By Matthew Abuelo.
Henry Wilson looked out the only window of his SRO room and onto the street below. The iron colored light of late winter shown through the window. The swirling snow and wind created eddies along the sidewalk as passersby moved like so many fish in a bowl, hunched over with their faces pointed to the ground. Mothers with their kamikaze strollers which were used to move along any straggler who moved too slowly for any wealthy mother to deal with. He had been among the ranks of those out there, long ago, but was now living as a shut-in, only leaving his apartment to go grocery shopping or to the bank or to pick up his mail which included his monthly welfare check sent by Uncle Sam. His parents had, when he was still a boy, their victory gardens, which by this time had long wilted away. In a strange way which Henry could never fully explain, he felt that these checks were payment for his family’s services to the country during the Second World War. His father was a war resister, while his mother worked as a nurse state side taking care of the institutionalized and destroyed by “battle fatigue”.
After the war overseas, the war at home started, Senator Joseph McCarthy sent out his goon squads to hunt down accused Communists from every walk of life, every alley way, every street corner and every movie studio. Without explanation his parents wound up on the list, as did their neighbors who lived across the hall of a three story walk up in the East Village. Like so many others, they were forced underground, many moving into basements out on the Island or into the deserts of Mexico. For those who were forced too far below the waterline of polite society, they forgot about the idea of believing in God while many came to consider preachers, priests and rabbis alike, con men of the highest orders and snake oil salesmen of the lowest class. Still others who hit the times’ bedrock, figured that they were so far below ground that even if there was a God, he must have surly forgotten about them. After all, no angel could fly so far below that they would not get lost. The Jews among their ranks soon realized that the heavens were long empty, and the sky was forever indifferent to any prayer or scorn. For the soot that bellowed from the smoke stakes of Auschwitz still blanketed their memories and buried any need for any Tora whose words now lay empty. The pressure of being hunted became too much for his father to bare. Wilson watched his old man spiral into the throes of paranoia. Even after McCarthy had his great melt down on national TV, the old man swore there was an FBI agent around every corner. Pretty soon, he was convinced that the radio was a kind of transmitter which allowed authorities to keep track of the family at all times. From then on Wilson’s father spent his time in and out of psych wards until he was found hanging with a piece of cable wire around his throat in the laundry room of their apartment building. But that was all long ago.
The fear that was born from those days stuck with Henry, who now lived among piles of clothing, movie cases and yellowed newspapers. And every day he promised himself he would leave his apartment for the entire day and join the world of the living. But this promise was always going to take place tomorrow, until all his plans were pushed to all the tomorrows which he would ever know. The anxieties that haunted him had become just too great, and the paralysis caused by such fear had long reduced him to a house cat, forever looking out the window at a world he knew he would never be a part of again. The time spent between four walls may have kept his body in this womb of drywall and bricks, but the steady sound of the clocks on his walls, along with the endless glare of his television set, sent his mind drifting into the yearless avenues where time long dissolved and where there are no police officers unravelling their fly paper to catch the never ending stream of the accused and dumped them into the tombs. He, Henry Wilson, alone escaped the barricades. For he had discovered the SRO of the heart, and that room had just gotten larger, and all of a sudden believed himself to be the saint of the cheated soul. But he was no agent of God but of man. For how could he serve any God who was noticeably absent when he and his family entered the bedrock of the Willow Brook wards? His father spent much of his time there strapped down to his bed, heavily drugged and barely able to utter a comprehensive sentence, and that was when he was able to speak at all. Other times he was passed out, and all his mother could do was hold the old man’s hand and weep softly so not to disturb another patient who also resided in the antiseptic room. The smell of piss and shit hung heavy in the ward’s air and all the visitors did their best not to notice the stench which greeted them like an overly friendly security guard. Now it was a matter of finding the evidence of his holiness and a place to lead his flock. “Only if I had a sign,” Henry stated out loud to no one. Images started rolling along his eyelids of him leading his flock into the great either where rent means nothing because there are no landlords in his new city of the condemned. “I’d rather be a loser with endless dreams than America’s hero with no dreams left at all. I am of the pauper’s ranks and they are of mine, and I would rather have a serial number on my coffin then some stupid headstone.”
Loud moaning came from the other side of the wall nearest to his bed. It was Apu, an Indian Brit with an outbreak of shingles that had spread across his back and chest. There was no position he could lay for very long before turning back and forth with clinched teeth. His desperate moaning had gone on for well over ten days and seemed to have little chance of being cured. His deep Hindu up-bringing kept him away from western medicine and turned instead to arovetic therapy. He had long thrown his lot behind one of New York City’s guru of Citi yoga, where the wealthy and the cheated alike came to gather in chants of transcendence. The guru lead each and every ceremony, looking at her followers as a feast of fools, all of whom owned a copy of the DVDs she produced with this or that lecture on surrendering the self to God and the universe. But anyone who would have looked in on these gatherings would have wondered if she had surrendered herself to anything at all. Now there was little he could do but surrender himself to the pain of each small attack on his nerve endings, which felt like they were opening like flowers under the bellowing light of every unforgiving day. In a strange sense, this illness became Apu’s awakening into something holy, his one chance to surrender to the endless alleyways of strange and false humility. It is what happens to anyone who ever followed a con artist that came to believe her own con. Now on his sweat soaked mattress, under the scented air of incense, Apu faced the most unforgiving light of all, the one that left no corner of the con he set for himself unexposed, giving him the feeling of a detective who was investigating a murder he knew he committed. It was a con that ran deeper than any scar of the soul. For the first time he started begging out loud for someone to call for an ambulance. “Poor bastard,” Wilson lamented with a distant voice. “He must be one of my flock”.
A loud banging came from the door. Wilson didn’t need to ask who it was, a voice with a thick Polish accent came from the hall. “You fucken welfare tenants need to pay more money. How dare you live here so much on the cheap. The boss will get you out, you will see. We will get good people in here”. It was the super of the building, Boris, who also took the role of one of the landlord’s goons along with being a useful idiot and drunken buffoon who danced for every scrap off the landlord’s table. To Wilson, the voice from the other side of the door could just as easily been an FBI agent’s voice, finally triggering the trap which they’ve been setting for more than fifty years now. But it was the other voices in the halls, the ones that had become far too familiar which scared Wilson the most. They always seemed to have the vague urgency of the sirens of passing emergency vehicles, racing down West End Avenue. “Shut the fuck up, you gypsy piece of shit!” another voice shouted back. “I’m Polish, not Romanian. You see? You ignorant people don’t know nothing.” The voice shot back again, “I don’t care you are still a cheap gypsy fuck to me!” Wilson could hear the Pol’s heavy boots stomp across the section floor before he opened the security door to leave, letting it slam just behind him.
Wilson continued to look out the window onto the street as the snow fell at an angle. A homeless man passed under the last reminisce of daylight, pushing a shopping cart filled with soda cans. He moved quickly towards Broadway. The section door opened again, this time closing with no sound at all. Light footsteps moved across the hallway and into the community bathroom. Cries rang throughout the section. “Those Jews, they run everything. They don’t care. Those pigs. They don’t care I’m sick. Those fucken Jews make it hard for me to get my aids medicine. They no care. No one cares for poor Julio. What they care? They have all the money. No one cares if I live or die. Poooor Julio. Poooor Julioooo”!
Then the bathroom door closed and all Wilson could hear were the heavy sobs of Julio, who was desperately trying to hold on to the last vestiges of his sanity. The constant intake of the drug cocktails which kept him alive was robbing him of his mind to the point that he would go on long rants down in the subway stations till the police would cart him off to the wards of St. Luke’s. Henry turned to his door. “Why does he go on like that and who are all these Hebrews in his head who keep conspiring against him? Where is his father among them? The old man was a rabbi. Was his mother’s tongue really that much of a Catholic shot gun? Did she really splatter the old man’s name all over the wall in that poor bastard’s mind?” Wilson’s eyes dropped to the floor in time to see a large bull roach scurry behind a book case without any noise.
On the side of a building across the street, Wilson saw a concentrated light, not unlike the glare of a TV set in the morning light. Henry cried out, “This is my sign. My guiding star to deliver the great flock back to the God that has long forgotten about each and every one of them!” Without a second thought, Henry Wilson opened his window in order to go to that light. He crawled out, falling four stories down. Long sharp spikes from the gate below shot through his eye sockets, snapping his neck. His shin and knee bones shattered against the concrete of the sidewalk, which sent a sudden current of pain up his spine and created a thunderous roar in his skull. Blood ran slowly from his eye sockets down the long black metal of the fence forming small red pools in the snow that began to form rivers flowing towards the gutters. The last thought raced through his mind, “I’m the true saint of the people. All will be delivered home”. For the first time in days the snow had finally stopped falling, as the crowd gathered to stare at the idol on the metal fence who died for no one’s sins at all. But the wind was colder and more bitter, as if it was just another heart with a grudge in a city full of grievances. From all the nearby stores and all the nearby bars, Christmas music echoed through the streets. Fathers passed by with their families, looking only for a moment at the commotion on the sidewalk with mild annoyance, while cab drivers rubbernecked the passing bridge and tunnel crowd to get a look at the action. And all the unseen ghosts sang their unheard carols; “Henry Wilson chose a casket marked with a serial number in a grave with no head stone, not a name nor a home. He escaped the winter when the season had become so swollen, before his mad soul could be stolen. He finally delivered his flock of the fallen. Henry Wilson, the saint of the SRO.”
Nine stories up a young child took a pocket mirror out of the fading sun where he was bending the light and creating the dim glare on the building across the street. Wilson’s guiding star vanished as the child stuck the mirror in his dresser drawer. He was called to the dining room table, indifferent to the action below, to eat with his indifferent family.
MATTHEW ABUELO is a writer, professional blogger and award winning poet. He has three books out, Last American Roar and Organic be found an Hotels on lulu.com. His third book “The News Factory” was released by Plain View Press. He is working on his first novel, “The Nowhere People” and a forth collection of poetry, “Land Of The Cheated”. He is a former journalist for the online news site Examiner the Times Square Chronicles as a housing rights journalist and political commentator. Matthew Abuelo has performed around Manhattan including at the forum The Poetry Project’s marathon, which also featured, Pattie Smith Susan Vega, Lenny K, Steve Earle and many other icons. http://joerussia3.wix.com/thenewsfactory