The Sunnier Side of the Street
By DS Levy
Preacher Man drops us off in the neighborhood. “Two o’clock,” he says, “Don’t be late.”
Jess and I climb out the back of the van with our flyers. We stretch our backs, look up at the eggshell blue sky. It’s 84 degrees in the shade, sweat already dripping off our foreheads.
“C’mon,” says Preacher Man. “Close the door. We’re losing daylight.”
Jess slams it shut and Preacher Man leaves us in a cloud of gray exhaust. The words painted on the doors—“Jesus Will Save!”—recede in the distance.
I claim the sunnier side of the street; Jess jogs to the other side. It’s an old neighborhood. Two levels of steps at least. Those up to the front doors are killers. My calves throb.
We can’t just put our fliers anywhere. Especially not in mailboxes, which Preacher Man has warned is a federal offense. We thread them between the screen door and door frame. Or in the space behind the metal boxes. Last resort, under the welcome mat.
I look across the street. Jess is already two houses ahead of me. Not that we’re racing, but we like to have a little fun when Preacher Man’s not around. He pays us ten bucks an hour, which buys our smokes and a couple bottles of cheap hooch.
When we get back to the river, other drifters amble along hoping we’ll share, and sometimes if we’re feeling the fellowship, we’ll offer a short pull. Otherwise, forget it. River rules: There are no rules.
Preacher Man says he prays for us. Prays to turn our gray days into sunshine. Prays to lift us up into the arms of the Good Lord, who will turn our lives around. Prays we’ll lose the taste of Satan’s liquid and smoke spirits, that we’ll give up life on the river.
“All I ask of you boys,” he says, “is to deliver my fliers during the week, and show up in my pews on Sunday.”
Fat chance of that happening. Jess and me, we’re too busy Sundays to waste time in a church. Saturday nights bring folks downtown. Young couples wander bar to bar, the restaurants bustle—Jess and me never know what we’re gonna find. Last week behind Ruth’s Chris, we found most of an untouched 40-ounce Porterhouse steak, well done, which some anorexic date must have ordered to prove that she really does eat now and then, only to nibble on one end. We hadn’t eaten that good in a long time.
Jess is humpin’ to please. “Hey! What’s your hurry?” I call over.
He looks over his shoulder, smiles a mostly-toothy grin.
I come to a house that’s seen better days and just as I shove a flier under the mat, an old man in nothing but his underwear opens the door, holding an aluminum cane.
“What’cha doin’ down there?” he wants to know.
I pick up the flier and hand it to him. “Morning, sir. Gospel Revival next Sunday, Come to Jesus Chapel.”
He throws his screen door open and knocks the damn thing outta my hand. That old metal door hurts like a son of a bitch.
“Git the hell off my porch,” he says, upper dentures wagging at me.
I’m bending over to pick up the flier when he hits me in the nuts with that damn cane. The pain is swift, excruciating.
I grab my crotch. “Jesus H. Christ.”
He slams the door.
Yesterday a woman sicked her pitbull on me. The day before that, a wild-eyed guy in a crack house thought I was a narc and pulled out a knife. I told him it was cool, I was just there to leave some spiritual literature about the Good Lord, then high-tailed it outta there.
I call out to Jess, wave my hand, tell him to stop. Then run to catch up. Out of breath, I tell him I’m done.
“What do you mean ‘done’?”
“I ain’t going to one more door.”
I tell him about the old geezer, that I’m not gonna let one more asshole humiliate me, Lord or no Lord.
“But it’s easy cash,” he says, trying to calm me down.
We walk along the street, come to a corner with a CVS, where I dump my fliers in the garbage can. Jess looks surprised.
“Preacher Man ain’t gonna know no different,” I say.
He tosses his fliers in after me.
We go into CVS for the AC, and while Jess flirts with the pretty little cashier, asking for directions to Micky D’s, I pocket a couple of Snicker’s bars.
Outside, the sun shoots its gamma-rays and casts our short shadows against the sidewalk.
“Now what?” says Jess.
I look at the time on the flashing sign. In one hour Preacher Man will come back to pick up our sorry-asses. Until then, we got nothin’ but time and a candy bar, which is more than most drifters have down at the river.
I tell him once Preacher Man dumps us off at the Rescue Mission and forks over our cash, we’ll go to the liquor store downtown and then back to the bridge where we can rest on the soft grass and watch the lazy brown water float by—the kind of thing it seems Jesus might have done back in his day, back before they crucified him.
DS Levy lives in the Midwest. She has had work published in New World Writing, Bending Genres, Bull Men’s Fiction, Atticus Review, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and others. Her flash chapbook, A Binary Heart, was published by Finishing Line Press.