Ralphie had just received a letter that irrevocably changed his life. A letter intended for him to receive almost ten years ago, though it had only just made it to him now, lost by unforeseeable forces of time.
The letter itself wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary, it had been written by a girl who had once loved him and whom- though Ralphie wouldn’t openly admit it- he still loved quite a lot.
The letter spoke of many things, namely disappointment and sorrow, but it revealed to Ralphie so much more. It laid the groundwork for a blueprint of his life. It was the first piece of a map that would outline in stark detail how he had gotten to where he was and maybe even how he could fix the things that were broken.
Unfortunately Ralphie would never be able to use the map. This most glorious moment of revelation for Ralphie would be among his last.
A life can be measured in many ways- pencil marks on a doorframe or candles on a cake. This life is measured in floors.
For as long as Ralphie could remember there had been a certain foreboding in his life, a sense that something just wasn’t right. He felt as though there were forces guiding his life that were out of his control.
The bedroom where he spent most of his time was modest in size and accessory but he made the most of it, while the walls were near one another, they stretched out before him in his mind. There was no where he couldn’t go. At current he was millions of miles away leading a very important mission through the deepest stretches of space. His suit was made of torn pajamas and cardboard attachments; its ability to protect him from the vacuum of space was never a question or concern.
What was an immediate concern was the patchy furred space villain threatening him and his crew, played lovingly by Ralphie’s dog. The struggle was raging as fist met claw but Ralphie wasn’t worried, he had met this foe many times before and he knew exactly how to defeat him. He had begun with a scratch behind the ear and was preparing his final blow, a patented belly rub attack, when something brought him back to earth.
“Ralph! What am I supposed to do now? It’s due in three days. Do you even think?”
As Ralphie leaves his imaginings and returns to reality, a space monster once again becomes a scruffy little mutt; the planets and asteroids, toys and furniture; and his suit and helmet, pajamas and a crudely cut and colored box.
As his fantasy fades and reality comes back into clearer focus so returns the foreboding that has become so familiar.
Ralphie nervously fidgets with a wooden car his grandfather had crafted for him. It was one of the few objects his grandfather had given him before his untimely death. The circumstances of the death of his grandfather were uncharacteristic and this most assuredly contributed to the feelings of unease that Ralphie dealt with.
“What kind of backup plan? God damn it Ralph, promise me you’re not doing anything stupid.”
The simple wooden car can no longer hold the boys interest and he removes the box from his head, placing it softly on his bed, and makes his way quietly to the slightly open door for further investigation.
The only phone in the house is mounted to the wall in the hallway outside Ralphie’s bedroom so he is often privy to the conversations his mother has. Most adult conversations hold no interest to a six year old but when he hears his father’s name it peaks his curiosity.
The small boy braces himself against the door frame and peeks his head ever so slightly out of the door without a sound allowing his eyes to snatch a brief look at the scene.
His mother is pacing slowly in a small circle coiling and uncoiling the phone cord around her finger nervously.
For a moment she doesn’t speak, and then very quickly she turns around facing down the hall toward Ralphie’s room. The small boy ducks back quickly, not sure if he was seen. He sprints swiftly yet silently back to his bed and sits beside the makeshift helmet and begins again to play with his tiny wooden car.
He listens carefully for his mother’s footsteps with one ear turned strategically toward the open door, but she doesn’t yet come. The silence breaks after a moment and Ralphie listens intently.
“Well come and get him then. He’s been dying to see you.”
A brief pause.
“Alright, I’ll go get him ready. Goodbye.”
Ralphie hears the distinct click of the phone being placed back on the receiver and hurriedly places the cardboard helmet upon his shoulders. His dog instinctively joins back in the charade jumping back and forth in mock attack.
The door creaks slightly as his mother pushes it open and Ralphie pretends not to notice, preparing his belly rub finale for a second time.
“Ralphie, hurry and get out of your space suit, your father is coming to see you.”
Ralphie does his best to hide a smile. Since his parents separated he loves to see his father more than most things, but doesn’t like to let his mother see it. He does his best to hide his excitement.
“Hold on Mom, I’m on a ‘portant mission.”
Joanna being like most parents is smarter than her child gives her credit for and knows what he’s doing but loves him the more for it. She walks tenderly toward the bed and sits beside him lifting him onto her knee.
“Well Mr. Armstrong, have it your way, but I believe he wants to take you to the carnival.”
Even at his young age Ralphie has a practiced apathy but he’s not quite that good. At the mention of the carnival his eyes light up and in one smooth motion he jumps from his mother’s knee. His helmet is removed before he hits the ground and he swiftly begins to remove his pajamas throwing them haphazardly onto the floor.
His mother smiles at his excitement and begins to collect his clothing and toys from the floor and organize them while he changes. The small dog jumps at his legs while he gets dressed still thinking this is part of the game, Ralphie humors him as he puts the finishing touches on his chosen attire.
“Ralphie to mission control- powering down, there is something to explore just over that crater.”
Ralphie runs excitedly to his window and peers out at the brightly lit carnival in the distance, his eyes reflecting the spinning and flashing lights, his mind filled with thoughts of games, rides, and happy times to come.
“I will report back later- over.”
Ralphie walks briskly both in excitement an in an attempt to keep up with his father’s pace. The scurry of his tiny feet kicks up dirt into the air, the dust was electrified by the surrounding environment. Brightly colored lights and interesting characters were in abundance; their images filled the mind of the small boy while upbeat music and the cackling of fellow children filled his ears. He and his father took their place at the back of the ticket line and he waited as patiently as possible for them to enter.
A wooden and distressed archway stood above the entrance to the carnival clearly marking the separation of the mundane world he was used to from the magical one that surely stood inside. The line moved quietly without him noticing, he couldn’t take his gaze from the world inside.
Before he knew it his father tapped his shoulder, showing him a small pile of tickets. Ralphie smiled brightly and tugged at his father’s hand forcing him to now match the pace of his son as they moved quickly through the crowd, under the archway and into the carnival.
Ralphie moved efficiently through the crowd, he was built for this world, like a dolphin for water, he felt at ease here. There was too much to see, too much to do. The rides and games all called to him, he wanted to stay here forever. Then he saw something that captured his attention.
What looked like a pink and light blue cloud atop a paper cone. His pupils dilated and his eyes widened, it was the first time he’d stopped moving since he and his father had crossed the threshold.
“What is it son?”
Ralphie didn’t respond, he just kept staring and his grin widened. The child attached to the other end of the paper cone looked happier than anyone he’d ever seen before, he wanted that.
Ralph Sr. followed the gaze of his son and realized quickly the object of his desire. He chuckled softly, if only it were always this easy.
A man nearby was slowly walking the crowd while holding about fifteen cotton candy cones on an elaborate stick.
“Excuse me… one cotton candy sir.”
Only moments later they were once again moving through the crowd, with cotton candy in hand. He loved the sticky sweet concoction and was consuming it with a fury his father had never before seen. This didn’t stop him from moving across the grounds as swiftly as before, there was much to see and Ralphie intended not to miss an inch of it.
Ralphie knew that his tickets were limited and wanted to review the entirety of the carnival before spending a single one, he would make no missteps tonight. They had covered a majority of the fairgrounds and the northern carnival border could be seen up ahead and with it, the crown jewel, an enormous Ferris Wheel.
They hadn’t yet seen everything but he already knew he had to experience this. Never before had he seen such a structure. Ralphie pulled his father forward with a renewed fervor, moving directly forward toward the wheel, he turned back while briskly walking, smiling wide in excitement.
“Come on Da-”
Ralphie was cut short mid sentence as the expression on his fathers face changed from elation to something quite different, in the same moment Ralphie felt the distinct sensation of a large, rough hand upon his shoulder, his momentum stopped abruptly and he turned to face the obstacle.
Turning round Ralphie discovered a finely pressed pair of slacks. The man wearing them knelt down to his eye level to address him. His nose sloped a little to his left, and the right side of his mouth drooped as if it had been hit one too many times and had simply given up.
“Hello little man, you must be Ralphie.”
His breath was sickly sweet and the smell of tobacco smoke permeated his person, he held a mostly used up cigar between his yellowed teeth. Ralphie eyed him skeptically. His father quickly stepped forward pulling Ralphie away to his side. The man looked up toward Ralph Sr. and stood, now addressing him instead. Ralph handed a few tickets to his son and spoke to him briefly, his voice shook when he did.
“Go take a ride son, I need to talk to a friend.”
Ralphie didn’t move. He just stood there looking at his father questioningly. Ralph Sr. met his sons eyes and smiled offering him the tickets again. This time Ralphie took them but still didn’t move.
“Go on son.”
Ralph’s smile didn’t waver in his attempt to comfort his son, Ralphie was more observant than he should be for a child of his age. Ralphie moved away slowly toward the giant wheel keeping one eye on his father and trying to not be distracted by the most amazing amusement ride he’d seen in his few short years. The line was moderate and he shortly found himself climbing into a ski lift style chair and buckling the seat belt beside a child of slightly older age. He watched intently the interaction his father had with the suspicious acquaintance.
As young Ralphie left the scene two other large well dressed men entered from either side and stood slightly behind the first man.
“Hiya Sid.” One of them address him as they approach.
He nods, re-lighting his cigar before he speaks.
“That’s a good kid you got there Ralph.”
Ralph doesn’t respond, he doesn’t want his son involved in this interaction. Sid laughs slightly and takes another puff of his cigar then taps it lightly before him.
“listen Ralph, I’m doing this because we go way back, I didn’t exactly clear this with the boss okay.”
Ralph nods nervously. He’s doing his best to hide his trembling.
“I understand Sid, don’t worry about it.”
Sid’s two companions exchange a look of discomfort at the conversation; they don’t like being involved in deals the boss isn’t aware of, especially if Sid knows he won’t like them. The man on the right taps Sid on the shoulder. Sid turns to acknowledge him.
“I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry about it, the boss only checks the books at the end of the year.”
He turns back toward Ralph, jabbing him firmly in the center of the chest.
“You’ve got until then, and I’d prefer to have it back sooner.”
Ralph steps back instinctively.
“I said I understand Sidney.”
Sid exhales deeply and removed the cigar from his mouth. He looks at the ground while shaking his head slightly and laughs. No one calls him Sidney.
“That’s good Ralphie boy, real good- cause if it aint back before he notices well… I’ll have to balance the books one way or another- And don’t think I won’t shoot you cause I will, we’re not that close.”
Sidney hands Ralph an envelope from under his arm and Ralph quickly tucks it away in his jacket. If he wasn’t nervous before he certainly is now, he has no intention of being shot.
“Now Sid, all of that won’t be necessary, I’ll have it back in time. I swear to ya.”
Sid straightens his jacket and takes another deep puff of his cigar, then motions subtly to his entourage and turns to leave while imparting some final words.
“I hope you do Ralphie boy. For your sake, I hope you do.”
The Ferris Wheel is winding down as Ralph Sr. and Sid part ways. Ralph walks toward the ride meeting Ralphie halfway. Ralphie doesn’t know why but he immediately hugs his father, his temporary reprieve from the constant foreboding now ended and the sense very much returned.
“Who was that Papa?”
Ralph is still distracted watching Sid walk away without even being aware of it, his sons voice pulls him away and he looks down covering his nervousness with a smile.
Ralph ruffles his son’s hair playfully.
“Don’t worry about it Champ. What do you say we ride a few more rides, get a hot dog and head on home, huh pal?”
A couple rounds of darts and a few cases of vertigo later Ralphie and his father make their way to the concessions and talk about the nights adventures over dinner. Ralphie can hardly speak through the condiments and bits of bun spilling out of his mouth.
Despite the obstruction he speaks excitedly. Ralph sits across from the young boy listening to him regale tales of only a few moments prior, as if his father didn’t remember, or needed reminding. He smiled at the happiness he had brought his son but the weight in his breast pocket was a constant reminder of a debt owed to the wrong kind of people.
Ralph needs some air and to walk a bit, he needs to clear his head. The money in his pocket will cover rent for his son and estranged wife but he knows he has to get the money back to Sid as quickly as possible, and he’s not quite sure how he’ll do that.
There’s time, I’ve got months, I’ll figure out a way. He thinks to himself. Ralphie hasn’t yet finished his food but the tension is building in Ralph’s chest and he can’t quite take it anymore.
“How about dessert kiddo?”
Ralphie nods his head emphatically as he shoves more hot dog in his mouth. Ralph stands and walks away from the table back toward the concession stands ringing his hands together all the way.
Ralphie sits at the table and uses his finger to wipe away any remaining condiments and toppings from the paper hotdog dish and consume them. After a few moments his father returns with two ice cream cones in one hand. In the other hand is a bright blue balloon with a picture of the Ferris Wheel printed in white silhouette in the center.
It’s a small gesture but one not lost on the boy. It isn’t often he gets nights like tonight and even less often that he leaves with something to memorialize it. He is ecstatic.
“Come on buddy, let’s go.”
Ralph hands his son the balloon and one of the ice cream cones and takes his hand as they make their way back to the parking lot. His mind is still swimming with fears about the deal he’s just made but he’s also quite proud of the night he’s given his son, he tries to focus on that.
Electrified dirt swirls once more as they make their way back to the car, there are still some stragglers wandering the area but most everyone has left for the evening. As Ralphie walks down the main thoroughfare rides begin to shut down and game booths are locking up. He grips the ribbon attached to the balloon tightly.
Ralphie must take two steps for every one of his fathers but he doesn’t notice. Adrenaline pumps through his tiny veins as he skips along.
The prior walk through the carnival seemed to take quite a while, there was so much to see. This walk feels much shorter and after what seems like only a couple of moments Ralphie is in the back seat of his fathers vehicle and they are traveling the few short blocks back to the apartment building where they all live.
It is a humble building with four floors and only a handful of apartments on each. They have a close community built on forced proximity and mutual lacking.
Ralphie and his parents had once all shared an apartment on the bottom floor but recently his parents had separated. Ralphie did his best to cope with the situation but separation was frowned upon and was not the most common of occurrences. He had asked his parents to explain their decision but his father wouldn’t speak of it and his mother shrugged it off mentioning only that his father had what she called irrational fears.
Ralphie didn’t press the issue further. His young mind didn’t fully comprehend many things but a state of apprehension was one thing he did.
Before he knew it Ralphie saw their building pulling closer as the car approached. His ice cream cone melted down his arm as he tried his best to keep it in line, constantly licking the frozen dessert in a strategic patter but it was getting the better of him.
Ralphie didn’t often get to stay up this late and the world seemed different in the night, holding a renewed interest to the boy. He stared out the window at the night sky and surrounding landscape imagining all new adventures to be had.
The car squeaked slightly and pulled slowly over to the side of the road. Ralph parked it along the sidewalk roughly half a block away from the building and they exited to walk the rest of the way.
Ralphie skipped along making certain to avoid any cracks or lines in the sidewalk cement, balloon still firmly in hand. Ralph Sr. walked beside him but was distracted by his own thoughts. They walked the rest of the way home on autopilot passing a young man in a tuxedo as they traveled.
Approaching the glass entry doors to the lobby Ralphie insisted on opening them himself. He balanced what was left of his ice cream cone in hand while still holding tightly to the balloon ribbon, it took him more than a moment to get the door open but his father waited patiently until they were inside.
“Good evening folks.”
Roland was an older gentlemen of an unknown age, although the age of all adults was sort of fuzzy to Ralphie. In Ralphie’s mind there were only three ages; kid, parent, and Roland. His body seemed still quite young, almost porcelain in it’s detail. His eyes however were deep and dark, seemingly carrying the knowledge of several lives and looked like empty pits even against his dark ebony skin.
Roland always treated Ralphie as an equal and never looked down on him due to his lack of life experience like other adults, listening to his stories and offering advice, and in return Ralphie loved him like a best friend.
At the sound of Roland’s greeting he jumped forward leaving the company of his father in order to regale Roland with the details of the magical night he’d had.
His suit was firmly pressed as it always was, Roland commanded respect from those around him, not in any literal way but by the pure nature of his character. Despite being a manual worker, an elevator operator, he was highly regarded by those around him.
“Ralphie, what’s up little guy?
Ralphie approached him as fast as he could, balloon still in hand. His father tailed behind him. Without breaking eye contact with the boy Roland reached behind him and pressed a button, calling the elevator to the ground floor. After only a brief moment the doors opened awaiting a passenger. Ralphie lives on the ground floor with his mother but his father’s apartment is on floor four. Roland addresses him silently with raised eyebrows and a subtle smile.
“I won’t be going up quite yet Roland.”
Ralph replies. Roland gives him a slight nod and smiles while looking back toward Ralphie. The boy continues excitedly.
“You’ll never believe! My Dad took me to the carnival and we threw darts at balloons like pop! And rode rides like vroom and…”
Ralphie continued the story while pantomiming only pausin for the briefest of moments to breath.
“…and there were all kinds of games and two people were stuck together and there were caramel apples and really small horses…”
Ralphie speaks quickly, frantically, as if the details are fleeting and he may forget. After all, Roland is his best and only confidant and he doesn’t want him to miss a single detail. In his excitement he forgets to hold tightly to the balloons ribbon and it floats softly upward bouncing along the lobby ceiling.
Ralphie looks on with a longing and horror only a child is capable of with arms outstretched as his balloon follows the path of least resistance and floats up the lobby staircase. Instinctively and automatically Ralphie begins to follow after his balloon ready to begin a one man rescue mission.
The small boy makes a few tentative steps toward the stairs looking hesitantly at the entrance. Ralphie had never used the stairway, instinctively gravitating toward Roland and the elevator when he needed to visit the other floors. In addition to the conveniences of an elevator, the stairs seemed altogether uninviting and as far as Ralphie knew, people rarely used the staircase if they could help it. As Ralphie approached the entrance an anxiety set in over him.
“I wouldn’t go up there little man, it’s not exactly- safe y a know.”
Ralphie stays, staring into the shadowy opening of the concrete stairway, straining to see his prize somewhere above. After a moment he turned back toward Roland with a questioning stare, wondering what he meant about it not being safe. He then turned toward his father, still questioning but now his eyes were asking what his father would do.
“Don’t worry champ. I’ll go up and find it.”
He had heard no pop so he was certain it was perched atop the staircase waiting for him to retrieve it. He welcomed the opportunity to so easily be a hero to his boy.
“In the mean time, why don’t you head on home, let your Momma know you’re back. I’ll see you in a minute.”
The walk back to his apartment is a sad one, a shadow has fallen over an otherwise great night, he tries not to let it bother him but he can’t shake the feeling that something just isn’t right. When Ralphie returns home he removes his shoes and hangs his coat, then waits in the living room with his dog and his mother. She sits in her chair repairing some pants that Ralphie had torn a few days prior. After a few minutes there is a knock at the door and Ralphie gets up to answer it know that his father has returned from upstairs.
When Ralphie opens the door he sees his father there as expected, yet he is empty handed. His eyes apologizing in a way his words can’t express.
Ralph Sr. pauses not wanting to continue, what a day this has turned out to be. He takes a deep breath and continues.
“I looked everywhere but I can’t find your balloon. I’m really sorry. Tell you what
though, this just means we’ll have to go again next year and get you another one. Deal?”
Ralphie doesn’t respond right away, he’s not exactly upset, somehow he suspected he wouldn’t see that balloon again.
“What do you say son?”
Ralphie smiles, he can see that his father is disappointed as well, and he knows means well, he does his best to hide his disappointment.
“Sure Dad. But I think there’s something going on here.”
Ralph laughs softly and once again not knowing what to say to his son, ruffles his hair.
“Maybe you’re right champ. Go kiss your Momma goodnight, sleep tight pal. I love you. I’ll see you soon.”
Ralphie nods slowly telling his father he loves him as well before closing the door.
A shrill ringing fills the tiny bedroom, a small but swift hand moves to meet and silence it. Ralphie wakes and swings his feet over the side of his bed to the floor. Four a.m. Is early for most boys of eleven years, but Ralphie has a job to do, new bicycles don’t buy themselves.
Wiping the sand from his eyes he rises and makes his way slowly through the dark apartment toward the front door. There, like every morning, a package awaits.
Over the last few months Ralphie had developed a practiced manner during his morning routine. He had discovered how to open the door without allowing it to creak despite it not having been oiled since before he and his mother had moved their three years ago.
A fine fraction of light crept inside from the dimly lit hallway beyond. Ralphie silently relocated a not yet assembled pile of newspapers from outside the front door to the kitchen table. He pauses briefly, as he always does, for the sound of his mother stirring. After a moment or so, when satisfied she was still soundly resting he would continue, moving toward the cupboards for something to eat while preparing for his route.
Ralphie pulls a box of cereal from the shelf and tops it with milk in a bowl. He leaves the cereal box and milk on the counter as he moves back to the table and sits in front of his papers. He eats his cereal with one hand and folds the papers automatically with the other one.
The cereal’s light sugar coating makes swirls in the milk and Ralphie finds his sleep deprived mind hypnotized by them. They hold him captive until the last of the cereal is gone, then Ralphie consumes his prior captor.
Ralphie lazily carries himself to the sink to deposit the newly soiled dish, upon returning something quite surprising catches Ralphie’s attention. There is a man on the front page of today’s news. A man he hadn’t seen or thought about for several years. A man with a slightly sloping nose and a mouth that looked as though one side had been defeated.
Ralphie sat silently for a moment. The site of that face painted on the front page in stark black and white made him uncomfortable. Ralphie felt as though the man was staring right at him, could see him, could harm him.
Ralphie pushed himself away from the table wide eyed. Taking in a deep breath he tiptoes toward the front door and cracks it only slightly once again. His eyes make a quick sweep of the hallway before closing the door once more.
Ralphie quickly turns the door lock.
And the chain.
He then regains his composure now certain that he is in no danger. He tells himself he was checking for his mothers sake, but even he knows it’s a lie, and there is no one else to tell.
Ralphie begins toward the kitchen table once more, a sense of discomfort remains around him, but he’s felt this way most of his life and he’s come to accept it as standard operating procedure. He intends only to continue wrapping the newspapers and complete his route but he quickly loses focus. His curiosity seems too much to bear and he stops, staring intently at the picture on the front page.
Ralphie begins to read, then stops, makes himself a second bowl of cereal, then starts again.
The piece describes the death and later discovery of one Sidney Sinostro, a known member of local crime syndicates.
Ralphie recognized him right away and seeing his name confirmed his memory. He remembered this man from years ago.
The article continued to mention testimony of an another unnamed member of local organized crime. Testimony outlined the exact manner of Sidney’s murder and disposal by other family members. Testimony confirmed the location where Sinostro’s body was found and indicated that the killing was a response to Sinostro taking money without authorization and never recovering it.
Sid suddenly becomes aware of his being in immense pain. His eyes open into darkness slowly coming into focus through swollen eyes. This realization came first but was quickly followed by the recognition that he couldn’t move. Sid’s head drops into his chest and he sees, as his eyes begin to clear, thick ropes tightly binding him.
The legs of the chair are fastened to the floor making any attempt at movement almost impossible. Sid blinks hard, attempting to clear his vision. As it slowly improves Sid confirms what he had of course already suspected. Wherever he was, he wasn’t alone.
Three figures stood just out of sight, staying in the shadows. Three silent silhouettes. Their legs could be seen standing there just outside the shadows, buoys of stable terror in a sea of black.
Sid slowly becomes more conscious and as he does, his pain compounds. It becomes more apparent with every moment that he has been very badly hurt, his face, body, and extremities all seem to have suffered some kind of abuse.
Sid begins to tremble slightly, involuntarily from the pain. A lighter flicks briefly from the darkness then abates. The sound of a long inhale follows and a figure steps froward into the low light. The man stops a moment just within sight, continues smoking a thick cigar for a moment then continues further forward.
“You know Sidney, you’re not all bad, you’ve got good taste.”
Boss is a thick man with a reputation to match, he licks his lips satisfied, then continues to smoke the cigar while moving slowly toward Sid.
“Hey Boss, you like those? I’ve got a whole case of ’em at home, they’re yours.”
Tiny puffs of smoke exit along with light laughter.
“They are mine Sidney. Everything you own is mine. Your cigars are mine. Your house is mine. Car is mine. Even your life is mine Sidney. Everything you have from the shoes on your feet to the hair on your head, you have because I gave it to you.”
Sidney became increasingly nervous as Boss approached. He didn’t often leave the comfort of his home. Usually if he did, there was something big going on and Sid wasn’t happy to apparently be in the middle of it.
“I’m sorry Boss. Of course your right.”
Sidney has been involved with organized crime in this town since he was a teenager and he knows how things work. You don’t end up tied to a chair in a warehouse staring down the boss unless he thinks you deserve to be there and not many people have walked away from this. Boss waves his hand signifying his disinterest in Sidney’s groveling. Sidney pauses, knowing not to challenge him.
“Then I’m sure you can understand why I would be upset that you’ve taken more from me. Were you unhappy Sidney? Had I not provided enough for you, for your lovely wife, for your two young children.”
Sid began to speak but stopped shortly, choking on blood and saliva. Sid knew that there was no good answer. If he said he didn’t have enough it would seem as though he was ungrateful, if he sad he’d had enough, he would be admitting to greed. Neither were statements he was prepared to make to Boss.
“I’m losing patience Sidney. You’re lucky I didn’t kill you right away when I found out about the money you took. I told you to kill the man you gave it to. The one who didn’t pay. For this I would forgive you. Now I find out you couldn’t even do that Sid. You are becoming very much an inconvenience to me.”
Sid was becoming very confused. His head wasn’t the clearest it had ever been. The beatings had seen to that but he was certain he had killed Ralph. He mulled it over in his mind as Boss moved nearer still smoking as he did. Sid wanted to be certain of any response before it left his lips.
“Boss… I killed him Boss. I swears. Put a bullet right in his head, right between the eyes, point blank. He was dust two weeks ago, I promise.”
Boss began to laugh softly taking the cigar out of his mouth. He worked his tongue around his mouth slowly before spitting on the floor just in front of Sid’s chair. Then slowly he lowered the lit cigar to Sid’s forearm and held it there while speaking.
A restrained exclamation left Sid’s lips.
Sid’s eyes were lowered and his teeth grinding in his attempt to cope with the pain and gravity of his situation.
“Look at me Sid. I’d like to believe you, I really would.”
He paused briefly removing the cigar from Sidney’s arm and flicking the ashes to the ground. Removing a lighter from his jacket pocket he lit the cigar again took a deep drag and then placed it back in its place on Sidney’s arm before exhaling.
“So answer this one question for me. How is it, that Richie saw your friend Ralph walking the fuckin’ streets of our fair city just yesterday?”
Sid blows a gust of air out through his lips, unintentionally spraying blood on Boss’ pants- he doesn’t seem to notice or care. Sid is flabbergasted at what he’s just been told. He’s heard stories of people failing to complete hits but a bullet to the brain historically does the trick. He’s also heard the follow up stories outlining what Boss does to those people. Sid stammers not knowing how to respond.
Sid attempts to formulate a thought and plan his response.
Boss reaches back toward the darkness with one hand and gestures for something. His hand returns with pictures that clearly show Ralph at the mechanic, at the market, having his hair cut, and getting a beer.
“I killed him boss. I swears I did.”
Sidney continues pleading, hoping to sway Boss’ opinion but knowing the case has already been made.
Boss puts his hands behind his back. Sidney couldn’t see through two swollen eyes the signal that he gave to one of the men still standing in the dark. He didn’t see the gun that was handed forward. Boss slipped a cloth out of his pocket and slowly wiped the gun then places the cloth back in his pocket .
“You’re giving me a choice between believing that Mikey back there has become some sort of time traveler or picture wizard, that or Ralphie boy is still alive. I’m not inclined to believe the former. Someone’s gotta pay me back Sid, and since you’ve apparently decided that Ralphie don’t need to pay what he owes- you’ll clear his debt.”
Sid begins to sob softly as Boss takes another heavy drag from the cigar. He begs for his life, Boss raises the gun- and puts two bullets into Sidney’s chest.
Boss wipes the gun down once again then motions to Mikey and Sam.
“Clean it up.”
Ralphie movies his spoon around in his milk absent minded still sitting in the dark. He finishes reading the front page article as the images fill his mind. He sets down the paper and takes his bowl to the sink. He still has a few more newspapers to fold before he can start.
After a few moments he was lacing up his shoes and walking out the door. He starts on the second floor out of convenience, then he’ll do the others before coming home. The papers have been loaded into cloth sacks. When slung over his tiny frame the bags almost touch the ground but he carries them well. Ralphie walks down the hall away from the front of the building and the elevator. Once he had delivered to every apartment on this floor he walked back toward the front of the building.
The elevator was old but looked like no more than a week had passed since it was installed. Roland took such good care of it that Ralphie thought that it would last forever.
The elevator glides smoothly as it rolls toward the ground floor then stops with a slight thud and a quiet ding. The doors open into the lobby.
“Hey Roland, what’s up?”
Roland stands in the lobby a few feet from the elevator. He’s dressed in a fine suit, perfectly tailored. The same suit he’s worn every day for as long as Ralphie can remember, though it looks like this is it’s first day worn.
“Hey Ralphie, bright and early, good for you.”
Ralphie walked out of the elevator and toward the ground floor hallway.
“Got all these papers to deliver.”
He lifted his shoulders just a little, thought it was the best he could do, bringing attention to the bags he carried.
“Gotta make the most of the days you got Ralphie, that’s what I always say.”
Ralphie nodded and responded awkwardly.
“I guess. See you Roland.”
The first floor looks very much like the second and Ralphie knew it well having lived there since as far back as he can remember and until he was seven. The layout of each floor is identical with only the carpets differing. This had been done in the most recent renovation as a cost saving measure. The contractors had found a few good deals but none of them were enough to carpet the whole building. In this part of town people make do.
Ralphie finished delivering the papers to every door on the first floor. Half way done, he thought to himself as he walked back toward the lobby. Roland is standing right where Ralphie left him but now there is tape over the elevator door signaling it’s hiatus from service.
“Awe man! What happened Roland?”
Ralphie drops the newspaper bags to the floor in a sort of mild defeat dropping his hands to his sides. He wanders slowly toward the elevator instinctively trying to will it back into operation.
“Don’t know yet Ralphie. She’s temperamental, she’s seen a lot of years. Sorry little buddy, looks like you’re hoofin’ it”
Ralphie stands staring at it for a moment then hunches down and picks up the two sacks holding his newspapers.
“Yeah, looks like it.”
Ralphie turns to the opposite wall of the lobby at a doorway which leads to a Staircase. For a moment he doesn’t move. There has always been an uneasiness in his life and it seemed increased by this staircase. But he was now eleven years old and for too mature to be afraid of such things any longer, or so he supposed.
“See you Roland.”
The door to the staircase is metal and unpainted. It’s got rusty spots in the corners and overall just isn’t very inviting. It creeks as Ralphie forces it open. Every promise made to you by the appearance of the door is honored in full once inside.
This stairway makes the world feel gray. It makes him forget all of his happiness. Ralphie hates it here, he doesn’t know why but he does. The walls are concrete with no effort to hide it. The stairs are metal mesh and they’re rusted from the constant moisture caused by the slowly dripping pipes exposed along the walls. Every drop of water echoes around the walls and the sound somehow makes the whole thing worse.
Ralphie moves as quickly as possible taking two stairs at a time to the third floor. It’s not that he’s afraid, that’s not the right word. He just can’t stand to be there. Like trying to force the negative ends of two magnets together, they don’t want to run away from one another, they just have to. He exits into the hallway and immediately feels better.
The trip from the third to the fourth floor was accomplished in a similar manner.
Ralphie’s father lives on the fourth floor at the opposite end of the hall nearer the elevator. Ralphie starts dropping papers at each doorstep as he works his way toward the elevator end of the hall. His father had lived in this fourth floor apartment for several years ever since he and Joanna split up. His father had stayed in the building to be near him and they had always remained close. Despite the delay from the broken elevator it was still quite early and it seemed almost everyone was still in bed, only a few door lights had turned on.
Ralphie tread softly and was almost to the end of the hall when he heard the click of the stairway door from the other end. Some other unfortunate soul had been forced to take the stairs to get up here. Ralphie turned toward the doorway, not because of the sound but because when it opened the sense of apprehension came back completely as if some of the stairway had leaked out and surrounded him again. He looked intentily at the figure at the end of the hall but with the low lights and distance they were no more than a silhouette.
The door closes and Ralphie’s dark feelings fade away again. He drops his eyes and turns around again. He finishes delivering to the last few houses saving his fathers paper for last.
Ralphie reaches his fathers doorway and drops the paper on the floor and removes a maker from his pocket. Sids portrait is there in the center of the page looking back at him. Ralphie uses the marker and writes a message to his father just between the paper’s header and the headline. It reads- Hey Papa, something weird is going on today. I love you. Ralphie.
Ralphie places the marker back in his pocket and turns back toward the stairway entrance, glad that his encounter there will soon be over. The figure at the other end of the hall seems to share Ralphie’s attitude toward the stairway and is making a hasty retreat toward Ralphie’s end of the hall.
Ralphie crosses paths with the stranger midway down the hall, he has a hood pulled up around his head and his face is lowered to the ground. The man seems to be actively avoiding Ralphie but it’s early and the boy wants badly to just get down the stairs and be done with it all so he doesn’t question it.
A moment later Ralphie finds himself standing before the stairway door again, he takes a breath automatically and pushes the door open. It sticks slightly in the frame and Ralphie must reinforce his efforts to open it. After a grunt and a push it gives way.
The door closes behind him and a loud bang echoes off of the barren walls and throughout the stairway when it meets the frame. The boy thought this was strange as he didn’t remember it making so loud a noise when he had closed it behind him the first time, Ralphie attributes the excess noise to being in the stairway this time as opposed to in the fourth floor hallway.
Ralphie is down the first flight of stairs before he knows it moving quickly toward the bottom. He turns the corner toward the next flight and walks right into a thick cloud of smoke. The thick smoke hits him so directly he has to pause to waft it away like the strings of a spider’s web. He coughs, waving his arms wildly to clear the air while. After a brief moment he is on his way down the stairs again, the smell of smoke still clear in his nostrils.
The trip down the stairs only takes a brief moment but Ralphie’s perception of it was much longer and more difficult. He exits and closes the door quickly behind him breathing heavily.
Ralphie walks to the ground floor door and back into the lobby. He leaves behind the thick tension that clung to him in the stairway. The elevator is still broken, Roland stands near it as a repairman examines it closely.
“Sorry folks, hopefully it won’t be long. Can I get you anything in the mean time?”
There was a small family. A woman, a man, and a daughter had plunked themselves down on a small bench against the wall. Roland wasn’t speaking to anyone in particular it was more of a collective question. Roland notices Ralphie enter the room and gives him a friendly smile.
Though he asked it to no one in particular, the question was answered by the father. He was a square sort of person, resembling an appliance more than a man.
“No. Thank you. We’re fine.”
Ralphie was crossing the lobby floor toward the entrance. He covertly watched the unfamiliar persons on the bench. The mother seemed entirely content. If she was uncomfortable in any way you wouldn’t have known it from looking at her. The father was obviously unhappy about their waiting on a broken elevator. His very thoughts seemed written on his face and being as robust as he was it was really quite intimidating.
“Hey there Roland, still not working huh?”
It was a question that really didn’t need answering, the repairman was several feet deep in cables and bolts.
“He’s getting there buddy, bus should be here soon.”
He smiled, he always smiles. Ralphie nodded. It wasn’t really a big deal any longer, Ralphie wouldn’t need the elevator again until he returned from school. Ralphie stops and removes his backpack setting it on the ground before tucking the now emptied newspaper bags inside. As he rises he looks once again toward the bench. Beside the mother was a young girl about Ralphie’s age. There eyes meet and Ralphie looks away quickly, awkwardly. He puts his backpack on again and turns toward the front door. He stands just before it looking out the window at the street outside.
The girl slipped almost silently off the bench and walked slowly toward Ralphie from behind.
“Hi. I’m Lila.”
Ralphie jumps a little, startled. He turns around.
“Uh- hi. I’m Ralphie… moving in?”
Ralphie looked at the ground nervously but Lila was steady and smiling.
“Ya, we’re on the second floor.”
“I’m on the second floor too.” Ralphie responds smiling.
Lila smiles too, Ralphie blushes.
“We would be up there already if it wasn’t for this stupid broken elevator.”
Lila gestures back toward the pile of her families belongings beside the lobby bench.
“Always happens at the most inconvenient times.”
The overall silence in the lobby is cut by a distinct ding and the elevator doors open. The repairman stands, wiping grease on his pants leg. Roland steps away from the elevator toward the bench.
“Alright folks, looks like we’re up and running.”
The smile never leaves his face. It’s impossible not to like Roland. The father wants to be angry but he simply cannot.
“Okay, let’s get this done.”
The box shaped man and his wife stand together as if they were one person and grab their bags. Roland takes hold of a luggage carrier stacked to the top with boxes and begins rolling it into the elevator.
“Come on Lila sweetie. It’s time for you to see our new home.”
The mother was the picture of propriety, the perfect trophy wife. Any sadness, discomfort, or disappointment was buried beneath years of practicing refrain and Mary Kay. Lila turns back toward her parents. Her father gestures impatiently. She begins moving toward them but turns back toward Ralphie as she walks.
“You know, I’m glad the stupid elevator was broken, we may not have met otherwise. See ya ‘round Ralphie.”
Ralphie blushes a little as his bus pulls up to the corner,
he opens the front lobby door, turns back toward Lila
smiling, and walks outside.
Several more years have passed. Ralphie and his mother have abandoned their second story apartment in favor of a nicer one on the third floor. It was generally regarded, around the building at least, that the higher the floor you lived on, the better off you were. This was generally true due to the newer age of the upper apartments, having been renovated more recently.
When Ralphie’s parents separated his father moved into the only apartment available at the time, one on the fourth floor, where he still lived. Ralphie never knew it but his father had always struggled with the rent.
Ralphie and Lila, now aged seventeen walk briskly down a sidewalk side by side. Lila is adorned with a Polaroid camera around her neck. She walks down the sidewalk entirely distracted, taking pictures of everything even remotely note worthy.
“Thanks for the present Ralphie. Best birthday gift ever.”
Ralpie’s mouth instantly forms a solid smile effortlessly, automatically. He gives his best effort to hold it back.
“Nah. It’s not much, I wanted to get you-”
Lila turns quickly to face Ralphie and, placing the camera very near his face, snaps a picture of him.
“Shut up Ralphie, I love it.”
Ralphie flashes an awkward smirk and quickly looks away. The street is lined with a series of wooden poles running lines, carrying electricity from place to place. Each plank was covered in an assortment of papers. The contents of these advertisements were as varied as the size, shape, color, and condition of the papers themselves. Standing out in the center, stapled on top of layers of others, were bright orange fliers. Still crisp and clean, not yet weathered from the elements and passing pedestrians. The flier advertises an upcoming dance at their high school. Ralphie had been thinking about it for weeks, he nods at Lila toward the closest pole.
“Who are you going with? You must have been asked.”
He asks the question jokingly but the joke only thinly covers his very real intentions and his very real fear that she’ll be spending that evening with someone else, though he hasn’t the nerve to ask her himself. He nudges her playfully with his elbow smiles before turning slightly away to hide the fact he was nervously chewing his bottom lip.
Lila laughs equally nervous.
“Well, I might have been asked, but I haven’t said yes to anyone.”
Ralphie exhales, releasing a breath he was certain he’d been holding in his whole life. His relief soon subsides and is replaced with piqued curiosity at why she had apparently been asked but declined.
“Ouch, harsh Li. Why did you say no? Not handsome enough?”
As he asks the question he strikes a pose and runs his fingers through his hair mockingly. The whole act gets him punched in the arm. He pretends that it didn’t hurt but Lila has a solid punch, ,and it did.
“No you big jerk. You think I’m that shallow?”
He keeps his response short, still wincing slightly from the recent assault.
“Well… why did you say no?”
The two of them had just a moment before reached the bus stop and sat down on the bench. Lila didn’t answer immediately and they both shuffled their feet in a failed attempt to wipe away the awkwardness.
“I don’t know… it’s weird.”
“You really don’t have to tell me anything, I’m sorry I asked. I was only kidding.”
“No Ralphie, it’s okay. I trust you.”
“A little while after we first moved in. Just a couple weeks after we first met in the lobby, someone came to our door asking for me. He said he was picking me up for the dance. I was only eleven. My Dad wasn’t home, my Mom just told him to leave. It really freaked her out. She really freaked me out. I heard her yelling at him, then she shut the door and cried. After that I never really had any interest in school dances.”
Ralphie sits silently. He doesn’t know how to respond.
“I don’t know. It’s probably nothing. He was just at the wrong door I bet.” Lila said.
“Ya, you’re probably right.”
“Man! You’ve always been so pretty, guys have literally been asking to take you out since we were eleven!” Ralphie continues.
Lila throws another punch at Ralphie’s arm and hits him in just the same place. This sends a sharp radiating through his upper arm. Ralphie grits his teeth and tries to cloak his discomfort.
“Shut up you jerk.” She smiles.
Lila smiles but looks down at the sidewalk, back at her feet, then back up to Ralphie.
“Well… that’s only part of the problem. I’ve never wanted to go in the past. But this year I think I kind of want to go. I’ve just been waiting for you to get the courage to ask.”
Ralphie just stares at her, eyes frozen in fear. Then slowly a smile creeps across his face. Still overwhelmed he chokes and stammers trying to respond. Lila laughs playfully.
“Don’t take the elevator when you pick me up. I can hear the ding from my room, I want to be surprised.”
Lila stares straight forward, past the street at the horizon in the distance. The sun is just cresting over it. She reaches for Ralphie’s hand and they sit together on the bench not saying anything while they wait for their bus and watch the sun rise. Ralphie’s heart is racing, this is something he had hoped for almost immediately upon meeting her. He leans in a little closer to her.
“Did you know that the reason the sunrise and sunset can have such wonderful colors is because of the pollution. The particles scatter the light and create pinks and oranges and purples… it’s beauty from destruction. A happy silver lining.”
Lila throws her head back and openly laughs at Ralphie.
“You’re such a square!”
“I like it.” she continues.
“I like you.” Ralphie replies.
Lila jumps in quickly toward Ralphie and kisses him on the mouth. Her right arm is outstretched at a ninety degree angle and she snaps a picture with her new camera. She then pulls back and stands up almost bouncing. She photo begins to eject and she pulls it away from the camera shaking it quickly then after looking at it, she places it in Ralphie’s hand.
“Don’t let me down Ralphie.”
Lila begins to move away from the bus step and the bench half skipping half jogging. Ralphie looks down at the picture in his hand, elated. He then looks at Lila as she quickly recedes.
“Lila, where are you going?”
“I’m ditching Ralphie, you coming or what?” she replies.
Ralphie looks around in every direction to see who’s watching, paranoid that if he steps too far from the bench he’ll be caught. After a moment Ralphie has a realization regarding being caught for leaving with Lila- he didn’t care in the slightest. Ralphie quickly gets up from the bus stop bench and runs to catch up with her.
Ralphie stands in front of a full length mirror inspecting his recently adorned tuxedo. He straightens his tie for the seventeenth time and glances over at the clock before deciding he was satisfied. He throws the suit coat over his shirt, grabs a small bouquet of flowers from atop his dresser and heads quickly out of the door, not out of any sense of punctuality but out of utter excitement. Ralphie moves toward the elevator but remember Lila’s request days before he turns back toward the stairway entry.
Ralphie sprints down the stairs and finds himself on the second floor in just a few seconds.
Ralphie moves slowly and heavily toward Lila’s door. He’s trying emphatically to remain quiet and maintain the surprise but he’s slightly out of breath from sprinting down the stairs. Despite it’s relatively short distance the stairs always seem to take it out of Ralphie. He pauses for a moment to gather himself. He takes a few deep breaths and gives himself one last once over. After removing a small piece of lint and wiping out a few small wrinkles he’s ready and standing at the front door.
After a moment the door is answered. It’s Lila’s mother looking fresher than Ralphie remembered in recent years. She looks confused.
“Good evening Miss Foster.” Ralphie says.
His voice cracks just a little, he coughs to clear his throat and does his best to look classy and responsible. Miss Foster returns a stern curious expression.
“Can I help you?” She asks.
“Yes ma’am. Um- I’m here for Lila…”
“Excuse me young man, Wh- what do you mean?”
Ralphie is confused now. He knew that Lila’s mother wasn’t very comfortable with Lila attending dances because of their previous experience but he assumed Lila had spoken to her about this.
“Didn’t she tell you, we have a date for the school dance ma’am.”
Lila’s mother becomes very stern now, her expression has no levity, it feels as though her eyes are weighing down on Ralphie as she speaks.
“No young man.” she responds. “You must be mistaken.”
Ralphie straightens up.
“Miss Foster. I was worried that you might not be comfortable with this but I promise you that-”
Miss Foster cuts him off.
She steps toward him aggressively carrying all of the psychological weight of a lioness along with her. She reaches out. She wants to shew him away, to strike him, to do whatever she can to get him as far away from her daughter as possible. She slaps the flowers out of his hands and the shatter against the ground, petals scattering in a radius around.
“You are not taking my little girl to any dance and that’s all the more we’re going to talk about this. Now please leave!”
Lila’s mother begins to tear up and she slams the door in Ralphie’s face. The last thing he sees is the rage in her face and what he thinks is the fleeting silhouette of Lila in the background. Ralphie looks down at the ruined flowers at his feet. He picks up what is left of the limp and broken stems. He begins to walk toward the elevator but for whatever reason the damp and dark spirit of the stairway felt more appropriate and Ralphie turned back toward the doorway, taking the stairs the rest of the way to the ground floor.
Ralphie reaches the lobby and exits the front door. He walks down the sidewalk in no particular direction holding the remains of the bouquet he had purchase for Lila. Ralphie is clearly upset over the events of the last few moments and he continues alone down the road into the darkness of the night. He sees a pair of headlights approaching in the distance and continues walking slowly with his hands shoved in his pockets. After a moment the car approaches and then continues on, away from Ralphie. The man driving the car seems familiar somehow but Ralphie doesn’t get a good look at him and the back seat of the car is obstructed by a brightly colored balloon. Suddenly he was alone again and with the departure of the headlights so too did most of illumination depart and he was one again in the dark.
Ralphie walks alone for a while, a couple of hours pass while Ralphie walks and clears his head. He returns afterward tired and emotionally drained. When he enters the lobby of his building Roland is standing next to the elevator. Roland tweaks his head ever so slightly in a gesture that says without saying, I’ve got something kind of terrible to tell you. Ralphie continues walking toward the elevator. After this night he wants nothing more than to go to his bed and sleep.
“Elevator’s down again my man.” Roland says apologetically.
Ralphie sighs, physically and emotionally exhausted.
“Hey Ralphie, Lila… she ran through here a while ago. She seemed real upset. Said she was going to stay with her aunt for a while. She asked me to tell you she left you a note. I’m really sorry about this little man.”
Ralphie’s face loses all color and his eyes widen.
Ralphie moves toward the elevator before remembering what Roland had told him. He turns to the stairway and runs up the three flights to his apartment for in what seems like one bound.
Ralphie stops before his front door, looking around for any sign of a note, there’s nothing there. He opens the door and and goes inside continuing his search.
“Mom! Did Lila come by? Roland said she left me a note.”
Ralphie’s mother enters the living room from the hall.
“I haven’t seen Lila all day son. Is everything alright?”
Ralphie sighs heavily lowing his arms to his sides in defeat.
“Everything is fine Mom. I’m going to bed.”
Ralphie walks to his room his head is lowered as if to heavy for his body to support. He approaches his bed, kicking his shoes off and falls forward burying his face in a pillow.
Ralphie is now an adult, twenty-five years old in an apartment of his own on the fourth floor. His fathers old apartment in fact. His father had met someone new a few years prior and had moved across town, Ralphie took over the lease and moved in. He lays in is bed with the pillow over his face. The alarm is sounding continuously on the nightstand beside him. After a few moments Ralphie reaches over and slaps the alarm clock turning it off.
His feet swing over the side of the bed landing firmly on the floor beside it. He stands and walks to the bathroom adjacent his bedroom.
Ralphie stands looking at himself in the mirror, rubbing the stubble on his chin, wondering subconsciously how he had arrived at this place.
Ralphie picks up a toothbrush and after coating it in paste begins to brush his teeth. He glances toward the top right corner of the bathroom mirror at a photograph taped there.
The photograph depicts the first kiss he and Lila shared at the bus stop all those eight years prior at the bus stop. A date had since been written in the white space on the paper, Tuesday November 7, 1989.
He finishes brushing his teeth and spits into the sink. He rubs the stubble on his face once again, wondering to himself if he should shave. Deciding against it, Ralphie flips the light switch and leaves the bathroom.
Entering the kitchen Ralphie fills the coffee machine with water and puts a paper filter in the top then walk to the cupboard for ground coffee beans.
He opens the cabinet and grabs the plastic can, it feels light. He opens the can to check the contents.
“Damn it, out of coffee. I really didn’t want to have to go downstairs today.”
Ralphie tosses the empty can into the trash, and walks out into the hallway in his pajamas. He walks down the hall with no shoes on and takes the elevator to the ground floor. When he reaches the lobby the elevator door opens and Roland is standing there smiling with a cup of coffee made and in his outstretched hand.
“Here you go my man. How are you today?”
Ralphie reaches out and takes the coffee.
“That remains to be seen Roland.”
Roland chuckles and begins making a second cup of coffee.
“Yeah, I suppose it does. Here’s a cup for Miss Hirsch on the third floor too. You mind dropping it off on the way up? Your old place, third floor.”
Ralphie takes another sip of his coffee and takes the second up from Roland.
“Mmm. Delicious man.”
He pauses, taking another sip.
“How do you always know? When I’m coming for coffee I mean.”
Roland shrugs his shoulders and smiles.
“It’s a gift I suppose. And hey, I took extra special care making that cup for you today. Enjoy it.”
Ralphie takes a good long drink this time. Whatever Roland did, this is just about the best cup of coffee Ralphie can ever remember having.
“I don’t know man. I think there’s something more going on here. You always know when I need coffee. You always seem to know whenever anyone needs anything. Not to mention, you don’t look a day older than when I was a kid. You got good genes or what?”
Roland picks up a third cup he just finished making for himself.
“It’s about balance Ralphie. I may work the elevator but I always take the stairs.”
“Well whatever you’re doing, it’s working out…”
Ralphie holds out the coffee, gesturing toward Roland.
“…for both of us. Thanks again.”
Roland pushes the button on the elevator and holds the door as Ralphie enters. Ralphie presses the button for number three and stands sipping his coffee as the door closes.
The ride to the third floor is slow and steady. Having lived here most of his life, Ralphie can measure his progress by the number of lurches and scrapes he feels or hears. Soon he’s reached the third floor and exits, walking down the hall to what used to be his apartment.
Ralphie had a unique connection with this building. In a way it measured his life. He could look at the first floor and see his early childhood, he could retrace the steps of his life simply by moving from floor to floor within this building. He wondered, now that he’s on the fourth floor what his life holds for him. Having reached the top where there is nowhere else to go.
He reached the door where Miss Hirsch now lives and knocks. As he waits for her to answer he notices an envelope at his feet. Picking it up he brings it to his eyes and notices oddly that the envelope is addressed to him.
The ink that spelled out his name had been smeared with droplets of moisture, they were still wet to the touch as if it had been delivered only moments before.
Ralphie looks at the envelope skeptically. How did it get here, how did anyone know he would be here, he had only just found out. Ralphie turns the envelope over in his hands curious, then tucks it under his arm. A moment later Miss Hirsch arrives at the front door.
“Good morning Miss Hirsch, Roland sent me with this.”
Miss Hirsch picks up the glasses hanging around her neck and places them on her face. She smiles when she sees he is carrying coffee.
“Oh bless you Ralphie. Please send Roland my thanks.”
Ralphie nods agreeing.
“It’s no problem Miss Hirsch, and I sure will. Have a nice day.”
Ralphie turns back toward the elevator as Miss Hirsch closes the door behind her. He removes the envelope from beneath his arm and continues inspecting the envelope.
Ralphie enters the elevator and rides it to the buildings top floor before exiting and returning to his apartment coffee and letter in hand.
Ralphie sits on his couch, kicking off his sandals and opens the letter. He takes another sip before placing the cup on his coffee table and pulling the paper from the envelope.
Ralphie pauses for a moment when he notices that the letter is dated November 10, 1989. It looks as though it was written this very same day.
Ralphie begins to read the opening lines of the letter. It’s from Lila.
As Ralphie reads he hears a slight noise toward the front door and sees the corner of a newspaper slide beneath the front door.
Ralphie hoists himself from the couch and moves toward the door opening it. He reaches down to pick up his paper and his eyes meet the headline. He notices a note scribbled in marker on the top of the front page, it reads- Hey Papa, there is something going on here. Love Ralphie. On the front page is the story about Sid’s body being identified from a mass grave.
Ralphie looks up from the paper when he notices someone standing before him. The face is the same as that on the front page of the paper.
Ralphie drops the letter in his left hand.
A blue balloon bounces along the hallway ceiling in front of his door.
The visitor raises a gun to Ralphie’s face at point blank range.
“Oh.” Ralphie says calmly.