Midnight

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


A continuation of Jenny's story from a different perspective.

Submitted: July 16, 2018

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Submitted: July 16, 2018

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Midnight

 

If she jumped to the right, she’d be jumped three times. If she moved forward, her savior piece, the one with the chip on the edge, the one she kept in her pockets and cherished like the parents of an infant cherished their infant’s tiny footprints, would be jumped. Then the crumbled twenty-dollar bill, the one she hoped to spend on another pack of Menthol Light 100’s, would get stuffed into the opponent’s pocket. She puffed hard on her last cigarette. Sometimes defeat came in the form of a nicotine high.

Her brother Charlie always asked if her straggled bangs ever got in the way of her vision. She’d need to see to live on the streets the way she did, didn’t she? She’d snort at him because vision wasn’t fixed; there was more than one way to see. Her eyes were too easily deceived, she’d learned that the hard way, and instead relied on her gut and her hearing. In combination, she found they held a 99% accuracy rate.

She didn’t need eyes to hear the boy’s skateboard wheels trip over the cracks of the sidewalk across the street, and she didn’t need to see the one pink scar slashed across his cheek to know his name: Coleman. Perhaps today he was going by Jared or Tony—he changed names more often than pre-teen girls changed their hairstyles. It was a little trick she taught him, one of her proudest. He was a smart boy, but not smart enough. Not yet.

Her opponent jumped his black chip three times and declared to be kinged. She blew smoke in his face and threw him the bill.

Coleman kicked up the skateboard. He always knew where she was by the thickness of her smoke. He tugged at his collar. He wasn’t nervous, but he knew what was expected of him by now. She was smart, but not smart enough.

She gathered together the checker pieces and shivered a bit in the breeze. The sun was going down early again, she’d need to find a warmer place than the middle of a children’s park to conduct business. Her opponent took a leak in the bushes behind the bathroom and Coleman took his seat, squirming uncomfortably in the warmth of the other man. She didn’t look into his eyes, she never did, but continued gathering her pieces and flicked her lucky piece back into her pocket. She waited.

Coleman unzipped the black backpack he wore. Necklaces, jewels and diamond rings. She smashed out her cigarette.

“Where did you get them?”

“That old house off forty-third,” he said. “Some lady was already in there, but I took care of her.”

“Took care of her?”

“She was a mental wreck.” He snickered. “Loons everywhere.”

She brushed her fingers through the items, inspecting them through her finger tips rather than her eyes. “Is this it?”

“Yes.” Coleman placed the pack beside him. “I want my cut, Cherise.”

“I don’t take orders.”

Coleman gritted his teeth. Cherise held one of three pearl necklaces in her hand. She squeezed them, rolled them, watching carefully the way the street lights glinted off the spheres. Fakes often shined a white twinkle in her eye and rolled smooth against the calluses on her hand. But these pearls were dulled and generally unattractive. She clutched them aside and sifted through the others.

“Are you sticking with the name Coleman for a while?”

He crossed his arms. She glanced up briefly.

“Saucy tonight, eh? That’ll get you nowhere, kid. I told you I’d give you half of whatever I get for them, didn’t I say that?”

“You say a lot of things.”

“So do you.”

Another street light flickered on. A woman in a pink coat and grey capris jogged with her dog, some kind of terrier mix Cherise identified. Neither dog nor woman gave a tattered street hag and a scrawny boy attention they didn’t deserve.

“Meet me back here in three days. We’ll play a game. If you win, you’ll keep the jackpot.” She smiled the smile she always smiled and knocked her empty cigarette pack against the table twice. When she stood, she shoveled the treasures into her own bag, straightened her flannel with the holes in it, and shook her bangs to the left. Coleman watched her as she strode in front of a man cycling and called out to him when he almost hit her.

Cherise always wanted to play a game. She always wanted to play a game and she always wanted to bet; if there were no stakes, she wouldn’t engage, and if the stakes weren’t high enough she’d raise them mid-game. People were attracted to that, Coleman suspected: her control over something uncontrollable. Were she to walk onto the highway blindfolded, not a car bumper would hit her. They’d swerve, they’d honk, they’d screech, and they’d crash, but she’d step over the line on the other side with the smile she always smiled with that stupid, beat up black checker piece in her pocket. Maybe it was cursed, like she said it was.

She’d told him the devil had given it to her in exchange for her soul. She was drunk the night she told the story, begging on the street under the ruse she was a struggling mother with an infant back in her hotel room and her oldest boy forced to do her dirty work with her. Coleman sat beside her with the glaze over his eyes she told him to fake, and the dirt on his cheeks she’d rubbed in. They collected a few hundred dollars and Coleman asked how her act worked so well. She flipped her checker in response, smiled, and said she danced with the devil and in return he gave her a lucky chip.

“Always make a deal, especially with the devil,” she told him. “If you don’t make a deal, he gets everything, and you get nothing. I’d rather walk away with a tiny bit of something than a lot of nothing.”

That night they’d made their first deal together: if Coleman could sneak into that house on forty-third where that man lived, the young man with way too much fortune on his hands, and get something worth some value, Cherise would split the earnings with him. They shook on the deal. They made eye contact. She didn’t smile and neither did he; that was the way a deal was meant to be made.

But Coleman didn’t like deals. Deals were based on honesty and trust, two things the world didn’t really have, not in the way people thought it did; two things he’d never gained any pleasure from. In his backpack lay the fifteen thousand dollars he’d removed from the safe in the house, the safe that woman didn’t want to open. She just wanted her “stuff”, whatever that was. He wondered if she’d ever gotten it, then realized he didn’t care.

The combination for the safe lay scribbled on a piece of paper under one of the pillows in the upstairs master bedroom. He learned that trick from Cherise as well: a lot of rich people weren’t smart.

It wasn’t the money Coleman thought of as he stood tapping his foot next to the checkers table three days later. Cherise wasn’t coming, and he’d known that in the tips of his fingers when he’d shook her hand on the deal weeks ago. He rolled a tooth pick between his teeth, plucking out the last bit of roast beef from the sandwich earlier. For a woman who spoke so gallantly about the honesty in criminality, for a woman who preached the gospel of honor in thievery, she didn’t much care for the words she spoke. Coleman figured that ought to change.

He bought another roast beef sandwich. He loved roast beef. Roast beef was the dominant meats of all beef. People liked to worship Filet Mignon and prized Beef Wellington, but that was what made them so devalued. They were delicate, expensive, with a fragile preparation strategy if they were made right. When you bit into them they tasted like what they cost, but after that there was nothing. After some roast beef, though, there was a fullness in the stomach and a raise in blood pressure. That was what meat was supposed to do.

He told that to the guy who sat beside him on the bus stop, the guy who always talked to himself. He lived down the block from the abandoned hotel Coleman crashed at. Sometimes they waved to each other, sometimes Coleman robbed him without him knowing. The man’s pockets were safe for now, with all the dough Coleman carried in his backpack.

“Why do you always go in that old hotel?” The man asked. “How old are you anyway? Where’s your family?”

“I am my family. How old are you? Don’t you know it’s rude to ask people about their age?”

“It is?”

“Go ask your wife. She’s pretty.”

“I know how old my wife is.”

Coleman’s eyes rolled.

“Is this your bus?”

“No.”

The man waved the bus on and turned to Coleman with his hand outstretched. “Ian.”

Coleman eyed him, wiped his greasy hands on his shirt, then shook. “Lance.”

“Lance. Fitting name. You look like a Lance. You know how some people look like their names?”

“I’ve seen pugs that look like their owners.”

“Do I look like an Ian?”

“Probably, I don’t know.”

Ian fiddled with his hands then stood and decided he wouldn’t take the bus today. He said he couldn’t, there were too many eyes on him. Coleman saluted him, then rolled his eyes once more. Had Ian stayed a little longer, Coleman would have offered him half of his sandwich.

How could someone look like a name? Coleman frowned a bit to himself, sucking grease from his fingers. Were Ians prone to dark hair and obsessive blinking like that Ian? Maybe names really were what Cherise said they were: an extension of the soul, a little piece of a person that identified more than their physical self. That’s why no one knew what her name really was, she’d sold her spirituality for a stupid beat up checker piece. Checkers wasn’t even a good game.

He tossed the sandwich trash underneath his bus seat. The driver saw him and glared. Coleman kicked his feet innocently, smiling and clasping his hands on his lap. Outside the sun reached its peak above the smallest cloud and cast a dullness over the road. He could see the orange reflectors on the lines now and watched the wheels of the bus narrowly miss them.

Everyone jerked suddenly. Coleman slammed into the seat in front of him. He snatched his backpack from the aisle it started sliding down and clutched it to his chest as murmurs around the bus erupted. The driver apologized: a woman shuffled slowly over the crosswalk lines. Coleman straightened his posture. That was her—the woman from the house! The woman with the gun and the stifled cries and the gun and the engagement ring, and the gun

“Wait, let me off,” he ordered the driver, stumbling down the aisle.

“I can’t, this isn’t a designated stop area.”

“And this isn’t a deadly fist, but it could be.”

The driver stared at the boy then burst into laughter. “Nice one. How about you sit down. I’ll let you off at the next stop provided you pick up your trash.”

Coleman scowled and returned to the seat, the sandwich trash clutched in his grasp. At the next stop, he rushed back down the street the bus had come up and found the woman entering a café. Unsure of whether she would scream or whether she would run, he approached slowly and stood in line behind her, whistling. He hated café’s and how proper they smelled. Coffee and laptops and college students with their textbooks sent a rash up his back and goosebumps along his skin.

“What do you want?” she asked in a whisper. She hadn’t turned around, not enough to look him in the eyes but enough to recognize his shoes and that backpack, the one he carried away the night she lost everything. The one with the engagement ring and the pearls locked away in the hands of a child.

“Your help.”

She glanced over her shoulder. He stared intense, the green in his eyes brighter than the Caramel tint in hers. She ordered a Caramel Macchiato.  He ordered a black coffee, no sugar. They called her name first: Jenny.

“You’re a thief,” she whispered.

“So are you, honey.”

“Don’t call me honey.”

“Don’t call me a thief.”

She sipped angrily at her cup. “What do you want?”

“Are you deaf? I need your help.”

Why would I help you?” her voice rose a little, the indignation clear enough to spark interest of the man on his laptop. Coleman pushed her out the door and into the corner alley of the shop.

“Everything I took, she took. She has the money, I know it. I’ll give you half if you help me.”

Jenny’s eyes searched the boy’s. Money—how could he know she needed money? How could he know her car had been repossessed and the eviction notice on her apartment door had already expired? How could he know the two dollars she spent were the last paper bills she’d see until she stood at the corner of the liquor store and asked strangers for help. She already had all the rest of her belongings packed—two shirts, a torn sweater, and a pair of jeans—prepared to stand on the highway with an upturned thumb and a timid smile.

But the boy didn’t seem to be a liar—a thief, but not a liar. He didn’t smile or fidget, his eyes wouldn’t leave hers until she spoke.

“How?”

Coleman stifled his grin. “You’re the one with the gun. Take a guess.”

Jenny eyed a passing couple, the grip they held on each other’s hands, then sipped her Macchiato. “The thief got stolen from, hm? I want more than half. Split 70 30 or no deal.”

“Are you really in the position to negotiate?” 

She smiled. “I’m the one with the gun, remember?” 

He shuffled his feet, running his hands through his hair. The amount didn’t matter, he told himself, only the revenge. In thievery amounts were rarely a goal: he needed the rush, the pride, more than the cash. Jenny’s smile stretched. They shook hands.

 

 

She always came around midnight. Midnight wasn’t really a time, Charise always said. Midnight was a state of mind. Midnight was the hunger in the predator and the fear in the prey; the fire in Hell and the peace in Heaven. Midnight was everlasting, a darkness more a luxury than a pain. Time smothered, she promised. It would always smother the one that worshipped it. So, at midnight she often played checkers against herself, a single cigarette lit until it withered to nothing, and that’s where Coleman and Jenny found her resting.

She counted a few dollars bills and hummed a tune to herself, a tune her mother often sung before she handed a balloon to the strange men with the pits in their faces. They’d give her money and she’d hum some more while she counted. She told her daughter the song was the one she danced across the ballroom floor to, the one the devil kissed the top of her hand to.

Charise knew they were coming. They reflected off the moon without knowing it, and before the barrel was set against the back of her head, she put her hands up and smiled.

 


© Copyright 2019 A.D. Ware. All rights reserved.

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