Winner – First Selection: Fiction Category
We all reacted differently the first time we heard the news that the old man had won the lottery. Scotty Fisher, who’d just learned to smoke had a Marlboro dangling from his lips. He jumped from his perch on the stone lion that sat on Mrs. Brown’s stoop, and yelled, “What the fuck!” The half burned cig flipped from his pinkish lips as he yelled and burned a clean hole in his new jeans.
Jay McDonald, who was sitting on the steps near Scotty, almost choked on several Twizzlers that were stuffed into his mouth. Jay was the fat one of our group; and the only one who’d never learned how to throw a baseball, or shoot a free throw. When Jay was four his dad left the house to go get a six pack at, Monty’s Liquor Warehouse, and never returned. That very day, Jay started putting on weight.
Bobby Cantano slapped his leg and started laughing like a hyena, because that’s what he always did.
But Alfonso De Luca, barely cracked a smile. Alfonso was the cool kid. He merely looked off down Decatur Avenue and said, “Well, I hope he gets his fucking leg fixed.”
All five of us grew up in the borough of Queens. We met when we got caught up in the aftermath, of Alfonso, cracking an egg in Mr. Abernathy’s winter cap. Mr. Abernathy discovered his rabbit fur hat filled with yellow goo and demanded to know who had perpetrated this heinous act. No one, in the fifth grade class of the Bronx Elementary School #124 wanted to say a word. Alfonso was cool; even back then.
But Cynthia Johnson, who had a reputation of being a rat; blurted out that it was a boy who’d done it. Upon further questioning Cynthia clammed up, she might be a rat, but she wasn’t completely stupid. Mr. Abernathy sent the girls outside with Mrs. Dyches class; then took us boys to the coatroom. This was where we bonded, as we waited for the punishment that we all knew was going to be bad. Alfonso told us to keep quiet, and he’d make it right. So we did.
That was five years ago, and every day since, we’ve gathered on the stoop of Mrs. Brown’s apartment house at the corner of Decatur and Bedford Park to talk about girls, or whatever else crossed our minds, but it was mostly girls; with the exception of the old man we had named Peg.
Peg was a mystery to us. To our young eyes he looked like he was a hundred. But in reality he was probably only fifty, maybe sixty. He was always seated across the street from Mrs. Brown’s stoop in front of Carmine’s Pizza Shop. He had a rickety old table, and a small yellow stool, that had one leg shorter than the other two. So he always sat crooked; with one leg fully extended. Peg was skinny, with thin arms like pencils. No matter what the weather was he wore long sleeved plaid shirts and had the sleeves rolled up to his armpits. His skin was old and leathery like the seat of a broken down Cadillac. He sat on that corner all day, every day, carving little wooden birds with a long skinny knife that we called, The Butcher. Peg sold his little birds for two dollars apiece.
There was never a moment when we gathered on the stoop, that Peg wasn’t at his spot, carving those birds and whistling to himself.
One hot summer day, several years back, as we talked, and fantasized about Becky Moynahan’s breasts being all sweaty; Bobby Cantano got wide-eyed and pointed across the street. We all looked and saw the old man sitting on his yellow stool wearing shorts.
Alfonso De Luca said, “That’s just wrong,” and lit up a Lucky Strike.
Jay stuttered when he asked, “Where’s his leg?”
All five of us stared across the street trying to understand how a man with one leg balances on such a tippy stool.
Then, De Luca said, “You’re all a bunch of fucking idiots! He’s a peg leg. It’s laying on the ground next to him.”
Bobby Cantano gestured like he was going to throw up. Then he asked, “Why did he take it off? Why is he wearing shorts? Why does it look like the old stump behind my house?”
Jay giggled. “If he was sitting just right, we could see up his pants leg.”
“Yeah, like we’d want to,” Scotty retorted, as he stood next to Alfonso with his arms crossed. Poor Scotty, he always wanted to be just like De Luca.
Alfonso snuffed out his Lucky Strike with the scuffed toe of his high tops. “If you ask me, cops oughta arrest his ass for being obscene. A man just doesn’t drop his leg on the sidewalk like that. It ain’t right.”
From that day forward, the old man across the street became Peg Leg; later revised to just, Peg. The only one of our group to ever talk to, Peg, was Jay.
One afternoon we sat around the stoop playing poker. Jay had to piss and went down the alley next to Mrs. Brown’s apartment building. While he was gone, we set up the cards so we knew Jay would lose. Scotty dealt the hand and proposed a bet. Whoever lost had to go cross the street, go straight up to Peg, pull their pants down, and moon him. When Jay lost, we all thought he’d cry. But he didn’t. He just walked straight across the Boulevard, turned to face us, and pulled his pants down.
You could’ve heard Bobby’s hyena laugh three blocks away. When Jay finished, he pulled his pants back up, and turned back toward Peg. Seconds ticked by, and we were breathless, waiting to see what would happen next. De Luca tried to start another bet. He thought Peg would smash Jay in the mouth. But he didn’t, and Jay just came strolling back across the Boulevard. When he got to the stoop, he held up a five dollar bill.
We all gasped.
“Peg gave me five bucks.”
“What the-!” Alfonso snatched the bill from Jay’s hands.
“Is it real?” Scotty asked.
“It’s real alright,” Alfonso said, holding the crisp bill up to the sky.
“What did he say?” Bobby asked.
“He said thanks for the show.” Jay grabbed the bill back from De Luca.
“What the fuck…” De Luca said.
The day we heard Peg won the lottery, we already knew something was up because the old man wasn’t on his corner. Peg being missing brought a great degree of conversation, and speculation, everything from he was dead, to he’d been snatched by aliens. But, Mrs. Brown left the building and told us the news. She said Peg had bought the ticket right there at the Grab-N-Go store on the corner; that it was worth millions.
“Well, that’s the last time we’ll see old Peg,” De Luca pronounced.
But the very next day Peg was back on his corner, sitting on his stool, and acting like nothing had happened. This brought on an even larger amount of lively conversation and speculation.
Bobby Cantano even went so far as to accuse, Mrs. Brown, of being a liar. But just about the time we’d gotten ourselves worked into a complete frenzy; Scotty Fisher’s older brother, Jason, came by. He asked us if we’d heard the news about the old wood carver. We said yeah, but it must’ve been a lie, because he was back on his corner. But Jason told us it was true. The cute girl who worked at the Grab-N-Go had told him so.
Then, Jason dropped the bomb of all bombs. He told us that, Peg, had given all the money away. The first thing he did was buy old Mrs. Kretchner a new wheelchair. Then, he gave promise notes for cash to everyone in the neighborhood who came asking.
Jason said he was pissed. He didn’t get the word until the money was all gone. “A million bucks gone like that,” he snapped his fingers and left.
“What the fuck…” Alfonso said.
“Why would he give all his money away?” Jay asked.
“Because he’s an idiot!” Scotty shouted.
“Sure wish we’d known,” Bobby sighed.
Me? All I could think about was the fact that, Peg, was probably the most generous person I had never actually bothered to say hello to.
We all sat down on the stoop and watched the old man across the street whistle while he carved something that looked like a one legged cuckoo bird.