A quiet heart for a hapless thief.
Sullivan’s breath stunk like cheap hot dogs, and discount cigarettes. His guts hurt from the fight last night. With each turn of the wheel, the fibers in his muscles ached.
That punk kid from over on 43rd kept running his mouth. It was time for someone to put a few punches on his timecard.
The kid always ran his mouth, and always promised he’d burn down the world for the life he’d led. Said his life wasn’t fair. No one around here had it diamond studded, who did this kid think he was?
What was worse is his old man was a good guy.
The old man died young. What the old man left around was a punk kid who ran with a crowd of thieves and caused nothing but grief. The kid assumed the world owed him something for not growing up with a father. Well, tough titties son, half of the men sitting on the barstools next you so much knew nothing about their fathers. Just because their fathers were breathing, didn’t make them any less of a corpse.
Out of respect for his family’s good name the neighborhood tolerated the kid, but no one wanted him around. He’d always flap his gums, daring the world to cross him. He spat on church floors and never tipped the bartender. When Sullivan cleaned his clock, it wasn’t out of spite - it was out of respect.
With a few stinging shots to the cement thick skull of the kid, Sullivan knew he wasn’t going to dominate, but at least he’d whip him a few times.
The kid had to know the neighborhood wasn’t his playground for abuse; it was the only place that would save his ass as the flames kissed the cheeks.
Rule Number One of growing up down here: respect your neighborhood.
Sullivan taught him respect, one slug at a time. When Sullivan woke up this morning, the sun’s rays slashed through the curtains like tiny daggers straight into his eyelids.
He felt like Living Hell.
When he rose to find the morning smoke, ghosts from beer swings at a kid half his age came flooding back. Sure, he had a goose egg and a mule blue eye, but that kid wasn’t likely to get too big for his britches any time soon. Sullivan struck a match and pulled it close to a sagging, sad cigarette and took a deep lungful.
Whipping on the punk was good for neighborhood politics. Someone needed to do it, and lucky for the kid, it was Sullivan, who remembered his father.
Next time, he’d buy the kid a few sodas and all would be forgiven and forgotten.
So it goes on the hard side of town.
Sullivan cruised slowly down streets ravaged by social wars and city politics. Nothing ever got done down on this side of the city. Tired, old women swept their doorways while grim faced boys played shirtless in the streets. Beer bellied men hosed off the linoleum siding on their houses, hungover from their menial lives.
Sullivan gave the sign of the cross as he passed St. Gabriel’s. He hadn’t been inside since the last birth or burial, but through it all, it was their landmark of life, hope and redemption; none of the above happened around here. Even the salvation was secondhand.
He backed the Mercury into the alley. Sullivan slid it into a spot just behind the old Thompson place. The gravel and broken glass slid beneath the cracked rubber of his balding tires. The alley smelled like piss.
Things came back here to die; from trash to dog shit, and a few dead animals lying behind where the garage meets the fence, the stench was palpable.
The Thompson place was nothing but a burned out shell. No one bothered to reclaim what was once a Statement Home, a pinnacle of the south side. It was a castle built upon the back of by-your-bare-hands wealth and blue-collar work ethic. It caught fire a few years back, and once the insurance money was collected, and the Thompson’s moved to the north side, and no one cared about the castle anymore.
Another sin tallied.
The house sat as a rotting reminder of the good ole’ days. Now, the south side is nothing but a shooting gallery on one block and a land grab for cheap housing on the others. Time moved on as the families of old moved out, and only the bottom feeders, and the stubborn remain.
Sullivan eased out of the car. Everything throbbed. As he straightened out, he tidied himself up. He wore a suit every day despite being continually unemployed. He always maintained that if the bus were to hit him, he’d at least save someone the trouble of finding him something nice to wear.
The sun remained vicious. The houses stood at the end of the alley like grim mirages, and as the sun caused the bleak, sodden world to shimmer, Sullivan needed a drink.
His heart condition was acting up again. His pulse felt like his ticker would explode in his chest at any second. He took deep breaths, hoping it would do some good. He kept breathing, hoping his heart would get the oxygen it needed. Dabbing his forehead, he looked up at his mother’s house, which was now his house.
After his mother passed, Sullivan was left as the caretaker. His father split when he was three, and his sister Juliet was dead by twenty-two. Now, as a man of forty-six, Sullivan wondered what Juliet would be like today. She’d be fifty-three and likely have her shit together, something he’d never dreamed of.
He sighed, and walked toward the gangway. The gate hung sadly off the hinges while the cement was cracked in countless places, making it look like a drunken subway system map. Stray cats meowed, hidden away from sight, but always watching like shadowy creeps.
The bills sat in piles thick as phones books. The phone was off the hook. Nothing had a place, and nothing belonged anywhere. His mother’s house was a reminder of his constant failures; without her death he’d still be living in the roach motels or renting rooms alongside the other transients in town.
He could have sold the house and collected the money, but then he’d of ended up back in the same position. This way was better. No one would steal his shoes in the middle of the night here. When the disconnection notices came, he hocked a possession or two of hers to keep the lights on. Whatever was left kept the icebox stocked with beer and cheap wine and maybe some hamburger or a few slices of ham.
Some tattered nudie books lie at the foot of the couch. The windows were open and a slight breeze danced through, tickling the ladies on the stained pages. Sullivan popped a can of beer open as he sat down on the years-worn sofa and took a hit. The house was silent except for his heavy breathing. He wondered whom he could call to come over and spend time with him but remembered, everyone he knew was at work.
Once again, even in this time of triumph for beating the devil one more day, Sullivan sat alone.