Photograph by Jessica Brookes-Parkhill
IT SCRAPES THE LONELY
by Brandon Bell
Anzel leaned face-first into the chain-link backstop and watched the Little Brewers warm up their arms, bobble balls, lose pop-ups in the afternoon sun. Store-bought fireworks sprayed dim colors in the parking lot. Clarence, playing first, loped to fetch a ball overthrown from third. “Smart gloves,” Anzel hollered. Clarence waved as if swatting a mosquito. Anzel pulled the leash. Moe rose stiffly from her dirt bed and followed along the bleachers.
“What kind of dog’s that?” asked a man from the front row.
Issue #37 soundtrack: Cloud Seeding (feat. Marissa Nadler) "Ink Jar/Unquestioning"
“Bernese mountain,” Anzel said.
“Look at that long black fur. What a big old beaut.”
Anzel led Moe onto the field and told her to sit in the coach’s box behind first base. “You look like Frank Thomas,” he told Clarence.
“You’re cleaning it up when she shits on the field,” Clarence said. “Fireworks tonight.”
“That’s tonight?” Anzel said.
“July Fourth, dummy. I need a ride home.”
“Well yeah, man. So your coach can’t do it.”
The kid at third bounced a ball to Clarence. It clanged off the fence, a foot from Moe.
“So where’s LeBron going?” Anzel said. “I bet New Jersey.”
“Only LBJ knows for sure,” Clarence said. “Why you worrying about him? You need to think about you instead of what some millionaire’s gonna do.”
“You know what? I don’t care what LeBron’s gonna do. I just ain’t got nothing else to talk to you—”
A ball shot through Anzel’s line of sight, knuckled down and crushed Moe’s face. She capsized, legs straight like a stuffed horse, yelping after a second of death. “You’re okay,” Anzel said, holding her head. Onlookers squealed or didn’t breathe. Anzel swathed the blood streaming from Moe’s nose. Her cry cooled to rattled breathing. The coach of the Brewers squeezed Anzel’s shoulder.
“Let me see,” the coach said.
“I’m doing this,” Anzel said.
“You’re smothering her.”
“I said I can fix it.”
“This is scaring the kids.”
Anzel pushed him, inadvertently tugging the leash and dragging Moe to her feet. “Little dumb bastard,” Anzel said to the coach, backing away. He wiped his bloody hands on the butt of his jeans and dragged Moe off the field, the crowd cheering like for hobbled athlete. When he reached the bleachers, a woman pressed a bandana to Moe’s nose.
“You’re lucky. She could’ve been killed,” the woman said.
Anzel shrank into Moe’s neck fur and scratched her pulsing stomach. The Brewers lined up behind the backstop for a pre-game pep talk. One of the kids asked, “Who hit the dog?”
“It doesn’t matter who threw it,” the coach said.
“He shouldn’t have had the dog on the field in the first place,” a parent said.
Anzel kept his head against Moe’s neck. The Little Reds scored six quick runs. Brewer parents muttered about Clarence’s shaky play at first base. After the Brewers lucked into out three and Clarence disappeared to the dugout, Anzel dragged Moe to the parking lot. He didn’t feel bad. Clarence could find another ride home.
He crept through the dark house, passing his mom’s television tomb.
“Where you going?” his mom asked.
“For a walk,” Anzel said, continuing to the back door.
“Take Moe with you.”
“She’s still all goofed up.”
“Better watch her. Dogs can turn depressive when they suffer brain trauma.”
“You got brain trauma,” Anzel muttered, stepping outside. He swished through the dewy backyard to the alley. Miniature pink explosions popped across the sky. Anzel traced a firework tail, wondering where poor people get money to burn.
He came to a shack tucked in the alley and knocked on the back window. Seconds later, Henny flipped aside the blanket covering the window. Despite the heat, she was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The smell of Funyuns seeped outside.
“Your parents awake?” Anzel asked.
“Wish they wasn’t,” Henny said. “I stole some stuff from daddy. But he’d smell it if I light up.” She rolled up her sleeves. Cuts on her arms, beads of blood.
“God,” Anzel said.
“Why'd you cut yourself like that?”
“I like the way it hurts. Daddy told mom about you coming around.”
Standing outside, Anzel pulled her against him. “Well, what’s it matter to her?”
“Because, Annie. We need to talk about this.”
“You ain’t pregnant.” He kissed her. She responded with a peck, talking into his mouth.
“I told you I was. I am, Annie. Stop it.”
“That thing could be anybody’s.”
“We can’t have no baby.”
“Well we’re gonna.”
Anzel had never asked her age. He kept hold with one arm and brushed a finger against her lips. “It ain’t mine.” Wide eyed, she took the finger in her mouth. The door swung open. Anzel unplugged her mouth and ran. A man yelled, “Damn you, get back here.” Anzel didn’t look back.
When he got home, he carried Moe to the car and drove to the interstate. “I didn’t screw her,” he whispered, the rear view angled to see Moe. “I never once screwed her. That was the alcohol. Don’t it effect everyone like that? Ain’t everyone got these secrets?”
Driving across the bridge to Indiana, fireworks reflected as pompoms in the Ohio River. Anzel kept the wheel steady and, like a good drunk, abided speed limits all the way to the casino. The alcohol on his breath kept him from using the courtesy valet service. He parked deep in the parking lot, left Moe asleep in the backseat, and hurried into the mall-like casino entry.
When he reached the giant gambling room, slot machines blurted like greeters to hell for horrible noises. His sinuses opened to the chlorine potpourri used to mask the cigarette smoke. He ordered a beer at the bar and took a lap through the casino, breezing by old people wearing oxygen masks and pushing walkers that had tennis ball feet. He entered a row of slots in which a blonde girl sat alone, transfixed by the spinning sherbet glow of the screen. A lanyard around her neck stretched to a card stuck in the machine. Taking a seat, Anzel peeked down the open collar of her American striped shirt.
“What’s this game?” he asked.
Watching the screen, she exhaled a smoke cloud and said, “Green Eden.”
“Good a game to go broke on as any. I like your laugh. Let’s get a drink.”
“I’m rolling here.” She pushed a button on the machine, spinning wheels. He put his face by hers. The formless pixels blotted his eyes and reflected green on her brow.
“You can’t see nothing sitting this close,” he said. “Come on. Just one drink.”
“The doctor really did say I could have one,” she said.
“Doctor knows best.”
“Hope so.” She scooted back to reveal a watermelon belly.
“Baby’s making me fat,” she said.
“You here alone?”
“Mom’s here. So’s my dumb ass brother.”
He put his arm around her shoulder. “I’m Anzel.”
“My name’s Brittany.” She stubbed out her cigarette and then took a new one from the pack. Lost again in the screen, she mis-aimed with the lighter. Anzel stole it and lit the cigarette for her.
“I might go get that drink,” he said, pocketing the lighter.
“I’m jealous. I really do want one.”
“Then let’s go.”
Biting her lip, she yanked the member card out of the machine. The card hung from a lanyard and balanced on her bulbous stomach, shaking as she followed.
“We should go up to the roof,” Anzel said.
“Up there’s boring. You promised me a drink.”
“I’ll get you one, jeez. I’ve just never been up there.”
Going upstairs, Anzel talked her ear off: “These people assume I’m the daddy. Should you be smoking? Nah, playing. Well ain’t this roof nice and private. The casino, big as it is, can’t spring for fireworks? Eh, cloudy now anyway. Let’s check out the river.”
From the railing, they watched the smooth water made visible by moth-fluttered floodlights. Anzel spit into the stream. “So this really is a boat,” he said.
Brittany laughed. “Why you think they call it the boat?”
“It can’t actually pull away. It’s stuck here.”
“Sure it can. It’s got all the rudders and whatever.”
He didn’t mention the mountings holding the casino in place. “I wonder how many people come up here to make out.”
She hiccuped, holding the cigarette inches from her lips, watching the water.
“I bet everyone comes up here,” he said.
“They come up here and do it.”
“They got cameras.”
She pushed off the railing. “I want a Tom Collins. I can have one.”
“Come home with me. I’ll fix you a steak.”
“I need to go back down.”
She started across the roof. He paced in her wake, hoping to slow her down. “Stop.” He darted around and blocked the door, her belly inches from his. “So you win big?”
“That was my lucky slot. What you do for work?”
“I’m between ‘em.”
“Everybody is. My brother might injure himself to get the social security.”
She shrugged. He held up his hand and studied it, as if appraising its worth. She watched the hand hover forth and rake her breasts. She leaked out a laugh that cut short when he leaned in for a kiss.
“Stop,” she said.
“Hey. I’m sorry. You wanted a drink.”
He held open the door; she passed through timid, frightened. He slammed the door and ran toward an Emergency Exit sign across the roof, cussed himself down the fire stairs and through the parking lot. As Anzel approached his car, he saw a man peeing on it. When the man saw Anzel, he jumped into a jeep. As the jeep sped away, a woman laughed out the open driver-side window.
Anzel charged to his car and looked in at Moe. She hadn’t moved, never barked at the man, locked eyes with Anzel. The door shined with urine that dripped into a pond on the concrete. Anzel swung the door open and put Moe’s head in a claw grip.
“You let that asshole mark you as his territory,” Anzel said. “Don’t you got no pride?”
“It’s Clarence and he sounds pissed,” she said.
“Will you get out,” Anzel said. She did, and Anzel patted the sheets for the phone and then beeped it off. Heat and sun rolled in through the open window. He twisted out of the sheets, head throbbing. “Where’s Moe?”
“Well I don’t know,” his mom yelled.
“Well who opened the window?” Dressed in last night’s clothes, he went to the window and called for Moe. A fly crawled across the sill and flew inside as Anzel climbed out.
“What to do,” he sang. “No dog, no job, economic, economic, economic.”
He cut through the side yard and started down the sidewalk. In ten steps he was sweaty and breathing tough in the stuffy heat. Store-bought fireworks littered the concrete. He kicked a firework that resembled a blown-up party hat. An old woman was watering plants on her porch. She waved at Anzel, pitcher in hand.
“Too hot for that baby of yours,” she hollered.
“Have you seen her?” Anzel called back.
“Well, no. Is she lost?”
“Yeah. Or no. Probably not.”
“Should I keep an eye out?”
“Sure, but she’ll turn up.”
On he went. He passed the alley leading to Henny’s house and continued toward the shopping district. He stared at the sun. He didn’t yell for Moe. Eyes spotty, he cut through a church parking lot. Exploded firecrackers muffled underfoot. Bottle rocket tails and dead sparklers. He spotted an intact Black Cat among the firework remains. He picked up the two-inch dynamite and twisted the short wick and dug Brittany’s lighter out of his pocket. His first swipe at the starter failed, but the second worked and the wick lit. Holding the Black Cat in his open palm, he positioned his lips to blow, but his mouth O just stared at the sizzle.
“Make fist, lose hand,” Anzel said. “Hand flat, all’s okay.”
He shook his head. Subtle differences mean the world.
“What the hell you doing?” Clarence yelled. He was straddling his bike on the other side of the parking lot. “Useless,” the child said and pedaled toward Anzel.
“I gave you that bike,” Anzel said, running away. “What more you want?”
As he ran, the lit firecracker bounced in his palm, the wick burned to millimeters. Clarence stood to pedal faster and closed the gap twenty feet. Anzel studied his hand as if questioning its use. He staggered to a stop and took aim at Clarence.
“Nothing but net,” Anzel said, balling his fist around the firecracker and reeling back to throw. A tick too slow.
Brandon Bell lives in Louisville, Ky. His work has appeared in Apiary, Leaf Garden, Cricket Online Review, and Inkspill Magazine (United Kingdom). He is writing a story collection called Unending that will feature characters from "It Scrapes The Lonely."
Jessica Brookes-Parkhill is a photographer based in New York. In 2010 Jessica was the Chief Photographer for BreakerNYC.com, New York’s primary online resource for Bboys and Bgirls. She is also available for weddings, birthday parties, events, and candid portrait sessions. Visit her online portfolio at jessibrookes.com.
Cloud Seeding is a music project by guitarist Kevin Serra (This Ascension, Lot 49). The project was conceived as a space for improvisational collaboration to showcase vocalists he admires. For the first single, "Ink Jar/Unquestioning," Serra worked with Boston-based singer Marissa Nadler while she was briefly living in Brooklyn. For more, visit Cloud Seeding on Bandcamp.