UNITED STATES—Droplets of sweat poured out of Mary Reno. She craved the shade. Sweeping a 30-foot length of sidewalk in the noonday sun, and clearing the gutter had been enough toil for today. Haberdashery, the faded pale-yellow letting on the side of the brick building was revealed through the ribs of collapsing roof in the building next door. One was constantly seeing things that might have been there all the time.

Mary had the bag of trash swept off the street in her hand. Her eyes quested for a trash can. The one nearest trash can had been upended, with all its contents spilling out, including beer cans, soda cups, muddied music discs and most of a hamburger. There was a good piece of meat underneath a dirty pickle. Mary bent down and saw just underneath the grilled burger, its recesses contained a lively underground current of maggots. There had been a man with gaps between his teeth who’d slobbered between his words something about food. Was that today or yesterday or some fumes from a dream like the child Mary had lost to the foster care gulag.

The hamburger reminded Mary of Diogenes, her dog. The hurt was fresh from the loss and still raw. She would have been fighting to get him away from that piece of meat and its garnish of maggots. She would curse and yell at him. A bystander would snipe:

“People like that shouldn’t be allowed to have dogs.”

They were jealous of the short-haired mastiff, black as onyx. That was the truth. Somebody at the shelter had been jealous and stolen the dog. You can’t get much lower than that: stealing a dog from a roofless person.

Mary had a start. Where was her bundle? There was some money tucked away in her bundle from when some people drove down the street in the white Ford Fairlane and were giving out bills left and right. Now, where was her trash. It was there in her hand. She let out a tense chuckle. Now the bag of trash turned into her bundle.

The figs –Mary Reno remembered the figs– around the corner from where the garbage trucks scooped up her belongings. She had a roof, such as it was: a tarp held by rocks on top of an Ikea dresser, angled down to the sidewalk. It was a kind of home, and security blanket, though she still slept with one eye open.

She might’ve been raped one night. She wasn’t really sure. It was the night somebody found a box of cannabis honey sticks open and spilled over the sidewalk.

“Here, Mary Reno, have some”–her neighbor with the Cadillac tent scooped out a fistful with glee. It was a real kindness, and it helped her sleep with both eyes closed for a change.

Mary went where the figs were ripening. For weeks she had been eyeing them with anticipation. The last time she had seen the figs, they were almost ripe. She went to where the fig tree was supposed to be, and it’s serpentine twigs and five-finger leaves weren’t to be found.

Spiraling. Covering less and less ground as she ceded to a magnetic force that sucked her inexorably toward inner and infinite space, toward a weightlessness and a dark diamond-pointed brightness.

Then, there it was, the bushy fig, standing tall before her ragged shoes…

To be continued…

Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)