There; right there. A shadow appears and disappears before any eyes can distinguish a figure in the dark. Lights dim and flicker as it streaks past in a fit anxiety; there is fluidity to its steps, and determination in its breath. A nice 6/8 step pattern reverberates off the buildings of the lower east side of Philadelphia. A neon sign which reads LIVE NUDES provides a glimpse of the figure. Orange glow caresses the olive skin and reveals a full blossom of black curls. Bullets in a rear denim pocket on a worn pair of jeans brush against one another and echo their metallic outbursts off of the brick of the tenements as the dark passenger picks up speed. The Italian made boots slam against the pavement as it weaves through the city. It steps in a puddle and, as the ripples subside, an outline can be seen in the reflection running around the corner of the currency exchange.
A newspaper vendor, an unsuspecting citizen, rips open a box full of the new edition of the celebrity gossip magazine and rubs the slumber out of his eyes. The early morning air tickles his skin. It has an awkward temperature zone standing on the brink of being delightfully cold before the morning dew condensation subsides. This, blended with the uncanny sense of being awake before the sun rises, startles the senses. Without delay the feeling can play tricks on one’s mind. An imaginary, self constructed, panoptical presence causes one to look over one’s shoulders and deeply analyze one’s surroundings when walking out of a dwelling. Like rabbits leaving their burrows, we look to the shadows for possible threats; we listen to the breeze for any sounds of life other than our own heartbeat. There is hardly anybody awake, normally, in the early morning hours before dawn. The twilight hunters are finishing their nightly rounds and retiring to their domiciles with bellies full of the night’s bounty while night owls are growing weary. The quiet can cause people to think, and sometimes too far off of their beaten cognitive tracks. Clouds of morning breath steam pour out of the newsman’s mouth as he yawns toward the sky. He looks up and down the quiet street for any sign of human life.
“Looks like it’s going to be another lonely morning Sniffs,” he says to the grey alley cat that just appeared at his feet. This one always stops by Jimmy’s stand in the mornings with hopes that he will have some comestibles for the dependable feline. Normally, Jimmy hates cats and kicks them away like an old newspaper. This cat is different from the others; it has the personality of an old, reserved man who holds years of experience behind those faded, blue eyes. Sometimes, if the newsvendor stares into the cat’s eyes for long enough, he is reminded of the many years he has left behind; years of working hard toward an unknown end, years of hoping for someone to notice his solitude and how it was slowly killing him, and years of wondering why he didn’t sell his newsstand, pack up his few belongings that were worth the
effort, and move to a small cottage by the sea in Ireland. Jimmy always told himself that he would move to Ireland to die. His grandfather used to tell stories about Ireland. The grand seas coupled with the sprawling green fields enticed Jimmy. He told himself that he would forget the blitzkrieg, American lifestyle one day and retire to a small house with tasteful books and good beer for the remainder of his days. He often dreamed of a cliché love story where he opened a bed and breakfast on the sea near Dublin; and some beautiful, well read, optimistic woman would come into the office one day looking for a room. Jimmy would put on his best smile and treat her like gold as he showed her to his best room. She would be skeptical of this man who perspired around her every time he flirted with her, but his wit and romantic, humanistic nature would cause her to love him. Jimmy would court her and spread his feathers for her to see his colors. Oh, how he would shine if given the chance. They would fall in love by the sea and unite in great physical ecstasy every night after they talked about philosophy, astrology, and literature. They would grow old and die together happier than they could have been if she did not come into his little seaside hotel.
As Jimmy looks down into the cat’s eyes, he has a horrible vision. He will never see those shores. He feels a fear crawl over his skin and he is momentarily convinced that he will never escape his life. He shakes the thought away before it consumes his feelings. That melancholy, silent period in the morning plays tricks on Jimmy’s mind; it always has. Jimmy can’t wait for the morning rush to start because then he comes alive with majestic conversation and worldly wisdom for his customers. Jimmy feels much better when he is not left alone with himself.
“Here you go buddy. Slim pickings this morning I take it?” He gives the cat half of a croissant which it eats gladly. A couple hours from now, when the sun reaches over the horizon, coffee vendors will become hectic. The streets will fill and silence will be no more. People will pass one another on their way to work and not make eye contact while their attention spans are focused on the glow of cell phones, crotches, and bra lines.
Just as Jimmy reaches across the counter of his stand to grab a lighter, he spots something in his peripheral vision. He questions if he really saw anything or if his head is playing early morning tricks on him again. Perhaps that was just another cat he thinks to himself, but that was too big to be a cat. It moved with a different rhythm. Usually, Jimmy is not an adventurer. He tends to avoid anything with a large risk factor. The last reckless thing he remembers was when he took some LSD with his old neighbor and then made love to her in the stairwell of their old apartment complex. He felt so alive after that night. He often remembers that night when he is woeful or the dealer we call life has given Jimmy a lousy hand; it always restores his self-confidence promptly.
Jimmy puts down the lighter and begins to walk toward the alley near the currency exchange. His heartbeat quickens and his senses sharpen as he creeps closer to the general area where he saw the darkness move. Jimmy starts to question why he is investigating this when it is probably nothing. He settles on boredom being the reason why his legs are still carrying him toward the alley across the street from his little newsstand. Sniffs watches him start to walk, and then curiosity puts its wings on those little paws and soon Sniffs is at Jimmy’s side. The alley is much darker than the surrounding areas on Pilsner Street and Jimmy’s eyes have to adjust before he can see any shapes in the darkness. He looks over the alley and sees nothing that could even be mistaken for another person. A dumpster accented with piles of garbage is the only things decorating this alley. There is a faucet leaking slowly in eight second intervals; six, seven, eight, drip. Jimmy decides that there is nothing and the best thing to do is get back to his stand and his cigarettes.
Sniffs spots some half eaten pizza under a pile of paper at the edge of the alleyway. “What have you got there?” inquires Jimmy as he bends down to see what the cat has found. Drip; the newsvendor does not hear the papers by the dumpster crinkle under the Italian made boots as they move silently toward him. One, two, three; Jimmy does not see the blade emerge from the leather jacket as the dark passenger creeps closer to Jimmy. Four, five, six; Jimmy stands up and the sounds of his feet splashing in a puddle as he shifts his weight masks the sound of heavy breathing five feet behind him. Seven, eight; the blade crashes through the air with assassin like speed and splits open Jimmy’s kidney and emerges from his lower bowels on the other side of his body. Blood sprays on the gray alley cat as it looks over to see the life escaping from his newsvendor companion. Jimmy falls to his knees as his killer runs around the corner of the alley into the darkness. Jimmy sees the grey alley cat licking pizza sauce from his chops as his last conscious image; drip. The newsvendor dies in that alleyway and 400 miles away in Raleigh, North Carolina a beautiful, young philosophy graduate student combs her hair in a golden framed mirror. She hums to herself as she dreams of traveling to Europe one day; she is thinking of Ireland.