2/12/14

Jess Davis

Renovation

(Excerpt from a novel)

1.

At the intersection of Howard and Madison is a pile of bricks more than two stories high. It was a three-story building yesterday and I walked by it many times on my way to the bar. I never really looked at it. I only glanced at the crude drawing of a boy doing a karate kick on the sign.  

     Elliott and I stand across the street staring at the mountain, calculating how many buildings are actually gone. One, the karate studio. Two, the one next to the karate studio. Maybe three total. The bar is still on the corner and the two smaller rowhouses next to it. I could use the word epidemic to describe the swiftness which buildings are disappearing. All over the city. My favorite row of houses on Charles Street was leveled one afternoon last week. They were beautiful two-story brick buildings with white pointed roofs over their porches. The whole row of them gone in one afternoon. 

     “Climb to the top?” I ask Elliott, who is small and walks with her hips turned out. She nods and takes her hands from her pockets. She has a pair of work gloves for such an occasion. The gloves are worn leather, maybe a pair found on a workbench at school or that thrift store in Essex. Whoever demolished these buildings forgot to put up a chain-linked fence. It is too late for them to come back and the rest of the equipment is gone. Without a fence, it’s an open invitation. 

    We climb slowly and use the pipes that stick out as leverage because they don’t budge. We look for small things to take home. Anything metal. Anything like a memento. We find dirty posters with pictures of naked women or in pink bikinis holding beer bottles. The posters are covered in water and are nicked making the women’s legs look like cellulite. The same posters hang in the bar around the corner where the black light highlights the dust. Elliott’s pockets are deep and fill slowly. She has a fist full of washers and counts them. 

     “Twelve,” she says. 

     “What will you do with them,” I ask, knowing she will tie them together with a string.

     “Paint them. Like one stripe on each one. Each one a different color. Then.” 

     A police car speeds by. We watch the roof of it pass. Its red lights bounce off the bank across the street. It probably was always a bank because it’s only one-story with columns. It used to have two copper lions guarding its doors, but now only one. I wonder how someone got the lion off its pedestal. 

     “Then,” Elliott continues after the siren passes. “Then, I will tie them with a string.” She spreads them between her fingers like opening a fan. “And hang them on the wall. Or outside my window.” Elliott keeps listing places. I am listening to her, but also distracted by the fight outside the bar. The bouncer, who has been there for all the years I’ve known about the place, who laughed at me with fake Connecticut I.D. and let me in anyway, is inches from another woman’s face. I only see the back of the bouncer’s head. Her hair is cut short, bleached at the tips and gelled back. She hikes up her jeans. I wonder who many fights she’s been in. I glance over at Elliott whose cargo shorts reach below her knees. I look down at my own pants, green and covered in paint. With Elliott the bagginess of your pants doesn’t matter. Just the number of pockets.

     The woman the bouncer is arguing with has the same short hair but it’s blown-dry. She has a silk-like button down tucked into her jeans. I know her from the pool table where her and her friends are every Friday and Saturday night. If you want to play, you play for money. I can’t hear what they’re saying to each other, but they move closer and closer, pointing fingers. It’s finally loud enough that it catches Elliott’s attention. Both of them are puffing their chests. Someone gets in between them. A young girl stands off to the side. Sometimes it looks like she wants to fight. Other times she takes a few steps back. Sirens call out in the distance, but they could be headed anywhere.

     Elliott finds another washer and a hammer. “It’s strange they didn’t take things out of the building before demolishing it,” she says. “It’s like a gold mine.” Someone comes out of the bar, waving a portable telephone. The woman in the blouse steps back, ready to move forward again, but instead turns. Her hands at her sides as fists. Alone, she avoids the bricks on the sidewalk while the shadow of the hospital’s parking garage stretches across her body and reaches towards us. The sirens fade in a different direction. She doesn’t see us on our mountain of bricks. Instead, she turns the key in the door of an Accord. The engine revs. She drives forward pass the bar, pulls over and and the young girl climbs in. The wheels squeal. Dirt is kicked up. They are gone. 

     “Check this shit out,” Elliott says. In her hand, she has a pool ball. The number 5. 

     “Some karate studio,” I say. 

     Elliott holds the ball up to the sky. She moves her arm in an arch. She does this a couple of times while I look over her shoulder. She holds the ball in her palm lining it up next to the sun. Tonight it is large. The kind of orange sun that appears only in summer. The sun and the ball hover on the horizon before the sun drops slowly like a ball lingering on the edge of a gutter.

Jess Davis is a queer writer and photographer. This particular piece is the beginning of a novel which focuses on friends in Baltimore as the country begins to discuss marriage equality. Jess lives in New York and is a bookseller at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn. 

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