Chicago, Illinois, 1981
The heroin addict has dishwater blonde hair, pinky-beige skin, and an impish grin. There’s a twinkle in his eye, a gleam in his pinpoint pupils as he peers through a crack in my kitchen door. Suddenly he’s nine again, sneaking a peek in our parents’ bedroom as Mommy wraps Christmas presents. Back then he hoped for a Mr. Machine or Erector Set. Today he hopes for a free pass on a felony.
I wave him away but he ignores me. His watchful gaze, his expectations so high—in every sense of the word—make me nervous. That and the fact I’m on the phone with a cop about a stolen car that’s parked in front of my apartment building.
My brother is smoking a Kool, and the smoke wafts through the cracked open door as I tell the cop, who George insists is his friend, “Just so you know, I have nothing to do with this. I’m simply the messenger.”
“I totally get that,” says the cop, “So tell him to come down to the station and turn himself in.”
“I will. I will. But first, George wants me to ask you if he can just drop the car off somewhere, like by the girl’s house or something.” I feel like an idiot but I have to say this because my grown-up baby brother is listening. And in a weird way I’m flattered. George isn’t always so nice. Last time we spoke on this same Princess phone was at 2 am when he threatened to kill me.
But that was a few weeks ago. Today George hopes that my verbal skills and clean criminal record will influence this officer to help him although I’m not quite sure how. Does he expect the cop to furnish legal advice or aid and abet his crime?
The cop says, “You understand I’m a police officer. I don’t know what else he expects from me.”
And I think, “Oh, brother! I know how you feel.”
Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, 1991
My husband Tom ends up with a fake five dollar bill in his wallet, its origins unknown. Tom doesn’t know the bill is fake because who checks for counterfeit bills unless they’re a cashier, right? And even they only check fifties and hundreds.
Anyway, Tom walks into a mom and pop convenience store and uses that fake fiver to buy Juicy Fruit gum and a diet Mountain Dew. He’s wearing his usual get-up: T-shirt, worn cargo pants, and Crocs. The cashier is a middle-aged white woman, although not as white as my melanin-challenged spouse. After Tom leaves, the cashier checks the bill and runs out the front door hollering at him.
When she finally catches up, she says, “Please Sir,” can you give me some real money?” He does and the cashier politely thanks him.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2020
Another man named George, a Black man, allegedly uses a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill at a Cup Foods store on Chicago Avenue. Whether he knew it was fake or not, we’ll never know because a white police officer asphyxiates him to death while three other conscience-challenged officers look on.
It’s really a shame because all anyone had to do was say, “Please Sir, can you give us some real money?”
Chicago, Illinois, 1981
My 26-year-old brother pays no heed to his friend-the-cop’s advice. He parks the car in an alley near where the car’s owner lives—or where he thinks she lives—and walks back home. He is never arrested, but if he were, I imagine my parents would bail him out like they always do.
A year later he overdoses peacefully at a friend’s house. He stops breathing but nobody notices until it’s too late because he isn’t fighting for his life. There is no one to fight off except himself and his addiction.
Los Angeles, California, 2022
The caffeine addict has dishwater blonde hair and pale, pinky-beige skin. She’s past middle-aged, deemed harmless by the café’s employees as she saunters past them, past the “restroom for customers only” sign and into a gender-neutral bathroom. As she sits on the toilet, she contemplates whether she should buy a latte on her way out. It’s not like she really has to, right?
A Chicago-born, former graphic designer and illustrator, Laurel has had work published in The Chicago Reader, Denver Quarterly, Fourth Genre, Atlanta Quarterly, Cottonwood, and more. Her unhoused childhood memoir, Things We Couldn’t Live Without, is currently looking for a warm and drama-free home. Portions have been published in Tulip Tree’s Stories That Need to Be Told 2022, SLAB, Two Hawks Quarterly, and Under the Gum Tree. Laurel currently lives in the Los Angeles area and serves as coordinator of tutoring services at Woodbury University. Fun fact: During a short stint as an entertainment journalist, she once cracked a joke that made Joel and Ethan Coen laugh. www.laureldigangi.com, Facebook: Laurel DiGangi.