They are awakened by sirens at 2:00 a.m. and vow to leave that place. They vow it again while walking down a crowded sidewalk, bumping elbows, accidentally stepping on the feet around them. They do not have time for this. They will be late for work.

Always, the man in the alley leans against their building, pees against the bricks. They look down at him through gauzy curtains and call the police, but the police are too busy for things like this. There are other men sitting on benches or sidewalks, asking for money. Some hold out a cup or a hat. They have learned to say “no” to these men without speaking.

As they stop at the market for bread, they remember when they once lost a shoe while crossing the intersection. It was run over by a truck. “No one cares,” they mutter. “No one would stop if we were dying in the street.” “And think of Jimmy,” they say over dinner. “His asthma must be smog-related. Too many people, too much pollution. We cannot breathe.” They clutch at their chests.

They say they are leaving, and this time they mean it. They stuff shirts and dresses and jeans into leather suitcases. “Is it colder there?” They pack an extra jacket. They retrieve their car from the parking ramp and navigate the twisted streets. They press their faces to the windows and scowl at the string of fast-food restaurants and dry cleaners and copy shops. “Who needs them?”

They drive until the strip malls fade from their rearview mirrors, until all they can see are fence posts and ditches full of Queen Anne’s Lace. They don’t like the weeds on the side of the road and wish someone would mow them.

They maneuver the car around a pothole in the driveway of the farmhouse they’ve rented. They enter the house and wrinkle their noses at the dust. A window is open, and the dirt from the neighboring field sifts in through the screen and settles in a thin layer on the dining room table. “Hello,” they call, “Hello,” even though they know they are the only ones scheduled to use the house this week.

They do not know what to do once they unpack, so they decide to go for a walk, but it is getting dark, and they are afraid. “Are there snakes here?” they ask. They worry that they did not bring enough food.

“Just look at Jimmy,” they say, and point to him sitting cross-legged on the floor with a comic book he found in the bedroom. There is no TV. He is making a wheezing noise. They think that the fresh air will help and take him outside where they all stand on the porch, looking every which way and seeing nothing, nothing, nothing, but smelling something sickeningly sweet. They feel faint and clutch at their chests. “We cannot breathe,” they say.

About the author:

Marcy Campbell is the fiction editor of Artful Dodge. She likes the goats that have the little beards and has been known to hot glue a thing or two to other things. She lives near the Amish (who better not be reading this!!!) in rural Ohio.