I loathe the night. My old joints complain and my bones ache. By day, I have the distraction of friends and a life unmolested by numbers. No numbers that plague me in the dark. When the sun goes down we drink and seek escape. Under the bridge we huddle like puppies, stealing each other’s warmth as cars drone above us, their tires humming over the surface of our concrete ceiling.
Jesus, I’m so old. I have lived beneath the bridge since my life was stolen. By whom I have no idea, only a dim memory of a different time when I was warm at night. In my mind cave, I hunker down and fight the disjointed memories, desperate to hide from the faces that urge my confused mind to sense what was.
But I refuse to think and wrap my blanket tighter around my shoulders, longing for daylight. Thoughts twitter like annoying birds, pulling me out of the womb of drink. I need more alcohol, or the night will swallow me, drive me more insane with the ghosts of unrecognized dead. A friend sleeps by me—I know he has half a bottle. While I lie tortured, he sleeps because he has drowned his consciousness. Come morning he won't remember what he had, only that he needs more. Carefully pushing aside his coat, I see the bottle tucked carelessly under his heavy arm. With a slight tug, it slides into my hand. Half a bottle of pretty good stuff. Vodka, not wine. Nearly a pint.
With my breath held, I open the top as carefully as a safecracker. This is wrong, I know. Danny will need this in the morning, he always needs a drink in the morning, I surrender to the need and drink deeply from the glass throat of salvation. The voices quiet and the faces of the ghosts fade as the liquor fills the empty spot, quiets the haunts and drives away the numbers. As I finish the last gulp and cough into my blanket. Light flashes above where we sleep and a voice hisses an urgent warning to others.
They come so often now we expect the pain and the torment. There is no fear because the vodka has made me full and peaceful. I’ve survived their beatings before. These boys with the shaved heads hate us, they come to steal from us and drive us away. But their words and fists drum on deaf ears and defiant eyes.
We stay because we love our bridge; we love our clan and we will always stick together. The light blinds me as I am pulled to my feet, but I am too drunk to see and too peaceful to care. One slaps my head and then pulls my face to the light by a handful of my tangled beard. I squint at the brightness. Through my half-lidded eyes, the light looks like the soft glow of the opening of heaven.
“That him?” A voice unfamiliar.
“Yeah, it’s him. I’ll be goddamned!”
The voice of a ghost. The numbers haunt it. I wish I knew what they meant. So many zeros and so much shame.
“What if the others wake up?”
“They won’t. These rags are too fucked up.”
I am ragged.
The numbers haunt that voice.