As he pushed a cart full of his dirty laundry down the sidewalk, Jack studied a streak of condensation left by a jet plane in the sky. It expanded from thin floss in the distance to a scatter plot of cotton balls directly above him. A weather balloon was about to penetrate the stretch of cotton. Round and silver, it rose like a drop of mercury. Jack had never seen a weather balloon in person before, and he couldn’t fathom why this one had been set loose here in the airspace above the city.
The claws of a diamond engagement ring in his pocket scratched his thigh. He had kept it on his person for the last week since Marie, his now-ex-fiancee, returned it to him, but he needed to sell it to get money for a deposit on a new apartment. Sleeping in the front seat of his car was doing a number on his back. He also needed a shower. The accumulating grime on his skin made him feel like a slab of spoiled meat.
A blue jay swooped in from a tree that Jack was approaching, landed on his cart, and screeched. Jack admired its sharp crest and black eyes, fierce like truth.
It dawned on him that a crowd of people was now marching down the street in the same direction he was, overcoming him like a tide. Cigarette smoke intermingled with the smell of corn dogs and sweat. A woman without a face crushed a hula hoop and threw it at him. She grabbed his cart, lifted it over her head, and emptied his clothes onto the street. The blue jay flew about, shrieking and lunging. The crowd trampled Jack’s laundry. Jack looked on with a kind of resignation. The garments felt like they were now from another part of his life anyway. This side of the passage, they might not fit him well.
“I see you have a ring,” said the woman.
The woman had no eyes, and the ring was hidden in Jack’s pocket. She also had no mouth. Jack hadn’t a clue how she might see anything or how she was speaking.
He was about to answer the woman, but he discovered that he didn’t have a mouth either. Unlike the woman, this absence seemed to limit his speech. An irresistible itch set upon his eyes, and he scratched at it like the dickens. But he found only sockets where his eyes were supposed to be. Why he was still seeing the woman, standing in front of him with her arm on her hip, was beyond him. Her expression was a scowl. He somehow understood this with certainty, even though she didn’t have a face.
The crowd of people washed over them, hooting and hollering as they passed. A man with potato chip crumbs in his beard spilled a beer on Jack. Jack recoiled and wiggled his arms about in shock, flinging his hands downward a few times to try to dry them off. As he did this, he heard a pop in the airspace above. A firecracker wasn’t inconceivable in the party-like din of the crowd; but when Jack looked to the sky, he half-expected to see in the scatter-plot cotton clouds a blue jay with shreds of silver weather balloon on its beak.
© Thad Fowler. All rights reserved.