He stopped playing with his tassel and looked me straight in the eye.
"That's disgusting," I said.
"No shit. So you see? It is your fault."
"Why? You were the one who ordered it. A guy like you probably knows every five-star place in this city but you go into Sid's and order the squab. And you even told me you've heard all about it. You 'thought it was a myth' but you ordered it anyway. You're the one to blame."
I thought it strange when he smiled and asked:
"You really feel that way?"
"Absolutely. Like I said, I'm just trying to make my own way. I've got to look after myself. I'm not responsible for anybody. Anybody except myself."
He nodded and kept smiling.
"Good," he said. "I like that. I'll see you around."
He got up and started walking away, but then turned back.
"You...you don't talk like a bum."
"No, no, I mean, you talk...educated."
"So what's funny about that?"
He scratched his head again.
"I don't know."
And he turned and walked towards Tremont Street.
I sat for another few minutes and, finishing my coffee, thought over what he had said about my speech while abolishing old memories. Then I stood and walked through the Public Garden towards the Ritz Carlton Hotel. The buds on the trees had popped open a month before like small traps I'd never noticed. The tulips and crocuses had already bloomed. As kids, we used to say the crocuses had croaked. I smiled at that as I crossed Arlington Street and walked up Commonwealth Ave., passing the old brownstones that, unlike so many things in Boston, never changed except in value.
I pulled my tool out again. It was an old slingshot. The wood was marble-smooth with age, but the elastic bands were new. I had to constantly replace them, which meant grabbing them from magazine bundles in front of the newsstands early in the morning. The leather pouch was as old as the slingshot, made from a scrap of a jacket that I still wore in the cold weather.
Strolling in the median of Commonwealth, where people walk their dogs and the kids play on the statues, I approached an immovable statesman. Oxidation had colored him the same blue-green as the Statue of Liberty. My prey was on top of this statue, its shit dripping down onto a metal placard which was also blue-green. Bending down, I picked up a small stone, stuck it into the pouch and fired. I heard the familiar reverse-sucking noise as the rock hit the bird's breast. The pigeon fell from the statesman's head, following the trail of its last shit to land in the bright green grass. I picked it up and wiped off a bit of the white droppings from its hind feathers. The pigeon's eyes were glassy and vacant. I watched them for a moment, as if they might suddenly open, then put the dead bird in my sack and moved on.
A few weeks later, I dreamt I was a prince living in a fairytale land. The King came to me with a treasure chest and said, "All of this is for you." He opened the chest and I saw it was filled with jewels. Myriad colors gleamed from within. But as he handed the chest to me, I began to grow, taller and taller and into the clouds, dwarfing the King. He couldn't reach high enough to hand me the treasure. Finally, I stooped down to take it from his elfin hands. But as I lifted it up, the jewels changed into oval, brown beans.
My first night sleeping on the streets was in Copley Square, in front of the Boston Public Library. When I awoke in the morning, conflicting feelings pinned me to the sidewalk as if I were a footprint in the cement. People walked by, their glances drenching me in shame. If someone I knew had seen me, how would I explain? I was also scared. Had I been molested in the night? Had I been robbed? I moved slightly and felt for my wallet. It was still in my back pocket but, to my initial surprise, this did nothing to comfort me.
Copyright 2001 Andrew K. Stone. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be printed in any form without permission. For permission to reprint this excerpt, please contact www.sotherebooks.com.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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