• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 01

Down on Fifth

“There was this song when I was young,” the mother tells her daughter. The girl sits on her mother’s lap and her mother sits on a blanket and the blanket isn’t really a blanket, at least not one from anyone’s bed, freshly washed, smelling of soap and fabric softener. No. This blanket has “seen better days,” as her mother likes to put it. They’ve seen better days too. The child doesn’t know what “a better day” is, although she catches glimpses when her mother tells her stories about the little house, the violets her mother planted along the broken cement leading to their door.

“What was the song, Mama?”

“Oh, lemme see.” She hums. Clears her throat.

“Mama?”

“Gimme a minute. Duh, duh, duh duh…”

“Hey you!”

The angry voice makes them struggle up, grab their meager belongings and the faded squares of fabric, once a brilliant sun-yellow, a mellow blue sky, a grassy green, now stained and blotched with dried mud, spilled soda, catsup.

“Get moving. You can’t sit here. Around the corner with the rest of the freeloaders.”

They scurry onto Fifth Street, blanket sweeping the sidewalk.

Men and women crowd together beneath tarps, blankets, sheets of plastic in multiple states of disrepair held up by brooms, chairs, boxes.

1

Down on Fifth

The homeless roam in undesignated circles, others pace. Many sit against buildings staring at the circus around them, examining their hands, burying their faces.

The mother and child search for an empty space. They find one next to an old woman in a refrigerator box, but the crone spits at their feet and they move on.

They turn into alley, dark between buildings, but there’s a man turning, a box cutter in his hand. The mother pulls her daughter away.

“Wait!” the man calls.

The mother turns and sees he’s been cutting boxes and now he drags the largest one toward them. The mother pushes the girl behind her, waits.

“Take this,” the man says. “It’s enough to cover most of the girl and you.”

The mother steps forward, keeping her daughter at her back, and takes the box from the man.

The girl grins at him and waves.

The mother says, “Thank you,” and together they move out of the alley to find a place to set up the box. They walk up and down the street until they notice a small empty spot.

“Can we squeeze in here?” the mother asks the old man sitting on ground weaving together rubber bands.

“Yes, ma’am, and I’ll give you a hand, I will.”

Once they were set up and sitting on the stained, but precious blanket beneath them, the girl asked her mother, “What was that song you were talking about?”

The mother tries to find the tune in her head again and when she does, she sings in her slow soft voice, “He’s got the whole world in his hands…”

2