Freedom Lane: Daq’s Leaf Service

“Hold still,” Da’Quarius said, holding a long needle to Tony’s eyebrow. They were in a booth in Paulie’s Pizza on State Street, and they were taking advantage of Paulie’s absence.

“I’m holding still!” Tony exclaimed. “Just poke the hole already.”
“Alright,” Da’Quarius said. “I don’t even know how I let you talk me into dis.”
“I’m putting the word out about your leaf business,” Tony said. “Just do it already.”
“OK,” Da’Quarius said.
“This is gonna look so friggin’ cool,” Tony said.
Da’Quarius pushed the needle through Tony’s eyebrow. He pushed Da’Quarius to the floor, running around the pizzeria screaming, blood dripping down his face.
“Put da’ dumbbell in!” Da’Quarius shouted.
Paulie walked inside as a bleeding, panicking Tony was trying to switch out the needle in his eyebrow for the dumbbell he bought at a kiosk at the mall.
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “I can’t leave you two for five friggin’ minutes.”
Freedom Lane 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
Season 9, Episode 2: Daq’s Leaf Service
Da’Quarius wiped the sweat from his forehead with his shirt sleeve as the sun began to set. He had spent nearly his entire Saturday blowing, raking, and bagging leaves with Flounder and Esmerelda. The three decided to make some pocket money with their work, and there were tons of seniors around the neighborhood who’d rather pay three kids to rake their leaves than pay some landscaping company to do it.
“You’ve done a fine job,” Mrs. Langner said, coming from her house. She handed Da’Quarius the thirty dollars she promised.
“Thanks,” Da’Quaruis said, adding the money to the stash he was holding until it was time to split three ways. He dragged the two bags in front of him to the front of the yard and joined Flounder and Esmerelda.
Flounder was panting heavily, using his rake to hold himself up. “Is that all for today?” he asked.
“Dat’s all,” Da’Quarius said. Esmerelda gave him a smile, but he could tell she was worn out too. There were still leaves in her bushy hair. The yards looked small when they were advertising their services, but they underestimated how many leaves fell off the overgrown trees.
“Alright,” Da’Quarius said, taking out the money to split it up. He counted it and handed forty dollars each to Esmeralda and Flounder.
“That’s it?” Flounder asked.
“I don’t get an allowance without workin’,” Da’Quarius said. “My moms don’t just hand me money for no reason.”
“It’s fine,” Esmerelda said. “We’re doing leaves for old ladies. What did d’jou expect, Flounder, a hundred dollars a yard?”
“I dunno,” Flounder said with a shrug. “Just seemed like a lot of work for forty bucks is all.”
“Dat’s cuz you outta shape,” Da’Quarius said. “A day’s worth of rakin’ is good for you.”
“I don’t know,” Esmerelda said, looking at Flounder. “I think he’ll have a heart attack if he keeps this up.”
“So can I count on you two for tomorrow?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Can’t,” Esmerelda said, looking genuinely upset saying no. “Harold and Lee are bringing back to the orphanage in Bridgeport again.”
“Dey still haven’t fully adopted you?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Do I look upset about it?” Esmerelda said with a shrug.
Da’Quarius laughed. “True dat,” he said. “How ’bout you, Flounder? Keep away from the sweets, an’ you might lose a few pounds with another day of work.”
“Sorry,” Flounder said, still breathing heavy. “I can’t handle this again. I might be able to handle a couple of days after school, but not a full day.”
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Looks like I’m on my own.”
The night shift was about to begin at Paulie’s Pizza, and Tony was back from a long break between the lunch and dinner rushes. He walked by Paulie who was shocked by his appearance. “Take that friggin thing out of your head!” he exclaimed. “I don’t want you handling food with that thing oozing puss and blood.”
“I got it covered boss,” Tony said. He took two bandaids from his jeans pocket and put them around the barbell in an X. “There. Happy?”
“Not particularly,” Paulie said. “I find one bandaid on a pizza, and I’m taking that thing out by force.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony said, waving a hand. “You just wish you can look this badass.”
“Will you look at that,” Rose said, reading the newspaper in her den while Helen flipped through the channels on TV. “This article still says there’s a high percentage of women in the workplace only making seventy percent of what a man makes.”
“Well what do you expect?” Helen asked. “The companies have to put up with them pushing out babies, then taking time out of their day to pump tit milk. The company has to recoup some of that lost-time money somehow.”
Rose dropped her paper to look at Helen. “How could you say a thing like -“
Rose was cutoff by the door opening and Da’Quaruis coming in. His dog, Dutchie, jumped around him barking, happy that his master had finally arrived home.
“There’s our hard worker,” Rose said. “You missed dinner, but I saved you a plate. I’ll go warm it up for you.” She ran off into the kitchen, right past Helen without looking in her direction.
“Don’t you want to know if I want anything?!” Helen called after her.
“Why is she mad at you?” Da’Quarius asked, sitting down on the couch across from Helen.
“Oh, she’s just being little-miss-feminist again,” Helen replied. “She doesn’t listen to reason when she gets like that. How’s the leaf business?”
“Sucks,” Da’Quarius replied. “I only made forty bucks for myself, I lost Flounder and Esmerelda tomorrow, and I have at least three lawns to rake on my own.”
“Just get a day laborer,” Helen said. “You’ll pay twenty dollars, and he’ll work harder than both of your friends put together.”
“Ain’t dat illegal an’ shit?” Da’Quarius asked.
“So,” Helen said with a shrug. “Crapping is against the law according to the bible, and we all crap all day every day.”
“Well, I don’t wanna break my promises to do da’ leaves,” Da’Quarius said. “Guess I’ll get up early and get me a day laborer.”
“Good,” Helen said. “Just let me tell you how to treat these people in President Trump’s America…”
It was Sunday at noon, and Paulie was once again readying Paulie’s Pizza for the lunch rush. Tony came down from his upstairs apartment. His skin was purple in a huge half-circle above his eyebrow, and his eye was bloodshot under it.
“Madon,” Paulie said. “Will you get that thing out and go to the hospital? I can smell the gangrene from here!”
“There ain’t no gangrene,” Tony said. “It just got a little dirty yesterday. I forgot to put some alcohol on it before bed last night.”
“A little dirty?” Paulie asked. “I told you working with that thing in was a bad idea. You probably got sauce and cheese on it.”
“Nah,” Tony said. “I was fiddling with it after I took a shit, and I hadn’t washed my hands.”
“What?!” Paulie exclaimed. “You’re working here with shit on your hands?!”
“No,” Tony replied. “It was after I went home. I’m always clean when I’m here.”
“Well I don’t want you working until that’s healed,” Paulie said. “Get out of here, and see a friggin’ doctor!”
“Fine,” Tony said. He left muttering under his breath about wanting the day off anyway. The front door opened with a jingle if the bells above it, and Da’Quarius entered with a middle-aged Hispanic man. He was wearing old, dirty clothes, had a bushy mustache, and a big nose.
“Sit down,” Da’Quarius said forcefully. “We’re only stoppin’ long ‘nough to eat, den it’s back to work.”
“Si, senior Masters,” the Hispanic man said.
“Oh,” Paulie said. “What’s with Slowpoke Rodriguez over there?”
“That’s Enrique,” Da’Quarius replied. “He’s working with me to do the leaves. He’s really good too. You wouldn’t mind if we took a couple sandwiches, would you?”
“Of course not,” Paulie said, “but why give him the attitude.”
“It’s how you have to talk to dem,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey’ll only work if you’re constantly threatenin’ to call immigration.”
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “Sounds like my sister got in your head.”
Da’Quarius shrugged. “It’s funny doe,” he said. “He don’t seem to mind it.”
“Well, he’s probably used to it,” Paulie said. “I won’t tell you how to run your little leaf business, but you want to treat your workers with respect.”
Tony returned from upstairs. He had the bandaids off his eyebrow, and it was purple with a large white bump.
“Holy shit,” Da’Quarius said. “That barbell I put in yo’ eye looks cool as fuck.”
“I know,” Tony replied. He turned to Paulie. “Hey, the shitter in my apartment’s clogged again.”
Paulie groaned. “I’ll take care of it,” he said. He walked to the back area. “Hey, Juan!”
A small Hispanic man came running out. He was wearing rubber gloves and a filthy apron. Da’Quarius recognized him as Paulie’s dishwasher and kitchen cleaner. “Si?”
“Head upstairs and unclog the toilet,” Paulie said.
Juan just stared at Paulie.
Paulie sighed. “Uncloggo el toilet,” he said, miming plunging. “Comprende?”
“Oh, si,” Juan said. Juan passed by Enrique, and the two nodded at each other. They spoke in quick Spanish before turning toward Da’Quarius and Paulie with odd looks on their faces.
“Gracias,” Paulie said loudly, causing Juan to run off. He came back out to where Da’Quarius was standing. “Where was I?”
“Somethin’ ’bout respectin’ yo’ workers,” Da’Quarius said, “but I think I got it. Gracias.”
It was Monday afternoon, and Da’Quarius had gone right to work raking leaves as soon as school let out. He paid Enrique on Sunday night and promised him a little more if he met him the following day. Enrique was at the address Da’Quarius gave him with the work nearly done by the time he arrived. “Hola, senior Masters!” he shouted with a huge smile.
“Damn, Enrique,” Da’Quarius said, looking over the lawn. “You shoulda saved some for me.”
“Oh,” Enrique said, looking around. “I’m so sorry, senior Masters.”
“I’m jokin’,” Da’Quarius said. “You did real good.”
The smile returned to Enrique’s face. “Gracias,” he said. “I’ll finish up here and start on the next job.”
“Good job,” Da’Quarius said. He remembered what Helen had told him on Saturday. “Maybe I won’t have to call INS on you after all.”
Enrique looked up. There was a look of shock on his face, but the wide smile returned. “Gracias, senior Masters,” he said with wave.
Da’Quarius felt the smallest pang of guilt at the way he had been to Enrique. He was getting results from him, but he wondered if it was really worth the threats. He felt even worse when Enrique dropped a bombshell of a request.
“Oh,” Enrique said, looking up again from the leaf pile in front of him. “Before I forget; my wife says to invite you over for dinner tomorrow night. Can you come?”
Tony sat in the doctor’s office on Tuesday morning. He put off making the appointment, but Paulie was adamant about him not being allowed to work until he went to the doctor. He had threatened to start docking his pay if he wasn’t able to come to work, so Tony had no choice.
“Is it serious, doc?” Tony asked as the doctor looked over his eye.
“You’re lucky you came in,” the doctor said. “That piercing in your eyebrow is going to have to come out immediately.”
“Can you do it?” Tony asked. “I can’t stand to lose something so cool.”
The doctor frowned but gave Tony a nod. He cut the top of the barbel with a pair of cutters an pulled it out in one smooth motion. Tony cringed as it came out. 
“All set with that,” the doctor said, tossing barbell into a trash pail. “Now it’s just a matter of everything else.”
“What is it?” Tony asked. “Is it infected?”
“Yes,” the doctor answered, “and it’s a very bad infection at that. You also have conjunctivitis.”
“No,” Tony whispered. “Not that.”
“If we start treatment right away -“
“No,” Tony said. “There’s something I need to do first!” He ran out of his office screaming.
“It’s only ten days’ worth of eye drops,” the doctor said, holding his prescription pad.
Da’Quarius walked into Enrique’s apartment. He lived in the second floor of a multi-family house not far off State Street. The smell of his wife’s cooking filled his nose as he entered with Enrique in front of him.
“I’m home, Maria!” Enrique called. Da’Quarius knew they likely spoke Spanish in their home, but he was making an effort because he was there as a guest.
“Hola!” Maria said, coming in with a smile. She wore a bright red and white blouse and a flower-covered apron to match. It reminded him of something Rose might wear.
“Maria,” Enrique said, “this is my boss, Da’Quarius. Da’Quarius, this is Maria, my wife.”
“Hi,” Da’Quarius said, feeling more awkward at being called his boss than he did when Enrique invited him over for dinner. “Thank you for havin’ me.”
“Come,” Maria said, motioning toward the small dining room with its wooden table and four chairs. “Dinner is almost ready. I’ll get little Carlito from his room.”
Da’Quarius looked around as he was led to the table by Enrique. It was a small apartment, decorated with many images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. There was an entire shelf dedicated to unused religious candles. Finally, he sat down at the table, and Enrique sat across from him with a huge smile.
Maria returned with a small boy who couldn’t have been older than five. He sat to Da’Quarius’s left and folded his hands. Maria arrived moments later with a large tray of food that looked like some kind of open-faced fajita with cooked bananas on top. Da’Quarius tried his best not to let the look on his face turn to anything except interest.
“It’s a familia recipe,” Maria said.
“My own madre used to make this,” Enrique said. “Then she taught Maria the recipe, and she makes it for me and our son.”
Carlito looked up and smiled as Maria put a large scoop of her concoction on Da’Quarius’s plate. She gave Carlito a scoop next, then Enrique, and finally herself. Enrique and his family bowed their heads, closed their eyes, and started saying a prayer in Spanish. He caught his own name at the end of it, and he knew they had just blessed him.
“Eat,” Enrique said. “We all need our strength for raking, amigo.”
Da’Quarius sighed. He always meant his leaf business to be a couple of weekends and week nights, but Enrique needed it to be something more. He knew Helen said to use him and dump him back behind the hardware store, but he knew that wasn’t right.
“Look,” Da’Quarius said, putting down his silverware. “I cain’t do da’ leaf business anymore.”
“What?” Enrique said, a look of shock on his face. “Why?”
“I have schoolwork an’ stuff,” Da’Quarius replied. “I cain’t keep up with both.”
“Oh,” Enrique said, looking down. “I see.”
“Dat’s why I’m handing da’ business over to you,” Da’Quarius said. “Daq’s Leaf Service is all yours.”
“You mean it?!” Enrique said, looking up with joy on his face. “I’m a business owner.”
“Sure are!” Da’Quarius said, smiling. “You can even change the name to Enrique’s Leaf Service if you wanna.”
“Oh no,” Enrique said. “I’ll keep the name, boss.”
“Good,” Da’Quarius said. “Do my name proud.”
“This is so wonderful!” Maria said, “and you have my brother’s equipment too.”
“What now?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Maria’s brother gave me all his old landscaping equipment,” Enrique said. “I was going to give it to you for Daq’s Leaf Service, but I guess it’s all mine now.”
Da’Quarius was taken aback for a moment, and then he laughed. “You earned it,” he said.
“Now eat up,” Maria said. “We have something to celebrate!”
Da’Quarius looked at his plate. “Do I have to?”
“Paulie,” Tony said, rushing into Paulie’s Pizza. “I’m so glad you’re here. I rushed right over after seeing my cousin Claudette one last time. I need to talk to you.”
“Oh!” Paulie said. “Get out of here until that eye’s healed!”
“That’s just it,” Tony said. “It won’t heal. It’s eye cancer, Paulie.”
“What?” Paulie said. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve never heard of eye cancer.”
“It’s true,” Tony said. His eyes filled with tears, and he pulled Paulie in for a tight hug. “You’ve been like a brother to me, Paulie! I want you to know that. I should’ve listened to you. This goddamn conjunctivitis is going to finish me, and I need you to know that!”
“What?!” Paulie snapped, shoving Tony off of him. “That’s pink-eye, you stunad! Do you have any idea how contagious that is, and you’re crying all over me?!”
“Pink-eye?” Tony asked. “I’ve had that plenty of times before.”
“Didn’t the doctor give your medication?” Paulie asked.
“Probably,” Tony said with a shrug. “I ran out when he told me about the conjunctivitis.”
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “I better not catch it too.”
Carlos wiped down the counters of Pauile’s Pizza. He was in charge for a week while Paulie and Tony were both out with a highly-infectious case of pink-eye each. He promised to keep everything the way it was until their return. The chimes above the door rang when it opened, and Enrique came in.
“Hola!” Carlos said. “Thanks so much for helping out on short notice.”
“No problem,” Enrique said. “I can’t do the leaves at night, so it works for me. I can use some extra money. My leaf service is really picking up. In the winter, I’ll be doing driveways when it snows!”
Carlos looked out the front window and saw the green pick-up truck with “Daq’s Leaf Service” pained on the side in white letters. A bad caricature of Da’Quarius was painted on the door. “Is that the boss’s nephew?” he asked.
“Si,” Enrique said. “He gave me this business. They’re a good family.”
“Si,” Carlos agreed. “They’re good people, amigo. Come on in back and get some gloves on. I need you to clean the bathroom upstairs. The gringo pisses all over the place.”
The End

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