Get er Done By Kevin W. Perizzolo
The issue of homelessness is not one of bums not wanting to work or refusing to work. It is society itself refusing to accept that somehow it failed this person. Society has marginalized the homeless to the point where it does not consider them human, but merely animals. But then again, we usually do treat our animals better than one another.
“Really,” the young man said as he looked at the cop. “I'm not allowed to sit here?” He had just finished his forty-ounce and disposed of it in the nearby trash can before the cop showed up.
“Come on, Mark, you know better,” the cop replied. He took his left hand and, palm up, indicated that Mark had to stand up. Mark did as he was told. He stood, turned his back to the policeman, put his hands behind his back, and allowed himself to be handcuffed.
“Don’t you have something better to do right now?” Mark asked as he was led to the cop car. “Really, who do I hurt? I don’t beg for money. I'm not panhandling. I don’t even ask for cigarettes. So, what?”
“You can’t drink or be drunk in public, Mark. You know the drill. We go through this at least once a month.” The cop gently put him in the back seat of the cruiser.
# # #
“Hey, I’m home!” Mark yelled as he tossed his keys on the counter. There being no response, he walked into the bathroom and started a hot bath for himself. His job on the construction site always left him sweaty and dirty. He was a good framer and dry waller. Had been with the company for about seven years, and had even finally earned medical benefits. He was a small man, wiry but strong. Quick to grin and tell a joke, Mark was well liked by those who came in contact with him. He drank little, did no drugs, and was monogamous with his lover of six years, Jacob.
Sinking into the hot tub, he closed his eyes and let the warmth ease the tension out of his muscles and joints. He began to drift off. When he heard the door open, he did not open his eyes as he called, “Hi Jacob, how was your day?”
“Why didn’t you fucking tell me!” Jacob yelled. Mark opened one eye. Jacob was standing by the tub, shaking in rage. He held an open letter.
“Tell you what?” Mark moved up a bit in the tub and opened both eyes.
“This, you fool!” Jacob tossed the papers at Mark, which landed in the tub. Mark grabbed them before they got too wet. The local hospital was telling him that he had been named by another party as a sexual partner, and that person had been diagnosed with HIV. Mark was advised to come in and be tested.
Mark glanced at the name and looked up at Jacob. “This guy was before I even met you.” He put the papers on the clothes hamper, closed his eyes again, and sank into the tub.
“That’s all you have to say on the subject? That’s it?” Jacob screamed again.
“What more do you want? It happened before we met. I don’t and didn’t ask about every person you dated before me, did I?” Mark sat up again, this time eyes wide.
“You could have given it to me!”
“Uh, no. It is called ‘safe sex’, remember?” The sarcasm dripped like the water drops off his fingertips. “And we do not know if I was exposed or not,” he finished. “I’ll go get tested next week.”
“You will get tested in the morning,” Jacob replied. He began to pace the length of the bathroom. “God, I can’t believe you did this to me.”
Mark sat up straight. The puzzled look on his face was lost on Jacob. “Did what to you? I'm the one who should be worried. And I can’t get off tomorrow; it'll have to wait till next week.”
“I’m going to lose my job. I’m going to lose my health insurance. Jesus! I can’t be an EMT if I have HIV. Christ!” Jacob was shaking again.
“Nothing happened to you, Jacob. This isn’t about you. It's about me.” Mark got out of the bathtub and began drying off. He reached over and touched Jacob’s shoulder. Jacob cringed away from him. Mark looked at his hand. Apparently it was now full of sulfuric acid and he had burned Jacob’s skin with his touch. “Come on, Jake,” he said soothingly, “you know better than that. You're in the medical field right? You know you can’t get HIV from touch, right?” Jacob turned away. “RIGHT?” Mark repeated more loudly.
Mark slept on the couch that night. And every night for a week.
Jacob had himself tested the next day. He was negative.
Mark’s test came back positive.
# # #
“Well, well. How you been doing, Mark?” the front desk clerk asked as the cop brought Mark in.
“Fine, I guess. Another night in the drunk tank, I suppose?” Mark asked as he sat down. The cop reached down and took the handcuffs off. Mark rubbed his wrists a bit and smiled for the clerk.
“Still homeless? The clerk asked.
“Yup.” The clerk checked a box.
“Taking your meds?”
“Nope.” The clerk made an annotation.
“Who cares?” Mark replied looking at the wall.
“A lot of people care Mark,” the clerk responded. He put the pen down and folded his hands in front of him. “Mark, look at me.” Mark turned slowly. He raised his eyebrows. The clerk continued, “Your mother for one. Your brothers, your sister. A number of store owners on the strip. Me. Scott here.” He pointed up at the policeman standing over Mark.
“You’re not the one who's homeless and has full-blown AIDS,” Mark muttered. “You’re not the one who's going to die, drugs or no drugs. The drugs just make me feel worse. Beer makes me feel better. I just want to get er done. That’s all.” Mark leaned back in the chair.
“Get what done Mark?” Scott asked.
“You know what.”
The cop knew Mark had gone into shutdown mode and would not say another word. Resignedly, he looked at the clerk. “Which cell?”
# # #
Mark walked to the front door of Jacob's house and noticed two suitcases on the front porch. He put his key in the lock and found it wouldn't work. Then he looked up and saw an envelope taped to the door.
This letter is to inform you that you are no longer welcome in my home. You are no longer welcome in my life. Inasmuch as you lied to me and took a chance with my life and my career, I have lost all respect I may have had for you.
Do not try and contact me.
“What a drama queen,” Mark said quietly, noting that the words ‘friendship’ and ‘love’ never appeared in the typewritten note. He shrugged. He took his key and placed it in the envelope. He took a pencil out of his pocket and wrote two words on the outside of the envelope. The first word started with an F; and the second started with a Y. Taping the envelope back onto the door, he grabbed the two suitcases and put them in the back seat of his car, then drove to a nearby motel and took a room for a week.
He woke to the sound of a tow truck in the parking lot. He looked out the window and saw his car being towed. He threw on his clothes and ran outside. “There must be a mistake somewhere,” he said to the driver.
“No mistake. This car was reported stolen last night,” the driver said blandly.
“But it’s my car!” Mark cried out.
The driver showed him the police report. Jacob was the one who had reported it stolen. “Well, yes, it is in his name, but I paid for it. It's only in his name because of insurance purposes,” Mark explained. He handed the paperwork back to the driver.
“Too bad for you. Gimme the keys and no further action will be taken against you.” The driver held his hand out.
“Fine.” Mark dropped the keys in his hand. He turned and walked back into his room, where he picked up his cell phone and dialed his boss. He needed to tell him he would be late as he had to walk or take the bus. He heard a buzz and then a recorded message came on. “We’re sorry, your service has been disconnected.”
“Damn him!” Mark yelled as he threw the phone against the wall and it shattered. He had paid Jacob for phone service, as it was cheaper to have two phones on one plan. He locked the door of the room and walked to the lobby. Using the phone there, he called his boss.
Two busses later he arrived at work only thirty minutes late. At the end of the day, he walked back to the motel and bought a fifth of vodka and some soda on the trip. He drank all evening and watched television.
The second day he was an hour late and reeked of cheap alcohol. He bought another fifth that evening.
Day three he was two hours late and had a hangover. His boss shook his head in dismay.
Day four his boss pulled him to the side. “You filed an insurance claim for HIV meds?”
“Uh, yeah. That is what insurance is for, isn’t it?” Mark replied through a blurry fog in his head.
“Corporate called. Our premiums went up because of this.” The boss kicked a rock. “Do you realize how expensive this is going to get? What are we supposed to do when you can’t work any longer? Keep paying the premiums?”
“What are you saying?” Mark asked combatively. He stared down the boss. The boss looked away.
“We can’t afford this.…” An unspoken and hung in the air.
“And?” Mark took a step closer to the boss.
The boss turned his face away. “And... the guys don’t want to work with you. They're afraid you'll bleed on them. And....”
“And?” Mark asked, taking another step closer.
“I'm laying you off effective today.”
Mark burst out laughing. He thought that in any given week, there was nothing else that could happen to him. Nothing that would surprise him at least. He demanded his remaining pay and walked off the job site by noon. He bought a gallon of cheap vodka and some sodas and went back to the motel room, as he still had three days there. Using the lobby phone, he made some calls to friends and got a couch to sleep on “until I'm back on my feet.”
The next day he filed for unemployment and food stamps. He used a friend’s address. The food stamps he received. The unemployment was denied on the grounds that he was fired for being late and being drunk. He just laughed.
# # #
Mark got out of jail the next morning. Shaking from the DTs, he headed back to the strip and bought a forty ounce. He walked into the alley and drank it fast. Then he walked out of the alley and saw his new friend Chris waiting at a bus stop. “Chris!” he hollered across the street, then ran to meet him.
“What are you doing?” Chris asked as he gave Mark a hug.
“Getting er done. As always,” Mark replied. He liked Chris because Chris didn't judge him in any way. Accepted him as he was. Bought him food when needed. Though never beer. And never money. Chris was honest with him, and Mark respected that. “What are you up to?”
“About five seven,” came the sardonic reply.
Mark smiled. “God, I wish you would get a better joke.”
“I wish you would get a better question,” Chris said. “Plans for the day?”
“Same old. Trying to find some work. Find some money. Get drunk. Fall asleep in an alley somewhere. Wake up and do it all over again,” Mark said with a wide grin.
“Go for it,” Chris said as his bus pulled up.
Mark waved as the bus pulled away. He crossed the street and walked down the strip mall. As he passed the bakery, the owner, a kindly old German man, came out. “Mark, here, have some juice and some rolls.” He handed the bag to Mark, who thanked him and walked on. “Come back later and take the trash out for me,” the man hollered after him.
“Yes!” Mark knew it would get him at least ten dollars. About seven forty ouncers. He could get stinking drunk on that all day. He stopped and looked at the bag of rolls. He did not even care about food anymore. It just prolonged the inevitable. He just wanted to get drunk. He ate the rolls and drank the juice anyway.
# # #
By the end of several months, Mark had couch-surfed his way through all of his friends. No further offers were forthcoming. He tried to find work in construction, but when he listed his old employer, he found he had been blacklisted. He picked up odd jobs here and there, doing yard work, cleaning out back yards, garages and the like. Day labor to make enough money to pay for the Salvation Army, or get drunk at a local bar. Getting drunk meant no Salvation Army, so he could spend that money drinking even more.
He eventually gave up trying to stay at the Sally, as he called it. It had taken just six months for him to become homeless after he had been kicked out of his house. He laughed even more these days. He saw people he and Jacob had been friends with. They avoided him now. They turned and walked away if they saw him approaching.
He was down to a backpack with a couple of shirts in it. He also had a radio and earphones given him by a stranger on the street. He shaved rarely, bathed rarely. Drank daily.
Six more months went by, and he got arrested for the first time. The cop was young; trying to act the part, he manhandled Mark a bit more roughly than necessary. Mark tried to talk to the cop and got hit in the mouth for it. Then he found his face slammed into the hood of the cruiser. The metal was burning hot from the hundred-plus temperature outside. “Jesus,” he said as the cop pushed his cheek into the hood even harder.
“Did I give you permission to talk?” the cop said. “I don’t think so.”
Mark was handcuffed and put in the cruiser. At the station three policemen beat him after he was placed in the cell. Mark had only asked for a glass of water.
When he left the police station he went to the emergency room. His chest hurt and the burn on his face combined with the split lip made him think this time he needed medical attention. The x-ray showed he had three broken ribs. When asked what had happened, he explained the previous night at the police station. The nurse and attending physician looked skeptical. The doctor asked him what drugs he was addicted to.
“I don’t do drugs,” Mark replied.
“Then why are you here if you did not come for drugs?”
“I have three broken ribs for one. I want a medical report for two. So when I hire a lawyer I can have a case against the police,” Mark finished.
“So you don’t want any drugs?”
“No. What part of this do you not get?” Mark tried to sit up and the burning in his chest laid him flat again.
“Relax. We'll be back momentarily.”
An hour later a candystriper came into the room with a wheelchair. “Oh, am I being moved?” Mark asked.
“You’re being released,” she replied.
“What?” Mark sat up and stayed up this time.
“You refused treatment. There's nothing else we can do for you.”
Mark raised his voice. “I refused drugs, not treatment!”
“I don’t make the decisions around here. Sorry. I was told to wheel you to the door and let you go. You're supposed to call back tomorrow to get a copy of the x-rays and the medical report.”
He learned the next day that there was no record of him having been in the hospital. So there were no x-rays and no medical report. He understood what had happened. He hung up the phone slowly and looked out the window of the convenience store. People were walking by; enjoying the breeze and the break in the heat. He noticed a middle-aged couple walking hand in hand, talking and laughing. A tear rolled down his cheek because he knew he would not live long enough to enjoy a day like they were.
# # #
He took the trash out for the baker as promised. Swept the bakery. Cleaned up the alley. And made twenty dollars for a couple hours of work. He borrowed Chris’s phone when he ran into him that afternoon. Called his mother to wish her a happy birthday and argued with her about why he didn't want to come home. “There’s no point in coming home Mom. I just want to get er done is all.” He hung up the phone and handed it back to Chris. Then he just turned around and walked away. Chris noted that for someone who always had something to say, he thought it odd Mark was mute at this time. Then he looked at his phone and realized Mark’s mother had a bigger effect on Mark than he let on.
# # #
After the hospital incident Mark realized he did need to take better care of himself. He stopped in at a local AIDS clinic and learned there were privately funded programs he could use to get medications. With food stamps and medications, he only needed drinking money. And he learned how to sell his food stamps to get that. So, he lived. Day to day. Day by day.
Five more months passed, and he stopped taking his medications. They made him sick. He knew what the final outcome would be anyway.
By this time Chris had moved into the city and befriended him. He liked Chris and always thought if things could have been different for him... just maybe…. Then he would shake his head and keep on walking down the street.
Life consisted of sitting around in the heat. Drinking beer and doing some odd jobs. Sleeping in an alley or doorway. Talking to people. Being run off by the cops, being arrested by the cops. He no longer thought of the future. He rarely thought of the past. His only major thought was the here and now and what would the next hour or so bring into his life. He knew his time was growing short, but he kept that to himself. The few people who cared about him, and the few people he cared about, he didn't want them to worry or be upset.
Finally in the heat of the July summer, he was arrested one more time. The cop took him to the jail where he promptly collapsed to the floor, unconscious. The infirmary was notified, and he was taken there. One of his lungs had collapsed. His liver was showing signs of failure, he was anemic, and was becoming delirious when awake.
Three weeks passed and he showed no improvement. The doctor made note that Mark had simply given up. His final morning, he awoke with a smile on his face and looked at the nurse and the doctor. He smiled broader and said, “Got er done.”
# # #
Chris went to the jail to inquire about Mark and his prognosis. It was his fifth visit, and the clerk was always happy to see that someone had taken an interest in Mark.
This time however, the clerk looked somber. Chris walked up to the window and the clerk just said, “He’s gone.”
“He was released?”
“No, he passed away. Early this morning. We called his mother and told her. She didn’t seem to care anymore. Mark was stubborn, you know. Maybe she had just had enough.”
Chris grabbed the edge of the counter. “Uhm, what's to be done?”
“Cremation on the county and mass pauper’s grave.”
“No,” Chris shook his head. “No, I’ll take care of it.”
“There are some forms you'll have to fill out.”
“That's fine. I won’t let him be buried in a mass grave.”
Chris paid for cremation and afterwards scattered Mark's ashes alone. When he was done, it was evening, and rain had begun to fall. He stood under the awning of a store on the strip mall, smoking a cigarette and talking to his best friend on the phone. He tried to explain how Mark had changed his life; how he had learned something about people he never gave thought to in the past. How he had learned that everyone had a story. That everyone deserved some minimal respect and dignity in life. And that Mark had never done anyone any harm. While talking, Chris enjoyed the night air, the cool breeze and the heavy rain that was falling.
Then a policeman tapped him on the shoulder. “You need to move on, dude,” the cop said brusquely.
“Huh,” Chris said putting the phone to his shoulder briefly. He heard his friend say Call me back. “Why?”
“The store called. They don’t want any more homeless bums loitering in front of their store,” the cop replied.
“I’m not homeless. I live across the street. I was just smoking a cig and talking on the phone.” Chris looked into the store. The woman at the counter gave him the finger and then smiled.
“You can’t be here,” the cop said.
“But I'm not doing anything except waiting for the rain to stop,” Chris replied. He was perplexed. “Where can I be while I wait for the rain to stop?”
“You can stand in the parking lot,” came the sarcastic reply.
“It’s raining in the parking lot,” Chris pointed out.
“Like I care.”.
“So, the parking lot is public property? And I can stand there if I want to? And I can paint a big sign protesting this establishment if I want?” Chris asked.
“You do have freedom of speech,” the cop replied.
“Good,” Chris said and walked off into the rain. The cop watched him and noted he entered the apartment building across the street. “Wow, he does live there,” he mumbled to himself.
The next day the cop was called to the same strip mall and the same store. Evidently, the store owner had called in another homeless person loitering. When the cop arrived he found Chris standing at the edge of the parking lot, not eight feet from the front door of the store, holding a large painted sign that in neatly blocked red paint said,
Mark Died Because of Your Sins Copyright 2012, Kevin W. Perizzolo
About the Author
With some 25 years in the publishing industry, Kevin W. Perizzolo took a decade- long hiatus and moved from the Rocky Mountains to an island off the coast of Texas. He figured it was safe as Galveston Island was not part of Texas, just near it. He now resides in Dallas, having decided a big city is more to his liking. He is pursuing his writing and publishing once again and thanks Rational Magic for publishing his work.
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