For years now, the Wino had eaten lunch at this very spot on the patio of Weststar; his favorite bistro that served his favorite brunch dish (Eggs Benedict with a side of melon, for what it’s worth) and his favorite Malbec (Bodega Noemiade Patagonia ’98) and offered him his favorite view of the plaza. Weststar sat between the Barnes and Noble and the J. Crew inside Rutherford Town Center who’s most notable attraction outside of being home to the state’s largest lingerie outlet store was its centrally located park, the one with the benches and trees and fountains that shot out blue streams and invited children to come splash about while their parents looked onward, resting their tired arms from an afternoon of carting around plastic bags of textiles and discounted candles. It was, for all intents and purposes, a playground. He would sit lapping at a dry red who’s recent pour sat slightly bubbling at the bottom of his stemless glass.
After finishing his first glass and the complimentary salad, The Wino would unfold the morning paper and complete the crossword. It rarely took him longer than ten minutes. After that, he would thirst more and wave his hand to the staff, who by now had the timing of his demands ingrained into their muscle memory. The waitress, with her big breasts in
her black blouse with the top button nearly bursting open to reveal her black frilly bra would briskly walk to his table to pour him another glass to imbibe and be back on her way. He paid her no mind. When she was out of arms reach he would fixate his eyes toward the playground and feast upon the bare chests and ribs of the boys teasing one another in the fountains.
The white napkin folded over his lap contained the throbbing and quaking underneath it. The young ones danced about the way that young ones dance and he prayed that their tiny shorts would become soaked from the water so that he may catch the glimpse of an outline. As customary, he would bring the glass to his nose and inhale the tannins and bright cherry and oak notes and imagine that it was akin to the smell of the little boys’ firm pink asses. Sweet, young, and acrid. The children would scream and shriek as they threw the communal water on to each other and his mind would swirl just as the wine did when he would roll his glass around rapidly, forcing it to open up. This was the ritual. He let the warmth of the July sun, the same one burning the backs of his young beloveds, heat the bags under his eyes as he closed them, pausing to synthesize sight smell and sound into a simulation he longed to remain within forever.
Within the hour, his craving for both wine and the nubile had usually subsided, or rather, finished, and his need for a fresh pair of briefs was the most important matter at hand. However today, he thought it right to order the fifth glass. A change could wait.
“Sir? I’m just fixin’ to go ‘head and charge you for the whole bottle, you hear? Cheaper than rangin’ up five separate glasses.”
The Wino looked at the waitress and pursed his dusty lips. Then, with his raspy soulful draw said, “Thank ya babydoll. You’s just bring the check when you come on back ‘round.”
And so he drank his last glass and signed the check and left his tip sticking out from underneath the fruit plate and walked to the restroom after pushing in his chair and re-tucking his shirt in.
The stalls and urinals were vacant. The Wino walked up to the mirror and turned on the sink, running his hands under the warm water and looking back at his reflection while pushing back some cuticles with a lengthy sharp nail. He wiped the water off on his pants and took off his cap, revealing a few nappy wisps of black matted hair. He held the cap over
his chest and stared some more. His forehead was worn and wrinkled just like his hands and his glasses slid down past the highpoint of his nose’s bridge so that their top rim bisected his dead irises horizontally. Sighing, he replaced his hat, puffed his chest out and smacked his cheeks to wake up from the drunken haze of his sultry afternoon, but it did little to shake him from the stupor.
He wrapped a wad of paper towel around the handle of the bathroom door and opened it and headed out of Weststar and walked toward the fountains.
Hot metal scalded the underside of his thighs. The benches had been basking in the sun all day. The mothers of the children parading around decided to stand next to strollers and underneath the shade of the Crape Myrtles rather than sit. The Wino did not mind the burn and continued to watch the show in front of him.
It took nearly an hour before he spoke. There was a boy in a pair of navy blue water shorts who quickly passed in front of him once, twice, three times. As the child circumnavigated the park and poked at the little girls and cupped water in his hands and poured it over his own head, The Wino took mental notes.
On the child’s fourth revolution, The Wino reached out his arm as if to clothesline the boy, and his black palms gave a quick indication to stop running and listen.
“Say there, young buck. You’re splashin’ me all about.”
The boy stared back at him blankly and then looked toward the edge of the wet pavement for his parent.
“I ain’t mad at you, you just got to be careful where you’s runnin’ and who you gettin’ wet now, ya understand?”
He nodded his head yes and furrowed his tiny brow.
“Did you go shoppin’ today?”
“Well now, what’d ya get?”
“Toys.” the boy said.
When he opened his mouth for the first time it created a dichotomy within The Wino’s brain. He wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted to smother those small lips to silence or never let them stop making sound. The sweet southern accent and dreaminess of the child’s voice dug into his heart and wrenched at it so much that he felt ready to take him right there on the park bench in front of his God and the mothers and the store clerks and the other children. He swallowed the hard, swollen lump in his throat and coughed himself into composure.
“Mighty good,” he said, “what kinda toys did ya get?”
“Batman and Spiderman.”
“You like superheroes?”
The boy cracked a smile, exposing his tiny white teeth. Some were missing. Some were right where they should be. The enamel looked soft and comforting, not yet rough enough to tear meat from bone or sharp enough to bite and break skin.
“Yeah!” said the boy. Wide eyes.
“Did you know I used to be a superhero?”
“No you didn’t.” There was both belief and disbelief. He was captivated momentarily.
“Hell I didn’t. I used to throw that mask and cape on and fly right on up to ‘the sky and find them bad guys. ‘Useta let little boys like you ride on my back and help me beat them up too.”
“Nuh-uh! You don’ look like no superhero!”
“Not anymore there, buster. I ain’t got a cape no more but I still got them muscles. You wanna feel?”
The boy gripped his bicep and felt the fleeting strength of the man and believed that he once was great. The stains on his teeth when he smiled reminded him of his grandfather’s and that was comforting. By now, the water on his smooth shoulders had evaporated under the afternoon sun and he was no longer wet and no longer cold and he sat on the bench next to the Wino kicking his legs and watching the children. The two were matched.
They chatted about toys and the Wino’s adventures and what color his costume was and what the names of his enemies were. They each sat enthralled with one another; the boy with the stories and the Wino with the boy’s dimples and peach-fuzzed navel, slender arms, and blonde bangs that grazed his eyebrows when he would turn his head. After fifteen minutes or so, he got up to resume his frolicking but yet again the Wino stuck out his hand to halt him.
“Do you wanna see my super powers?”
He didn’t think to ask his mother if it was okay to follow the Wino through the side gate of the patio of the Weststar and into the bathroom where he planned their trip before they even met and she didn’t think to look up from her phone to deduce that the little blonde boy in the navy shorts now running around the fountain was not, in fact, her little blonde boy in navy shorts. It was all too easy for the Wino, being a superhero and what not. Perhaps it was super-speed or invisibility, but those eighty-seven pounds of preciousness were escorted to their resting place without parental consent, unbeknownst to passerby’s, and undocumented by employees.
The Wino left a forced trail of muddy discharge and bright red blood in the sink where he had sat the boy and convinced him that he too could have superpowers if he would just open up like a fine wine.
There was a squeaking like skin on glass and hisses like carbonation and then a pop from the uncorking.
The broken mirror behind the child’s head needed only three hard slams from his soft skull before completely dissipating into nothing but tiny reflective shards, casting glints of a rainbow into the soiled air of the restroom.
The mother would call for help in locating her boy within the next ten minutes and the waitress would find him bludgeoned and torn apart when she was instructed by her manager to help aid in the search. There was no scream or tear shed when she found him, just a brisk walk to the inside bar of the Weststar to explain how there was a young child folded in half in the small sink now full of glass and fluid. The cameras of all of the stores would be checked and witnesses interviewed, but no one seemed to know how the boy disappeared or who caused it. His mother would call her husband at work and he would throw his phone across the office and later throw her across the house when the weight of the fact that their child ended in such a way was too heavy to bare, and the blame too easy to place. Perhaps the mall-goers were too busy shopping or texting or sipping their own drinks to notice the Wino or perhaps no one cared enough to speak up at all and involve themselves in it. In something other than the clothes and the food and the sun and the time.
The Weststar would close down for a week or so at most. The evidence needed to be collected and the boy’s body needed to be bagged and the semen needed to be sampled and the blood placed in vials. It was routine. The police and detectives would say something straight out of the movies like, “Ah, fucking Christ,” or “This just don’t make sense,” or, “Now that’s about the worst I’ve seen.”
And the Wino would go back once they re-opened their patio for brunch. He and the waitress would briefly discuss the incident as he glossed over it in the paper and each subsequent week the articles would grow smaller and smaller until it was no longer written about. She would pour him glasses and he would look to the fountains.
He is still there, drinking and signing his checks.
He is still sitting in the sun.