Category Archives: William Blick

The Old Neighborhood

The neighborhood was alive back then. Different. Not like it is today. Full of punks and people who don’t mow their lawns. They just don’t care. The lawns, though small and very much like postage stamps, are now unkempt. Me and the others are the only ones left of the old block.
+++++Then there was the business with Ms. Carey. But I won’t tell you about that. But the Oaklands were a stable, solid family. One became a fireman, the other a cop. The girls married respectable men. Then there was that Ritchie kid. The youngest Oakland. He was a nice boy. He would ride his skateboard on the sidewalk by my house when he was young. A nice boy. Bright too. He was like a little angelic figure with a cherubic face when he was a child. Polite. Generous. Friendly. He helped this one boy when he skinned his knee real bad. He had character. At that age at least, which is rare.
+++++Then he got older. He grew his hair long. Those heavy metal band patches on his jacket. The earring. The whole bit. Some say he turned to drugs. His cherubic face was now gaunt and sunken and his skin pale, almost yellow. He dropped out of school. I could hear the shouting in that old Oakland house with the sycamore in front of it. And then there was that business with Ms. Carey…
+++++I wasn’t going to tell you about that, but I guess I will. Ms. Carey was a sweet old lady that sat on her stoop in a housecoat watching the kids go by. Yelling an occasional “Watch Out!” or “Take it Easy!” She was the last of her bloodline. She had no relatives or children or a spouse. She never married. When her sister died, Ms. Carey was the last one left of her family. She retired from the phone company years earlier and lived off a meager city pension. Alone in this world, she bought cat food for her eight cats and lived off of liverwurst and crackers. She always had candy on Halloween and she always had a fresh wreath at Christmas. And she always had a graham cracker for the lucky little soul who sat with her on a balmy summer night. Ritchie would sit and talk to her for hours about animals and insects and far away lands when he was that cherub. And she always gave him a graham cracker and a glass of milk.
+++++This went on until Ritchie started being “cool.” When he stopped getting haircuts. He would walk by Ms. Carey’s house and she would offer him a graham cracker and he pretended he didn’t notice her. Many people stopped noticing Ms. Carey. She began telling stories over and over again. The same ones. It was repetitive and boring and annoying to many a passerby. I felt bad for the lady. Alone in that house, which was small, but great and big for a woman of her small stature.
+++++Ms. Carey was slipping with old age and Ritchie and not very many others had much use for her. As the neighborhood changed, indifference swept over this town. Callous, cold hands had this town in its grip. People began to lock doors. Mistrust and paranoia crept in. And when the autumn wind swept through the neighborhood one year, Ritchie was walking down the street. He had his Ipod on and he was bopping to some old 80’s heavy metal song or whatever you call it. It just so happened at that moment old Ms. Carey fell in her front yard while sweeping some leaves. Ritchie didn’t hesitate. He went in the gate. Picked her up. Set her on the steps. Jim Hanlon called 911. I saw the whole thing from my window.
+++++But other than that, Ritchie didn’t pay much mind to old Ms. Carey. He walked down the same street bopping to the heavy metal or the punk rock or one of those types of music. He passed me and Jim Hanlon and nodded his head. He didn’t smile. He didn’t laugh. Rumor has it, that he was behind the St. Martin’s School yard biting the heads off chickens. But gee it certainly was a nice thing he done for Ms. Carey.
+++++One day Ritchie was in the school yard with his friends. They were taking snorts of Old Granddad whiskey. And then Ritchie comes up with the idea.
+++++“Hey Rad Man,” says Ritchie. The Rad Man was pulling off the bottle and he coughed a little, “Yeah,” he says.
+++++“Hey member that ole lady I helped in the front yard.”
+++++“Yeah, you was like a town hero or something,” says The Rad Man.
+++++“Well I seen this box. Like a strong box. Only it’s like tin or something. Easy to knock over. I bet that old broad has got a stash in there.”
+++++“Really. Sounds interesting. Finally, you get a good idea.”
+++++“What are you talkin bout. I am the genius of this bunch.”
+++++“Okay genius, you live on the same block. What if someone recognizes you or you get caught?”
+++++“That’s whats so genius. No one will think twice. Dey see me on the block. Dey think nuttin.”
+++++“Kid, you aren’t as dumb as you look. And with the fuckin Aerosmith hat your damn ears stick out. When do we move?”
+++++“This ole broad falls asleep early. I know her since I am a kid. She won’t give us no trouble.”
+++++“Nice. I like the way you think,” said The Rad Man, “Sides we’re getting low on the real stuff.”
+++++Little Brown was quiet through the whole conversation. He was shaking with the sickness. They needed to shoot dope soon or he was gonna have a fit.
+++++“Hey guys, let’s go hit the spoon. I am dying.”
+++++“Me too,” said Ritchie.
+++++The three sat under the train trestle and shot dope. The rains fell all around. The cleansing waters mixed with the filth in downtown Buckston that night. They would be searching for an angry fix soon enough. But they had enough dope in them to get the job done.
+++++When the rains let up the three went to the Treehouse. It was Rad Man’s pad, a real dump of a house in a real dump of a neighborhood. The kind you wouldn’t wanna walk around in after dark. Far away from the street and the house with the sycamore where Ritchie grew up and Ritchie chose this life to be different. He thought he was independent and cool. He thought he was some sort of rugged thug bohemian. People always end up suffering when a boy makes choices like the ones Ritchie does. Oh how me and Mr. Hanlon and I am sure Ritchie’s parents longed for the old days. Days when we would drink gin and tonic and smoke cigarettes under umbrellas in neat yards with bbqs glowing and meat smoking on a grill and the sun beaming down. Goodwill to the neighbors on the street and people everywhere.
+++++Ritchie, Rad Man, and Little Brown had some ski masks with holes cut in them. And a piece, which Rad Man’s Dad had given him once, which he wasn’t sure worked. They toked some reefer and drank bad wine and headed out for ole Ms. Carey’s place. Ritchie was sure she was sleeping. The neighborhood was asleep. The street was asleep. The rains glowed under the illumination of the street light’s beams. They went around the back. The slid the back window open. Jeesus, she didn’t even lock it. The three scurried in the window. Their junkie frames were narrow enough to enter without a ruckus. In the next room, there was ole Ms. Carey. But something was wrong. As soon as the three entered the kitchen, there was the stagnant smell of death lingering with the cinnamon and cloves in the pantry. Ritchie noticed Ms. Carey wasn’t breathing when he stepped into her sleeping area. He couldn’t see the rise and fall of her chest to signal breathing.
+++++“The old broad’s dead I tell you,” said Ritchie. For once in his teenaged life he felt a bit of remorse, a little glimmer of something.
+++++“Oh man, let’s get out of here,” said Little Brown.
+++++“Not without the shit,” said The Rad Man. “Besides, it ain’t like we killed her.”
+++++Ritchie stared in the closed eyes of Ms. Carey. He had a flickering in his head. A flickering of images harking back to his youth. His youth of Graham Crackers and milk on this very porch. But something cold and dark swelled up in his chest and blotted out all memory. He suddenly felt the sickness in his stomach. A sickness that could only be taken away by more dope.
+++++The three hustled to the back of the house and Ritchie reached on top of the refrigerator. Sure enough the old broad had laid it there. A strong box made of some flimsy metal. Ritchie busted open the tiny little lock. There with in the box was 100 dollars cash and some papers.
+++++“Well,” said The Rad Man, his whispery voice reaching a crescendo, “What is it?”
+++++“Just looks like 100 bucks, man,” said Ritchie.
+++++“100 bucks! You stupid bastard, we committed a felony for a 100 bucks,” said Rad Man. He snatched the box out of Ritchie’s hands and immediately began rifling through some additional documents that were there.
+++++“Uh, Rich, Bud… seems you got something here.”
+++++“What the hell are you talking about,” said Richie.
+++++“Yeah, what is you yelling about,” said Little Brown.
+++++Ritchie snatched the tattered frayed document from the Rad Man. He glared at in the dark, with a chilling feeling coming over him. He danced the light of the mini flash light over it. It was clearly a deed of some sort. Of some sort. It was the deed of this house. This house preserved with a pension from the city. Molded and shaped by a diet of liverwurst and crackers. And cats. Where were all the damn cats any way? They were gone, gone away.
+++++Anyhow, Ritchie read what he did not or could not believe. It was signed over to none other than himself. An entire house and the old broad gave it to him. Was it the graham crackers as a child? Or was it that singular act of kindness where he picked off the front lawn and sat her on the stoop. Was it serendipitous? Gods, saints, sinners, angels. All the junk in him made run into the sink and puke. He was regurgitating his lifeless soul, which he sold for a bag of dope. He intruded on upon this humble hovel with the intent of a brigand. He left the recipient of good will. What did this mean to the balance of his existence? What was wasn’t. And what is, is no more. One thing was for sure. He couldn’t go on the way he was going. It meant death or worse. He folded the deed and the three walked out into the autumn air. There was silence and the deafening wail of the angels of his psyche bringing him back to the time when he was a cherub.
+++++The leaves fluttered to the pavement. The streetlight hummed and danced illumination of the deeds dark and unseen, new and redeemed, on this street in this town in the USA in this world in this universe. It could happen anywhere, but it happened here.