Anthony saw the girl with the stroller approaching from the south, clattering along the uneven sidewalk. He sat on the stoop outside the liquor store, a favourite perch until the manager politely asked him to move, which she hadn’t done yet.
It was warm afternoon, overcast and humid. The skies wanted to rain, Tony could feel it, but the skies were holding back. They might throw down some rain at any moment, and Tony didn’t yet have enough for a mickey of Schnapps, which was the cheapest spirit he could tolerate.
He placed an old copper penny on the sidewalk in front of him, choosing a penny because it wouldn’t sparkle in the sun the way a silver coin would. He kept a close side eye of the stroller and as soon as it was almost in front of him he reached out to pick up the penny as the stroller wheel rolled over his hand.
“Ouch!” he cried. “Jesus!” He pulled his hand back. It actually did hurt. How big was that damn baby?
“Oh, sorry mister,” said the girl, and Anthony saw she was even younger than he thought. She had over-processed blondish hair, a stream of acne that crossed her plump face, and wore strangely high wedge shoes with a short denim skirt.
She didn’t offer him any money to compensate for the injury done to him, even though his cup was sitting there with a couple of dollars in it. “That your kid?” he asked, in about as nice a tone as he had ever mustered.
“NO!” the girl said, and her face turned scarlet in alarm, and the baby awoke and started to scream, and she looked like she might start to wail too, and she pushed the stroller so hard in take-off that the baby’s cry was interrupted.
On the other side of the sidewalk was a scrawny grass boulevard, and the sprinklers came on, which meant it was five o’clock, and probably was an omen of the rain to come. Anthony saw another figure approaching from the corner of his eye, and put the penny on the sidewalk again.
Just as the figure was about to cross in from of him, it turned up the ramp towards the liquor store.
Jesus, it was that Leep guy. Leep the creep. He walked by on his way to and from work, and had some weird idea that familiarity translated into some kind of friendship. Leep wore work clothes. Baggy jeans, a t-shirt, and a navy blue nylon jacket.
“Spare a few bucks?” Perhaps friendship had benefits.
“I’m saving up money for my ailing mother. Got any?”
“Your ailing mother?”
“Or a bottle of Schnapps or maybe Prokov. Or perhaps a smooth single malt, if the gods are generous, which they aren’t.”
“Maybe on your birthday,” said Leep.
“Today is my birthday,” said Anthony.
Leep smiled indulgently and put two dollars in coins in the coffee cup, saluted him, and continued on into the liquor store, where he bought a selection of foreign canned beer, telling Anthony on the way out that he was reading a book about beer.
Anthony wasn’t the least bit interested in what Leep was reading or drinking. He ignored him. He was thinking that damn it, today really was his birthday.