SHORT STORY CONTEST
I’LL MISS THE EARTH
by Patricia McNamara
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 parent.
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 EARTH
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!