This white guy in a trucker hat riding an old ten-speed with a big yellow plastic cart attached to the back by way of a broom handle and some twine. Sweat seeps from his pores, washes his face like tears. His feet struggle with the pedals.
When he gets close enough, I see a suitcase in the cart leaking part of a T-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts from an opening in the zipper. The guy is rockstar skinny, strung with ropey muscles and veins. He doesn’t even notice me, but he’s so close I can see a splotch on his neck, a section of marred and discolored skin where it seems a tattoo has been removed.
A little while later, he passes by with three small stacked boxes. He has labeled the boxes in a child’s handwriting, block letters spelling out KITCHEN, BATH, MISCELLANEOUS. The sun is high in the sky, and he is sweating even worse than before. He is moving with purpose, leaving behind a woman, I am certain, still sleeping on a set of unclean and disheveled bedsheets. A radio somewhere in their apartment plays classic rock. There are dishes in the sink. I take off my gardening gloves, let the spade I’m edging the sidewalks with blister my skin.
It seems improbable, but the next time he passes, he is carting a washing machine. His feet slip from the pedals, and he spikes his shin, grunts, keeps moving. He’s going slower now, and I get a better look at that place on his neck that once held ink in some shape he’d thought would last forever. I wonder what it felt like when the lasers honed in on it, began wiping it away, leaving this.
* * *
On the TV shows my wife and I watch, the detectives need a body before they can pin a murder on someone. They need some poor kid growing cold on a slab in the morgue, some mother whose fingernails have been scraped for skin, possible DNA. Without a body, the potential victim is only missing, presumed dead. A suspect is a suspect is a suspect.
* * *
After I’ve finished with the yard, I hang around outside waiting to see what the guy rides by with next. Surely, I think, there is a dryer to go with that washing machine. Surely there is more stuff that needs to be moved from the place he is leaving to the one where he is going.
I am due at a soccer match, or maybe a dance recital. There is a thing or two my wife has asked me to pick up on the way. Sports drinks, or batteries for the video camera. There is probably a phone call I am supposed to make. Something to do with getting her car serviced, or the plumbing.
I go inside and shave. I clip my fingernails. I set the shower temperature to scalding and step inside it.
The air is full of steam and my skin blotches red from the heat, and I allow myself to think of that guy on the bike on some different morning. He’d stayed up all night, like I used to before I was married, before I became the father of two children, when I worked third shift and tried to keep the same routine on my days off.
I think about how he drank one night from two in the morning until six or so, when the sun was beginning to rise, and then went to sit on the slab of cement outside his apartment door to watch it and listen to the birds, holding a notebook in his hands but not bothering to write anything down.
The way the air felt on his skin, it was like he was inhabiting a new body.
The sky, it turned colors he’d never seen before, colors he never could have imagined.
Chad Simpson lives in Monmouth, Illinois, and teaches fiction writing and literature classes at Knox College. His collection of stories, Tell Everyone I Said Hi, won the 2012 John Simmons Short Fiction Award and is forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press in October.