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Three short stories
by Salvatore Difalco





Comes in stinking, thumbing his jean pockets, a crucifix tattooed on his forehead. People stare. He doesn’t care. He may be small but he knows some things. He may look puny and beatable but there exist companies of men, hard men, who will show you the white and blue scars of encounter and share memories of pain and emasculation that would make you turn your head.

            “What’s your poison, boss?” the erstwhile barkeep, sleeve-tattooed and barnacled about the eyes barks out.

            The small sinister newcomer lifts his eyebrows and rises on his toes.

            “What does this mean?” asks the barkeep for everyone.

            The newcomer lifts his thumbs from his pockets and glances at them before letting his hands fall to his sides. He tilts his head right, then left. In another incarnation, he’d be wearing a black, ill-fitting Stetson. In this one he is green-garbed like a man from Ireland and red-haired also. The toothpick dangling from the side of his mouth was a character-defining prop decided upon before the first shoot by the producers, the writers, and the director.

            “See, if you use the toothpick,” said one spectacled executive, “people will think you’re a tough, from the streets and so on.” Another executive, wearing no shoes and socks, had suggested an eyepatch. “That’s a no go,” responded the director right quick. “Careful you don’t swallow the toothpick,” offered one of the stenographers. The wisdom of the choice remains to be weighted.

            “A boilermaker,” said the newcomer with the crucifix-tattooed forehead.

            “Who the fuck drinks boilermakers anymore?” queried the barkeep but more to the air than to anyone within earshot.

            “I do,” said the red. “My name is McQuinty. My family hails from Limerick and I’ll hear no jokes about that, I will not.”

            Admittedly things get weird in these stories. Not deliberately so. Adhering to the principle of one sentence following another, with no blueprint, no schemata, no floor plan, no script, and not a single explicable idea operating, we move on.

            “McQuinty, here’s your drink.”

            He gulps it half down and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “That’s me name,” he says.

            “Where are you going with this, sir?” the barkeep inquires.

            “Going with what?” says McQuinty.

            “Agh, never mind,” says the barkeep who towels up the counter.

            McQuinty looks to the hammered tin ceiling and points his right index finger upward. “It’s all up to the man up there,” he says.

            The barkeep nods and looks down as he wipes the counter. Indeed he polishes it to a rich sheen.

            McQuinty points to the counter. “That’s what I’m talking about,” he says.

            “Aye,” says the barkeep, darting his eyes.




It’s Fucked Up


I thought Demarco had died last year. Of colon cancer. But when I saw him in the food concourse at the Eglinton Centre eating a plate of beef teriyaki, I figured it was one of those Mandela things. I could even remember reading Demarco’s obituary and being asked if I was attending the funeral—which I did not for some reason I can’t recall. Then I thought, It can’t be him. He died. He’s dead. It’s just some dude who looks like him. A lot like him, yes. But it’s not him. I shook off my momentary loss of sanity and started walking away. Then I stopped again and took another look. Damn if he didn’t look exactly like the guy. And damn if he wasn’t holding his fork the way Demarco did—clenched in his fist like a knife intended to stab. I decided to get closer and determine how far this likeness went. I walked slowly toward his table.


As I got within a few feet, he looked up from his food and popped his eyes when he saw me. “Buddy!” he cried, rising to his feet. He looked genuinely happy to see me. I should have been shocked perhaps, but I wasn’t—I was just as happy to see him. We had spent a lot of time together when we were wild young men. We had lived together briefly, had driven across Florida on an epic road trip, had been in each other’s wedding parties. True, we’d fallen out of touch for years, as happens with friends, each caught up in their own orbit. He gave me a bro hug and clapped me on the back. “How the fuck’s it going?” he asked.


“I’m okay,” I said. “What about you?” He told me had been divorced since we last spoke—luckily no children, though he had to give up the dog. I was going to say, “I heard you were fucking dead, bro,” but obviously I had been mistaken about that. The mind plays tricks on you when get older and have been a stoner for most of your adult life. Still, I couldn’t shake the image I had of his obituary in the local newspaper, complete with a recent portrait that showed his thinning hair.


“Come on, sit down with me,” he said. “I’m just finishing some lunch. I was famished. I’m up here for a doctor’s appointment. What about you?”


I glanced at his plate of food. What I thought was beef teriyaki turned out to be black spaghetti. Was that squid-ink? In the concourse? It seemed odd. I tried not to dwell on it. You can’t question too deeply all the bizarre and fucked up things that happen in a life. Let’s start with the fact that we are here at all, living and breathing on a tiny blue dot in the gargantuan expanse of the universe, using sounds to communicate, one consciousness to the other.


Demarco smiled. His eyes looked strange, his pupils so dilated they blotted out his rises. “Well?” he said raising his heavy eyebrows, though I noticed that, disturbingly, he had no eyelashes. I told him I lived in a flat nearby and was still doing my journalism thing.


“Is everything okay with you?” I asked. “I mean health-wise?”


He said he’d had a few intestinal issues and was seeing a specialist. “I don’t think it’s anything serious,” he said.


I noticed that his teeth were gray, an oddity. He had never been a smoker and I recalled him having a terrific smile. Also, his neck looked very thin—by which I mean abnormally thin. It seemed barely capable of keeping his head erect. And if I wasn’t mistaken, I’m pretty sure he was wearing a hairpiece. And the closer I scrutinized him, the weirder and more decrepit he looked. I had to wonder if he’d become a junky.


“Are you hungry?” he asked. I said I had already eaten lunch. He finished off his food and we exchanged a few more banalities. Then, as we made to leave, I asked him to give me his telephone number. “Ah, I forgot my phone,” he said, “and I couldn’t tell you my number haha. I’ve never dialed it! Just tell me yours. I’ll remember it.” I told him my number and had him repeat it back to me and he had it down. We bro-hugged and parted ways. I felt ebullient, quite frankly. I had always been fond of Demarco. He clearly wasn’t in the best of health, but at least he wasn’t fucking dead!


I walked home recalling some of our youthful antics and the fun we had. Demarco always had me in stitches. Those were easy times compared to the present. Later that day my sister called. She was leaving for a vacation in Aruba with her new man friend and gave me instructions for feeding her cat and watering her plants.


“Don’t overfeed Daisy,” she warned me. “I know you. She needs to lose a few more pounds before I can get her teeth cleaned. So no extra helpings and positively no treats.”


We chatted for a few more minutes. As I was about to ring off I told her about my encounter earlier. “I saw Demarco in the concourse. Can you believe that? Demarco.” My sister was quiet. “What is it?” I said.


After a long silence my sister asked, “Did you say you saw Demarco?”




Some Violence


I waited for Billy in the Monte Carlo. We went back decades. He came from dirty money. I’d never completely trusted the guy. He rolled like a big shot but lacked talent and his lack of talent made him psychologically pathetic and needy. And all the money in the world couldn’t address this. By talent what do I mean? I mean, anything. His only talent was blowing his old man’s ill-gotten gains and a penchant for smarminess and weak counterattacking jokes. But he had boyish looks and wore a Rolex and thousand dollar shoes. The ladies liked him.


He climbed into the car reeking of a cologne that reminded me of my old Uncle Frank’s Hai Karate. He greeted me with a shit-eating grin. I asked him what was up. He held up a brown paper bag and nodded. I looked inside. A pair of shoes sat in the bag, fine black shoes with tassels. A rich smell of leather rose from them. He told me they were a gift, for me. It wasn’t my birthday or anything. I told him I didn’t need any shoes, thank you very much.


“They’re Berlutis, bro,” he said.


Hm, I thought. Berlutis.


“Put ‘em on,” he said. “They’re European size 45.”


I looked at his oily pale face to see if he was putting me on as usual. But his eyes expressed sincerity. I doubted he had dished out cash for the shoes. Maybe they had fallen off a truck. Maybe they were used. I untied my Merrells, lifted the Berlutis—new with unblemished leather soles—out of the bag and put the right one on first. It fit ok. A little snug in the toes. Then I slipped on the left shoe, which fit somewhat better. I laced up the shoes. They had a nice little heel and filled the car with their new leather smell. I thanked him and tossed my Merrells in the back seat.


“Don’t mention it,” he said, offering no explanation.


I drove us to Little Italy and parked near the synagogue on Clinton. Billy had on a loose leather jacket with huge sleeves that made him look shifty. And he was growing a light goatee that contributed to this impression. We walked into Bar Italia and sat at the bar. Eugene the barista greeted us and asked what we would like. I ordered a chinotto with lemon as my stomach was a little off. Billy ordered a Heineken, no glass. The shoes, particularly the right, had begin to pinch. I hated new footwear.


Billy chattered away about a subject that held no interest for me and my mind wandered. For a moment I imagined myself beating Billy to death with my fists. I mean, sucker-punching him in the teeth and then just beating the shit out of him. I’m not really a violent person. But it was always near the surface when I was around him. I pictured the entire sequence, running it through my mind like a tiny movie. The initial overhand right, the lefts and rights to follow, boots to the body and head, stomping, oh the stomping. I’d get blood on the new shoes. They’d be so bloodied up I’d have to ditch them, no matter that they were Berlutis, what douchebag would even think of buying shoes that cost as much as a used car.


We drank and Billy talked and I feigned listening. Eugene caught my eye with a knowing eyebrow and seemed to understand my situation. Sometimes a friend wears out the friendship. Or the friend changes and is no longer the person you liked enough to befriend. Sometimes you yourself change and become such an asshole as to be insufferable. It happens. We’re all fallen. I’d come to hate, Billy, yes. His greatest flaw was his lack of imagination, which had become a deal-breaker for the friendship. I couldn’t tolerate his entitled, empty blather any more.


  “These shoes are making me cranky,” I said. “They’re too tight.”


He stopped talking and looked at me quizzically. “But they’re brand new, bro. They’ll give a little. Leather gives.”


I smiled without mirth. Eugene, with his severe overbite, stood there gaping at me as though anticipating a statement. I had nothing for him. My right big toe throbbed. I could feel my heartbeat in it. I propped my elbows on the marble counter and rested my face in my hands.


“Everything okay?” Eugene asked.


Without looking at him I nodded.


“He’s cranky today,” Billy said.


“Life can be like that,” Eugene said emptily. He took a rag and wiped the counter though it was clean.


“I wrote a treatment,” Billy said.


I glanced at him. His mouth was wide open.


“It’s a cool idea,” he said. “High concept. Maybe you can look at it and fill it out. You’re good at that.”


He wanted me to “fill out” his treatment, that is, write it for him because he was a lazy, terrible writer. I looked around. The place was empty. It often was between lunch and dinner. The marble counter shone. I untied the Berlutis and softly kicked them off without alerting Billy. The foot relief was orgasmic. I met Eugene’s gaze and summoned him. I asked if he had any cheesecake.


“Cheesecake?” he said.


“Or any dessert you can serve with a knife and fork.”


Eugene smiled. “You mean two forks, right?” he said.


I said nothing.


“We have tiramisu,” he said.


“Bring me a piece,” I said, “and a knife. Make sure it’s sharp.”


Eugene shot me a questioning look but proceeded to the kitchen.


Billy noticed my shoes under the counter. He looked peeved.


“They were killing me,” I said.


Billy turned his face away. At that moment I realized how ugly he was in profile, with a hawkish nose and cruel lips and a chin approaching the Hapsburg’s. Then I saw Eugene swing out of the kitchen with the tiramisu and a bullnose butcher knife.




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