Scratching Out Some Words

The air was noticeably cooler now that the sun was setting. There was a time of day, somewhere between rush hour and the full dark after sunset that the alley below Steve’s condo was completely hidden in shadows. It didn’t last though; as soon as the sun set the street lights would come on, and even though there weren’t as many lights in the alley, there were enough to see by. Most evenings Steve would stand on his balcony, sometimes with a glass of wine or more often a bottle of beer and sometimes with nothing. He didn’t have a view that you could call that; his condo had been an office tower up until the mid-60s and then it had been nothing for a few decades until a developer saw the opportunity and turned it into trendy condos. Cramped with banging pipes and tiny balconies, but trendy. In every direction the horizon was invisible behind the grey bulk of concrete towers, but looking straight up Steve could see the sky, and looking straight down he could see the alley, which is what he looked at most nights.

Tonight he didn’t have a drink, and there didn’t promise to be much going on in the alley, which wasn’t unusual. It was just as well; guests would be arriving soon and over staying their welcome later, so there wasn’t likely to be much time spent staring at an alley.

An aluminum clank made Steve glance downwards. To his right the alley turned out of sight around the far side of the building. To his left the mouth of the alley was visible where a street separated Steve’s alley from the one in the next block over. A homeless man, Steve assumed he was homeless, was checking the trash cans near the street. When he finished checking those, there were several more plus a few large dumpsters almost directly under Steve’s balcony that he would be checking. Steve knew the habits of homeless people pretty well, a side effect of living downtown and spending any time on a balcony over an alley.

The homeless man might have been black or latino; from seven floors up it was difficult to be sure. He was wearing a misshapen blue jacket that looked like it was once a puffy sort of down-filled winter jacket that had the stuffing pulled and stretched around until it formed a landscape of asymmetrical lumps connected with thinning blue polyester. Under that Steve could see layers of plaid shirts over blue jeans, everything a few sizes too large. The man had one full garbage bag over his shoulder, the shapes inside obviously cans and bottles. He was also carrying a second partly full garbage bag, holding it open as he sifted through the cans.

Steve’s doorbell rung, and someone knocked on the door almost at the same time.


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