A wasteland Sunday morning and the air shudders from a chugging machine, a machine meant to blow leaves and detritus but is somehow better at producing noise. It’s pushed by an old man slightly hunched and limping. He moves without pattern, blowing leaves and trash in one direction and then another, seemingly random. The wind is blowing anyway.
And there is a smell on the wind, an odor. Something like rotting flesh but sweeter and more smoky. I imagine syrup-covered corpses burning but no, it must be somebody’s idea of food. Five men silently huddle around a barbeque that seeps yellowish smoke out its vents; one stubs a toe in the earth and spits. Why don’t they say something?
And then there’s a screaming, a high-pitched yelling that can only come from children in play. Turning, sure enough, five kids scamper from a single child. He’s got a stick in his hand and on the end of the stick is an used condom. Yelling at them would do no good, not with the leaf blower. I can only hope.
With bitter coffee going cold and a stolen newspaper, I find a bench without as many stains and spots of unknown wetness. A man sleeps on the one beside mine and rouses himself at the fluttering of my paper. He looks at me seriously but I cannot give him my eyes. It doesn’t matter anyway, he’s up. Coming to me now and munching his jaw as if he had a cud. Got some change for me? No, I say. Can I kiss that off for you?
I looked at the diminishing cigarette in my hand and yes, I was about to ground it out on the sidewalk, but something seems wrong about it all. His lips are chapped and caked with days of drool but he’s just another lost one. He takes the butt and nods at me politely, walking away. The seat of his pants are brown and sagging. It’s too cold now to wash off at the river’s edge.
Cold coffee now and the paper wrinkled beyond folds from the damned wind. From a long way off I can tell it’s a woman, a young woman. Her head is bowed and two men follow her, circle her, saying low things. When the trio passes her eyes show something between fear and anger to the ground before her.
And that’s when I get up. Enough of the park, I think to myself. The pastoral has its limits. Time to get back to the city.
Joshua Cochran’s first novel, Echo Detained, was published by Fractious Press, New York, in 2007. He teaches English to bored college students in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. He writes, “Fragments are vital to the writer because they take form beyond our control and allow us to release something into the universe without the burden of intent.”