NuSense: COMMUNITY Issue 4
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Tyler Hosken, "Lollipop"
The senator paid his driver in exact change and stepped into the torrents of that afternoon. Quickly he dashed beneath the metal awning in front of the Baron Nights Hotel. He pulled out his cell phone to check the time: 11:17. Perfect. He slipped the phone into his left back pocket and pushed through the revolving doors into golden-yellow warmth. He didn’t notice the colours, for he was there for business. He saved such thoughts as wall colours and furniture placement for Sundays: his mother had the most fascinating opinions on floral arrangements over brunch.
The lobby was mostly empty–it was Wednesday–and he walked directly to the front desk. He tripped over a young girl–garbed in grubby clothes to big for her and no more than thirteen he wagered–not four yards from the clerk. He grumbled a half-hearted apology and let her run off to some corner or another.
“Robertson Sporting Goods,” he said to the clerk as he straightened himself up. “The 11:30 appointment, sir?” asked the clerk who pretended not to have seen the other man’s stumble. The senator nodded. “Room 1707, by the elevators to your left.”
He thanked the man at the desk and stepped into an empty open elevator, pressing for his floor. The machine whirred motion when by all bad luck the box shuddered and halted. The white florescent glow flashed out and was replaced with red emergency light.
The storm must’ve taken the power, he realised but didn’t curse–there were worse things and the meeting wouldn’t start in total blackness. Someone would collect him when the power returned. He had learned to ignore stress–he had quit smoking to help his image and his doctor had been warning him about his blood pressure for nearly a decade. He sighed and slid down the wall to sit, noticing for the first time that the girl he bumped into minutes before sat in the corner nearest the door
staring quietly at him.
They remained silent for a few minutes, which the senator was grateful for. He had nothing to say to a girl of this sort: dirty, thieving, probably in the sex-trade. Probably does drugs too, he
thought, although he wished he didn’t because a joint in mind so easily becomes a cigar to an ex-smoker. He chastised himself for not carrying any gum with him.
“So what do you do?” said the girl in the corner. Damn, but he decided to give her something, if as little as possible.
“A girl your age probably wouldn’t understand,” he said gruffly without making eye-contact.
“You mean because I’m a girl or because I’m too young?” she said offended. The senator’s back straightened and he looked at her to apologise but she laughed. “I’m joking, dude, don’t worry about it. You’re probably right, I mean I don’t have much for education. I just know you gotta look someone in the eye when you talk to them. Lets you get right inside, all personal, so you know when you’re being cheated or something. It’s natural instinct, you know?” Being in politics and PR before, he knew that and more, like how eye contact causes a hormone in the brain to simulate a bond and that you can tell if someone likes what you’re saying by how wide their pupils are compared to the brightness of the room. It was important to know your audience. He nodded to her to be polite.
“So how old are you, anyway?”
“Sixty-seven,” he replied, although he was a little off-put by her straightforwardness. Damn I could use a smoke!
“Damn, and you’re still going to work? You must really be stuck for cash if you’re still running around for the big man! I’m only fourteen and frankly I’m fine with what I’ve got. Could be better, but I could be dead too, you know?” she giggled that last one sadly, but changed the subject quickly. “You smoke?”
“Not anymore,” he said truthfully, not liking where she was going.
“Ah me neither. Can’t barely afford clothes that fit, damn well can’t afford smokes. Got these though,” and she pulled out a half-dozen lollipops. “Well go on, take one. I always carry lots. Cheap stuff.”
He reluctantly accepted the candy, pulled off the wrapper and let the sweet cherry-flavour quell his craving.
“Thank you,” he said through his teeth. “Although I’m not sure your parents would feel comfortable with how friendly you are with strangers.”
“Why not?” she winced. “Strangers only hurt you bad if they don’t know you. This is me getting to know you. Friends can still hurt you too, I guess, but then it still wouldn’t be a stranger doing the hurting. Besides, my parents aren’t really around to be comfortable with much of anything.”
The senator savoured his candy in silence.
“Not that I mind, or even blame them, really,” she went on.
“Like, dad doesn’t have much choice in being away, being dead, you know? Mom neither, for two more years at least. That’s when she’s supposed to get out if she doesn’t knock out another cop before then. Strange how people change, huh? They go from a happy-ish sort of suburb-Johnson show to picking out garbage and grand larceny. Not that I minded the garbage: tasted like the garbage we had over in Brookdale, you know? Everything tastes like food if you’re starving, I guess. It was probably harder for them, because I was only nine when the bank kicked us out, and it wasn’t hard to go with less. I was the sort of kid who didn’t eat their snacks at lunch. Glad too. Weird how such little things make a difference later. Like there was this one boy at lunch who’d always take people’s snacks–he was a big bugger. I think his parents had one of those needles full of Coca-Cola hooked up to him at bed time or something because he was rounder than a basket ball, not that he knew how to use one. But he’d walk up to kids all tough and he’d just take their snacks. And one day I wasn’t all that hungry so I just gave him my granola bar and pudding–just left it there on his desk. He was so confused his face turned bright red! Probably thought I liked him but really I just wanted to avoid him hustling me. And we had a kind of relationship after that.
Freaky, because we didn’t get along or nothing, and I thought he was pretty gross. Like how mom hated her boss and dad always had some joke about him that mom covered my ears for. They worked together, which I guess they weren’t supposed to but they did anyway. And when they lost their jobs they said even meaner things about their old boss because they didn’t really have a relationship with him anymore. So like when we were living at the shelter for a few months mom started saying how we deserved our piece of her work because she and dad and all her old coworkers helped build it or something. So she started hanging out with grubby looking people and people like us while dad kept me fed as best he could.
Good guy, him. Anyways, mom got caught with her hand in the cookie jar, like they said in school, and got locked up for it. Course, I could’ve told her that would happen. Like that snack kid, well, one day he brought more than he could eat so I took his fruit roll up and get this: the little bugger told on me! I tried to say that he took from other people but Ms. J said that didn’t make what I did right. Maybe that makes mom wrong or maybe Ms. J wasn’t as smart as she wanted to look–I never thought she was all that smart myself, but she figured out for me what would happen to mom before she did it. Anyways, all this was going through my head when we were left alone, dad and me, and I told him not to take anymore because only buggers get their own way and he wasn’t a bugger. He kept getting me food when I needed it but . . . you don’t talk much, do you?”
“Hmm?” said the senator. He was so engrossed in her story he had zoned out. “I’m fine listening.” He’d rather there be silence until the elevator started up again, but he had a feeling the girl
didn’t talk to people much. He was interested where her story would turn.
“I gotcha. I don’t get to talk much because other people don’t like to listen to me. They say I shouldn’t talk like this to people, but I think what they have to say is worse. Frankly, I don’t make much sense of it. Like this tall geezer, Kyle, though not as old as you. I think he’s a social worker or something. He keeps telling me I should go to some foster-hell and be raised up proper, but he never gives me anything new and since I didn’t like what he said the first time I just stayed back and have been doing fine.”
“But why not give it a try?” he found himself asking. He was shocked he cared so much.
“Because systems that say they help don’t. Like mom’s work was supposed to help our family if they helped it, but it didn’t. And the bank was supposed to help us keep our house, but it didn’t. And the snack-stealer bugger was supposed to keep his mouth shut, but he didn’t. And mom’s friends were supposed to get us off the streets, but they didn’t. And then there’s me, myself, and I, and together we kept me breathing for four years with no help from nobody, so I think I’m a little better off, don’tcha think?”
“Perhaps,” said the senator.
“Damn straight. All systems like governments and jobs and foster homes don’t work for people like me because they’re made to work for the people that run them. And that’s fine for some people, the ones who are told they want what the big guys want, at least until it backfires and they end up in my neighbourhood because some company making baseball gloves decides to downsize. What does that even mean?”
The senator was silent.
“Like I miss my parents, sure, and I miss my friends from back in the day, not that they’d recognise me or want me because I’m bad for their system, you know? And that’s fine, because at least this way I’m in control of the system I’m in and the only way I can lose control is if I give up and join a system run by someone else. So no, even when Kyle came around, and then Janine after they dropped him, sure I took their food when they’d leave it but I’m not about to sell myself for that. I’ve got enough to get by on and nothing else for some big-shot to take away.”
He bit down hard on the paper stick that had been turning to liquid in his mouth.
“And every once in a while, I get to talk to someone like you. I usually don’t get to talk to them again, like I move around a lot and I’ve been offered a place to live by some but–oh!” she started as the lights flickered on with a high-pitched buzz.
“Looks like the juice is back on.”
The light caught her smile, yellow-white and toothy, and her soft blue eyes. The old man felt black inside. He smiled weakly back at her and the elevator started raising again. In seconds the box stopped on the seventeenth floor. The senator stood up.
“If I offered to let you stay with my wife and I,” he said gruffly, “I suppose you’d decline.”
The young girl smirked and said “thanks for listening.”
The man blinked but put on his best press-conference smile and nodded farewell.
He walked down the pale hallway, lined with green wallpaper that would make his mother cry. No, back to business, he thought and shook his nerves out. He reached to his back pocket to check his phone for the time to find the weight of his wallet was absent. He slipped his hand in and met the sharp crackle of thin plastic. He pulled out the candy. It was cherry.
Tyler Hosken, "Alastor on Games"
The problem with empires is they fall.
Do you know why they always fall, my Slave?
They scramble above the rest, and then all
crumble without a want of true fear, save
Perhaps I fear, Bartholomew;
For rules to my play bend.
May time in mercy leave askew
this prideful hole I rend.
But the Trojans feared the Greeks before me
until thinking themselves in Nike’s grasp
they too fell, for courage seeks to be free
and render the end’s benedictive clasp
Can I be certain of my pride?
That it won’t fell my state
of wealth or coincide
with the game I create?
I need a break. Barty, bring me my wine! The king takes a pawn but thirsts for the blood of his own bishop; it need not be mine but the break from law as it would else be Tickles my discomforting mood. Oh grand of White to see The fault, and my knight's defence crude but a checkmate to me!
The game is not played with a careful eye;
well is the player blind to what’s clever.
For if one expects what skill might imply,
to play any move else would endeavour
Wherefore are my enemies, Slave?
Have all succumbed to sin
or met by my hand a lame grave?
How dull this life has been.
I need a new White, Barty. A player
with finesse, guile and not short of wit:
Me, Slave, I need a Me in not my ware
nor else fair; you know all rules are writ
If Troy had not known the Greek’s wrath
They’d no story to end,
and, as they ought to say, “Hell hath
no fury like a friend.”
Or some such truth therein lies but a cause
to believe it makes scorn too light a word.
A game has rules but for this, perhaps laws
make better bones to break; what have you heard
Is there such a player alive?
Don’t you dare be tardy
for this above all else I strive
lest from this life part me!
A friend then, but of what flavour? Above
the law, for no rule should govern our play,
so perhaps a god, lord, feigned true love?
The choice overwhelms! Slave, a glass to stay
A fortnight in years and no such
enemy my way trots;
Without the game I fear check’s touch
as the Red chessboard rots.
Nicole Potter, "Unconscious Writings"
Many things lie beneath the surface,
What you must find is called the purpose,
What you hear, and what you see
Frightens all, including me.
Lies, control and manipulation,
All I want is to save the Nation
Hate, deceit, and spoken half truths,
Ethics, morality, and trust played fast and loose
Break the walls to find what remains
Even though it might cause pain
You will find what you need to carry on,
Not be just another pawn.
Find your direction,
Allow for connection.
© NuSense 2011