Fiction · 05/02/2012

The Sidewalk Ends

A sidewalk by my house just ends. Shel Silverstein had them pegged, sidewalks, especially in the case of the one by my house. The city came one day. They built a line of sidewalk down my street but then didn’t finish the job. They didn’t connect it to the street. It leads to a length of grass and shrubbery.

When the city left, they promised to return, but so far no one has. And that’s not a lot like them, the city. They usually return to finish what they’ve started. I’m sorry if you hail from a place that doesn’t finish what it’s started, or start what it’s claimed it will start.

Our municipal bureaucracy was so consistent previously that I had developed great faith in the system, how it works for you, not against. But now I don’t know what to put all my faith in, because they never finished that sidewalk.

It just ends.

+

The sidewalk wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that animals, mostly dogs and cats, continue to be left stranded at the end, there. This, too, wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for the fact that the dogs and cats often leap from the abruptly-ending sidewalk, only to discover they are forcibly suspended unmoving in air, over the grass and shrubbery. Where the sidewalk ends so too does movement of any kind. The animals are fixed in space. The laws of physics, at the end of the sidewalk, have no meaning. A scientist might want to investigate this phenomenon.

When I phoned the Bureaucrat to voice my concern, I learned he was uncaring, not even ambivalent. He said, “C’mon you, I’ve got big salmon to cook.” I could hear something on his end of the phone searing and smacking like it was frying in butter on a griddle. I believed him.

+

I went outside. My neighbor, Mary, lives in the last house on the block, next to where the sidewalk ends. She was watering her lawn. Part of her lawn. She was watering the part she stood over, with an open-nozzle hose, no spray gun attached. She let the water limply pour from the hose and onto the grass, over-saturating the soil, creating a mud puddle. I talked to her about the problem we were having with the sidewalk, and my luckless call to the Bureaucrat.

“He never does anything. He just gives you the old Franz Kafka and sends you on your merry way.” She grinned at this like she had nothing better to do. She went on to unnecessarily explain her meaning, “I’m being sarcastic when I say he sends you on your ‘merry’ way. It’s not merry at t’all.” Sometimes Mary affects a slight Southern drawl. I’m not sure if she’s aware she does this. It happens randomly and only with certain words. “T’ain’t playful punning of my name, Mary, neither.” That’s what she says to explain her use of “merry way.” “I like my name ‘Mary.’ I like to be ‘merry.’ It’s just coincidence,” she concludes.

“Yeah, well there are dogs and cats and other animals suspended in air in front of your home. To some that might look like a possibly profitable road-side attraction, but I don’t trust it. To me, it just mucks up the view. Plus the poor animals, stuck in air, going nowhere.”

“Seems like a lot of people are going nowhere nowadays,” Mary said, continuing to hose down the same spot on her lawn, drowning grass. “It’s an allegory for that.”

I felt the familiar twinge of nihilism, which consistently rears when all falls apart, as with abandoned municipal sidewalk-emplacement projects. I said, “Yes, it’s an obvious allegory for something wrong in our lives, the dogs and cats represent people. The fact that they’re literally suspended in air represents going nowhere.”

“Bingo,” Mary said.

+

I was surprised no one had at least come for their pets. People usually miss pets. That’s why most people have pets, to care for them and search after them if they go missing. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it? With the “missing [insert cat/dog/etc. name]” posters taped or nailed to the middles of streetlamps and utility poles and whatnot?

A girl, youngish, maybe eleven-years-old, was the only one I’d seen who did, who visibly cared. Her name was Erin. She came to visit her dog Feist-o almost every day. Feist-o was a Pomeranian that, like a lot of dogs I’ve known, appeared to be set facially in perma-grin. And all of that was nice: that she came and cared, and that the dog appeared to be smiling. It was nice, for another thing, because you shouldn’t ever need to have your faith in humanity restored. It should never come to that. If anything it should just happen that it’s restored by itself, often. Regularly and automatically, as though there were an external hard drive of backing up that humans are generally good and humane, and it was set to restore faith at hourly intervals.

She reached an arm to him, to Feist-o. She held a bit of something in her hand. Bacon. I further approached her and saw that it was imitation bacon, bacon made specifically for dogs. They didn’t know. Only people knew, so claimed the advertisements. “Only people know this is NOT bacon.” She held it up for Feist-o, who’d leaped much higher than I’d have assumed possible of a dog his size. She was so close to him, to his muzzle, but too short in terms of her height and reach. And Feist-o was unable to assist her, unable to move in nearly every way. I was uncertain of whether he could actually eat, even if she had been able to reach him. You could see the animals were breathing, but that was all for movement. Although, a few squirrels were breathing no longer.

I asked her if I might help. She said yes, because I’d “be able to reach Feist-o for sure.” She warned me, though, saying, “Careful, he’s feisty. Or he used to be when he used to be able to move.” I laughed. I brought the imitation bacon to his mouth. Feist-o snipped from me the bacon and the tip of my index finger. No doubt the animals were starving to death.

Selfish though it may have been, I was at first singly concerned with the pain of my own bleeding finger.

But as the shock subsided and bleeding was staunched some with a handkerchief, I realized the physical pain was not nearly so bad as the thought of how I’d let it get to this point, starving animals. Why hadn’t I used my clout at City Hall? Why hadn’t I bribed my way to major clout at City Hall? In short, why did bad things happen to good animals, like Feist-o? Why did I lose track of my surroundings to the extent that I ignored a nearby barrier indicating a downed, exposed live wire that a utility crew had been working on, and which, upon contact, jolted me into the air and across the street, where my left ankle was impaled on the spike of a really solid picket fence? Why did my ankle have to shatter horribly on top of its being impaled? Why was it my right leg didn’t fair much better than my left, which is to say it was fractured in two places?

+

Now I’m stuck, on a wheelchair. I’m stuck seated here for a very long time, at least. It’d be nice if the city would finish the sidewalk, placing some form of traction in the slab nearest the curb, so I’d be able to travel up and down into the street as I please. Until they do, I’m almost equally stuck as any of the animals. The difference is I still have food and water and the various amenities of my home. A person brings the food and the water to me. People are unwilling to let me die, let me starve to death.

I did try feeding the animals myself, but it didn’t work. I couldn’t get close enough to feed them all, and neither did I have the fingers to spare. I fell off my wheelchair after no fewer than five attempts at feeding, never really having a good method. I fell on my face. I decided it didn’t work and wouldn’t work, so I decided on a new course of action.

I’ve still got some decent arm-strength left, so I can get myself up the sidewalk’s considerable incline to the top of the street, its summit, basically. I’ll be letting myself go when I get there. The plan is that I’ll build considerable momentum going down the sidewalk and glide up and off the ramp I’ve placed right before the end, just before the grass and shrubbery.

Maybe I’ll soar so high I’ll vanish, gravity will let me go, and I’ll never be seen or see anyone again. Or, instead, I might always be seen forever, in which case we’ll then see if anyone comes and endeavors to get me unstuck from the end of the sidewalk, from where it ends. Stuck like so many creatures come before me.

Maybe. We’ll see what happens.

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Matt Rowan lives in Chicago with his girlfriend and two small dogs. All three are wonderful. He also edits Untoward Magazine, which he likes a lot. His first story collection, Why God Why, is forthcoming later this year from Love Symbol Press. You can find a few of his previous publications in elimae, NANO Fiction, NAP and Prick of the Spindle. You can find others (and more stuff) on his blog, literaryequations.blogspot.com.