Jerry Della Femina
MORRIS AND SARA GO TO CENTRAL PARK
Years ago, when my kids were very young, I took them to the children’s playground in Central Park. My daughter was intrigued by the park. “Who owns this park?” she asked. “You do,” I answered. I added, “There are very, very rich people who gave money to build this playground just for children like you.” “Very, very rich,” she said. “Very, very, very rich,” I answered. Then I went home and wrote this story:
MORRIS AND SARA GO TO CENTRAL PARK
“This is crazy, Morris. We’re going to get caught. They’ll put us in the papers, and all our friends will laugh at us.”
He stared at the television screen, which was completely out of focus. It looked like three Bill Beutels were giving him the news in black and white. The rabbit-ear antenna was perched precariously on the ancient RCA Victor television set. He wondered how many faces Beutel would have if he unhooked the antenna.
“Morris? Are you listening to me?” She started to cough.
He turned to her and took her hand. “She can’t make it through a whole sentence without losing her breath,” he thought.
“Morris, our friends will laugh.”
“Sara, our friends are all dead.”
“My cousin, Jack. He’s in a nursing home.”
“He’s blind. They don’t read the papers in nursing homes, and Jack never read a newspaper when he could see.”
“His children ...”
“Jack’s children have forgotten him. How are they going to remember us? Sara, we have nobody.”
“We’ll be embarrassed. You’ll see. We’ll be embarrassed,” she whispered.
“Sara, I’m 89. When you reach 89 there’s no one left alive to embarrass you. What do I care what strangers think? With you, it’s different, you’re only 86.”
She managed to smile and look sad at the same time.
She gave one last try. “All right, we’ll do it. But does it have to be tonight? I’m so tired, Morris, so tired …” her voice trailed off.
“We have to do it tonight. We have to do it while we both still have the strength. Sara, we’re not talking days anymore, we’re talking hours.”
“For me, not for you!” she almost yelled.
He was surprised at the strength in her voice. He lowered his voice and reached for her hand again.
“You. Me. What does it matter? We’re one person. You’re not leaving me alone,” he whispered.
“But why can’t we be like everyone else?”
“Because I don’t want to be a nobody. Because if Sammy was alive and he had children, it would be different. But he’s gone and our friends are gone and this is all we have to tell the world that Morris and Sara Abrams were on this earth and they had a wonderful son named Sammy who died too young.
“Sara, I won’t die a nobody. I was an elevator starter at 1407 Broadway. Not just an elevator starter – I was Chief Elevator Starter. And never once did those big shots complain about me. Remember what they said at the retirement ceremony? ‘Fifty-six years of outstanding service.’
“That was Sol Finklestein of Solida Frocks who said that. And he was a man who never had a good word for anyone. Thirty-five years of grunts every morning and then he made a wonderful speech about me … Morris Abrams.
“It’s the end, Sara. We only have a few days, and this is our last chance to make a difference. I want to leave something. I don’t want them to know about a fourth-floor, one-room apartment in the middle of the filth that lives on Tenth Avenue and 44th Street. This way they’ll know forever that there was a Morris and Sara Abrams!” He was shouting and now it was her turn to calm him down.
“Morris, can I see it?”
“I’ve had it here for a month and you refused to look at it. Now, all of a sudden you want to see it?”
“I want to try to understand.”
He didn’t say anything. He just bent down with a soft grunt and reached under their bed and pulled out a thin cardboard box and opened it.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked.
“Oh, Morris, it gives me chills! Look, I have goose bumps.”
“And it’s heavy,” he said. “They did a good job,” he added.
“Will they tell the police?”
“Sara, what do they know? They’re on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn. All they know are bowling trophies. Besides, I paid cash and gave them another name. I told them I was Sol Finklestein. He’s been dead for 15 years so he doesn’t need his name.”
“Morris,” she said, “you amaze me. How do you think of these things?”
“I thought about it one Sunday afternoon when we took Sammy to Central Park,” he answered proudly. “Now, Sara, we both must take a nap. I’m going to set the alarm for midnight. We have to rest, we have a lot of work to do.”
They climbed into bed after they slipped off their shoes and, fully dressed, they held each other the way they did when they were young. Soon Morris and Sara were fast asleep.
He thought he was the first one to wake up, but when he looked at her face, her eyes were wide open.
“It’s time,” he said, slowly getting off the bed and reaching for the cardboard box.
They put on their coats and hats without saying a word and walked slowly down the four flights of stairs from their tiny apartment.”
The corner of 44th and Tenth Avenue was crowded with night trash. A teenage prostitute was leaning against their door. As Morris opened it, her pimp was digging his fingers into her arm.
“It’s not fair,” she was whining, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“You get out of the way and let these people out of their house,” said the pimp, and yanked her arm. She yelped in pain. “Don’t you be acting for these folks. Ain’t nobody here to help you,” he said and pulled back his fist.
Morris and Sara rushed past them. Morris raised a hand and a cab jammed on its brakes. They climbed in. Morris said, “Central Park.”
Deep in the park, Washington “DC” Lewis sat on the backside of the bench that was his command post. He was happy. It had been a good night. Behind him, hidden under a bush, was a Sportsac bag that held two wristwatches, two gold wedding bands, six credit cards, two wallets, and almost $90 in loose cash. It also held a crack pipe he had made in his shop class at Rikers Island three sentences ago, and four yellow vials that he was saving as his reward for a hard night’s work.
Leyland “Punk” Stone came running along the path. DC kept staring straight ahead.
“DC. Glad I found you,” panted Punk, out of breath.
“I’m here when I’m not working or serving. You know that,” he said.
“Brother sent me,” said Punk.
“What does he want?”
“He said to tell you there’s new meat that just came into the park. He wants you to check them out.”
“Is he crippled?”
“He spotted them, but he don’t know what to do. Something strange. Said to tell you he’ll share if you help him.”
“I don’t share. If I walk there, I take it all. I’m the perp. When the ‘vic’ IDs me off my sheet, is Brother willing to share time with me?”
“Can I come with you?” asked Punk, who was known in the park to change his alliances faster than he would change his underwear.
“How many?” asked DC.
“Two. A man and woman.”
DC smiled. “You hold your foot on the girl’s neck while I clean her boyfriend, and I’ll let you keep the pocket change and any dollar bills.”
“OK. I’ll help, but they’re not boyfriend and girlfriend. These are two old bodies.”
“How old?” asked DC.
“Grandma and Grandpa old,” said Punk.
“Take me to them,” demanded DC and he stood up, stretching his 6-foot-2, 230-pound Rikers-toned muscled body.
Sara was standing, supporting herself against a lamppost. A few feet away, Morris was on one knee. He had a tiny gardener’s shovel in his hands and was digging.
“Morris, I’m afraid. Hurry.”
“Sara,” he was puffing, “we came this far. We must go through with it. I didn’t count on the dirt being so hard.”
“The cab driver will tell the police, and they’ll come looking for us.”
“Sara, his name was Abdul something. He couldn’t find Central Park again if his life depended on it. Karachi Park, yes. Central Park, never,” he said, smiling at his little joke.
“Morris, don’t talk. Dig before someone sees us.”
“Sara, there’s no one in the park. It’s almost 1:30 in the morning.”
In the brush, less than 50 feet away, predatory eyes were watching their every move.
“Sting,” DC concluded. “Jiveass cops don’t have no respect. They think DC is stupid. No respect. Punk, you put your hands under that old lady’s dress and you gonna find a pair of balls and a .38 police special.”
“You sure, DC? They look real old,” said Punk.
“You dissin’ me, Punk? Go near those two and the sisters at Rikers are going to be licking their chops, waiting for your first shower. Now, you run and tell Brother that DC don’t want those two cops to make a collar tonight.
“While you’re at it, find Sam the Man and the others and tell them all DC said, ‘Watch out, there are cops in drag working the park tonight.’ I’m going home to nod. I can’t believe I walked this far to watch two cops digging a hole in the ground.”
An hour later Sara helped an exhausted Morris to his feet. He was puffing.
“It’s done,” he said, trying to catch his breath.
“Let me see,” she said.
Morris reached into his pocket and took out a small pen lighter and flashed it at the ground.
“Morris …” she sighed, and started to cry.
They walked arm-in-arm on a path toward the Fifth Avenue entrance of the park.
Suddenly, she stopped. “Morris,” she said, “I’m glad you insisted.”
He whispered, “Now we must go home.” He stopped and put his hand on her shoulders. “There’s something we must do.”
A short distance away, Punk, who had been following them in the brush, stared and thought to himself, “Wait until I tell DC tomorrow that those two cops actually stopped and kissed each other.”
Eight years had passed when Milos Kluewski spotted another cigarette butt and speared it with the nail point at the end of the broomstick he carried. With one motion he dropped the butt into the brown sack that was slung over his arm.
The Parks Department paid him $175.80 every two weeks to walk the park and keep it free of debris. He paid $25 of his salary back to the man at the Ukranian Democratic Club who got him the job. Milos spoke no English but moved in on gum wrappers, potato chip bags and other rubbish with enthusiasm. He liked his job.
Now he neared his favorite part of the park, the playground on 75th Street. Inside, about 40 children were riding the swings, climbing the monkey bars, laughing and chasing each other in an endless game of tag. On the benches that circled the playground, a United Nations of nannies chatted with each other and ignored their charges.
Milos smiled and watched the children. One little boy bit into a frankfurter and let a paper napkin fly out of his hands. Milos walked over, fielded the napkin and tossed it into his sack. Then he paused, reached into his back pocket and took out a cloth. He walked to a place at the entrance of the playground and kneeled down. He leaned over and rubbed a brass plaque that was embedded in the ground.
The sound of two children behind him, giggling uncontrollably, made him smile. He stared at the plaque he couldn’t read and was satisfied that once again it shined like new.
THIS PLAYGROUND IS FOR THE ENJOYMENT
OF CHILDREN OF ALL RACES AND RELIGIONS.
IT IS A GIFT FROM MORRIS AND SARA ABRAMS,
IN MEMORY OF THEIR SON, SAMUEL ABRAMS.
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