There is a loud explosion outside on the street. My little brother moved out this morning, but the mother inside of me still expects the worst. I drop the pretzel that’s halfway to my mouth and sprint out the door in my underwear. Smoke billows and balloons between the buildings. It pushes against the coastal mist. Everybody who lives on the block bursts forth from the woodwork. We make eye contact with each other for the first time. Before this moment, they were just abstract figments: elusive creatures called “neighbors”. Now I see their skin, their house clothes, their children clinging to their legs; now they are human. We scan the street with our bare eyes. There are no damaged cars. No shattered glass. No unmoving bodies. My little brother is in the sky on a plane. No fires. No strewn rubble. No clues. I mouth questions to my fellow humans. They gesture back. We shrug at each other. We venture off the curbs and onto the street. We meet in the middle. Skip the small talk. They tell me in low voices what they were doing in the privacy of their homes when they heard the explosion. We hiss theories back-and-forth. It feels intimate, this curiosity we share. These secrets in the middle of the street. The mystery of the smoke is thrilling. I realize that I am in my underwear. Is this an affair? Someone jogs down the block to the overpass. The rest of us hold our breath, waiting in our huddle. The jogger peers through the metal fence at the freeway below; turns to us and shakes their head. A huge exhale. Disappointment and relief. Our case is running cold in our hands. One-by-one, my humans retreat to the sidewalks. Their whispers slip through my fingers. They transform back into neighbors. I don’t know them anymore. I won’t see them ever again. I wish there had been a fire. Crashed cars. I grasp at the smoke. I try to yank it down to the ground. The mist sticks to my naked legs. I carry it inside with me. My house is empty. My little brother is gone, flown into the atmosphere. There are broken pretzel pieces scattered on the floor.
K. Degala-Paraíso (she/they) is a Filipinx-American experimental writer with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Pitzer College. Her work has appeared in [PANK] Magazine, Okay Donkey Magazine, and elsewhere; and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She teaches creative writing through GrubStreet, and comparative literature at UCLA. Follow: kdegalaparaiso.com.