The old man paused, his brimming shopping cart rattling to a stop. A window just above stood a few inches open, the apartment’s inhabitants tentatively seeking spring’s first warm wisps of breeze. The man himself had more than enough breezes, along with the bitter winds of the preceding winter just passed, none of it impeded by any window’s barrier.
The long alley he had traversed, veering slowly side to side to peek into trash cans and dumpsters for things of interest and maybe of value, ended in a T which he followed toward the street. There was no dumpster to be picked through here - nicer buildings kept their trash in chain-linked pens to discourage men like him from lingering, silently imploring him to take his business elsewhere.
He stopped, not ready to return to the street. Low sounds emanating from the window drew his attention, but he listened with eyes cast downward, the pose of a tired man merely pausing to rest. He knew that looking up at the window might mark him as a peeper, drawing the ire of neighbors and bringing the police.
He already had enough hassles in his humble life without bringing another upon himself.
The television murmured, excited putdowns and canned laughter occasionally rising through the living room’s slumbering lull. Bluish light flickered through the shadows, illuminating a middle-aged man who slumped in an easy chair, stockinged feet propped up, a half-empty highball glass within his reach. He dozed, having lost interest in the sitcom’s inanities, its forced mirth.
Before sleep came the old familiar words eased through his mind, the words of the essay he had pondered for so long, the treatise which would finally put television, and everything it represented about our culture, in its place. Down where it belonged, far down.
The medium numbs the senses, lulling us into dull complacency, cheapening our discourse down to a blather of catchphrases. Laugh tracks have taught us how to respond—uproariously at the more outrageous stunts, chucklingly at rare instances of subtlety. But laugh tracks teach us nothing about how to respond to seriousness, to sadness, and thus we have become immune, no longer caring, no longer sympathizing. If we can’t laugh we don’t respond at all. We have become disconnected from the world outside…
But the words, so often thought but still unwritten, soon gave way to the whiskey’s strength. He slid into heavy-lidded torpor, then finally into sleep. The words would remain unwritten for another day, another month, year, perhaps forever.
Outside the window, the sounds from within no longer held the old man’s interest. He reached into his cart, again securing a bag of soda cans, obsessively tightening the handles as he had done repeatedly throughout the long clockless day. Satisfied, he grunted quietly and leaned into the shopping cart, moving slowly toward the street.
As he cleared the building he felt a jolt of wind on his weathered face, the air turning colder as night fell steadily around him.
Peter Anderson's stories have been published in many fine venues besides this one, including Storyglossia, THE2NDHAND, Wheelhouse and RAGAD. He also has three novels-in-progress that may or may not ever be finished, depending on his whims, and a completed story chapbook that is desperately in need of a home. He lives in Joliet, Illinois, with his lovely wife Julie, charming daughter Madeleine and two literature-averse cats.