The What Do You Know Contest

Mike has a new novel I’m hoping to finish up converting and release on Kindle this weekend, so here’s a preview!

I awoke and kicked off the covers, violently cursing myself under my breath. I had no idea how long I had been asleep or how late it was. I dressed rapidly in the light of the streetlamp that bent its neck outside my bedroom window. I felt for the lump of Valiums and folded paper money in my pocket. I slipped on my denim jacket with the MVP patch sewn on my shoulder.

I opened my creaky bedroom door and shut it closed again.

I could hear the strangulated gargle of my mother’s snoring through their bedroom door. It would take a lot to wake her up.

I fought the urge to hurry and slowly edged my way along the hallway past their bedroom and into the living room where some light filtered in from the outside, past the sturdy black and white television set that my parents wouldn’t junk because color TV causes cancer.

The luminous dial of the clock radio in the kitchen showed that it was 11:30 PM.

I opened the apartment door and shut it quietly behind me.

I scooted down four flights of stairs and through the lobby without meeting any neighbors. Outside, shivering with sleep and the cool spring air, I began to run down Whitney Avenue. The street was dark and empty until I got close to Corona Avenue, where clusters of men sat under street lights, playing dominos and hooking their fingers around the bottle necks of Rheingold and Pink Champale that they drank from brown paper bags.

Life, I discovered, was going on no matter who was sleeping.

I never slowed, afraid that someone would notice that there was a little kid running down the street in the middle of the night, out of place and exposed. Just ahead, I saw the Dog-Walking Lady waiting for her dog to finish crapping, her entire being suffused with a mystical light. Her blond hair flowed from beneath her knit cap like the excitement of all possibilities, like love personified, and I could detect the trace of a smile. I kept my head down as I ran past her, hoping she’d caught a fleeting glimpse of me. Hoping her heart was filled with the mystery of me. Who is that masked man-child? What is his mission of mercy? Ah, drugs and money. What a humanitarian I was!

I got to my sister’s ground floor apartment and knocked at the blackened window so that I wouldn’t have to ring the doorbell. There was no answer; I waited and knocked again.

“I told you he’d show up,” I heard my sister say, slurring her words slightly. “Hey little bro,” she said as she opened the front door.

She was in short denim hot pants and barefoot chipped red toenail polish, and circles around her eyes from a mixture of poorly-applied eye shadow, cheap mascara and sleeplessness. The lights in the apartment were absorbed by black paint, and a Leonard Cohen record was on the record player.

I intended to give her my package and scram.

“Here,” I said, reaching into my pocket.

“What are you, crazy?” she admonished me. She checked to see if anyone outside was watching, and then she pulled me inside the building.

“Come inside for a minute.”

I followed her into the black apartment.

“You’re so intense,” she said. “You’re such a trip.”

“I have to go,” I said. “I can’t stay.”

Barry was sitting cross-legged on the floor in underpants and a purple tee shirt, holding forth on the evils of Elton John. “He’s a sell-out. And he’ll never be as good without Bernie Taupin,” he said.

I loved Barry at moments like these, when he identified the corruption that filled the world, when he clarified the choices, when he raged at the turning points we had missed. If Elton John hadn’t cut Bernie Taupin. If the Beatles hadn’t tried to manage their own money issues. If they hadn’t killed JFK. Everything would be different. It would be closer to better.

“This music is pretty depressing,” I said.

“Barry calls this music to slit your wrists by,” Lizzie said, laughing.

Barry grinned at me with saucer eyes.

“Came through like a man, I like that,” he said.

“Sorry, I fell asleep,” I said.

I knew he thought I’d blow them off or chicken out.

“We’ve all been there, right my man?” he reached out a laughing hand and accepted five from Casper, whom I’d just noticed was sitting in another dark corner of the room.

“Liz,” said Casper. “I like your kid brother. I really do.”