by: p. botte
It started with gunshots. Here, there. Pops like fireworks without the red and green allium growing in the night. A homeless man was shambling down the street, but not fast enough… he would pause here and there to poke his head back around a garbage can, or a scraggly sumac that was half-dead in the no-man’s land between uncut front yards.
And the man folded to one side.
Got back up and hobbled along, further down the street.
Pop pop pop.
I see the man shooting: dark jeans, white sneakers, and bald as a baby, swinging the pistol wildly, hoping for luck or God to direct his slugs.
Tired of the chaos, a man steps out on his porch, seemingly annointed by that very same luck-or-God. He raises a homemade automatic weapon and sprays five or six rounds in the sky to get the first man’s attention. The first man – the bald one – turns. And when he does, five or six more rounds are sprayed directly into his gut. He folds, but then straightens. Ten more rounds in quick succession move into his gut. They move in like hungry parasites, needing flesh to slow their horrible speed, needing blood to cool their execrable heat. They move in and quickly chew the guts. The bald man spews blood out of his mouth now as if he were undergoing an exorcism.
Maybe this is an exorcism. A removal of all the evil of our world from the weakness of the flesh.
The homeless man stops again. He’s exhausted from running. Exhausted from not sleeping most nights. Exhausted by decades of summer heat and winter frost. He stands now in the street, looks back at the door that is silently closing and the now-empty porch that stands like a jutting jaw: dumb and blank. In front of the porch, there is only the weeds of the lawn and, amidst the weeds, there is the remains of the man who is bald as a baby and is now kneeling, on his way out of the world, and spraying blood from his mouth as if he were a sick child.
The homeless man kneels himself, mimics the throes of the man in the weedy lawn.
“I am with you,” the homeless man intones. “I am with you until the end of days.” He bows his head, feels the grit of the street under his own denimed knees. “I am–.” Why? The familiar voice asks. “Why not?” he answers. Why don’t you give up? The familiar voice taunts. A deep-bellied laugh and, “I already have. Years ago.” He can hear the moaning of the man in the weedy yard. He can hear moths plinking off of the streetlight above him. He can hear the buzz of the lightbulb itself. And he can hear his own breath – the first sound in the world as it wails forth from a youngster and the last sound in the world as it rattles out of death’s chest. “I am with you. I am with you. I am.” The moths plink off the streetlight. The electricity buzzes filthily beneath the clean black of night.