“Photographs” by Darryl Graff
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
Whenever I start a restoration project, I take before-photos, and when I finish, I take after-shots.
For the last ten years or so, I’ve been taking these before- and after-shots to be developed at the one-hour photo lab on East Broadway in Chinatown.
The girl behind the counter at World Photo in Chinatown always says to me, “You do such interesting work: theaters, museums, a courthouse. You must really like what you do.”
The old Italian guy who taught me the plastering business used to say to me, “This business is filled with ‘rat motherfuckers.’
“This is one of the only legal ways to make big money without a college degree,” he explained. “Once you’re in the union, you’re in the union. That’s it, that’s all. So, lots of guys want in, but there’s only so much work to go around,” the old man said to me. “Darryl, I’m doing this a long time, you follow me? I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen: a guy is gonna shake your hand, and, with the other hand, he’s gonna stab you in the back. That’s what rat motherfuckers do; that’s what this business is about.”
Well, the old man was right. The “rat motherfuckers” have over the years come at me from every direction, wanting my job and my paycheck. And you know what, they took it from me several times. I got knocked out of the box several times, and most of these guys were guys I knew, guys who I thought were my friends. I fight them off whenever I can; sometimes they win, sometimes I win.
I once worked with a plasterer named John. We did two museums and a courthouse together. He was a great guy, and a great plasterer, and he definitely wasn’t a “rat.” John and I wound up working for different companies. Last year, he fell off a scaffold, and died. Since then, whenever I’m installing plaster ceiling rosettes, I always write his name on the back of each rosette and take a photo. I don’t show these pictures to anyone, but I do it anyway.
I go to the one-hour photo lab to pick up my new before- and after-shots, and the Chinese girl behind the counter says, “Wow. Another Broadway theater. Which one is it?”
“The Shoenfeld,” I say. “The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, on 45th Street.”
“So, where’s your next job?” she says.
“Who knows,” I say. “I’m laid off, again.”
Then she smiles, and she says in a reassuring voice, “Don’t worry, this is New York City. There’s work for everyone.”
And you know what? She’s right. There will be more jobs, more before- and after-shots, and naturally, more “rat motherfuckers.”
At that moment, I realize the therapist can’t help me, the bartender can’t help me, the guy who sells tokens at the peep show palace can’t help me, two-for-a-dollar loose cigarettes at the Arab bodega on Madison Street can’t help me.
The only thing that can help me, the only one that can save me from myself is the Chinese girl behind the counter at the one-hour photo lab on East Broadway in Chinatown.
As I leave the store, she says, “See you next time.”
DARRYL GRAFF is a New York City–based construction worker and writer. His story “Superman” appeared in Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder series in September, 2014. His story Will’s Pork Chop can be viewed in December, 2015 at www.zestlit.com. You can contact Darryl at [email protected].
Posted: Nov 9, 2015
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