childhood

This is fiction I swear: Part 12

Part 12: Sidewalks

Bike stand

I left. Out of the corner of my eye I see the glass of horchata sitting untasted on the table I vacated. The waitress will bring my tacos and she’ll wonder. She’ll walk over with my plate, look around, set it down, and look around some more. Her hand on her hip, she’ll mutter something dirty about me in Spanish as she picks up the wad of bills I left on the table.

I see the horchata on the table and I think of another time when we ordered it together. A pitcher! you said and the waitress thought we were crazy. I didn’t care. I was happy sitting in a flood of sunlight. It was warm outside and my sister was coming to visit the next day and we walked together to your apartment to waste the rest of the afternoon.

Or was that you? I’m having trouble remembering now because there’s an ambulance siren wailing in my ear getting louder and louder but never seeming to pass me by, and there’s the train crashing into the station above my head, and there’s another alarm sounding that I don’t recognize. All three are happening at once and it’s too much and I’m trying to focus on the sidewalk in front of me so I don’t…so I don’t what? I’m not even sure what I’m afraid might happen.

I see a man’s shoes come into my line of sight and look up quickly but we bump into each other anyway. Contrary to what you may be thinking, we don’t know each other and I’ve never seen him in my life. He’s older than I am and we pardon ourselves with a smile. He looks a bit like the first boy I ever had a crush on when he smiles and I remember him: too tall, too sensitive, too much, not enough…but that smile! It would take him places I was sure. I never kept in touch with him, though, and he fell out of my life like so many others. But three years ago I thought I saw him. He was coming out of a methadone clinic in Uptown on a day that looked like October. At least he made it out of the suburbs.

We all did, I guess. Our dreams, the ones we all had in common, were to leave that town, that school, those houses, the same ones our parents worked so hard to get us into. My father’s job managing the store put us there, my sister and me. So many evenings we stayed home alone and I cooked frozen dinners in the microwave for us eat. I was nine? Ten? Eleven? I don’t remember those being hard times. I just remember that he’d kiss our foreheads when he came in late, when we were sitting cross-legged in front of the TV not paying attention to him.

A wonder I didn’t burn down the house. A wonder I made it out at all. And now here I am—out—if that’s what we’re calling it, standing on a sidewalk in a city full of people I don’t know, and some I do know, and some I wish I didn’t, and more I wish I did. I sit down right here against the brick wall with my forehead on my knees because there’s nothing else to do and when I finally look up there’s Graham leaning down to grab my arm and bring me to my feet.

This is Fiction I Swear: Part 11

Part 11: The Fox

Houses in the Hills

My sister’s package came in the mail today. She sent me this bronze fox figurine that stands about half as tall as the mufg of coffee I set it next to. I don’t know where she got it or how much she spent or anything but it’s so perfect it makes me sad, standing there on all petite fours looking at me with its little fox eyes.

When we were kids staying at our uncle’s place in the country we saw a fox in the woods and that’s the first time I decided I loved them. The fox wasn’t red like in movies. It was more brownish and was so busy digging a hole in the dirt and dry leaves that it didn’t see us standing there watching it. When it finally looked up it stared at me for a full thirty seconds before turning abruptly and scampering into the woods.

But this one can’t go anywhere. It’ll look at me forever from whatever shelf or table I put it on. I pick it up and turn it over in my hands. It’s heavy. It’s solid. It’s meant for staying. How different it seems from human beings! Always in motion, always in the process of leaving somewhere and arriving somewhere else, and no one ever puts their feet down on the ground somewhere and says I’ll think I’ll stay, I think I’ll be here tomorrow.

But people are not things and we must move or our bones will fuse with the walls of a place and we’ll be stuck forever, looking more and more like the place each day till they start building bricks around us and over us and sealing us in. The image of such a fate takes shape in my mind and I start making arrangements. I know how I’ll get out of this, all of it: I’ll go to California. Like so many before me I’ll head to a coast and brush the sand off my feet and find the fresh start I’m looking for.

I’ll take Graham with me. He’s still scared of this shooting nonsense so he’ll go, right? We’ll stay together in a cheap room until we can find jobs and get a real place. Somewhere where I can smell the brine in the sea and where I can keep the windows open all the time and walk around in bare feet. Yes, that’s what we’ll do. And Graham will be there by my side looking fresh and we’ll wake up each morning and drink coffee together until the cool haze evaporates and the sun comes out to tell us it’s time to start the day’s work.

And I won’t be scared of the sun anymore. I won’t be scared of anything. I’ll forget about my landlord with his truck and the alley where a man lay in his own blood and the girl with the medium-length hair, and I won’t miss you anymore. The sun will set late and rise early and we’ll be its children, warm and happy and we won’t tread water every day, we’ll float.

I’ve got to tell Graham about this. I rush out of my apartment and the gate shuts behind me louder than I intended and I’ll tell my neighbors I’m sorry if I see them later. The walk to his apartment isn’t long and I realize when I get there I forgot my phone to call him so I just knock several times on the door. Twenty seconds. I bounce up and down a few times to keep warm in the crisp air. Where is he? At work? What day is it? I knock a few more times and still nothing and now I’m concerned because my nerves are so excited and I’ve no outlet for them if he doesn’t answer and I can’t tell him my plan right away.

I look down the sidewalk and see that old guy who always stands outside of bars in our neighborhood and talks about weird Japanese stuff to all the smokers. He’s ambling my way and I just cannot talk to him right now or I’ll go crazy or my organs will rupture or something. I turn and duck into the nearest restaurant for shelter. It’s a little Mexican place where they always have hot peppers and spicy pickled carrots on the table. The waitress asks if it’s just me and I tell her yes and order a horchata and some tacos. I can see the sidewalk clearly from my booth by the window so I’ll be able to tell if Graham gets home.

Suddenly I notice the song playing on the speakers and my throat closes up. It’s a pop song, top 40, and the DJ’s played it all the time last summer. Why is it only the pop songs that make me want to cry? Only the stupid ones I hear on the radio a million times. They dig in somehow, grind their heels into my sternum and twist and twist until I’m gasping for breath.

It’s the same thing you did to me, did you know? The very same thing! You were always so innocent, always said it was me who wasn’t ready, that it was me who fucked things up and played games, but friend: I see more clearly now and you are not faultless. You are co-conspirator, co-contributor, co-author. We did this together. See what we’ve made? Isn’t it grand? Isn’t it beautiful and wonderful and perfect as it stands crumbling right before our very eyes?