Lucky he hasn’t eaten in two days, the hobo thinks. There isn’t much shit to slurp out of him with that last kick. His pants are almost all brown now, sure, but more stains means more fester. “Fester,” he thinks, so close to “foster,” so close to boyhood, and what a joke, sitcking “care” afterwards, an afterthought. He had never been as good at picking pockets as Johnny had been, but Johnny had been good to him. He had taught well, rewarding with kisses down the stomach after sharing an ice cream cone on Sundays.
St. Dominic’s, where he’d tasted what life would feed him, and being there with Johnny, with Timmy, Scab, the Jangle-Fairy, its no-budget canned beans and sizeless sweaters.
St. Dominic’s, where he’d learned to take a beating, learned when to stop fighting and just take the fists and the bumming. Good practice for later, it’d been. Better to be broken in boyhood than wait too long. At least there, there were toys and picture books of armor and dragons, and beds with mattresses.
There is a chill coming. It pushes the trash around. Yesterday’s paper said it would get above 35 this week. He needs to hold out until the swelling gets too bad to walk with, until the shrinking stomach becomes a pit of a peach, until the frostbite turns his tips blacker than his hands already are. Then he can shoplift a bottle of Wild Irish and suck it down until the cops come. Then, three weeks of warm and steady meals.
The boy who stole his wallet looks at the hobo unblinkingly as his bus rolls away. The hobo starts rolling, too, to get a better look. He stops half way turned around, middle finger fused to his hand. Fuck. Twisted wrist. And at least one cracked rib. When the coughing fit starts, the rib is a lesion.
He is warmer than he should be. He falls back on his face and notices that the glass is all over the ground. His stomach is wet. The ground is wet. He feels for the rib, and it is not a rib poking through his stomach, it is half the bottle of Wild Irish. He rolls back to his back. His blood is thin from the liquor. He pulls, then pulls harder, like King Arthur in the library. There is a shrill scream, louder than even this neighborhood is used to. There are people around him, now, but their faces are blurry. He is not there, anymore.
The first time the blood the blood had come, with their come, with Johnny and Scab and the Jangle Fairy, half in his mouth, half in his ass, he’d blacked out, The hobo woke up in the infirmary with a bandage wrapped around his head, a plastic knight wrapped in his fingers, sword sticking out.
The nurse is standing over him. Her habit is muffled, the same grey color of the drapes. Her hand is over her chest. She is whispering a prayer to herself. The hobo doesn’t know how to look into any eyes. There is always judgement. He shrinks from her touch. “You poor boys,” she says. “You poor boys. What have you done to make God forget you?”
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