Saturdays the punishing sun lashes the asphalt of our tormented neighborhood. The fresh tar simmers underfoot. We’ve come together where the sidewalks meet the street, each tethered to a different house by an orange extension cord. We give the appearance of having gathered by chance but every Saturday now we’ve been finding ourselves together outside, two to conspire, three to make a mob. We’re finished talking about it. The sympathizers and the childless couples, the singles and the sodomites have escaped to other towns. We poke tar bubbles with the toes of our shoes and finger the switches of our idle mowers. The bubbles never burst, but when their thick skins slowly split they exhale a sweet cruel tar breath we can taste.

We’re keeping an eye on 299 because the undeniable threat of it looms whenever we turn our backs. If ever it were empty again, if for instance the owner were to suffer a coronary episode there and die, or if one desperate night he were to abandon it without a trace, no decent family would ever again move into that nest of cells. As long as we’re here to tell the story it may as well burn itself down through the basement and tunnel a scorched bowel straight to hell.

At the end of the block we can just make out the blue shorts, the blond ponytail, the leather bag and the suntanned girlish legs of the summertime substitute letter carrier. Unless one of us starts running, she’ll reach 299 before we can intercept her. She might want to climb the porch with the mail. She might slip a package through the door! How long can they keep us from posting a sign on the lawn to warn the unwary? How hard will they really try?

Copyright © December 21, 2006 David Hodges

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