A Feral Item Is Found in the Street. You Won't Believe What Happens Next

Fiction

by Glenna Sweeney

THE FIRST THING VICKI LUCAS SAW was the old woman, who looked like her mother because every old woman looked like her mother. And then she saw a younger woman with the old lady (and felt a gutpunch of guilt mixed with jealousy because she hadn't called her mother in almost 24 hours). Vicki almost stopped to call her therapist to schedule another appointment for the week. But then she spotted, next to the women, a young guy in those loose, falling-down-the-hips-type jeans (a style she abhorred, but she felt she had to admire the youth's need to express himself — and fight the establishment! — but oh how stupid he looked), and quickly, she saw, next to him, three older gentlemen. Her next thought was, Well, look at all of us, out of work or probably retired. Look at that poor old woman, probably has three cats, and when she's found dead one day they will have chewed her up like so much Fancy Feast, and I should really call Mother now. And then: Wait, what ARE they looking at?

For, all of them, the old woman, the young woman, the guy, and the three older gentlemen stood on the building side of the sidewalk looking in a single direction, at something at the curb, which, since Vicki was slowly crossing the street toward them, was just out of her sight, behind a mountainous SUV. (Why would anyone want to drive an SUV in this City, she'd never understand.) They stood literally, metaphorically aghast.

What could make such a motley sidewalk bunch stare silently? What fresh hell lay against the curb? A naked, unconscious homeless man -- please not another one! Two already since she'd moved to the neighborhood. Could it be a dead child? Or worse, a dead dog.

Vicki made it to the curb and turned and saw.

A signpost rose signless (which must be a sign) to the sky. At its base, at the end of a long, grimy chain was a cheap briefcase, and spilling out of the cheap briefcase . . . was a manuscript.

"What the devil?"

"That's what we been thinking," said one of the gentlemen.

"It's probably just some idiot's business report," Vicki said.

"But look at the briefcase, look at the font choice — that's creative, not commercial," said the man.

"Well, it could be an student paper," she said.

"Too long."

"Wouldn't it be great if Stephen King's editor had accidentally dropped it?"

"Too short."

"I suppose you're right. Oh god, what if it's someone's attempt at a thriller, or, worse, a coming-of-age novel."

"Shoot all the genre works you want, if you can hit 'em," the loose-jeaned guy said. "But remember that it’s a sin to kill a coming-of-age novel.”

Vicki tried to protest. "I didn't say I wanted to kill it —."

"But why would someone abandon it?" said the old woman. "Chain it to a post like some Gregg Allman dirge?"

"It's poetry . . . ," said the young woman, on the precipice of tears. "It has to be poetry! Because, you see, it's been left behind."

"Oh god, you mean like Valery," said Vicki. "'A poem is never finished, only abandoned.' You're kidding, right? First of all, has anyone here tried to read it?"

They all gave Vicky a stare that was familiar to her, a stare that said what had just come out of her mouth sounded like the murmuring of the insane.

"Look at it," the old woman said, pleading. "Its corners are bent, there are coffee stains. It's triple spaced! It's just not safe to go near it, dear."

"Maybe it's . . .," said another of the gentlemen, "maybe it's a masterpiece, so wild and magnificent that its writer had no choice but to abandon it."

“Yes,” Vicki said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Enough of this nonsense, she thought. She had to go to her tiny apartment to make tea, then have a nap, then feed her cat, and then grade 47 tedious essays about magical realism. And then, if she had any energy left, she would turn to her own manuscript, she would write a page or two or, by the chariot of Apollo!, a line at least a line. But it had been so long — months? years? — since even a simple clause had occured to her. Nothing. Nada y pues nada. She turned away from the others and toward the feral manuscript. She took a big step. Then a smaller one. Just as she got within editing range, its top pages fluttered loudly and, shocked, she fell back on the sidewalk on her rump.

"Oh, that had to hurt," said the old woman.

"Are you sure you want to do this, lady?" said another of the gentlemen.

"You're a better man than I am, Gungha Din," said the loose-jeaner.

She got up. Wiped her hands on scarf. And approached again. And again the pages fluttered, making a sound not unlike the guttural growl of a rapid dog. But she would not be afraid. She would show the manuscript that she was not a threat, that she was there to help it, nurture it even, if need be. And the manuscript would understand. It would capitulate.

Yes, Vicki thought, laying down her bag on the chewing-gummed sidewalk, she would have her vision.

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