Monday, June 18, 2012

Northwest Side Night

This is a flash piece done for Nina Pelletier's Prompt-and-Share. The prompt in question was to describe your hometown setting in short fictional piece - my town is a big town, and I focused, here, on my favorite slice of it.

Outside, the night is suffocating, air heavy with heat though the sun’s been down for hours. The street is awash with motion: cars flashing by to make the next light, young couples moving from the bar on the corner to the pizza pallor across the street, gangs of high school kids hovering in the convenience store parking lot down the street.  A few steps from the yellow light of the store, a kid on a BMX bike rides up, knees hitting handlebars, and in soft Spanish asks us if we want to buy any weed. Luis laughs and says no, his shoulders tense as we watch the boy ride away.

“Alright, you had your walk, got your pop, let’s go home.”

Luis looks left to right, out at the pockets of orange street lights and more closely at the gaps of dark between them. He hadn’t been very comfortable out at night ever since the incident a few months ago – the “smelly grocery cart guy” he called the man, the one who sang incomprehensible songs to himself, the one Luis claimed tried to mug him then kill him, swinging around a half-broken baseball bat at one in the morning.

“Luis, calm down, for real.”

There were other reasons for his anxiety, though. He’d learned long ago, with painful lessons, to act a certain way on certain streets, to play the part of a man with machismo if he wanted to make it through certain neighborhoods alive.

But this isn’t one of them, least I don’t think so, and it’s a beautiful night, the cool breeze from the lake cutting through the humid stillness. It reminds me of nights running around the block after dark, chasing each other with sparklers and playing tag through the alleys. We walk past the white-glowing liquor store and the Mexican restaurant with the smell of slow-cooked carnitas riding on the breeze, we walk dance studio and Luis can’t help but stop and watch the late-night dancers in their black tights and thin sweaters moving and stretching behind the glass front, until at last we have to round the corner to go back home.

“Know where I’d like us to live if we had money?” Luis asks, same question he always asks.

“Boystown.” Half the time that’s the right answer, but not tonight.

“No, I mean, for real, like if we got real rich somehow, like lotto rich.”

Anywhere but here, where we both grew up, street names we knew better than we knew our presidents, corner shop owners like family – I knew he just wanted to put it all behind him.

“Up high, way up high, that’s where I want to live.” He says, his eyes up past the trees shading the side street from lamp light, up to the purple sky. “Up on the lakefront, in one of those fancy condos, way above the city and everyone else, where I can look out on the city and see how small our little life was.”

Bushes and weeds grew in dark clumps across the black iron fences and stone steps now.  Away from the big street it was quiet enough to even hear a few crickets making their noise. Luis is calmer, smiling even at me while I drink the last of my orange pop, belching “like a gross boy”, as he would say, when I finish.

“We’ll get there someday.” I say to him, arm around his bony shoulders while we feel our way past the gate into our building. Someday sure, but hopefully no time soon.