The policeman who walks the alley remembers when the sky at night had more stars. Now he wishes he could do more for the alley’s residents. If he had a money belt coiled around his waist he would hand them coins and bills. As it is, there is little he can do but watch and listen. Tonight the lion has no companion. Getting up in years and favoring his feet as though they had been pickled, the lion talks as usual about how much happier he’d been when he lived at the landfill. The policeman listens patiently until the lion grows quiet, and pushes on. The lady of the evening who often thinks of the snow back in Mankato says it’s a low-energy night. She’ll sleep soon and dream of the nights she wore gowns and enjoyed the hospitality of the wealthy man who took her to restaurants where they lounged on big pillows while waiters pushed trollies full of recently harvested vegetables and thinly sliced meats. The wealthy man had loved her and offered her a ring and she can’t remember what words she had used telling him no. She had slept with him freely but without enough joy. It was this inability to feel joy that drove her to the alley. The orangutan once had a secret crush on the lion. She let it fester too long and now it makes her bitter. Tonight she is worried about germs. She knows the lion carries them, not to mention the string of potential mates he brings to the alley. She wants it looked into. The ex-paperboy loves to gamble. He used the dollars and nickels he collected to place bets on a multitude of unrealistic possibilities. He lost wagers about the height of his grandma’s azaleas and the depth of a farm pond and the time it took to walk from Lincoln to Omaha. When he lost the last bet he had no desire to return home and kept walking until he reached a city with just the right alley. He is so lonely he asks the policeman to frisk him, but he’d been frisked the night before and it wouldn’t be wise to spoil him. The policeman’s superiors said he was lazy. Every year they shrank his beat. He has no choice but to leave the alley each night to arrest a few miscreants. Even with these obvious criminals he fails to be sufficiently stern. The policeman wishes he’d chosen a different profession. When the morning sun lights all but the alley’s most shadowed corners it’s time for him to leave. Strolling down the street toward the station he wishes he called the alley home.
John Riley lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he works in educational publishing. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Fiction Daily, Smokelong Quarterly, Connotation Press, Blue Five Notebook, Willows Wept Review, The Dead Mule, and other places online and in print.