Featured Stories, Week of February 17, 2019 Part One: "The Wall"
Each week we feature stories from members of our group based on the weekend meeting's prompt assignment. For our February 16th meeting, we used the Barnstormer app to select three subjects, then wrote for 20 minutes including those prompts and "something about a wall," as instructed by Erik Day.
By Erik Day
Prompts: 1) Healing Journey 2) Arabic 3) Fruit Stand
It was a joy, of sorts, simply to put on his shoes. They were already worn, he should buy new ones, but they were ceremonial at this point. For so long, he'd been barefoot. When he was a man, he could buy his own, but they were boots. And now, he'd burned his boots and gone to sandals.
That was something he swore as a child he'd never wear.
And now, he felt the joy as hot sand slipped between his toes.
He started the little Toyota and drove the five miles it took to the fields.
"Buenas dee-az," Omar returned. Spanish was still new to him. "I am here for the usual."
The girl smiled. He was pretty sure her name was Maria, but wasn't so daring as to ask. Every morning, she gifted him a big smile and that was all he needed.
"The usual," she smiled. "Sî."
Half a dozen men, a work party in any part of the world, brought 3 dozen crates to his truck.
Omar paid American cash, just a bit over market – and that brought nods. Those nods were as important as Maria's smile.
It was a twelve mile journey to the border. Not one inch of paved road. Omar stopped at the border gate, his posture straightening.
The officer emerged, shining star on his chest. The American flag flew behind him like this was the San Diego crossing.
Officer Smith looked over the open crates of fruits and vegetables in the bed of the pickup. He glanced at the framework that would pull down to become the awning of his roadside stand. "Morning, Omar. Anything to declare?"
"Only that God is great."
Smith nodded, rolling his eyes as he waved him through. "Inshallah."
Omar gunned it, giving the Toyota the encouragement it needed to get across the border. The map said the American side of the road was paved, but that was open to interpretation. The potholes were slightly worse when carved from asphalt.
It didn't matter. "Buenas dias…" he practiced.
He worked the Toyota up the mountain road, into the resort town, and parked in his usual spot. He hadn't even pulled the awning and there were already four restauranteurs there for the produce.
He smiled and nodded. "Hola!"
"Hey, your Español is getting better!"
"Fourth. Arabic and Hebrew were first and second." Omar smiled and glanced at his sandals. "It's a long story."
The Alley King
By Bryan Mahoney
Prompts: 1) Letting Go 2) Royal 3) Alley
We called him the Alley King because he built his house in the 7-foot-wide alley between the Pearl Bodega and a third-generation Jewish deli. The house was five stories high, judging by the thin windows we imagined he could use like arrow slits in a castle tower. And it really was the Alley King’s palace; he lorded over the events of the street both a part of them and above them at once. He’d sit out front on his threadbare yellow lawn chair smoking a brown cigarillo, looking out from too-dark glasses at something in the world yet we’d not know what. So we’d go back to dice or Acey Deucey, or some other way of growing our allowance money.
The Alley King would often talk to the deli owner, Akiva The Man, in some weird language from some country we’d never visit. If we ran too fast by the shop during a footrace, trying to prove our vigor as men, they’d launch some nonsense at us. The intent was clear: Stop being a bunch of hoodlum kids and go do something productive.
In the world of street-level politics you always had a hierarchy, and we were the peasantry scratching for scraps. If he could get up fast enough the Alley King would have beaten us, or so we thought until the day Omar was hit by the delivery truck.
That morning the driver came home early from a double shift to find his brother in bed with his wife. They got into a big fight and he left him barely conscious in their one-bedroom on 75th Street, right down the hall from Billy’s grandmother. To make up time he went 40 down Ashburn where our morning games of Craps was already at a fevered pitch. Omar threw sevens but one of the dice took a janky bounce and he chased it off the curb, where the delivery truck bumper soon struck him. Billy scooted home but Frank and Mikey and I stuck around. They rode in the ambulance with Omar and his mom, leaving me alone in front of the Pearl Bodega trying to stand up straight and hoping no one noticed me wiping my face.
“He just got bumped is all, that kid’s got a hard head,” said an old voice above me. The Alley King was taller than he looked in his lawn chair.
“I guess,” I said, wiping my nose on my sleeve.
“Come here,” he said, taking me inside the narrow castle.
It was barely wide enough for him to walk the hallways. Ladders hugged the wall tightly at odd intervals. Framed pictures covered almost every inch of wall. The Alley King, or a younger version of him, was in most of them. He usually wore some kind of uniform or suit, so I guessed he might be in the Navy. Whatever he did it was a long time ago, judging by the long white hair and the deep brown mottles of his arms.
He led me to a small cabinet with a hot plate. A pot of water steamed on it, and he poured it into a mug that already contained a small amount of brown booze.
“Your friend may be bleeding, but I know what it’s like to have pain you can’t see,” he said, looking absently at the pictures on his wall.
I downed the stuff, coughing it back up my nose. The Alley King laughed and even his bark had an accent. It made me laugh too.
After that we didn’t spend much time on that part of the street. Part of it was a fear in Omar, I think, being so close to the spot where he nearly died. But I also found excuses to move along, out from the watchful eyes of Akiva The Man and the Alley King, where we could further express our freedom as youths without the clawing guilt that we somehow weren’t living up to unsaid expectations.