“Feet. All I can see is feet. Stepping on the train, stepping off stepping on stepping off stop STOP STEPPING ON ME! YOU CAN’T WALK ALL OVER ME!”
“Stop staring at her, baby. If you look too long, they try to talk to you.”
“I jes feel sorry for her. She need some help. Where her people at?”
“She’s one of them throw away people.”
“You know how white people are. If you don’t fit into the sears family portrait, they get rid of you. That’s that white people shit.”
“How can you say that, man? I seen black people on the street before.”
“Yeah, but they strung out, or drunk, tryin to be badass. People lookin for them, but just can’t find ‘em. See this lady? She crazy. How many crazy black folk you see on the street? Or Spanish? Or Asian? We don’t let our crazies out of our sight. They helpless. Her people know she’s crazy but they just don’t wanna be bothered. Kinda like they put they parents in the old folks home and forget them. She might INTERRUPT THEIR LIFESTYLE.”
“Ha! HA! Where’d you get that funny voice from? You sounded just like a telemarketer.”
“Richard Prior records.
“Sweetie, you got a dollar I could give her?”
“Naw. Only got a dollar and I need that for a philly when we get home. C’mon. Here’s our train.”
The silvery streak called The A Train screeches by, stirring up dust clouds as if it were a rocket to the moon. It’s only going to end up in the project burdened Rockaways. In the dark subway station there is no way to tell if it is day or night. The digital clock, smashed by bored teenagers, beams neon red hieroglyphs, wasting oil fed electricity. On the stairwell that leads to Times Square an aged woman, propped up by a grocery bag of meticulously selected garbage, babbles a monologue that can barely be heard for the roar of progress.
“I helped you when you were down I let you stay in my place you got me kicked out of my own place I paid the deposit you must have bribed them my own sister my own sister, tenant laws, how could the judge ignore them? I knew them I made a ton in real estate, one of the best realtors in the rush interest rates balloon mortgages scheming Jews outsourcing bombings fuel cost stock crashes emigrants fucking vampires you drained me! There was panic panning for gold, if I could sell the street I’d be rich. I’d give them a deal I could let it go for $45 a square foot, $200,000 a city block, not that it’s even worth that much anymore except to the breakdancers, street to dance on break your back on He pushed me down the stairs! Oh, God! Somebody please help! I can’t I can’t work. What happened to all I had? Built on false wealth, false, credit loans, my bones… My back hurts, my back, help please…”
“Did she just say somebody pushed her down the stairs?” A woman lets go of her companion’s hand, and crinkles her perfectly plucked eyebrows as she eyed the aged woman.
Tucking a stray wisp of dirty blonde hair behind her ear, she turns to her companion and says, "Look Drew, that lady has a sign that says she hurt her back when her ex husband pushed her down the stairs. I think we ought to help her."
"Oh, she's just making that up to make you feel bad. Listen to her, Suzanne. She's rhyming. It's an act. See that cup? It's for money. Mark told me there's this group that pretends to be homeless to get money, when actually they’re doing pretty good. That's why they all have the exact same kind of signs made of cardboard and written on with black makers. They're an underground union! It's a ploy."
"Yeah, that makes total sense. I guess they have to distinguish themselves as more pathetic than the homeless people who get their signs printed at Kinko’s."
"Don't start pulling that sensitive Jane Fonda shit with me."
"That lady isn't pulling in a mil doing that, you know. If she has to go so far as to act crazy to get money then she must be pretty desperate. Anyway, I don't know why you're so down on Jane Fonda. She's a modern day heroine! One of the few wealthy people in her day that stood up for the underprivileged."
"Jane stood up on the balcony of her mansion, ok? Listen. The night just started. I don't feel like ruining it by talking about people who aren't contributing much to society."
"Just because you volunteered to wear a silk noose doesn't give you the right to judge other people."
"Don't start with my job again Suzanne. You always want me to quit after we go to the wine bar, never before we drink the Riesling. If you want me to work for a more charitable company, like you always say, find me one that's going to at least match my salary and benefits. Until then, I don't want to hear about it! Listen, why are we standing in this underground pit? I think the atmosphere is making us cranky. Let's take a cab to the club."
"That sounds like a good idea. I love to see the night-lights from the FDR. Put a dollar in her cup for me, sweetie."
“Here, Susanne. You do it.”
Suzanne makes her way to the decrepit woman, tottering on her black, patent leather stiletto heels. She leans in to place the dollar in the paper cup, but the old woman grabs her arm with preternatural energy, gasping, “Suzy, it’s me Aunt Diane? Remember me? I lived at 317 E. 9th St #4. You used to come visit and we planted bulbs in the community garden when you were a teenager. Don’t you remember? It wasn’t that long ago.”
Susanne’s eyes widen, then go blank.
“Isn’t that our address?” Drew asks hesitantly.
“You’re not my aunt, can’t be” Susanne stammers. “Mom told me Aunt Dee died in a car wreck in England. That’s how Mom got the apartment. Then gave it to me when I was in college.” Susanne jerks her wrist out of Diane’s grasp. “You can’t be her. Just can’t. Nobody in my family is crazy. Nobody in my family lives in the street.” Susanne turns to Drew with a frozen smile and says, “She must have seen the address on your driver license when you took the money out.”
“But isn’t that too much of a co—“
Susanne violently shakes her head. “No! She’s just crazy like you said. She’s probably seen us before or something.” Susanne turns to Diane, pressing the dollar into Diane’s palm. “Here, this is all I can do.” With that, Susanne rushed up the stairs, Drew trailing behind her.