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live wire by Alan Bern



I was walking around the block when I stopped by to chat with our neighbor, Cheshire Landfall, in front of her house. She was guarding a live wire fallen off a nearby power pole as it snaked along the street in front of her house. Meanwhile, just down the block a clean-out company worked noisily in the house where an old lady had died after living there for over 70 years. Cheshire was usually radiantly cheerful, but today she seemed worried, even alarmed. Forced grin.

 

“Don’t touch the wire,” Cheshire warned. “I have called in the experts, and they are on their way.”

 

I chimed in, “Thank you. I agree. I wouldn’t touch it even though I’m not sure it’s a live wire. It could be a telephone wire, but I’m just not sure. Glad you called the experts to figure it all out.” Then I added, “Looks like they’re cleaning out the old lady’s house. I don’t recall her name, do you?”

 

“No, I don’t either,” Cheshire said.

 

Now we two neighbors smiled at each other, and I headed back to my house.

 

When I got home, I went upstairs and leaned out the window: I could see Cheshire’s house and the sidewalk and street in front of her house. The old lady’s house was not visible because it lay around a bend in the road. And I couldn’t hear the noise from the clean-out company. I closed my eyes: either they’d finished their work, or I was simply too far away to hear it.

 

My wife had gone to sleep early. The last thing I remember was the cool glass of the windowpane against my brow. I must have fallen asleep. I am renowned in my household because I can fall asleep anywhere… and at any time.

 

And then, I must have dreamed, a dream again of a pair of shoes with their tongues hanging, tired-looking shoes, all talked out. I have shoe-dreams often, as I recall them, because I am terrified of the recluse across the street, the daughter of a very quiet mother and a jovial father who was once our shoe repairman, a short stocky man with a loud, infectious belly laugh. Sadly both her parents now deceased.

 

I miss seeing them. The recluse lives across the street from Cheshire, and I’ve never seen her outside her house. I know she actually lives there because Dale, a very generous fellow, clears out her garden and her garage, when it needs it, and talks to her. He told me that while he sat in his truck in front of her house. I cannot see the recluse’s house at all from the window because a broad tall tree on her property blocks my view.

 

///

 

The dark fingers of the enormous purpling cloud point into blue and white skies simultaneously. Is this, too, a dream? Or am I just looking out the window, half-awake? From childhood on I have lost so many: cousin, wife, daughter, nephew, and, of course, my parents as they aged. And my closest friend, Celeste. Where have they all gone? All of a sudden, I can see around the bend in the road to the old lady’s house except the house is not there, only a hole there with a few bits of foundation sticking up, and what happened? Did her house simply vanish overnight? Or did the live wire light up some curious human who touched that wire while watching the old lady’s house rocket slowly, slowly up and disappear into the sky? And will that human remember seeing that at all?

Old lady.

Old. Lady.


(photo credit: Alan Bern)

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