A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 9

Silent Voices

Writing hadn't ever been difficult for me. I wasn't always good at it, and many times the words didn't come to me for long periods of time, but once it had become my career, I'd had an endless supply of them. My problem wasn't the words but silencing them, keeping them organized while making them go where I wanted them to go.

For a few days they were back to being relatively cooperative, but then they refused to go where I wanted. It was the same brain fog that kept me reliving a night that had relatively little significance in the greater scheme of things. I woke up in my study after everyone else had gone to their rooms, and I had to get out of there.

It was probably after mid-night when I was circling my block down near Little Italy. It was quiet and there were few people circulating. It was a warm autumn night that allowed me to have my window down once I was a inner city speeds. I drove back down to Patterson Park and was ready to turn back up toward my neighborhood when I unexpectedly turned the other way.

I knew I didn't want to go back up there. The memories weren't very good. I could see the faces of the kids I knew, but they hadn't been in my life since I'd left. Any significance they had was of no importance now, and as for my family, well, why would I want to be reminded of them? I'd put it all behind me when I moved out and that's where it had stayed. I hadn't let myself dwell on the past.

I turned back down toward the city and an old friend was getting out of a car on the opposite side of the street. I passed him slowly after circling the block, and then made a right turn at the next street, hesitating before pulling to the curb. I had to do something, this was better than nothing.

"Yeah, what do you want?" he said, strolling up beside the drivers window, looking in both directions.

"The same thing. Information," I said.

"Price has gone up. You're unlucky. I'd been clean six months before they busted me because of you."

"Get in," I said, as he looked around once again to make sure there were no prying eyes.

"I found the kid you was lookin' for. He remembered your lemo. Said you weren't interested then. He's not interested now."

"What's his name?" I asked.

"Wow, now. Twenty and I'll tell you what I know. If you want me to fix something up, twenty more. I'm ain't no social director."

"Why don't I wait to pay you until before you get out," I said.

"I don't give nothin away, Jack. Money comes up front. Too many of you dude's drive away forgetting to pay."

"Yeah, right. I put some bills in my pocket," I said, searching my pants.

"Drive, man. Let's move around since we're only talking, okay. This dinosaur isn't hard to spot. I don't need no more run ins with the pigs."

"Why do you do it?" I asked.

"Do what?"

"Go out with people you don't even know? It's dangerous," I said.

"The world's a dangerous place. I need to make some bread. What difference does it make," he said. "I'm out here ain't I?"

He was fairly neatly dressed but I wouldn't let my son out of the house in those clothes. He was not a likeable person. There was something about him that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I handed him a twenty-dollar bill as I drove.

"Why does he do it?" I asked. "He seemed so young."

"Who knows. Everyone has his own reason. He has a sick mother or something. His old man split. He's just trying to keep a roof."

"You said he remembered me. Will you ask him to meet me?" I asked.

"Twenty for introductions, man. Only one kid hangs where you said. I don't know why, no one comes by there. I only seen him twice but the blue jean jacket with paint on it, that's him. You ought to buy the boy something warmer. That little jacket can't keep him warm."

"Twenty when he meets me," I said.

"I don't know he will," he said. "He didn't seem interested. The boys a bit strange."

"Find out what he wanted. I know he wanted something," I said.

"Wanted something. He wanted to make some money, just like the rest of us."

"Why do you do it?" I asked.

"It's my job," he said. "You may as well pull over and let me out. I might catch another ride tonight. I'll see what he says. Come back tomorrow night at this time. I'll see if he won't come with me."

"You think he will?" I asked.

"I don't know. World's a funny place, man. You in love with him or something?" He asked as he hesitated after swinging his legs out of the car.

"No. I need to talk to him. That's all," I said.

"He'll want twenty too, even if you only want to talk."

"Whatever he wants is fine," I said, being too generous but needing to get the monkey off my back.

As I drove away from him he was walking back out toward Eastern Avenue. I wondered if he had spoken to the boy or if he'd made it up to get some money. I wasn't sure if I trusted him to do what he said he'd do, but I would come back. He was the only connection I had with what I needed to find out.

I passed Patterson Park once again on my way out. I never thought of driving up there again. It was too far to drive now that I lived out in the suburbs. It was a long way from where my life was now. It was a long way from anywhere.

No one had noticed my absence and I went up to bed, kissing Kathy before getting undressed. She'd been reading until late and the book was still lying across her chest. I put a book mark in it, placing it on the nightstand before getting into my own bed. It was a quarter to two. I couldn't go to sleep at first but nothing in particular was keeping me awake.

I did sleep well but my day was not productive. Thinking of the meeting that night kept me from getting much done. I tried to think of some questions to ask him, but the older boy I'd been arrested with was a more involved character as stories went. I dismissed the idea of prepared questions because it would depend on how willing he was to talk to me. I still wasn't sure of what I was searching for but I seemed to be getting closer to an answer.

I was back to circling blocks after everyone at my house was in bed. A light mist had begun to fall by the time I was passing through Hollandtown. I didn't turn on my wipers. There was no traffic and I drove to Fells Point before turning back up the streets where I'd met the boys. We hadn't set a time but I figured around the same time would be good.

Once again I drove in circles, hitting side streets and back streets, crisscrossing the neighborhood above Little Italy. I'd been at it for half an hour and was almost made dizzy by the repetitive turning. I figured I'd been stood up and turned right to go back out of town.

Two blocks up was the store where I'd last seen the boy and there was someone leaning against the store front. He was looking down as I approached, studying his feet or the sidewalk. He had one leg bent with his foot against the glass. He raised his head as I approached at about ten miles an hour. He put his other foot on the ground, looked around in all directions and had the door handle in his hand before I was completely stopped.

He sat staring out the windshield as a car passed, lighting his face and the inside of the car.

"What do you want?" He asked.

"I need to talk to you. I did have a meeting that night."


"You seemed to have something to say to me. I don't know, I had this feeling you had something you wanted to tell me," I said. "Have we met?"

He looked at me. His blue eyes were piercingly and yet so distant I couldn't see anyone inside. His black hair stuck out from under his hat. He looked back out of the window.

"Do you know me?" He asked.

"Know you? From that night we met?" I said. "You seem familiar. Like I've seen you or we've spoken. I'm not sure."

"You need to go back," he said quite out of the blue.

I looked in the mirror and looked for a street where I could turn around. I wasn't sure what he meant except my instinct said to turn around. It was one of those things someone says that makes you consider the meaning of words. Go back, did he mean back where I picked him up or back where we just came from. Did he mean go back to another time and place, but I rarely came to Baltimore any longer. I hadn't spent any time at all in the city since I left home for good. I wanted to go back but I wasn't sure how I should do it.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead