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Excerpt from

Hope Lives On A Paved Surface
by
Sean Craven

The colors of their clothes catch my eye as I pass, colors lit by the sun and set against black. Blue jeans, red blouse, purple dress, green sweater. I see someone, I take four steps and theyíre behind me. They are strapped down tightly, flat on their backs and fastened to the blacktop. Woven gray bands, thick and shiny like seatbelts, emerge from the asphalt and loop around their wrists and ankles.

They are arranged neatly. Each is centered in an area ten feet long and ten feet wide. I am never more than five feet away from one of them. When I look out at the distance a trick of the eye draws lines between them, mapping out a vast grid. They all point in the same direction.

Their clothes are sodden with grease and the asphalt around them is slick and dark from the rendering of their fat. Their hands are above their heads and their feet are spread wide. I hold my umbrella low, shading my head. I donít look directly at any of them.

As theyíve dried their voices have grown soft. Now theyíre just loud enough to whisper to their neighbors. They whisper about me and as I pass they whisper to me. Iíve walked in one direction and then in another but the whispers spread out in waves like ripples in a pond. Everybody knows who I am and theyíve all heard about what Iíve done.

Itís always noon here: the sun is centered in the sky. The sky is a hot blue lid sealed against the lip of the horizon. There are no clouds. The horizon is level; when I stop and slowly turn in a circle there is no variation at all in what I see, just a rippling band of heat mingling the blue and the black. The blacktop is smooth, the kind that covered playgrounds, and it forms a perfectly flat plane.

Thatís all there is. The sun and the sky and the asphalt and me and my umbrella and everyone in the world.

The first thing I saw here was my family. My brother was to my right, my sister to my left. My brotherís wife was on his right, my mother over his head and my father to her left and then I saw the pattern. Each person was at the center of a tic-tac-toe square, surrounded by eight others, and everyone I could see was someone I knew.

To my shame my first thought was that I didnít want this to be my fault. I kept thinking about myself, as if I was the one who needed help.

When those you love are trapped and suffering and you canít see the end of it, what do you say? Are you all right? Can I help you? I used to think that words were important. I depended on them and when I had nothing else to turn to they failed me.

Now I stare at my hands to keep from looking at the people I pass. My hands are all knuckle, whatís left of my flesh clinging tightly to the bone. My nails have twisted, peeling up at the edges as the meat under them dried. Itís a temptation to pull them off. My feet keep ticking away with the regularity of a metronome, step after step. The only times Iíve stopped since I left my family were to replace the shoes Iíve worn out. I always ask permission before I take them and if the man wearing them doesnít want to give them to me I find someone else. I donít understand why some people say no. Itís not like they need them. I suppose when you donít have much little things seem important to you.


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