if i close my eyes

Act I: On Some Dark, Quiet Street

Act II: I'll Be What I Am

April 3, 1956 -- late at night

Danny woke up a couple of times and heard people talking. Twice he felt someone place a cool damp washcloth on his forehead. The first time, he'd thought it was his own mother. The second time he remembered where he was and realized it must be Mrs. Diamond. She also made him sit up at least once and try to sip some water.

One time he woke up and heard only some very light snoring. He needed to pee. He tried to get up, but the throbbing in his head and the aches in all his muscles made the task nearly impossible. He gave up and lay back down. He could hold it until the morning.

The next time Danny woke up, the room was filled with sunlight. The curtains had been pulled back, and he could see he was in a bedroom. Another twin bed was on the opposite wall. The bed was made, but Danny thought the snoring he'd heard in the night must have come from there. That reminded him of a more pressing need. He tried to get up again, and although his muscles still ached, he managed to stand up. He noticed he was wearing sweats, and wondered who had changed his clothes. Well, Mrs. Diamond does have two teenage boys. He took a quick peek, and was relieved to see he still had on his own underwear.

Danny opened the door and looked down the hall. The apartment was quiet, but a wonderfully familiar smell was emanating from the kitchen: chicken soup. He sniffed the air appreciatively, and then went looking for the bathroom.

Mrs. Diamond emerged from the kitchen. "Danny. You're awake. Good. But you need to get back in bed. You need your rest, dear." She smiled kindly at him as she approached him.

"Good morning, Mrs. Diamond," Danny answered. "But I need, uh... where's the bathroom?"

"Oh." Understanding dawned on her face. "Of course. Second door on your right." She watched him open the door. "Then straight back to bed for you."

Danny nodded and shut the door.

Minutes later, Mrs. Diamond had ushered him back to the bedroom Neil and Harvey shared. He was back in bed, under some protest. He was still achy and tired, though, so he let her win. She had a tray with orange juice and some kind of round bread, sliced open, warm and doughy. "Do you have your appetite back?" she asked. "Last night you didn't eat hardly anything, and now I understand why." In spite of his illness, he'd eaten more than he ever had at one sitting since his own mother died. Mrs. Diamond helped him sit up and fluffed some pillows behind him for support.

Danny was appreciative of her mothering, but also uncomfortable with it. "Mrs. Diamond, thank you. I'll be out of your hair if you just let me get up and get dressed."

Mrs. Diamond shook her head. "Listen to you. You collapse at my table with a fever of one hundred four and you think I'm going to let you go anywhere? You need to rest. Then we'll talk about maybe getting you a job at Kieve's store."

Danny wondered briefly who "Keevey" was, then realized she must be referring to Mr. Diamond. I need to get back to the Cowhands, he thought. Though a job might be nice... No. I need to get back to Paul. He won't just let me quit after all I did to get accepted by them in the first place. Danny let himself relax for just a minute. I do need to recover first... and whatever she's making in the kitchen sure smells good. Aloud, he interrupted Mrs. Diamond's friendly chatter. "Thank you for letting me stay here, Mrs. Diamond. But I can't stay long." He reached for the orange juice and the "bagel", as Mrs. Diamond had called it.

"You can stay as long as you like," Mrs. Diamond insisted.

Danny grinned. "Well, that is chicken soup I smell cooking, right?"

"Yes it is." Mrs. Diamond smiled happily. "And I'll bring you some as soon as it's ready. It's the best thing to help you get over this flu you have."

Mrs. Diamond continued chatting with Danny while he finished his breakfast. By the time she finally left him alone to get some rest, he was calling her "Mrs. D". Danny didn't feel much like resting, though.

He went over to a small table that held a radio and a phonograph; a box of albums sat underneath it: Perry Como, Muddy Waters, Red Norvo, Harry Volpe. Damn, he even has one of my dad's recordings. Danny pulled out the Harry Volpe. He had recognized the cover immediately. Harry had been his father's mentor and teacher, and his father had done some guitar work on some of Harry's later albums. This was one of them. Danny carefully put the record back and picked up the Red Norvo instead: Dancing on the Ceiling. He'd never heard it before, and it did have Tal Farlow listed as one of the guitarists.

After the music started, he got up and moved to the desk under the window between the two beds. The movement of a boy in a leather jacket on the street caught Danny's eye, and he gazed down at the scene below. It wasn't a Cowhands jacket, but it did put an uneasy thought in Danny's mind. Dismissing the thought for now, Danny picked up a few of the books on the desk, looking for something to read. He found King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and another book with a dragon attacking a knight on the cover. Underneath was a pink envelope, and was that the faint odor of perfume he detected? Unable to resist, he pulled it out and saw a big heart with "Jenny + Neil" written on it. Danny chuckled, but decided to respect Neil's privacy. He found another book, Arizona Roundup, and went back to lie down and read. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been able to just spend a lazy day reading.

It seemed like only minutes later that Mrs. Diamond knocked on the door, waking him. The album had long since stopped playing, and the book had fallen to the floor.

Mrs. Diamond entered, carrying a tray. "Good, Danny, you're awake. Here's some of that chicken soup I promised you. And I'm making some blintzes for later. Harvey and Neil always like blintzes when they're feeling under the weather."

Danny sniffed the air with some exaggeration and grinned. "Whatever those are, they sure smell delicious, Mrs. D." He sat up and helped Mrs. Diamond with the tray.

"Are you feeling better? Should we take your temperature again?" Mrs. Diamond fussed.

"The fever's pretty much gone, but my sinuses are still bothering me," Danny admitted. "I'll be good to go after lunch, if you like."

She shook her finger at her patient. "Stop talking like that. I told you, you can stay. Stay."

Danny shook his head, deciding not to argue. Instead, he grinned and winked at her. "If you keep feeding me like this, it'll be hard to leave."

Mrs. Diamond winked back. "Then my plan must be working." Danny sneezed and Mrs. Diamond continued, "See, you need to rest more. And eat more."

Danny grabbed a tissue from the box by the bed and sneezed again. "Excuse me," he finally managed. He started to eat the soup, appreciative of the warm broth and the savory flavors.

"You're a good boy, aren't you?" It wasn't a question she expected answered. "You've just lost your way a bit. You'll find it again."

Danny quirked an eyebrow at her, but continued to eat. Maybe she's right. But right now I know I need to get back to the Cowhands. They may not be family, but they're the closest I've got. And if I stay... He couldn't bring himself to finish the thought.

Later in the afternoon, Danny persuaded Mrs. Diamond to let him shower and get dressed. He was in the kitchen, sitting and talking with her about food, her favorite subject, when the front door opened.

"Hi, Mameleh." Neil walked in the room and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek. "Hey, Danny."

Harvey was just behind him. "Hi, Mama. Hi, Danny."

Mrs. Diamond looked surprised. "Neil, Harvey, hello. What are you both doing home so early? Shouldn't you be helping your father at the store? Or at the library, studying?" She had emphasized the last word, but there was no trace of meanness in her voice.

Harvey kissed his mother on the cheek before leaving the kitchen to head toward his room.

neil"Pop wanted to make sure Danny hadn't murdered you and taken off with all the good family silver," Neil retorted. He grabbed a couple of blintzes off a platter on the table.

Danny gulped. Did Mr. Diamond really think that badly of him? Maybe it was just Neil's odd sense of humor.

Mrs. Diamond winked at Neil. "Your father worries too much. Now, go on, boys. Both of you get out of here. I need to get supper ready." She shooed them out of the kitchen.

Danny got up, grabbed a blintz of his own, and followed Neil to his room. "Were you serious?" he asked, still concerned by Neil's comment.

Neil smirked. "Well, he was a little bit worried, but not enough to close the store and stay home. You're safe." He opened the door and went in, dropping his backpack on the floor.

Harvey was sitting at the desk with some school books open. He looked up as the two entered, then went back to his studying.

Neil dropped one of his stash on top of Harvey's work.

"Hey --" Harvey began to protest, and then quickly grabbed the cheesy goodness in front of him. "Oooh. Thanks."

Neil ignored him and went straight to the turntable. He glanced at the album on there, decided it was good, and set the needle back in position to play. Then he grabbed a notebook and some papers off the desk and sat on his own bed.

Danny sat on the bed he'd been using, and sneezed. He grabbed the box of tissues, and while he was reaching for it, he grabbed the western he'd been reading, as well.

"That's my book," Harvey stated.

Danny gave him a look that said, "And, so?"

"You can read it though," he quickly added.

Danny's fever had made a small comeback and he put the book down again anyway. The letters of the words were squirming on the page like little fleas.

"You okay?" Neil asked.

Danny nodded. "I'm not going to pass out again, or anything." Neil studied his friend. It made Danny nervous. "What?" he asked.

"Is Mama right? Are you really living on the streets?" Neil was always direct. Harvey looked up in interest.

Danny shook his head. "Nah. I've got a place to hang."

Neil nodded. "I thought you'd smell if that was true."

Harvey snickered.

Neil asked another question. "What about food? You are scrawny."

Danny glared at Neil. "Are you writing a book?"

"Sure. The Life and Times of Danny Mangan." Neil was not easily intimidated. He opened the notebook he had and penned the words on a clean page. "Danny does not like to answer questions, but I managed to interview him anyway. Son of a musician, both parents dead, the young greaser collapsed from a fever at my dinner table."

"Har-dee-har." Danny threw a wad of used Kleenex at him. "And I ain't no greaser."

Neil ignored the Kleenex. He crossed out a word on the page. "Okay, cowboy. So, where do you stay? And do you have enough to eat?"

"Stop the third degree, already." Danny lay back on the bed, his knees still bent over the edge, and closed his eyes.

Neil just looked over at him, pen poised. "I could make stuff up."

Danny kept his eyes closed. "Go for it. It'd be more interesting that way, anyway."

Harvey joined the conversation. "Do you go to school?"

Danny opened one eye to peer at Harvey, and then closed it again. He didn't answer.

"What are you going to do with your life? Are you going to hang with that gang forever?" Danny hadn't given Harvey enough credit. He was just as direct as Neil.

"I'll get a job when I'm older," Danny mumbled.

Harvey snorted. "Yeah, right."

Danny sat up. "What about you? What are you going to be when you grow up?"

"A lawyer," Harvey answered automatically, his voice proud. "Hopefully even a judge."

Danny looked over at Neil. "And you?"

"A doctor," Neil answered. "And you?"

"A mechanic, probably. Or maybe a bus driver." Danny shrugged. "Something I don't need years of college for."

"So ambitious," Harvey tsked.

Neil picked up Danny's dirty wad of Kleenex that was still sitting on the bed where it had landed earlier and threw it at Harvey.

"Gross! Germsville!" Harvey ducked. "And you want to be a doctor?"

"Actually, right now, I want to be a writer." Neil picked a pink envelope from the stack of papers he had grabbed from the desk. It was the same one Danny had spied earlier.

Harvey finally turned completely around in his seat and rested his crossed arms on the back of the chair.

Danny grinned widely, ready to tease. "Writing love letters?"

Neil grinned back. "Yeah." He opened the perfumed flap and pulled out a dainty piece of paper with girlishly rounded writing on it. "This girl Jenny loves anything romantic." Neil picked up the notebook again and read while he wrote, "My darling, I need you more each day. I'll be yours forever, sweetheart. To be with you is my one and only desire."

Danny and Harvey both made gagging motions. "I think I need a doctor. I'm getting diabetic," Harvey teased.

Danny took his finger out of his mouth. "Are you asking her to marry you? Try toning it down a bit."

Neil drummed his fingers with the rhythm of the music coming from the turntable. He scribbled a few words, crossed one out, and scribbled some more.

"Well, what have you got?" Danny asked.

Harvey shushed him. "Never interrupt the master when he's at work," he chided.

Danny rolled his eyes but kept quiet.

Neil continued to work. Finally he looked up. He tore out a piece of paper and cleared his throat as if he were about to read. Instead, he crumpled up the paper and tossed it in the trash can. "I've got nothing."

In a disappointed gesture, Harvey shook his head and turned back around to concentrate on his homework.

Danny collapsed back down on the bed.

Meanwhile, the record had ended. Neil got up and lifted the needle off the album to stop the constant twing twing twing sound it was making. Instead of restarting the record, he switched on the radio. After a few seconds of static while the radio warmed up, Frankie Lymon was crooning, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?"

Danny chortled. "Fitting."

"I'm not in love," Neil protested, "though I'm definitely a fool."

"You said it," Harvey agreed, without looking up from his studies.

After another delicious supper that night, Danny knew he had to leave. He hated the thought of going back to canned beans warmed over the fire and lumpy white bread that stuck in one's gut, but he knew he had to go back. And he did miss some of the guys already. They were his friends; they were almost like his family.

Danny knew it was pointless to try and leave politely. He'd hinted a couple of times at dinner that he would go, but Mrs. Diamond just wouldn't hear of it. Even Mr. Diamond grumbled that he may as well stay until he was completely well. After everyone had fallen asleep, Danny quietly crawled out of bed. He retrieved his jeans and t-shirt and changed out of the borrowed sweats. Outside, a cloud moved to uncover the moon. The sudden, dim beam of light hit the garbage can and the paper Neil had crumpled up earlier. Curiosity got the better of Danny, and he picked up the paper and stuffed it in his pocket. He turned to leave the room and ran smack into Neil.

"Ow," he whispered.

"Where are you going?" Neil spoke in a whisper also.

"I've got to get back," Danny said simply.

"In the middle of the night? Why?" Neil started in on his questions again.

Danny shrugged. "I just have to. I shouldn't have been gone this long. It's not cool."

"Not cool with who? The other gang members? Why would they care?"

"Some of them will care."

Neil must have noticed Danny's worried look. "What's going to happen?"

Danny shrugged again. "Depends."

Neil shook his head. He held his hands out and grabbed Danny's arms. "You're going to let them beat the crap out of you. Why?"

Danny's eyebrows raised in surprise. How does he know what will happen? "They might not." He knew it was a lie.

Neil dropped his arms in disgust and anger. "Go on, then. Moron."

Danny walked around Neil and opened the door.

"If you need to, you can come back," Neil said quietly.

Danny paused and then walked out the bedroom door. He moved stealthily past Harvey, who was sleeping on the couch. He grabbed his jacket and cap from the closet in the front room and quietly unlatched the front door, letting it close gently behind him.

"Well, well. Look who's here." Paul sneered at the younger boy. "Where the hell have you been, Danny-boy?" He punched Danny in the arm, quite a bit harder than Danny expected, but he kept his balance.

danny"Sick," Danny answered truthfully. "I passed out with a high fever yesterday, and I've just been lying low since."

Danny's nose was running from the sinuses clearing, and he still had a very low-grade fever. All he really wanted to do was curl up by the fire and fall asleep. He knew that wouldn't be allowed to happen. The niggling thought he'd had just this morning returned to him. Better they beat me up here than let them track me down and find the Diamonds.

"Really?" Paul snarled. "You know, Danny-boy, I never did like you. You're a thief," Paul punched Danny in the stomach, "and I don't trust thieves." Another punch in the gut finally got Danny to stumble forward, but, still, Danny took it. Paul was the leader of the Cowhands, a late-twenty-something-year-old who got drugs from some bigger supplier, and then turned around and sold them to even smaller suppliers. He was a business man, primarily; a middle man. A greedy bastard. Danny knew messing with Paul would be big trouble. He regained his balance and looked the leader in the eyes.

"Cut him some slack," Luke piped up. Luke was second-in-command, so to speak. Luke was also an old neighbor. It was only because Luke had known him when his mother was still alive that Danny had ever been allowed to join the Cowhands. "He looks like hell."

Paul gave Luke a warning glare. "Stay out of it, Luke. I'm blaming you for bringing him in to begin with." Paul turned back to Danny. "You lost your parents, so I took some pity on you, even though I knew you wouldn't sell for me. Thirteen-year-old nobody. You would've died on these streets." Paul emphasized every few words with another punch.

Fourteen, Danny thought defiantly. He'd had a birthday last month, but hadn't bothered to tell anyone.

Paul continued on. "Stupid. Little. Thief. See, the problem with getting profits from your thieving is, I never know how much you've really gained. I've warned you about holding back on us." By this time Danny was on the ground, unable to get up again. Paul was kicking him instead of punching. "You go off on your own too much, Danny-boy. You think you're too good for our rules."

Danny tried to keep his eyes open and focused on Paul. But there were three faces floating in front of him, all with the same sandy brown hair hanging over the same beady green eyes.

"We’re Cowhands, not Lone Rangers. You want to stay with us; you need to get with the act."

The taste of blood and vomit mingled in Danny's mouth. The feel of the cold cement floor of the warehouse against his face was soothing. Danny's last thought before his eyes closed involuntarily was that he hoped Paul was almost done.

act III: go find your brother