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Short Fiction By: Joe Thomson
Karl Smith , March 29th, 2015 07:46

Joe Thomson's short story 'New York, 2002' fills this week's new writing segment, covering and confronting the not-exactly-small topics of love, freedom and prejudice in the still-rippling wake of September 11th

New York, 2002

After the others went to bed, at about two, Derek began talking in a different way.
Between mouthfuls of microwaved pasta and tomato sauce he told his New York.
      ‘Ten bucks a pop! Back then that was a lot – I was good. They called me Zorro, see, I left my mark. Christ! I was good.’ I watched his large lips flap like an elasticised waistband stretched to flaccidity and nodded.
      ‘Do you know what a glory hole is, kid?’ He watched me carefully.
      ‘The market has dropped out of it now. Used to be every second stall at the public library was a gas station.’
      ‘Yeah, man it was easy money – I loved it! Sure we got beat-on now and then. But half those tough guys would be back the next week, looking for Zorro.’ His mouth opened to a grey-toothed smile. He licked pasta sauce from his chin.
      ‘So, I bet you’ve been to Ground Zero today, huh?’
      ‘. . . Yeah.’
      I hadn’t. I’d wandered the Bowery and the East Village looking for Richard Hell - blank-faced and pin-thin; for Frank O’Hara smoking a cigarette with Jackson Pollock; for cooking-up fumes drifting from Burroughs’ Bunker; for Kim and Thurston taking a stroll while Joey and Dee Dee slouched on the corner of Bowery and Houston. I’d watched the punks gathering at ABC No Rio and seen gold baubles of spring sun rolling off hipster shades on Bleeker. After a show at CBGBs I’d returned to the twelve dollar Brooklyn hostel where Derek lived.
      ‘. . . See, that’s where they got it all wrong.’ Derek was jamming his thumb into the plastic table, my beer bottle teetered. ‘I’ve seen those fucking Hasids – that’s where you should look! Smiling, walking on the other side of Church Street – they’ve got every reason!’ He stared at me. I let myself be distracted by the passing blue wail of a siren. Derek pointed and said, ‘They plotted it, probably did it too. The Hasidics – you seen ‘em? Curls down here, brimmed hats, beards? They run this city, this country.’
      He lit a cigarette then tossed one to me.
      ‘They hate Americans, hate Muslims, hate homos, hate love – its true!’ He waved his burning cigarette in the air. I smoked quickly.
      ‘I was in love. I am in love!’ Derek slapped his soft chest.
      ‘Yeah. You know, after the streets and the tricks and the life I had, when this face became old and the dollars dried up – ugly ain’t I? – I wanted something more; I guess I had always wanted it. Never thought it would be ... big beard, long white Galabiyya, deep hazelnut eyes! God Omar’s beautiful!
      ‘We started out as friends, met at Joni’s, an Iranian joint in Williamsburg. He always sat alone, by the window. One day I sat with him and we just talked. Every Wednesday and Saturday we’d get coffee and talk like that. I looked in his big eyes and saw something, beauty – strong calm beauty. Every week, the same routine. Then, one time, he put his brown hand on my knee - like this,’ Derek cupped his knee, ‘and we kept talking about what was in the papers, the Mid-East, the price of hummus, whatever. The next week, same thing, only he moves it up - like this. The next week, further. Its the most intimate I’ve ever felt with anyone. He never touched my cock, just caressed up – like this.’ He looked at my crotch and lowered his voice, ‘Are you hard?’
      ‘No.’ I shifted in my seat, emptied my beer. Derek winked and wiped his mouth. He was neck-less with a pocked complexion and cropped grey hair. Stomach filled his XL tee above a pair of stained joggers that were perpetually almost falling down.
      ‘Six months this went on. Know what? He was married to a good Muslim woman, two kids. But I needed . . . I walked out with him one Saturday, down Union, pulled him into a doorway and said I love you Omar, let me kiss you like your wife never can. He tried to fight it but I got him. We kissed and . . . Hey, you ever been in love kid?’
      ‘No, I don’t think so.’ Derek smiled. He lit another cigarette and sipped some water. A lighter shade of night crawled under the blinds. Smoke yellowed in the air and the white plastic table tinted green. Derek was laughing – a coughing wobble.
      ‘Shoulda seen ‘em. Right across the street. It was the third time we’d kissed and we were not careful. Those fuckers are everywhere – like rats, you’re never more than six feet from a rat in New York City. Two of them evil eyed Hasids were watching from under their black hats. Omar was quiet after that and I knew then I’d never have him. He talked about his wife for the first time that day. I didn’t care about her, whatever happens she’ll never know him like me, but those Jew devils – they bothered me. Omar never showed the next Wednesday. I kept on going to Joni’s for weeks, in hope. Then Joni says one time, you can’t come here no-more, we can’t have your kind in here. What kind? He just looked at me, straight in the eye, then said, Omar’s complained you’ve been bugging him. We know you are a homosexual, finish your coffee and don’t come back. It was the Hasids that did this. I know how they work, they’re worse than niggers – underhand, sneaky bastards. I know they threatened to tell Omar’s family; strike me out - control him. Islamists took down the towers? Too simple, too obvious. All over town kikes are laughing at us
.       ‘Well, I hung out in Williamsburg every day, watching, waiting. Omar had never told me his address, but I knew I’d see him again if I just waited. Eight months! – eight months I waited. Then I see him, walking down Broadway in a group of men – all Islamic robes and beards. I started across the street; two of them came at me. So quick. I was on the concrete and they were kicking me.’ Derek snorted and shrugged.
      ‘Shit,’ I said.
      ‘Who’d have thought they wore sneakers under those Galabiyyas? I lost three teeth. When I stood up Omar had split. Then I saw the Hasids. They were grinning behind their beards, one of them tipped his hat at me. It’s them, they’re the enemy. I decided right there, if I couldn’t have Omar then I would at least fuck one of those Jew bastards in the ass.
      ‘I’ve been down Broadway every day since then. I don’t ever expect to see Omar again, but I watch those Hasids, I wait. One day one of ‘em will get careless, like me, and I’ll be there. They need a lesson. If we let them have New York – and they’re already swarming – then where next?’ Derek spat on the floor, he pulled at his mouth with a fat hand then stood and hitched his joggers up.
      ‘You want coffee kid?’
      ‘Yeah. Thanks’
      ‘No sleeping tonight?’
      ‘It’s getting too late to sleep anyway.’ I rubbed at my eyes and checked my watch while Derek brewed coffee and sang a Blondie tune, it was a quarter past four in the morning.
      Half an hour later I walked out into the pale morning and took the east bound A-train. The car was empty and echoed with the rattle and squeak of itself. The scruffy store fronts of Flatbush Avenue drifted past. Tattered flags dripped from wood frame shacks and mean-eyed brownstones squatted at the track side. I rode to the end of the line, Rockaway Beach. I walked the length of the beach watching the empty ocean, singing, ‘It’s not hard, not far to reach, we can hitch a ride, to Rockaway beach,’ under my breath. Nobody was awake, the only sounds were the distant howl of the subway, the gulls and the sea’s rhythm. As I reached Breezy Point, milky dawn melted into morning rays. Across the bay the glass and steel of Coney Island flashed – glittering teeth in the mouth of an urban yawn – then dulled. Somewhere, over there, the Warriors were arriving home after their night of adventure, while beyond the East River, Grandmaster Flash was still rocking a South Bronx block as Manhattan woke.

Joe Thomson writes short stories and thinks about writing novels. This is his first published work. He lives in Bristol and can be contacted on