The Lean Years, Pt. 1

It was cold enough to really regret wearing jeans.  The Red Line hadn’t been quite as slow or frustrating as the day that lead up to it, but it was enough.  It’s a weird thing, leaving before the sun’s up and getting back after it’s gone; your neighborhood becomes a headstone to the daylight world it used to be.

He went down the steps, careful to avoid the puddles that looked like water and smelled like something much more… biological.  They were broad and well-lit, so the logistics of the whole thing defied him.  When would someone be able to achieve it?  It may be that trains only come along every five minutes, but even then… how would they achieve it?  His gut reaction was that no one would just whip it out on the landing, then he recalled some of the faces he had seen on his commute.  No… someone definitely would.  Someone definitely did.

It was a solid hour to get home, and he was on the final stretch.  Five minutes in the cold, and he’d be at his door, shrugging off his coat and wondering what kind of bare-pantry jujitsu could be executed for dinner.  Back home he would have balked–nay, raged–at such a commute, but putting his car on the chopping block meant he could read as much as he wanted.  Things were looking rough in Essos, and they made for an excellent distraction.

The last pleasant leg of the trip was the turnstyle separating the station from the alley.  Unfortunately there was no one in front of him, so he wasn’t able to slip through the revolving bars like a cat or a ninja.  He would probably never get over how terribly efficient and incredibly awesome it made him feel, but of course he would never tell anyone either.  It was his little secret.  He pushed the bars himself, and suddenly the wind wrapped him up and gave him his least favorite hug.

His childhood reminded him to check for cars in the alley.  His adolescence reminded him (and the car coming towards him) that he had right-of-way.  His adulthood reminded him that it was only when he was in a crosswalk, but he told his adulthood to go away for a little while.

There is an art to walking down city sidewalks.  Downtown, people get delayed if you don’t walk fast enough to get winded.  You should only look at the skyscrapers if you want people to think you’re a tourist… or if you just don’t care.  In the suburbs, you walked by driving.  But right on the border, where it’s hard to tell exactly what you are, it’s best to walk as if you’re just a little bit friendly.  Of course, all of this goes out the window when it’s cold enough to scratch your back with your goosebumps, and the wind makes a person really regret having a nose in the first place.  The only solution in those times is to hunker down, bundle up, thrust your hands as deep into your pockets as you can, and walk as if you’re trying to say “Jeeeeeeezus.

And that’s exactly what he did.  The only part of him anyone could see was his face, and it was painfully clear that something was not to his taste.  So much so, apparently, that the guy walking a few feet in front of him–a stout black man–cast a few wayward glances behind him.

“Hey big man,” the black man said, clearly testing the waters.  Our protagonist tried to cheer up a little bit.  It worked well enough for the guy turn back around.

But only for about a half second.  “Turkey or pheasant this year?” the guy asked, turning back around.  He was way too jovial for a night like this.  It caught our hero off guard.


“Thanksgiving, brotha!  Turkey or pheasant?”

After work, the train ride, the turnstyle, and the car in the alley, he hadn’t paid much thought to the matter.  His family would be eating turkey off in the southlands, but he wouldn’t be able to join in this year.  He’d be up here, plugging away in a worthless retail store for 10 hours a week and hoping against hope that a temp assignment would show up.


The black man laughed as only a black man could.  Even after all the drudgery, it was always nice to bring a little joy into someone’s life.

“Happy holidays, man.”  He said it with a smile.  Almost home.

Categories: Fiction, Modern | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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