Eddie and Marie lived together in a room they rented from a junky named Theo. They worked together too, scrambling to make what they needed to survive. Things they found on the street, that was their business, odd whatnots culled from around buildings, beside curbs, in alleyways. Mornings around eight, they'd set up shop somewhere in the East Village. They carried their wares in old milk crates. They hauled the crates around on a square moving dolly. They had a strip of carpet, an old piece, stained and all, but berber, so it was made to last. They'd lay the strip of carpet down on the sidewalk and line their stuff up on it, all nice and neat in rows. Marie stayed and handled the transactions, while Eddie went off and searched out more things to sell. He liked to say it was a yard sale everyday, only they didn't have no house, or no yard, or no twenty years to let the stuff collect in some dusty attic.
Eddie'd been all over town that morning, without much luck. On a bus stop bench on the corner of 56th St. and 7th Avenue, he'd found a half used spool of blue sewing thread. Near the main branch of the Post Office, on 8th Avenue and 34th St., he'd come across one of those round, plastic laundry baskets. The basket had a long crack running down one part of it, but he'd decided to hold onto it anyway. When Eddie got back to the spot they'd staked out earlier in the morning, it was almost noontime. Marie was all worked up. That goddamn brooch, she told Eddie right off, the one you found up there on the eastside near the park, near that brownstone? Fucking old ladies brooch you'd pin on some goddamn sweater or something? This crazy chick, man, I swear to god, she had no fucking shoes on. Kept mumbling and mumbling, I couldn't hardly understand one thing she said. Five bucks for the thing, she gave me. Pinned it right to the bottom of her old damn dirty jeans. I'm telling you Eddie, you can't never tell who'll buy what. Member that guy? Last week? That fancy tailored suit. You remember? He bought that old fork, only two prongs left on the goddamn thing. Said it reminded him of the forks his mother used to set the table with when he was a kid, same style and all. He almost cried. How his old man made such a hard life for his mother. You can't never tell Eddie. Eddie put the spool of thread and the laundry basket down on the carpet. Letting a small smile find his face, he pressed his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. Marie's never ending amazement at what type of person would buy what type of item always made Eddie feel good. It seemed to him she was alive in a way no one he'd ever known before had ever been. Sometimes she scared him because of how she could get at other times, but for a long good while Eddie'd known the world was capable of tilting in many different directions. Being with Marie at least made it seem like the marbles were all in his pocket. It was sort of like winning, he guessed. At any rate, it sure felt that way sometimes.
That night Marie cooked hot dogs on the hot plate they kept in their room. She didn't bother with a pan or pot or anything, she just cooked them right on the heated metal plate, moving them constantly back and forth so they wouldn't burn too badly. Her and Eddie shared a can of Pepsi while they ate. They were putting dishes in a rack to carry down to the bathroom to wash when Theo came down the hall and knocked on the door. There was a mattress on the floor, which they used for a bed. It was pushed tight against the back wall of the small room. The sheets had been left in disarray. Hearing the knock, Marie went over and shifted the sheets around until they looked a little more in place. There was an alarm clock on a folding chair next to the mattress. While Eddie answered the door, Marie took the alarm clock from the chair and set it on the floor. Theo came in and sat on the folding chair. Marie and Eddie settled on the newly straightened bed. Theo had recently stopped shooting dope. He'd been a mess for a while but had gotten on methadone. Lately he'd been in much better shape. His voice, even now that he was off junk, remained a slow soft sort of half whisper. He was barely middle aged, but his face was ravaged. He often had a half dead smile plastered there, a little hidden thing that seemed to show a certain anger and resignation at the world all at the same time.
Theo had carried a six pack into the room with him. After settling down on the folding chair, he placed the beer by his feet. He told Eddie and Marie he'd been a little off all day, said he felt like he needed to settle himself down a bit. Neither of them had seen Theo with alcohol before. Drinking was a very different thing for Marie. Theo didn't know that. He looked at the beer, and at Marie and Eddie, then shrugged. They were quiet for a moment, then Marie got off the bed and went to the bureau. She opened the top drawer and took out a pack of Pall Malls. Eddie and Marie didn't smoke, but it had become an odd sort of ritual that they keep a pack of Theo's cigarette's in their room for when he came down and had forgotten his and didn't want to go back and search the rest of the apartment for however long it might take to find them. By now a sharp edge had crawled over Marie, it was terribly evident in her voice as she held out the pack of cigarette's and told Theo to have one. He smiled his refusal, held up a pack he'd brought with him as explanation. Whirling back around, Marie threw the Pall Malls back into the top drawer of the dresser. There was a quick bang as she slammed the drawer closed. Theo had reached down for a beer and when he cracked the can open Marie's shoulders pulsed and jumped. She cocked her head toward Eddie and stared at him. Her voice sounded frightened now, almost childish. God dammit Eddie, she said. For a moment Eddie didn't know what to do with himself. Finally he got up from the mattress and went to Marie. Standing close at her side, he leaned in and said quietly, He's good Marie. It's Theo, he's a good man. He's no one's father, he's no one's father at all, he's a good man.
The sun was high and strong the next morning, but a gray sheet moved over it early and the day became overcast. Eddie let Marie sleep. He decided it was a good bet there'd be rain, and there was no sense hauling things out and setting things up only to suffer under a downpour. Sleep stayed with him a long time after he'd gotten out of bed. He felt comfortable and lazy, and thought about staying by the window of the little room all day, watching the steel sky fold and unfold itself. Sitting still wasn't really in his nature though. His favorite pastime was the city itself, the car horns and movement, the oddities of the buildings and cabs, the iron fire escapes clinging like spider webs to walls in alleys, the storms of people, their ways. Pulling on jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, he left Marie, her head off her pillow, wrapped tight in her blankets, still asleep. Trundling from the rented room, he went down the misshapen stone steps of the old apartment building, into the cold. Coming up out of the bleakness of their lower eastside neighborhood, he arrived at the Lexington Ave. subway line. Figuring it was as good as any other destination, he rode the 4 train downtown and got off at the Fulton Street stop. He went around for a while without thinking where he was going or why. Near City Hall, realizing he hadn't had breakfast, he bought a hot dog from a vendor's cart. Not wanting to blow too much money, he didn't bother with a soda. Occasionally he'd run into a microwave, or some other discarded object. Stopping, he'd nudge the edge of whatever he'd come across with the tip of his sneaker. The day hadn't yet allowed any room in his head for work; each time he saw something, he convinced himself not to be bothered by thinking what a job it would be getting the thing up and down stairs, through a turnstile, onto the subway. At the Brooklyn Bridge, he turned onto the walkway and went up to the center area where there were benches. He admired the beautiful old slats of wood that made up the flooring. He loved the stone arches too, the fat, heavy look of them. The water below. The skyline all around. With the air hard and cold, each breath Eddie took felt like new life rattling his lungs. Not for the first time, he had the fanciful idea this was the only day that had ever been, the only hour, the only second. Within such dreams of absence, the rot of stillborn things— broken promises, crooked avenues, childhoods charred ugly by lineage— became no more than vapors. This perfect city, thought Eddie, staring out and down at the clustered fabric of New York, the wondrous goddamn way anyone might disappear within its confines, if that was what they chose to do.
Marie and the milk crates and dolly were gone when he returned to their room. The sun had not come out, but it hadn't rained either. She would have understood he'd let her sleep because bad weather seemed certain. He imagined her standing at the window, counting the minutes, waiting for it to storm. She would have been impatient. Money was tight and Marie never failed to remember that. She'd probably left soon after he did. Eddie tried a few of their usual spots before finding Marie on 3rd St., off Avenue A. There was a place there everyone called the tire store. The sign above the tire store door was weathered and crumbly. Fat, faded black hand lettering spelled out, Tires/Used. There actually was one old dusty tire still in the front window. The store was basically empty though. If you knew enough to go in, you'd go directly to the back wall. A small hole had been cut into the wall. You put whatever money you needed to through the hole and the appropriate amount of weed, a dime bag, a nickel bag, would be pushed back to you by some anonymous hand. Many people went in and out of the tire store day and night. Though most patrons of the tire store were understandably reluctant to linger in the area where they bought their drugs, Eddie and Marie held to the illusion such heavy traffic helped their business. Today Fat Bill was in front of the tire store too. Bill sold cheap, used paperbacks and outdated magazines. The magazines and books were placed in neat rows on top of two card tables pushed together. When Eddie arrived, Marie was ranting at Fat Bill, she didn't like how close he'd set his tables to her and Eddie's stuff. She kept calling him a fat fuck. Bill kept smiling and saying things like, What's the problem, and, Who cares anyway. Despite the rawness of the day, sweat continuously ran down into the folds of Bill's rumpled chin. Wiping his face with an old rag, he told Eddie to tell Marie it was all right, that everyone would buy what they wanted and look at everything, it was good they were close together. Eddie stood behind the carpet next to Marie. He held his eyes on her. After a moment, her attention was diverted to him and she left Fat Bill alone.
Nothing was selling, the day was too damp, too cold. The pot heads exited the tire store with hands stuffed in their pockets, not even bothering to look up. It would have been better, thought Eddie, to have stayed home, rested, saved their energy. Marie wouldn't close shop though, she was determined. After about an hour, Eddie decided to do some scavenging, his heart wasn't in it, but he figured at least he'd be moving. Somewhere around Tompkins Square Park, he came across a piece of luck: two toasters. Toasters were good items to find, they didn't even have to work, they were so easy to fix. The cheap plastic ones sold well enough, but here Eddie had found the other type, old chrome steel, solid and durable, from the fifties, or at least with that kind of look. The faux bohemians, trust fund babies, rich downtown artists that had slowly infiltrated the lower eastside had a real hard on for old metal toasters. You could get five, or even eight bucks for one. Even on a day like this, their shiny exterior would attract attention. Marie loved it when he turned up with toasters. Coming back down 3'd St., she saw him and smiled. Fat Bill smiled too, Marie would be happy with the toasters and leave him alone for a while. Eddie was coming up to the carpet when a short little scrawny guy in a hooded sweat shirt knocked the two toasters out from between his arms. The little guy scooped the toasters up off the sidewalk and started to walk away. Marie came out from behind the carpet, she angled into him and started screaming. The scrawny little guy was smiling. He was about to tell her to fuck off up her own twat when Eddie came up behind him and started yammering in his ear about giving the stuff back. Marie kept screaming in his face. The little guy felt all of a sudden like he was in a wind tunnel, like he was being blown back into place every time he tried to move forward or backward. Instinctively, he raised an arm and swung it around, clocking Eddie in the head with one of the toasters.
Whirling in a circle, balling her hands into fists, Marie spewed a wordless rant of guttural moans and choked off screams. She leaped onto the little thief and clung to the front of him. Wrapping her legs tight around him, she squeezed his ears with her hands. The thief let out a high pitched sort of scream that sounded like a little girl's yelp. Marie started shaking his head back and forth. A small crowd had begun to form and cautiously observe the uproar. A cop, driving down the block in a police cruiser, noticed the scene. He double parked the cruiser. He rolled down his window and shouted for Marie and the scrawny little guy to knock it off. He whooped the cruiser's siren once, then again. No one paid him any mind. Resigned to his fate, he got out of the car. Marie had stopped screaming but the little thief had not. The officer had to separate them using his billy club. Judging Marie the aggressor, he swung the club between the two and pressed the stick at her throat and pulled back until she came down off her opponent. Marie landed hard on the cold ground. She got to her feet quickly. Motherfuck, she said. God dammit.
Marie told the cop the little bastard had stolen their toasters, that little cock sucking thief fuck, she said. The cop looked at the thief. The thief held out his two arms, a toaster in each hand. He raised his shoulders and eyebrows in a questioning manner, as if they were in a room full of toasters and it might be hard to figure out which two toasters exactly were being discussed. The cop frowned. Marie began yelling again. The fucker. The lying little fucking fucker, he stole 'em. Those toasters are dented, the cop said, they're old toasters. They're my grandmothers, the thief volunteered. The cop had had enough, it was all nonsense to him, typical screwball shit. All of you go on, he said, I don't want to see you around here again today. Eddie told him it wasn't right, the toasters were theirs. You with her, the cop asked Eddie, pointing his night stick at Marie. Yeah. She was assaulting this man. He robbed us, Eddie said. Those toasters are old, the cop said, they're junk, where'd you get them? I found them, Eddie said. You found them? Yeah. Then they're not yours. They're ours if we found them, Marie shouted. Whose junk is that, the cop asked, pointing to the carpet and the menagerie of items on it. Marie glared at the cop. Eddie looked away. You got a permit, a vendors license? Motherfucker, Marie screamed, he stole our shit. The cop told the scrawny thief to take a walk. He told Marie and Eddie they were blocking the sidewalk, interfering with pedestrians. He said if they didn't pack up and get on their way their stuff would be confiscated, they'd be ticketed. I'll be back around in ten minutes, he said, you better be gone.
Marie sat on the outer sill of the tire store window and seethed. When the cop drove away she got up and paced back and forth. She told Eddie it was a damn kick in the teeth. That cop don't care, Eddie. He sees us all the time around here, all the time he's around, he don't know what's right? Eddie was down on one knee packing their things into the crates. Marie stopped in front of him and slammed her arms around herself in a tight embrace. She stared down at Eddie. I'll shoot that fucking cop, she said, I'll fucking kill that fucking cop. Eddie stood up and they talked quietly for a minute. They went and sat back down on the sill of the tire store window. Marie continued to hold herself tight in her own arms. She tucked her head down into her raised shoulders. Eddie saw Fat Bill looking at them and he shook his head slowly back and forth until Fat Bill looked away. He was beginning to think it might be impossible to get Marie back up, that she wouldn't move from this spot until something drastic, something horrible had happened. He felt her anger there next to him in the way he might feel a February wind biting down and around him. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, but somehow he didn't think that he could. He felt his eyes well up. He looked at the sky and back down again to stop the tears from coming. Eddie had always wished he could sing. He thought now if he could he would sing something soft only she might hear, and maybe even if it wasn't true and never would be, it would feel at least for a while like everything was all right.
Michael A. Flanagan