As the middle class of the twentieth century gleefully turns itself into the peasantry of the twenty-first, I am sitting outside the one bank building in town, on a public bench, waiting for the streetlight to turn. I have seen only two cars pass through the intersection, but this light changes with a blistering regularity. The town could not afford to put in a light with sensors, and for my purposes this one is just fine. I see it go yellow, shut my eyes and try to count how long it will remain yellow, then try to open my eyes just as the flicker of yellow goes stammering into red.

The length of the red time is different, and I try to meter that continent, too. The green I am not going to attempt until I get the other two cycles nailed.

This is what I do most days for at least two or three hours. After a good rain, I skip the stoplight and move uptown to where the stream runs under our main street, continues down the hill to our river not more than four hundred yards off. After a good rain, the stream is consumed with being different from the stream it would have been without a good rain, and I can see things in its character that those who watch less closely would miss, or perhaps might assign to pure natural fickleness. When both of the banks and the water are eerily angry, the watching is best.

I do lunch at the hot plate in my one room apartment above the local tourist trap – the Magic Emporium. It sells trinkets and charms and odd rock formations to people puttering about town for the weekend. The owner does well enough that he does not live in the room above the shop. This room would be comically wasted in storage if I did not rent it. It takes a gash out of my social security check, but I have to put myself someplace.

I eat lunch over the hot plate, and for dinner I dine over the hot plate. Forty-three years in the post-union world stacking another man’s profit margin at the brewery two blocks up, and I don’t even get the occasional free beer. I would still be stacking and counting beloved cases if the brewery had not been abandoned in favor of the sensuous magic of leveraged financial instruments. These great evolutionary things I cannot figure out.

I have gotten to where I can catch just a wink of yellow and then the full blare of red. It makes me feel, in a backpack sort of way, useful. I cannot be a consumer anymore: the government check is just too small. I cannot produce: this body is meant to lift and stack and mark progress on a clipboard, and somehow the very drinkable beer I blessed with my productivity got drained dry by insurance on real estate outcomes. Not a producer; not a consumer. Instead, I count light cycles; I applaud the stream in its rock bed seething after each rain, or after each day, casually different; I try to make up odd jobs. I figure God sees me doing this, whether he wants to or not: I figure that I have in His scheme some utility, if only as a witheringly small part of His own job, a soul that He is by divine contract forced to keep track of. I have my triumphs.

Later I will buy a loaf of bread and two bananas. It will be a highlight. I admit I like the feel of being, just for a moment, a part of the economic parade going by. But then I step out of that calming civic stream and wash up, flotsam, with my plastic bag of less than extravagant sustenance in my room, with my hot plate and the two half packages of chicken dogs I have left from yesterday in the desk top refrigerator that I hope is still working. I take care of myself pretty well, given the lack of care.

Don’t think too long on it. Events come down to necessity soon enough, and location is a state of mind.

Don’t worry, it is not your fault. Fault is not a part of it. This is simply where you, too, are going.

Ken Poyner’s latest collection of minifictions, Constant Animals, can be located through links at kpoyner.com, or on amazon.com. He has had recent work out in Analog, Asimov’s, Poet Lore, and several other places, both print and web. His next book, The Book of Robot, from Dark Renaissance Press, is poetry detailing the pursuit of artificial sentience.

Questions and concerns: editors@bellowsamerican.com
All work is copyright of its respective owner