Something in the Air
I knew they were around. Had been around, all afternoon. Something in the air. Early on, this morning, in fact. There was some talk of them. Someone had even seen them around dawn in a nearby neighborhood.
At the vegetable stand on my street, people lowered their voices. They’re coming today, one woman said as she halfheartedly gathered tomatoes. She said it was her son’s birthday, and then she began to cry. No one said anything to this. People nodded and looked away with marble faces. My own skin felt hard, and I was glad I could not feel my heart.
Late, getting on evening, the smell came through my closed shutters. I was sitting in the dark, on the side of my bed. Not doing much. Anticipating, that’s for sure. I must have been in the middle of something. Writing a letter. A poem. Writing a will. All in my head.
Whatever I had been doing, I stopped. The smell was like ether. Clammy. If a smell alone could kill senses, this was it. I sat like a zombie, unable to move, in the dark. I waited for it to be over. I waited to hear the men in a truck pass below, to be done with our street.
A knock on the door. Twice. My landlady, the old dear, let herself in finally. Her eyes were wild, like a frightened cow. They’re going house by house tonight, she said. Her voice was a fluttering kind of thing. Something new, even for them, I said. Oh yes, she said. Oh yes.
But it wasn’t until past midnight that they came to my door. I didn’t try to stop them. I had even left the door ajar, a way of saying I had nothing to hide. I had heard the widow woman next door begging them not to spray her photographs, her old fake jewels. And I heard a slamming noise, like something frail gone flying. Then a loud bump, like she hit the floor. It got very quiet.
They came in, about six of them, wearing masks. Burly, storm trooper types. Two of them carried the spray cans. The others began digging, thrashing about. They could have been looking for anything, I knew. I let them go. I’m not ashamed to say it. I let it all go.
What about those books, one wanted to know. Which books, I asked him. Most of them, probably, he sneered. No, all of them, said another. Before I could say anything else, they got busy. Where is the petition, one growled. Then I remembered. A week ago, people came on our street with a petition. It was about clean air and water. I signed it. We all signed it. Little did we know it was simply a ploy to identify us.
They took large handfuls of books and hurled them to the floor. Hard, like they wanted to be done with them. They held the cans high and sprayed those books good. I thought, for as long as I live and read, I’ll be smelling this night.
The smell was quite intense. I was full of it. I felt like a soft rubber man. I thought about the widow woman falling down next door. I wondered if she woke. I must have passed out. I didn’t hear the men leave. Never heard their truck leaving our street.
Word on the street is that they will be returning soon. Next time, they will visit those who voted that way. The wrong way, I hear.
About the Author: Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. His published works include a novel, The Dream Patch, a prose collection, Under a Riverbed Sky, and a book of stage monologues for actors, Heart Speak. HIs short fiction has appeared in many journals including The Southern Review, New Orleans Review, and Glimmer Train. He conducts private creative writing workshops in Houston. His photography can be seen here.