by Francis Scudellari
Jacob and Virgil
“Yeah, this railing’s a little loose, but I’ll tighten ’er up, don’t you worry kid.” A hairy hand slapped Jacob's shoulder, jarring him from the vision. Reverie removed, the booming voice disintegrated into a low, gravelly rasp. The pale god-like face melted. It morphed into the dirty, earthy smirk of the landlord.
Jacob squeezed the fat, sweaty palm extended to him.
“How you doin’ kid, I’m Virgil. I talked to ya on the phone yesterday. I live on the first floor right here. I look after the place, make sure everything’s workin’ okay. Y’ever got any problems you just call Virgil and I’ll fix ’em right up. Follow me, I’ll show ya the place.”
A thick cigar pried Virgil’s smile — an unlit prop, a half-smoked pacifier that he chewed between words. The smell of vodka clung to his breath. This morning, every morning, Virgil tapped the bottled vigor. He looked to, through, the cool, clear liquid. It restored his world’s lost sheen. It quickened his sapped strength. It bandaged his proud wounds.
The liquor lent him a mirthful mask, a canned chuckle — saccharine outer garments to cover his bitter heart. The alcohol spread through his soulless shell. It animated his numbed flesh. It made taut the strings that lifted his flabby limbs and walked him through the routine stumble of his day-to-day chores.
Virgil was to be Jacob’s escort up the narrow stairway. Lagging behind, Jacob watched the lump of a man climb. Rusted tools and a shiny flask bobbed in his rear pockets with each step. Jacob tried to dodge the tumbling, thudding words of dull banter that fell to his ears.
“You’ll like it here, kid. Good location. Cheap rent. Quiet neighbors. You’ll get used to the trains.”
The cigar attached itself to Virgil’s hand, a sixth brown stub. Shaking and fluttering, it pointed Jacob’s gaze toward the bent shadows, the cobwebbed corners where sinister spirits sat poised to drop on his guide's haunted shoulders.