Free Form

by Tony Rickaby

photo of manphoto of crowd

With a bottle of coke in one hand and a bottle of scotch in the other, C. sits beside Pollock on a bench in Penn Station. Suddenly, he gets up and staggers over to the men’s room, crashing into people waiting for their trains.

A few minutes later he returns, sits back down on the bench, and drops his coke bottle smash to the ground at his and Pollock’s feet. They both try to kick the glass away.

‘This bastard city makes me sick!’ yells C. ‘I’d get out of here if I were you… There’s no action here like they reckon there is… Anywhere’s better than this… Long Island… Connecticut… Anywhere…’

Pollock asks him what he does for a living.

‘You name it, I’ve done it. I’ve been a salesman… A poolroom hustler… I’ve worked for the Philip Morris Company… Then the war came along… The Duco paint company… I’ve even humped garbage round the streets of Rochester… But I’m resting at the moment–know what I mean? Ha! Ha!… Hey, d’you wanna drink?’

An Irish policeman slowly strolls across.

May 28th. There is a general strike of workers in the city of Rochester.

Two weeks earlier the city administration announced that they were abolishing several hundred jobs in the Division of Public Works. Union leaders charged that this was an attempt to prevent employees in that department from joining a union.

Subsequently, the C.I.O (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and the Central Labor Council of the A.F.L. (American Federation of Labor) each named three members of a Strategy Board. When a number of garbage workers ceased work and were dismissed, the strategy called for a general walkout in sympathy on May 28th.

The next day the city administration agrees to allow unionization and the strike is called off.

He wipes his nose with the back of his left hand and stares down at the grey ground. He inches his right foot forward and to the right until it reaches the wet and the broken glass. With the toe of his right shoe he slowly pushes a small pool of the wet into a spiral and then into a zigzag, a circle, a diamond and a square. He notes the wet seep into the faded brown leather of the toecap. Leaning forward, he lets drop into the wet an inch of ash from the cigarette that he holds between the first and second fingers of his right hand. He just hears a slight hiss and notes a tiny puff of steam arise from the wet. With both feet he pushes around the broken pieces of glass, trying in vain to pick them up between his heels.