Roy had been staring at the corner for nearly an hour. He was waiting for someone to come by and post bail. But Hattie’s motto was always this: if you got yourself into a mess, it was your job to get yourself out. Who bailed out who was always a matter of exchange.
If Roy couldn’t take his medicine, then he would have to stay awake all night until the dead man was driven away by the sun. If he looked away for even a moment, those dead fingers would clutch around his neck, and the dirt-caked face would bend forward to chew the flesh off his cheeks. So he stared.
Though frozen, Roy’s body worked on. His bladder filled with the wine from dinner, and his stomach grew bored with the shrimp salad and demanded something more. Two hours earlier, as the police had approached the door of the Pineapple, he knew he had two choices. The first was to change into some boy clothes, and the second was to eat a quick plate of cornbread. The former won out over the latter by a narrow margin.
The drunkard vomited into the bucket between his knees.
As if the sound had ended the homeless man’s bout of blindness, that hoary head whipped its chin down to reveal his eyes: one staring milky and unfocused from beyond the grave, while the other gaped, a bloody hole where a bullet had entered, done its gruesome business, and left. The socket streamed with blood, red rivulets thick with curded pus and vitreous humor. The teeth were black and yellow and the saliva dripped over the lips and gathered on his shirt-front. Roy let in a slow gasp and tried to regulate his heart and continued to stare at the corner. And the homeless cyclops, the victim of some wanton violence, stared back.
Roy began to cry.
The cyclops’s hands, thick with cold and toil, twitched. Slowly his limb grew strong, lifting up from the elbow until, when the forearm was parallel to the floor, the hand itself raised, straightening the arrow of his index finger until it pointed straight at Roy in judgment.
He could not quiet his sobs. His chest heaved, a haywire machine.
Hungry, the cyclops stretched until it pointed with the whole arm. The tip of the finger seemed to reach halfway across the room.
The drunkard retched again while Roy was moaning. Weeping. It had never been this bad before. It had never gotten so close. When he had seen this same apparition at the steakhouse, it had kept its back to him. If he had known it would return, he would have sacrificed his eyes to any sharp object within reach—the fork for the shrimp, the tweezers in his bathroom, Mr. Deer’s fingers. Roy’s sight blurred, causing the image of the cyclops to balloon to twice its natural size. He screamed.
“You shut the fuck up.” Without thinking, Roy snapped his head to the left, where the head of the blanket-bundle was sticking out now, bringing to mind a dirty turtle. Catching his mistake, Roy immediately looked back at the corner and was surprised to see nothing. As his heart slowed down and his muscles relaxed, he flipped his head between the dreaded opposite corner and the corner to his left where, after a moment, he was able to distinguish the features of a young Black man staring at him.
After a moment of eye contact, the head turned back to the wall and Roy said, “Thank you.”
The muffled bundle muttered, “Thank you…”
Roy sat back, relief washing over him like bathwater.
“…for shutting the fuck up.”