Part 1

A man sat hunched over on the orange vinyl seat of the train. Shoulder-length white hair, bald on top. Gray wool pants clung to his legs, and his belly pushed its way out under an untucked white button-down shirt. Blue tie, but loosely knotted as if he were only wearing it because he was required to. His name was Ray. He held, on his lap, a brown paper bag. Plucked from it a large green bell pepper, from which he took three great, crunching bites before dropping it back in. Between the Beaconsfield and Longwood stops, he finished the pepper, had a banana, half a cucumber, and eight cherry tomatoes.

And as he ate, he thought to himself, "She can't suck away my entire life." She talked all the time about how bad she felt, and how she really wished he could take a few more minutes out of his oh-so-busy life to come visit her when he knew how bad she was feeling. Ray had kissed the top of her head when he left, like he always did, and said he'd be back next week but he could see in the wrinkle that formed between her eyebrows that she really wanted him to come back tomorrow. When she was little, she used to sob every time he went away for a few days. She would latch herself onto his pants with hands like bird-claws, and he'd have to wrench her off and slam the door and turn away from her snotty nose plastered to the window as he went to the car.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In a town from which the man was getting farther and farther at each bite, a woman balanced tenuously on the roof of a large Victorian house. Just a black silhouette against the sky, a cut-out, a paper doll with arms out to the sides like someone being crucified. The sky purple-to-blue and darkening. The paper cut-out woman had a billowing dress. Puffed out sleeves, a nightgown. She stood on the very peak of the roof, feet planted against opposing sides of its sharp vertex. She swayed, an oversized weathervane, next to the satellite dish. Forward and backward, forward and backward, forward and backward.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And across the street, as oblivious to the paper cut-out woman as she was oblivious to them, two teenagers sat huddled on a couch in an attic. The girl stroked the boy's longish brown hair as she would have stroked a cat. His eyes did not leave the wall in front of him but she watched them anyway, her face inches away from his. She watched as the liquid collected over his cornea. First just making it shinier, but slowly building up so that it gathered in the corner where the surface of his eye met the ledge of his lower eyelid. The surface tension kept it hanging on there, swelling, for a while, but eventually the drop became too fat for the surface tension to hold, and it spilled over and followed the valley along the side of his nose.

"I can't do it," he said.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In a nearby city, a mother tugged her little boy down the sidewalk. Over her left shoulder, she bore a nylon bag bulging with laundry, pulled her son with her right hand -- it was a wonder she could move at all with all the weight. "Babe," she said to him, "I know you're tired, but I'm tired too and we need to keep walking, ok?"

"I don't wanna walk anymore."

"I know, I know. I don't wanna walk anymore either. Come on."

They trekked on, rushed past the narrow, dank alleyways where the homeless men liked to gather and converse over their paper-bagged comfort. Yellow lights shone out of store windows, illuminating their faces like brief bursts of sunlight interspersed with the shadows.


"What, babe?"

"Why can't we stop."

"Because," she said, pausing for a moment to look him in the face, "we need some clean clothes. You don't want Carol to think I dress you in dirty clothes, do you?"

"Uh-uh." He popped a thumb into his mouth and stared up at her.

"Me neither." She hefted the bag over her shoulder again, swept the hair away from her forehead, and began to walk. "Come on, little guy, we're almost there."

go on to part 2 . . . go to the end