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The Alley by Elisa Jay | Word Riot
Creative Nonfiction

December 16, 2015      

The Alley by Elisa Jay

As we lie awake listening to the sounds of our vibrant alley, a few questions come to mind. Mostly we wonder when this popular thoroughfare was first, brilliantly conceived. Was it established before the uneven pavement eroded, before littered with broken glass and overpopulating kittens, by a judicious panel of residents? “Yes. Here,” they said, glancing up at the windows above the row of garages, one of which would eventually house us, making history? And then, historically, has it always been the best, most ideal place for car repair, garbage foraging, children’s play, cavorting, DIY, and other late night escapades? We giggle at the word “cavorting” as we roll on our sides and look at each other in the dark. Recount our favorite happenings.
      Like the man who woke us shouting “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” hysterically, beneath our window, his screams smoking our ears like a gunshot. This followed by silence, which was surprisingly more terrifying. Silence, as if we had dreamed it, with my face buried deep into my husband’s underarm. Steadier is the glass man, who rummages the trash for glass bottles every day, at sunrise. Each clink so familiar it doesn’t always wake us anymore. We forgive him the one instance he broke tradition, and carried his pickups in a van – abruptly stopping when one of the crates fell, scattering hundreds of bottles, crashing and rolling away from him.
      Clearly inspiration strikes here. An every day Burning Man for repurposing old dressers, old bookshelves, or for simply leaving unwanted furniture outside to develop its new identity as an ecosystem for mold spores. In case you need a good sit, while the neighborhood children run and yell, aiming their plastic guns at cars passing through. Their curfew falls somewhere between 11 PM and midnight, making use of the flickering streetlights. Safety first! Safety first. However, there is no regulation necessary for any skateboarders perfecting their sport. Three in the morning is the recommended time to practice. An ideal combination of moonlight, silence, and concentration. Just you, the pavement, and everyone with windows thin enough to hear your dedication to your craft.
      “Remarkable,” we say to ourselves. So impressed.
      But if there’s one thing in the alley that garners abject reverence, it’s the holy graveyard of vehicles. Cars parked since we’ve moved here. Unmoving. Untouched. One van sits filled to the brim with plastic bags. Next to it rusts a composite of car parts shaped like a car. And another still has its hood irrevocably popped, its window smashed. These reflect a promise we can all aspire to – to not give up, not ever, and to always keep all of our belongings. Maybe. Or perhaps there is an even deeper meaning that we cannot fathom, preserved so deeply in the chipping paint that it’s forgotten.
      What we do know is this. Behind our bedroom sprawls an alley that sits between two fixed points. A fixedness that is different for everyone who passes through. To the woodworkers constructing, teenagers smoking, to the family selling their clothes and kitchenware on a mat one weekend, late last August – exists the alley as a purposeful space outside of their homes and work. A channel where floats dirty tricycles and oil stains, or the man parked too close to our garage door, wrapping presents in the driver’s seat. It is a destination. And is it beautiful to them?
      As the familiar tone of glasses clink against our dreams, waking us, we wonder. Who would we be if we found ourselves in the alley? Artists? Makers? Young? Old? Or a man cursing himself in the dark?

elisa-jayAbout the author:

Elisa Jay recently moved to LA from Chicago, where she received a degree in English Literature. The move to the mountains and ocean has revived her happy love of words. She has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine and 100word story, and can also be found in upcoming issues of Zest and *82. Follow her explorations on Instagram @e_letters.

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