The Minstrel

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Cindy used the riot to her benefit.

It had been easy to escape from the shelter. No one had been paying attention; all of the workers had been congregated together watching some soap opera when the news interrupted, so she used the outrage to take her duffel bag (something she’d borrowed permanently from the attendant) of various necessary stolen items and her little self to the street. She got away from the shelter as fast as she could, keeping her eyes out for any cop that was around. Chances are they would be where the action was and not overly worried about a street girl, but she had been a witness to murder.

Well, she wasn’t exactly a witness, but she had been the closest thing. She had talked to the guy who had been killed and bummed a closet space from him. It wasn’t the first time it happened. She found some fat guy in the bar who looked lonely and went somewhere with him, and usually they were too drunk to get laid so she wound up being a shoulder to cry on and got a free night to sleep. Besides, if they ever found her she couldn’t tell then anything. She had been to drunk to notice anything other than the fact that something dangerous was going on and she got out of there before she could get even a glimpse of him. As far as she was concerned, they had the right guy, and she wasn’t interested in being the Great White Hope to set the record the straight for all the racists. Hell, she probably was a racist. She didn’t like anyone right now, least of all herself.

Daylight waning. She headed down a darkened road, one of those roads that little women like her were supposed to be afraid of. Darkness didn’t faze her, nor did any variations of concrete. As far as she was concerned, she lived through eleven years of darkness in the fanciest of concrete, and she was alive to talk about it. She wasn’t about to get scared of a little dark tunnel at this point.

There was someone sleeping by a dumpster. She felt a twinge of empathy and a shock of alarm in the same breath. This was not where she expected to see one of her own, on the border of north Bronx. Three miles south, maybe, but not here. She hoped this wasn’t some crazy guy out to get her. Cautiously, she approached.

The body stirred, turning so that the face of the man confronted her full force. The motion startled her, but not nearly as much as when she saw the face. IT was the man who ran after her a few weeks ago. She was filled with a sense of fear, even though he lay here wounded, powerless to do anything to her. She still felt hunted. Her instincts warned her against anyone who needed her. They could be a trap. Anyone who wanted her must be an enemy. Only she could choose. And now, she chose to run.

She ran from that place, away from whatever strange anxiety she felt when she was with this man. He was frightening to her well or injured. Her guilt at her desertion was fleeting. She could not stop. She could not care. Her life was at stake. And that was the only thing that she had left. It was the only thing that mattered to her now.

Jonathan left his office at four-thirty as usual, despite the saccharine imploring of his boss to stay where he was safe, in other words, where the white people were. Jonathan took one look at Frawley’s red face which reeked of alcohol and immediately departed. Even in the aftermath of a riot, the streets seemed safer than the prospect of being caged into the same four rooms with a narcissistic drunk.

Vicious glares visited him as he walked to his home. Only when he had been involved with his daughter’s mother had he felt so self-conscious of his color. Ever since then, his identity was tainted as a white man, not just a man. It was strange how in so many places that if you referred to someone as a man or a woman, you just assumed they were white. Anyone else, at best, was described as a black man, Oriental woman, or whatever else. Living where the white man was minority opened his eyes. If he was going to refer to anyone by race, he had to be part of that too. That was part of equality. So, here he was, Jonathan Pfeifer, white man, Swiss American. Hair so white blond it looked like it was stolen from the snow of the Alps. He was walking down a black section of Westchester, going to the subway to go to Riverdale. He saw a bum drinking beer. Jonathan felt guilty in his fine clothes, at least relatively fine clothes. He gave the guy a dollar.

Jonathan had always lived with the conflict of good and evil, racism and love. His parents had been wonderful loving people who helped anyone in need. They had been part of rallies in the sixties to liberate blacks, sponsored SDS meetings, fun loving. Jonathan remembered laughter in his early years. Then tragedy struck; a fiery car crash took out both his parents and an unborn sibling. So little Jonathan, who had been at summer camp at the time, was sent to live with his paternal grandparents, stern people who he had always been afraid of. They tried to instill messages of hate in him, but he resisted, instead making friends with anyone who his grandparents didn’t like. He was alternatively labeled as difficult and gullible by them. IT was not until Jonathan was older that he realized that his parents were jealous of anyone who seemingly could influence him when they couldn’t. They had both died over five years ago, and he had the sad feeling of not knowing who they were except in their caricature ways. He felt like they were too busy hating everyone to know him either, and he had lived with them for ten years. IT made him feel vastly alone.

Then came his adolescent life, where he rejected all whites and anything to do with it. He set out for Oklahoma to work with the Peace Corps instead of going to Harvard as he was expected. He worked on a reservation, where he had met Jenny, Raven’s mother. That was when he truly learned that love had no color. Issues of gender and race seemed so petty then. He wished that he could go back there. Instead, he had Ashley, the wife that he could present to high society. He never married Jennifer, and it made him feel no better than if he was his grandparents’ kin.

He loved Ashley. He had been in love from the start. When he met her, it was with a deep affection, nothing like the passion he felt for Jenny. It had been in college; he was thirty, she twenty-one, daughter of debutantes and high society. Every time he thought of Ashley, her very image sustained him. He was a single father ostracized by his family struggling to get through college, deeply in pain over the loss of Raven’s mother. Ashley’s smile and laughter warmed him. She was full of life, the life of every party they were at. He was proud to have her on his arm, and she was in awe of him; his unconventional life, his wild experiences, and enthralled that a man as old and as experienced as him could be interested in a little girl from Westchester.

So much in love he was, and so afraid that he might lose this gift, that the two were married within five months in quick civil wedding. It was his victory, her rebellion. Jonathan Pfeifer was not what the elder Thomases had in mind. Jonathan and Ashley were married for six months when he discovered that the Thomases had been arranging for a patriarch’s son to marry their daughter once she finished college, which she had been two years away from doing. Both sides of the family accused them of a shotgun wedding, though she had been a virgin on their wedding night. When six months passed and no child showed, the Pfeifers insinuated that their great-grandchild aborted, and the Thomases accused Jonathan of being a gold-digger. One time he heard them call him a n-lover in front of Raven. They were not allowed in the house for two months. That was back in the days that Ashley was on his side.

Jonathan and Ashley managed by themselves for awhile. Ashley valiantly refused any stipend from her parents, trying to convince Jonathan that she had never been in love with anyone but him, and Jonathan let himself believe it. He consoled himself with the fact that he had been her only lover, and felt flattered by her devotion. Ashley worked in a JC Penney as a salesgirl and became a devoted stepmother to Raven, while Jonathan went to law school and night and worked as a law clerk during the day. Then one night he sat with Raven in his lap and noticed that she no longer was a baby, she was a child. He hadn’t even seen it coming, he had been so busy. He cried in bed that night, and Ashley held him but he was too wrapped up in his own worries to notice anyone but himself.

Now he noticed, but if he wondered if his concern had come just a little too late in his marriage. Rarely did he receive a kiss or a hug from his wife when he walked in the door. Gone were the days where she stood with him against her family. He would come home in the expectation of hugging his daughter only to come home to an empty, desolate house. Ashley would be out shopping with her mother, and Raven would be at a neighbor’s house. Ashley said that she didn’t want to hurt Raven because Lillian Thomas didn’t care for her. Jonathan would get angry at Ashley’s veiled implication that she had changed loyalties back to her mother. He would think of the man that Ashley had been intended for, and he would feel used. An adolescent rebellion. By rejecting him, Ashley was looking grown-up. Mature people didn’t associate with white trash.

He thought of Jenny again. She was a wet brain. At the tender age of thirty-one and with a brand new baby, something snapped in her brain and sent her forever into waking oblivion. She had not even recognized her daughter. Jonathan wondered if she was still alive. He wondered what would have happened if she had never snapped, and felt guilty that he never married her, yet felt grateful that his single status was what enabled him to remove Raven from the situation. He missed Jenny terribly, and sent a thought of love to her, hoping somehow across the wire, she received the message.

Just as he turned a corner to head to the subway station, he came upon a figure that startled him. A crumpled form, lying on its side near a pile of glass and other debris with blood surrounding his body. Jonathan froze in his place. Never had he come upon a sight like this, even in his peace Corps days. The figure seemed dead. Slowly and methodically he approached the figure, praying to the Great Spirit that he had briefly encountered for strength in case he was confronted with death.

The man was alive, though unconscious and severely underdressed for an October night in New York; he had no jacket or socks. Gently, he pushed the man on his back so he could determine the extent of his injuries. There was a gash on the man’s right temple. A bloodied rock lay guiltily nearby. The man was a victim of the violence today, he guessed. The street remained quiet. It was as thought all had left so as not to be blamed. Caucasian or White Hispanic. Six-three, about two hundred pounds. Gash to head but otherwise in seemingly good health. Jonathan did not mention his garb. He had a feeling that they would think, as he suspected himself, that this was a drifter. They usually didn’t waste time for drifters here.

As he waited he got a closer look at the man’s face. Something about him looked familiar. His expression of repose touched Jonathan. He looked so peaceful. Jonathan was almost envious.

After what seemed like an eternity, the ambulance finally arrived. Jonathan was aware of the glares he and his friend received as the technicians handled the victim, They handled the stranger with timid hands, as though if they touched him, they would catch a disease. One of the medics was black. The attitude of the people sickened Jonathan, especially the black medic. She of all people should know.

Jonathan rode in the ambulance with the man, holding his hand and staring at his face, feeling nuts at not being able to place the man. They arrived at the hospital, and Jonathan mentally gave him the name of Raul, the first name that came to his head. He watched as Raul was wheeled away. One of the nurses commented on Raul’s odor and held her nose. Jonathan hadn’t even noticed the odor.

He looked at his watch. Seven-ten. He was ten minutes late already. He knew he should call home, but he did not. The thought of Ashley’s insistent voice made him weary, and he was weary enough already. It was over five minutes before he was even able to find the strength to pick himself up to make the journey back home. He suddenly felt very old.

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