Because their parents died they made the children cakes: a Mickey Mouse cake, a beach cake with fondant shells, little hummingbird cakes they used to eat after school. At night the children dreamed of sugar until they drifted down onto an abyss. There was darkness, loss.
There is a hum deep in the woods. It draws neighborhood children from sleep. They slip on snow pants, boots. They sit around its warmth and light while it pulses, its voice a reassuring mother but warning them. In the days to come, they draw monsters and rivers of blood.
The children had an Easter service for the ghosts. I put a glass of water in a nook in the pulpit for Father who had been the preacher. Then I sat down in the row with the others. We were quiet until someone started singing “All things bright and beautiful.”
Through the crack in the closet doors, the Easter bunny beckons children to hide, hide from the shouting, the beating, the smashing glass. He smells of booze and an old costume, like the mildew of the porch sofa. He holds them close and presses in their hands melted chocolates.
A tiny shoe sat beside the white line of the road. It sat breathless as the cars whooshed past. Will someone stop to pick it up? Is the lady standing at the bus stop waiting for her opportunity to cradle it in her hands, to kiss its soft tongue?
– My life has not begun said the shoe to no one in particular. I am not ready to die. He thought of his troubles as he lay beside the painted white line.
– I have it worse, said the line. I have never been in contact with a living being.
What a ridiculous white line, thought the shoe at the same time recognizing his dependence. No one would run over him since he was close.
– Why would you need what I have? said the shoe. You never die. You are renewed with white paint. You help the cars, the beasts.
– You have held a place of privilege, said the line. Now you will see what it’s like to be the rest of us.
– What are you talking about, the rest of us?
– The anonymous. The merely dutiful. Or worse, the forgotten. You’ve thought yourself special, I can tell.
– I have not.
– You’ve thought yourself indispensable. Now you’re like trash. You think that woman over there wants you because some other woman has? The first woman in your life only wanted you because you helped her son. That other woman over there is old. You probably remind her of something painful, like a child who has grown and gone astray or a child she has lost.
– How do you know so much? You’re a line.
– I’ve seen enough.
– You’ve seen the bottoms of tires.
– I’ve seen people die.
– Then that makes you the font.
– Of what?
– Wisdom, you idiot. It’s a cliché. When you’re out among people, you hear these things.
– See the specialness creeping in again.
– I have no such pretentions. I’m about to be squashed, besides.
– And then you’ll only experience what the rest of us feel, the random nature of life. How some are chosen to be one thing and some another. How some live on, some die.
– You make me feel so much better.
At that moment, the lady from the bus stop rescued the shoe. There had been a break in traffic. She sat on the bench and cradled it in her palm.
The line looked on. He was jealous of the shoe, but he would not admit it. To admit his jealousy would not change his duty to be a line. Some thrive on admiration for simply being what they are.
– Special boy, he muttered to himself, but his whisper was drowned by shushing of tires.
First appeared in The New Absurdist