Ruby Murphy, Broken Voices

As the F train grinds to a halt I notice a gamy smell wafting out of my bag. I shut the bag tighter to keep the meat odor contained. Although I'm a vegetarian, my two cats, Stinky and Lulu, live on raw meat. Specifically, organic ground turkey. According to the various natural cat books, raw food is the answer for virtually anything that ails any cat. And my cats are both plagued by ailments. Stinky, a black and white cat who resembles a raccoon, is obese, while Lulu, a small nervous calico who came in my window one day and refused to leave, was apparently abused in her youth and hisses is anyone other than me comes near her.

The raw meat diet hasn't rendered Stinky slender or Lulu sedate, but both cats look better and have greatly improved breath. However, organic ground turkey is hard to come by at Coney. Which is why I usually pick some up from the overpriced upscale food store near Juilliard. Only the stuff doesn't travel well. Even though I have a special dry ice pack in my backpack for the occasion, the stuff is getting malodorous. My lone fellow passenger, an old black woman with the dignified dark-clad look of a Jehovah's Witness, is glancing at me sideways, and I'm very relieved when the train doors open. The lady and I both shuffle onto the elevated platform. There's a nice view of Coney — a bright sight in the middle of summer, when Astroland is alive and churning, but somewhat ominous late at night this time of year, when the place hasn't quite woken from its long winter sleep.

As the woman forges ahead down the stairs, I stop to look around. Even though I've lived out here for two years, I never get tired of gawking at that place.

The wind is howling, whipping through the shut-down rides that look like dark metal birds, their wings taped to their sides. Off in the shadows, where the old Thunderbold rollercoaster used to stand, is a big vacant lot. To its right the new baseball park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Straight ahead, toward the boardwalk, a lone light glows from Guillotine's trailer. Guillotine is a French expatriate who, as the story goes, was a famous clown in his youth but had tremendous socialization problems. He finally ended up at Coney, running one of the kiddie parks. In winter Guillotine hibernates in his trailer with his five pit bulls. He's not the friendliest guy in the world, but that's usually the case with both clowns and kiddie park operators. Guillotine never expresses much warmth to me, but I sense that he watches my back.

As I linger on the platform, taking in the view, I light a cigarette — my first in several hours. Though I've never succeeded in controlling anything in my life, I've recently started trying to control my smoking. As a result, I'm constantly thinking about cigarettes. It takes my mind off sex, at least. Which is pretty much all I've thought about since Sam moved out.

I stub my cigarette and then descend the endless stairs into the crumbling station. There's a small stream coursing down one of the old tiled walls. Yellowed water streaks over the ancient Stillwell Avenue sign. The whole station is undergoing a sorely needed renovation. All the same, I'll miss the dingy glory of the place and I'll never get over the loss of Pete's candy store, the candy-apple-serving institution with its grimed old windows looking off into the stations's bowels.

I pass through the turnstile and wave at Mikey, the token booth man. He nods at me with his chin.

There's not much life on Surf Avenue, just one knot of kids hovering around the pay phones near Nathan's. They eyeball me as I pass by. Not many white people live right around here. There's me. My boss, Bob, who lives in back of the museum. Half a dozen white crack whores who room at the SRO on Eighteenth Street. Mostly, though, it's Spanish and black people and, a few blacks north, Russians.

I turn right on Stillwell and cross over to my building. The furniture store I live above is closed — though there's no telling if they bothered opening at all. The two old Russian cranks that run it are extremely moody. Often they're too irritated to open the store long enough to discourage whatever shoppers happen to straggle in.

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Excerpted from Hex by Maggie Estep. Copyright © 2003 by Maggie Estep. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.