sex with truck drivers on Christmas Day. Carl clenched his fists and shouted, “She should have told me she was going to
have a baby. She should have driven to my school and told me everything. I’m not a
mind reader. I had no idea.” He also knew he should have answered her letters. Breaking
all contact with her had been the worst mistake of his life. Donna had always been a
proud, independent woman, and she never would have begged him for anything.
The Ghost pointed to the younger version of Carl. Young Carl stood in front of
the truck and unfastened his belt. He opened the black leather coat and let it slide off his
shoulders. The coat hit the sidewalk, and he was naked except for a pair of black boots
that came up to his ankles. Young Carl slowly turned so his back was facing the truck. He
leaned over the trash can, spread his legs, and arched his back.
After that, two tall men got out of the truck. They crossed to the trash can where
young Carl was leaning. They were both in their early thirties. One was smoking a cigar
and rubbing his crotch. He was wearing a red plaid shirt, loose jeans, and a red baseball
cap. The other one had long black hair, a thin lanky body, and a long tattoo on his right
forearm. They were both wearing wedding bands, and they were both staring at young
Carl’s smooth, naked ass.
The one in the baseball cap said, “Me and my buddy here been watching your
little show from the truck.” Then he stepped behind young Carl and ran his large, rough
palm down young Carl’s back. “Looks like you wanna give us both a little Christmas
Young Carl stood up and leaned into the man’s chest. While the man ran his
rough hands up and down the sides of young Carl’s naked body, young Carl lifted his arms in the air and said, “Let’s go into the cab. I’ll give both of you a Christmas present
you’ll never forget.”
The thin guy with the dark hair smiled. Then he reached for young Carl’s arm and
yanked him away from the guy wearing the baseball cap. “You gonna let me and my
buddy take turns on you?” His voice was deep. He had a rough beard and it looked as he
hadn’t shaved in two or three days.
Young Carl’s naked body went forward and he fell into the strong arms of the
dark-haired guy. He put one hand on the guy’s shoulder and grabbed his crotch with the
other. He said, “Do you guys have condoms?”
The dark-haired guy nodded yes and slapped young Carl’s ass a few times.
“Extra-large, and I wanna go first.”
While young Carl and the two men climbed into the truck, the Ghost pointed to
the truck’s cab and shook the black glove up and down.
Carl turned away from his younger image and said, “I want to leave now. I
already had to live through this once. I don’t want to do it again. I just want to go home
now. I can’t take much more.”
The Ghost turned toward Carl and lifted the glove. “It’s time to leave anyway.”
“What are we doing here?” Carl asked. The Ghost was standing beside him. They
were in the lobby of a low-rent high rise apartment building, but Carl wasn’t sure exactly
where. The walls were gray cinderblock, the floors had gray tiles, and the elevator doors
were dark brown. Carl took a deep breath and rubbed his jaw. This looked like one of
those buildings in places he saw on the six o’clock news, where people shot each other
without thinking twice and gangs ruled the streets. Carl knew what it was like to be poor.
He’d been the child of a single mother who’d worked as a housekeeper. But he’d never
known this kind of poverty.
Two teenage boys loped past them. Their shoulders rocked and their heads went
back and tipped to the side. Their jeans were so baggy and hung so low on their waists
their boxer shorts were showing. One was taller than the other. The tall one had an
earring in his nose and the shorter one had large diamond studs in both ears.
The taller one banged into the shorter one with his elbow and said, “I’ll whip your
fucking pussy ass today, man.”
The shorter guy was carrying a basketball. “The fuck you will, man. I’ll fuck you
up.” He bounced the ball on the gray floor a few times. The cracks and snaps echoed
through the hollow hallway. Then he lifted his arms as if he were about to toss it through
an invisible basketball hoop. When he lifted his arms, Carl noticed a small handgun
hanging halfway out of his back pocket. Carl stared at the Ghost and shook his index finger. “You’d better have a good
reason for bringing me to a place like this. I’m a well respected man in my profession and
I don’t go near places like this. And frankly, I resent you subjecting me to this.” He
couldn’t understand how he could possibly be associated with anyone in this building.
The Ghost touched Carl’s shoulder. A second later, they were standing inside the
living room of a small apartment, with white walls that were turning brown at the edges.
In one corner of the room there were seven old televisions stacked together. They were
all different sizes, and covered with so much dust you could write your name on the
screens. Above the stack of old televisions, there was a long, cloudy window with
Christmas balls attached to faded red ribbons. The ribbons had been fastened to the
window with masking tape. One of the Christmas balls was cracked in half; another was
coming loose from the ribbon and ready to fall to the floor. The entire room smelled of
stale beer and cigarettes and there were huge piles of magazines and newspapers
On the other side of the room, an overweight man was watching television in his
undershirt and boxer shorts. He hadn’t shaved his round face in a few days, salt-and
pepper stubble popped from his double chin, and his white undershirt was faded and
stained. He crushed a cigarette in a plastic ashtray overflowing with butts and coughed
without covering his mouth. He cleared his throat and swallowed back. Then he lifted a
can of beer from the coffee table and took a long, hard gulp. He crushed the can in his
palm and tossed it toward a trash can next to the sofa. It was already filled with so many
other crushed beer cans it hit the top and bounced to the floor with a soft clink. The large man looked down at the olive green rug and shrugged his shoulders, then rubbed his
stomach and belched so loud his lips vibrated.
A middle-aged woman stepped out of a small kitchen and frowned. “That was real
nice, Bucky. You’re a real class act, you are. I can’t wait to hear the grand finale.” She
was wearing a faded pink housecoat and blue vinyl mules. Her teeth were yellow and
there was a large round mole above her lips on the right side of her face. She had thick
ankles and stood with a permanent hunch. Her red hair was long in the back and there
were two pink curlers fastened to the top of her head. She held a dishtowel in one hand
and a can of tuna in the other.
“Ah, go fuck yourself, you dumb bitch,” Bucky said. “You’re not exactly the
queen of England yourself. You haven’t taken those curlers out of your hair in three days.
And it’s Christmas Eve.”
The woman slouched and rubbed her hip with the dishtowel. “We’re almost out of
cigarettes, Bucky. You’d better go get some. We won’t be able to get anything around
here tomorrow on Christmas Day.” She had one of those high-pitched, irritating whines
that went up at the end of each sentence.
“Why should I go?” he asked. “I was just getting ready to watch something on
TV.” He rubbed his stomach again and belched.
“I’m not dressed,” she said. “And my hair is in rollers. By the time I get ready, the
store will be closed.”
Bucky laughed. “Yeah, like anyone cares what you look like.”
She threw the dishtowel at him and shouted, “Your sister’s ass, you pig.” Bucky ducked and the towel landed on the back of the sofa. He sat back and
scratched his private parts. He shook his head and said, “Send the kid.” Then he laughed
and said, “This is one of the good things about having a foster kid.”
The woman stared at Bucky for a moment and shook her head. Then she turned
toward and narrow hallway and shouted, “Hey, Carl. Get out here right now. I want you
to go to the store for me.”
Carl’s eyes opened wide. He turned to the Ghost and asked, “Did she say Carl?”
A minute later, a small boy limped into the living room. He looked to be about
eight years old; he was small and thin. There were dark circles under his eyes, his face
was gray, and he walked with a limp.
When he entered the room, the woman reached for her purse, pulled out a twenty
dollar bill, and said, “You need to go out and buy us cigarettes. We’re almost out.”
The boy frowned and looked down at his sneakers. “I hate buying cigarettes,” he
said. “They always look at me weird. They think I’m the one smoking.”
Bucky reached for a magazine and slammed it on the surface of a table beside the
sofa. He glared at the boy and shouted, “Don’t you dare give us any lip. We give you a
home and food. You should be thankful, you little shit. And when we ask you to do
something for us, we expect you to do it, buddy. Now get your ass moving and get the
fucking cigarettes like she asked.” Then Bucky looked at his wife and shouted, “This one
has to go back. He’s nothing but trouble. No matter how many times I take the strap to
him, he never listens.”
Carl stared at the boy and shook his head. “Is this my son? Is this the baby with
one leg I saw on Riverside Drive?” He pressed his hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. The Ghost didn’t have to answer him; it didn’t matter. He already knew the boy was
his. The kid had Donna’s dark hair and Carl’s strong chin.
Carl lifted his fists and clenched his teeth. He crossed the room and shouted at the
woman, “You can’t send a child for cigarettes. Are you insane? What kind of a person are
you?” Then he looked down at the boy’s arm. He had a long black-and-blue bruise from
his wrist to his elbow. There was an open cut on his index finger that looked infected.
The woman reached for a tattered brown coat on the floor next to a pile of old
shoes. She tossed the rag at the boy and said, “And don’t spend any money on anything
else. Get the cigarettes and bring me all the change. I know how much they cost.”
Bucky slammed the magazine on the table again and shouted, “And if you don’t,
I’ll get the strap out again tonight. Just like I did last night, when you thought I was
asleep and I seen you in bed reading. Do you understand?”
The little boy frowned and nodded his head up and down very slowly. “Can I
have something to eat when I get back? I’m hungry.”
Bucky scratched his privates again and said, “She’ll make you a tuna fish
Carl turned to the Ghost and said, “There has to be something we can do. I can’t
leave him here with these horrible people. This is no life for a child. Please, tell me we
can help him.” He’d never felt such an awful pull in his heart before. This was even
worse than when Victor had left him. This was more painful to watch than anything that
had ever happened to him in his entire life. He wanted to run up to the boy, scoop him up,
and carry him away from these decrepit people. The Ghost moaned, “There’s nothing you can do. You’ve made choices in life,
and these are the results.”
“But I based my decisions on the information given to me at the time,” Carl
shouted. “If I’d known I had a child, I would have been there for him.”
The Ghost pointed at him. “You could have known about him. You chose not to
know about him when you threw away all the letters from his mother. Indirectly, you
didn’t actually base your decisions on the information given to you. You were too busy
wallowing in bitterness and self-pity to care about important information.”
When the little boy put the bruised arm through the coat sleeve, he pressed his lips
together and made a face. He zipped the coat up halfway and crossed to the front door,
leaning most of his weight on his right leg.
Bucky looked down at the boy’s right foot and said, “Tie your shoe, too. You’re
already missing one leg, and the last thing I need is for you to break the good one. Or
worse, have you break the fake leg. You’re lucky to have that peg leg paid for by child
services. I wish someone would giveme
something for free, is all I can say. I never got