Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (Peas in a Pod)
They sat on Mrs. Purfoy’s stoop. Soon, Thomas would be dispatched to tell them she did not like them doing so; that tenants had no privilege to loiter before the premises, making her house look cheap.
“But then Fish said he didn’t get arrested.”
Richard’s chin was cushioned in his hands. He did not want to puzzle over Fish and his stories. “Well, he don’t tell the truth.”
They heard the voice of Mrs. Purfoy coming from her porch, like the scree of a hawk driving a songbird from cover. The sultry air carried even the creak of the window’s hinge to Richard’s ears. He knew Thomas would not climb the hill to deliver Mrs. Purfoy’s rebuke and chivvy them up until he’d finished the chore she’d surprised him at. Richard stood. His head ached, but a walk would cure it.
“Us’uns,” Lawrence stood as well, and complacent, having memorized the way more readily than Richard, took the lead, “got to make Fish tell what become of them two from the boat.”
Fish required no ceremony or occasion marking the passage from his bolting of the door against the brothers, to his admitting of them into the basement. Named in Mrs. Purfoy’s book as Tinker’s below-stairs neighbor (and in fact still owing), Fish, besides having acquired Tinker’s possessions, had enlarged his apartment to include Tinker’s old room.
Some feature of the tenement’s architecture―a drainpipe connecting to the sewer, maybe―was concealed here under an angled panel of tinplate. Fish ducked, as he guided them through Tinker’s door, splaying his fingers against the metal to avoid bumping his head. The metal bounced and fell into place with a rattle like thunder. Lawrence, pleased by this, pushed the panel up and down, up and down, until it grated and shifted at the corner. A thin triangle of malodorous open space appeared.
“Cut that out.” Richard lowered his own head, not enough, and felt the metal edge catch and yank at his hair.
Daylight through Tinker’s window, altered by a film of grit into a snowy mottling, fell over four drawers without a dresser. From one of these Fish took up a cigar end. There were other butts, and half-chewed plugs, in this particular drawer, assorted in size and dirt; and seeing Lawrence stare, Fish said, “One cent.”
Lawrence dug in his pocket. “Richard!”
“Take one anyway, if you want it.” Richard looked Fish in the eye. “You owe one cent less on the rent.”
The Tinker collection had also a pasteboard box, or the lid of one, in which curled a putrid spine, next to a long-snouted, needle-toothed skull.
“Thems the only bones I got.” Fish, with this comment, acknowledged Richard’s inspection. “Not enough of em to sell. Got me a chunk iron, weighs near a pound. If you’uns ain’t got money, we might take that along.”
Peas in a Pod
(2017, Stephanie Foster)