“Same shit, different day Frank,” Eddie said as he took a drag from his cigarette and passed it to me. I nodded in agreement, inhaling the warm menthol vapors and exhaling them out into small smoke ringlets, barely visible in the cool night air. Closing my eyes, I leaned my head back against the cement wall, using my right foot for balance as I listened to the quiet calming sounds of the late-night inner city traffic. The soft swoosh of the car wheels splashing through the tiny street puddles that were remnants of a fresh autumn rain. Even though I looked forward to the moments I got to spend with Frank, I couldn’t wait to be off work. My feet were already aching and longing for the thirty minute soaking ritual that occurred as soon as I made it home from my shift. I was getting too old to be walking around doing security, but thankfully, the campus I now worked at was small and easier to manage, not all those stairs, like the last security gig.
It was the last job that did a number on my knees. The up and down of the football stadium stairwells, I could feel the pressure of every step. It was as if the cartilage had gone from my knees years ago, and what was left felt like bone on bone. Although I felt young at heart, the white strands in my beard, and the speckles of gray in the little hair I had left on my head, told the real story. I was getting old, and if I was getting old, that meant that Eddie was damn near historical. Oh Eddie. I touched the scar above my eye. It was a reminder of a time I wish I could forget.
It sure was peaceful this time of night. The mist of rain illuminated by the streetlights. I loved looking up and down the city streets and seeing hardly any moving cars in sight, just a slow creep of a few headlights followed by the low red glow of taillights as the cars continued on their respective journeys, fading out of sight. I loved seeing the city this time of night, the stilled calmness of the empty streets; it was as if no one was around in the night but me. Well sometimes. Often, I would see Eddie out as well, waiting on the corner. I never understood why Eddie stayed out so late, but Eddie was Eddie. He loved showing up to share a cigarette and give a smile.
“Ya see, it’s like this….” Eddie tapped me and I passed the cigarette back down. “Every day the sun goes up, you understand…and every night, every night it goes down again. So what that tell you?” Eddie looked up from his wheelchair at me. I shrugged, and squinted my eyes, while Eddie took another drag of the cigarette I had passed him.
“It tells you the world is fucked. But either way, you’re still expected to live in it, understand? You have to keep pushing, because that’s all we know how to do.” Eddie took another puff and leaned back in his chair. I nodded in agreement half smiling as I looked down at him. It was something about this time of night that got Eddie’s mind moving, it was these moments that I appreciated most. It was like Eddie was his old self again. These were the moments, even if they were just that…moments that I could forget things had changed.
It had been over ten years since the crash but every time I saw Eddie sitting in that chair, it made my shoulders heavy. I wore the weight of it all like dishonorable armor. Looking at Eddie, in that chair, only made the weight even heavier.
Some nights I hated seeing him there on that corner, waiting for me in the darkness, because I didn’t know how things would be, what version of Eddie I was going to get, but tonight it was different. Tonight it felt like old times. The night air was starting to feel cool against my short-sleeved gray shirt and the moonlight made my golden nametag have just the right gleam of importance. Tonight I was going to live in the moment, just focus on my friend Eddie smiling, happy and loving life. It was better than seeing the darkness that slowly wrapped itself around Eddie’s body, looking for the prime moment to steal his soul, and take the last remnants of his peace of mind. That’s the Eddie that really reminded me of that night.
“I met a woman today,” Eddie shifted to the left side of his wheelchair, draped his right arm over the back of it and smiled.
“Oh, yeah?” I said taking one last drag of the cigarette before dropping the stub on the ground, and using the tip of my black steel-toe boot to cover the faint orange glow. I pressed it harder into the wet concrete sidewalk. I crossed my arms and leaned back against the building. I turned slightly and looked down at Eddie, who still had a huge grin on his face. I laughed. “Must’ve been some woman got you grinning like that.”
“Some woman? Man I’m in love.” Eddie grabbed his chest and pretended to slump over in his chair. I laughed pulling out a mini Crown Royal and taking a swig. I passed it to Eddie who waved his hand to decline.
“She was more than some woman. I’m telling you Frank, she had an aura about her. Hell, I even told her the story of how I lost my leg.”
“You told the truth.”
“I told her about Iraq.”
“Iraq? Eddie, you’ve never been outside of Baltimore, let alone in Iraq.”
“Well she don’t know that.”
“Man, I thought you told her the truth.”
“I did tell the truth…” Eddie half grinned, as he used his lips to dangle a loose cigarette out the corner of his mouth. “…it just wasn’t my truth.”
He laughed, still holding the cigarette in his mouth as he patted the front and sides of his leather jacket, as if he were looking for a match. I flicked open my silver lighter and leaned down to light the cigarette while Eddie cupped his hand around the flame. He pointed his hand holding the cigarette in my direction.
“Man, that lie ain’t hurt nobody. Besides, no one wants to hear about a man losing his leg to sugar, that ain’t no story. That’s your fault, in their eyes. But if you lost it honorably, now you getting somewhere. People want to hear that story.”
I looked over at Eddie and shook my head. “Lost it to sugar, huh? Man, you something else. So what’d that woman say that got you so in love?”
“It ain’t what she said, I’m telling you it’s her aura. Man, let me tell you. I was over there by Penn Station, early morning, right? And I see this woman, beautiful woman, had a fancy suit on, you know, all business like….” Eddie stroked his beard with his right hand as he leaned forward in his chair. He took another drag of his cigarette, and tapped the ashes over the left side of his armrest as little sparks descended and instantly disappeared into mid-air.
“I asked her if she could help me get something to eat, you know, and she looked at me and was about to rush on by, talking about how she ain’t got no money, but I schooled her. I told her, ‘it ain’t always about the money sweetheart, I like to eat too. Shit I like Chipotle, I got her laughing then, after that she was hooked.”
“Hooked on what?”
“Hooked on me! Man, ain’t you listening? You know women find me charming.”
“I can think of a lot of words to describe you Eddie, but charming, ain’t one of them.” I laughed.
“That’s ‘cuz I’m not wasting all this good charm on the likes of you!”
We both laughed harder as we continued blowing smoke into the night air. I checked my watch; it was almost 2:00 a.m. which meant my break would be over soon.
“Hey man, I love to keep talking to you, but I got to get back to my rounds,” I told Eddie, as I stomped out my last cigarette. I looked up at the clouds forming and I hoped it wasn’t going to rain again, at least not until Eddie made it back home. I had to get out of here before the rain started. Hard rains always triggered bad memories. I couldn’t remember why, but they did. Plus, the rain wouldn’t be good for Eddie. At his age he could catch pneumonia, and Lord knows even Eddie would have a hard time bouncing back from that.
“You leaving? Man, get over here, and smoke another one with me. I gotta finish telling about the woman I met.”
“I can’t Eddie, I gotta get back.”
“Oh, so you too good now? Too busy to smoke with your buddy?” Eddie yanked off his black skullcap and glared in my direction.
“Oh c’mon man, don’t be like that Eddie, here man, take a swig of this to calm your nerves.” My hand shook as I handed the last of my Crown Royal to my friend.
“I don’t want your damn liquor, I want you to sit here and smoke with me!” Eddie snatched the bottle out of my hand, and slammed the tiny glass bottle against the sidewalk.
“You know what Frank, fuck you. I don’t need you. I don’t need anybody; just get the hell away from me.”
I looked up and saw the mobile bus coming down the street, and a quick feeling of relief crept up inside of me. I had never been so glad to see that little white bus in all my life, but I didn’t know why. The slow gentle rain had begun falling, causing little ripples in the nearby puddles. Something about the rain made me feel a sense of dread, I was afraid for myself. I was afraid for Eddie. I started slowly backing away. I knew what would happen next if I continued talking with Eddie. The darkness was back, and it was surrounding Eddie now. I continued backing up slowly as the bus appeared and the driver opened the door. The rain pellets was coming down stronger now.
“You a coward Frank, you ain’t nothing but a coward,” Eddie turned his wheelchair around using his good leg. He used his hands and legs to roll backwards toward the mobility bus. “Leave Frank, like you always do. You left me then, and you leaving me now!”
“I gotta go Eddie, you take care of yourself alright?” I rubbed at the scar above my head, the thin indent felt like it was on fire, I had to get going, the rain was really coming down now. I felt bad for leaving Eddie, but I had to go. I stuffed my hands in my pocket as I turned to leave. I could still make out Eddie’s muffled voice, as my brisk walk turned into a jog and then into a full sprint around the corner. “You left me to die Frank! Don’t leave me again Frank, please don’t leave me. Frank! Fraaank!”
“Frank, Frank!” is all I heard in the distance as I slid down the side of the building, tears mixing with the rain that was pouring down. I tucked my head down between my legs, and rocked back and forth on the ground. I just wanted to get Eddie’s voice out of my head, I wanted to forget everything. I didn’t want to see him anymore. His mangled body after the crash, his severed leg. I rocked and rocked.
“Frank, Frank, come on Frank, we got to get out of here.” Eddie held out his hand to help me up. I took his hand, but when I looked up, all I saw was a man wearing an MTA hat and uniform. Another man in uniform, came up alongside, dressed in all black, his badge gleamed as the rain fell across it. I looked at the uniformed city cop, who had one hand near his holstered belt. Something about the man filled me with dread. I looked for Eddie, hoping he was already on the bus.
“Mr. Frank, we gotta get you home okay. Can you get up for us?” The two men helped me up and I looked around frantically for Eddie, but he was nowhere in sight. I wanted to ask where was Eddie, but I knew they weren’t going to see him. No one saw him the way I did, no one saw the real Eddie. They just want to tell me that Eddie died, that I was drinking, and it was raining, and we crashed. But Eddie and I know the truth. I heard the doors to the bus close after I boarded, I found a seat and leaned against the window of the bus and looked out. The bus driver was now talking to the officer, while looking in my direction. They both shook their heads. I knew it was about me. I heard what they were saying, I just didn’t fully understand it.
“We got a call of a disturbance, third time this month, with this one.” The city cop put his hands on his hips and points toward the mobility bus. “Complaints of an old drunk man, talking and laughing loudly. Slamming glass bottles on the ground.”
“Yeah, he’s a family friend.” The MTA looked over at me as I stared at him out the window. “His family asked me to swing by and pick him up, since he’s on my route. I’ll make sure he gets home, Officer.”
“Yeah. I know Frank. He’s a good man. Used to see him all the time, making his rounds. Damn shame what happened, with the job cuts and all.”
“Yeah, every since they made the cuts a few months back, he’s been on the decline. Not doing so good without his meds. But he’s 65, who’s going to hire him now?”
“I know, sad thing, but shit happens to the best of ‘em. Price of getting old, I guess. You become expendable. But he can’t keep coming on campus, drunk in his old uniform. People are talking, and it ain’t good talks.”
“I’ll get him home. It may be time for his family to make some tough decisions.”
I sank further back into my seat. My head was starting to hurt again. The rain always seemed to trigger the headaches. I didn’t want to look out the window again because I knew Eddie had returned, sitting beside the men outside. He was out there smiling, getting soaked in the rain, the orange glow of his cigarette never dimming as he blew smoke into the night air, surrounded by darkness.
Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Nikita C. Anderson holds an M.A. degree in English from Morgan State University, with a concentration in Screenwriting and Cinematic Storytelling and an MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. Although she received her graduate degrees in Baltimore, she will forever be a proud Purdue Boilermaker! Nikita currently resides in Baltimore, MD and is working on her first novel. Her short story publications include Sundial Magazine and Midnight & Indigo. When she is not writing, or working on her podcast, she enjoys participating in book clubs, listening to music, watching Netflix and playing lots of video games