While Returning Home

The full moon shifted the tint of the sidewalk despite the row of orange streetlights. The bus sighed, closed its door, and wheezed down the street. As it disappeared down the hill, the low buzz of a late night city settled around Kevin.

Four nights a week he worked the tables on the late shift, so four nights a week he walked this route back to his apartment. Down the main boulevard, up a couple side streets. He didn’t mind, though the phone calls of concern from his parents caused him to spend at least half a block every time thinking that someone would emerge from the darkness and shoot him in the head.

On the last boulevard block, the worn black Tercel was parked in its usual spot in front of the refurbished lofts. Flush against the curb, windows barely cracked, sun shades on all four sides of the interior. The wrinkled aluminum kind that made it look like a car for marathon-running clowns. Kevin braced himself for the barking. The dog couldn’t love living in the car, but had survived for at least eight months, and considered it his territory. His resonant woofing made sure to advertise that.

Shoving his hands in his jacket, he shut out the imagined declarations his mother might make. Filthy Mexicans, it would start off — or perhaps conclude. He had never told her or his dad about the car. They hated him living in the city enough. They didn’t need this ammo.

Approaching the back bumper, he heard a shifting, then the barking began. The brown dog (he didn’t know breeds, so he just had colors) scrambled over a shade and got his mouth up against the window crack. “Bark, bark! Get the fuck away from my shit!” Kevin was so primed for the jolting noise, he was past the front bumper before he noticed the woman sitting on it.

Hunched over a cheap hubcap, she poured out a small flow of water. With her haphazard ponytail and beat up clothes, she could have just as easily been from the cool arty side of town. But the way she snapped her head at Kevin when he stopped, her defensive lean, told him she stayed much closer.

“Hey,” she said, screwing the top back on the bottle of water. She looked toward him but not at him. Her face looked weathered but not old. A layer of grime covered her pale white skin. The dampness of her shirt hinted she had washed herself before he interrupted.

“Hey,” Kevin replied. The hum of the vents and lights around them held back silence.

Before the moment when he’d have to say something else, he turned and kept moving down the street. He heard the car door open and close, a few extra barks sneaking out. He didn’t look even when turning up the side street. Heading up the darkened street, he moved toward home, not looking up to see if the trees glowed blue.

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