by Jesse Cramer
Saturdays require strength. Lenny wakes with the sun, just as it creeps over the hay line and heats his slacks. He brushes off soot and dew and smashes a thin, expansive spider. Sprawl has crept into Blairstown in recent years, now that the pipeline is down and folks in the periphery know what a little gem the town is. The urbanites arrive just after dawn, once the farmers set out their crops for market. Lenny intends to put up a fight.
He walks from the awning outside the barn and tips his hat to the confused farmer.
He says, I am no bum.
Lenny pinches an ear of corn from the edge of the field and tosses it in the gutter.
The crowd’s shape changes in each moment. Its volume remains constant, but the pitch bulges. Each person holds a credit card and believes in its value. Lenny stands at the entrance of the market and lets every sleeve graze his face. He allows his instinct to dictate.
He enters the crowd and touches the covered heads of toddlers. His oil stains their caps.
Lenny overhears a lady utter the name Christopher at the end of a laugh. The two stand together adoring a bunch of green grapes scattered in a barrel without their stems. Christopher lights two cigarettes and hands one to his lady. No smoke penetrates their lungs. He smiles at a joke without parting his lips. She tosses her wrist around his forearm, and he accepts it without affection.
Lenny plans to take Christopher’s wallet and burn it.
The crowd helps the cause by remaining thick and settled. No one senses danger. Heads dart around with stochastic delight, yet no one sees. Lenny easily ducks between bodies and avoids elbows. Christopher stands before a farmer carrying two bushels of apples. The farmer sets them on a table and speaks with his hands. His hands say succulent. Christopher nods and places a bruised McIntosh in the pocket of his tweed jacket. He clutches his wallet with a feral grip.
Lenny sinks his teeth into Christopher’s thigh.
Christopher drops his wallet, which tumbles into a muddy footprint, and howls with ferocity. He tosses off the arm of his lady and catches Lenny by the knots of his hair. His knee thrusts into the sternum of the boy.
Christopher grips the sleeves of Lenny’s jacket, carries him from the market, and tosses him into a bush with thorns.
Lenny says, Attacking a boy is the act of a coward.
‘A boy becomes a man once he preys on the innocent.’
A boy becomes a man through no fault of his own.
‘You have girth but no strength.’
I have guts.
‘You have guts. But no stomach.’
A wild cat yawns and cuts between them. It takes in a breath and shows its hollow, hollow ribs.
‘Beg,’ Christopher says to his boy.
I am no bum.
‘Beg,’ he says to the cat.
The cat arches its back and turns. Christopher produces the McIntosh from his jacket pocket. He rips it in two in one motion – without grimace – and holds out half with an outstretched arm. The cat chews and mutters to himself with chirps and growls.
‘Beg for money next time. Or make your own.’
I am no bum.
‘You are alone.’
Christopher walks away and his lady walks with him.
The cat prances on cocky male legs down Juniper street, towards a road full of curbside garbage cans, and Lenny wants it dead. He wants to press his boot on its guts until it bloats and perishes. Blairstown stretches its limbs outward and milks the sun of its strength. Suckling branches grow millimeters. Lenny crouches and skulks with sideways steps towards the cat. He fills his nostrils with air, but the air never reaches his lungs. Lenny and the cat move at the same pace; neither is willing to confront or flee entirely. The cat stops on the cross of an intersection and faces him. Lenny is a living example of evolution, but he does not understand or believe it. The cat rests on a crack in the macadam and curls its tail over its eyes. Oaks lining the street wink from the wind. Lenny’s boots create thunder as he stalks. The cat keeps its eyes hidden. Then, the cat bolts towards an oak tree as a Ford Truck races into the intersection. It slams Lenny across the gut. The top point of the Ford’s grill grabs the flesh between his ribs and tears. He spins and lands teeth first onto the double yellow lines. There is no defeat without competition. The Ford continues without stopping. There is no strength in defeat. The cat escapes and lives.
The night sky has lost its pitch of years ago. Each passing headlight breaks off a piece of the darkness and carries it away. Now, the Blairstown night settles for a very deep blue.
Lenny begins to walk under that night sky, but his walk quickly becomes stilted. Despair forms at the corner of his eyes and falls downward. His arms tremble under the weight of adolescence. Blood does not leak from his insides but, rather, is drawn out. A trail of blood one centimeter thick lays uninterrupted for blocks and blocks.
Then, a woman, a leftover. Her hair – flaxen. Her face – hidden, unknown. Skin – taut and round. Knee high hosiery – torn. Her fingers move as one, as if connected by string. She rests her veggies on the trunk of her wooden flanked station wagon. She says, ‘oh no no.’ Her whimsy – suspended. His grief – suspected. She grips the collar of Lenny’s shirt with both hands. She attaches herself to him. They crumble. She cradles him. He cannot face any direction besides down.
Blocks and blocks away. A boy with narrow glasses mistakes a bloodied tooth on the road for a smooth white arrowhead. He keeps it as a memento and pedals away. Dried blood is as good as dirt.
– Jesse Cramer is a play, screen, and fiction writer based in Los Angeles. His most recent full-length play The Strange Attractor received its world premiere in ay 2013 and was nominated for a Suzi Bass Award for Play Writing. You can read his most recent short story “Permanence” at http://www.wordriot.org/archives/6130. Reach him by e-mail for comments or inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.