2 9 0 4 1 1 3 0 1 7 1 5
“Wanda! Wanda!” called out Randall, as his sister exited the M & Mary Deli and Grocery at Cliff Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Jersey City, New Jersey. Wanda turned, saw it was her brother calling after her, and just kept on walking – faster this time. “Wanda, wait!” Wanda was wearing a long, navy blue, wool coat with two buttons missing. Her shoes had walked many a mile. “Wanda?” Randall, was wearing an all Crayola blue work outfit, associated with those working at The Doe Fund. His tee shirt said “Ready, Willing and Able” on it. Randall caught up with his older sister and jumped in front of her, walking backwards as she tried to move around him.
“Would you just wait a minute! Wait, hold on girl!”
“I have nothing to say to you, Randall. Nothing. Please leave me alone.”
“Look at me! I have a job. I have an apartment. My life is changing for real this time.”
“I am very happy for you. It’s almost New Year’s Eve and I have never felt more miserable. I just want to be left alone.”
Randall is walking along side Wanda down John F. Kennedy Boulevard. “I have come here for a reason. I have met someone who completely changed my life around, and I know he can help you as well.”
“We have been here, brother Randall. We have been through this before. I am tired, so very tired.”
“This is different.”
“I doubt that.”
“His name is Dave and he is just so amazing! He just plucked me off the street and changed my life. I want you to meet him as well.”
“No way, Randall. No way.”
“I am back at church, passing out psalm booklets every Sunday…working, feeling good about myself. I want you to feel the same so we can renew our relationship and make it better. I have been horrible to you, I know it.” Wanda shot Randall a look that carried the weight of all those nights she worried about her brother. “I know, I know…I want to make it up to you.” The pair hung a right, past The Riotto Funeral Home and Cremation Company and continued down Stagg Street. “I want to throw a little party for you tomorrow night – just like mom used…”
“Mom told me everything that happened before she died,” Wanda said as she stopped.
“What, Wanda, what did she say?” Randall placed his hand on his sister’s shoulder and squeezed her there. Wanda had begun crying – but she was not falling apart. Her tears welled up inside her like internal bleeding. At some point, the tears had nothing else to do but to come out. She remained expressionless.
“She talked to me about the years of abuse, defending dad saying he was a sick man.”
“He was definitely a sick individual, sis; but there comes a time where we have to let go all of that and take charge of our lives.”
“Her revelation and what I did as a teacher…the suffering and abuse that I caused, was like a perfect circle. He was a monster to me and I was a monster to that student.” Wanda had begun walking again, slowly, zombie-like toward Liberty Avenue.
“That’s the past, Wanda, let’s celebrate now, let’s celebrate a new future. Mom and Dad are dead and gone. We are left. We can make things right.”
“I am his daughter after all. Randall …I-am-his-daughter. There is no changing that.”
They arrive at 173 Liberty Street. Wanda’s dwelling was a small, faded blue house where the off-white front door was a stairway below street level; A patch of overgrown weeds rectangled off with wood and concrete made for a side-yard, as opposed to a backyard.
“I think you should go now, Randall.”
“Can I please, please, please bring my friend over tomorrow night. He is rich. He will give you money, I am sure of it. Let us just bring some food over, some sandwiches to bring in the new year – okay?”
Wanda had begun her descend down the steps toward her door. Randall remained on top, looking down upon her, hoping she’d reconsider. Wanda stopped and turned underneath a rusty awning above her front door. She smiled softly. “Okay, Randall. Why don’t you and your friend…what was his name?”
“Dave. Dave, he never did tell me his last name.”
“Okay. You and Dave. Why don’t you bring food over and we will celebrate, okay?”
“Oh, that’s great! That is so fantastic! Sounds good, sis.”
“I’ll be staying with Marcus here in the Heights if you need me, okay?”
“Okay. Good night Randall.”
“Good night, sis. I love …” Her front door had shut, cutting off his expression of love.
Where is Beckett Stone?
377 Greenwich Street, New York, N.Y. – The Greenwich Hotel
Beckett sat in a white terry cloth bathrobe and slippers, next to a night table with a lamp and a leather hotel planner on top. His palms rested on his knees as he sat straight up and at attention. He sat this way, expressionless, for what seemed like twenty minutes. Then:
“Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay. I will speak in English. Okay. Okay. Excuse me? Be more what? My hearing is defective, I think. Be more….teen-like. Teen-like? Okay, okay – yes…what else?”
There was no visible clue he was talking to anyone, or into something – like a phone or recording device. He sat still for several more moments. Then:
“Conspicu-what? Conspicuous? Okay. Right. Got it. Well, I can’t help it if I am handsome and have this body. These people are drawn to me. What? Yes…all right. To New Jersey. Somewhere in New Jersey. Yep.”
There was quiet again for a few beats.
“Okay…yep..farewell! Huh? Oh, right…see ya later, bro. Is that better?”
Beckett stood up: agitation
He opened the door to his bathroom and was instantly hit with a cloud of steam. The shower was running and written on the mirror above the sink was the beginning of a phrase: “Stop trying…” Beckett wiped the moisture away with his hand, making the shower door visible in the mirror behind him, where another phrase was written: “…to save people.”
Beckett was wearing a cream colored Borsalino hat, blue jeans, Ray Bans and an overcoat. He sat comfortably on a bench, on a crosswalk island, in the middle of Park Avenue. The red tail lights that moved away from him and the white oncoming headlights were a thing of beauty. He outstretched his arms as if to embrace all the lights coming through him and leaving him. These lights brought him joy, checked a thousand times over.
A cell phone was ringing. Beckett pulled the phone out of his pocket and answered.
“Randall! How are you?”
“Aw, man, I’m alright. Great, in fact!”
“That’s dope, man, glad to hear it.”
Randall was pushing a garbage can somewhere near Herald’s Square.
“Was the furniture delivered?” Beckett added.
“Oh, yes, Dave – it’s a beautiful thing. I am showing everyone around town my new digs!”
“Great! Cool, cool. That makes me so happy, bro.”
“Let me ask ya, would you be available for lunch?”
“Sorry, man, I have to be somewhere for lunch.”
There was a beat of silence on Randall’s end.
“Is there something wrong?”
“It’s my sister.”
“I didn’t know you had a sister, Randall.”
“Yeah, yeah, she’s fallen on some hard times like me and I told her all about you. How nice and generous you are and…”
“I get ya…” said Beckett.
“She gets awfully depressed on New Year’s. A lot of people do. Not me. But she does. She gets really bad with the depression.”
Beckett had begun violently clicking away at that remote of his, inside his pocket. It almost looked to passersby, as if he were doing something lewd. Yet, as he spoke, he remained composed.
“Where does she live?”
“In Jersey City.”
“Is that in New Jersey?”
“Yeah…ha ha ha ha, of course, Dave.”
“I have to be in New Jersey. That works out wickedly well,” Beckett exclaimed, as he continued to punch that clicker of his in his pocket.
“Awwwww, man, that would be awesome!”
“What shall we plan, man?”
Randall was at the deli counter, ordering up some sliced meats and cheeses when Beckett moseyed on up to him, carrying a twelve pack of Vintage Wild Cherry seltzer. Randall and Beckett stared at each other for a moment.
“That’s a lot of seltzer for a two hour get-together.”
“What’s wrong with seltzer? Don’t you like seltzer?”
“Well, sure I do, Dave, just not twelve bottles of it. I am a DP man. My sister and I like us some DP. It’s right over there. Let’s get a 2 liter of DP and a 2 liter of seltzer, okay?”
Beckett put the 12 pack back and grabbed a Diet Pepsi and a bottle of seltzer and placed them in the cart. Randall was looking over the list.
“Here’s your sliced American,” said the counter person – who wore a hairnet and an ivory nose ring. “What else can I get for you?”
“Half a pound of Genoa.”
Beckett had begun slowly walking over to where the chopped meats and chicken displays were – distracted. Randall didn’t seem to notice. Another violent clicking episode was occurring in his overcoat pocket, as Beckett seemed to be seeing something:
Wanda in a kneeling position, underneath a cross that hung over her door. Her eyes were closed, her hands clasped together tightly – praying.
“I should leave. We, Randall and I should leave…” Beckett whispered to himself as his eyes grew concerned, the pounding of his remote clicker more pronounced.
“Everything alright, Dave?” Randall asked. Beckett did not respond.
“This is a horrible waste. Unthinkable. We can stop this,” Beckett said aloud.
Wanda opened her front door, closed it, but did not lock it. She was wearing a sweat suit outfit underneath her tattered blue coat. Slowly, head lowered, she had begun walking down Liberty Avenue.
“What else can I get for you?” the deli man asked of Randall.
Randall, all the while was staring at Beckett: “Ugh…half pound of macaroni salad.”
“Okay. I understand. Don’t attach. Don’t attach. Please don’t show it to me, okay? I don’t want to see it,” Beckett asked as he stopped clicking away at his remote, resting calmly on the edge of the refrigerated meat section.
Wanda made a right on Spruce. There are construction cones and a road closure sign. Beyond the dead end was the bustling junction where Route 1 and 9 met. Wanda climbed over the concrete barrier and stared out at the cars speeding by. She drew a deep breath and started sprinting toward the fray. A plumber’s van hit her at 55mph, sending her small body in a sweeping somersault into the air. The driver hit the breaks and swerved off the thoroughfare, into the brush. Wanda’s body lied lifeless, the back of her head split open, as cars slowed down, came to a complete stop or else slammed on their horns.
Beckett’s head was tilted to the side, staring into nothingness as Randall made his approach with the shopping cart. “Are you okay, buddy?”
Beckett nodded his head slowly. “Let’s go, we are going to be late to your sister’s.”
Randall and Beckett arrive at Wanda’s house. Randall noticed the door was open, so he entered – Beckett behind him.
“Wanda! We’re here. Hey sweetness…I brought a lot of food.” Randall was all smiles and teeth as he plopped the shopping bags on the dining room table. Beckett was expressionless as Randall ducked his head into the kitchen. “Wanda. Baby…you around? Yo, Wanda!” The house was rather small, so it only took a few moments to realize Wanda was gone. Randall looked down at his phone. “It doesn’t seem as if she called me. Fuck. Where is that girl? Hmmm…well, might as well sit down, Dave. I’ll fix you up with a seltzer on ice. Here…” Randall handed Beckett the remote control. “Put one of the New Year’s preview shows on. That will get us in the mood. I’m gonna start laying out the food.”
Beckett and Randall are both slumped on Wanda’s couch. Randall let out a gargantuan belch and rubbed his stomach.
“That dumb bitch. What the hell is she up to now? Probably in the arms of some cocksucker who is going to throw her to the curb like trash when he’s done with her.”
There was a low audible sound in the quiet living room of people screaming and hollering in joy on the television.
“Why don’t you come back to my hotel and stay there for the night. We’ll bring in the New Year together. Come on,” Beckett slaps Randall on the knee, “let’s go.”
Westin Hotel, Jersey City, New Jersey – 2.3 miles and 11 minutes from Liberty Avenue
Randall was standing close to the television screen. The ball had dropped some time already, and the people of Times Square were starting to disperse.
“Thank you, Dave, for the pj’s.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Beckett replied, as he got the couch ready for Randall to sleep on. “You’re all set over here.”
Randall started over to the couch, fluffed the pillow and had lain out upon it. “You know, it’s so strange.”
“What,” asked Beckett as he pulled the covers away from his bed and slipped in.
“The New Year’s holiday is an extreme of emotion. So many people happy, so many people sad.”
“Is that not true of all the holidays?”
“Like me…I was so bummed out last year at this time. No life, not a chance. Now this. I am so happy.”
Beckett nodded his head. “80s shuffle, please?”
“Aww shit, we got to listen to that music again?”
“It’s the only era of music that exists. Way ahead of it’s time. Trust me on this one.” The Cure – “One More Time” surrounded the room – how, and on what invisible speakers? “Can you shut off the television, Randall?”
“Shit, I was just getting comfortable.”
Beckett stared straight up to the ceiling.
As Randall approached the TV, he noticed Dick Clark interviewing a young, handsome looking, African American family – bundled up from the cold, but all smiles. The man was the mirror image of Randall, yet dressed in a 70’s suit of stretched out lapels. Randall grabbed the side of the flat screen television and got in real close – close to the image of a young and pretty Wanda.
“And what are your plans for the New Year?” Dick asked the young man.
“Well, Dick, we are just going to take care of our daughter. We are so happy to be reunited with her again. She is back in our arms and we are going to make things right again.”
“That’s is just wonderful!” exclaimed Dick, talking into a microphone with a fat head.
“She’s dead…she’s dead, isn’t she? How could they be on the television? Dick is dead too. This is not from tonight. They were never on TV. What is this? This is creeping me out. But she is dead. My sister is dead and she is with my parents.” Randall has begun sobbing. Beckett sat up in his bed.
The image is played and replayed over and over again: “And what are your plans for the New Year?”
“Well, Dick, we are just going to take care of our daughter. We are so happy to be reunited with her again. She is back in our arms and we are going to make things right again. Right again. Right again. Right again.”
Randall stood up and backed away from the television. He and Beckett shared a stare. “You knew she died, didn’t you? You fucking knew, didn’t you?”
Beckett nodded his head slowly.
“I wanted to send you a message from her that she is okay, now,” replied Beckett.
Randall looked back at the television of his mom, squeezing tight the young Wanda.
“What the fuck are you? Who the fuck are you? I am scared of you. I am actually scared of you. I have to find Wanda. I have to go on the streets and find out what happened to her.”
“I can help you.”
“If you could of stopped her from dyin, that would have been a big help! I want to hit you so fucking hard, but I don’t know what you are. I am just going to leave. I just got to get the hell out of here! I can’t be around you. You dead too? Fuck man! My sister is dead. Can’t be, can’t be…” Randall left the pj’s on, and just threw his coat over them and grabbed his clothes.
“Please let me help you.”
Randall threw opened the door and ran out.
Beckett got out of bed and walked over to the window. He opened the curtain, and before him, a magnificent view of Manhattan harbor and the Financial District. Randall exited the hotel and had begun running up Washington Boulevard. For a moment, Beckett watched him run toward the distance, but the lights of the city skyline were too great. He smiled. The lights, the gorgeous lights.