A magician in tall black pants smiled wide, bowed low and dropped a bouncing-ball that burst into hundreds of smaller bouncing-balls when it hit the pavement. The two little feet, bare without socks or shoes, laughed and ran and caught one of the balls, bouncing it as he walked up the street. A portly man with makeup was wearing stockings and a tutu. He leapt into the air and swung around a lamppost with a big smile hugging his tomato cheeks. Three midgets dressed like Santa were laughing and playing leapfrog. The two little feet kept walking up the street, past hundreds of other people who were walking in the opposite direction. They were teachers and doctors, lawyers and business persons, and all of them were smiling, but they weren’t really walking, they were, popping – yes, popping like confetti down the street, teachers running and jumping joys into the air, pretty-faced nurses smiling and bouncing high as if they were on trampolines, stock-brokers jumping into the air with their palms open at the sides of their smiling faces, politicians skipping and flailing their arms, ballerinas leaping and twirling on their toes, acrobats throwing hula-hoops into the air and doing flips through them, and uniformed pilots diving high over everyone and landing in somersaults beneath the giant stilts of juggling clowns and past the tiny jesters marching with silly pomp as giant party banners unfurled from the tops of gleaming skyscrapers. Bright confetti fell from the blue sky, glittered in the sun and landed lovely on the upturned faces as they swirled and danced and leapt down the street. The two little feet kept walking and giggling with wonder, bouncing the ball. White rabbits hopped down the street, past the elephants on their hind legs that sprayed water into the air as lovely people swirled with up-turned faces and out-spread arms in the mist.
Early on and a king came marching with a velvet cloak around his shoulders, pointing his gold scepter at the sky like a band leader. The two little feet stopped for a moment. The boy held the bouncing-ball in his hand and looked up at the king, his little mouth open with awe. The king had a stern face and was looking down his nose at the boy. The king burst into a bright beaming smile, pulled a giant gold key from his cloak and bowed low with all the valor of the Kingdom of Heaven, holding the key above his head and looking at the ground. ‘For you, my dear boy.’ The two blue eyes stared wide with wonder and lifted the key from the king’s thick hands. It was deceptively light. He couldn’t yet read but he saw the engraving in the gold of the key and he knew what it meant. The little, wet lips smiled wide and somehow the giant key fit into his little pocket and he took out the bouncing-ball and kept walking.
A woman with a flowing dress came by. He smiled up at her and she tossed rose petals in the air and they landed in the soft, yellow curls on his head. A man and a woman were holding hands, their arms outstretched between them as they swirled down the street. They passed right over the boy and he looked up, laughing as their arms glided over him. The two little shoes kept bouncing the ball down the street and he noticed a little girl walking in his direction. Her skirt and shoes were pretty and he blushed when he realized she was walking up to him. She stood in front of him, looking down at her feet with a shy smile waiting to blossom. She looked up and the boy smiled and they both had rosy cheeks. She grabbed his hand real quick and they continued on, skipping down the street. Acrobats dressed in pink leotards were throwing each other through the air, walking on their hands and doing back-handsprings.
The boy and girl stopped skipping for a moment. Two children, also a boy and girl, had walked up and stood in front of them. The girl was dressed in a tuxedo with coattails and a bowtie. She also wore a top-hat. The boy wore a wedding dress with a veil and he held a bouquet. They spoke not a word to the other boy and girl, smiling shy as they bowed and passed off the top-hat and bouquet, before they ran off giggling. The boy put the on top-hat, a little askew over his blond curls and the girl held the bouquet. They were still holding hands and smiling as they began walking again.
People of all sorts continued to walk past the boy and girl, smiling but for the most part keeping to themselves. A short Indian man with black hair and a thick moustache walked up to them with a wide, loving smile and shook their hands with congratulations. When the mayor saw them, he too walked over, his belly sloping and his coattails fluttering. He removed his top-hat and bowed low, swinging his arm out to the side. He smiled up at them and continued on. They were still holding hands, and his big white teeth were shining, when a second troupe of acrobats came down the street. They were wearing deep red leotards and jumping through small pink hoops.
On the right was a school. It was long, proportionate and built with tan bricks and there was a belfry on the top in the middle. Children were in the schoolyard laughing and playing round the jungle gym. Then the bell tolled. The children stopped what they were doing, silence had befallen them, and slowly they filed back inside. A flagpole stood in front, the nation’s flag taught, stiff and motionless against the cloudless blue sky. A platoon of soldiers in green fatigues marched by, and the boy and girl kept walking.
People continued to walk past but they were moving faster now, and they would slow down only momentarily to smile at the young man and woman. His left hand could still feel the bouncing-ball in his pocket but his right hand had grown cold, as if it had grown vacant of human touch, and when he looked at his hand he saw it was empty. She had stopped walking though he continued and she was looking at the ground at the wilted bouquet. He glanced back but he kept walking. The two shoes passed a woman pushing a stroller, and he could see two chubby, little hands grabbing at the air. He passed a brown church with tall, stained windows along its sides. The doors were open but it was dark inside. He passed a hospital with an ambulance out front.
The street continued and people were still walking as big, brick factories with rows of tiny windows and looming smokestacks began to appear. The people walking by wore coveralls and gloves, denim jackets and hardhats. A few faces were covered with dirt and as he continued the people would politely nod and continue with their business. They carried toolboxes and wrenches, and the men and women were spotted with grease, their fingers black. Giant buildings began to appear with rows of shining windows rising into the sky. The men and women walked by in suits. They carried briefcases and walked with long, hurried strides. The men had gelled hair and shiny shoes, the women with pressed skirts and pinned-up hair. His blue eyes watched his boots as he walked.
Everyone was walking fast and talking, cellphones pressed to the sides of their faces and they talked away and never noticed anybody else. A house with boarded up windows had lost its roof. A soda bottle was rolling down the street, and empty bags of fast-food were scattered along the sidewalks. A few women stood near a corner and they puckered their dark red lips, stuck their hips out as he walked by. Cigarette butts were stuck in the cracks of the road. The crumbling walls of old factories piled their bricks haphazardly on the sidewalks. His big, beat-up boots continued down the street, and whenever he chanced to pass somebody he would smile and try to make eye-contact, but the people would give him an awkward glance and walk faster. He noticed that a cover of clouds had rolled in, and he vaguely recalled that they had been there for a while. The gray of the clouds seemed to suck the color from the street.
A small child stood on the sidewalk, her eyebrows turned up in the middle. Her clothes were brown and torn, and her outstretched hands formed a cup. People trickled past in expensive suits, and they hurried by with up-turned noses. The big, beat-up boots grumbled as they walked. A cemetery appeared on the right. It was a wide open field, the grass burdened with dew. A fog from the cemetery was drifting into the street. There were only two tombstones in the graveyard, though large and imposing. Roughly chiseled into each stone was an epithet, Your Family and Your Friends, respectively. The two wilted eyes looked away, and the windows of the storefronts were broken, boarded up or covered in spray-paint. Liquor bottles were smashed, piles of shattered glass beneath signs that read ‘clearance sale’. Bags of trash sat on the sides of the street, and garbage clogged the runoff grates.
A man sat on the sidewalk, his back against the lone-standing wall of a collapsed building. His clothes were ragged, the brown blanket around his shoulders caked with filth, and a cane lay by his feet. ‘Hey! Hey, I know you!’ he shouted. The muddy boots looked up, puzzled and afraid. ‘I, I know you,’ his voice had sunk. ‘I know who you used to be!’ he cried out, ‘I know! Sonny!’ he wailed, ‘I know who you used to be!’ The man on the sidewalk sobbed and his face fell into his hands. The muddy boots looked away, kept walking with slow, heavy footsteps.
The corners of his mouth sagged deep, his gums were clenched shut. He looked without emotion at the man who stood before him. The man held a black cane, wore pointy, black shoes, black, well-pressed pants, and a black dinner jacket with long, thin coattails. The jacket was open, so that the deep red of the silk shirt beneath it was visible. His face was narrow and long, with pointed features, and his black hair was greased back. His thin moustache was curled. He said hello and placed his lanky arm around the two sloping shoulders with the muddy boots. The man led the boots to the left, onto the sidewalk where a small flight of steps led down. ‘Come have a drink or twelve, forget about all that crap.’ At the bottom of the steps was a heavy, oak door with a red, misty glow emanating from the thin spaces around it. ‘You’re infected, aren’t you?’ He had a cruel way of accentuating his words as he led the two, spiteful eyes down the steps. ‘Time sure has a way of festering cynicism, don’t it, Scotty?’