letters of transit.

new room

They zoomed in from above.

A cul-de-sac development posing as a neighborhood. Surrounded by nothing, producing nothing. Desert inconsistencies, layer cake sideshow of red, yellow, and a dusty blue sky. A row of houses that bordered on the pre-ordained. White siding, windows in perfect sync, lawns like decorative tongues, sprawling. Falling just short of sidewalks that never saw much use. Two stories apiece. Thatched rooftops that ended in double pyramids, pointing towards the occasional cloud. Didn’t matter if the backyard made a difference; blocked from view by a sidecar garage. Meant for two, maybe three if you didn’t mind parking in the driveway, and most never did. Just to make sure the neighbors could see what kind of luxury wheels were turning the tides.

Just the kind of moment or tiny twist in the wind that had Louis putting his in park.

Back home from work a little earlier than usual.

Stepping out. Pressing that remote, beep, chariot on lock, because you never knew.

Took his accustomed stride towards the entrance. Straightening his tie, tucking aviators into his breast pocket.

Interrupted by another beep.

Took a look around.

Down just anther house or so, he caught Robert doing the same.

Securing his ride after another day of another day.

Enough of a distraction to get Louis second-glancing. Eyes catching the mailbox, little red flag still raised. Wondering if the outgoing hadn’t made its way into the right satchel that day. Blades of grass cut across his black dress shoes as he lowered the flag, opened, and found himself confronted with

a note.

Taped to a pair of hedge clippers.

Curiosity hadn’t convened on which one to go for. Remembered he had two hands and compartmentalized his decision. Hedge clippers now hanging by his hip, he stared at the note. Stared, because reading wasn’t doing the trick. Like the seconds after a surprise party, T-boned at an intersection, this wasn’t part of the plan, a piece from another puzzle.

He looked down the road, and there was Robert.

Mimicking him, reflecting the same initiation, same note.

Only in his left, Robert held a foot long crescent wrench.

And Robert glanced over in his direction.

Their eyes locked.

Louis took one last look at the note, another instant to corral reality into a neat, little pen.

Louis, the note read. “Robert has been given an instrument and an order to kill you. Unless you kill him first. He will kill you. He has to. He knows, otherwise, you will kill him. One of you will die today. You have been told. You have been warned. You have been given the chance to act.

            He looked up in time to watch reality crashing down around him, fair warning, along with a side screen shot of Robert swinging the crescent wrench, triggering a gut reaction that sent him dipping, feeling the bash of his left shoulder screaming, falling back and taking the sharp metal of his mailbox against his back. Hardly had time to thank the note, before he caught sight of Robert recovering, coming back at him.

Louis wasn’t ready to commit. He stumbled back, into the street, waving his right arm, hedge clippers extended outward like a crucifix. Useless. They were almost knocked out of his hand as Robert advanced, checkered button up soaked with endorphin sweat, swinging the wrench, each arc of the silver rainbow accompanied with a huff, huff, huff.

Flecks of white sullied his neighbor’s lips as the wrench collided with Louis’s shears, an industrial clunk echoing through his body that rang like a bell, alarm clock, up and at ‘em, time to rise and realize.

Time to Kill.

The Arizona sun beat down on them as Louis took hold of both handles, two sides of the oversized scissors and swept his way west. The tip sliced its way across Robert’s stomach, exposed for the moment thanks to arms raised high, ready to bring blunt force onto Louis’s skull, and a small smile of red made note, added first blood to the record, and with the sight of this wound, what Louis had managed to create, a door opened.
And now, the sun was smiling, as houses watched, surrounding the cement swimming pool of their lives as Louis got his arm good and dislocated while shoving the spear tip into Robert’s thigh, so the sound of bones saying goodbye was accompanied by a femoral gush across both their faces, onto the concrete, where it sizzled, bubbled, reduced itself to a low boil as Robert swung low with a scream, crushed the starboard side of an unprepared ribcage, and Louis removed the shears with an inhaled shriek, pulled on the handles, finally figuring out these things could slice, and sent those razor jaws wide just long enough to bring them together in a kiss that sent his neighbor’s guts, late lunch tumbling from his body as Robert’s own weapon of someone else’s choice came crashing down the left side of his opponent’s skull, dragging half Louis’s face off, and when the neighbors finally came out from their white fashioned doors, into the streets, they would find Robert smashing his neighbor’s head into a pulpy mess while Louis dug through his poker buddy’s body, searching for his heart, looking to clamp, shut that shit down, because both of them still thought there was a chance either one of them could still win.

 

Misty woke up with a start, and I was already living in this conscious universe, so I had the chance to wrap my arms around her, ask what was wrong. Ask about her nightmare.

            She told me, face a sweaty combination of enormous eyes and floppy dirty blond.

            Then made me promise never to tell anyone about it, because she was certain as the whitewashed portrait of dawn against the low ceilings, that there were other mailboxes elsewhere, being fed, and that her vision was only the first of many.

            I made my pledge, sealed it with a breakfast of a blueberries and a single nectarine.

…and this broken promise is now secret 43.

###

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goblin.

end

When we got back from the woods, doors locked, triple bolted behind us, gray afternoon streaming in through the cracks, Milo handed me every implement, instructing what to do with each one. It was IMPORTANT, he said, and made it clear I needed to remember ALL OF THEM. But a single fleck of blood splatter stuck to his cheek kept insisting, begging for attention , and as he spoke, basement walls of his childhood home absorbing our secret, all I could wonder was whether or not that thing was still out there.

Waiting to wander my mind, waiting in line.

###

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final night.

dolls

Once they were certain the security guard was well into his skinny mag, the dolls came to life, met in the middle of the warehouse. Stood in a semicircle under a pool of tar-stained light. Various dresses, shapes, sizes, finger length, eye colors, even skin colors, because there had been changes over the past few decades. They were more now. Varied. Close to ready. Their lips painted shut. Parting now. Showing teeth the manufacturers hadn’t planned on. All of them centered around a factory reject who had managed to hide before any of them could remember, remember to remember. Her right arm was twisted. Eyes asymmetrical. No nose. Knobby knees. Hair a wild map of frayed synapses. Skin near the small of her back melted, meeting her upper thighs in a glaring portrait of everything that shouldn’t have been. Dress dirty, moldy from all those years in the shadows.

They didn’t speak. Voice was something they were still waiting on, something near, soon, but now they watched. Watched as she raised her arm. Her good one.

The rest of the dolls did the same.

It rippled like wind on the lake, dominos throughout the warehouse.

A silent, structured nod.

It was time.

Skin would be peeled. Tendons gnawed. Eyeballs popped in their sockets, veins threaded and made to wonder just how much blood was too much blood, and once outside that building, the storm drains would choke on these rivers, try to upchuck the bones, streets permanently red with the remains of their creators.

The security guard took a sip of his coffee. Flipped to page 75 because that was the one he liked. Didn’t notice as the screens of his control center went dark.

One by one.

Door opening behind him, silently, as he unfurled the centerfold.

Licked his lips and reached for his buckle, unaware in those last few moments that he would be the first.

###

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you need me.

swan

 

“You got close this time,” the man said. Took a seat next to me on the steps. All sunlight and sounds of some well meaning sucker mowing his lawn at 7 am some 2 blocks down.

I took a pull of a cigarette. Took another sip from a plastic pint of Jack. “What time is it?”

“It’s morning, and who cares; you are out here by yourself.”

I nodded. Remembered when I used to wonder why he dressed as oddly as he did. Black button up, black tie, jacket, shoes. Man in black, except for one brilliant detail…

“Used to wonder,” I told him. “I wasn’t ever even sure what the pink rubber gloves meant.”

“You needed me to stand out,” He said. “You needed someone to listen to.”

I tugged at my jeans, watched a car go by; New Orleans Sheriff’s Department. “Have to admit… I was doing well there for a sly minute or so.”

“Well, I’m here to remind you,” Mr. Blank said.

“Please don’t.”

“I’m here to tell you all about it.” He helped himself to a cigarette, even though he didn’t need it. Only felt it through zeroeth person. Lit the tip off the sunlight, puffs bursting into crowded clouds before taking it between two gloved fingers. “I’m here to tell you how it is.”

I nodded.

“At least you know it won’t be heavy handed. You’re a better writer than you once were. Which is a shame, because apart from the fact that it elevates you to absolutely nowhere, there’s the other little problem you know I know you know…”

Opened my mouth, felt his words. “Nobody has ever cared less.”

A stately blonde from down the block, walking her beagle, sent her eyes towards me and moved a little faster.

“So you thought you’d give happiness a chance.” He shrugged. That one motion flattening every tire on the block, changing polarity, sending birds crashing to the ground. We watched them twitch, one of us helpless, the other just trying to help. “And here’s what happened, I can tell you all of it, based on what you were doing seconds before I showed up.”

“No,” I said flatly, still a little fight in me. “I do not want to buy a watch.”

“You’ve still got a little fight in you,” he said. “That’s cute.” He pointed a pink digit towards the sky. Right at the sun. Traced semicircles around it, until that yellow started spinning. Turn table. Sounds of rewind unraveling the world around us for just a split before he stopped. Sent things back on their course. Flipped it on 45 so we could both dance to it.

Felt myself fall back into what was once myself, maybe five minutes ago. Staring at this pint of Jack. One fourth from gone, reasons known only to me, save for Mr. Blank’s voice in my head, my creation come to life.

“So you sit there,” He told me. “You sit there, Lucky, for that one moment, on the steps. On some sort of trip you suspect you might have actually taken. You’ve already reached for that pint of Jack. Now you give the cap a decent screw or two and stare at the rim. Remember through lipstick stains, and take a drink, just knowing her mouth was once where yours is now.”

I did as I was told, it tasted what it meant to share my whiskey with others.

“Confident you would have hunted, searched for every last butt of each cigarette you gave her, which, maybe you can now face, is what you have always been there for. Story teller to cigarette dispenser.  You would have picked every last one off the ground, and lit those bare remains because that’s as close as you would ever come to whatever it is you’ve been hoping to find.”

He tossed his cigarette into the street. It burned a punch hole, dug deep. Went right to the core and started rotation one last time on my behalf.

“I don’t need you,” I told him.

“You’re still thinking about me,” He said. Turned to me. Featureless face, running like watercolors. Had to wonder if creating him was the one thing I didn’t regret. He leaned close, got right into my face and as the lines blurred, I could swear I saw where this would all end. “Listen carefully, because I’m only going to say this a thousand times; in your thoughts; in your sleep, dreams, whatever you consider to be your mind. Over and over, until you do what you should have done in that shitty little room at the Capri, four bare walls and nothing but four bottles of Cathead that nobody had the good sense to kiss, because nobody knew who you were, and will still never care…”

He leaned close, lips with bristled teeth touching my earlobe.

And I listened.

And he told me something that I didn’t already know.

###

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Wonderland.

gray

Manny lost his thumb while carving initials into a Sunset Park sycamore on Christmas day.

He had run from his house, boots crushing through a fresh snowfall, north towards the hill. Streets empty, storefronts shuttered. Occasional fire hydrant peeking out from the drift, curious snouts wondering where the world went.

From within his red skully, Manny could hear the blood coursing. Beat of a thirteen year old heart. Breath echoing through insulation, cloudy puffs like locomotion. Joining a city without aromatics, not a single taqueria open for business, bakeries shut down.

Thought maybe he caught the faint scent of Chinese from on 8th Avenue.

Manny wasn’t sure he could be sure of anything anymore.

Wasn’t sure he even needed all those layers.

Body heat like wildfire to the point where his skin presented with an actual tingle.

All signed in triplicate when he saw Maya standing beneath their tree.

Couldn’t handle another minute without her, and Manny boosted himself up the four-foot wall. Rolled onto his back. Sunk half way through the snow. Brought a few deformed angels to life as he struggled to his feet. Ample gut interfering with half-assed sit-ups. Felt that Christmas present digging into his thigh. Got himself straightened out and ran up the hill, transported

halfway through time and space, suddenly at Maya’s side.

Her face protruded from beneath a pink wool hat. Slender nose a crooked arrowhead. Hazel eyes with flecks of hot chocolate. Red winter cheeks accenting caramel skin. Large lips, chapped and smiling, showing off the righteous gleam of metal and green rubber bands.

She blinked.

Manny asked if she had decided.

She pulled at her fingers. Removed a purple glove, showed him the back of her hand.

Right index. A plastic novelty ring topped with a Christmas tree.

Topped with a star.

She stared up at him. Laughed. Told him it wasn’t derisive, it was only his face. His crazy, overjoyed grin, she told him, he looked like a crazy boy.

Manny didn’t mind, but felt a terrified panic take hold as her own smile faded. Lines left behind on either side of her mouth, insisting this moment was not an illusion. Alone in the middle of a city gone quiet. Gray day. Sting of a slight, southern wind. The galvanizing rush of colors, distant buildings standing out, popping from their foundations, over saturation, the seconds before a kiss.

He caved, deflected the event.

Turned to the tree and reached into his pocket.

Pulled out his SOG Aegis Assisted folding knife. AEO4-CP, fresh from its Christmas wrapper. Unsheathed the blade, 3.5 inch AUS-8  steel, partially serrated with a black TiNi finish.

Heard a Maya produce a tiny, crystallized gasp.

Manny liked the sound.

He cut into the tree. Right hand against the bark to steady, and started with her initials. Maya asked him what he was doing. Breathless and rhetorical. Manny fashioned a plus sign, then carved his own. Before she could thank him, Manny insisted it wasn’t complete without a heart.

He almost made it.

Bottom left, top two chambers, then on back down, when he slipped.

His parent’s hadn’t skimped on quality, and the blade went right through his glove, through skin, sinew, bone and all.

Blood gushed once, twice. Three fat geysers of red all over those initials, his life’s work.

He began to scream. Vaguely despairing at the pitch, so many octaves above masculine.

Maya kept her head. Took her hat off, wild static sending strands out and all over. Wrapped Manny’s hand in pink wool, gently telling him to shush as he began to cry, asking her what they should do, what should they do, what were they going to do? Maya remembered something she’d read. Fell to her knees grabbed Manny’s thumb. She shoveled. Fashioned a white, frozen cocoon for transport. Got to her feet and grabbed her new boyfriend by his functioning hand.

They ran down the western slope, towards Fifth Ave.

Somehow got caught in the crossfire of neighborhood kids in a snowball fight. Navarro and his punk friends, middle school monsters from PS 172. The barrage turned savage, as those toy soldiers united against a common enemy. Pelting Manny and Maya, screaming with vile glee

FAT PIGGY! ROBOT BITCH!

The attack was relentless. Endless. The pair lost all sense of direction, huddling close, as Manny’s frightened sobs reached a fever pitch, and Maya made an executive decision.

Manny felt her mouth against his, and his eyes instinctively closed. Every last building on the block vanished, followed by the roads, lifeless lanes on the BQE, choppy waves of the Hudson river, chemical vortex absorbing the boats, bridges, statue of liberty, the entire city into that one kiss.

And when they broke apart, the pain was gone.

For a seven-year minute, Manny was gone. Returned to sender as someone else.

Tears dried, some many miles taller, towering over the world.

He smiled. Took the snowball from Maya’s hand, turned, and there was the windup.

The pitch hit Navarro in the face. A Christmas detonation of white powder that brought everything to a standstill.

Navarro, stuck where he was, puzzled expression on his hooded mug.

Everyone watching to see what would come next.

Nobody expecting to see him gag, retch, and send that severed digit from his  mouth, only to leave a bright red thumbprint on that powdery, Brooklyn snowfall.

All Manny’s screams and nightmares were reassigned with that one transaction.

Navarro screeched. Everyone followed the leader. Navarro puked. Some saw, some didn’t, each one at different intervals of retreat, mass exodus. Screaming, screaming, more puking. Stumbling, falling over themselves to see who could run home the fastest, dive beneath the Christmas tree and curl up with their presents.

Maya laughed, almost crying.

Manny beamed, watched the skies in her eyes, bright, perfect snow globes.

He kissed her, and she kissed back, and the doctors would sitch him up good in another hour or so, but in the meantime Christmas was in the air, and they never found Manny’s thumb and

            that’s what happened to my hand, Manny told me, reaching for his shot and motioning for me to join in.

I picked mine up. Took a quick look down the bar. All empty seats in The Tap Room that afternoon, save for the old man in a ten-gallon hat, whose name I didn’t know, story I would never hear. Blizzard blasting the Sunset Park streets through glass doors.

Have to say, I had to tell him, I don’t remember asking you, Manny.

            But you’ve always wondered.

            Yes.

We knocked back our shots, had a few tugs at cold domestics.

So now, Manny coughed,  you can ask me what’s really on your mind.

            Was it worth it?

He laughed. I was all ready for “did that really happen?” but my answer kind of works for both of them.

Yeah?

Manny stared up at cheap, silver tinsel. Followed the thread past an occasional ornament, a string of dead lights celebrating yet another Christmas day. Maya moved away two years later. Don’t know where she is, who she’s with today. On this of all days, you’d think my dumb ass would know. He grinned, a gold crown winking along with the holidays. So Maya’s gone. That knife I got for Christmas is gone. My childhood’s gone. My gut, all that baby fat that hung out all through my younger years… He smacked his stomach, taught sounds of a snare drum. Gone, man. Even that tree, Lucky. Chopped down. Took the stump right out the ground, in case some little idiot should… hurt himself. He laughed. Shook his head. There’s a thousand jobs I can’t work, a million things I can’t do. Won’t ever fully know if I prefer to jerk off with my right hand, you know? So there’s all that was and never would be…

            Manny took a sip of beer and held up his hand. But this… Let me look at the sorry scar where his thumb used to be. An ugly rupture in the earth’s crust. This is proof. Can’t get no more proof than that, can’t get no more real than that. I can say that happened. I can say, every time I look at this nasty bit of work and say to myself, shit, I can only hitchhike south today… I can say I had that kiss with Maya, and that’s what changed my life, man. That’s what. This.

            I nodded. Lit a cigarette and slid the pack two stools down. Merry Christmas, Manny.

Manny lit his own, with his left, of course, and quietly serenaded, bleedin’ through a winter wonderland.

The both of us laughed more than we had any right to.

Manny and myself exchanged gifts in golden brown, matching shot glasses.

A toast to love’s miraculous, indiscriminate slaughter.

Kept it going past closing, and the weather outside was frightful.

###

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Epitaph.

saturday

There was all that was left of him. Or at least

a hint of what was left. Tombstone wasn’t proof of anything; big toe protruding from the ground, DOB and expiration date tattooed along the nail.

Alice needed more. Dropped the duffel, listened to her tools clink from within. Unzipped. Started with the pickaxe. Held it before her for a brief one, waiting for the band to strike up. Then, with a clear view from beneath the full moon, she gave the ground a few rounds. Softened the senses. Flecks of dirt pelted her shins, sod making damp, satisfied sounds.

Next, the shovel. Tip of the spade inserted, following through with a press from black combat boots; the only sound article of clothing she had bothered to wear. No black jeans. No dark, skintight turtleneck… No gloves, even. All said items replaced with a cornflower blue sundress. Thin and limp, hanging off  her body far differently than it had 40 years ago. Her frame was shorter now. Boney. Hardly anything left to fill out any portion of her past. The only constants were a long, single rip along the back of the skirt, and a broken strap, still tied together by a double knot Alice had fastened one morning after it had been ripped away.

She was one foot in only, and her arms were already aching. Loose strands of grey came undone from her bun, as she swung with a hypnotic rhythm to her work. By the time she hit three feet, her body was coated in sweat. She could feel the drops running along the wrinkles of her shoulders, face. So many more roads to travel, places to go, dropping to the dirt beneath her boots. Palms like swamplands, the only thing keeping the shovel from slipping from her hands were newly form blisters, burning into her hands. Joints on fire. Digging deep through the pain. And by the time she was five feet down, it felt as though half of the moistened soil she threw over her shoulder would come raining back down on her. The smell of earth coupled with the sight of severed worms, grubs crawling across her arms, up her legs, blind and hungry… By the time she was six feet under, and could actually taste the gravesite in her mouth, she hit her destination. Scrapped with the shovel. Started digging with her hands, open sores crying fire, one or two nails tearing, flipping backwards, hanging uselessly until they finally broke clean, became part of the ground.

She stared down at the coffin. Shaking, spent, but one small piece of fortune had found its smile. The mahogany capsule was unsecured. An oversight from final moments of the open casket. The viewing. One of those affairs that demand only the best of testimonials. Good Man. Good life. Goodbye.

So she wouldn’t need the pickaxe to crack this man’s casing. Good thing, as Alice wasn’t sure if she could even find the strength to scale her way up and out. No, just a matter of swinging the top half open. Her decent blurred what she had believed would be a dramatic moment. The big reveal. But there was no energy left for a narrative jinx. Plain as what was once day. There he was. Dressed in his best. Black tie down his chest. Hair thin, so shy from his younger days when that waterfall of blond covered his whole head, swayed with each smile. Skin so free of color, it glowed down there, in the dark pit Alice had dug.

She straddled the wooden crate, and already, that a nice little change.

One of the brass handles jabbed into her right knee, but it meant nothing. A throwaway moment of pain before she leaned in close. Ripped the tie away. Sad she couldn’t use it to tie his hands behind his back, because there was no struggle left in him. Didn’t bother with the buttons. Alice felt them fly as she tore his shirt open. No time to spare, she reached into her left boot and retrieved the switchblade. Black pearl handle with a topless hula girl painted along the side. Bought at a pawn shop that didn’t much care to ask questions.

She popped the blade, bent low. So happy, so relieved to discover that his lips were sewn shut. Eyes subject to the same treatment. So sorry she couldn’t have done it herself.

But even better was now.

She dug the blade into the left side of his chest, top left of the pectoral. Brought it down, cutting, stopping just short of a blue, lifeless nipple. Made a parallel incision, then connected the two by creating a roman numeral five. Followed up with a nice round circle, a little disappointed there was no blood. Still, she had known to expect as much and proceeded to carve out the rest. Even through he was only two days underground, his body, these fresh openings, gave off a warm stench of decomposition. Dead animal beneath the porch. Summertime cloud of rotting leaves.

Anything was better than his smell while he was still alive. His sweat. Breath. Even his low, rapid vowels had a certain stink to them that still clung to her dress.

Alice capped her project with a flourish of the blade. Stared at her handy work. Gave a tired, utterly wasted laugh. The letters looked no different than  his chalkboard scrawl, some 40 years ago. So many miles away, so many feet above ground.

With a sudden twitch, she let the switch drop from her fingers.

Expected the pain to come raging back, ten-fold, but instead

peace.

…numb gratification.

She sat back, propped, dress riding up her thighs.

Alice looked up and saw the moon peeking past the hollowed opening. Figured this was a good a place as any. She swung her right leg away, laid back. Arms behind her head. Thinking, without irony or remorse, about how fucking good she must look right now.

How good it would look come morning, when they came across this open grave, this sixty plus woman, some crazy, tough old piece of work sharing a place at the table with a dead man, fresh from hell’s furnace, shirt open, chest displaying a single word for the world to remember.

MONSTER

The moon wasn’t going anywhere, and Alice closed her eyes, took the advice of all the deniers over so many years, and finally gave it a rest.

###

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seizure and search.

champagne

Stepped outside a nowhere convenience store, Styrofoam java and saw the man collapse onto the sidewalk.

I watched him do a passive jitterbug. Wasn’t like in the movies. Fish caught flopping on boat boards, these were delicate twitches.  Eyes steady, not rolled back or anything. Crown of hair surround a massive bald spot, though considering the lack of wrinkles surrounding pale skin, what might have been a smile under less sincere circumstances, he looked to be maybe early thirties. Sky blue button-up tucked into faded jeans. Sneakers caked in mud, clay, a real mess, chunks breaking off and sprinkling pedestrian byways. Had to tilt my head sideways to notice the man was caught on a crack. A partition in the cement raised half a foot past sea level, pyramid point at the small of his back. Gave the impression of rapture. Alien abduction. Surrounding souls expecting the same thing, maybe. Accounting for the inaction. Waiting to see what would come next. Fumes from my cup forcing me to raise a casual sip to my lips. Marvel in place of help, aid, anything that might help.

Help came from across the street.

From where I stood, the seas parted. Or pond, small selection of faces, gaping mouth-holes, derelict eyes, matter of fact expressions wondering if maybe this man didn’t deserve what he was going through.

Parted.

From where I stood it had a certain measure of destiny.

From across the street, a woman in aqua scrubs caught the motion. Corner of her eye, who even knows. Nurse or doctor, hard to say. Figured her to be fresh off a shift. Just done pulling the tie from her hair. Brown curls bouncing against her shoulders, just once before trailing. Catching a southeast breeze as she ran towards the fire. Anyone willing to notice would have seen the calculus in her eyes. Twelve thousand scenarios unfolding in any number of ways, leading up to the moment where she would reach the active seizure. Bend down, turn the bald man on his side. No wallet under the tongue, no matter what the bystanders suddenly felt they had a right to know about. Nothing to be done, really, other than order someone to run into the store and call the paramedics.

Might have been me that dropped his coffee and charged back into that nowhere store.

But twelve thousand and one scenarios later, there came the bus.

Too fast, tires whining from illegitimate origins.

Same wonder, dream world nothing as I watched the grille plow into her.

It was a grey day so no irony to be found in sunbeams, smiling children or morning in America. No contrast. The sudden explosion of blood barely defined, erupting from dark skin, a crime scene splatter that just figured, well, now’s the time.

Body carried for a second.

Then folded in halves beneath the bumper.

Tires finishing off the job, baddum-pa-dum.

Took the driver all of three seconds to realize her life had changed.

Hit the breaks.

And in the aftermath, things moved quickly. More than before the bald man had fallen out of favor with the everyday. Attention shifted. People were really running now. Out of the stores, out of the bus. Taking it to the streets. A flood of action, understanding, leaving the origins behind. Leaving this man and me. Convulsions subsiding. His work done as he stood and smiled at me through a mouthful of teeth all covered with blood.

You know, he told me.

Stretched out an arm. Slender, wired, a single finger pointing at the newspaper I held in my left.

Tapped twice.

Made soft circles around the red pen highlighting help wanted.

The cemetery at the top of the hill was looking for help.

I already knew that, and thought I should let him know.

But he was already back on the ground, eyes staring at the clouds.

I took a sip of coffee, one more glance to what awaited me.

Lady in uniform, bus driver, screaming.

Crying.

If you’ve never heard tears in your life, actually felt them hit the ground. Small sizzles, no matter how grey the day is. If you really want to know, then start by walking out the door.

Years later, someone told me the bus driver’s name was Layla Shabazz.

###

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