I can’t walk bare feet in the junkyard because all the metal will cut me and then I’ll have to worry about infections – it’s never the initial cause that kills you always the infection – at least from what my mom tells me, she’s a doctor. All I do in the junkyard is kick around so I definitely would get cut if I was bare foot. I stepped on glass once. Or it was my cousin who stepped on glass and I watched as she stood there with her heel lifted, her blood already pooling on the gravel. Stepping on different textures is supposed to stimulate your brain. There is this park with a special path made out of smooth stones just for stepping. I never finished the path because my feet always hurt after a few steps. My mom says my skin is still too soft. Freud says the skin is the bodily ego. They are both doctors. And I think that’s really funny the thing with doctors and skin because I’m in a hospital bed right now surrounded by doctors and none of them are telling me to put on my shoes and I’m beginning to wish they would because my feet are getting cold. My feet are getting so cold.
There is a woman in a red bathrobe crawling in the street. Cars slow down but no one gets out. We are mute and strange.
Her long hair clings to her back. A stray dog licks her face and rolls over. It does not move again. She takes off her robe and covers the dog.
She stands, naked.
We pay for our coffees and leave.
The love of your life has returned. There is a parrot on her shoulder.
She circles you twice. Her eyes are closed.
It seems futile to ask the parrot questions.
“That’s my scarf,” you tell your wife. “You’re my wife.”
The parrot sits on your wife’s face.
“Can I have my scarf back,” you say.
The woman looks at you now. There are bars in front of her face.
“That’s a fine parrot,” she says. “I’ll take him.”
Chris was the only one who brought something to share at the potluck. Caesar salad, enough to go ‘round twice. I looked to see how the others would react.
There was silence, then Katie laughed and walked to the sink, where she started washing a handful of berries. Lori smiled softly at Chris, but lowered her head and walked past him. She had an apple.
I was angry, but I didn’t want to be first—I liked Chris, but I had only been there a month.
Denise was the one who went in the end. She was manager after all. I wondered how many times this had happened before. Poor Chris—he must have thought it was a clever plan.
Denise tasted one leaf and said, “Quite fresh.”
Chris should have taken the compliment. He should have smiled. Instead he took his salad and left the room.
“He has no manners,” a woman who I recognized as a fourth-floorer said.
Katie looked at the woman, then at the bagel she held in her hands. The woman noticed Katie staring and two red blotches appeared on her cheeks.
“We had—I went to buy—but—”
“Here,” said Katie, offering the woman a single berry.
The woman froze, horrified. Katie pulled her hand back and popped the berry into her mouth.
“You couldn’t have thought I was serious.”
The woman laughed. It was a harsh sound, much too loud for the room.
“A bagel is still better than salad,” someone said—I did not see who.
“And it’s not like you brought it to share.”
Everyone laughed. I excused myself.
Lori stood in the hall. She smiled when she saw me.
“Banana. Good choice.”
“Only fruit I could afford.”
I liked Lori. I could be honest with her.
“If only Chris was as smart as you,” she said. “Quantity? I’m disappointed, really.”
“I’ve never heard of sharing at a potluck,” I added.
“Oh that’s more common than you’d think. They do it all the time on ground floors. That way they get to try a little bit of everything.”
“Bananas and berries. I’m scared to see what they’ve got on the tenth floor.”
We both smiled at that.
The door to the room opened, but we did not hear laughter. We did not hear conversation. There was only the faint sound of water, as each person washed their fruits, to be displayed and envied, then finally eaten, with great dread.
A seagull appeared in a field. Its head bobbed through the green as it walked. It stared for a moment at the people, then became uninterested.
When it finally flew it was majestic, wings sweeping the air in broad strokes.
The people smiled their radiant smiles. One man’s cheek was peeling. There were lumps on another’s neck. Something black rested on a woman’s unblinking eye.
They would continue to stare at the highway, which had long been overgrown by weeds.
The seagull would not return.
There were no cars in the parking lot.
A man stood in the bus shelter, out of the rain, which had begun to pour. He faced the highway with his phone in his hand. His hat was damp on his head.
Something landed on the back of a truck. The truck drove onward, indifferent to the added weight. The man watched the truck leave, but the creature was still there.
It was thin and black. A set of translucent wings folded against its back. The man blinked. The bug was on the glass.
It was hiding from the rain just as he was. The man smiled and reached for the bug with a finger. The bug climbed higher. It did not seem to be able to use its wings.
The man was not smiling now. He reached again and picked up the bug. He pinched its wings between his thumb and index finger, paused for a moment to watch its legs kick, then bent down to a puddle.
The tips of his fingers that had touched the water in the puddle were red and sore. The man took off his hat. He did not have any hair. There were red marks around his skull where the rim of his hat touched skin.
He stepped over the puddle and exited the shelter.
The rain had stopped.
The bird is back.
He watches from the fence as I approach the door. I slide it open.
This time he does not fly.
He looks at the shapes in my strange cave. It is a stale vision.
I open the light and he is gone— scared off by the impossible world, just on the other side.