The Quotable

The Work of Living

Allie should have been in her car, somewhere on the Ben Franklin, high above the Delaware River, and almost back into New Jersey. The Friday meeting had run late, and now she walked down the sidewalk still a good five blocks from the parking garage. People had told her this part of the city was not too bad, but that sounded like something locals said to make themselves appear savvy or brave. She always quickened her pace when twilight began to fall, knowing that of the million and a half people here, some Philadelphians might just ignore all that stuff about brotherly love.

Ahead, the same figure sat over the same steam grate, his back against the pocked brick wall so common in this section of Philly. He muttered to himself, then laughed. A drunken laugh. Allie heard a soft clink on the cement, something glass, hollow. Moments later the bottle appeared, a fist around the neck, amber drink backlit in the bottom third. His head was thrown back, his throat chugging the liquid in rhythmic spasms. Allie would ignore him again, as she had the previous four evenings. She would not make eye contact, just keep moving.

She stepped around him and into the street. The layers of clothing he wore made his arms and chest appear swollen, as if pumped with air, vaguely reminding her of a straw-stuffed scarecrow. A sleeping bag was pulled to his waist and a hoodie drawn over his bowed head. Nearby, an ancient duffel bag, burred from wear, slumped against the wall.

After walking past him Monday evening, doubling back to be sure, and peering from around a building for almost five minutes, she was certain beyond any doubt this was he. The jaw line, the gestures, the way his shoulders hung on his frame were too telling to dismiss. He had lost weight, for sure, but here was Jimmy.

He never noticed her, his senses were always lost in a fog of drunkenness or sleep. On Wednesday he must have fallen into self-pity or self-loathing or self-something else, because Allie heard him crying softly, patting his eyes dry with the tattered ends of the hoodie’s stretched sleeves. On those nights she passed him, memories swept through her, as vivid and bitter as when they first occurred so many years ago. Dad’s weary walk downstairs at two in the morning to post Jimmy’s bail, and the second job he took to pay the lawyers. Mom discovering her grandmother’s engagement ring missing from her jewelry box; how she always blamed herself for being so unorganized, saying the ring had to be around somewhere. Allie couldn’t forget the cars wrecked, the fines levied, the sentences imposed, and the midnight tears shed by Mom and Dad at the kitchen table that hot night in July when they thought everyone was in bed.

Allie moved farther down the sidewalk, and with each step Jimmy’s upper half became more obscured by the building’s shadow until only the tip of his sleeping bag was visible where the streetlights cut across its padded end. The night was erasing him once again. She waited at the corner. An ambulance sped by, wailing and flashing. Inside, past the rear windows, an EMT worked on someone, the hump of his back brilliant under white light. Someone’s life was changing at that moment, and as she turned toward the bag, Allie realized the work of living was perilous.



Paul Weidknecht’s work has appeared in, Philadelphia Stories, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Comstock Review, Fractured West, Rosebud, Shenandoah, The Los Angeles Review, andOutdoor Life, among others. He is a member of Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC and lives in New Jersey, where he is currently seeking representation for his recently completed collection of stories, Fly in a Cube of Amber. For more, please visit:

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The Quotable 9 Night and Day