Emily Parke, Staff Writer

       He hums softly to the heat inside his mouth. Drawing in a breath and holding it in, letting it go after teasing his lungs – what goes in red comes out white.

        Around him, the city is burning, but the air is crisp where he stands. He leans a little into the streetlight and presses his arm up against its metallic coolness. There’s a small payphone mounted on a wall across the street begging for love. Our man toys with a Zippo in his free hand. The etched name lays face down on his palm – ROSCOE. He flicks it open and starts a small fire. It burns orange – blood orange. It burns white like a Sunday. He feels like god, but the moment is quick, and it passes.

        A sudden bang from down the road. All at once, the man turns his head towards a woman on the sidewalk. Her body is shaking with anger. She throws her weight against the door. She rattles the doorknob and yells obscene threats. Then, she starts to cry. Her whole body sobs, sucks in air, throws out a miserable cry. The man gulps and feels around his neck, trying to knead out the whiplash.

        A pigeon warbles on the electric line above the man’s head. It quiets and flies away at the sound of a window sliding open. A boy’s face appears in the window. His hair is an oil-black smudge. His nose – short, upturned – demands attention. The man is obedient – he can’t look away. A gust of wind blows the boy’s hair awry, and the edges of his jaw turn watery. The boy reaches a thin arm out of the window into the night sky. His fingers are curled into a tight fist. He waits for the wind to die down. He draws his hand back into his body and kisses his fingers. With agonizing slowness, he relaxes his fingers. A gray dust rains from his hands.


        The man’s heart jumps. A shopping cart rattles behind him on the street. A tall, thin man drives the silver cart. His body is bent into a question mark. He looks at the crouched figure with bewildered eyes. The caricature of a man is animated with fear. His mouth gapes, but he makes no sounds. He dances from foot to foot and then freezes. He turns his face to the street.

        The woman chokes out in relief when the door opens. Her husband steps out onto the concrete doorsteps and picks the woman up by the shoulders. He shakes her and yells at her face until her laughter dies out and her body collapses into his. He squeezes the limp frame tightly and brings her into the apartment. The man observes this incident without breathing. He looks away sharply when the Zippo lodged between the other man’s thumb and index finger glints.

        A familiar sound catches our man’s ears. The fruity voice of a woman reverberates out of the little boy’s room.

        “My son, my son, come to bed.”

        The man closes his eyes, and the sound becomes a woman, stout and firm, darkened by age, an amaryllis stuck behind her ear. Mom. He reaches out.

        The boy slams the window shut and the sound dissipates.

        The man, apprehensive now, stands up and shakes out his legs. The old man straightens out his back and shakes out his legs, too, mimicking the younger man. They stare at each other. The young man cackles, and the older man erupts into a fit of laughter. He bends low. His figure bends into a question mark again, straightens into an exclamation point.

The upper right corner of his lip doesn’t laugh with the rest of his mouth.

His face is full of seams, shadows. Our man, not yet a husband, not yet crippled by war, delivers a blow across the older man’s face and watches him fall silently to the ground.  

        The night falls silent, but our man is uneasy. He’s itching. He strolls to the streetlight and kicks it. He bites his fist. He grunts and charges across the street to the payphone.

        He slams his head into the receiver and sinks to the ground, his mouth stretched into a hysterical scowl – all but the upper right corner.

        The man pulls a cigarette from his jacket and rests it between his teeth to go looking for his lighter. As he fishes, something seeps into the white uniform of the cigarette. Blood dribbles from his mouth onto his chin. What goes in white comes out red.

He spits out the cigarette and damns it.