‘A man could live for years in this swarming mass of streets and time and never be seen,’ Cooney thought to himself. The blinders that we wear, the obsessive focus on what’s directly in front of us and what must be done, those to whom we owe allegiance or money or time - all of it the clutter of obligation. And the streets teem with it all, a jumbled mass of interchangeable bodies with interchangeable parts and interchangeable worries. No room for anyone else, and no call to notice what has no immediate value…..
Matthew Cooney thrived on invisibility. ‘Nothing to it, really,’ he would tell himself. ‘Just go about your day as if you knew every move to be made. As if you owned the city and everyone in it. No one pays any mind.’ The mistakes came about when one tried not to be seen, or thought himself too bold. Lurking in doorways or clambering down dark alleys – any unnatural action – drew suspicion. Cooney detested attention, unless he were the one to be paying it to complete whatever task was at hand.
His one great mistake had been an attempt at daylight robbery, right in the open, hoisting a small gun in the face of the owner of a store that he frequented. Youthful exuberance, it was, mixed with a touch of hubris. It cost him two years behind bars, although even those dull months were not without their rewards. With a youthful charisma Cooney had made friends among the others with whom he shared his time. Some of them came in handy on the outside, providing contacts, leads, and sometimes even partnerships in enterprises too grand to be pursued by one man alone.
He had been invisible for years, and had made a living of it. Cooney the Hustler. Cooney the Petty Thief. Cooney the Entrepreneur. The streets provided his sustenance, even as they hid him. Cooney the Invisible Man.
On a sunlit late winter morning Cooney walked through the square where he usually spent his days. He surveyed this day – sunshine and enough warmth to keep away discomfort, the chatter of birds, the ever present white noise of car traffic and the shuffling of the swarms coming and going to their places, heads down, absorbed and unsmiling. Cooney had become familiar with the neighborhood and knew the surrounding houses well enough to identify those that might be worth a clandestine visit. The best thieves were patient, and really, there was no need to rush things. He had enough for the day, and for the next several day
s. The last house he had visited had proven generous. Again, he had taken just enough, but not so much that the losses would be noticed right away.
Cooney set off down the street adjacent the square, the one where the fattest houses stood in sentrylike rows. A reconnaissance mission, that was all. No need to press things today, on this glorious morning. Whatever he might see he would catalogue for future reference, for those days when things might not be so flush. For now he was a happy man.
On the way he stopped into a convenience store, the same one he had sought to rob those years ago.
“Mornin’, Joe”, he said to the man behind the counter, the same man at whom he had pointed his small gun. They had become friends.
“Mornin’ back at ya, Matt,” came the reply from one of the few people on this planet who knew
his name, who recognized that Matthew Cooney walked this world. “The usual smokes?”
“Indeed. And I’ll take a pint of the Four Roses, too. Something to warm me against a winter’s day.”
When the goods appeared Cooney reached into his back pocket and drew forth the bills to pay for it all. This day he had money. It had been a good week.
Back to the street, then, and into his walk. No rush. No hurry. He had the day to himself, and he might fill it with anything that caught his fancy. And, best of all, no one would notice him, this lone figure walking the dense streets, owning the city. This blurred human cipher, Cooney the Invisible Man.