Walking in the City at Noon

David Mohan

 

Tom Sojourn, the Navajo, liked walking in the city at noon. Sometimes Thrift Store Juliet, with her hair messed up in a grey straggle, would tag along. She got her name from the way she wheedled old dresses off the charity ladies in the project stores. She was the only bum who had what you might call a wardrobe. She kept them hung up in a broken-down oil tank in case of rats or jealous thieves, which was just about everyone she met.

Except Tom—she doted on Tom. She hung off his arm like a lover on an amble before lunch.

“What’s this getup, Jules?” Tom said and searched his pockets as he walked, looking for that last cigarette butt he was saving like a best cigar.

“Like a flapper,” Juliet said. She almost patted her hair with pride—this moth-eaten frock had peacock-blue beads every which way. It looked dandy.

She squeezed Tom’s arm “Slow down, honey. My shoes can’t take this pace.”

Tom Sojourn was some day-time stroller—not many could match him. Your boot soles would come loose if you tried. Some of the bridge people said he got it from his Indian blood, and some said he thought the city was like his own personal prairie. To walk across it was like reclaiming territory or something. Most folks didn’t care about that stuff anymore, Tom said.

Tom liked to take a walk out into one of the tourist streets of the city. He liked to weave into somewhere well-populated occasionally, just to make a point.

“Visibility,” he would say, “you can’t neglect the power of visibility. Never let anyone forget what you were and where you came from.”

“And where you’re going to,” Juliet said.

“That too.” Tom nodded. He took a drag of a cigarette butt that was barely the length of a knuckle joint. Juliet preened in her bead-curtain dress, then looked down shyly to be walking beside the finest man she’d seen this side of the Mason-Dixon Line.

When Tom Sojourn took her hand, Juliet’s heart bucked in her chest like a colt. He was like a man on the run from the NYPD. One way or another you could wreck your knees trying to keep up with how he sped along, but she was determined to keep up.

The tourist strip fell away after a while. Tom swept Juliet down a side street. Suddenly, things went quieter. The city became run-down apartments and derelict playgrounds. Tom never lingered on the main streets for too long. There were too many Indians and Latinos selling Diet Coke and hand-carved puppets.

“No pride,” he said, shaking his head.

Tom sat on a swing and Juliet sat on the curb beside him, taking a breath. “This is more my kind of place,” he said.

There was a sunset coming, Juliet could feel it. It always made her think of home, deep in the South, how the sun used to come into her bedroom like a lover in the noon. It was the sun that ruined her with all its promises.

When the sun was up in the sky, the day always seemed too big to fill.

She took a breath at the memory of her old bedroom, the closets packed with dresses, and the thought of waking to so many choices in that long ago. There was an excitement in possessing fresh, sleep-warm skin. When she felt that way, she liked to picture her oil tank with its black gleam hull.

Still making do, she thought.

“Tomorrow,” she said to no one in particular, but Tom turned his head away from the sunset to look at her. “Tomorrow shall be blue damask, a cool silk like you’ve never seen before.”

 

David Mohan has been published in PANK, Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, SmokeLong Quarterly, Matchbook, and The Chattahoochee Review. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.