By John Claude Smith

Heath says, “All new cars look like bars of soap.”

I observe that Maria and Juan are having the rare calm day.

The Laundromat behind us is a warehouse of white flags,

surrender to the duty of grim, calloused existence.

That’s why I watch the street…

Heath says, “It looks like rain again. Like in Blade Runner, y’know?

Latisha swivels by, winks and gives me a radiator smile,

pops gum and dies a little more with each stumbling stiletto step.

The taco truck reeks of grease, cheap exotic spices, and desperation.

But the street draws my attention…

Heath says, “People walkin’ by, talkin’ to themselves. They’re so lonely, man.”

I glance up at him, stained yellow enamel grimace,

as cigarette smoke wafts around my face like the ghost of a lover I’ve never known.

The car fix-it place smells of grease, hot metal, oil…and desperation.

The street sweats, moistly smacking rubber like a hooker urgent to get the job done.

I close my eyes and listen:

The sounds inspire memories of a beach, the salt-spray on my lips, eagerly slicked by my tongue, pucker at the bitter tang of the ocean as I watch the red and blue and green, yellow, orangepurplewhite beach ball bounce by. Momma lazing on her Scooby-Do blanket, wrinkled golden skin shiny from lotion, working the sun for this tan and another husband. Sis building sand castles that will be washed away by the rising tide, the imaginary knights and maidens and dragons sucked into the sea as flotsam and jetsam from another era, forgotten like the dreams we all used to have before Life extinguished them, along with Integrity, Pride, and


I’ve done things I’d rather not admit having done.

Not getting caught means I don’t have to admit anything.

Perhaps at Heaven’s gates, I’ll have to confess and spend time in


But I can’t imagine it would be any worse than this limbo.

Heath doesn’t say anything else, he left and I didn’t even notice.

Marigold nods at me, an oversized Jets jersey draped over her too skinny frame.

She says, “C’mon, loser. Live a little,” and waves me toward the alley

between the insurance place and the forever closed ‘Antiques Shoppe.’

I stand and stretch, joints cracking in protest, and walk across the street.