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Two shots were fired on Tuesday.
A pigeon flew out of the busy street as a taxi rushed toward it. It flew into the sky, bathed in the warmth of the hot summer sun. It finally came to rest on a curb near the Museum of Natural History, its eyes fixed on the gum-ridden sidewalk, its head bobbing back and forth, darting to the ground occasionally to pick up a crumb of someone’s discarded food. It didn’t seem to notice the many people rushing to and fro on the sidewalk, headphones or Bluetooths in their ears, their eyes fixed on the ground in front of them. Likewise, the people didn’t seem to notice the pigeon, which was pecking at a dropped pretzel.
So it is here, in New York City, that we find our main character, a certain Jim Roderick, standing at his post as a vendor. He sold New York City’s finest hot salted pretzels, ice cold soda, meaty hot dogs, delicious ice cream—you name it, he vended it. He was located not on a busy, congested street corner, but directly in front of the Museum, where he would enjoy having intelligent conversations with passersby. But even here, as in all of New York City, it was not peaceful or quiet. He heard at least ten honks a minute, and people were often shouting so they could hear each other over the honking.
But as long as people came to him, he didn’t care about all that. The smell of his food stayed with him wherever he went—a sign of a true vendor. Personally he enjoyed it: the greasy smell of pretzels and hot dogs was very reassuring. He didn’t eat any of it; no, he was a slim young man of about thirty, with a slightly understated muscular physique. He had scruffy brown hair and soft blue eyes that seemed to go deeper than they appeared. The food he sold may not have made people healthy, but it sure made them happy, and that was what mattered. Jim was happy enough.
The pigeon stopped near Jim’s site, having smelled the food from far away. It resumed its scavenging, looking for anything Jim may have dropped. Then it looked up at him—for only a second—and then looked away again. Jim smiled.
“Hi,” a man said, waking Jim from his reverie. Jim looked up, startled. The man looked rather annoyed.
“Hi,” Jim replied. “How may I help you?”
“Could I just get a pretzel, please?”
“Comin’ right up.” Jim began preparing the pretzel, even though it really didn’t require much preparation at all. He looked at the man. He was a typical New Yorker, or what people imagine as a typical New Yorker. From his accent, Jim could tell—“You’re from Brooklyn?”
“Yeah…” The man didn’t seem interested in divulging anything more. He shifted awkwardly.
“Have you ever been in there?” Jim asked, pointing to the Museum.
“You should go someday. It’s very informative. I mean, I’m not trying to advertise it or anything. But it really changed my life. Just looking up at that giant fossil of Tyrannosaurus rex, its massive skull and teeth and claws, it really makes you realize how vulnerable you are, y’know?”
“Yeah, I mean—one fifty, please—it’s really quite amazing how they were able to restore it to its former pristine, frightening condition. Imagine how it must have looked hunting its prey, its eyes locked on it, thinking of nothing else. Imagine how absolutely petrified the prey must’ve been! Thank you.” The man handed him the money.
“No no, thank you. Y’know, I think I will check that out.”
“Great! It’s definitely worth your time.”
The man walked away, not into the river of commerce, but into the Museum of Natural History, to see the teeth of the Tyrannosaurus rex.
Jim looked down at the pigeon. It was still hovering around his stand. He took out a pretzel and began to eat it, throwing a piece down to the pigeon. He thought about the world, about life, about himself. About the pigeon.
Another customer—no, another friend—came up to his stand. “Hey, Jim,” the woman said. She wore glasses, and was probably in her forties. Jim had never asked.
“Hey, Rachel,” he said. “How’s your son?”
“He’s great,” she said. “He just graduated middle school.”
“Wow! Extend my congratulations to him.”
“I will. How’ve you been?”
“I’ve been good. Business has been slow, but…y’know. It seems like everyone’s getting faster, but I just can’t keep up.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“How’ve you and your son been coping with the divorce?”
Rachel sighed. “It’s…it hasn’t been easy. My son, he…well, he doesn’t really say much anymore. It’s like his emotion has run dry.”
“He needs to know that his parents love him. Be kind and reassuring to him; don’t worry, you’ll both get through it just fine.”
“Thank you, Jim. I feel much better now.”
“Well, this complimentary hot dog will make you feel even better! Please, I insist.”
“No, no, I insist, I’ll pay you. You yourself said business was slow—there’s no way I’ll let you drown.” She forced the money into his hands. “You’re a great man. Don’t forget that.”
Rachel walked away. Another pigeon came over to his stand. It joined the other pigeon, looking up expectantly at Jim. “Oh, come on,” he said to them. “I can’t always feed you. You have to learn how to take care of yourselves.”
Of course, they didn’t move, so Jim just threw down a couple more pieces of his pretzel.
The heat didn’t let up as it grew darker, and Jim had to drink from his own supply of water. It didn’t really matter, though—nobody bought water anymore. The sun cast an angry glow on the horizon that washed the streets in shadow. The street lamps glared right back. Jim sat out the fight, content to simply wait for customers. If none came, so be it—it was never really about the money.
Eventually the street lamps won out. At nine ‘o clock, Jim packed his things, locked the cart, and left, saying goodbye to the pigeons. He began to make the journey back to his home, a small apartment that just fit his budget. It was a bit too cozy—his belongings, what little he had, made it difficult for him to traverse the rooms, but he had a roof over his head, and was content.
Jim was a smart guy; he had gone to a prestigious college, gotten his degree, and been offered a well-paying job at a good company. It was when he graduated that he realized that was not what he wanted to be doing for the rest of his life. So he drove cross country for a time, went abroad, and when he came back to New York he just sort of stayed, setting up a food cart and becoming a vendor until he found what he wanted to do. So far that hadn’t happened yet.
Fat raindrops hit the pavement outside with big splashes. Jim was back in his old home, staring out the window, waiting for his parents to come back. They had gone to see a play, and should’ve been back by now. Jim wondered what could be taking them. He paced back and forth, now genuinely worried.
The phone rang.
Jim jumped, his head jerking toward the phone. He raced to pick it up. “Hello?” he said frantically.
“Oh, hello, Uncle Boris.”
“Jim, I want you to listen to me very carefully. Do you understand?”
“Do you understand me?”
“As your parents were leaving the show, a man robbed and shot them. I’m so sorry, Jim.”
Jim burst into tears. “Mom! Dad!” he screamed.
“Jim, listen to me. Your parents loved you more than you could possibly imagine. Remember this, Jim. No matter what happens, never let yourself fall into despair. There is always hope, you just have to find it.”
Jim wasn’t listening. His tears fell on the floor like the fat raindrops outside. And all he could hear were gunshots and the inevitable screams…
Clouds covered the sky the next day, weeping over the city.
Jim put on his rain coat and hurried to his cart. He set up the umbrella to cover his cart from further damage. As he was doing so, he noticed that someone had vandalized his cart. It said, “Are You Happy?” The vandal had also found it necessary to break into his cart and steal all his food. He must have had an axe to break through it.
Jim sighed. “No…no…no!” He banged his fist on the cart. He couldn’t help himself. The rain mixed with his tears. He couldn’t tell if they were his or the world’s.
The pigeons were gone. They were probably warm, protected from the rain by an overhang somewhere. Perhaps in a car garage, scavenging for any food people may have dropped.
It was a Tuesday.
He could hear the Tyrannosaurus rex hunting its prey. He could see its teeth bared, its huge claws ready, its legs pounding the ground as it closed in on its breakfast. Jim wasn’t going to let it happen again.
He rushed toward the scene. He could feel the impact of each step the monster took—they shook the ground with such intensity that the few pigeons on the streets flew off in fear. Jim didn’t care. He ran on, using the scream he had heard as an invisible guide.
And then, around the corner, he saw the beast, standing awkwardly on its hind legs, its claws outstretched, pointing a handgun at two unfortunate civilians. A mother and daughter. They stood, shivering, backed against a wall.
“Take my money! Take it! Just leave us alone!” the mother shouted.
“Quiet!” T. rex roared.
“I don’t think you should be doing that,” Jim said.
The man, extremely startled, looked back in surprise. “Don’t move!” he shouted. “Don’t move or…or I’ll shoot!”
“Is this really what you want to be doing? Scaring people into giving you their money? Do you think that is an honest living?”
“Stop it! Just stop it!”
With one sweep of his leg, Jim knocked the man to the ground. The man shot, a bit too late, and the bullet flew off to the side, missing Jim by only a few inches. Jim grabbed the gun as the man fell, and in one swift motion pointed it directly at the man’s face. The man stared up in horror, his mouth wide open, tears streaming down his face, mixing with Jim’s tears on the ground below.
Jim stared at the man. “Who are you?”
“Please, please, I’m Justin, Justin Roberts, I’m confused, I’m messed up, I need money—”
“Money? Money? What else do you need? What else does anyone need nowadays? Well, Roberts, I—I—” Jim stopped. At that moment, it all came together. He’d finally found the place where his puzzle piece, the one he’d carried all his life, fit perfectly.
“You killed my parents.”
“You heard me, you murderer, you thief, you vermin, you killed my parents!”
“No, no, it wasn’t me, I didn’t do anything, I swear—”
Jim took another long look at the man whimpering and shaking on the ground. His tear-streaked face shone in the moonlight. It wasn’t much different from Jim’s face, really. The difference was Jim had the gun.
Jim’s hands were trembling violently. Sweat dripped down his forehead. His eyes were wide with anger and insanity. Then he shot.
By the time the police had done a thorough investigation, there was no evidence that it hadn’t been done in self-defense. It more or less was in self-defense, although Jim could have called the police instead of shooting the man. It was decided that Jim had acted in self-defense combined with protecting a mother and daughter, and the case was closed.
The next day was bright. There were some clouds in the sky, but they were not sufficient enough to block out the light from the sun. Jim carried on his regular job. He did not buy a new cart—he simply fixed up the one that had been broken into, with new plastic that was tougher to break.
The graffiti remained. Jim looked at it every day. He always thought about it. “Are You Happy?”
Yes, I am happy, he thought to himself. I am always happy. I’m…I’m happy…aren’t I?
Rachel stopped by in the afternoon. “Hello, Jim,” she said.
“Hello, Rachel,” Jim said. “How has your day been?”
“Very good, thanks.”
Rachel looked at him questioningly for a few moments. “You look happier today for some reason. Why?”
Jim was grinning a wide grin, but something about it didn’t seem right. “Everyone’s happy for their own reasons. This is just your average happiness.”
Rachel looked at him as if he were a mental patient, and then walked off.
Jim looked down at a pigeon standing near his cart. “Well, the sun doesn’t shine on everyone, eh?”
The pigeon made no reply.