Aaron Weinzapfel lives in Denver with his wife and two cats. He has a growing collection of finished short stories, flash fiction, and poems as well as a recently completed novel he is shopping for representation. In addition to writing, Aaron is a singer/songwriter/performer going by the name Aaron Francis. When he is doing neither of these, Aaron is busy selling real estate.
Here on this cold January morning, I find myself under the freeway in the shadow of the Purina plant. It belches an odor so thick – a gelatinous atmosphere that fuels the constant hunger of the packs of stray dogs. Like jackals on the hunt, they roam the streets of this dilapidated neighborhood, scattering bags of garbage through the morning gloom.
I shiver and turn her wallet over in my hands, examining again the embroidered kitten’s face on faded pink vinyl.
Lawns have not grown here in the eighteen years of her life. Yards have succumbed to the darkness of the looming factory and the collection of vehicles with more hope of becoming planters than running again. Once, these houses were new, though it is hard to imagine that time. It is hard to imagine they will still be standing a week from now and years after that. They started out hardly bigger than empty appliance boxes, but have grown into strange, meandering creations: the various additions, thrown up in desperation to accommodate new children, aging mothers and out-of-work uncles, buckle and hang like wet cardboard to the original structures. The walls cry out that they never wanted to be walls. The porches break away and move rebelliously toward the dead-end street – aimlessly and slowly, because there is nowhere to get to. The fences are content to lie down in the yard, keeping nothing in or out, waiting patiently for the walls to join them.
I found her wallet in my parking lot, covered with snow, surrounded by the footprints of those who should have found it first. I picked it up and brushed it off. The kitten begged me to take her home.
Over a midnight cup of tea, I read the story of Evelyn from cover to cover. There was a check card, a library card and a succession of identification. Flip them like pages and watch Evelyn growing up before your eyes. Her chubby cheeks disappear, her smile is refined, her dark eyes perceive the world and Evelyn becomes a woman.
There were cards for hairdressers, a coupon for a shoe store downtown, a Subway sandwich punch card, a tire store ad with the name Miguel and a phone number written on the back—the “i” in his name dotted with a heart. There were cards for a suburban community college, a limo service and a tattoo shop in Los Angeles. (Despite her humble habitation, Evelyn is apparently unbridled and without boundaries.)
There were facts, but mostly only clues and conjecture; history and footprints to follow, all deliciously open for interpretation. I smiled and could feel that the smile might’ve looked sad to a fly on the wall. I had the feeling of having read this story before. I recalled my own youth and the way that all campaigns start, with enthusiasm and swagger. How deep the mud becomes, and how quickly. And you look down to find that – all the birds are still in the bush, none in the hand. The skill of one foot in front of the other is still years away. Worse, there are still years before you will sense that it is a skill.
I could feel my smile turn less sad. A little hum escaped me, just enough to tickle my lips that had pressed together tightly. Who was I to think these thoughts?
Now, in the morning, I find her address and my heart thrums, as fiction of her about to become fact. Her neighbors are stirring, rolling up their sleeves and preparing to start the engine of the nation. The cold morning air fills with their hot sleepy breaths. They crank the motors of American made autos. With their primer skins and mufflers suspended by coat hangers, they roar to each other as they rev from block to block.
At the bottom of the plywood stairs, in a concrete stairwell, the door stands open despite the cold. There are several voices from inside and though they are all in Spanish, it is familiar morning hustle and bustle. My good deed suddenly feels intrusive. I am trespassing on the comfort of routine. Shamefully, I stand to the side and knock as thoug holding a warrant, not a wallet. Immediately a woman appears in the doorway. It is Evelyn’s mother, or maybe her aunt, or grandmother. She looks at me without distrust and without anticipation and I wonder—how can that be? She is tired, but unwavering. She can go on and on through breaths of horse meat and highway exhaust, through packs of domestic jackals and communal vertigo. Keep the roof from blowing off.
I hold up the wallet, like a badge or subpoena, or more thoughtfully—a bouquet. Her eyes are finally suspicious. When I tell her that I found it in my parking lot last night she smiles a lovely smile. I smile back. She thanks me quickly, sincerely, then dismisses me, disappearing into the apartment in which so much life seems to be hiding. It is unceremonious, but that is okay. It is a decent start of the day for decent people—her and me. As I turn up the stairs, I hear Evelyn’s name ring out. Evelyn will always remain fiction to me, and I admit to myself that it shouldn’t be any other way.
In the empty lot next door, a snow-covered sofa sits quaint and picturesque under an oak tree. I imagine that in summer it is a perfect place for an afternoon fiesta with men drinking beers in cans, telling great stories. Last night’s snow still shows no shadow of smog and a few rays of sunlight have broken through Purina and I-70 to shine on this humble place, and I think about what keeps the roofs from blowing off, as I drive off to my job in the American suburbs.