by Ron Burch
We sit still, trying not to breathe. Danny thinks he sees a glimmer, but itís only a rock shining in the sun.
Danny returns to digging in the ground. We used to pull him away, but he always went straight back, head down like a divine dowsing rod, intent. He says somethingís there, thatís what he tells me with the dirt crusted on his lips, smeared across his cheeks and face like warpaint, like a mud mask. He says something is there in the central park to be found, a treasure of some sort. He doesnít know what kind of treasure, but he swears it to be a treasure that weíll share, that weíll lavish onto mary, that weíll change our lives with.
mary does not capitalize her name.
Sometimes I believe him. Sometimes I believe that itís there, somewhere, under the ground.
mary has impetigo, thatís what the free-clinic doctor said as he passed to her medicine, samples in plastic that he had stuffed in his desk drawer, but even after the medicine, the damn thing wonít go away.
Danny digs until his body is covered with dirt, clods of it clutter his hair, the dirt and sweat mix on his body. mary and I stand guard over him, we stand alert and cunning in the park and watch diligently for the Park Police.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I sing to myself while Danny digs. Before I met Danny and mary, my walkman was stolen when I was asleep on a park bench one hot afternoon. Now I have to sing the songs myself. Itís not so bad, except sometimes I forget the words. I always offer to help Danny dig, but he wonít let me.
Sing on, Brady, he says to me. So I serenade him and mary, who sits a few feet away in the shade of a tree.
Bereft is a word mary uses to describe him.
Every day Danny goes to the park to dig in its eight hundred acres, and heíll dig until he gets so sore that he canít climb out of the hole. I have to lower down one of my legs, and he climbs up onto it, and I pull him from the hole.
mary tells me to tie down Danny so he doesnít run to the park in the morning, so he doesnít find the shovel heís hid the day before in the thick of a budding bush, in the copse, but I secretly want Danny to find the treasure.
We three live together in a room on the west side, in the back of the building, a room without air conditioning so when the summer heat and humidity rides you like a fat bloated beast, you crumple to the floor, faint. If the tap waterís turned off, mary licks her fingers and rubs them hard against our faces until we come to.
We have a separate bathroom. In the shower hang the electrical and water meters. You have to keep your back bent while showering, but you still can hear the water meter click. We only run certain appliances, so as to not short the wiring. The buildings around us are so inches close that no breeze can get in our windows, close enough that we can hear the neighbors leading their lives: making love, discussing love lives on the phone, talking to friends. We hear them. We are close but they donít know us. Itís always dark outside even at noon because little light gets in.
Danny digs. He swears he will liberate us from this one room. He tells us it wonít be long now.
Sometimes we work for Dannyís friend to make some money. We pass out flyers on the street. Flyers for beauty products or for newspaper subscriptions or for some product. A product. Everything is now a product. Weíre probably products, Danny says.
mary sometimes canít speak. Speak, mary, speak, Danny pleads. Sheís not always like this but sometimes. She tries to talk, but nothing comes out. She panics, but thereís not much we can do until the words come back. Danny strokes her head and that seems to make her feel better. Itís a day without words, Danny says.
We own a TV, but the sound doesnít work. We watch the pictures and invent the words to make ourselves laugh and then we fall asleep on the floor, bundled up against each other, sleeping on penguin blankets and huge hot dog pillows, covering ourselves with the long window curtains when the weatherís cold.
Sometimes mary sleeps next to me, sometimes with Danny. Danny makes these boom boom noises when he sleeps, his head deep down in the pillow like itís surgically connected, his mouth moving boom boom, sometimes it keeps me awake, especially when he screams and screams again, but he doesnít wake up, and Iíve gotten more used to it. Couple times, itís bothered me when mary sleeps next to Danny, but it doesnít anymore because she always, always comes back to me.
This morning Danny couldnít find his shovel. He said heíd left it under the flat rock but it wasnít there when he went back. I tell him that maybe, maybe I say, he put it under another flat rock and he forgot which one. We spend the day looking under all the flat rocks in the park, but we still canít find the shovel. Danny then digs with his fingers, but this hole is shallow. mary spends the night prying the dirt out from under his blackened nails with the curved end of a coat hanger.
At first mary says weíre better off this way, even with Danny being bereft without his shovel. mary says we need to face the way things are, but then Danny starts talking in weird high-pitched voices, saying words I donít understand, shaking his head a funny sideways way like one of those bobbing car dolls.
mary runs frantically around the room and says itís a sign that we shouldnít find the treasure, that we havenít earned it. Danny just laughs. I want the treasure. I donít think we can go on much longer without it.
I convince mary that, for Dannyís sake, we better get him another shovel. We sell the TV. We donít miss the TV anyway, Ďcause we never really understood it.
Danny gets a brand new shovel from the Amsterdam hardware store, a shovel with a green handle and a green blade. The green quickly wears off after Danny starts digging, but he likes the shovel and he hides it in the copse or the thick budding bush, but never under a flat rock.
Danny one night whispers a secret to me, puts his lips right next to my ear when it looks like maryís asleep, that he thinks that she was the one who went back to the park in the night and stole his shovel from under the flat rock in the park and threw the shovel in the river and when it sank down into the dark water, she made a glad noise and crept back home.
He canít prove it but itís his belief.
He also says hot tar is good for open cuts, but I donít believe everything he says, even if he says he believes it.
I donít think mary stole his shovel, Ďcause she was sleeping next to me that night, and I donít remember her leaving.
Danny says that if he digs enough, eventually he has to find something, although I think heís becoming unsure. I tell him not to adopt such a defeatist stance (I got this word from one of those Sunday morning talk shows). He eventually agrees with me, and I wonder how we knew there was treasure down there to begin with.
Danny tells me that he found out about it while in the main library. Heíd fallen asleep in the huge room that had painted across the ceiling the mural of ďThe Trip to the WestĒ or something like that. This room had about a hundred of those long library tables, one after another, where people sit and read and take notes. Danny had fallen asleep, his head leaning on his crossed arms, and when he woke up, slowly opening his eyes, right in front of his eyes, he saw this book sitting there, right next to his head. And he said heíd never seen a book like this before, never. It was shiny and splendid, he said, it was glimmering and he thought that maybe it was plugged in, but he didnít see an electrical cord and then he thought maybe there were batteries, but he couldnít find those either. None of the tie-wearing people who were sitting around him noticed this special book that Danny had. They were content to read their magazines and newspapers, their own thick books with statistical charts and graphs, scribbling down notes, too busy to notice Danny and this magical book.
Danny opened the wondrous book. It only had a few pages but each page was thick like a piece of wood.
He then found the illustrated glossy page.
Underneath the library table, he tore out the illustrated page and wedged it secretly into his pocket so no one else would know, no one else would see. He even changed the page number in the book with a blue-inked pen so no other reader would notice something missing. And then Danny said he went to the rest room to look at the page in the stall and when he came back, the book was gone. He asked the tie man sitting next to him, but the man only shrugged and went back to scribbling notes.
Danny says that in the illustrated page is a code for finding the treasure and even though he eventually lost the illustrated page -- he thinks it might have been that day on the bus -- he still remembers it fresh in his mind like the day he first saw it in the library. He says beneath that code thereís something, like a treasure faintly glimmering below the ground, many colored and splendid, waiting to be unearthed.
mary loses faith, this is what she says, she says she canít take it anymore, that there needs to be something else here, something more here than having to scrub down Danny every night in the bathtub after we return from the park.
Danny explains to her that we are modern day explorers, that we are like the early settlers, the pilgrims, travelling on our ship, while the others are content to stay tucked away at home, in front of their crackling fireplaces and burnt kettle pots, we are exploring new places, and that weíll be rewarded at the end of all of this, maybe theyíll even make a movie about us.
††††††††††† I donít think mary believes him. She keeps saying that maybe sheíll go away, maybe sheíll go back and live with her parents again even though they are thousands of miles away and Danny says thatís silly, what the hell would she do there and she says that maybe sheíll be like the rest of them.
mary gets a job at one of the stores selling cosmetics. She says she doesnít want to pass flyers anymore. She brings home sweet-smelling perfumes in heavy glass bottles, and we dab it on ourselves at night while we watch the new TV she bought us. With her 30% store discount, mary buys herself new clothes, and she makes up her face and looks real pretty and her skin even clears up. She doesnít get home until real late sometimes, midnight or after, sometimes going out to restaurants with her coworkers after her shift, coming home smelling like cigarette smoke. She never invites me and Danny to join her, mainly I think, because Dannyís always dirty now since mary is too tired to scrub him down after she gets home from work. Danny doesnít like me doing it so he becomes more and more encrusted, even though he showers and tries to scrub himself off, but he canít reach all of it. mary brings home nicer clothes for us to wear, and we have better food too. She even cooks a couple times, but Danny refuses to eat the food.
I still pass out flyers on the street. mary says sheíll get me a job at the store where she works. I can unload boxes of fancy merchandise and bring them to the floor, so the consumers can frolic amidst the items that better their lives. I tell her maybe later, that I like flyer passing. I get to travel and meet people and sometimes people buy me a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin.
Danny stops going to the park. He stops digging. Says he doesnít see the sense of it anymore, that heís dug so many holes in that goddamned park that it looks like a piece of cheese, so many holes that the Park Police, who wear green outfits and talk secretly into walkies on their shoulders, has issued bulletins for our capture for being a general threat to the park.
Thereís nothing underneath, mary says.
And for a time everythingís pretty quiet.
Then I find the illustrated page tucked away in the back of the closet behind maryís shoe bag when Iím cleaning out the closet, looking for things to sell or trade.
I show the page to Danny whose eyes get big and wide, and his mouth opens up but doesnít spill out any words.
††††††††††† Danny takes that illustrated page and leaves the apartment, and heís gone all day, and when I come back from the flyer passing, Dannyís still gone.
††††††††††† When mary comes home that night, Danny is still missing and I tell her about finding the illustrated page, and where I found the illustrated page, and she doesnít really say anything, she just kind of nods her head. She asks about where Danny went and I tell her I donít know.
mary sleeps on her own that night, wrapped up in her new flowered blanket.
Danny doesnít come home the next couple days either. mary doesnít go to work. She puts on, what she calls, her dingy clothes, and we decide to go to the park to look for him.
I visit the flyer-passing boss and tell him I have something important to do today. He curses me for at least ten minutes and then tells me never to come back.
Me and mary enter the park, and there are holes everywhere. We find Danny stooped in one of the holes, the shovel upside down next to him, Danny leaning sideways in a pile of dirt. I look around, worrying that the Park Police will find us. mary bends down and talks low to Danny and Danny just points at the bottom of the hole. Dannyís so sore from digging he canít even clench his hand to pick up the shovel or even stand up.† The illustrated page is lying nearby, just glowing in the sun. I pick up the shovel in my hand, the first time Danny ever lets me touch his shovel, cause now I see it, right there in the hole, underneath.†
mary wets her fingers with her tongue and begins to clean off Danny.
Ron Burch lives in Los Angeles.