Rise and Rise and Live

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Early morning, but the sky's still dark. They huddle for warmth, their bodies pressed against each other. When one shifts to ease the discomfort of the cold hard ground, everybody wakes. Shivering cold. Feels like they haven't slept at all, a white film of thirst on their tongues, a vast empty space in their stomachs, and the thought is there, threading through their minds like a busy needle. This little room, so far down. Could be days, could be weeks.

It starts as a whimper then grows to a resonant moan. Eddie is crying. "My seventeen-year-old son won't talk to me. I live in a shitty studio apartment that I can't even afford. My comic stuff dried up ten years ago, but it doesn't matter that I can't get a gig because I can't even get a laugh." The huddle tightens in on him. "I've been fooling myself that this was some dry period and it's gonna get better, that I'll get back on track and be able to take my son on his college tours, and pay for his college and take him to a ballgame or whatever he's into, I'm not sure because he won't talk to me and his mom thinks it's better that way. Like if I don't have money, I've got nothing to offer him." Eddie's body convulses in a fit of sobs. "And I'm not strong. I don't know if I can dig my way out of this. I think everything I do just gets me deeper." The first light must have broken because Brie can see Eddie's wrecked face. "I wrote every single one of those Yelp reviews. There were never any celebrities, and the only reason you even know about this weekend is because I caught the guy who sells ad space for the weeklies getting a blowjob in the men's room of the comedy club his wife and I were working. She and I were pals, but he told me that he'd give me ten thousand dollars of free ad space if I didn't rat." Eddie's lips quiver. "I'm still in love with my wife but she hates me. Says I tricked her, told her I was going to be a star. That we'd live on the beach and she'd get to do her flower arranging and fly her mother to California for Christmas to show off what she had become." He drops his face into his hands. "Fucked it up." He looks back up, his eyes drown. "I'm sorry. So sorry."

***

Sun's up, the birds are out for breakfast.

"Pancakes and bacon—no, sausage—and coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice." This is Susan's dream meal.

"Round Table Pizza," Brie says with certainty. "Pepperoni, onions, garlic, and jalapenos with extra sauce."

"White onions or red onions?" Eddie asks.

"White. But you have to put it in the oven at 400° for ten minutes when they deliver it to crisp it up."

Leon says, "Meat lasagna and garlic bread and salad. Blue cheese dressing. And don't be motherfuckin' tryin' to give me ranch, tell me that shit's the same, cuz it ain't."

It's not. Everyone agrees.

"My mother's lamb curry," Nasreen says. "With her sitting next to me to share it."

Brie looks at Eddie. "What about you?"

"Fuck food, I want a woman." His face grows serene. "I haven't been with a woman since Sherry left me. Not that I haven't tried. I've tried and tried, believe me. They say women love a funny man, but I guess I'm not funny anymore." He blows out a sigh. "Ah well, the best has passed, I suppose. But yeah, I'd give anything to touch a woman again. No meal could compare."

***

Noon, must be. Leon and Susan are trying to catch a bird.

"We gonna roast that shit with the lighter."

Susan has other plans. "No no, we write a note on the water bottle wrapper and tie it to its ankle like Eddie said."

Leon climbs the pipes up the chamber as far as he can and throws the balled-up canvas tarp at a bird. The bird sits unruffled as the tarp flails down to the ground. "Hey!" he shouts up through the opening. "Help! We trapped! You hear me?"

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