Sarah Grimes

Posted on June 11, 2018



She strode across the esplanade in that expectant hour just before dusk. The tedium of daily life lay heavy on her that evening, and as she walked she tried to shrug off the weight of malaise. Fog had begun to gather at the edges of the city; it wouldn’t be long before it reached all the way into Yerba Buena Gardens. The gardens adjoined the sleek center for the arts, right in the heart of downtown, but they were desolate at this hour. She shouldn’t linger here. The great lawn was littered with shapes, hulking and cold like marble statues beneath their sheets. Several dark figures roved the paths, animated by a febrile awareness of the other pedestrians. She began to walk faster toward the main artery of the city, nearly breaking into a trot.

One of the huddled mounds on the grass came to life as she hastened by. He lunged at her, mouth lathering pink suds, yellow eyes lolling like marbles, misshapen hands no longer hands but claws.

“You got any spare change?” he barked, a blast of foul breath in her face. When she shook her head, he called her a motherfucking cunt and spat. She felt the spittle hanging in the air like a fine mist as he grabbed her arm and clamped down hard. She tried to scream, tried to free herself, tried to recall any realistic self-defense moves she’d seen. She flailed. Washed in terror, she was ripe for the taking.

“Let go of her, Ray,” said a pleasant, even voice. The man holding her loosed his grip. The voice belonged to another homeless man, who had materialized behind them without a sound. He stood barefoot, arms crossed, eyes gleaming. The first man scuttled off as fast as he could move. Her rescuer sat her down on a nearby bench.

“Sorry about Ray. Gives us all a bad name, y’know.”

The scene in front of her mesmerized her, before her body could register what had just happened. After a moment she realized that they were actually in his living room: a backless concrete bench, upon which he had carefully arranged his few possessions. A stained ochre sleeping bag, an assortment of Little Debbie’s pastries, and a Lagunitas six-pack case, stocked with neat packets of ketchup, butter, utensils, jellies and jams, sugar-in-the-raw. There was even a yellowed stack of pamphlets for the San Francisco symphony. A gallon jug of milk and a roll of paper towels stood on the ground next to them.

As she looked him over, she saw that the flesh of his lower right leg was shiny and thickened with disease. Constellations of open pustules inhabited the filthy shank, and large pieces were missing, as if something had gnawed the meat from the bone. A stench wafted up, evoking the grave.

She’d seen destitute people like this before, of course–usually they were laid out closer to the Muni stations, in little camps– but she couldn’t help but stare as he dipped a folded square of paper towel into the milk. He began to dab at the sores with the soaked rag, humming “Hotel California” softly to himself.

“Sir?” She hesitated. “I have some alcohol in my bag, if you want to use it.” He lifted his head to look at her. The eyes were a startling, freshwater green.

“Oh, no, miss,” he cried, an alarmed look on his face. “I don’t want none of that. You see, I’ve got a black sand demon from hell living in here.” He tapped the curdled flesh twice and nodded swiftly to her, as if that explained everything.

“Oh?” she said, inclining her head.

“He likes drinking milk, so I feed it to him and he comes out.” He picked up his shin, rotated it perpendicular to his body, and cradled it in the flat shelf of his forearms. Bent his face to caress his leg and crooned to it. “Would you like to see him come out?” he asked.

“Ah–yes. Okay.” She felt unexpected warmth toward this man. He picked up the gallon in both hands and doused the leg with a pint or two of milk.

“Look closer, miss. It’s all right.” He smiled at her. “There he is! See him? See him?” He proffered the leg with something close to reverence. She leaned in, the long muscles of her neck straining to see. Milk was sinking deeply into the wounds and resurfacing, the coarse grit of the streets exorcised and streaming out of his body. The veins’ dark blood, that terrible journey back to the heart, and the elegant line of tendon and sinew, visible in spots where the tissue had rotted away, groaned beneath the weight of his bones, his body, his life.

“I do see him,” she said, glancing up. “He’s beautiful.”


Sarah Grimes is a fiction writer and essayist currently living in San Francisco. Originally from the East Coast, she received her MA in psychology from the New School in New York City. Her previous work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Eastern Iowa Review and Elephant Journal, and often explores the intersection of psychology, spirituality, and consciousness. When not writing, she enjoys making colossal portions of Italian food, practicing her forearm stand and hiking barefoot in the redwoods.


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