A trash can at the corner of a busy city intersection. A coffee shop at one corner, a farmers’ market at the other. A blustery spring afternoon. A primly dressed woman in high heels holds a leash with a white poodle in one hand and a twisted plastic bag of shit in the other. She holds the bag at arm’s length with her thumb and forefinger, and when she is within three feet of the trashcan, throws it in. The bag hits the top edge of the can and falls into a patch of snow beneath the can. She huffs, bends to pick it up, and tries to throw it in again. This time she overthrows and the bag goes over the can and lands on the other side. The dog pulls at its leash and nuzzles into the bag, opening it. The woman looks around to see if anyone is watching, and blanches in horror when she sees the whole coffee shop looking at her. She drops the spilling bag into the can, then hurries across the street with the dog in tow.
A couple—hep and in their twenties—get up from their coffee and walk toward the farmers’ market. On the way, the man tosses his plastic water bottle at the trash can and misses by yards. He is too embarrassed to pick it up, and follows his girlfriend to the market to buy apples. The bottle rolls into the street. —Get it. Go get it
—Wait for the light
The father stares down ten-year-old Darien. The boy rises and walks to the corner to wait for the light, then steps into the street and picks up the bottle. He brings the bottle back to his father.
—Now why’d you do that?
—You asked me to
—Throw it out
—Can’t it be recycled?
—If you want to carry it home
Darien stares at his father a moment, then walks to the trash and drops it in. Something golden in the snow beneath the can catches his eye. Checking to see if father is watching, the boy palms it then hurries back to his father who is already standing up to leave.
The boy says nothing rather than lie.
Darien fingers the bullet casing in his pocket. His father goes on walking and talking,
—You’ll like out here. It’s better here. Everything is better here. There is really no comparison. Incomparable. Do you know that word? It means nothing compares to this. Inimitable. Do you know that one too?
—Cannot be imitated. In, as a prefix—can mean both the negative and the affirmative. Inimitable. Clean streets, no? We can walk these streets all afternoon and see nothing. Nothing at all. There is Nothing to see here. Refreshing. I am refreshed by this place. Everything about this place was made for humans— people like you and I—looking for a better life. There is no other place in America, I can surely say, that has a much to offer humans as this place. This is why we are drawn here, why I have brought you here. Because I did not have the luxury of being raised here.
Darien steps outside singing to himself as he runs down the street, half skipping. He is happy to out of the apartment which is neither a house nor a home. He slows as he rounds the corner. The street is empty. He hears a scuffling in a ditch caddy corner to where he’s standing. He looks both ways, then crosses the street for a closer look. He slows as he approaches the ditch, then peers in.
Three kids are huddled there, as still as they can be.
—Are you stuck?
The boys look up and seem relieved but annoyed by him.
—Don’t kill us
—We’re not the ones you’re looking for
Darien reaches down his hands to pull them out.
—Are you one of us?
—Who are you?
—No you’re not
—Always have been
—You can’t be
—Because terrorists are much older
—Terrorists are born terrorists
—What are you doing in the ditch?
—Are they kids too?
—You wouldn’t joke if you’d ever met one
—Because they are horrible. They are evil. They do whatever they want to us. —How can you tell if you meet one?
—They have guns.
Darien talks to his father in the kitchen which is in the living room.
—Not a real one
—When I’m older?
Darien is dismayed.
—Whether you’re mature enough is not the point. That’s not the point at all. It’s a principle
—You don’t believe in non-violence
—Right, non non-violence. I don’t want you desensitized.
Darien walks up the street on this fateful day. He sees an older boy following him out of the corner of his eye. The boy follows him as a sniper would, from a distance, setting up a perimeter. Perhaps there is another boy nearby watching, too. Darien steps around the corner and his neck catches the elbow the another boy. He’s dropped to the ground in a hi-low. He holds his bruised neck. —Get up
Darien tries to stand, finds himself on his knees.
—Who are you?
—You one of them?
—No, yes. I don’t know what you mean
—I think I want to be one of you
The Soldier laughs.
The other nudges him with the butt of his gun. —Move along
—Don’t you live around here?
—Down the street
—Evil, right in the rucking heartland.
Alexander Mint can be found in and around the cafes of New York City practicing poetry and entertaining politics.