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jumped back, splashing. A figure cast in gloomy-outside-light was
rising, wobbling. It was a boy around my age, though he was shorter
and, impossibly, slimmer than me. In the dim light I could just
make out a swollen eye and a swollen lip. His face was grimy and
his hair was all matted. Between the rags that draped over his weak
frame like flaps of skin and the blonde hair, he bore striking
resemblance to me.
stared at him and he stared at me and then he proffered the bag. In
all the excitement I hadn’t forgotten my gnawing hunger. I snatched
the bag from him and took out the Styrofoam box. Inside was half a
New York strip and two boiled potatoes with garlic. Thirty seconds,
a quarter of a steak and one potato later I found myself
wiped my mouth and looked down at the stranger who was watching me
through familiar, starved eyes. I looked at the piece of steak and
potato and the smelly newcomer and back down. I closed my eyes,
sighed and shoved the box at him.
an instant the box was empty. The beggar kid licked the butter off
his fingers and lips, belched and sighed.
“You ‘ave somefin’ to drink, yeah?”
Incredulous at the kid’s sense of entitlement I jabbed a thumb at
the water that lapped out ankles. The kid looked down, almost as
incredulous as me, and regarded the road water. His hair was a
dirty mop around his face. Disgust wrinkled his mouth. He looked up
at me with such contempt that, for a wild moment, I saw a flash of
Wealthy Devil in his shocking blue eyes. Then he grinned.
stared. His grin broadened. I stared. He laughed, displaying a set
of yellow teeth. I stared.
“Y-you c-can’t be
serious!” he chuckled. “
! Drink this…
Throat dry, I shook my head, stooped and drunk and splashed my
face. When I emerged the disgusted look was back on the beggar
kid’s face. He shook his head, and leaned against the cement
“Anyways, fanks for the diversion, earlier. Would’ve been killed
I nodded not
bothering to mention that
“So, there’s like nun to do in this place, is there?” The beggar
kid looked around my gutter. “Do you just stand ‘ere all day?”
“Well, that ‘int no way to live. Let’s get out of ‘ere, yeah?”
shook my head, dumbfounded.
“Hold on,” I coughed a laugh. “Just hold on.” I held up my hands.
“Who are you?”
The beggar kid had this proud smile on his face.
“Who are you ‘e
asks.” He spread is arms. “Me?
!” and commenced in a relation of
his past that seemed rehearsed—like he told it to anyone who
listened—which was likely, given he was a beggar kid on Main Street
and had no more company than his grimy reflection in pothole
“Name’s Joq. And
?” Here he
gestured around the tiny gutter and the street above. “All this
‘int nothing. You see, me father’s one of ‘em wealthy people. One
day, a lot of years back, there was a parade on this very street
and lots of people an’ everyfin’. Me an’ me brother was to ‘‘old
‘ands so we won’t get lost’, says me old man—though ‘e in’t really
old. Only fing was, I see this magic trick goin’ on. It’s a woman
with a beautifiul red dress swallowin a bunch ‘o swords. ‘Well,’ I
say to meself, ‘ere’s a fing you’ll never see again, Joq.’ So
I let go me brother’s ‘and an’ go off into the crowd. An’ it’s fun
‘cuz I get kisses from pretty women and good food and some Wealthy
Devils let me try the slots in that Big Win Casino. Then the
parade’s over and it’s no fun no more ‘cuz everyone’s in their
hotels or left town. And I figure me old man wun’t in a right state
o’ mind to come find me what with me disobeying him an’
He would’ve been a good storyteller if it
weren’t for the forced accent. I could see the whole thing unfold
in my head and it made me think of how I got to living on Main
Street and who my parents were, or if I had any.
“… fing of it was,
after I lost me suit, people stopped paying for me food and beat me
and treated me like…like your
type. So I
sort o’ gave up hope ‘til I remembered what me father had told me
one time. ‘e set me down, up on ‘is lap and said, ‘Joq, if you is
ever lost, I’ll find you, I will.’ And I ‘int given up hope since
then.” Joq sighed.
rubbed my forehead. “Okay… so you’re a wealthy person’s son, and
he’s going to come get you. What does that have to do with me?”
Joq brushed past me, got on tiptoes and
rattled the grate until it fell onto the street.
“‘cuz, in all me adventures I found an escape from all this.” He
gestured around again, then he reached up tousled my tangled hair.
I gave him another blank stare.
“C’mon now. I said
we should get out o’ ‘ere. Said this ‘int no way to live. There’s a
side street where there’s none of ‘em mean wealthy folk. I’ll show
you it! Call it fanks for my diversion and the meal, yeah? C’mon…
What’s worse than
Running into Cranston and his crew on the sidewalks. Following
you—a crazy beggar kid who thinks he’s the son of a wealthy man—to
a made-up side street.
But those risks seemed worth it when I compared it with
standing alone in this freezing gutter water, so I followed the
strange beggar kid up through the grate. I didn’t even pause to
check for traffic or pedestrians. I just followed him and ducked
when he ducked and dove when he did and all the while my mind was
I’d seen him every night for the past few
night but I couldn’t bring myself to accept that there was some
minor paradise that I hadn’t found. So I chased him blindly,
chewing on something he had said. ‘If you is ever lost, I’ll find
I had dreamt that I would meet a beggar kid
who looked like me. I had dreamt that dream every night for a
while. But the dream changed last night. Instead of meeting a
beggar kid, I was in a casino and there was chaos and a woman lying
in a pool of blood. In the dream I ran outside with a man with a
cane and another boy who was blonde, though it wasn’t Joq, and
there was a limousine waiting and we hopped in. In the dream the
man had said ‘I found you!’, or something like that.
gust-born flyer caught me between the eyes. I peeled it off—
JULIA’S SWORD. 11 FRIDAY. ONE NIGHT ONLY—and let it slip out of my
Like I said I wasn’t paying attention to where we were going so I
guess he was good at not getting us caught. We weren’t attacked and
when I shook Joq’s words from my mind, we had turned down a dark
Joq turned with a boastful look and flapped his arms and hooted
louder than any beggar kid should dare.
“Shut up!” I hissed. “Are you trying to kill us? If you die you’ll
never get to see your stupid, precious little…” I trailed off.
Joq gave me a quizzical look and went on talking at the top of his
voice, which made me wonder how such a little kid could have so
much air in his lungs, and so much energy.
“What’re you talkin’ about Nipple? We can’t be ‘eard down this
street. Look around! None of ‘em wealthy folk.”
“It’s Nip. That’s not the point. What do you mean ‘we can’t be
heard’? Main Street’s right there.” I pointed at Main Street, two
yards away with its dead lamplights and clean sidewalks and…
pedestrians. A young couple around Cranston’s age walked past,
heads bent together, murmuring to each other.”
flattened myself to the side of the restaurant or hotel or whatever
the building was—there were rarely windows on the sides of the
buildings that faced side streets—and waved my hand vigorously and
jabbed my finger at the space next to me.
see—”. Instead of joining me on the shadowed sidewalk Joq, head
held high, chest pushed out, sort of like that guy who had bought
the airplane awhile back, strutted into the middle of the street
and up to the Main Street side of the sidewalk, which ran across
the side street from my building to the one across from me, and
stopped before the cement, inches away from where the couple was
He pulled down his
lower eyelid with a fingertip and stuck out his tongue.
! Not so bad, are ya?”
The couple stopped.
from Joq, still giggling, still cooing, and pointed to a
restaurant across the street with flashing, pink doves and a sign
that read Love Bird’s Wings and Fries.
Joq grabbed his
shredded jeans and shoved them down. His member flopped in the wind
like an overcooked noodle. He then proceeded to “Joq” himself off,
sneering “Not big and bad, yeah?
! You-two-can-go—” He emphasized
each word with exaggerated thrusts and there followed a stream of
curses and short, rapid hand motions.
. A white, aqueous something
else streamed and splatted the sidewalk.
The couple waited for a break in the cars and, hair and cashmere
scarfs flying, danced across the road, squawking.
When my brain cranked up again, I shut my jaw, dropped my hand
which had been frozen mid-gesture and blinked a few times.
Joq hollered curses after the pair, cackling, then hitched up his
pants, turned and grinned. He waved his hand and skipped down the
street whistling his own, erroneous version of “Luck be a Lady”. I
shook my head and dashed after him, slipping a few times.
“Wait! Hold it! Joq!”
I made to grab for
particles exploded as his rags tore in my fist. Joq gasped. He
jerked his shoulder and slipped. I went with him. We collapsed in a
heap on the slippery asphalt and began to slide down the side
street. We scrabbled at the road but the ice stung and we were
picking up speed. The street was long and winding and culminated in
a square. We swept past the white bricks of the sides of buildings
and down a final hill and collided with the curb.
wobbled to my feet, unscathed, though shaken. Joq wasn’t hurt too
bad, though his lip was busted again. I gave him my sock as
compensation for grabbing him and he accepted it.
“‘hat ‘as all that a’out?” He demanded.
shook my head and regarded the buildings in the square. The square
itself was wide, the road asphalt and, like Main Street
establishments, the buildings surrounding the square were crafted
of white brick, though they were less flashy; they lacked lights
and were a good deal smaller. Most of the wood signs were blackened
and a number of the restaurants and boutiques were burnt out.
shook my head again and looked back up the street at the space
between the buildings, at the sidewalk where Joq had taunted the
wealthy couple, and at the passing cars.
“Say Joq, you
weren’t lying were you? About them
being able to come down here, or see down the side street or
Joq blinked back tears and nodded. Red blossomed the rough fibers
in my sock fibers as he pressed his lip. “‘hats what I ‘een tryin’
to say, da’n it!”
The square had a certain magic. And not the
type of magic where everything’s going to be alright. Not two
beggar kids find the Elysian Fields in a peaceful square after a
shit life; we weren’t dead yet. The Square was damn cold, like
anywhere else, brutally so, and my belly was still empty as ever,
gapingly empty. But I felt a kind of nostalgia, as though I’d been
here before; that kind of magic.
“Do you know why it’s like this?” I nodded up at Main Street, far
up the road, where another group walked by the side street.
Joq shook his head and tossed the sock back to me. I didn’t bother
catching it. Joq stooped and chipped ice off the curb and pressed
it to his lip. He held up a hand, as if to sooth me, and pointed
with his chin to a building—a bar—that appeared to be one of the
few in the square that was completely intact. He inched toward it
and kept pointing with his chin.
licked my lips and followed. “Okay, okay I said I was sorry. Stop
that.” He was backing away from me with exaggerated steps, as
though I had a gun.
cracked a smile, cried out as his lip split, blew steam from his
nostrils and stamped to the door. I took another look around the
square before stepping inside. Though my stomach grumbled, a sense
of quiet settled my chest.
Wine gurgled from Plaster of Paris and
chuckled in the basin. A crowd of black suits and red ties and red
dresses and red heels stood around the fountain, dipping in their
glasses and quaffing.
The room was dark and sort of
distorted and lagged every time I moved my head. I’d been drunk but
most wealthy people on Main Street were and I imagined this was how
they saw things. I stood amongst them, drunkenly I guess, and “Luck
be a Lady” echoed.