The Cashier

The Cashier

The cashier sits behind the desk and watches the world go by. Every now and then someone buys a Twinkie or comes in to pay for gas or asks for the keys to the washroom, and the cashier will smile and nod and say yes of course and thank you very much and the transaction completed the person leaves, and the semblance of life behind that dead-eyed glaze fades away. It wouldn’t take much to see past the mask; just a second of eye contact and it would be clear to anyone who cared to notice that the cashier is dead inside, has been dead inside for longer than they can remember. And yet somehow, due to the miracle of life, the cashier keeps on living, keeps on breathing, keeps on walking. Every day the cashier wakes up at 9:00AM, takes a shower, has cereal for breakfast, goes to work for 10:30AM, has a lunch break at 12:30PM and gets back to work at 1:00PM, completes the shift at 6:00PM and heads home, sticks a frozen dinner package in the microwave for the appropriate time, stirs it in a counter-clockwise motion with the fork when it’s done, sits in front of the television eating, then goes to bed. Like a body set to rest in a coffin one size too small, the cashier’s existence has been forced into a day-by-day routine which, while extremely uncomfortable, would take nothing short of a miracle to be freed from.

The cashier is not broken-hearted, has not recently lost a loved one, has never been diagnosed with depression or any other major medical disorder. There is no real reason for the cashier’s state, nothing the coroners or the newspapers will be able to point to and say “there: there it is, that’s why.” The closest anyone will ever come to the reason is when one of the cashier’s co-workers shrugs and says “life” in response to the rhetorical “how could this have happened” posed by another co-worker.

Life. Life is what has happened to the cashier. Things simply never fell into place for them. They never found something that interested them to the point of wanting to do it for the rest of their life, they never found someone they loved, or someone who loved them back. They never had a serious hobby, they never found that one thing that makes them feel alive. Things just didn’t fall into place. They fell apart.

There was never anything to distract the cashier from life, from the everyday toil of living. There was never any real reason not to enjoy life, except for the fact that life itself is not enjoyable. It is only when we find things to enjoy that we are content; everything else is just convincing yourself not to think about the unthinkable until you move on to the next distraction.

The cashier sits behind the desk and thinks about what they have decided to do once they get home. It’s the first real major decision they’ve committed to in a long time. The decision has no overall effect on the cashier’s behaviour or attitudes; it’s always been there, lurking just beyond the darkness in the cashier’s mind, waiting patiently for the day when the light would come on and reveal it, accept it. It’s always been there. It’s there in all of us. The cashier still smiles when customers come in, still makes the same lighthearted remarks when customers purchase something out of the ordinary worth acknowledging, still wishes people a good day and a good afternoon and a good night as they leave. The only difference is that now there is a sense of relief, of finality, of closure. Everything is on the table now. There’s nothing to hide, nothing to deny. The light is on, and what was once in the shadows, ignored and denied, is now welcomed inside and greeted like an old friend.

The cashier goes home, and sticks a frozen dinner package in the microwave for the appropriate time, stirs it in a counter-clockwise motion with the fork when it’s done, sits in front of the television eating, then goes to bed. There is a bottle of pills on the bedside table. It is empty.

The Arboretum

The Arboretum

“I can’t stop thinking about her. I mean, we hardly know each other, but… it’s like I’ve known her all my life. I know it sounds stupid, but it’s true. I just… I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you just ask her out then?” His eyes flick up to meet the therapist’s, intense and irritated.

“You’re joking, right?”

“You never know-”

“Oh, don’t give me that ‘you never know until you try’ bullshit. I mean, shit, I already know you’re a therapist; you don’t have to keep throwing out cliché’s like that, especially stupid ones. You and I both know why I can’t ‘just ask her out’. You of all people know that best.”

“If that’s what you think. Personally I disagree, but…” he shrugs. “I just think you shouldn’t give up so easily. Who knows? She might surprise you.”

“Even if… look, even if by some miracle she did feel the same way, I’m not… ready for a relationship. I can’t… I wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of emotional stress.” His speech is littered with sighs and huffs, like the breaks in an old record that just keeps playing the same song over and over, desperate to be turned.

“Fair enough. So what do you plan on doing then?”

“I don’t know, doc,” he says, glaring. “That’s kind of why I’m talking to you, isn’t it? So you can tell me what to do?”

“Actually, no. I’m just here to listen, and to offer up suggestions where I see fit. But I already gave you my suggestion for this particular problem.”

“Alright, well give me another, why don’t you?”

“You’re certain you don’t want to be in a relationship with her?”

“Of course I want to be in a relationship with her, but I also want to commit suicide, remember? Sometimes what we want isn’t what we need. Or don’t need, in this case. I just… I want to stop having feelings for her. For anyone, really. I can’t take it anymore, alright? At this point I’d rather feel nothing than feel anything at all.”

“That’s certainly a bold statement to make. Are you sure that’s how you feel?”

“No!” he shouts, pounding his fist on the desk and making the therapist’s pens shake in their mug. The therapist, having seen it all before and worse, does not so much as blink. The boy takes in a shaky breath, slumping back in his seat once more with an air of defeat. “No,” he says again, this time whispering the word. The expression on his face is indicative of hopelessness and exhaustion, as though the outburst has drained him. “Don’t you get it? I’m not sure how I feel. I’m not sure of anything. That’s why I don’t want to feel anything; then I would know. Then I wouldn’t have to be sure.” The therapist is silent for a moment.

“Have you been to The Arboretum yet?” he says eventually, picking up one of his pens and idly, casually fondling it.

“The what?”

“The Arboretum. It’s a lovely park east of campus. Beautiful this time of year. Late enough into autumn that the trees are all colourful, but early enough that they haven’t fallen yet. Not to mention it’s still fairly warm out. It’s a wonderful place to spend some time alone, to reflect on things and whatnot. I’d highly recommend it.”

That was how he found himself standing at the entrance, looking down the path to the other end. Almost as if the therapist’s words had been prophetic, it had turned out to be a beautiful day: the air was still, the sun was out, and there was only the faintest hint of a chill in the air, the promise of the coming winter. He looked out over what he could see of the park, and decided, somewhat begrudgingly, that the trees did indeed look beautiful.

It was the fifth week of university, and things had started off surprisingly well. His old therapist had warned of the dangers of a change in surroundings, of experiences, of his life as a whole, but he had also mentioned that the change might do him some good. The problem was that with such a drastic adjustment things would either go one way or the other, and for people suffering from depression things hardly ever went in the up direction.

“Call me whenever you need to talk,” his therapist had told him on the day of their last session. “You still have my number, right?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Good.” He had clasped the boy by his shoulders, giving him a quick once-over, trying to hide the worry in his eyes. “You’ll do good. You hear me? You’ll do good. You’re a good student, as long as you apply yourself, and the change in scenery might very well do you some good. Just keep your head up, and remember to call me the moment you feel it creeping in. Don’t try to be brave; you’re already brave as it is and you don’t need to prove it to anyone. The second you feel it creeping in you call me. Do not wait it out. Okay?”

“Okay,” he had said, fighting back the sob waiting in his throat, eager to be heard.

“Good boy. You’ll do fine.” He had hugged him then, which might have been a little unprofessional, but as his therapist of all of four years he doubted anyone could have blamed him. And now the tears did come, and he gave a little sniffle, his face buried in the shoulder of his therapist’s coat. He had felt safe, protected. And then they had separated, and he saw that the therapist’s eyes were misty too. He gave him an apologetic smile, and they shared one last laugh. “Be good to your new therapist, you hear? We went to university together; he’s really quite a good guy. Give him some time. Let him in. Don’t make him go through the entire painstaking process of prying you open that I had to go through. You hear me?”

“Yes,” he had said, his head nodding. “Yes.”

Yes. But he’d been unable to keep his word. His new therapist had turned out to be nothing like his old one. He wasn’t funny, or sympathetic, or amiable. He was detached, distant, cold, calculating. And even if he had been better, the boy didn’t think he would have been able to see past the feelings of resentment he harboured for him, simply for not being his old therapist.

But even after the bad first impression with the therapist, things had still been good. Better than they had been in years, in fact. He had made new friends, settled in to his residence comfortably, enjoyed his classes. Most of the time he was so busy that he would completely forget that he suffered from depression, that he had a mental disorder, that he was different. For the first time in his life, he felt like he belonged.

Then he had met her. They were in the same residence, and had several classes together. He had seen her around several times before, and something about her had made an impression on him. It was inevitable, really. Eventually, quite by chance, they struck up a conversation. It was on the way back to their residence after a class that they found themselves walking beside one another. And before he even realized what had happened, he was in love. The revelation came to him two days later, lying in bed at night and staring up at the ceiling, which one of the previous residents of his room had covered in dozens of those sticky glow-in-the-dark stars you could buy at the dollar store.

It was when he realized that he was in love that the real trouble began. Suddenly he couldn’t stop thinking about her, couldn’t think about anything else. When he was with her things were great, better than great, but like a lantern in the night when she was gone the darkness would descend upon him and swallow him up, making him feel more alone and lost than ever before. It was as though he had finally gotten used to living in the dark, and then suddenly she had come into his life and changed all of that, reintroduced him to happiness, to the light. And when she was gone he was all the more aware of the darkness, once more susceptible to its effects, the effects he had just gotten used to, had begun to learn to cope with.

And then suddenly things weren’t so good anymore.

The wind picked up, scattering several yellow and red leaves across his path. He shivered, an unconscious reaction that had nothing to do with the temperature, and stirred from his thoughts. Okay, he told himself, don’t think about any of that. You’re here to distract yourself from your problems, not rub them in. He started to walk without knowing where he was going, simply allowing his feet to take him down what appeared to be the main path. The road broke off into smaller trails in front of him, but he kept on going forward, deciding he would make it to the end first and then see about exploring the smaller ones later.

He passed by people walking their dogs, couples walking hand in hand or arm in arm, with eyes for nothing but one another, old people bundled up tight in weathered coats and jackets that you could tell had seen them through many winters, their faces obscured by oversized sunglasses, joggers whose hot and heavy breaths stained the air like miniature clouds that dissipated into the world they were born into only seconds after their creation. Some of the people he passed would give him a smile, and before long he was returning those smiles, sincerely if not consciously.

He stopped for a moment to watch the antics of three squirrels, chasing one another up and down trees, back and forth in the grass. He knew chances were they were probably fighting over food or territory or something, but he told himself that they were just playing.

Eventually he came to a pond in a small sectioned-off area of the park, hosting several signs that warned of the dangers of stepping on the stones, which were allegedly unstable. He made his way over to the bench in the middle of the area, sitting down and closing his eyes. He sat like that for a moment, each deep breath of cold air like a cleansing wave that swept over his mind, erasing all his thoughts until his head was clear. When it felt right he opened his eyes, looking around as though expecting some sort of visible change to the world, but finding nothing. He stayed a moment longer before standing, the joints in his legs complaining from the cold.

Further along he found a fountain, hidden behind a wall of hedges that ran alongside its border. The pumps were still running, but he decided they would probably shut them off once the temperatures dropped low enough for the water to freeze. There were four statues standing at each corner of the fountain, and it seemed to him that they were watching over it, cold sentinels indifferent to the water’s antics. He looked at each of them in turn, and then took his place among them at the head of the fountain. He watched as the water shot upwards into the air, breaking off into individual droplets but still a part of something greater, never wholly separated from the water as a whole, always readily accepted back into the masses once their flight ended, cascading back down through the air and getting lost in the sea of thousands of droplets just like them, inescapable from the masses.

He walked down the smaller paths, among hedges and flowerbeds and modern art and benches dedicated to people long gone. He wondered what they thought of that, that their legacy was summed up in a plaque on a bench in a park, a name that might be ignored by those who sat there or read by others but almost always forgotten, always lost in a sea of names, all indistinguishable from one another without a face, a hand, an identity to nail it too, and he wondered if they thought anything of that at all, or if there was nothing to think.

He walked under the trees, under the beautiful canopy of colours, the light filtering through and colouring the world around him in a sea of hues, all warm colours despite the chill in the air, in his bones. He wondered about the irony of that, and decided that if he had been a writer he could have found a good metaphor in there somewhere, but as it was decided not to look too deep into it, and left it for some other poor sap to find, to ponder.

He marvelled at the beauty around him, of the tiny snapshots of life, and suddenly it occurred to him that he wanted to share it with someone. And of course he thought of all the couples he had seen pass by, and he thought of her. He reached into his pocket for his phone, what he would say already taking shape in his head.

And then he stopped.

And then his grip loosened, then released entirely, and he let the phone slip from his hand back into his pocket.

And he continued to explore the park, alone.

Six days later he found himself sitting in his therapist’s office, staring at a painting hung on the wall directly above and behind the psychologist’s head. The painting is abstract, but sometimes we don’t need to understand something to know what it means.

They’ve been sitting in silence since he came in, the boy staring absently at the painting and the therapist staring intently at the boy.

“You knew,” the boy says eventually, his voice soft.

“Yes.”

“You knew it would… change me.”

“Yes.”

“…How?” The therapist shifts in his chair, and the resulting sound of leather rubbing against leather is reminiscent of an awkward childhood that no one will ever talk about, that no one will ever acknowledge, will ever make eye contact with. Sometimes it’s just too late for a wound to be bandaged. Sometimes when it heals it becomes a callus, and nothing more ever comes of it.

“It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t know what I wanted,” the boy says, his voice quiet and submissive and indifferent. “I didn’t know.”

Eventually, maybe in another week or two or even three, The Arboretum will grow cold, and people will stop coming, and it will be empty. And even when spring rolls around again, something will have changed, something that the returning warmth will never be able to thaw.

Sandman

Sandman

My feet sink into the surface of the shore, the sensation of thousands of grains shifting beneath my weight strangely relaxing.  I wiggle my toes, massaging the cold, damp sand around and further disturbing the perfection of its smooth surface.  The water rushes up with a sound akin to that of a mother’s call, familiar and comforting in its embrace, and as it washes up over my ankles soaking the cuffs of my rolled-up jeans, the earth beneath me shifts and I sink deeper into the ground.  The wave withdraws back to the safety of the ocean and in its wake all the imperfections I’ve dug into the sand disappear, mended by the gentle caress of the water.  The sun dips down into the horizon, the first of its body disappearing beneath the waves far off in the distance, and what remains is like a drop of food colouring in a glass of water, the dyes spreading out across the sky as the light is soaked up by the mass of clouds, reflecting into a beautiful blend of purple and yellow and orange shades.  The water is cold, not so much that it is uncomfortable to stand in, but enough that the beach is almost empty, even more so now that the sun is setting.

The nearest of my neighbours are to my left, close enough that I can see them but far enough that they are out of reach, a memory in passing as I look over my shoulder.  It is a young couple, lying on a beach towel, in one another’s arms as they stare out over the sunset.  They are quiet, the kind of quiet that takes years of being together to master, the kind of quiet that resides in comfort rather than awkward pauses, the kind of quiet that is not passed with the panicked attempts at an attempt to revive a dying conversation but rather which calmly buries it in passing and moves on to the next one, hand in hand and heads touching, silent in their understanding of one another.  I look back at them and smile, my eyes welling with tears.  A single drop escapes, rolling down my cheek and hanging briefly on the ridge of my chin.  I bow my head in a kind of nod, and the drop falls, caught up in a rising wave and carried back to sea, lost among the millions of other stories like it, becoming part of something more, something greater than itself.

I turn my head to my right, where a single mother and her two young children, a boy and a girl, play at the water’s edge.  They are well away from where I stand, their figures little more than blurs of movement in the distance.  Even so, their delighted laughter carries across the beach as they skip in and out of the waves in the shallows, the water just above their ankles.  The mother chases her children playfully, their shrieks of joy punctuating a symphony of seagull cries and the soft roar of the ocean meeting the land.

She looks up suddenly in my direction, standing up straight and tall.  Her children pay no mind, continuing their game with one another as they run circles around her still figure.  Though I know she cannot see me, I still feel my heart flutter as a chill runs through my body.  I smile, and now the tears flow freely, and I know what must be done.  I stare a moment longer, the wind tugging at my clothes, picking up particles of sand that sting against my skin.  And then I raise my arm, and I wave.  She stares a moment longer, and then, though I cannot see it, she raises her arm too.

The wind is picking up now, and I feel my body break down, becoming a part of the whole.  I bring my hand up in front of my face, and watch as it turns to sand, falling through the air and scattering in the wind, lost among the dunes.  No, not lost.

Found.

I look back behind me, at the footprints I’ve left behind, and I smile.  But the last thing I see is what lies ahead, the footprints that will go on without me.  She has returned her attention to the children, their voices reaching me in more ways than one.  Though it feels like they are miles away, I still feel as though I am right there with them.  My smile is the last thing to go, suspended in the air for a moment, and then whisked away with all the rest, carried far and long over the horizon.

Webs

Webs

When I was a boy, no older than my son is now, I had a fascination with bugs.  Our property was a decent five acres, so you can imagine the fun I had with all that land.  I would embark on safari expeditions, mapping the harsh wilderness with my faithful partner Bono as accomplice.  We would admire the graceful art of the water gliders from the safety of our dock, watching them skate across the pond’s surface with such fluid and serene movements that I would often have to remind myself to release the breath I had been holding.  We played audience to the antics of the dragonflies as they chased one another through the reeds, like tiny fighter planes in a secret war, and we followed the progress of armies of ants as they carried their hard-earned bounty back to their queen.  Bono was ever patient, although not so much observant.  But when I glimpsed through the keyhole into that world of wonders, it didn’t matter.  I wasn’t with dear Bono anymore; I was with the ants, the pill bugs, the centipedes, the butterflies.  Gone was the big world, the world of big decisions and big problems and big arguments and big pain.  I was free.

Back when things were better and we still had visitors, our relatives and family friends would stop by to visit my parents, and they would sit on the back porch and sip their iced drinks and laugh as they swore up and down that I would grow up to be an entomologist. Just you wait and see, they would tell my parents. The kid has it in him. And they would smile good-naturedly and nod along politely, sharing secret glances with one another whenever the guest wasn’t looking. But they were all wrong. What they failed to realize was that my fascination, my obsession even, wasn’t fuelled by a love of science or learning. It was never about that for me. The love stopped at the creatures themselves and went no further.  I admired them, respected them, was even a little jealous of them. But I never wanted to study them.

Of all the creatures in our garden, I had two favourites.  The first was a spider.  He (or she; I never could tell) was set up in the lower branches of one of the trees on our property, perfectly placed in my line of sight.  At sunset after a rainy day I would race outside to see the web, partly out of concern for the spider in the wake of the storm, but mostly for what always came next.  The web would always be intact, a wonder in itself, but what stole my breath away every time was far more abstract in its appeal.  The web would have collected water droplets from the rain, still sturdy as ever under their weight, and as the sun began to set it would align perfectly with the web.  The droplets would catch the light and reflect it, like tiny ornamental lightbulbs, decorating the strands of silver with flecks of gold.  It was one of the most beautiful images I remember from my childhood, indeed even after all these years there are few sights I’ve seen that rival it.  The spider, who I had never had a reason or right to name, would sit in the centre of the web, completely still, as far as I could tell indifferent to my presence.  Sometimes I liked to imagine that he too was admiring the sunset.

On some days I would catch crickets or grasshoppers, a fly if I was lucky.  I would run as fast as I could to the web, and upon arrival quickly confirm the spider was still there (it always was) before carefully releasing the captured insect straight into the trap and watching the show unfold.  The bug would immediately start to struggle, effectively entangling itself more and more in the web.  With hungry eyes I would follow the strands up to the centre, where the spider sat, immobile, unreadable.  I watched as he registered the movement, the disturbance.  Even before he moved, even before he gave any indication that he had noticed, I would know when he had.  And then he was off, dancing from strand to strand, completely unaffected by his own lethal trap.  He would ensnare the insect, turning it on the spot and covering it in more and more of his webbing until the prey was completely mummified.  I can’t remember where I first heard it, but whenever I participated in this ritual a quote would always come to mind: “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”  I’d always found comfort in that thought, and it became my mantra.  Whenever I found myself trying too hard to understand the motives behind other people’s actions, I would simply repeat the quote in my head until I felt better.

I found my second favourite quite by chance one hot summer day.  I had been laying on the dock in my usual spot, trailing my fingers just beneath the water’s surface and watching the water skaters as they darted out of the way.  They would never stray too far though, out of what I liked to think was curiosity.  I had been moping around for the majority of the day, the heat too intense for expeditions, or demanding physical activities of any kind.  I might have been inside, but there was a different kind of heat going on in there, and the house had thin walls.  I decided to go and visit my spider (who of course was not “mine” in any possessive form of the word, as much as I might have liked to think otherwise), so I got to my feet, ignoring the pins and needles from being immobile for so long.  I started down the dock back to land, and that was when I saw it.  Sleek, graceful, quiet, dangerous.  I had never seen its kind before but I could immediately tell it was dangerous.  I had seen a stinger before, and this creature definitely had one of the most impressive stingers I had ever seen, not to mention a size only paralleled by a handful of the insects inhabiting the garden, my spider among them.  With a dark red exoskeleton, long, powerful wings, and an abdomen striped with orange, the creature was like the insect world’s equivalent of a stealth jet.  It flew by without a sound, seeming to part the air around it.  My breath literally caught in my throat. It flew over water and made its way to land.  I watched it fade into the distance, and then, just as it had almost completely disappeared from view, I snapped from my reverie and chased after it, keeping a safe distance.  The creature did not subscribe to any of the antics that flies often incorporate into their flight paths, zigzagging through the air as though afraid they were being followed.  It was more like a dragonfly, but even they could be playful when they wanted.  This thing was all business. I could almost feel the seriousness radiating off of it.

I followed it all the way home, which just so happened to be my own.  He (again, assuming) landed on the side of our house next to where our hose was connected and wound up, and then, pausing for just a moment, ducked beneath the siding.  I waited, cautiously, to see if he would return, and when he didn’t I walked over to the spot where he had gone under and peered into the gap.  It was too dark to see anything, but I could feel it.  Looking down at me from in the darkness.  It gave me the chills, but it also gave me a weird sense of exhilaration.  I quickly moved my head, feeling like something (or more than one somethings) would drop down onto my head and commence stinging.  The heat forgotten, I sat down on the ground, crossed my legs, and waited.  Eventually he came out again.  I know it’s possible it was just another one of his kind, considering they all pretty much looked the same to us, but although I can’t explain it, somehow I knew it was him.  The same one I had followed home.  He crawled out of the spot, and then, again with the pause, took off into the air.  I watched him go, but this time I didn’t bother following.  Instead I stayed by the home.  When he finally came back it was with a tiny caterpillar in his mandibles. He took it inside.

Over the next few days of watching their home I counted three individuals.  The first one, who seemed to be the biggest, a second one who had more yellow than the other two, and a third, who was the darkest.  I looked them up in one of the many insect books I had gotten from the distant relatives who were convinced I would be an entomologist when I grew up, and decided they were paper wasps.  They mostly ignored me, but I never forgot what had happened that first day.  Because when the wasp paused just before going into his home, I was sure he had looked right at me.

My mother would often have me water the plants in the flowerbed, a chore I had no problems with.  I actually enjoyed it, to be honest.  It gave me a chance to watch the bees, another one of my favourites.  The honey bees were nice, but I’d always had a soft spot for the big, fuzzy bumble bees.  Even their name was cute.  Bumble.  Like a cute, clumsy little bear.  That’s what they’d always reminded me of.  A cute little bear.  The way they zipped around from flower to flower, so dutifully, was as amusing as it was sad. Busy bees.

The problem, which I only became aware of the next time she asked me to do it, was that to water the plants I had to get to the hose.  And the hose was on the side of the house.  Next to the wasps’ home.  I may not have been an entomologist then but I had known a thing or two about wasps, and I knew they were as aggressive as they were protective.  While I liked them quite a bit, I wasn’t exactly eager to put myself in a position that would end up getting me stung.  My only alternative though was to tell my mother about them, something that would inevitably lead to their deaths.  I would sooner have gotten stung than have them killed.  After all, what were their lives compared to a little pain?  Okay, maybe a lot of pain, but my argument still stood.  So, I risked it.

I made my way over, approaching slowly and cautiously for all the good it would do me.  There was no sign of the trio, but I knew that if they were home it wouldn’t be long before they sensed the disturbance and came pouring out.  I reached the hose and began to unravel it, surprised I hadn’t been visited yet.  Just when I began to think something was wrong, the first dark red head peeked out from beneath the sliding.  This time I knew he was looking at me.  And it might have just been the fear, but at the time I was sure that if he had had eyebrows they would have been bent in the middle.  So I did the only sensible thing.  I started to talk to him.

I told him that it was alright, that I wasn’t there to disturb them.  Then I thought that was pretty stupid, because clearly I was disturbing them, otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered to come out.  So I told him I didn’t mean to disturb them, that I was actually trying very hard not to bother them, admittedly for both of our sakes.  I can’t remember everything I said, but I’m pretty sure at one point I bargained with him, even tried reasoning with him.  I think I said something about how if I got stung my mother would raise hell and we’d both be in for it, although of course only one of us would lose their lives over it.  I’m pretty sure I was adamant on it not being a threat, that I was sincerely warning him for his own good.  And all the while, as my young imaginative brain spouted the most sensible of reasoning to an insect, said insect just sat there, watching me with those dark, emotionless eyes.

I’m sure this is the part where you expect one of two things.  One being the insect flies out and lands on my shoulder and then I grow up to be the wasp-whisperer, touring the world as I teach people about the secret life of wasps, and how intelligent they are and how much we share in common and the bond that unites us all, and it ends with me on my deathbed, my trusty faithful pet wasp laying on my lap, with me until the end.  Enter sap story moral about how animals have souls too etcetera.

The second is the wasp calls its friends out and they all sting me and I grow up to be a cynical old bastard who works for a pest control company. Cue realist’s dream come true.

Neither of those things happened that day.  The wasp just… sat there, watching me, until I had run out of arguments for why it shouldn’t attack me.  And then, when I was done, and I just stood there awaiting its verdict, still nothing happened.  So, wary, still not sure I had convinced him, I took the end of the hose in my hand, turned it on, and left, only taking my eyes off of his own when they were out of sight.  And when I had finished watering the plants and I went to put the hose back, the same thing happened.  He peeked his head out, watched me watch him as I worked to wrap the hose, and did nothing more.

Our relationship, if it can be said we had one, continued on like this for several months.  On some days it would be a different wasp who watched me, and sometimes whoever it was would fly out and hover in the air beside me.  I ran away the first time this happened, but when I looked over my shoulder there was no one following me.  So I returned, knowing if I didn’t water the plants my mother would have my hide.  The wasp flew out again, but this time I didn’t run, and the wasp didn’t chase.  It just stayed there, circling the area, watching me.  I went about my business, stealing the occasional glance back over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being ambushed, but nothing happened.  Nothing more than that ever happened.

Take what you want from this story; that maybe the wasps really did listen to my arguments and find them within reason, or perhaps that they simply didn’t find me threatening.  Maybe there was something deeper than that, that maybe they sensed something in me that they didn’t sense often.  Or maybe not.  Maybe we don’t live in a world with reasonable wasps, or spiders that enjoy sunsets as much as I do, or bees that work hard for any reason other than it’s in their nature to do so.  Maybe all that is just a product of a child’s imaginative mind.  But I like to think differently.

One final note: one day I went to get the hose, and there was no wasp there standing guard.  And there was none there the next, or the next.  It got to the point where I would spend hours outside their home, waiting, watching, hoping.  Sometimes I like to think that they had grown so accustomed to me that they had deemed me no threat, that I had achieved their approval, and decided they no longer needed to watch me for trouble.  Or maybe they had accepted my presence as just another part of their home.  My alternate favoured fantasy, the one tinged with sadness, was that they came to realize that they couldn’t live there anymore, that it was too great a risk should my mother ever decide to water the garden herself and approach the hose, and upon finding the wasps, proceed to kill them.  I sometimes like to imagine the two smaller wasps with their things in hand, flying off for the last time.  I like to imagine the third one, the bigger one, the first one I saw, staying behind for a while, watching to see if I might come running around the corner one last time, to come and water the plants.  I like to imagine him sitting there, waiting, his brothers calling for him to get a move on, and then, finally, when he can’t wait any longer, flying off to join the others in the clear blue sky, off in search of a new home.  I know that what most likely happened was that one day my mother actually did happen to go to the hose, or in any event found out about the wasps one way or another.  I never did ask her about it though.  Not only because of the trouble I’d have gotten in, but also because I wanted to keep that last shred of hope alive, that last possibility intact.  And in the end, don’t we all lie to ourselves one way or another?

My boy is in the garden now; I can see him through the study’s window.  He’s watching something in the grass, down on his hands and knees, face pressed to the earth.  I think I’ll go join him soon.  Who knows?  Maybe he’s found a descendant of one of my old friends.


You can read the fiction analysis of this story here.

The Correlation Between Pawn Shops & Broken Hearts

The Correlation Between Pawn Shops & Broken Hearts

I met her at a bus stop in Hackney. She was sitting on the other end of the bench when I got there, reading a book by J.D. Salinger.  I watched her out of the corner of my eye for a moment, debating whether or not to say something.  Before I could overthink it and lose my nerve, I cleared my throat and told her The Catcher in the Rye was my favourite book of all time.  She seemed to study me briefly, and I must have passed whatever test she had put me through because then she smiled and said it was the only one of his books that anyone knew.  I told her I knew another one, and she asked which one, and I read off the title of the one she was reading.  That made her laugh, and it was a sound like the chimes of far off bells, the ones that you hear from off in the distance and wonder what their purpose is, wonder who they are calling, what they are calling them for.  It was the kind of laugh you fall in love with.

She was wearing a beanie that read “Erindale Lions” beneath a crest of some sort, which she explained was from the high school she had gone too, and the kind of jacket you’d expect to find in a thrift store, with patches of various images and words stitched on, seemingly by hand.  Her hair was a blondish-red and it seemed to flow out from beneath her worn-out hat and onto her even more worn-out jacket like ichor from a mountaintop.

She had a piercing in her nose, and she told me the story behind each of her tattoos.  I told her I had always meant to get one for my father after he passed away, but had simply never gotten around to it, and she said that that was really sweet and that I should do it, and I agreed.

She pointed out my headphones, now hanging from the inside of my shirt collar, and asked what I had been listening to.  I told her, and she shook her head and said she hadn’t heard of them.  I mentioned a few of my other favorites, to all of which she shook her head, laughing as she pressed her hands against her face, feigning embarrassment.  Without saying anything I unplugged the headphone jack from my iPod, passing it over to her.  Before she could object I told her I wanted her to have it, explaining that the music it contained had literally saved my life on several occasions, and that one day it might mean just as much to her as it did to me.  She told me that she couldn’t accept it, and I said that yes she could, and not only that but I very much wanted her to.  She said you know the chances of us ever seeing each other again are pretty low and I said well yes that’s true but now that you have my property I’d like to think they’re a bit higher, and that earned me a smile.  I still see that smile in dreams sometimes.

She asked me where I lived and I told her and she said oh no I won’t be anywhere near there for a long time and I said I would be happy to wait and then before she could object again I asked where she lived and she raised her chin slightly and said proudly that the world was her home, that the roads and the back alleys and the fields and the forests and the cities were her home.  I asked if that meant she was homeless, and her shoulders slumped a little and she said yes.  We were silent for a moment and I felt bad for asking, but before I could apologize she said you know, you might never see this iPod again, and she didn’t have to say what we both knew she really meant.  She said it in a quiet voice, and without even needing to think about my answer I immediately responded that it would be an absolute honor to have my iPod stolen by her.  I didn’t have to say what I really meant either. She smiled to me, and opened her mouth to say something else but then a bus pulled up and she swore and said it was hers and she stood up and she left, but not before giving me a quick kiss, the kind of kiss you’re not aware of until it’s over, until you’ve missed it and all that’s left is a lingering tingling sensation in your lips, like front doors left ajar and bedroom window curtains blowing as the wind gently drifts into the room, like a song you hear on the radio from a past life, like running into old childhood friends when you’re back in the town you grew up in for your father’s funeral.

It was only as the bus pulled away, fading into the distance until it was nothing more than a tiny speck, like a stain on a windshield that you will never be able to rub away, that I realized I had never even learnt her name.

Sometimes I like to picture her listening to my iPod, maybe as she is boarding a bus, or settling in for the night in one of those cheap motels you see all the time on TV dramas, or lining up for breakfast in a soup kitchen, or browsing the isles of a thrift store.  I picture her shoplifting a charger from some dollar store somewhere when it finally dies, and charging it whenever she gets a chance, keeping it alive, taking care of it even when it’s tired and has given up on her, not because it wants to give up but because sometimes things are just made the way they are, made fragile and weak and scared but still in need of that one other, the one that won’t give up on them, the one that will keep them going and won’t let them give up on themselves.

Sometimes, when I have bad days, I imagine her walking into a pawn shop. I imagine her walking out, counting through several bills and wondering if she should have asked for more.  Whenever I picture this I try to tell myself that she wouldn’t do that, that she would only do that if she absolutely needed the money, and that if she did then I would be okay with it.

Sometimes I think I see her, a brief glimpse, a fleeting image, a face in the crowd. On the subway, in restaurants, on the sidewalk, at bus stops. Always at bus stops.  I still wait for her.  At night, after the orderlies call lights out and the building goes dark and the moon is out, I sit by the window in my room and look out over the street.  And I wait.


You can read the fiction analysis of this story here.

Sometimes

I’m on the cusp
Of something brilliant
So close to understanding the mechanics of the world.
But it slips away
And the feeling is gone
And I am left fumbling in the dark
Picking up the pieces
Of a shattered revelation

I feel so close
To finding the answer
Buried deep within the maze of thoughts in my head.
But my wayward mind
Wanders far and wide
And the destination is never met
A trapdoor hidden
Amongst the wreckage of old lives

Before me lies
An invisible curtain
I reach out hoping to pull it back.
But my trepid fingers
Grasp only air
And the curtain remains
Just out of reach
Never out of mind

Sometimes I feel
So close to an epiphany
The point at which it all clicks into place.
But the moment is fleeting
And before they connect
The pieces are scattered
Once more to the wind
And the feeling is gone

Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa

On the morning of July 21st in New York City a flower appears, seemingly overnight, sprouting from a crack in the sidewalk.  A businesswoman on her way to work walks past it, furiously texting urgent memos to her subordinates as she hurries by.  In her haste she fails to notice a man walking towards her, just as preoccupied with his cellphone as she is with hers, and they collide.  Profuse apologies that smoothly transition into hollow reassurances are exchanged, like the well-rehearsed scene of a play they were raised to take part in, while both sides silently and masterfully conceal bitter blames and ill-will towards one another.  They collect their respective scattered belongings from the sidewalk, and with one last nod from both parties, accompanied by a weak smile acknowledging the bond they supposedly now share as a result of their collision, the two go their separate ways still harboring anger, devoid of any recognized responsibility for their own actions.

A man leaves his lover’s apartment building, still buttoning his shirt.  He hails an approaching taxi, noticing as he lowers his hand that he has forgotten to replace his wedding ring.  His lover has recently gotten into the habit of making him remove it before they meet, claiming it makes her feel uneasy.  He had scoffed at her request, stopping short of asking her when she had developed a moral conscience, but even so he had obliged, because while he didn’t see what the fuss was about the insignificance of the issue came back around to bite him in the ass: if it didn’t matter, then why did it matter?  So he had put on an uncaring visage and given in, a small what-can-you-do shrug emphasizing his indifference.  The only problem was that if he were ever to return home sans the ring replaced on his finger it would immediately arouse his wife’s suspicions.  That was assuming she wasn’t already suspicious, something the man found hard to believe.

He draws the ring out from deep inside his pants pocket and slips it over his finger, noting with mild interest that it feels looser somehow, and lets himself into the taxi, nearly stepping on the flower as he does so.  As he gives the cab driver instructions on how to return him to his broken marriage, a child on a leash runs past his window, screaming profanities with delight.  His mother reflexively tightens her grip, giving the man in the taxi a once-over as she walks past.  The child screams again, running on the spot as he tries to pull loose from the leash.  When the cab speeds away, whisking the man from sight, she turns her attention back to her child, barking half-hearted commands more for the sake of disapproving onlookers than for the possibility that she might actually get him to obey her.

That day hundreds of people walk past that spot, and not a single one notices the flower.

҉

Four days later the morning sun manages to pierce a hole through the dense, dark cloud of smog that hangs above the city, navigating around the massive bulks of several buildings to briefly illuminate an alleyway.  There it settles on a small vine, in the early stages of working its way up from the ground.  Across from the vine is a homeless man named Shem, who’d spent the night against the wall opposite the vine and the overflowing dumpster next to him when exhaustion and inebriation had decided his resting place for the night.  He beheld it in wonder, a fragile thing completely out of place, making its home on a brick wall darkened with the modern era’s Jackson Pollock of graffiti, urine stains, and other unidentifiable substances.  He had never seen anything like it, and only recognized it later on by what he had heard of them in tales spun by his father in another lifetime.

Too shaky on his feet alone, Shem crawls on all fours towards the plant, pressing his face up close until his nose brushes against one of the leaves.  He can almost see them coming to life in the sunlight, raising upwards like a multitude of tiny arms praising the heavens.  Eyes wide in wonder and amazement, Shem makes a decision.

Elsewhere in the city, many citizens manage to incorporate the rare appearance of the sun into their meaningless yet socially obligatory small talk.

҉

On the dawn of July 27th a bird flies into the city; a bird with feathers of the purest white that soars between buildings and past skyscraper windows, much to the amazement of its witnesses.  It is the color of a forgotten life, of a time when the smog and the soot didn’t stain every surface, when the world was more than just a blot of grey and black and variety could be found around every street corner.

The story is even featured on one news channel, in which a local expert suggests the rare sight is likely nothing more than an albino pigeon.

҉

Hannah Hunt sits up in bed at 5:25 a.m. on July 31st, awoken by a chill and unable to fall back asleep.  On the other side of the bed her client shifts beneath the covers, rolling over in his sleep.  She stares out of the bedroom window on the bottom floor of his apartment, her view outside still obscured by a rolling morning fog.  Suddenly she gasps, putting her hands over her mouth.  Before her disbelieving eyes a deer wanders out of the mist, two young fawns trailing behind it.  The majestic creature runs its nose along the ground as though searching for food, and then without warning it turns and looks directly into Hannah’s eyes.  They stare at one another for what feels like an eternity, and then with a flick of her short white tail she leaves just as suddenly as she’d appeared, her fawns following obligingly.  The neon red digits on the alarm clock read 5:32.

Two hours later, when Hannah wakes again with no recollection of having fallen back asleep, she remembers what happened and looks back to the window, half expecting the deer to still be there.  They are not, and as she recalls the surreal feeling of euphoria she’d felt, not to mention the impossibility of the event, part of her dismisses the sighting as a dream and nothing more.

҉

August 1st brings a new month, and with it the sun.  The smog has thinned considerably, and the sunlight is brighter and stronger than anyone can remember.  Several news stations warn of UV radiation and remind citizens to wear sunblock lest they contract skin cancer.

҉

Criminal lawyer Theo Ananus stands in his corner office on the morning of August 3rd, looking out onto the city streets several stories below.  He is in the middle of mentally reviewing an upcoming case when he sees the vagrant.  Dirty and disheveled, he sticks out like a sore thumb among nearby consumers as he pushes a shopping cart through the lot, glancing about nervously.  Something moves in Theo’s peripheral vision, and he turns to see a grocery clerk running after the vagrant, hands waving in alarm.  The clerk shouts something at the vagrant, and turning in alarm he breaks into a run, still pushing the cart.  Theo watches the silent pursuit with mild amusement; it reminds him of those old silent black-and-white movies he would watch with his mother as a child, the ones in which the main character would suffer comical misfortunes for the audience’s amusement.

Suddenly the cart hits a speed bump and overturns, sending its contents flying all across the ground.  Crawling to the nearest item and cradling it to his chest, the homeless man shakes his head with such vivid despair that Theo finds the smile dying on his face.  The shopping clerk reaches the crash and tries to apprehend the vagrant, grabbing his arm roughly and pulling him to his feet.  Shaken from his despair, the man wrenches his arm free and runs, the bag he’d picked up still in his arms.  The clerk tries to chase him again, but the vagrant dashes across the street just before a large bus, effectively cutting off his pursuer.  The clerk stops, shakes his fist to the sky, and starts back towards the overturned shopping cart.

Later that day, walking home past the grocery, Theo notices the dropped bags still on the ground where the cart fell, abandoned and apparently forgotten.  Most are ripped, and it takes Theo a minute to identify the dark substance that spills from the tears.  It’s soil; dark and rich with an inexplicably healthy appearance.  Theo stops, looking at the mess.  He thinks about how much trouble the clerk went through trying to catch the thief and yet he couldn’t even be bothered to salvage what hadn’t been stolen.

A strange sensation comes over Theo, and he looks up to see a man across the street watching him.  They’d been over a mile apart, but even so Theo immediately recognizes him as the same vagrant who’d been stealing the bags of soil.  They stare at one another for a moment, neither moving, before the vagrant abruptly turns and leaves.  It dawns on Theo that the man had probably been watching from a safe distance, waiting for the opportune moment to come back and retrieve the fallen bags.  He looks back to the bags, sitting on the ground, seemingly forgotten by all but one person, and a insane idea begins to form in his mind.  Shaking his head at the crazy thought and the even crazier decision to follow through with it, he starts towards the bags.

He follows the vagrant through alleyways and backstreets, keeping a safe distance just in case.  His wits hadn’t abandoned him entirely, he decides.  The vagrant does not notice him, or if he does pays him no attention.  Eventually he rounds a corner, temporarily disappearing from view, and fearing he will lose him Theo brakes into a jog.  He turns into the alleyway, still moving quickly, and almost collides with the vagrant.

Stopping in his tracks, they eye one another with careful suspicion.  At a loss for what else to do, Theo holds out the two bags of mulch he’d brought with him.  A look of genuine surprise crosses the homeless man’s face, and then he grins.  The man takes one of the bags from Theo, and with a wave of his hand indicating for him to follow, he turns and begins to walk.  Unable to keep a smile off his own face, Theo follows.

Shem leads him to the alleyway.  When they round the corner he gestures to the wall, and Theo’s eyes follow his pointing arm upwards.  As he registers what he’s looking at the bag of soil falls from his arms in synchronicity with his jaw falling open.  The vine has grown considerably, and now takes up the entire height of the wall and almost as much of the width.  Its tendrils curl and twist into intricate patterns, covering a background of dull grey brick.  Together the two men stand in silence for what feels like an eternity, basking in its graceful elegance, its foreign magnificence, until long after the sun goes down.

҉

August 15th.  The vine has grown to encompass the entire southern side of the building, and word has spread.  Shem wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of footsteps slapping against the concrete.  It is dark, and he is disoriented as he fumbles to stand up, eyes adjusting to the night.  Before he can assess what has happened he feels the first kick to his stomach, and he is sent sprawling, the wind knocked out of his chest leaving him gasping for air.  The second one connects with the side of his head, and after that the blows are indistinguishable from one another in the wave of pain that floods his senses, drowning out everything else.  He can just make out disjointed voices, harsh whispers in the night, but they are a world away.

When he comes to it is morning, the dull grey blanket of smog more smothering than usual as he struggles to lift himself off of the cold, damp tarmac.  He raises a hand to his head and it comes away sticky with blood, matting his hair.  His entire body aches and he can hardly bear to move, but he forces himself to sit up, collapsing against the wall opposite the vine.  The effort takes his breath away, and each sharp inhale is agony as it rattles about his bruised and beaten chest.  He takes a moment to recover, eyes still closed, fearing what he will see when he opens them.  But eventually he does, and the sight takes his breath away all over again.

The vine is gone.  All that remains is its charred skeleton, still smoking in some places and falling to the ground in others.  The wall is black with soot from the fire, the ground beneath covered in a thick layer of ash.  Shem stares in disbelief for what feels like an eternity, and then he begins to cry.  The tears trickle down his coarse, grizzled face, and he cries for hours.  He cries for the vine and everything it represented, for a childhood that ended too soon and a bedroom that would haunt him for the rest of his life.  He cries for the day he missed his father’s funeral, too drunk to attend, and he cries for the things he’s done and the things he should have done.  He cries for the day his wife kicked him out of their home, and for the first time he tasted that bittersweet chemical, and for the last time he saw his daughter.  He cries so many tears that it is some time before he recognizes the raindrops, and for a moment they are one and the same, and he is one with the universe and the universe is one with him and together they weep.  The water pours down, washing his face of soot and dirt and cleaning the blood from his hair.  Then the first boom of thunder sounds, and the heavens open up and the clouds burst, pouring torrents of water upon the earth below.

҉҉

Hannah is inside when it happens, and she watches from her window as the water floods the streets, sending people running for cover beneath newspapers and briefcases.  The sheer volume of water is so impressive that for a moment she does not even recognize the most important part, but when it comes to her she gasps, dropping her mug onto the ground and sending pieces of ceramic flying across the tiles.

The rain is not acid rain.

It is clear and clean, showing no trace whatsoever of the yellowish-brown tinge the citizens had grown so accustomed to over the years.  She steps outside, timid at first and then laughing as the warm, pleasant downpour drenches her to the bone, her bare feet splashing in the puddles forming on the street.  She dances in the rain as others run indoors, dodging bits of litter and garbage being washed away in the torrent.  At one point her client comes to the door, stopping before the threshold lest he get wet.  He calls out to her, asking if she has lost her mind, but she is a world away.  Eventually he goes back inside, closing the door behind him, and still she does not notice.  The rainfall washes over her, and it is as if she can feel it cleaning her very soul, washing away her mistakes and her flaws, drowning out all her darkest memories and heaviest secrets.  They are swept away in the torrents, lost among the rest of the trash and filth as it is carried far away, down the street and out of sight.

҉

The date is August 19th, and the rain has yet to stop.  It runs down the sides of buildings, washing away the soot and exposing surfaces which haven’t seen the light of day in years.  The garbage that once lined every street corner and back alley is swept away, and no one is sure of where it all ends up.  The result is one of awe-inspiring serenity, and the citizens wake up to an entirely new world outside their doors.  The effect is in fact so profound that many of the citizens no longer recognize their surroundings, and there are countless cases of individuals getting lost on their way to work, the store, and even on their way back home again.

Some of the citizens are still unwilling to go outside at all, distrusting the excessive duration (not to mention “unnatural” coloration) of the rainfall, but most shrug their shoulders and decide life goes on, dashing to and from their cars beneath heavy umbrellas as they go about their everyday business as best they can.

Theo is part of this majority, and it is on his way home from work, four days since the rain began, that he decides he can wait no longer and tells the cab driver who’d been taking him home to pull over.  Handing him the cash owed plus compensation for the change in plans, Theo unfolds his umbrella and steps out into the downpour.  At first he is not sure where he is, disoriented by the dramatic change in scenery and blinding rain, but he makes his way over to a nearby street sign and is able to reorient himself.

By the time he finds his way to the alley his shoes are soaked through, but in his excitement he hardly notices the cold discomfort.  Since that fateful day he’s been unable to stop thinking about the vine, or its strange gardener.  The former would fill his mind every time he closed his eyes, eclipsing his dreams at night and spreading through his thoughts during the day.  There’d been days when he’d been tempted to skip work entirely just to help care for the vine, just to be in its presence, but rational thought had stopped him.  He’d been hired by some very high-up people to get one of their men off of a murder charge, and knew for a fact that they were keeping tabs on him.  To give the impression that he wasn’t fully invested in the case would be suicide.  He worked with people like them all the time, and knew his way around the track.

And yet something had changed that day.  Something inside him had stirred, looking at that vine.  Something that had been dormant for a long time.  Suddenly the thought of meeting with those men again made him sick.  The idea that he was going to help a guilty man cheat justice was physically nauseating, and no amount of staring at the paycheck they’d given him, or rationalizing that he’d done it dozens of times before, made a difference.  He needed to see the vine again.  He needed to feel what he’d felt, to be sure of his path.

At first the rainfall had deterred him from visiting, but four days in with no sign of it relenting had convinced him that he could wait no longer.

As he turns the corner the smile on his face falters, and then disappears completely.  For a moment he simply stands in place, the grey backdrop of flickering precipitation like pixels on a television channel that has lost its signal, the raindrops pattering against his umbrella like static.  Like the television Theo is unable to process what scattered and fragmentary information he does receive, and the result is a standstill.

At first he tries to reason that he must have come down the wrong alley, and for a moment this makes sense.  He even goes as far as to retrace his steps, telling himself that between the rain and the drastically different setting somewhere along the way he got lost.  But after ending up in the same alley again, Theo is forced to acknowledge the fact that he is in the right place.

He shakes his head, and suddenly the weight of everything comes bearing down on him all at once.  His grip on the umbrella loosens and then fails entirely, the veil between his body and the downpour falling aside.  Within seconds his entire upper body is soaked, the water running down his collar and over his chest, his thousand dollars suit collapsing against his skin.  He falls to his knees like Atlas himself as the sky presses him into the earth.  The water rushes over him and through him, and all the anxieties, fears and insecurities he’d long since buried beneath mounds of ego and power come rushing up as well.  He kneels before the wall that once held a miracle, and atones.

҉҉

On the morning of August 21st in New York City millions of flowers appear, seemingly overnight, sprouting from cracks in the sidewalk all across the city.  People emerge from their homes in a stupor, blinking in the bright -but not altogether unpleasant- sunlight, and staring up at the sky in awe.  The rain is gone, along with the smog clouds that once hung over their city like an omnipresent grey blanket, smothering and suffocating.  The trash is gone from the streets and the soot is gone from the buildings; in their respective places grass has sprung up on every street corner and vines wrap themselves around every structure.  All that remains of the biblical deluge are puddles, scattered here and there in potholes and indents in the ground.

Citizens turn to one another in wonder, and find themselves grinning and even laughing in an almost inexplicable feeling of bliss.  Neighbors that hadn’t spoken to one another in years find themselves hugging, tears rushing down their faces and staining each other’s shoulders.  Complete strangers take to the streets in waves, dancing and laughing ecstatically.

In all this euphoric and boisterous commotion, not a single person overlooks the flowers.