Everything for a Reason

Sunday

It started with the church bells. He wasn’t religious. He wasn’t superstitious. They woke him up. The sky was gray; it was cold out. Forty maybe, middle of July – and it had been a pretty warm spring – hot even – a chill had come in with the morning. It woke him up – along with the church bells – he’d left the window open. Nothing. He closed it. All spring – nothing. Things happened just like they were supposed to. No signifiers. Everything for a reason.

Cause and effect. Early March year before a cab driver made him a proposition. You need a little extra cash? We can help you make a little extra cash. Just carry this envelope to a man in Connecticut, it’s nothing. No big deal. Five thousand and it’s like nothing ever happened. I don’t even know who the hell you are. You a cop? Fuck you. I’m no motherfucking cop. Fuck you too, creep. Here, take my card in case you change your mind.

Everything for a reason. Christine left him sometime early April. Work was bad. Times were tough. He was drinking a lot. Fuck Christine, right? Fuck everything. Fuck life, fuck death, fuck the whole nine yards of all this shit, right? I’ll call that motherfucker, take his money and get the hell out of New York.

The thing is, the guy was a cop. Fucking sting operation. When he got to the apartment in Connecticut about twenty cops jumped out with guns drawn. Well fuck it. On top of everything else it only made sense. His lawyer said: cut yourself a deal.

You a motherfucking snitch? In the mornings, brushing his teeth, the warm spring morning coming calm through the windows, he looked into the mirror, asking himself over and over again. You a motherfucking snitch? Fuck you. You’re a fucking snitch motherfucker. Fuck you. But at least he wasn’t locked up. Even if he was out on the street informing against motherfuckers. How had he got here? It just wasn’t like him to turn snitch. Shit, well shit, well yes it was, cuz here he was. Cause and effect.

Besides, they were scum. The people he was going after. Fucking crooked cops, mostly. They had him tearing down their own people. Acting like he was out there working the streets, hey man, let me be out here, I’ll cut you in. Look the other way. You’ll get paid twice a week, I got you man. He didn’t even know who he was working for. It wasn’t NYPD. They never really told him – the Feds maybe – FBI or some shit – Secret Fucking Service, who the fuck knew. It was how things were. It all made sense. No signifiers.

June came. People were looking at him crooked around the neighborhood. That was understandable. Sometimes he woke up in cold sweats. That was understandable. Christine called him, she wanted to get back together. Maybe they could work something out – did he still love her? Fuck you Christine. Fuck the whole operation. I gotta get out of here.

End of June he went to a guy he knew and got a fake ID. He had a new name, he had a lot of dirty money, and he had a lot of people that didn’t particularly like him. A lot of crooks and a lot of cops and then the Feds or FBI or Secret Fucking Service or whoever, but he got out. Moved out of New York and hid out in a little town no one had even heard of, some fucking place Strawberry, boring as shit, but whatever. He was out. He’d been a snitch, a crook, a dealer, a liar, a hypocrite, but now he was someone else and everything was over and done with. You can’t begin again, but you can wipe the slate clean.

The year passed slow. I am other. No one knew shit about him. No one in Strawberry really cared. He lived in a little neighborhood called Southport. It was nice. He’d spend days down at the dock, hanging out, drinking bottles of Beck’s and skipping stones. Tra la la. Wasn’t life grand? A year passed. The spring was warm, real warm, hot even like summer. That was nice. A little rain, but not too much. He met a nice girl named Stacy, a fucking church girl if you’ll believe that shit. A fucking church girl – well, shit, cuz believe it or not, he’d become a churchgoing man himself. This new person, whoever. That old name, whoever he was, that cat was dead – shot down in New York or some shit it didn’t matter. He was out of that game. Out of that whole racket. Stacy liked to cook him dinner. Shit, what had he seen in Christine? Heh. An ass that don’t stop. Cause and effect.

It started with the church bells. He wasn’t religious. He wasn’t superstitious. They woke him up. The sky was gray; it was cold out. Forty maybe, middle of July – and it had been a pretty warm spring – hot even – a chill had come in with the morning. It woke him up – along with the church bells – he’d left the window open. Nothing. He closed it. All spring – nothing. Things happened just like they were supposed to. No signifiers. Everything for a reason.

Monday

The church bells and the cold weather had him shook. Signifiers. The rest of the day seemed okay. So he missed church, overslept, that sort of thing happens. So he’d been drinking the night before. Too hung over to get up and go to church. So what? Heh. It was Saturday night, I guess that makes it all right – what have you got to lose? You could lose your life the way he used to live. Monday morning by the docks. It was raining, but that was alright. It was still cold out, but that was alright. Spring had been nice, too nice, just a little payback, that’s all nothing more to it. Way he used to live was like rolling dice with your life. He walked down from the docks to the corner store. Let me get a pair of dice. Back up to the docks. I roll evens, it’s nothing, I roll odds, I’m fucked. Shit. Best two out of three. Shit. Fuck dice. He threw them in the bay. The fuck am I doing? Signifiers. Everything for a reason.

Stacy a little angry with him for missing church. Angry again cuz he spent all afternoon at the dock in weather like this. You’ll catch your death of cold. That’s a rotten thing to say, Stacy. Well, I’m just worried is all. There’s no reason to be worried, he told himself. Later in the day he went out for a walk. A group of young blacks hanging out on the corner. They were looking at him funny, like motherfuckers hadn’t looked at him since back in New York. He looked right back at them. You think you can fuck with me? A motherfucker born and raised in Brooklyn? Fuck you. Not that he said anything. He walked by and looked right at them. The whole group got real quiet. One of them raised up his fingers like a pistol, pop! pop! Keep walking.

When he got back home he fucked Stacy like crazy. Then she cooked while he watched television. Stupid shit like Seinfeld and Friends. Shit to take his mind off things. Around eight o’ clock Stacy made him watch some documentary on the history of Christianity. Brutal. Motherfuckers eaten by lions and shit. Some serious shit went on back in the old days. He fucked Stacy again before going to bed. Dreamed he was in a large grassy field surrounded by naked screaming babies. Lions stalking the whole field, devouring the little bastards; closing in on him. He woke up right before

Tuesday

Tuesday the weather had cleared up again. Signifiers. When Stacy left for work he got down on his knees and prayed. He almost cried. Jesus, he was getting soft. He turned on the television. Couldn’t bring himself to leave the house. He didn’t know why. He just needed to chill out with some Jerry Springer, a little Oprah, fuck it, what the hell.

He couldn’t help wanting to test himself. Late in the afternoon he threw on a light jacket and headed out for a walk. Still a little chillier than it had been all season, but the rain was gone, and a little bit of sun was starting to break through the clouds. All in all not such a bad day. Went to the corner store, bought a pack of cigarettes and had his first cigarette in eight months. Fuck it. What did it matter, really? Especially if all the signifiers were – had to stop thinking like that. Cause and effect. You have a certain mindset, you make it a reality. On the way up to the docks he saw a group of guys standing around. Not the same guys from the day before. A bunch of whites. They looked Irish, like the poor Irish over in Jersey City or some shit. Young toughs whatever. They were giving him that look. The fuck is this? Strawberry becoming some sort of fake ass thug town? They kept looking at him. He kept looking back. Walking by was intense as shit. As he passed he heard someone say, you’re a fucking snitch motherfucker.

When he got up to the dock he looked into the bay and twisted up his face against the rippled reflection. You a motherfucking snitch? Fuck you. You’re a fucking snitch motherfucker. While he was looking in the water the clouds swung up fast and blotted out the sun and the wind blew in five degrees cooler. He sat up and pulled his jacket around himself. Shit was starting to get to him. He got up and walked down to the corner store. A pair of dice and another six pack. Walked back up to the docks. Best two out of three. Shit. Right on. Okay, okay, last roll’s the tie-breaker. Fuck. What am I doing? Take a walk around.

Walking back there was a young black on the corner. He was on the soapbox, with a few stragglers pausing to hear what he had to say. I’m out here to talk about love. Love your neighbor. Like it says in the Bible. He might have a nicer house, a nicer car, nicer clothes. Be happy for him. Work to make things better for yourself. Like the saying goes, don’t player hate, congratulate. Get down on your knees every morning and every evening and thank God for what you do have. A lot of people leave their homes in the morning and they don’t come back at night. Get down on your knees every night and thank God for blessing you, allowing you to make it through another day. Thank Him in the morning for blessing you to see another morning. Thank Him before you eat; ask Him to bless your food. What goes around comes around. The energy you put out into this world, you can be sure will come back to you. Put out good energy. Put out love. Even when times are tough, and times are tough for us all at times, put out love. Trust in God, thank Him, ask Him how you can learn to help yourself, and He will bless you… People coming and going. No one paying the young man all that much mind. Something about it was touching. He walked up to the young man and shook his hand. He didn’t know what to say. The young man smiled at him. A broad warm smile. All he could say was thank you. The young man said I understand. God will bless you. What goes around comes around.

When he got home he locked himself in the bathroom. He looked in the mirror. You a motherfucking snitch? Fuck you. You’re a snitch motherfucker. He repeated it over and over. Looking in the mirror. Drinking Beck’s. What goes around comes around. Snitch. Count your blessings. When he finally turned to leave he knocked over his bottle of Beck’s. Signifiers. As he knelt to sweep up the wet broken glass the bathroom light went out. 

Tuesday/Wednesday

He dreamed that night that he was fucking the young man on the street corner up the ass. His dick turned long and skinny like a pencil and started to bleed. He woke up in a cold sweat like he hadn’t done for a year. It was three in the morning. He couldn’t go back to sleep. What the fuck kind of fucked up dream was that? He got out of bed. Real quiet. He didn’t want to wake up Stacy. He threw on the first clothes he could fumble out of the closet in the dark.

Outside it was starting to clear up. The stars were out. It was warm like a real summer night. The moon was full. Signifiers. He walked toward the dock. On the way there he saw a group of young Latinos hanging out on the street corner. They were giving him the lookdown. He didn’t have the heart to stare back at them. It was late. The streets were dark and quiet. No people. Definitely no cops. You a snitch motherfucker. They were looking at him hard. He looked down. Thought he heard someone say, that motherfucker’s shook. He turned around. They were staring at him. You fucked with the wrong Puerto Ricans motherfucker. He walked faster and turned the corner. His whole body was buzzing. His hands shaking. Fuck you too.

When he got to the dock he started smashing bottles and throwing them into the bay. No matter how many he shattered . Still not enough. I am other. The stars turned black beneath the clouds and the wind came in ten degrees colder. It started to rain. He ran down the docks and stood under the awning of the closed corner store. He waited an hour until the rain passed. He felt tired again like he could sleep. When he started home he felt so sick and scared he thought he might throw up. Signifiers. The moon and the rain and the people on street corners and the bathroom light and the young man on the corner and his dreams. He wanted to walk home. He couldn’t. Everything for a reason.

Sinking back into the awning of the store he saw headlights come on down the street. Who the fuck? He crouched back into the doorway, reaching down at his sides like he was packing shit, but he wasn’t fucking armed. The car pulled up slow. Slower pulling up in front of him. I should run, fucking run. He couldn’t. Deer caught in headlights shit. The window rolled down. This is fucking it. Get in the car.

Everything for a reason. That’s the first thing the guy said to him. A tall Asian man. Eyes like teeth. One sheisty fucking smile. I’ll break it down for you. Cause and effect. We don’t make errors. Just remember that. It started last year. It’s still going how it’s supposed to. Don’t think we didn’t have this all worked out. You getting religious? You getting superstitious? Man stopped the car, looked over at him. Flashed those eyes and that smile. This is your place, right? Don’t worry about the money. It’s time for you to be on your way.

When he got inside he went to the liquor cabinet and drank until the sun started to come through the windows. His last memory was sitting at the kitchen table.

Wednesday

No dreams. None that he could remember. He woke up naked on the kitchen floor. Stacy had already gone to work. It was late in the afternoon. He sat up and looked for his clothes. He couldn’t find them. Walked around the house naked. He wasn’t really a blackout drunk. Freaky shit, man. He went to take a piss.

In the bathroom he saw his clothes balled up in the tub. The tub was filled with water and the water was red. He wasn’t in any position to handle this. He went into the bedroom and got dressed. Sat down on the bed and tried to think. Tried to remember. What had the man said to him last night? Everything’s going the way it’s supposed to? What the fuck was that supposed to mean? He undressed and checked himself for cuts. Nothing. Was that blood, and if so, whose?

The phone rang. He looked at it. Who the fuck? He walked over to the night table and picked up the receiver. Hello? The voice wasn’t familiar. Man, were you fucked up last night! How ya feeling? Who is this? The line went dead. Star sixty-nine the son of a bitch. The number you are trying to call cannot be dialed by this method. If you know the number of the party you are trying to call, please hang up the phone and dial the number directly.

He hung up the phone, got dressed again and walked to the bathroom. He pulled his shirt from the tub. A white shirt, it had a pinkish color stained all over it. He dropped it back in the tub and left the bathroom. He went into the hallway and pulled down the attic door. It was time to take some kind of fucking action. He kept his small Beretta from back in New York locked up in a box in the back of the attic. Everything for a reason.

Let’s see if it’s all part of the plan when next time I see that motherfucker I fucking pop him. He closed up the attic, took a drink and walked outside. The moment he walked out the door the sun disappeared and the wind blew in fifteen degrees colder. It started to rain. He got a six pack and walked up to the dock. Nobody was out on the street. Nobody at all. Fucking strange. Signifiers. He drank, fondled his pistol and rolled dice until the evening when a hazy twilight came breaking through the clouds. The rain was light, just a little more than a drizzle – nothing. He walked down to the store and bought another six pack. We’ll see who’s running what. Cause and effect motherfucker. Cause and effect.

Thursday

He woke up Thursday afternoon on the dock. Hadn’t remembered passing out. Made his way up to the corner store and bought a six pack. Coming out he saw a police vehicle pull up ahead of him, lights flashing, silent. He stepped back and to the side. He fondled his pistol. Fucking shoot this shit out.

A group of young blacks on the corner. Some sort of drama had gone down. Cops were there for them. He kept walking towards the dock. Head down. As he passed he heard the kids talking to the cops. Don’t know who he was, man. Didn’t even see him. Nobody did. But you catch him you let me at that motherfucker.

He walked up to the dock. Opened a beer. Shady shit going down in Strawberry, man. He started rolling dice. His nerves were breaking, what the fuck? He was armed. No one could fuck with him right now. Was he really headed for a dead end? Death? He felt nauseous. What a thing to think about. Fuck it. I’ll be eighty years old. Sitting on the porch with Stacy. I’m not going out like a punk in these streets. Jesus Christ. If I’m gonna die out here like this, at least give me a sign God.

A man walked up to him. Middle aged, white, dirty. Looked homeless. Hey man. Can I trouble you for a minute? I got no change for you motherfucker. I don’t want your money. Listen and you shall know: The crimes of the wicked shall be visited back upon them. Jerusalem, thou hast suffered and shall suffer again. If thou art not thy brother’s keeper, thou art nothing in the eyes of The LORD. The iniquities of thy heart have damned thee; blessed alone is he who walks the path of righteousness. Yea though the wicked seek to send him wayward, he is the shepherd of The LORD. And I will execute great vengeance upon thee with furious rebukes; and thou shalt know that I am The LORD when I lay my vengeance upon thee. Ezekiel 25:17.

Late that night, drinking all night, he walked back to the store and stood under the awning. He stood there. Holding his pistol. Waiting. No one crossed his path. Around four in the morning a black cat crossed his path. He almost shot the fucking thing. I’m going home. Signifiers.

Friday

He dreamed thousands of black cats were eating him alive. Fucking nightmares, he woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the day. He hadn’t talked to Stacy in days – hadn’t even seen her except for when she was sleeping. What the fuck must she be thinking right now?

He went to the bathroom. The light was still on. That was pretty unusual for Stacy. Anything’s possible. Everything for a reason. The clothes from the other night were gone. He took a quick shower and felt better. Getting dressed the telephone rang. He picked it up and put it to his ear. He didn’t say anything. The other end was quiet too. Who the fuck is this? he shouted into the receiver. The number you are trying to call cannot be dialed by this method. If you know the number of the party you are trying to call, please hang up the phone and dial the number directly. He hung up the phone and lifted the receiver again. Just a glitch in the phone system. That was all. Nothing more. He hit star sixty-nine. The phone started to ring. An answering machine picked up. A woman’s voice he didn’t recognize. Sorry I missed you last night. I couldn’t make it out there. I’m sorry. I know you were out late and I realize you were all alone. I know how that can be dangerous, but at least you were armed. Everything’s still going according to plan. Remember that. I knew you’d call.

He hung up the phone. Fuck, there was no one to shoot. He needed someone to shoot. A drink would help him think through this thing. Shit. He laughed. This shit is nothing. Signifiers. Cause and effect. Everything happens for a reason. Bullshit. He tuned on the television. Oprah Fucking Winfrey. Predict this motherfuckers. He pulled out his pistol and shot the television. The screen exploded into sparks that flared and died on the carpet. Fuck you.

The doorbell rang. He held the pistol down by his side, walked over to the door and looked through the peephole. It was the young man who’d been on the street corner preaching. He had something with him.

He opened the door, grabbed the young man by the collar, dragged him into the house and held up the pistol. He shut the door and threw the young man against the wall. I saw you on the street corner the other day. You were preaching or something. The fuck is this all about?

The young man was shook as fuck. Wait! Wait! Oh my God, don’t shoot! That’s right, I spread God’s word. I also do deliveries. It just pays the bills. I’m delivering a television. Ordered by someone named Stacy. Maybe I’ve got the wrong house. Please, man, don’t shoot me. I’ve never done anything to anyone. Holy shit, man, please don’t shoot me. The young man’s voice was cracking. He was starting to cry.

He lowered the gun and let the young man go. A fucking television? For Stacy? Yeah. I must have the wrong house. No, Stacy’s my girlfriend. What do I have to do? Just sign here. Thanks. He signed and the young man brought in a large brown box. After the young man left he closed the door and sat down on the couch. What goes around comes around. Predict this motherfuckers. Everything for a reason.

No way he could face Stacy with this mess. He’d fucked up good. Pure coincidence, right? Everything. Get a hotel room for the night. Think shit over and call a hooker. Heh. Not much chance Stacy’d be putting out tonight. When you thought about it this shit was fucking hilarious. Downright funny as hell. Shoot a television set and it will blow up. Cause and motherfucking effect. Need another one? The Lord will provide.

Saturday

Fucking hooker was a really bad lay. What the fuck was he doing? He’d moved to Strawberry to change. I am other.

He stopped at a greasy spoon before going home. He was dreading facing Stacy. On his way out of the diner two Latinos followed him. He turned a corner to lose them. When he looked back a few minutes later they were still there. He mazed his way up to the docks, back around the border of Southport, across the docks and back towards home again. When he looked back they were gone. Five minutes later he looked back again. They were there. He put his right hand around his pistol and slumped into the doorway of a closed down store. Let the motherfuckers come.

When they passed they gave him a hard look. No words exchanged. Palm on the pistol. He wanted to start something. Fuck it. Catch me after dark. Then we’ll see what’s what.

He got home a little after two in the afternoon. Stacy was home. She’d already tidied up the place. She was sitting in the living room watching something on the new television set. When he walked in he just slumped his shoulders and said quiet, hey baby.

She looked at him. She started to cry. Oh my God. I’ve been going crazy these past couple days. What the hell is going on? He went over to the couch and held her. It’s just something – a bad person from my past, baby.

He got up, walked across the room and opened the window. He lit a cigarette. I’m smoking again. But fuck it. I’m quitting again tomorrow. It’s been one fuck of a week, eh baby? He laughed. I don’t remember much from the other night, you know. I don’t remember anything actually. I gotta stop doing this shit. You can’t begin again, but you can wipe the slate clean.

The clouds were moving across the sky quick. Sunlight and shadows dipped in and out of the room. It had been pretty cold all day. All week, really. Maybe it was starting to warm up. He walked out of the living room. He kept walking. He opened the front door and walked outside. Somehow he had to make sense of all this. The dipping shadows and sunlight were following him. They followed him up the street, past the blocks where the ghosts of the black and Irish and Puerto Rican hoodlums still chased him. They followed him along the way to the store, where he picked up his six pack of Beck’s. They followed him all the way to the dock where he drank and rolled dice all afternoon. And they stayed with him until twilight came blood orange through the clouds. Signifiers. When the sun went down he went back to the store and bought another six pack. He went back up to the dock and kept rolling dice. Waiting. At one in the morning he finished his last beer.

He walked back down to the store. It was closed. He ducked into the awning. The wind blew in twenty degrees colder. It started to rain. He took his usual position and waited. Sinking back into the awning of the store he saw headlights come on down the street. The car pulled up slow. Slower pulling up in front of him. The window rolled down. Signifiers. You need a ride somewhere?

He got in. He didn’t even see who the driver was. He pulled out his pistol and shot. He got out of the vehicle, removed his jacket and threw it on the seat. He closed the door and walked home. When he got back home he climbed up into the attic and put away the pistol. He took off his clothes and locked them up with the gun. He climbed into bed naked, quietly, right next to Stacy. She was asleep. You can’t begin again, but you can wipe the slate clean.

Sunday

The next morning he got up with Stacy and they went to church. Everyone in their best Sunday attire. Right as the service began he leaned over and gave her the most beautiful kiss in the world. What goes around comes around. It started with the church bells and that’s where it would end.

(Whit Frazier, From Strawberry Press Magazine, July 2003)

 

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