Iowa Writes

TIMOTHY TRENKLE
The Old Gangster


        "I killed a man when I was twenty-four."  The old man with a coal-colored face sat on sun-scorched, wooden steps at the rear of the one-hundred-year-old, brick building.  "You put it out of your mind."  The steps rolled under the porch canopy.  Houses in the old neighborhood were set close.  Autumn leaves were falling, but the air was hot.
        The man rolled his hands, one over the other.  "Oh, I was raised in church, all right, taught about God.  My momma would whip me if I didn't go.  Was the Church of the Pentecost.  Yeah, I remember, sure do."
        The alley was filled with debris.  He parsed his fingers, pinching his thumbs as he relived his past.  "I ran with the gang but it was family then.  They cared about you, took care of you.  Was the Blackstone Rangers, long, long time ago now."  He spoke about being free and being owned, about how a choice may not be more than a light in the darkness, a light/choice so small that it's not really a choice— except that at the time, it seems as if it is.
        He frowned but did not blink.  He looked into the yard and the alley.  Edges of red, vine leaves hung upon the garage fascia.  Now he turned his coal-colored face to the sunlight.  The smell of leaves sailed in the little breezes.  It was a sweet smell, and the grass, too, smelled sweet, drafting the backyard.
        "I got out.  Back then a man could.  I don't understand them today.  They put 'em through this torture, what you call, initiate 'em.  Them boys now is crazy, they can't get out. . ."

        "I killed a man when I was twenty-four."  The old man with a coal-colored face sat on sun-scorched, wooden steps at the rear of the one-hundred-year-old, brick building.  "You put it out of your mind."  The steps rolled under the porch canopy.  Houses in the old neighborhood were set close.  Autumn leaves were falling, but the air was hot.
        The man rolled his hands, one over the other.  "Oh, I was raised in church, all right, taught about God.  My momma would whip me if I didn't go.  Was the Church of the Pentecost.  Yeah, I remember, sure do."
        The alley was filled with debris.  He parsed his fingers, pinching his thumbs as he relived his past.  "I ran with the gang but it was family then.  They cared about you, took care of you.  Was the Blackstone Rangers, long, long time ago now."  He spoke about being free and being owned, about how a choice may not be more than a light in the darkness, a light/choice so small that it's not really a choice— except that at the time, it seems as if it is.
        He frowned but did not blink.  He looked into the yard and the alley.  Edges of red, vine leaves hung upon the garage fascia.  Now he turned his coal-colored face to the sunlight.  The smell of leaves sailed in the little breezes.  It was a sweet smell, and the grass, too, smelled sweet, drafting the backyard.
        "I got out.  Back then a man could.  I don't understand them today.  They put 'em through this torture, what you call, initiate 'em.  Them boys now is crazy, they can't get out. . ."
        The leaves were rustling, hop-skipping across the lawn.  Sparrows played in the dust.  In the far/near distance, yellow tree tops gleamed.  Sunlight broached the ground in bouncing patterns.
        The man had been in Dubuque a few years.  "I got family here.  That's why I come."  He had been working at the nearby pawn shop, pulling engine plugs, repairing windshield wipers, replacing tires on the stones at the alley.
        The sunlight wrinkled the dead leaves scattered over the bushes.  Autumn would soon leave, the heat would turn cold but the warmth brought the old man easy memories.  He wanted to talk.  "I was born and raised in Chicago, lived on the borderline of gang turf and I joined up with the Blackstone gang.  Yeah, I was shot five times.  Stabbed, too." He described the scene of the shooting, the sensation, the blood.  It squirted from his side.  He wrung out his hands, pulling on them like carrot tops in a garden.  Then he parsed his fingers, pinching his thumbs as he relived it.  His hands held the past.  He looked puzzled.
        His conversation tightened; his hands lay motionless on his lap.  He spoke like a soldier, his eyes dying and his face impassive.  He lifted his shirt where the raised, grey scars had transformed his torso.  "It's a world away, now."
        Soon, his animation ebbed.  In his wan face were the tired wrinkles of years of worry and poverty but he stood quickly now as if the energy of his younger self had not been stifled.
        The old man readied himself to say goodbye.  Squinting at the sunlight, he wiped his head as if he was sweeping it clean.  He murmured, "I read a little of the Bible once in a while, I'm sad sometimes, yep.  Guess I'd weep if I could."
        The conversation now over, he ambled into the yard, waved at a car that passed by and looked down at the sidewalk.  Then he walked into the darkening alley and began to whistle.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


TIMOTHY TRENKLE

Timothy Trenkle is a writer based in Dubuque, Iowa whose work has been published in several Iowa newspapers.  He teaches at Northeast Iowa Community College.

This page was first displayed
on May 08, 2014

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