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600 Words

4 Minute Read


When my mother's boyfriend, The Captain, was serving sentences in prison, our lives were impoverished but uncomplicated. My mother worked at a local bar while I spent most of my nights watching television and eating canned food. However, our lives changed dramatically when The Captain was released. We attended ringside boxing matches, horse races, and underground gambling clubs. We dined in restaurants with soft tablecloths, and money was not a concern regarding our meals. On Sundays, we indulged in lobsters and crème de menthe ice cream. Despite all this extravagance, I secretly yearned for the simplicity of poverty, eating toasted Sara Lee pound cake.


When The Captain lived with us, his gaggle of small-time criminals frequented our apartment. It was an endless barrage of cigar smoke, coffee with whiskey, and cocaine openly displayed on old glass portals from The Robert Fulton Steamship. The Captain, spoke with Mayor Koch, hoping to turn the replica ships docked at the fish market into floating casinos. They would sail to specific coordinates just below the Statue of Liberty, leaving New York parameters and into the open sea of New Jersey. The coordinates 40.6902343 latitude and 74.0324557 longitude are tattooed into my memory.


It was all tiresome. I would secretly feel relieved when I heard the cold voice of an investigating officer looking for The Captain. My evenings improved when he was recaptured, as we played board games and enjoyed mini hot dogs on toothpicks.


The Captain constantly endured what seemed to be a sustained urine test. The Captain and his friends always discussed their specimens, emphasizing color and smell.               


"I'm dropping a dozen multi-vitamins about an hour before I return to the halfway. My sample is so yellow they think I'm working a nuclear power plant!"


"The other day, I ate a plate of garlic asparagus, then sucked down a pot of green tea. That bony little lab bitch flinched from the stench."


"You got to knock back some Zinc and vitamin C. It's a liquid bomb!"           


The Captain said nothing and just smiled. He had nothing to say about his urine sample because he used mine.

My agreement with The Captain began on a Tuesday night, before the lineup of my favorite television shows. He knew I would be in a hurry to get rid of him. Criminals are excellent at timing and profiling.


He knocked lightly on my bedroom door.


"Peanut?” He entered without waiting for a response. “I need a favor.”


The color television set, the yellow Donut telephone, the Atari 500 video game with Super Space Invaders, the stereo with karaoke capabilities, and my birthday party at Liuchow’s with flaming Baked Alaska for dessert were rewards for strange favors.    


"Peanut," sigh. "You know the rules of the halfway house, right?" 


If it has a filter, you can smoke it. If it pays taxes, you can work for it; if it contains 0%, you can drink it… 


I nodded.          


"Uptown, I get a small cup when I walk through the door," he paused. "I have to perform."


 His choices of words were calculated and delicate. He was from a large Irish Catholic family, so I knew performing had no sexual inference. 






"Oh?" I said with feigned surprise.        


He held up a small jar that once had marinated artichoke hearts in it.


"Your mother cleaned this out for me.” He tapped above his heart lightly. "It would be undetected in my coat pocket."


I wanted to hear him say more, but I thought of my mother and stood up. 


"Don't forget…" he said.


"…to put the lid on tight," I answered.


He handed me one of his embroidered handkerchiefs.


I filled the jar with my urine and rinsed the outside of the glass in the sink. I dried the jar on a towel, wrapped it in his linen handkerchief. In the hall, I slipped the jar into the breast pocket of his blue cashmere coat.     


Three crisp twenty-dollar bills in sequential order were slid under my door when I woke up the next day.


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