Sean Murphy



You are alone.

You are back in the city and alone as you emerge into open and empty space, stepping out from the stale depths of the subway. The air is heavy, like some imploding dread, suffocating the city as daylight succumbs to starved evening.

You walk distractedly down the blank sidewalk, deflecting the grins and grimaces of commuters as they hurry by, delayed waves of anxious motion. The city is alive all around you: in the circular maze of windows and their electrical language, brightening as the sky darkens; in the cabs that hustle past, mocking pedestrians with warm exhalations of spent energy; in the stench of steam rising from sewage drains, escaping sullied rivers that teem in underground tunnels, and suddenly in the misshapen face of the aberration who approaches you, eyes twitching an insistent message (Help me, Help me! HELP ME!) and you recoil until he retreats into shadows, head shaking the answer he always gets (No, No! NO!). Your eyes guide you forward, eager to escape this spectacle.

Piles of steaming garbage smolder in neglected piles. Stepping awkwardly, you slip, genuflecting in the squalid slush. Impossibly, the cluster of sunken bags moves and then you see eyes, protected or trapped underneath. Your breath bursts as a distinct scent settles in the awkward shift of air. You understand, instinctively, what it signifies—and are ashamed.

Damp clouds lower in a disappearing sky: there will be more snow. And the wind, earlier a child has become a caustic man who coughs in your face, his bile gusting and swirling at your feet, over and around you, through you. Moving on slowly you curse this city and its reality you will not escape from. Praying warm thoughts, you close your eyes to think of the sun and somehow

you recall another city in another time and how frightened you were as you traveled, alone, through the hostile marketplace and the mass of humanity, an ocean upon the sand; there was no comfort in that prehistoric city: you were almost swallowed up by the groundswell of sallow, sneering faces and there was no refuge, even in the sanctuary, no solace in that holy place. And the imperious sun soaked your skin, its heat causing you to look away—to look down and in looking you saw and in seeing you were saved because suddenly you were not alone: no longer was your path solitary because he walked with you and his stride was purposeful and deliberate, and you felt him brush against you as he moved ahead, so you fell behind him and

you find yourself directly behind him, a few paces behind the man, unable to overtake him because the snow has been packed down by other pedestrians. You walk together, silhouettes in the swaying mist. Unsteady memories disorient your mind, congealing as the chill numbs your unprotected parts. The wind blows back his hair—so long you can almost touch it—and you realize its brunt is borne by this disheveled scarecrow come to life, strangely out of place in a frigid city (yet somehow familiar with his hunched shoulders and chastened gait): looking down you see his broken boots, bared soles scraping the soiled ground. You ponder the agony playing itself out in front of you as you live and breathe, once again in the city, so you close your eyes and suddenly the snow is sand and

you remember the narrow path you once traveled as the stranger walked beside you—and on that mild evening he carried his sandals in his hands and the sand was warm underneath, each grain alive between your toes; and this stranger, with his serenity and silence, reminded you of the one you knew before; the one who walked among you, always in front of you, and even then you followed him into the city: he was known by the people there and they threw flowers at his feet and smiled and you believed when the water turned sweet and your mind swam, tranquil and light. It was easy to believe, then, while you watched the cup overflow and the crimson drops fell to the ground, alive and burning, not unlike tears and

then the sand is snow and the red is there, somehow the red is still there in the darkened snow, a stream flows from the open sole of the scarecrow.

You freeze, once again left alone as he moves onward, unrecognized, into the cold corners of the city.