This is still pretty rough, but I thought I’d share.
THE KEY IS BROKEN
When Mugsy got home, Jackie was outside on his porch smoking a cigarette. He nodded to him as he passed by. Jackie looked up with tired eyes and nodded back.
“Early day, man?” asked Jackie.
“Yeah, a little bit. What about you?”
“Naw, man. I’m just getting started. Day off, you know?”
Mugsy took out his key and battled the doorknob. Jackie laughed low.
“Man, I told you that knob is a bitch. You got to say something to the landlord.”
Mugsy fought with the door for several minutes before breaking the key.
“Damn it,” he said, looking at the tip of the key in the lock.
Jackie laughed again. “I guess you don’t have a choice, now. You got to tell that bum landlord.”
He sighed and said, “Guess so. Be right back.”
Mugsy’s building wasn’t far from the manager’s office. He had to pass three buildings and he was there. Only one car was out front–a raggedy blue Toyota. He doubted it belonged to the manager, but he walked in, anyway.
A skinny, pretty black-haired white woman sat behind the desk. Her nose was thin and sharp and her face slanted downwards. She looked at Mugsy with wrinkles of concern on her forehead.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Yeah. My key broke off in my door.”
“Okay. Which unit?”
Mugsy told her the unit, the building and his name. She typed some stuff on the computer with the greatest of intent on her face.
“Okay, Mr. Malone, the manager isn’t here, right now; but, I have put in a request to have a new knob put on with a new key. As soon as he returns, he’ll have maintenance get to it.”
“Is maintenance here?”
“Yes, but they cannot remove knobs or enter buildings until management approves it.”
“Not even if I approve it?”
“Because management has to approve it.”
“That’s the owner’s rules.”
Mugsy sighed and shifted nervously.
“I understand you’re upset, sir, and I apologize. I don’t make the rules. If you would just wait, he will be back in no time.”
He calmed and rubbed the back of his neck. It was tense and sweaty. He looked the lady in the eyes and said, “Okay. I’ll be waiting on my porch.”
“Okay, Mr. Malone. I’m sorry for the inconvenience. We’ll have someone by shortly.”
“Thanks,” Mugsy said and left.
He wanted to tell her that the lock should have been replaced before he ever moved in and that this was poor quality. But, she was a woman and he couldn’t bring himself to be mean to a female. She had such soft features and innocent eyes. She looked like she could never do harm to anyone. Loretta had looked that way once, but Mugsy already saw through that. Maybe that woman was the same way. She probably was. For a second he thought about marching back in there and telling her what a bitch she was, but two things stopped him: that would only make his situation worse and she probably wasn’t that way. Not all women were like Loretta, he had to keep telling himself that. It wasn’t fair to other women.
When he turned the corner back towards his building, Jackie smiled at him.
“What they tell you?”
“Management ain’t here, so I’ll have to wait.”
“You get that skinny white woman?”
“She’s a bitch. Don’t let her fool you. She looked all nice and everything, but she’s mean. I got locked out once in the rain and asked her for an extra key. She said maintenance had it. I asked her to call them. She said she didn’t have the number. I told her she was full of shit, so I ended up waiting four hours out there.”
“You never called her while you were waiting?”
“Sure. She told me I should have remembered my key and hung up. When I called her again, she never answered. Eventually, maintenance showed up. He said the manager didn’t tell him about until about ten minutes before he showed up. He said he came as soon as he was told.”
Mugsy shook his head. “I thought she was probably mean.”
“She is. But, oh well. We mean, too.”
“Yeah, she was probably nice once, but someone ruined her.”
“A man, probably.”
“A man or her mama. Who knows?”
“Well, I guess I got to sit here and wait.”
“Let me get you a chair, man.”
“You ain’t got to do that.”
“Shit, man. I ain’t going to make you sit on the ground.”
Jackie went in, despite Mugsy’s insistence that it was not necessary, and brought another lawn chair out.
“Do you sit on lawn chairs, or something?”
Jackie closed the door and sat the chair down. “Naw, I just don’t like to leave them outside. Motherfuckers ’round here are dumb. They get bored enough, they’ll take a man’s chair.”
Mugsy sat down and thanked Jackie.
“So, how long you lived here?”
“Bout five years. Not a bad little place. It’s easy, rent’s low. It’s all good.”
Jackie had a cooler next to him. He opened it up and tossed Mugsy a brew from it. Mugsy almost dropped it, but caught it as it rolled off his lap.
“Thanks,” he said and popped it open.
“So, what brought you back from Chi-town?”
“Just some business. Nothing major.”
“You got an apartment for business?”
“Yeah. It’ll take a while. But, I’m on a month-to-month.”
Jackie nodded. “I see. That shit costs a little more, though.”
“I don’t want to get stuck in a lease in case I have to go. Can’t live here when Chicago calls.”
“That’s true. That’s a long-ass drive.”
“It’s not too bad.”
“It is if you have to drive there and back every day.”
“True. That would suck.”
“You got a woman?”
“Naw, man. I got many women,” Jackie smiled. “I ain’t about to hook up with just one. I like my free time. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah,” but he didn’t.
They sat there drinking beer together in the afternoon sun, under the shade of the balcony above their head. Jackie didn’t have any shoes on and he was wearing a white-tee shirt and shorts. He had a scruffy look to him that suggested he just got out of bed.
“What got you up so early, anyway? You don’t look like you been to work,” Jackie said.
“I was at my parents’ house last night. I got up this morning and took a walk around my old neighborhood.”
“Cool. Just wanting to revisit the ol stomping grounds?”
“Yeah. Ain’t much changed.”
“Shit man, nothing ever really does, unless it’s for the worse.”
“Seems that way.”
Both sages looked at the ground and kept drinking. Mugsy thought that Jackie seemed almost as sullen as him. But, he figured it was because he was laid back. He didn’t really express too many concerns. But, neither did Mugsy, for that matter. They didn’t really know each other. But, Jackie seemed cool although hard to read. He seemed like a man who accepted what was. It was hard for Mugsy to do that; he had to be in control. If something happened, it had to be because he willed it.
Out of nowhere, as if returning to the question earlier, Jackie said, “I had a girl, once. Well, more than once. I been with my fair share of women in my day. But, I had a real serious one once. We was together about three years. I loved her, man. Beautiful white woman: long blonde hair, deep blue eyes, curves like out of a magazine. She was fine. I was doing all right back then. Making good money, had a nice apartment, decent ride. That’s why that woman liked me. I knew it at first. I knew she was only with my skinny ass because I was doing all right. I was far from being rich; but, I was far from being poor, too. Too bad she was far from being in love. Which, you know, was no biggie in the beginning. It wasn’t like I loved her for a minute. I was with her ‘cuz I thought she was so fine. But, after a while, I thought she had come to love me. I came to love her. So, when shit went south, I thought, “Hey, at least I still got Lisa.” Boy, was I a fool. She stuck by me a couple of weeks, but headed out the door for some other guy, telling me she had to do what was best for her. Whatever, man. Ain’t no thing.”
“I’m sorry, man.”
“You ever had your shit broke?”
Mugsy nodded. “It ain’t right, yet.”
“Then you know what I’m saying.”
“Sure do. Mine was like a bird and an open window, flying in and out.”
Jackie appraised Mugsy for a second. He turned his attention to the concrete around his feet. Then, back to Mugsy.
“I like that, man. That’s good. I guess life is an open window and everything else is birds.”
“Feathers and shit, right? Floating through the air, staying on the ground?”
“Yeah. Everything leaves something behind.”
“Damn, right. Broken wings.”
“Wings or hearts.”
“The same thing.’
“I guess it is.”