neighborhood

The Bus Stop, flash fiction

Ukrainian Village AugustThe worst is when the air is so light you cannot feel it around you. Nothing is breathing, and you get disoriented and try not to think of death. This happens to me as soon as I step out on the sidewalk. The neighborhood is quiet and fading today even though it is the ripe, middle part of summer when the greenery intrudes upon everything. I walk down the street alongside the promise of rain.

My plan is to go to a café and look for a job, the kind of job I told my sister I already had. Maybe a receptionist or an assistant of some sort. I don’t really know, but I have a hazy outline of what it will be, and that’s what I described to her when she came to visit yesterday. I told her about meetings and offices and working lunches so she would tell the family I am fine. I told her so everyone would know I am fine.

When I am a block from the bus stop I see it pull away. I watch this happen with no reaction, as if there’s a curtain drawn in my mind and I’m shielded from the reality of the world outside. I do not mind waiting, though, because I am in no rush. I have nowhere to be, and the red brick warehouse across the street from the bus stop is symmetrical and nice to look at. From this angle it appears to have no depth and is just a cut-out prop for paper dolls. I am pretty content with this view of the warehouse and of the cars going by, all peopled by little blurs of humanity. I think I just might be alright for a while until a moment later a girl rides by on a purple bike and I realize again how colorless my hair is.

A man joins me at the bus stop, and I immediately get the impression he is not waiting for the bus. Perhaps it is the duffle bag or the gallon of orange Kool-Aid he has with him. We stand there in silence for some time as a line of semi-trucks and work vans speeds past us on the double-lane road. Most people would have put on headphones, but I lost mine a few weeks ago. Besides, the weight of the sky makes up for the quiet. Will the rain start soon? I wonder if the man with the duffel bag is thinking the same thing. I wonder if anyone is thinking the same thing. When the bus finally comes I get on, but the man with the duffel bag stays behind. Perhaps he has not figured anything out about the rain yet.

On the bus I sit next to the window, towards the back, where I have a good view of the interior should I choose to look at it. A woman with a pink umbrella sits with her legs crossed, looking straight ahead. She is dressed too nicely for this bus and for this life, and I cannot bear the sadness of it so I opt instead to look out the window where a car is on fire amidst the weeds and the black top. The rain has just barely started.

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Remember Where You Came From

neighborhood

For me it’s sidewalks pulled open by tough green weeds. It’s gas stations and hoodies and carnivals at night. It’s all those kids who never cared what my parents did or what college I planned to go to, only if I could come over and stay up till 3am laughing and memorizing lyrics to rap songs we didn’t fully understand.

The North Shore? We’d never heard of it. Only South Chi Heights for us. Saint Laurent? Pass. We wore clean Nikes and tight jeans. Still do. Friday night wasn’t Friday night unless we were in a set of bleachers somewhere, whether it was freezing to death on the field in October or munching Sour Punch Straws by the court pretending to watch the game. Whatever we were doing, we were there. We knew everyone, and everyone knew us, and whether we realized it then or not, it was a good thing.

Kant, Hegel, and Lacan? We didn’t know who they were. They weren’t “the greats” to us. We knew Jordan and Pippen and Rodman. We rode on the backs of our friends’ bikes and later in the backs of their cars, doing donuts in the empty high school parking lot late at night. We sat around bonfires until the last coals burned out. We made out, we snuck out, we broke up, we made up. We watched our friends make shots, make grades, or just barely make it. We cried with them, sang with them, and walked with them through halls that were ours. We drove with them down streets that were ours. Streets that were in desperate need of buildings that weren’t vacant or liquor stores—maybe, but they were ours, and we were each other’s. We might be far from those days or from those people, but they’re still a part of us, and we can’t forget where we came from.