In the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Christopher Aslan Overfelt
Taneisha stands with her baby on her hip outside the lean to shed on the back of a house. A gravel alley runs behind it that swims in purple evening shadow and from the dark shed comes bright flashes of blue light. You ain’t got a cigarette? asks Taneisha.
The blue light ceases flashing and in its place is an angry red glow and the hiss of hot metal. Removing the welding mask, Christopher emerges from the shadows of the shed with cigarettes in his hand. Together they stand in the alley and smoke. Where’s Javon? asks Christopher.
We fightin, says Taneisha. He runnin around with some girl ain’t even in high school. She work up at Burger King. I don’t know why he gotta run around like I ain’t tryna please him. Like I ain’t give him what he needs.
Across the alley is the rotting frame of an abandoned car and from its engine bay behind the bumper drops a sleek orange cat followed by a train of three orange kittens and two gray ones. Christopher sets out a bowl in front of the garage and pours cat food into it and the orange cat crosses the alley and feeds from it. Does he still have that dirtbike? asks Christopher.
He’s crazy, says Taneisha. He rides that thing screamin up and down the street with no brakes. You got it runnin for him but you ain’t fixed the brakes. He gonna skin his ass like fire one of these days.
When the orange cat finishes eating, she lies down and lets the kittens nurse and Taneisha bends down and lets her toddler play with them. From the fur of the kittens, fleas flock to the boy’s bare legs and feet like dust caking his skin. You remember when me and Takeisha and Javon came over and played dominoes all night, says Taneisha. And when we went home we picked up that old table off the corner and the police flipped his lights on when he seen us carryin it across the alley and we dropped it and ran?
That cop knocked on my door later that night, says Christopher.
Ya. I didn’t tell you that? I had my garage open with the light on and he knocked on my door saying I might want to check my garage because he saw a couple kids running away.
When the orange cat is tired of nursing she swipes the kittens who are clustered at her nipples with a kick and Taneisha picks up the child and wipes the fleas from his legs. I need a job, she says. Boring around here. Can’t get a job without a car. Can’t get a car without a job. Javon came over today trippin cuz he was hungry and wanted somethin to eat. I called him out for runnin around on me and he got all wild so I stuck him in his eye. Tryna play games with his baby mama.
You don’t have to stay with him, says Christopher.
Taneisha drops her cigarette onto the gravel and walks down the alley with the boy clinging to her shoulder. As she walks away, the boy’s oversized head bobbles, his eyes huge watching over her shoulder the figure of Christopher standing before the shed receding into the darkness. Taneisha turns around and says It ain’t that easy. Ain’t nobody want a teenager with a baby.
In the midst of the deep evening dark, the images of the felines in the alley at Christopher’s feet begin to distort as the heads of the kittens enlarge and their eyes burst into puss pockets that drip down their faces. Beneath Christopher’s boot, their oversized heads are splattered and driven into the gravel and from the remaining fur, fleas jump by the thousands so thick that they extinguish the last of the twilight.
About the Author: Christopher Aslan Overfelt lives and works on the empty plains of Kansas. In the summertime he grows cucumbers and in the winters he takes attendance at the local high school.