Sitting in the alleyway I’m surrounded by mysterious stains no one dares investigate and piles of rubbish against the drains. Instead of the common sight, I look up at the sky. It’s that murky dark of smog and winter’s night. The bite of cold is in the air, a constant reminder I shouldn’t be here. I bush the ash off my dad’s old jacket. A bit of the ash is still lit and burns a hole in the fabric. Ah well, one more hole won’t make that much of a difference. Next to me I hear Kion light up a joint and pass it to the quiet guy beside him. The heavy pot smoke fills the alley as I realize I don’t even know the quiet guy’s name. It’s almost a pity. There is a noisy conversation behind me about stealing a bottle of Kentucky’s finest, the unknowing contribution from the liquor store around the corner. I’m glad I don’t know the names of those guys. I tune them out and smile along at the same old stories I’ve heard over and over. Lewis puts his arm around me again. He knows me as a lesbian. Eh simplified but still easier than dealing with long discussions. I guess he’s nice just because I am one of the few that calls him by his real name.
This is what my life has come to almost before it begins. Just chilling in an alley with sketchy people keeping an eye out for those pesky blue and red lights. Little Jen, sixteen if she is a day, asks me for another smoke. As I hand her the poison she is talking about getting some X. Tattered though my conscience is, if she’s going to smoke cigarettes I’d rather they came from me. That way at least I know it’s safe not laced with Special K. Been there, done that, barely got out. Don’t want the kid to be in that position. It’s a sentimental oddity, looking out for someone when I don’t even know her real name. Maybe it’s throwback to those softer qualities I fight to keep when I remember to. Do unto others and all that. Maybe I’m lying to myself since I didn’t try harder to send her home to her mama.
The ground beneath my paint splattered jeans is icy, far colder than concrete should be. I inhale my cloud of nicotine and wonder at the people walking by. They’re respectable people talking about getting married. Those two are so wrapped up in each other I don’t think they notice the human detritus cluttering the street. Sometimes these gawkers will talk to us. Maybe it makes them feel daring, like an adventure, but one you know you can come home from. If so, they’re beyond saving. They have happy futures, why waste their time with alleyway trash? Like I said, hopeless. Though, admittedly, they are not as foolish as the two little girls that come walking by. I can see the ice cream through their CVS bags swinging so merrily between them. They walk past us unhurried, with the confident stride of the young that feel the darkness of the world won’t touch them. Everything in me wants to yell, “Go home, it’s not safe to walk here after dark.” As if it would make any difference. Maybe the gawkers weren’t the only hopeless ones. I can’t save them, just like no one could save me. Even knowing that? If I still prayed, I would have prayed they got home safe. Jimmy gets on his board and goes off with his habitual parting comment of “Don’t get shot.” He meant it as a joke, I think. No one laughs. He hasn’t been here long; he’ll learn. I take another drag of my Newport and pass it to Lewis who is breathing against my ear again as he talks too loud. I lean into his shoulder. It’s nice to be warm, even if I’m being warmed up by a felon. I know it’s stupid. Even being here is unwise, but whenever I try to do something more ...healthy I always find my ass parked on the sidewalk again. Ugh these thoughts are depressing. The night is young but I am gonna’ take off before anyone starts dealing or those idiots actually do steal that whisky. I try and minimize my stupidity. I kiss Lewis on the cheek and say, “I’m out.” I start walking with echoing steps through the deceptive quiet.
I don’t know where I’m walking, but I know this neighborhood so well at night I never manage to get lost. My feet take me on a path of their own devising, as I bury my hands in my pockets around the roll of nickels I keep there if I need some weight behind a punch. It’s not paranoia if it’s worked in the past. Eyes warily on my surroundings, I’m still surprised when I end up a mile away at a park I used to go to as a kid. They have long since taken out all the good slides and put in safer models during the brief attempt to clean up the neighborhood. I miss the feeling I used to get sliding down that big sheet of metal before I crashed. Only to get up and do it again. Instead I choose a swing, and light up another cigarette. Cradling it between my frigid fingers, I grasp the chains and push off. I feel light. I feel like summer, and a strange smile stretch across my face. It would be too cliché to say I felt like a child, but the feeling does remind me of better times. I push off again, higher, always higher. Let me fly! I never want to come down, never want to get off the swing, never want to go back. Let me stay here. I just want….more.