Short Story, looking for feedback
This is a short story I wrote over the weekend. It's still very rough, so please excuse misspellings or tense disagreements.
I've been working on developing the lead character in a novel, and in the first draft this character's addiction (a central part of the plot) come off as forced/false. So I've read some stories about/featuring addicts, and have been working on some short stories in that theme. This is one such attempt.
(Also, if anyone has suggestions about more reading that may help with this character development, I'd be open to suggestions)
'Slice away the boring and the plain. Extract the essence of cool, the subtle overtones of yes, and leave him with nothing to hide, nothing to hold back the extreme emphasis on provocative success. Bam! It hits home, like it always does.
Remember, it’s all relative, it’s all a matter of time, and perspective. Take a hit, take a drag, roll another, sit tight, wait for the right moment, the right perspective, get it right, not hesitate. But don’t hurry, don’t bustle. Sensation, playing with my ability to differentiate reality from the cruel dreams of another man. I wake from it to the sound of screeching metal, to inevitability.
A subway car rattles to a stop at the platform. The air stirs behind it, dragging stale aromas of grotesque humanity to my senses.
Here comes the world. It’s waiting, doors part, slide away from each other with a hiss. Then a clank. Mind the gap. Off they come, at a run, swift and purposeful, all better things to be doing. Mind the gap.
The sea of people parts, washes over me in one direction, shifting the air again, now the burnt smells of sourdough and old coffee—and feet, so many feet. Then the tide turns, and the people pour backwards. Not the same people, of course not, but people still. Into the beast. Mind the gap. In they go, wrenching the feet smell with them. They can have it.
The car whistles out of the station. Less than a minute, and the world has gone through a complete transition, a global upheaval. An all new world: new people, new smells, new feet. Mind the gap. They always do. Walking toward me, from amidst the flow of humanity, is a familiar face.
Markson—Jamal Winston Markson—is a tall, muscled Brazilian-Jamaican with a crew cut and a tattoo of a wolf on his left arm. He is always careful to wear a shirt that shows his tattoo, and while he has told me he has many tattoos on his body, the wolf is the only one I’ve ever seen.
When I met Markson, years ago, a lifetime ago really, he had a wild head of dreadlocked hair and a slight potbelly. He sold the best dope, and always threw in a little tea to build his customer base. Smart man, have to respect that ingenuity. He told me once, not so long ago, that I’m the only customer left from when he came to the City. “Last of the firsts,” he said. Last of the firsts. That’s how I like to think of myself.
He walks with a false swagger. False not because he’s acting macho or because his ego exceeds him (both of which are true) but false because Markson is more than a tough guy. He’s smart, well read, Princeton graduate (believe that shit? I didn’t at first), had a good paying job in Phoenix, years ago, back in a former life. Then he fell in with a crowd. You know how it goes.
I told him once, when he offered to buy me a beer and we chatted for awhile, I told him, “you didn’t mind the gap.” He liked that. Got it. Understood the reference. Markson was a quick study. I had to admire that.
We’d sat on wobbly stools at O’Brien’s Pub, round the corner from the subway stop, drinking lukewarm Pabst and shooting the shit. Markson bought me three rounds before I spilled—I’m not much of a drinker—and insisted on buying us each a couple fingers of the top shelf. It smelled of fire and oak shavings, like the outside on a fall day. It tasted like shit, but gave old Markson a laugh. Once he knew we were both something else—chameleons, impostors, liars—he respected me.
And I stuck around, which cemented us.
Today, just after the sea change, as the crowds parted and realigned themselves to await the next train, Markson swaggered up, a tie-died Grateful Dead shirt on and a thick book under his arm. I was busy sorting out the universe, parsing the cool from the mundane, adding up infinity with my left hand. He sat beside me, leg poking out, challenging the plebes to step around him. I can see why he never has trouble with the ladies.
“Puttin’ it together man, just adding it all up, you know?”
Good old Markson, he didn’t know and wasn’t going to pretend he did. “I have no clue my man,” he said, “not a fucking clue. But you keep on doing your thing Porter, you know best.”
The book, a worn and battered copy of Paradise Lost, with an Italian translation and extensive footnotes, sat on the bench between us. Markson gave it a little nudge with his elbow.
The train arrived, the tides came, the tides went. The smells came and went with them. I found a hint of hotdog (with relish and ketchup?) wafting along with the normal stink of all those people. Markson gave the book another nudge.
He didn’t answer with any words. Didn’t need to. He just gave me the look, eight miles long, a lifetime wide, and holed up in a corner room with the lights off and a loaded shotgun on his lap. It was time.
“Oh, Tuesday already is it?”
“Well then,” I said, “I suppose it’s time.”
“I suppose it is,” he said.
Markson unfurled a copy of the Times (where the hell did that come from? Must have missed it while I was contemplating those tired curls of misty (smoke?) that clamber from between the tracks) and leaned back. Not unfriendly, but he was giving me space. I knew what time it was.
I dug into my coat pocket, sifting around, digging for gold, looking down to the bottom for that important piece. The good old green, the slips of paper that propel the world. And I come up empty—a bronze key on a ring, an ATM card, and a Metro card. No money.
“Ha,” I said, “shit.”
“Yeah. You know, the money man, I forgot to stop in and see him. You know, right? I was distracted. Got a lot on the mind today.”
“You said the same last week,” Markson said, displeased. Not mad, not angry, not pissed, but not pleased. “Ain’t running no charity Porter.”
“I know man, I know. I’m good for it, you know me, right?”
"Shit, man I'm sure you are, but still, I can't be riding you every week."
Of course he's right. Sublime, precise like a surgeon. Good old Markson. Last of
first and all. I can't disappoint him, not even possible. No way. Gotta do right by him.
"I hear, really. I'll go see the man today, get this right between us. You know me."
Markson, eyes scanning the paper like a high powered piece of machinery, dipped the slightest nod, just let me know it’s cool, like I needed to be told, and pushed the book gently with his hip. I scooped the book up, leaned back and leaved into a few pages.
Somebody, a guy I maybe had some association with, in a previous life, he remembers reading this book one time. And he remembers liking it. The words didn’t always make sense, if I’m to understand ancient history with some miniscule grain of hip, new age blaise (sometimes I think that I think like an asshole), it’s a story about good and evil. But it seems too complex for that.