “Is it him?”

She pointed at James, and said, “Yes, that is the one who raped me.”

Both boys were arrested that same night. James’s grandma was called, and she went to the station house about 3 in the morning. There was no bail for them. They stayed in jail for about three months before there was a trial.

All this time Grandmother knew he was innocent. She stood by her grandchild and his friend. DNA from the scene, the DA said, could not be found. There was DNA from the boys taken after, but none available from the victim from the night of the crime.

My question to you is, what do you think happened to the DNA?

By the way, the boys were freed, finally, not because there was no evidence, but because earlier that night the police arrested a man walking suspiciously down 5th Avenue, who had scratch marks all over his face. He could not account for how he got them.

IT WAS THE VICTIM’S EX-BOYFRIEND.

As usual, fact, or fiction.

I asked you before, what did you think happened to the DNA?

Give up? This is my story, and I’m going to tell you my version.

When the cops saw the man walking very fast down 5th Avenue, they stopped him and they noticed scratches on his face. He broke down and said he was on his way to his friend, a doctor, to get a tetanus shot, because he just raped his ex-girlfriend in Central Park.

In other words he was confessing to the crime. They arrested him before they put him in the squad car.

They called it in. At the station house the Lieutenant who took the called told his Captain they had a problem. The Captain said, “How do?” The Lieutenant replied, “Because we arrested two teenagers for the same crime.”

The Captain said, “How can that be?”

The Lieutenant replied, “EMS was in the area when the officers came upon the boys. Captain, what are we going to do, Sir?”

The Captain’s response was, “Nothing. We will wait and see what happens.”

The Lieutenant said, “Captain…”

Before the Lieutenant could get out another word, the Captain said, “When the crime scene evidence comes in, bring it to me. I will lock it in my drawer.”

“What about the two boys?”

The Captain said, “They are our guests until the trial. Remember, our guests, give them whatever they want. Leave the cell door open, but they cannot leave until the trial.”

“Captain, this is not good.”

“Lieutenant, that is why I am the Captain. There you have it.”

 George Cousins

Schoolfriend

In fiction, Friendship, humor, Stories, Stories, secrets & dreams on January 19, 2016 at 5:45 pm

elevator buttons

            Pamela Santucci works as a cleaning woman in a medical building where there are many medical offices. She cleans daily from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. One morning, around 4:30, she got on  the elevator, and a passenger came in after her, and said, “14, please.” So Pamela pressed the floor she wanted.

As the elevator was moving, she kept staring at the passenger, until it finally dawned on her who the person was. It was her daughter’s best friend. The passenger also kept staring at Pamela. Both said nothing. The elevator stopped on the 14th floor, and when the passenger got off, Pamela saw that the floor only has psycho offices, so Pamela wondered why Gloria Banapoli would be going to see a shrink.

When she got home, she told her daughter, gossip that she is. Her daughter said, “Ma, sit down. But please do not repeat this. She is married to Richie Cannoli.”

Then Pamela said, “The mob guy? But he’s in prison!”

Then her daughter said, “Ma, Ma, read between the lines. He married her so she can carry things in and out of jail for him.”

Pamela put her hands to her mouth, then over her head, and said, “You didn’t stop her from doing this crazy thing? What did her parents say—they don’t know?”

Her daughter said, “No.”

And Pamela said, “Of all the cockamamie things! I will have a talk with her the next time I see her. And that has to be now. Today. Find her, please, and bring her here.”

And that evening, there was Gloria, sitting at Pamela’s kitchen table.

“You being married to Richie, can’t you see what a mess you’re in? Can’t you annul the marriage?”

Gloria’s response was to ask, “You know I used to go with Bobby Fantusa?”

Pamela said, “Yes.”

Gloria then told her that Richie was going to kill her if he didn’t leave her, “So Bobby dropped me, which I found out later was a lie. You see, Bobby had borrowed money from the mob, and for payment—I was the payment.”

Pamela said, “My God, what are you going to do?”

Gloria said, “That isn’t the worst part. When you saw me this morning, I was making a delivery to the doctor. There are quite a few doctors I deliver drugs to weekly, but rarely that early. Usually after 4 p.m. That doctor was going to California later that day, and I couldn’t miss him. Then I gave the cash to Richie’s father. That’s my story. Bobby Fantusa got me in this mess.”

Then Pamela said, “And Bobby will get you out of this mess.”

After Gloria left, Pamela sat down at the table on the same chair Gloria had just left. She started smiling to herself. You see, when she was at Erasmus High, there was a boy who had a big crush on her. His name was Emilio Lagatuta. He had a great voice, like the great Caruso, Alonso, or even Robison. Anyways, his father forbade him to take up singing. He said, “That profession does not pay any money. You should come into the family business.”

His father was Vinnie Lagatuta, the head of the mob of Amalie. Over the years Emilio became the leader of the family. And over the years Gloria and Emilio kept in touch. So Gloria called Emilio, told him the problem, and he agreed to take care of it.

Within two days she got a call from Gloria. The problem was solved, and she was free from her husband. You see, when you have friends in high place, things happen. Of course, this story is entirely made up.

by George Cousins

A Cup of Chai

In fiction on July 1, 2015 at 2:36 pm

AQ Cup of chai2

-Illustration by Annie Quintano 

There was nothing Ms. Gant would like better than to take the hours between three and four and carefully guard them for herself as a time when she could take her tea in the backyard amidst the flowering lavender, as seasons allowed.  But today, and likely tomorrow it would be impossible.

The blood they had found on her doorstep –found by accident when the UPS man who delivered her package and happened to have been a retired policeman- caused enough concern and suspicion that Chief Schutters and the three nice young detectives, barely out of high school she imagined (herself being this side of sixty) had wrapped the front porch in bright, yellow police tape.

She insisted she didn’t know how the blood got there and most certainly had no idea whose it was, much less why the blood drops ran the entire length of the old porch which wrapped around the cottage.  The trail of blood ended just below the bedroom window which once belonged to her brother, Frederick. Frederick was no longer there for reasons she seemed unable to explain to Chief Schutters who stood with his felt fedora shoved high and back on his head revealing a pencil lodged over his ear, another in his hand as he stood poised to write, if only Ms. Gant would be forthcoming.

She had lived in this cottage for the past forty three years and witnessed the slow deterioration of the building during which time she, along with the house, aged.  Her body grew less strong, less able and her mind was given to periodic lapses and thus she became unable to maintain the house, nor, some would suggest, herself.

The village had tried to condemn the house and young Philip Rainer who coveted the property had created assorted lies and half-truths, substantiated them by forged and phony documents, all in an attempt to sway the town meeting in his favor so that he might seize the property from Ms. Gant.

At just such times as these town meetings, Ms. Gant was somehow miraculously able to overcome the ravages of age that left her so frail and would bellow refutations and angry slurs and some very vile accusations his way, all the while swinging her cane so wildly that those seated in the folding chairs around her ducked this way and that to avoid any inadvertent blows.

With an explosive huff of disgust, and having said her piece, she would leave the meeting and angrily trod home, refusing a ride offered her by Randolph Mirer, a nearby neighbor who drove a blue pickup truck as if he was still the young farmer he had been some fifty years ago. Once home she made her way to the kitchen, to the kettle, to that tin of the dry black loose leaves with which she would brew the tea that would re-establish her equilibrium, her sanity and the sense that the world was good.

Now, with her home increasingly wrapped in wads and wads of yellow tape, she was denied access to the white and blue porcelain tea pot, the tea cozy that had once belonged to her favorite Aunt Violet, and thus was she cut off from everything that made her life make sense.

The three detectives –all of whom seemed to merge together as one to her-sandy hair cut too short, faces so young they seemed always clean shaven without the benefit of a razor, and suits that floated liberally about their torsos though the sleeves were a few inches too short divulging tattle-tale grey cuffs-wandered through her cottage in search for whatever it is that policemen usually search for.

Because the detectives all merged into one, she offered them only one chair upon which to sit. She felt a certain motherly inclination toward them. Her dear neighbor Meena Shetty, knowing of Ms. Gant’s inability to get to her kitchen, brought over a thermos of hot chai, the milky sweet brew of which she was so fond. Ms. Gant offered it to “the Three” at the same time, explaining as best she could the origins of tea in general and Meena’s tea in particular. “It was all wrestled from the English, you know, this huge continent of India. It was over tea, Assam, I think or Nigiri, or maybe it was over salt, or cotton.” She closed her eyes in momentary befuddlement. “You know, the bald headed dark little man half naked spinning away at the cotton.  And that is how it came to be: Meena with her thermos of chai.” She was oblivious that it made Meena visibly uncomfortable to be spoken about as such, or to have her country relegated to an obscure tiff over cotton or tea with Gandhi.  But she bore it all gracefully because of her affection for her long-time friend, Ms. Gant, whom she so hoped to one day bring to India for a visit.

Ms. Gant settled in after flitting about absent-mindedly to enjoy the hot milky brew and confide in the three young men toward whom she felt such a strong urge to be forthcoming.

“Frederick was a terrible bossy, irritable, unhappy curmudgeon” she had admitted. “He wouldn’t let me do a thing.  Virtually locked me up. Oh, not with a key or anything like that.  With those eyes!  Those mean, threatening eyes of his challenging me to defy him.  I had to, you see.  I had to first get rid of those eyes.  Shut them.  Rather permanently, don’t you know? That’s the only really efficient way” she whispered leaning in towards the three who, rather than choosing lots for the one chair, had remained standing. “Otherwise he will just wake up the next day with those ‘don’t you dare’ eyes of his. It had to be permanent you know- over and done!” She moved her hand as if dusting them in finality. Finished with what she considered a sufficient amount of sharing to set the matter of Frederick’s murder straight, once and for all, she sat back comfortably.

A uniformed officer fluttered about the cottage and the back yard. As they poked in the garden she stood up and went to the window. Ms. Gant shook her head at their misdirection watching them search as if it would turn up Frederick’s body. She turned from the window to the three detectives.  “Oh, no you see. They’re looking in the wrong places. I couldn’t upset my garden.  My lovely lavender.  But Meena didn’t mind about hers. She had already harvested the coriander, and the eggplant –aren’t they a lovely shade of purple? -so digging there wouldn’t upset anything and we planned anyway to plant stinging nettles on top. Now, nettle tea is good for asthma, you know but we had no intention of harvesting it in case all the nasty cigar smoke of Frederick had seeped upwards from him in his little grave into those roots and then right into the leaves.  Are you sure you don’t want to sit.” She chatted on. “You know you mustn’t whisper a word of this to Chief Schutters. He’d be so upset.”

Detective numbers one, two and three were smiling with amusement. Number one remarked, “I don’t quite believe you, Ms. Gant.  The records say Mr. Frederick was a rather large man and if you don’t mind me saying you are rather small.”

“Oh, thank you so much.  But have you seen Meena? Quite an ample woman she.”

Detective #1 found Ms. Gant’s account particularly incredible and thwart with improbabilities.  He crossed her off his list of suspects.  “Not so quickly” Detective #2 had advised him. “You’d be surprised what little old ladies – even sweet ones –are capable of.”  He sweated profusely and wiped his brow repeatedly always taking the time to neatly and carefully fold his handkerchief eight times over until it was a compact little bundle.

“They could be covering up a suicide, you know.  Those church ladies would find such an event criminal and inexcusably sacrilegious.  They might well disguise it as a murder to save face.”

“To save face?” Detective #1 repeated, continuing in the vein of incredulity.

The three of them busied about the room and then left to find Chief Schutters with their full notebooks and disagreeable faces.

“I told them everything,” Ms. Gant confided in Meena as she poured the last of the tea.”

“Well, you did what you had to do,” Meena remarked understandably. Meena poured the last drop of tea and moved out onto the porch where the detectives huddled in a busy cluster.

“I am going next door to bring back the last of the chai and my fresh baked cardamom cookies – can I bring you gentleman back anything?”

They appeared a little skeptical and somewhat off-balanced. “Well, yes…er, no. But we do wish to speak to you, of course, upon your return.”

“Oh, most certainly,” she responded and left. They waited: the three detectives and Chief Schutters on the porch buzzing nonsensically at times about the game last night on TV, the serial killer who plagued the next county over, the terrible increase in the cost of food and now and then, as if choreographed, they would glance at their watches, and then over toward Meena’s house.

“I best check on Ms. Gant, I suppose,” offered Chief Schutters, a somewhat befuddled, wide-eyed man. “When I last checked she seemed to have developed quite an irritated cough – I guess from all that endless babbling of hers – and she also asked me if I couldn’t bring her an Alka Seltzer.”

When Chief Schutters reentered the parlor, little Ms. Gant was no longer seated in her brown wing back chair.  “Ms. Gant, Ms. Gant?” He called about and then approached the bathroom door.  He knocked gently “Are you alright in there?” He checked assuming she had tired of waiting for him to bring her the Alka Seltzer and went to fetch it herself.

He waited, then knocked again a bit embarrassed by what might be seen as intrusiveness. He was not at all sure about just how sensitive and patient it was required of him to be.  So he waited and he waited long enough that Ms. Gant, who had exited the house while the detectives chatted, had met Meena at the end of Davis Court whereupon they took off in Meena’s yellow Volkswagen bug and headed for the highway.

The local papers had a grand time of it, though the county Police Commissioner was anything but amused now that the old women were AWOL.  They began to dig up the gardens:  the rich loam under the leggy lavender where they would find nothing but the slow moving fat earthworms. And then they dug at the rocky clump of soil under Meena’s nettles.  The three blond detectives would stand expectantly watching the men with the shovels. To no avail.  They had not found the body.

Ms. Gant was a sweet old lady, to be sure, and really the same could be said of her dear friend, Meena Shetty.  “He was such a nice young man.” Ms Gant would often say to Meena of the detectives referring perhaps to one or to all three.  And Meena would nod over a cup of tea they shared on the Veranda. They decided then, that it would be sweet to send a postcard to them at the local police station back home.

The card arrived. It pictured an elephant bejeweled with circles of white about his eyes and chalky red and yellow streaks about his gravely skin. He bore a hat, of sorts, with gold fringe about it.  “Greetings from India!” it exclaimed in a scroll of white script across the face of it and the Hindi characters beneath it.  Chief Schutters shook his head at the card in disbelief and consternation and handed it to Detective #1 who read it out loud.

“Greetings boys!  Thank you for all your trouble.  We are well as we hope you are. The chai here is so delicious!”  Signed Ms. Louise Gant and Ms. Meena Shetty.  “P.S. you might try digging under the nettles in the front yard.”

-Written and Illustrated by Annie Quintano