By Sandra Banks
Phyllis had just finished knitting her fifth row when the dark car pulled up beside the young man on the corner and the driver got out swinging a tire iron. She squinted at the sky. There was too much sun. It was much too sunny to be outside right now.
The patio door rattled and Phyllis glanced back as Eugene stepped out to join her on the deck. He should have been using his walker, but instead he leaned into the slim cane clutched in his right hand. The click of the cane was followed by slow and heavy steps.
The young man had been standing on the corner for most of the afternoon accepting folded bills and slipping small bags to the people who stopped to speak with him. He was thin and probably tall, but it was hard to tell from his stooped posture and gray, baggy clothing.
By now the driver, large and thick-chested with a line of belly peeking out beneath his shirt, had knocked the young man to the ground, scattering several of the small bags. He pressed the thick length of the tire iron against the young man’s throat, leaning in with his weight.
Eugene sat down heavily with an audible grunt. He wiped at his brow.
“It’s too hot out.”
Phyllis nodded in agreement. The air pressed down on them like a hot, invisible fist, roasting the asphalt, air, and people who ventured outside.
“Much too much sun. There’s all those chemicals in the air now, too, that mix with the sun and give you cancer. It’s not like how it used to be.”
“Sun was just fine before,” Eugene agreed, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and pressing it to his face. “Sixty, seventy years ago, my brothers and I would be running around in the sun all summer. We only went inside when it got dark, and we would be outside again the moment the sun came up the next day. Now you can’t be two minutes outside without a hat or sunscreen or you catch melanoma.”
Phyllis started knitting her next row.
“Bernice’s husband caught that. Broke out in big lesions all over his face. Had to go to chemotherapy and all his hair fell out, including his eyebrows. Looked like a startled duck after that. It was a shame.”
A couple of blocks away, a jackhammer cut through the air, signifying a construction crew had returned from their break. It almost smothered the muffled curses and grunts of the two men struggling on the sidewalk across the street. Knocking down the old post office seemed to take forever. Phyllis had heard from Bernice that a local nonprofit was building a community center, but Eugene said that wasn’t going to happen now because a smoke shop chain had offered double the price for the property.
Eugene and Phyllis watched the men at the corner flail and struggle. A wild kick caught the driver in the knee and he rolled away, yelling and clutching his leg. The young man scrambled on the ground, snatching the small packets and scooping up the spilled pills.
“Is that one of the Lanzar boys?” Eugene asked.
Phyllis squinted. She removed her reading glasses and put on the prescription pair that her daughter had helped her get. The young man was on his feet now and stumbling away, as the driver yelled and struggled to drag himself to his open car door.
“Yes, I think that’s Ezra’s youngest, or maybe the second youngest. He was a year or two behind Catlin’s niece in school,” Phyllis said.
“You better let Ezra know his boy’s gotten himself into trouble.”
Phyllis sighed, reaching for her phone. She shaded her eyes as she pressed in the number. “The way kids run around today; it’s absolutely disgraceful. No work ethic, I tell you. None at all.”
Eugene nodded, blotting at his face with his handkerchief as Phyllis spoke on the phone. A short while later, another dark car pulled up behind the first and three men got out. One of them helped the driver into the second car. The other two ran down the street. In less than five minutes, they returned, dragging the young man with them. His shirt was torn and blood poured from his nose and mouth, falling to the pavement in large red drops.
Phyllis frowned. “Exactly what I was saying. No work ethic. Just look at the mess they’ve made.”
Eugene nodded. “In my day, I’d have never left a mess like that on one of my jobs.”
“Ezra needs to let those boys know they need to clean up after themselves. This is unacceptable,” said Phyllis.
She checked the half-finished pillow sham. Her lips pinched in annoyance. She had dropped a stitch during her last row, and there was a noticeable dent in the pattern where it should have been straight. She would have to redo that entire row.
The young man let out a feeble scream as he was picked up off his feet by both men and tossed into the trunk. The trunk lid slammed shut.Both cars then drove off, wheels squealing and acrid car exhaust belching into the air. Phyllis pulled apart the last row, then stored the knitting and needles in her pink craft bag. That was enough for now.
She glanced over at Eugene’s cane leaning against his chair. She would have to hunt through the house and ferret out where Eugene had hidden his walker. He said it made him feel old, but so what? He was old, and so was she. They had earned every scar and wrinkle.
Phyllis reached for the patio door handle, already anticipating the cool, air-conditioned kitchen.
It was really much too sunny out to be outside.