Friday, August 27, 2010

#fridayflash~The Disappearing Man


The Disappearing Man

Mickey Gerussi appeared in Bobby’s life with the suddenness of a special news report. It was as if he had stepped from the screen of the television that blared constantly in the front room; he was the Shadow, the Green Hornet and Batman rolled into one.

Bobby’s father had died the previous summer and his mother was forced to rent the attic space to help with the bills. One morning a pale man, carrying his belongings in a large lacquer box, was propelled through the front door by a blast of chilly air. He was tall, but did not fill the doorway like Bobby’s dad.

“Hey there, young fella,” he said, nodding to the boy. “My name’s Mickey.”

Bobby couldn’t place the man’s strange accent but he sounded like JR Ewing from that new show on TV. His brown hair extended past his shoulders and the boy noticed a scorpion tattoo on the man’s fist when they shook hands. Bobby thought that Mickey’s almond-shaped eyes and walrus mustache made him look Asian, though not as much so as David Carradine in Kung Fu.

They quickly fell into a routine that allowed Bobby’s mother to work late at her waitress job. Mickey always worked the overnight shift and slept during the day while Bobby attended school. At supper time he would emerge from the attic to make them fancy sandwiches. On one such occasion, while dressing up their bologna on kaisers with pickles, an olive magically appeared in his hand. He deftly produced another from Bobby’s shirt pocket. Mickey lacked David Copperfield’s talent, but he compensated with Doug Henning’s flamboyance.

“How did you do that?”

“It’s all in the misdirection.”

“The missed erection…?”

“Misdirection,” he said laughing, his narrow shoulders pumping up and down. “That’s when you use a quick distraction to divert a person’s attention.” Mickey spent the rest of the evening making nickels magically appear and teaching Bobby special card tricks.

The boys from school reported regularly to Bobby about the lodger’s activities. Tim’s brother often saw him drinking beer with tough guys in downtown bars. Alvin’s dad heard Mickey speaking French with bikers at the Brass Rail…even a twelve year old knew about that joint’s reputation.

Mickey always kept the door to his room locked. One morning he came home from work, unaware that Bobby was sick in bed. Hearing the shower start, the boy hopped out of bed and peeked down the hall. Bobby noticed that the door to the attic was open, so he crept up the creaky stairs to inspect Mickey’s lair.

Clothes lay heaped on the floor and the lacquer box sat neatly at the foot of the bed. Bobby had never noticed that it was painted—a pair of birds and large flowers on its side. On the dresser he spied a photo of soldiers standing in front of a helicopter, one much larger than the ones he’d seen on M*A*S*H*. Mickey’s wind breaker, the one he always wore to work, was hanging on the back of a chair. Bobby still heard the shower downstairs so he gently lifted it to try on. Beneath the jacket was a small gun tucked in a worn, leather holster. Breathlessly, the boy ran his fingers over the rough grip of the weapon. At that moment the pipes rattled below the floor, indicating the shower had stopped. Bobby took a final glance around the room and quickly fled downstairs.

While making sandwiches together that evening, Bobby noticed a small triangle of colour peeking out from the arm of Mickey’s T-shirt.

“Is that a tattoo?”

“Yes,” he said, not looking up from slicing a tomato.

“Were you in the war?”

“Yes I was.”

“Can I see your tattoo?”

Mouth set grimly, Mickey sighed and lay down the knife. He rolled up the shirt to reveal a red lightning bolt with the number 23 at its center.

“Cool. What’s the number? That how many guys you’ve killed?”

“No, that was the number of my regiment,” he said, idly scratching a jagged scar on his other arm. Bobby was a bright kid and, having watched enough TV shows about war vets, figured Mickey was an undercover cop. He was like Kojak—without the lollypop, like Baretta—without the cockatoo. Starsky without Hutch.

The house was unbearably warm that summer and Mickey, when at home, often dragged Bobby outdoors on his “Get Bobby away from TV” initiative. Mickey taught him to play catch and soccer and even badminton. The physical activities were fun, yet foreign to the boy as he and his dad had only ever watched TV.

Bobby discovered Mickey smoking on the back stairs one evening. He stared into the garden’s depths as if seeking a safe passage through the thick patches of sunflowers and hollyhocks. His long, nicotine-stained fingers pinched a small, wrinkled cigarette that smelled unusual yet strangely pleasant to the boy.

“New brand of cigarettes?”

“Yeah, but it’s no good for me and I think it’s high time I quit,” he said as he ground the dead end into his plastic ashtray.

On a warm October evening, after eating pastrami on rye, Bobby saw Mickey for the last time. They were laughing, wrestling among the crisp leaves that obscured the front lawn. Bobby was pinned and conceding defeat when a red Pinto, its windows tinted, pulled up to the curb. It idled noisily for a moment and then the horn beeped twice. Mickey frowned and held up a finger, motioning the driver to wait. He dashed into the house and returned wearing his wind breaker.

Mickey tousled Bobby’s hair as he passed. “See ya later, kid,” he shouted and jumped into the passenger seat of the waiting vehicle.

Bobby chased after the car as it drove away, its exhaust pipe emitting blue puffs. They hung momentarily in the air, like smoke from his dad’s clay pipe, but a light breeze spirited them away.

Mickey did not return the next morning. Not the day after that either. A week after his disappearance, Bobby’s mother emerged from the attic carrying his lacquer box. He followed her out the front door and wept as she passed it to the men in the black sedan. They soon got a new lodger, and Mickey G. was never spoken of again.

Bobby still thought about him, though, while watching Magnum on TV.

29 comments:

Marisa Birns said...

Just love how you intersperse pop culture characters as a way for Bobby to comprehend Mickey G. Misdirection seems to work well for Mickey. In his magic and well as life.

Though, does Mickey ever think, "What would MacGyver do?"

Cathy Olliffe said...

Was Mickey any relation to Bruno? Heh! Love that name.
Well. Alan. Wasn't that an evocative, warm, lovely piece. Mysterious, too.
And yet so real - MIckey didn't disappear in a long black car; no, it was a red Pinto. And I chuckled at his getting Bobby away from TV campaign. Sounds like our house.
Just lovely, really enjoyed it.

ej said...

Brilliant characterisation. We learn so much about the characters in such a short time. Love all the 80s references. Great story :)
EJ
ejjames.com

Laurita said...

I really enjoyed this story. The references throughout were so well done, and mean more when you know that it's what the kid did with his dad. Mickey is a great character, and the narrator's voice was really well done.

Debbie said...

I love this story, but have a feeling I have heard it before... Did you bring it to one of our classes with Ed?

katen said...

Loved the invocation of setting through the use of TV shows. I'd put this in the late 70s/early 80s. (I'm probably about Mickey's age.) Why is it that I seemed to have watched a ton of TV myself when I was that young, yet always seemed to have time to go outside?

V.R. Leavitt said...

Excellent TV references. Very well done. I really like the sentiment of this story as well. The characters come alive immediately. Not easy to do.

Pamila Payne said...

I liked so much about this, the innocent, awed quality of the boy's interest, the mysteriousness of Mickey's life, all the clues to what kind of a person he might be contrasting with how kind he was to Bobby. Very nice.

Erin Cole said...

I loved both Bobby and Mickey; you characterized them very well. I also liked how this wasn't fluffed up at the end. Real stuff. That's what it's about. Good penning, Alan.

John Wiswell said...

Life passing through. Interesting visit from the Mickey. Filtering him by way of pop culture clicked along nicely.

G.P. Ching said...

So much of our lives as children is framed up by what we see on TV. This was a great piece of writing both for the nostalgia it evokes and the story that captures a slice of life so eloquently. Nice work.

David Barber said...

Where's my comment gone? I left one earlier, Alan.

Loved this story, but was a bit upset for the kid. He seemed to need that father figure. Maybe, just maybe, you could resurrect this story a bit further down the line and, well....??

Have a great weekend, Alan.

squidinkinc.com said...

Fantastic, the TV references instantly connect with the child in you, I can remember being a kid and being fascinated by people with tattoos, very evocative.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Marisa- Thanks. I wonder if Mickey 'MacGyvered' his way out of his situation...

Cathy- I'm hoping that a lot of folks could relate to the TV viewing.

EJ- Thanks very much. Glad you liked it.

Laurita- Thanks, Laurita!

Debbie- You are right with your assessment. I did present a version of that to the writing class 2 1/2 years ago as an assignment. Good memory!

Katherine- Lots of '80s TV + Lots of time outside = Good Time Management! I'm pleased that you enjoyed those old references.

VR- Many thanks for your kind words.

Pamila- Thanks for those kind comments.

Erin- Wow, you're way to kind. Thanks!

John- Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. The Mickey says he's pleased as well...

GP- I live for nostalgia. Those were very kind words, GP. Thanks very much.

David- Honest, I never touched your comment! (you're such a clown). Thank you sir. I agree, you can't help but feel bad for the boy and what he's lost.

Adam- You're right, TV and tattoos always capturen the imagination of kids. Thanks very much for your comments.

kathryn said...

This story was fabulous. But, I'd expected no less. I love the way you got inside Bobby's head...I could actually hear the boy's thoughts.

I find myself wanting to admonish this young lad for speaking so cavalierly about killing people...I'm going to need a moment with him...

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

Loved this. The boy's POV was perfectly done. Mickey G is an awesome character. How about the Mickey G POV sometime in the future?

theothersideofdeanna said...

Love this Alan! As most everyone has already said, the characterization here is so well done, and in so few words. One of your best.

Lou Freshwater said...

So much of our perceptions are indeed shaped by popular culture and especially TV, and you've woven a really wonderul tale and example of this.

Rachel Blackbirdsong said...

Great job on this one Alan. I love the way you weave bits of pop culture throughout to add depth, as well as time and place into this story. I also like the way you don't reveal too much about Mickey, even to the end. Great storytelling here.

Maria A. Kelly said...

Mickey is a mysterious character. I want to know more about him. I like all the references to the TV shows. I grew up with all of those shows. so I can identify with Bobby's take on things.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Kathryn- Phfft! Kids these days...

Mazzz- Thank you kindly. The Mickey G point of view would be different, for sure.

Deanna- Thanks for saying that

Lou- Very true. Try to find someone in their forties that hasn't seen all of those shows.

Rachel- Thanks! Sweet of you to say so. I thought that in this case the mystery of Mickey was best left to the reader.

Maria- I grew up on them too. So many of those shows were based on crime and mystery...and here was this stranger living the life.

pegjet said...

So, what was in the laquered box?

Well done, and as the others have said, the pop references worked nicely in moving this story along.

I thought Mickey was going to chuckle at his "high time I quit" joke. Glad Bobby didn't catch it. (hehe--yeah, I have a sophomoric side)

Akasha Savage. said...

Excellent story. Reminded me a bit of Stephen King's 'Hearts in Atlantis'. :)

Icy Sedgwick said...

I love the way that I can see Mickey through Bobby's Pop Culture eyes. It's like you've channelled the spirit of Tarantino for this one - very good work!

ganymeder said...

Now I'm wondering what was in the box and what happened to him. Was he a gangster? A vampire? Inquiring minds want to know... :)

Seriously, great characters. Give us more! :)

Alan W. Davidson said...

Peggy- Hey, sophmoric humour has its place. The lacquered box? A guy can't give away all his secrets now, can he?

Akasha- Thank you, kind lady!

Icy- And thank you, too, for those kind words.

Catherine- I simply saw him as a friend to Bobby. And a cop. Maybe.

Aaron Polson said...

Great characterization again, and I too am a big fan of anything 80s. (Don't tell anyone, okay...I was just a kid)

Bukowski's Basement said...

Alan... I'm late to the game here. Been ridiculously behind. But IO loved the vivid details and flair in this piece, brother...

Bernard S. Jansen said...

You think you're late, Venutolo?

I liked this. The missed-erection was a great piece of humour to keep the piece from getting too serious.

The point-of-view feels genuine, too.