Short Story – excerpt
A disemboweled newspaper blew in cold gusts down a urine stained sidewalk outside the City Bus Terminal, keeping company with leaves and chasing fragments of itself that hadn’t caught on dirty iron railings or public trash receptacles. Wrinkled pages blew by revolving doors, dodged by the human effluent bathed in yellowed light from old and dingy street lamps, then continued with the wind into the biting howl of darkness down a hard sidewalk.
People huddled into themselves, pulling thin coats around their necks trying to stay warm in the unseasonable cold that had descended late in the day and by midnight had turned into an arctic blast that drove the unprepared indoors, corralling them wherever there were circles of warmth. Some carried bags or battered briefcases and walked briskly toward known destinations; others meandered. Almost all were walking close to the street, avoiding dark shapes and reaching hands that huddled against a wall plastered with ragged posters that beckoned in the wind. Farther down the street, other posters wrapped around lampposts under brilliant halogen bulbs throwing crisp surgical light into the darkness below with varying degrees of success. The posters screamed to free the incarcerated, or hawked the next Rave, or talked of AIDS, or whispered of missing children, the eyes demanding, seducing, begging, forever crying, as soot from graffittied buses coated everything with a dull charcoal grime. The smell of exhaust mingled with urine and decay, pungent and choking.
Jake plodded into the wind toward the terminal cloaked in yellowed light, not as one would swim toward an island after a shipwreck but as a scavenger with careful, focused eyes. A shred of newspaper leapt up and wrapped around his leg, overlapping his snugged gray wool overcoat. He pulled his crippled and naked hand out of a warm pocket and batted the paper away. The paper had a cold and clammy feel. Reflexively, he wiped his mangled paw on the soft teddy bear nestled in the crook of his left arm, then realized he had transferred a smudge of newsprint to its cheek. He shifted the bear to his other arm, then with his good hand he produced a handkerchief and wiped at the fuzzy cheek, with the same care of a mother wiping smudges from the chubby cheeks of a small child, first licking the cloth, then rubbing. Satisfied, he cleaned his crumpled fingers and put the handkerchief away, then angled toward a dark street lamp where he could lean in shadow and watch people go in and out.
He swigged vodka from a pocket flask and lit a cigarette, illuminating a round face, wisps of gray hair, a varicose nose, bushy brows that pressed down on dark, baggy eyes. His nose and cheeks, bitten by the wind, flushed almost Santa-like with spidery red veins. Twenty minutes and several cigarettes consumed him before the terminal traffic slowed enough. He popped a breath mint into his mouth, reseated the teddy bear in the crook of his arm, and walked into the light, where he was sucked into the terminal through a revolving door.