Short Story
$100 PRIZE
The tumor on my head continues to
grow. Managing the pain is sometimes
hard. I need surgery, but one must
have a mailing address to qualify. I
don’t qualify.

I haven’t seen my Lady since the fall. I
may not make it until spring, so today
I will pay her a visit. But first, I’m off
to see Mae West for breakfast.

February. Cold. Early morning. I stand
outside on the subway platform in the
upper part of the island waiting for the
train before my esteemed earthly
colleagues leave their homes to go to
work. Very, very cold. Tears in my
eyes. Frozen hands and feet.
Ironically, the cold numbs the pain
from my growth and I can breathe
easy. I inhale generously and exhale
my warm breath. Liquid drips from my
nose into my whiskers, but my
attention is on the pigeons.

Dirty, filthy birds. Dirty, filthy pigeons.
They suddenly take flight from the
platform roof, flying in exquisite
formations. From the left, from the
right, meeting in the center.
Intertwining, taking off again, dancing
in sync in the early dawn, looking like
small black bats from afar. They head
back my way. Beautiful, stunning
birds. Until one shits on my bump.
Dirty, filthy birds. Dirty, filthy pigeons.
But I’ll miss them anyway.

Seventh Avenue in midtown. A small
brownstone church squeezed between
the office buildings. In the basement,
several tiny crucifixes are nailed to the
peeling walls. Mae West is filling a big
urn with coffee. I’m the first to arrive.

“For cryin’ out loud, you’ve got bird
crap all over your head!”

I laugh as she stuffs a clump of paper
towels into my dry, scratched hands.

“Clean yourself up, for God’s sake!”

Mae is short and plump but still has
her curves. Even though she’s old now
like me and her hair is all gray, she’s
as sexy as they come. She talks tough
and acts hard, but if you look long
enough at her, her pale blue eyes tell
you who she really is.

“Well, don’t just stand there starin’!
Help me out here!”

I get to the church early to help her
set the long tables with cups,
silverware and dishes. She doesn’t
seem to mind my disfigurement.
I don’t mind the pungent odor that
occasionally escapes from under her
arms during her preparations.

A few other workers like Mae arrive
soon after and do the cooking for all of
us wanderers coming in for our
breakfast. The wanderers trickle in,
eat and then leave. Most of them have
a factory job they go to. I’m too old to
go to work, though. And now I have
the tumor, so I don’t do too much. Try
and keep warm in the winter. Think
about things. Dream about stuff. When
you know you don’t have too much
time left, you really think about things.

After I eat my watery eggs, I help Mae
clean up. I take the garbage outside to
the little courtyard in back of the
church. In warmer weather, I would
hang out there for the morning. Nap
on the bench. Read a newspaper.
Listen to the rats scurry around the
yard as I thought about religion. I’m
not religious, but given I was resting
on church property, I would think
about it.

I put the garbage in the trash cans.
Next to the cans is a small pile of
firewood. I think about having a
fireplace. A fireplace in my shack. A
one room shack outside the city with a
lot of land. In the winter I would sit on
a coarse rug by the fireplace and warm
my feet. A woolen blanket would be
over my shoulders. Yes, a fireplace
would be nice. A fireplace in my shack.

I’m anxious to make my way
downtown to my Lady. Mae gives me
my subway card for a one-way fare. I
put it in my shirt pocket and will save
it for later. She told me the church
pastor gives them to her to pass out to
the wanderers. I think she is only
supposed to give the cards to those
who have jobs, but she always gives
me one. Well, I do have to put up with
her bossing me around all the time.

I walk over to the west side where I
will head south on the river path. My
feet are a little swollen but my legs are
still strong. I catch a reflection of my
distorted self in a store front window.
The sun is bright and provides some
relief from the cold.

There aren’t any cyclists or joggers to
contend with. Only my thoughts. When
they get dark or too deep, I bring
myself back and look around at the
vast sky, the bare branches of the
trees and smell the salty river. My
thoughts won’t save me. I don’t seek
redemption from my failings and
broken promises. I have no significant
triumphs in which to bask in the light.
I imagine drinking from the river,
swinging on the branches, letting the
sky engulf me, then scoop me up like a
child and embrace me like a protective

I stop several times to rest. I even
sleep. In the cold when there’s no
pain, I can sleep. When I awake there
is a turkey sandwich on my chest. The
bread is dry and stale, but I finish it
and continue walking south.

Finally, I arrive, but I wait. I wait for
my esteemed earthly colleagues to
make their way back to their homes—
to their addresses. I want to be alone
with my Lady. The sun has almost
retired. Without any light, the air is
bitter cold. I walk out on the pier.
Beyond where pedestrians are allowed,
I climb over the ropes and I walk to
the edge by the water. And there my
Lady rests in the harbor. A final beam
of light haloes her crown. I reach out
my hand to her. If only. I drop to my
knees from exhaustion. If only she
could forgive me.

A funny thought comes over me. It
makes me laugh. It feels like I’m
praying. It feels like I’m praying to my
Lady. Here on my knees in my home—
at my address:

Old Man with Tumor on Head
c/o: The Furthest Pier
The Greatest City, Ever

I stand up and walk closer to the edge.
I look down into the black water. What
answers to my questions lie deep in
that darkness? Be brave for once. Be
bold! Leap into the Unknown! Free
myself. My mouth is wide open but my
screams are silent. I hear a siren in
the distance. I long to be rescued.

I turn around and shuffle back over
the ropes to the beginning of the pier,
back to the island. The moon is rising,
lighting up the harbor. I say a quick
good-bye to my Lady and then make
my way to the nearest subway station.

Patricia McNamara is a writer, producer, actor and
director living in New York City.  She is a staff member
at The Jewish Federations of North America, and is
crazy about tennis!
by Patricia McNamara