“Human Disinterest.” A short story from my upcoming Anthology ‘Front-Line Heroes’ #RRBC #IARTG #IAN1

 

Broken hearted

My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These are their stories.

Human Disinterest

by

Suzanne Burke

PART 1. The Offer.

Jenny Thurston hung up the phone, then sat in her creaking office chair and gazed longingly up at the brief glimpse of sky visible in the confined space permitted to a two-story building surrounded by towers of concrete and glass.

Brad Levinson hesitated momentarily outside the door, and then he walked heavily, the sound of his intrusive feet deliberately loud to gain his boss’s attention.

“’Sup, Jenny?” He asked.

“I had a phone call, just now. CNN want to do one of their ‘A Day in the Life of…?’ series.”

“Wow, Jenny … I mean, hon, that is huge!”

“Oh, it is huge alright. It’s not a focus on me or our work here they’re after; they want to do a three part series based on interviews with our street folks. They want me as the as head of Street Angels to gain them introductions after they have carefully chosen their preference. Jesus, Brad … they don’t give a crap, that just want someone guaranteed to spike the ratings.”

“Well that would have been a fast conversation. You didn’t threaten them, did you … Jenny?” He looked at her face and found his answer, “Oh, Jenny … not again?”

He was trying hard not to laugh and failed miserably.

“Winters coming fast, Brad. I don’t have time for this shit. You know we stand to lose a few. The donations always slow down around now.” Jenny smiled and then said, “Anyways, I made them an offer.”

She stood then and stretched her lean frame, “Let’s go over those rosters again for tomorrow night. You know it’s going to get crazy. Friday night and a full moon both at once. I’ll need our most resilient on duty. Can you contact the guys for me, please?”

“Whoa, go back a second, you made them an offer? Please tell me it wasn’t one they couldn’t refuse.”

“Yeah …Don Corleone, I’m not.”

Brad just grinned and said, “Coffee first?”

“Always.”

He laughed again. Jenny was like this most of the time. The other times weren’t so hard to witness knowing that this Jenny …his Jenny would be always come back.

The coffee mugs were washed, and the roster argued over and finally completed before Brad approached the subject of the CNN offer again. “C’mon … tell me, what did you say?”

“The repeatable stuff?”

“Oh, hell. C’mon, Jenny, spill it.”

“Simple stuff really, I get to choose the folks they speak to; and this Melisa Doyle, the woman conducting the interviews … she spends some time with me first. No cameras.”

“Do you think they’ll do that?”

“I doubt that this little ‘Human Interest’ special will be enough of a ratings booster to bother. I don’t think they’ll be in contact, except to say ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”

“Did they talk about donations, relevant to the story?”

Jenny looked stunned … “Oh, hell. I guess they didn’t get around to that; I may have been a little abrupt. Besides, they wouldn’t agree. It would cramp their style too much.”

“Hmm … I guess we wait and see.”

 

***

Jenny was wearier than usual this morning. She moved reluctantly under the covers testing her limbs before she slid silently out of her warm bed.

She checked the clock on the wall, reassured as its strangled old bell clanged through the morning silence. “You and me both, buddy.” She commiserated with the worn timepiece.

It was barely seven am, and Jenny was anxious to learn the final outcome from last night’s patrol. She and the ‘A Team’ the Street name the folks they looked out for had given the staff and volunteers of Street Angels, had had a long, bad, sad night.

Jenny had finished her shift barely five-hours-ago, and some of the younger and physically fit volunteers took the 2.00 am till 8.00. am stretch that was usually the ass-end of a bad night.

She was caught up in those thoughts when her home telephone jangled on its perch in the sitting room.

“Hello, am I speaking with Jennifer Thurston?” A vaguely familiar voice asked.

“Who is this?”

“Ms. Thurston? This is Connie Farrell from CNN … we spoke very briefly earlier this week. About the ‘ Day in the Life of … program …?”

“Yes?”

“We would like a chance to speak to you, about your proposal, that is. We believe we can agree to your terms. What day this week would be suitable for you?”

“Give me your number. I’ll speak to my staff, then I’ll get back to you. It may not be this week.”

“We would like to have the show underway very soon. Is there any way …?”

Jenny interrupted, “I’ve said I will get back to you, Ms. Farrell. Good morning.” She hung up.

She dialed Frank Daley, her friend, and occasional legal advisor. She grinned, knowing in advance that he wouldn’t miss an opportunity to ask her out on his version of a date, with privileges attached.

After convincing a disappointed Frank that this wasn’t a booty call, they agreed to meet and talk about the possible ramifications of proceeding with this type of hyper-publicity.

***

The machinery was in place some three weeks later. Jenny was finally reasonably content with the outcome. Content enough to speak to a few folks out in her small slice of this city.

CNN had tried to stipulate the types of people they wanted. Jenny had exploded. “This is not a damned Hollywood casting for people that fit your vision of what real people living in this situation look like and sound like!”

She’d stood  … all five-feet-seven of her ready to lash out.

The CNN producer had called a truce, and suggested a lunch break to allow everyone to cool down.

Jenny refused to haggle about it. “I know these folks pretty well. I let you make the choices, you’ll end up with the blow-ins that will do or say anything for money. You’ll end up with folks that anyone with good instincts will recognize as a fucking fraud.”

It was finally agreed that Jenny would choose the people best able to contend with being asked intimate questions.

She also insisted on meeting and spending some time with the popular host of the program. Melisa Doyle had a sound reputation as a fair player. But then, her world was permeated by celebrities that all clamored for her individual attention.

Jenny needed to gain a measure of the woman. She wouldn’t chance her street folks being subjected to any form of ridicule. They had that every day, all day. She would spare them yet more of the same if she could.

***

“Are you gonna cut her any slack at all, Jenny? Brad asked carefully.

He watched her draw back from an automatic denial. “I can’t answer that … till I get to know her a little.”

“So … you don’t know anything about her, and she probably knows very little about you apart from the fact that you run this place … well no, you are this place. I’m certain she hopes that you measure up to her expectations as well.” Brad said gently.

“Ouch!  … But …yeah, yeah … I guess that’s a fair call.”

“She’s in the reception area. I’ll bring her up.”

“Why do I feel like I’m being ambushed here?”

This time it was Brad’s turn to be blunt. “Boss-lady people need to understand better. Don’t let your need to protect your street babies keep a possible way of reaching that understanding from happening.”

“Shit, Bradley! You’ve been hangin’ around me too long!”

They were the first words Melisa Doyle heard as one of the volunteers ushered her upstairs to the office of the head of the Street Angels.

Brad extended his hand to the woman, and stood aside to allow her to walk ahead of him into the room.

Jenny decided to behave herself. Brad caught the expression on her pretty face and wondered how long that would last.

“Ms. Doyle, this is Jenny Thurston.” He said. “Good luck.” He left the office with that ambiguous statement hanging in the air.

Jenny stood, “Come in please, Ms. Doyle. Take a seat. Can I arrange a coffee for you, or perhaps tea?”

“Coffee, please. Cream and two.” The elegant woman took the proffered seat and continued, “We are going to be seeing rather a lot of each other. Do you think we can drop the formality? Please, call me Melisa.”

“Thank you, Ms. Doyle. But let’s leave it at formal for now.” Jenny looked her over, “You’re younger than I thought.”

The woman wasn’t certain where to go with that statement. “This business ages you fast.”

“Hmm … . Just why are you doing this particular series, Ms. Doyle? It’s far removed from the glamorous celebrities you are accustomed to featuring.”

“Well, CNN thought that …”

Jenny held her hand up, “No, I asked you why YOU are doing this. What do YOU hope to achieve?”

“I … I suppose, that is, well … I …” She floundered and a red flush made its way up her elegantly made up face.

“Yes, please go ahead.”

The woman recovered sufficiently to respond. “I’m doing this series because my network have instructed me to do so.”

Jenny smiled. “Thank you. That’s honest at least. So, what experience have you had that might prepare you for what you’ll be dealing with?”

“I deal with huge ego’s each and every day. Apart from needing to watch, catch, and stop myself saying yes too often, I guess I have only media interpretations of street life as a guide.”

“Are you willing to learn more? I mean really learn, not just observe?” Jenny’s face gave an indication of just how important the question was.

“Yes … yes, I …yes, yes I am.”

“Okay. Are you ready?”

“What … you mean right now?”

“You need to see the streets during the day, from the perspective of the people that survive there. It becomes a different experience at night. You need to see both. Is that a problem?”

“My crew?”

“No … no camera’s. Not yet. Do you take a crew uninvited into the home of your other guests, Ms. Doyle?”

“No.”

“I thought not.”

Jenny assessed the younger woman, “You’ll need to change your clothes.”

“Oh … of course. But these people will still know who I am.”

“How many of these people do you think have television sets, Ms. Doyle?

“Oh, I’m sorry. That was a rude supposition, wasn’t it?”

Jenny gave her a small smile. “Stupid, and rude. You did say you dealt with ego’s, Ms. Doyle. That’s not what you’ll find out here. Make no mistake about this … these people you may meet will catch you out in a falsehood faster than you can imagine. So … no bullshit. Are we clear?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’ll meet you back here in an hour. Wear comfortable clothing; you’ll be doing a lot of walking.”

***

Brad was at the wheel of the van and patiently waiting. He knew that the early afternoon warmth would soon make way for the southerly wind. Soon now and with little warning, the winter would arrive. He hated the winter. They lost good people each year, and the loss repeated itself …again and again … just like the seasons.

He watched Jenny and the Doyle woman walk across to the vehicle, pleased to notice that the anchor-woman was now wearing jeans and a hoodie, her hair was scraped back in a pony-tail. Oh, crap … she looks about twelve-years-old. I hope Jenny doesn’t eat her alive.

“Where to, Boss-Lady?” He asked as the two women clambered up and into the van.

Jenny flicked a look at her watch. “It’s too early for the move to the night spots. Head into the main drag, please, Brad.”

Brad just nodded and maneuvered the van out and into the traffic.

She turned to Melisa Doyle, “Are you an observant person, Ms. Doyle?”

After a moment to digest the question the young woman answered, “I think I am. Is that what we’re doing now, testing my powers of observation?”

“I need to know what you see.” Jenny responded.

“Brad, pull over and let us out at the next set of lights, please.”

The traffic slowed them a little, building fast now as the early starters finished their shifts. Public transport upgrades had eased the congestion some over the past few years, but the exhaust fumes still hung tenaciously in the afternoon air.

The two women climbed out, and Jenny lead the way to an alcove, it gave them a clear view of the opposite side of the city street.

“I want you to watch them. There are two of the folks I’m familiar with right in front of you. I want you to watch them for a while, and then I want you to tell me what it is you see.”

Melisa Doyle nodded her understanding. She leaned back into the sandstone wall, and focused her attention straight ahead.

Fifteen-minutes later, Jenny called a halt. “Okay, now turn away and face me, and tell me about them.”

“Which one do you want me to start with?”

“Which ever one caught your attention first.”

Melisa Doyle took a breath, and began.

“I noticed the guy with the dog straight up. The man looked to be somewhere between thirty-and-forty-years old. I couldn’t tell his height too easily, but from the length of his arms, I’d guess he was well above average height. His hair was long and blondish brown. He wore a baseball cap, but I couldn’t make out the logo. He had two other hats, one in front of him, and one in front of the dog. I think the dog was a Labrador. It looked in better shape than he did.”

“Is that all?”

“He smiled all the time, like it was a mask plastered to his face.”

“Anything else grab your attention?”

“No … I … no, I don’t think so.”

“And the other one?”

“It was a woman, I think. It was hard to be sure because of the layers of clothing. The hair was very long and hung across the shoulders in dark matted strands. She wore a pair of large sunglasses, and she didn’t look up once. Um … she had some sort of plastic container in front of her. She was stooped over, I’m not certain if that was because of her age … or her state of mind.”

“Uh-huh, now … tell me, which of them collected the most donations in that fifteen-minutes?”

“I don’t think … . Oh, no, wait … yes, that’s right; the dog had two people stop and drop something in the hat in front of it.” The woman’s face suddenly flushed a deep, unflattering red as she registered what she had just said. “Oh. … Oh my God.”

“So please, tell me …are they just dog-lovers, Ms. Doyle?”

Melisa Doyle’s face mirrored the sudden understanding. “Oh … sweet Lord. They think the dog has no choice … to be there on the streets. But they think that the human must have one.”

“Yes, Ms. Doyle. Some people firmly believe that the human element could be somewhere else if they chose to be.”

“That’s wrong.”

“Wrong? I understand and so should you that this action doesn’t make them bad people. I believe that the state of our current world has desensitized a lot of good folks. The violence, the divisions within their own once safe environments. That’s all they see everywhere they look… on their televisions each night … and on their social media outlets, each and every hour of the day. The passers-by make no eye contact, Ms. Doyle. I understand it as much as I deplore it. That desensitization is becoming common place throughout our entire species.”

“How do I help the public connect?”

“The best you can do is make them feel forever grateful that they are in a safe, warm, hunger free environment. Perhaps that lost empathy will surface for a short while.”

“They don’t look because they don’t want to be contaminated by the pain?”

Jenny nodded. “Something like that.” She almost whispered the words.

She checked on the time, “Let’s grab a coffee. The exodus starts just after the rest of the city workers head on home.”

“The exodus?”

“Coffee, and then we’ll talk, okay?”

Melisa had to agree, but she was clearly anxious to learn more.

The café wasn’t busy, not yet. However it would soon be filled with the folks that either had to catch a later bus or train, and wanted a spot to sit for a while, or those that had dates or appointments after dark. The folks that didn’t utilize the many cafes would frequent a club, or a bar, needing a hit of booze in order to face the crowded, tiring commute back to the familiarity and safety of their homes. Even if that home was not what they’d dreamed, worked and hoped for. It was still a place to call home.

Coffee had been ordered and drunk in silence, and the empty cups waited to be cleared from the table before Jenny spoke again.

“So … the exodus. Just before full dark, or if the weather turns angry, most of the street-folks leave the day spots that have sheltered them. The store-fronts, and bus shelters in the center of town are far too dangerous at night. The smarter ones, the long term folks that have been out here for years, and occasionally some of the newer folks, all head for their own patch of turf. That doesn’t guarantee them safety, but it gives them a fair shot if something bad goes down.”

“They have the same area every night? The reporter asked.

“That’s what they try for. The ones that seek safety in numbers tend to remain in a pseudo family group. That’s how they come to think of each other when they’ve been out here too long to have had any further contact with any other family they may have had once.”

“Can you show me?”

“Yes … I can show you, but be aware it’s not pretty, and the situation can turn dangerous very quickly. We do all that we can do to counteract that possibility, but there are times when even we are taken by surprise.”

Jenny looked at the other woman hard. “Knowing that, are you still wanting to go on?”

“Yes. I am.”

“Okay. You must listen to what I say, and do as I tell you. Don’t deviate, don’t speak unless invited to do so. Understood clearly?”

“I think so.”

Jenny nodded her agreement and messaged Brad to pick them up two blocks east. “We’re taking Ms. Doyle on a little guided tour of the red zone.” She said when he responded, “Bring Rusty, and the night crew.”

“Are you certain about this, Jenny? I mean she can’t be prepared, no one ever is the first time.” Brad’s usually soft voice held sharp concern.

“I think it’s past time for ordinary folks to see this.”

“Will it make a difference?”

“I guess I’m not prepared to gamble that it won’t.”

“See you in twenty-minutes?” Brad responded.

He was there in fifteen.

***

The women re-boarded the van. This time it held three others to be introduced. Two rather large young men, named Tag, and Davey … and an older woman named Betty who smiled at her, saying no more than a “Hello”, with a quick handshake included.

The other member of this night-shift crew extended his paw to be shaken. Brad smiled at Melisa Doyle’s obvious surprise.

“This is Rusty. He’s our bodyguard, and sometimes he’s the only reason we are granted entry into their world. Many of the folks crave the comfort of just petting him.”

The German Shepherd settled himself comfortably in his own space, and the odd contingent headed further into the red-zone.

***

Melisa Doyle looked out the window and watched the neon rainbows begin to ignite the streets.

She thought she spotted several homeless folks along the brief journey down to the edge of the dockland that bordered one small bay in the midst of the concrete citadels.

Brad brought the van to a stop and the motley group assembled in a semi-circle and waited for Jenny to allocate them their patch for this shift.

“The food van will swing by around seven-o’clock, Ms. Doyle. We do it then to catch as many as possible here and waiting, before the bars, clubs and pubs start spewing out the fueled violence.”

“That makes sense. Do the numbers fluctuate much?”

“Depends on the season. Winter is the harshest out here. The numbers increase noticeably if the crowd offers a fire, plus the added security of simple numbers. Summer isn’t as difficult; if they make it through the cold. We always lose people in winter.” Jenny shook her head roughly to dispel the memory of too many seasons when death had taken members of these, her street family.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Do you see the small group in the clearing in front of the overpass?”

“Uh-huh.”

“I think you may want to talk to one or two of them. I’ll ask them … and if they consent, I’ll give you some guidelines to consider while you are with them. Agreed?”

Melisa Doyle nodded. “Yes. I understand, and I agree.”

“Good. Wait here. I’ll let you know when you can come over, if they agree.”

***

Jenny took Rusty off his lead, and he walked quietly beside her as they covered the ground to the group of people now attempting to get a fire burning in their prized 44-gallon-drum.

“You’re too early for dinner, Jenny-Wren.” The man coughed and spluttered when he started to laugh.

“Damn it, Kelso, and here I am all dressed up and ready.”

He grinned at her and called out “Rusty, come here, boy. Come say hello to old Kelso!”

Jenny gave the dog a brief pat, “Off you go, Rusty.”

The dog was happy to obey.

“Pull up a piece of grass, Jenny-Wren … sit with us for a while.” Kelso patted the ground near him.

“Thanks, Kelso.”

Jenny selected a spot in the half circle and perched herself. She collected her thoughts before speaking and then, spoke clearly and gently, “I’ve come to ask you folks permission to let a television reporter talk to you. Well, maybe two of you. It will be filmed to be aired in Prime-time. I’ll be with her the whole time.”

“Another one of those shows. It doesn’t make a difference, Jenny-Wren. You know that better than most.” Kelso almost spat the words.

“Can we risk that, Kelso? What if it does? What if even a few of the viewing public were galvanized into doing something constructive to help?”

“Won’t happen. Count me out, Jenny-Wren. My life is nobodies’ business but mine.”

“No problem, Kelso.”

Jenny looked around at the gathering. “Anyone? I don’t know yet what way this lady will approach this. But I do think she’ll at least try to listen and hopefully ask questions that you can willingly answer.”

A few of the group turned away and towards the fire now burning brightly.

But a few were still listening.

“You think this might help?” The voice was strong.

Jenny tried to mask her surprise at its owner speaking at all. “Yes. Yes … I think it may. But, you have plenty of reasons to stay out of that sort of spotlight. This isn’t something that you need to be doing.”

“They can disguise my face, yeah?”

“I’ll insist on it, if this is something you’re certain about.”

“I think maybe it’s time. I’ve been hiding too long.”

“I’ll bring her over; or would you prefer to talk away from here?”

“Nothing these folks are going to hear will shock ‘em. I’d like it if you sat in though, Miss Jenny. This reporter might need a translator.” The laugh was cynical.

Far too cynical a sound to be coming from a twelve year-old boy.

***

Human Disinterest Part 2

The Interview

PART TWO … The Interview.

Jenny stood; still concerned at the turn this had taken. Nothing had prepared her for this volunteer to come forward. She looked quickly back at him sitting there watching her. He trusted her to be there with him while he spoke to a woman as alien from his world as it was possible to be.

She walked back quickly to where Melisa Doyle stood waiting.

“Ms. Doyle. I have someone who is willing to talk to you. His face will need to be disguised or hidden. That is the only way it will be done. Can do?”

“Yes, absolutely. The crew? I mean, he may not be willing to talk to me more than this once. I’d like it to be recorded if this person consents. Please.”

“He gets the final say before it goes to air. There is no point to this exercise if the network plan on censoring or editing it before airtime. I suggest it be programmed late in the evening. With viewers warned beforehand of what they may hear. I’ll talk to him now, and on that basis I’ll okay him going ahead.”

“Do you hold that much sway with these folks?”

Jenny shrugged. “I guess you’ll need to ask them that. Now are we agreed?”

“I need to get the crew here, and of course I’ll need permission from the network to okay the lack of censorship and editing.”

“I wouldn’t leave it too long. I’ll talk to him once you have that assurance. How long will your crew take to get here and set up?”

Melissa Doyle was already hitting the redial on her cell phone. “Give me a moment and I’ll give you a time.”

Jenny listened in on the call, and the reporter put the response from the network on speaker-phone to allay any fears Jenny Thurston may have about her rules being implemented. She was surprised that all the requests had received such a firm and committed yes in response.

Melisa Doyle then spoke to her crew. She turned to Jenny, “I need an hour. Is that a can do, Miss Thurston?”

“I’ll ask.”

Jenny did so and returned very quickly. “He’s agreed. He’d like me to be present at all times. I’ll introduce you to him now. Are you ready?”

“I guess I have to be, don’t I?”

Jenny just nodded and said, “The others might consent to talk with you. Be aware that they’ll be watching and listening, even if they seem too distracted. So … let’s get this done shall we.”

***

Melisa Doyle followed the woman, careful not to glance in the direction of the others that sat in a semi-circle watching covertly. Jenny stopped in front of a young male, and with a warm smile of encouragement in his direction, she made the introduction.

“This is Deke, Ms. Doyle.”

The young man didn’t stand. He extended his hand and the anchor-woman shook it with no hesitation. “Hello, Deke.”

“I seen you on the telly, in the window at the electrical store. You look better than you do on there. What’s your other name?”

“Melisa.”

“Jenny says you’ll look out for me. How you gonna cover my face?”

“We have the technology to blur out your features, Deke, we can also disguise your voice if you wish.”

“Nah, that don’t matter so much. I have some smokes somebody gave me, you want one? It might help you look less like a stray dog caught in car headlights.”

“I don’t smoke, but thank you. Do I really look that way?”

“Yeah, just now you do. Can the technology cover over that for you too?”

“Pretty much. The crew will try and present me as professionally as they can, and they can cut to a shot that says that about me.”

“That’s kinda cheating, isn’t it?”

Melisa Doyle was a little unprepared for his blunt observation, and clearly intrigued to hear more of what Deke had to say.

“I’ll just call you, Melisa. How long till you get them cameras here?”

She was about to respond when the television van bearing the CNN logo followed the Street Angels food truck into what passed for a parking area.

“I guess that’s about to happen. Do you want to eat first?”

“The older folks go first. Then, if there’s enough I’ll have something. It’s funny how folks like things to have a little familiar comfort around them. These older folks still remember that stuff. The respect they had once, you know?”

“Can we wait now for a moment, Deke? The crew will take no time at all to set up. Then I’ll do an intro piece to tell the viewers what we are doing here; then, when you’re ready I’ll ask you some questions. You only answer the questions that you choose to answer. Is that okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

It took a little more than fifteen-minutes for the crew to be satisfied that they were set up for optimal filming. The lights attracted the eyes of those in the group that had until then kept their faces averted.

Jenny sat out of view of the camera, but still close enough to intervene if she felt it was needed. She hoped that her judgement of the younger woman didn’t let her down.

The introduction wasn’t lengthy, and pretty much what she expected.

Then Melisa Doyle sat on the ground near Deke, and began.

“How old are you, Deke?”

The young man thought about that for a moment, “I guess I’m around twelve, maybe thirteen.”

“You guess? Don’t you know?”

“Not for certain. I can remember back to a sort of party thing. There was cake, with maybe four candles. That was a long time ago.”

“How long have you been out here, Deke?”

“With these folks, you mean?” He asked.

“With these folks, and before that?”

“I’ve been in this spot now for two summers, and last winter.”

“Since you were around ten, or eleven?”

“Yeah, pretty much. I guess that’s around the right age.”

“Deke, can you tell us where you were before that?”

The boy glanced across at Jenny. She nodded slowly, “Only if you want, buddy.”

“I guess it’s important, ‘cause most folks that will maybe be watchin’ this, well those folks will have ideas of their own. That’s fair I guess.” He nodded to himself as the thoughts began to clarify themselves. “I had a mom and a dad just like everyone else does. We lived in an apartment building not too far from here. I remember we had heating, and food that weren’t spoiled. I remember we had a television, and I had toys. There was no rats in that building.”

“That changed? Can you remember when it started to change, Deke?”

“It’s a bit jumbled together, like some bits just don’t fit.”

“Just talk about what you remember. Those pieces that are jumbled are part of it too.”

“Okay. I do remember my dad comin’ home drunk. I remember that first time, ‘cause I’d never seen my dad drunk before. He was crying. My mom told me that he had been laid off from work. She said he was just sad, ‘cause he’d been there a long time. She said not to worry about it. She said everything would be just fine.” He shook his head as the memories started to resurface.

“And was it, Deke? Was it just fine?”

“In the beginning it was okay, you know? I kinda liked him being around all day. He’d say it was lucky that he had his rainy-day-money. He’d watch the television with me and stuff. He had a drink sometimes at night. He didn’t think I knew about that. I saw the bottles and asked him about the stuff that was in them. He said it was just somethin’ he had so he could sleep. He started to sleep a lot. It got to be that I only saw him maybe once or twice in a day.”

“How did your mother deal with that, do you know?”

“Mom … well she would always tell me it was okay. Till it wasn’t okay any more. I’m thinkin’ that that rainy-day-money wasn’t meant to last through a storm that big. They started screamin’ at each other. It was loud enough for the folks upstairs and in the apartment next door to pound on the walls and yell at them to just shut the hell up. The cops came, and they was okay at first. It was like they understood, some. As long as my mom told ‘em that nobody was hurt here, they kinda looked at me with that sad look they get sometimes, and then went on about their business.”

“Did it get worse then?”

“Not straight away. My mom found out she was havin’ another baby. I remember her tellin’ me I was gonna have a little brother or sister. I don’t really know how I felt about that back then. But … my dad … he cried a whole lot more. I heard him promise my mom that he’d get a job. I heard a whole lot more stuff that I didn’t understand too well, back there and then. But I did understand that he gave it a shot. ‘Cause things did get better there for a while. He got a job some place, and was so worn out when he got back home, he’d just fall into bed. He kept at it though. He did. The power got turned back on. I remember just being happier for a while there. I figure as long as I had food in my belly and the screamin’ had stopped … well, you know, I guess I figured everything would go back like it was.”

“Did it, Deke?”

“It did.” He watched her face. “No, really, it did, for a while. It must have been for a few months at least, ‘cause my mom had my baby-sister, and her and my dad seemed to laugh more again. Then it changed. It wasn’t a slow thing that creeps up on you when you’re not watchin’, you know? It happened before I had time to gather some peace from being almost back to the way it used to be.”

“Did you ever have a visit from Child Protective Services, Deke?”

“I think maybe this lady that came by was with those folks, but she came when my dad was workin’ again, and we had food and power and stuff. I didn’t see her no more after that.”

“ What happened, then, Deke? Did your dad keep his job?”

“I think he would have. But … he’d met up with some new folks. I don’t know where exactly he met them. I don’t know if they worked at the same place he did, but I doubt it. It don’t matter anyways I guess. Not now.”

The young man lit another treasured cigarette, and then passed the near empty packet across to Jenny. Melisa Doyle watched the pantomime that passed between them, and then she saw Jenny quickly move over and hand them to an older man, one of the ones now watching on. He took them with a smile, and raised his hand and snapped off a salute. “Thanks, Deke.”

The young man gave him a grin and needed to say nothing in reply. It was simply understood.

“Is he your friend, Deke?”

“My friend? Yeah, you know somethin’ he probably is at that. We kinda all look out for each other, those of us that still can.”

“Can you tell me what changed at home, Deke?”

The young man looked sadder than any twelve-year- old had a right to look. Melisa Doyle was worried that he couldn’t continue and the silence dragged on …

“Deke, we can stop now. It’s okay.”

He looked back at her and managed a crooked grin. “Nah. Folks maybe need to know this shit. Maybe it will help ‘em a little bit, to give ‘em an idea, you know?”

“When you’re ready, Deke.”

“Yeah, okay.” He sat up a little straighter and continued, “So, like I said there was new folks comin’ and goin’ in the house, seems it was always full to busting with folks. Some stayed for a while, and some only came to the door and disappeared quick before I saw who they was. My dad didn’t seem to mind it a bit, and he didn’t sleep much anymore. He was wired up all the time, you know? He moved different to what he used to do. Like he was all jerky and faster. Mom just seemed to get all caught up with my little sister and me, and she stopped talkin’ a whole lot of the time.

“Anyways …  I was told to stay in my room when anyone came, and the telly was good company you know? But … sometimes I needed to use the bathroom.” He took a deep breath, before he went on. “One time there was this small plastic bag thing sitting on the counter in the bathroom, it was kinda like a sandwich bag only real small … I picked it up and opened it to see what the white stuff was that was in it, it smelled funny. Anyways, someone came in and I got a surprise and I dropped the open baggie thing in the toilet bowl. Then there was just a whole lot of screamin’ and the guy that had come in hit me in the face, and I bled. My dad came rushin’ in, and saw me bleedin and cryin’ and I thought he’d pick me up to see what was happenin’. But he just shoved me out of the bathroom, and screamed at my mom to get me the fuck back to my room.”

“You know now what is was, don’t you?”

“Hell, of course I do. It was cocaine, it has its own special look. So does crystal-meth … ice. That’s how my dad was earnin’ enough money to keep the apartment and buy food and pay for the shit he was shootin’ into his veins. He was dealin’ … and he was using as well. That ain’t never a good combination, Melisa.”

“Deke, what about your mom? What was she doing while you were being hit? What did she have to say about it?”

“She just put iodine on my face, and told me never to touch anything I saw around the place. She was sad, I reckon. Then she’d tend to my little sis, who was startin’ to walk by then. I was in charge of makin’ sure, Casey … that’s my sisters’ name, Casey. I was in charge of watchin’ her and makin’ sure she didn’t touch anything at all.”

“How long did this continue, Deke?”

“For a long time, it seems. Casey was startin’ to talk. She was so sweet. I took to takin’ her out when the weather was kind. I used her pram, you know … the ones that the little kids sit up in? I’d pack us up some food, and we’d go to the park closest to home. She loved to feed the ducks. I figured gettin’ her out of the apartment was a better idea than havin’ to keep her cooped up in my room all of the time. I pinched some of my dad’s rainy-day-money and I got her juice and sometimes those little packets of sherbet, those ones that go all fizzy and sweet on your tongue. She loved that sherbet.”

“What were your parents doing at those times, Deke?”

“Dad was only home at night; he was dealin’ pretty full on, and using much more stuff to get him through the days. My mom was gettin’ to be real skinny lookin’ and she said it was just losin’ the weight she put on having Casey, but she looked bad. She still cooked every night, but I didn’t see her eat. Pretty soon she stopped cookin’ at all, and I’d bring her a sandwich in her bedroom after I fed me and Casey. I learned how to change Casey’s diapers, and I’d get ‘em as clean as I could manage. The washing machine was broke. Dad said he’d get it fixed, but that didn’t happen.”

“Was your mom using Ice or Cocaine, Deke?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. I asked her one time, and she just shook her head, she said she’d go see a doctor ‘cause she was feeling sick all the time.

“I pretty much took care of Casey by myself then. I had her sleepin’ in my bed with me, so I’d know when she moved and I could see what she was doin’. I guess I figured that would keep her safe.”

Melisa Doyle caught the tone in his voice, and looked across at Jenny Thurston. The woman had tears rolling down her face.

The reporter hesitated for a long while before she asked the next question.

“Did it keep her safe, Deke?”

“No… .  No … it didn’t. Came a time, I got sick. The chicken in the refrigerator had tasted funny, but you know, I was hungry. I just made Casey her favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But, I ate that chicken.  I was pukin’ and needin’ the toilet all of the time for a couple days, or maybe three. Dad had the place full of those people that he hung with, and he just said for me to feed Casey and take her to my room. I was dizzy and I hadn’t had anything to eat for a couple of days, cause it made me puke worse. I guess I passed out cold.

“I woke up sometime in the early mornin’ to the sound of my mom screamin’. I rolled over and Casey wasn’t there. I got out of my bed as fast as I could manage and made it out to the sittin’ room.

“Casey was layin’ there on the sofa, and my mom was shakin’ her and screamin’ but that baby didn’t open her eyes. I ran over and touched her, and she was cold. I grabbed my mom’s cell and I hit 911. My dad was cryin’ … but he grabbed the phone off me and yelled that he’d take her to the hospital. He didn’t want the paramedics in the apartment.

“I recall screamin’ at him,  Dad, we ain’t got no car no more! Mom, please Mom  … it will take too long! My mom was past listenin’, she held Casey and she was rockin’ her back and forward like she did when Casey was just a baby. I ran to my dad and started pleadin’ with him to let me call 911. He pushed me hard and I fell. I got back up and I guess I went kinda crazy and started kickin’ him and punchin’ him …  and then he punched me in the face, and I guess I went down for the count.”

Melisa Doyle was crying openly now. She stopped the crew filming for a moment and wanted to offer comfort to the child man she had in front of her. The look on his face stopped her in her tracks. In her entire life she had never witnessed such desolation. One of the crew pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket with hands that shook. He lit one and walked across and offered it to the boy. Deke took it without comment and allowed the stranger to light it.

Melissa Doyle didn’t even try to pretend she wasn’t openly crying.

“Deke? We’ll stop now. Okay?”

NO.” He stood up. “By the time I came around I knew she was already dead. That baby girl was already dead. There was lines of cocaine on the coffee table, with little hand marks in ‘em. That baby had white powder around her little mouth and all over her fingers. I think she maybe thought it was her favorite sherbet, you know. She had blood comin’ out of her mouth. My dad wasn’t there, he’d run off. My mom was still holdin’ Casey and croonin’ and rockin’ just like baby-girl was just sleepin’. I rang 911. They got there real quick, but it was already way too late for them to be able to help. My mom went with them in the ambulance. They wanted me to come in the ambulance, but I stayed and waited for the cops to come.

“ I told them everythin’ about my dad, and his dealin’ and I gave them a whole bunch of names. They found drug stuff all over the place. The cops was kind, they were as gentle as they could be, and a couple of ‘em looked real shook up. They told me that I would go with them to the station, and they would have someone from Child services come over to see me, after they had me checked out by a doctor.

“They was busy, going from room to room looking for anything to help this make sense; while they waited for a lady cop to arrive to sit with me.

“I took off. I ran as hard and as fast and as far as I could. I just wanted to run and run and never look behind me.

“I’m still runnin’ I guess.” The boy was quiet now. The German Shepherd came over and sat beside him, and Deke stroked his head.

Melisa Doyle leaned forward, “Deke, your father … what happened? Do you know?”

“They ain’t never found him. He was a weak man. So if he’s dead it wouldn’t surprise me. But if I find him first the cops won’t need to bother none.” He left that statement to stand on its own.

“The others, the ones that came to your apartment?”

“Some of them got busted. Some of them are still out there someplace, if they ain’t left the country by now.”

“Are they after you, Deke?

“I don’t know, Melisa. I doubt they was far enough up the food chain of dealers to be bothered. I guess I just have to keep watching, you know. But, I was just a kid, back then. I’m all growed now. So maybe not.”

“Where is your Mom?”

“S’far as I know she’s in a place for folks that are gonna die soon. She has the cancer right through her brain. It weren’t her fault, Melisa. I was in charge of lookin’ after Casey. I gotta live with that.”

Melisa Doyle clearly wanted to say something to reassure him that that wasn’t the case at all, the look on his face stopped her.

“How have you kept track of what was happening, with your Mom, Deke?”

“That don’t matter. I guess maybe there is just some good folks in this world. Sometimes they don’t stand out from the rest, and sometimes they just do. So let’s just say I got real lucky and I met me some of those ones that stand out. Okay?”

“What will you do, Deke? Is this where you want to be?”

“Here? I don’t know, Melisa. I guess I just keep going and hope maybe to make some sense of this fucked up old world. I just gotta stay alive long enough for that to happen.”

“Deke, is there anything you’d like to say to the people watching this show?”

“No … I guess I’ve already said it.”

Melisa Doyle leaned across and extended her hand. “It’s been an honor to meet you, Deke.”

He just nodded … and Melissa said “Cut.”

***

Part 3 … “The Aftermath” will be posted tomorrow. I do hope you’ll join me here.

 

 

12 thoughts on ““Human Disinterest.” A short story from my upcoming Anthology ‘Front-Line Heroes’ #RRBC #IARTG #IAN1

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