by L.T. Fawkes
One set of Harry’s bare toes stuck out from under the sheet. The other set protruded from the new air cast. He pulled the sweat pants from the gym bag on his lap and glared at the girl who sat at the foot of his bed.
“Red?”Loretta was gnawing at the skin along the edge of her thumbnail. She shrugged. “They didn’t have black or gray in the XL.”
“XL? I wear medium.”
“Yeah. Medium’s really gonna pull on over that cast.”
He frowned at the big red sweat pants. “These things are gonna fly at half mast.“ He handed her the empty bag. “There’s only one store in the city that sells sweat pants?”
“Oh, gimme a break. I barely had time to get to one store and be here by eleven.”
“Whatever. I think my jeans are in that closet. Shove ‘em in the bag and help me get these on.”
“Don’t frown like that. It makes ugly lines around your mouth.”
“You make ugly lines around my _ tell me again how this happened.”
Harry sighed. “I paused in the middle of my busy day to try and pinpoint where things went wrong.”
Loretta blinked at him. “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess things went wrong when your pause happened in front of a fucking bus.”He gave her a level look. “It wasn’t a bus. It was one of those library trucks. Book-mobile or something. And I was up on the curb.”
He tugged at the waist band of the sweat pants, testing the stretch.
“Then I don‘t see why you‘re doing this. The library will have to pay your medical bills, won‘t they?”
He sighed. “Okay, I might’ve been a few steps off the curb.”
“Oh my God. With your head up your ass.”
“The mouth on you.“ He struggled into a position where he could draw his good leg up and work his foot into the stretch pants. She hopped off the bed to give him room.
He said, “I can’t get stuck for this bill. I’m already hiding from the county.”
She groaned. “Why?”
“There ya go. That’s what I was trying to figure out when the book-mobile _ Loretta, don’t just stand there. Help me get these things on before they come with the lunch tray.”
She put her hands on her hips. “Why are you hiding from the county, Harry?”
He adjusted his posture in the high bed. “You know, Loretta, there’s plenty of other people I coulda called.”
“Okay. Do that. I‘ll dial for you. Let’s see. Who’ll drop everything in the middle of a weekday and help you skip out on your hospital bill. Who, who, who.”
Harry was stretching, trying to get the sweat pants over the end of the cast. He gave Loretta an exasperated glare.
She growled. “Here. Move your hands.”
She worked his foot into the sweat pants and helped him draw them up along the length of the cast. He laid back and writhed the waistband under his hips.
“Stuff my jeans in the bag and hand me my shirt. And my trainers. Uh, my left trainer.” He turned and swung his legs out off the bed. The left leg bent. The cast made the bad right leg stick straight out. Harry groaned.
Loretta said, “Harry. This is a bad idea.”
“I know. Can you put my shoe on? Please?”The trip outside was a nightmare because Harry said they couldn’t risk taking the elevator. He followed Loretta down three flights of stairs, groaning at each torturous step, and they finally emerged through a side door, only to be confronted by the vast parking lot.
Harry sighed. “Where’d you park?”
“Halfway to Berea. Wait here. I’ll go get the car.”
By the time Harry slumped into the passenger seat, wet black curls were plastered to his forehead and his complexion was pearly gray.
Loretta said, ”Harry_”
Harry pointed through the windshield. “Drive.”
At the first intersection, Loretta signaled for a right turn. Harry said, “No. Go straight.”
Loretta turned to stare at him. “Your rathole’s that way.”
“We’re not going to my place.”
“Why? Oh. The county.”
“I need to stay at your place for a few days. Just until I get things straightened out. And stop at the Rite-Aid. I need smokes.”
Loretta sighed in anticipation of a few days of Harry, groaning and complaining and filling her cute little apartment with cigarette smoke.
They cruised in silence for several blocks. Midway down fast food row, the sidewalks were congested with the legal aides, insurance clerks and dental assistants who, hungry for cholesterol, continued to pour out of the six-story bank building on the corner.
Suddenly Harry shouted, “Stop. Pull over.”
Loretta, startled, slammed on the brakes, earning a severe honking at from the car behind her.
Harry pounded on the dash. “Pull over.”
He had his door open before the car jerked to a stop at the curb.
Loretta watched in disbelief as he launched himself onto the curb with a howl of pain and went airborne shouting, “Gimme my money.”
Everyone on the sidewalk stopped and turned to look. The object of Harry’s attention, a sloppy-fat guy with long brown hair straggling out from under a limp, stained baseball cap, also turned, just in time to see Harry coming at him in a flying tackle.
They ended in a pile on the sidewalk, Harry on top groaning, “Gimme my money. Gimme my money, you rat bastard.”
The guy’s shocked whimper turned into words. “I don’t have it. Gees, Harry. I’ll get it. Gees.”
Loretta, looking for cops, scanned the pile on the sidewalk, the rearview mirror, the scene through the windshield, the left side mirror, the scene through the windshield, the right rearview mirror, the pile on the sidewalk, around and around until she had the slightly dizzying sensation that her eyes were spinning in her head.
Harry had one forearm across the guy’s chest. The other hand pulled a wallet from the back pocket of the guy’s jeans.
The guy yelled, “Get off me, Harry. I can‘t breathe. At least sit up.”
Harry was staring into the guy’s open wallet. He pulled out a single bill . “A dollar? One fucking dollar?”He tucked the bill into his shirt pocket, tossed the wallet onto the sidewalk, and dragged his broken leg back to the car.
Dropping himself into the passenger seat with a groan, he said, “Drive. And don’t forget I need to stop for smokes.”
Loretta pulled into a convenience store parking lot on the corner before her apartment building. Harry was still groaning under his breath.
“Want me to go in?”
He glared at her. “I’m not a cripple.”
She snorted, thinking but not saying, If you aren’t I don’t know who is . . .He struggled up out of the car and dragged his bad leg inside. At the counter as he waited for the clerk to pull his pack of Marlboro Reds from the wall display, one sign out of many caught his eye.
Super Lotto Now Up To $124, 000, 000Harry pointed to it as the clerk slapped the ciggies on the counter. “Almost worth buying one of those now, huh?”
The clerk punched the cost of the Marlboros into the register and waited. Harry pulled his wallet from the side pocket of the sweatpants and dug out a fiver. Then he plucked the wrinkled dollar bill he’d just tackled a guy for and waved it in the air. “Make me a millionaire, dude.”
Loretta finished her story by saying,“ . . . So I don’t even want to go home tonight. The whole place is gonna smell like cigarette smoke and ass.”
Loretta and two stylists sprawled in the salon’s waiting area drinking coffee and enjoying a lull in business. Sammi stopped laughing when she saw the disgusted look on the new girl’s face.
“Don’t believe a word she says, New Girl. Her brother’s hot.”
Sammi grinned at Loretta. “You can bring him over my place. I’ll take care of him.”
Loretta said, “You would, too, wouldn’t you? New Girl. Are there any more appointments tonight?”
The little blond frowned. “My name’s Cathy.”
Sammi laughed. “You’re New Girl until Loretta’s sure you’re staying. She called me New Girl for four weeks.”
Loretta said, “I did not.”
“Swear you did. Four weeks.”
Cathy had crossed to the desk and returned with the appointment book, which she handed to Loretta.
Loretta ran a platinum-nailed index finger down the page. “Nothing. Cool. We‘re outta here.”
In the hallway outside her apartment door, Loretta carefully juggled her handbag and the cartons of Chinese as she turned her key in the lock. Inside, she dumped the cartons onto the kitchen counter and stepped around the corner into the living room.
Harry was sprawled on the sofa watching television. He didn’t look up. A full ashtray, a dirty sock, and two empty cans of pork and beans, a spoon sticking up out of one of them, cluttered her beloved Crate and Barrel coffee table.
She fought the urge to take his head off by reminding herself that he was her brother and he had been hit by the Book-Mobile. She took several deep breaths before speaking.
“How ya doin’, babe? I brought us Chinese.”
Harry waved a dismissive hand. “Shut up. It’s Reveal Day.”
On the TV, Niecy Nash cried, “Take off your blindfold and open your eyes.”