It was snowing those flakes that look fake; perfect ones landed on Dave’s jacket as he unlocked the trunk of the LeSabre. Heather ran up the steps with an armful of pink and blue wrapped gifts. He said, “Be careful! You’ll break your neck!”
“I gotta go,” she laughed, unlocking the door, disappearing into the building.
They’d sat in traffic out of the mall parking lot, on the road that serpentined towards the turnpike, after that they’d endured brake lights all the way through the tollbooth and off the exit, over the bridge, Heather squirming, “I gotta pee.”
She’d punched him on the ball of his shoulder. His leather jacket was stiff, a simple armor. He’d smiled. “Not wise to hit a boxer.”
“Stop the car, I’ll run into those cattails over there.”
The Buick’s brakes squealed, metal on metal. Presents in the back seat shifted. “I was screwing around, man. Keep on moving!”
Her cheeks were pink. Her jean were tight. His hands were scarred. His nose had been broken only four times.
On their block, the stoops were empty. It was too cold. The basketball court by the housing project was vacant. No one was even on the bench waiting for the bus.
“Silent night, holy night,” he muttered.
“All is calm, all is quiet.”
He saw the light flicker on in the bathroom upstairs and felt stupid that anybody looking could see her shadow sitting down on the toilet. What a neighborhood.
The trash cans were frozen to the sidewalk. The brownstone was only half brown where the wind hadn’t blown the snow off. The windows were all barred to protect children and to keep out the Devil. Christmas lights ran in a bright matrix across the roof of Ropollo’s Deli, casting the block in a blue, green and red glow. Dave carried gifts up the steps, the snow crunching under his work boots. She’d left the door ajar for him, that was love.
He dumped the gifts on the couch, pleased at how many there were. Most years, there wasn’t any money for gifts. He’d gotten lucky the previous week. In the kitchen, the interior of the fridge depressed him. There was no beer. There was no food. In the cabinet, he pulled down a bottle hidden behind the canned beans and drank deep.
Walking back out, he saw tracks in the new snow that led to his Buick. Two men were pulling presents out of the trunk.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
One ran immediately. The other shuffled his feet as Dave bounded down the steps. He punched hard, a box with a red bow tumbled in the snow. The man fell. Dave skidded out on ice, crashing into the fender of a neighbor’s truck.
“Where you going?” he yelled at the other thief’s retreating figure. Snow streamed down in the street light.
As he got to his feet, the other man was rising too.
They faced each other, toe to toe in the dull glow of Ropollo’s Deli. In the distance, a dog barked. Jingle Bell Rock came from some half open window on the block. The thief spit blood on the street.
“You fuck …”
He lunged at Dave, clumsily. Dave stepped to the side, as an arm flailed wild—perfectly, he struck ribs, wrapped the man up, and brought him down to the street with his full weight used as a weapon, knees and elbows falling heavy.
“DAVE! OH MY GOD!”
Heather was on the steps. Dave hit the man again. Then Heather was back in the house. He hit again and again. She stumbled out with a portable phone in her hands, “Want me to call the cops?”
“Fuck no!” he yelled, in ragged breath. “DON’T CALL THE COPS.”
He sat up. Blood on his hands. His face. His shirt. His jacket was almost ripped in half, it’d split up the seem from his waist to his left arm pit.
“This dumbass was stealing shit outta the car.” He pointed at the dizzy man, as if there was any question.
From the opposite direction, the other thief appeared. His knife was out, and it went through Dave’s hand. He lunged at the attacker, but he’d backed off. There was a lot of blood. Heather screamed. She dialed the police.
Both thieves were on their feet, moving away. Dave was on the ground, his t-shirt was no longer white. His wounded hand was clamped deep against his own heart, as if the blood would pool there and it’d all be alright.
An ambulance came. The police took a report at the ER.
Dave sat on a paper lined hospital bed, waiting for the doctor. Heather was on the chair, saying, “At least
it was your left hand.”
“This town sucks.”
“All towns suck,” she said.
“I’m gonna wind up like Charlie Bronson.”
“Oh, don’t say that sweetie.”
“Deathwish. Just like Deathwish.”
“Babe,” she said, “You start up with that vigilante justice, blowing people away, I’ll have to divorce you again.”
A christmas wreath behind her head was made out of blue surgical gloves, cotton balls and sterile syringes.
The doctor came in, overwhelmed and short for time.
He unwrapped Dave’s hand, complaining about the job the nurse had done, wanting to know her name.
Dave knew it, but didn’t say. He wasn’t a rat.
“You’ll need a lot of stitches for this.”
“That’s why I’m here.”
“A fight?” The doctor had treated Dave a few times, and when he said fight, he meant, in the ring, or he meant, street-fight.
“Two guys stealing from me.”
“Presents,” Heather said. “Stuff for our nephews … and for my sick sister.”
“A knife. Fucker had a knife.”
“He beat the ever living piss out of one of them,” Heather said, “Guy’s probably even here. Right now.”
The doctor got quiet. The doctor got weird.
Dave said, “Is there a guy here … about five foot six. Mustache. Purple hooded sweatshirt. Nikes.”
The doctor smiled, “First let me sew you up.”
“Merry Christmas. He’s just down the hall. He’ll be there all night. You didn’t hear that from me.”