Vacant stores line what was once a vibrant and lively road, remnants of a life that is no more. Shops remain but suffer from the scarecrows in the broken display windowsーsomeone thought it would be funny to use the old clothes, hats, and brooms to decorate the shadows. The other store owners take them down but within a week they always reappear.
“It’s all in your magical wand now, my friend. Convenience in the palm of your hand”, the man said.
He was seated on the sidewalk with a top hat between his legs and shiny black tuxedo hung around his neck. There was a sign in front of the hatーMoney for the Wealthy and Fortunate In Dire Need of More Help
I thought to myself, “Why give an affluent person like him anything?”.
He touched his fingers to the bottom of his chin and smiled, “Because you need to. You can’t survive the proper prices. You need me to fill your pockets. With a small donation to me you buy things cheaper. I provide what these stores cannot and no longer can, as you can see. Out of sight. Out of mind. Out of time. You crawl to me”.
I smiled a little, thinking he’s deluded, and passed him by, then turned the next corner and then turned another corner. I must have turned too many corners because I arrived back to the man with the hat and suit.
“The hat is empty now, but by day end, well, you’ll see. You’ll always see. You can only see, because seeing is believing and that’s what I sell. Faith. You must have faith. Donate and you’ll see” and then he reached into his pocket and pulled it out. “It’s empty. Nothing here but pocket lining and felt”, and then he reached in again, “oh still nothing, but the hat, well well”.
There was nothing in the hat except the pennies and two bills that were there earlier. I turned around and followed the street back until it ended, making sure not to turn any corners and keep away from men with top hats that were full of nonsense.
I arrived in an open park and went towards the first large tree that came into sight. The day was ending and twilight was creeping in, some fire flies in the distance flashing on and off, dimly illuminating the green darkness, swarming in circles near a small pond with reeds, twirling in the wind.
I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew someone was kicking my feet. It was a young boy, maybe 5 or 6, in dirty clothes wearing a baseball hat that was drooping over his eyes.
“Come on sir. Time to go home. The park is closing. It’s 10pm and you were dreamy eyed. This is not the place for bedy byes. Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to tell lies?”
I scratched my head and rubbed my eyes. When I reached into my pocket for my glasses my hand rubbed against my wallet. It was empty. All the money was gone. I must have been robbed.
“Come on sir. It’s time to tuck someone in”. He lifted his hat and looked at me with droopy eyes, the darkness hiding the rest of his face.
I crossed over the bridge that went over the pond. The light wind was no more and the fireflies were gone. There was only the sound of cicadas in the distance. The boy grabbed my hand and then pulled on the bottom of my jacket. He clenched my side and began shaking. Something had frightened him terribly. I couldn’t get a word out of him, nor move with him pulling on me like that, so I lifted him up and carried him.
He immediately hugged my neck, more like choking actually, and buried his eyes into my shoulder. I loosened his grip around me when I heard the clanging of coins approach behind me. I turned around and there was a shadowy figure standing against the rail and looking down into the pond.
“You stole yourself, my friend. And look where it’s gotten you. You can’t win if you don’t spend. Money for the rich for free and you’ll see. It all runs because you spend and spend unwisely, freely, helping the wealthy, and fueling the monopoly”.
“The monopoly?”, I asked.
“Yes, the monopoly. If you don’t pass go, you will never go. How could anyone go if they never know. And if you never know you will never. I told you this”, and then he pointed down to his hat.
It was full of bills, even some hundred dollar ones. A breeze came by and whisked some of them off and they floated down into the depths below. “Oh well”, he said. “Your loss, not mine”.
The boy started kicking a little and said, “It’s time to go. I don’t wanna be here. Come on. Move it or lose it” and then he kicked me between the legs and I dropped to my knees and rolled onto my side in agony. The throbbing and squeezing pain made want to vomit. I lost my breath for a moment and felt as if I were choking. The boy fell onto his knees and went face first into the ground, then got up and ran away crying for his mother.
The man’s appearance hovered above me and he looked at me with a smile cut up into both cheeks and friendly, lifeless lit eyes, “I told you once and I told you twice. Look where you are now and the debt still stands. With empty pockets and labored hands where will you go? What will you do? Who will you be? If you don’t see, you’ll never see. It’s the water or the forest, but you don’t care about the two because they’re both the same to you”.
He then disappeared from sight. I turned my head back before he disappeared and watched his figure fade away. He walked with a hunchback and dragged his feet. For such a lively fellow his movement was more like a ragged old man with a cane, only without the wooden support.
I made my way up to my feet and looked at the stars hanging in the sky. They seemed hung by strings awaiting their moment to be cut down and wished upon. Why I saw it in such a grim manner I’m not sure, but that’s how it was.
I heard a sound and looked down into the water below. There was something moving around under the bridge making a clasping sound, like metal rubbing together. I crept around the side to see what it was and it turned out to be the boy. He was seated on a rock with scissors in his hand and was cutting the reeds, “They’re too long. Much too long. Mother would never accept them. Have to cut them”.
I approached him slowly and he didn’t flinch. It was like I wasn’t there. Only moments ago he’d clung to me as if I were his parent but now he was unresponsive. I observed for several minutes and he didn’t say anything or even acknowledge my existence.
I came out from under the bridge and laid in the grass, looking for the stars. The sky was clear and black but the distant worlds were no more. There was only darkness with a crooked slice of the moon up in the corner, hanging in a sea of endless ether, the diorama of time playing out below.
When both hands of the clock reached twelve the boy’s silhouette approached, “Something terrible. We must go. No time to stay. It’s midnight”, he said. I wanted to ask him what he meant but he skipped off quickly into the darkness and vanished.
I followed in his direction in hopes to find him. I’m not sure why. I suppose the thought of him playing in the park so late at night was peculiar, yet somehow it all seemed fitting.
I attempted to leave the park but all paths led round about and returned to the place I’d found myself. The wind picked up and blew the trees, shaking the leaves to the ground. I was thinking about how to come right-side out again when there was a terrible scream from an animal.
Tired and hungry, with nowhere to go, I laid on the slide and took some shut eye. There I dreamed a dream, a frightening dream. With spaghetti-o faces mixed in sour cream. The face swirled round and round, the mouth in two, then upside down, like me and you. A claw reached up, and pulled it through, flowers sprouted on the sides, then split in two. The red of the soup painted pink blossoms anew, the surface sullen, the depths drowning true. The fragrance of life. The stench of death. For this the time had stopped. The preying mantis upside-down had taken his last breath.
I’m sure it would have continued had something not slid into my headーthe boy slapped his hands onto my cheeks, “I found him!” he yelled.
He’d found me, alright. I laid there and didn’t move and tried to fall back asleep but couldn’t; there was an eery and faint swirling sound in the distance that was subtle to the point you’d think it wasn’t there, but knowing you heard it there was no denying it was.
The boy crawled over me face first and down to the ground, “Let’s go. He’s gone now. He won’t trouble us anymore. I plucked all the weeds”. When I stood up he grabbed my hand. I tried to lead but he pulled in another direction, “No, this way. We hafta go this way”.
He led me up a hill to a gravestone that was planted beneath an old dead tree with no leaves: its branches reaching up into the nothingness above. There was a worn top hat perched on it and black tuxedo wrapped around it.
The boy laughed giddily and pulled on my arm, then began jumping up and downー”The pants are in the coffin below but we can’t see them”