Young Mr. Moyen
Young Mr. Moyen came forth at sunset, tripped over the threshold and stumbled down three flaked, rickety front steps to the cracked, slanting sidewalk. Felicia put out a hand to steady him, but when his feet tangled he flew beyond her, not stopping till his shoulder struck the lamppost and he twirled like an antic child, settling to the curb, legs flat out. When he looked up he saw the deep folds of Felicia’s pink and green peasant dress flapping his way. He got to his knees, clutched the knobs of her hips and pulled himself up. When he lost his grip, his face plunged between her legs. The scent of mothballs and Sweet Honesty perfume almost made him gag. With a determined gasp he pushed himself up, his chin riding the chubby slope of her abdomen and snapping across the wire-framed mound. Mr. Moyen got back on his feet. Thin and willowy he was four inches shorter than his three months’ bride.
“It’s a bad sign,” Felicia said, “this falling all over yourself. If you’re so exhausted you should just stay home.”
Mr. Moyen worked as a washing machine operator in the southwest Philadelphia General Electric plant. All day, with the help of a hydraulic platform and a hand operated crane, he loaded machine parts and casings on metal trees. They were conveyed along an elliptical track where they were washed, dried and painted. When the pieces came back Mr. Moyen put them on wooden skids. Lenny, the shop steward, took them away on a front loader.
“I can’t miss the union meeting. I’m expected.”
“It’s the right time of the month.” Felicia’s smile seemed to waver, as if she were reminded of an embarrassing complication. “In twenty minutes we could be trying. When you’re done you can sleep and have nothing but nice dreams.”
“The best dream,” Mr. Moyen fretted, “is no dream at all. I hate finding myself in strange places, locked in a box or caught in an alley with dark people closing in around me. When it happens I know I’m dreaming. I want to wake up but can’t.”
“That’s why you need sleep.” This time her smile was full and forthright. “It never takes you long. Stay with me, especially tonight. Please. It’s time.”
Mr. Moyen’s groin tightened. In their room’s dim light he could see her—breasts sagging to her waist, squatting astraddle, pushing down as if to break him in two. Her eyes would be squeezed shut and the three pink ribbons that normally kept her thick, brown hair wrapped in a bun would shake like a hanging coil of electrified garter snakes.
“I have to go, especially tonight. I gave my word to Lenny.” He pulled away, stumbling. With a lift of his toes Mr. Moyen kissed his lawful wife lightly on the forehead. “Trust me. It’s all about the future.”
“Well, then,” Felicia sighed, “I shouldn’t be holding you back.”
“Just keep the faith and don’t forget to pray. Jesus.”
Mr. Moyen turned and hastened down the sidewalk, conscious of neighbor eyes staring from both sides of the sloped street. Perhaps they could see behind his impassive face to the guilt that itched like a troublesome rash. His lies to Felicia seemed like luminous beams shooting from his heart, attracting the smiling gaze of old, hunched Martha Carrier. She was watering pink petunias in large stone pots. In her late seventies the pious Mrs. Carrier worked as a crossing guard at the corner of Hawthorne Street. Every afternoon she handed lollipops to school-weary children. Mr. Moyen escaped her gaze lest she glimpse how this quiet neighbor boy—no, this young good man—was not simply out for an evening stroll but in pursuit of terrible intentions.
Mr. Proctor for one didn’t seem to notice anything unusual about his neighbor. He was a squat man in his fifties. He had a pleasant face and wore a flopping green golfer’s hat. He was holding the leash of his black Lab Danforth, who was sniffing the base of a telephone pole. A retired master carpenter Mr. Proctor spent many free hours framing houses for Habitat for Humanity. He had yet to speak to Mr. Moyen about anything other than Phillies’ games.
“Can you believe the bums?” Mr. Proctor cheerfully hollered. “Up by three in the ninth and they let it get away. The team’s going straight to hell.”
Danforth lifted his leg and sprayed.
Mr. Moyen offered a foolish thumbs-up. He had meant to smile, but as he hurried down the rowhouse canyon he merely grunted. He caught the eye of Ann Hibbins, Felicia’s best friend, who was sitting on her porch. In the wind-up swing, her son glided back and forth, his chubby hands smacking the tray and scattering Cheerios.
“Thank God for Mr. Corey,” Ann said. “The whole block could have burned.”
Two doors down, a brick rowhouse was boarded up, a consequence of yesterday’s fire. With cigar in hand Mr. Hale had fallen asleep on his couch. He crawled out the front door before smoke and flames gutted the interior. The cinderblock firewall kept the adjoining houses from becoming involved, a situation abetted by the heroic efforts of Giles Corey. When the fire had broken out he had been washing his maroon Taurus on the sidewalk. He climbed atop his porch and in defiance of smoke, flames and common sense he hosed his neighbor’s roof until the fire engines arrived.
“I can’t talk,” Mr. Moyen mumbled. “I’m running late. Felicia said she’d call you in a few minutes.”
Mr. Corey was now sitting on his stoop. He waved to Mr. Moyen, who tucked his chin inside his shirt and nodded curtly. He received shouted greeting from Thomas Putnam, who was across the street re-screening his front porch. Mr. Putnam managed an auto parts store, but his great passion was coaching little league sports. His three sons were grown and gone, but year by year he coached baseball, soccer, basketball, football and roller hockey. He was a permanent deacon at St. Francis de Sales, parish coordinator for the annual Catholic Charities Appeal and president of the Liturgical Council. With sliding stomach and gurgling bowels Mr. Moyen waved to Mr. Putnam, who seemed like he wanted to speak, perhaps to ask again if Mr. Moyen would be so kind as to cover door to door solicitations for Hawthorne Street and one or two adjacent blocks.
Fortunately Mr. Moyen had reached the corner and sneaked a quick look behind. Felicia was still standing on the sidewalk, reaching a black hand into the darkening air. She might have been throwing a kiss or waving him home, but he stepped around the corner into long shadows that blotted out the pink and purple sky. With his back turned against his street, the church, convent and rectory, he traveled eastward along the humped, cracked and weedy sidewalk toward the little cluster of shops that gave the Darby trolley loop its deceptive glow of life.
Mr. Moyen looked at his watch—he was five minutes late—but he had not heard a trolley’s departing rumble. The rusted poles circling the tracks were black spears stabbing the sky. The sagging wires seemed the shoddy, abandoned work of a large Hollywood spider. The Plexiglas shelter was deserted. It stank of urine and was defaced by graffiti and drawings. “Peggy Sue goon fuck you to.” A pencil-like penis impaled a stick woman’s forehead. Plastic cups, empty soda cans, smashed French fries and mustard-stained wrappers littered the cindered ground. With slouching shoulders Mr. Moyen plopped on the gray plastic bench and patted the two tokens in the right front pocket of his brown corderoy pants. His eyes happened upon a piece of the street between the shiny tracks. Layers of asphalt had been worn down or hacked away, exposing a patch of cobblestone that must’ve dated to the early twentieth century. Back then Darby was a thriving suburb with nothing to suggest it would become a ruinous borough in desperate need of a catastrophic tornado and the ensuing balm of Federal disaster relief.
“You’re a little late, my friend. When I first arrived I felt just as Felicia feels: I didn’t think you’d be coming. But I’m pleased to see you’ve gotten over any apparent misgivings.”
Mr. Moyen was startled to find himself seated hip to hip with a smiling grave-faced man. As nearly as one might guess, the stranger was about fifty years old, dressed in brown, loose-fitting work clothes and looking enough like Mr. Moyen to pass for a near relation, perhaps even his father.
“Felicia held me up,” Mr. Moyen muttered, his voice quavering.
Despite his humble clothing the stranger possessed a cosmopolite ease that would have served him well at a presidential reception.
“Good wives always hold up their good men,” the stranger smiled, cocking his ear. “But no matter: the trolley is approaching. It too is a little late.”
Mr. Moyen heard nothing, but then from around the bend came the grating rattle of a decrepit SEPTA trolley. As the single headlight swayed into view and caught them in its beam, the trolley turned into the loop. The whistling wheels sounded like a keening witch’s cry. The trolley thumped, banged and screeched to a stop. From out of the rear door lumbered a massive black woman with closely cut hair. She was dragging a stuffed carry-all bag. The sagging flab of her upper arm jiggled.
The stranger stood and tugged Mr. Moyen’s elbow.
“Felicia’s not feeling well,” Mr. Moyen stammered, clenching the sharp underside of the bench. “It’s her stomach. She can’t keep anything down.”
The stranger rose and took the first step toward the trolley’s open front door.
“These stomach conditions,” he smiled, “pass quickly away. Who knows? Even as we speak, she may be bustling about, getting ready for a pleasant moonlight stroll.”
“I don’t think so. Felicia’s afraid of the night and would never go out alone.”
The stranger smiled, “No one going out at night is ever truly alone.”
Mr. Moyen shook his head and climbed the steps, dropping his token into the slot. The stranger followed, cheerfully greeting the hawk-nosed driver and directing Mr. Moyen toward the narrow seat behind the rear door.
“I noticed you didn’t pay,” Mr. Moyen remarked as he slid into the cramped seat. “I have another token if you need it.”
“It’s kind of you to offer, but you should save your last token for the ride back home. My special pass gives me unlimited access. I’m a frequent traveler on these lines. Not fifteen minutes ago I was speaking with two of our new members at the Broad and Olney subway station.”
The trolley lurched forward and the coffee shop, now darkened to blue by the scratched tinted glass, seemed to float and pulse in the air. The wheels shrieked on the curve and the trolley rattled toward Darby’s virtually defunct business district. Outside a pawn shop stood three black men and two white men. Handing a bagged bottle back and forth they were laughing and talking. As the trolley passed the open door of a ramshackle taproom, Mr. Moyen pressed his nose to the glass and perceived shadowy, ghost-like figures moving in the uncertain light. He caught a glimpse, if such a thing were possible, of Sister Maria Cloyse, principal of St. Francis de Sales school, swigging from a bottle and shaking her billowing midriff in a modestly obscene manner. Mr. Moyen bent his head farther back to catch a second look, but the open door was too far behind him. On the pavement, beneath the awning of a second hand clothing store, a beggar sat on a milk crate surrounded by three filthy backpacks and a rolled-up sleeping bag. Two policemen stood over him. One was nudging the beggar’s ribs with a night stick. Behind them a fat white woman with curly black hair brought a steel mesh grate crashing to the pavement. The clanging metal rang like a slammed cell door. It stirred Mr. Moyen’s conscience.
“Well, sir, I think I’ve gone far enough. I’ve been giving the whole thing a lot of thought and I’m not quite ready to make the kind of commitment your cause deserves.”
“Is that right?” the stranger replied, smiling. “Perhaps we should discuss it as we go. Tell me everything you feel. No scruple should be ignored.”
“I don’t want to be caught—”
“It’s a consideration, surely, but you must remember we have influential friends in a host of influential positions. Police can be—”
“I’m not concerned with the police so much. I was wondering about being caught up with”—and here he sighed—“such a crowd. What if someone I know sees me?”
“To such a concern I can only say how well met the two—the many—of you would be. Membership is far more extensive than you can imagine. Almost everywhere we have compatriots, companions, associates, colleagues. The same concerns that bring you tonight have brought others before you and will bring many more tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.” He shrugged. “It’s little more than a coven of friends with important work to do.”
“But I’ll be the first of my family to go to such lengths. How could I look—” The stranger’s lips wriggled like a snake and twisted into a sardonic smile.
“Forgive me for interrupting, but I knew your father as well as your grandfather. Over the years they accompanied me on many an errand. Both were members in good standing. If fact, your father and I first did business of a delicate sort when you were no more than four or five years old. It was secret little matter involving rags and gasoline. And some years before that necessary trifle, I helped your grandfather when a questionable, dark-skinned person was taken for a long car ride. When we returned from the woods it was with a lighter load.”
The trolley was stopped in front of a boarded-up TV repair shop. Five or six passengers clunked on. Mr. Moyen was startled to find the trolley almost packed. It had left Darby, crossed Cobbs Creek and had already gone a few blocks into southwest Philadelphia. When the trolley shunted forward Mr. Moyen tugged the stranger’s sleeve.
“I can’t speak for my grandfather, but I never heard my father mention anything like that. For twenty years, before he died, he was the town magistrate. I never knew him to do a secret thing.”
“That’s quite an insinuating answer,” the stranger laughed. “Let me put it this way: There’s always more to a father than meets a child’s eye. And as you already know, at least for a time, all depends on secrecy. Oh, my! What have we here? She really does move with surprising speed. Would you excuse me for a second?”
They had arrived at the next corner. A boisterous clutch of people pushed and clattered up the steps. The fare box rattled. The air was rifled with confused voices and anxious squeals. A sudden scream morphed into raucous laughter. The stranger worked his way up the aisle, exchanging greetings along the way, and reached a white-haired old lady who was sitting behind the driver in one of those long sideway seats. The head and profile closely resembled Mrs. Martha Carrier. Mr. Moyen alternately ducked his head to avoid detection and strained his neck sideways to steal a surrepititous look. But standing, wobbling passengers obstructed his view. When Mr. Moyen saw the stranger pointing in his direction and the old lady looking his way, smiling, nodding, he slumped in his seat and stared outside. He strained to see through the blue glass and for a second or two he glimpsed a darkened alley and a man resembling Mr. Proctor, his Phillies’ cap ajar, beating the ribs of a large black Labrador retriever with a small baseball bat. As the trolley moved along Mr. Moyen’s curiosity gave way to a new disturbance. Among a crowd of young men emerged someone who looked like gray haired, gentle Thomas Putnam. He was holding hands with a tall, thin black man who wore a tight red Spandex jump suit and a blond fright wig. As Mr. Moyen squinted Thomas Putnam licked his lips, hugged his companion and buried his tongue inside the man’s ear. In an instant this scene was lost behind a double-parked Budweiser truck. Mr. Moyen looked to the front of the trolley and was startled to find no trace of the stranger. Nor could he detect among the bobbing heads the white hair of good Martha Carrier. On the side seat behind the driver now slouched a chunky male black youth wearing a purple do-rag and a blue Iverson jersey.
Feeling relieved, his escape route before him, Mr. Moyen stood up, swung around the pole and stepped into the well of the rear door. He pulled the cord and waited for the door to open. Outside the careening trolley there were people, cars and buildings rushing by in a blue whoosh. He looked at every head on the trolley and assured himself that the stranger had somehow disappeared. Unfortunately the trolley was speeding along a curved stretch of track toward the cavernous mouth of the 40th Street tunnel. Mr. Moyen was heading underground and would have to wait until the next stop at 34th Street. Then he could get off, climb to the street, cross over, go down the steps and use his last token to catch the next westbound trolley.
Outside the speeding trolley loomed the blackness of darkness, relieved only by an occasional dull bulb that seemed to rip past in the opposite direction. The window reflected Mr. Moyen’s gaunt face and ribbed forehead. Stricken, he looked away and into the eyes of an old white-haired woman smiling at him from across the aisle. She was saying the rosary. With a spurt as sudden as a ruptured aorta, he imagined taking the rosary and wrapping it around her throat till her neck bulged and blackened. Blinking three times to erase the repulsive specter, Mr. Moyen slipped all the way down into the exit well and yanked the cord four quick times. From the front of the trolley snarled the driver’s raspy yowl, “Hey, mister, I’m gettin’ rid of you as fast as I can.”
A water wash of light engulfed the trolley, which braked hard. The bi-fold doors flapped open and Mr. Moyen stepped directly on the soiled concrete platform. As the trolley clattered away he felt like cursing the driver, but without thinking he pressed his belly button and watched the trolley explode, filling the tunnel with an orange and yellow fireball. Frightened he slapped the side of his face, blinked twice and was surprised to see the trolley’s rear red lights twinkle and disappear around a bend. He walked toward the stairs. On the wall between a vodka ad and a Broadway Is Best poster hung a gallery of pictorial obscenities—a Cubist collage bearing a closer resemblance to spears, blimps, watermelons and slashes than to any human sex organ. With heavy tread he scaled the steep and grimy stairs, the dull ceiling light playing host to attacking bug swarms and an expansive spider web. A huge, hairy black blot careened toward three moving figures. Mr. Moyen slowed and was amazed to see miniature versions of his mailman Frank Parris, his barber Zeke Cheever, and his pastor Father Aigner. They were little human bodies ensnared in the trap, their eyes wide and their mouths working vigorously without making a sound. Mr. Moyen picked up a yellowed newspaper and wadded it into a bat. When he turned, the little writhing faces were either gone or Mr. Moyen was staring at another part of the web. Nevertheless he slashed the netting with furious sweeping motions. Soon he was sawing nothing but air. With a panicky gasp he tossed the newspaper and ran up from the underground.
When he reached the street he found himself immersed in a mob of laughing, screaming people. They were all heading eastward as if toward a baseball game, a rock concert or a public execution. Mr. Moyen tried to push his way north and cross the street, but this human freshet swept him along. In the crush his feet left the ground and his body was borne sideways. Soon, he feared, he’d fall through some gap and be trampled by a thousand hurrying feet. He had no choice but to turn and ride the stream. The mob was so tightly packed that he could not bring down his arms. He could do nothing but fan the air before him. Streetlamps were out and he moved through a darkened world, as dark as a moiling night wilderness—the fierce cries of four-legged beasts converging into a vicious carnival murmur where mirth was little more than a mask for malice. Screams and laughter raked the humid air. Mr. Moyen’s arms tired. In letting them sag he happened to touch a woman’s pimpled neck. Her skin was hot and scaly—a scabrous, sweaty, oily sheen. His hands snapped away as if bitten, but not soon enough. The hag’s head swiveled in an abrupt contortion. In the shimmer of light cast from a second story window she showed snapping teeth. Her tongue was pierced and plugged by a silver ball. Mr. Moyen started to speak, but her spewed words chopped into him like an axe.
“Shit sucker scum. Bad Jermaine gone cut you up.”
Mr. Moyen wanted to dig his nails into her eyes, but he was distracted by a colliding clutch of hands rifling his pockets, jabbing his ass, squeezing his balls. With a twig snapping wrench, his penis was pinched. Staggered by pain Mr. Moyen stumbled to the right, slipped through an open space and tumbled against a granite building. He bunched into a crevice and watched the mob flow past with the slow pace of cows hoofing toward slaughter. He would wait here for the street to clear. Then he would make his way back to the underground. Even at this hour the trolleys never took more than twenty minutes to arrive, not unless there was a power failure, a tunnel fire or a suicidal jumper.
Mr. Moyen nestled further into the wall and lifted himself so he could better watch the mobbed sea of bobbing human heads. As another slash of light cut the air from a room somewhere above, it fell like a spotlight on the laughing head of a woman who resembled Felicia more in feature than expression. This woman’s shoulders were squeezed into a low-cut black leather tee shirt and her breasts seem to spill out like bulging mounds of detonated earth. In the back of her thick hair was a single pink ribbon. Next to her appeared the face of Ann Hibbins, her mouth painted with a clown-like oval of blood red lipstick. After hugging Felicia and kneading her breasts Ann buried her painted mouth in Felicia’s neck like a hatchet. Ann’s lithe fingers seemed electrified and her lips were mechanized suction cups. With a twisting spasm Felicia threw back her head, let out what might have been a howl and tried to lick the side of Ann’s face. Mr. Moyen was stunned. It was like waking up in a darkened hotel room, the blue TV light still flashing, and finding his very own wife writhing naked on the screen, hands clutching the bars of a prison cell as she was taken from behind by a masked man. Mr. Moyen could neither turn off the picture nor adjust the sound. He could only squint to get a better look.
Slowly Ann and Felicia were drifting out of sight. Mr. Moyen was now looking at the backs of their heads. After another stupefied instant he squeezed his right hand over his heart. Enraged he bellowed, “Felicia! Turn back!”
In such an uproar the woman, whoever she was, could not possibly have heard his voice. Nevertheless she turned. Her eyes were incandescent and wild, lit by a kind of jovial madness, a party fever fury. When Mr. Moyen recognized what might have been the hand-shaped birthmark on her left cheek, he felt then that his heart was gone forever. In its place was lodged a whole cold potato—lumped, brown, dirty, frizzled with wiry, sprouting weeds. He pictured himself pushing Felicia out of their mortgaged house, down the front steps to the pavement, and then after two fierce kicks she would be on her way, out of his life forever. She’d never squat on him, never use her down-driving weight to try and cut him in two.
With Ann Hibbins still sucking the side of her throat and her hands still fondling her breasts, Felicia wriggled out of control, though she seemed suddenly quite deliberate when she brought her right hand to her mouth, spat heavily into her cupped palm and flung the hocking load like a Frisbee toward his appalled face. As Mr. Moyen watched the gob rise in the air and descend toward him, a fist smashed the side of his face and he slithered down the wall. By the time he pushed to his feet and steadied himself, Felicia was gone.
Without thinking, though spurred by a rage to catch up, he plunged into the mob and was amazed by how quickly he made his way forward. A path seemed to open at every point. Mr. Moyen hurried as if propelled by great gusts of wind. He had every intention of catching Felicia and casting her off, but not before he found a rock or a brick and brought it down atop the skull of the treacherous Ann Hibbins.
As he raced and stumbled he became conscious of being cheered. He heard the applause and felt numerous hands slapping his back. The way opened even more and he ran harder, no longer concerned about catching a westbound trolley but increasingly apprehensive about the two sheets of paper folded in the left rear pocket of his brown pants. The original venue, he recalled, had been the storage area of the massive post office at 30th and Market, but at the last minute the location had shifted to the main quad of a nearby university. His path now took him through a tree shaded break between enormous buildings. The branches flailed like attacking arms and accusatory fingers.
Under floodlights the stage was nearly empty, but the audience was a crush of cheering people. As Mr. Moyen hurried along the jostling perimeter, the applause increased and he could almost have sworn that he saw his father—dead these five years—carry a chair across the back of the stage. In the wings of the flatbed stage were three old-fashioned nuns in billowing black habits, white wimples and black veils. As he stumbled up the steps Mr. Moyen saw the smiling stranger remove the microphone from the stand, the cord twisting and whipping like a tortured ell. In the shadows of the rear of the stage, partly hidden by curtains, he thought he saw a woman with wild bushy hair, though her face was obscured by a man in a turban who held a long stick balled at its point with fire. Over and over, as if to practice, he swallowed the flame. Climbing over the top step, Mr. Moyen tripped, tumbling forward, but strong, unseen hands steadied him. As he wobbled to center stage the spotlights were blinding.
Offering the microphone the stranger leaned toward him and whispered, “Once we were sure you were coming the word got out and not a single member wanted to miss the convocation. This interest is owing, partly, to the high esteem in which your family is held and partly by the passion you so clearly possess for doing our work. And it’s right for you to begin this way—with the speech you’ve worked on for so long—here, center stage. For so long, deep within yourself, you have wanted to become one of us and now as soon as you catch your breath, you may commence.”
Mr. Moyen took the microphone in his right hand and tried to put it back on the stand. Feedback serrated the air. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the quarter-folded sheets and tried to arrange them on the podium. His mind, usually muddy and slow, this thick mire, had become almost luminous. He remembered the acceptance speech he had worked on for weeks. Anytime Felicia was out shopping or down the basement ironing clothes, he pulled out his secreted text and worked over those words—about how happy he was to join, how he looked forward to carrying out certain attacks central to their common cause. He wanted especially to destroy all churches and advance the death of all belief. It was his special mission to show the world how God was nothing more than a fool’s fond dream. It was time to smash every fragile box. Everything was based on sham: civic duty, pennies for the Pope, the forty hour work week, taxation with representation, raffle tickets for dying children. The truth of nothing was the fact of everything. It made him want to laugh.
With the feedback whining and roaring Mr. Moyen began to read his speech. Every single word was abruptly snarled by whirring screeches. The crowd groaned. They were waiting, perhaps, for him to propel them into action, to stir up the flames, to initiate the great stadium wave of focused destruction. He was ready to shout it, fist balled. Tonight, for starters, they would march downtown and take over the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. He was ready to give the word, but the microphone seemed to be attacking him, bickering back with a satanic squeal.
From the far right appeared a legion of flashing lights. Riot police were overtaking the quad. Wearing wire mesh masks and shiny white helmets they were swinging clubs and beating back the dispersing crowd. Mobs of people disappeared into hedges, shadows and arched doorways. Still tethered to the microphone Mr. Moyen stood on the stage alone. The stranger was no longer beside him. The fire-eater was hustling down the steps. When a tear gas canister exploded stage left, Mr. Moyen dropped the pulsing microphone and ran away on shaky legs. He seemed to slide down the steps, skittering across the lawn toward a clump of trees. Behind him three policemen dragged two kicking women across the pavement. He heard gunfire and bullets sizzling through leaves. One cop swung his club and whacked a blond woman on the side of the head. When she fell the cop turned and stared directly at Mr. Moyen. The cop called to him and started jogging his way, stick raised. Mr. Moyen turned and fled. With flailing arms he crashed through a row of sticker bushes. Close behind him there were shouts. Something large was thrashing in the bramble. A terrified Mr. Moyen stumbled forward and glimpsed an opening in a brick wall. Scratched and bleeding he got through the door and sprinted into a dark stand of trees, trying to reach the deepest darkness ahead. He was almost there, but as he turned around to see if anyone was following him, he smashed his head against the low-lying limb of a hundred-year old oak. The blow staggered him, though he didn’t fall. He shook his head and wobbled, feeling his way along the branches, eyes shut, head screaming, pushing forward, engulfed by darkness and then not feeling anything until his earth-slapping feet gave way and his face smashed down to the ground. Almost immediately, or so it seemed, a hand was shaking his shoulder. Mr. Moyen felt the slick bench beneath him as he opened his eyes. His head wobbled. Everything seemed wet and cold.
“That’s a pretty mean looking lump on the side of your head,” Mr. Proctor said, pushing back the brim of his Phillies’ cap. “What happened? Did you get mugged? I heard on the news there was some kind of riot in West Philly last night. Those anarchy nuts were at it again, stirring up trouble on the Penn campus. They almost got the ringleader, a guy who calls himself Brown. You weren’t anywhere near there, were you?”
Mr. Moyen didn’t answer. He was sitting in the Plexiglass shelter in the Darby loop. Early morning light painted the eastern sky with pink pastels. In his right hand he squeezed two crumpled, quarter-folded sheets of paper. They were dabbed with blood.
“When you got off the trolley I was having breakfast in Bud’s. I figured you had gotten overtime at the plant. I looked again and you were still here. It’s been more than fifteen minutes. Hey, your face is all scratched.” He pulled out a cell phone. “You want me to call your wife. What’s the number?”
“There’s no good on earth.”
“Yeah, that’s their slogan, the sick turkeys.”
“I can call them, too. But your wife will want to know. When I came out I saw her standing at the door looking out. I didn’t know you weren’t home. She looked tired, like she’d been up all night. When she gets a look at you, she’ll want to call an ambulance.”
“Felicia’s gone. Mr. Brown will tell you.”
Mr. Proctor nodded and patted his shoulder.
“Concussion. It makes you talk crazy. Did the mugger get your wallet?” Mr. Proctor flipped open his cell phone. “I’m going to call for the cops and an ambulance.” His voice was clipped and serious. “Then I’ll hustle around and get your wife.”
“Go away,” Mr. Moyen screamed. A rage he couldn’t swallow rose in his throat and almost choked him. His head was full of pounding hammers. He wanted to take one of the hammers and make a dent in Mr. Proctor’s skull. “You all need to go away. I’m taking the next trolley. There’s an early morning meeting and plenty of work to do.”
“Well, hell, fella,” he said, patting Mr. Moyen’s shoulder and stepping backwards, squinting. “They must’ve really whacked you one. Stay put and I’ll be back in a minute with the little lady.”
Mr. Proctor punched three numbers, brought the phone to his ear and jogged across the rutted tracks toward Mr. Moyen’s home. He turned and shouted.
“Everything’ll be just fine.”
When Mr. Proctor disappeared around the corner of the diner, young Mr. Moyen stood up, swayed in place and trudged eastward along the looping trolley track. There were many avenues yet to travel, any number of serpentine paths. With a grim smile he staggered toward the beckoning arms of the dark, deceitful dawn.