Footsteps

Author’s Note: Caution! Here be swear words!

“The funeral went well, I suppose. As well as any funeral might,” Maria brushed a stray piece of hair from her forehead. Doctor Kobb watched silently, clipboard resting on his lap.

The dew from the evening had settled in the apartment. The occasional wind rushed through the open window flickering the candles. Shadows came and went with the flames. Doctor Kobb sat near the overstuffed bookcase. More books were scattered precariously throughout the apartment. Maria sat opposite the bookcase with a view of her mother’s bedroom door along with Doctor Kobb.

Kobb began, “Ms. Marlone, I came here very purposefully – ”

“Yes. Yes, I know,” Maria said.

“Perhaps, then, we should get started,” Kobb gestured to the piece of paper in her hands.

Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the page. A picture of her father rested near her. She had turned it to face away.

“First of all, I didn’t have much time. What with my mother’s funeral and all,” she said. Leaning forward she had Kobb light the end of her cigarette.

“I know, Ms. Marlone. And having you write this story should have helped even with that. This is supposed to help you,” Kobb smiled. Even when he smiled Maria found her hands clinging to the ropes of distrust.

“I know my mother saw you before me,” she said.

“Yes. That’s true,” Kobb said.

She smirked, “Then you know all about families, I guess.”

“Again, Ms. Marlone, that is not my purpose.”

“I grew up in a middle class home, with a middle class family. My father was a middle writer, my brother older, my sister younger. I suppose I’m the offshoot of middle. Average. Or, I was,” She smiled, “until…”

Kobb waited. He tapped his pen against his clipboard five times before asking, “Until?”

“Until I started seeing you. Just like my mother before me.”

“Your mother was schizophrenic. She saw me for very different reasons than you,” Kobb explained.

Maria laughed brightly, “but she saw you. And now I get to see you too.”

Kobb pursed his lips, the gleam of light that had shown from his eyes before had set, “Give me what you wrote, Ms. Marlone. It will help you. I’m sure of it.”

Maria pursed her own lips, mirroring the doctor. “Very well,” she handed him the page.

Taking the page Kobb smiled before adjusting his glasses and beginning to read:

                                    ‘DNA’ by Maria Marlone

Jake lay on his couch in the middle of his mother’s basement. A bag of chips sat crumpled near his feet. The TV was on, showing reruns of I Love Lucy. But Jake was asleep.

With a light creak the basement door opened and two slippered feet walked noisily down the steps. Four paws hurried happily behind.

The light turned on and Jake sprung awake, “Huh?”

As his eyes refocused he saw the outline of his mother. His sad angry mother. His dog, Jake Junior, sat next to her wagging its tail.

“Up!” His mother said. Her hands, of course, rested on her hips.

Jake replied with a grunt and fell back into the dead couch.

Jake’s mother took a pillow from the floor and hit him. “Up! Up! Up!” She yelled.

When he sat up the beatings stop.

“Good. Take the dog for a walk for God’s sake,” and with a surprisingly quick turn she walked back up the stairs.

Jake Junior panted and wagged his tail harder as Jake got off the couch. Several pieces of Cheetos floated to the ground. Jake Junior jumped on them and ate them. Then he looked to Jake for more.

Grabbing the leash, Jake hooked up his dog and headed up the stairs. Over the din of General Hospital Jake’s mother shouted from the couch, “Pick up its shit!”

The door slammed shut.

Walking down his street Jake saw a few kids run around in front of the houses playing kickball. Several older folks sat on benches. The breeze was nice and light.

At the corner Jake found his usual route to the drug store. Jake Junior started pulling on the leash in the opposite direction.

“Come on,” Jake said. He yanked on the leash and the dog followed.

The drugstore was occupied solely by Jake’s friends. Michael’s dad owned the store and when he wasn’t around, which was often, they stole cigarettes and beer and drank in the back room.

“Hey, guess what I got?” Paul asked, sitting on a box of newspapers.

Michael and Jake took a swig of beer. Jake asked, “What?”

“This,” Paul held out a bag with weed.

“Oh man!” Michael jumped up to examine it, “Where’d you get that?”

Jake took the bag from Michael, “Nice stuff.”

Paul grabbed a beer, “Pretty sweet, eh?”

“You got a pipe too?” Michael asked

“No,” Paul laughed, “but I know your mom does.”

Jake laughed with Paul.

“How many times do I gotta tell you guys not to talk about my mom like that?” Micheal threw the bag back at Paul, who caught it.

“Dude,” Jake said, “it’s true. She reeks of pot. Go upstairs and get a pipe.”

Michael mumbled under his breath but still went upstairs to his family’s apartment.

Jake found a stack of Ramen Noodle boxes and sat down. Jake Junior looked up at him, panting impatiently.

“I heard your mom got outta prison,” he said to Paul.

“Yeah,” Paul nodded, his eyes scanned to the top shelf for some hard liquor.

“Sucks.”

“Yeah.”

The two boys sat silently in the back room. They could hear cars driving past. The clock on the wall grew louder. When the stillness grew too still, Paul jumped up.

“Man, what the hell is taking so long?” Paul asked. He walked across to the door. Jake watched him, then turned his attention to his own thoughts. He didn’t want to go home.

“I’m gonna drink some whiskey. You want some?” Paul took down a bottle of Maker’s Mark and ripped open the seal.

“Sure, man, pass it,” Jake reached his hand out. Jake Junior growled at the door.

“Shut up!” Jake said.

Two shadows passed underneath the door frame. Jake and Paul moved back. Jake Junior started barking.

“Who’s there?” Paul shouted, the whiskey sloshing back and forth in the bottle.

The door burst open. Jake Junior yelped as the door slammed into his snout. The boys jumped back against the cabinets.

“Hands up!” The police officer said.

Michael’s dad stood between the two officers. When Jake saw him his instinct was to roll his eyes, but he kept his cool, staring down the officers.

“Yup. Here it is,” the first police officer picked up the bag of weed which sat on top of Paul’s backpack and threw it to the other officer.

“Damn it,” Paul swore to himself. He’d set the Maker’s Mark down behind him.

Jake’s eyes followed back and forth between the two officers. His eyes then widened as Michael joined his dad’s side.

“You little shit,” Jake said. His hands held high above his head turned into fists.

“Come on, son, no need for that. This wasn’t found on your backpack,” the first officer said. The second officer took to looking at Paul.

Paul went white. Jake swallowed, but kept his mouth shut. Michael looked to his dad.

“Get outta here,” the second police officer said to Jake. He then turned to Michael and patted him on the shoulder, “Thanks for the tip, son.”

Jake and Jake Junior walked out of the store. Paul moaned, “Oh, come on man, you can’t just leave me!”

Michael tried to catch up with Jake, “Hey!”

Jake turned around on him, “Shut up, you fuck. God damn! You’re worse than your father with his shit neighborhood watch bull. Fuck you.”

Michael balked, sputtering out nothing. Jake walked away.

When Jake walked through the door of his parents house night had already fallen. Jake’s father stood in the bedroom doorway. His mother still sat watching TV.

“Your father lost his job today,” she said.

Jake walked past them both without a word.

His father shouted to his back, “Do your homework!”

Fin.

“Is there anything else?” Kobb asked. He took off his glasses and set them on his clipboard.

Maria shook her head. Her cigarette had gone out. She stared at it broodingly.

“I understand the boys following their parents footsteps.,” Kobb said. He tsked, “And your distrust of the police is evident. But this isn’t real.” His disappointment pierced Maria, revealing memories of her father.

Maria laughed in spite of it, “It was a short story. Of course it’s not real.”

Kobb wrote a note on his clipboard before responding, “I asked for something real. Something personal. You’re not going to get better if you don’t help yourself.”

Maria shrugged. Kobb got up from his chair. He opened the apartment door and sharply shut it behind him. A few books fell from the overstuffed bookcase. Frank Marlone’s short story collection dropped into the wastebasket.

THE END

Another Man’s Treasure

Daryl pushed his cart down the alley. The cart creaked against the gravel making the dogs bark. His eyes set hungrily on the black garbage can sitting at the end of the block, number 1515. He licked his chapped lips in excitement.

The little black garbage can sat in the same spot it had the week before. Completely full the top hung haphazardly off the bags inside. Daryl pushed it open. The top banged against the wood fence behind it sending echoes over the garage roofs.

Inside the can sat three giant blue bags piled on top of each other. Squished against the blue bags sat a white bag. Daryl’s hand reached for it. A half-eaten sandwich caught his eye as he pulled out the white bag. He set the sandwich and the bag into his cart and headed back down the alley.

The dogs took up their barking as Daryl returned. His cart creaked violently under the added weight sending shivers up his sleeves. He ignored the humidity bleeding into his clothes even as sweat dripped over his eyes and across the smile gracing his lips.

As the sun began to set Daryl sat on his favorite bench by the river. He took out the sandwich and the plastic white bag. While eating the sandwich he ripped open the bag. Hundreds of crumpled pieces of paper sat inside. Randomly he pulled one out and began to read:

A swift change crossed the desert sands. The soldier, armed and ready, stood silently, a sentinel for the cave. Six men sat further in, discussing great things.

Daryl nodded at the words, humming his approval. A few paragraphs of the story were crossed out with black permanent marker, unnecessary edits. But the story eventually picked up on the next page, which Daryl had to rummage through the bag to find. Gently laying the first page in his lap, Daryl continued reading.

At first it seemed David didn’t mind the cold. Or the rain. Or the hot boiling sun off the Sahara. But as Michael came to know him David grew into the biggest complainer Michael had ever known.

Daryl smiled when he read that. Images of his sister Monica floated through his mind. A tall girl with a loud mouth, Monica knew every possible way to get in trouble. She argued with teachers. She spat at her mother. One time, Daryl had even seen her key a cop car.

Shaking his head to remove the next pictures of his past that were threatening to flood his mind, Daryl resumed his reading.

A piece of gum stuck to the next few pages of the manuscript. He pulled it off, considered it as it stuck to his fingers, then walked to the nearest garbage can and threw it away.

The next pages didn’t contain any permanent maker. Pleased, Daryl settled deep into his bench and read until the sun disappeared.

The next day, he went to the library. He brought his cart in with him, a telltale rattle the librarians knew well. Sheila, the security guard, smiled at him as he passed.

“Good day,” He said, “It’s a good day.”

“Yes it is, Daryl,” She nodded.

The second floor of the library housed the reference books. Daryl wandered down the aisle labeled Dictionaries and Encyclopedias 803A-803F. He read each title of each book he passed. The words flooded him and he fell into the binding of the books as though through a portal. His mind reeled with each new noun, the passing of the present tense, the undulations of prepositions -

“That squeaking is quite annoying,” an older lady said as she brushed past him. He jumped, a slight squeak slipped through his throat.

The lady was long gone, but Daryl clutched his chest for several minutes as his tongue searched for words. (Oh lovable words! Why can lips not graze the things they love without relinquishing the texture of reality and ruining dreams.) A deep breath calmed him enough to speak, “oh.”

At noon, Daryl had checked out two books. By two in the afternoon he was sitting on his bench again. Rummaging through his cart as a cool breeze ruffled the waves of the river along with his curly hair. The soothing smell of spring drifted past.

“Good day.” He said. He let his hand smooth out his hair before opening his book.

Words, more words, a thrilling and unconscionable amount scattered and threw themselves at his eyes. Tiny little devils with dots and dashes, curves and lines, all careening into his brain setting his body on fire. A fever gripped him, these words often so soothing brought back to him the rage of his former self.

Vision: An old woman standing in the kitchen with a frying pan, beating it against something. Daryl. His eyes shut. The pounding continues. The screaming has stopped. Was it his or his sisters? His memory blotches the parts he wishes to remember. A slamming bedroom door. A notebook. The little version of Daryl beginning to write, forcing out the blood from behind his eyes.

“Too much!” Daryl shouted.

A policeman standing on the viaduct over the river watched closely. Daryl continued to shout. The river plaza vacated. Daryl sat along screaming at his brain to stop. A lazy breeze attacked Daryl’s book, the pages began to run away.

“Too much! Too much!” Daryl screamed, then grew silent. His hand fell on the book, limp. The police officer took his hand off his belt and walked down the cement stairs. The young man’s curly black hair rustled as the man himself bobbed back and forth still clutching his head with his left hand. The police officer approached slowly.

“Sir?” He asked, reaching out a hand.

Daryl stayed still and silent. His eyes shut so tight so as to block his own mind’s eye.

“Sir?” The officer said again, louder this time and with more authority.

Daryl slowly raised his head. His bloodshot eyes scanned the scenery catching the policeman last. He blinked at the Man in Blue.

“Sir?” The policeman sat next to Daryl.

“Sorry.” Daryl mumbled.

They sat together, the policeman explaining the laws, Daryl nodding because nodding was good. The policeman left, clapping a hand on Daryl’s back and smiling. Daryl returned to his books.

The week went by. Daryl sped through his library books. He forgot to eat. He forgot to sleep. He forgot his appointment with his case manager.

On the allotted Tuesday, when the sun returned to it’s noon position, Daryl set out to 1515 and the wonderful writings. He found the garbage can leaning against the fence as usual, but then a surprise interrupted his perfect view. A small man sporting a comb over and large gut dropped in a fresh new full white bag. He swore and stuffed it in deeper.

“No good,” Daryl said behind him, “no good.”

The man spun around, “what?”

“No good.”

The man and Daryl stared at each other. The man was sweating.

The man cocked his head as though trying to see through Daryl. Daryl moved to the garbage can, pulled out the white bag and moved to stuff it into his cart.

“Hey,” the man said. His arm reached out grabbing Daryl’s elbow, “you can’t.”

“Good,” Daryl said, “good. Good.” He showed the man the white garbage bag as he spoke. The man’s eyes widened.

“You like it?” He asked in awe.

Daryl stuffed the new white bag into his cart and set off without a response. The man watched as Daryl hobbled down the alley, the rattling of the cart erupting the cacophony of dogs. When Daryl turned out of sight the man ran to catch up. Standing behind Daryl he heard him speak, “good.”

The man let Daryl walk away.

THE END