A siren rings out in the night, and the police car rushes off, chasing madly after a perpetrator. I wonder briefly if it is a perpetrator at all, or someone the officer needs to catch, a manifestation of a latent hatred planted by an inexplicable evil. I take the pen from their hand and use the back of the brown paper bag to write. Perhaps it isn’t my place to write, but I find stories a good way to speak of the things trapped inside of you. If they don’t get out, then you are doomed to be stuck withering in a passive state. What is hard to say can always be told another way.
The alarm buzzes with an annoying screech repeatedly, a small drill digging into his brain until he has no choice but to wake up. Sam presses the snooze button and goes back to sleep. Shortly after closing his eyes the alarm buzzes again. Once more, he presses the snooze button and shuffles beneath his blanket. For eight minutes and forty-six seconds he breathes and sleeps, breathes and sleeps, the air coming in and out freely through an open window. A thin smile curls his lips as he dreams once more of Miranda.
Miranda rises from her bed and slides into a fresh pair of yoga pants and sneakers. The light streaming through her window is pale, the sun not yet ready to unfurl itself from a beautiful dream. There is still time for a quick run before she must get ready for work. She takes the stairs from her apartment two at a time, nearly tripping over a loose shoelace. She stops and ties it, sighing at the delay. The she runs, at first slow to find her rhythm and then a little faster, pushing herself the way she used to when she ran track in high school. Never could she do anything less than first place. For eight minutes and forty-six seconds she runs before tripping once more, this time from a pothole which formed unexpectedly when a drunk driver drove over the curb last night. Stopping to tie her shoe, she fails to notice the homeless man sitting on the corner, his head resting against a torn jacket, his torn jacket.
“Hey, hey!” a voice shouts into the man’s ear and he stirs. “Get up, you can’t be lying here, looking at her like that. Get up!”
He feels a foot ram into his side, lightly at first then a little harder. Robert pulls himself from the ground, his old bones groaning from the stiffness of lying on hard stone all night. He rubs his eyes, the drowsiness of a restless sleep racked with haunting dreams hard to shake. Eventually, his dark eyes clear and he sees the officer, the pearly white officer, looming over him, his right hand drawn to his hip.
Then he sees the woman and gulps, bringing himself shakily to his feet and raising his hands the way his father and his father had taught him to.
“I didn’t do anything, I didn’t do anything. Listen, I’m only here because my place burned down, and I have no place else to go. I didn’t do anything’” he wants to say but knows he cannot. His words, the words of a black man, are meaningless. He presses himself against the brick wall and waits. The officer says nothing. The woman, his last chance, says nothing. For eight minutes and forty-six seconds he waits, unable to breathe as the smoke fills his lungs, choking him while he reached for the window, trying to pull it open as it clung to the edge in obstinance. His lips tremble against his will and he can feel the tears swelling up. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, he pleads with his God to spare him. For eight minutes and forty-six seconds he waits.
The woman leaves, disappearing around the block at uncanny speed. The officer too retreats, returning to his car and driving off. Robert sighs and falls to the ground, suddenly filled with a new exhaustion which drags him back into an uneasy sleep.
For eight minutes and forty-six seconds Sam reads his book before glancing at his phone, hoping for Miranda to call. For eight minutes and forty-six seconds Miranda works diligently before her boss calls her in for the final presentation. For eight minutes and forty-six seconds Robert thinks about that woman and wonders if she knows what almost happened. And for eight minutes and forty six seconds the officer watches as his partner lays a knee behind the black man’s neck and waits.