Fiction

Fine Margins

By: David Patten

Photo by Anni Roenkae on Pexels.com

          It didn’t really matter to Lamar.  It was good to get the A express, but usually he just rode the first B or C local that pulled into the 125th Street station.  The platform was less crowded this morning, it being the Friday before Memorial weekend.  It was unseasonably warm though, and he was glad of the jeans and polo for casual Friday.  The B local pulled in and Lamar stepped on, people around him muttering about the lack of AC and climate change.

          He got off at Columbus Circle and took the exit to the street in front of the huge Whole Foods.  Early morning Manhattan.  Traffic, honking, sirens.  Commuters with to go cups scurrying to workplaces, smart young professionals already on conference calls trying to hail a cab, fit and wiry bike couriers weaving between lanes.  Across the street on the southeast corner of the park tourists were already lining up for a horse and carriage ride, jackets off in the warm air.

          Lamar spotted Cody on the corner of Broadway and 60th.  He switched up his cardboard sign every few days.  Today’s said you can ignore me, but god sees your indifference.  The one on Wednesday had read screw it, what’s $1 for cryin out loud?  Two weeks prior Cody had stepped in front of Lamar on Broadway.  Wait, a young Magic Johnson?  Now, I know a man of your means can spare a dollar.  Lamar smiled, shook his head, and rewarded the chutzpah with a five.

          Lamar clasped Cody on the shoulder.  He nodded toward the sign.  You trying to guilt people into handing over money?  A smirk from Cody.  Hey, man, I gotta work all the angles, he said, still thrusting the sign out in front of him.  Lamar squeezed his shoulder with fondness.  You want to go grab some breakfast?  He gestured toward the Whole Foods.  Cody looked momentarily surprised, then touched, but quickly recovered his bravado.  Sure!  You paying?

          They slid into a booth, plates loaded with buffet items, coffee cups full to the brim.  This unlikely pair.  Career track Lamar with sunglasses pushed up onto his shaven head; Cody and his baggy, bulky clothes and unkempt greying hair, looking like he’d been setting lobster traps off the Maine coast all his life.  Lamar blew on his coffee, took a sip.  So Cody, he said, piling a fork with hash browns, what’s your story, man?  Cody’s head tilted back and he laughed out loud.  My story?  You got all day, bro?

          Lamar got the abridged version over the remainder of breakfast.  A home, decent job driving long hauls, vacations, health insurance.  It’s like a game of poker, you know.  It seemed like Cody had made the comparison before.  I mean, one round you get dealt a solid hand, right?  Something to play with.  He looked at Lamar for affirmation.  Then, the next thing you know you get dealt a shitty hand you can’t do nothing with.  His tone was bitter.  Except fold.  Cody’s bad hand included unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy.  Lamar suspected there were blanks to be filled in but didn’t pry. 

          They stood.  Lamar bussed the table while Cody filled his backpack with bottled water and packets of sugar.  Side by side they took the elevator back up to the street, now chatting about the Mets chances at the pennant.  Lamar gave Cody a hug.  I’m sorry that crap happened to you, man.  Cody nodded, regretful, resigned.  This life is fine margins.  That’s all it is.  Fine margins.  He gave Lamar a philosophical shrug.  See you next week, said Lamar, extending his arm for a fist bump. He turned and headed down Broadway to his office.  Cody went back to his corner, swagger back, cardboard sign on display.

Categories: Fiction

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