I wait in the alley while he wriggles gracelessly through his window – it’s easier than he lets on – and we start walking. I gotta get out of this dump life, he says, like he knows. Ain’t no way, I say, because I do. He has his uses, as long as he doesn’t talk too much. We keep going, down the hill toward the River Des Peres. No place in mind, though I have a couple of people I need to see about some stuff once I shed him.
Streets are rain slick. More to come. Sun’s gone. Sky’s ugly. He’s ugly. I’m ugly. Everything is truly. Cars hiss past us. Hurrying to work. Forever hurrying. Forever alone. Windows up, radios up, screeching tires, shouts, horns, stoplights, brake lights, weeds in the cracks, trash in the weeds, diesel stink. A ceaseless assault. The Affton High School bus grinds past, but these two boys aren’t on it.
He lights a cigarette then hands it over. Lights another for himself. I gotta get out of this dump life, he says again, surveying the wreckage and exhaling smoke. Drizzle starts. Thunder rolls from somewhere. We step faster to nowhere. Past the cemetery’s dead pines, the blank storefronts, the shark, the dirty cars and flattened squirrels.
Rain’s picking up, and I cut us across the grass and through the weeds, drag us under the Gravois bridge, out of the rain, and startle some pigeons. Below, the brown ooze of the River Des Peres, swollen with the earlier downpour, tumbles trash. I begin to undress him. He doesn’t object to our dirty business, and thus it commences. The gray rain intensifies but we’re out of it. Two trolls under a bridge. No one will see us fucking here and watching the River Des Peres fill up with filth.
The river is a sewer, whatever it once was. The sloping banks – make-work from an age of restive foment – choke it, confuse it, constrain it. I don’t know what was intended, but it can’t have been this.
He moans now and tosses, his sleep beset with nightmares. I could nudge him awake but only to deliver him to the troubles of the waking world. And to hear him talk. The thrum of the storm blunts the city sounds – the traffic a murmur now, the incessant hustle subjugated – letting him sleep. I hope it keeps up for a while even though the rain maroons me here. I light up and watch the River Des Peres swell, gathering poisoned water from other parts of the city, carrying what it will to the Mississippi, out of our ken, out of our care. This rise will scour the channel, a curettage of the fecund weeds and unwanted debris, leaving new dreck in its wake.
The rain is letting up. I flick my spent butt toward the turgid flow then pull on damp clothes. He sleeps, flopped and naked and vulnerable, the last natural state left to anyone. The caustic noise will soon return and wake him, and the question is, should I be here, or should I skip out when I get the chance?
Paul Lamb lives near Kansas City but escapes to his Ozark cabin whenever he gets the chance. His stories have appeared in Aethlon, Adroit Journal, Magnolia Review (nominated for a Pushcart Prize), Bartleby Snopes, Foliate Oak, and others. He rarely strays far from his laptop.