The East her hidden joy before the morning break
Brian Hanrahan woke at noon with the usual pain behind his eyes from the cheap wine he had drunk in Jay Park the night before. His older brother Will didn't let him keep any drugs in the apartment, so his first concern was to get back down to Jay Park and get something to take the edge off. He had slept in his clothes, and he decided he didn't need to do much. He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, practiced a handsome, scary smile, and decided not to shave; instead, he gargled Listerine, splashed cold water on his face, searched his brother's dresser for money, didn't find any, and left.
He walked the ten blocks to Jay Park, lacking any other means of transportation. Will kept a bicycle in the building's basement, but he had forbidden Brian to use it. Brian had stolen it once, and then spent three nights on the street before Will let him back in. He loved an opportunity to outrage Will, but he wasn't willing to go back on the street, and none of his acquaintances' parents allowed him in the house any more.
Lina often said he looked like Mick Jagger. Brian didn't see much resemblance, except that he and Mick both had long faces, shoulder length straight hair, and animal magnetism. Lina said she loved him and sometimes she could get him to say it back. He told his friends he didn't mean it, but sometimes he thought he did.
Four or five of the usual junkies were nodding off on a bench, under the trees that didn't get much less wan in summer. "Anybody got anything?" he asked, with low expectations, because when they had money, they went and scored and shot up. Once they had shot up, they no longer had drugs or money, and they weren't much company either. He sat on the next bench, watching the junkies doze and drool, until he noticed a well dressed, middle aged black man sitting across from him eating Chinese food from a carton. The man had a wise, pleasant look.
Brian immediately assumed his most insolent smile and waited for the man to notice him. People sooner or later always realize they are being watched. When the man met his eyes, Brian said nothing and continued to smile. Finally, the man said, "What are you looking at?"
"We don't see many niggers in Jay Park," Brian said.
"Would you step a bit closer?" the man asked. "I couldn't quite hear you."
Brian hoped his hesitation was so brief as to be undetectable. He didn't want to get any closer to the stranger, but if he didn't, he was a coward, which was the worst thing you could be. The junkies were probably too out of it to notice, but he couldn't be sure. If the word got around you had backed down from a challenge, there was no way to recover.
He walked across the path until he stood about ten feet from the stranger, who said, "Again, please?"
"We don't see many niggers in Jay Park."
"I have a question for you," the man said politely.
"Ask away," Brian said, smiling.
"Would you like to die?"
"I asked whether you would like to die."
"Fuck you," Brian said, and took a step towards him, when the man held his jacket a little ways away from him with his left hand. He had a small pistol in a shoulder holster.
There weren't as many guns on the street then as there were twenty years later, and Brian had never seen one on anybody but a cop, though he thought he ran with a tough crowd.
Brian stopped and thought. The man might be a cop or he might be a killer. Brian started looking for a way out without losing face, and a moment later, found it in a surge of friendliness. After all, he and the stranger both were just trying to get by in Jay Park.
He laughed, started to turn away, and said, "I'm sorry, man. I'm a real asshole sometimes. You were minding your own business, and I called you a name."
The man's face didn't ease up, but he said, "You're a fine young animal, aren't you? Well, get the fuck out of here."
Brian bowed, and as quickly as he could without looking frightened, walked to the other end of Jay Park. As he was going out the gate he ran into his friend, Dave Red, who was coming in. He took Dave Red by the arm, turned him around, and led him a few steps out of the park. Looking his friend earnestly in the eye, he wondered whether to tell him about the black man. He wanted to show him the man who had a gun, but he decided there was too much risk of embarrassment in telling the story. Then he considered sending Dave Red over to harass the stranger, by telling him he was a fag with money or some such. He wouldn't mind setting Dave Red up for a punch in the face-- he had done that many times--but he didn't want to get him shot, so he said nothing.
"You're looking at me strangely," Dave Red said. He was a genial Irish boy with shoulder length red hair, wearing his older brother's G.I. jacket.
"You got anything on you?"
"I got some speed."
Brian took Dave Red by the arm again and led him right inside the gate to the nearest bench. He glanced back across the length of the park, but the black man had gone.
Dave Red looked around, took a piece of tin foil out of his pocket and began to unwrap it. He hesitated and said, "Seems like I always share my stuff and you never share yours."
"I never have anything," Brian said. "If I had, I would share it."
"That's true," said Dave Red. He took some of the methedrine on a fingertip and snorted it and passed the foil to Brian, who did the same. A few minutes later, he was feeling electric and good; somewhere along the way the pain behind his eyes had gone.
It was one o'clock. "Lets go score some lunch," Brian said.
"Do you have any money?"
Brian showed him the dollar bill he had in his pocket. "Do you?"
"Fuck you," Dave Red said. "I just turned you on. I ain't buying you lunch."
Brian stood up and started to walk out of the park.
"Where are you going?"
"To the spoon, and see what I can arrange."
"I'll come with you," Dave Red said, "but I still ain't buying you lunch."
They walked a few blocks past Brooklyn College to the Junction and looked in through the window of the "spoon", Jay's Coffee Shop. Inside were three boys from Midwood High School, just sitting down: David Solomon, Ricky Bauer, and Coop.
"This is gonna be great," Brian said. "Go across to the baker and buy two brownies."
"Fuck you," said Dave Red, "because I still ain't buying you lunch."
"Its not for me."
"What's it for then?"
Brian gave him the dollar. There were a lot of people he hung out with you couldn't even give a dollar to, because they wouldn't come back, but he knew Dave Red would come back with the brownies. "Get a paper bag," he called.
Dave came back with a paper bag. Brian checked to see that the brownies had no label. They were fresh-baked, wrapped only in Saran wrap. He took Dave Red by the arm and pulled him inside and all the way down the aisle, he saw the fat counterman's eyes track him as, with an impassive expression, the counterman stood ready to eject him from the shop.
He sat down quietly with David Solomon and the others. "Hello, boys."
"I have something that might interest you boys."
When he had their attention, he said, "In this bag, I have two hash brownies, freshly baked by my sister."
Dave Red caught on and said, "Brian's sister bakes the best in town."
"The hash she used is that really great kif that Mr. Dim was dealing last week."
The Midwood boys were interested. "We had three," Brian continued, "but Dave Red here and I already ate one in Jay Park this morning."
"It gets you off in no time," Dave Red said.
The boys could see that Brian and Dave were high. At that moment, Brian could see their eyes relax; they believed him.
"Buy us both lunch, and I'll give you one brownie."
David Solomon and Rick Bauer looked at each other, ignoring Coop, who always tagged along. Then David, who had money, said "All right. But we eat the brownie first."
"A brownie's dessert," said Brian. "Lets eat lunch first, then dessert."
"The brownie first," said David, "or no deal."
Brian thought about it. The boys knew perfectly well from past experience that he was capable of leaving without giving them the brownie, and they wouldn't dare do anything about it. He had only ever broken anyone's nose once, when he had punched out Jigger Maro in front of the Dairy Queen on the Junction. But all three of them had seen it, and they wouldn't fuck with him.
On the other hand, if he gave them the brownie first, they wouldn't dare not buy him lunch.
He smiled, took a brownie from the bag, and handed it to David, who broke it into three pieces, and gave some to Ricky and Coop. All three ate their pieces of brownie surreptiously, looking to see if the waitress or Ben Fucci at the counter was watching them.
Brian felt contempt for the Jewish boy who gave equal size pieces to two hangers-on when he was going to pay the check himself.
He ordered a chicken salad sandwich with a plate of french fries and a Coke. Jay's chicken salad had nice thick chunks. Brian salted the french fries for a long time, then slathered on ketchup. "Umh umh," he said, eating a french fry. It occurred to him he probably hadn't eaten since lunch yesterday.
"You boys getting off yet?" Dave Red asked.
"I think I'm feeling something," said Coop, smiling woozily.
Brian tried to sell David Solomon the other brownie for five dollars. "I ain't making anything on it--there's a nickel's worth of kif in this brownie alone." But David, though he wasn't sure, now thought he might have been had, and wasn't interested.
Ricky Bauer remembered something and said, "Lina said if we saw you to tell you to meet her after work."
Brian remembered that Lina was friends with this skinny Jewish boy. He usually didn't mind Ricky, but now he wanted to hit him. He decided not to dignify this absurdity with an answer, and snarled like a wolf instead, lifting his lip and showing his teeth.
"What do you want me to tell Lina?"
"This," said Brian, and he touched his crotch.
Brian and Dave Red finished their food and left. Walking down Kings Highway, Brian took the other brownie out of the bag. He thought about eating it in front of Dave Red, because Dave had made him spend his last dollar. But he relented because Dave had shared his speed with him, and he broke off a small piece for him.
He bit into the rich brownie, closed his eyes for a moment and savored it on his tongue. He opened his eyes and Dave Red was nowhere to be seen; he had completely faded away. Brian turned to look for him, and found himself facing Eugene Sparrow, the big, mean plainclothes detective from the local precinct.
"I'll take that," Sparrow said. He took the brownie and the bag out of Dave's hand and dropped the brownie into the bag, which he folded up and put in his pocket. "You're under arrest," he added.
"What the fuck?"
"Possession of a hash brownie," Sparrow said. "You gonna walk with me to the station, or do I have to cuff you and march you there?"
Brian thought. "But, Eugene..."
"Mr. Sparrow to you."
He began talking as quickly and persuasively, and politely, as he knew how. "This is not a hash brownie. I know I said it was. I was playing a trick on some idiot kids from Midwood. There's no hash in this brownie."
He saw a change come over Sparrow's eyes; the big cop knew it was true. "Prove it," Sparrow said. Brian led him to the bakery, where Mrs. Kresge behind the counter confirmed that Dave Red had bought two brownies and identified the bag. Sparrow took out the brownie, compared it to the ones in the glass counter, broke the remnant of Brian's brownie open, looked at it and sniffed it. He returned it to the bag, crumpled the bag up and gave it to Mrs. Kresge, who threw it in the garbage. Sparrow walked out and Brian followed him, regretting the sweet which his mouth had been prepared for.
Sparrow walked a few feet, then calmly turned and looked at Brian, waiting for him to say something. "Say hi to your sister," Brian said laughing, saw the big policeman start to get angry, and darted down a side street. He looked back, and saw Sparrow deciding not to follow him. Sparrow's sister was little better than a whore; you could fuck her for a handful of reds, which Brian had done a few times, mostly before he met Lina.
Only a few minutes had elapsed from the time he left the spoon to the moment Sparrow had shown up. Brian couldn't imagine who had narked on him, or how it happened so fast, unless one of the Jew-boys had a microphone in his ass wired to the precinct.
Sometime in the course of the day, he knew he would run into at least one of the three boys again, and he decided he would pound it out of whichever one he met first. They were so frightened of him, he probably wouldn't even have to hit anyone; just lift his fist, and they'd shit down their leg.
"I saw that," someone said behind him, "and I wanted you to know you have Ben Fucci to thank."
He turned around and saw Ricky Bauer; his first impulse was to grab him and aim a fist at his nose, but he restrained himself, because he knew that if Ricky had narked on him, Ricky wouldn't have the balls to come and tell him it was Ben Fucci.
"Right after you left," Ricky said, "Sparrow came in, and Fucci said something to him, and Sparrow ran after you."
"Fucci must've heard us," Brian said. The morning's speed was fading and he felt dull and listless. He started to walk back towards Jay Park and Ricky followed him.
"You're a good guy, Ricky, a real straight shooter," Brian said, and he put an arm around Ricky's shoulders and then knuckled him on top of the head a couple of times. He looked at Ricky, and saw his eyes had gotten really wide. It was an honor for him to be knuckled on top of the head by Brian Hanrahan. Brian Hanrahan was whom little Ricky Bauer, with his pony tail, denim jacket and clean little face, wanted to be.
The junkies were still in Jay Park, and some of the Stoners had arrived. The Stoners were a sort of gang of Irish and Italian kids who sometimes stole bicycles or snatched purses but who mainly just hung out in Jay Park and got high. To David Solomon and Ricky Bauer, Brian and Dave Red were Stoners. Brian wasn't really a member of the group, but like Dave Red, was someone from the same background, whom they tolerated. They liked him, more or less, but didn't really trust him, and when they had private parties, he wasn't invited.
A big fat glue-sniffing boy they called the Mook was with them. He was nodding out like the junkies. He had a blue plastic cigarette case with two rolled joints in it, which he kept dropping on the bench next to him, then putting it away in his shirt pocket, then placing back on the bench. Brian knew all the Stoners had their eyes on the blue case, but he was faster than they; when the Mook's eyes closed for a longer moment, Brian pocketed the case. "The hand is quicker than the eye," he said to Ricky, whom the Stoners wouldn't tolerate, unless he was with Brian. He began to walk away, Ricky again following him, towards the end of Jay Park where he and Dave Red had snorted speed that morning. Three of the Stoners--Big Tommy, Little Tommy with the limp, and Bill McGonigle of the lumpy face--followed them but Brian turned to them and said casually, "Sorry, boys. Private party." They looked at each other and then everybody laughed, and the three Stoners went back to their bench.
Brian and Ricky sat on the bench inside the far park gate and Brian lit a joint, took a long toke, and passed it to Ricky. Brian held the smoke in his lungs a long time, then exhaled smoothly. He saw Ricky wanting to hold it as long, but Ricky knew he would cough and look like an idiot. "Don't bogart that joint," Brian said, kindly letting him off the hook.
After they had smoked it down to a roach, Ricky asked him: "That wasn't a hash brownie, was it?"
"No," said Brian. "I bought it across the street in the baker's."
"That's a good one," said Ricky. "I won't tell Dave or Coop."
Brian was better again, filled with the sweet pot feeling. He looked at Ricky; the Jewish boy looked almost handsome for a moment, and Brian got jealous.
"Have you ever fucked Lina?" he asked him.
"Have you ever fucked my girl?"
"No," the boy said, in an almost inaudible voice, as if he was ashamed to admit it. Brian knew he was telling the truth, and he also figured out Ricky was a virgin.
"Never mind." He felt sorry for him and gave him the blue case with the other joint. He left the park; this time, Ricky didn't follow.
Back on Flatbush Avenue, still feeling fine, he ran into Mrs. Feinstein, his homeroom teacher from the year before, the last time he had attended any classes. He had been thrown out of a Catholic high school, Nazareth, after two and a half years, and had gone to Midwood only three months. He would have been a senior now if he'd stayed in. He had liked Mrs. Feinstein, who was smart, friendly, funny and as attractive as a thirty-three year old could be. She had red hair, of a color probably unknown in nature, but it was sexy. He thought about her sometimes.
Feinstein seemed glad to see him and sorry he had left school. "What are you doing? Are you working?"
With any other teacher, Brian would have snarled, or found the right words to enrage her, or would have ignored her and gone on his way. Feinstein embarassed him; he wanted to give a better account of himself than he could.
Finally, he asked, "Can you imagine me delivering groceries on a bicycle? Or packing them in Key Food?"
Feinstein seemed to want to answer him very carefully. "People do what it takes to get by," she said, "until they can do something better. You're smart; you'll sort it out. And you're too smart not to go back to school."
Brian tried to imagine himself in a blue smock in Key Food. "I'm a fine young animal," he said. He had half hoped to annoy Feinstein, but it had the opposite effect: she threw her head back, startlingly, and laughed. "That you are, that you are." She gave him a warm handshake, and said, "Don't be a stranger."
The clock over the subway station at the Junction showed five o'clock. He remembered that Lina wanted to see him; he was annoyed at her presumption in sending him a message via Ricky, but he decided to overlook it because he wanted to see her. He stood the agreed hundred feet from the art store; Mr. Dowdy would fire Lina if Brian came in to the store again. She came out and when she saw him she lit up like an angel.
Lina technically was only the second or third most beautiful girl in Midwood, because Eve Mansdorf had better bone structure and Abby Brucker was sexier. But Lina had beautiful long curly black hair, big brown eyes, creamy skin; most of all, the love and goodness just shone out of her. She was a happy girl who made people happy. Watching her walk to him (Brian stood immobile; it was important she walk to him) he felt the usual confusing mixture of feelings: admiration, pride of ownership, resentment because he knew he could never live up to what she was, and double resentment because she didn't expect him to be anything else than what he was. Will always said, "Lina's much too good for you," and Brian knew he was right, as Will was right about almost everything.
"I have to be home for dinner," Lina said. They walked into the Brooklyn College campus, and sat on a stone bench by the turtle pond, hidden from the homegoing summer students by a tree. They kissed, and Brian, feeling absurd, lay down with his head in Lina's lap, and let her stroke his hair for awhile.
"I'm a little late," Lina said.
"What?" He sat up. "Only a week," Lina said, "but you know I'm usually regular as a clock."
Brian knew a guy who knew a guy who could fix these things, but he didn't say that, because it might hurt Lina and because his mother, father and Will all had said it was a terrible sin.
"I thought you took those pills."
"I've missed them a couple of times," she said, embarrassed.
"Would you want to have a baby?"
"I don't know."
Brian felt momentarily angry and remembered the one time he had ever slapped Lina. The memory excited him and made him feel disgusted with himself.
But then he was gripped by the idea of having a baby, a little copy of himself or Lina. He knew he wouldn't do very much to take care of it--change diapers or even feed it-- but Lina wouldn't ask him to. He imagined himself coming in from Jay Park and playing with it in the evening. His baby would adore him as Lina did.
He slipped his hand under her peasant blouse and felt her thin, slightly round belly, imagining a baby moving in there.
"I don't even have a job or anything," he said, and, the last sweet pot traces gone, he crashed. He believed for a moment that he had said the wrong thing, but looking at Lina's eyes he knew he had said the right thing. He hadn't walked away or yelled. He had envisioned their future, and that's all that she wanted from him at that moment: their future.
"Thank you," she said.
"For being Brian Hanrahan," and she laughed.
He kissed her and walked her to the bus; she stood on the bus like a big-eyed child, clutching her cheap batik pocketbook and waving to him as she got further and further away. He stood looking and didn't wave back, then decided to go home and get some dinner from Will.
Will was wolfing down fried rice from Sing Wah Kitchen before riding his bike to Brooklyn College for his night course in education. Will installed phones and wanted to be a schoolteacher. Will was tall, quiet, responsible, more of a man than Dad had been. Will had been more of a man even when Mom and Dad were alive. He had never been a child and had always been older than everybody. Will went to church on Sundays and when he got his teacher's license would marry a devout, quiet Catholic girl.
Will was the most responsible man in the world and the proof was that he took care of a younger brother whom he could hardly stand most of the time. Without saying anything, he got out a plate from the cabinet and poured half his fried rice into it.
"I wouldn't want you to be hungry in class," Brian said sarcastically, but his brother failed to notice the sarcasm and said, "I got a large one because I thought I might see you."
"Mom must have fooled around," Brian said, "because no way are you and I from the same stock." He had said these words many times, as a sort of incantation, and in the early years it had been enough to make Will wild, and even get him to take a swing at Brian, in defense of their mother. But Will had promised Father Pastorelli when he was fifteen years old that he would never hit anyone again, and he had kept his promise.
"Or maybe I got switched in the hospital."
Will ignored him and kept eating.
"Lina missed her period." He hadn't intended to say anything until he knew for sure or possibly ever; the only reason he could have said it now was to provoke Will. Will put his fork down and turned to look at his brother.
"If that girl is pregnant," he said at last, "you're going to marry her and take care of her. You'll get a job at last, pumping gas if you have to. You can live here with her at first, as long as you have a job, and then when you get on your feet, you'll get your own apartment. Before the baby comes; I can't have a baby here and get my studies done."
"Well, who's to say I wouldn't?" Brian asked.
"Do you understand me, brother?"
"I heard you, didn't I?"
"If you don't marry that girl, you can't live here."
"Well," Brian said, rising, "thank you so much for dinner," and he went out the door and started walking the ten blocks back to Jay Park.
Near the park, he saw an elderly woman fall in the street. He went to her and lifted her up. She had bloodied her leg and couldn't stand; neighbors came out and Brian told someone to call an ambulance and asked for a chair. Someone brought a folding lawn chair, and he seated the old woman in it and stayed with her. She had wispy white hair and huge eyes and a firm grip; she clung to his hand, smiling at him, like a scary good witch, so that he felt he couldn't leave. Then Eugene Sparrow, who lived on the block, came up and said to her, "Do you have a pocketbook?" "I didn't bring it," said the elderly lady. "Do you have any valuables on you?" Sparrow asked. "No, I just stepped out to see my sister across the street." "Was this boy anywhere near you when you fell?" "No, he's a nice boy, he helped me. Look at his face," said the old lady. "Well, you'd best be moving on," Sparrow said, and Brian went on to Jay Park.
The junkies were gone, preparing to steal bicycles now that it was getting on towards dark, and soon after he arrived, the Stoners went off to have a private party with Mr. Dim the pot dealer. Before they left, he had prevailed on them for a drink of Boone's Farm Apple Wine--he had more or less grabbed a bottle in transit and taken a huge swig. Now he sat alone awhile, in the dark, feeling a little drunk and wishing for fireflies. Then Ricky showed up, pretending that he was just passing by, but Brian knew that Ricky loved him and wanted to be like him and had been looking for him. His new friend.
Ricky had a bottle of Yago Sangria which they shared, and when Brian felt pleasantly very buzzed he said to Ricky, "Let's go play Bombardier."
The Bombardier game stood in the Dairy Queen down at the Junction, the one outside of which Brian had broken Jigger Mora's nose. Years before microchips, it was a mechanical simulation of a bombing run, with a scrolling paper map and lights behind it which flashed when you placed your bombs correctly. Ricky fed him quarters and Brian bombed the shit out of the map. "Where I place my eye, I place my bomb," he said.
They returned to Jay Park and shared the joint that Brian had given Ricky that afternoon. Brian was amazed Ricky had walked around with a joint all these hours without smoking it. He was like a dog Brian had once owned: if you gave her a biscuit when you left the house, she didn't eat it until you came back. Brian saw something in the bottom of the blue case wrapped in tin foil. "What's that?" he said, taking it out and starting to unwrap it.
"That's a tab of Orange Sunshine," Ricky said. "Dave gave it to me this afternoon."
"No, Dave Solomon."
Ricky had a little scout knife, which Brian coveted; he thought about stealing it from him but didn't. Ricky cut the tab in two, and they both ate half.
Thirty or forty minutes later, Brian felt a jangled electric high surge up over the sweet foundation of the pot. His hands were trembling and there were visible distortions at the edges of his vision. "This is some powerful shit," he said laughing. "Be glad you only ate a half."
Ricky didn't seem too well, so Brian walked him home to East 21st Street. The boy lived in one of the larger houses on the block, with white aluminum siding and a magnolia tree in front. He went in unsteadily and Brian saw his father meet him at the door; he could hear murmurs but not words. He left and went back to the Junction, flying now, the acid full of anger and danger. It was after midnight; he waited for a few cars to pass, then when the intersection was deserted, took a garbage can and threw it through the window of Jay's. The glass collapsed very satisfyingly in rows of shards; the acid made the collapsing glass into a kind of jangly bright song. Brian went home. Will's door was shut; Brian drank a glass of orange juice, which seemed to crawl down his throat like molasses, got his blanket, and bunked on the couch where he always slept. For a long time, until about five in the morning, he lay awake, his arms and head throbbing, staring at the sliding lights on the ceiling as cars went by outside. Finally, his exhaustion overcame the electric thrill of the acid, and he fell asleep still wired and high.
Brian dreamed about swans in a whirlpool, beautiful white swans circling down a drain.