One Night at Spiro's

One Night at Spiro's

A Story by G. Kenneth Weir
"

A parolee gets his first chance to spread his wings.

"
I

Ervin Lenox left the Big East Detention Centre the way he brushed his teeth or put on his socks. Piece of cake really, with none of the long good-byes one endured when leaving home. This is not to say that as Ervin walked down Eglinton Avenue into a blood-red sky he felt no sense of loss; for although he was gaining a world, and a much grander one than the one he’d known, the old world made sense -- it worked.

    Scarborough was all strip buildings and dead grass. There were no reasonable sounds in this world, at least not to Ervin’s ears. Engines roared like mad children, and it was not until Ervin stopped for a soda at an Exxo Pump & Snak that he could actually hear himself think: I don’t know where I’m going.
    Ervin made a point of focusing on one thing at a time. First it was his shoes, and, when that failed, a crooked building squatting in the haze. The humidity was unrelenting, and Ervin’s bare head began to ache. As he quickened his pace, his mind began to race. He remembered the grotesqueness of the gun -- M1911, single action, semi-automatic -- as it lay in his hand. He remembered the color of red the bank teller’s cheeks went when he pressed his weapon to her temple. He remembered the red rings around his mother’s eyes when he was being led out of the courtroom after sentencing. Each thought, each old, crushing sorrow, hovered for a moment before finally giving in to the wind.

    Ervin made Church Street in three hours. The ninety-two bucks the prison admin had given him was more than enough for a night at the Old Sandalwood, a rough but proud boarding house tucked back from the street behind shrubs and a wrought iron fence. Ervin’s room was modest, but he was well pleased, and as he stripped for a shower he looked upon his kingdom -- bed, table, armoire, bolted-down television set -- with something like wonder. It was all so bloody mundane. It was all he’d ever wanted.


II

Ervin took a window stool at the Bunch Lucket on Wellesley Street. The sun was setting, and the shadows were staking their claims. With amusement, Ervin watched a gang of teens pass by. One of them, noticing Ervin’s benign smile, flipped him a rude hand gesture. A soda can was ejected. It hit the ground, fizzed violently, then died. Almost instantly, a black bird appeared. It touched down on the soda spill and spread itself out. Ervin watched as the bird began to flap its wings. At length Ervin emerged from the restaurant, and as he approached the spill he noticed that the bird’s body was being tramped on by an army of ants. At last, unannounced, the bird took to wing, disappearing beyond a church steeple.

III

Mr. Larry Scoggins was an officious little rodent. Ervin knew a coward when he saw one, and even if the man was a parole officer, there was nothing about him that suggested freedom.
    “Time off for good behavior,” said Scoggins, polishing his tiny wire specs with an old hanky.
    “Do you know what that means, Mr. Lenox?”

    “Yeah, sure. Means I’m out ‘cause I did good inside.”

    “Did ... good,” Scoggins said with disgust. “Grammar, Mr. Lenox. Good Lord, grammar.”

    Ervin hung his head. “Said it good as I could. I stopped goin’ to school when I was thirteen. Sir.”

    “Yes, fine,” said Scoggins, snapping on his specs. “I’m aware of your ailing mother and pregnant sister and how you had to work to support the brood. God only knows what your father amounted to.”

    Ervin sighed. “Barely knew my dad, Mr. Scoggins. And my mama’s dead.”

    Scoggins was busy scribbling. When he did look up at Ervin, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lenox, but your personal relationships are really of no interest to me. You understand.”

    Ervin nodded. “Yes, Mr. Scoggins. Sir.”

    Scoggins announced the conditions of Ervin’s release as if reading out a recipe:


    not a “free man in the classical sense”
    “bodily liberty”

    parole
    “estimable member of society”
    “keep the peace”

Ervin was to report to a Jaswinder Singh at Stein Castings on South Carlaw Avenue.

    “An actual job,” said Scoggins with a smirk. “Ah, but look at it as much more than just a job. It's freedom, Mr. Lenox, and in its purest form.”

    “Yes, sir.”

“By this job you will clothe and feed yourself. You’ll stand on your own two feet.” Scoggins continued to jot things down. “And that … my friend … is generosity ... in its keenest ... form.”
    Ervin and two friends had tried to rob the First Imperial Bank on Adelaide Street. Scoggins made reference to “monstrosities undertaken in the name of greed and folly,” and Ervin knew it to be true. He had, after all, committed a crime. Nevertheless, he had paid his debt. Yet the past could never really be left behind. Not fully. Yet Ervin, smiling at Scoggins, knew he was all right. He’d changed … better late than never. Ervin believed himself to be a good man. The fact that Mr. Larry Scoggins couldn’t see it didn’t make it untrue.


IV

Ervin’s first day as a cleaner at Stein Castings rivaled for tedium the lowest Sundays on the inside, when inmates slept the day away in a reverie of shame and fury. Eight hours under the supervision of Mr. Singh, a short East Indian with a severe lisp and large, naked eyes, gave Ervin a quick glimpse into eternity.
    As the 504 rolled north through Gerrard Avenue, Ervin looked out the window. Night was settling in, and in the glass the seats and people around him seemed unreal, as if people’s lives were being played out on television. Outside, the sidewalks and patches of grass fell away suddenly into oblivion. Beyond the Don Valley stretched the skyline of a city that at dusk seemed both proud and indescribably sad.


V

Spiro’s Pizza was empty. The smell of cleaning products in the air reminded Ervin of the prison laundry. A wizened scab of a man fell out from behind the great brick oven, announcing himself with a half-stifled belch. He offered Ervin a scowl in place of a menu. “Where you go?” he asked from beneath a tobacco-yellowed mustache. “Gus?”
    “Pizza, small pepperoni,” Ervin answered. “About how long?”

    The old man wiped his paws on his slacks. “Where you go, Gus? Go with car?”

    Ervin smiled. “Small pizza? Can I--”
    “No, no!” The old man chopped at the air. “No drive, you!”
    Ervin was laughing when a tall, much younger man appeared. He murmured something unintelligible and slightly condemning to the old man. “Hey man, don’t worry about Spiro,” he told Ervin. “People been comin’ in all day. We had a driver quit, eh?”
    “That’s a shame,” said Ervin. “You guys open?”
    “Sure, opened at three.” The young man produced a pen and pad. “Whatcha need?”

The little chimes above the door jingled and a figure approached the counter. At first, Ervin paid the man little heed, and noticed only that the man’s coat, which ran to just past his knees, contained pockets of all shapes and sizes. But there was something else. Ervin had just realized that the man had one eye when the man produced a small handgun and pointed it at Spiro’s head.
    “Try to run and you’re dead,” the one-eyed man growled. He then barked at the young man behind the counter: “You! Romeo! Empty the till into a bag! Quickly!”

    Spiro didn’t move. He watched with perplexity as the younger man opened the till and began filling a plastic bag. As Ervin began to say something, the one-eyed man spun and stuck his gun into Ervin’s face.

    “Hands up, Homes!”
    “My name’s not Homes,” said Ervin.
    “Do it!”
    “Gonna kill me?” Ervin asked. “Gonna be a big man?”
    The one-eyed man eyed Ervin with curiosity.
    “I was you,” said Ervin with a smirk.
    The one-eyed man " close up Ervin could see he was actually a boy of no more than twenty " leaned in and pressed the gun to Ervin’s forehead.
    “There’s nothin’ in this,” Ervin said, his tone one of warning.
    “Shut up!”
    “Ain’t scared of you,” Ervin chuckled. Slowly, very carefully, he rolled up his sleeve to reveal an intricate tattoo. “See this?”
    The one-eyed man, who’d let his gun arm go half-slack, nodded. He studied the tattoo, then Ervin’s coal-black eyes.
    “Ever heard of the Phoenix?” Ervin asked.
    The one-eyed man nodded. “Bird,” he rumbled. “It’s a bird.”
    “That’s right. D’ya know what makes this bird so cool?”
    Shrug. The pistol was now dangling at the one-eyed man’s side like a diseased appendage. He shot a fierce glance at the two men on the other side of the counter. Both were frozen where they stood.
    “It’s okay, boys,” Ervin said with cheer. “Go on now and make me that pizza. I get cranky when I don’t eat.” Ervin watched the two men get back to work. “And don’t you think of callin’ the po-lice, Spiro you ol' fox. Nothin’ happened here today, a’right? Everythin’s silk and wine.”

    “You’re crazy,” said the one-eyed man, raising his pistol again.

    Ervin spoke of a sunny day eons and eons ago. A large bird with red and gold feathers heard the sun god speak: ‘Bird of ages, glory of all creatures, you’ll live always!’ The bird was filled with joy, and vowed to sing songs to the sun forever. But as the years passed, the bird’s joy began to wane. People began to hunt it for its feathers. At length the bird flew out to the desert, and there, for centuries, it lived alone, singing songs to the sun. For five hundred years it was so, but after five hundred years, the bird began to feel tired. It could no longer fly as it had in its youth. One day, it cried out for the sun to make it young again. The sun, however, was silent. Soon, the bird returned home. It built a nest of twigs, cinnamon bark and fragrant leaves, and fashioned an egg out of myrrh. With its labors complete, it lay down. One last time, it cried out for the sun to restore it. There was a roar in the sky, and the sun shone down with such power that animals had to hide. There was a single flash of light, and flames engulfed the nest.
    “The bird died?” asked the one-eyed man.

    “The ashes shook and heaved,” Ervin said, “and out of it came a new bird. The animals came out. They saw this bird and got all excited!”
    “It lived?” the one-eyed man asked.
    “Reborn, yeah. Here to fight another day. Or not fight.”
    The one-eyed man squinted.
    “Gimme the gun, prince. You don’t want none of this.”
    The one-eyed man pulled the pistol close.
    “Come on, gimme it. Walk away clean. Start over.”
    The one-eyed man looked down at his gun. “I just let go?”
    “That's it. Just like a pen or a paper clip. No diff’rent. No harder neither.”
    Slowly, unsteadily, the one-eyed man dropped the weapon into Ervin’s huge hand.
    “That’s it,” Ervin said. “It's done now, prince. You’re a new bird.”
    “New bird,” said the one-eyed man. “I just ... I wanna …”
    “You want somethin’--” said Ervin, “--I get that. So just go get it. Don’t hurt nobody else, though. That’s the rule.”
    Like a patch of fog, the one-eyed man disappeared into the night. The windows, steamed as they were, added to the sense that he had not only left but had actually ceased to exist.
    Spiro was right on cue with Ervin's pizza. As he brought the box to rest on the counter, he gave the big man a stern look. “Friend of you?”
    Ervin smiled. “No. And I don’t reckon you’ll ever see him again.” Ervin lay down a twenty for a pizza that on the menu was eight-ninety. He also lay down the gun, with the instructions: “Call the police now. They’ll probably want this.”
    As Ervin reached the door, Spiro called out “Gus!”
    “Yeah?”
    “I like bird story. But you don’t say the end. It flies?”
    Ervin smiled. “Kinda, man. But not forever. It dies again. Then again.”
    Spiro clicked his tongue. “Bad. Very bad.”
    “Not really. Just the way things are. Night, pizza man.”

© 2010 G. Kenneth Weir


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Just a suggestion:

"He remembered the color of red the bank teller’s cheeks went when he pressed his weapon to her temple."

Change "his weapon" to something like, "the cold blackened steel" Just something to contrast his mother's red circled eyes.

Posted 11 Years Ago


Excellent. Not a wasted word. You really know how to turn a phrase. Great use of simile.

I especially like this sentence:

"Each thought, each old, crushing sorrow, hovered for a moment before finally giving in to the wind."

Great use of analogy too. I haven't read any of your longer stuff, but your short work is splendid. Consider writing a collection.

Posted 11 Years Ago



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Added on February 23, 2010
Last Updated on February 23, 2010
Tags: jail, prison, parole, phoenix, Toronto, robbery, pizza

Author

G. Kenneth Weir
G. Kenneth Weir

Toronto, Canada



About
I've never been one for 'About Me' entries. I can never seem to get the ratios correct, and usually end up sounding either pompous or self-effacing. The truth is I'm neither ... and both. Isn't this j.. more..

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