Steven Rothstein perseverated four sub-stories, base code for his translation.
Dad handed Stevie, 8, and his brother Mark, 5, two one-dollar bills, enough for the Sunday New York Times and either two packs of baseball cards with cardboard flat sticks of bubblegum or two comic books. They would walk an unimaginably long distance along West 5th Street past three high rise apartment buildings and turn left into the strip mall. They would pass six stores, walk in the Village Stationary, browse the comic book carousel for new Captain America, Invincible Iron Man, and Mighty Thor comics. They would pick up a perfectly arranged Sunday Times from among the many stacks on the floor, carefully check for the presence of each section from Arts & Leisure to Travel. They would go to the counter, if they had chosen no comic books grab two packs of waxy baseball card packs, and pay. They would walk back home without dilly-dallying. Intimidating but doable. They would then be free to watch Bugs Bunny and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Everything went according to plan. Long walk. Check for new comics. None. Pick up and inventory a paper. Grab baseball cards. Pay. Walk home. They made it back to West Brighton Avenue, where a monstrous clanking rollercoaster D-train crossed above, and Stevie shifted his grasp on the paper that must have weighed as much as Mark. The massive construct called a New York Sunday Times slipped free and pages from every section caught the unforgiving ocean wind and fluttered into the street and parking lot. He remembered glancing at happy-go-lucky Mark mid bubble, carefully gripping baseball cards in each hand; it would be hard to blame him for this fiasco.
Stevie sort of remembered crying on the elevator ride up to the apartment, a smack in the head, another smack for good measure, and being called a moron who can’t even do one little simple fucking thing like get a paper. He definitely remembered having to spit out his bubble gum and throw the baseball cards down the incinerator shoot, though he hid in his underpants waistband the rare Lerrin Lagrow that completed his 1975 Topps set. He was given money to get a new paper and bring back the fucking change.
“Get over here.”
Stevie, 13, held out the subway pass that moments earlier Sheryl Kahn flashed to get through the gate. She had walked up the two flights of stairs, past the F to the D platform, and tossed the pass out over the back fence. Stevie picked it up from the dirt, walked innocently into the station, and flashed it to the woman in the booth. He did not see the cop like a hunting lion hidden off to the side.
“Hey, you think I’m stupid?”
Stevie thought, “Why oh why did Sheryl make such a catastrophic mistake acquiescing to this idiotic pass scam and why didn’t she notice the cop and abort the mission.” He never saw a cop this close up and was shocked by how young he was. It felt like being in Alan Conseletorre’s apartment when his older brothers were deciding on wailing dead-legs or force-feeding hot sauce till someone puked; where he figured out when no move was possible, winning meant simply not crying. His mind jumped ahead to a cascading checkmate. Sheryl would not have the decency to claim her pass was lost and would tell the school and both sets of parents on him… blah blah blah Stevie cajoled me each miserable morning in the elevator and on our schlep to the station, ranting on and on that it was a crime for him to have to pay if we can both use my pass… which meant suspension and that his and Sheryl’s father were both going to kill him. Stevie slid the pass into his pocket and shuddered.
“Wooooo, stunatz, give me the pass!” Stevie sheepishly handed it over. “Says here your name is Sheryl. You some kinda femminuccia?”
“What’s your religion?”
The cop ripped Sheryl’s pass into bits and flipped it in the trashcan. “Get out of my station and don’t come back… walk to school from now on.”
Steven, 15, and friends Chuck and Jeff entered Dougherty’s Liquor on Kings Highway and X as it supposedly didn’t proof. They beelined for the carousel of pre-mixed drinks in plastic bottles, spun it a few times, and decided the smart move was to buy six screwdrivers as mixing different types of alcohol was said to make people puke.
At Dekalb, Steven puked between D train cars, and wobbled back to a seat. “How many screwdrivers are left cause mine is on the tracks?”
Chuck answered, “You guzzled both of yours so you’re all done, rummy.”
Jeff shook his head. “Puking by 4:40 and Cheap Trick goes on at 9. Way to pace your first concert.”
For Steven everything blacked out between Trick and the cops beating his arms and legs in the Radio City Music Hall orchestra pit while he reached down for a souvenir. When he awoke the next morning, feeling like he was hit by a D train, he pulled from his pocket a Cheap Trick Cheap Trick Cheap Trick guitar pick.
“Hello, Sir. Hello.” Steven, 17, pleaded with a guy who was nodding out while trying to pull a copy of “Return of the Native.” The guy’s arms were scabbed over tracks and he hadn’t showered in forever, stinking up a radius from Classics to Poetry to Self-Help that would stay customer free till closing. The shame of the stink attached to Steven. The guy, who was a little older than Steven, leaned away from the shelf and stopped after having pulled the Hardy out a quarter of an inch. Then like a drunken metronome, he nodded forward, pushing the book back in place. This went on for several excruciating minutes.
Alone on the floor, Steven tried to figure out the right move for someone making $2.85 an hour. It was definitely not enough compensation to touch the guy’s elbow to gently lead him out of the store and risk being sliced across the face with a box cutter like what happened to Marjorie. If Steven told Mezner who was getting high in the back office to call the Port Authority cops, she would tell him to let her know if an actual crime was committed. If he just watched the guy fall through the shelves he would risk being fired, and no way he was losing a hall pass to getting let out after third period to take the N to NYC.
The guy groaned and nodded forward with a crash, dominoing Classics into Poetry. Books flew about. Most customers kept right on browsing, some made for the exit, some still holding whatever they were browsing. The guy had soiled himself, releasing a sickly junkie odor that Steven even decades later couldn’t clear from his nostrils.
At that moment Mr. Bendakis, the bookstore’s owner, entered the store and asked Steven where everyone was. He shrugged like an imbecile, and watched Bendakis open the back-office door to Mezner desperately spraying Lysol into billows of pot smoke. Bendakis fired everyone except Steven, who had fortunately taken his bong hits first and was back out on the floor.
Forty years of stories accreted like water torture, blasting a mild hunched posture and modest grimace. He recalled these four stories over and again and thought of flies and spiders. Spider webs designed by something far worse than a spider. He understood his stories on such a deep level that if ever asked he would say, “You know what I mean. You know. You know. You know what I mean?”
David M. Rubin has a Ph.D. in biology. His stories, poems, and essays appear in After Dinner Conversations, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Café Irreal, ffraid, Last Stanza, Maudlin House, Moss Piglet, The Nabokovian, and The Smart Set. Links and connections to be found @Six18sFoundry.