Creative Writers' Guild

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Between You and Me and Ice Alley

by Tyler Barton

Call me creepy.

Dad does.

He says to me daily: “Nolan if you do not stop peeping out that forsaken window I will move your bed to the other side of the house.” Eavesdropping he calls it—calls me an eavesdropper. But, like, if the people down there in the alley wake me up every morning even before Dad is up boiling water for coffee or tying and retying his tie, how am I to blame? I’m a light sleeper and you can’t change that.

I guess I should explain this window (really the only window in our studio apartment—that means one big empty room—on the third floor) and how my mattress on the floor puts me right at the base of its cross shape. This window is like floor to ceiling: a giant Holy Catholic Cross. You know, the four points are like arrows, each end curved like a clover. When the moon is bright (or when the sun is up) there’s this yellow X of light drawn on the floor.

Sleeping on my side, head down on my pillow, my eyes point right out into the city. I believe it is east. My east at least.

So they wake me up, the people down on Ice Avenue (which is much more like an alley—I’ve never seen a car drive down it). As early as four or five their voices begin to echo up the bricks and my eyes are open—my ears as well. I haven’t yet learned how to close my ears. My dad told me no one likes eavesdroppers or smartasses when I told him that thing about turning my ears off.

Usually it is all just mumbles. Sometimes a shout and some quick loud walking. But it’s summer now and neither of us can sleep with the heat (although Dad claims he can, I see him over there—the starlight in through the window shows me his dry, open eyes). So I sleep with the window open. When it’s open I hear clear as crystals.

This morning for example, when my eyes opened I was looking through the cross. The man below was not the same man who had been there since back March—that man was short and tan (almost like green) skinned. The current guy has hair like flames but he keeps it all tucked up in a loose beanie hat.

The ginger was talking when I looked down this morning—talking to an old woman.

This woman, I met her once back a few months ago when I was walking home from school (Holy Trinity Middle). That day she was whining to that short, greenish man in the alley.

She said, “Andrew come home now. Why you quit grocer stand in alley all day? Here on Ice? It so cold. You not work. Come home to room.” She talked like that.

I ran up into the house and the X on the floor pointed me right to the window. So I sat on my bed and opened it, letting the cold air blow in with their voices.

The short man said to her: “Mom, I’m working. Please go.”

So she yelled: “No you not work. You not work three week. Mr. Davis fire!”

“I quit, Mom. Would you go home? I’ll stop by this week.”

“Andy where you go?”

The man said: “Mom. Go,” and he pointed the old woman back the way she came.

I asked Dad when he got home from work (he works at my school as a counselor, so he gets in later than I do, usually around four) and he said, “The pole? Andrelcyzk? Probably pissed about something.”

I nodded my head. She was mad, I think.

Then Dad wanted to talk about school and he said Sister Patricia told him I don’t pay attention ever and I look out the window too much and I’m always “drifting out”.

I told him: “Well that woman, Mrs. Andr—whatever, she was down there pleading with this guy, her—“

But he said: “Nolan. Forget it. Don’t listen to other people talk in the street. Just get home after school. And keep that damned window closed.” I had forgot it. He walked over and shut it.

But this morning when I woke and heard her again and looked down on Ice alley I could tell she was sad.

She kept begging the ginger.

She said: “Please. Son Andy need med. All gone”

“Lady, what do you want? Get out of here.”

“Andy sick, sick in bed. Mr. Davis fire. No eat. Lie in bed. Shake. Shaking all time.”

“Keep your voice down.”

“But Andy not well. No work. No—“

“Grandma what do you want me to do? You really shouldn’t be here. I’ve got—“

“You give me med. RX. I give I—I pay.”

The man shook his head and started walking south down Ice alley, away from her.

“No no. No leave. Pay! I pay!” She yelled at him and then reached into her bag and took out a little coin pouch. It was designed to look like a flag with one big white stripe on top of one big red one. She was yelling still, I think to and get him to turn around, to show him her purse. The ginger kept walking. This is when she cranked her arm back and lobbed her little half-red/half-white purse at his back. It flew in this, like, tall but short arc. It touched the heel of the man’s shoe. This made him turn.

He said to her: “What I got. Not what son need. Son need help. Hospital. Do you know hospital?” He stared at her and then bent down and picked up her pouch, and then he said: “Take your fucking quarters.”

She started screaming. She spit in a similar arc that landed somewhere near the man’s foot.

“No. Listen. Ass. Idiot ass. I need rock. Take purse. Give rock. Andy—Andy need…”

“Be quiet damn-it. Shut up.”

Her shouts stopped and she looked down at the alley-top. Then I think she started shaking.

He turned away from her to walk back down the Ice alley but she grabbed his arm.

She said: “Make him crying stop. Make him sit up. Make him eat.”

They both stared at each other and he didn’t move her hand from his arm. Maybe she was holding him there. Maybe she was really strong.

Finally the ginger spoke as he took off his hat and pulled something out of it: “Here. Here is a gram. Its Andy’s—if there really is some money in this thing.” He ripped open the zipper and dumped a bunch of coins onto the street. They rolled around and bounced in different directions. Along with the change fell two folded greenish bills. (That’s the green! The short man, Andrew—his skin was kind of murky green like those wrinkly bills.) The ginger picked them up and examined them, holding them up against the light even though it was, like, five and the sun was just barely coming up over the city buildings. I was squinting the whole time.

The old lady said: “All I have now. Get more bank.”

“No more. Here. Take it and walk away. Now.” He handed her a little bottle you use to hold film and one of the bills. He said: “Now go buy him a tie. And some coffee.”

“He has tie. We drink coffee,” was the last thing she said.

She turned away and I think she was crying. I think she walked home.

So this morning when Dad woke up and saw me, he asked me if I really wanted to have my bed moved away from the damned window. I rubbed my eyes and I asked him: “Can we move?”

He said: “Why?”

I said: “I don’t want to watch these people anymore.”

And then he said: “These people are everywhere. But you don’t have to watch them. You shouldn’t—that’s what I’m telling you.”

But then what do I do? 

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