“The Parade”

Kicking things off: A girl with drawn-on eyebrows. Purple lips, orange skin. Looks like Maggie Stodell got all coke skinny. Boxed mac n cheese, fruit roll-ups, and a pack of Marb 100s. No chitchat; face in phone. Fingernails long—impractically so—and an item of clothing somewhere between a cardigan and a robe. Receipt today? All right. Take care now. Snatches plastic bag, steps away. Rhinestoned back pockets. Flip-flops worn straight from a pedicure. Slap-slap-slap-slap. Next, a guy with maroon veins cast across his nose. Booze wafting from his jowls. T-shirt half-tucked into a pair of stinking Wranglers. Stained and moth-eaten, all of him. No you cannot use our phone. There’s a payphone down the street, about six blocks. Yes it’s within walking distance—if you can walk. Mm hmm, yes, good luck. Lumbers out the door like a sedated bull. Footsteps that connect in one dragging line. Then a lady in yoga clothes. Black hair with an inch of silver grow-out. A canvas bag decorated with ten thousand Om symbols. Just a bottle of water—she doesn’t normally shop here. Eyes panicky. We are not her people. She took the wrong exit. You were looking for Washburn and 18th? This is South Washburn; you gotta go back across the river. You—but she’s done. She’s got a GPS and a dozen apps, anyway. Thanks-no-thanks. Wide-faced wide-hatted Becky Baledo, come for a box of Entenmann’s mini-muffins. Sweet, doughy Becky. Never a word beyond the weather. Pale skin, pale clothes. You be safe out there, Beck, I’m sure we’ll see you soon. Uses a cane to amble into the graying day. A suit—a cheap one—on a mission. Public defender. It’s in his posture and hair gel. Six-pack of Heineken, nothing else. No wedding ring. Four pissy lagers and he’ll be asleep in front of the TV by nine. Long day? I hear ya. Well you enjoy that beer for me, too, then. Plops change into the food bank donation jar. Nine cents—such generosity. Loosens tie and ducks out sharply. Can’t risk running into a client. A teen whose back-cleavage shows through a ripped up Pantera tank top. Could be one of the Padgett girls. Mottled cellulite shoulder blades. Infected lip piercing. Orange Fanta and a pregnancy test. Dear God. Anything else? Take care. Jorge and his teardrop tattoos. Shiny head, huge belt buckle, impossibly clean shoes. Flannel shirt over a wife beater with only the top button fastened. Jerky and a forty and a lighter and a Swisher Sweet. Up to no good. It’s all side-eyes and no smiles with him. Later on, jefe. Smooth walk out to his lowered Chevy. Three middle school-aged boys in three pairs of aviator sunglasses. Fun Dip, Snickers, Skittles, Arizona Iced Tea. Stoned out of their gourds. No you cannot buy those things with EBT. Not my rules. Abandon items and scamper away. A swarm of laughter at nothing-everything. Dagger Danny? Hasn’t been around in months. Bruisy fresh trackmarks. One strange tooth jutting up behind his others. Droplets of shame on his upper lip. Sunflower seeds and condoms. Crumpled bills; swift exit. Missed ya, Double D. Dismissal in a curt wave. Might be the last time I see him. Semi-psychotic woman who lives out of a shopping cart. The meds make her chew on nothing. Ramble-ramble-indistinct-curse-words. Drops long string of mucus to the floor. I’m gonna have to ask you to leave. Yeah, I know, sorry, but you can’t do that. Smears the spit around with her shoes before blathering away. Leslie Mayfield, rounding out puberty. Clothes getting baggy—she must be sick of the hobo gaze. Hoops in her ears. Too much eyeliner. Hair in frizzing braids. A veil of hardness over her baby fat. Off-brand soda and a bag of Doritos. Leslie, you okay? You sure? Nobody I can rough up for you? There’s that little-girl smile, crooked but unstained. Buoyancy in the cheeks. A lot of us have hope for her, but we don’t speak of it. The rest of us collapsed under the weight of everyone else’s hope. It really would be best if nobody ever asked how we were, what was new, how life was treating us—trust me, when there’s good news, we’ll tell you. We will. I don’t ask anymore. Not seriously. Stay out of trouble, Les. You got this, girl.

About Lish Troha

Lish splits her time between writing and working at a food co-op in Mt. Vernon, WA. Her work has been been shortlisted by Folio Lit Journal, longlisted by the Australian Book Review, and published by Writer's Digest. She can be found online @lish_writes.

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