Monday, June 1, 2020

“An Afternoon In Flatbush” by Bill McKitty - 2019 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

An Afternoon In Flatbush
Bill McKitty

Since it said only barbershop outside, there was no need to change any signage, when Vinnie bought the shop from George. The only visible change was the swap of chairs. Vinnie moved to the front chair by the plate glass window and the cash register. George moved to the back chair. The middle chair remained, as always, unmanned.

There was one other change. Under George’s ownership, a thin spike in a black metal base, sat atop the cash register, impaling various three-inch paper squares. The spike was now on the counter in front of George’s new chair. I had always assumed the paper squares had something to do with recording income. The new setting, on the counter, belied that assumption.

In reply to my question my father said, “George has been making book forever. The papers are betting slips. I presume the sudden change of ownership occurred because George misjudged one horse too many.” He chuckled, “Live by the pony, die by the pony.”

I looked up from the Esquire I was marveling at, when Vinnie pulled the smock from the man in his chair. He paid and walked to the coat rack to retrieve his hat and suit jacket. Vinnie gave me a smile and waved me to the black and white chair. Clip-clip sounds interspersed his questions about school and talk about the Dodgers, and their imminent departure. He showed me the extent of his work in the small mirror he held and we were done for two weeks.
As neatly clipped and brushed, as any 11 year old could be, I walked out of Vinnie’s Barber Shop and sprung from between two parked cars onto busy Nostrand Ave. A quick stop and dart and I was across the street. Standing on the yellow painted curb, in front of the Glenwood Bakery, five people waited patiently for the bus. One man read the Daily News, folded to the racing pages. Another man peered at his shoes, up to the sky and back to his shoes. The baker’s bread slicer moaned at its task.

I was last on the queue when the Nostrand Avenue bus lumbered to a stop. The bi-fold door banged open. The line shuffled forward, and began the slow ascent up the steps, into the bus. Dimes and nickels clanged and the coin separator began to play its hard metallic rhythm.

The woman in front of me stepped up, filling the doorway, and eclipsing me from the driver’s view.  When my foot reached for the first step, the doors pinched in.

Jump in or out?

I jumped back. All of me escaped except my left ankle. The air brakes shushed. The bus groaned and rolled forward, arcing left. I hopped a step on my right leg. The bus slowly accelerated; I managed a hop and then another. My left leg stretched further.  Then I was on my back, as the bus picked up more speed. I looked up at the approaching line of parked cars, extending to the corner of Farragut Road. All had chunky, gleaming, chrome bumpers that protruded from the rear and wrapped around the fenders.

The bus angled to the right, my shoulders were bouncing off the wavy blacktop. The first parked car grew closer. I guess I yelled. I knew no one would hear me above the jumbled din of the noisy street and the grumbling roar of the bus. I looked down the row of parked cars, as the bus moved closer to the right. Five cars ahead was an Oldsmobile 88 with especially large bumpers. I pictured my head as a watermelon that would smash into that Oldsmobile and explode into a red shower.

Then I saw the lady across the street look and quickly look again at me.

She sees me. But the driver won’t see her.

She began to run, at a diagonal, into the street, as her arm pivoted madly at the elbow. The Oldsmobile was three cars away.

God don’t let a car hit her!

She ran a collision course toward the front of the bus. The bus began to brake. The parked car line slowed. Then I was ‘t moving. The door banged open, releasing my foot.

How had she seen me?

I got up and stared through the bus driver as he clambered down the two steps.  “Where did you come from?”, he sputtered.

Where did she come from?

She was there in front of me, not speaking. There was a slight nod of her head and, seconds later, when I looked back at her, she had disappeared.

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