Losing Her Twice
Wayne stared out of the barred window.
"Since the trial I haven't talked about it, ya know."
His back was upright and motionless in the chair. But his hands moved on his knees, then jammed into his pockets, drummed on the table.
"Are ya from the newspapers?"
Before I could answer he said, "What ya wanna hear?"
"Anything you want to tell me," I replied.
He leant forward. His young eyes looked straight into mine and when he spoke, the words flowed from a wound.
"Found it in an alley. Lying between boxes an' junk. An' for me it was like, I could use this to get money, ya know. Hold-ups and that."
"Didn't you think it could be dangerous? I mean, I guess you'd never handled one before."
"No, I didn't think 'dangerous'. But I also never thought it'd end the way ... it ..."
His voice stumbled and stopped.
"Wayne, tell me what it was like being on the streets, " I said.
"Wasn't that bad," he said. "There's those soup kitchens and homeless shelters. But I was kinda hiding, scared they'd find me, take me back."
I knew he meant Lincoln State Orphanage, the place he had disappeared from in early fall.
"What was it like there?"
"Felt strange first. But then, anywhere would've been strange 'cos Mom, Kenny and me, we'd lived for six, seven years in the same apartment. I don't remember living anywhere else. Mom kinda liked that hole. Must've been home to her too."
In the light from the small window, I saw his face clearly. He had opened like a book and as I watched him, memories of his ability to get into the telling of things and rivet the listener came back to me.
"She wasn't much of a mover - the guys were the movers; they moved in, they moved out. Meal ticket, she'd say if Kenny and me whinged that we didn't like one or other of 'em."
He looked over at the window, at the light behind me.
"One guy, he was okay."
Something like an echo of softness was in his voice.
"Stayed longer. Tried even, to get Mom off the bottle. He always said: 'Good-looking woman, your Ma.' Kenny and me were still small then. I remember he bought us shoes that winter. The winter Kenny got sick. He took him up to Lester General Hospital. But the medicine was so awful Kenny jus' spewed it up. Mom went on a drunk jus' after that, so I tried to get Kenny to take it, he was so thin an' sick. An' the guy left. Patience run out I guess. And me, Kenny an' Mom stayed on in that hole. Till that last night with Kenny. Then I got the kid's home and they took Mom off some-where too, when they found her. Yeah, it sure would've been easier if Kenny had been in the kid's home with me. I'd been used to little Kenny." "It must have been darn hard for you without Kenny. Do you remember any-thing good about being there?"
"It was okay. I mean, it wasn't home and there were lots of kids but we all were kinda in the same boat," he replied. "There was a janitor we called 'Leg-O.' He liked to thrash the shit outta us."
Wayne's voice was easy but his hands agitated under the table.
"He was a pervert too. Got me once. He did it in the store-cupboard. Held his hand over my mouth. Needn't have bothered. It hurt that much like hell, I couldn't find a scream anyway. Later I knew some of the other kids had got it too."
"Did your Mom visit sometimes?"
Wayne shook his head.
"She wrote a couple of times. But it was me sent most of the letters. I missed her, see. But no, I never got any damn visits. 'Cos she was in an' out of rehab all the time, trying to knock it off. Mr Ashton, the guy in charge at the home, said he thought there was a good chance she'd make a visit when the, ya know, treatment was over. But she never fuckin' did. And then, it was too late. She was gone. An' for me, there jus' didn't seem to be any point anymore. There wasn't anything left. No-one who had known me before."
I wanted to get closer to the boy Wayne had been before it all happened and called the woodwork teacher at the school he'd attended. I went up to the second floor as students pushed and crowded down the stairs. Inside the room, there was a warm smell from the shavings on the floor and rows of tools hung on the walls. Jeffries, the teacher in charge, pulled a stool out from under a workbench, dusted it off and gestured for me to sit.
"About Wayne. Hell, yes, I read about it in the papers. And saw his photo."
"What do you remember about him?" I asked.
"He was interested in wood, enjoyed the work. We got on fairly well. But he had problems which my woodworking classes couldn't deal with."
"What do you mean?"
Jeffries pushed a screwdriver back and forth over the workbench.
"Just like that," he clicked his fingers, "he lost the interest I'd worked so hard to build up. I decided to speak to him because during the years he was here, we'd de-veloped respect for one another. But I couldn't help him."
The screwdriver fell to the floor. Jeffries just stood there, looking down, fingers in his beard.
"Losing his mother a second time was too much for him, I guess."
After I left Jeffries, I went over to Lincoln State Orphanage. It was a very big, very drab building with a row of lame trees hugging the walk up to the door. Mr Ash-ton was near retirement, his face creased under thick, white eyebrows. He offered to tell me anything I wanted to know about Wayne's years there.
"How did Wayne react to the news of his mother's death?" I asked.
"He just said: 'Oh, well, I hardly knew her anymore," replied Mr Ashton. "But he was more shaken up than he showed. She never visited him, you know. Not once in the five years before she died. Surprisingly, alcoholic mothers usually make an effort to visit, despite everything. We corresponded with her, it's regulations, you know. She knew how he was getting on but it's never the same as visiting is."
Traffic throttled on the overpass and below, heat surged up from the sidewalk. I went up the steps to the apartments where Wayne had lived as a kid. I wondered why everything looked the same and yet something was different. Mrs del Pietro opened her door and asked me to come into the kitchen. She said it was the trees. The trees I remembered on the sidewalk in front of the building had been removed years ago.
"Yes, yes, Wayne and little Kenny and the Mama lived upstairs. She had lot of men - in and out, in and out. Ah, Madonna. Wayne sometimes came for food to me. When they were hungry and Mama wasn't home."
"Did your kids play with Wayne and Kenny?" I asked.
"Those boys not play much. Wayne, he look after his brother. She went out drinking. And when it happen, she was drinking day and night. That's why Wayne he didn't go to school. So the school inspector went there to find out why. He get a shock that inspector when he realise, you know, about little Kenny. He send Wayne down to me. He was hungry and first I make breakfast. He eat everything. He tells me Kenny is sick. He doesn't know, yet, because he left a piece of toast on the table. For Kenny he said, if he doesn't spew it up."
Wayne's hair had been cut since I had last seen him. His face seemed smal-ler, taut skin pulled across his cheekbones. I'd brought him some cigarettes and candy and he smiled at me, his sad eyes lightening for a moment.
"Yeah, I'll tell you about Kenny," he said. "He was my brother and I should've looked after him and hell, I should've done more for him."
"But you couldn't have stopped him dying, Wayne," I said. "Jesus, you were only eight years old."
"Yeah, maybe. Maybe it's better anyway, cos I think of myself now and I think, hey Kenny, you're out of it all."
There was nothing I could say to take away the hurt so I said nothing. He was quiet for a while too. Then he began to talk.
"That night Kenny said he was cold. Funny, he felt hot to touch though. So we kept on our clothes and I put on this second pair of socks, left from some guy, to warm his feet. I wasn't cold, it was beginning of summer I remember. He kept shiver-ing so I took the blanket off Mom's bed too. And then I lay next to him, wrapped my arms round him and curled my legs up. He was quiet all night 'cept his breathing was heavy. The knock on the door woke me. This guy, ya know, school inspector, asked questions. I didn't know where Mom was I said and my brother was sick and shh, he's still sleeping. The inspector went over to the couch and stood there looking. Then he moved the blankets back and shook Kenny a little. He stood like that for a while, jus' looking. Then he put a hand on Kenny's chest. He looked funny jus' standing there, shaking his head. He came over to me and put his arm round my shoulders. And I went down to Mrs del Pietro."
The next afternoon I walked way over to West Avenue. I wanted to try and clear my head. Dusk was coming in and the sky, what I could see of it, hung there, dirty and clouded. The late night drugstore had changed hands since the shooting. I went in anyway, to have a look around but it was just like any other drugstore that stayed open late. Afterwards I made my last visit to Wayne. The next day I would have to get back to my job in a real estate company.
"Wayne, can you talk about how it happened? If it's not easy, it's okay though."
He didn't hesitate for a moment.
"She was the old guy's daughter-in-law. He said afterwards she was the kindest, most harmless daughter-in-law anyone could ever have. He'd had the store for seventeen years. Knew how to handle hold-ups, he said. But, hell, he said, never thought it would end like that. He called me a monster and wanted to know why."
Wayne was pale but his eyes were on fire.
"You're ... you know, asking questions, finding things out. Maybe you can tell me why."
I shook my head. I had no answer for him. All I knew was that even as a child there had been a quality about Wayne that had drawn me. But a woman, attractive as his mother had been, her alcohol problem and two kids had not been my idea of a future. I had been twenty five and restless, ready to go and grab hold of life.
"The old guy already had the money in his hand. I reached out for it an' my eye caught a movement from the back. I turned. An' the gun went off."
His hands closed over his face.
"She went down straight away. I remember thinking very clearly jus' for that second - it's a woman. With a kid inside her."
After a while he said, "I'm in here for a long time."
A warder came up to the bars of the visitor's room and tapped.
Wayne got up and pushed his chair to the table. He looked out of the window
at the strip of sky above the high brick walls. I was silent. Nothing I said would be right. He moved to the door.
"Wayne, wait," I called. "Maybe you don't recognise me but you remember me."
It was a long shot but he turned.
"The guy who bought the shoes and the medicine," I said.
"Thought your Mom was good-looking."
"Yeah. Marvin, right? I felt something when you walked in. But I thought it must be a touch of the crazies, being holed up in here for months."
"I'll be living out in the Midwest for at least the next hundred years," I said. "I'll keep in touch. If you do too, I'll buy you another pair of shoes when you visit me. Or whatever."
It was the best I could do. He turned his head away. And when he looked back at me, we were both crying.