One day in the life of Ezekiel- by Sze Chun Chan- a short story in 1971 Brooklyn
The smell of burning chemicals, bitter, sulfuric, and piercing. The beautiful silverware set was brought by a rich, Jewish family and discarded to a charity cause because the family already had too many of such sets. Today, it wasn't used for eating soups in bowls. As the piercing chemicals boiled in the spoon and the cigarette lighter underneath gave the immense heat, the man rolled up his sleeve. The vibrant colors of the lilies patterned his hippie shirt, now diluted by years of filth. His long beard besieged a middle aged face. His medium figure and his long curly brown hair. His pale skin.
The syringe filled with the colorless liquid.
As he shot up, the world was ethereal, he lives forever, the old, brown, splintered chairs lost gravity, tables and furniture sprung up, the bright white light of sunlight seemed to be angelic and glowed, contrasting the dark, lifeless, filthy, and airless condo. Urban decay in a common Brooklynite neighborhood. The stir of echoes, reverb about the hollow void. And he flew away. Towards the sky, the false angels to catch men in their great funnels, he would think he went far, far away, from the troubles of his world. His retinas grew, his eyelids were a ton. The sulfuric, bitter smell was suddenly scented as a thousand lilies of a lush garden field.
This was Ezekiel's dad.
Today was Ezekiel’s birthday. Happy birthday Ezekiel...
The blows came in a flurry and each came crashing into the teenager’s stomach dull and heartily. The arm grip of the group of bullies was firm and inescapable, bound between the thick boys and beaten. The blows in his tormented stomach came repeatedly and rapidly. The poor boy will not be able to digest at least for the next 4 hours. The tears, no mattered how hard he tried to hold back, slipped through his eyelids forcefully. Hours seemed to go by before being freed from the agony. Ezekiel held on to his stomach and collapsed to the floor as a train noisily passed through the rail tracks up above the poor neighborhood apartments. He felt a wad in his throat and spit. The wad landed on the Brooklyn pavement, red and thick. The bitter taste of iron, the thick taste that will make one sick. They say a man can swallow a pint of his own blood before getting sick. This is not the birthday punches Ezekiel had hoped for.
“Yeah… make sure you can pay in full before playing your cards you loser...”
Ezekiel felt it. The adrenaline readying all his muscles to get into full fight. His anger was the monster. He pulled a .38 revolver on the boys from his jacket. Ezekiel closed his eyes and without any other thought but of redemption and revenge, cocked the hammer. The bullies turned in surprise and their eyes spilled out the terror when they realized what they had unleashed. Ezekiel closed his eyes and fired, over and over, the rancid and sulfuric scent of gunpowder; it burned his retinas through his eyelids, the feel of the weapon’s mechanism in his hand, the recoil of the peacemaker. A gun is basically an explosion focused into one direction, man realize a couple hundred years ago that he could harness this power. He could see the bullies lying on the pavement in their own pool of blood.
This was all in his head when the rage surged through his head as the bullies walked away and laughed at the chump whom they just beat up. Ezekiel reached for a .38 revolver special revolver in his jacket pocket, but all he found was a pack of tissues. The detective noir movies he enjoyed, armed with a .38 special and a Fedora hat, blowing away bad guys. His fantasies were limited to black and white detective movies.
As the bullies turned out of sight around the Brooklyn Street, Ezekiel caught his breath, the smell of Brooklyn, the exhaust of cars and buses, the decaying of old paint off the abandoned apartments. The sunlight blurred into his eyes, recovering from the emotional trauma of the attack. Ezekiel got up to his feet, the passing of a casual Oldsmobile washed exhaust fumes against his face. The busy life of the street went on casually, and seemingly this big emotional trauma for Ezekiel never happened. Life went on for everybody, but not for Ezekiel, he was beaten up after refusing to pay for his losses at Poker games after school.
This was not his first fight. Ezekiel had a history of misconducts and violence. He fought vigorously for his honor and respect in the streets, in the tough, poor streets of Brooklyn; you have to fight to survive. He fought in the last month at a park for settling of disputes between his gang and their rivals. Knives and blades were some of the weapons, and Ezekiel had a permanent scar on his arm. His unresponsiveness at schoolwork in a failing junior year at high school could be contributed to his disputes and wasted time spent with his gang.
Days were often rough for Ezekiel, and today is one of those days. Ezekiel took a long painful walk towards home as he swallowed some of the blood in his mouth. He followed the street underneath the suspended railroad. Another train passed above the tracks, and the shrill of metal grinding against metal pierced his ears. Apartments and two family houses lined up the sides of the street and the occasional deli and shops defined this setting. The rust of the supporting metal and the little black patches marked the pavement. The pain in his stomach was uncomfortable to say the least. Ezekiel held on to his stomach as he looked toward home and continued to walk.
Home was a second floor of an old condo in a street littered with pieces of trash, broken shards of glass from fighting bums, rotting sheets of newspaper in the street drains, the parasitic drug dealers and the occasional prostitutes. As he proceeded up the stairs of the main entrance, the scantily clad woman eyeballed Ezekiel with alluring stares. The house seemed to be alive of its own, as the loud cheap music and moans of porno movies reverb throughout the hallways, couples are heard yelling disputes and curses at each other, and a baby is heard crying, probably unattended by an irritated mother.
A dull and deafening shot of a pistol is heard in one of the rooms. A Scream of a woman. Ezekiel jumped from his shoes and was abruptly shaken by the loud bang. He pauses for a moment with his hands placed in his pockets, decides to mind his own business and continues through the hallway to the stairs normally as this was the 2nd gunshot heard this month in the area. As he heads up the stairs in the blinding white light of the afternoon sun is filtered through the cracked window and absorbed by the crust filth on the checkered stairs. Children are seen playing noisily and naively on the stairs. The euphoric screams of joyous children seemingly unknowing of their perilous and violent surroundings fill Ezekiel’s ears.
As he continues through the dark hallway up the stairs, the sound of the joyous children fade into distance as he ventures farther and farther into the filthy hallway. The radiators, not working in a decade, line the hallway and dim lights burn the eyes of future visitors as they try to read the apartment numbers and visit their poor relatives just to give them respect and to get out of this neighborhood as fast as humanly possible. Ezekiel stopped at one of the rooms and finds the key in his schoolbag.
His hands caught the key and he proceeded to unlock the door. The opening of the door was accompanied by Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin'” on the old radio. Ezekiel’s dad did not notice Ezekiel coming in but only the departing angels as his high dies down.
“Dad… dad, I’m home… dad?”
Ezekiel walks into the kitchen to find a syringe kit sitting by his dad at the table. His dad sniffs and he stares inhumanly into the flaky ceiling.
He turns to Ezekiel and smiles crazily and broadly, then proceeds to say.
“Whatever…” Ezekiel mutters and turns away.
As Ezekiel leaves the kitchen and into his musty room, he sets down his schoolbag and lets out a deep sigh. The throbbing soreness in his stomach causes him to let out a cough, Ezekiel goes to nurse his wounds in the rusty bathroom and lets out an ecstatic groan as the icy water cascades against his stomach.
As Ezekiel proceeds to the kitchen to find the last scrap of bread to eat, his dad commands.
“We’re all out of milk, there is a few dollars on the table so go to the deli and buy some milk will ya?”
“Sure… dad…” Ezekiel sighs and pockets the money.
As Ezekiel prepares to leave and places his coat on, he spots his father lighting up a cigarette and puffs. Ezekiel locks the door behind him. Another errand for pa’ and he never gets off his lazy ass. He thought. As he continues downstairs, the police are in the unit of the gunshot. As they sealed the room and tapes crime scene rollers in the hall, Ezekiel passes and tries to catch a glimpse of the room. A chalk outline of a body lies in a pool of blood, with what looks like a .38 caliber pistol he sees in his detective movies. As Ezekiel tries to get closer glimpses pushing into the crowd of curious residents living in the same condo, the cops push them away and declare it a crime scene.
Fresh, city air marks Ezekiel’s nose as he leaves the condo, the vibrant summer sunlight causes him to shield his eyes as he walks down a block to get to the deli. Of passing through, Ezekiel spots some military recruitment posters referring to Vietnam on the wall and stops. He thinks hard of all of the pain he has received in his life living in Brooklyn; perhaps he can get some justice in the army fighting the enemy.
“It’s only a couple of months until I am 18.” Ezekiel thought.
The small deli was just down the block by the overhead trains; Ezekiel walks in and checks the expiration dates on the cartons of milk. He finds a reasonable date and takes the milk to the counter. As the cashier bags the milk carton, a man of a seemingly very large build walks clumsily and swerves side to side walks into the store. A strong stench of liquor radiates from this huge, clumsy beast. Ezekiel’s keen fight or flight instincts take over, and as this beast inches towards a mother and daughter shopper, Ezekiel is ready to take this big man on. Ezekiel has been fighting all his life and now he is ready to defend the innocent. As he approaches the huge man, ready to tap his shoulder and deliver a swift kick in the family jewels, an arm shakes Ezekiel from behind, and Ezekiel turns with a threatening face. Ezekiel notices that this is an elderly man in his 70s, his face covered with wrinkles, he stands slightly bent, and the strong emotion in his face urges him to back off.
It seems the old man wants to defuse the situation himself. As the big man approaches the terrified lady and her daughter, the old man taps the big brute on the shoulder. The big man turns quickly and barks fiercely.
“What do you want… old bird?!”
The paws of the big brute could almost smolder the old man’s head in one grasp. Ezekiel stood at the ready, observing the old man’s stratagem, ready to deliver the hurt on the big brute if something should go the wrong way.
“Sir, I wish to speak to you.” The old man replied confidently and firmly.
“What the hell do you want old man, I do not wish to talk to anybody until I get my Scotch!”
“I wanted to ask, What has happened so terrible that now you let nothing stand in your way of your drink?”
“Old man… I have nothing to say… I just… just want… my Scotch…”
“You know, Scotch has that nice flavor I’ll be looking for on those cold, windy nights in the neighborhood, and you know, Bourbon is not too bad too, as long as it has that nice tint and age to it.”
“Yes… I have had some… some… Bourbon too, but it ain’t as going as… nice as the Scotch goes…” The brute, still alert but challenged excitedly.
“Yes, those were some great flavors, but it has to be defined by a good year for that fuller taste.” The old man smiled.
The seemingly harmless conversation came into a full minute when the big brute burst into tears.
“… yes yes… you see… My wife left me… so now I…I… can’t do nothing… so I… drink…” the brute sobbed.
The old man sat besides the big brute and patted him now on the floor sobbing and comforted him.
“Its ok, I know that feeling, I believe I did the same thing when my wife went away, I began to drink… and drink”
“Your wife… left you… too?” The big man sucked in his pride with tears.
“Yes, I thought of nothing but of her when she left me, I cannot forget the long summer days we use to be together on the farm, the wind in Arkansas was the freshest you’ll ever smell in all over meri ca’, the beautiful grass fields stretch for miles as we use to spend those evenings walkin’. I saw things that you wouldn’t believe, the magnificent starlight lit nights of summer; the beautiful children choir on a Sunday morning at church and their wonderful voices. When she left me, I decided to spend my life in New York. I thought that she was more important than life itself, so I decided to escape, and I drank and drank. The 2 years of drinking was probably the most painful moment of my life, whenever I thought of her or caught of her in a glimpse in my dreams, I began to drink again…”
The old man paused to ponder, the huge man at full attention, his sympathetic and glary eyes now bathed in tears.
“…You know, because I didn’t know something back then. That life moves on, whatever I did, was the past, no matter how bad it was, you have your whole life, your future ahead of you, and no one could take that away but yourself, I was sure whatever wrongs and mistakes I have made in the past, could be forgiven if I let myself live a full life again, make the best of the future, find a lover and bring more life into this world and decided to never do the wrong things ever again, I never hit another person nor tell lies, and in that way, I could redeem myself for all the wrong doings I have done in the past…”
The old man carried up the big weeping man gently and they walked out of the store into the street as a bright, warm, angelic summer sun brightened the day talking peacefully as they went.
Ezekiel thought of all of the violence in his life, he thought of all the fights in the park, the gang strifes, the bloodied wounds he comes home with, he feels ashamed of himself trying to fight another man, a man with a life, emotions, ambitions, and suffering when just an old man, without any strong physical physique or weapons, to just end what could have been a senseless and perilous conflict with just reasoning and intuition.
Ezekiel picks up the carton of milk and walks outside to a beautiful summer sun.