Linda Simoni-Wastila

Baltimore

At the metro I never take the escalator. Peanut shells and gnawed chicken bones litter the thirty-two granite steps. Young men crowd the exit, voices feverish. My arm draws my purse closer. But when I edge past they see only their fists trading rolled-up bills for baggies.

Outside, summer's swelter carries the usual market smells of over-ripe fruit and worn-out peanut oil. I walk quickly, breathing though my mouth. Around the corner, vomit puddles near a heap of blue plastic bags. Clothes and blankets tumble onto the sidewalk. Propped against the brick wall, a woman sits beside the pile. Sweat pours down her face and stains her puffy red parka. She stares at me, eyes filmy from glaucoma or some other affliction. Her hand twitches in her lap. I avert my gaze to the crab grass pushing through upheaved pavement, the spent condoms, the empty vodka nips rolling between her feet.

Campus security patrols the intersection. We smile at each other, as we do every day, small reassuring grimaces. The light changes. Behind me, the woman coughs. The ham and Swiss hangs heavy in my lunch bag like a bad conscience. I hurry through the cross-walk to the hospital’s cool safety and another day of running yesterday's numbers: admissions, discharges, dollars, death. But first, I stop for a latte, for energy to face the morning.




























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