By Matthew David Brozik
“You’re fucking with me,” I said. I mean, he had to be.
“Why would I?” the kid asked me.
Because I’m an authority figure, I thought. Because I’m The Man. To push me, to test me. To embarrass the hell out of me. And he was off to a terrific start.
“Say it again,” I asked of him, giving the boy a chance to abort his joke.
He maintained his identity. “It’s like Edward,” he commented, perhaps thinking that Edward was a name I’d find at least familiar, if not comforting (if the boy wasn’t at all concerned about my comfort).
I just looked at him, as we stood on the cracked sidewalk across the street from the grocery... the flashing lights of the ambulances making the nighttime crime scene look a bit like a disco, the EMTs wheeling the small store’s proprietor and proprietress, covered by sheets, out of their former place of business, uniformed officers marking the locations of spent shell casings, noting blood splatter patterns, and looking to see whether the closed-circuit crime-prevention television camera on the ceiling mounted inside the front door and pointed toward the counter was actually hooked up to anything or there just for show, as such cameras often were... not saying anything at first, waiting for the awkwardness to cause him to crack, or crack up, thinking that he’d succeeded, that he’d gotten me, made me look stupid. But the kid just looked back at me, waiting, it appeared, for me to ask my first substantive question. I wasn’t ready, though. My mind was busy remembering stories I’d heard of rich, white, male med students who were doing their internships in the deep, poor, impressionable South in the 1950s and who suggested to Negro women going into labor under their watch names for the newborns—Shithead (pronounced with a soft th and a long ea)... Female (fuh-MA-lay)... Chlamydia. Maybe it was just an urban legend... and I’d never taken the time to try to figure out if it was, not even by just asking any one of a number of my colleagues who’d have known the truth... probably because it was too good a story. That is, I guess I have to admit that I kind of wanted it to be true.
In any event, this boy had been born in the new Millennium.... Still, I supposed, if I was going to bother having a conversation with him, I was going to have to trust him, or at least let him think I would trust him.
“Okay, then,” I said, moving us along. Getting us started, really. “What went down here tonight...?”
He told me: He’d been volunteered by an older boy of the group of eight or nine kids he hung out with, all boys, the big brother of someone his own age, to walk from the park where they were loitering—and likely still were even then, the rest of them, waiting for their envoy to return—the four or five blocks to this bodega, one of the softer touches in the neighborhood, to buy some candy and try to lift a porno magazine. He was pretending to be looking at something just to the side of the smut shelf, out of view of the front door, when the man with the shotgun burst in, pointed both barrels at the Korean couple behind the counter, and demanded the cash in the register and a Red Bull. When the old woman made a move toward a drink freezer and her husband went for a gun of his own, maybe, maybe not, the robber blew them away in turn. When the kid dropped the candy he was holding to the floor, pissing his pants at the same time, the wild-eyed junkie swung around and leveled his weapon at the boy’s head, then pulled the trigger.
“That’s it,” he told me. Then I realized it was a question.
“Yeah, kid. I’m afraid so.” I lit a cigarette.
“Gimme one? Not like it’s gonna kill me.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Can I get a light?”
“Dick,” he muttered. “So why you talkin’ to me, anyway?”
“I’ve got time,” I said. I didn’t look at my watch. I didn’t need to. I knew I didn’t have to be anywhere else just yet. “And I thought it might be easier for you if you had someone to talk to before you go.”
“You ain’t talking to them.” He meant the Korean couple.
“They’ve got each other. Anybody you looking forward to seeing?”
“My gram. And Tupac.”
“You’re not old enough to remember Tupac,” I challenged him.
“We still playin’ his shit. Got a new album every six months!”
“Fine. Well, listen, I should let you go.”
The boy looked around. “Where do I go?” he asked me. “How do I do this?”
“Just walk,” I said. “Just start walking and you’ll get there.”
I knew there was one more question.
“Which one is... there?”
“I can’t say. But it’s probably where you want it to be. You’re only, what, ten?”
“Eleven. But I’m black.”
“You’re funny,” I told him. “That’ll count for something. Don’t be scared.”
“I’m not,” he said. “But one more thing: My name ain’t Enward, fool. Man, they say you can’t cheat death. You can sure punk his gullible ass, though!” And then the eleven-year-old boy actually laughed at me before walking away.
“Go to Hell, kid,” I called after him, smiling despite myself. I knew he probably wouldn’t, and anyway I have no say in the matter.
A Pushcart Prize nominee, Matthew David Brozik is the author of Whimsy & Soda and Taking Ivy Seriously and co-author of the popular Government Manual series of humor books (...for New Superheroes, ...for New Wizards, and ...for New Pirates). He has contributed items to The New Yorker, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Grin & Tonic (in the Barnes & Noble Review), and elsewhere. Matthew’s short, quirky fiction has appeared in/atPopcorn Fiction, Sycamore Review, GRIFT, Redivider and many other places in print and online. Most of his best work can be read at imdb.name.