“Funny how a cluster of dust particles helps us to see the light.” And with that, Linus, a scrawny homeless man, steps from the curb in front of a car speeding down from Wallace Street.
My impulse is to lunge after him. Lucy holds me back. “He’s making a choice, Charlie.”
A squeal of brakes, a metal crunch, a spray of bloody windshield, and it’s over. Linus lies broken on the pavement, the car jacked up on the opposite curb. An aftertaste of burned rubber hangs in the air.
“Why didn’t you let me go?” I say. “I could have stopped him.”
Lucy says nothing. I observe her profile against the city skyline, the rounded nose and sloping forehead. She watches Linus with odd expectation, as if she thinks he might stand and take a bow.
I work my fingers into hers. “I shouldn’t have yelled. I’m sorry.”
“We were lovers,” Lucy says. Her eyes glisten. “He said he was born to play my brother. I couldn’t stay with him after that.”
“I… I’m sorry.” I’ve only known Linus as one of the homeless guys who lives down by the river during the summer and God knows where when it snows. I saw him at the Salvation Army once, picking through bins.
Lucy gestures, hand unfolding from her wrist like a flower. “All the world’s a stage. We are only real when someone is watching us, or reading us, or singing our songs.” She frowns. “You’re not happy in this life, none of us are.”
“Happiness is a state of—”
“Do you act?” Lucy says. “Can you remember your lines?”
“I was in a Thanksgiving play in middle school. Indian 2. I had one line.”
“Do you remember it?”
“I, well, I… yeah, I guess I do.” I clear my throat. “Come let us go into the forest. We will hunt turkey and quail.”
Lucy shakes her head. “That’s what Linus died for? He said you were the key, Charlie.”
“That’s not my name.”
“It was,” Lucy says. “You were the hero, I was the antagonist. Linus was your best friend.”
“I barely knew the man.” Still, I feel an uncomfortable déjà vu. Across the street, the driver leans against his car, cell phone pressed to one ear. Gray-bellied clouds drape the sky. In the distance, sirens.
“It’s causal,” Lucy says. “Everything that’s happened has led to this. He must have believed it would bring you to epiphany.”
“Crazy?” she says, as if tasting the word. “What is love without madness, or madness without love?” She pokes my chest. “You do love me, don’t you?”
“This is our second date. It’s the tragedy, right? You’re in shock. Here.” I try to help her sit on the curb. She breaks free, runs to Linus, flops down, pulls his head onto her lap, glares at me.
“At least he committed,” she says.
“You should be,” I mutter under my breath.
I leave her there but can’t help a glance back as I turn the corner onto Elm. She’s drawing figures on her face, the tip of her index finger bright with blood. A shudder shakes me. That’s the same finger that poked only inches from my heart. I feel the impact of it now, a clapper cracking through its bell. Another shiver. Clouds churn like amnesia, pattern without form.
“Come, let us go into the forest,” I say. “We will hunt turkey and quail.” I think of Linus sacrificed, Lucy mourning, my own part in it.
“Come,” I shout. “Let us go into the forest. We will hunt turkey and quail!” The day goes dark but for my presence, soundless but for my shuffling steps. A spotlight slants down, shot through with motes. I see Lucy, Linus with his blanket, a big-snouted beagle dancing like a man. The keening whine of sirens takes on rhythm, becomes music. I want to join them. I want to be free.
Lucy was right. I am not happy here.
Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania with his multi-talented wife and five rescue cats. His work has appeared in many venues and he has published two collections of flash fiction: Glass Animals (Pure Slush Press) and We Dissolve (Pokeberry Press).. By day he works as a Program Specialist at a regional social service agency where he supports the efforts of many fine people working to effectively end homelessness. It’s a humbling endeavor, especially in these darkening times.
–Art by Giuseppe Milo