Neat and Tidy
by Margaret McAleese
NH Writers’ Project Literary Flash
March 12, 2012
Marcus Goodman wasn’t in the mood for kindness. Too many mornings spent hungover in the unemployment line. Having anyone be kind to him meant they didn’t understand. Marcus Goodman wanted to be understood.
He admired the street he found himself on, and wanted to be living in one of the box-like houses. His apartment was roach-infested, and he imagined the houses to be clean on the inside. He didn’t know that neat and tidy is sometimes only a superficial face that houses wear. Marcus Goodman wanted to be taken in by a neat and tidy family.
His plan came quickly, and was pulled up from his gut to his mouth. He started shouting, “I’ve been shot!,” and laid down in the concrete driveway of one of the houses, rolling around in the small patch of unmowed grass along the basement window. “I’ve been shot—somebody help me!” He saw a teenage girl come to the window above, and look down at him. She couldn’t hear him through the glass, and didn’t understand his writhing below. She didn’t understand Marcus Goodman.
The girl came around the side of the house, adrenaline pumping on the cold day, no need for a coat. “I’ve been shot!” The girl blanched and realized this isn’t an ordinary afternoon home from school. “Where are you shot? Who shot you?” She knelt down and pulled apart his open jacket. No blood. Marcus rolled over on his stomach so she couldn’t see his exposed belly from his shirt being too small. “I can help you,” she said. Marcus began to groan from his folly. This isn’t the way to be adopted.
He held his hands over his ears and began to sob from embarrassment. In his mind he saw other neighbors coming out of their neat and tidy houses, milling about the driveway, one of them spitting on him for being a homeless drunk. Except he wasn’t homeless—he just didn’t want to go home. But mostly he saw the expression on the girls’ face, right now. She didn’t understand him.
Marcus rolled over on his back and stared at the gray sky. He began to shiver. The only blood the girl could find on him was in his bloodshot eyes. “Do you need a coat? Something warm?” Marcus sat up and mumbled something even he didn’t understand. It was time to go. He would hopefully forget about this part of his day after he bummed a drink later in the bar. He stood and made eye contact with the girl. She was shivering now, and gestured wrapping herself in a blanket. He turned and walked away down the driveway. He made a left at the sidewalk and didn’t look back. Marcus Goodman wasn’t in the mood for kindness.
I grew up in the same unprosperous neighborhood as Wu-Tang Clan, at the same time. At various times in my youth, our house was hit with bullets, helicopters circled our backyards with spotlights, SWAT teams planted themselves behind parked cars on my street, and NYPD narcotics asked my parents for permission to use an empty upstairs bedroom as a stakeout (my parents wisely said no). There’s a story there, and for years I’ve been working it out in my head. One day I’ll write it.