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The Alley Way

Out of the Sandbox

By Fred Arnold

“Was it really only yesterday. No… No… It has been weeks?” Mark thought as he sat in front of a tattered picture of a now dead babe. Gold filigree danced up and down red oak siding, the perfect frame for the perfect blonde haired boy. He whistled now, a tune sullen and cryptic. He moved occasionally, a scratch to his head, here; a twitch of his leg, there. He repositioned his black belt as moments passed him by, slipping into the black hole that is time, and when the ring of his old clock barked the order to ready himself for the day, he stood. He gazed weary eyed at the picture once more, mouth half open, eyes gray and sunken. The blonde boy smiled back at him, almost mockingly. He had her eyes after all.

Mid day graced him as he marched out of his apartment. He wore yesterdays clothes: a hodge-podge assortment of blue dress shirt un-tucked from crinkled, sort-of pressed black slacks. Together they could have formed the perfect Sunday Church apparel; however, Sunday was the past. It was
Monday and Monday meant work.

“Howdy, Mark,” Mr. Jensen said as Mark stepped a nimble toe onto the creaky platform of his upstairs apartment. A dingy black banister encompassed the balcony he shared with Mr. Jensen who, sitting in a way to face the sun, hung one leg over the other. Mr. Jensen’s cigarette smoldered its last doses of nicotine as the cherry end failed to remain lit. He coughed, sputtered, clapped a hand against his chest, spat a thick ball of phlegm onto the ground, and returned to his upright sitting position; a look of downright distaste on his face.

“Those damned cigarettes. If I had known as a boy that my life would turn into this saggy blob of shit sitting alone on a Monday morning, coughing up the fruits of my labor, I would have thought twice from taking that first puff,” he mumbled on, something about diarrhea and a colonoscopy. Mark nodded with lips pressed into a firm but false smile. He turned to leave, but Mr. Jensen was not done, and it was not like Mark to be rude.

“Sorry to hear about the goings on yester…” he began to say, but Mark did not want to her it. “Good day, Mr. Jensen,” he said, stern and to the point. His voice resembled the low gruff and grumble of a tuba.

“Right, right, you must have work. Go on and get,” Mr. Jensen said, waving his arms like that stupid Michelin man on Park and Starkey who stood sentinel just a block away. Mark rolled his eyes and started down the steps, black railing in hand. He loved the feel of coarse, dried out paint sliding across his palms; it brought him back to a simpler time, a time when he painted for a living.

Mark stepped off the stair case and took a deep breath. The noon-time sun slunk behind a tall pine that branched out from the center of his apartment building. It acted like a divide between those who designated themselves lefties and righties, but Mark figured it was just his own imagination. No one really thought this way except himself which he did not mind – he liked being a righty. As he began to walk the slim sidewalks, he noticed the worn out textures of the concrete. Edges crumbled away from the thicker centers while small pieces of sidewalk littered grass patches. The stone must have been mortared in the eighteen hundreds with how degraded it looked, but what did he expect for four hundred dollars a month?

 

Hands pocketed, mouth taught, eyes pointed to the ground, Mark continued on. He walked with heavy feet due to a heavy sadness. His black converse looked back at him with despair as he plunged into a puddle of mud and grass, the slimy filth etched a series of brown wisps across the shoes white faces. He walked out of his apartment building, rounded a corner, and stood. There before him lurked the ally way. A slim chasm that separated building eleven – his building – and building twelve. He stared down the mile long distance; a cramped, compact version of the slim sidewalk he just walked; though, where there used to be sidewalk, only tufts of creep grass grew. The kind of grass that required no sunlight, the kind of weed that turned many a gardener crazy. It climbed up the walls, around the windows, and twirled around the gutters and cable lines that etched the rectangular sides – the off white color of the walls enhanced the green of the vines. Mark gulped in fresh air, placed his hand on his knees, and bent over as a strong feeling culminated in the pit of his stomach.

The feeling soon subsided and Mark poised his eyes on his goal: to cross the alley way so he could get to work. The walk felt normal at first, like any other day. He counted the unit numbers as the windows passed him by; one had yellow flowers on it, one had an air conditioner poking out into the limited space of the alley. He walked on until a piece of yellow tape that read caution caught his foot. He stumbled a bit and cursed under his breath while his thick voice echoed against walls and windows. He tore the tape off of his converse. His sharp and jittery movements betrayed his elegant six-foot, two inch frame; the fear and anxiety clear in his brown eyes. He looked up and there it was. A window. His window. The window that led into his bedroom. Caution tape still flew loosely in the wind. Attached to the fire escape, it was a benevolent flag to on lookers. A tear fell down his cheek, subtle at first – but more came. He placed his hand against the wall and turned his head left. He blanched, gagged, and put his arm against his mouth, afraid that he would lose his breakfast. He stared long and hard at the coppery stain against the alley wall of building twelve. And then there were voices.

He stared down the alley and saw Ralph, Mickey, and Emery – work buddies of his. He tried to slink against the wall, his stomach tied in too many knots to move. He hoped they would just pass him by and leave him to his misery, but they did not.

“Hey, look at that!” Ralph said, his long auburn hair was tossed up into a pony tail. Mickey whistled through fat jowls. They all wore the blue jeans and gray working shirts of LRE Ground Services. Ralph approached first, followed by Mickey then, the shyest of the group, Emery.

“How’s it going Mark?” Ralph asked, worry in his eyes. “You look sick, are you sure you should be around here… after everything that…” Emery pushed Ralph’s shoulder which made him realize his apathy. He pursed his lips and blushed before Emery spearheaded the conversation.

“No one blames you, you know,” Emery said, his red hair and freckles shown through the shadowy haze of the alleyway, “We know your situation and we are here for you.” He sounded sincere and his words rallied Mark to push himself off the wall. “Are you going to work?” he asked, placing a hand upon Mark’s shoulder. “Yeah,” Mark managed to say.

“Go on and get going, you don’t want to be late,” Mickey said, nodding in unison with Ralph. They stepped away and passed him, shaking his hand and wishing him farewell.

Mark was left with a stale taste in his mouth as the blonde boy kept peering at him with those eyes that were hers. He could not shake the vision. He adjusted his belt and felt the weight of it against his mid section. It soothed him and he walked once again.

He came upon the end of the alley, and the weight of his fear and anxiety relinquished its hold. He saw the sunlight, he saw the cars zip by on Park Street; red, blue, green, yellow. One after another they drove with little effort. He watched the cars for a moment, his body still within the confines of the alley way. He could not move. He sighed and heard voices emanating from around the corner. These, however, were not voices he recognized. Instead of stepping out and seeing who the voices belonged to, he pushed himself against the wall and perked up his ears.

“You see that alley way?” a man’s voice said. He sounded young, maybe twenties.

“Yeah, what of it?” another male voice echoed past the alley.

“That’s where it happened,” the other replied, laughing. “You know, the crazy bitch who threw her three year old out of the window.” Laughter again.

“Seriously? That’s fucked up man.”

“Yeah, what’s more fucked up is the fact that the dad let it happen. Who let’s their son get thrown out of a window?”

“Crazy bitches be crazy bitches, man.”

Mark stood and pressed his body against the wall harder. Harder. He felt his spine crunch against the smooth ridges of the apartment. He adjusted his belt again, the weight of it calmed him somewhat, and the talking continued.

“Police were everywhere,” the first of the voices said. “They taped off the entire apartment, they had the psycho in hand cuffs and the boyfriend just sat in the ambulance. The big oaf just had this stupid look on his face, like, how do you not know your bitch is that crazy? Something had to clue him in.”

“Sometimes you just don’t know the person you live with,” the other said.

“Oh please, they both were idiots. That kids death was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.”

Mark clutched his chest. He felt anger well up inside him, an anger he had not felt since the incident. He remembered standing in the alley way, a beer in hand, walking to the bar. Mickey had invited him out for a drink to celebrate his promotion to supervisor. He heard screaming as he passed his apartment. He heard crashes and shrieks and a child’s cry. He froze. Was that his Sam? He looked up, now, and he was not in the present but the past. He saw the window. His window. He watched as the glass shattered and the three year old body of Sam fly from the balcony. He watched, in slow motion, as Sam’s head ricocheted off of the wall of building twelve, and then watched as the body crumbled to the ground; so small, so frail, so dead. Disbelief pounded through his veins. He felt himself cry out, but he did not make a sound. He stood till there were sirens. He stood till there were police forcing him to move, to take a seat in the ambulance.

 

His belt felt lighter. His thoughts crowded his mind, and he did not realize he had pulled the small twenty-two caliber pistol from its holster. The words, “that kid’s death was the best thing for him,” echoed like a plague through his entire soul. He turned the corner and aimed the weapon that had meant to be for himself.

He screamed at the kids who mocked the death of his Sam. He screamed how much it hurt, why, why talk about him like this! He pleaded at them as much as they pleaded back. They were both male, both early twenties; one brown haired, the other blonde. Their feet froze in place as they tried to calm Mark down, but they could not talk reason. They started to back track, their hands lifted in submission.

“I was supposed to go to work today,” Mark said over and over again.

“You can, just go to work,” the other men screamed, “Please, just go to work!”

The first voice he heard, the one who mocked his son said, “Stop acting fucking crazy, you’re just like that psycho bitch!” and then there was a loud pop as the twenty-two went off: once, twice, thrice. They fell in front of Mark, blood pouring from open wounds.

“I was supposed to go to work today,” he said with a grunt of displeasure. He placed the twenty- two to his temple and heard sirens off in the distance. “My Sam,” he said.

Header photo by Rick Wilson (flickr creative commons)

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