Ten on Jefferson

Submitted into Contest #74 in response to: Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.... view prompt


Contemporary American Fiction

This is an account of ten seconds on Jefferson street in Brooklyn, New York. 

Some people can say they weren’t born yesterday, but Elena isn’t one of those people. She was born yesterday. She doesn’t remember the busy hospital and can’t recall any more than the echo of birth, but it is a sonorous echo that rings from the soft crown of her head to her tiny curling fingers. She is swaddled in a clean blanket. In this second, she stares up at the shapes of a mobile hung above her head, given to her by an Aunt. The edges of each shape blur and fuzz and change location. But their bright, primary colors are as brilliant now as Elena will ever see them.

In the apartment below, a young woman stands before the gas stove wearing an old nightgown. She’s been inside a long time, and while the world burns she takes a guilty solace in the safety of her life. Atleast she’s been staying home. Today she makes Zuchinni and eggs on a new pan that’s somehow already worse for wear. It wasn’t an expensive pan, atleast. She’s already flicked on the blue flame beneath the pan and in this second, the zuchini browns and emits a sweet smell.

Outside the apartment is a rat. Two passerbys gawk and scream, although the rat is behind a gate among the trash, minding it’s business, bothering no one. In this second the rat leaps into a crevice in the wall, disappearing in the damp dark. Yes, the leap covers a great distance but lasts less than a second. The passerbys note, amidst feelings of disgust, how impressive this is. How even if they really had to, they could never move as fast as a rat.

Across the street, a man shovels snow. He barely hears the yelping rat-watchers. He’s been shoveling for a long while now. He is in his own world, both in rhythm and temperature. The day is cold but he is hot beneath layers of thermal underwear and a synthetic coat. He shovels in time to a count he keeps in his head: ONE two three, ONE two three. It’s his favorite count to follow when dancing at weddings and family get-togethers. He wonders when the next wedding will be. On two, he hits the bottom lip of a large chunk of ice that will come loose with the next upward wrench of the shovel.

The man’s boss drops his phone from one hand to the other. He’s been worried about his newest worker, heard he hasn’t been getting to jobs on time. It’s hard for the boss to know who is shoveling snow where, because he is not there. Yes, he lives on Jefferson, but Jefferson is a long street and he’s on the other end of it. He decides to put an end to his worrying and call the man. If his employees are working hard, he can always hear it in their breath when they answer the phone.

In this second they are breathing hard, both of them. Their clothes are somewhere twisted up in the blankets. It’s been so long, so long. The bright grey air streams through the curtain, held up tenuously by a cheap, broken rod. When she first walked into his bedroom, she wondered why he’d never taken down his window unit from the summer. She’d noticed that he had tended to the empty space on both sides of the air conditioner with plastic bags and tape that did little to keep the cold air out and the warm air in. But in this second, she didn‘t notice.

In the building next to this one, there is an apartment full of treasures. It’s sole inhabitant never seems to throw anything away, yet the space does not feel cluttered. Fabric samples, cutlery, glass bottles, a sewing machine, photographs, books, costume jewelry, loose faux pearls, mirrors, magazines, letters, souvenirs, picture frames, records, stereo systems, ornaments, hankerchiefs, CDs, tinsel from past holidays and wrapping paper- everything has its place. In this second, a clear ash tray on the table catches a glint of light from the window. 

In the adjoining room, he is lying in bed and smoking a cigarette. His doctor has told him not to, and if he has to, atleast not in bed. He closes his eyes and wonders when it will start again, the running of the children upstairs. That’s how he always puts it in his head: “The running of the children” like “The running of the bulls.” But in this second, he can hear only the hum of the refrigerator and the faint sounds of snow being shoveled beneath the window outside. 

In a corner store on Jefferson, a woman is scanning a box of water crackers. That little orange sticker must have fallen off the box, and she can’t remember the price off-hand because customers hardly ever buy water crackers. Who buys water crackers? Why are they called water crackers? The door swings open, letting in a burst of cold air and a woman she can recognize even beneath her mask and hat. She recognizes the woman just from her eyes. In this second, there is a high pitched beep and a thin red flash. 

Finally, a mother has calmed and convinced her two small children that it’s time for their bath. They stand before her on the mat, tired from running, resigned to their fate. Now the bathroom is shining and spotless but one time not too long ago the kids had splashed so much that tiny mushrooms sprouted up between the tiles overnight. The mother lifts and turns the silver handle in one swift motion, which starts the walls rumbling. A stream is just about to flow from the faucet, but not quite yet. Every resident in the building can hear the water moving in the walls. In this second, in some instinctual way, each one feels that the bath is being drawn for them.

December 26, 2020 07:37

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