So Say the Winos, The End

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream. Edgar Allan Poe

Broken glass. He almost stepped on it. He had to keep his eyes glued to the ground and seldom look up, otherwise he’d end up with a jagged piece of glass in his foot and bleed to death. Or get an infection and watch his foot grow black with gangrene.

“Pleasant thoughts you’re having this morning,” Daniel said to himself. It was time for him to go. He wondered if it was necessary to give two weeks notice at a gas station and then decided, it might not be necessary but it was moral. He knew the boss would hate to see him go. Unlike other grease monkeys, he was reliable, courteous, didn’t smoke or drink and could help with the bookkeeping. But the boss had mentioned retirement on many occasions and so maybe Daniel’s leaving would give him impetus to take that step and thus all would conclude well. Daniel liked conclusions that ended with both sides clear of conscience.

He was only at the station for about an hour when he looked up from sweeping the garage to see the girls from Nevada loaded down with all their earthly possessions and heading for their Volvo. Remarkably it had survived an entire night on the street or so he thought. He watched as they were approached by a panhandler. At first the man seemed satisfied with what they gave him. Then he turned around and followed them demanding more. When they refused, he grabbed one of their guitars.

Daniel ran across the street still holding the broom. It, plus their screaming, was enough to make the man drop the guitar and run. “Let’s get you guys out of here,” he ordered as he pushed them down the sidewalk.

th-10“Oh no,” the Catholic’s Daughter cried. “Look at my car.” The passenger side window had been shattered. Glass shards covered whatever remained inside, which wasn’t much. Just that head of Aragorn looking wistfully up at them. “Oh no! My flute! My flute is gone! We’ve got to call the police.”

“They won’t even take a police report. There are so many robberies down here.”

“That’s so awful.”

“That’s why you need to get out of here. Go across the street to the gas station and ask the man to help you. He’s a crusty old guy but his heart is pure.”

“How about you?”

“I have someplace I need to be.”

“We’ll never forget you.”

He chuckled. “Get on your way now.”

They drove across the street and cautiously approached Daniel’s boss who’d been watching them. “Daniel said you would help us.”

“He did huh?” He disappeared into the grime of wilted walls and then returned with a newspaper folded neatly into a square which he handed the girl who seemed the most sensible. The paper was dated October 27 1967, a year ago to the day.

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“Terrible thing,” the boss continued. “What happened to him shouldn’t happen to a dog, no sir. And that poor woman,” he shivered.  “Terrible. Unthinkable. Gives me the willies. You know, Daniel was a good kid, a little mixed up but then you should have met his mother. That lunatic held vigil here at the station for three days thinking her son was going to resurrect like the friggin’ Christ.”

The girls didn’t say a word, even amongst themselves.  Perhaps he should have softened the blow but then he hadn’t had much experience with the so-called fairer sex. “It’s been a whole damn year and they still don’t have any suspects. Not a one. I shoulda retired.”

“He’s dead?” One of the girls mumbled as the newspaper fell to the ground.

“Yeah, but don’t worry. I see him too, always looking lost. Like maybe he don’t know he’s dead. Sometimes I even talk to him. The winos claim he’s waiting for the return of some ship called the SS Connemoira or so they say.” He shook his head. “Yup, that’s what they say. Okay, let’s get you gals fixed up and outta here.”

He helped them sweep out the inside of the Volvo and put cardboard over the shattered window. He even gave them a can of oil after checking the dipstick and sighing in disgust “women never check the oil, or the tires. We’d better check them as well.” When he was satisfied the little car just might make it to Massachusetts, he gave them directions on how to get out of town. He watched the little car as it sputtered down the road, thick smoke pouring out of the exhaust, young arms fluttering out the windows. They’ll never make it, he thought, but he waved back anyway. Then he disappeared inside the station. He’d dispensed with enough good will for the day.


Happy Halloween, everyone!  Did you guess the ending?  If so, how early in the story?  Like elements of many of my stories, there are bits of a real-life adventure in this piece.  Many people have asked what happened to the three girls – well, after their adventure in NYC they had marriages, divorces, children, careers and two have sadly died – but they never forgot Daniel.

So Say the Winos, Part 14

After Jamie escaped, Martin turned his fury on the huddling group. “What’s the matter with you? A few minutes for ten thousand dollars…”

“Ten thousand dollars, Martin. Really?”

“I told you, silly woman, he’d just signed a record deal. To the people in the record industry ten thousand is chump change. All one of you silly, stupid birds had to do was pretend to like the little pervert, but oh no. You didn’t need to fuck him. I could have rolled him.”

“A record deal! He’s probably a drug dealer. What were you thinking?” Marcia was so angry she could hardly speak. “I can’t… I can’t believe you brought that guy here with these innocent…”

“Innocents?  Ha. Given the right circumstance anyone would do anything for money. Believe me.” He zoomed in on the Catholic’s daughter like a raven about to pluck out her eye, “Hello, Innocent.  A few moments with my pigeon, Luv, and you wouldn’t have to return to Nevahda to live out the rest of your miserable life with the jackrabbits and sagebrush and the arse who got you preggers. Oh yeah, he’s an arse. He’ll bring you only pain.”

The girl began pulling a cross from her still beating heart. “Oh I see. You’ve found your soul mate, Darling, in your state no amount of  Hail Marys are going to save you, but a few thousand dollars would have.”

There was a gasp from the other two girls.

“Your friends didn’t know did they? They trusted you, the silly twerps. And what were you doing while they planned their escape from fucking Reno Nevahda? You let them think you really wanted to go while all the time you were fornicating your friggin’ brains out with lover boy! You and your Mr. Wonderful forn-i-cating wherever you fucking could, in your mother’s bed, in his car – probably even in the church basement! Innocents! Ha!” he began to howl. The sound was unlike anything Daniel had ever heard.

Then Martin put a finger to his mouth and feigned concern. “Oh I forgot. You’re in love so you weren’t forn-i-cating. Or screwing. Or fucking. Or even balling. You were making love!” He turned the other two girls, his voice dripping with hate. “I’ll bet she made your lives a bloody hell, didn’t she? You know, she never really wanted to go on your silly, little romp across country. But she’d promised. She felt obligated. The most pathetic of emotions. Obligation. Now, see how she despises you. Despises you because she wasn’t bloody strong enough to be honest and tell the truth. Despises you, the hypocritical little minx.”

“Martin!” Marcia pleaded. “That’s enough! Enough!”

“Obligation, love, guilt — bullocks! You might as well all wrap yourselves in chains right now and jump in the river!” He threw his arms up, “You pathetic bunch of losers.” He swirled and with a nightmarish laugh, disappeared through the open door.

Outside the sun began to sparkle through the spires of St Mark’s like confetti on the New Years Eve. Daniel put down the knife and for the first time since Martin’s arrival, took a deep breath.

Suddenly he pictured Marcia in a tract home in the suburbs, with Bill the Lawyer. The poster of Che safely tucked in a trunk in the basement, perhaps looked at in twenty or thirty years with a sigh. A nice suburban tract home with a lawn, fence and dog. Maybe some children – if Marcia could convince Bill to adopt. Daniel doubted that very much. The lawyer looked like a man who would want his own children, not someone else’s.

Marcia floated to the stove to fill the tea kettle. She neither smiled nor spoke. He moved close to her but didn’t try to interrupt her thoughts. He put his hands flat down on the yellowed Formica and tried to summon the words to say but they wouldn’t come. Not one word of scripture. His brain had been scrubbed blank.

On the floor the girls whispered viciously to each other of betrayal and hurt as the Catholic’s Daughter admitted Martin had been right, right about everything which meant … he was a devil. Only a devil could know all those things. It was useless, she said, to explain her feelings to them. They did not know what love was and how love and sex were so intricately entwined that you can’t have one without the other. She was angry with them. She’d sacrificed herself for them and now, instead of being grateful to her, they attacked her as if she’d done something wrong; as if she had ruined their dream. How she hated them. Really hated them. Worse than she’d ever hated anyone.

Marcia finally ended their squabble with camomile tea. Then turning her attention to the Catholic’s Daughter she said. “You have options. You don’t have to have this baby.”

It was then that Daniel knew he had to leave. He’d had a glimpse of the good ship Connemoira floating through the mist. Shore leave was almost over.


Tomorrow – have you guessed the ending?  

So Say the Winos, Part 13

Martin laughed, “Daniel? Heavens no. Daniel’s too pure. He left the church because he can’t stand to think that God loves him the best, which is what his mother drilled into him, because it means God loves the others less. The murderers, the rapists, the homeless. You get the picture? God, in other words, is a prejudicial old duffer who plays favorites. Isn’t that right, Daniel?”

From "The Mask of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe, illustration by Harry Clarke

From “The Mask of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe, illustration by Harry Clarke

They poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood. Thus they become unclean by their acts, and played the harlot in their doings…

Martin clapped his hands together, “Bravo, old man, we’re all sooooo impressed that you’ve memorized the entire Bible. But, we’ve come to see the lady of the house and not to be saved….”

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Renwick Ruin on Roosevelt Island, NYC. If this place isn’t haunted, there are no ghosts.

“What’s going on?” Marcia stood in the doorway of the bedroom dressed only in a man’s white dress shirt, her strawberry blonde hair like a fine spider web about her face, a flannel bathrobe over her shoulders like folded wings.

“Bitchen,” The albino snorted, clapping his hands together, “Now you’re talking.”

Her mouth snapped open. “Martin, I told you…”

“Hi Honey, you want ten thousand dollars?” The albino asked, taking a step towards her.

“What is this?”

“Marcia, Luv, I ran into this bloke at Ritchie’s. He’s just cut a record for Capital records. He just wants a good lay and he’ll pay…”

“Sweet Jesus!” gasped the Catholic’s daughter.

The albino turned and hissed at her. “Shut up you fucking virgins.”

“I’m not a virgin!”

“Well, of course you’re not. Look at you sweetie. You’re so horny you’d fuck a pole!”

“I think you’re disgusting!”

“Don’t worry, bitch. I don’t ball stupid little girlies anyway!” He turned back towards Marcia. “So, what do you say, Blondie? You look like someone who knows the score.”

Marcia fumbled with her words, then calmly she said. “Martin, get this guy out of here.”

“But Jamie has just signed a record contract, Luv. He’s going be famous someday.”

“Get him out of here.”

“Come on, Marcia, ten thousand dollars,” Martin urged.

“Not for a million dollars!”

“That does it,” the albino spun toward the door. “There are plenty of bitches in this town who won’t give me this kind of shit!”

“Wait, Jamie…” Martin tried to hold him but the albino twisted free and then stomped down the stairs.


Okay – you’re almost to the end.  If you’ve made it thus far, thank you kindly for sticking with it.  Tomorrow the climax and then a conclusion you may not see coming (at least I hope not).
You can read from the beginning here. 

So Say the Winos, Part 12

th-4Daniel awoke in the grey of early morning to find the girls sleeping on piles of clothes and pillows on the floor next to him, breathing their innocence in and out. Through the undraped windows was the silhouette of a city skyline preparing to greet the sun.

Slowly standing he tiptoed to the sink, stuck his mouth under the tap and sucked in the frigid water until his mouth no longer felt dry and salty. Then he grabbed the bread left out on the counter and ate until his empty stomach no longer retched.

The Catholic’s daughter slept with her face turned towards the setting moon, her head resting on a bundled up coat. She reminded him of his sister. She didn’t look like Francesca but she had the same sensuality, the same fiery contempt for all things Catholic and yet, like Fran, she slipped back on familiar symbols – like the crucifix – in times of distress. His sister, whose decline so young never touched his mother directly, entering through a secret crevice and exiting as a renewed calling. Her salvation became his mother’s calling.

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But Fran did not want to be saved. She wanted a pagan life, owing only to pagan gods and opium. She swathed herself in bright robes and painted violent scenes of pagan sacrifice, had abortions, and prayed to rocks.

He slumped into one of the bean bag chairs and considered going back to sleep as it was still dark outside, then he heard the clack, clack, clack of someone with taps on their shoes crossing the courtyard below.

It couldn’t be the Krishnas, he thought. It’s too early besides they don’t wear shoes. Then he heard the clacking in the staircase, too late to reach and lock the door. So he groped his way back into the kitchenette and searched for a knife.

The door opened, sending a slice of yellow light across the sleeping girls. Two people stood silhouetted in the doorway. One tall, the other short. The short man twitched like a marionette on the strings of an incompetent puppeteer. “What the fuck is that?” he asked, his voice annoyingly high pitched and nasal.

“Oh, those are the girls I told you about, mate. They ran away from Reno Nevahda and all those cowboys. Out to see the big world; meet the Beatles. The standard rot.”

“How fucking cute. Are they virgins cause I can’t stand balling virgins, man.”

Martin laughed, “Probably, old man, but this isn’t what I had in mind for you.”

Daniel ran his hand along the greasy wall until he found the light switch. The resulting burst of light caused the short man to jump. “Fuck!” He shrieked as he tried to shield his eyes from the light. He had Beatle-cut platinum hair and a face completely devoid of color. An albino. Perhaps to compensate, he was dressed in limes and lemony yellows as though he’d stolen the luggage of a middle-aged golfer from Tampa. “Shut off that fucking light!” he ordered.

“I thought you weren’t coming back, Martin.”

“A knife? Aren’t we just like a mother hen with our little chicks, Daniel?” Martin sneered, “How domestic, really, I think you’re ready for the suburbs, old chap.”

“Why did you bring a junkie back here?”

“SHUT OFF THE FUCKING LIGHT!!!” screamed the albino, stamping his foot. “I’m not a fucking junkie! But I am horny as fucking hell and this British asshole told me he could get me some prime tail… ”

“I think you should shut off the light Daniel. Our friend has very sensitive eyes, if you know what I mean.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”

“Who is this shit head?” The albino demanded.

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“Oh, don’t pay any attention to him, Jamie, he’s an ex-priest. You know the type. One minute he’s sweating because he’s not doing God’s work and the next he’s trying to convince himself that he doesn’t believe in anything.”

Jamie snorted, “What did you get defrocked for, Father Holier than thou? Screwing the choirboys?”

So Say the Winos, Part 11

Daniel ignored him, addressing the girls. “I brought peanut butter and bread. Much healthier for you than halvah.”

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From “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” by Edgar Allen Foe, illustration by Harry Clarke

The rumblings of the first evening prayers sounded across the courtyard – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna,  Hare Hare – causing Martin to spin towards the Institute. “Oh my, they’re finished with their supper. That means it’s time for me to head off to work.”

“Are you coming back?” Daniel asked.

“I thought you didn’t live here any more, mate. I thought Marcia got tired of waiting for you to fuck her and kicked you out on your arse.”

The girls gasped. Don’t respond. He’s just trying to bait you.

“You’re such a funny old sod. This isn’t the bloody desert. You’re not the friggin’ savior and I’m not the devil. Although I do appreciate the honor of your, shall we say, compliment.”

“Are you coming back tonight?”

“I don’t think so, Danny Boy. Not because of you but it’s rather crowded with all of us sharing only one loo. I think I’ll crash somewhere else. Perhaps St. Mark’s – I hear they have a tasty breakfast,” he paused, then froze Daniel’s heart with a laugh like fingernails on chalkboard. “Look at Daniel’s face, girls! Hahaha! Oh the humanity – the Demon Martin sodomizing the blessed Virgin as stained glass depictions of the saints melt all around her. Candles emitting icy darkness in the void left by the absence of God – hahahaha! And in the quiet morning, the faithful arriving to find their beloved priests hanging by their wankers in the blood-red chapel.”

“Enough, Martin.”

“Enough, old man? I’d say you started it. Why don’t you pull out your crucifix and order me vanquished to Hell? Oh, that’s right. You’ve had a crisis of faith.” He waited for Daniel to say something then threw his hands into the air. “Well, I couldn’t care less although it’s been – what do you Yanks say? – a gas! Cheerio!”

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From “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allen Poe, illustration by Harry Clarke

With that Martin slipped through the door and down the staircase. Daniel stepped over to the window but saw nothing in the courtyard but shadows. He unscrewed the cheap bottle of wine he’d brought and took a swig.

Marcia emerged from the bathroom smelling of lavender “I’ve been thinking” she said to the girls, “we should call your parents. I bet they’re worried sick about you.”

“Oh yeah,” Daniel said. “Tell them their daughters are hunky dory. They just spent the night with the Devil.”

“Shit, Daniel! No wonder the girls look so freaked.”

“He killed someone.”

“How do you know that?”

“I just do.”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore. He’s not coming back. Girls, eat something and then we’ll call your folks.”

Daniel hadn’t slept the night before. His sole window at the Y was cracked and provided little protection from the rain or the wails of the city, the walls so paper thin he could hear a fellow transient snoring in the next room. Two years he’d spent in New York City practically homeless figuring it would free him. But it hadn’t. And so the wine quickly gained on him until a dizziness – borne of eating little and guzzling cheap wine – soon overwhelmed him. In the distance he could hear the girls on the phone. Yes, we’re Ok. Yes we’re going to Uncle George’s. Further and further away they slipped down the rabbit’s hole until he passed out and dreamt of the Red Queen.


What do you think Readers?  Is Martin gone for good?

So Say the Winos, Part 10

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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Victor Vasnetsov, 1887

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done,” Daniel began as he crossed the room and lay his contribution to dinner – a grocery bag containing Wonder bread, Skippy’s peanut butter, and some cheap screw-top wine for him – on the counter.

The girls stopped strumming their guitars and looked up at him bewildered. He continued,“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

“Revelations? Really, Daniel, how unfriendly,” Martin said as he slithered along the wall.

“Where’s Marcia?”

“Oh my. Marcia has had a nasty day dealing with the wretched underbelly of Manhattan. She’s in the shower, cleansing off their filth. And these three young ladies,” he said with a wink towards the girls huddled on the floor, “have been entertaining me with the stories of their travels. Did you know they are from Reno Nevahda? Have you ever met anyone from Nevahda? Quite unusual really, one only thinks of Nevahda as the home to sagebrush and jack rabbits, now doesn’t one? Not three lovely birds — but here they are.”th-1

“What are you doing back here?”

“You mean from Hell?” he chuckled. “Oh don’t be so Hollywood, Danny Boy. I’ve been evading coppers since I was fourteen. They’ll never catch me. They don’t even know my name. Speaking of stories, that was rather funny this morning, wasn’t it girls?”

“It was four in the morning.” The Catholic’s daughter grumbled peevishly.

“Sorry Luv! That’s when me shift at the docks ends. So funny, once they heard my English accent, they weren’t at all afraid of me. It’s those bloody Beatles. Made life ever so easy for us British blokes!”

“You work at the docks?” One of the girls asked.

“Longshoreman, we’re called,” was the reply.

It was a ridiculous lie, so ridiculous that Daniel couldn’t help but utter a loud “Ha!”

“Why do you scoff, Mate?” Martin asked, “I didn’t have the benefits of a seminary education — a mother who thought I was the Second Coming. I’ve been on me own since I was a lad and, aye, I’ve had to do things I’m not proud of but that’s life on the dole.”

theblackcat

From Poe’s “The Black Cat” – illustration by Harry Clarke

“If you’ve been on the streets all your life, how come you recognized the quote from Revelations?” The Catholic’s Daughter asked.

“The one book you can always get in any jail, Luv, is a Bible and I must confess, Revelations is my favorite chapter. Fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, haunted of every foul and hateful bird; for all nations have drunk the wine of impure passion and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness. Lovely, hey? The sight of me evidently inspires Daniel to recite Revelations. Ask him why.”

So Say the Winos, Part 9

The Krishnas were sitting in a circle on the floor in preparation of their evening meal when Daniel arrived. Those assigned to serving carried bowls of rice and vegetables, placing them in the middle of the circle while others lit candles or passed out paper plates.  The crowd wasn’t very large, just four or five families, a couple of novitiates, the elders, and a hippie or two who’d wandered in for the free meal.  They let Daniel pass in silence. 

The week before six o’clock had been twilight with orange haze hanging over the city and just a whiff of decay.  Now six o’clock was dark and funereal.   He could hear the girls singing as he climbed the stairs to Marcia’s. girlguitarist They were off-key.  So off-key that Daniel began to dread having to sit and listen to them politely.  There were so many young people with guitars singing protest songs off-key, each believing they had talent or a gift.  Most ended up on the streets.  He thought of turning around and then a voice – God? – told him he must proceed.

Martin stood with his back to the poster of Che Guevara. The comparison between the two was vivid; Che, so full of passion that even in two dimension and long dead he made Martin look like a bloodless vapor.  Like all good demons, Martin claimed a familiarity:  “Daniel, old man. How splendid to see you.”

Marcia’d met Martin at the coin-operated, all-night laundromat down the street, a Tuesday date she generally shared with Daniel and Daniel alone but he’d been late.  He wasn’t generally late but a darkness had come over him and certain thoughts refused to budge from his head.  So he’d stopped and bought sunflowers, remembering they were Francesca’s favorite flower and hoping the sight of them would make Marcia smile and they would remember younger days and her smile would cast light into his dark soul.
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And then he saw Martin through the fogged up plate glass window, one hand on a dryer and the other painting a lie for Marcia with long effeminate fingers.  Lies told in a British accent, lies about a Dickensian childhood, lies so thick they snaked over each other but Daniel was too late.  She’d already invited this Martin person, this devil,  back to her place to share in a post-laundry tea ritual which previously had been theirs and theirs alone. Couldn’t she see that he spoke in an accent reminiscent of Henry Higgins, not Alfred P. Doolittle, and his hands were too unblemished to be a dockworker, as he claimed?

After listening tensely for an hour, knowing every word out of his mouth was a lie, finally Daniel pulled his childhood friend aside and asked. “Where’s his laundry?” 

Of course she’d chided him, “So now demons are trolling for souls in all-night laundromats?” 

He couldn’t leave her and so he’d stayed until dawn when the demon sulked away into the mist. Funny he couldn’t remember much else about that night, other than the relief when Martin disappeared and now, after a year, he was back.