Are orbits free?
[ fiction - january 13 ]
Across a grassy expanse of several hundred feet, there is a jagged row where people reside. A pavement path separates small groupings of inhabitants living in different degrees of homelessness. Sleeping bags, blankets, sheets over and inside cardboard boxes, all size plastic trash bags, satchels, knapsacks, pouches plus bottles of booze decorate the central area. No fashion season stands out, it is more of a zone-starburst where colorful wool skirts and cotton tees are customary for all seasons in this magical universe.
“Soup downtown today – if you hurry!” hollers a plump woman meandering through the unrestricted region. She waits for bronchial hackers to pause, then breathes the scent of pot smoke through her nostrils and sidesteps cigarette smokers, “Downtown soup – hurry!” Three people disperse to hover over inhabitants; they carry blankets and paper bags filled with adult tricks or treats - altogether sharing this delusive paradise.
“What’s your pleasure?” Bruce asks Lila; they are a couple in their early twenties.
She rests her head on a small knapsack, and closes her eyes for a few moments. “I remember the dazzling stars in the sky last night,” smiling, “it is so beautiful, here: we are free!” He leans over and kisses her.
About fifteen feet away, a lanky man in a torn green knit sweater over corduroy pants and wool socks with workman boots, sits next to a woman wearing a short cotton T-shirt dress. He kisses her and they tumble over together revealing clasped hands and a needle in each of their arms.
Bruce and Lila glance at them and then up at the bright summer sky. “No planets or stars for us to see right now,” says Bruce.
Lila has her hands in the knapsack moving about, she fumbles further and finally pulls out two oranges.
“Mars and Pluto, you’ve been hiding!” Bruce opens his palms and catches them. He juggles the oranges in a circle before returning one.
Lila smiles and begins peeling her orange. “I wonder what the world would be like if orbits changed, and we could see all the stars and planets every day and evening.” They eat without a sound. Afterwards, they read for a very long while.
Blasts of music from different radios penetrate the silence; fistfights take place and things are thrown not far from where they rest, but nothing seems to disturb them.
“I’m getting hungry!” Bruce announces right before a gunshot goes off in the distance. Lila sits up beside him.
He looks at his watch, “Perfect timing here comes Jupiter.” A tall man in layers of clothes leans over and talks to a family sitting on a blanket about a hundred feet away. He reaches in past his jacket with tails, to a short vest and pulls out a few dollars. The young boy takes it and runs across the street. Jupiter sits with his back to Lila and Bruce. He slips a rectangular pouch full of drugs beneath the family blanket and they give him a folded brown paper bag of cash. The boy returns with an ice cream for himself, and a pint of booze in a paper bag, which he gives to his folks. He thanks Jupiter, hands over the change and enjoys his treat.
“Where’s the food served today, Jupiter?” Bruce calls out a few minutes later, showing his biggest smile.
“Around the corner at the church. Line starts in about 30.”
“Thank you!” Lisa rises. The nearby couple separates from their huddle before standing. They wave at Jupiter as he passes.
“Let’s have a hit before we eat.”
“Okay,” Lila pulls out a half-smoked joint. They take a few puffs, Bruce puts it away and together they stroll toward the church.
Three hours later after a hot meal and a long walk, they return. “Do you need anything?” asks a passerby who is also living under the stars.
“No thanks.” Bruce looks up and smiles at the young man with one empty pant pocket hanging inside out, and a colorful string on his wrist. The man taps his pocket that is packed full, adjusts a single small diamond earring and is invited to sit with the other nearby couple.
Darkness settles in quickly as the sound of congas rises. Lila and Bruce join their neighbors standing in a circle several hundred feet away. “Her name is Mercury,” Bruce whispers in Lila’s ear. Mercury turns the speed of an ice skater on toe, and then rhythmically dances from side to side with equal measure of skill and talent. Many women and a couple of men sway and whirl along while keeping their distance from her lengthy scarves rippling through the wind. Bottles of beer are sipped and handed from person to person.
When Lila and Bruce finally turn and begin to walk away, an elderly man throws up in front of them. Bruce takes Lila’s hand and squeezes her fingers, quickly leading them back to their spot. Dropping their knapsacks, they sit to sip and gulp whiskey shots. Then leaning back on the pillow-backpacks, Bruce and Lila look up into the wide range of sparkling stars.
“Any one interested in a warm bed,” asks a voice from behind them moments later. “The nights will cool down in about a week,” he warns “it becomes harder and harder to secure a temporary place.” Lila and Bruce flip over on their stomachs and see the short middle-aged man. “I work at a nearby shelter.”
“No thank you!” says Bruce.
“Maybe next week, if it’s cold by then,” Lila says waving goodbye.
They watch him approach a woman lying alone. She gets up after a bit of discussion, and follows him. Lila and Bruce roll onto their backs.
“Why did you say ‘maybe’ soon? Our plan is to move along to another place.”
“I love this freedom with you Bruce, but before long we have to make a choice or we’ll become part of the lifestyle here, like every one else. We’ll get caught up in all of it.”
Bruce sits up cross-legged. “I suppose. But there, I feel like a prisoner. I’ll never be a nine to five man.” He rests his elbows on his knees, and head upon his fists.“ Lila puts her arm around his shoulder leaning her head against his. They sit for some time together.
“Jupiter, Mercury,” he says jovially, “I guess we’re locked up in an orbit here too!” Lila laughs lightly. Bruce embraces her; “Let’s move out by morning – while we still have an entryway back to our confinements.”
Lila nudges him playfully, “We will go when the sun is up, and the stars and planets are there but we can not see them. Never to forget: we are all in this orbit together.” They hug back and forth and around intertwined in a circle.