Time for Breakfast in the Gutter. While you have the whole day to plan how to spend the rest of your life here. In this story Angel Luis Colon gives us a man whose plans may be dreams, nightmares even. And in the Gutter? Nightmares
Counting Ashes by Angel Luis Colon
You’re sitting in the back of a U-Haul truck with no rental papers or insurance associated to it. There are huge scratches across the truck’s side, defacing a picture of alligators. It’s the kind of summer morning where the air’s thick as custard and it’s already pushing 90 degrees based on the cheap little thermometer to your right.
You jam the fresh pack of Newport you bought last night against your palm and unspool the cellophane from the box. Light one up. First smoke of the morning always goes down nice with coffee. Shame you’re still waiting on a cup—light and sweet. Asked for a buttered roll too, but your faith on that showing up with the coffee is low. New kid who takes the breakfast orders is an idiot.
Today you’re selling leather jackets with no price tags. Tomorrow, who knows. Shoes, bootleg handbags, knockoff sneakers, maybe even cases of the cigarettes you’re smoking now. There was a time you could do this at a flea market or door to door, but folks don’t take kindly on these hustles anymore. You lean back and wait for your partners. Think of how you’d rather be home on the sofa watching TV—maybe Maury or whatever fake judge is screaming at idiots. It’s the kind of day where pants should be entirely optional, but you’re stuck in slacks and a light blue button-down—poor choice on the shirt when you spy the growing darkness at the edges of your armpits.
You think about whether that SUV across the street is an unmarked cop car, try to get your mind off the lack of coffee and the pit stains.
That’s a terrible distraction, so you let your mind wander.
You think about when you said no to Sally all those years ago that time she came calling about that belly bump. Think about how instead of going with the safe bet, the sure bet, you said yes to that bartender, Debbie, at the Knights of Columbus on account of the way she looked in those slinky neon dresses that were so popular back in the day. You think about how Debbie hasn’t let you sleep in your bed for three weeks, about how she does more blow than eats food and calls you everything but your name.
A few people walk over and haggle over the price of a ¾ length brown leather trench. You upsell the product—swear it’s authentic. They know your line ain’t true, but still want to hear you say that bullshit. They’ll tell their friends the guy who sold it said the product was legit and pretend to be ignorant, to have been swindled. More fun to play the victim than be called out for being a cheap piece of shit.
You pocket some of the surplus from overcharging for two coats and a wallet.
You think of when you dropped out of high school, of choosing liquor and weed over digging your nose so deep in books you’d have ink stains all over your face to this day. You always liked reading. Had a thing for Robert Frost poems.
You think about your brother with his skinny wife and his skinny kids and their skinny life. You think about their twice-a-year vacations to places far and wide. Think about that big house in Greenwich and how every room has a TV that would be better off in a movie theater. Those things cost a mint. So does all the jewelry you’ve seen hanging off that skinny wife’s skinny neck, wrists, and fingers. You think about how one of those vacations is coming up this weekend and count the time between now and Saturday in menthol cigarettes. You wonder if you can convince Ernie, your boss, to let you have this U-Haul and some Virginia plates over the weekend. Feel confident your brother is the kind of man to overpay on his insurance.
And you wait.
You wonder if you’re ever going to get that goddamn buttered roll and coffee.