One Night Paradise.
The ailing day had passed on, not unexpectedly, after lingering just a short while laid on the pale bed of dusk. Evening, a distant relative at noon, now justified his appearance at the reading of the will in remembering how close they had always been. He offered condolences and proffered excuses for his long absence while berating himself, pointlessly, for not having arrived sooner. Reluctant, at first, to enter the abode of the bereaved, he innocuously made himself comfortable and took possession of the finest chair which had once been reserved for the deceased. Night, black-clad, feigning grief for the dearly departed, waited at a respectful distance, cap in hand, looking suitably distraught. The rotten, scavenger, smell of abandoned life buried its muzzle in the ground and lay mourning its master but the day was not dead. It would scratch and pound at the lid of its coffin until morning heard its feeble cries.
From the fox-hole refuge of a butcher's doorway he watched the dank, yellow air wring its damp, clammy hands in the unctuous manner of an undertaker. The youth, a fugitive from the Southern war, welcomed evening as a long lost comrade and reminisced about their last meeting. He preferred the anonymity of these hours. Daytime asked too many questions and night was far too secretive. The eager dollar coins in his pocket flipped easily through his fingers as he wondered how long he would have to wait. Time slithered slowly by. The glistening, overhead wires were snail's paths across the tarmac sky.
The church of St. Patrick, on the corner of the street, creased its lofty brows in exasperation as it divined the stranger's intentions. The grocery store and the pawnbroker's shop, a comfortable old couple, nudged each other and smiled knowingly through clenched, disapproving lips. Drooling, balding middle-age tenements stood erect, sweating in anticipation, and winked conspiratorially while a cheap hotel drew its shabby, grey raincoat tighter round its ample frame and salivated expectantly. The drains gurgled nonsense rhymes in uneven metre through straight black teeth. Lamp-posts peered, dim-eyed and squinting, into the sombre darkness but saw no further than the ground beneath them.
Maggie walked this street with the routine regularity of a trolly-bus, stopping only momentarily at each corner before continuing her perambulation. She fiddled mechanically with nothing in her empty pockets. Her clothes, once bright and new, were faded and cracked like the paint on a neglected house of ill-repute. There was a permanent sneer sprayed on her grey, concrete face; her lips were defiant red graffiti that shocked and offended, a two word statement that expressed her attitude to life. A sad mist, cloaked in a light shawl, came creeping from the East river and sniffed inquisitively into every lonely corner. The moon was a dull, oft-used, silver dollar laid on the counter of the sky. The glistening overhead wires were the trace of tears on black cheeks.
The youth heard the foot-fall and recognised it as the wary sound of a vulnerable creature separated from the herd. His breathing quickened and his senses heightened as a predatory chill shook him wide awake. He wondered if he would be able to go through with it. He had, of course, dreamed of this impending action since the onset of puberty and in his visions he had seen himself as magnificent, commanding, a man amongst men but now he found himself surrounded by the phantoms of doubt who poured scorn on his dreams and tried to drag him down to their craven, cowardly level. His heart pounded and his lips grew dry as the threatening footsteps drew closer. The cobblestones, shoulder to shoulder, marched in grim determination; military lemmings obeying the commands of a higher power. The glistening, overhead wires were the strings of a marionette showing clearly against the back-drop of the sky.
The youth emerged from the doorway into the yellow haze of the gas-lamp and stood there with the petrified look of a stand-in, thrust suddenly and unwillingly into the spotlight. His legs turned to run, to escape into the wings of the night, but the feeling that his moment had come kept him rooted to the spot. Maggie made her entrance with the confidence of experience, exuding the false sincerity of an actress in an oft-played role. An orchestra of night-time sounds played atmospheric music as the youth followed the promptings of an unseen voice which directed his lack of movement. The stars were moth-holes in the faded fabric of the sky through which tomorrow's daylight shone. The glistening overhead wires were the strings of an instrument vibrating as one.
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