The very air (part 1)

by Robert Bové (Dec. 2006)

(go here for part 2)



I am working always in this store with lottery tickets hanging row upon row behind me, lottery machine next to cash register in front of me, a constant stream of customers giving me their numbers scribbled on little pieces of paper, giving me their money, which I must give to the state.  I see so much money, my love, it would make you dance again like a little girl.  Like the girls on magazines I rack every month in row upon row, white girls, black girls, but no Chinese girls.  Men come in for their favorites, big boobs, big butts, big smiles, fuck me smiles, legs that spread from margin to margin, please forgive my language.  Late at night when I am closing up, they seem to move, a blur of women I see as if through a thousand small windows, through walls into the church next door, the one they converted to co-ops.  Then, I brew one more cup of coffee and take a pack of cigarettes for the drive home.  Sometimes I am too tired to shower, sometimes I fall asleep on the couch in my clothes, TV still on, laughing and screaming at me asleep until it is time to wake up and prepare to leave again and open the store.


In answer to your last letter, I do pray at mosque around the corner but my Arabic is no good.  I don’t know what I’m saying.  I fall asleep when imam begins to preach.  It is so restful, if must be the peace of paradise descending.


I promise to send you more money once I pay taxes and utilities and rent.  My mechanic, bless him for a thousand years, is even more patient than you.  He won’t let me give him free coffee when he comes in to ask for his money.  He is a nice man, which is good since he comes almost every day now.


My feet hurt all the time from standing all day, like small hammers on the soles, but I don’t pay attention.   My health is good, my eyes still like an eagle’s.  When I close them, I can see farther, across rooftops.  I see you and our boys.  I am closing them now.


Back again.  Ahmed came by the store on a break with a couple friends I have not seen before.  He is disturbed.  He says he must not pick up drunks, especially drunk women.  He can not change his shift, late night on weekends, so everybody is drunk, men or women.  I ask him where it is written, and he tells me.  He is a student—no, not at college, he quit after taking a few courses, I can’t remember what they were—but he is student of Qur’an.  Ahmed has never lied to me or to anybody I know.  Why would he lie about not picking up drunks?  I tell him I will think about it.  But I already know what I think about it.  Where is it written that I can’t take a drunk’s lottery money?  And how would I make money to send you?  Ahmed is special in the eyes of Allah, praise be etc.  It comforts me to talk with him, but sometimes I think he is already in paradise, and I am in hell.  I will sell them magazines.  I will take their money.  What is the difference between a dog and a drunken dog?


I promised myself to send this letter soon, but forgive me I am still writing it. 


Fog was crawling up Atlantic Avenue when I closed the store.  It should be there by now.  When it is windy, and there is no fog, I sometimes hear your voice.  I know it is there, like shadows of ships out in the harbor, but I can not make out the words.  Sometimes sweet, sometimes commanding, like you, but beyond my understanding.  Tonight I will look at the packet of pictures you sent so long ago and remember.


I had the nightmare again last night, the one about the store and the coffee merchant next door with his expensive Mexican corpse dolls, supermarket across street that sells unclean meat, half-naked women filling the sidewalks come summer, and boom-boom-boom from traffic jam cars and SUVs with dark windows and nobody inside.  So I ask of this dream, Why is everybody smiling like wolves?  I try to train myself to smile like Americans but my jaw aches.


Ahmed says not to bother, that the pain is a sign, that to smile would put me in the camp of those whose every action, every thought is an offence to the One.  All creation is offended, even the air they breathe. So he says, Ahmed the pious.  But Ahmed himself smiles sometimes, and that I do not like to see.  The smile is fine enough, broad and forceful, but it does not reach the eyes.


Well, I finally have money for you, as you must be able to see.  I will send this letter in a moment, but first let me explain that Ahmed has given me little errands to run for him, usually picking people up in my car and dropping them somewhere in the city I haven’t been before.  He paid off the mechanic, too, so I don’t worry so much about using the old car.  Lately, I pick up newspaper vendors, the ones who give away free papers on corners near subway stairs.  They are all over the city and sometimes I open the store a little late.  I think he must be joking when Ahmed says I am doing important work.  It pays, that’s all I know.


Soon, my love, soon.




Brooklyn, Dec. 2006

(go here for part 2)

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Robert Bové contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all his contributions, on which comments are welcome.




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