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The Pretenders

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Doug thought he bore no responsibility for getting Carl run over and killed.

Doug pulled with one hand the handle of the cart jammed with clothes from the

Laundromat in the flimsy wired shopping cart he had ineptly assembled long ago.

The huge load forced loose five thin wires from the thick metal frame, slipping from

holes on the side nearest his legs. Bored with this monthly chore, before realizing it the

tilted two wheels had run over a crooked trail of laundry spilled on the sidewalk.

He saw the clean clothes lying there and this disrupted his compulsion for order. He

craved reality neither torn nor shredded. He had to draw the cart six blocks to his home.

He wanted to but didn’t go fetal on the sidewalk: a ruined routine only meant trouble.

A man touched Doug’s shoulder, and said, “You’ve dropped these,” handing Doug two

shirts, a towel and three socks. “It looks like you need help.”

Doug saw the man’s opaque glasses, his white cane, his big pot mostly covered by a

short sleeve shirt, his suspenders holding up white trousers.

“A matching set, pants and cane,” sneered Doug, but no reaction from the man. “Hell

happens fast in my life.”

“I can Braille the clothes even though I’m unsighted,” he said. “My name’s Carl.”

Doug told him his, Carl putting out his hand that Doug finally shook. Very funny,

Braille.

They stuffed clothes slowly into the half-empty cart. The unsighted man’s hands and

arms touched Doug’s as they stuck unfolded clothes helter shelter into the cart, unlike the

neat piles Doug made at the Laundromat.

“Has your sense of touch increased since you became blind?” Doug asked.

“I didn’t become anything. I was totally blind at birth,” Carl said, with a twist of anger.

The clothes taken from the sidewalk, Doug started to leave.

“Did your parents have syphilis?” Doug said. He wanted that to be his parting shot.

“I’m an orphan. Don’t assume anything about the unsighted.” Carl smiled when he

spoke, either to conceal hostility or because he was just another happy, i.e., stupid

man according to Doug.

“It’s nice of you to help. Maybe you can traipse behind me next time I do laundry.”

“I’ll walk with you,” Carl said, waving his cane like a bomb detector searching for

explosive devices. He walked point, Doug lagging behind. The traffic increased

since Doug entered the Laundromat; this distraction made pulling the cart harder.

“You sure know this route for a guy who can’t see. How come I haven’t seen you

around?” How come you don’t get the fuck away from me, you’ve served your purpose,

get lost before I snap your cane over my knee, Doug wanted to say.

“I’ve never been on this stretch before,” Carl said. “And enough with the ‘seen you

around’ stuff. That pisses me off.”

“Dammit, I can see that,” Doug said, spittle flying on Carl’s black glasses. “Life

pisses me off. It makes me want to sit alone in the dark.”

Carl pressed the walk button and waited for the green. Braille again?

They walked abreast on the now wider sidewalk.

“Shit, man, don’t ever say, ‘I can see that’. What are you, a bigot who hates the
unsighted?” For a disabled man, in Doug’s eyes, Carl was not Kosher. The cart’s wire

came loose again and pushed into the back of his thighs.

“What are you, a vampire sucking up pity whenever possible?” Doug said. He turned

his head when he spoke, his neck contorted, bits of saliva wetting Carl’s ear. Doug

wanted to stop, fix the cart, stick his face into Carl’s and rip those glasses off.

“Pity sucks. I don’t need yours. Where would you be if I hadn’t helped you. You’re a

whiner. Us cane tappers sense defects people like you can’t.”

With that, Doug grabbed Carl’s arm, squeezing his fleshy bicep tighter as Carl resisted.

The cane slipped from Carl’s hand. Doug flung his glasses off and shoved him. Carl fell

into the dirt near a shrub.

“Dammit, you’re not blind. They’re bloodshot. You’re an insomniac is all,” Doug

said. “And a damn liar.”

Straddling Carl’s hips, Doug snapped his suspenders so many times until Carl yelled,

“Stop it. Let me go.” A bug crawled over Carl’s face. Traffic flowed, as usual.

Doug got up, grabbed the clothes, and tossed them out of the cart to use the end of one

wire to gouge Carl’s eyes. He hauled the nearby empty cart upon the chest of fallen Carl

and tried to poke a circular metal piece into his eyes but the handle got in the way. The

cart was no weapon. Carl heaved his chest many times until Doug flopped to one side,

much as a wrestler did to avoid getting pinned and lose the match. Doug rose.

Carl got up without his glasses. “I’ll get even, you dirty shit,” he said breathlessly,

his face red. Carl stepped into the gutter.

He jaywalked into the path of an eighteen-wheeler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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