The songbird is an exuberant creature of vivacious freedom. She perches eagerly on her shining talons, anticipating a blessed future. She casts her music into an indifferent wind, but its notes are like dappled rays from a nurturing sun, warming the souls of beetles, hyenas, lions, men. She stretches her taught wings in shimmering display, and the creatures in her domain luxuriate in her graceful beauty. She needs no armor, no weapons, for as danger approaches, she lofts into the enfolding arms of the rushing sky.
Lucy Lin propped herself languidly against the counter, her nose tucked into a large book with a piebald cover showing what could have been either Escargots Bordelaise or a bunch of slimy mollusks in hot butter. Anthony took a long, slow look at her as he stepped over the threshold. From crisp white sneakers crossed coquettishly sprouted a pair of lean, golden stalks. Her bare legs glowed in warm invitation as his gaze crawled eagerly up to a pink skirt stretched over the ripening bowl of her hips. A stripe of naked skin peeked from above her waistline, punctuated with a trim dimple of a bellybutton. She wore a diminutive white tank top that hugged her compact breasts. A slender, elegant neck curved up and disappeared into the pot of unfortunate, but tasty-looking invertebrates. Her straight black hair poked above the book first as she lowered it, followed by her round, brown eyes. “Tony!” She exclaimed.
“Hey, Little Lu-Lu!” Tony responded.
Anthony shambled over to the counter sheltering Lucy, his wet feet and slick galoshes squelching and slurping with each step.
“What happened to you?” Lucy pleaded sympathetically.
“I got run over by a bull,” Tony joked.
“Well, take off that shoe and I can throw your sock in the dryer. It shouldn’t take more than a minute to burn off the wetness.” She coaxed.
“You’re a princess.” Tony gratefully cooed. He stripped off his footwear with a few loud squeals and handed Lucy his dripping sock.
She pursed her lips duck-style, knotted her brow, and scolded, “Oooh, it looks like those trousers are a bit wet too. Take those off and I can dry them too.” She teased.
“I can’t do that, I’ll scare the women and children.” He bantered back.
“Suit yourself, soggy-pants.” She shot back, punctuating her riposte with a quick outthrust of a delicate pink tongue. She turned around with her wet woolen trophy en route to the dryer just as a crinkled brown paper bag of a man emerged from a doorway behind the counter.
“Ah Tony, so good to see you.” He chanted in a heavy Asian accent. “Ni hao ma?”
“Mr. Lin, salude, a knee and how to your old ma too. “ Anthony greeted Mr. Lin. “How’s business?”
“Oh, pretty good” Mr. Lin replied unconvincingly.
“Come on now,” objected Anthony, “where I come from, when a man’s working in his own shop on a Sunday, that means business ain’t what it used to be.”
“Well, I have a little a problem with City that cost me big money. I need to keep cash coming a lot.”
“What kind of problem?” Anthony inquired. “I got some friends up town. They might be able to help you out.”
“Come with me, I show you.” Said Mr. Lin, gesturing with his hand as he turned back to the office from which he recently emerged.
Anthony walked around to a gap in the counter, and followed Mr. Lin. On a small metal desk were thin sheets of paper so large that they hung over the edges and halfway down to the floor. The papers were etched with pale blue lines.
“This my building.” Mr. Lin began, pointing to a blue rectangle toward one end of a row of blue rectangles. On one side of the row of rectangles was a long narrow strip of blue labelled “6th Street”. “Here is drain. We dump in old dry-cleaning fluid.” He continued, pointing to a small circle near the back of the blue rectangle. Emanating from the circle was a yellow-shaded area that oozed in an irregular blob past the rectangle immediately adjacent to the drycleaner, and partly into a large square next to it, almost reaching a fat strip of blue shading labeled “Broad Street.”
“City say my cleaner fluid contaminate soil, contaminate groundwater.” Mr. Lin protested. “But I say them, it is cleaning fluid, how can make dirty? I make the cleanest soil and water in Philadelphia! No stains in ground under my business!”
Anthony and Mr. Lin chuckled for a moment. Then Mr. Lin continued, “Health Department say I must clean. How do I do that? Pick up buildings and go with broom under them? Another man come from special cleaning service, say cost a lot of money. So, I work Sundays, and maybe in a few years, I have enough.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that Mr. Lin” Anthony consoled him.
“And I must mention, no dumping in drain now. Have to pay lotta cash to take away old dry clean fluid.” Mr. Lin complained.
“Don’t worry about this, Mr. Lin. I know a guy who can help you out. Let me get in touch with him, and I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, don’t do a thing on this.”
“Tony, thank you so much!” Mr. Lin gushed. “You are true friend.”
As Tony and Mr. Lin stepped out of the office, Lucy came back with a dry sock in one hand, and a handful of suits crucified on wire hangars and mummified in clear plastic in the other.
“You’re stuff’s ready.” She announced.
“What do I owe you?” Anthony asked.
“Your money no good here.” Mr. Lin instructed him with a casual wave of his hand as he turned and headed back into his office.
“You sure you don’t want me to work on those pants some?” Lucy asked playfully. “I can cook you up something yummy while you wait.”
“Hopefully not any of those slimy things on your cookbook.” Anthony said with a grimace.
“Maybe you should taste my slimy things before you turn your nose up,” She replied saucily.
Anthony held his hand out for his sock.
“You’re no fun,” She pouted, handing over the limp tube of wool. “I’m going to be stuck in here the rest of my life. Do you think I’ll ever escape?” She asked wistfully.
“Hey,” Anthony chided, “ain’t nothing wrong with this place. Besides, where would you go?”
“I to travel. Paris, Provence….” she trailed off.
“Maybe you can turn this place into a French Restaurant.” Anthony suggested.
“Yeah, probably not. I applied to the International Culinary School at the Art Institute, but it’s so hard to get into, they’re really selective. I don’t think they believed an Asian girl could cook French food.”
“You like Italian?” Anthony asked.
“Depends on who the Italian is.” She chuckled.
“I have a friend you should meet. A true Italian, and absolutely passionate about the cuisine of old Italy.”
“Italian?” She scoffed. “I’m not really into pizza, pasta, and cannoli.”
“He’s got some kind of cannoli like you wouldn’t believe.” Anthony jibed. “I’ll introduce you sometime.”
Anthony grabbed his desiccated sock, pushed it onto his foot, re-attached his shoes and galoshes, slung his dry cleaning over one shoulder, and shambled back out into the weather.
Across the street, a dozen images of the Eagles’ offense of varying sizes were preparing to snap the ball with only a few seconds left in the game, still down by four. Anthony proceeded down the road, his head pointed toward the TVs, his eyes glued to the suspenseful final moments. The ball was snapped and Jaws dropped back, with a pump-fake to the running back on a wheel route out to the flat. Then he set his feet, cocked his arm and let go with a longball toward Carmichael, who was deep downfield. The tight spiral floated gracefully toward his outstretched arms, when—
Anthony was suddenly whacked in the forehead. A blinding flash of pain shot through his brow, flinging him backward onto the ground. He felt the biting chill of the damp slush soaking into his now-grimy suit. The dry cleaning lay scattered on the ground next to him, floating, soiled and damp, in the muck. He felt a hot trickle running down his nose to his lips. He licked at it, and tasted the salty, metallic flavor of blood. An angry pressure began to throb in his temples as he wallowed in a defeated mess on the ground. He looked up and saw standing over him the same cackling witch that was mocking him at the George Machine. She had just stepped out of the bank, and whacked the distracted Anthony with the door. She glared down at him with her howitzer-sized nostrils flaring with each nauseating breath. “What is wrong with you boy?” She shouted at him. “You need to watch where you’re going! And don’t be such a clumsy baboon!”
The throbbing in his brain increased to a furious roar, and he felt his body tensing, his heart racing. He looked back to the dry cleaner, to his ruined clothes in the yellow ooze, to the bank, to the bank door. “Two doors down from the drycleaner,” he thought.
And then the tension was suddenly released, the spring of his emotion decompressed, and instead of a yell of fury, he lay back in his cold puddle, and laughed. His laugh bubbled up from a deep, hollow place inside him, but it was a laugh of expectant triumph. “Two doors down!” He explained to the wildebeest still glowering at him, with a note of hungry awe in his voice. And he burst out with more uncontrolled guffaws.
“You crazy” the fat lady admonished as she stalked off.
Anthony was still laughing as he looked across the street, and there, in the shop window, a dozen images were jumping and dancing in unison, as the Eagles celebrated in the end zone.
By Stirling Edgewood