Fiction, special to the Clarion Content every other Monday.
From Kate Van Dis, read more at The Palmetto Blog here.
by: Kate Van Dis
Someone up and stole my barbecue grill. I come home from work, and it’s gone. It’s just a little charcoal thing, but it cost me two full days of slinging pizza to buy it, and I cook my dinner on it every night because its too damn hot to cook inside a 200 square foot box with no A/C.
I’m hungry as I always am after work, but I go inside to put the meat in the refrigerator and then I come back outside to sit in my chair beside where my barbecue grill used to be, and I think about who might’ve took it, and why.
I watch the cars go past, like I always do, and the occasional passer-by on foot, but today I’m watching their faces, suspicious like. And here comes a girl and what looks like her boyfriend, all young and healthy with good teeth the way people with money usually have. And she’s laughing about something, and she waves, and I wave back with the grilling tongs I’m holding even though my grill is gone, and then I hear her tell her boyfriend as they’re walking away how cute a place this is, my house at the end of this row of sorry little apartments.
That stops me right in my tracks. Not that I’m walking. I’m sitting, like I said, holding my grilling tongs, but even if I’d been in the middle of flipping my chicken legs and potatoes, I’d have stopped dead in my tracks and turned to look at my house. Which I do now, swiveling around in my chair, wondering will I see something I haven’t before. But all I see is the gummed up green paint they slapped on the old wood siding last year to hide the boreholes where the termites ate through. And even the red shutters, which they replaced, look as far from cute as I think a thing can get, especially acting as a frame for my bent-up blinds on the inside. These places are hot. And bug-ridden. And smaller than coffins. Still, some people live in ‘em four or six at a pop. And there’s kids now, where they didn’t used to be. A Mexican lady and her baby hang their laundry in the yard now. The baby just sits in its little cloth stroller watching the damp diapers dry in the wind like tiny flags. The mama sings to her, but the baby doesn’t sing back, or say much of anything at all. For a place without much repute, it stays pretty quiet around here.
There’s noise when the train passes, of course, two times a day. You’d think I’d get used to the sound the tracks make, ‘specially since I grew up just on the other side of ‘em. But even as a boy, the train on those tracks just sounded like something coming apart, something going all to pieces. Even when it could drown out the sound of my own pops hollering at my mom or me, I still didn’t like it. It’s a sad song the train sings.
And then there’s noise around here in the latest parts of summer and on in to Indian summer. When the temperatures spike – and they always do – it’s too hot to sleep. People give it their best shot, but they’re out again before midnight, and you can see ‘em wandering out to their stoops in the moonlight, the men in their boxers, the women in their nightgowns, like tired ghosts who died before they figured out where they were going. The younger ones, teenagers and school kids, will lie out in piles under the locust trees and drink cold sodas and there will be laughter and the smell of tobacco and that teenage smell that is part smoke and part something you can’t name. And the babies and children, if they wake too, sit next to their parents on the stoop, because it’s too hot for lap sitting, and they watch the moon or listen to the whisper of their parents’ voices. And people play music from their car stereos, even sometimes turning the car on and taking turns sitting in front the A/C vent running the batteries down and wasting the gas because a person has to stay cool somehow in the Piedmont in the middle of August, don’t they?
It’s just June now and there’s still a breeze. You can still be outdoors in the shade in the hottest part of the day without losing your mind from the shock of it, and so here I am, thinking all these thoughts about this place I’ve lived pretty much my whole grown up life and thinking, well yeah, maybe it isn’t such a bad place, even if I wouldn’t ever use the word cute, about this place or any other place for that matter. And I’ve almost forgotten about my barbecue grill and how I may end up eating pizza from the pizza place for the next two weeks ‘till I can save up enough money for a new one when up comes Carla, my neighbor with the laundry line, and wouldn’t you know, she’s wheeling my barbecue grill in front of her, moon eyed baby in tow. And she gestures to the top of the grill, which she’s shined as clean as a new car and says in her broken English, “It had bird poop, big mess.” I run my hand over the smooth shiny top of the grill. “I clean for you,” she says, and shrugs, and then she’s walking back to her own stoop before I can even say thank you.