by RICHARD LEISE
IMG_0418 by Abigail Batchelder | Flickr
A toddler falls from a balcony. It takes a moment—there is no commotion, no gathering crowd; there is, after looking up, no sound—but in time (you slowly walk closer until, incredibly, you make out impossible human features, a leg uncertainly angled) you realize that the girl isn’t a garbage bag, that she isn’t a pile of clothing and that, somehow, there, on the sidewalk, like a cat struck by a car, is a child, and not just any child, but that little girl who waves every morning on your walk to work.
That she’s alive? This doesn’t cross your mind.
The municipal parking lot is empty, and the hillsides, low to the ground, blur smoky blue with nightfall’s watery definition. Cars cut from Main to Prentis much too quickly (not to mention illegally), old ladies self-important, young men angry, everyone a century of hurry. It’s beautiful. Yellow daffodils make the green grass greener, green grass makes the yellow flowers brighter, a gentle give and take. What God, you wonder, is at play? What—if anything—is at stake?
An inlet to the river edges one end of the lot. Stagnant firth. Tepid channel. Across the way a row of weeping willows—showy branches making shadowy tunnels; fallen leaves still upon the fusty water—and between the parking lot and rotting water a beveled length of weathered grass. Black men sit atop white buckets, fishing poles resting in the forks of thick branches screwed into the deadpan earth. Paint-splattered Salvation Army slacks. Plastic sneakers absent shoelaces. Forty ounce mouths rise from brown paper bags limp as the catfish and carp they pull from this toxic tributary. Eyes yellow and heavy—red veins thick and bulbous, an Internet of forgotten thought—blink slowly. You smell the stink, the fungal aroma of rotten produce.
It’s very warm.
The east end of the parking lot—where you head—dips to inform a narrow ravine defined by symmetrical plots of meticulously mowed turf, the grass heavy with green, encapsulated within long ovals of concrete curbing, urban architecture created to slow those cars intent on using the lot as a passing lane. From these fixtures ornamental cherry trees quite beautiful rise in height of some mid-season’s fevered, fervent bloom, leaves red and white shape-shifting in the breeze. Static, this movement. Like those spaces between programmed TV. The smell borders upon pleasant and saccharine.
Bumblebees big as hummingbirds swoop and flit, they rise and they fall, angrily.
On the corner of Prentis and Grace you pass God Is Greater! Outreach Church, its wide front steps spray-painted gold and these leading to massive oak doors, their gold handles chain-locked as if inside the impenitent are imprisoned, celebrating a chagrin-tinged purgatory, silently waiting undying rapture.
In the distance a train and its crazed horn.
Next to the building a residence ruined—which is not to say uninhabited—by wind and water, it’s western windows bright like mirrors with soon-setting sun, the front of the home—you begin walking the gradual incline to Patience (where, halfway down the block, you’ll look up to see a pile of clothing, or maybe a garbage bag, falling from the fourth floor of a large tenement building)—blanked by the browning elevation of the great magnolia rising upon what once passed for a front yard, its fall giving way to a staircase about half collapsed beneath the weight of some forgotten season’s buoyant grapevine, about the only living thing living and that doing so just to strangle that which supported it, lent if life, the woody vines spiraling tight as a fist to form like so many suffocating crowns something like a simile, its leaves desiccated and withered and mottled black, the vine as barren as some misbegotten queen years without seed, the vine writhing as if in abject agony, all of it twisted, most of it dead, that which survived slinking, creeping along the deadpan as if to escape itself, to form some new, better self, tendrils and claspers reaching out like the desperate hands of so many drowning men towards the blackened agony of a Cape Myrtle, a blast of beauty, like the poet’s laugh, erupting from this dead and fissured earth.
And who’s to say it isn’t.
That one black kid, narrow, lean, his head shaved into a homemade fade. His sneakers white, swooshes stitched upon leather, his black jeans a size too big revealing blue boxers and his belt popping with gold dimension and his jeans hang with affect and he steps twice and then hops, and you cross the street and he hitches his pants and he lives down the block, he steps easily into his gait after slowing for a police car—there’s a precinct down Grace, around the corner—music from his headphones trapped in swapped space, and with finger and thumb he makes a gun, points, smiles, and pulls the trigger.
You smile, stagger, as the bullet catches your shoulder. A familiar routine, this (and the kid nodding), so you must be joking.
A block now, from home. And what the -- is that a pile of laundry, is that a garbage bag falling from that balcony?
Everything in its right place.
Eyes, ears, nose, cheeks? These are so well-defined that the woman, from her place on the balcony, seems to have been painted. A vision not wholly idyllic, but something utterly agreed upon. Light-skinned, her hair corkscrews to her shoulders, her bangs a slash above her brows. You have never seen her. She is pretty. She is drinking. Fit, her body presses against her clothing, and, kneeling, your bag to the side, you look at the child, and you see the woman, you see a mother’s daughter, a study in, were there such a thing, beauty’s theology. That suggestion of a dimpled chin. And the little girl—her mouth open—how her eyes remain fixed upon a certain sort of wonder.
You look up to the woman and she opens her mouth and
Richard recently accepted The Perry Morgan Fellowship in Creative Writing from Old Dominion University. While completing a MFA, he has a novel out on submission, and is finishing a collection of short stories. His work may be found in numerous publications, and was recently awarded Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions (2019) nominations.