by SCOTT DAUGHTRIDGE

Walking into the last residence on my list, I’m immediately hit by the stink of spoiled food. I see a boy with his shaved head crammed into the corner, his arms and legs pumping up and down in a full out run.

They have no furniture, the walls are bare. The only light comes from the fading sun outside the curtainless windows. On the sidewalk, the boy would go for miles, but right now he’s simply burning energy and forming deep forehead bruises. His white sneakers thud thud on the grooves worn into the hard wood floor. A large folding knife and a frying pan lean against the wall.

The boy’s mother sits by the window in her bedroom, looking into a cage filled with cooing pigeons. Candles surround her, dripping wax onto the floor. Sweat trickles down my sideburns and absorbs into my collar. I clear my throat to get the woman’s attention, but she pays me none. I say, “Excuse me, I’m from the Mayor’s Office of Harm Prevention. Is this the Renfroe residence?” She continues staring at the birds. “Ma’am?” I wait for a moment, then walk back to the living room.

“Hello,” I say to the boy. He stops, turns. He is sweating profusely. He walks into the small kitchen, opens the refrigerator and removes a jug of milk and carton of eggs. The room fills with the fetor of fermentation. With sweat dripping down his face, he cracks two eggs into a glass and drowns them in a deluge of chunky, yellowed milk. The smells overpower me.

“Is this the Renfroe residence?” I ask. He ignores me and swallows the contents of the glass, some of which drips down his chin, to his chest and onto the floor. He belches and goes back into the larger room.

Outside, the emergency siren starts up again. It sounds like the collected screams of every lost person trying to reassert themselves back into our lives. “I need to give you some important information,” I say. The boy starts doing pushups. From the bedroom comes loud radio static, voices barely audible talking so rapidly that even if the signal came in clearly, they wouldn’t be understood. “Hey!” I yell over the static. “I have important information for you!” The boy continues doing pushups.

I tear out a sheet from my notepad and write down everything they need to know. My hand cramps. The boy is onto sit-ups. His breath is heavy and there is a blotch of sweat beneath him. Holding up the paper, I say, “I need either you or your mother’s signature.” He grunts with each crunch.

The mother is stripping the feathers from a lifeless bird. The radio static, combined with the siren is deafening. “Ma’am,” I yell, “would you please sign here showing that I provided you with this information?” She doesn’t look up.

I step toward the cage and hear the floor creak behind me. I turn. The boy is holding the knife and the frying pan. He is a little soldier, chiseled out of the disintegrating world. I hold my hands up. “I’m here to help,” I say. He stands firm, clenching his jaw. “I don’t want any trouble.” I walk backwards into the hallway.

The emergency broadcast system alert takes over the radio static. The tone harmonizes with the siren. I smell smoke and taste metal on the back of my tongue. Down the hall, a dog, abandoned in its apartment, is barking and clawing at the door. I run the length of the hallway, down the stairs and back onto the dark street, where every surface echoes the screaming siren. I forge a signature, sign Renfroe in quick, scribbled cursive. My list is complete.

 

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SCOTT DAUGHTRIDGE lives in Atlanta where he runs Lostintheletters, a literary organization. Most recently, his work has appeared in CHEAP POP, Midwestern Gothic, Necessary Fiction, Storychord and other places. Lame House Press released his chapbook, I Hope Something Good Happens, in 2014.

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