By Eric Lutz
It is a hot night. Alan sits in his one-room apartment watching television and drinking a glass of water. His air-conditioning unit is broken, so he has the ceiling fan on full blast and the big window wide open. His hairline is damp with perspiration.
It is one of those nights.
A little after two, he hears yelling in the alley below and then a huge boom. He turns to the window, fingers open the blinds, and he peers out.
There is a car. Its headlights are on, aimed at the stone wall of the back of the Laundromat. A group of men are standing around the car and in the center, another man is pinned onto the hood by two men in jean jackets. A bald man in a sleeveless shirt stands over him. The man on the hood is pleading with the bald man, though Alan cannot hear what words he is saying. The bald man—he has something shiny in his hand—appears to be speaking in a soft tone.
Just then, a man leaning against the wall of the Laundromat points up at Alan’s window with the baseball bat he is holding. Everyone else’s eyes follow the bat.
Alan pulls back from the blinds and jolts to the center of the living room and kneels on the floor, below the line of the windowsill. He grabs the remote control and turns off the television. He crawls to the far end of the room and switches the light off. He is on his knees, as though begging something of God. He lay there silently, taking quiet, uneven breaths.
There is more noise outside.
He thinks to call the police. His phone is in the kitchen. So after several seconds—or maybe minutes—he gets up on his elbows and crawls down the short hallway. When he gets to the kitchen, instead of going for his phone on the counter, he goes to the junk drawer where he keeps old ticket stubs and Christmas cards and such things. He opens it, reaches his hand in, and way in the back, he finds the pack of cigarettes he’d been halfway through when he promised Loretta he’d quit. She left two years ago—for Austin, but who knows where now—but he’s kept to it.
Now, though, he pulls one from the soft pack and puts it between his lips. Even unlit it tastes stale. But he goes to the stove, turns on the front burner, and lights up at its flame. He inhales deeply. Then exhales. A gray thought bubble of smoke hangs before him and then disappears. The man must’ve done something, he thinks. He must’ve been one of them. He glances over at his phone, which is on the counter a few feet away.
There is a knock at the door.
Eric Lutz is a writer of fiction, journalism and essays. His work has appeared in Salon, Newcity and he Boiler Journal, among other publications, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives in Chicago, where he teaches fiction writing to kids and teens.