Benny and Sandies sat beneath the rusted back porch awning of Carl’s shoe store, watching cars roll by on the road. It was early October in Texas and the city had become excited by the decrease in temperature. “I don’t like doing this anymore Benny. Everyone looks at us like they know our life in and out and it,.. reeks of somethin”
“Like sulfur.”Benny confirmed.
“Yea.” said Sandies.
“I don’t necessarily like doing it, but it keeps food in our mouths, that’s something you cant do without. You don’t worry about them Sandies, they live in a culture running counter to ours. We contribute to their culture anyway, they just don’t give us credit. It’s a whole different place out here, they don’t know anything about us.”
Benny started laughing and lit his cigarette. “You smell a hell of a lot worse than any sulfur smells anywhere. You bathe man? Go to a carwash or somethin’! Only cost you about a buck-twenty-five, you got that. People gonna know you commin ‘pretty soon just by that smell you keep wrapped around you.”
Sandies gave a wavering smile. “It’s part of the act, if we both looked clean like you, people would know we were a team.”
“Well we ain’t gonna be part of a team for long if you don’t rinse off some of that funk you! Crazy bastard. Let’s see how much we made today. Benny pulled out a wad of money from his pocket and tallied the bills.
“Made seventy-eight dollars today Sandies, after dinner too.”
“Wow, that’s nice I bet I don’t have to work for four whole days, could make it further if I wanted. I bet. What’s my cut?”
“Thirty-two my cracker friend.”
“Thirty-two?” Sandies said trying to do the math in his head. “Thought it’d be more.”
“Well.. we have seventy-eight dollars right here. You split that by two and you get thirty each. Then you carry the eight twice, once for each of us, that gives you two, that gives us thirty-two each.
“Oh, ok I see, thanks for tryin’ to teach me. Sandies murmured, both satisfied with the explanation, and somewhat ashamed that an explanation had to be given. It was quiet for a moment, then Benny’s voice broke the veil of Silence.
“Sorry about stickin’ ya so hard today, I thought I had knocked you out, till I turnt around and you was scrambling off.” Sandies rubbed the side of his head, “yea you left me a bump, good one too. I recon thats worth a few extra huh?”
Benny ciphered out Sandie’s share. “Thirty-two dollars man. All yours!” Benny said.
Sandies paused. “Hey Benny, how are we the ones driving the economy like you say, if we’re the ones stealing from it?”
“First off we ain’t stealing, I ain’t no thief and neither are you, we do honest work. Second, the way I see it there are two motivations to the average man, and that is to either be rich, or not be homeless. We got the stronger case, not many people reach their riches, rich people exist so common folks have something to dream about. Most people can not be homeless though. Everyone knows bad dreams influences people ‘lot more than good dreams do. Fools will do all kinds of stupid stuff trying to avoid becoming scum like us, …so they can smile when they give us a dollar or two.”
“I ain’t no scum, Sandies retorted.
“You may as well be to everyone else.”
“You too!” Sandies shot back.
“Not for long, I’m saving up my bills and I’m movin’ up outta these streets with Cindy.”
Sandies’ look was stern and thoughtful, which was funny because Sandies, no matter how hard Sandies tried, had a disposition that was inevitably happy, or confused, but then confused can be seen as thoughtful in a sense. “You’e lived on the streets since you were seventeen Ben. This is what you know. You’re not scared that you’ll finally get your place in society and not know what to do with it? I would be.”
Benny squinted his eyes. “No, I don’t suppose. I’m looking forward to it really. I remember living in a house, it wasn’t great, but that’s because my parents were too screwed up for it to be great. Anyhow, I got Cindy. Anything could be great with Cindy, which makes it worth it, right? …I want off these streets, and she needs to get out of her situation, worries the hell out of me sometimes, the stories she tells me.”
“What if she cheats on you man!? I mean she is a..” Sandies nodded his head in a fashion that filled in the blank without him having to actually say it.
“Well she ain’t goin’to be no whore after she moves in with me! She won’t need to be. Her and I can live on practically nothing, and I wont beat her cuz I love her, and..¦and that”s why Cindy ain’t gonna be no whore! I gotta go man.” Benny paused for a second. “‘Finally got enough cash surplus to go and pay a visit. She’s got bills to pay you know.”
Benny put his shirt on and grabbed his pack filled with water, cookies, a small army blanket, and a toothbrush, a bottle of Dr. Bonner’s 18-in-1 magic soap, which was expensive, but he used it for everything: brushing his teeth, washing his hair, making wet naps, all sorts of things.
He also carried a bottle a little smaller of generic sex gel, which he used for shaving, sex, and sometimes to mat his hair down if one side or another decided it wanted to intimidate the other side with it size. Benny continued, “You can stay here, but make sure no one sees you. Mitch will be a pissed off crazy man if he finds out that I let other people stay in the back hutch of his store. He’ll probably kick me out of here, so be careful, please!”
Benny walked down the soil stainped road towards Cindy’s side of town. “Cindy ain’t no whore.” He said to himself, “Cindy is fire! Smokin’ hot, that’s what Cindy is.”
He passed his old friend Deril’s camp, but Deril wasn’t there, Deril had passed on a year back. His evidence still lingered though. ‘The ones that win are the ones that pass on,’ Benny thought to himself every time he passed by the shopping center back alley. ‘They ain’t homeless nomore. No more loneliness, no pain. The good times after this life have GOT to be better than the best times in this life. Maybe that’s what Cindy’s draw is. Cindy is close to heaven. She’s really not much to look at, but she has a piece of heaven burning inside her somewhere, and its beauty spews out of her face, like recycled water from the library’s memorial fountain. That makes her beautiful’.
Benny tried to think of a word to describe their relationship, and the feelings he felt around her, but the best adjective he could come up with was ”home.” To the best of Benny’s knowledge, Cindy was as close to the idea of home as a person could get.
Benny stopped by a gas station to wash up, and shave. Since he had been saving his money, their visits were not as frequent as they use to be when Benny was broke all the time. That was when he did it for the sex, half the time they didn’t even have sex when he paid her anymore. They’d just talk, and sometimes sleep. Not tonight though, tonight he would be like cold on ice. He would ravage her as a cheff ravished his salads, and kneaded his doe before serving his guest. When he arrived, Cindy wasnâ’t on the steps of the apartment like usual, looking out onto the street like she always was; to see if there was anyone she could seduce or pickup a few bucks from.
“Cindy?” He called out and waited for a spell. Nothing. He walked up to the cracked stairs of the apartments she always stayed at, under the green lime light where he could smell the trash stowed in the corridor by some neighbor. He liked the smell of trash in an odd fashion. Fourteen years of constant exposure will do that to someone. He waited a while on the steps trying to figure out what made the various trash smells so distinct and why every collection of trash thrown together always gave off a similar odor.
He waited for four hours in fact, and still nothing. “Leave it to me to come late after someone else already picked her up.” He grumbled, angry that she wasn’t home, but it was his fault, he thought. He should have arrived earlier than he had.
The next night was the same story. Had she had moved? What if some other guy had beat him to the punch? He considered the worst, but would never admit it to himself. After two weeks of drinking and waiting, he heard from one of the neighbors that Cindy had been found dead a few days into his waiting season.
Benny cried. His body weakened, ceaseless water came from his eyes, as if he had swallowed the memorial fountain and it now seeped out of him.
This went on for about a month, almost impossible to hide during a hustle, but this sometimes worked to his advantage he guiltily discovered.
“Cindy wouldn’t have wanted it this way Benny,” Sandies said, trying to console his friend.
“Of course not fool! She’s dead you goddam cracker! She’s fuckin’ dead!” Benny bowed his head. He was too weak for violence. He tried, but was struck down by the sudden weight of anguish.
“That’s not what I’m saying. I know what happened. …I just don’t think that Cindy would have wanted you this way. I think she would have wanted you to live a fuller life. In honor of her. You know? She wouldn’t have wanted you all down all over. She wouldn’t want you to drown too. She’d want you to.. to get yourself together.”
Benny snapped back, “I know it man. I know it. Try to get myself together but its too damn hard to do, that girl was mine. Fuck all those other niggas.. she was mine.”
After a while when time had done its share of healing, Sandies’ words got to Benny though, and he decided to keep on with his plan for a fuller, more acomplished life in tribute to her.
“Got a phone today Sandies! It’s one of those pay-as-you-go numbers, you know. That way I don’t get stuck with some huge bill I can’t pay.”
Sandies’ skin was tighter than usual, winter was beginning to show its face, so everyone’s face was tighter, but Sandies’ face looked almost shrink-wrapped to his skull.
Who you going to call?” Sandies laughed.
“Hell I don’t know! Apartments and places like you to have a real phone they can reach you on. They like you to have a previous adress too.”
“How are you gonna kill that?” Sandies asked intrigued by his friend’s implied plan. Waiting for an answer, Sandies got out the Coleman stove they had gone in together to buy, lit the fire, and filled a kettle with some water from the rusty spicket protruding from the back porch of the shoe store. “When you move away I get to keep this right?” he asked.
“Of course!” said Benny. “Guess I’ll have my own stove about three weeks, when I get in. You should come over and see the place.”
“Sounds good.” Sandies replyed. “What are you gonna do about not having an address to give them?”
“Last week I went down to U.P.S. and got a private mailbox. My current address as of right now is 10034 Steadman Dr. #1972. Those people don’t know the difference. “Besides, I had to get an address so that I could get this phone. A friend of mine turned me on to the idea.”
“I’m gonna miss you Benny. When you leave you probably won’t have any time for no body like me anymore. You already lost half your time for me with the job you got at the supermarket.”
They sat in silence for a moment “hey, Benny?” Sandies asked, “You gonna teach me how to do that trick you do with the cigarette?”
“You mean this trick?” Benny moved his hand forward and then backward in the air and a cigarette appeared in his fingers. This never got old to Sandies, he had loved the trick ever since he’d seen it the first time.
“Yeah that’s the one. How do you do that?”
Benny hesitated. “Well I don’t EVER give out my tricks to people, but since I’m about to be out, I’ll teach you. But don’t you go around teachin’ no one else. Benny gave Sandies a stern look. “I don’t want to be walkin’ down the street and have some bum come up and pull a cigarette out of his ass and have to give him money for it.” Sandies nodded submissively. “Cuz people can’t resist that, you know. People gotta give you money! If you do it right. You got two weeks to learn in cuz in two weeks I’ll have my other pay stub and I’ll be gone with the wind.”
Sandies watched carefully through the night and each time was mystified. He could never get it to work himself, but finally did it once in the second week, just before Benny got his residence. “I’m gonna miss this camp.” Benny noted. You know it ain’t such a bad gig. Out of the rain, nice guy managing the place, not much asked. Only thing we got to do is to make sure the lot is swept, and no break ins and we got a place to sleep. Sometimes I even read by that street lamp screwed in up there” Benny pointed to the crooked lamp bolted to the back of the brick building for security reasons. “Even got a little closet space,” Benny continued as he lifted up a metal hatch in the brick fence of the patio. “It used to be a BBQ pit, but now no one uses it. haha. cept me!”
After Benny finally received his living quarters, he got Good-Will to deliver a bed, and a few dishes he purchased. Sandies gave him a TV he found in the trash as a house warming gift. He didn’t know if it worked, but it ended up receiving two channels, and Benny felt like a happy king with channel two and channel four. Benny received a couch and recliner set from the curbside on his own initiative. His small house soon had all the necessities of every other house.
Boxes were scattered everywhere as tables. At first Benny would take hot showers and lay on his couch and imagine how he had risen from the city’s depths. That he had actually made it back into the social world. He would talk to Cindy as if she was there beside him. If only Cindy had actually been there. The walls weren’t excessively comfortable to Benny. They reminded him of his bills and his job. He slept on the floor if he couldn’t sleep, because the bed was too soft and felt odd.
Sandies gradually came over less often, having to hustle on his own made it a little more trying to get by than Sandies had thought, but the magic trick was a great help. Benny didn’t want to hang out with many of his coworkers, who were mostly teenagers. He despised the ones that were his age, who were the type of people bent on outrunning everything, faster than everyone else, like the job was a race. ‘Hurry up!’ They would always shout at him.
Benny would scowl and go a little faster for a little while, then slowly sink back down to his medium pace. The work didn’t suit him well at all. The schedule didn’t suit him well at all, he hated the fact that people had dominion over his time, and how he used it. He hated havining to befriend those who had written him off, and worse his friends off.
Half my life, maybe more, he thought trying to figure out where all of his time had run off to. What did suit him about the job was the free food, and a meager paycheck, which mostly covered rent, bills, and food that wasn’t free.
Benny sat on his couch looking at his flat walls, pure white. Boring. Not even any texture to them, just blank space. He slept on his back porch the times that the stagnate air inside was too much for him to sleep on the floor. He would reminisce about Sandies, and Deril, and Cindy, and he would wonder if Cindy, and Deril had met up there, in the eather.
When Benny stepped back indoors in the mornings after such nights, he felt odd, as if he was returning to a hotel room. Benny’s apartment just never seemed authentic to him, not the way he imagined it. Not authetic in the way Cindy used to make him feel. He would go and eat the greasy chicken that the church would dish out on Sundays after their service. He and Sandies talked there each week, Sandies seemed to be doing ok.
“This is the best winter I’ve had since I’ve been out here,” said Sandies one day,”It’s not even cold half the time! Like God decided not to turn the A/C down in his house this year.”
“Yeah,” Benny nodded his big black head, “like God left a stove on or somethin in his pad.”
That night Benny had a dream in which he was trapped within a town that was trapped within a giant Sparklets water bottle. Some people were trying to get out, others were drivng up huge ramps of spiraling road, and running between buildings. In his dream Benny was confused as to what was going on and why things in the town were so frantic. There was a group of people looking through the plastic at whatever it was that was on the other side. Then, as if he was some sort of supernatural being, Benny, unable to control his legs, stepped through the plastic barrier just before he awakened.
Benny was confused when he first woke up, and was coated in what was, close as he could tell, a feeling of both spirituality and uneasiness. It stayed with him all day, and made him distanced from his job at the grocery. “What’s with you today Benny? Pick up the pace come on!” yelled a hurried manager.
Benny got home and surveyed his apartment. The box-tables, the stained couch, and the bare white walls. “This place is gonna be my tomb.” he said aloud. Nodding his head assuringly he began gathering his belongings. He slipped his key into an envelope with the last month’s rent and went to the office to slip the envelope into the office mail slot. He grabbed his old backpack and put in the sex gel, folded the blanket, cleaned up a bit, and made his way down to the rear of the shoe store where his camp use to be. Sandies was there sweeping the lot. “Hey Benny, what are you doing here?” he asked surprised at Benny’s presence.
“I decided that Cindy might like me to have a bigger place. You know something a little more …comfortable.” Benny replied. “You mind a roommate? I’ll sleep around the corner where you use to stay.”
“Yeah sure!” Sandies said grinning, “Welcome home.”
Home is not based in any certain place, Benny assured himself, home is
something you can’t even touch, something abstract, impossible
to explain, but something real as any other thing. Home is Cindy,
and Sandies, and the connection I have to them, is a dirty, but
meaningful wall beautifully decorated with soot and graffiti.