Happiness is Hard to Beat (Story #38)

Gladys, aka, Ms. G. the OG, or Tia as she was known to all the kids on the block–even the Guan girls who had no idea what the word meant–had always been that positive presence in the neighborhood. Even before the city had come in and razed the old projects and replaced them with brightly painted townhouse-style homes, Ms. G. had a smile on her face for everyone, from the occasional sour-mouthed cop who was never around when people needed him to the young men on the stoop who were up to God-knows-what, to the day-worker who sold blunts in between card games and the odd construction job.  Ms. G.’s smile warmed them all, and her neighbors looked out for her—at least, they did look out for her until they had to do more than look.

A few months back, while coming back from the Save-Mart with her groceries for the week, a new guy in the neighborhood, a bulldog of a young man with a neck as thick as Ms. G’s thigh came up from behind and knocked the bags she was holding out of her hands.  Though Ms. G. was a smiler, she also had a fighter’s temper. She’d grown up on that block, and was unable to give up her place of respect or her purse without a fight.

“How dare you?” she said to the young stranger.  “You know who I am?”

The young man didn’t answer. With a practiced hand, he pushed her down while relieving her of her handbag.  Ms. G. hit her head on the cement pretty hard, but she didn’t feel the pain—not at first.  The greater shock came in realizing that somehow over the years, she’d become old.  She didn’t look at the young man who was walking away with her purse as casually as could be.  She looked at her hands instead, which still had the flattened knuckles from the many fights she’d won when she was younger, probably the same age as the young man who’d just pushed her down.  She’d never been a bully, though.  She liked to think of herself as someone who defended others who needed defending.

Ms. G. got herself up, picking up her groceries, some of which had spilled onto the sidewalk and let herself into her house.  As it turned out, her skull throbbing and her realization about her aging was a blessing.  It kept her mind from wondering whou would be there for her now that she needed defending.  She turned her television as loud as she could, trying not to think of the neighbors puling back their drapes and looking on at her from their windows as the young man stole her purse. She didn’t want to think of them, but it was hard not to—harder even than the knot that had formed on her crown.

On the TV that blared in her house almost continuously since the incident, Ms. G. saw an ad for medicine that promised, of al things, happiness. She wasn’t one for pills. She hadn’t even smoked a joint in twenty years, which was saying something considering the “Border Brothers” were always trying to give her some for free “just ‘cause.”  But she was feeling desperate.  She already missed her smile. She missed not feeling scared.  And then there were her neighbors who kept asking why she wasn’t smiling anymore when the passed her on the street even though they knew.

She made an appointment with her doctor at General as a result–an old man who had been treating her since she was a kid. He told her he’d heard of the happiness pill, and that through some deal the drug company made with the government, it was actually covered by Medicare.  She could get four pills every month, he told her.  “Anything over that, and you’ll be paying through your nose.  Happiness,” the good doctor joked, “is an expensive habit.”

Ms. G. agreed and went home that day with her four pills, but she didn’t immediately take one.  Instead, she turned on her television as loud as she could and waited by her window, looking out for the young man who’d stolen her purse.  It took a couple weeks, but he finally came. He was with Luis, a kid from the block who Ms. G always knew to be a follower in search of a leader.

She rushed back to her kitchen, got her bottle of pills and a glass of water and went back to her window and gulped all four pills down.  Within a few minutes, she could feel their effect; she wasn’t scared anymore, and her smile was back.  Without much thought, she came out of her apartment and called out for Luis, “how’s your mama?” she asked. Luis looked nervous, and muttered something. The young man didn’t say anything, but he turned and approached Ms. G. and her smile.  “How are you, young’n?” Ms. G. asked, but like the other time she’d seen him, he said nothing and pushed her down.  Before anyone could stop him, he’d taken things one step further and was on top of Ms. G., his fist cocked.  “You can have it,” she said, though she wasn ‘t sure what exactly she meant.  The pills were making her silly.  Not that it mattered.  The young man released his arm and let gravity push his fist down against the old woman’s face again and again.

Though no one else could see it, the young man had met his match that day.  Even through the blood and the teeth and bone he was breaking down, he could see that this crazy old woman was happy.  His fists were working overtime but they couldn’t figure out the riddle.  Even he and all his muscle were no match for the power of modern medicine.

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Categories: fiction

Author:the circular runner

g. martinez cabrera currently lives in San Francisco with his lovely and talented wife. He holds degrees from Columbia and from the Harvard Divinity School where he spent three years thinking about lofty things. Since then, he tries to write some lofty and some not-so-lofty things down so others can see how lofty he sometimes is. When he’s not writing or spending time with said wife, he tortures young people with learning. He blogs at www.circularrunning.wordpress.com and Tumbls at www.circularrunning.tumblr.com

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