"I like this place," said Dasein. He was standing on the boardwalk smoking a grape cigarillo clinched tight between his molars that stuck out of his mouth like a wet exhaust pipe. The smoke made his eyes tear as it floated across his face and he brushed away grey vapor. He was talking to a local in a Michael Jordan jersey who looked like a humpback pirate with a touch of scurvy.
"It's been ages since I've been out here," he said, "and I used to come out here all the time."
Dasein was a lanky man with a small bud of gut-pudge that drooped from his abdomen. His bristly face was curved like a crescent moon and his chin stamped with a pin-sized dimple. He wore a flannel, button-down cowboy shirt noticeably worn in places and wrinkled in others. The sleeves were rolled up messily above the elbows and exposed his wiry forearms. He squinted at the crowd of people moving across the boardwalk's wooden planks as he talked cradling a warm and frothless beer. Again and again, he would reach behind his back to make sure his pant waist had not slipped too far down his slim hips, revealing his underpants. His stomach-pudge did not help. Men with such guts must decide whether to go high or low when arranging their belts. Dasein went low.
"Is that right?" said the local. His ashy face was withered like a piece of driftwood, looking like a man who could have been fifty or eighty. "When was the last time?"
"Man, when I was younger," said Dasein.
"Oh, yeah? Well, how young is that?"
"Teenage, probably. Yeah, I was definitely teenage," Dasein repeated. "It seems like a long time ago, too long. Then again, it seems like it was only the other day. I'd come out here with friends who lived in the city. Spend the whole day. Man, those were the days. I still live there, the city."
A sweet nostalgia welled up inside him as he remembered the life he once had. The life he was living on his last visit to the same boardwalk, remembering the spark and velocity with which he had once moved. The life of a young man—a boy—full of the uncaring pleasures of those times when nothing is foreseen and all that is left behind seems like nothing but dead weight. That life had ended. Today, the Ferris wheel ticked slowly like the second hand of an old watch. The seagulls traced the sky with their aimless patterns. This much he had visualized and his memory of the image was still vivid.
"Good thing you came and seen it one last time. There's going to be some changes, renovations around here soon. A lot of them, too," the local said.
"Renovations?" Dasein said wonderingly. "Seems like everything is being renovated these days, doesn't it? What kinds? Will you still be able to get a hotdog?"
"I don't see why not. Prices are surely gonna go up," the local said. "The whole corporate thing is taking over. Buncha assholes." He grimaced, slowly peeling back his lips, and exposed his black kernel teeth that looked like chunks of brick covered in soot.
Dasein took a swig of his drink and turned towards the sea to watch the cold water churning green and murky. "Not surprising," he said. "Well, what about the freaks? I thought they'd still be wandering around this place," he cackled, gumming the cigar one last time before dropping it on the ground. "Where are all those crazy bikini freaks with scoliosis and webbed feet?" He chuckled and swung his face away from the sun, as if allergic to its ultraviolet radiate. He grinned madly. A Hispanic family glanced over at him and hurried on.
"Oh, they're still around. Don't see'em as often though," said the local.
Dasein shook his head and smiled. His eyes fell on an abandoned playground across the boardwalk rising up from the sand.
"I've got a kid out here somewhere, man. A real life kid," Dasein said teetering on his heels. "How do you suppose it is after all this time?"
"Well, a biological one, anyways. Legally speaking? No. It was one of those things...I was young and she, the mother, she was younger. A mistake. A mulligan."
"What happened?" Dasein said. "It just wasn't my time, that's all. I had my whole life ahead of me, man. You know what I'm talking about. Plus, I was in no state to settle down then. And she didn't even care. So..." He smiled. "Au revoir. No hard feelings. No trouble." He leaned back on his heels and looked over at the ballpark down shore. "What kind of season they having?" "So-so, I suppose," the local said. "I guess I'm not much of a fan."
Dasein laid his drink down between his feet and slowly began practicing the swing of a make-believe baseball bat, concentrating deeply on his form as if in some familiar drill. He mimicked the movement clumsily over and over without any trace of athleticism while honing in on his imaginary pitch. And at the end, he followed through and spat, just like the sluggers on television.
"One more of these," Dasein said grabbing up his glass, "and then, I'm going to go see my kid." He appealed to the local to hang around. "What do you think? I've never met'em before." He giggled. "Hello little boy or little girl: This might come as a surprise. I have never seen you or talked to you in your entire life, how ever long that has been...but I think you should know that I'm your father. Put'er there"
"What makes you so sure this kid lives around here?"
"I know a guy who works a few properties in the neighborhood. Know'em from way back. He told me about this tenant...about a woman with this boatload of children. Said her name was Libby. Showed me the lease. Or he read it to me, anyways, and sure enough, it was the same Libby. She has all what you might expect—works some job from home, lives in this rundown place full of kids. Babies. Probably belonging to a few different men too...or boys. She's shacked up right now in the place with some damn Pedro. I have the phone number right here."
Dasein dug into one of the chest pockets of his flannel and whipped out a folded Post-it note. For the fifth time that day, he began dialing the number. He squeezed his cell phone in his palm and his knuckles flared white. The phone was abnormally big, the size of a toy battleship, and had unusually large keys. It looked more like a cop's flashlight or TV remote control for an elderly person, made easy to see and read. Dasein moved slowly, holding the paper up close to his eyes. He did the same with the dial pad, then checked and rechecked his work. He finally pressed send. "It's ringing," Dasein said and held the phone to his ear.
A man answered the phone. He sounded raspy and tired with a Latino accent that came across as flashy. In the background, pots and pans clamored above the sound of running water. "Hola?"
Insecure in his mono-linguality, Dasein hesitated for a moment.
"Ah, yes. Is this the number of a Libby?" Dasein asked. The clarity of his speech had noticeably altered. He sounded more polite.
"Si. Yes, senor. What can I do for you?" The man sounded preoccupied and uninterested but kind enough to not hang up.
A dumb smile spread across Dasein's face. "Well—I thought so. My name is Dasein."
"Dasein. I'm an old friend of Libby's."
"Would you hold one moment?" the man said. "These children are running wild. The TV is on full blast. I'm going loco en la cabeza. Comprende? I can't hear myself think. Could you hold on for a second?"
Dasein heard the man unleash several rapid bursts of Spanish like gunfire at some unseen target on his end of the line. Then he returned his attention to the telephone.
"Ok. Gracias. Lo siento," he said, breathless, "with whom am I speaking, again?"
He spoke fast and words seemed to roll swiftly off his tongue, sliding through his teeth like a spiral wave.
"This is Dasein."
"Dasein? Hola, Dasein. How can I help you?"
"Well, I—and also, thanks for speaking with me—I was in the neighborhood, took the train down from the city, that's where I live, and I thought I would stop by and say hello."
"Stop by?" he said. "Does Libby know? I mean, did you speak to her? I am only the boyfriend, hombre. I'm Hugo, by the way. For what reason—what would be the nature of you visit?"
Dasein forced a nervous laugh and did not know how to reply right away. "I believe I have child that is...presently in your care."
"Yes. Yes. I see. I see, Mr. Dasein. Please wait one minute. I will get you to speak with Libby now. I'm only the boyfriend. Could you wait? Un minuto."
"Sure. And thanks, Hugo," Dasein said, shooting the local a wink with a toothy grin. A few moments passed and Dasein stood edgily kicking at a rusty nail head protruding up from the boardwalk. He prodded it with the toe of his sneaker until he heard another voice on the line.
"Hello?" It was a woman. She sounded startled.
"Hey—you'll never guess who this is?"
"This is your old friend..." He paused hoping that his playful tone would be reciprocated, but in that millisecond, he grew tense and blurted out his name. "It's Dasein."
"Dasein. Oh my gosh! Really?"
"It sure is. I was in the neighborhood, came down from the city, just for the day, and thought I would give you a ring."
"Wow. That's nice," said Libby. "What a shock. How did you get this number?"
Dasein didn't exactly know how to answer so he laughed and bought himself a fresh thought before he spoke. "I looked you up," he said.
"Well, how kind of you. What are you up to these days?"
"Nothing really. Nothing and everything. Living to work—working to live. That's life, I guess. Traveling when I can. Keeping fit. Same old same old."
"Have you got your pilot's license yet? That was your plan, right? To be a pilot or something?"
"Well," his words recessed in the pit beneath his tongue. He could taste the sour flavor of tobacco swimming in his saliva. "I am a pilot. I have my license—had—I should say."
"What does that mean?" Libby said.
"Well, it means I no longer have a license...to be specific that is, but I will always be a pilot whether I fly or not. Since you ask, the fact is they grounded me about a year ago. I got this eye thing...something they call Best Disease. It's nothing fatal or anything, but it's one of those things that develop over time. To put it in layman's terms, the older you get the worse it can get. In my case, it's my vision."
There was a level of embarrassment in his words as he spoke them, especially with the local listening in devotedly. But beneath the surface, there was a latent trace composure in Dasein's sagging voice that gave his admission the sound that he had come to terms with whatever hardships he faced—whether he had or not—but managed to give his audience the sense that he had.
"Dasein, I'm so sorry," she said. "That's terrible. How serious is it?"
"It's not a serious thing. I'm not blind or anything. But legally speaking, they say I am."
"I'm sorry to hear that, but you're alright and that's the important thing. Isn't it?" She paused, perturbed with Dasein's jumpy chatter. "So what are you doing now?"
"Oh. I'm still at the airport," he stopped short, allowing her imagination to fill the empty space. "They refused to let a guy like me go...but enough about me. What's up with you?"
"Me?" said Libby. "How is everyone else? Tired. Ready for a vacation if you ask me."
There was a commotion in the background. The sound of furniture being drug across a wooden floor grumbled over the pump-suck of water chugging down a drain.
"Libby," said Dasein, softly and sounding more serious, "do you have any idea about why I'm calling?"
Her response did not come immediately. "I have an idea," she said finally, followed by silence on the line.
"The kid, Libby, how is the kid? Mine. Ours?"
She waited and let the antennas connecting their radio signals suspend the seconds which lulled and hung stale in the wireless void. For a minute, Dasein thought the line had gone dead.
"Hello?" he said.
"That was a long time ago, Dasein," she said finally. "We were both so young. But I believe everything happens for a reason. You know? No one can undo what has already been done. There is no use—like I always say—letting what happened yesterday get in the way of what could happen tomorrow. Right?"
She seemed unclear of things herself. Her words sounded cryptic and almost ashamed. Dasein imagined Hugo eavesdropping intensely over her shoulder.
"I don't think I understand, Libby."
"Goodness me," she yawned into the receiver. "It's really strange, you calling me like this after all this time. What a surprise. I haven't thought about you in such a long time and wow. Children. Having children around all the time is no easy task. I will tell you that's the truth. It is a real labor of love, if you ask me."
"I heard cabbies give free rides to women in labor," Dasein said.
"I took an ambulance," she uttered. Her words popped inside his earpiece and buzzed like a wasp fighting a windowpane.
"Well, is she a he or he a she?" He probed, passing over the alarm bells that accompany the word ambulance.
"There isn't one," she said. "There never was, Dasein. It seems like forever ago, but feels just like it could have been yesterday. I remember waking up sick one morning, it was a blur so I can't recall every detail, but I remember feeling really ill. I didn't really come to until the next day. I was so drowsy from all those meds. The doctors told me that my body just wasn't ready for childbearing. A miscarriage is not uncommon for a girl that age. Like I said, everything happened for a reason. I know I could have called you."
Dasein released a lungful of air and stood motionless on the boardwalk. "No child?" Dasein said.
"No child," she echoed. "At first, it was a really difficult period for me. Both health-wise and emotionally, you could say. But everything works itself out in the end, Dasein."
"Libby," Dasein said, "why didn't you tell me? No word or notice? You didn't even think to send a letter at least? Here I am thinking I have a son or daughter out in the world somewhere riding the same subways as me and walking the same sidewalks? Imagine that?"
"I don't know what to say," she said.
"I don't know what to say either. You could have told me."
"I could have."
"Yeah, you could have, but you didn't."
"I know. I should've."
"But you didn't."
"There was no reason to."
There was a strange feeling inside Dasein. Not physical but an internal tickle that left him reeling from an idea that had just died or—more appropriately—had been killed. He was unsure what to feel. His senses sharpened.
"Libby," Dasein said, "could I come and see you?"
On the walk over to Libby's apartment on Neptune Avenue, he passed through a warren of Soviet-style high-rises laced with spray-paint and strung together by power lines, dead vines, and barbed wire. There was no one in sight. Tiny bodegas with moldy awnings lined the empty road coated in loose gravel and pigeon shit. Dasein persuaded himself to feel sensitive about the looming reunion. His beer had worn off and he felt thirsty. He tried to remember things about the short time he had spent with her long ago but was not sure which memories belonged to her and instead mistook one vacant recollection for another forming a single streaming narrative with no plot and all parts interchangeable. This, the evidence of a mind damaged by the excesses of time, which, like his eyes, was a somber reminder of what he had lost and made him question the notion that he actually had things to lose at one time.
Dasein had asked the local about the address. "It'll be on the south side of the street," he was told. He had offered to walk Dasein to the door but was refused.
As he climbed up the stoop to Libby's small underwhelming building, he forced a smile of a man wanting to make sure his expression would be seen as proof of composure, a smile that bore all teeth with his lips stretched across the face in a rectangular outline which looked more grimmer than gracious, an expression that took pale calculation, maybe even illness. After all this time, he was expected to believe that she lived in a home full of children and not one belonged to him.
Dasein squinted up at the building and narrowed his eyes. The structure looked like an old aerosol can faded green with rust around the edges. The pavement was marked-up with hundreds of neon chalk designs scratched by the hands of children. He rang the doorbell and tried to look in through the peephole as he waited, cupping his eyes around the glass orb.
Hugo opened the door. He was a round man with a calm face. He looked smaller than Dasein had imagined. "Hola, mi amigo," he said and shook Dasein's hand. He was wearing a black, short-sleeved shirt. On it was the image of a Catholic cross flanked on either side by a pair of brass knuckles. The words printed above the symbol in Old English read: Dirty Dozen Label. Dasein thought this was the strangest shirt he had ever seen.
"Hello," Libby called out from somewhere inside. "I am trying to get lunch ready. Be right out."
Dasein stepped inside and surveyed his surroundings. "I like your place," he said. "Thank you for having me. Like I said...I was down from the city. That's where I live. So, I thought I'd try to peek my head in and say hello. Man, this is spacious isn't it?"
"Yes. Yes," Hugo said. "Can I get you anything? Something to drink, perhaps?"
"What do you have?"
"A cold soda sounds great," Dasein said.
Hugo disappeared into the kitchen for a moment, leaving Dasein alone in the vestibule adjacent a living room area. He perused each surface and corner. The evidence of children was everywhere. Building blocks littered the floor. A plastic crate of rattles and squeaky toys sat between the wall and a lazy chair. When Hugo returned he handed Dasein a cold can of generic cola and offered him a seat.
The house smelled of cafeteria food and the spongy aroma of a discarded diaper. The chirp of children yelling and playing rose from somewhere outside and flowed softly through the room.
"Cozy spot," said Dasein. "You have a lot more room than I do in my old place. But in the city, well I guess you have to sacrifice things like space. I really like it though and besides, for the deal I have, I shouldn't be complaining."
Hugo gathered some scattered newspapers and magazines off of the couch and floor and began arranging them neatly on the coffee table. "We just renovated. It's not much, but I'm happy with it," he said over his shoulder.
"No doubt," Dasein said. "And that's the important thing."
Hugo said nothing, but smiled. He slid out a section of the paper that caught his eye and sat down in the lazy chair. Both men sat quietly in the afternoon light of the den.
"Anything interesting happening in the world today?" Dasein asked, nodding at the paper.
Hugo looked up from his paper then his eyes returned to the page.
"Pirates," he said.
"Pirates in Africa. Hijacked another ship. This one full of passengers. That is all it says."
Hugo leaned forward and held up the page with the headline for Dasein who squinted. He could not make out the letters but nodded in approval anyways.
"Another?" Dasein said unaware of any previous hijacking. He attempted to look informed. "That's horrible. Crazy animals if you ask me."
"Tell me, Hugo," he said. "I couldn't help but notice all the toys and what-not lying around, and it made me wonder how many children you guys have."
"Children?" he replied. "We have all kinds. Little...how do you say...rambunctious tornados. That is what my mother used to say—mi madre. Sometimes I think too many...like I live in a real-life Looney bin. But you get used to the noise."
"Really? That's great. I don't think I could ever be a father."
"Father?" Hugo sounded surprised. "Oh no! You are mistaken mi amigo! None of them belong to me." He laughed. "Libby has a daycare right here in this place. Ha. Other people's babies. Not mine. Oh no."
"I see," Dasein said. "For some reason I though that maybe you had children. I don't know why. Well, I guess that must keep things exciting around here?"
"Too exciting," he said. "They are all out back right now. Gives me some peace."
"I hear ya. But I guess it's not a bad business to be in. Getting to work from home. I bet it takes a certain stress out of working altogether. Being your own boss and all. Does Libby enjoy it?"
"I guess she does," he said. "She is good with kids. So good I think she is a kid herself. But sometimes she works too hard."
"Hello?" Libby called, "Hugo would you please call Mrs. Chavez and tell her Maria is not feeling good? She says she has a stomach ache."
"What is the number?" said Hugo.
"What did you say?"
"I said yes. What is the number?"
"I don't know. It's on the refrigerator. Thanks."
Hugo rose to the command. A commotion filled the air inside the room and Dasein felt himself fade in the fuss from his settled spot on the couch.
When Libby came in, Dasein's memory was revived. He stood up and gave her an awkward embrace as she neared. Libby looked like an older woman. Not old, but older, brighter, and full of an adrenaline no doubt born from her relentless multitasking. Her brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail behind her head. She had gained weight but was not overweight. She was dressed in a t-shirt and sweatpants coiled above her ankles messily and without any self-consciousness.
"Dasein, it's so great to see you," she said with a cheeriness. "Don't you look nice today?"
"And so do you," Dasein said. He reached behind his back again and checked his pants to make sure they had not slipped below his butt.
"Oh, really?" Libby said. "I feel like a mess."
"Nonsense," Dasein said. "You're obviously keeping busy."
"I have been very busy," Libby said.
"I imagine it's all in a day's work, right?"
"Ha. Sure. I guess that's one way to describe it," Libby replied.
"Well, you must love what you do at least. I'm envious to be honest. When Hugo told me about your arrangement here, it made me think about how nice it would be to work from home. Not a bad job to have at all."
"Oh, Dasein," Libby cried. "How about your eyes? Can you see me?"
"I can see you just fine. I told you. It sounds a lot worse that it really is. Just don't ask me to fly your plane," he said smiling.
"Ha. Don't worry about that," she said jokingly.
"It's one of those rare things," Dasein said. "Best Disease. I know. Odd name, right? Supposedly, I've had it a while, just never had a problem with it until my eyes began to go bad. I can usually make out things I'm familiar with, like street signs and stuff. Lights and darks are no trouble either. I only seem to have trouble after the sun sets. They call that night blindness."
She nodded along agreeably and flared her nostrils. "You still don't smoke do you?" she said sounding hopeful.
"Baby," Hugo called from the next room, "there are a hundred numbers here. Which one is it?"
"The one that says Saturday...It's pink," Libby yelled back.
"I don't see any pink," Hugo said. "Pink. Pink. Pink...aha. Rosa. I found it," he shouted.
Libby rubbed the back of her neck. "I'm sorry," she said. "The weekends are always a little hectic around here."
Just then, the sound of a door swinging open and pounding shut rung from somewhere deep behind the house and an army of children invaded the room. They were children of all shapes and colors with grubby, brown hands, reeking of sweat and the outdoors. A small redheaded girl ran up through Libby's legs and grabbed her hand using the woman's hanging arms as a rope swing. She was being chased by an Asian boy waving a stick.
"See what I mean?" Libby said shaking her head and smiling.
Like a pack of bees, the kids swarmed inside the den and began dissecting the contents of the toy crate beside the lazy chair, fighting over whose turn it was with an Etch-a-Sketch and whose turn was next.
"I certainly do," Dasein said.
"Jason! Give me that stick," Libby commanded. "No sticks in the house, buster. Angie, give Leroy back his Legos. Sammy. Sammy! Go back outside and take your shoes off. They're covered in slime."
"Look at me," shouted a tubby white boy. "I'm Michael. I'm Michael Jordan!" he said and pretended to slam dunk a tennis ball into an empty flowerpot. "Two points!" he wailed.
Hugo's voice echoed quick and poetic from the kitchen. "Hola? Es esta Sra. Chavez? Esto es el llamamiento de Hugo para Sra. Libby," he said. "Quise decirle que Maria no se siente bien. Sí. Ella dice sus heridas de estómago. Sí. Sí. Ah, de nada. Ningún problema. Bueno. Sí, eso es correcto. Bueno...Adiós."
"Who is that?" said a small black boy in a baseball cap with big, pink gums.
"Darnell, this is Dasein," Libby said. "Can everyone say hello to Mr. Dasein?"
"HELLO, MR. DASEIN," said all the children in unison.
Dasein smiled down at what seemed like a hundred little eyes all pointed at his. "Hello, everybody," he said. He reached around and checked his pant-waist.
"Well, if I don't feed these animals they're going to burn this place down," Libby said. "You in the mood for fish sticks?"
"That's alright," he said. "I think I had a hotdog earlier...so I think I'm good. Anyways, you guys look like you have your hands full. Besides, I should get back to the city."
"I want a hotdog!" yelled the Asian boy.
BIO: Adam's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Soon Quarterly, decomP, Red Fez, Poor Mojo's Almanac(k), Yellow Mama, and Farmhouse Magazine. He is also a contributor to the Nashville Scene and The Huffington Post. He lives in Brooklyn and works in publishing. Find him here: firstname.lastname@example.org