by Victor A. Gallis
The front left wheel of Jack’s shopping cart spun in circles, making it hard to push up the incline and over the rough asphalt. He leaned his hip into the left side of the handle, and it went more or less straight. It was time to find a new cart.
The house was up ahead, on the right hand side. It was leaning a bit more than the last time he had come by, some number of years earlier. Some number. Some number of years earlier, he just stopped counting years. What difference do years make?
The house sat there amid the overgrown grass and weeds. The peeling paint reminded him of those scabs he never could resist scratching and pulling away too soon. If he pulled those scales of paint away, he thought, the house would bleed. Jack bent to scratch a scab still stuck to one bony shin. He pulled it away. He bled.
Some number of years were gone away, but some things were the same. The rusting carcass of the car still sat on the same cinderblocks; the remnants of the sofa, thick with mold, still occupied the front porch. There were no near neighbors, so nobody complained about the mess. Nobody complained about the shouting or the whimpering.
A ghost appeared. It was a boy, maybe five years old, sitting on the porch steps, scratching patterns in the dirt with a stick. There were bruises on his face, on his arms. Some were fresh, some already yellowed at the edges. The boy dropped his stick, whirled his head around to see the front door flung open. Jack clenched his eyes shut. He knew what would happen.
When he dared open his eyes again, the boy was older, maybe ten or eleven. The boy knelt in the yard, his clothing soaked through as if he’d been out in a hard rain for a long time. It was not easy to say if the boy’s face was wet with rain, or tears, or both. Jack clenched his eyes shut again.
It was time to leave. The ghosts were just too hurtful, just too sad. Opening his eyes, he turned his cart to head back down the hill and saw the boy again, this time about fifteen years old. The boy bolted out the front door and took off running. Behind him, in the house, Jack knew there was a fat woman bleeding out on the kitchen floor.
Jack wheeled his cart down the hill.