On The Street
In the predawn pale, Alex sat on the ground where the sidewalk met the stoop and willed the pulse of cars to disgorge the one that he waited for. His overgrown hair was stringy with sleep sweat. He wore his favorite threadbare t-shirt, fresh from a night of what-nows. His vision struggled to adjust to the reality of day.
His homeless sister would arrive from the airport by taxi.
Alex drained the paper cup of bodega coffee and set it by his thigh. He leaned against the concrete stoop of his building. When Tasha called from the airport to say she was boarding the red-eye from Colorado to New York, he was surprised she was actually using the ticket he’d bought. He imagined her—the same maybe-blond-maybe-brown hair, the same large brown eyes, the same intonations and speech patterns and likes and dislikes, but now homeless, now sadder, now more troubled-looking, maybe reeking somehow of her situation—emerging from the cab with no possessions, without even a couple dollars for tip. He’d size her up: How manic did she seem? Was she starving? Was she sleeping? Did she look homeless? If he saw her on the street, would he keep walking?
A coin thudded dully against the paper cup.
The stylish back of a female twenty-something in heeled boots. He looked: a dime. Insulting. As he inspected the moist cup, the smell of consumed coffee mingled with the sour smell of a worn dollar bill. A man in the hard hat of a construction worker was attached to the other side of the bill. Almost definitely, Alex earned a much higher salary than this man. He took the dollar and said thank you.
The sidewalk warmed away the morning cold as sunlight rotated into view, spreading its warm salve over his face but searing his eyeballs. Alex’s legs shook away the dreaminess of recent sleep and his cell phone ticked six o’clock. Tasha would arrive in a bluster of words, of self- and world-reprimand, of depressive exhaustion and manic alertness to the very fabric of existence. These quiet moments wouldn’t last; Alex closed his eyes to the sun.
His eyes snapped open to a growl. “Fuckin’ rats,” guttered a tall, bedraggled man who looked more homeless than Alex felt, “playing with your fancy iPhones and asking for charity.”
“I’m not homeless.”
The man scowled. “Yeah, uh huh.”
Alex shrugged. He wasn’t used to seeing the undersides of people’s chins, the unattractive creases around their knees. His stomach growled. When Tasha arrived, he would bring her upstairs and crack eggs into an omelet. He’d toast some nice bread to go with it, maybe spread on a little ketchup and make it a sandwich.
A yellow taxi pulled up in front of his building. A door swung open and Tasha stared out at the street scene for a moment, doubtfully, before stepping out of the car.
Alex brushed street grit from the butt of his sweatpants and handed the cabdriver a fifty.
Allison Kade’s work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Massachusetts Review, and her short fiction has been published by Annalemma, Fractured West, Underground Voices, The Huffington Post and 322 Review. Her nonfiction has appeared in Bloomberg, GOOD Magazine, Real Simple, Travel + Leisure, Misadventures Magazine, Forbes, xoJane and more. Her website is www.allisonkade.com