SPOTLIGHT: Neptune’s Bridge by Jack Owens

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In the months leading up to the day of sale, Tim lived in the house alone. He watched the world outside from the furniture he’d grown up on, left behind in desperate offering to anyone who would buy a house in a time like this. As rivers of rain snaked down the boards and windows, obscuring the sagebrush cliffside beyond, he thought how nice it was to have stayed out of it for so long, how easy it was to appreciate rain from shelter. On that couch he’d learned to stave starvation in wait–such skills soon became invaluable. His parents came early that day to rid the house of him, stench and all, before the buyer arrived, despite their aversion to ever revisit the site of their daughter’s death. Tim had stayed hoping for something uncertain, to make some sort of contact. A ghost, a vestige. By the end he knew what his folks had known from the day it happened. The house was vapid. No longer a home, but a structure which they simply dwelled in as it seemed to mock them forever believing otherwise.

They wished him luck on his way out of the door. He spent the next year finding it.

 He wondered how many times they had walked or driven past him with his rain slick head bent against how many doorways, under how many bridges. He hadn’t even known if they still lived in town. For the first month, people didn’t recognize him as homeless, though some  did  recognize him. People younger than him, some his sister’s old friends, came up to him asking for weed, and then coke, and eventually Tim understood himself as homeless when older men and women started asking for heavier drugs. The stains on his clothing congregated into a mass of filth. He naively spent most of his money washing the clothes he’d brought, most of which he’d soon leave behind in favor of space for other essentials, too soon and too often. It hadn’t dawned on him early enough that he’d need something to sleep on, medical supplies, food and clean water, and a big enough bag to carry it all. By the end of his year of homelessness, Tim felt he’d only just become accustomed to it.

When filling out applications, he left the emergency contact space empty. For a long time he couldn’t even land an interview; the looks given him by those handing out the applications spoke right away of his chances. Not until the Priest at Trinity Espiscopal gave him a room in the church’s basement in exchange for helping cook and hand out hot lunches, the exact ones Tim himself had been relying on every Saturday, was he able to clean up well enough for an interview. The priest proposed that he not pay rent until he got his first paycheck, even still his rent was the lowest he would ever find. Eventually, Tim landed a job at a grocery store rounding up carts, taking out the trash, emptying the needle bins in the restrooms–dirty work although it paled in comparison to the grotesqueries he’d witnessed over the past year. Yet life remained a bare minimum, a consistent paycheck away from falling back into homelessness if not for the graciousness of the Priest.

One day sludging along in the massive car lot in front of the store, his friend extended an unexpected invitation.

“Hey, I don’t know what you’re doing after work tomorrow, but when we get off we were gonna hit up Atlantis beach. If you felt like coming along,” Barry said. He had heard it called that before. The only way to get there, he knew it well, was Neptune’s Bridge.

“Hm. I don’t know,” Tim said. The idea made him both anxious and eager, unsure which outweighed the other.

“Listen, everyone going is a friend, y’know, so you don’t have to worry about standing around like at some college party. More like a kickback. You could just stand next to me the whole time if you want,” Barry said. Tim nodded, admitting guiltily to his antisocial behavior.

“Well, what if I let you know tomorrow?” Tim said. Barry gave him a smile and nodded. His smile was modest despite his size, his confident stride, and strong chin, but also Tim thought it unabashedly warm. Tim wanted to run his fingers through his short, red hair, gleaming crimson in the moonlight. At the edge of the parking lot far ahead of them, they heard a man singing and could see his dancing silhouette, the slosh of liquor half devoured.

“Fucking crackheads, man,” Barry said. Tim wanted to laugh for him, but he didn’t find it very funny so could only manage a chuckle.

“Come on, let’s get out from where he can see us.” Tim said. He didn’t want to draw the man’s attention to them–singing, sloshing, dancing his drunken ballet. Night’s dark clouds had begun to sag, a threat to douse them in its spiteful wash.

“Wonder what that’s like,” Barry said, pushing together a clattering line of carts thrown carelessly into the cart corral. Tim looked over his shoulder after every clank and rattle, but the man kept on swinging.

“It isn’t like much,” Tim said. Tim handed him the line and hook, and Barry attached it to the cart at the end. Tim pulled the carts out. Barry did the same on the opposite side. They pushed their long line of carts as drop by drop the rain began to spill.

“What song was that,” Barry yelled over the rattling wheels. “Sounded Familiar.” Tim played pretend and shrugged. They pushed the carts past the air curtain into the entryway where the closing manager was waiting for them with his arms crossed. “Are we good?” Barry asked. The closing manager said nothing, but pointed across the lot to a rack of carts on the other side of the dancing man. “Fuck. Do we have to?”

“Yup. One of you can do it, other one can go. Up to you guys,” the manager said.

“Nah, we’ll both do it,” Barry said, looking at Tim with that same warm smile. “Unless you wanna take off?” Tim shook his head in reply.

“Let’s grab ‘em,” Barry said, referring to the canvas and plastic overcoats provided by the store, known to them as simply stiff-ugly-raincoats.

They walked out under leaky clouds with their donned stiff ugly raincoats, having to yell over the sound like hail on tarp.

“Looks like you brought the wrong shoes, my friend,” Barry said. The water pooled up and into the fabric of Tim’s shoes, sponging between his toes, flicking drops back on them with every step. Tim hadn’t really noticed. He had been thinking about all the wet the rain jacket protected him from, that loud pelting. He noticed Barry’s rain proof boots, the water sliding down them in clean, unabsorbed drops. “I was a dishwasher before this, worst job I’ve ever had. But I learned to start wearing something the water couldn’t sink into. I Bought these at a thrift store and waxed the shit out of them and now nothing gets through.” It was only after Barry said anything that it bothered Tim. Wrinkles contracted and stretched with his steps, the skin hung on his feet soft and sagging. The cuffs of his pants, too, dripping with parking lot water.

“These are the only ones I’ve got,” Tim said. Barry nodded with all the casualty in the world, a nod that said I’ve been there, but it wasn’t really true. No, it was only Barry’s gift; a people person. Tim wondered, not for the first time, whether he too had the potential to become a people person.


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