“You know what poisons cows?” He said.
A plastic bag rustled between the trees and three children playing skip-the-cracks across the sidewalk. There was a fruit cart stand, so small and undefinable on that little corner of East Side New York, selling green and purple grapes by the pound without the seeds. Bananas bagged in bushels and boxes full of strawberry grays. Take your pick of processed shit organically packed in neat elastic little cartons. Fresh off the Nope.
There was a fruit cart stand, so small on that little corner of New York. Hungry hands lined and ashy, taking their turn turning fruit ripe enough to make the best off a dollar bargain. Used napkins, coffee cups, chewed up gum blooming petals of thick black sinew between ceramic oaks and mulberry shrubs. An addict waltzed between the crowd, unsteady toward Elysium, to the rhythm of his poison drum - bleary eyed, bent, and grinning. I watched a plastic bag settle on the flora of a steel lamp post while three children played skip-the-cracks on the edge of coming traffic.
There was a fruit cart standing on a corner of New York because nothing ever grows here.
“What?” I asked.
Mingo shifted his weight against his cane and I heard a thousand bones groan and adjust to his new lurch. We were leaning on concrete slabs edged enough to take a seat in, smoking ourselves dry to the bother of that corner deli. The usual suspects. They hated us but we paid our cover, two coffees and a roll with butter, one extra butter and the other toasted,
He measured his cigar while I wiled away my third cigarette that morning, and the lively grey sunstrain of his eyes glint with the patience of decaying trees. Wise and old, or old and wise. I couldn’t tell.
“The cow. You know what poisons them?” Mingo repeated calmly. I shook my head saying I didn’t.
"Esperanza, es una planta. They eat it," he ran his index finger along his neck, a universal sign difficult to misinterpret, clicked his teeth and the little calf was done.
It began to rain and three children scrambled under the safe pan of an awning. A man leaned against a bus stop map gritting his teeth to the grim blue tint of a text message. He sucked his teeth before closing the phone, his hot mood sizzling in soft hummed cusses; sparks against the drops of heaven crackling between us. The grey clouds gave way to a dark and hazy yolked sun, the children ran and the bust stop groaned. Mingo creaks and the moment is over easy.
“Why do they eat it,” I asked. “If it’s poison.”
And Mingo shrugged.
Esperanza is a flower, bright and beautiful with yellow petals. And Esperanza is also hope, just as bright and ruinous. I couldn’t decide which killed them first, the toxins or definition.
“I killed somebody once,” Mingo said unexpectedly. “Coz’ of a woman.” He was calm, not sad nor entirely delighted. Not resentful or proud, but with the air of a man that’s lived and in living was reflective.
I couldn’t think of what to say and a car chuckled down the road.
“Do you having a girl?”
Down the block a gilded goddesses hips swayed, and she reminded me of a girl I reminded myself to forget. Gray eyed and somber lip’d, the kind of face easy to compliment and hard to misremember. I was staring and I didn’t care, and the longer I dared the sooner I realized that familiar was just wistful thinking. She didn't look anything like her. The sighs were all wrong. She didn’t have the unhappiness riddled along her creases, she didn’t hold me like a melody at the slight of her hand or fuzzy forearm. She passed us without a crass look despite lingering stares.
But she did look a lot like her when she was walking away.
“Yeah,” I said to Mingo. I heard his head nod solemnly by the sound of his neck creaking.
“Never killed anyone because of her though,” I added.
“You might someday,”
I clipped my cigarette and said goodbye.
Home is where the heart is and I was in the mood for losing mine. Something in routine makes me rabid, where the grin of thin led lines are stranding and I can’t stand the thought of another Hi spent comfortably. A lack of absence can make a man feel atrophy in the muscles he isn’t using. The human body was built for pain, just ask a nerve ending. And I hadn’t hurt in months so I started feeling restless. It’s always bad when it’s too good and I was hungry for the worst. Luckily the Q16 to Utopia is an enigma and Happiness just wasn’t meant. It’s a Catch-22 and we’re in Universe 25.
“You smell like Mingo,” she said without a look as I sunk between the doors.
“Weird, we didn’t even make out that much.”
I waited for a tell- a laugh, a scoff, some sign or cadence in her song admitting that I was precious. But instead she glanced up from her laptop and shrugged her eyebrows with a yawn; my glass slipper. She weighed and measured my weight in masochist down to a grin and science. I couldn’t resist that feigned affection, that always-feeling-second-best. It held me like a shiver begging you to go to bed.
"You're going out tonight, right?" She asked, and I nodded absently. “Thank God. I can watch House of Cards without you snoring.”
“Franco’s?" Elis asked.
"Franco’s," I groaned. She picked up the receiver and dialed the number out of muscle memory.
"Hi, let me get a bacon egg and cheese. Extra bacon, please. With a Snapple iced tea…what? No, scrambled. Uh-huh. Yeah…you don't have iced tea?" She put the receiver down against her neck and looked in my direction, and I saw an idea graze her thoughts more honey’d than the honey of her cruelly honey eyes. "No, not water. Strawberry flavored, then."
And just when I began to feel subconscious, just when I felt brittle as ash not making her woo of me, she muttered something of a large coffee with extra Splenda, and I remembered that she remembers silly little things about me.
But there were things she didn't know. How could she? When she'd never asked and I'd never tell. About the awkward train ride and that familiar girl assuring me I-Swear-It's-Isabella. I-Don't-Even-Speak-French. About 6am park benches on benders spent hushing restless nights. About waking to an eggy pool of my skin and sweat and sin and self, chasing highs and skirts. Always running, running, running, coming, running, running, but never really getting there. About the time my mind forgot what hands were for. About not remembering how to talk. About agnosia. About the doctor with eyes just like my father trying to pretend he cared, warning me about the thrill, or dangers, I forget which, of substance abuse.
How could she know about dying every single day and having to wake up again when I spared her those muddy details.
"Don't look at me like that," she said.
"Like it's the first time. Like you've never seen me before."
Elis had never asked if I’ve ever been in love before, she did not bother to venture further into the scars she traced against my chest with her soft ruby red fingertips. While the past was present it remained inconsequential, and so I fell into her with the freshness of something new. And it was a relief, not having to ever explain myself. Or maybe she never asked because the answer would frighten her.
"Hey," I said. "Do you know what poisons cows?"