When All the Streets Are Closed
I’m trapped in frozen river of fenders and tail-lights. A voice on the radio is blaming everything on a jackknifed tractor-trailer, but I’m starting to believe the problem is much larger than that. Even the street vendors are staying away from the boulevard this morning. No one is hawking bottles of cold water or bunches of pale green bananas. The only person on the sidewalk is a dreadlocked street-singer tapping on a steel drum at the traffic light. The music isn’t bad, but for sheer outrageous style, nothing can match his outfit: spangled azure overcoat, canary-yellow tights, silver platform boots and metal sunglasses with five-pointed star-burst frames. He is a one-man thrift store, a mannequin for hand-me-downs from dead rock stars. His singing is second-hand too. He croons like a Bob Marley clone at a reggae lounge that has been closed for renovations. When I finally inch close to him, I lean out the window and ask how much he wants for the drum kit.
“I’ll trade you my Lexus,” I say. “We’re both in the wrong business. Throw in the jacket and we’ve got a deal.”
The singer shakes his head and laughs. He seems to be remembering an old joke that suddenly sounds funny again. He begins tapping a new rhythm on the drum. I can’t make out most of the words he is singing, but I do hear the chorus—the kind of raspy melody that insinuates itself directly into your synapses.
“If you want to play on the streets,” he sings, “you’ve got to have your own song.”
Now it’s my turn to laugh. I toss two coins into the gutter and thank the guy for the philosophy lesson. Then I turn up the radio, flip on the air conditioner and start closing the window. Before the glass is half-way up, white-gloved fingers are tapping on the door. The singer is not smiling anymore. His face looks serious as a business contract. I lean towards him to listen to the proposal: a hungry whisper offered through grey lips.
Before any of the cars on the boulevard can budge another inch, my friend is resting in the unfamiliar fabric of a leather seat, buttoning his azure overcoat as chilled air rushes through the vents. His gloved fingers are caressing the perimeter of a power steering wheel, searching for the horn. He shows no reaction to the tune I am attempting to play on the sidewalk. Tapping a slow rhythm in the shadow of the traffic light, I chant chorus after chorus about the places you can go when all the streets are closed.
My friend is so intent on discovering signs of movement in the gridlock that he does not even turn his head for the fabulous Miss Lucinda, emerging from the subway in leopard-skin tights and high heels. Unlike the rest of us, she is just coming home from work. I think she still has one dance left in her. She sways with me under a blinking yellow light, the diamond stud in her nose glinting in the glow of my star-framed shades.
Craig Fishbane’s short fiction collection, On the Proper Role of Desire, was published by Big Table Publishing. His work has also appeared in the New York Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Bartleby Snopes and The Nervous Breakdown, as well as the Flash Fiction Funny anthology.
Image: flickr / John St John