A Story by mcg03002

Short Story

He walked through my neighborhood at about the same time every morning - usually while I was on the front steps of my tenement sucking down the first Marlboro of the day. I’d sit on the cold concrete and pick leaves off the long-dead bushes on either side of the stoop, or peel the scaling brown paint from the door frame of the main entry, all the while watching that young man who, clad head to toe in black, seemed to glide like an upright shadow toward my smoking spot at the entrance of number 7, Winter Lane.

            I knew his routine. He would stroll two blocks in my direction and turn to his left, disappearing from view behind the condemned brick structure that marred the corner lot across the road from my building. Almost without fail, as he rounded the bend in the sidewalk, our eyes would meet and he’d acknowledge me with a quick nod. That would be the last I’d see of him until the following morning. No words were ever exchanged and yet, his subtle communication meant something to me. Over the years that little nod of salutation from the man in black became as much a part of my day as brewing coffee before I went to work or checking the mail box in the foyer when I got home.

             A NewYorker, born and bred, social interactions had never been easy for me. My desire to keep to myself overpowered the curiosity that I felt with respect to the mysterious “morning man,” as I came to think of him. That was how he looked to me…like a mourning man. Sadly, rather than experience the discomfort of initiating any kind of verbal contact, I just invented his life history in my head while remaining safely rooted to the porch. He worked in a funeral home. He’d lost his whole family in a house fire. He lived in a flat above a bar, and had a tiny little cedar-lined closet full of black shirts and slacks. Whatever his story, he seemed to travel through the projects in an invisible pocket of serenity and quiet, unaffected by the noise and clutter in his path. It occurred to me, on several occasions, that he had no true connection to my sad and mundane world. Perceptions change as the seasons; usually gradually…sometimes suddenly.

            Last year’s fall arrived late. The day it came, the few trees which struggled to survive in tiny patches of concrete-free earth, rare in the projects, were already covered in the appropiate was the weather that refused to follow the calendar. Carmel leaves relinquished their holds on spindly branches, heedless of the summertime conditions all around. Nearby Central Park was completely dressed in golds and browns while the temperature remained stubbornly in the nineties.  

I sat in a bent and broken beach chair that, too lazy to carry it to the community dumpster, someone had abandoned in my smoking spot. Peering streetward through a still flame, I was lighting up a red when I caught sight of the morning man’s black-clad figure approaching. He was nearly to the intersection where he’d hang a left, so I fixed my gaze on him in preparation for the customary inclination of the head, ready to return the gesture. The glance in my direction came right on cue, as it always had, but there was no nod. Instead, for the first time that I could remember, the man stopped…poised like a hound on the rounded curb. His eyes focused not on me, but on a small girl, maybe seven or eight years old, who was riding her big-wheel in the middle of the road to the right of where I sat. Even from a distance, I could see the musculature of his youthful face contort in an expression of fear. My own jaw line tensed as the relative silence of morning was chased away with the muted static sound that automobiles make when traveling at high speed on poorly maintained asphalt. Before I could call out or even move, a head mounted on a pitch black blur shot from the sidewalk where Morning Man had stood. Rubber on the roadway ceased its static hiss and loosed an almost human screech. The little girl gave a half yelp, her cry cut off by a thud and the sinister clatter of debris hitting the pavement. It was over by the time I had risen from the tangled mess of metal and plastic… the discarded corpse of what had once been a lovely chair. Filled with dread, I peeked around the bulbous dead bush that obstructed my view of the roadway to the right of my building. The man in black lay amid fallen leaves in the gutter on the far side of the street, motionless.

Concerned faces began to appear in windows and doorways left open to combat the persistent heat. Like the masses of pigeons in the park that were drawn to bread crumbs from miles around, residents of the surrounding dilapidated buildings gravitated one by one toward the drama unfolding on Winter Lane. Lassoing my stomach in a coarse rope of apprehension, it drew me as well. I descended the steps. A sweet, warm mixture of breakfast cereal and black coffee made several attempts to free itself from my abdomen as I closed the distance between me and the ever-growing crowd of pigeon people. Disjointed bits of conversation reached my ears.

“He’s that priest from St. whateveritis, up the street,” Said a fat black woman with greasy skin and a round piggish face.

“Isn’t he the deaf preacher from the soup kitchen?”  Inquired a toothless old man who ate most of his meals in that very refuge, and spent the rest of his time on a park bench with a booze-stuffed paper bag to his lips.

I elbowed my way through the orbitous clump of onlookers to reach the man that should have been my friend. I felt ashamed that each person I passed spoke as though they knew so much about him. I knew nothing, but would miss him in the morning. What was his name?

Once at the center of the throng, I stood, fists balled tightly at my sides, and surveyed the situation. A bright yellow bigwheel rested on its side below the bumper of an old Mercedes Benz whose grey paint showed, by its lack of luster, that the vehicle was very old indeed. It was still running. The hood bore a large dent and was slightly buckled, and the windshield held the whitened latticework of cracks that testified to the strength and speed of its collision with a human body. On a grassy patch of ground just past the sidewalk and away from the street sat a tearful mother, dead leaves swirling about her in a chilly wind that came out of nowhere. She frantically stroked the long blond hair of the child she had nearly lost, dutifully distracting her baby from the crumpled heap of black linen and broken flesh that lay unmoving in the gutter.

Crouched over his fallen victim, the driver of the Benz rocked back and forth on his haunches, pleading in a mournful voice with anyone that looked his way, “Oh God, I didn’t even see them. Did anyone see? God, someone call an ambulance! I tried to stop!” His tie was loosened about his neck, and grime from the road was smeared across his face and the front of his creaseless button-down shirt.  His cries mingled with the distant echo of sirens that I was sure were headed our way. “He pushed her out of the way,” he wailed, gesturing toward the fallen man with a wavering hand. On his feet now, tie guy was addressing the mother and daughter who still sat in the grass. “He couldn’t get clear of...Is he okay?” He interrupted his own explanation, directing the frantic question at a young woman dressed in gray scrubs who'd passed in front of him and crouched at Morning Man's side. She gingerly pressed two fingers against a cold, clean-shaven neck. A cloud moved in front of the sun, darkening her features. The woman shook her head, causing a few strands of hair to fall into her kind face. Looking up, she swallowed hard and took a deep breath.  

"I'm so sorry." She finally answered him, in a whisper. Tears weighed down her lower lashes. Turning her head back toward the lifeless visage that, even now looked peaceful, she whispered again "Oh, Father Sandy, I'm so sorry."

The gentleman in the tie collapsed to his knees. “Oh my God. Holy s**t. Oh God, please, no...” He turned his face toward me and our wet eyes met.  Pronounced crows’ feet deepened by his squinting grimace were filled with moisture. A blink sent two watery lines of pink racing downward through the grime on his cheeks. “He saved her.”

A hand appeared on his shoulder.

“Everything’s going to be alright,” came the calm words of the lucky little girl's mother. She had left her child in the arms of a neighbor in order to comfort the disheveled little man. “Just breathe deeply, everything’s going to be okay.”

A voice rose shrilly above the din of sirens, spectators, and sorrow. “Let me GO!” it exclaimed. The owner of the upturned bigwheel burst from among the observers, a bobbing tangle of blond hair against a sea of blue jeans and flowered skirts, and ran toward the kneeling man.

“I'm sorry” he repeated absently as she threw her arms around his neck.

“Don’t cry,” she pleaded in a sweetly comforting voice, audible only to those of us standing nearest “I love you so much, Daddy.”

Cold air moved over the collection of souls milling about Winter Lane. Trees that had known it was time for change weeks ago rustled their paper like foliage as though applauding both the drop in temperature and the heroic sacrifice of the mysterious man in black. I changed then too. The deaf priest from the unknown church up the road had showed just how much a part of my mundane world he was by allowing himself to be taken out of it. A life lived well was given in trade so another might live well as well.

© 2010 mcg03002

Author's Note

Please be free with criticism, I don't get offended. I want to get better.

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Poignant. Isn't it like that, you see someone for years and never get around to finding out who they are or what their names are. And then something happens and it seems everyone around you has a snippet of information and it is all woven together to create enough of a narrative for the neighborhood to be satisfied.

My favorite line is "Over the years that little nod of salutation from the man in black became as much a part of my day as brewing coffee before I went to work " because it flows so easily and, really, it shows how he is a part of the narrator's life. Like coffee. Which coffee makers who are also into habits always make on time, every morning.

I liked the description of the driver, except for the mercury tears; I liked his rumpled jacket and his response to the accident. He did not run or evade, he just squatted there and wept. Very sad.

Posted 13 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


Great story telling. This did justice in the realm of getting the message across. Great message. There's lot of times where a story can have a great message to aim for, and have a lot of under lining things but then no one gets it, and if no one gets it, then the point has failed. But in my opinion this did well to get the message across. You made it clear, which is why I think it's good. Keep up the good work. What was also great was that I could imagine the story as I read it, and that is also a strong point of stories. The ability to have the reader imagine it because after all we're reading not watching it, but it was as if I was there as I read this, and that is great. Great visuals and great story telling. It had plot and substance. When you add substance to writing it gets that much better. It gets the reader hooked on it and make them feel as if they are part of it. As long as their is that emotional connection between the reader and the story then it's good. The connection you were able to established in the writing gives the reader a sense of comfortably that they are in tune with the writing. So that way when the writing is over, the reader wants more, and wishes it didn't end. I feel the same way when I watched a movie or tv series that I get so attached to, I never want it to end. And for this writing, I didn't want it to end. You had me hooked, and I am sure everyone else who read it was hooked as well. That is good, that is what you want for people to keep wanting more. The way you put the story together makes me feel like my life is different for that moment in which I read your story. I love it, and it was beautiful. Just keep posting stories like this, and you'll have a good following.

Posted 7 Years Ago

"...greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for another"...whether friend, or brother, or oblivious little girl. Ken's comments were right on, save one: there are no accidents in God's world. EVERY event, no matter how seemingly spontaneous, is the culmination of a dozen different threads, long a-weaving: the priest had long dwelt doubting the strength of his faith, the child's father, doubtless living above his means and focused on issues not related to his driving, the narrator, so engrossed in his own lifelessness that he will not engage in the life and death scenarios playing out before his very eyes. All the threads were on the loom, awaiting only the Weaver's patient touch. Your recounting of this ten-second interplay was masterful, Mike. (Or is it Matt? Sorry, been out of touch too long!)

(unrelated sidebar department: have you made any further progress with that ode you had begun a month or so ago?)

Posted 13 Years Ago

I really liked this, it flowed well, was a generally well told story and it really makes you think about those encounters with strangers that really could be something more if there weren't so many barriers. Nice job

Posted 13 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Hmm reminds me of a book called bowling alone how society has disassociated itself from each other. The blackness of his suit defined him who he was in the end, but my first impression was of death walking. Not sure if that was intended as foreshadowing. An observation, why is a man living in this neighborhood driving a benz? A condemned building just across the street. Description of his clothing was professional, yet dont see living in that neighborhood and driving that kind of car with a road 'poorly' maintained.

Posted 13 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This is a very powerful piece of writing. One image that resounded with me was where you called the crowd "pigeon people". This felt, first off, very New York to me. I also thought it described this particular kind of crowd well. I could almost see them bobbing their heads and acting in other ways like pigeons. I really enjoyed the idea surrounding this story. I have "relationships/friendships" with complete strangers. Great job!

Posted 13 Years Ago

Man, its so good its almost depressing! I would love to get my writing on that level. Wonderful story though, I loved it.

Posted 13 Years Ago

Wow, this is breathtaking. Sorry it took me a little while to get to this-- i didn't want to read through it unless I could really focus on it and I'm glad I did.

Beautifully written. I love the fact that he'd gotten so accustomed to a simple nod and continuing on with his day... it had become customary and he didn't think twice to really find out about the man other than mere speculation. Life can come and go in the blink of an eye. I also really liked the way you revealed the guy as the little girl's father. When she said "I love you so much, Daddy" it was like a punch in the gut. What a sacrifice! What would have happened if the man hadn't pushed the girl out of the way? If the father had killed the child? Very thought provoking piece. Fantastic job.

Posted 13 Years Ago

A fantastic story. I was hoping the Morning Man would somehow have survived but he didn't. I have someone like that in my life, that I see on a regular basis like that and when I don't see her I worry and hope she's still alive (she's a very elderly lady). A very powerful story I think.

Posted 13 Years Ago

Very nice piece. I do agree with Ken C. on the edit ideas, and I noticed a few slight grammar and punctuation mistakes, but those are quite minor. You told this sad tale quite well, and your descriptions are very vivid. Keep it up!

Posted 13 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Superb. I absolutely love the 4th paragraph about fall. Appropriately short as it is pretty tangental to the story, but very creative and relate-able.
I'm thinking the line about the man's crows feet could be cleaner, had to read it twice. But that really could just be me. Keep writing!

Posted 13 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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13 Reviews
Added on April 11, 2010
Last Updated on April 20, 2010
Tags: sadness, strangers, friendship, social, sacrifice, life, death, giving, selfishness



Idaho Falls, ID

I am just a wannabe writer living in Idaho Falls. I work full time as a sales manager for a hotel. Here's a song I recorded for a dear friend. It's a cover of one of my absolute favorites. more..


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