It was understood a Fitzmurice did not under any circumstances speak with a Collins and vice versa. Though for twenty odd years, and I do mean odd, the Collins' lived on the third floor in apartment 3C and the Fitzmaurice's lived directly above in apartment 4C. This code of muteness was passed down from parent to child. When passing one another in the street each family would look the other way in disgust. As time went on and the children aged and moved on with their lives first Mr. Fitzmaurice passed away and not to be outdone Mr. Collins shortly followed. Mrs. Fitzmaurice had one child left at home; a daughter Katherine. The Collins children had also moved on but today Mrs. Collins anxiously awaited the arrival of her youngest son Robbie who was home on medical leave from Viet- Nam.

A taxi pulled in front of 261 Seaman Avenue in the northern section of upper Manhattan and a young marine corporal disembarked. He paid the driver and the cab left the curbside. Corporal Collins momentarily gazed upward toward the apartment windows knowing many eyes from behind drawn blinds watched his every movement. Finally he picked up his kit bag and with a noticeable limp, he entered the building.

Before he was wounded he would have walked the stairs, the three flights but the bone in his leg was weakened by the still present shrapnel so he waited for the elevator. He could hear the cables lowering the box to the first floor. He opened the heavy iron door and entered and just as he was to push number three a voice called out, "Hold the door please!" War changes a man but not so much of an alteration Mrs. Fitzmaurice should not recognize a Collins, but when Robbie held the door the lady smiled and muttered a thank you and in Collins twenty years of life, these were the first words he had ever heard Mrs. Fitzmaurice utter. And as if suddenly she remembered who her fellow traveler in the Otis was, the smile left her face and her long pointed face turned away and her eyes stared forward. Her eyes looked dead. Robbie shrugged and pressed number 3. The cables slowly began to coil then pulled its cargo upward and just as the elevator was about to reach the third floor Robbie turned and addressed the lady.

" Mrs. Fitzmaurice, why don't we talk? "

It appeared as though she were about to respond when the elevator stopped. Once again she turned her face away from Collins. He picked up his bag and exited and just as the door of the elevator shut he heard a rapping on the glass from the door from within. He turned and saw Mrs. Fitzmaurice's face framed in the rectangular glass window and saw her mouth move but he could not understand what she was saying so he raised his voice and shouted:

" I'm sorry I can't hear you!"

The voice from within shouted back with equal resonance.

" We don't talk because of the shoes!"

And then her face disappeared as the cables engaged and yanked its cargo upward.

"Was it bad son?" she asked. "Do you hurt?"

The corporal sat sipping tea and avoided his mother's questions concerning the war. A cockroach scurried up the kitchen wall. Mrs. Collins deep blue eyes never left her son's as her hand reached upon the kitchen table, grabbed a magazine and whacked the bug once, twice and then third time to its death. Her voice droned on and on seeking companionship from this soldier, once her son, now a stranger. She pressed on believing she could once again gain control of this man. She refused to believe that with each word she spoke the further the corporal retreated. Yes she felt she must advance.

" I just don't know what's it all about. Fighting people half way across the world in places most ordinary people cannot pronounce. No Robbie, its wrong when people cannot get along. Life's too short yes it is. Life is too fragile I tell you."

He knew he should not have returned. Everything he knew as a child had ceased to exist. His father dead, drowned over and over with the assistance of a bottle of Seagrams. A mother who wanted a son to take the place of her husband. Brothers and sisters all wed and gone. Only this old woman who, when asked, forces herself to believe her man succumbed to heart disease for to admit the truth she felt would be to admit to failure.

" Your father would have been proud of you Robbie. A corporal in the United States Marine Corps. Yes indeed he would have been proud."

She beamed across the oaken table and smiled into sunken far-away eyes. Eyes which squinted back at her as though she were a stranger. Asian eyes they had become. She felt if she stopped talking she would lose her son forever so on and on she prattled.

" Only a mother knows I can tell you that and you can take it to the bank with you. Oh yes Robbie, the night you were all shot up I awoke from bed screaming. A mother feels the pain of her children I can tell you that. Do you believe I felt your pain son?"

The water faucet dripped, dripped, dripped.

" I understand if you don't want to talk Robbie. You've seen some awful things I'm sure. Things a mother tries to protect her children from. Sometimes I get so tired son. The Quinn boy was killed over there you know. You remember Michael Quinn? Thank God it was a closed casket. Thank God and oh yes that woman, that woman who lives above us, that one with the holier than thou look on her face, did you know her son left the priesthood and God forgive me for telling you this, he moved in with another man. Robbie, I just don't know. The world has gone crazy. I turn on the television and those Negroes are rioting and looting and God knows what else. And my son gets shot in some foreign place and these hippie lazy good for nothings march about yelling and screaming about making love and not war though if the truth be known perhaps as the saying goes we should embrace our enemies...forgive and forget..."

She sat back frozen and upright as her son banged his fist on the table yet attempting to appear nonchalant she said;

"What was it dear ,did you see another cockroach."

" Don't you ever listen to yourself," he said. " You talk about embracing your enemies and forgive and forget and you wont even talk to the woman upstairs because of a stupid pair of shoes!"

" Some things are best left in the past son. The Fitzmaurice's and ourselves come from different sides of the swamp so to speak. Why only the other day when I was speaking to Mrs. Ahern; did you know her son is a doctor in California. Well I always knew the Ahern's would amount to something. Anyway as I was saying ,only the other day I was talking with...are you going out son?" she asked as the door slammed.

Garryowens bar was on the corner of Dykeman street and Vermilyea Avenue. The bar was nondescript. In the back of the bar was a dance floor and in the corner a juke box. As Robbie entered the juke box was playing Gloria by the Young Rascals. The cliental were mostly workingmen and woman. Mostly cops and firemen and secretaries and sanitation workers and the like. Mostly people in their late twenties to early forties with the odd sixty year old about. These were all people who grew up in the Inwood section of upper Manhattan. Predominately Irish-American. The dance crowd was younger, middle teens to early twenties. Many sons and daughters of the patrons on the stools. A neighborhood bar where strangers would be welcome if they watched their step but by god you start any trouble the entire bar would be upon you. Before the war Robbie would spend his Friday nights leaning on the jukebox scheming with his buddies on the overly perfumed daughters of Erins immigrants but as he walked in this evening he was unsure where or if he fit in. Johnny Cremmins, the bartender, was the first to recognize the returned warrior.

" Robbie! Jesus Christ! Robbie Collins is that you!"

And now they all turned and offered their greetings some dismounting their stools and patting him on the back and admiring this young man in uniform for this was one of those places in America where a man in his countries service was thought admirable. Robbie was blushed and embarrassed by this attention. His eyes darted about looking for escape. His breathing became heavy and sporadic. The room began to spin and the noise from the juke box resounded in his head and then the older men in the bar crowded about him and began to sing an Irish fighting song, Soldiers Are We, and he wanted to crawl away from this false romanticism. Sweat formed on his forehead and just as he thought he was about to scream Johnny Cremmins took him by the arm and led him to the back office. Cremmins watched as Robbie sat silently on the couch. Little Eva's voice reverberated outside the door..." Move around the floor in a locomotion!" The shuffling feet of the dancers tapping and sliding on the wooden floor jarred his memory and unconsciously Robbie rubbed his wounded leg. Cremmins spoke first.

" Nothing was the same when I came back. Took me months before I could talk to anyone. Nothing but stupid questions over and over. It takes awhile to fit back in Robbie."

Cremmins opened a desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of JW Powers. He poured two dixie cups full of the whiskey; rose from his chair and came to the couch and handed one to Robbie. Robbie gulped the whiskey down crushed the cup in his hands and looked up at Cremmins. His voice was hoarse as he spoke.

" I yelled at my mother. For no reason really. She was talking too much. I just wanted some quiet and ....I yelled at her about some stupid pair of shoes."

Cremmins sat on the arm of the couch. He draped his arm about the soldiers shoulder and spoke softly and soothingly.

" It's all different Robbie. Guys like us look at the world through different eyes and every one who looks at us who knew us when we were kids don't understand the changes in us and we can't understand how they all remain the same. I got the shakes just like you did. I wore my uniform out the first day back just like you. And I screamed accept I took a bottle of some cheap wine, went down by the train tracks on the other side of the Harlem River and waited for one of those upstate passenger trains to come by. I heard it approach. I was going to jump under the wheels but something clicked in my head and told me hey buddy, you didn't survive Nam to toss your life away under a freaking train for the amusement of some ******* headed home to Dobbs Ferry so I just started screaming and **** did I feel better. Bought this bar from old man Owens and got my life on some sort of track if you get my meaning." Robbie reached out and patted Cremmins hand and then an awkward silence followed each man not knowing how to end the moment where men not used to touching one another realize how soothing contact of the flesh can be. Robbie removed his hand from Cremmins and Cremmins uneasily removed his hand from Robbies shoulder. Again a silence and then Robbie rose and walked about the room glancing at old photographs on the office wall. He stopped and stared at a photo of a little league team then turned to Cremmins and spoke.

" That's us isn't it?"

Cremmins came to Robbies side and took the picture from the wall. He stared at the photo and then began pointing at the different players as he spoke.

" You remember coach Grady Robbie? "

" Oh yeah. A good guy."

" Yeah, he died last year. And this guy, Goggles Gilroy?"

" Sure. Coach put him in right field. He couldn't see two feet in front of him...used to sneak a comic book out there when he played. And this guy; remember him Johnny? What the hell was his name? I remember one time he is standing on second base and all of a sudden this big stream starts coming out of his pants then he takes off for home. Coach Grady is going nuts trying to get somebody to play second but no one wants to go out and stand in the guys piss. Danny something or other..."

"Pearlman Robbie. Danny Pearlman."

Robbie leaned in closer to stare at the picture.

"Sure, Danny Pearlman, I remember. He was always screwing up. What ever happened to him?."

" You ain't going to believe this Robbie but the little piss ant is in Med school I heard. NYU I think. Heard he is studying to be a urologist."

" You're kidding?"

Cremmins hung the picture back on the wall and turned and faced Robbie.

" About being a urologist yeah. About being in med school no. It's funny isn't it, the guy you think is the biggest jerk in the world will probably end up being the most successful."

Robbie stood for a moment staring at the picture, gazing at all those faces from the past, his own face included, and realized it was time to go. He knew the faces of the past should be left there. Cremmins made his departure easier

" You should go. Go on home and tell your mother you are sorry. Tell her you are the same son who left two years ago. Lie and tell her how great it is to be home."

"Johnny, you mind if I just talk." Johnny shrugged and sat on the chair. " I mean I really don' t want to talk, I just want to ask a couple of questions."

As Johnny sat he extended his arms forward and with hand gestures beckoned him to speak.

" They got you right!"

Johnny leaned in and with his knuckles tapped the side of his head.

" Metal plate. Next question."

The office door flew open before Robbie could speak. Charlie the bouncer stood framed in the doorway and nonchalantly spoke.

" Got a fight on the dance floor Boss."

Johnny rose from the couch and smiled at Robbie.

" Things never change around here kid." And then he turned and addressed Charlie. " What do we got this time?"

" Donleavy brothers are at it again Boss."

" Jesus Christ who are they fighting this time Charlie?"

" Each other Boss."

" What the hell for?"

" I guess they are fighting over the McGowan girl Boss. You want I should throw their asses in the street?"

" Yeah, no, on second thought throw the McGowan girl out. She knows what she's doing the little prick teaser. Shouldn't come between brothers like that."

" Whatever you say Boss."

" Charlie I've asked you a million times not to call me boss. It's kind of an employees way of saying *******!"

Charlie complied with his employers request by saying;

" You're the Boss *******."

Johnny laughed and yelled at the close door.

" You're fired you big dumb son of a *****!" He turned toward Robbie pointing his thumb toward the door like a hitchhiker. " You remember Charlie Owens?"

" Isn't he Mr. Owens oldest son." Robbie asked.

Johnny started to snort through his nose,

" I got Charlie as part of the deal when I bought this dump from his old man. Hell, he had no other place to go anyway. I fire the moron every day that way he can't build up any seniority on me." Just then there was a thunderous crashing from outside the office door. Johnny angrily opened the door to investigate and ducked just in time as the foot of Darlene McGowan almost unmanned him. Charlie tossed the murderous McGowan across his back like a sack of potatoes. He stood in the doorway a stogie clenched between his teeth, the McGowan girl kicking and biting and scratching at the unfazed giant. Her bottled blonde hair was disarrayed, the mascara wet and running down her cheeks. She was screaming rape at the top of her lungs as the juke box blared in the background .." In this dirty old part of the city; where the sun refused to shine"....The Animals. In mock innocence Charlie inquired;

" You still want me to toss her boss?"

Johnny ducked once more as Darlene went for his eyes with her nails. Charlie spun her around so her rear end faced Charlie. Johnny hissed at Charlie;

" I told you to toss her *******, now toss her!"

Charlie shrugged and turned to go and that is when Darlene squeezed her cheeks and produced a tremendous bang and the air was permeated with the most disgusting aroma as Darlene shrieked;

"That's what I think of your bar Cremmins you piece of ****!"

Not to be out done Cremmins yelled back;

" Hey McGowan, your voice changed but your breath is still the same you slut!"

Behind Cremmins Robbie was laughing uncontrollably. He coughed then sputtered;

"Jesus, this place is more dangerous then Nam."

" This ain't nothing, you should have been here last month when we threw her mother out. Took four of us. Anyway this is what I came back to so I make the most of it. But we ain't here to talk about me. What are you going to do?"

Robbie for the first time in his life felt the feeling of uncertainty.

" I don't know Johnny, I don't know and it scares the hell out of me. Right now I'm full of pain. When does the pain go away?"

Johnny misunderstood the question. He looked toward Robbies leg and pointed;

" They got you in rehab?"

Robbie followed his friends gaze to his own leg and looked up and into Johnny's eyes. As he spoke he tapped the side of his temple with his index finger.

" I was talking of the pain up here. Does it ever go away."

" I can't answer that for you Robbie. As for myself ,I think it is gone and then the flashes come in the middle of the night and the pounding in my head. Once behind the bar I broke out in a cold sweat and started shaking. Charlie came and took me to the back here and stayed with me till it was over. I guess you just make the most of it and go on."

The conversation stagnated and then their was a pounding on the door and Charlie's voice was heard;

" Getting busy out here boss!"

" I'm coming damn it! I had better get going Robbie. Come on out I'll buy."

" I had better get going myself Johnny. Thanks"

" For What."

" For being here. You mind if I kind of slip out the back."

Without waiting for an answer Robbie moved toward the rear door.

" Hey kid!" Johnny went behind the desk and retrieved a bottle of JW Powers and tossed it to Robbie. " Take it with you, it might come in handy tonight."

Embarrassed, Robbie shoved the bottle under his arm and muttered thanks and as he opened the rear door to the alley way Johnny's voice made him turn around.

" You said you yelled at your mother because of a pair of shoes. What's up with the shoes?"

" I don't know. See you around."

They say a soldiers march is a lonely stroll a wounded warriors walk is hell. A rain had begun to fall as Robbie slowly limped north on Broadway every few blocks stopping and resting on a bus bench. As he sat he tilted his head backwards to face the sky and let the droplets caress his face. Once his leg had ceased to throb he rose again and began the fifteen block trek toward home? He passed the public library, the funeral home, the florist, the drug store, and then The Dykeman House whose claim to fame was 'George Washington slept here'. Below the house he sat upon a park bench watching the evening traffic move north and south on Broadway. A police cruiser headed north turned on its top light made a u-turn and maneuvered its way around traffic and stopped in front of Robbie's bench. An officer got out of the passenger side of the unit and momentarily flashed a beam of light on Robbie. Robbie shielded his eyes from the gleam but the officer immediately extinguished the flashlight and asked in a soothing voice.

" You ok Corporal? I mean, you know, me and my partner seen you limping up the street and we thought maybe we could give you a ride home or something."

The rain drops were sliding down the officers slicker. The light from the cherry top was a blur and the voice from the police dispatcher made a far away droning sound. The rain though chilled made Robbie feel cleansed of all he left behind in that Asian land .He had made it. He was home but home to what... A park bench; a bar where warriors were welcome as long as they knew the words to all those battle songs of men with pikes on their shoulders martyrs one and all; an apartment shared with a mother who lived her life through imaginary conversations with reality. Home to sit on a bench where perhaps George the father of his country had once reclined. The voice of the officer once again asked if he needed a ride home but before Robbie could respond the officers partner beckoned from inside the cruiser;

" Hey Kenny, we got a call!"

The rain had stopped and the officer removed his slicker and shook it once than twice and tossed it over his shoulder. He asked the soldier;

" Where do you live kid? Look, we got time to run you home. You okay corporal?"

Robbie stood up.

" I'm fine officer. I just live at the end of Seaman Avenue. Thanks for the offer but the doc says I got to exercise this."

The soldier began his trek once again. The policeman jumped into the waiting car and with siren blaring rode away in the opposite direction. As Robbie walked his mind repeated over and over; your left! your left! your left right left! The cadence helped to relieve the throbbing. As he turned the corner of Broadway and 207th street a group of men stood on the corner outside Bennies candy store. It was nine pm and soon the delivery trunk for the Daily News would turn the western corner and drop a bundle of the next mornings papers on the sidewalk. Benny would come out and carry the bundle to the newsstand and meticulously count the papers and in his words make sure I ain't getting ****ed and some of the men would comment," you cheap hebe hurry it up"; and Benny would retort, "you Irish bums ain't got no where else to go." Robbie entered the store and stopped before the comic book rack. He took down a copy of the Two Gun Kid and started to thumb through the western. Behind the soda fountain Bennies brother Joey eyed the soldier suspiciously for both Bennie and Joey knew every customer was a potential thief. In contrast to his brother Bennie who had the face of a Rabbi, Joey was short and pudgy. He liked to say he was born a beautiful child but his big mouth had made his face look this way. His nose was flattened, his eye, which never remained still, darted restlessly back and forth. His sockets were blacked from lack of sleep. Irregardless of the season Joey wore a long sleeve flannel shirt; a permanent scowl; a grayed unshaven face and an attitude. The only reason humans existed on this earth was for the sole purpose of screwing him and his brother Bennie. People always took advantage like this soldier standing over there;

"Hey you!"

Robbie turned slowly unsure whether or not it was he who was the hey you. Joey was sure.

" Yeah you, Sad wanna read for nothing the library's up the street! This ain't the USO you know!"

The phone in the rear of the store rang and with eyes on Robbie Joey answered.

" Yeah I got it. A c note on number 6 in the eighth. I told you I got it didn't I!" said Joey slamming down the receiver.

Joey came back and stood behind the soda fountain. Uncomfortably Robbie reached in his wallet and extracted a bill and paid for the comic book. Joey more or less tossed the change on the counter and as Robbie was about to leave Joey asked.

" Hey Sergeant York. You ain't the kid who used to deliver booze for the Benedettos are you?"

" Yes that's me," Robbie answered.

" Yeah I thought so. You used to bring me the old mans"...this said Joey looked about the store somewhat warily then more or less whispered..." You used to bring the old mans action. Robbie shrugged. " Yeah I remember you kid. I told my brother Bennie you was a good kid. A kid who knows the what for. A guy who keeps his mouth shut. Come here kid."

Joey grabbed a coke glass and deftly mixed some seltzer water, some chocolate syrup and some milk in the glass which he pushed across the counter to Robbie. Joey invited the soldier to sit on the stool.

" Let me tell you something kid. When I was in Korea you know the one thing I missed about New York. A ****in' chocolate mother ****in' egg cream. You leave this town and ask for an egg cream and they think you're from Mars. I'd get a hard on thinkin' of an egg cream!" Robbie sucked the contents from the bottom of the glass making a loud slurping sound. Joey smiled and continued prating. " Now I can tell by that sound youse a guy who appreciates an egg cream." A teenager entered the store and gained Joeys attention. Joey watched as the kid started reading a Batman comic book. Joeys neck started to throb as he yelled at the young man;

" Hey you; yeah you mop top! The libraries down the freakin' street… Get your *** home to bed where you belong!"

The boy started to raise his finger in the New York salute but before his hand was raised belt high Joey was across the counter grabbing Batman from the kids hand and not so kindly gave him a boot in the bottom and shoved him out the door. From the street the boy yelled;

" You lousy Jew bastard!"

Not to be outdone Joey screamed back;

" Then you must be half Jew you potato eating freak cause I screwed your mother!"

The old soda jerk slipped back behind the fountain, picked up a rag and began to polish the various syrup spillages from the stainless steel dispensers all the while speaking as though he could care less if anyone listened.

" That kid, that freckled faced carrot top creep is the biggest thief in the neighborhood. Ah, this freaking neighborhoods changed from the old days. Can't trust no one anymore. Look outside, you see my brother guarding those freekin' papers. There was a time we left a box out there for people to drop their money in for the paper. In the mornings, the news sometimes dropped off the paper before me or Bennies got here. Steel bars on the windows and doors. We put up these iron barriers to keep out the crooks and make prisoners of ourselves. What a life! You like the egg cream?"

" Yes, it was great. What do I owe you?" Robbie inquired as he fumbled through his pockets for some change.

Joey was insulted.

" Owe me! You order a freaking egg cream? No. I put the thing in front of you so you don't owe me nothing !"

Robbie picked up his coins from the counter and thanked his benefactor. Joey accepted the thanks with a shrug and I'll see you around kid. An old woman with a shopping bag entered the store as Robbie was departing. Robbie stood aside and let the old woman enter then exited into the street. He stood outside the candy store momentarily; just long enough to hear Joeys' voice from inside caustically chastise another customer.

"Hey you! Yeah you bag lady! The freekin' libraries down the street!"

A slight mist was in the air and as Robbie stood beneath the street lamp at the top of Seaman Avenue he could not remember the five block walk from the candy store to this point. And then the mist subsided and running out of excuses Robbie walked the final block toward home. He sat on the stoop outside his apartment building and listened to the night sounds. A toilet flushed, a car door slammed, a mans voice shrieked ' just do what you're told goddamn it!' To whom he screamed was unclear for the night became silent. Robbie opened the paper sack and unscrewed the whiskey bottle and raised it to his lips. He savored the flavor as warmly it passed through his throat. Across the street a woman in a slip passed by her third story window briefly out of Robbie's view then reappeared. She opened the window; placed her hands on the sill and leaned out. She shook her head back and forth then leaned back and inhaled. Her breasts rose then lowered. Her right shoulder strap fell revealing all to the nipple. She lowered her head for a moment, her long black hair flowing over her shoulders. She stayed this way stretching her neck until disturbed by a mans voice from within;

" Sylvia, what the hell are you doing!"

Angrily Sylvia raised her head and responded in kind:

" I'm breathing for Christ's sake is that okay with you! Do you got to know every thing I'm doing every minute of the day!" She slammed the window shut and breasts and nipples were now but a soldiers dream.

Robbie inhaled deeply taking in the odors permeating from the apartment kitchens. Smells of boiled cabbage, a meat loaf, fried bacon, baked potatoes all intermingled. It was time to go. Go upstairs, apologize to his mother, take off his uniform and spend a sleepless night wondering why he had returned and where he would go from here. He rose from the stoop, entered the courtyard, pushed open the first double door in the entranceway and then the second door. He thought briefly of trying the stairs then went to the elevator and pushed the button. As he waited by the elevator he could hear the peephole of the apartment on his left open and a blue eye stare then the peephole close. He looked up at the indicator and the number was flashing six so he pushed the elevator button again then turned and moved away. He stood before a table in the vestibule. Upon the table was a lamp with a soft bulb and above table height and fastened to the wall a mirror. As Robbie gazed at his reflection a man looked back; someone he knew but of whom was unsure. The eyes were blue and colder than he remembered, the jaws were tighter the chin firmer, the skin more bronzed from the Asian sun. He knew it would take time to get to know this stranger but for now he had nothing but time. Finally the elevator arrived and Robbie entered. He pushed number three and as the door was closing a voice beckoned;

" Hold the door please!"

Robbie shoved his foot in front of the sliding elevator door forcing it to creep back on its track to the open position. He pushed open the heavy metal outer door and a young woman brushed past him muttering thanks. She had a back pack strapped to her back and her arms were laden with what appeared to be text books which she shifted this way and that and when she was unable to adjust her burden properly she looked at the soldier and more or less commanded;

" Do you think you can stop staring at me for a moment and push number 4."

But he could not; stop staring. Within her arrogance lay her beauty. She appeared to deliberately dress disheveled. Her hair, a Celtic red, was more or less shoved under a ski cap which was pulled tightly down to her ears. Her eyes were a devilish green. Her skin was darker than one would expect of a Celt. Browned freckles ran across her nose and her cheeks sat high. A slight trace, perhaps of lavender, floated to his nostrils which began to twitch. Her lips were full and slightly lip-sticked. They stood silently waiting for the door to close and the elevator rise and then she turned and stared at the soldiers uniform and for reasons unknown to herself blurted out;

" Well, you kill any babies today."

" No," Robbie retaliated, " but I did trip a couple of old ladies."

Slowly the elevator ascended, its cables stretching and creaking. The woman turned to the soldier and smiled.

" I'm sorry that was a stupid thing to say. It's just so senseless, we should not be there."

" I agree," he answered.

" Then why did you go," she asked.

Before he could answer and tell her it seemed romantic at the time in his eighteen year old mind the elevator stopped between the second and third floors and the woman exclaimed;

" Oh ****! We are stuck!"

She leaned heavily upon the alarm bell. Over and over she pressed the bell until from above they heard a woman's voice inquire;

" Are you alright?"

The young woman's voice answered apprehensively;

" Is that you Ma?"

" Katherine?"

" Ma!"

" Is that you Katherine?"

" Jesus!" the woman uttered disdainfully. "Of course its me. Who else calls you ma!"

The voice responded;

" There is no need to use that tone of voice with me young lady!"

Robbie started to laugh but the young woman admonished him.

" It's not funny!"

" Katherine, are you in there with someone?"

" There's a man with me."

" What's he look like?"

Katherine gazed into her companions face and smiled then yelled back to her mother.

" He has horns coming out of his head. Ma! He is foaming at the mouth! My god! Ma he is coming toward me with flames coming out of his nostrils!"

" Katherine Fitzmaurice, you are not one bit humorous!" And then for effect the old woman added. " You touch one hair on my daughters head Mister..."

But before she could finish her threat Katherine interrupted;

" For god sake Ma, go get the super and get us out of here!"

" Are you sure you are alright Katherine?"

Exasperated Katherine pleaded with her mother;

" Mother please go and get Mr. Bartlet....Now!"

" I'm going dear. Hang on I'll be right back."

The prisoners heard footfalls on the tiles above the elevator then silence. The young woman appeared agitated and when she turned and faced her fellow captive he was grinning.

" What's so funny?" she asked.

" So you are Katherine Fitzmaurice. You have grown. Do you know who I am?"

Before she could respond another voice called from above.

" Robbie? Are you in there Robbie?"

" Yeah mom, it's me."

" Are you alright son?"

" I'm fine Mom; we're just stuck."

" We son? Are you with someone?"

" Katherine Fitzmaurice is here mom."

An awkward silence followed and then Robbie's mother spoke as though Katherine was non-existent.

" Don't talk to her son. I'll get the super."

And then the sound of fading footsteps. Katherine tired of holding her books dumped them in the corner, removed her cap and jacket throwing them in a ball on top, and when she had trouble slipping off her back pack Robbie assisted her for which she mumbled her thanks then she sat down and curled herself up in a ball and for a reason Robbie could not yet understand she began to shake.

" Are you all right? " he inquired.

Her eyes were shut tightly and a certain fearful look encompassed her face. She started to breathe heavily almost gasping for air swallowing with difficulty but managed to blurt out;

" Claustrophobic!"

Robbie removed the whiskey bottle from the paper sac; opened the bottle; and knelt down.

" Take a drink of this," he advised.

She drank from the bottle her hands shaking and her eyes still firmly shut.

" I cant take this!" she yelled.

" Try talking," Robbie asked. " It will make the time go by."

" What about?"

" I don't know, any thing. Do you know who I am?"

" Of course I know who you are. You are Robbie Collins and our families haven't spoken in years. Can I have another sip?"

As her eyes were still sealed Robbie reached for her hand and placed her hand about the bottle. The liquor seemed to soothe her for the trembling abated somewhat.

" Why not try opening your eyes?" Robbie coaxed. And as his voice was calm and assured she did so and when their gazes interlocked he knew this would never end for her eyes drew him in and in and he imagined she and he intertwined, her red hair flowing down her back and those green eyes, soft and alluring, never letting him go. And he knew his imagination was running rampart and his leg began to throb so he moved away to the other side of the elevator, sat down and leaned his back against the wall. And he closed his eyes and winced and gritted his teeth.

" You're in pain?" she asked.

" Not much. It comes and goes."

" It is stupid you know," she said, " The reason our families don't talk."

" You mother said something about shoes. We don't talk because of the shoes."

Katherine sat up, leaned over, and wrapped her arms about her knees.

" My mother spoke to you. I cant believe it."

" She kind of spoke," Robbie explained. " We rode in the elevator together earlier today. I just had to ask why we didn't talk. At first she said nothing and then when I got off at my floor and the door started to close she mouthed something about because of the shoes. You look better by the way."

" It comes and goes, just like you. When I feel confined I start to shake. I need my space. I feel better now thanks."

" What's all this about the shoes?" he asked.

Katherine might as well have begun the tale of the shoes with once upon a time for the whole story seemed so childish and fairytale like for the family feud began between Robbie and Katherine's older sisters many many years ago. It appears Katherine's sister had a deformity in her toes and was required to wear an orthopedic pair of shoes which looked somewhat like a pair of a mans wingtips and Robbie's sister made fun of her calling her boy boy or some other moronic name children give mockingly to one another. The older girls fought in the street brining the parents out of their apartments and involved in this childish struggle. The sisters were made to shake hands and forget about the incident which was the adult thing to do. But Robbie's sister was a bit of a devil. A week went by and Katherine's sister was having her 14th birthday. Meticulously Robbie's sister wrapped a birthday present and meeting Katherine's sister on the street handed her this little box and said" Happy birthday, I got you something to go with your shoes!" Upon opening the wrapping and shaking out the contents it appeared Robbie's sister had wrapped up one of her brothers athletic supporters. There was crying and screaming and accusations tossed back and forth between the parents as to the mental stability of Robbie's sister and the true sexuality if Katherine's and then the imposed silence.

"... And that is the history of our families feud," Katherine finished.

" That's it. You mean our families haven't talked in 20 years because of that.?"

Katherine was about to respond when her mothers voice called out;

" Katherine dear, it is your mother. I found Mr. Bartlet. He said the problem is electrical. He will have you out within the hour."

And then Robbie's mother spoke;

" Robbie, the problem is electrical. You will be out within the hour."

And then the captives heard the two woman banter back and forth...I just told them that...You talk to your child and I will talk to mine thank you very much...and on and on until Katherine pulled a transistor radio out of her backpack and turned it up drowning out the voices from above.

Robbie placed his hands behind his head and leaned back;

" Might as well get comfortable."

" Jesus, their must be something we can do," Katherine asked.

" Like what?" Robbie asked.

Katherine reached in her back pack and extracted a pack of playing cards.

" You play gin?" she asked.

Robbie inched his way closer to Katherine.

" Deal away."

" Lets not let that bottle of yours go to waste," Katherine suggested.

For half an hour they passed both the cards and the whiskey back and forth and when the whiskey was depleted Katherine looked at Robbie and asked,

" Mind if I smoke."

Before Robbie could answer Katherine produced a joint, lit it, and took a drag sucking the smoke deeply in to her lungs than passing it to Robbie who shrugged then took a drag himself. Back and forth they passed the joint as first Jimmy Morrison sang Riders of the Storm and then the slow methodic sound of Quicksilver was heard..." You ask me why my mind goes to rambling." Time ceased to matter. Katherine would look at Robbie and laugh and slowly enunciate the word; shoes. And Robbie moronically would until they were both so loaded they started chanting; Shoes! shoes! Shoes! And then they started chanting faster and faster until the word shoe started to sound like the word choo, choo of a train. Concerned voices of the mothers from above beached; " Are you alright dear!"...but Katherine and Robbie's singsong went on and on choo choo choo choo until reaching its crescendo and the finale which went choo choo **** the shoes and from above two women in unison moaned oh my god!

Seconds, then minutes were passed in silence. Katherine unable to control her political passions blurted out.

" I'm against this illegal war you know."

" I'm not exactly for it myself," he parried.

" What made you change your mind," she asked.

And imitating the Irish accents of their mothers he said;

"Perhaps it's because of the bullet in me frecking leg."

And she responded from out of the blue with;

" You know I had a crush on you when I was a little girl."

Then quickly changing the subject she continued;

" Let's play cards. This place is driving me nuts! You want to play poker?"

" Pokers boring unless you play for something."

" All right, we will play for something. Jacks are wild."

They played for awhile passing the joint back and forth and neither could tell you the moment they fell asleep and the elevator had risen to the third floor but they do remember the moment they were awaked by the screams of their parents and the laughter of Mister Bartlet for when the door was opened to release the captives, what greeted the sight of Mrs. Collins and Mrs. Fitzmaurice were their son and daughter respectively dressed; he in only his skivvies and the pull over cap of Katherine; and Katherine was donned in the Corporals uniform. Mrs. Collins was crying and quizzing;

" Son what did she do to you son!"

Robbie blinked and then focused and realized his mother was saying something and then it all became clear and he opened his mouth and grinned a moronic smile and in a whisper said;

" I think she cheated."

Despite the fact they had nothing in common Robbie and Katherine in the year 1998 were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. Katherine was an attorney for the ACLU and protested every cause available and according to her husband even protested the fact there was nothing at the time to protest. As for Robbie he also went back to school and received a law degree and was a DA in Manhattan. Two children, both daughters, were away at college. They took after their father, preferring to go to the Knick games then rallies with their ever involved mother. But after thirty years this couple still possessed the one thing most pairs lose in the first year of marriage. They possessed deep passion and friendship toward one another. You could see it in the way the looked at each other and smiled as though they had just shared a hidden joke. While she was the more daring of the two he was the most calming. They still held hands as the walked the streets of New York. They kissed each other goodbye when they left for work in the morning and greedily took each other into one another's arms when arriving home safely at night. And as for the Grandmothers Collins and Fitzmaurice? An Irish truce was developed. A sort of comedic conversation took place when forced together on holidays. They would speak to each other as though through a medium.

" Perhaps Katherine Mrs. Collins is a little chilled with that window opened."

" You know son, I really think Mrs. Fitzmaurice would prefer real butter to margarine."

Robbie and Katherine believed the Grandmothers would reach deaths door together and the conversation would go;

" After you dear."

" Oh I wouldn't think about it Dear. After you."

On the evening of their anniversary Robbie had steamed some crab legs; melted some garlic butter and made a cheese sauce to go over the raw asparagus tips she liked. They had a bottle of chardonnay and sat silently before the fire. Katherine curled up on the couch next to Robbie and said;

" Can you believe it has been thirty years?"

" Don't remind me."

" Funny, real funny," she said as she playfully slapped him on the arm. " What are you grinning about?"

" I was just thinking. Back to that night in the elevator. Every thing in life is timing. If I hadn't got mad at my mother and left the house and gone to the bar...and if I hadn't stopped at the candy store before coming home...well you know; timing. I probably would not have got stuck in the elevator with you. And everything might have been different. And you know why it all came about?"

" Enlighten me oh sentimental wonder."

" It all came about Because of the Shoes. Now what are you grinning about?"

" I thought for old times sake you might want a game of poker."

" Same rules?"

" Same rules."

But they never did play cards. They undressed and made love in front of the fire and when sated held each other and watched as the wood turned to embers and the room went dark and if anyone had entered this room and came upon these lovers they might not have understood what they saw for before them lay this unclad couple who decided for nostalgias sake, and the fact that Katherine had produced a joint to share, to make love with nothing on save their shoes.