BY JEFF DEENEY
TODAY I SAW a young white couple with two small kids, arguing underneath the 60 bus shelter at Frankford and Allegheny. Dad wore a white hooded sweat jacket, patterned with red-outlined skulls. The skulls were arranged arbitrarily, like they were piled on top of each other. He wore construction boots air brushed with graffiti tags along the uppers. His girl wore a Rocawear winter jacket that had a tight, knitted waist and fur around the hood. She had on skin-tight jeans that her redheaded children, one boy and one girl, clung to. Her complexion was pasty and her eyes drifted while her man talked, like she was having trouble focusing.
His cell phone went off; its ringtone was an R & B slow jam, maybe Akon, singing through the vocoder. He snapped it open and started to complain about a wasted trip across town.
“She’s hot. She’s high right now. She can’t go in there. Shit, they’ll take the fucking kids if she goes in there.”
Maybe his girl was on parole or probation, maybe she had a drug test for work, or maybe she had to see a caseworker. He didn’t specify, he shoved the phone in his girl’s direction saying: “It’s your mom.”
The girl took the phone and started to mumble her alibi about how some pills that came up missing were really taken by her brother.
“Mom, he’s just sayin’ that because he knows you don’t want to blame it on your son. He’s puttin’ the blame on me.”
A furious voice screamed on the other end of the line, causing the girl to recoil and then talk louder.
“Yeah, I was in the room with the bag but he took ‘em, not me. I swear I didn’t take anything.”
Her man stepped up, getting nose-to-nose with her, his eyes wide with anger. He spoke fast, a clipped sentence. “I can see it in your face!”
She closed the phone and walked a few steps, trying to corral her children, who had wandered off while she made her case. Once she was holding their hands, she turned as if she would walk off with them in protest against the false accusations made against her.
“Don’t do that,” Dad said, “Don’t start no bullshit.”
He threw his hands up in frustration but then put them around her when she walked back with the kids. When the 60 bus finally rolled up, they all got on together.
On the side of the bus shelter facing away from them was a poster with a line of amber prescription bottles filled with pills advertising treatment for addiction that said, “From relief . . . to dependence . . . to hope.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Deeney is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in PW, City Paper and the Inquirer. He focuses on issues of urban poverty and drug culture.