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"Sunny's Side Of the Street"
2016 by Wayne Faust
All rights reserved
2016 by Wayne Faust
Sunny leaned against the brick wall of the abandoned Walgreen's store and looked at the magazine she had just found. She devoured the tabloid headline with her eyes. Blackie stood next to her on the pitted sidewalk with his hands on his hips.
The Worst Celebrity Beach Bodies - Look Inside To See Who's Who!
Sunny ran her hand over the cover of the magazine and clucked at the grainy photographs. "I think the porky one in the yellow bathing suit is Oprah," she said with a knowing smirk. "It's gotta be. They always blur out their eyes so you can't guess who they are until you buy the magazine. Hah! Well, nobody has to buy magazines these days. That's a good thing. Right, Blackie?"
"Whatever you say," muttered Blackie, looking up at the sky. "We've got enough food for dinner, as long as these cans aren't too hot. We'll have to check them out when we get down to the shelter; they were in the back of the warehouse so maybe they aren't be too bad. I don't trust that cloud moving in, though, so we need to get going before it..."
But, as usual, Sunny had already tuned him out. She opened up the tabloid and thumbed through the pages, stopping on one near the middle. "What did I tell ya'? It's Oprah, all right. That woman's like a balloon. You blow her up one month and deflate her the next. Looks like she's got herself inflated again. Yes, Sir. I wonder what old Stedman thinks when his wife gets fat like that, over and over and over."
Blackie groaned and shuffled his boots. "Sunny, why do you keep on bothering with that trash? It's making you crazy. Who ever cared about celebrities in the first place, even before all of this happened? What possible connection does it have to anybody else's life? Besides, Oprah is dead as a doornail."
"Don't say that, Blackie," scolded Sunny. "You don't know that for sure. Nobody knows that."
"But how could she… "
"You don't know that."
Sunny lowered the tabloid and glared at Blackie, letting air leak out from behind tightly clenched lips. "You're always such a killjoy."
"Maybe, Sunny, maybe," answered Blackie with a sigh. "But I believe in reality, not in some fantasy world."
Sunny spit some saliva through the gap where her front teeth used to be. It was brown from the moldy tobacco she had just been chewing, or maybe it could have been from blood. "That's what I think of your reality," she said, spitting another long string onto the sidewalk. "You're such a downer, ya know that?"
Blackie ran his hand over his scalp, through the few, little clumps of red hair he had left. "How could I not be a downer? Look around!"
Sunny looked around. She took in the tumbled-down buildings, the streets full of shattered glass, the decaying bodies. Most of all, she noticed the peculiar, misty look of everything, as if it were a foggy day. But there wasn't any fog any more, at least not like before. Everything looked gray and nearly colorless, like an old, faded, black and white print.
"I think it's kinda beautiful," she declared.
"Beautiful?" sputtered Blackie. "You call this beautiful? Don't you remember anything of how it used to be? How it's supposed to be? There's nothing left. Nothing at all. They destroyed it!"
Sunny glared at Blackie and rocked her head back and forth, back and forth, like a bobble-head doll. "Oh yeah?" she said triumphantly. "They're still makin' these magazines ain't they? So things must be okay." She held up the cover. "See? Oprah's been gettin' plenty of food. If I was that fat, I wouldn't be caught dead in a swimsuit like that. She looks like Big Bird without the feathers."
Blackie ground his teeth and started to say something but thought better of it. Like he had so many times before, since the day he had taken to hanging out with this woman, he counted to ten inside his head. Then he managed a half-hearted smile.
"Honey, you were never fat," he said. He was hoping it sounded like a compliment, but you never knew with women. Especially women like Sunny.
"Oh, I used to have to watch it pretty close," muttered Sunny.
Blackie breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe he had gotten it right for a change.
Sunny's face brightened like the clouds parting in the old days. "But I don't have to watch my weight no more. Not these days. Come to think of it, I ain't been on a scale since I can remember. So there's lots to be glad for, ain't there?"
"That's right," agreed Blackie. "Nobody will ever be fat again." The words had slid out of his mouth like butter before he had a chance to swallow them back down. He instantly knew he had made a mistake, even before Sunny began to stare at him with her eyes flashing.
"You shut your mouth!" hissed Sunny. "Why do you have to talk like that? Look at Oprah! She's plenty fat and I bet that picture was taken just last week!"
"Maybe you should look at the date on the cover," muttered Blackie, unable to help himself.
"What's that supposed to mean?" yelled Sunny in her loudest, outside-the-shelter voice.
Blackie could only shrink back and hang his head like a beaten dog. Why did they always have to get into fights like this, especially when they might be the only two people left in the city? Or maybe in the whole world...
Sunny spat a couple more times. Then she shook her head and resumed thumbing through the magazine. "Ain't got to worry about no date. No, Sir. Just found this magazine five minutes ago, over there in the drug store. It was even still on the rack. Don't that make it new enough?"
Sunny turned another page and pursed her lips together. Then she spoke again as if the two of them hadn't just been shouting at each other. "Look at this, Blackie!"
Sunny held up a picture of Angelina Jolie, also in a bathing suit. Like the picture of Oprah, this one had probably been taken from far away with a zoom lens. "That woman's skinny as a rail. Like somebody in a concentration camp. All that money and still she starves herself. Tsk, tsk, tsk. If I had that kinda money I'd eat steak every day, yes sir. Maybe twice a day."
Blackie lifted his head and ran his bloodshot eyes over the picture. He knew he should just shut up. He knew that the argument had blessedly cooled down and that he should just leave it at that. And he did love Sunny. He really did. She had come along when things had been at their absolute worst. She had pulled him up out of the depths, literally and figuratively. So he knew that he should just swallow his words. He really should. But his tongue suddenly got a case of indigestion.
"She looks just like you," blurted Blackie. Before the words were even out of his mouth, he was taking a step backwards, nearly tripping over the curb.
The words hung in the murky air like knives. Sunny looked from the picture of Angelina Jolie to Blackie and back again several times. She puffed out her cheeks.
There was a long pause. Blackie thought that maybe nothing was going to happen this time, that maybe Sunny hadn't heard him right. But then she shrieked like a banshee and threw the tabloid at him. She began pummeling him with her fists, while at the same time kicking his shins with the pointy, scuffed toes of her high heeled shoes. Blackie put up his arms to defend himself, surprised at the strength of Sunny's blows, even after all that had happened. She kept on hitting him until her arms and legs began to tire. During the tirade, she managed a few grunted words. "Y...y...you...pessimist!"
Blackie managed to pull away. He wiped at his mouth, which had started bleeding again, this time from Sunny's blows and not from malnutrition. He was angry now himself. "Well, I might be a pessimist, but you're blind or something," he shouted. "They got mirrors in the shelter but you refuse to even look in them. You're nothing but skin and bones! Just like me! So take a good, hard look at this!"
Blackie lifted his shirt. All of his ribs protruded, pushing against the purplish, flaccid skin of his chest. His waist was almost down to nothing and the only thing holding up his jeans was a frayed rope. "We're never going to be fat again, Sunny, can't you see that? We used up the last of the food in the shelter, don't you remember? And anything we scrounge for out here is as hot as a spent fuel rod. When we eat it, we puke our guts out. Why do you think nobody else is walking around? And that tabloid is from last year at best. We're going to die, only slower, unlike those people in Hollywood when the first bombs hit the west coast, before the whole power grid was knocked out. We'll never have to worry about gaining weight again. So give it a rest. It's getting dark."
There was a long, long pause as Sunny and Blackie faced each other down, both of them breathing like they had just run around the block. Then, inexplicably, Sunny smiled, like a cloud parting. "That's so nice," she said.
"What?" sputtered Blackie.
"Nice. You said something nice just now. It's not like you, but you did! You just said, 'We never have to worry about gainin' weight again.' I heard you say it. Don't try to say you didn't. After all this time, and after everything's that's happened to us, you said something positive! I do believe I'm finally rubbing off on you. Maybe you're starting to look at things on the bright side, like my Mama always told us to do. 'The world is what you make it.' She musta told me that a hundred times."
Sunny stood beaming at Blackie, who opened his mouth to speak. But this time, nothing came out. Nothing at all.
Sunny bent down to gather up the scattered sections of the tabloid, as Blackie looked on with his mouth still wide open. Her smile was absolutely giddy.
"It's no use," muttered Blackie finally. He knew that no matter how angry he got with her, she would always be the same old Sunny. And if he had to admit it, her cheerful madness always found a way to diffuse his anger, even if it only made him ponder the incomprehensible things she came up with. Sometimes she could even pierce the gloom inside his head, even if just for a short while. And that was happening now. He sighed and managed to give her a faint smile of resignation. "We should go home now," he said.
"Home," answered Sunny. "That sounds really nice. "Home is where the heart is, that's what my Mama always used to say. And home is just for you and me, ain't that right? Just the two of us, and nobody else."
"Of course," answered Blackie, smiling again in spite of himself.
"Maybe we can get a little cozy tonight, what d'ya think?"
"Sure, Sunny," said Blackie.
Sunny took Blackie's arm and they headed east toward the long flight of dark stairs that would take them down to their shelter in the subway. As they strolled along, Blackie grimaced up at the poisonous skies. But, like so many times before, Sunny was oblivious and she began to sing an off-key rendition of "Here Comes the Sun." It was the song that had caused Blackie to give her her nickname. And in spite of himself, he was humming along with her by the time they reached the stairs.
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