One Grain At A Time This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

October 11, 2009
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The boy sits up in agony. He doesn’t know what woke him, just that he almost rolled over in dirt. The morning air is angry with blistering gusts of hot garbage and sewage just released in the river. He can see the current of the river, brown and flowing from last nights storm, peeling out in waves from tree branches and old logs, rippling to stir up the shores sand. He thinks its sand, but it’s really only waste, broken down from rock and stirred up and back down and then up to the shore again, and again. One grain at a time. Spread over the earth. The shore nothing but a variety that has been chosen at that moment in time to be beaten and abandoned in that specific place. Eroded. It’s really only broken waste. Up. Down. Beaten. Clumped. Dissolved. Cycled. Eternal.

If lives were the same way the boy wondered.

His plateau of flattened cardboard boxes and old beer bottles--some newly emptied--and cans of all sizes swallow him hole. His sleeping ground overlooks the river by thirty feet. Shrubberies and small trees staggered down the hill-a mixture of grass here and there, but mostly weeds make up the rest. A garbage bag stuck on a branch sways in the wind until the plastic gives way, sends it drifting down the riverside, a city tumbleweed. Sun glistens off the water in white flashes that cover the bank. That smell of old wood burning. Cool wind, fast wind. No wind. A barge chugs under the bridge and on past, waves breaking in a V behind it.

Names. Brands. Cobra. Milwaukee’s Best. Red Dog. Zima. Traffic in a constant hum over his head. Metal connectors signal the end of the bridge. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

He can’t take off his shoes to inspect the damage of last night, so he leaves them on and decides that standing up will force out the cold. His feet are swollen. There’s moisture he can feel locally, but not coming from any specific site. The boy wiggles his toes. He has to clench his teeth not to scream. And he limps. Up the mud path, saturated with water so that every step is a second guess along with a third try. The mud lies to his feet, sucking and grabbing and slipping through the illusory. This next step is safe. Yea the boy says, sure. Still, he has to take the step.

He hears a few car doors slam and voices of people coming to stay at the newly remodeled Inn pour onto the parking lot. He kneels down behind the guardrail and listens for the voices to disappear through the automatic double doors of the five story stucco building.

One leg at a time over the guardrail, trying not to worsen the spikes of pain barreling through his legs, on to his spine. The pain he imagines can be more than that; that it can be a smell in the very back of his nasal cavity like when you get hit real hard on the head and you sense in that split second a smell that you can’t quite put your finger on but know you smelled. When sounds become colors and you realize your mind play jokes on you. To test your livable sense, perhaps. A persons taste buds change over time the boy remembers hearing somewhere on television. Is pain the same way? And love?

The boy makes his way through the row of new paint and metal and clicking engines to find the side of the highway is not busy with honking horns anymore. But the streetlights keep their intervals. But there is not a sound as the last car passes to pull his hair over to tickle his lashes. The last gust of wind also remains frozen. Even the sun as it comes up, is not coming up anymore and he combs his hair over his ears to listen. Silence can even become noise if given long enough. He looks to the oncoming lane and over the median, the same. Nothing. His eyebrows come together without warning and he turns to see an empty parking lot and the Inn isn’t the same as it was. The walls gone and a steel frame stands still, erasing a strong shade that used to be. That should be.

He cups his ears when a voices calls him. It’s loud, screechy and too far to know from where it’s sounding, but somehow it’s all around him. Covers him. Nothing in particular. No proven words, just sounds from a mouth, a mouth from a direction. Directions from everywhere. Why in dreams are there no colors? Is this a dream he asks. Impossible. People don’t dream this. Too constructed for the dream state, too in order. Complex. But it’s not. Confusion mounts and the voice slows to a chant. He’s no longer standing and he takes his hands from his ears. A small shift in his weight and he’s flying over the land. Over the Inn and the parking lot, empty but still echoing with morning voices and the highway moves deeper into the trees and the river turns grey and eventually he is too high up to see anything but white puffs, pulled by invisible forces. Up so high the air is too tight to breath. Not air really anymore, just a continuous solid and the river, too far to see, gone. The world, a blue marble and soon black consumes everything. Black everywhere and he laughs. He’s alone. He knows this trick and he laughs. This is where they say, aren’t you sorry? He laughs. Aren’t you sorry life is gone. Aren’t you sorry life never gave you a chance? It left you.

You never lived it.

He likes it up here.

He stops flying. He thinks so. Weightlessness in the dark isn’t a feeling but a faith. He laughs again, remembers, no he relives his life. You’re going to miss me when I’m gone life says at the end when the credits roll. He says maybe, but who really knows that?

He doesn’t have a soundtrack in the credits.

Maybe time knows. No he says, but frozen, time knows everything. Open up the freezer and what do you see? A split second knows everything. The boy doesn’t miss life, time says. The boy chuckles. He looks down and up and right and left. No sound. Not even the ringing absence of sound can break silence here. No stars like he imagined. It’s not outer space. Not space period. He laughs again and looks down.

He knows this trick. The boy is everyone, at the same time, the boy is nothing. His feet don’t hurt anymore. No blood in his veins. The black swallows his sight but he knows. He knows. The boy may be gone, but the sand is still there he knows. The waste. Nothing stops that. It’s still there. The current, sucking and pulling. Up. Down.

One grain at a time…

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