And Crown Thy Good…

At the end of the bar, I saw old Mason Snyder sitting in his semi-usual ruminating funk, so I decided to slide my beer down there to here him out and see if we could repair the world a bit together.

After asking why the long face, Mase said, “Last week, I saw a study that broke down the average life expectancy in all the States and the spot with the longest living residents–at 85 years–was in some Colorado ski resort area, while the shortest are in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, where on average, people there can expect to live to age 67,” Mase said.

“Beyond the obvious disparity, is that what’s pissing you off so much?” I asked.

Mase had a long pull on his Bud, took a deep breath and said, “I saw some news bunny ask if the lives of Oglala Lakota County residents there were so short there because they died of boredom out there in the high plains.”

“Uh oh,” I said, knowing the righteous wrath coming in three, two,….

“Yeah, honey, the type of boredom that sets in where you have no prospects to change your life from the grinding poverty of being members of families who’ve essentially been prisoners of war for a century and a half. The type of boredom that drives people to drink and drug themselves into oblivion because they lost the home version of the Manifest Destiny game show. The type of boredom that causes kids on the Pine Ridge Reservation to kill themselves at a ridiculously high rate,” Mase said in his indignant and borderline angry tone when he talked about the treatment of America’s native people.

“That’s pretty tragic,” I said, feeling both sad and guilty watching Mase, who was of mixed Navaho and German heritage, take another gulp of his beer and the breath to go on.

“Oh, and by the way, Miss Talking Hairdo, that average life expectancy was for the whole of Oglala Lakota County, where
the numbers just a few years ago for Pine Ridge Reservation residents only were 52 years for women and fuckin’ 48 for men– 48 years of age and done,” Mase said, spun on his stool and stalked out the bar entrance.

“What the hell was Big Chief Bottom-of-the-Bottle going on about?” Charlie the bartender asked me in the wake of Mase’s diatribe on the mistreatment of red folks by the sorry-ass  Great White (absentee) Father over the years.

“C’mon we’re as guilty as any White Americans in not doing enough–or anything–to help these fellow Americans live better, safer, healthier lives,” I said in my own Mase-stoked righteously indignant tone.

“Yeah, well you tell him for me if he–and you, for that matter–expects to get his firewater in my joint anymore, he’d better keep it down or, better yet, take his whiny shit to some liberal fern bar, ’cause us real Americans don’t want to hear it,” Charlie said, flipping the channel from the fifth inning in Cleveland of another one-sided Mets matinee loss over to Fox News Channel.

A poor pass at my Day 24 effort for Story-A-Day May. The prompt was to write a “Sonnet Story,” one with 14 sentences and carried the sonnet structure, save for no rhyming or anything like that. Just twelve sentences of any length, with or without rhyme or meter. I don’t think I hit the mark of a Petrarchan nor Shakespearean sonnet, but at least it’s written and the data is absolutely correct…and shameful. 

Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today

As she flumped down onto the macramé throw covering her grandmother’s old sofa and clicked on the television, Alice Ann Gibbons was thankful for the bag of Cheetos, the can of Dr. Pepper and the coming escape from reality in the new show she’d discovered on channel 66.

She didn’t know its title because it was always on and never broke for commercials, which made offloading that Dr. Pepper a last-second decision. She could barely tear her eyes from the screen while she had it on, and she had it on every day now.

It’d been another day at Jackson Junior High School like all the others. One in which Alice Ann wished she could be home-schooled, or maybe just disappear altogether.

Things weren’t much easier in elementary school, where the kids always teased her about her too-big nose and too-little eyes, but junior high school had become agony. This was where she’d been shoved into the interior of more lockers than a week’s worth of bologna sandwiches. Where whispers and giggles about her thick-lensed glasses became jeers and howls while they were tossed about the classroom. Where the choice left to a sensitive 13-year-old girl of being bullied every day or totally shunned and isolated was never a decision. She was either or both and never by her own choice.

But here on the saggy old couch in her grandmother’s basement, where she’d always spent her after-school afternoons and early evenings waiting for her grandmother to get home, she would always read teen urban fantasy books, books about teen heroines in dystopian societies and science fiction novels with spunky girl lead characters. All the type of girls she longed to be, but knew she never would.

One afternoon, having finished her latest book and with nothing left to read, Alice Ann turned on the television and clicked through the channels, hoping against hope she’d find something as interesting and full of imaginative possibilities as her books. Her grandmother’s basic cable service offered a quite limited menu of options during the hours: comedy reruns, twenty-year-old crime dramas, cable news, vapid teen and tween shows and alleged reality tv programs. She went from channel 0 to 60, the end of Grandma Gibbons’ basic cable tier, but kept her thumb on the clicker, flipping through five channels of snow and white noise until it hit channel 66.

There she saw a girl her own age staring into the camera as if she was looking directly at Alice Ann. She usually was dressed in tight-fitting outfits of stretchy material that Alice Ann would be embarrassed to where, but intrigued her nonetheless.

“What in the world is this thing?” Alice Ann said to herself the first three afternoons she watched. She’d watch the girl push buttons with her thumbs on the surface of, and talk into, a shiny flat instrument as thin as a third of a deck of cards. She’d see the girl, whose name she learned was Allie, look right at Alice Ann but talk to girls named Bella and Quinn. And sometimes the room would be empty, save for the flashing of lights and the gurgle of Allie’s aquarium.

But on the fifth afternoon, Alice Ann’s natural curiosity hit a wall when three things happened.

First, Allie started typing into a keyboard of some kind that she balanced on her lap, speaking as she typed: “May second, 2077.”

“What”” Alice Ann said.

“Today, I think I found a lead on my great-great aunt. Turns out she’s that famous author…”

“Alice Ann, I’m home!” Grandma’s voice called from upstairs. She was home an hour early and Alice Ann hadn’t cracked a book for homework yet.

“Um, down here, Grandma,” Alice Ann said as she muted the television and opened her Math book.

“What in the world are you watching, honey?” Grandma Gibbons asked.

“Oh, just this weird show I sometimes turn on while I do my homework. Mindless stuff. I’ll turn it off.”

“Why bother, Alice Ann. All that’s on the screen is static.”

“What? You don’t see…?”

“Dinner in thirty minutes, honey. You keep your Channel 66 white noise on and keep working. Just don’t flip it over to that stupid MTV,” Grandma said and scooted upstairs.

“No, of course not, Grandma. Thanks.”

Alice Ann turned to the television screen and saw Allie smiling while staring intently into the camera. She turned the sound back on just as Allie said, “Yup, now I’m gonna find out more about you, Aunt…”

“Allie, dinner!” A tall teenaged boy poked his head into the bedroom and shouted.

“Get out of here, Gio. I’ll be down in a minute. I just need to close this research file for my family history project.”

Who the boy left, Allie turned to the camera once more and clicked something on her desk.

“Okay, you, I know your real story’s out there somewhere and your either gonna tell me it or I’ll dig it out myself. I know this back cover bio is bull,” Allie said to no one but just as easily to Alice Ann.

She held up the book and Alice Ann saw the blur of a book cover framing a photo of a dark-haired woman with a prominent nose and close-set eyes.

“Yup, now that I’m sure, I understand why I always read so much of your stuff and want to write my own stories,” Allie said as she looked at the back cover. “And now I know where I got this silly name of mine.”

Before Allie put down the book and headed downstairs for dinner, Alice Ann caught a look of the cover of the book Alllie held. On a blue field were the words, “Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today,” and below that it read:

“By Six-Time NY Times Best-Selling Author A.A. Gibbons.”

For Day 2’s Story-a-Day May piece, I was charged to write a story based on the following prompt from best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins:

 A socially awkward girl in her early teens is a latchkey kid, alone at home after school as usual. Flipping through channels she lands on one she soon realizes only she can see—and it’s from the future.

I worked pretty quickly, but this is the first draft sketch of an idea for a story about as far from my wheelhouse as I want to reach. And that’s what makes Story-a-Day May so damn much fun.

Answering Our Babies’ Cries

A crying baby

The first time I recall hearing
a baby cry was my brother Billy’s.
I was three and a half.
He was a miracle.
I thought it a loud, odd sound,
as natural as Grandpas’s wheezing snore.
There’d be three more crying babies
in my childhood, each with its own
timbre and nuance, a siren call
for mother’s warmth, attention
to some other want or both.
As the oldest, I learned to provide
one or the other, but not both.
When our babies were born,
my reaction was much the same, except
now I’d bring my all, lightning-like,
to their language-less calls.

A man can learn almost all
the child’s Mother tongue, with its
own glossary and grammar, its single
flagstaff punctuation mark, with a gasp
for a comma. As I’ve grown older,
other babies’ cries became muffled,
yet annoying and more easily ignored.
Then along came my granddaughter,
who echoed the lilting lever that’d
pry me from my rest to assuage
her difficulties as her mother’s had.
But her cries didn’t disturb
my sleep like her mom’s. But
the crying of those starving or
gassed babies on the news did.
I still understand their message…
in any language.

Day 6’s NaPoWriMo poem combines the two prompt sources from yesterday. One for a poem about a sound, the other a poem looking at its subject from different points of view. I’m no Wallace Stevens with multiple POV poetry, but I’ve heard babies’ cries from every angle and level of auditory ability and each one affects me differently.

Cradles

furnace-saskatoon-pro-service-mechanical-heating-saskatoon-768x433

They each hold their positions
of conscious unconsciousness.
One on her side, her back, her side,
gently rolling in a sea of slumber
only a child floats upon.
The other, in his soft chair,
head back, closed eyelids a’twitch,
whispering the tender tune
of the chain saw’s lullaby.
The house is quiet, save for
the call and response of
the gentle snores of toddler,
grandparent and furnace,
all keeping harmony with
the breathing of nearby homes,
each suspended from the dreamy
winter afternoon sky by tendrils
of exhalation from their chimneys
swaying in the breeze
like a nursery of cradles.

Any similarities between this scene and mine and my granddaughter’s afternoon here in cold and sleepy upstate New York are completely coincidental. Yeah…sure.

More Than a Man Behind a Beard

P003224

The Santas have come
to the malls again,
carried in by the warm breeze
from ovens opening to release
the Thanksgiving turkey
to its joyous greeting and
Black Friday leftovers demise.
These red-clad stand-ins aren’t
really the jolly one, though.
Just like Teddy Bears aren’t
named Teddy and definitely
aren’t bears. Not really.
Well, they are in the imaginations
of children and those who wish
to hold onto memories from childhoods
too early lost to revelations
from the older ones who still
feel anger about losing theirs.

I wonder if the shopping mall,
sidewalk and Salvation Army
Santas enjoy their roles as
symbols of something lost
or soon enough so. Just as
they’ll lose their jobs
come the 25th of December.
If I was one of them, sitting
on my photo prop throne or
ringing my alms-seeking bells,
I’d prefer to think I’m grasping
a month in my life, mere minutes
over 30 days, perhaps as some
child’s lifetime memory of something
pureand good. Something greater than
just a man behind a beard.

5,000 Likes < 2 Loves

two_boys_and_girl_by_alzbettta-d38998a

After the last time he got sick, and then the surgery, Ben told me he wasn’t sure if he had a near-death experience or actually died.

“I’m still not sure,” he said.

When we were nine, Ben and I met at my friend Chrissy’s house. His mom had just moved them here from Syracuse, where his dad stayed because he was a professor at the university there and had begun some new graduate research. The graduate was named Lisa Bianchini. But she’s not that much a part of Ben’s story, other than she was the reason I met Ben.

Right off the bat, I could tell Ben was different from most of the kids I knew. He was super skinny. I mean he had to run around under the shower just to get wet, my dad said. Dad wasn’t being mean, just stating a fact the way my dad does.

They thought Ben had cystic fibrosis, which I had no idea what that meant. All I knew is that Ben ate like a horse and still looked like a little stick figure. My grandma would lovingly near-force feed him spaghetti and meatballs, big slabs of Italian bread with butter, not olive oil, which must have killed her, and a lot of cheese.

“Mangia, Benito,” she’d say. “You too tin. Gotta eat more, little bird.”

We learned pretty quickly cheese was a no-no for Ben, though. He’d get all yucky in his throat and start coughing and gagging and cough up wads of sticky phlegm you could use to plaster a wall.

After that, Nonna Marie still pushed the pasta, but the formaggio was out.

And Ben was out, too. He had lots of colds and infections and such, which keeps him out of school. That was rough because Ben was a really good kid. He didn’t deserve any of this. No one did.

And while this upset me a lot, no one got more upset than Chrissy whenever Ben got sick again. Their moms were girlfriends in high school and college and Chrissy’s mom convinced Ben’s to leave the professor and move back to Albany. But the relationship between Ben and Chrissy was more than just school chums or even that kind of thing where the guy would pick on the girl because he liked her or she would call his house and hang up.

When we were thirteen, Ben was feeling pretty good for a while and he and Chrissy started getting really close.

“Un colpo di fulme,” Nonna said to my mom, who giggled at the idea that these two little kids she’d known since they were in third grade.

“The lightning bolt, Mama? Really” she said.

“What were your mom and grandma laughing about?” Ben asked me later. After we walked Chrissy home, during which I felt uncomfortable as a guy could be with his two best friends.

“Um, I think she said something about the weather, a storm coming or something,” I said.

“Then why were they looking at Chrissy and me when they said it?” Ben was nothing if not perceptive of the observations of others. Maybe even paranoid. You get that way when everybody stares at you like a lab specimen when you’re a tiny little kid or when a teenager coughing up a lung at the mall.

“I don’t know. You want me to ask ‘em, or something?” I said, none too happy about him acting all accusatory about the women in my life. My lack of understanding of Italian idiom and the female need for the expression and reception of feelings did not serve me well at that and some later points in my life.

Like when Ben’s mom met Bob Marino at one of my folks’ barbecue and beers parties. By that time I HAD asked Mom about that lightning bolt thing and I could see Ben’s mom and Mr. Marino sparked one off as soon as Dad introduced them to one another.

By this time Ben and Chrissy were pretty serious, even though Ben would still miss a lot of school with his infections and big breathing issues. He showed me this vest he had to wear for treatment every night. It had all these hoses attached to it that hooked to this compressor apparatus. When he put it on and fired it up, it would compress and loosen up around his chest in really fast pulses. I tried it on, at his smiling request, and it felt like eight guys punching me in the ribs.

That was the thing about Ben, he had this perpetual smile, across a spectrum, but still a smile. I don’t know how he did it. If I smiled that much everyone would think I was crazy or up to something.

When we were seniors in high school, Ben started putting up these posts on a website he built for himself to let kids know what it was like to live with CF. It was a big success. Web hits up the ass. He took this information to Twitter and, of course, Facebook. People from around the world would read and comment, friend and subscribe.

He would always be pulling out his phone and checking his notifications and dropping new or answering old tweets and posts. It almost was nonstop. But Ben said he knew he was doing God’s work in informing as many people as he could about, and putting a face to, CF.

A lot of them were girls who were smitten by Ben’s looks (the boy was still skinny, but had the face of an angel), his generally upbeat attitude (even when he was hospitalized for treatments of infections and his other maladies) and his sense of humor (graveyard mixed with superhero).

At first, Chrissy thought this was pretty cool, how her boyfriend had gone viral——in a good way——bringing hope to other kids with CF and information to whoever else climbed aboard the digital B-Train. She even styled him for when he began doing You Tube videos and posted vids on his blog. But that only made more girls glom onto Ben, which got to Chrissy.

“So what do you think I should wear for my next video, Chris?” he asked her one night.

“Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t you ask one of your couple thousand panting hoochies what they’d like to see you take off?” Chrissy said. Cold, like liquid nitrogen cold.

“Hey, what’s the matter? Are you jealous of a bunch of female avatars and nom de Web anonymous chicks? Don’t be ridiculous. You’re my girl. Always have been. Nothing’s changed there.”

I think he lost her at “ridiculous.”

“No, Ben, something has changed. I’m not sure if it’s you or me, but something has definitely changed,” Chrissy said, and stormed out of Ben’s upstairs office/studio/flop.

“Chris, come back. We gotta talk about this,” he said. But she was already our the door and he started wheezing, gagging and coughing, so he wasn’t in any shape to chase her. Not that he could chase anything anymore.

Ben quickly gave himself a nebulizer treatment and put on his sparring vest, but relief was not coming to quickly.

I yelled downstairs for Mrs. Marino, she’d married Bob by then, and told her to hurry upstairs. Ben was drowning in mucous, I could tell, and I didn’t know what to do and didn’t want to see my friend die in front of me.

Mrs. Marino, confronted by a lot of these episodes over Ben’s lifetime, began a different kind of treatment and had me call 911. The ambulance got there within five or ten minutes, but Ben was looking really bad when they shoved him aboard and raced for Albany Med.

That was the last I saw of Ben for a while.

He was one sick dude. He was so sick and so weak, that he couldn’t see anyone but his mom, stepdad, father. Not his father’s new girl, though. The old man had game and balls big as church bells, but no juice with the docs at Albany Med.

Obviously I couldn’t see him. And Chrissy didn’t want to see him, which I think was more a guilt thing in her mind than any jealousy issue she had stoked to a blast that afternoon.

Essentially, Ben as a human being disappeared from everyone’s lives except his parents’.
And, over the moths he was hospitalized, he disappeared from his online life, as well. I did a few posts updating his blog and other feeds, but most of the people who came to him like coughing Jesus had already skipped to a new social media Messiah. His hits went down like a rock.

And then he got worse.

The doctors in Albany conferred with docs from Cleveland Clinic and New York-Presbyterian, Mrs. Marino told my mom and dad, and came up with the plan that the only way to keep Ben alive was to do a lung transplant and try some new genetic treatments. But, as they say in soccer, Ben’s clock was on the field. He was running out of time.

I let Chrissy know and she just lost it. She was an emotional bomb set to go off and I detonated her.

“This is my fault. I’ve killed him. How am I supposed to live with this. My Ben, my poor Ben…” she went on like this for like thirty minutes and left a huge wet spot on my shirt from her crying, dripping and drooling. For a second, I thought of taking advantage of my position as consoler-in-chief and shoulder to the boyfriend-bereft, but the picture of Ben lying on his potential death bed and mine framed in the shaving mirror each day cured me of that.

“Chrissy, you want to talk to Mrs. Marino?” I asked. “I think that might be a good thing for both of you. She loves you like a daughter and wonders where the heck you’ve been.”

“No, no. I—-I just can’t. Not now, not yet. Just tell her how sorry I am and I’m praying for Ben more than anything in my life.”

Then Chrissy went off on another neck-clutching crying jag and when I left her house to give Mrs. Marino her message, I stopped off at mine for a new shirt.

They told me Ben was in days of dying when some suitable donor lungs popped up on the transplant Bat-phone. They Life-Flighted Ben to New York-Presbyterian and he had a new set of bellows within the next day. But he was a long way from being well. Six more months he spent in New York and rehab back in Albany.

Let me tell you, if Chrissy thought something in Ben had changed before he got really sick, it was nothing compared to when he got his new lungs. He lost interest in so many things that used to make him Ben. Didn’t want to play Madden with me, didn’t want to go online for the longest time and when he did, he quickly logged off and went into a funk. A couple of times, they thought he was rejecting the new lungs after he hit CLOSE.

“C’mon, man, what’s going on?” I finally said.

“Where’s Chrissy?” he said.

“Uh, well she doesn’t think she oughta come see you. Thinks she’s the reason you nearly died. I tried to tell her different, tell her your mom said this was inevitable, but,” I shrugged, “she’s a chick. They feed on emotion and drama and for some in her present state, that’s all they feed on.”
“Hmmmph,” was all he said, and then told me he needed to rest. Different.

I decided to settle this one way or another. I told Chrissy Ben was asking for her every day and she should at least let him know she was still alive. Even if he seemed more alive than she did. I said to drop him an email, a card, a text, anything. Throw the guy a bone of any kind.

“You don’t have to pledge your troth, Chrissy,” I said.

“Shut up and good night,” she said with a profound click.

The next day Ben was looking a little rosier, which wasn’t hard to do, considering.

“Mom got an email from Chrissy,” he said.

“What she say?”

“Asked how I was. Hoped I’m feeling better and will be back to school soon.”

“That’s it?”

“Yeah. Isn’t that great?”

“That she emailed your mom and not you?”

“It’s a start, bud. It’s a start. Now help me up, it’s time for my lap of the ward.”
And that’s all it took for Ben to get back to being Ben. Except for his going back to being a social media star.

“I’m not exactly Mr. Cystic Fibrosis anymore, so…”

“Man, you’re still the best communicator for CF kids ever.No one knows more about it. No one has gone through just about every stage, except the last one. You’ve still got a lot to today and there are still a lot of people who need to hear it,” I said.

It’s a funny thing about how fickle the world, especially the digital part of it, can be. When Ben decided to dip his toe back into his old online identity, no one was there waiting for him. It wasn’t that he wasn’t Mr. Cystic Fibrosis. There still were people who wanted to know about all that. But all those people, those ‘civilians,” heck, I’ll say it, all those girls, found their new cute, funny and vulnerable Jesus.

This bit of reality in a phony world hit Ben hard, harder than I would have thought of of him. He lost interest in a lot again. He even went back into the hospital when his body began rejecting the new lungs. Until they got his anti-rejection drugs squared away with all his other treatments, I thought I might lose him again.

That was until Chrissy showed up one day.

“It was only for fifteen minutes, but it was nice,” Ben said. He still was pretty weak, but he got better each day Chrissy came by.

When he finally was released and after some more rehab, he was almost all Ben, except he didn’t check his notifications or his email anymore. There wasn’t any. There were, however, texts.

And that’s what brought us to this afternoon, when I met Ben outside his doc’s.

He pulled out his phone and just looked at its glass front, like he was checking to see his reflection. Or maybe it was to see if he even had a reflection.

“Everyone thinks I’m dead,” he said.

“Knock it off,” I said and punched him in the arm. “If you were dead would you feel that?”

“No. And ouch. I’m just kidding you. I know I’m still here,” he said with a little laugh. His phone gave a little chime and he looked at that same glass and found what he was looking for this time.

“Let’s go down to O’Heaney’s. I’m thirsty for a cold beer and a warm girl.”

On this 12th day of my September Story a Day challenge, I was supposed to write a protagonist who had many fine traits but one flaw. I was supposed to write this character where they get to show off their good talents but where their flaw caused them problems. Then, write my way out of it. I started writing it and then I thought I wasn’t only searching for a flaw, but also my protagonist. But I wrote my way in and dug my way out. This first draft is still a work in progress. But I’m willing to work on its progress.

Sunrise, Sunset

Night view looking north up North Swan St. in Arbor Hill Feb, 1967, in Albany, N.Y. (Times Union archive)

Night view looking north up North Swan St. in Arbor Hill Feb, 1967, in Albany, N.Y. (Times Union archive)

Silhouetted by the yellow light of a single table lamp, its shade tipped and scorched, I didn’t recognize Mimi at first. In fact, I thought she was just another of the thousand or so domestics I’d interviewed in their quiet or hysterical moments after men had beaten the hell out of them.

When I sat across from her in what passed for her living room, dining room, and bedroom, I still wasn’t sure this was the girl who had been my daughter’s classmate from grade school and into high school. It had been nine years since I had last spoken to her. About the last time I had seen my daughter.

“Mr. Dinovo,” she said, a glimmer of hope flashing in her eyes at the sight of a once-familiar face. Just as quickly that look was snuffed by a sullen darkness, eyes downcast in an attitude of shame or secrecy. I’d seen that too many times over the past 25 years, as well. The difference with those girls was they hadn’t been to my daughter’s sleep-overs sixteen or seventeen times.

“Hi, Mimi. You doing okay?”

“Yessir.”

She now had assumed the tone of the accused, the tone I’d heard so often from the time I was a rookie right up to these days of leading murder investigations. No defiance, just vague false sincerity. Two words welded into one, implicit with the message: “Please leave me, please go away, please, I don’t want no trouble anymore.”

“OK, honey, have you been seen by the EMT, the fireman?”

“Yessir.”

“And you’ve been talked to by the officer; she explained your rights?”

“Yessir”

She turned away from me, the light now illuminating more of her face and my memories of recognition.

Mimi was a girl of exotic beauty in this dark and barren place. Even now, her skin was smooth and brown as a caramel apple, a face some men might dream to make art about. There were a few things beside the passage of time that kept her from the perfection of her teens. The first was the plain fact that she was a whore, a prostitute in a city where many could be declared such, but she, unfortunately, was one by definition.

Second, was that scar at the corner of her left eye that ran down and around her cheek, curving back toward where it came from. The track of a tear she decided to uncry, maybe. I had a feeling she’d cried her share.

“Lieutenant, do you want me to finish this interview?” The female uniform wasn’t used to detective lieutenants sitting with just another beat-up black girl in the Arbor Hill slums.

“That’s okay, officer, I can handle this.” I probably was a little sterner with the young woman than I should have been, but this wasn’t something I wanted somebody else to handle. This was something I was doing for my kid.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened tonight, Mimi?”

“Nothing, I just had a accident.”

“No you didn’t. Did your boyfriend Maurice hurt you, tear this place up?”

“No. I…I got high and I must have flipped out. I tripped on the lamp cord and fell.”

“High, huh? I smell a lot of smells around here, but none of them are weed.”

In addition to the usual aromas in apartment buildings like this one–that odor of boiled cabbage, urine, vestiges of The Joint, and I don’t mean marijuana–there was the tell-tale stench of a combination of burnt plastic and sugar. I didn’t need to see the crack pipe.

Mimi became my daughter Dawn’s friend in third grade. Her mother got her into the Catholic school Dawn attended after Mimi’s father was shot and killed in a convenience store holdup. Her mom did the best she could to support Mimi and her younger brother, Ervin, but they ended up moving to a neighborhood where the department used to send the rookies. Nobody else wanted to work there except the cowboys hoping to make a score in totals of arrests for themselves. That’s where I saw Mrs. Jenkins hanging on a street corner one night with other girls. I saw her a handful of times more and I figured out what was going on. After that, I told Dawn it might be a nice thing to invite Mimi for some sleepovers every once in a while.

“Where’s your family, hon? Can your mom look after you, anyone else?” I asked.

“My mom died four years ago. You know about Ervin.”

Mimi’s younger brother had been swept up in gangs at a young age. He was convicted of assault on a police officer and a couple of other beefs. Last year he was sent upstate to a facility deep in the Adirondacks. These were two good little kids who got sucked into a sociological whirlpool from which they could not escape. I was one of the caretakers that guarded a wall containing that eddy.

“I try to visit him, but I got no money and it’s a long trip by bus,” Mimi said.

“Is there anyone else who could put you up tonight?”

“I can take of myself.”

“Yeah, I see that.”

“County took my baby, you know.”

“I didn’t know you had a baby.”

“Little Maurice, yeah.”

She put her face in her hands and started to cry. As always, I was clueless about what to do in a case like this. I motioned the female officer over. I pulled out of the circle of yellow light and thought about how Dawn was taken from me.

As my career was moving along, I started drinking more than I should. I mean, you finish the second or third shift in this jungle around 11:00 o’clock and you can’t go right home. The day’s work stays with you awhile, keys you up. The feel and the smell of it stays with you. Eventually, I believed I couldn’t wash it off, so I washed it down.

I’d get home as the sun was coming up and I’d go to bed, hardly ever seeing Dawn until I woke up and she was coming home from school. And then I’d have to head to work with barely a peck on the cheek for her. Maybe not even that for her mother, Gail.

By the time Dawn was 13, I was a detective and her mother told me she’d had enough of being the lonely police widow, only without the benefit of my death. Gail was fed up with me being drunk and abusive whenever I was home. Arguments would start and a couple of times I even hit her. Sometimes right in front of Dawn. When she called the cops on me, I showed the officers my shield and all was forgiven, at least as far as the official record.

Gail knew she was in a no-win situation. To her, I was as much a criminal as the ones I was chasing and arresting. You spend enough time in the jungle, you can become an animal, too, if you allow it. Her choice was an easy one.

She bailed and took Dawn with her. I was so messed up, hurt, and angry, it was easy for her to get sole custody. It took me four years after that to get straight. It was either dry out or lose my job, which turned out seemed more important to me than a family. It was after that I began to try to make things right.

“Lieutenant, Ms. Jenkins wants to talk to you,” the young uniform said.

“What’s up, Mimi?”

“Mr. Dinovo, I’m tired. Can’t you all go and let me sleep?”

“Not until you tell me what happened, Mimi. I gotta make a report.”

I didn’t tell her to whom. I was tired, too. I was working day shift now and not used to being up all night anymore. I was a little more than three weeks from retirement, the start of a new life. I’d already scored a job as chief of security in a little college in South Carolina. I was determined to leave the jungle behind.

“Just tell me it was Maurice and we’ll call it a night.”

“No, you don’t know what he’s like. And I still love him. I just was bad, that’s all.”

“Look, Mimi, yeah, you’ve been bad, but you don’t deserve to be beat up like this.”

“Who asked you to come here, anyway? Was it that bitch daughter of yours?”

“Hey, knock that shit off. What if it was Dawn?”

Over the past few months, I had reconnected with Dawn. I still was trying to take care of all my twelve steps and the making amends part was the toughest. I don’t think Gail will ever forgive me, though I keep trying. I couldn’t find Dawn, though, and Gail wasn’t in any mood to help. Then, three months ago, Dawn called me. We’d exchanged emails and some phone conversations since then and I was hopeful of a continuing thaw, even though she said she couldn’t see me.

“She’s the reason you’re here? Shit, she’s the reason I’m here,” Mimi said.

“What the he’ll are you talking about?”

“Dawn got me hooked up with Maurice.”

I jumped up and pulled her around so she faced me.

“What do you mean?”

“Was Dawn got me with Maurice after he was done with her.”

“Done with her?”

“Was her boyfriend. It was while she ran away from her mom a few years ago.”

My heart sunk. How the hell could a police lieutenant, someone who reads every report every day, not know a teenage girl had run away? Where the hell was Gail? Why didn’t she tell me?

“Girl angry at everybody, just had enough and started hanging in this neighborhood. Had to get away from her mother. She’s a big drunk, you know.”

No, I didn’t know. Dawn hadn’t given me any idea of this.

“Anyway, bitch took a shine to my cousin’s boyfriend and stole him. She said she loved him and he loved her. He just used her, though, the crackhead bitch.”

“What are you saying?”

“She’d do anything to keep him happy, and for some free rock. She even turned some tricks for it. But, he…”

“That’s it, Mimi, cut this shit lying.”

“Ain’t lying. She nothing but a crack whore; no better than.…”

“Lying …”

“No. She got greedy, though. Started business for herself. Maurice found out and smacked her good. Serves her right. Bitch couldn’t even kill herself right. Found her beat up on the floor of my apartment one day, laying next to a puddle of puke, crying. Got a cab and sent her home to mommy, haven’t heard from her since.”

Gail never called me. Her hatred was too big, I guess.

My hatred had just been recharged, though. I knew what I had to do.

“Okay, Mimi, enough. I tried to help my daughter. Yeah, she called me. I don’t even know where from. Look, tomorrow an officer’s going to stop by here. You’d better be here, too. The officer is going to give you a bus ticket to Plattsburgh. She’ll give you an envelope with money in it. You’re going to take that bus and visit Ervin. I don’t want to see you around here for at least a month. I’m going to call the State Police troop captain up there and he’s going to make sure you’re set up for a while.”

“I ain’t leaving. I got to see Maurice or he’ll…”

“Oh, you’re going alright. And don’t you worry about Maurice. He won’t be following you. He’s going to be staying here.”

“You ain’t gonna hurt him, are you? Like I said, all this was my fault.”

“I don’t care whose fault any of this is. I’m just trying to tie up some loose ends before I retire. You were a good girl. Your mother tried her best for you, more than I ever did for Dawn. I owe it to both of them to set things straight,” I said.

“You don’t owe them nothing. Why don’t you just go away and leave everybody alone, just like you did before?”

I turned to the uniform.

“Officer, I want you to stay with Ms. Jenkins until your shift is over. I’ll see that you’re relieved. Make sure she cleans up this place and packs some things for a trip. She’s leaving town for a few days tomorrow.”

“I ain’t going. When Maurice hears about this ain’t nobody gonna be happy.”

“Enough! Maurice won’t care. Officer, take over.”

I stepped quickly out of the apartment. Outside, the air was cold and the eastern sky glowed pink above the tenements.

Red sky at morning, sailor take warning, I thought. Yeah, take warning.

By noon, I made sure that Mimi was headed north and the State Police would meet her at the bus station. I called in every chit I had up there to have her driven by a Trooper in a cruiser to the correctional facility. The Trooper would drive her back to the city later. When she got back, a city cop would see she got a place to stay and was kept busy for the next four weeks. I figured in Plattsburgh, she might just pick up her life where she left off. With luck, it would be some brighter part of her life before Maurice.

All day I coasted the neighborhood. Searching. I found him that night walking alone a couple of blocks from Mimi’s. Looked like he’d been searching, too. Too bad I found what I was looking for before he did.

I called Dawn that night to tell her I was leaving for South Carolina in a few days, burning some of my remaining vacation time rather than sticking around until my last day. I asked if I could see her before I left. She wasn’t sure if that was a good idea. Maybe she was right. Some things are hard to change.

It sounded like Dawn had changed, though. She asked me about Mimi and I told her she was going to be okay. That she was visiting her brother for awhile.

“What about Maurice, Daddy?”

“Looks like he’s gone, too, hon,” I said.

The other day, I got a call in my new condo from an old detective buddy in Albany. He said that Maurice Bidwell’s body was found by some vagrants under a pile of bricks next to a burned out vacant tenement.

“No shit. Any suspects?”

“Kinda,” he said. “He was shot in the head. Ballistics said it was a 22-caliber that had been used in a couple of robberies you investigated. Did you have any leads on who was the doer in those stick-ups? Anything?”

“You know? I always thought it was Maurice who was good for those. Couldn’t prove anything. Guess I was wrong.”

“Okay, thanks, Tony. Hey, how’s that soft new job going for you down there? We had our first snow here last night.”

I laughed.

“Well, Billy, tomorrow my daughter and granddaughter are coming down for a few weeks. Never even seen the little one before. And the weather? Let me just say I’m sitting here on my deck drinking a beer, watching the sun set. Red sky tonight. You connect the dots.”

This is one of my Albany stories. I write about Albany a lot, whether I identify it as such or not because it’s as much a part of me as my hand or heart. As part of my Story a Day challenge, I was tasked to write a story in which the setting is key. In Albany, historically there were two major underprivileged areas, The South End and Arbor Hill. Of the two, I know the latter more. I grew up next to it, delivered newspapers in the West Hill, on the edge of Arbor Hill. Things have improved there, but back in the late 60s and the 70s, it was very rough.