Surrealism is not, has never been, and will never be a literary or artistic school but is a movement of the human spirit in revolt and an eminently subversive attempt to reenchant the world: an attempt to reestablish the “enchanted” dimensions at the core of human existence—poetry, passion, mad love, imagination, magic, myth, the marvelous, dreams, revolt, utopian ideals—which have been eradicated by this civilization and its values. In other words, Surrealism is a protest against narrow-minded rationality, the commercialization of life, petty thinking, and the boring realism of our money-dominated, industrial society. It is also the utopian and revolutionary aspiration to “transform life”—an adventure that is at once intellectual and passionate, political and magical, poetic and dreamlike. It began in 1924; it continues today.
—  Michael Löwy, Morning Star: Surrealism, Marxism, Anarchism, Situationism, Utopia, p. 1



Sitting shotgun and meandering aimlessly through town, the truck rocked me gently inside herself, so that bundled and warm, I dozed.  I dreamt I had somehow connected with an element of the machine and split my head. There had been no great calamity and I was only aware because my fingertips tracing the ridge of my skull encountered a warm mix of sand, grit and blood. I staggered down the worn dirt track, away from the massive vehicle that obliterated everything with noise and fury like a minor god descended. The work continued on, taking no pause or notice of my going AWOL. I needed a place to lie down for a minute, maybe among an explosive debacle of privet, or under a low covering of English ivy. It didn’t seem to matter. I could feel blood flowing in rivulets behind my ears, down my neck, over my clavicle. I imagined making it to a hospital bed, but that didn’t seem right, I would only get the perfectly white sheets dirty. I’d be embarrassed by the mud my boots would have tracked in.

The alley terminated at a large field, acres of old, thinning grass and clover, encircled by an army of pines a good ways off. There was a stiff wind and everything moved with it. I wandered toward the center until I came upon a matted area where I figured a doe and fawn bedded down the night before. I’d found my spot. 

With their animal musk around me, I lay on my back and watched the blue sky racing just above. I could feel blood mixing with late morning dew along my shoulders and neck and in my hair. Strangely enough I felt no pain. 

Presently the boom arrived, scarred, notched jaws yawning just over me and then closed beneath, delicately gouging up dirt and grass to carry along with me. From the rift came a smell of fresh plowed soil as the boom lifted me in her fist, arms and feet dangling at the knees like a sleeping child in a mother’s arms, and we went up into the sky, trailing dirt.


Little Blue Heron

When I got home I did exactly as I was told. I did not pass go, did not collect two hundred dollars, I sat down on the large paper spread out on my living room floor and set to it. With the back of my hand I brushed away the layer of dust, grit and hair and began searching among the fifty or more sharpies scattered around for a blue that still had some life left. 

After weeks of standing over the thing, I began making marks again, cross-hatching at first, figuring in the slight muscle along the back of the bird’s neck. I’d been at it long enough I didn’t even need to look at the book for reference anymore. The geography of the drawing was well known to me.  The little blue heron had finally begun to emerge from the stand of reeds, except at five foot by seven, it consumed my living room easily. 

There was no other proper marker besides blue in the sets I brought home from Wal-Greens. Not even in the pastel twelve pack I’d experimented with one time. The only way to go was blue upon blue, more blue for shadows, maybe some black along the outer perimeter to set down hard lines.  Thousands of marks laid down finally achieved a solid layer of color. It had formed something that resembled feathers covering its thorax. The fine plumes wisping from its neck like a beard almost swayed with the wind coming up from the bend in the great river below. 

I drew until my back was ruined and my knees ached and then I kept drawing. I poured everything I had into it, layering until the cobalt beneath me acquired a depth I could peer into, teasing out blue with hundreds of marks. Like a thousand cuts into flesh, or a thousand arrows falling from the sky to pierce me, I drew until everything fell away.  I was a diver above the impossible sapphire expanse of the Gulf Stream, almost tumbling into the abyss. I carved Xs into the breast of the bird, crosshatching or scribbles writhing across the landscape of its wings like a new language. An insane person outlining the figure of God, I was a broken vessel made whole again, and being filled from heaven, it was all I could do to lay my art down on paper.


They Feed They Lion

Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,
Out of black bean and wet slate bread,
Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,
Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,
They Lion grow.
                        Out of the gray hills
Of industrial barns, out of rain, out of bus ride,
West Virginia to Kiss My Ass, out of buried aunties,
Mothers hardening like pounded stumps, out of stumps,
Out of the bones’ need to sharpen and the muscles’ to stretch,   
They Lion grow.
                        Earth is eating trees, fence posts,
Gutted cars, earth is calling in her little ones,
“Come home, Come home!” From pig balls,
From the ferocity of pig driven to holiness,
From the furred ear and the full jowl come
The repose of the hung belly, from the purpose
They Lion grow.
                        From the sweet glues of the trotters
Come the sweet kinks of the fist, from the full flower
Of the hams the thorax of caves,
From “Bow Down” come “Rise Up,”
Come they Lion from the reeds of shovels,
The grained arm that pulls the hands,
They Lion grow.
                        From my five arms and all my hands,
From all my white sins forgiven, they feed,
From my car passing under the stars,
They Lion, from my children inherit,
From the oak turned to a wall, they Lion,
From they sack and they belly opened
And all that was hidden burning on the oil-stained earth
They feed they Lion and he comes.

--Philip Levine, Detroit 1968


An Earwigs' Guide to Travelling

Arthur Ashe

I think what happened was that somebody down at City Hall got panicked that since Obama was stopping through town, he might, on a whim, want to see where Arthur Ashe was buried, and upon viewing the horrible condition that part of our city is in, the press would blight Richmond for all time.  So me, Will and Gloria were dispatched first thing to go do what we could with it and Mrs. Hudson was on us, too, Jack.  A front had come through, knocking the heat out of the park and filling the City with a damp fog. We rolled it slow through thin, Spartan blocks of industry, where the gritty eastern-most edge of Northside gets severed by the tracks. Trees everywhere, lining what used to be an old curvy country shortcut to get you quick out of the city.  We drove around the blue early chill, packed three and warm across the bench seat, the sky not yet cracked enough to illuminate the windowless steel structures.  We prowled like thieves.  Eventually we abandoned the commercial structures and headed up the cemetery road.  

At some point earlier in the summer, Wil’s non-stop bitching stopped bothering me. I couldn’t tell you how it happened.  The cemetery road wound up a hill under a canopy of oaks, and lined either side by tall berms. Going up it, we picked out the piles in the dark:  t.v.’s, mattresses, some bullshit lumber, all of it covered by piles of moldering black leaves.  The place was a mess and Wil bitched and cussed the whole way. We crested the hill and turned the truck around by the stone gate.  He didn’t have to explain the run. I’d been with him long enough to know the pace. He’d hit it hard, going left and right down the road. I’d have to move fast because he slung the boom around like crazy drunk, shit falling everywhere. We’d wind up a sizable portion of each pile. I told Gloria to stay in the truck if she wanted. She nodded, getting out her peppermints out of her back pack, started fiddling with her phone.

Wil mounted the ladder to the operators’ seat, I started launching two-by-fours up over the edge into the bed.  The truck rose and the boom slung suddenly over me, claw swinging wildly back and forth, and gaping. The sun, just piercing the bare, black limbs barely illuminated it to the point of being a horrible black shape above me.   I hopped the ditch and digging my heels in the mud, backed up the hill out of the way. He made two quick grabs, shards of spruce exploding like bombs and set the claw set back in place pinching the two back doors. I grabbed what I could of what was left on the ground before he came down the ladder and got into the cab. I circled around the back of the truck, throwing random overspill into the truck, and hopped onto the passenger side door step. Wil punched the brake button and got it rolling. Gloria smiled at me behind the window, her perfect white teeth glowing brighter than anything else in the dark cab. I linked my elbow around the side mirror and hung on.
The trees opened onto the mist covered fields of Woodland graveyard. 

The tall grass almost overwhelmed the tiny plots, rolling like fog-covered waves. English ivy threatened the modest concrete urns, a few of them rolled over here and there. An ancient cedar lilted into a wild overgrown hedgerow like an old man leaning on a grandson for support.  The cool damp wind whistled lightly in my ears as we passed.  There in the center was the beloved prince of our City, taken too soon. A single black monolith rising out of the mist, ASHE inscribed in gold, black gated and perfect. I cussed myself for being ignorant of his story, but I waved anyway and said good morning, Arthur.  As good a salutation as any, I suppose.

We passed back into woods, the vaulting oak closing over us enough to almost bring back nighttime. I suddenly felt very much like Ichabod Crane. The truck heaved to the right and pulled up quickly onto a set of televisions, listing heavily to the right as the camber of the road plunged into a ditch. We braked to a hissing halt, all rusted metal and groaning. Gloria got out this time, pulled a pitchfork out from under the bed and leaned against it. We had an understanding that I wouldn’t let her work if I didn’t have to. She was as big as me and would break it off every bit as much as any man out there, it just seemed wrong to me for a woman to work that hard.  It must have been a submerged Southern gentleman trait flaring up. I pulled three tires out of the pile and pitched them off to one side for Kenny and the stakebody to pick up later. Glo sucked on her peppermint stick like an addict and pulled her carhartt jacket close from the damp.  Summer was long gone and this was cold musty, rain soaked fall.  I went over and stood close by her as the claw clenched shut on a massive television cabinet; we both looked away as the tube exploded in a great burst, sending shards of glass across the road. Having no broom, we moved in as the crane lifted away, kicked what we could to the leaf edge and mounted up.

Wil turned the lights off, signaling a break. He picked up muttering where he left off. We sat, Gloria between us, listening to Steve Harvey chew out Nephew Tommy. Gloria got another peppermint out of her backpack and administered to it loudly. I got my thermos out of my own backpack and slugged coffee. I screwed the top back on and rested it on the dirty juncture where my thigh met my knee. A car pulled around the far corner of the road, pulled up and stopped about a hundred yards away, motor running, lights still on.

“What is this motherfucker doing?” asked Wil in heavy Brooklyn brogue.  “He don’t see us sitting here?”

“I don’t reckon so.” I said “Shall I go ask to see if he’s lost?”

Gloria said, “He’s over there getting his dick sucked.”

“Yuh, probably got some nasty ass five dollar skeezer off Brooklyn Park Boulevard. Cracked out, shaking, with no fucking teeth.” Wil laughed. He had a talent for taking any scenario to its furthest most extreme.

“Today is a payday Friday.” I offered.

“Shit,” Gloria said, “he been up since sometime yesterday.”

“Probably burning through money like a house on fire.” I said.

Wil flipped on the lights of the big truck. The effect it had was immediate. The car pulled into reverse, went back down the hill backwards until it attempted to turn itself around and almost tumbled ass first into the ravine of the ditch.

“Hell, you just wasted that man’s money.” I said. “Shame on you, Wil.”

Wil brayed, yes, exactly like a donkey.  His phone rang, it was Mrs. Hudson with further instructions for the morning and to see if we were done yet. Gloria and I groaned while Wil sparred with her.

“Alright, let’s get the fuck out of here.” Slapping the brake button, we roared on down the road, passing a couple piles then got to where the cemetery road met the main thoroughfare. The woods fell away and for a second it almost felt like civilization.

There was a sizable pile there at the intersection. A mattress, some black contractor bags, filled most likely with building materials I guessed.  Out in the open like that, we’d need to get it all up, Presidential motorcade or not.  Gloria and me tumbled out the side. Wil climbed the ladder to the seat, and dropping the two stabilizers so far so that, pressing into the ground, they lifted the front of the truck well into the air.  I leaned against the front fender and watched him grab. I pushed the lug nuts with my boot and spun the massive wheel. Gloria stood next to me, lit up a Newport and gestured up the hill behind the truck.

“My best friend was murdered up there.” She said.

“Jesus, Gloria, really?”  I said


I had no idea what to say. The hill was steep, and rose straight away from the road. It was covered in short loblolly pines, the weird kind, only about six foot tall, eight foot tops, the kind that soften everything around them.  The sky above was still low and grey, and fog hung around the necks of the trees on top of the hill. It didn’t look like it belonged in the city or anywhere, really. It looked like the kind of place where anything could happen.

“They shot her in the back of the head. The police said she had blood and mud under her fingernails.”

“So she fought them the whole way?” I asked.

“Hell yeah she did.” Gloria said. She turned and looked far away “I ain’t been up here since she died.”

“Yeah this place is creepy. I’m sorry, Glo.” 

Pathetic as it was, there was absolutely nothing else for me to say or do. 

From what I knew about her, Gloria was deep into some shit before she got locked up. Kent told me that even though it was only a distribution charge, she wouldn’t roll over on her higher ups and so they put her in a maximum security up in Pennsylvania on a RICO charge. She got clean herself clean there.  She told me it was there she found God.
“Yeah, we were just wild kids back then. Didn’t know shit.”

Finished, Wil straightened the crane and slammed the claw back on to the tail end of the truck, and brought the stabilizers up. The great truck rocked a little as it settled back onto its suspension; the tires bulged again at the bottom from the weight. I opened the door for her and Gloria got in, Wil and I got sat either side of her. The cab was warm, the radio loud with laughter.  We pulled off to wherever the next stop was.

Weeks earlier I had found that my seat belt made a sort of harness for my head so that it didn’t knock into the door so much. In this way I could snooze as we hammered through Northside. The sky closed up again and it began to rain. Opening my eyes periodically, I watched the wipers smear grease across the windshield.  Even though the cab was almost hot with the three of us, the weird virus that had kept me out most of the previous week kept flaring up. I had been making myself come in, scared for my job, Mickey Mouse as it was. Everything was too loud and smelled too strong, the trucks in the dark of the morning were all too big, everything moved too quickly. The twirling yellow beacon atop the stake body consistently set my world to spinning.

I came out of a doze as we lurched suddenly to starboard and entered one end of a long alley. Wil pulled the brake and leafed through the paperwork. We were to clean the whole alley, everybody groaned and got their gloves on. I spilled out of the door into the light drizzle, not bothering to pull my hood up, and walked down the length of truck. I had found a place back by the right tire where I could shove a pitchfork up under the frame one handed, however it was located by the big three inch exhaust that was pounding heat down into the gravel track, scattering rocks. Bending over, I picked out the muscadine sweet smell of oil within the diesel fume. I snatched the forks out and standing up, got the dizzy feeling again. My head felt magnetized, more susceptible to the earth’s pull or perhaps drawn against the tall metal walls of the bed of the truck. Gloria came out and lit up a cigarette in the rain and declared all this to be some fucking bullshit. I agreed. She pulled her hood up over her hair already wrapped in plastic bag, having just been done earlier that week. She fussed at me for not covering my head. I’d let her sit it out in the truck for the first couple stops but I needed help with this. 

The alley was probably a quarter mile long and strewn both sides with shit. Wil had climbed the ladder to the operator seat, dropped the stabilizers and brought the boom about, grabbing up debris on either side of the truck. Gloria and me started consolidating piles, lining them up for the truck roaring behind us and started working out way down. We ambled down the way like two old friends hiking a country lane. It seemed like each asphalt-shingle sided four-square lining the alley was boarded up and had a yard chin-high with grass and weeds. After a couple of weeks working in the West End, I had forgotten about the lush sketchiness of Highland Park, a verdant texture like nowhere else in the City.  After minute, the dullness of my sick began to fade and I found another rhythm, jabbing piles of trash, stacking limbs and brush. Gloria helped me drag a vinyl baby pool out of a pile of boxes and weeds.

“I keep waiting for a Rottweiler to come charging out of that tall grass.”  I said. 

“Don’t you worry, boo, I’d stick his ass before he got on you.” She  replied. 

A little further down I thought I recognized one of the houses, even though we were behind it.

“Didn’t we pick something up from that place not too long ago?”

“Yeah, it was where that family had got put out.”

“Ah shit, yeah.” I said. 

The front yard was strewn with possessions, furniture and what not, like any eviction, but what stopped us short was all the children’s clothing, toddler sized and larger, most of it still in its packaging.  A neighbor lady from across the street came out and claimed to know where the family was staying, could she have some of the clothing please.

Most of it was already in the back but I shimmied up the side to see what could be salvaged. Bags full of what I guessed was the leftover contents of the fridge had been mixed in with the grab and bursting open, mixed in with the slurry of the rest of the morning’s haul. What clothes I could see were utterly ruined.

We continued our work.  A few hundred feet on down Gloria stood up and gestured a house.

“I got a girlfriend owns that house.” She said.  The place was painted sea-green with purple and blue trim, but almost all the windows were covered in fresh plywood.

“Looks like girlfriend got foreclosed on.” I said. 

“Damn if it sure does.”

Actually it looked as though only one house in four on either side of that alley was occupied. Like it had always has been, the crash, it seemed, like everything else, had landed hard on Northside.

We agreed Gloria would stay by the piles and wait for Wil to bring the truck up while I went on ahead. Swinging the pitchfork across my shoulders and hung my outstretched arms on it like a scarecrow, I went on and surveyed the rest of the lane. I had worked myself into feeling better. Or maybe Gloria did it. On some days she was the one thing I could hold onto. I always meant to tell her this, but of course never did.

 A piece of plywood rotting against a lilting carriage house could be ignored, broken glass glittering everywhere green and brown. One place held an enormous hundred year old oak reaching overhead in the mist, spanning three back yards or more, English ivy choking the entirety of its stem almost to the branches. The rain ran down through my hair. The groaning rig well behind me was the only sound to be heard.

I thought about one of the several Vietnam vets who, over the course of years, I’d learned my trade from. Infantry from Tennessee, he was fodder like hillbillies in every war and got lucky enough to be shipped over dead in the middle of the Tet Offensive. He found himself appointed to the curious task of escorting tanks through the jungle. He said they were picked off routinely because well, the tanks were slow and loud as hell. He told me at length one time what it felt like to be in that situation, tramping through the jungle, waiting for the bullet. As I trudged the long length of bombed out ghetto, sick, broke, boots leaking and utterly alone, I told myself I did not feel like that.

By ten it had finally let loose with a straight pour down. Wil finally quit complaining and instead gotten hyped up enough to start roaring through stops. He talked loud and too much anyway, being amped like this just made him more abrasive, I almost liked him more when he was bitching non-stop. After he announced we would have our tickets done by lunchtime,I could tell how it was going to go. As the rain was nearly torrential, I told Gloria to just stay in the cab. She had no problem obliging. Already soaked through, I left my rain gear on but didn’t bother pulling the hood up. I had worked with the man enough to match his pace when he got like that, but it was fucking dangerous. He would get almost everything in a single grab and I could usually get whatever spilled with the pitchfork in a couple scoops. Heaving limbs over the side walls with the pitchfork, and the tongs, pulling them back over the top edge, would sing. I could get it loaded, shove the pitchfork under the frame and be back in the cab the same time as Wil. We cleared three whole alleys, and even though I hated how sloppy he was, it felt good to work together like that in a fury, reckless and mad as hell. With rain-water pouring down my head, face and neck, I didn’t need to look up to know where he was and what he was doing, outside the truck we were partners.

Finished we loaded back in the cab breathing hard, sandwiching Gloria. I pulled my soaked gloves off and threw them on the dash and let the blasting defrost dry them a little.

“Damn, Clay you went and got fast on me, son.” Wil said, chuckling “You still got to watch out for that boom though. You won't be moving so fast if I tag you with it one time.”

 “Well then my problems would pretty much all be over won't they?” I said.

 “What you got some kind of a death wish, Yo?”
“If it would get me off this god damn truck with your ass maybe so.” I said.

 “Oh hell no you staying right here with me.” Gloria said. “I already told Mrs. Hudson, Put me on the truck with that hard working motherfucker.”


We had cleared all of our stops when the sun came out and we blasted down Brookland Park Boulevard, wet right through to the bone. The morning radio shows were over and Highland Park was up and moving. The one leftover hit from the summer and Wil turned it up, nodding along while Gloria danced with the radio, head down, eyes closed, swaying and snapping her fingers. I looked out the window and the burned out foursquares with grassless yards flying by, cracked expanses of stucco in bright, dirty blues, pinks and yellows. This was the pulse of Northside.  I never saw it anywhere else in the City.  It was vibrant and dangerous and made the cottagey suburbs of the West End look like tired ass honky shit.  Driving fast, we got stopped short by the light at North Avenue and the Boulevard, the ragged, throbbing heart of Highland Park.

“Yo. Y'all want to eat?” Wil said. He was leaning forward, elbows against the steering wheel.

“I want to go hide somewhere and not do shit for the rest of the day.” said Gloria. “Fuck this rain bullshit.”

It was true. We had broken it off that morning and were soaked through from it. She got out her phone and made a call. 

“Hey. What are you doing? Yeah? Me and Wil and Clay. I told you about Clay. Yeah, warm it up for us. Yeah we're coming! Right now, bitch!” she cackled.

“Was that Jamie?” asked Wil.

“Yup.” Gloria said, “She's gonna have some plates warmed up for us.”

“Ain't got to tell me twice.” Wil said.

As near as I could tell, Jamie was one of Gloria's friends who somehow escaped the hood and into what could be counted as inner city middle class. She inhabited a neat little rancher off Hermitage in yet another section of the City that was totally foreign to me.  Nestled against the back entrance to a high rise old folks home and close enough to the interstate for it be heard but far enough away for it to sound like crashing waves on a beach, it was a cozy little area with mature trees all around and, sure enough, there would be no finding us.

Gloria had gone inside her girlfriends’ house, Wil was doing his community college homework and I was pacing by the back end of the truck listening to a stream of thinly veiled of threats left in my voicemail by my ex-wife earlier that morning. As usual, it started with money and it ended with me going to jail for child support.  I felt my face go hot.  With my gloved forefinger, I traced the outline of a snake in the thick residue of oil, hydraulic flud and road grime that came from the claw mounted on the doors above. I drew two snakes gnarled together into a rope, maybe three, an illustration of what was happening in my mind or my gut, one. The angry woman in my ear continued.

Finally I sat down by the curb, deleted the message and tossed my phone into the wet grass. Rage and despair coursed through me as if my blood was on fire. Gloria was still inside and I knew better than to talk to Wil about it, so I leaned back, crossed my legs under me and looked up at the impossibly blue sky. In the shade cast by the rig it was briskly cold when the wind blew. It felt like we'd come to port windblown from a brutal storm, wild eyed mariners, blinking like hatchlings the raw newness of the world, bewildered as to how we came to place.

The door opened and the two girlfriends came out laughing bearing great piles of food. I decided that no matter how bad it got, I could always count on Gloria's perfect smile to cheer me up.  She came over with a steaming paper plate piled with potatoes, roast, carrots and a couple dinner rolls still attached to one another. The plates were doubled up but a crease had formed nonetheless from which fluid looked ready to flow.  I'd had no idea how hungry I was until I smelled it. She handed it over and I tore into it, hardly using the plastic-ware. 

Looking up I noticed Jamie and Gloria sitting on the porch smoking cigarettes, having a laugh as they watched me in the grass devouring my food. They both had that schoolgirl grin and were talking in a hush, I felt shy and embarrassed.

I decided Jamie wasn't half bad looking, if not a mite thick. From what I could tell, she'd worked out a nice little life here. Kids grown up and gone, money still coming in from a variety of sources both legitimate and otherwise. Probably been through her own share of shit. Damn if she couldn't cook her ass off.  A woman like that would take good care of a man.

Gloria's stood up off the porch and got her little pre-paid drug dealer phone out of her jeans pocket. It was ringing, and she answered it.

“Hi, Mrs. Hudson.” she said. “Yes Mrs. Hudson. Okay. No I know where it is. Okay bye.”

She walked over to me, “We got to go.” I jumped up and together we hurried back to the truck. I shoved what I could in my mouth. Wil looked up from his book. 

“What's up?” he said.

“We gotta get down Southside.” said Gloria. “That was Mrs. Hudson.”

“She ask where we were?” he said

“Nope.” Gloria mounted the stair tread and situated herself, leaving it open for me. The truck roared to life. I shoved the last piece of roast into my cheeks and executing a fairly adequate layup, managed to get the plate over the side wall into the back, a stream of juice trailing a greasy arc against the clear blue of the sky.

I was half in the door when Wil punched the brake and set us to rolling. He still had half a plate tilting on the dash.

“Goddam if she ain’t on us.” He said, stuffing a roll into his mouth.

“Yeah man, never mind Karl, you’re the ram-rod this week.” I said. Wil scoffed loudly and shook his head.

The brief respite over, we slouched our way back to the war. We all waved to Jamie who was sitting on the porch smoking a long, thin cigarette. Gloria leaned across me and hollered out the window. “Love you, call you later.”

We were so far down rt.1, almost to the Alcoa plant, that by the time we got there, the heat had had a chance to recovered and really started to come on strong. We were allowed a good look at the pile from the intersection that halted our Southerly flow down Jeff Davis highway.

“Shit. I hope that ain't us.” Wil said. 

“Well of course it is.” I answered

This was a cul de sac where the back end of whatever nameless neighborhood it belonged to abruptly terminated. There stood a small cottage, the last in a line before the turn around. Opposite the house a small greasy pond, in that weather it seemed little more than a steaming ditch that had gotten backed up and filled with its own waste. The cottage was surrounded by stakes and yellow tape, there were a couple of vehicles in the yard, one being a small van with the back doors open. There was a fresh orange sticker on the faded wooden front door that hung by a single hinge, looking as though it had been kicked in. None of this was a big deal, it was a scene I had gotten used to seeing all over town. 

The big difference was the yard. It looked as if someone had loaded the house into an Army cargo plane and had ejected it out of the back at a low altitude, strewing the contents onto the yard and out into the street.  When we came around to the address, we sat and idled in the middle of the street. I had positioned the vent on my side so that the air conditioning howled into my face.

“The fuck, man, this is Chris's area.” Wil said.  “Hey Glo, what did Mrs. Hudson say about this shit, anyway?”

“Nothing, she said she got a call and we needed to go pick it up.”

“Man I ain't even gonna lie, this whole thing looks fucking sketchy to me.” I said.

“Yeah, you ain't kidding.” Said Gloria.

The block was empty. A couple of the other houses looked as though they were empty as well, but not nearly to the extent as our place. Wil leaned against the steering wheel, taking it all in with a hard look.

“What do you want to do, man?” I said. “You wanna bail?”

“Push a couple piles together, there and there and we'll get the stuff up that's in the street.” he said, pointing. “Don't go up in the yard, I ain't gonna fuck with nothing up in there. Just the stuff in the street.”

Me and Gloria pulled on our damp gloves and hopped out. Detritus was strewn throughout what seemed like a basketball court sized expanse. I pulled a mattress to a central spot on the pavement, looking around the whole time. I felt totally exposed and scared, like some wild reckless danger could come bolting from any direction at any time.

“This right here is fucked up.” Gloria said. Not only that but the oppressively wet heat made it worse, hard to breathe or something.  She dragged a busted dresser across to the pile I had started. Wil rolled up, set the engine at a highest idle it would go, and mounted the ladder to the seat. The tree of us clicked into work mode, as much of a team as you could expect after three weeks together. I went halfway down the length of the truck and pulled out my pitchfork out, my gloved fingers interlocked between the tines as if we were holding hands.  I started pushing moldering clothes that were strewn around the circle toward the truck, the bottom curve of the tool scraping along the asphalt. The noise of it made me feel a little more at ease. I was a City Man, I belonged there.

Gloria and I consolidated a sizable pile just before the front bumper and stood back, almost in the yard of the house; Wil was busy with a pile of pine-box furniture that had spilled off the curb into the street. There was a fence with a side gate that hung off its hinges at almost the same angle as the front door.  Objects were scattered all over the yard, files of paper blowing around, books, clothing, a chest-of-drawers. There was a dirty white van with two flat tires under a pin-oak to the right of the house, back doors agape with random tools spilling out of it. Upended toolboxes of greasy wrenches, it looked like, I thought maybe it belonged to a plumber.  I started to wander over that way, Gloria caught me by the arm and said “Hey. Uh-uh.” 

“Don't you go over there. I got a bad feeling about that van.” she said. We stood together and we waved away swarms of mosquitoes that had finally found us.

We did what we do. It took a minute. We left the street mostly clear except for some papers caught in the bushes and tall grass that lined the perimeter. A white fitted sheet had blown over the guardrail and into the pond, half submerged and the cleanest looking thing for miles. We loaded up and rolled out. Wil immediately blasted the air conditioning, I needed it but it froze me. I glared over him, as if he had done anything besides sit up there and run the crane.  Even Gloria had worked up a sweat on that one. We were all a little high from the heat and exertion.
We got caught at the light again before we banked right onto J-D highway headed back into town. I was able to scan the back yard. More wreckage. The light turned and we made our right when Gloria said.
“There's a man in there.”

Sure enough, sitting on a bucket in the back of the van was a shirtless old white guy, bearded and fat and badly sunburned.  Even from passing by in third gear, you could see great red splotches across his girth like continents on a burning sea. He must have hid out of sight while we worked. He hung his head, long thin strands of hair hanging in his face, staring at nothing, immense hands on his knees.

“Christ. He's out there with all those mosquitoes?” I said. “Man, oh man.”

“I'm gonna call Mrs. Hudson.” said Gloria.

“Naw, wait until we get back.” Wil said.

“Yeah, you're right.” said Gloria.

I had no idea what to say or do. I sat there feeling upset and cold, my gloved hands palms up in my lap, with the dark river smell of them enveloping me.

Later that night as I soaked in my dirty tub it occurred to me that we should have called Social Services about the man. But of course by then I was running a fever myself and needed to eat a bunch of aspirin and put my happy ass in bed.

In the dream I was running over hills through the tall trees of an old forest.  Columns rose from the floor covered in leaves, holding up the canopy. Here and there I caught glimpses of ruined mansions, Georgian and Italianate. Even as I was dreaming I knew I was populating the forest with my own memories. Granite stairs leading to nothing, ornate brick walls running the spine of a hill crest like the gentle hand of a lover, great sections either collapsed or stove in. I wondered why I was running until I saw the girl in a white dress running on just ahead of me. I was chasing her uphill, into the setting sun, her auburn hair glowing like fire reflected in the trees. I somehow knew she was a ghost and that I would never catch her, but on I ran. It occurred to me these were the woods of my adolescence, and as they crested and ended with a great rocky cliff edge, I recognized the slow muddy form of the Tennessee River far below.  There was, of course, no sign of the girl anywhere.

I woke not knowing where I was. The bed around me soaked in the sweat of my fever. Around my head I wore a crown made of ice.