The Sidewalk by Kemal Onor

 

The evening was ripe with the smells of rich autumn burnings. Early October, and already leaves and piles of rotted branches were gathered in heaps like funeral pyres waiting to be ignited. All of it set to go up in the raw, red autumnal color of a warm October evening sun.

Mr. Mark Chittaway stood on the sidewalk admiring the sky. It was a gray wool blanket of clouds swirled about, spinning as though a child’s finger had drawn them in wet sand. The sky was an ever shifting kaleidoscope of wind and cloud. There was in fact no sky to be seen. The layers too thick for any eye to penetrate. Still Mr. Chittaway started off down the sidewalk, moving without haste or leisure. He moved with a sense of purpose.

As he made his way towards his destination, he noted that despite the evening temperatures being cool enough for a brisk stroll, he passed no one on his way along the sidewalk. It wasn’t even six, and yet he hadn’t even seen a car pass by. The world was a still frame photograph of some lonely, gray afternoon. The sky darkened as he reached his destination. There he dropped a letter into a mail slot. He turned to see night had descended on him like a bat that had unknowingly wrapped him tightly in its wings.

Mr. Chittaway looked up at the darkened sky. He could no longer make out the swirling clouds. The layers looked as though they had formed one uniform drab of darkness. There was also the surprising spike of rain in the air. Distant like it was still gathering forces to itself. Like it was not yet strong enough to break through the covering of cloud and sky. A monster trapped behind a locked door.

He turned his nose up and inhaled the smell of rot and sun dried forest. The hint of pumpkins growing fat on the vine. He started off back towards home. He walked now in complete darkness. The sidewalk broke and bubbled in odd angles at times like sea waves captured in cement. Only occasionally did he trip in the darkness.

There was a soundless flash of light in the sky. For a brief moment Mr. Chittaway could see the path before him. He knew a storm was coming, but there was no echoing concussion of lightning, just yet. He increased his pace, sticking his head down, watching his feet carefully.

In the dark he sensed rather than saw someone moving towards him. A body or presence coming along in the opposite direction. The two passed each other like ships without sight of the other, only a heart beating in the dark presence. The hum of a brief existence. Like leaves the two were swept away from one another.

Mr. Chittaway kept his eyes bent to the ground. He could sense the stirring of wind. The pull of ghost like hands at his clothes and his head. The flashes of light came more frequently now, and he stopped to look up at the top of the city skyline. Still, the storm felt a safe distance away, like he was watching the whole matter unfold on his television screen. A war, perhaps, or a burning of Far East villages. Gunfire that could never touch him. Jungle heat that would never braise his skin. A deep golden sun that would never warm his own flesh.

He stood in awe of the flicker of soundless thunder, like the sound had gone out in a movie theater. He snapped his fingers to make sure his ears still worked. Again someone passed wordlessly by him. A gust of wind followed like a hand had brushed perfume at his nose. The damp lure of tramped through autumn woods. Pumpkins dropped to smash open and spill out their stringy guts. A treasure trove of harvest offerings – All hail the pumpkin king – the childhood game of his youth came to his mind. Where had all those golden autumns gone to, he wondered.

He thought about the girl who had long been dormant in his mind, a creeping thing that every so often pressed her eyes to the window of memory. She had been one of the few who had ran and played with the other boys on the street. One of those brave girls who loved dirt and laughter. It was only a momentary thought. But for an instant Mark Chittaway was transported back to when he was seven years old. Back to when life raced by in a furious flurry of colored leaves chasing behind him as he ran through clean October sunlight. Never afraid of what might be hidden in the forest. Never expecting that a bolt of lightning could be so accurate.

He winced at the thought, and turned his face to the sky once more. He started to feel the first touches of rain, a morning mist of gossamer kissed flowers. The dam broke in the sky. He quickened his pace, bowing his head towards his feet and marching back for home.

More sensations of people hurrying along in the opposite direction. Someone brushed his shoulder. He picked his head up, despite the increasing wind and rain. He never saw their faces. Only caught the outline of their silhouette when the sky popped with its camera lens flash. Everyone must be rushing home, he thought. All hail The Pumpkin King. The Pumpkin King. He found himself marching in time to the rhythm of the chant.

A mad rush came as a great tearing in the sky brought a strong downpour of rain. He heard it fall before feeling it on his glasses and in his eyes. So much rain, he was practically swimming on the sidewalk. The rich smells were dragged down, and Mr. Chittaway could see nothing. It was like the world had all at once been plunged back into the sea. As if all at once, the land had fallen away. It was a cold rain that was soaking him to the bone.

Still, in his blindness he stumbled along the sidewalk, spitting and gasping for a chance to catch a breath. Faces appeared from the darkness now and then, sweeping by in momentary warbled reflections. To his left he caught shop lights. Electric orange open signs and flickering white streetlights. The faces appeared like fish jumping from a black river. In fact, he felt very much like he was rushing against a stream, pushing in the wrong direction. The bodies that passed him in the dark were now more numerous, and the rush of water built in his ears.

The streets he had walked earlier that evening were now flooded, and rivers crossed his path. In some places the current was so strong he could feel his shoes being sucked off the cement and swept backwards toward a gutter drain. A face appeared from the dark, a child face, fresh and unaged. Her hair pulled back into pigtails. He knew it immediately.

“Lizzy?” he said. She did not stop. Only a low rumble of approaching thunder sounded in reply.

 


Kemal Onor has an MFA in Creative writing from the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College. His work has been featured in Constant Readers, The Offbeat, Jitter Press, and more. He has twice received the JSC/VSC Fellowship award. His work has been nominated for Best Micro Fiction. He lives in Vermont.

Published 10/28/21

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