augury doggerel

Saturday, June 22, 2002


At the small grocery on the corner, a stocky man with bristly white hair who looks nearly sixty does the heavy work and drives a van. A small, thin woman with a lined faced and dyed brown hair, also about sixty, stays behind the counter. At night when the drunks line up for last bottles, she and the man run the cash register together while an older woman sits in a doorway, halfway out of a back room, and says a word or two to them while she drinks coffee. They live back there, vaguely alike, quietly familiar, bound somehow, though I can't tell how by looking at them. Brother and sister and mother, or husband and wife and mother and mother-in-law, or husband and wife and sister, or brother and sisters. They're tired, workhorses standing still between tasks. No one reads. No radio plays. No fan moves the air.

Last night, I left work late and the pub still later, after ten. It was dark and everything was closed when I got off the bus near home. As I passed the dark grocery, I saw movement inside. I stopped for a second. Two children, a boy and a girl maybe eight or nine years old, were playing in the front room where we customers gather during the day and which was now lit only by light from the street outside and from a light coming through the door into the back. They wore only shorts, no shirts. The girl's hair hung far down her back and shook all over as she played. Otherwise, they were two of the same skinny kid. I could almost see their ribs stand out when they stretched for the ball. They were thin and smooth and laughing and jumping and happy, bouncing a large plastic ball, trying to keep it in the air and away from each other. Then one of them saw me, and they disappeared into the cracks like ghosts.


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