"Watch Dog" by M.S. Hanson
Exiting the train station, the rain is lighter than when Eddie boarded in Brooklyn five minutes before. A sheath of light escapes from behind a bank of clouds and it's a bleak, wet daylight that drizzles down on top of Eddie's dark and shaggy head, already damp from the morning's hurried shower and quick brush out the door. He awoke entangled and still exhausted after sleeping through the morning radio show his alarm sets off each morning. But he's overslept - again.
Each body on the Manhattan street jostles past one of his shoulders easily, sliding off the dampness of his windbreaker. Most of the bodies are taller, drab, and appear austere in their Monday morning business coats and dress jackets. Many are sheltered under the protection of a black or grey umbrella, purchased thoughtlessly from the loud man outside the train station waving a cardboard sign in scribbled marker.
It's Eddie's hooded presence on the crooked sidewalk that draws the uneasy stares, and he watches the women's knuckles whiten as they strengthen grips on such nice leather purse straps, while their men make fists around their wallets or money clips inside their coat pockets. He sees and knows his effect on people, doesn't expect more now when meeting people's wary eyes on the street.
It's these very stoic bodies and suspicious stares that comprise a noon blurred by downtown's black and brown bodies, similar to the way the right side of Eddie's face looked this morning after a night's time turning black and blue with bruises.
Memories from last night have an itchy effect at the back of Eddie's skull, making him feel mulish and sullen not only toward Gerry, but toward Gerry's smart ass mouth, and Gerry's quick temper. How he succeeded once again in pissing Eddie off more than earning his respect, his friendship, is a boundless account. It was Gerry who insisted on throwing that first punch, and for what? A couple of guys they don't know from Prospect Park show up at Eddie's place, they start trouble, and Gerry thinks his neighborhood pride has been offended – idiot. Casual violence at a neighborhood party, that's one thing. Making enemies out of an entire neighborhood, that's thinking you have better friends than you probably do.
It was Marcus' anger, Eddie thinks about his roommate, which was another matter last night. Marcus, the man, has plumbing that just runs deeper than what Gerry or Eddie can figure out. Put simply, if Marcus has a soul, a simple human soul similar to the rest of theirs, then no one has seen it in a very long time.
Marcus likes to fight for a living. Sometimes he gets paid for it and sometimes he's just paying for something he shouldn't have said. In their shared apartment on Bowman Street Marcus is let be to be however he wants, because he's a demon in a fight and as a demon, he's fierce enough to forgive. Sometimes Eddie feels it's like selling a man's soul just to get a glimpse of the devil, but when he first moved into the apartment up from Atlanta, Marcus said self-preservation was the first thing he had to learn and Eddie did. So now he's always drawn into fighting beside Marcus, even if he'd never end up fighting for him.
"My dude, can you move it?" Suddenly, he's rocked to the left by a shove from behind. Some prepubescent with a swaggering walk bigger than his frame passes him. Something happens to the sun and the shadows of the buildings rear back up to climb far over Eddie's head. He checks his watch and picks up his step.
It's ten past noon and he's still walking down Wall Street. He'll be late meeting Mira at the Battery Park War Memorial. It might be the the feeling that comes with an already bruised morning, the kind that always follows a battered night, but Eddie dreads a break- up date as he curves around to the park entrance. Caught up in his mover's job, caught up with going out, caught up with trouble from Eddie and Marcus -for the past month, his head has been somewhere else. The weather changes quickly here when summer wants to come and Eddie's head gets screwed up easily by the season. Lately everything's been another headache.
After the rain comes the wind, and sitting before the railing of a docking port, Eddie and Mira sit in the direct line of fire when icy cold breezes shoot off the Hudson River. Mira's bare hands are cold, Eddie thinks. She grasps the white cup of black coffee he bought her tightly between her denim clad knees, her shoulders hunch a little in cold under a thin jacket, but her back is as stiff as a rod as she seats herself on the very edge of the bench.
"You said you wouldn't roll with them anymore." Mira speaks about Gerry and Marcus but speaks towards the water. Behind them, wanderers grasp their coat lapels together and put a jog in the step to reach warmer ports, to dodge into a shop or a Starbucks for warmth.
Mira keeps her back to them, her dark eyes bright and fixed steadily on the waves the wind's making out on the water. Eddie gets the feeling she's intently ignoring the cold, as she's too intently going about breaking them up.
He watched pieces of her brown hair sailing in the wind when they first sat down together, pulled loose from the complicated bundle Mira clipped at the back of her head. Then she began speaking, her voice too crisp and stern to pretend that they were going to last through the afternoon and Eddie studied the curved differences in the sizes of their shoes instead.
"You promise, Eddie. You make promise after promise, and you promise…But you never come through." A hard voice and a hard seat prevent Eddie's head from looking up, prevents his back from uncurling itself as he leans forward, hard elbows on hard knees, further and further down.
"You never come through, Eddie because you're just like your friends." Mira pauses and Eddie hears her breathing through her teeth. "You're going in circles, all of you. Where are you going to be? What are you going to do at the end of your life, Eddie? Where is it you think all this is leading to – you and your friends' 'plans'? Such great plans...that you've got nothing to show for any of it yet, or for yourself. What have you done since you've moved up here? Have you done any of the things you wanted to do?"
"Show me," she demands. Mira gets on her feet and says it again, "Show me what you have for spending more time with them than me. Because you could've had me, Eddie. You could've had us to show for your time, but open up your hands now and tell me what they put there that I couldn't. Look at that, Eddie, there's nothing in your hands!"
There is something, actually. Eddie feels the coldness of the water bottle he's gripped firmly under the bench for the last twenty minutes. His bare, unprotected hands feel the icy wind hit the wetness from the bottle. Between the condensation, the drops of water from the river, and his own cold sweat from his palms, Eddie feels close to drenched.
The narrow straights of Mira's grey flats have disappeared from his view of the pavement. When the sense of phantom weights finally lifts off of his shoulders and neck, Eddie raises his head to look straight out. Mira's whole shape is gone, and not the faintest trace of heat from her or the white foam coffee cup lingers in the empty space. Struck by absence, Eddie puts himself on his feet in one swift movement. The weather seems to move over him and his smooth windbreaker easier, and with it the moment passes.
Eddie deserts the bench for the inner depths of the park and its exits into the old city running through the island. After him, a young blond couple quickly occupies the bench, leading a small Pomeranian on a leash, wrapped in a lumpy sweater-blanket. The couple sits closely together to protect their warmth between them as the dog gnaws on itself and the cloth, tipping over a full water bottle next to it.
Walking into a small, heated deli smelling of salami several blocks away, Eddie realizes he left his water underneath the bench. The weather's too cold for ice water anyway, he thinks. He should have purchased a coffee from the vendor for himself too, needing something hot to warm him up, as he couldn't think Mira would have shared with him at all. Looking back on Mira's departure, if Eddie were to have made a grab at any of her lost warmth or the gone heat of her cup, the most he could have hoped for was simple steam.
Something bitter drifts in the wind, unnaturally and out of ordinary from Eddie's right.
He' sitting low on the stone stoop to the Brooklyn apartment he's supposed to share with Marcus. But truthfully, he isn't exactly sure where he lives these days. Gerry shot his mouth off at the wrong guy, finally. He shares a hospital room with a man whose hands are handcuffed to the railings, some criminal. Considering his friend's own attempt at aggravated assault, Eddie supposes Gerry was a step away from becoming a declared criminal, too.
He's slept in a chair - a scratchy, polyester-padded, wooden chair - for the past three nights instead of the small but cushioned bed he pays for at Marcus' apartment. It actually belongs to the grayed out fighter, but Eddie knows well that it too, much like his life in general, belongs to Marcus and his fists.
Seeing Gerry sleep, battered but growing stronger, always makes Eddie feel more awake when he goes. He doesn't mean to watch - he often doesn't even intend to stay the night at the hospital - but the thoughtless green surrender of a cold glare like Gerry's makes Eddie's pupils ache all the way out to their dull blue color. Watching someone sleep that deeply makes him wish for a real bed for himself, a better resting place for himself.
Puffing out grey smoke into the darkened night, Eddie feels the street's chill poor over his nearly healed face like a salve. He fought beside Marcus, Gerry, and the others last Sunday against people he wouldn't recognize now as he passed them on the city street. In this very apartment. Why? And how did he end up the one with his back pressed to Marcus', his fist full of some other guy's shirt with his blood on it, with the other reared behind his head, about to take a heavy fall for a man who hadn't even called to ask if Gerry was alive.
"What's good, man? Everything taken care of?" Was how Marcus greeted Eddie and asked about Gerry's details after he walked through the kitchen door tonight.
That bitter smell's growing worse, and Eddie swivels his head around in the darkness trying to see what it is. Something to his right, Eddie thinks at first, then it must be the trash bags lining the abandoned liquor store beside Marcus' apartment house.
But, no. It's a dog, actually. A dead dog, lying on top of the trash bags.
Eddie recognizes the German Shepherd when he stares harder at it. It's the same stray dog he remembers Marcus petting and throwing scraps to when strolling around the neighborhood at times when once again they couldn't think of anything better to do with their time. Then the dog would get needy and hungrier, wanting more food and more soft strokes from Marcus, so he'd kick the thing. He'd do that a lot.
Looking away, Eddie thinks more about the Brooklyn he remembers from when he first moved here from Atlanta, away from Maggie, his sister, and Ann, his mother. He was on his own, always remembered being on his own, and made a point of not needing them, often and perhaps too much. But he still had goals for himself then; that was the point of moving.
Eddie had it boiled down once, down to a weird equation involving business, money, and success, one in which family, love, and loyalty would fit into neat sub-categories.
Not anymore, though. What was what, anymore?
This stupid stone step is the level he's stuck himself on, he knows with a shattered sense of truth, breathing in carcinogenic smoke he can't ever remember wanting to begin with. He had learned loyalty and self-preservation, just as recommended. But for putting his back to Marcus' and watching out for any enemy, Eddie never saw one in the distance, and all the while without the same attentive eyes watching out for him.
Encompassed by it, ensnared again by it for the nth damn time, Eddie examines Marcus's anonymous street as it thrives in the black night. It's one of those places which soars under the blanket of darkness because in the light there is nothing good to show. No identity. No real substance here. Nothing to show for all your time: Mira's words.
Eddie tastes the black ash of his cigarette one last time and his eyes switch downward, drawn to the last embers burning the paper down to a black crisp, then ash. In the lateness of the hour there's its orange and black fire, something bleak but all the same the brightest, most infinitesimal sign of life on Marcus and Eddie's abandoned block.
The suffocation of the night is abruptly unsettling. To the right of the stone step the body of the dead dog grows colder. Dark and tan fur matted with blood and dirt has crusted and stiffened under the rim of the abandoned building.
With the butt of the cigarette under his boot, cool air tingles in Eddie's nose and mouth. It makes his lungs work a little bit faster, a little more like normal, and he likes it.
Rising, the presence of his cell phone is acute in the side pocket of his pant leg, pressing against him with the weight of its job. To make some plans, he knows he'll have to make a few calls to work out details. He knows he'll have to get Jon, one of the men inside, to loan him his old car, the metal heap of junk stalled on the untidy maintenance man's front yard for months now. Eddie knows an all-night mechanic who could get it running again to last the fourteen hour drive, one who owes Eddie a favor anyway. The job could be done in a just a few hours.
He'll pack just a few things, things he'll need in the blue gym bag he first dragged here over a year ago and in the early morning he'll try to leave, sometime after sunrise. Maybe he'll roll into Atlanta in time for a late dinner at his mother's or maybe with his sister. That is if she's had the baby yet. That's another call he'll have to make to find out.
Eddie turns and climbs back up the ugly, protesting staircase to the kitchen door. He turns back for a glance at the street, at the dog, and the blackness before going back inside. After his one beer, his talk and a drunk slap on the back from Jon, he passes through the front door not twenty minutes later.
Hours pass, and when Marcus' group of dark, loud men come stumbling out of the kitchen, they follow CJ and pile into his rusted blue truck. It's only Gerry's kid brother among them who owns a working truck right now.
CJ grabs the beat up windbreaker Eddie's forgotten next to his keys, figuring he'd sooner return it tomorrow in the hospital lobby, sometime during the afternoon when the doctors said Gerry could be discharged.
The men's heavy crunch of boots on gravel stops as CJ spots the dog first. Behind him, Jon makes a remark about free fresh Chinese food and their raucous, uncontrolled laughter echoes while CJ's boots crunch on the gravel again.
He approaches the dead body. Still holding Eddie's second-hand and thinly ripped jacket, seeing the flecks of blood and gravel marks already marking it, he can't see the harm in covering the thing partially in the few hours before garbage pick-up. Maybe there's a number he's supposed to call, but if there is CJ himself doesn't know it.
Up close the thing smells, and it's dirty. Open eyes are black with death, and CJ can't make himself peer into them. They're just too similar to way Gerry's eyes looked blank when they lifted his lids after finding him unconscious and bloody in Prospect Park. So he shades them with the bloody collar of Eddie's jacket and walks back to the truck.
Driving steadily with the windows rolled down, letting the air bring back some oxygen and preventing Jon from getting sick in his seat, CJ doesn't question losing that rag of Eddie's jacket. To be fair, though, he'll rummage around his and Gerry's place later on to find something else, something good to cover Eddie's back.