Black Leg

Haunted by stories he hears while on jury duty, a documentary filmmaker finds himself in an abandoned mall at the dead of night.

 

 

My fault. As usual.

“Documentary filmmaker,” the prosecutor said, not looking at me or any of the other prospective jurors. He wasn’t even looking at his legal pad, only the defendant. Even so, everyone in the room felt the weight of his glare. “What sort of documentaries would those be?”

Can prospective jurors plead the fifth? I wondered. Then I thought maybe in this case the truth really would set me free. “Ghost hunting,” I mumbled. “I followed these two—”

“Ghost hunting,” said the lawyer. His smile didn’t even reach his mouth, let alone his eyes. And it was definitely meant to intimidate me. Or else he was just amused. “So you’re not planning to make a film about this case, then?”

There it was: the moment I’d been praying for. He’d practically opened the door for me. Held it, waved me toward freedom and an early, excused return to what passed back then for my life.

But still, he aimed his gaze toward the defendant’s table. The terrified kid there, a tousle-haired Latinx with his legs pumping up and down under the table. All that movement barely rippled his billowy jeans, which were three sizes too big, almost certainly some relative’s, and made his whole body look like a sack full of cats on its way to the river.

The prosecutor’s smirk was for him, of course.

“Why—you seeking the death penalty?” I blurted. “I could make one about him coming back to haunt you.”

Which earned me a smirk of my very own, a reprimand from the judge, a lecture to the whole courtroom about the seriousness of our task and the weight of civic responsibility—the case was a contested driving-without-license; the nineteen year-old defendant had run over a birdfeeder, and we didn’t know about the sort-of carjacking part yet, or the getaway vehicle element—and, to my dismay, an unchallenged seat and assigned number in the jury box.

The trial, we were told, because of backlogged something or other plus extenuating birdfeeder circumstances, would last four days.

Four days.

That first morning, at lunch break, I thought about braving the heat to find a taco truck or a shake somewhere. But even ghost hunter work had dried up in the recession, and I was hoarding every penny for my long-planned short about the tent city downtown. I had actually completed the raw footage for it, but now the project lingered in seemingly permanent post-production (meaning I still dreamed someone might fund it), and the interest on the credit cards I’d maxed out for my equipment more than doubled my monthly payments.

So I went downstairs to the jury waiting room and bought an apple from the vending machine. It cost seventy-five cents, and got pushed out of its row like a bag of chips. When it hit the metal trough from which I retrieved it, it bounced.

I found an empty table along the back wall, which wasn’t hard. Everyone without a maxed-out credit card had fled for anywhere with functioning air conditioning and less aggressive apple delivery, and the remaining prospective jurors took chairs beneath the blaring flat-screen TV at the north end of the room or clustered into the corners, where at least one or two apparently managed—by turning just right, holding still—to get reception on their cell phones.

This room, I remember thinking, the edible half of my mealy apple consumed, right before he appeared. From where would I film it? In what light? I couldn’t imagine the angle or the composition. What shot would capture this tile, where even the scuffs had faded, this specific type of fluorescence, which didn’t buzz, didn’t glow, wasn’t even itself? I can’t explain. There were bulbs overhead, obviously, but they weren’t where the light came from, somehow. Which of these faces best communicated the way all of our faces had gone slack along the jaw, lost some essential shelf of bone that rendered them faces and not masks, collage dots for a future artist’s jury box sketch?

We were all doing the same things. Or versions of the same things. Trying to drum up enough brainpower to answer the crossword clue we’d just read four times, or remember what we did for work clearly enough to do some (assuming we could get wireless), or think of anyone or anything in our lives except what we hadn’t said (or in my case, had) to get ourselves sentenced here to perform a duty we knew mattered, should care about, just couldn’t quite recall why. Not so much passing time as enduring it.

“You make films,” the guy said, right at my elbow.

I didn’t jump. I don’t think I would have remembered how. I did wonder, vaguely, where he’d come from. But I want to be clear: it’s true I can’t picture his face. But I couldn’t have pictured my own, right then.

“Some people call them films,” I muttered. Took a bite of the brown side of my apple, feeling all Marlowe. Elliott Gould Marlowe.

“About ghosts.”

I took him for Latinx, too, at first. I have a feeling, based on nothing but my own unthinking white person assumptions, that most people do. A little later, before I knew, I decided he was Vietnamese. Maybe Korean. I’m sure it must drive Filipinos crazy.

“I’ve seen some,” he said.

To cover my sigh, I lifted the apple for one more bite, nearly decapitating the tiny no-color worm that poked its head—I kid you not—out of the meat, glanced around like a mini meerkat, then ducked back inside.

Setting the apple on the table, I turned it toward the guy. So the worm could hear, too. I’m pretty sure I gestured at a nearby chair.

The guy just stood there, hands in pockets. His pants were a color, but not one I know a name for. Gabardine? Is that a color or a fabric? A color they don’t make anymore, anyway. Fabric, either. His shirt was the same. Uniform of some kind. Long-sleeved, in San Fernando, on a 112-degree day.

“One time?” If the guy raised an eyebrow, I didn’t see it, wasn’t looking. But I actually don’t think he moved. “I was working this school? In Van Nuys?”

“What sort of work?” I asked. Automatic impulse. Documenting. Passing time.

“Night.”

Right, sure, there’s a follow-up question there. But not in that room. Not on an empty stomach. I waited.

“I was walking down this hall? And right behind me, one of the classroom doors? It opened.”

I waited some more. I think I even tried to make a noise, I’m not intentionally rude, except to prosecutors with smirks for smiles and my time in their hands. In San Fernando, on 112-degree days.

“Another time?”

Now I really did make a noise, some sort of aural holding up of the palm I couldn’t actually bring myself to lift. Protest sound. I mean, if you’re going to tell me a ghost story . . .

“I heard this pinging. Ping-ping-ping?”

“In the school?”

“No, at the hospital. There weren’t even patients in it anymore, I don’t know why they needed night people. Out by Chatsworth?”

“Are you asking me?”

“I heard it. Ping-ping. Out on the stairs? So I went there, and I turned on the lights. And I walked down three flights? And at the bottom, in the basement, I found two little black bug shells. And a penny.”

For a second, I was absolutely sure I was being punked. My pal Gabriel, maybe, who specializes in absurdist shorts to sell to comedy cable. Or some stone-faced bailiff secretly delighting himself, because what else would a bailiff with an actual personality do for fun in this place?

“In Pacoima, one time, I was working this lot? Used cars? Behind me, whenever I wasn’t looking, headlights flashed on and off.”

I felt pinned to my plastic chair, to the whole room, like someone’s collected butterfly. Moth, because whatever coloring I possessed had leached away hours ago. Nevertheless, I finally stirred. Flapped.

“If you weren’t looking, how did you see them?”

It was a dumb question. It got the answer it deserved.

“They went on. Then off.”

Sighing, lifting the apple by its wilted stem and chucking it in the streaked plastic garbage can next to the table, I stood.

“In the same lot, another time? I saw these kids over in the far corner, by Roscoe Street? But on the lot. They saw me, too, and when they did, they moved toward me. Then a trash can banged.”

I really did think there might be an ending to that one. Or a second episode, anyway. Abruptly, I realized what this whole conversation reminded me of: the world’s worst pilot pitch.

“Once?” the guy said. “At the Galleria? I came out of the bathroom on the third floor, and I smelled orange”

“Speaking of the bathroom,” I mumbled, gestured at the clock, and made my escape.

He didn’t follow. At the door I glanced back. He was still by my table, hands in his pockets. If he was looking at anything, it was the chair where I’d been sitting. I felt bad. I waved.

The second I was out of there, though, I forgot feeling bad about anything except being trapped here for the rest of the week. I was going to have to find a shade tree somewhere not in the jury room. Bring my own apples. I stayed in the bathroom stall until it was time to be readmitted to court.

They only kept us another hour, that day. Long enough to finish voir dire. I’d forgotten to look for my lunch companion, and I honestly believe I might never have thought of him again. But right at the end, when the judge was getting ready to have the bailiff install us, the prosecutor glanced up from his notes. No smirk. He looked as tired and trapped as the rest of us.

“The prosecution wishes to thank and excuse Alternate Number Two.”

There was no ado or fuss. The judge did raise one eyebrow, and the defense attorney dropped a hand to his table as though preparing to object. But he didn’t, and the moment rippled through the room and out of it. At the left-hand end of the jury box, my lunch companion stood, brushed his hands against his pants, opened his mouth. Maybe just to breathe. Nothing came out. He didn’t shrug. Just moved, head down, out of the box. In the silent whoosh of air as he passed under the room’s lone vent, his shirt bubbled, and his collar—half turned wrong way out, stained black where it touched his skin—bristled against his neck. Down the little aisle he went.

Even the Latinx kid, led out in handcuffs at trial’s end three days later, looked less forlorn.

Maybe that’s why I did it. Maybe that’s why I remembered the guy at all.

All I know is, a couple weeks later, I was sitting at my tilting apartment kitchen table—which was also my desk—confronting reality. The amateur-hour paranormal series that had paid me a semi-living for three years running had given up the ghost. My last-ditch Kickstarter for my tent city doc had gotten two pledges, one each from my mom and step-aunt. My step-aunt had suggested—in the public comments, on the web page—that I offer “more practical” premiums as pledge rewards: bar mitzvah or wedding videos, say. Or yard work.

Yard work.

I could have taken the comment down. But something about my week in court—the terrified defendant, the inexorability of the case, the decision we were all helpless to avoid by the end, even though it seemed absurd, draconian, laughable except for being the opposite of funny—had put me in a confronting-reality sort of mood.

Unexpectedly, I thought about my lunch companion. Not our conversation, not anything he’d said, but him passing in front of the jury box with his head down, collar bristling. Thanked and excused. Not necessary. I realized I didn’t even know his name.

I had to put down my half-peeled orange to grab my phone. Maybe that’s what actually possessed me: I smelled orange.

Funny word, possessed.

The collar, it turned out, wasn’t the only thing I remembered about the guy’s shirt. I could also see the name, stitched in red cursive over the pocket. Not the guy’s name, but his company’s.

Look Outs, Inc.

I don’t remember thinking it was funny—the two words instead of one—in the court room. But it seemed funny, now, the first thing all month I’d laughed about. It also seemed . . . I don’t know. Sweet. How condescending is that?

Anyway, I laughed. Then I looked up Look Outs, Inc., and called them.

The phone call was also hilarious. The first one, anyway. Um, yeah, I don’t actually know his name. But he’s worked at, let me think, a hospital, a school, and a used car lot. Yes, I understand those are all places you staff. At night, he does nights. Which, ah, that’s your whole business, got it. All over the whole city, huh? Valleys, too? Good for you.

For my second call, I led with, “He sees ghosts.”

Occupational hazard, the bubbly woman on the other end of the line assured me. I was about to hang up, give up, when she suddenly said, “Wait, Bulan? Our friendly Filipino? Do you mean Bulan?”

“Erm . . . yes? Did he have jury duty a couple weeks ago?”

Which is how I found myself, GoPro riding shotgun, speeding up the 5 into the never-ending mall that is Santa Clarita, California, at one in the morning on an August Tuesday night. There was a moon, big and fat and orange. For LA on the lip of fire season, the sky seemed stunningly clear. By which I mean the city lights seemed to reflect off it, as though from the mirrored underside of a dome. One of those lights really was Venus, though. I’m pretty sure.

“You’ll never find him,” the woman had assured me. Good-naturedly.

“Didn’t you just give me the address?”

“You been up there?”

Step-aunt lived there. I knew what she meant.

“Does he have a walkie-talkie or something?”

“A what? Why?”

“For . . . you know, night watchman business. What if he sees something?”

“He calls the cops.”

“Not the office?”

“Some of us have homes,” the bubbly woman said. That seemed less good-natured, somehow.

It really did take more than an hour, even after I’d gotten on the right never-ending frontage road, to locate the place. On one side of the street, malls and mall parking lots fanned forever like a trick deck of cards, Gap-Vans-Guess-Boss-AmericanEagle-TrueReligion-BananaRepublic. Pull in anywhere, tap any card, you get Food Court. “Look for the Starbucks,” the bubbly woman had said. Twenty minutes into my search, at the moment I was closest to sure I’d already passed what I was passing even though I’d neither turned nor turned around, I realized that had been a joke. A pretty good one.

On the other side of the street, identical faux-rock formations framed signs for subdivisions. Porter Canyon. Golden Horse Hills. The Oaks, where my step-aunt lived. The Oaks again. Unless it was the same Oaks, with separate entrances. Or the same entrance, and I’d looped somehow. My car didn’t have GPS, and as usual, I’d forgotten my phone—in those days, at one fifteen in the morning, who would I have called?—but at some point I started imagining and mouthing directions.

“You have reached your—wait—in two hundred and fifty feet, turn ar—you have reached your . . . recalculating route . . .”

What neither the buildings nor the subdivision signs had were numbers. A few times, I saw painted addresses over storm drains fronting the wide, brilliantly lit, sidewalks. All of them were within a few hundred of the number I’d been given, some above, some below. None were the number I wanted. The only other vehicles I passed were cop cars. Or the same cop car. Always, every time, headed the other direction, no matter which direction I was going. Always at the same speed, like a duck on tracks in a shooting gallery.

I almost gave up and went home. Even now, I can’t say what told me I’d found it. I think I pulled into the lot to turn around and head back to the freeway, which was always nearby, a traffic light and on-ramp away, as though I’d stayed tethered to it, trotted beside it all this time like its pet. Californians, I remember thinking. Freeway pets.

Facing the buildings, I saw the same stores on either side of the entrance. Vans, Banana, Levis. Starbucks, haha, get you a frap, Madame Look Out? Then I realized there was an unmarked building between them. Long, low, stretching like a hangar way back into . . . not darkness, obviously, they’ve rounded up the darkness and put it in shelters in Santa Clarita.

But distance.

I’m sure half those malls have office complexes or structures like this one tucked into them. But somehow—by its facelessness, its emptiness, its, I don’t know, hands-in-pockets humility—I knew this was the place.

Market Circle Business Centre. With an -re.

Did I ever actually see a sign that said that? Confirmed my guess? Was Market Circle Business Centre even that specific building’s name, and not just a designation, like East Wing or Restrooms? Why do I still, even now, avoid thinking about how I knew?

Instinctively, I parked near the front of the empty, endless lot, but not at the front. A good ten spaces away. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t anything. Those front spaces, though . . . They just aren’t where one parks. Not without the company of other cars.

As I got out, though, stepped into motionless air that was fresher than any I’d breathed in months but tasted recirculated, not so much stale as deoxygenated, I heard my jury room lunch companion’s voice. Not on the breeze, not spectrally. In my memory, where it belonged: I heard this pinging. Ping-ping-ping?

Otherwise, I just heard silence. The suburb-built-on-desert kind, suspended over fifty-mile sidewalks next to deserted malls.

As I crossed the lot, a cop car passed, but on my side of the street this time. I don’t know what made seeing it so alarming, but I almost dove back into my own car. If I’d done so, I think I might also have hid.

Why? No idea. I couldn’t see the officer through the vehicle’s darkened windows, and anyway, I was probably a football field away from the street. Maybe the cop didn’t see me. Maybe I looked like even less of a threat than I felt, to anything or anyone anywhere.

The cop car passed. I shouldered my GoPro, and with no particular apprehension, no specific feeling at all except a wave of exhaustion, stepped over the little curb, out of the parking lot and into the mall.

For the next . . . I don’t actually know how long, but I was back in my car, fleeing and weeping, by two twenty. So. Thirty minutes? Less? All I did in the time I spent there was walk the mall. The Market Circle Business Centre ran all the way down the middle of it like some sort of breakwater—breakair—and so I wandered around it, looking for a way in, or lights, or a door on which to knock. I flicked on the GoPro a couple times and filmed my shoes.

More than anything, I felt like I was traversing a soundstage. Or downtown Disney. Some places—schools, office complexes, even other malls—feel eerie with no one in them, because it always feels like there should be someone in them, right? Or has been, moments before. But these Southern California sidewalk worlds . . . they feel eerie because the thousands of people who pass through them leave no trace. The sidewalks are always spotless, the windows free of fingerprints. The buildings don’t even feel anchored to the land. More like something assembled on Minecraft and projected. About as suggestive of current, active habitation as flags on the moon.

At one point, passing a shuttered Ann Taylor outlet, I took a turn around the back of the Business Centre, and the actual moon blazed down on me like a lighthouse beam. It hung there, seemingly right at the end of this row of shops, gigantic, ridiculous. As fake as everything else in Santa Clarita. An emoji moon pasted onto what passed out there for blackness.

I almost returned to my car. I felt ridiculous. Instead, I pointed my GoPro straight into the light and kept going, figuring sooner or later I’d find a door to knock on, a way into the Business Centre. When I lowered my camera, I glanced right, wanting a glimpse of my own reflection in the window glass just to confirm I was actually there, and saw a woman.

She was just standing in the center aisle of the Foot Locker outlet, which wasn’t dark, had to have had at least some lights on. She was old, or older: white curly hair, pince-nez, some kind of dark-colored necklace that seemed to trap light more than reflect it. The little beads weren’t uniform, looked mottled or cracked.

Like beetle shells, I remember thinking as I passed. I didn’t stop moving, barely had time to process. But somehow, I noted the necklace. And the way the woman had her arms folded across her chest. She was holding a pair of blue Skechers. Also, she was crying.

It didn’t even seem strange. Not right away. Why shouldn’t she be in there, straightening, restocking?

In a beetle necklace. Crying.

I glanced back in her direction. Just as I did, the store lights went out. In the instant after I saw her face, which was right at the window, pressed hard against the glass so her nose slid sideways.

That stopped me. Held me pinned to that placeless place.

I laughed.

“And right behind me, one of the classroom doors? It opened . . .

Turning my attention back to Business Centre, I focused again on finding an entrance. Eventually I did, around the far side, where this wing of shops emptied into yet another acre of parking lot: one door, heavy, metallic, and locked.

Had I seen even a single window in the Business Centre before then? Why not? What could the dedicated workers who presumably staffed this place possibly be doing in there, and why do it in the middle of the mall?

There was a moment, right around then, when I thought I might have stumbled onto something. A film the Kickstarter crowd might actually fund, and incidentally get my tent city project out of post-production in the process.

I knocked on the door.

Desert breeze kicked up, surprisingly strong, whipping across me and into the mall behind me. Past the Foot Locker outlet. In my mind—only in my mind, I did not see this—the old woman lifted away, tumbling over the sidewalks and out of sight like a plastic bag.

The second time I knocked, I got an answer. From behind me.

I don’t even remember the sound, couldn’t begin to tell you what it was, am not even sure there was sound; it could have been vibration underground. A temblor, they happen all the time out there, never really stop, as though the whole planet has Parkinson’s, is slowly shuddering itself and us to pieces.

So maybe I just felt, didn’t hear. Maybe it wasn’t in response to my knock at all.

Whatever. I was too busy whirling, fumbling my GoPro up to my face and turning it on—from protective instinct, not directorial—and so I saw what I saw through the lens.

I’ve played the footage back a thousand times since then. I still can’t say. Neither can anyone I’ve shown it to. Is that a dragonfly passing? Wrong-color hummingbird? What you see is what I saw: a streak of black in the air, right at eye level, like a smear on the lens itself.

Or a contrail.

Behind me, the door knocked.

Real sound, not vibration; I definitely heard it. I didn’t whirl—I’ll admit it, was afraid to, scared I’d find old woman face pressing right into mine with her breath in my nose, in my mouth—but I turned. Slowly. Lowering the GoPro, mostly because I’d lost my sense of how close I was to the door and didn’t want to bang it.

The door banged. Much louder. Four knocks, rapid-fire, rat-a-tat-tat.

I did what you do when someone knocks, what instinct and civilization has trained us to do: I reached out my hand. Right before I touched metal, the door drummed. Pound-pound-pound, double-fisted, surely. I kept expecting the metal to shudder in its frame, but it was heavy, thick, gave no visible sign.

Hoisting the GoPro again, I got it almost to my face, felt more than saw movement to my left, darted my eyes that direction.

She was maybe fifteen feet away. The woman with the necklace. Except it was a different woman. Same necklace, totally different person. Young, black hair in a ponytail, blouse and shiny shirt-vest bright pink. Skechers blue, and on her feet. Less Ringu monster than K-pop star. At least until the necklace twitched. Shuddered to life all at once, like plugged-in Christmas lights. The shells sprouted legs.

The moon switched off.

I wasn’t consciously filming, wasn’t even thinking, just recording sensation in my brain. But where did the light come from? How did I see the coyote?

They’re fair questions. I can’t answer them.

It loped out of the Restrooms corridor right at the end of the mall across the sidewalk from me. It didn’t trot toward the woman, didn’t yip or bare its teeth. It just stood, working its mangy mouth, which dripped. The least surprising living thing there, really.  Assuming it was living. And actually there.

Wind whipped up again, too hot for the night, hotter than the air should have been, and it reeked. Dead skunk. Breath mint. Old orange.

I wasn’t thinking any of those things, then. They’re what I’ve pieced together since. Or, right, maybe invented. When I’m in comfort-myself mode, I decide I invented it.

Because otherwise, that reek was combined breath: The coyote’s; the woman’s/women’s; and her beetles’.

The ground buzzed like a cell phone receiving messages Or a million seventeen-year locusts erupting out of the Earth all at once. I looked down, staggered sideways. The coyote humped up, slunk to its left, but closer. Circling me. Hemming me in. Or herding me toward the woman, who’d gone old again, though still in the K-pop vest. Her necklace seethed on her collarbone like crabs on rock.

Or one big crab.

I turned to run, wasn’t even considering which direction, and finally noticed the Business Centre door.

The open door.

Everything stopped. It was pitch black inside, or at least I thought so at first. In retrospect, though, that moment was like the first glance up past streetlights into night sky. It takes a while. What we like to call stars coming out is really just our eyes adjusting. Finally seeing what’s there.

Still. There definitely weren’t any lights on inside. Just a hallway, long and shadowed. Doors took shape, all of them windowless, all of them closed. A water fountain. And then, way down at the end—or not the end, maybe just at the lip of even darker shadows—I spotted my guy. Bulan.

Even in the jury assembly room, even while he was talking, I’d barely bothered to look at his face. I recognized him now by his slump. The fit of his uniform shirt. Same one, I was sure. He had a flashlight in one hand, not switched on. Half-peeled banana in the other.

Did he recognize me? Even today, I wonder. Do they allow him recognition?

In the most mournful, pathetic way—as though at the window of a plunging plane—he lifted the banana and waved.

I stepped into the Business Centre, started forward, and a curl of shadow, like a stray black hair, rose out of his collar and burrowed along his neck. The shadow had bristles. A spider leg. Beetle leg. Same as the legs sprouting from the old woman’s shell necklace, seething in place rather than crawling.

Not beetles, I realized. Not crabs.

Ticks.

Somehow, I kept myself moving forward. At least until I saw the rest of them:

Streaks of black filled the air between us. A woman—that woman? One of them? Both?—shimmered into existence, blinked out, blazed back again. The coyote appeared—just its mouth, then its tail, its slinky shoulders—hovering. Hunching in place. There/not-there/there. All of it swirling maybe halfway down the hall like an eddy in a river, with more black streaks radiating from it, swirling off it like mist. Right before the whole thing balled together—coiled—I realized it wasn’t like a river at all. It was too contained. Too intentional.

More of a moat.

It exploded toward me. Coyote/women/bristle-shadow legs, and I dropped the GoPro, stumbled, grabbed the GoPro, and ran.

Left Bulan there. Ran.

Not because I’m a coward. Not only. They weren’t . . . after him. Or they already had him. To the extent I thought anything, that’s what I thought.

I think it still.

I wonder if he even saw them. If, for him, it was always more like looking up from the bottom of a pool. Seeing lights flicker. Hearing pings.

I don’t remember sprinting to my car. I don’t remember wind, light, sound, shaking earth, anything. I don’t remember the drive. Somehow, I wound up on my step-aunt’s porch up in The Oaks, clutching the cocoa she’d made me, babbling at her as she sat in her robe and bare feet on her porch swing and stared out at the identical houses across the way and around her. At some point, for some reason, I heard myself talking about my uncle, who’d refused morphine all the way to the end, and died screaming so loudly that we could hear him all the way down in the family waiting area. I was describing winces and tears on nurse’s faces. One nurse in particular, a young one, Elysia, who’d always smiled at my step-aunt and put a hand on her shoulder.

I didn’t know about the Diwata yet. I learned about them later, on one of those days when this all resurfaced. By then, I’d given up trying to find Bulan—he’d quit, I’d been told, vanished, no one even seemed to have a record of his last name—and instead just rooted around hopelessly on the internet. The Diwata are Filipino fairies. Or a Tagalog name, anyway, for fairies who spirit you away. Claim you for their own. Won’t let you leave.

Were they what I saw? How would I even begin to know?

The only thing I know is Bulan’s raised hand, holding banana. Those slumped shoulders. The prosecution wishes to thank and excuse. My lonely step-aunt, and that nurse touching her shoulder. The people and moments that attach to us as we pass like ticks, burrow in, make us sick, separate us, but also, just maybe, form the only reliable bridge we’ll ever have between ourselves and anyone else. Their hard shells the path we traverse on our way through woods we all walk to someone else’s porch, so we can sit and tell the story of how we got there.

“Black Leg” copyright © 2021 by Glen Hirshberg
Art copyright © 2021 by Robert Hunt

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