Brotherhood of Man (Chapter One – Teaser)

A while back I made a post about a book I had just finished called, Brotherhood of Man. I’ve been working on the rewrite between other things. It’s coming together slowly. Here is a teaser! 

Copyright 2013 Jessica MacIntyre

 

Chapter One

 

            Making his way through the crowded outdoor market on a Saturday afternoon was not Charlie Gower’s idea of fun.  In the crush of families with strollers, couples holding hands and people with full baskets meandering along at a leisurely pace, Charlie could not have felt more alone.  Lowering his head he shoved his pockets into the front of his jacket and scowled. No one noticed.

            Without speaking a word he moved as quickly as he could through the herd of bodies and noise until he found the stand he was looking for. The old man selling peaches was bagging some up for another customer and without looking Charlie in the face said, “I’ll be with you in a moment.” 

            Standing and waiting to be served on any other day would have been a non-issue. On any other day he would have been happy to people watch, perhaps scope out a pretty girl or two, be served at the old man’s leisure and be on his way. Not today. Today was different. There was somewhere he had to be, and soon.  He questioned if stopping for two peaches would really be the best use of his time but had decided he wouldn’t, he couldn’t, show up without them. It just wouldn’t be right. Today this little purchase was as precious as gold. 

            When the old man’s attention finally turned to Charlie his eyes lit up and he smiled wide. “Hey buddy, haven’t seen you in a long time. What can I get you?”

            “I’ll take the two best peaches you have,” he said. “The biggest and juiciest.”

            “You got it.”  The old man ran his fingers just atop where the peaches were laid out and very carefully selected the two most beautiful he could find.  He put them in a brown paper bag and handed them over.  “That’ll be four dollars.”

            “For two peaches? Wow.”

            “Yeah, the food shortage is starting to drive things up.”  Charlie nodded in agreement, feeling the disgust that was settling into the pit of his stomach. “Say,” the old man said as Charlie handed over a five dollar bill, the last to his name. “You still working over at the factory?”

            Charlie’s hands grew cold even as the hot July sun beat down. “Yeah.”

            “Good for you son. You don’t want to be a non-contributor. Not these days.”

            Again the gnawing disgust burrowed down into his gut, putting its feet up on the good furniture without taking off its shoes.  Lighting up a cigar and stinking up the place. “You got that right,” he said.

            Charlie certainly didn’t want to let it be known to anyone that he hadn’t worked in almost a year. If he did he might be in a position soon where someone he loved would be buying peaches for him, and he wasn’t ready for that, not just yet.

            Thanking the old man he turned and began to make his way out of the market. Every moment spent in this place was one less he’d get to spend it where he really wanted to be today.  He wanted to break into a run, but in a crowded place like this it was impossible. They’d either think he’d stolen something or was running from someone, and that would only create a mess that would slow him down. 

            Maintaining as much self-control as he could he steadily, but quickly, made time. He was almost at the exit of the market when something caught his eye. A man, perhaps in his late seventies was being spoken to by two men in suits.  The old man was all hunched over, so much so that it looked like he was bending over at the waist to pick something up. The obvious spinal problem coupled with his age made him a prime target for the suits.

            “Fucking vultures,” Charlie whispered to himself under his breath.  The old man waved them off and kept walking as if they didn’t exist. One tried to stop him handing him a pamphlet but the old man simply waved his hand again, this time knocking the pamphlet to the ground as he shuffled away. Laughing to himself Charlie continued on, out of the market and into the street.

            “You tell ‘em old man,” he said under his breath. “Tell them to go fuck themselves.”

            The mid afternoon heat was strong and Charlie could feel it beating down on him through his thick leather jacket. He had bought it for himself at a time when he could afford such a luxury. Back when he had a job. It looked expensive and he found that when he wore it no one questioned him as to whether or not he was a contributor. Surely anyone who wore a jacket like that made a decent living. That was the impression he tried hard to give each and every day since he’d been let go, and it was working. The suits hadn’t stopped him in the street once and even his family had no reason to believe he was no longer among the ranks of the employed.  Looking the part helped immensely. That, and finding some place to be between the hours of 8:30 am and 4:45 pm.

            He haunted coffee shops, bookstores and the odd museum. Money was scarce but he usually managed to get a few dollars from selling one of his paintings or doing the odd job with his friend Joey’s moving company.  Joey would call, sometimes apologetically, and ask if he was free to help him out. Somebody had been hurt or called in sick and he needed an extra pair of hands. Charlie in turn would act slightly inconvenienced and agree to do it in a mildly begrudging way. He figured Joey had put two and two together some time ago, but Joey being the friend he was just didn’t have the heart to come out and say it.

            As he made his way up the six flights of stairs to his uncle’s apartment the jacket finally became too much and he peeled it off, throwing it over his arm. He was sure, today of all days, that Uncle Raymond had bigger things on his mind than whether or not Charlie could afford an expensive jacket. Approaching the door of the small apartment he knocked once, just as a courtesy, and then let himself in as per the routine.

            “I’m here,” he said.  There was no response right away and so Charlie threw his jacket over a kitchen chair and made his way into the living room. There he found him, staring absent mindedly at an unfinished painting. “Uncle Raymond?”

            Finally realizing he wasn’t alone Raymond turned and gave his nephew a wide but sad smile. “Hi,” he said, “I was just trying to figure out what to do with this one. I had hoped to finish it, but that was before I…”

            Charlie didn’t want to hear the rest of that sentence and so simply retuned his smile and held out the bag.  Raymond’s eyes lit up as he spotted what was in Charlie’s hands. “What’s this?”

            “For you. I know they’re your favorite.”  Raymond took the bag from Charlie like he was being handed something as precious as a newborn baby.

            “Thank you,” he said, his voice breaking slightly as the words came out. “Let’s sit and have them.” He gestured to the floor where a large drop cloth had been placed and both men sat down face to face in front of the unfinished canvas.

            “No, they’re both for you.”

            “Nonsense. A peach is only as sweet as the person you share it with.”

            A spark of remembrance lit up Charlie’s brain. “You used to say that to me when I was a kid.”

            “Yes, and it’s as true today as it was then. You know, your father and I used to go to that market when your mother was pregnant with you. We’d go to get whatever she was craving for, but we’d always end up buying and eating these damn peaches on the way home.”  Raymond swallowed hard as he took a peach out of the bag, handing it to Charlie.

            “He’d be proud of you, you know. You’re a good man, Charlie. You pull your weight and ask for nothing. Not like your uncle.”

            “Don’t say that,” Charlie said fingering the peach, it’s warm and fuzzy peeling soft against his palm. “Look at all of this,” Charlie said pointing to all of the finished paintings leaning against practically every wall. Just looking at them made him feel alive. The vibrant use of color, the clean and precise strokes. They were the mark of an experienced artist. They contained a quality that Charlie’s own paintings had yet to achieve. He thought if he could be even one tenth of the artist his uncle was it would be an incredible accomplishment.

            “How can all of this not be a contribution of some kind?”

            “Don’t fool yourself son, it’s nothing. Nothing more than an old fool playing with colors the way a five year old plays with crayons. You should burn them or throw them out tomorrow.”

            Charlie stared at the floor, unable to look up as his view of the peach in his hand began to blur. “That’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. I’m keeping them. They’re beautiful, and every time I look at them I’ll think of you.”

            Raymond reached over placing a comforting hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “It’s ok Charlie, I’ve made peace with it.”

            “But I haven’t.” The disgust that had settled into the pit of his stomach earlier was now rotting away into anger. “Please, change your mind…I need you.”

            “You needed me after your father died, I’ll grant you that. But that was years ago, and you’re a grown man now Charlie. I’ve outlived my usefulness. I’m not one of the ones that matter. There are others.”

            “You matter to me.”  The words hung in the air for a few moments between the men until Raymond finally had to courage to softly break the silence.

            “I know,” he said, “but mattering to one person, Charlie, it just isn’t enough.” 

            Through tear filled eyes now he looked at his uncle. The man he had admired, looked to and emulated. It was hard to believe that by this time tomorrow he’d be gone. “I don’t know what I’ll do without you. Who will I talk to?”

            “You know what your problem is Charlie?  You need a woman. You find yourself a pretty girl, a smart girl, a sweet girl, and you’ll talk to her.”

            “I haven’t had much luck with that,” he said, remembering the string of failed relationships. He hadn’t been great at talking to women when he had a job, let alone now that he was a non-contributor.

            “Hey, you know what?  The rent on this place is paid for the next three months. You should stay here. Get out of your mother’s house for a while. Find yourself a lady and bring her back here,” he said winking at him.

            Charlie laughed through the lump in his throat. “I don’t know.”

            “Even if you don’t find yourself a wife, you should at least try to get laid. Trust me, I’ve had many a gal up here.”

           The middle aged, balding, geeky artist didn’t seem like much of a ladies man on first glance.  “You have?”

“Trust me, chicks dig a painter, contributor or not.”

“Well tonight that’s what we’ll talk about. If you’ve got those kinds of tricks up your sleeve you’ve been holding out on important advice. Better spill it while you still can, this is the stuff I really need.”

“Oh I could tell you some stories my boy.”

“So tell me.”

“Patience,” he said. “First, shut up and eat your peach.”

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