Friday, August 15, 2008

I Knew There Was Pain, But Pain Is Not Aching

I watched Richie blow smoke rings from the back seat of the burnt out car and into the warm evening air, his head tilted back on the semi-caramelised headrest, eyes staring impassively through the hole where the roof used to be. Flying with the birdies, walking the rooftops like an invincible tomcat. In his mind...... I turned my attentions to rifling through the pockets of the coat I had found. No money, but a few subway stubs and half full 'Fernando Frozen Yogurt' loyalty card hinting at some upward mobility in the previous owner. I went back to watching Richie again. He was a cocky little fucker, all wild visions and dangerous fantasy. There were days when I didn't want to know, just wanted to hug the street corners like a vertigo stricken child, but Richie had this way of making you walk tall, of making you forget who and what you were for a time. The reality never quite left you, but adventure was good for the soul and returning to the abandoned factory and the back alleys never seemed to trouble me any more. The hatch opened out and the light poured into the bare loft below. We both clambered up onto the roof top and set about the nightly ritual. Two bottles of cheap wine rested in a tank of cold water as we perched like feral pigeons on the buildings edge. The view was always the same, the gridded avenues stretching out to the horizon, the river glinting in the early evening sun, the world as it truly was...... An ant colony on a ball of dirt flying through the eternal void. It made you feel briefly content, easy on the order of things. Richie told stories between bouts of bronchial coughing and draws on countless cigarettes. Army tales, school tales, stories about his family, the religion he found and lost, then found again. Only to lose it once more in the rinse cycle of life. He felt sure that God would find him again at some point and quit lying to him, give it to him straight............ The light of the sun dipping was soon overtaken by the neon of downtown and it looked beautiful and sick in it's Liberace sequined sparkle. It always did to my eyes. Richie didn't start drinking until the sun was on it's way down. I had usually half drained my bottle by this time, my dusk-light reverie almost at a close, ready to pass the baton of battered dreams to my partner in crime.......
Richie's party trick was to walk along the ledge of the building to one of the corners and back. The first time he did it I flipped, couldn't believe what he was doing. He'd downed some wine, three beers and done a bunch of speed he'd stolen from a now deceased dealer. Still the fucker didn't fall. I barely looked now when he did it. Each time he returned from his stroll I'd look up at him and offer my bottle as a prize. He knew I had faith in him. He knew that I knew he was testing me and that I'd never doubt him. Fuck "parting the Red Sea", this was our own little miracle eight stories up and balancing on nothing more than the curvature of the Earth and a shit eating grin. Sitting at the edge of the building was enough for me, I felt like a cat losing one of it's lives every time I went up on the roof anyway...... Richie turned the old transistor on and hurtled around on the roof top for a bit, an urban Tarzan looking for a new vine to catch hold of and swing out of town. I just sang harmony on the Kinks and Beatles numbers that the oldies station belted out on a continuous hourly loop. It felt like God's word on a C60 mix tape, transmitted from a radio station somewhere in Forest Hills for the benefit of the chosen few. Richie was a little less romantic.
"My dad listened to this shit. I remember he once whipped me to 'Bye Bye Love' by The Everly Brothers after I took a dump on the living room floor. I must have been about three. Still, good shit when yr drunk............."
I lost sight of him for a while behind the old chimney stack and I went back to the remains of my bottle, already contemplating another run to the liquor store for more. Soon I sensed him behind me and turned my head up to see him looking unusually pensive. He looked at me and said he wouldn't be 'performing' tonight. I nodded and told him he'd have to come up with a new trick. He sat beside me and said nothing, just drinking long and lazy from his bottle, back in his trance world, re-living his existence and re-inventing the Universe.
"We're not long Gus" he said, staring me in the eyes in a way that I'd never known him to.
"Not Long........? For what?" I said, letting my confusion show.
"Not Long. You wanted a new trick kid? How's this..............Man Walks On Air"
By the time I had made a grab to stop him, he was about two stories down and fading into the black of the alley below. It was all I could do to stop myself going over too. I heard nothing, no yell, no landing, no groans of pain. There was just a vile sobering chill through my guts and up my spine that made me retch and gasp for air. The Fucker! The Cunt!
"Richie, You Fucking Shit Stain!!!!!!" I yelled into the black hole of the alley. The shock wouldn't go away and my conscious mind had to take over and make the effort to swing my numb legs back onto the roof and make them stumble towards the radio, now playing something by Dick Dale. That station never played anything by Dick Dale. It was almost as if a spell had been broken.
I regained my composure and looked one more time over the edge of the roof, breathing hard and through gritted teeth......
"I hope it hurt you Fucker!"
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