'Blue Avenue' Short Story by Salvatore Difalco
Brando knew a guy who had seen my ex. She’d been missing for months. He said he’d drive me to his place first thing in the morning. I slept poorly that night. This was new for me, a new thing. At the crack of dawn, I jumped out of bed, showered and shaved, applied lotion to my entire body, and a soothing hydra-lift to my face. My jaw looked handsomely square. Even as I age and grow increasingly decrepit, my jaw remains strong and manly. I dressed; a casual blue suit with a crisp white shirt and no tie. I also wore chocolate brown socks and brown wingtips.
Brando came by in his white van around eight o’clock. We stopped for coffee at a take-out joint. When we drove off, I tasted my coffee and to my dismay, they’d added sugar to it when I specifically ordered it black. I expressed my disapproval to Brando. He’d worn a black swatch cap that gave him sinister airs.
“Wanna go back?” he asked.
“Naw, fuck it,” I said. “I’m feeling off. Didn’t sleep well. Maybe I could use a little sugar in my bloodstream.”
“A man can always be sweeter.”
“This is like a dialogue.”
“Is that what you call it? I was thinking of something else.”
“Like being willfully obscure? Tell me about this guy.”
“I told you, he knows what you want to know.”
I doubted this guy knew anything. People are mostly full of shit. One block followed another as we moved through the city. Boarded-up storefronts and piles of rubble. Looked like the work of a bombing campaign. I saw a rat zip across the street, then another. A mangy coyote poked out its snout from a desiccated bush. Why aren’t you controlling the rat population? I thought. Everyone has a job to do. Brando’s job was to safely take me to this guy.
“Is he young or old?” I asked.
“What difference does it make?”
“I’d rather not deal with a young man.”
“You got a problem with today’s youth?”
Brando smiled broadly.
It’s not that I didn’t trust Brando, but I hadn’t known him that long and wasn’t completely sure about him. People are full of surprises. Just give them enough time.
“Listen,” Brando said. “I have to make a quick stop. Do you mind?”
I shook my head. I didn’t like it, but he was driving. He parked in front of an old bank building that looked abandoned but must not have been, for he entered it breezily as though he had done so many times before. I intensely disliked this part of the city. I disliked the entire city, but I disliked this part of it more than the others. I feared being robbed or assaulted. Young emaciated men roamed the streets looking for plump prey to feast upon. I glanced at the ignition and noted that Brando had not left the keys. Why would he not leave them? What if I had to move the van for one reason or another? Or what if something untoward happened to him?
An urchin tapped on my window, but I ignored him.
“Hey mister!” he cried.
“Go away, kid,” I said.
“Just wanna ask you something.”
The urchin, no older than nine or ten, and dressed in filthy, tattered clothes, looked like he needed a meal. I dug my wallet out of my back pocket and pulled a twenty from it. Without the key I couldn’t roll down the power windows, so I opened the door and offered the kid the twenty.
“Here,” I said. “Go buy yourself a meal or whatever.”
“Thank you, mister. I wasn’t gonna ask you for money, but thank you.”
“What were you going to ask me?”
“If you can give me a lift. I waited an hour for the bus, but it isn’t coming. Need to get back to my home or they’ll bust me.”
“Sorry, kid. This isn’t my van. It’s my friend’s.”
“Where’s your friend?”
“Taking care of some business. Grab a cab.”
“I live on the other side of the city.”
I pulled another twenty out of my wallet. “Here,” I said. “That should be enough to take you just about anywhere in town. And I can’t give you any more, so you’ll have to make do.”
“Ha. That’s a funny expression. Make do. Like, make do-do.”
“Okay, kid,” I said, shutting the door.
“Hey, mister. One more thing.”
I stared at him. The window glass blurred his facial features.
“You’re gonna be waiting a long time,” he said.
What did he mean? I went to open the door again, to address his remark, but he darted off down the street so quickly I had no chance. What the hell did he mean I was going to be waiting a long time? I studied the bank building. It did look abandoned, if not condemned. Fucking Brando. That piece of shit. What the hell was he doing? I knew I couldn’t trust the guy. I knew it. My instincts proved correct. I decided to go check the building myself and see what was up.
I exited the van and walked to the front doors. To my surprise, they were locked. I walked around to the side of the building, searching for another entrance, but found none. Then I went round to the back and saw that the rear door had been chained and boarded up. I returned to the front of the building wondering what was going on. I looked up at the windows for any activity, but dust and grime had blacked them out. The street was all but empty and thus disquieting.
When I tried getting back into the van, I realized I’d inadvertently locked it. Of course, the driver’s side was also locked, as were the back and side doors. Christ, I thought. What now? I didn’t know where I was or which way to go to escape this derelict sector. I figured I’d look for the main street and try to hail a cab. Cocksucker, I thought. He drove me here for what reason?
I headed toward a street with some blue-lit traffic. I passed a few bums lying by fences or sleeping under cardboard. One asked for change and I gave up a few quarters. None tried to mug me. Anyway, I wasn’t afraid. Whatever happened was destined to happen. I was probably safer than I would’ve been with Brando, that motherfucker. I didn’t know what his game was, but I didn’t like it.
When I hit the blue-lit street with the traffic, I didn’t see a single taxicab. What kind of crap is this? I thought. At least give a guy a chance. I continued walking, passing shuttered shops, crumbling row houses, and vacant lots.
Cars flew by, the faces of drivers and passengers expressionless. I removed my shoes. I don’t know why I did this. Perhaps my feet were hot. I walked down the street in my chocolate brown socks, one wingtip in each hand. The damp sidewalk cooled my soles but also saturated my socks. I disliked the feeling immensely, but for some reason made no effort to put on my shoes. I walked and saw the occasional homeless or deranged person huddled in a doorway. One man asked for my shoes, but I refused to give them over. I began to jog down the street, holding the shoes like a relay sprinter’s batons. I stopped, winded, my feet aching.
Finally, a taxicab appeared and I hailed it. The taxicab pulled over, but a passenger loomed in the rear seat. The passenger’s window descended and there smiling impishly sat the urchin I’d seen earlier.
“What’re you doing, mister?”
“Um, I’m going home.”
“Why are you carrying your shoes like that?”
“I don’t know, my feet got hot. I feel kind of fucked up right now, to be honest.”
“You do, do you?”
“Think I can catch a ride with you?”
The urchin shook his head and scrunched up his face. “I’m gonna have to give that a big no, mister. My caregivers would disapprove. You understand, right?”
I nodded, though I understood nothing.
“And what was it you said to me? Oh yeah. Make do. Well, make do, mister.”
What could I say? The cab driver barked something and the urchin shrugged and rolled up his window, then quickly rolled it down again.
“By the way,” he said. “Thanks again for the money.”
I nodded, dejected but acquiescent to reality. In moments they were off and I was left there, holding my wingtips, feeling stranded and strange.
Yet it seemed that with a little more time, I’d be able to figure this all out and find my way home. But then, glancing at the wingtips in my hands, it occurred to me that perhaps, even with more time, I’d figure nothing out.
All rights. Salvatore Difalco.
Salvatore Difalco lives in Toronto. His short work recently appeared in Cafe Irreal and Brilliant Flash Fiction.