Outside the Alley

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Stories

He says he doesn’t spit on sidewalks. “You don’t know who might be rubbing their face in it later tonight” he says.

He raises his arm as we walk and points toward the alley on our right. “I spent a whole summer there one year. Nice kid worked in that drug store. Didn’t mind me. Came out back to smoke in the afternoon every other day or so. That door there squeaks open and slams shut. Not his fault, but he usually woke me up like that. It was hot that year, so he brought me bottles of water and talked to me. I wanted liquor, of course. ‘Liquor makes it all pass quicker.’ We talked about that.”

I nod.

“But he brought me water. You don’t realize how hard it can be to find water in this town. I’ve had people scream and swear at me for using public drinking fountains. One guy kicked me, I think. Can’t quite remember. But this kid brought me water. And I hated him for it and I drank it each time.”

We sit at a bench and watch well-dressed people walk by, their eyes locked forward. He knocks his knuckles on the iron armrest, feeling the metallic echo.

“Don’t know why he did it. Guilt? Boredom?” he shrugs. “Maybe he felt better about himself for doing it. Some people spit on you and others kick you. He gave me water. Bottled water.”

He leans forward. He says something, but a gust of wind carries the sound of leaves dragging across the pavement around us, and I don’t hear him. I lean forward as well when he leans back and sighs. I stare at the “Welcome, we’re OPEN!” sign in the drug store window.

“Actually came back here not too long ago. Part to thank him. Part to see if he remembered me. If he’d recognize me without the beard and the smell. Had quit working there right after that summer, apparently. Nice kid. I hope he stopped smoking.”

We watch the people walk by us for a few minutes longer. Street lights flicker on, yellow and white, as the sun showers its dying red beams over what leaves remain on the trees lining the avenue, and the moment seems to last forever and I fall in love with the feeling that this was supposed to happen and that the night will never come.

“The street’s on fire,” I say.

“It’s getting cold,” he says.

I hadn’t noticed, but I agree anyway. A man walking by throws his cigarette down in front of us, eyes locked forward, legs turning into shadows stretching down the sidewalk. We watch as all the color drains away. The last of the smoke drifts with the last of the leaves.

“Well it’s time for me to go,” he says.

“Stay warm,” I say as he digs the filter out of the crack it had rolled into with his pinky finger, the concrete grinding against him like a nail file. He throws it away in the dumpster in the alley.

“You don’t know,” he says. But it may have just been the wind.

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