Copper by Morgan La Femina - HTML preview
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“Joe Joe, why do they make beer with bubbles?” Danny asked with innate curiosity, looking deep into the white foam of his Budweiser.
Joseph peered up at the baseball game, which was playing on a TV in the upper left corner of the bar. Joe lifted up his beer, “I don’t know,” taking a big drink down. “Just drink it. I bought it for you.”
“Joe Joe, Yanks are doing good so far, huh?”
Joe looked down peering into his mug, “Yep, Dan.”
Danny furrowed his brow a bit, picking at the wood and stone bar top with his dirty fingernails. “Hey, Joe, is Mama going to be okay?”
Joe looked over at the bartender. Michael was a gruff old man, but good strong counsel when you needed him to be such. “Yeah, I suppose Dan. It’s spring so I suppose.” Joe finished his beer and rubbed his black head of hair. He then gave a stern look at Dan. “You know I get tired of this shit.”
Dan sipped his beer a bit gingerly, winching at his brother's remark. “Joe Joe, I'm sorry you get tired and all.”
Joseph shook his head forlornly, looking down at the base of his empty mug. “Naw, Dan, nope.”
Dan smiled happily at Joe, content that he had done no wrong to his brother. “Good Joe, Joe. Hey, you gonna get another beer?”
Joe glanced once more at Mike, “Yea, Mike one more?”
Michael was over at the far side of the bar washing mugs and glasses. “Yep, Joe another Bud!” wiping his hands on a rag as he spoke.
Joe took a deep breath. He was so tired these days. A few moments of peace passed. He noticed someone out of the corner of his eye, remembering the beer he had wanted. “Yeah, Mike another one.”
Mike nodded, pulled a frosty cold mug from a lower bar refrigerator, pulling the tap, the amber ale filling the mug. “How is the family doing Joe? You don’t talk much about them anymore.”
“Yeah, I know Mike.” Joe turned a bit in his bar stool to view the raven-haired woman at the other end of the bar who was sitting at a small table. She seemed to be watching them and at the same time watching the light traffic on the road.
Michael brought the freshly poured beer over to Joseph flipping a cardboard coaster, setting the beer on it. He rubbed his beard. “You really should loosen up a bit, relax Joe...families are families, they all have issues.”
Joe turned to the woman a bit further. “Yeah, Mike.”
The woman gave Joe a crooked smile and took a sip of her scotch on the rocks.
Danny abruptly and quite loud remarking to them both, “Yep Mikee, families do have families!” at what Michael had said to Joseph.
Michael hearing Danny, cheerfully walked away nodding to himself. “That’s true Danny boy, very true.”
Danny smiled very satisfied to have pleased Michael's sense of humor and irony.
“What are we going to do when we get home, Joe?” Joe shrugged, “Don’t know Dan, don’t know.”
Hearing Joe's answer, Danny began to settle down again. It grew quiet in the bar. Joe sipped his beer and went back to watching the baseball game. Danny suddenly looked far out into space, which he did from time to time. Joe never could figure out why. He had some ideas and brought them up to his mom, but Mama Cruse never looked into it. Danny seemed always to be a bit slower than most people were; to the family he just was born that way. Danny was born slow and big and as he grew up, he grew even bigger. Joe's brother was always a bit of an oddity to most people especially when he and Danny paired up together to go out in public. Joe didn’t mind so much. However, sometimes and for some unknown reason to Joe it bothered other people. If Danny’s oddities did not bother him so much Joe figured why should it bother anyone else? After all, Joe had to live with him, besides everyone had his or her peculiarities. Joe was only five-eight at best while Danny stood six-foot-five 230 pounds, mostly muscle. Danny seemed to wake from his trance and drank a bit more of his beer. “Joe, you're going to school soon?”
Joe shook his head yes, “Yes, soon…pretty soon, but you know Joe, I am just a drive or a phone call away.”
Danny rubbed his face, feeling the stubble that had quickly grown. He never could get shaving down well like his brother even though he was thirty. “Yep, Joe Joe, but I can’t drive.”
“No Danny that’s true, but I can drive.” Dan smiled innocently. “I don’t get it.”
Joe smiled back and took another sip of his beer, a bit more cheerfully now. “But, I understand it Danny and that’s what matters.”
Danny smiled deeper showing more teeth, “Yep, Joe…true.” Danny found the woman in the corner this time as well and smiled at her. She caught his smile and smiled back at him. Danny blushed, returned to his beer and then the TV screen. The Yankees had runners on first and third with two outs in the sixth. Danny looked at Joe scrunching his face. “Clean up, huh?”
Joe nodded in agreement with his brother, “Yep.”
Danny still a bit anxious leaned into Joe, “Hey, there is a girl over there.” Joe whispered to him, “I know Joe, I know.”
Danny a bit louder speaking enthusiastically, abruptly, “Well go and talk to her!” Joe yelled under his voice at him. “Shut up, Danny!”
Danny frowned, whispering in Joe’s ear, “What did I do?”
Joe shook his head and peered over at the woman again. “Nothing Danny, just nothing.” She smiled at Joe, tipping her glass to him and motioned a bit for him to come over. Joe put his near empty mug down, with a deep sigh, and decided to go over, Danny bounding behind him; for a big man like Joe that in itself was amazing.
Joe pulled a seat and flipped it around. He sat down. “Hello.” Danny pulled a seat up to himself falling into it. “Hello.”
The woman tossed her long black hair back. “Hello, name is Donna.”
Joe pulled his seat closer. “My name is Joseph and this is my brother, Danny.”
Danny held out one of his massive hands to her. “Name is Danny. It’s nice to meet you, Donna.”
Donna a bit awkwardly holding out her hand, surprised at Danny’s sheer openness, “Hello, Danny.”
“Yep, Danny and Joe, Danny and Joe…nice to meet you, Donna.” Danny said shaking her hand eagerly and a bit too hard.
Joe having a bit too much of it cutting into Danny’s eagerness sharply, “I haven’t seen you here before. We frequent this bar; it’s local for Danny and me. In fact why Mike over there has known us since we were only knee-high to him.”
Michael had overheard his name, waved a smile and a wet rag at them, “That’s right, of course! Although, I don’t think Dan was ever knee-high though,” laughing heartily.
Donna laughed quietly to herself as well.
Danny thought about what Mike had said. He was not quite sure that it was funny, but in the end he decided to laugh along with them while Joe rubbed his forehead, which seemed to be gathering stress.
Joe was getting a headache. “So, Donna what brings you around this town?”
Donna finished her scotch, holding it up for Mike to see and placing it back on its coaster. “Well, originally I was looking for a place to live around here. I found a decent rental and now I am just checking out the area. I wanted to see this place and so here I am.”
Joe nodded as Mike came over with another scotch, Joseph debating internally whether he should give her his number or something. He had a girlfriend, but he thought it was good to meet new people or at least that was what he tried to convince himself of. Joe was just so sick of the way things were. Maybe dreams do come true if you fight for them or maybe he just needed a change. Maybe school would be the thing for an aging 27-year-old. Joe’s thoughts drifted becoming more complicated that he would have liked so he pulled out of them. However, as Joe was about to break his train of thought then attempting to give Donna his phone number, Danny abruptly broke it for him, You're real pretty, Donna.”
Joe yelped, but still smiled. “Danny!”
Donna blushed and smiled. Donna’s high cheekbones now red, matching her spring blouse and skirt. Yes, Danny was of course right but did he have to voice all his thoughts? Mike was drying mugs watching the exchange from behind his defensive bunker position, amused. Joe rubbed his hair, holding his hands out. “Look I am sorry. Dan, Dan…well he is a bit slow.” Danny nodded in partial agreement. Donna gave Danny a warm look of care. Joe frowned, but then forced a smile. “Listen, Dan is right. I would like to give you my number and ah…maybe we could go and do something, nightlife is good around here...sometimes.” Donna sipped her drink and thought for a moment, looked again at Danny and then nodded. “Yeah sure.” She took out a pen and a scrap of paper from her purse. “Here you go guys.”
Joe took the paper and pen. He wrote his name down, his number and gave it to her, “There you go Donna.”
Donna looked at the scrap. “Okay, Joe.”
Joe stood up pulling Danny up as well by the shoulder. “We will see you around hopefully.”
Danny gave a big nod. “I hope so too!”
Donna looked up at them and then at Dan. “I hope so as well.”
Joe went to the bar, gave Mike a twenty and then left pulling Dan by the shirt sleeve. As they left the tavern Danny when on scratching his face. “…Should you have paid for her.”
Joe a bit angry, “Shut up, Dan, I was nervous okay.” Danny smiled. “I wasn’t.”
Joe pulled open the driver’s side door of his car. “Get in.”
Danny nodded at Joe. “Sure thing, Joe Joe…I hope the Yanks will win that game.” They never did find out.
Joseph pulled his rusted Buick into the parking space in the back of the trailer their mom, Danny and he rented. Joe, years later, always remembered the address as 69 and 1/2 because to him it seemed they were not worthy of a full home, only a half of a one to call their own. Joe thought about how idiotic it seemed, but still the thought made him feel so bad. Oh, well Joe thought one more day in paradise. He saw his mother through the trailer's big plastic window panes. Joe knew that by the way she was sitting on the couch, in the corner, partly facing the wall that they were in for trouble. He glanced over at Danny. Luckily, Buick's were full-sized cars, otherwise Danny would not have fit, maybe he would have had to strap him to the roof or something, Joe thought to himself, then returning to his mother in the corner he directed Danny. “Get out.”
“Okay, Joe Joe.”
They each closed the doors of the Buick with a slam. Joe thought that one day he wanted to jump out of the window onto the ground like they did in the old Dukes of Hazard show. But after a moment Joe thought better of it, because he probably would break his legs and Dan, well he would just be caught in the door frame. Joe and Danny went up to the steel door of the trailer; trailers were metal after all because they were bus- like.
Danny saw Joe fishing for his keys, “Joe, why you getting the keys mom is inside.”
Joe looked at him and winced, pulling out his keys. “Yeah, I know Joe. I know.”
Joe put the key in, turned the lock and they both entered. As Joe stepped in and before he could say, “Hi mom,” she had made her way to the kitchen, picked up a used bowl from the sink and threw it at him. Joe and Danny ducked as the bowl narrowly missed Joe's head and crashed into the door frame.
She screamed. “Get out!” Joe yelled back. “Ma, wait!”
She screamed again even louder piercing Joseph ears, “Get out now you evil demons!”
Joe moved closer to her holding out his palms, sweaty from the ordeal. Danny slunk back behind Joe near the television. “Listen mom it’s me, Joe your son!”
“Don't you lie to me, you evil thing you!”
Joe beginning to get angry, “Dam it…what the fuck! Take your medicine, Ma!”
“Don't you force those poison pills on me you, Satan!”
Danny stepped forward a bit, “Mama, it's Danny!”
Mama Cruse picked up a broom waving it menacingly at Joe and then at Danny, creeping closer to them. “You brutes, you pigs! Get out!”
Joe rubbed his head sweating. “Dan, let me handle it please.”
Danny was starting to cry, for such a big man as Danny it was a rarity, but he was a different kind of man. God broke the mold when he created him, which according to most who knew Danny was an excellent thing to have happened. Seeing his brother cry, Joe took a deep breath. “Alright we are going, you happy?”
Mama Cruse took her broom. “Why, yes! Now get and don't come back, you pigs!”
Joe motioned to Danny while grabbing his shoulder, pulling him out of the house and then slamming the door behind them. “Listen, don't cry Danny.”
Danny buried his head in Joe's chest, Joe almost falling over from the weight of Danny’s body on him. “Why Joe Joe, why?”
Joe motioned to for him to get into the car. “I don't know, but we got each other brother.”
Danny wiped away his tears and both he and Joe returned to the Buick. “We can't come back?”
Danny always such questions when Mama Cruse got that way, which was becoming more frequent now that she was getting older it seemed.
Joe started the car, “Dan, you know we can come back,” smiling at him half- heartedly, “We can come back tomorrow in the night, then I think she will be a bit more settled.” For some unknown reason that usually was the case. If Mama Cruse was as sick as she was, as night set in she would usually calm down a bit. Perhaps it was the dark that made it so, or the peace that should come with it, but to Joe it didn't matter just the end result. Joe pulled the Buick out of sixty-nine and one-half as he looked behind in the rear view mirror toward the tin can semi-like house. The image reminded him that the rent would be due soon and with that knowledge in his head, more worried than before, Joe pinched the bridge of his nose. Joe now suffering from a headache. “We’re just going to get a room for the night at the Super 8 and camp out.”
Danny smiled, wiping away the remainder of his tears. “I like camping out.”
Joe smiled, quickly glancing at his brother and then the traffic out on the main road. “I know you do Dan and try not to cry.”
Danny looked lovingly at his brother. “Okay, Joe Joe.”
Joe himself reserved his tears for later. He would cry later that night in the bathroom of the Super 8 room they rented for the night on the toilet, sobbing quietly with his hands in his face while his brother slept soundly. He was always an adult, never a child, always a parent and never a son.
Joe inserted the key into the door of their hotel room at the Super 8, which happened to be located right down the road from them, only a few miles at best. Craig the night shift manager was there sitting behind the front desk. He was busy drinking down cup after cup of coffee. Joseph thought a good cup of coffee for himself might be a decent idea after they got something to eat, maybe take out, delivery, or whatever they could afford. Joe opened the door to their new home for the night and waved his hand. “Welcome to the king’s palace, Danny.”
“Hey, Joe Joe, this is the same room we had last time!” Joe gave a weak smile. “Well how about that, Danny.”
Danny turned on the light then dumped himself on the bed, his rather large frame shaking it with the coils groaning underneath. “Hey, Joe Joe, can we make bed tents tonight?”
Joe closed the door behind himself. “Maybe Dan, maybe…how about pizza?”
Danny smiled a big grin. It did not take much to make him happy, which was a good thing. Danny’s congenial nature did make Joe’s life a bit easier, because for Joe the weight of the world was stacked like bricks upon his back, he wanted them off of it.
Joe took another slice of pizza and a sip of his coffee. Danny had another piece already half in his mouth, the sheets and pillows of his bed all strewn about the motel room. He turned on the television and after a few minutes of flicking through the channels a commercial for a regional trade school came on the air. Danny thought a moment and looked over at his brother. “Are you going to school this year?”
Joe finished his slice of pizza and took a swig of coffee. He held the cup and started to chew on it. “I hope so, I am registered and all. I want to do well when I get there though.”
Dan looked down at his bed. “Do well in school? You’re smart, Joe Joe.”
Joseph nodded. “I know, but I mean well in life too. I mean now I am in my twenties Dan and I want to be a success.”
Danny nodded again. “You are, Joe Joe.”
“To you Dan, but not to me. I want to not only help myself, but help you, help Mama and help others.”
Dan looked back at the television switching the channel, then a bit confused about the whole matter, entering in deep thought. “Why?”
Joe took a long sigh and finished his coffee from chewed up cup. “Dan you know? I want to help people, kids, whomever so they don't get the shit life we have -I have!”
Dan now noticing that Joe was yelling a bit, ending the conversation with, “Okay, Joe.”
Joe pulled at the hair at the back of his head, in a low tone. “I have.”
Dan waited a few minutes then returned his thoughts to the chaos that was his bed, looking at all the handy work he had accomplished in just a few short hours. “Can we make tents?”
Joe frowned looking at the rows of cheap wooden paneling than lined the walls of their double bedroom. “Yeah, sure.”
Dan jumped up a bit. “Okay Joe, sure!”
The next day Joseph found himself dumping off his brother at his mom’s house. It seemed sometimes that Danny gobbled up conversation like an old-fashioned church wife. Danny went on, picking at his sizeable teeth, the car windows open to let the morning air into the car. “We got a good morning, Joe Joe!”
Joe looked into his rear-view mirror, “Yeah Dan, sure”
Danny smiled into his side passenger mirror, “Joe why does the mirror say ‘objects in mirror are closer than they appear?’”
“Don't know, Dan.”
Danny grinned a toothy grin in the side-view mirror, “It just makes my teeth too big.”
Joe laughed glancing at his brother. “Uh, Danny that’s because they are big.”
Danny gave Joe a dirty look, “Huh?” which made Joe laugh even more. Dan shook it off so easily, “Joe, what about that woman?”
Joe was nearing their house. “What woman are you talking about?”
“The woman yesterday, her name was ah, Donna, right?”
“What she around for? Is she going to be back at Groos? Can we go there and find out? Huh, Joe Joe?”
Joe pulled along side their trailer, viewing his mother watching a morning show on the television. She seemed okay from that distance, Joseph thinking that she could have gone back on her medication. Sometimes the medication hit her fast and other times it took a few days to take effect. Joe motioned to his brother. “Get out.”
Danny gave Joe a forlorn look. “What if she’s nasty again and throws a pan at me?”
“She seems okay from here. Look, she is opening the door for you.”
Mama Cruse stepped out with her nightgown still on, her hair un-kept and wild, but she smiled and motioned to them. Dan seeing her this way turned to his brother and said, “Well...”
Joe reached over and pulled the inside handle on Danny's door. “She is okay now.
She probably has breakfast for you ready.”
Danny hearing about food, especially the thought of eggs and bacon made him smile. “What about you?”
Joe shook his head. “No Danny, I got other stuff to do.”
Danny nodded okay and closed the door behind him not looking back. Joe pulled out of their parking spot and drove off without much stuff to do at all.
Joseph drove down Kings Street and found a place to park parallel to Broadway. He was going to see Kevin at his apartment, which was to him very close to a prison cell with its old steel door and its iron bars on the windows. It was, as far as Joe concerned, a one-unit slumlord dump about as big as his bedroom in their trailer. Kevin did not have to worry about crossfire from rival gangs, but he did have a nasty issue with roaches all about his apartment. Joseph always checked his shoes after visiting him just because of it. He did not want any hitchhikers taking him for a ride.
He walked along Kings Street running into Paco. Paco was an old-time drug user, who still shot up every now and then. People who knew Paco well enough said he was straight and on methadone but no one could verify it. Unfortunately, years of living hard had taken its toll on him. Paco was now a pitted and pock marked old man who had lost his legs due to his poor health. He had reduced himself to sitting in a wheelchair all day outside his own apartment, season after season, unless or until it got too cold for him to do so. Joseph tried to avoid Paco, but Paco yelled at him, practically wheeling Joseph over as he met him on the street.
Paco gave him a toothless yell. “Hey you got smokes?”
Paco pulled at his bundled pants. “Just one cig? One man? Give you a quarter?”
Joe hurried passed him, Paco's face scarred as much as what was left of his forearms, pasting back his long white hair in the summer heat, Joseph looking back. “No, Pac…no smokes, don't smoke.”
Paco yelled at him one last time, at Joseph’s back who was now almost on Broadway. “You putto...you gringo bastard!”
Joseph just sighed and shrugged, he had been called worse by his mom.
Joseph walked down the block to the three-story brick walk-up where Kevin lived. It was like most of the buildings in the lower part of the city, very old and very broken down. Joe rapped his knuckles on the graffiti riddled steel front door. The door made a hollow sound. He waited a few minutes, a few people walking by him, wondering why he looked like a tourist in some forbidden land. Joseph itched the back of his neck it was hot out already. He banged again on the door, this time hurting his hand in the process. The metal door looked like it could take a mortar shell and still hold. A few more minutes passed and then Kevin cracked the door a bit.
Joe peered in. “Hey, Kevin, how is it going?”
Kevin nodded, with long lanky black hair and a grizzled goatee. He looked like he had previously slept a few days in the same clothes. “Yeah, I’m living -I guess.”
Joe shrugged okay. “Good, can I come in?”
Kevin rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, I…oh yeah come on in, sorry.”
Kevin let Joseph in and they climbed up the building’s steep steps to Kevin’s room on the third floor. Kevin wedged open his room door and let Joseph in first. Joseph looked around the one-room apartment. The place was simply a wreck. Everything from used food containers, to old clothes, old garbage bags of odds and ends, to computer parts, and electronic junk was strewn about partially covering Kevin’s mattress which was also on the floor. Joseph stepped over the objects that looked most likely to be able to puncture his shoes. “So, Kevin?”
Kevin sighed. “Hey man, sorry about the mess.”
Joseph saw a roach scurry for a place to feel safe in the piles. “Yeah, well what did you need?”
Kevin found a chair and pulled it over to Joe. “You want to sit?”
Joe looked at the stained chair and Kevin’s surroundings again. There was a huge hole in the wall and out of the corner of his eye; he thought he saw a rodent peek out from under some blankets. “Naw, Kevin.”
Kevin seeing Joseph surrender the offer, took the seat himself, rubbing his eyes again and coughing a bit. “I need some money.”
Joseph nodded. “Well okay, I mean what do you need Kev, a twenty?”
Kevin shook his head no and coughed again. It was even hotter up on the third floor than outside. “No, I need more.”
“How much more?”
Kevin looked completely worn, older than his thirty years of age should put him.
A hard life can do that to you. “About a thousand.”
Joe’s eyes widened, “Kevin man, what the fuck? Why do you need so much money?”
Kevin looked down.
Joe shot a serious stare at him. “What happened? What did you get into?”
“I owe money and in a real hard way.”
“To who? For what?”
Kevin pulled his hair back. “Man, Joe, I…you know…I owe Omar that money.”
Joseph turned his back at Kevin for a moment, thinking and then turned to him again. “Damn it Kevin! You know! Omar will break your damn legs! If he does not shoot you and dump you in the Hudson River first.”
Kevin seemed like he was about to cry. “I know!”
“Listen, Kevin, I don't have that kind of money.”
“I know, but maybe some.”
Joe could not believe what was happening. “Kevin, you’re a fool you know.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Kevin placed his head on the back of the chair, “maybe you could give me a bit to get Omar off my back and then I could get the rest later, myself.”
Joseph frowned. “Kevin what happened to us? It seems like only yesterday we were in high school.”