By Justus E. Taylor

1,672 Words

Copyright 1991 by Justus E. Taylor

"They were identical twins, I mean so much alike that their mother probably couldn't remember which diaper she had just changed. Anyway, that's the way they looked to me. Naturally, I didn't know them all the way back to when they were babies, didn't meet Howard and Henry, those were their names, till I was in high school. The story, from some of their friends, was that they had always been as close as the lips on a dead man, till they got into high school. It seems that Howard asked a girl who was new at school to go out on a date, and she already had a boy friend, so she said no. But that evening she had a fight with the boyfriend, so the next day when Henry happened to ask her, not knowing there were two of them, she thought Howard was asking again, real persistent you know, so she said yes.

       Well, you know, Henry started going out on dates with this Blanche, that was her name, and when Howard found out about it he was crushed. Henry, not being too sure of himself with the girl, and she having already told him she liked his asking her out twice , in spite of her turning him down the first time, well he decided he had a chance to get a permanent leg-up on Howard and he took it. He had never liked his own nose, so he told Howard that the girl didn't go out with him (and he made like he was doing Howard a big favor when he said it) because she thought his nose was too big !

       Howard, of course, said right away that the girl would think Henry's nose was too big too, since twin's noses had to be exactly the same . And that's when Henry put it to Howard that the funny thing was that their noses were not the same, but that he had never wanted to hurt Howard's feelings by telling him that, and neither had their parents. He added that he knew their parents would never confess that there was a difference in their sons' noses, no matter how much anybody asked them.

       Well, I tell you Tony, for a couple of weeks Henry worried maybe he'd loused it up. But then he got overjoyed when he started seeing Howard linger in front of mirrors, car windows, store fronts, and he even seemed to be trying to see himself in other people's sun glasses. And right along with this he started to give way to Henry. He let Henry into the bathroom first every morning, where they had always taken turns! Henry started getting the biggest baked potato at dinner, and the least burnt toast at breakfast and if they walked down the street together, Howard walked on the inside, near the buildings, like a woman's place, you know. Are you getting in the back, around the heel? A lot of times they miss that.

       To make a long story short, Howard got a real complex about his nose, and never got over it. Story was that he talked to a lot of plastic surgeons about the possibility of having his nose fixed , so it would look like Henry's. And when their father retired and turned over his builder's supply business to the two boys, Howard insisted that Henry be the company president, with a big salary of course, and he just asked Henry to let him manage one of the branch stores. Which is likely the way it still is. Henry has a real knockout of a wife, I mean a real joint lifter, while Howard got himself the plainest mousey-est looking skirt you've ever seen. On top of that she shoos him around like she was doing him a big favor to spread her wings every once in a while. Watch out for my socks now, don't get any polish on 'em, or I'll have to forget about your tip. And don't make me late for work either!

       Anyway the two boys were not like you and me. The difference between us is real , except maybe that we're both in our fifties. You see, I finished high school, and I bet, it's not your fault I know, but I bet you never finished high school, did you Tony?"

       "No, Mr. Meckle, I stopped high school. My father said I was dumb. He found me a job doing deliveries for a dry cleaner. It wasn't no bad job either, and my folks needed the money, because of so many kids. But I do OK. I think all of Wall Street comes in here for these shines. Tips pretty good you know Sir, ha ha, yes Sir. That's it, all done."

       "Yeah, the shoes look alright now Tony. I think you found the thing you were best suited for, maybe the best shine on Wall Street. It's funny you know, now here I am a supervising margin clerk, and you're a bootblack. I could have been a bootblack, but you never could have been me , because of the way you kind of smell like shoe polish I mean, you understand, no offense but some people, people who were meant to take control of their lives, have a lot more options than some others. And it all comes from showing the other guy that you're made out of better stuff. Right, Tony? Here's a dollar. Right? Just like now, you can't wait for your money. I get paid once a week and I can wait for it. But you, you you're willing to take whatever you can get the minute you finish a little job. You should think about that Tony. It's the reason why you're suited for just shining shoes, and why I have a lot more than you!"

       "Yes sir, Mr. Meckle. If you didn't have more money than me, I couldn't make nothin' shining your shoes. That's right ain't it? Ha ha, yes Sir, thank you!"

       Tony's shines in the afternoon were somewhat absent minded, and several times his boss, owner of the shoe repair shop, stopped his work to cast threatening glances from Tony's head to his toes, but it didn't get Tony's attention at all. This was because Tony had made up his mind that he was going to get a bottle of Five Star muscatel, and he was going down by the Brooklyn Bridge that night and find Reeva. Ever since Mr. Meckle had left the stand that morning, he had felt down-hearted and he needed to be with her.

       Around eight that night Tony was peering and poking through a dark and sometimes fire-lit forest of cardboard boxes, newspaper pallets, dirty shanties made from old coats that hung between shopping carts and a hurricane fence, while he stumbled, fumbled and called to Reeva, never getting an answer. Then he reached the point where the bridge structure intersected with the ground and he finally saw her dirty and snagged red down coat, wrapped around her and puffing out a few feathers each time she shifted her sitting position against a granite abutment.

       "Yeah, Tony, is that you?" she called out slowly,with the thickness of a tongue that could have been pickled by wine. She had started on the wine ten years before, right after she had lost her only three children in a house fire. Tony got down on his hands and knees a few feet away from her and then crawled and planted his body next to hers against the abutment. Having been careful not to make a threatening approach, he next produced the bottle of muscatel, fearful that she might otherwise spew a string of curses at him for bothering her reverie--unless he had brought something to make it last longer! She grinned broadly when the bottle caught and then reflected the light of the several small fires that warmed the general area. She immediately seized it and put it to her lips without even realizing that the cap was still on until she had fought with it for a few moments.

       Tony was grateful that the winter night was mild, supplying a minimum amount of cold to make heavy clothing comfortable, but also not even making his breath visible. He thought it would be smart to test Reeva's mood, just in case she was in a mad instead of a happy drunk. After all, she sometimes hurt his organ when she was mad about something. "How you doin' Lovey?" he quizzed, while trying vainly to see into the depth of her eyes, which the darkness was protecting. "I'm OK," she mumbled back, easing the bottle to one side of her mouth to let the words out "But I' a lot better...if that hundred-and-fifty year old bitch...would stop hanging around here. Every time ... I come here to sleep, she's here. I' to kick her in her face, always lookin' at me! See her, over those old tires? So goddamn old.... You want to...go over there and kick the shit out of her ... for me?"

       "Not now Reeva, leave her alone. She's maybe gonna die the next time it gets real cold. The old pissy-ass."

       Tony had gotten a little concerned when Reeva first mentioned old Olga, thinking she might be in a mad drunk, but from the way she kept on swilling the wine he knew she was actually very pleased with the world at that moment. So with his own hand that was blackened at the cuticles and knuckles from a lifetime of applying shoe polish, he groped in Reeva's lap and found her free hand, which was covered in a deteriorated woolen army glove. He pulled the glove off and placed her hand inside his fly, where she automatically began manipulating him, without ever turning to face him or pausing in her swigs from the bottle of muscatel.

       For a brief instant Tony was transported out of his world of wine, and shoes to be shined, and the filthy room that he secretly rented from the crippled woman on Welfare and the sores around his ankles that never healed, and the potato knishes that were his diet, and even the smell of Reeva. As soon as he recovered he became acutely aware of his diminishing bottle of muscatel and he snatched it from Reeva's hand in mid-swallow, making some spill down the front of her red down coat. Then, rising abruptly, he stepped just a foot away from her and urinated on the abutment at the spot where he had been sitting. After closing his pants, and without turning toward her, he threw out his good-bye words: "Be seein' you, you dirty old whore. You drunk too much of my wine!"

       From an approaching stupor, Reeva answerd gloomily, "Good-bye, Tony.... You're all right."


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