“Where’ve you been?” Mark asked after a quick kiss hello.
“I went to get milk. I was out,” Paul said, putting the carton in his nearly empty fridge.
“Thanks.” Mark could not drink his morning coffee without milk. It was very nice of Paul to remember this even though Paul had become distant since Mark moved out. This small consideration seemed like an encouraging sign.
A week later, Paul noticed the billboard was half tagged. He’d been at Mark’s place the night before, so the kid must have been back and gotten interrupted again. “Idiot,” he murmured as he let himself into his studio. The kid was an idiot with a quest, and the romantic in Paul couldn’t help but admire that.
Making Mark fall in love with him had once been a quest, but an accomplished quest is no longer as interesting as an unaccomplished one. Reasonable as ever, Mark had suggested they needed more space or something and moved out. They continued to date, but Paul was keeping his options open. In these last, restless months before his thirtieth birthday, Paul was no longer sure what his options were open for, but they were definitely open.
After years of living in an industrial area much beloved by taggers and junkies, Paul knew that taggers, at least, were not dangerous unless they were cornered. He’d never had occasion or desire to corner one, so there’d never been any conflicts with them. Paul minded his own business, only nodding when the spray can-toting outlaws made eye-contact, which was seldom. Now, the kid tonight he’d seen before: he’d been trying to tag the new billboards above his studio for several weeks. That particular billboard changed frequently enough that it was a challenge to keep it tagged. It seemed to be the personal quest of this one particular kid to keep it tagged and he was willing to brave cold, rain, police, and falls. Paul had seen him fall more than once, but the kid usually bounced right up again and darted away before the police got there. But not that night.
“Hey, thanks, man,” the kid said, hobbling out of the shadows.
“You’re not going to get far on that leg,” Paul said. “And the cops are probably just going around the block, looking for someone who has spray paint on his pants. Like you do.”
“I–” the kid slipped back in the shadows as a car went by. “I’ll be okay,” he said, trying to look tough balanced on one leg.
“I can give you a ride somewhere,” Paul said.
The kid thought about it and then agreed. He directed Paul into a shabby neighborhood not far from the train station. He said, “Thanks,” and hobbled away as Paul drove off.
“You’re welcome. Stay off that billboard, kid,” Paul thought ruefully as he drove home. He stopped at the market to pick up a carton of milk because he knew Mark would be there when he got home and he knew he wouldn’t feel like explaining where he’d been.
The Tagger 1/3
By Ginger Mayerson
The thump on the sidewalk outside his studio sounded larger than a cat jumping or a rat falling out of a tree. There were, in fact, no trees outside Paul’s studio. There was, however, a billboard, which was a magnet for taggers. Another case for it being a human thump were the police sirens and the running feet. Against his better judgment, he looked outside.
“Not you again,” he said to the kid, who was struggling to stand. Well, at this distance, Paul realized he was more of a late teenager or in his early twenties than a kid.
“Who me?” he said, wincing in pain and favoring his left leg.
“Yes, you. You who fell off this same billboard last weekend, you.”
The sirens were getting closer. The kid limped behind Paul’s van parked next to the studio. There was a plea for help in his eyes as he melted into the shadows.
A patrol car slowed to a halt in front of Paul. The cop stuck his head out and asked if he’d seen anyone tagging the billboard. Paul said he hadn’t seen anyone on the billboard, which was true. This satisfied the cop and, after wishing Paul a pleasant evening, he drove off.