Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, A girl with kaleidoscope eyes. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”-Lennon and McCartney
Ryan O’Shaughnessy stands in front of a strip club in King’s Cross, the red-light district of Sydney. He is a muscular man with a severe harelip—a disfigurement he welcomes since he does not want the whores to hassle him. His back leans on the wall of the club; his hands, heavy for a short man, hang loosely from the belt of his jeans. His collar is turned up Elvis Presley style; his shirt, partly buttoned, reveals his hard chest. His hair, a more stunning anachronism, is clipped into a crew cut and bristles with white flecks—yet he is not out of place in the Friday night ambiance of the street. His gaze is proprietary as he watches the drifting cars, the stationary hookers and the barker who paces back and forth in front of the club.
A traffic light turns red, and cars drift to a halt. The windows stay rolled up although the prostitutes beckon cheerfully; their clinging skirts and brassy shouts have no effect on the stalled drivers. The club’s marquee is also deflected: the letters pulse impotently on the shiny hoods of the cars. The letters flash kniP rehtnaP kniP.
When the cars again move, Ryan pushes himself off the wall. The barker seems to be calling him back as he walks away from the club, but Ryan has no use for girlie shows—he is focused on earthier matters. He is a vagrant who has just been released from jail, and he is looking for a piece of ass, a couple of hits of acid and a brawl.
The prostitutes hop out of his way like frogs. Although he has been there most of the night, they know he is not a patron; his face is too scarred and menacing, and he moves like a lynx on the prowl. Ryan curls his lip as he walks, exaggerating his aura of menace. Since the streets and jails are his elements, it is comforting to be a thug.
The city lights bloat as he waits for a break in the traffic. They leap back to size after he wipes his glasses. The goldfish bowl lenses restore his weak vision; he now clearly sees the towering boy on the opposite side of the street. The boy, his drug dealer, is as stiff as a scarecrow. His eyes sweep the sidewalk like lighthouse beams. With a wave of his hand, Ryan signals the boy who nods like a marionette. Ryan starts to cross the street.
A traffic cop shouts, glaring at Ryan as he carelessly steps in front of a car. The cop’s white-gloved hands flutter like doves in flight. The chirp of his whistle punctuates the angry admonishment of the motorist. A chorus of horns from other stalled cars joins the blast of the whistle.
Ryan covers his ears. He jumps to the curb, and the traffic behind him starts rolling again. Not wanting to draw more attention to himself, Ryan looks away from the cop. He walks toward the boy, but changes his mind and decides to hide from the cop instead. The police have Ryan’s number, and Ryan is too poor to buy them off.
A coffeehouse offers him refuge. He pushes the glass door open and saunters toward the counter. The prune-faced woman behind it gasps at the sight of him. She stares at him as though he’s diseased when he asks for a pack of Camels. Handing her a grungy bill from his small disability pension, he says, “Where’s the fire, grandma? You act like you’ve seen a spook.” The woman picks up the money as though it might burn her hand. Trembling, she gives him his cigarettes along with a bit of change. Ryan tears the pack open; he surveys the room, flinching when he hears funhouse laughter. Noticing a pair of drag queens at a table, he decides to make them shut up. They need to know that his nerves are raw and their laughter is pissing him off.
The queens, lost in their chatter, do not notice him leaning over them. Although powdered like corpses, they squeal like children; their wigs bob and nod while their laughter erupts. Ryan raps his knuckles on their table. Their chatter evaporates as their grainy faces turn towards him.
“Ladies!” he jeers.
Unimpressed, the queens continue their chat, and Ryan straightens his back. He picks at the pack, shaking loose a cigarette. His match winks like a firefly before hitting the floor. He creeps to the door and peeps at the street. The cop’s attention is back on the traffic, and Ryan shivers with relief. It’s bad enough that specters stalk him; he does not need cops after him too.
The towering drug dealer is still awaiting him, but Ryan moves guardedly, staring into storefronts so it won’t look like he’s making a buy. He almost steps on a fleshy street artist, displaying his paintings beneath a moth-covered streetlight. The man talks with a tourist while Ryan stoops over the paintings and feigns an interest in art. The pictures—red sunsets and bosomy nudes—only make him wary. He does not like to look at paintings because they are similar to hallucinations. The last time Ryan was in jail, a psychiatrist gave him a warning. He said, unless Ryan took soul-numbing meds, his hallucinations would only get worse. Psychiatrists talk too fucking much and oughta be pistol-whipped.
As he pretends to study the paintings, the fat painter notices him. The man’s sweaty face blanches, and his voice becomes tight. “Ya find one ya like, mate?” he bleats.
Ryan shrugs. “I live in Hyde Park,” he snaps. “Plenty of sunsets there.” He holds out the package of cigarettes. “Have a smoke, baby. I’m not gonna hurt you.”
The painter picks tentatively; Ryan shakes the pack. “Come on now!” he mumbles. A bit of ash drops like a feather from the cigarette in Ryan’s mouth.
When the man has picked more cigarettes, Ryan snatches one back, which he lifts to his own. When the flame is transferred, Ryan offers it back and the painter accepts it with shaky hands. Ryan salutes the painter dismissively then looks around for the boy.
The streetlights cast motionless shadows—the boy is nowhere to be seen. The cop at the crosswalk orchestrates traffic as though he’s conducting a band.
Ryan tosses the butt as a pearly cloud escapes him. The red eye scatters upon the sidewalk. Feeling like an abandoned dog, Ryan pockets his powerful hands. Fortunately, he still can lay claim to his mission: a piece of ass, some fisticuffs and a couple of hits of acid that he may have to buy somewhere else. These primitive goals are a godsend—proof that his ghosts do not own him.
A prostrate form almost trips him—a bum. As he steps over the body, avoiding a vein of piss, a double-decker bus stops beside him. Its engine growls like an ogre, its headlights comb the night, and a pale conductress stands in the stairwell and inspects him with frozen eyes. Ryan waves the bus on and sighs like a kettle when it pulls away from the curb.
The towering boy, having reappeared, is now waiting for him on the opposite side of the street. He has turned his back on Ryan and is studying a movie marquee. This is an obvious guise since the ticket booth is empty. The lettering on the marquee reads Last Show Ends at Midnight.
These words seem grimly prophetic, and a chill invades Ryan’s spine. He crosses the street, strides over to the boy and slaps him on the back. “Baby,” he laughs, “gimme some love.”
The boy nods politely. Despite his skeletal demeanor, he seems to be callow and kind. His manner suggests indiscriminate warmth. Only the smell of him is intrusive: a pungent aroma that smells like bad meat.
Ryan tells him, “The usual. Gimme two hits.” His thick fingers snap like a rifle shot, bringing the boy to life.
With practiced fingers, the boy opens his jacket. Two small paper squares appear like magic in his palm.
Ryan holds out his hand and winks at the boy. The boy’s wormy fingers relinquish the squares. Ryan pockets them hastily. Removing his wallet, he slips the boy a few dirty bills.
The boy’s slender fingers close over the money like an octopus grabbing a crab. When he opens his jacket to pocket the bills, his odor makes Ryan gag.
Ryan needs to disengage from this cadaverous presence, so he pretends to wind his wristwatch. The boy limps away, and his ambling gait reminds Ryan of leg irons. The boy trips as he walks.
Ryan feels his shins prickle. His eyes flicker, dart. The clang of a jail cell comes suddenly to mind. Although his memory is fried, his instincts still protect him. He swaggers up to another street vendor as though he is merely out for a stroll.
The vendor, an old man with mocking eyes, has spread cuckoo clocks on the sidewalk. Ryan stoops over the clocks, studying them carefully. They are expertly carved and shiny with paint. The vendor holds up one of the clocks as though it’s a peace offering. “Cuckoo,” he teases. “Cuckoo, cuckoo.”
Ignoring the jibe, Ryan points to his wristwatch. “Stuff it, gramps. I’m traveling light.”
He is recalling places the clock might have fit: small pockets of time that have grown so remote that they float like flotsam on the scrambled surface of his mind. Thankfully, the memories are too trite to be reliable: he remembers a dirty flat, he remembers his mother’s coffin, and he remembers a Catholic orphanage where the nuns whipped him with switches. He recalls little more than the smell of his mother: a boozy whore with huge flaccid breasts and weary bloodshot eyes. She sweated a lot from her boozing, and her sweat stank like Limburger cheese. Had she died when he set fire to the flat they had lived in and had that landed him in the orphanage? Since his dementia is growing stronger, he can dispense with these parodies of memory. It is enough for him to challenge the vacuity of the moment—a vacuum he can fill with some ass and a brawl. Hell, even a noisy party would keep the darkness at bay.
Ryan walks away from the cuckoo clock vendor—his mission is yet unfulfilled. High above him, a street lamp is boiling with insects—a sight that ennobles his hunt. The bugs, undeterred by the heat from the lamp, keep tapping on the glass.
An urchin comes up to him and asks for a quarter—a small teenage girl with dirty bare feet. Her face is waxy, her eyes bright as buttons. She reminds him of an elf.
Ryan shrugs warily. Is she a phantom? He must put her to a test. “I’ll give you ten dollars to strip,” he jests. He laughs, embarrassed by his joke as the girl walks away from him. He dips into his pocket. “Oi, baby!” he cries.
The quarter he flicks her spins like a top. The girl shakes her head as it bounces on the pavement beside her. She sits down in front of a porn shop and does not look at the coin.
Feeling himself blush, Ryan bows his head. That there are limits to his depravity is not a comforting thought. The streets are a jungle, after all, and no place for charity.
A song from a car radio batters his ears. A voice sings, “It’s now or neverrrr…” The car hurtles by and the voice recedes. Ryan’s heart thumps like a bill collector pounding on a door.
Across the street is the city stadium, a gray brick building with a gigantic marquee. The marquee proclaims A Battle of Champions,and Ryan feels his brawler’s heart race. Two wrestlers in profile are featured on the marquee: men that look like gorillas. They watch him from the corners of their eyes as he hurries across the street.
Ryan pauses to light another cigarette. He blows out the match when the flame bites his fingers. Provoked by menacing marquee, he walks with a gunfighter’s swagger. Keep looking at me like that, Ryan thinks, and I’ll bash in both your skulls.
The crowd at the ticket booth separates, allowing him a wide berth as he struts past the stadium. They are mostly foreigners—Arabs and Greeks—and their chatter is unintelligible to him. Some are glancing at the cars that slow down beside them. The hookers in the cars are cruising in pairs, but no customers join them. The cars gather speed and melt into the night.
The chatter grows faint as Ryan strides up a hill. It is finally drowned out by the drone of deep breathing. Ryan strays towards a lamppost, props himself up and labors to catch his breath.
A police car passes him and then sinks out of sight when it reaches the top of the hill. Ryan sighs, relieved once again that the cops did not cuff him up. Before he is back in the slammer, he will have time for some ass and a party.
He is standing beside a massage parlor—a building with frosted windows that emit a hoary light. He tosses a butt and watches as it strikes theOpen sign. The parlor is beckoning him to go in, and Ryan feels his skin crawl.
Ryan holds onto the lamppost, transfixed by the parlor’s wintry light. His scalp tingles like ants are devouring it. Thankfully, his mission awaits him. The hill is now plunging. He lights another cigarette and takes a heavy drag.
The milky glow from the massage parlor fades as he starts to descend the hill. As the streets become darker, he sees only shadows. His shoes faintly echo. His spark remains bright.
A piece of ass, a brawl, a couple of squares of acid. These are not diversions but staples—life values to be celebrated with beer and song. They are palpable, after all, and offer him proof that he thrives.
He is sitting on a couch in the Last Call Saloon, a rowdy gay bar near the west side of town. He has found himself at a party: a place of music and dance. If his luck continues to hold, he will also score some ass.
He has swallowed both hits of acid, and the walls are starting to breathe. He looks at the dancers that hover above him. Contained within cages and plumed like peacocks, they seem immune to the sweaty crowd below them. Although they are out of reach, these queens smile enticingly. Their bodies swell and contract as though they are made of elastic. A band is playing “Hang On Sloopy,” and Ryan is ready to dance.
He can practically trace out his name in the air, and the people around him seem drugged by the smoke. A willowy singer is crooning the song, but the band is drowning her out. The drummer, a boy with a sunken chest, ought to be punched in the gut. His drumming, which sounds like a death rattle, freezes Ryan’s pulse. Ryan does not want his heart to stop, so he must keep the beat alive.
Ryan unbuttons his shirt and starts tapping on a low table in front of the couch. His head sways like a reed in a stream, and soon he is soaked in sweat. He hesitates only to pick up his glass—a superfluous gesture since most of the beer has spilled onto the table, which glitters like blood. Ryan’s mouth is now drier than lint and aches with incredible thirst. He takes a sip of beer before continuing to flog the table.
The bar is packed with men, some in leather. They seem irritated by his pummeling hands, but he pays them no notice. He must keep his blood pumping, or his heart will stop like an unwound clock.
A piece of ass is approaching him: a cherub-mouthed hussy with a shiny, blonde wig that spills down over her shoulders. She is far more tempting than the fickle jailhouse punks he has known, and she is toting a glass of beer. Ryan seizes her wrist as she tries to crowd past him.
“I’ll have it here.”
She giggles. “Naw, you don’t.”
She holds onto the glass. Ryan squeezes her wrist. She’s giving him a workout.
He answers, “Gimme!”
“It’s not for you, honey.” She pries his hand from her wrist.
Ryan leaps to his feet, but his lunge is in vain and his thumb, electrified by the rubbing of the couch, sparks feebly on her dress. He has grabbed only air, so she might be a ghost but his head still bobs with triumph. His heart is thudding like a war drum; he is going to stay alive.
Ryan points to his crotch as she stomps away from him; he must keep the quarrel going. Rolling his hips, he announces, “She blew me!”
She whirls around and stares at him as though he is not of this world. Her face has turned into the face of a monkey—she looks ready to bite off his head. She leans closer to Ryan. “Weirdo, piss off!” Her voice is now deep and gravelly as though coming from a well.
“She bleeeeew me!” Ryan sings.
Her teeth are bared. She balls her fists. She is ready to hit him in the nose, but Ryan waves her off as though she were a fly. He will not diminish his manhood by slugging it out with a queen. Ryan snorts with indignation as she fades into the crowd.
Ryan sits down and keeps pounding the table. The acid is making him antsy; he is having a very bad trip. But a more fuckable queen is perched near the bar. This queen is vampish and slender. She is looking at him with lust in her eyes. Ryan winks at her and rises from the couch. The drums keep time with the throb in his cock as he pushes his way towards her.
Dance, Ryan thinks, and the shadows won’t linger. Dance and goblins will turn into clowns. Dance and the phantoms of memory will vanish into the night.
This queen has pupils like saucers—she must be high on meth—but Ryan bows deeply and grins like a fox. “Dance with me, baby?” he pleads.
She nods and smiles thinly—a coy one is this one. He takes her arm gently, his thick fingers throbbing, and guides her out onto the dance floor.
Releasing her arm, Ryan struts like a gamecock—a toe-to-heel motion. His knees bend and bob. This causes a spasmodic snap to his wrists; they seem tied to his knees with invisible threads, and his feet nimbly skip behind opposite ankles as he deftly raises his puppeteer hands.
Dance and shadows won’t linger. Dance and your heart will still pound. Dance and the goblins and boogeymen will go back to where they belong.
He bumps into a waitress who is toting a pitcher of beer. His soles nearly slip as the pitcher explodes, but Ryan springs quickly and pivots full circle avoiding the beer that creeps towards his feet.
Ryan isn’t unnoticed as he hops to the rhythm. The bouncer is watching him like a jailer, but Ryan has thwarted the reaper—he isn’t going to die. He wipes his forehead and waves to the bouncer who warningly shakes his head.
Ryan whirls—now alone—and the strings become tighter. His hands have grown heavier. His legs feel remote. When a strobe light flickers, he feels like he’s trapped in an old-time, Charlie Chaplin movie. The room is now stifling; his legs are cramping. Although most of the revelers have left the dance floor, a few remain. They keep dancing with Ryan who claps his hands loudly and shakes to the tune.
The music dies in a rattle of the drums. The barkeeper shouts, “Last Call!” Ryan hears hands clapping, applauding him, and so he continues to dance. But the dance floor is barren. The cages hang empty. The room comes awash in a smoky gray light.
The applause thickens, pauses, and then once again swells as he finishes his performance with a leg split and bow. His brow lapses forward—touching his knee; he spreads out his arms like an eagle in flight. The room starts to spin, but he holds his pose until the bouncer grabs him by the collar.
The bar is closing. The street awaits him. The bouncer says, “Piss off, asshole,” so he lurches toward the door. But a silver-haired man is now blocking his way and looking at him with interest. The man’s skin is leprous, his face wan and wrinkled; his flat cold fingertips touch Ryan’s own. Ryan backs away, and this fiend does not follow—the sharp frame of a mirror contains him.
A pair of strong headlights stabs Ryan’s eyes as he stumbles to the sidewalk. The glow of a streetlamp is brighter than flame. Although he closes his eyelids, two saffron orbs linger. They bounce like flaccid tits, even when he opens his eyes, but he can see beyond them. He can see a huge dirty building beside him, a warehouse for dairy products. He can tell by the wind, which is ripe and sour—a rancid assaultive breeze. The cheesy stink dies as the wind grows stronger. The air is freshened by warm drops of rain. The moon, which looks like his mother’s face, watches him stagger along.
The rain passes. The street starts to dip. An angry gust of wind snatches his cigarette pack from his hand. Ryan pauses a moment, doubting his eyesight; the wind is also assailing a woman in a long, black billowy gown. The woman hurries toward him, waving her hand as though she is wielding a whip. A cab, trailing smoke, pulls alongside the curb and she slithers like mercury into the cab. Ryan shakes his head, unconvinced by this sight, then resumes walking. As he crosses the street, an approaching car comes shrieking to a stop.
The twin orbs linger as the sidewalk accepts him. A dark silhouette, his shadow, crawls before him on the sidewalk. He picks up his pace and overtakes the shadow, but it hops back out in front of him like a prisoner making a break. Blue and red lights canter behind it as though in hot pursuit.
The lights dance like a coven of witches. A police siren freezes his pulse. He glances about him; an alley awaits him. He leaps into the alley and hides behind a dumpster.
The scent of ripe urine withers his nostrils as he presses his back to a dirty brick wall. The cop car streaks past the alley as though he is not even there.
Ryan peeks from the alley, his breathing still shallow. A garbled noise tickles his ears, but Ryan has no time for voices. Somewhere in the city, salvation awaits him: a fight with his name on it.
A short distance away a crowd is collecting, the probable source of the voices. The faces are fleeting and clownishly rouged by the police car’s rotating lights.
Ryan’s curiosity overpowers him, and he steps back onto the sidewalk. The crowd expands as he hurries downhill. Something wicked is taking place, and he must know what is going on. He orbits the crowd until an opening appears then he hunches his shoulders and bulls his way in.
He has seen knifings before in the county jail, and the pool of blood excites him. It expands upon the pavement like an uncharted fountain of youth. The victim—some tramp with a shiv in his chest—is as stiff as a mannequin. His face looks as though it’s been carved from wood and is frozen with surprise. His palsied hands clutch the knife handle as though unwilling to turn it loose.
A wiry policeman disperses the crowd as an ambulance murmurs then pulls to the curb. Ryan drifts away from the crowd. He has no business here. The night is not over, and Ryan needs action. He also has ghosts to outrun.
The police car eases past him. Its lights are no longer flashing, a promising omen. Ryan’s feet skip a beat as he struts along, and he puffs out his chest like a toad.
The stadium is dark now, shadows have deepened. Small clouds of men stand by the entrance as though waiting to catch a bus. The hookers, successful now, pull their cars to the curb. They let passengers out; other passengers join them. Doors slam as the cars pull away.
Ryan struts past the johns, feeling bold and superior. He will not waste his seed on a whore. He picks up his pace as though late for a date, and the hookers drive on by him. A few minutes of walking are all that it takes to return once again to his post near the strip club.
The club’s racing lights are now rimmed with huge halos, but the barker seems unaware of this. He is still calling out to passing pedestrians and pacing back and forth.
The lights in the coffeehouse seem softer, perhaps because Ryan is thirsty. His tongue feels glued to the roof of his mouth, and he cannot even swallow. He pushes the glass door open and walks into the coffeehouse. An ape of a man with a cruel, meaty face watches him from one of the booths. A bouncer, most likely, or maybe a wrestler. Could this be the brawl he is looking for? Ryan’s heart begins to race.
Feeling the ape’s eyes upon him, Ryan pays for a cup of coffee then he sits in a vacant booth that allows him a view of the street. The burgundy leather is soft on his back. The coffee, still frothy, is scalding and sweet. Ryan’s glasses are fogged when he sets down the cup, and a ghostly veil hides the street.
Deathly fatigue arrests him. He starts to nod although the cup stings his palms; he drifts off for a moment. He wakes with a jump. The twin orbs have returned; they are bloodshot now and glitter like the eyes of a cat. They obscure the warm pool he has spilled onto the table. They leap to the carpet, the counter, the wall as he staggers out of the booth. They blur even the ape who now looks up at Ryan; the ape is unmoved by his visitor’s plight, but his huge jaw tightens and his beefy face flushes when Ryan leans over and calls him a pussy.
The orbs glide away, redder than sunsets as the ape musters Ryan out of the coffeehouse. On the sidewalk, the orbs mingle with sharp points of light that swirl around him like a carousel.
And Ryan is battling the ape!
The ape grips his collar and pummels him vigorously. Ryan grunts from the punches—“Hey there!” he shouts. His specs splash on the pavement. “Ho!” The blows—not unpleasant—pound his shoulders and the cropped top of his head. One of them bangs off the door of the coffeehouse, producing a shower of tinkling glass. Now Ryan is slipping on wafers of glass and throwing wild blows at the ape. The ape’s fist pounds his mouth—he can taste his lip. It’s as plump as a sausage and warms where it’s cut.
A wall, hard and grainy, squashes Ryan’s shoulder. He turns towards the pavement, facing it flat; it is dotted with ruby-red beads. As he pushes the pavement away, his tongue strokes his front teeth. They are still in place—just barely cracked. On the street, the headlights are swollen and spinning, but the cars are still rolling along.
Then comes the shoe. It jolts his side, emptying his lungs, and Ryan rolls onto his back. This way he can see the ape. The ape has taken his belt off to flog Ryan soundly. He raises the belt gingerly; his hand must be hurt. He is gasping for breath.
Ryan pumps his foot at the blurred, beefy face. Missing his target, he pumps it again. He hears a sound like a chestnut exploding. The ape is struck!
Ryan rolls to his chest. He gropes the pavement for support. He can move without too much pain although slivers of glass cling to his palms. Ryan climbs to his feet, glancing about. The ape is on the ground, breathing raggedly. Ryan has broken his nose.
The street is still spinning. Ryan tries to stand up straight, but a current keeps pulling his head to the sidewalk. A bleating keeps time with his galloping heart. Already, the barker is marching toward him, and out on the street, from between the cars, the policeman is blasting his whistle.
Ryan must run—he must run for his life, he must run like a wounded gazelle. He shuffles forward, leaps over the ape, and takes off down the sidewalk. His shoes strike the ground like hammer blows; his hands slice the air like scythes. Still, the whistle grows louder. It stabs his ears. Shoes faster than Ryan’s strike the pavement behind him; hands soon will drop on his collar and neck.
A pedestrian shouts and jumps out of his way. A vehicle skids as he crosses the street. More calls fill the air as Ryan sprints on. His lungs are tugging, his legs are like rubber—yet the footsteps behind him are mere inches away. The corner is too sharp where he changes direction. His hand skids on its heel—his knee dents a trashcan—but as quick as he falls Ryan leaps to his feet.
Like a deer Ryan bolts, his pursuers close behind him. The whistle is dead but the footsteps grow louder—a resolute, walloping sound. The traffic light is green at the end of a block, and Ryan dashes safely out into the street. The cars wait as he passes, but their engines are snarling. Their headlights glare like flame.
A towering blur at a bus stop awaits him—an open two-decker bus whose engine is humming. It drifts from the curb as Ryan draws near it then slowly builds speed as if entering the race. Ryan gains on the bus—he can make out the license plate. Behind him, the footsteps are gaining on him.
The bus is now inching away from him. As the platform recedes, Ryan sucks one more breath. Although his legs have dissolved and his lungs are on fire, the vertical pole by the stairwell is only a few feet away.
Ryan loses his balance—his run a mere stumble. His fingers close desperately over the pole. He is jerked like a rag doll but stays on his feet, his momentum preserved by the pull of the bus. Pain knifes through his shoulder—the socket is wrenched—but his burning fingers are cooled by the pole and refuse to forfeit their slippery hold.
As the bus gains more speed, he leaps onto the platform. He sits in the stairwell and labors for breath. His chest glistens like oil. It caves and expands. Punishing blows pound his temples and ears, but the bus keeps rolling along.
The conductress is looking down at him. Her face is as pale as ivory, her eyes are as brilliant as opals, and she stares at him like an angel of death as she waits to receive his fare. Her bony hands rest on a change maker; it winks when a streetlight hits it.
“Almost,” Ryan says.
He searches his pocket, locates a quarter—the precise amount of his fare. His hand shakes like a cornered rabbit as he presses it into her palm.
Ryan clutches the pole and pulls himself to his feet. The iron is stained red from his grip. The girl slips the coin into the change maker, and he gives her a victory sign.
Grinning, Ryan pinches the bill of her hat and pulls it down over her eyes.
“Hah!” he exclaims. He buttons his shirt up.
He climbs to the top of the bus.
James Hanna is a retired probation officer and a former fiction editor. Due to his background, the criminal element figures strongly in much of his writing. James’ stories have appeared in over thirty journals, including Sixfold, Crack the Spine, and The Literary Review. “His books, all of which have won awards, are available on Amazon.” (Global Book Awards recently gave James’s latest book, The Ping-Pong Champion of Chinatown, a gold medal.)
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