Saturday, January 9, 2010

ORDINARY: Short Fiction

A SHORT PIECE originally published in SLAM volume 1 (circa 1999), The Student Literary & Arts Magazine of Pierce Community College.
It has been edited, albeit only mildly, from its original published form, and will in all likelihood continue to be edited as I find bits that displease me.


THERE IS A PATCH OF DIRT thirteen feet in from the curb of Aurora Avenue, near the intersection of Freedom Drive. It is the only patch of dirt for twenty-seven miles. It measures four feet by eighteen inches, and sometimes, in the rare spring rains, there is a small amount of grass that pokes its way to the surface. The space exists between the concrete slabs of the curb and the concrete slabs of the sidewalk, the last remaining shock of green from a time when the city was more gravel and dirt, less pavement, plastic and paint.

There is a bird buried there: a small yellow canary. A boy from the third floor of a nearby apartment building buried it.

A man leapt from the roof of that building a year before. His body left a crack right through the center of concrete sidewalk, and people walk over that spot every day, completely oblivious that a man died there. His body lay still for seven minutes before authorities arrived to drag it away. His blood ran down the sidewalk and soaked into the soil, staining it a dark, rich red-brown.

A small patch of dandelions blossomed that year. Cold and dry, the flowers remained unnoticed and unwatered, and were finally trampled into the ground. They did not return.

A woman was attacked on that corner, late at night when the darkness was so thick it stretched out like great arms, like creeping, cold and bloodless fingers. A man stepped from the alley and beat her senseless, leaving her lying there with a concussion and a broken jaw. He fled with her purse and her coat, but left his hat behind, a brown fedora with a crumpled brim. There was a low fog that night; a dirty cloud drifting up from docks a few miles south, and the man disappeared into the murky gloom.

One of her teeth is wedged in the long crack that runs along the pavement. A small amount of scattered change was also left, but it was quickly gathered by a drifter living in the alley. Fifty-four cents in all, which added with previous acquisitions, was spent on a few cans of cat food, for the strays living with him in the alley. There were six cats in all.

There were seven, but one had been hit by a pickup truck early one morning. The cat had dashed across the street to retrieve a small rodent also living in the alley, but had been caught off-guard by the incoming headlights.

The rat survived, and was caught by the small boy living on the third floor of the apartment building. His mother und the rat and flushed it down the toilet, and he was grounded for three weeks. The boy would leave the apartment while his mother worked and would visit the homeless man living in the alley who would tell him that the patch of dirt was so beautiful. He was old, he would say, so old he remembered when the city was young. Everything grows and changes and moves so fast, he would mutter, and then he would point out at the street, his gnarled and bony hand shaking just a little, and the boy would nod – as he would every time he heard this story. That patch of dirt, the old man would say, is proof that there is still goodness in the world.