Seven Things About Leroy
Leroy writes letters. Jesus tells him to write and he does it. A lot of people don't believe in a burning hell but Leroy does because he's seen it. And he writes people and tells them about it. It's what he does every day of his life. He thinks about his wife and he just keeps on writing.
Leroy's wife was murdered ten years ago by a man named Tony.
Leroy keeps a picture in his shirt pocket. Throughout the day, when he's talking to someone or lost in thought he reaches up and traces the outlines of that picture through the cloth. He does this so often that all of his dress shirts are slightly worn along the pocket.
But it's not a picture of Violet that he keeps there, not a picture of her that he caresses to remind himself. It's a grainy photo he cut out from the newspaper the day the article appeared. Tony Gabarde arraigned today, says the caption underneath the man's grim face.
Sometimes he writes to people he knows--Violet's cousin; his old high school friend; Tony's parole officer. Sometimes he writes to strangers, people whose names he randomly selects from the white pages. Each letter is the same and he never writes to the same person twice. Every once in a while he'll add a flourish or two at the end, a quick turn of phrase or note, but for the most part they're the same. "A lot of people don't believe in a burning hell," they begin, "but I do because I've seen it."
Leroy adores sugar: lollipops and lozenges and sweetened gum. He keeps a zip-locked bag of Now & Laters in the yellow fanny pack strapped to his waist and every twenty minutes or so he unwraps another and pops it into his mouth. If you're there at the unwrapping he'll offer you one too. Leroy believes in sharing.
He spends his days adrift on a constant sugar-rush. This has been true for ten years now, ever since he quit drinking. He poured the last full bottle of Myers Rum down the apartment's sink and turned to the cupboard where Violet kept the sweets. There was a solitary Whatamacallit there on the shelf and he hasn't looked back since, despite the twenty extra pounds and two cavities. You see, he just traded one thing for another. That's another thing Leroy believes: that the universe is comprised of a complex web of trades and compensations and balances. The principle of Even Steven, he calls it. He tries to keep track of the trades he's made, but he knows there are some things he's overlooked.
Leroy and Violet had one daughter. She lives in Virginia now. Sometimes she has a boyfriend, sometimes she lives alone. This daughter has been a drunk for about as long as her mother's been dead. Every once in a while she calls Leroy late at night. He'll pick up the phone and hear a long low panting sound, then a kind of sobbing. Sometimes there's a TV in the background. Sometimes a radio. She never says anything but he knows it's her. Each time, he listens to the dial tone for a good long time after she hangs up, swaying in relief. "She's alive," he thinks, "She's still alive." And he feels blessed all over again.
Leroy saw it for the first time ten years ago in an alley behind a Brooklyn grocery store. He'd gone back into the Key Foods to get a roll of paper towels--the sole item they'd forgotten to add to their list before setting off on the weekly shopping trip.
He was gone for five minutes, maybe eight.
When he'd returned to where he'd left Violet waiting he found her on the ground. Her left leg twisted beneath her heavy body. Dark blood leaking from a gash in the side of her head and her mouth agape. Their metal shopping cart lay on its side, food scattered across the sidewalk.
Leroy heard a long loud cracking noise and a pain so pure it felt like burning metal rippled up through his body and lodged itself right above his eyes.
Beyond Violet a man stood for a few seconds before he shook himself and took off into the darkness. This stranger left a trail of fire--bright orange flames licking the dark air--that flared into spiraling towers of heat, stretching from the asphalt to the crisscrossing telephone wires above.
When the sidewalk itself cracked open, just a few inches from Violet's left wrist, Leroy wasn't surprised. He walked right up to the edge and peered in.
Leroy loves Violet with more intensity now that she's dead than he ever did when she was alive. It's an old story and he knows it. But clichés are clichés because they're true, which is one of the things he puts in his letters: you don't miss something until it's gone, he sometimes adds. That's not really true either. Violet died because he didn't love her all that much anymore. He was used to her and there was more comfort in habit than most people were willing to admit.
At one point many years ago he'd been feverishly attracted to her, but then she'd gained weight and her breath smelled bad and she never ever could get the names of restaurants right and was really bad at washing dishes so there were always little bits of dried food stuck to their plates. It was hard to overlook these things.
When she died and the flames sprang up along that Brooklyn alley and the ground opened up Leroy had gazed deep into its hot mouth and saw himself staring back.
Now he writes those letters. Every day he thinks about Violet and he writes, just like Jesus tells him. Each letter is a little weight, tipping the scale of Even Steven back in his favor.
"I love you," he whispers to Violet when he seals the envelope. And for a few charmed moments he really means it before the sidewalk yawns again and he has to start all over again.
About the author:
Jessica Myers-Schecter's reviews and interviews have appeared at www.bookslut.com, www.fringeunderground.com, and in Streetlight Magazine; her nonfiction articles have appeared in FitYoga and Living Longer. Jessie lives in Brooklyn with her husband and four cats. In her spare time you're likely to find her jogging in Prospect Park, practicing yoga, or blogging about her life at Goddess In The City. She received her MFA in Fiction from American University and her BA from the University of Pennsylvania.