Pete and Richard’s orange safety vests glowed a blinding light under the scorching sun, and their sweat dripped onto the pavement as they stood in the middle of the right lane on Highway 61, staring at an opossum lying stiffly on its side.
Richard handed Pete a dirty shovel. “Scoop it up,” he said.
Everything made Pete queasy. He once fainted at the sight of a moldy loaf of bread. Even so, he decided to take on a thankless summer job as a roadkill cleaner. At least he didn’t have to deal with many people.
Richard nudged Pete. “What are you waiting for?” he asked.
Pete squinted at the creature. “It’s not dead,” he said. “It’s just sleeping.”
“Are you sure?” Richard asked as he scratched his beard. He had one of those beards that looked like it would give a chainsaw a difficult time.
“Yes,” Pete said. “I just saw it twitch.”
Richard walked back toward the shoulder of the road and popped open the driver’s side door of a rusty pickup truck. “Alright, let’s go.”
Pete shook his head. “We can’t just leave it here.”
“It’s not our problem,” Richard said. “They tell us to do with the dead ones, but not the ones that are still alive.”
Pete crouched down and took a closer look. “We need to get it to safety,” he said.
Richard sighed and walked back toward the opossum. “What if it wakes up and attacks us?” he asked. “That thing could have rabies.”
“I don’t think anything could wake it up right now,” Pete said.
Richard belched, “It’s an ugly son of a gun, isn’t it?”
“I think it’s so ugly that it’s cute,” Pete said.
“No one ever says that about me,” Richard said with a chuckle. “I guess I just haven’t crossed into that territory.”
Just then, a car sped by and swerved over into the next lane. Pete and Richard dashed out of the way.
“People drive like animals!” Richard said. “We’d better get going.”
Pete took a deep breath, slipped his gloves on, gently picked up the opossum, and carried it into the woods.
“What are you doing?” Richard asked. “Are you crazy?”
After nestling the possum into a bush, Pete smelled the scent of burning wood. He gazed out into the clearing and noticed a plume of black smoke billowing into the sky. The sparrows scattered away, and the trees stood with their limbs spread, as if they were about to be crucified.
“Jesus Christ,” Pete whispered under his breath.
Pete picked up the opossum and turned back around.
My roommate took off right before I lost my job at the pizza place. The only thing he left behind was a note that read, “Moved back home.” If only the unpaid rent were attached to it.
I sit at the wobbly kitchen table, gazing at the floating dust particles that you can only see when the sunlight shines in at the perfect angle. Sometimes, you have to convince yourself that they aren’t old skin.
The air conditioner moans, as if it’s irritated that it has to work so hard. I haven’t left the apartment in four days, for fear that the hellish temperature might melt away my spirit even more. Is a heat wave a heat wave if it doesn’t end? I gulp down the remainder of my orange juice. The pulp sticks to the side of the glass. It always bothers me when that happens.
As I stand up to go put my head into the freezer, the air conditioner suddenly goes on a strike of silence and the refrigerator releases a final gasp. I walk across the room and flip the light switch. Nothing.
There’s a knock at the door. I peer through the peephole. It’s the lady with the beehive hair from across the hall. I crack the door open.
“Is your power out?” she asks.
“Yes,” I answer.
“It must be the whole building,” she says.
“Maybe the whole city,” I say.
“The food in your fridge will go bad after four hours,” she says.
I’d take that information to heart if I had any food in the refrigerator.
“Thanks,” I say as I close the door.
When the power goes out, it’s amazing how all of your habits remind you that you’re nothing without it. The TV isn’t going to turn on and your phone isn’t going to charge.
There’s another knock at the door. It’s the guy from downstairs who exclusively wears jorts. “Do you want a new roommate?” he asks.
He nods his head to the left. I glance down the hallway and see a scraggly, black cat with a patch of white fur on its chest.
“It was out lying in the sun,” the guy says. “Looked a bit overheated, so I let it inside.”
Before I can say anything, the cat walks through the doorway and rubs against my leg.
“Catch you later,” the guy says.
I fill up a bowl with some cold water and set it on the floor. The cat dashes over and drinks furiously.
At least water is free, I think to myself. Kind of.
I head into my dingy bedroom and grab the coin jar off of my dresser. “This should be enough to get you some food,” I say.
I step out the apartment door and look back at the cat.
“I think I’ll call you Blackout.”
I Don't Even Know Who You Are
When I booted up my computer and opened the web browser, the last thing I expected to see was a Facebook friend request from my estranged father. It’s been 13 years since I rubbed my eyes and witnessed him dash out of my life, his silhouette sneaking across the streetlights and into the backseat of a yellow taxi. It’s wild how such a blur of a moment can be so vivid in my memory.
Honestly, what is he trying to accomplish here? A friend request. That’s rich. Is he attempting to make nice? Does he actually think that would work? I’m not holding a door open for half-hearted apologies and pitiful rivers of regrets. Or does he even have regrets?
Does he ever think about me? Well, I guess he had to be curious enough to search for me in the first place. So, maybe he does think about me. Does he want something from me? Is he checking in on me? Wondering what state I’m in? How my life has transpired? Is he trying to see which college I got accepted into but can’t afford?
What if I click ‘Accept’? Could this turn into one of those rare, happy stories with a Hallmark ending? We’ll be out to lunch, eating a burger, laughing as ketchup drips onto our t-shirts at the same time, maybe even catch up while catching a baseball game.
Probably not. Let’s do some investigating.
His profile is private. Because of course it is. It doesn’t even show his location. But, wait. Maybe I could accept the friend request, take a quick look around at his page, and then unfriend him. No, because he’ll still get the notification. Do I even want to know what he has going on? Did he flee the country? Could I run into him on the street one day? Do I have any half-siblings roaming around in the world?
Goddamnit, I look like him. As much as I’d like to deny any speck of a resemblance, I see it. The intense eyebrows, the shape of the nose, even the patchy way our mustaches grow.
My sweaty palm sits atop the computer mouse and the cursor hovers over the area, waiting for a command. I’m shaking. I look at the smiley frog pencil holder on the desk, as if it has some wisdom to offer up. You can’t click halfway. You either click or you don’t. I know this isn’t a nuclear situation, but I’m afraid of the fallout.
My mom walks into the room and glances at the computer screen.
“Who is that?” she asks.
I click ‘Decline’ and exit out of the window.
“Just a spambot,” I say.