Mr. Darkness (CDSS)
by Douglas Clegg
Youth is a cliff. You leap, and repair the broken bones later.
When you’re older, you draw the map, retrace the steps, and find the cliff’s edge again and wonder: would anyone ever jump if they knew how far down it went?
Ask Haversham about cliffs and broken bones.
If she could talk, she’d tell you all. I bet she knows the Throat of Manhattan — that cavernous well that drops to the pitch black boulevards of Deep City. I bet she knows the inhabitants of the lightless world–who exist below the squalid tunnels of the city — those people who are less than human (some say) because they’ve lived for generations in the dark.
There she is now — see her? Sitting in her wheelchair, far from the subway platform, half in shadow, half in light. Old beyond years. Shriveled. Her eyes, clouded. Her lips curled slightly in an unintended snarl.
What does she think when she watches that girl — does she remember being young?
Haversham is all white hair and translucent wrinkled skin; her hands, scored with the lines and veins of old age; she makes strange movements with her hands when the arthritis doesn’t knot them up as if they’re snakes wriggling in mid-air.
In her lap, the little gray cardboard shoe box, its lid tied down with twine.
But who is she, really? — when the lights go out and her whisper is against your cheek. Do you smell her sour milk breath? Do you feel her curled hand reaching toward you as if she wants you to listen?
Do you really want to know what’s inside that plain shoebox, what secret she’s keeping? Does it hold photos of her youth — or wads of dollar bills — or even the brown shoes she once went dancing in when she could walk?
Haversham, with her little knit blanket and flower-print dress and scrawny bird-head and the way she tries to speak, but can’t seem to form the words she wants to say — almost as if she doesn’t know language anymore.
And if she could speak — will you stop to listen?
My name is Mina, and my brother’s name is Leo. Leo mostly raised me — even though he’s just a year older than me, he managed to be cook, thief, nurse and even my protector. Our father could do none of this.
Our father is Howard and he’s blind and prone to fevers and muscle pains. Our mother — Marguerite — died when I was young.
In those days, we lived under Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, but not so far down that we are in Deep City. That’s important to know, because it means we’re still above the darkest part of the underworld that opens beneath Macy’s and Saks and Bloomingdales and, yes, even the Excelsior Hotel off of Sixth Avenue.
We fell through some cracks, once upon a time. My father feels we jumped, but I think we were shoved.