Fortnightly Fiction | Orphans

I’m sitting against the subway stairs, watching people do that tap tap quick walk they do when they want to show everyone how busy they are. Hurrying to get to Queens or Brooklyn. The sky’s all pink and gold, making long shadows and people squint. I get up across to that Chinese place. They got some stuff at the end of the day for me, sometimes. I’m not paying much attention and I nearly crash into this big white kid coming out of a bar. He’s got a look on his face like he just got dumped or something. I feel like telling him it’ll be okay.

“Oh shit sorry man, I wasn’t looking where I was going,” I say. He just mumbles something back at me I can’t hear.

“Hey man, you got a cigarette? I wouldn’t ask but y’know this city, fucking 14 bucks a pack,” I say. Tiny little smile and he gives me one. His hand is shaking.

“Hey you okay, man?” I say. He lets out a little laugh like a popgun, and finally says something.


“Not really, no.”


It’s warm, and we’re on our third one each. He’s paying, and he’s good company. “Hey I never asked your name, man,” he says.


“David. Nice to meet you, dude.” He shakes my hand like it’s a job interview.

“You’re not from here, right?” I say.

“Nah man, Dublin. Ireland.”

“Shit, what you doing here?”

“That’s a bit of a long story.”

“Where you living?” Shit why the hell did I ask him that.

“Out in Rockaway. End of the line. You?”

“Oh you know man, kinda everywhere. I been sleeping at my cousin’s place in Queens but it’s kinda hard. He’s got a kid and it’s a small place. You know.”

“Yeah, man, yeah I do.”

He says it like he does know. I take another drink. I feel like he’s giving me a once over.

“Hey what age are you, man?” he asks.

“Older than you, I bet.”


“I’m twenty two,” I say.

“You’re nineteen,” he says.

“Shit, how the fuck you know that?”

“Call it a talent,” he says. Weird fucking talent if you ask me. He’s looking pretty satisfied with himself, got a smile on his face. He’s actually kinda cute. Needs a haircut, but he’s one of those guys that looks good when he does.

“Well what age are you then, Mr. Talent?” I say.

“What time is it?”

“Nine fifteen.”

“Still twenty one then,” he says.

“Shit, it’s your birthday? You got no one to celebrate with?” I say. He gives me another smile.

“What do you call this?”

Jack Sheehan 'Orphans'

This isn’t a place I’d usually go to. One of those shitty hipster bars. Rich kids playing at being poor. Only time I go to bars, it’s the really nice ones guys take you to.

This guy’s putting like four drinks away in an hour, and he doesn’t even look buzzed. The way his hands move when he gets them, where his eyes go, it’s like he don’t even see the money. I’ve got another beer in front of me at the bar.

“So why are you out here, man? Where are your parents?” he asks.

“Oh man, they’re both dead. I’m an orphan,” I say.

“Oh shit I’m sorry dude I didn’t mean to-“

“Nah man I’m fucking with you. Nah as far as I know they’re still living their boring ass lives up in Scarsdale. First black members of the country club. They’re going to put him on the brochure this year or some shit.”

“’I’m sorry I didn’t mean you looked–”

“Nah man forget it. You see a kid like me you don’t expect a trust fund,” I say.

“So why’d you leave?”

“I didn’t leave man, I was fucking kicked out the front door.”

“But like, why?” he says.

“Shit man, you fucking slow? Cause I told them I…Cause like it’s one thing bringing home a-”

“Nah man I get it, I’m sorry.”

He doesn’t say anything else. My face is hot and sweaty in this parka. I hate explaining. Open your fucking eyes, man.

“You want another?” he asks, after a minute.

“You trying to get me drunk, man?”

“Trying to get myself drunk. Hey what time is it?”

“Ten forty-five.” I say.

“Fuck, I don’t want to be 22 here. Look at these shits,” he throws his hand around at everyone sitting. “Load of rich pricks.”

And all of a sudden I’m awkward, you know? Like you’re parents are too drunk at a party. I say, “I don’t know man, they ain’t bothering anyone.”

“Fucking bothering me. Hey let’s go. I got drink at my flat.”


See, usually I know how this goes. You don’t really call it anything, ‘cause you ain’t that kind of dude. It’s an arrangement you just like, come to. You take the drinks and you pretend it’s a date or something. Then they give you a couple hundred bucks and the next few weeks ain’t so shitty. I don’t know about this guy though. I think he just wants someone to talk to.

Jack Sheehan 'Orphans'

I don’t get this dude. He looks like he has money but he sits in this ratty apartment with no food and no furniture. We sit down on a couple of cushions in front of a fire. The only thing he has is a Queen-size mattress in the next room.

“So why you here?” I say. Same question as earlier.

“I told you, man, it’s like a summer work visa thing…”

“Yeah but it’s October. Shouldn’t you be back in school or some shit?” The fire’s the only light. His face is flickering.

“Yeah I noticed.” He finishes his drink and goes to make another. When he comes back he hits the ground with a little thump.

“I can’t go back,” he says. “It’s like…it’s kind of complicated. I hurt someone.”

“Hey man, time heals all wounds and all that shit. That girl will be alright eventually.”

“No like, I hurt my friend. I broke his fucking neck like.” He’s looking down and I can’t see his eyes.

“Well fuck. How’d you stay out of prison?” I say.

“He’s uh…like, he recovered. And his parents don’t want me…like it was never a case of…”

“He’s ok?”

“Well yeah. I dunno. Yeah, last I heard,” he says.

“Well then why can’t you go home?”

“Because I fucking…can’t” And out of nowhere he starts crying. Just standing there, shaking his shoulders and sobbing into his shirt, chin down on his chest. I go over and put my arms around him.

“C’mon man, it’ll be alright. It can’t be that bad,” I say.

This guy holds me like it’s the first time anyone’s hugged the poor bastard in years. For a long time he just parks his face in my shoulder. The fire’s going down.

When he pulls back his eyes are just about dry again, and he’s holding my arm lightly by my sides. He evens gets a tiny smile out.

“What am I even doing?” he says, and looks at me with the question. I pull in close, to kiss him.

It’s short, but not halted. Just short.

“Rufus, man, I’m sorry. I’m not uh…that’s not why I asked you back here.”

“Shit man, could have fooled me,” I say.

“I’m sorry.”

“No stress, dude. I better go anyway.”

“Nah, shit man you can stay here,” he says. “It’s too late to be…There’s like…just stay. You can sleep in the bed, unless you don’t trust me.”

“You trust yourself? Sorry man that was a joke.”

“Don’t worry about it. I…”

“Sorry,” I say.

“Look, fuck, let’s have another drink.”

“Yeah. Yeah ok man,” I say. Sometimes you get those guys who don’t know what they want. We make two drinks at the counter. He ain’t looking me in the eye. We sit back down on the floor.

“What’s your friend’s name?” I say, quiet, like I don’t want him to hear it.


That’s all he’s got. His head’s tilted back from the fire, his chin pointing out the window and away from here. Outside there’s a wind whistling. Doesn’t sound like a good one to be out all night. Silence don’t bother me, but I can see it getting to him.

“Well, it’s not like any of us ain’t hurt someone. Yours is just more, y’know, obvious,” I say. He looks at me like I’m from fucking Mars.

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“Cause like…I dunno we’re all hurt, y’know? And someone must have been the one to do it. Y’know like all those times you’re just careless or you say something and like…people are real…I dunno, fragile.”

I’m talking shit now, and getting a little worked up, but he looks like he’s listening. He smiles. I dunno why but that’s so fucking annoying right now.

“You’re really smart, y’know that?” he says.

“Shit man, why do you gotta say it like that? Why does everyone have to act like everything that isn’t dumb shit that comes out of my mouth is some kind of miracle?”

“I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just I dunno, you…”

“Nah, fuck man forget it. I ain’t happy when people call me smart, but I sure fucking hate it when people think I’m dumb,” I say.

“It’s not like-”

“You going to tell me what it’s like? You ever go to school with these people?” I’m breathing heavy. I don’t know why I’m so upset.

“Did you drop out?” he says.

“Well yeah man, you gotta have money to go to college here,” I say to him, like he’s a kid.

“And your parents stopped paying after they kicked you out, right?”

“Fuck dude, I didn’t get kicked out. That’s just something you say. Not really how it works anymore, right? My dad, he’s not a monster. He’s just got all these ideas, you know? When he was a kid he had all this ambition. Now he’s just…I dunno…small. You spend your whole life just paring down what you want. What you think you can get. Just chipping away at it every fucking day. And all you want right at the end is that kind of son you thought you might have. And you don’t get it.” I gotta pause for breath. He doesn’t interrupt, for once.

“You ever disappoint someone?” I say. “I don’t mean like let someone down, I mean they look at you like they ain’t seen you properly in a long time. And they see something they never thought they would. You ever do that?”

“Yeah. Yeah I have.” he says. And he sounds like he really has. I’m done.

“Shit man, I didn’t mean to blow off like that, I’m sorry,” I say.

“Don’t apologise.”

We sit there in the dark, and sip at vodka that’s doing nothing for how awkward it is. That’s ok, though, right now. Awkward can be good, y’know? Show’s we’re all still human. There’s still a couple questions in the air. All out of nowhere he starts talking real fast.

“I was angry at him, like, no question. And obviously when you’re angry sometimes you visualise certain things that you would never do,” he says.

I let him keep going. I guess this is his confessional, just like mine.

“And you know you’d never do them,” he says. “That’s how you grow up, as someone who would never do that. And afterwards it gets called an accident. And it was. It had to be. And you think back to the moment and it’s crystal clear until it isn’t. And you can’t remember what was going through your head. So what are you now?”

Another small sip. The bottle is nearly empty. David is lost, staring. After a long time, he comes back.

“You must be tired, man,” he says.

There’s more fucking around with the sleeping arrangements. Eventually we end up side by side on his bed.

Jack Sheehan 'Orphans'

When I wake up, early, we’re holding each other. I guess ‘cause all that makes most people feel better. It might even be as simple as that.

I leave a note, and when I shut the door there’s only a little light in the sky.

Outside it looks like storm weather soon. There’s a voicemail from home, and a text from my cousin about the hurricane. Always a couch for you here, Rufus, you know that. At the subway, a Puerto Rican kid swipes me in with an unlimited card. He smiles at me and says, “Have a good day.”

You too, dude. You too.

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