The Outsider

The bird swooped down and landed at Laura’s feet.

She watched it, as it cautiously hopped toward the seeds that laid scattered about. Pecking furiously, the bird worked quickly to open the sunflower seeds, and greedily ate the contents inside.

Laura laughed to herself as she watched. Sometimes she wondered what it was like to be a bird. It seemed that they always managed to find their way, no matter what. Perhaps there were always people like herself, who would make it a point to occassionally feed them.

Life hadn’t been the kindest. Laura beared the scars to prove it. Her jeans, ripped at the knees, where peppered in paint, sewn-on patches, and an oddly placed zipper. Each embellishment was a memory and a testament to her life.

Laura had lived off the kindness of strangers for many a year. The day she sprang from her abusive alcoholic father’s house, the open road was her home from then on. It had been two years since her dog London had passed, and she had yet to pick up another travel companion.

She kept his collar around one of the straps of her backpack, worn from hopping trains, and hitchiking on highways. Occasionally she would find herself lovingly stroking London’s collar, when she found herself missing him.

Laura remembered one night sleeping huddled under a bridge. Luckily, London was by her side, and barked when some creep tried to steal her shoes in the night. She never slept well. Vigilance was her only security, in a merciless world hellbent on catching her in a careless moment.

Eventually, a few other birds gathered around, to enjoy the little feast that Laura had provided. Scrounging around her bag, she pulled out a soda that she lifted from a nearby drugstore. Popping off the cap with her lighter, she let the cap hit the ground unceremoniously. She tilted her head back, as the cool drink hit the back of her throat.

She let out a loud belch, followed with a laugh, and stretched out her arms. Life was hard, but she was free. The birds were almost done eating their meal, as Laura gathered her things. She was headed to see the river, one last time before she had to catch a train. The road was calling again.

 

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The Lake

Terri looked out on to the wide expanse of bright blue water.

She was shocked that this was only one of the Great Lakes. It had to be an ocean, but in the back of her mind, reality set in that she was land-locked.

She made her way down the path, so she get closer to the craggy rocks that cradled the water at its edge. The waves ebbed and flowed, while occasionally jumping up to lick at the rocks. A splash of water would leave behind droplets and small pools of water, which would eventually make their return to their source.

The air reeked of dead fish, but there was no salt to it. This was indeed a lake, despite its immense size. Terri carefully ambled over the rocks, as she didn’t want to slip out of her shoes. She chided herself silently for not wearing boots.

Terri looked around the rocks, to see if she could find anything of interest. Glass bottles poked their necks out between cracks, amid used condoms and torn wrappers, broken doll arms, and the occasional muddied newspaper. A rat scampered quickly past, in an effort not to be seen or caught.

Eventually, Terri spied the perfect rock for her to take a seat. The top surface was flat enough, with only a slight dip on one side. She took her place atop the rock, crossed her legs, and began to stare more deeply at the water.

Occasionally a sailboat or two would make an appearance, where it seemed the edges of the water were touching the sky. A lighthouse way off to the distance began to emerge. The sounds of passing traffic veering down the nearby highway faded off into the distance. Terri closed her eyes, absorbing all that was around her.

Passing gulls swooped in and out, while calling out to each other. The sound of the waves gently crashing into each other, or pounding against the rocks made a soothing rhythm. The chatter of occasional passerby was hushed to a whisper. It was just Terri and the lake. A moment of rare serenity was gleaned.

 

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Swingset Chain

Ellie walked through the playground.

It had been years since she had left her old neighborhood. A lot had changed. The tire swing was no longer hanging around. It had been transformed into a planter, near the entrance of the park. The normal swings were still around, but the cement which was underneath, was now covered in wood chips.

She chose to sit at the bench under the big maple tree. Someone had hidden a makeshift bird feeder in its branches. The air was cool, but not bitter. A gentle breeze passed through the leaves of the trees, making them shift and turn in the wind, as if dancing. She was alone.

Something about visiting this old park, stirred up emotions over life and growing older. Ellie thought about the time she fell of the slide. She managed to chip her tooth. It was the second one, to the left of the center front teeth. She would still emit a slight whistle when she spoke certain words.

Ellie touched her cheek, thinking about the first time she got a kiss from her crush. There was only a few weeks left of school when it happened. The kids that noticed broke out into songs. They loudly teased her with pointed fingers and disgusted groans.

She pulled out her notebook, and began to jot down the memories that began flooding back. So much time had passed, and remembering her childhood had been so distant. Life had been filled with work, dating, traveling, and barely sleeping. It was nice to finally have a moment to rest.

When she finally felt it was time to go, Ellie paused. She gave the playground one last look over, before slinging her bag over her shoulder. She left a tiny paper crane on the bench. It was a memento for her time at the park, a place she thought she had left behind. The years had touched her. The gray hairs, like the old maple trees, were her only witnesses.

 

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Marta

Marta woke up to the sound of birds chirping outside her windows. Her view was obstructed by the clippings of newspapers that covered half the window, and a security gate to keep out unwanted intruders. She never had any visitors. Sometimes she thought to do away with the gate, but living in a city, reminded her that was a foolish thought.

Sometimes she would wonder the streets, until she would find refuge at a park bench. She would pull out some bread that she picked up at the local baker. Often, she would set aside just one sweet bread. It was a tribute for the little birds that would be her only company, surrounding her feet. It was a nice diversion, to quiet the deafening loneliness that never paid rent to live with her.

She would forget about how she came into that ramshackle apartment twenty years ago. She didn’t think about the persistent leaky sink, that was a longstanding amenity to the neighboring rats and roaches. All that mattered was those few moments of peace, which she found at the park. Slowly, Marta would dip her hand into a paper sack, pinch off a piece of bread, and throw it to the ground.

The birds would swoop down and land in front of the bench. Sometimes one would be brave enough to land on her shoulder, or eat directly from her hand. Marta liked to think of the birds as little saints, who would fly to heaven, and whisper her prayers to God. She greatly enjoyed the comfort from their songs, their kindness, and how they looked past her shortcomings.

Perhaps, if there was such a thing as reincarnation, she could be reborn as a bird and return the favor. Sometimes, a dark thought came to her, that the birds were simply taking advantage of her having food. Then again, life was about give and take. What was the loss, to simply share a crust of bread with another living soul?

The Laundromat

Vivian watched the swirling gray water slosh around the laundry machine. As the socks, shirts, and slacks slipped and slid over one another, bubbling suds began to cover the clothes from clear view. The laundromat was always a good place to get away from the apartment, depending what time she came. Sometimes, she imagined herself a sociologist or anthropologist deep undercover. She would mentally record the comings and goings of the local patrons, seeking to clean their dirty laundry while listening out for whatever gossip they could monger up.

She’d laugh to herself, as she watched women with pendulous bodies, overburdened with years of childbearing, heavy loads of dirty clothes in tow, waddle in like they were royalty. They only seemed to take notice of the other ladies, who bared similar appearance. Occasionally, Vivian would catch them huddled together on the block, smoking cigarettes, and making disapproving comments at passerby. They were the old hens of the roost and consequentially the unofficial neighborhood watch. They definitely let everyone know, who ruled the pecking order of the neighborhood, and that you were on notice.

There would be single men, either the college-age yuppie wannabe types, or SRO regulars. Both were often looking to score a number. Sometimes the single men were older, perhaps widowers, or had always been a bachelor. They didn’t seem to mind not separating the light and dark clothing, or tossing detergent, softener, and everything but the kitchen sink into the smallest washers available. This would happen often, if the attendant wasn’t looking.

The attendant on staff would grumble under their breath, mumbling curses as they hurriedly rushed to grab a mop. The need to clean up overburdened washer machines, spewing out soap suds everywhere, occurred a little too often. Kids would take the opportunity, to run and attempt to slip and slide in the wet soapy mess. Otherwise, they would be too busy whamming the buttons of arcade machines, that they never had enough quarters to play. Occasionally, candy and sticker machines would get stuck. This tragedy would create a sobbing child, who would be dragged away, with promises of a beating, or a treat to make up for the loss.

The laundromat was always a curious place. Brimming with life, the denizens of the block would shed their need to always out-do and out-polish one another in appearance. Of course, there would be those few exceptions, but they were often on the prowl for a new date, or side-piece. Vivian enjoyed the smells of the laundry softeners mixing together. The hum of swirling washers and dryers, made a unique rhythm, which complemented the flow of customers coming in and out of the laundromat.

At last, her laundry was done. She stopped peering her eyes over her glasses, keeping score of how many people dropped their soap powder, or how many times a quarter got stuck in a machine. She went to her dryer, and quickly pulled out the still burning hot clothes. They landed cleanly into the laundry basket, except for a few socks that got loose. Vivian focused on folding her clothes, making sure to tuck in the corners of sheets, and turn any shirts or pants outside-in.

After the last item was neatly stowed away, Vivian slung her laundry bag over her back and made her way out into the street.

Candy Hunt

Janice quietly slipped out of bed. She crept past her parent’s bedroom, and slowly, stealthily made her way down the stairs. She was on a mission for a late night snack.

She pulled out the step-stool from out of the closet. Carefully she unfolded it, and placed it in front of the cabinets. The best treats were hidden on the very hard-to-reach, out-of-the-way, topmost shelf. With the aid of the step-stool, Janice reached the sugary contraband with ease.

She grabbed marshmallows, chocolate bars, jelly beans, and caramels. She was proud that she was able to do this so well, and so quietly. That’s when Janice let her early success get the best of her. There was a jar of lemon candies, sitting in a fancy etched glass jar. She just had to have some.

Janice thought she had a good grip on the jar, but it managed to slip out of her fingers. She watched mouth agape, as it splintered into pieces after a resounding crash. That is when the hallway light flicked on, putting a spotlight on the stairs. A door opened and closed, and the sound of heavy rushed footsteps hurriedly made their way down the steps.

She was caught. Janice quickly tried to get the broom to hide the mess, but there was no time. She crawled into the cabinet space under the sink, and waited.

“Is it a ghost or burglar Harry?” a woman’s voice asked.

“Well Nancy, I don’t see any signs of a break-in. So, I suspect it’s just a ghost.” Harry answered, while looking around. He swore that the cabinet space under the sink was slightly ajar, if just for a split second. Harry paused to see if anyone or anything would make a sound, and quickly give itself away.

After a few moments of silence, Harry swept up the mess of glass, and put away the other items. He rummaged in the refrigerator to get himself a glass of juice. Harry was thirsty after engaging a moment of heightened adrenaline.

Janice breathed a sigh of relief, as she heard the light switch click off, and footsteps trudging back up the stairs. She wondered who Harry and this woman were. Did her parent’s know that someone had moved into their house? Maybe she should call someone? But who?

Janice made her way into the living room and plunked down onto the sofa. She quietly mulled over what just happened. Digging into her pockets, she began popping some marshmallows into her mouth, which she had managed to hide away.

Eventually, Janice fell asleep on the couch. She kept thinking how strange it was, that some stranger, and not her parents, had come down stairs to investigate. Suddenly, she found herself remembering the accident at the pool, and the flashing lights and siren.

She was the ghost.

 

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A Dream for Autumn

Vera carried the umber watering can over to the faucet. Reaching out to turn on the tap, she paused to look out the window. There were only a few clouds in the western sky, and a flock of geese was flying past. Migration season was coming.

Fall was Vera’s favorite season, perhaps ever since a little kid. The best parts were the changing colors of the leaves, crunching, and jumping in piles of leaves with a laugh. She looked forward to mugs of hot apple cider, hot cocoa with whipped cream, and spiced pumpkin pies. Fall’s arrival would be heralded at the local doughnut shop, with pumpkin and apple cinnamon crumb doughnuts.

Vera was lost and thought, and realized that the watering can was overflowing, as she forgot to turn of the tap. She shook off her daydream, and poured off the excess water. Making her way over to the house plants along the windowsills, she each gave them their portion.

There was an ivy with cascading leaves, a small rubber tree plant, and some delicate African violets. The aloe vera plant was doing quite well, and thankfully she did not have to use any for recent burns in the kitchen. Three stubby cacti sat in a row, soaking up the southern sun. She didn’t water those today.

Soon, it would be time for coffee and reading the morning paper. It was a little after 7 am and the day had just begun. Vera walked over to open the front door, and deeply inhaled the cool morning air. She smiled, as she could feel it in her bones, the changing of the seasons. The arrival of Fall, was definitely a very welcome thing.