it was a nice day, so hank was only wearing two hats and three jackets. he found ernestine in her usual spot at the edge of the park, sitting on the grass just out of the shade of a tree. he went over and flopped down beside her with a grunt.
"don't sit so close to me," ernestine told him without looking at him.
"sure. i'd rather be in the shade anyway."
he moved about three feet over and four feet behind her. this put him in the shade but off the grass and sitting in dirt.
they sat without speaking for about five minutes. ernestine would occasionally squint her eyes down the street as if expecting somebody. hank just stared at the ground.
"did you get the paper yet?" ernestine asked finally.
"do i look like i have the paper?"
"it could be in your pocket. sometimes you have it in your pocket."
"not on a hot day! not on a hot day like today! on a cold day i put it in my shirt. not on a hot day like today!"
"yeah, well i didn't know that."
"i told you plenty of times before."
"i guess i forgot."
"you can't be too bright, forgetting something i told you a million times."
they were silent again.
ernestine finally spoke. she was usually the first to speak. hank hardly ever spoke unless spoken to although he could be very voluble once he got started.
"why don't you go get the paper?" she asked him.
"i'll get it." hank didn't get up. he kept staring at the ground.
"what do you care?" hank looked up, perplexed. "i'm the one who reads the paper."
this was true. hank was one of the last great newspaper readers. usually the first thing he did in the morning was panhandle the price of a newspaper. then he would read the whole paper from front to back, every word, except the legal notices but only because the print was so small. he would finish by doing the crossword and any other puzzles with a pencil he kept in his pocket along with a little pencil sharpener. one of his fellow derelicts, tony, used to harass him by telling him that pencils were going to become obsolete, but he hadn't seen tony for a while and had forgotten him and his prediction.
"so what's the big deal with the paper this morning?"
"i just want to see something."
hank still didn't get up from his seat under the tree.
"are you all right?" ernestine finally asked.
"yeah, i feel great. peachy. thanks for asking."
"then get up and go get the fucking newspaper. the one morning i want to read the paper is the one morning you just sit there like you're dead."
"don't talk that way."
"i'll talk any way i goddamn please."
a couple of teenage girls walked by and laughed at them.
"i like your hat," one of them said to hank.
"zz" added the other one. they passed on, making exaggerated suppressed laughter sounds and holding their stomachs.
ernestine and hank both pretended to ignore them.
"come on,' said hank. "why so hot to read the paper this morning?"
ernestine stared at him. "promise you won't tell."
"i never tell."
"what! you're the biggest blabbermouth in the park. you're worse than any woman."
"don't tell me then. and i'll get the paper when i feel like it."
"if you don't get the paper they might run out."
"they never run out. this is the city that never sleeps."
"ok, i'll tell you." ernestine leaned toward as if she was going to move closer to him although she didn't actually do so. "i saw something last night."
ernestine lowered her voice. "i saw a girl get kidnapped. just like in the papers. a couple of guys grabbed her and threw her in a van. just like in the papers."
hank didn't seem too impressed. "did you tell the cops?"
"no! that's the whole point, knucklehead! i ain't telling the cops nothing."
"you should report it. you should be a good citizen."
"it's probably in the paper. they probably know about it already."
"it doesn't matter, you might have seen something, something you didn't even know you saw, that might break the case."
"i don't talk to the cops. it's a matter of principle with me."
"if you don't tell them i will."
ernestine stood up. "you said you wouldn't! you promised!"
"this is different. this is america. it's why me and patton drove to berlin."
"you fucking moron! what have the cops ever done for you except beat your brains out? even you might have half a brain cell left if the cops hadn't been pounding on you for the last thirty years!"
"they get a little rough sometimes but they're just doing their jobs."
"jesus h christ! you mongoloid cocksucking motherfucker!" ernestine screamed "what kind of dickheaded shit for brains moron am i dealing with here!"
a couple of financial district types in short sleeved shirts were passing by and cracked up.
"nice talk!" one of them yelled.
"pottymouth with the stars!" shouted the other.
ernestine didn't hear them. she started kicking hank. the two guys in shirts pulled little cameras out of their pockets and ran up with them. they could hardly hold them straight they were laughing so hard. one of them came up and stuck his camera in ernestine's face. she turned and started kicking them and they backed away laughing.
"assholes!" she screamed.
one of them wagged a finger at her. "violence never solved anything."
"your mother choked on a dildo she stuck up an elephant's ass!"
they ran off as best they could, doubling over with laughter.