Stosh Duda carved the gypsy girl’s initials into his desk on Thursday. Friday the school’s doors were padlocked, desks heaped on the lawn. The gypsies vanished.
Could’ve been a con, Halloween mischief, but it was only the first of October. Maybe a gypsy curse, their parting shot at us. Had we treated them so bad? Hadn’t the school opened its doors to them? They weren’t loved but weren’t run off. That’s the best anyone can hope for here.
This city will make gypsies of us all. Uncle, cousin, teacher, neighbor. Sister Mary Magdalene, who’s not a nun and not always a whore, lambed it because of delinquent parking tickets on that rusted-out van where she slept but never turned tricks. Angelo Pulaski did nine months in Gary after he couldn’t square things with Lefty Schurs over some bad luck at the dog track. He came home July 5th, the day after Lefty caught his own bad luck: a seeing-eye .38 slug. Just some jerk across the alley popping off patriotic rounds.
First of the month eviction notices Black Hawk-style. Apartments turned inside-out, fishkill rotting in the sun. Bitsy Mendez in her housecoat shouting, “Look what them sons-a-bitches done!” while corner boys buzzard-circle, swoop in, fly away. Just looking for now, giving Bitsy a chance to haul off her shit before they do. Neighborly courtesy because hard times are just times in Black Hawk. Could be them next.
It could happen, our city’s unofficial motto. The Tomahawks could crawl out of the cellar. Sweep Joliet, knock off Muskegon, make a run at 4th place. LaSalle could add another shift if someone with clout raised hell about that mooncrater foundation developers abandoned years ago, convince them to build something there with good LaSalle steel. The black-haired beauty, the gypsy girl in 3rd period Geometry, could be making eyes at Stosh Duda and not the quarterback behind him.
It could happen, so the corner boys just circle Bitsy Mendez for now estimating values of old bras, broken recliners, picture albums of long dead strangers.
Stosh couldn’t imagine there’d been rent on the school, where time was spent like a LaSalle millworker spent his paycheck Friday nights, the way Stosh’s dad used to piss away beer money, grocery money, rent money setting up rounds for the house, big man at the tavern.
What debts had Stosh incurred, what calamities set in motion when he carved the gypsy girl’s initials into his desk? In Black Hawk it’s easier to see the beginning of things and harder to see their ends. She told him winter would come early, begged him to leave with her, promised herself to him if he did. Promised to read his fortune, stroke his lifeline. But she didn’t reveal this future to him. So now Stosh holds vigil atop those desks reading their brail of carved graffiti, gnawing at their petrified chewing gum, searching for her name, hunting for her taste, yearning for her return, praying: it could happen, it could happen.
Dan Mancilla, Ph.D. is Professor of General Education at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dan’s the author of the short story collection All the Proud Fathers (Dock Street Press) and the novella The Deathmask of El Gaucho (Passages North/Little Presque Books). His fiction has appeared in Barrelhouse, The Chicago Tribune, Monkeybicycle, The Saturday Evening Post, and River Styx, among other journals. You can read more about Dan and his work at danmancilla.com