“I heard you last night, I guess it was around 12:15. It was like the loneliest sound in the world, coming up, whoooozzzzshh then fading into the distance.”

Arty looked a little wild-eyed today. “Hmmm. Two coffees. You want Bailey’s in yours? What?”

The barista reiterated that it was a coffee shop, not a bar, and scratched his beard. Scruffy, Missy thought. Nasty. “The bar next door opens at noon.”

“OK, hellwithit, just two coffees. You got a paper?”

“I see one on the table over there some guy just left.”

A brief wrinkle of displeasure flickered across Missy’s face, and she wondered if Arty was still looking for a different job. Not that she cared; she was just about through with him. Missy believed that men were like a series of interesting occupations you experienced in your salad days, before life catches up and you discover you’ve been a street sweeper for 6 years. Like Arty.

“I started to go out and shout at you from the fire escape.”

“Wouldn’t have heard you, that thing’s noisy, I told you.”

“I like the wavy pattern it leaves on the street from going in and out of the parked cars. The first time I saw it one morning, it took me a few minutes to figure that out. That thing just moves the dust around. Why do they even bother?”

“Has a vacuum, but some of it just sticks. That’s what you’re seeing.”

They went over to the table where The Dromedary was open to the want ads just as Bill walked by. He looked woozy. Bill was another guy in Public Works with Arty, Backpack Bill everyone called him, but it was really a sleeping bag he carried around. “Sleeping Bag Bill” obviously didn’t have the same ring, Missy thought. She could relate: everyone called her “Spike,” a stupid nickname she’d never discouraged. Like giving plasma for coffee money or sleeping with Arty these last two weeks, having nicknames was another thing to experience, something for the journal she’d eventually get around to starting, the book she’d never write.

The door glass rattled violently as Arty bolted out after Bill. “Bastard owes me twenty dollars!”

Right then the thought flashed that maybe this was the time to just fade out the back. The barista had already turned away, and Bill was not going to have the twenty bucks. He’d obviously slept at the bar next door. Maybe he was onto something, wandering around with that sleeping bag. Except she liked showers, and a mirror to do her eye makeup in the morning. There were always public restrooms, though, and Arty wasn’t nearly as interesting as she’d thought he’d be. She’d imagined a lone wolf swirling dust under the streetlights of Salemtown, full of hard, gritty philosophies born while brushing curbs and polishing painted arrows. What she wound up with was a guy with dirt in the folds of his yellowed briefs who grumbled in his sleep. Yep. Time to go.

As she picked up the paper, she noticed two things: her nail polish on her left thumb was shot, and there was a magic marker circle around an ad for internet courses promising “exciting careers in technology, forensics, and municipal engineering. Financial assistance available.”

A teardrop gently tapped, and bled into the newsprint.

She dropped The Dromedary back onto the table, glanced up and said to no one in particular, “Guess I better go help poor Bill,” just as Arty slammed into him from behind.

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