Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from our favorite emerging writers
Allison Krupp is a Berlin-based American writer. She works frequently as a fiction ghostwriter. Contact: email@example.com.
Patchwork faces marched down College Ave. Everybody was visibly dying. Their scrunched cigarette soldiers, post-duty, nuzzled close together by No Parking posts. This was my flat tire on memory lane. Caught between 54th street and College Avenue, time was licking at my toes. Life versus death was never so stark than in Broad Ripple, Indianapolis.
I sat where it all happened, or once had happened. Hump-backed TJ sizzled burger patties. He rustled the paper plate of flipped fries, heading out to my outdoor table. No, it wasn’t sun-drenched; there was nothing romantic about this sun on my table, on my cheeks. Impenetrable, inescapable. You paused for too long between breaths.
TJ’s rugged reflection caught in the tall pint as he approached. We knew each other once: spoke sluggish, drunken words. Back then, we were better, we were best. Now, heroin made his eyes dripping pools, his fingers fidget.
“He’s been stealing bills from our purses,” Anna slurped to me, dashing a knife into that waxing nostalgia. She sat across from me, her baby perched on her bird-like legs. Bracelets of fat bubbled beneath the skin of his cock-eyed arms. After he dropped the fries, TJ scratched the hump, stomping back to the smokey kitchen. His ponytail dribbled grease to the floor.
“He’s stealing from you?” I whispered. I didn’t recognize my voice. It belonged to another year.
Anna’s baby dolphin-slapped his arms to the table—an exclamation mark—and Anna’s pint hiccupped to the floor. Ants in great congregation descended on the dark, growing stain. TJ would die within the year. I knew it then. I felt punched.
“Shit.” She thrust the baby toward me to scurry for paper towels. The beer cried down her arms and legs, as well. I wrapped blind arms around the baby. His naked legs, chunking from his diaper, had skin like what it felt like to fall asleep holding hands with the only person you’ll ever love or to have the summer’s ocean between your fingers. It was unquestioned purity.
With Anna gone, the city bus burst up to the curb. Exhaust flamed over the baby and me. The bus coughed out old man Gary, as it did every day at 3:15. His left toe skidded as he cantered toward the restaurant. “Pint of Old Style,” he grumbled. “Can’t do this humidity, Allison. That your kid?”
But he clunked into the restaurant before my answer. That I hadn’t seen him in three years. That I no longer slung his beers. Didn’t he know that? Didn’t he sense the passing time?
I crunched my knees down, my thighs fat muffins beneath me, and perched the baby on the chair. My rib cage was crunched down, compartmentalized and thinned out like a Midwestern camping chair or my grandmother’s card table. “You’re going to grow up here,” I whispered to Anna’s baby. “Don’t let it destroy you.” He buzzed his lips in response.
I was stretching my arms above my head when it happened. The baby whirled his whale-like body forward on the chair, arms lolling, and smashed his brand-new skull against the corner of the table. I dove for him two seconds too late. He screamed, his mouth a great, pink cavern. The wound looked like a bullet hole. Blood swam into his eyes like little rivers. Like so many of us, faced with pure devastation and a new sense of time, he didn’t have the inclination to cry. Not at first. My wail, guttural and animalistic, was enough for the both of us. Two humans dying in the 54th and College Avenue sun. All winter long, Indianapolis prayed for summer shine.
I smashed into the restaurant with the baby latched onto me. Anna’s hard, maternal eyes met mine for only an instant before she soldiered herself to her baby boy and ordered hump-backed TJ to call the doctor. He slapped a sad, plastic slice of cheese to melt on a burger before he dialed.'
The baby balked back and vomited ambergris across Anna’s breasts. Half-digested oyster crackers slid down her cleavage. She wouldn’t look at me, but he did. His eyes were wounded. He looked at me like his mother had four years before, when acid tabs had thrust us too far from shore. We’d clung to each other, thinking we held the weight of the future—that we could see it and smell it and shake it. But we had been wrong. The weight of the future was actually about 22 pounds plus nursing accessories. The weight of the future teethed on a Cubs hat and drooled on the logo. He didn’t care for poetry or how much a gram cost.
Old man Gary smacked his hand across his bear-soaked lips at the bar. “You gotta watch ‘em every second,” he said. “You have to, till they grow up. I haven’t seen my daughter in eight years.” On television, a Cubs player punched a power-bat across a laced ball. I tasted blood in my mouth.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. I placed a tender hand beneath his fine head. His hairs felt like individual dandelion flowers. “It all happened so fast.”
“It always does,” Anna told me. Her voice was sharp, seasoned. The baby’s forehead was pulsing blue. His eyebrows spoke of question marks. “Listen. I know we were going to hang out, but I really need to take him to the doctor. I am terrified.”
TJ rattled the facts to the doctor over the din of his kitchen. “He hit his head. He’s just a baby. A bit of blood, yeah. Are you getting this down?” His body was in constant fidget now. He needed a fix. Before I’d skipped town, he’d asked me between cigarette puffs and with tentative, soft words, if I might want to grab a drink with him sometime.
“I understand,” I told her. “Can I drive you?”
“No, no,” Anna said, pecking little kisses on her baby’s cheeks. TJ scrambled forward with a block of ice, wet through a paper towel. After mopping up a bit of the blood, she placed the ice lightly on his skull. “You can stay here. I’m sure he’ll be fine. I just want to make sure. I always want to make sure.”
Outside, another bus grumbled to a halt. More post-work soldiers with smoldering cigarettes trudged into the restaurant. I no longer saw my reflection in the chaos of 54th and College Avenue. I kissed Anna and the baby goodbye. My ribcage felt like a noodle strainer on my heart, squeezing it dry. The sun was giving me a sunburn—I felt like an alien on a different planet. I should have worn a space helmet. I had nowhere to go but everywhere else. But all I wanted was this home.