This hill, in this city, always bustled. It bustled most in the mornings, slowed down a bit just before lunch, and then picked back up for the lunch hour. After that it stayed relatively busy until after the bars closed. Once that happened, the hill and its rows of mission houses, standing silently, with glass eyes staring into the night, the brightly painted colors muted in the semi-darkness of the street lamps, almost slept for a little while. In its neurotic existence though, the hill never quite managed complete rest. It drowsed, but never slumbered.
On this day, on the hill, it is mid-morning and overcast. There is a bit of wet in the air, and it settles on the skin of the residents who venture out. At the bottom of the hill, a stooped old man with a cane considers his journey. He is looking up towards the top of the hill. His white beard flutters slightly in the wet wind. He sighs, and begins the ascent. Slowly. Carefully. With small, halting, tentative steps. His suit, carefully pressed, withstands the advances of the air’s moist embrace. The fabric makes a scrish scrish sound with each step. The old man’s cane compliments the music of his suit with a small, slow drum beat against the uncaring concrete sidewalk. Scrish, tap, schrish, tap goes the old man’s walking song.
A car is waiting at the light just below the hill’s birthplace. The light changes, and the car jerks forward with a start, belching a cloud of white smoke onto the sidewalk holding up the cane that holds up the old man. He is enveloped for a moment, then emerges with as much dignity as he can muster, a white handkerchief done in black stripes pressed across his nose and mouth.
At the top of the hill, a young man saunters confidently, headed down. He is full of himself in his brown leather jacket. It is this year’s style and the young man has paid twice what he should have, which inflates his own self worth. His shoes are scuffed, and he is unaware that women notice details such as this. It confuses him when they turn him down for the casual sex he often offers them, using the shoes as a compass.
Under the young man’s jacket, his dirty black t-shirt says “Relax. I’m hilarious.” His jeans are wrinkled, and he has a three day growth of stubble. A cigarette dangles carelessly from his lips, which are humming a wordless tune that is neither cheerful or compelling. It merely passes for music, in an uninspired way.
His shoes drag with each step. Sometimes he idly kicks a pebble or some other detritus down the sidewalk. The young man’s eyes narrow when he does this. As if he has some personal hatred for everything that is not the sidewalk, that is not specifically designed to facilitate his shuffling gait. One of his shoelaces drags on the ground.
A door opens halfway up the hill. The door is painted a deep red, but passersby would probably describe it as maroon, depending on the light. From the door emerges a sharply dressed woman in her mid-20s, of middling height and clad in an arranged pile of coiffed, lustrous black hair. The woman is pushing a blue baby carriage with silent polycarbonate plastic wheels. They are the kind that will not wear out for ten of thousands of years after human society has collapsed. The wheels are more durable than almost any other object on this street, which is in between being bustling at this moment.
Also present is a girl of eight or nine years, who is wearing a red dress that is not of the same red as the door from whence she just emerged, stares solemnly at the street. She is not speaking to the woman. She is not looking at the baby in the carriage. She is observing her surroundings. Scanning.
The old man shuffles up. The young man shuffles down. The trio who have just been born into the world from the other side of a red or maroon door, depending who you ask, are moving onto the sidewalk that runs up the hill in stark contrast to its wider, rougher companion, the street.
A taxi is coming over the crest of the hill that never quite sleeps. A small crowd of Polish tourists is taking pictures of the famous old burger joint at the bottom of the hill, excited by the thought of delicious dead cow parts ground up just for them and covered with sizzling sauces and a cornucopia of garnishes. The Polish people love eating ground up animal flesh that will clog their arteries with fatty deposits. They are conditioned, and never think about the animal that gave up its life. The taxi driver too is a fan of sizzled flesh patties, and plans to take his lunch at the bottom of the hill. His cab sign reads OFF DUTY.
There are a few other travelers on the street. An old Asian man is coming down the hill on the sidewalk opposite the hilarious young man who isn’t funny. He drags his gnarled, wrinkled hand along every fence separating mission houses from sidewalks and street. He appears to be counting bars fastidiously, and his lips move in a muttering prayer to the gods of the ascending count. He looks panicked in the gaps between fences. An equally old white woman follows cautiously behind the muttering old apostle of numbers and fence bars. She wants nothing to do with him, and is protectively clinging to a brown paper bag that could be filled with groceries or cocaine. This city produces dozens of old ladies whose morality may not meet Midwestern community values, so one can never be sure what old ladies are carrying around. The bag clutching woman has a piece of white toilet paper fluttering from the back of her otherwise nondescript gray pants, which hold themselves conveniently above her hips through the miracle of elastic sewn into the waistband. The elastic will not last as long as the wheels on the stroller, which is now in the middle of the opposing sidewalk, guided carefully by the middle of the street woman whose deep black hair must have some magic that keeps it from going limp. The old yellow man and the old pale woman limp their way down the hill, separate, but equally aided by gravity.
In the moist, clingy air of the steep street, in the middle of a busy district in an even busier metropolis, someone is about to die. Planning leads to congruency trumps randomness. In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
The young man bends to tie his shoelace, which has come completely unraveled and is tripping him up. The old man steps in front of the taxi coming down the hill and holds up a single hand. His gravitas, in a single moment, goes from absent to presidential. The taxi driver stops thinking about seared flesh on assembled grain paste slices. The old man’s hand sends a message to the taxi driver’s brain which connects to his foot. The cab screeches to a halt.
The little girl makes brief eye contact with her black-haired caretaker, who could be her mother, but who is not. They both look into the stroller. The girl reaches in and pulls out a devastatingly dangerous looking gun. It is a semi-automatic .45 caliber instrument of lethality. It is made of black polymer, uses a Law Enforcement Modification trigger, and holds 12 rounds. The little girl only needs one of these, but she uses three. She has been trained.
In a practiced motion, she raises the weapon with her right hand and brings the left palm up to bear under the magazine. Her hands form a tight grip around the back of the pistol. She pulls the trigger three times, and three red holes blossom in the top of the young man’s skull. He never finishes tying his shoelace. The Polish tourists run screaming. The old man and the taxi driver exchange glances and positions. The gun in the old man’s hand does all the negotiating that is needed. The little girl reaches into the stroller again, and pulls out a white card. She tucks it into the back of the dead young man’s sport coat at the neckline. The note says, “For My Father” in neat black Times New Roman font. Probably 14 point.
The woman and the girl enter the back of the taxi while the lady with toilet paper pants and the Asian who counts fence posts gaze with astonished open mouths at the events. The taxi, now driven by the old man climbing up the hill, disappears into anonymity.
The city continues its business. Soon, it will deliver its servants to this hill. They will catalog, document, record and analyze. Then they will clean up the mess, and wash away the memory of the hilarious young man who, it may be speculated, failed to live up to the moniker on his t-shirt before meeting a bad end halfway down a hill on an otherwise nondescript day. For the young man does not look hilarious in death. Nor does the city that will be his grave seem relaxed. It is about to bustle again, and when it does, the young man’s trail will be erased.
Also published on Medium.