by Nick Rocco
On this particular morning, I walked up Pitcairn Street on purpose and stopped to take it all in. Pitcairn had matured fast: its road sign had become timeworn with rust, turned all shades of brown and crawled through its letters like ivy; the letters melted from the heat of the sun. It teetered back and forth, rocking like a boat in motion with the sea, swaying with the wind that wouldn’t let it rest. You could see it hanging by a mere thread of twisted metal; my fingers itched to cut it loose.
This had once been a thriving street, where the wheels of cars kissed the road and chili stands lined the way for the annual Heat Race. My father would take me their every year, we’d taste test every bowl until our tongues went numb. Then he would buy me different flavors of pop, and I’d guess which ones they were by the way my burps smelled. One time, the pop and chili did the tango in my stomach, and I threw up in Mrs. McCarrb’s viburnums. Pleasant woman she was, she chucked a bowl of chili at me and screeched at my father and I as we ran away.
That’s the last time I’ve laughed that hard.
He’s long gone now. Off god knows where. Last view I got was the silhouette of his car against the setting sun; right before he turned left and disappeared, swallowed by the civil twilight.
As I walked along, I did my best to avoid the cracks opening up the sidewalks; mother already had enough to deal with. The road repair tried to fill the fractures with tar, but the sun made the tar so warm, it bubbled and pooled out, cloaking the road.
A year back there was a small tremor. It shook the houses clean of their shingles and broke in their windows. It brought forth potholes large enough you could swim in. It made all our silverware rattle in the cupboard, and since then we’ve held them down with duct tape. It only happened once, but fear must’ve taken the tenants hostage - Everyone packed up their stuffs and migrated south, too afraid to come back, couldn’t stand the trembling; the houses have been empty ever since. In an attempt to bring their owners back, a few of the houses set themselves on fire, but the town just let them burn. They’re now boarded up with plywood, so the cop that does his rounds won’t catch them crying, not that he really cares.
Farther down the road I met a crow, perched on a fence. His eyes were black and sunken, and he stared at me. I stared back. We held that gaze for what seemed like hours. I wanted to steal his wings so I could fly. Three months after my ninth birthday, my father took me Upland hunting. I remember the surge of ecstasy that would overtake my body as the gun recoiled in my hand, how my hands tingled when our copper retriever dashed off, yelping into the brush; I grew numb to the sound of gunshots. We would bring the catch home, pluck the feathers and then empty the bodies. If I were lucky, father would clip the wings and give them to me to play with; I’d run around the house and jump across furniture flapping my arms.
I dashed at him, waved my hands over my head and howled at the top of my lungs. The crow bound into the sky and screeched back at me, unable to back down from the screaming match that undertook. With a fair swoop, he streaked off into the sky, while I bellowed out a last scream in hope it would ride the wind, reach him and tell him thanks for playing.
Mother worked two different jobs, one that left her smelling of damp laundry sheets, the other that staggering back home in the early hours of the morning. When she wasn’t working, she would spend long hours with her forehead against the kitchen table, a drink glass in her hand always filled to the brim. Except for the periodic clack of the glass to the table, our house was quiet. Sometimes blurred and confused, she’d see me as dad and start throwing things.
I’ve been hit before, but not by fists.
My hands massage a scar that rides from my shoulder down to the arc of my elbow. The soles of my black converse shoes crunch patches of grass turned a sickening yellow. The bird feeder lies blackened and broken in a fetal position, a for sale sign trembles in the wind; hoping to signal a family that won’t come. The wooden steps, warped from heat, groan underneath my weight. I cup my eyes like binoculars and peer in through the single-hung window, the only item that seemed to refuse to wither in time.
Dust incases every inch like an exoskeleton. Patches of light burst through openings in the boarded up windows.
I can hear it all.
The sizzle of ham on the stove and the snap of my father’s newspaper. The way he mumbled to himself, words uneager to leave his lips. The wheels of my red tour bus skidding across table, knocking cups onto their sides and drenching the hardwood floor. The snaps and crackles of burning leaves in the backyard. The way the fowl would coo as the clock struck double-zeroes on the hour, peek out and take in the world before it darted back inside. The snap of the pheasant’s neck upon the cutting board. The way the bathroom sink constantly dripped, and how my breath, rapid and uneasy, bounced off the threaded sheets. How I’d hide underneath my bed while mom and dad raised their tones, and mom and dad, and dad would raise his fists, and moms voice grew louder, and thumps against walls and wails and my fists turned white from how hard they clenched the sheets; I hope he doesn’t find me here.
The crow comes back; he’s laughing at me.
The fermenting smell of mildew makes my nostrils suffer, but it unfurnishes my mind. I sit down in a high-back rocking chair, and swing back and forth, giving it my full weight and refusing to lift my head. My hands caress its surface, peppered with spray paint and wood stains. The chip is still there from when I tripped and bit into the armrest. Back and forth I rock, because through all the rot and decay, this is what I used to call home. How these streets, despite years of beatings, stay intact. How the houses refuse to quit and streetlights flicker like lightning bugs, rejecting to give out.
On this particular morning, I walked up Pitcairn Street on purpose; I’m jealous of how close it’s to freedom.