Would you mind closing that
blind, Robert? Can’t see the TV with all the glare. Ever watch
this program? That Howie Mandel – he’s a hoot. My boy,
Little Mike, would have liked this show. We were always Big Mike and
Little Mike. That’s right, Big Mike Sweeney – there was
more of me back then. Drove a cab for thirty years. Ever tell you that?
Never had any trouble: Harlem, the Bronx, the Heights, if they had the
fare I’d take them wherever they wanted to go.
Folks use to think he was called
Little Mike because he was so big. Oh look at that, she’s going
to take The Deal. I love it when they walk off with cash. Me and Little
Mike, we used to watch St. Elsewhere
every Tuesday. You’d have liked that one, Robert. That’s
where your Mr. Denzel Washington got discovered. He and Howie –
nobody knew them from nothing back then. Now Mr. D’s a big man
and Howie, well he ain’t doing so bad, either – must be fun
to give away all those suitcases of cash. Little Mike’s favorite
show was Hill Street Blues.
He had the hots for Joyce Davenport.
One Christmas Eve, just after the
show started, Veronica Hamel got in my cab. She played Joyce. What? You
never heard of her? Well you need to look her up. Do that goggle thing.
She was one classy lady. Pretty? Beautiful, my friend. And not stuck-up
like some of those rich ladies that don’t do nothing but shop all
day. She gave me a good tip, too. Little Mike, he couldn’t
believe it when I told him. He was always shy around girls.
Didn’t have much confidence because of his size.
He’d be out by himself in
that little patch of backyard behind our flat – he didn’t
play on the stoop ‘cause the other kids teased him – and
when that show would come on I’d lean out over the porch rail and
say, “Hey, Little Mike, Joycie’s on her way,” and
he’d start up those stairs. Four flights – cathunk,
cathunk, cathunk – that boy shook the timbers. He may have been
fat, but he could go up stairs like nobody’s business.
He wanted to be a doctor.
Didn’t want to be a hero or nothing, just help people.
Didn’t have the grades. Got his old man’s fat ass and his
brains too. They ain’t doctor brains. My brother was a captain
over at Ladder 1 and he had some juice, got Little Mike admitted to the
Academy. I’ll admit I never thought he’d make it. But there
was no quit in that boy. Went to his graduation and I’ll tell you
I had a lump in my throat as he walked across the stage. Inside he was
the same good kid he’d always been – quiet, a listener like
you, Robert – but there was something different about him after
They assigned him to Ladder
15. Will you turn off that TV, now? Can’t stand to
hear them women yapping. I’ll show you the real View. Push me over to the window,
will you, Robert? See out there across the FDR? That’s his
firehouse. He’d only been there six months when everything went
to hell. He’d just got off duty and was bunked up when they got
the call. I think about that sometimes. One minute he’s dreaming,
maybe about some girl he just met – now that he was a fireman,
the girls started coming around – next thing he knows the whole
crew is saddled up, rolling down to Wall Street.
They were the first ladder
company on the scene. Total fubar. One captain tells them to stay put,
another orders them into the north tower, another says go to the south.
Finally one of the guys grabs Little Mike and says come with me and
they start up the north tower. Every floor they tell people: get out
get out get out. Up up up they go. Cathunk, cathunk, cathunk. I get
heartache thinking about all the gear he’s carrying. Cathunk,
cathunk, cathunk. 10th floor, 20th floor 30th floor, 40th floor. Then
the south tower collapses. I wonder what he’s thinking? The
sound, the smell, the feel of everything falling down. They still have
time to get out, but they keep going up. Cathunk. Cathunk. Cathunk. I
don’t know how far he got. I guess it doesn’t matter.
Look, Robert. If you lean way out
over here, you can see where it was. Right there. Yeah. I know.
It’s all gone.
He’s all gone. He was a
good boy. A good man.
Joy lives in Evanston, Illinois. His
work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, 3AM Magazine, Annalemma,
Right Hand Pointing, NightsAndWeekends, GlassFire Magazine, Slow
Trains, 21Stars Review, Boston Literary Magazine and The Daily Palette
(Iowa Review). A collection of his short fiction was published by
Bannock Street Books (2009).