I FEEL STUPID AND CONTAGIOUS

Excerpt from "Kali's Day."

Stella

“Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello…pass that, will you?”
I fake inhale, not sure what’s supposed to happen now. This wack crowd of question marks, the total opposite of the void, ready to spend the rest of my life trying to get it–lost, radical, self-assured. Full of shit.

“He said two-fitty apiece. I said two-fitty? and he said Yeah– and kept repeating: two-fitty, two-fitty…So I gave it to him. Two-fitty.”
“.38?”
“Yeeah. Really sick.”
I turn it over in both hands: sharp-edged steel barrel, heavy, cool. “Okay. Okay! Yeah…There’s a fine line…you know…between owning a gun and using it. I don’t think…”
“Fuck yeah. Fine line. Fine line indeed.”
“You would never use it. I–”
“Don’t know. Insurance. Gotta have it.”
“Yeah? Maybe.”
“No. Not maybe.”
He laughs softly, enjoying his private joke with himself. This is when he seems most himself, like his own favorite company, what I like most, when he smiles like that, like my version of him perfect.
“Wanna go to the park?”
“Yeah.”
We walk toward the dirty light coming in through another tunnel, feel a rumble, shaky and deep down. We climb up the ladder into the chill of Riverside Park, headlights through the trees along the drive, a few straggling leaves, like loose teeth.
Finally, a taxi stops and we get in. Three of us now. His cousin Rolando has light green eyes. I’m sitting between them. Our thighs touching. Sweet. They’re laughing. Slapping their legs, talking their talk, trying to keep their voices low. I’m not really listening.
We tell the driver to drop us off in front of the Museum of Natural History. He gets out first, then me. Rolando jumps out, pushing us forward. “Run!” We dodge traffic and jump the wall into Central Park. The two of them are laughing. Running. Turning around to make sure we’re not being chased. I’m keeping up as best as I can. Every stumble makes me think I’ll break my nose or a kneecap. But, funnily, I keep going, I’m in it and high on raw fear. We’re deep in the park now, protected by the threat of danger. Only the brave and stupid, the crazy, come in this far.

My woods. My dark, gushy, crusty woods. At night a mob of us gathers in the center of Central Park where no one wants to go except a bunch of pathetic perverts and lunatics. There’s so many of us that the perverts are reduced to interesting characters and the lunatics historical relics. Like they came to the ‘67 Be In and never left. Sometimes one of them wanders into the group hanging around the Bandshell and talks about politics, drugs, cops or sex. Most of their stories include all of the above. You don’t want to be alone with any of them. They smoke lots of drugs. A point of common interest among them and most of us. But not me, I don’t know if I can handle it.

He smiles. “Hey, Happy Birthday.” He nods to Rolando who produces a plastic bag from his jacket pocket and hands it to him who hands it to me.
“How old? Fitteen, right? Sweet Fitteen. Here.”
I’m not sure what it means, the hidden thing inside the bag, whatever it is.
“Style Wars.” Oh- wow! Thanks, have to figure out when I can get somewhere peaceful to watch it. Hah! Mad deal!”
“The whole shit.”
My hands are on his shoulders. I kiss his cheek and breathe in like a petty thief stealing something small to test the waters.
We walk north and end up on the bridle path. It smells like horse shit and dry leaves. A full moon shatters on the water, quacking ducks too. I stumble in the ruts a couple of times, tilting into him. He presses back, his arm into my arm, to help her get her balance, shifting mid-thought into the third person, thinking about who it is she might be becoming. She hopes he doesn’t think she tripped on purpose.
She asks him “Where is it?”
“What?”
“You know.”
“Forget it.”
She doesn’t like this look. It’s not part of her perfect idea of him. “Are you going to keep it on you all the time?”
“What do you think?”
“Or just take it out sometimes when you’re, you know–need insurance.”
“ Don’t know. Man always need insurance, yo.”
“Yeah. I guess so. But where are you going to keep it? In your pocket?”
“Whatchoo think? Why you keep askin’ questions?”
“Or a holster?”
“Haha! Jesse James. No… No–Al Capone, right? Like that. Ha!”
She likes that he’s smiling again. She laughs at his joke.
“Look, Tinker Bell, I ain’t got no muthafuckin’ fairy godmuthafucka. Know what I’m sayin? Don’t you worry, I’m covered, you’re covered. Let’s just say if anyone wants to get– you know…”
Feeling like a big man. Yeah, she can see inside his own head looking scary and important to his own self. And he is important. That’s what she thinks, anyway.
Rolando is just looking at them without saying anything, looking like he’s kind of on the fence, his green eyes, like he’s in awe and scared at the same time, watching something huge and beautiful about to happen, like an avalanche, before it kills you.
“C’mon. Let’s go that way,” he says, pointing to a path heading south.
They’re in the Ramble. Some guy is hanging around on a rock not really dressed for the weather.

“Hey man–Why by yourself so late in the dark?”
“Taking in the night air. What’s it to you?”
“Well, see…this is our park and, you know, our property. I guess you could say we like lanlords. See what I’m sayin’? We here to collect the rent.”
“No, I don’t. Last I heard this is public property, dude.”
“Dude? Did you hear that? He called me Dude. I ‘aint no dude and yo ‘aint no niggah. Know what I’m sayin? So let’s just cut to the chase. My boy here is gonna put out his hand and you’re gonna give up whatchoo got…Yo, whatchoo waitin’ for?”
He’s doing it, acting like he’s all that. She’s thinking about heading off in another direction. He pulls the .38 out of his belt and points it at the guy on the rock. She’s stunned watching the guy dig into his back pocket.
“Hey, hey, HEY…Don’t. Here. This is all I’ve got. Take it, alright?”
“Ok, Dude. Now turn around and walk that way.”
He does as he’s told. And they stand there. Silent, believing it is their property for the time it takes to breathe once in, then out.
“Let’s go.” They run up the hill and keep going until they reach Belvedere Castle.
*

They’re sitting at the edge of Turtle Pond. She’s rubbing her ankle and picking at reeds. They’re passing a joint. She turns her face away and blows out smoke that’s only been sucked in far enough to burn her tongue. He’s not paying attention and it’s good because her left knee is shaking. She tells herself its the cold October air, the rush up hill.
“Hahaha! Thought the white boy was gonna shit his self, ha ha!”
“You mean the dude? Ha ha…What’s there?”
“Don’t know, lemme see. Ten, twenny, thirty…whoa–eighty! Cash-money!”
They’re both pounding the hard ground, laughing. She needs to get up, move so she can stop shaking. “Great. Listen, I gotta go.”
“Why? We going downtown. Get some 40’s, pizza, whatnot. You can’t bail now.”
“I’m a little tired. What time is it? And you never told me this was going down tonight. Here. I thought we were just walking around. Anyway, I have to go.”
“Aw c’mon…”
“Why’d you have to do that, the fucking gun?”
“He was shittin’ himself…Haha. Did you see him bolt? Ha ha!”
He seems surprised at his own self. So does Rolando. They high five each other and she sees that it’s really between them and she’s just…whatever.
“Ok, shorty, here’s a twenny. Take a cab. You can pay this time.”
They’re laughing really hard now and she doesn’t know whether to laugh or get angry. She doesn’t want to be angry. Playing with guns and shit like a couple of jerky twelve-year olds. Fuck their bullshit game.
“Nah, never mind. I don’t need it. Thanks. I appreciate it, okay? I’ve got a token. Later.”
“See you tomorrow ah-ight.? Stella? Yeah?”
“Yeah. Tomorrow.”
* * *
Text and images (c)Bonny Finberg


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