I haven’t written a story since I was about 13 or 14. Here’s the first. This one is slow and nothing really happens, but it’s still a story. I sat here from 3-6 today and knocked it out. Be kind!
By Gerrard Lindsay
I smoked three cigarettes out front before I built up enough courage to go in. The hot air blowing out of the exhaust ducts exacerbated the overwhelmingly muggy day, but I barely noticed. The stream of people that meandered in reflected the diversity of the city, but I couldn’t describe a single one of them as an individual. I allowed myself the freedom to wander in that thought for much longer than would be considered reasonable, before finally coming to a compromise with myself. When the next person with a jacket on walked by I stood up without hesitating and made peace with what I had to do.
I never mentioned how I got the three cigarettes, did I? That becomes important later on, so it’s worth mentioning. As I walked out of the subway station a guy working on one of those “Keep the Streets Clean” teams walked up to me pushing his trash can on wheels and holding his broom. He offered to sell me a pack of off-brand cigarettes so that he would be able to “start the party”, as he put it. It was 1:30 on a Thursday where the weather out felt like an oven. I wasn’t sure that drinking would help his litter collection work, but who was I to judge? I hadn’t been smoking for years, but I offered him a dollar for one on impulse. You never really do quit totally, do you? Being the generous sort, he gave me three cigarettes so that I wouldn’t feel cheated. Anyway, those were the cigarettes that I was smoking outside of the hospital in the beginning of the story.
My eyes were unfocused as I walked into the lobby. It almost seemed as if my mind’s eye had malfunctioned, forcing me out of the first person and into the third. I was just able to pick out the sound of my soles as the squeaked down the hall of the empty hospital hallway. A small and fragile looking nurse directed me towards my mother’s room. I couldn’t describe a single detail about her face even if I needed to. Then, as I crossed the threshold of the room where I knew my mother would die, things slammed into hyper focus. Slammed is the only word I can honestly use.
Tears welled up in my eyes and my chest tightened as I looked down at her unconscious form. “Tracy?” she questioned in a voice as small and fragile as a tea cup. I answered, “Yes, Moms, it’s me.” With slow and hesitatingly movements I placed myself in the chair next to her bedside. One of those Judge shows was on the television and it reminded me of a silly argument we had had about the shows. I began to sob again, despite myself. It only worsened as I rubbed my hands along the arms that would hold me when I was afraid. After a moment I began to collect myself. I made my best effort to assume a cheery disposition and I clasped the hands that had never hesitated to correct me when I went astray.
“How’s my lady feeling this fine day?”, I chirped. She didn’t respond, but her face brightened and I saw the old light in her eyes for just a moment. I felt the kind of pure love that makes human life seem somewhat meaningful and dignified. My heart sank even lower as I realized that I would probably never feel that love again.
After some hours had passed without either of us moving or the silence being broken, I began to drift just a bit. Just as sleep started to overtake me, I heard her voice. This time it was the voice of the proud and vital woman she had been only a year or so before the day in question. “I love you very much, Tracy”, she said. “You’ve been my whole life ever since the day Lester brought you home from the game.” Since Lester brought me home?
“I’m tired now”, she whispered and then she drifted off to sleep. I tried to ignore the buzzing in the back of my head, but there was no point. I watched her sleep for an hour or so, but the whole time my mind was elsewhere. What did she mean, “since the day Lester brought you home?”
My name is Lester Tracy McGowan. No, I’m not Scottish. I was raised by Lester McGowan (no middle name) and Koko Ann McGowan. They aren’t Scottish, either. They are also not my natural parents. You see, I was the “Shea Baby”. I was the infant found abandoned in the parking lot of Shea Stadium by Lester and Koko just after they had enjoyed a Mets victory over the team from St. Louis.
They came out of the game ready to return home and found an infant on the top of a trash can. The police did a thorough investigation, prodded by the absurd amount of press coverage for the story but there were no leads and the baby’s mother was never identified. After a year or so of bureaucratic hurdles and delays Moms brought me home on the bus and I was officially a part of the McGowan family. I had been found wearing a bracelet engraved with the name “Tracy”, but Lester had always had his heart set on having a junior. He and Koko finally compromised by settling on “Lester Tracy” as a name.
My father always called me “Les”. My mother never referred to me as anything other than “Tracy”. I’ve always hated my father and the name Tracy, so my friends call me “LT”.
Once I was old enough to understand, Lester explained how I had come to join the family. He showed me clippings from all of the daily newspapers and even a newspaper that had since gone out of business. Each story featured an almost identical picture of him in an old fashioned suit, ridiculously over dressed for a baseball game, and carrying a little chocolate blob with few distinguishing features. I was wrapped in a baby blue blanket, a blanket which Koko had guarded ever since as one of her prized possessions. You might think that I would have felt confused or shocked or even embarrassed not to be their natural child, but I was proud of it. I felt like I was a superhero with a mysterious origin and I developed an almost unhealthy obsession with the idea.
Whenever we moved to a new area I’d wind up in a new school. Kids would inevitably start to tease me about my first name and I would inevitably take them all on. Sometimes, I took them all on at once. Regardless of the odds, I never lost. I was extraordinarily large for my age and even more importantly I was almost psychotically convinced that nothing could hurt me. Because I was a superhero.
After a few beatings, the kids would usually come around and be friendlier to me. It was always at that point that I would share with them the origins of “LT”, as I called myself. Quite often, other kids would begin to believe in the mythology I had built for myself. Everyone was always impressed when I showed them the news clippings. Fame is fame, after all, even if you’re just an abandoned baby found in the garbage.
Why did we move so often? Blame Lester. He had his own cycle. First, he’d get a promising new job or business opportunity and he’d start to buy us things. Practical things, things we’d been asking him for forever and never gotten, but also frivolous things. Video games. New bikes. Matching leather jackets once. Step two in the cycle was when he would start to stay out all night once in a while with no explanation. We would always pretend that it wasn’t odd for a father and husband to disappear overnight for unexplained reasons all the time. Step three in the cycle was when the manager at the job or the partner in the business would do something to outrage him. He would set off in a righteous rage, shouting at Moms and I even though there was nothing we could do to right the wrongs he was upset about. That was always when the money started to run out. Eventually, the landlords would run out of patience and develop some immunity to my father’s silver tongue. That was our sign
to start packing. Basically, we stayed until the Sheriffs came. Then we’d move to a new apartment and the cycle would begin again.
This was our way of life and I knew even then that it wasn’t healthy or normal. Sometimes I dealt with profound sadness, but I never lost faith in the idea that I was meant to do something great. That idea sustained me through the embarrassing moments, tough times and uncertainty. I got older and stronger as the years passed, but Lester grew weak from the strain of the lifestyle that he led. Then one day Lester had a heart attack and died in his favorite chair. I tried to feel the sense of loss that Moms expected and needed from me, but deep down inside I didn’t really care. I wouldn’t miss him. Perhaps this sounds ungrateful considering the fact that he’d taken on the burden of raising a stranger’s child, but I never loved. Never.
After he passed, Moms became an entirely new person. She blossomed in the way someone less than half her age might have and she embraced the challenge of raising me by herself. It was the two of us against the world and it was the happiest time of my life. After a few months, she was able to secure a pretty decent office job as a file clerk. Only a few months later she had demonstrated enough intelligence and hard work to become the Office Manager. We moved to what seemed to us like a massive apartment and for the first time in my life I had my own room. Things were great.
Time passed. I matured and became responsible. Moms got older, but refused to age. We spent less time together as I began to forge a life for myself, but we were always very close. Then, one day, she was diagnosed with Cancer. She fought for about a year, but eventually the disease began to get the best of her.
I almost got hit by a cab crossing 1st Avenue on the way back to the subway. That one little statement about Lester having brought me home from the game stuck in my craw. I couldn’t think of anything else and I was probably going to get myself killed. I decided to take a cab back to my apartment for safety and so I could think clearly for a moment.
You see, Moms was always a very precise person when it came to language and she had raised me to be the same way. She measured her words and always thought deeply about both what people said to her and how they had said it. She said that Lester had brought me home from the stadium, but they had both been at the game. They had both found me. That was the way Lester had told it to me the first time he ever broached the subject, it was the way things had happened and it was the way all of the reporters had reported it. Why would she say “Lester brought you home” and not “we brought you home”? It didn’t make sense.
The only thing that did make sense, the thing which I didn’t want to admit to myself, was that she had probably lost her mental acuity. It wasn’t hard to understand considering her weakened physical condition. It was a sad realization, but by the time we were on the bridge I’d made peace with it. Sort of.
On a whim, I decided to redirect the cab driver to Moms apartment instead of mine. The driver grumbled, but I promised him a decent tip and he dropped me off at her place without any further complaints. He dropped me off at her door step, thanked me for the tip and honked as he drove away. I appreciated the momentary human connection, because a feeling of dread had crept up from my feet and spread throughout my body. I was short of breath as I ascended the stairs to her third floor apartment.
I opened the door to her apartment slowly and I smelled Moms in the air. A wave of nostalgia hit me and I teared up again for a second as I fumbled for the light switch. I opened the closet near her front door, the one where she kept her lockbox and started digging. It took me a few moments to find it, but her trusty lockbox was still there. I flashed back to all of the times I had seen Moms placing things in the lockbox or taking them out. I remembered the reverence she always showed to what were essentially valueless objects. The value in the papers and photos contained in the box was purely sentimental. One couldn’t help but be affected by the way she delicately handled the old photos, birth certificates and letters.
I took out the small envelope that contained the “Shea Baby” clippings and I headed over to her computer desk. For the first time in my life, it seemed odd that Moms wasn’t in the famous photo. I’d always accepted her explanation that she was just camera shy, but it didn’t jibe with her attitude the rest of her life. She’d never avoided hamming it up in pictures. Anyway, what kind of newspaper reporter would settle for a photo without the female half of the couple who found a baby? I had always prided myself on being skeptical and challenging assumptions, but I’d accepted an explanation that was so flimsy it hardly stood up to even a cursory examination by objective eyes. I guess I’d just heard it at such an early age and then so often throughout my life that I just accepted it without challenge, as we do gravity. It just was, until that moment when maybe it wasn’t.
I re-read the newspaper stories and none of them actually mentioned Moms by name, just Mrs. McGowan. In fact, there was nothing in any of the coverage that proved that Moms had been there when I was found. That made it really hard to ignore her statement at the hospital. I sat there silently for a very long time, unsure of how to proceed or even if the floor below me was still there. It’s hard to explain just how shaky everything felt in that half lit apartment surrounded by a lifetime of Moms things. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just sat there. At some point I must have drifted off to sleep.
I woke up to a buzzing against my thigh. I had fallen asleep on the carpet and my phone was buzzing away. The screen on the phone showed 13 voice mails and I didn’t need to hear any of them to know what it meant. I sobbed with my head against the floor and can I remember the feeling of my cheek, wetness and the carpet perfectly. I’ll more than likely remember it for the rest of my life. After crying for a while I caught my breath again and got strength enough to listen to the messages. Moms had passed away peacefully in the night. The last time I saw her would in fact be the last time I ever saw her. The world seemed less special to me, less romantic. I felt like my world had ended in a way.
I was the abandoned child. Moms had a family, but she never spoke to them. I’d seen them only once or twice in our entire lives, despite the fact that they only lived in the next state. Most of my life had been Moms and I against the world and it was hard to see it any other way. Even as I’d built my own life, I counted on the firm foundation that her unconditional love always provided me. I always knew she would be there for me.
I grieved for a long time. Then I was angry at life for taking her away from me. Then I was guilty for not having spent enough time for her when I had the chance. Eventually the sadness and anger and hurt faded away and I was left feeling like nothing. I was a walking talking black hole inside of a robot that looked and acted like LT McGowan. Nothing mattered to me anymore and I couldn’t imagine anything really mattering again.
Then, one day the buzzing in the back of my head came back. It was almost a relief to feel anything at that point. I had avoided my friends and neglected my business interests. I barely showered and spent most of my time on my couch strumming my guitar tunelessly. The buzzing got stronger and stronger until eventually I found myself on the way to the library. I was still feeling like a robot, but at least now the robot had been given a purpose, hazy though it might be.
When I got the library I ran searches on the computer for any stories rel
ated to the “Shea Baby”. I found a few follow-up articles by the authors of the clippings that we had saved, but nothing with additional firsthand accounts of what had happened. I winced at some embarrassing photos of teenage awkwardness, but there was nothing pertinent in them. The police documents I found contained lots of information, but nothing that placed Moms definitely at the scene. It seemed more and more likely that something had been hidden from me all of these years.
The friendly librarian who had been assisting me with my research brought over a CD that contained some articles from microfiche which had just been digitized. One of the articles had mentioned a Tracy McGowan and it seemed worthwhile to exhaust every avenue of research even if the article’s abstract hadn’t seemed promising. The wait for an available PC was long and I seriously considered not bothering to wait, but I was glad that I had waited once I got a chance to read the article.
The Lester McGowan described in the article as the owner of a new neighborhood bar was in fact the man who had raised me. I had never heard anything about this bar and I couldn’t imagine Lester doing anything in a bar but spending our rent money. The article described how Lester had won a huge judgment against the city after being hit by an MTA bus. The article also mentioned that a young lady had been in the car with Lester when the accident occurred. It didn’t mention her name, but the buzzing in my head got louder.
After some more digging I was able to locate a small article about the actual accident. It named the young lady in the car as Tracy Quentin. Tracy. It seemed like a bad joke, something a hack television writer might come up with. My breath was short for a moment and I felt light headed. The buzzing was so loud now that it drowned out my surroundings and I thought for a moment that I would lose it in front of everyone in the computer lab. I was eventually able to get myself somewhat together and I stumbled out of the library as quickly as I could.
It could have been just a coincidence, but I didn’t believe that. Moms had always taught me that true coincidences were very rare, so an intelligent person never took coincidences at face value. I was comfortable with the idea of Lester as a drunk who raised me, but it occurred to me that maybe he was in fact a womanizer who was my real father. I had no facts to back up this leap, but somewhere deep inside of myself I already knew it to be true.
The buzzing kept getting louder by the moment and it didn’t stop until I drank enough whiskey to pass out.
It wasn’t very difficult to locate two ladies named Tracy Quentin who were likely candidates for the role of THE Tracy Quentin. The first was a social worker lived in Queens. Way out in Queens. It took two trains and a bus for me to get to her building. The bus dropped me off in a neighborhood that looked more like Long Island than a part of the city. I took a deep breath and pressed the buzzer for her apartment. “Yes, who is this?”, she inquired over the intercom. For some reason I can’t really explain, I assumed a Boston accent and replied, “I represent the estate of a Mr. Lester McGowan who left you a considerable sum of money. I have been trying to locate you for many years so that you can receive his bequest. May I come up?” The door buzzed and I pushed my way in. I had always been Lester’s real son in at least a few ways.
I was sweating a bit and breathing harder than I’d like to admit by the time I reached her fourth floor apartment. I knocked twice on her apartment door, confidently but without an excess of force. In a moment, the door opened and I was face to face with a woman who looked a bit like me. Maybe. In a way. She wore a pretty blouse covered with floral prints and she was wearing pink slacks and pink sandals. She was Moms age, but looked much older and had an almost regal matronly bearing.
“I represent the estate of Lester Morgan and…” I began, but she cut me off with a wave of her hand. “I’ve never met a Lester Morgan, is he a relative?”, she inquired. “Perhaps I should make us some tea?”
I sat quietly sipping tea and eating cookies while she gave me a none-too-brief synopsis of her life story from her birth in Cambridge, England to her Marriage to an American soldier named Robert Quentin, to the birth of her four boys, to the death of her husband and on and on up to the description of what she had had for breakfast that morning. It became obvious after a few moments that she had never known Lester and in a few more moments that she didn’t care about any inheritance or anything but the chance for a little company. I felt guilty, so I let her continue for as long as I could bear it. I let her enjoy herself and asked questions at all of the right moments. Eventually, I gave up on the accent and began to speak in my normal manner. She didn’t seem to care.
It took almost an hour and forty-five minutes for me to get home. I felt ridiculous for having wasted my time trying to outsmart an old woman. I resolved myself to move on with my life and focus on the future. But the buzzing was still there.
At 5:45 the next morning I sat straight up in bed. I hadn’t had a nightmare or anything like that, I never dream. Or at least I never remember my dreams. No night terrors for me. I just couldn’t sleep, as if my body had run out of some chemical necessary for the sleep process. I walked over to the window and stared out at the empty streets below. Occasionally someone would stumble by on their way to work. Down the block someone was picking up empty food cartons that were strewn across the sidewalk.
I took a shower and put on my black suit. The second candidate for THE Tracy Quentin lived in Philadelphia and now was as good a time as any to start the trip. I bought three magazines at the newsstand at Penn Station and I kept reading until we hit Philly. It wasn’t that bad a trip to be honest with you and I was even a bit excited to see a new city. Even the buzzing seemed to lessen just a bit, or perhaps it was drowned out by the sound of the train.
I decided to do a little bit of sightseeing before I got down to business, so I walked out of the station and into a random direction. I found a small park and plopped myself on a bench. The hustle and bustle of the city was very familiar and I imagined what it might be like to live outside of New York at some point. Eventually a pair of jugglers set up camp across from me. The buzzing had started up again, but I watched them perform their synchronized movements for quite a while before I finally gave in to my compulsion and set off to find my second candidate.
In yet another of a series of coincidences, the park where I had sat was only a mile or so away from 23rd Street, the street on which Mrs. Quentin lived. I got there in about twenty minutes even thought I was unfamiliar with the layout of the city. I arrived at a building that reminded me of a Brooklyn brownstone and I rang the doorbell.
“Yes”, a voice asked through the closed door.
The words “it’s your son” came out of my mouth and I was just as surprised as she was to hear them. She opened the door and for the first time in my life I laid eyes on my mother. There was no question. I knew and I could tell from her reaction that she knew as well. Neither of us said a thing for two or three minutes and then she gestured me inside wordlessly.
“You are my mother, aren’t you” I finally mumbled.
“You have to understand”, she began. “I had so much to do. I couldn’t have raised a baby, I just couldn’t.”
So it was true. Lester was my father. He hadn’t found me at Shea Stadium at all. I was his love child and he’d used his silver tongue to pull a con on the newspaper reporters, the cops and even Moms. Or had he? I thought back to Moms last w
ords to me and I realized that she had planned for all of this to happen. She had raised me to tug and pull at the edges of untruths. She must have known that I wouldn’t have been able to just chalk her words up to a misstatement.
Of course, we never discussed any of this. Instead, we somehow began to discuss politics. Fox News was on in the background and we began to argue about one of the items that was being covered at the moment. I danced around her arguments, baiting them as you would a bear. I poked and prodded at her beliefs and I could see that she had almost no knowledge. She was parroting what she’d heard the talking heads say and I enjoyed batting her around as a cat would a mouse. I could see her begin to get angry, but I didn’t care. It was as if neither of us thought it might be worthwhile to discuss the fact that we were Mother and Child, but also strangers.
Her eyes became narrower and she began to state her case in shouts. I laughed the sarcastic patronizing laugh that has pissed off so many people throughout my life. She asked me to leave and I did. She didn’t return my goodbye and I didn’t really care.
That was it, then. My origin wasn’t mysterious, it was cheap and tawdry. I was a love child in a clichéd story about a never do well who never did do anything well but hurt other people. My life had been a lie. Moms, the one person I had every really trusted, had been playing along with that lie my whole life. I was angry and hurt and sad and kind of in shock that I had just met my mother and things had gone so poorly. It was time to go home.
I walked back to the train station not quite sure what the future held for me. For the first time ever I knew who I really was, but I wasn’t sure how happy I was about that. What did it all mean? How could my life have changed so much in the course of a few days? I listened to the Life’s Blood discography over and over again on the train home and it sounded incredible. If nothing else, the buzzing was gone.
When I got back to my neighborhood it was late and I was tired, but I needed a drink. I walked over to a local dive where the bartender always had a heavy hand to try to come up with some way to cope with all of the feelings I was being bombarded with. Just outside the bar someone put their hand on my shoulder. I turned around and it was the “clean streets” guy. There was no recognition in his eyes.
“Wanna buy a pack of smokes?”, he asked. I turned around and walked home.