The family will be poor, poor, poor. So poor that they will have to hang upside down at night from an awning because they won’t be able to afford any ground space in the city. They will ask their poor friends if they know anywhere better to go, but their poor friends will answer that if they knew anywhere better to go they would already be there. Then they will try to ask their friends that have already found somewhere better, but they won’t be able to, because those friends will already be gone.
The family will be so poor that the children will go to school in order to have a roof to sleep under. Their teachers will threaten to fail them if they don’t stay awake during class, but that won’t work because the children’s whole plan will be to stay enrolled in school as long as possible. Then they will discover that if you cause a little trouble you can stay extra hours at school, and if you cause a lot of trouble you get a whole classroom to yourself. Soon they will begin to dream of growing up and robbing a bank or telling the press about government misdeeds and getting free housing for life.
The family won’t beg, but passers-by will sometimes throw them money. Or rather: some people will not give money and feel guilty, some people will throw a dollar and feel proud of themselves, and some people will not give money and think to themselves that they don’t want to subsidize a culture of dependency and feel even prouder of themselves.
The father will be perpetually gone, from the crack of dawn to well after dark, every day. Whether he is working, or drinking, or working and then spending all the money he earned on drinking, no one will know. The mother will dedicate herself with saint-like devotion to her children’s welfare, but this will be extra-hard because she will have been dead for several years. it will take her several hours every night to haunt, terrify or inspire with occult messages any food-carrying passers-by into letting slip, dropping in a fright or handing over in a mystic trance a decent amount food for the children.
Honestly, they surely will not have been able to survive this long without the covert intervention of their minder. While sitting in a chair most of the day, at the school or on the street under a street lamp near where they sleep, performing his duties of taking note of any suspicious behavior, he will have often left sandwiches or a pizza out where the children could find it, with a note in the feigned wavering, spectral hand of their mother, or in the (on some evenings) even wavering-er hand of their father. He will remain quite attentive to whether they made any politically controversial statements while they eat, though.
Their only truly predictable companions will be a German Shepard, a pug, and an old tabby cat who, not having been granted through the gift of language with the knowledge that they are supposed to ostracize the poor, will stop by every evening. Who knows if they would show up without the nightly prospect of food, but with them there the children can feel that, though they don’t have a house, they at least have a kind of household.
The first-born, Adam, will be 21–well, who knows if he will have been born 21 years before, but that’s what the only ID that he possesses, which bought off someone under the Mass. Ave. bridge, will say. He will have recently started resorting to crime. He will have recently started resorting to criminal activity because the minder who will have so often provided for the family will have been recently reassigned after 13 years of continual surveillance of them without observing any evidence of criminal activity. Adam will start by shoplifting but then move on to breaking and entering. A friend of his will recommend he interview for some jobs, and he will realize they are right–that would be an excellent way to case office buildings.
Adam will wake up one morning and see that the street lamps will be still lit. He will need to find breakfast for his brother and sister. He will go to the water, find his usual spot on the Weeks Bridge, and let down a line. He will cast a long look at a passing barge, but finally decide to aim at something smaller.
Finally he will have something decent-sized on the line; he will start to reel it in, but just as he lifts it from the water he will see a hand with scissors reach out from under the bridge, grab the fish, snip the line and splash away. But with the hook gone, if he doesn’t recover it he will probably have to settle for looking for a bent nail of the right shape sticking out of a house to use. He will rush to the other side of the bridge and look down. He will see the family’s auditor below.
Ever since the passing of the law demanding a flat $50,000 tax from everyone this man will have been hanging around, snatching scraps off their table when they have one, all in the name of “servicing the debt.” Usually he will wait to demand a fish until it’s been caught. This day will represent an escalation. Adam can’t fall upon him then, but he can follow him to find out where he lives. Maybe he will even be able to skip a job interview this week. He will see the auditor climb out of the water and up the bank. The auditor will look back at Adam. He will hold up the fish. It will look big and flat, maybe a flounder. “$40 closer!” he will shout with a thumbs-up. Then he will turn on his heel casually, even letting the fish tail brush along the ground. Adam will wait a minute and then follow him, ducking under the bridge parapet, then slipping behind tree trunks and bushes. Evidently the auditor won’t care, he won’t look back, he will know he is safe from the likes of them. Five minutes later he will stop on the curb, and Adam will realize that in addition to a thief he is an even more suspicious character– a bus rider. Adam will not have bus fare.
He will run up to the back of the bus and start beating and clawing at the windows, trying to sneak on somehow that way. Finally he will grab a handful of mud from the gutter and jam it into the bus exhaust pipe. When the bus tries to take off, the engine will stall out. Fortunately there will be no cars behind the bus. Probably because they will have already long since veered around it in order to maintain double-digit mph. And this wasn’t even one of the clean-running buses with sails lifted overhead.
Soon enough, something that stinks of fish is descending from the bus. He will start ambling towards Harvard Square. Adam will follow him, but his internal voices will be above him, lurking around in the tops of trees, making it hard for him to maintain covert anonymity. Sometimes they will keep him company on nights in the country, singing beautifully under the autumn moon. At other times they will fly over his head in a black V at midday, not leaving him alone but letting the world in on his secrets. One time he will spend a whole day trying to chase down a racist thought. He will try to coax it with grain, he will even throw one of his shoes at it, but it will flutter out of range, settling on a telephone wire, where it will croak its message over and over and try to shit on anyone passing below. Finally he will leave it be and wander off, where fortunately it won’t follow him. Nevertheless, he will be happy for their presence, because they were all to fly away and abandon him, his motives would remain a total mystery to him.
The Kennedy School will be off to his left, with its general appearance of a sidewalk risen to life. This will be the site of his first love. No, not the place where he will have had sex or kissed for the first time, or even saw the first girl he loved. No, this will be the place where his first feelings of love will wander into traffic after he is dumped by her, then staggers back to the park missing a sizable portion of its left leg, and expire under an oak tree. The groundskeepers will consider removing it, except that it will still be so young as to be quite small, almost a baby, so it will be no trouble to dig a little hole in the ground for it where it can, on a summer day, soak up through the soil an inspiring Kennedy phrase from the granite slabs nearby.
Adam will pull back into a doorway to let the auditor get further up the street. Then he will become aware of a conversation around the corner of the building to his left.
“He still hasn’t showed?”
“What are you asking me for? Can’t you see for yourself?”
“Maybe you’ve got a better vantage.”
“Why would he show up now? After all this time, don’t you think that probably means he’s not coming?”
“So why are we still waiting?”
“Do you want to leave after all this wait?”
“So when you talked to Boris, what exactly did he say?”
“I never talked to him directly. I was just told he was somebody we should talk to, and that he would come by in a few.”
“And they said to wait by the park?”
“No, I asked where I should go, and then they hung up, so I figured I should just stay where I already was.”
Adam will know this man talking to himself: Boris the mumbler. He will not even really be homeless. One day several months before he will have come to the square during his lunch hour and talked with the derelicts, as he will have often done before, and then just stopped and stayed, mumbling like this to himself.
Walking down the viper skin of the brick sidewalk, Adam will be passing First Parish. The reverend standing out front, who he will recognize as one handing out bread on Saturdays sometimes in the square, will step forward and try to take his arm.
“Ah, greetings, it’s so good to see you now that you’ve joined the kingdom. I can see clearly how deeply you’ve taken the Word into your heart!”
The reverend, will always be trying to convince people that they’ve already converted.
“You should join in our march this week in support of the homeless rights bill. It was passed in the Assembly only last week!”
He will also march only in support of causes that have already been decided.
“We always neglect the causes that have been and gone,” he will like to say. “We turn our back on them.”
“Come in, come in,” he will say to Adam and start dragging him into the church, and Adam, struggling to excuse himself in a way that doesn’t implicate him in a plan to rob a government official, will allow himself to be hauled inside. “Come inside,” the pastor will say. “The service was very sparsely attended last week. I guess maybe to those without a home my display of solidarity with them was not very appealing. And there was a lot of lightning. Anyway, I’ll make it up to all of you. Would you like something to eat?”
Adam will have heard that in these places they only need one drop of water to have a hold on you for life. On the other hand, maybe he really will think he’s converted. And anyway, he will need to think of how to feed his brother and sister. He will go inside with the pastor.
“I’ve lost my identity,” the pastor will say.
“Wait, what? Like, someone stole your bank card?”
“No, I’ve ceased to be who I am.”
“What are you talking about? Did you lose a job, or have a stroke?”
“No, you don’t understand. My body and my mind are not me, and what is me operates somewhere else. I have to read the news for word of what I’ve beyond the confines of my mind and my body: a home robbed, a gallery dedicated, a game lost and won at the same time. This is my ministry now: to roam the earth, trying to correct the misdeeds I might have done.
I’ve been having poor luck recently. It’s like everyone’s heard the Word and turned their back on it. If you ask me why I fight for causes that have already been decided, and why I try to spread the Word among the tombstones of the unbaptized dead, it’s because I believe the Church may be best able to do good works in the past. The people seem more redeemable there.”
“The flesh and blood of Christ, it’s true, has provided our sustenance for two thousand years and more through the ceremony known as the Holy Eucharist. But I didn’t stop with the body of our Savior. I’d given him the body of both my parents, my darling wife, and one of my children. And in return he gives me one body which is inexhaustible and doesn’t even give any signs of ever having been alive. I wondered, is this the exchange I’m to make until the end of my days? To give away those I love and receive in return the memory of a dethroned messiah? But then I realized what the Resurrection means, and how it redeems us even though we haven’t all become free of sin. It has ripped open the flow of time, and made it go backwards as well as forwards, so that I can now dream of my loved ones being born in to my life at the moment I miss them most, and of disappearing from it precisely at the second I no longer even know them.”
“Anyway, I need to go look for food. I have nothing for my brother and sister to eat. I had a fish stolen from me and I haven’t found anything else yet.”
“I’m really sorry, I wish there was something I could do. If only I had any food on me myself.”
“Don’t you have a whole pantry of food donations?”
“Oh, that’s not mine, I could ask, but you’d probably have a better shot at it yourself.”
“Well, I know you didn’t buy it, but you’re the pastor there, you can decide what to do with it.”
“No, no I’m not. I only go in there the same way you do.”
“Well, where’s your church then?”
“The streets are my church, and my home. I haven’t been able to offer a soul shelter indoors in quite some time.”
“Really? What happened to you?”
“About five years ago when my wife was getting really sick, and our kids were off in different states and couldn’t be reached, my family was falling apart in every direction, and I didn’t know what to do with myself, I felt my my ministry starting to fall off. I could tell because it got brittle and itchy. Finally it became so loose that I was able to pull my eyes out,” the pastor will say.
“I took them out and and turned them around. I had always wanted to see my face. Everyone thinks they’ve seen their own, but they’re only seen their reflection in a mirror, and I was suspicious of mirrors and didn’t want to take their accuracy on faith. Nor did I believe that a reflected image could ever be the equal of reality. But I was afraid that if I looked at myself for too long I might go blind. And I also thought that maybe looking back at the place from which my sight originated might not just reverse the object of vision but its nature. Maybe looking at myself wouldn’t be seeing in the opposite direction but the opposite of seeing, anti-sight. But finally I did it anyway, and what I saw was very different from the face I was used to seeing. It seemed to lack personality. I mean, I could see the openings where light and words and air and so forth went in and out, but I could no longer tell how the face felt about them. Though I guess that was partly because it had no eyes.”
“Did everything look the same when you put them back in?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you did put your eyes back in the socket, right?”
“No, are you crazy? You don’t just remove your eyes and then return them later like a library book. My eyes are blue.”
“No, your eyes are green.”
“Yeah, these are. But these are somebody else’s.”
“So…can you see at all then?”
“In a way. But imprinted on these eyes is the last image they ever saw alive.”
“And what was that?”
“What, did you…what happened? Did you kill them?”
“No, of course not. I was still a minister, and I had to attend to the last rites. And also…”
“No, it’s nothing. I can’t talk about it.”
“Who was it?”