by Christopher Blaine
The lot had always been empty.
The original planners of the neighborhood had miscalculated, and ended up with a space between two houses not quite large enough to fit another. The space was fenced in—or rather, out—on three sides, but open to the street. Weeds were its main inhabitants, followed by a variety of litter, ranging from candy wrappers and broken boards to, one day, a couch. A fat, grungy, brown couch.
The residents of the street discovered it one morning, placed neatly in the center of the lot among the weeds, facing out onto the street. However, being all on their way to work, nothing was done about it that morning. And then, when they got home, being tired and needing to tend to children and their own sanity, nothing got done about it that night, either. Or the night after that, or the week after that, and so on. Drinking beers on their porches together those long summer evenings, they all agreed most emphatically that the couch needed to go. It was nasty, it was already spilling its fetid stuffing, and was, in addition to being an eyesore, a danger to the children.
Keith and Martin lived on either side of the empty lot. They were good friends, taciturn as boys often are with each other, but with a deep affection for and understanding of one another not often achieved by boys of an older age.
One day, in that oppressive suburban summer heat, they planned a meeting on the big couch, which was to be held on that same night.
The meeting was an excuse, really—as they had nothing in particular to meet about—to sit on the big old couch. Up until now, their parents had forbidden them to play on or even to sit on it, which to their ticking minds seemed increasingly absurd. And so tonight, they were determined.
At one o’clock in the morning each crept excitedly out of his house, and went next door, so to speak, one to the left, one to the right, to sit on the big ugly couch in the empty lot.
Keith got there first.
When Martin got there, he said, “Well, here we are at last” and handed Keith a cold glass bottle of soda before sitting down beside his friend.
Keith popped the top off and flicked it with immense satisfaction into the weeds.
The streetlights hummed, and the crickets chirped in rhythm with the twinkling of the stars in the heavy, warm air, and the moonlight lay sprinkled here and then there, here and then there, like powdered sugar between slow, intricately shadowed clouds. The boys sat and drank their sodas and observed.
“It’s a comfortable couch,” Keith said finally.
Martin nodded. A slight breeze was picking up, deliciously cool on their bare arms and legs. Laying their heads back they closed their eyes, letting the night sounds fill their heads, and the breeze roll over them in sumptuous waves.
After a minute Keith said, “I hope someday I make something of myself”. Tugged from a mental drift, Martin opened his eyes and rolled them toward his friend.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I dunno, I just feel like I wont for some reason. But I hope I do. I’m gonna need to be able to take care of my mum one day” said Keith, not bothering to look over.
Martin didn’t say anything. He couldn’t think of anything to say.
A month later Keith disappeared and he wondered if he should have.
The police scoured the neighborhood, the empty lot being one of the original focal points. A small pool of dried blood was found on the couch. The couch was removed, and then later so was the smaller litter and the weeds.
Whatever Keith’s fate had been, and however much the street had changed, the neighbors were all very pleased with how clean and tidy the empty lot now looked. They determined to maintain its strict emptiness, and vowed to pull the weeds and remove the litter punctiliously, forevermore. The next summer someone even laid down sod there, but then forgot to water it. Then someone suggested that they put some sort of grave marker on the spot, but the others decided that it would be crude and might drive down the neighboring property values.
For his part, Martin determined never to step foot in the empty lot ever again. So far, he has succeeded. But despite many years having passed, he still finds his mind returning from time to time to the memory of that empty lot, like an old crow to the nest from which it hatched, and from the brink of which it first dropped into nothing, and discovered that it could fly.
Bio: Christopher Blaine works in a cubicle and tries to nourish his ailing soul in part by reading and writing stories.