UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 05/2011
ROLLI

Tonight

        I thought, D., I mean I seriously thought this city would save my life. I don't know why.

I just - it seemed possible, then. Before, when I'd drive around the city, see people, young people, my age, just walking together, going in and out of apartments together, I felt ... like I was missing out, on something.

         It was a big change for me, a real change. Such a small place, barely a town. A village, probably. The big city.

         There's freedom, being alone, a new town. But it's not like you'd think.

         This is a lonely city.

         In my building, there's maybe ninety, a hundred people. Don't know one of 'em. See 'em on the stairs, sometimes - no elevator - and nod, maybe. They come home, close the door. It's what I do, too. Close the door, lock the door. I just wanna knock on a door, when I'm going by. Say hi or something. But it would be just ... too weird, you know?

         I've seen so much in this city, D. You wouldn't believe it.

         This man, he goes by my window, back and forth, every day. With a bunch of cans. Sells 'em, buys a drink, sells some more. If he can find 'em. If he can't, if his luck's bad, he doesn't go past so often; and when he does, he's like, shaking, seriously shaking, all over. Crying, sometimes, shouting, if he's bad. I think that's - they call it the DTs, right? You wanna empty your wallet into his hands. I've done it, a couple times; but you can't always.

         There's hundreds and hundreds of people like that out there, D. Hundreds and hundreds.

         Sometimes I just sit here all night.

         It's strange, things you'll notice. In the morning, there's more men around, always. Afternoon: women, older people. At night, till pretty late, sometimes, look, it's kids. Too young to be out themselves, this late, this neighborhood. But there they are. Sometimes there's someone ... down the street a bit, straggling; and maybe that's a mother, or father, they never seem to look back.

         Hansel and Gretel.

         People run out of options. They try everything and do everything they think'll make them happy, make things work out. But sometimes nothing does. For some people.

         Do you ever wonder, D., why life just doesn't work out for some people? I mean, a group of people, take, who grew up in the same place, ate the same food, school, great parents, all that. And some of 'em'll go on and have families, nice house, good jobs. But the rest.

         Like this kid from my class. Total ace. Like, a genius or something. Born for greatness. He was studying ... physics, I think, last I saw him. Then I hear, not long ago, he's over on the east side, sleeping in the park, getting high all day.

         How many guys out there have the same story?

         You can sit a marble on the floor and think you'll know which way it'll run. You'll be wrong, though, a dozen times over.

         So this guy shot himself through the neck last week, in my building. Police everywhere. Women screaming. When I was a kid, I used to wonder why people, how people could ever do things like that. Just couldn't understand it, when I'd hear about it, see things on TV. I've learned a lot, D., since I've been here. You learn things you always wondered about, and you learn things you hoped to god you'd never find out in your life.

         It's a rough city, a poor city. It's not all rough, no, not all poor. Not everywhere. But the only part I see, most people see. It's like ... does it matter you live in a mansion, if you never leave the porch? Or if you're just a servant or something, there, and nothing's yours?

         There's this peach, so ripe, just perfect; and you can't touch it. You can't touch it, cuz it's not for you. And you sit and watch somebody else come by, and pick it, right in front of you. Maybe somebody who didn't even want it that bad. They take a bite, let it fall. And you just sit there, feeling sick.

         What time is it?

         Night's always the same time, anyways. Doesn't matter if it's 8, or 10, or 4 in the morning. It's dark, and it's quiet.

         When the sun goes down, you start thinking. It's bright enough, and it's busy enough, before, it's just ... you move from distraction to distraction. Talking too much, doing too much. Sometimes, I just sit here, watching, thinking, all night. Not always good stuff, D. I guess it makes you gloomy. It makes me pretty gloomy, sometimes. Philosophers must've been ... unhappy people.

         I don't know if I get so sad from what I see around me - cuz it's a sad world, D., really - or if I'm just a sad guy. Maybe seeing the bad side of things.

         Everything could really be better than it seems.

         That kid over there, going up the steps. Does living in that kind of place get him down? Or does he think it's like - it's a pretty big old building. A castle, or something, maybe. You don't know what kids are thinking. A prince in his castle.

         I just - it gets hard to see the good in things, in people. It gets really tough, sometimes.

         Maybe there's something wrong with me, D. It could all be in my head. And maybe I'll wake up one morning, blue sky, and everything'll be just fine. Cuz it always was.

         I hope so, D.

*

        The sun's coming up.

Rolli writes Ė and draws a little Ė for adults (Rattle, Quarterly West, New York Tyrant) and children (Ladybug, Spider, Highlights). Heís the author/illustrator of the tasty poetry/art book Plum Stuff (Montreal: 8th House Publishing), and the forthcoming collections Godís Autobio (short stories), and Mavorís Bones (poems). Visit his blog (www.rolliwrites.wordpress.com), and follow his epic tweets @rolliwrites.







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