South Side Chicago is a place few escape
"Benny can I ask you a question?" Mikey tossed a stone at the green river below them, two skips.
"Sure Mikey what's up?" Benny tossed a stone in turn, four skips.
"What do you want to be, you know, when you grow up?" Mikey chucked his stone at the river, no skips.
"I sure don't want to be a trash man Mikey," Five skips.
"I want to ride on the back of a truck," Three skips.
"You don't want ta be a trash man Mikey. Trash men are all losers," Five skips.
"ARE NOT!" No skips.
"Yea, they are. How would you know, you're only four. If anything I'd be a police man. You get to shoot guns and chase people." Six skips.
"I want to ride on the back of a truck," Four skips.
"You do what you want Mikey. So long as you're with me you'll be ok, "Ten skips.
The dry office air put Mikey on edge. He wiped his trembling palms on his jeans and shifted in his chair. He then took time to survey the room. All grey: the tables, the walls. The only colors in the room came from a blinking vending machine in the corner. Mikey let out a sigh and checked his shoes for dirt. When the guy said he'd "Be right back" Mikey didn't think he would be sitting alone for 30 minutes in silence. But he waited anyway, he was in no rush. For once he felt like he wasn't in a rush. He looked out the lounge windows, at all the people at their desks. What was their story? What made them want to take job like that, here?
With a resounding "click" the door at the front of the room erupted and in strode officer Tancredi. He was holding a mug with a painted picture of Clint Eastwood that read "Feelin' Lucky, Punk?"
"Sorry for the wait. Had to make sure we wouldn't be interrupted here by officers on lunch break...Well Mikey, you said you had a story for us?" Tancredi brought out a small and outdated camera and aimed it at Mikey.
Tancredi had seemed nice enough when Mikey had first gotten to the station. The man was tall, fat and must've been in his 50's. From the second Mikey had stated why he was there Tancredi's eyes had lit up. As they had walked through the office Tancredi had described the cubicles around him. "Working here is just as dull as it looks sonny. I want to genuinely thank you for making my day a little interesting." Evidently Tancredi was not enjoying his retired office life.
"Yes sir, but I was uhh wonderin' before we start, you know, could I use the phone?"
Tancredi continued to adjust the camera. "Oh come on now Mikey, I've kept you in here long enough we might as well get started" Tancredi was giddy by how excited he was to be doing something besides criminal reports. "How 'bout you we get you to the phone when we're half way through the story"
"Uhh yea sure that's cool."
"Great alright let me get this thing up and running and we'll start."
Mikey had always been the family gem, and his older brother Benny had always been the family burnout. But being a burnout didn't really mean much when you lived in the neighborhood of Roseland. The small neighborhood tucked between East 79th street and East 95th street on the south side of Chicago was teeming with burnouts. High School dropouts littered the gas stations, the parks and the corner blocks. Most of the small neighborhood's schools had been defunded and merged. When the remaining teachers began to lower their expectations for the influx of students mediocrity had become accepted as excellence in Roseland.
From fourth grade on Mikey's story had been different.
"Oh Thomas, Thomas come here and look at Michael's report card!!" Loraine was frantically waving the green piece of paper toward the back of the cramped apartment, "Looks like we have a little Einstein in the family!" Loraine was Mikey's mom and he couldn't help smile when he saw her beaming ear to ear. Loraine was half white and although her short stature did not immediately demand respect she made sure that she demanded it herself. She was working two jobs at two different drug stores and was still in her wrinkled uniform. After working a long shift there was nothing that made her happier than to see her sons had a chance to escape Roseland.
"Ohh boy your first report card!" Mikey's dad Darius rushed into the room.
Darius was tall and heavy, the perfect trash man. No trash can too big. His dark face popped out of the white tattered 1985 Bears Superbowl sweater the he always wore around the house no matter how much Mikey's mom begged him to buy a new one. "Tell da Bears to win again 'n I'll burn dis one" is what he always said. Mikey was lucky, sometimes he felt like he was the only one in Roseland with a functioning family.
The burly man seized the report and silently read. "GOD DAMN Michael, good to know the whole family ain't brain dead" He directed the last comment towards the back of the apartment where Benny was watching TV. Mikey had blushed, he never liked to be compared to his brother because he didn't want his brother to think Mikey thought he was better than him.
"Look I'm real sorry kid, this thing just isn't working. If this place had some fucking money maybe we wouldn't be doing interviews with 10 year old cameras...Anyways, I'm gonna go look for a tape recorder. I'll be right back"
"How about that phone call?"
"I told ya kid, at half time. Here's a buck, get something from the vending machine" Tancredi swiftly grabbed the camera, papers and his mug and went off on his expedition, leaving Mikey in the empty eating lounge.
Mikey tugged at the neck of his deep green hoody, the stagnant air was becoming suffocating. Slowly he got up, his legs stretching out baring the weight of his skinny body. He walked over to the vending machine, up close he saw the words 75 cents flashing. The machine had chips, a few kind of cakes, and a lot candy bars. Mikey's eyes flashed to the Snickers bar at the bottom left and he inserted his dollar.
The night Mikey got his first report card he couldn't fall asleep he just lay in bed with the Snickers bar his parents had rewarded him with. He was too proud of it to eat it, so it sat there clutched in his hand.
"Yo little Einstein, come with me I'm bout to kick it with Wallace, he be chillin Eckersall Park tonight. Yo he tryna light up tonight" Benny whispered down to me from the top bunk. He was four years older than Mikey but they had always shared friends and whenever Benny got really excited it meant that he was about to go smoke with Wallace, a local high school dropout.
Mikey turned over in the darkness "Nah man, I'm not trying to do any of that tonight"
"Don't be a bitch Mikey c'mon, if you hurry up you won't be a fucking loser your whole life" Mikey grumbled and rolled out of bed, still clutching his snickers bar.
The walk to Eckersall Park was chilly and wet. April did not yet feel like spring and the light sprinkle of rain didn't help with the cold air. The soft golden glow of lamp posts guided the two brothers through the streets. Every once in a while they had to make their way in darkness down a street where all the lamps were burned out. The streets were quiet except for light pattering of rain. They soon passed hobo Jo a local tweaker.
"Wayuuu finnne g-gennelmandoin out dis late?" Jo was grabbing onto nearby trashcans doing his best to standup.
"Mind yo damn business" Benny snapped and kept walking.
Mikey began to feel guilty for sneaking out so late, and when he felt the candy bar in his right pocket he began to have second thoughts. He debated whether he should head back, but then in the distance he could see the swing set and slide of Eckersall.
Mikey slipped his hand into the machine to grab his candy. He quickly ate it as a substitute for the lunch his stomach desired. Outside the lounge the officers were dispersing for lunch break. Mikey could've sworn he caught a few glares for being in the cafeteria lounge. Mikey was tossing the wrapper into the trash when Tancredi bursted back into the room.
Tancredi's tie was loose and the man was now sporting a coffee stain on his shirt. He stood there as if he was about to make a speech but the words had simply slipped his mind.
"Hey there Mikey. Apparently the official tape recorders been taken out til after lunch. Err I'd sit and eat with you but you know, things to attend to. There's a public phone in the back of the office if you want. I guess see you after lunch." Tancredi swiveled and tripped on a chair as he rushed out. It was easy to see why the man hadn't been promoted past officer.
The walk to the phone hadn't been far and the red phone was easy to spot amid the depressing grey.
"Oh it's you Michael! Where you been? We been worried boutchu!"
"Is Benny there?"
"Honey, nah Benny's not here. He's prolly tweakin his ass off the god damn fool. You come home now, you hear?"
"Uh yea mom in a little bit... hey, if you see Benny tell'em I'm sorry"
"Honey, sorry bout w--"
Mikey put the phone down and waded through the empty cubicles back to the lounge.
"Look who finally brought their raggedy ass ovah. And look at dat he brought Mikey too" Wallace's bulky silhouette stood tall beneath the warmth of the moonlight. He was wearing a stolen letterman jacket for football and a skullcap. To his left and right were Jalen, and Rasheed. Both had dropped out of high school with Wallace and were always eager to follow him around.
"Whaddup cuz, how you livin?" Benny looked up at Wallace who towered over him and stuck his hand out for a shake. Benny worked out a lot and was big for his age, but Wallace, who was two years older than Benny, dwarfed him.
"Just fine til your bitch ass showed up" Wallace offered no hand in return and the park became silent. Benny turned as white as the moon and began staring at the ground. Wallace looked from Benny to Mikey and smiled. Wallace stuck out his hand, "C'mon mayne even little Mikey over there knows I'm just fuckin' witchu" Mikey tightened the grip on the candy bar in his pocket. "Yo little Mikey," Wallace crouched down to eye level "You know tonight's a special night righ? Big bro over here is gonna crew up with me and my bros. Mayb sumday, you'll crew up wid us too. Watchu think about that?"
"Nahh Wallace Mikey got his first report card today, kid's a fuckin' queer, straight A's" Benny was feeling more at ease now that Wallace's attention was on someone else.
Wallace still crouching, smirked and nodded, "Well Wallace ain't got nothing but love for a homie hustling to get outta dis shit hole. You ever need anything lemme know aight?" Wallace got up and looked back at Benny, "Kid hasn't said a word and I already like him better'n you" Jalen and Rasheed laughed behind him. "Aight boys wus the holdup les light up.
A small red glass pipe materialized out of Jalen's pocket, and he began to pack a bowl. Jalen was short and skinny, his build was not much different than Mikey's and he was sporting the same fake, baggy, Louis Vuitton coat he always wore. Meticulously he stuffed granules of the dried weed into the pipe.
Once the pipe was lit it got passed to Rasheed next. Rasheed was the opposite of Jalen: tall and large. Easily one of the biggest kids Mikey knew, Rasheed could only where sweats and was always sporting a oversized stained white t-shirt.
"Yo lil Mikey, hit dis shit" Rasheed muttered sticking out the used pipe.
Wallace quickly snatched the glass piece. "Da'fuck you tryin to do? Kid's getting straight A's and you wanna mess wid dat? Mikey ain't trying to get as dumb as you, dumbass" Rasheed muttered something along the lines of sorry while Jalen snickered next to him.
The lounge was slowly sucking the life out of Mikey. The flashing light on the vending machine now seemed to be taunting Mikey. For a brief moment he thought about returning home but it was only brief. He knew he had already made a decision he would have to stick with.
Above him he noticed two flies buzzing around the office. Mikey looked at the door and wondered how they got in. Must've been the air vents. The two flies crossed paths zig zagging around the ceiling fan above him. Incessant "bzzz" and flashing lights slowly lulled Mike's head to the table.
Mikey and Benny were helping Loraine with laundry. As Mikey threw a sack of clothes over his shoulder and headed out of the Laundromat Mikey could hear his mom screaming.
"BEEENJAMEEENNNN, I swear ta GOD if you don' help yo LIL brotha out I'mma kick yo ass out've da GOD DAMN apartment."
Benny was outside sucking on a cigarette. He hadn't said much all day, and whenever someone asked him what was up he just grinned and said "Nuttin to do witchu" Reluctantly he dropped the cig and walked in to the building.
The bags were heavy and the walk up the stairs to the apartment was almost unbearable for Mikey. With each stride his body sank under the weight of his bag. Mikey kept looking down hoping he hadn't left a trail of clothes that he would have to go back for later.
When they reached their place Benny had barely broken a sweat. Now officially a high school dropout, Benny's sculpted body made his 18 year old body look much older. A passerby wouldn't be able to tell they were brothers based on mike's short skinny frame.
The bags were lobbed onto the bottom bunk and Mikey and Benny began sorting their clothes. Mikey stuffed his holey jeans into the bottom drawer. He was used to holey jeans, most of his clothes were hand-me-downs and Benny wasn't in a habit of keeping his clothes in good shape.
"Yo Mikey, check it"
MIkey looked over at Benny who was over at his dresser. Benny was grimacing as he strained to force his arm further into the back of the dresser. Finally, with a look of victory in his eyes, Benny began to withdraw his hand from the box.
"Wallace jus' hit me up with it. Sa' Nine millimeter. Not bad huh?" Benny held the gun in two hands as if it was a piece of fine china. The gun's grip was wrapped with red and green duct tape. The gun must've been haphazardly modified with sharp edges. That's the only reason people duct tape their guns, to smooth out the grip. "No serial numba or nuttn'. Here lil man, hold it"
Mikey was hesitant but knew better than to resist. The gun was heavier than he thought it would be. He moved his hand up and down and felt the weight of the weapon. Satisfied, he handed the gun back and looked around the room. Everything that was hung up was Mikey's. The movie posters, the math trophies, the class photos, they were all his. Mikey looked over at Benny who was admiring his gun, and then went back to sorting clothes.
"Alright, Alright buddy wake up! It's go time"
Mikey yawned and rubbed his eyes and slowly did a scan. The buzzing had stopped and Tancredi was now fussing with a small tape recorder. Mikey also noticed that officer Tancredi had donned a new shirt. The staff outside had all returned to their respective cubicles for the final lap of their day. In the corner of the ceiling he noticed a moving black dot. Apparently both flies had flown into the web while he was asleep. The first fly laid still, fluttering it's wings every once in a while, while the fly next to it was flying in circles still bundled by the web.
"Okay I know this has been a much longer process than I'm sure you were hoping for. I brought you back a sub because I figured you'd be hungry just lying in here all day." Tancredi slid the sandwich across the grey table towards Mikey. "Shall we start? Just describe your whole day. Even if it's unrelated we want to prepare you for cross examination. Ready? 3...2...1"
Mikey was in a great mood. His acceptance letter to the University of Michigan on a full ride had just come in. Mikey strode into the living room to make the announcement.
"Mom! Dad! Guess whaaaat!"
Mikey passed them the letter that had become wrinkled by his tight clutch. As his parents passed the letter back and forth their smiles broadened across their face.
"Look like we gotta college boy in da family naw" Mikey's dad began sobbing into the sleeve of his beat up sweater.
"Honey you don't know how proud this makes us" His mom embraced him in a hug that seemed to contain an infinite amount of emotions.
Mikey smiled, but as they were talking to him he stopped hearing what they were saying. Mikey gazed around the apartment looking for Benny but he couldn't see him anywhere. He knew Benny probably was out somewhere getting high out of his mind ever. About a year ago when Benny had started selling meth, Mikey began noticing small changes. At first Benny would just skip a night at home and sleep somewhere else. But after a few months Benny would disappear for days at a time, sometimes even a week. Mikey forced himself to smile, he missed Benny but today was going to be about Mikey.
As his reward Mikey's mom had given him half her week's salary to go and by the red pair of the high top, ultra-light basketball shoes that every other kid in Roseland wanted but almost no one could afford. Mikey sprinted through the streets and through alley ways; he waved at hobo Jo as he ran by, and finally cut through Eckersall Park to get to the sneaker store. The smell of fresh shoes greeted him at the door and he heaved a sigh of victory. As he brought the red shoes to the counter his heart fluttered as he placed the wad of cash next to the register.
Mikey strode out of that store on top of the world. The sun was setting the streets were empty for dinner. Ahh dinner, Mikey smiled as he walked towards Eckersall Park. In the distance he could see hobo Jo sauntering near the edge of the park singing "My Girl" to a flock of pigeons.
It happened so fast, a grey mini-van reeled around the corner into the street at the back of the park. The driver was quick to roll down his window.
"HEY JO! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON'T PAY UP"
Out of the window a small handgun protruded. Jo never had chance. Three shots rang out and he was dead before he knew what was going on. As the van Jo's crumpled body laid next to the slide. Without thinking Mikey ran towards the slide. He was almost there when he looked up and saw that the van was circling back. Quickly and efficiently the van came to a complete stop right where it had been for Jo. The window rolled down.
It was Wallace "Well fuck me, s'only Mikey. How you doin Mikey? Heard you're a college boy now. We're all proud a ya kid." Mikey could hear Jalen laugh from the passenger seat. "Look mayne, I think we both know you didn't see shit. Got it?" Mikey nodded. "Aight ya queer run home and study or some shit" The window rolled up and Wallace drove off.
Mikey ran home and went upstairs and laid out on his bottom bunk. He lay there all day just staring at the bottom of the top bunk. Whenever his parents called for him he said he felt sleepy and didn't want to eat. Finally at midnight Benny returned.
"Mikey I heard about what happened" Benny whispered in the dark room solemnly. "I want you to know that I'd never do som'n like dat but...but you know you can't go to the cops right? Yo, you know what Wallace would do right? To you, to me to our family. Yo, you just got into college mayne. You Roseland's goddam success story mayne. Don't throw it away for a drunk, tweaker bum. Alright?....Alright?"
"And so that was yesterday?" Mikey nodded. "Alright sounds good fill out these forms for the court date we'll need you to go on the witness stand. And that's it. Sorry it's been such a hassle for you but I mean it when I say you made brightened up the departments day a little, we've been waiting for a way to nail this Wallace guy."Mikey and Tancredi rose to their feet, both of them now holding a stack of papers. As Mikey and Tancredi left the room Mikey couldn't help but notice one of the flies had escaped the web.
It was dark out, Mikey followed the familiar glow of the lamps home. It was a cool October day and as Mikey looked around and could see the potted plants that were changing color. Then from behind a tree in ahead of him he saw three bodies silhouetted against the back glow of the lamps. Wallace was walking towards him, his black pistol gleaming in his hand.
"Now what did I say Mikey? I really wanted to be friends you know. Seems like a waste to killah person from Roseland who ain't already a bum. You were supposed to be the one that made it out mayne. The smart kid wid da clean sheet, but then again going to the cops is punishable by death" Wallace raised his gun.
Three shots rang out and Mikey quivered with his eyes shut. He wondered if he would go to heaven. He wondered if mayn people from Roseland went to heaven at all. Even if he went there he might not be able to recognize anyone. Slowly he opened his eyes to see his fate. In front of him were three dead bodies and Benny holding a smoking 9 millimeter. "Don't you...sniff...don't you ever apologize to me again" Benny sobbed and dropped his gun to the side walk. Two skips.