Peas in a Pod: part three
Peas in a Pod
Today, at the top of the attic stairs, he saw a promising light, a bluish infusion over the bare boards of the landing…this, and the faint breezes that lowered by a degree or two the attic’s stifling heat, implied an open window. The door to Schumacher’s room was stoppered ajar. Following Fish, Richard ducked inside, and saw only a chest of drawers, a washbasin, a narrow iron bedstead, a trunk at its foot stacked with books. Lawrence took a crouching stance in the corner, rested his back there, and wiped sweat from his face with the hand that held the gun, thus waving and pointing it at his brother and Fish.
Fish, baking in this upper story oven, began to radiate an odor of doneness.
“Schumacher, you hiding out there?” The major stuck his head out the attic window.
“State your business, Fish.”
“What you owe Madam Purfoy? Cause they’s come to collect.”
“The rumor…” Schumacher said, and Richard saw his head move into view, past the fall of the curtain. He could make out nothing of Schumacher’s face, silhouetted as it was against the setting sun, which had broken through irregular rooftops with the orange incandescence of a smelting furnace.
“…is that our chatelaine had sent round only one enforcer. And the inmates ran that one off empty-handed. J. Tinker, of course, took fright. But Tinker is wanted by the town policeman. Major, I’m not coming in. Not til the sun goes down.”
In answer to this, Fish’s bare feet seemed to give from under him, and falling out of the dialogue, he came down on the bed, breathing hard. Richard was curious to know where, in fact, Schumacher was. He crossed to the window, put his head out, and saw the alley he’d seen the day before from Hopper’s window two floors below. From this height, it was no more than a soot-colored streak overhung by eaves, drains, clothing hung on lines, in a broken pattern that diminished down the block. Richard felt his ankles go soft. All in a rush his one-handed balance on the window sash became inadequate. The roof sloped away under his eyes like a chute. The top of the opposite house sat lower, looming so close that Schumacher―who must be fearless―might have jumped across to it from his perch. On its flat surface Richard saw a blanket…on this, a near naked man and woman lay motionless side by side. Schumacher sat on the window ledge. The width of a brick supported his back; one foot was braced against a fence of decorative tinwork.
“You see how it is,” he said to Richard. “Pretty well suffocating up here until the night sets in. I’ve been told I owe six and a half dollars. I happen to be flush at the moment. Stand back, please, and I’ll climb through.”
An arm, bent at the elbow, snaked round the curtain; the hand groped backwards, and caught a grip on the window’s molding. After a queasy moment in which Schumacher seemed to ratchet up momentum by swaying himself forward and back, a leg was thrown over the windowsill and he staggered all at once into the room. Stopping short of collision with Lawrence, he widened his eyes at the gun, tiptoed himself around, then looked over his nose at the rug, breaking into a smile. Schumacher was shirtless. He screwed up his eyes and offered a silent hand.
A Figure from the Common Lot
(2017, Stephanie Foster)