Philly Story #15: A short fiction

A small hand reaches up, searching for a warm grasp, only to be jerked down the street. Old city is flat and long, stretching along the water. The buildings are cursed with age, hence the name, yet people gather there.

imageThey shove and spit. They sing and laugh. But it alone, witnesses this child cry tears so heavy that she wades in her own sadness through the amassing crowds. Her slanted eyes glance at her father’s grip pleadingly. Across Market, down 4th. She wants to wriggle but that will cause a foreseeable rage with even more dire consequences than the paper stamped with the failing grade she clutches in her free hand. Her mother and sister, a spitting image of one another, obediently float behind them in silence. They are sheepishly pale but aware. Down 3rd. The mother doesn’t speak, but the little girl’s accent is thick as she audibly starts to cry for her father to let go. Wide eyes whisper for her to stop. Down 2nd. The city tenses, desiring to drown her in the river so her tears will wash away. It rumbles the subway devoid of trains. It flickers a lamp on the corner in the daytime in protest. It even ignites a cable no longer used by trolleys that’s hanging across the intersection. No one notices the city’s or the girl’s distress. They stop under the light. Somewhere a bus driver stops for an elderly woman as she hobbles to the bus stop late; a man robs a Wells Fargo at gun point; the theater packs in an audience thirsty for entertainment; but here, here a portly and distempered man, red with freckles that extend to his bald head and over his sharp nose, here this man, in a sweaty sports T-shirt, pulls a rope from his back pocket and efficiently begins to tie the weeping child to the base of the lamppost. She cries louder, and through raspy whimpers, manages to say, “I’m sorry.” No one notices. Infuriated, the city darkens the unusually bright sky for mid-Fall, and whips the wind into the man. Unappeased, he continues his work, stapling the test to her front ropes. “You will not bring another 66 into my house. Stop with all that crying,” he says. He steps back, surveying what he has done, then steels a watchful eye over the other two in the background. The city quakes.

The girl disappears into her own grief at public shame. She is the pig at slaughter. She is the geisha. She isimages the nigger and a slave. Diminishing into a place far from herself, her little body shakes with sobs. This place is somewhere between the hiss of a brand and the signing sting of seared flesh. It is hot and magenta. It burns with unrequited love, trying desperately to soothe the girl. She feels like she is everyone and

everyone is staring. But here is the only place no one is.

The concrete, to which the crowd diligently ignored, breaks open at the command of the city, unable to suffer her suffering any longer. The hole lunges deep into the earth, yet shines with an inextinguishable light, and swallows the family whole.

No one notices.

The festival goes on giving out beer and ice cream, cleverly packaged in Chinese take-out boxes. A man, dark and lovely, sings in the middle of the street, rather loudly and out of key, about his longings for egusi, salted plantain, and the Nigerian sun. He bounces there, thinking about his home while being a homeless American before the guards shoo him away. Women walk the streets in packs to feel safer. Men roam the streets in packs to look dangerous. A painter sells weed alongside her works from college, wanting nothing more than to make it to Amsterdam before she dies. And, a poet walks to the stage, stifles a nervous butterfly in his stomach, brushes his dreadlocks to one side, and stares into the lighted audience, faces cavernous and bright, searching for the red-purple inferno to comfort his sorrowful story.

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