New Stories for May 20, 2019
Every morning there are rats
Passed out from drinking
The leftover booze
That pools underneath
The restaurant’s dumpster.
Some of the men that arrive early in the morning to fish
Kick the rats into the water. Some swim to the floating dock,
And hold onto the rope that is tied to the floats. Others do not.
There are dogs that sleep in the sand and run up to you
If you look at them. I reached out to one, that is how
I got this scar.
In one of the spare seconds when the wind isn’t blowing and the train is miles off yet, Russ holds his breath and stands perfectly motionless atop a mountain of discarded kitchen tile. Focusing intently on the elimination of distraction and need, he pretends for a moment the entire world has frozen. He doesn’t blink, doesn’t scratch the itches which come from nowhere, tries even to slow the beating of his heart – although this proves useless, especially when his lungs begin to burn and his body panics instinctively. Nonetheless, he struggles in a desperate attempt to find even ten seconds of motionlessness – a momentary break in the perpetual tides of entropy.
But the world is never still – not really. Ignoring for a moment his body, which is spinning 1,000 miles an hour rotationally and an additional 67,000 miles an hour laterally through space and possibly time, there is the constant, unending shift of the artificial dunes around him. They sing with the combined voice of broken glass, rusting metal, warping plastic, and rotting life. He can hear the sun as it cracks paint and peels away varnish. Tiny vibrations bounce through the souls of his shoes and up his legs to his crotch, which would be mildly erotic, if sexual gratification itself were enough to calm his mind. Every insect landing on a bag of cat shit or spoiled Chinese food assaults his ears with meaningless noise – the perception of which is itself the result of the movement of tiny bones inside his head. And so, he releases his breath in one long, unsatisfied rush, and succumbs to unconquerable motion. Surrounded by the towering bluffs of garbage, he breathes deeply in defeat, unbothered by the smell.
The last truck of the day is fifteen minutes behind schedule. Russ checks his clipboard, sliding his finger down to the twelfth row and then across to the tenth column to confirm – Truck #25, Manuel del Norte, Southeastern Route, 7:00 pm. Across the dump, over the hills to the west, the sun has another hour of hangtime. He hasn’t eaten since eleven and his stomach aches. There is no gate to lock, not even a fence for that matter, only the mounds of trash which gradually give way to alkaline clay and thin yellow grass. Even so, he waits and watches the dirt road for any sign of dust or glinting sunlight. His ears strain against the background, hoping to hear the thunder of Truck #25. There is nothing. Row 12, Column 10 remains unchecked – Manuel has stopped for a drink. Another hour and Russ abandons his post, heading for his trailer in earnest.
Double-wide and painted in various generations of Rustic Farm Red, his trailer is perched on two dozen identical stacks of tires. He climbs the stairs gingerly, favoring a sore knee and internally debating the merits of ham and Swiss on wheat versus a much more ambitious chicken casserole. The door screams on its hinges and slaps shut behind him without hydraulics or springs to soften its chase. Russ flips on the lights and heads for the fridge. It is weather-scarred and shaped like a Buick. It is one our countless antiques he has salvaged from a hundred yards away and dragged inside like a stray dog.
I smelled cedarwood burning. The fire popped while I lay motionless, completely enamored with the very thing that could destroy me. The flame was strong. Blazing red overtook the irises of my eyes. I knew I couldn’t stay here forever, though it was all I had begged for. I reached out — touched the flames. I flinched. It burned, and I couldn’t help but make it kiss my fingertips again. It danced in response, but I heard no music. There was nothing in the background. Just darkness, silence and that one single flame. How I got there I don’t know, but leaving was not an option. The warmth drew me in, like arms reaching. I screamed.
“You can’t win! I won’t let you take me!” I yelled until my throat burned. Sweating, I shouted more. My blood boiled. Maybe it was the burning of the flame, but my world was on fire. I didn’t want the fire anymore, I wanted to extinguish it. Why wouldn’t it leave? Why couldn’t I put it out? These questions branded my skin, like soot and ash from the furnace in which I was about to be submerged.
I could feel myself slipping, falling deeper into the fire. My skin bubbled and popped, begging for mercy. I held on to brush and branches for dear life. There was something beyond the furnace, but what? What is beyond Hell? My questions went unanswered as I continued to struggle. I sweat and I shook.
Now approaching platform 2.”
“Fremont train now approaching platform 2.”
“Fremont train platform 2.”
I swing my North Face backpack over my right shoulder, stuff my Cal lanyard and student ID in my purse, and hoist my carry-on size luggage over the threshold and onto the train. I’m going to be sitting on a plane for the next several hours on my way to Tacoma, WA for the holidays. I briefly consider standing on the train, but the sea of empty seats and the aching between my shoulders makes me decide otherwise. I don’t like sitting in the seats near the door set aside for the elderly or pregnant, so I choose the next available seat.
As I arrange my bags next to me, the train lurches forward.
I’m sitting backward. I don’t usually feel car sick, but the train does sometimes give me just a touch of nausea and headache. I lean my back against the window and twist my torso to face the opposite wall of the train. Maybe sitting sideways will help.
I keep telling myself that it might as the passengers from the next station load. Two young people, a boy and a girl, sit in the row of seats behind me. As the train pulls
out of the station, I hear a rough, deep voice approaching.
“Would you like the make a donation to the homeless? I’m homeless, do you have
some spare change. Got any coins? Give me your change. It’s for the homeless,” he
demands as he walks past the other passengers seated in the car.
I can hear him close behind me now. I see in my peripheral vision he is wearing dark clothes. He’s bald, and hands look covered in dirt. He has a dull pink piece of laminated paper in his hand, like the color of my grandmother’s powder room covered in a layer of dirt too. Half of it is whipping about in the wind of his movement it’s so worn and torn. The only thing I can read on it is:
“Yesterday, I was at Kelly’s house and we were just finishing that homew..”
“Got any spare change?” he interrupts the woman speaking in the seat behind me.
“No,” she says, “assignment for class about interviewing…”
“What’s your name?” He interrupts again.
“styles. I think I’m going to see if I can practice with”
“What’s your name?” he demands.
“Sarah before writing my response”
“paper. When is it due again?” she asks the guy.
“I think it’s on Thursday.”
Certain their conversation has no room for him in it, the homeless man continues past me. I glue my eyes to my phone screen. I try to be small, unnoticeable even with my three bags of luggage taking the entire seat next to me. Don’t engage. Don’t engage.
“Have a donation for the homeless? Spare change to give me?” He asks the people in the back of the car.
When he doesn’t receive a response he sits down in one of the chairs which faces sideways, the same chairs for the elderly and pregnant that I purposely avoided only minutes ago.
He sits looking around at the inhabitants of the train car, circling his wrist aimlessly, twirling the pink paper in his hand.
I keep my eyes focused outside the window. I look down. I look everywhere except his direction. It’ll be nice to be home with my mom and sisters for the holiday. I am excited to be in Tacoma, and then make a trip to Minnesota to see my grandpa, aunts, and uncles. I texted my old housemate from when I lived in Minnesota who is from Costa Rica that I was going back to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Uffdah.
It doesn’t work.
A few moments later, the man moves from the seats he had been sitting to the ones directly in front of me. Our seats form an L. My entire body tenses. Don’t move. Be still.