Page 11

  “Hi, hello,” I say. “Anyone home?”
   The small space is crowded with crowded shelves. Plucking bottled water from one puts my back against another. No one squeezes in behind the counter to take my money.
   I gasp to a halt drinking off half the bottle of tangy neon water to wipe my lips and call out hello again.
   Then I drink again.
  “Yo ren ma?”
   Biologically speaking, a large drink of water doesn’t spread out from your stomach that fast, but that’s exactly what it feels like. I blink more easily, my shoulders loosen. It was goddamned cold and made me cough, but I do feel better. I recap the empty bottle and consider my options.
   The large front windows are obscured by posters on the glass outside and shelving against the walls inside. This leaves most of the store in darkness.
  “I’d like to pay now.”
   How to choose with this wide a range of nearly nothing – oily snacks, spongy potato chips, desiccated noodles, ranks of sauces in jars, bags of salt, varieties of snacks little different from cubes of sticky sugar. There has to be something. Maybe I can find a light switch.
  “Holy crap!”
  “Hello,” says the boy. “Where are you come from?”
  “Me?” I square up to this silhouette in the door. “Back that way.” I points.
  “Oh,” he says.
   A young man, taller than me. Like a reed. Wide across the shoulders but not deep. Plenty of sports at college.
  “We can go now,” he says.
  “How’s that?” I say.
  “Don’t worry about it,” he says.
  “Okay. I just need a few things.”
   And this is entirely weird because people don’t touch me around here, but that’s when he steps forward and takes my arm.

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Page 10

  “Goddamn,” says I, hands on hips.
   The trudge back has been long and the day has grown darker with it. What the fuck was I thinking. Standing atop a tangled and tiny flyover, I wince at the memory of me standing atop a rise. There I’d been rolling my hands around a ball of nothing because I had been attempting to invoke… powers. I should have invoked a car or a taxi. I start the trudge down.

   The ugly roadway is joined by two on either side that rise up from under the flyover, and they all squeeze into a lesser roadway between stolid, three-story apartment buildings and, paradoxically, collections of palm trees. Coming off that long walk through the open, sliding down here between this urban outskirts blight is both disheartening and welcoming. I’ll at least be able to lie down once I get back.
   Meanwhile, I am damn thirsty.
   So I’m watching about and thinking even the grubby snow looks tempting and then there it is. At street level on the right, half hidden behind the hump of a steeply rising driveway between the buildings, huddles a darkened convenience store.
   And like any other invitation, the front doors, poster-emblazoned glass doors on rails, have been left slid all the way open.
   That better not have been like that when I came past the first time.