Stories

Cardboard boxes

Cardboard boxes

*In this exercise we were told to write an eight page short story. This is the longest piece I had been asked to write about at that point, and I was stumped on what to write about. So, I asked Loving Husband and he gave me the best idea… ever. I know this is a longer read, however if you hang in there the ending makes it worth it’s while.

Cardboard boxes can be a bit of a crapshoot. But, I always check them out when I come across one in an alleyway, just in case. 

Once, not so long ago, I found a whole box of bread and cheese when I popped the lid open. Who the hell would throw out a whole box of bread and cheese? It was as if the Heavens above were smiling on me that day. First off, I love cheese more than I loved my own mother (especially white cheese)! And second, that cardboard box ended up as meals for me and my crew for a whole week. So, in my opinion, checking out cardboard boxes in alleyways is a risk worth taking. 

There is the danger of getting the attention of the locals when looking in boxes. For instance, this other time when I discovered smaller boxes inside the cardboard box. I was trying to make out what they were when a couple of delinquents kicked me out of the way and grabbed all those little boxes for themselves. It wasn’t food, so I didn’t care, but they sure did. I guess this particular box had fallen off a truck, and inside were what they called “cell phones” — the delinquents’ equivalent to bread and cheese.

Other times, like this time, the crap part of crapshoot is found in the box. Nothing but air. Oh well, perhaps there’s something at the park I can find for breakfast. 

I crawl out of the box slowly and sit there for a moment, checking out what’s moving in the alley. You can’t be too careful. There are far too many stories of others who weren’t careful, and the stories always ended badly for them. 

I tell the younger members of my crew this every day. I tell them: be careful, be watchful, be wary. I call this little mantra of mine the 3 Bs. But kids, they don’t listen. They mock me, say I sound like a broken record and that I worry too much. Nothing’s going to happen to them, they tell me, with a hint of attitude in their voices. 

Goddamn, I remember saying the exact same thing when I was their age. It’s enough to make you wonder how any of us get past the stupidity of our own youth?

Just to my right is a large blue dumpster, lid closed (otherwise I would be all over that like a fly is to shit), and across from the dumpster is a drunk passed out with the empty still in the paper bag, resting on his belly. 

I watch him carefully. For starters, bottles and I don’t get along, and I’m not sure he’s even alive. He’s rough looking. Dirty and used up like most of the drunks I see out here. His skin is blotchy and yellow looking, like cheese, but not the good kind. The veins and broken capillaries around his nose are noticeable, even from this distance. I catch a whiff of urine, and sure enough there’s a large wet patch on the front of his trousers. He looks like a rag doll that some kid has thrown against the wall. His chin is tucked into his chest, body lying broken-like on the pavement, with one hand still gripping the bottle. I can see the breeze rustling the top of brown paper bag, but I can’t see the bottle itself lifting up and down. And it should be if he’s breathing, since it’s sitting right there on top of his stomach. 

Oh well, there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s not like I can make a difference and I got more important things to do, bigger fish to fry. Like finding some breakfast.

I turn to my left and see the entrance of the alleyway. Traffic is starting to get thick, the morning buzz is in full swing. Cars zooming to and fro. Everyone is always in a hurry. I shake my head, but it ends up looking more like a bob. My neck has never fully recovered from that time that guy threw a bottle at me from one of those cars. 

Me, I was just minding my own business that day, scraping a piece of cheese (God, I love cheese. Did I tell you that?) off the sidewalk when all of a sudden, whoop

To say I was stunned is an understatement. I was knocked on my ass and into next week. It hurt like hell, and I must have laid there on the sidewalk for a few minutes, unconscious. When I came to, and was able to focus again, I noticed people were taking a wide berth around me on the sidewalk, giving me lots of space while stealing glances at me. Maybe they thought that if they made eye contact with me I might become their problem. This way, a glance stolen through the corner of their eyes satisfied their curiosity without becoming involved.

That’s the day I came up with the 3 Bs, because that’s the day I didn’t see that bottle coming.

While I missed seeing the jackass take aim at me with his long neck Budweiser, my crew saw the whole thing. They were down the road a bit. They eventually found that red four-door pick up truck, that belonged to that missile-throwing a-hole and they let loose on that baby. I wish I could have seen that guy’s face when he woke up the next morning and looked outside his kitchen window to find his ride covered in shit.

I make my way west, towards the city centre and the city’s largest park. The sky is bright and blue with little puffs of clouds. I can feel the sun beating down on my back and it feels good. I love mornings like this, if only the grumble of my stomach was satisfied then this could be a perfect morning.

The grumbling starts to get louder, almost as if my stomach sensed I was thinking about it as a passing thought and wanted to let me know that it should become the full focus of my attention. My stomach can be like that. Always seeking the spotlight. 

I should have checked out that drunk before I left. He might have had something on him. Something that could have at least held me over till I made it to the park.

I take a break on a blue car that’s sitting on the side of the road. I figure I’m about halfway to the park and this is as good a time as any to catch my breath. My stomach is just going to have to shut up and understand I’m not as young as I used to be. 

I look around and think about how much the neighbourhood has changed. When I was young these were all rundown apartment buildings. The people who lived here did so because they had no other choice. Now, there are coffee shops on every corner, trendy bistros and boutiques for every possible need. 

People are moving here in droves. I heard one of the homeless call these people “hipsters”. He was saying that these “damn hipsters are driving us further and further out of the city. It’s gonna get to a point that one day there won’t be any room left for us in the city.” 

I envisioned all these homeless people making their way out, like one big circle expanding around the city, with the centre containing the high-end people, the hipsters, and the outer edges the homeless, and that circle getting wider and wider each year. 

Whatever he thinks, though, I think he’s wrong. I’ve seen a lot of this city and I feel it’s pretty big. There’s room for everyone, even if it’s on the fringe. 

Up ahead I see one of the younger members of my crew and he looks agitated. I make my way towards him because I don’t like it when the young ones get excited. Either that means something has happened to one of us, or they’re about to do something stupid. I was young once too – I know all about stupid.

He’s distressed and screaming his head off. This ain’t good. 

By the time I reach him there’s a crowd of us around him, and just as I thought, it ain’t good. One of his friends was just picked off with a gun out near the dump. They had to leave him there, in fear of getting shot themselves. We find out that a group of them were out there, looking for food and egging each other on, playing double dare with no one watching their back. The 3 Bs were not being practiced. 

They don’t even know which direction the gunshot came from. All they heard was a loud bang, and then they saw their buddy fall. From there it was chaos as they all hustled out, as quickly as they could.

This is not what you wanna hear. Not what you want your young to have to experience. You should be able to eat in peace, without the fear of getting shot. This world is getting severely messed up.

The group decides that we should head to the dump. See for ourselves, see if there’s anything we can do. Most of us have been through a number of tough times together through the years. It’s these times that have created a bond between us, making us as close to family, minus the blood – that you can have. This comes in handy in situations like this. The world always seems a little less crazy when you’re surrounded by your friends, by your brothers. 

What was a great day earlier, has quickly turned into a lousy one. I’m not one to read into signs, but maybe I should have seen the writing on the wall earlier when I found the (possibly) dead drunk. 

Even the sun on my back doesn’t feel good anymore. It feels too hot, like it’s burning me alive. I want to hide under a tree and stay there. But, I can’t, so I continue with the group to the dump.

If the city was that circle I envisioned it to be, then the dump is situated on the far outer edge, that edge that the homeless are afraid will become the only place where they can reside. 

As we head, there more and more of our crew join us. Soon we’re large enough that people are starting to point and stare. We must be a sight, almost mob-like. We’re getting closer to the dump. You can smell it, well before you can see it. The smell, for most, is heavy and thick, sitting on the back of your throat. Too small to swallow, yet too pungent to stay. The seagulls and eagles love this place. It’s a gold mine for them. 

We find him fairly quickly in amongst the trash, and gather around him. He’s not breathing and you can see a pool of blood under his body. It looks like he got shot in the stomach and you don’t come back from a gunshot wound to the gut.

What the hell were these kids thinking? I want to bust their heads open and stuff some common sense in them. You just can’t assume you are safe. Anywhere and at anytime. Things have changed somewhat, but it’s far from ideal. Maybe in a different time things will be perfect for us, but that time is not now. These kids have now learned the hardest way imaginable. Death is final and it’s a lesson that stays with you, both while awake and most horrifically in your dreams.

Anger is boiling up inside of me. I know this anger is something I inherited from my father. He had two emotions, proud or pissed, and if anything bad happened pissed was the emotion that came out.

Pissed, on most occasions, was actually concern and fear. It was his concern for us, and his fear of losing us, that fueled this anger. It was his way of dealing with situations that were beyond his control, and it wasn’t until years later that I came to understand this. And now here I was acting just like him. I’ve become a chip off the old block, as my brother would say.

The group is silent. There’s no need for anything to be said. We all feel the same.

I can hear the seagulls in the distance and I close my eyes and take a deep breath. This isn’t the first dead body I’ve seen, and as I exhale I bob my head knowing that this is probably not going to be my last either. Maybe I’ll be next?

There’s some commotion just behind the body. I open my eyes and see a man waving a shotgun at us screaming, “Get out of here, you bloody crows!”

I feel the rumble of my stomach starting up again. That’s right, I was looking for some breakfast. I push off, flap my wings, and head to the park in search of some grub.

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