By Robert Scotellaro
She was on the sofa in her slip, with a cold washcloth on her face. Brad sat by the open window, his feet on the fire escape. He was listening to the old man crooning five stories below, singing In the Good Old Summer Time, his voice echoing in the canyon between the tenements.
“It’s beautiful out,” Brad said. “How’s that headache feeling?”
“Like a headache,” she said. “It sucks.” She peeked out from the wet cloth, squinting, and grabbed a cigarette from the coffee table and lit it, edged the rag up just enough to take a puff.
People were starting to lean out windows. They gazed down through the crisscrossed clotheslines at the old crooner in the mid-August heat. He sang with his arms outstretched in a long overcoat four sizes too large, giving the illusion that somehow he had melted down inside it.
He was a wino Brad had seen in the park. This was how he made his drinking money, roaming the backyards between the tenements, belting out classic tunes in an operatic tenor.
“And the silence,” Angie went on. “Eerie. I’ll bet you could hear a pin drop, if it had anywhere to land.”
Brad rolled his eyes. This was her latest fixation. A month ago it was tumor-sniffing dogs. Something she’d read about (probably in one of those tabloids you couldn’t pry her from), and still she wouldn’t go near her sister’s dog, Pixie. Afraid a sniffed pant leg might indicate certain doom. Now, after watching a special on TV, it was outer space that flopped around, menacingly, in her brain.
Across the wide expanse between the buildings, Gloria stepped out onto her fire escape, looked over at Brad and smiled. He’d known her since high school, ran into her here and there in the many years since, and they talked.
“When you think about it,” Angie said. “When you really think about the Earth spinning and all, it’s enough to make you nauseous.”
“So don’t think about it,” Brad said. A few people were already beginning to toss quarters in the yard where the old man stood.
“Makes you wonder why we don’t all get flung right off, all that spinning.”
“We don’t,” Brad said. “What more do you need to know?”
“Wise-ass,” she said.
He watched Angie put the cigarette to her lips under the facecloth, the end brighten.
Gloria leaned over the railing and her dark hair swung down across her face. She took an elastic band from her robe and tied it back.
“Black holes, now there’s a winner, and meteors and all those damn asteroids. Ooo, I don’t hardly want to think about them.”
“What paranoids?” he said.
“Asteroids!” she corrected. “It’s a jungle up there.”
By the time the old man sang Some Enchanted Evening, most everyone from the backs of the buildings had emerged at their windows to listen. Brad saw Ralph looking down from the rooftop, his pigeons circling high above, and Joey swinging his legs through the fire escape bars. But Gloria, he thought, barefoot in the sunlight, in her fuzzy blue robe, that was the real attraction.
“And don’t think for a second it stays up there.”
“Space stuff. Things are landing here all the time. Small stuff for now. But that can change. Look at the dinosaurs. They got a nice dose of it. Right on the head!”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“An asteroid,” she said. “The dinosaurs. Shit out of luck!”
“Humm,” Brad said, feeling in his pocket for some change. He drew the blinds down quietly and stepped out onto the fire escape. When Angie heard the window creaking shut behind him, she pulled the cloth from her face.
The old man finished strong, his arms out, his head tilted back.
Brad could hear Angie calling through the glass. He watched Gloria toss down some change, flung out a fistful of his own. Listened to the steady patter (louder than anything else) as the coins landed, and it rained money in the backyards.
Robert Scotellaro's work has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Ghoti, The Laurel Review, Red Rock Review, Northeast Journal, The Vagabond Anthology Five Card Stud, Rolling Stone, and others. He is the author of several literary chapbooks, three books for children, and the winner of Zone 3’s Rainmaker Award.
Photo Comet McNaught 4 courtesy of Craig Jewell, Brisbane, Australia.
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